Tuesday, December 31, 2019

How I Did On My 2019 Goals

I’m all about goals, so no year would be complete without reviewing how I did on my long-term goals for the year.  At the beginning of 2019, I posted seven goals.  Here’s how I did on each of them.

Run More International Races

This year, I really emphasized international trips.  Before this year, I had run marathons or ultras in 32 countries.  When I posted my goals last January, I had already booked six international trips for 2019.  I didn’t have any long-term target for the number of countries I wanted to visit in my lifetime, but I added a few more international races, so I could get to 40 countries by the end of the year.

In January, Deb and I took a trip to Italy.  We split our time between Rome and Florence, with a day trip to Sienna, San Gimignano, and Pisa.  During our time in Rome, we visited the Vatican City, and I ran Saint Peter’s Marathon, which started in the Vatican City, and finished in Rome.

In February, I ran the Hong Kong Marathon.  I’m really glad I had a chance to visit Hong Kong before the unrest that erupted in June.  More and more, I’m learning that you have to take travel opportunity while they’re there, because you never know how the world will change.

In June, I traveled to Belgium to run the Beer Lovers’ Marathon in Liege.  I also spent a few days in Brussels, and I did a guided tour of Battle of the Bulge battlefield sites, which included stops in Belgium, Germany, and Luxembourg.

In August, I traveled to Sweden to run the Six Lakes Marathon.  The race was in a recreation area near Uppsala, but I also spent a few days in Stockholm.

In September, I traveled to Hungary to run the Budapest Marathon.  It was the third time I ran a marathon that crosses the Danube River, having already run the Einstein Marathon in Ulm, Germany, and the Vienna City Marathon in Austria.  Next year, I plan to continue that trend by running a marathon in Bratislava.

In October, I traveled to Wales to run the Snowdonia Marathon.  This trip also gave me an opportunity to visit Liverpool.  I’ve run marathons in England, Scotland, and Wales now.  Next year, I plan to complete my touring of the United Kingdom, by running a marathon in Northern Ireland.

I made two international trips in November.  First, I traveled to Havana, Cuba to run the Marabana Marathon.  United States citizens need a permit to travel to Cuba.  Early in the year, I made plans to travel with a group that a permit under the category of Educational: People to People.  In June, that category of permit was discontinued.  We were still able to travel to Cuba, but we had to get a permit under the category of Support for the Cuban People.  It’s still much easier to travel to Cuba now than it was 10 years ago, but this is another example of taking an opportunity while it’s still there.  Who knows what additional restrictions there might be a year or two from now?

My second trip in November was a long Asian trip that included six nights in Thailand and five nights in Myanmar.  In Thailand, I ran the Bangkok Marathon.  In Myanmar, I ran the Bagan Temple Marathon.

In all, I ran marathons in nine new countries in 2019, bringing my lifetime total to 41 countries.  I exceeded my goal by one.

Qualify for the 2020 Boston Marathon

To qualify for Boston, I needed a time of 3:35 or better.  To actually get in, I knew I would need to be faster, but I didn’t know how much faster.  I was thinking to be safe, I needed a cushion of two or three minutes.

At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t in good enough shape to run that fast.  I was also carrying about 15 extra pounds, and I knew that was slowing me down.  I had a few spring races that were on fairly flat courses, but I knew it would take longer to lose the weight.  In the meantime, I did my best to improve my times as much as I could.

In March, I ran the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach in 3:33:24.  That was a Boston qualifier with 1:36 to spare, but I didn’t feel safe without a cushion of at least two minutes.

I tried again at the Carmel and Boston Marathons, but I wasn’t fast enough in either of those races.  Then I had a breakthrough in the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon in late April.  There, I qualified with 8:01 to spare.  I knew that time would get me in, but I continued training, and I also gradually brought my weight down.

Most of my summer races weren’t conducive to fast times.  Some of them were trail races, and one had 16 beer tasting stops.  At the start of the year, I wasn’t confident that I would be able to qualify in one of my spring races, so I registered for the Tunnel Light Marathon in September.  That race has a fast downhill course, and it’s on the last weekend that you can qualify before registration for Boston closes.  By the time I ran that race I had already registered for the 2020 Boston Marathon, but I still went all-out for a fast time.  I ran it in 3:17:20, which is a Boston qualifier with 17:40 to spare.  I was able to submit that time to improve my corral seeding for 2020.  In addition, this race was a qualifier for 2021.

