Return to Blogging // Return to Pittsburgh

Catching up

It’s been a very long time since I’ve sat down to write a blog update. I can partially attribute this to the fact that I was extremely disappointed with my final performances of 2011– both at the World Championships in Daegu and the Pan-Am Games in Guadalajara. Matters were made worse after sustaining a nagging knee injury in December, which removed me completely from the context of running in January’s Olympic Marathon Trials. It was simply a matter of convenience to not write about how poorly things were going, and to disappear from the clichéd running blog scene.

It took an equal amount of time for my knee to heal as my personal attitude towards running. My focus was never compromised, as I spent a few hours each day cross-training on the elliptical machine, but I also fought hard against becoming resentful for the mistakes I had made that led me to injury: I had to move on. In January, I returned early from my leave of absence from the Public Library– not dejected from my inability to run in the Olympic Trials, but eager to maintain a level of personal productivity while getting back into training. Of course in the time my knee healed, I was already mapping out my training program for a spring marathon.

Road to the City of Bridges

The idea of returning to the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon first occurred to me after winning last year’s race, but the option more formally presented itself this past January. I remember making the enthusiastic commitment to return on my fifth consecutive day of running pain-free. I knew I would have some work to do for the 4 months leading up to the race, but having the opportunity to defend my title was extremely motivating.

I worked some low-key racing opportunities into my program for Pittsburgh. My first race back was less than 2 weeks into training, and it was a real “rust-buster.” With my residual fitness, I struggled through a 29:55 10km in Texas! Still, it was an encouraging starting point for me as I began my fundamental work. At the beginning of March, I entered The Woodlands Marathon (ironically only miles from where the January Trials were held) for the purpose of doing a progressive long run. Anticipating a controlled 2:17-2:18 effort, and setting off at 2:20 pace, I was surprised my progression led me to arrive at the finish in 2:15:42— with a last 10km weaving through runners on the 2-loop course in 30:48! It was great to share the podium in The Woodlands with teammate and friend, Camille Herron, and know that my fitness was rapidly improving. Although my body was in a perpetual state of fatigue from conditioning, I was still able to run 45:29 for 3rd position the following week at the Mountain to Fountain 15K in Phoenix, and solo through whirlwinds to victory at the Canyonlands Half-Marathon the week after on St. Paddy’s Day.

I’ll admit that I had a few more races than originally planned in my marathon build-up, but I approached each race as if it were a quality workout, rather than a decisive competition. With this mentality, I never felt too exhausted mentally or physically.


My prelude to running Pittsburgh would not be complete without including the ridiculous incident of malchance that was repeated in Charleston, South Carolina.

At the 2011 running of the Cooper River Bridge Run, I had dislocated my right shoulder just 5 minutes before the start of the race– simply by twisting my body to maneuver around another athlete. The result was an ambulance ride to the East Cooper River Medical Center, and an uncomfortable evening traveling back to Arizona. I also managed to get a traffic ticket that night while attempting to drive stick-shift (out of my sling) from Phoenix to Flagstaff.

Having planned to return to Cooper River this year, I joked about how I would prevent any mishaps before the race. I’m not superstitious by any means, but I found myself cautiously assessing risks throughout the race weekend. Janet Cherobon-Bawcom and I even postponed a pre-race arm-wrestling match just to be safe.

Perhaps I let my guard down too early. After finishing the race (I finished 9th in a tactically slow run) I left the crowded downtown square for a cool-down. Two minutes into the cool-down I collided with a small boy, who was running across the street. I fell hard on my hip and shoulder, which audibly dislocated when I landed on it. I couldn’t believe it: same race, same freak injury!! What sh*t luck! I again returned to the hospital, to have my shoulder reset. That evening, I made the pain medicine-induced drowsy drive from Phoenix back to Flagstaff (I took my arm out of the sling and drove carefully).

For the next 6 days, I was unable to run. My shoulder remained extremely sore, but quickly regained its normal range of motion. My hip, however, was very badly bruised from the fall. All week, I remained uncertain if it would even be possible to run in Pittsburgh…

I knew a few days off wouldn’t spoil my fitness, but hoped for a quick recovery. Luckily, treatments with Dr. Kym Wilkens, epsom salt baths and electro-stim therapies had me back 100% the following week.

Marathon Weekend

After completing 3 weeks of intensive specific marathon training, I left Flagstaff’s miniature Pulliam Airport feeling primed to defend my title in Pittsburgh. When Ali and I arrived in Pittsburgh, we were greeted with much warmer temperatures than the previous year. As the forecast started to take shape, I began to make some arrangements to prepare for the heat.

I felt like my return to Pittsburgh was a homecoming; the race organization was incredibly hospitable, and all weekend I felt as if I were member of one of the home sports teams. I also had some of my good friends driving from Rochester to watch the race, which added to my excitement and motivation for running well. Although, I knew it would be a difficult task to win again, I wanted to defend my title for them!

I knew the competition would be much better than 2011. Given how well I had felt in training, I had also hoped for a stronger field. At Friday’s press conference, I was given an entry list that confirmed my presumptions. Although I was given the honorary bib #1, my personal best time (2:13:12) seeded me close to 10th in the elite field. The fastest seed was 28-year old Zembaba Yigeze of Ethiopia with a best of 2:08:27 (he had finished 14 seconds ahead of me at Cooper River). Returning from last year, was another very capable Ethiopian, Tariku Bokan (2:12:23 best from Dubai). Amidst a group of Kenyans and Ethiopians with bests between 2:11 and 2:13, I was also surprised to see a good friend, James Kirwa of Kenya, entered with his 2:12:54 course record from Des Moines. Kirwa might not be widely known, but has had some strong performances. When I met him at Grandma’s Marathon last year, I was impressed with his relaxed personality and good sense of humor; if Usain Bolt were to become a marathoner, he might resemble James.

In my pre-race interviews, I maintained it would be a difficult feat to repeat as champion, although I felt fit enough to be competitive with anyone I lined up against; I wanted to prove last year wasn’t a fluke. I also believed that even with the warmer conditions, the winning time would be significantly faster than my 2011 time (2:16:40).

Kids of Steel

On Cinco de Mayo– the day before the race– I watched my friend Ashley run her first 5K and then had the privilege of again volunteering with the Kids of Steel Program. This year, over 30 schools and 2,000 kids participated in the 18 week program to run 26.2 miles! Together, all these kids logged around 39,000 miles, which is astonishing! It was a lot of fun to cheer them on in their final mile at the Toyota of Pittsburgh Kids Marathon. After an hour, my hand was numb from all the high-fives! I also had the honor of being joined by Olympic Silver Medalist and NYC Marathon Champion Meb Keflezighi, who had been previously invited to take part in the race weekend events. Again, it was fun to see so many young people enjoying the sport!


Race of Steel

I went through my normal pre-race morning routine, waking up 3 hours before the 7:30AM start time to have breakfast quietly in my room. I had some cereal from Trader Joe’s, coffee and a chocolate PowerBar. Once the coffee kicks in, race mornings become electric! Around 5:45AM, I met my friend Eric in the hotel lobby. In a small cooler, he brought me the frozen Hyperwear Pre-Cooling Vest that I had overnight-shipped to the hotel the previous morning (I was not taking any chances with the warm weather forecasted). Before heading to the staging area, I greeted James Kirwa, who was all smiles.

After a brief 10 minute warm-up, I switched into dry clothes, my CEP Compression socks, laced up my Brooks Green Silence flats and put on the cooling vest to bring my core temperature down. Although the temperature would only reach around 70F during my run, I recognized the pre-cooling would reduce the demand on my body to cool itself down in the early stages of the race; and I wanted to conserve as much energy as possible!

The start was a blur. Between strides there were countless handshakes and high-fives with race officials, a good-luck hug from the race director Patrice Matamoros, and the singing of the National Anthem. At 7:29, I pulled down my PivLock V2 sunglasses anticipating the gun. Once we were sent off, I felt relieved.

