Category Archives: Running

Running My First Trail Marathon

When I first started running I never thought I would be doing the things I have done. They were not things thst I wanted to do. Some of the things I’ve done I didn’t even know were things people do when I first started running. Like trail running; that’s a thing? Running a trail marathon; people really do that?

As I began to run more I met more people. I made amazing friends. I learned more about running and the amazing things that runners really do. I learned about what the human body is capable of. More importantly I began to learn whst my body was capable of. I began to push myself farther and farther, literally. First a 5k, then a 10k, then a half marathon, several half marathons. I began to trail run more and more and conqured those same distances on the trails and thn pushed farther to 25k trail runs. Looking for that next challenge. Looking for that next beautiful trail I could experience. Wondering where tht next trail would take me.

Last year I was invited to participate in the event that really set all this in motion. My friend invited me to particiapte in an event with her and a couple other firends. We would run the Sehgahund Trail Marathon relay together. Once again, this was a thing that I didn’t realize even existed at the time. This was sucha fun event for me. It doesn’t get much better than spending time out on the trails with your friends working as a team. I don’t know if my fiend will think if this event with as much appreciation for the path it has sent us down as I do, but for me it was a formative event that has helped lead me to where I am now.

After building up by running loner distances last year culminatiung with a chalenging 25k I returned to the idea of Sehgahunda. We had all begun running more and more trails and I thought what if we all trained together and ran the full solo Sehgahunda Trail Marathon together. I almost couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of my mouth, and I don’t think my friends could either at first. A marathoin was never something I had thougtht about wanting to do. But now that the idea had formed in my head I just couldn’t shake it.

I spent all winter training and continued into spring. As the day of the race approached I began to feel nervous and anxious. I really has no idea what to expect. I just had to hope my training had me prepared for this. My wife was going to be at the race crewing and cheering me on at the aide stations and check points. Even though I really had no idea how this race would go for me I told her that I felt like if everything went well and I felt good I thought I could be done in six hours.

My friends and I spent the week leading up to the race watching the weather forecast for race day. The two conditions we were hoping not to have for the race was for it to not be too hot and for it not to be too wet. If it was wet we knew the trails leading to the aide stations/check points would be muddy disasters. We were fortunate enough to not have heat, which for me is the worst possible condition. However, we had plenty of rain leading up to the race including rain the night before the race and it actively rained during most of the race itself.

The trails that take you to the aide stations/check points lead you out of the woods and generally into open fields. The fields were completely saturated with water. It was a mud-fest. There was standing water in areas. The mud was at least ankle deep on most of these trails. You just slipped and slid all over. You couldn’t get any footing. You couldn’t push off because your feet just slid out behind you. As a mid pack runner another problem is that half of the runners are ahead of you so they have all already trampled through this area and degraded the trail a great deal. The traffic out in front on these trails basically created a narrow steep rut of mud to run through. You couldn’t step off to the side because it was so muddy that you slid back down into the trench. Gravity was doing its job. And it got more complicated. Not only did you have to navigate the water hazards and the deep slippery mud these sections were out and backs with two way traffic going down a path that especially due to the mud was basically single track. Trying to continue to move forward without colliding with your fellow runners was not as easy as it might seem. Combine this challenge with the possibility of passing other runners going the same direction as you and it was even more difficult. It basically became more effective to divert so far off the designated path that you were basically out in a field of knee high grass. But even that wasn’t possible most places.

On the way to most of the aide stations/check points you were going up hill. So, you were working against gravity in ground conditions that made it very to push off or use any power or strength to propel oneself forward as the ground just continued to shift under your foot as you pushed against it. The factors combined to result in a lot of walking up through the mud. On the way down from the aide stations/check points you were presented with a different kind of challenge. The mud was obviously still there but instead of going against gravity you were going with gravity down the hill. And instead of the mud preventing you from pushing off of to propel yourself up, now the mud prevented you from planting your feet to slow yourself down and control your descent. It was like mud skiing except there was much less control of direction and footing than with actual skies on snow. You slid and splattered down the hill at the best speed you could manage without completely losing control and either falling or colliding with a fellow runner. I’ve heard running described as controlled falling and this was as close to that as I have ever felt. The fall was barely under control but felt inevitable. However, I managed not to fall on any of those sections.

