Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking Back at 2017

Happy New Year’s!

It’s once again time to look back at how I did on my goals for the year.  At the start of the year, I was recovering from a broken rib.  Other than that, I was getting back in shape after a bumpy 2016, and I was feeling optimistic about the new year.  Early in the year, I reached a couple of my goals, and I was making good progress toward others.  Then everything changed.  During the Coeur d’Alene Marathon, I noticed some weird chest pains that I eventually learned were symptoms of a herniated disc.  I didn’t do much running after that, yet I still did surprisingly well at hitting most of my goals.

Bighorn Mountain 100

This was my biggest goal for the year.  It was going to be my third try at this race.  In 2014, I was pacing myself well and feeling good when I fell into a mountain stream during the night.  I got hypothermic and had to drop out after 48 miles.  In 2015, I returned, but I was still recovering from a groin strain.  It was a bad idea to start the race that year.  I stopped after 30 miles.  I made my injury worse.

They say the third time’s the charm, right?  Well, apparently not for me.  This year, I didn’t even make it to the starting line.  It was three days before this race that I learned I needed to have back surgery.  I didn’t even make the trip to Wyoming.  While other runners were lining up to start the race, I was in the operating room.

My biggest goal of the year turned out to be my biggest disappointment.  Surprisingly, it was the only goal I didn’t reach.

Rocky Raccoon 100

Before taking on the Bighorn Mountain 100 again, I wanted to get an “easier” 100 under my belt.  I chose the Rocky Raccoon 100.  I found the roots to be a challenge, but I finished with only two falls.  That’s a big improvement over the six falls I suffered when I did the Rocky 50 in 2015.

My time wasn’t particularly impressive.  After walking most of the nighttime hours, I finished in 28½ hours.  That’s good enough.  I got my buckle.  I also got a Western States qualifier.

New Countries

I set a goal of running marathons in at least two new countries.  That seemed like a pretty soft goal, since I had already booked trips to three countries.  It turned out to be more difficult than I thought.  I ran the Barcelona Marathon in March.  I was scheduled to run the Helsinki City Marathon and Solidarity Marathon in August.  It was in June that I learned that I needed surgery and wouldn’t be able to run for 12 weeks.  The Helsinki City Marathon was only eight weeks away, and I had already paid for my flight.

Two weeks after surgery, I was already walking seven miles a day.  I began to wonder if I could still finish these races by walking them.  The Helsinki City Marathon had a time limit of six hours, which works out to an average pace of 13:44 per mile.  That’s a brisk pace, but I still had six weeks to train.  It seemed like an attainable goal.  The Solidarity Marathon had a time limit of 5:30.  That’s an average pace of 12:35.  That seemed like wishful thinking, but I was determined to try.

I trained hard for those races.  I was walking farther every day and constantly pushing to go faster.  It paid off.  I finished the Helsinki City Marathon in 5:21:57.  Three days later, I finished the Solidarity Marathon in 5:23:26.  For a good portion of the race, I was being followed by the sweepers, but I finished within the time limit.

I went on to do two more international races this year.  I did the Amsterdam Marathon in October and the Singapore Marathon in December.

Minnesota Races

I have a long-term goal of doing every marathon in Minnesota.  This year, I wanted to continue making progress toward that goal by doing three more.  This goal also turned out to be more difficult than I thought.  In July, I did the first race of the Mainly Marathons Prairie Series.  That race starts in North Dakota and finishes in Minnesota, so it counts as a Minnesota marathon.  It was only four weeks after my surgery, so I had to walk, but there wasn’t any time limit.

My next Minnesota race was the Moose Mountain Marathon.  This race is run on the Superior Hiking Trail.  It’s by far the most difficult marathon in Minnesota, and it may be as difficult as any that I’ve done.  It was one day after I was allowed to start running again.  I did a mixture of running and walking.  I probably did too much running, but I finished.

Two weeks later, I did the Ely Marathon.  I race-walked that one.  Rain, hills, and cambered dirt roads combined to give me some horrible blisters.

