Race Recap: Red, White and Boom 2019

This was my first year running the Red, White and Boom, and third half-marathon overall. My fitness base was in a good place due to triathlon training, but I hadn’t executed a specific half marathon training plan prior to race day. With race-time temperatures in the mid-70s and relative humidity near 90%, I knew I’d need to keep my expectations in check and not overdo it. No sense in getting hurt early in season, and especially not right before a long holiday weekend!

Rather than setting a goal for the day, I opted to just listen to my body and let it set the pace. The strategy worked. Minus the attention-grabbing realization that I practically stopped sweating in the last few miles, I felt pretty darn comfortable throughout the race. And I finished only three and a half minutes away from my current PR.

Results

  • Distance — 13.1 miles
  • Time — 01:40:01
  • Pace — 07:39/mile
  • Place — 82/1481 overall
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2018 Wrap-Up

Recently, I’ve felt like I left something unfinished. I had made blogging a consistent practice over the last two years. Then this fall it started to lose its fun for me. The writing felt like work — something I had to do in order to keep the blog going versus something I was excited to do. It was much easier to post a photo and a quick caption on social than to create long-form content here. So I stopped.

I hadn’t stopped the activities that I loved. I just needed to take a break from writing about them. Here’s how my season wrapped-up:

Twin Cities Marathon

I knew running a marathon would be tough. I just didn’t know how tough. Someone had told me there are two halves of a marathon — the first 20 miles and the last 6.2. I had shrugged-off that comment as cliche. But as I found out first-hand, they were not kidding.

The first 20 miles were somewhat of a breeze. My body felt good. My feet felt good. My lungs felt good. And my spirits were high. The course was lined with spectators, enthusiastically cheering for the full distance. It was amazing, and unlike any race atmosphere I’d experienced before. I can see why so may people love running this event. The longest training run I had completed was 18 miles, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect in the final miles.

The last 6.2 miles hit me hard. I first felt soreness in my knees and hips. Then my shoulders hurt. Why in the world were my shoulders hurting? Everything inside me was telling me to quit. But I didn’t run this far to give up now. Tough runs don’t last; tough runners do.

Crossing the finish line of my first marathon brought me a sense of pride I’d not yet experienced. I’d pushed myself harder that I’ve ever pushed before. I did it. My body was tired but my soul was wide awake.

  • Distance — 26.2 miles
  • Time — 03:32:36
  • Pace — 08:07/mile
  • Place — 1019/7144 overall

Minneapolis Halloween Half Marathon

So I probably shouldn’t have been running this race. It was three weeks after the Twin Cities Marathon. And my physical therapist recommended taking about a month off from running. Obviously the math doesn’t work there. I took about ten days off and started loosening-up for the Halloween Half.

My goal was to best last year’s half marathon time of 01:45:00. I was unsure if I could do it given my lack of full recovery. But I was still going to give it a try! I got a little to ambitious out of the gate and found myself running a sub-seven with the lead pack after the first mile. A half-mile later, my right knee became very unhappy. By mile three, I thought I may need to throw in the towel. I’d never thought I’d quit a race as much as I did in that moment. My knee felt like it was going to give out.

But giving-up was not something I was willing to do. All year I had been telling myself I wanted to experience suffering in a race atmosphere. If I was going to achieve some of the long distance goals I have for my future, I needed to push my brain. This was my chance. I could either quit or double-down and accept the challenge. I chose the latter. The pain returned in mile ten, but I kept focusing on positive thoughts and kept running my pace.

Crossing this finish line brought a new sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t the distance I was proud of. It was the not giving up that brought a smile to my face in a time when the rest of my body was frowning. Oh, and I crushed my goal too.

  • Distance — 13.1 miles
  • Time — 01:36:28
  • Pace — 07:22/mile
  • Place — 33/674 overall

What’s Next

Rest and recovery is my top priority right now. I’ve ran a few times in the last month, usually three to four miles at a time, and within a few hours afterwards, I feel like I ran a marathon. Both of my knees and right hip are just sore. I’m hopeful that it can all be chalked-up to overuse and that rest will be the remedy. I’ve committed to not run again until February. Let’s see if that sticks.

