Race Report: Mt. Nebo Marathon

I wasn’t supposed to run the Mt. Nebo Marathon on Saturday, September 5, 2015. However, sometimes things don’t turn out how you expect and it still works out ok.

Mt. Nebo Marathon & Half

Cancellation

I had been signed up for the Freakin’ Fast Marathon for over a month and was excited to run it on September 5, 2015. The marathon would have about 400 runners this year. It was a large downhill course, and since it takes place in the Treasure Valley I would be able to sleep in my own bed the night before and avoid traveling. Being able to do a good marathon in my home town was a big plus for me since it takes out a lot of the stress, missed sleep, travel fatigue, etc.

However, the Freakin’ Fast Marathon was cancelled late Monday night the week of the race! Apparently there was work being done on Bogus Basin Road which was supposed to be completed a couple weeks before the race, but the road work was delayed. This left a six mile stretch of the road very rugged and created an injury hazard. Everyone was upset about the cancellation, but what can you do? You can sign up for a different marathon.

The road work on Bogus Basin Road which led to the cancellation of the Freakin’ Fast Marathon

Given that I was already tapered, and hoping to qualify for Boston, I really wanted to run a marathon. Once the Freakin’ Fast Marathon was cancelled I had to choose from a couple other race options. I hoped to find a good downhill race since I had done two training runs (on July 18th and August 8th) with significant downhill. I had sacrificed speed for hills in my long runs so that I’d be prepared for the Freakin’ Fast Marathon downhill.

The Pocatello Marathon was fairly close, but I had done it before and I was concerned I couldn’t get the time I needed on the course. It has a lot of downhill, but it’s all in the first half — the second half is flat. The other option I had was the Mt. Nebo Marathon.

The Mt. Nebo Marathon course was intriguing to me: it has huge downhill (4500 ft or so), but it is also at high elevation (starting at ~9250 feet) and had some uphill early in the course. I decided to attempt Mt. Nebo with the primary goal of getting under 3:05:00, which is the Boston Marathon qualification time for 30-34 year-olds. I figured if I failed I could still hope for a PR. In any case, it was my best shot for a BQ before the deadline the following week.

Getting to Utah

Fortunately my wife’s old college roommate, Sara, lives in a town near Payson, which is where the Mt. Nebo Marathon ends. We enjoy seeing her and she was happy to have us over the night before the marathon — even on short notice. The six hour drive to Utah on Friday wasn’t pleasant, especially when we hit traffic and Salt Lake City and my legs started cramping up from sitting driving for too long. That concerned me a bit, but I hoped for the best.

We hit packet pickup at the University Mall in Orem on our way into town. It was really fast as there wasn’t much there — they only had four booths set up. I did get to meet Dane and talk to him a bit. He was doing the Mt. Nebo Half Marathon. He was really friendly. It’s always fun to talk to someone about the course and some running strategy, which we briefly did. Dane had a stack of his book, 138,336 Feet to Pure Bliss. I wish I had purchased one since I like running books — I plan to check it out soon.

By the time we got to Sara’s house we were happy to be out of the car. She gave us a nice spaghetti dinner, as requested (at about 6:30pm). We also roasted marshmallows for s’mores. I restrained myself and only ate one s’more made with a graham cracker, a marshmallow, and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. (It was mostly carbs, right?) I’d never had a Reese’s-based s’more before and it was quite tasty. I also had a couple marshmallows.

Getting Started

I went to bed at about 10pm on Friday night — which was fairly early for me. I had been trying to get to bed early all week in preparation for the marathon. I was surprised at how tired I was and glad I could fall asleep quickly. I actually slept on Sara’s couch as I didn’t particularly want to sleep in a room with an 8-year-old, a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a 3-month old. They were all in the guest room with Cyndi. I’ve learned from sad experience that it’s not wise to sleep in a room with small children the night before a marathon.

Despite sleeping on the couch, it was the best pre-marathon sleep I’ve ever gotten. I fell asleep immediately and only woke up once. I woke up at midnight and used the restroom (as I had been drinking a lot of water all day) and I ate part of my bagel. Then I went right back to sleep and didn’t stir until my alarm went of at 3:10am. I was pleasantly surprised.

I immediately ate the rest of my bagel and a banana, and started drinking a 20oz sports drink. Cyndi was already up since she was going to take me to the starting line and since she couldn’t sleep with all the kids in that room 🙂  We took off around 3:40 for Payson High School where the buses would be waiting.

