Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sub-3 hours in Boston

  1. firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.

In 2003 I read somewhere that only 1% of runners could run a sub 3 hour marathon. I immediately decided that I wanted to be part of that select group of runners. I had already put together a 1:25:50 half marathon, and figured that my addition to the ranks of sub-3 hour runners was a forgone conclusion - all I would have to do is sign up for my first marathon and run it. I signed up for for the Twin Cities Marathon that fall and began my training. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to stay healthy, and was injured and unable to run when race day came around. I watched from the sidelines on a crisp, sunny October day as my friends Kyle and Ryan ran the race.  It would be 6 years before I tried again.

In 2009 I lined up at the start lines of the IMT Des Moines Marathon. It was an October morning not unlike that of Twin Cities 6 years earlier, only a little colder. I stood on the start line feeling nervous, but ready. I ran on pace to break 3 hours all the way to the proverbial wall at mile 21, and then it all fell apart. I managed to hold it together well enough to cross the finish line in 3:09:45 (Qualifying me for Boston, before they tightened the standards). It was days before I would walk normally again.

I would run 5 more marathons in the next 6 years, ranging in time from 3:01:54 to 3:16:31. The faster times were heartbreaking, because I was getting so close to my goal. A P.R. of nearly 8 minutes can only be a disappointment when you are a mere 1:55 from your goal. The slower times were disappointing because I was not as fit as I should have been, usually from being injured at some point in the training leading up to the race. The frustration of those slower attempts came from the fact that I had essentially wasted another chance to reach my goal. 

On April 20th, I lined up at the start line of the Boston Marathon, my first major marathon. I had been training with Lee Troop since January, and I felt incredibly ready. I had done everything right to avoid injury, and Lee's training had me running like I've never run before. The training was different than anything I had ever done, and there were no days off in my schedule. The only days off I had between the beginning of the year and the race were a few days when I was sick. I was so confident in my training that the only moment of nervousness I had was about half an hour the evening before the race. I felt so ready that, when talking on the phone to Lee two days before the race, he asked how the weather was looking and I told him it was going to be cold and rainy, with a headwind. He asked what I thought about that (I assume to pump me up if I had any worries), and I said, "I guess I'll be getting wet." I think that mindset played a huge roll in how race day went. 

There were 5,000 people who had qualified with a time faster than my 3:03, so the race was a bit slow for the first six miles. That played exactly into my plan, as I knew my job was to hold back until the hills began at mile 16. It also helped with the conditions, since it did turn out to be a cold, rainy, windy day. Having people all around helped block the wind, and made it feel warmer. Although I felt great and wanted to go faster, I stayed on pace, and went through the first half in 1:29:40. At mile 16 the hills began. My plan was to go only as fast as I needed to up to that point, grind out the hills from miles 16 through 21 on pace, and then give it whatever I had for the last 5 miles. 

I had been running with a group of 3 guys and a girl for most of the race. I heard them say early on that they were shooting for sub-3 and Lee told me to find a group to run with, so I wouldn't waste mental energy checking my watch in the early miles. As we began the hills, one of the guys dropped off pretty quickly. After a few more miles, I noticed the pace was lagging whenever the hills would really kick up, and I made the decision to leave the group. I was able to run strong through the hills, not feeling particularly taxed at any point. With the hills behind me, and more downhill than uphill left in the race, I picked up the pace a little to get back a few of the seconds I lost from slowing a bit on the uphill miles. 

The field had thinned, and the cold and wind was much more of a factor at this point. Add that to the fact that it had been raining on and off the entire race, and it wasn't exactly perfect running weather. I was on pace through mile 23, but I had been here before, only to have my race fall apart in the last two miles (leaving me with my 3:01:54). With two miles to go, I wanted to pick up the pace and steal a few more seconds back, but as I tried to go even faster, it felt like my legs were beginning to cramp up. They had been through 24 miles of uphill and downhill running, and it was cold out. I decided to just maintain my pace, knowing I was going to go sub-3 hours if I could just hold it together.

