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Posts tagged “Half Marathon

RaceRaves: A One-Stop Spot for All Your Race Reviews

boston marathon 2014 finish photo on Boylston jeffery lung

Okay, run junkees, your days of time-suck-surfing the internets, piecemealing information from one site to another in order to form that perfect race calendar are over. No more do you have to check out Marathon Guide, scour the pages of UltraRunning Magazine and then Google “Frozen Gnome”, only hoping to find something relevant to a midwestern trail race rather than curiously incapacitated garden decor.

Reviews of all those races — 5ks, 10ks, 21ks, marathons, ultras, road, track and trail — can be found in one, central location: RaceRaves!

raceraves-screenshot-main-page

From site co-founder, Mike Sohaskey:

Our vision for RaceRaves is a dynamic, race-centric community where runners can share honest opinions on their race-day experiences, for the benefit of other runners and race directors. A place where all runners – road warriors, trail enthusiasts, triathletes, maximalism aficionados, barefoot loyalists and competitors of all sorts – can come together to discover their next race adventure, immortalize their race experiences (including those “excretory tract gone wild” horror stories that friends and family don’t seem to appreciate), and connect with other like-minded athletes and weekend warriors.

While I haven’t had to write about or seek out any “tract gone wild” stories yet, I appreciate the fact that if I need to know about one, I will find it here. In fact, the site has been live for a couple of weeks now, and as the community of runners taking part grows, I can see how valuable an asset this is for the running world. The plethora of information that exists on races across the globe is neatly organized here, in one easy-to-navigate, easy-to-use location.

From runners to race directors to bloggers and everyone in between, signing up and being a part of the review community is free, easy and fun! Share your blog posts, write that review that will steer someone to your favorite race, and voice your opinion on race-day protocols that need to be celebrated or addressed.

For more information on RaceRaves, poke around the site. You can also read Mike Sohaskey’s detailed post. In the meantime, find, research and share thousands of races of running events around the world!

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The Good, the Bad and the WHY NOT

Jeff Lung christmas in july 2014 aid station

THE GOOD

In the days since my dizzying yet mind opening 24-hour jaunt around Lisle Community Park, my body has recovered in full, responding to the training bell better than I ever imagined. I can’t emphasize enough just how awesome it feels to be running at full strength again. After all the nagging injuries from last year, I wasn’t really sure how my body would respond to the big mileage races, but everything feels strong and solid right now, and that is a huge motivator.

The key, at least for now, seems to be pace.

When I run fast — and for me, anything under an 8-minute mile is something I consider “fast” — both of my Achilles flare up, stopping me for several days. I have tried different shoes, different strengthening exercises, different forms. All speed seems to lead to the same thing currently: stiff, bum, calcaneous flare ups that SUCK. So I’m just shelving fast miles for now.

Long, slow, FUN runs.

Everything I run now is to prepare for the grueling test of the Pinhoti Trail 100. I will explore speed another day. Ain’t no need for a sub 10-minute anything in a hundred miler anyway. Looking at the elevation profile only confirms that.

Long, slow, fun it is.

THE BAD

Being one of the most anal retentive slaves to organization one could ever meet, the following faux pas of mine is extremely embarrassing to confess; but this blog is just as much about failure as it is success (otherwise success would be sooooooo boooooooring!) so here it is:

Um… so that half marathon I am supposed to run in Mexico City next weekend… um… yeah… it was IN JULY.

I don’t know how I (nor my buddy who has been training diligently for it) missed that small detail, but I did. We did. I originally wanted to run the marathon, and bummed that it was sold out, quickly obliged to the website’s tempting me to run the half instead. Assuming that it would be on the same day — because that’s how it usually works, the full and the half are held on the same day, simultaneously — I gladly signed up. To my credit, as far as I can remember, there was NO MENTION of the actual date of the race during the sign-up nor the confirmation process. I double checked the confirmation email to make sure.

