BY: TREY AXE
I’ll give you two options- the actual Dallas Race Report is below and I’m going to make it obvious where it starts if you want to skip the background. I felt like this particular race was a huge milestone for me and I want to put in a free-flowing journal entry/year recap. If you want to know some of the background to why this race meant so much to me, I’m just going to put it all out there. If you want the short and sweet with Dallas- see below.
I have been slow my entire life. I have always been a good athlete, but only because the popular sports in America offer so many ways to compensate for lack of speed. My hand-eye coordination has always been very strong. In football, I was able to get stronger or be tougher or even quicker (not faster- there’s a difference) than my competition. Basketball offered similar opportunities. My sport ended up being baseball (for obvious reasons). Even as a kid, I had friends (and even their parents) who would call me “Leadfoot” for the way I stomped around when I ran. I was certainly not light on my feet.
It’s not like I was going to track camp or anything to get faster. I’d always just kind of accepted it. I didn’t pout about it either.. Instead of focusing on my weaknesses, I just got better at my strengths.
I played baseball at a small college in Tennessee, and by my sophomore year, I was 6 feet tall and about 220 lbs. I was lifting weights all the time, but getting slower by the day. Just to give you an idea of what I mean, our coach gave us an impromptu conditioning test one day and as part of it, asked that we run a timed mile, which I managed to pull off in 7:00 on the dot. Yes- this is essentially a one mile sprint and I could only manage a 7:00 as a college athlete at age 20. Hell, for me, I didn’t even consider that to be all that bad.
Fast forward to life post sports. I was suffering from the same symptoms as a lot of guys I know.. I ate just as much as I did in my playing days, but wasn’t really working out. My metabolism had slowed and I couldn’t figure out why I could run like 3 miles 3 times a week and not lose any weight. And hell- I was drinking light beer too! I was now close to as heavy as in my playing days, just minus the muscle. I was partying just as much as I did in college as well. I was acting like an immature jackass.
The day I decided to change all of that was literally Jan. 1, 2011. Funny enough, it wasn’t even a planned out New Year Resolution. It was because of the hangover and subsequent depression I woke up with on that particular day. I was DOWN. I hated the way I felt and the direction I was heading. Plus, to add to the mess, I had a new relationship that was already on the rocks. I spent most of the morning questioning who I was as a person. I was eating a 3,000 calorie lunch at Red Robin with a friend of mine that day when he told me that he was going to do the Tough Mudder at the end of the month. “What is this Tough Mudder?” “It’s a ten mile run with 17 strength testing obstacles along the way.” PERFECT! The day I want to make a change, I find something to train for.
I went all in. I got my co-worker to sign up with me. The next day I did a round of p90x and hit the trail for a ten mile run. When I got home, I could barely walk. I looked ridiculous. I stuck with the p90x when I was too sore to run. Whenever I could run, I’d get back to the trail. When I wasn’t working out, I was reading running books (Born to Run, Ultra-marathoning accounts, etc.) I was studying my running form and shifting from the heel strike I had run with my entire life to a mid-foot strike (yeah- I said I was reading Born to Run). I was constantly monitoring running efficiency and re-teaching myself how to move properly. The next week, the 10 miles around the trail wasn’t as hard. I kept it up. I was Mudder-ready by a couple of days before the race and happier than I had been in a long time. I didn’t want to stop. At this point- going from sedentary to the Tough Mudder was a huge step, and I wanted to take it so much further. I wanted to do something truly crazy.. so before I even did the Tough Mudder, I signed up for the Austin Marathon (I tried to get my co-worker to sign up for that one too, but he respectfully declined). The biggest hitch was that the Tough Mudder was on Jan. 30th and the marathon was on February 20th. This left me two weekends after the Tough Mudder before the big test. Being the completely naïve new runner that I was, I was just like.. “oh.. perfect. I’ll steadily ramp my mileage til the race. Oh yeah.. and I’ll cut calorie consumption so as to lose a few and make this whole thing easier.” I COMPLETELY REALIZE THAT IS ONE OF THE DUMBEST THINGS THAT YOU HAVE ALL HEARD. I would eat maybe 1,500 calories a day and do p90x during the week. I decided that because I only had two weekends, I would have to ramp my long runs up in a hurry. The first one would be a 17 miler. I ran the 17 on the trail and thought I might die. The last four miles were pure obstinacy. I couldn’t run all week because my legs were so messed up and my IT bands were so tight. I finally healed enough to get my 20 miler in the next week. It was close to as hard as that first 17 miler. It was probably in the mid 60’s, but I had lost so many of the few nutrients I would even give my body during the run that I broke down in freezing shivers after it was over. Again, I couldn’t run from that point until the race because of my trashed legs. Oh well- it’s taper right..? In spite of how grueling this all was, I was still happier (or at least in a better place mentally) than I had been in a long time. I was turning everything right back around and chasing new goals. I went out on Feb. 20th and ran my first marathon without stopping or walking once. My dad (who has always jogged with me) paced me from 20-26.2. That was really special. He really just monitored me to make sure I didn’t pass out and probably caught way more flack than he deserved (I was in one of those tunnel-vision moods that most of us have felt at one point or another). I crossed the line with an elation I had never felt before. I literally couldn’t bend my knees once I stopped moving. In spite of how completely unprepared I was, I ran a 4:14:56. In two short months, I had gone from essentially sedentary to running my first marathon. **By the way- side note that doesn’t even need to be written out- but the whole low calorie thing while training is HORRIBLE AND SHOULD NEVER BE DONE. I looked terrible and physically felt worse than I looked.
