“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

Today I took my first step of 2016! My first running step, that is. It’s been a frustrating 3 months since I shut it down after the Kansas City Marathon. Three months of no running. No running isn’t very conducive to a blog about running either.

I ran one mile on a treadmill this afternoon after finally getting in to see the podiatrist (I had to cancel an appointment in December). Of course you always tend to like people who give you good news, but I can see why he’s in demand. Way back in November, my PCP ruled out a calcaneus fracture. I understood his diagnosis was heel bruise. I embarked on a regimen of icing, stretching, cross-training, but no running. The improvement was agonizingly gradual, so much so that I became convinced that what I really had was a plantar fascia tear. The mechanism of injury was right, and Peyton Manning was getting a lot of attention for his. In fact, it wasn’t until I ran across this article and its plantar-specific stretching exercises that I really felt like I was starting to improve at all.

Not satisfied with how I was progressing 3 months into my non-running layoff, I kept my appointment with a podiatrist today. He examined my heel and after less than a minute of palpating different spots, he knew what the problem was – not fascia related at all! It’s a bursa sac. The hard impact from my late August trail running stumble and stomp touched off some bursitis. While keeping up my running mileage (kind of) through my October marathon didn’t help matters, and shutting it down did, it’s probably walking with its associated heel striking that has kept it from healing faster than it has.

I kept an open mind going into the appointment, but I was just astounded by how my doc didn’t fit any of the stereotypes I hoped he wouldn’t. No orthotics. No criticism of my forefoot/midfoot striking and minimal shoe selection (both in running shoes and for everyday wear). In fact, he hypothesized that my running style was what enabled me to keep running through my marathon – a heel striker would have never made it.

I walked out with some waffle-cushioned heel cups (for walking, not running) and the encouragement that he saw no reason why I couldn’t get back to running. I wasn’t afraid to ask – but I am wary of trying to impose my will on someone who is giving me advice. I suspect he knew I wanted to get back to running, but I was certainly willing to keep holding off if that had been his recommendation. He suggested I take it easy at first – low mileage on a cushioned treadmill, keep up the cross-training. The dreadmill never felt so good! The rest of the prescription was a month of icing the heel and NSAIDs (2 Aleve – naproxen sodium 220 mg; 2x day) to quiet down the bursa sac. He also encouraged me to keep up the plantar-specific stretching, since it’s activating the same area and providing relief. If all that doesn’t work, he’ll do an injection to break the cycle.

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. Running, I’ve missed you. It’s good to be back.

The “wisdom” of racing injured #runKCM 2015 #runreal

This year’s Kansas City Marathon was a difficult but rewarding race. This is a long post, so I am not going to bury the lead:

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I ran it with an injury, which was an unusual experience. I’m fortunate that I have been able to run almost all of the past 4+ years injury-free. As Yogi Berra might put it, I think that’s probably 90% genetic, and the other half is my post-40 running style (minimal shoes, forefoot/midfoot landing).

The Injury

In late August I decided to check out a new trail I hadn’t run on before. I was expecting a grassland trail, but the area was overgrown. When I finally found the trail, it turned out to be a more typical wooded single track with rocks and roots. During that run, I had a pretty good trip and stomp – I didn’t fall down, but I did come down really hard on one foot after the trip, I think right on a rock. It was one of those instances where you don’t immediately say “I am injured.” Rather, I remember thinking something along the lines of, “wow, that really hurt, but phew – I can still run!”

Stage 1: Denial

In retrospect, within a few days of The Injury I realized I had nagging pain in my heel. However, for whatever reason I didn’t associate it with the acute event – probably due to lack of severity. The pain lingered on through September and hampered my training – less speed, cut some runs short. In late September it was just getting worse and I finally had to admit to myself that I was injured and it wasn’t going to get better by keeping things status quo.

Stage 2: Anger

I skipped right past anger and moved straight to bargaining.

Stage 3: Bargaining

“I will … if I can just race…” I started some aggressive conservative treatment with Coach Kyle’s guidance – stretching, massage, etc. and skipped a long run with two weeks to go to the race. I also dosed some tart cherry juice concentrate. I was in the taper anyway, or at least immediately after that last skipped long run. Backing off helped, and I improved enough that I thought I’d be able to make it to the starting line.

