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.


Seven Continents Ultra Tracker

I never thought I’d try the Seven Continents for ultras, but I happened to run a bunch of them in 2014. Getting a chance to do one in Antarctica was a key motivator.

I don’t know the etiquette on list making, but some of these also appear on my Seven Continents Marathon lists.

Continent First go
North America 2014 Caumsett 50k
South America 2014 Punta Arenas 50k
Africa 2011 Two Oceans 56k
Asia 2014 Aspire 6-50k
Antarctica 2014 White Continent 50k

Running the Doha Corniche

My mile-a-day streak continues, even after last night’s ultra-marathon and tonight’s flight back to New York. It’s not that hard to put on the shoes when I only have an hour to check out the corniche in Doha. Running a city is a great way to learn it, but I’d only get one run in on this trip.

It was still warm during the day, which was my excuse for a nap even though last night’s run should have been good enough. After a recovery dinner of lamb chops, I went for an easy run to the Museum of Islamic Art to check out the scenery. I’d been to the museum earlier in the day, but the views were even better at night.


Recovery protein


My route

I was staying near the Souq Waqif, on the other side of the bay from the lovely West Bay skyline and on the same side as the ziggurat-like Qatar Islamic Cultural Centre. I stayed near there and that’s where I started my run.

Doha skyline by night

I ran down to the main road straight to the bay, where the museum sits next to the water.

Qatar at night

The bay has some dhows (for the tourists, I guess) and the corniche has a wide path that’s okay for running. The surface is good but it’s also full of all sorts of other people doing other things. Doha is a much more vibrant city than I imagined, but it’s also my kind of city if everyone starts coming out after 9 PM.

Running on the corniche was okay, but off that, running was a bit of a gamble. If you’re anybody in Doha, you’re driving, and apparently talking on a cellphone.


The museum lit at night makes it look even better.


My favorite thing in the museum

I’m still streaking, I’ve visited another country, and I’ve run an ultra on another continent. I wish I could stay longer but it’s time to go home.

There’s a curious thing about this trip, though, which I also experienced when I went to Oman. I flew from Amsterdam on KLM. They fly to Muscat with a stop in Doha, and when they stop in Doha they exchange some passengers but everyone going on to Muscat have to stay on the plane. That wasn’t a problem for me last time since I went all the way to Muscat and then started in Muscat with an empty plane.

Although Doha is building a new airport, I still used the old one. The departure terminals is separate from the arrivals terminals. To board my flight, I went to the gate and boarded a bus that took about 20 minutes to drive across the airport to the plane waiting for its additional passengers. I wondered last time why were waited so long in Doha. We wouldn’t have a way to get back to the plane if we got off it.

This time a bus load of passengers boarded the already mostly full flight, so most the passengers were settled in. Once I sat down, I fell asleep. The next thing I knew I was in Amsterdam.

2014 Aspire 6-50k

March 6, 2014
Doha, Qatar
Event website

After I finished the Two Oceans ultramarathon, I said I would never again run an ultra-marathon. That race just about killed me and I almost didn’t finish. Since last November, I’ve now run five. How did that happen?

Last year I had this goal to run all the way around Manhattan. In a couple of training runs I got most of the way there, but when I was researching routes, I found out about the Madhattan. That was an unofficial unsupported event, but it was still about 52k.

The problem started when I went to Antarctica this year. Marathon Adventures offered a 50k White Continent event, but I never thought I’d be fast enough to beat a time cut-off for that. I’m already not that fast on that course. Once I got there, I found out that we’d arrive earlier and leave later. I told the race director that I wanted to go for the ultra if I had enough time. I want to do the hard one, whatever that is. I managed to finish, and with a time not much longer than my first Antarctica Marathon time.

It didn’t help that Ziyad Rahim was there again, and he’s setting a new world record which includes that ultra-marathon. He said I should do the ultra, so I did. The same week I did the Punta Arenas ultra-marathon, which has no hard time limit. That really hurt, not only from the consecutive ultras, but the all-concrete course.

