Running with Dummies

..making running harder than it needs to be..

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Race Report: Pocono Mountains Run for the Red Marathon

Pocono Mountains Run for the Red Marathon
Stroudsburg, PA
20 May 2012

The day before the race, I was given wise advice by my friend Emma, a veteran spectator of the Boston Marathon.  “Run fast, run far, oh, and pace yourself.”  Well, I managed two out of the three.

It’s hard to be disappointed when you shave more than an hour off your previous marathon PR.  So I won’t be.  The goal was 3:05, a time that would’ve punched my ticket to the Boston Marathon in 2013.  But like most good things in life, qualifying for Boston wouldn’t come without sufficient sacrifice.

This is the first race I’ve truly taken seriously; rather than simply finishing, I had a specific goal/pace time.  In the weeks leading up the race, I did speed work on the track, dropped to a race weight of ~170 lbs, fueled my runs adequately, and tapered properly.  However, the most telling sign I was taking this event seriously: I was at a wedding the night before and didn’t have a drop of alcohol, not even champagne for the toast!  Talk about sacrifice.

Race (Garmin Data):
Race start was at 8am, though in hindsight, starting the race an hour earlier would’ve made a significant difference.  Sunday called for warmer than average temperatures for this time of year and Mother Nature didn’t disappoint.  I was hoping that the training runs I logged during the midday sun would pay off in terms of heat acclimation.  

I dropped my post-race bag with the Fed-Ex truck and walked to the front of the line.  There was supposed to be a 3:05 pacer who would be running even splits, but I later found that he had pulled out due to an injury.  If I was going to do this, it would be on my own.

My guiding mantra for this race: “In the first half, don’t be stupid. In the second half, don’t be a wimp.

 

Miles 1-5
Barely realized I had clipped off the first mile in 6:49, my legs were feeling strong and the pace felt right.  The course began at Pocono West High School and the early miles wound through shaded back roads.  I reminded myself that “no one ever wins a marathon in first 10k,” so I settled into a comfortable pace, running around 7 minute miles.

The gamble of running without a shirt paid off quickly as I was already sweating profusely.  I started pouring water over my head at mile 4 and didn’t stop for the remainder of the race, trying to keep my body temperature as cool as possible.

Miles 6-13
The two hour dj mix on my playlist let me get into a nice rhythm as I careened down hills that would’ve been marked as Blues had we been skiing.  This was billed as a fast course, and the significant drop during this portion of the race was the primary reason.  Although my splits were creeping downward (6:59, 6:31, 6:23—oops, 6:39), I knew that holding myself back would simply thrash my quads and hurt me on the uphill climbs to come.

As the pace was speeding up, the temperature also began rising, despite the respite from the shade.  Mantra at this point, “the real race begins at 13.1.”  

As we neared the halfway point, I looked to my left and saw a group of elites join us from a different road.  Confused, I was worried that I had missed a turn since I had been with a smaller pack.  The elites passed us like we were standing still, and I heard one cursing and screaming at the volunteers for water.  Curiouser and curiouser..



Miles 14-17
This was where the race stopped being fun.  Sparse crowd support and not many other runners around for this portion.  I knew that I had banked a decent amount of time during the first half, but I was afraid to look at my elapsed time at the risk of becoming discouraged.

I was pacing one of the elites for a few miles, which was odd, and eventually asked him what happened.  He told me how his group had gone off course for nearly a mile, seemed understandably frustrated, and “just wanted the race to be over.”  

Miles 18-23
When I finally did look at the pacing chart on my arm tattoo (TazRunning.com), I realized I was 6 minutes behind at mile 20.  The sun was beating down on us as we made our way up the climbs and my legs didn’t have much left.  At one point I slapped my thighs and could barely feel them..  That was the moment where I could look back and say, I didn’t give up, I physically didn’t have it in me that day.

Guess where the wheels started coming off..?

Once I had given up on the BQ, it was like a weight had been lifted and I started having fun again, chatting with aid workers as I went through, high fiving the kids.  As much as I enjoy running alone, it’s those small moments that we run races for.  These people were taking time out of their lives to help us achieve our goals.  I definitely need to start volunteering at local races.

 
These may be some of the first ever race photos where I don’t look completely tragic.  Kudos VIP Studios.

