Sunday, April 30, 2023

Run for the Lakes Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 17; 3rd Edition
52.4 miles raced in 2023 races
Race: Run for the Lakes Marathon
Place: Nisswa, MN
Miles from home: 137
Weather: 38 degrees and party sunny; shifting winds

I was nervous. 

I can probably count on one hand the number of times in my life I’ve actually been nervous. Anxious, excited, maybe even trepidacious about what lay ahead, but rarely am I nervous. The night before this marathon, I was tossing and turning, wondering if I could even run 26.2 miles. 

If you don’t necessarily follow all of my exploits and travels just know that four weeks ago I DNFd my first ever marathon. 164 times I started a marathon and through whatever came my way, 164 times I finished. Death, taxes, and me finishing a marathon. But, in what was supposed to be my first marathon finish in 3.5 years and also my first marathon since my mother passed away basically everything went to crap and I had to pull out right after the halfway point. It left a bitter taste in my mouth, even though I knew it was the right thing to do. 

I spent the next few weeks recovering from that race even though I knew that I had to quickly find another marathon or this was going to weigh on my mind. I originally thought about a marathon about 90 minutes away from my home in Minneapolis but when we had a freak streak of hot weather here, I decided I would wait until closer to the race date to make sure I knew what the weather was going to be like before I signed up. About a week before the race, it appeared the weather would be fine. I went to sign up but the race was full. I sent an email to the race director but didn't get a reply.  Not even a "Sorry, we are full!" which I would have completely accepted. 

So, I looked around and found a smaller race a little bit further way in Brainerd, Minnesota. Well, technically the race is in Brainerd but the race benefits or is sponsored by a Brainerd organization located just south. I quickly looked over the course and saw that it was two loops and looked relatively flat. Chilly weather was in the forecast but not too cold. I figured there is no time like the present and signed up for it just a few days before the event. 

I drove up the day before the race, had a litany of small town encounters which just made me laugh and grabbed a quick pasta dinner with some other racers. I was ready for an earlier night and some good sleep.  And unlike last marathon, I didn't have to be up at 3 a.m. to catch a bus. Getting four more hours of sleep, driving two miles and parking at the start line was looking like a much better deal. However, the night before, as I tossed and turned in a fitful sleep, things didn't feel good. I thought perhaps maybe I was going to DNF two marathons in a row. I thought maybe I should see if I could drop to the half-marathon. I contemplated missing my alarm and not even going.  I have never had such worries. But I finally fell asleep.

Race Morning:

When I woke the morning of the race, I was surprisingly rested. Getting to the starting line, I was happy with how the weather looked and began reading myself for the race. It was a small event with not even 100 marathoners and I knew it was likely I would spend much of the time running all by myself, making it not much more than a glorified training run. As I parked my car less than a block from the start, I decided to simply wait there until literally five minutes before the start of the race before getting out and walking to the start line. The announcer gave almost a WWF wrestling style over-the-top selling of how the United States was "the greatest country in the world" before introducing the person who would sing the national anthem. After she finished, but before the countdown for the race began one of the older gentleman presenting the colors of the flag of the local VFW or whatever seemingly accidentally fired his gun. Everyone froze wondering if that was the start of the race. We all looked at each other as the announcer assured us we would begin in just a few second. My only two questions were:

1. Since we soon learned that the guns were not how we would start the race, why was the gun loaded?


2. Sweet baby Jesus I hope it was loaded with a a blank. 

Soon thereafter, a countdown from ten started, and away we went.

First 5k:

As the race had a marathon Half Marathon and Marathon and a Marathon Relay, all running the same way, I knew it was going to be difficult to tell who was running which race. But as all I wanted to do on this day was finish, it didn’t matter to me really what place I finished in. I could tell, however, that two of the runners in front of me were running the marathon, so as we hit the first mile, I simply assumed I was running in third place. If it stayed like that, great. If it didn't, I didn't care.

As a few tall, lanky young fellas disappeared into the distance and I guessed they were either running the half marathon, or running so fast, it didn’t matter because I would never see them in my race anyway.  I had driven the course the night before, and realized that my thoughts of how flat it would be were incorrect. Hardly what one would say were killer hill,s it was nonetheless quite rolling. The half of this loop wasn't too bad and I was pleased with my splits for the first two miles. As we hit the 3rd mile, it dawned upon me that barring unforeseen circumstances, I was going to finish this race. I simply felt far too good to have the bottom fall out later on. I let out a huge sigh of relief, even with 23 miles to go, almost tempting the racing gods.

