2016 Goals and Training

We’re already more than a week into 2016. I’ve been thinking about my goals, but also a bit about how I’ll achieve them. It will be hard for me to have a better year than 2015, but it’s definitely possible to match it, particularly if I can remain injury free. If I can remain injury free, I fully expect to beat all my PR’s 10k and up. (My high school 5k (16:32) and mile (4:34) PRs aren’t going anywhere soon.)

My primary goal is to run faster than 3:00:00 in a marathon. My goal last year was to qualify for Boston. I did, but I didn’t qualify by enough and I ultimately didn’t make it into the race. I’d really like to make it in next year, or even just get to the point where I have the option. I’m pretty sure if I actually make it I’ll sign up and go as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

With a sub-3:00 marathon being my primary goal, how do I get there? I was originally thinking about running more miles and getting up to ~55 miles per week. However, as I’ve thought about this more, I don’t think it’s something I necessarily want to commit to. I’m fairly injury prone and injuries are the most likely obstacle to me reaching my primary goals. Right now my plan is to stick with the 3+2 regimen set forth in Run Less, Run Faster. Three days of running and two days of cross training. On the sixth day I’ll either rest, cross train, or do a recovery run. (I don’t exercise on the Sabbath, so I only have six days of training per week.) I got a road bike for Christmas, so I expect to mix in more cycling into my cross training.

Besides regular training and cross training, I really need to do more stretching and strengthening drills and exercises. I plan on doing these about twice a week for at least 15 minutes. I think I mostly just need to develop the habit. I can do some stretching at my stand-up desk at work or while I’m at home watching a movie or reading. Thus, it doesn’t take too much time and I don’t have a good excuse not to do it — I just need to develop the habit.

Another goal I hope to achieve this year is to break into the top 10 at the Race to Robie Creek. I think I can do it if I continue regular training. Last year, the 8th, 9th, and 10th runners all came in at 1:28:xx. The year before was fairly similar. However, I know that last year the top runner has some issues and dropped out in the last 5 miles. I also know another runner that beat me at Zeitgeist that will likely move into the top 10. And I’m pretty sure the guy that won Zeitgeist didn’t run Robie last year, and he could possibly win Robie if he shows up. I’m thinking I’ll need to hit <1:27 to make sure I’m there. That’s definitely possible, although it will take some work and a good training stretch. We’ll see!

One other option, depending on injury, is to do a Half Ironman. I now have a road bike. I’ve often done 20-30 minutes twice a week on the stationary bike for cross training. I’m fairly confident with 2 or 3 months of good training I could do a solid Half Ironman. My biggest obstacle is the swim. I’d have to get a gym membership and work on my form quite a bit, but I think I could survive it with some practice. The Half Ironman is a back up option, as I’m much more concerned with qualifying for Boston for the time being.

Basically, I feel like I still have 2-4 years of steady improvement before I peak. I’ve been improving for 3 years now, so assuming the general rule of 7 years to peak, I should have a couple solid years left. If I increase my mileage and avoid injury I can probably get a lot from these next two years. Even if I just repeat my training regimen from 2015 I think I can improve. I hope I can make the most of 2016!

2015: Year in Review

2015 was probably the best running year of my life. The only other year that comes close is my senior year in high school, but I’m not sure it was quite as good as 2015.

My recent running life reemerged in 2013. That year I cut 19 minutes off my time from the year before at the Race to Robie Creek. I also committed to run the St. George Marathon with my father-in-law, and then I surprised myself by getting a personal record (3:24), beating my PR set in 2001 when I was 18 years-old. I had a great experience at the marathon and immediately wanted to run another. I also realized that I could potentially qualify for Boston at some point if I worked at it.

2014 was a fairly disappoint year. I was plagued by injuries that cost me 3-4 weeks of training at a time. First it was a foot tendon issue, then it was a strained calf, then another foot tendon issue (I get these a lot), and finally a sore knee to finish out the year. I barely achieved a marathon PR (3:21 at the Phoenix Marathon) and it was in March — early in the year. Nevertheless, I think I improved my base endurance capability quite a bit, and I learned some valuable lessons about injury prevention and not being stupid.

In late 2014 I signed up for the Newport Marathon, which was going to be on May 30th. That gave me plenty of time to train and improve leading into May. I used the 3:05 marathon training schedule in Run Less, Run Faster and got to work. The schedule is for 16 weeks, so I had a few extra weeks built in. That turned out well because I was sick a couple times and ran the Race to Robie Creek in April (which required a small taper and some recovery).

