Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Some thoughts about running in Spain

After a week and a half in Spain, including seven running days, I have a couple of thoughts. First of all, it's a beautiful country, and it's been fantastic to have the opportunity to visit and enjoy the sights in a place that is completely new and different to me.

That said, the Spanish attitude to running -- at least from what I've seen, in the places I've been -- is distinctly different from the US. In the big cities (Barcelona, Madrid), people don't seem to expect to see runners on the regular streets and sidewalks. In fact, they don't seem to expect it in the smaller cities, either (Córdoba, Granada). If you're going to run, you're expected to use "official" parks and greenways to do it.

When you do run, even in those places, typically you are expected to be well equipped, which in Spain means matching running gear. While in the US it's almost considered effete to be running in matching jacket, leggings, and shoes, in Spain it's the height of fashion. I definitely got some confused stares from Spanish runners as I trotted by in my yellow DART shirt with red calf sleeves and an orange hat.

Spain definitely has more cyclists than the US. I'd say the ratio of cyclists to runners (and here I'm talking about fitness cyclists, not commuters) is pretty close to 1:1, where in the US it is perhaps more like 1:3. Most of the cyclists seem to use mountain bikes (at least in the cities where I've been running), which makes a lot of sense given their options of riding on cobblestone streets or unpaved paths in parks.

Runners do seem to acknowledge each other, much as they do in the US, with a "Hola," often muttered under the breath. I'd say the greetings are typically a bit more enthusiastic in the US, but that might just be because on my usual running routes I see the same people almost every day.

Cars, on the other hand, seem to be more respectful of runners (and all pedestrians). They stop for you when you are at a crosswalk, and they seem to spot you more readily.

That's good, because for the most part I'd say the sidewalks in Spain aren't nearly as good as those in the US. This is probably mostly because the streets are so narrow -- which leaves less room for everyone. Fortunately, everyone is aware of the narrow streets and so they all seem to get along okay. In Spain they don't seem to have any problem with planting a tree pretty much in the middle of the sidewalk. Pedestrians and runners are just expected to get out of the way. That might be a good priority, especially during the hot summer months, but it can be a little jarring for a foreign runner accustomed to consistent sidewalks.

Also, the sidewalks are typically constructed of slick pavers, which can be difficult to deal with, especially in wet weather. Fortunately I haven't had too much of that, but this morning's run was rather a bit of a challenge.

I think if I lived in Spain permanently I could get along quite well as a runner. There seem to be plenty of places to run, and there are even running groups that would probably be fun to join. That said, it will be a relief when I get back to the US in two days and don't have to worry about navigating unfamiliar territory. Particularly in Madrid, where the streets don't follow a consistent grid-like pattern, just figuring out where to go without getting lost can take a lot of effort!

In Granada, Spain, running through an olive grove

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Rainy run on the plain in Spain

I'm traveling in Spain for a week and a half and I'm determined not to let myself get out of shape during this trip. So, I've been heading out for runs every chance I get. Today was Christmas, and since most museums and other tourist attractions are closed, I figured it would be a good day to get in a relatively long run.

I started down the streets in Cordoba, where orange trees line the road. It made me wonder if it's okay to pick and eat them!

Note the foreboding clouds above

But quickly I reached the edge of this city of 325,000, and soon found myself running on a rough gravel road.

Notice the ruts in the road

The road is hiller than it looks in this photo -- I'm about to head up a doozy:

I can do this!
After I crested that hill, the wind and rain really started to pick up. I'd estimate I had a 20 to 30-mile tailwind, which gave me quite a boost as the road flattened out:

Now things are starting to look bleak!

But when I turned around, after 6.25 miles, things really started to get tough. I was now running in to that 20-30 mph wind. One thing I try to tell myself when I'm running in the wind is that I'm not running "against" the wind, I'm running "through" it. It does seem to give you a bit of a psychological advantage. Otherwise, the wind can be damned depressing. I really felt like this attitude helped me think about the wind going around me, rather than pushing against me. Still, the wind created a fearful roar, and raindrops slammed into my face. I wasn't exactly cold, but it certainly wasn't comfortable. The road was just uneven enough to require a bit of concentration to avoid a fall.

Hard to believe I'm within a mile of a mid-sized city

Finally, the city came back into view and the rain tapered off. The sky was really quite dramatic!

Crossing the Roman bridge, headed towards the Grand Mosque
Cordoba is most famous for its superbly well-preserved mosque, which I could see from the outside today, but I won't see the inside of it till tomorrow. I'm glad I got this run in today, a total of 12.5 miles at an average pace of 8:03 (with over 1,000 feet of climbing). I think we'll be so busy visiting the amazing sites in this 2,000-year-old city that I won't get a chance to run tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Race Strategy: The Kiawah Island Half Marathon

32 days ago I was in the best shape of my life. I weighed 179 pounds and had just won my first 5K ever, in PR fashion. Then I fell during my cool-down run, and the resulting injury took me off my feet for nearly two weeks. I wasn't able to run hard for another week after that.

Today I weigh 185, and while I'm still in excellent shape, I'm definitely not as fast as I was then. My goal for the fall racing season was to run a fast half-marathon -- fast enough to qualify for guaranteed entry to the New York Marathon -- at the Kiawah Island Half Marathon, which I'll be running in three days. To qualify, I need to run the half in an hour and 25 minutes. 32 days ago that seemed eminently doable; I was even thinking I might be able to qualify at the local Thunder Road half marathon, on a very hilly course. The injury forced me to drop out of Thunder Road, and now, I'm not so sure I can do it on the flat Kiawah course.

If you plug my 5K PR into the McMillan Running Calculator, it predicts I should be able to do a half marathon in 1:22:29. But that assumes I'm equally fit and have properly trained for a half. Instead, I missed a critical three weeks of training. In three weeks when I should have been running 56, 63, and 56 miles, I actually ran 0.5, 6.2, and 46 miles. Last week, when I was finally close to full strength, I needed to start tapering, and so only ran 41 miles.

To give you a sense of where my fitness level is now, 6 weeks ago I ran 6 * 1,000 meters at about a 5:30 per mile pace, and felt good doing it. Yesterday I ran 4 * 1,200 meters at a 6:30 pace, and struggled. The earlier workout was on the track, but that alone doesn't explain the drastic difference between the two paces.

So how am I planning on attacking the Kiawah Half? To run a 1:25 half requires a 6:29 per mile pace. When I was in better shape, the plan was going to be to start at a 6:20 pace, banking time in case some incident during the race slowed me down -- a bathroom break, whatever.

Now there is really no margin for error. Starting out too fast would definitely be a mistake, so I plan to start at a 6:30 pace -- actually a little slow -- and then reassess how I'm doing once I hit the halfway mark. Maybe the adrenaline of race day will kick in and help me finish strong, and I'll just squeak in under the 1:25 goal.

I realize this doesn't sound very confident, but at this point I feel like it's the only realistic plan. I do have some advantages: I've run this race before -- years ago, when a sub-7-minute pace for any distance was inconceivable. I know that the course is pancake-flat and mostly sheltered from coastal winds, so if there's anywhere I could do it, it'd be at Kiawah.

I know from recent halfs that I won't need a lot of fuel during the race. I'll carry a small bottle of water and a gel to eat at the start line, then discard them. I'll have a couple of gels that I may or may not eat on the course; otherwise, I'll rely on water stops.

Currently the weather forecast is a little up in the air. Weather.com gives an overnight low on Friday of 46 degrees, which would be ideal. The National Weather Service already has an hourly forecast for Saturday, and puts the starting temperature at 54 degrees, rising to 58 by my projected finish time. That's not so ideal. There's also rain in the forecast -- about a 70 percent chance, starting right about when the race starts. Also not ideal. But in three days, a lot can change. If we get 46 degrees, with no wind and not much rain, that works in my favor. 54 and rain will probably slow me down somewhat.

Either way, it's certainly not horrible conditions -- nothing like Rocket City last year, for example. Maybe yesterday's bad workout was just that -- a bad day -- and I'll be ready to crush it on Saturday. It's certainly possible; I've had the sniffles for the past several days, and they seem better today.

