The Three Sisters

Why the hell not? I recovered faster from Farmdale than from previous 50 mile races, so on a whim I decided to do something unprecedented for me: run another ultra the very next weekend. I’ve never run long races less than three weeks apart before, so as much as anything else I just wanted to see if I could do it.

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Photo courtesy of Bob O’Brien

I was heading up to central Illinois for a conference at work this week and my trip coincided with the Forest Glen 50K, which is organized by friends of mine from Champaign-Urbana. Forest Glen is one of my very favorite trails to run. Furthermore, this week will be the anniversary of the death of my grandmother, and Forest Glen is one of the places she and my grandfather would take me hiking when I was a little boy. I have many fond memories there.

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Photo courtesy of Bob O’Brien

Now, Forest Glen is a difficult, hilly trail. There’s even a section of three steep 100 foot hills back to back that have been nicknamed The Three Sisters. Given that I’m very bad at running uphill, and I just had a bad race on a hilly course the week before, this could be a recipe for disaster. There are a few notable differences. First, I’ve run this trail dozens of times, so I know exactly how hard it is, and I can be better prepared mentally. Second, while Forest Glen has more big hills than Jubilee did (which would be slower), it also has more uninterrupted runnable miles (which would be faster).



We began the first of three 10.6 miles loops at 8 AM, in cold rainy weather. I joined a pack of two other guys at the front, though I didn’t know whether they were in the 50K, the 10-mile, or the 5-mile race. I took it pretty easy on the uphills in the first lap and the other two guys gained some time on me. I came through the start/finish area in 1:33, right at 9:00/mile pace, the fastest loop I’ve ever run here.

After I replenished my drink and food supplies the race director shouted that the other two guys were three minutes ahead. So now I knew they were both in the 50K, and I had a deficit to make up. We have a race on. I picked up the pace like a man possessed. I wanted to catch the others, but not waste too much energy and do it too soon. I passed one guy about three miles into the loop. The other guy I passed about 6.5 miles into the loop. He stayed within sight of me for a while, but I kept moving fast to try to open the gap. I finished the lap in 1:32, which, for the second time of the day, was the fastest loop I’ve ever run here.

At the beginning of the third loop I could tell I was slowing down. And that’s to be expected. I wasn’t super worried about slowing down a little. After all I had run the second loop a minute faster than the first, while the closest competitor had run it 7-9 minutes slower than his first lap. I have a buffer, and even after slowing down I should still be moving faster. The very first hill of the third loop reminded me that this was far from over. My quads were screaming. At the top I worked back up to a jog and staved off the really intense pain until the next uphill. Then the next.

The downhills weren’t much prettier either. While I had been running the downhills fast to make up time without using much energy, now my knees were aching with every step down. This was pretty atypical. It wasn’t injury pain, just okay we’ve had enough pain. I don’t think this would have been a problem if I had been fresh, but coming off last weekend’s 50 mile race the cumulative pounding was taking its toll.

The runnable parts I was going a minute per mile slower than previous laps, and the big hilly sections I was going 2-3 minutes per mile slower. The last time up the Second Sister I actually contemplated stopping to catch my breath about 20 feet from the top.

I got a little sloppy with my nutrition during the hardest section of the last lap and I was completely empty the last few miles. I could just tell from the feeling in my stomach and my muscles that I had no sugar left and was burning nothing but fat. On the bright side, that section was runnable and I was still moving at sub-9:00 pace, so even a bonk couldn’t stop me by then.

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Photo courtesy of Bob O’Brien

After a much slower third lap (1:50!) I crossed the finish line in 4:55, good for first place. I rushed to put on some warm clothes and eat whatever I could, but nothing sounded good. I had to spit out a bite of my Clif Bar. Eventually I found some oranges and that did the trick to warm my stomach up for other food. I spent the next few hours eating, drinking, and chatting with old friends.

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Photo courtesy of Bob O’Brien

I received some wonderful handmade pottery as an award.

A major award

I also received something unpleasant, in the form of a horrible blood blister on my big toe (photo if you’re interested). That’s never happened before.

