Saturday, October 3, 2020

How Did I Do That?

I recently completed a series of 20 marathons on 20 consecutive days.  A few people have asked me how it’s possible to do something like that.  I promised I would write a post on that subject.  Here it is.
Running marathons on consecutive days isn’t as mind-blowingly difficult as most people think it is.  You don’t have to have superhuman abilities to do it.  Like anything else that’s difficult, you need to have a good plan, and you need to prepare yourself for it.  I’m going to try to explain it from three different perspectives.
1) It’s more psychological than physical
It’s been said that running a marathon is as much psychological as it is physical.  With something like this, the psychological component is even larger.
Before you can do something, you first have to visualize yourself doing it.  If you tell yourself something is impossible, then you’re right, it is impossible.  You’ll never be able to do it if you don’t even try.  That’s one of the things I admire in most of the ultrarunners I’ve met.  They never ask themselves, “Can I do this?”  They skip right over that part and instead ask, “HOW can I do this?”
More than 20 years ago, I met a runner from Minnesota named Burt Carlson.  Burt was almost twice my age, but he was running marathons every other weekend and also doing 24-hour races.  This was long before clubs like Marathons Maniacs were founded.  I had never met anyone else who did that many marathons.
One time, I bumped into Burt at a race in Wisconsin.  He was wearing a T-shirt from a race in South Dakota that was held the previous weekend.  I knew he was also planning to do the Twin Cities Marathon the next weekend.  That’s three weekends in a row.  I asked Burt, “How do you run marathons so often?”  He replied, “When you see a race on the calendar that sounds interesting, you sign up for it.  Once you’re signed up for it, it’s gonna happen.”  The simplicity of that answer blew me away.  He was right, though.  Once you decide to do it, you’ll find a way to make it happen.
When I was working on running marathons in all 50 states, I knew there were runners like Burt who would do two marathons in one weekend.  They called it a “double.”  It was a way of saving on travel expenses, but I couldn’t imagine doing two marathons in one weekend.  Then I found out there was a marathon in Rhode Island the day before a marathon in Connecticut that I was already signed up for.  They were only 20 miles away from each other.  I didn’t even need to change my flight.  That was so convenient that I had to give it a try.  It was difficult, but it wasn’t nearly as tough as I thought it would be.
After doing two “doubles,” I was ready to try a “triple.”  It went much better than I expected.  After two “triples,” I tried my first “quadzilla.”  Eventually, I did a five-day series, where each race was in a different state.  Even after doing three of those, I never dared to try a longer series.
The Running Ragged 20in20 series was originally going to be three separate series that happened to be back-to-back.  The Heartland series was seven days, the Summer Camp Series was six days, and the Prairie Series was seven days.  If you did all three, you could run marathons for 20 straight days.  I had no intention of doing that.  My original plan was just to do the Summer Camp Series.  Even that seemed intimidating, since they were all trail races.
It was only after the three series were combined into one, with all the races within a short driving distance of each other, that I decided to do all 20 races.  I really didn’t think I could do it, but I suspended my disbelief and signed up.  As Burt would say, now it was gonna happen.  The moment I signed up for it, I knew I would somehow find a way to get through it, even though I still didn’t know how.  The commitment came first.  Then I figured out how.  That’s how it works.  The body will do what the mind tells it to do, but first you have to believe.
2) It’s all about pacing
The farther you run, the slower you have to go.  For distances slower than a marathon, it’s pretty obvious how that works.  In a 200-meter sprint, you go as fast as you possible can.  If you’re running a mile, you have to hold back a little.  If you run the first lap as fast as you can, you’ll be out of breath before the second lap.
It’s the same for a 5K, a 10K, a half marathon or a marathon.  Those are all distances where you can run non-stop the whole way, but the farther you go, the slower you have to go.  Ideally, you want to pace yourself so that you can run the whole race at the same pace.  It’s been said that if you run one minute too fast in the first half of a 10K race, it’ll cost you two minutes in the second half.  In longer distances, starting too fast can be even more costly.
My understanding of how to pace myself for longer distances changed dramatically when I trained for my first 24-hour race.  Before that, my longest race was a marathon, and my longest training run was 32.5 miles.  I always tried to run non-stop.  If I walked during a race, it’s because I was already overwhelmed with soreness and fatigue.  I walked only when I was ready to give up.  I always equated walking with failure.
There’s a race in Minneapolis called the FANS 24-Hour Race.  Every year, I saw this race on the calendar, and it just seemed crazy.  “Nobody can run for 24 hours,” I thought.  Actually, I knew people actually did races like this, and I knew that some people could even run 100 miles in a race like this.  I couldn’t understand how.
In 1997, I went out to watch the race.  I showed up after people had already been running for about eight hours.  I was only there for about an hour, but after talking to some of the people who were familiar with the race, I was intrigued.  I decided to give it a try the next year.
My original goal was to run 100K.  Doing it in a 24-hour race meant I effectively wouldn’t have to worry about time limits.  I would run for as long as it took to finish 100 kilometers.  Then I would stop.
I didn’t know how to pace myself for 100 kilometers, much less 24 hours.  When I did training runs that were farther than a marathon, I always got slower and slower in the late miles.  Even if I ran at the slowest pace that I could comfortably run, it wasn’t sustainable for 100 kilometers.  At some point, I would have to walk.  After that, I didn’t expect to complete more than three miles per hour for the rest of the race.
I pondered whether it would be possible to keep going for the full 24 hours.  At some point, even walking would be difficult.  I fully expected if I was still moving at night, I might only be able to cover two miles per hour.  As I estimated how far I could run/walk in 24 hours, I never came up with anything higher than 80 miles.
About six months before the race, I met two runners who had done it before.  They both ran at least 100 miles.  When they explained how they paced themselves, it opened up a whole new world for me.
To run 100 miles in 24 hours, you need to maintain an average pace of 14:24 per mile.  I couldn’t actually run that slowly.  At some point, running at a slower pace becomes so inefficient that you’re using just as much energy as you would running faster.  To achieve a slower pace, you need to alternate between running and walking.
I had never done that before.  I had never even considered it.  Armed with this knowledge, I did training runs of as much as 40 miles where I never ran long enough to get tired before taking a nice long walking break.  In the race, it worked great.  I’d run only to the next aid station.  Then I’d walk for several minutes.  By the time I started running again, I felt as good as when I started.  If I did enough walking, I could go for several hours and still feel fresh.
 Before I knew how to pace myself with walking breaks, running 100 miles in 24 hours seemed impossible.  Once I knew how, I had no doubt I could do it.  I ended up running 111.2 miles in my first 24-hour race.
After that, I came to a whole new understanding of how far I could run.  I’m now of the belief that there’s no such thing as a distance that’s too far, provided you go at the right pace.  For any given distance, there’s a pace that makes it sustainable.  You may need to alternate between walking and running.  If it’s a long enough distance, you may need to add sleeping breaks.  The longest organized race I’ve every heard of is a 3,100-mile race.  I have a friend who has finished that race.  Any distance is possible with enough time.
My approach to running marathons on two, three, four, or five consecutive days was always to go a little slower than I would if I was just doing one race.  The first time I did a “triple,” my average pace was about 30 seconds per mile slower than my pace in a single all-out marathon.  By the third day, I had sore muscles, but I could dig deep and get through it, knowing it was the last day.  In my first five-day series, I slowed my pace by at least a minute per mile.  It got harder each day, but it was sustainable for five days.  It probably wouldn’t have been sustainable for six days.
For my 20-day series, I needed a new approach.  I couldn’t just slow down a little.  I needed to slow down a lot.  I couldn’t afford to have each day feel more difficult than the day before – not for 20 days.  Instead, I tried to find a pace that felt so easy, I could wake up every morning feeling like all I did the day before was my daily training run.  In this case, my daily runs were almost five hours long, but it was five hours of easy running mixed with walking.
I didn’t know at the start of the series how slow I would need to go.  On the first day, I paced myself much like I would in a 24-hour race, except I stopped after only five hours.  With each passing day, I found I could go just a little bit faster, and still feel fine the next morning.  My pace on the first day was conservative enough that I actually went faster each day for the first eight days of the series.
I eventually found that the right pace had me finishing each race with an average time of about 4:40.  For comparison, the last three times I ran road marathons that weren’t part of a multiday series, my times were 3:41, 3:46, and 3:42, respectively.  During this series, I was running my races about an hour slower than I normally would.  I slowed down by more than two minutes per mile.
I referred to my pace as the “Goldilocks pace.”  I was going slow enough that it didn’t leave me feeling sore or fatigued, yet still fast enough that I still had most of the day to recover and rest up for the next race.  Some people were walking the whole way, with the result that it often took them more than nine hours to finish.  That gave them far less recovery time.  I actually think what they were doing was more difficult than what I was doing.
3) I had 19 hours of recovery time for every 5 hours of running
Even though I was going at a slower pace than I would in a single race, I still finished each race within five hours.  That meant I had 19 hours to recover before the next race.  That’s almost four hours of recovery for every hour of running.  I had the luxury of eating and drinking enough to replenish myself, icing anything that might be inflamed, taking a hot bath, stretching, and massaging my legs, all before dinner.  I could relax for an hour or two after dinner and still go to bed early.
I often got eight or nine hours of sleep, yet I was still up at least three hours before the next race.  That gave me time to eat a normal breakfast, and do more icing, bathing, stretching, and massage before the race.
I ran 524 miles over a span of 20 days.  That’s extreme, yet it’s not all that impressive when you compare it to what people do in multi-day races.  I know people who have covered that many miles in a six-day race.  They didn’t have the luxury of a full-night’s sleep.  At best, they could grab a short nap each night.  The rest of the time, they had to keep moving.

