still on high

Day 187

I still have the feeling of that was the best marathon I ran. MCM was really a pick me up marathon for me. I really needed that. I had a period of not finding the joy in running. I signed up Baltimore Marathon and it was kind of bringing me back to running. Marine Corps Marathon really fanned the flame.

I came out of it feeling that was how a marathon should be. Big, Loud, and badass.

I wrote about the race already. I think the rain and storm really made me appreciate the race more. We kept thinking how miserable it was but think of all the volunteers out there standing in the rain with us.

I enjoyed the special challenge of running among the slower crowds for two third of the race. But that made me looked so much better. We were catching up from behind. We were running 2-3 minutes faster than everyone. We were blazing fast.

The rain was refreshing on a hot day! Ah, flood street! We did it. We ran through like a boat skipping on top of waves.

The pace signs and mile signs situation was hilarious. I am sure they can do better next year. The scope was couple thousands of us were clueless once we came out mile 9 and merged back the regular marine marathon course. They only post the ultra mile every 10K and a lot of us have no clue how to convert it back to mile to find our min mile pace. I know my 5K time was 35 minutes. And so 10K should be 70 minutes. So every 10K, I have to check my time and do some math. My goal was to finish under 360 minutes (nice round number of 6 hours). 35 times 10 brings me to 350 minutes. So I know I was running a bit faster and I could afford about 30 sec correction on each mile. I banked my minutes and used them on my water stop.

It was funny, suprised kind of funny when people see the 4 hr pace group catching up from behind and finished with the 4:30 pace group. What they did not realized was the 4 hour group was pacing the ultra and they ran and extra 4.8 miles. So it was pretty good that they could finished with the regular 4:30 marathoners. same with me, I was with the 6 hour group and we finished with the 5:20 people. A lot of people were feeling despair when they saw the 6 hours people passing them (and they did not realize we were the ultra people). I am sure they will fix this issue next year. They already said they will have different color pace sign and with big red word saying Ultra on them to distinguish the ultra pace from the regular marathon pace.

MCM no. 44

Day 186 race report

I woke up the morning of the race at around 3 AM, having slept maybe 5 hours. Originally I set my alarm for 5 AM, but I felt I needed more time to prepare. The night before, I was too tired to pack my things after coming back from a hiking trip. It was the first time I woke up this early for a race. I know, with Ultras, there might be a day I will be at the course by 1 or 2AM in the morning.

I had my early breakfast. Cold breakfast because I was too lazy to cook. I had to have some food in me. Packed. We had to pack a second breakfast because by the time the race starts, I would be hungry again. I was out of the house by 5. I took the metro (light rail) to the starting line. Metro opens at 6 just for this event. I drove to a far away station in Springfield instead of taking a closer one, Vienna. The reason being, is to avoid making a transfer. I did this race back in 2017, and by the time waiting for transfer, I could barely made it to the race start, given that time, I missed the first train and had to wait for a second one that was like 15 minutes later. That 15 minutes was a big different. This time, no transferring and I made sure I was at the station 15 minutes prior the first train in order not to miss it. I barely made it on time for that due to not familiar with the station and the parking. The train moved out the station exactly on the dot. I got on my train. There were lot of runners like me. My race started at 7:30. I got to the race around 6:30. But there were a lot of people when I arrived, 30,000+ of them. It took us some time to leave the station and to get to the starting line. This time I came a little bit earlier and avoid the crowd like I did back in 2017. But there were still a lot of people. From the metro, we had to walk about a mile to the runners village. By the time I got to the village, and gone through security check, the starting time was near (only 30 minutes left). I walked up to the starting line and that was a long walk too (maybe quarter mile long). 50K has only 1700 runners and we felt many has dropped out due to the rain.

We had a tropical storm blowing from Texas. It hit us around 7-10 am. I have been watching this storm system since the beginning of the week. We were hoping it would skip us. There were a lot of water coming down from the sky. Bucketful of water. The race started on time. Luckily the storm did not last too long (maybe for couple hours). It came down early and then went out of the area, fast moving storm. We had sunshine for the rest of the race.

Having run the course before, this time I was well prepared. I did not go out too strong. Last time I tired myself out by mile 13. This time I am doing the Ultra 50k, which added about 4.8 miles more. The course still remained much the same. We did the extra 4.8 miles at mile 4.5, when we left the normal marathon race course and run a 2.4 miles out and back before rejoining the marathon course.

