The 2011 Mt. Evans Ascent (AKA Running/Power Hiking Uphill in the Wind)

Why run the 2011 Mt. Evans Ascent? Why not? It would be a new challenge. I would rather ask, why run the same races year after year? You might as well mix it up some, right?

The Mt. Evans Ascent is the highest road race in America. It starts at 10,600 feet, and ends 14.5 miles later at 14,264 feet. My buddy Trevor and I would both be running this race. We had done a training run about three weeks prior from the start to the first cut-off spot (Summit Lake), about 9 miles (link to a photo of us on that day). It was fun, tough, cold, and breezy on that day. We then ran it back down to make a nice 18-mile day. Trevor and I both came away from that run thinking that the race was totally doable (and I resolved to remember my gloves).

Saturday, June 18, 2011. I arrived at the start, hoping to get a good parking spot and somehow find Trevor (he was going to be camping out in his car near the start the night before). It turned out that I really didn’t arrive very early, and had to park about a mile away from the start. I wasn’t completely pressed for time, so I considered the walk a good warm-up opportunity. At least I wasn’t one of those folks who parked a mile out, got to packet pickup, and then realized they’d forgotten a photo ID. Another round trip to the cars for them!

I picked up my packet, and was already shivering. The breeze, which I hadn’t noticed on the drive up, was already getting strong. Plus, at that elevation and time of the morning, it was quite chilly! Luckily, Trevor’s car was literally 6 feet from packet pickup, and we both got to wait in his cozy car. That meant we didn’t have to be out in the little snow/rain squall that rushed in before the start. Ugh, not a good omen. Luckily, the precipitation stopped pretty quickly. Trevor and I both got in a quick potty break, got over to the start, and five minutes later we were off!

Off slowly. The course is all road, and it starts off easily for the first minute or two. Then it goes uphill and rarely goes flat or downhill. We are running up a mountain, after all! I settled into a slow jog, determining not to slow to my first walk until the first aid station, about 3 miles in. I actually managed to keep this resolve, unfortunately dropping Trevor after about two miles. He was never far behind, however. We both knew that it was important to run our own races, not requiring one person to stay with the other. We start out together, and then gradually find our own paces.

The race was fairly pleasant until that first aid station, even though we’d had another light brush of snow flurries. After mile 3, however, we encountered the full blast of Mt. Evans’ furious wind. This was something we’d have to contend with the entire race. It turned out we had sustained winds of 30 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph. If that wind was in your face (headwind), only the best competitors that day could continue running. The rest of us had to walk and endure. After a while, I was walking so much that I seriously wondered how I would ever make the Summit Lake cutoff of 2.5 hours. Excuse the language, but over and over in my head my favorite label for the day was “Mother Fucker!”

We did have the occasional treat of a tail wind. I’ve honestly never been blown up a hill like that! I remember one time thinking that it felt like a giant, invisible hand shoving me up a very steep incline at a fast run (something that I would have ordinarily walked). Shame we didn’t have that more often! Whenever we were treated with a tail wind (or had a bit of protection from the worst of the gusts), I tried to make myself run. That was the best I could do, and that was pretty much what everyone around me was doing. There was one time when I was hit on my left side by a huge gust, and I swear it bounced off the rock wall on my right, because I was then buffeted from that direction. It felt like I was being bitch-slapped from both sides!

I did make it to the aid station cut-off with about half an hour to spare, happily running down one of the two downhills on the course (the two downhills totaled about half a mile). I have no idea how I managed to make that cutoff so well, and I prayed that Trevor would have similar success. The aid station volunteers were amazing. They were hearty souls who stood out in that freezing wind, just so some crazy runners would have their liquids and little food treats. At least we were moving – I have no idea how they stayed warm.

I continued moving up the mountain past Summit Lake. I’d driven up to the actual summit before, but running this was new territory for me. It was only 5.5 miles more to the end, but it seemed like it was taking forever! I continued to try and run when possible, and the other racers around me would congratulate me for actually running. Dang, you know it’s a tough race when that happens! Really, I just wanted to be done, and I was trying to stay warm. I was dressed in capris, and a short-sleeved shirt under a jacket. I also had on gloves and a camelbak. The pack really wasn’t necessary, but my original plan had been to run the mountain back down after crossing the finish line. I’m training for the Leadville 100 in August, and thought about getting in a nice ultra distance for the day (about 29 miles). I also had on a hat – don’t ask me how it stayed on in that wind. The pack probably helped my back stay warmer, but the closer I got to the top, the more it felt like I was wearing nothing at all. I could barely move my fingers, and my arms didn’t want to move back and forth to help my momentum up the mountain.