A week before Robie Creek I achieved a post-high school PR in the 5k (18:48) at a little fun run my company put on. That totally surprised me.

Then I achieved a big course PR at the Race to Robie Creek (1:31).

While I didn’t do as well as I hoped at Newport, I still achieved a PR (3:13).

I continued training through the summer and picked up a half marathon PR at the Idaho Falls Half Marathon (1:23 — excluding the wrong turn).

Then in September I finally met my goal of a 3:04 marathon at Mt. Nebo.

I felt great and my fitness was better than ever, so in October I ran the Foothills 50k Frenzy, my first ultramarathon.

Finally in November, I picked up a course PR at Zeitgeist (1:28) despite a strained calf.

That was followed by a 10k PR at the turkey trot (37:27).

Like I said, my best year ever. I PR’d in every distance 10k and above, as well as a post-high school 5k PR. Unfortunately the year didn’t end on a high note, as a small Achilles strain kept me from training much in December. Nevertheless, as long as that heals up I’m looking forward to a good 2016.

What made the difference this year for me? First was consistency. 2014 and 2015 were my most consistent running years since high school. 2013 wasn’t too bad either. What separated 2015 from 2014 was the lack of injuries. I think before December I only had two or three weeks that I couldn’t run due to a strain. One contributor to fewer injuries was that I would adjust my schedule if something was hurting. I also did more cross training and was sure to adjust my effort (rather than going really hard every run). I also bought some cheap compression ankle braces which I felt helped prevent sore spots from worsening.

All of that led to logging about 1359 miles of running in 2015, plus another 344 “equivalent” cross training miles (basically I count about 10 minutes of cross training as 1 equivalent running mile). That was by far the most I’ve ever ran and trained in a year.

I’m hoping for a great 2016. I’ll post again regarding my goals.

2015 Clark County Turkey Trot 10k Race Report – New PR!

Thanksgiving is a great holiday for many reasons:

  • It helps us reflect on all the things we have to be thankful for;
  • we get to eat a bunch of delicious food like turkey, rolls, mashed potatoes, and stuffing;
  • we get to eat a bunch of pie;
  • and we get to run in the Turkey Trot!

We usually go to Vancouver, Washington for Thanksgiving. A few years ago I discovered the Clark County Turkey Trot and signed up. It’s now become a tradition, and typically several members of our extended family will walk or run it. Last year I did it alone for some reason, but this year we had a decent sized crew. It consisted of Cyndi and me, our 8-year-old and 6-year-old, our 5-month-old, my father-in-law, sister-in-law, and a few nieces. My 4-year-old son was also supposed to go, but he threw a fit right before we left so we left him at home with grandma.

Ready to run the Clark County Turkey Trot
Turkey Trot crew

The Clark County Turkey Trot is a fairly large, but very family-friendly event. There are typically over 1000 runners and walkers I believe. It takes place on a walking path through a nice area with a creek, grass, and marshes nearby. It isn’t really great for “racing” as the path is fairly small, there are lots of walkers, and it’s an out-and-back. Nevertheless, I still try to do it fast and do my best.

For the past 3 or 4 years this has been my one 10k for the year. This year was no exception, so I was excited to see how my time would be and I hoped to break 40 minutes. My time last year was about the same as the year before that, so I really wanted to see some improvement this time around.

The weather was pretty chilly this year, but at least there were clear skies (in Washington — a rarity!). The temperature was around 27F when the race started. This year they started the 10k five minutes before the 5k, which helped with congestion a bit. I told my 8-year-old daughter, Paisley, that if she could finish her 5k before I finished the 10k, I would buy her a large smoothie from McDonald’s on the trip home from Washington. She loves smoothies, but we usually just get her the $1 sundae since we have five children and we don’t want to set a precedent of $4/piece just for dessert. I told Paisley that I thought she could beat me if she just ran the whole time — a daunting task for an 8-year-old. She had been running at school, so I thought she could do it.

I lined up near the front and got in an early pack within the first mile. There was one guy that took a nice lead, but most of us let him go. Our first mile was pretty fast at just under 6 minutes. A couple of the guys around me started to let up, but this was right about where I wanted to be. I was hoping to be able to maintain a pace under 6:15 or so.