That week had turned out so well that all of the runners were stuck in Punta waiting for their flights home. Sitting around the breakfast table, we came up with all sorts of plans for future events. Ziyad and Maria were going to do the Caumsett 50k, so I decided to do it with them since it was close to home. But Ziyad told me about this race, the Aspire 6:50k, in Doha, where he lives. He invited me to come out to stay with him. With a place to stay and an amazingly cheap airline ticket I decided to go for it. I’d get to visit Qatar for the first time.

This race presents two problems. It’s the Middle East, so it’s going to be warm, and there’s a hard six hour time limit. That’s the time I’d take if I have a medium good day. I barely beat that in Punta, although I had run an ultra-marathon before. But I just ran a ultramarathon last Sunday, and this race is Thursday night—the start of the weekend.

But I’m moderately confident. I had a good run in Caumsett, coming in well below the six hour mark on a tougher course. During the week I felt really good, and I actually wanted to go for a big run the day after Caumsett. I don’t know if I could have done it, but I felt like I wanted to do it. That’s a good mental sign, and it’s mostly mental.

Aspire is a huge sporting complex in Doha, especially made for the 2006 Asian Games. It’s public and it’s impressive. It reminds me of the leftover Olympics venues in Beijing. Ziyad showed me around and introduced me to a few people even though he was leaving for South Africa a couple of hours after my start so he could complete his seven ultras on seven continents in seven weeks. Everyone seems to know him and assumed that he was running tonight too.


The indoor football pitch


The indoor running track


The outdoor football stadium


The mall, with plenty of junk food


There’s a Shake Shack in Doha

This is one of the best race organizations I’ve experienced, but I’m also finding that ultras are like they. They have more of a club feel since the event is much less popular. The full weight of Aspire is behind this so everything is quite nice, including the guy with the steady cam riding in the back of a golf cart.

The course was a 5k loop which I’d have to do ten times within six hours. That is, that’s the gold medal distance. I could run as much as I like, with at least 4 loops, to get a silver medal. I forget which distance merited the silver medal, but I know which one got the gold. To get the top award you had to do ten laps. There were also relay runners, so I don’t know how they handled that.


Just before the start


Was I the only Maniac?

Steve Farnham has a good GoPro video that shows the course from the runner’s perspective.


Most of the time you can see The Torch, the tower hotel at the center of the park. With a crescent mooning setting through the evening, it was a great, if modern, Middle East feel to it.


I ran the first four laps at a pace a bit faster than I wanted. Instead of tracking distance on my Garmin, I used the virtual pacer. I hadn’t done that before, and if it were a pacer he’d be pissed. Every lap I was gaining five minutes on him. I should give him a name, like “HAL-600″, and maybe teach it to say “Sorry Joseph, I can’t allow you to do that!” when I run too fast. But, I’d also set the pace to be that which would get me to the finish line at exactly six hours for ten laps; I didn’t really want to run that slow anyway.

At Lap 5 I realized I was running a bit warm, even though the evening was cooling and the sun was down. That’s the toughest problem for me. If I can’t manage the heat bad things can happen, so I’m sensitive to that. For the next couple of laps I took walk breaks at the beginning of the lap just to let me body radiate some heat. I told myself that I would take another break at the half way point, but I would run through those planned breaks, arriving at the end of the lap feeling too warm.

My goal for these laps has been to break it into unequal thirds, so I thought of this as three laps, four laps, and three laps. I got through the first three laps to find a moderate pace suitable for how I felt that night, and for the middle four I wanted to maintain that. The last three I just wanted to survive.

By Lap 8 I was feeling warm and I needed more walk breaks to keep my head clear. I was taking in lots of fluids and solid food from the support tables, but I was just too warm. I wasn’t that miserable since I didn’t have to deal with the sun, but I’ve been living in the Arctic Vortex for the winter and now I’m in an environment 25 C warmer.

I survived the last three laps, doling out my extra time to take longer walk breaks. I got to the marathon distance about 10 minutes later than last week, and I had earlier thought I might be able to beat last week’s marathon split time. Once I knew I wasn’t going to do that, I didn’t care about beating my 50k time either.

As long as I finished, my time didn’t mean that much to me. I walked more in the last lap and took time to take pictures, most of which turned out horribly due to all the bright lights that the iPhone camera can’t handle.


