Personal Record

In 2014, I ran my fastest half marathon, breaking through the 2-hour mark for the first time, crossing over the finish line at a stunning 1:59:11. It was barely under 2 hours, but it was under nonetheless. Then I stopped racing road halfs and dug more deeply into trail and ultra running, which is really where my passion lies.

But this year, I decided to do another road half – really because of one specific reason:

After an incredible spring of running the 30-mile Art Loeb trail and racing Yamacraw 50k again, I came into the summer on a DNF. I attempted a 50-mile trail race, and dropped out at around mile 21. While I do not think dropping was the wrong decision on that day, it still felt like a kick to the stomach. I didn’t like thinking about it let alone talking about it. Which is why you have likely not heard anything about it.

With the summer approaching, my motivation to run was all but gone. My confidence in my own running abilities was just shot. I had planned a pretty ambitious year, and I didn’t think I could do any of it any more. Toeing the line at another ultra seemed like a terrible idea.

So I decided to go small and build back up, snagging wins along the way. I don’t mean medals and awards – but injections of confidence: I can run, I can work hard, I can achieve. And that’s just what I did. With Doug’s guidance, I got into speedwork like never before. At first, I wanted to go for a 5k PR, but shortly into that, I thought it wasn’t enough. I wanted to dig deeper, so I set my sights instead on the Evansville Half. This would mean hard track workouts under the blazing summer sun. Tough tempo runs through the streets of Evansville under the blazing summer sun. Long runs with speed work – under the blazing summer sun.

While the miles wouldn’t be quite as long as what I had gotten used to in training for ultras, they would be tougher miles. And I loved it. Heading to the track to bust out 400s, 800s, and 1600s at paces I had never run before was incredible. I could feel myself getting stronger, and the confidence that has come with that is priceless.

A few weeks before the race, I hit the road for the longest run of the cycle. It was 15 miles, with the first three miles at race pace and the last 3-5 miles also at race pace. When I finished, I had busted my half marathon PR by three minutes. So that sort of set my goal for the race even higher. Not only do I need to break by PR from 2014, but I also wanted to break my NEW PR from a training run.

I was thrilled.

I got into the starting corral on October 14 with a few thousand other runners, ready to tour the city and see what I’m capable of.

The Evansville Half Marathon course is flat and fast. The first 8 miles, there are basically no hills at all. The last 5 get a little rolly – with 4- to 5-foot hills, which can seen a little insurmountable after running hard on flat roads for so long.

Ashley rode her bike through town to see me at a few places along the course, which was always a welcome boost. She waved and yelled, and I grinned and ran.

The first few miles, I eased up to my sub-8:30 pace, and it really felt pretty comfortable. My legs were turning over well, and my breathing wasn’t too labored. Eventually, it would start to feel more difficult to keep that pace during those last 5 miles. When the going got tough, I turned up my tunes and focused on keeping my form under control. Turning corners, climbing little hills, wincing into the bright sun and blue sky.

I knew this is what I worked hard all summer to do. I knew that I could do the distance; I knew I could hold the pace.

I picked up the pace slightly over the last 1 or 2 miles – or at least increased the effort. The finish line came into view. I locked eyes on that big inflatable frame.

At 1:52:36, I crossed through. Tired, sore, sweaty.

Proud, confident, strong.

IMG_20171014_103203824

Advertisements

Transcendent Trail Run Tuesday

When I’m anticipating the end of the work day, I’m thankful for the second hand’s unceasing movement – Because it’s almost 4:00, which means in an hour, I’ll be headed home. 30 minutes after that, I’ll be headed into the woods.

Even now, typing these words, I get a small surge of adrenaline.

The woods are where I belong, and today is Tuesday.

Tuesdays are for trail running.

When work is over, I get home and change into running clothes, pull on my trail shoes, and drive across that money-saving bridge into Henderson where, just on the other side of the Ohio River, John James Audubon State Park awaits. This park is home to a short trail system that is remarkably grueling – perhaps even more grueling because no one expects it when they head back there for the first time.

