Friday, May 27, 2011

Reflections on my first 20,000 miles

Earlier this week I logged my 20,000th mile of running.  Here are some thoughts, notes and numbers looking back on a great run, if you pardon the pun.

First day of running logged: February 19th, 2003
Miles Run that day: 1.3
Air temperature that day: 17 degrees

Number of days since then: 3016 (100 months)
Number of days running since then: 2477 (539 days of rest)

Favorite Run Locations: San Diego, Boston, Sydney, AT, PCT, Glacier Park
Least Favorite Run Locations: Wichita, Key West

Favorite Races: Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race, Mountain Mist, Xterra Monte Sano 15km, Beer Belly Two, CIM, Dick Lytie 1/2 marathon, Strolling Jim, Boston Marathon, Stump Jump 50km
Least Favorite Races: (mostly course related, no offense to the RD's): Alabama A&M, Cookie dash, Eurocross

Days Run to reach first 10,000 Miles: 1986 or 5.03 miles per day
Days Run to reach last 10,000 Miles:  1029 or 9.72 miles per day

Most Rivers Swam Across During a race: 1

Pairs of shoes worn: 63
Average miles worn per pair of shoes: 295
Most Miles on pair of shoes: 1193.77 (2005 Nike Air Pegasus)

Number of Race DNF's: 6 (RFH50km 3 times, Eurocross 8km, Monte Sano 15km, Delano park 50M)

Most Miles in Month: 412 (October 2008)
Fewest Miles in Month: 7.1 (April 2003)
Average Miles per month total: 200.22 (6.6 miles per day)

Most Hours Run per Month: 83 (May 2010 for Pinhoti)

States Run In: 33 (AL, AZ, CA, Co, CT, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, KS, LA, MA, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, NH, NV, NY, OR, PA, SC, TN, TX, UT, VA, WA, WI)
States Yet to Run in: 17 (AK, AR, HI, ID, IN, KY, ME, ND, NE, NJ, NM, OH, OK, RI, SD, WV, WY)
Countries Run in: 5 (US, Mexico, Costa Rica, Canada, Autralia)

Average Pace for 20,000 miles: 8:39 minutes / mile

Oddest Place Run: 44 laps around the inside of my house (44 laps = 1 mile), inside garage at WPS in the middle of winter, inside a convention center, ATL airport

Longest Running Streak: 366 days (no rest all of 2009)
Days of rest from May 2008 - December 2009: 6
How Did I start 2010?  With a day of rest

Proudest Moment: Qualifying for Boston Marathon at Green Bay marathon in 2007 with my parents there
Second Proudest Moment: Running first Boston Marathon in 2008 with my parents there
Third Proudest Moment: 1st career race win at Lake Antoine Classic 5 miler (28:01) in career race #100 with my parents there.

Number of Race Victories since first win (last 100 races): 22

Largest Race Run: 2006 Chicago Marathon (40,000)
Smallest Race Run: 2010 Doxa 5km (15 and that may be high)

Number of races by popular distance (202 total)
5km - 65
10km - 21
1/2M - 16
26.2 - 14
Ultra - 19
Other - 67

Yearly Stats

YearRest DaysMilesMiles / DayHoursHours / DayRacesMiles RacedMiles / race

Most Miles in Number of Days

DaysMilesPer Day AveStart DateEnd Date
1 Day
2 Days
3 Days
4 Days
5 Days
6 Days
7 Days
14 Days
21 Days
30 Days
183 Days
365 Days

Monday, May 23, 2011

2011 Scenic City Trail Half Marathon

In no particular order, here are how things went in Chattanooga on the day of the Rapture for Scenic City Trail Half Marathon, presented by Rock/Creek.

Photo by G. Gelmis

Things that went well...
Hydration and Fueling
I managed to get down a full bottle of water during the race and held my breathing under control enough to chew and swallow two Powerbar Gel Blasts at around 6 miles. I was thirsty frequently with the high temperatures so took plenty of small sips and had enough left over for an occaisional squirt on my neck for cooling. I did not stop at any aid stations.  While I could have forced more fueling late, I never felt like I ran out of energy in the final miles.

