Race Day – JFK 50 – Ultra Marathon – Trail Run

JFK 50 – Seems like only yesterday I was filling out an application by hand, writing my name on an envelope, applying a “Forever” stamp and mailing in my request to run the oldest continuously run ultra marathon in the U.S.   Now as you read this I’m sitting back trying to collect my feelings about my finish and this race.  I’ll start off by saying this was an awesome event.  I found the race very organized, well supported and everyone I came into contact with was very welcoming.  I also found this race more challenging then I had anticipated.

My JFK 50 plan and goals were previously posted here.

JFKstartboonsborosignThe Start
(Photo by 
Joseph Stretanski)

Bottom Line, I finished my first running and the 52nd running of the JFK 50 Mile Endurance Race in 10 hours, 06 minutes and 27 seconds.

JFK50Tow path profile and narrative from local newspaper

The Start and the Appalachian Trail section:  Race morning began with a pre-race briefing in the Boonsboro high school gym and then a short walk to the center of this historic town.  Up to this point this felt like any other early morning race, even with the chilly (19f) temperatures.  Once standing in the center of town, listening to our national anthem, things got real.  All of a sudden it hit me, I’m running the granddaddy of all ultra races.  This thought barely had time to sink in and the gun went off.  As we made our way out of town, I remembered I had trained hard, was in good shape and happy to be finally running this great race.  In the early steps of the day, I believed I was ready for anything.

Myself along with the pack of nearly 1,000 runners made it’s collective way out of town.  It wasn’t before long that I noticed that the road began to rise.  What I was not ready for was the opening miles running uphill on the roads leaving Boonsboro and approaching the AT.  Some how I missed planning for this <sarcasm> “easy” </sarcasm> section.  I knew it was very early in the day and with the excitement and the increase in elevation my heart rate was going up faster then I expected.  I soon began to worry about burning out to early.  Wanting a tapered start I choose to fast hike some sections of these early miles, reasoning that any time I lost here I would be able to make up on the flat/tame tow path.  Little did I know what shape I would be in when the tow path came around.

jfk50JFK 50 unofficial map

Timing Mat #1, Start of the AT, 30:37:  Honestly I had no idea what to expect from the AT section.  I knew there would be some climbing, I knew there would be some down hills and I knew the footing would be challenging.  Once on the AT, I was ready for the challenges I’ve previously mentioned.  I was not ready for them all at once.  I was also not ready for the narrow passing lanes.  I’m not trying to imply that I’m a fast trail runner, but at this point I was ready to make up some ground.  Even with the challenging footing I felt like I could run a quick if not steady pace.  The only problem was the single track trails made it difficult to get around people.  I lacked the confidence to pull out of the single file lines to make any forward progress.  At times I also felt like I was holding people up.  The footing on the AT was much more technical then anything I had run on before, this slowed down some of my progress early on.  It was only when I was able to link up and tag along on a fast moving train of other runners was I able to make up some time.

As hard as the AT trails were I enjoyed the challenge as it kept my attention the majority of time.  The few times my mind/attention did wander off I was abruptly called back to reality by a miss placed step or a toe impacted right into an awaiting rock.  I caught myself from falling a number of times but never made contact with the very jagged and hard rock surface of the trail.  I did witness a few other runners who were not so fortunate.  The miles on the AT passed relatively fast as there was not a lot of idle time.  Exiting the AT would offer up one more opportunity for disaster.

Approaching the exit stage of the AT, “Weaverton Cliffs,” a course marshal was posted at the beginning of the infamous switchbacks.  This section was fast, steep and required all of your focus.  The very attentive marshal offered up some words of warning.  “If things are going to go bad for you, it’s going to happen here and it’s going to happen FAST.”  And he was not lying, the switchbacks were fast and had very little room for error.  One wrong foot placement, one miss step or rolled ankle and you would have been tumbling down the AT trail with a resting place among the trees, rocks and potentially on a landing surface 100 feet below.  During this section my eyes were glued to the trail and the shoes of the runner in front of me.  A crash on this section would have been bloody and ugly.