Miles 24-26.2
With 2 miles to go, we entered downtown Stroudsburg and there were plenty of onlookers outside enjoying brunch.  We entered the high school’s football stadium and ran one lap around the track to the finish.  It was a nice touch having the announcer call out your name as you were on the final 400m stretch.



People were collapsed left and right on the astroturf, volunteers passing out ice cold towels and water bottles.  I relaxed for a while, cheering others on, chatting with finishers.  It was a good way to wind down and take stock of the race.

Results / Conclusion
3:17:48 finish, 7:33 pace, 12th AG, 95th overall

The finishers medal was nice, but this race wasn’t about collecting another piece of hardware , it was about pushing boundaries to reach a goal.  I can honestly say that I left everything I had out on the course.  Compared to the Ironman, this race was tougher.  Mentally, physically, I was completely spent from the all out effort that went into the previous 26.2 miles.  



I learned a great deal from this race that I’m looking forward to putting into action during my next attempt, Columbus Marathon on Oct. 21.  

Unlike any other race I’ve done, this was the first where I was out on the course and truly felt like “I’m a runner.  I belong here.”  It’s a good feeling, and I don’t want to let it go.

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Race Report: Beach2Battleship Iron-Distance

Beach2Battleship Iron-Distance Triathlon
2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run
Wilmington, NC
29 October 2011

Swim (Garmin Data):
In what has become a ritual of the event, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” played prior to the starting signal.  In any other circumstance, the scene would appear ridiculous: 800 men and women, clad in black wetsuit, standing in the sand at dawn, bobbing their heads, many with their eyes closed in prayer or concentration.  Looking down at my bare feet, I smiled as I realized I was one of them, and that was a comforting thought.  

Compared to the cool dawn air temperature, the water felt warm as I plunged in and began the swim.  To say I was undertrained for the swim leg would be an understatement.  Total swim sessions during training: 3.

Despite my lack of preparedness, I had the best swim of any triathlon so far.  A major selling point for this race is the strong, fast current that comes into the channel from the ocean.  The first few hundred yards had the usual scrum of bodies, each of us fighting for our own lane, waiting for the tug of that sweet current to help us along.  

The main portion of the swim was routine: stroke, breathe, sputter when you inhale salt water, repeat.  The only scare came towards the end of the 2.4 mile swim when my right calf muscle seized up and met any attempt at movement with biting pain.  I let my legs rest and pulled for a few minutes with just my arms, eventually the muscle released and I finished strong.

Climbing the wooden ladders at the end of the swim, I glanced at my watch and saw 47 minutes.  After shuffling the next two minutes and fighting to get my wetsuit off, I entered transition in 49.  Darrel Williams, the overall winner on the day, beat me on the swim by just 2.5 minutes.  He must have missed a turn, because I wasn’t even going hard!  



T1 (Garmin Data):
Should have seen this coming, problem getting my tri top on, again.  Need to wear this under the wetsuit as I must have wasted at least two minutes here.  Compared others’ times, I was still satisfied with my first transition.  Additional bonus that I didn’t have to fight my way through the tent of naked men; I simply sat on the grass and prepped there..

Bike (Garmin Data):
There is no such thing as bad weather, just soft people.”  - Bill Bowerman

While the rain held off for the swim, we didn’t have the same fortune during the bike.  I was unsure whether to pack my cycling jersey, as I certainly didn’t want to look like some novice out there.  Hindsight is 20/20 and I learned that in cold, miserable conditions like the ones we faced, you layer anything you possibly can to stay warm and functioning.  At one point, a guy wearing a trash bag flew by me like I was on my bike trainer and I smiled at how truly strange and wonderful this sport is.  

If the gusting 25-30mph headwinds didn’t dampen your spirit, the bitter cold temperatures certainly helped.  My fingers stop functioning somewhere around mile 30.  The only way to open the Gu packets was to rip off the top with my teeth, then jam the empty gel carcass into my back jersey pocket.  It was at that point that I found myself in a dark, lonely place, seriously contemplating pulling out of the race.  



That’s the point of an Ironman where it’s more of a mental battle than a physical one.  When fear and doubt begin to creep, telling you that your bike won’t make the distance, your body won’t make the distance.  With no crowd support or music, it’s difficult to silence those voices, especially when the only alternative is to simply put your head down and continue what you’re doing.

