The headshots I’ve always wanted

I’ve known her for most of my life. We first met in the photo lab in college. Photography is her life’s passion. And this was the first time that I was the subject of her craft. I might or might not be wearing clothes here.

Ten years of running

On July 8, 2013 I made a decision to change my life. I’d led a sedentary life for the previous 20 years and I’d become fat, unhealthy, and unhappy. I remember very vividly stepping out of the shower one morning and just staring at myself in the mirror. I was very unhappy with the man who was looking back at me, so I made the decision to make changes. It was at that moment that I knew I was going to have to go to work on myself.

I found healthy meal suggestions online and immediately changed what I was putting into my body. I set out the next day and set out to go on an eight mile bike ride. My hip hurt when I rode my bike, so I pedaled back home after only making it a mile from the house. The next morning I set out on the bike again and pushed through the pain so I could make it the eight miles that I’d set out to cover. The pain in my hip was still there and I knew that I couldn’t keep forcing the bike riding lest I injure myself. But I was committed to the work that I’d signed on to do. I decided that if I couldn’t ride my bike, I would go out the next day and see if I could run a mile.

On July 11, 2013, I walked to the middle school track up the hill from our house and I ran one mile. I pushed myself hard in that mile. I remember getting starry tunnel vision in the last 300 meters and damn near collapsed after I hit one mile.

I walked after I hit one mile so I could catch my breath and let my heart rate settle down. What I’d done had hurt, but I knew that’s what I’d signed up for. I knew the process wasn’t going to be easy. And that’s when that “runner’s high” set in. That one mile didn’t kill me and my hip didn’t hurt.

I decided that I’d go out again the next day and run one mile again, but I’d run it slower. I decided that I would teach myself how to run. I would take my time and I would train so I could learn to run longer distances and gradually increase my speed.

Ten years ago today I became a student and I still learn something about running and myself every time I set foot out the door.

On roadtrippin’ to Indiana

Ten days, nine states, 14 state line crossings (in no particular order):


There’s just something about road-tripping. A lot of it can get boring and repetitive, but then the scenery and landscape sneaks up and changes on you. My favorite scenery parts were on the drive back south through the Boston Mountains in northwest Arkansas and the Ouachita Mountains in southwest Oklahoma.

My other favorite parts were when I realized I’d forgotten my wallet when we were right at 100 miles into our trip last Thursday. I just shrugged my shoulders and figured I’d wing it. These last 10 days have been pretty liberating without an ID or money. And then last night, a kind soul followed us into our hotel parking lot in Fayetteville to let us know our tail lights were out. That’s when Elise and I realized we’d driven roughly 2,000 miles without ever turning on our rental’s lights. The running lights served us well, and how the hell do you know if you don’t have tail lights unless a Razorback lets you know? I love Arkansas.

But the best part has been spending all this time with my girls. I get a little lip quiverry when I think about these college visits and the oldest going to college next year. But when I think more on it, that means one less person farting on these multi state road trips.

I’ll always cherish these road trips, but I’ll forever cherish these girls even more.

127th Boston Marathon recap

Elise and I were sharing a pizza at the Trophy Room downstairs from our hotel on Tuesday night and she said something to me that stung a little bit, but it’s very true.

“There are people that would kill to get to run the Boston Marathon, and when you crossed the finish line you were disappointed.”

As I type this, I’ve moved on from the disappointed phase and I’m now treading in the ambivalent phase. I’m working on getting to the happy phase. I’m close. I think I just need time to reflect a bit more.

Here were my goals for this year’s Boston Marathon:

Goal A: 2:55
Goal B: 2:56:40
Goal C: 2:59
Goal D: 3:04:09

I’ve made it a habit to share my goals with people, either in person, phone, text, and/or social media. I usually share my goal(s) the day before a race. It gives me a sense of accountability. And I think it gives people something to measure against if they’re inclined to track me while I’m out there. I’m realizing that’s probably part of the error right there. I should consider keeping any goals to myself.

When I share my goals, I never mention the goal that comes before “Goal A.” When I set out in Hopkinton on Monday morning, I thought I might have a 2:52, or maybe even a 2:50 in me.

The first mile is tough because you’re leaving a corral with thousands of other fast runners and you’re all barreling down a hill on a narrow New England road. You can keep things reigned in, you can go out a little fast and find some room to run, or you can immediately settle into your pace and just watch your footing and elbows to avoid getting tripped up. I opted for a combination of the latter two.

My 1-mile split was good. It was reassuring. It was 5 seconds fast, but completely within reason. And then I settled in faster. My splits through mile 10 were 15 seconds faster than they should’ve been if I wanted to hit my Goal A and, in hindsight, I should’ve stayed focused on Goal A, or even Goal C.

My faster pacing felt fine. It felt natural. I’d struggled with my Goal A pace throughout training because I could never get used to the cadence to maintain that pace over longer distances. So I made the decision to stay with the faster pace that felt more fluid. I figured if I could maintain comfort in stride, albeit at a faster pace, the tradeoff would be sustainability, but I’d figure that out whenever I needed to figure that out later in the race. And I knew that would mean a grind.

And it didn’t take long to start feeling fatigued. I could tell I was getting tired already at mile 8. But I knew I was running a marathon, and I was already almost a third into a race, so I told myself I’d gut it out. And if I had to back down later in the race then I could do that.

And that’s pretty much the worst decision I could’ve made. At that point, my strategy was banking time, and while I’m far from a Boston Marathon expert, I can comfortably say that trying to bank time at Boston (or any marathon) is going to make for a long day.

Usually we’d fly into Boston on Friday before the race. This year we didn’t get in until late Saturday night. On Sunday morning I went on a shakeout run with Jess. Since this was her first Boston Marathon, I wanted to take her around the requisite loop around the Charles River. I had to run to our meeting spot at the Harvard Bridge, so that made for a 6-mile shakeout run. Usually, my prescribed shakeout is 2-3 miles the day before the race.