Qualify for the 2018 Boston Marathon

To get a qualifying time, I had to run a race that was almost all downhill.  I ran the Mt. Charleston Marathon in 3:21:57.  That’s a BQ with 18:03 to spare.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that this race probably contributed to my back injury.  I’ll never know for sure, but I can’t think of anything I’ve done that would have subjected my spine to more impact.

In September, I registered for Boston.  There wasn’t any suspense this year.  With a BQ-18:03, I was able to register on the third day, so I knew I would get in.

I overachieved on this goal.  In my last race of the year, I got a BQ-11:47 for 2019.

Finish a Second Circuit of 50sub4

At the start of the year, I had at least two sub-4 hour marathons in every state except Hawaii.  I’ve been close to this goal since early in 2015, so I wanted to finally get this done.

In January, I did the Aloha Series.  That was a series of marathons on four consecutive days on the island of Kaua’i.  To have any chance of breaking four hours, I had to do it on day one.  After that, I would have tired legs.  At the time, I was just barely in good enough shape to break four hours.  It was questionable whether I could do it in Hawaii’s heat and humidity.

As it turns out, the humidity was unusually high that morning.  The air was so saturated, I had to run my windshield wipers as I drove to the race.  The windshield kept fogging up.  I started the race on pace to break four hours, but it only took a few miles to realize that pace was unsustainable under the conditions.  I had to back off and postpone that goal to another day.

That other day finally arrived in December, when I ran the Hawaii Bird Conservation Marathon.  This was another downhill race, which made me nervous.  I didn’t know if my back could handle it, but I really wanted to finally reach this goal.  I did it.  I finished in 3:28:13, and my back seems none the worse for wear.

Establish a Good Mileage Base

For most of my life, I’ve been a low-mileage runner.  I’ve tended to emphasize quality workouts over quantity.  I’ve always wondered if I could get into better shape, particularly for ultramarathons, with a high mileage regimen.  In recent years, I’ve tried to take my mileage to the next level, but to avoid injury, I ramped up gradually.  I never got much farther than 70 miles per week before having some type of setback that forced me to take time off and start over.

I started the year with 247 miles in January.  In February, I increased to 269 miles.  I wanted to keep ramping up by about 10% each month, but I had two minor setbacks.  In March, I cut back temporarily because of an inflamed tendon where my left hamstring connects to my pelvis.  In April, I was held back by a lower back injury.  In May, I got back on track with 268 miles. I had every intention of resuming my gradual ramp-up.  Then, on Memorial Day weekend, I experienced the first symptoms of my herniated disc.

It took about two more weeks before I knew what the problem was.  Once I knew, I stopped running.  I didn’t run again until September.  You would think that would totally derail this goal.  Well, it did and it didn’t.

Here’s a graph of my running mileage for each month.  Note that this doesn’t include walking.  The second half of the year looks pretty dismal.

While I was recovering from surgery, I couldn’t run, but I could walk.  In fact, the doctors and nurses were encouraging me to do lots of walking.  OK.  That’s what I did.  In addition to tracking my running, I also keep track of various forms of cross-training, including walking.  I track walking mileage the same way I track running mileage.  I don’t use a Fitbit or any other type of step counter.  I either walk premeasured routes, or I use a GPS watch.   I don’t count anything less than one mile of continuous walking.  With those stipulations, here’s a graph of my walking mileage for each month.

Here’s what it looks like when I count the running and walking together.  June was disappointing, but then … whoa!  I’m right where I wanted to be.

I learned something.  Walking is much easier on your body than running.  I can do twice as much mileage and it’s feels like there’s little or no wear and tear.  It’s great cross-training, and I can ramp up to much higher mileage levels without much risk of injury.  Right now, I’m still focused on walking.  When I post my goals for 2018, expect to see some walking goals.  Eventually, I want to shift my focus back to running, but I’ll probably continue to include walking in the mix.

That’s how my year went.  The Bighorn Mountain 100 is still an elusive goal, but overall, I’m pretty happy with how I salvaged the year after my back surgery.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

I Feel Like I Dodged a Few Bullets.

It’s been a week since the Hawaii Bird Conservation Marathon.  I think I can now safely say that I dodged a few bullets.  I’m feeling like this right now.