Perseverance wins out in the end, as we were rewarded at mile 70 with the sun breaking from the clouds, a newly paved road, and a fresh tail wind at our back.  The combination of those elements made it feel as though the parachute that I had been dragging behind me had been released.  My legs instantly came back to life and I found myself dropping people left and right, smiling once again.



Prior to the race, my longest ride was a mere 80 miles.  Clipping off my first century ride during my first Ironman was a nice little win and helped keep me motivated.  But without headphones, I was slightly unprepared for the monotony of a ride this distance.  To compensate, I talked (grumbled) to myself, sang songs, and played entire movies through my head, incorporating as many details as possible.  I must have made someone’s day as I was in the middle of Gandalf’s scene in Khazad-dûm, and yelled “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” as he came up beside me.  He did, however, and I sheepishly continued pedaling.

T2 (Garmin Data):
- Forgot to hit the Lap button, which threw off my distance for the run slightly.
- Switched into dry socks, shoes, belt with number, and visor.
- Good, could have gone faster.

Run (Garmin Data):
The course for the run was a two loop out and back that included fairly significant climbs up two bridges.  My goal at this point was to maintain an easy pace and not do anything stupid.  Even though this was advertised as a flat course, there was plenty of climb, or at least it felt that way.

Workers at the aid stations were enthusiastic and helpful throughout the evening.  I grabbed coke or water and would alternate between chicken noodle soup, pretzels, and gels.  



After heading back out for the second lap, I started pacing with another guy for a mile or two.  We started talking and decided after a while that we’d stick together, keeping each other motivated.  When you’ve been inside your own head for roughly 10 hours, simple conversation with another person can be a game changer.

I allowed my friend ahead of me and wove through the final labyrinth of twists and turns to see the finish line.  I thanked Jeff for staying with me, removed my time chip, collected my medal, and tried to stop my Garmin only to find that it was gone!  About a hundred yards before the finish chute, I banged into one of the metal railings along the side.  Scrambling back onto the course, making sure not to get in the way of anyone still running, I was happy to see it on the ground, a little worse-for-wear, but still running.  



Post-race:
The air was cold as I found an empty chair and was handed pizza by a volunteer.  Looking around at the other finishers, I felt completely overwhelmed by the emotions I had held in check the entire day. These are the moments when all that you’ve worked towards, all that you’ve sacrificed, comes into a bright focus.  

Above all, I felt a quiet sense of pride that for the rest of my life I can look in the mirror and know that once upon a time I was good enough.  Good enough to call myself an Ironman.

Results:

Total Time: 12:25:33, Swim: 49:55, T1: 6:58, Bike: 6:19:24, T2: 4:14, Run: 5:05:03.


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Race Report: Bull Run Run 50 Mile Ultra

Bull Run Run 50 Mile
April 9, 2011
Bull Run Regional Park - Manassas, VA

All the disruptive arguments among my friends as to whether or not I was sane when I took up marathon running have been entirely resolved since I ran my first 50-miler.
- John Kendall  

There are several thoughts that go through your mind as you’re shivering in the woods on a cold, pre-dawn morning surrounded by 343 others ready to embark on a 50 mile race:

 I’ve never run a trail race before.”  
What if I’m eaten by a bear?”  
I’ve never run this long before.”  
I shouldn’t have stayed at the bar until midnight last night..”  
If a group of us get lost, how long does it take before the Gu’s run out and we have to resort to cannibalism..?”  

 Despite all the problems that could arise during the race, I tried to quiet the doubts in my mind and focus on what I could control.

 After a short loop around the parking lot to space out the field of runners, we started onto the trail for the first 16 mile leg.  Knowing that all runners start out too fast on their first ultra, I moved to a spot near the back of the pack and found a comfortable pace.  

 I was excited to break in my ultralight trail running show, the New Balance Minimus.  Weighing in at around 7 oz, I had envisioned myself tearing effortlessly down trails.  Mother Nature hurriedly disabused me of any such hopes.  By the second mile and the twentieth mud puddle, my ultra-lites weighed the same as everyone else’s, the equivalent of two cement blocks..  We had an unexpected visitor at mile 2; as I was cresting on of the early hills, I saw a red fox run right by me through the trees.  “You won’t see that at the Marine Corps Marathon,” I thought to myself.

