Breaking the Wall

Top of Utah 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: 252.01 Year: 252.01
Saucony Type A Lifetime Miles: 627.15
Bare Feet Lifetime Miles: 446.12
Nike Double Stroller Lifetime Miles: 124.59
Navy Crocs 2 Lifetime Miles: 1576.28
Neon Crocs 1 Lifetime Miles: 1353.22
Race: Top of Utah Marathon (26.22 Miles) 02:34:15, Place overall: 4
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

A.M. Top of Utah Marathon, 2:34:15.9, 4th place, $500.

Stayed with Steve Anderson. He has a big house, so I was able to bring the family. We drove to the finish, then rode to the start, visited the land of Oz where we of course found a congregation of fast runners including Paul.  I located James Moore and Glen Tucker and invited them to participate in trading leads every 3 minutes for as long as it served the benefit of all.

At the start it rained pretty hard, but we were able to hide under the covers to avoid getting wet. Nevertheless the road was wet and the air was humid, and there was a possibility of more rain, so I realised that the original plan for 2:30 might need to get modified even if my fitness would allow it in ideal conditions.

Mile 1 - 5:26.  Paul pulled ahead, I am working together with James, Glen is a few seconds back warming up. I was pleased with that mile because I thought 5:40-5:45 from how it felt.

Mile 2 - 5:35 (11:01). Slowdown expected as it is not as steep as the first one. Let's see what the next one brings. Glen finally caught up and joined the lead trading.

Mile 3 - 5:33 (16:34). From what I remember it is supposed to be a bit quicker. It felt harder than it should have.

Mile 4 - 5:35 (22:09). OK, something is up. I have trained enough in the Provo Canyon and raced enough in the Blacksmith Fork Canyon (this was my 13th Top of Utah Marathon, I've run it every year) to know based on my workout last week that this effort should have produced 5:23-5:25 with the same fitness and conditions, especially tapered and drafting 66% of the time.

Mile 5 - 5:39 (27:48) I explained to Glen and James that something was wrong with me, and they were sufficiently merciful to back off a bit and allow me to draft all the time. Very nice of them considering that 2nd place gets $1000 while the 4th only $500. If we could propagate this attitude into business, I believe this alone would recover our struggling economy. Businesses spend way too much effort trying to trip each other up and it is almost unthinkable for a business to do something nice for their competitor with the approach that I am making myself better by helping my competitor do better.

Mile 6 - 5:44 (33:32) Hanging in there, wondering how long before I get dropped, thankful that James and Glen are willing to be conservative.

Mile 7 - 5:43 (39:15) Surviving.

Mile 8 - 5:43 (44:58) Trying to make the best of it. At least I am reaching some form of fragile stability, if there is such a thing.

Mile 9 - short, 5:24 (50:22). This one is always short, needs to be remeasured and re-marked.

Mile 10 - long, to make up for the short mile 9, 5:58 (56:18). At least still ahead of the 5:40 guy by 22 seconds. Not for long, though.

Mile 11 - 5:44 (1:02:02). Still with Glen and James, trying to survive. 2:30 is out of the window, even though I am still technically on pace, but I am hoping for some damage control at least. Now I think this was an important learning point somewhere between miles 5 and 13. I knew by how I felt that my original goal needed to be adjusted. In fact, somewhere in between those miles I knew that if we got some decent tailwind it might be 2:32 high, same conditions and no major disasters - 2:34, disasters, well let's hope there will not be any. To a certain extent experience takes the excitement factor out of the race. I recall in 2005 while hitting slower splits I was still thinking of 2:30-2:31 at this point. I ended up with 2:39:12. But with more experience I knew what was going to happen to me with quite a bit of precision. So the question was being willing to accept it, and salvage a few seconds by proper pacing and mental toughness. But even though I knew, I still secretly hoped for a positive surprise.

Mile 12 - 5:53 (1:06:55). Guessing somewhat on this split as my memory if fuzzy. Still in the same mode. Can maintain contact with Glen and James with concentration, thankful they are still around.

Mile 13 - 5:28 (1:13:23) That is what the math comes out to based on my official 13 mile split. The pace picked up, but it was probably more around 5:35-5:40. I am probably remembering one of the earlier splits wrong.

Half - 1:13:59. Time to assess things. On average, I have run this race with about 7:00 positive split when no disaster happened. I definitely do not feel like I jogged the first half. In fact, I was hanging off the edge of a cliff from about mile 5. It does feel like you are on the edge of a cliff when a pack is pulling you at the fastest pace you can go. If you lose contact, you will slow down by at least 5 seconds per mile with the same effort if you are lucky, and possibly even 10 - you are off the edge and on your way down. No reason to expect a miraculously fast second half. So that gives me 2:34 high - 2:35 low expectation. Well, let's take it one mile at a time.