Mental State
I was able to keep my thoughts focused and my head in the game during the entire race.  After making the wrong turn (discussed below) I was able to not let this bother me and worry about how much time or seperation to the nearest runner that I lost.  I just did the best that I could, given the situation.  I was passed twice by the third mile, leaving me off the podium for certain, running in 6th place.  This somewhat took the pressure off of me and let me concentrate on running strong and maintaing proper form.  I never wanted to quit or questioned my abilty to compete at this level.

Race Preperation
I knew that unless there were major course changes, that the route would be short.  I was banking on it being 12 miles but when I hit the 5-mile mark (4.5 on my GPS) and the 10-mile mark (8.5 on my GPS) I knew that it would be more like a mile and a half short.  This helped to know when to start my final push and have the confidence in myself to push the pace late and move into 5th place.

Race Execution
The plan was to get out fast and not have to do too much manuevering once we hit the single track.  It was clear that before we even made the loop around the parking lot that the lead pack was going to be pretty far ahead as at 5:30 pace, they will were pulling away.  I settled in and after the wrong turn snafu, I settled in nicely at around 7-minute miles on the flats, pushed hard on the downs to make up for the short ups.  I knew that I would have 2-3 miles at over 8-minute pace based on my research and looking back a the profile from last year, so I tried to compensate in other places.  I did not go out too hard in the first half, which helped.  Early on I could see Ken Youngers but he would pull away on the downhills and I would close on the uphills.  Having a smart race strategy and executing it well, I was able to close on him after the half/full marathon split and pass just before the paved section to the finish and put 26 seconds on him coming home. 

I thought that I selected the perfect uniform for the conditions.  My inov-8 x-talon 212's were ideal for the footing and distance.  My 2XU compression calf gaurds helped to ward off any cramping or calf fatigue for the intensity of this race.  The Head Sweats hat was probably too heavy as I was unable to release heat from the top of my head, but it was better to keep the sun off of me as opposed to (even yellow-lensed) sun glasses that I almost wore.  Maybe next time I will go with a visor instead.

With the time of the year, my trail running has been over for about a month in Huntsville.  Our trails get over grown and snake infested which makes it hard to run fast in training and I refuse to take the dogs for fear of getting bitten.  So most of my training had been on roads recently, especially with my recent goal race of Strolling Jim 41.2 miler just two weeks earlier.  So maybe I could have logged some more trail running on the South Plateau loop of Monte Sano to simulate the footing, but I doudt that it would have helped much.  I had been doing a lot of hill work which I felt really paid off on some of the roller coaster hills out there.  I feel like I had the best possible result given the amount of specific training I had put into this race.

Anne and I spent the night on Friday in a nearby hotel, cutting the drive time in the morning and ensuring a good nights rest. We had dinner at the Terminal (our new favorite hot spot in Chattanooga) and I had some great hummus and a fabulous tuna filet, which did not give me any stomach fits on race day.

... things beyond my control

Delayed Start
The race started 30 minutes late, which gave the temperatures another 30 minutes to climb.  I don't know the exact, but I would guess it was in the mid 70's by the start.  The shade of the trees on Raccoon Mountain was a blessing as it provided some comfort and protection from the sun, which was in full force by 8:30am.  I don't know to what degree, but I am sure that my my fueling was geared toward the on-time start, so with the delay there might have been some impact.

Off Course
Having run the race last year, I remembered where we left the paved road and turned into the woods.  When I warmed up, I practiced that turn and was ready for the fast section to ensue.  During the actual race when approaching the turn, the lead bike went into the woods, followed by the lead runners.  Just a few seconds in, I looked at the signs and was immediately confused.  Some others stayed left, others were standing back on the road.  Luckily I could pick out Josh Wheeler who motioned to come back up.  I ran on the trail for a bit, which paralleled the road, until I found a place to bushwhack back up to the road.  I am not sure how much time I lost, but the chase pack that didn't make the turn was closer than I would have liked.  As mentioned above, I was able to quickly shake this off and get back into the game.

