GVSU BIG MEET – 5000M
Allendale, MI – February 12, 2016
DNF – dropped @2600m (7:47)
(written on 1-22-21)
After a winter of “healthy life routine” and solid training, I continued to stay inspired. However, I was still dealing with lower tibia issues, off and on. The same ones since Summer 2013. Ever since they started, I’d spent countless hours researching how to speed healing through food, strength, massage, etc, and prevent them from reoccurring. I was obsessed and committed to figuring it out.
Looking back at it, sometime in 2015, my dad had randomly recommended the Born to Run audiobook, as I mentioned in a previous post. I listened during my maintenance shifts at Elbel Golf Course in South Bend that summer and applied the minimalist mindset to my running footwear. The result? I started to strengthen my feet and lower legs by letting my body run as natural as possible. It was a revelation for me (even today, I continue to somewhat follow this philosophy).
In the process of curiosity, my minimalist footwear research on YouTube led me to Anton Krupicka videos. In turn, I found his blog and read it ALL. Training entries. Stories. I became obsessed with the thought of training hard for ultra trail races in different geographic locations that inspired me, either with competition or mystique. This was so new to me. Yet, I was hooked. Almost daily, I would sit in thought, dreaming about trail running, mountains, and the lifestyle associated with being an ultra-style dirtbag runner. You know. Pickup truck “living”. Craft beer/coffee drinking. So, in the early winter of 2016, I went out on a limb and signed up for the renowned Ice Age Trail 50, a hilly 50-mile trail race in Wisconsin.
However, I still had goals of running fast and chasing PRs across all distances.
So, I signed up for an open 5K on the famed indoor track up at GVSU, a mere two hours north of New Carlisle, into the great state of Michigan. Grand Valley held a special place in my heart. Their legendary coach, Jerry Baltes, was also a New Prairie High School alum and I knew him personally. GVSU was also one of the schools I had wanted to attend and compete at, post high-school. Their program is legendary. They boast one of the nicest indoor track facilities in the nation (a rare 300m!). I had run an open 1600m race there in February 2013, my senior year of high school, and really loved the surface and energy (I placed 2nd in my heat, in 4:25, one place behind eventual national champion and future multiple-time NCAA All-American at Stanford, Grant Fisher, who ran 4:19 that day). Indoor track has always inspired me (energy + noise + repetition + winter fitness) and I’ve run some of my best performances indoors.
I put in some good sessions over the Winter. February came quickly, however. My goal was to run under 15:00! It was ambitious for me, considering my previous PR (and current PR, still!) was 15:51, run during my senior year of high school cross country in October 2012. However, I was confident that I was a more mature, fitter runner than back then, no doubt.
As I arrived and set up camp in the bleachers above the track, I met an interesting couple who were in the row in front of me. AJ and Robin Baker. They were from Seattle but had ties to Michigan. AJ was also racing an open 5K that day, in a different section. We talked about training, life, and trail running. AJ also had a passion for the trails. It was refreshing.
The gun went off and I soon found myself in the lead. I was nailing 300m splits very consistently and right on pace of sub-4:50/mi. I held the lead until maybe 2K, where I dropped a few places. For some reason, the weight of the moment, the discomfort of running 4:48/mi pace, being up at GVSU alone, making this trip for myself, doing all my training alone, trying to perform in front of former coaches/teammates at U. of Southern Indiana and Valpo U. whom I “failed”, and having these silly (unrealistic?) goals for myself…it all hit me hard and I became mentally fragile. I was just over halfway into the race, and decided to drop from the race at 2600m (7:47). I jogged straight to my cubby hole, grabbed my backpack that I had stashed, and marched upstairs to my spot in the bleachers.
I was embarrassed, tired, weak. Full of regret. Overthinking. Overanalyzing.
How could I actually DROP OUT of a track race? I wasn’t injured. Just weak.
