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.

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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!

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.

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!

Ultracrazy Me

Following my most recent marathon in March of this year, I transitioned to swimming, cycling, and running to gradually prepare for an IRONMAN, my ultimate athletic goal. I planned to try an ultramarathon, which simply means longer than the traditional marathon of 26.2 miles, after the triathlon; nonetheless, realizing the preparation for swimming will likely take a while, I told myself, “Why not just run an ultramarathon now when I’m still in shape for running?” After all, I have been boldly claiming I should be able to run faster and longer on a flatter course than the infamously hilly Publix Georgia Marathon, which many marathoners regard as their most challenging marathon. Though out of the blue, I have consistently run for three years, and I did not think running 50 kilometers to be an unreasonable step-up. Out of the several 50-kilometer trail runs I came across online, I found the Wambaw Swamp Stomp, taking place on May 2, 2015, to be the most rational, considering the event’s flat course and being neighbors with my state of Georgia. Once I signed up, for advice, I contacted two world-class ultrarunners, Sage Canaday and Ruth Croft, who suggested I concentrate on nutrition while running and train on trails.

I drove over seven hours to reach TrySports for packet pickup and then my hotel in South Carolina, but, like before most running events, I could not fall asleep to recover the night before race day. Grumpy, sleepy, and annoyed, I dressed up and hydrated early in the morning prior to discovering I forgot to pack my pair of earphones. “Oh. My. Gosh,” I panicked, intimidated I may have to run the longest race of my life without the psychological support of music. On the bright side, this freaking out utterly woke me up, and I thankfully found a gas station that sold cheap earphones that barely worked on my way to the Witherbee Ranger Station, where the race took place. Relieved, I praised God. I, the youngest 50-kilometer participant, asked amiable veterans various questions about the course and trail running in general at the prerace. I felt a stronger bond and sense of community with every runner than I normally do in road races, as we only had each other without the crowd on the streets cheering us on with motivating signs.

I started the race up front with experienced and inspiring 50-milers and kept up for the first four miles. The frontrunners disappeared in the wilderness, and I as well passed many. My chief concern related to getting lost, as I had not participated in a legitimate trail race, let alone an ultra-trail race. This nightmare nearly came to fruition twice towards the beginning, but both times, I had a runner either behind or in front helping me stay on track until I became accustomed to the trail marks. I took this as God’s answer to my prayer, as I could have lost my ways without my two unintentional saviors. Confident early on, I even thought I could win the 50-kilometer category because I did not spot any of its participants ahead of me and felt I could keep up this pace for days.

PC: Brian Fancher

All of a sudden, in the midst of this slight arrogance, I tripped. Even though I bounced back up immediately, I was worried that took much out of me in this never-ending run. Having sprained my right knee from that never crossed my mind, as I still remained full of energy and adrenaline rush until the midpoint, Aid Station C. I stopped to rehydrate myself on Coca-Cola, Skratch Lab, and water, and when I resumed running, I instantly felt pain in my right knee. “Crap,” thought I, but the rocky and uneven path to Aid Station D did not help, and my drastically slowing down became inevitable, especially with continuous inadvertent kicking of rocks on the ground, jumping over logs, dodging branches, and dragging myself in mud. Runners constantly passed me, and when I turned around from Aid Station D and returned to Aid Station C, I stretched while ingesting more fluids. When I carried on, the bad knee had already locked up, and I can barely describe the torture. However, as always, I reminded myself, “Physical pain is temporary. When I finish this, the memory will last forever” and stomped my right leg to the floor repeatedly to numb the hurt. I felt sufficiently anesthetized to continue running, but seeing no end and absolutely no person around but nature, I could not help but reflect on my post-college life and whatever made me happy to reinvigorate me.

PC: Brian Fancher

When I arrived at Aid Station B, I took some time to rest my right knee. Terrible idea. When I turned towards Aid Station A to continue, my right knee could no longer bend, and the suffering magnified. I tried the barbaric stomping-the-ground technique again to no avail. I decided to walk for the first time, although I hesitated, to hopefully smooth out my knee joint and finish strong. This may have been my wisest decision of the day, as this one mile of walking revived my damaged leg just enough for me to continue the agonizing running. To fulfill 50 kilometers, I had approximately six miles to go, but according to the Soleus GPS watch I borrowed from a church friend, completing the original course included in the instruction packet would have meant closer to 55 kilometers than 50. I did hear from a volunteer at Aid Station B that the race director may shorten the end to make the distance more accurate, which made me dearly hope for that.

Slightly over 50K 😉

Individuals offered me painkillers, but I assumed relying on anything unnatural would be cheating and therefore rejected. Fellow runners—worried about my condition—occasionally passing me or coming back my way with a pat on my shoulder or word of encouragement certainly helped light up my mood, but I cannot fathom my adamant willpower, or ego, to refuse to quit or receive any assistance with such a gruesome injury. When I finally returned to Aid Station A, I was told the director had indeed abbreviated the race-ending back loop to make the run 50 kilometers even. With this joyful news, I garnered the little energy I had left and finished my first ultramarathon in 6:55:00, twelfth place out of twenty-seven entrants. When I look back, I do not understand how I was able to run the last 20 miles on virtually one leg, but having completed this insane task handicapped makes me prouder, as I feel nothing can break me.

I continued to tell fellow runners, many of whom I made friends and conversed with after the race, that I wanted to feel I could not run any farther after the 50 kilometers, as if I did not, I would have regretted not registering for the 50-miler instead. My wish certainly came true, and I will cherish this mad achievement for the rest of my life. People call half-marathoners “only half crazy” and marathoners “crazy.” What does that make ultramarathoners?