No matter what, I'm going to give this race everything I've got. We'll just have to wait til Saturday to find out if it's enough.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Knee update

Today was my fifth day running after almost two weeks off with a knee injury; it's been a rocky road back for sure.

A week ago I was uncertain I'd be able to run at all, but set a target for two days later, cut up my shoes, and went for it. By Monday I had run three times, and my knee was steadily improving but my toes were still being pinched by the Hokas.

So yesterday, in a cold, nearly freezing rain, I went back to my standard Brooks Launch shoes, which were easier on the toes, but the old knee pain was creeping back. I'm not sure if this was due to the shoes or the cold, but I decided I should go back to the Hokas. I increased the size of the holes in the shoes, and added extra holes on the other side. Today would be the big test.

I woke up and could tell my knee was feeling quite good. The plan was to go to the gym for my standard weight-training routine and then run 4 miles with my friend Tristan. At the gym, everything was feeling so nice that I decided to try squats, which I haven't done for over 3 weeks due to the knee issues. I could actually do proper squats, getting all the way down so my thighs were level with the ground. I was lifting a substantially reduced weight, but I was doing it. Awesome!

Then it was time to do the run. Fortunately the weather was much-improved today compared to yesterday and Tristan and I were able to complete the run at a comfortable 7:54 pace. The last mile was at a 7:20 pace -- with no knee pain at all.

After the run the knee was a little sore, and I'm treating it with ice and heat now, but I think it might just be possible for me to be nearly 100 percent by mid-December, when I'm running the Kiawah Island half marathon. It will still be a challenge to hit my target time of sub-1:25, but I think I'm at least going to be able to give it a go.

I'm also doing better on the weight front. I want to be down into the 170s for the race, and my weight had climbed as high as 186 while I was recovering from the injury. Today I was at 182, so I'm getting closer. The big challenge will be restraining myself tomorrow, Thanksgiving day!

Details of today's run are below.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Running, for real!

Finally! This morning I headed out for a run and for the first time in two weeks, I could run more than a half mile without any pain. After falling and severely bruising my knee after a race November 9, I've been in recovery mode, mostly doing treadmill walking and cycling.

Gingerly, I tried to run on Friday, and had pain starting about 50 yards in. I toughed it out and found that if I ran slowly (less than 9 minutes / mile) the pain wasn't too bad, and I ran 3 miles. On Saturday I dialed it back even farther, running 3 miles at about a 9:30 pace, again with moderate pain.

Sunday I just rode a bike and didn't run at all, but still felt quite a bit of pain in the knee, both during and after the ride.

So I was surprised when, this morning, I was able to run quite easily at an 8:00 pace. I ran the regular 4-mile DART loop with Tristan and Joey and felt okay for pretty much the entire run. It was a bitterly cold morning, and the only time the knee really started bothering me was when we picked up the pace at the end, anxious to get back to the warm confines of Summit Coffee. I had to dial it back just a touch, but still completed my final mile in 7:40.

There are still some things I can't do -- at the gym afterward, I found I still can't do squats, even with a substantially reduced load. I can't do any exercise that requires me to put weight directly on my knee. But I'm RUNNING!

I have just under three weeks until the Kiawah half marathon, so if I continue to make progress like this, I think I should be able to give it a solid go. The next project is going to be losing some weight.

I gained about 7 pounds during the course of this injury, so I'd like to lose at least 5 of that before the race. It'll be tough to do, especially with Thanksgiving this week, but I've got to give it a shot. I'll try to keep you updated on my progress here.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why I cut up my $170 running shoes

Drastic times call for drastic action. I badly bruised my knee in a fall during my cool-down run at a 5K two weeks ago.

It was bad enough that I went to the doctor for X-rays. She confirmed that I hadn't broken any bones or torn a ligament, but she advised me not to run for the next week. I tried running six days ago and found it unbearable. I dropped out of the Thunder Road Half marathon, where I had been hoping to PR.

The doctor cleared me to do any exercise that doesn't hurt, so I've been doing uphill treadmill walks nearly every day. They don't hurt, but I still don't feel like they give me the kind of workout running does. With another half-marathon scheduled in three weeks, I felt like I was losing fitness every day, even as my knee improved. I set a date for Friday -- tomorrow -- to try to run again.

That brings me to the shoes. Just over a year ago I bought a pair of $170 Hoka One One Bondi Bs in an effort to cushion my legs for the super-hilly, mostly-downhill Crater Lake Marathon. They worked okay, but the fit wasn't ideal -- they pinched my pinky toes, causing sore feet and blisters on long runs.

Meanwhile some runners I really respect have started to rave about Hokas, saying they have helped them recover from injuries and reduce the pounding of runs ranging from 20 miles to over 300 miles. My friend Todd, who had a knee injury so bad I never thought I'd see him running again, ran over 30 miles last week.

Jeff McGonnell, who completed the 314-mile Last Annual Ball State Run wearing Hokas, swears by them both for running on pavement and technical trails.

I thought maybe I should try them again...but I still was concerned about the narrow toe-box. Jeff says the latest models have a much roomier toe box -- but I don't want to drop another $170 on shoes before figuring out whether they would really work, so I decided to try a little experiment. Inspired by Jonathan Savage, I'd cut holes in my existing Hokas to give them more room for my toes. If I liked that, then I could try buying a new model.

Here are the shoes:

The look definitely takes some getting used to

As you can see, they are extra-thick, and the padding definitely helps. I tried running on the treadmill for a minute wearing them and I could really feel them doing their job. The knee felt fine! But I could also feel the pressure starting to build on my toes -- you can see the bulge in the shoe just to the left of the "Hoka" logo.

I took a sharpie and marked the area I was going to cut away:

Yikes! That's gonna smart!

Next I grabbed a sharp utility knife and started cutting:

Make sure to remove foot before cutting!

Here is one of the shoes on my foot, with cut-out in place:

Notice my pinky-toe spilling out of the hole!
I took these for a walk on the treadmill and found that I could feel the edge of the hole with my foot. Maybe I'd need to cut away some of the leather toe support as well. But when I cranked up to running speed, that sensation went away, and I just felt like I was running in nice, soft, roomy shoes. This just might work!

The true test will come tomorrow when (hopefully) I complete my first 4-mile run since the injury. I'll keep you posted. If I can run comfortably with this set-up for a few days I'll go ahead and order the roomier new model, which hopefully won't require modification in order to give me a comfortable ride.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


It's the word no runner wants to hear, or use in reference to themselves.


I've seen friends absolutely devastated by injury, seemingly just as they are peaking in their training. It's a bizarre feeling of helplessness: "I'm in the best shape of my life, except for this lousy [insert body part here]."

For me, the injury didn't even come as a result of pushing myself too hard in training or a race. I was cooling down after last Saturday's race, at a triumphal moment, having won my first-ever 5K race. Rob and I were running an easy 8:30 pace, staying on the sidewalk to keep out of the way of 10-milers who were still finishing their race.

In my defense, this was a really lousy sidewalk, with huge chunks of concrete lifted up, and barely enough room for two runners side by side (although arguably this should have motivated me to be even more careful with my running). I had just spotted Richard Hefner heading toward the finish and was about to wave to him and yell a few words of support when -- BAM -- suddenly I was on the concrete. I fell so quickly that I didn't have time to extend my arm to break my fall. I landed on my left elbow and left knee.

My running jacket was torn and my elbow was bleeding. But I could tell almost immediately that the knee was the real problem. I tried to bounce up as quickly as possible, to jog it out, but I could tell that jogging wasn't going to be an option. I told Rob to go ahead and finish his cool-down while I walked back to the finish line. After a minute or two I tried jogging again and this time it seemed all right; I jogged another three-quarters of a mile and went back to celebrating with my friends at the finish.

I even snapped a picture of Chad on the course and then managed to beat him to the finish line to get another shot of him as he finished:

Chad's in the yellow shirt...

The next day I ran with DART as I had planned -- over 13 miles. The knee hurt a fair bit as I started, but after I warmed up it was fine, until about 12 miles in, when it started to be painful to run faster than about a 9-minute pace. I limped home, iced the knee, and planned on taking it easy on Monday morning.