Going into this race I had a lot of concerns.  First and foremost, I didn’t know if I could do this race without injuring my back.  After my back surgery in June, I was instructed not to do any high impact activities (including running) for 12 weeks.  That’s how long it takes to build up enough scar tissue for a disc to heal.  Before that, you’re at high risk of re-herniation.

The last instructions I received were to resume normal activities, as tolerated.  The next day, I did a trail marathon.  I told myself I would hike the whole thing, but I ended up doing a mixture of running and walking.  Over the next two weeks, I was running twice a week.  Then I started to notice some discomfort in my chest.  It was similar to the discomfort I had at the end of May, but it was on the opposite side of my chest.  I realized I must have re-herniated the disc.

Ninety percent of the time, these injuries heal on their own without surgery.  I kept up my walking, but stopped running.  After a few weeks, I felt normal again.  Since then, I’ve only run a few times.  I’d wait a few weeks, and then test the waters with a seven mile run.  Usually, I felt OK.  One time, I felt some inflammation in the middle of my back.  It went away within 24 hours, but the message was clear.  I wasn’t ready to run yet.

That was at the beginning of November.  I was still planning to run the Hawaii Bird Conservation Marathon in December.  I only ran one more time before the race.  I risked being undertrained, but I knew I had to give myself every possible chance to be fully healed by race day.

Before this race, my longest continuous run since the surgery was only seven miles.  Could I handle running 26.2 miles?  More importantly, could I handle running downhill for 26.2 miles, descending nearly 4,000 feet?  That’s a lot of impact for my spinal column to absorb.  I took a chance.

I didn’t have any back discomfort during the race.  Since then, a week has passed.  I haven’t had any inflammation in my back or any other symptoms that would suggest a nerve impingement.  I think I can finally conclude that I didn’t re-injure my back.  That’s a huge relief.

My second concern was that I might not be in good enough shape for this race.  I knew I was taking a risk by running it.  My only reason for taking that risk was to give myself a chance to break four hours in a Hawaii race, so I could finish my second circuit of 50sub4.  That was a goal that had eluded me for 2½ years.  I was doing almost 100 miles per week of race-walking, but I had run fewer than 100 total miles since May.  I was pretty sure I wasn’t in good enough shape to break four hours on a more typical marathon course.  I was counting on this course being fast enough that I could break four hours here, even without optimal training.  My worst fear was that I wouldn’t be able to break four hours, but I would injury my back by trying.

Neither fear came to pass.  It wasn’t close.  After only a few miles, I realized I would break four hours.  I ended by breaking 3:30.  The downhill course obviously helped, but I may have been in good enough shape to break four hours even on a flat course.  That taught me two lessons:

1.   Race-walking is good cross-training for running
2.   Mileage matters, even if it’s race-walking mileage.

Those were my two pre-race concerns.  I developed other concerns during or after the race.  First among those was the risk of an injury, such as Achilles tendonitis.  The first time I did a steep downhill race was the Revel Rockies Marathon in Colorado.  I had a fast race, but developed a bad case of Achilles tendonitis, most likely as a result of over-striding.

Early in this race, I felt some tightness in my left Achilles tendon.  As the race progressed, I also noticed some tightness in my left calf.  I reminded myself to take short rapid strides.  That probably helped keep it from getting worse, but it wasn’t going to get any better.

After the race, I still had a tight Achilles tendon and a sore calf muscle.  Maybe they would feel better after a few days.  Maybe this was the first symptom of an injury, and they would feel worse after a few days.  At the time, I didn’t know which way it would go.  I curtailed my hiking plans, avoiding anything with uneven footing.  I also curtailed my training when I got home.  For the next few days, I limited my walking to a casual pace, rather than my usual fast pace.  I got better each day.  Now, I’m back to normal training, and both the tendon and the muscle feel fine.

My last concern was my left adductor.  I didn’t notice that until after the race.  As I was moving my legs in different ways to try to loosen up my left calf, I started to notice soreness in my left adductor,  Once I noticed it, the discomfort wouldn’t go away.  I tried to massage the muscle, but it still hurt.  I just had to hope it would feel better after a few days.  I injured this muscle two years ago, so I knew it bad it could get.  It’s the sort of thing that could force me to take several weeks off to let it heal.

