Tag Archives: Marathon

Yours truly talks ultras on RunIowa podcast

3 Jul

RunIowa snippedI could talk your leg off about running, but I try not to bore my friends by talking solely about the hobby that I love. I realize that not everyone is as interested in intervals and vertical and fartleks and long runs and the like.

So it was a pleasure to get to share without restraint my thoughts on ultras and running on the most recent episode of the RunIowa podcast.

Most of my training time is spent listening to podcasts, which are pre-recorded shows that you can listen to on your computer or download to your phone or MP3 player. I listen to a lot of running podcasts, a lot from NPR and a lot from ESPN. This link details some of my favorites.

As the name implies, the RunIowa podcast focuses on things around our state. The show is hosted by Rob Lindquist and David Kaeding, a pair of teachers from Council Bluffs. They’ll talk about gadgets, training, races and more. I stumbled across the very first episode that was released in late 2014, and it’s been at the top of my playlist ever since. I was honored to appear in the episode released yesterday (July 2, 2015). And I certainly enjoyed sharing my adventures in ultrarunning with fellow running enthusiasts.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the photo at the top of the post or here’s a link to the podcast on iTunes. RunIowa can also be found on Twitter at @RunIowa or here on Facebook.

Let me know what you think of the podcast by commenting below, and I’m sure Rob and Dave would love to have you as subscribers to the podcast.


9 Jul

Purpose of running

End of the World Marathon a perfect ending to the race year

20 Dec
A couple boys fish off the beach at Placencia, Belize, during the End of the World Marathon on Dec. 8, 2013. I paused long enough at mile 24 or so to take this photo.

A couple boys fish off the beach at Placencia, Belize, during the End of the World Marathon on Dec. 8, 2013. I paused long enough at mile 24 or so to take this photo.

Perhaps “Powered by Pina Coladas” is not the best approach for a marathon.

Or then again, maybe it is. It depends on the marathon. And your goals.

In my case, the End of the World Marathon in Placencia, Belize, was a cap to my racing year. I’d completed an ultramarathon in the spring. I’d made my attempt at what for me was a fast marathon in the fall.

The run in Belize on Dec. 8, 2013, was a chance to combine a warm weather adventure with one of my favorite pastimes. It didn’t disappoint on either account.

I’ll write up my thoughts about Placencia in general in a future post. In this post, I want to share a little about the End of the World Marathon.

This spring, I marked my 50th birthday with a special challenge, running my first ultramarathon. As my wife, Barb, approached the same milestone, she decided she’d like to run another marathon (because she’s only half as crazy as me). And she wanted to combine that physical challenge with an exotic locale. Enter Placencia, Belize.

Barb proudly displays her trophy for winning her age group in the End of the World Marathon. Way to go, Barb!

Barb proudly displays her trophy for winning her age group in the End of the World Marathon. Way to go, Barb!

Barb’s approach to the EOW marathon was different than mine. It was her big challenge. She wanted to not just meet the challenge but beat the challenge. And, boy, did she, winning her age division for the women’s marathon.

Me, not so much. I bumbled and stumbled my way to my slowest marathon yet.

But the fault for the sub-par race time rested with me, not with the race itself.

This was just the second running of the End of the World Marathon, but it was well organized and well supported. Organizer Chip Lovett splits his time between the States and Belize, but he answered a number of pre-race questions by email and offered us lots of great advice on the area. At the packet pickup the day before the race, Chip and his volunteers were friendly and cordial. And at the post-race celebration, Chip and several sponsors handed out beers and trophies, all to a reggae beat supplied by the entertaining local DJ.

The race traces nearly the entire length of the Placencia Peninsula, which is about 16 miles long and located in far southern Belize. At some points, the peninsula is just yards wide, with the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Placencia Lagoon to the west.


The medal's colors fit perfectly with the Caribbean vibe.

The medal’s colors fit perfectly with the Caribbean vibe.

The marathon started at the south end of the peninsula at Placencia village. It ran an out-and-back course along the peninsula to reach the necessary 26.2 miles. For the half marathon, participants were picked up by bus all the way along the route and taken to the north end. From there, they ran back to Placencia. It was fun to meet the half-marathoners as we marathoners made our way to the north.

The race is run on the blacktop road that is the main artery for the peninsula. Traffic control on the road is accomplished by speed humps, which also serve as the high elevation points on the peninsula. If you equate “flat” with “fast,” this is the race for you.

And if you’re sick of running in the cold and the snow, Belize in December is the place to be.

The race started at 5:30 a.m. — a little more than a half hour before sunrise — and it was 70 degrees or so already. By the time I finished, the temperature had risen to 85 degrees. The temperature topped out at 90 degrees on race day. Fortunately, the morning was overcast and there were passing showers; if the sun comes out, even the morning can get quite warm.