I ran 6:49 pace for mile 25, and 6:43 pace for mile 26. I looked at my watch as I turned the corner onto Boylston street and, with the fuzzy brain of someone who is at the end of a marathon, I was suddenly worried I wasn't going to make it. I could see the finish line, and it was slightly downhill, but I was having a hard time judging the distance, and the seconds just kept adding up. I picked up the pace, running 6:09 pace for the final .2 miles and crossing the line in 2:59:16.

After 12 years of trying, I expected to be overwhelmed with emotion. But, because I felt so confident and Lee's training had prepared me so well that I never felt like I was working hard at any point in the race, my first thought crossing the line was that I could go faster. Given better weather, I could go faster. In a race where I'm not worried about falling apart the last few miles and missing my goal, I could go faster. I'm not saying it would be a huge difference, but on a perfect day, I think I could have run closer to 2:57 or 2:58. Sub-3 hours has been my one goal for so long, and I'm just barely satisfied. All I can think is, "What's next?"

I have no real desire to run a faster marathon. It's not a big deal to me whether my P.R. is 2:59 or 2:56. The next big mark would probably have to be 2:55 or 2:50, but that's a lot of work for a few minutes that, in the grand scheme of things, don't really matter. So I guess it's on to bigger (literally) and better things. I'd love to get that big belt buckle by running under 25 hours at the Leadville 100, and the silver medals for breaking 7:30 at the Comrades Marathon are pretty cool. So, it's back to training. My last post might have been when I did my first Ironman in 2010, and you probably won't hear from me again until I run Leadville.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010


No football,rugby,soccer,or whatever player can touch him. 
He has become the ultimate endurance athlete. He is now an "Ironman"
                                          -from Urbandictionary.com

This blog begins, as most race blogs do, with a sleepless night the night before the race.  Of course, there was packing, the drive down, race packet pick up, etc., but those things are of little interest and should go without saying. I think I slept solidly for about 2.5 hours, before spending the hours between 1:30 and 4:00 tossing and turning.  At 4 I got up to eat about 700-800 calories so it would have time to digest before the start of the race.  I woke Emily up at 5 and soon we struck out into the dark to Lake Hefner.  It was a calm, warm morning, but for some reason getting ready in the dark always makes me feel cold.  

Pinks and oranges were just beginning to leak from the horizon as we entered the water.  I had nearly gotten sick before we left the hotel, but now I just wanted to get started.  The anticipation is always the worst - unless, of course, you have a bad race, then the bad race is the worst.  The water was was warm, and rusty from the red Oklahoma dirt.  We're staggered about the start line, but as the 2 minute warning is called, we become more cohesive and a line is formed.  The gun goes off, and the journey begins.

We quickly turned the quiet lake into a frothy mess, like a school of attacking piranha.  I was so distracted by getting hit by other swimmers, and so concentrated on looking for open water in which to swim, that we came to the first turn of the rectangular course before I knew it.  It spread out a little the second half and I finished the first loop in 42 minutes.  I was pretty much on target, so I set back in to a steady pace and tried not to think about the long day ahead.  Unfortunately, on the second half of the second loop, it became hard to concentrate, and I let my mind wander.  I stopped sighting for the buoys, and was just swimming away.  Then next thing I know, I look up and I'm nearly in the middle of the rectangle.  I'm sure this mistake cost me some time, but I'm not a fast swimmer, and it wasn't worth getting worked-up about.  I got back on course and finished the swim in about 1:30.  It was 10 minutes slower than I anticipated, but what's 10 minutes in a 12+ hour day?

I exited the water and, for the first time in my life, had the pleasure of being helped by wetsuit strippers.  Here's how it happens: upon exiting the water, you unzip  your wetsuit and free yourself from the top half.  You pull it down as low as you can around your waist as you are running up the swim finish chute.  Then, once you reach the wetsuit strippers, you lay on the ground and the yank the wetsuit off of you, pulling you partially off the ground in the process.

2.4 miles out of the way; I'm 1/3 of the way done?