Far from taking it easy, after running less than a quarter-mile I realized that running was too painful to continue. I made my way home and wondered if it was time to visit the doctor.

I've often wondered why injured runners don't want to face facts and do what is necessary to get better. Time and time again I've seen them leap into recovery too quickly, only to aggravate an injury. Now suddenly I found myself in a similar position. I turned to online forums and Facebook for advice, and the message was near-universal: VISIT A DOCTOR. The few exceptions were jokes of the "rub some dirt on it" type.

Fine. I visited the doctor. I got an x-ray. The x-ray confirmed that there was no evidence of broken bones (though I'm aware that small cracks in bones can often go undetected for weeks). The doctor, as expected, prescribed rest.

Rest? But I've got a half-marathon on Saturday!

I think I had told the doctor that she would have laughed me out of the examining room. She did say I could do any exercise that didn't cause pain in the knee.

Yesterday I decided to try the "elliptical" machine at the gym. I have such an aversion to this sort of device that I had never even tried one. I couldn't figure out how it worked. I pressed the "start" button but nothing happened. I tried "pedaling," and some lights came on, but my knee also hurt. Maybe this wasn't the ideal machine.

The doctor had mentioned "power-walking," but I feared this wouldn't give me enough aerobic benefit. But there was the treadmill -- maybe I could set it up with a steep incline at a walking pace.

I ended up settling on 15% grade -- the maximum -- and a 3 mph pace. This actually seemed to work. My knee didn't hurt, and yet I could tell I was exerting a similar effort to an easy 8:00 running pace. Somehow I managed to keep it up for an hour, after which my knee didn't feel appreciably different from when I started. Sure, it was boring, but at least I wasn't going to get out of shape while I recovered.

Today I did the same workout, but remembered to bring an e-book. Much less boring, and I managed to pass another hour on the "dreadmill."

My plan -- perhaps a foolish one -- is to do another walking workout tomorrow, then on Friday, try running. If I can run four miles and pick up to half-marathon pace for one of those miles, without pain, then I'll give the race a shot on Saturday. If I can't, then I'll resign myself to cheering on my friends. Fortunately the knee does seem to be getting better every day, so hopefully, if I'm careful, I should be back up to speed in time for my target race of the fall season, the Kiawah Island Half Marathon on December 14.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Race Recap: Spencer Mountain 5K

Saturday morning. I'm 1.8 miles in. The road turns uphill, again. I am gasping for breath, trying to focus on solid, long strides. Trying to look strong to intimidate the runners behind me. Wondering if I can possibly hang on to this pace until the finish. The plan was to run with complete abandon, to give it absolutely everything I had, to leave nothing in the gas tank. Finish on empty, or limp in, running on fumes. But here now is this hill. If I push hard up the hill, can I possibly have anything left for the final mile? I have to try. I pick up the pace...

Wednesday morning, three days earlier, I'm sitting in Summit Coffee after my last hard workout of the week. "What are you doing this weekend," Sam asks.

"I'm going for a PR at the Spencer Mountain 5K," I reply.

"Didn't you just PR two weeks ago?"

"Yeah, but I felt like I still had a little bit left. This time I want to go all out. I'm either going to PR or I'm going to finish in, like, 22 minutes."

"Ha! Seriously?"

I am completely serious; that is honestly the plan. But on race day, naturally, things can play out a little differently. My PR from the Runway 5K was 17:49, officially a 5:45 pace. So this time I would head out at a 5:30 pace.

Saturday morning at the start line, we're all standing around wondering when things are going to get going. Suddenly about 8:03 the race official shows up. "You haven't started yet? They already started the 10-miler!" Then she runs about 10 yards past the start line and yells "Ready, Set, Go!"

Here we are at the start! Rob is 3 to the right, and "Mop-Top" is just past him

Rob Ducsay, a mop-topped teenager, and I push out into the lead. About 100 yards in Rob yells "I'm in first!" At which point Mop-Top blows by both of us. I resign myself to finishing second to a teenager, again.

I look down at my watch and see that it reads 5:35. Really? It feels like I'm going faster than that, but I decide to stick to my plan and pick up the pace. About a half mile in I pass Mop-Top. It's just me and the lead police car.

The first mile of the race is a gradual uphill, which gets steeper towards the end. As the hill increases, I find myself slowing down. I'm going as hard as I can, but I can't seem to bring my pace down to 5:30. I don't want to look back and check on the other runners; I just have to keep pushing the pace. I pass Mile Marker 1 at 5:25, but my watch doesn't beep. I keep running, and 20 seconds later I finally hear the familiar mile chime. 5:49 according to Garmin, slower than at Runway. But this hill is bigger too.

I crest the hill and start heading down, again resisting the urge to look back. It's an out-and-back course, so I'll see all the competition at the turnaround. My pace is now over 6:00 per mile. Come on, Munger, you can do better than that! The turnaround should be at exactly mile 1.5, and it can't come soon enough for me. It's two cones in the middle of the road, and I realize at my pace I'm going to have to swing wide to clear it. I do, and I see Rob and another runner, right behind me.


Somehow I find the will to run faster. It's a gradual downhill now, and we're more than halfway through the race. There's just that one uphill right before I get to the Mile 2 marker, and it should be downhill all the way home. The rest of the field is still running the opposite direction, cheering me on as I go. I see Ashley, and Roberta, and Johane, and Bill, and many other familiar faces. They seem really impressed to see me in the lead. Maybe I can pull this off!

Then I reach that final climb, starting at mile 1.8. I'm gasping for breath, and though it honestly doesn't feel like I can keep this pace up, it's still slower than I want, about 5:43. In a moment of clarity, I realize that I must run up this hill all-out. Even if I take it easy on the hill and end up winning, I'll always ask myself how much faster I could have been if I had pushed it on the hill. So I push it. Hard.

Somehow, crazily, I finish Mile 2 faster than I ran Mile 1. Once again, I reach the mile marker before my Garmin clicks through to Mile 2. Now it is all downhill, and I try to stretch my strides even longer. I'm grunting with every breath. Really? Grunting? Who am I, Monica Seles?

The walkers are still heading out, and they seem amazed to see the leader of the race, running so fast in the opposite direction. I've been on the other side of that road many times, watching the leader streak by, wondering what it must feel like to run so effortlessly.

Now I know: It's damned hard.

Some idiot in a Jeep pulls between me and the lead car. The cop pulls over, and another cop gets out and directs the Jeep to the side of the road so I can pass. Crazy! Now I'm past all the walkers, less than a half mile to go. I know it's downhill, but it's so gradual and / or I'm so tired that it doesn't feel that way.

I can see the 3-mile marker ahead, and again I resist the urge to look back. Just keep pushing, Munger. Either you win or you don't; looking back won't help.

Headed for the finish!

I blitz around the final corner and dash through the finish. I think I even remember to raise my arms in victory. Then I remember to stop my watch.

17:32. Yes, it's a PR, but more importantly, it's a win! I've never won a 5K before, never won any solo race with this level of competition. Rob crosses the line in second place, followed shortly by three much-younger guys. I give Rob a huge high-five. He's PRed too! What a race.

As Rob and I congratulate each other and go over the play-by-play of the race, we notice several 25-ish guys hovering nearby. Finally one of them says to me "do you mind if I ask how old you are?" I tell him I'm 46. "Wow, you've got me by two decades."

"Well, if it's any consolation, I beat my two-decade-younger self too," I tell him.

Rob and I are subsequently grilled by these much-younger men on our training miles and methods. They're super impressed by Rob's ultra-running. We've clearly opened their eyes to what a couple of old guys are capable of. That was definitely the moment of the day: Those young guys looking at us, thinking "if these old guys can do that, who the hell am I?"

A couple of very fast old guys

Some other great moments from the race:

Roberta Villneff finishing first in her age group.

Jo Hirschfield finishing first in her age group and getting a PR.

Ashley Neff finishing first in her age group and third overall.

Winning $50 as the first overall male!

Spending the $50 -- on coffee for my teammates and a little nip of something for me:

Crashing and burning while on my cool-down run. Two big scrapes on my elbow and a very sore knee.

Watching the ten-milers stream in. Here's Chad approaching the finish:

Hanging out with the whole gang while we waited for results and collected hardware.