I crossed the line with nine minutes to spare, not feeling that much worse than I do after a marathon. I’ve adjusted my mental calibration for suffering.

So there it is. I’ve run ultra-marathons on five continents—four of them coming this year. I have two more continents—Europe and Australia—to complete the seven. I haven’t thought about what those events might be; I have enough on my schedule right now, but the last half of the year is looking light.

This little piggy had none

Some of my toes can’t catch a break. Ever since my first marathon—where I lost both the big toenails—there’s been problems. Most of the problem is me; I keep on running. A couple of marathons in a row take something that might heal and turns it into a problem.

If you don’t like medical dramas, vivid anatomy, or gross things, you might want to move on. If you’re reading this during your lunch break, you might want to move on. If you’re insatiably curious about toes, you might want to speak to a psychologist. If you’re a runner looking for a little support after you’ve lost your first toe nail, read on.

I had a little trouble with my next to little toe—the little iggy who had none. Or, in my case, the little piggy that had but now has none. Last week’s marathon in Central Park bothered that toe a little, but it was fine—nothing a couple weeks of rest would fix. I knew I would eventually lose that nail, but I didn’t take care of it properly. Sometimes, if I ignore problems, they go away on there own. That’s my new healthcare plan.

Then I ran the Caumsett 50k the next week (yesterday), and that neglected toenail really did a number on the nail bed. I thought of taking a picture of it for you, but not even I want to see that again. There’s not much to see because the nail was mostly in place with all the interesting stuff happening underneath.

This morning the blister on the nail had developed enough that the nail was just hanging there like a tooth ready for the tooth fairy; it just needed a little coaxing. Completely detached from the nail bed, only the skin was holding it there. Some needle nose pliers took care of that, leaving a moon-crater hole at the top of my toe. Again, I decided to not take a photo. I thought about it, but that’s a bit too much information.

Up to that point, it wasn’t even something I thought that much about. I did google “why do we have toe nails?” as I laid on the sofa with my legs up, acting much like I think I might be in 20 years—all groans and creaky joints.

My search results included a website where creationists and evolutionists were duking it out. I can’t find it again, but it was a fun read. Some people talked about claws and hunting, some people argued about climbing and picking apart fruits and nuts, and some people gave the obvious answers like it keeps us from hurting our toe when we stub it. I think the last one was the best answer.

Even when I put on my running shoes tonight for my daily one miler and my toe was throbbing a bit I didn’t really mind. It hurt for the first couple of minutes, but then the pain went away. I think the pain is mostly from the irritation of putting on the shoes, and once that subsides I good. I can also tell the difference between walking and running pressure in the toe bed of the shoe. A different gait does different things to the foot. That’s what this streak is all about: putting on the shoes and getting outside, no matter what’s happening.

It’s what I did after today’s one mile that really made me think about this piggy. This little Crimea became the most important part of my body for a couple of minutes.

After I finished the run and was walking around barefoot, I hit my poor toe on the edge of a chair. I hit it hard enough that I heard a crack and I thought I’d broken my toe. Although that would hurt, my first thought was getting a refund on the plane ticket taking me to Doha for this week’s ultra. My toe can grow back but getting off my race schedule can really hurt. I’ve already missed one race this year.

When I looked down at my foot—forehead on ground looking back—blood was dripping from my empty nail bed. Dripping. In drops. Even a little blood looks like a lot because it spreads out so thinly. I wasn’t worried about the blood; I can make more of that. If I broke my toe, I might have to break my streak (yes, only might). The toe is a little thing but can cause a tremendous amount of pain. That answer about toe nails and stubbed toes made empirical sense. Of all the toes to hit, why that one? Did I hit the others and they survived since they had toe nails. Who cares. This hurt!

Here’s the work and home safe version of the carnage. Under that bandage is one sorry toe.

The next day it was better. It was sore and ugly, but it feels like it will be ready for Thursday night. You might notice that even the other toes look messed up. Every one of them has had their own running experiences.