I run in to the heavy hardwood canopy and follow the single track to get as many miles as I can before the sun goes down. As the summer wanes, the forest’s deepening shadows urge me forward, up steep hills, along plummeting ridge lines, and flying down into ravines – only to come back up again and again.

It’s only 15 minutes from my home in the city, but these woods are a welcome refuge from the noise and bustle of the highways and expressways that crisscross Evansville.

From a few points on the trail, high above the Ohio River, I can look out and see the tall buildings in Downtown Evansville miles away. I can’t hear it, but I can see it. Then I turn and head back into the woods and stop to look at the turtles that line the fallen trees around the edges of Wilderness Lake. On the other side of the lake, a deer heads down for a drink. Her red-brown body reflects in the water in front of the deep forest that climbs up the hill behind her.

IMG_20170810_180253080_HDR-EFFECTS
(Just to the left of the white tree in the middle)

Audubon is a beautiful place to run – but it’s also maddeningly difficult. There are days that the wild ascents take everything in my mind and body to get over. My legs take bites out of the hill, climbing up to a peak that I can’t see. Maybe it’s around this corner…maybe this one? Surely this one.

When I finally reach the top, heart thumping in my chest, I don’t stop. Instead, I pick up the pace a little, allowing my legs to turn faster on the relative flat of the ridge line. Soon, my pulse slows and my legs settle into a relaxing cadence – just before I dive back down into a ravine and head for another climb.

It never gets old, this early work week escape between work and dinner. It’s always a true pleasure to suddenly be deep in the woods running with deer, squirrels, spiders, and horseflies. With a smile as I turn onto Backcountry Trail, I wholeheartedly welcome the challenges I know are just beyond the next curve, and I relish the opportunity to give it my all on a training run that is every bit as fun as it is important for my fitness and goals.

It’s Transcendent Trail Run Tuesday. Hit the trails – they’re waiting.IMG_20170810_182420766_HDR

There is magic today.

image1

Sometimes running can only be described as magical.

Moments like the one pictured above – when I’m on top of a mountain with other mountains, the big blue sky, and big fluffy clouds all around. But, I can also feel the magic when I’m climbing that mountain in the rain with more mountains and miles ahead of me.

IMG_20150428_175736538

The mountains don’t even have to be there. I feel the magic when I’m deep in the dark green woods, following the dusty singletrack for miles and miles.

I live for this magic. The moments that last in my mind forever.

While running in the mountains and forests are the most fulfilling for me, I begin the majority of my runs by going out my front door and turning either left or right – and I don’t live near mountains or in the forest. When I’m grinding out the miles on the roads around my neighborhood during the week, it can be difficult to find the magic.

And, if I’m being perfectly honest, those weekday miles can really be a drag.

But, while they may not always be magical, those weekday runs are probably the most important. Without solid weekday miles, the long runs on the weekends and the adventure runs in the mountains would not be possible. It’s a simple equation. Much like I work during the day at my job so I can afford to do the things I love, I run during the week to have the ability to go on the adventures I love.

Just because my weekday runs don’t have the obvious makings of a magical adventure, that doesn’t mean that they don’t hold some type of magic of their own.

So, starting today, I’ve committed to finding the magic in every run.

I’m not going to force it, but I’m going to look for it. There is magic today; I just need to be open to it.

I’ll share my experiences on Instagram – so if you don’t already follow me there, you should! I’ll post a picture from every one of my runs that shows some of the beautiful places I get to run in town and in the woods.

I also want to challenge you to look for the magic in your own life. You’re in your life’s adventure today. Some day you’ll think back to now and say “Remember when…?” Make sure you appreciate it while you’re living it.

Save

2017: The year of…

img_20161209_171020891

I hope next year is epic. I’m already  planning for it to be. I have an A race in mind, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever attempted. But, it won’t be the farthest I’ve run. It’s “only” a marathon. It’s a marathon that one guy described as “a pissed off 50k.” It’s the marathon Trail Runner magazine calls “The toughest marathon you’ve never heard of.”

I call it my A race – for 2018.

I like planning. I like big goals. This race will require big goals, strategic planning, hard work, and dedication. It like the perfect puzzle piece in my lifestyle.