A Big Thanks

Thanks to Kris and Randy Whorton on hosting a great event this year, with backing from Rock/Creek.  I always know what to expect when it comes to a Chattanooga trail race when these guys are involved. 

Final Results
Looking back at results to 2008, 5 of the top 7 fastest times were run this year.  I would tend to believe that minor course changes have played into this, but given the wrong turn at the start, this may have counteracted that.  Plus this year we made a 1/4 turn more at the start of the parking area, and a 3/4 turn more into the finish, making it longer than last year.  My 1:26:36 was the 7th fastest time ever on the course.

I am very satisfied with being 6 minutes faster than last year and placing so well.  I can't control how these others guys and on this day, there were 5 guys that were faster.
  1. Daniel Mueller, 24 - 1:16:47
  2. Theodore Towse, 39 - 1:18:13
  3. Jacob Bradley, 20 - 1:21:12
  4. Blake Davenport, 23 - 1:24:51
  5. Eric Charette, 35 - 1:26:36
  6. Ken Youngers, 54 - 1:27:02
  7. Owen Bradley, 31 - 1:29:22
  8. Mike Biddle, 42 - 1:30:25
  9. Jim Farmer, 42 - 1:32:31
  10. Calvin Cofield, 21 - 1:32:59
inov-8 Team USA Aaron Saft (Winner of the marathon) and Eric Charette (5th place in the half marathon)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Incredible Lows, Amazing Highs at Strolling Jim

Incredible Lows, Amazing Highs
2011 Strolling Jim 41.2 Miler
War Trace, TN
May 7, 2011

As the title reads, this was a day filled with incredible lows, followed by amazing highs. It only took a shirt trip up the highway to a small town in Tennessee, not found on most maps, for me to regain some confidence in my never ending battle of mind over matter. I can not tell you the number of times during the middle miles of this race that I walked, considered dropping out or contemplated giving up the sport of ultra running all together. Being passed numerous times from the middle of the hill at mile 20 to the entrance of "the walls", I experienced some incredible lows. Then something snapped, to which I will share later, and I was able to reengage my mind and get back into the game, making a late staged comeback in the final 12 miles in which I experienced some amazing highs.

Photo Courtesy of Graham Gallemore

What started back in 1978 as what can only be conceived as a cruel joke between John Anderson and Gary Cantrell was born one of the south’s only ultra marathons, Strolling Jim. The first part of the joke to those who don’t know is that this race is advertised as a 40 mile run, but widely known to be 41.2 miles, unless it is a year when the flood waters divert runners away from a road that is washed out (like in 2009), then the mileage could be as high as 42 and change. The other “funny” part is that there are only 4 official hills (10, 20, 24 and 30 miles) but when in fact the course continually rolls and the hills at miles 4, 12, 13, and throughout the entire “Walls” section are nothing to laugh at. Still, for 32 years would be hopefuls keep coming back to War Trace on the first Saturday in May with aspirations of earning a Gold (sub 5 hours), Blue (sub 6 hours) or Red t-shirts (sub 7 hours) on one of the most brutal road courses anywhere.

Luckily this year, the weather seemed to be cooperating as the starting temperature was in the low 50’s but promised to reach the 70’s, a cool day for southern Tennessee this late in the spring. What the runners didn’t know was that they would get the benefit of intermittent cloud cover shortly before lunch time and that would turn into light rain for those running late into the day.

