Toughman Alabama Half Iron

I realized when I started this post that it has been almost 3 months since I have last posted. There has not been much to say, really, just a lot of training going on. And this is what I’ve been training towards.

Toughman Alabama Half
I signed up for this 70.3 race for a number of reasons. It was less expensive than an Ironman branded race, it was much closer than Augusta (the closest to me), and the fact that Team Magic, the event organizers, do a great job and have no cut-off time. That time thing ended up being important.

Now the bad part of this race was that it was held in Alabama in the middle of August, so I knew going in that it was going to be bloody hot and humid. Plus, it was a really hilly bike and run course, and the swim was in a lake, with no current-assist and no wetsuit. But I figured Go Big, or Go Home.

Transition pre-dawnThis is what transition looked like at 5:00am. There were 281 total racers, but four of those were aqua bike, and ten more were relay teams. So really, 267 individual racers. Including one pro, who ended up getting second place by two and a half minutes. That must have hurt.

Swim Stats

It was 64 degrees when the swim started. The swim start was on one side of a small slough, and transition was on the opposite side. This made the turn-around buoy closer to 2/3 the distance and not half way. The first wave of swimmers started at 6:30am, and my wave started at 6:48am (one wave every three minutes). I had no trouble swimming the entire way, my fitness was good, but between fogged up goggles, contact lenses, and choppy water, I was having to constantly stop to sight the barrels. I absolutely have to work to correct this. Bi-lateral breathing may be the key to helping me actually swim in a straight line, requiring less sighting. That will be step #1.

Bike Stats

I took longer than I should have in T1, but they had just cut the grass in the transition area, and it was still wet from the dew and made getting my feet clean a real pain. I had ridden this course about a month ago, so I knew what was in store, and I had practiced hill climbs.

The bike started, for me, at 7:55am and 66 degrees. As you can see, there was over 2,200 feet of elevation gain, and most of that was from mile 3-6 and of course, for punishment, again at mile 43-49. The bike portion was mostly fun. I was so long in the water, that when I started the bike I saw no one until around mile 18. Then, I started picking off the slower bikers. OK, a lot of them at first were women biking in tennis shoes, but then I started passing more. I ended up passing 12 bikers, and being passed by 4 guys on expensive bikes. Seems that a bridge (which by the time I got to it had a truck with a volunteer yelling to slow down and don’t go through the orange paint) had caused more than a dozen flats to early riders. By the end of the ride, it had now gone up to 86 degrees, but thankfully a lot of the course was well shaded. I was doing good, and following my nutrition strategy, but by the time I hit the very last climb, my thighs were both cramping. And I still had 3.5 miles to T2, plus that little half marathon run thing to go. I averaged 16.5mph though, so I was happy with that.

Run Stats

Then the run began, for me, at 11:10am. I had planned on using Hammer Endurolytes to keep up my sodium and electrolytes, but now I had to begin the run behind the curve. So I walked most of the first two miles. That seemed to work, so I began to run some, but just never seemed to be able to keep going. I was wunning – the opposite of the Galloway method – walking most of each mile and running some. You can see on the elevation graph that my watch seemed to screw up at mile 9.5. While I was on the course it showed me my mileage, but once home the file stops at 9.5 miles (I have manually entered the correct distance and time, even though the graph doesn’t show it).

There was no shade – none – anywhere on the run portion of this course. I started when it was 86 degrees and finished when it was 92. But the volunteers were great, and they really took care of everyone. A lot of planning went in to their run support, and they deserve kudos.

This was an out and back course, so look on the graph at the fun everyone had between mile five and the 6.5 turnaround! The water station at mile six said “we hear it’s a hill and a bump to the turnaround”. At mile five, we were at 536 feet of elevation, in the next 3/4 of a mile we went up 70 feet, then back down 60 feet, then from mile six to the turnaround that “bump” was another 40 feet in a tenth of a mile. Then please repeat all of that elevation backwards as you head back to the finish. The graph shows over 1,000 feet of elevation gain, but that’s just the first 9.5 miles, so it was more than that.

