Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 by the Numbers

As I much as I enjoyed putting the images of my running year together with captions for each, I equally enjoyed crunching the numbers from my season as well. Being an engineer, numbers are like candy for me; I can never get enough of them!

Thanks for all of those who made it possible for the numbers to exist; my wife Laura, my dogs Sirius and Fiina, my sponsors inov-8 and Fleet Feet, my friends (you know who you are) and countless others.

I look forward to an even faster and more adventurous 2010.

My Best Performances
  1. 2nd Overall Dizzy Fifties 50km, 6th fastest time ever on the course (3:53:15) and 149th fastest 50km time in the USA in 2009
  2. 2nd Overall Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race (22/18/20M = 60M)
  3. 1st Overall Bartlett Park 50k, course record (4:07:10)
  4. 2nd Overall McKay Hollow 1/2 Marathon (1:51:51)
  5. 1st Overall Delano 50k, course record (3:53:54)
  6. Sub 3 hour Boston Marathon (2:56:17)
  7. 6th Overall Mountain Mist 4:32:15

  • 39 Races
  • 10 Ultra Marathons
  • 2 Marathons
  • 550 miles of racing
  • 34 Times in the top 10 overall
  • 27 Times in the top 5 overall
  • 17 Times in the top 3 overall
  • 4 overall wins
Personal Records
  • 2 Mile at Winter Winds February 10:48
  • 15km at Monte Sano 15km October 55:40
  • 50km Mountain Mist 50km 4:32:15 (1st time)
  • 50km Black Warrior 50km 4:15:27 (2nd time)
  • 50km Delano Park 50km 3:53:54 (3rd time)
  • 50km Dizzy Fifities 50km 3:53:15 (4th time)
  • 50M Mountain Massochist 52M 8:29:24
  • Hit 4,116 miles in a 365 day period on September 20 (3857 miles in 2009 calendar year)
  • Ran 15,000th career mile on October 24
  • Ran in 20 U.S. states (Alabama, Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Washington, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Connecticut, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, Washington DC, Virginia, New Hampshire, Georgia, Mississippi, Vermont, Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota)
  • 2nd Overall HTC Gran Prix Open Male
  • Zero (0) rest days
  • Coaching Fleet Feet Mizuno half marathon program
  • Managing Fleet Feet Racing Team
  • Run Across Alabama
  • Earned spot on inov-8 ultrarunning Race Team

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Running Year in Pictures

Let me first say that none of this would be possible without the support of my friends, family, crew, sponsors, dogs and wife. Looking back, I have had an amazing year of running races and adventures across the country as shown by the photos and captions below. I am thankful for each step I take in running shoes and constantly counting my blessings that I am healthy enough for my feet to carry me to these destinations.


Starting the year with a breakthrough personal recording setting performance at Mountain Mist, finishing 6th overall in 4:32:15, I am compelled to run more ultramarathons and my passion for trail running blooms, while starting a series of races where I finish without a shirt begins.


Running in the most beautiful location on earth, I run the coastline from San Diego to La Jolla for 16 miles on the first day of a work conference, ending up at Scripps Park which has amazing sunsets, sea lions and ice cold water for soothing sore muscles.

An opportunity for a long run on the Pacific Crest Trail in the mountains of Southeastern California lands me in the middle of a perfect storm with driving rain and zero visibility and results in severe hypothermia, requiring a 911 call for emergency response, which was thankfully responded to quickly.

Running on mud laden trails through a controlled forest burn of the Sipsey Wilderness during the Black Warrior 50km, I am able to muster enough energy for a late push to lower my best time for 50km to 4:15:27 and finish 4th overall.


On a day where I ran for the first few hours on the 1 mile looped trail at Delano Park with sections underwater, I go on to set the course record and take overall honors with a time of 3 hours, 53 minutes and 54 seconds in shirtless (and arm sleeves) fashion for the picture that would later appear in ultraRUNNING magazine, before resting for a few hours and coming back to pace national class ultra marathoner Jamie Donaldson for 12 miles enroute to her own record setting 78 mile performance.

With fear of a possible cancellation of the race due to torrential downpours right up until the start, I run the modified, more difficult McKay Hollow Half Marathon Course in 1:51:51, hammering the hill climbs, including the final ascent up Death Trail, passing DeWayne Satterfield to take 2nd overall behind David Riddle's Course Record, and notch one of the premier finishes in my trail running career.


