2014 Run for the Parks

April 6, 2014
New York, NY
Event website

Today’s my first New York Road Runners event and it’s part of my 9+1 goal for guaranteed entry into the 2015 New York Marathon. I’ve been running a mile each day since the Dust Bowl Series, but I’ve felt like I could run another marathon immediately one day and felt like the mile was going to kill me the next.

I think I’ve injured something in the back of my left thigh; whatever it is seems like a wooden dowel. I don’t think it’s a muscle thing, but what do I know. Dr. Internet didn’t help. I don’t follow the conventional wisdom of seeing a doctor since I know what they are going say: “Stop running”. That’s not part of this year’s goal. And, I think my left ankle is sprained again. I’ve been wrapping it this week, but I’m still running.

That was my week leading up to this run, so I wasn’t expecting much and wasn’t planning on getting crazy. I figured I would take a leisurely jog around Central Park.

The day started well. It was a little bit chilly but not that bad (now that I have acclimated to winter). I needed some tights, which I had to look now that I’ve started to move to my spring clothes. It was sunny and clear, which is just about right for a short run in the Park.


Most of the NYRR runs have same-morning packet pickup, but all I really need it the bib. I don’t want the t-shirt or all the junk advertisement. Once I had my bib, I had to wait around 45 minutes for the start (pickup ends a half hour before the gun), so I walked around the park for a bit. My corral lines up opposite the Balto statue, memorializing one of the sled dogs who dragged serum to Nome from Anchorage during a bad breakup diphtheria outbreak in 1925. It’s a bit of an interesting story because Balto was the lead dog in the anchor leg of the relay, but he gets all the credit, movies, and children’s books since he was the first dog across the line. Still, props to him.

As I was waiting, I thought I saw Malcolm Gladwell. Seriosuly. He’s a runner and a really good one at that. He ran a 5:03 at the same Fifth Avenue One Miler I ran last year where I surprised myself with a sub-7 time. What’s worse is that he told Runner’s World that he barely runs.


Not Malcolm Gladwell

As I waited, I had to listen to the banter of the hosts who plugged other events between reminders about security. I’m a bit annoyed that the NYPD is conducting “enhanced security” for this event. People have to use the clear bags the race provides, go through crazy security to drop off bags, and can’t use camelbaks or backpacks during the event.

None of these measures make the race safer. They haven’t closed the park, so restricting the behavior of just the runners doesn’t make anyone safer. Security is like a waterbed; push in one area and the threats move to another but don’t disappear. The trick is to push them to more difficult areas, but it’s easier to not register already. I don’t see how their risk analysis focuses on people who paid to be here and have identified themselves with a credit card while they ignore the tourists, spectators, and possible race bandits.

The hosts keep bringing up Boston, but that threat didn’t come from registered runners. Unfortunately, living in New York means that the security theater (read more about that from Bruce Schneier) is the norm. At some point, runners are going to have to call bullshit on this sort of stuff.

Today’s run is 4 miles because that happens to be the length of the loop that starts at 68th St., goes north to the 102nd St. transverse, and comes back down to the 72nd St. transverse. This is a new event distance for me, so no matter what I do, I have a personal best time. If I take it slowly, that means I can easily get a personal best the next time too.


Once I start running, I’m a bit quick just to find some room to run. I feel okay, but I always do for the first mile when my blood is still full of sugar. With all the endurance running I’ve been doing, I know I have the legs but I don’t know if I have the lungs. I haven’t gone anaerobic in a long time (not counting just the lack of oxygen a mile high in New Mexico).

At the Mile 1 marker, I was running an 8:30 average pace, just trying to get away from the people who couldn’t run in a straight line. At Mile 2 that had dropped to 8:05 average pace. I gave up on laps a long time ago. I was feeling fine and I was halfway done. All those long runs and marathons means that two miles are virtually nothing.

Mile 2 is just after the turn onto the 102nd St. transverse, which is downhill to the west side of the park. I normally don’t run hard downhill since I like to save my quads, but I decided at that point that I wanted a sub-8 average time. I haven’t run this fast in an event for a long time because I’ve been focusing on marathons. Looking back at my records, the last time I’ve run something shorter was almost a year ago, the 2013 Race to Wrigley 5k or the 2013 Indy Mini Marathon, both of which were right after Boston and had even crazier security. That Indianapolis run had SWAT and working dogs walking the course.


After the transverse, there’s a short uphill, but for the most it’s downhill. I maintained my pace on the uphills and sped it up on the downhills. By the time I was at Mile 3, after a lot of downhill, I was below an 8 minute average and still feeling really good. I wasn’t putting myself in the red yet, but I had been thinking that I had to run to the bottom of the Park and back up the other side. I was saving a little for that but I was running out of distance for that.

At Daniel Webster the course took a left turn and that was the finish, where I still felt really good and think I could have gone harder. That’s easy to say at the end, though!


I’m registered for more of these NYRR runs. I’ll have a chance to do better next time—even if I didn’t leave much room for improvement.

Dust Bowl retrospective

I completed the Dust Bowl Series, my second five-in-a-week series. In the individual stories I write about what I was thinking that day, but there is plenty that cover the entire event.

Multi-marathons are popular

Before I started running, I knew two people who had run marathons. And they’d just done it. Now everyone seems to be getting in on the game. Discounting the people I know from the running circuit, there’s a marathon craze going on. The 50 Staters from back in the day tell me some states had no marathons, or one a year. That was when it was tough to get around the entire nation.

A couple of years ago I got my Maniacs membership somewhere in the high 3,000s (I still can’t remember the number) in the summer of 2011.
Since then, the number of maniacs has tripled in just three years. The first quarter is already on track to beat last year.