With qualifiers for 2020 and 2021, all the pressure was off, but I ran five more qualifying times by the end of the year.  I hit this goal out of the park.

Run at Least Four More Minnesota Marathons

I have a long-term goal of running every marathon in Minnesota.  New marathons pop up from time to time, so this one is a moving target.  At the beginning of the year, I was aware of five marathons that I hadn’t done yet.  My goal was to do at least four of them this year.  During the year, I became aware of another Minnesota race, bringing the total to six.  I ran all six of them.

In August, I ran the Minnesota Brothers Trail Series.  This is a series of four trail marathons on four consecutive days.  Trail marathons are out of my comfort zone, but these ones weren’t too rugged.  I ran all four of them.

In September, I did the We Walk Marathon.  This race is primarily for walkers, but they also have a run/walk division. To get into the spirit of the event, I walked it.  I haven’t done any race-walk training this year, but I still managed to win the walking division.

Finally, in October, I ran the Surf the Murph Marathon.  This is a more rugged trail marathon, and the course was muddy.  It was way outside my comfort zone, but I finished.

I ran all six remaining Minnesota Marathons, but I’m still not done.  Did I mention this goal was a moving target?  Next year, the Minnesota Brothers Trail Series will be expanded to six marathons.  They’re also changing the name to the Summer Camp Series.  They’ll use some of the same race venues, but they’ll also have some new venues.  I might just do the whole series again.  I’ll figure that out next year.

Run an “X” Marathon

I’ve run marathons with names starting with every letter of the alphabet except X.  One of my goals for 2019 was to finally run an “X” race.  I was eying the X-Country Marathon in Florida, but it would have conflicted with the Bagan Temple Marathon.  When I saw the opportunity to do the Bangkok and Bagan Temple Marathons on back-to-back weekends, I had to take it.  Hopefully, the X-Country Marathon will still be there next year.  If not, I might have to fly to China to do the Xiamen International Marathon.

Make Progress Toward My Next Circuit of 50 States

I’ve completed three circuits of marathons or ultras in all 50 states, and I’m working on my fourth circuit.  At the beginning of the year, I had already run four or more marathons in 26 states, so I needed 24 more.

The Little Rock Marathon was my fourth marathon for Arkansas.  The Carmel Marathon was my fourth for Indiana.  The Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon was my fourth for Kentucky.  Missoula was my fourth for Montana.  Pocatello was my fourth for Idaho.  The Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon was my fourth for Mississippi.  Finally, I got my fourth marathon for Florida in the Savage Seven series.  Now I just need 17 more states to complete my fourth circuit.

I also have my eye on completing a fifth circuit.  During 2019, I added my fifth marathon in Virginia, North Dakota, Indiana, Illinois, and Florida.

I posted a map of my progress at the beginning of the year.  Here’s the updated map:

Find the Right Balance, Part 1

I used to do so many races that I was away from home too much.  I also had problems with injuries.  Last year, I cut back to the point where I wasn’t running enough to stay in shape.  I rely on my marathons being a critical part of my training.  I don’t do any long training runs, other than the marathons, so I can’t afford to space them too far apart.

This year, I think I found the right balance.  I ran enough races to stay in shape.  In fact, my conditioning has improved steadily throughout the year.  I didn’t run so much that it caused injuries.  I’ve remained healthy for the last 16 or 17 months.

Deb might still think I’m spending too much time away from home, but I think I’ve improved.

Find the Right Balance, Part 2

I also wanted to find the right balance between running and walking.  In 2017 and 2018, I discovered that walking could be a valuable part of my training, allowing me to significantly increase my mileage without significantly increasing my injury risk.

I had hoped to build my running mileage to at least 50 miles per week and then supplement it with walking mileage, so my combined mileage would be at least 100 miles per week.

Since July, I’ve been consistently running at least 50 miles per week.  I’ve averaged more than 70 miles per week.  Unfortunately, I never added the walking mileage.  Every time I was tempted, the same thing held me back.  When I walk fast – particularly in hot weather – I develop horrible blisters around the backs of my heels.  They’re painful, and once they’re there, they last for weeks.  They develop under thick layers of skin, so they’re hard to treat.

Even knowing I was doing the We Walk Marathon, I just couldn’t bring myself to do workouts that would leave me with blisters that would also make running painful.  I had other races coming where I was hoping to run fast times, and I didn’t want to do anything to screw that up.