NOTE:  It was reported that one unlucky runner met such an unfortunate fate.  I heard after the race that a JFK runner tripped on these switchbacks and in the fall the gentlemen suffered a busted lip, banged up nose and swollen face.  Reports had him tripping on the switchbacks and going face first down the side of the trail and slamming into a tree.  After first responders patched him up, he proceeded on to the C & O Tow Path and ran another 36 miles.  Witnesses said it was very bloody, later I was glad to read this 68 year old Vietnam/ Marine Corp veteran finished his 26th JFK, but had to dig deep after the fall.

jfk50weaverton cliffsWeaverton Cliffs
(Photo by 
Joseph Stretanski)

Timing Mat #2, Weaverton, 3:23:03

The Canal Path:  Approaching the Weaverton aid station I could finally divert my attention to something other then foot placement.  At less then a third of the race distance, at 15 miles in, I could not believe how compromised my legs felt.  My thighs/quads were wasted, it felt like I had just completed 10,000 squats.  My legs felt heavy and weak, just when I needed them to come alive.  I just could not believe I had 35 miles to go.  My legs were a complete mess.  In my initial planning for the race I had a goal of getting off the AT in under 3 hours.  I came off the AT much slower and in much worse condition.  I knew this section was going to be challenging after all we have nothing like these conditions around the 757.  To counter this I planned some training time in the mountains, but these got cancelled for logistics and support reasons.  Knowing all of this I hoped that surviving the AT I could make up some time on the tow path.  But with the state of my legs I had to settle into a 10 minute run and 2 minute fast walk pace to gain some recovery for my beat up wheels.  This was very humbling, but at the same time just what I needed to rebound.

jfk50towpathThe Tow Path
(Photo by Joseph Stretanski)

The next 27 miles of tow path running were spent playing mental games within myself adjusting my running/walking routine to pick up the pace to gain back some time that I felt I lost on the opening sections.  Slowly life came back to my legs and my spirit.

The support along this section was outstanding, the majority of the miles were very lonely with limited crowd support but when you did come across an aid station the energy and enthusiasm propelled you over the next few miles.  I found all of the volunteers very supportive.  I also came across some very interesting characters along the way.

10372331_10153334361249746_6720876840098663274_nEveryone was there to cheer you on…

I missed out on the red velvet cake, at the 38th mile aid station.  I was battling with my stomach just a bit and although this cake looked wonderful, I just could not bring myself to try any and risk upsetting my stomach along the trail.

Timing Mat #3, End of the Canal Path: (No Time Reported)

The Road to Williamsport.  Coming off the tow path it was refreshing for my feet to impact and run on pavement.  The level surface was welcoming, it made my legs feel fresh and alive…unfortunately that only lasted a short time.  These finishing miles are run over very rolling terrain that normally I would be able to power up and accelerate down.  In the closing miles of the JFK, after a beating from the AT and the droning of the tow path, I had to settle with fast hiking up anything that looked, smelled or may have been an uphill.  I was able to run the flats and down hill sections, pleasantly surprised that I was able to keep up a solid 9:00 mile pace while  averaging my mile splits right at 12:00 miles.

As the miles clicked off I found myself struggling with being able to put the hammer down.  I tend to run conservative not wanting to burn out.  As I neared completing this run with only single digits left I could not mentally sell out.  I ran mile 45 and 46 continuing to conserve my legs and lungs to guarantee a finish.  Although I was well ahead of a cutoff, I still feared not having enough in the tank to complete this race.  It was not until mile 47 that I finally sold out and ran as fast a pace as I could muster.  The final right hand turn provided an awesome sight seeing the finish line within grasp.  Then it hit me….an up hill finish.  “Who in their right mind finishes a 50 mile race with a up hill….you got to love this.”

Crossing the JFK 50 finish line can only be compared to crossing the finish line at Umstead.  At the end of this race I truly felt like I had accomplished something, not simply ran another race. Maybe it was because the course was a true challenge in every essence of the word.  Maybe it was because the JFK 50 felt like a right of passage for me as an Ultra-Runner.

jfk50brian2JFK 50 – Finisher

Whatever the reason I’m very proud of my finish, 415 out of 912 starters, 10 hours 06 minutes and 27 seconds.  I toed the starting line hoping for a sub 10 hour finish…without truly understanding the challenge the JFK 50 offered up.  I crossed the finish line knowing I met every challenge throw my way.  At points I wish I would have done better, wished I had been better prepared but knowing I gave it my all.  Will I come back for a rematch….I said a number of times that this may be a race where I’m one and done.  But the JFK 50 offered up another challenge, can you do better?

jfk50shirtmedal

Will I be back…..you bet ya!