In regards to 2019 races, I have a few ideas, but am trying to rest on that as well. I put a lot of time, physically and mentally, into planning, training and racing in 2018. It kind of consumed me. I’m a little nervous about approaching a point where I take this all too seriously. I started pushing myself because it was fun. And I want it to stay fun. When the time is right, I’ll kick-off 2019 activity. But in the meantime, it feels pretty good to just chill.

Race Recap: 2017 Monster Dash Half Marathon

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There aren’t many better feelings than when you accomplish something that you once doubted you could. Last weekend I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon.

Pre-Race

I followed the same pre-race routine I’ve used all season: set an alarm for five hours before the race start time, eat an English muffin with peanut butter and some fruit and yogurt, then go right back to bed. Sure it’s weird eating breakfast at 3:00 am, but it works for me. My body gets time to process the food into energy and my stomach gets to do it’s thing well before the start of the race. It’s been an effective strategy to be fueled for the event yet in control of what goes into my empty stomach once the race begins.

I arrived in front of the Cathedral of St. Paul about twenty minutes before the race start. I then spent the next fifteen minutes waiting in line to use a portable restroom. Apparently I wasn’t the only person with this idea given how long the lines were. But on the plus side, it gave me a chance to meet and chat with new people while waiting. That’s one of my favorite parts about endurance sports, pretty much everyone is so nice and happy to talk about the sport or share advice. Everyone always just seems thankful for their health, happy to be together and excited to race.

The Monster Dash is known for its Halloween theme and costume-wearing participants. Since this was my first race of this distance, I opted for function over fashion. I wore a Batman t-shirt, which happened to match the rest of my mostly black and yellow attire. I was still a little festive while maintaining the gear I’ve been used to running in. Never try anything new on race day!

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A quick pre-race Batman pose.

I was assigned to wave H, which I believe was one of the last groups scheduled to start. I think I was placed in this group since I didn’t list a goal finish time during registration. This made me nervous when I approached the start corrals as I’d most likely be wanting to run at a different pace than those in my waves. So I worked my way through the crowd until I found pacers holding 08:24 and 08:47 signs. My goal was to run somewhere in-between those two paces so I squeezed into a space to stand and waited the remaining two minutes for the race to start.

Race

I crossed the start line and ran past the historic James J. Hill house in Summit Avenue. I nestled my phone into my new Nathan flip belt and slid my gloves over my hands. The temperature was just below freezing at race start so it felt good to get the body moving for some warmth. Just like that I was off on my first half marathon.

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Look at those costumes!

When I reached the first mile marker, my Strava app reported I was running an 08:08 pace. That was more than thirty seconds faster than planned. I was worried this would happen — the adrenaline would kick in and I’d be running too fast too soon. But I was still alongside my pace groupmates so I kept going.

The first few miles of the course were lined with spectators, and a lot of kids in halloween costumes holding out their hands for a high five. I never pass up the free high five from a kiddo during a race. There’s something about the joy on their faces after the celebratory exchange that makes me smile and wants to keep running. Anyhow, in all that fun I realized I wasn’t paying attention to the split reports in my headphones. I had no clue what pace I was running. But I kind of didn’t care either. I was having fun.

At mile four I was at an 08:00 pace. Wow, I was still moving faster than planned and felt great. This was about the time I passed the pacer holding the 08:24 sign. If I was running very low eights for the first four miles there was no way he was holding his pace. I just smiled and kept running.

It was about this time I felt the urge for a restroom break. I must’ve overhydrated before the race. I was conflicted over stopping as I didn’t want to giveaway time so I just kept running for a few miles, hoping the urge would dissappear. But it didn’t. And I didn’t want to have that feeling for another seven miles. So somewhere between miles six and seven I quickly pulled over for the much needed bathroom stop. Don’t worry, I used one on the many conveniently placed portable restrooms along the course, and it was just a number one. Less than thirty seconds later I bolted back onto the pavement and found my stride. If it wasn’t for the short delay I probably could’ve had four sub-eight minutes miles in a row.

The miles seemed to pass rather quickly. I was still holding in the low eights for pace. During the ninth mile I saw another water station coming up. I figured now was the perfect time to take-in some nutrition. I grabbed a GU Gingerade gel from my belt and sucked it down just in time to grab a water from a volunteer’s hand. Whether I needed the fuel or not, it gave me some reassurance I’d have a little boost to tackle the last four miles.

Running strong in the final miles.