The field was full of stout runners and many former winners at the overall and masters’ level. Veterans like Dink Taylor, DeWayne Satterfield, Tom Possert and David “Hollywood” Jones, who between them have 18 gold shirts (9, 5, 3, 1 respectively). Then there was the younger group, lead by Owen Bradley, Rob Youngren, Blake Thompson, Carl Laniak, Jadyn Stevens, Eric Schotz and me, all who have run either a sub 3 hour marathon or a sub 4 hour 50km in recent years. All in all, it was a deep field and that doesn’t include Leah Thorvilson, who no one thought could give the boys a run for their money… (Heavy foreshadowing) but was a strong marathoner out of Arkansas.

Early Stages: Mile 0 though 15

From the start and climbing the first hill, Owen and Rob were out fast and lead the way. I was in the chase pack, along with a group of a few others, running a pace that I swore I would not go out in… sub 7. From my phenomenal crash in 2009 where I split the marathon in 3:15 and 50km in 4 hours (before slowing to 9:39 pace for the final 10 miles) I had said that I was going to keep the pace in check this year and try to be as true to 7:30’s as I could. But as always, it is so difficult to resist the urge to go when the temperatures are cool and to take advantage of feeling good. My plans were to try to run around 5:15 (7:40 pace) best case, around 5 and a half hours most likely and anything under six hours should the wheels totally fall off the bus. By going out at this aggressive pace and trying to close the gap on Rob before the 5km mark, it would be either a banner day or one to forget. As we continued to roll off miles splits at or under 7 minute pace, Rob, Blake and I ran together through the 5 mile split in 34:45, holding down places 3rd, 4th and 5th in no particular order. I met my crew of Luke and Brandi Hough for the first time, taking a hand bottle for hydration.

The next 5 miles were much of the same as the three of us ran together at about the same pace. We would take turns falling back on the climbs, then leading on the faster downhill sections. We talked and laughed and joked about the hills that were ahead. I was feeling mostly relaxed and strong on the hills, having spent the quality shaping period of my training with repeats and tempo runs on the hills. We made the right turn in Normandy having come through a rollercoaster section of back-to-back hills and forged ahead toward the 10-mile mark. One of the great things about the Strolling Jim course is that despite the fact that Gary no longer directs the race, his spray painted sayings that became the staple of the course live on to this day. Read as you climb up the hills from bottom to top, phrases such as “This is not a hill”, were repeated over and over again until leaving Normandy, when it finally read, “But this is.” Cruel? Yes. Funny? Totally. Together we split the 10-mile mark at an even seven minute pace now at 1:09:45.

Sometime before the half marathon mark, I met my crew again and they let me know that Anne (Noble) was doing well behind me, which helped to ease my mind. Blake and Rob had pulled ahead on one of the hill climbs and made the decision to let them go. They stayed within sight, but I as Jonathan Basham and Andrew Thompson have said, “You have to be your own man,” and I felt that I needed to do this my way and not rely on others to pace along with. Thus began the most difficult part of ultra running (for me), the endless mind games. To the best of the memory, the half marathon split was in just under 1:32, still averaging at 7 minute pace and just off of my split from 2009. Not long after the split, Jadyn Stevens and Ashly Dewberry, who had been running together, ran through along with their mobile crew on cycles. Again, I wasn’t out to run with anyone and had found a pace that was comfortable and stuck with it. By the 15 mile split, I dropped into 7th place overall in 1:45:00 but I was not putting forth too much effort to hold on and was feeling easy.

Middle Miles: 15-29

No matter if it is a 5km, 5mile or 50km, I always tend to struggle mentally during the middle miles. I’d like to think that everyone goes through it and the best keep the impact of these low times to a minimum. For me the lowest of low times set in before the 20-mile mark as my stomach was starting to cramp. I couldn’t figure out why, but I was starting to drink a lot of water, but as the sun was now full in the sky, was sweating profusely and had no urge to urinate. The more HEED I drank, the sharper the pain in my left side. For a short period, I considered throwing up, but knew that such an act would abruptly end my day and I was not ready to throw the towel in. My crew caught up with me during this section and Anne walked with me on a hill climb (she said that she was not loving the race and dropped out earlier) and forced me to eat part of a PB&J. I took two bites and tossed the rest off for the birds.