The race was incredibly well organized. The course markings were superb, and there were even accurate (as in wheeled, not GPSed) permanent mile markers posted along the course (which was incredibly helpful). The course for this year’s race changed from doing just the hardest 5 miles of the trail 6 times, to doing the full 10.6 miles just 3 times. I think this was a very wise decision. The new course is just about as hard as anything you’ll find in Illinois, but there’s still a lot of runnable trail. The old course was just too hilly for most flatlanders (me included!).

Brutally Bittersweet

Trails are open

After recovering from a long hard effort at Howl at the Moon I put in a very solid month of training in September to prepare for another long race this fall in the cooler weather. I eventually decided on the Farmdale Trail Run 50 miler last weekend.

Tailwind photo

There was a last minute venue change on account of the government shutdown (Farmdale Reservoir is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). The race would be held on a 7.5 mile loop at Jubilee College State Park on the other side of Peoria. The terrain was supposedly similar so this didn’t really change much, but the new course was unfamiliar to me and the first two laps would be in the dark.


Jubilee Rob prerace
Photo by Melissa

I started out conservatively, choosing not to go up the trail with three guys who took off, instead staying in 5th just behind another runner going about 9:00/mile pace. I lost my partner at the 3 mile aid station after he stopped and I didn’t. The trail had been fairly straightforward up until that point, but after the aid station came about three miles of typical midwest mountain bike trails, with lots of sharp turns and lots of short steep hills. I picked up the intensity just a little bit and still had trouble running that section at 10:30/mile. This was not a fast course. During this difficult section I caught and passed one of the fast starters. By the end of the first loop I had caught up with the two leaders.


I would describe the course as hilly. The biggest hills were only about 100 feet, but there were a lot of short, steep 20-ish foot hills, particularly concentrated into about 3 miles of the course. Given the 7 laps, this meant 21 total miles of roller coaster ups and downs.

Shortly into the second lap one of the leaders stopped for a natural break and I never saw him again. I stayed with the other guy and passed him right around the aid station. Still dark, about 30 seconds after I passed him I tripped and went down, rolling to lessen the impact, before hopping back up and continuing on down the trail. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again. I went slightly faster on the flats and downhills, and he went slightly faster on the uphills, so we stayed together for a few miles before I decided I’d rather run alone and picked up the pace.

At the end of the second loop it was bright enough to see without my headlamp. The 30 mile race, which Melissa was running, had just started 20 minutes prior, so I had a feeling I would start to catch up with the slower 30 milers pretty soon. It took a few miles, but there they were. The last half of the 3rd loop I was steadily passing a stream of runners–more runners than I would see the rest of the day. I kept a count so I could eventually provide that information to Melissa if I ever caught up with her. I did, just as we finished that loop. I had passed 48 runners in the 30 mile race in the span of 4.5 miles. It was congested at times, but no real problems. It became a bit humorous how everyone I passed apparently saw mud on my back and asked me if I had fallen.

I expected to continue to feel good for another couple laps, but just 22 miles in a wave of awful swept over me. I’ve never had problems before mile 35 in a 50 mile race before, so this caught me off guard. I slowed way down that lap, walking just about every incline I encountered. At this rate I expected to lose the lead at any moment… which added stress… which made me feel even worse.

30 miles in, after that one horrible loop I started to snap out of it and I took stock of the situation. My stomach was fine. My legs were trashed. I could still run the flats and the downhills, just slowly. I was struggling on the uphills, so I continued to walk those. I had no doubt I could grit it out for another 22 miles. But it’s going to be slow going. And I’m almost certainly not going to win the race.

The last three laps I kept moving. My legs never felt any better, but they never got any worse either. As I became more and more accustomed to the discomfort I actually began to speed up a little. Mostly I just wanted to stop running as soon as possible. My 6th lap was faster than my 5th, and my 7th was faster than my 6th.

With one mile to go, moving faster than I had been moving for several hours, out of nowhere, a runner blew past me. I thought to myself, all of the fast 30 milers are already finished. Could this guy possibly be in the 50 mile race moving that fast? On a switchback I caught a glimpse of his race number and noticed he was indeed in the 50 mile race.


