Our last episode before Bob runs the Tunnel Hill 100. We cover Bob’s last two races, how he’s feeling about Tunnel Hill and talk some about why he’s embarking on all this.
Bob and Sass discuss Bob’s recent diagnosis and the impact it will have on his training and performance with the Chicago Marathon imminent and Tunnel Hill not too long after.
Sass is back! We discuss Bob’s 24hr race. Sass glazes over when Bob explains dew points. We’re doing RAGBRAI?
Bob gives a short rundown of the Christmas in July race.
We discuss Bob’s upcoming 24 hour race, the preparations for it, and how Bob plans to use it to prep for Tunnel Hill.
Bob and Sass discuss their backgrounds in running, why Bob decided to sign up for a 100 mile race and start discussing a bit of Bob’s training.
NOTE: I dated this post back to when I originally wrote it (5/30/2022). Original publishing date on TeamPumaKnife.com is 8/6/2022.
- Name: Sugar Badger 50M
- Date: May 28, 0222
- Distance: 52 Miles
- Location: Belleville, WI
- Website: https://www.tenjunkmilesracing.com/sugarbadger
- Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/7218712522
- Time: 11:54:25
|6||AS||0:06:03||Unreasonably Nice Running|
|10||AS||0:19:48||Turnaround – Changed shirt/socks – had a hot dog|
|11||5.07||1:03:35||Also very good, fidgeting with shoes/socks|
|13||4.95||1:04:49||Started to slow|
|15||6.48||1:31:55||Switched from 4/2 – 3/3 run/walk|
|17||5.65||1:26:37||Noticed Blister, popped in shoe, slowed me to walk for pretty much rest of race|
|18||AS||0:06:03||I owe someone a shot for not taking one here|
I used the 50M training plan from Krissy Moehl’s “Running Your First Ultra”. The plan calls to run 5 days a week most weeks. I modified the plan to accommodate the Earth Day 50K which was a few weeks off of the “ideal” 50K in the plan. I found the plan challenging, but then again, I didn’t expect it to be easy to get me to 50 miles on race day. The training plan did not call for much in the way of training a walk/run plan, but I would need to, so in the last month of training I did a couple of runs, including my 25 miles run, doing a 4/2 run/walk. Training was generally pretty well but I definitely was feeling the fatigue of continuous training for the past year on my body. My left IT band was speaking to me a bit, and my right achilles was acting up. I began stretching every night, and started rotating in Hoka Bondi 7’s with my Brooks Ghost 14’s. These measures helped a lot and I started getting better without having to take a full on break. My last major training run was a 20 miler with the run club. It started off really well, but it got hot towards the end and I was overheating. I was a little demoralized at first, but I was able to use the data from that run to really create a good pace plan for the Sugar Badger, which, as I’ll cover below, worked well. Overall, successful training cycle.
I camped at the start/finish the night before and really struggled to sleep. I anticipated this, so I did my best to sleep well the entire week leading up to it. I struggled to get myself together in the morning and ended up rushing. Amazingly, in my rushing I didn’t forget anything, but it was more stress than I needed. Lesson learned on prep going forward. I had some manner of pastry from the food truck, a Clif Blok, and a quick gulp of coffee seconds before the race started.
I planned to follow a 4 min run / 2 min walk from the start and maintain that as far as I could. I was aiming for 11:45 miles through the turnaround – with AS breaks accumulated 12:30 pace. I figured out that if I got to the turnaround at that pace, which I was confident I could do, I would finnish even if I ended up having to walk the rest. In reality, I was very confident I would get through 35 miles without too much trouble based on my training runs. But even still, there was 21 more miles to cover than I had done before, so even though I felt comfortable to get to 35 I had no idea what would happen after that. Finishing was top priority, but I really wanted to finnish under 12 hours. This race has a generous cutoff of 14 hours, but I’ve heard many if not most other 50’s have 12 hour cutoffs – and on top fo that, if I finnished in 12 hours I would qualify to enter the Vermont 100 lottery. I didn’t bother trying to make a plan that would give me even splits the whole time. Experience has tought me that for my first race at this distance that would not happen. So, my race plan did account for dropping pace down to ~13:30 in the later stages.
For my top, I ran the first half in a Path Cascade SS t-shirt, and the second half I switched to a Path Unita Airdot Mesh t-shirt. Shorts, Path Crest PX 5″ shorts. Liner, XOSKIN 3.1 Underwear midi length. Socks, Xoskin XOTOes. Out I used Crew length, return I used quarter crew. I wore Hoka Bondi 7’s with Dirty Girl Gaiters. For my head, I used a Hoka bucket hat.
