Now a Thanksgiving Tradition?

For the third-straight Thanksgiving, I traveled to Pickrell, Nebraska, 35 miles south of the state capital, to participate in the Wild Turkey Chase 13.1, race number eleven of 2018. My last five running events from July to October, in terms of time, had been five of my top performances in my running career, ironically following two of my worst, and I have been consistently running at a much speedier pace on training runs, which had me eager for more ambitious objectives. I would also surpass 1,000 kilometers in race mileage with the completion of this turkey trot, which excited me even more.

I began the race morning grumpy having only slept twenty minutes, but I also reminded myself sleep deprivation has never played a negative role in my running. Understanding through prior experiences both this course takes place 99.9% on a trail and seems slightly longer than 13.1 miles, I told my mother over the phone the night before I anticipated to finish between 1:53:00 and 1:55:00. The chilly weather of low 30s without too much headwind felt perfect for me to over-perform, which proved to be true. I completed the first half of the course at an 8:13/mile pace, and, still full of energy, I had in mind to really begin pushing with a couple of miles to go to attempt to break my personal record of 1:47:35.7 from less than a month ago. Although I never felt my body fatigue or slow down, my Garmin showed I was indeed gradually losing pace. I figured at this point setting a new personal best would be improbable but still wanted to secure my second-ever and back-to-back sub-1:50:00 half marathon. I knew I would be close, and with just under two miles left, I increased my stride and hoped to miraculously shave several seconds off my mile pace; I managed to reduce one second. I completed the race in 1:49:30.1, content I achieved one of my goals of breaking 1:50:00 and relieved seeing how nearly I came to losing even that.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Golden Corral, again

I felt obligated to have turkey on Thanksgiving, so, like last year, I proceeded to Golden Corral that offered Thanksgiving buffet. Never did I imagine this time last year that I would be repeating this (now a) tradition a year later, which taught me not to rely on my own humanly plans but rather let God take control of my life, as He and I may have different plans (Proverbs 19:21) and His time and my time do not always coincide (2 Peter 3:8). This suffocating lonesome journey of living in Kearney, Nebraska, for well over three years now constantly plays with my head, especially over holidays when families gather. I, however, would be surprised if I repeat this Thanksgiving tradition yet again in 2019. Of course, His will, not mine! Thank You, Jesus!

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Fly without Limits

After contemplating running another ultra in Kansas on October 27, 2018, I decided to instead enter the Good Life Halfsy in Lincoln, Nebraska, happening the following day, mainly because I hesitated committing to a minimum of twelve-hour drive out and back for the former. This event that welcomes over 6,500 participants bears the nickname “Nebraska’s funnest half marathon,” and I longed to test myself and see how fast I could run on this net-downhill course I heard so much about for years from local races. Seeing and chatting with champion ultrarunner Kaci Lickteig and her pacer again, in addition to taking part in various entertaining activities, at the Expo the day before the race unsurprisingly pumped me up and excited me for the next morning.

My impression of a “downhill course” made me visualize most of the course leading downhill, which proved inaccurate when I ran upward as frequently as I ran downward. With this initial thought, I started ambitiously fast, beginning at a low 7:00/mile pace and maintaining an 8:04/mile pace for the first few miles. I had a rough idea of the pace I needed to keep in order to destroy my personal record (PR) from slightly over a month ago, which about eight miles in I figured to be inevitable unless something drastic, like an injury, occurred. I noticed my passing many runners going up and down but occasionally being passed going flat, and I was reminded of why I missed the Georgia hills so dearly when I first moved to Kearney, Nebraska, that seemed 99% flat, in September 2015.

Nearing the finish line following a prolonged uphill on a bridge, I gathered all the energy I had left for a final sprint to the end, flying past numerous runners. I aimed to complete the run close to 1:50:00 while quietly fantasizing even more quickly on this fast course but knew I had set quite a greedy goal, making the official time of 1:47:35.7, beating my previous PR by well over five minutes, drop my jaw even lower.