My nutrition plan for the race consisted of water in my Camelbak, NUUN tablets for electrolyte replacement, and almonds for fuel.  I had convinced myself that I could eliminate the need for additional carbs by staying in a fat burning zone (under 160 on my HR monitor).  This noble game plan collapsed by the second aid station at mile 11.6.  For the remainder of the race, I simply grabbed whatever looked appetizing: cookies, candy, soda..  They say that an ultramarathon is essentially an eating competition with some light jogging thrown in.  

 While slipping, sliding, and submerging through the muck during the first 17 miles, I tried to think of a suitable comparison and these two scenes stuck with me:  

 The Neverending Story: Artax and Atreyu in the “Swamps of Sadness”

Star Wars: Dagobah 

Volunteers and aid station workers did an incredible job, whether it was refilling water bottles, handing off hot food, or helping you repair your feet..  They were energetic, positive, and extremely helpful with any issues the runners had during the race.

 Happy realization at mile 32 when I discovered my Garmin watch was behind on distance.  At that point in the race, a mere 16 miles to go is a world of difference from 20 miles.  Another surprise: I didn’t get lost, not even a wrong turn!  Right after the aid station at mile 17, I actually helped another who had ran directly over the red, do-not-cross tape.  “Woah! whoah! whoa!” I yelled, “Red tape!”  He quickly thanked me, noting that I had probably just saved him 30 minutes.

The fans were also a great source of motivation.  Racing aid station to aid station through the woods, you often lose touch with the rest of humanity.  When you can hear the cheers and excitement over the next hill, it really gives you a boost to continue on.

There is a moment that occurs during races of these distances when you realize with absolute certainty that you will finish.  Twisted ankle, you can limp.  Raccoon attack, there’s antibiotics at the finish.  For me, the tipping point in the race came at the final aid station, Bull Run Marina at mile 44.9.  I exited before the pack I had been running with and found myself alone for the first time in awhile.  

As if on cue, the next song on my shuffled playlist was “Go Do” by Jónsi.  Throughout the training process, this became something of a theme song.  Beginning with light, whimsical notes, the tone soon swells to a pounding crescendo of a chorus that has pushed me to levels I never thought possible.

Completing my first 50 mile ultra made me realize just how arbitrary the limitations that we impose upon ourselves are.  Go Do.

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Destination Run: New Orleans, Louisiana



There exists a profound contrast between the hours of 8pm and 8am in the French Quarter.  Drunken revelers casting beads from balconies are displaced by elderly women in rocking chairs on porches.  The perpetual din of clinking beer bottles and slurred speech usurped by wind chimes and birds surreptitiously foraging among Audubon Park.  New Orleans is a tranquil, sleepy town at 8am on a Saturday morning.  And a beautiful one.
 
Before arriving, I checked Google Maps for a rough idea of where I could explore while running the city.  I decided on a route that followed Saint Charles Avenue west and led to Audubon Park, a 1.5 mile loop.  Bypassing the massive Harrah’s Casino that loomed heavily adjacent our hotel, I stretched my legs for the first time in a week since the Bull Run Run 50 miler.  Before finding Saint Charles, I took a detour along the boardwalk that shadows the vast Mississippi River.
 
People often lament that their vacations slip by altogether too quickly.  To them I’d humbly suggest running a dozen miles in your temporary hometown without headphones.  With all due respect to Einstein, time slows down while you run.  You experience more of what a city has to offer once you escape the radius of hotels and tacky souvenir shops.  You discover authenticity, which is rare enough to find these days, in the form of neatly kept lawns, children playing in the park, or simply the sound of your own feet as you tick off the miles over unfamiliar territory.

Despite the liberal system of laws that governed the town, the roads and sidewalks were relatively clean, even more so as you moved farther away from the depravity of Bourbon Street.  It felt good to be back on my feet again, moving swiftly of my own volition through the crimson honey shafts of light, the quiet streets.  

I followed Saint Charles west, past a substantial Robert E. Lee Monument, and found trolley tracks.  To my surprise, the parallel tracks were accompanied on either side by lush tracts of grass.  Unsure if it was safe (or legal) to run along them, I stayed on the sidewalk until I saw others jogging over the soft paths.  Moving to the tracks, I continued along, dodging the occasional trolley cars as they lolled by like ghost trains, still empty at this point.  