Within the first miles, a long echelon of elite half-marathoners had outdistanced our large group of marathoners. Running along side the other favorites–James, Tariku, Tabor Nebsi, Feyisa Tusse and some Ethiopians wearing red WSX club uniforms– I surmised our pack was at the front of the marathon. teammate Kipyegon Kirui took over the early pacing duties, which were not that difficult (it was clear no athletes were looking to chase the event record of 2:10:24) I was content to stay in the group and observe.

It was truly an uneventful first 10 miles, and I felt guilty for having sat back so much. My only concerns were staying hydrated and keeping myself as relaxed as possible. Kipyegon,Tariku and James had all made appearances at the front of the pack, but no one made any decisive moves. While running on East Carson Street, I saw a stray Ethiopian runner floating back to us. He joined our group, looking very labored, and Tariku spoke to him in Amharic. At this point I also noticed he was wearing a green marathon bib number. It didn’t take me long to realize that this Ethiopian was a casualty from another group of marathoners up the road! I panicked to realize we had wasted 10 miles running very slow while there were others working ahead of us. Before we crossed the Birmingham Bridge, I mentioned to James the problem. We moved to the front of our group, and began our teamwork.

At 10.7 miles, the half-marathoners were re-routed back towards downtown Pittsburgh, while the marathoners continued on with a leading press truck. The split made it apparent we had miscalculated our race position, as a pack of about 10 more athletes had a 20-30 second advantage on us! They weren’t half-marathoners! Luckily James and I had increased the pace enough to reel this group back in by the 12 mile mark. He offered me a high-five: “No problem!” For the first time in the race, I had spotted Zembabahow could I have lost track of the 2:08 guy?! But then another thing concerned me after our groups merged: the was no lead vehicle in sight!

I immediately asked Benjamin Meto in the group what position we were. His answer was not clear, but Zembaba gestured that there was 1 more athlete ahead. One more? Where?! As if I wasn’t already enough disturbed by this revelation, a race official called out to us that we were 2 minutes behind as we crossed the half-marathon mat in 1:08:30! To give any of the other 15 elite athletes a 2 minute head-start is unthinkable! Again, I turned to James at the front of the group and simply said “we have to go!”

I have never pushed so hard in the middle of a marathon, but I wasn’t ready to settle for a 2nd or 3rd place finish. I knew I had made a grave error in sitting back early on, but now I had to commit to pulling back the leader, even if it meant my complete demise. James and I ran side by side, with Tariku shadowing us. No one else was able to follow. We went from running a loping 5:09 mile to a leg-churning 4:41— it was suicidal! It was a shock to my system, but I did my best to override my sensory data. Meanwhile James seemed unfazed with the increased tempo, even finding time to grab an extra water cup for me.

What was going on up the road? The Nixon Kiplagat show! Unbeknownst to us, the unheralded Kenyan  had run through the Oakland neighborhoods giving spectators a thumbs-up, and clearly exhibiting confidence in his growing margin. In the miles that followed, his grin became a grimace, and he still had 10 miles to go…

After 19 miles, and only a few periodic glimpses of what might have been a lead vehicle, it was still unclear whether or not we had made any ground on Nixon. I was barely able to stay with James and Tariku, being almost two strides off of them and feeling the summer-like temperature. During this mile, I took a bottle at the fluid station that with a PowerBar Energy Gel for some added carbs and electrolytes. It was rejuvenating, and I was back on the bus approaching the 21st mile.

We descended Liberty Avenue, now with the press vehicle and Nixon clearly in sight (and visibly slowing). James had gained a slight advantage, while Tariku was tucked behind me. I learned from last year that the downhill was long enough to have severe consequences on tired legs, so I had to use this stretch to make up as much ground as possible on the two ahead. My quads seemed alright with the additional landing shock and I could hear Tariku laboring. I tried to keep running with a high cadence while following the tangents on the road. It still wasn’t enough to bring James back much. As the road leveled out, my friend Steve (who had driven down from Rochester) was on the course encouraging me to keep gaining on them.

At 25 miles, James had passed Nixon. I estimated they were about 15-20 seconds away from me, meaning I would really have to work hard in the final mile to advance into any other position. I knew I had to push through– there wasn’t any other option. I thought of my workouts that brought me back to fitness, my friends that came to see me run, my family back home, and the city that had welcomed me back to their marathon. I had to keep running hard for them!

I moved into 2nd place and barreled down the entire finishing straight on the Boulevard of the Allies, even after James had broken the tape. I finished 17 seconds later, a narrow margin in marathon racing. I was exhausted in a way my unremarkable time of 2:14:26 wouldn’t indicate.  Still, James was the first to congratulate me with a hug. With some teamwork and a little luck on our side, we successfully caught the leader to go 1-2. Both Runners of Steel, taking in our accomplishment.

Post-race activities included a return to Abay Ethiopian Cuisine for a huge lunch, followed by some ice cream at Oh Yeah(!).  I was with great company and the food was fantastic (I think everyone liked Ethiopian food… Chelsea? Ashley?).

Well, it’s time to wrap this blog up… special thanks to Patrice, Kelsey and the entire Pittsburgh Marathon organization for welcoming me back to your incredible race this year– your marathon is second to none, and I hope I can return next year!  Thanks also to my family and friends who made this weekend special by coming to Pittsburgh, or encouraging me as I prepared these past months. Last but not least, thanks to my sponsors for keeping faith in me! –JDE

Race footage, courtesy of Eric Boyce:

I run because…

Jeffrey’s update from home in Rochester, NY on National Running Day.

Greetings from Rochester, NY and Happy National Running Day! It definitely feels like June here in the Northeast– I’m still adjusting to the high humidity levels (albeit uncomfortable, it is good preparation for Daegu). After a weekend in Ottawa, where I paced 30K of the Marathon, I’m home visiting with family. It’s a nice abbreviated vacation from the Southwest– and a stark contrast to my last visit with Ali back in December for Christmas!

I am also excited to be visiting Rochester because this evening I have the opportunity to share my passion and experiences in the sport with my hometown running community. At 7:00PM tonight I will be speaking at Medved Running and Walking Outfitters on a variety of running-related topics, including: post-collegiate development, preparing for the marathon, altitude training and nutrition. Last year, I had the chance to meet Dan Medved at his longtime store-sponsored Medved Lilac 10K, and I’m very grateful to him for inviting me to visit with the running community in his store. Tonight’s event will be a great opportunity to discuss some of the many lessons that I have learned in the sport; I am also hoping it will be a way to express my gratitude to the supportive community that I grew up in!

Given that it is National Running Day, I think this is an appropriate time to reflect on the sport and its profound impact on our health and quality of living. I like the provocative question that we, as runners, are challenged to personally answer today: Why do you run? 

For me, in addition to having competitive aspirations, running has given me such a great model for personal development and growth. I enjoy the balance it provides me with, and it has been a great outlet for my energy. I enjoy being fit and active while participating in an activity that I hope to continue with my entire life. I also feel quite fortunate in the present to be able to pursue my passion as a careerpath. To quote‘s philosophy: I Live2Run!

In this current running meditation, I also recall Coach Jack‘s adage that he offers his athletes: “The road traveled is certainly as important as is the destination because every day along the way is part of a person’s never-ending education.” And so I lace up my Brooks shoes each day and head out on a new road anxious to see where it might lead– enjoying the journey as opposed to thinking solely of the destination. To be more succinct:

Well thanks for reading; it’s time for me to head out for a run! –JDE

Who could win… a rabbit?

Jeffrey’s recap of rabbiting the Pittsburgh Marathon… and then winning.

It was quite a weekend in Pittsburgh! As I reflect back on the the unexpected result, I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes not having a definitive race plan is beneficial. As a race ‘rabbit’ brought in to assist other athletes and fully-participate in all the weekend events, I had a very planned-out stay in the Steel City. And yet, after 18 miles of pacing on Sunday, I decided to improvise a little…

Highlights from the Event Weekend

On Friday night, I attended a reception for all the generous event sponsors at the LaMont Restaurant. It took some convincing on my part to the Restaurant staff that I was with the Marathon event, and not the Junior Prom that was also going on. After enjoying a glass of Cab and taking in the panoramic view of downtown, I was given the opportunity to address the sponsors on behalf of the elite athletes and Olympic Trials hopefuls. It’s quite humbling to speak in front of such a distinguished group– which included the Mayor (who was making his half-marathon debut), sponsors and the entire race organization. However, I was glad to convey the fact that their support goes a long ways in helping many aspiring athletes realize their dream. Later on, after watching some fireworks and having another glass of Cab, I chatted with Race Director Patrice Matamoros. I thanked her again for having me, and joked with her that maybe I would win her race on Sunday.