Rounding corners on the course, I began to catch glimpses of runners behind me and as I walked nearly the entire hill at mile 20 on Bottle Hollow Road, friends Dink Taylor and DeWayne Satterfield came by. They were not moving that quickly, but still maintaining a running form and when compared to my hunched over walk, they seemed to be flying when they passed, dropping me into 9th. DeWayne asked how I was feeling and I responded with some mumbling. Later he would mention that he was pretty worried about me, so I must have not looked so hot. My 20 mile split was 2:23:45, averaging 7:45 pace for the last 5 miles, but slowing my overall average down to 7:11 with more than half of the race yet to run.

What can be more painful than a killer hill climb? The ensuing “quad crushing” downhill where you reclaim all of the gain back in decent. The good news is that three of the four official hills on the course were now behind me with just “the walls” to look forward to from 29-32. I was now alternating a walk and run strategy but fighting my stomach more and more. It is amazing how on a flat course just 6 months ago I was able to run 6:15 pace for a marathon, but on this day I was being completely humbled by the hills of Bedford County, Tennessee and holding 8 minute pace was a chore.

In a race where a crew is vital to success, when you start to see the crew vehicles (of those running behind you) pulling ahead and stopping nearby, it can only mean that you are slowing, or that they are gaining; either way the gap is closing quickly. For a few hours I had seen the crew for friend Eric Schotz hop around and now it was more frequent. Eric’s mom Louise is a really nice lady who I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know while Eric, Jon Elmore and friends ran Across Alabama in 2009 in honor of Eric’s son Elliott who was dying of Tay Sachs. On this day, Eric had the name of his two children, Elliott (who unfortunately passed away in early May of 2010) and Fiona written on his upper thighs as motivation. As my walk had even slowed to a stumble, Eric came through and I could tell that he was a man on a mission. We would later say that his smart approach to the race was a negative split, to which he would nearly achieve in running 2:35/2:38. I wished him well and before I knew it, he and his mom were out of sight. Despite the warm and fuzzy feeling I had in seeing Eric run so well, I had just split the last 5 miles in over 44 minutes, and was now just over 7:30 pace on average with 16 miles yet to run.

Before the marathon split, I dropped to 11th as Sung Ho Choi from Jacksonville, Florida passed me during a prolonged session of walking. My feet were hurting, but mostly I was just queasy to best describe it. My crew was doing a great job thus far but after a minor mix up, thought that seeing me around mile 26 was too soon and I saw them pull out of a farmer’s driveway and head down the road. Seeing them sit there, I finished my bottle; seeing them pull away I felt my heart drop. I would not see them again for another 2 miles but luckily this was during one of the water stations, where the race directly had placed several clear milk jugs full of water. I picked up one and poured some in my bottle, and way too much in my mouth. I choked on the water and spit some of it back up (not in the jug!). Looking back I felt that I was in a downward spiral and I was nearing the bottom. My marathon split was 3:17:30, a full two and a half minutes off of my 2009 time, when I was running on empty from the Boston Marathon, just 12 days prior.

Somewhere along Thompson Creek Road, I had an amazing case of déjà vu, which began with seeing David “Hollywood” Jones. I have always joked with Strolling Jim runners is that the measure of a good day at the Jim is how long you can hold off Hollywood before be passes you by. For me in 2009 in was at mile 28 as I had enough and decided that it would be smart to lay on the side of the road. For me in 2011, it was at mile 28 when I WANTED to lie on the side of the road, but there was too much traffic. I could sense his spandex shorts and perfectly manicured hair approaching and as he ran by, I wished him well on the rest of this day and then at Badwater (135, his staple race but unfortunately I found out later despite his many finishes, was turned down for 2011). David is a great guy and gave me some encouraging words as he pulled away. I was now in 12th place.