2014 Caumsett 50k Championship

March 2, 2014
Lloyd Neck, NY
Event website

Why do I do these things? Today I’m running a 50k on Long Island, making it my fifth ultra. Four of those five have been within the last four months.

Today was perfect conditions for me. It was right at freezing, it was overcast, and there was a loop course. I’m liking the loops more and more since it’s easier for me to zone out once I know what’s coming up. This 50k race was ten 5k laps around Caumsett State Park in Lloyd Park.

I got myself into this by offering to help Ziyad Rahim and Maria Conçeicao on their quest to run seven ultras on seven continents in seven weeks. Caumsett is their sixth, and they’ll finish it off next week in South Africa.

Maria Conçeicao and me at the start. Photo by Imran Ahmed/DRIK Majority World

Maria Conçeicao and me at the start. Photo by Imran Ahmed/DRIK Majority World.

That’s the trouble with marathons and travel. I meet someone cool at a race and I want to do more with them. I don’t want to be left out out the party. I ran with them in the 2014 White Continent and 2014 Punta Arenas (and I met Ziyad at the 2013 White Continent). My friends think I’m amazing to run these things, but when I’m there I’m surrounded by people much more amazingly than me. I’m the loser of the group.

Last week, I was at a party where I met some Team RWB runners. It was an event for another veteran organization, but we started talking and discovered that a group of us are Maniacs. They were running today too, but as part of their training for Boston. I don’t know if I will ever be that fast; I won’t be that fast at an ultra.

And, I met many more interesting and accomplished people. In my mind, I’m behind the curve, and I’m literally running to catch up.

I ran with Ziyad for a couple of laps so we could catch up on what’s happened in the month that I haven’t seen him. He’s done some amazingly tough races. Part of his challenge is to find seven ultras on the right continents. These races aren’t as advertised as well as the big commercial races and there are far fewer of them. He ends up doing club-oriented races like Caumsett (put together by the Greater Long Island Running Club).

Ziyad and I running. Photo by Imran Ahmed/DRIK Majority World

Ziyad and I running. Photo by Imran Ahmed/DRIK Majority World.

He’s also the one who wants me to compete with him for the number of times around the seven continents with ultras. He’s partially the one who got me started on the Seven Continents Ultra since he got me to do the one on Antarctica in January. I never thought I’d be able to do that with the time cut off, but once I did, the other five (since I ran 2011 Two Oceans) were easy. One of those five was in Punta Arenas the week after White Continent, and it was there that Ziyad told me to come out to Caumsett since I live in New York. Now I just have three ultras left: Oceania, Europe, and Asia.

The course itself was very nice—all paved roads mostly free from ice. If there was a little ice, it was only at the sides. Everything else was covered in snow, and although the ambient temperature was slightly above freezing according to the weather report, the ground temperature and wind chill kept the snow as snow and the roads dry.

Photo by Imran Ahmed/DRIK Majority World

Photo by Imran Ahmed/DRIK Majority World

There was a slight worry about snow later in the day, with some reports expecting up to a foot, it seems the storm turned to the south. During one of the laps there was a little sprinkling of rain for about ten ninutes, but it was very light.

We ran the loop anti-clockwise, which some of the locals told me is easier and also different than previous years. The first mile was generally downhill with a small bump at the end. Over that bump and down the other side was a timing mat. After eight laps, you come back to this timing mat to get a marathon split time which you could use as a Boston qualifier time. There were a couple more bumps until we got to Mile 2. It’s the sort of rolling course that I like since different muscles groups get a break.


After that, we were back to the start area and across it for a small loop to stretch the whole lap to 5k. None of it was particularly difficult.


Once I got past the marathon time—in a slightly longer time then last weekend—I took it easy. I wanted to come in under six hours, which is the time limit for the Aspire 6-50k I’ll do later in the week in Doha. I had about an hour and a half for the five extra miles. I started some serious run-walking so I didn’t wear myself out. I want to be sure to make that cut-off.



So why do I do this? I ask my question from the start to the finish, and even a little after. Somehow I forget all the pain and suffering and do it again and again.