As with the Achilles tendon, my adductor felt better after a day or two of taking it easy.  Within a few days, it felt normal again.  Now, it’s not a concern at all.

I had a race that exceeded my wildest expectations, I didn’t re-injure my back, and I didn’t develop any new injuries.  I’m definitely counting my blessings right now.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Race Report: Hawaii Bird Conservation Marathon

On December 16, I ran the Hawaii Bird Conservation Marathon.  This was a one-time event on the Big Island, organized by Bob Kennedy of the 50sub4 club.  It started in Volcano and finished in Hilo.  It had a certified course that was designed for speed, descending 3,792 feet.  The race was also a fundraiser for Keauhou Bird Conservation Center.

This was only the second time since May that I’ve run any part of a race, and it was the first time since May that I ran a marathon from start to finish.  I wasn’t sure if my back was 100 percent healed, and I was particularly nervous about running downhill. I scheduled this race before my back surgery in June.  I decided to stick with my plan to run it, because I needed this race to complete a goal that has eluded me for the past 2½ years.

In May of 2015, I was getting close to finished my second circuit of 50sub4.  I had at least one marathon finish under four hours in every state, and I had a second sub4 finish in 47 states.  I just needed Utah, Alaska, and Hawaii to complete my second circuit, and I already had races scheduled in those three states.

Shortly before my Utah race, I injured the adductor in my right leg.  I had to cancel my Utah race.  I was only partially healed when I ran my Alaska race.  Running with a hamstring compression wrap, I gave it my best effort, but I wasn’t fast enough.  By the time I ran my Hawaii race, both legs were injured, and I struggled just to finish.

I spent most of 2016 recovering and getting back in shape.  I got my sub4 finishes in Alaska and Utah, leaving just Hawaii.

In January, I did a series of four marathons on the island of Kaua’i.  My only chance for a sub4 was on day one.  After that I would have tired legs.  Unfortunately, the humidity was unusually high that morning (even for Hawaii).  I started on pace for a sub four hour finish, but realized after a few miles that my pace was unsustainable.  I had to back off and settle for a slower time.  I scheduled this race, so I could have one more try before the end of the year.

Going into this race, I was unsure of my fitness.  I’ve been walking nearly100 miles per week and have had good success race-walking marathons, but I had run fewer than 100 miles since May.  The downhill course gave me a chance, but I didn’t know if that would be enough.  In the weeks leading up to this race, I considered doing more running, but decided to stick to walking, because I didn’t want to risk reinjuring my back.  My top priority was to get to the starting line as healthy as possible.

Thursday, December 14

I flew into the Kona airport, which is on the opposite side of the island from Hilo.  There’s also an airport in Hilo, but the flight into Kona was more convenient.  I arrived at 9:00 PM.  There’s a four hour time difference between Minnesota and Hawaii, so it felt like I was arriving at 1:00 AM.  When I booked this, I was dreading such a late arrival.  After recently flying to Singapore and arriving at 12:30 AM, this didn’t seem so bad.  There was one important difference, however.  In Singapore, I was able to get to sleep as soon as I got to my hotel.  Here, not so much.

I spent the first night at a hotel in Kailua-Kona, so I could get to my hotel as soon as possible.  Unfortunately, that didn’t guarantee getting to sleep quickly.  When I got to my room, the air conditioning was turned off, and the room felt hot and stuffy.  It took a long time to get the room cooled down.  In the meantime, the air conditioner was noisy.  I couldn’t get to sleep with the AC on, so after a few hours of tossing and turning, I got up and turned it off.  By then, the room was cool enough that I managed to fall asleep for about an hour.  Then I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep.

Friday, December 15

At 5:00, I finally gave up on getting back to sleep.  In my own time zone, it would have been 9:00, and I’m never able to sleep that late.  It was too early for breakfast, so I went for a walk right after sunrise.  The temperature was in the mid-60s, which seemed surprisingly cool.