Mark Ippolito

Roberta and Diane

Kathy and Johane

Cheryl and Jenn
Overall, a great event.

One last note: After some thought, I'm not sure if I'm going to count this as a PR after all. My Garmin measured the course at 3.04 miles, so it's probably short. My pace according to my Garmin was 5:46 per mile, compared to my official pace at the Runway 5K of 5:45. So despite finishing in a time of 17:32 versus 17:49, despite feeling like I gave it absolutely everything I had in this race, this one doesn't seem as "legit." The win, though? That definitely counts!

Details of today's race are below.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Fastest tempo ever

Lately I've been lucky enough to find workout partners for nearly every run. I love running with people, and the support they give me definitely helps me go faster and farther than I would otherwise. But I knew it would be a longshot finding someone interested in the workout I had planned for this morning. The schedule called for a 6-mile tempo run. With my recent PR in the 5K, I knew I should reconsider the pace for the run, so I loaded up McMillan Running. McMillan allows you to enter your PR at any distance, then gives you projected times at other distances. But the most useful feature is hidden: You click on "training paces" and it tells you how fast you should be running when you are working out.

McMillan gives paces for three types of tempos -- "Tempo intervals," "Tempo run," and "Steady-state run." A "Tempo" for McMillan ranges from 25-40 minutes. My run was going to be just at the upper end of that, and for me McMillan recommends a pace of 6:02 to 6:17. Ouch! But the pace for "Steady-State," which runs 25-90 minutes, was a little more reasonable -- 6:17 to 6:32. I still didn't think I was going to find anyone who was interested in a 6:32 pace, but I went ahead and posted the workout to our running group, just in case. The message I got back was basically "uh, no thanks."

So I figured I would just warm up with Ashley (we both live about a mile from the usual starting-point for group runs), then run my tempo solo, and meet up with the group again at the end. As a bonus incentive, Chad and Michelle would be doing a 4.7-mile loop at around an 8:30 pace, so if I really crushed it on my 6.38-mile tempo loop, I just might catch them at the end.

I took off solo, heading downhill on the first mile. I was hoping to do a little better than a 6:32 pace, since that was the top end of my steady-state pace. Mile 1 felt pretty good at a 6:19 pace. Mile 2 would tell me a little more about how I was feeling today, because it involved the first major climb. I didn't slow down much, finishing in 6:24. Next was another downhill mile, which again felt great at 6:15. Miles 4 and 5 would involve some serious climbing. The first part of 4 was flat, but then I turned on to the locally infamous Robert Walker Drive, the start of a long, gradual uphill. To add to the challenge, I was now running into a headwind. Somehow I maintained the pace, finishing Mile 4 in 6:25. But Mile 5 continues uphill, and the headwind continued. I now realized that I had run every mile under 6:26, which means I was under 40-minute 10K pace. Could I do even better, and complete the 6.38-mile loop under 40 minutes? First I'd have to make it up this hill.

Somehow I kept up the pace, finishing Mile 5 in 6:26. If I was going to catch Michelle and Chad, it'd be in the next mile or so. Right now I was just focusing on maintaining speed and cresting one last small hill in Mile 6. As I headed back into town, I could see a pair of runners ahead in the darkness. Could it be Chad and Michelle? I finished Mile 6 in 6:25. Just over a third of a mile to go, and I could now see clearly that Chad and Michelle were ahead of me. I picked up the pace, striding past them as confidently as possible, cruising into town at a 5:59 pace.

I wasn't gasping for breath when I stopped, but I could definitely feel that this had been a substantial effort. How good was it? I didn't know, exactly, because my tempo run was combined with the easy warm-up I had done earlier. I did some quick math and came up with 40:13 for the 6.38-mile loop (later, looking at my GPS data, I saw that it was actually 40:20). Dang! I had just missed breaking 40 minutes. But still, I was quite pleased, because my previous PR on the DART loop was 42:55. I had crushed that! My overall pace for the tempo was 6:21, which would easily break 40 minutes for a 10K.

That's the pace I'd like to be running in a week and a half, when I do the Thunder Road Half Marathon. Do I think I can sustain it for a half? I'd say definitely for a flat race. Thunder Road isn't flat, though. On the other hand, I will have other runners to key off of at Thunder Road, so that will probably motivate me to keep up the pace a little better than running by myself in the dark. In other words, we'll just have to wait and see.

Details of today's workout are below.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Race Recap: The Runway 5K

The Runway 5K is an amazing racing experience, and today I got to be a part of it. I ran on the runway and taxiways at the Charlotte Douglas Airport as jumbo jets taxied, took off, and landed, seemingly perilously close to the runners!

The Runway 5K was also going to be a PR effort for me. I was hoping to better the PR I set last year at the Big South 5K.

My previous PR was an 18:03, 5:48 per mile. I had decided to shoot for a 5:40 pace, to ensure I'd be below 18 minutes even if the course was a little long.

Several members of our running group would be joining me for the race, and we all drove down together: Jenn Senos, who is getting ready for a marathon and recovering from an ankle injury; Joe Rao, a 33-minute 10Ker who is looking to get back in shape after a busy travel month; Anthony "Fam" Famiglietti, a 2-time Olympian in the steeplechase who tends to win every local race he enters; and Stacy Hensley, who claimed she was there mostly just to have fun but ended up running a great race as well. Joe said he'd just be treating this as a "tempo run," so I asked if he'd be interested in pacing me and he said "sure!" (normally Joe would be way ahead of me in a 5K!)

We arrived at the airport on a frigid morning and I could see almost instantly that this would be no ordinary race. We were an hour early and already hundreds of cars filled the parking area. A stream of visitors headed towards the starting area, and we were all subjected to security bag-checks (albeit a little less exhaustive than the TSA variety). The staging area for the race was a vast area of tarmac featuring awesome vintage airplanes. Here I am with some friends getting ready for the start:

From left: C-130, Dexter, Joe, Me, DC-18

And here are some more friends:

Dexter, Joe, Jenn, and Stacy and a couple of their flying buddies

After a couple-mile warm-up where Joe and I verified that the race indeed finishes on a downhill, we stripped off our sweats and made our way up to the starting line. With over 1,500 runners it would be important to get close to the front. I felt a little rude pushing my way past hundreds of runners, but consoled myself with the thought that most folks would probably prefer it this way to me passing them at my planned 5:40 pace. Then I decided I was being arrogant. Then I decided I was just being realistic. By then, I was about two rows back from the starting line, which seemed like a good place to be, so I decided not to worry about it and concentrate on the race.

The Runway 5K is known for late starts, so we were all a little surprised when the officiant started us right on time on "go," with not even a "ready, set" to prepare us! It didn't take long to get up to stride, and within a half-mile, Joe and I were running side by side with perhaps only 7 runners ahead of us. Fam, naturally, had blazed into the lead, with Bert Rodriguez close on his heels. 

We turned onto the runway itself, where yet another jetliner was parked. Stacy managed to get a great photo of it as she passed:


I had a chance to glance at my watch, which read 5:37, pretty close to my planned pace of 5:40. "Keep it up, Dave!" shouted Joe. We cruised across the first mile marker at 5:40 flat, with just 5 runners ahead of us.

I had been concerned about Mile 2, because it was mostly a straight, flat stretch on the taxiway and I thought it would feel long and desolate, but we were very close to an active runway, and it was simply amazing to watch the giant jets taking off and landing as we ran next to them. Ahead I could see Fam, still in the lead, turning off the runway and heading back towards the start/finish. I'm pretty sure, other than on out-and-back courses, that this was the farthest along a race I could ever see Fam ahead of me.

We were keeping up the 5:40 pace as we passed the first water stop, on our way out of the runway/taxiway area and back onto the airport access road. This was the section Joe and I had been able to run in our warm-ups, so we knew that about a quarter-mile into Mile 3, we'd get a nice downhill stretch to the finish. We crossed the Mile 2 marker at a 5:41 pace, still doing great.

