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!

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Believe and Earn

On my recent three-week business trip to Korea, in addition to working and traveling and helping my parents pack and move into a new apartment, I could not dismiss training for the upcoming 50K at the Prairie Spirit Trail, by Timer Guys, on March 30, 2019, thanks to a Facebook invitation from an old ultrarunning friend. This distance, the shortest of four in the event, would cover three Kansas cities of Ottawa, Princeton, and Richmond, although the latter two should not be categorized as cities. Because of ultrafine dust that polluted all of Korea for a couple of weeks, I wore an air-filter mask and could not even contemplate running outside; thus, I focused on maintaining, rather than improving, my fitness by cross-training indoors and ran outdoors almost daily upon return to Nebraska for the two weeks prior to my first race in my 30s.

Prayers before the start! PC: Mile 90 Photography

I drove over six hours from Kearney, Nebraska, to Ottawa, Kansas, in nonstop powerful rain until I arrived in my destination the day before and then for whatever reason, unsurprisingly, managed only forty-five minutes of sleep; sleep deprivation has never affected my running, but I still felt irate. 50K participants attended a mandatory meeting at 7:30 AM, thirty minutes after which commenced the race. The weather channel forecast heavy thunderstorms for three consecutive days leading up to and in the morning of the event; however, soon before we lined outside, the rain turned into snow, about which nobody complained because nobody preferred rain that creates mud, what concerned me most about the course, to cute snow flurries. (We still faced both snow and rain incessantly and a bit of mud.)

Wet and windy day! PC: Mile 90 Photography

All glory to Jesus! PC: Mile 90 Photography

PC: Mile 90 Photography

PC: Mile 90 Photography

As my body copes more efficiently with the cold than heat, I knew setting a new personal record (PR) from last summer would be likely and humbly hoped for a sub-6:30:00 finish. Despite the vicious headwind for half the race, which forced me to scream (and maybe curse) at one point, I found myself being able to maintain my initial pace far longer than I thought I was capable of, and around seventeen miles in, I realized I could not only conquer but absolutely crush my goal as long as I did not bonk drastically. I desired to make the most of this rare opportunity and almost refused to walk, only taking two uber-short breaks of half a mile combined; in spite of the physical pain and eventual slowing of the pace, I pushed and pushed, constantly praying to and conversing with my Father and searching for various ways to motivate me and make me feel happy, including reminding myself the pain will not always get worse, as ultramarathon legend David Horton would say, and imagining ordering a hot Starbucks coffee to go on my way back home. When my 26.2-mile split shattered my past marathon PR by over fifteen minutes, I impatiently wondered what my finish time will be. The feels-like temperature must have remained below freezing for most of the race, and my body vividly felt the wet cold. Miserable, I thought about taking one more walking break towards the final four miles to garner more energy to end strongly, but a brief moment of worrying if I got lost on the trail, seeing no runner in proximity, increased my heart rate and utterly woke me up, allowing me to carry on running.

With my right index finger pointing to the sky as I said in my feeble voice, “Thank You, Lord,” I crossed the finish line of 31.24 miles, according to my Garmin, in 5:29:33, smashing my previous 50K PR by an hour and ten minutes. God answered every one of my prayers for this weekend, and I acknowledge this miraculous performance could not have happened without His providing me with strength, endurance, perseverance, and mental toughness, especially considering my limited training. 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.