Sure, I had read a few horror stories on the interwebs about how racing with an injury turned someone’s nagging pain into a life-altering condition. The tagline of this post is an acknowledgement that I knew there were some risks and made a conscious decision that the benefits outweighed them. Mind you, I’m not trying to persuade you to (pun alert) follow in my footsteps. Part of the risk was my denial – not only did I refuse to come to grips with the fact that I was injured until about a month after it happened, but I hadn’t sought any medical attention. In my defense, these nagging things have always worked themselves out on their own for me. However, as I finally complete this post some 3 weeks post race, I’ll say that I did go to the doctor to get an x-ray last week. I wanted to check my personal differential diagnosis. Fortunately, I have no signs of fracture, so we’re going with “heel bruise.” The plan is to take the rest of November off from running, subbing in cross-training such as swimming, rowing, and the elliptical. Low impact, whatever doesn’t hurt. Also, icing and stretching. I’m going stir crazy for not running, but I’ve got to get past the pain before I can get back to it at the level I want to be at.

Stage 4: Depression

My stubborn attitude was that I had put in a summer of hard training, and felt like I was in PR shape before the injury happened. I didn’t want to just give that up with no payoff. I knew I’d lost some fitness over the intervening weeks, but not a significant amount since I was still running. Disappointed, I had given up on my goal of a fall PR (the original plan was to go for that in December at a flat course in Springfield, MO) but not on my goal of a course PR at KCM.

Stage 5: Acceptance

I woke up the morning of the race feeling good, but not great. That’s just how it was going to be. The best way I can describe how my right foot felt is that while it didn’t hurt with every stride, it definitely felt different than my completely normal left foot. I think if I was still a heel striker, it would have caused me way more problems than it did. Fortunately, I land on my forefoot/midfoot, so I wasn’t directly impacting the injury site. The TEMPOs I wore are Skora’s most cushioned shoe, but still extremely light. I wouldn’t wear anything else for a marathon now that I’ve run two in them.

My pre-race routine was typical and atypical. I’d employed my Western Australian carb-loading protocol (see here) the day before, and I’d just tried out a new cramp prevention supplement a few days prior. I know – will I ever learn? This wasn’t at all like the great beet flameout from this summer’s Hospital Hill. I was very fortunate to have my request to try an advance sample of #itsthenerve granted, so I drank a dose of that per label instructions right before the race. More on how it performed below. No GI issues at all, along with my usual double espresso with heavy whipping cream, and a top-off of my carb loading elixir.

The Race

It was a weird morning. The rest of my family had gone out-of-town to a funeral, which was also weighing on my mind and making me feel selfish. I did have some company for the ride into downtown, since my niece, Shelbi, was running the half. I love having my wife there at marathons – even if it’s briefly, I really look forward to seeing her on the course, and she always chases around to see me in a few different places.

The morning was perfect, weather-wise. Temps in the low 40s, and I don’t think they ever got out of the 50s, which as far as I am concerned is absolutely perfect for a marathon. Shelbi and I hung out in the Westin lobby until about 20 ’til, then made our way to the starting chute. With my wife and kids gone, it was wonderful to have the calming support of Shelbi and other friends, such as Nelson and my neighbor Jeremy at the start line. Nelson was running the half, and when he saw me, he said “are you running?” A legitimate question, since he knew I had the injury. Also, I was wearing an old XL Cosby sweater and wide-wale corduroys over my running kit to fend off the cold until the start! The answer was yes. I said I had decided that I was going to run hard today.

The race kicked off after a beautiful and creative version of the national anthem. I wish I knew their names so I could thank them – it was sung a capella by 2 or 3 ladies. I’d describe their sound and interpretation as Dixie Chicks with resolving dissonance (which sounded really cool).

I had decided my race goal was going to be to run to 3:10 pace and see what happened. There wasn’t a 3:10 pace group, so I jumped in with the 1:35 half pacers. In the opening miles, they turned out to be too fast (I warmed up the first mile with a 7:27), so I just tried to stay ahead of the 3:15ers – the fastest full pace group. I know from past experience how incredibly helpful it can be to run along with a pace group – so much less mental energy, and on a windy day, even some decreased wind resistance. However, Kansas City is a big enough race to have pace groups and runners at a wide variety of paces, but not so big to have a group where I’d like to be at.