Then the race got tough. Suddenly I was laboring for every breath. Joe said "that's all I got, Dave, you go ahead." I pushed forward, now more aware of the unevenness of the road, which seemed almost to be a slight uphill. But perhaps this sensation was just due to the fact that I didn't have a pacer any more. "Go, Dave!" Joe shouted, still running behind me. I looked at my watch and saw my pace beginning to slip -- 5:45, 5:47...

...but I could see a turn ahead, where I knew I'd get solid downhill relief. I pushed harder, and somehow kept my pace from slowing further. I turned the corner, looking back to see how far behind Joe was. "Run, Munger! Run!" he shouted, about 30 yards back. I kept pushing, grateful to get the boost from the downhill. Unfortunately it only lasted about a third of a mile; soon we were heading back into the active airport.

As I passed through the gate back onto the tarmac, I heard footsteps behind me. Was that Joe? No, it was a woman passing me. It was all I could do to maintain my 5:44 pace; I couldn't stay with her. Joe was shouting "you can catch her, Dave!" Uh, no I couldn't.

Now I could see airplanes parked on the tarmac. Was that the starting area, or just other random planes? As I passed one of them, I could see the finish line. "Push it, Dave!" Now Joe had caught up with me and wanted me to follow him in as he sprinted to the finish. My Mile 3 split was 5:44, but it came a little before the actual marker. Could I pull this off, or was the course going to be long?

Then I saw the finish line clock: 17:33, 17:34, 17:35... I was going to make it! I summoned one last burst of speed as someone in the crowd yelled "Go Dave!" 

Joe crossed the line just ahead of me, then turned around and flashed a huge smile. "That was AWESOME!" he said. "You crushed it!" As I gasped for breath I turned to look at my watch, which I had somehow managed to stop as I crossed the line. It read 17:49.

Really? 17:49? It was a huge PR, by 14 seconds, on a totally-legit full 5K course. I was astonished. Soon Fam was there, congratulating me too, asking what I'd been doing in my training to pull this off.

Fam had won the race, Joe was 7th, and I was 8th in a huge field. Next Dexter came across the line with a new PR, and then Jenn was there, having won her age group, and Stacy finished second in her age group — a near-perfect day for DART!

Here I am getting my first-in-age group medal (unfortunately there were no masters awards in this event—I would have been the first masters finisher):

My favorite photo of the day is probably this one, which I took of Fam after the race:

Fam tweeted "Won the Runway 5k this morning in painfully cold weather. They gave me this plane as the award ;)"

All in all a great race; I'd highly recommend it!

Below is my Garmin record of the race:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Race Preview: The Runway 5K

I've signed up for a couple 5K races in the next few weeks in an attempt to set a new 5K PR. My current PR is 18:03, set last year at the Big South 5K. My GPS measured that course a little short, so this year I've signed up for races that should give me an "honest" record. First up is the Runway 5K, a very popular race in Charlotte because it actually happens at the Charlotte Douglas Airport. You run on a taxiway while jumbo jets take off and land only a short distance away.

The course is known to be flat and fast, but maybe just a little long. Here's the MapMyRun map of the race that a friend of mine made from last year's event:

As you can see, it's not perfectly flat. It's also about 3.17 miles, or just over the standard 5K distance of 3.1 miles. But the hills on the course play to my strengths, with a slight uphill near the start and a downhill finish.

To hit an 18:03 requires a 5:48 pace on a perfectly-accurate course. So just to be sure, I'm going to shoot for a 5:40 pace. If the course is true-to-length that would give me about a 17:30 overall time, and if it's 3.17 miles long, I should still finish just under 18 minutes at 17:58. That is, assuming I can maintain that pace for the whole race!

My biggest worry for tomorrow will be the weather. It is currently forecast to be around 35 degrees at race time, which is a touch cooler than I'd like it—but it's an improvement from earlier in the week when the overnight low was predicted to be as cool as 27! Right now the forecast calls for very low winds, just 2 mph, which also bodes well.

When the weather was slated to be cooler I was actually considering wearing tights for the race, something I've never done for a 5K, but now that the temps are above freezing I think I will be wearing a more standard racing outfit. I still think I will wear a short-sleeved compression shirt and gloves rather than a singlet.

The toughest part of the race will almost certainly be the middle mile, a long, straight, flat haul on a taxiway that will probably feel like it never ends. If I can sustain my pace for that section, I feel like I'll be able to hang on for that downhill finish.

I had a pretty good workout on Wednesday that also bodes well -- a 4-mile tempo run that I completed at an average 6:17 pace. Although I was extremely tired after an uphill third mile, I was able to recover quickly and finish strong. At the Runway 5K, with a flat-to-downhill finish, along with the adrenaline of race day, I think a faster pace is definitely within reach.

Details of Wednesday's workout are below.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Quick Recap: The Uptown Throwdown

So, this weekend I was supposed to be pacing my friend Val Wrenholt at the Grindstone 100 mile endurance race. But thanks to some grandstanding congresscritters, the Forest Service informed the race directors that the race would have to be suspended.

Initiate plan B: The Uptown Throwdown relay in Charlotte, NC. This is a 12-hour relay race in the heart of Charlotte. I signed up on Thursday and joined Team Circuit -- four of us would be alternating 4-mile legs, and I hoped to do about 20 miles.

On race day, it turned on that only one other member of the team could make it -- that meant there were just two of us. I told my teammate that I was only good for about 20 miles either way, and he was okay with that -- we just might be throwing in the towel early.

Weather was nice in the morning but it was looking to be an unseasonably warm day. I went out at what felt like a comfortable pace and found myself leading what looked to be about 10 or 15 teams.

First loop: 3.95 miles, 28:27, 7:12/mile pace

There was a lavish spread of food at the start / finish, and I decided to limit myself to just one donut per loop. I had a chocolate donut, and before I knew it, Chad was done with his loop and I had to go out again.

Second loop: 3.92 miles, 28:15, 7:12/mile pace

This time I decided to try the mini-brownie cupcakes. They were delicious, and since they were mini-size, it wouldn't hurt to have two, would it? And maybe some coffee to wash it down.

Once again, Chad returned quickly and I was back out on the path. It was a fairly narrow greenway along a creek and this time there was some sort of walking event going on and I found myself dodging people, their kids, and their dogs, the entire way. Nonetheless I managed to complete the third loop even faster:

Third loop: 4 miles, 28:15, 7:03/mile pace

When I returned, Chad had negotiated a merger with another team, "Chafing the Dream," and so I wouldn't have to run for another couple hours! I enjoyed hanging out with the group and chatting, and eating even more junk food. The temperature began to get quite warm. I had it at 88 degrees at one point during the day. Finally it was my turn to run again.

Fourth loop: 3.87 miles, 26:56, 6:57/mile pace

Now it was really getting hot, but with the longer breaks, it seemed like I'd be able to maintain my steadily improving pace. I'd run almost 16 miles, and I would put it all out there for one final loop. Unfortunately, for this loop, there was yet another walking event along about a mile and a half of the greenway. It was wall-to-wall people. I took to the grass and dirt alongside the greenway and tried to maintain a 6:40 pace. Somehow I managed quite well.

Fifth loop: 3.92 miles, 26:26, 6:44/mile pace

Overall I ended up running 19.65 miles at an average pace of 7:02 per mile. I'm not sure how our team placed, or even how to account for the fact that the teams had been running separately for almost three hours before merging. But much junk food was consumed, much socializing occurred, and a good time was had by all. Fun way to while away the day!

My Garmin record of the event is below.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

More thoughts about my pacing strategy for Lungstrong

Over at Science-Based Running, I've written an explanation of why I think my pacing strategy for the Lungstrong 15K didn't work. Here's a taste:

That’s what happened during my 15k. The slowest downhill sections were also the longest downhill sections (which makes some sense, since those hills weren’t as steep). Instead of averaging 6:11 on those hills, when I take the length of the hills into account, I actually averaged 6:21! Put that together with my 6:31 pace for my uphills, account for the fact that I ran a longer distance downhill than uphill, and you arrive at my 6:25 average pace, which wasn’t fast enough to overcome my GPS error.

