Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Race Reports: Carmel Marathon, RUTS 12-Hour Endurance Race, April 3 & 10, 2021

Race Reports-Carmel Marathon, RUTS 12 Hour Endurance Race, April 3 & 10, 2021

These races on consecutive Saturdays formed a planned experiment and the experiment was successful in that it showed me what I wanted to know.   The question?  Just what is my current endurance limit?   

Carmel Marathon, April 3, 2021

I’ve run this race maybe eight times now in it’s 11 year history.   A flat-ish course through tony suburban streets on the north side of Indy, it was the first “real road race” I’d run in 18 months.   Weather was chilly, with increasing winds all morning straight out of the south, getting to 20mph by the end.   The atmosphere was great, though, as about 4,000 runners showed up for the combined 5K, 10K, HM and Marathon distances.  It has been a long, long time since this has happened due to Covid and the collective spirit was great.  People were very careful to wear masks pre-race and the grid was way spaced out.   More than a few folks were there to attempt a BQ ahead of the April 20 opening of Boston Marathon registration.   

I was hoping to run with the advertised 4:35 marathon pace group. Alas, that pacing person didn’t show up. So, I fell in with the 2:15 half-marathon group to try to find a groove and this worked wonderfully through 13.1...hit the halfway mat at 2:14:23...spot on. Then, I was on my own.

It soon became obvious my HM pace had been too quick.  By mile 16, I was really feeling things and had to shift to a run/walk pattern and it was a slog through mile 23.  It was striking to me just how long it had been since I had run a road marathon.  I had forgotten about navigating runner traffic, getting in and out of crowded water stops and keeping my wits about me.  Amazing.

I had a treat around mile 23, though.   Work colleague and running friend Michelle had run the HM, had to stick around Indy to get her Covid vaccination later on Saturday, so she ran out to mile 23 and ran in with me.   It was a pleasant pick-me-up.   We talked at length about several work-related topics of interest and it helped to take my mind off of my poor performance.   Retrospective examination of my splits showed I ran faster too once she showed up.    These final miles were directly into the wind, adding some extra work but the final two tenths measured at a 8:50/mile pace.


Official time was 4:47:44, an aggregate pace of 10:59/mile.   I was 839th of 1061 finishers, 538th of 661

men and 10th of 18 in M65-69AG.   Not really very good results...I had hoped to be much closer to

4:40 but I didn’t run a very wise race.  

RUTS 12-Hour Endurance Race, April 10, 2021, Evansville, Indiana

Yeah, so you then ran even longer a week later?   Indeed.   That was the essence of the experiment.   On “tired legs”, how long could I run?? 

This race was a first-time event and happened to be in the town our oldest son and family now live.   So, I could spend the weekend with them and run...a nice combo.   

I ran a 12 hour race last June and enjoyed it.   I had a modified strategy based on what I learned and

I was keen to see how it would work.   A simple plan...do a run/walk sequence of run a minute,

walk a minute and see just how long I could maintain that pattern.  I gave myself permission as well

to “recover while moving” which is a fancy way of saying “walk more if you need to”.   

The course was a 1 km loop in a new city park on Evansville’s east side.   Yes, 1,000m...so round

and round we went.   I backed my car into a spot right next to the course and had all my fluids, PB&J,

oatmeal/raisin cookies, Sun Chips, nine shirts, four pairs of socks and two types of jackets stowed there.

  And I needed most of that pile.   

We started on schedule at 8am.  123 people paid registration fees for the three time frames offered

(3 hour, 6 hour and 12 hour).  Only 71 people showed up and started, 53 of whom ran the 12 hour event.  

Weather was quite the factor on this day.   It was cool and cloudy most of the day with temperatures in the mid 50s.   Being a new park with no large trees on a high spot, it caught all the wind...it steadily pounded us between 15 and 25mph all day.   It drizzled much of the morning, a light but steady moistness.   It dried off from about noon until 4pm, when we had a 20 minute heavy downpour and then the temperatures dropped into the mid 40s by the end...still windy.   The wind was relentless and became wearisome over the course of 12 hours.   