The city was hosting an official Ironman 70.3 event the Sunday of our trip.  During race weekends, triathletes are generally easy to spot on the street: black compression socks, finisher gear from other events, determined expressions and purposeful strides that embody their owners’ Type-A personalities.  Residents seemed curious and slightly amused by the whole situation; “who in their right minds goes out bikin’ a hundred miles?” an older man with a southern drawl asked his equally befuddle waiter.  A fair enough question, for someone who has never crossed an Ironman finish line.

Although our group experienced “Southern hospitality” during our stay in the French Quarter, the people I encountered on the street seemed to know no other way of life.  They would look you in the eye, smile, and comment on the beautiful morning.  A woman on her porch saw me approach and cried out, “ain’t you cold, honey??,” as though ready to fetch her crocheted Saints afghan to drape over me.  It was a balmy 72 degrees at the time.

In the end, New Orleans is a city thankful.  Thankful for their homes and their livelihood, their beautiful town and their families.  Living in the an area as frenetic as DC, it’s easy sometimes to forget these simple pleasures.  I suppose that’s the fundamental gift of travel: it illuminates our worldview with unfamiliar locations and colorful individuals, and it allows us to bring a modest piece of that world back home with us.  

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"Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle… when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
Abe Gubegna
Ethiopia, circa 1974

"Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle… when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

Abe Gubegna

Ethiopia, circa 1974

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Things Your Training Partner Won’t Tell You

Love it.  Tee, let me know when you want to get off that trainer and go for a real run :)

What Your Training Partner Won’t Tell You, via No Meat Athlete:

1. You will not lose momentum if you stop moving during a run. So quit jogging in place at the stoplight. You look like an idiot.

2. There are at least two embarrassing songs on everyone’s iPod playlist. There is no need to pretend you don’t know how they got there. Just own up to your love for N’Sync.

3. Everyone pees in the pool at some point. Everyone. Anyone who says they haven’t is lying. The same goes for the mass start of an open-water swim. There’s a reason that water feels so warm.

4. Please limit yourself to no more than two electronic devices when we work out together. Anything more and you have more wires coming out of you than an ICU patient.

5. Newton shoes are the Ed Hardy shirt of running.

6. Outside of your running group, no one really cares if you did a brutal 12-miler this morning. No need to try to work it into every conversation you have at work, at school, while shopping, at the bank…

7. It’s kind of annoying when you stretch in inappropriate places, like at the checkout aisle of the grocery store.

8. The first open-water swim any swimmer or triathlete does is scary. Almost everyone panics during their first. It’s normal. The real champs are the ones who face it and get back in there for a second.

9. If you’re on a Century ride and take a break: Eat first. Reapply chamois cream second. Never, ever,ever the other way around.

10. It’s not bragging if you can do it. But until you’ve done it — zip it.

..rest of the list here.

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Tentative 2011 Race Schedule

New year, time to get back to posting!

I’ve spent quite a bit of time debating what the focus of this new season should be: slow down and work on ultras, speed up and qualify for Boston, or man up and do an Ironman.  Since decision making has never been a strong suit of mine, I’m just going to go ahead and try to do all of them, in that order.

In the midst of a long, dark winter, I’ve been getting comfortable on the treadmill and riding my bike trainer, Chrissie, for hours upon hours.  As Spring unfolds and I can venture out of my self-imposed exile, the mission will be trails and hills, hills and trails, and a few more hills for good measure.  My first legit 50 miler in April followed by a 100 miler in June.

I assume by that point, I’ll be so tired of a 9-10 minute pace that I’ll be salivating over the idea of speed work at the track.  The other advantage is that after racing for ~24 hours, a measly 26.2 miles in 3:10 should be cake..

Even if I miss a BQ in my first attempt, I’ll be in the best shape of my life and ready to continue on with the grueling trials of Ironman training.  A break from running should also be a welcome relief at this point.  

