Running – It’s Going to Get Tough

Running and racing, whether it be a marathon, ultra-marathon or your local 5k, can at times get difficult or down right seem impossible.  In these moments of conflict you might think about tossing in the towel.

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Do Not Do It…..

It will get better, I promise.

If you ever feel like you have had enough.  If you ever feel like your legs are about to explode and you can’t take another step.  If you have felt like you have the will power of Pee Wee Herman and just want the show to end.  Just hold on.

Seven steps that can take a near Did Not Finish (DNF) experience and turn it into another notch on your running and racing belt.

1.  Simply keep moving.  If you feel like you just can’t go on….keep going on.  You can’t stop if you keep on moving.

2.  Walking is okay.  There is no shame in walking.  Some days your legs or lungs just don’t have it.  Maybe you’ll have to give up on your goal time, but if you take a simple walking break, you may regain enough strength and commitment to continue to fight to the finish.

3.  Never quit where you at.  If you’re going to drop out of the race, do it at an aid station or the start/finish line.  If giving up becomes an option, make your way back to an aid station or the start/finish line…you just might find out that the bad patch has passed and you can continue on to the finish.

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Do you want to run faster, run your best marathon, or any race for that matter?  26.2 Tips to run your best MARATHON (or any race for that matter) bridges the gap between training for a marathon and the race day tactics that can shave seconds, minutes or hours off your finishing time.

4.  Just one more mile.  I once got my son to finish his hamburger after he said he was full by asking him to eat “just one more bite. ” The same tactic can work during a race, just one more mile, and one more mile until you find yourself running to the finish line.

5.  Keep some run in it.  If there comes a time when you have to walk, mix in some run segments no matter how short or slow they may be.  It’s hard to give up when you can still run.

6. Walk if you have to but walk with purpose.  There is a big difference, not only in time, but mental focus/strength between a 18:00 mile and 14:00 mile.  If you go into the death walk, “aka dead man walking mode” it is so much easier to drop.  Keep up your pace the best you can and sooner or later you’ll cross over that finishing line and into victory!

7.  Hitch hike if you have to.  When I’ve been at my lowest, I’ve survived a race by staying in touch with the runner or walker in front of me.  Trying to not be dropped helped me focus on moving forward and not on the pain, fatigue or the mental weakness I may have been going through.

A good race and a bad race are sometime separated by staying in the game.  Never give up while you still can move forward no matter the pace.

 

 

Running A Sub Four Marathon – Running, Racing and Training

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I’ve had a few, but too few to mention.  If there was a pop song about my quest for the sub-four-hour marathon that would be a key line in the ballad.  In the world of marathon running a sub-four-marathon to some is a routine benchmark.  To others it’s a goal still on the horizon.  To me it has always been a waterline of marathon success.

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I ran my first marathon in April of 2005.  When I began my marathon journey I believed it would be a fair bet to say one marathon would be enough.  17 years later with 23 finishes I’ve run four, sub-four-hour marathons.  I’ve read that less than 1% of the population have completed a full marathon.  That got me to wonder what percentage have run a sub-four?  It took me eight years to reach this milestone, running 3:56:57 in 2013 at the Niagara Falls International Marathon.  My last sub-four was at the Outer Banks Marathon, Nov 2017, with an unexpected 3:59:22 on a day when I simply wanted to finish the race.  I’ve also failed on three occasions when I was trying to run a sub-four finish but things did not turn out as expected.

What I’ve learned running four sub-four-hour marathons.

Niagara Falls Marathon – 3:56:57

City of Oaks Marathon – 3:56:06

Myrtle Beach Marathon – 3:53:47

Outer Banks Marathon – 3:59:22

  1. Pace is key.  When I look back at my successful sub-four-hour times my pace was very steady and predictable.  In reviewing the data from the race what I saw was a steady pace with no high patches and no low patches.  This proved to me that a steady pace wins the race and runs a successful sub-four-hour marathon.
  2. Make effective use of the aide stations.  During a 26.2-mile race you need to take advantage of the aide stations but what you can’t do is waste a lot of time in the process.
  3. Have something left in the tank to fight for the finish I wanted.  Somewhere around mile 18, I normally can tell if I have fight left in me.  I believe this is different than hitting the wall.  To me, hitting the wall means that a finish may be in question.  Comparing my four sub-four finishes with when I came up short, finishing was never an issue, fighting to the finish was.  A successful sub-four meant I had fight left in me at the end.
  4. Never give up on the dream.

Want to run your best race, check out Brian’s book – 26.2 Tips to Run Your Best Marathon (or any race for that matter.)

What I’ve learned coming, but did not get to open the sub-four-hour champagne.

