Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Fort Worth Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 13; 11th Edition 
126.96 miles run and 12.75 miles biked and 6409 meters swam in races in 2019 races
Race: Fort Worth Marathon
Place: Fort Worth, TX
Miles from home: 190
Weather: 50-60 degrees; bright sun; warm

I ran the Three Countries Marathon in Europe last month after thinking I wouldn't be able to do so as late as one day prior. Going from not being able to run at all to being disappointed I didn't get a time I wanted is something many runners can understand. Desiring to try to roll this training into another race, I looked around near me to find something that would fit. I found the Fort Worth Marathon three hours north of me and began to fervently watch the weather. Courses matter for running fast but weather matters more. When it looked like it was going to be fairly decent I pulled the trigger and registered.

The Course:

This race course is pretty simply and fairly easy. Two times of basically a 6.5 mile out-and-back allows for runners to know what is in store for them the second time around and for those with knowledge of the area, an opportunity to cheer in multiple places. I know the latter is possible as I saw more than a few people at locations all around the course. Or, heck, if you stayed in one place you could see the start, the runners pass on the other side of the West Fork of the Trinity River a mile later, the halfway point, a mile after that, and then the finish.

The vast majority of the course is run on a bike path that is not closed to pedestrians. I say that simply because you can't expect it to be free of everyone. It mostly was, but just mostly. There are a couple of few small rises but other than that ts is quite flat and forgiving. As it is an out-and-back, you will be running into runners coming the opposite direction (hopefully not literally) but that won't happen until the 6th mile on. By that point most runners will have been strung out a bit leaving the potential for collisions to be low. But it can still get a bit congested.

I would say 95% of the course is paved with small portions on crushed grave. There are a couple of places where it seemed like you could choose between the bike path or an adjacent crushed gravel path as there were no markings to tell you which to choose.  If it is certified, obviously there is one way to go; we just didn't see which it would be.

The entire course (or 99%) of it is exposed to the elements so whatever the weather is, you are going to get it. Plan accordingly.

Pre-race:


After the malaise and breathing problems I experienced in Europe, I came back to what can only be called some sort of a cold for about three weeks. I didn't go to the doctor because I didn't seem sick enough to be able to describe what I had and, well, our health "care" system sucks. Hearing people in Austria during my race saying "Well, just go see a doctor" and being confused as to why I wouldn't just go reminded me of this.

I had a good week of training before the last week before the race. Then that week just went horrible. I told my friends I had either tapered perfectly or this was going to be a disaster. Regardless, I only had one goal for this race: to secure a Boston Qualifying time for the 15th straight year. Other people have streaks where they just want to show up each day and check a box. I have streaks where I want to push myself as hard as I can for as long as I can.As I have said (and have put on shirts and posters)  "There will come a day when I cannot do this. Today is not that day."

I drove up leisurely on Saturday to Fort Worth with my friend Sarah listening disappointingly to the end of the Penn State-Minnesota game on the radio. Grabbing my packet from the small expo, I was rather relieved not to be working this race. Most of the time when I race I have other duties. Be it a book signing or a speaking engagement or what not, as much as I enjoy it, it is still work. Walking in, walking out, and heading to a hotel felt pretty darn good.

Couldn't really decide what I wanted to eat. I had put on a few pounds since last months' marathon in spite of eating less and coupled with my general blah of the past weekend's workouts, I was wondering if I was wasting a trip up here to simply slog through a marathon. So I went to IHOP because that was what my belly told me it wanted to eat. I listen to my belly.

Somehow I got to bed at a ridiculously early time for myself and slept wonderfully. Normally 5 a.m. wake up calls are met with a lot of swearing but I was ready to roll. A little bit of traffic jam pulling into the paid parking lot (why they didn't just roll that into the price of the registration and save this bottleneck, I don't know) gave way to a quick park, a quick bathroom break, and a stroll to the start. My watch was giving me some problems as the counted down the final seconds before we began, so I just hit start when the gun fired and hoped it would grab my data. (It kindsa did.)


My Race:


Normally in a smaller race, I have some designs on maybe trying for a victory of some sorts. Today I knew I wasn't in shape to do that and gladly let a pack of about ten runners or so take off. The first mile marker seemed like it was off  by at least half a minute. Even on a bad day I don't run a mile that slow to start a marathon. The second mile marker seemed to make up the difference between the two. No harm no foul. Mile markers aren't certified and any race that has them I am just happy they are present.

But the next four miles surprised me. As the sun finally came over the horizon and began to warm us around the fifth mile (well, I had already had sweat drops on my sunglasses after the first mile) I saw that I kept clicking off miles right at 7 minutes per. One side or the other by a few seconds but I was running like a metronome. I had a few runners pass me and a few others I was tracking put some distance between us but I seemed to be doing far better than expected. I knew that this pace would bring me in at 3:03:33 but at six miles I wasn't thinking about that. I was thinking about how, while I didn't feel good, I didn't feel tired. I wondered how much longer that would go. I have had more than a few marathons where at no point did I feel spry or light. But I also never got worn down. Maybe this would be one of those days.

After the turn around slightly before 7 miles I could see we would be getting a full blast of sun in the face. Some of the runners in front of me had chosen to not wear sunglasses and I bet they were regretting that. I fell in behind one runner who I would use for the next 7 miles, give or take, to keep me honest. I might fall a little bit behind him and then catch up but once again, all the way until the half way point I was right around 7 minutes per mile.

At the halfway point, I not only saw my friend Sarah but one of my athletes, Kevin, whom I had
never met in person before. (All my coaching is done remotely.) That was quite a surprise although maybe it shouldn't have been as he lived just down the road somewhere in the DFW metroplex. I hit the half-marathon split a 1:32:36. I had slowed in the last two miles but was still feeling just as good (or bad) as I had been for the entire race. I'd take it.

Second Half:


The mile after the half-way point is always one that can set the pace for me for the rest of the race. It is easy to get excited about getting to the halfway point of the marathon and running hard to get there. However, after that little expenditure of energy, to me the next mile lets you know what you have for the rest of the race. When I hit yet another seven minute mile even though I lost ground to those in front of me and had yet another runner passing me, I was getting to feel very good about my chances of setting another Boston qualifier.

At this point I started doing the math on what I could run the rest of the way and still get what I needed. By now the sun was solidly overhead and I was beginning to feel the effects of its brutal rays. There were a plethora of aid stations on this course for which I tip my cap to the organizers. I drunk heartily from nearly every single one of them on the second loop trying to stave off any wayward affects of the rising heat. I began playing a game with each mile as I ran having come up with a system of breaking down marathons into chewable bits. It's a neat trick I have where I use other places I have run, when I felt good, to think "Well, it is only two more miles to mile 18 and remember when you ran two miles in 11 minutes once around Liberty Park?" It takes me out of the moment and to a time when I felt good.

Coincidentally, around the 18th mile my times went from roughly 7 minutes per mile to 7:25 per mile. What was odd was that there was no gradual slow down between the two times but rather a direct drop of 25 seconds. There it seemed like that was the new normal. No matter how hard I pushed or how much I seem to let off the throttle, that new time kept popping up on my watch.

There were a few places on this race where spectators had gathered to cheer on runners and every time it was a nice boost to your energy. But for the most part this was simply a race with a bunch of runners going back-and-forth on a bike path. You got to notice a lot of the same faces and, even though you are racing each other, begin to cheer them all on.