I had done the marathon and I wanted to keep chasing what was next. I was working a ton and in addition to my standard job, I was coaching baseball, which took up my nights and most weekends. I kept in shape and kept running but couldn’t afford another race training bender at the time. After the season, I knew what was next. An ultra. It was a foregone conclusion. I knew from past experience that I would never be fast, but I knew I was hardheaded enough to push myself through almost anything. I settled on a 50 mile trail run in Madison, Wisconsin on Sept. 17th (my birthday). I started training at the end of April. I downloaded some guy’s training schedule online and followed it nearly to the letter. I was putting in a ton of distance early on. I was already up close to twenty miles on the weekends and looking at how horrible the coming months would be.. especially July and August in the Austin heat.
And then I met the Dodds clan. Completely by chance, at a friend’s wedding, I met a guy named James Dodds (Jordan was a bridesmaid) at my table and we started chatting. As soon as he mentioned he was a Rogue coach, we started probably a 45 minute running conversation. He asked if I was training for anything and I told him I was training for an ultra on my own. “Oh.. so how many marathons have you run?” “Well.. one.. but before you tell me how dumb I’m being.. please understand that I will never be fast.” I went on to say that the best I could do with a lot of training was to maybe break four hours in a marathon, so for me, the only achievements I could imagine would be new distances. I just didn’t think anything significantly faster was possible for me.
James didn’t call me a moron (though he probably believed it), but launched into a long explanation of the potential of all runners to improve. It sounded scientific. Honestly, I was thinking.. “you know.. maybe he’s right and after this whole ultra thing, I’ll go back and try to get a good time in the marathon..” but that thought shifted more to.. “Man.. that guy’s right and dammit these next months are going to be freaking hot.” Honestly, I had just put in a run that included the Hill of Life that day in what must have been about a 100 degree heat, and maybe I was in a vulnerable spot. James mentioned a new training group for a marathon in November and encouraged me to join up. A marathon sounded much more reasonable. Let’s go get that sub-4:00.
**Another side note- In case you don’t believe that 4:00 was a serious goal for me at the time- I just looked back at my Garmin log from the time period and saw a 19 mile run I did- I averaged over 10 minute miles on it (total time 3:32). My fastest mile in the entire workout was a 9:32. Moving up over one minute per mile and holding it for 26.2 miles was a long shot to me.
I went to Rogue the next week and signed up for the San Antonio training group. Based on training time preference, I got thrown into Bobby’s group, which was already in progress. I already knew Jeff Wilkinson who was in the group and who went out of his way to introduce me around. James also introduced me to his friends and I felt welcome. When people asked me what I wanted to do time-wise, I told them I didn’t have a clue. I just knew I wanted to break four hours. I had already missed the time trial, so that was the best I could do with predictions.
I trained so hard. I did not miss a quality workout and I refused to miss long runs and medium long runs. I got them in regardless of whether I was traveling or something came up. Unlike my previous training on my own, the training was not only satisfying, it was fun. I enjoyed getting up and running with other people on Saturday mornings. I enjoyed meeting the Sole Survivors every Wednesday at 6:30 and trudging through the 100+ degree heat. Bobby is one of the single most caring people I have ever met and I knew I had a guy who would do anything to help me get to my goal, whatever that goal was.
I started to see RAPID improvement. Workouts became easier. I kept studying and trying to improve my running form. I was getting more efficient. I was getting faster. My Garmin was freaking me out. I couldn’t believe it. I started to get random suggestions from people about my race goal time and what it should be. I declared 3:40.. and then 3:30.. A full thirty minutes faster than I had initially planned.. a 45 minute PR over my Austin time in February. I couldn’t believe I was even suggesting such a fast time and honestly for a while it was a “shoot for the moon, you’ll land among the stars” kind of goal, but it was getting more and more tangible. I chased it with even more fervor. I wanted it SO BADLY. I put in the work. The 8:00 pace that seemed so challenging when I first joined Rogue became steadily easier.
