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!

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.

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!