Race Director Dave fills out Ziyad’s Guinness Record forms


Maria, Race Director Dave, and Ziyad

My streak is alive through February

I’m still streaking after two months. That’s 59 consecutive days of running at least one mile a day. Every day sets a new record, but every day I find a way to make it happen in an interesting way. I hope that it’s much easier in the spring and summer when I’m not living in this arctic vortex, although when I went running last night in Central Park, it was 23 F and still packed with runners. And it started snowing. But, I did it.

First, I’ve modified my thinking to consider a day to be the time between me waking up and me going to sleep. There were a couple of runs after midnight this month. They were just after midnight, but it still felt like cheating since it was technically the next day. If I were in California, those would have still been the right day, so I’m counting them in that time zone I guess.

Then, I’m running as I do my errands. I never said anything about continuous running, but the spirit is that I do it in one outing. I can’t run a quarter mile in the morning, a half mile at lunch, and a quarter mile when I get home. But, I can run a half mile to the big grocery store, buy some peanut butter, and run back. It’s like hand weights for the rest of the run! This isn’t a fitness goal (it’s probably anti-fitness), so the continuous steps and strides aren’t the issue. Today I ran most of a mile before stopping at the bank and the drug store before I came home.

I’ve also spiced it up a little. Instead of running the same route everyday, I run north on odd days and south on even days. Or, is it north on even days? I’ve had to modify that a bit since the path going south has been dangerously iced-up. And, since I’m running errands, I’m learning my neighborhood by running roads I normally wouldn’t follow.

2014 Central Park Marathon

New York, NY
Event website

I could have set a personal record today. I’m sure of it. There’s no catch to that statement other than I decided not to. It wasn’t an easy decision.

Put on by NYC Runs, the Central Park Marathon is a small affair, maybe 2000 runners. The park is still open, so it’s a race happening in the middle of everything else that goes on in Central Park, including non-racing runners (some running against the current), walkers, cyclists, hot dog vendors, and dogs.

I didn’t particularly care about this race other than counting it at my New York run for the 50 States and not traveling to it. It’s a race I’m sure to get into, unlike the big New York Marathon. I’m not even thinking about this as a race so much as a training run with a medal.

This is my first marathon in New York City, which reminds me of that great marathon coach, Barney Stinson: “Here is how you run a marathon. Step one: start running. Step two: there is no step two.”

Local runs are typically problematic for me. When I travel, I stay somewhere near the start or finish line so it’s a matter of rolling out of bed and stumbling to the start, then hobbling back at the end. When I was lived in Chicago and ran the Chicago Marathon I had a 40 minute train ride to get there and back. I drove to the Wisconsin Marathon and was 10 minutes late. I completely missed the South Bend Marathon because I started driving an hour too late, having forgotten the Illinois-Indiana time change. That was my first Did Not Start, and leaves a hole in my midwest tracker for the 50 States.

Traveling to this race wasn’t so bad. I had 15 minutes on the subway and a short walk through the park. I chose my apartment in Manhattan to be close to Central Park (but not close enough to impress anyone with my pay stub) so I could easily get there to run. And, the start was 8:30 AM, which I welcomed this time. Generally, I like them to start early to avoid the heat later, but today that wouldn’t be a problem. It was going to be in the high 40s F for the day—perfect weather for me. It’s even chillier in the park since there’s still quite a bit of snow on the ground.


New York City has another problem, though. The NYPD is still paranoid about a Boston-style bombing, so bag checks and “camelbaks” (but really any hydration packs) are sometimes complicated or even forbidden. There’s a general paranoia in New York City about these things and they often express themselves in odd ways. You can’t take a laptop into Yankee Stadium, because, as the security supervisor told me, they could be used to set off bombs. When I asked him why iPads and phones were fine, he just shrugged. The Mets have no such restriction. New York City is a big target, but these measures aren’t going to protect it. The security theater isn’t really the problem so much as its unpredictable application. Am I going to get to bag check only to discover that a new rule beyond the control of the organizers means I can’t check my bag because it’s not clear or it’s the wrong size, or I can’t use my running backpack to carry my food and drink? Will the cops show up with automatic weapons and dogs, like they randomly do in subway stops? I love this city, but that doesn’t mean the city doesn’t think I’m a terrorist. Most cops I encounter by themselves are okay people. Cops in groups executing panicky orders from above, especially when they know as well as I do it’s chickenshit, not so much. I’m not afraid of terrorists at New York events, but I am nervous about the police.