Windermere Marathon (2014) – 4:04:05

Air Force Marathon (2014) – 4:07:08

Cleveland Marathon (2017) – 4:04:06

  1. I tried to run too fast.  In some cases, I did not watch my pace, I went out to fast or I fell in love with a faster finishing time.
  2. I failed to run my race, and my plan.  At some point in the race I got caught up in the number of people passing me.  I began to believe I should be able to run with this person or that person and I ended up running their race and not mine.
  3. I could not stop the bleeding.  Once I got off target, I could not get the ship righted.  Once I started giving back time to the clock, I simply could not stop the bleeding, things either got worse or the got no better.

A sub-four-hour marathon is not a judgement of your marathon ability.  We each bring our own value to the race.  Some run to BQ, some run to finish and some run to get what “they” value as a benchmark time.

Outer Banks Marathon – Running and Racing 26.2 Miles

Outer Banks Marathon 2017

When I signed up for the Outer Banks Marathon, the first thing that came to mind was the ocean front, wind and sand.  When I left the Outer Banks (OBX) after running the 2017 edition of the marathon what came to mind was that this race had it all.

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 ( Would I have enough fight in me on my birthday?)

NOTE: In all transparency, I was provided a free entry into the Outer Banks Marathon as a ambassador.  But my feelings and thoughts about the race have not and will not be influenced.

This race had it all…

The expo/packet pick up were both well organized.  I arrived on site early Saturday morning to cold and blustery winds with the Saturday races already in full effect.   I was hoping the weather would take a turn for the better as I unloaded and headed for the expo.  I was at the expo all day talking to runners and pushing my books, Running to Leadville and 26.2 Tips to run your best MARATHON.  To be 100% honest, I never heard one complaint.  Other than the harsh running conditions on Saturday everyone was happy and the excitement for marathon morning was in the air.  The expo had a great mixture of running and area related goods.  The traffic was steady all day I enjoyed meeting new and old friends while talking with a bunch of eager runners.

OBX Marathon Expo

 (Thank you to everyone who stopped by my booth)

This race had it all.

Roads:  The majority of the race was run on the roads around and within the Outer Banks.  Prior to the race I dreaded the idea of endless miles trying to survive from one-mile marker to the next.  The road sections of this race were not bad at all.  In fact I found them rather entertaining as did a few runners around me who commented that because of the race they got to see parts of the OBX that they normally don’t get to see.  The road sections took us to the sound side, through some golf courses, around some sand dunes and along residential sections with some wonderful beach houses.  All and all I would say the variety of environments helped make the miles pass quickly.

Trails:  I had heard about the trails of the OBX marathon and although I consider myself an experienced trail runner, they did offer a nice little challenge.  The trails are not technical and offer a wide birth rather it was the rambling up and downs combined with a sandy surface that began to take effect on my legs.  A marathon is not meant to be easy and the trails here offered a nice break up of the road sections.  They also provided a challenge to ensure you would remember them long after the finishers medal hung around your neck.

Hills:  The OBX course is flat.  BUT add in the rambling hills of the trails then throw in a bridge crossing at mile 23 and you have yourself a “wonderful” way to spend the day.  I ran all day thinking about that bridge.  It must have been around mile 15 or so that I got my first glimpse of it like Everest larking oft in the distance.  That thing haunted me for the rest of the day until at mile 21 we made the right turn that put it right in front of us.

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 (the 23rd mile Everest)

OBX marathon spilt times

 (Pretty steady day running 26.2 miles)

I had no real goal going into this race.  I wanted to finish but I also wanted to run a sub-four-hour marathon if my legs felt good and if everything went according to plan.  At mile 21 facing “the bridge” I knew I was on pace to potentially achieve that elusive goal.  Then a thought entered my mind…if I kept up whatever pace I could, if I refused to walk, if I refuse to give into weakness I could make up for a few lost seconds climbing that bridge.  But if I gave into my weakness, if I gave into the easy path…I could never recover the minutes I would lose.  I hit that bridge as steady as I could, running and repeating to myself…“I can make up seconds, I can’t make up minutes.”  I kept my head down, my eyes on the ground, only worrying about the next step, the next stride and the next moment.  I fought off the trolls of weakness as they tried to tell me how tired my legs were, how heavy my feet felt and how labored my breathing had become.  I refused to feed the trolls and they failed to gain strength.  For every negative thought, I countered with “I can make up seconds…I’m lost if I give up minutes.”

Looking back on that segment of the race, I lost very little time on that bridge.

Fantastic finishing area and post-race support:  At mile 24 I caught back up with the four-hour group whom I had run with earlier in the day.  I lost them at mile 10 when mother nature called collect.  After summiting the bridge, it took a few minutes to get my legs back under me.  Once my legs, lungs and mind had recovered at mile 25 I did my best impersonation of Shalane Flanagan and put the pedal down.  To be honest I thought about her relentless attack at the NYC Marathon and I gave that last mile point two my best effort of the day.  I never looked back and finished the Outer Banks Marathon running 8:40s to claim my fourth sub-four hour marathon at 3:59:22.  Not bad for a 53 year old on his birthday.