Overall, my training went well, and I stayed healthy.  The one time I really regretted not doing more walking was when I did the We Walk Marathon.  My time in that race was more than an hour slower than my walking PR, and it took a lot out of me.

Other Achievements

I didn’t reach all of my goals, but I had a few unexpected achievements.  I’ve won a few fixed-time ultras over the years, but I rarely win marathons.  When I do, they're small races that don’t attract any runners who are truly fast.  This year, I had seven first place finishes in marathons.  Three were during the Minnesota Brothers Trail Series.  The other four were during the Savage Seven.

I also ran my 250th lifetime sub 4 hour marathon.  This wasn’t a goal at the start of the year.  If fact, it wasn’t a goal until about a week ago.  I was sorting a spreadsheet with all my marathon results, and I noticed I had broken four hours 246 times.  I just needed four more to get to 250.  I still had four more marathons this year.  The fact that they were on four consecutive days made it more challenging.  I knew I could break four hours in the first race.  I had my doubts about the other three, but I took it one day at a time.  I got it done all four days.  In fact, I broke 3:50 all four days.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Race Report: Savage Seven, Day 5

Today was day five of the Savage Seven.  For most people, it was the fifth of seven straight marathons, half marathons, or 50K races.  For me, it was the last of four straight marathons.  My main reason for doing this series was to get a quadzilla (four marathons in four days) in Florida.  I also had a stretch goal of breaking four hours in all four marathons.  That would give me a lifetime total of 250 sub4 marathons.  I didn’t know if I could do it, but I’ve been taking it one day at a time.

I broke four hours in the first three races, so my stretch goal was within sight.  Each day, I have more soreness in my muscles, and there’s the danger that this will be the day I run out of gas.  Today, I had one big advantage.  It’s the last day, so I didn’t need to hold anything back.  I could fight hard for the sub4, knowing I could rest tomorrow.

More than once during the night, I woke up feeling thirsty.  Normally, I would just go back to sleep, but last night I got up to get a bottle of water.  I drank some each time I woke up.

My usual habit is to avoid drinking too much before a race.  I don’t want to be urgently needing to pee right before a race, when it takes 20 minutes to get through the bathroom line.  That’s more of a concern at large races.  I’m usually fine if I drink plenty of fluids during the race.

These races have aid stations every 2.57 miles.  I’m not carrying any fluids with me, because the extra weight slows me down.  A small cup of Gatorade every 2.57 miles isn’t enough when you’re running in warm humid conditions.  I’ve been getting by with that only because I’m loading up on fluids with breakfast, and we’ve had passing rain showers during the races.

When I arrived at the race, it was 73 degrees with 100 percent humidity.  It’s the fourth straight day the humidity has been 100 percent in the morning.  I’ve never seen that before, but maybe that’s normal for this area.  Each day has been warmer than the day before.  The wildcard has been rain.  The first two days, we had periods of drizzle or light rain.  Yesterday, we had drizzle for most of the race.  Today, there was a chance of a passing thunderstorm.

I won the previous three marathons, but today we were joined by Justin Gillette.  Justin is way out of my league, but he’s been working through an injury, so he didn’t know how his would feel.  His plan was to start running and see how his leg felt.  He didn’t expect to finish the race.

The course was the same as the previous three days.  It was a half mile out-and-back, followed by five laps of a 5.14 mile circuit.  The circuit was a 5K loop with a long out-and-back tacked onto one end.  There were aid stations at the start/finish and at the end of the long out-and-back.  As usual, we started at 6:00 AM, so the first lap was in the dark.

Yesterday, my flashlight was acting flaky.  After yesterday’s race, I made sure the batteries and contacts were dry.  Every time I tested it, it worked fine – until just before today’s race.  Then it started acting flaky again.  I’d turn it on, and it would go off again.

As I expected, JC included me in his pre-race announcements.  Now everyone knew I was shooting for my 250th sub4 marathon.  They were all rooting for me, but the pressure was on.

Justin ran with me for the initial out-and-back and the first full lap.  He had a light that worked.  He’s done other races in this park, so he was familiar with the 5K loop.  I was now familiar with the whole route.  Between the two of us, we had no trouble recognizing all the turns.

On the initial out-and-back, I found the pace to be a little tiring.  Our time for the out-and-back was 4:22.  That’s a little faster than a four hour pace, but it shouldn’t have felt tiring.