Before I left the arena, I stayed for a few of the other races. I watched and admired the fitness of guys like Zach Panning and Tyler Pence, as my mind was consumed with personal dissatisfaction. How could I get to THAT level? By myself. On my own dime. No coach. No team.
Back to the drawing board.
After I had gathered my belongings and found my car, I drove to the next town and devoured some Little Caesars, then found a local park along the Grand River and watched the ice bergs float by. A huge snow storm was letting loose and I needed to get back home to New Carlisle. The highways were in horrendous shape, and I could barely see. It was absolutely the worst weather I have ever driven in, even to this day! Finally, I made it home, after a stop at McDonalds to cure my woes.
ICE AGE TRAIL 50MI
LaGrange, WI – May 14, 2016
DNF – dropped @50K (~4h10m)
(written on 1-26-21)
Finally! My first ultra trail race had arrived. Ice Age had been on my mind the whole year. I’d transformed my mindset as a runner, slightly. I had started incorporating longer runs (2.5 – 3h+) on trails while fueling properly, something that was somewhat foreign to me. I was obsessed with trail and ultra running. I’d also just begun working at Infusco Coffee Roasters and Greenbush Brewing Company in Sawyer, MI.
A day prior to the race, I headed over to the southern unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin (4.5h drive from New Carlisle), the site of the race, with my parents and Greg Thompson. We stayed in a hotel in Elkhorn, I believe. I was nervous (50 miles on trails scared me!), yet pretty fit. Throughout the Spring, I was very consistent in my training. I had run lots of solid trail runs and still was able to fit in some tempo runs, etc. Looking back, however, I hadn’t run very many Long Runs. I think I only ran over three hours one time! AND, something I never considered (being from a typical track / cross country background) was elevation gain/loss, and how it affected the body. Vertical gain/loss actually meant something. I soon found out the hard way.
I knew the “6h barrier” was something of note. Only a handful of runners had ever cracked six hours at Ice Age, and all of them were seasoned elite runners. However, my stubborn mindset had me convinced that I was talented and fit enough to run under six.
Before the race started, as the national anthem was underway, I found myself in the bathroom. For some reason, I didn’t think the race was going to start literally right after the anthem. It never dawned on me that all the runners were basically lined up and ready to run. I was in a focused zone of nervousness and anxiety. I finished my bathroom duties and was messing around with my shoelaces and hydration vest. ALL OF A SUDDEN, “bang”. The gun went off and a shockwave of despair hit me. I sprinted over to the starting area and had to bypass a few hundred runners in the first mile. I was flying, easily under 6:00/mi. SO stupid. By the second mile, I caught the lead runners, Wisconsin’s Tyler Sigl (2:17 marathoner) and Chicago’s James Akita. That effort would come back to bite me. However, I settled in on the Nordic Loop. We were rolling! By about mile four, Tyler pulled away from James and I (we later found out that he was going for Max King’s $5,000 course record of 5:40-something). A handful of minutes later, James and I came to a fork in the trail. We were both in “the zone” and misjudged the flags, taking the wrong trail for at least a half-mile before coming to our senses and retreating our steps. We were running very quickly (sub-6:00/mi!) during this section, also.
After regrouping, James slowly pulled away from me as we headed towards the very hilly Ice Age Trail section, the crux of the race. I now was running alone in 3rd place, which I didn’t mind. I did all my training alone and was comfortable running solo. In hindsight, I definitely didn’t pace myself correctly, considering the distance and the hills. But, I wanted to win the thing!
By the mile 22 turnaround at Rice Lake, I saw my crew and remember feeling the effort in my legs already. I still had 28 miles ahead of me. It was my first moment of despair. I didn’t want to drop off my pace, knowing how fast I had to run to keep my 6h dream alive. I was still in 3rd, just previously seeing Tyler and James pass me in the other direction on the IAT.
By the time I got to mile 27, I was cooked, mentally and physically. The uphills and downhills of the Ice Age Trail, combined with my pace, had blown out my quads. I was unfamiliar with this type of pain. My body didn’t know how to respond. Soon, my mind went to a dark place, knowing my goals were crushed.