Number of maniacs, by year

To be a Maniac, though, you have to do more than run a single marathon. To be the lowest level, the one star Bronze level, you have to run two marathons in 16 days or three in 90 days. That those numbers are exploding are a second level of the marathon explosion. It’s not enough to one because everyone is doing that. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing these things. I want to do the next harder thing.

A series like the Dust Bowl might be the least expensive way to do this. It’s likely there is one marathon near you, but not two in 16 days or three in 90. You can get a local one and travel to one, but that only gets you to the highest level. Stuff gets serious when you get a “Quadzilla”, which is the six star Osmium level for four marathons in four days.

Distribution of maniacs by level

Notice the bump at Level 4, “Iridium”. That’s for a double: two marathons in two days. Also notice that no one has Level 9. There is no Level 9. It comes right from 8 and 10.

The number of first time 50 States Club finishers show a similar trend. People are hot to get that certificate.

Number of first time finshers, by year

I didn’t notice this, but the Dust Bowl series sent me up to Level 7, “Palladium”. I should hit Level 8 during the New England Challenge in May.

Save money

There’s a joke that this has the unofficial name of the 50 States Club is the $50,000 Club. A plane trip, hotel, and race entry fee quickly add up because you are paying for everything each time. With multiple races, you amortize the expenses over more races making everything cheaper.

If you are a Maniac (or any club that advertises the series), you get a discount. If you bring a volunteer, you get a discount. You can find other runners doing the series and share rooms and rides, to save more.

With the food at the refreshment table, you can get much of the calories that you need for the day. When you drive to the next town, there’s likely some sort of reception where you might get more cheap (or free) eats and get a chance to see the runners out of their sweaty running kit.

While I traveled, I looked for the cheapest hotels. It’s almost a challenge to me to find the seediest place now. I went for some places that looked pretty sketchy, but they were all decent and they all had wifi. I only need a bed, the History Channel, and some connectivity. Since I’m going to take a quick shower, lay awake in bed for a couple hours, sleep, then leave, my needs are minimal. Since these runs tend to be in the rural areas, the prices are already low, so the low end is really low. There are special rates for the marathoners if you book directly by phone, but I was often able to beat that price on Booking.com.

Here’s where I stayed:

Real food

At the Center of the Nation series, I had some trouble with nutrition. You can get away with quite a bit for a single marathon, and maybe even a double, but a week of running makes you pay a bit more attention.

Part of my problem was that I didn’t know how awesome Mainly Marathons is. I hadn’t run one of their series, I didn’t know what to expect. I brought a lot of my own food, mostly crap I could store in my car without it spoiling. I didn’t eat much of their refreshments until the end of the series.

The advice I’ve received from many many long distance runners—the sort that use marathons for training—that solid, real food is the key. That’s what they serve, too. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are my favorite for a quick burst of jelly sugar and a slower releasing energy in the peanut butter. Ham, cheese, and mustard sandwiches toward the end of the race balances the sweet foods with its savory goodness. Pretzels and Fritos and other salty things help with hydration.

I gave up on gels completely last year and I’ve felt so much better for it. I don’t think they replace enough electrolytes, give enough energy, or do my stomach any good. After six of them, I just feel sick and unmotivated at the end of a race. Since I’ve stopped using them, I feel so much better. I experimented with Clif Bloks, which are easy to carry, but I’m also packing real food too.

Ignore first ten miles

The trick to multi-day races is getting past the start. Once you get moving, just ignore what your body is telling you for several miles. All that nastiness and tightness will work itself out eventually. Even though it’s mentally excruciating to keep running for ten miles feeling awful, it does get better. Just keep moving.

If you can run a double, you can probably run five in a row. You’ll know what sort of suffering to expect from that second day. It’s just a little harder on the subsequent days. Once you finish all five, you’ll feel like you did something but also realize that yes, you just did that. It’s possible. You suffered, but you got to the end.

The loops

Since all of these events are either loops or out-and-backs, you are never really alone. Other runners are constantly around you and passing you in either direction. Even in the loops, many runners switch directions. It’s so much easier to run when you have human contact over those marathons where you fall into these odd deserts of loneliness you find when the half marathons branch off from your marathon course and the spectators disappear.

Since you pass the same place several times during the race, you can drop a bag there with everything you need. You don’t need to carry car keys, extra gels, or anything else. It’s almost always less than two miles away from you. That’s a short distance considering that you’re running 131 miles in a week.

I’ve run ten events with Mainly Marathons and almost everyone has been incredibly friendly, no matter what their level. The people running three hour marathons all week are as encouraging as the walkers. It’s a small crowd, and when you see them all week you get to know people. It makes everything more bearable.


There’s much more

You’ll have to try some yourself to learn the rest. If you can run one marathon, you can do a double. If you can do a double, you can do five in a week. It’s all mental. You already have the legs.

First quarter running goals review

It’s been an intense first quarter of the year, and a good time to reflect on 2014 running goals.

First, I set out to make Titanium for Marathon Maniacs by running 30 marathons in separate states, provinces, or countries. I made that goal thinking that I had to do it in a calendar year, but reading the rules (for the first time), I discovered it’s 365 consecutive days. If I do that, I’m at marathon 21 for the floating window. That’s going to drop by two after April as the 2013 Paris Marathon and the 2013 Flying Pig Marathon drop off, but that’s it through August. I had a big break in running last summer. If I start with the Center of the Nation series, I have 19 marathons. I have one planned for April, and then the New England Challenge for May and the Heartland Series for June. I’ll reach Titanium during the Heartland Series if nothing goes seriously wrong.

Second, I want to finish most of the remaining 50 States this year. I’m at State 28, eight of which I’ve run this calendar year. I have 22 states to go, and I have 15 of them scheduled in three separate five-a-week. Now I’m thinking about which state I want to be last; I think it will be either Hawaii or Alaska. I’m leaning toward Hawaii since that seems like a good place to be lazy after I’m done.