I didn’t run this course last year since I ran Chicago, and it’s changed. The ridiculous “up” to the Liberty Memorial has been somewhat smoothed out with an approach from the east, instead of from the north. As we circled the Mall at around mile 3, I got a shout-out from John (my neighbor, and freshly minted sub-3 marathoner) and Dustin, who were cheering on November Project members. I saw them again in Westport just before mile 6. Jeremy’s wife Liz was chasing the race and she gave me my other “hi Tad!” at a couple of spots. Thanks! Jeremy PR’d in the marathon!

These photos were taken just as I had finished off my fastest split of the race, mile 7 – a 6:46 after coming down Roanoake onto the Plaza on 47th:

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It’s hard to tell who the “competition” is at this point in the race. While the herd has thinned out considerably by the 7 mile mark, the “split” is right at/before mile 8. That’s where the half-marathoners head back north to finish their morning. I tried not to let it bother me when a couple of people passed me in this stretch, and sure enough they headed into the left chute.

As we crossed the creek, a couple of twenty-somethings who were looking really strong passed me at a significantly faster pace. It made me wonder what they had been doing for the first 8 miles. Before we got through the two-mile stretch along the south side of the creek, they were long gone. I had a feeling it was an unsustainable pace, and sure enough I caught one of them walking on Ward Parkway past mile 14. I caught the other guy too later on in the race.

This next series is on Ward Parkway around mile 15:

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At this point in the race, it was getting kind of lonely. I was trying to stay on pace in the low 7s and pick people off. There was a guy in a blue shirt who had passed me earlier, and I noticed I was getting closer to him before the turn onto 75th. We ran practically together from mile 16 through 19. I encouraged him to keep pushing me and he did for a while before I had to move on.

In years past, getting through miles 20 and 21 without falling off pace has been a challenge for me, but this time I had confidence to keep pushing through this stretch, knowing that the Gillham hill was soon to come. I chatted a bit and encouraged a first timer who was doing great but starting to hit the wall around mile 20. I kept it together through mile 22, but mile 23 was my slowest split of the race. That last series of hills and turns before you break out on to the Paseo is a tough one, and I managed to convince myself to stay in the 7s (barely) until the top of the hill where I could relax and speed up with the downhill.

I picked it up a bit, but not much through mile 24 – I was fully inside the pain cave at this point. Then, coming down the big hill prior to the turn onto 18th, the cavalry arrived. It took the form of a Pacer, Matt, who was running with the 3rd overall woman. She was running STRONG. Effortless. I looked up and saw that Matt was holding a 3:13 pace stick. Actually, at first I thought it was a 3:15, but then I looked closer and saw it was 3:13 (they run two pacers in each pace group – one is a BQ-safe 2 minutes under the target time). I managed to ask “are you on that?” pointing to the stick. Matt said they were actually a little ahead of it. Here’s shot of us as we turned the corner onto 18th:

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You can only see Matt’s shadow there. The woman dropped us when one of her friends who had already finished came back to run with her to the finish. Matt stuck with me, encouraging me the whole way. I fully emerged from the pain cave and ran hard to the finish – I managed a 7:06 for mile 26, and the final half mile (yes, actually .51, and not .2 – you can’t run a perfect 26.2) I ran at a 6:49 pace. I got so emotional at one point on 18th street that I started to hyperventilate (that has happened to me before at Boston). I had to take several really deep breaths. I was just so excited because I knew I had it in the bag – a course PR and a great race for me despite a difficult and frustrating 6 weeks leading up to it.

Nelson and his cousin had finished the half and gave me a big shout as I turned on Grand for the finish. A little further down, Jeremy’s wife, Liz, took this one in the home stretch:

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Here I am crossing the finish line:

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My chip time was 3:11:05, good enough for 43rd overall, and first place in my age group.

I can’t complain, but sometimes I wonder why the photographers don’t set up a bit farther back. I always run HARD through the finish line mats – no Usain Bolt hot-dogging slowdowns for me, thanks. I had an elated fist pump, which you can almost make out in this picture – which I’ll post to say thanks to Matt!

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The Immediate Aftermath

The immediate aftermath was pretty great – hugs and high fives all around, followed by the news that I’d won my AG. My heel pain wasn’t any worse than I expected it to be, and I didn’t feel like I’d added further insult to my injury.