The post race food, support and transportation was first class.

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 (Happy Birthday to me……)

The Outer Banks Marathon had it all for me that day and I gave it everything I had.

New York City Marathon – Shalane Flanagan

Lightening does strike twice…New York City Marathon and Shalane Flanagan

In 2014 “Meb” Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon and brought the USA back to the top of the Boston Marathon for the first time since 1983.

And Shalane Flanagan won the 2017 NYC Marathon in dominating style.  In doing so she became the first US women to stand on top of the Big Apples Marathon podium in 40 years.  She also overcame so much more.

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My wife and I watched the NYC Marathon on delay after a full day of chores around the house. Around 2 p.m. we sat down to begin watching the race.  At around mile 13 of the women’s race I hit the pause button and went for a run.  It was a wonderful day in our neck of the woods and I needed to get some miles in.  With a little extra pep in my step and with thoughts of the marathon looming I headed out for my run.  At that time Shalane and Meb were hanging with the lead pack. While I covered the 11-mile loop my mind was full of thoughts of how the race would turn out.

After returning home and a quick shower, it was time to begin watching the second half of the race.  AND what a half it was.  I won’t go into the blow for blow details about what transpired on the streets of NYC, I’ll only tell you that when Shalane made her move the noise in our home was nearly as loud as the crowd on 1st Ave.  For two-miles my wife and I cheered her on… “YOU Go Girl!  Don’t look back…You Got THIS!!!!!!!”  As the miles disappeared and her competition feel off the pace the emotions of seeing someone capture their dream was over whelming.  I could barely speak, I was clamping as loudly as I could and my hands hurt.  I felt like I was there with her.  In her moment.

When Shalane crossed the finish line of the NYC Marathon as the first US women’s champion in 40 years and with her first major marathon title…I could hardly speak and my wife asked.  “Are you crying…?”

Yes, I was choked up.  Yes, I had tears in my eyes.  And yes, I was so very happy for someone I have never met.   And in that moment is what makes running so much more than a hobby, a form of fitness, or even a sport.  The marathon reflects life….it will move you.  I may never win a marathon, but I do know what it is like to achieve a goal, to concur doubt, to overcome odds and to beat my own limitations.

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Shalane did all that and made us proud, Congratulations!

The Hardest Thing About Running – Not Being Able to Run

When your sidelined with a running injury, do not let a temporary road block take away your runners spirit.

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 (Just because I can’t run,
does not mean the road is empty)

Some might think that in the middle of a long run, when your feet feel like they are on fire, when your chest feels as if it will implode with the very next breath, when every part of your body wants you to shut it down and stop, that that might be the hardest part of running. Although you may not believe it…not running is the hardest part of running.

The hardest part of running, for many if not most runners, is not being able to run.

It will happen to all of us sooner or later.  One day because of an injury we will not be able to lace up our shoes and go for a run.  When that time comes, we pray it’s only temporary.  When I can’t run…I’m not such a nice person.  When I see a runner out enjoying their day.  I hope they see a snake.  On some occasions, I may have wished that their beefy and spicy burrito came back to pay a visit when farthest from their home.  I may be guilty of hoping for some chaffing in an uncomfortable spot.  Or maybe that things bounce or swing a little too much?

Not really.  I jest.

A quick word about Running to Leadville.  I wanted a running story that would inspire and motivate.  I wanted a story to uncover the drama of running 100-miles coupled with a tale about uncovering the demons within.   I also wanted a story which would uncover the ultra-marathon lifestyle.  So I wrote Running to Leadville.

What They Are Saying

Available on Amazon and signed copies direct from my blog.

When I can’t run, I enjoy seeing runners getting in their miles.  It brings me immense joy to see the world in motion and to see a fellow runner out in the day.  To keep my runners spirit, I give a wave or a silent high five to the unknown runner who crosses my path.  To me seeing another runner on the go reminds me that better days are ahead for me.  I take solace that I’ll again be part of the motion and that there is promise of a better tomorrow.  Just because I can’t run today, does not mean I am not the runner who will run tomorrow.

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 (Even when I can’t run, I’m still a runner)

If for some reason your forced onto the sidelines…don’t lose that runner spirit.  Keep your runners’ high alive, encourage your running friends, smile at those who can run and enjoy in the victories of others.  The race does not go to the person who runs today…the ultimate victory goes to the person who continues to be a runner, even while sidelined.

How do you keep your runners SPIRIT alive?

Running and Marathon Racing, A Post About When Things Go – WRONG

It’s easy to write about the running experience on a perfect day.  It’s easy to write about the results of a flawless race, a personal record or a race win.  It’s not so easy to draft a race report about a run that went terribly wrong.  The conflict is that we often learn more from a bad experience than we do from a good one, hence we should share those experiences where things went wrong to avoid making the same mistake, again.

