Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Journey to a 50K!

Photo on the left is me and Amber - to the right is from the Rock & Roll Marathon

The last 2 ½ years for me have been an amazing journey.  I have lost over 75 lbs. without dieting; I am stronger than I have ever been; and I am now an Ultra Runner!  All of this is great, but here is the rest of the story……

Running my first Marathon with Amber


Sticker next to my desk at home



In December 2012, when I was at the Dallas Marathon Expo, I ran into a few Ultra runners.  We spoke for a bit and they made it sound easy to do an Ultra!  I then purchased a 50K sticker at a booth thinking I had to put this on my bucket list of running things to do!  I posted the sticker next to my desk in my home office and I saw it every single day! 






So, since then some amazing things have happened.  When you decide to run an Ultra - you cannot do it alone - you need help.  I started to listen to podcasts, read more books on endurance athletes, and got more engaged online with fitness groups and other elite/endurance athletes.

The amazing part of the journey has been all the new friends I have made and the opportunities I have had to help other people.  When you make big lifestyle changes that people can see, or read about on Facebook, you get a lot of questions.  I started my personal blog to journal some of my activities and I created a Health and Fitness Facebook page.  I was asked to be a guest on America’s Angriest Trainer podcast with Vinnie Tortorich andAnna Vocino.  I simply had some questions for Vinnie and he wanted to interview me on his show to discuss them.  Shortly after the podcast, I joined a few others and started the Plant Powered No Sugar No Grains Facebookgroup.  Here we discuss living the NSNG lifestyle while avoiding animal products.  Locally I become more involved in our Waxahachie Runners Club.  There I was able to meet up with other local runners and train with some new running friends.

After I ran the March Rock and Roll Half Marathon in Dallas, I transitioned my training to become a “fat-adapted” athlete.  This meant slowing down my long runs and staying in Zone 2 heart rate training.  I also eliminated sugar from my fueling and started using bananas and nut butters.

In April I signed up for marathon training - again with the Jeff Galloway group in Dallas - but I already had the itch to run a summer marathon.  I found a small race in San Antonio that was occurring in early July.  I ran the “I Ran Marathon” on July 2nd.  I PR’ed it by 30 minutes and got first place (I will admit I was the youngest of 20 or so runners that day)!

Shortly after the race, I signed up for three more races:  the San Antonio Rock and Roll Marathon, the Dallas Marathon (formally White Rock), and the Fort Worth Cowtown 50K Ultra.  It is best to sign up early to get the best pricing and to get these races on your calendar.  I wanted to break the four hour time on my marathon and I figured having two races on the calendar would provide options.  I then heard about this little club called the Marathon Maniacs (thanks to Angie on Marathon Training Academy Podcast).  This is a group of runners that call themselves Marathon Maniacs after completing a set of qualifying marathons.  The minimum requirement is running three marathons in 90 days.  Since my Ultra was over 90 days past the first marathon, I needed another race.  I found that Allen (a small town north of Dallas) was hosting a marathon on New Year’s Eve and another one on New Year’s Day.  So I signed up for the New Year’s Eve race!

Allen Double Medal and Shirt


Training was going as planned and I was a guest two more times on the Angriest Trainer Podcast.  At this point I was very active in helping others with their health and fitness goals.  I ran the Dallas Running Club’s half marathon in early November with a PR time of 1:50.  This confirmed that I was ready to run a four hour Marathon!  I was so excited.

San Antonio Race week arrived.  I scheduled a few days in San Antonio prior to the race for business, and then enjoyed two restful days at the well-known Menger Hotel.  Race Day arrived and I was ready; however, Mother Nature had different plans for us runners.  The race started out very warm and humid, but the clouds were holding back the intense heat.  However, at mile 19 the sun popped out of the clouds and it reached 85 degrees.  The race entered into an open area near the river and there was NO protection from the heat.  I knew then that I was done.  All I could do was finish the race, not get hurt, and look ahead at Dallas.  While I was disappointed in the weather, I did clock my 2nd fastest marathon time! 

Somewhere along the way I was notified about the hardware being given away at the Allen Double Marathon if you ran the race on both days!  I was excited and knew I must have that big medal, so I added the half marathon race to my schedule for New Year’s Day.  This meant I got the big medal and only had to run an additional 13 miles.  This sounded like a great idea and I knew could handle this!

Mid-December came and it was time for the Dallas Marathon; however, Mother Nature decided to hit Dallas with a crippling ice storm!  Everyone was on pins and needles.  The problem was people like me -  we would run the race whether it was safe or not.  We are just wired to not have any reasonable senses when it comes to our races.  Luckily the race was officially cancelled - it was the right thing do to.  So in a panic, I still had to get my three marathons in within 90 days.  I sent an email to the Allen Double Marathon Director that Friday and my upgrade to a Double Full Marathon was accepted.  Good news, right?  Well, kind of - I had never trained to run an Ultra event; I have never even run any long runs back-to-back.  Heck - I never did anything to prepare for this type of event!  First I had to come to terms with not breaking the four hour goal this season.  It did not make sense to try and run two marathons in two days while setting PR’s.  I had to respect the race and my own capacities.

So race day arrived!  My goal was to run a decent pace the first day, stay strong and not push too hard.  The second day was sort of a gamble - I was not sure what to expect.  I had only put in a few double runs and nothing to really count on.  The goal the second day was to finish in less than five hours.  I accomplished both goals, got the big medal, and really enjoyed the experience.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.  I was now Marathon Maniac #8433 and not only did I meet the minimum requirements - but because I ran back-to-back Marathons - I qualified as an Iridium Maniac (level 4 out of 8)!