There were some icy spots, especially on some of the bridges, but it wasn’t too bad. The sun started shining down and warming my hands a bit more as we finished Mile 2. There was a runner right behind me and we passed the #2 runner. The first runner was out of sight. The course has some very gentle and short slopes, and on one of these short uphills the runner right on my tail passed me, but then I passed him back on the brief downhill.

At the turn-around I was still feeling alright and it gave me a chance to see the guy behind me and see how far back the other runners were. We were spreading out, and as long as I could maintain a good pace I figured I could finish in the top three or four and hit my goal of under 40:00. I passed my father-in-law on his way out and yelled a “hi” a bit after the turnaround.

The runner right behind me stayed right on my tail. I could hear him there the whole time and I couldn’t shake him. I pushed hard up and down the slopes so he wouldn’t pass me again. I would have liked to slow down, but the competitor in me really wanted to beat this guy.

Once we got to Mile 4.5 we hit the crowd of 5k runners. This is always where the Clark County Turkey Trot gets a little hairy. It’s not designed for racing, and I want to be respectful, but I also want to get the best time I can. Well, when the trail is packed with walkers and joggers, you have to improvise. This means a lot of weaving, off-roading, and some close passes. Fortunately it was dry this year, so I could run in the grass next to the trail a lot more. Often there are puddles and mud which make off-trail running more difficult.

As we wove around the 5k’ers I began to hear the guy behind me less and less, although he was still fairly close. I saw my niece, Natalie, pushing my baby in the stroller and yelled a “hi”. I also passed my sister-in-law and a couple other nieces, as well as my 6-year-old daughter, Cosette. Finally about a quarter or half mile from the finish line I passed Paisley and Cyndi running together. I told Paisley she was doing great as I ran by her.

I ran through the finish at a time of 37:27, which I was very happy with. I believe this is my all-time PR (I didn’t run many 10k’s in high school). I held off the runner behind me and finished second place. Without that runner, I’m sure I would have been 0:30 or 1:00 slower. He helped me tremendously. The 6:02/mile pace was fantastic for me.

After finishing, I headed back up the course to find Paisley. She wasn’t too far behind and had a strong finish. I didn’t know about the 5 minute 10k head start when I gave her the smoothie challenge, so I gave her a big hug and told her she earned her smoothie. She would have beat me if I didn’t get the head start. She ran the whole 5k and finished in 36:59, so I was very proud of her.

We ate donuts and sipped hot chocolate as the rest of the runners in our family came through. We all had a fun time and a good Turkey Trot.

Of course, later in the day came the delicious Thanksgiving meal with over 30 people crammed into my in-laws’ dining room. We had about 6 pies available and I was the first to slice into them a couple hours after dinner. I started with just a small sample of each one. However, I soon learned that none of my wife’s family are really big pie eaters, so I just kept on eating. Apple pie, pumpkin pie, banana creme pie, chocolate pudding pie, lemon meringue pie, and raspberry rhubarb pie. I ate so much pie it was ridiculous. The next day I did it again. I’m pretty sure I ate more pie than everyone else combined.

2015 Zeitgeist Half Marathon

Another year another Zeitgeist Half Marathon. This happened to be a good year for me — as I finally broke into the top 10 and got a course PR.

I’ve posted about the Zeitgeist Half Marathon before, so I won’t go into too many details about the race course. Basically, there is a big hill that peaks at ~Mile 3.1. Then there’s a downhill and flat portion followed by another mile long hill that peaks at Mile 8 or so. Then it’s down and flat to the finish, with a few tiny rollers.

What makes Zeitgeist great, is that it’s one of the last big races in the Boise area before the winter lull, or at least one of the last ones I typically participate in. (I guess there’s the Turkey Trot and Christmas run, but those are shorter distances.) It’s also well organized.

This year I convinced Cyndi to sign up and run it with me. Zeitgeist was the last race she ran before giving birth to our youngest child in May. Cyndi was 3 months pregnant at the time of the race last year. This year she was nervous about getting a babysitter for 4 hours, but I ended up convincing her. It was partly to justify my own 4 hour absence and partly because I thought Cyndi would have a good time and it would give her something to train for. It will also make for some good prep for a marathon I hope to convince her to do next year.