To the 10k:

Right around the 5th mile I heard footsteps from behind, and soon a guy was passing me. I did not get a chance to look at his bib to see what color he had in order to ascertain whether he was in the Marathon but given how quickly he had passed me, it seemed quite evident that he was only doing the half.  I decided I would use his energy to pull me along without going out of my own comfort zone. Before too long one of the two Marathoners in front of me was coming back into sight. The crisp air felt wonderful on my skin and just enough sun flitted through the trees.  The scenery was gorgeous and there was still mounds of snow on the ground in places with trees limbs fallen on the side of the road.  The record-setting winter this year in Minnesota had obviously not spared the foliage in Nisswa.  But the roads were clear, well-paved, and dotted with the occasional sign encouraging runners.  

One older gentleman stood off of the road, no where near a car, or a house, or anything else which would give one a reason to see why he was there exactly. As I passed by gave me the quietest "Go get 'em" that you have ever heard. Like it was a secret.

Onto the Half

Within a mile or two the guy that I was trailing passed that marathoner ahead of us. I soon found myself at mile 11 doing the same thing. I hadn't expected to catch up to him this quickly but another half-marathoner had passed me and I was using his energy now as well.

As the marathoners reached our halfway point, we peeled off from the half marathoners and went a slightly different direction away from the finish line. I was surprised to hear another set of footfalls behind me. Another marathoner? I crossed the timing mat for the halfway point and heard this guy say “is this the finish for the half?" I turned around and told him he was in the wrong place and tried to point the way he had to go. I then asked the people at the aid station to make sure he got where he needed to be. I don’t know how he missed his turn, but I felt awful for him. I hope if he crossed the half timing mat they would give him a time for that instead of having to back track to the actual finish.

To Mile 20:

There is something about running a loop that really suits my running style. Even though I had just started the second equidistant loop, I felt I was already 2/3 of the way done with this race. I already knew exactly where all the hills were which took out the mental aspect. All I had to do was execute. As I got to one section that was an out and back which would allow me to see the runners in front of me, I was surprised to see the gentleman who I thought was running a half marathon zip by. Soon there after I saw the marathoner I knew was running followed suit. They had a couple of minutes on me, but I thought perhaps if things broke my way, maybe I could move up the leaderboard. As I passed through one intersection, I asked what place I was in and the one guy said I was fifth overall. Now I was completely confused and decided to put what place I was out of my mind and simply keep running. 

At the 17th mile I went through a aid station that was manned by two lovely mothers with their young daughters (I am assuming), and one of the mothers said to me, "You’re in third place!" Now I had really had no idea in the world what position I was actually in. But within the next mile one of the runners appeared on the distant horizon. I figured this might get interesting later on in the race. I looked behind me at one point just to get an idea of where the other runners were, but they were no where to be seen. As I near the 20th mile I noticed, even though I wasn't picking up the pace and was in fact slowing down, that the runner in front of me was slowing down even more.

The Run to the Finish:

Each twist of the run revealed I was getting closer and closer to what I had been told would be second place. As I didn’t care either way between second and third I wasn’t exactly trying to overtake the runner in front of me, but as we ran through the back half of the course which was decidedly more hilly than the front half, and also with a steady headwind in our face, I soon found myself in that runner's back pocket. A little downhill section with a cool glass of water in my throat made me decide to make a definitive move and put him in my rear view mirror. I figured I was simply going to finish second overall for the fourth time in my last seven marathons. 

Little did I know that the runner in front of me who I formerly thought was running the Half Marathon seem to be battling some stomach issues. Poor guy had to stop on multiple occasions to evacuate what was inside of him. I’m glad I didn’t know that he was as close as he was because I probably would’ve done more damage trying to pass him then good. You see, as I continued on, the wind really took a toll and dashed any hopes of running a sub 3:10 marathon. For me, that’s the gold standard of a Boston qualifier. In fact, this is the first time in my life my Boston qualifying standard hasn’t been 3:10. Every year that the Boston marathon has tightened up the standards for the race has been the same year that I got into an older age bracket. So from my very first marathon 21 years ago until now 3:10 has always been what I have shot for. Now, I get 3:20, because I am old!

Regardless, as I hit the homestretch and saw that I was, in fact, going to finish this marathon, I really thought that I was going to be overwhelmed with joy. Instead, I simply finished the race pointing up to the sky thinking of my mom, cross the finishline in 3:12:44. This was only my 83rd fastest marathon ever but few have meant more to me.

After asking around and not finding any definitive results, I hopped on the results pages and saw that I had in fact finished third overall. Still good enough for a podium. It ends up that one of those tall, lanky fast Half Marathon hers was also in the marathon. In addition, this young fella is the same running club that I am in Minneapolis. So, the Mill City Runners took a 1-3 on the podium. Not too shabby.