I originally planned to run with my vest. But after numerous runs with just my UltrAspire Synaptic waist pack I was really tempted to wear that instead and carry my Nathan Handheld. It would mean 300ml less fluid on me, but my gut told me that it was worth the trade off. After consulting some running folks online, I decided the day before to make the switch. This was dangerously close to breaking the golden rule of racing – because I had never used the wasit pack for a truly long run – but I had run with it enough that I felt ok with the risk. the biggest problem with the switch was needing to switch my drop bag strategy at the last minute which caused some choas race morning.
The Sugar Badger takes place on the Badger State Trail and the Sugar River Trail in southern Wisconsin and it is an out and back – 26 out, 26 back. It is a rail-trail, super flat beautiful running surface. There is one significant hill right after/before the first/last aid station.
I resisted the urge to run to the tunnel (3.82 miles) and stuck to my run/walk plan right from the gun. It was very amusing the first interval to start off relatively quickly and then have half the field pass me in a matter of 2 minutes. After the first intervals I did play leapfrog with a couple of groups of runners for a while, almost all the way through the first 20 before we fully got separation. For me, I really don’t hit my stride until mile 4, and same was true for this race. Which worked out really nicely because the first aid station is at 3.82. My pacing was about spot on, but my RPE was higher than I wanted – not dramatically, noticable. Hitting the AS and then going up the hill gave me the nice calming that I needed.
From the first Aid Station (2) all the way through the turnaround (10) it was smooth sailing. I had breakfast pizza at the Hollywood Aid Station (4) and amused the TJM folks with my “Hey Duck” name tape on my hat (listen to the Ten Junk Miles “Hey Duck” podcast episode if you’re curious). I had one bathroom break at the next aid station (6), otherwise I was speedy at the aid stations and kept moving. Really, it was a beautiful 26 miles of running. To try and balance my sweat I aimed to finish my handheld of water and my hip flask of electrolyte on each leg. This seemed to be a good amount of hydration.
The turnaround aid station (10) was great. They fed me a hot dog. Gave me ice to put in my buff. Took an awesome picture of me. The only problem was I stayed too long! I was there almost 20 minutes!
I knew the second half of the race the temperatures would get higher, so I planned to slow my pace, but I also changed into a new shirt from my drop bag. And I made what I think was the biggest mistake of the day: I changed my socks. As I’m writing this, I am realizing why it was a mistake. I never practiced changing my socks DURING A RUN. It never even crossed my mind to do because I’ve put on socks so many times of course. I have a feeling the problem we’ll get to was caused at least in part by debris being in my sock that I didn’t clean off properly. Within the first mile of the return I knew something wasn’t quite right with my left sock. I stopped a few times to adjust, but it just never was quite right the rest of the time.
I slowed my pace a bit to adjust to the increasing tempeature on the back half. I got through the first aid station (12) without issue (the Flamingo’s were a delight!). Between that aid station (12) and the next (14) my stomach started turning a little bit and I started feeling a bit off. I was starting to get some sloshing in my stomach so I backed off on the fluid intake a little bit. I think at this point I just had slowed my pace down enough that I really wasn’t sweating hard like I normally do and my shirt even felt mostly dry. I was actually a little worreid that I had somehow hit the point where I couldn’t sweat anymore, but I soon figured out that wasn’t the case when I hit a bright spot in the day. So I think I just didn’t need quite as much fluid as I did when I was pushing harder earlier.
The next leg (15) I started to really feel fatigued. I don’t think I ate enough at the first two aid stations on the return trip. I noticed I was starting to check my watch for how much time was left in my run interval more and more. I took my first extended walk break here. This was both annoying, but also super enocouraging. It was about 35 miles when I started to really feel it which is what I thought would happen – so my planning was actually pretty decent. At 35 miles, 17 to go, I knew I would finish as long as I didn’t pass out. On that walk break I did some quick math and figured out that really, sub 11 hours was not going to be possible. I never really thought it was realistic, but the race started so well I didn’t want to write it off either. Now though, it would have been reckless to try to maintain it, so I decided then and there that my goal was to stay to sub 12. The easiest way for me to do that was to look at my overall average pace on my watch. Knowin that the GPS is not perfect, and that the total race distance is ~52 miles, I took a conservative estimate that would have wiggle room and said 13:41 was the average pace I needed to keep to. Math done, I went back to racing, but I adjusted my intervals from 4/2 to 3/3.