On Saturday I took part in the Kid’s 1-Mile Fun Run, along with fellow pacer Tom Tissell and the Steeler’s charismatic Ryan Clark . Through the Kids of Steel Program, over 500 kids from five area school districts logged up to running a total of 26.2 miles– with the final mile being run during the event weekend. I was excited to be a part of the Program’s finale, and witnessed an incredible turnout of young students, their teachers and parents all enthused to be running! I ran with the group from McClellan Elementary School, having met their dedicated PE teacher the previous evening. Despite a false start by Ryan, I was able to work up through the field of smiling and reddening young faces to finish 2nd in 6:57. I high-fived the top finisher, and had him promise me to one day run the marathon. He said he might, as he collected his medal with satisfaction, and as others zipped through the finish. I was pleased to see so many youngsters getting exposure to running as a healthy, life-long activity!

Leading up to Sunday, I had the opportunity to meet and spend some time with many talented athletes.  It was great meeting and talking to Tom, a very experienced marathoner (and multiple-time Olympic Trials Qualifier) who was pacing the Women’s ‘B’ Qualifiers. I also met a very friendly group of Ohioans the first evening at dinner. After the Fun Run on Saturday, I went for my own run on the nearby river trail with Tyler McCandless, a recent PSU Grad and 2:17 marathoner pacing the Women’s ‘A’ Qualifiers. Later on, I caught up with some of the U.S. athletes targeting the OT Qualifying Standard, including American citizen Boaz Cheboiywo. Whenever I travel to races, it’s nice to meet new athletes and also see a few familiar faces. Everyone seems to have a unique story of how they became involved with the sport (and particularly with the marathon), and I find myself learning from them. More than any other sport in the U.S., distance running is a relatively small and tight-knit community.

Race Day

My approach to Sunday was like that of any important workout or race: I made sure I was well-rested and adjusted to the time zone; I ate well and prepared most of my foods; I also maintained a high level of focus on the task at hand. I certainly felt a great amount of responsibility to the athletes I would be pacing, which had me equally as excited as anxious– while both sentiments quelled any competitive ambitions. When race morning arrived, I followed my usual routine: coffee and breakfast (including a Raw Revolution Bar) 3 hours before “go” time, active-isolation rope stretching (thanks Tyler for lending me your rope!), and some ipod-shuffling (rocked out to Girl Talk’s All Day mix).

As anticipated, we had a rainy and humid race morning. It was a very balmy 60°F when I was warming up with Lauretta, a former teammate from my UVA days who I had literally run into that morning. After some easy shaking out, I pulled on some dry CEP Compression Socks, put on my Garmin Forerunner GPS Watch and switched into a Team sleeveless Brooks shirt (I had forgotten to pack my singlet); I was ready to rabbit!

The marathoners and half-marathoners lined up together on Liberty Avenue under a large yellow banner. I found Boaz and made sure we were in close proximity. Once sent off at 7:00, we were quickly swallowed up by the half-marathoners taking off. I watched teammate Nicholas Kurgat push to the front with his neon Spira shoes visible in his long back-kick. He was shadowed closely by a former Hansons-Brooks teammate Ryan Sheehan and a few NYC-based, WSX runners; I knew he would have his work cut out for him. My focus immediately shifted back into setting our mild cadence: 5:18’s. A few female elites had pulled ahead.

Due to the rain and cloud coverage, my Garmin was not receiving the best GPS signal. I had to rely more on the clocks each mile for feedback. I recall being a little slow at 5K (just over 16:30), but Boaz, Nik Schweikert and a few half-marathoners bolstered our group. I felt very relaxed leading the group, as if it were another Sunday long run on Lake Mary Road… albeit with some company!

I tried my best to keep the pace as metronome-like as possible. The undulating roads over bridges kept me awake; I remained steady up the inclines and held back going downhill. I encouraged Boaz to tuck behind me on the bridges to avoid cross-winds. I had an eventful course tour with my friend, Eric, the day before so I knew the general tangents of the race course. I made sure our fluid stations weren’t as uneventful, as I cautiously grabbed my bottles of Vita Coco that I had prepped the previous day.

The half-marathon leaders were well out of sight, after we crested the West End Bridge and followed a long stretch on Carson Street. There was a visible contingent ahead, which I suspected were the marathon leaders. Still, I maintained our pace and mentioned to Boaz that we were right on schedule.

After crossing the Birmingham Bridge (around 11 miles), we faced the largest climb on the course. I tried not to impose the pace too much up the hill, given that it would even out later on– and I had 7 more miles to make sure of it.

I reached half-way around 1:09:20, which I felt would give Boaz a nice buffer to achieve a sub 2:19:00. I noticed shortly after that he fell back at a fluid station. I was not sure whether he missed a bottle or was under any physical duress, but I hovered off the pace a little to help him get back on. With credentials of 1:01:35 for half-marathon, 27:46 for 10,000m and 13:19 for 5,000m, Boaz proved to be among the most legitimate athletes in contention for an OT Qualifier and winning the race. I was quite humbled to be rabbiting him in only my third time entered in a marathon!

Unfortunately, the elastic between us was stretching and the next few miles proved that Boaz was faltering. My Garmin was semi-accurately reading  5:18 per mile, so I kept the same rhythm  to ensure I was fulfilling my rabbiting responsibilities. I pulled by Genna Tufa, who had fallen off the leaders somewhere after Mellon Park. I estimated we were over 30 seconds behind the race leaders, which had me curious about what was happening up front. The curiosity continued to build on Frankstown Avenue as a pack of 6 leaders grew closer. I crossed 18 miles well within range of the group. No longer the rabbit, I thought, why not go for the win?

The race began for me between 19 and 20 miles, when I joined the tête de la course. I was the lone American among a small group of East Africans: Isaac Birir (Kenya), David Rutoh (Kenya), Tariku Bokain (Ethiopia), Teklu Deneke Tefera (Ethiopia) and Jynocel  Basweti (Kenya). As soon as the leaders identified my presence, I surged right by them into the lead. By injecting a harder pace (4:40), I wanted to see who could respond right away. A minute later I stepped off the gas and looked around: one runner was already off the back of the group and I saw some concerned faces. This was my sign; it was time to finish them off!

For the next 3 miles, I controlled the front of the race and mimicked a fartlek workout I had done a few weeks prior. I pushed at the front for varying intervals lasting 1 to 5 minutes and then recovered with a moderate pace– which was dictated by the surviving runners. Teklu, a new Flagstaff resident, responded to my surges a few times but fell back on our descent down Liberty Avenue. A athlete, Chapel Hill-based Isaac Birir, had also quietly peeled off by 23 miles. In the next mile, I could only hear the labored breathing of David and my squishing Brooks Green Silence.

I started another surge (4:40 pace according to my Garmin) with less than 2 miles to go. David dropped back dramatically at a water station. I knew this was the KO punch! I maintained the acceleration to put as much distance on him as possible. A cyclist informed me I had put around 70 yards on him, as I crossed the final bridge over the Allegheny River. I enjoyed the final straight away to the finish, offering a few high-fives and trying to process what I hadn’t planned on doing that morning: winning! Despite the hard surges, I crossed the tape feeling very comfortable– I was pretty surprised with the time given the pace of my first 18 miles!

My post-race replenishment involved a cool-down, some interviews and an afternoon outing to Abay Ethiopian Restaurant. With Eric, his sister Kristie (who ran a 3:27 first marathon!) and her boyfriend Turadg, we gorged on several vegan dishes including: Inguday Wat (spiced mushrooms and brown lentils), Mesir Wat (red lentils), Tikil Gomen (cabbage and carrots) and Ye’ Abesha Gomen (kale, peppers, ginger and garlic). It was the perfect post-race, nutrient-dense meal. I can see why Ethiopia produces so many strong athletes, given their diet!