Despite how I thought later—that I might PR—I didn’t feel that way at the beginning. I didn’t even have the confidence that I would finish today. The organizers have a permit until 1:45 PM, giving them a 5h15m time limit for the marathon. If I had a bad day, say, like I did in İstanbul, I could approach that time. If this were South Africa, that would be a hard deadline, but this is the US. They have to talk tough because the city requires it, but they say “the finish line is the last thing we turn off”. That’s a coded message for “we’ll stop when the cops make us leave”.

I hadn’t run more than one mile at a time since the Punta Arenas Ultramarathon almost a month ago. I’ve been keeping up my goal of a run a day streak, but I’ve had no long runs. I’d like to blame that on the Sanitation Department because they aren’t plowing the roads and paths, but I could have easily run in Central Park. I just haven’t. I had planned to run the George Washington’s Birthday as another training run, but it was cancelled. I didn’t break my streak, but I didn’t replace it with a long run either.

This course is five counter-clockwise laps around Central Park, mostly using the main road but cutting across the park at 102nd Street instead of including Harlem Hill (a killer hill that I actually like). The marathon start was a bit farther down at 96th Street on the east side, but the finish was up at the short cut. The half marathon had some course that seemed too complicated for me because they ran different loops.


The start was slightly uphill before taking the shortcut to the west side, then it was a small hill. After that, it was mostly downhill to the bottom of the park. The bottom of the park is generally downhill, but the course turns north up the east side and is generally uphill. There are only two big hills, so it’s not that bad. The east side is a little scenic: you pass the Met Museum, Cleopatra’s Needle, the Guggenheim, and my favorite, Still Hunt, a life-size panther statue poised on a rock outcropping. You also run past the statue of Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York Marathon.


On the first lap I felt good. I wasn’t pushing it hard, but when I checked my pace I was surprised to see it around 9:00. That’s much too fast for me. I tried to slow it down a bit, but at the end of the second lap, I was only 9:08. The problem, if I could call it that, was that I didn’t feel the effort. I took a porta-potty break at Mile 11, but that only raised my average pace to 9:20, the pace I’d need to hit 4 hours even. The first part of the third lap didn’t help because it’s mostly downhill, and somewhere on that downhill stretch I pass Mile 13. I made my next goal Mile 15, and after that, Mile 18. I reached that without much problem and extended it to Mile 19 because that was just around the corner going back up the east side. I got myself to the big hill and took a walk break.

As the day got later, the park got busier. New York City has been part of that Arctic cold spell for the past month, but we suddenly had temperatures in the 50s and this was the first nice weekend. I think there were more non-marathon runners than participants. This made it somewhat disconcerting when a fresh group of short distance runners would breeze by at fast paces chatting about something as I was just trying to maintain. Also, more runners were out and running clockwise, against our current (but also in the correct rotation based on the icons painted on the road). New York is an interesting place because only the biggest events put a dent in it. No one really cared that we were running a marathon.

During the middle of the run, I was trying to work out why the mile markers were where they were. They didn’t seem evenly placed; some of them lined up with paint on the road and some of them didn’t. I expect my Garmin to be off a little, but not 0.9 miles or 1.25 miles. At the end, my distance read 26.65, which is much longer than my Garmin is typically off. I was mostly synchronized until the third lap, where I was suddenly 0.32 miles off, and stayed that way until the end. That sounds like a Garmin error, but I wasn’t manually noting laps as I passed the markers. Still, I thought that if each lap is offset by the same amount, the 25, 20, 15, and 10 mile markers would be the same distance for each other (the offset). But they weren’t. I’m not very good at the math in the middle of a big run though.