Third, I’m working on the NYRR 9+1 program to get a guaranteed entry to the 2015 New York Marathon. I have to run nine races and volunteer for one. I volunteered at the NYC Half, so I have the +1 done. I’m signed up for five races through June, so I’m waiting for those to come around. I should have signed up them earlier since they tend to sell out.

Fourth, I want to run over all the Manhattan bridges. Now that it’s not winter, I need to get on that. Some of the pedestrian paths were closed for the snow. I should start my research on these. I’m not even sure that a pedestrian can cross all the bridges.

Lastly, and most onerously, I’m still running at least a mile a day. That’s a proper run, even after running five days of marathons. Out of all the things I’m doing, this one is the hardest. Every day I have to get out there, which is the hardest part of this hardest goal. However, now that it’s spring, it’s getting a bit easier. I don’t have to put on so much stuff to protect me from the elements. For the last two days I’ve defiantly gone out in shorts and a long sleeve shirt even though that’s just barely tolerable. But, I don’t need to tights, jacket, fuzzy cap, and gloves. So, my streak is 90 days. I have 275 to go. I think this is the goal I’m most likely to fail, and one day I thought I had since I thought I had missed a run on the day before. But, I hadn’t. I’d just run first thing in the morning, like I should every day.

Every is as it should be, but it’s a full schedule that I won’t want to repeat next year. I’m not even sure I want to repeat it next quarter, which will be even busier.

Medals for Mettle

The organizers of the George Washington’s Birthday marathon, the Maryland marathon which was cancelled, sent out refunds. I got a short letter and a $20 bill.

I also got the t-shirt and bib I would have received at packet pickup and the medal I would have received at the finish line.

It much more work than I think was merited by the situation and I’d rather have more money instead of part of my entry fee being used for postage. I have already not run the marathon, so I don’t need and don’t want the medal or the t-shirt.

The organizers had this big pile of t-shirts and medals, though, and had to do something with them. I think I would have scrapped them since it’s a sunk cost. No matter what they do they’ve already paid for the medals, so spending even more to hand them out is just more money and time and effort wasted with no savings. It’s like throwing good money after bad. That’s my particular view since I think that if I don’t cross the finish line I don’t deserve either the t-shirt or the medal. I’m that superstitious sort that doesn’t wear the race shirt before the finish line.

I was talking to some fellow Dust Bowlers about culling my heavier and heavier box of finisher’s medals and found out about Medals for Mettle, a charity that takes medal donations and uses them as awards for “those who are battling serious and debilitating illnesses and who have demonstrated similar courage and mettle in fighting those illnesses.”

For several years I’ve been looking for a similar charity for my race shirts. I wear very few of them and they pile up quickly. It’s gotten so bad that sometimes the shirts don’t even leave the expo with me. I’d love to pass those on to a running charity instead of Back on My Feet, but they don’t want the shirts.

I’m off to mail my medal!

Dust Bowl Series: New Mexico

March 26, 2013
Clayton, NM
Event website

[Read the other entries from the Dust Bowl Series]


Day 5! It’s the last day and I’ve survived the Dust Bowl Series so far. I feel okay, I got a decent night’s sleep, and I’m ready to finish this up and call it a week. I was feeling good at the end of yesterday, so today might be a nice day too. It’s also going to be much warmer today. And, I will color in the last southwestern state in my 50 States goal. It’s a bit more satisfying to fill in a hole on the map.

This start was the first that was more than five minutes to get to. It was a 20 minute drive from town. I got up early to make the drive figuring I might get lost. If I got there early, I’d take a short nap in the car. Today and yesterday’s start were 6:30 am while the first three races were 7:30am. That sounds like we are starting an hour earlier, but we’re just across the date line into Mountain Time. We were still starting at dawn, when the light is enough to make out distinct objects.


This course is a double out-and-back at Clayton Lake State Park, know for ancient exposed mud-beds with dinosaurs track in them. From the start line at the developed campgrounds, we’ll go out to the dinosaurs tracks via a trail and a dam, then come back, cross the start area to go out the other side.


The day started as all of the others had, but with a bit more excitement. It was the last day of school and people were excited to be hours away from finishing five consecutive days of marathons. Clint gave some final instructions, awarded the caboose to yesterday’s last place finisher, and sent us off to the east as we followed him on the bike he used to lead us through the courses for the first time.


The sunrise made it look like it was going to be a good day, although the clouds would quickly move in to keep the sun off us. I like that for running. The sun would come out later for the last couple of hours, but by then we’d almost be done.


Once past a bumpy trail, we were at the dam. Across the dam was the first turnaround, and the dinosaur tracks. I’d take a break in the middle of the run to see those.


As with the previous days, I wasn’t worried about how I felt at the beginning of the run. I knew I was tired and my legs knew I was tired. If I could get through ten miles, I’d be okay for the rest.

It didn’t work out that way though. I had trouble getting through the first three. There were some medium hills involved but they were short. I should have been properly fueled since I ate early today, unlike yesterday when I waited to close to the start to have my peanut butter sandwich.

I kept having trouble past the first lap, so I took a short walk to regroup. I didn’t know why I was having so much trouble, but I was in trouble in a different sort of way. I’ve had bad days before, and I was specifically thinking about my 2012 Portland Half Marathon, where I felt so bad that I almost gave up at Mile 3. I kept going during that race, and I’d keep going in this race. Clint had said that he was in no ruch because his crew was camping here for the night (they are based in New Mexico).

I tried to get into a run walk. I thought I could do half miles with a short walk break, but even that was a bit much. I was walking the miles regardless and then dragging my body around the downhills and flats.

I don’t know how far I got before I decided to check the elevation. I know I had made a note of it on my plan for the week (see the graphic in my Texas report), but I hadn’t looked at it this morning. As I recalled, all the elevations were below 4,000 feet. Today was New Mexico, so can’t be higher than yesterday. Right?