As we ran the first half of the first full lap, I still found the pace to be tiring.  More than once, I told Justin the pace was too fast for me.  When we got to the aid station at the far end of the out-and-back section, I checked my watch.  I fully expected it would be much faster than the other days.  It wasn’t.  To be on schedule for a four hour finish, we needed to reach that aid station in 28 minutes.  We got there in less than 27 minutes.  We were more than a minute fast, but it wasn’t as fast as yesterday.  It felt much more tiring today, which was distressing.

By now, Justin knew he would only be running one lap.  He was noticing his leg.  He could finish the lap, but didn’t want to risk a more severe injury by running any farther.

As we got closer to the end of the lap, I realized why I was so tired.  It was the humidity.  On Friday, it was also 100 percent humidity, but it was only 62 degrees.  On Saturday, it was 68 degrees.  Today, it was 73 degrees.  When the air is warmer, it can hold more moisture.  100 percent humidity when it’s 73 degrees is stifling.  My sweat wasn’t evaporating at all, so I was heating up more.  That made the pace feel much more tiring.

Now I fully appreciated how much the rain helped me yesterday.  It was 70 degrees with 100 percent humidity, but the constant drizzle kept me cool.  I was really wishing we’d get some rain today.  I didn’t want a thunderstorm, but some light rain would help a lot.  Today turned out to be the only day with no rain during the race.

I started to seriously question whether I could break four hours today.  I wasn’t even to the end of my first lap, and I already felt tired.  I had to do four more laps, and it would only get hotter.  Today was my last race of this series, so I didn’t need to save anything for tomorrow.  I was willing to turn myself inside out to break four hours, but I started to question whether it would be possible.  With everyone rooting for me, I had to try.

As we were finishing the lap, Justin suggested that I start pouring water over my head at the aid stations.  I’ve done that before, but I was reluctant, because it always gets my shoes wet.  Realizing Justin was right, I drank a glass of Gatorade and poured a glass of water over my head.

After the first full lap, I was more than two minutes ahead of a four hour pace.  Justin stopped, and I ran the remaining laps on my own.  Now I had to pace myself.  I wondered how much I would slow down.  I wanted to run at a four hour pace, but I didn’t actually need to run as fast as the first lap.  I could slow down by at least two minutes per lap.  As it turns out, I didn’t slow down at all.  Pouring water over my head really helped.  I started the second lap feeling refreshed.  The pace I set on my own was about the same as the pace I ran when Justin was pacing me.  It felt a little tiring at times, but not as tiring as it did in the first lap.

On the loop part of the course, I didn’t see any other runners.  When I got to the out-and-back section, I saw several runners who were still coming back from the aid station on their first lap.  A few of them asked where Justin was, and I had to explain that he stopped so he wouldn’t make an injury worse.

When I got to the far aid station again, I once again drank some Gatorade and poured some water over my head.  I did that at every aid station for the rest of the race.  I was now another minute ahead of a four hour pace.  I didn’t slow down at all.

Leaving the aid station, I immediately felt a breeze.  Now that I was wet, it really cooled me off.  Unfortunately, I only felt it briefly.  As soon as I turned to enter a heavily wood section of the course, I couldn’t feel the wind any more.

Yesterday, I tried various forms of self-talk, tweaking the message on each lap.  What I told myself now was “Manage your effort.”  I wanted to work hard enough to stay on a good pace, but I had to be careful not to blow up in the heat.  At times, I picked up my effort.  At other times, I eased up.  I was listening to my body and paying attention to where there were small hills.  That worked.  I was working, but I wasn’t wearing myself out.

As I got back onto the 5K loop, there was another section where I briefly felt the wind.  I didn’t feel it often, but when I did, it really helped.  The two places where I always felt the wind were just after the far aid station and just before getting back to the main aid station.

At the end of two laps, my time was faster than any of the other days.  I was already six minutes ahead of a four hour pace.  I saw the next lap as the make-or-break lap.  If I was still doing OK after three laps, I could probably tough it out for the last two.  I didn’t need to gain any time on this lap, but I wanted to preserve that six minute cushion, it case I needed to start giving it back over the last two laps.

Consciously, I was telling myself to relax and not work as hard in this lap.  I’m not sure what I was telling myself subconsciously.  When I got to the aid station in the middle of the lap, I fully expected to see that I had neither gained nor lost time.  In fact, I was still running faster than necessary.  Now I was almost seven minutes ahead of schedule.  I was on pace to break 3:47.