Head on over there to read the whole thing.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Race Recap: The Lungstrong 15k

I'm not sure how to begin this recap of today's Lungstrong 15k. If I start by saying my goal was to break 60 minutes and I didn't make it, it sounds like I'm not happy about my race. And, of course, in some ways, that would be right. I was really hoping I'd be able to run a sub-60-minute 15k. There's something poetic about that -- it's a milestone to break 20 minutes in the 5k, to break 40 minutes in a 10k, so why not try to break 60 minutes in a 15k? It's the same pace, after all.

But of course, it's harder to do a 40-minute 10k than a 20-minute 5k, and harder still to do a 60-minute 15k.

I could also say that my goal was to do better than a 6:26 pace for the race, since a 6:26 pace is what you need to achieve all those things. In that case, if you look at my Garmin reading of the results, I succeeded: My average pace according to my Garmin was 6:25. If you look at the Garmin output for the first time I broke 40 in a 10k, my average pace was actually only 6:26. The difference, of course, is that Garmin measured Lungstrong a bit long, while it measured the LKN Rotary 10k a bit short.

I even came pretty close to my goal paces from my race preview post: I was shooting for a 6:35 pace on the ups and a 6:05 on the downs, and, depending on how you calculate it, I actually ran about 6:31 on the ups and 6:11 on the downs -- pretty close, if you ask me!

In the end I completed the race in 1:00:37, finishing second in my age group in a very large field. On the other hand I thought I had a pretty good plan to finish in under an hour. Where did it go wrong?

At the start of the race everything seemed to be going as planned. My friend Chas and I were going to stay together and try to keep our pace as close as possible to 6:20 per mile. this would give us a little wiggle room in case the course measured a little long. As I mention in my preview post, I was going to take splits at the top and bottom of each hill instead of at the mile markers; the goal was to go 6:35 on the ups and 6:05 on the downs.

The first half-mile or so was a gradual uphill and we were pretty close to our target pace at 6:24. Next was about 3/4 a mile of downhill and we didn't quite hit our 6:05 target, running closer to 6:10. This was a theme of the first half of the race -- running the ups a little faster than planned, and the downs a little slower. But overall, that should even out in the end, right? Not quite -- my Garmin was showing an average pace of just over our planned 6:20 per mile after about 5 miles -- 6:23 instead of 6:20. This was still below the target pace of 6:26 but our margin for error was beginning to shrink. About this point I also started to notice that Chas was really beginning to labor on the uphills. I'd try to maintain the planned pace and he'd drop back, grunting and gasping for breath.

But soon after this we began to see some familiar faces. Roberta, Jenn, and Lisa were at one intersection pointing the way, and Matt was at another, pointing and taking pictures. He caught a pretty good one of me:

Look, I'm going so fast, I'm blurry!

This part of the course was a little flatter than the previous section, so I decided to just try for a straight-up 6:20 pace rather than mess with the uphill / downhill thing. It worked okay, but Chas kept dropping further behind. I yelled back that we were only doing 6:22, and he told me to just take off. Unfortunately, I didn't have a whole lot of wind left in me, but I did what I could. There were two runners about 30 yards ahead of me so I keyed on them and tried to maintain pace.

In Mile 7, however, we faced some of the toughest hills of the race. I handled the first one okay, at about a 6:35 pace, but the second one was the only time my pace was slower than 7 minutes per mile. I began to wonder if it was possible to do this after all. But the two runners ahead of me were continuing on at about the same distance ahead, so it seemed that everyone was struggling. I wondered if either of them was in my age group. I didn't think so -- they both seemed younger.

My pace for the whole race was now slower than 6:24 per mile, and given the fact that my Garmin seemed to be measuring the course long, finishing in under an hour felt less and less assured.

I did manage to pick things up again as we finally started downhill, getting my average pace for the race back down to 6:23, but then things got ugly. Mile 8 ended in a massive hill, and again I could only manage a 6:35. For Mile 9, even maintaining a 6:30 pace on the downhill sections was difficult. I didn't pass the mile marker until my Garmin read 9.14, and with a third of a mile left, I had less than a minute and a half remaining. Unless I could pull off a 4:30 pace (ha!), there was no way I could finish under 60 minutes. As a small consolation, I took a split when my Garmin read 9.3 miles, 59:39. Huzzah! A sub-60 Garmin 15k. Too bad it doesn't count!

I finally crossed the line in 1:00:37, at a 6:25 pace according to Garmin, but a 6:31 where it counted.

That was good for second in my age group (thank goodness for Master's awards). As it turned out, one of the two guys who stayed stubbornly 30 yards ahead of me was indeed in my age group, so if I could have summoned the will to pass him, I might still not have finished under 60 minutes, but I would have gotten a first AG.

Chas managed to keep up the pace fairly well and ended up with a 1:01:32, a PR for him, second in AG, but still disappointing as he had the same sub-60 goal as me.

Some other DARTers did better than us. Here's a post-awards-photo:

Chas and I didn't do as well as Allyson Biasucci, who finished first in her AG

And here we are at the finish line with Kristen Feldman, 5th overall woman

The full results of the race are here. My Garmin plot is below.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Preparing for my first 15k

I finally had a chance to register for a 15k and I picked a popular one: The Lungstrong 15k in Cornelius, NC, this coming Sunday.

Lungstrong is a pretty big race, with over 500 participants last year and a stacked field due to its being part of the Charlotte Grand Prix series. I won't even be close to the winning time and probably won't compete for a master's award, though based on last year's results I might have a shot at an age group award.

I'll be joined by my running buddy Chas, and our shared goal for the race is simply to finish in under 60 minutes, the equivalent pace to a sub-40 10k or a sub-20 5k. But this race is quite hilly. We ran a preview yesterday and though none of the hills was especially big, they never seemed to stop.

Here's the elevation profile recorded by my GPS:

(Note: the mileages are off because I started running from Davidson -- the Lungstrong portion is from Mile 3.1 to 12.4)

Other than the flat-ish section from Mile 8-10 (actually mile 5-7) it's pretty much rolling hills throughout.

Typically I try to plot out my paces for each mile in a race like this where I'm shooting for a specific time, but in this race I'm going to try something different. To finish in 60 minutes we need to average 6:26 per mile, but ideally we should be slowing a bit for the uphills and speeding up on the downs. We'll be shooting for a 6:20 average to allow for GPS error, so my idea for this race is just run 15 seconds slower on the ups, and 15 seconds faster on the downs: 6:35 on the uphill sections and 6:05 on the downhills.

So instead of capturing splits every mile, I'm going to get a split at the top and bottom of each hill. Logically, if nearly the entire course is hilly, we're either running up or down at any moment, so the two should balance out (it's not perfect since we cover less ground per minute when going slower, but I think it's probably close enough).

Meanwhile, Chas will set his watch to capture kilometer splits (we'll need to average just under 4:00 per k), and we'll both have access to average pace for the entire run, which should be 6:20. In addition, since we're shooting for 6:20 per mile, we can just check the elapsed time at each mile marker. Every 3 miles should take 19 minutes, so we'll be working with nice round numbers.

It's a little crazy, but I think it will be an interesting way to run a race -- and hopefully it will help both me and Chas attain our goals.

Details of yesterday's workout are below.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Stache and Dash BRR Chronology

In the Blue Ridge Relay, over 150 teams run 208 miles from Mouth of Wilson, VA to Asheville, NC, over two days. There's no stopping at a hotel for the night; every team has an active runner at all times. Teams can have up to 12 members, running the course in 36 legs. On a 12-member team, each runner is responsible for 3 legs, ranging in length from 2.2 to 10.1 miles. There are competitions for top master’s team, top ultra team, top women’s team, and top team in the open division.

But the best race this year might just have been in the mixed division, which requires teams to have an equal number of males and females. Two teams, Stache and Dash, and JITFO, both from the Charlotte area, were loaded with talent. And when they’re not fierce rivals, they’re actually good friends and running buddies. There’s no rivalry like the one against the team down the road: This was Duke versus UNC, it was Michigan-Ohio State, it was Blue versus Gray. Plus, there was beer on the line: The losing team captain had to buy beer for the winners at the finish line.

Here’s the story, from Team Stache and Dash’s perspective (for the enemy...er...team JITFO’s perspective, see this post):

Friday, September 6
7:30 a.m. Team Stache and Dash converges and prepares the Stachemobiles for battle. Miles driven: 0. Miles run: 0.