Cyndi and I right before she dropped me off for the Mt. Nebo Marathon bus

The buses showed up around 4:15 or so and we loaded up. Runners filled from the back of the bus to the front, and I ended up getting the first seat in the first bus. A guy named Charlie sat down next to me. This was his 3rd marathon and we talked a bit. The buses left 15 minutes late (4:45). The bus drivers were friendly and were chattering and bantering on the way up, which was funny. Sitting in the first seat was nice for two reasons: I got a nice view of the whole course on the way up, and I was very first to the port-a-potties! This was my second marathon in a row where I got to use a clean port-a-pottie. Talk about good luck.

There were only four port-a-potties and one outhouse for 200 people (not quite as bad as my last race). This is a bit insufficient in my opinion, especially since everyone was dropped off at the same time. It wouldn’t have been as much of an issue if it weren’t for the buses leaving a little late.

They made some bonfires to help keep us warm, as has become the norm for Utah marathons. They also had some hot chocolate (before a marathon? no thanks) and some sports drinks. I sat by a fire and waited, ate a Gu, downed a sports drink, and changed my shoes and socks before heading to the Start. It wasn’t too cold, although I was happy to have a hoodie and running pants on. I also had knit gloves which I kept on until Mile 3. The guy in charge gave a little speech while we were all by the bonfire and also right before the gun went off. He did a good job.

On my way to the start, a guy next to me asked if we just needed our bibs. “Yes,” I replied, “Is this your first marathon?” It was. We talked a bit and he was excited to run, as was I. His name was Joseph.

The Mt. Nebo Marathon was supposed to begin at 6:30am, but the timing people got there to set up a little late, so it started at 6:38am. No big deal. I did some high knees and a little movement to warm up before the gun went off.

My goal was to get under 3:05:00 so I could meet the Boston Marathon qualifying time. I needed a pace of 7:03/mile to achieve that.

Racing the Mt. Nebo Marathon

After the gun went off the racers spread out really quickly. It was a small field of ~200 runners, and I found myself in 6th or 7th place in the first couple minutes.

I think the mix of uphill and downhill makes the Mt. Nebo Marathon challenging if approached incorrectly. The first 10 miles or so had at least three decent climbs. The first came in the first mile. After a brief downhill, there was a nice uphill stretch. We passed as sign declaring the summit at 9345 feet during the first mile. The second mile was a net 300 foot decline.

All the ups and downs made for some difficult pacing decisions. I had determined before hand to run with my heart rate monitor, and I’m very glad I did in hindsight. My objective was to keep my heart rate under 170 on uphills, which is about 89% of my max (~191). This meant that I slowed to ~9:00/mile pace on a couple of the big hills, substantially slower than my 7:03/mile target. On the downhill I could speed up significantly and keep my heart rate at or below 160, or ~84% of max. My goal was an average heart rate in the mid 160’s for the whole marathon.

One nice thing the Mt. Nebo Marathon race organizers did was to put out a few signs before the big hills. The first came right around the Mile 4 mark, indicating a 200 foot climb ahead and another shorter climb to follow. These hills even had names, although I don’t remember exactly what the were (one of them was an Indian name for “skunk” I think). I really appreciated these signs as they set my expectations.

There was an out-and-back which started at about Mile 6.7, and went out a little over a mile. It was on a dirt/gravel road. It didn’t bug me too much except that it had some gentle slopes which I knew I’d have to come back up after the turn around. Out-and-backs are kind of fun since you get to pass the people ahead and behind you. Saying “hi” and telling people “good job” helps take my mind off the run.

After the out-and-back was another nice hill. By this time I was done with the hills. I had studied the Mt. Nebo Marathon course elevation profile found on the race’s website intensively. It showed the long downhill portion beginning at mile 7 or so. It was obviously wrong. However, I figured that it just meant I’d see more downhill later on and it wouldn’t be as flat at the end.

A runner near me was also tired of the hills, and we exchanged a few words. By this time I was in 4th or 5th place. I had been trading places with a couple guys based on how fast we were each attacking the uphills and downhills.

At Mile 10 I ate my first Honey Stinger Waffle. I considered this a treat as I think they’re tasty and they’re a nice change from the glorified fruit snacks I’d been munching on every two miles since the start. Right at this point I remember having two guys behind me. I had just passed one who said he was in 3rd.