It’s the Athens Big Fork Trail Marathon. The course follows a 100-year-old horse postal trail through the mountains. It’s an out-and-back trail that goes up and over eight mountains – then back over those eight mountains, finishing right where it started after 9200 feet of mountain running.

Ever since I heard about it, I’ve been wanting to do it. The one thing that has been holding me back is that I don’t think I’m ready for that. That race is too hard, too much.

But then I realized that too hard and too much has never stopped me before.

Getting ready.

The running.

In order to run a race like the Big Fork, I’ll need to be really ready. There are cutoff times to think about, so I’m not going to be able to just meander the mountains hoping for the best. As a result, I’m treating all of 2017 as training for BF.

Here are the key races I’m planning to run:

  • Yamacraw 50k (April)
  • Gnaw Bone 50 mile (May)
  • Shawnee Hills 50k (August)
  • Rough Trails Ultra 50k (November)

Training for four ultramarathons will help give me a massive endurance base. Plus all four of those races are pretty hilly, so I’ll build climbing legs and develop more efficiency on the hills, which will be so important for Big Fork.

The working out.

But, as I know for a fact, and as I am not good at compensating for, merely running does not a good runner make. In 2016, I did a run streak: I ran at least one mile every day for the entire year – but what I’ve learned (and I’ll get into more in a different post) is that a run streak really doesn’t have a ton of actual benefits – aside from forcing very consistent running routine, of course. I definitely didn’t become a stronger runner because of it.

But, I did really like the consistency it brought to my training, and that got me thinking. I could do a different daily challenge that would bring more benefits to my running and goals. So, in 2017, I’ll be doing a core workout challenge. Every day, I’ll do a 10-minute workout including leg, arms, and core strengthening exercises. This will go a lot further toward making me a stronger, leaner runner. Which should get me up and over eight mountains – twice.

No excuses.

2016 was my year of discipline. Even with each day anchored by a run, I’m still not quite sure I really achieved the level of discipline I wanted to achieve. It’s illusive and it’s hard to say exactly what I’m looking for, but know that I’m not quite there.

One of my weaknesses is that I give in to my excuses too often. While I do get my runs done, I don’t do them when I really want to (i.e., in the morning), and I don’t get my cross training done as consistently as I should.

So, in 2017, I’m going to dive into all the clichés. No excuses. Just do it. The daily workout challenge is going to be a big part of that. It’s going to have a big, positive effect, but I know it’s going to be a challenge to  do it every day without fail.

But I suppose that’s what makes it appealing.

What are your 2017 goals?

 

 

Fiddy.

tunnel
Not mine yet – but soon!

My goal for 2016 was to cultivate discipline. That has proven to be as difficult as I expected.

When I was 20 miles into my 30-mile run a few weeks ago, things started to get difficult. Of course, putting one foot in front of the other is not a difficult process – but it becomes difficult when those feet are sore, and there’s really no reason to think they won’t be sore anymore. Also, knowing that I’ve run such a long way, but still have a considerable distance to cover is not easy. The only thing I had was what I had all day: Water, Tailwind, sweet potatoes, and dates. No magic pill, no rocket-powered scooter.

I felt myself sinking into that familiar dark place where pain is hard to ignore and running isn’t fun anymore. Trees, birds, rivers, big bridges over a dizzying expanse…none of it was doing anything for me.

But, I knew this was what I was looking for. I knew that this is why I train. Sure, I need a strong body and heart to be able to run ultramarathons, but perhaps more importantly, I need a strong mind. What can I do to keep myself from focusing on everything that’s bad and everything that’s left?

I suddenly thought to myself: Don’t think about what’s in front of you. Think about what’s behind you. The miles of this run that are over and done with… The miles (1,500+) of training I’ve done to prepare for this day… The hours spent in the gym – or perhaps more accurately in the grass outside of the gym… The support of my wife. I have so much more behind me – pushing me forward – than I do in front of me.

So, that’s my plan for Saturday. When the going gets tough, I’ll avoid thinking about what I have in front of me. There’s so much more behind me, and the miles to come will be a part of that soon enough.


