2020: Sunday Lake Marathon

After the 20-week training plan that culminated in the 2020 Holland Haven Marathon in mid-September, I had taken a week off before starting a 12-week training plan to continue working on my weaknesses. Maybe it was the cumulative fatigue of nearly 26 weeks of structured training plan OR a rather sudden change in weather (read: arrival of snow and frigid-ish temperatures) OR likely, a combination of both, I was starting to feel a monotonic decrease in motivation to keep up with the workouts in this new plan. My body seemed to take a bit longer than usual to recover from said workouts. Review of training material and chats with friendly mentors re-iterated the benefits of a short self-imposed break before mental burnout and/or physical injury compared to a potentially longer forced break. As a result, I decided to run the 2020 Virtual New York City Marathon in week #5 (or week #26 – if I am counting the first 20-week plan as well), end the plan and take a break to rest and recharge for the upcoming winter.

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2020: Birkie Trail Run Festival Half Marathon

This festival had been a known entity for the last few years. For what it’s worth, so had been my excuses and explanations to not be a part of it. Persistent nudging and encouragement from Ronda, one of the friendly and familial members of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF), and the t-shirt design (thanks be to Craig for showcasing his t-shirt from a prior year) were the clinchers and I signed up in early August. As with most events of this type in 2020, there was a chance that this too would/could be virtual. Building on their success from the Lumberjack Run, the parent organization did a remarkable job of complying with guidelines from relevant authorities, exercised due diligence and as a result, facilitated an in-person event.

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2020: Holland Haven Marathon

Had 2020 unfolded as any of the most previous years, I would have run the Illinois Marathon (April) as my target race in Spring and continued to train towards Marquette Marathon (September) with a handful of road and trail running events spread in between. But 2020 has been a year unlike any that I (or most of us) have experienced so far and COVID-19 has led to the postponement (if not cancellation) of a vast majority of races around the world including

  1. the Summer Olympics in Japan and
  2. the World Marathon Majors events
    1. Tokyo – elites-only event in March,
    2. Boston – moved from April to September as a virtual event,
    3. London – moved from April to October as an elites-only event and virtual for non-elites,
    4. Berlin – scheduled for September but cancelled,
    5. Chicago – virtual event in October, and
    6. New York City – virtual event in November.

I was/am fully cognizant of the fact that there are more important things in life than training for and running a race. Having friends whose livelihood depends on timing such events made me realize the value of such events beyond just getting another medal or even earning a new PR.

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2020: Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee

With my running goals (as of late April 2020) focused primarily towards road running events (and the need for sustaining a specific pace for a considerable distance), I knew the chances of participating in an event organized by Lazarus Lake (or just Laz for us cool kids) – assuming that I actually qualified for one – were pretty slim, if not non-existent. For those of us not yet familiar with the notoriety of Laz (I mean this in a good way), he is most famously associated with The Barkley Marathons held in the Frozen Head State Park and the Big’s Backyard Ultra (or The Last Human Standing Running) held in Bell Buckle – both in Tennessee. With most races around the globe either cancelled or postponed or turned into a virtual event as a result of COVID-19, a rare win-win opportunity came along: I’d get to continue working towards my long-term goals while simultaneously participating in a Laz-organized event, albeit virtually. Needless to say, I jumped on it!

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2020: (Virtual) Illinois and Grandma’s Marathons

If not for the ongoing global pandemic, COVID-19, the Illinois Marathon would have happened on 25th April 2020 and the Grandma’s Marathon would be happening on 20th June 2020. Organizers of the Grandma’s Marathon had sent out the cancellation notice at the end of March. In mid-March, organizers of the Illinois Marathon had only postponed the event to later parts of 2020. But the uncertainties being what they are, they too decided to cancel the 2020 edition. In the grander scheme of things, I believe cancellation aligns well with the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest possible time philosophy, and I sure hope that I get to meet my friends I was supposed to meet at these events again and again. Both events offered a deferment to or registration discount towards a subsequent edition as well as virtual run option. Having had a sneak peak at behind-the-scenes actions in my community’s events, it was an easy decision to go with the virtual run option.

