Keep the pace just in case all the magic dies

Double Chubb 50K

My two most important running objectives for spring 2014 were the Land Between the Lakes 50 mile trail race six weeks ago and the Double Chubb 50K trail race this past weekend. I couldn’t identify either as more important than the other. On one hand I felt I was due for a good 50 mile performance, while on the other hand Chubb is the closest trail ultra to my home (on a trail I run frequently) and I’ve never made it in before (due to the fact that the registration fills up so quickly).

I’ve been running well this spring. I ran a 50 mile PR at LBL. Two weeks later I ran a 5K PR. Two weeks later I unexpectedly ran a marathon PR. Two weeks later I hoped to hit the quadfecta and run strong at Chubb. If things went well I would likely run a 50K PR and have a shot at a high overall finish. After all, the past two times I’ve followed a 50 mile race with a 50K a short time later I ended up winning the 50K.

White tails


Unhappy hiker

The snowflakes start falling and I start to float

I ran the Chubb Trail several times over the past six months–more than any other local trail. I ran it when it was snowy, icy, and/or muddy. About half the trail is flat, while the other half is either straight uphill or downhill. The most notable feature of the trail is the rocky 400 foot hill on the West Tyson end. It takes strength to run up and agility to run down. I ran every step of it more than a dozen times over the winter and early spring.

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Photo courtesy of Shannon Drohan

The forecast was wet and cool, then wet and warm, then dry and warm. I would have preferred wet and cool. Race day was the warmest day I have run so far this year, which usually doesn’t bode well for performance. Everyone seemed a bit shy at the starting line so I had a front row spot. Once the race started I immediately began running uphill watching to see who would take the lead.

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Photo courtesy of Shannon Drohan

There were two guys at the front and I think they were both in the 25K, so I wasn’t concerned. Nobody else started very fast so I hit the single track 3rd. I eased into the first few miles, but everyone else eased in more, so I was alone early. #2 on the trail appeared to twist an ankle and was stopped on the side of the trail. Now there was only one guy ahead.

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Photo courtesy of Shannon Drohan

I ran up and over the big hill comfortably, but still under 9:00/mile pace on the uphill. I passed up the first aid station as I still had plenty of fluids (Tailwind) and food. On the flat section of the trail down by the river another 25K runner caught up to me and we ran (relatively fast) together for several miles. As we approached the first turnaround of the two out-and-back lap course the leader passed us coming back. It was about a minute before we reached the turnaround. The guy I ran with asked me if the leader was in the 25K or the 50K, which I thought was a silly question at the time. Surely he’s in the 25K.

On the second length (of four) back towards the start/finish area I decided I was running too fast and backed off while the 25K runner continued on. I had actually realized much earlier that I was running way too fast, but I guess I was just hoping for the best. The second pass at the big hill (this time from the opposite direction) was a bit harder, but still around 9:00/mile up the hill.

As I passed the start/finish area at the halfway point one of the volunteers shouted to me, “he has 4:20 on you.” Wait, what? Who? What the… The first runner was in my race after all, and he had a hefty lead.

Every voice in my head shouted yes and no

I slowed down a lot on the third length of the course, partially due to fatigue, partially to being a bit down about the surprise I was so far out of the lead. I alternated between pushing the pace in the hope of eventually catching up, and slowing down as I lost focus. As I came within a mile of the turnaround I started looking out for the leader coming back toward me. Eventually he did, but it was much closer to the turnaround than I expected–2 minutes, so he had a ~4 minute lead. I had slowed significantly, yet I didn’t lose any more time (and possibly gained a few seconds). This changes everything.

I was able to refocus on the task at hand. Of course, there was still the small matter of the 8 miles and 2 big hills ahead of me. Also, there were chasers at 8, 10, and 12 minutes behind me, some of whom I was expecting to run a more even pace. My legs felt like bricks. I ticked off the miles, buoyed by each person I passed that was heading toward me. They all made comments like, “He’s only 3 minutes ahead,” “You’re only 2 minutes behind,” “I just passed the leader about a minute ago,” etc. I wanted so badly to slow down, but I also didn’t want to come so close to the win only to give up with a few miles to go.