On to the next one…

So for now I continue to run nice and easy. The recovery has been quick thanks to a few hearty vegan meals and some ART treatment with Dr. Kymberlee Wilkens. I’m both charged with the weekend’s results and with the exciting news released about our strong USA World Championship Marathon squad for Daegu. I’ve definitely learned some more about marathoning this weekend (particularly how to race), and I am anxious for my next 26.2 mile essay, now having a victory under my belt.

So thanks again to all my family, friends and sponsors for their continued support. I’m happy to share this weekend’s success, and I look forward to making more progress in the next race… one that I am actually scheduled to compete in! –JDE

Race video, courtesy of Eric Boyce (more coverage here):

A Phantasmagorical 5K… in VEGA$

Jeffrey and Ali take an Easter weekend trip to Sin City for the Las Vegas 5K, presented by Ryno Running.

It was Friday evening and we were hurtling across the desert in my Subaru Baja on the I-40… en route for Las Vegas. The Easter weekend had just begun, but our road trip was anything but a lively impulse. So what were we doing out here? What was the meaning of this trip?

Well, Ryno Running had broadcasted a 5K event to be held at UNLV, appropriately dubbed the Las Vegas 5K, which served as the perfect excuse for Ali and me to plan a trip to Vegas. Seeing that I had never visited Sin City in my 2-year tenure in Arizona, this seemed to be the opportune time– and in the spirit of Easter! So we both registered for the event in the weeks prior, with the resolve to be Vegas-bound after work that Friday.

The race itself was going to be as intriguing as the host city and its surroundings. The course was advertised as being “flat and fast,” although I had my reservations after viewing the course tour video (which gave me mild motion sickness):

I counted nearly 30 turns when warming up on the course Saturday morning. Ryno Running had it well-marked with cones and directional signs, so the route–either fast or slow– was obvious enough. Its design mimicked something of a labyrinth, following winding concrete sidewalks between faculty buildings and through the heart of the UNLV campus.

I finished my warm-up and arrived at the starting line at 7:52AM. A group of Japanese Drummers were performing, creating a very intense pre-race ambiance. As I was wishing Ali luck (it was her first 5K) and rehydrating, an abrupt announcement was made that the race would be starting in 1 minute. I quickly meandered to the front of the starting line, settling next to my affable teammate, Trent Briney. Memories of the start are hazy from this moment forward. I regained consciousness in about 20th place, possibly on pace for a 400m personal best.

After a few early turns, I was in contact with a very eclectic lead pack. I passed a tall athlete wearing long basketball shorts and a Nike singlet. It was road warrior Christian Hesch. “What up surfer dude!” I said casually. When the athlete turned to me with a puzzled glance, I realized it wasn’t “Hollywood” Hesch. My bad.

I did recognize Ezkyas Sisay,  who distinctly powered his way to the front. He was still making it to the starting line when we were sent off, but had miraculously worked his way through the throngs of runners and pulled into the lead by a half-mile in. I went right after him, recognizing the threat of this Flagstaff-based 1:01:56 half-marathoner.

I had pulled clear of the other chasers by the first mile, and was focused ahead on the elusive leader. Chasing Ezkyas proved to be more like hunting the Predator; with dreadlocks flying, his strength and speed simply could not be matched. As we blazed through the main campus walkway, a stray dog chased after Ezkyas and nearly re-routed him. The dog had second thoughts. We then passed by a water station to the cheers of an enthusiastic group of young volunteers.

The course became increasingly technical in the final mile. We veered off the sidewalk into a grass courtyard before heading back towards the Thomas & Mack Center. I was still pushing forward in an effort to make up ground on the green adidas jersey ahead, but it seemed my efforts were only sustaining the +15 second margin.

I was careful on the final turns of the race, hoping the lack of friction between the outsoles of my T7 Racers and the grass would not send me sprawling to the ground. I crossed the finish decisively in 2nd place with a time of 14:47. Despite the slower time, I was pleased that I went after the leader (even if it cost me some time in the race). Course conditions aside, it was another important racing experience for me.

After I finished,  I watched Eric (our benevolent host) gut out his race and then I ran with Ali out on the course. It was great to see so many participants in the 5K, and also in the Cease to be Obese Charity Walk. Ryan Geurts and Ryno Running did a fantastic job coordinating these events!

After a marathon pace run, awards and a gargantuan veggie burrito, Eric, Ali and I hit the Strip that afternoon… it involved a certain degree of culture shock. Here are a few photo highlights:


Hope everyone had a Happy Easter! –JDE

  • Las Vegas 5K Results (insert “Hollywood” Hesch with his 15:01 Time Trial… dude missed the start)

Don’t Call it a Comeback!

Jeffrey blazes a new 10K PR in his return to racing at the Kaiser Permanente Pike’s Peek 10K.

I didn’t have a precise race plan for Saturday’s Pike’s Peek 10K in Rockville, MD– or if I did, it was simply to get to the starting line without any incident.  I never thought making it to a race start would become my primary goal for a competition. However in the past two months, I’ve encountered enough minor setbacks to keep me sidelined from making it to a starting line.

My plague of setbacks, which included a prolonged bout with the flu, culminated 2 weeks ago, when I managed to dislocate my shoulder 5 minutes before the start of the Cooper River Bridge Run. Fit and excited to compete, I cannot even recall how my shoulder separated as I was stepping off the athlete bus. I do remember the agony of watching the first wave of 40,000 runners depart Mt. Pleasant, as I was escorted by three firemen to emergency medical assistance. The E.R. visit, having to hitchhike back from the hospital and, later on, a speeding ticket on the I-17 made this one of the most challenging and tumultuous days I have ever lived.

I knew my streak of bad luck was going to change eventually, and it took all my mental fortitude to remain positive in the days that followed Cooper River. As I resumed training (I took my ridiculous-looking sling off the next day), I surprisingly picked up momentum and confidence that led me to believe I could come back 13 days after my mishap and race anyone

Pike’s Peek 10K

When we were sent off to race down the Pike Saturday morning, I went for it. I tucked into the lead pack of 18 Africans and we rolled. I had made a similar decision when I raced at the Brian’s Run 10K in 2008, where I fearlessly went with the leaders and gave it little thought—sometimes less rationalization is better in racing. I ran a 4:40 first mile, my legs still warming up from a delayed start, followed by a 4:37 and a 4:34, as teammates Julius Kogo and Nicholas Kurgat stepped on the gas in the front.

I passed 5K in around 14:20, but really wasn’t processing my splits at the time; I was competing. The lead group was thinning out, and I focused on moving up and past the race casualties. As the lone American near the front, I picked up more momentum from the cheering spectators and Montgomery County Road Runners volunteers that lined our point-to-point route.

I surged up an incline after 5K and rolled up on an athlete in a yellow adidas uniform. I recognized the familiar face of former Olympian and 2:10 marathoner Girma Tolla, who I had ironically last raced at Brian’s Run. The leaders were still in sight. However without a pack, we were more vulnerable to the gusty crosswind. Even so, my legs felt responsive and I felt I could run a stronger second half of the race. I was breaking in a new pair of Brooks T7 Racers. By 4 miles (a 4:34 split), I was reeling in Reuben Mwei and Tolla was falling behind.  I was two-thirds through with my race, and knew the final third would be the real test.

I pulled even with Reuben after 5 miles (23:03, another 4:34 split) and we would go back and forth on this stretch of the Pike. I tested my legs (and his) up the last incline and could only see his tall silhouette stretched on the pavement. Looking ahead, the green jersey of Derese Deniboba floated ahead of me like an apparition.

Just after 6 miles Reuben pulled even with me, and we both sprinted home to the finish, nearly catching Derese in our own contest. I learned after crossing the line that I had finished 7th in 28:33. I finished 1 second shy of  U.S. Olympic Marathoner Dan Browne’s (former) course record. It was an exciting result, and I had executed a strong negative split (running 14:13 for my second 5K).