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2019: New York City Marathon

Like many aspiring marathoners, I had entered my name in the 2019 NYC Marathon Sweepstakes Application as well as the general lottery about 10 months ago. But the random numbers weren’t in my favor, on both occasions, for this World Marathon Majors event. New York Road Runners (NYRR), the parent organization caring for this marathon, provided an option to earn a guaranteed non-complimentary entry in 2020. All I had to do was sign up for a virtual marathon (i.e., run 26.2 miles in a single activity along my chosen course) within a certain window of time, tag it as a race in Strava and wait for NYRR officials to verify it. So, I had signed up and expected to make this virtual marathon the last race of the 2019 calendar year. I was content with training towards 2019 Chicago Marathon and looked forward to being a part of the world’s biggest road marathon in 2020.

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2019: WhistleStop Marathon

I was on track for a finish time in the neighborhood of 3:20-3:25 in 2019 Whitefish Point Marathon (Paradise, MI) and would have bested my then best time of 3:35:46. But a more rewarding opportunity had presented itself in the second half. I had no regret (I still don’t) accepting it and finishing with a time of 3:49:25. Teetering a few seconds per mile (or about a second for every 400 meters) on the wrong side of my then threshold pace in 2019 Grandma’s Marathon (Duluth, MN) had me on track for a similar finish time through mile 18. Once over the cliff, I had bonked hard and had ridden the struggle bus for the final 8 miles … eventually finishing in a time of 3:46:16. Though I was somewhat disappointed knowing that I had the potential for a faster finish, both were times – a year or so ago – that I’d have gladly kissed anybody’s feet to have earned. And the process of training for and participating in  both these events were a memorable set of experiences on several fronts. 

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2019: Bridges & Bluffs Half Marathon

I would have never known that this event even existed if not for a conversation with Jan Haase in last week of August. Opting to race it required re-arranging the week #09 schedule of my training towards Fall marathons: Thursday’s 9 tempo miles would be run during this event. A good portion, if not all, of Friday’s easy 10 miler would be repackaged as a recovery run on Sunday. Saturday’s 20 miler was swapped with last week’s 13 miler. Assuming that the weather angels and the course cooperated well, the plan was to start slow-ish through mile #3, and reach and hold the tempo-like ponderous pace rest of the way. I expected the by-product of a proper execution of this plan to help me earn a new PR for this distance (below 1:32:22) … preferably at or below the 1:29:59 mark that seems to be within reach.

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2019: Marquette Half Marathon

Currently in week #05 of a training cycle towards a Fall marathon, my original plan for this event (like, when I first registered in December 2018) was to run the full distance as a supported long training run. Over the last 2-3 weeks (and even as late as Tuesday of this week), I flirted with the idea of sticking to the full distance at a fairly good pace … assuming the weather angels blessed us all with a day made for racing. As much as I believe in pushing the limits, I believe that I am a stronger believer in the process and its transformational power. Coupled with the advice Stephen Eles offered halfway through week #04, I decided to run just half the distance but almost entirely in an unwieldy zone. Doing so would have the added benefit of having plenty more time to cheer on John Farquhar as he punches his ticket to 2020 Boston and Bill Sved completes his 300th (yes, three hundred) marathon!

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2019: Paavo Nurmi Half Marathon

Currently in week #02 of a training cycle towards a Fall marathon, my original plan for this event was to run the full distance as a supported long run. But the collective wisdom of my mentors suggested that I no longer had as much of a need to train for full distance (the comfort zone) as I did for holding the desired needed pace for longer-ish distances (the discomfort zone). So, the new plan and its goals were to (a) reproduce the pacing strategy used in 2019 Canal Run Half Marathon (i.e., hold back in the first half and then push the effort in the second half) on what has historically been a hillier course with warmer weather and (b) earn a PR as a result. This year’s edition included a change in travel plan as well: a day trip instead of the usual overnight trip in an attempt to keep to more home-cooked meals.

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2019: Canal Run Half Marathon

Reasons to participate in this event haven’t really changed over the past several years: a very well organized and attended race in my own backyard, the potential to see and be with a lot of friendly faces from the awesome community I am so fortunate to live in and a chance to sleep in the comfort of my house the night before, and show community that its investment in helping me run (better) has been worthwhile. This year was no different either.

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2019: Run The Keweenaw

This marks the seventh year of being a part of this festival of trails (I call it, affectionately and with all due respect to the 100 mile version in the Golden State, the Mid-Western States Endurance Run). It certainly has taken on the flavor of a family reunion of my trail running friends. Even with a good number of familiar faces missing in action this year, the weekend offered a lot of what I’ve come to learn: trail running etiquette and friends that are competitive while being the kind, cooperative, caring and the very embodiment of the said etiquette. It’s a retreat away from the grips of electronic communication-overloaded civilization and nudging us to have humane conversations, and a lovely little platform to learn from the immovable mountains and never-stop-moving runners alike. The weekend also almost always offers something new, and with lessons about my own self and new friendships, this year wasn’t any different.

