Training for my first 50 mile race continues. I have several races built in as more serious training runs essentially prior to my 50 mile race. I “planned” other races into my training before I reach my date with a 50 miler, but I will admit most of them were not particularly strategic. They are more that I just want to run that race.
I am a little under a month away from the first race of my race season. My first race is a road half marathon. It will probably be my only half marathon and possibly my only road race. This will be the third time I run this particular half marathon, Skunk Cabbage Half. I have enjoyed this race in the past and I ran a PR there last year and achieved my goal of my first sub 2 hr half marathon. This year I would like to PR again. PR’s at half marathons have really been my only time goals at races these days. To that end I have been trying to be much more consistent and attentive to doing speed work during my training plan. I had speed wok on my training plan last year but I would not say I took a very good approach to it. Most of my gains in speed have simply come due to consistent running not by any specific strategy.
So far during this year’s training I have seen significant improvements in my speed at the 10k distance. I never really thought of this distance as on I could show much improvement in as I did not feel I had the stamina to run hard that long. I have generally focused on running longer and farther not necessarily faster over the last several years. My runs have been long but relatively slow. Earlier in the year on a cold wintry day I found myself running hard for my entire run because I was simply freezing cold and running hard was the easiest way to stay warm and also get done faster and get home and get warmed up. On that run I ended up running a 10k PR. Then I started incorporating speed work into my training plan. I decided to use fartlek’s as my speed work because I am not well versed in speed work, as in I basically no nothing about speed work, and fartlek’s seemed easiest to understand and easiest to implement. I decided to run 1 minute fast 1 minute rest fartlek’s for 4 of my miles on either 6 or 7 mile runs with a warm up mile in the beginning and at least 1 mile cool down at the end. Since I started that routine I have achieved multiple PRs at the 10k distance. Also depending on which running app you subscribe to Garmin or Strava I either PR’d or ran my second fastest time at the 5k distance on my most recent speed work, with the difference in times between the two apps being only 1 second.
To be clear I am not a particularly fast runner. I am very much a middle of the pack runner if not back middle of the pack depending on the race. But it is very nice to see these added benefits of speed work really showing up in measurable visible ways on my training apps. It really helps me to stay motivated and keeps my drive up to stick with these hard speed workouts. I have never really done much speed work and these are definitely some of the hardest workouts I have ever done. It is really easy to stop doing something hard if you don’t feel like you are getting results. I am glad to be seeing these results or I would be very tempted to give up on the speed work.
I am looking forward to seeing how this new emphasis on speed work translates to my first race of my season at my only race with a time goal at this point. Hopefully it results in another half marathon PR.
I am half way through week 4 of my training plan with one short run and my first 16 mile run of the plan left for the week. Trying not to stress about the numbers during training this year as my goal race is a long way off and little differences won’t have an impact. I’ve only had one run where I really did not feel like running. Otherwise training has been going pretty well. I am trying to keep a little strength training and yoga in the mix with running.
Recently it has been frigid here in upstate NY and I’d prefer not to run on the treadmill but have been forced to several times already.
It’s been so cold lately that my brain tricked me into thinking 18 degrees seemed relatively warm and I should run outside. It was still crazy cold. I was running harder than I should be for a training run just to get warm and stay warm and ended up setting a 10k PR. That was not the plan. Despite the cold my Boco Gear hat and gloves kept my head and hands warm, however the rest of me could have used another layer. My neck especially could have used more coverage. Luckily its supposed to warm up to above freezing the next few days.
Regular training runs have been going pretty well. Long runs have been fine. I even added in my first round of speed work just for something different and to help me through a treadmill run, which I always dread. Today I ran harder for longer than I have in a while and the run felt pretty good. I probably could have even gone a little faster. Aside from being cold everything was clicking pretty good. Especially since this fast run was not planned at all I will definitely call this last run a small victory on the way to 50 miles.