I experienced no muscle cramps during the race, despite a course PR at max effort, which historically has produced cramps for me, especially in my calves. The #itsthenerve product worked as advertised. As they say, their founder:

“Dr. Rod MacKinnon – a Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist and endurance athlete – suffered from debilitating muscle cramps, and his frustration catalyzed his four-year journey to find a solution. He learned that muscle cramps are not the athlete’s fault. No matter what conditions impact the muscle in the first place – heat, fatigue, dehydration, electrolyte loss, reduced blood flow – muscle cramps are caused by the hyperactive firing of alpha motor neurons in the nerves. When the nerve is agitated, muscle cramps occur.”

I would say the product enabled me to push myself harder with confidence and reach my performance goals. I would definitely recommend it. I don’t like to carry stuff on my person while I’m racing so I didn’t have a “backup” bottle along, but I didn’t need it. In the future I’d probably have a friend drop some for me along the course around mile 19-20, just in case.

The Day After

Most marathoners will tell you it’s not the day after, it’s the day after the day after that’s worst. However, I had some serious overcompensation pain – it was completely subconscious, but my body adjusted my stride in a way that placed extreme stress on my right hip flexor. I could barely walk until Tuesday evening, when everything started to loosen up – I was fine by Wednesday morning.

So, like I said, it’s going to be hard, but I’m glad I don’t have a calcaneus fracture. I’m hopeful December will be pain-free and mark a return to running!

Make It Count!

What a great name for a 5K honoring a fallen soldier and an organization benefiting veterans. I ran this race on Saturday, August 1st. It fell in the midst of some family turmoil, as my father-in-law was in grave condition at the hospital. I had returned alone to Kansas City to take care of a few things before coming back to Columbia later that day. Kenneth passed away that Monday. Needless to say, I had lot on my mind.

The race was fairly close to where I live – just south of Olathe at the New Century Air Center in Gardner. There was a huge military presence – they really came out to support the family of Spencer Duncan, the aforementioned soldier. A Chinook helicopter (two rotors! counter-rotation!) sat on the tarmac, and another did a flyover for the race start. Very moving.

I recently joined a race team, “KC MAX” – a subgroup of the Kansas City Track Club. They geared us up with some singlets, and we represented the new team well with several age group placements in the race.

My race went pretty well, but I haven’t really raced a 5K hard in a while. It’s difficult to get my pacing right at this distance. The morning was warm, despite a 7am start, but at least the course was flat. I warmed up for a couple of miles before the race which really helps.

I try not to embarrass myself at the starting line. My rule of thumb is – line up behind the fast high school kids, but try not to get hung up behind the rest. On the one hand, you don’t want to find that the field is passing you in the first quarter-mile, but on the other you don’t want to have to sacrifice your pace stuck behind or zigzagging around other runners.

My splits were pretty pathetic, although my overall chip time (20:10) was just 11 seconds off my PR. I was targeting a 6:26 pace to have a shot at a PR. I bolted a bit at the start line after finding there were some slower runners clustered together in front of me. My first mile split was 6:02. The second mile was at 6:27, the third at 6:37. the “0.1” of the 5K turned out to be “0.17” – I guess I could have clipped those apexes better, at any rate I finished it off at a 6:27 pace for that short stretch. Overall average pace was a 6:22. If I’d run a perfect 5K, that would be sub 20:00, but who does?

I put my Garmin chest strap on for kicks, hoping to wonk out over the advanced metrics I’d sampled on a few previous runs, but alas it wasn’t tight enough for 5K race effort. It slid to my waist and I resolved to fuhgeddaboudit. Here’s a photo along the way:

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Military personnel lined the route with inspirational signs. It was hard not to choke up. Also, “Make It Count!” is not only the charitable beneficiary of this race, it also happens to be a great race mantra.

The race photos captured one of my most hilarious race faces ever. ANGRY FACE!

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That was in the home stretch. I think I was angry because I saw “20:00” on the clock when it came into view. I wasn’t angry about my Skora PHASEs though – that is one great looking shoe! People always stop me to ask about them and this post race was no exception. It’s Skora’s most minimal shoe, and a great 5K racing shoe.

Anyhow, my finish was good enough for 3rd in the 40-49 male AG. They had one of the most beautiful AG plaques I have ever seen, much less received. It was made by someone in the service, of course, honoring their comrade. You can kind of see it in this shot:

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That’s Tracey, a friend from my old neighborhood. Her plaque says 1st! I won another unofficial award from the emcee of the awards ceremony, a local tv personality, but that’s all I’m going to say about that…

Next up? Not sure yet. I’m signed up for the Kansas City Marathon but contemplating a tune-up race before mid October.