A few miles back I had passed the man who had taken me through the halfmarathon point. With about 5 miles to go for me, I passed him in the other directions. I could see he was struggling mightily miles behind me. He had looked some strong earlier (even getting a kiss from his girlfriend/wife) running in the opposite direction at one point that I felt quite bad for him. But I had to focus on my own rapidly ebbing energy.


A marathoner and a half marathoner passed me together at one point which left me confused. The half-marathon had started half an hour later than I did. Anyone running a good clip should have been behind me still. Or in front of me. I also didn't recall seeing this marathoner on my out and back a few miles ago. Entirely possible I missed him but it seemed odd. Plus, he was moving along at a great pace. Within a mile or so he had put himself out of sight in the ever twisting path filled with runners or all races. He must have really saved himself for the end. Either way, trying to figure all of this out kept my mind off of running, which itself was a nice distraction.

With about three miles to go I could see, barring a major mishap, I was going to get the Boston
qualifying time that had eluded me in Europe. I began to think about how this day was one day short of my 18th anniversary of running marathons. In the Harrisburg marathon in 2001, on a day that went horribly for me, I never would have thought that running would shape the rest of my life as it has. As I dodged both cyclists out for exercise and half-marathoners coming in to finish their race I could only hope that the same will be true for many of the people here today.

One of the lead runners was struggling mightily as someone ran arm in arm with him obviously keeping him off the ground. I was not too concerned about the fairness of the help he was receiving but more so about the fact that if it was this difficult for him to move forward, then maybe he shouldn’t have been moving forward. I wanted to lend a hand but selfishly had to finish my own goal first. I knew I didn’t have all that much energy to assist in either case anyway. We didn't need to have two runners on the ground.

It was only 65 degrees but I was doused in sweat from head to toe and really beginning to feel the days' efforts. As I hit the 26th mile it was clear that I would secure my 78th Boston marathon qualifying time out of 164 marathons. I gave Sarah a high-five and turned to run under the finishing arch.

I crossed the finish line and 3:08:16 good enough for 15th place overall. One woman bested me with a stellar time of 2:56 taking third place overall in the whole race.
The race itself had a couple of very nice or different amenities. First were hot showers to any runner who needed them. A little trailer with three showers per gender was set up and was an absolute luxury. Second was free hot food for runners consisting of a variety of options to meet all tastest. The other was the handing out of prize money to randomly drawn runners. None was given to the overall winners of any of the races and I can argue the pros and cons of that decision either way.  Nevertheless it kept lots of people milling around and creating a nice energy post-race that is often missing these days.
Someday I will go a year without running a Boston Qualifying time. Fortunately, it wasn't this one.  Time to start scoping out 2020 and looking to not only go sub-3 again but maybe, just maybe try to set a new PR. If I get a sub-3 it will be the third decade I have done so. I started too late in life and in a wrong part of the other decade or I could be chasing my fourth decade. Love and learn.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Country Hopping: Liechtenstein, Austria, and Switzerland

I recently found myself in Europe where Austria, Germany, and Switzerland all are just a few miles from each other at the southern tip of Lake Constance. I was here because one of my clients chose a marathon that went through these three countries as his first and when it was brought to my attention I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore this geographical anomaly as well. While scrutinizing the maps, as I am wont to do, I noticed that the country of Liechtenstein was just a few miles away from the confluence of these other countries. I knew that even though I’d be running the marathon I had to find a reason and a way to tack on another country less than 48 hours later. I had to take at least a one day break, right?

While searching for the shortest possible way to get from Liechtenstein all the way back to where I was staying in Austria I found a tiny little road that left Liechtenstein and joined a larger road in Bangs, Austria. Soon thereafter that road crossed the Rhine River and entered Switzerland. And by "soon thereafter" I mean one mile is all you need to go through three different countries. Technically, I could have stopped there to get my three countries in one run but I figured I need more than four laps of a track to count as a decent trot. (Also, upon further review I see that you can not only follow a bicycle path that goes through all three countries in .36 of a mile but there is a point in the Rhine called the Dreiländereck where all three countries meet!)

My original plan was to cross from Austria into Switzerland over the Rhine River and take a bicycle trail all the way to Saint Margrethen. From there I would hop on a quick half hour train to get me back to my hotel in Lochau, Austria.

However, as fate would have it, I met the CEO of SkinFit, an apparel company that I was in partnership with for this marathon that I was running a few days before this run. He mentioned that the route I was taking would put me mere feet away from their offices and that I should stop in for a tour. Knowing this would be about 7 miles into what was turning into at least a 17 mile run I figured the small break would do me well. Silke, one of the SkinFit employees generously volunteered to take me to the start of my run. She had just run the half-marathon herself so was surprised I was doing another 30 km run. I said I couldn't pass up the opportunity for such an adventure.

We made our way down the highway and the weather looked just amazing for this run. Cloudy, in the low 50s and just way more pleasant than I have experienced any time in the past six months in Texas. Silke dropped me off near my starting point and I walked the remaining meters to a small stone bridge which went over the smallest of streams. If not for a country crossing I doubt this would even be here. A small shack of some sort was positioned to the right and I was hoping it was a bathroom. It definitely was not any sort of border patrol. As I got ready to run and take a selfie to commemorate it, in the middle of nowhere, after seeing no one for a miles, a man and his dog came around the corner. We truly aren't alone virtually anywhere in this world any more. I snapped a photo and away I went.

I quickly entered Bangs, hung a left and scampered down the road to the bicycle trail. A quick ramp up took me right alongside the Rhine. A well-maintained bikepath lay in front of me and I was far from the only one using it here at noon on a Tuesday. Cyclists were abound as was a random car which seemed to be tending to a her a cattle. I am not exactly sure how the car got here but my German isn't strong enough to ask the fella doing the tending.

Three miles later I passed over the Ill River, a tributary of the Rhine and was roughly halfway to my first stop of the day at SkinFit. I wasn't aware that his tributary passed through Feldkirch, a town I had been exploring the day before on my "recovery" day. Recovery included trying to find a zoo and encountering 390 stairs that I decided to hike. Ooof.

The weather continued to be just perfect and even though I had a very light weight SkinFit Ranna jacket tucked into my Camelbak pack, there was never a need for me to pull it out. The next few miles were just as uneventful as the ones behind me.In addition, I was running surprisingly spryly, maintaining roughly an 8 minute mile.

Eleven kilometers after I left Liechtenstein I found myself at the foot of the SkinFit offices. A new-to-SkinFit employee, James Lamont gave me a tour which allowed me to see how the product was made and how it was sold. They had a very interesting business model for sure. I could see given the care and quality that went into each piece of clothing why they were priced a little bit higher than most people who are looking for bargains will wish to pay. After the tour and some discussion about exercise in general, I was told that another employee of SkinFit, Florian, would be guiding me along my destination for the next few miles.I tried to express how I was hoping to run as short a distance as possible but they were also interested in showing me another geographical anomaly. I had come all this way and decided there was nothing wrong with tacking on a few more miles.

This extra mile segment included the bulge in Switzerland called Diepoldsau. The only part of Switzerland that lies east of the Rhine River, this area was also a crossing point for Jews escaping Nazi Germany. Thousands of Jews were saved despite the general Swiss policy of restricting Jewish escape during that time. One man, Paul Grüninger, saved the lives of up to 3,600 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria by pre-dating their visas, enabling them to migrate 'illegally' to Switzerland.  Take that, Schindler! (Seriously, kudos to both men, obviously.)