At the Hollywood aid station I was greated from afar by a Megaphone yelling “Hey Duck” – again, listen to the podcast. This was a huge pick me up and helped me get there. Stuffed some food in my face, got my special Hollywood Aid Station bandana that was dipped in ice water and wrapped around my neck by THE Holly herself, and then set off with some food in my hand. I walked a little bit then got back to my intervals. At 3/3 I started seeing the average pace start ticking up but I wasn’t worried. Then, about 2 miles into the leg (17) I started feeling a blister on my heel. I thought I felt one on the ball of my foot too, but later inspection would show it was just sore. With 3 miles and change to the next Aid Station and lacking any real means to deal with the blister on my person I just carried on and hoped for the best. With about 2 miles to go, that sucker popped in my shoe. This was a new experience for me altogether – I’ve never had blister issues running, even in the 50K. I really didn’t know what to do, but I was stuck between aid stations so I just sucked it up and kept moving. Later I would talk with folks at the finish about it and learn a lot about blister care. It was an inevitable eventuality, and I’m just glad it happened that late in the race. When I got to the last aid station I realized that between the hill and the blister popping I was starting to get close to the time limit for my 12 hour goal, and I knew I probably wasn’t going to run anymore. So I topped off my water, grabbed some food and headed out (Nikita I owe you a shot still!).
The last leg (19) was really an interesting experience. I was beat up, but not defeated. If anything, I was triumphant. I knew I’d finish and hit my sub 12 goal. It was a very emotional 4 mile walk complete with lots of reflection on why I was doing this in the first place. Certainly not for health reasons anymore – you can even argue that running these distances is almost detrimental to health. I really think I just wanted to prove to myself that I could. It helps that I had a great time doing it. I found something out on the trail that day that’s hard to explain. It’s not satisfaction, or pride, though they are there. Perhaps someone more skilled with words could explain it, but I suspect it is more likely that if you want to know, you’re just going to have to go out and do it too.
Just as I was getting back into Belleville three other runners came up from behind me, seemingly out of nowhere. They were still running and passed me. They ended up crossing the line a few minutes in ahead of me. Good on them – they looked really strong at that point. There’s this little staircase maybe 100 yards from the finish line that’s like a cruel joke, I plodded up it and then turned towards the finishing chute. As I turned onto the last stretch, even though I know I would have finished perfectly fine, I felt compelled to jog in that last little bit. It felt good to cross the finish line running.
When I finished Chicago last fall, and even when I finished the 50K a few weeks ago, I was super emotional at the finish line. At the Sugar Badger though, I wasn’t. I was excited and exasperated. I had meant to say something to the RD and take a picture with him, but I was just too out of it. I do think a good portion of that was that I left a lot of that emotion out on the course. Whether it was when I just started bawling listening to Johnny Cash’s Hurt (how did I think that was a good idea?), or just thinking thoughts about how proud I was that I got this far, there really wasn’t much left in the tank at the finish line. In a way, that was nice. I was able to just enjoy the moment more, chat with fellow runners and TJM fans and just have a great post-race celebration with Spotted Cow and pizza.
This race is put on by Ten Junk Miles – which is a runner’s Podcast and race organizer. I got involved in the TJM community after running a half marathon at their Badger Trail Races in August 2021. Having listened to many, many hours of the RD on podcasts, talking with fellow fans on Slack, and slowly but surely starting to follow all those involved on Strava this race became more than just a mileage goal for me. TJM is why I got into trail and ultra running. And though I’m just a generally awkward person who doesn’t know how to talk to people, it was so much fun to get to chat with these folks at the finish line. I hope to do it more!
I think the decision to go with the hip pack and a hand-held was a great call. It prevented me from panic carrying too much stuff and it let my back breathe. The only thing I regret is not finagling a good blister kit into it somehow. I have since looked, and I will experiment with a few options for carrying my trail first aid kit on the belt. Really, with how well the pack worked, I feel like unless I’m on a run where I either need lots of gear, or I’m just on an unsupported long run, I can use this waist pack for the vast majority of my runs.
I was pretty happy with the remaining gear. My shirts, shorts and liner were great. It’s possible the blister was a shoe issue, but I think the blame falls on me for that, so I can’t fault the socks or the shoes (yet).
I’ve got 3 more races I’m registered for this year. Christmas In July, a 24 hour race in Lisle, IL, The Chicago Marathon, and the Tunnel Hill 100. This race has provided so many lessons for me that I’ll need to get through Tunnel Hill for sure. Everything else for the rest of the year revolves around prepping for Tunnel Hill. Christmas In July will be a great training race where I can try and apply the lessons from the Sugar Badger, and get some experience with overnight running. Chicago will be a good long training run. And there’s an overnight 12 hour race in September I might do just for some more overnight practice.
But first, I’m taking a short off-season. No running for 5 days post Sugar Badger and then the next week and a half after only easy runs. In retrospect, I should have taken more of an off-season after the Dopey Challenge. I couldn’t because of what I was registered for and I needed to train, and still, it was a mistake.