Most people have the perception that it takes weeks or months to recover from a marathon.  There are two reasons for that.  The first reason is that elite runners give themselves months of recovery time before doing another marathon.  They do that because they need to be at their absolute peak on race day.  It’s not enough to be healthy and fit enough to simply finish a marathon.  If your livelihood depends on winning races, and you’re competing with the best runners in the world, you can’t afford to be slow by even a minute or two.  I wasn’t trying to compete at that level.  On average, I was running times that were a full hour slower than what I would do in a standalone race.  If necessary, I could’ve slowed down even more.
The second reason people think it takes a long time to recover from a marathon is because of the way most people train.  Most people never run farther than 20 miles in training.  On race day, they’re pushing their bodies way beyond what they’re used to.  Your body adapts to what you do frequently in training.  If you don’t routinely run 26.2 miles in training, then it’s only natural that running that far in a race is going to leave you feeling like you got run over by a truck.
When I started running marathons, I trained just like everyone else.  The day after a race, I could barely walk down a flight of stairs.  The turning point came when I joined Marathon Maniacs.  That's a club that's all about running marathons frequently.  I was skeptical about running marathons every week or two, but I gave it a try.  It took about six months to adapt to it, but once I did, I found I could run a marathon and feel just as good the day after a race as I did the day before.  Marathons became my long training runs.  The more often I ran them, the less they took out of me.
The notion that you can only run one or two marathons a year is a reality for most people, but only because of the way they train.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I know some people will say I can do this, but they never could.  I ran faster than the other people who completed all 20 marathon, but it’s worth noting that I was also one of the youngest runners.  In fact, of the eight runners who finished marathons every day, only Trisha was younger, and she ran every race carrying an American flag for 26.2 miles.

