Yet Again

I opened Thanksgiving 2019, like the last three years, running my fourth consecutive Wild Turkey Chase 13.1 in Pickrell, Nebraska, the familiar flat trail I had already conquered on four separate occasions. I recently reset my frozen Garmin, not knowing this would format all the saved data on the watch, and for the first time maintained the auto-lap to read each of my mile times rather than only the average mile pace of the whole. I decided to use this standard method here but fretted I may not as easily be able to tell my estimate finish time this way. With the temperature hitting just below 30 degrees, my preference, and acknowledging this to be my final half marathon of the year, I set out to run my fourth sub-1:50:00 in the distance, which I have accomplished twice on this course.

I have been reading Deena Kastor’s New York Times Best Seller Let Your Mind Run and consciously applied her motivating tactics and positive attitude to push forward. Rather than solely focusing on my own running, I would pick one runner in front, gradually catch up, and then gently pass without forcing the pace out of my norm, the process I successfully executed several times throughout the race. I found this more thrilling, as running alone does not motivate me as much to pick up the pace. When my earphones ran out of batteries with four miles to go, instead of panicking this could slow me down, I reminded myself, after being grateful this did not happen sooner, most elite long-distance runners do not even listen to music when they run and thought optimistically this may help me concentrate on the rhythm of my breathing and strides, as I counted one-two-three-one-two-three and one-two-three-four-one-two-three-four.

As I thought, because I did not know my overall average mile pace, I could not tell how much faster I had to go to reach my goal and moved forward with every ounce of my remaining energy. Aside from the very first mile of 8:08, I ran my fastest mile of 8:12.3 in the final full mile and most likely secured a negative split in the second half, still not sufficient and crossing the finish line in 1:51:03, third in my age group of 30-34. Everyone has good and bad days, so I remained content simply knowing I could not have done more this particular day. In this period of uncertainty and all that I have been dealing with mentally and emotionally, I, from the start of the run, in my head said, “Running is easy,” as I know clearly the task ahead of me. At least, for the moment, I do not have to stress over my future, perhaps one of the main reasons I so habitually sign up for long-distance races that also happen to play an accurate metaphor for life.

As I prepared to celebrate this holiday alone at Golden Corral again, I checked a text message from a church friend inviting me to join her family, which I strangely predicted beforehand. I told the family she saved me from being “emo” again. Happy Thanksgiving!

Finding Contentment

Eager to take advantage of the cooling weather to set personally fast times in one or two additional half marathons prior to the conclusion of 2019, I registered for the Longview Half Marathon, taking place in Grandview, Missouri, on November 9, 2019. I never enjoy driving this far, nearly six hours both ways, for just a 13.1-mile run, but I used this being my first running event in Missouri as a motivator.

PC: KC Running Company

I cannot remember the last time I managed sufficient sleep before a race, so doing so this time felt almost foreign. Confident off my recent Chicago Marathon, I shot for my fourth sub-1:50:00 and even a personal record in the half marathon, especially reading and hearing from many the course is expected to be flat. Nevertheless, around four miles in and already encountering repeated semi-steep rolling hills, I knew hitting a personal best would be verging on impossible and shifted my focus towards staying ahead of the 1:50 pacers. Once I saw the front 1:50 pacer in sight not even halfway through, I realized even this secondary goal would be a major challenge and only thought about pushing my hardest and trying not to slow down too drastically.

Final sprint! PC: KC Running Company

With a quarter of a mile to go, I sprinted like a maniac to the finish, passing numerous runners, including those participating in the 10K and 5K, on the way, which made me wonder if I inadvertently approached the race conservatively to have this much energy remaining and could have gone slightly faster. I even asked myself, particularly in the middle of the race, whether my losing weight would benefit me by giving me less to carry or sap my strength and endurance. Although I did not achieve either of my time goals, I did manage to run my fourth-fastest half marathon, in 1:51:40.9. I find contentment in knowing I gave my all and that my three quicker times came from easier courses. Thank You, Jesus!

Rolling

As close to Kansas as it gets from Kearney, Nebraska, and with the start and finish at different points, which I prefer to out and back, the Race to the Center Half Marathon that kicks off in Smith Center and concludes in Lebanon seemed too ideal to pass up, although only a week after my most-recent half marathon in Marysville, also in Kansas. Living up to its name, this event would take the runners (and cyclists) to the geographic center of the contiguous United States, even more appealing. Beginning by a cemetery felt spooky, but, as a few participants said, “It is better to start here than end here.” Valid point.

