Riddle Run 11

Yesterday I ran Riddle Run 11. This is a 28 mile ultramarathon held each January. You may recall that I was the first finisher at Riddle Run 10 last year, for which I was awarded the traveling trophy (a roll of toilet paper signed by the previous winners).


Last year I was in great shape, but the course was covered in 4″ of mushy show. I must have ended up running twice the official distance just from my feet slipping around so much. I ran nice and easy, finishing in 4h56m. It just so happened that nobody else ran faster, so I was first.

This year I knew I wasn’t in quite as good shape as last year, but we only had about 1″ of snow on the ground (which, while not ideal, is much easier to run through than 4″). I was really disappointed with my run at Tecumseh last month, so I had something to prove to myself.


I started the run very easy. I picked a big group to run with and we talked and laughed the entire first (of seven) four-mile loop. I’m notorious for starting too fast and (like last year’s Rockford marathon) I made damn sure not to make that mistake yesterday.

The second loop I picked up the pace a little bit, from 9:30 to 9:00 to 8:30. By the end of the second loop I was running slightly faster than 8:00 miles and I would stay at this pace for the next 12 miles or so. At the end of each loop I stopped by my car for 30-60 seconds to drink some gatorade and water and to grab a bite to eat.

“Ultras are just eating and drinking contests, with a little exercise and scenery thrown in.”

-Sunny Blende, nutritionist (from Born to Run)

Over the course of 28 miles I ended up eating four mini Clif Bars, a banana, two flasks of chia gel, a bottle of Gatorade, a bottle of water, and six Enduralytes (electrolyte pills)… and it still wasn’t enough. My stomach was growling the last eight miles.

During the middle part of the run the miles just flew by. Each time I finished a lap I thought to myself, I was just here a few minutes ago. I was flying and the miles were coming so easily, but it wouldn’t last forever.

I started to tire around mile 20. I quickly realized could no longer maintain sub-8:00 miles and I started to question whether I would finish at all. After eating I started my 6th loop much slower and I felt a lot better. I could definitely finish by running closer to 9:00 pace.

Riddle Run 2010

The last two laps were a bit of a slog, but I kept shuffling along, and I never stopped to walk (a feat I’ve only accomplished one other time, at Rockford). Three miles from the end a fellow runner Jason and his friend absolutely flew past me. I had last seen them exactly 20 miles earlier when I had just started to pick up the pace. It was amazing how strong they were finishing. I crossed the 26.2 mile mark at 3h46m, making this my third fastest marathon ever. On a trail. Covered in snow.

Last year I finished the run with mile 28 being my fastest. This year it was my slowest (the second slowest this year was the first mile). I dragged myself across the finish line in 4h04m, my fastest Riddle Run by more than a half hour, and a full 50 minutes faster than last year (almost two minutes per mile!).

Jason and his friend had gained six minutes on me in the last three miles, and they finished first. Matt and another guy were in between us. It’s rather amazing to me that the first five of us finished within six minutes of each other after such a long run.

So that was my fourth Riddle Run, my fifth ultra-distance run, my seventh trail marathon/ultra, and my 11th marathon or beyond. Of all those runs, this one was the third fastest, yet at the same time probably the easiest for me. Considering I didn’t do any training specifically for this run, and I didn’t taper at all, I guess I’d have to say that I’m in a little better shape than I thought I was. That’s a good sign.

The Thorn

If you don’t have answers to your problems after a four-hour run, you ain’t getting them.

-Born to Run

The Tecumseh Trail Marathon is coming up on December 5. Rather than the typical 16-week training program I would follow for a big road marathon, I adopted the less conventional 5-week crash course training program for this race.

I ran this race last year and it was incredibly difficult. The course is very hilly, with thousands of feet of ascents and even more of descents (it’s a point to point course with a net loss in elevation).

I’m not terribly worried, for a few reasons.