I think I’m also at the Goldilocks age.  I’m old enough to have a lot of experience, and I’m retired, which allows me to devote more time to training.  Still, I’m young enough that I don’t have any major health problems.  I've slowed down some with age, but I haven't slowed down dramatically.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Race Report: Running Ragged 20in20, Day 20


Today was the last race of the Running Ragged 20in20 Series.  We were running at Quarry Park & Nature Preserve for the third time this week and the 11th time overall.  Yesterday, we were asked to vote on which route through the park we wanted to run today.  The route chosen was the same route we ran on Tuesday.  We also ran this route last Thursday and Friday.  It’s the only course we’ve run four times.  It’s also the flattest route in this park, which is probably why people chose it.
Before the race, we took four group photos.  The first group was everybody who was running today.

Next, we had a photo of everybody who ran all 20 days, regardless of which distance.  The third group photo was of the eight runners who ran marathons all 20 days.  This was called the 524 group, because we ran 524 total miles.

Finally, there was a photo of the 262 group.  These were 13 runners who did half marathons all 20 days.
We have a Facebook group for runners doing the series.  This morning I posted, “Run like there’s no tomorrow.”  With respect to this series of races, that was literal, and I thought it would be a good way to encourage people.  I was nevertheless reluctant to post that.  That phrase is usually used as expression, implying we should run with reckless abandon.  Personally, I didn’t plan to do that.
As recently as last weekend, I envisioned going out with a bang by running my fastest race on the last day.  That seemed plausible, since I would no longer have any reason to hold back.
A lot has happened since then.  The cumulative fatigue from all these races has worn me down.  Also, I have some minor injuries that could easily get much worse if I’m not careful.  I still wanted to break five hours, since I’ve done that every day, but beyond that, I just wanted to be careful.
As far as injuries go, I had two big concerns today.  The first was my right Achilles tendon.  To mitigate that problem, I ran today’s race with heel lifts in both of my shoes.  A heel lift is a thin pad that goes under your heel.  Its purpose is to raise your heel slightly, so there’s slightly less tension on your Achilles tendon.  While I was primarily concerned with my right Achilles tendon, the left one has also been worrisome.  Also, I didn’t want to put a heel lift in just one shoe, as that might cause an imbalance in my stride.  By putting them in both shoes, I would still strike the ground the same way with each foot.
My other concern was a tendon where my left hamstring connects to my pelvis.  There wasn’t much I could do about that besides running cautiously, particularly going uphill, which is where I was noticing it yesterday.
Today was the coldest day of the series, with a high temperature of only 48 degrees.  I wore the warmest clothes I brought, which included the cheetah tights and hat.  Today, I added arm warmers to the ensemble.