The run/walk strategy worked quite well for nine hours.   I was comfortable and kept steady mile splits of around 11:30/mile through mile 21.  Miles 22 to 37 were around 12:20/mile.   From mile 38, it was more walking than running and the pace was from 14:30 to 15:30.   I hit major distance marks, with the half-marathon in 2:38, Marathon in 5:27 and 50K in 6:34.

In the midst, it was a treat when our son, wife, her dad and all three of their kids came out to watch me run for a while mid-afternoon...they managed to arrive during the most lovely 30 minutes of weather we had all day...fun to see them and sense their real encouragement! 

Somewhere around mile 46, near the 11 hour mark, 7pm, I felt fully depleted for the first time all day.   I had really wanted to NOT stop at all but rather to keep moving for the entire 12 hours   But the wind kept pounding and so I stopped for about 15 minutes, sat in my car out of the wind and collected my thoughts.   I was pretty close to done but I really wanted to get in 48 miles.   So I got back out and mostly walked for another couple of miles and when my Garmin hit 48, I finished that lap and called it quits, at about 11 hours and 25 minutes with 48.1 miles.     In retrospect, I could have continued to walk for another 35 minutes but my mind was really done with it and I wanted to head back and see my family.     

Results showed I finished 15th out of the 53 12-hour starters.  I was very pleased with that position.   Identical, proportionally, to my finish in the 12 hour race i ran last June.The top three men ran 73.6, 66.8 and 65.7 miles respectively.   Those guys just never quit running.  The top three women ran 51.1, 49.4 and 47.1 miles.  It was impressive to be with all these amazing athletes   Only about 20 of us were still present on the course for the final hour.

The Results of the Experiment

So, class, what did we learn here?   Since January, I had been seriously toying with the idea of entering a 100 mile race this coming autumn...there are several I can get to easily.   So, I needed to see just how I would do, on tired legs, through 12 hours.   Would I feel good enough to realistically think I could repeat it again, all night, in the dark, to get 100 miles done??   I had to try.   

And the answer is, no, that’s not realistic.   And I’m fine with that.   Because the answer is also, yes, on tired legs I can go 50 miles.   And that’s nothing to sneeze at.   All useful.   Class dismissed.   

Thanks for listening!

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Race Report: Groundhog Day Marathon 2021

ORN:  26.2 miles, 5:48:11, 13:17/mile; R/W 3/1; 74th of 97 finishers overall, 1st of 2 in Men 65-69.  


Groundhog Day Marathon, Feb 7, 2021

It's no surprise Grand Rapids, Michigan has heavy snow and cold temps in early February; this described conditions for this six-lap marathon.   Tough, powdery footing effectively turned it into a trail race.  What WAS surprising was that decent layers allowed it to be surprisingly comfortable and a marathon in the snow was an enjoyable long run.  

A few details

I ran this race for the first time in 2020, which turned out to be the last big race we’d have for quite some time amidst the Covid pandemic.   So, I decided to have a go again in 2021, wanting to get in some racing after so many cancellations.     Running buddy Jon and I also had our first road trip in over a year; that alone was worth the trip.  We drove up on Friday, got our bibs and slept reasonably well.  

This race commemorates not so much Punxsutawney meteorological prognostication as it does the movie by the same name.  The theme of the same thing, repeating, captured what the RD felt about running six equal-length laps for a full marathon.   For me, I thought, “Only SIX laps?  How stimulating!”   

The course is in a city park along the main river of the city of Grand Rapids, conveniently named the “Grand River”.  The first two miles are quite flat, directly above the river bank.   The course then loops meanderingly over a few rises and dips for 2.4 miles back to the start/finish line.   

This is relevant since GR had had at least a foot of snow in the few days ahead of the race.  And the parks do not plow the portion of the trail along the river, preserving it for cross country ski activities.   Thus, the first two miles of each loop was running in a narrow, single-track path based on the footfalls of runners ahead of me.   This improved for about a mile and a half of the loop back to the start/finish but then got more complex again as the final portion was in a windy spot that continued to drift from the 15mph west winds that picked up as the race went on.   The entire course was thus run on 100% snow pack...it just varied a bit as to how deep and fluffy that pack was.   

