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Next Level

Thoughts after finally running a marathon

In the last 3 miles of that race, in the pain and misery, I found myself and who I wanted to be.

Running a marathon for me was 10 years in the making. I got pretty into running and the idea of endurance sports back in 2008, and did my first 10k that year. It was the Nike Human Race in LA, with Kanye West performing at the end. It was pretty sick. Then another 10k in LA at the beginning of 2009, and then the Long Beach Turkey Trot 10k. I remember reading It’s Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong around that time. What an inspirational book that was at the time. My favorite Nike commercial was the one where Lance Armstrong says, “Everyone always wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on my bike, busting my ass 6 hours a day. What are you on?” So ironic now, but I thought it was so badass then. I started running and biking more, and signed up for the Surf City Half Marathon in Huntington Beach for February of 2010. I only got to about 12 miles in my training before knee pain took me out. I learned all about IT band syndrome, how when you have tight hips, the band that stretches from your hip to your ankle rubs against your knee and causes pain. I no showed the half marathon, and stopped running. I felt like a bit of a failure.

Running was off and on after that, but mostly off. I got into it for a brief moment in 2011 when the 4 Hour Body by Tim Ferriss came out. I remember getting into interval training, and always going to the park by my house in Davis CA and running sprints. Then in 2014, as a desperate attempt to get healthy again, I started running. After a few months and getting up to about 12 miles in my training, my knee pain came back and had to stop running again. I started to think that maybe my body just wasn’t cut out for long distance running.

Then in 2016, I decided to sign up for the Monterey Half Marathon with some friends. But this time I decided to take a different approach to training- no running. Instead of running, which in the past only lead to knee pain, I just surfed and did yoga. I surfed everyday there was waves, I did 15-30 minutes of yoga everyday, and that was it. The plan was just to show up on race day and run until I crossed the finish line. On November 13th, I showed up to the race knowing that it would be a tough run, but I was determined to finish in under 2 hours. During the race, at mile 10, I hit a wall. My knee pain was excruciating, my legs felt like concrete blocks, and I was exhausted. I had curse words in my mind for the next 3 slow and painful miles. I eventually crossed the finish line, at 1:59:48, a mere 12 seconds under my goal, and was relieved that it was over. But it wasn't over, it was only the beginning.

Completing that half marathon- barely completing it, I should say- sparked something in me. I started to believe that I could be a runner. I realized that “my body just isn’t cut out for long distance running” was just an excuse. I learned that a consistent yoga practice could be a solution to my running pain, which was caused by tight hips, hamstrings, and glutes. But most off all, in the last 3 miles of that race, those 30 minutes of pain and misery, I found myself and who I wanted to be.

2017: The Year of Running

I came into 2017 thinking that this would be the year of running. My goal was to run 365 miles, or a mile a day. I would track it on MapMyRun and in an excel file, because what gets measured gets done. I signed up for the Surf City half marathon again, on February 5th 2017, and just under 3 months from my first half marathon. I thought with some “real” training this time, I could probably beat my time. On race day I killed it! I finished with a time of 1:46:24, which is an 8:07/mile pace, and did the whole race in negative splits, my last couple miles clocking in close to 7 minute miles. I felt proud and accomplished, and I wanted more. I signed up for the OC Half Marathon, May 7th 2017.

I had a new strategy for this halfie. Instead of running negative splits the whole race, why not come out of the gates strong. At Surf City, I finished so strong that I didn’t think I would be able to finish any stronger, so the strategy was to start stronger. On race day, it was pouring down rain and I was late to the race due to traffic. I was stressed out and soaking wet, and started to think that there was no way I could PR. I started the race according to plan, and I think mile 3 was a sub 7 minute mile. I not only started strong, but finished strong, and clocked in my PR at 1:40:21 which is a 7:40/mile pace. And what really boosted my confidence is that I finished 27th in my age group, out of 348 runners, putting me in the top 7th percent.

The Beach Cities Challenge is completing the half or full marathon in Surf City, OC, and Long Beach in the same calendar year. It wasn’t a question of whether I would complete that challenge in Long Beach or not. The only question was should I go half or full? I felt in the best running shape of my life, the yoga was working and I had no knee pain, and I knew it was now or never. Plus, it's Long Beach, there isn't any better place to get my first marathon under my belt than in my hometown.

Running more than 13 miles is a different game. I learned an important lesson in hydration and energy management after running 17 miles with no water or gels. The next 17 mile run, with water and gels this time, felt great. 18 miles felt great. 20 miles didn’t feel great. At about mile 16 on a 20 mile training run, my ankle started to have sharp pain. I completed the 20, but my ankle felt injured and I decided to take a couple weeks off running. Thank god this was a month before the actual marathon, to give my ankle some time to heal. I rode my bike a few times and had also just gotten into swimming, which was a great way to stay fit without hurting the ankle more.

