Breaking the Wall

Phoenix Half Marathon

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Orem,UT,United States

Member Since:

Jan 27, 1986



Goal Type:

Olympic Trials Qualifier

Running Accomplishments:

Best marathon: 2:23:57 (2007, St. George). Won the Top of Utah Marathon twice (2003,2004). Won the USATF LDR circuit in Utah in 2006.

Draper Days 5 K 15:37 (2004)

Did not know this until June 2012, but it turned out that I've been running with spina bifida occulta in L-4 vertebra my entire life, which explains the odd looking form, struggles with the top end speed, and the poor running economy (cannot break 16:00 in 5 K without pushing the VO2 max past 75).  


Short-Term Running Goals:

Qualify for the US Olympic Trials. With the standard of 2:19 on courses with the elevation drop not exceeding 450 feet this is impossible unless I find an uncanny way to compensate for the L-4 defect with my muscles. But I believe in miracles.

Long-Term Running Goals:

2:08 in the marathon. Become a world-class marathoner. This is impossible unless I find a way to fill the hole in L-4 and make it act healthy either by growing the bone or by inserting something artificial that is as good as the bone without breaking anything important around it. Science does not know how to do that yet, so it will take a miracle. But I believe in miracles.


I was born in 1973. Grew up in Moscow, Russia. Started running in 1984 and so far have never missed more than 3 consecutive days. Joined the LDS Church in 1992, and came to Provo, Utah in 1993 to attend BYU. Served an LDS mission from 1994-96 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Got married soon after I got back. My wife Sarah and I are parents of eleven children: Benjamin, Jenny, Julia, Joseph, Jacob, William, Stephen, Matthew,  Mary,  Bella.  and Leigha. We home school our children.

I am a software engineer/computer programmer/hacker whatever you want to call it, and I am currently working for RedX. Aside from the Fast Running Blog, I have another project to create a device that is a good friend for a fast runner. I called it Fast Running Friend.

Favorite Quote:

...if we are to have faith like Enoch and Elijah we must believe what they believed, know what they knew, and live as they lived.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie


Favorite Blogs:

Miles:This week: 0.00 Month: 244.22 Year: 3545.74
Saucony Type A Lifetime Miles: 627.15
Bare Feet Lifetime Miles: 446.12
Nike Double Stroller Lifetime Miles: 124.59
Neon Crocs 3 Lifetime Miles: 1657.61
Brown Crocs 3 Lifetime Miles: 734.48
Race: Phoenix Half Marathon (13.109 Miles) 01:15:55, Place overall: 14, Place in age division: 5
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

Phoenix Half, 1:15:55, 14th overall, 5th master. Benjamin got 1:15:33, 12th overall. I forgot to bring my watch, so no usual Fast Running Friend report. I bought a watch at Walmart the night before instead.

This race was a learning experience for us. I incorrectly assumed that since Benjamin was now older and his tempo runs were faster that would necessarily mean that his ability to hold the pace in the half-marathon would also be better. So I estimated he would be able to run 1:12 for sure, and with some luck 1:10. What I miscalculated was that when a young man matures his aerobic capabilities in combination with muscle power could be quite a bit of out of sync with the fuel capabilities. So when he hits a high gear, he sucks oxygen like there is no tomorrow, and goes fast, but he does not yet have the fuel stores. So he is good for a 10 K at a decent speed, and then bonks hard. This is exactly what happened to Benjamin. He went through the first 11.097 K ( 10 K away from the half finish) in 37:49, which is  3:24.5 per kilometer or 5:29 per mile, or 34:05 average over 10 K, so he was probably a little under 34:00 through the 10 K - new 10 K PR, and then he crashed hard suffering through the last 10 K in 37:44 - 6:04 average. I did not realize he could crash that hard thinking maybe 5:50s at the worst. But he was out of fuel badly, so it was basically like hitting a marathon wall.

My race went more or less as expected, except at the end when I caught up to Benjamin, I sacrificed a few seconds to help him. Then he found another gear and blasted the last half mile, so he beat me again, but I am happy with that. 

We flew in on the "private jet" - Allegiant flight from Provo to Mesa and stayed with our blogger Burt and his family. He drove us to the start of the race in the morning. I warmed up 1.5, Benjamin did about 0.5. It was raining and there was some wind.

Mile 1 - 5:22. I guided Benjamin through the first mile, even took the wind for him until we found a couple of people to follow - Joseph Ekoum and David Harkin, both masters. We got to the mile in 5:22. This was too fast for me, but this was part of the plan. This was Benjamin's only second half, and I wanted to be with him in the beginning even if it would cost me later. In restrospect, both of us should have started slower to get a better time.