The scenery of the Mt. Nebo Marathon was amazing. From around 9000 feet elevation we got views of the valley at 4700 feet below. The first several miles were basically on a ridge, so the views actually extended in both directions. Besides that, the first 25 miles of the course were in the forest and there wasn’t much traffic. The forest was mostly pine, but also had some trees that were just starting to change color. When we weren’t on the ridge, we were running down a canyon that was refreshing and exhilarating. The course scenery was hard to beat.

Finally we reached a summit at Mile 11 and started going down. It flattened out a bit for a while. One other runner stayed with me until the Mile 12 sign, a which point we were clearly going to start dropping down for good. I gave a holler and sped up as the decline steepened, and thereafter I didn’t see any marathoners for the rest of the race.

I felt alright up to this point, but not great. I had experienced some side stitches (stomach cramps) in the first couple miles which I found really odd. I had also had a few waves of light-headedness during the first 12 miles. I attribute this to the altitude. The first 12 miles of the Mt. Nebo Marathon are all above 8300 feet elevation. This is crazy high and I was feeling the altitude a bit. Fortunately I had been able to keep my heart rate under control. I had touched 170 a couple times, but hadn’t gone over it. I was at a 3 minute deficit to my target pace up to this point (that is, I was 3 minutes too slow), so I knew I had to make it up during the next few miles. I also knew this meant I needed a negative split, which I had never done before. But overall I was feeling ok so I turned up the speed.

I focused hard on maintaining good downhill running form. This meant trying to keep my body perpendicular to the hill instead of perpendicular to gravity (leaning back on the hill). I tried to focus on moving my feet fast and keeping them under me instead of in front of me. This helped conserve my quads and it really helped me keep going later on in the race.

At the Half mark I was still moving fast and all alone. The course is basically a giant downhill from Mile 12 to Mile 19 or so. The Mt. Nebo Marathon course gets pretty windy for a section after the half. There are some hairpin turns which made things a bit more interesting.

One of my biggest mental challenges came around Mile 15. I had been doing well, but I started feeling weak and winded. I glanced at my watch and my heart rate was still well under control (around 160), but I felt similar to how I started feeling at the Newport Marathon before I started breaking down. It worried me a bit, and I tried to focus and regroup. Fortunately, at Mile 16 I got a second wind. Maybe it was a steeper section of the course, maybe it was the declining altitude, perhaps it was the nutrition kicking in, a blessing from heaven, or all of the above. In any case, I felt some revitalization and picked it up.

I can’t remember exactly where I started passing the half marathoners, but it was probably around Mile 15 or so (as some of them were walking pretty slowly). They became more and more frequent as I approached the finish line and never really got in my way or anything.

Every time I passed a mile marker, I would figure out how far behind a 7:00/mile pace I was. I knew I needed to get under an average 7 minute pace before Mile 20 if I had any hope of hitting my target time. I was chipping away about 30 seconds per mile, and finally by Mile 17 I achieved an average 7 minute pace.

Now it was a matter of building up as much reserve time as possible to offset any bonk in the last few miles. I kept moving fast for a few more miles, but my legs started to protest. At Mile 20 I knew I had a shot at my goal if I could just hold on a little longer.

Mile 20 was also my second scheduled Waffle. I unpacked one and tried to take a bite, but my mouth was just too dry. I held it for at least a mile and nibbled on it a little without actually getting much down my throat.

One big takeaway from my post-race analysis of the Newport Marathon was that I was not drinking enough water during my races. During the Mt. Nebo Marathon I was drinking as much as my stomach could handle. I tried to drink a full cup of water or sports drink at every aid station. After a while this was unsustainable for me — I really felt like I was going to puke for a significant part of the run. I think this is what I need to do though. I weigh 180 lbs and sweat a lot, so I think I need to cram in more water than my stomach will take.

One of the things I learned from reading Meb for Mortals was that even swishing sports drink or water around in your mouth can trick your brain and give you a boost. That’s what I was doing with both food and drinks once I couldn’t stomach any more. I also dumped water on my head and that felt great.

After Mile 22 the course switches from blistering downhill to downhill mixed with light rolling uphills. It’s still downhill overall so I continued to focus on moving my legs and resisting the urge to lean back and slow down. Mile 22 was my last sub-7:00 mile. I recognized that I had never come close to feeling that good at this point in the race, although I didn’t feel “good” by any stretch of the imagination. My calves were burning up and my back was starting to cramp. Every time I tried to say something to someone, like “good job,” it would just come out as a hoarse whisper.

I resisted the temptation to calculate the worst I could do and still make my time. I thought if I did so I would immediately slow down. Instead, I just tried to go as fast as I could manage. The toughest part was definitely miles 22 through 24. I was struggling to keep going at a good pace.