Cyndi has a different relationship with running than me. I’m really competitive and enjoy running as a challenge to myself and others. I’m all about tracking my times and distances. I also like the feeling of accomplishment and achieving a goal. Cyndi runs because “it’s the hardest thing I can do,” meaning, it’s an exercise that is challenging and makes her work. She doesn’t use a watch or track her times and distances like I do. I think she also runs because her dad and I rub off on her a bit. The last time she signed up for a marathon was right after she saw me and her dad finish one. She doesn’t get the same thrill out of it as I do, and when she’s done with a marathon she needs some time before she forgets enough that she’s willing to do another.

I arranged for my mom to watch all five kids while we ran. It only takes about 20 minutes to get to the starting line from our house, so we left at about 9am and picked up our bibs by 9:30. We were a little uncertain regarding what to wear. It had been cold but warmed up somewhat the day of the race. The Zeitgeist Half Marathon starts at 10am, but it is usually breezy during the second half of the course. I ended up going with a long sleeve shirt. It worked out pretty well, although I would have preferred short sleeves and knit gloves.

I was excited for this half marathon. I fully expected a course PR, and hoped I could finish in a decent place. My primary goal was to break 1:30, but I was really hoping to get 1:27 or 1:25 as a stretch. I would be disappointed if I was slower than 1:30:00. In the Idaho Falls Half Marathon I had run a ~1:23 (excluding my detour), but it had some nice downhill and no uphill. In last year’s Zeitgeist race, I got 1:35. After a year of great training and only a couple minor setbacks/injuries, I was ready to improve my time quite a bit.

My only issue going into the race was a minor calf strain. I always seem to have little issues like this and it really annoys me. About 2.5 weeks before race day I had done 8×800 intervals on the road. My calf got pretty sore, and it never fully recovered. I was still able to run, but I kept aggravating it every couple days. I realized my predicament and did just a 9 mile run on the Saturday before Zeitgeist (keep in mind that Saturday is my “long” day and I typically run 13+ miles). On Monday I did a very easy recovery run, and given some pain still in my calf, I took it easy the rest of the week and didn’t run any more. I think I did a day or two of cross training in the gym.

On race day my calf felt pretty good and I was hopeful. Cyndi and I lined up and wished each other good luck. I lined up pretty close to the start. I saw my running pal Jon and wished him good luck. He was going for sub 1:30 as well, but he was coming off a pretty recent ankle sprain. We did the annual “Zeitgeist” cheer and then the race started.

One guy (I later learned his name is Kyle Perry) took off immediately. He ended up setting a course record at 1:13:31. He could easily be a contender to win the Race to Robie Creek next April if he runs it.

I took off pretty fast, but mostly under control. I figured I needed to hit 6:30’s on the flat, 7:30’s on the uphills, and 6:00’s on the downhills. My first mile came in at 6:13, so definitely on the fast side. I really need to control myself better in the first mile or two of each race. However, I don’t think I was too out of control. Fifteen seconds off my target pace in a Half Marathon isn’t too bad.

I quickly settled in around 7th-9th place since I started in the front of the pack anyways. Zeb Perez, who I had met after the Foothills 50k Frenzy, was ahead of me (which was no surprise). We pushed the first hill pretty hard — my second mile was 6:58 and my third mile was 7:22. I still felt really good and was hoping to keep it going. When I hit the top of the hill I continued pushing hard on the downhill. I didn’t want to relax too much going down and sacrifice time. The downhill pace was right about where I wanted it as my next two miles were 5:50 and 6:03.

On the flat portion is where I ran into a little trouble. Coming out of Mile 5 I started to feel a small tightness in my right calf. I knew it was only going to grow and the pain continued to worsen. There’s a small hill during Mile 7, and by the time I came out of that and was about to push up the second big hill, I was worried I might have to walk.

Fortunately, my calf and I reached a tenuous truce. It came to a point where it felt like a big knot, but then it stopped worsening. I was doing my best to run on my heels and keep off my toes. By the time I reached the top of the hill, I figured I’d be able to finish the race without a serious injury. Nevertheless, my calf was starting to slow me down. As I made my way down the hill with a couple people close behind, I couldn’t pick up the pace by running on my toes. I was also starting to get sore in my hips and unusual places since I had adjusted my gait to preserve my calf.

I was still able to make a pretty good pace. Miles 10 and 11 came in at 6:20 and 6:11, which wasn’t too much slower than my target. I was now shooting for sub 1:29 or at least sub 1:30, realizing that 1:25 was out of reach. The two people behind me, Andrija Barker (the first woman) and Justin Woodward (who I don’t know), ended up passing me somewhere on that downhill. I wasn’t sure what place this put me in, but I was thinking that it was 11th overall.