I feel no pressure. This isn’t like the 2001 Chicago Marathon or 2009 Illinois Marathon, where I worried about the race for months and choked on race day. This is more like the 2008 Tecumseh Marathon or 2009 Rockford Marathon where I didn’t concern myself with place or time and just went for a run. Those were two of the best races of my life.

I feel better on the long runs than I ever have before. This is fairly surprising given that I took the summer off from running and ran only short distances in the early fall. By mid-October I decided to push myself and run 11 miles (the farthest I had run in 5 months) on the Allerton trails and I was sore for a week. Somehow things just magically came together.

Since the Allerton Trail Race I’ve alternated long runs at Lake Mingo and Forest Glen, running 14.2 at Mingo, then 16 at F.G., then 21.3 at Mingo, then 16 at F.G. These are 2-3.5 hour long runs on fairly challenging trails, yet the miles have passed so easily for me… easier than they ever have before.

Forest Glen Trail

Forest Glen 11 mile loop and 5 mile loop

Lake Mingo Trail

Lake Mingo 7.1 mile loop

The past month or so I’ve been paying a lot more attention to my diet, eating a lot more higher quality, natural, unprocessed food–lots and lots of vegetables and fruits. My blood pressure has dropped noticeably, I’ve shed a couple of excess pounds, and I don’t feel like crap after meals.

I’ve drawn a tremendous amount of inspiration from reading the book Born to Run. It’s incredibly well written and covers everything from history and science to tips on form/training/nutrition/life, all while building up to the story of the “greatest race the world has never seen.” I couldn’t put the book down and when I finished I read it again. I haven’t felt this hungry to be out on the trails since I was in high school.

The only thorn in my plans so far has been, literally, a thorn in my foot. 9 miles into my 21 mile run last weekend I stepped on a thorn, which isn’t all that rare. This thorn, however, went all the way through my shoe and into my left foot. I felt the pain and immediately hopped on my right foot until I could slow down and stop. At first I thought it was just poking me so I gave it a tug and the thorn broke off flush with the bottom of my shoe. Then I tried to take my shoe off, but that required sliding my foot out, which I couldn’t do because the thorn was still stick in both my foot and my shoe.

After about five minutes of trying to get a grip on the fraction of a millimeter of the thorn still sticking out I eventually just shoved a stick in my shoe (like a shoe horn) and pried my foot away from the shoe enough to get the thorn out and slide my shoe off. It was fairly unpleasant. With the shoe off though I was able to pull the thorn out of it and continue on down the trail. I didn’t know whether I’d be able to walk, let alone run. It was tender for a couple hundred meters then I forgot all about it. I ended up running 12 more miles before calling it a day.

I thought my problems were all over, but after the 45 minute drive home I couldn’t even walk on it my foot hurt so bad. I limped all day Monday and even stayed home from work on Tuesday. By Wednesday I could walk short distances, and by Thursday it felt just barely not-horrible-enough to walk to work. By Friday the pain was virtually gone.

Now that this scare is over I’m headed full steam ahead. It’s still early to tell what’s going to happen at Tecumseh, but I feel pretty good about it.

“Don’t fight the trail,” Caballo called back over his shoulder. “Take what it gives you.”

-Born to Run

The Homer Fireworks

“Celebrate the independence of your nation by blowing up a small part of it.”

My friend John and another coworker of mine were helping out with the fireworks show at Miller Aquatics and Health Club, just outside of Homer, on Wednesday. They invited us out to watch, though I didn’t think I’d be home from my bike ride in time to make it out to Homer by 9 pm. Fortunately, I was home in time and we decided at the last minute to go.

The show was really well done and we sat very, very close to the launch site, so we had a different perspective than I’ve ever had for fireworks before. As you can imagine, I brought my camera to try to get some good shots of the fireworks. It took some getting used to, but I think by the end I started to get some good photos.

It's that time of year

The Keynote

As I write, Melissa & I are at Chicago O’Hare airport waiting on our (delayed) flight to San Francisco. I am attending Apple‘s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) this week. Melissa is along for the ride.