Just down the street, I recognized the pier where tenders come ashore from the cruise ships.  Eight years ago, Deb and I took a Hawaii cruise.  I remember coming ashore here and going for a run.  I couldn’t remember my running route, but I met a local resident who was also out for a morning walk.  She showed me where I could go for a long walk along a road that follows the shoreline.  I saw lots of runners, and occasionally had views like this.

My room rate included breakfast at a restaurant that was adjacent to the hotel.  I could have fruit & cereal, bacon & eggs, or banana macadamia nut pancakes.  Guess which I had.

After breakfast, I checked out and drove to Hilo.  My route took me across the island, past lava fields and between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.  When I started to see trees again, I knew I was getting close to Hilo.  I arrived just in time for lunch, which consisted of a luau pizza at CafĂ© Pesto.

Packet pickup was in Hilo, but didn’t start until 2:00.  That gave me time to explore the downtown area and make a quick trip to Rainbow Falls.

After picking up my race packet, I drove to Volcano, where I was renting a cabin.  I expected to get there around 3:00, but an accident on Highway 11 backed up traffic for miles.  That’s the only road from Hilo to Volcano.  There are no alternate routes, so I had to sit in traffic for about 45 minutes.  That derailed my plans for the afternoon.

The cabin I rented is called Crater Rim Cabin.  I chose it for its location near the start of the race, but it was a nice place to stay.  I had a full kitchen, stocked with breakfast foods and beverages, a bathroom with an abundance of towels, a bedroom with a king size bed, and a living room with a table/desk, a few chairs, a spare bed, and a gas stove.  It gets cold enough at night that I was able to get the bedroom to a comfortable temperature just by turning down the thermostat for the gas stove.

After checking into my cabin and learning where everything was, I drove into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  I was hoping to have time to do a few of the longer hikes.  Instead, I got to the visitor center just 12 minutes before they closed.  After leaving the visitor center, I only had about 30 minutes before it got dark.  That gave me enough time to hike through the Thurston Lava Tube, but I had to save the longer hikes for another day.  I didn’t want to risk being in the middle of a long hike when it got dark.

I had dinner in Volcano and got to bed as early as I could.  For the previous few days, I felt like I was fighting off a cold.  Getting so little sleep Thursday night might have been the last straw.  By dinner time, I was having some sniffles and sneezing.

The elevation in Volcano was 4,000 feet, so the temperatures there were much cooler than in the coastal areas.  During the night, it dropped into the 50s.  By keeping the thermostat low in my cabin, I was much more comfortable for sleeping.  Unfortunately, pre-race nerves still made it difficult to get to sleep.

Saturday, December 16

Saturday was race day.  The race started at 6:00.  My cabin was about half a mile from the start, so I didn’t have to get up outrageously early.  I didn’t get a full night’s sleep, but I got some sleep, and my cold didn’t seem any worse.  I wasn’t congested, which was a relief.

The temperature at the start was 51 degrees, but I knew it would be much warmer by the time finished in Hilo, since we were descending almost to sea level.  Having a cold can make me much more uncomfortable in cool temperatures, so I dressed for the cool temperature at the start, opting for a T-shirt, rather than a singlet.  I knew I’d get hot later, but I was willing to deal with that.

The starting area was a parking lot near the Volcano Golf & Country Club.  I could have walked there, but I drove, so I could stay in my car before the race and have a place to leave my jacket.  As it turns out, there was a restaurant next to the parking lot.  It wasn’t open, but we were able to come into the building.  It wasn’t heated, but there were tables and chairs, and we were out of the breeze.  It also had bathrooms.

It was still dark when we started running, so I started the race with a flashlight.  The course was certified, but there weren’t any mile markers.  I wore a Garmin watch, so I could check my pace, but it was difficult to read it in the dark.

We started on Pi’imauna Drive, which took as down a steep hill and onto Highway 11.  After turning onto the highway, we had to go slightly uphill before it turned downhill again.  There are signs along the highway marking every 500 feet of elevation.  After that first short hill, I saw the sign marking the peak elevation along the highway of 4,024 feet.