Our course was relatively flat, which helped with several of my injuries.  The biggest hill was a sudden 10-foot rise near the start and finish of each lap.  I often referred to it as the 10-foot speed bump.  Today, I always walked up that hill, just to be on the safe side.
Today, we were joined a couple runners who had run with us a few times before.  One was Kristina, who was mostly with us on the weekends, while working during the week.  We were also joined by one runner who was doing her very first marathon.  Finally, some of the runners who were usually doing half marathons chose today to step up to the marathon, since they didn’t have to leave anything in the tank for tomorrow.
As we started running, I eased into my pace very gradually.  One of the things I was trying to do today was to avoid sudden accelerations.  Despite my gentle start, I noticed that hamstring tendon the moment I started running.
In the first lap, Kristina and I were running at about the same pace, but I was always behind her, because of my slow start.  Ordinarily, I would have sped up to run with her, but that would’ve been an unnecessary acceleration.  I was very disciplined about that.
At the end of my first lap, I was still cold.  The wind was strong, and I was feeling a few stray drops of drizzle.  I didn’t want to drink anything yet, so I went through the aid station without stopping.
I usually run at a pace that feels natural, and then use walking breaks to slow myself down.  Today, I didn’t do that.  Slowing to a walk would inevitably mean accelerating back into my running pace.  To avoid those extra accelerations, I just did continuous running at a slow, but steady pace.
There were two places where I slowed briefly to a walk.  One was going around the sharp 180-degree turn at the turnaround point.  The other was going up the “speed bump.”  In both cases, I resumed running just as I was beginning to run downhill.  That made it easier for me to glide back into running without putting any extra strain on my legs.
I didn’t take any pictures during the race.  I’ve run this race before, so I already had pictures of the course.  More important, stopping to take pictures would’ve meant accelerating from a standing start to resume running.
In the second lap, I was once again running at about the same pace as Kristina, but this time she was behind me, because she stopped at the aid station and I didn’t.  Because of the way I was pacing myself, I didn’t get any opportunities to run with anyone else until much later in the race.
During that lap, I was still noticing occasional drops of drizzle, but it wasn’t enough to get my clothes wet.
When I finished my second lap, I still didn’t feel like drinking, but I knew I should.  After that, I drank a little bit of Gatorade after each lap.  Those brief stops were unavoidable, but by now, my muscles had more time to warm up.
Early in my third lap, I noticed more drizzle.  If I had noticed it sooner, I would’ve grabbed my jacket while I was at the aid station.  I wasn’t going to go back, so I had to live with it.  Fortunately, the drizzle didn’t last that long.  It was one more lap at the most.
In the second half of that lap, I saw Kristina walking, so she could talk with Nat.  Kristina was probably the only runner who could give me competition, but she didn’t come here to compete with me.  She was here to support everybody.  At different times during the race, I saw her walking or running with several different runners.
After a few laps, I got the impression that my hamstring tendon might be feeling better, but I couldn’t tell for sure.  Sometimes, I just tune things out.  All I could know for sure is that it wasn’t getting worse.
By the middle of my 4th lap, I started to see the sun shining through gaps in the trees.  That’s when I knew for sure that we were done with the rain.
I wasn’t paying much attention to my lap times.  When I reached the halfway mark, I saw that my time was about the same as it was on other days when I was taking walking breaks and pacing for 20-minute laps.  Today, I was achieving the same pace just by running slowly.  Earlier in the series, running this slow would not have felt natural.  Today it did.
With six laps to go, there was a big contrast between how I felt today and how I felt yesterday.  Yesterday, it was at this point in the race that my hamstring tendon first started to bother me.  Today, it was at this point in the race that I could tell for sure it was feeling better.  Although I felt better, I still kept to my slow, but steady pacing.  What I was doing seemed to be working, and I wasn’t going to make any changes.
I also realized that neither Achilles tendon was bothering me at all.  I never felt them once.  The heel lifts were apparently working.  Wearing them came with some small risk.  While they reduced the tension on my Achilles tendons, they probably increased the tension on my plantar fascia.  For today, that was an acceptable trade-off, but it would not have been a good long-term solution.
I only filled one bottle with Gatorade today.  After my 10th lap, I ran out of Gatorade.  I didn’t want to stop long enough to refill it.  After my 11th lap, I stopped just long enough to get a cup of chocolate milk from Kelly.  Then, with only three laps to go, I stopped drinking.  It was a cold enough day that I could get by without drinking for the remaining laps.
At this point, I stopped counting down remain laps.  Instead, I counted down the remaining half-laps.  I did this for two reasons.  First, half-laps corresponded more closely with the number of remaining miles.  Second, it allowed me to recognize tangible progress at both ends of the course, rather than just at the aid station.  That was a psychological thing.  It’s like running a marathon where the course is marked in kilometers instead of miles.  There are more of them, but they go by quicker.  The closer I am to the end of the race, the more often I want to be able to acknowledge some progress.
In my second-to-last lap, I saw Jim ahead of me.  I wanted to run with him, but I wasn’t going to speed up to catch him.  My pace was a little faster than Jim’s, so I eventually caught up to him anyway.  Then I slowed to his pace, so we could run together for the rest of the lap.  By now, I knew I would break five hours by a wide margin, so I didn’t mind if I gave up a minute or two.
After that lap, Jim let me go, and I went back to running on my own.  I don’t know if I ever got back to the same pace as before, but that didn’t matter too much.
This was my 4th marathon on this course, so by now I had run this same out-and-back route 55 times.  I just had to run it one more time.  When I got to the turnaround, I rejoiced in knowing that it was my last 180-degree turn of the series.
On my way back, I passed Angela.  She said something that should’ve been obvious, but had not occurred to me.  I was going to be the first person to finish the series.  That was obvious because I had known for a long time that I would be the first person to finish today’s marathon.  This series was the first of its kind.  There was supposed to be a 20in20 series in the United Kingdom in August, but it got cancelled.  That meant I was going to be the first person to finish a series of 20 marathons in 20 days.
As I continued through my last lap, I ran past the Quarry #2 swimming hole for the last time.  Then I ran by a pair of stinky outhouses for the last time.  Next, I ran across the boardwalk for the last time.  Finally, I slowed to a walk, as I went over the “speed bump” for the last time.
Normally, at this point, I would be accelerating toward the aid station and finishing as quickly as I could.  Today, I was more restrained.  I kept up my slow, but steady pace right to the finish.  I finished in 4:40:48.  That was remarkably close to my average finish time for the series.
After finishing, we each received a certificate indicating how many total miles we ran.