I was more than half done, but I would feel much more confident when I only had two laps to go.  I wanted to get there with a six minute cushion.  I could afford to give a minute back and still feel confident.

In the second half of that lap, I started to feel discomfort in my right shoe.  It was my insole slipping forward in my shoe.  The same thing happened yesterday.  It was a different pair of shoes and a different pair of insoles, but they were the same orthotics, and the same style of shoes and insoles.  Yesterday I had water in my shoes from the rain.  Today, it was mostly sweat.  It was uncomfortable but it wasn’t going to stop me.  If anything, it made me run faster.  The discomfort made me want to get done.

When I finished that lap, I had a nine minute cushion.  It was my fastest three lap split of the series.  Now I was in a good position.  The pace wasn’t wearing me down as much as I expected, and I could afford to start giving back time.  As I left the aid station, my tentative plan was to just float through the fourth lap and then run hard in the fifth lap.

Pouring water over my head really helped, but it was short-lived.  I wouldn’t even get a mile into the next lap before I would start feeling hot again.  Meanwhile, I started having trouble with the insole in my left shoe.  The one in my right shoe had moved into a position where it was no longer causing discomfort.  The one in my left shoe felt uncomfortable.  Instead of floating through that lap, I picked up my effort again.

At the halfway point of that lap, I once again had my fastest split of the series.  I had 7.71 miles to go and more than 80 minutes to do it.  I could afford to slow down by more than a minute per mile.  Still, I wanted to carry that into the last lap.  Yesterday, I started my last lap with 57 minutes to run the last 5.14 miles.  I wanted to be in that position again.  As I began the trip back from the aid station, I told myself, “Don’t slack off, but don’t blow up.”

That seemed to work.  When I finished that lap, I once again had more than 57 minutes to run the last 5.14 miles.  Now a sub four hour finish was in the bag.

As I started running my last lap, I saw a few runners coming back toward me.  You don’t normally have two-way traffic on the 5K loop.  These were half marathoners who were completing the out-and-back that they needed to do after their second full lap.  As I passed them, I congratulated them, because I knew they were finishing.  They congratulated me, because they knew I was having another strong race.

I also saw runners coming back when I got to the out-and-back section.  The last runner I saw before the aid station was “Cowboy Jeff.”  He looked at his watch and said, “I hope you’re on your last lap.”  I confirmed I was, and I was on a solid pace.

At the start of that lap, I was planning to take the first half easy and then finish strong in the second half.  It didn’t turn out that way.  The encouragement from the other runners kept me motivated.  At the aid station, I once again had my fastest split of the series.  I had just over 35 minutes to run the last half lap.  I usually ran it in 22 minutes.

It occurred to me that with a strong enough finish, I could have my fastest time of the series.  If I did that, I would also have negative splits for the day.  I wanted to pour it on, but I felt a bit sluggish as I left the aid station.  I still needed to manage my effort.

It wasn’t until I got back onto the 5K loop that I had the confidence to speed up.  Now I only had 1.6 miles to go.  I wouldn’t blow up in the last 1.6 miles, so I sped up as much as I could and still sustain the pace for 1.6 miles.

I started looking for the permanent mile markers painted on the pavement.  When I got to the 2.0 marker, I knew I had 1.2 miles to go.  I wasn’t confident I could go any faster and sustain it for 1.2 miles.  At the 2.5 marker, I only had 0.7 miles to go.  I still couldn’t go any faster without running out of gas before the finish.

Finally, I reached the white circle that marks the turnaround of the initial out-and-back.  From there, it’s a quarter mile to the finish.  It was slightly uphill from there to the last turn, but I still accelerated.  I saw someone waiting for me at the turn.  I initially assumed it was JC.  When I got closer, I saw it was Justin.  He came back to cheer me in.

I was still going uphill, but he reminded me it would soon be downhill to the finish.  I sped up so much that I put myself into oxygen debt.  I was gasping for air before reaching the finish.  I kept up my effort all the way to the line.  Then I kept going past the aid station.  In front of me, I saw a picnic table.  I went straight to it and sat down.  It took me several minutes to catch my breath before I could stand again.

My finish time was 3:46:54. I was slightly disappointed, because I didn’t beat my time from Friday.  I was seven seconds slower.  Even though the pace felt too tiring in my first lap, I went on to run even splits.

I broke 3:50 in all four races, which was well beyond my expectations.  A year ago, I couldn’t run that fast in one race, even with ideal weather conditions.  That’s how much I’ve improved in the last year.