Proving that my time at the Dam Bridge 10,000 meter race from November was not a fluke, I am able to hold off a late push by John Nevels to run another sub 35 minute 10k at the 3M River City Run in Decatur, finishing 6th overall in this RRCA Alabama State Championship race.

Dink Taylor and I meet Ryan Hall on Sunday, then on race day, go on to run the first 16 miles at exactly 6:30 pace and despite the taxing Newton Hills, I am able to go on to avenge my lackluster first attempt and break three hours at the Mecca of all marathons, Boston.


Just 12 days after running 2:56 in the Boston Marathon, I test fate and my legs at Strolling Jim 40 in War Trace, Tennessee as we run through a heavy downpour for the first few hours and I go on to finish 8th overall in my first road ultra marathon.

Along with some very good friends, we travel to Sewanne, TN for an adventure run and complete the Perimeter Trail around the campus, accumulating 27 miles of mostly technical single track trail and despite having a map, get lost several times.

After a hectic weekend of preparation for the race with the elite dinner at our house for the second year in a row, I go on to have a lackluster performance at Cotton Row 10k, but still manage to be seeded near the top and get my picture on the cover of Southern Running Journal.

In a carefully coordinated effort, a small group of ultra runners trek from Clingman's Dome at 6600' south along the Appalachian Trail for 34.5 miles to Fontana Lake at 1600' in 10 hours, stopping along the way to take pictures, eat sandwiches, complain about the never ending descent, avoid black bear and find the occasional spring to refill our hydration packs, completing an amazing voyage that was preceded and followed up with primitive camping and enjoyment of adult beverages.


After having flights delayed, then cancelled from Washington to Huntsville, I fly to Atlanta and then drive to Tennessee for the Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race, arriving at 2am, just six hours prior to the start of day 1, which leaves me tired and with no mental focus and after leading for much of the way, I miss a turn and get lost resulting in a disappointing 9th place finish.

Leveraging my ability to recover quickly, I make an amazing turn around on the second day of the Stage Race on Raccoon Mountain, running with the lead for 8 miles and later finishing in 2nd place behind only Josh Wheeler coming into the finish swinging my cooling ice towel in the air like a helicopter, moving me up to 4th place overall with a final day of completion to go.

I run out front with Matt Sims from the start and push hard all day, while making some great guesses on the barely marked course on Signal Mountain, coming in 2nd place for the final stage in the stifling heat and make up enough time to earn a 2nd place overall for the entire event before succumbing to utter exhaustion at the finish line, laying down just steps after the end.

Running neck and neck from start to finish with fellow Fleet Feet Racing Teammate Jason Reneau on the technical trails of Cotton Mill Preserve in Fayetteville, TN at the Run for Ella 5k, I finish less than a second behind, not being able to out kick Jason at the end, to finish in second place and run for a great cause.


Day 0 of Run Across Alabama for Elliott Schotz.

Day 1 of Run Across Alabama for Elliott Schotz.

Day 2 of Run Across Alabama for Elliott Schotz.

Day 3 of Run Across Alabama for Elliott Schotz.

I have the opportunity to share in one of the most moving and special moments of my entire life as I participate and help coordinate the 4 day, 183 mile Run Across Alabama for Elliott Schotz with Jon Elmore and Eric Schotz, and on the final day as we near the Mississippi state line, experience something magical as Eric and I are able to overcome immense pain and fatigue to nearly fly for 6 miles as we push each other to the beat of Chumbawumba’s pointed lyrics of “I get knocked down, and I get up again. Ain’t never gonna keep me down.”

The look of pure joy for three men who took on some short term suffering in a journey across the state of Alabama all for an amazing little boy, Elliott Shotz.

To continue with the annual tradition started in 2008 with Joey Butler, I travel to Florence, AL on an unusually cool 50 degree July morning to complete the first half of a double race day by competing in the Shoals Trac Club Da Doo Run Run 5k, finishing 4th overall in 17:05, before heading back to Huntsville to race the HTC Twilight 5k later that night amongst a stellar field of runners, finishing in 17:15 for 8th overall, giving me a combined race time of 34:30 for 10km for the entire day, just two weeks after running across the state.


Returning to the location of my first ultra marathon in August of 2007, Eric Schotz and I hammer the Bartlett Park 50km course amidst 90 degree temperatures and I go on to take the overall win and set the course record by over 50 minutes, finishing at 4:07:10, just minutes ahead of a surging Eric.