Marathoners Mark and Barb Smidt, from left, take a photo with their own personal support crew, Kristi and Ken Stein, before the start of the race. Thanks, Ken and Kristi, for all your help along the way!

Marathoners Mark and Barb Smidt, from left, take a photo with their own personal support crew, Kristi and Ken Stein, before the start of the race. Thanks, Ken and Kristi, for all your help along the way!

As an Iowan, I’m used to the humidity that helps us grow bumper crops of corn. But I’m not used to high humidity and high temps in the winter. During our visit to Placencia, the humidity ranged from 70-95 percent — when it wasn’t outright raining.

This year, there were 35 finishers in the marathon and 134 finishers in the half-marathon. That’s roughly double the numbers from the inaugural race. After running a few mega races over the years, it was fun to do a small run.

Despite the small number of participants, the locals came out in large numbers — relatively speaking — to support the runners. They enthusiastically cheered at several aid stations. One woman cheered on every passing runner from the balcony of her Placencia villa.

There were a number of aid stations at timely locations. Water was actually passed out in small plastic bags — about 8-10 ounces in size. Gatorade and even coconut water was handed out in some places. Bananas and orange slices were plentiful, and Gu was distributed in a few spots.

Perhaps one of the world's worst and least flattering selfies, but what do you expect when you are taking a picture of yourself while drinking a Bloody Mary at mile 16 of a marathon?

Perhaps one of the world’s worst and least flattering selfies, but what do you expect when you are taking a picture of yourself while drinking a Bloody Mary at mile 16 of a marathon?


The aid station volunteers at the Maya Beach Hotel and Bistro got the prize for most enthusiastic. They brought to life a circus theme, dressing as penguins, lions, the ring master and the like. And they CHEERED. Coming at mile 16 or so, their enthusiasm was really welcome.

And their unique hydration offering got the best of me.

“How about a Bloody Mary?” one costumed volunteer asked.

It took a couple steps for me to realize the offer, but when it sunk in, I did a double-take. “Why not?” I said. “I’m not going to set a PR anyway, and I’m running in Belize! Sure, I’ll take one.”

“Hey, that’s cool,” the volunteer said. “You’re the first runner to take one.”

I’m sure it didn’t help my finishing time. But it certainly added to the experience.

Better runners through circumcision as young adults?

20 Nov

Watch the YouTube video above of Kenyan runner Kipchoge Keino win the 1,500 meter race in the 1968 Olympics. Keino’s victory marked the beginning of nearly 50 years of Kenya’s dominance in long-distance running.

Many scholars and scientists have sought the answer to the question: Why are Kenyans such great long-distance runners?

In it’s own inimitable style, Radiolab tackles that question in this podcast. You can read books on the subject, you can read magazine articles on it, but this 25-minute podcast is worth your time.

In the story, NPR’s Gregory Warner explores the many factors that have led Kenyans — and specificially the Kalenjin tribe — to dominate long distance races over the past 40+ years. Among the many factors are:

  • Diet
  • High-altitude living
  • Mileage run over a lifetime, beginning as children
  • Socio-economic benefits derived from running success
  • Genetic differences that benefit runners

But perhaps the most dramatic — and, for me, headline grabbing — reason for the Kalenjin success is their self-nurtured ability to withstand pain.

Faced with an extremely taxing and painful rite of passage shortly after puberty, Kalenjin children spend years preparing themselves for the ordeal. And since the ordeal includes a unique manner of circumcision, it’s easy to understand how the Kalenjin can endure the pain of a measly marathon.

Give the podcast a listen. I guarantee you’ll be enlightened and entertained.

♦ ♦ ♦

Here are links to several other interesting topics mentioned in the podcast:

Everything in moderation?

8 Feb

With first ultramarathon approaching, now’s a fine time to figure it out

With 8 weeks to go to my first ultramarathon, this probably wasn’t the time to be watching a video that details how too much exercise may not good for your heart health.

But if you’re a long-distance runner, the video above is worth 18 minutes of your time.

The video, featuring noted cardiologist James O’Keefe, was recorded at a TEDx conference at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in September 2012. The presentation is titled, “Run for Your Life!  At a comfortable pace, and not too far.”

On the seminar’s website, O’Keefe’s presentation was summarized this way:

“… Extreme endurance training and racing can take a toll on your long-term cardiovascular health. For the daily workout, it may be best to have more fun (and) endure less suffering in order to attain ideal heart health.”

For runners, the speaker carries a extra level of credibility: he’s also a former triathlete and a life-long runner.

O’Keefe also references New Orleans’ physician Carl Lavie, whose work stressing fit over fat I referenced in an earlier blog.