Wrong. I got my Garmin to display the elevation. I was running at over a mile high. From the start of my 50 States goal, I was worried about Colorado because I figured that entire state was so high. I had even considered living in Colorado for a month prior to a marathon to get acclimated. Yesterday, in Lamar, we were only around 3,500 feet and it wasn’t a problem. Today, problem.

When the Garmin figured out the elevation, I figured it must be wrong, so I started asking around. It wasn’t. Somehow I knew it would be this high, but I forgot about it. Then the lack of oxygen made it even worse.


I’ve run at this altitude once before, on a trip to Boulder. I got to two miles, out of the six that I planned, and wanted desperately to take a nap. I think I gave up at three that night.

But this is New Mexico! No matter that I know that northern Arizona and New Mexico are up in the mountains, I still think of them as flat states at sea level. It’s just something I’ve thought since I was a kid and no amount of learning is going to change that. Even though I’m now running a marathon over a mile high, I’ll still think this state is sea level for the rest of my I bet, and people will have to remind me that I’m wrong.


The profile looks scary too. Those are a lot of 5s on the Y-axis there.


Once I knew why I was having problems, I felt a little better. I noticed that many other people were struggling, which also made me feel better. That’s a horrible thing to say, that I felt better that other people were suffering, but it meant that it wasn’t just me.

After that I knew I was going to have a slow day. I was also lingering on my bathroom breaks trying to figure out what was going on, but I figured I needed to find a group of people to run with because I was going to suffer too much on my own here.

Clyde, whom I first met at the 2009 Dublin Marathon and who first told me that there was this thing called the 50 States club, was the engine pulling a small group along the race. It might have helped that he was rewarding his little band with Pocket Shots, which look like gels but are filled with booze. They were going slower than I wanted to go, but a little faster than I was going on my own.

I ran with that group for a little, then took a break at the dam turn-around to walk down a flight of steps to see the dinosaur tracks. I don’t think I’d notice anything special about them if someone hadn’t told me they came from ancient lizards.


Once I gave up and settled in a steady, even if slow, pace with the group. I felt much better. The sun even came out. I was really in no rush, I figured, since there was no race tomorrow. After I finished this run, I didn’t have to get anywhere quickly so I could have dinner and go to sleep. This was just survival running.


I did start to feel better and I could run at my normal pace, but I’d get winded much quicker. My muscles were fine; my lungs weren’t keeping up. There’s nothing I could do about that, unless I worked up some sort of supplemental oxygen system. The weight of the tank would probably literally outweigh the benefit of the aerobic boost.


Later in the day it was sunny and warm, but it didn’t matter because my effort level could handle it. It was a nice day for a hike. But this hike had medals.


Our group crossed the finish line, an uphill finish, walking but happy. I’d just down another series of five marathons. I’ve now done 28 of the states, with nothing scheduled for three weeks.

On the drive back up to Colorado to the airport, I stopped at some tiny town for some water. The gas station had a meager selection of food, but they had the Salted Nut Roll, which I think I last saw in the goody bag for the 2011 Minneapolis Marathon. I love these things. That’s


Dust Bowl Series: Colorado

March 25, 2013
Lamar, Colorado
Event website

[Read the other entries from the Dust Bowl Series]


Yesterday’s marathon in Kansas was miserable and tough, but that was yesterday. After I warmed up enough to get out of town, I drove to Lamar, Colorado. This has been the state I’ve been most concerned about in my 50 states quest because I figured everything was at least a mile high. I didn’t know how that altitude would affect my running.


I had missed using my Body Glide a couple of times, even though I had it. I normally lay out everything on the hotel floor, but with these events I’ve been wiped out from the lack of sleep compounding over the days (and not helping that I got none the first night), running a marathon everyday, and then driving a couple of hours afterwards.

In most marathons, I run for a single after spending a night watching the History Channel, get up, get dressed, and walk from the hotel to the start line. I leave the hotel ready to run.

During the Dust Bowl, I have a car for the week and I leave most of my stuff in the car the entire week. I get done with a marathon and change my close. I leave my shoes in the passenger seat, along with most of my running kit. I’ll stumble into my hotel with just what I’d need for the night.

In the morning, I’d drive to the start and get ready there. I always wanted to get there ahead of time to ensure I find the start line. If I was ready to go, I’d just sit in the car with nothing to do. Instead, I show up half dressed and finish getting ready while I wait in the car.

Doing it that way throws me off my game, though, and I forget to use Body Glide. I’ve done a new thing, which I’ll think I’ll continue for all marathons—I’m putting the Body Glide in my shoe. I can’t forget it because I’ll have to bang my toes into it eventually. It should be an easy habit since my shoes travel like that in my carry-on (always carry the essentials in your carry on).


Today’s run is at Willow Creek Park with an out-and-back course that’s much kinder than Kansas. There’s hardly any wind, it’s a mix of packed dirt and asphalt, and it’s a bit warmer. The elevation is only 3,600 feet, so the elevation isn’t going to kill me. It’s going to be a good day.

This park was the first Civil Works Administration project in Colorado. How do I know that? Stopping to read the interpretative signs is a great excuse for a small break.


I take it easy for the first couple of laps. It is Day 4 and I’m feeling it, but I also know that I shouldn’t judge my physical state for the first 10 miles. If I can get through those first 10, I’ll probably start feeling better. Even though I’ve done these consecutive races enough to know that how I feel in the beginning doesn’t mean anything for the end, I still worry about that.

In the middle of the course is Pike’s Tower, a Works Progress Administration project. In the middle of the race I took a break to climb the tower to take some pictures.


Although I felt sluggish for the beginning of the race, but I started to pick up the pace as the day got warmer. I might be cold-blooded, but I think eating off the refreshment table was loading my blood with sugar. Usually I’d get up two hours before a race to eat breakfast, but I was trying to get as much sleep as I could. I ate my peanut butter sandwich about a half hour before the start and would spend at least an hour just waking up. For most of the race I just zoned out. I didn’t chat much with people today; I put my head down and run.