I thought that the main trails that ran through the woods would remain mostly firm with only a relatively small degree of mud despite the rain. I even advised my friend against running in her trail shoes with more aggressive tread for better grip in the mud because I thought the main trails would not be so bad as to require it and the side trails up to the aide stations would be so muddy that they wouldn’t make a difference. Luckily she was smart enough to ignore me and follow her own instincts. The main trail was much muddier than I had anticipated. I lost a shoe in a mud hole in less than two miles. I saw all the runners ahead of me running around this muddy spot and I thought it made no sense to take the extra steps to avoid it since we were going to get plenty muddy anyway. I ran right through the middle of the mud I went through it just fine. I didn’t slip at all. Unfortunately though one of my shoes did not follow me through those several steps and remained lodged in the mud. Being early in the race I was still moving along at a decent pace and despite my shoes being tied as tightly as I could get them my foot slipped right out and I took several muddy steps with no shoe on one foot. Then I had to retrace my steps and shimmy my foot back into my shoe.

I love the trails that make up the Sehgahunda course. They are almost entirely single track until the last 4 miles. The trails twist and turn and wind their way through the woods at Letchworth State Park. You get to see and enjoy so much gorgeous woodland scenery. You can see out across the gorge created by the Genesee River at times. You run along sloping ravines as you traverse the forest. You you run down into than back up out of countless gullies created by water runoff over the years. I was actually pleasantly surprised that there wasn’t more water in the gullies considering all the rain we had been having and were currently experiencing during the race.

I didn’t really have a plan for the race other than do whatever it takes to finish. I didn’t have a set plan to try to average a certain pace or anything. I started out the race running whatever pace felt comfortable. I wasn’t running hard but I wasn’t holding back either. I felt really good the whole first half of the race.

The race has a fair amount of elevation gain overall but there aren’t really any particularly steep climbs, which is good for me because I am not good at climbing and it always seems to just suck the life right out of my legs for whatever follows. Despite there being no steep elevation gains there are still some really nice long gradual downhill sections where you can pick up some speed and run faster. I was able to use these features to my advantage throughout the first half of the race.

As I approached the first side station/check point, about 6 miles into the race, I caught up to a couple of my female friends who were also running the full marathon. So I was able to chat with some friends out on the trail for a few minutes. At the aide station/check point I got one of my Calorie Bomb Cookies, that I made from the recipe in the No Meat Athlete Cookbook, out of my pack and ate and drank there. I said hi to my wife who was there to cheer me on and crew for me. Then I was back off on the trail.

After getting back down into the woods I eventually caught up to my two friends who I originally hatched this crazy plan with. We were able to talk for a little while out on the trail. We were all in good spirits. I also took some video of them running which I don’t know if they were aware of at the time. I continued to move along in the trails at a pretty good pace for me. I was just casually running down a relatively nondescript section of trail when I apparently failed to pick my size 14 foot up high enough to clear a root or a rock because I went down. I tripped and went straight down flat on my chest and face. Luckily I was able to brace myself somewhat with my outstretched hands like superman. Fortunately I was not hurt and I popped back up and continued to run. One of my fellow runners asked if I was ok and my response was that “I’m a professional faller at this point. I don’t get hurt.”

The large number of participants from our running club, Southern Tier Running Club, included several teams running the relay. The relay teams from our club included some very fast kids. Kids who are much faster than me on my best day. My friends and I had been talking about how long we thought it would be before I was passed by one of our club’s relay teams. Even with a 30 minute headstart it was only a matter of time before they overtook me. I said I would be happy if I stayed ahead of them for 10 miles. I actually did better than I expected. I didn’t get passed by the first member of one of our relay teams until mile 12. He went flying past me like I was standing still.

As I approached the 3rd aide station/check point at mile 15 I was starting to get tired. The plan here was to take the time to change my socks and reapply anti chaffing ointment to my feet because I have had problems with blisters on my past long runs. First I had to scrape the mud off my shoes just so I could get to my shoe laces. Changing my socks felt so good. It was much more noticeable than I had expected and even though I didn’t change my wet and muddy shoes my feet still felt dry and comfortable. I don’t know if that was a byproduct of wearing Darn Tough brand socks or what, but I was happy for it. The second half of the race was a little drier and less muddy so the change in socks was a good decision even though it took a significant amount of time to do. It also helps to keep your feet dry if you keep your shoes on while running which I managed to do during the second half of the race by keeping my weight more on my toes through the muddier areas. I was able to see my wife again and talk and absorb some of her positive vibes and every as she cheered me on and then I was off from the third stop.

