Running into the New Year

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Running around in circles near the Golden Gate Bridge

This New Years Eve, I ran a 24 hour race, called the New Year’s One Day. This was the second time I attempted this race – the first time was last year, where I encountered failure head on.

This year wasn’t as disastrous – I ran 70 miles in 16 hours before stopping, which was good enough for 3rd place. Will also did the last 15 or so with me, and we ran into the new year together – the fireworks were visible from the course, which was really neat!

This wasn’t quite the result I was hoping for – I was really hoping to get 100 miles in under 24, but it wasn’t in the cards this night. I was winning for the first 12-13 hours of the race (can you believe it?! I couldn’t). Around that time, I hit the wall pretty hard, probably because I wasn’t eating enough, and it was getting dark – I am a notoriously terrible nighttime runner. The other part that probably contributed to difficulties was the fact that half of the loop was on concrete – I didn’t realize how much that would tear up my feet, but now, over two weeks later, I still have a black toenail or two.

When I stopped, I was in 2nd, and the girl ahead of me had four laps (about four miles) on me. She ended up getting just over 100 miles, so unless I had a major 2nd wind, I probably wouldn’t have gotten there.

Just like last year, it was fun to meet all the runners. Lots of really talented people on the course, including some I’d met last year, back for a second punishment of running. Seeing an aid station every mile is always motivating, and it’s really cool to be able to run with people who are a few miles ahead of or behind you – something that never happens in point-to-point races.

All in, I’m glad I ran it, and I’m pretty proud of my result. 70 miles is no joke – it was more miles than last year! And this race was a really fun way to start the new year.

Will and I at midnight!

Will and I at midnight!

 

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North Face 50-miler in D.C. – a race in three parts

I signed up for this race a few months ago because it seemed like a good weekend to run – with Boston also happening, I knew I wanted to get in some non-road-race mileage in a slightly logistically easier way. This race seemed like a good option.

Part 1 – running in the dawn

The race started at the uncomfortably early hour of 5am. Even though it would reach >70*F that day, it was cold in the morning, and we huddled around fire pits in the darkness before the race started.

This was a larger 50-mile field, with about 300 runners. Because we’d immediately clog the single-track dirt trail, we started in three waves, each a minute apart. They’d slotted me to start in wave 3 – I don’t know how they assigned these – but I snuck up to wave 2, which was a good plan; there was a significant amount of non-passable trail that we had to navigate in the dark, so it was nice to get a decent pace going at the beginning.

The first mile was around a very wet and muddy field. Given that this course was actually 50.9 miles, I’m convinced the race organizers just added this part in with sadistic intentions – we were wet and muddy, with shoes thoroughly soaked through, within five minutes of starting. They’d also set up a photographer at the biggest of these mud puddles, reinforcing my interpretation of these early tortuous motivations.

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Leading a train of headlights

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Running through the mud

When the sun started to come up, it illuminated a gorgeous, lush forest, bordered on one side by the rushing Potomac River. We continued to dance along single-track trail, still energetic with early-race adrenaline, as mist wove between the trees and settled over fields of tall green grass. Bright blue flowers hung from knee-high stalks all around us, carpeting the forest floor.

It was quite the contrast with Philly, and that made it so much more spectacular.

The first 13ish miles were hilly, but not excessively so. I walked the steeper parts and took it easy on the less steep parts, speeding up on the downhills and flats to conserve energy.

After a few hours, we entered Great Falls Park, which looks like this photo below.

Great Falls Park (source: National Parks Service)

It was a great start to a beautiful race.

Part 2 – three loops

The next part of the race would involve running the most convoluted 7-mile loop three times. See below for the illustrative map, which was intended to be helpful.

Map of the 7-mile Great Falls Loop.

Map of the 7-mile Great Falls Loop.

We started at the end of the first leg, then ran long a wider path for a bit, which had a slight uphill. We turned onto some single track, did an out-and back to a turnaround where someone marked our bib, then came back to the wide path. We crossed that, did another out-and-back to an aid-station, then took a side path back to the main, wider path, and headed back towards the start of the loop … only to take a sharp right, down to another out-and-back, then come partway back but take another detour to the start of the loop. Then do that two more times. Honestly, even though I’ve done it three times, I don’t think I could retrace my steps if I went back today. That’s how confusing it was.  The map is still not clear to me.

Look how pretty the park was!