The RD did a good job to allow the race to happen and still encourage social distancing. He communicated a lot with us and opened the start mats at 7:00am and allowed people to start anytime they wanted between 7 and 8am. Jon and I decided to start around the time we had daylight, 7:25am. The hardest part of the entire day was choosing to get out of the warm car into the windy, cloudy, dark 12F and start running.

Off we went, though, Jon doing the HM and me the full.   We wished each other well and took off.   

I wore my trusty "screw shoes" and was really glad I did...that extra traction helped a lot, particularly where the snow was packed.

I immediately discovered the depth and bad footing of the deep portion of the path along the river.   By a mile or so into the course, it was clear to me it would be best to regard this as a trail race, not a road race...the footing was everything we find on a trail event, as each step landed differently and you had to watch carefully to avoid doing a very cold face plant.    

So, I modified my expectations, dialed back to a 3/1 run/walk and realized the day’s objective was to finish, enjoy it and avoid injury.    Many of the portions of the wooded section were very pretty, with snow clinging to every twig. 

And that’s pretty much the way the marathon went.   Not much exciting to describe...just lap after lap.   

I was pleased to eventually get my lap times...they were consistent through the first four and at least the last two were equal, meaning I was steady from mile 18 to 26.2. 

Laps/Pace  (~4.4 miles/lap)

1   54:32, 12:29/mile

2   56:25, 12:55/mile

3   56:56, 13:02/mile

4   57:30, 13:10/mile

5    1:01:24, 14:03/mile

6    1:01:23, 14:03/mile

Much slower than a year ago but such were the conditions. "Run the best race conditions allow"...it still holds.  

Jon had the car well warmed up and we headed home right after I finished.   I felt fine, not having the stiffness I usually feel after sitting the car ride home from a race.  I’m not sure why, as the footing was so uneven.  But I’ll take it.   

Three running hacks were of minor note but I’ll mention here:

Cookies:  At the HUFF 50K, I noted how helpful a couple of oatmeal raisin cookies were to chow down during the event.   So, I tried that again, making a tasty bunch of large, chewy cookies to eat rather than some gel.   Winner...I ate one or two each lap and it was great fuel.   I’ll keep doing this at races where I can stash them along the way.   

Running vest;   For years, I’ve tried to get a good system for carrying water while running.   I’ve had several belt systems but I didn’t like the way they sat so heavy around my waist.   I got a running vest with a water bladder but, man, that takes a lot of energy to such the water out of the bladder and, besides, it was only water you can put in a bladder.   But, it occurred to me, I could still use the vest without the bladder and carry water in the front pockets.   Boom...worked great at Groundhog.   Made up my favorite electrolyte, put it in an 16oz soda bottle and that was all I needed...the weight was negligible on my shoulders and it was wonderful.   

The Cooler becomes a Heater:   With the lap format, I knew I could set up my own aid station.   But how to keep fluids from freezing in the upper teens?    I turned my small cooler into a “heater” by using no ice and tossing in a couple of hand warmers to raise the temp above freezing.   Worked perfectly.   

So, that’s it.  Don Kern and his crew do a great job organizing fun racing in the Grand Rapids area and we're all the better for their efforts.

Thanks for reading



Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Year in Review

My running for the 2020 reflected the general difficulty of this strangest of years.  Then, I had an ill-fated experiment during August and September when I refereed High School soccer, seeking to replicate that role I held through the 80s and 90s.   I had a bad hamstring and a minor quad injury in just a few weeks on the pitch and through the entire experience, I realized how much I missed distance running.   So, no more yellow cards or whistles.    Here's what the 52 week totals looked like....never consistently over even 30 miles per week. 

This of course meant my annual mileage dropped off, the lowest since 2013.    

Races were few in 2020...my log shows only seven events...seven!!   I typically run twenty or more each year.  Such was the 2020, though and our necessary isolation.   Three stand out...Ground Hog's Day Marathon on February 6, before we entered lockdown (and I won my AG), my first ever 12-Hour race in June, which I really enjoyed, covering 48 miles and then The HUFF at years end managed to happen, my tenth consecutive HUFF.    