Made with a new race report generator created by /u/herumph.
NOTE: I dated this post back to when I originally wrote it (4/18/2022). Original publishing date on TeamPumaKnife.com is 8/6/2022.
- Name: Earth Day 50K
- Date: April 16, 2022
- Distance: 50K
- Location: Crystal Lake, IL
- Website: http://www.earthdaytrailrace.com/
- Time: 07:22:12
(each loop ~5.2 miles)
After the Dopey Challenge I had about a 2 week rest before I got back into the training schedule. With only 15 weeks between them it meant getting back to training pretty quick. My marathon and Dopey plans had been 4 days of running with a day of cross training, which I continued until the end of February when I switched to running 5-days per week. I felt the increase in volume definitely paid off.
Since this race is in a park only an hour from me I was able to go do a training run before hand. I did 3 loops of the approximate course which went pretty well. Left that day very excited for the race, though hoping it would be slightly less windy.
Day of race I arrived early, got a good parking spot that would prove very helpful later in the race. It was a very nice cool morning to start, and it never got up to a temperature I’d call warm all day – great racing weather.
I carb loaded in the three days before the race. I really don’t like carb loading very much. I hate the feeling of being bloated. I definitely don’t like the few lbs it adds on the scale, but I understand the importance.
The race is on a looped course with each lap being ~5.2 miles. Do not be fooled by the fact this race is in Illinois, one of the flattest places I’ve ever been. Even though there were no climbs more than, I don’t know, 50 ft or so, the entire race you are either going up or down. There were very few and far between flats. Overall vert on the day is around 4,500 ft – which is a pretty decent amount for a 50k!
Lap 1: Yay fun! Big rush at the start. Lots of passing in the first two miles then it calmed and thinned out. This is a super pretty place to run a race.
Lap 2: Slowed down a little bit, this was a great fun lap that just felt good.
Lap 3: Started good – and interestingly, ended up being nearly the same pace as Lap 2. But just a mile and a half into the lap I came down on a root badly and rolled my ankle hard. I was able to stay up and run it out, but I thought my day was done right there. I kept moving down the trail and fortunately it ended up being ok. This lap I spent the entire time thinking about how my ankle was holding up.
Lap 4: The slowdown begins. By now the 5 milers had long finished, and there were only a few 15 milers left out on the trail, so the trail was getting empty. I started feeling the fatigue hard at the end of this lap. Up til now I really had just been eating food I had on my person. I should have been eating more and supplementing from the aid station. By this point, too late.
Lap 5: The crash. At the end of lap 4 I stopped at the aid station and got as much as I could jam in my mouth in me and took off. Had a nice chat for a few minutes with another runner about a mile in, and then plodded on.
Lap 6: One foot in front of the other. It’s funny – my split says this lap was 6 minutes slower than Lap 5, but the splits don’t tell the whole story. After Lap 4 I stopped at the aid station for several minutes to try and get some food in me – time that is reflected in my Lap 5 split. So lap 6 was probably closer to 10-12 minutes slower than Lap 5. Though, the highlight of this lap may have very well been passing this dip in trail for the last time and cursing it along the way. The picture really does not do justice to how steep the trail is in and out of it. It was fine when you could do it at stride and keep your momentum, but beat up and walking it was hell – a short hell to be sure, but hell nonetheless.
Coming around for the finish I was trudging hard. Then I saw another runner not far behind me who had worked up to a run again. Determined not to be passed in the last .1 miles I put on the big boy pants and started running again. I crossed the line at 7:22:12
My wife and daughter met me at the finish line with Burger King in hand. This was the first time they have been at a finish line for me, and it really was a great moment for me. 50K, my first Ultra, and it was tough.
I definitely did not assess my preview run well enough. I started too fast and I did not eat enough throughout the race. I should have done more of my training miles on hills, but other than that I wouldn’t change up much about the actual schedule of training.
Moving forward, my next race is Sugar Badger in Wisconsin in 6 weeks. That’s a 50 mile race – eek! – but it’s on a dirt flat rail trail. Time for recovery, a short build, and another race.
Made with a new race report generator created by /u/herumph.
NOTE: I dated this post back to when I originally wrote it and emailed it out to friends (10/22/2021). Original publishing date on TeamPumaKnife.com is 8/6/2022.
Just one little story before the race details:
As I was sitting in the corral, waiting to get going, I was flipping through stuff on my phone when I saw my ‘featured photos’ for the day, photos my phone picks out for me every day and puts together for me to scroll through. On this day my phone served me up a photo of Izzy – which is not uncommon by any stretch – but what was unique about this photo was it was one of her in her crib at the hospital in Columbus with a big old smile on her face. There she is, not a care in the world, just being happy even with everything going on. Who knows how that particular photo ended up there on that particular day, but it gave me a lot of strength, and I thought about it several times throughout the race.