The approach to the ten mile marker had me nervous. Ten miles was the distance of my longest training run. I hadn’t ran further than that before so I had no idea what to expect from here on out. And the finish line for the ten mile race was literally right alongside the course the half marathoners would continue running. At first I thought seeing people finish would distract my focus, making it hard to keep going when others were done for the day. But it did just the opposite. When I saw the ten mile finish I thought, “No way. Don’t wish you were done. You’re doing the full race, Josh.” It motivated to keep going knowing I was so close to my goal.

That motivation was just what I needed. I got a little faster during those last three miles. Seeing the St. Paul skyline come back into view gave me another boost knowing the finish line was not far off. This is when I started to really soak it all in. The bulk of the distance was behind me. My lungs and legs still felt great. It was time to close this thing out. I enjoyed every step within those final miles, especially the step that took me across the finish line.

My mile by mile splits.

Post-Race

I crossed the finish line with a time of 01:45:33 and an average pace of 08:04 per mile (266th place out of 1,774 overall). That’s seven-and-a-half minutes faster than my goal — and that included the bathroom stop. Wow. I was super stoked about that finish time.

It’s funny how my legs felt fine throughout the duration of the race. But as soon as I transitioned back to walking I could feel a soreness my groin. And the lack of movement quickly cooled down my body, reminding me how cold it actually was outside. Oh well, the discomforts couldn’t take away from the huge sense of accomplishment on my mind. I went home and found a nice warm spot on the couch, which, with the exception getting up to take a shower and make dinner, was where I spent the rest of day.

 A happy man and his hardware.

Reflection

I did it. I completed my first half marathon.

A month ago it was just an idea that sounded cool — an idea that I doubted my ability to accomplish. I made up with excuses about how I wasn’t prepared and didn’t have enough time to ramp up for the distance. I told myself I should probably attempt a 10 mile race, or at least a 10K, before making the jump to 13.1.

All of that doubt and fear triggered something in me though. I had become comfortable in the Sprint triathlons of the summer. I knew I could so those. But I didn’t know if I could pull off a half marathon. That reminded me of the fear/excitement of when I first got into triathlons. The element of the unknown drove me to find out.

The extra training pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I was running distances I had never attempted before. But I just kept going. And now I’m seeing all that’s been accomplished over the last month. All that work lead to an achieved goal. That excites me. It makes me wonder what else can I do. How far can I go?

This idea of tackling doubts and fear can really be applied to just about a anything in life. It’s all too easy to make excuses, doubt our abilities and let fear stand behind us and our dreams. But that’s what makes it all worth it in the end, accomplishing what we thought we couldn’t in spite of that doubt and fear. Nothing ever changes when we do the same old things. Trying something new is where growth happens. This reminds me of a quote that inspired me one month ago: “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.”

What’s Next

Rest. Lots and lots of rest. I think I’m finally ready to call the 2017 racing season complete. I’ve been training and racing hard all summer and fall. I’m ready to give the legs a break. I’m ready to enjoy a happy hour after work or make dinner plans without needing to think how that fits with my training schedule. It’s time to recharge, relax and enjoy the company of family and friends.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still be going for a run or two — weather permitting — each week, or heading to the gym for a spin class or jumping in the pool for some laps. But at least for the next month or two, it will be on a more relaxed schedule.

My biggest racing-related priority is coming up with a plan for next year. I know that over this past year I really enjoyed having my season planned out ahead of time. I definitely want to do that again, but need to decide which races and distances to register for. Which races specifically? That’s a great question that I hope to answer in the next month or so. I do know that I’m riding high off this half marathon finish — and it has me dreaming big for next summer!

Week 4 / Week 12 of Half Marathon Training

Well, I did it. After three straight weeks of 20+ mileage I finally made it to taper week. And it was kind of nice.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were 4.1, 3.1 and 2.1 miles respectively for a total of 9.3 miles. That’s less than half the weekly mileage I had quickly gotten used to this month. Thursday and Friday were rest days before the main event on Saturday. My legs are silently thanking me for that.

Looking back to one month ago, I questioned whether or not I could ramp up in time to run 13.1 miles. Yet here I am. I was nervous. I was uncomfortable. I was a little scared. I had never done this before. But the challenge and the unknown excited me. I was ready to push myself towards one more goal. I took it day by day and stuck with the plan. 76 miles later, here I am — ready for my first half marathon.