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 (Not every race ends in smiles, puppies and unicorns)

So here goes my top FIVE racing/running mistakes:

1.  I didn’t need a headlamp.  During my first JFK50, I really did not factor in what the day light conditions would be.  It was mid November and an early morning start.  I figured I would need a headlamp.  Race morning standing on the street light lined roads with the sun coming up it hit me that I would not need the headlamp that was resting on my forehead.  I considered tossing it to the side of the road and writing it off.  But , that was a thirty dollar headlamp so I removed it and tucked it into my shorts pocket.  For the next 50 miles…..I fought a near losing battle trying to keep my shorts pulled up.  The extra weight of that headlamp caused my shorts to ride low….ALL…DAY…LONG.

2.  Went out to fast, again.  Most have done it.  We know we shouldn’t…we are smarter than that, but still.  I found myself sitting on a log at mile 20 of my first 50k completely gassed.  I was capable of running the distance, I was fit…I had the racing smarts.  BUT…I got caught up in the excitement of the day, the challenge of a new distance, and sucked into a pace I could not keep up.  I was done.

Shameless plug for my book.
I tried to capture the drama and the challenge of running 100-miles in my book Running to Leadville.  The tale is more about life than running.  The story is centered on the main character who after his parents’ divorce finds his life full of rejection and heart break.  Then he meets her…

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The story also highlights the personal struggles of running a 100-mile race, and not just your run of the mill 100-mile race, but the iconic ultra-marathon known as the “Race Across The Sky.”

Available on Amazon and signed copies from my blog

3. I cheated on my plan.  I planned to run a sub-four marathon.  I was committed to the plan and to stay with the sub-four hour pace group.  Then I saw the 3:55 pacer sign in front of me.  I was hooked, I was smitten, I lusted over this new goal.  All went well until mile 20 where I was dropped from the 3:55 group.  I tried to regain control of my day yet eventually I could no longer keep up with the four-hour group.

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 (Even the greats have a day when things went wrong)

4.  I went cheap.  I knew I needed gaiters.  I looked at the simple design and thought, I can make them and save a few bucks.  I ran 20+ miles trying to keep the sand, rocks and dirt from gathering in myself made product.  In my misdirected attempt to be creative, to save a buck I constructed an ill designed, poorly fitting gaiter that did not keep debris from entering my shoes.  This poor design also collected sand under the sole of my running shoe.  What a painful mess…

5.  Cheap socks…will let you down.  In the early morning hours of my race day, I tried to sneak out of our bedroom with awakening my wife.  In my ninja mode I snagged a pair of socks from the draw and put them on.  Advance forward to the starting line of a 50-mile race when the gun went off.  At around mile two something in my right shoe felt off.  At mile three I could feel my heel riding against the back of my shoe.  At mile 3.01 it felt as if my sock was halfway off of my foot.  I pulled over to the side of the trail, sat down in the dirt and removed my shoe to find….my sock halfway off my foot.  I fought those ill fitting socks all day long.  First the right then the left then the right…..50 miles of cheap sock fun!

Running and racing can be fun when everything goes right.  Running and racing can be a pain in the butt when things go wrong yet these bad days teach us a lot and make the best “war stories.”

What has been one of your worst case race events?

100-Miles in 24 hours – Ultra Marathon Frequently Asked Questions

100-Miles in 24 hours – Frequently Asked Questions

I’ve run four 100-mile races, and at times I ask myself why?  There’s something about the number(s) that draw me.  100…it’s a simple number but also one that is complex. The number 100 to me represents a new frontier, a barrier and a significant milestone.  24-hours like 100-miles is a significant number.  It may simply be a measurement of time but it is also so much more.  24-hours in a simple fashion represents life in its purest form.  In a 24 hour period like our lives we are born into the day and in 24 hours our physical life on the planet will end.  100-miles and 24-hours to me are linked together to form the almost perfect measurement of our (my) endurance and I guess that is why I’m drawn to run 100-miles in one day.

I tried to capture the drama and the challenge of running 100-miles in my book Running to Leadville.  The tale is more about life than running.  The story is centered on the main character who after his parents’ divorce finds his life full of rejection and heart break.  Then he meets her…

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The story also highlights the personal struggles of running a 100-mile race, and not just your run of the mill 100-mile race, but the iconic ultra-marathon known as the “Race Across The Sky.”

Available on Amazon or SIGNED copies off my blog.

When other people hear about my 100-mile races, I’m nearly always asked the same questions?

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you keep moving?  You simply do.  Forward progress is the name of the game, no matter how bad you feel, how bad your feet hurt or how messed up your stomach is…you simply never stop putting one foot in front of the other.  I stay in the moment. I stay focused on taking that next step.  For 24-hours, that is the only thing that means anything to me.