So here’s what I’m thinking, not including a handful of shorter races I may join:

Ultramarathons:

Marathon (BQ Attempt):

Olympic Distance:

Ironman:

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Fight the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith

The weather the morning of the Marine Corps Marathon was perfect. A throwaway long sleeve and gloves paired with shorts had me set to start the race. After getting stuck in the Porta Potty lines, B and I crossed the start line at roughly 8:13 am to begin our conquest of 26.2 miles. First six miles ticked off like a breeze, with tons of spectators, funny signs, and bull horns to keep you distracted. It was crowded for quite a while and I was thankful that I brought my Ipod to help keep me focused. Mile 10 we saw our first fans, my roomie and her mom, ecstatically jumping up and down for us. Feeling great at this point, and a great picture snapped of us (S, you’re way better than the MarathonFoto peeps). As we rounded the half marathon point, I started to have some pain in my left knee but pushed on. As we pushed to mile 15 B asked me how I was feeling. At this point I had a lot of cramping in my legs but was determined to push onward. This is also the part with the least spectators, Haines Point, and I was wishing there were more people there for encouragement. This is the point where I started to feel not too great. Mile 17 and 18 led us to more fans who were camped out in lawn chairs to chair us on. My GW friend and her husband and our other friends gave us bright smiles and lots of clapping. Oh boy, did I need these. Strangers also chanted our names thanks to the felt letters I had affixed to B’s and my shirts. Fellow runners give pats on the back as they slug along the course. At this point, my mind is starting to get the best of me and my legs are feeling very heavy as we trek to mile 20 and 21. B can tell I’m struggling and proves to be positive and encourage me to fuel up on Powerade and gels. I know that we are now headed into Crystal City, probably the second most spectator populated area besides the finish and that I’ve got lots of friends waiting to see me there. I need to lock it up! B turns to me and says, “Alright last 10k, it’s going to suck but you’ve got to dig deep.” I can get down with that.

 At mile 24 my body officially shuts down. I feel tears well up and my eyes and the words “I can’t do it” escaping my mouth and mumble some profanities under my breath. B rubs my back and tells me, “I know you can do this. You are strong, we’ve worked hard for this and you’ve got this.” Thank God you are running this race with me I think. A woman turns to me and with a warm smile also provides some encouragement. She waves her arm forward and assures me I can do it. At this point my tears are not from pain but from excitement and honor and happiness. I CAN do it. It’s ok to walk. It’s ok that it hurts but you’re going to finish this. I never imagined the pain would feel this bad. Marathoning takes racing to a whole other level but there’s also a sense of euphoria I’ve never felt before either. Mile 25 and I know we are so close. In years past when I’ve run the MCM 10k, we too have run this as our last mile and I can smell the finish. Crowds are lined up for miles with signs, cheers, and applause. The noise is so loud I couldn’t even tell you what is playing on my Ipod and I love it. I take it all in – this is incredible. As we round the final stretch, I can see the gold and red arch of balloons and the finish line. B and I pick it up as we “flatten the hill” and cross the finish line together. I don’t remember exactly what we said to each other but I remember hugging/B holding me up and feeling so excited. We did it!!

The soreness set in that day and plagued me until Wed when I became much more mobile. It took a few days for the accomplishment to set in but we ran 26.2 miles, something less than 1% of the population will ever achieve. Friends and family ask if I will ever run another marathon and at this point I don’t know. What I do know is that despite what I think, the drive to race always sneaks back into my mind. Case and point - just four days after completing the marathon, I signed up for a half marathon. B’s response is “You’re a machine!” That’s right, I am. I am a runner. See you at the finish line.

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First 50mi Ultramarathon: Success!*

When you run there are no mistakes, only lessons. The art and science of ultrarunning is a process of trial, error, and experimentation.  The failed experiments are as much a part of the process as the combination that ultimately works.

I had to qualify “success” in the title because my goal for the day was to run a 50 mile ultramarathon but chose to stop at mile 45.  Despite the DNF (did not finish / did nothing fatal), I did complete a 50k ultra (31 miles) and couldn’t have been happier with my first attempt at this distance.

Course:
Unlike races I’ve done in the past, I would be attempting this run solo, which meant a lot more preparation during the week.  For the course, I decided to map three loops of ~16.5 miles each that would end back at my house, the aid station.  With the course set, the next obstacle was covering nutrition.


Loops 1-2


Loop 3 (aka, “the fun loop..”)