Just two weeks after running in hot and humid Tennessee, I compete in the inaugural Marquette Trail 50km along the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and run with the lead pack for the first 20 miles before going on to finish 3rd overall on a day where temperatures never made it above 50 degrees and I was able to cross the line with my parents there to see me.


While on a late fall work trip to Vermont, I am able to schedule my travel to accommodate a side trip to run along the historic Long Trail (also doubling as the Appalachian Trail) from Route 4 near Rutland to the summit of Killington Peak and take in some sweeping views of the area from 4000’, while barely having enough time to run back down the technical and rocky trail before night fall.

While on an ordinary trail run along Arrowhead Trail on Monte Sano near the Cistern, Eric Fritz, Rob Youngren and I find Jack, a lost Jack Russell Terrier mixed dog, and after carrying him for an hour back to the Youngren’s home, we employ Kathy’s detective skills to somehow track down his owner through the realtor of a house that they just sold, and I return Jack later that morning to the thankful mom.


Running in my first ultra marathon against national class competition at Stump Jump 50km on Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I am able to hold strong early and make a sustained late push starting at mile 20 and create separation on the 2008 Mountain Mist Winner, David Rindt, while later passing a Rock/Creek Race Team member within the final mile to finish 5th overall with a time of 4:44:39, solidifying my position as a competitive 50km trail ultra runner.

Just one week after running a hard 50km trail race, I toe the starting line of the competitive Fleet Feet Monte Sano 15km Road Race, the first event of the HTC Gran Prix Season, bringing out the best runners the area has to offer, and I make a late push through the fog while running the tangents through the turns of the neighborhood to pass Tim Vinson and finish 4th overall, shaving 21 seconds off of my personal best with a new time of 55:40, or sub 6 minute pace on this hilly course.

Making it three weeks in a row of racing, I turn to my lucky Black Fleet Feet Racing Team uniform for an attempt to break 17 minutes at the Liz Hurley 5km, falling just short in the late stages with fatigue in my legs, but still manage a 17:01 for 5th place finish overall.

After months of planning and course development, the Xterra Monte Sano 15km Trail race is run on the last Sunday in October and after falling to 4th place with just 2 miles to go, I repass Tim Vinson on the climb out of the Sinks from Three Benches and run with all out effort on the final climb and around the North Plateau Trail, barely holding off David O'Keeke by seconds with great final sprint finish for 3rd place overall.


On a last minute work trip to San Francisco, I am able to make time on the last day to discover the amazing sights in San Bruno State Park, located on the southern peninsula just minutes from the work site to run the mixed single track and gravel road trails that lead out to the point and back, making the entire trip worth while and near must run when time does not permit travel across the Bridge to the Marin Headlands.

Traveling to Lynchburg, Virginia with friends to run my first 50 mile ultra marathon turned out to be one of the most difficult things I have ever attempted and while wanting to drop out at the 27 mile mark, I get a lift from a Snickers Bar and knowing that the second half of the course was mostly uphill and matched my strengths and I go on to survive through mile 49 where I am able to then run sub 7 minute pace back downhill while being chased closely and come in to a top 15 placement finish of 300 runners and stand with ultra running legend David Horton and race director Clark Zealand for a picture at the end in complete exhaustion.

Having the utmost privilege at an HTC Board Member, I am honored to present the 2009 Outstanding Male Performance award to the hardest working and most deserving runner I know, David Riddle, at the HTC Annual Awards Banquet held at the Monte Sano Lodge and while slightly roasting him in my speech, I also share some great stories that help the audience understand what a humble person David is and then through his acceptance speech he proves my point by graciously accepting the award and thanking the running community for the years of support.

In possibly my greatest race of the year, I start out strong on the little loop, and then run very steady all day on the successive next three figure eight loops at Dizzy Fifties 50km again representing Team inov-8, staying consistently ahead of Tim Vinson and go on to lower my 50km trail personal record to 3:53:15 while in the process of running the 6th fastest time ever on the 50km course and the 149th fastest 50km time for men in the United States in 2009 and finish 2nd overall to David Riddle's ridiculous course record 3:21.

Not having done much speed work since before MMTR in November, I run the traditional Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot 5km race as a tempo run and blaze the first mile in 5:15, before slowing to 5:24 in the second mile and hanging on for the final mile running into a head wind and back up hill toward campus and finishing another fast race while barely missing the goal time, clocking in at 17:01 for 4th overall in a race where the top 9 runners go under 17:24.