IMG_6201(My first 100 mile finish, Umstead 100, 2014)

Do you eat?  Yes, you have too.  I start refueling almost from the first step.  I eat small bites of good energy fuel/food all day long.  Unlike a car’s fuel tank that you can fill up when empty, if you wait until your empty to refuel, you will lose your stomach.  More 100-mile runs end on stomach issues then muscle issues.  I add small amounts of fuel all day to try and keep my tank full, or as full as it can be.

What do you eat?  I eat a lot of simple foods, power gels and easy to consume drinks.  I pack food bags with items such as, apple sauce cups, bagels with peanut butter, power bars, gels, and miniature candy bars.  At the aid stations, I look for boiled potatoes, salty snacks, PBJ, cookies, and warm chicken broth.  And if they have pizza BONUS!

Food selection during a 24-hour run or 100-mile race is very personal.

gy100picturedunes1(Graveyard 100, 2015)

Are you running the whole time?  I’m moving “nearly the whole time.”  During my last two 100-mile races, Umstead 100 – 2017 and Yeti 100 – 2017, I spent very little time off my feet.  The only time I was not moving during Umstead was when I stopped to get some small rocks out of my shoes.  Total time off my feet may have been 15 minutes.  During the Yeti 100 I was never off my feet.  The only time I was not moving forward was while I was at the aid stations getting my water bottle filled and selecting my food items for the next leg of the race.  With food items on hand, I eat on the go.

As for the running part of this question…the elite level guys I believe are running near the entire time.  Most amateur 100-mile runners use some form of run/fast hike program.  During the Yeti 100 I started the race utilizing a 6/2 ratio of run/hike.  Run 6 minutes/hike 2 minutes.  This cycle lasted the better part of 35 miles.  The hardest part of this ratio was keeping up with my watch.  For the majority of this I was running with a friend who had his watch set up with reminders of when to run/hike.  When we separated at 30 miles, I had to keep up with the time intervals on my own.  As I got tired I needed something simpler (math wise) to keep track of on my watch.  I began a 5/5 run/hike ratio.  This lasted until night fall when I could no longer see my watch (around 60 miles).  Then I ran/hiked by feel.  I ran as long and as hard as I could, hiked until I caught my breath then did it again, and again and again.  I finished the YETI 100 in 22 hours 47 minutes and 45 seconds.

539997_10212672620318758_3861652004417893958_n(My second Umstead 100, 2017 with my stellar crew, Elise and Andrea)

Do you change shoes?  No.  If it’s not broke don’t fix it.  For all four of my 100-mile races I ran in one pair of shoes and socks.  Although I have seen other runners do multiple shoe/sock combo changes mid race.

How long does it take?  Most 100-mile races have a 30-hour cutoff.  I’ve finished all four of my 100-mile races have been Sub-24 hours.  The event winners normally finish around the 15-hour mark depending on the challenges the course offers.

Umstead 100, 2014:  22hr 51m 05s
Graveyard 100, 2015:  23hrs 05m 05s
Umstead 100, 2017:  21hrs 36m 36s
Yeti 100, 2017:  22hrs 47m 45s

IMG_20170930_055539731_BURST000_COVER_TOP (1)(Yeti 100, 2017 with RD Jason)

How do you keep running all alone, in the dark, at night?  I stay in the moment.  If I start thinking about the what if, how far I still have to go, or the things that go bump in the night I might just lose it.  I focus on moving forward as fast as I can.  I do not let my mind wonder much further then the next step on the trail.

Do you have a question about running 100-miles, comment below and I’ll be sure to answer it the best I can.

Running to Yeti 100 – Ultra-Marathon

Races like people have their own unique character, and the Yeti Trail Runners race series and the YETI 100 have a lot of character.   AND I love it.  The YETI 100 was an experience I got to share with a few of my running family, Andrea, Josh*, Elisa* and Ruthie along with a number of others runners I’ve made connections with along my ultra-running adventures.

IMG_20170928_192854853(Elisa, Jason G (RD), Myself, and Josh)

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The YETI spirit is trail running and more on point the ultra-running community as a whole.  We run long distances, we help each other, we have fun, we suffer, we live in the moment, we look to the future and we dance in our success AND the success of those we run with.

The YETI 100 is an awesome event, held on the Virginia creeper trail.  The race starts atop Whitetop mountain, runs downhill, approx. 1875 ft, through Damascus, on to Alvarado Station where it begin a approx. 600 ft climb to  Abingdon (33.3 miles away) where runners turn around and repeat the leg two more times…to complete the advertised 100 mile race distance.

2017 Yeti 100

The short version of my race report is simple…HIGHLY Recommend this race!

A 100 mile race is always an adventure.  An adventure filled with emotions, drama, pain, suffering, and triumph.