Since I started working full time as the primary Mac OS X developer of Mathematica at Wolfram Research in 2001 I have attended this conference every year except 2006. That year the conference was scheduled (Apple has been really bad lately at waiting until the last minute to schedule this huge conference) during the week Melissa & I were moving to Nicaragua, so I missed out. The conference is exciting every year, but none was more exciting for me than 2005 when I (along with my boss Theo Gray) participated on stage during Steve Jobs’ keynote address.

Note: some of this information was confidential at the time, but is now mostly publicly known. I can’t imagine any of the details I mention below would still be considered sensitive information.

On Wednesday night the week before WWDC I got a call at 9:30 pm from Theo. I was almost ready to go to bed. He asked if I would be able (and willing… but more able :) ) to fly to California at 6 am the following morning. I suppose I could, but why? Theo went on to tell me that Apple had a super secret project and they wanted our help, but he wouldn’t tell me what the project was.

I have since learned that he actually knew what the project was at the time of that call, but he couldn’t tell me. Stephen Wolfram, the founder and president of Wolfram Research wouldn’t sign off on the idea until he knew what was going on. Steve Jobs told Stephen Wolfram & Theo what the project was and they agreed to take part… but they couldn’t tell anyone else.

I spent the next two hours packing (including the Dahon, my folding bike at the time) before going to bed. Early the next morning I arrived at the Champaign airport. Apple purchased my one-way ticket to San Jose (by way of Chicago). An Apple limo picked me up at the San Jose airport and drove me straight to Apple’s campus in neighboring Cupertino. Luggage still in hand I entered 3 Infinite Loop (I think). A few minutes later I was in a meeting with Ron Okamoto, Vice President of Worldwide Developer Relations.

Ron told me what the secret was, that Apple was building a Mac which used an Intel x86 processor. They had ported all of Mac OS X to this new architecture (Darwin, the open source core of Mac OS X, already ran on x86). They intended to demonstrate this new x86 version of Mac OS X on Monday’s WWDC keynote. They wanted to demo a 3rd party application running on the x86 Mac. They chose Mathematica to be that 3rd party application. He asked me if I thought it would be possible to get Mathematica up and running on Mac OS X Intel by Monday.


That’s a potentially huge task. Our code is fairly portable (at the time Mathematica ran on several Unix platforms in addition to Mac and Windows), but supporting new platforms usually takes a fair amount of time. Ron told me Apple was prepared to provide significant resources to make this happen, including a small team of Apple developers and immediate access to any other relevant Apple developers. I was cautiously optimistic.

(Now 30,000 feet over Iowa)

We travelled across De Anza Blvd (luggage still in hand) to a different Apple building where I was ushered into a conference room with a single desktop computer sitting on the conference table. It was in the same metal case as Apple’s high end desktop computers at the time, the PowerMac G5. I think the case even said “G5” on the side. From the outside you couldn’t tell the difference between this machine and a G5 unless you carefully peeked through the holes on the front and noticed it didn’t have the huge heat sink the G5’s had.

I was greeted by the team of Apple engineers (Matt, Eric, & Ronnie) who would be providing technical assistance in the porting process. This place was not only hidden from the public, but it was hidden from the rest of Apple. Very few people at Apple were even aware this project existed. The four of us got busy.

I sat down at the Macintel and immediately began working. The experience wasn’t just familiar it was identical to any other Mac I had used. I was blown away by how seamless Apple had made the transition. The whole OS was there it all its glory, including every bundled application (even Xcode). I could just work exactly like I do on any other Mac.

But wait, sometimes I use BBEdit to edit text. I guess I won’t be able to do that since it (or any other 3rd party application) hasn’t been ported yet. “Why don’t you just go ahead and try it?” Matt said to me as he tried to hold back a smile. It hit me immediately. “You’re kidding, right?” I downloaded BBEdit, double clicked the icon, and it ran. I ran just like it does on any other Mac. Apple had incorporated (with technology licensed from another company) a PowerPC translation layer into the OS. This meant that nearly all existing Mac applications would run on the new Intel machine, with a slight performance penalty. This was amazing news, as it meant the new machines could be adopted immediately by users rather than waiting until all their applications were ported. Very exciting.