My strategy? Good question. Since I’ve never ran a race of this distance before, I’m not totally sure how my body will respond. I think I’ll start out cautious and join a pace group for at least the first few miles to keep my adrenaline in check. By that time my body should be warmed up (the temperature at race time in St. Paul will be 29° F). Then I’ll start to just listen to my body and see how I feel. I’d like to have some gas left to open it up in the last few miles.

Given that in my three long training runs I’ve averaged around a 08:38 per mile pace, I’m setting my goal for today at 01:53:00. I’m often faster in a race than I am during training due to adrenaline and competitiveness, but again, I’ve never ran 13.1 miles before. I’m excited to see what I can do.

The training is complete. The work is done. Now it’s time to have fun and run. Four weeks down, one race to go.

Weeks 2 & 3 / Weeks 10 & 11 of Half Marathon Training

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The second and third weeks were fairly similar to the first. At this point (week 10 and 11) in the twelve week plan, I’ve maxed-out on the mid-week distances, so that has remained consistent. The biggest difference is the long run, which gets a little longer each week.

Week 2 / Week 10 — 21.9 miles

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were 5 miles, 3 miles and 5 miles respectively. Saturday was my long run at 8.6 miles. Add ’em all up and the weekly total came to just under 22 miles. I’m pretty proud of that considering most of the summer was running 5Ks four to five times a week. That’s about a seven mile jump when it comes to weekly total. Not too shabby.

Pacing remained a challenge. I’ve been kicking-off each run at an 08:30/mile pace. Within the first half-mile to a mile I keep finding myself below eight minutes. Even though I feel like I’m on pace, somehow I keep speeding-up to sub-eight minute miles. Sometimes I even find myself running eight minute splits at mile five. Even as the miles stack-up, the energy still seems to be there. I knew I’d need to maintain focus on this in week three.

Week 3 / Week 11 — 24.1 miles

I’d been looking forward to week three all month. This was the week I’d rack-up the most mileage before tapering during the last week before the race. I knew if I could make it through this week, I’d be prepared enough to tackle my first half marathon.

To accommodate some non-running activities, I switched-up my training schedule for the week. I ran my two five-miles on Tuesday and Thursday. My weekend would be spent celebrating homecoming at my alma mater, so I moved my long run to Friday morning and repurposed a 5K on Saturday for a training run.

Logging a few miles in a race environment proved valuable. Adrenaline is always high waiting for the race to start. It’s hard not trying to pass as many people as you can after crossing the start line. It was great practice trying to block all of that out and just run my own pace. I ran the first two miles at a 08:30 splits then turned around to find my other half, Jamie. I spotted her in a group of runners just a quarter mile back and we ran side by side for the rest of the race. I was super proud to be right there with her as we crossed the finish line!

Run 5K: Check! Time to celebrate homecoming!

Back to Friday’s long run. When I was contemplating this half marathon idea a few weeks back, I figured if I could run ten miles in a single outing, I’d be able to attempt 13.1 on race day. Well, this was it, my last long run. I was a little worried about hydration and energy, so I set-up a little aid station in my garage and then set out for a seven mile loop. Once back at the house I downed a gel and a few gulps of water. This was another component I wanted to practice at least once before race day – find out how my body would respond to nutrition while running. I took off down the driveway and knocked out another 3.3 miles. I was happy to find my body took the gel just fine. My stomach as good and I could feel just a minor energy boost. All-in-all, I ran 10.3 miles in 01:29:11 with an average 08:38 per mile split. I reached double digit mileage in a single outing. Lots to feel good about.

Well, that was interesting.

I also addressed my pacing challenge throughout the week by experimenting with a change in music. All summer I had been listening to high tempo mixes so I switched to some slightly lower tempo tunes. The slower beats calmed my mind, helping me cruise closer to my goal pace. I’m a little surprised I didn’t think if this sooner. Live and learn.

The week ahead

I made it to the peak of the training plan. Now I get to taper this week with a four, a three and a two mile run before taking two rest days before the main event. Three weeks down, one to go.

Week 1 / Week 9 of Half Marathon Training

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The first week of officially training for a half marathon is in the books. I was a little nervous about plugging into week nine of a twelve week plan. But 20.6 miles later, I’m feeling pretty good.

The week started out great. Sunday and Monday were much-needed rest days after Saturday’s TC5K. I had really let it rip during that race, setting a new PR of 21:12 with 06:50/mile splits. My legs needed those two days off.