Just before the Mile 25 mark I had a small breakthrough. I was coming up on a half marathoner that was tall and had grey hair and glasses. I recognized him immediately as Bishop Day — the former Bishop of my parents’ congregation. I didn’t know he was running, but I was very happy to see someone I recognized. I called his name a few times until he heard me and I said “hi” as I passed by. “One mile to go!” I declared in my hoarse voice.

I passed the marker with about 10 minutes left before 3:05:00. I knew I could do a sub 8:00 mile and that I could hit my time. It was a battle between picking up my pace and resisting the natural drift to slowing down. Finally I could see the high school and knew my goal was within my grasp. I sped up as I approached the track to do a half lap. I was grateful I didn’t have to do a full lap but a little disappointed I had to do 250 meters.

Rounding out the last 100 meters of the Mt. Nebo Marathon

Paisley was on the grass in the middle of the track and started cheering me on. Cyndi was in the stands with the other kids. Finally I crossed the line at 3:04:18, happy to achieve a goal I’d chased for about two years, and extremely exhausted.

Post Finish

Dane was at the Finish line and gave me a handshake and congratulations. I got my medal and a drink of water. Then Cyndi found me and gave me a big hug. I tried to stay on my feet as long as I could until my calves needed a break. The kids all gawked at my huge medal.

The nice medal from the Mt. Nebo Marathon

I eventually found Bishop Day and we chatted for a while. Then I found Joseph, the first timer from the start. He won! The last time I saw him was around Mile 11 or 12. He and another guy were in front of me, but after the big downhill started I never saw them. I kept figuring Joseph would bonk and that maybe I’d catch him in the final miles, but he actually got 2:52 and ran a huge negative split. He said the other guy that was with him stopped to take a bathroom break, so I must have passed him unknowingly.

That means I got second place at the Mt. Nebo Marathon! That was exciting for me, although obviously it was a small field. We waited around for the award ceremony but they were taking a long time. So eventually we just went up and they handed us our awards. My wife snapped a picture of us on the stand — I never met the 3rd place runner. I got another huge medal and some gift certificates, which was pretty cool. I wish they had been a bit more organized and/or started the ceremony earlier, but it wasn’t a big deal.

After going back to Sara’s and eating lunch, we had a good day with the family. We hiked the Y and ate ice cream at the BYU Creamery on 9th. We got to see some family in the area and spend time with them as well.

Overall, the Mt. Nebo Marathon was a great experience. There were some small hiccups with the organization, but nothing that really bothered me or would keep me away from going back again. I loved the course — for its amazing scenery and its unique elevation profile. And I was overjoyed to finally qualify for Boston. Of course, now I just have to wait to see if I actually make the Boston cutoff…

Race Report: Idaho Falls Half Marathon

My nephew, who was just turning 16, was running his first half marathon in late July – the Idaho Falls Half Marathon (which was combined into the Idaho Falls M.A.D. Half Marathon). When my father-in-law told me he was going to run it, too, I had to join in the fun. The timing fit nicely into my schedule – falling between the Newport Marathon I ran on May 30 and expectations to run another marathon in early September.

My family just before the Kids Run after the Idaho Half Marathon. Not sure who that guy is behind us…

The Idaho Falls Half Marathon course was also a good fit for my planned September marathon. The four marathons I was considering in early September all had significant downhill portions. The Idaho Falls Half Marathon begins in the hills outside of town with an elevation drop of about 1200 feet over the first 6 miles followed by 7 flat miles to the finish. This makes for a very fast course, so I fully expected a PR going into it.

I didn’t let my expectations of a PR affect my training regimen too much: The week before the Idaho Falls Half Marathon I did a quad-burning 21 mile run with 3000 feet elevation gain followed by 3000 feet elevation loss. The run itself wasn’t too bad, although I did have a nice visit with The Wall. However, the days following the long run I realized just how much I trashed my quads. I took it easy the rest of the week, but I could still feel some soreness the night before the half marathon. I still expected a PR and figured that it probably wouldn’t have a big impact over 13 miles after resting much of the week.

We drove out to Idaho Falls from the Boise area on Friday afternoon and went straight to packet pickup, which was located at Bill’s Bike and Run. The Iron Cowboy and his crew happened to have stopped there as well before their final Ironman in Utah the following day. I had heard about the Iron Cowboy since an old friend’s brother was shadowing him for part of his journey. I ran into Rivers Puzey sitting in the bike shop and talked to him for a bit – he was very kind and looked just like his brother, Jacob.