I wanted to get something to drink, but first I had to make a bathroom stop.  Then I returned to the aid station to get my medal and have some post-race snacks.

By now, JC was there, and he gave me a can of coconut juice.  That really hit the spot.  I didn’t need to be in any hurry to leave, so I spent the next 90 minutes talking with Justin and the other runners.

I didn’t get back to the hotel until two hours after finishing the race.  That’s OK.  I didn’t need to take an ice bath today.  I still had one more slice of cinnamon bread and at least three pints of chocolate milk.  I had those in lieu of lunch.  I’ll eat a real meal later in the day.

Originally, this series was all about getting my sixth quadzilla state.  I did that, but I did much more.  I got four more sub4 marathon finishes, and I won all four races.  I’m ready for a rest day.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  3:46:54
Average Pace:  8:39
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  398
Sub 4 Hour Marathons:  250
Quadzilla States:  6

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Race Report: Savage Seven, Day 4

Today was day four of the Savage Seven.  I skipped day one, so for me, it was my third consecutive race in this series.  After yesterday’s race, I committed to a goal of breaking four hours again.  I suffered through an ice bath.  I didn’t want that to be for nothing.

I remember the first time I did a five day series.  That was the New England Challenge, which coincidentally was also organized by Chuck Savage.  My goal was to break four hours every day.  The first two days were fairly easy.  The third day wasn’t.  Five miles into the race, I was already struggling to stay on pace.  Then I asked myself how badly I wanted it.  I expected today to be like that.

One problem I had in the New England Challenge was lack of sleep.  The races all started at 5:00 AM, and I just wasn’t getting to bed early enough to get a full night’s sleep.  By the third day, it caught up to me.

For this series, I’ve done a good job of adapting to an early-to-bed, early-to-rise schedule.  Last night, I got close to eight hours of sleep.  My alarm woke me up, so it was tough getting shaking the cobwebs loose, but by the time I left the hotel, I was feeling more alert.

My legs were another matter.  My quads were sore and stiff.  My Achilles tendons were tight.  I had to do some stretching.  I didn’t know how everything would feel once I started running.  I just had to wait and see.

As I drove to the race venue, it was drizzling.  It stopped just as I got there.  It was 70 degrees with 100 percent humidity, but we were supposed to have more periods of rain.  It was warmer than yesterday, but I assumed the rain would cancel out the warmer temperatures.

After my scare yesterday, I started today’s race with fresh batteries in my flashlight.  Before the race, I tried to turn on my flashlight, to see how bright it was with the new batteries.  It didn’t turn on.  I pressed the button again, but it still didn’t turn on.  I checked to see if anything was loose.  On my third try, it came on.

I didn’t need the light until the race started, so I turned it off.  Then I decided to turn it on again, just to test it.  Again, it took two or three tries before it turned on.  Not wanting to take any chances, I left it on this time.

I had noticed earlier that the safety pins holding my race bib were rusty after using them for only two days.  That had to be from the humid conditions.  I wondered if moisture inside my flashlight was causing a problem.  I made a mental note to check for rusty connections after the race.  For now, I just had to hope that it would work long enough to get me through the first lap.

As I started running, the drizzle returned.  Now that I was moving, I didn’t have to worry about getting cold.  I was glad the drizzle stopped for the brief period before we started running.  Standing around in the rain isn’t fun.

I noticed some soreness in my legs, but no worse than yesterday.  I used the initial out-and-back to get warmed up.  I didn’t worry too much about my pace.  As I started my first full lap, I looked at my watch.  The half mile out-and-back took 4:30, which was about the right pace for a four hour marathon.

With the wet conditions, I wondered if the course markings would dissolve.  They weren’t as bold and bright as usual, but you could see them.  The shape of the arrows was still distinct enough.  I kept my eyes glued to the pavement to make sure I saw every course marking.

About a half mile into my first lap, I started having trouble seeing through my glasses.  The lenses were getting covered with small drops.  After another mile, I had to take them off and put them into my fanny pack.

The most important turn is the one where you leave the 5K loop to start the long out-and-back that takes you to the farthest point on the course.  Yesterday, during daylight, I made sure I would recognize this turn.  We turn right, but there’s a small brown sign indicating you bear left to stay on the 5K loop.  When I got to this turn, I saw the white arrow pointing to the right, but also made a point of looking for the brown sign.  When I saw it, I knew for sure I was starting the out-and-back.  That meant there wouldn’t be any more turns until just before the aid station.  For the next mile, I didn’t need to worry about missing a turn.