Tuesday was my first of two five-milers. Looking back, I think I was a little too excited about this first training run. I paid no attention to pace and ran at my normal speed that I was used to. I completed 5.2 miles in 40:08, with 07:40 splits. I was pretty proud afterwards running that distance at a faster speed. But the next day, not so much. I had went too hard, too soon after a weekend race.

Wednesday was my three-mile run. My legs were sore from the day before. I was a little worried about hurting myself by running more, but I knew I wanted to stick to the plan. The three miles went by like a breeze, a slightly uncomfortable breeze.

Thursday was the other five-miler. Again, my legs were still sore. I was starting to get a little worried. But I knew I just needed to knock out this run and then I’d get a rest day. It was good practice for fighting what my brain wanted me to do: not run. Five miles later, I called it a day.

Friday was a rest day. And with the day-long rain, Saturday became a rest day too.

Then came Sunday — my first long run. At week nine of a twelve week plan, I would’ve been due for about nine miles. But since week nine was also my week one, I adjusted it to seven miles, with a plan to increase each of the remaining long runs by at least 1.5 miles each, hitting ten miles the week before the half marathon.

My legs felt fresh and I wanted to make the most of them. I set a goal to pace myself at 08:40 per mile splits. This turned out to be harder than I thought. A few blocks into the run, I felt like I had the pace down. But almost one mile into the run, my phone alerted me my current pace was at 07:45, almost one whole minute faster than I was aiming for. It became very evident pacing would be one of my biggest challenges as I transition from shorter to longer runs. Eventually I found a more relaxed stride and completed the 7.1 mile run in 1:01:49 with 08:36 splits. Not bad.

This first week was tough. It pushed me outside of the comfort zone, literally. My legs were sore most of the week. Changing pace added a new level of difficulty for me to focus on. But this is where growth happens. In just a short amount of time, I’m already gaining confidence that I can run longer distances.

One week down, three to go.

Next Up: Half Marathon

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I’ve been contemplating this idea for two weeks. I’ve been back and forth on it. I’ve thought about multiple doubts and reasons why I shouldn’t. And that’s why I did it. Yesterday I registered for the Monster Dash Half Marathon. Oh, and I should probably mention it’s in three weeks.

I pushed myself hard this summer and saw big improvements throughout the triathlon season. My times continually got faster. I set PRs on multiple occasions. My confidence sky-rocketed. The element of fear had almost disappeared. I no longer doubted if I could swim the half mile – I now wondered how fast I could do it. I no longer doubted if I’d have the lungs and legs to carry me through to the finish line. It was a question of how hard could I push it and how fast could I get there. The fact is that I was becoming comfortable. And that’s what led me to the half marathon idea.

When you become comfortable with something, that’s a sign that it’s time to take it a step further or try something new that scares you. That’s where growth happens. I still remember my first triathlon. I didn’t actually know if I could do it, but I knew I was going to try. And when I crossed the finish line I was overcome with a sense of accomplishment that lasted for weeks. Right now, the thought of running a half marathon scares me.

I’m used to sprinting. I’m used to going all out as soon as I leave the start chute and not slowing down until I cross the finish line. That strategy isn’t going to work in three weeks. The longest distance I’ve ran in one outing is five miles. And now I’m about to attempt 13.1 miles. I’ll need to be mentally strong enough to pace myself. I’ll have to run slower than I’m used to. I’ll need to conserve that energy for the long haul.

So how am I going to prepare in such a short timeframe? There aren’t really any recommended plans to ramp-up for 13.1 miles in a month. So I’m doing the next best thing — I found a 12-week plan and plugged myself in at week nine, starting last Monday. The middle of the week runs are pretty consistent with what I’ve been doing almost all summer. And the cross training of swimming and cycling have helped create a strong base. The only part I’ve been missing is the long runs each weekend.

At this point of the 12-week plan, the long run should be nine miles. That’s almost double my longest run of the year, so I’ll need to make some adjustments and ramp up to ten miles for the weekend before the race. Tomorrow I’m going to tackle seven miles.

This is going to be hard. It’s going to be a little scary. It’s going to push my outside of my comfort zone. Do I know if I can run 13.1 miles? No, because I’ve never done it before. But I do know that I’ll never know unless I try.