Race: 2021 Chicago Marathon
Distance: 26.2 Miles
Start Time: 08:40:20
Start Temp: 68°F – 84% humidity
Finish? Hell yeah!
Finish time (clock): 13:39:09
Course Time: 04:58:58
Place (overall): 16,436 / 26,106
Place (men): 10,050 / 14,223
Place (age group): 1,749 / 3,306
Finish Temp: 76°F
A Goal: Finish – Yes!
B Goal: < 5 hours – Yes!
C Goal: 4:30 or better – nooope, maybe 30 degrees cooler?
Split: Time – min/mile
5K: 0:31:36 – 10:11
10K: 1:04:49 – 10:42
15K: 1:37:02 – 10:23
20K: 2:13:05 – 11:36
HALF: 2:20:07 – 10:20
25K: 2:46:22 – 10:50
30K: 3:25:19 – 12:33
35K: 4:03:04 – 12:10
40K: 4:43:17 – 12:57
Finish: 4:58:58 – 11:30
Plan going in: Positive splits. I usually prefer negative splits, but I’ve found that trying to do negative splits or even splits for distances I’ve not done before is difficult if not impossible. My training runs were gearing me for a 4:30 marathon, but with warm and humid weather I left the start line just hoping to be under 5 hours. I aimed to alternate gatorade and water and get it from every aid station but the last.
So. Many. People.
0.5: Jesus signs!
1: Damn it, slow down bob
2: Second mile marker: BOB, SLOW DOWN
3: That’s more like it – but what’s going on in my colon?
3.25: Damn it, I really need to shit! Someone pause the race please!
4 – 8: Besides my bowels nagging at me, it was a nice section of the course. It goes through a section of Chicago I’m well acquainted with, and it was just quite pleasant. My running felt good here.
9: Another rest stop… But also, dancers on a stage in drag!
10-11: I was increasingly distracted now by the GI issue, and started worrying about how it was affecting the run. Sadly, I was not enjoying the race through this section as much as a result. Though, it was cool to go by Erica’s old condo!
11.25: Ok, this GI issue needs to end or I’m not sure how I’m going to get through this. Stop on the toilet for a good 4-5 minutes. I wasn’t certain it was resolved. Fortunately, this time did the trick. But it’s weird to know the clock is ticking while you’re stuck on the toilet. The big upside, and it saved me to a degree – this stop took my C goal completely off the table. With start temp I knew deep down the C goal was a no go, but there was a demon on my shoulder telling me it was still possible – this gave my ego the freedom to let it go.
12: I started feeling better but goofed and started running faster than I should have for a little bit. It was unintentional too, maybe I was subconsciously trying to make up time.
13: Back in the loop, very cool, the only ‘hills’ in the race of course being the bridges :p
14: Settled down – better late than never. Good jog through the west loop out to the UC.
15: About here my headset died – so much for an 8-hour battery life. It was more annoying that I was now wearing a headset that wasn’t doing anything than not having music itself. Still, the back half of my playlist for this race was awesome, so that was a little bummer. But, in general, I think I could have easily gotten through the entire race without it. If I was out in the boonies with no crowds, maybe then I’d need it, but this race it was mostly unnecessary.
16-17: Probably the quietest part of the course. Not residential at all, and not a lot of crowds. Not a bad thing, just noticeably different from the rest of the course.
18-20: As expected, this is where it started getting tougher. Consciously slowed my pace to go with my positive split plan
20: BANANA – and a couple of annoying turns
21: My physical low was yet to come, but this was my emotional low of the race. It was just before we got to Chinatown, and I wasn’t even hurting that bad. Was it the heat? Was it that we were at or near 4 hours of continuous running? Was I low on fluids? Probably some combination.
21.5: Chinatown saved me. Crossing through the gate and the crowd there, and just being a really cool part of town really picked me up. At that moment, for whatever reason, it made me think about my daughter. I looked at my wrist reminder, took a minute to walk, picked a target and started running again.
35k/22: I crossed the 35K pad at 4:03:04. Less than an hour to hit my B goal. Reviewing my official splits, 35-40K was my slowest part of the race, and there were a fair amount of walk breaks at this point.
23: 3.2 to go. Just a touch over a 5K. At this point, I know I’m finishing the race. You’d have to shoot me dead to stop me from getting across the line. So, my attention turns. I don’t have reliable data, but I looked at my watch, I’m about 04:15 into the race. I have 45 minutes to finish in time. At the time, I’m running about 12 min miles. This should be 100% doable
24: Last little stretch up to the 24-mile marker was pretty cool! Really nice narrow residential street with a great crowd and good tree cover.
