Altitude Party

Partly to explore Denver and partly to run my first-ever race in Colorado, I registered for a 10K with The EatingWell & Fit Foodie Festival & 5K/10K, taking place in Westminster at an altitude of nearly 5,500 feet on August 3, 2019, and drove to the Mile High City the morning before. I felt the slight effect of thin air every now and then but could not confidently say placebo or my nonstop singing did not play a role. I hydrated myself more meticulously and extensively than I usually do, especially the night prior to the event with a large can of coconut water and two bottles of water from the hotel. Walking around the mini-festival with thirty minutes left until 10K runners took off, I suddenly and rapidly felt my breathing become uncomfortable; thus, I drank an additional two cups of water, hoping I would not have to use the bathroom in the middle of the run.

When the race director told the “five, six, and seven-minute milers” to line up front, I naturally moved to the back of the line, thinking for sure this untested territory would deteriorate my performance. When the race commenced, unsurprisingly because I see this way too often, numerous joggers and even walkers audaciously clogged up the front, which forced me to spend the first thirty steps or so going through and around them. (Forgive me, but this annoys me a bit.)

Considering how I felt simply moving around right before the start, I was pleasantly surprised how efficiently my body adapted and kept up, especially adding the heat and constant rolling hills. Hardly any participant passed me and I passed quite a few throughout the entire distance. After managing to maintain a seven-minute-mile pace for the first couple of miles, I gradually slowed down and crossed the finish line in 51:25, gold out of nine in my age group of 30-39 and 10th place out of 127 finishers overall. I had always been under the impression most runners in Colorado must be intensely competitive, and due to this being my first time ever running at altitude on top of so much of the unknown, I never even imagined receiving an award outside the finisher’s medal to be a possibility. I remember praying to God, like a child, to pleasantly surprise me, and He did pleasantly surprise me. (I do not normally pray this immaturely and selfishly, so do not judge!)

The race most certainly lived up to its name, as the post-race festivities made the day far more exciting and memorable. Like the motormouth that I am, I could not stop talking to everyone around me and ended up being one of the last runners to leave the scene. I did not travel all the way to Colorado from Kearney, Nebraska, solely to run a 10K, but this event alone made the trip worth it. As always, thank You, Jesus!

P.S. Shout-out to the awesome representative of Omission Brewing Co. who graciously stored my keys while I ran and gave me a free twelve-pack of Ultimate Light Golden Ale on my way out (even though I rarely drink)! 😉

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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!

Running Transforms, Literally

Running transforms you, literally.

What else could I have expected in Texas in late April (of 2017)? After spending 39:25:44 covering 102 miles in the heat of up to nearly 90 degrees with no shades, I became a different race, pun intended. I had never experienced and knew nothing about a sunburn prior to this, so when the skin in my face, followed by my neck, arms, and legs, began peeling off, I freaked out until my father laughed and told me over the phone that my skin would probably look cleaner than pre-race. Next time, I will certainly remember to apply sunscreen in this type of condition. I also must have lost, temporarily, around 20 pounds and do remember my feet and one calf had bizarrely swollen up like hamburgers.

When I signed up for a 10K in Omaha, Nebraska, in February 2019, I did not expect to be running in 0 degrees, although I had run a few miles slowly in this temperature one recent evening. I could feel and see my eyelashes had frozen, but little did I know my entire face (and beanie) was covered in frost. I can only imagine how much funnier I would have become with a legitimate beard and mustache. As I awaited my official result, a lady in front of me asked to take a photo of me to send to her husband to prove the brutality of the race conditions, which prompted me to take a selfie and realize how hilarious I looked. I still managed my second-fastest 10K of 50:02.1. My body for sure prefers extreme cold to extreme heat.

I know I cannot use #TransformationTuesday today, but I did not feel like waiting until Tuesday just for the sake of this hashtag. Feel free to share your transformation running photo(s) in the comment section below!

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.

Run for Krispy Kreme

Having completed an ultramarathon just two weeks previously, I had almost zero expectations for the Cool Peeps 13.1 that took place in Pickrell, Nebraska, on April 13, 2019. I no longer felt any soreness within several days of the 50K, but my first slower-than-usual run back showed me my body still recovering; although my speed came back soon after, I could not confidently predict my physical state and even worried I may be doing too much too soon.

In the ideal weather of low 30s and little to no wind, I simply needed to focus on running the flat trail I had already conquered three times in the same distance. Prior to the start, I told a friend lined next to me, “I won’t be greedy with time today because I don’t know if my speed is back.” Well, not greedy maybe for the first thirty steps. Once I saw my mile pace ideally maintain, praising my Father for His beautiful nature, I began to hope for a strong performance, and around the halfway turnaround, I knew I would attempt my third-ever and consecutive sub-1:50:00 half marathon. I gradually slowed down a couple of seconds per mile at one point, and with over two miles to go, I repeatedly did math in my head to figure out how fast I needed to go to realize this goal. Not wanting any regret and slightly looking forward to the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts at the finish, I sprinted the final one-and-a-half miles, understanding this would be close.

Three awesome friends running the Lincoln Marathon in three weeks!

I secured my second-fastest 13.1 miles in 1:49:27 and a negative split in the second half, sufficient to declare me first place in my age group of 30-34 out of five, third male out of thirteen, and fifth overall out of thirty-three finishers. I still may have gone overboard tackling a half marathon this quickly after an ultra. I thank Jesus, as always, for protecting me and allowing me this joyous stress-relieving morning.

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!