A lot happened personally over the year, most notably my long-planned retirement, today!!   Wrapped up a career in manufacturing management and I've been very blessed.   We will remain living here in Indiana (I never really wanted to move to Boca Raton...) and now I can do my training runs at any time of day I choose!!   I will establish new routines and reflect on new purposes.  

Persevere...into the new year.   


Sunday, December 20, 2020

Race Report: HUFF 50K Trail Race-2020

ORN:  50K, 7:09:29, 13:50/mile, R/W 4/1, 2/1; mid 30s, cloudy; 123rd of 163 finishers overall; 7th of 13 M60-69; lifetime marathon/ultra #94


Around mile 10, a fellow runner who had also run HUFF numerous times captured the race and the day:  “Each year the course is the same; each year the race is entirely different; you have to always adjust.”   

Yes...that’s the story of what has become a highlight of my running year.   In my tenth start and ninth HUFF finish, each run depends on weather, surface, wind and preparation, making it a “new” event every December.    

This year’s race was just tough for me...the first 15.5 mile lap had no rhythm and much malaise; the second lap was an exercise in endurance.  It was not a good run.   No glory, no breakthroughs, no drama.  Perhaps, more empathy.   One comic situation; one running hack; but otherwise, just a long, hard run.

Gory Details:

Lap One

The HUFF 50K course is two trips around a 15.5 mile route winding over and through the scenic Chain O Lakes State Park in NE Indiana, near Fort Wayne.  I felt ready and positive going into the event, almost pumped since we’ve had so few races this year.   Yet, the early going was anything but smooth.  I couldn’t find a groove, felt tight and generally clunky.   It was a full six miles before I even felt warmed up; yet even then, it was work...not the enjoyable run in the woods I had hoped.. 

Around mile 11, I felt an unfortunately familiar twinge in my left ankle.   This has come and gone since mid October in training runs.  I was wearing an elastic ankle brace over my sock which had helped before but the twinge returned.   Feeling poorly, with an ankle twinge, I figured I’d drop out at the halfway point and live to fight another day.  

This triggered two imaginary conversations in the four miles from the twinge to the end of Lap One.  

The first was with my work colleague and experienced competitive runner Mike.  We’ve had many real discussions on race-day adjustments and I tapped into what I thought he’d say in this.   His core quote:  “Joe, it’s not a capital crime to just have a bad race.  But quitting if you are not injured is bogus.  Let’s make adjustments.”  This conversation got me out of myself, giving me a mechanism instead to look at myself from the outside in.   Many words followed in this chat with Mike, analyzing my condition from the soles of my feet to top of my head.  We agreed on three adjustments with a specific place to assess them: 

  • Remove my ankle brace to see if it was my ankle or the brace causing the problem

  • Swap my knit cap for a baseball cap to cool off a bit in the mid 30s temps

  • Grab two bananas

  • Then, run four miles to the first aid station, where, if it appeared I was risking injury, the course layout allowed a short walk back to my car. 

All very logical (Mike is a fellow engineer, mind you).   Yet emotionally, I still wanted to bail.   I can’t recall ever wanting to drop out of a race as much as I was at this running of HUFF.   The logical argument alone couldn’t compete with my discouragement.    

Thus, the second conversation, this just with myself.  

While I ran Lap One, I mentally scrolled through a too-long list of family and friends in a variety of tough settings.  Recent Christmas cards only added to this list of concerns.   Most were situations with little path forward other than just carrying on.  Tomorrow would look much like today.  Nothing was going to change rapidly; positive outcomes didn’t appear near or even likely.   They were just in hard places.   I ached for these people whom I knew well and cared about. 

And it hit me in a strange way:  symbolically, the rest of HUFF was, for me, no different.   It wasn’t going to be a glorious race with a new PR or an age group award.   No one would notice if I carried on or not.  I would be alone the entire second lap.   It was cloudy and the course was getting wet and muddy.   