The first loop was exciting, because we hadn’t done it before. By the 2nd loop, the 50k racers joined us, which was fun – they were pretty energetic, and many of them were excellent cheer captains. I paused at the mid-way aid station to take off my socks and shake the rocks out of my shoes – it was a great feeling to get the grit out, and I felt rejuvenated to knock off the third lap.

Third lap … tired of running … let’s try something different!

Part 3 – the long road home

Passing through the end of the last loop, having run about 35 miles, I felt ready to take on the remaining ~15 miles of the race. That feeling quickly faded … when I realized I still had to take on another 15 miles. Food seemed undesirable – not that there was anything wrong with the aid station options, which were great – my stomach just didn’t seem keen on any of it. I was mostly subsisting on Mountain Dew and water, and maybe a Gu if I could force one down.

The first four miles to the next aid station were challenging because they were flat, so there was no excuse to walk. At this point, it hurt to do anything – walk, run, or sit down – but the fastest way to the finish line was running, so I kept moving at a slow trot.

The remaining ten miles were very warm and humid, and seemed to take a very long time. Even though I was hurting, I seemed to be doing okay – I was passing some of the slower marathoners and 50k runners, and several 50-mile runners as well. Most frustratingly, the trail was completely perfect for running – soft, mostly flat single-track, pretty easy to navigate – which meant there were no excuses to walk. At least with hilly courses you get an externally-imposed walk-break. I found myself longing for the vertical ascents characteristic of West Coast races.

That is, until we hit the final hilly section. Then I immediately hated the hills – they’re hard to climb! – and yearned for the flat trails I’d been on just moments before.

The last few miles were pretty rough. At one point, we reached an aid station where all the shorter distance runners went straight for another mile or so to the finish, but we had to take a sharp right and do a two-mile out-and-back – that was pretty disheartening, because the finish line was right there!

Seriously … I can basically see the finish line.

I fell into pace with a younger runner – Naval Academy student doing his first 50-miler. We picked up the pace and were doing 9ish-minute-miles for about two or three miles during this out-and-back, which is really fast for the end of a long race! He dropped back at one point with just a mile to go. Feeling strong, I pushed hard to the finish.

At one point, I thought I saw the finish-line – it looks like a big red arch. Turned out I just saw a red back-hoe. Disappointing.

Thanks for colluding, North Face and local construction company

Thanks for colluding, North Face and local construction company

Just a few minutes later, I saw the actual finish-line. And crossing it was great. I had some enthusiastic friends – fellow Wharton students, running the 13.1 the next day – waiting at the finish line, and it was so fun to see them.

Crossing the finish line with #mywharton girls!

Friends at the finish-line!

Overall, it was a pretty great race. Tough towards the end – but what 50-miler isn’t? – yet I’m proud of my performance. I came in 3rd for my age group, and in the top quarter overall [including men!] which is pretty good. My final finish time was 10:28, which isn’t my fasted 50-miler, but isn’t bad considering the hills.

North Face is a pretty commercial ultra series, which means there are a lot of new or first-time runners. It’s always great to indoctrinate newbies into the sport. However, it also means that the spirit of the ultra community isn’t as present at these sorts of races – there’s a sort of camaraderie on the trails that arises from having done a lot of these. It’s an understanding that we’re all out here together, and a great way to get through the pain is to rely on each other for conversation, pacing, and support. North Face didn’t – doesn’t – really have that vibe. But being down there with friends, who would be running the next day, more than made up for it.

On to the next challenge …

Bring it on.

A marathon on the coldest, iciest continent – Antarctica

Late afternoon sunlight in Antarctica

I just got back from what can only be described as one of the most epic escapades I’ve been privileged to undertake – a two-week expedition to the loneliest place on earth, where myself and about 150 others explored, adventured, and, of course, ran a marathon.

If the title didn’t give it away, we went to Antarctica.

[Warning – probably a long and rambling post. It was an awesome trip, and the marathon was just a small part of it. It will be hard to do it justice.]

Backstory. I first heard about the Seven Continents Club when I ran the Inca Trail Marathon in 2012. The club is for those who are in the process of running, or have completed, a marathon on every continent. Obviously, the most logistically challenging continent to run a race on is Antarctica. In 2012, I also learned that there’s a 3-5 year wait list to get on a voyage down there, so I put down a small deposit – I figured I’d decide to take that journey if, and when, the time came. Putting down the Antartica Marathon deposit was choosing more of an option to participate rather than a firm commitment to this outrageous expedition.