The coolest thing about packet pickup was that I got to choose my own number! Number 1 was still available, so I couldn’t resist. I hoped it was a good omen. I had looked at previous years’ results for the Idaho Falls M.A.D. Half Marathon the week prior. The winning times were generally around 1:22. I thought I had a shot at a top 3 finish. Unbeknownst to me, they had combined the M.A.D. half with the Idaho Falls Half, and the M.A.D. half had a tougher course. (I found this out while lining up the following morning.)

That brings me to an initial complaint about the race – the website didn’t have as much info as I would have liked to see. Of course, I was using the M.A.D. website, so perhaps there was another website that was better, but I wish they would have at least pointed me there. I had no idea they had combined the races until I was lined up.

We ate some spaghetti Friday night and I tried not to eat too much (I love to eat). No need to carbo load in any serious way for a race that lasts less than 90 minutes. I indulged in a couple extra cookies, but nothing too serious. I got to bed pretty early, at ~9:30, so I could wake up early enough to catch the bus, which was loading at 5am.

On Saturday morning we drove to the bus after I ate a bagel with some peanut butter and a PowerBar. There was plenty of parking and the buses left on time. The issue was that all the buses left at the same time and dropped off 300 runners right in front of FOUR port-a-potties. That’s right, FOUR! I couldn’t believe it. Luckily I was on the first bus so I hopped in line immediately. Also, the port-a-potties were a good quarter mile or more from the starting line. When we got to the starting line 15 minutes before race time, the crew was still setting it up. Fortunately the finished getting the timer up about 5 minutes before 6:30am, the race time, but it was pretty tacky and risky. The race ended up being delayed 10 minutes so that more people could finish using the FOUR port-a-potties.

My nephew Kaden finishing up the Idaho Falls Half Marathon

I was starting in front and talked to the guy that had won the previous year. He told me how I was actually running the Idaho Falls Half Marathon and not the Idaho Falls M.A.D. Marathon and that he won in a time of 1:17 or something the previous year. Thus my hopes at a top 3 finish were dashed. Nevertheless, I still expected a PR and a good race.

There was no speech or pep talk or “thanks for coming” — just a guy off to the side who started counting down and then fired a gun (if I remember correctly). The race started at a fast pace. The downhill at the beginning was very pronounced, so no one held back. I glanced at my watch and knew I was moving fast, but I felt fine and didn’t see a reason to restrain myself and fight against the downhill. My first mile came in at 5:21, and my next three were all under 6:00.

After the 6 miles of downhill, I settled into 6th place. Runners were getting pretty spread out at this point, and I was trailing an older runner by 30-50 yards. A couple runners near me slowed way down after coming out of the hill.

After Mile 7 we were approaching our first turn. There was a volunteer about 200 or 300 yards before the turn who said that a turn was coming up. I don’t know why he was so far from the turn — he should have been right next to it. This was the only volunteer guiding us during the entire race, which ended up being a problem. Luckily the guy in front of me knew the course so I followed him at the first turn. I found out later that the runner in the first position missed the turn but ended up finding his way back to the course without adding any distance (it may have actually shortened it for him).

There was a water station at Mile 7.5 or so, which was nice. They actually gave us miniature water bottles, which I thought was pretty strange and much more expensive (and wasteful?) than paper cups. Oh well.

Shortly after the water we started hitting lots of turns. The first was a left turn. I just followed the older guy in front of me, who was gradually expanding his lead. There were spray painted arrows on the road, but they weren’t super noticeable.

A block later there was a right turn and then we had to cross a road. There was no one directing traffic, so I just went for it. It was a fairly large road so I was glad I hit it without traffic.

We passed three more decent sized roads, at least a couple with stop lights, and there were no volunteers to block traffic! I could hardly believe it. It was very unusual. On at least one of them I had to wait for an opening in the traffic before I could cross — that really annoyed me as I had never experienced that in a race like this.

After that last big road I was getting too far behind the guy in front of me. It was becoming difficult to follow the arrows without slowing down. Luckily we were still going straight. Then we came out in a neighborhood and the difficulty increased. Eventually I was running along when I got to a stop light. I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind me. I looked for arrows but didn’t see any. I asked 3 people if they had seen any runners, but to no avail. After a minute or so of frustration, I turned around. Finally I saw some runners going towards a turn I’d missed. I was so upset! The arrow had been on the opposite side of the street that I was on and I just blew by it. My mistake cost me about 0.3-0.4 miles and at least a couple minutes!