The second half of the race was kind of a blur. The aide stations/check points were closer together and I took advantage of that. But the second half of the race felt like much more of a grind. Just trying to keep movingforward. It also seemed to have more elevation gain or at least more sustained segments of elevation gain requiring more walking. One part I do remember was falling once again on a very nondescript section of trail. Not doing anything that really should have lead to me falling. Just failing to pick up my feet. When I got up I saw another pair of runners standing over me and one said that they had just fallen there too. So it must have been booby trapped. At least I wasn’t the only one it took down.

At some point as the day progressed it began to get warmer and more humid down in the forest and when you emerged at aide stations/check points you could feel the cool breeze out in the open and we bantered with the great volunteers regarding their nice weather. I took some ice and put it under my hat and tucked some into the buff I was wearing around my neck to help me stay cool.

As I traversed the trails over the second half of the race what I knew to be my weakness became increasingly apparent. My hips and core muscle were getting tighter and increasingly sore. All the muscles you use to lift your legs and stabilize yourself in you pelvic girdle were screaming at me. I pushed on through the discomfort. I walked when I needed to on inclines and stretched my muscles as best I could at side stations/check points.

When I began the flatter section that was basically old logging road or gravel road or some combination of the two I knew I was getting closer to the end from the preview run I did here with my friends. Only about four miles to go. It was both a relief and a bit of mental torture. I was relieved to know the end was in sight but felt like how can there still be four miles. And those four miles seemed to drag on forever. But despite that the simple knowledge of how close I was to the end and the relative flatness of this section of the course allowed me to run at a reasonable pace and push myself to sustain it.

When I emerged from the woods onto the park road I was almost done. The finish was literally in sight. Just one more hurdle to get over. That last section of road included a not so small hill and it feels especially daunting after 25 miles. Who does that? Who throws one last hill in within the last quarter mile of a trail marathon? I was determined not to walk up that hill. I don’t know how fast or slow I went up that hill but I maintained some version of running all the way up. I am sure it wasn’t pretty.

As I approached the finish I saw my wife there cheering me on. She has been such a huge support for me during all this insane training. It helped push me across the finish just to see her. It was a great feeling to cross that finish and just stop moving for a minute. It’s a great post race vibe at Sehgahunda. Talking to friends who’ve already finished, waiting to cheer friends on through the finish, and cheering on other runners is a great way to finish off the day. Oh yeah, did I mention there is food and beer.

The other aspect of all this aside from the running for me has been trying to document as much as possible as a photographer. Race day was not a good day for photography so I did not take many still photos with my GoPro, but I did shoot several segments of video, which I honestly haven’t even watched yet to see how they came out. I’m hoping I can compile the footage into something bigger at some point. Race photos didn’t turn out great which is a bummer but I did some creative editing to try to make them look as good as possible and they accompany this post. I hope you enjoyed reading this way too long race report.

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2018 Seneca 7

Sometimes I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world. I have gotten to do so many things that make me happy and make life worth living. Somehow I was fortunate enough o break out of my shell and meet this great group of people that call themselves runners. I have fallen in with this group of people and we enjoy life together running and non-running alike. We have developed this little Elmira running crew who I have spent a lot of time running with over the past few years.

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In 2017 we all wanted to run Seneca 7 together but we were not able to get registered for our own team. Several of us did get to experience Seneca 7 that year but not all together. In 2018 we were fortunate enough to be able to all be on one team together.

So for those who don’t know what Seneca 7 is, it is a relay race that teams of 7 run around Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region of NY. The race is a total of 77.7 miles long. So when you sign up for Seneca 7 you are committing to a daylong event where you will spend the majority of the day traveling with 6 other people in a van. That might sound crazy, and maybe it is. But when your best friends are runners it is like one of the best days you can have.

You run you, you watch, you cheer. You drive, you navigate, you eat, you do ….. other things all in close proximity of your friends. You have to be very accepting of others to participate in this kind of event. You will be spending a lot of time together and might get to know each other better than you thought you would if you didn’t already know each other well. Seven friends in a van spending the day doing what they love, it’s like a party to me.