Since then, I’ve run races on two other continents: Australia and and Africa. Antarctica makes six (although my Europe marathon was a solo, unsupported run, so I’ll probably have to go back and do that one again).

When I finally got off the wait list for Antarctica, the timing couldn’t have been better: it overlapped with my school’s spring break, and I’d get to train through Philly’s miserable winter (that last part turned out to be especially helpful during the race).

Before the race. Two weeks ago, four hundred of us met up in Buenos Aires with our Marathon Tours organizers. We divided into two ships: The Akademik Ioffe, which left one day early and whose runners would race on March 9th, and my ship, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, sister ship to the Ioffe, whose runners would race on March 10th. The results from the two days would be aggregated (important for later).

We had a few days in Buenos Aires – padding for those whose flights had been delayed – and a small group of us visited Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay for a day. That trip led to some shenanigans, such as a 20k training run in Uruguay which was actually only 1.5k. This silliness quickly solidified the friendship of this group of 9, and we affectionally named ourselves “The Colonials.”

The Colonial 9, atop the Uruguayan lighthouse

That day in Uruguay foreshadowed the depth of some of the friendships that would form over the course of the trip. Runners are a strange bunch, but there are some deep commonalities we have which makes it easy, and rewarding, to become fast friends with fellow running travelers.

The first two days were spent crossing the infamous Drake Passage. Many of us, myself included, spent significant time in our bunks attempting to avoid seasickness, with mixed success. We spent the time in-between getting to know each other, taking photos of the open ocean, and attending lectures on everything Antarctic, from penguins, to whales, to ice.

There was more than a little nervous energy onboard. Everyone was thinking about the race, and that manifested itself in a variety of ways. Most notably, we discussed every single aspect of the day-of race logistics ad nauseam. A couple of components were just unique enough that they made for interesting talking points. For example, we had to provide all of our own food and water during the race, and nothing could have a wrapper. Traditional food items, like Clif bars and Gus, were ruled out. Everyone had their own workaround, and we heard about all of them. I planned to use unwrapped Snickers bars shoved into a front pocket, operating under the assumption that they wouldn’t melt due to the frigid temperatures.

I was also not 100% convinced we’d even be running the race at all, so I was trying to avoid getting my hopes up too much. The entire lead up to the race was filled with weather warnings – inclement weather could cancel the race completely, and, in Antarctica, weather is not something you gamble with. I’d been reading the Ernest Shackleton story in my spare time, and, based on his harrowing 17-month survival experience stranded on the continent, I was more than convinced that the race should be called off in the case of poor weather. Nobody wants to get stuck ashore in Antarctica and forced to eat dog pemmican.

However, our first day ashore in Antartica – the day before the race – was amazing. We visited Half Moon Island, known for  its fur seals and chinstrap penguins. There’s also one, lone macaroni penguin – named Kenneth – who thinks he’s part of the chinstrap colony. The island itself was stunning – a little, white crescent surrounded by pounding, grey waves. It was our first taste of what Antarctic isolation is really about.

First shore day. The Vavilov is behind me

That day, the runners on the Ioffe were running their race. We learned that part of the course was drowned under about a foot of water due to melted snow, so they’d had to re-route, but they’d all made it safely back to the boat after running. That night, after our pre-race briefing, I removed myself from the rabble and anxiety – I didn’t want to discuss race-day nutrition for the 800th time – and went to bed early.

The race.

The official race map.

I woke up multiple times during the night. Just outside the porthole, massive snow flurries blinked in the dim deck lights. I kept trying to convince myself that it definitely wasn’t snow, but every time I woke up, it was definitely still snow, and it was piling up on the deck railings.

By the time we made our way to breakfast, it had stopped snowing, although the winds were holding steady at about 30 knots, with gusts to 35 knots. Even as we packed our dry-bags with warm clothes, filled up our water bottles, and donned our foul-weather gear for the boat ride over, I still wasn’t convinced they weren’t going to call it off due to weather.

We were aiming for a 9am start, which meant we had to start offloading 100 runners around 8am. Many of the Colonials were in a later boat – second or third-to-last. It seemed prudent not to wait in the cold for an hour.