Florian guided me through this area which would have been rather tricky to find by myself. In fact we even got a tad off track adding a little more mileage to my ever-lengthening run. But soon we crossed the Alter Rhein and here is where Florian gave me the quick history lesson I addressed above.  He was often apologizing for his "less-than-perfect" English, and I said that if he wanted to see less-than-perfect, we should have a conversation in German.

When we officially crossed the Rhine, it was a border crossing that somehow was even less impressive than the one I had started my entire day with. A few planks of wood were placed down in a small stream section of the river and as I crossed Florian pointed to one side and said "Austria" before pointing to the other side and saying "Switzerland". Pretty darn neat.

At this point it was time for him to return back to work and time for me to finish the last seven miles of my run. We parted ways, he told me to keep up my fight against the current political administration in America (as I assured him most of us hated what was going on here) and now I just had roughly 10km to go.

Four miles later I found myself leaving Switzerland to cross into Austria for what would only be a half of a mile. Then I would finally cross the Rhine proper (my  for the first time and head back into Switzerland. A quick stop at a convenience store to down a Coke for calories meant that I only had three more miles to go. I sat outside of this shop, contemplating the $3 I had just spent on roughly a can-and-a-half and how fortunate I am to be able to do what I do. I work hard for sure, but at 43, I am 12 years older than the last time my father had use of his legs. I am fortunate indeed. Doesn't mean I can't be tired though and man I was ready for this run to be over. Away I went.

The weather had been intermittently sunny and cloudy with a spritz of rain here and there but the final two miles were a brisk 52° with a bright sunshine and slight wind.Up ahead I saw where I would be ending my run even though I had another mile to walk to the train station. If I hadn’t stopped in where I did, in another 200 yards I would’ve left Switzerland once again and entered Austria. In fact, if I hadn’t been so tired, I would’ve noticed that two days earlier I had ran on this exact same stretch of road at mile 17.5 of the marathon!

All told, I ran 18.5 miles and maintain that there really is no better way to see this world than by our own two feet. I sincerely hope to be back to this area for a multitude of reasons and races. This time it will feel like home.

Thanks again to the people of SkinFit, the Drei-Lander Marathon and the people of these four countries for making this trip so enjoyable.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Three Countries Marathon (3-Länder-Marathon) Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 13; 10th Edition 
100.75 miles run and 12.75 miles biked and 6409 meters swam in races in 2019 races
Race: Three Countries Marathon (3-Länder-Marathon)
Place: Bregenz, Austria
Miles from home: 5500
Weather: 52 degrees; mostly cloudy; cool

This race was about 24 hours from not happening for me. That has nothing to do with the event itself, which was pulled off expertly by the race organizers.

A persistent but oddly-occurring breathing problem happening for most of this year had me sucking wind just one day before the race. I have chalked it up all year to some sort of allergies or weather but I honestly have no real idea what is causing it. Given that all the other circumstances have changed every time I’ve had this problem the only thing that it can seem to actually be is something that I’ve never really dealt with before: stress.

This race was brought to my attention because one of the athletes that I coach was choosing it for his first marathon ever. As such, I reached out to the race and we decided to work together in arrangement between myself, the Visit Vorarlberg and the apparel company SkinFit to have me come in, speak about my endeavors, run the marathon and share it all with you my experiences. But the morning before the race it look like I might be downgrading to a half marathon jog rather than exploring the three countries of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland this marathon course traversed.

As I spoke to a group of multi-national citizens about what brought me to this event something happened with my lungs and they opened up. That night I was cautiously optimistic about running, albeit slowly, the marathon. The next morning, still cautious, I dressed for the race feeling like I could breathe for the first time in days. To say that I was elated to not be “wasting” this trip on a half marathon alone would be an understatement.

The race course itself starts on an island in Lake Constance in the city of Lindau, Germany. From there it runs into Austria for a majority of the race before skipping over into Switzerland for just a brief minute and then heading back in to Austria for a finish in the town of Bregenz.  The race has a wonderful starting time of 10:30 AM which would only be a problem if there is unnaturally warm weather. That was not the case for us as we had an idyllic 52° with heavy cloud cover and the occasional spritz of rain.

As I readied myself for this midsize marathon I was shocked by the absolute lack of any overweight people whatsoever at the race. At many races in America we see people taking on the marathon as part of their weight-loss program. Here it appears that absolutely nobody would dare to eve toe the line of the half marathon distance until they had lost any of those extra pounds. So kudos to these citizens for conquering one epidemic. However, as I explored the countries over the next few days it was clear they seemed to miss the memo on cigarette smoking. You win some, you lose some.

I also got to experience what is the closest one can ever have two public urination without getting arrested as I saddled up to one of these "Iron Crosses of Humiliation", as I call them. With four patrons relieving themselves simultaneously all while looking directly at each other with just the smallest lip of plastic shielding your manhood from the prying eyes of anyone walking by, this set up really illustrates that there is no modesty in long-distance running.

I scored a nice spot near the front of the race while a rockabilly band played numerous American songs with just a hint of an accent and listened to the countdown in German: “Drei, Zewi, Eins!...GEHEN!"

First 5km: 21:43

It is funny how quickly ,as an athlete, you go from "I won't be able to run at all" to "I should probably be able to run this under three hours" very quickly. As we left the island in Lindau and headed onto the mainland, my first few kilometers surprised me. Both were under sub-3 hour pace. But I felt fine.  I didn't think I was pushing it and no alarms were going off.  However. when the third, fourth and fifth kilometers slowed down my pace, it was for the best. I decided to only look at my watch every five kilometers during this race which would keep me from being too obsessed with time. I just had to be happy to be here.

When I heard some cowbells here, I thought "Typical. So many spectators have those these days."  Then I looked over and it was an actual cow in a field about ten feet away. I laughed about that for like a mile.


When I hit 5km and saw I was on pace for a 3:03 marathon, I told myself I would be over the moon with that time and just see how long I could hold that pace.

10km: 21:46

The next 5km was just like the first 5km: running along a paved bike path right next to Lake Constance (or Bodensee in German. All kinds of fun facts about Lake Constance which touches all three countries. Like how you are in international waters the minute your toes hit water.) At this point and all the way for miles, I had picked up a shadow. A chap named Gabriel decided that my back pocket was where he was going to be sitting for miles and miles. Apparently Gabriel had lots of friends on the course. I wish some had run with him so that he would have quit riding my ass.

He finally decided to pass me, on the turn, on my inside shoulder with no space to spare. I don't know if "Come on, dude" translates but I know my tone did. I decided I would beat this guy today. But for now, I let him slide ahead.


15km: 22:06

We literally ran through the seating of the Bregenzer Festspiele which is an arts festival sporting the
Seebühne- the world's largest floating stage. That was actually pretty darn neat if not a tad precarious because of the tight turns. Then back onto the path again we went. By now I have settled into a place where a group of about five runners were a few dozen yards in front of me and no one else was around me. This is perfect for me. I don't like other runners on my sides. But having a group of runners in front of me helping keep that pace (if they are in fact doing so) was quite nice.