After my run with Jess, I ran back to the hotel, showered, and walked back to Boylston for Fan Fest where I watched a panel interview with Bobbi Gibbs, Amby Burfoot, and Bill Rogers. Then Elise and I met up, went to the expo to get my bib, and try to hunt down some Maurten hydrogels. The Maurten booth was sold out. So we left the expo and walked to Start Market to get lunch. After lunch, we walked to Fenway to watch the 1:30 Red Sox game against the Angels.

After the game, we walked to REI so I could get my gels. I’d only brought one Maurten hydrogel with me, and I needed one more to get me through to mile 12 on the course where I could thereafter take gels from the course. After we’d finally found my single gel, we walked all the way back to our hotel where I was finally able to get off my feet, and then Elise went out again to get us pizza for dinner and breakfast and post-race food for the next day.

According to Garmin Connect, I’d walked 19,974 steps on Sunday. That’s around 15,000 steps more than I like to take the day before a race. But, we were in Boston, and I know when I have family with me for a big race, I have to indulge in site-seeing, touring, and a bunch of walking. I was admittedly tired from all of the walking on Sunday. Walking is more foot-to-ground contact than running and I could really feel it. My feet and legs were tired, but figured with a good night of sleep, I’d be perfectly okay the next morning.

As I was on the bus to Hopkinton for the 2022 Boston Marathon I realized that I’d forgotten to eat breakfast. I made sure I didn’t make that same mistake this year. Elise had gone to Whole Foods after we got back from the Red Sox game and got us pizza for dinner. She got me a slice of cheese pizza and a slice of pepperoni pizza. I ate the pepperoni first and I was satiated. I should’ve left it at that, but I figured I might as well top off as much as possible, so I ate the other slice of pizza. And the tank was very full.

I went to bed around 10 p.m. Sunday night and slept like a rock. I woke at up 5 a.m. on Marathon Monday and ate a small bowl of oatmeal and half of a bagel. I had my coffee and took care of bathroom business. I was feeling pretty good about the pre-race checklist. I took a banana and a couple of granola bars with me for the bus ride out to Hopkinton.

I ate the smaller of the granola bars while on the bus at around 8:30 a.m. I knew I was fueled up and was excited to employ my new topping-off strategy of one gel at every 4 miles during the race. My previous marathon fueling strategy had me eating every 5 miles. My recent research indicated that I should be topping of my glycogen every 25 minutes. Four mile increments would put me right at that 25-minute mark, and multiples of 4 makes for easy on-course math. Plus my watch beeps at the 1-mile split, so I knew I’d have an audible reminder to eat.

At mile 10 I experienced a tinge of GI distress. And the first thing that popped into my head was that I shouldn’t have had that second slice of pizza the night before. And I probably should’ve picked either the oatmeal or the bagel for breakfast. Not both. While I was sufficiently carb loaded, the tank was just a bit too full.

At mile 12 I heard the scream tunnel at Wellesley. That’s still my absolute favorite part of the Boston Marathon. And I took it all in as I usually do. I didn’t stop for a kiss, but I hung to the right so I could see the girls’ faces and hear the cheers and excitement, and so I could absorb the energy.

My fourth Boston Marathon and I’m still baffled and amazed at how loud, excited, and supportive all of those girls are for the entire duration of the race. Words just can’t do the scream tunnel justice.

After Wellesley, I knew I had a few quieter miles to try to settle and relax before getting into Newton and taking the first of the hills at the I-95 overpass. And I wasn’t too far past Wellesley, right at mile 13, when my stomach said, “Hey! Remember me?!” And that’s when I knew I was going to have to do something. There was a fleeting moment where I thought I’d keep pressing on and see if I could make it to the finish line, but that thought was squashed. I knew it would be better to take care of business now versus wait until I hit some point of no return and risk finding myself in an embarrassing situation where the line of spectators gets deeper as we get into Newton and Boston College.

I started looking for porta-potties right at mile 13 and I kept my eyes peeled. It wasn’t until we took the descent at mile 16 that I finally found a row of three stalls to the left. I ran over, hopped into the far right stall and, well, took care of business. I didn’t look at my watch because I think the pressure of seeing the seconds tick by would induce some anxiety. Thankfully it was quick and I was able to hop back out without any thoughts of, “I hope I got it all.”

I have to admit that I’m a little impressed that with a pit stop to take a crap in the middle of the Boston Marathon, my mile split was 8:14. Given my bookended mile splits, and if my math is right, I think I “took care of business” in about a minute and 45 seconds.

And I was able to hop back into the race and get back on pace with a bit of renewed vigor. Maybe a little bit too much vigor as I went over I-95 a little faster than I probably should have.

I did what I wanted to do from that point forward. I didn’t let the Newton Hills stop me. I let them slow me down, but I didn’t stop. In 2021 and 2022, the hills got to me. I had to stop and walk in both previous years. I’ll admit, Heartbreak Hill was tough. I think most will tell you that three good hills in the late stages of a marathon are tough, and then after you have to climb Heartbreak right at mile 20, you’re zapped. Especially if you haven’t left plenty in the tank. Heartbreak emptied my tank.

I knew the last 5 miles were downhill, and those were when the race really started. And I tried to settle back into some kind of cadence, knowing I wasn’t going to be able to sustain my previous, and pretty consistent, pace. I was actually on a good little downhill section just past the cemetery when I just got completely zapped. I couldn’t go anymore. Despite fighting it, my body just stopped. I wouldn’t really call it walking. I was moving forward, but both of my legs were wobbly and my upper body was involuntarily leaning to the right. I was nervous that I might collapse, or even pass out. I felt like my legs weren’t going to support me for much longer. I kept moving forward while a barrage of thoughts went through my head.

“Well, that was it. You walked.”

“It’s going to be a long rest of the day.”

“I’ve never had to be pulled off a course and tended to by medical staff.”