I kept chugging along and watching Justin and Andrija battle for a small victory. I have to admit that I sneaked a peak after one of the turns to see if anyone else was near me. Fortunately no one was, which meant I could be a little lazy. I was still pushing, but my calf was mostly determining my pace at this point. I had more in me but it wasn’t going to happen. After 3 miles of downhill, the final 2 flat and rolling miles of Zeitgeist are always a bit tough.

Andrija ended up edging out Justin in the last mile and beat him by 6 seconds. I came in over a minute later. My official time was 1:28:44, which got me 9th place overall. I was pretty happy with that despite that I felt my calf prevented a 100% performance. It beat my time from the previous year by over 6 minutes and finally landed me in the top 10 finishers.

I spoke with Jon who came in 19th at 1:33. I also said hi to Zeb and congratulated Andrija, who told me she had beat Justin. She noted that she thought I probably started too fast. I also spoke with my friend Chad, who came in under 1:40.

I grabbed some chocolate milk and started jogging back to find Cyndi. My plan had been to jog back to her and then finish with her as I figured that would give me a nice cool down, a few extra miles, and some time running with my lovely wife. I quickly realized that my calf wouldn’t permit any such thing. After limping across the road near the end of the course, I promptly limped back and waited until Cyndi came in.

She did pretty well for her first race since having a baby. Her goal was to not walk, even on the steep uphill, and she did it! The wind was picking up, so as we grabbed our post race meal we both got cold. Zeitgeist always has some tasty, unique food for after the half marathon. This year they had sweet potatoes, soup, and apple crisp (if I remember correctly). Not to mention chocolate milk and beer for those who want it (not me).

After eating we started walking to the car, which was at a distant parking lot. I was limping along slowly and Cyndi was cold, so she took the keys and ran ahead to get the minivan warmed up. We got one picture on the way out. Notice the smiling faces!

Cyndi and I after finishing the Zeitgeist Half Marathon
Cyndi and I after finishing the Zeitgeist Half Marathon

I love running the Zeitgeist Half Marathon. It’s always well organized. The course is decent and definitely challenging. The Race to Robie Creek gets a lot more press, but Zeitgeist has it’s own place as a race in the Treasure Valley. I’m hoping to run again next year, although there’s a chance I’ll have a marathon conflict or something. If I do run, I hope to be able to squeeze a few more minutes off my time and see what my body can do.

Foothills 50K Frenzy (2015) – My First 50K!

Back in August or so I noticed that there was a 50K that took place in Boise: the Foothills 50K Frenzy. I wanted to get the Mt. Nebo Marathon out of the way before I signed up for something else, mostly to make sure I wasn’t injured. Upon completion of the marathon, I was feeling pretty good and a 50K was sounding more and more interesting.

I liked the idea of the Foothills 50K Frenzy since I wouldn’t have to travel anywhere and with the 6am start I could probably be home by noon as long as I didn’t have a complete meltdown. That would make things relatively easier for Cyndi, who would end up staying at home with the kids while I was out having fun. I had never run an ultramarathon before, so I decided that this was my best opportunity and I signed up.

[Note: I know that a 50K is mostly an “ultramarathon” by definition, and it doesn’t compare to a true ultramarathon like a 100 miler or even a 50 miler.]

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a 50K with 5600 feet gross elevation gain. I had never run more than 26.2 miles, and this would be about 31. While I try to include some hill training in my normal routine, I hadn’t done much in the past couple months. The Mt. Nebo Marathon was pretty much just downhill, with maybe 600-700 feet of gain and 5000 feet of downhill. Fortunately, I had done two nice hill workouts in July and August in preparation for Nebo, one of them was on some of the same trails the Foothills 50k Frenzy would cover.

That training run ended up being a blessing. It was one of the only long trail runs I’ve done and I learned that it’s OK to walk on some uphills on a trail run. That run gave me some confidence that I could complete the Foothills 50K Frenzy without perishing a slow death.

Packet pickup the day before the race was at The Pulse Running and Fitness Shop in Meridian. It was nice to meet Jenny, the race director, and a couple other people with 50K+ experience. This was going to be a “green” race, and our discussion made me feel better about my plan to just carry a water bottle in my hand rather than sporting a pack around my waste or shoulders. Packet pickup was pretty low key — no booths or anything.

