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Wow. That was an amazing experience. I ran the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run on Saturday and finished in an official time of 11:57:37, just under my goal of 12 hours. My un-official mile by mile splits are up on RunKeeper which served me well with my iPhone 4S and Mophie Juice Pack until the very last few minutes when my battery finally died on my phone. Before I get into the story of the race, thanks for everyone out there who supported me in any way – it was awesome to scan through the twitter stream and comments post race.
Today’s post is the blow by blow of the race. I’m going to spend a few more days and process the emotional dynamic before I write about it. I’m still in the middle of it – yesterday was emotionally really hard; today feels more normal, but I expect to have lots more ups and downs this week as my thoughts, and my brain chemistry, sorts itself out. So I’ll consolidate the deeper emotional reflection into one post some time in the future. For now, here’s what I remember of the experience.
The idea started some time last year when Katherine McIntyre, my partner Ryan’s wife who is an excellent marathoner and triathlete, said “do you want to do a 50?” She summarizes the windup in her post Crazytown - the short version is I said “sure – why not.” The picture above is of us moments after we finished – Katherine the studette turned in an 11:33:21.
The race started at 6am so I woke up at 4:30. I had a bagel, some peanut butter, and coffee with the hope that the coffee would do its magic trick. Amy called promptly at 5:30 to wish me good luck (she usually is with me but stayed home this time because of her broken wrist) and I hustled out the door with all my gear to meet Katherine, Ryan, their son, and my assistant Kelly in the lobby at 5:35 (the time specifically prescribed by Katherine after a minute long negotiation with me the previous night for between 5:40 and 5:30.) We did the last minute good morning do you have everything drill in the lobby of the hotel and got ready to hop in the car for the mile long drive to the start (no fucking way I was going to go an extra mile today.)
At that moment I had crisis #1. I run with two water bottles that are exactly the same. I’ve been training with them for months and they are extensions of my hands at this point. As I grabbed everything off the table, there was only one water bottle. I looked around frantically but there was still only one. “Fuck – where’s my other water bottle?” Everyone (including the eight year old with us) looked startled. “Fuck fuck fuck – those other runners must have accidentally grabbed it.” After a minute of this it was time to go – the night manager gave me a bottle of water (very different than a “water bottle”) so at least I’d have two and off we went. I took a deep breath and calmed down as best as I could.
The start of the race was uneventful. It was dark and cold so I was happy I dressed with two shirts (including a long sleeve shirt) and gloves. There were around 1000 people at the start (I think there were 800 runners) and everyone smelled like “eau de early morning start of race.” Within minutes we were running on the American River trail, our friend for 47 of the next 50 miles.
For the first two miles all I thought about was my fucking water bottle. I hated my bottle of water – it didn’t have a strap. After the second mile I decided to toss it to the side of the road, where I proceeded to obsess for another mile over my missing water bottle. At around mile three I noticed a water fountain on the trail, refilled my bottle, and decided that if my friend Andy Sack could go through life with one testicle, I could handle the race with one water bottle. That was the last time I thought about my water bottle until after the race.
I had decided to break the race up into five segments of 10 miles each. The run from my house in Eldorado Springs to my office is right at 10 miles so I figured it was five laps from Eldo to the office. I know the mile markers well since I’ve done that run a hundred times so whenever I found myself at 4.4, 14.4, 24.4, 34.4, and 44.4 I thought “ok – I’m at the Eldo Market now” and at 7, 17, 27, 37, and 47 I was at Table Mesa.
The first 10 miles were easy. I used an 8:2 run:walk pace and held myself back. My coach Gary had told me numerous times to take it easy on the marathon segment. While my last marathon was 4:28 and I felt in better shape, I decided I would try to do the marathon in 5:30. Whenever I felt myself picking it up, I reigned myself in and took it easy. The sun came up, it started to warm up, and I enjoyed myself.
The next 10 miles were also easy. The only annoying part in this segment were the bikers. 80% of them were fine, 10% were super nice, and 10% were abusive assholes. “Get out of the way – bike coming through”, “Runners are supposed to stay on the left”, and “Get the fuck out of my way” were some of the things I remembered. I almost got hit head on by a guy going 20+ mph swerving in and out of runners. It was a curvy path which made it even harder – the “runner drift” settled in a little around mile 15 (where it’s impossible to stay focused on a straight line) and I remember looking up a few times and being startled by a bike heading right at me. I found out later that there have been a lot of battles about this in the past – apparently it’s a “bike path” and bikes are “superior” to runners. You’d think for one day a year they could close the path to bikes, but someone on the run mentioned there’s even been a court case about it. So for 10 miles the 10% of the bikers who were assholes spoiled the runner / biker relationship for everyone.