“What happened? What’s wrong with me? Am I going to be okay? Did I do some kind of damage?”

“You went out too fast.”

“You should’ve figured out how to run your splits 15 seconds slower and settled in.”

“You’re walking right now. That means you’ve given yourself permission to walk again.”

“Elise is going to be expecting to see you on Boylston soon.”

“Did I bank enough time to account for this walk?”

“Can I still get Goal A or Goal B?”

“Look at all of these people passing me. How do they have so much energy?”

“Start running again!”

So I started running again. It was slower, but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I rode the wave of the others on the course. It hurt, but I told myself to just keep going. I had three miles left. I told myself to just jog it in. I’d banked time in the first 20 miles and even if I just jogged it in, I’d still come in with a respectable time. I might even get my sub-3.

And then the sky opened up and it finally rained. It’d been foggy and cloudy all morning, and we’d all gone through a few patches where it sprinkled. But now it rained and it was cold. My body was spent. Every bit of energy I had left was being used to move forward. The air temperature and rain zapped me. There was a split second when the cold rain shocked my system and I thought that it might revitalize me, but it did the opposite. It made me cold, uncomfortable, and upset. It rained on my pity parade.

I saw the Citgo sign and it looked like it was 800 meters away. It was 800 meters away for 10 minutes. It was hell trying to get to that damn sign. I knew that once I got there I only had a mile to go. But God it was hard getting to that sign. And when I did, I had to stop and regroup again. I think I walked for less than a minute, and I regret having to do it, but it was an exercise in listening to my body versus fighting my body. Everything hurt and I had that wobbly, passing-out feeling again. I was beaten down and chewed up. But I only had a mile to go. I could keep jogging it in.

I was happy that I was able to start moving again and that’s all that I could do at that point. I could run, but I couldn’t push. I had zero kick left in me, but I rallied and just kept jogging it in.

I didn’t remember that Hereford St. was so close after passing under the Charlesgate Bridge. Once I saw the right turn at Hereford I finally felt a sense of relief. And the crowd was absolutely nuts. If you’re into crowd support, Boston brings it.

I crossed Newbury while making that slight climb up to Boylston. I hugged the tangent and made the left onto Boylston, and then immediately started veering to the right side of the street. I know Elise is always at the Prudential, right across from Gloucester.

Seeing Elise on the final stretch on Boylston

Almost immediately I saw her. We made eye contact. She was screaming and cheering for me. I could feel my chest get full, my eyes welled up, and my nose stung, like I was about to cry. I put my arms out to my side with my palms up to indicate, “I don’t really know what happened.” She knew I was behind on my goal schedule.

I pointed to her and blew her a kiss. Then I turned forward and just kept my eyes on the finish line.

I can’t remember the last time I’d looked down at my watch. After the course punched me in the face at mile 23, I knew most, if not all, goals were gone. There’s always the unwritten goal of “just finish.” And that’s what I was going for at that point.

While there are still some lingering feelings of disappointment, I’m happy. I came in right at 3:03:00. I PR’d the Boston course by a minute and 10 seconds, and it’s my second-fastest marathon. I beat my Goal D.

I told Elise last year that this year would be my last Boston.

This wasn’t my last Boston. I still have some unfinished business on this course.

Course specificity

This is a wonderful short video on Eliud Kipchoge’s preparation for his first Boston Marathon. There’s a ton more in preparation beyond this two-and-a-half-minute video clip. The preparation for a race, if one is indeed preparing for a specific race, can be boiled down to a word: specificity.

Simply put, you train for what you want to do. If you want to run fast, you practice running fast. If you want to run far, you practice running far. If you want to power through hills, you practice on hills. And that list can go on and on. And if you need to accomplish a multitude of things, you practice all of them, and you have to give yourself the time to incorporate all of that practice in a dedicated training block.

I’ve been on a perpetual training plan since September of last year, leading up to six races in this past year’s Austin Distance Challenge. I built that plan specifically leading up to this year’s Boston Marathon. Boston is my “A Race,” and everything leading up to Boston needed to line up and work out just right. In January my Boston training began in earnest, especially the beginning of introducing more volume and long runs on weekends. And things lined up, by design, as the 3M Half Marathon (January) and Austin Half Marathon (February) incorporated a lot of hills.

The week after the Distance Challenge ended with the Austin Half Marathon, I went straight into a peak week for Boston Training. That meant my first 20-miler, one week after having run a 1:20:20 at the Austin Half. I specifically planned my three 20-milers to mimic the Boston course — downhill for the first half, and uphill for the second half. And since the start of my training in September, I specifically worked on training for distance and, more importantly, speed. I pushed hard on the tempos and intervals and really worked on turning my legs over and getting faster and stronger.

This will be my fourth Boston Marathon. My first was in 2018, arguably the worst Boston Marathon in terms of weather. The temperatures were barely above freezing, it was pouring rain the whole day, and we all had to push against 20 and 30-mile per headwinds the whole way from Hopkinton to Boston. I ran a negative split that year and I couldn’t be stopped. I ran Boston again in 2021 and 2022. Both years presented perfect running weather — clear skies and mid-50s temperatures. However, the Newton Hills brought me to a walk both years. And hills don’t usually bother me. But they’re the Newton Hills. They start at mile 16. Heartbreak Hill is at mile 20.

I specifically designed my three 20-milers so that the first halves were downhill, and the second halves were uphill. I have trained so that I can control what I can control. No one can predict the weather or other conditions in Boston. It could be raining, windy, cold, or hot. Those are all things that I can’t control. You just have to be ready and accepting, and confident in controlling only what you can. I’ve worked on being ready for the hills. They are my #1 adversary. I feel confident that my body is ready. A huge part of training is preparing the mind. I will use these final three weeks while tapering to continue to train my mind and mentally prepare for my adversary.

I will be ready.