Couple of quick thoughts about the race:

1. This is a surprisingly challenging course with lots of little ups and downs. It's not "tough" but it is not easy. The second loop really felt like they jacked up the hills from the first loop.
2. In spite of it being sparsely populated with both runners and spectators, you didn't necessarily feel all that alone. The two loops helped you feel like you weren't all too far from anyone.
3. This was very well-run with volunteers at all the turns and cones to keep you safe. Plenty of liquids including actual Gatorade and not some random energy drink you have never had that the race took because it was free.
4. Looks like Olympic Trial qualifier and super speedy Dakotah Lindwrum (2:25:01 PR) paced someone through the first half of their marathon. *Napoleon Dynamite voice*: "Lucky".
5. Two runners ran some ridiculously even splits with a 1:44:44 first half and1:44:26 second half. And they finished hand-in-hand. That's cool.
6. It appears I ran the fastest second half of the marathon with a 1:38:21, a four-minute positive-split

I cannot tell you how relieved I was to finish this race. I am shockingly not sore the day after. My energy is not drained from me at all. I am quite surprised that I was so unbelievably nervous given how easy this race was for me. I know well-meaning friends told me "I knew you could do it!" but I sure as hell didn't know that just 7 hours before the race started.

But I lowered my lifetime marathon average by a whole two seconds (3:18:24), nabbed my 78th Boston Qualifier, and really shaped my racing for the rest of the year with this marathon off of my back.

*whew* Thanks for getting me through this, Mom.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Mt. Charleston Marathon (and Life) Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 17; 2nd Edition
26.2 miles raced in 2023 races
Race: Mt. Charleston Marathon
Place: Mt. Charleston, NV
Miles from home: 1687
Weather: 18 Degrees at start and steadily warmer

I have DNFd (did not finish, for those who may not know) races before. 

In 2018 I pulled out of the USAT Off-Road National Championship in the middle of the mountain bike portion that the overall winner called one of the hardest he had ever done (I wish I could find the article where he was quoted.) I was just a few months out from having surgery on a broken thumb (after getting attacked by two men one night in Austin) and after like my fourth crash not even halfway through the first of two loops of the bike I said enough was enough.

Later that year, after doing a half-marathon on the scorching sand of Galveston Texas (my slowest half-marathon by a LONG SHOT), I was scheduled to do a 10 mile road race the next day. A little over halfway through that race, my insides already boiling in the heat, I called it quits and walked back to the finish.

In 2017, I had, for all intents and purposes, stopped half way through the half-marathon leg of a three race morning (5k, 10k, half-marathon) before finally getting back up after about 20 minutes and dunking my entire body in ice water and finishing the race.  So not a DNF but real damn close.

Back in 2010, two laps through the three laps of the Rocky Racoon 50 miler, and still sick from the flu, I called it a day. A week later I ran and set the course record of another 50 mile race in Florida. So I have that going for me.

But I have never had a DNF in a marathon. It has been a point of pride to me. Other race distances I might show up to undertrained or give into to the elements but a marathon was where I drew the line. Even when they blackflagged the Green Bay Marathon in 2012, calling the whole race off when I was at mile 20, I still finished it, even though I walked most of the last 5k. When I separated my shoulder a few days before what was going to be my 100th marathon, I (probably quite stupidly) ran with my arm in a sling and finished that. It was also Pikes Peak Marathon.

As such, I assuredly did not think that the Mt. Charleston Revel Marathon, my first in almost 3.5 years was going to be the race that ended my marathon streak at 164. But it did. 

Before I get to that, as I see all of my recaps to be almost  public services, given I hope to share hints and tidbits about the race to help others (I can only tell you how fast and/or slow I ran in a race before that gets real old real fast), let me do some of that here.


The Revel race series is known for providing runners with races with almost insane amounts of downhill. Some people feel these give an unfair advantage to those looking to set new PRs or get a Boston Qualifier. My thought is that after a certain distance, a great deal of downhill takes away more than it gives. (This is what they call "foreshadowing".)  Regardless, while the marathon boast nearly 5,000 of downhill I do want to point out a few little things which if one is running, they might not know.

First, in the first 13 miles, there are four uphill sections. Right off the bat, after a little horseshoe start, there is a rather cruel hill of about 40 feet.  Doesn’t sound like much but at nearly 8,000 above sea level, RIGHT at the start, this one hurts. Right before the fourth mile there is another quick rising 40-foot hill which similarly is not the most fun thing in the world, especially if you don’t know about it. On one little backtrack about a mile later, there is another quick rise. Then again between miles 9 and ten there is an uphill. Finally, around mile 12.5 there is one last rather large hill to contend with.

None of these are necessarily that hard, and if you scrutinize the elevation chart with a magnifying glass, you will see them, but they are there nonetheless. But if you weren’t expecting them, and they show up, the mental block which could take hold might be worse than the actual leg fatigue. Just letting you know so you know. As for the second half, unfortunately can’t really speak to it because, as pointed out earlier, I didn’t finish this race. 