24.5: 2nd to last aid station, and the last one I stop at. I decided to walk a long stretch of the aid station. At this point my legs are really burning. Overall cardio isn’t in too bad of shape though.
1.7 miles to go: I distinctly remember at this point having the conversation with myself that I was going to just run slow from this point, and I’d hit my goal.
40K/25: My watch is telling me I’m at 04:44. I’ve got 2.1 K to go. I didn’t have this data on hand, but the last 5K my pace was down to 12:57, a full minute off what I thought. 2.1 K in 16 minutes normally is no problem. But I’m now hurting badly. At this point, I tell myself just. keep. moving…
1 mile to go: The crowd gets INSANE. There are more people on S Michigan Ave than I can comprehend, and too many to miss. Y’all know you’re just here cheering for a slow ass runner like me? All the real athletes have long passed!
.7 miles to go: I must stop to walk. I very nearly gave up on making my B goal right then and there. My head is telling me there’s no way I can make it under 5 hours now. It’s throwing mental math at me that’s based on a feeling of my body not on real numbers. “Just take it easy, get across the line.” FUCK THAT. RUN.
800M to go: First of the big signs as we get close to the finish. Still blown away by how big the crowd is. I’m so close to the 5-hour mark… From here out, every time my body tells me to stop and walk I just ignore it and keep trucking.
400M to go: last .2, I got this, I think? I had been warned the turn onto Roosevelt is enough to crush your spirit. In a course that’s almost completely flat, ending on a 2 block uphill just seems cruel. But I’m strong on hills, let’s do this.
300M to go: Looking up Roosevelt I can see the 200M sign at the top of the hill just as you turn onto Columbus. This short stretch I’m just focused on getting to the next sign.
200M to go: Top of the hill, make the turn, there’s the finish line. I glance at my watch for the last time. I’ve got 2 min to get there. The finish line looks so much further down Columbus than it is. For a moment I’m worried I don’t have it to make it in time. I put everything I have left to get there.
Finish: I have one picture from when I crossed the finish line that proves I did get my arms up as I crossed. I have a few others that show that the second I crossed you wouldn’t have blamed me for being one of the folks who collapsed. I am in a fog, just trying to catch my breath. I feel overheated and kind of nauseous. At first, I’m not really processing it, I’m just looking for some water. I know I made my time just from my watch, but I wouldn’t see my official time for a while after.
I keep walking a little bit more and get to the volunteers handing out Medals. I remember what the email from Team RMHC said, “don’t grab it, take a bow.” I did. For the next couple minutes as I walk down Columbus, I’m crying in a way I had never done before. Relief, joy, pride, accomplishment. This was the payoff for something so much more than the 3 months of the training program. This was 3 years of hard work losing weight. Dropping 60, gaining back 30, dropping another 75. This was building back from flooding. This was only just over a year from doing Couch to 5K, barely able to run for more than a minute. This was surviving 10 weeks in the NICU with Izzy, multiple surgeries, and trips to the hospital. This was giving something back to Ronald McDonald House. This was doing something that I could have never imagined I could do. I actually finished a marathon.
The walk down Columbus seemed forever. They gave me a beer that I took 3 sips of and had to discard. I took some photos at a step and repeat. Eventually made it to the Team RMHC tent where I was able to sit and begin recovering. As I type that I think I just convinced myself to do it with RMHC again next year if for no other reason than to get the access to their tent! I eat, meet my family, and head home. Job done.
My next marathon I’ll be aiming for negative splits. Miles 20-26 felt just like more of miles 18-20, so if I can get my pacing to the right place to feel good on my 20 mile runs I think I’ll be in a much better spot. I thought my food in the days ahead was fine, but I guess not. Perhaps it was just nerves (I was super nervous) and the next without the pressure of it being my first marathon will be better. Still, I need to look at that more, GI issues almost ruined my day. Hydration I think was ok. I sweat very heavy, so even though I think I had a fair amount of water and gatorade, I’m not ready to say that I should make adjustments based on just that race.
In a funny way, this all started with a few lunatics in Utah I follow on YouTube. Their Channel, Mediocre Amateur, inspired me to start running. The idea of trail running just seemed like everything I wanted to do. Go get deep in the mountains and enjoy nature? Oh, hell yeah! But I was in no shape to be able to do that. The reality, as I would come to find, is that they were the spark. I was really doing it to take my mind off everything going on with Izzy. It worked well. That I was able to evolve it as her situation evolved has made it so much more gratifying. As she became more stable, I adjusted my goals higher. She was getting better; I should get better.