Back to work. We started with MathLink. This is a low level library used by both the Mathematica user interface (FrontEnd) and the computation engine (Kernel). With one set of flags MathLink builds for Mac OS X PowerPC and with different flags it builds for x86 Linux (or Windows, etc.). It only took a few minutes of experimentation with the Makefile and headers to find the right set of flags to treat the OS as Mac OS X and the architecture as x86. The elapsed time from entering the conference room to having a built, fully functional MathLink library was probably around 20-25 minutes. As we progressed our excitement grew.

Xcode target architecture

Next was the Mathematica FrontEnd. I normally spend all my time working on the FrontEnd, so this part didn’t worry me much. The FrontEnd is built with Xcode, which had a new “architectures” setting checkbox. We checked the checkbox for the Intel architecture (actually, we didn’t because Intel was the default target architecture when building on Intel… but we did verify the checkbox was properly set). Within 4-5 minutes the FrontEnd built with only a couple of minor build errors which were easily fixable. After 10 minutes working on the FE we had it built and running. It wasn’t running flawlessly, but it was a very good start. I had only been at the secret Intel machine for around a half hour. This was getting really exciting.

The next step was the one which caused me the most concern, the Mathematica Kernel. The reason for my concern was that I don’t often work with the Kernel. I knew how to build it (the build system is somewhat complicated) and I knew roughly how the code was organized, but there are all sorts of minor details which could really slow down the process. It relies on many external libraries (open source and commercial) and custom build tools. Fortunately, the Kernel, like MathLink, already ran on Mac OS X PowerPC and Intel Linux & Windows. It took a while longer to figure out some of the proper build flags, and some of the build errors weren’t entirely obvious.

This is where Matt, Eric, & Ronnie really came through. They had each spent a lot of time porting open source applications to Mac OS X Intel to learn what types of issues developers might run into along the way. Each time we encountered some sort of problem in an open source library one of them would go off on their own for a few minutes to resolve the problem while the rest of us kept hammering away. Every few minutes we would get further and further along in the build process with new issues popping up all the time. It was like an assembly line. In parallel.

After about 90 minutes (2 hours from when I entered the room) we had the Kernel running, the FrontEnd running, and the two processes were able to talk to each other through MathLink. Again, it wasn’t perfect, but nearly everything just worked.

News spread up the ranks. Within minutes we had high level executives stopping by to see the first 3rd party commercial application running on Mac OS X Intel. By early evening Theo (who took a later flight) arrived frantically asking what he can do to help. He was a bit shocked, and very pleasantly surprised, that it was mostly done.

Friday we worked to fix bugs and showed off the software to an ever growing number of people. Since Mathematica already ran on Intel processors on other platforms, most of our cross platform code was byte order agnostic. There were a few cases where Mac specific code was assuming big endian byte order, particularly related to Quartz (bitmap drawing) and OpenGL. There were also some issues with Quickdraw PICT drawing.

Friday evening some of the Mac rumors sites (original CNET article appears to have been removed) reported that Apple would be announcing the switch to Intel processors at Monday’s keynote. Rumors like this had been published for years, so it wasn’t that out of the ordinary, but this report was different. It contained many specific (correct) details rather than just wild speculation (like every previous report like this). It was clear someone in the know had blabbed. The conference room was silent for a few moments. Oh well. Until Monday, it’s still just a rumor.

Saturday morning we drove up to San Francisco to prepare for the WWDC keynote. We had a rehearsal where I met and shook hands with Steve Jobs. I had heard horror stories about his temper, but he was in a great mood when I met him… sitting perfectly relaxed, legs crossed, smile from ear to ear. I could tell he was excited.