7:40. First conflict: What road to take north?

8:10. Rob (the team captain, on phone to Dave M): “We’re here at the Davidson Harris Teeter. Where are you?” Dave M: “You were supposed to pick me up at Summit Coffee, remember?” Rob: “You expect me to remember the things you tell me?”

8:30. Back on the road, with coffee! Miles driven: 30. Miles run: 0.

8:50. Rob: “Were we picking Laura up at the Statesville Bi-Lo or the Food Lion?” Everyone: “Didn’t she tell you?” Rob: “You expect me to remember the things you tell me?”

10:15. Van 1: Brian (to Dave P): “What legs are you running?” Dave P: “Well, I asked Rob for something easy and flat with no downhills. I think he completely discarded my request because what I got was a lot of miles and a lot of uphills.”

11:10. Somehow we make it to the starting line, in Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia.

11:20. We all need to sign a release form. Rob: “Does anyone have a pen?” It turns out we have exactly one pen per van. Crisis averted. Miles driven: 132. Miles run: 0.

11:30 Leah models the Stache & Dash uniform and may be starting a new fashion trend in artificial facial hair.

11:40. Time to decorate the Stachemobiles!

11:50. Team photo! In this age of internet photo sharing, we still take the picture using six different cameras.

From left: John Fillette, Stan Austin, Adrienne Anetrini, Rob Ducsay, Mo Hoffmann, Dave Przybyla, Leah Lashley, Brian Trotter, Johanna Remes, Wen Norvell, Laura Walls, Dave Munger

11:55. We size up our rivals, team JITFO, the only other mixed team starting this late. The later you start, the faster your team. JITFO has an impressive crew of runners, including three 3-hour

11:56.   Rob realizes that he didn’t give the snap bracelet to Laura yet.. He races back to the vans to find it. Mad search in both vans. “Where in the Hell is that dang thing”  He nearly has his 3rd heart attack in a little over 30 hours. He finally finds it exactly where he left it, on the front passenger seat  In Van 1.

12:00. They’re off!

12:00:05  We watch Allen from JITFO trying to chase down their runner #1, Jamie, to hand her their snap bracelet. “Phew!” Rob feels a bit better now, he is not the only one losing his head.

12:20 p.m. The JITFO trash-talking begins in the parking lot at Exchange Zone 1

12:24 p.m.: Mile 4. Laura finishes Leg 1 in 24:50

1:00 p.m.: Van 2 lunches at an Italian restaurant in West Jefferson. Never before have 6 people consumed so much bread and water.

1:16 p.m.: Mile 12. Brian finishes Leg 2 in 51:26

1:51 p.m.: Mile 17. Wen finishes Leg 3 in 35:41

2:41 p.m.: Mile 24. Dave P finishes Leg 4 in 50:01

2:58 p.m.: Stan runs through the mountain town of West Jefferson

3:14 p.m.: Mile 29. Stan finishes Leg 5 in 32:30. Stache and Dash has a 4-minute lead on JITFO, but now Adrienne has to face off against one of their toughest women, Boriana.

3:53 p.m.: Boriana finishes Leg 6 ahead of Adrienne. Nervous waiting commences.

3:57 p.m.: Mile 34. Adrienne finishes Leg 6 in 42:32; 4 minutes behind!

4:26 p.m.: Dave M sees one holy mother of a hill ahead of him: 290 feet of climbing, all straight up.

4:28 p.m.: Dave M succumbs to gravity and walks for 30 seconds.

4:34 p.m.: Mile 39. Dave M finishes Leg 7 in 37:10

4:57 p.m. T-mobile-using Stache-and-dashers begin to mutter incoherently as they haven’t had a signal for over 4 hours. Verizon appears once again to be the mobile carrier champ in the mountainous backways of North Carolina.

5:02 p.m.: Mile 44. Rob finishes Leg 8 in 28:25. JITFO is gradually building a bigger and bigger lead.

5:20 p.m.: Van 1 heads to dinner in Boone. Brian orders the Sweet Potato Enchilada. It comes out and looks like a gut-buster of a meal. About 3/4 the way through it, Wendy says "I feel I must stop you from eating the rest of that. Aren't you getting ready to run 10-miles up Grandfather?" Brian thinks about it for a few minutes and concludes she was right, but says "Bad decisions make for the best stories" and continues to eat more, nearly finishing the whole thing off.

5:42 p.m.: Mile 49. Leah finishes Leg 9 in 39:59 and hands off to Johanna

6:46 p.m.: Mile 57. Johanna finishes Leg 10 in 3:49. JITFO now leads by nearly 20 minutes

7:25 p.m.: Mile 64. Mo finishes Leg 11 in 39:15! An unbelievable sub-40 on a 6.3-mile heavy 10K, loaded with hills. We’ve definitely made up some ground here.

7:30 p.m.: Stache and Dash pow-wow at Exchange Zone 11

8:27 p.m.: Mile 73. John finishes Leg 12 in 1:02:13. JITFO is still ahead by 15 minutes. Van 2 heads to dinner in Blowing Rock to lick their wounds.

9:18 p.m.: Mile 79. Laura finishes Leg 13 in 51:05

10:01 p.m.: Mile 85. Brian begins to regret not following Wendy's wise advice about the enchiladas.

10:37 p.m.: Mile 89. Brian finishes the brutally long Leg 14 in 1:18:40; nearly all uphill to Grandfather Mountain. How’s that stomach feeling now, Brian?

10:49 p.m.: Mile 92. Wen finishes Leg 15 in 12:20; a crushingly fast and short downhill leg.

11:12 p.m.: Mile 95. Dave P finishes Leg 16 in 22:19. Van 2 has collected 12 road kills in the past four legs and is gaining on JITFO.

11:47 p.m.: Mile 100. Stan finishes Leg 17 in 35:10. Four more road kills!

11:58 p.m.: Adrienne is running up a monster hill that seems to go on forever. As she powers up it, her teammates in the van pass and note that the guys who were ahead of her would soon be roadkill. Brian yells out the window to the two guys: "cute girl coming up behind you". One of the guys snaps his head around so fast it looks like his head might come flying off. The entire van bursts into laughter.

12:33 a.m., Saturday morning: Mile 106. Adrienne finishes Leg 18 in 42:15 after passing 3 guys

12:45 a.m. Dave M feels the pressure to run fast on an “easy” leg but his feet and lungs don’t cooperate.

1:02 a.m.: Mile 110. Dave M finishes Leg 19 in 29:50, having passed just one runner and losing time to JITFO.

1:02 a.m.  Rob takes over from Dave and looks ahead and can not believe his eyes. All that he sees is a long line of blinkies in front of him saying “catch me, catch me”  

1:20 a.m.: Van 2 drives ahead and sees Rob demolishing runners right and left. He’s passed six already with more lined up ahead of him. Rob Runs up to the van as it is passing and screams out “I feel like a kid in a candy store”

1:56 a.m.: Mile 117. Rob finishes Leg 20 in 53:15, with an amazing 18 road kills!

2:00 a.m. Van 1 parks at Mile 134 and settles down for a much-needed nap, setting alarms for 3:45 a.m. They text Van 2 asking them to send a text when they are 20 minutes away.

2:07 a.m. Leah has the bracelet and is running into Spruce Pine. She chicks 3 guys on a short leg!

2:12 a.m.: Mile 120. Leah finishes Leg 21 in 16:37

2:30 a.m.: Johanna is doing her best running up a narrow, winding road towards the Penland School, but JITFO keeps gaining ground.

2:54 a.m.: Mile 125. Johanna finishes Leg 22 in 42:04. JITFO is getting farther and farther ahead.

3:10 a.m. Van 2 catches up to Mo, who has nearly taken a wrong turn. After making sure she’s properly oriented, the van heads down a dark, foggy road to Exchange Zone 23.

3:30 a.m. Exchange Zone 23. Team JITFO is concerned because their runner, Jenn, should have been here 10 minutes ago.

3:35 a.m.: Mile 131. Mo finishes Leg 23 in 40:41, ahead of JITFO! We hear from other teams that at least 3 women are lost on Leg 23.