First peak week 20-miler long run

Second peak week 20-miler

Third peak week 20-miler

Sugar wagon

Short of a jovial Facebook post or two, I didn’t really boast or advertise that I’d gone on an added and refined sugar strike that’d started on January 1st. And that wasn’t a New Year’s Resolution thing. I decided to cut back (or try to cut out) on the sugar because over the Christmas holidays, I admittedly let myself go wild with the holiday candies and cookies that are abundantly available at the in-law’s house.

And prior to the holidays, I still ate a lot of sugar and carbs in general. And while I didn’t proactively seek and crave sugar and sweets, I kind of justified its consumption by the fact that I run a lot and can afford to consume a lot of calories. I can easily justify an additional 1,000 calories per day.

But a calorie is not a calorie.

During the holidays I decided to cut out the sugar because, to put it simply, added and refined sugar isn’t good for anyone. I think everyone can agree on that. And by and large, refined sugar is just empty calories. Aside from glycogen, I’m sure it can be argued that refined sugar doesn’t really do the human body much good.

I know at some point I’m not going to run as much, and if I’m not running as much, I can’t keep eating like someone who runs 50 and 60 miles per week. So I decided to refrain and retrain. So I cut back on the added and refined sugar, and it just so happened that that date January 1st when we were driving back to Austin from Des Moines after the Christmas holidays.

And I did really well for a good month or so. I didn’t get overly strict about it. But I didn’t buy or consume cookies, candy, ice cream, and all of the other sugar-laden stuff that I’d ordinarily treat myself with on a daily basis. I became conscious of the foods and drinks I’d consume. I’ve never been much of a sugary drink consumer, so the vast majority of my sugar calories came from sweet treats.

It was finally on Elise’s birthday that I decided to indulge. Just for once. I made a Boston Cream Poke Cake for her and I had a small piece with her and the family that evening. And that was it. I was good. I was surprised by how overly sweet it was. I mean, a sheet cake punched with a bunch of vanilla putting and then smothered in chocolate icing really is nothing but sugar. But I hadn’t had any refined sugar for over a month, so the sugar hit was a pretty significant.

And then the next day I justified having some more cake because the cake existed. I would indulge until the cake no longer existed. And, like returning to any kind of addiction, I fell off the wagon. I was back on the sugar as easy as that. I probably wasn’t as “bad” as I’d previously been, but it wasn’t difficult to get back to a bit of a daily indulgence again.

And what is interesting is that I can admit that I noticed a difference.

In the first couple weeks, I noticed I had some withdrawals. I don’t think they were sugar withdrawals so much as they were habit withdrawals. I’d grown accustom to having a mid-afternoon sugar treat. You know, right about when that post-lunch food coma sets in and all you want to do is hop on the couch and take a nap? Instead of napping, I’d plow through a fist full of candy or a stack of cookies. I didn’t get cranky or jittery when 3 p..m. rolled around. It was more my brain reminding me, “Hey! This is when I usually get a huge surge of calories!” So then it became an exercise in finding calories that weren’t sugar. And since sugar gives us a false full feeling, I sought filling calories. I’d mostly try to find something with a lot of fiber, like fruit. And that was also a good reminder to drink a lot of water to fill my belly and give me that full feeling.

And I think I scientifically proved to myself that the omittance of sugar reduced muscle inflammation. When I’d cut out the added and refined sugar at the new year, I was in the thick of training. I was mid-way through the Austin Distance Challenge and I was training hard for the upcoming 3M Half Marathon and the Austin Half Marathon. I’d go to the track or do a hard tempo run on Tuesdays, and I’d feel 100% later that day and the day after. I had very minimal (if any at all) muscle soreness or fatigue.

A couple of weeks ago we were at the grocery store and Elise wanted Oreos for something. Since I was “off the wagon,” I told her I wanted some chunky chocolate ice cream to accompany said Oreos. So we went home with chocolate ice cream and Oreos. And that night I packed a large cup with cookies and ice cream. And I’d have that nightcap every night until the ice cream was gone. And recently Elise made some cookies — I believe they’re called “trash can cookies,” or something like that. These are chocolate chip cookies that also have chopped potato chips, pretzels and toffee chunks. Of course I had to buy some good ol’ plain vanilla ice cream to go with the cookies. And I’ve been plowing through the ice cream and cookies on a nightly basis per my recent normal.

While I say I didn’t boast or advertise that I’d gone on a refined or added sugar strike, there were some who knew about it. Obviously, the folks who live under the same roof as I do knew, but so did some close friends, just by means of casual conversation, usually in the form of conversation about post-run donuts.

My friend Scott was on a week-long cruise with his family for Spring Break last week. Scott’s one of the friends who knew about my sugar strike. I’m assuming he indulged in the all-inclusive indulgences of a Caribbean cruise, so he emailed me yesterday to tell me that he was home and that he wanted to pick my brain about cutting sugar out of his diet. Since Scott’s a good friend, I replied and “confessed” that I’d fallen off the wagon and, in fact, that very day I’d consumed more cookies than any other food.

And that got me thinking that I should really get back on the wagon. I’ve done it before and, looking back, it wasn’t that hard to cut back or cut out the added and refined sugar.

Analysis of the 2023 Austin Half Marathon

As I was 3/4 of the way into training for the Austin Distance Challenge, I read a quote in a running industry email newsletter that I subscribe to. The quote was something like: “stop trying to make it happen, and just let it happen instead.”

I was training hard to win the series overall, to the point of exhaustion, injury, and burning myself out overall. I bought into the “let it happen” prior to the 3M Half Marathon, which was the fifth of the six races. I’d still set a big goal for a Person Record at 3M and I pushed for it. I went out hard and knew there was a probability that I might blow up somewhere later in the race. I checked in with myself at the 5k split and thought to myself, “let’s just see what happens.”

I PR’d my half marathon time at 3M and beat my A goal by 2 minutes.