The paved path turned surprisingly into trail mix of dirt and stone. I say surprising because we were well within the city of Bregenz and I expected it to stay paved the whole way. It was well packed down and except for the occasional puddle was pleasant to run on. Right around 13km the sun shot out from behind a cloud. I gave it a withering glance (but at least I had sunglasses on and it wasn't a solar eclipse, like some freaking moron) to let it know I did NOT want to see it at all today. The weather was so wonderful for me and even though I was covered in sweat, I was mildly cool. I hadn't experienced that in about six months.

We passed over the Bregenzer Ach, a river which I thought was the Rhine and that threw me. I knew the Rhine was about the half way point and didn't know this was here as well.  But as we ran over the bridge, a blast of cool air tickled my skin. "Yes," I thought. "That'll do, pig."

20km: 21:52

I was now settled into my pace. the group of runners in front of me, comprised of about six or seven, would occasionally over take one runner or lose a runner from their pack. I too would overtake someone and keep on churning out miles. While I wasn't checking each mile split, I felt like I was clocking the same times and my watch shows me after the race I was doing just that.

We had out first small out and back of the day and I could see that the fifth, sixth and seventh women were just in front of me. If you are that close to the top of the women in the race, you are usually having a good day. We swung around a 180 degree turn and entered the town of Hard. The kilometer markers and signs all had the town's name on them and I said "Yes, this is."


25 km: 22:29

Finally crossing the Rhine, we had our first "hill" of the day as runners looped over an overpass. I was still feeling pretty good but just wanted to see what the half-marathon split would be. Entering Fußach and seeing a small mat for the half-marathon was what I had been waiting for. Clocking a 1:32:14 for the half had me elated. I was certain I could maintain at or close to this pace for the rest of the race. Running a 3:05 would just be wonderful.

I began playing a game with a few runners here where they would pass me and I would pass them.  But together we were passing other runners who we would never see again. Shoulder-sitting Gabriel and an Asian man were working together in front of me about 50 yards ahead. They were still in striking distance and I was still using them as a barometer for how I felt.

There were a smattering of crowds dotting this course even though it might have been a bit difficult to get out to cheer people on. That was definitely appreciated. In addition, when we passed through neighborhoods, a few residents had come out to cheer us on. I have always lamented that so few resident in American marathons use the fact that a marathon is going through their front yard as a chance to see the human spirit in motion. Here, that was not the case.

I was getting closer to running in a new country as well.

30 km: 22:35

We crossed the border into Switzerland with our bib number being our passport. There were high school (or their equivalent) bands and cheerleaders out as well as many fans and vuvuzelas (because it is still apparently the 2010 South Africa world cup.) I played with the crowd and cheered and whooped and got a new hop in my step. I would need it as there would be no less than three different underpasses we had to climb. Hardly Mt. Everest, but at this point, I just wanted flat running.

I passed Gabriel on a long straight path on the west side of The Rhine and was feeling good. For about a mile. Then the energy started to slip away. But no one was passing me. I just wanted to get to mile 20. Then I could get into my head and play all the games I do to forget about how tired I am.

I rarely look around when I am racing but there were plenty of funny signs encouraging runners that were just a bit off in their translation. Right now my memory fails me but they definitely made me smile at the time. I do think one said "Run Cool. Be Hard."  Easy there, cheetah.


35 km: 24:09

Unfortunately, mile 20 did come but with it was the climb over the bridge again. I could tell my time was slowing. I just wanted to hold on the best I could.  The best part of this section was the fact we had been here before going the opposite direction. I knew what was ahead. I could picture it in my head with all the twists and turns and tangents to run. Sometimes the fact a marathon has so many more kilometers than miles can be a blessing. It feels like the race is flying by. When you begin to tire and each kilometer now seems further and further away, however, it can play with your head.

Yet even though I was slowing, still no one was passing me. It was like we were all suffering together. The signs that said "Hard" were no longer funny but rather letting me know that it wasn't going to get much easier. I needed to bite down and focus. Each little raise of a hill or slight turn was taking more and more energy to do. Finally, it was just too much.

40 km: 25:15


As I approached the last 5km of this race I could tell I was going to need to do something. When an aid station appeared, my executive decision was to take a walk break. Fortunately, this aid station had cola for the runners. (Most had water, tea, and some energy drink which I did not venture to try. Some also had cola.). I put three glasses into one and grabbed another glass of water. None of these were particularly cold as, if you have ever traveled in Europe, they don't chill many of their beverages. Finding ice even at a hotel is like a search for the Holy Grail.  But here I needed the calories and the sugar more than the ice.

I downed the cola quickly and kept walking. About 100 meters later I used the water to wash out my mouth a bit and then took the rest down the gullet. About a mile back we had joined a bunch of other runners doing either the half or the 10k. I wasn't sure. But now I had more than few runners around me and I was trying to suck out their energy.

Suddenly two marathoners passed me. I decided now was the time to go. I fell in behind them and almost immediately felt like a 100 Euros. (Which is even better than 100 bucks.) I looked at my watch and saw it was going to take a Herculean effort to get a Boston Qualifying time but I was going to give it my best. The quarter mile walk break had severely drained my time but without it I am not sure I could be running like I was right now. Three minutes before I was wondering if I was going to have to walk the last three miles. Now I was running below seven minute pace.

During my walk break, Gabriel had passed me.  But with one mile to go, he was just 50 meters in front of me. I revved myself up and began to ready myself for a duel to the finish. I knew he had speed but I had grit. I was ready to go. I hope you are, Gabriel. Because nowow is time for me to kick your a--
I turned the corner and Gabriel was walking. So much for that showdown.

In spite of my pick up, I know it was now nearly impossible to break 3:10. Last year, my age group BQ time was 3:15. But they sped it up for 2020. If I want to keep my 16 year streak of at least one qualifying time going I will have to be faster. I pumped my arms,  stretched out my stride, avoided the massive amount of runners in front of me and gave it all I had. But it was just not enough.

Entering the stadium finish I eased of the throttle a bit. I avoided some random mascot who wanted to high-five me (when I just wanted him to get the hell out of my lane) and finished my 163rd lifetime marathon in a time of 3:11:49. This was only my 77th fastest marathon but my fastest in four years. I am not going to say I "needed" this but it sure helped the psyche a bit. (I found Gabriel and shook his hand.  Competitors during the race and friends after.)

I wasn't quite finished with the day, however. I coach athletes remotely from around the world. One of them just happened to be running his first marathon at this particular race. Stefan Wegner was in the middle of one heck of a tumultuous period of time. He unfortunately lost his father just a few weeks ago. And he is getting married in two weeks. As if a first marathon marathon is not trying enough, imagine these other two things happening that the same time.

Over the past two years, he has lost around 40 pounds and during his time with me has lowered his personal best in the half from a 2:18 to a 1:41. And as he finished his first marathon in a time of 3:52, I was here waiting with his medal to put around his neck! It might have been a bigger thrill for me than it was to him. Way to go, Stefan!

All told this is an excellent race. The organization is top notch, the volunteers are great, the crowd, while a bit thin at times was boisterous and fun where it counted.  To be able to run through three countries was just a cherry on top of everything else. I would highly recommend taking the time to ignore some of the bigger marathons that every one seems to get bothered by not winning the "lottery" to be afforded the opportunity to spend $250 to enter a race where you are one of tens of thousands and truly experience something unique at 25% of the cost. 