Then, last month, as a follower of the race’s Facebook page, I was quite curious as to why there was another half marathon, under the same race name, a month earlier than the one I signed up for. Still, I never did conclude that the half marathon pictures I was seeing were from a race I was supposed to be running. It just didn’t make sense. My Mexico City Half Marathon was going to be on August 31.

Except it’s not.

It was only after recently checking packet pick-up details that the mistake was realized.

Whoops!

Oh well. There’s not much I can do about it now. While I’m a little sad I missed out on my first international race, I am still excited about visiting La Ciudad and exploring whatever roads and trails it has to offer. Maybe my friend and I will run our own half marathon.

Why not?

THE WHY NOT

While I’m at it, I might as well run the Peapod Half Madness Half Marathon in Batavia this weekend. For the fourth year in a row. I won’t be running a personal best this year. In fact, I will probably have to work hard just to break two hours; but, in my opinion, this is one of the most fun, most charming races in all of Chicagoland: a scenic, challenging 13.1 miles through a quaint river town with all-you-can-eat pizza and all-you-can-drink Sam Adams beer at the finish line.

What’s not to love?!

And while I’m at the long, slow, fun running, I might as well enjoy twice the marathon action during the second weekend of October. At least, that’s what I was thinking when I recently signed up for the Prairie State Marathon. It’s the day before the Chicago Marathon, and should serve as a suitable warm-up to my favorite Sunday 26.2. Three weeks out from my first hundred miler, I figure back-t0-back marathons should be a nice way to start my taper.

Haha.

As if ultrarunners actually taper.


Halted by Humidity (and Reality?): The 2014 Armadillo Dash Half Marathon Race Report

armadillo running

Despite months of training through the polar vortex, mounds of snow and an insufferable treadmill, I went into The Armadillo Dash Half Marathon in College Station, Texas with pretty high hopes. I knew that the peculiar training patterns weren’t ideal, but I figured my mental toughness edge and increased strength training would power me closer to a new personal best.

I was totally wrong.

And I knew it before we even started.

Pre-Race
Saturday, March 1, 2014

A thousand miles away from Hoth, Edna and I are in Conroe, TX. We’ve ditched our layers of neoprene and collection of balaclavas for a simple pair of shorts and singlet. We are out for a shake-out jog around my dad’s neighborhood and despite a few wild dogs barking at my pasty white legs, all is well.

It’s mild. It’s bright. It’s awesome.

Glowing in the natural warmth of the sun — something I haven’t done in six long months — I can’t help but smile. This is what we’ve been waiting for. This is what we miss. This is medicine for the sun-deprived sickness that is a bonafide Chicago winter!

And it’s humid.

I’m sweating. A lot. I’m running slow. But I’m sweating profusely. The air is fresh, but it is thick.

I’m not trained for this, I think to myself. The mood is so good that I really don’t want to crash it with a Debbie Downer quip, so I just let it go.

Go by heart rate, I tell myself. Go out at a race pace heart rate and just stick with that. And for god’s sake please stop taking the fun out of these races. Enjoy yourself damn it!

I give myself good advice sometimes.

Edna and I finish our run and I am completely at peace with my proposed protocol, which makes the rest of the day and evening that much more enjoyable. We go to packet pick-up, spend quality time with family under the sun and eat a hearty Mexican meal before getting to bed early.

Pre-Race
Sunday, March 2, 2014
4:30 a.m.

We have a 7 a.m. start today, so we’re up and moving early. I repeat the same pre-race ritual I always perform: coffee, banana, bagel.

Grease, nipple-tape, kit.

We’re out the door by 5:15 a.m.

The drive is dark and quiet. Dad is driving and it’s about an hour from his place to College Station. I fight sleep while occasionally attempting conversation.

Pre-Race
6:20 a.m.

We arrive at Veteran’s Park and step out of the car to an air temperature of about 65 degrees. The air is thick. It’s humid with a chance of rain.

Edna and I still can’t believe we’re in shorts and singlets.

But we are.

We go through the rest of our pre-race routines, give each other and my dad a hug and then break off towards the start line.

I line up near the front.

