Thursday, December 31, 2015

What Goes Through Your Mind During a 50K. Looking Back. Letting Go. Forging Ahead.

I walked 50K last Saturday.

Most of the people who read that unconsciously read it as "I walked a 50K". That would imply there was an event, a medal, a course and pictures. There was none of that, except for a couple pictures. The rest? I did it on my own.

Why?  Good question. I was asking myself that several times during the day.

I turned 49 this December. Like several times before I blurted out a goal based on that milestone. I finished my first marathon at age 38 and decided I wanted to finish 50 races by age 50 (we passed that three years ago) and then 100 races by 50 (we did that mid 2015). Some time last year I decided to do a 50K before I turned 50. That's what led to Saturday. 

Let's ignore the fact that I hadn't put in any mileage in three weeks and hadn't done long distance since our double half in mid-November. Add that the day before was Christmas. I had a decent breakfast but then loaded up on cookies, fudge and junk food - not an ideal fueling routine. But this was the first weekend day after my birthday that wasn't pouring rain. I figure if I'm going to be out there for 7 hours depending on speed, I'd rather do it when it's nice. We learned to race with Team in Training, meaning we don't wear headphones. That's a really long time to be alone with your thoughts and the scenery, but it was a great time to reflect on 2015.

I started at 8:15 AM when the outside temps read 29 degrees and a forecast for light winds. Say what you will about wimpy Californians, but it was reportedly warmer in DC, Connecticut and Vancouver that morning.    

The first leg went west on the Alameda Creek trail toward the Bay. The trail is paved and with a few exceptions in Coyote Hills, pretty flat and very exposed to winds. I packed a few Bonk Breakers, a tube of Gu Brew and my RNR Raleigh rain jacket to keep the wind off. 10.4K (6.5 miles) later, I was at the furthest point west on the trail looking out at a beautiful sunrise over the bay.

No one else out here except for bikers and a few vultures. I should have taken that as a hint.
It was a little over 20% of the way through and I was thinking about the first few months of the race year. We skipped RNR Arizona for the inaugural runDisney Star Wars half, finally getting the Darth Vader pictures I missed at Dumbo. We went back to RNR New Orleans for the first time since 2010 and I added a Brazen race on Valentine's Day to pull even with Susan on half marathons so we could finish the year at 100 apiece.

I was keeping a comfortable pace as I turned into Coyote Hills to refill my water bottle before 17K (10.5 miles). A third of the way through the year would be the end of April and by then we had seen Joe become the first to reach 100 Rock n Roll races in DC. Our thoughts turned to Beth after we raced at RNR Dallas, her last race before undergoing abdominal surgery. After hearing a positive report during RNR San Francisco, we wore bibs in her honor at RNR Raleigh.

What mile 13 looks like after getting a decent amount of rain.
Between the 17K and 27K (Miles 10.5 to 17.2) it was rough going. I hit gusting headwinds of 15-20 mph and it wasn't getting much warmer. It took a lot to stay focused. I thought about the stretch between late April and mid July when I was working on Al's speed program. I had good races at RNR Nashville, TBL Crown Point and RNR Portland before setting a 5K and Half PR at RNR San Diego. I felt pretty good about my race walk form at Tim Seaman's clinic in Chicago and we cheered Beth finishing her first full marathon after surgery at RNR Seattle. We celebrated our 20th anniversary by going back to the site of our first race in Alaska and raced a toasty remix at RNR Chicago. We finished July at the San Francisco 1st half.

I broke off the trail to head back to the house at 27K (17.2 mi) to get more food. Honestly, I was hurting from lack of fuel and was seriously considering stopping. Susan came home as I was heating up leftover eggs and pretzel bread and reminded me that I knew the trail like the back of my hand. And she reminded me that 14 more miles "is just a half."

Sorry guys. I know I'm not supposed to make light of the distance, but for us, that's motivation.  

I spent 20 minutes refueling, unfueling, packing extra Bonk Breakers and refocusing. 60% through the year is about where we usually a long break between RNR Chicago and our next race in early September and I spent that break working harder to get faster before RNR San Jose.  I got back to the creek trail for the second leg. Getting started after the break was a big deal, physically and mentally.

Our first race back after the break was the Run for CHUM, checking off a half in Michigan. Next was TBL Las Vegas in 80 degree heat where I walked a solid sub-2:25 on a shortened course. RNR San Jose was supposed to be the PR race, but the wheels came off at mile 9. The next week at RNR Brooklyn, I came within 30 seconds of the San Diego PR on a more challenging course. Two weeks later were were back at RNR St. Louis to meet Hyalker's honoree, Katy and Amy's family who were running for her uncle Bill.  Back on the trail, I made the turn at Niles at the 32K mark. It's starting to look like I'll make the full distance if I just stay focused. It's time to go into the fun cool down for the rest of the year.