This is a shirt I got with packet pickup three weeks ago.  It was never intended to be a finisher shirt, but that’s how I treated it.  I didn’t put it on until after I finished all 20 races.  Because of that, this shirt now has more meaning for me.  I really earned it.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a photo of my medal, now that it’s completely filled in.  I'm not normally a fan of huge medals, but this one is different.  It represents the whole series, not just a single race.

Last, but not least, for the first time in my life, I’m going to put a sticker on my car.  You know how people have stickers that read. “13.1” or “26.2.”  Well, there are very few people with one of these.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  4:40:48
Average Pace:  10:43
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  425
Minnesota Marathons/Ultras:  78

Series Statistics
Races Completed:  20
Under Five Hours:  20
Total Time:  93:24:13
Average Time:  4:40:13
Fastest:  4:18:32 (Day 16)
Slowest:  4:59:09 (Day 1)
Wins:  13
Total Miles:  524
Average Pace:  10:42

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Race Report: Running Ragged 20in20, Day 19


Today was the second to last day of the Running Ragged 20in20 Series.  We were back at Quarry Park & Nature Preserve, but today we had another new course.  It was our 5th different route through this park.  Parts of this course overlapped one we ran before, but now there’s more color.

Since the beginning of this series, I’ve had occasional issues with my left Achilles tendon.  It hasn’t been serious, but I pay close attention to it.  Yesterday, I started to notice my right Achilles tendon.  I iced it after the race and I was stretching it throughout the afternoon and evening.  By this morning, I was noticing the left Achilles tendon more than the right one, but I needed to pay attention to both of  them.
Today, we were joined by Jeff, who ran several races earlier in this series.  His presence ensured that we would once again have enough finishers today.  Meanwhile, there were still eight runners who have finished marathons every day.
Last night, I had an unusually large dinner.  In addition to a small deep-dish pizza, I also ate an order of cheese curds.  When I eat large dinners – particularly meals with a lot of protein – I often get hot during the night.  I woke up feeling hot at 3 AM, and it took a long time to get back to sleep.  For the second straight day, I filled one of by bottles with Coke, instead of just drinking Gatorade.
The temperature at the start was the same as yesterday, but we didn’t have any rain.  It wasn’t going to warm up as much today, so I once again opted to wear tights.  I regretted it yesterday, but that may be the only time I’ve ever regretted wearing tights.  In general, I’d rather err on the side of being too warm.  My legs don’t respond well if they get cold.  As soon as I got out of the car and felt the cold wind, I knew I made the right choice.
During our pre-race briefing, Daniel described the new course.  He told us to let him know after the first lap or two which course we liked better, this one or the one we ran yesterday.  Whichever course was more popular would be the course for tomorrow.
As Jesse led us through the first lap, the first runner behind him was Chris, who was doing the half marathon.  I followed Chris, but didn’t try to keep up.  Nobody else was keeping up with me.
The entire course was gravel.  We started out on a wide section of trail that leads to the most popular swimming hole, known as Quarry #11.


I was stopping to take pictures, so by the time I reached quarry #11, I had already lost sight of Jesse and Chris.  We were told what to expect, and the course was well-marked, so I didn’t have any trouble finding the way on my own.
The next section of trail wasn’t as wide.  This section is kind of rolling.  It led us past the observation deck.


As I kept stopping to take pictures, I was surprised nobody was catching up to me.  I knew I was going the right way, or I would’ve been worried.  Where was everybody?
So far, we were following the same route as a course we ran two weeks ago.  After the observation deck, we made another sharp left onto a trail we hadn’t seen before.  This trail took us around one end of a meadow.  Last week, we ran by the same meadow, but this time we were on the other side.