By mile 9, I was walking way more than I was running. It was horribly hot, and I could not get enough water in me. I had stopped at every water stop (every mile – very well planned) and was drinking 2 cups of water, then pouring half a cup over my head and the other half on arm sleeves I wore. Additionally, they had small towels in ice water that they would put on your neck, at every stop. Yet with all of that, and all the water, and the Endurolytes I could tell I was not in good shape.

I also knew I was blowing my time limit – remember that 8 hour time limit that Ironman imposes? – well I knew it was going to be a close thing. Even though they didn’t have a limit, I still wanted to make it in under 8 hours. Final time, 8:02:11.

As I crossed a wooden bridge back to the finish line, maybe 400 yards away around the last turn, one of my TeamMMS friends who had long been finished came running out and said “come on man, the camera’s right around the corner, you can finish strong…I’ll run it with you”. So I did, and they said “David Stankard, you are a Toughman” and I believed them.

After the race, several people who have raced multiple Ironman 70.3’s said this was the toughest course they had ever done. But I’m actually glad to know that I finished a course this difficult, and this awesome.

Here I’m coming out of the water, heading into T1. At this point, I’m ready to crush the bike ride.
Heading to T1

Here I’m coming off the bike, into T2. My thighs are cramping, I’m having trouble walking, and I’m thinking “just 13.1 miles of running to go”!
Heading to T2

Here I’m back in the hotel after the race, showing off my race tattoo and finisher’s shirt. Just glad it’s over, but really glad to know I finished.I Am A Toughman


Capital of Dreams Olympic Triathlon

Time to jump in the river
This was my third triathlon, and my first Olympic distance. The big reason I wanted to race this, besides the fact that it’s in Montgomery and I wanted to support it, was that we got to get on the riverboat, then ride it upstream for a mile and jump in to swim back to the riverfront. Who could resist?

Getting ready to leave the dock
I had my new wetsuit, I’d done a trial swim downriver with a group that was supervised by the Montgomery Fire Department. I was ready. That’s me in the top left of the picture, on the upper deck of the riverboat. Needless to say, with the current I had a good swim time, and popped out pulling off the wetsuit.

Exiting the swim

Coming back in on the bike
Then it was off on a two-loop bike course. It was mostly flat, but there was a nice climb up and over the interstate on the way back, twice. But it felt good, and I made good time, averaging 17.8mph over the 24 mile course.

The 10k run
Finally, there was the 10k run. I did OK, but could have done much better. It was a hilly course, it was hot, excuse #3. I could have done better. But I somehow medaled, in the Grand Masters category. 2nd place, and I’ll take it thank you very much (I know there are four of us standing there, but it was the Masters and three Grand Masters, only two of each were there for the awards).

Awards ceremony

View upriver
All the way up the river, past that bridge, at about the point you can see the right-hand bank behind the middle pier, that’s where the swim started.

Jubilee Run for Cancer 8k

I ran this for the first time last year. It’s a tough course, almost all uphill for over the first mile, but I really wanted to go all out and gauge my fitness level. Last year I ran a 9:36 pace, and this year I ran an 8:23 and beat my last year’s time by 5:50 – BOOM!

All of the training is beginning to really show some results, because I spent most of last fall doing LSD runs at about a 10:00 pace. I am now doing those same LSD runs at a 9:20 pace, and routinely running intervals at an 8:00 pace, a speed I used to only be able to hit for about a hundred yards.

Jubilee Run for Cancer

Trek for the Track 10k

This race is a fundraiser for a local private school, St. James, who is trying to build a track facility. Last year, I ran the 5k, but this year I wanted to run the 10k. It was a different course, much hillier and also warmer this year, and I did not do quite as well as I wanted.

As you can see, it was a rolling hill course, and I managed to run an 8:58 pace, and finished a full 16:30 faster than my only other 10k over a year ago. But back then I weighed 55 pounds more, too.

Trek for the Track 10k

Seaside Half Marathon

I had heard that the Seaside Half Marathon was a fun course to run, being at the beach at Destin, FL. It was described as “mostly flat and fast” and that was mostly true. This race fell two months after my bad first marathon, so I was already in condition for the distance and wanted to prove to myself I was better than that marathon performance.