You are around hundreds of other people who enjoy what you do and are about the same level of crazy as you. Except maybe those bike teams, they are something special.

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I loved being able to do this event with 7 of my best friends. The hardest part for me was the fact that I am a photographer and I like to photograph EVERYTHING. The weather was terrible. It was rainy and snowy. When you are packed in a van like sardines there isn’t room to bring the heavy duty camera equipment that can withstand some rain and snow. I brought cameras but most of the equipment wasn’t durable enough to brave the elements with. I had been really excited about the opportunity to document this event with my friends. Now I had to figure out how to make that happen as best I could. When you are a photographer it is hard to accept anything but the best quality of photographs you can get. At least it is for me. Maybe that is a flaw I need to work on, but it drives me.

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I did have my GoPro with me and I worked with that tool as best I could to capture as many moments from our race as I could. I am not as experienced with the GoPro as I am with my other equipment and the super wide angle lens of a GoPro is less than ideal for photographing an event where you can’t necessarily be close to your subject. But the GoPro could withstand the weather. So I had to make it work.

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I took a mix of single shot photos, time lapse photos, and videos to try and capture as much as I could of the event. Since I first began incorporating a GoPro into my photography I have been shooting an increasing amount of video. Most of this video I have recorded while I have been running. When you shoot video when you are running there will inevitably be some shaking of the camera. I have a steady cam to use but with the poor weather I also could not use that. So I shot video with my GoPro while running. I didn’t think it would be too bad. One thing I did not consider is that when I normally shoot video when I am running I am running at a more casual pace for me. During this race I was basically running all out. So when you try to run all out and hold a camera steady everything’s basically works against holding the camera steady. So the video was much shakier than I would have liked, but at least I recorded our adventure together.

I am happy to have such good friends. I am happy to be able to capture our fun times together even if it doesn’t come out as well as I would like. I can’t wait to record more of our fun times together.

Weekend Plans

This weekend I have quite a few things going on. It is a double edged sword when your life is so full of activity that you aren’t sure that you can fit it all in. There are so many aspects of my life that I love end derive joy from, however sometimes all of those things collide in a short time frame and can create a significant amount of stress. This weekend my photography life and my running life are colliding hard core. I am currently training for a 50k trail race and simultaneously trying to expand my photography business as well as maintain services I have provided in the past.

For my race training I need to run 20 miles on Saturday and I need to run at least 10 miles Sunday. On Saturday morning I have the privileged of photographing an important community event, Walk A Mile In My Shoes. This is a suicide awareness event that is held in my home town of Elmira, NY. This is a very well done event and it receives a ton of support from the community. I have photographed this event in the past and it is always a rewarding experience. Also, on Saturday evening I have scheduled a nature photography workshop. Holding photography workshops is something I am beginning to do new this year. I really wanted to have an early spring workshop and this seemed like a good time to have it. I have a busy early half of the year and this was the only weekend that would relay allow it to happen at all. In between those two events I will somehow squeeze in a 20 mile run, and I am not particularly fast so it is quite time consuming.

On Sunday I will be at Southern Tier Running Club’s Trail Fest at Grist Iron Brewing. I will start the day at 7:30 AM volunteering for the club during bib pick up for all of the runners attending to run the race. Then I will transition into photography mode and photograph the event which consists of three separate races. There is a 1 mile race, a 5k race, and a 10k race. I expect this will take most of the day. Then after finishing that up I will need to run 10 miles as part of my training plan for my 50k training. It is going to be a long but fulfilling day and weekend.

All of this activity even though it is generated for things I love it is bound to be stressful. Stress is a real thing. It can be good but it can also be detrimental to both our physical and mental health. Stress can overwhelm us. We might think that all of the things we are doing is because we love it and we want to but everything takes its physical and mental toll on us. Even the things we love and enjoy. Maybe especially those things because those are the things we care most about. We all need to evaluate what things we say yes to and what things we say no to. No one can do everything even if they are all things they love. There is not enough time, energy, or mental capacity. We are all human and we can only take on so much of a load. There is no shame in this. We all have to chose and prioritize those things that mean the most and say no to other things.