The boats – called Zodiacs – were little rubber contraptions. During any expedition away from our ship, even if it was a very short trip to shore, each Zodiac carried ample extra fuel, enough food for all ~12 passengers for three days, and basic shelter supplies. We all wore lifejackets and waterproof foul-weather-gear at all times when on the Zodiacs. Again, no messing around down here.

On the boat ahead of us, a group of runners, including a family, were navigating the gangway down to a Zodiac. One woman was extremely terrified to step off of the ship and onto the gangway, which was shaking rather violently. She let her son and daughter escort her slowly down to the Zodiac, but the Zodiac was pitching and rolling on the choppy swells. I saw her reach a shaking hand out to cross from the gangway to the Zodiac, but she couldn’t take that step across onto the boat. She turned around and came back onboard the Vavilov. The Zodiac finished loading – without her – and took off for shore. (I found out later that she gave it another go, made it to shore, and finished the half marathon. The whole trip was full of inspirational stories like this).

Our trip over on the Zodiac took about 15 minutes, and the winds were fierce. We huddled together on the rubber seats, and I rubbed strategically-placed hand warmers to keep my fingers mobile. We all hoped that when we started moving, we’d warm up.

When we got to shore, we jumped out of the boat and into the freezing water, feet protected by rubber boots. We waded to shore and then up to the start line.

A couple of us at the start line

Even then, divesting of our foul-weather gear, we were still debating how many layers we should wear. I opted to trust my Philly training, and stripped down to just three layers: a long-sleeve shirt, a short-sleeve shirt, and a light jacket. I also had on running tights, a neck buff, a baseball-like hat to protect from any possible precipitation, a headband for ear warmth, and a warmer hat on top of that. I wore heavy ski gloves on my hands and tucked hand warmers into each one, and my normal trail shoes on my feet.

The start was anticlimactic (and I have never seen so many GoPros – mine included – recording it). Thom, our intrepid race director, counted us down from five, and we started trotting down the  muddy course.

The course would be a six-loop out-and-back course. Basically, we’d run 2.18 miles to a turn-around, then run back to the start, and do that six times. I tend to like loop courses, and I think this is because my powers of observation are pretty weak during a race – I’m discovering something new on every lap.

Just after the start

The first lap or two felt easy. The scenery was gorgeous at parts – the first mile or so was through the Russian and Chilean research bases, and after that we passed a glacial lake and ran right near the shore of the island, until we turned around at a Chinese research base. Despite how windy and overcast it was, it was very cool to be running past these towering mountains – in Antarctica!

I was powering up the hills and keeping pace with some runners that looked pretty fast to me. I didn’t think I had a chance of placing, but I do like to count how far back I am from the lead women … and after the first lap, there were only four women in front of me. My roommate, Erin, was in 3rd, and in 4th was another girl from Philly, named Taylor.

I was pretty sure I’d hit a wall at some point and fall back, so I didn’t think too much about it. However, at the end of lap 2, I was feeling pretty good – I’d been pacing off of another runner, and at the turn-around, he took a bit longer at the aid station than I did, so I kept going. The runner in 2nd had fallen back, which meant Erin was in 2nd now. Taylor, in 3rd, was just ahead of me … so I kept trotting along.

Even though I was keeping an eye on the competition, I, like most runners, was really just in it to finish. Because all of the runners knew each other by this point, the cheering throughout our short course was so enthusiastic and genuine. The course was only a few miles, so we saw our new friends frequently, and we all took the opportunity to encourage each other loudly, to the amusement of on-base researchers. They looked at us with what I like to imagine was admiration, but more likely confusion and worry for these crazy people who’d be out in these conditions.

Every so often, I would just appreciate how ludicrous the whole construct was – running a marathon on Antarctica is pretty crazy, when considered in the absolute. In my running career, it was also the race that I’d been thinking about for the longest – three years is a serious chunk of time, and this race was the culmination of that preparation.

Getting after it on the muddy trails.

Around lap 4, I was feeling a little fatigued, but Taylor was still just ahead, so I kept pushing. I passed her at one point, but then she passed me back, and I was pretty sure that was the end of things. It didn’t matter anyway – there was no way that, after combining our times with the other boat’s, the third-place person on our boat would also place overall.

However, I then passed her again, and with only 10k to go, I felt like I could maybe push it to the end and finish 3rd on my boat.