Ugh, where was the finish? I saw the mile marker for 14 go by, but when I looked up it looked like the course snaked up for at least one or two more miles. It didn’t seem possible that there was only 1/2 mile to go. Those markers were lying to me! I slogged on for a few minutes more, and suddenly there was the finish line! It turned out that what I saw were a few people deciding to take the trail from the parking lot finish to the actual summit of the mountain. On a nicer day (meaning much less windy), I would have done the same. Screw that, hippies! I crossed the finish line, accepted my medal, and tried waiting around for Trevor to finish. I hoped he’d made the cutoff at Summit Lake.

My plans for running the course back down to the start were erased. I was simply too cold and couldn’t put up with that wind any longer. I couldn’t feel my face, and my lips were too numb for me to even talk coherently. I began to shiver uncontrollably after just a few minutes of waiting for Trevor. Luckily, someone saw my miserable plight, and I was ushered into one of the mountain rescue vans to try and warm up. It was sad – I couldn’t even step up into the van unaided. Egads! Another girl and I warmed up a little, and then someone said that a shuttle taking runners back down the mountain was getting ready to leave.

We both hurried over, but the shuttle was already full. We were first in line for the next shuttle, but no one knew when it would arrive. That was when I saw Trevor walking over, looking happy to have finished (and faster than his predicted time), but also looking very cold. He picked up his drop bag, and also wound up spending some time in that rescue van. I began shivering again, and was lucky enough to get offered a ride back down the mountain by another runner and her parents. I accepted quickly, and eventually made it back down to the start. It was warmer down there, and not as windy. That was all I needed. Trevor and I eventually hooked back up, ate some food at the finish, and then drove our separate ways back home.

If you’re considering the Mt. Evans Ascent, don’t let this race report scare you into not signing up. If you’re into uphill running in a beautiful location, and you think you’ll be okay in the elevation, then go for it! If you’re one of those folks looking for a ‘training race’ at elevation before August’s Pikes Peak races, then this is a popular one to run. Do let this scare you into being as prepared for potential weather conditions as possible. Bring gloves, a jacket, a head covering, and long pants. DO NOT wear shorts, or bring just a short-sleeved shirt, or neglect to bring gloves. You will regret it, and risk not finishing. The race director said that 2011 brought some of the worst weather conditions for the race that he’d ever seen. However, there’s nothing to say that it couldn’t be worse next year. Or, there could be amazingly perfect weather. It’s a mountain in Colorado – you’ll always be rolling the dice!

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What Have I Done?

So much of this blog centers around the “Will I/Won’t I” in regard to the Leadville 100 Mile trail run. My plan was to get through my first two 50 mile races (Mississippi and Fruita) this year and evaluate my performances in each before committing to Leadville. After all, my only true ultra finishes are the Greenland 50k trail race (run in Colorado, not in Greenland the country), and the Bear Chase Race 50 mile trail run. Both were run last year, and I had finishes beyond my expectations. I’ve also finished the Pikes Peak Marathon twice. While that’s not an ultra in distance, it’s an ultra in effort. I felt like I needed at least one, hopefully two, more 50 mile finishes before having the confidence to register for Leadville. The Big Bad Ugly – one of the toughest 100 mile trail runs in the country.

As it happens, fate often conspires against my best intentions. I had ‘liked’ a Leadville page on Facebook, and caught a posting from there out of the blue one day in February. For the first time ever, the LT100 was going to be capped to 750 runners. They were already nearing this cap.

WTF??? Are you kidding me? Okay, sure, I’ve read several complaints about this race allowing too many runners to enter (especially when there are still no qualifiers to register), which clogs up the beginning of the race as well as crew access points. I get that, really I do. Selfishly, however, I didn’t see why they couldn’t just keep registration open until it was convenient for ME to make my decision. I felt like my hand was being forced. I called the nice lady in charge of registration, confirmed that they were capping the race, and that there were only about 50 spots left. Cursing inwardly, I plonked down the $295 and registered on 2/14. Happy Valentine’s Day! I could have crapped my pants.