Along here, I saw Chris and Jesse coming back.  Our route continued just far enough to connect up with the trail we ran last week.  Then we turned around and came back.  I still didn’t see any of the runners behind me.  Finally, when I was about a third of the way back, I saw a group of runners coming around a turn.  They were all walking.
It was obvious by now that I wasn’t going to have any competition today.  That left me free to run the whole race at my own pace.  I needed to run 14 laps.  On other days when we had a 14-lap course, I usually paced myself for 20-minute laps.  I was unsure if I would do that today, or if I would slow it down to 21 minutes per lap.
Because I was taking pictures, my first lap was slow.  That lap took 20:36.  I still didn’t know if I would pace for 20 or 21 minutes per lap.  Either way, I didn’t have time for much of a walking break.  It’s just as well, since I was still trying to get warm.  I was wearing a jacket, but I was still cold.
After putting my camera away and drinking some Coke, I started my second lap.  For the second straight lap, I ran the whole way, except this time I wasn’t stopping to take pictures.  In contrast to yesterday, I ran at a nice relaxed pace.
During my second lap, I started to see other people running.  I think I know why they all started out walking.  By this point in the series, most people are waking up feeling stiff.  They probably wanted several minutes of walking to loosen up before beginning to run.  Most of them were going to do liberal amounts of walking anyway.
When I finished my second lap, my time was 39 minutes.  If I wanted to pace for 20-minute laps, I would only get to walk for a minute.  I decided that pace was too fast today.  I committed to 21-minute laps and started my third lap with a three-minute walking break.  By now, I had finally unzipped the front of my jacket.  It would be another lap before I would finally be warm enough to take the jacket off.
At the aid station, they had some peanut butter & jelly sandwiches made with cinnamon raisin bread.  They were kept in a sealed container.  We’re not supposed to handle the food ourselves, unless it has already been divided into individual portions and sealed in baggies.  As I went past the food table, I asked Kelly if she could hand me a PBJ when I came past on my way back, after going through the rest of the aid station and turning around.  As I started my 5th lap, my walking break was just long enough to finish eating it.
On other days, I always found 20-minute laps to be surprisingly easy, even though it put me on pace to break 4:40.  Today, I was going slower, but it didn’t feel any easier.  Other days, my walking breaks quickly grew to be more than four minutes.  Today, they were never longer than three minutes, and often they were only 2:30.  I was running at a slower pace, but it didn’t feel as easy as I thought it should.
They usually had music playing at the aid station.  When I finished my 7th lap, they were playing “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi.  The first words I heard as I reached the aid station were, “Woah, we're half way there.”  The timing could not have been better, as I was now half done with the race.
It gradually warmed up, but not as quickly as other days.  I ran eight laps before I was finally warm enough to take off my gloves.  Now I just had six laps to go.  At that point, it usually starts to feel easier, just because there aren’t many laps left.  Instead, I started to notice some soreness at the top of my left hamstring.  I noticed the same thing yesterday morning, but I didn’t notice it during yesterday’s race.
I couldn’t tell if it was the muscle or the tendon, which made me nervous.  What I did notice is that I always felt it when I was going uphill, even if the slope was gradual.  I was afraid to put any effort into hills.  For the rest of the race, I ran much slower when I was going uphill.  That caused my overall pace to slow down, with the result that my walking breaks started getting shorter.
I was about halfway through my 10th lap when I realized I was slowing down going uphill, but I wasn’t speeding up going downhill.  I didn’t feel any soreness going downhill, so there wasn’t any reason I couldn’t run faster on those sections.  After that I ran the downhill sections faster to compensate for slowing down going uphill.
When I finished my 10th lap, I told myself I had 18 laps to go.  I only had four more laps today, but I’ll need to run another 14 laps tomorrow.  That was a way to remind myself that I shouldn’t just pace myself for today, but I should pace myself for both today and tomorrow.
In the second half of the race, the sun sometimes came out, and I wondered if I would start to get too warm.  Then it would cloud up again and the wind would pick up.  It went from warm back to cold quickly.
I gradually noticed my left leg less and less going up hills.  Instead, I started to notice tightness in my right Achilles tendon.  One way or another, I couldn’t run uphill without some body part complaining.  Now I wasn’t just slowing down on hills.  I sometimes felt like I was grinding almost to a halt.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t go faster.  I was afraid to go faster.  To compensate, I not only picked up my pace on the downhill sections, but also on the flat sections.  After that, my walking breaks grew to three minutes again.
On gravel courses, I usually wore gaiters.  Today, I forgot them.  In the last few laps, I was noticing grit getting into my shoes.  It entered around my ankles, but gradually worked its way into the toe box.  It was never a big issue, but it was annoying.  I’ll be sure to remember my gaiters tomorrow.
In my last lap, I finally had the energy to go faster.  I sped up more on the flat and downhill sections, and I didn’t slow down as much on the uphill sections.  Because that lap was fast, I came in way under my target time for that lap.  I finished the race in 4:48:51.
Henry happened to be finishing a lap, so I got to talk to him before he headed out again.  Yesterday, I wrote that Henry wouldn’t have time to run the marathon on the last day.  Today, I learned that he would.  After tomorrow’s race, he’s traveling to run in a 48-hour race, but it’s OK if he arrives late.  The clock will already be running, but he can start whenever he gets there.  His goal is to run 50 miles, and he won’t need the whole 48 hours to do that.  That means there will be eight runners finishing all 20 marathons.
For most of this series, my biggest concerns were my right knee and my left Achilles tendon.  Now my biggest concerns are my right Achilles tendon and my left hamstring (or tendon).  Neither of those was an issue before yesterday.  I’m beginning to feel like I’m being held together with duct tape.
I’m also at the point where all of the races are taking a cumulative toll on me.  I had three hard races in a row.  On Sunday, I ran my fastest race of the series.  On Monday, I ran on a grass surface that tired me out.  Yesterday, I started too fast and overheated later, because I was overdressed.  Today, I ran at a pace that should’ve felt easy, but it didn’t.  I may have finally reached the point in this series where nothing will be easy anymore.  Thankfully, after 19 marathons, I only have one more to go.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  4:48:51
Average Pace:  11:01
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  424
Minnesota Marathons/Ultras:  77

Series Statistics
Races Completed:  19
Under Five Hours:  19
Average Time:  4:40:11
Wins:  12

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Race Report: Running Ragged 20in20, Day 18