The next six miles were a slog. The hills were starting to feel steeper than before, and there were two short ones that I would walk for a quick recovery. The weather had also taken a turn for the worse, and it seemed like, no matter which direction we were heading, we were facing a stiff headwind. It had also started sleeting, and little particles of ice were now driving into any unexposed skin. I moved my buff up to cover my nose and mouth, but all that did was restrict my breathing, so I left it around my neck and faced the storm.

The last lap was rough. At the turnaround, with only 2 miles to go, I had my GoPro running. I crouched down to show off my favorite race sign – it said “Penguin Crossing” – and saw my Philly compatriot right behind me. I kicked it into gear and didn’t look back.

I felt like I was flying through the last two miles, although I’m sure it looked more like a limping slog than an Olympic sprint.

 

Running through the research bases.

The last 0.2 miles were up a shallow hill. I saw the 26-mile marker, and for some reason, turned around – I think I didn’t want to get passed at the last second. Taylor was right behind me! I turned back and sprinted to the finish line. She came in just a few seconds after me.

We high-fived and hugged it out, taking a finish-line photo (with Erin, who had finished 2nd and about 20 minutes ahead of Taylor and I. The first-place woman had already gotten back on a Zodiac and was headed for a hot shower). Taylor and I agreed that there was no way we’d be in contention for an overall podium spot, but we appreciated the competition.

After the finish

Volunteers bundled us into our foul-weather gear and back onto a Zodiac before we knew what was happening. My fingers, warm throughout the race, immediately became numb when I started handling zippers and velcro, and the Zodiac ride was pretty rough as a result.

After the race. That night, we learned that our boat had dominated the rankings. The men on Vavilov swept the top three spots, and the woman had grabbed the top two … and maybe the third! For the next twelve hours, I was constantly checking to see if they’d posted the results … and found out that a girl on the other boat beat me by two minutes. Very disappointing. I like to think that they had easier weather – it was very sunny! – but I know she also ran a great race.

The next several days were a combination of calm appreciation of our success and evening parties of wild, reckless abandon. Days ashore were happier and more relaxed. A few highlights:

  • A double-rainbow over icebergs.

What does it mean?

 

  • Quiet kayaking on reflective water (after a messy capsize due to inclement weather the day before).

I’m in that kayak on the right.

  • Whale watching – literally 20 feet from our boat – in the calm waters of Wilhelmina Bay on the last day.

Whale tail – so close to our Zodiac!

Whale next to a Zodiac

So peaceful and serene.

Epilogue. The whole experience was amazing. I focused here on the race because this is a blog about running, although, as mentioned, the race just became one part of a much broader, more epic adventure, which really deserves its own blog. Just like summer camp, we made memories and forged friendships that we’ll remember for a lifetime.

Antarctica is a pristine, unspoiled place. It is stark and isolated, and unlike anywhere else on earth. I am grateful that humanity was only able to reach it after developing an appreciation for preserving natural beauty – the continent is governed by a multinational research treaty – although I fear for the day that the lucrativeness of mineral rights overshadows this agreement.

The staff concluded our voyage with this quote:

Out here is where the magic happens, here in the quiet hills.
Here is where you have cried out with moans as deep as the earth.
Here is where you have found your long lost self that the madness took away.
So when you get back to those who talk loud in small rooms,
Remember that you have been to a place too beautiful for words.

-Anonymous

Here’s to the adventurers.

My favorite photo I took on this trip. Hi penguin!


Flap flap flap.

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Delaware Marathon: There’s Only One

Here are a few things I learned over the weekend:

  • Delaware was the first state in the union.
  • The largest city, Wilmington, has about 70,000 people. That’s about the size of Mountain View, CA.
  • There’s a guy who’s run ~1,300 marathons in his lifetime. He’s 69, and ran 255 marathons in 2013. He’s still going strong .. .because I just saw him running at Delaware.

When I registered for the race, it asked for the number of states the registrant has run marathons in. (For me, it’s something boring, like five.) Some minor sleuthing uncovered that this Delaware Marathon is, in fact, the *only* marathon in Delaware. If you’re gunning for all 50 states, this race is a requirement.

Registration also asked for a nickname. Will didn’t realize it was going to be printed on his bib.

The two-lap race started at 7am. There were waves for the half marathon and relay teams; they started after us. They had to wear bibs on their backs that said “Half” or “Relay” respectively, which was actually really nice; when they blasted past us at what seemed like unreasonably fast speeds, we could tell they were in a different wave, and not overly enthusiastic marathon runners making the rest of us look slow.