There were no shirts for the Foothills 50K Frenzy, per “tradition,” but they did give embroidered backpacks. I would have preferred a shirt, but it wasn’t a big deal.

I ate some extra carbs on Friday and got to bed by 10pm. I was excited for the race, but I wasn’t nearly as anxious and worried as I usually am before marathons. I’m not sure if this is because I’m getting used to it, or because I wasn’t worried about my time and performing my absolute best. Probably the latter. I just wanted to finish, hopefully under 5 hours, and have a good experience.

My alarm went off at 3am so that I could eat a sandwich and banana. I went back to bed then woke up at 4:15am to get ready. I was very happy that my head was feeling well. I had developed a migraine the previous Sunday night which had been with me all week long. I relied on ibuprofen, advil, and caffeine all week and even had to miss a day of work. I asked some friends for a priesthood blessing on Wednesday night because it was so bad. Fortunately it cleared for the race on Saturday morning.

I arrived at the parking lot at about 5am and picked up my race bib. They only gave out race bibs the morning of the race so they would know how many people were on the course. The starting line was right in the Ft. Boise parking lot, which was very nice because I could sit comfortably in my warm car while I waited.

Runners gathering to start the Foothills 50K Frenzy
Runners gathering to start the Foothills 50K Frenzy

The race director gave some instructions right before the race. Then one of the runners, Derek Call, sang the National Anthem, which was a nice touch. Everyone fired up their flashlights and headlamps and we were off at 6am for the Foothills 50K Frenzy.

The first mile or so of the Foothills 50K Frenzy is fairly flat, with only a slight uphill. My primary goal in my first 50K was to finish without a major bonk at the end, so I went out very measured and under control. Around Mile 1 there was a steep climb as we began to get into the foothills. From the top of the first little hill there was a spectacular view of ~100 headlamps winding up the trail with the lights of Boise in the background. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen during a race.

I passed several people after the first half mile after everyone settled into their pace. The trail and the darkness made it difficult to pass until a good spot would present itself; however, this also helped me control my pace. I would fall in behind someone and stay there as we scrambled up the trail. Once we started hitting steep trail, I watched my heart rate closely and I would hike/walk any time my heart rate approached 170 BPM. I did not want to burn myself out in the first third of the race, which was basically all uphill.

The walking strategy worked pretty well. I found that I could often keep up with runners that were jogging. If I jogged instead of walked my heart rate and legs seemed to get much more tired.

I was holding a flashlight in one hand and a water bottle in the other. I don’t have a water belt or pack, and I didn’t want to buy one nor try one out during a 50K. Holding the light and water in my hands worked out pretty well, but I looked forward to dumping my flashlight at an aid station. Holding things in both hands did make it a little hard to drink, since my water bottle had a screw-on lid, but it wasn’t a big deal. I think next time I’ll take an extra lid just in case I drop it.

As we approached the aid station at about Mile 6.5 of the Foothills 50K Frenzy it was definitely starting to get lighter outside. Runners were starting to spread out a bit, but there were still a few around me. I could see a flashing red light a few hundred yards ahead which I assumed was the first runner or a lead mountain bike.

Ultramarathon aid stations are not the same as a typical marathon aid station. I ran up to the station at Mile 6.5 and asked them to refill my water bottle with Tailwind, the sports drink they had available. They had some gummy bears and I grabbed a few. I dumped my flashlight and knit gloves. Before I left they offered me some quiche, and I figured “why not?” So I took a bite of that and decided any more egg, sausage, and pepper-laden quiche would probably be unwise. (The one bite actually settled pretty well though.) Someone mentioned I was 4th or 5th at the station, which surprised me, although I hoped I’d be in the top 10. Just then someone ran by without stopping, which meant I was in 5th or 6th.

I took off revitalized and refueled. I knew the next 5 miles would be tough and hoped to get through them with plenty of gas left over. Shortly after the aid station I tripped on a rock. Fortunately I caught myself, but I realized that it was still fairly dark and I needed to be careful without my flashlight.

I caught up to the person ahead of me, but the trail was narrow, rocky, and dark, so I couldn’t pass him for a long time. It wasn’t an issue for the most part, but there was one long downhill starting at Mile 9 where I would have preferred to go faster. I’ve found that holding back on downhill just shreds my quads and I’d rather go fast than slow myself down.