In a few short days, I will no longer be a person who has never run 50 miles, and I’m incredibly excited about that. Many hours of hard work has gone into preparing for this, and I am ready to cross that finish line.

But first – the start line. See you on the other side!

Living la vida ultra

img_20161022_095143544_hdr

On November 12, I’ll be running my first 50-mile ultramarathon. I’m excited and nervous, but mostly excited. I’ve been training since May for a 50-mile race, and I’m ready to get this thing done.

Since I haven’t updated in a long time, I thought it would be nice to answer some FAQs regarding ultrarunning, and in particular my 50-mile race and the way I will be running it.

Most of the people in my various social circles know that I run, and that I run a lot. So, one of the common questions I get is: “When is your next race?” or something along those lines. Here are the answers!

1. When is your next race?

Tunnel Hill 100/50. I’ll run the 50-mile race!

The Tunnel Hill course is a crushed-limestone multi-use trail in Vienna, Illinois. It’s part of the rails-to-trails conservancy project. The trail was built on an old railroad bed. They took out the tracks and threw down some crushed limestone. It has virtually no hills, lots of bridges, and a notable 543-foot long tunnel. Through a hill.

2. 50 miles????

Yep!

3. How long will that take you? Is it all in one day?

I’m estimating it will take me between 10 and 12 hours. My goal is to finish in 10. Yes, it’s all in one day, technically. All runners (of both the 100 and 50-mile races) have to finish in 30 hours.

4. What will you eat?

Throughout this summer, I’ve been working on perfecting my nutrition plan for this race, and I’ve gotten it down pretty well now.

  • Roasted sweet potato wedges
  • Medjool dates
  • Tailwind

So it goes like this: I eat throughout the whole race beginning at 45 minutes to an hour in. It’s super important to keep fueling the whole time, not just when I get hungry or when I crash. It’s really hard to bounce back after totally depleting resources.

At about 45 minutes in, I’ll eat my first date. Then a little later, I’ll have some Tailwind. Then a little later, I’ll have some potato wedges. Repeat for the rest of the day. This is my main source of fuel.

I also like to have some Chex Mix (salty, crunchy, lovely), and it’s really nice to have a soda in those later miles. Occasional Gin-Gins to help settle a crazy stomach.

And of course I’ll drink plenty of water.

Why would you do this to yourself?

I love the challenge. It feels so good to set a crazy goal, work really hard, and eventually achieve that goal. There’s nothing like it. I know that no matter what happens in other areas of my life, running is a constant. And if I work super hard, no one can take away the progress I make, and no one can tell me that I can’t finish my ultramarathon. It’s all up to me.

But what about…

Do you have any questions about trail and ultra running that I didn’t answer? Feel free to leave me a comment below, and I’ll answer it!

Shoot for the moon!

If you’ve been around the Internet these last few years, you’ve likely noticed the following inspirational quote:

shoot_for_the_moon

I suppose this could put you on some type of trajectory. But, really, how terrifying would it be to completely miss your target of the moon, and just end up somehow floating “among the stars,” which are unfathomably and increasingly distant from one another?

I will never be content simply landing near my target.

I plan a lot and work hard to make my dreams come true, whether running or otherwise. I won’t throw my rocket toward the moon without knowing exactly how much power it will take to get there. If I fire one and miss the moon – then I’m coming back and trying again. I want that moon, dammit.

I’m currently 500 miles into training to “shoot the moon” in the form of a 50 mile trail run. It’s a big, hairy, audacious goal. I’m trying to work as hard as I can to make sure that when that rocket launches on November 12, I’ll hit the moon right where I’m aiming.

So, I say – don’t be content with missing your target. If you miss, then it means get back to the drawing board. It means the challenge of trying to achieve your dreams isn’t over. It doesn’t mean you’re not strong enough or good enough. I means you’re going to be stronger and better soon.

DCIM102GOPRO
My dog is the most inspirational dog.

Can’t? – or won’t.

Hey, so, I haven’t updated in a month.