It's hard to complain when you can train pretty much all year round in good conditions.
The end of October was the group Pac Man costume race at RNR Los Angeles. Three weeks later we had a beautiful morning race at the runDisney Avengers half and a cold, windy night race at RNR Las Vegas. Susan and I and Beth and Jim renewed our vows on the flight between Anaheim and Vegas. On the trail, I'm passing the 42K (26.1 mile) mark. Just 8K (5.1 miles) more. Less than a 10K. I did some mental calculations and concluded I need to pass my start point by 3K to get the distance right. I'm surprised my brain is still able to process that.

Our last race of the year was RNR San Antonio. I set a PR at on the 10K by 3 minutes and raced with Susan step for step the next day in the half. It was our 100th. It seemed right. At the finish line, I drop to one knee and ask her if she'd spend the next 100 half marathons with me. For some reason, she agrees.

I'm less than 2K from the 50K mark. I text Susan to let her know I'm nearly done. She offers to meet me at the end and drive me to In n Out for a burger and fries. Clearly she was serious about spending the next 100 halfs with me. I came down the short hill from the creek trail to find her waiting for me, with the dogs in the back seat. My total time was about 7.5 hours including 40 minutes of stop time to refuel and stretch. Fifteen minutes later I had a double double and extra crispy fries. The food didn't survive the drive home.

It's four days later as I write this. The knots in my quads and hamstrings are close to normal, I still have a tightness in my right arch that needs attention and I have a pair of matching blood blisters on my heels that show up when I'm using good race walk form. Garmin Connect tells me that the blue Brooks Pure Cadence shoes are officially past their mileage limit so it's time to retire them. I used those shoes for PR's at the 5K, 10K, half marathon and now 50K distance, but it feels good to let things go when they've outlived their usefulness. I have better pairs on the shelf.

Looking ahead to 2016, we're gearing up to check of our 6th continent at the Victoria Falls marathon in Zimbabwe in July. We're signed up for 14 Rock n Roll races and have to add a couple more to get to Hall of Fame for a third straight year. If the schedule works out, we want to get back to American River Parkway and see if our race walk form is any closer to legal.

It doesn't feel like I'm turning 50 next year. It feels like I'm just starting and the road ahead is open to all kinds of possibilities.

Postscript: Although I planned to do this 50K just to say I did it, two days later, I got an email from Rock n Roll for the Bonus Track Medal. This is a virtual race with no set distance, so I guess I get a medal for it after all!


All told we finished 24 half marathons, two 10Ks and three 5Ks for 338.5 race miles. We crossed off 4 new states for half marathons bringing our total to 25, won two age grade awards each, had two overall first place finishes a 2nd and 3rd place and got the highest medal awarded at Rock n Roll for the fifth year in a row. We got closer with a lot of our gypsy friends and I think we have found a group of friends that we'll want to race with for years to come.

If you're looking for a way to start off an active New Year tomorrow, a few of my friends run social media supported programs that I'd love to plug.

John Bingham kicks off his 100 Days Challenge tomorrow. Be intentionally active for a total of 30 minutes a day and check off your progress. He says this is not a Training program, but more a Lifestyle program. It's a great way to come off the couch.

David DeNeire has transformed the FREE! 365 days of Cardio Challenge to pair up buddies and hold each other accountable for 25 minutes of cardio every day. No cost to join. The group posts some pretty diverse pictures, so it's like doing your workouts all over the world. You can sign up on a monthly basis and keep going for all of 2016 and beyond.

Jenny Hadfield kicks of Challenge 2016. Each month there's a different focus on different aspects of running/walking (strength, speed, endurance) and also tips on creating healthy habits. Coming with the $45 membership is private sessions with Coach Jenny. For $55, you can also get the Challenge 2016 medal!

If you know that you're going to race a lot anyway, don't forget to pick up the Rock n Roll TourPass that allows you to race in 3 events for $219 or an unlimited number for $479. It pays for itself pretty fast. Also remember to enroll as a Heavy Medalist so you get the enormous bonus medals for completing multiple races.

Serial racers can also find some great discounts and race tips at The 100 Half Marathons Club. Today is the LAST day for $25 lifetime membership ($75 after the deadline). You need at least 10 lifetime half marathons to join.


  1. My last comment is MIA. I have been seeking some motivation, and thought maybe I needed to sign up for a 5K or half as motivation, but really I just need to make the space for self-care and part of that is walking and bringing my body into balance. Oesn't matter if it's 50 steps or 50 miles.

    1. Cherie: Check out the links at the end. John's is a nice program for the self motivated that just need some tracking device. David has a good buddy system thing going. It doesn't have to have all that complicated as long as you have a goal state in mind.

      Note that I didn't say 'goal'. I know a lot of people who had a lifetime goal of finishing a full marathon and they were one and done and things just went back to normal. When you look at goal state like we do - being able to knock off a half marathon a week - its a real mind changer.