There’s not much of a crowd. The highest bib number I’ve seen is 900-something and just from looking around I can tell this is a pretty small race. Near the start line lurks a handful of sinewy young bucks donning short-shorts that make mine look like Hammer pants. I make sure to give them plenty of distance, finding a spot a few rows back.

National anthem. A speech.

And we’re off!

Miles 1-7

Bang! I’m right out of the gate and a voracious mob flies by me. The newbie rush is in full effect.

I try not to be a judgmental asshole, but when you’re huffing and puffing and dying for breath 20 strides into a half marathon, maybe you should slow down.

I start out at a comfortable pace, passing the huffers and puffers falling off along the way. I take notice of my surroundings — flat and gray — and try to settle into a comfortably quick cadence. I look down at my watch.

160 BPM! What the–???

I’m barely doing anything and already… what the… how can my heart rate be this high? Surely this is a faulty heart rate monitor.

BAM. I step on the gas, wait a few seconds, check my watch:

170. Yikes. Now I’M huffing and puffing.

I slow back down to 165 BPM and vow to keep it there the rest of the day. This translates to a 7:40-ish pace, a very far cry from 6:50 pace just six months ago.

Oh well. Dems da breaks.

I remind myself that I run because it’s fun and a good way to stay in shape, not to impress people who don’t even care with split times and PRs.

My focus turns to the course, but honestly, there’s not much to see. We follow a highway shoulder dotted with the occasional group of supporters. To their credit, the folks who are out on the course cheering us on are a boisterous lot.

The only thing missing is a cowbell, which seems ironic considering that much of this course follows roads lined by cow pastures. There seems to be a lot of them in this part of Texas. This probably explains why every time I come here I have the sudden urge to don a 10 gallon hat, dinner plate belt buckle and good old fashioned shit-kickers.

Maybe next time.

At mile 4 I am running shoulder-to-shoulder with a girl I’ve been yo-yo-ing with thus far. It appears she has had enough of the back and forth. She sits right on my wheel and we are moving together, stride for stride.

Not a word is said.

I start to play the mind game How long will this last?

Mile 5… I check my watch. 165 BPM.

Mile 6… Holding steady. Still at 165. Feeling good.

Mile 7. BAM! She breaks stride and heads straight for a porta-john.

I’ve been there, totally know the feeling.

Without the stereo of her feet pounding pavement beside me, I come out of the zone and notice how much I’m sweating.

Wow! This ain’t no polar vortex! Yee ha!

Miles 7-12

The first half of this race has gone by quickly. I’m running totally on automatic. I look down at my watch — a lot, too much probably — and every time I do it’s reading a 165 BPM.

Everything is smooth. Everything is the same.

Including my surroundings. Still on a highway. Still in the middle of vast cattle country. Still gray skies.

Rain spits down in unpredictable increments. Sometimes with gusto, sometime barely at all.

The aid stations are really the only respite from the stretched (and dare I say boring) silence. I welcome the high-fives and fluids each time I pass through before immediately finding myself back on quiet, open road. Often times races are a great way to tour an area, a great way to see and experience a city. Here, unless cow pastures for miles is your thing, there isn’t much to see or experience.

That doesn’t mean this is a bad race. It’s not. It’s perfectly fine. All the essentials are here. I have no complaints. The people are friendly and encouraging. The course is easy. The temperature isn’t freezing and I’m not traversing through mounds of snow or ankle breaking post holes.

There just aren’t any bells and whistles. And in a world where races fight each other for entrants by dangling bells and whistles ad nauseum, the absence of such is noticed.

But my mileage barely is. The 12-mile mark appears out of nowhere and I take comfort in knowing I’m almost done. A quick glance at my watch shows I’m still at 165 BPM.

Time to turn it up a notch.

Miles 12-13.1

BOOM. As if Mother Nature were timing her rainy surprise to coincide with my hard push to the finish, the gray skies open up and pour down some refreshing rain.

When was the last time I got to play in the rain? I ask myself. Man, this is fun!