Then came the big hill. The hill I ran at least a dozen times over the winter. The hill I cruised up earlier in the race. I was reduced to a walk on the steepest sections. About halfway up I passed Cousin Don who gave me the best news I’d heard all day, “He’s not very far ahead of you.” Then he added, “And he looks pretty beat up.” (After the race Don told me I also looked beat up at that point, but thankfully he didn’t mention it at the time). I slowly crested the big hill (after nearly 13:00 for the uphill mile), then I picked up speed on the downhill.

This is love, this is war

After a few switchbacks I actually saw the leader from behind for the first time in 28 miles. I sped up more. I closed the gap in a matter of seconds. I made the pass 29 miles into the race, right as he stopped to stretch out his calf. He mentioned he was really suffering badly from muscle cramps. I asked him if he needed any salt (which helps with cramps on hot days like this). “Yeah, if you have any,” he responded. I stopped long enough to dump a few S!CAPS out of my waterproof pill holder into his hand. Then I took off down the trail, hoping he wouldn’t start chasing (he didn’t).

I reached the bottom and began the final trail section, the Chinkapin loop, a trail whose only purpose is to make life hard. It doesn’t go anywhere, just straight up a 200 foot hill, then straight back down. It’s a final punch in the gut after a long hard day on the hills in the heat. The finish line is at the bottom. I couldn’t muster a smile until after I crossed the finish line. 3 minutes later the 2nd finisher crossed the line.

Don’t ever give up.

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Photo courtesy of Shannon Drohan

I finished in 4:02 (7:48/mile), by far the fastest 50K I’ve run (on a not-exactly-fast course). I wanted to run under 4 hours, but considering how bad I felt by the end of the race I’m just glad I finished. I made a serious error by starting too fast (surprise!). On top of that I could feel the cumulative fatigue of my previous spring races in my legs, particularly the marathon 2 weeks prior. But now that it’s over, I feel pretty good about how things went.

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Photo courtesy of Shannon Drohan

That’s going to be my last foot race for a little while. I think I’m ready for a break. In the span of 43 days I set PRs for 50 miles, 5K, marathon, and 50K. I’ve never had a streak like that before, and in all likelihood, I never will again. I’ve tried to enjoy it while it lasted.

These are beautiful times.

Go Superman!

My next A race is the Double Chubb 50K, which is 10 days away. Last week I was still training pretty heavily. On Sunday I did 16.5 miles on the Chubb trail at roughly race pace, which left me sore for a few days. Monday I ran 10 miles. Tuesday I ran 10 miles. Wednesday I ran 10 miles, half of which was fast hill repeats. Thursday I was presented with an opportunity to run in the GO! Saint Louis Marathon that weekend.

Most marathon training plans suggest running about 20 miles in the week before the race. I did 51, so I wasn’t particularly well rested. It will be a good training run, I thought, a C race. Plus it will be a good opportunity to run in my Mr. Incredible costume, which should be fun with thousands of participants and thousands more spectators. The fun started on the train going to the race when a woman asked if she could take a photo of me to show her son.

I lined up just behind the 7:15 pace group. I was planning to run faster than that, but I certainly wanted to start conservatively. I wasn’t exactly prepared for what would happen once the race started. A quarter mile in I was running about 6:30 pace (well behind the 7:15 pace group) and I was getting swarmed on all sides as everyone was blowing past me. What the hell is going on? Do all these hundreds of people passing me not realize how fast they’re going? This is going to end badly.

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I stuck with the conservative plan, reaching the first mile in 6:52. The 7:15 pace group was 20 seconds ahead of me instead of 20 seconds behind me. The second mile (downhill) was 6:41. The third mile (uphill) was 6:55. The fourth mile (downhill) was 6:33. These splits weren’t very even, but that’s what happens when there are hills (and there were hills). By now I’ve passed tons of the fast starters and I’m back ahead of the silly 7:15 pace group.

These early miles had the first out-and-back section, where thousands of slower runners first saw my costume and did a lot of cheering for me. There were also early aid stations where young volunteers in particular were very excited to see me. This was just a taste of what was to come.

I was confident I could average 6:50 pace throughout the entire race. If things go really well I may even be able to do 6:40. Miles 6-8 were Holy Hill, a two mile stretch with three big rolling hills in a row. When did Saint Louis get so hilly?

Marathon elevation

6:47, 6:40, 6:41, 6:38, 6:33. Okay, so I may have gotten a bit excited on the big hills. My heart rate jumped up a bit. Let’s try to calm down. There are lots of spectators through midtown and everybody’s cheering for me. Every young child who sees me gets excited. I’m giving them high fives. Every college student near SLU (who would have been a child 10 years ago when The Incredibles was released) loved it.