Certainly the Pike’s Peek course, along with the ideal racing conditions, helped yield some fast 10K performances and a plethora of personal bests were set. Akin to Monday’s  historic Boston Marathon,  where the world witnessed the fastest marathon ever run (and Flagstaff-er Ryan Hall also set an American best), athletes took full advantage of the the conditions on the Pike. Whether or not these performances can be recognized for record purposes is perhaps debatable, yet I don’t think any athlete should be discredited for running as fast as they can on race day. Our race had a very talented field and I believe we all pushed each other hard to run as fast as we did.

I’m excited to get back out on the roads and continue competing this Spring. I will continue to work on my speed before ramping back up into marathon training. It’s a relief to be over the setbacks that I’ve experienced, but it has been a great learning experience on how to keep perspective during tough times. Stay tuned for more! –JDE

A New Year & The Naples 1/2 Marathon

Entering 2011 with a purpose, Jeffrey opens his racing season with a strong showing at the Naples Daily News Half-Marathon.

Entering 2011, I am feeling nostalgic to certain degree as I look back a year ago to my memorable first marathon experience at the P.F. Chang’s Rock’n’Roll Arizona Marathon. I remember how well everything came together in my training over the holidays and culminated with my running as hard as I could through the Phoenix street grid in the presence of my family and friends. Truly an experience unlike any other, my first marathon was a profound rite of passage and I felt extremely fortunate to be able to share my successful debut with those who faithfully supported me.

Without a marathon in my January racing plans, I used this past Christmas holiday to visit my family in Rochester with Ali. Upon returning,  I again welcomed in the New Year in Flagstaff tradition at the Pine Cone Drop. I was in good company as we anxiously watched the illuminated pine cone descend from atop the Weatherford Hotel in gelid sub-zero temperatures. Teeth chattering and with my breath a visible plume of smoke in the midnight air, I felt poised for the New Year, and ready for the challenges that 2011 will promise.

While I try to avoid making any capricious New Year’s Resolutions, I have formulated a personal resolve for 2011: to make sure every endeavor I undertake has a purpose. Recalling this wisdom that was imparted on me several years ago by my UVA Assistant Cross-Country Coach, Brad Hunt, this advice resonates to challenge me in the next year to be aware of my decisions and actions, both personally and athletically. As I will have many great experiences and opportunities in the coming year, I feel I should strive to remain mindful in everything I do.


The Naples Daily News Half-Marathon

After a 3 month sabbatical from racing, I was anxious to get back into competing in 2011. I weighed my January opening race options very carefully, enjoying both the responsibility and liberty of being self-managed. As much as I would have liked to return to P.F. Chang’s for the Half-Marathon, I felt I would benefit more from a change in racing venue this year. During my research, an exciting race opportunity presented itself in the Naples Daily News Half-Marathon.

Recognized by Runner’s World as one of the 25 Best Half-Marathons, the NDN Half first began in 1989 and now is in its 23rd year running in this scenic Gulf Coast city. The event is organized by Naples’ tight-knit running community, the Gulf Coast Runners, and proceeds benefit their Youth Development Fund Program. While the notion of racing on Florida’s “Paradise Coast” (and subsequently escaping the chill of high country living) was appealing, I felt that running in the Floridian subtropics would also help me prepare for the conditions I will likely face when running in Daegu in September.

My travel day to Naples was quite long. I woke up Friday at 3AM for an easy training run before driving down to Phoenix for my morning flight. Luckily, I had a full thermos of coffee and the new David Sedaris audiobook playing to keep me awake for the drive. When traveling to the east coast, I find waking up and running at an unpleasantly early hour will better prepare me for the time change ahead. I can then spend the rest of the day getting to my destination– hoping there aren’t any air travel delays– and not worrying about running once I get to the race city. Friday’s travel proved to be uneventful, and I was able to get some rest on my flights and brought some fruit and a Raw Revolution Food Bar to snack on. I arrived in Naples at sunset and was taken aback by its serene quality. After a light meal and a glass of wine with my benevolent hosts, Jim and Faye, I was more than ready to call it a night.

I had a very relaxing day before the race. I went for an easy morning run on a popular running and biking loop between the Gulf of Mexico and four miniature bays. My legs felt good after Friday’s travel, and the sunny 50-degree morning was much more inviting running weather than the January mornings had been in Flagstaff. I spent much of the morning and afternoon resting and taking in the panorama of the Gulf from my hosts’ twelfth story condo balcony. After lunch, Jim gave me a tour of the race course, and while I was impressed with the pancake-flat profile, I was even more impressed by the stretch of multi-million dollar homes that lined Gordon Drive. I always find it beneficial to preview a race course to help me prepare for and visualize my run; it also gives me an opportunity to appreciate some of the things I might not notice while in race mode. That evening I made an early dinner at the condo, loading up on quinoa pasta with a Boca meatless sauce and sautéed spinach. After a glass of Cab, I was again ready to wind down and get some rest.

It was comforting to go through my pre-race routine. I felt calm as I stretched with my rope while listening to my ipod, and my legs felt very responsive during my 3 mile warm-up run. To prepare for the morning sun, I rubbed on some Jack Black (not the actor) Sun Guard and had my Smith Sunglasses resting on my head. As we lined up for the start, I ran into Ethiopian power couple Ezkyas Sisay and Belainesh Gebre. It was a great surprise to see my hometown friends here, although I knew Ezkyas would be among the contenders if he had any competitive ambitions for himself this morning. I secured my spot at the front of the starting line next to a few other familiar competitors as the national anthem played. I paused for a short moment, reminded of my resolve to be here and run with a purpose. Then we were sent off.

My marathoner’s patience took over in the first few miles; I hung back and watched the front of the race sort itself out with athletes surging and maneuvering haphazardly around each other. Recognizing I had 13 miles to solve my problems and establish my position, I trusted my intuition and ran alongside Luke Humphrey and Andrew Leatherby, two strong marathon and road running veterans. Before 4 miles, we turned into a circular driveway that rounded and redirected us to head back on Gordon Drive. I was slightly unnerved by the fact that the lead group was turning Northbound onto Gordon as I entered the driveway. This select pack featured some very capable athletes, including 1:01 half-marathoner Macdonald Ondara, Ezkyas, Worku Beyi, defending champion Simon Sawe and the 2009 champion Nicholas Kurgat (unbeknownst to me at the time, but representing After turning around, I began to assert myself in an effort to reel in the leaders.

I worked with Luke and Andrew to pull in a few select athletes that were running between us and the front of the race. We rolled up on Christian Hesch and were approaching Zach Hine of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project. I think between 5 miles and 10K, I had pulled clear of my group and was committed to running 4:50 miles and moving up. I estimated I was in about 7th position, and knew I had two U.S. athletes (Simon and Zach) ahead of me. As I continued to gain on the leaders, Zach had successfully worked his way across the gap to join the Ezkyas and company. I could tell when we turned around at a cul-de-sac after 7 miles that I would really have to work to catch this group, as they seemed to be working together. Once I got onto Galleon Drive, as the road narrowed under the shady canopy of Banyan trees, I caught up to a laboring Simon Sawe and urged him to work with me. When I made the 180 degree turn-around before mile 9, I saw he had drifted back. On to the next one…

Before the 10 mile mark, where a local priest offered his blessings with reinvigorating splashes of Holy Water, I saw Desiree Davila of Hansons closely stalking Belainesh. It was great to see her mixing it up against one of the world’s best (and her growing success in the marathon is particularly inspiring for other developing U.S. distance runners). I passed 10 miles around 48:30, without taking any water cups that were offered. I knew I couldn’t afford any lapses in concentration if I wanted to catch the runners ahead. Shortly after, I passed by Derese Deniboba, an Ethiopian representing the Westchester Track Club, and I was focused on the 4 remaining targets ahead.

I continued to make ground on the East African contingent and Hansons’ gutsy mesomorph (now a few strides trailing the trio) as we returned to Gordon Drive and ran into the light coastal breeze. I had to make several conscious efforts to keep pushing and get out of my comfort zone, with the incentive of their figures growing closer. I kept digging in the final mile, as we returned into downtown Naples and finished on 8th Street. I was unable to bridge the distance to these four, but pushed all the way home to the finish line in 1:04:19.5. I waved graciously to the supportive Naples crowd as I finished, happy with my first race performance of 2011.