I couldn’t believe with all the turns that there were no volunteers directing runners or traffic. In my anger I ran the last mile pretty fast. I passed a few people that I had passed early in the race or hadn’t seen yet. I finished strong and felt great as I crossed the Finish, despite being upset about the missed turn.

After crossing I went to grab some post-race snacks, but they weren’t set up yet. Imagine that! I briefly mingled with some of the other runners and that’s when I discovered the 1st place runner had taken a wrong turn as well. Some of my in-laws were doing the 5k, which had a later start, and a few of them also took wrong turns due to a poorly marked course and a lack of guidance.

One redeeming aspect of the Idaho Falls Half Marathon was that they offered a free kids run. Three of my little ones participated and I jogged with them. It was just the right length at a little less than a mile and they all received medals.

My son and I finishing up the kids run after the Idaho Falls Half Marathon

Overall I was happy with my performance, but very disappointed with the lack of organization. The course wasn’t great. I enjoyed the hills, but once in the city it wasn’t very spectacular, especially as we had to navigate traffic by ourselves. I don’t see myself doing the Idaho Falls Half Marathon again and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have no other options.

 

 

Book Review: Meb for Mortals

I enjoy reading about running. You can only run so much. You can only talk about running so much (especially with people who don’t want to hear anymore about your running). You can only track progress and make training plans so much. So sometimes, it’s nice just to read about running.

Besides the enjoyment that comes from reading about something you’re interested in (running in this case), reading about running can also lead to better running. This is where Meb for Mortals comes in.

Meb for Mortals was written by Meb Keflezighi (with Scott Douglas), who’s fame really soared when he won the 2014 Boston Marathon — the first American runner to win it since 1983. He also won the 2009 New York Marathon, placed 4th at the 2012 Summer Olympics, and won Silver at the 2004 Summer Olympics. Of course he has many other running accomplishments as well.

Meb for Mortals was obviously written to cash in on his fame after his Boston Marathon win and to reward his sponsors. Some readers may be turned off by Meb’s transparent references to his sponsors throughout the book, but it didn’t bother me for two reasons: (1) Meb’s sponsors enable him to run professionally — he must be grateful for each of them and this is a good way to reward them. (2) Meb really uses the products that he mentions in Meb for Mortals, so it’s fair that he mention them. An example of this is the Ellipti-go, which Meb uses regularly for cross training and was using during his training before his Boston win.

That brings me to what I loved about Meb for Mortals: The book is essentially all of Meb’s thoughts and many details on how he trains and why he trains the way he does. Here is a world class marathoner, one of the best ever, who has given any person willing to read his book significant insight into how a professional trains.

I’ve read dozens, perhaps hundreds, of articles about running, not to mention a few books. Many of them have conflicting advice:

  • Run Less Run Faster says you can train with just 3 runs and 2 cross training workouts per week. Others say you should have 50+ miles per week for marathons.
  • Some say you should do long runs in a carbohydrate-deficient state so your body learns to burn fat. Others say to carbo-load before long training runs.
  • Some say long runs over 20 miles aren’t necessary. Others say you should do 22-24 miles. Other say 15-18 miles.

The list could go on, but I knew as I was reading Meb for Mortals that this is how Meb Keflezighi trains, so it can’t be far off the mark. That knowledge is great context for the book. Note the dates in Meb’s accomplishments that I listed above. He was one of the best marathoners in the world in 2004 and in 2014. Meb was just two weeks shy of his 39th birthday when he won Boston. When I heard that a 38-year-old won Boston, I was inspired. That means there’s hope for me (not to win Boston, but at least to continue improving)!

Here are some great pieces of advice I took from Meb for Mortals:

  • Cross training when you’re injured can maintain fitness to a high degree. When I started the book, I was actually taking several days off running due to some knee issues. Meb’s advice to cross-train in a way to mimic my running training was very helpful. His counsel and personal examples that you can maintain running fitness while cross-training gave me hope.
  • Static stretching is not the devil. Meb does static and dynamic stretching before and after workouts. A lot of running literature says that stretching before a workout is bad. Meb doesn’t think so, and he credits his longevity in running partially to his stretching.
  • Meb for Mortals includes several pages with pictures of the stretching and strengthening he does on a regular basis.
  • Setting goals is important, and it’s also important to set them in the right way. Goals should have personal meaning, be specific, be challenging, be realistic, and be communicated to “a few people close to you.” I’ve set some goals based on this advice.
  • Meb also talks about what to do when you don’t meet your goals. He gives some very useful advice of having backup goals: if you realize on Mile 15 of a marathon that your primary goal is not achievable, you should have plan B, C, D, etc. goals so that you don’t fall through the floor and disappoint yourself.
  • Meb gives some good eating advice, although it’s pretty much what you’d expect. What was helpful for me was reading about how an elite marathoner is still tempted and how he focuses and prioritizes his goals.