Before I knew it I’d gone through the marathon point right at around 5:30. I still felt fine – kept it slow – and had plenty of water. The aid stations were awesome – better manned than many of the marathons I’ve been part of, so my fueling strategy was working fine. I took a Gu gel every 30 minutes with water and a salt tablet every hour. At the aid stations I refilled my water, grabbed a few more Gu’s, and ate some pretzels, boiled potatoes and salt, and a dixie cup of coke (yum). There was a huge aid station at mile 27 (Beal’s Point) where I saw Ryan and his son and heard the best line of the day “this is a race, not a birthday party.” The line was wrong – it was a party – and a good one.
By mile 29 it hit me that I’d now run the furthest distance in my life. I went through mile 30 with the thought of “only 20 miles to go.” And this is when it started getting really hard. The segment between 30 and 40 was physically and mentally tough. It was a technical trail run – not the hardest I’d been on, but there were some gnarly parts. I’m an ok trail runner but hadn’t trained much on trails during the winter in Boulder so I was extra careful, which took even more mental energy. By the mid-30′s my pace had slowed from 12 minute miles to 18 – 20 minute miles, which became depressing. I only had one really dark mile where I started feeling sorry for myself, but during this mile I got a hilarious txt message from my friend Andy which jolted me out of my dark spot. There were a few horses on the trail – I’m terrified of horses so these spots were emotionally bizarre moments for me – but the horse people were super nice.
At mile 41 I met up with my assistant Kelly at an aid station where she joined me for the last nine miles. Ryan and his son was there again and after a fuel refill and an exploding fist bump we were on our way. At this point I only had one more trip to the office from Eldo and I knew I’d get it done. I was physically tired but had a nice pick up emotionally as I entered hour #10 of the run.
Somewhere around mile 43 or 44 I started having trouble getting my feet to go where I wanted them to go. Up to this point I hadn’t had much real difficultly on the trail, but now I was stumbling all over the place. After a few minutes of this I took two salt tabs hoping that would help. It did – 15 minutes later I was back to normal, whatever that meant. I have no idea if this was physiological or psychological, but by 45 I was motoring along pretty well. Every now and then Kelly would say something to jolt me out of my stupor – one that I remember was “Do you want to talk about cap tables for a little while?”
At mile 47 we started a long uphill climb to the finish. At the base of the hill was some eye candy – for the women. The aid station was called Last Gasp and the guys manning it were all shirtless ultra runners who ran to us, grabbed our water bottles, and had them refilled by the time we got to the aid station. These guys each had that crazy v-shaped abdominal muscle – I think it’s the inguinal ligament - with insane definition pointing suggestively – well – you get the idea. “I used to look like that – except for the muscle part” I told Kelly as we finally got out of range of the Adonises.
The last three miles is 1000 ft uphill. Everyone walked. There was a short downhill stretch – I took off running with a loud manic scream at the top of my lungs. As we went through mile 48 I realized I might break 12 hours. At 49.25 it flattened out and I sprinted for the finish and came in two minutes and change under my goal.
Katherine, Ryan, and their son were at the finish line waiting for me. Katherine looked great – she’d had a lot of knee pain during the trail part after falling once, but she had good color and a great attitude. After a few minutes of congratulations and hanging out, Kelly and I piled into our car and went to Chevy’s for my first non-Gu meal in 12 hours while Katherine and crew drove back to San Francisco to have some “excellent pizza” that they could only find in San Francisco. I called Amy and had a celebratory talk – she had done an awesome job of keeping track of things during the race (due to RunKeeper live) and being my communications director for the day. I dropped my coach Gary a note of thanks and then ate and ate and drank a beer and ate some more.
When I got back to my room, I discovered a very lonely second water bottle sitting just where I had left it 14 hours earlier. For the first time all day I had tears in my eyes, but of laughter – at myself. Staring at the water bottle that had bedeviled me during the first part of the run it finally hit home that I had just run 50 miles.
Doing something for the first time is always fascinating for me. In an hour I’ll be starting the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run which will be the first ultramarathon I’ve ever run. Assuming that RunKeeper and my iPhone works (with it’s special magic Mophie juice pack), you can track me live on my RunKeeper account. I also imagine my wife Amy will be tweeting things out during the day.
While I’ve done 21 marathons, there’s a big difference between 26.2 miles and 50 miles. I’ve spent the last three months studying it, training for it, and thinking about it. Today I get to experience it. It started out with a simple question. My friend Katherine McIntyre (my partner Ryan’s wife) says it best in her post “Crazytown.”