When I got to the aid station at the end of the out-and-back, the volunteer told me there weren’t any cups.  There was a big Gatorade jug with a spigot, so I cupped my hand and used it to catch some Gatorade from the spigot.  I did that three or four times.  Normally, that would have left me with a sticky hand for the rest of the race, but the rain quickly rinsed away the Gatorade.

I checked my watch as I left the aid station.  I didn’t check my time yesterday, but I was two minutes faster today than I was on Friday.

The most important turn coming back is the first one, where you leave the road to get back onto the paved trail.  As I was about to make that turn, I stepped in a puddle.  After that, I made a point of watching for puddles in addition to the course markings.

On my way back, I easily recognized all the turns.  By the end of the first lap, the sky was beginning to lighten.  I could now see the trees and other landmarks around me.  The light was still fairly dim, but I no longer needed my flashlight.  I turned it off and put it in my fanny pack.  It was tough to find room for both the flashlight and the sunglasses.

When I finished my first lap, I checked my time. I was three minutes faster than yesterday.  That meant I was already five minutes ahead of a four hour pace.  I was surprised how easily I was running at that pace.  I suspect the constant drizzle was keeping me cool, so I wasn’t expending as much energy.  On the other hand, my clothes and shoes were now wet.  The extra weight of the wet shoes would cause me to expend extra energy.  For now the rain seemed to be helping, but I wasn’t sure if it would eventually slow me down.

As usual, I told myself to relax.  I didn’t need to be running that fast.  I was pleased, however, that it wasn’t a struggle.

In my second lap, there should have been plenty of light.  It was daylight now, but the rain and clouds limited the amount of light reaching the ground.  It still seemed like twilight.

On my first lap, I gradually caught up to all the people doing the half marathon or 50K race.  Then on my way back, I saw all the other people doing the marathon.  On my second lap, I wasn’t seeing anyone until I got to the out-and-back section.  Then, finally, I saw people near the back of the pack, who were still coming back from the aid station at the far end.

When I got to the far aid station again, they still didn’t have any cups.  I used my hand again.  It wasn’t convenient, but it worked.  I forgot to check my time.  I knew I was ahead of my target pace, so I was content to wait until the end of the lap.

On my way back, I was finally noticing more light.  It was still overcast and drizzly, but now it seemed like daytime.

Toward the end of my second lap, the drizzle stopped.  I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad.  At the end of that lap, I finally checked my time.  I was two minutes faster than yesterday.  I was flying.

I told myself again to relax.  Realizing that never works, I tried something different.  I told myself, “Keep up the good work, but don’t push it.”  That message seemed to sink in.  I’m always reluctant to deliberately slow down.  Deep down, I’m afraid I’ll slow down too much, and then I won’t be able to get back on pace again.

It wasn’t long before the drizzle returned.  I still wasn’t sure if that was good or bad.  It would start and stop several times before the end of the race.

When I got to the far aid station again, they finally had some cups.  After drinking some Gatorade, I checked my watch.  I was on pace for about 3:49.  That was faster than the previous two days, but not by that much.  I was much farther ahead of yesterday’s pace at the beginning of the lap.  Did I slow down?  I had to think about it for a while, but I eventually realized I had run that half lap at exactly the right pace for a four hour marathon.  I didn’t lose any time.  I just didn’t put any more time in the bank.  That was good news.

It helped to know I was more than half done, but I still didn’t feel confident enough.  I’d feel more confident when I just had two laps to go.  I tweaked the message.  Now I told myself, “Keep working, but don’t push it too much.”

After three laps, I was a minute faster than yesterday and two minutes faster than Friday.  I was pleased to be having such an easy time of it, but I didn’t want to run too fast today and then have sore muscles tomorrow.  As I started my fourth lap, I told myself, “Float through the next half lap and check your time at the other end.”  At first that worked.

I was maybe a mile into my fourth lap, when I felt something odd in my left shoe.  It seemed like my insole might be moving.  That often happens in wet conditions.  I have a hard plastic orthotic.  I wear a foam insole over it.  The insole is flexible enough that it can fold.  When moisture gets between the insole and orthotic, the insole can easily slide forward and bunch up under my forefoot.  I wasn’t sure at first, but then I could feel it bunching up under my toes.  Now, finally, I had an opinion about the rain.  It wasn’t helping.