The first couple of miles were nice; we ran on a boardwalk along the river. Around mile five, the course started getting hilly. Mile six/seven was all uphill – challenging, but not terrible, because it was all in shade and under trees. We passed a zoo at one point, but I didn’t see animals out.

Towards the end of the first lap, I saw Larry the 1,300 marathons guy. I’d seen him at another race earlier this year, but hadn’t been able to track him down – I found him by searching through the Delaware race results. Apparently he started running marathons at 52 years old, and now, at 69, is running marathons almost every day of the year. If you want to read about one of the craziest/most impressive endurance runners out there, check out this ESPN article. If you want to see the list of races he’s run, here’s his Marathon Maniacs profile, which lists them all.

Anyway, he remembered me from the other race, and I waved as I ran by.

I finished the first lap around 1:50. I was feeling pretty good about running a sub 4:00 race without needing to push it too hard. Around mile 16, though, my legs started feeling heavy – I popped a Gu and pushed on.

I was still tracking for a sub 4:00 around mile 20. I knew the big hill was going to make or break this goal, and I promised myself I wasn’t going to get frustrated – this was a pretty challenging course. As I trotted up the hill, I was still feeling sore, but passing a lot of other runners; they were struggling too. I passed the zoo again – and this time saw two ostriches!

My hill push wasn’t fast enough. General tiredness, combined with the heat and humidity, made the last 10k very challenging. Around mile 22/23, my pinky and ring fingers started tingling all the way up to my elbow, and I figured it wasn’t a good idea, given the heat, to go for an all out 5k sprint to the finish.

I finished around 4:13, which was in the top 1/4th of women – not bad, although clearly the last 10k was much slower than the rest of the race.

I’m feeling a big of “marathon fatigue” – my last 9 races have been road marathons. I’ve got my eye on a trail ultra or two in the next several months; I’m looking forward to being back out in nature. My last ultra was at the end of 2012, so hopefully I still know what to do! 😉

Post-race, outside of our hotel. Our hotel was at mile 25.9 of the course… I was definitely tempted to defect to a warm shower.

Leave Nothing on the Table

I rarely plan races very far in advance. Usually, I’ll see a race happening in about a week, sign up, awkwardly taper for five days, then run it. This has the benefit of allowing for no anxiety buildup; because I wasn’t *really* training anyway, there’s no pressure to meet a certain goal. It’s just a fun run.

In organizational psychology, there’s a theory called normative influence. It’s a fancy way of saying that individuals get sucked into doing or thinking the same things as a larger group. Which is a fancy way of saying “peer pressure.”

I’ve been signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon for about five months, which is a lot of lead time. My fellow business school students have been training hard for this race. I found myself doing what they did: following a training plan, scheduling long runs, adding in speed work. This isn’t a bad thing – just a little unusual for me.

Probably due to training enthusiasm, I ran into several problems during this prolonged training period, most of which were related to injuries and nutritional deficiencies. On race day, I didn’t know what to expect, and I was very nervous. I was hoping to run a 3:35, but didn’t really know what that meant, especially given the speed bumps along the way.

Top of the Rocky Steps pre-race.

With most races I run, I have time to think during the race. Marathons are long, and relaxing into the distance is part of what makes them enjoyable. When I run for speed, there’s no relaxation. The race is stressful and confusing and I never feel like I’m running quite fast enough. Philadelphia was more like the latter.

We woke up in the dark and jogged a mile along the river to the start line. The day was perfect; cloudy and chilly, and the course was great.

We started out at the Philadelphia Art Museum (famous for the Rocky steps!) and headed across town, through the city. Once we reached the Delaware river, we turned around and shot back the way we’d come, along a different street. This was my favorite part of the race; I felt unstoppable, flying through the closed streets of the city I live in, right past my apartment. I understood at that moment that this was the feeling I’d been training for – this light, unstoppable immortality.

Miles 8 and 9 were tricky; lots of hills. I definitely need to do more hill work; I lost some time here. My 13.1-mile split was 1:49 or so. Aiming for a 3:35, I knew I’d somehow have to run faster on the second half than I did on the first half. For the next couple of miles, I picked up the pace – it felt very achievable.

Donchak running!

Around mile 20, I was in for a surprise: my left quad cramped. In over five years and 30+ marathons, I’ve never had a cramp during a race. I really felt like my leg could have fallen out from under me – which was a really fascinating and somewhat concerning experience. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I drank electrolytes, took some caffeine, stretched, and popped an ibuprofen, hoping one of those things would help. After about a mile or so, it cleared up – but I had lost a couple of minutes I was pretty sure I couldn’t make up.