Mainly because not much has been going on. After Yamacraw, I was between training. I really enjoyed three or four weeks of running outside of a training plan. I still ran every day, but I didn’t have any set mileage, so I just did what I felt like. But, that playground style of exercise has ended. I just started a new training plan for my first 50 miler. More on that later!

It has been raining a lot here lately. This makes trail running a bit difficult. As a trail runner, staying off the trails because they’re muddy is really frustrating. I’ve missed two (TWO!) Transcendent Tuesday trails runs because of rain. Now I’m doing a training plan, and the first long run was intended to be done on the race course, which is a trail. Not only is it a trail, but it’s a notoriously muddy trail. Any little bit of rain leaves standing water and terribly sloppy conditions.

With the all-day rain we’ve been having for the last several weeks, I decided my first long run of the plan would be done on the road. Sad, frustrating, but acceptable.

But then I remembered last weekend.

Gnaw

Last weekend, Ashley and I volunteered at an aid station for the Dances with Dirt trail races at Gnaw Bone. Our station was at an intersection where all distances went through twice. Once four miles into the race, and then again five miles before the finish line. We gave water and food to runners doing 13.1 , 26.2, 50k, and 50 mile distances(including a couple friends doing their first trail half).

All the rain we’ve been having made a wreck of the trails, and about 1,000 sets of feet churned them into miles-long mud pits.

As the runners reached my aid station at mile four, I couldn’t see their shoes, and their legs were caked with mud. They had just climbed up four miles of muddy trail and continued through to get back on the trails before returning to my station.

Some of the runners were in good spirits, enjoying the new challenge of running in these conditions. Some people were broken down, sore, and tired. Whether they stayed at the aid station for a few minutes to rest and recover, or whether they downed a quick cup of water and sped back down the trail – they all kept going.

Can’t? – or won’t.

With a head full of last week’s incredible runners, I went out to Angel Mounds yesterday and slogged through the mud for 10 miles. It was filthy, but I got it done, and I’m proud I didn’t give up on that detail of the run. It was actually pretty enjoyable.

It’s one of those times that the lessons I learn or the determination I cultivate as a runner can carry over into my “real” life. That one I live where I don’t smell like a yeti. There are many times when I don’t do something because I can’t. But I think, in most cases, it’s really only because I won’t.

I’m not saying that I’ll always be able to find the motivation to do a chore or complete a project, or even run 10 muddy miles on a trail because that’s what my training plan says. What I am saying is that I’ll dig deeper no matter what. I’ll pick up my pen, lace up my shoes, or grab a sponge or paint scraper, and get it done. Because I’m an ultrarunner. Ain’t nothing gonna stop me.

mud

The bad run.

Though I run quite a lot, I seldom have a truly bad run. Wednesday threw a bad-run kink in an otherwise stellar streak.

At mile 3 of a 7-mile run, I was going through the cemetery when nature called. I really had no option but to find some seclusion. Luckily, there is a stand of trees behind some large mounds of dirt well away from the burial area of the cemetery. Don’t worry, no desecration going on here.

Unfortunately, in order to get there, I had to go through an area that had some aggressive burrs, which got all over my legs, shoes, socks, and shorts. Four miles left in my run, and I had been attacked by burrs. I did my best to clean off as many as I could, but my attempt would prove to be fruitless. There were burrs inside and outside my shorts, including in the liner, and all over my legs, feet, socks, and shoes.

Between the unscheduled bathroom stop and the burrs, I was feeling pretty disheartened. At first I thought, “This is going to be a long 4 miles.” Then I admitted that I couldn’t possibly finish my 7 miles with burrs all over my body, causing all sorts of discomfort. So I compromised. At this point in my run, I could go home the long way or the short way. I chose the long way, thinking that if the burrs didn’t cause too much trouble, I’d keep running to get the whole 7 miles.