THANKS to…

As always my loving wife for supporting my crazy adventures.
Chris and Brad for the ride to the High School….Congrats on your finishes!
Brad and Vickie for the ride back to the hotel…Thanks so much!

The Videos will be coming soon…

jfkwithgoproJFK with a GoPro

 

Running – Weight Control – Dieting – Fitness- New Life

Running Has Helped My Weight Control.

Contrary to a published report on the HuffingtonPost, (Sorry but I have a hard time taking anything with the name Huffington seriously) on running and weight-loss, I do believe running is idea for weight control and in fact I offer my 5 ways running has helped me lose my unwanted pounds.

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1. The Long Run. During a typical long run (15+ miles) I’ll burn anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000+ calories. I average two long runs per month. I don’t care who Huffington is…that equals weight-loss. Now you have to be smart about it…you can eat your way through your long run with just one visit to whopperland, but if you stick to a sensible diet, sensible portions and work on getting in your long runs…you will lose weight.

2. I no longer view food as entertainment. Since changing my view of myself as a runner, (Ultra-marathoner) to an athlete I now see food as a source of fuel and recovery. I need fuel to power the machine and heal the body. In the past a cup cake was a good snack…or a whole meal, today I balance what I eat to build a fuel supply for my next run/race or recovery from a hard work out. And when I’ve been a really good Ultra-runner…I sneak in a cup cake here, an Oreo there. You got to enjoy life some.

3. I eat better. Gone are the days of living off Pizza, Pop Tarts, Fritos and full strength Pepsi. Today I balance my meals for nutrient. Being a picky eater most of my life, I resisted the attempts of others to get me to try food that was “good for me.” Today the runner side of me has opened my world to a wider choice of things to eat. I’ve tried new foods, new dishes, new styles of food, just because they were a good food source for an athlete.

4. I don’t just run, I train. I hate to admit it, but I do just run…I don’t lift weights or do cross-fit or work on core. I want to, but my life style is so limited on free time that when I have “the time,” I Run. But I “train” while I run, if you run at the same pace, same distance every day, day in and day out, your body will get used to the effort your putting out and your weight loss will become stagnant. I vary my run, and my training. I run long on the weekends, and my week day runs are a mixture of speed, hills, tempo and recovery. I also vary the distances I run, 15+ on weekends, double digit at least once during the week and maybe twice if I have the time and solid 7+ miles the rest of the week. I average 5 to 6 days a week, covering 50 to 60 miles. I also vary the training pace of my run. Some days are fast, some days are slow…but normally every day I’m finishing at a pace faster than when I started.

5. The Competitive Edge. My body is no longer just a vehicle that drags me around from place to place…it is now my weapon of choice to prove I still have it. I’ve really focused over the last six months and lost 20 pounds. I feel so much lighter during my training and especially on race day. When I get on a scale it is not just to monitor my love handles, it is to check on the status of my racing machine.

Now I’m no fitness expert, I do not have a medical degree, I’m not professionally trained, I have stayed at many Holidays Inns, but I’m not a running expert.

b

(The Fat Face of Brian)

I can only tell you what has worked for me. And that is Running, Endurance type running has helped me maintain my weight over the last 15 years. I’ve had some up and down times over these years. I have the type of metabolism that as soon as I stop running my weight control goes out the window and my eating habits go with it. When I’m running my weight/eating habits are balanced. And over the last year of focusing on Ultra-Running…I have really noticed a difference in my weight, my eating habits and my running performance.

cb
(The Ultra Face of Brian,
with my Honey)

It works for me!

Running-questions-fitness-distance-race-training-marathon

Why do you do it?  Is it hard?  Can I do it?  Does it hurt? 

Over the last 14 years I’ve been asked a lot of questions about running in general and specifically about my running.  Recently on a training run in Pocahontas State Park, with my GoPro filming, I thought I would answer the top five questions I’m asked about my running.