I’ll admit that I didn’t consciously tell myself to stop trying to make it happen at the Austin Half this past Sunday. I knew that I wanted to have fun, and not do anything to completely blow up and jeopardize the lead I’d been maintaining in the Distance Challenge.

I did set goals for Austin because if you don’t set goals for a race, then why sign up and pay for race registration?

Goal A: 1:22:19
Goal B: 1:25:00
Goal C: 1:29:00

Goals B and C were arbitrary. Just numbers to chase in case Goal A became out of reach. Goal B was to best my time at the Decker Challenge Half Marathon, an equally challenging race in terms of hills.

I toed the line five rows back at Sunday’s Austin Half Marathon. The gun went off and I set out. I don’t recall the last time I’d constantly checked in with myself during a race, but that’s what I did yesterday. And while I wasn’t consciously doing it at the time, in hindsight, and after checking my splits a few hours after finishing the race, I think I just let it happen. I used perceived effort (not pace) and the hills to settle into a flow and make adjustments as I’d continue to check in with myself whenever my brain told me it was time to check in. I didn’t check in every mile or at certain kilometer splits. I just checked in whenever the notion popped into my head. I let it happen on its own.

And I found my splits interesting because, as I reflect, I can see where I was checking in with myself and how I adjusted at different points on the course.

Here is my recollection and analysis of the race by mile split:

MILE 1: The first mile was exercise getting past the start line, finding space, navigating through the crowd, and making sure I kept things reigned in by not going out too hot and having to pay for it later. In order to hit 1:22 I knew I’d want to stay around a 6:15 pace. I did look at my watch a couple of times just to try to settle into a cadence and not start too fast. I knew I’d be okay with a 6:20 split in the first mile, and probably the subsequent few since they were all uphill.

MILE 2: While still in a big crowd, I had ample room around me. Mile 2 is a good 100+ climb. It’s not steep, but it’s steady. I’m strong on hills, so I used that as an advantage and as an opportunity to give myself some more room and put people behind me. I moved way to the left of the crowd and slowly crawled over bodies. I found a good pace but knew that I was pushing what I wanted to be my average pace going up a hill. In checking in with myself, I figured that would be okay because, with perceived effort on the downhill in a couple of miles up ahead, I could bank some time. That was a bit of a gamble because as I checked in, I was wondering if I was healthy. Mara had been sick the past couple of days and I was really wondering if I’d caught her cold, flu, or whatever it was she had. Breathing was a little tough too. I told myself that I hadn’t warmed up and settled in quite yet, and the humidity was high yesterday morning. Again I had that thought, “let’s just see what happens.”

MILE 3: Still a bit of a climb but I was good and warmed up at this point and my lungs were finally primed. I’d been slowly passing people and put my sites on a team of green singlets ahead of me, so I gradually crawled up to them. I checked in and my effort felt fine and sustainable. I did a bit of a literal gut check too. I wanted to make sure the GI tract was doing okay as I knew there were bathrooms at the corner of Ben White and First Street if I needed them. All systems were safe and I was clear to keep pressing on.

MILE 4: I settled in behind a group of six who, I think, were part of the UA Flow team. They were all wearing matching green singlets and, after checking Instagram late yesterday, looked like the same singlets the UA team was wearing. I didn’t look at their shoes so I don’t know if they were part of the Under Armour team, but, whatever. They were definitely part of some team and they were good to settle in with. They were serious and they were keeping an even clip, so I tucked in and we all ran the last of the long hill down Congress Ave. to Ben White. They were pushing the pace a bit, and I stayed in with them on the uphill access road to First Street. First Street is where the good downhills are and I knew I wanted to use gravity to my advantage and bank some time. I took the inside at the turn onto First and put myself ahead of the team. After the turn onto First and at mile 3.5, I started opening up my stride and put more distance between me and the UA team.

MILE 5: Big downhill on First Street. I checked in to make sure I wasn’t going to burn up my quads. The UA team was well behind me and crept up to a couple of new guys that looked strong. We hit the mile 5 split and my new British friend asked me what the split time was. I actually happened to look at my watch and saw 5:5X. I only looked at my watch because I wanted to see where I was pacing on the downhill. I knew if I’d dipped into the 5’s that I’d probably be okay when the course flatted out in another mile, and then I could dial it back a bit and regroup and recover for the Enfield hills. I told him “5:50.” He said, “Okay, thanks,” and then he started dialing it back a bit so I slowly crept past him.

MILE 6: Found myself pretty much alone at this point. There’s the good and steep downhill right at the apartment complex as you’re coming back into downtown. I sped up the cadence to try to brake a bit and to keep my feet from slapping. The course starts flattening out after the big downhill, so I started dialing it back a notch to start recovering and let up on the effort a bit.

MILE 7: The course flattens out as you cross Barton Springs and Riverside. I caught up with a fast lady and thought about settling in with her through downtown, but she looked like she might’ve gone out too hot and she was slowing down. I quickly passed her at Riverside and then I was on the First Street bridge. There was a big crowd on the bridge and I was by myself. If I’m being honest, there was a bit of performance anxiety in front of that big crowd. I sped up a little bit on the bridge and at the turn onto Cesar Chavez. The noise from the crowd was nice and motivating. Lots of “love the beard!” and “fear the beard” yells. I smiled. Smiling is always a good distraction and a way to keep your head in a positive place.

MILE 8: I think this is when I started to let it happen. The First Street downhill was well behind me and I knew the course would be flat for a bit, so slowed the pace. The previous four miles had been in the 5:50s and I knew there was no way I could hang on to that and have a fun remainder of the race. Cesar Chavez was lonely. I had two guys a ways ahead of me, so I dialed into them and just maintained effort at my slowed pace and eventually caught them and hung a few paces behind. The two guys were running for some kind of team. They were wearing matching race kits and seemed like they had some kind of plan. I checked my watch and we were hanging perfectly at around a 6:12 pace. I knew I’d banked some time on First Street and I could dial down even more. I think they had a similar plan and they both dropped down on pace a little more than I was comfortable with so I slowly passed them by the track at Austin High.