Come run the 3-Länder-Marathon!


Thursday, September 26, 2019

Pemberton 24 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 13; 9th Edition 
74.55 miles run and 12.75 miles biked and 6409 meters swam in races in 2019 races
Race: Pemberton 24
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 1625
Weather: 55-85 degrees; sunny

I found myself in Washington, D.C. area for the first time in 3 years and one month last weekend.  Giving a speech to bankers about ignoring the impossible, I also had to find time to et my last longish run in before I head to run a marathon that traverses Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I hopped on the old interwebs and look at the options nearby. There was both a half-marathon in Virginia and 20 mile race in Maryland which caught my eye. Then I stumbled upon a first-year race called the Pemberton 24 - a Festival of 5Ks.

Held in a park in Salisbury, Maryland, this race was a series of 5K trail races which started promptly, on the hour ever hour for one full day beginning at 7 p.m. at night. Now, this sort of race wasn't exactly I should be doing just two weeks before a marathon but it wasn't NOT what I should be dong either. So I signed up for it.

I wrote an article on timed races for Runner's World magazine a few years ago. Those are races which, instead of a set distance, you have a set time to run as far as you can.  This race, however, was different than that. While race directors are constantly looking for ways to attract runners with new formats and new gimmicks, races akin to this are becoming more popular.  The race director of the infamous Barkley Marathons has a race wherein both runners run the same 4-ish mile loop every hour until no one can run any more This can take days sometimes. With this race, however, the twist was a point system.

Each runner received one point for each 5K completed (an additional point for the race from midnight to 5 a.m.). Then the top five finishers of both genders received an additional 4, 3, 2, 1 and 1 points respectively.  As such, if you wanted to win this race, you simply had to score the most points. This was going to be quite unique for sure.

I go to the race right when registration opened and began setting up my small tent. A little pink number I had bought for a friend for her usage in a 100 miler a few years back, I forgot it had little prancing foxes on it. That's me- striking fear in the heart of competitors everywhere. While I would not have the most minimal set up in the field (that would go to the fella who ended up setting up shop adjacent to me who had basically a reclining chair and a blanket) it was definitely dwarfed by some of the REI-salivations of other competitors. But Fort Awesome was enough for what I felt I would be doing this day. made a quick trip to the dollar store, bought a pillow and a camouflage cooler, a few provisions tin case the race didn't have them
and then was back to wait out the clock before the race started.

First 5K (7 p.m.): 23:51
My primary goal for this %K which would be run in rapidly fading light, was to simply see what the course was like and maybe figure out who a few of my top competitors would be for the race.  It appeared that many of the runners knew each other, were local, and maybe even had some sort of Survivor-esque alliances planned out for point-gaining strategies.

Midway through the first loop I heard two runners talking about how they planned to sti out a few of the early-morning races to get some rest. Puzzled, I inquired how they could do so.  This is here I learned, for the first time ,that runners did not have to complete every single 5k to continue. If you didn't run or finish a loop, you simply didn't get credit for it. This changed my entire strategy for running and racing completely!

I wore a headlamp for this first 5K and quickly realized one needs to replace these every quarter of a century or so. The elastic band had all but lost all elastic and made the headlight rather useless.  Upon finishing the loop I had to do some quick repair using athletic tape to even keep it together. I finished like 9th overall or something on this loop so I only got my one point for finishing.




Second 5K (8 p.m.): 21:20
Now that I had sussed out some of the competition, I wanted to see if I could win an early lap to jump to the lead.  I ended up running virtually this entire loop with my minimalist neighbor, Aaron who was a rather accomplished ultraunner.  He mentioned how his foot had been aching him and he would likely not come close to running all 24 loops. I long ago learned not to listen to the aches and pains of ultrarunners as hey often downplay their fitness and upplay(?) the tragedy which has befallen them lately.

This loop we would be running was not hard. But it was far from easy.  There were more than few roots, more than few twists and turns and more than a few branches those of us that are a bit taller would be taking to the face.  There was a section of dark black mud which would definitely not be improving as three hundred feet ran through it every hour. But there were also a few straight very runnable sections that I was always happy to hit. One was the last kilometer which was when runners burst out of the forest and onto a white rock road with the finish line in the distance.  Here Aaron and I popped out together and began running stride for stride. I ratcheted up the speed a touch and he stayed with me. We turned onto the last grass straightaway and I took off.  Aaron responded and stayed right with me. Having no desire to kill myself on Loop Two, I backed off a touch and Aaron went through with first place points.

So it was clear that on top of endurance, he had, at least right now, some kick!
 

Third 5K (9 p.m.): 22:16


By now my headlight was a bust. Aaron kindly offered me his spare which I thought was beyond nice.  This time I took off in the lead for the first 2 kilometers until a ever-smiling chap named Christopher (who wrote an ever-changing amount of Jesus-themed shirts) passed me.  I had heard that he had never run more than a marathon so I figured I would go right ahead and let him burn himself out on this loop and hold steady to my second place finish.


While the temperature was now squarely in the high-5, I was finishing each loop absolutely drenched in sweat. I could see the biggest challenge for this event was going to be staying warm and dry in between running. Once I stopped I quickly shed my shirt, toweled of and put on a long sleeved fleece. I knew eventually I was going to need more calories than the regular Mountain Dew I was drinking but right now, as it has so man times, it served me very well.


I was now second place overall in the standings. This early into the event I had no designs on how the rest of the race was going to go but I liked where I was right now.

Fourth 5K (10 p.m.): 22:15


This was the first race where it became clear to me that runners definitely have a varied amount of
different strategies. Right out of the gate a slew of runners took off at a great clip. I didn't feel like following them as I could see it was going to be a battle I wasn't interesting in participating in. When I finished fifth overall in virtually he exact same time as my second place finish from he previous loop, it was obvious each 5k was going to be it's own entity.



Fifth 5K (11 p.m.): 23:27


Beginning the fifth hour saw a slight drop in the number of participants. Or, perhaps more accurately, there were less people milling around ten minutes before the race started as there were on previous loops. I was doing my best to utilize every second of rest possible.  I had gone to also wearing a long sleeve shirt under my fleece when I was resting an climbing into Fort awesome to stay maybe a touch warmer doing my breaks. I found I was shiver a great deal and that would mean lots of wasted energy.

Even though I could have changed shirts every time I ran this was the first time I put on a new clean and dry shirt since we started. It felt wonderful.

I took third overall on this loop in a minute slower than the previous loop where I took fifth. Each loop was definitely a crapshot when it came to knowing who was going to run had and why.


 
Sixth 5K (12 a.m.): 25:26

The first loop to give us double points for the day also had me taking my first fall. I didn't feel like I hurt anything too badly and there was only a slight bit of scraping on my arm. But falling always takes a lot out of me mentally. When you trip one over roots you begin to wonder how much more often you will continue to do so as your feet aren't going to get any lighter as the hours march on. It begins to play with your mind and it is harder to use those resources for things you need.

Seventh 5K (1 a.m.): 26:43

My second double points loop had me making an executive decision.  I was hungry, tired and beginning to stumble. I obviously needed calories and a break.  I grabbed two doughnuts from the well-stocked aid station at the finish and headed to my tent. After lying down for a bit I realized I was wasting too much energy shivering and decided to go to my car. There I cranked the heat and tried to get comfortable. I am not sure how the hours passed so quickly because I was rarely sleeping. Something about not being able to fully recline and have my feet elevated kept me from enjoy sleep. But I was resting and warm which was good.