NOTE: Struggling a bit with Youtube upload quality….pls bear with me.

  1. How did I get started and why do I run long distances ?

2. How far, how often, and how fast do you run?

3.  Is running bad for your knees?

4.  Who was your favorite running partner and who would you like to run with?

5.  Where do I see my running taking me?

Thank you so much for watching my first video blog entry.  If you have the time please subscribe to my video channel on YouTube.com.  I’ve got a lot to learn about video editing…and as always THANK YOU for following my Blog and my Running!

Still Trying To Decide – Spring 100 or March Marathon Madness

Spring 100 or March Marathon Madness

Planning a race calendar is a difficult task to accomplish.  There are many variables to consider, such as: family plans, available income, vacation days, work and finally de-conflicting the race dates themselves.  Last year I ran my first 100 miler at the Umstead 100 Endurance Race.  Since then I’ve wanted to run another 100.  But when?

Umstead100collection

I first considered running another 100 towards the end of 2014, for all of the above reasons, that did not workout. The remaining months of 2014 zinged by so fast and we had other events planned, family vacations, work and other races.  I could not find the time to stuff in another 100, so I set my sights on a spring 100.  Then some where along the line I came up with the idea for “March Marathon Madness.” What is this March Madness I speak of?  Four Marathons in Four Weeks and the Monument 10k.

Now I stuck between do I run the Madness or a Spring 100.  With all my other life commitments, the targeted 100 and the marathons are now conflicting?

So the question is…should I run:

The Graveyard 100 on March 7th or

The Umstead Trail Marathon, The One City Marathon, Shamrock Marathon and The Reston Marathon? (this would include running Monument Ave 10k the day before).

Other must do races are:

Jan,
3rd, Brian’s Friends 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 Miler at Noland Trail

Feb,

Mar,
28th, http://www.sportsbackers.org/events/monument-ave-10k/

April,
25-26th, VA 24 Hour Run for Cancer

May,

Jun, family vacation month???

Wow, making these “adult” decisions is tough.  What would you do?

Winter Running – Helpful Hints

Have I mentioned I hate “Falling Back” during Day Light Saving Time.

To me “Falling Back” means the days are getting shorter and the temperature is dropping.

cold temps

During this time of year, the most difficult part of our run maybe getting out the front door. We’re losing daylight and the warmth of the sun at the same time.

To combat the effects of losing daylight it’s important to have some type of lighting equipment handy. Whether it be an old fashion hand held flash light or a high-tech head mounted LED lighting rig. If you can’t see where you’re going…you’re going to get hurt. To keep safe during night time running, I’ve tried many forms of lighting equipment. What I have found works best is something very bright and easy to hold on to.

To see where you’re going…The lumen is a measure of the total “amount” of visible light emitted by a source. I selected a light source with the highest lumen rating that was easy and light enough to hold in my hand. For years I ran with a small hand held flash light. This worked great as it allowed me to direct the light beam in the direction I wanted. This versatility made it convenient to see around me and also serve as a headlight/taillight depending on where the oncoming traffic was approaching from. Two years ago I found a small hand held with an ultra-bright 145 lumens worth of light. Recently I have been using Knuckle Lights which work great and are very bright. You can read my review on this product here.

Knuckle_Light_Blue

To defend against old man winter and the declining temperatures which surly will accompany you need to dress warm. Dressing warm depends on having the right gear available and knowing how to use it, cause face it, if I get cold….the training run is going to get shorter. To ensure I get out on the coldest of days, and to make sure I put in the required miles, I have put together a nice selection of winter running clothing and accessories.

winter_running_gear_

To keep warm it’s important to keep your core temperature stable but maybe more important are your hands and for me, my ears. I hate cold hands and it’s what temps me to stay inside on those really cold days. How do I combat that? I ensure my winter running kit has a number of warm gloves/mitten available. If the temperature is on the cold side I don a pair of gloves. If it is really cold, two pairs…down right artic then I’ll slip on a pair of mitten over my gloves. My ears are another part of my anatomy that must be kept warm or I’ll find myself on the inside looking out.  What works great for keeping me warm upstairs, a buff for the neck, headband with earmuffs and a nice fleece cap, again layering as needed. Other accessories to keep old man winter a bay: fleece top, arm warmers, long pants, leggings and good quality socks.