Somewhere near Mile 15 I realized I was running negative splits. That’s a dangerous thing to think about that close to the middle because I could still blow up.

Each lap, I was taking six seconds off my average pace. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but that means I had to make up six seconds from the average for every mile I’d already run. At Mile 15, that means I’m running 90 seconds faster than my average pace.

That’s the sort of encourage I need to pick it up even more. If I run two more miles, to get the same decrease in the average pace I need to run 102 seconds faster than the average pace, but the pace is also lower because I’ve taken 12 seconds off it in the last two miles. I kept doing that all the way to the end, except for a porta-potty break which erased much of the gain.

At the beginning of the week, I had set the goal of a five hour average over the entire week. I had an awful day the first day, a really good day the next, and a worse day yesterday. Even if I could make up all the time today, tomorrow is supposed to be the hardest day.


At the end of the race, I asked the refreshments volunteers for a ham sandwich to order; they made it for me. What other marathon will do that for you? Since it was sunny and warm-ish, I sat in the park to have my savory sandwich and reflect on four marathons in four days and that I’ve ticked off another one of the 50 states. If I could survive one more day, I’d be done.


Driving out of Lamar to Clayton, I had the chance to be using hydrocarbons to make the car go while using a solar panel to charge my Garmin while driving past the wind farm at Twin Buttes. That Goal Zero Guide 10 panel works well in windshield. In about two hours my Garmin is completely charged. However, I learned a new error message from the watch that said it was too hot to continue charging. In the picture I had the watch on the dash too. After that message I left the watch in the console to keep it out of the sun and didn’t see that error again.

If I’m not worried about my watch, the panels work well to charge my phone too. I’ve probably drained that by taking so many pictures as well as forgetting to turn the camera off, although I don’t know why my “smart” phone can’t tell it’s in my pocket doing nothing.


The Colorado Welcome Center in Lamar has one of the turbine blades on display, but not because they make them there. GE had an extra and needed some place to put it.


Dust Bowl Series: Kansas

March 24, 2013
Ulysses, KS
Event website

[Read the other entries from the Dust Bowl Series]


Marathon Day 3 of the Dust Bowl Series starts on Night 2 with a reception dinner. Each night-before had some sort of reception, often put on by one of the local civic organizations. These small towns love that a bunch of crazy runners want to see their town. I missed the dinner in Dalhart because I was driving all night and then I slept through the one in Guymon (although I heard it was fantastic).

Ulysses, Kansas is a small town on the way to somewhere else, but it’s full of nice people and it’s home to the Grant County Museum, which put on the pasta feed and let us walk around their exhibits of local history.


The previous night I had watched Pawn Stars where a guy tried to, and did, sell a collection of barbed wire (“The Offer”, Season 6, Episode 10). Of all the odd things I’ve seen them buy, ten strands of different sorts of labelled barbed wire is among the most niche interests.

It’s not that odd, not out here. Barbed wire is the thing that allowed the ranchers in the West to control the range wars and over-grazing. I knew there were a couple of varieties, but I didn’t think there were hundreds. Some of them are on display in the museum.


Today’s marathon was a loop around a lake through a golf course, with yesterday’s concrete replaced with an gravel path. The docent at the museum told me that this lake is the only surface water around, and we’d get to run around it. A lot.

I showed up before sunrise and sat in my car to keep warm. It was another -4 C day. As it got light, I noticed the flags around the golf course were flapping hard. It wasn’t even light yet and we had strong winds. I knew today wasn’t going to be fun.

The cool temperatures and strong winds made it miserable. Most people bundled up, put their heads down, and just ran. It’s hump day and people are starting to feel the pain. Many people have done a double before and were doing their first triple. The end of the series doesn’t seem that much closer.

I felt worse for the excellent and hard-working volunteers. At least the runners were keeping warm through exertion. They had to stand in the cold. The official time keeper sat in a car along the course, the the lap counters took turns standing outside.


The food and drinks table volunteers had to deal with the wind trying to blow things away. They did a great job. To perserve cups, each day most runners wrote their name and bib number on a styrofoam cup. We could ask for whatever we’d like to drink when they would refill it. I stuck with Gatorade until the last couple of laps when I’d have some Coke. Afterward, I could have chocolate milk.

I didn’t drink every lap though, so the wind and temperatures would freeze the surface of the drink. Not to get too sciency, but the air blowing over the surface of the liquid disrupts the boundary layer and allows it to cool quickly. I think about the stupidest things during a big run.

The run surface itself was quite nice, and on a nicer day I would have really liked it. But I was miserable and trying to deal with the day. There was either a cross wind, which made it hard to run straight, or a headwind, which made it hard to run forward, or a very short stretch of tailwind which made it painful to run as it made me go a bit faster than I wanted.


The day progressed slowly, but steadily. Even though the terrain was flat it felt like I was always going uphill. I started to think ahead. I could work hard against this wind and really kill myself, suffering tomorrow, or tactically retreat today and have a better day tomorrow. This is a 131 mile multi-day stage race, after all.

At one point I thought I might drop down to the half. I’ve already done the Eisenhower Marathon, so I’ve already run a Kansas marathon and don’t need this for my 50 States goal. It’s not going to color in a state on my map. I’m still at 25 States—half way—even though I have one more marathon in the books.


As I got closer to the half way point, the more I seriously considered turning this into a half marathon. I’m already thinking about next year’s goals. I think I want to do half marathons in the 50 states too. But, I also want to do the Sun level of the Half Fanatics just like I’m doing Titanium for the Marathon Maniacs this year. That’s next year though. I need to get through this year first.