Best of all I have been fortunate to share many miles with a variety of friends.
There are many reasons to run. One reason that I run is because I feel like running teaches me about life. There are so many life lessons that can be learned through running. I have learned so much about myself from this journey I have taken into running.
One thing I have learned is something that might sound totally obvious. If you want to accomplish something it takes work. You might be thinking, “Well of course it does.” Let me explain what I mean.
I have been very fortunate in my life. I have been able to accomplish a lot of goals I have set my sights on in my life. Things I never would have thought I would do. I graduated college. I earned a masters degree. I continued grad school after my master’s degree. I learned photograph and became pretty good at it. I sold photographs. I became a published writer and photographer. I ran a 5k, then a 10k, then a half marathon, then a 25k. I swear I am not just trying to humble brag. I am very proud of those achievements and they took effort, but they did not take maximum effort.
There were many things I coasted on using mostly natural ability or did the bare minimum to get by. Many things I just chipped away slowly at without a big surge of effort. Very few things in life have I put my maximal effort into, yet I have been able to achieve a lot. I am very fortunate. I try to stay humble.
I am not a naturally gifted runner. No one would mistake me for one and if you saw me on the streets you would not likely think I am a runner. But I have been able to do a lot in running. I have been able to increase the distances I have run over time by just adding a little more effort and a little more training each time. I never put in maximal effort to achieve the best I could do at an event. I did the bare minimum to achieve the desired outcome.
This year I had my sights set on something much bigger. I was going to double the distance I had ever run from a 25k to a 50k and not only that I was going to run a very challenging 50k. Not only did I want to accomplish this goal I wanted to do as well as I could at it. I wanted to enjoy this accomplishment throughout the process when I ran the race. I did not want to suffer through it which would be the case if I put in less than my best effort in training. I committed to training for this race like I have never trained before. I trained hard. I ran when I didn’t want to run. I ran in conditions I didn’t want to run in. I was focused and determined to succeed at this and do the best I could and that required being committed to the whole process and not just the final end goal.
All that hard work and determination prepared me to run the race of my life. I did not win the race, not even close. That wasn’t even a consideration for me. But I did run the best race I could at that time. I was prepared to run the best I could because I put in the work. I enjoyed running a tough race. I did not suffer through it. It was a challenging experience but the kind of challenge that makes you feel good.
Now I am ready to commit to a new goal. One I have thought about and talked about off and on for a long time. I have worked on it in fits and starts. It is one of the many things that took a back seat to my commitment to training for a 50k. But that training has taught me that I am ready and that if I commit to the process I can succeed.
Over the years I have talked about writing a book. I started writing it over a decade ago. I have worked on it off and on. I have started working on query letters and book proposals on and off over the last few years. I am always slowly inching closer to maybe possibly some day accomplishing this goal. Now things are going to change.
I love the quote my Michael Jordan where he says “I have failed over and over again, and that is why I succeed.” I failed to complete my PhD because I was not committed enough to the process I was not putting in the work I needed to. If I had unlimited time to work on it I probably would have gotten it done, but that is not how things work. I ran out of time because I didn’t commit enough time and energy to it. Well, I am going to learn from that failure and from this success. My future goals will be approached from a new direction.
Starting now I am going to commit to the goal of writing a book the same way I committed to running a 50k. I am going to be determined to working on the book process 5 days a week. Working on the book will be my number one priority on the list of tasks to get done. Everything else will have to play second fiddle and get balanced and worked on after my work for the day is done on the book. I will work on the book 1 hour a day 3 days a week during the work week. I will work on the book 2 to 4 hours a day on weekends. This will be just like the amount of time I committed to training for and running a 50k. This is a goal I will achieve and it will not be some goal that I will achieve some day. It will be a goal I will achieve soon.