Christmas-run-2013

No matter the distance or speed everybody needs to keep warm during your winter running routine. So remember, as the temperature drops, your miles don’t have to.

Don’t take my word for it, check out these other winter running sites.

Mens Fitness 

Runners World

Womens Health Magazine

JFK 50 – Ultra Marathon Run – My Next Big Run

My next big running challenge is the JFK 50 mile endurance run, in the ultra running world this race is the granddaddy of all 50 mile races.  If your new to the race here is some history.

JFK50Header4b

From the organizers website: The JFK 50 Mile was first held in the spring of 1963. It was one of numerous such 50 mile events held around the country as part of President John F. Kennedy’s push to bring the country back to physical fitness.

When Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963, most of these events were never held again. The one in Washington County, MD changed it’s name from the JFK 50 Mile Challenge to the JFK 50 Mile Memorial in 1964. The JFK 50 Mile in Washington County, MD is the only original JFK 50 Mile Challenge event to be held every year since.

This will be my first running of the JFK 50, being a retired military member this race comes to me as a calling to celebrate the military, our country and my ultra running.  As the days count down to race day, I’ll use this page on my blog to review all parts of my JFK 50 race plan.

The Race Course:  The JFK 50 mile course is a point-to-point “horse-shoe” configuration  starting from U.S. Alternate 40 adjacent to the Boonsboro Educational Complex in downtown Boonsboro, Maryland and finishing at Springfield Middle School in Williamsport, Maryland.

The JFK 50 is in my mind two races in one, The Appalachian Trail section (approx. 15 miles) and the C & O canal path (approx 35 miles).  For me this will be my first real “mountain” race with any elevation to deal with.  Around mile 5 the course sets off on a 1,200ft climb, topping out a 1700ft. Exiting the AT the remainder of the race is very flat run along the C & O canal.

JFK50(Map and more info can be see here)

Watch my Twitter timeline and this blog for updates, where I’ll discus the following subjects and more.

My Goals:  I’ve had the hardest time conjuring up goals for this race.  My #1 goal is to finish alive and uninjured. And some of the stories about the AT have me wondering about that.  I’ve run a number of Ultras (13 to be exact), including a sub 23 hour 100 at Umstead, 13 Marathons (1 sub 4 hour finish) and 50 other races.  I’m coming off my last long run before JFK, a personal best 20 miler at 2 hours 42 minutes and 56 seconds.  And I might just be in the best shape of my running career.  BUT (pausing for effect and a silent prayer) I’ve never run on the AT and have no idea what I’m getting myself into with that section.

jfkmedal(Goal is to bring home my version of the JFK 50 Medal)

Saying all that and after consulting with a number of friends whom have run this event, whom know my running style, taking past finishes and judging against my current fitness.  My goals for the JFK 50 are (drum roll PLS).  As stated above to finish unbroken, a sub 10 hour finish or sub 11 hour.  (And the crowd goes wild and some laugh with delight).

My Fueling and Hydration Plan:
The JFK 50 course has plenty of fully stocked aid stations (14), approx. every 4 miles and some only 2 miles apart.  I’ve never run this race but from what I can gain from comments and race reports it appears that there will be no lack of food/hydration support.  From the official web site: “Provisions at these stations will include: colas, Gatorade, water, sandwiches, salted items, sweet items, energy gels, energy bars and basic first aid supplies.” Saying that I’ll stick with my plan of carrying a water bottle and snacks just in case.  I plan to run this race with my Ultimate Direction “AK” race vest and hand held Nathan 20oz water bottle.

graveyard100battlerattle(Graveyard 100k setup…I will go out much like this for JFK 50)

Instead of carrying two water bottles in the front pockets of the race vest, I’ll stash some gels, snacks and painkillers in these easy to access pockets.  I’ll also carry a small digital camera and headlamp. In the rear compartment I’ll stow some additional outer layer garments just in case it gets cold or wet.  With a shorter distance between aid stations I’ll stick with my tried and true plan of hand carrying a water bottle on races longer than a half marathon.  I’ll simply refill my bottle when needed to ensure I can make the next stop.