Around this time I was thinking about a possible PR. I was on a good time. I had an 1h10m to run the final seven miles. I could do that. I had slowed down to about a 9:50 pace by then because I was nervous about hitting the wall. I had also taken a longer, luxurious porta potty break, and even with that I was ahead of my usual pace and not feeling that bad. Mile 21 was on the cut-off, so I had to run the downhill portion, around the bottom, and come back up the other side. Once I got there, I had a little less than an hour for the rest of it. I could have done it. My body was ready for it. But, I knew that I’d pay for it later this week, and I have an ultramarathon next sunday and another the thursday after that. This is a training run for me; my first long run in almost a month. That I’m on a PR pace on a hilly course means something good.

Part of my good day were the compression tights I was wearing. If the weather got any warmer, I would have taken them off. The tights don’t help with my joints, but they sure keep my muscles feeling good. Most of that is just from keeping everything in place. Wear the tights for a couple runs then try running without them. You’ll see how much your muscles bounce around, causing stress on connective tissue.

For this race, I ate Clif Shot Bloks, exclusively. I think I’m done with gels completely. I’ll use up what I have for shorter runs where I might eat one or two, but I’m off the gels for marathons. They are too sweet, they make me sick after three hours, and they are give me energy spikes. I could slowly sip on a gel to even out the energy, but Bloks already do that but coming in six pieces and aren’t sticky or messy like gels. At each mile marker, I put one Blok in my cheek and suck on it. By the time it’s gone, it’s another mile. Typically, I start that at Mile 6 since that’s when my pre-race peanut butter sandwich has done its work. In the early miles, I use the strawberry flavor, but toward the end of the race I switch to the lemon-lime flavor which is a bit more tart, and for the last part, the black cherry flavor, which is even more tart. There’s a black cherry with caffeine, but I haven’t tried that yet.

I’ve never had this problem, but at Mile 22 I decided not to try. I’d press on at the same pace, but I wouldn’t kill myself. I’d keep up the same level of effort, and possibly back off if I needed to. I got to the bottom of the park as was still doing good. I took a walk break on the two big hills on the east side, and after that I mostly ran at a decent pace, coming in about 10 minutes slower than my best time. Even at the end I felt that I could have taken off that ten minutes with a little suffering.


Since this was a small event (for New York City, but a big event for some places), I crossed the line, turned left up the path to bag check, and walked off. I think there was food there, but it was such an uncluttered exit that I had no trouble just leaving. It had much more of the club, no-frills run that like like rather than the ads and sponsorship events that just happen to have a marathon in the middle.

At the end of the run, I took the subway home, and despite following the Barney Stinson training plan, I was able to get off at my stop just fine. Walking up the stairs to the street was a little tough.


Not Barney Stimson

And, perhaps the best part of the experience is the NYC Runs iPhone app. It lists all there events and leads to the results. I can even add my results to a favorites so see them all together.


Running in the New England snow

February 18, 2014
Johnston, RI

If I wasn’t streaking, I wouldn’t be out running in this weather on this trip to New England, but that’s also the point. If I’m going to run everyday, I don’t get to choose not to run. I can’t use location or weather as an excuse, which I think I did too many times last year.

The only thing I need to consider is when to run, and I’m learning this winter that if the conditions are good, run right away. The conditions might get worse later, like they had last week in New York. I’m waiting for those nice spring and summer days when I can go outside in shorts and a t-shirt and forget about all this other stuff I have to find and put on so I don’t get frostbite.

My first day in Rhode Island was fine, but there had been plenty of snow build-up on roads with no sidewalks. If I didn’t run during the daylight I’d probably have a problem with traffic later. It was a tiny bit cold, but that isn’t a problem.


The next day was a bit worse. A storm moved in and it was supposed to snow for most of the day. I don’t mind the snow, but I didn’t want to be on the same narrow streets when a plow decided to come through. I gave up waiting for the plow and went out in four inches of mostly fresh snow. That’s better than ice or slush, and I’m not exactly going for records out here.


It’s already a quiet part of town, but even the major roads are quiet because everyone is staying off the roads today. That, and everything being covered with a couple feet of powder, made it a relaxing run. I’d like to run longer on these days, but the running paths are under a lot of snow to the point it’s not even apparent where the paths are.


My streak continues to day 49. I don’t know when I’m going to miss a run, but it isn’t going to be this week.