Mile 14 - 5:35 (1:18:58). Glen took off. I sensed that James wanted to go with him, but was not fit. Somehow with experience you can sense the level of fitness of the runner next to you. Earlier I observed a surging pattern when he led. That is indicative of cycles of excitement followed by a revelation of the true levels of fuel. From that I knew likely he did not have enough fuel to go with Glen for more than a couple of miles. But even if he did have more strength than he let on, he still could have a good race if he held back to 17 and then gave it a major push. Especially given the fact that we were still ahead of the 5:40 guy. If he really felt that good, he would have no problem running 5:40s from 17 to the finish, which would give him 2:28. So I told him he should stay with me to 17 then give it a push if he had it in him.

Mile 15 - 5:46 (1:24:44). Following James. The pace is far from easy, but I am not crashing yet. The longer I maintain sub-6:00 the less distance I will have to lose the cushion over. Around this point I start playing the game of estimating the finish time if I averaged 7:00 to the finish. At this point it does not cheer my heart at all because 11 miles is a long way to go, and at 7:00 it takes 1:17:00. So that is 2:41:44 at 26 and then there is 385 yards, and it is all uphill too. What cheers my heart, though, is that it takes at least 5 miles to slow down from 5:46 to 7:00, and also that when in good health I do not slow down that much in marathons anymore, and I came to this race in good health. I have struggled with the pace so far, but it was not health-related - more like I am not handling the moisture, so the pace spectrum has shifted 5-10 seconds down everywhere.

Mile 16 - 5:50 (1:30:34). Thankful to still be sub-6:00.

Mile 17 - 5:50 (1:36:24). Another 5:50, will take it.

Mile 18 - 5:56 (1:42:20). James hit the gas pedal during this mile, or so it felt, but it was slower than the others. Not a good sign. Getting ready for "Christmas".

Mile 19 - 6:16 (1:48:36). Merry Christmas to both me and James! It had some significant uphill, though, but I could tell that whatever remnants of the zip I had in the legs earlier were leaving me. But James was feeling even worse around here. I passed him and tried to quietly slip away.

Mile 20 - 6:14 (1:54:50). Still uphill. James recovered, caught up to me, and took the lead. I am having mixed feelings. On one hand I want him to do well. On the other hand, I like $750 more than $500. Yet, James is a poor student and I have a nice job. But I have a wife and seven children to feed. I tell myself, if you really think James needs the money more than you do, then beat him, and give him $250 afterwards. But he will not take it that way because good runners believe in getting what they earned through their own sweat. Yet we've run together for 20 miles and a special bond develops when you work together for that long at top effort. Well, odd thoughts go through your mind when the blood sugar is low. Let's just work together and let the stronger one of us finish ahead.

Mile 21 - 6:05 (2:00:55). Downhill, last nice downhill stretch. I've run this enough to know that 6:05 on that mile means about 39:30 for the last 10 K for me. So in essence I already know my finish time. But yet I am still concerned it could be worse because the thought of having to average low 6:20s with all the turns and rises which seem like large hills when you are in the "zone" sounds like something you might not be able to depend on.

Mile 22 - 6:28 (2:07:23). Lots of turns on this mile. James asked me how I felt. I told him I was surviving. This and the next mile are the most difficult miles of the race psychologically. What I should do is visit Logan a week before the race and run a tempo over the last 10 K to know what to expect. Perhaps even paint marks every 200 meters here so you can give yourself very immediate time goals. On the positive, 7:00 pace gets you to 26 in 2:35:23 to 26. Then another 385 yards. So a disaster that I have not seen for a long time, I think since 2005, still gets me 2:36. That cheered my soul.

Mile 23 - 6:25 (2:13:48). Similar experience to mile 22, except the dim light at the end of the tunnel got brighter.

Mile 24 - 6:10 (2:19:58). This mile had a short downhill stretch, but it was very helpful for mental purposes. Also, James saw somebody coming up on us (Nate Clayson) and it got his competitive spirit revived. He pushed, I tried to go with him, but after a couple of minutes my strength proved insufficient.

Mile 25 - 6:30 (2:26:28). This mile has the uphill on Main street. James is slowly pulling away, but is within striking distance. All it takes us for him to start jogging, which happens sometimes at the end of a marathon.

Mile 26 - 6:27 (2:32:55). James is not quite jogging, and I have zero zip in the legs. It all went into that 6:10 mile trying to keep up. I am however thankful that this marathon is over and I do not have another one planned in two weeks.

Finish - 1:20 (2:34:15). Legs not moving, but at least I am still running at some semblance of a respectable pace. Glad to be done.

So I ended up 4th. Paul won with 2:20:30. Glen was second with 2:30:54. James third with 2:33:53. Nate Clayson 5th with 2:36:08.

Allie won the women with a PR of 2:50:59 which is quite remarkable given non-PR conditions. But when you are in good shape you can still run a PR even in less than ideal conditions.