Part of what sets longer races aside from a marathon is that most runners can complete a marathon on a few cups of water and a GU or two.  During a long run like 50 miles, you’ll have to hydrate/refuel more extensively as you race.  What has worked well for me over the years is to drink/eat something light at every stop, as well as hitting a GU at 6 mile intervals.  I stress the importance of eating light.  Your muscles still have work to do, you can’t over tax your system by processing the gut bomb you’ve unloaded on yourself. I’ve learned it is important to maintain your energy level and fuel supply before you get into a deficient.  Think of it like your checkbook, once that first check is bounced…it’s hard to recover while paying the overdraft fees.

My Pacing Plan:  To be honest, I’m not sure what my per mile pace will be for the AT section.  I’m going to take that portion of this race by feel, my goal is to get off the AT between 2:45 and 3:00 hours.  Then run/fast walk a solid 12:00 minute per mile on the canal section to get in under 10 hours.  I can fast walk a 14:30/15:00 per mile pace.  I’ll mix in ten minutes of running at around a 9:30/10:00 pace and two minutes fast walking.  This combination worked well at the Graveyard 100k last spring.  My goal is to have some fight left in me for the final half marathon where I can attack the course and the clock.

JFK50decal

UPDATE: My Race Gear:  Starting early Saturday morning and ending 10 hours later, I hope to make one transition from cold weather gear to my race gear.  Just in case I’ll have a few add on items carried in my race vest in-case the weather turns bad/cold.

From head to toe…

 JFK50 kit  JFK50outerlayer

Nike black beanie
Sun glasses
Nike gray ear warmer (optional use as neck cover)*
Nike balaclava*
Nike running jacket*
Trash bag as a disposable windbreaker* 
Blue fleece top*
Tech long sleeve race shirt x 2
Nike Fleece running gloves x 2
UD Ultra “AK” race vest (one 20oz bottle w/Lemon Gatoraid mixed with a Tri-berry GU)
*additional long sleeve shirt, beanie, gloves, trash bag in case the weather turns
Garmin 201 GPS
Nathan hand held 20oz bottle
Race ready long distance shorts
CW-X men’s stabilyx tights
Dirty Girlz, Puppy paw print gaiters
Injinji toe Socks
Nike Air Pegasus

* morning/cold weather use

Food and Miscellaneous
GU Energy Labs Tri-Berry Power Gels

Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes
Knuckle lights and hand held flash light
GoPro Hero 3+ Black with hand held mount

 

 

Wicked 10K – Longest Touchdown Run Ever

Blue Moon Wicked 10k – Longest Touchdown Run Ever

Sometimes we run for time.

Sometimes we run for a goal.

Sometimes we run for the win…

And some times we run the LONGEST TOUCHDOWN RUN EVER!

The 2014 edition of the Wicked 10k started with Michele and I working as race ambassadors for J and A Racing.

wicked2014a

We opened the expo on Friday morning and by the time our shift was over we met a ton of great people in the running community.  We met older runners, young runners, couples, singles and runners of all shapes and sizes.  This experience proved again that the running community represents all of us.

wicked2014

The Wicked is a 10k race disguised as big Halloween costume party, if I had to guess I would say 90% of all the runners dressed up.  The range of costumes varied from the simple to the “out of this world” how did they think up that.

Start of Wicked 10k Meeting some interesting people

The great thing about a Halloween themed race is no matter if you’re the passer or the one being passed, you never know who you’ll come cross next.

Zombie Zone Photo bombing my own videos

The Virginia Beach boardwalk is an outstanding backdrop for this race and the weather conditions for this edition were perfect. Running the last mile of this race provides a great finishing experience. Instead of running for a time, it was fun to interact with the other runners, the very supportive and decked out crowds.

Running the boardwalk Longest touchdown run ever

Crossing the finish line I was a bit disappointed, the fun was over, the race was over…and the longest touchdown run ever was complete.