After switching out of my racing gear, I laced up my Brooks Launch and headed out for a 60 minute run on Gulf Shore Boulevard. A true marathoner at heart, I had to get my 25 miles in for the day!

I really want to thank the Gulf Coast Runners, all the enthusiastic volunteers, Perry, George and my hosts Jim and Faye for their hard work and race weekend hospitality. The Naples Daily News Half is such a well-organized event, and it showcases a picturesque city and an active community. I certainly will put this race on my schedule for a future year!

And so 2011 is off to a good start; I am excited for my next racing opportunities and will continue to run with a purpose.


P.S. Congratulations to 2:13:51 marathoner Josh Cox on amending his 50K American Record, which I learned he accomplished at P.F. Chang’s in Phoenix over the weekend. Josh, if you plan to make a future attempt at the World Record, I hope you will share your racing plans with other U.S. marathoners ahead of time–myself included, as I would be happy to give you some competition.

The Roads Scholar Diaries

Jeffrey reflects on his eventful year of racing in 2010 and the profound impact of becoming an RRCA Roads Scholar.

In addition to the generous support of and Brooks, The Road Runners Club of America helped play an integral role in my progress and athletic success in 2010. As one of this year’s Road Scholar Grant recipients, I was fortunate enough to receive financial assistance to use towards my development as a post-collegiate runner. As the year winds down, grant recipients are asked to write about their running careers since the time we applied in May. In these past 7 months, with the help of the Roads Scholar Grant, I have undergone a total metamorphosis as a runner. As I reflect back on my many racing adventures from 2010, I appreciate the role the RRCA played in my transition from an overzealous road racer– more casually referred to as a “road whore”– to a focused professional marathoner.

I remember having mixed emotions back in May, only days after I had anxiously submitted my Roads Scholar application. The excitement from my debut marathon in January had dissipated, and nagging injury problems during February had quelled my hopes of immediately building on January’s success. It came as a grave disappointment to indefinitely postpone all my racing plans, and I did not know how long my recovery would be. Weeks went by and I would continually test out my legs only to discover marginal improvements that were quickly reversed (in hindsight, I should have rested my body more from running while I was hurt). It was not until after Easter that I was finally able to run pain-free again each day, which came as a big relief. Finally healthy, I hastily resolved to jump back into racing as soon as I could, feeling an exigency to make up for all the racing opportunities that I had missed in early Spring.

So two weeks after formally resuming training, I traveled to Spokane for the Bloomsday Run. As a competition that is included annually in the Professional Road Running Organization (PRRO) Circuit, the Bloomsday 12K attracts a world-class international field each year. For me, it was pretty high-profile race to start a comeback with, however the very kind and hospitable race organization had me enthused to return to Spokane for a second year in a row. As I lined up for the race start downtown on Riverside Avenue, I saw the all the waves of runners lining up behind us and my pre-race jitters had once again returned. I thought to myself, it has been too long! Even with the electric feel of racing again, I ran a very conservative first half and moved my way up to finish 16th place overall and 4th American with a time of 36:44. It was an encouraging result, and my first time running under 5:00 mile pace in over 3 months. Going into the race, my fitness level had been a complete mystery to me, and thus I had soared over the low standard that I had set for myself. I was so enthralled with the result that I ran 10 more miles cool-down after the race to get in some “bonus” training.

Regardless of my Bloomsday result, I had planned to follow up with another race 2 weeks later– in San Francisco at the ING Bay to Breakers 12K. While also known for recruiting a very competitive international field, the Bay to Breakers is more widely renowned for its unique and festive race atmosphere. As excited as I was with this next racing opportunity, I also jumped at the chance to visit my sister and her husband, who live in the Bay. It was a quick weekend and I hardly spent any time with my feet up. The day before the race, I ran a brisk 12 miles around Crissy Field, went out to lunch with Beth and Matt for a delectable raw vegan meal at Café Gratitude and then spent a few hours strolling through the hippie shops in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The next morning I rolled up and down the streets of San Francisco and into Golden Gate Park to finish 11th overall (and 3rd American) in 36:51. I felt it was another encouraging result, given that I was running into a headwind while being pelted with flying tortillas and nearly tripping in the first hundred yards over a pantless man carrying a briefcase. My experience validated the fact that Bay to Breakers is a race like no other.

Seven days after shivering through 12 kilometers in a singlet and shorts in the windy Bay area, I was 3 time zones away, running clear of my competitors in a hot and humid Medved Lilac 10K. It was a last-minute decision to visit home and run this race.  In March, I had planned a trip back to Rochester to defend my St. Patrick’s Day 5-mile title, although those aspirations were hampered by my ongoing ailments. As if returning to Rochester and winning upstate NY’s largest 10K wouldn’t be redeeming enough, the Lilac 10K was the only major race in my hometown that I hadn’t won (or competed in). With past champions like John Tuttle, Keith Brantley and Chris Fox, I was anxious to add a Lilac victory to my running résumé. Additionally, a great deal of pride and prize money were at stake. After a mile of inconspicuously observing the other athletes in our whittling lead pack, I pushed by the Ethiopian favorite and soloed home the final 5 miles. It was far from a graceful victory and I remember gritting it out for the final mile and a half, heading up a few rolling hills on the return into Highland Park and winning in a modest time of 30:09. Ten miles cool-down and an hour later, I was star-struck shaking hands with Dick Beardsley at the awards ceremony. Eight hours later, I was back in Flagstaff feeling over-exhausted and numb from travel.

By then, my racing appetite had grown insatiable. If I found a race with prize money and a means to get to the starting line, it was on my radar. In fact, I was committing to races without thinking about how I could train for them (the perfect example being the Mt. Washington Road Race). It probably would have been better for me not to include hard workouts between weekend races, and yet I was running mid-week workouts with the same intensity and volume as during my Phoenix marathon training.

The month of June tested my endurance as much with travel as it did with racing. In the first weekend I flew out to Des Moines, IA for a 20K. As we lined up en masse at the Saylorville Dam under torrential rains, I noticed this small-town road race with a generous prize purse was not the well-kept secret that I thought it would be. It took me 10 miles to catch enough race casualties to make my first trip to Iowa a relative success, as if earning prize money delineated success from failure. I didn’t think any more about my race, and blocked out the fact that it was my slowest 20K result on record.

The weekend after Iowa’s Distance Classic, I flew back east for 2 races on the New England running circuit: the Litchfield Hills and Mt. Washington Road Races. In the days before Litchfield while I was in Flagstaff, I ran a debilitating mile repeat workout on Snow Bowl Road that left me feeling largely under the weather by the time I arrived in the sticks of Connecticut. However, thanks to the friendly locals and other visiting athletes, I was distracted enough not to dwell on my lethargic state. The race proved to be a dogfight though, and I was part of a large front group as we entered the trail portion of the course. I pushed hard at the front while Julius Kiptoo, who I had met and raced at Bloomsday, patiently bided his time. I  remember relinquishing the lead as we passed a cemetery, and Julius pulled ahead with the ominous and steep hill on Gallow’s Lane just ahead. The effort up Gallow’s (a foreshadowing of my Mt. Washington experience) was extremely difficult and incredibly taxing, which resulted in my dropping 2 positions in the final mile.  It was neither a great result, nor an overly-disappointing run. However in the following days, my sore throat evolved into a deep congested cough and a headache. Against better logic, I jumped on a Greyhound Bus to Vermont to put the nail in my coffin…

The surprising news came days after I had arrived back in Flagstaff, still a little congested and completely disillusioned by my mountain running debacle. I received a call from Jean Knaack of the RRCA, and was pleasantly taken aback by her news of my selection as a Roads Scholar. When I had submitted my application for the Grant, I had doubted my legitimacy as a candidate, given how many post-collegiate athletes were healthy and running well on the roads. At the same time, I had remotely hoped that my marathon debut had not been totally eclipsed. It came much to my surprise that I was named one of the five finalists. To be recognized as a Roads Scholar was not only an honor, but it marked a turning point for me. I knew the Grant would provide me with the financial resources to focus on my training without getting caught up in chasing prize purses every weekend, as I had been doing. During June, I had committed to run in October’s U.S. Marathon Championship in Twin Cities. I recognized that the only way I was going to succeed at a U.S. Championship– and particularly in the marathon– would be if I directed my focus towards the preparation. This Grant would enable me to do that.

