Russell's Ramblings on Running Races
Until I was 33, I rarely exercised and had spent much of the previous 15 years sitting (both as a perpetual student and in my job as a chemist). In 1990, I was helping to develop a lactic acid sensor to help train athletes. When I tested the sensor on me and 5 co-workers before after running a mile, I was surprised that my lactic acid spiked higher than anyone else! I was in extreme pain, and apparently in worse shape than people much older than me. I worried that I might not be healthy enough to raise my 3 kids.
I vowed to start running. It took me months to build up to a mile, and over the next 15 years, I eventually was running about 5 miles 3 times a week. I was on record as saying that running a marathon was "stupid", but then my brother-in-law invited me to run the 2008 3M Half Marathon and I didn't want to sound like a weenie! With virtually no real training, we ran the race and even had fun! The down-hill course made us feel like studs, and we signed up for the San Antonio Rock & Roll Marathon for that November.... and the rest is history!
In general, my strategy is to run for fun, and I never really "race". I am not one to push through pain, and instead believe in slowly building endurance so that running a marathon becomes the norm instead of a big challenge (at least in theory; if you run a marathon every weekend, it should eventually become easy!). I also believe in walking a bit when you're tired, and that pushing or training too hard increases the chances of injury. Below are a few thoughts about each of my longer races, in reverse chronological order:
#17-2017 Tinajas 50K (Colorado Bend State Park, TX): I went to my favorite PT and had my left leg assessed and dry-needled, and didn't cramp at all during this race! I camped out in the back of my Honda Fit again, the night before the race, and nearly froze, even though the temperature only got to about 50°! I cut back on the amount of food I put out at the self-supported water stations, and still ended up having more than twice as much as I needed. I fueled most of the race with electrolyte powdered water, ginger cookies and crystallized ginger, and a squirt-bag filled with HEB guacamole! I ran without my watch, but kept the pace slow for the first 2 hours, running (and chatting) behind an experienced ultra-runner. At that point, I had to slow my pace down, and concentrated on my form and cadence while enjoying the rocky. hilly scenery, At about mile 18, I tripped and face-planted, of course in a flat, open, non-technical stretch! at Mile 19, I was still able to run my favorite 1-mile downhill rocky stretch at a sprint (8:30 min/mi), which made me feel like a kid again! But around mile 21, I ran out of steam, and walked the remaining hills (and even some of the flats), happy I could still run the downhills well. I had a misguided idea that I might go ahead and walk/run the 2nd loop to do my first 100K(I had a pack with supplied and lights waiting for me!), but I realized it would take me to about 2:00 am and the thought of the rocky terrain in the dark scared me off... but I still knocked almost an hour off my time last year! (7:55:07)
#16-2018 Austin Marathon: I'd been doing most of my training using Phil Maffetone's low heart rate strategy since May of 2017, and ran this race at a near-constant heart rate (at a bit higher than my pure aerobic heart rate). Things went well for 23 miles, and I only had to walk the last part of a couple steep hills. My form and my energy was good, but at mile 23, I must have looked like I was shot by a sniper! I had explosive simultaneous cramps in my left adductor, hamstring and calf, almost fell over, and had to tell the other concerned runners around me that I was OK! After walking for a while, I started trotting again, and then was able to run strong up the last hill and sprint to the finish! I figure I lost 20 minutes due to "the incident", but still finished 20 seconds faster than last year. (4:59:29)
#15-2017 Dare to Ascend Trail Marathon (Georgetown): My son flew in from Seattle and joined me and my son-in-law to run this 26.8 mi trail run. The kids (can I still call them kids if they are in their early thirties?) finished in just over 5 hours, but it took me 6:54:37, a bit slower than 2015, even though the temperature was over 10° cooler.. The run went well, though I had a bad adductor cramp at mile 14 that forced me to walk for 20 minutes. The high point of the race was meeting a 50-yr-old guy at mile 20 (when I'd stopped to soak face-down in the creek!) who had started running marathons 4 years ago and was on #20! He was in town on business, signed up to run, and didn't know until the last minute that it was a trail run! Having never run trails before, this technical rocky terrain was a surprise, and after a few miles, he didn't know if he'd finish... we walked and ran together for a few miles and both finished in good spirits!