MILE 9: I slowed down and took some strides to resettle into a pace, regroup, and mentally prepare for the turn onto Enfield and the hills. I was all by myself on Lake Austin Blvd. and just focused on breathing and shaking things out. I could really feel the hot spot on the second toe on my right foot. I was pretty confident that it wouldn’t hurt any more than it already did, so I told myself to ignore it and that I could deal with it after the race. I also started doing the math and knew that I only had 4-something miles to go. I try not to do too much math during a race. But this was an opportune time to do a check-in and see how I was feeling with 4 miles to go and some hills to contend with.

MILE 10: I was feeling fine. No signs of fatigue. I checked in a gave myself a bit of a confidence boost that, unless I came unraveled and bonked, I would still maintain my lead in the distance challenge. I did another literal gut check. Even if I had to duck into a portapotty and lose some minutes, I’d still be fine. I checked on my legs and they were still totally fine and ready for the hills. I kept a steady pace at the effort I wanted to maintain. I slowly caught up to a lonely runner and just as we were getting to the end of the golf course, a friend of his jumped onto the course and asked, “how are you feeling?!” His response was, “like shit. Hahahahaha.” So I took that as my queue and stayed with him until we crested the big hill at the corner of Lake Austin and Enfield. I think that zapped him, so I maintained effort after the hill and let him fall back. That was the last I saw of him. I still felt really good after a couple of rollers on Enfield. I’d gone a few long runs on Enfield in the past couple of months, so I knew what I was up against and how to approach each hill. They’re not killer hills, but they’re hills at mile 10 in a half marathon. You have to be ready and have something left in the tank for hills in the later stages of a run or a race. I was prepared.

MILE 11: I was by myself and saw one lonely guy way ahead of me as we both went up and down the rollers. There were some sparse spectators on the course. I heard a quiet “go Josh.” I looked to my left and saw Gary Perez. I excitedly said, “Hey Gary!” I checked in and was still feeling fine. I did math again and knew I didn’t have much further to go. Downtown was just a couple miles ahead and it was time to start digging, pressing on, powering through, and maintaining a steady clip.

MILE 12: A big hill crawling up Enfield under Mopac. I was still by myself and kept strong. I focused on form, keeping my feet underneath me, shortening the stride, and really pumping my arms to distribute the load and take some weight off of my legs. Then there was the big downhill where Enfield splits off onto 15th Street. I still had my sights on the guy in front of me and I was slowly gaining ground on him. He also used the big hill to his advantage and boogied down. I knew the crowds were coming up and the course was going to split for the half and the full. I checked in and knew I still had something left in the tank. So far I’d run a smart race and I could pick it up after the big hill up West Street.

MILE 13: The last mile starts with a climb up the last big hill. The big hill on 15th Street up to West Street. I’ve run that hill many times, and I knew it was time to just drop into a lower gear, think of the legs as pistons in an engine, pump the arms, and power through it. I’d finally caught up to the guy ahead of me and we went stride for stride at the start of the hill, but he let it slow him down. I’m strong on hills so I used that to my advantage and kept an even clip up the incline and left him behind me. Once I crested the hill I just maintained the same effort and picked up the pace. I had one more guy ahead of me, but I knew he was too far ahead to catch up to, so I just kept him in my sights so I wouldn’t back down on the pace. I just gutted it out and focused on my form so I didn’t get sloppy this late in the race and hurt myself. I’d forgotten about the little climb on 13th Street up to Lavaca and to the Capital. That little climb sucked. And that’s when my stomach made a couple of grumbles. There was a fleeting moment when I thought, “well this is a great time to have to duck off to find a toilet.” I just chalked it up to nerves and excitement and lengthened my stride on Colorado Street.

LEFT ON 11TH, RIGHT ON CONGRESS: I emptied the tank. The short section of 11th in front of the Capital was kind of quiet. There were a lot of people standing behind the barricades, but there wasn’t much noise. It was that or maybe I’d just tuned out the noise. When I turned right onto Congress is when I did one last quick check-in and opened it up. I looked at my watch, but I have no idea what I was looking at. I think I looked to see if I was going to hit 1:22. I honestly don’t remember. I just knew that I had to put my left arm back out into rhythm on the side of my body if I was going to keep up the final sprint. I stayed next to the crowds on the right and hammered the last block and a half until I could hear Elise. I heard her somewhere around 10th street and craned my neck to find her. I saw her just as I was passing her and Maly. I pointed and kept going. There was no one behind me. No one to race. I didn’t even look at the clock. I just gunned it across the finish line and smiled before I stopped my watch and put my hands on my knees for a few moments.

I think this was one of my smartest and best races. Again, while I didn’t remind myself before the race to do it, I wound up just letting it happen. I didn’t check my watch as much as I have in other races. I ran more by perceived effort and I used the slope and terrain to dictate that effort and whatever pace I was currently in.

I came in at 1:20:20. One minute and 59 seconds ahead of Goal A. I’m really happy with how I approached the race and will work to repeat that approach in future races.

Winning is the only thing

The training block for the Austin Distance Challenge wrapped up this morning with a 30-minute tempo run. Last night I tried to convince myself to catch up on some rest and allow myself to sleep in. But my eyes popped open at 3:50 a.m. and I tried to doze until I gave up and got out of bed at 4:15. Excitement invariably trumps the need for sleep. And I wanted to get out and see what I could do in this last fast run if I just let things happen instead of forcing some kind of split pace. I let it happen this morning, and I felt really good and strong and confident during and after the run.

The Austin Distance Challenge is an annual race series that’s organized by the Austin Runners Club. There are six races in the series. Each race progresses in distance and includes the biggest and most-attended events in the city. The Challenge offers a full track, for those who want to run the Austin Marathon as the last event, and a half track, for those who chose to close out the series with the Austin Half Marathon. The prior five races are all the same distance, regardless of track. There’s a 5k, a 10k, a 10-mile, and two half marathons.