The Shadow – Running, Racing and Training

THE SHADOW – A SHORT STORY

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After some hard fought miles I was finally running alone. The sound of the starter’s gun is still ringing in my ears and the race has really just begun. All the work, all the missed social engagements and all those lonely hours on the road was paying off. Battling two would be challengers for the better part of the race. I was finally in the lead of my home town race the Brownstown 5k. This race was just like any other run-of-the-mill 5k, but to me, it was unlike any other. At this race last year I failed. My body let me down. I burned out with the intensity of a solar flare. And this was the race I always wanted to win. Today not only was I in the lead but I was also pulling away. At the two mile marker the majority of the pack was left behind and by two and a half miles I finally separated myself from my two lone rivals. Out in front the open road was my only companion.

I had never noticed how quiet racing could be. Normally in the middle of the pack, there’s always noise. There is always distractions. The sound of breathing surrounds you. The rhythmic sound of countless pairs of running shoes impacting and griping the pavement runs along with you. And the nervous chatter as competitors talk amongst themselves encircles you. But up front, alone, and in the lead it’s quiet. The only sounds are those of my lungs filling with oxygen and exhaling. The sound of my shoes hitting the running surface and propelling me forward. And lastly the absence of sound as my inner voice encourages me. Compared to being sandwiched in the middle of the field it’s so peaceful running in the lead.

Running up front is different, then running in the middle of the pack. Up front you set the tempo. If you’re trying to win the race as I am today, you set a pace just a bit faster than everyone else. Leading the race means you get to see everything first, guiding the field behind you along the course. Running with the lead also means you have to make sure you follow all the correct twists and turns along the race course. Whereas in the pack you can safely play “follow the leader.” Up front you have to motivate yourself, push yourself and challenge yourself when there’s no one in front for you to chase. And today at this point in the race, the field was far enough behind me that no one was pushing from behind.

But what is THAT? As I glanced down to monitor my footfall a shadow appeared at my feet. At first it caught me off guard, was it a tree, or an animal, some kind of creature approaching me from behind? After further study the shape of this intruder registered in my brain. The shadow was a head of an approaching competitor running me down from behind. All my senses heighten, the hair on the back of my neck stood up, and my skin became electric. My sense of hearing picked up on a sound, the soft cadence of someone approaching from behind. My heart rate quickens, and my nerves are rattled. I looked down once again and now even clearer, projected from behind, the looming silhouette of a runner. And this stranger was growing larger.

Now I’m sure, the shadow, the evil figure attempting to steal my victory was running at a pace that will surly over take me. My brain fires off signals that call for my accelerated heart rate and over juiced adrenaline to kick it up to a higher gear. My stride reaches out, my leg turn over quickens and the road beneath me speeds by ever faster. And yet the dark threat continues to loom and grows even larger. Now I can clearly see the shadow of the head and shoulders of the silent figure behind me. My flight or fight instincts kick in and now without even transmitting the thoughts my arm swing widens and my legs drive forward. I Pass a sign telling me I have less than two tenths of a mile left of this 5k. I vow that I will not let this menace who lives in the dark, who steals from behind, creep up and capture my day.

My eyes are fixed on the prize. Like a young boy hiding his head under the covers hoping that the monster just goes away; if I stop looking maybe the shadow will go away. But will power fails and curiosity forces me to look, in horror I see nearly a complete torso. In fear and panic I lean forward attempting to pull away from the ghost behind me. My foot strike quickens more. My heart is pounding. My lungs are on fire. I’ve got nothing left to give and the shadow grows larger still. Only 50 yards to go, and I’m in a dead sprint, my brain is lost, my body is maxed out and I’m almost home yet the pursuer gains an advantage with every effort I give to counter his attack. The finishers tape is just ahead, ten yards then five yards. I’m doing everything to pull ahead to keep the hunter at bay…and with a last push to the finish, I come home the winner.

I’m spent. I’m done. I’ve given everything I have and I’ve finished. The race is mine. I have won. Yet I wonder who nearly caught me, as I stumbled down the finishers chute collapsing into the arms of a volunteer, I ask, “who came in second?” With a mystified stare the young girl tells me, “no one, you’ve won the race and left the field in the dust.” “But who was behind me, who was I fighting off? WHO?” I ask, “Came in second?” The girl a bit confused tells me again, “Sir, no one, second place has not finished yet.” “But I saw his shadow, I saw a shadow of an approaching runner coming from behind, I fought him off for nearly half a mile where did that runner go?” The young volunteer looks at me, and smiles. “Sir, that shadow was you.”


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