I could hear the beginning of each new loop. The announcer, Gabriel, was doing a bang up job of playing fun and invigorating music as well as entertaining all with facts and trivia. I am not sure he changed his hat every single hour but I never saw him wear the same one twice. From Captain's hats to astronaut helmets to everything in between, it was quite a hoot.



Eighth 5K (6 a.m.): 24:12


The last loop we would run with headlights was my first one back after my break. I told myself if I couldn't win this loop, I had no business being here any further. Fortunately, this was also the loop many of the fasties had decided to take it a little easy.

The loop provided one section where runners going one way could see the others going out on lollipop portion.  It was with about a kilometer to go when this happened and it always was a big energy lift for me.  

This win was a nice confidence booster. I saw I had given up a ton of ground/points by taking the rest I took but y goal was not to win as many points as possible. I was sitting in fourth place overall and it looked unlikely I would gain much on anyone in front of me. I was ok with that.



Ninth 5K (7 a.m.): 22:59

I started this loop as I did most of them: by leading the first quarter of a mile or so.  Then, like most of them, someone would pass me.  It was rarely the same people in the same order but always someone had a little bit more than me on that loop.  On this loop, I had one fella who had been wearing long sleeved button-up shirts most of the night. I am sure they were the wicking material and well-suited for his needs (as I have seen many ultra-marathoners wear them) but they always look so out of place.  Like someone left their lumberyard and decided to go for a 50k trot.

With the leader long gone, I was basically shadowing this second place runner after he passed me around the 2 kilometer.  He would invariably put more distance between us as we weaved through the darkness of the forest but when we entered one of the longer straight portions, I narrowed the gap.

When we excited the forest for the final half of a kilometer, I picked up the pace. I left him behind me and eased off the throttle just a bit. Turning onto the grass straightaway I saw the overall leader had been much closer than I expected. He was actually walking backward or something similarly to show how much of a lead he had or something to the race director (who was there to shake everyone's hands every loop - super cool.)  As I finished the last ten yards, I reached out to shake his hand and the guy behind me slipped right by, beating me by one second.

I begrudge him nothing as racing is racing and you have to go to the finish. I was just irked at myself for being distracted by what was going in in front of me and not making one last look over my shoulder when I slowed. I learned my lesson.

Sun was coming up now over tent city.



Tenth 5K (8 a.m.): 24:29

I would be lying if I wasn't still a little blood boiling about getting beat at the end of the last loop. 

What was most interesting now that the sun was out was how the course was far more technical than I thought it had been. There were way more roots, greater unevenness of terrain and lots of things which could have tripped me in the night  How I only fell once is a bit of a miracle.
With the sun fully ahead, the trail entirely visible, and me still feeling excellent, I vowed I would win this loop.  Like the other time I had said so, this was almost a breeze.  From the get go, I had virtually no competition and  led the loop wire to wire.

I knew the next loop would give me 34 miles and would be the longest I had ran since my buddy Mosi and I had split the 80 mile River to River Relay into a two-person team back in 2016.  in other words, this was the longest I hand run in over 2.5 years. That blew my mind for a moment.

Eleventh 5K (9 a.m.): 34:18

I decided to see if I could win two in a row and three out of four to put me in third place overall.  If so, and I continued to feel good, maybe I would run the remaining races at a conservative pace, busting out a victory here and there.

At the 3km portion of this loop, that decision was rendered unnecessary.  I came to a walk for the first time in the whole event and could not have cared less. I had gotten passed for fifth place a kilometer earlier and now I knew I was only getting one point no matter how slow I went.  I'd like to say that I made the decision to slow but my body made it for me. I was completely spent.

I walked the entire last 1.2 miles at what could only be classified as a saunter.  I knew I was not starting the next loop but I had to decide what I was going to do for the remainder of the day.  With it now being 11 a.m. I knew the McDonald's nearby would be serving lunch. 

So I hopped into my car and went and purchased a triple cheeseburger and large Dr. Pepper. The food was marvelous at the aid stations but sometimes you have to eat what your body wants.  I finished the entire food and drink before I event drove halfway back from the 2 mile excursion. With half an hour to go before hte next loop, I knew it would be my last.


Twelfth 5K (12 p.m.): 25:15

 I saw Aaron in his usual spot next to my tent and told him that this was my last lap. I said if he was still racing for the top spot and wanted a win, this might not be the lap to get it. It was said in half-hubris half-respect for him. In other words, I was done, there was 6 more hours to go for him and I was going to make anyone who challenged me on this loop hurt a WHOLE bunch.


As luck would have it, just like my other two victories, this loop was a breeze. I can't say I jogged but I definitely didn't have to push hard at all. I finished and immediately began packing up all my gear.

I knew I had a 2.5 hour drive back to the greater D.C area where I was staying with my friend Diana and her husband Charles. My original plan was to do all the loops and drive back, likely not getting back any earlier than 11 p.m. This was a much better idea.

I packed up Fort Awesome and said good luck or congrats to the variety of people whom I had gotten a chance to meet and talk with throughout the night. There was Claudia who had never run over a marathon who traversed over 50 miles.  There was a group of young kids who had done a relay and were just so polite and nice. There was another group of ladies, one of whom went gaga for Ed Sheeran. ("That ginger hobbit?" I said.) Big thanks to Aaron for he use of his headlight and Matt Bergren for his athletic tape. (Also, Matt you still have the Strava CR for the loop.  Mine is only second fastest.  plus I feel if I got it, since you lived down the street, I wouldn't have it for long.)


While this was a first year race, it was put together by an experienced  crew and that shows. From a logistical standpoint it was extremely well-run. Having a base of operations in one place and the runners right there helps. Thanks to Trent and Chuck and everyone else involved.

I very much liked the idea of the points system as well, even though it definitely skewed more towards a woman being able to win it outright.  But it also rewarded those with varying skill levels which was very fun.

My tent neighbor Aaron ended up winning the overall men's position rather handily. I slipped a notch by not running the last 6 races to fall to 5th place by basically just one 3rd place loop. But I was happy as this provided me with everything I needed for my training.

Of course, two days later, while out on a routine trail run I tripped, fell, scrapped up my knee, ribs, shoulder, elbow and hand with some really painful contusions from all of them. Not at all what I wanted with a marathon ten days later but I laugh how that didn't happen in the middle of the night 48 hour earlier.

I then went to a Chicago Bears game at the team who plays in Landover, Maryland and they won. My lifetime Bears record is 2-0. I think the team needs to fly me to important games. In case you don't know, the metro near the stadium closes at 11:01 p.m. when most Monday Night Football games go to at least midnight. Then, well, good luck finding a taxi or Uber. My college buddy Grant and I had to split a $100 fare and that was AFTER we walked two miles away from the stadium to even find one. 

But check out my mask!

Oh yea, my speech, the reason I was even there, went smashingly. Thank you for asking. Now book me for your next event.

My newest book will be out in October and you will love it.