As I make my way down the last stretch of highway that will loop us back into the park, I look down to see I’m pushing 180 now. My cadence picks up even more when I hear the PA announcer muffle something accompanied by cheers from the small yet audible crowd.

I turn left towards the finish line, kick hard, and about 100 yards from the finish I hear my dad, my sister Emily and her boyfriend Sam call out my name.

I try to look good for their sake as I finish with a time of 1:41:47.

Post-Race

Dad, Emily, Sam and I all stick around for Edna to finish. It’s not long before I notice her from far away. Her spry gait in silhouette quickly draws near. We watch intently as her trademark smile glows its familiar glow while she runs past us into the shoot.

A few quick hugs and congratulations later and Sam snaps this picture:the lungs at the armadillo dash

Shortly after that and the skies REALLY open up.

IT POURS.

We get out of there before I even know I won my age group.

– – –

An obsessive’s brain, if left unchecked, will obsess. That’s what it does. That’s what it knows.

Was I slower than I wanted to be because of the humidity? The lower mileage in training? The polar vortex?

Am I getting enough sleep? Am I past my prime? Am I a slave to the technology?

I don’t know. And the more I check the obsession, the less I care. It’s okay, Jeff, I tell myself. Everything’s okay. You run because you love it and because you can.

Now go get yourself a beer.

– – –

The Boston Marathon is less that six weeks away, and while I know a sub-3 hour finish is not a realistic goal right now, I’m still hoping a re-qualifying time (3:10) or a Chicago Marathon qualifer (3:15) is.

If not, well, I won’t have much time to feel sorry for myself. There’s a 24 hour race and 100 miler in my near future.


Rev That Racing Engine and Hope for the Best

2013 peapod half marathon jeff lungThe last time I raced to my maximum potential, I set a personal best in the half marathon. In the aftermath of that hard effort though, I also found myself crippled by the apex of bilateral Achilles tendonosis, an injury that would bury the rest of my lofty 2013 race plans and humble me to reevaluate my training.

That was six months ago.

Now I’m ready to give it another go when I toe the line this weekend at the Armadillo Dash Half Marathon in College Station, TX. I have been Boston Marathon training for ten and a half weeks now, slowly building back up to quality speed work and long, slow distance runs. I still don’t feel like I am in optimum speed running shape, but I do feel good. I feel strong. I feel focused.

And I feel like it’s time to see what I can do right now. But I also know that this feeling comes with a conscious finger hovering just above the abort button.

After my experience the last six months, my ultimate conclusion is that I would rather run slow than not run at all. To me, running is a gift. It’s a privilege. I am not guaranteed the ability to run, to have full use of my legs, to live this spry wonderlife each and every day. So each day that I get deserves my respect. If something goes wrong, I need to address it, immediately, and not just keep running anyway, just because. Like Stan Lee reminds us: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

I don’t expect to be swinging from building to building this weekend, using wrist-projected webbing and spidey sense, but I do expect to give my best race effort, using every bit of what is in the tank on that day.

Here’s to hoping I don’t run into any Green Goblins.

Or achy Achilles.

spider-man-reboot-running


Training Curveballs and Race Change-Ups

kirk gibson homerunIt’s late February. Pitchers and catchers have reported for Major League Baseball.

I owe the world a baseball metaphor.

First, the curveballs. Oh, how plentiful and how knee-buckling the curveballs have been this training cycle. Having trained through the winter for a spring marathon in the past, I was well aware that I would have to take some of my workouts indoors. I knew that I would have to fight treadmill boredom in order to get quality work. I did not know I would have to do it nearly every day.

Since I began training back in December for the Boston Marathon, 90% of my runs have taken place indoors. I have tried to get out at least once a week for a recovery or long run, but most of those workouts have been run at super slow snow picking pace. With the onslaught of sub-zero temps, knee-high snow and treacherously icy streets, I have been forced to go by heart rate, hoping that it ultimately translates to plus-fitness adaptations.