Theo practiced his speech, asking Jobs for feedback along the way. The funny thing was that Steve was so happy he kept telling Theo “say whatever you want” or “talk for as long as you want.” Meanwhile I set up the demo machine (and backup demo machine) with our freshly built Mathematica for Mac OS X Intel.

Monday morning before the keynote Theo & I hung out in the VIP lounge. Woz (Steve Wozniak, the other co-founder of Apple) was there, Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google and former Wolfram Research intern) was there, along with many other influential people in technology.

Once the keynote started we sat in the front row on the far right side. Midway through the keynote Jobs called us up to the stage. Theo described our experience porting Mathematica to Mac OS X Intel over the previous few days. I drove the demo machine as he talked. It was a big hit. Theo captivated the audience. At one point Theo mentioned my name, which immediately caused 4,000 people to turn their heads to stare at me. It was a little awkward (which is quite evident in the video). Had I known that was going to happen I think I could have played it a little more cool. Anyway the demo was a success. Mission accomplished.

Note that a few minutes of the demo were edited out of this video for some reason.

That wasn’t all for that WWDC. On Tuesday I gave a 10 minute presentation during Bud’s science session about Mathematica on Mac OS X, detailing how we utilize various OS features. This went more smoothly for me as I had actually been preparing for it for a few weeks. Later that week I spoke about Mathematica for a minute or two in Ernie’s 64-bit session. I went from participating in zero sessions my first four WWDC’s to three sessions in 2005, back to zero sessions every year since. Perhaps that was my 15 minutes of geek fame (actually, the total time I spent on stage was almost exactly 15 minutes).

Last year I attended a reunion for the non-profit organization where I worked in college, ASP. A guy who I hadn’t seen in 8 years came up to me and asked me if I was in a Steve Jobs keynote a few years ago. “I thought that was you…”

Anyway, tomorrow’s 2009 WWDC keynote won’t be as exciting for me, though I’m sure it will still be exciting. I won’t be participating in the keynote. At least, if I am they haven’t told me yet. Always with the secrecy.

The Memorial Day Weekend

This Memorial Day weekend flew by. We got a lot accomplished, but not as much as we had hoped. I can’t help but feel partly responsible.

I had Friday and Monday off work, which is pretty rare. I celebrated by sitting around in my underwear until noon or so on Friday. I followed that up with my first post-marathon run, five miles easy. It went well. I had some tight muscles with a few aches, but no major injuries. I spent most of the afternoon mowing the lawn and doing other miscellaneous yard work. In the evening we went to Target to look at baby items.

Kickapoo mountain bike trails

Kickapoo mountain bike trails

Saturday morning I mountain biked at Kickapoo with Gene and Greg. I haven’t been there in a few months, so I wasn’t quite at the top of my game. The trails were a little muddy, but not nearly as bad as they could have been. Gene and Greg took me onto the “new” section of trail, which was absolutely ridiculous. Most of the trail is challenging, but this new part was downright sadistic. The single track trail was very narrow (18″?), cut into the side of a very steep hill, slanted downward, with tight and steep switchbacks. I made it through okay. Actually, it was dangerous. There, I said it. The rest of the trail pales in comparison.


Many unplowed fields across Illinois and Indiana had bright yellow flowering plants (which I assume are weeds) this weekend.

Saturday afternoon we drove to Indianapolis. First we visited Babies-R-Us to look at cribs and other various items. Next we went to Aimee & Brett’s house to pick up a few baby items they wanted to give us. Then it was on to Aunt Jeanne’s house to meet up with the family. Finally, we went to Zionsville to my uncle Dennis and (new) aunt Sally’s wedding reception (the main event of the trip). The reception went well, and it was great to catch up with the cousins, aunts, & uncles. Sally is a wonderful woman and she and Dennis seem very happy together.