Highway 11 is a busy road, and traffic wasn’t blocked off.  We needed to stay on the left shoulder, outside of the driving lane.  In the first few miles, the shoulder was narrow, so we had to go single file.

Although I couldn’t see my watch, I heard it beep after a mile.  That meant it was automatically recording my split.  I shined my flashlight on my watch and saw that my first mile took 8:14.  I was surprised to be running that fast, particularly since part of that mile was uphill. I realized at this point that my cold wasn’t going to slow me down.  If I could run at that pace without breathing hard, my aerobic capacity wasn’t impaired.

I didn’t notice when my watch beeped for the next two miles.  I was preoccupied with watching the road and the traffic.

Early in the race, I was already noticing some tension in my left Achilles tendon.  Running downhill can do that.  I reminded myself to keep my stride short and my turnover fast.

At around three miles, we reached an aid station.  By now, there was enough light to see, so I turned off my flashlight and stuffed it into my fanny pack.  I wanted to have my hands free for drinking at the aid station.  You could drop off your light at either of the first two aid stations, but I decided it would be easier to just keep it with me.

Just after the aid station, we turned onto Old Volcano Road to go through Volcano Village.  This was one of only four turns on the course.  Each one had course marshals to show us where to turn.  Old Volcano Road is less heavily traveled than Highway 11, so here we were allowed to run the tangents.

At four miles, I heard my watch beep and checked my split.  I don’t know how fast miles two and three were, but my fourth mile was 7:41.  That was way faster than the pace I needed to break four hours.  In fact, it was faster than the pace I would need to qualify for Boston.  I didn’t have a qualifier for 2019 yet, so I had to consider the possibility that I could do it in this race.  For now, I didn’t want to push for a fast pace.  I was trying to just stay relaxed and let gravity do most of the work.

A few minutes later, we turned back onto Highway 11.  Here, the road appeared to have been recently repaved.  The shoulders were much wider.  Also, there was enough light that the drivers could easily see us.  After that, running alongside the highway no longer felt nerve-wracking.

Along the highway, there were mileposts.  When I reached milepost 24, I noticed my watch read 6.23 miles.  That meant we had roughly 20 miles to go.  We followed this highway almost all the way to the finish, so the mileposts always came with an integral number of miles to go.  Milepost 23 was 19 miles to go, milepost 22 was 18 miles to go, and so forth.  Once I noticed that, I rarely looked at my watch.

Now, I noticed my left calf was tight.  That was less alarming than the tight Achilles tendon, but the two were probably related.

After mile eight, I heard my watch beep again.  It was the first time I checked it since mile four.  I did another 7:41 mile.  Breaking four hours seemed like a done deal.  Now, qualifying for Boston seemed like a credible goal.  To qualify, I needed to a time of 3:40 or better.  To be sure of getting in, I probably needed a time of 3:35 or better.  I didn’t take the time to figure out my average pace.  I didn’t want to obsess about pace.  If I learned anything from last April’s Mt. Charleston Marathon, it’s that the best way to run a  downhill race is to find the gait that feels most comfortable and not second-guess the pace.  I was going much faster than I expected, but downhill races can be like that.

After 11 miles, I figured out my pace.  To break 3:35, I needed to average 8:12.  I was averaging 7:41.  At that pace, I would finish in the low 3:20s.  I realized at this point that I wasn’t just letting gravity do the work.  I was pressing a little to go fast.  I was beginning to feel some fatigue.  I tried to tell myself to relax and not work too hard.

Although we were mostly running downhill, it wasn’t always downhill.  Occasionally, the road leveled off or even briefly turned uphill.  Mile 13 appeared to be a mostly uphill mile.  As I was cresting the hill, I noticed that mile took 8:05.  That seemed surprisingly fast for an uphill mile.  Sometimes, after running downhill for several miles, a level grade can appear to be uphill.  Maybe that mile wasn’t really uphill, but that was still too fast of a pace.

Just ahead of me, I saw several people in reflective vests on the shoulder of the road.  At first, I thought they were utility workers.  Then I realized they were race volunteers.  They were standing next to a white line that marked the halfway point.  I ran the first half in 1:41:10.  I was on pace to beat my time from the Mt. Charleston Marathon.