So, at the end of August I sent a link to the American River 50 mile run to my marathon-running friend Brad, with the subject line “Crazytown?” and asked if he had any interest in doing that race. Within 48 hours he signed on to do it with me. Gulp. Ah, the danger of hanging out with people who have the same willingness to dive into an unknown and quite large challenge. So, I was committed.
I didn’t really start thinking about it until January, when I also went “gulp” and decided it was time to get serious about training. There’s no way I could have done it without the help of my coach Gary Ditsch and the support of Amy, who put up with about 50% more running than usual, including about six weekends that were basically all about running.
While we were in Hawaii, Amy and I decided that it’d be too much for her to come sherpa. She’s still struggling with a broken wrist and she didn’t want to add anything else to what I had to do or think about. It was a tough decision because I love it when she’s with me on these marathon (and now ultra marathon) weekends. But due to the magic of technology, she’s close by and I’m thinking of her a lot.
My amazing assistant Kelly Collins (who is also a runner) offered to run the last ten miles with me so she’s here with us. I know it’s going to be great to have a friend who knows me well help me through the last 20%. At dinner last night with Katherine, Ryan, and their son we all acknowledged how special an experience this is and how much we appreciate all being here together. And, as I sit here eating a bagel with peanut butter on it and hoping the coffee I’m drinking does it’s special magic trick in the next ten minutes, I’m deeply appreciative of all the help and support I’ve gotten from my partners, friends, and people I don’t know directly but have an online relationship with who have been helpful along the way.
Thanks to everyone who has provided any sort of support – especially emotional – during this journey. I’m looking forward to the experience of the next 12 hours. See you on the other side.
Some time last year Katherine McIntyre, my partner Ryan’s wife, asked me if I wanted to do a 50 mile race with her. I think she was expecting me to say no, in which case she could have decided it was a silly idea. But my reaction, without thinking about it, was “sure – that sounds cool.” So we both signed up for the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run on April 7th in Sacramento.
Yesterday, I told Amy that this is the only 50 miler I’m going to do again for a while. It’s simply too much training while I work and travel the way I am. I’ve had several 50+ mile weeks in the last month and my weekends are consumed with running. For example, last weekend I had four separate runs totaling seven hours and this weekend I’m doing a double 18 – an 18 mile run on Saturday and an 18 mile run on Sunday.
I love the running. And the double 18s are fun. But for my current 46 year old body, there’s a two day recovery time. During this two day recovery time, I’d love to get 12 hours of sleep a night. That doesn’t work when you get on a plane Monday at 8:15pm to go to Chicago to have a 9am board meeting the next day.
This week I’ve been exhausted every morning when I wake up. My normal wake up time is 5am – I’ve been finding myself getting up at 5, wandering around for a few minutes disoriented, and then going back to bed until 8am. Even then, I’m still tired. I’m not staying up late (I’ve been getting to bed by 10:30pm) and I’m sleeping well, so it’s clearly just the cumulative effect of the training.
I’m easily in the best running shape I’ve been in a decade. I’ve dropped 20 pounds and weighed in at 195 this morning, partly due to the help from my friends at Retrofit. Regular massage has kept me feeling fine, and I’ve even tossed some light swimming and biking into the mix.
Suddenly, a marathon seems really trivial. Katherine and I will put this 50 miler behind us and I’ll be back to my friend, a well understood distance of 26.2 miles. In the mean time, I’ve learned a lot about my physical limits and – with the life and pace I live – feel like I’ve started to bump up against them.
Marathon #21 is done. I ran the Philadelphia Marathon in 4:28:46 yesterday. Of the 21 marathons I’ve run, it was my third fastest (I did the Dallas Marathon in 4:28:00 when I was 17 and the Chicago Marathon in 4:05:27 in 2003.) And yes – I was surprised, as this was my fourth marathon in the past eight weeks.
When I got to Philadelphia on Friday I was tired and mopey, as evidenced by the post I wrote on Saturday titled The Last Marathon of the Year. When I talked to Amy she gave me some encouragement and told me that I’d get it done no matter what. Nonetheless I just felt flat and listless. My partner Ryan and his wife Katherine joined me for dinner Saturday night (Katherine ran the marathon also) and we had a nice Italian dinner at a local place called Giorgio on Pine. The food was tasty but the vibe was off and the service was slow so we sat around and worried about the race.