I ran the last mile as hard as I could, which at that point translated to around 8:00 (my second fastest mile of the race). I ran hard up hills I had walked the previous three laps. I weaved in and out of the slower runners on the course. Just before the final hill I could hear the crowd cheering as the leader crossed the finish line and I knew it would be over soon. I was incredibly glad to be done, but the way it ended was brutally bittersweet. I wasn’t surprised that I lost the race (I had been expecting to lose since about mile 25), but I was totally caught off guard by how I lost.

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At the finish line. Photo by Melissa.



After leading the race for about 40 miles I finished 2nd place in 9:20, by far the slowest of my four 50 mile races. And I think I was in better shape for it than I was for the others. The course was hard, but I don’t think it was harder than Berryman, and the weather was much better for this one. I’m running out of excuses. The truth is I have no explanation for what happened to me from mile 22-30 where I just felt like death. It was a bad day for me.

But I’ll live to fight again.

September 2013


September was a little bit crazy. I was feeling great. I’ve been so conservative for so long with rest days, I decided to take a risk and try to push myself a bit. I didn’t really run farther than usual, but I ran more frequently. One week I went so far as to run 7 days in a row. That week I ran 86 miles, which is a good 12 miles farther than my previous highest mileage week. I sacrificed a bit of cycling, swimming, and walking, but I made it through the month without a major injury (though I was a bit sore and tired) and I’m feeling fit and ready to race.

I waffled back and forth all month on what event I would do next. First I thought 50 mile. Then road marathon. Plus a 50K. Then 100 mile. I finally settled on my original idea of a 50 mile race at Farmdale (where I won the 30 mile race last fall). I’m hoping to do well. Running 50 miles is never easy, but after my success at Howl at the Moon and my recent training I’m feeling quite confident in my fitness. And having your head in the right place can sometimes make all the difference in such long events.

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 131.5 Mile 13 10.1154 Mile
February 87.4286 Mile 10 8.74286 Mile
March 162.84 Mile 17 9.57882 Mile
April 169.12 Mile 16 10.57 Mile
May 133.61 Mile 12 11.1342 Mile
June 127.39 Mile 16 7.96188 Mile
July 200.4 Mile 21 9.54286 Mile
August 151.34 Mile 14 10.81 Mile
September 249.57 Mile 26 9.59885 Mile
Total 1413.2 Mile 145 9.7462 Mile

Running 2013 9


Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 3.7 Mile 1 3.7 Mile
February 15.2 Mile 4 3.8 Mile
March 123.14 Mile 16 7.69625 Mile
April 114.22 Mile 12 9.51833 Mile
May 157.33 Mile 14 11.2379 Mile
June 217.6 Mile 10 21.76 Mile
July 223.1 Mile 8 27.8875 Mile
August 105.83 Mile 10 10.583 Mile
September 56.66 Mile 9 6.29556 Mile
Total 1016.78 Mile 84 12.1045 Mile

Cycling 2013 9

Walking & Hiking

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 37.64 Mile 12 3.13667 Mile
February 50.6 Mile 21 2.40952 Mile
March 92.9 Mile 37 2.51081 Mile
April 41.5 Mile 21 1.97619 Mile
May 91.75 Mile 33 2.7803 Mile
June 32.03 Mile 21 1.52524 Mile
July 14.8 Mile 8 1.85 Mile
August 45.35 Mile 23 1.97174 Mile
September 59.8 Mile 19 3.14737 Mile
Total 466.37 Mile 195 2.39164 Mile

Walking 2013 9


Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 0 0 0
February 3950. Yard 3 1316.67 Yard
March 18900. Yard 11 1718.18 Yard
April 15600. Yard 10 1560. Yard
May 13200. Yard 8 1650. Yard
June 11580. Yard 8 1447.5 Yard
July 2093.61 Yard 2 1046.81 Yard
August 0 0 0
September 1943.61 Yard 2 971.807 Yard
Total 67267.2 Yard 44 1528.8 Yard

Swimming 2013 9