Showing up to the marathon on October 8th 2017, I honestly had no idea how my ankle would hold up or if I would be able to finish the race. But I had already paid for the race, and I figured I might as well show up and run until I physically couldn't run anymore. The race got off to a great start, and I crossed the halfway point at 1:43 and decided that I would make a push for a time under 3:45. To my surprise, the ankle held up really well throughout the whole race, but the rest of me didn’t. At around mile 20, it really started to go downhill fast. I got really tired, my legs were aching in pain, I was hot, and had over 5 miles to go. Maybe I went to fast in the beginning part of the race. I was miserable. I started walking the water stations. My legs were done. I think my last 2 miles were 10 minute miles. After crossing the 26th mile marker and only having .2 miles to go, I gave it every last bit of energy I had to finish strong and grunted and growled my way across the finish line. My time was 3:48:38, a 8:44/mile pace, and 3 minutes over my goal time. Once finished, and even after a coconut water and banana, the cramping wouldn’t go away. My face and fingers were tingles, my abs were in a constant cramp, and fuck, I was so happy. Sitting in the cold bath back at home, I remember thinking, “The next one I’ll break 3:45 for sure."

Mile 17
Mile 26 - the final stretch

The Next Level

"When I started off running I struggled with a 5k. Now I'm doing 200 mile races. It's not that I was born with this amazing talent. Your body gets used to what you ask of it. If you don't ask much of it, it isn't going to give you much. If you ask a lot of it, it'll give you a lot." -Cameron Hanes

So far I have run 437 miles this year. My original goal for 2017 of 365 miles seems so laughable now. The last 60 days has been the healthiest and most active 2 months of my entire life, and I’m feeling pretty damn good about it. I feel like I've reached the next level in my fitness and lifestyle. Here's the rundown of the last 60 days:

  1. No alcohol in 60 days, which in of itself is a huge personal accomplishment. 
  2. Yoga 45 of the last 60 days, at least 15 mins per day but often more
  3. Only 3 times eating meat in the last 60 days (no Baja trip is complete without tacos at Taco Surf)
  4. Exercise 49 of the last 60 days. That includes…
    • 25 surf sessions, including 2 Baja Mex trips, a day at Lowers, and many days at Huntington Pier in between.
    • 8 open water swims, totaling almost 3.5 hours and 12,000 yards. 
    • 4 bike rides totaling just under 55 miles.
    • Basketball, tennis, spike ball
    • And of course… 13 runs, for 123 miles, including 2 trail runs in Tahoe, and the Long Beach Marathon

But all I've really been thinking, is- what's the next level? I like this idea of levels.

During my marathon, I listened to the Joe Rogan podcast episode with Cameron Hanes. Cameron in a bow hunter, ultra marathoner, and complete badass. For the last few months, he has been RUNNING A MARATHON EVERY DAY. Why? Because tomorrow, on Friday October 13th, he is running the Moab 238, a 238 mile footrace in Utah. It’s a four day race. In the podcast, Joe was laughing about how Cameron is just on a completely different level than everyone else. I’m over here struggling on mile 22 of a flat race on a cloudy day next to the ocean, and Cameron Hanes is about to run 238 miles through the desert, up hills and down hills, and fuck, that is so next level, I can’t even imagine. Everything has levels. Joe laughed about being in yoga class next to 60 year old women holding crazy poses, all zen and composed, while he is sweating his balls off struggling to hold anything in the 100 degree heat. He just isn’t on their level.

I like running because there isn’t any shortcut for putting in the miles. You either log the miles, or you don’t. If you log the miles, you get your ass kicked, but you improve. If you don’t, you never make it to that next level. And that’s how everything works. You don't make it to the next level of business unless you're out there hustling and getting your ass kicked. Joe won’t make it to the next level of yoga unless he keeps showing up to that yoga class getting his ass kicked. Cameron told a story about struggling through a 100 mile race. He was undertrained and unprepared, but decided to run anyways. He ran the first 61 miles in 12 hours, but it took him another 12 hours to run the remaining 39 miles. It was 12 hours of pure suffering, and he thought of all the excuses he could give for dropping out of the race. He got his ass kicked, but he finished the race. He runs a marathon a day now, and I can only imagine how much of an ass kicking that is, but that is what he needs to do if he wants to get to his next level, which is running 238 miles in the Utah desert like a crazy person.

I’m excited for the next level. I’m excited to keep getting my ass kicked out there. What's next? I don't know, maybe a marathon sub 3:45, or maybe the Catalina Marathon, which has 4300 total elevation gain, or maybe a triathlon. Who knows. What I do know is that I’ll be out there tomorrow logging miles. It doesn’t matter what the next level is. What matters is that I get there.

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