My crew was waiting for me before the entrance to the walls where decided that something had to give; I was not going to drop out, but I was not about to walk it in for a slow finish. I changed up some equipment, grabbed some food and told Anne that I just wanted to keep it under 6 hours. As soon as I walked away it started to sink in for the words I had just uttered… “under 6 hours”. Not that there is anything wrong with someone who runs over 6 hours, but for my present conditioning that would be an epic fail. Then something happened that can only be straight from an ultra running fairy tale. As I turned left onto Cathey Road, “Where the Streets Have No Name” by U2 came on my Apple iPod. It was this very song that have me motivation at Boston in 2008 and fueled part of the final 10km at Run Across Alabama as Schotzy and I found a rejuvenated spirit and put aside our pain to finish strong. I decided that I needed to be stripped down to my lowest elemental level and dropped my shirt and put on a mindset that I was going to break out of my funk and finish strong.

Late Stages: 29-41.2

Most people won’t say that they started their finishing kick of a 41.2 mile road race with 12 miles to go, but that is what I did. I split the first 29 miles in 3:49 (7:54 pace, which had dropped by nearly a minute in the last 14 miles) and was bound and determined to turn this back into my day. I wanted to own “The Jim” not be another victim of its brutality. Heading into the walls I was in 12th place and nearly 6 minutes off of my time from 2009, neither of which I was ready to settle for, so I began to run. It was not fast at first, nor was it steady, but it was running. I was running and it was into “the walls” where the trees line the narrow single lane road and the rolling hills in front of you prevent you from seeing the rolling hills ahead, but that is where I remembered my training. All of the hill work from recent and the strength that I derive from climbing empowered me to run through the walls. My first two miles back in the game were not swift, but at 17 minutes to split the 50km at 4:06, I had averaged 8:30 pace and it felt very good. Anne had started to give me half water and half Coke with ice in my bottle and it was hitting the spot, along with some Powerbar Gel Blasts.

I had a renewed spirit.

Coming through the next four miles I ran with a purpose and that was to finish near my original goal of 5:30. I could tell that my crew had noticed the change in me as I started to surprise them at how quickly I covered the distance between seeing them. I had started to see Sung Ho Choi again and was closing the gap quickly. He would walk some of the hills, and I tried to walk only half as much as he did. By mile 33 I had caught him and as we neared my crew, I noticed that he needed water. Luke filled my bottle, then his but while he waited, I was off and running again. I had reclaimed one position and was back in 11th place. The game was fully on now.

Casey Fritz drove by just before the crossing of 41A and said that Eric (Fritz) was running strong and was not far behind. Now I had motivation to chase and be chased, which helped even more. I thanked the police who where directing traffic again on the 41A crossing and ran through. I could see my crew slightly ahead who was now checking in on me every 2-3 miles at most. I was banking on the fact that they were going to soak my Team inov-8 singlet in ice water again so I could drape it around my neck for an external cooling feeling. Just as we approached the 35-mile mark, Carl Laniak caught me. Carl is such a funny guy and we joked a little and he said that it was time to start racing! We ran together thought the 35 mile mark, which was split in about 4:40, meaning that I had held strong on my 8:30 pace since mile 29 through the hills and was onto smoother pastures of the final 10km. Doing the math in my head, I wasn’t sure if I could run a 49-minute final 10km but I sure as hell was going to try.

We turned together onto Three Forks Bridge Road and my crew handed me my shirt and gave Carl an S! Cap as he was in need of some electrolytes. I told him as he ran ahead that if there was prize money for 11th place (to which he was now in, moving me into 12th) that I wanted half for my contribution to his success, to which he laughed heartily.

The final 10km was slightly a blur in my memory, mostly because I was so focused on my foot turnover. I knew enough to keep drinking and every hitting reply on my iPod every 5 minutes and 38 seconds to keep hearing my U2 song over and over again (to which I did for the final 12 miles to help keep me focused). I remember catching up to Dink Taylor before the Crack Sells Bridge and drinking a Boost to aid my caloric intake. I remembered how well Boost had worked for me during the Pinhoti Trail Adventure Run last year and thought that I needed a little lift for one final push. I had no idea how far we had to go and he thought it was about 4 miles. That didn’t seem right, but I kept at it. I was now back in 11th with no idea who was still ahead of me or how close they were.