I got my bike gear on, grabbed my bike, and headed out.  It was a 4 loop course of about 28 miles each.  Once we got out of town, it was mostly rolling hills through the countryside.  It reminded me a lot of Nebraska, actually. I was a bit surprised, because the website made it seem like it was going to be flatter, but there were no significant climbs, so I'd say it was a pretty easy course.  There were a couple stretches of a few miles each where the road was really rough, but other than that it was pretty smooth sailing.  With 112 miles and a marathon still ahead of me, I tried to remember to race smart and made sure I was taking it very easy the first lap.  I started in on my nutrition and made sure I was eating or drinking every 15 minutes.  By the end of the 2nd loop the wind had picked up a little bit and It was getting hard to make myself eat.  By the end of the 3rd loop, I didn't even want to go back out.  The wind stuck around and on the 4th loop it was starting to get hot.  It was also nearly impossible to make myself take in nutrition, but I forced myself because I knew that I might not get in anything other than liquids on the run.  I finished the bike in 6:30, about 30 minutes slower than I wanted to; I was tired and definitely could have been done for the day, but I knew there was still a lot of work to be done and I tried to stay in the game mentally.  

112 more miles out of the way; only a marathon left?

The marathon was another 4 loop course of about 6.5 miles each. I knew that if I started walking I would easily add 4-6 minutes per mile to my time and ruin a decent race; in fact, I planned my entire race around making sure that didn't happen.  I picked a steady pace and headed out on the run.  Immediately I was met by people walking - either heading out on their first lap or heading back in.  I was tired, sure, but I had high hopes of running the entire marathon, and I was going to try to run until I couldn't anymore.  I got through the first loop about 5 minutes faster than I thought I would, but during the 2nd loop was when everything started to hurt.  Pretty much everything from my bellybutton down hurt.  Also, my stomach was sloshing from all of the liquids, but it was hot and I was too scared of my body shutting down to stop drinking at the aid stations.  Every second that I spent walking through an aid station (to make sure I was getting down my fluids) felt like heaven.  It was amazing how much better it felt to walk than to run, but I was determined to keep going if I could. At this point, during the second and third loops, there were very few people actually running the marathon, so any time the spectators saw one of us they were genuinely impressed.  Their words of encouragement and exclamations of awe at the fact that some of us were actually still running the marathon we're quite inspiring.  

The sun was dragging a trail of purple and gold clouds with it as it began to set behind the lake at the start of my last loop.  At this point I had been so focused on parts all day, that all I could think about was that I was going to make it through the last loop and run the entire marathon.  The thought that I was going to finish an entire Ironman didn't even cross my mind.  I did, however, realize that I needed to pick up the pace a bit if I wanted to break twelve hours and 30 minutes.  Everything hurt, but I was able to go faster without much of an increase in effort - a sign that I had paced myself well and maybe even could have had a faster time had I known where that thin line was.  On the way back to the finish line I started replying to and high-fiving the spectators.  Finally I was having fun.  After three loops, I knew where all the turns were, and I knew I was running faster, but the finish line just didn't seem to be getting closer.  I came around the final turn, about half a mile from the finish, and I could hear the announcer calling out the name of a finisher.  As I got closer, I saw the clock and knew I was going to break 12:30.  I walked the last few feet of the finish chute, and raised a hand in victory.  

Such a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders, and all I could think about way laying down and not getting back up.  It wasn't until a volunteer hung the medal around my neck and said, "Congratulations, Ironman," that it really hit me.  I just did an Ironman triathlon.  I sat down and drank some chocolate milk.  The volunteers kept asking me if I was ok and if I needed to go to the medical tent.  I guess it's a serious event when they continually ask you if you need to go to the med tent after you finish.  I really didn't know what I wanted - I wanted something to drink, something to eat, and to lay down and sleep all at the same time.  I knew I probably shouldn't keep sitting, so Emily helped me up and walked me to the tent to get my finisher's shirt.  I was pretty much a wreck at this point.  All of my muscles were stiff and sore.  My feet hurt and I was walking like someone who just got hit by a bus.  Emily helped me gather up my things and then brought the car around so I didn't have to walk to it.  She was out there all day too, and she was amazing.  I'm really glad she wanted to come with me.

When we got back to the hotel, all I wanted to do was lay down, but I was disgusting, so I manged to shower.  The shower drained slowly, and after I got done and all the water finally trickled down the drain, there were a number of small ribbons of salt snaking their way towards the drain.  It was ridiculous how much salt there was.  I was actually kind of impressed.  We got some food and went back to the hotel to get some rest.  I had just done a 12.5 hour race on only a few hours of sleep, but unfortunately I was so sore that I couldn't get comfortable.  I would spend the night tossing and turning, and only get a few hours of sleep for the second night in a row.  