I registered for Leadville, but still felt that I had to prove myself in my next two 50-mile races (not to mention the 50k and other 50-miler following those). The first of this series of ‘tests’ would be the Mississippi 50-mile trail race on 3/5. The course was relatively flat, mostly non-technical, and at sea level. If I couldn’t do well there, I was hopelessly screwed for Leadville.

How did Mississippi go? I will have a race report on this site for the long description, but here’s the nitty-gritty. Due to tornado warnings, the forestry service forced the race director to stop the race. I was made to stop after 40 miles of tramping through mud, flooded trails, streams up to my thighs, thorny branches slapping me, and giant tree limbs crashing to the ground scant feet in front of me. I was given credit for a 50k, and wasn’t allowed to finish my last 10 miles. I feel that I could have somehow pulled that one off, but I guess I’ll never find out. Despite not getting the 50 mile finish (which very few people that day managed), my impression from that race was that after surviving 40 miles of Angry Mother Nature, I could do just about anything. I was stoked!

Where am I at now? I’m in my first week of tapering prior to the next 50-mile race, coming off my biggest training week ever of 88 miles. In contrast to rainy Mississippi, this one will be run in the desert of Colorado. Fruita is somewhere in the vicinity of Grand Junction, near the Colorado/Utah border. If you’ve ever heard of Moab, it’s not far from there. I hear this race can be quite hot and dry (not a tree to be seen), there are some killer hills, and the trail can get technical. One fellow I know who’s done the race at least twice before said that when you finish, you’ll swear that you won’t know where you’ll find the energy to ever get through a 100 mile race. This is from someone who’s gone on to finish several 100-milers, so it’s encouraging to know that this race is SUPPOSED to make me feel like crap. I’ll be running Fruita with my buddy Trevor, who’s never run a race beyond a half marathon (although that half was the Pikes Peak Ascent – so that’s an impressive entry on his resume). I think Trevor will do fantastic, and I hope that running this with a friend will help make some of the miles go by easier. I have so much riding on this race emotionally. The official cut-off to finish is 13 hours, but I desperately need to do it in 12. This is because: 1 – I must know that I can run a mountain ultra fairly well. 2 – I want to hit the 50-mile turn-around at Leadville in 12 hours (12.5 at the most). Finishing Fruita in 12 will give me a huge psychological boost.

Here’s hoping the race goes well on 4/16. I need this one. I need this one BADLY.

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The “I’m Not Worthy” Syndrome

As I train for my Spring races, I try to focus on what I’m doing when I’m doing it. In the immortal words of Yoda, keep your mind on “Where you are and what you are doing.” Well, like Luke Skywalker (identify me here as a nerd, please) my mind does tend to wander. Usually, it’s harmless. If my mind drifts off during a run, that tends to be a good thing. A mile or two (if I’m lucky) will go by while I’m daydreaming. Usually, those dreams are of me as a running gazelle, bounding through the races I have coming up, covering the terrain with ease. Sometimes, I even dare to see myself in the last miles of the Leadville Trail 100. In all of these dreams, I cross the finish line. I earn a PR, or make whatever my goal is for that race (sometimes, just finishing is awesome), and I’m amazingly happy. I even follow up the finish in my dreams with posting my results on Facebook, somehow making the cross of the finish line more official.

A lot of elite runners and coaches say that envisioning yourself crossing the finish line is healthy, and can even contribute to your finishing the race in reality. Sound mind and sound body, right? (Asics, please don’t sue me.) Keep the end result firmly fixed in your mind, and that might give you the extra push to get there. Occasionally, I elevate my imagination and see myself as one of the elite runners, beating the rest of the pack and setting a course record. Well, I know reality. That will never, ever happen. I will never win a race unless somehow the rest of the runners drop out. I’m not disparaging myself, this is just the way it is.