I remember texting my best friend following achieving my first-ever official sub-2:00:00 13.1 miles of 1:56:55 in the summer of 2017 that I do not know if I could again replicate that performance, yet my last three half marathons, all on much tougher courses, casually smashed that seemingly amazing accomplishment at the time. I can feel my body rapidly becoming stronger and speedier, but how much more room do I have to improve? I guess I will find out soon enough. Thank You, Jesus!

What Matters

Beginning race day being detoured four or five times driving in the dark due to major road construction and uncertain if I could make it to the event location on time, I felt overly anxious and nervous on my way to a half marathon at the Fall Double Half Mary +5 in Valparaiso, roughly 27 miles northwest of Lincoln, Nebraska, on October 13, 2018. This event does not utilize chip timing, which implied if I arrived late, however late I arrived would be added to my finish time. Canceling the race even briefly crossed my mind, and I probably would have if I could not start with the rest of the participants. When I came to the event place with short time to spare, I felt so grateful I no longer obsessed with the pressure of performing to the best of my abilities.

According to my Garmin

I lined up at the very front for the start and kept the lead for the first mile, which felt awkward because I had never led this far in any of my previous 36 races; when the few runners who finished before I passed me, I strangely felt relieved and comfortable, almost as if thinking my level should not be winning any race. The course started off relatively flat for the first two to three miles and then carried straight uphill to the halfway turnaround. I could observe how much my endurance has improved, as I did not feel any fatigue and maintained a consistent pace to the top; yes, I do acknowledge the 36-degree temperature helped. On my way up, I became excited thinking about all the downhill I would be running on the way back.

Unsurprisingly, I secured a significant negative split the second half, crossing the finish line in 1:55:23, my second-fastest half marathon ever and which coincidentally hilariously matches my bib number of 155. Considering this event took place 100% on a trail (and mud) and 0% on the road, maybe this performance could be as impressive as my 1:53:05 personal record from the road-trail race several weeks ago. I realize performing strong and running fast should not always be my priority in races and need to remind myself of what matters, but I also cannot help but feel joyful seeing how far I have come since I picked up running just over six-and-a-half years ago. Until recently, I had only hoped for a sub-two-hour 13.1 miles; now, not achieving this on a nontechnical course disappoints me. As always, thank You, Jesus!

Two States in One

Legends Bart Yasso and Jane Serues!

Days prior to my three-week business trip to Korea, I received a voice message stating my name was drawn for a free massage from Essentials Natural Family Health in Papillion, Nebraska, from a raffle at my most recent running event, Beat the Heat 10K. Upon my return to the United States, I sought another race around this area because I refused to drive three hours out and three hours back solely for a massage. I signed up for 13.1 miles in the Heartland Marathon, beginning and ending in Omaha, Nebraska, but taking place mostly in Iowa, on September 23, 2018, only a few days before the event. I felt slightly concerned about my only having run on the treadmill several times while away and not having fully overcome jet lag.

I arrived in Omaha a day early for the Expo, where I met many inspirational runners, including legends Bart Yasso and Jane Serues, guest speakers, and an elderly man who had completed 405 marathons, seven times in all 50 states. Come race day, I had no expectations but simply hoped to score another sub-two-hour half marathon in this beautiful weather for running. I also did not anticipate to run mainly uphill the first three to four miles, at which point I dropped any desire for a strong performance. Nevertheless, as the course, comprising both roads and trails, flattened out on mile five, my body swiftly recovered and I increased the pace and stayed near the 1:55 pacers, which told me I could still potentially break my personal record (PR) of 1:56:55 from over a year ago on a far-less technical and slightly-shorter course. 8 miles in, still full of energy, I passed the pacers and did not see them again until post-race; a new PR seemed almost inevitable.

With a mile to go, I climbed my way up on the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge that divides Nebraska and Iowa from the Iowa side, which, maybe due to chugging water right before, made me feel nauseous; approaching the finish line, I came close to throwing up four or five times, which prompted me to pray to God dearly not to let me vomit in front of all these individuals cheering. Especially considering the consistent hills and my just having come back from a lengthy overseas trip, I was pleasantly surprised with the new mammoth PR of 1:53:05, beating the previous by three minutes and fifty seconds and enough for 54th place out of 248 runners. I wonder how I would have performed on a less difficult course, whether I would have run faster or I deal with hills efficiently. Thank You, Jesus!