Creativity has been key on the treadmill. Trying to simulate the Boston Marathon course, while not actually going anywhere, has proved to be a difficult task, both mentally and physically. But pounding my quads with long, sustained downhills and interrupting tempo runs with three minute increments of squats, lunges and wall-sits has gotten me through much of that. So too have seven seasons of 30 Rock.

With eight and a half weeks left until race day, I feel like I still have enough time to log quality outdoor runs, but mother nature’s curveballs have definitely forced me to adapt my training plan. From a mental toughness point of view, these adaptations can only help. Besides, much of long distance racing is dealing with surprises on the fly.

As for the change-ups, I must shamefully admit my international race naivete. I knew the Mexico City Marathon registration opened in late January, but I (stupidly) didn’t think it would sell out — at least, not very quickly. Well, it did sell out. Very quickly. So in early February, when I went to sign up, I found out as much, and therefore had to opt for the half marathon version.

Damn.

I was really looking forward to 26.2 in Mexico City to cap off a week’s vacation, but the half will have to suffice, which means I will be seeking out plenty of Mexican trail running in the days leading up to the event.

(Image courtesy of Jim Street)

(Image courtesy of Jim Street)

And just like the old adage proclaims, when one door closes, another opens. So I signed up for the Evergreen Lake Ultra and a Half (51 Miles) race being held on September 14, 2014, just a few hours’ drive from Chicago. I am friends with the race directors, Kirsten Pieper and Jim Street, both of whom have already been featured here in my Minnesota Voyageur report. Not only do they represent one of the best trail running acronyms of all time with the Shady Hollow Trail Runners (SHTRs), but they are also really cool people who sold me on this race by talking about the food they serve. If home cooked grub highlighted by scores of bacon is your thing, then you won’t want to miss this awesome race. Three different distances are offered, so make sure to check them out.

Hopefully by then we will all be out of our snow boots.


Every Step a Surprise: The 2014 Groundhog Day Half Marathon Race Report

groundhog-day-bill-murray-auto-accident
You want a prediction about the weather, you’re asking the wrong Phil. I’ll give you a winter prediction: It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be grey, and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.

-Phil, Groundhog Day

– – –

Pre-Race
Saturday, February 1, 2014

You’re running a half marathon… in Grand Rapids, Michigan… in FEBRUARY!? Um… why?!?

This is myself scolding myself during the treacherous drive along I-94 East from Chicago to my sister’s place in St. Joseph. Visibility is poor. The roads are slick. The driving is uber slow. By the end of the day, 8+ inches of snow will have dumped on western Michigan.

I want to go run in it.

Because I want a challenge, I reassure myself. Mountains of snow, polar vortexes… if you can’t beat the weather, might as well get out and live it. Right? Maybe? Hope so?

My girlfriend, Edna, is gaming for the adventure too, so I don’t feel too crazy. As someone with several hundred milers under her belt, her continued desire to explore herself through physical challenges cements the sanity of my own decision.

After a nerve wracking drive, a nice home cooked meal by my sister and an evening of playing with toddlers, Edna and I are psyched to get out in the snow and have fun ourselves. When I receive an email from a friend telling me the course conditions — that the trail is brutally tough with snow up to one’s knees in spots — we look at each other and know that we’re going to give it a go anyway. Last week we ran in circles for 6 hours in the face of 40 mph wind gusts and barbarously cold temperatures. If we could survive that (and have fun!) then running in knee deep snow shouldn’t be much worse.

We hope.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

At 5 a.m. our alarm clocks go off in smart-technology unison and we are up. I sip some coffee, eat a banana and then Edna and I eat some pie (why not?) to finish off our breakfast.

It’s 5:45 a.m. and we are on the road — one that is in much better condition than it was yesterday.

The temperature is going to stay in the low 20s with plenty of clouds overhead and *GASP*, no real accumulative snowfall is predicted. Still, knowing what we already know about the trail, we both expect to take it easy today.

An hour and twenty minutes later and we are in the John Ball parking lot, huddled among other frigid crazies waiting to catch the shuttle to the start/finish line. It arrives, we squeeze ourselves in, and by the time we make it to our destination we only have ten minutes left.