These ladies are amazing!

The rugged course for the most part repeated steep ups and downs with hardly any flat to give my body a chance to recompose, contrary to what I had imagined, to be mostly flat, based on the couple of videos I watched on the race website. Just like last Saturday, I participated mainly to use this as part of training for the Chicago Marathon less than a month away. I did not intend to push my body to the limit to achieve a particular time to avoid risking any unnecessary injuries; thus, even though I barely missed coming under two hours on this unrelenting trail, finishing in 2:01:09, I was not too disappointed, and how strong I felt on these ceaseless rolling hills actually boosted my confidence slightly, especially as I predict the weather and the energy from the mammoth crowd and environment then will give me many intangible advantages. More than anything, my right foot still feeling sturdy even after these two 13.1-milers in a week reassures me my body will be ready to go on October 13, 2019.

Bring Back the Cold

With the 2019 Chicago Marathon the second Sunday of October finally in sight, I planned to race once or twice in September as part of training and registered for a half marathon with the inaugural Pony Express Half Marathon & 5K in Marysville, Kansas, taking place on September 7, 2019. What I believed to be a potential stress fracture in my right foot for months now seems to be a strain closer to my ankle, which I feel more intensely, strange considering I have been running less due to my recent overseas business trip. I could not help but worry running this race could worsen the injury and jeopardize my first World Marathon Major I had been eyeing for nearly a year at this point.

PC: Pony Express Half Marathon & 5K

I try not to be greedy with my finish time in the summer, so I never intended to push for a personal record. I simply used this 13.1-mile run, which ended up being 13.21 miles, to sustain endurance and build confidence from this minor foot pain. On pace for a near 1:50:00 finish and feeling as strong as the beginning for more than half the race, I did not see my drastically slowing down the final two miles coming. In addition to the heat, direct sunlight, and headwind, my constantly shouting for directions while turning on and off my earphones and pausing and restarting my music unnecessarily drained my stamina by throwing off my rhythm, and I had to settle for an official time of 1:57:33. Nevertheless, I felt relieved my right foot did not bother me at any point on the course and I was able to comfortably achieve another sub-2:00:00 half marathon, both of which boosted my confidence for the upcoming marathon in just over a month, especially knowing the temperature will give me a mammoth advantage by that time. Bring back the cold already; I do not enjoy running in the summer heat! Thank You, Jesus!

Fourth of July Tradition

10-year-old marathoner! 🙂

Participating in the Brownville Freedom Run Half Marathon in Brownville, Nebraska, on the Fourth of July has become a tradition for the past three years. This year, however, I did not firmly decide until the week of due to a subtle yet lingering soreness in my right foot, many symptoms of which hint at a developing stress fracture; therefore, I for the first time in 47 races registered the morning of the event, as online registration had already closed. I have not been able to run as frequently or hard as I normally do in the past month and thus added occasional swimming to my training.

With the foreseeable heat and humidity this time of year in Nebraska and not entirely confident in the state of my right foot, I did not set a specific time goal. The majority of this course takes place on rugged trails, but my adrenaline kept me from feeling any unbearable pain in the injured foot, even though I felt the sting for nearly the entire race.

I, still on pace to break two hours around mile 11, thought to sprint the final half a mile, but miscalculating the finish line led me to kick too soon for how little energy I had left, at which point I only focused on finishing strong. Concluding 13.15 miles in 2:02:25.4, first time in almost a year not comfortably coming in under two hours, I felt slightly demoralized until realizing most runners I spoke to after ran significantly slower than their capabilities. The beauty of summer running (and an injury), I guess!

I thank Jesus for protecting me throughout the race, as always. Happy Birthday, America!

Welcome Back, Heat and Humidity

I made my longest trip ever for a half marathon, driving over four hours out and four hours back, to participate in the 5th Annual Bill Snyder Highway Half, taking place on May 25, 2019, in Manhattan, Kansas. (Not an avid follower of football, I may have been the only participant who did not know much about this eponymous legend.) The first eight miles would take place on scenic rolling hills of Bill Snyder Highway, succeeded by numerous turns around Kansas State University and the finish inside the Bill Snyder Family Stadium, comparable to the Lincoln Marathon. At this point this should be a given, but I, again, barely slept, maybe an hour, the morning of the event.