The more I ran, the better I seemed to feel. Good friends Rob and Kathy Youngren often talk about they don’t really feel good in an ultra until the 50km mark. Normally I disregard this as they seem to have superhuman abilities to run ultra distances, but on this day it was holding true for me. I met my crew with 5km to go and asked them to drive ahead to the finish then back track 1 mile. I didn’t trust the marks and had taken my watch off before the walls so I really did not know how much was left. When I ran in 2009 we were diverted away from this section due to flooding and the course ran longer. I asked for a time check with 3.1 miles remaining and it was 24 minutes to come in under 5:30. Slightly discouraged, I walked for just a brief moment, and I think that this was just enough to put me over, though there were so many moments to look back at in hindsight that this was just the last one I remember.

Luke thought I had about a mile and a half but before making the final right turn onto the main highway, I crossed the 2 miles (to go) mark. In doing so, I miraculously caught sight of two people running far in the distance. With as straight as this road was, I would guess that they were anywhere from ¼ to ½ mile ahead and certainly I had no potential of catching them but with that same renewed spirit that I discovered back at mile 29, I was going to put my head down and see what I had left.

As the gap closed, I could tell that it was Hollywood in his blue spandex and he was running with someone (who I would later find out was his wife). Not knowing her ability to run, I thought that this was either a friend running along in the final few miles, or there was something wrong and he was struggling through. Knowing that he had captured a gold shirt in the past and had won masters 9 years in a row (before 2010), that the later was not likely but I used it all the same as my new motivation. So with my U2 song on repeat for the 20th time, I dropped the pace even more until I was running at top speed (after 40 miles I will guess that this was around high 6 pace) but faster than I had all day. As the final mile unfolded, and the town began to emerge, I could sense that I was running out of time, literally. Just as I could see the gas station for the first time and on the final climb into town, I caught up to David and we shared some friendly words and I continued on. I looked back only once as I entered the main square of town but did not see him behind.

I charged through the finish line with everything I had, and crossed at 5:31:17. I had just missed my goal of sub 5:30, but still lowered my Strolling Jim personal best by ~7 minutes (15 minutes officially, but as noted, the 2009 course was long based on the detour). I took a few staggering steps and proceeded to lay down with my head on a traffic cone, exhausted from the effort put forth all day, but mostly in the final 12 miles. I ran the final 12 miles at 8:22 pace, the final 10km at 8:14 pace and the final 5km in under 7:45 pace. 
My late stage push earned me 10th place.

All along I kept thinking to myself that everyone has low periods during an ultra marathon, and I had mine on this day. But the difference on this day, the difference between this day and my DNF at Delano Park (at mile 35 of 50) was that I was able to come back mentally from the incredible lows to experience the amazing highs of the finish.

Thanks a ton to my crew… by the end of the race we were a well-oiled machine and I would not have been able to finish without your support and words of encouragement. I owe you guys more than you know. Thanks to inov-8 for putting the jersey on my back and letting me represent you in the 33rd running of Strolling Jim. Finally, thanks to Gary Cantrell and John Anderson (as well as Mike Mellon the new race director) for keeping their dream alive. It was your cruel intentions that keep runners coming back year after year to the hills of Bedford County, Tennessee.

Yeah, Leah Thorvilson would go on for the overall win; first time in the 33 year history that the OA was taken by a female and if my numbers are right, she broke the old record by more than 30 minutes.  Wow.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tornadic Lessons

First of all, until last week I had no idea that there was such a word as 'Tornadic' but it was used all day Wednesday to describe the weather conditions across North Alabama.

Secondly, I know that this is a running blog but there is more to life than running and I was a writer long before I was a runner, so from time to time I will divulge.