I was getting closer and closer to my San Antonio proving ground and I knew I had it. My workouts were going so well and I had done all I needed to do. As everyone seems to say at Rogue, “The hay’s in the barn.” I went for it on an absolutely miserable day (well chronicled in my last report) and completely overheated. I blew up BAD. I had my pace until mile 20 and added 16 extra minutes in the last 6.2 miles. I ran a 3:46:06. It was the single biggest disappointment I can remember and one hell of a lesson. I may have put in the work. I may have been physically ready. But I did not respect that marathon and its conditions. Never again. It was a 28 minute PR over my Austin time and a reminder of how far I had come and yet, I still felt absolutely no closure in SA and I definitely questioned whether my goal was reasonable. I wanted to get back to training ASAP. I knew James and Jordan were heading up to the White Rock Marathon on Dec. 4th and when they offered me the opportunity to join them, I decided to sign up the next Monday. I needed to know that I was capable of that 3:30.
Dallas Race Report Start
I was extremely loose from San Antonio until Dallas. Everything I was reading was telling me that there was really no point in trying to get stronger in those weeks. I just kept the mileage at a decent average with a REALLY slow pace. For fun, several of us decided to race the Turkey Trot (it was at a prime quality workout time) and I felt faster than I ever had before. I ran a 32:32 and got significantly faster every mile. It was a good reminder of the progress I had made since joining Rogue. A HUGE confidence booster.
I maintained a chilled out attitude on the days before the race. I wasn’t jittery like I was with San Antonio. I wasn’t obsessive about my eating habits or my sleep. I drove up to Dallas after work on Friday and stayed with the Cherry family (Jordan’s parents). They are some of the kindest people and most generous hosts I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. James and Jordan picked up my race packet before I even got there so I didn’t even have to stress out at the Expo. We had a relaxing Friday evening with an excellent dinner and a few glasses of wine. We rose early Saturday and did our shakeout in the streets of Rockwall before donning relaxing clothing, crushing carbs and watching football all day Saturday. Molly Blake joined our party during the day, and Tom Whiteside joined us for dinner that night. I couldn’t believe how relaxed I was. Anytime I started to feel the slightest bit of anxiety, I just told myself to leave it until the start line, and for some reason, it worked.. Of course, I didn’t sleep well on Saturday night, but that’s to be expected.
On race day, I woke up at around 5:30 and ate my standard pre-run meal- bagel with peanut butter and a banana. Dress was an issue as it was in the low 40’s and it was raining. I settled in with several layers and a trashbag over everything until the start. James got himself a badass pacer from Team Rogue- his friend, Todd Jones. I had the good fortune of getting to run with them. Todd was a huge help and running with him offered all kinds of lessons for an inexperienced runner like me. Todd is a very mature racer who recently dropped a 3:02 or something absurd like that. He had a customized pace band on that was going to take us across the line in exactly 3:29.
When we crossed the start line, we went for a freaking walk in the park for the first mile. I knew better than to question anything Todd was doing, but my inclination has always been to hit your pace from the get-go. Again, I needed some lessons and this was a good first one. We were chillin and we continued to chill through mile 2, though we got a little closer to race pace. The 8:00 pace that used to whip my ass felt like a casual, conversational long run. When we settled in, we just chatted and took in the scenery. When we felt good, we sped up. If we felt off or hit a hill, we backed off. It was so much fun. The Dallas White Rock Marathon is absolutely beautiful, even if it was a horrible day. It reminded me of our neighborhood long runs. Just checkin out more real estate. There were only a few bands out and the crowd support was minimal for a high profile race because of the weather, but the scenery more than made up for it. I was taking this race as conservatively as I possibly could. I didn’t want to feel good at mile 10.. I wanted to feel as though I hadn’t even done anything at mile 10. I played mind games. I broke the first twenty miles into four five-milers. Each five miler I got to, I tried to make it the easiest five miler I possibly could. I focused on efficiency. SA had slapped me in the face and reminded me that the first twenty miles are a warm up.