In his TEDx presentation, O’Keefe doesn’t urge us to give up running. But he suggests that the greatest benefits come from running a a few miles at a time at a moderate pace just a a few times a week. And he presents some evidence that extreme training and running has negative consequences for our cardiac health.

Anecdotally, O’Keefe points to Micah True — featured prominently in the best-seller “Born to Run” — as an example of what happens when we overtrain. This story explains the cardiac distress that killed True.

O’Keefe isn’t the only one who has suggested that extreme exercise may decrease your life span. I listen to a podcast by Ben Greenfield, an expert on nutrition, exercise and endurance sports, and he has said that he figures his extreme exercise marginally lowers his life span. But he also points out that sometimes we do things we love but aren’t good for us.

Certainly, O’Keefe’s advice is something to consider. And there may be a day when I radically curtail my training. (He also notes that cutting back on training at any time can reverse some of the damage caused by extreme training — much like giving up cigarettes can erase some of the years of damage from smoking.)

But for now, I’ll relish the physical challenge and the mental boost I get from endurance training and competitions.

The first baby steps on a 50-mile trail

13 Jan

It seems like I began training for my ultramarathon in earnest this weekend.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been building my mileage as I normally would. I’ve stuck to four runs a week with some speed work during the work week and a long run on the weekend. At some point, I may add another midweek run in order to build mileage even more, but it’s been better for the aches and pains to stay with four runs a week.

I have lengthened my two midweek runs further than I normally would for marathon training. This week, I did a pair of 7-milers on Tuesday and Thursday. If I’m going to tackle an ultra, I’ll need more mileage under my belt.

Getting in extra miles during an Iowa winter means not letting a little snow or ice stop you. Here, I've added 5/8th-inch sheet metal screws to the bottom of some of my older running shoes.

Getting in extra miles during an Iowa winter means not letting a little snow or ice stop you. Here, I’ve added 5/8th-inch sheet metal screws to the bottom of some of my older running shoes.

But the biggest change from my usual training plan came on my weekend runs. I have made two key changes: 1) I’ve lengthened the pair of runs, and 2) I’ve moderated the pace.

I actually ran my longest run on Saturday instead of Sunday, but that change had more to do with the weather. The forecast called for the temperatures to drop all weekend, so I did a 15-miler in the mid-30s on Saturday and a 6-miler on Sunday with temps in the teens.

I’ll continue to combine back-to-back long runs on Saturdays and Sundays, working up to a 3-hour run on Saturday and a 4-hour run on Sunday. I may need to go further than that, but for now, those are the times/distances I have planned.

My second change was in my approach to the longest run. Instead of running at a constant pace for the entire run, I alternated 5-minute run segments with 1-minute walk segments. This keeps the body fresher longer. And that certainly seemed to be the case Saturday, when I still felt pretty darn good at the end of the 15 miles.

The run-walk method is used by some marathoners, and promoter Jeff Galloway says many runners can finish faster with this approach instead of the steady state approach. But for ultramarathoners, the key is to feel good for as long as you can. Many runners will use the run-walk method and walk up any hill. After all, unless you are an elite runner, the goal is to survive and keep moving forward.

The run-walk will test my patience. On Saturday, I just wanted to keep going, make some progress, get that much closer to done. I had to keep telling myself to be patient. But that will be key for a 10- or 12-hour ultramarathon effort.

I still haven’t totally committed to an ultra. My mileage is a bit behind where it should be, and I’m always wary of reaggravating my hamstring. If I have to rest that for any length of time, my timing will be shot.

There aren’t many ultras around, and I’ve found one only a couple hours away in Illinois in early April. The Potawatomi Trail Run 50 looks like a fun race, so even if my planning isn’t perfect, that’s the race I’m aiming for. I wish it was a bit later, but it is what it is.

And the new challenge has me jazzed. I’m looking at my training from a new perspective and learning all kinds of new things. So I’ll hope for steady progress over the next weeks.

Interesting year on the roads

31 Dec

All in all, 2012 was a good year for running.

I logged 1,174 miles in 2012, which was nearly a 40 percent increase from the 845 miles logged in 2011. Since I had set a goal of topping 1,000 miles at the beginning of the year, I was pleased.

As you might expect, my average run distance increased, jumping to nearly 7 miles from 5.3 miles. My overall average pace was a bit slower, which shouldn’t be too surprising since the run distance increased. But on the brighter side, the average pace for a run under 6 miles was a bit faster.

The last few miles were tough, but the feeling was sweet at the finish line of the Rock and Roll New Orleans Marathon.

The last few miles were tough, but the feeling was sweet at the finish line of the Rock and Roll New Orleans Marathon.

A nagging hamstring injury had kept me out of marathons for three years, but in 2011 and 2012, I learned how to manage the problem a bit better. This year, I rarely ran more than 4 times a week. And when the hamstring bothered me, I’d take extra time off, backing off for a week or two several different times throughout the year. If you are smart, when you get older, you realize that you can no longer just power through an injury. That’s been a tough lesson for me.