DF: Did Finish #runreal

What’s the best way to purge a DNF from your memory? Get back out there and run another race.

My family and I traveled to St. Louis over the 4th of July weekend to help my parents celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Because we’re such an efficient family, we knocked out a birthday party for my nephew as well. Since I knew I was going to be out of town, I had scoped out some local races ahead of time and settled on the 31st Annual Firecracker Run, in O’Fallon, MO. The race was figuratively in my sister’s backyard (literally, it was in her front yard – I walked to it from her house). I signed up for the 10K – a 5K was also offered – that’s the longest distance you’re going to find this far south in the middle of a Midwestern summer.

After a 5 mile EZ run the morning of the day before the race, I went to watch another one of my nephews play baseball. Later that evening, after the party, he asked if I wanted to go on a run with him. How could I say no? We turned it into a nice EZ family group run; about 2 miles with me, him, his girlfriend, the RHSW, and my oldest two kids. We had three pairs of Skoras on that night run, including my kids in Phase-X (because, safety!). My nephew was really interested in my TEMPOs – he was amazed at how light they are.

Race morning, I got up around 5am in order to make it out to O’Fallon in time to get caffeinated and warm up. No beets this time. Just some water and coffee. I had a nice relaxing walk, about a half mile over the start/finish area while finishing my coffee. Then I warmed up for about twenty minutes and it was go-time.

The start wasn’t too bad – I managed not to get bogged down too much in the crush. I didn’t want to line up in front of the high school kids and embarrass myself – after all there was a fairly competitive 5K going on as well.

I had established an ambitious goal time – sub 40:00. Not too realistic, considering my total lack of 10K experience and my relative lack of 5K experience as well (with a 19:59 PR). I managed to hit that pace in the first mile, then leveled off to just over it for the second and third miles. However, in the 4th and 5th miles, I slowed a bit. I did get a boost from some volunteers around mile 4 – “hey, here comes someone our age!” After looking at my pace/elevation graph, the slowdown was during the uphill portion of the race. I kicked it in for the last 1.25 miles.

I was a little surprised at how quickly we spread out after I lost sight of the 5K pack. I passed some in the first few miles, and only got passed by two, if I remember correctly. I ended up running about 5-10 yards behind one guy most of the second half – I never could catch him, and we struck up a conversation afterwards. Hi Tim! Good luck with your full marathon this fall!

The race finishes in a fun way – inside a minor league stadium. You come in, run the warning track and finish around home plate. As I was entering the stadium, I heard another runner (5K) pay Tim and I an unintended compliment – “those guys are already finishing the 10K!”

I would have liked to get it under 41:00, but overall I was pretty happy with my race and pace. Placement is more about who shows up, but I did get a nice 2nd place “silver” medal for the M40-49 AG:

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I ran in the Skora TEMPO. I like this shoe more every time I run in it. It’s light, but some cushioning that stood up to a hard pavement effort.

My time was good enough for 13th overall in the 10K, which had just under 400 runners. For some reason that’s a frequent overall placement for me. Just lucky I guess.

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I was glad to get back out there and put up a good result after bombing out of the HHR in June. No beets this time!

DNF: Did Not Finish…

On June 6, I ran part of the Hospital Hill Run, a half marathon here in Kansas City. I was really excited about the run – my fitness was in a good place and I was going to give it an “A” effort. I had a sweet low bib number. I thought I might have a PR in me, and I was gunning for a sub 1:30. I don’t run many half marathons – in fact the HHR is pretty much the only one I do every year.

However, I made a mistake. I decided to try some beet juice for a little endurance boost. Like this. I know, nothing new on race day. However, in my defense, I did try it out the day before, with no side effects. If it makes any difference, the only variety of beets they had at the store were “orange” beets. Apparently the other runners had gobbled up all the normal red beets.

So, on race morning I juiced up a few beets and drank it down. I didn’t feel good from the get-go. Nausea. I couldn’t get my usual espresso down. On the car ride to the race, I thought I was going to have to ask my friend John’s dad to pull over. When we got there, plenty early, the feeling subsided, and I was able to go on a little warm-up run with John. I was cautiously optimistic that I was going to be ok.