It didn’t hurt, but it was uncomfortable.  It distracted me from my “Float through the next half lap” message.  I wanted to hurry up and be done.

I wanted to stop and fix it, but I would need a place to sit down.  Right on cue, I saw a bench.  I didn’t remember seeing this bench on any of my other laps.  It was like it magically appeared when I thought of it.  I still didn’t stop.  I certainly had enough time, but I knew from experience that the insole would begin slipping again within a few minutes. Any time I spent trying to fix it would be wasted.  I just had to do my best to tune out the discomfort.  It’s not the first time this has happened.

After about 10 minutes, the discomfort lessened.  I knew better than to think the insole had shifted back into position, but it seemed like it shifted in a way that made it less uncomfortable.  I could live with that.

At the midpoint of my fourth lap, I was back to being on the same pace as yesterday.  What should I tell myself now?  I considered, “Float through this one and check your time again with a lap to go.”  I considered, “Push hard through this one, and you can float through the whole last lap.”  I considered, “Keep working, but don’t push it.”  I finally settled on “Keep running and don’t overthink it.”

It had been drizzling off and on.  It started up again, but quickly changed from drizzle to a steady rain.  I could feel my clothes clinging to me.  I was worried there’d be more puddles.  I had an opinion about the stronger rain.  I didn’t like it.  Fortunately, it only lasted for a few minutes.

One of the runners who has been encouraging me is Justin Gillette.  Justin is an elite runner.  He’s won more than 100 marathons, and most of his wins are in larger races like Marathon Bahamas and the St. Jude Memphis Marathon.  I feel honored that Justin knows who I am.  Justin will be in town for tomorrow’s race.  (Spoiler alert:  I probably won’t win tomorrow.)

As I started my last lap, I checked my watch.  With one lap to go, my time was about the same as the last two days.  I had 57 minutes to run 5.14 miles.  Easy peasy.

I wanted to tell myself to just go easy for the last lap.  Knowing Justin was rooting for me made me want to finish strong.  That wouldn’t be smart, however.  Today’s sub4 finish was already in the bag.  The race I needed to worry about is tomorrow’s race.  I compromised and decided to just maintain my current effort.

When I reached the far aid station, I stopped long enough to drink a large cup of Gatorade.  I checked my watch.  If I maintained the same pace coming back, I would run even splits.  As I resumed running, I felt stiffness in a few different muscles.  That was enough to persuade me to go easy on the last half lap.

With only a mile to go, It started raining harder again.  Seriously?  It couldn’t wait until I was done?  I pressed on, and the rain stopped before I finished.  Then it started drizzling again.  I’ve never seen such fickle weather.

I finished in 3:49:33.  I ran positive splits, but by less than a minute.  I was the overall winner for the third day in a row.

I didn’t eat much in the finish area, because I didn’t want to stand around in the rain.  I had chocolate milk and cinnamon bread back at the hotel.

Before leaving, I told JC that I’ll be attempting to run my 250th sub4 tomorrow.  Now that he knows that, he’ll include it in his pre-race announcements.  Everyone will be cheering for me, but now the pressure is on.

Now that I was no longer moving, my wet clothes made me get cold.  By the time I got back to the hotel, my hands were white.  I was expecting to have a “How badly do you want it?” moment today.  I did, but it wasn’t during the race.  It was after the race.  I had to decide whether I was taking another ice bath today.  I really didn’t want to, but I knew I needed to.

I hate ice baths.  My friend Francis says they’re evil.  I don’t think they’re evil, but they’re certainly unpleasant.  I can only think of one reason why anyone would take one.  They work!  The really help with delayed onset muscle soreness.

I could make excuses.  I was already experiencing Raynaud’s in my hands.  I usually follow an ice bath by hopping in the hot tub, but it’s outside and it was still raining.  Oh, in case I forgot to mention it, I HATE ICE BATHS.

How badly do I want to break four hours tomorrow?  Badly enough that I took another ice bath.  Then I took a warm bath and massaged my legs.  For the rest of the day, I’ll go out of my way to make sure I’m using my legs, so they don’t get stiff.  Tomorrow won’t be easy, but I’m doing everything I can to make sure I won’t wake up feeling like I was run over by a truck.

The last thing I needed to do was inspect my flashlight.  The batteries and contacts are dry.  I tested it, and it seems to be working.  All I can do now is go have some pizza.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  3:49:33
Average Pace:  8:45
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  397
Sub 4 Hour Marathons:  249