I was able to run three marathons in 2012. New Orleans in March was the highlight, setting a new PR. I ran my first trail marathon in September, although I should have stuck to the plan and made the run just another training day. And I ran the Des Moines marathon in October.

After a high in the spring, the fall was actually a downer. My times in the September and October races stunk, and I really had high hopes heading into Des Moines. But I learned a couple lessons: you can overtrain and you need to leave room for a taper.

I had been toying with the idea of an ultramarathon for my birthday in early 2013 — 50 miles on the 50th birthday had a nice ring to it. But that won’t happen. I needed to take some time off after the October race, and I haven’t ramped it up enough to make 50 miles in just a few weeks. But I may still log the 50 miles in my 50th year.

Despite the highs and lows, it’s been a blast. I’m thankful that I’m healthy enough to run. I love being outside, whether it’s 15 degrees or 90 degrees, whether it’s a sunny Sunday morning in May or a dark Tuesday night in December. I can watch the eagles along the Mississippi River and the turkeys in the nearby woods.

It’s fun to travel to races around the country, to see new places and to cut loose with family and friends. But there’s also a special satisfaction in lacing up the trainers, relieving some stress on the roads around Keokuk and simply reveling in the workout.

How were your workouts in 2012 and what do you have planned for 2013?

Another training mistake, another lesson learned

23 Oct

I wish I had taken up running at an earlier age.

This pretty well sums up my race.

If I had, I would have had gotten my racing screw-ups out of the way while I still had time to correct my mistakes and had the fresh, young legs in subsequent years to benefit from the experience.

I ran the Des Moines marathon on Sunday, although “ran” is a pretty generous term. It was my 9th marathon, my third in Des Moines and my 17th long-distance race overall.

Sunday’s race was my worst-ever for a marathon. I finished in 4 hours, 58 minutes and some change. And I had to break back into a shuffle/run in order to ensure that I beat the 5-hour threshold.

I felt pretty darn good through the halfway point. At about the 16-mile mark, I could feel myself struggling to keep pace. By the 18-mile mark, I knew it would be a long day. By the 24-mile mark, I sat on my butt for a minute or so just to give my quads a break. I’ve never felt that sensation in a race before, and I hope I never do again.

The meltdown in Des Moines comes seven months after a setting a new PR in New Orleans. Talk about highs and lows.

How do you have your best race and your worst race in the same calendar year? Well, it’s a two-step plan.

  • Step 1: Convince yourself that you can convert a planned 22-mile training run into an easy 26-mile race and not see any detrimental effects.

Early in the year, I planned on running two marathons: New Orleans in March and Des Moines in October. But when a trail marathon was announced for my hometown, I couldn’t resist entering — even if this event came just five weeks before my main race.

This sign added a bit a levity to a difficult race. If I can apply this to my own run, I ran a sub 3:30 marathon! Boston here I come.

I thought about running the half marathon in my hometown, but the siren song of the marathon was too great. How could I miss the inaugural marathon?

  • Step 2: Disregard the three-week taper you had planned and move to a two-week taper.

This, I think, was the coup de grâce.

I drew up my training plan in the early summer, and I outlined my long runs, speedwork and taper. But when other events got in the way of completing my long runs as planned, I had to make changes. And instead of sacrificing a long run, I decided to do just one more before beginning my taper. Getting in that one more long run meant decreasing the taper from three weeks to two weeks.

This mistake was compounded by the additional long runs I undertook this summer. I planned for a 20-week training cycle, which gave me plenty of time to log mileage. In the 10 weeks leading up to Des Moines, I ran five long runs of 18 miles or longer, which includes the not-originally-planned marathon. The extra long runs definitely stressed my legs in particular and my body in general. I struggled on several of the long runs. But I seemed to bounce back enough by the next long run that I felt that I was making progress.

Even with the extra long runs during my training period and the extra marathon, I really think moving away from a three-week taper was the biggest mistake. The extra rest the three week taper would have provided might — just might — have made the other stressors pay dividends. But I’ll never know.

I was extremely disappointed on Sunday. It’s hard to see 20 weeks of hard training and many additional weeks of base building go for naught. But I guess they really didn’t. Mistakes are an opportunity for growth.

Barb, high school friend Dennis Keyes and I are ready for the race.

In past races and training, I’ve learned that I can no longer simply train through injuries, that heat will negatively impact a race pace and you have to add some fuel to the tank to finish strong. I’ve learned these lessons by making the requisite mistakes.

Now I’ve learned the value of a proper taper.

With that in mind, there’s only one thing to do: Pick out the next race and lay out a training plan. And this time, I’ll try to do a better job of sticking to the plan.

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