That downhill was a little disheartening. At one point I could see someone that was far head of me but at a much lower elevation. I knew we still had to go up, so going down just meant more going up.

Once we reached the bottom I knew it was going to be the long 1700 foot climb to the top. I alternated jogging and walking depending on the steepness of the terrain and how hard my heart was beating. I traded places with the runner that had been ahead of me several times. There were also a couple runners close behind. One looked very much like an ultramarathoner: he had a nice beard and was sporting a shirt from a previous ultra. The other had a water pack on, but also had a cotton t-shirt and what looked like board shorts. Who wears a cotton tee on a 30+ mile run!? Not me. Textile technology has come much to far to be wearing a loose cotton t-shirt during an ultramarathon, in my opinion. That said, I always underestimate runners wearing t-shirts. I’ve been beat by t-shirt wearing marathoners in my last two marathons.

 

Sporting a genuine ultramarathon beard
Sporting a genuine ultramarathon beard
Who wears a cotton tee on a 50K? This guy.
Who wears a cotton tee on a 50K? This guy.

I believe that all the guys I was around ended up beating me to the top. I did the most walking for sure. This was probably the right thing for me to do as I really didn’t have much uphill training under my belt and this was my first 50K, so I wanted to be a little conservative.

The Foothills 50K Frenzy has an aid station right at the top of the mountain, at ~Mile 11.5. We had climbed net 3100 feet or so at this point. It was nice to be on top! I knew the most risky part of the race for me was over.

Right as I came upon the ridge road at the top, I also got a glimpse of who was ahead of me: Zeb Perez (found out his name later) was in first, followed by another guy, then a lady. Then came the three guys I was climbing with and finally myself.

There was a short out and back after we made it to the Ridge Road on top of the mountain. We turned left at the aid station, ran a half mile or so, then came back. I’m pretty sure the out-and-back was shorter than it was supposed to be. I stopped at the aid station on my way back and had a peanut butter pretzel and a couple other little snacks. I refilled my water bottle with Tailwind and was on my way again.

On the way up the mountain I drank what seemed like a lot. I guess it amounted to about 30 ounces since I emptied my 16 oz bottle twice and it wasn’t quite full the first time. I think this strategy worked out well — I focused on drinking when I was slowly climbing. I tried to cram as much into my stomach as I could handle since I knew I’d need it later.

On the ridge road the bearded man had to stop to relieve himself so I passed him. He passed me a bit later and stretched out his arms in the sun, declaring what a beautiful morning it was. I agreed. It was crisp and sunny. We both passed a guy in a red shirt that I had gotten stuck behind on that downhill portion a few miles back. Then the bearded man sped ahead and caught up with the cotton t-shirt runner. I could see them about 100 yards ahead before we started heading down a steep section of dirt road.

On the downhill I picked up my pace. This was part of the Race to Robie Creek course (albeit in the opposite direction) and I was very familiar with it as I’ve ran that race 6 times and I’ve trained on the dirt road a lot. I eventually caught up with bearded guy and cotton guy, and we chatted a bit. They were friendly and we were all feeling pretty good. I can’t remember where, but at some point we all caught up to the lady in front of us. Her name was Brittany Goicoechea (I found out later).

The four of us reached the aid station at about Mile 16 at around the same time and we all took off on a trail back into the hills. Once again I found myself going slower than the others on the uphill. Beard guy and cotton guy started extending a lead over Brittany and I. Brittany beat me to the top of the hill, but then I passed her after a long downhill. There was a turn at the bottom of the downhill where I may have gone the wrong direction if Brittany wasn’t there to lead.

Brittany and I continued trading places for the next 10 miles — between the Foothill 50K Frenzy aid station at Mile 16 and the one at Mile 26. Meanwhile, I lost sight of bearded guy and cotton guy. I couldn’t believe they had extended the lead that much. I thought that bearded guy may have some good experience, but cotton guy didn’t appear as experienced and I thought he may have burned himself out going up the hill a little too fast.

I knew that anything could happen in the last few miles. I’ve had melt-downs in 26.2 mile marathons, and we would be doing about 5 miles more than that. Anyone could easily be forced to slow way down or walk, so I still hoped I could catch the two guys in front of me. We came to some big clearings where I could see a long ways in front and I couldn’t find them. Brittany was better on the uphill, but I tended to move faster on the downhill, so we continued switching places. I was getting very tired of the uphills and my quads were starting to object. My right leg especially was getting sore. A few times one of my calves would also start to cramp, but fortunately I didn’t face any significant cramps or issues.