Before long the half marathon runners split off from the marathon runners and turned toward the finish line while we continued out toward Forest Park, where I run several times per week. Now this was my turf. The field thinned out considerably. I ran around the same three guys for the next 8 miles or so, all within 15 seconds of each other. As I caught up to one guy he looked over at me and said, “Oh, that explains a lot. I was wondering why everybody was calling me Mr. Incredible.”

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1:28 at the half marathon. This is easy. Well, it’s supposed to be easy at that point. Coming out of Forest Park came the biggest hill of the race. Fortunately, this hill is right by my house and I run up it almost every day, so I was prepared. It was warming up a bit from the 39˚F start so I took my headband off and stashed it near my house so I could pick it up after the race.

More rolling hills through downtown Clayton. Then we hit a stretch of the course I’d never seen before as we headed up to Delmar. More rolling hills on Delmar, then a nice gradual downhill through The Loop.

I passed a few people I’d been chasing for miles as either they slowed down or I sped up. I pulled up beside one guy as we passed a spectator who shouted out, “I like your outfit!” The other runner and I looked at each other. I said to him, “I think she’s talking to you.”

Next I passed Jenny, who had as many people cheering for her as I did. Jenny went on to win the race, finishing 1 minute behind me.

I’m 20 miles into the race and it still feels easy. “Go Superman!”, I hear someone shouting at me. I look over and it’s a nun standing on the sidewalk. It brings a grin to my face, so I’ll forgive the mistake. Next I pass through the final marathon relay exchange point. It’s packed with 600 people and they’re all cheering for me. And I’m egging them on.

Miles 21 (6:35) and 22 (6:34) I notice it’s no longer easy. I still maintain a strong pace. Then came mile 23 (6:58) with the first hills in 5 miles and it suddenly became hard. Well, that’s to be expected. This mirrors what happened in the marathon I ran last spring. In that case I completely collapsed and slowed way down. Let’s try to avoid a repeat.

Mile 24 was relatively flat and I got back down to 6:40. Mile 25 had some more uphill sections and I was back up to 7:00. Hold it together. I was running beside thousands of half marathon participants at this point. Lots of them cheered me on and I kept moving. There’s a fairly brutal hill in mile 26 but I pushed hard and cranked out a 6:42, and I kept speeding up all the way to the finish line. The spectator support in the last mile was fantastic.

About ⅔ of the spectators who cheered for me throughout the race recognized me as Mr. Incredible. Most of the rest just cheered for the superhero. Other names I heard were Incredible Man (close), Dash (close enough), Superman (less close), and Batman (not close at all).

I finished in 2:56:19 (6:41 pace), meaning I ran even splits (1:28, 1:28) in a marathon for the second time ever. It was the fastest marathon I’ve ever run, and to be completely honest, it was the easiest marathon I’ve ever run (the next easiest marathon I’ve run was the other one where I ran even splits). The first 20 miles were a warmup. Then I had 2 moderately difficult miles and 4 very difficult miles. Basically it was like running a 10K, except I’m far more sore afterward.

Speaking of which, I can definitely tell something has changed either in my form or in my musculature over the past 6-12 months. I used to have a lot of soreness in my quads, a little in my hamstrings, and none in my calves after long races. More recently I have a lot of soreness in my hamstrings and calves, and just a little in my quads. I’m using different muscles. I haven’t quite figured out what to make of that yet.

Here’s a quick comparison of this marathon to the last one. At mile 15 I was only 19 seconds ahead of last year’s time, but by the finish I was over 6 minutes ahead. Incidentally, I just realized that I wore the exact same pair of shoes in these two races (with several hundred miles in between them).