The two of us push ourselves through the crowd gathered inside the warm hospitality tent until we finally get to the check-in table and grab our bib numbers. Hurriedly, we pin one another, and venture outside just in time to hear “And they’re off!”

Loop 1
Miles 1 – 4.4

Hurry up and wait. That’s what we do. This is, after all, a race run on a paved bike trail (though you wouldn’t know it from the snow cover) and the trail isn’t exactly wide.

We are way at the back of a decadently fluorescent conga line and by the time we get to the timing mat, two minutes have gone by. I think about darting up ahead, but from the endless stream of slow moving head bobs, I know there’s no point. Might as well just take it slow until the crowd thins out.

I stick by Edna and after a quarter mile of struggling through shin and knee high snow, I accept what I already know: today is going to hurt and today is going to be slow.

YIPPEE!!!

“I think the key here is to take smaller steps,” I say to Edna. “If I take too large a stride the potential for injury is too large. I’m going to try to keep my feet under me.”

Even heeding my own advice, the potential for disaster is still there. The snow is powdery. Slippery. But it won’t pack down, not even with hundreds of runners trampling over it. It’s a snowy, ill-footed mine field.

Every step is a surprise.

We hit the first mile mark in just over 17 minutes. Holy shit.

Ned-Ryerson heckfireWith a hat-tip to the Bill Murray film, the Groundhog Day Half Marathon is a 4.4 mile loop run three times. It features mostly flat landscape with some pleasant views of the Grand River and surrounding wilderness, all of which is covered in snow and ice. Every once in a while I remind myself to look up — to actually enjoy the scenery — but most of my focus is on staying upright, requiring me to look down.

A couple of miles in and already my hips are starting to scream while my heart rate soars. It’s not every day I “run” a 17 minute mile and maintain a 160 beats per minute heart rate. As we reach the first aid station, where I fuel up on Gatorade and those delectable peanut butter pretzel bites, I feel like a rebel soldier fleeing the Empire’s invasion of Hoth.

You could use a good kiss! I think to myself. Whew, I could also use a good recliner. This is hard work!

A little more slogging later, and the crowd opens up a little. I turn to Edna, get my kiss and kick on down the snowy trail.

Down to a 15 minute mile now (HUZZAH!), I find that the footing on the back half of the course is even worse than the first half. Slip… slide… WHOA LOOKOUT… save myself… slip… slide… WHOA LOOKOUT…

A lot of things are on repeat here.

After much struggle, I find myself back at the start/finish line, only 4.4 miles into the race, in a whopping one hour, nine minutes. Yikes! Before I give in to the idea of quitting — as many ahead of me appear to be doing — I immediately turn around and get myself back out there.

Loop 2
Miles 4.4 – 8.8

Back out on the trail now, I know what to expect the rest of the way: powder, pain and suffering. At least it’s not very cold, I remind myself. And there’s no wind.

It could be worse. It could always be worse.

I will myself to remember this bit of truth. Just think about all those crazies running the full marathon!

Indeed, it could always be worse.

Right now, despite my achy hips and slow pace, life is pretty darn good. The crowd has subsided. I’m running pretty much all by myself now, passing people who’ve been slowed to a walk on occasion.

Shortly after refueling at the aid station and kicking back down the trail, my watch gleefully beeps to inform me that I am in the 13 minute mile range now.

Oh boy we’re blazin’ now!

Relatively speaking, I am moving pretty fast. Though I may look like I’m moving in slow motion, I maintain running jogging slogging pace. I only come to a walk at the aid stations.

And because I’m paying so much attention to the ground beneath me, the time seems to pass quickly. Another hour and seven minutes has passed and I find myself at the start/finish line again.

I dart out for my third and final loop with the kind of enthusiasm born from an impending completion of epic snow schlepping. And oh look, my face hurts… from smiling! Again!

She's tough, indeed, but boy is she pretty.

She’s tough, indeed, but boy is she pretty.