Wow

Recovered surprisingly quickly from the 50K in Wichita, Kansas, two weeks ago, I registered for a 10K at the Beat the Heat, where I set a half-marathon personal record (PR) last year, taking place in Bellevue, Nebraska, on August 11, 2018. Having already run one 50K, four half marathons, and one 10K this year, I initially planned to give my body well-deserved rest for a while, but my upcoming three-week business trip to Korea that will likely prevent me from running regularly and this event’s providing an additional medal for returning runners motivated me to squeeze in one more race prior to flying to my native country. I for a moment debated running another 13.1, but I did not want to overwhelm my body and potentially cause an overuse injury, which has occurred in the past. I had in mind to attempt to break my PR of 00:51:44.82 from a couple of years ago, but that performance amazed me and I was uncertain if I could replicate that.

After my three consecutive races in horrific conditions, the weather finally cooperated for this second annual Beat the Heat. The course remained entirely flat, and I knew from the first mile based on how my body felt this would be a successful run. Rather than slowing down, I for the most part consistently gradually increased my speed, resulting in a negative split the second half. I did not worry about struggling in the last section carrying this unprecedented pace, understanding I would be done soon regardless; in an ultramarathon, this mentality obviously does not work as easily. I went from thinking of simply beating my PR to running a sub-fifty-minute to finishing at a sub-8-minute-mile pace, the last of which I thought to be possible with 2.5 miles to go. When the finish line came into sight, I could not contain my excitement and screamed, “Yes!” and celebrated reading the time and sprinting to the end.

Official time 00:48:42.8, 8th place out of 51 participants, I smashed my previous impressive (for me) PR by over three minutes. (This 7:50/mile pace would have replaced my 5K PR as well, but I have not entered a 5K event in over five years.) Not even remotely exhausted or breathing heavily, I wondered if I could have run faster, but how could I be disappointed? Driven by faith in my Father, I constantly prayed as I ran, and I have no doubt He gifted me with this performance. Thank You, Jesus.

No Room for Pessimism

Once I committed to my fourth (and first road) ultramarathon with the inaugural UrbanICT, beginning at 9:00 PM on July 27, 2018, in Wichita, Kansas, because I no longer had easy access to the gym or pool, I based my training solely on running. I for the first time ever ran all seven days a week, which tensed up my left hip and lower back and reassured me I must cross-train for major races as I always had. The event commenced over ten degrees higher, on top of irritating humidity, than the Weather Channel predicted for weeks, but at least I did not have to deal with the sunlight, the only reason I considered an ultra in the summer. With this 50K being my 34th race, I hardly become nervous or even anxious before a running event anymore. A friend who participated in the 25K here asked me multiple times before the start, “Are you nervous?” and my answer being “No” each time in a way made me nervous.

PC: Mile 90 Photography

I opened up the first two miles running side by side and chatting with a former NCAA D1 runner, but I knew, although less boring, following the pace of this elite much longer would be a foolish strategy and let her go. I ran most of the first half nonstop and forced myself to slow down around 11 miles in, as I had not run an ultra or even a marathon since the 102-miler in April 2017 and was taking on this daunting challenge in the summer at night without sleep and after having driven nearly five hours from Nebraska the same day. Unaware the course comprised consistent hills and took place on concrete, I knew my legs’ pounding the ground more heavily than on a trail could cause me to fatigue earlier than in my previous ultramarathons. The event hosted over 500 runners in five distances, but not many participants signed up for the 50K; therefore, I ran alone in the dark for much of the race, making me vulnerable to boredom, drowsiness, and lack of motivation to push as hard as I physically could. Because I began to struggle slightly in the first half, mainly due to a stomachache from shoving in too much fluid, I initially thought my finish time would be a disaster of verging on eight hours. Being in solitude did allow me to focus more easily on praying to my only Source of strength, and unsurprisingly I felt revivified just past 20 miles to be back in the game. I thought of mostly walking for a mile or two around mile 23 prior to encountering a fellow 50K participant named Ruth. I asked her, “Are you a Christian? Ruth is one of my favorite books in the Bible,” and we exchanged testimonies and both noticed time flew for these two miles.