Mile 2 - 5:37 (10:59). I backed off and watched Benjamin and the other two runners disappear into the dark. This was perhaps the most difficult mile of the race for me. I worried that I had just fed my son to the wolves, I worried about him, and at the same time I was suffering the consequences of my fast start while fighting the wind and the rain alone knowing we still had most of the race ahead of us

Mile 3 - 5:45 (16:44). Very similar to the second mile.

Mile 4 - 5:49 (22:33). Got caught by Michael Anderson and Trent Tailor, was able to latch on. At first it was hard, but then I got into a rhythm and began to feel in control. 

Mile 5 - 5:46 (28:19). Running with Michael and Trent.

Miles 6 and 7 - 11:31 (39:50). Still with Michael and Trent. Passed the start of the 10 K mat which registered our times in 39:10.

Mile 8 - 5:43 (45:33) 

Things are fuzzy after that. The pace picked up after 7, the split for 8 is consistent with the effort, but then the next two miles average out to 5:32 if I were to trust the 10 mile split of 56:39. That would make the 5 K from 10 K start to this point 17:29 and the last 5 K 19:16. I am more inclined to believe the first 5 K was around 17:50 while the second 18:56. At 10 miles Trent and Michael dropped me. Soon after that John Reih passed me - I tried to latch on, but could not. At the same time around 9 miles I spotted a runner in front of me. My vision gets blurry when I run hard, so I could not quite tell who it was, but I knew that the most likely candidate was Benjamin. I hoped it were somebody else, but as the time went on I began to recongize Benjamin's form. Knowing that Benjamin was struggling made it difficult for me to race. I knew he was out of fuel, and I also knew of his state of mind. As I tried to think of what to do I involuntarily eased off. My brain was not working very well. What I should have done was instead of easying off is floor the gas pedal, catch up to him ASAP, and tell him to drink some Powerade at the next aid station.

I caught up to him somewhere between  11 and 11.5 and told him to latch on. I slowed the pace down to make it manageable for him. I knew that if I brought him close enough to the proverbial "barn" he would smell it and find some strength to kick. Jeff Turner caught up to us, and we were able to latch on. However, not for long - Benjamin's side ache was so violent that he started to scream. Interesting observation - the only time he gets this type of pain (on the right side) is when you would expect him to be low on fuel. He got it right after he finished the Thanksgiving 4 miler (not long enough to cause a fuel problem for a trained adult, but 5:17 pace at altitude for 14 year old can push the matter), then he got it when he did a 7.3 mile warm-up followed by a 3 mile tempo, and another time was in the last 1.25 miles of the 2x3 tempo workout - when he had almost 5 miles of tempo running combined with the total of 9.5 miles for the day on the odometer. And now at the end of this half. I have had a pain like this myself on numerous occasions in the marathon when I was low on fuel. Cannot find any research that backs this up, but I am suspecting it has to do with the liver being taxed to put glucose into the bloodstream. 

I slowed down with Benjamin and Jeff opened a gap on us. However, Benjamin toughed out the pain and shifted gears. When he did I could not follow him but I cheered him from behind. He caught up to Jeff and outkicked him gapping him by 5 seconds. I do not know how I managed to let both of them open up so much gap on me - I did not really feel that tired. I suppose it was from the emotions of worrying about my son. I did not feel super-emotional on the surface, but apparently deep down there was more going on because I just could not focus on my own race. Jeff beat me by 17 seconds, Benjamin 22.

Then Burt picked us up, we went to his house, showered, ate breakfast, and drove back home. Made it to the Provo Airport in a rental car in 9 hours.

Some takeback from the race. We need to work on fuel. Some of it will come naturally with age, but I have thought of some good workouts. 10 mile tempo with 5 up the canyon at around 6:15 and the back down at 5:45. Our regular 2x3. And a 10 mile tempo down the canyon - see if Benjamin can run that one at 5:30 pace. Based on that we will set a time goal for Utah Valley. And of course, we need to watch the speed development and address it as needed.


Green Crocs 7 Miles: 14.11
Night Sleep Time: 6.00Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 6.00
From Rob Murphy on Tue, Mar 04, 2014 at 11:30:43 from

Good observations about Benjamin Sasha. The growing teenage body presents several wild cards when it comes to predicting performances. As a rule, adults are way more consistent and predictable.

From steve ash on Thu, Mar 06, 2014 at 09:06:34 from

Good insights and good race Sasha, I have some thoughts on your post. I'll email you later to discuss.

From jtshad on Thu, Mar 06, 2014 at 09:21:13 from

Congrats to you and Ben. You are always very thoughtful and deep in your race evaluations. Thanks for the observations as I learn to work with Justin in his development.

Keep running strong!

From Burt on Mon, Mar 10, 2014 at 15:22:06 from

It was nice to meet you guys in real life. Good job on the race. Benjamin has a great coach.

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