There are a couple things about Meb for Mortals that I didn’t love. First: Some of Meb’s advice is difficult to employ since most of us non-professional runners can’t be as committed as Meb. For example, he says that stretching and strengthening is more important than running an extra mile. This may be true when you’re running 120 miles per week, but when you’re running 30 miles per week ever mile is much more important. That said, Meb points out that you should try and just implement what you can. You don’t have to do it all. Try stretching a couple times per week as a start.

The other thing that I missed from Meb for Mortals was that there’s no training regime I can follow. Run Less Run Faster is full of different 16-week training schedules that anyone can apply. These are useful to have. Since Meb is an elite, it doesn’t really make sense for him to detail out his 16-week programs. He gives some detail on what he does before his races, but it’s so beyond my abilities that it’s rendered mostly irrelevant to me.

That said, I still loved Meb for Mortals. In fact, I need to re-read it. I loved Meb’s frank advice. I loved his tips and opinions about everything from vegetarianism (he doesn’t recommend it) to GPS units (he uses one). Meb and his book are inspiring to me and I hope to put much of Meb’s advice into practice.

 

4th of July Freedom Run

ORACLE TEAM USA docks out one last time and flag man runs the red carpet to the dock out show

Today was Independence Day, the 4th of July. Since it was a Saturday I was planning on a long run of 16-17 miles. I stayed up until almost 1am on Friday night playing board games with family, and I had to be done with my run by 9am. This made for only ~5 hours of sleep.

Nevertheless, I rolled out of bed and completed a nice (if a little slow) Freedom Run: 4.04 miles squared (16.32mi) in the shape of a giant “4”. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out:

 

 

Hoover Dam Marathon, My Worst Marathon Experience Ever

Coming off a slightly disappointing finish at the Newport Marathon, I’m reminded of my worst marathon experience ever.

In 2007 I started an evening masters program at Arizona State while continuing to work full time. I had always considered myself a runner, but I wasn’t a very consistent runner. I ran the Pocatello Marathon in 2006 but I hadn’t done much since then. Once I started the masters program, my free time became very limited. I had been gaining weight for a few years and in December 2007 I hit 239 lbs on the scale. I decided that if I wanted to run again, I needed to lose weight, so I altered my eating habits and gradually shed some pounds.

I played a tiny bit of basketball off and on for the next two years, and I did a little hiking. Around 2009 I started jogging a couple miles a couple times per week with a friend. We would just run back and forth on a mile long grass strip near my house since I was pretty heavy and that was easiest on my knees and shins. Finally I graduated in May 2009 and decided it was time to sign up for a marathon. I picked the Hoover Dam Marathon which was a 4 hour drive away near the Nevada/Arizona border.

I trained for the marathon by just running, and especially trying to work up my Saturday morning mileage. Beyond just running 3 or so times per week, I really had no concept of how to properly train. Nevertheless, I worked my way up to a ~21 mile run one hot Saturday morning. I would frequently run past a drinking fountain so I could refill my water bottle in the Arizona heat. Even when I woke up at 5am to run, it would already be light and 90+ degrees Fahrenheit outside.

Just at the peak of my training, 3 weeks before the Hoover Dam Marathon, I injured my foot. I had gone camping on a Friday night and when I woke up on Saturday morning I had a sharp, nagging, pain in a tendon on the side of my foot. I didn’t think anything of it, but I could still feel it on Monday morning when I woke up to do a 10 mile run. About 5 miles into the run, the pain suddenly worsened, but being stupid and stubborn I still finished the 10 miles. I hobbled around for the next two days and I couldn’t run a step without pain.

Due to the pain, I took the next three weeks off, which happened to be the final three weeks before the marathon. I hoped I’d still be in good enough shape to run a decent race. I really had no idea what kind of time I was capable of, and I hadn’t run a marathon (or even a half) since September 2006. This would be my sixth marathon. In my head I was thinking that a 3:30 to 3:45 would be nice.