I thought this would get a little bit better to swallow as a day or so went by but it hasn’t. This was the first marathon I have run since my mother died in October. I had trained fairly well. I don’t have a sub-3 in Nevada where this takes place. I had all but written my glorious return to running marathons in my mind, showing how I was dedicating this to my mom and how we can overcome so much when we put out minds to it. Then a month ago I had a less than stellar warm-up half-marathon, the winter in Minneapolis made running outside a bit of a chore, and I showed up to this race with great trepidation.

But I like butterflies. I like feeling like I have something on the line. I have not, and will not ever, understand why people race races without a desire to run as fast as they can. I have talked about it ad nauseum. Running is joyous. Racing is joyous because you want to run as fast as you can. So I get nervous before every single race because I want to give all I have. And I hope all I have is enough to give me a time on the clock commensurate with what I think I had that day. Sometimes it works. Many times I think I can do better than I did. Sometimes I am disappointed. Some very few times, I don’t finish. But never with a marathon.

Until Saturday. My legs were aching from the downhill barely four miles in. I had been dealing with a left quad issue this year which is a little new to me. But usually it was after a race or hard run, never during. Also, if I do anything well in running it is run downhill. I stink to high heaven at running uphill but when it comes to gliding down the other side, there are few I race who do better. So, when I approached the 9th mile and had just run a solid 6:14, I figured the pre-race jitters were over, the first four miles of finding my legs were behind me, and it was time to start writing that glorious recap.  Then within two miles, I was done. 

It is a testament to my ability to often push past pain and recover in the last portion of the race that I didn’t stop at the 11th mile. But as the next two miles went by, I went from doing the math which told me I could slow down a minute per mile and still run a sub-3 to realizing I might only get a Boston Qualifying time to wondering how many more times my legs were going to feel like they were giving out on me until I couldn’t use them anymore.  

I passed the 13th mile where I expected there to be some sort of race official or something but only saw the volunteers and bathrooms. I pushed further to go across the timing mat at the halfway point just so I knew all the people tracking me at home would see a split. I knew this would give me more time to make my next decision and they wouldn’t have to worry about what had happened if I didn’t hit it.

But then I stopped. I pulled over to the side and some helpful fellow runners tried to cheer me on.  Some less than helpful others told me to “Goggins it” in reference to the ultradrunner David Goggins who is know to push through extreme pain and discomfort and has more than few acolytes who embrace that attitude. 

I don’t. No race is worth my health. I don’t pay my mortgage with my race results. No terrorist is going to kill my family lest I finish a race. “Just” finishing has never appealed to me. I remember when some runners lambasted Ryan Hall for pulling out of the London Marathon at the tenth mile because he wasn’t representing his country the way he should. “I would walk the last 16 miles if I had to” was the basic gist of these people who didn’t seem to grasp how ridiculous that would be for an Olympic athlete in the marathon. Sure Derek Redmond hobbled home the final 150 meters of a 400 meter in Barcelona during the Olympics after pulling his hamstring but that’s completely different (and also just a dumb thing he did, his father’s helping him along the way notwithstanding). But to keep running when your legs aren’t working is just stupid. Yet here I was still contemplating it.

As I went through the mental gymnastics of figuring out how I could possibly keep running downhill when each step was sending shockwaves through my quads, I wondered if maybe I could just go a few more miles and THEN quit. But what sense would that make? Suddenly a pickup truck pulled up beside me and asking me if I needed help. I asked if he was with the race and he said he was. He asked me if I wanted to get in.

I stood there. A full five seconds passed. Count it out. That’s a long time to not answer someone. Finally, I did.


I gingerly undid the door to the bed of his truck and pulled myself in. I had quit the race.

I know this is the right thing for me to do. I do not think that this is the end of my running career. I am aware that well-meaning friends will tell me that they’ve never done one fraction of what I have done and I shouldn’t be disappointed. I get that this is hardly the biggest problem in my week, let alone in the world. But to me, on Saturday, with my first marathon in nearly half a decade, wanting to run to honor my mother, this sucked. A whole flipping bunch.

Maybe my best running days are behind me. With 164 marathons and 115 marathons and some fairly decent times for a 180lb guy without a great deal of natural talent, and a body that actively works against him (see: Gilbert’s syndrome) this wouldn’t be a surprising thing. I turn 47 in May. Older people tell me I am not old, but I sure as hell am not young. I’d like to think this isn’t the case. I’d like to believe that I can still maybe eke out a few more personal bests before I have to look for more tangible “bests” (e.g., my best marathon as a master runner). Regardless, even if those days are behind me, I am still going to do my best to rage against the dying of the light. I will keep trying to go faster. I will push myself as far as I can, while still keeping in mind that I won’t push myself so far that I actually injure myself.  I am not a stupid man. I am quite practical.

 But right now I am sad and pissed. It will pass. I know that. I will get back up and try again. But if it is ok with everyone, I am just going to upset for a little bit.