Unfortunately, not being an elite runner, or even a fast ‘ordinary’ runner, does make me question myself from time to time. I’m a back-of-the-pack runner. I don’t think I’ve ever finished a race completely in last place, although it was close during the 2010 Bear Chase Race 50 mile distance (last female runner, but there were a few guys who finished behind me). Still, my home is toward the rear of the crowd. I know where to go when runners crowd up at the starting line. I’m not the idiot who runs slow, but insists on starting at the front and risking getting trampled (or tripping up the folks who truly belong there).

Where is all this rambling going? Come race day, no matter what the race, I almost always suffer from the “I’m not worthy” syndrome. This is the feeling that, regardless of all the training I’ve suffered through, I don’t belong in the same race as most (if not all) of the other runners around me. This feeling tends to get worse according to the distance and difficulty of my race. I think I’ve always felt this to one degree or another, but the first time this really walloped me was while I was waiting around at the start line of the 2008 Pikes Peak Marathon. This race was my entry into the ultra running world. While not technically an ultra marathon in distance, Pikes Peak is certainly an ultra in effort. I was lined up with people who ate ultras for breakfast. I was in the same overall field as Matt Carpenter, he who WINS ultras, and who holds the course record for the Leadville Trail 100. I turned to my husband that morning and said, “I don’t belong here.” Jim, who is still gamely trying to understand the whole running thing, turned to me and asked “Why would you say that? You put a lot of training into this. You’ll finish no matter who else is here.” I’m not sure that’s word-for-word, but that’s what I remember him saying. He was right, of course. I met all cut-off times, despite a crazy-difficult course made even worse by ice and snow above treeline. I finished the race with half an hour to spare. The point was that I finished, even though I was not an elite runner. Did I win, even any age group awards? No. Did I care? No.

I know it’s silly, but Pikes Peak 2008 didn’t completely cure me of the “I’m not worthy” syndrome. I felt better at the start of Pikes in 2010, having run the race before. However, I still knew that I was in the company of great runners. Most recently, I felt it at the start of the 2010 Bear Chase Race 50 mile trail race. I’d never run that distance before, and I knew that there were people around me who would blow through the course and finish hours ahead of me. There were elites there who had won races before. What was I doing there? I got over it after we got started (I usually do), not even caring when I got lapped (an inevitable occurance).

I have another 50-miler coming up, and I hope I’ll feel fine at the start of that one (beyond the usual jitters of hoping I finish and don’t get injured). That race is closer to sea level (in Mississippi), and the course will be relatively flat. The races I’m more concerned about are the Desert R.A.T.S. 50-miler in April (that one tends to draw elites, and the course is fairly technical), and the Leadville Trail 100. Wow…if I register for Leadville, I don’t think I’ll EVER shake the “I’m Not Worthy” syndrome. People much fitter than I have been chewed up and spat out all over that course. What am I doing even THINKING about running that race? Holy Moly, obviously I’m already not feeling worthy. I’ve had people tell me I can finish that race, and others say I’m crazy and should stay away. What if I’m really not worthy? Perhaps there’s only one way to find out.

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Winter/Spring Training 2011

Where to start? I’ve been bad, and haven’t added to my blog in a couple of months, beyond fiddling with my race schedule. That, at least, is current. I actually can’t quite believe I’ve committed myself to all of these races. More than one person might even think I SHOULD be committed. So far, the two big races that I haven’t registered for are the Leadville Trail 100 mile, and the Bear Chase 50 mile. My two upcoming 50 mile races in Mississippi and in Fruita, Colorado, should let me know if I have any business registering for the LT100. I hear that some people run that race, not necessarily to finish, but just to see how far they can go. I can’t be that kind of person. If I’m going to plonk down $300 for an entry fee, and spend $$ on hotel/food fees for me and my crew, plus all the grueling training, I’m going with the intention to FINISH. By God, if I’m at the Start line for the LT100, I will run until injury forces me out, or someone cuts my wristband.

Until then…I’m training for the Mississippi 50 mile race on 3/5/11. It’s been tough getting the miles in – I’ve never trained for a major race this early in the year before. While we (in Colorado) have had a relatively mild winter for a while, the snow and COLD are finally starting to catch up. I run outside until conditions become too dangerous, and then I run on my parents’ treadmill. They live only a couple of blocks away, so that arrangement is pretty darned handy. They also have an HDTV right in front of their treadmill, so that helps when I’m grinding away on the hamster wheel. Funny, I’ve also found that watching Food Network usually makes the time go by a little faster. Perhaps it’s because I’m devouring calories with my eyes, while actually treating my body well.