Sunday I was a wooden doll whose hinge joints were rusty, but Monday I was starting to feel better.  Thanks to having the day off and my girlfriend getting me a massage, I was nearly moving normally again by Tuesday.  Honestly, it took a couple days to sink in, but I'm really proud of what I accomplished.  There were points during the race when I was sore and I knew that my body wasn't working right or digesting food that I thought that an Ironman is probably not something that anyone should ever do to their body, but I'm only a few days out and I'm already thinking about breaking 12 hours.

Frame of reference (140.6 miles):
Had I started the race in Lincoln and raced a straight distance, I could have raced to Kearney, NE; Manhattan, KS; St. Joseph, MO; or Sioux City, IA.

I had the 4th fastest marathon time

Not awesome:
My swim time was comically slow

Best part of the day:
Wetsuit strippers or being called an Ironman at the finish

Worst part of the day:
Forcing myself to eat at the end of the bike

Next crazy adventure:

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Saturday, July 24th, was a warm summer day, but not nearly as hot or humid as you might expect for Nebraska in July.  My wonderful girlfriend, Emily, drove me up to Omaha to meet up with my college buddy, Matt, and his friends from Kansas, who would be joining us for RAGBRAI.  Emily dropped me off at The Upstream and I met up with Matt.  Matt ate lunch and we killed some time walking around the old market as we waited for the guys from Kansas.  After a couple of hours they finally showed up.  They couldn't find a parking spot close to where we were, so they parked a few blocks away and Matt sent me ahead to screw with them.  I found them (Larry, Kyle, and Colin) milling about the car and took them for a ride, asking them if they were, "on some sort of racing team," and "if they had room in their car for me and my bike because I've always wanted to do RAGBRAI."  It was a magical first meeting.  They had a good laugh when I told them the truth and I knew they would be a good group of guys to spend RAGBRAI with.  We left  for Sioux City in two cars.

When we arrived we found a nice grassy knoll upon which to set up our tents and, once our campsite was established, we immediately started drinking.  We took a short break to check out the expo, where Matt and Colin (both bike mechanics), kept running into people working the tents that they knew.  We milled around for a bit, joked about missing the Smash Mouth concert, and headed back for more drinking until we called it a night.

RAGBRAI, for those of you who don't know, is a cycling event across Iowa.  It is the oldest, largest, and longest multi-day bicycle tour in the country.  There are about 15,000 people who do it and cyclists completely take over both lanes of the highway.  There is a start town and an end town each day, and in between we pass through little towns that are essentially shut down and turned into one big street festival.  The enormity of this event is nearly unfathomable and, unless you've done it before, there is no way to accurately describe it that would convey the true chaos of RAGBRAI.

This post has the potential for becoming excessively long, so I'm going to do the rest of the week like this...

Day 1:
Woke up too early (this was to be the theme for the week because insanely slow people get up at 5:00 to be obnoxious and get ready to start riding, since it's going to take them all day)
Beautiful weather
68.5 miles with 3,687 feet of climbing
Matt's drive day (one person had to drive each day to get our gear to the end town.  Matt rode a single speed, so he decided to drive the day with the most climbing)
Best thing that happened - found a party farm 5 miles from the end town with free beer and brats.  Also, free watermelon at one of the towns along the way.
Ended in Storm Lake.  That town is beautiful.

Day 2:
Woke up too early
Another beautiful day
100 miles with 1,416 feet of climbing
Colin's drive day since we were all doing the extra loop to make it a century ride and Colin thought that Idea was dumb.
Best thing that happened - stopped 10 miles from the end town and gorged on all-you-can-eat pasta and garlic bread (which was delicious), but then had too many beers and got WAY too full.  Also, was on the periphery of an accident and got stabbed in the Achilles tendon by my big chain ring.  Kyle and Larry were riding drunk the last 10 miles and were hilarious (and STILL way faster than us).