Running in an all of nothing fashion, I settle in to lead a pack of runners on 2:49 pace through the intense head winds that bring on early fatigue to my legs and leave me unable to capitalize on the tail winds in the final 10 miles, resulting in slowing the pace down to maintain a sub 3 hour finish with a time of 2:58 at Rocket City Marathon, while later realizing that the true measure of my success in this race was the 3:01 finishing time of 16 year old Chris Brahm, whom I had been working with throughout his training for an amazing debut marathon.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

2009 Rocket City Marathon

December 12, 2009

Normally I would write out a lengthy race report and detail everything in meticulous fashion, all of the splits, what I ate, how I felt and spin it into a clever tale; but not today. Looking back, for me this was just another race. It was not a goal race or anything that I specifically trained for. I went into it trying to do something amazing on just an endurance fitness base, so when I fell apart at mile 16 after running 2:49 pace, I was not surprised, nor was I disappointed. I went into maintenance mode and did what I could to hang on to a sub 3 hour marathon finish. This doesn't mean that I didn't try as hard as I could and gave it everything I had, because I did. I will never 'mail it in' when it comes to a race. When the gun goes off, no matter what kind of shape I am in, I will try as hard as I can to do the best that I can, no matter what. I just was not properly conditioned to run a road marathon but that has never stopped me before because you never know when you are going to have a surprising performance.

Looking back, this race was really less about me and more about a few people that I had helped along the way with training and coaching advice. One of those people is Chris Brahm. Chris is 16 years old and an outstanding triathlete who attends Grissom High School in Huntsville, Alabama. Chris sought me out in 2008 to help him train for the Monte Sano 15km and again in 2009 when he decided he was going to chase Dink Taylor's Alabama marathon stage age record of 2:56 at Rocket City Marathon. I helped him out with a customized training plan and tried to be available for any questions that he had during the months leading into the race. I believed that he was a genuinely nice kid who had a bright future, and was willing to work hard to achieve his goals which is something I admire.

On Marathon day, his plan was to stay with me for as long as he could. We ended up running together for 16 miles before I had to back off and Chris stayed strong and ran on ahead.

Here is Chris in red running just off my shoulder at the half marathon mark, in which we split at 1:24:00, well on our way to a sub 2:50 finish with a second half tail wind just a few miles ahead.

Nearing mile 24, surprisingly, I caught back up to Chris. He was being attended to by a HEMSI volunteer and not doing so well. He started to run again and I convinced him to run with me to the finish. I tried every encouraging word I knew, and told him that I'd done the math and we could ease back to 7:45 pace and still finish under 3 hours. I told him that if he could manage that pace, though slower than I was running at the time, that I would stay with him until the end. Despite having thrown up (I think) before I saw him, he held on for another 1/2 mile before having to stop. He started to walk again and told me to leave him behind. I really struggled with this, and slowed down, trying to get him to go with me, but I could tell that he physically could not run at that point. So regretfully, I pushed ahead.

At the time, I thought that by finishing on his own, it would be a tremendous character building moment. Now having read his marathon race report, I see that he didn't need any help; he is not a kid, but a genuinely good young man that discovered a lot about himself out there on Saturday morning. He found out that through shear will and determination, that anything is possible if you are willing to try.

While his 3:01 28 marathon time is not a state age record, it is still utterly amazing for a 16 year old running his first distance event. If he chooses to run another one, I am sure he will build off of this experience, use his intelligence to alter his training and finish what he started.

So I ask that if you normally follow me, that you read the first hand account of Chris' marathon debut directly from him on his blog. If I had not told you that he was 16, you would never know it. He writes better than most adults that I know and accurately captures his emotions during the race. As I try to do, he makes you almost feel like you were there with him. I am fortunate enough to have been there with him for most of it and I will never forget that.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

2009 Frosty Freeze 5km

2009 Frosty Freeze 5km
Decatur, AL
December 5, 2009

I decided to run one more short distance race prior to the marathon and use it as a last test of fitness. I also wanted to see if I could break 17 minutes in the 5km, having hit 17:01 twice this fall; Liz Hurley and Turkey Trot. I hadn't been doing any speed work lately, with a severe lack of motivation since Mountain Masochist, so local 5km races were all I have had to test my legs.

I also have this weird quest to run every regional race at least one time and the elusive Frosty Freeze in Decatur was on the *giggle* must-do list.

I had talked with Dink Taylor mid-week and since he had to drive over to Decatur to set up the Fleet Feet tent and Gatorade coolers, we decided to ride together. The plan was for Dink to pick me up at 6:30am at Starbucks on Govenor's Drive in Huntsville on race morning.