While I’m training for Mississippi, I’m also trying to train up for the Desert R.A.T.S. Spring Festival 50 Mile Race in Fruita, CO. That one will be much more technically challenging than the race in MS. I need to get on some hilly trails, but that’s been really tough this time of year. It’s been all I can do to update my hydration gear, save up for race/travel fees, and get a backup pair of trail shoes. I’m not quite outfitted for the stupid ice/snow running on trails. Can you tell I’m cranky? It also doesn’t help that the hubby and I have been down to one car for a while (long story). I’ll try to get out there when I can.

I’m in my second-to-biggest mileage week in my current training. If I remember correctly, I’m supposed to get in 74 miles this week. Much of that will come in my Saturday/Sunday long run combo of 24/20 miles. Next week will be a blessed recovery week, and then my BIG week of 84 miles will hit. From there, it’s all taper.

How am I feeling right now? I guess it could be worse. I have a foot that is slightly tweaked from a folded ankle suffered last August on the Pikes Peak marathon (it mysteriously only hurts if I over-stretch the foot). I have another spot on the same foot that hurts a little from over-doing it during a run in Waterton Canyon (trying to keep up with the big boys). I just earned my first blister in months, which I blame on the treadmill and not keeping my callouses down. My biggest issue is tendonitis behind my right knee. Strangely enough, this doesn’t usually hurt while I’m running. I mostly feel it when I’m standing up with the leg straight. I’ve had this issue since my last tough trail run, over a month ago. I think that my legs weren’t quite up to the twisting on the trail, and I hurt a tendon a little. I’m not up to paying for a massage therapist, so I’ll have to see how this goes.

This weekend, I’m running 10 very early Saturday morning, then 14 with my running group that same morning (I have to be able to meet some people for lunch at noon). On Sunday, the weather may force me onto the treadmill for 20 miles. I’ve done it before, and it’s not fun at all. I pretty much have to have things exploding on TV in front of me to keep me going that long. Sigh…I’ll get ‘er done.

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It’s All About the Food

Even if I don’t run the Leadville 100 in 2011, I’m still planning on running three 50M races (Desert RATS Spring Festival, Leadville Silver Rush, and Bear Chase Race). Either way, I need to figure out my nutrition in the longer races. During my one and only 50M this year, I ate gels and fruit. That was it. Oh, and I tried choking down some potato chips. I just didn’t want to eat anything in the early part of the race. Of course, that’s when you should start the fueling. You’re not weak if you eat food early on, although you may become weak if you DON’T eat. I lucked out with the Bear Chase Race and didn’t bonk. My real issue was in not hydrating enough, leading to cramping. Err…I guess I could have eaten more salty things as well. Therefore, I’m going to start experimenting with food and see if I can do better in my next 50M in April. I’ll be working on this list here and there as I experiment.

What Works for Me

  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Orange sections (these may turn too acidic after a while)
  • Cliff Bars (not too much chocolate – also, these can be hard to chew) Note to self on Cliff Bars. These become inedible after being in a waist pack for an hour on a cold run. Can’t even bite into these suckers!

What I’d Like to Try

  • Chips Ahoy (I liked these during a recent Runner’s Edge Saturday run)
  • Fig Newtons (too much fiber?)
  • Uncrustables
  • Regular PB&J
  • Crystallized Ginger (to help out the tummy)
  • Peanut Butter-Filled Pretzels
  • Sustained Energy Drink from Hammer nutrition
  • Need to work on hydrating more often

What Does NOT Work – Stay Away!