As I have been going through the process of training for a 50k, I knew it was going to be a time commitment, but I really had no idea what I was getting into. I love the idea of running this type of run, but the commitment needed to train may be more than I can fit into my life these days. I will reevaluate after my race and decide if/when I will ever be able to do it again. As it is I would never be able to do it without my wife picking up the slack at home while I am out grinding away the miles.

This weekend will also be something I evaluate after the fact. Once I get through it I will look back on it and see what went well and what didn’t. Then I will know if I will ever plan to pack so much into one weekend again. This also fits into my evaluation of how training for a really long race goes. This would not be a problem if I wasn’t in the midst of training for a long race. Can I do both? Can I run long races and be a successful photographer in addition to other parts of my life I need to keep intact.

Husband, Photographer, Dog Lover, Writer, Runner, Nature Lover, Analyst. Is it all too much? How do I balance it all?  These are the questions we all must ask and find a way to live the life we find most meaningful.

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Photography Life

I love photography and I love trying to make it a part of every aspect of my life. Most photography is going out and finding subjects to photograph but for me photography is about photographing life and more importantly photographing my life. I want to photograph the things I do and the things that I love and share them with the world.

Some aspects of life are a bit more challenging to photograph than others so I try to explore new tools and techniques so I can capture as much of life as is possible. Over the past year I have begun using GoPro cameras to capture parts of life that are less conducive to carrying around traditional camera gear.

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I recently went running at one of my favorite local places Tanglewood Nature Center and there are so many great sights to see there. I have photographed the scenery there many times. I wanted tot try something new. I put my GoPro on an extension pole and used it to take some creative shots.

I ran out to the cliffs. I stopped at two different spots that have the best views and I used my extension pole mounted GoPro to take photographs at angles that cannot be achieved from just standing on the path. It was an interesting process to try and maneuver the GoPro into a position that would get the best shot. It took a lot of attempts to get the best photographs. This is a technique that will take some practice to master.

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After my run I hiked up the trail and found an interesting tree. This tree is hollow and had multiple holes in it. I wanted to attempt to photograph the inside of the tree. I also wanted to photograph through the openings in the tree. I was able to get a view from the hollow at the base of the tree where some woodland creatures had been munching on nuts in the past. I was able to take photographs looking up through the opening in the top of the tree. Then I rotated the camera from the same position and photographed the inside of the tree looking down to the base of the tree on the inside. Then I captured some images of the view at Tanglewood seen from the perspective of the tree.

 

Run/Photo/Bird

One thing I really love about running is that it is often a way for me to enjoy all of the things I love in life at the same time. This is even more true now that some Spring weather has finally arrived. I went out for a run. I took a few photographs. I also, thanks to the return of Spring, was able to do some bird watching from the trail. Today was a perfect day for a run and I had an 18 mile long run on the calendar for my 50k training.

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Today I started at Eldridge Park in Elmira, NY and ran the Lackawana Trail out and back. Two of my friends met me and ran the first 4.5 miles with me. Then I continued down the trail as it follows the Chemung River. It was so nice to just be out running and enjoying the weather instead of fighting the weather as most of my training has been this year.

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As usual I took a camera with me on this run. I took my GoPro with as has been the norm lately. It fits best in my vest and is the best option especially for the long runs. I used the GoPro to capture these scenic shots as I ran by one of the spots that I think is the most scenic on the trail. I took one series on the way out and one series on the way back. I just set my GoPro to time lapse and capture the images as I pass by.

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I was even able to do a little birding along the trail. Now that Spring is really starting to arrive birds are on the move. I saw red-winged blackbirds, various woodpeckers, geese, an assortment of warblers that were difficult to ID while running but I think one was a yellow rumped warbler, and I saw a bunch of what I think were kinglets zipping around in the bushes. The only thing that nagged at me was that I wished I had my long lens camera with me so I could photograph the birds. But you have to make trade offs. It would be very difficult to run around with a 10 to 20 pound camera rig strapped on my back.

Overall it was a really great day for a run.

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Skunk Cabbage Half: Race Report

On Sunday 4/8/2018 I ran the Skunk Cabbage Half Marathon. Four months into 2018 I am running my first race. I generally don’t sign up for cold weather races because while I don’t necessarily mind running in the cold I like it to be by my choosing on my terms. I don’t really like to have the obligation of having to run on this day particular day where the forecast is for cold weather. Last year I ran the Skunk Cabbage Half in shorts and a T-shirt and it was so sunny that I ended up with a sunburn by the end of the race.