Fast forward to Saturday and as I awoke to a puppy (Fiina) licking my face, I looked outside and saw the snow that had been forecast. For once, the local weather man was actually right and over night we had accumulated 1/2" of actual snow. The temperature was in the upper 20's and windy. It would be a very cold race morning.

The drive over to Decatur in Dink's truck (with Fleet Feet trailer) was quite the adventure in and of itself. We witnessed 21 cars that had been in accidents and 2 of them happen in real time, both in front and behind us. All in all, it took us nearly an hour to make the 20 mile drive. I changed in the truck on the way over, so all I would have to do was sign up, pin on my number, go to the bathroom and warm up as much as possible.

We got to the race at 7:35, so I had 25 minutes to go through what usually takes me an hour. I was not stressing over it though, as I tried to remain as calm as possible. After all, there was nothing that I could do about it. We got there safely, which is more than I can say would have happened if I drove myself.

The competition was limited, but fast. Josh Whitehead, Steven Baker, Chris Platt, Jon Elmore and Eric Schotz. The top three were all running faster than me right now at this distance, given recent race results.

My plan was to go out and run as even as possible. I wanted to try to spend my energy evenly over the 3 miles as opposed to going out hard and hanging on, which has been my strategy lately. It would mean that I was going to do it on my own, as the others would go out hard. This would be a tough effort on a cold, windy day run on a hilly course.

After a quick warm up jog around the block, I stripped down to my Fleet Feet Racing Team singlet, shorts and Nike arm sleeves. We lined up, and with a quick call, the race was on. Just as predicted, by the first corner, I was already as far back as 10th place. I resisted the urge to pick up the pace, and ran smoothly and as we came through the first mile I clocked a 5:20. I wanted to be in the range of 5:20 to 5:25, so things were on track. I also had moved up to 5th position, and was closing the gap quickly on a younger kid in front of me.

The second mile was much harder, as the wind began to swirl around and it seemed to always be in our face. Jon Elmore had warned me that there were many turns in the second mile and that the hills began in the this mile also. I can validate his words as I was working much harder to keep the pace near the target range. A few short uphills later, I came through the second mile in 10:57; that meant that my second mile split was 5:37. There was some question later if the first mile was in the right spot or not, but through 2 miles I was right on track to break 17 minutes.

Since the first mile, I had slowly been closing the gap on Steven. He was coming back to me and I was picking it up so the gap was narrowing quickly. Looking back, had we gone on to 4 miles, I probably would have caught and passed him. That said, had we run together, I think that we could have shared the load, took turns setting the pace and breaking the wind, we would both have run faster. I know him, but not that well and not well enough to propose a team effort. We made the final turn and began the long stretch to the north and toward the finish. As fate would have it, the climb to the 3 mile mark was all up hill and I was working very hard to stay in the target range and give myself a chance to kick in for sub 17. I managed to clock a 5:28 for the 3rd mile. I am convinced that because I held back early, I was able to dial the pace in late and run what I needed to.

Coming in from the 3 mile mark, I focused on my leg turnover. I was breathing hard and taking in very chilled 30 degree air which felt like fire in my lungs. I could see the finish line and sped toward it with a purpose. I did have a few seconds where I felt a little weak, like I was running above top speed and that I was going to buckle, which gave me a minor mental lapse. That lapse was all it took to slow me down and as I crossed the line, the clock flipped over to 17:00 minutes. My official time was 17:00.50.

So I am trying to figure out if I am pleasantly surprised, given my lack of speed work, brutally cold conditions and tough course; or if I should be upset for missing my target goal for the third time this fall. I tend to lean toward the former, as it is much more logical, although the later is very true. As I mentioned previously, it is hard to be disappointed when you don't put in the proper training to hit your goal. I am not pleased, but satisfied that I gave it everything I had on this day and my best was seventeen minutes even, and 4th overall.

Afterward, I jogged back on the course and ran in with Jon Elmore. Later I went out on the Steeplechase 8km course with Eric Schotz and had a very nice cool down run.

Thanks to Dink for driving us over and getting us there safely.

So for now, I put aside my short distance goals and begin to focus on distance running for the next two months, including Rocket City Marathon, Fast Ass 50km and eventually Mountain Mist 50km in January.

Frosty Freeze 5k Results Top 4

1 Josh Whitehead
2 Chris Platt
3 Steven Baker
4 Eric Charette