#14-2017 San Luis Obispo Marathon I registered for a running class in San Luis Obispo, CA, and the next day got a complimentary entry into their marathon the next day! Marathon day started in the 40's, but by the time we started the 14 mile section out and back into wine country (read steep valley, no wind, and intense sun!), it had reached 80 °F. It ended up being my slowest road marathon yet. Likely the steep trail run a couple days before didn't help... or maybe the grape Popsicle, and bacon they handed out in the last few miles! (5:27:36)
#13-2017 Tinaja 50K (Colorado Bend State Park): A year earlier, my wife and I discovered this park and fell in love with hiking and running the variety of its trails (woods, prairies, mountains, cliffs, gorges, waterfalls, and a glade with a bubbling creek!). When I realized there was a total of about 31 miles of trails, I asked but was told there was no local 50K run. Then a few months later, I received a copy of an email announcing the first annual 50K self-supported race, offering a discount if I registered by midnight. Even though the race was 2 weeks after the Austin Marathon, I considered it a Sign From God, and registered for the race. It was cool and drizzling almost the whole time (which was great for me), and I ended up only needing about a third of the food I distributed in drop boxes at the water stations. It took me almost 9 hours (with the prerequisite mid race cramping), and was so scenic I plan to do it again next year!
#12-2017 Austin Marathon I stopped running from May to the end of July 2016 to have toe surgery (chipped bone and a growing "marble" in my big toe joint after kicking a rock on a trail run in 2014). I was back in shape and even running faster with the help of my first run coach. But I got sick for 2 weeks leading up to the marathon and didn't get my typical long run in. Even though I was fully recovered 5 days before the race, I ended up losing energy after 10 miles and progressively slowed down and eventually couldn't run more than a mile without taking a walk break. It was muggy the whole time and when it refused to rain, I started pouring 2 cups of water on my head and shoulders at every mile water station! When I saw the finish line and realized my time, I sprinted the last 200 yards to pass several people and beat 5 hours by a few seconds! (4:50:49).
#11-2016 Possum Kingdom 52.25 Mile Endurance Run (Possum Kingdom State Park west of Dallas): I've been intrigued at the thought of running/walking from sun-up to sundown, and planned to try a 50 mile race in early 20187 "just to see what its like". Then some fellow trail runners suggested I was already in shape, having run 3 marathons in 5 months. I really wasn't sure I could finish 52 miles in the 14.25 hours allotted, but knew I'd at least set a personal distance record, and the park looked beautiful. It was gentle rolling hills through the trees around a lake, with only 300 feet between the lowest and highest point.
I actually finished in just under 12:55! I mostly credit the low temperature (54-60 °F) and the 2+ hours of rain to keep me cool... though the rain turned what looked like loose sand into a thick clay that added over 2 pounds to each of my "minimal" light-weight trail shoes! But an hour later, the mud dried out and it stayed overcast and cool. I somehow got my second wind, and fell into an efficient rhythm of slowly running the downhills and flats, and quickly power-hiking the hills. I finished without really feeling tired, and ran the last 2 miles faster than any other section of the race... I still don't know how that worked!
#10-2016 Austin Marathon: 2 days before the marathon, my therapist suggested I add 1-legged squats to my ankle re-hab, and I ended up doing nearly 40 on each leg. I ended up so sore that I had trouble standing up or sitting down! I started the race aching, but within a mile, things felt great. Than, at about mile 20, I started having muscle cramps in various portions of my upper legs, with my knees sometimes giving out. I had to walk a full 20 minutes, and then was able to slowly get back to running, though It probably didn't look pretty! I finished in 4:56 hrs. It was one of my slowest marathons, but at least most of it was fun, and I really wasn't even sore the next day.
2016 3-M Half Marathon (Austin): Ran with a friend, and kept slower than 10 min/mi for the first 2.5 miles. Then steadily sped up until I was running 8.5 min/mi! I ended up averaging 8:57 min/mi, running my first-ever "negative split"... it was the best-executed race I'd ever run, and I wasn't even sore afterwards! (1:57:11)
#9-2015 50K Endurance Run (Huntsville, TX): Excited to be able to run again, I took on the 50K challenge in early December. It was over 70 degrees and humid, unlike the 32 degrees when I last ran the race. I did great for 14 miles, but at that point things turned for the worse. I fell a few times, pulled most of the muscles in my legs, and got dizzy/nauseous from not taking in calories soon enough. I had to walk 50% of the time for the next (miserable) 10 miles, but then came back to life and finished the last 3 miles strong. Lesson Learned: Just keep going, even if you have to walk! (7:20)
#8-2015 Dare to Ascend Trail Marathon (Georgetown): After finding a good doctor to diagnose my ankle dysfunction, I started training in June and managed to build up to 20 miles by The first of September, so I signed up for the 26.8 mile run around Lake Georgetown with my son-in-law. The trails were rough, and I lost a bunch of skin from my knees during training, but on race day did fairly well. I had to walk half of the last 8 miles, likely because it got over 90 degrees! (6:47)
2015 Austin (Half) Marathon: After getting injured in August of 2014 (tore my plantar fascia and jammed my ankle joint while training on crazy-steep rocky hills!), I had to downgrade to the half marathon. The run went well until I stopped, and then immediately wished I'd had the sense to have completely skipped the race. Spent 5 weeks in an orthodic boot, and couldn't run again until June!