The weather forecast in the Midwest, especially Kansas, has been unpredictable to say the least, but I did not expect such heat and humidity after a cooler-than-standard and rainy month of May. I still felt the straining of my right foot, which had me worry slightly about the pounding impact throughout these multiple lengthy downhills. After maintaining an 8:18/mile pace for the first nine miles and still feeling strong, I thought to push the last section and potentially try to break my personal record of 1:47:35.7 from the Good Life Halfsy last year, but my body had different plans. With four miles to go, I could feel the scorching heat of 78 degrees on my neck, exacerbated by nasty humidity, and I felt as if I had lost most of my strength and endurance within seconds. A tiny part of me even considered taking a brief walking break, especially with the intrusion of unforeseen lasting stomach cramps, but I overcame this negative thought and continued running regardless of how sluggish my strides in these never-ending climbs towards the end became. For the vast majority of the race, hardly anyone passed me, but with roughly three miles to go, countless runners from behind stampeded past that even made me wonder if we had this many runners toe the line.

Covered in sweat and salt, so disgusting I did not want to get in my car, I crossed the finish line in 1:57:25 after being on pace for another sub-1:50:00 for a large portion of the race. Nevertheless, I understood full well how drastically heat and humidity affect my speed, so my performance, still in the top 27% of all finishers, did not disappoint me. Some runners could not finish and even fainted, so I could not possibly be arrogant enough to be upset over simply running slightly more slowly than I usually do. A chiropractor on the field, examining my right foot, strongly recommended I take two weeks off and then ease into running and incorporate cross-training to avoid a potential stress fracture. What he did not say: I need to stop stubbing my right toe, which I have lately repeatedly done.

As always, I thank Jesus for allowing me this elating trip on this Memorial Day weekend. Thank you for your service, all veterans!

Nebraska (Half) Marathon Major

PC: Jason Feddersen

On May 5, 2019, I participated in my third Lincoln National Guard Half Marathon in the past four years. Familiar with this semi-hilly course of the biggest race in Nebraska, I hoped to set a personal record, predicting my adrenaline rush and more intangibles of running alongside thousands of fellow dedicated runners and with spectators lined up on both sides spreading cheer and sporting amusing signs throughout the entire 13.1-mile distance to play a factor. I also acknowledged my body that copes with the cold much more efficiently than the heat would not enjoy the temperature advantage with a 54-degree start and this objective as overly ambitious. As per usual, I managed barely any sleep, of three hours, before the event.

The uncovered sun in the clear sky, contrary to the forecast of a potential thunderstorm, released sweat from the early miles, and I took a couple of sips of water at most aid stations, just enough to stay hydrated without being bloated. The straining of the outside of my right foot, which I began feeling earlier in the week, that flared up again with four or five miles to go bothered, though not worried, me. I knew I could and would block out the pain in my head until the end and find a way to not allow this symptom to slow me down and ruin my performance. This, however, did remind me to practice what I occasionally preach: take recovery as seriously as training. Running an ultramarathon and two half marathons in just over a month, without sufficient rest in between, may have been too much too soon and overwhelmed my body. Regardless, this certainly did not annoy me as much as some in the crowd, one openly, smoking cigarettes in front of runners heavily inhaling and exhaling to maintain the pace and rhythm. Really?

That left calf though. 😉 PC: Lincoln Marathon

Following a 2:00:43 finish the first time in 2016 and 1:59:08 finish the second time in 2018 on the same course, I crossed the finish line this third time in 2019 in 1:51:51. My sub-1:50:00 streak of three came to an end, but I found contentment in this visible progress, that consistency pays off. I shared with multiple people throughout the weekend that I took a while to break the two-hour barrier, but once I finally did, my speed rapidly improved that even breaking 1:50:00 soon no longer appeared unusual. Quite surprisingly, many seemed to agree and relate. With summer swiftly approaching, I doubt I who prefer racing in the low 30s will be setting any PR’s in the next several months, but never say never! As always, I thank Jesus for blessing me with good health, time, and motivation to continue to pursue this healthy and joyous hobby that attracts a myriad of amazing and inspirational people.