With nine miles done, I stripped my soaked long sleeve and felt about 5 lbs lighter. At mile 10, I took a GU. At the halfway point, we checked our progress. We were sitting right on schedule if not a little fast- 1:44:34 (Yeah- I told you Todd was a badass pacer- Pace- 3:29. Half- 1:44:34- WOW). I felt awesome. Todd talked about how the first ten miles should feel great- CHECK. The second ten miles should be easy, but you start to feel like you’re working.. I wasn’t really working yet, but San Antonio had taught me some lessons.. I knew it was coming. At mile 15 was the first time all day I didn’t feel amazing. I had to remind myself that it wasn’t that I felt bad.. I just didn’t feel amazing. I knew I was headed into that mentally challenging part of the race.. I started to gear up for the worst… and then the unthinkable happened.. I actually felt amazing again. In about a mile, I felt like a million bucks. I ate another GU. I was still on a fun run.
16, 17, 18- My muscles started to feel it a little bit, but I wasn’t even breathing hard. My aerobic endurance was off the charts by my standards. I was two miles away from the real race start and feeling fantastic- in total contrast to San Antonio. I could still vividly remember how horrible I had felt at 18 in SA and it shot my confidence through the roof. From that point on, I knew Dallas White Rock Dec. 4 was my day. I stayed conservative, though I don’t know if I even needed to. I knew the “Dolly Parton” hills were coming up at 21 and 22- but I also knew that after training in Austin’s hills, with how good I was feeling, they wouldn’t be a problem. I lost my pacer at 20, but Todd had gotten me exactly where I’d hoped he would. He delivered me to my race start. We said our goodbyes and I thanked him. I totally had it and I knew it.
I ate the last GU I would need at mile 20.5. I held myself back for 21 and 22- the Dolly Parton hills. I cruised them at just under pace. I was ecstatic. When I got to the top, I was getting head rushes from the excitement. I wanted to freaking blister these last four. Of course, I had matured a little since San Antonio and knew that ANYTHING can happen once you get past 20. If I took off and bonked and lost it, I would hate myself. I decided I would go as fast as I could while still feeling comfortable from mile 23. I also said a General Thanksgiving prayer in my head over and over again. I had so much to be thankful for. I’m so thankful that I joined up with Rogue. I’m so thankful to God that he gave me such amazing people in my life (both in and out of Rogue) and gave me so many opportunities for success. I’m so thankful I just happened to fall into Bobby Garcia’s Sole Survivors group. I’m thankful for Bobby and the rest of the guys who boost my confidence every day. I would occasionally look down at my Garmin. 7:30’s.. a little faster than goal pace.. perfect. I took that pace through mile 25 and knew I could let it go. I had already been passing runners like crazy and loved that I had the opportunity to pass more. I dropped into around a 7:10 pace and cruised on as I weaved between half marathon finishers.
Emotions were pulling me all sorts of directions. I thought back to when James started me on a path to that moment. He told Jordan’s dad and me on Friday night that one of the things he loves about his job is that he gets to help free people from personal burdens. People come into Rogue all the time struggling with weight issues or personal deficiencies. Everyone is looking for something. Running is a vehicle for them- helping them get to where they want to be- giving them confidence. He loves being a part of that. Well, when I was taking it to that finish line with ease and dropping everyone in sight, all I could think about was that I would have never even dreamed of this at the beginning of 2011. I’m not so slow anymore and I’m happy with how I feel and where I’m headed. If any of you want to know why James could convince me to jump off a bridge- it’s obviously because of a high level of respect. He could have written me
off from the start (it would have been easy to do), and I would likely still be burdened with my absolute belief that I would never achieve a fast time in any race. All he had to do was shift my mindset and unlock some confidence. Now, I’m looking forward to a BQ at some point- even a sub-3:00 (hell- I’ll probably have to get a sub-3:00 by the time I get to my BQ). I’ll get there. It might just be the Rogue coach in him, but I think he saw something in me that I couldn’t fathom in myself and he deserves my public recognition for that. Todd Jones sent me an e-mail after the race and told me he checked the stats on my marathon, and in the last 6 miles, I passed 98 runners and not one runner passed me. I’m overwhelmed by that.
I crossed the line and all I could think to do was scream. It was a freaking primal war cry.. I just had to let some emotion go. I stopped my Garmin- it was in the 3:25’s. I found out later it was a 3:25:25. Pretty much a full fifty minutes faster than my Austin race in February, 35 minutes faster than I expected when I joined Rogue, and close to five minutes faster than my goal. I was so emotionally confused. I went from screaming to bursting into tears to smiling to just confused.. I was all over the place. Even better- I know I’m capable of so much more.
When I made the lonely drive back to Austin Monday morning, I didn’t even think to turn on music until I was past Waco. Nothing could beat what was going on in my head. 2011 has been the best year of my life- hands down. I can’t wait for what’s coming in 2012.