Day 3:
59.9 miles with 1,068 feet of climbing
My drive day, since I figured I'd be sore from the longest ride of my life (I was right)
Best thing that happened - Went to the pool in the end town.  We all got sunburned and watched a (probably drunk) older lady with fake boobs have WAY too much fun

Day 4:
51.8 miles with 1,180 feet of climbing
Kyle's drive day
Best thing that happened - Stopped for Mr. Porkchop (delicious), took the wheels off of Colin's bike, and left while he was still in line for food.  "Really, guys?  Really?!"  It was priceless and would not be the only time his wheels got removed from his bike.

Day 5:
Larry's drive day
82 miles with 2,635 feet of climbing
Best thing that happened - I had a good ride and took some strong pulls (letting people draft off of you - at one time I had a train of 6-8 people following me.  I almost felt like a real cyclist for a second!)

Day 6:
Matt drives again (because he blew up the day before)
Best thing that happened - being done with the ride.  The weather was crappy and I finally blew up and was unable to keep up with the guys.  We went to some crazy bars, I got Iced twice...about 30 seconds apart.  It was a good ending to a crap day.

Day 7:
I drive again since I blew up the day before
47.5 miles
2,591 feet of climb (I guess there were some killer hills on this day
Best thing that happened - being finished and saying goodbye to a new group of friends.  Matt and I stayed with Emily and her parents that night at their house near Des Moines.  We got to clean up in a real shower, ate a ton of awesome food, and I Iced Matt (finally).

RAGBRAI was twice as much cycling as I usually do in a week and 100 times more drinking than I usually do in a year.  We also had lots of, "fellowship," as Larry liked to call it, which was basically just us eating at a restaurant and hanging out.  Spending all of my time with these guys for an entire week sort of reminded me of being on tour, which was good; I miss that feeling.  There were plenty of other crazy and cool things that happened, but if you want to hear about them you'll have to drop by for a chat or give me a call.

Monday, March 8, 2010

2010 Season

Inspired by Barrett Brandon's new post on his 2010 season.  Mine isn't as epic, but it does have two half Iron-distance races 5 weeks apart.

March 13th - Leprechaun Chase 10k road race
April 17th - Novartis run 10k road race
June 5th - Dam to Dam 20k road race
June 20th - CSG sprint triathlon
July 17th - Lake Geode Olympic distance triathlon
August 22nd - Pigman half Iron-distance triathlon
September 25th - Redman half Iron-distance triathlon
November 20th - Living History Farms 7 mile XC race

And for anyone who only keeps up with my life via this blog...join Facebook (Barrett)!  ha HA!  Kidding.  Today I started my first "real" (salary, business casual, benefits) job today.  I fought the good fight  for 31 years, but I guess it's time to move on.

Also, I have a girlfriend and she's awesome.  REALLY awesome.  :)

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010 (01-01-10)

If I’m completely honest, I never thought I’d be updating from Europe, and I’m not just talking about this new year post, but any post in general.  Sure, I’d dreamed of living in a foreign country, but who hasn’t?  I always thought it was one of those things on my “bucket list” that would just always be there, as a quaint thought in the back of my mind.  It’s interesting to think about how completely unexpected nearly everything in my life has been.  If you had asked me when I was a senior in high school, I would have told you that I was going to go to college and then grad school to become a psychiatrist.  Instead I have an English degree (I didn’t love books then), spent 10 years running around the country and playing music with my best friends (I didn’t play bass then), became a triathlete (I couldn’t actually swim then and had never even heard of a triathlon), and moved to Europe (I had never even thought of living abroad and only very rarely thought of traveling).  There have been sacrifices--boy, have there been sacrifices--but I consider myself quite lucky.  So what’s the message here?  Don’t make plans?  All of life is an unexpected adventure?  I don’t know; I don’t have the answers.  I just think it’s amazing where my life has taken me and almost shudder to think how differently my life would have been had I skipped touring for grad school and rushed into a full time job.