3:37 a.m. Laura wakes Brian around 3:30 saying that Rob called, Van 2 was ahead of schedule and would be there in 10 minutes.

3:40 a.m.: The missing women have been found; they took a wrong turn and a van brings them back to the point where they left the course. We don’t know if Jenn is with them, but we need to head to the next exchange zone.

3:42 a.m. Panic sets in in Van 2 and as everyone starts scurrying like crazy trying to get their stuff together, get Laura ready to run, get the van ready to move, make last minute porta-jon stops and get ready for each runner’s rotation.

3:50 a.m. Laura is ready and waiting for John at the exchange zone.

3:55 a.m.: Mile 134. John finishes Leg 24 in 20:30. He has been nursing a cold and is still running amazingly fast, with 7 road kills. We hear from JITFO that Jenn finally arrived 10 minutes after John left. We’ve got a 10-minute lead with just over 70 miles to go. We just might win this thing!

4:28 a.m.: Mile 138. Laura finishes Leg 25 in 32:12 and hands off to Brian.

4:32 a.m.:  Brian: “I knew that Laura would tear through her 4.2 mile leg quickly, so I had little time to prepare. When I started running my leg just a short time later, I still felt like a zombie. I was in a daze for at least the first mile of running. It was really dark and foggy and we were in a desolate part of the area where all you could see was blinking lights piercing through the fog and the pavement right in front of you. During that exact moment, you really start questioning your sanity as to why you ever thought this BRR thing would be a fun thing to do. All I wanted to do was stop running and go to sleep. It was misery. Now, looking back on it, it was an incredible experience I want to repeat every year. I am sure a year from now, in the dead of night when I am absolutely exhausted and knowing I have to run up a mountain, I will be questioning my sanity again.”

4:35 a.m. Van 2 is on an odyssey driving to Exchange Zone 30. While the van has maps and directions for a direct route, John has fallen asleep in the navigator’s chair, so Dave has to follow the much-less-direct route that the runners are taking.

4:57 a.m.: Mile 143. Brian finishes Leg 26 in 29:06

5:00 a.m. Dave M stops Van 2 at Exchange Zone 29 to use the bathroom. He’s also worried about nodding off in the driver’s seat, but the fresh air seems to revive him. Finally at about 5:30 they arrive at the exchange zone without crashing the van. Rob is thankful for that for the first time in 3 BRR’s he is not the one doing all the late night/early AM driving. And yes, Dave did find the side of the road a few times. But Leah and Rob tried to keep Dave’s mind active while the Co-Pilot (john) and Johanna peacefully slept.  At the exchange zone, everyone crashes in their seats hoping to get a couple hours’ sleep before Van 1 arrives.

6:07 a.m.: Mile 152. Wen finishes Leg 27 in 1:09:47, with an amazing 12 road kills on a tough leg

7:04 a.m.: Mile 159. Dave P finishes the 7.5-mile Leg 28 in 49:14, with another 12 roadkills, while gaining 6 minutes on JITFO. Stache and Dash is now 11 minutes ahead!

7:56 a.m.: Mile 167. Stan finishes Leg 29 in 52:55. 17 minutes ahead! But Adrienne will have to face Boriana, who beat her by more than 10 minutes on Leg 1

8:31 a.m.: Mile 171. Adrienne finishes Leg 30 in 34:05 and hands off to Dave M!

8:44 a.m.: JITFO’s Boriana arrives at the Exchange Zone -- she’s only gained 3 and a half minutes on Stache and Dash, so the lead is 13:30!

8:55 a.m.: Dave is giving it all he’s got on the notorious 1,400-foot climb up the “Mountain Goat” leg, churning out road kill after road kill. But as the hill goes on, his pace slows.

9:05 a.m.: Mile 176. Dave is ready to start walking, but sees his van-mates stopped by the side of the road cheering and keeps plugging ahead.

9:15 a.m.: Mile 177. Dave is 1 mile from the top. He thinks about walking, but sees another runner ahead and presses onward.

9:23 a.m.: Mile 178. Dave M finishes Leg 31 in 52:40, with 9 road kills and an average 8:03 pace up a hill that climbed more than 200 feet per mile.

9:28 a.m.: Van 2 wants to know how long their lead is, so they wait to see when JITFO’s Todd Mayes will arrive.

9:32 a.m.: With no sign of Todd, Van 2 takes off to make sure they catch Rob as he barrels downhill.

9:53 a.m.: Van 2 finally catches up to Rob as he runs down the gravel road at an astonishing pace, close to 6:00 per mile on a 9.5-mile leg.

10:05 a.m.: At exchange zone 32, Van 2 learns they still have an 11.5-minute lead; Dave only lost 2 minutes to Todd, who’s 17 years younger than him.

10:21 a.m.: Mile 187. Rob finishes Leg 32 in 57:57 with 6 Road Kills. An unbelievable 6:06 pace for 9.5 miles. He’s so exhausted he pukes at the side of the road. At age 47, he has lost just 30 seconds to JITFO’s Adam Mayes, an extremely talented 33-year-old runner.

10:31 a.m. JITFO’s lightning-fast runner Kathy Rink takes off from Exchange Zone 32 in pursuit of Stache & Dash’s Leah Lashley.

10:40 a.m. As Van 2 drives up the steep hill that makes Leg 33 “mountain goat hard”, Rob decides he’s going to pace Leah up the hill and hops out.

10:45 a.m. Leah sees Rob waiting to pace her and is completely uninterested in his help. She literally comes to a standstill and waits for Rob to leave on his own before starting back up the hill.

11:06 a.m.: Mile 193. Leah finishes Leg 33 in 44:31. She’s held off Kathy but definitely lost some time. Johanna takes the wristband and heads out on Leg 34.

11:10 a.m. Kathy arrives at the exchange zone and hands off to JITFO’s fastest runner, Joe Rao. JITFO is now 4 minutes behind. It almost seems unfair, a guy against a girl on this leg. The question seems not to be whether Joe will pass Johanna, but how long she can hold him off

11:33 a.m.: Mile 196. Johanna keeps Joe at bay until the final mile of the leg, but he finally passes her.

11:36 a.m.: Mile 197. Joe passes the bracelet to Jenn and she takes off up the steep 2-mile hill at the start of Leg 35.

11:37 a.m.: Mile 197. Johanna finishes Leg 34 and passes to Mo, who’s now 50 seconds behind. It’s nail-bitingly close.

11:40 a.m.: Van 2 passes Mo and Jenn; Jenn is still ahead.

11:45 a.m.: Mile 198. Van 1 passes Mo, who has taken the lead and is storming up the hill!

12:00 p.m.: At Exchange Zone 35, both JITFO and Stache and Dash wait impatiently for their runners to show up. Who will win this crucial leg, the second-to-last leg in the race?

12:08-ish p.m.: Mile 201. It’s Mo! Mo arrives first and hands off to John. We’re all so excited that no one remembers to stop the clock to see how quickly she completed the leg.

12:02 p.m. Four minutes after John took off, JITFO’s Jenn still hasn’t arrived. It’s starting to seem inevitable that Stache and Dash will win.

12:05 p.m. Finally Jenn runs into the exchange zone and hands of to JITFO’s Claire. Unless there’s a disaster up ahead, Stache and Dash appears to have this sealed up.

12:15 p.m. Van 2 passes John, who looks to be in excellent form as he charges toward the finish.

12:53 p.m. John charges around the final turn in the race!

12:54 p.m.: Mile 208. The whole team follows John through the finish line! Stache and Dash wins! John finishes Leg 36 in 46:28

12:58 p.m. Team Stache and Dash is the Blue Ridge Relay’s first-place Mixed Team. We didn’t just beat JITFO, we won the whole thing!

1:15 p.m. After JITFO finishes, we exchange congratulations on the awesomest Blue Ridge Relay experience any of us can remember, win or lose. JITFO gamely agrees to a two-team finish-line photo where we lord our success over them.

2:00 p.m.: Mellow Mushroom, Asheville. The team gleefully guzzles beers purchased by JITFO’s Allen Strickland, and raises its glasses to worthy competitors:

Though we’re all exhausted, we’re also enthusiastically talking about next year’s rematch!