IMG_20170930_055539731_BURST000_COVER_TOP (1)(RD, Jason and I at the finish)

The mighty YETI shined down on us as WE ALL FINISHED.  My  YETI 100 finishing time was 22 hours 47 minutes and 45 seconds with a ton of laughs, stories, pain (one epic fall), and some great new friendships.

I tried to capture the ultra spirit in my book Running to Leadville, and to celebrate my finish (2nd fastest 100 Miler) and to congratulate all YETI finishers I have a special offer.

Running to Leadville…the 100 mile trail race is my dream race, and the topic of my first novel.  A story about a young man who lived a hard life full of rejection, judgement and the absent of that special person in his life.  Unexpectedly he finds love, acceptance, and his passion for running and writing.  In a twist of fate when life seemed nearly perfect, he loses nearly everything.

Running to Leadville is more than a running book, it is a tale about the small mining town of Leadville, Colorado, the 100 mile trail race in the extreme Rockies and it is a story about life.

YETI 100 Finishers, Crew, Friends, Family, Unicorns and Bigfoot himself can purchase a signed copy today for $12.99 with free free free shipping (US orders only).  The Lochnest Monster and Jaws (my “other” two childhood fears)….they has to pay full price.




IMG_20171001_065539330(Until next year…)

A more detailed YETI report is in the works…

Running With Friends – Marathon Training – Ultra Marathon

Running with friends, while training for marathons and ultra marathons.

The moments before my alarm clock goes off offers up some of the best periods of sleep I have ever experienced.  At other instantaneous these final minutes find me awake staring at the ceiling wondering about the adventures of the day.

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The sleep from a long nights rest scratches the tender skin around my eyes as I attempt to clear the slumber for the beginning of my day.  Slowly the morning comes into focus as my eyes catch the dim morning light allowing the familiar landscape of my room to come into focus.  My ears collect the repetitive sounds of rain beating on the window panes.  My skin feels the coolness of a chilly spring morning.  Once again I find myself starting to come awake before the man-made alarm goes off.

In the stillness of a new day, stuck somewhere between beginning fully awake or savoring a few more moments of restless sleep.  Trapped between my desires to get my day underway, and wanting to be still I wonder if I really need to be part of the day’s motions.  Living between the two different worlds although inviting will not aid me in getting ready for my morning run.  Ensnared in no man’s land the inaction of stillness will not transport me closer to my mileage goals and will only erode away any commitment to arriving on time to join my friends for today’s run.  Now more awake than slumbering it takes a few moments to remember what the morning has in store.  Stretched out before me awaits a day on trails laden with dirt, rocks and mud after the night’s rain.  The day will be inclined with hills, scrambling over rocks and roots and a day full of long miles shared with a few of my like minded friends.

Gathering my full wits, I remember how hard it had been to find a reliable group of friends I could run with.  Within the group, there were members I could count on and others who would find reasons not to run other than under the best conditions.  Today was one of those days.  Within my group was one pair of friends who matched my commitment, my resolve and my dedication to run no matter the adversaries.  This pair of kindred souls would run no matter the weather, the conditions of the trails and without regard to the length of our outing.  This particular twosome knows me better than I know myself.  They know my weakness, the limitations of my failed stride and the uncertainties of my questionable mental strength yet these running comrades always obtained my best performance.

Then almost unexpectedly, although almost by second nature I knew it was coming, the sound of my alarm clock rockets me into action.  I reach for the horizontal bar that will silence the blaring sound that tears at my slumbering soul.  My feet hit the cold wood floors and instantly with the first movement of the day, my body reminds me of the battle wounds that 17 years of running have left on me.  My bones creep and my back hurts from a night on an ill fitting mattress.  Once standing erect my knees call attention to the 20,000 miles I have run over my running career.  Moving slowly across the floor my ankles sing a painful song of remembrance the results of the hill workout just days before.  With all the aches and pains thoughts of rolling back into bed tempts me but knowing my friends will be waiting, wondering where I am and why I did not show up for our agreed upon run keeps me focused on my commitment to them and the miles in my training plan.  The aches and pains of years of running come up short on diverting me from today’s run.

The commitment of our run motivates me to splash some ice cold water on my face, brush my teeth and get my personal business in order.  Surprisingly the sensation of the tap water contacting my skin brings me back to life and more committed to the actions of the day.  Staring into the mirror I no longer see the face of a gruesome zombie awaken from a long season of slumber now in the reflection I see the runner, the amateur athlete who has a full race season in front of them.

Glancing at my watch I notice the time is drawing near to join up with my friends.  As I pull on a wrinkled shirt and my favorite socks from my top dresser drawer and grab an old pair of weathered black shorts from the clean clothes basket I begin to feel more like myself.  It takes only moments to finish dressing and grab a few bites to eat in between filling water bottles and stashing fuel gels into my running vest.  Slowly with fresh calories and liquids in my veins my faithfulness to the run now has a solid hold over me.  The long run is a different experience without seasoned friends to share the adventure with.  A running friend can make the miles go by faster, friends can distract you from the solitude of the lonely trails and a group can make the miles more comfortable.  A good friend can change the complexion of any morning.