Yesterday, we ran at Mississippi River County Park for the last time.  We’ve also bid goodbye to three other race venues.  Today, we returned to Quarry Park & Nature Preserve, where we already ran eight races on four different courses.  We’ll be here for the rest of the series.
I’ve done well in this series, because I’ve managed my effort well.  Even though I’m running marathons every day, they feel more like training runs.  I always finish the race feeling like I still had some gas left in the tank.  That was even true on day 16, when I was racing with Tim.
Yesterday was different.  It wasn’t as fast as some of the other races, but it took more out of me.  Running on grass and wet leaves takes much more effort than running on pavement or firmly packed gravel.  Yesterday was the first day that I felt completely spent.
One way you can tell if you’re over-training (or over-racing) is by how a hard workout affects your sleep.  Ideally you should sleep better after a hard workout.  One of the symptoms of over-training is having more trouble sleeping after a hard workout.  For most of this series, I’ve been sleeping well, often getting eight or nine hours of sleep.  Last night I slept well for a few hours and then I was wide awake.  I eventually got back to sleep, but my restlessness during the night is a troubling sign.
I woke up this morning with some soreness near the top of my left hamstring.  That’s something new.  I think it’s from continuously running with uneven footing during yesterday’s race.  Thankfully, that was the last time we had to run on grass.  Today, we were back on gravel trails with solid footing.
The temperature at the start was similar to yesterday, so I wore tights again.  I knew it would warm up more during the race, but we were starting the race in intermittent light rain, and I didn’t want my legs to get cold.  When it comes to my legs, I’m more will to risk being too hot than too cold.  Because of the rain, I also started the race wearing gloves and a Tyvek jacket.
Today, we ran on the same course that we ran on last Thursday and Friday.  I was happy to hear that.  Aside from not having any roots or uneven footing, it’s also the flattest of the courses we’ve run in this park.

To count as an official race, you have to have at least ten finishers.  For most of this series we’ve had anywhere from 15 to 27 finishers.  Yesterday, several runners dropped down to the half marathon, with the result that the marathon only had 11 finishers.  Eight of them were the runners who have finished the marathons every day.  Another was Jim, who sometimes does the marathon and sometimes does the half marathon.  The other two were runners who went home today.
Before the race, I did some asking around to find out if we would have at least ten people running the marathon.  I knew I could count on the eight runners who are still vying to finish marathons every day.  I learned that Jim was also planning to do the marathon.  That made nine.  Then I learned that Angela was going to be here today, and she always does the marathon.  That makes ten.  There were other runners who were originally trying to do all 20 marathons, but have had at least one bad day where they dropped down to the half marathon.  I wasn’t sure about any of them.  Just before the race, I learned that Jun was doing the marathon today.  That made eleven, which gave us some insurance.
I didn’t know of any new arrivals today, so I didn’t expect to have any competition.  With that in mind, my only goal was to break five hours.  This course was 14 laps.  The last few times I did a 14-lap course, I paced myself for 20-minute laps.  I didn’t actually need to go that fast.  I tentatively planned to do 21-minute laps instead.
I start running with Greg.  When we got to a small hill, Greg walked, so I did too.  I usually do all my walking at the beginning of a lap, but I knew I’d be walking somewhere.  Just as we got to the top of the hill, another runner sped by us.  It was Chad, who joined us for one race last week.  He was apparently a last-minute arrival today.  I didn’t know he would be there.
I assumed Chad was doing the marathon.  The last time he was here, he ran the marathon in 4:32.  That was faster than I wanted to run, but I could run that fast if I had to.  I swore, but sped up and tried to catch up with Chad.
After reaching the turnaround, I asked him if he was doing the marathon.  He said he only does marathons.  I swore again and gave chase.
It seemed like we were going much faster than a 4:32 marathon.  The last time Chad ran with us, he arrived late, so his actual time on the course was several minutes faster than his official time.  These races don’t have chip timing.  It’s all “gun times.”  Still, I had run 4:18 on Sunday.  This felt much faster.
When we finished that lap, I looked at the clock.  If I remember right, our time for the first lap was 15:45.  I didn’t realize at the time how fast that was.  We were on pace for 3:40.
I overheard Chad asking Jesse to let him know what 240 divided by 14 was.  I interpreted that to mean he wanted to run a four-hour marathon.  There are 240 minutes in four hours, and we were running 14 laps.
At the beginning of the second lap, I caught up to Chad just long enough to ask him if he was pacing for a four-hour marathon.  He said he was for now.  That was too fast for me.  I let him go and backed off to a pace that seemed more reasonable.  As Chad pulled away from me, I yelled that 17 minutes per lap would be a 3:58 marathon.
By the end of my second lap, Chad already had a huge lead.  My time after two laps was 34 minutes.  Having already done the math, I realized I was now on pace for a 3:58 marathon, even after easing up in that lap.  I needed to slow down some more.
I started my third lap with two minutes of walking.  I tentatively decided to pace for 18-minute laps, as long as it felt like it might be sustainable.  That was sort of a compromise.  It was still much faster than I originally planned to run, but it wouldn’t make me blow up.  If Chad ran 17-minute laps, and I ran 18-minute laps, I wouldn’t fall behind too quickly.
Three times during this series, I fell behind another runner by as much as 15 minutes, but still caught them before the end of the race.  I didn’t think that was likely to happen today.  Chad is an experienced runner, and I assumed he would pace himself intelligently.  Still, I didn’t want to give up too easily.
By the end of my third lap, I was pretty sure the rain had stopped.  At the end of that lap, I took off my jacket and put it in my drop bag.  My time after three laps was 53 minutes.  If I stuck to 18-minute laps, I would only be able to walk for one minute.  I decided that wasn’t a sustainable pacing plan.  After that, I always walked for two minutes, even if it meant drifting into a slower pace and falling farther behind Chad.  I had to be realistic.  Chad was still going faster than 17 minutes per lap.  With each lap, his lead grew noticeably.
During my 5th lap, I noticed my legs were getting warm.  I couldn’t do anything about that, so to compensate, I took off my gloves.  At first, my hands were cold, but I knew that wouldn’t last long.
Because I didn’t sleep well last night, I was drinking Coke for the first half of the race.  A consequence of that is that I needed to make bathroom stops.  After my 5th lap, I made my first bathroom stop.  Despite that delay, I still walked for two minutes at the start of my next lap.
As I started my 7th lap, I saw Chad was about to finish his 7th.  He was now half done, and he was on pace for 3:45.  Shortly after I finished my walking break and resumed running, Chad lapped me.  At this point, I dropped any pretense of competing with him.  When I eventually finished that lap, I was on pace for 4:23.
As I began the second half of the race, I slowed down.  I was still only doing two minutes of walking per lap, but I allowed my running pace to become much more relaxed.
Before starting my 9th lap, I stopped to get my camera out of my drop bag.  During the next lap, I took pictures of all the runners who had completed marathons every day so far.
This is Trisha.  She did every marathon carrying an American flag for the whole race.