Benjamin and Jenny ran on their own both Friday and Saturday. Benjamin 3 miles, Jenny 1.5 miles. Julia, Joseph, and Jacob ran with Sarah. Julia and Joseph did 1.5, Jacob 0.5.

Overall, I think I should be happy with the performance even though it was off the 2:30 target. The lack of tailwind was one negative factor. The other, perhaps, was high humidity which I did not handle well for one reason or another - perhaps from having trained in dry air. All I know is that from mile 2 the pace felt wrong, like there was a shift of spectrum by 5-10 seconds per mile, but I was holding it OK. I looked at my report from 2009 when I ran with a heel problem. I made it to the half in 1:13:03, so 56 second faster, and I felt better too. 20 mile split was 1:54:05, still 45 seconds faster. Then the foot problem deteriorated and I wobbled to the finish in 2:35:19, 1:04 slower.  That year I was willing to run as fast as 5:21 mid-race, while this year I experienced the same feelings at 5:33. I do not believe I had more half-marathon fitness then than I did immediately coming into the race. So something was up.

 I decided to try again in Huntsville, AL on December 10th in the Rocket City Marathon, and already started making arrangements. The plan is to fly from Provo to Nashville and rent a car there. The flight will cost a little under $300. The car probably around $50. I wrote to Jon Elmore (Jelmo), and he said I could stay with him. The prize money is $1000 - $750 - $500 - $250 - $250, so there is a chance to recover at least a portion of the cost. But if not, I can handle $350 of expenses occasionally nowadays.  I know the course, it is very fast. A few micro-rollers, but it does not slow you down from what I remember. Unfortunately, last time I ran it I did it one week after running another marathon. I made it to the half in around 1:13:30, held the pace to 18, and then royally blew up finishing in 2:37:25.

Green Crocs 2 Miles: 26.52
Night Sleep Time: 6.00Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 6.00
From Mauri on Sat, Sep 17, 2011 at 21:24:30 from

Great job! My husband and ran TOU today. It would have been great to meet you.

From Seth on Sat, Sep 17, 2011 at 23:31:11 from

Congrats on 4th overall! It was great meeting you at the end of the race. You're so fast in those crocs!

From Walter on Sun, Sep 18, 2011 at 02:32:22 from

Nice race Sasha! I think runners would turn this struggling economy around for sure! Go Runners!

From Steve on Sun, Sep 18, 2011 at 14:24:57 from

Loved having the family up here, Sasha and thanks for the advice! Maybe next year I can get in a decent TOU.

From Kam on Sun, Sep 18, 2011 at 19:53:37 from

Good race, and great job keeping the bloggers in the top 4 positions.

From Scott Ensign on Sun, Sep 18, 2011 at 22:22:29 from

nice job Sasha. I shouted at you at mile 18, but you looked like you were pretty focused so probably didn't hear me. glad to see you took home some well deserved $$$$

From crumpyb1 on Mon, Sep 19, 2011 at 00:38:13 from

I saw you turn the corner during mile 18. We (friends and I) were in the car heading to park by mile 14. Can't wait to read the rest of your race report.

I'm sorry I missed Sarah. I looked around briefly at the end of the race, but couldn't think were to find you and Sarah in all the crowds. Please give her my best and good luck in St. George.

From seeaprilrun on Mon, Sep 19, 2011 at 22:36:23 from

Great job running smart and fighting your way into the money. Eagerly awaiting details.

From steve ash on Tue, Sep 20, 2011 at 20:57:24 from

Sasha, I was bummed when you didn't get sub 2:30 but I do like this race report and 2:34 is still great:)

From fiddy on Tue, Sep 20, 2011 at 22:40:22 from

I was very close to asking if you wanted to split the money. Then I saw Nate.

From jeffmc on Wed, Sep 21, 2011 at 15:20:41 from

I don't want to be negative at all, but to be honest I am not sure if you really would have gone much faster in dry conditions. With the exception of one 10 mile tempo, none of your workouts have indicated that you had faster than a 2:32-2:33 in you. I think that even in good conditions the fitness was lacking for a sub 2:30. By December that fitness may be there as long as the training goes well. Good luck.

From Superfly on Wed, Sep 21, 2011 at 16:08:34 from

Good job Sasha. Way to battle through the tough mental part of a marathon for more than half the race. You finished great considering how bad you felt early on.

From Kory on Fri, Sep 23, 2011 at 01:49:16 from

God's give you the ability to finish strong and fight through a tough race. Nice work in the conditions. I hope you fully recover for the December race.

From Little Bad Legs on Sat, Sep 24, 2011 at 21:46:13 from

Sasha, after reading many race reports (yours and others) I was pretty excited to run along side you. Your pacing precision was just what I was expecting! Great to meet you and way to gut out a solid race despite not feeling well from early on.

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