At this point, I knew for sure I was going too fast.  I might be in better shape than I thought, but I wasn’t as well trained as I was when I ran Mt. Charleston.  Also, that race had a course that was even faster than this one.

Shortly after the halfway mark, I noticed the sign indicating we had passed 2,000 feet elevation.  In the first half, we had descended roughly 2,000 feet.  That meant we would still descend about 1,800 feet in the second half.  The finish was above sea level.

I reached a long stretch where the road seemed to level off.  The temperature was in the 60s now, and the sun was visible above the trees.  We were going through towns, and there was more traffic.  Everything seemed more difficult now.

At milepost 16, I had 12 miles to go.  Now I was counting down the remaining miles.  I was feeling fatigued, but the remaining distance was starting to seem more manageable.  I was still pressing to maintain my pace, but I had to take it one mile at a time.

With about nine miles to go, I was noticed soreness and stiffness in my quads.  The rest of the race wasn’t going to be easy, but I continued to put effort into maintaining my pace.

At street crossings, there were volunteers to watch for traffic.  The roads were open to traffic, so we had to follow traffic laws.  As I approached a stop light, I saw it was green, so I sped up.  Just before I got there, the light turned.  The car waiting at the light started to roll.  Then the driver saw me, and I held out my arm.  He waited for me, so I was able to cross.  Waiting for the light would have cost me less than a minute, but I worried that stopping would give my legs a chance to stiffen up.  That could cost me several minutes over the rest of the race.

I started to notice mileposts in half mile increments.  At milepost 12.5, I had 8.5 miles to go.  I was slightly more than two thirds done.  From that point on, I was constantly recomputing the pace I needed to break 3:35.  I was slowing a little, but not much.  One mile was 8:03.  The next was 8:20.  That was my slowest mile so far, but at this point I could afford to slow to nine minute miles.  Then I sped up to 8:07.  I was really feeling the fatigue, but I fought to stay on pace as long as I could.  I fully expected to slow dramatically at some point, but I wanted to put that off until the last few miles.  Then I could afford it.

At milepost 11, I saw glass and other debris in the road from a car crash.  This couldn’t have been from the accident that stopped traffic on Friday.  I was still a mile and a half away from that crash site.  Later, I saw debris from another crash.  The intersection looked familiar.  I had just passed milepost 9.5.  This debris was from Friday’s crash.

With six miles to go, I could break 3:35 by running the last six miles in one hour.  I didn’t feel like I could take that for granted.  I was hitting the wall.  Only the downhill grade enabled me to keep up my pace.  If my legs got any more sore, downhill miles might start to be slow and painful instead of fast.  I forced myself to push through the discomfort.  I didn’t have a Boston qualifier for 2019 and wasn’t expecting to get one.  Now that it was within sight, I wanted it badly.

With five miles to go, I saw the sign for 500 feet of elevation.  Know the finish was almost 200 feet about seas level, I realized the course was going to level off in the late miles.  It was also getting hotter.  By now the temperature was in the 70s.  My goal was within sight, but it wasn’t going to be easy.  I could still fall apart and slow down dramatically.

With four miles ago, I still had 43 minutes to break 3:35.  I just needed a 10:45 pace.  After that, I stopped seeing mileposts, to I had go check my watch more frequently.  I eventually realized the mileposts were still there, but I couldn’t see them because the highway was now divided.  We were to the left of the southbound lanes.  The mileposts for northbound traffic were on the other side of the highway.

I ran mile 23 in 9:20.  That was a dramatic slowdown, but it was still much faster than the pace I needed.  I was continuing to build a cushion.  I was reaching the point where I just needed to keep running. Even if I slowed down, I would get there in time.

We were now at roughly the same elevation as the finish.  The last three miles were rolling hills.  The hills weren’t steep, but they were tiring.  I had to take them one at a time.

It’s worth noting that I was impressed with the number of volunteers.  This was a small race, but there were four or five volunteers at every station, plus volunteers at every turn or major intersection.  There were also several at the finish line.  I think they outnumbered the runners.