Loop 3
Miles 8.8 – 13.1

Beer, beer, beer… chili, chili, chili…

I’m going to hang on to whatever it takes to get through this fluffy mess, and right now, I know that concentrating on the finish line fare (and warmth!) will get me where I need to be.

I should also note that this fluffy mess seems to get worse as the day goes on, not better. If the snow were just a little more damp, perhaps it would pack down and stay down. Instead, what we get is surprise after surprise after surprise.

Just before hitting the first aid station on this last loop I notice someone close on my heels.

“Keep setting the pace, man,” says the guy behind me. I find out his name is Steve. We will share much of this last loop together. After the mental struggle of the first loop and the isolation of the second, I welcome the company and conversation.

We share our race resumes and talk about annoying injuries past. We discuss the difficulty of running a half marathon in February. In Michigan. In knee deep snow. And we both come to the conclusion that we need a beer.

“Just keep pumping your arms,” I say. Someone gave me this advice for the last 10k of my first marathon and it has stuck with me. “If you move your arms your legs will follow.”

After the last aid station, I thank all the aid station volunteers. I’m sure this has been a tough day for them too. Keeping water from freezing in sub-freezing temps and listening to cranky runners whine about the conditions probably doesn’t make for the best way to spend a Sunday, but they’re all troopers and it’s nice to hear their cheers each time we come through.

“These peanut butter pretzel balls are amazing,” I tell Steve, as I take off down the last leg of the loop. “I’ve been eating them all day. I’m ravenous. I’m starving!”

Chili, chili, chili… beer, beer, beer…

I’m coming for you!

As we reach the last turn back towards the finish line I pick up the pace and notice Steve fall back a bit. I keep going. I want to be done. I want to be warm. I want to eat and drink and–

“Hola, mi cielo!”

It’s Edna! “Hola, mi amorsita!” I yell back. She is heading out for her last loop while I finish up mine. We stop for a short embrace and she assures me she’s feeling fine. Her smile lights up the trail like always and I can’t wait for her to get back so we can both be warm, rested and DONE. “I will drink some beer and eat some chili for you,” I tell her.

“Very good,” she says ironically (Edna doesn’t drink) before taking off through the snow.

Stuck in cheesy smile mode, I run the last 200 meters to the finish, coming across the line in a whopping 3 hours, 18 minutes, 51 seconds, a time more reflective of my recent 26.2 mile races. Exhilarated and gassed, I head straight for the hospitality tent.

Post-Race

I can’t see!

Seriously, I can’t. I’m snow blind. Some kind soul directs me through the crowd of exhausted runners to collect my finisher’s medal. Once my eyes adjust I am able to see just how bad ass this piece of hardware is. Heavy and profound, the medal features a dancing groundhog in relief and I put it around my neck, where it will stay until I get home.

For the next hour and a half I camp out next to the New Holland kegs and sip The Poet until my equilibrium requires me to eat some chili to rebound. I talk to a bunch of strangers. I share war stories with other finishers. I’m about as happy as can be.

Edna finally comes through and we hug each other, celebrating our mental toughness victories.

“Wow, that was hard!” she says.

“Yep. Yep it was. That was crazy hard.”

But we did it. We stuck it out.

We chose to be here and we knew what we were getting into. We knew we’d escape with a story worth telling — one that would leave us starving and snow blind and smiling.

You can’t get this sort of experience on the couch. You gotta take a leap and learn to adapt. That’s life right there. That’s what keeps it interesting.

And interesting never gets old.


Distances Obscene In 2014?

jeff lung racing rocky

While I patiently wait for the Polar Vortex to subside so mother nature can give me a cleaner, safer surface on which to train, I continue to battle the elements the best I can. I’m approaching the end of my fourth week of Boston Marathon training and about half of my runs thus far have been on a treadmill.

Physically, I feel great. My body is working well. As I slowly build my endurance, I am getting regular sports massage, with lots of attention placed on those cranky calves. All systems are go for Boston right now, and while I continue to be conservative in my training, I still dream of running a sub-3 race come April 21, 2014.

That’s my “A” goal. That’s the dream of dreams, as it has been and will continue to be until I finally make that dream a reality.