I finished up my racing in early July, returning to Iowa for a second place finish at the Fifth Season 8K, and ran on fumes a week later in my final race at the Utica Boilermaker. Just as it had been for 3 months, my race performances were consistent, but far from exceptional. I was in dire need of a break from racing, and just needed time to train and work on my craft as a marathoner.

The summer flew by, and I was responding quickly to the workouts Coach Jack had given me to prepare for Twin Cities (he used a training schedule he adapted from working with 2:23 marathoner Lisa Martin). While training progressed, I had started getting blood work done to monitor my hematological values. It was interesting to have this data as feedback, and develop a more scientific understanding of how my body was responding to my training. My blood work also confirmed that I was taking in and sustaining adequate levels of nutrients from my vegan diet (compelling data for me personally that disproved the common misconceptions about veganism).

As I have mentioned in past blog entries, I incorporated a few races into my marathon program to work on running hills (Snow Bowl Road and Jerome) and racing under tough conditions (Parkersburg). These select races really helped to keep my routine dynamic, and I appreciated the moderate exposure to competition while training remained as the primary focus. Both Snow Bowl and Jerome were nice confidence builders, where I was able to run away from my competitors and redeem myself as a climber. Parkersburg was in every sense a “rust-buster,” where I had to manage myself in difficult racing conditions against tough competitors, and simply experience the feeling of “grinding the gears.” After those races, I went into the Twin Cities Marathon as a stronger hill runner and felt more capable of handling increased levels of discomfort. I can conclude without any doubt that shifting my focus from racing to training during the Summer helped me make the podium at Twin Cities this Fall and qualify for next year’s World Championships.

Thanks to the RRCA Roads Scholar Program, I was able to make major strides towards the end of 2010 and in my second marathon. I felt that their supporting my continuing education as a marathoner has helped bring me closer to realizing my potential, particularly when I am focused and thinking of my running career in a more long-term context. As I enter 2011 I will be taking my new perspective with me, instilled with the belief that I can and will break through, as many tenacious Roads Scholars in the past have. But I will always look back on this year fondly and with gratitude, remembering how and where it began, and those who made it possible.

Again I am reminded that the journey is more important than the destination.


Twin Cities Marathon

Here’s my unabridged recap of finishing 2nd at the 2010 US Men’s Marathon Championship at the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.

I could see my breath during my routine shakeout run before 5AM on race morning. It was calm and brisk out as I jogged in darkness through downtown St. Paul, but I knew in a few hours that the sun’s presence would raise the temperature to 40°F and create the perfect Fall marathon racing conditions.

I ate breakfast quietly back in my hotel room, having a generous bowl of Hemp Plus Granola with Silk. The previous evening, I had eaten copious amounts of pasta, bread sticks and salad at the athlete dinner. Aside from the 4 bottles of Cytomax Natural Citrus I had waiting for me on the marathon course, these meals were my sole fuel sources for the race. After a few cups of coffee (using my new French press travel mug that Ali got me), I felt equally nourished and alert. At 6:00AM, it was time for me to depart for the race. I kissed Ali goodbye, packed my bag and braved myself for the morning that I had anticipated for so many months.

At the athlete staging area, I went through my active-isolation rope stretching routine while listening to my ipod (beats from my “Marathizzle” hip-hop playlist ).  Around 30 minutes before the race, I joined former teammate and Flagstaff roommate Mike Reneau for an easy warm-up run, afterwards doing some surges at marathon pace to wake the legs up. With 15 minutes until race time, I switched into all my racing gear: my singlet, my lightweight Smith Optics racing sunglasses,  CEP Compression socks and a newly-minted pair of Brooks Green Silence. The cooler morning temperature also called for gloves and arm-warmers to help keep me running warm and fluid.

The start  was uneventful for me. Once we received the anticlimactic send-off, I tucked in to a large group and observed as a few other athletes made their ambitions known by maneuvering to the front. Just as well, I thought, the real race won’t begin until about 30K.

Just as I had for the Rock’n’Roll Marathon in Phoenix, I came down from altitude less than 2 days prior to the race. Again, I knew that it would take the early miles to adjust to running at sea level, and that I should ease into my marathon effort naturally and establish a comfortable breathing pattern. The first few miles clicked off slowly, but I ignored my watch and followed my breathing while my muscles were also warming up for the race ahead. Passing 5K in 16:11, I was in a second chase group with many of the favorites, and could still make out the tête de la course down the road. We were winding our way by the Lake of the Isles, the first of four lakes we would encounter in the first half of the race. I knew I was in good position and out of trouble. Any energy I could conserve now would work to my advantage later on.

During the next few miles, we lost sight of the early leaders and we were still well behind the chase group, which I felt contained a few dangerous athletes (Reneau in particular). Cabada took the initiative to start organizing an effort to bring back the chase, and we traded miles to share the work. Simon Sawe and Mbarak Hussein were also very helpful in contributing to the effort. After grabbing my Cytomax bottle at mile 5, I took my turn up front. I usually refrain from talking during a race, but I felt that our communicating was vital in preventing a huge tactical error. I told Hussein that by 10K we should be in range of the group ahead.

Sure enough, we joined Reneau’s chase group between 10K and 7 miles. It didn’t require a major increase in effort to catch the group (we were 32:11 at 10K), and I suspected they had possibly slowed down. Even so, I realized that we needed to continue our gradual momentum forward and not allow the leaders too much more distance. Up the road and over 40 seconds ahead were Dave Jankowski, Seth Pilkington and Luke Watson– three athletes I felt were very capable contenders and needed to be taken seriously.

It was as if I were back in July, watching a long stage of the Tour de France. Was the break away going to survive today? Given the personnel of marathon veterans in my group (Reneau, Hussein, Sawe, Cabada and Reyes), I felt it would be very difficult for any athlete to run away from our group and live to tell about it. As it turned out, we continued our organized effort past Lake Harriet and on the rolling Minnehaha Parkway. I hardly took notice of the colorful canopy of trees that had caught my attention the previous day on the course tour. I was focused on the task at hand.

The half-marathon point was reached in 1:07:21. We had caught Watson and Seth while rounding Lake Nokomis with a few miles around 5:00 and were approaching a sharp turn back onto the Parkway. Staying in the front end of my group, I was unaware of any athletes falling back. As we made the turn, I saw a few others were laboring to keep up, including Simon “Skips” Sawe. At mile 14, we split 4:55, even with the slight incline running back on the Parkway. The pace did not feel any more difficult, but I resolved to keep patient for at least a few more miles. I took another Cytomax bottle at mile 15 to keep hydrated. Jankowski was still over 30 seconds ahead, although he no longer had anyone helping him.

It’s hard to recall who controlled the pace during the next 3 miles.  I ran side by side with Reyes, then Cabada and before I knew it our trio had pulled away from Hussein, Reneau, Sawe and Tyler Sygl (who we had been up front with Jankowski earlier). Dave’s orange jersey had become increasingly visible so we knew we were going to make the catch soon. I took over at 17 and was anxious to test out the legs. I didn’t realize until later that we split 4:47. I was still feeling fresh, and it appeared Reyes and Cabada were too.

During the stretch on West River Road, we were accompanied by a motorbike, which I learned later was doing live video coverage of the race until their camera died. Directly in front of the race was a trolley, which served as the official press vehicle. While I was aware of both their presences, my focus was on catching Jankowski and thinking about when I would try to test my competitors again.

At 30K (1:34:44), the catch had been made and our group of 3 was pulling away from Zap Fitness’ intrepid debutant. Now it was up to us to sort out our places on the podium. I still had a step lead at mile 19, as we turned onto the bridge to cross the Missippi, but I never picked up more than a stride on either Sergio or Fernando. We reached the 20 Mile mark together in 1:41:31, still with poker faces under our sunglasses. Once the infamous hill leading to Summit Avenue began, I knew it was again time to test out both their legs and mine.