I will put in the work I need to get this done. Other projects that I want to pursue may have to be put on the shelf until this one is complete. Some things that are ongoing projects will be scaled back while I work on this goal with singular determination. One thing that means is that there may be less writing here on my website. I hope that everyone following me will still stay in touch and reach out to ask me how things are going. I do love to write so I will still try to post regularly here. I will try to have more short posts so I can stay in touch.
The first task I need to accomplish for this goal is to finish writing my book proposal. In its current form it is probably 50% complete. I need to research some items and then complete it and send it out to agents. Those are my next steps. Wish me luck and feel free to send me as many messages as you’d like regarding this. I would love to hear from anyone who has experience in this realm as I chase this dream.
What do you think I will be writing a book about? Let me hear your guesses.
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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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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.
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.
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.
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.
Training for a 50k has been a big change to the way I run. I have never done any kind of official training program for any race I have run. If I set my sights on a run that is a little different in the past I just change the way I run to suit the type of race I am striving for. If the race is longer than what I normally run I just try to run a little farther each time I run until I can run that distance. If my goal is to run a familiar distance a little faster I just focus on trying to run each run of that distance a little faster and improve over time. If I am focusing on a a trail run instead of a road race I try to spend more time running trails.
Following a plan that tells me what days to run and how many miles to run is so much more regimented than anything I have ever done in my running or in any aspect of my life really. In a way its good because there it eliminates the decision making. Do I want to run today? How far do I want to run today? What kind of run do I want to have today? Not having to make decisions regarding the running is good. It alleviates a little bit of stress and indecisiveness. I know exactly what I am doing. I just have to look at my calendar.
On the other hand, following a plan feels a bit daunting at times. There is a limited amount of flexibility one can create within the structure if a plan. I sometimes can push a run back a day or run a day early. But other than that I wake up and I know, I am running TODAY. I think that as runners we have all had days where we just don’t feel like running. But when you are trying to follow a training plan to train for a very specific event you can’t decide I just don’t feel like running today and let that feeling win on a very regular basis. If you do you will show up to your race an be unprepared.
On Sunday 1/21/18 I finished up week three of my training plan. It felt like a particularly tough week. I felt tired several days I had to run. I just didn’t feel strong on most of my runs. There were days I just didn’t feel like running. There were days I almost stopped mid run and just called it good enough for no real reason than I didn’t feel like running anymore.
Part of this is I am running more miles on a more regular basis than I ever have before. I am running more days a week than I ever have before. And the biggest factor for me I think is, that due to it being the middle of winter in upstate NY, I have spent more time running on a treadmill than I had ever imagined I would. I am a hater of the treadmill. The monotony kills me. I can’t wait for Spring and more light an nicer weather.
On a positive note, Sunday I was scheduled to run a nice easy five miles the day after my weekly long run. My long run had felt like a struggle even though it was my shortest long run of the plan so far. I was kinda dreading going out for a run for fear that I just wouldn’t feel good. I procrastinated as much as I could. Eventually I laced up the shoes and stepped out the door.
It was relatively warm compared to recent weather trends here. I left my house and started slowly heading down the road. The run started off slow. But the longer I ran the more I wanted to run. The running started working its magic. I started to feel better. I felt better physically and I felt better about being out for a run. My run was supposed to be at an easy pace, but I was feeling good so I just ran what felt right. I didn’t check my watch much to make sure I was running the planed pace. I think just letting go and running the pace that felt right helped me feel better physically an spiritually. It was just the right thing to do for me in the moment.
I finished the run with an average pace that was 30 seconds per mile faster than what I was supposed to run but I also finished the run feeling satisfied. I left the mindset of training behind for one run and just enjoyed the run. I want to be prepared for my race. I want to be conditioned so I can enjoy the race but I also want to enjoy the training as much as I can. I think that this might be the approach I take throughout training from now on. As long as I feel good physically I might just run casually without minding my training plan once in a while for a refresh. It’s like hitting the restart button.
So if you are struggling take a minute and reset. Then get back to work.