By mile 4, the elite runners already caught up with us. We ran about half a mile with them. Note we had a 25 minutes head start. We left the regular course at mile 4.5, and came back in. By the time we came back in the course many runners already ran passed. It was raining heavily at the time. Many runners were already walking. I assumed they were doing 16-18 mins per mile. We the 6:00 finishers were still going at 11:33 mins per mile. This was one of the greatest concern for the ultra runners. We would come in from behind and it would be a challenge to move pass the slower runners. While there were a lot of people, I was able to still pass them. Based on simulation, we would be passing 6000 people the first few miles. We passed a lot of people, but it was very hard to keep count. I was running between 10:30 a mile and 12:30 min a mile pace depending on the crowd. Experience definitely helped at this point. In the previous Marine Corps Marathon, I was expending too much energy weaving in and out of the crowds that by mile 13, I was completely exhausted. This time I was basically going with the flow and passing when I could. I know I would pass them, but I did not get frustrated if the person in front was a bit slow. I know they would a bit slow until the very end. Since they closed both sides of the street, I could run on the opposite side. Not many people did (they fear of being DQ I think for going off the course). I ran mostly on the opposite side (or on the median) to pass people. And it was great. I did not have to weave in and out the crowd too much.

Most people were respectful, they used hand signal to let people know they are stopping. There were not too many people running in big group this time. I could get by most of the time. There were just a lot of people. The course did not really spread out until their mile 13 as expected, our mile 18.

The rest of the race was mostly uneventful. Being an ultra runner, I brought my own water and food. I had more experience than the rest of the crowd. I did not slow down at many of the aid stations unless I ran out water. I got some oranges and gels from the aid stations later in the race, when I did not see that many people crowding there. I felt I was one of the few around me who could keep the energy up. I ate early in the race, before even the first official food station. I had real food (peanut butter sandwiches). I did not “hit-the-wall” until final two miles. Even then, the last minute gel got me through. One word about those gels, it almost turned my stomach inside out. I thought I was about to double over and throw up. Maybe I was drinking too much water by that time.

About pacing, I was with the 6:00 hour group. I was mostly in front of them. They were going maybe 30 seconds faster than the supposed pace in the beginning. We were running at 11 min pace until mile 5. Then the pacer decided to make a time correction by walking couple minutes. I had my 5:00 (hour) marathon pace band (I felt as long as I get to the 26.2 mile, I could finish the rest of the way). I arrived at the 26.2 mark exactly at 5:00 on the race clock. The last 4.8 miles took me an hour to get through.

I walked much more in the final few miles. I stopped for beer (from the crowd) and a picture. Bummer too the rain ruined my camera phone. A fellow marathon maniac ran up to me and we took a picture together with her phone at the final few miles. The final hill was hard. Having ran it before, I knew the hill was not long, so I pushed on. It was hard. Many other people flew by me. I crossed the finish line at 5:58:something on race clock time. I did not run a perfect even pace, but it was the first time, I arrived exactly at the time I wanted to arrive.

I think picking a 6:00 arrival time was arbitrary. I felt it was a bit too fast for me. I could have picked 6:15 or 6:20, then I would not have felt so rush. I did not want to push too hard, since I have one more race (a 50 miler) in three weeks, and that one I have been training on/off for over a year. I hope this race did not ruin my body for that one. I was not supposed to go all out on this race. I felt I was nearly there.

the night of!

Day 185

It has been a year since I started my first post! Thank you for putting up with my rambling.

I have run a ton of marathons since. The following are race reports given here for those who want to read them. DC:Abebe19, MD:Baltimore , PA:York, WA:JackJill, WV:Morgantown, VA:EDU, VA:Roanoke19, VA:Seashore50.

It is hard to choose a favorite among the races I ran. Each of them brings a lot of memories. I think running in Seattle was fun and so was Baltimore. I did two ultra marathons (EDU and Seashore 50K). I finished marathons in three new states (PA, WA, and WV). There are 44 states left to visit. California and Maine are two I plan to go to next year.

Tomorrow, I will run another Ultra. The Marine Corps 50K. They gave me the patch already before I even run.

I read it will be raining, but not cold. My expected finish time will be 6 hours. I ran my first ultra in 6 hours, and there is a chance I will be faster it because I will be running on the road!

I did a 18 mile hike/run today (From Pen-Mar to Annapolis Rock) on the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail. I think I will be ready. Fall is here and the leaves are beautiful.