For the last third of the race, I took it easy. Many other people did too, so I had company to keep me occupied. By Day 3 people know each other and are happy to talk. It’s the most amazing thing about these runs. In a single marathon people just disappear. In these week long things, you see the same people out there everyday, and you keep seeing them as they pass you in the loops or out-and-backs.


I made it through the run, pretty much destroying any hope of a five hour average over the week. I might be able to make up some time tomorrow in Colorado, but the last day in New Mexico was going to be the hardest day.

Google Maps (and let’s not eve talk about the barely usable Apple Maps) only returned one result for restaurants in this town. I went to that Subway yesterday for dinner and discovered it was a slow day for them, having sold only 54 sandwiches, 55 including mine, when they needed to sell 200 to break even.

But, driving out to the start in the dark I missed the turn off and discovered the Sonic on the other side of the highway—the side I shouldn’t have been on. If I hadn’t missed the turn I would have missed a good recovery meal. That’s what kept me going all day; I was going to get that chocolate malt.


That’s a big malt. I couldn’t finish it. I must be getting old.

Dust Bowl Series: Oklahoma

March 23, 2013
Guymon, OK
Event website

[Read the other entries from the Dust Bowl Series]


It’s the day after a horrible day yesterday, but I’ve had a night’s worth of sleep. That doesn’t quite make up for no sleep the two days prior, but I’m on the mend.


Day Two of the Dust Bowl Series is Oklahoma, a state I’m visiting for the first time. I’ve now visited 49 states, with only Idaho left. After today, I will have run marathons in 25 states—half way to my 50 States goal.

It’s going to be a tough day, but not as bad as yesterday. Today is only physically tough because the course is a mile loop around Sunset Lake in Guymon, and it’s all concrete. There are a couple of modest hills, but otherwise it’s easy peasy.

I take it slow at the start so I can ease into it. Even though I felt awful in my head yesterday, I’ve shown up this morning. I feel better and rested, so I’m going to give it a go.


It’s cold today, but that’s not a huge problem. I’m really chilly waiting for the start, but I can also wait in my car until the last moment.

There’s not much to say about this run other than I wanted to be finished so I could warm up in my car. The temperature was in that space where it’s a bit too warm to wear my gloves but also too cold to them off.


Since today’s loop was exactly one mile on the concrete path around the lake (was that intentional?), we have to run 26 laps with a little extra.

I take the first third at an easy pace. The hardest part of multiple marathons is the first 10 miles as the legs wake up, loosen, and the left over lactic acid works its way out of the muscles. I don’t even think about I how feel until I get to Mile 9. Or, I should say, I don’t judge how I feel until I get through the first third. The first six miles always suck and it’s only experience that lets me realize that my feeling at the beginning doesn’t mean much for my feeling at the end.


For the loops courses, the runners can go in either direction and most mix it up. Some run a couple in one direction then switch. This way they don’t favor one leg by constantly leaning to the left (or right). I decided to do my in thirds, which is typically how I think about marathons. There’s a warm up third, a maintenance third, and a survival third. I’ll get nine laps done then switch directions.

The first nine laps went quickly, in my mind. I was able to zone out and enjoy the run. In the middle third, when I was running the other direction, I was actually feeling good. Yesterday I felt like a running fraud, but today I felt like I belonged here. I was getting stronger with each lap. I was hurting as I should, with quads burning and feet hurting, but it wasn’t overwhelming me.


I was talking planned one minute walk breaks every six miles whether I think I needed it or not. Up to now, I’ve usually taken walking breaks reluctantly, or as a reward. I would keep pushing them farther out, but I now realize that’s counterproductive. I’m tearing myself down more when a little bit of recovery and save me some time later. Instead of waiting until my legs or lungs are really tired, I can let the metabolism catch up before it has a problem. In these series I have to start acting smarter instead of tougher.

There were crested ducks in this lake. They looked like normal white or mallard ducks but had an extra pompadour of feathers on their head. I wasn’t carrying my phone so I didn’t get pictures of them in the middle of the race. I planned on having a “picture lap” later when I figured I would probably run out of steam and move to a run-walk.

In the last third, I started to realize I was on a good day, and not just a day better than yesterday. I was feeling really good. Doing some simple math, I thought I could make up the time I lost yesterday. I had the secondary goal of a five hour average over the week. I thought I’d blown that on the first day since I knew it was only going to get tougher.

Before I started the final third, I did the little bit extra first. Since a marathon is 26.2 miles and the loop was exactly one mile, there was a little out and back. Instead of coming up to the timing table for the last lap and doing the extra, I did the out and back then started my last eight laps. It’s a small mental trick, but it made me feel ahead of the game.

I was putting in negative splits, and getting a little faster each lap, even though I knew I might be undermining my effort for the next day. But, tomorrow is a day away and this is now. I can’t run thinking about tomorrow. I should just think about today. The series is 131 miles. I need to worry about one at a time.

By Mile 24 I knew I was going to make back my five hour average. It’s not unusual for me to run faster on the second day of a double, so this didn’t surprise me. Best of all, I felt like a runner and that I deserved to be here with everyone else, even though I know thinking the opposite the day before was unreasonable and stupid.

Along the path there was a narrow gauge railroad, but the train never came out. If it weren’t so cold, I could have used a ride. But, it must not be train season yet.


I was so cold once I stopped that I sat in my car to warm up. Once I stopped running I felt a bit sore, but realized that I hadn’t taken any pictures. I hobbled out to get a couple, but I wasn’t motivated to walk to the ducks.

I didn’t realize this until later, but I had just finished my 25th state, and completed the line of states from North Dakota to Texas. Things were looking up for Kansas tomorrow.


Dust Bowl Series: Texas

March 22, 2013
Dalhart, TX
Event website

[Read the other entries from the Dust Bowl Series]


When I signed up for the Dust Bowl Series marathons, I thought it would be a good idea to fly into Denver at night, drive 360 miles through the night to get to Dalhart, Texas just in time for the start of the first day, then run a marathon. After that, I’d have to drive another 70 miles to get to Guymon, Oklahoma to check into my hotel.