So, if for no other reason than to identify with these people I love, I realized I needed to reload and get out and run the second lap.   

Lap Two:

A covid-induced course change allowed me to come within 30m of my car as I concluded the first lap.  I had laid out various supplies beforehand, so went to my car with a settled plan in mind and went to work.  I opened a banana and started eating while I pulled off my ankle brace, reset the laces on my left shoe, ditched the MP3 player and ear buds, swapped my knit cap for a lighter cap with a bill, drank a large amount of water with electrolyte and even shoveled down a homemade oatmeal-raisin cookie.   I grabbed a second banana to eat on the course, closed up the car and headed out with a new perspective.  

Back on the course, I was completely alone, listening only to my footfall and curious as to how this would go.  I slowed from a 4/1 run/walk to a 2/1.   Two miles in, I noticed my ankle felt a little better...it seemed the abrasion of the brace was worse than any actual ankle discomfort.  By the time I hit the first aid station, I realized I was on for the rest of the loop.  

And that’s how it went the rest of the second lap.   I never did really feel all that great and never felt smooth.  One of the great joys of trail running is the sense of “gliding” through the woods, up and down the hills, splashing across creeks and mud holes.   None of that happened at HUFF this year.  What did happen though was 3+ hours to reflect on the particular concerns of these many people, offering prayers for each of them, making decisions on specific things I might do for each of them to help, a little.   Just one stride after another, keeping moving, however slowly.   In doing so, I sought to empathize in a small way with each of these dear ones who were also slogging through far more crucial experiences.   

With about a mile and a half to go, I was jolted out of my private thoughts when I saw my local running pal and work colleague Michelle about a hundred meters ahead of me.  I was stunned to see her. We drove separately to the race but we did meet up and talk in the starting grid. She’s had a strong fall of training and racing, is way faster than me and I fully expected she’d be half-way home by the time I crossed the finish line.   She was walking, fighting an undetermined leg tightness.  So, I walked with her quite a ways...it was nice to talk with a friend, though it hurt to see her hurt.   With about a half mile to go, she urged me to run to the finish but I told her I’d wait at the finish.   

Around the lake, up the hill and across the finish line it was.  Michelle shortly finished.  No trumpets or fireworks for either of us but we finished the race.   

Other Race Stories

The Comic Moment:

The silliest part of my HUFF experience this year was me thinking I could actually sleep in my car parked near the start.   Ha!!!!   While I certainly got a primo parking spot by showing up at 8pm the night before the race, I didn’t sleep.  Had my inflatable car bed remained inflated, it might have helped but neither the back of my SUV nor the driver’s seat, fully reclined, was an adequate bed.   I may have slept between 11pm and 3am but even that’s not sure.    Here I was, optimistic, before I tried to rest.  

The Running Hydration Hack;

Nerd moment here, but those who know me will not find it surprising.   I knew I’d need to stay hydrated during HUFF yet I really didn’t want to carry a hydration pack and I did want to use my preferred electrolyte drink.   Plus, aid stations were understandably “light” and thus I needed to be responsible for myself.      My hack took shape when I looked closely at the course map and realized it crossed the main road into the park twice, roughly dividing the course into thirds.   So, as I drove into the park the night before the race (excited to sleep in my car...oy...), I stopped at each of the crossings and found a hidden spot to stash a 20oz bottle of fluid.  Worked perfectly the next day, as I could reload my 10oz water bottle I carried twice on each lap and stay well hydrated.  And, on the way out after the race, I picked up both now-empty bottles, leaving nothing behind.   The things I get a charge out of....


HUFF History

I went back and listed all my times for HUFF...Clearly “Each year the course is the same; each year the race is entirely different; you have to always adjust.”   

2011  7:33:44    High Water year link

2012  6:36:49 link

2013  6:32:01 link

2014  6:19:28 link

2015  5:59:51    Course and 50K PR link

2016  7:23:12 link

2017  DNF...ran one lap only in near blizzard (and didn't write a report)

2018  6:46:46 link

2019  6:25:42   Best running conditions link

2020  7:09:29

Thanks for reading!!