Dennis & Sally

newly married Dennis and Sally

Sunday morning I got a little cleaning done in the office, but not as much as I (or Melissa) hoped. It’s never as much as I hope. I also worked for a little while setting up one of my old computers for my grandparents in Bismarck. After lunch we went swimming (our first family swim). Then we went shopping for new stoves. We’ve been on the brink of getting a new stove since Christmas. I think it’s finally going to happen this week.


Danville National Cemetery at the VA on Memorial Day

Monday morning I drove over to Danville for the Memorial Day 5K race at the VA. It rained during the race, which kept the temperature somewhat cool, but also made the roads a little slick. Right from the start a large pack of high schoolers shot out to the front. I tagged onto the back of the pack, maybe 12-15th position for the first half mile. I was running way too fast and I knew it. What were all these jokers doing?

Entrance to the VA on Memorial Day

The 5K course followed the road around the VA, which was lined with flags for Memorial Day.

The second half mile I slowed down, but all the kids around me slowed down even more. I moved my way up through the pack. I reached the first mile in 5:36. I ran mile two in 5:50, by which time I had moved into 4th place. My heart rate was through the roof and it was starting to wear on me. The last guy I passed tagged along behind me and stayed with me for the third mile. He passed me back with around a quarter mile left. My last mile was 5:55 and I finished in 5th place (out of a record 398 participants), 1st in my 30-39 age group. I was worried I might still be feeling the effects of the marathon eight days prior, but my legs felt perfectly fine. It was a tough race, mostly because I started too fast (didn’t I just learn not to do that?). Well, racing a 5K is a world apart from racing a marathon. Incidentally, my heart rate hit 194 in the last tenth of a mile, which I believe is the highest I’ve ever recorded (my theoretical max heart rate is 195).

After the race I went to visit my grandparents. They’ve been having some health problems recently and I hadn’t seen them in a few months. They seemed to be doing fairly well, all things considered. My dad and I worked to get their computer problems straightened out. Then we had a pizza lunch before hitting the road. I drove my dad back to Danville in the new car, which he seemed to enjoy.

Finally we spent this evening at a cookout with Cara & John at our house. John got a nifty remote controlled speedboat for his pond. Good times.

The End of March

Photo of the Day

March calendar


The top searches that lead to my blog in March were:

  1. my name is rob
  2. camel clutch
  3. time lapse photography 555 timer circuits
  4. dahon helios
  5. bike friday pocket rocket

Camel clutch

I’ll note that my Flickr photo was on the first page of Google results for “camel clutch” and my blog entry was on the second page of results. So I’ve been getting some pro wrestling traffic.

Other humorous searches include:

  • $5 camera
  • jerry seinfeld hair
  • steamy novel
  • 5 men walking at same pace riddle
  • fallking
  • short shorts boy 1980

Interesting stuff.


Jay descends into Makanda

Despite the lousy Smarch weather the past few days, we had some decent weather earlier in the month and I was able to increase my cycling mileage.

March 2009

Bike Distance # Rides Avg per Ride
Bianchi 45.5 Mile 11 4.13636 Mile
Pocket Rocket 34.7 Mile 8 4.3375 Mile
Thundercougarfalconbird 331.7 Mile 7 47.3857 Mile
Total 411.9 Mile 26 15.8423 Mile

Jan – March 2009

Bike Distance # Rides Avg per Ride
Bianchi 189.5 Mile 41 4.62195 Mile
Big Red 2. Mile 1 2. Mile
El Fuego 39.92 Mile 5 7.984 Mile
Pocket Rocket 58.5 Mile 14 4.17857 Mile
Thundercougarfalconbird 493.74 Mile 10 49.374 Mile
Total 783.66 Mile 71 11.0375 Mile


Finishers keychain

I ramped the running mileage back up in March. I had a good race at LBL and I’ve been doing some good quality training. The marathon is only 11 days away.