I felt that between recovering from the marathon, and tapering before this race, I would have about six weeks to train. So I approached my training with a goal of speed. I had done lots of distance work for the marathon, but those six weeks I worked on speed and intervals. My only previous half marathon had been very hilly, and I had run it in 2:10:07 so my goal here was to beat that time and try to break two hours.

Destin's white sand beach.jpgThe weather on race weekend was absolutely beautiful! After a winter of temperature swings down into the teens, we had lows in the 50’s and highs close to 70. The race officials were saying it was the best weather they had had for the last six or seven years.

Vera Bradley bag and race bib.jpgThis race is sponsored by Vera Bradley and race swag is a large Vera Bradley bag, so the mix of women was probably 75%. The course runs on route 30A, which is all beach living at its best – Florida’s gulf coast version of highway A1A. It was cambered pretty steep in a couple of places, but not too bad, and the first (and last because it was an out and back course) 4 miles were almost flat. However, the road is just two lanes so it was consistently full of runners the entire time. From about miles 5 through 9 the course turned into rollers. Not hills – it is Florida after all – but a lot quick up and downs of 15-20 elevation changes. I had been practicing for flat, so this was a little unexpected. My goal was to try and maintain a 9:00 pace, to break two hours, and in almost made it. I got a cramp going too fast down a hill in mile 8, and had to walk it out for a couple hundred yards, then had a slower pace the next mile.

Finish Stats.jpg

Then I gave it a big SIUP and got back my pace, and ended up with a 2:04:06…which is a new PR and beat my old time by 6 minutes, so I’m happy. All in all, this was a great weekend and a great race. I would recommend this one to anyone looking for an early spring half marathon.

On the way back.jpg
Powering it home.jpg
Finish Line.jpg

Mississippi Blues Marathon

I have not posted in months, and am not really sure why I dropped off. Just a combination of work and training, I guess. Since my first half marathon in October, the only race I ran was a Turkey Burner 5k, which I PR’d at 26:37. Very proud of that time!

Then I was contacted by an old fraternity brother who is a 50 States Marathon Club member. (His blog is here) He was looking for his 32nd state to run a marathon, had picked Mississippi, and was looking for company after another friend had backed out. So I compared my half marathon training plan with a full marathon plan and thought Well they look very similar, just the long runs start getting longer. Boy, there is more to a marathon than that, as I was soon to learn. But I committed and signed up, along with a third old fraternity brother, and we all started training.

Things went along pretty well for a while, and I got through my 16 mile long run OK, but during my 18 mile long run I pulled something in my calf about mile 14. Things did not go well after that. My mileage dropped, then I finally did a two week taper instead of ten days, but in the end it didn’t help.

A brief note about the race itself. They are saying that they had 3,500 people running, but adding the totals from their own results of both the half and full, comes to just 1,637. Just saying. This runner sums up my feelings really well. The short version is:

  • Almost every road was badly patched asphalt
  • Pretty spotty crowd participation
  • Constant rolling hills – this was advertised, but it makes a tough course
  • Some nice areas but about 3 miles of interstate highway marginal roads (the only good pavement, though)
  • Crossing a six lane highway
  • Running through a construction zone
  • Generally no idea which side of the road to run on, when cones went down the middle.

This wasn’t a bad course, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to run it again.

Pre-Race ReadinessRace morning arrived, and even though storms had rolled through during the night, the rain had stopped. It was mid 50’s and turned sunny by about 11:00am, too late for many runners, but I was still out there walking. I had decided to try and go for as long as I could, at a 10:30 pace, and just see how the leg held up. This photo shows me wearing a blue shirt, but this came off by mile two, as the sun came out and it started to warm up. By the end of the marathon it was a very pleasant 61 degrees.

It felt good for the most of the first half, I was challenging the hills, taking in nutrition and water, and enjoying the run. We ran through the Jackson State campus, lots of crowd plus their band. Then a long stretch that seemed mostly uphill towards the old capitol building and north past the new capitol building. After mile 5 the half marathon folks took a right-hand turn by a hospital, or most did. I saw three or four running back past me to the turn, even though it was really well marked. Then we were off into some nice residential neighborhoods with a bunch more hills.