Around the 23-mile mark, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make my 3:35 goal. I had two options: give up and take it easy for the last 5k, or see just how fast I could go – even though I wasn’t going to hit my time.

I played out the post-race thought-process in my head. If I didn’t run my hardest for the last few miles, I’d always wonder what I could have done. As a good friend said, “when you have doubt, there is no doubt.”

One of my first managers was a runner as well. In one our one-on-one meetings, we talked about managing energy. He said, “I know you’re good at this – you’re a runner. You know that in the final stretch, you don’t leave anything on the table. You go for it.”

I threw down.

The last 5k were very hard, but I felt strong. I finished in 3:39:24.

While I wasn’t thrilled that I didn’t meet my goal, it was my second-fastest marathon.

All in all, it was fun to train hard with my fellow students. It also put a lot of pressure on the race, and because I didn’t quite hit the goal I was aiming for, I felt a bit deflated afterwards. I run for the enjoyment of it; not for time. Putting time goals into a race takes some of the magic out of being out there.

That being said, I still think I can hit the 3:35 mark. So I’m signed up for another race … which is 21 days away.

At the finish line with another Wharton runner. One of us ran a 2:49 marathon … can you guess which one? (Hint: it’s him.)

What I think about when I’m Running

Me running Boston … I think this was around mile 15.

Someone recently asked me what I think about when I run. I actually get that question a lot, so much so that I thought I’d written about it already. After digging through the archives, I realized I hadn’t – so here’s a sample of my thought process a little bit after the half-way mark of a marathon.

Okay, 14 miles in. Just 12.2 to go. That’s more than halfway done. I wonder if I can run the second half of this race as quickly as the first half. How fast did I run that last 0.8 of a mile? Like 8 minutes and 7 seconds? That’s pretty slow. What does that translate to for a full mile? Maybe 10 minutes and 13 seconds? That’s sort of like ten minute miles. That’s pretty slow.

I wonder if I can run my second half as fast as my first half. How was that last … I guess .9 of a mile? Now we’re at 8 minutes and 15 seconds? How is that possible? How does that compare to my average speed for the first 13.1 miles. I guess I could calculate that by taking whatever’s on my watch now … 8 minutes and 22 seconds … subtract that from my total time, then divide the remaining by 13.1?

But who divides things by 13.1? There’s no easy way to round that to something easy to divide by.

I wonder when the next aid station is. Maybe 3 miles. I’ll say three miles. So less than a half an hour away at my current pace. Maybe they have those chocolate Gu gels. Delicious.

Maybe I’ll work at it the other way. 12.1 miles to go, and if I run it in 10 minute miles or so, then that will take me 121 minutes or something? Is that even right? So two more hours? That’s slower than my first half I think. That’s pretty slow. Two hours is a long time.

But I’ve already been out here for about two hours. So it’s not that long. It’s less long than I’ve already been running.

I have a Gu with me right now. Maybe I should eat it. But the next aid station is probably pretty close. So maybe I should wait. Or maybe I’ll eat the Gu now, then get one at an aid station but not eat it at the aid station and just hold on to it, so I can eat it later.

Maybe I should run faster. If I run nine minute miles, I’ll get to the finish line about 12 minutes faster than if I was running ten minute miles. That’s pretty good. That’s almost fifteen fewer minutes of running overall. Think of all the things I could do with fifteen extra minutes at the finish line. I could … eat finish-line food. Get to my car faster and take my shoes off. Eat finish-line food.

I wonder if they have anything with peanut butter at the finish line. Or anything with protein really. Protein’s good after a race. But I really want a donut, like one of those Chocolate Glazed ones from Dunkin Donuts. I wonder where the closest Chipotle is to the finish line. Maybe they have cut up oranges and bananas at the finish line. I like Chipotle’s whole wheat tortilla … I wonder if they’ll have that at this store. Do they have Churros at Chipotle? Maybe I’ll treat myself to a Churro. Or maybe I’ll hold out for a Chocolate Glazed Dunkin Donut.