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 109.34 Mile 10 10.934 Mile
February 55.83 Mile 7 7.97571 Mile
March 108.792 Mile 10 10.8792 Mile
Total 273.962 Mile 27 10.1467 Mile



I wore out my Speedo

I’ve also been swimming really well lately. I’m able to swim farther and faster than at any other time in recent years. This could mean good things for the upcoming triathlon season.

Month Distance # Workouts Avg per Workout
January 1.87452 Kilo Meter 3 0.62484 Kilo Meter
February 14.9504 Kilo Meter 6 2.49174 Kilo Meter
March 19.5224 Kilo Meter 7 2.78892 Kilo Meter
Total 36.3474 Kilo Meter 16 2.27171 Kilo Meter

The Natural

One of this week’s $0.99 movie rentals on iTunes is The Natural. This is the movie that introduced me to the word “bastard” as a child. I had no idea what it meant or even that it could be considered a bad word. I just picked up from the movie that it’s something you call someone when you’re mad at them.

Of course, this got me into trouble when I called my brother Travis a bastard at a family gathering. Nobody really heard it, but Travis promptly tattled on me and I got my mouth washed out with soap. The worst part was that I had absolutely no idea what I had done wrong.

I’ll freely admit that there were plenty of times in my childhood when I truly deserved to have my mouth washed out with soap (though my personal preference was for Lux, I found Palmolive had a nice, piquant after-dinner flavor — heavy with a touch of mellow smoothness), but this wasn’t one of them.

The Bender Mask

Bite my shiny metal ass

“Bite my shiny metal ass”

Futurama is one of my all time favorite television shows. The robot character Bender isn’t my favorite character on the show, but he seems to be quite popular with every other fan of the show. I was able to score this Bender halloween mask from emerchandise.com in 2002 for $7 and it has served as my de facto Halloween costume many times since then.

The Indy Marathon Chase

“Whoa, check out that guy! He makes Speedy Gonzalez look like Regular Gonzalez!”Philip J. Fry

Melissa runs marathons. I chase them.

Saturday she ran the inaugural Indianapolis Monumental Marathon.

I rode my bike to several different places on the course to cheer her on and take pictures.

The marathon went rather well for Melissa, and as a result, less well for me. For you see, she ran so fast that half of the places where I went to watch the race I arrived too late and missed her. The first time it was clear that she had already passed so I didn’t wait around long. The remaining times I waited several minutes before I could be sure she had already passed.

We were both wearing GPS watches, so using that data I put together this animation using Mathematica that shows our locations throughout the race. Melissa’s path is blue, Rob’s path is red. It’s kind of funny to watch my red path wait around at a certain location while Melissa moves farther and farther away.

Update 2009-04-17: I have written an entry for my company blog showing in great detail how I made this movie.

The Big 3-0

Q: Was there a defining moment in your life when you made a decision that changed the course of the rest of your life forever?

A: I walked out of a bar on my 30th birthday and ran 30 miles cold turkey. It hurt bad, but it changed the course of my life ever since that faithful event. –Dean Karnazes (Ultramarathon Man)

Today is my 30th birthday. The Big 3-0. We spent the last two nights partying with friends and family. Today, I spent much of the day running. Inspired by the story of Dean Karnazes, now one of the best endurance runners in the world, I decided to run 30 miles on my 30th birthday. And as if that weren’t enough, I also chose to run the 5.5 mile Allerton Park trail race.

Foo Dog statue at Allerton Park

more statues at Allerton Park

Last night at dinner with my family we reminisced of my first trip to Allerton Park as a young boy with my grandparents, aunt, & brother. My grandmother and aunt talked with disgust about rumors of wild parties & orgies that supposedly took place at the Allerton estate while Robert Allerton was living there decades ago. They then asked me if I knew what an orgy was, to which I (as a 9 or 10 year old) apparently responded, “No, and I don’t want to know.”

Gardens near finish line

In addition to the beautiful gardens on the grounds, Allerton Park has some of my favorite trails in the area. The only other time I ran the race was 2003. That year I was in very good shape. I ran the entire race in 10th place. Then in the last half mile seven people passed me. This year I am in roughly equally good shape and I hoped to equal or better my previous result.