You can see from this pacing chart that I was hitting my goal pace nicely through about mile 11.5 (with a couple of water stop walks), but then the bad leg started acting up. So by mile 12 to about mile 16 it turned in to walk/run, in short intervals. Then the leg just refused to allow running. So the last 10 miles turned in to an endurance walk. We went through some more nice neighborhoods, with some huge houses on what must be 10 or 15 acre lots. Which I got to see in great detail, since I was walking.
MS Blues Pacing

Almost every runner has learned that you argue with your brain while running, about continuing the run, but this marathon I learned to scream to my brain that I was going to finish this, even if it took forever, which is what it felt like. All kinds of people started going past me at this point. A group of Black Girls Run ladies who had been doing run/walk at about my pace left me for good about here. Old people, young people, overweight people – lots of people passed me at this point. The most boring parts of the race were all toward the end (the interstate marginal road, the construction zones, large areas where no one was in sight), and the wind started to blow at about 8mph then ramped up to 14mph directly in my face as I turned down the last mile to the finish line. I managed to do a slow jog across the finish line…not a strong finish, but all I could manage. I was slow, but at least I didn’t need that guy in the medical staff shirt!
Finishing the Marathon

So now I am an official marathon runner, and if I ever talk myself in to doing another (because I am now full crazy) I have a lot better understanding of what I’ll be putting myself through.

Chris had a worse time of it than I did, he was fighting some kind of flu bug. He calls this race his PW (personal worst) race. Scott had a sub two hour half marathon, which I think is a great time. This marathon was really all about the journey, though, and less about the race itself. Friendships started 35 years ago, and re-connecting for a road trip. Oh, and that huge honking guitar finisher’s medal.

Post-RaceScott (kneeling down because he only ran the half), Chris and me

Wearing the Race JacketMe and Scott at lunch on Sunday, wearing the MS Blues jacket

My First Half Marathon Is Now Checked Off

This last Saturday, I ran the Montgomery Half Marathon. I’ve been training for it for over 13 weeks, starting with long runs every weekend with first hill repeats and then speed intervals on Wednesdays. Then for cross-training I’ve been biking 30+ miles on Sundays and 15+ miles two other week days. Plus swimming and weights.

Oh, and have I mentioned obsessing? Yea, that too.

I went to the McMillan Running website to get all the interval speeds I should be hitting, so lots of Long Steady Distance runs on the weekends. When I first started, his website said I should be able to hit a 2:20 time, so I was planning on beating 2:30 no matter what (unless a leg fell off or I caught fire). But then two weeks before the race, on my last really long run before my taper, I ran with a friend who was just a little faster than me, and found out that after 11 miles I had done a 10:10/mile pace – about 20 seconds faster than I thought I could do. All that training had paid off, but I had not changed my goal time!

My secret goal at that point became to beat 2:15, and to do that I needed to be right about a 10:10 pace I had already proved to myself I could do. So I aimed for even 10 minute paces for the first part of the course, and once I got the downhill advantage to try and do 9:30 on the rest. And I did. I even found enough kick to go the last 0.28 miles at an 8:36 pace, and still don’t know where that came from.
Finish LineMontgomery Half Marathon Swag

This elevation graph explains why I thought the back end of the run could go faster. That first climb is just over 2 miles long, and is 150 feet of elevation change (not counting the part that goes downhill and you run up again) but I hoped the initial adrenaline kick would carry me through those 2 miles. Then just past mile 10 is another hill, our own little “heartbreak hill” that you turn a corner and see staring you in the face for about 8 blocks. This one is only 60 feet of climb but is just 0.45 mile long, and I wanted more than anything to be able to run it all the way to the top. And I did – at the top I shouted out loud “I OWN YOU”! Then stumbled forward for another block and finally got my rhythm back.
OMG does this course have hills

I finished with a final time of 2:10:07, and am still pumped about the race. I’ve got my medal hanging in my office, because by now everyone at work knows I’m “that runner guy”.

Once I started running running 11+ miles every weekend, my wife decided she could do a half marathon too, even if it meant she had to do the run/walk plan. Her longest so far is 6 miles, so to give her plenty of time, we signed up for the Seaside Half Marathon just outside of Destin Florida. She liked it because it’s sponsored by Vera Bradley, and their swag looked impressive.