Pictures just not able to show the vibrant color of the leaves. Paul, my hike leader. He will be camping, but I will continue on the hike by myself, since I have a race to do next morning.

Paul is carrying a big tarp because it will rain tonight.

I should get to bed soon. Got to wake up at 5 tomorrow for the race.

prep for MCM

Day 184 Another Marathon

I had a very good run on Tuesday night with a club member. Normally, I run very slow with the group. Last Tuesday, it was supposed to be wet and cold and many runners didn’t come out. It was me and another guy, Brian, running. There were a few ladies as well. Brian and I took off and we ran together. Brian gave me my money worth. I was out of breath after two miles. Somehow I was able to hang on till the end.

He commented I must be slower due to having just ran the Baltimore Marathon, but that was no excuses. He said normally people couldn’t even walk and less so running.

I have been mentally preparing for the coming Sunday Marine Corps Marathon. I haven’t been this excited for a race! Stressing on the mental part not physically. It is too late to do any last minute run. I could eat better and sleep earlier, to make sure my body get plenty of rest, that about it.

I will be doing the Ultra – 50K! I am using my last Marine Corps Marathon time as bench mark. Last time my pace was 11:16 (7 min/km). This time I will be aiming for 6 hr finish on a 31 miles course, and so the pace will be a little slower at 11:36 (7:15 min/km).

One concern for the ultra runners, even with a 25 mins head start will be running among the marathon people by the 4.5 mile split (we will have our own out-and back of a 4.8 miles at the 4.5 mile mark) and we will be ended up at the back of the marathon crowd once we rejoin back at the course. Someone from the marathon pacing community setup an excel spreadsheet of the pacing/crowd scenario, and I have been playing around with their numbers. It take the slower runners about an hour to get to the 4.5 mile split. It will take me more than 1:25 (hr:min) to clear the 9.4 miles (even with the 25 mins head start). Basically, I will be end up at the tail end of the marathon group when I rejoin the normal marathon course. I ran the simulation of various pace between 9 min-mile to 12.5 min-mile, I will still be caught in the tail end of those running the marathon.

We know there will be 20,000-25,000 runners. We ultra people (about 1700 of us) will be passing a lot of runners that day once we rejoin the course since we will came in running a min to two min mile faster pace than the crowd. Some are estimating, our pace group will pass about 6000 runners in the first few miles after rejoining the course. I think though probably about 1,000 runners, but we will pass maybe 5000-6000 by the time we get to the finish line. Some people don’t think we can actually run that fast with such big crowd in front of us.

I set up my own handy pacing spread sheet too. It will calculate my current pace and my needed pace to reach the end by certain time. It will be dynamic, meaning it can be continously update as I run. Math is Fun. This is where I am good at. I almost create an animation showing my speed vs the rest of runners.

Sorry to bore any of you with the math.

Baltimore Marathon

Day 183 / race report

First off, this is a good race to run. It was beyond my initial impression. Baltimore surprisingly is beautiful. I signed up for this race last year immediately the day after they held it. It was my plan/goal to do the king crab challenging, which was to run three races: the Frederick Half in May, the Baltimore 10 Miler in June, and the Baltimore Marathon (or Half Marathon) in October. It seemed an extremely difficult thing to do at the time and I have been worrying about for two years. But Ha, it was just like any race, the moment I stepped on the course and ran, before I knew it, I was at the finish line.

I have heard about the Baltimore Marathon the moment I started running and that was about two/three years ago. Baltimore is near where I live relatively speaking. I live in near the nation capital in Virginia, where two states meets. We informally call this area the DMV – DC, Maryland and Virginia. We are blessed with so many races here. The Baltimore Marathon is one of them.

Even though Baltimore is considered my neighborhood (by the census data) but it is on the other side of the river (on the Maryland side). For all my life, I have felt Maryland is in another country. I am sure the Maryland people felt the same about us Virginians. Baltimore is about an hour away from DC and this made it feels even farther from us. But I live about an hour from DC too in another direction. The race allowed me to be a bit more familiar with Maryland and Baltimore.

If any are doing destination marathon, Baltimore is not a bad choice. The race took place in downtown Baltimore at the Oreole Baseball Stadium (Camden Yard) and finished at the Harbor. I parked my car at M&T Bank Stadium (Ravens), which is just next to Camden Yard–they had free event parking for us. Surprised! I had to pay for parking if I run in DC or in Richmond. Hotels in the city are a bit pricy but there are plenty. I booked an hotel about 15 mins drive away, that is, outside of the city. It was not bad. Know that I was in Baltimore back in June to do 10 Miler and unfortunately at that time, I made a poor choice in staying a place that was kind of sketchy, just leaving it at that. Do your research of where you plan to stay. Any hotel that needs to have a bullet proof glass in front of the reception counter to protect the staff like in a bank, I would think it might not be a good location to stay at. My hotel was like that.