I arrived early to get in a good warmup (and start working on my 30 for the day). I’ve run this trail 4 times in the past month, so I knew it fairly well. I was amazed to see how high the water in the Sangamon River was, givin the small amount of rain we had this week. Apparently this river has a very large watershed. The trail was very muddy, and flooded in dozens of places. Most of the flooded areas could be avoided by running to one side of the trail or the other. There were four or five places where the water simply could not be avoided so we had to run through. A few were only ankle deep. One was close to knee deep.

The trail was very muddy, with four or five water crossings

I started the race near the front. I was in 6th place at the first turn when we headed into the woods. I stayed in 6th place almost the entire race. I passed another runner around mile 3 to move into 5th, but that runner passed me back around mile 3.5.

The 5.5 mile race course makes a loop around the Sun Singer statue

With my heart rate over 180, I was really starting to tire by the time we reached the Sun Singer. I generally try not to look behind me in races, but I did at this point and I was kind of glad to have a lead of around 40 seconds over the next runner behind me. From there I eased up a little and cruised the remaining 1.5 miles. I still ran hard, but I tried not to overdo it. I finished in 6th place overall (out of 396 finishers), 2nd place in my new 30-34 age group. I was very happy with the placing. My time was slower than I would have liked, but so was everyone else’s time. The trail was really slow today.

Rob finishing the race (photo by Kelly Bails)

I chatted with some friends at the finish line, grabbed some water and bananas, walked back to my car, changed shirt/socks/shoes, and started running again. Very slowly. Along the way I helped out my friends from Second Wind Running Club (who organized the race) by taking down the flagging tape that marked the course as I ran. I cut the loop a little short so I could make it back to the finish line for the awards ceremony. I received a race towel for finishing 2nd in my age group. As I sat on the grass I stretched out quite a bit. Running that hard really left my muscles tight, and by that point I had only run 12 miles.

After the awards I ate more and started running again, still very slowly. It was rather uneventful until mile 22 or so when I started to have a lot of pain in my right hip flexor. I stopped to walk, but that didn’t help much. Around that same time Melissa called me on my cell phone to offer moral support, which helped. My plans were in serious jeopardy and I was still 2 miles away from my car. So I walked about a mile. My hip wasn’t getting any better. I started running again. I immediately noticed my hip hurt less when I was running than when I was walking. If that wasn’t motivation to keeping running I don’t know what was.

I limped along at 12 minute per mile pace for the remainder of the run. I passed the imaginary 26.2 mile mark (marathon distance) at 5:09, probably the slowest I’ve ever covered that distance in five attempts. I’ve previously done 2 marathons and 2 ultramarathons. Even though this 30 miler wasn’t actually a race, I’m probably going to call it an ultramarathon anyway.

Running through the water crossings on the last lap of the 5 mile trail was pretty unpleasant. My feet and been wet for over 5 hours and now they were sopping and I feared I would get blisters. I looked at my watch as I passed 29 miles and realized I could finish under 6 hours if I didn’t dally. So I actually picked it up and ran closer to 10 minute pace for the last mile. I finished the 30 miles in 5:59:04.

After the run I hobbled back to the car, took of my wet shoes & socks, and drove 30 miles home barefoot. I shoveled food and gatorade into my mouth the entire way home. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to stand up without too much difficulty when I got home and my hip no longer hurt at all. Even now, 7 hours later, I’m still able to move around. Tomorrow will be another story though.

This was the farthest I’ve ever run (I’ve done 28.4 miles on two occasions) and it hurt. It hurt more than I expected. It was the race that did me in. Had I run slowly the entire time I don’t think I would have had as much difficulty. Fortunately, I never bonked, and my muscles never cramped up. Had it not been for the late hip flexor pain (or the water crossings) it would have been a truly delightful day in the woods.