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Lifetime Splash and Dash Series Recap 6 of 6

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 13; 8th Edition 
37.35 miles run and 12.75 miles biked and 6409 meters swam in races in 2019 races
Race: Lifetime Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 85 degrees; cloudy; humid

After not writing a recap for my last aquathlon and the Deep Eddy Mile (just didn't feel like it) I thought I would have some good news to share for this race. We had a slight break in the Texas heat and I have been running well lately. Both of those made me feel like it would overcome the fact that I haven't swam a stroke since the last aquathlon a month ago. I won't bury the lede. They didn't.

I had my worst swim of the year which wasn't atrocious (it was faster than every other swim of the 18 but one that didn't happen this year) but it was also my worst. The 89 degree water didn't help and having to battle one fella who was more or less the same speed as me and gave me a couple of good kicks at one point didn't help either. I spent the first 50 meters trying to get some water out of my lungs and nose but all told I just didn't have it. I tried to surge here and there but then was met with lethargy. During the transition I had a slight stumble with cost me five seconds as I tried to put my shoe back on. When I headed out for the run and saw 12:26 on the clock, when I was hoping to finally get a good swim in and be a minute faster than that, I knew my day was cooked.

During the run I saw absolutely no one. I will have to check my recaps but I do not recall NEVER seeing a single person to try to track down. As I made turns around this trail loop which has been my nemesis ever since the first one of these I did 18 races ago, I saw no one was catching me from beind. Wanting loops as close to 4:10 as possible when I actually ran 4:31, 4:40, and 4:29 can more or less tell you how my day went.

With a finish time of 26:08, I had my first over 26 since last year, didn't improve nearly as much as I had hoped and found myself running basically the same time as I had in the very first one of these in early 2017. I know what I need to do to get faster.It requires me to get into the pool. The fact I can be like the 8th fastest out of the water based solely on athleticism and muscle memory with zero training should make me happy. But it doesn't. However, I know that running is my priority. (Although, I will say, in my defense, the fact that the regularly-scheduled-to-be-finished-in-May new pool just half a mile from my house never getting finished AT ALL played a small part in me not getting my laps in this summer.)  I have a marathon in Austria in two weeks that I have been fervently trying to prep for the best way I know how in this Austin heat.  I might eventually get all my laps down to 4:10 but where I am going to make the bulk of my time against he upper echelon of this aquathlon group is in one obvious place: the swim. 

One competitor who, by beating me here on this day now owns a 3-2 head-to-head matchup against me this year, routinely beats me out of the water by 30-45 seconds. But when I beat him, it is because I can make it up on the run. If I can just get my swim close to his, he wouldn't even be a problem. But life is about priorities. You can't be bothered you don't have a faster swim if you focus on running, DANE.

There is no October race this year which is a bummer. The weather actually has a chance to be palatable in mid-October.  But without that I can really just keep up my running.  Hopefully I can keep this year of the most miles I have ever run going and turn it into some fast late fall races. 

I am sure this aquathlon series will be back before I know it!


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

2000 Miles and my First Marathon of 2019

This has been a year of firsts. It will likely have many more.

Running has been difficult for me since I moved to Austin. The weather, which I knew would be warm, has been WAY warm. Last summer was the third hottest summer in recorded Austin history with something like 50 days over 100 degrees. This summer has been mildly cooler which has helped my running get to heights I haven't seen in years. However, before I even got to this summer, I was doing something I had never done before in my recorded running history.

I have never been much of one for running streaks. I also haven't been one much for piling up mileage for no reason whatsoever. Yet, this year, with a longer than normal "Spring" and a variety of other factors, I not only broke my previous running streak of a meager 48 days (with 143) but have been putting up more miles than I have ever run before.

Another factor in my mileage gain has been a significant lack of racing. When I race, I rest. That means my per run mileage is higher but my number of runs and amount of miles goes down. But when I hit 2000 miles for the year on August 27th, that was the fastest I had ever reached that milestone. The only year which comes close is 2008, the year I ran the most miles ever: 2894.25, I didn't hit 2000 miles until September 8th.

What makes this year stick out even more was the horrific running year I had last year. I was sick for almost six weeks. Had virtually no good races. Spent many days just slogging through the disgusting weather. It took a phenomenal December to even get to 2198.98 miles. Yest this year, I am on track to top 3,000 miles for the first time ever and that is definitely a neat side milestone.

But these are all just random numbers. What matters most to me is hopefully bringing it all to a head to run some good fall races. My goal race this year is a marathon in Europe in just under five weeks.  Starting in Austria, going into German, back into Austria, then into Switzerland before finishing in Austria, the Three Countries Marathon looks like it will be my best marathon in over four years.  I know I am not in personal best shape right now but I should be knocking at the sub-3 hour door, especially if the weather holds true to form. I learned a long time ago, the course matters not nearly as much to me as a cold day does.

I haven't had many races this year to build confidence. I normally like to race my way into shape.  But with the longest runs I have ever done by far on the treadmill this summer (my 20 miler is this Friday) I think this bodes well for me.

So now I am trying to pull it all together here in the last month. I have an triathlon race and then a very interesting 24 hour event just two weeks before the marathon. To be quiet honest, the marathon has lost a little appeal fr me the past few years. I am hoping that this race will bring some fire back into me and get the engine running again.



Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Iron Cowboy documentary review

I watched the documentary of the athlete James Lawrence who in 2015 attempted to do 50 Ironman triathlons in 50 days in 50 states. 

He did zero.

What Lawrence did accomplish was, and please read this statement before you get your underwear all knotted up, extraordinarily impressive. But he didn't do what he claims to have done, what his sponsors tout that he did, what the title of the documentary says, or anything else along those lines. What he accomplished was doing the equivalent of a 140.6 mile swim/bike/run workout in 50 different states in 50 days. This might seem like I am picking nits but bear with me here.

From a personal standpoint, I have a stake in this matter. I have partially made a career out of racing 52 marathons on 52 consecutive weekends in one calendar year. When I accomplished this in 2006 there were few, if any, who had undertaken and completed the same schedule - finding and racing 52 actual races on race day. Since then, I have been made aware of people doing similar things but there are always caveats in their races plans where they double (or triple) up on one weekend allowing them to take time off, or they run glorified training runs instead of races or a multitude of other things which take away from the spirit of the endeavor.

What do I mean by the spirit? Well, undoubtedly there are many people who could run 26.2 miles once a week for a year. But taking on the challenge to go to an actual race is one of the things that makes this challenge much more difficult. The other is something that, in 2006, I never thought would need to be mentioned. You see, when I raced these 52 marathons, I was actually racing them. Week in and week out I was giving everything I had to not just check off a box and collect a medal. I was not there just to say I had finished a race. This is proven by the fact that I ran 6 marathons that year which broke my personal best. In other words, it is not the time the marathons were run in that deserves accolades but rather the commitment to bettering myself compared to my own best which is the measuring stick. My stake is that when I say I have done something and try to make a living off of that, it is impeded when others aren't forthright with what they also claim to have done.  It affects my speaking engagements, my potential sponsors, and other things in that realm.


Last year, "fitness star" Ashley Horner declared she was going to do something akin to what Lawrence had attempted. Horner is undoubtedly aesthetically pleasing with smoky eye makeup, nice abs, and some big biceps. She also has on her resume, a supposed 230-mile 3-day run across Haiti. I say "supposed" because there is no GPS data of any sort to bolster her claim. So when she, who had never once completed single 140.6 mile triathlon claimed she was going to do the 52 in 52 in 52 (she was adding Haiti and some other place for 52), there was tons of skepticism. It turns out it was well placed. Within three days, the entire fiasco went to pot and Horner called it quits. Anyone who dared to point out how b.s. the entire endeavor was was met with "but she's doing it for charity!" by her legion of Instagram followers. Never mind whether the money she raised actually made it to the charity (there are plenty of reasons to think it did not including this bizarre denial of impropriety that is as convoluted as her 52 in 52 plans).