Some of the downhill was pretty technical. There were some rocky and sandy parts where I really had to fight against going too fast or I might hurt myself. I still pushed as hard as I could on the downhill since my uphill speed was so poor.

I was surprised at how relaxed I was. Once I’m over Mile 20 in a marathon, I’m usually starting to fall apart, but I felt like I was doing OK in this 50K. I also wasn’t as concerned about which mile I was on. I was kind of enjoying myself, and I never reached a breaking point where I just wanted to stop and lay down, like I often do in a marathon.

Nevertheless, I was tired, and the farther we went the more every little uphill taxed me. I beat Brittany to the aid station at Mile 26, which would be the last. I grabbed some potato chips and water. She came up behind me and I took off. There was a very slight uphill which hurt to go up. My quads just couldn’t take it. I slowed down and Brittany blew past me. I hoped I could catch her on upcoming downhill, but that would never happen. The farther we went the more she extended her lead. I was still running at a pretty good pace, but she was moving fast and not slowing down at all. She had a great finish which was very impressive.

I realized that was the most I’d ever run in one day, which was great. I was still feeling pretty good, but I was definitely ready to be done. I was glad that there would be some downhill to help me finish the last few miles.

With Brittany speeding ahead, I was pretty much alone. There were some mountain bikers and hikers out by this time. I had to ask a couple of them if a lady in red had passed to make sure I was going the right direction. My spirits were pretty high still, although I was beginning to drag. There was still no sign of bearded guy and cotton guy, which puzzled me. At one point I asked a couple hikers how far the guys ahead were, and they said 100 yards. I laughed since I could see 100 yards ahead of me. I don’t think they understood what I was asking.

I passed a group of hikers with about a mile left and tripped hard on a rock. Luckily I kept my footing and didn’t fall on my face, although it was close. There were some steps we had to hike up and then a couple final stretches. Right before the last turn there was a sign that was twisted sideways. I stopped to make sure it said to turn. I turned and ran the final stretch to the finish.

It was so great to finish! There wasn’t much of a crowd there, but there were a few people that cheered and an announcer who said I was the 3rd male finisher! That was surprising as I knew of at least 4 guys ahead of me. However, before clearing that up, I decided to run another mile. My watch only said 30.5 miles, and I wanted to make sure that my first 50K was really 50K, so I just jogged around in big loops until I hit 31.5 miles. I had been planning on 32 miles, so I wasn’t so wasted that the last mile was a huge problem. In any case, I took it really easy and did a 10 minute mile or so.

When I got back, I chatted with the race director. She gave me a nice 3rd place male finisher plate and I got to select a finishers mug. These were both made by Kevin Flynn, a local artist and ultrarunner, and they are really cool. I asked her how I was 3rd, and she said that two people had taken a wrong turn: beard runner and cotton runner. The guy with the beard was hanging around the finish. I chatted with him a bit. He had a good attitude about it all and was just happy to be there and happy that he had a good run. He said the guy in the cotton t-shirt was pretty wasted by the time they realized they had gone the wrong way, so I think he had just gone home or something.

Me with my 3rd place male finisher plate from the Foothills 50K Frenzy
Foothills Frenzy 50K Finish Line
Foothills Frenzy 50K Finish Line

About this time, 10 minutes after finishing, my wife, sister-in-law, and two nieces arrived to cheer my finish. Apparently Cyndi, my wife, didn’t believe me when I said I might be close to 4.5 hours! They showed up closer to 5 hours and were too late! It was still good to see them and Cyndi took some pictures of me at the finish line. Then they left so they could get back home to all the kids. I stuck around and grabbed a post-race sandwich, cookie, and chips.

I also met John, who I had communicated with via Strava. He lives a few miles from me so we’ve had some back and forth breaking each other’s segment records. It was good to finally meet him and chat a bit. We also chatted with Zeb Perez a little, who ended up winning the race. I gave my regards to Brittany and congratulated her on a strong finish.

Overall the Foothills 50K Frenzy was a great experience. The organization was excellent, the course was interesting, challenging, and fun, and the people were great. I just may end up doing it again next year. In the meantime, I need to qualify for Boston AGAIN since my qualification time missed the cut this year…