I had prepared myself for running hard uphill all summer in Flagstaff. I raced up Snow Bowl Road, climbed up Jerome, had several training runs up Mt. Elden and would wring all the effort out of my legs each Sunday in long runs coming back up Lake Mary Road’s rollers. I worked relentlessly to make my own vulnerability in climbing a strength. Having studied the Twin Cities course and profile, I was well aware of how decisive the final 10K would be; the advantage would be given to the stronger hill runner.

At 20.6 I took my final Cytomax bottle. The station came a little later than I had wanted (I prefer not to take any drink during the final 30 minutes), but a few sips ensured I would not run low on electrolytes or succumb to muscle cramping. I lead the way by a step up the hill, and could hear Cabada’s heavy breathing over my own. As we crested the climb, I felt the increased effort but knew I was not alone.

I think any athlete having a dream of winning this race wants to taste the lead entering Summit Avenue. Still leading by half a stride, I was the first to make the highly anticipated left-hand turn. The crowd presence and excitement of leading encouraged me to dig into the slight upgrade. I knew Cabada was faltering but Sergio had given little sign of discomfort. Between 22 and 23, he moved even with me and then took over the lead. I responded as quickly as I could, but a gap was beginning to form.

Having often been asked why I train alone, I explain that the critical moments in the marathon come when you are by yourself and you alone have to decide whether to push forward or settle in. I like to think that working out independently has challenged me each time to make the conscious choice to push forward. Once gapped by Reyes, I was again left to decide whether I would fight or fold.

Miles 24 and 25 were agonizing. Both my legs and arms burned, and I felt I had to consciously focus on directing each stride forward and drive my arms without overreaching. With a mile to go, the gap was around 9 or 10 seconds and I knew I could not wait. I just kept grinding… past the growing crowds and with the State Capital coming into view.

As I barreled down the hill towards the finish, I ignored the sharp pains in my quads generating from the impact of each footstrike. I was in the highest gear I could manage, not only with the ambition of trying to run down the race leader, but in an effort to make sure Cabada did not employ his superior track speed to take away the final automatic World Championship spot. Even after Sergio took the final strides up and broke the finish banner, I continued to red-line my engine and reduce his victory to 7 seconds. As I crossed the line, I hadn’t even noticed I had run a new PR.

I was spent after the race, on my hands and knees. I only knew Ali was with me when I recognized her boots. I was escorted to the medical tent and then directly to drug testing. When it came time for the awards ceremony, I was over the heartbreak of finishing runner-up by 7 seconds, and smiling about my 2:14:09 PR and World Championship berth.

Looking back on the race, I really have no regrets with how I ran. I wanted to win, and I tried everything I could in the final third of the race (my body is telling me that now as I write this 4 days later). If anything, I had to use every ounce of energy in me to make Sergio’s victory a 7-second margin. And I’m extremely proud to have established a new personal best time (running a negative split on a challenging course) and also qualify for next year’s World Championships. In my second marathon, I have clearly made some progress. And I don’t believe this will be the last time I fight for a US title.

For now, I will enjoy my downtime and continue to reflect on my racing experience. At the same time, I am already hungry and looking forward to my next chapter in the marathon.

In closing, thanks again to my faithful family, friends and sponsors. Your support has carried me this far, and the best is yet to come! –JDE


On the road: Parkersburg, WV

The weekend of August 21, I traveled to the great state of West Virginia for the Parkersburg News and Sentinel Half-Marathon. I used this race as a tune-up in preparation for the Twin Cities Marathon in October.

I had a nice buzz going on Friday morning– primarily from the 3 cups of coffee I had while sitting at a Panera Bread in Parkersburg, West Virginia. The day before had been a typical travel day for me: a 2:30AM shuttle ride from Flagstaff to Phoenix, 2 flights with a generous layover in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and a 70 minute van ride from Charleston to this charming aforementioned town. And Thursday’s excitement had culminated once I arrived at the hotel, set my bags down, laced up my Brooks Glycerins and headed out on an 80 minute excursion in the balmy 80 degree night. After 15 hours of travel and completing a 12 mile shake-out run, it was easy to fall asleep that night. Needless to say, coffee was essential that next morning.

While planning out my marathon training with Coach Jack, I had decided to include the Parkersburg News and Sentinel Half-Marathon in my schedule as a ‘tune-up’ race. I felt it would give me a good opportunity to whet my competitive appetite without compromising my current training demands. This historic race has been held annually since 1987 and was  site for the USA 1/2 Marathon Championships from 1990 to 2001. For the past 5 years, Parkersburg has also hosted the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) National Championship. Given the race’s history, challenging course and competitive field, I was excited work this event into my racing plans.

I spent Friday performing my typical pre-race day rituals. I did an easy run on the course in the morning followed by some stretching and a few light strides. In the afternoon I went to the grocery store to plan out my next few meals. Sadly, my only nearby grocery option was a Super Walmart, although they had the essential ‘vegan-friendly’ foods I needed to make it through the weekend:

I had a light lunch consisting of vegetables with bread and roasted red pepper hummus. Later on, after picking up my start number and touring the course, I headed back to my room and heated up a bowl of Amy’s Black Bean Chili with 1/2 a cup of couscous for dinner. Aside from my vegan dietary preference, I like preparing my own foods when I am at races to prevent having any issues from eating unfamiliar foods. 

Fastforwarding to the race day, I felt good both on my early morning shake-out run at 4AM and during my 1 hour warm-up before the start. I lined up on Juliana Street wearing lucky bib #7, and found myself positioned next to a few other Team athletes, including Alene Reta, George Towett and Julius Kogo. Even with its reported strongest field in race history, I was fearless and assertive at the start.  

The first mile of the race was quick, as we winded through the byzantine neighborhoods of Parkersburg’s Historic District before heading out on the open highway, Route 68. By 3 miles, I was situated in a select chase group behind a very busy front pack. I was running with a familiar competitor (later I learned it was Worku Beyi) and slowly reeled in Bado Worku Merdessa, who I had battled back and forth with at the Boilermaker 15K in July. The rolling hills of the course disrupted me from finding any rhythm, however I felt strong and ran more aggressive on uphill sections to distance myself from my competitors.

Around 10K, the race ahead of me was strung out. I was beginning to labor in the hot, humid conditions and only had a few athletes within striking distance. I knew the second half was not going to be an easy, but my resolve was to finish and run as hard as my body would allow me; dropping out is never an option for me. Between 15K and 10 miles, I had moved into 7th and was pulling away from one of my teammates (maybe George?). The next athlete in sight was Canadian Eric Gillis, who was clearly struggling down the road. I was able to make some ground on him until making the turn onto 13th Street, where I hit a wall of a hill. It didn’t take long to climb up, but the effects of the hill and the sharp downhill that subsequently followed were debilitating to my legs. It took me until about 20K to recover my legs, but I still closed as hard as I could to get the most out of this race.

I crossed the line in 7th, finishing in 1:06:06. The time was testament to the difficult course and tough race conditions, being 2 minutes over my personal best for half-marathon. However, I consider my race to have been a very good performance. I raced aggressive early on, put myself in the mix with the better athletes in the field (and well ahead of any other American), and didn’t give in when it started to hurt. I think it’s easy for an athlete to run a fast time on a flat course in perfect conditions with pacers. However, I think the better athletes– especially in the marathon– are able to push themselves through walls while running on their own in less-than-perfect conditions. And that’s why I felt this race was the ideal marathon tune-up.

Overall, I had a great stay in Parkersburg. Chip Allman and the race committee did a fantastic job organizing the event! I also got to catch up with a friend and former Flagstaff athlete, Molly Pritz, who had an excellent performance in preparation for her marathon debut in Chicago (she is going to do great things with her new training group in Michigan!). I also had a great discussion with road race veteran Gideon Mutisya about recovery and training. Whenever I go to races, I always enjoy interacting with the other athletes and the running community. This little town in the confluence of the Ohio and Little Kanawha Rivers proved to be a very enthusiastic and welcoming race weekend host. I will definitely put the News and Sentinel Half back on my calendar for next year!

So now I continue with marathon training for Twin Cities back in Flagstaff. I love this time of year; the Summer is beginning to cool off, but my training is just heating up!  –JDE