But there is no denying that my conservative training approach (at least for now), may make running 6:50 pace for 26.2 miles on a challenging course more difficult than I’d hoped. Right now my speed workouts — hampered by sub-freezing temps and rusty legs — haven’t been ideal. The turnover is there, the leg and core strength is there, but the cardiovascular system has a long way to go to keep up with my demands. With 14 weeks of training left, I’m not sweatin’ it. I am going to give it my all on Patriot’s Day regardless, and that, ultimately, is all that counts.

But what about after Boston?

Yes, indeed, the time has come, my friends. In 2014 I aim to complete my first 100 mile race. The Pinhoti 100, on November 1, in Heflin, Alabama, will be the scene. Lots of New Leaf and M.U.D.D. friends will be there. I’m hoping to get my dad down there. Siamak the Beast has agreed to pace me. I’m ready to go further than I’ve ever gone before, mentally and physically.

Every race I run from now until April 21 will be training for Boston, and every race I run post-Boston will be in preparation for the hundo.

Here is my tentative race plan:

January 11 – The Frozen Gnome 50k
My good friends from the McHenry County Ultrarunning Dudes and Dudettes (M.U.D.D.) put on great events and this one looks to be no different. 30 inches of snow accumulation so far this winter? Freezing rain? Hills galore? Bring on the suffering!

February 2 – The Groundhog Day Half Marathon
4-ish mile loopty loops in bone-chilling, snow covered Grand Rapids, Michigan? Like Phil said: I’ll give you a winter prediction: It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be grey, and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.

March 2 – The Armadillo Dash Half Marathon
As one who seeks out opportunities where travel and racing can be combined, I found what looks to be a quaint half marathon in College Station, TX about a 40-minute drive from my dad’s place. And while Texas temps in March may not be tropical, they are almost certain to be warmer than anything I’ll find in the Chi.

April 21 – The Boston Marathon
No subtext necessary.

May 10 – Ice Age 50k
After the ass kickin’ I got last year, this is my 2014 revenge race. With some better planning and a good understanding of the course, I am hoping to go under 5 hours this time around.

July 18-19 – Christmas in July 24 Hour
What better way to prepare myself for my first hundred than running in circles for 24 hours? This race, put on by some friends of mine from the New Leaf club, is in my suburban backyard (Lisle, IL) and promises to be one heck of a fiesta. It’s on pavement. It’s on a short, one mile loop course. I’m looking forward to a post-race Frankenstein walk like I’ve never had before.

August 31 – The Mexico City Marathon
One of my best friends lives in Mexico City. I’m in love with a Mexican. The Mexico City Marathon, at 5000 feet of elevation, offers a scenic, challenging course. ¿Cómo no voy a correrlo? ¡Que onda, güey!

October 12 – The Chicago Marathon
Running my fourth straight Chicago Marathon proves to be the lone wild card in my 2014 schedule. Rumor (and history) suggests that this race is soon going to move to a lottery selection. I HOPE NOT! I remain hopeful that the registration process will be open like it has been. My steadfast ninja fingers are prepared to click forward the $170+ dollars as fast as they possibly can. For me, the biggest test with Chicago this year will be running it as a training run as opposed to balls-to-the-wall redlining.

November 1 – The Pinhoti 100
The holy grail. The heavy hitter. The big kahuna. For the greater part of 2014, my heart, and perhaps more literally my legs, will be focused on traversing 100 miles in one shot, for the very first time. And while I do feel a bit funny about throwing myself into a 100 miler that doesn’t even have a website (I’m told it is currently under construction), I have been assured by my friends — most importantly, Siamak, who ran it as his first hundred in 2012 — that this race is as challenging as it is breathtaking. I’m hoping it’s more breathtaking in the metaphorical sense, though in a 100 mile race it seems like there will certainly be some moments were even taking a breath seems impossible.

I don’t know.

But I’ll see.

Because THAT — the unknown, the adventure, the THRILL of it all — is what makes running long so worthwhile, fulfilling and fun!