Just past 26 miles, we made our final turn to head to the finish at a Boy Scouts camp.  There was a bend in the road, so I still couldn’t see the finish line.  When I finally saw it, I made one final burst to the line.  When I crossed, I was completely spent.  I wondered if I would pass out.

I finished in 3:28:13.  I crushed my original goal of four hours.  I also got a Boston qualifier with 11:47 to spare!  I momentarily forgot that I finally finished my second circuit of 50sub4.  That’s the whole reason I ran this race.

Immediately after finishing, I drank a bottle of water.  Then I had to sit down until I caught my breath.  When I stood up again, I could barely walk.  I was sweating profusely.  I was aware of the temperature and the direct sunlight, but I forgot how high the humidity was.  I drank another bottle of water.

Everyone who broke four hours stayed near the finish line to watch for Bob Kennedy. Bob needed three more states to finish 50sub4.  Hawaii was one of the states that had been elusive for him.  As it got closer to four hours, we all watched anxiously.  There was a big cheer when Bob came around the bend.  He finished in 3:56.

When I finally made it over to the food area, I was surprised to see how much post-race food there was.  They had turkey sandwiches, bananas, apples, a variety of chips, water, Gatorade, and a variety of soft drinks.  I refueled while I waited for the awards ceremony.

I eventually learned that I was first in my age group.  Age group awards were bobble head runners.

Runners who broke four hours (or three hours) received custom-made silver charms.  Runners who qualified for Boston also received custom-made charms.

Most people stayed in Hilo and had their cars there.  My car was at the starting line.  There were buses from Hilo to the start, but not from the finish back to Volcano.  I had to wait until I could find someone willing to give me a ride back to the start.

I had hoped to go back into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and do some hiking.  I realized right after the race I wouldn’t be up to that.  Besides sore quads and an incredibly tight left calf, I also had a great deal of soreness in my left adductor.  I injured that muscle two years ago, and I don’t want to go through that again.  I plan to be careful with it for the next few days.

Although I had post-race food, I still had leftover pizza from my dinner on Friday.  After I got back to the cabin and showered, I had that as a late lunch.

In the afternoon, I went back into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  I couldn’t do any hiking, but I was able to spend more time at the visitor center.  Then I went to the steam vents, which are right next to the road.

Next, I went to the Jagger Museum.  Usually, you can see into Halemaumau Crater from the museum.  Unfortunately, fog and drizzle made visibility too poor to see anything.

For dinner, I went to another restaurant in Volcano Village.  Then I went to bed early.  Before a race, I usually have trouble sleeping.  After a race, I usually sleep like a rock.  This trip was no exception.  I really needed that.

Sunday, December 17

I slept well, but during the night the muscles in my legs tightened up.  When I got up, I could barely move.  My quads and calves were incredibly tight, as was my left Achilles tendon.  After a hot shower, some stretching, and massage, I was able to walk, but just barely.  I’m sure most of those muscles will feel fine after a few days.  I’m still a bit worried about my left adductor.  Maybe it’ll also be fine after a few days, but I’m concerned I may have strained it.

After the race, I wasn’t noticing any cold symptoms, not now I was congested.  The cold is still with me and will have to run its course.  I can live with that.  I’m just glad it didn’t affect my race.

I have to drive back to Kailua-Kona to fly home, but it’s a late evening departure, so I still have time to do more sightseeing.  I plan to go back into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see if there are any hikes I can do.  I think some gentle walking will help loosen up my legs, but I can’t do anything with uneven footing.  This afternoon, I’ll drive back to Kailua-Kona to do some shopping and eat dinner before heading to the airport.

It’s been almost 24 hours since I finished the race, and I haven’t noticed any discomfort in my back.  I’m also not noticing any symptoms of a nerve impingement.  I’m cautiously optimistic that I made it through this race without re-injuring my back.  That doesn’t mean I’m going to immediately start doing lots of running.  In the short term, I’ll still stick to race walking.  When I eventually add running back into the mix, I’ll probably start with one day a week.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  3:28:13
Average Pace:  7:56 
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  347
Completed circuits of 50sub4:  2