Frisco Railroad Run 2013 GO! St. Louis Marathon 2014
Time Split HR Time Split HR
Mile 1 00:06:57 06:57 142 00:06:52 06:52 137
Mile 2 00:13:51 06:53 148 00:13:33 06:41 148
Mile 3 00:20:41 06:50 151 00:20:29 06:55 152
Mile 4 00:27:34 06:53 152 00:27:02 06:33 148
Mile 5 00:34:28 06:53 155 00:33:50 06:47 151
Mile 6 00:41:15 06:47 157 00:40:31 06:40 156
Mile 7 00:48:07 06:51 158 00:47:13 06:41 157
Mile 8 00:54:49 06:42 159 00:53:51 06:38 160
Mile 9 01:01:23 06:34 161 01:00:25 06:33 157
Mile 10 01:07:58 06:34 164 01:07:05 06:39 160
Mile 11 01:14:30 06:32 163 01:13:44 06:39 157
Mile 12 01:20:59 06:29 161 01:20:33 06:49 163
Mile 13 01:27:29 06:29 161 01:27:03 06:30 160
Mile 14 01:34:04 06:35 169 01:33:42 06:39 164
Mile 15 01:40:46 06:41 169 01:40:27 06:45 167
Mile 16 01:47:30 06:43 167 01:47:09 06:41 166
Mile 17 01:54:10 06:40 167 01:53:42 06:32 166
Mile 18 02:00:58 06:47 166 02:00:12 06:30 167
Mile 19 02:07:53 06:55 164 02:06:56 06:44 166
Mile 20 02:14:43 06:50 167 02:13:31 06:34 165
Mile 21 02:21:49 07:05 165 02:20:07 06:35 167
Mile 22 02:28:58 07:08 164 02:26:42 06:34 167
Mile 23 02:36:29 07:30 165 02:33:41 06:59 167
Mile 24 02:44:00 07:31 164 02:40:22 06:40 167
Mile 25 02:52:02 08:02 162 02:47:22 07:00 168
Mile 26 03:00:10 08:08 162 02:54:05 06:42 169

I think I have a bit of room for improvement even at my current fitness level. With more rest and a flatter course I could probably push 2:50. Who knows whether I could have run faster without the costume… I don’t intent to find out. This experience convinced me that I will probably never want to run another road marathon in plain clothes again.

March 2014

A long, slow journey

Ten years ago this March I tore the cartilage in my left knee while I was running. I don’t remember the exact circumstances surrounding the injury. My knee simply started hurting during the run and (unlike most pains that surface during a run) it never seemed to stop. There was a dull ache that was always there, but it turned into a very sharp pain the instant I shifted from a walk to a trot. I tried (in vain) to continue running once a week or so for the next few months, but that was just delaying the inevitable. Eventually I had surgery, a long recovery, and even then I still couldn’t run without intense pain.

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At the time of my injury I had run nearly every day for the previous ten years. It was the thing I loved doing more than anything else. Yet there I was, faced with the likelihood that I would never run again. It was very difficult for me emotionally, but I made my peace with it, and I moved on. My consolation was that I could still ride my bike without pain. If you’ve ever looked at my running and cycling mileage logs before in these posts and wondered what the hell happened in 2005-2007, well, now you know.

One day in late 2007 I decided out of the blue to attempt running again. I had no expectation I would actually be able to, but I had to find out. I made it a mile without pain before deciding not to push my luck and stopping there.

That that was one of the best miles of my life.

It wasn’t until I had completely lost hope that I finally rested enough for my body to begin to recover. It’s been a long, slow journey from that single mile in 2007 to recent years where I typically run 10 or so miles 5-6 times per week (and occasionally race 50 or more). My 20 year old self wouldn’t have had the patience for it. Sure, I’ve had a few minor injuries along the way, but I’ve thankfully avoided major problems. As time marches on I continue to get stronger and faster. But it’s always in the back of my mind, the feeling that each run I go on could be my last. And that’s precisely why I savor them all.

Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.

― Aristotle


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March felt like a light month, with a week of tapering before LBL and a week of recovery after. I somehow managed to make up for that with a lot of miles in the 2nd half of the month. The six highest mileage months I’ve recorded have all been in the past nine months.

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 192.03 Mile 19 10.1068 Mile
February 227.4 Mile 19 11.9684 Mile
March 192.96 Mile 17 11.3506 Mile
Total 612.39 Mile 55 11.1344 Mile

Running 2014 3


Ugh. At least I got a race in, even if that one race did account for the majority of my miles last month.

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 64.74 Mile 4 16.185 Mile
February 15.9 Mile 1 15.9 Mile
March 51.18 Mile 2 25.59 Mile
Total 131.82 Mile 7 18.8314 Mile

Cycling 2014 3

Walking & Hiking

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 27.72 Mile 11 2.52 Mile
February 26.8 Mile 11 2.43636 Mile
March 32.72 Mile 11 2.97455 Mile
Total 87.24 Mile 33 2.64364 Mile

Walking 2014 3