I wonder when the next aid station is. I think they said there was one at mile 16? Or maybe it was 17. So that’s like … less than 30 minutes away. For sure. Definitely less than 30 minutes, even if it’s at mile 17. Mile 17 would be a weird place to have an aid station though, so maybe mile 16. If I’m at mile … well, my watch says 14.2 now, but probably it’s ahead because of all that maneuvering through the start-line crowds. So probably I’m only at mile 14. Argh – that messes up all my time calculations. But two miles away from the next aid station. So twenty minutes – less than that for sure. So maybe 18 minutes, because I’m running nine minute miles now.

Well, my watch says 9:30. But that’s close enough to nine minute miles. So 18 minutes. But now I’ve definitely run farther than when I did the calculation, so probably like 17 minutes. That’s way less than 30 minutes. I think I can wait 17 minutes before eating a Gu.

I wonder what food is at the aid station. Does this one even have Gu gels? Did they say that in the race packet? I should really read those things. Remember that race that I didn’t read the race packet, and the race turned out to be 1.2 miles longer than they said it would be, but I didn’t find out until a mile from the finish line? Worst race ever. I should read the race packets.

I wonder what flavors they have at the aid station. Maybe I’ll get a chocolate one, because chocolate is delicious. But so is that weird strawberry flavor. But that one’s kind of sticky so you have to drink a lot of water afterwards. Ny hypothermia for me! Or hypertremia? What’s the one where you have too much water?

It would be great to just zone out for a bit. Maybe I’ll think about that book I’m reading for a while. They just got done with a family dinner in the book, I think. Someone cooked salmon and there were rolls. I’d like a bread roll right now. I wonder if the aid station has bread rolls.

That’s ridiculous. Why would the aid station have a bread roll?

That would be awesome if it did. Maybe with honey.

Okay, 11.9 miles to go. What’s that multiplied by 9 minutes and 37 second pace? That’s pretty close to 12 times 10, which is 120 minutes. That’s like two hours! Surely I’ve been running for longer than one minute. Definitely, because I’ve covered at least three tenths of a mile. At least. I wish I could run three tenths of a mile in one minute. That would be a really fast mile. I’d have finished this race already.

I wonder if they have baked potatoes at the finish line. Or donuts.

11.8 miles to go.

The Game Theory of Weight Loss

A lean runner is a fast runner. While working out helps get there, a lot of being in good shape is about eating right – and it’s something most of us struggle with. I tried out a new strategy over the holidays – read about it below.

Crossposted from GameTheoryNinja.com.

The fun thing about Game Theory is that it can be applied to pretty much anything: buying decisions, Tic-Tac-Toe, traffic problems, etc. That means it can also be applied to dieting and weight loss.

That’s the premise behind DietBet. Here’s how it works: you bet $20 [or some other amount] that you can lose 4% of your bodyweight in a month. Other people also bet $20, and that money all goes into a pot. At the end of the month, whoever loses 4% splits the pot.

Early December of 2012, I decided to try it out for myself. I paid my $20, confirmed my weight, and off we went.

The psychology that’s at work here is called loss aversion: “people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains.” More simply – I really don’t want to lose that $20.

Throughout the holidays, I thought about that $20. Eggnog? No thanks. Is that extra serving of turkey worth $20 to me? I don’t think so. Delicious, delicious chocolate cake? So tempting … but so is not losing $20.

I also thought about my anonymous competitors. If that guy who thinks a 20-minute workout is good enough wins, and I don’t … well, that would just be silly.

Over the course of the month, I exercised and watched what I ate. Having money on the line made it a much more compelling prospect.

At the end of the month, I weighed in – and made weight. I split the $3,000 pot with several other winners, and got back $52. Not a bad return on investment.

The idea of betting a friend, or a few friends, to create an incentive to change behavior isn’t new. There are a lot of weight loss specific games like this out there – FatBetStikk andHealthyWage.com, just to name a few. I picked DietBet because one of my friends posted about it on Facebook.

I’ve put down money for a January weight loss bet, too. It will be a little more difficult this time around, as the “easy to lose” weight has already come off. But the stakes are higher this time. For January, I reinvested $50 of my $52 winnings. Now, I’ve got $50 to lose.

The pot for this game is obscenely high – around $65,000 (you read that right). So the upside is enormous, too.

That being said, I saw a game with a $300 buy-in. That’s a lot of money to have on the line … it sounds like a good incentive, but maybe too stressful to think about for a whole month!

Check out DietBet at dietbet.com. Post isn’t sponsored – just sharing a fun story. :o )