I don't think I need to go into detail on what our area has been through since the skies grew dark on April 27th, but for those of you who don't know... EF4-EF5 tornadoes with winds in excess of 200 miles an hour ripped across the northern portion of the state. CNN and the National Weather Service report about 148 twisters left a swath of destruction across 13 states, killing more than 335 people in six states, including 250 people in Alabama alone. Thousands of people left homeless, tens of thousands of people injured, and hundreds of thousands of people impacted. TVA transmission towers torn out of the ground which created a power outage that lasted 4 days for some and longer for others. Easily the worst damage that I have ever seen and will probably be one of the worst on record. Friends who lost loved ones and memories that will not fade anytime soon.

Needless to say, it was bad.

Amidst these tumultuous times, I learned many lessons. Here are a few of them, but certainly not all.

1) You need far less than what you have. I learned this lesson last summer after packing up the truck and beagles and spending the summer in Michigan with my parents, but it was reinforced this week. When all of the basic services of life are taken away, you realize that you don't need much of anything to be happy.

2) Living by candle light with no power makes you realize how dependent most of us are on electricity. It was one of the reasons I became an electrical engineer with a fascination for electricity. Discovering that I had a gas hot water heater was a blessing in disguise as it made the situation much better.

3) Technology has changed how we get news. When cell phone coverage was available, we got the most accurate information about where to get gas, ice, etc from Twitter and Facebook feeds for local news sources than from radio. The radio was nice but it has a limited bandwidth of reports whereas we could scan Twitter and Facebook quickly to get everything that we needed to know to help make critical decisions.

4) In trying times, Southern people are good people. For the most part, people were patient in gas lines (often as long as 200 cars long), at grocery stores, at stop lights that were turned into make-shift 4-way stops and even walking about the streets. Friends helping friends, neighbors helping neighbors. Sharing hot water, looking out for their homes if they left town and many other ways. I was very impressed by how people banded together and did not get frustrated with the lack of services.

5) With those friends who lost loved ones, as it always does, it made me realize how much I appreciate my friends and family. All of my friends checked in on me as I did with them and it felt better once we all knew that we were all ok and safe. Please take the time today to tell those close to you how much they mean to you. You won't regret it.

6) Television and internet make our lives more enjoyable and in some cases enable us to live more efficiently but nothing beats good old fashion conversation. Turn off the TV some nights and just talk. Read Trivial Pursuit cards to each other, talk about childhood memories or just about how you are feeling at that moment. It is very 'Little House on the Prairie' but long before we had laptops we talked more.

7) Don't take for granted all of the things that you have, but looking back above, remember you don't need all of the those things to be happy. But when in an instance all of your worldly possessions can be swept away in one fell swoop, it makes you think about protecting your most memorable possessions. Back up your photos and documents on secure locations online. Not easily, you can rebuild your home, buy a new car, etc but some items are irreplaceable.

8) It may sound silly, but why do we have so much food in our freezers that we don't eat? Yes I once spent $3 on that pound of bacon but that was probably a year ago and I wasn't about to eat it! I would like to try to shop more frequently, buying more fresh foods. Grilling out where the majority of the meal was comprised of fresh vegetables from local sources was very cool. I won't be rushing out to replenish my supply of Totino's Party Pizzas, despite their occasional yummy taste.

9) These times have made me realize that so many of the daily worries that plague me are so trivial. When stepping back and comparing my daily problems to the bigger picture, it makes me rethink stressing out so often. I have my health, my family, my beagles and a roof over my head. Yes I may forget to make my car payment or my forget to tape American Idol, but life will go on and I will have less gray hair worrying about the small things.

10) It is important to reflect after time has passed and to never forget. These are great lessons to learn, but if you quickly forget them then they were all for not. It is nice to have reminders, but try to take some of these and incorporate them into your daily life. That way these storms will help to shape and mold your life.

Take care everyone.