This race was special for me. In addition to everything above, Chicago is near and dear to me. Even though I live in the suburbs now, Chicago is where everything turned around for me. It’s where I grew out of the early 20’s funk. I met my wonderful wife in Chicago, I have lots of great friends here, and it makes me smile every time I get to wander the neighborhoods. Chicago is a special city, and I’m so happy my first marathon was this one.
Well, now that I have done 26.2, I must do it again, just faster, right? Truth be told, I’ve been thinking a lot about where I go from here. I’m not sure I have the desire to run Boston enough to do the work needed to qualify. I’d have to cut nearly 2 hours off my Chicago time. I know it’s not insurmountable, but is it really what I want to do? I’ve been listening to a podcast called Ten Junk Miles, and I ran one of their races (a half) and had a great time. They’ve given me this urge to go for increasing distance and run an Ultra. I’m registered for Disney, so I’ve started training for that. I’ll keep running, and just see where the miles take me
Now, I’ve been writing on for an eternity, so thank you for reading this far. I know there will be more races in the future, and not every race will mean this much to me. Not every race will merit this kind of emotional reflection. But this one did. In a way, I feel like this race marks the end of a period of my life, and now I can move onto the next part – the part where I don’t think of myself as a struggling overweight guy desperately trying to finish a marathon, now I feel like I’m a runner and I’m trying to be a better runner.
NOTE: I dated this post back to when I originally wrote it and emailed it out to friends (9/20/2021). Original publishing date on TeamPumaKnife.com is 8/6/2022.
TL;DR Haiku Summary:
A long race to run
Shrunk by the powers that be
A hard won finish
Truth be told, I was planning on this race for a while. I kept it mostly quiet because I didn’t want to deal with folks trying to talk me out of it. Going into the weekend we heard from the race that it was expected to be hot and that we should expect it to be red flagged and possibly black flagged. As this would be my first marathon, this set off a flurry of conflict in me. On top of that, it’s part of a 3 race challenge in the Chicago area, and I need to be a finisher of the weekend in order to qualify for the challenge. I had a few options, but after a lot of thought, and reaching out to others I ultimately decided to just go, try for the full and see. So, with that let’s go:
Night before: Pre-race jitters, I struggled hard to get to sleep. Took a xanax, that helped. Prep night before paid off, and I was able to get up, do my morning routine and go. Got to race, parked, all good.
Planned Race: Fox Valley Marathon
Planned Time: Finish, expected 4:30
Start Temp: 59
Being in the starting corral was exciting! I have run a few races now, but nothing of this size (~1,500 runners). Horn blew, and started well. I find that I generally am miserable for the first mile, and it’s really not until mile 3 or 4 where I start feeling good, that happened here too. First few miles had a lot of turns and some hills (you western folks would probably call it flat). End of mile 4 there was a really weird turn around in a church parking lot for an aid station. After that, from mile 4 til mile 12 it was a really great race. I was in the shade, I was running well, my hydration was good. Smooth sailing.
Now, during this time, I was running a little fast, but I felt comfortable. I did not feel like I was running fast, but when I got my lap times I saw it. Particularly when I saw the 9:11 mile I definitely tried to ease it up a bit. This was a challenge for me – because, again, I did not feel like I was going hard. I felt comfortable, but my HR and my pace were saying something different. Race adrenaline maybe?
Somewhere around 11 1/2 miles we hit a wall of volunteers with a message: The Race Directors are shortening the race because it’s too hot, everyone is now on the 20 mile race.
Temp at Diversion: 75
This was a huge mental blow for me. For the next mile I was so bummed. I had planned to run 26.2, it’s taken away. It easily took me 10-15 minutes to get my head back in it. I wasn’t even mad. I knew it was a possibility. I knew 26.2 was more than the training plan anyways. But I was in the headspace to run the whole thing and now that just wasn’t going to happen.
That was the hand that was dealt. Just. Keep. Moving.
Miles 11.5-15 were ok. The increasing temp was definitely starting to have an effect. About now I was starting to slow down closer to where I actually expected to be, around 10:20 miles. Still cruising, no issues.
And then we hit the 15 mile mark, lost most of our shade and the temp really started to spike. These last five mile would prove to be excruciating. There was just so little canopy and not an ounce of cloud cover to shield us from the sun. Of the last 5 miles, I probably walked about 1 mile of it. And what I did run was slow. Shade was so sparse I really wasn’t sure what to do. I ended up running the sunny sections to get through them quicker (and because there were just more of them) and walked the shady bits to try and cool down more. Tossed what water I had on my head and kept moving.