I decided to sign up for the Austin Distance Challenge this year for a myriad of reasons. Recently I’ve felt really drawn to be more active in the broader Austin running community. And, so far, I’m really glad that I made that decision because I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing, kind, and generous people. I’ve made new friends. I also wanted to support and be more of a part of the Austin Runners Club. It’s a special run club that’s been in Austin since 1974 and it’s important that it stays vibrant and active in our community. I’ve been blessed to get to hang out with and forge bonds with the club’s staff, members, and volunteers, and my hope is that I can somehow continue to help them support its membership and mission. And, lastly, I wanted to keep learning and training. I was hesitant about signing up for the Austin Distance Challenge because I knew I wanted to focus on my training for this year’s Boston Marathon. Before signing up for the challenge, I built a 32-week periodized training plan leading up to Boston to see if I could strategically fit six races into my training cycle. I realized I’d start getting into longer marathon training mileage leading up to the final race in the challenge, so I decided I’d just somehow make it work. And so far, that has worked out. We’ll see how things play out at the Austin Half Marathon this Sunday.

When I signed up for the Austin Distance Challenge, my first thought was to have fun with it and perhaps compete in my age group. I thought I’d run the first race, the CASA Superhero 5k, see where I ended up on the leaderboard, and then formulate some kind of racing strategy after that. A few days after that first race I checked the leaderboard. I was first in my age division. For grins I check to see where I was stacked in the Masters division. I was first in Masters. I checked one more thing. I wanted to see where I ranked overall. I was in first place overall.

That formulated my strategy and training block. I want to maintain the lead and win the whole thing.

The next race was tough. A group of six of us ran a 120-mile Ragnar trail relay the Friday and Saturday before the second race in the distance challenge. I don’t recall if we actually had a plan to place in the relay, but we all ran hard through the day and night. I ran 23 miles harder than I should have. But we placed 2nd in our division and had a lot of fun doing it. After only a few hours of sleep in the previous two days, I showed up to the Daisy Dash 10k and gutted out a podium spot in Masters and put myself one minute ahead of 2nd place in the distance challenge.

I’ve been putting in the work ever since training started in early September. I’ve miraculously managed to stave off injury and illness. I’ve fought and trained my ass off every single day. I’ve pushed myself hard. I’ve prioritized winning. There is no other option.

I currently sit with a nine-minute and three-second lead on second place. There was a fleeting moment where I thought about finding second place at the Austin Half Marathon and settling in behind him to pace and maintain my margin. And then I grinned.

I love this sport so damn much.

Today I stopped

I never set out with the thought that I might have to stop, but sometimes I just have to stop.

I never wind up doing it, but I’ve always thought it would be a good idea to write down my thoughts and ideas as they come to me so I could write an essay, or maybe even a book, titled something like “Life Imitates Running” or “Running Imitates Life” or “Never Trust a Fart While Running.”

Of course, I usually can’t write down these thoughts or ideas when they come to me because I’m usually out somewhere on a run. I don’t carry a pen and paper with me, nor do I carry a phone. So these thoughts rattle around in my head and I’m hard-pressed to remember them whenever I get home after I’m done running. Whenever I do get home from a run other things take priority over writing down my thoughts and ideas that I’ve had while I’m out there. Things like showering and shoving calories into my mouth.

This morning there was an occurrence while out on my run. Not thoughts or ideas. Today I stopped. According to my training plan, I’ve been training hard since September 5, 2022. I’ve been training for a race series that I’m hell-bent on winning. And my training for this race series overlaps with my training for the Boston Marathon on April 17th. I’m self-coached and I’ll often find myself riding this fine line of injuring myself or over-training. I’ll also very often find myself teetering on the edge of stripping away the happiness and mental health benefits that running gives to me. It’s a love and a dance that I try to hold in some modicum of infancy which, I’ve learned, has to be nurtured as such.

The girls and I were out of town this past weekend for a lacrosse tournament. After the games were over on Saturday, I walked to the hospital that was next to our hotel and I ran 1.25-mile loops around the campus. I ran those loops hard to practice running fast for my upcoming half marathon and then dialed back the pace for a few loops to practice maintaining a pace and cadence for Boston. We came back to Austin on Sunday and headed downtown to go on a long run to practice running on tired legs.

Training catches up to me. Yesterday I was tired and while I can find any excuse under the sun to go for a run, I just wasn’t feeling it yesterday. So I didn’t run. I didn’t go on my easy recovery run because I just didn’t want to. A coach once told me that “no run matters.” Those three words are very philosophical in their simplicity. Replace the word “run” with many other things and that’s why I think running imitates life.

It’s been raining and the temperatures crept to below-freezing last night. Central Texas shuts down whenever there’s ice. The schools shut down whenever there’s ice. The city of Austin is pretty much shut down right now. It was cold, dark, and quiet when I set out this morning on my tempo run. I could feel it when I was only a quarter mile from the house that this morning’s run was going to be a struggle. It’s just one of those things where when you know it, you just know it. But I kept lifting my knees and decided that I’d just see what happens.

I think it just took some time for my brain and body to warm up. And it was eerily quiet outside in the otherwise noisy suburbs in which we live. I knew what I was supposed to do on this morning’s run, so I went after it. I finally settled into a groove after a mile and I pushed myself because I’m training for something. You train so you can adapt your mind and body, become acclimated, and teach yourself to do hard things.

A little after mile three I just stopped. I stopped running. My head wasn’t where I wanted it to be. My toes hurt. My hamstrings hurt. I was cold and hot at the same time. It was hard for me to breathe. So I stopped. The first thought that invariably pops into my head whenever I stop is that I lost. I’ve always maintained this tough guy runner mantra of “you can let it slow you down, but don’t let it stop you.” That’s usually what I tell myself whenever I come upon a hill. So if I ever stop, I feel like I’ve failed. The obstacle, whatever it might be, beat me.