PC: Mile 90 Photography

Seven miles to go, I realized I could actually set a personal record (PR) in the 50K, bearing in mind a couple of hours previously I was worried about finishing in an embarrassing time, and repeatedly did math in my head to figure out how strongly I had to push and how many more walk breaks I could afford to materialize this goal. Furthermore, walking strangely felt more painful than running at times, likely psychological due to my Garmin moving extra slowly for the former. At the final aid station three miles behind the finish line, I knew I had this PR in the bag. The volunteer told me he would check my result to see if I fulfilled this objective, and I half-jokingly replied, “Pressure!” and took off.

Assuming due to a combination of humidity and lack of sleep, I hallucinated five or six times, all involving seeing a person or people not actually present. This for real, I turned my headlamp to my right in the woods and spotted two bright red eyes that seemed to be of a cat sitting on a stump staring at me, and I instinctively assumed I witnessed a mountain lion, which concerned me for a couple of seconds until I reminded myself I had God.

PC: Mile 90 Photography

I crossed the finish line of slightly over 50K, 31.35 miles according to my Garmin, in 6:39:06, smashing my previous time from over three years ago by nearly 16 minutes. I had never experienced feeling so negatively about my performance and then shattering my expectations in the same race, and one runner commented that defines an ultrarunner, coming back from adversity, with which I agree. When I run, especially an ultramarathon, all petty pessimistic thoughts disappear for the moment and I wonder, “Why was I so worked up over these?” I really enjoy the physical-spiritual journey I undergo with my Father and how easily I am humbled, as I acknowledge I cannot do any of these without Him; specifically when I feel I am done and then become completely rejuvenated physically, I have no other explanation than His providing me with strength. Nobody forces me to run; I just love overcoming challenges that involve all the physical, mental, and spiritual, and I have not yet found a better way to do so.

H3: Hot, Humid, and Hilly

Committing to my fourth ultramarathon and second 50K in Kansas on July 27-28, 2018, I sought one more 13.1-mile race early in the same month as part of training. Seeing the Brownville Freedom Run as the only option on the Fourth of July, I signed up for the event for the second consecutive year, initially hesitant because I did not want to drive a minimum of seven hours out and back for a half marathon. Again, the temperature was projected to significantly peak on race day, but, having run multiple times in the 90s and 100s in training, I presumed my body would be accustomed to heat by now.

This 9-year-old girl ran 13.5+ miles in these brutal conditions!

Remembering the course from a year ago as mostly flat on a combination of road and trail, I did not prepare for hills. Nevertheless, before the start, the race director announced that the crew had to alter the first/last one-mile section of the course with hills and a bridge due to the flood on the original, and a runner next to me said, “I do not like hills.” Because I was conversing with other participants and missed this information, I asked, “How big are the hills?” somewhat implying, “How hilly could this possibly be?” The race commenced, and I thought emphatically, “What the heck is this?” as the first half a mile led straight uphill with the pinnacle hardly visible due to steepness and then the next half a mile straight back down; runners would repeat this in reverse order to the finish. Around mile seven, the clouds moved away from the sun, taking the feels-like temperature to the mid-90s; I felt I was running in the sauna and that I may have to vomit with all the fluid bouncing around in my stomach.

One lady passed me on my way back up the brutal hill towards the end, and then I passed her on the way down. Here, she really pushed herself to try to pass me again and finish before I, and, wherever the energy came from, I probably ran the fastest pace here out of the entire race as if being chased by a bear. As soon as I crossed the finish line of 13.54 miles (although some GPS watches read closer to 13.7) in 2:20:04, I barely held myself from vomiting, simultaneously thinking, “I cannot puke in front of all these people.” (I did so big time twice on my way back to my disgusting hotel.) Seeing this terrible time place 24th out of 63 runners, I realized others were just as negatively affected by these conditions as I. I actually often feel excited and grateful when I struggle so much in the heat, as the more I do so the more I am reminded I did not run 102 miles in worse conditions alone; thank You, Jesus. Since my upcoming ultramarathon starts at 9:00 PM without the interruption of the sun, I remain optimistic I will perform.