I woke up Sunday morning feeling good. The hotel (I stayed at the Four Seasons near the start) did an awesome thing I’d never seen before – they had a special breakfast for marathoners consisting of oatmeal, toast, a banana, a bagel with cream cheese, coffee, and a gatorade. I gobbled everything down but the cream cheese, met Katherine in the lobby 30 minutes before the start, and walked to the starting line.
The marathon and the half marathon had 27,000 runners, which is a ton of people. I made my way back to the second to last corral (where the 5 hour runners hang out) and settled in to wait for the start. They did wave starts so I didn’t cross the start line until about 7:25 (the marathon started at 7:00).
The weather was perfect. Cool but not cold, almost no wind, and a light cloud cover so it was light but not sunny. I had decided to run without any time queues so while I had RunKeeper broadcasting my race live, I had turned off all the audio notifications. This was the first time that I’ve run a marathon without knowing my pace at every mile split. So – I just ran.
As with all marathons, the first three miles were uncomfortable as I settled into a rhythm. We were pretty clogged up so there was a lot of dodging people, but things eventually settled down. I missed a mile marker somewhere and was at mile six before I realized it. I felt great so decided to run a little harder from mile six to the half marathon point. I didn’t overdo it, but kept a solid pace. I passed a surprising number of people (remember – I started in the back at a 5 hour pace) so I knew I was solidly ahead of a 5 hour marathon.
I went through the half way point feeling great. As I turned a corner, I saw finishers coming my direction. This turned out to be inspiring – from mile 14 to mile 16 I ran opposite the faster runners. I just zoned out, watched them, and picked up my pace. At mile 16 I was still feeling good and passing people so I kept cruising. I had no idea what my actual pace was, but I knew I was doing 10 minute miles since they had clocks at each mile and each time I passed one the minute ended in a six (e.g. 3:16:21).
I finally hit the wall at mile 21. I knew it would eventually happen – I literally felt my legs downshift. I went through that mile at about 11:30 and decided I’d just cruise at this pace until the end. But at mile 23 I got a second wind, could smell the finish line, and picked it up again. By mile 25 I was running as hard as I could – I’m sure my form was hilarious, but I continued to pass people as I headed for the finish.
When I crossed the finish line I pulled my iPhone out of my pocket and ended the run. I saw 4:29:02 on my phone and was completely surprised – I had no idea I was under 4:30:00.
Philly – I’ll remember you fondly.
Tomorrow I’m running the Philadelphia Marathon, which will be the sixth marathon I’ll do this year and the last one for 2011. This year I’ve done marathons in Cincinnati, Madison WI, Bismarck ND, Newport RI, and St. Louis. My times have ranged from 4:47:27 to 5:24:45. Overall I’m pleased with what I’ve done, especially since I didn’t chance my normal life tempo for them.
As I sit alone in my hotel room the day before the marathon, I feel really flat and tired. I know at my core that it’s been an incredibly intense year for me and while I had an amazing summer, the last three months have been as busy, frenetic, and full of travel as any other time I can remember. I’ve run three marathons since labor day so I know that is adding to the fatigue, but I also know that my long runs have given me lots of Planet Brad time as I wrote yesterday as part of the RunKeeper Fitness Freak blog series.
This is the first marathon that Amy hasn’t joined me for. She’s in Tucson (where I’m heading after this) and even though we both talked about her coming to join me, I encouraged her not to this time since it was a lot of travel in the middle of a trip for her. My partner Ryan and his wife Katherine are showing up later today (Katherine is running the marathon also) so I’ll have some friends around, but I’m suddenly regretting not having her here.
When I reflect on my week, I was extremely happy. A bunch of good things happened, I had a few awesome board meetings, some of the companies I’m involved in released / announced neat new stuff, and I got to spend a ton of time with students at CU Boulder (Monday), University of Michigan (Thursday), and MIT (Friday). So the only thing I can pin my flatness on is fatigue.
Having run 20 marathons, I’m not concerned about finishing the one tomorrow. I don’t really care about my time – I’d be happy with sub 5 hours, but it’ll be whatever it’s going to be. It’s supposed to be a beautiful day, the course looks interesting, and there are apparently over 30,000 people running the full and the half, so I’m just going to go with it.
Over the last few weeks, many people have asked me and encouraged me about my marathon running. While I describe myself as strongly intrinsically motivated, as I sit here I realize that the encouragement is helpful. So – to anyone who has been supportive, thank you! And, if you want to track me tomorrow, it starts at 7am EST (although I probably won’t cross the start line until at least 7:15am) and I’ll be broadcasting my progress on my RunKeeper account.