Looking back on it, I realize the hubris in that. Honestly, I forget what I was thinking. Part of that must have been, if I had to guess, that I don’t sleep well before a marathon anyway. Or, more precisely, I don’t sleep well the night before a marathon when I haven’t run a marathon the day before. If I’m not going to sleep, I might as well spend that time driving through the lonely highways of Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas.

Another part of that thinking might have been that the series ends in Clayton, New Mexico. Denver International isn’t that far away (Amarillo is closer) and I didn’t want to fly out the same day. After five days of running, I would relax in some nice hotel for the night.

That’s how I started this series of five marathons in five days, put on by the same people who organize the Center of the Nation series I ran last September. I had so much fun suffering that week that I wanted to do it again, and they put on a top-notch race with great support where the running matters more than charities, sponsors, or celebrities. These are marathons for people who like to run and aren’t content to do one hometown marathon a year. People think I’m crazy for trying for 30 marathons this year, but here that’s the norm. People do these series to merge into the fast track of the 50 States Club, and most everyone has several marathons under their belt and several more in mind.

I got a bit ambitious, or maybe too big for my running shorts, when I made this plan. I didn’t think about sitting upright in the slightly uncomfortable rental car seat, steering for six hours, or that the automatic transmission was giving one set of quads a workout. Driving overnight was going to be the hardest part of this; I thought I might doze off while driving and end up and the bottom of some Rocky Mountain valley with no cell service, only to be found by some yuppie hikers five years later. The day, then, was more about the drive than the run.

If I could get to Dalhart, the hard stuff would be over. And get there I would. There’s not much in the way between Denver and Texas. Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Raton, and Clayton punctuate the lightly used and mostly straight highway that doesn’t even have the trucking traffic. I’d have to slow down from 90 miles and hour a couple of times, but otherwise I was really hauling the mail as I had the road to myself. If I could avoid the police, the other risk would come from some animal; signs warned about moose and bear crossings, the latter showing up above 7,000 feet.

Maybe it was the Mountain Dew and (candy) orange slices that kept me awake, but I never had an inattentive moment. That toxic cocktail of sugar and caffeine would get me later though. I knew these things can’t be good for me, but it’s not an overnight road trip without them, and it’s what I could get in Pueblo, where I found both cops hanging at the the mini mart. I resisted the Slim Jims, another road staple. I knew I was doing enough damage already.

Colorado is a beautiful state, and so is New Mexico, but I wouldn’t know it from this drive. There were no lights other than a gibbous half moon and my high beams, both of which were swallowed by the dark. Even my GPS screen gave up on direction since the next turn was in 230 miles. It merely showed a relief map of the entire state with a thick purple line going south and slightly east.

I made good time, and thought if I could make even better time, a nap before the run might be possible. With not much else to do, I watched the estimated arrival time tick down, much like I would with the Garmin I wear during the runs (although it’s more likely to tick up).

The start was at 7:30 AM, just before sunrise, and I could pick up my bib starting at 6:30. It was around 4:30 with maybe 50 miles to go that I thought I was doing pretty well, although I didn’t understand why my arrival time was still almost two hours away. Right after I cut the corner of New Mexico to make it into Texas, I lost an hour to the time zone change. The clock on the Sirius radio updated, as did my cell phone. I wasn’t making that much time after all. I must have done the computations when I first made this plan and I was trusting that I had done that correctly. I don’t know why I should trust the person who came up with this crazy idea. At least he provide a one page summary of the week’s craziness.


These events are usually off the grid, so they provide geo-coordinates for the start. I just make it to the general area and look for the marathon sign. It looks easy enough, but you have to imagine it in the dark. I usually see it right before it’s too late to make the turn. Another strategy, depending on when you want to arrive, it just to follow any cars you see. Who else is awake and in that part of the world other than the people about to run the race?


Day One was an out and back loop at Lake Rita Blanca. There is a small lake there, but we’d mostly run in the opposite direction along a path that would normally be right next to the lake. These aren’t normal times in the Dust Bowl, though, and these states are experiencing a severe drought.


From the satellite image you can see how dry it is. We should have most been near water, but almost all of that has receded.


Now that I’ve been running marathons for several years (has it really been that long since my first in Salt Lake City?), I usually see people I’ve run with before. This morning that was a bit tough since everyone was bundled up for the sub-freezing temperatures, but I spotted a Marathon Adventures White Continent jacket. That must be someone I know, and it was Kermit, whom I’ve run with twice in both Antarctica and Punta Arenas. There were also several people from the Center of the Nation series, but I’d only really seen them during those runs since I spent most of my time passed out in my hotel that week. Everyone’s bib has their name on it though, so it’s easy to say “Good going Sue!” or “Looking good Henry!”, only later figuring out our overlap.


The Mainly Marathons are usually short loops or out-and-backs. Every two or three miles you’ll pass their support trailer. A point-to-point run would not only require much more support, but would be really lonely. The sort of people that come out to these things are enthusiastic, friendly, and supportive no matter their running ability. Even the 3:15 runners are telling the 8:00 walkers that they are looking good and doing well.


There are no mile markers for these races. Each time you pass the time keepers, you get a rubber band to help you count the your laps. They try to make the course work out to something even, like 12 laps, but sometimes the terrain makes it something like 23 laps. Toward the end of the run it’s sometimes a struggle to count and you spend time fiddling with rubber bands to see where you are. If it’s an out-and-back, there’s a cone to mark the turnaround.

I’ve found this setup mentally easier than the conventional, big marathon mile marker events. I think in terms of laps instead of miles, and since the laps tend to be longer than a mile, the run goes by faster.