2009 was a very turbulent year in the already crazy life I had created.  Maybe turbulent isn’t the right word, but a lot of big stuff happened.  I went on two tours and the stressful life of scraping-by and touring finally got the best of me, so I quit the band.  Maybe the decision is still too fresh, or it’s too early to tell in the grand scheme of things, but that might be the only decision I’ve ever made that I really regret.  I knew that if we couldn’t “make it,” at least to the point of being able to support ourselves, then it would have to end some day.  I know we had some small success, were able to tour the entire country multiple times, and sell records in Japan, so I should feel good about that, but there’s going to always be a part of me that wishes it could have gone on forever.  I ran my first marathon, which I trained for nearly all year.  I moved to Hungary, which has been hard, but good for me.

For whatever reason, I think 2010 is going to be a good year.  I’m actually looking forward to a little normalcy.  I’ll get to come home.  I’ll get to see my friends.  I might be able to get a really good job.  It would be nice to finally start digging myself out of debt, have health insurance, and be able to do little things like buy my family Christmas presents (which hasn’t happened for a number of years).  I’ll spend a lot of time swimming, biking, running, and reading.  I’ll probably train for another marathon and half Ironman (I hope to do my first Ironman in 2011).  I don’t usually get this way with the new year, but I feel like 2010 has a lot of potential, and I’m making plans to make it great so that it doesn’t pale in comparison to the last 10 years that I’ve spent having the best time in my life with my best friends.

Krakow (Photos)

Krakow (Part 2)

The alarm goes off at 9 and I’m probably still a little drunk.  We drag ourselves downstairs to eat the free breakfast, which is far better than any free hotel breakfast I’ve had in the states, and includes scrambled eggs and ham.  Unfortunately, we have to choke down our food because neither of us are feeling that great.  Now aware of where we actually are, we walk the few kilometers to the city center and find the bus station.  We buy tickets to the town of Oswiecim and get on the bus.  The trip takes about an hour and a half, and because of our crazy night and lack of sleep, neither one of us have a very comfortable ride.  I have the same initial experience with Auschwitz that I had when I went to the Alamo--I’m completely confused at how it exists in a town.  I always imagined it would be located in a barren field somewhere far from civilization, but there is a town living in the shadow of this monument to horror; there is a mall within walking distance from the gates.

There’s not much that I could tell you about this place that you’re not already aware of.  In addition, there’s no way to describe the gravity of that place--the way it has the ability to make your heart so heavy and pile more weight than you think you can handle upon your shoulder--so I won’t even try.  The one thing I noticed that I wasn’t expecting is that it isn’t ugly; the grass was green, there were birds singing in trees, the buildings don’t look terrifying (from the outside).  I had almost assumed that the things that happened there would have had a Chernobyl-type effect on the land.  Anyway, we walked around  and through the buildings, many of which have been turned into sort of a museum.  It was nearly 3:00 by the time we left, which meant we didn’t have time to go down the road to Birkenau.  I am told that it is even more gruesome, and that children under the age of 14 aren’t allowed to visit that site.  It’s probably a good thing that we couldn’t go, because I don’t know how much more either one of us could handle.

We’re pretty quiet the entire ride back to Krakow.  We get to town and go find a polish restaurant for some food.  It has a log cabin feel, with a stone hearth and blazing fire in the main room, as well as some delicious food.  Full and warm we walk back to our hotel to shower and nap again.  We head back into town and meet up with some more people from CouchSurfing.  Zenia, who is a first generation Pole from Chicago, and her friends Matt from London and Echo from China.  They take us to a techno dance club that is too loud.  JM and I don’t feel like drinking because of the last two nights, so we sip sodas.  Echo has some crazy stories, when you can hear her, but Zenia and Matt are more interested in making out.  We hang out until about midnight and then call it a night.

There are couple of inches of snow on the ground when we wake up.  Our free breakfast is delicious this time around, and we’re feeling pretty good about the trip, overall.  We get packed up, check out, and head back to the main market square.  We walk around for a little bit and then start making our way to the bus station, determined to get it right this time.  There’s a giant, four-story mall on the way, so we walk through.  It’s packed with people and looks like any other mall.  We get on the bus and watch two year old movies overdubbed in Hungarian, but with English subtitles.  After nearly eight hours on the bus, we finally make it back to the apartment.  The really strange thing about taking a trip from Budapest was that the whole time I kept thinking that when the trip was over I should be going home, but instead I knew that I would be going back to Budapest.  Still, it was a great trip.  Next up is Rome, tentatively planned for late February.