  • Chocolate Candy (but things with a little chocolate are okay)
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Spicy Food (no breakfast burritos the morning of the race)
  • Beans
  • Coffee Beans (I hate the taste of coffee)
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2011 Running Schedule

I need to post my two potential running schedules for 2011 just so I can remember the what/when of the races (and also so I can plan other life activities around the races). Writing things on a desk calendar at work just doesn’t cut it anymore. I have two lists. One is if I commit to the Leadville Trail Run 100, and the second is if I chicken out (or come to seriously believe that it’s beyond my ability). What is the lynch pin for moving from one list to the other? The Desert RATS 50 mile race in Fruita. If that one goes well and I finish in under 12 hours without wanting to happily die, then I believe I’ll register for Leadville. Anything underlined and bold-faced means I’ve registered for the race. I think that I need a raise or a promotion to pay for all of this…

2011 List of Races (Includes Leadville 100)

  1. 1/15/11   Frosty’s Frozen 5M/10M (volunteer) – Hudson Gardens
  2. 3/5/11     Carl Touchstone Memorial 50 Mile Trail Run – Mississippi
  3. 4/16/11   Desert RATS Trailrunning Festival 50M – Fruita, CO (hotel stay)
  4. 5/1/11     Colorado Marathon (26.2) – Ft. Collins, CO
  5. 5/7/11     Greenland 50k – Greenland Open Space, CO
  6. 6/18/11  Mt. Evans Ascent 14.5M
  7. 6/25/11 – 6/27/11 Leadville Trail Run 100 Training Camp – Leadville, CO (may not be affordable – could stay with J. Pennington’s mother or at the hostel)
  8. 7/17/11  Silver Rush 50M Trail Race – Leadville, CO (hotel stay or see above)
  9. 8/20/11 – 8/21/11 Leadville Trail 100M Run – Leadville, CO (hotel stay)
  10. 9/25/11  Bear Chase Race 50M – Lakewood, CO
  11. 10/9/11  Rock & Roll Denver Marathon – Aid station volunteer w/ Runner’s Edge

2011 List of Races (Minus Leadville 100)

  1. 1/15/11   Frosty’s Frozen 5M/10M (volunteer) – Hudson Gardens
  2. 3/5/11     Carl Touchstone Memorial Mississippi 50 Mile Trail Run – Mississippi
  3. 4/16/11   Desert RATS Trailrunning Festival 50M – Fruita, CO (hotel stay)
  4. 5/1/11     Colorado Marathon (26.2) – Ft. Collins, CO
  5. 5/7/11     Greenland 50k – Greenland Open Space, CO
  6. 6/18/11  Mt. Evans Ascent 14.5M
  7. 6/25/11  Slacker 1/2 Marathon – Georgetown, CO (maybe)
  8. 7/17/11  Silver Rush 50M Trail Race – Leadville, CO (hotel stay)
  9. Mid-Aug/11 Georgetown to Idaho Springs 1/2 Marathon OR
  10. 8/13/11 Extraterrestrial Full Moon Midnight 51k – Rachel, NV (hotel stay plus drive or flight to Vegas)
  11. 9/25/11  Bear Chase Race 50M – Lakewood, CO
  12. 10/9/11  Rock & Roll Denver Marathon – Aid station volunteer w/ Runner’s Edge
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Run to Overcome – The Story of Meb Keflezighi

Meb Keflezighi at the 2009 New York Marathon

Some time ago, I came upon the opportunity to read and review a book about one of the United States’ greatest marathon runners. I’d heard of Meb Keflezighi – I’d sort of filed him away as a runner with great potential who kept coming short of his dream to finish first in a marathon. Being a distance runner myself (albeit a slow runner who will never even win her age category), I became intrigued with the chance to read more about Meb. I received his autobiography from his publisher, and was excited to read about marathon running from the elite athlete’s perspective. This was a world that I had never before entered in such depth.

Run to Overcome is written by Meb Keflezighi, along with Dick Patrick. It’s labeled as “The inspiring story of an American champion’s long-distance quest to achieve a big dream.” This is to be taken literally. Meb’s family fled poverty and war, leaving behind everything that they knew to travel from their homeland of Eritrea (near Ethiopia), finally arriving in the United States by way of Greece and Italy. It was a struggle for young Meb and his family to fit in, having to learn English while holding down jobs and going to school. All during this time, it was the strict love and discipline of Meb’s parents, along with a deep faith in God, that enabled him and his siblings to excel in school, graduate from college, and move on to productive careers. This discipline, faith, and love of family would prove to be the building blocks of Meb’s character that would drive him to become one of America’s foremost distance runners.