I’ve been worried about my Texas marathon since I set my 50 States goal. I don’t know much about the state other than most of it catches on fire every year. I had run the Dallas Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon and had given up around Mile 9 because I couldn’t take the heat. That was in March too. Today’s temperatures looked okay. They’d start out below freezing and maybe get into the 40s F. That’s perfect. But, it was also a clear day and I don’t like direct sunlight that much. If I could get the bulk of it done before it got warm, I’d mostly be set.


Kermit and I ran together, mostly, for the first half and put in a decent time. We’re about the same pace and have plenty to talk about. However, my stomach and intestines weren’t so happy about that Mountain Dew and those candy orange slices. My pre-race peanut butter sandwich was pushing the toxins farther into my GI tract, so I visited the porta-potties on each lap. I could never quite get my body to cooperate with that.


Sometime in the middle I took another porta-potty break and made the mistake of putting my head back against the wall. I think I was asleep for only a couple of minutes, but the lack of sleep was wearing on me. I remember reading Dean Karanzes saying something about sleep deprivation being the biggest demon in his run, and it was certainly haunting me today.


As I slogged toward the finish, my mind turned against me. I wondered why I was here; I felt like I didn’t belong. I was a marathon fraud and should just give up—not only today, but the whole thing. I knew that confluence of several factors conspired against my positive mental state, but the intellectual knowledge of that doesn’t mitigate its effects. I know this is the “spotlight effect”, a social anxiety where you think everyone noticesOutside of all reason, I was embarrassed to be here with everyone who I thought was doing much better than me even if I’d finish before them. I’ve had bad runs before, and I’ve often had very short periods of self doubt during most races, but never to this extent.


The last third of the race I was dragging myself around the course and walking much more than running. I hadn’t had a long run since the Aspire 6-50 at the beginning of the month, so I was getting my legs back into it, I hadn’t slept for a day, and that drive was getting its revenge. I stumbled across the line with a disappointing time, humbled. There’s no big diamond-framed S under my running shirt today. Still, Day One was in the books, I’ve done another state (and one I worried about), and I wasn’t dead in the bottom of a valley. I’m counting that as a win. It could have turned out much worse.


After I finished, I cleared out the back seat of my car and slept for two hours. I was on my chinstraps and in no shape to drive the 70 miles to Guymon right away. I was thinking too clearly, so I hadn’t cracked the windows. I don’t know why I was working so hard to kill myself today, but I brushed it off and drove to Guymon where a bed was waiting for me. I got to the hotel and passed out for the night, missing the evening group dinner.

And, I would be back at it again tomorrow at 7:30 AM.

Volunteering at the 2014 NYC Half

I thought race start times are too early, but today I was volunteering. There’s no showing up at the last minute, or even late, to jump into a corral just before the gun goes off. There’s quite a bit to do before all that happens.

I volunteered for the NYC Half as part of the NY Road Runners 9+1 program for a guaranteed entry to the 2015 New York Marathon. Run nine qualifying races and volunteer for one event and you get in. Local runners who show up throughout the year get to run in the big race without going through the lottery. I think it’s brilliant. Races need volunteers and volunteers want to get into the big event.


Even without my 9+1 motivation, I try to volunteer for a couple of events each year. I know that I benefit from the work that volunteers do in the races I run. If you haven’t tried it yet, you should. Being on the other side of the fences gives you an idea why things happen the way they do in a big event. And, as a person who has done many events, I understand what the runners are thinking as they are trying to find where they should be, what’s going to happen next (like, you’re going to stand here for 20 minutes before your wave starts moving).

I chose to be a Start Corral Marshal. I’ve done other jobs in other races, but I’ve discovered that this one is the plum assignment. Once the runners are off, you’re done. While you’re working you mostly stand in one place and you can talk to the runners. You do start earlier, but your captain often releases you earlier. If you’re on trash patrols, for instance, there’s always more work to do, almost all of which happens after everyone is gone.

New York had a warm spell earlier in the week, but the Arctic Vortex returned. In my run two days ago, which I thought was a balmy 6 C, a guy waiting at the same street corner said I was crazy to be out running in “this weather”, which as merely cold with clear skies. Since I thought it was warm and had been running for a bit, I wasn’t wearing gloves and had taken off my hat. I, and probably most people reading this, have run in much worse. Besides, there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.


I knew, from experience, that standing around in below-freezing weather is much harder than it sounds. You have to dress much warmer than you normally would since you don’t have the body heat from running or walking. Not only that, you don’t wait to get warm because it’s hard to get it back. Even though you have gloves, put your gloved hands in your pockets, too.


If I wanted to get some cool running gear, I could sort through the cast-offs from the runners as I collected sweatshirts, jackets, hats, and many other things from the corral. Some people threw away some natty gear. I’ve often thought that my travel companions should walk backward from the marathon finish to collect the fancy race belts and other things people jettison at the end to gain a few extra seconds.


The NYC Half start is curious because it’s so large now. There were over 20,000 runners who finished the race. I was a marshal for Wave 2, which stretched frem the circle above Rumsey Playfield toward the west side of the park, while Waves 1 and 3 stretched away from the same circle along East Side Drive. After Wave 2 cleared out, about 45 minutes after the gun, I walked over to see Wave 3 go past under the watchful eye of the Seventh Regiment Memorial soldier. (You can find out more about Central Park by calling 646-862-0997 to hear special messages from celebrities).


After Wave 3 cleared out, I walked back to the west side of the park. The race had gone north up the east side, gone all the way around, including up Harlem Hill. Although I’d taken my time to get over there, the people from my corral, the 18,000s, still weren’t showing up in the field. The length of the field surprised me the first time I volunteered as a 10k course marshal. It took almost two hours for that moderately-sized field to pass. By the time the last of my corral had crossed the start line, Mo Farrah was collapsing at the finish line.


By 10am I was back home with my +1 complete. Now I have to run nine events to get into the NYC marathon.