#7-2014 Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon (Seattle): I signed up for a July marathon near Seattle, and invited one of my sons to join me. The course ran 21 miles down a gentle 2% downgrade on an old railroad track (minus the railroad ties!), to finish up with 5 miles of flats. It was all below 3,000 ft elevation and was supposed to peak at about 75 °F. Unfortunately, it got into the mid 80's, and running on a smooth downhill grade is harder than it sounds! I hit the halfway point in under 2 hours, but then started getting cramps and ended with walking half of the last 5 miles. My son came in just a few minutes after I did, adding his first marathon to his Half Ironman experiences! (4:44:45)
#6-2014 Austin Marathon: By the time my next marathon came around, I had done 8 >20 milers in the 3 months prior to marathon day. I felt in the best shape of my life, but the day was warm and humid, and it took a Round Rock Fit coach encouraging me up the final hill to shave another minute off of my marathon PR. But more importantly, I reached two other long-time goals that I'd set: I finally didn't feel crippled the day after, and I finally completed a race ahead of all the 70+ year old runners! (4:19:39)
#5-2013 50K Endurance Run (Huntsville, TX): In March of 2013, I joined a weekly fairly rugged 5-mile group trail run at Bull Creek. At first, running trails seemed harder, but after a while, my body got used to the varied terrain, and it not only became easier, but therapeutic both mentally and physically. I got more flexible and my core strength and stability increased. I decided to sign up for my first ultra-marathon, a 50K around a lake near Huntsville, Texas. It had no significant hills, but everyone warned about the danger of tripping on all of the roots. I upped my summer mileage to at least 12 miles every few weeks, and did 4 X >20 milers in the 2 months prior to the race. To me, the race was much slower and harder than a marathon, often tripping and stumbling (but never hitting the ground). By the last 5 miles, I couldn't run up even the slightest of hills, but finished with a smile on my face and was actually less sore the next day than after my marathons! I also appreciated the 30-34 °F temperatures, and the fact that the ice storm didn't hit until my drive home! (6:49:22)
#4-2013 Austin Marathon: I switched to an even thinner shoe (Altra "Adams") and decided to run more through the summer to keep in shape (at least an 8-miler every few weeks). I also added in a couple extra 20+ mile runs at an easy pace, to get myself used to the higher mileage. The strategy appeared to pay off, and I knocked off 26 minutes from my previous marathon PR! (4:20:41)
#3-2012 Austin Marathon: By the fall of 2011, I was knocking out higher mileage without pain, and my chronic knee pain of 40 years had vanished! I ran my first Austin Marathon in thin, flexible Merrell Trail Gloves, and while I had to walk at least half of each big hill, I still beat my San Antonio times! (4:46:57)
2011 Austin Marathon Catastrophe: I decided to skip San Antonio in 2010 and tackle the hills of the 2011 Austin Marathon. I started running in minimal shoes (Soft Star "RunAmocs") in June of 2010, but when we hit 15 miles that December, I pulled a muscle in my big toe (a muscle my foot doctor said no one uses, at least in regular shoes!). Too much, too quick! I had to skip the marathon, heal, and gradually build up strength in my feet and calves.
#2-2009 San Antonio Rock & Roll Marathon: I was better prepared in 2009. But at mile 20, I started getting calf cramps that were so severe that I actually fell down if I tried to run through them. I tried stretching, massage, and salt from the Aid Station, but couldn't run more than 50 yards at a time for the entire last 6 miles- finishing almost half an hour later than 2008. On the bright side, I did get to study the form of lots of runners, including a 300+ lb person with a perfect gait and a steady pace! (5:07:31)
#1-2008 San Antonio Rock & Roll Marathon: I started doing volunteer massage for Round Rock Fit in 2008, and started their marathon training program. I arrived in San Antonio feeling prepared, having done my first 20 mile run without problems. At the race, I felt pretty good up to mile 23.5, but as I approached the Mile 24 marker (where my wife was waiting to cheer me on!), I suddenly got tunnel vision, heard ringing in my ears, and felt so exhausted I could hardly hold my head up. I later realized I had "bonked" and my muscles had run out of glycogen. While I had 5 gel packs and some other snacks in my pouch and pockets, in my rookie enthusiasm, I had forgotten to eat anything! I walked for about a mile, and ate an energy bar out of boredom, and suddenly came back to life and was able to run... but I had tightened up, and the last mile was pretty ugly! (4:55:27)