I realize it is early April and anything can happen with the weather but this year the weather was slightly different. The forecast was for about 30 degrees at the time of the start of the race. So dress was a little different for this race. I was wearing tights and three layers of shirts and a hat and gloves as well. After three miles the sun was actually starting to peak out a little and I felt a little warm and contemplated taking my hat and gloves off. I decided against it as it seemed possible I would just end up having to put them back on later and I didn’t want to have to worry about fussing with things and possibly slowing myself down unnecessarily.

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Keeping the gloves on was the right choice as by mile seven snow squalls moved in and there was on and off snow for the rest of the race. I have run int he snow, but I have never raced in the snow, especially when I am trying to run a fast race for me. At times the snow and wind were blowing right into your face. The snow just driving right into you pelting you and feeling like little ice bullets. It was not even possible to look straight ahead because the snow would literally hit you right in the eyes if you didn’t have glasses on which I did not. This was not a condition I had anticipated. It was snowing hard enough and directionally enough that just one side of your body would be coated in snow. By the end of the race the roads were wet and my feet were wet. It almost felt like I have run a trail race. Running in that kind of weather at a race was a new experience for me and even though I managed it ok, I would prefer not to do it again.

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The next part of the event that I had to navigate for me was my photography. I have been photographing and writing about my running especially my 50k training as a way to document my experiences. This race is in the midst of  my 50k training and was a good opportunity to get a sense of my overall running fitness even though a half marathon is nothing like a trail ultra marathon. I really wanted to have a camera with me to document the race so I could have photograph to accompany my writing. I debated if I should even take a camera with me for fear of using it and slowing myself down and self sabotaging my effort at a goal time at this race. I did end up bringing my GoPro with me and carrying it with me during the race, however I did not take it out and photograph anything until after I crossed the finish line. So all the photos here are after I finished the race.

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And now we come to it. The actual running of the race. How did the race itself and the actual running go for me? The first three miles had me a little nervous. I felt ok but I had a really difficult time settling into a pace. I was either too fast or too slow. I could not get on track. The vast majority of my training has been at a slow pace to build mileage for long distances. It took some mental effort to make my legs move faster. There was a time when I felt good and settled in and then my watch buzzed at me and I checked and I was running a 10 minute mile pace. That is a full minute slower than the pace I needed for my goal. so after that I knew I had to be much more conscious of my pace and really pay attention.

The real challenge to this race is the course itself. It is a relatively hilly course with 500 ft of elevation gain. So it isn’t really possible, at least not for me to plan to just run one steady pace the whole way. There would be times on the uphills I would be too slow and times on the downhills I would be too fast. My goal was to just check in at my mile splits and make sure I was on pace at each mile and adjust accordingly. As it turns out I had only two 1 mile split times where I was over 9 minute miles which is the pace I needed to hit my goal of a sub 2 hour time.

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My previous best for a half marathon was 2 hr 15 min and with all my training the past year I was pretty sure I would beat that relatively easily, baring injury. What I really wanted was not just a PR I wanted that sub 2 hr time.

So can training for a 50k increase your fitness enough that you can PR at a half marathon and hit a new and challenging goal for yourself. The answer for me, a middle of the pack runner, is yes. Improving my overall fitness and endurance through 50k training was enough for me to run a half marathon 20 minutes faster than I ever had previously at an official race.

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I achieved my goal of a sub 2 hour half marathon with a time of 1:55. I ran better than I every expected. More importantly I felt better than I ever expected. This was the best I had ever felt at a race. This is the first time I have ever been working through an official training plan and the benefits are pretty clear. I felt good the whole race. I was even able to speed up for the last three miles. I ran mile 13 at a 7:57 pace. That seems like a near miracle for me and what my running is normally like as far as speed goes. Having enough left in the tank to run that fast at the end of a half marathon is unheard of for me. Usually I am limping across at the finish getting passed by people. This time coming down the stretch I was passing other people. It makes me think I could have actually run a little faster. So maybe the future holds more room for improvement at the half marathon distance for me. But I am extremely happy with this accomplishment and extremely happy with how I have felt before, during, and after this race. I could not have done it without the support of my wife and my friends who have supported me on this journey.