As the moments tick away I’m ever more aware of the agreed upon meeting time, and the location when we will join up and begin our day together.  Surviving the call of the warm and inviting bed I am more determined to be on time and not on the side of the conversation that ends with “I’m not going to be able to make it today.”  I have felt that sting many times but today am comfortable that my friends will be there waiting to run.

Breaking the silence, my cell phone vibrates on the granite counter top next to my keys, a random water bottle, my GPS watch and a half empty cup of coffee.  Alerted to an incoming message my hand reaches for the high tech plastic communicator that keeps me in touch with the world.  For a moment I wonder is this an alert to world news, an email notice or the unthinkable at this early morning hour?  In the dimly lit room, it takes my eyes a few seconds to collect enough light to be able to see the message and focus on the words appearing on the screen.  The world will continue to spin but the message is simple and to the point.

“I’m sorry…something came up I won’t be able to run with you this morning.”

Placing the phone back on the counter I sit down slightly dejected, unmotivated, somber and unfocused.  For a second I wonder what my next move should be.  Staring at the cold floor in front of me I’m having a hard time coming up with plan B, the days run seems in jeopardy.  Out of the stillness, the approaching early morning rays of sunshine breaks through the partially opened curtains.  The morning light reminds me of the new day and all it’s potential.  The welcomed beam of light enters my room illuminating a path which returns me to my original course of action.  Falling gracefully the morning light ends its journey across my room resting on a pair of well seasoned running shoes sitting quietly under a bench, next to an old rug, and adjacent to the front door.

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This simple message reminds me that my true friends, the friends that are always ready, always willing, and always available are waiting for me.

Three HOT Summer Races – Running and Racing in the Heat

At the end of the day my shirt laid heavy on my chest, my shorts clinged to my thighs and my shoes which were soaked through had been making a sloshing sound over the last few miles of the race.  As much as I hated running in the cold.  As often as I complained about being outside in the non-summer temperatures from November until late April, this day had my number.  At the end of this race, on a day when the temperatures soared and dew point made the trails of North Carolina feel like the swamps of the Bayou I would have welcomed a below 30 degree day.

13921101_1298344093510077_856199800322259064_n(The face of heat, despair, and defeat at
Medoc Mountain Meltdown 2016)

The heat and humidity of the south can be stifling.  The heavy woven blanket of high humidity and relentless heat can suck the very life out of you.  It’s hard just walking to your car at the end of a long work day.  It’s doubly hard to want to do anything outside.  As much as I enjoy running, at times, the summer conditions make me want to hide under a comforting blanket of air conditioning.  During the dog days of summer my running lacks any spunk.  Distances feel overwhelming, a five miler wears on my body like 10, 15 or 20.  My long runs have me feeling weak, slow, and wondering if I am truly an ultra-runner at all.  The reported “feel” like heat index cause my training days to suffer.  Normally I tend to scale back my racing and I fall into survival mode awaiting the return of fall.  But this year I decided to try a different tactic I decided to embrace the summer heat and run three monster races.

19149362_10213592637035839_4729837343095678056_n(At the finish of the Eastern Divide 50k)

JUNE:  Eastern Divide 50k, what can I say about a race that starts off with a 2,000 foot climb in the first five miles.  Looking back, I can say, “I was not ready.” During the opening salvo, I took body blows to the lungs and legs.  The jabs left me staggering, I was lost for words and oxygen.  As I reached the summit my heaving chest and clouded mind would only allow me to formulate a few words, “that sure was a butt kicker.”  My legs were spent, my shirt was soaked and I had 26 more miles to go.  The ED50k was a well organized race…one that will truly test your vigor from the very beginning to the wild end.  This race is a “Butt Kicker”.

I run 90% of my miles on flat to mild rolling hills.  Honestly I hate to call them hills at all, more like slight changes along the road.  I wasn’t really ready for what the ED50k had to offer, even though I thought I was.  What elevation I do get to run over is limited to 1,000 feet spread over 12.5 miles.  The near straight up climb to open this race got my attention in a hurry and set the tone of the day.  I enjoyed the challenge even though my quads were exploding as my heart raced to feed my muscles.  After the initial climb, the course is a collection of elevation changes on mountain trails among some picture-perfect backdrops of green forests and never-ending fire roads without much flat terrain.