The final 1.2 miles was hell. Most of the run was on the riverside trail. So even in the last few where it was sunny, at least there were spots where you could get shade. The last 1.2 was all on the street. No shade. Just a big blacktop bouncing heat back up on you. I wanted to run out the last mile. But it just wasn’t doable. At .5 to go I could see the finish line. There was a little hump to get over, and I said to myself, “I’m going to get to the top of that hump and then run it out, no matter what.” Hit the hump, started running. With .2 to go was the final turn to go over the bridge to the finish line. I summoned everything I had left and sprinted as much as I could through the finish.
That last .2 miles was definitely something more that I’ve not experienced before. Before yesterday the longest race I’ve done was a half, and I have run 20 in training before, but I’ve never raced this distance, even if I wasn’t really racing. This proved to be very emotional for me. I crossed the line, got my finisher medal (which I have to modify because I didn’t finish the marathon), struggled to get a banana down and some water and gatorade, found a shady bit and had a good cry for a minute. If you had told me a year ago I’d be able to do this, I’d have laughed. “I can barely run a mile without dying, maybe one day.”
I can point to a number of things that have helped motivate me to do this. Being healthy for my family, support from all of you, the folks at Mediocre Amateur, my running club, the folks at Ten Junk Miles, but something I learned out there in the hardest part of the race was this: all the external motivation in the world doesn’t matter one bit when you are out there on your own and you need to dig deep to find the strength to keep moving. And I think that’s why this meant so much to me. When I passed that last aid station I didn’t stop. I kept going, not for anyone else, but because I wanted to do this. I wanted to prove to myself I could do hard things. And I did.
The big bummer was my family had planned to be at the finish, and with the change in distance they ended up missing me cross. They got there probably a half hour after I finished, and at least Izzy didn’t care that I was a sweaty, vaseline covered mess 🙂
Race actually ran: Fox Valley Fall Final 20
11 Mile split: 1:53:07, 09:45 min/mi
Finish: 3:27:49, 10:24 min/mi
Finish Temp: 84
Could I have gone another 6.2 yesterday? I would have tried if they let me. I do think it really would have depended on how much shade there was for the rest of the trail down to the marathon turn around. The rest of the run was along the same side of the river and it was pretty shaded, so maybe? Would it have been smart? Maybe not 🙂 Either way, I did really appreciate the way the race diverted us to the 20 mile race instead of just black flagging us at some point along the route. That was really nice.
I can say that as long as fall arrives and on 10/10 it’s actually a reasonable temperature, I am very confident I will finish the Chicago Marathon and finish strong. My glutes are a bit sore today, but overall I feel pretty good. While I struggled in the last few miles, I do not think it was the dreaded Wall. I felt like I had more than enough fuel, my body was just so hot at that point in time I had to slow down or risk heat stroke. In fact, my body was radiating heat enough that Erica was pointing it out well into the evening many hours after the race.
I have 3 weeks of taper ahead of me. I wore my hydration pack and carried 1.2L of fluid on me yesterday, which I will not do at Chicago, largely because it’s prohibited, but they also have a whopping 20 aid stations, so I shouldn’t need it. I wasn’t super happy with my shoes, but at this stage I’m not really willing to risk trying anything new before Chicago. They did fine for me up until now, but my training has been largely on crushed limestone and this was all paved. They got me through and I think it’ll be ok for Chicago, but I might be looking for something different before Disney.
I really only have one more long run before Chicago, this Sunday (12 miles), so if there’s anything else I should fiddle with I need to do it then.
If you’ve read this far, thanks for taking an interest! I certainly had a lot of thoughts about this run, and it’s been great chatting with folks about it. One of my hopes of this race was that it would take a little bit of pressure off of Chicago because I’d have broken the mystique of the marathon distance, but what can you do right? Just. Keep. Moving.
Best: Guy dressed as Gene Frenkle (Will Ferrell) from the more Cowbell sketch who showed up multiple times along the route with his cowbell. Dude killed it.
Worst: No shocker here: The Sun – stupid good for nothing sun :p
UPDATE: 8/6/2022: At the time, and for a while after the race, I considered this race a finish of the 20 mile race. The marathon was called and not finishing it had nothing to do with me. As I’ve raced more, and grown as a runner over the past year I really have come to accept this as what it is: a marathon DNF. The race is gracious enough to still consider me and everyone else like me a finisher of the 20 mile, but in my own mind, it just doesn’t sit right. I didn’t leave the start line with the intention of running 20, I intended to do 26.2, and I didn’t. This isn’t about beating myself up about it, rather it’s about accepting the reality of a failure, finding the good in it, and learning. I think there’s a fine line between finding the silver lining in a failure and reframing a failure as a success, and perhaps, we sometimes too often do the latter.