As the miles came, the burrs as a collective weren’t a huge issue. Most of them were tangled in the hair on my calves, and in my shoes and socks. Not much friction going on there. However, there was a good amount in the liner of my shorts and, therefore, around my inner thighs. These burrs were not very gracious passengers. I ended up with large red scratches on my inner left thigh and on my outer left hip. This red hot rubbing combined with general soreness and lack of sunny disposition brought my pace down and deadened my run into an uncomfortable plod. Nevertheless, as I neared home, I went a couple extra blocks, trying to maximize my miles for the day knowing that what I didn’t get Wednesday, I would transfer to Thursday’s run.

I ended up only 1.2 miles short, but I was exhausted and in a decent amount of uncomfortable pain from the burrs. I got right in the shower, which only made the raw wounds burn worse.

Not my favorite run by a long shot. What makes a bad run worse, though, is the effects that carry over to the next run. “Will this happen on my next run? Will tomorrow’s run suck, too?”

The only way to know is to pull the burrs off my shoes, lace them up, and hit the road again.

Update: As it turns out, like most bad runs, Wednesday’s was a standalone. Thursday’s run was outstanding.

The varieties of trailrunning experiences.

But first…
I went to the doctor because of some lingering soreness in my hip. Nothing serious, also not something I wanted to become serious. So now I’m on some medication for reducing inflammation, and I’m not supposed to run for at least three days, possibly six. It’s not really a big deal, but it’s a bummer. I have some great momentum going with my training, and I’m beginning to come in to some serious mileage, which I’ve been looking forward to. Tuesday was supposed to be a 7-mile run – on a beautiful day, nonetheless – and I had to skip it.

Coach says it’s a bummer, but it’s not the end of the world. I have some solid training behind me, and it’s early enough that we’ll be able to bounce back pretty easily after a break.

I’ll be able to run again soon, maybe in as few as three days. Quit complaining, right? Right. Lemme just take my bedtime dose of Prednisone and tell you about last Saturday.


The mud and the muck.
This past weekend was beautiful. The first we’ve had in a few weeks. The sun was shining, and the temperatures reached an unseasonable low 50s. It was great, and I had a 12-mile long run in the schedule, so we went out to Harmonie State Park, which seems to have become my go-to for long runs for now. Great trails, great mileage, and free entry for the season.

But the prior weeks of freezing temperatures mixed with the sudden warmth and sunshine caused the trails to become unsavory. I didn’t think about it before I got out there, but I quickly found out that the trails were nearly impassible due to the mud. It was almost impossible to get any traction. I slid around corners, surfed down hills, and face-planted a few times. Luckily I was wearing the GoPro, so you could join me!

At times, I ran directly into trees because I’d lost control of my speed and couldn’t make any sharp turns (aim directly for the tree, and put your hands up!). A few times, I had to grab hold of roots and other anchors to get myself up slick hills. It was frustrating and tiresome, not as much physically as mentally. I knew I needed to get 12 miles, but the stop and go of running in this mud was grating. It would take me all weekend to finish!

It ended up not being that bad. I did need to run a big loop on the road through the park, but it had a few nice hills, and I was still in the woods for the most part, so it was vastly superior than being in town.


Hill conditioning in a hill-less world.
I’d love to be able to run hills all week long. Not only would it be more beneficial for my training, but it’s way more fun. I like hills a lot. So the challenge is creating hills in an area that resembles an ironed shirt.

It's flat here. I don't know how well this metaphor works.
It’s flat here. I don’t know how well this metaphor works.

Last week, I arranged my short runs to go into the soccer stadium at UE so I could run up and down the stairs. It’s not much, but it feels good. I even did a three-mile track run (suuuper boring), doing the stadium stairs whenever I passed them. Garmin didn’t register any elevation change, but my calves did. They were pretty sore the next day. That means it worked! More of that, says I.


Gnaw Bone is going to be a pretty serious event for a number of reasons.
1. I’ll be running 31 miles. This alone would make it a big deal.
2. The race is run on trails. Trails introduce variables – some that can be anticipated (hills), others that cannot (trail conditions).
3. The hills, the hills…the hills. Last week, I printed out the map and some detailed descriptions of the course. I’ll be studying those pretty closely leading up to this event. 90% of the race is mental. If I know what’s coming up at any point on this course, it will help me prepare for it and not be surprised on that day.