2017 Eastern Divide 50k map and elevation(Course map of ED50k)

Although the 30 miles still had us squarely in Virginia the final mile off the day felt more like a run through a Amazon jungle.  This dash to the finish is best described as a narrow trail navigated over exposed roots, under low hanging branches perfectly positioned to impact your head, between boulders that restricted the path, and around moss covered trees.  Breaking into a clearing the inflatable finish line on the grounds of the country club made famous by Baby of Dirty Dancing fame never looked more inviting.  I was spent after finishing the ED50k and felt like I earned every second of my 6:55 minute finishing time, a good amount over previous 50k times run over more welcoming terrain. Check out the Eastern Divide 50k website.

JULY:  Grandfather Mountain Marathon,  It was a cool summer day in comparison to the feels like temperatures of 110+ just days prior.  Standing on the track surrounding the Appalachian State football field I could feel a drop of sweat run down my back as the race director welcomed everyone.

2017 Grandfather Mountain marathon Map(Course map of Grandfather Mountain Marathon)

The asphalt course runs 26.2 miles from the Appalachian State University on the track at the Kidd Brewer Stadium in the center of Boone, NC to the top of Grandfather Mountain.  What feels like a downhill start quickly turned into a hair raising roller coaster ride with steep climbs and rapid decents while gaining elevation with every combination.  Some of the downhill sections are so steep that a miss placed step I felt would leave me a tumbling heap of road rash and broken bones.  The final challenge, a 2+ mile climb to reach the summit begins around the 24th mile marker and seemingly goes on forever.  Highlighted by a number of false summits the endless black ribbon stretches out in front of you seemingly going on forever as bagpipes can be heard off in the distance.  A final right turn appears out of now where delivering you to a gravel path leading to the make shift stadium and the large collection of Scottish Clans and the opening of the Highland Games.

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Without being over dramatic for two reasons this was the most emotional finish of the 100+ races I have run.  Circling the track during the final quarter mile of the race I crossed the finish line just as the National Anthem of the United States began to play.  With a finishers medal around my neck, with a 4:39:49 finishing time to my credit, out of breath and on aching legs I stood proud with my right hand over my chest and wondered if this is what it felt like to win a Gold Medal in the Olympics.  Second when I signed up for the race the date of the event did not register as anything of significant.  The 28th of July, this day appeared as any ordinary day, that is until race morning.  This race was held on my mother’s birthday, she passed the previous December 27th. As I ran up a mountain, I felt closer to her, as I stood listening to our National Anthem tears collected in my eyes and ran down my cheeks. Check out the Grandfather Mountain Marathon website.

AUG:  MEDOC Mountain Meltdown 50k+,  A run in the park with a bunch of friends, it’s as simple as that.  Now add in roots, rocks, stairs cases, steep climbs, and the stifling heat and humidity of early August in North Carolina and you have the makings of a meltdown.

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Four laps around MEDOC Mountain State Park, in Hollister, NC with 8.6 miles per lap and you have a 50k+ race that kicks my tail year after year.  I first ran this race in 2013 as an opportunity to hang out with some “new” ultra-running friends.  That first year, I slogged my way around the trails and finished all four laps earning my one of a kind “MEDOC” rock.  I enjoyed my time on the trails and met a bunch of running pals I still call friends to this day.  In 2016, I returned to MEDOC once again to earn another rock and to better my time from my first race.  That plan did not go well.  After three laps and while tied for first place, the scorching sun beat me down to the point that I could not answer the bell for the fourth lap.  Returning to the meltdown again, 2017, I was determined to make things right.

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I’m not really sure what makes the meltdown so hard (on me), is it the climbs?  The technical trails?  The heat index? The rocks, roots, horseflies, or is it MEDOC himself?  MEDOC is a legendary monster the lives in the park, some say a crazy doctor others a kin to Bigfoot himself.  I have no idea but the meltdown delivers a punch to the gut with each lap that eventually wears you down.  This year I felt good completing my third lap.  Making the turn, I refueled, signed in for the fourth lap, and headed out across the field where we would turn on to the trails and into the forest.  As I made my way into the woods the bottom fell out of my running mojo.  I felt at a loss for power, and motivation.  Every step was a struggle to survive with my finish in question.  With each step a DNF seemed more likely.  As I was dragging my feet along the trail I remember a saying that I had told so many other people before.  “When times get tough just keep moving forward, it will get better.”  And so with footstep after footstep a death crawl turned into a jog, a jog turned into a run, and a run transformed into a finishing time of 7:52 and my second MEDOC Mountain Meltdown 50k+ rock. Check out the MEDOC Mountain Meltdown 50k plus Facebook page.

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What will I do next summer when the heat and humidity return to south of the Mason-Dixon line?

What will I do when my shirts again weight heavy, my shorts cling, and my shoes make the familiar sloshing sound of summer?

Will I return to run these races again?  Each race is great in its own unique way.  Each race is far from the cookie cutter corporate marathon.  They test your make up, your fitness and your desire.  They offer wonderful setting, and challenging courses.  Should everyone run them once, I highly recommend them.

Will I run them again?

Can we do it in November?