I came to Ice Age to win the race and run under six hours. That hope was lost.
I threw in the towel. My run had been diminished to a walk, hoping to make it to the 30.5mi aid station at Duffin Road, so I could drop out of the race. It was a depressing walk. I was ashamed and humbled!
Upon return to New Carlisle, I spent lots of time in thought and adjusted my training regimen to help me improve on hilly ultra races in the future. Ice Age completely blew my mind. As a result of my failure, I became even more committed to the process. It was a great learning experience, but left a bad taste in my mouth for many months to come.
South Bend, IN – June 4, 2016
8th – 1:24:20
(written on 1-26-21)
Starting off 2016 with two dissatisfactory performances meant I could only learn and improve, right? Well…
Like I said earlier, I was obsessed with the thought of training like a trail runner and winning big races. Yet, I still had all of my running “time” goals ahead of me. I wanted to run a fast 5K, 10K, a half-marathon, and so forth. It just so happens that another fairly historic Michiana race takes place in early June, offering a half-marathon and marathon. The Sunburst.
I quickly signed up for the half-marathon, thinking I could maintain my previous fitness and run a fast race, and possibly win the thing. After about a week or two after Ice Age, my quads finally came back to life, even after only running 30.5mi of the 50mi race.
I think I ran one tempo run in the weeks leading up to the Sunburst Half. I developed a habit of “fake optimism”, believing that my previous running life’s work would show itself, resulting in a great performance.
I was wrong, every time. Here I went, again.
The gun went off as the sun was just starting to rise and shine into downtown South Bend. I made my way to the lead pack that included local elites, Justin Kowalski (2:24 marathoner) and Elias Rojas. It was humid. I felt awful. We ran the first three-ish miles at around 5:30/mi, and I was already feeling it. Pathetic.
Again, I started to doubt myself, my fitness. I let it eat me up. Around mile five or six, I broke away from the pack and decided to “stretch my calves” on the curb. My “race” was over. I gathered my thoughts, already feeling bad for myself, and continued on with the race. I was not running fast. Many slower runners were passing me and saying, “good job, you got this!” Extremely embarrassing. But, that’s the hole I dug for myself.
I ended up finishing the race in 8th place, way behind the leaders, in a time that I could have run in training! I made my way back to my car, embarrassed for myself. I thought, “What a waste of money, coming here and basically giving up.” I was right. I was my own worst critic. But, somehow I still believed.
BLUEBERRY STOMP 15K
Plymouth, IN – September 5, 2016
DNF – dropped @~6mi
(written on 1-26-21)
Throughout that first summer spent working in Sawyer, MI, I continued to train. I had slight tibia flare-ups, here and there, so I wasn’t as consistent as I would have liked. I was really into the local race scene, wanting to run good performances at them since I was unable to run most of them growing up, being a student-athlete (conflicts w/IHSAA rules, school meets, etc). The Blueberry Stomp 15K (a unique distance) was a popular one. Each year, it takes place on Labor Day, in Plymouth, Indiana, right before (or after?) the big parade.
The course starts in town and heads out into the countryside, makes a loop, and finishes back downtown. The gun went off and I ran to the front of the pack, side-by-side with Elias Rojas, local elite. He started to pull away from me by the first mile. I was already suffering. I felt unfit and wasn’t enjoying it. Again, I was already questioning why I signed up. I stayed in 2nd place for most of the first half, as Elias was out of sight.
Around mile five or so, I remember having some stomach issues and ended up finding some trees by someone’s property. My race was over, obviously, and I was looking for any way to get back to my car and leave town. These thoughts were becoming a terrible habit. About a mile later, I purposely ran off-course, stopped my watch, and walked back to my car. I avoided the entire finish line area of humans. Immediately, I drove to the local Pizza Hut, ordered a pepperoni pie, and took “the long way” home.
All in all, I basically dropped out of every race I signed up for in 2016.