I read many things about Baltimore that is not very flatering, such as a city that can’t afford to pave its roads. It is known for potholes! We don’t even have to go into drug or crime or murder rate. Good thing is every block I ran, there are two or three police officers, so I felt completely safe the whole time. There was an incident where a car did not obey the police direction and almost ran me over, but that probably can happen any where. Of course, cars hate us runners. We blocked the downtown roads for 4-5 hours. We heard a lot of honking. I don’t think it was hey, congratulations but more like what is wrong with you guys running on the roads. There were angry long and loud honking errupting everywhere, because they closed the roads for us, and people were upset.

What I surprised about is how beautiful the city is. On a normal day, I wouldn’t walk around in Baltimore after hearing that people being beating to death is a normal thing in this city during the day, but on the race day as I ran through various neighborhoods, there are really nice people out there and who actually live there. People came out and cheered us. I was offered gummys, oranges, and water and beers. This was in addition to the official aid stations. The Baltimore Harbor, which was the half way point and the finish line is absolutely awesome.

How did I do? I was not running for a record (no PR). I signed up with the 5:15 pace group, which is kind of slow for me since my average is around 4:30-4:45 finish but in the last two marathons I ran kind of slow and finished at 5:30, and that was about a month ago. So, 5:15 expected time was reasonable for me. I stayed with the 5:15 group for half the race until pasting mile 13. Then I ran at my own pace and it felt great finally freed. At mile 20 I caught sight of the 5 hour pace group. I was hoping to pass them in the next three miles. I passed them. I was kind of hoping to pass the 4:45 group too. I crossed the finish line at 4:53, still it was a very good time.

It felt good to have strength for the last couple miles. I did not hit the wall at all. This was the first time running a marathon without being exhausted at the end.

The tireness came only after crossing the finish line and I went to bed early. Other than that, the race was very good!


Camden Yard. I just love this stadium, because it is beautiful!

Starting line. The green shirt people are my pacers. They were awesome. You can see the 5 hour pace team in front of us.

Our pace strategy was to run slower the first few miles, but would pick up pace after we get going. We walked through all 15 aid stations.

Our pacers set goals for us! Our first goal is to get to the zoo next to Johns Hopkins Uni.

Johns Hopkins. Also a beautiful campus. A beautiful morning.

Next up. We headed into the city. Beautiful neighborhood.

The famous Penn Station. Hear a lot about this station. Seeing this means we are in the city.

We are near the half way point. This race, they had the half marathoners start at our half way. We got here after the half already started. They said they had the half marathoners run in their own lane so they wouldn’t block us who were passing by. I arrived at mile 15 in 3 hours, which was slow for me, since normally by 3 hours, I would have done 20 miles already.

I did not take pictures on the second half. I was too focus on running. People say there were a lot of hills. True but I ran in more hilly places (e.g. Morgantown). Hills here were too easy for me. Also there were a lot of people walking after the half. It felt good to able to catch up to the people who were running the half.

Another thing interesting about the race was the relay team event. There were three exchange points (6, 13, and 20 mile). We marathoners were slow and tired but the relay runners, they just blasted out their exchange chutes at full speed, was something I love seeing.

Finish line at the harbor. I had my lunch and enjoyed the view.

More sightseeing. An Old ship. Constellation.

The finish place was very festive! In most marathons I have done, usually, no one is around by the time I come in. This is because, the half marathoners usually finish before the full, and are long gone by the time those running the full finish.

Wild Oak Trail BP

Day 182

It was a wild and wonderful weekend. On Friday I was supposed to be headed down south to Roanoke for a tripple crown hike/camping trip (McAfee, Tinker Cliff, and Dragon tooth) but God (or the hike lead) had a different plan. Plan was changing from the start. I was supposed to run the Ultra High Bridge 50k but instead I went for this trip. In the end, it was not meant to be.

As we were headed down to Roanoke, my hike lead was not feeling it. Instead at the last minute, we changed our plan to a nearer location. I don’t force her or mad at her fo a change of plan. Hiking any where is the same to me as long as we are all happy. The new location would still be just as hard, It has about 30 miles of hike and around total 8000 ft elevation change.