Nutrition:
During the Marine Corps marathon, there were water and powerade stations every 3-4 miles and several places where volunteers handed out some form of nutrition.  I wouldn’t have this luxury so I had to find a way to carry most of my fuel with me.  Here’s a breakdown of what I consumed over the course of the day:

- 2 Brickoven Pizzas, made the night before
- 15 chicken nuggets from Wendy’s
- Wheat Thins, ~1/2 box
- 6 GUs
- Peanuts / Sour Patch Kids / Watermelon candy
- Water / Accelerade / Gatorade / 2 cans of chicken noodle soup

Looking back, this list seems insane.  Especially considering I was consuming all of this while running.  If I had grown a beard, I’m positive that a police officer would’ve pulled me over assuming I was a homeless man fleeing a pizza joint I had just robbed.

However, there was a method to the madness.  According to my Garmin, I burned through 5,767 calories during the run.  While we often think of food as a luxury, something to indulge in, I was literally eating everything I could as a form of fuel.  I chose food that was high in both carbs for energy and sodium to replace the salt I was losing through sweat.  The glucose in the candy was also invaluable towards the end as my blood sugar levels began to dip. 

Run (Garmin Data - Part 1 / Part 2)
Agnosticism played a significant role during the run.  I didn’t know how my body would react to eating on the run or to the shear mileage I’d be doing.  I didn’t know if I’d be able to maintain a proper pace or how I’d deal with an injury if one arose.  Despite all these concerns, I remained positive and learned a great deal about myself and my abilities during those long hours on the road.

What worked:
- Pacing - I feel like I nailed the tempo for this run thanks to my Garmin.  My goal was a 10:48min/mi pace, which translates to a 9 hour finish.  Reviewing my splits after 30 miles, my average pace was 10:40.  For the remaining 15 miles I averaged an 11:30 pace.  A standard saying in the ultra world is “Start out slow, and then slow down.”  Ultramarathons truly are different beasts than shorter races, and I was proud of myself for maintaining that slower pace in exchange for an extended range.

- Nutrition - Eating on the run was surprisingly easy and something I will continue doing.  I experienced some stomach issues around mile 14, but it was probably due to all of the pasta and pizza I consumed the night before.  Apparently you can over do it with carbo-loading.

- Hills - Ultramarathon legend David Horton once wrote, “If you wait until you feel like you need to walk, you’ve waited too long.” Even in a flat ultra, it’s useful to mix in short walking breaks.  Following this advice, I started walking hills from the beginning, which I think helped a great deal in keeping my legs fresh.  Cardio-wise I was completely fine and could’ve run the downhills harder and increased my pace on the flats. 

- Music - The first 16 miles were spent with an audiobook, which worked extremely well.  Unlike with music, I was able to find a comfortable pace and turn off my brain for awhile.  The last thing I wanted to do was spend the first few hours running through the darkness, obsessing about how much farther I still had to go.  After awhile I switched over to my running playlist and relied on that for the remainder of the run.

- Blisters - When I finally removed my shoes, I found blisters on both of my big toes, but the rest of the feet were fine: no blood, no lost toenails, no chafing in the heel.  I was amazed by how well my MT100s, a minimalist trail-racing shoe, held up through so much pounding on the roads and sidewalks.

Lessons learned:
- Hardest part - mile 22-26, longest and hardest sustained climb up to Tenleytown. It was also at that point when I finished a marathon and was still only halfway done.  It was a difficult barrier to break through since I was just starting into unknown territory.  

- Mentally tedious towards the end, legs were still surprisingly responsive at Haine’s Point, sometimes it was just difficult to remember to keep running faster and that cardio-wise I was capable of that.

- DNF - At mile 45 I felt a twinge in my right knee and quickly sat down to massage it.  I’m still not exactly sure what happened, but the pain was enough that the last 5 miles would’ve been extremely difficult to walk, let alone run.

Conclusion:
I’ve read that an ultramarathon race consists of three parts:
The first part is run with your legs, the second with your head, and the final part with you heart, because at that point thats all you have left.

Rather than push through the pain at mile 45 and possibly seriously injure myself, I simply laid down on the lush grass and relaxed in the warm light from the afternoon sun.  My knee was fine the next morning, so I was relieved in knowing that my first attempt at an ultramarathon was definitely a success.  

I found a stone and marked it, something small to take away from the experience.  Don’t worry, 50, I’m coming back for you.