Completing the Allen Double!!


Now I had seven weeks to prepare for the 50K (31.07 mile) Ultra.  I had the base mileage in the tank and now it was planning the ultra race strategy.  I ended up running a 31 mile training run just before my one week vacation in Maui - this was four weeks before the race.  Looking back, I should have only run 25 to 28 miles - 31 was too much.  I had some minor knee issues crop up and just never felt fully recovered from the Allen Double and this training run. 

During this period I was also a guest co-host for two episodes of Plant Run Family with Stephen Baldridge.  This is a fun podcast about training, being plant-powered, and raising a family.  It was a great experience and I really enjoyed it.  I was also a guest on the Ben Greenfield podcast.  Ben is an Endurance Athlete and Trainer and he is very well known in the Endurance sport community.

Then it was time to race the Ultra!  While I was not worried about the distance, I was worried about my goals and expectations.  It is only five more miles right?  However, you must accept the fact that the race is not the same as a marathon; this is where a runner has to reach inside himself to overcome the mental challenges.  My race plan went off without a hitch.  I completed the race five minutes over my goal and - given that it was fairly warm and sunny - I was pleased.  Recovery (as I write this) has been a little harder than I expected.  I have been to the gym a few times to work things out and I expect to close to 100% in a few days.

In the past 14 months I have logged over 1,674 miles, been going to the gym consistently four days a week, and started going to Hot Yoga once a week about eight months ago.  It is not hard when you work up to the training; my nutrition has been very critical to my success.  If you do not fuel your body to handle the load - it will break down.

What’s next…

Rest……but not too much!  I have been marathon training for over 20 months now.  I need to take some time off from the distance running to reset the body a bit and rest up.  I am not sure what races I will do yet.  I still plan to break four hours or less on my marathon time this season.  I may do another ultra event, but I will try something different - like the Capital to Coast relay.  It is 223 miles from Austin to Corpus Christi in 6 or 12 person relays.  I will do one or two marathons this year for sure.


Post Script – Here is my Ultra Race Report if you want to see the details of the experience.

The Cowtown Ultra Race Report, Running a 50K
5:19 Finishing Time
19th out of 46 in my age division
131st out of 250 in the overall Male division

For my first 50K Ultra, my original goal was to just finish the race.  I bought a 50K sticker back in Dec 2012 before I even ran my first marathon, after a 14 year hiatus.  I knew then I wanted to do something more than just run a marathon.   As the race got closer, and after a successful back-to-back marathon, I figured I could complete the run in 5:10 to 5:15.  Given the temperature and humidity, I was not far off the goal.  I am also sure that I was not fully recovered from the double marathon seven weeks prior.

Race morning was very typical for me - coffee with coconut crème and a banana.  I brought a 2nd coffee for the car ride and added some coconut oil to it.

For the race, I had my daughter Amber meet me along the path with my fuel.  I hate carrying a belt!!!

During the first part of the race I seemed a little sluggish.  I wondered if I ate too early or not enough because I got to the race 1 1/2 hours early and it was a one hour drive.  The course had some hills and a few road hazards, but I really enjoyed the course.  Fort Worth is full of history and the crowds were great.

The other cool part of the experience was wearing an “Ultra” sign.  Along the way I was singled out from the other runners with additional cheers and waves from the spectators.  I even ran to all the kiddos along the way giving out high fives!  You just can’t pass up the opportunity to thank the little ones out there cheering us all on.

Fueling the race:

I drank 2-3 cups of water at each water station during the race (about every 2 miles).

I took two salt sticks around mile 8/9.

I met Amber at mile 15, ate my first banana and grabbed two more salt sticks.  I also took a nut butter with me and ate it around mile 20.

I had some more banana quarters at the aid stations at mile 19 and 21.  I did refuse the beer at mile 22….and the smell was awful!

I met back up with Amber at 23.  I had just two more salt sticks to eat on the spot and a Honey Stinger to finish the race.  I won’t debate if honey is vegan or not, but it is sure healthier than GU….LOL!  I knew I would not see her again so I also traded out my Bluetooth headset.  I refused to have mine die towards the end of the race.  She asked “is that it? is that all your taking?”  I confirmed and took off!

Finishing the race:

At mile 25 the Ultra runners split off to do an out-and-back to add the additional five miles to the race.  This part of the course was different because there was hardly anyone there but the runners.  It was a path that ran along the river.  I kept a decent pace going and added in a few extra walking breaks since we were now in direct sunlight and it had reached 70 degrees.  Overall I felt pretty good and all of us on this part of the race were cheering each other on - we were part of the Ultra group!  I took the Honey Stinger around mile 27 at the water station.  I probably should have taken it sooner, but I wanted to make sure I finished strong and had water to wash it down.

At mile 30 we rejoined the other runners finishing the marathon.  I was amazed at how strong I felt compared to the other runners.  I may have had two or three people pass me, but I was passing a lot of runners along the way.  As I approached the last half-mile and could see the end, I turned it on and went blazing in to the finish.  Blazing is a relative term after running 31 miles….. This is what building a solid base will do for a runner.

In the end I have no regrets.  It has been amazing journey.  I never thought after deciding to run an ultra a year ago that I would end up running four marathons in between.  Going fat-adapted and being plant-powered has made a huge difference in my racing and I am ready for the next challenge.  Most people cannot believe it is possible to run such long distances on so little food!  This year I will be focused on speed, but don’t rule out another ultra-event….I have a few ideas I am entertaining right now.


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