Here are a few shots of me in the first couple of miles, still cautiously optimistic:

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Anyhow, coming to the top of the first long hill (Hospital Hill, the namesake) I felt increasingly like I was going to barf. I had managed to stay out in front of the 1:30 pace group, but I could tell that I was going to be sick if I kept running. I pulled it over around mile 3. I was really disappointed – it was my first ever DNF. I’ve run through nausea before, but this was different since it was food related.

I walked in the “breakdown” lane for a while until I came to a spot where I could watch for my wife. She had changed her outfit and she saw me before I saw her. I tried to run with her, but couldn’t, so I took the 10k cutoff and walked back to the finish line area (not through it, of course). John had a great run – sub 1:30!

Lesson learned. I’m using it as motivation. I’m going to run a 10k on July 4th. Sans beet juice.

Three Birds, One Stone: (1) Amy Thompson Run; (2) #HHRAmbassador ; (3) @skorarunning Sale!

This is a multitasking post. Time is running out to get registered for the Hospital Hill Run, coming up on June 6th! When you sign up, let them know I encouraged you to by selecting me from the pull-down menu. If Hospital Hill’s not a A-race for me, it’s surely an A-minus. I’ve long held a goal of getting under 1:30 for a half, and I’m going to give it my best shot. I hope it’s a good day for it!

Of course I’ll be running it in Skoras – probably the new TEMPO. This shoe has really grown on me. The more I run in it, the more I appreciate it. I don’t mean that it has a break-in period or anything like that, I just appreciate its versatility. It’s super light, yet with more arch support and cushioning than some other models Skora makes. I’m a firm believer in a shoe rotation – Skora has (I think) at least three different “lasts” now, and I try to switch between them to engage my body in different ways.

Speaking of that rotation, a shoe I kept meaning to give its own separate review is the shoe I ran in on Monday’s 28th Annual Amy Thompson Run for Brain Injury. The inspiration for this run, Amy Thompson, is a heart-rending story known by many in the Kansas City area since it happened in the 1980s. Read more about it here. I ran in the Phase-X, the hyper-reflective version of Skora’s most minimal shoe, the Phase. It’s one of a few shoes available, while they last, for $50 on Skora’s site. (You can click through using the banner ad to the right).

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So, back to my Memorial Day run. The feature race is an 8k, just shy of 5 miles. It’s still a short enough race that you’re working pretty hard. Coach Kyle had me targeted at “around” 33:00, or a 6:38 pace. I considered this a “B” race, tuning up for Hospital Hill, so I didn’t push quite that hard. My main goal was to keep all my splits under 7:00. I averaged 6:47 for a chip time of 33:31.1, only good enough for 26th overall, 5th in my AG (which I age out of in August!).

Here we are coming up the first hill out of the start with Loose Park to our right. That tall guy in front of me has a pretty good race face!

An 8k is some work! This guy next to me looks sad already.

The field thinned out pretty quickly. I lost sight of the lead pack, as usual, and ran practically by myself for a good portion of the race, keeping my effort pretty even. I really tried to focus on what I wanted to do (run comfortably hard, keeping all my splits under 7:00 and not overdo it) rather than racing anyone else out there. After things got sorted out past the 2 mile mark, there wasn’t a lot of passing. A younger guy running just over my right shoulder for a while finally passed me and kept gaining. I passed one slowing guy around mile 3. Then around 4.5 I passed an older guy coming up the hill toward Loose Park from the west – he was really huffing and puffing. He passed me back on the long downhill along the north side of the park prior to the turn into the finish. I feel like I could have taken him, but I just had no incentive to go over 95%. That sounds like sour grapes, but I just didn’t care. I had made up my mind to run my own race. If it had been an A race, I might have kicked it in earlier, because I do hate getting passed near the finish. As it turns out, I was catching him again because he was slowing on the final hill and I think he beat me by about a second.

I’d also like to introduce Rene. Rene is a paralyzed veteran, and I have seen him at many local races over the last few years competing in the wheelchair hand-crank division. This time, the race was small enough that I had a chance to catch him after the finish line. We passed each other back and forth several times during the race (I think he passed me last) and it was nice to finally meet him and put a name to a face. He encourages everyone to support our troops and veterans. He inspires me!