My wife, two daughters, and I drove to the Hoover Dam the day before the marathon. We ate at a pizza/pasta place that we found in Henderson. Beyond this I did zero carbo loading and didn’t even pay attention to what I ate. We stayed at a hotel/casino on Friday night. In hindsight, I don’t know why I never took the time to do a simple “carbo loading for marathon” Google search. I just assumed carbo loading meant eating spaghetti the evening before the race.

“Carbo loading” before the Hoover Dam Marathon

Since we had one daughter nursing still, we decided that Cyndi would sleep in one bed and take care of her, and I’d sleep in the other bed with our 2-year-old, Paisley. At one point early in the night, Paisley rolled out of the bed, so for the rest of the night I half-slept and held onto her. Besides the threat of rolling, Paisley is notorious in our family for being a light and wiggly sleeper. I didn’t get much sleep that night.

My friend, Dan, who I hadn’t seen in years, was also running the race. He picked me up early in the morning and we were excited. We reported to the starting line and started running once the gun went off.

I think the course has been changed since 2009, but at the time the Hoover Dam Marathon was set up as a double out-and-back. We first ran to an overlook above the dam and back, then we ran the opposite direction and back. This meant zero net elevation gain, but there were some little rolling hills. The course was part pavement, part dirt and went through a cool train tunnel in addition to running onto a parking garage overlooking the Hoover Dam.

Dan and I ran together for the first part of the race, and I pushed the pace way too hard. I don’t recall too many details, but I remember looking at my watch around Mile 10 and saying “wow, we’re cookin!” I didn’t realize at the time that this should have worried me. Finally around Mile 11 or Mile 12, I started to feel some fatigue. I began to slow down. At first Dan slowed down with me, but eventually he kept going and I really slowed down. I realized it was going to be a pretty long second half, but I still hoped to be able to pull through. I had never resorted to walking in my first 5 marathons and I didn’t plan to today.

I crossed the half way point at about 1:45, which is what I was tentatively planning on, but I knew the second half was going to be much tougher. I kept chugging along and approached a climb right around Mile 15. I suddenly had a wave of fatigue and became very light-headed to the point where I thought I might faint, so I started walking.

I was disappointed to be walking with 11 miles still to go, but at least it cleared my head. Unfortunately, this also gave my legs a chance to tighten up. I’ve seen many people that can walk and then begin running again, but I’m generally not like this. If I’m on the latter part of a long run and I begin walking my legs will begin to hurt a lot worse than if I’d never walked in the first place. This was the case when I started walking at the Hoover Dam Marathon. After that point it became very difficult for me to run more than 100 yards at a time.

I continued my walk/jog as runners began to pass me on their way back to the finish. Eventually I saw my friend Dan. He had slowed down but was doing much better than I was. When I arrived at the turn-around aid station around Mile 20 I stopped and took a break. I ate some pretzels, got a drink, and tried to regroup. I think I was there longer than anyone else had been — the aid station volunteers started looking at my questioningly and saying stuff like, “Well, you better get going!” I grudgingly left, knowing I still had 6 miles of agony left to endure.

As if the walking and pain weren’t enough, somewhere around Mile 22 a 55+ year-old lady wearing butterfly wings passed me. That is a moment that will be etched into my memory forever.

A few miles before the finish I saw my wife, Cyndi, with our two daughters. She had found a spot to cheer for me. She saw that I didn’t look good and thought it was my injured foot, but I told her it was just a bad day for me.

Finally I hobbled into the finish line. I gathered all the energy I could to be able to jog the last 200 yards or so. I must have been moving at about 12min/mile pace and Cyndi later told me it took an incredibly long time. Dan was ready to leave since he had finished a long time before me, so I told him goodbye shortly after finishing.

Hoover Dam Marathon post-race meal; happy to finally be sitting down after a grueling run

My final time for the Hoover Dam Marathon was 4:48:01, making it my worst time by about 45 minutes in the six marathons I had completed up to that point. While the first half took about 1:45, the second half took 3 hours.

It was a bad enough experience that it took me four years before I braved another marathon. Looking back on it, several things went wrong, most of them due to ignorance and ill preparation on my part. It taught me that I couldn’t just show up and run like I did in my first two marathons a year out of high school. It was a failure for me by most measures. Not so much because the time was worse than my expectations, but because I completely fell apart so early in the race and had to walk so much. While the failure wasn’t pleasant, it has been something I can look back on and strive to prevent it from happening again. Plus, I was able to finish, which made for six completed marathons.