Originally, as a child, Meb started out with a love for soccer. He didn’t realize at this time that there was such a thing as running for enjoyment. Meb didn’t seriously begin running until 7th grade PE class, when he was told that he would earn an A if he ran hard. Run hard he did, wanting to please his parents and himself with the top grade. This middle-school child ran a 5:20 mile. Most people can’t get even close to this time.

Meb began enjoying running more and more, earning his way onto middle school and high school track teams. One of his best performances came in his last year in high school, when he ran the 1,600m in 4:06.15, the mile in 4:05.58, and the 3,200 in 8:51.8. He was turning heads, and was offered a scholarship at UCLA. While in college, Meb met life-long friends, including his running coach, Bob Larsen. By the time Meb had graduated (with stellar academic and athletic records), he had gone from a mile runner to a distance runner with four NCAA titles. “I had won in every discipline – cross country and both indoor and outdoor track.” He was ready to turn professional.

Contrary to what many people think, professional athletes don’t begin their careers with sponsors throwing money at them. They have to earn their contracts. Meb graduated from college, lived in a tiny apartment with several other athletes, and owned an old, used car. Based upon his stellar achievements at UCLA, Meb was able to earn a contract with Nike, giving him $30k a year. However, there were drawbacks. Athletes under such contracts are certainly expected to perform. Winning races would earn bonuses, but performing badly would cause reductions. Having the misfortune to be sick or injured on a race day could seriously hurt an athlete’s finances.

I found it fascinating, reading about Meb’s years of triumphs and struggles. He would make an Olympic team or be ready to toe the line in a major marathon, only to struggle with illness, injury, or even with letting the exuberance of the crowd push him along to the point where his energy ebbed. Meb would train multiple times a day for over 100 miles a week at altitude, yet still have time for his new wife and growing family. During these years, he never lost sight of what was most important to him: family, friends, and faith. All three would be needed to get him through times when he thought that he might be finished as a runner. At the end of each chapter, Meb lists tips for runners. The overcomer’s tip at the end of Chapter 6 reads, “Enrich your life with family and friends who will be there for you in good times and bad.” I liked this advice, as all too often we allow other passions to take us over, when often it was the love and support of our family and friends who enabled us to get there in the first place.

Meb Keflezhighi

<spoiler alert> One of Meb’s struggles was to win the New York Marathon. As he got to the starting line in 2009, he wondered if God would finally grant him victory. He’d run this race four times previously, coming in 9th, 2nd, 3rd, and 2oth. The first time, in 2002, was the first time he’d ever run a marathon. The most recent time, one of his good friends collapsed and died on the course, and then Meb suffered a serious running injury. This year, he hoped would be his year of redemption. Many people were convinced that a man in his 30s with a wife and family was past the prime of his career and could not win this race. His silver medal from the 2004 Athens Olympics would be the highlight of his career.

Meb proved everyone wrong. On 11/1/09, Meb Keflezighi won the New York City Marathon in 2:09:15 (which happens to be almost TWO TIMES FASTER than my own marathon personal record – what an amazing athlete is this man). He didn’t run this for personal glory – he never ran for this reason. He ran for his family, for his friends, and by the grace of God. He personally believed that God would tell him this day if he should continue to be an athlete, or should retire as many people had suggested. God gave his feet wings and he came in first. What a grand accomplishment for such a humble and deserving man!

On 11/7/10, Meb will be defending his victory in New York City, running once again with his heart for everyone whom he loves. While I’m certain he’d prefer to come in first again, somehow I believe losing the title won’t dampen his spirit too much. I believe it will be fun to watch the drama play out. I’m enough of a running geek to actually have this race scheduled on my DVR in case I somehow miss the beginning. After having read Meb’s book, and have learned his story, I’ll be one among many rooting for him every step of the way.

If you’re curious about Meb Keflezighi’s book, Run to Overcome, please feel free to go to http://www.runtoovercome.com/ for more information. This website will allow you to download the first chapter for free. There is also a contest where they will be giving away one signed book per day from 11/1/10-3/31/11. There will be monthly grand prize winners that will receive a signed copy of the book, other free Tyndale titles, as well as Sony and PowerBar products.

 

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