I’m sure I may have even noticed him before this, but the first race where Rene made a big impression on me was the Kansas City marathon in 2012. The pace group I was running with passed him going up Trinity Hill, and several of us shouted out our encouragement. The first few miles of KCM have some significant uphill sections, and must be incredible work on a hand crank bike. As we made the turn onto Main, however, it wasn’t long before he came whizzing past us. He was flying!

It’s serendipitous that I’d finally meet him and write about him, since the theme of this post (if it has one) is racing your own race. Rene is almost always racing his own race, as he usually has no competition in his division at local races. It’s similar (not quite! bear with me.) to the same place I find myself in at my age. I know I’m not going to win a marathon. Winning my age group is an achievable goal, and I have. Even then, it’s more about who else shows up that day than anything you’ve done (my one AG marathon win is a few minutes off my PR). Plus, you have no idea whether anyone around you is really in your age group or just pretty close to it (however, I fancy myself a really good age-guesser). I’ve never come into a final stretch of any race and known I was racing someone for an AG place. Thus, I’m always competing against myself and the goals I set. I do believe that the group dynamic of a race pushes us to achieve more than we would by running alone, but it is a more generalized effect than a specific focus on another runner. That group dynamic is why I race – it helps me to achieve my goals!

Cheaters, cheaters, pumpkin eaters, and some more cheaters. Why? What to do?

In early April, the St. Louis Go! Marathon disqualified the female “winner”. In the last few days, a certain Boston Marathon participant has been called into question. The races of those two bear some similarities to the race of an amateur athlete whose name has become synonymous with course-cutting, Rosie Ruiz. While these are amateur athletes, usually professionals grab the headlines, i.e., “Deflategate,” to cite the most recent example. Cheating in sport results in infamy – we immediately associate that accusation upon hearing certain names: Rita Jeptoo; Ben Johnson; Lance Armstrong; Barry Bonds – all accused of PED use. In NASCAR, as the saying goes, if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.

What is cheating’s common denominator in professional and amateur sports? Cheaters are motivated by monetary gain or ego, or a combination of the two. You’d think a professional athlete would be motivated only by money, but in many cases, this is not the sole explanation. For instance, a baseball player who has a guaranteed contract securing independent wealth for life has no monetary incentive to cheat. Those who do so risk voiding that contract by using or continuing to use PEDs. The drive of ego, narcissism, or pride have driven both professional and amateur athletes to cheat since the dawn of sport. Ego and money are driving both amateur and professional marathoners to cheat. So, what pressures or temptations lead to cheating and what can be done about it? I’m a recreational runner, and I have a psychology degree, so I’m qualified. #sarcasm.

Every recreational distance runner who competes in timed events eventually realizes that there is such a thing as the exclusivity of the Boston Marathon. Even people who don’t run marathons or don’t run at all have heard of Boston. It is without question America’s – perhaps even the world’s – premier marathon. Not only is the race a competition among professionals at the highest level of the sport, but it is a restricted entry race for amateurs. Qualifying for Boston, a “BQ,” is a difficult, but achievable goal for amateur runners. It takes some effort – few if any can roll out of bed, register the day of a race, and BQ. As a result, the prestige of the race has likely been a temptation to the unscrupulous amateur runner. This person realizes that he or she is not prepared to reach that goal, but still wants to be perceived as a successful runner in the social circles in which they orbit. The kind of runner that would consider cheating in order to achieve a BQ is someone who is more motivated by how others perceive them. The runner who would never consider cheating is someone who is more motivated by the personal satisfaction they gain from reaching a goal.

A race is by definition a social event. Yet, anybody who participates in a race for the gratification gained from the approval of spectators is going to be disappointed at all but the biggest races. At my age, the reasons to compete against others by racing are manifold despite this. You have a definable goal at the end of a process that takes several months.  You can use the small group pressure of other runners to push yourself harder than you would if you had simply decided to press “start” on your Garmin some crisp April or October morning and then “stop” after 26.2. However, with the advent of social media, the recreational runner’s ability to broadcast their achievements to their circle of friends and acquaintances has increased a hundredfold. Twenty years ago, no one would dream of printing up flyers and posting them around their neighborhood to tell everyone about their latest race (much less their morning workout), or taking out an ad in the newspaper to congratulate themselves. However, that is a component of what we (yes, there is an “I” in “we”) do every time we post our race results, photos, or blog about a race. That’s not to say there aren’t modest reasons for writing about your own individual running, but I don’t want to get all defensive on you.