All the talk of Horner brought up Lawrence's attempt. If nothing else, at least most of Lawrence's workouts were easy to find. This documentary then puts the statistics for each day up as well. But it was not without controversy.

First, Lawrence never competed in an actual race. While he does have records for most 70.3 triathlons and 140.6 triathlons in a year (although, no emphasis is put on how fast he finished them, which, like it or not, DOES matter) every one of the 50 in 50 was going to be simply a workout. That's not mean to denigrate the effort. Spending upwards of 17 hours exercising a day is extremely difficult. Couple that with then traveling to another start to do it all over again 49 times in a row is a logistical nightmare. But he never was in an actual race.

Second, the reported times given never say how much time was between each discipline. In the film you might see his swim time was 1:30 and his bike was 7 hours and his run was 5 hours but it is quite clear there was substantial time in between each event where he was getting ready for the next discipline. But we don't know what those times are and I am sure it is not easy to find them.

Third, on a few occasions, due to weather or other circumstances, portions of the bike and run were done indoors on stationary bikes or trainers or treadmills. In fact, one of the biggest controversies was when he did a run on an elliptical trainer. This drew particular ire from these who were even in his corner as that is most assuredly not the same as running outdoors.

Finally, the IVs. It is unsure exactly how many times Lawrence received IVs to help with his fluids and hydration and whatnot but it is very sure that this was not allowed by the World Anti-Doping Agency. (A post-script in the documentary says that WADA has since changed their "regulations to take into account situations like James's (sic)".

OK, all of that said, most of which I already knew, I really wanted to root for the guy. He's likeable and likability goes a lot in this world. But I just couldn't endorse what he was doing. Not because I cared whether he was destroying his body or not. Do whatever you want to do if it doesn't hurt anyone. Nor did I care that he was throwing his wife and five kids in an RV for the trip as well. Good for him for letting his family come along with him and see more in their young lives (his older was 12 years old and youngest 5 during this movie) han most adults will ever see in their life time. No, it was a couple of other things that really rubbed me the wrong way about how this all went down.

First and foremost is not owning up to the fact that they weren't Ironman races. In my latest book I am writing, I talk about stopping the embellishment. I know that calling them Ironmans is good for publicity and much more catchy than "140.6 miles of swimming, cycling and running workouts." But here's the thing: that's exactly what they f*cking were! As a person who has completed in many such races, you would think that he himself would be most attuned to what makes a race a race. I sure as heck am. What made my 52 so difficult was not just the covering the distance. But showing up, on race day, and racing in whatever the heck came down from the heavens that day. I had to compete with other people, I had to deal with the weather, and I had to go when the gun fired, not whenever I wanted to. This is paramount. That is why how many free throws you sink in the gym don’t matter when it comes to nailing them with the NBA championship on the line.
Second was an entitlement attitude that Lawrence showed. When the IV controversy popped up, and other things from the internet reared their head (note to anyone doing anything anymore like this in the age of Twitter, etc : you are going to have people who don’t like what you do. DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS!) he was almost astounded that anyone dare question his motives. “I don’t have any sympathy and don’t understand the rationale for someone who criticizes what we were trying to accomplish,” Lawrence said. This is where he lost me. Immediately all I could think about was Horner and those who use charity to hide behind what they are trying to accomplish. When they fail it is always “But think of the kids!” When the filmmakers pushed Lawrence and asked if he could at least see the viewpoint of the those offer criticism he paused and then said “no.”

Furthermore, when he said “How could you possibly have an opinion it?”, the utmost of arrogance really shown through. In fact, all I could think of was Lance Armstrong denying every allegation of impropriety with venom and vitriol. How can they have an opinion, James? Well, they are human. Chances are they are triathletes. Chance further are they are the people who you were lamenting weren’t contributing to the cause you were trying to raise money for. So, opinions are going to be what puts money in your coffers. And I can have an opinion because I did something very much on par with your efforts and I did exactly what I aid I was going to do, what is on the cover of one of my books ,and what is the crux of many of my speeches. (He does, at the end of the film, seem to admit to giving up sense of entitlement but that appears to be much more for the narrative than an actual truth.)

There was also a charity controversy involved with his effort as well which was seemingly resolved at the end. This really rubbed me the wrong way. When I ran my 52 marathons, I too raised money for an organization. While during the initial planning of my races, I found one which was organizing by a group in Mobile Alabama that was part of a larger international organization called L’Arche. Dealing with mental and physically disabled individuals over the age of maturity, L’Arche also organized one of the races I was planning on running. Thinking that if I was going to be doing something difficult, I might have some extra gumption behind me if I had more people counting on me to finish, I asked L’Arche if they would mind me raising money for them. You see, I had worked with handicapped individuals in a variety of different ways for most of my life.  As I had never heard of L’Arche, I guarantee you many others hadn’t either. So on top of money raised, I would also raise awareness. We hear that a lot for diseases and cause which we are all pretty darn aware of. At least here I would actually be making people aware of something they didn’t know.
All told I raised over $43,000 that went directly to L’Arche through a third party fund-handling group. Whatever L’Arche decided to do with that money was up to them. That way I never had to deal with the controversy that both Horner and Lawrence did. I also then understand the frustration when you want people to donate and they aren’t. The thing is though you have to remember that this is a goal YOU took on. People have no obligation to be as involved as you are regardless of how difficult what you are doing is.

Finally, the complaints about how difficult it is or how much you want to quit are lost on me. Lawrence had one hell of a crew. He had monetary sponsors. He had said sponsors sending paid and unpaid employees down to help him with his endeavor. He had people with advanced nutrition and electronics and massage and so much more to get his body in the best shape possible. Hell, one day he actually had two crew members more or less carry him through the final 6 miles of one his marathons with a crew member on each side pulling him along.

Lawrence falls back one point on how being there to run with his daughter every night is what kept him going from the 39th day forward. That’s nice. I know that you can’t criticize family stories or you are seen as an ogre but ogre me up. I know I don’t have a daughter to use as a cool point in any of my stories. In fact, when a documentary was made of my solo running of the 202miler American Odyssey Relay, one complaint a friend had was that it wasn’t dramatic enough. So on top of running 202 miles straight, I was at fault for having what can only be described as a relatively drama-free run. I lucked out by not having a bear attack me or get into a fistfight with a crew member and somehow was punished for it. But I will never apologize for always putting the story out there exactly how it happened and simply letting people decide whether they want to support it or not.

That is basically my take away from this film and Lawrence’s effort. He is obviously very accomplished and very fit. He seems to want to do some good things for others while also experiencing awesome things for himself. I see no fault in that. There is nothing wrong with enjoying what you do when you are also helping others. But, like more than a few people commented, this seemed like not much more than a desire to do something cool which had a charitable component tacked on to help launder it a bit. Throw in the family aspect and you add another layer of criticism-proof protection.
What Lawrence accomplished was an incredible feat of endurance. It’s unfortunate he didn’t do what he is known for.