This place is less well known for backpacking. It has become a mountain bike trail and trail runner heaven. Ho and behold, as we pulled into the Wild Oak Trail head, the parking lot was packed. We got out, what to do and thinking what was going on. Normally, no one comes to this place after dark.

The guy who was tending at the parking lot quickly approved us to explain they were having a race going on for the weekend. We could stay and park on the side of the road as long as our car tires are completely off the road.

We were camping at the trail head with a race that was ongoing. The race started at 8 in the morning / or at night (I don’t remember). They were running 100+ miles). The trail has a 28-30 miles loop and they were running it 4 times. Through out the night as runners passed through the parking lot (an Aid Station as well as the starting and ending point) we heard cheers and applauses. Needless to say we had very little sleep.

As for me, I was trilled. I have read about races at Wild Oak. There was the Grindstone 100 and this was the hot TWOT. To finally be at ultra 100 miles race was heavenly. It was like shaking hand with celebrities. I might do the cold TWOT next February.

The next day we proceeded with our hike. My friend and I did this loop about three years ago. That time was my first backpacking trip (my friend disagreed) but I had plenty of memories from it because we did the whole thing in one day with a full pack on our back (and we were very miserable). This second time around we did it in a more relaxing way. Instead of hiking 28 miles in one day, we only hiked about 16 miles on the first day and finished the rest on the second. We camped somewhere in the middle. It was a good campground. I built a fire and tended it until backpacker midnight (when the sun went down and got completely dark) and I put it out and on the next day I bravely put my hand in the ash to make sure the ambers were completely out. Water was not plenty but still I pored water on the coals (I could pee on them, but I don’t think the ladies in our group would like that).

The next day, we finished the loop except we put in some extra miles after being confused by the signage and map. They changed the trail and the change was not on the map (at least that what we think). We had to rely on intuition and logic to get us ou of the place thanks to a very experience hiker in our group. He had a great sense of direction, otherwise we would still be looping at where we were lost for couple more times! Hey we all have our phones and gps, but none of us could make head or tail exactly where we were. We were lost for about an hour. I learnd some important old school navigation skills (love Sharron!). You don’t need map or signs if you use your head.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We got out of the woods by early afternoon. I was in good shape. I ran this loop back in June and hiking it was not a challenge at all. It was no doubt considered one of the harder trail to run or hike, but splitting it into two days was really too easy.

Don’t ask me how I don’t remember the trail even though I was on it as recently as couple months ago. My friend I should start remembering stuffs. Haha! I really don’t bother remember unimportant stuffs.

Another thing I did differently on this trip was I carry a 28L bag (like a normal school backpack) and it was small and light weight. I was very light on my feet. It was a bit too heavy to run with, but I could have. I didn’t bring a tent but slept under the stars. It was cold at night but it was not too bad. The temperature was around 50-60F (around 10-15C). Couple times I was awaken by the cold and I had to move around in my sleeping bag to warm up (I slept in my undies). I didn’t bring long johns; didn’t need them. My friend said I must have a higher body temperature. I had my downs sleeping bag though, and that kept me warm enough.

I surprised myself to be able to pull off being minimalist on a camping trip. It can be quite dangerous because I could have frozen to death.

game on

Day 181

Though I don’t have much to say, this weekend instead of running the High Bridge Ultra (50k) I will be heading south and west for a backpacking trip. I will probably the last one until Patagonia.

I will be packing tonight once I get home. I have a bit of running to do beforehand. The weather has turned cooler now, and we might face near freezing temperature up on the mountain. I will have to dig through my stuff to pull out the winter/fall gear for the trip. Also the food situation is not good. My mountain house dehydrated food packs won’t arrive until Friday. I am thinking I might have to run to Walmart tonight to get some food otherwise I might be hanged high and dry.

I hiked the the McAffee, Tinker Cliff, and Dragon Tooth loop previously but that time I was a completely noobie. This time around I should know what to pack and have a little bit more sense of direction.

For the trip, we are leaving from Arlington around 6:30pm. I think it is a 4 hour drive. We have to hike couple of miles into camp, so we probably won’t arrive until midnight.

The next day, I heard we are planning to do 18-20 miles, to the other side (North Mountain). On the last day we might skip Dragon Tooth, but still there will be something close to 15 miles before we are out of the woods. It will be 30+ miles total.

I am ready.