For cheaters, this self-indulgence is so addictive that they want to eat the dessert first. This is what happens when a recreational runner decides to cut a course to BQ. Let’s say you’ve told all of your friends that the Boston bombing has inspired you to start running, and that you’re going to run the Boston Marathon. Yay you! You dive in, posting your training runs, blogging about your latest race – accountability is good! You sign up for a marathon and start telling your circle that you’re going to do it, you’re going to BQ! Then, reality sets in. You figure out “what it takes” – the pace, the improvement that can’t be gained overnight. Uh-oh. Everyone you know is expecting you to qualify at that race coming up next week. What do you do? That depends on who you are. If you’re honest with yourself and others, you give it your best, and try again if you don’t succeed. If you’re a cheater, you start lining up your co-conspirators, or public transportation, or your Uber app.

I have personally witnessed a cheater in a marathon, at least that’s the conclusion I drew. I didn’t report the guy. I’ve only spoken about it to a few friends (guys, please don’t post any more details here!) I’ll omit most of the really descriptive details such as the race, but there are some parallels to recent events. (1) A person on the course caught my attention – they were attempting a pace beyond their fitness level (he was anaerobic, trust me) at a place in the race where you shouldn’t be. (2) Completely by chance, I saw that person cross the finish line later on, at a time inconsistent with my previous observation (and other factors). (3) It made such an impression that I vaguely noted his clock time, and curious (ok, incredulous), I found him in the finish line pictures. With that, I typed in a bib number for more pictures and splits, but he had no more pictures, and no chip results whatsoever. (4) It almost stopped there, but while reading an article about the race, I ran across considerable media attention focused on the person before the race centered around their first marathon. (5) With that, I also found some follow-up media attention where he claimed to have achieved his goal (finishing, not BQing). I think things just got out of hand for the guy, and one thing led to another, and before he knew it he was knee-deep. I suspect he eventually fessed up and a few follow-ups got canned.

So, solution time. Eventually the good folks at Garmin will innovate some GPS race bibs that RDs can buy for less than a dollar. Problem solved. Until then, we’ve got this: more timing mats and increased scrutiny on both ends of the Boston equation. Anyone who’s run more than a few timed races might raise an eyebrow upon learning that various Boston qualifying races have no checkpoints. In a perfect world where everyone is honest, and the data is just for you, that’s fine. However, we’re in an age where Boston matters to people, and it matters enough to some that they’re willing to cheat to get there. If Boston matters to you, it matters if the one man and the one woman who BQ’d but missed the cutoff this year by one person lost their spot to a cheater. So, for starters, a mat at the halfway point ought to be a minimum part of the “Boston Qualifier” course certification standard. The B.A.A. would have to mandate it, and there would be a hardware cost for RDs and/or race timing companies. I have no idea if the systems in use can be modified to add another mat or if that would require a complete system upgrade. There’s an alternative though. At smaller races, which have fewer resources to devote to timing tech, all it takes is a pair of people to call out and record bibs and splits at halfway (or better, some undisclosed location not known pre-race). That’s what they do at the Heart of America Marathon (good job, guys!) The second half of this equation is what’s done with that information after it’s collected. At the St. Louis race, they investigated and DQ’d the BQ. However, as I recall she had finished in the top ten the previous year, and wasn’t DQ’d that year. I don’t think she finished in the money, although she might have collected an AG prize of some sort. Personally, I don’t expect the RD to scrutinize every participant with a missing split. I’ve read that those chips in the bibs and the shoe tags work to a 99.xx%+ efficiency ratio, so perhaps just a few people in a race of thousands (if even that many) are going to be missing a mat split time. Anything man-made can fail though, so of course the chip, the mat, or the transfer of that data can all fail. Imagine how crushing it would be to BQ and be missing a split if that rendered your BQ ineligible! The final piece of the puzzle is the B.A.A. I can’t say enough good things about the race they put on and their desire to preserve its integrity and tradition. I don’t know what their review process is, but I hope they have implemented or are considering increased scrutiny such as checking submitted times for the presence of splits, and giving runners an opportunity to submit supporting information (e.g. race photos, GPS data) if they’re absent.

Pumpkin eaters, get out of my sport!

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