A running coach that I admire recently wrote that it’s okay to stop. Mid-workout. Mid-hill. Mid-tempo. Mid-long run. If you need to stop, then just stop. You don’t have to quit. It’s okay to stop. To stop during a run is to catch your breath. Let your heartbeat come to its resting state. Let your brain take a rest. Recenter yourself. And I’ve learned that it doesn’t take long at all to reset. Often times no more than 30 or 60 seconds. And then you go again. You just keep going.

And a third coach that I admire recently wrote “stop trying to make it happen and just let it happen instead.”

I stopped on a run today to reset and recenter. I’ve done it before and I’m sure I’ll do it again. I never set out with the thought that I might have to stop, but sometimes it just has to happen that way.

No run matters. It’s okay to stop. Stop trying to make it happen and just let it happen instead. Life imitates running.

The 2023 3M Half Marathon

The 3M Half Marathon has a special place in my heart. The 2015 running of it was my very first road race. I’d started running just two years prior, and I had no intentions of racing. I ran to get physically healthy, and then I really started reaping the mental health benefits.

And I blame my friend Harry for getting me into racing.

He kept tabs on my running when I started out and he put it in my head one day when he told me, “you know, you should really sign up for a race. You’re getting fast, and you’d have a lot of fun in a race.”

I shrugged him off. He nudged me about it a few more times. And then he had me tag along for a 10-mile training run as he was preparing for the Austin Half Marathon.

I thought running 10 miles was crazy. I couldn’t wrap my head around why anyone would want to run double-digit mileage in one outing. But when that first 10-miler didn’t kill me, and I actually kind of enjoyed it, I started pushing myself to run further distances.

I don’t know how or why, but I signed up for the 3M Half Marathon as my very first race. And I told Harry that I’d done so. He didn’t say, “that’s awesome!” or “congratulations!” He said, “you know, I’ll bet you could run that race in 1:30.”

Damn Harry. I had no specific plan or goal time for my first race. But he put a number in my head.

So, despite not knowing what the hell I was doing, I trained hard for my first half marathon. I was chasing 1 hour and 30 minutes. I beat that goal time.

I ran my first 3M in 1:27:31 in 2015.
I ran my second 3M in 1:28:11 in 2017.
I ran my third 3M in 1:29:47 in 2019.

Today I ran that same race in 1:19:33. PR’d the course by 7 minutes and 58 seconds. And PR’d my recently-set half marathon time by 5 minutes and 40 seconds.

I’m reeling in it now and, in a way, I think I’m lucky that I was in my late-30’s when I discovered running. I missed out on a lot of beating myself up in my teens, twenties, and early thirties.

I’ve already come to terms with the fact that I’ll start slowing down soon. I’m getting older. And I’m absolutely okay with that. As long as I can get out there and run around and have fun at whatever pace my heart and legs will take me, I’ll take that every day that I can.

A love letter to my shoes

A good friend of mine once wrote about how he had finally run a sub-3-hour marathon. And I thought, “I wonder if I could do that.” In order to do it I would need the right training, preparation, and a good pair of new marathon shoes.

And I found you, in all of your bright and loud green gorgeousness. But not without the proper preparation first. You see, you were very high class and expensive. And I needed to make sure we were a fit. I went to the local run specialty store located just below my office and I informed the merchant that I was looking for something special. A pair of shoes that would go with me far and fast on the adventure of a lifetime. But it had to be a perfect fit for both of us.

The merchant measured my feet with the latest 3D modeling technology. I learned that my previous shoes weren’t quite the right fit. My previous were always close, but not perfect. We were always a half-size off.

I knew I wanted you, but I also wanted to test the waters with others. He brought me three, of which one was you. The other two fit, but they weren’t perfect. You were.

I put you on my feet and I promise you that all the universe became silent except for the quiet and distant hum of assent as the divine smiled and nodded unto us both as if to say, “this is right.”

And it was. We experienced the rapture as the two become one. An augmentation and synthetically natural extension of my own feet. You felt like nothing while still feeling like everything to me. You were weightless and so powerful.

I took you home and we practice our dance. It was perfect and joyful from the first step. We moved and danced for a little while the first time. A little longer the next. And then we were ready.

We went to the big dance together and it was, in a word, beautiful. Just like you.

You gave it your all. And you were tired and beaten down a bit. I gave you a well-deserved rest.

We practiced our dance again before another big one. On the day of the big dance, we did our thing again. And there were cheers. And we were happy. We’d done it again. You’d done it again. You were wonderful and perfect.

But I knew you’d become very tired. It weighed heavily on my heart knowing that our dancing days were coming to an end. It was inevitable. I knew our relationship would be short-lived when I’d set out to find you. But you knew you wanted to make me happy. And you did just that. You made me smile. Big, big smiles.

We had one last big dance in New England. It was toward the end of our dance and I knew you were tiring and this would be our last big one together. You quietly whimpered, and I heard it, just like that distant hum when we knew it was right in the beginning, but you gave me what you had left. And I took it.

Recent are the realizations that our big dances are done. But I won’t put you out. Despite any rest, you’re tired and worn. We both know it.

Our run this morning was fast and powerful and beautiful. But that can’t be forever. I’ve hurt you and you will only grow to learn to hurt me.

We can still dance in the dark and in the quiet. Just you and me. We sure did make a go of it.

I love you, shoes.

Child client

Lacrosse season is starting up and the oldest child asked me to build a run training plan for her so she can get whipped into shape as lacrosse is very much a running sport.

My client has informed me that she wants to run three days a week. But it can’t be too structured. She just needs to know that she has to run three days a week, and she will do her runs as schedule and desire permits. And she hates speed training. And I can’t yell at her. And she’s not paying me.

I think this might be the first client that I fire. And we haven’t even started yet.