Here are Kevin and Liz.  In addition to completing every marathon, they’ve been helping set up the aid station every morning.


This is Clyde.  Each day, while Clyde runs the marathon, his wife Kelly takes care of the aid station.  We call Kelly the “water goddess.”

This is Greg.  I think he’s the only one of these runners besides me to have a sub five hour marathon during this series.

Here are Evelyn and Henry.  Sadly, Henry won’t be able to do all 20 marathons.  He has to leave on Thursday to get to another race, so he’ll only have time for the half marathon that day.

Finally, here's a picture of me that Sonny took during the race.


I also took a picture of Chad, who went on to win the race in 3:36:30.

That was probably my slowest lap of the race.  After that, I stopped paying attention to my lap times.  I looked at my watch only to time my walking breaks.  Eventually, I didn’t even do that.  I just walked to the same spot on every lap.
I didn’t eat any solid food during the first half of the race.  In the second half, I sometimes ate a cookie or candy bar.
One of the rules is that you have to wear a mask or other face covering when you’re at the aid station.  You can take it off while you’re running.  You don’t need to put it on if you’re just grabbing something as you go by the aid station, but you’re supposed to put it on if you stop at the aid station for any period of time.
After one of my laps, I wanted to get something to eat, but I was indecisive.  As I stood there for several seconds, Kelly reminded me to put on my mask.  I was embarrassed when I realized I didn’t have it with me.  On the lap when I was taking pictures, I temporarily took my mask out of my fanny pack to make room for my camera.  When I returned my camera to my drop bag, I forgot to retrieve the mask and put it back in my fanny pack.
I pulled my shirt up over my nose and mouth, quickly grabbed a baggie with some wafer cookies, and started my next lap.  When I finished that lap, I made a point of putting my mask back in my fanny pack, so I would have it with me.
Late in the race, I started getting hot.  It got warmer than I thought, and I started to regret wearing tights.  There was hardly any wind today, which didn’t help.  Usually, I cool off when I take walking breaks, but today they weren’t helping.  My tights were trapping too much heat from my legs.  Even when I walked, my legs didn’t cool down.  For the last few laps, I was just shuffling along, trying to get them done.
With two laps to go, I finally looked at the clock.  I wanted to make sure I was on pace to finish within five hours.  I was pretty sure I was well ahead of that pace, but I didn’t want any last-minute surprises.
In my last lap, the sun came out.  Now I was really hot.  I really slowed down in that lap, but at this point, it didn’t matter.  I still finished in 4:42:42.  I ran positive splits by 20 minutes.  Partly, that was because of my fast start, but getting so hot in the second half didn’t help.
My right knee never bothered me today.  My left Achilles tendon, which didn’t bother me yesterday, also didn’t bother me today.  Instead, it was my right Achilles tendon that was getting tight.  After the race, it was really tight.  Now I have one more body part to ice before and after each race.  Fortunately, my room has a full-size refrigerator, and I have the freezer well-stocked with gel ice packs.  This is me after the race.

So far, I’ve managed to keep any of these nagging injuries from getting out of control.  In particular, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well my knee is holding up.  With only two races to go, I think I’ve got this.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  4:42:42
Average Pace:  10:47
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  423
Minnesota Marathons/Ultras:  76

Series Statistics
Races Completed:  18
Under Five Hours:  18
Average Time:  4:39:42
Wins:  11