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2019: Grandma’s Marathon

I have known about this event for many years now (it, in 2011, was my buddy Nils‘ first marathon). Every time I drove to or through Duluth since getting into running, a part of me had fantasized about participating in this event. On my way home from LindaMark I Do festivities in 2016, I had driven most of the course and checked out the starting area in Two Harbors. After some thought and almost putting it off for one more year, I decided to sign up for this year’s edition primarily as a backup for 2019 Whitefish Point Marathon. If, for some reason (e.g., inclement health or weather), things didn’t unfurl as planned in Paradise, MI, then I would have had two weeks to rest, recover, re-group and give it another try again. Though far from achieving any of my time goals, Whitefish Point Marathon was more rewarding than I had anticipated.

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2019: Whitefish Point Marathon

The process of 2018 Chicago Marathon was a memorable experience on many fronts. It was my first time following a well-written training plan, sticking with a nutrition regimen, finding semblance of work-life balance and at the end of about 20 weeks later … running start-to-finish on race day to earn a 26-minute PR. As in most such experiments where the arrow of time flows purely in one direction, there wasn’t an opportunity for do overs. But a post-partum analysis revealed a list of things I should have tried and I could have done better.

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2019: Journeys Marathon

The half marathon associated with this event should have been my maiden half marathon when I got into running several years ago. Nancy and Josh had tried their best to convince me – to sign up and train. I didn’t even sign up in 2012, let alone train. Though signed up in 2013 and still didn’t train, I had favored the hometown Hancock Canal Run to be my first half marathon. So, instead of Eagle River, WI, being the site of my maiden 13.1 attempt, the town just remained an occasional pit stop during adventures deep into the heart of Wisconsin … until now.

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2019: Illinois Marathon

I first learned about this event some months ago … not by searching the remote corners of the internet (Running In The USA is one such corner) but from Patricia Gropp during the Women in HPC networking event as part of the SC18 festivities in Dallas, TX. I had put it on the back-burner of bucket list items … things for which I’d eventually make time. But during the Coalition for Academic Scientific Computation (CASC) Spring 2019 meeting in Alexandria, VA, the event re-surfaced again … thanks to a post-dinner conversation with David Moses and John Towns. Once John re-explained the festive small town America atmosphere associated with the big Illinois Marathon event that runs in the shadows of the famed National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), the event moved to the front-burner and I signed up.

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2018: Trinity River Run Half Marathon

Ever since SC14 in New Orleans, when I accidentally learned that many nerdy/geeky members of my Supercomputing (SC) / High-Performance Computing (HPC) family are avid runners/athletes, it has become a practice to look for and participate in organized athletic events in conference locations. It adds a bit more spice to and with an opportunity run with and learn from some of them, helps me extract more value from what would otherwise be a purely academic trip punctuated with delicious pit stops. Supercomputing (SC18) in Dallas, TX, was no different. As the conference date drew closer, I started searching for Dallas running races in November and found a flat-coursed event – Trinity River Run Half Marathon – outside of the conference schedule. After some trepidation (it wasn’t an inexpensive endeavor) and doing some running mathematics (training plan was calling for 16 LSD miles), I bit the bullet and signed up for the half marathon.

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2018: Great Turtle Trail Run Half Marathon

Great Turtle Trail Run Half Marathon was one of those events that got on my bucket list during the early formative years of my running … like 5 or so years ago. Around those days, I had wanted to do every half marathon within 6-8 hours of Houghton, if not anywhere and everywhere. I let life get in the way and I put this event on the backburner of bucket list items. Then again, the stove in those days had so many backburners that it was too easy to forget what I had on them … and needless to say, I forgot all about it. That is, until a week or so ago when Stephen Eles brought it up in a conversation, explained the course profile and expected low temperature and encouraged me to sign up!

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2018: Chicago Marathon

It has been nearly 3 years since I participated in a timed marathon experiment. It has been much longer than 3 years since I actually trained for any event. I have “trained” for several events before, including the two marathons – Marquette, MI and Madison, WI, but without a formal training plan. Back then and until recently, I was basically hopping from one event to the next using the performance in one as the baseline for the next. Such an approach worked pretty well in the first few years of getting into running because there was a LOT of room for improvement – so much so that anything and everything I tried, small or big, often led to newer personal best times.

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