Breaking the Wall

Provo River 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
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance
Night Sleep Time: 51.67Nap Time: 2.83Total Sleep Time: 54.50
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

Day of rest.

Night Sleep Time: 9.00Nap Time: 1.00Total Sleep Time: 10.00
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Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

A.M. Did not sleep well because my skin was itching. It does not like the sun. It actually has been itching for a while. But I was able to stay in bed. This time I woke up at 5:10 and did not feel like I'd be able to fall asleep soon enough to get anything out of it, so I decided to just get up.

Started with Jeff, James, and Benjamin on a bike. At 2 miles hid Benjamin's bike in the bushes and he ran with us. We ended up running 2 fastest continuous miles for the day with him - 14:21 with the splits of 7:18 and 7:03. Matt joined us shortly after Benjamin started running and ran to the end of his run.

Benjamin got back on his bike and we took him and James home, so that was 6 miles. Then I wanted to measure Jeff tugging power against mine. So we got out the harness and tried running in opposite directions. Jeff was a clear winner in the running motion - I was steadily moving backwards. Then we tried facing each other and play a tug-of-war with no arms, squatting down and pushing the harness with our backs. In that motion Jeff was a little bit stronger, but not as much as in the running motion.

Then we went for another 6 miles, and Benjamin wanted to ride along with us, so we took him as well. We were discussing the results of the test. They were rather interesting. We measured my leg extension to be better than Jeff's in the absolute value earlier (although it was a little bit worse relative to body weight). Yet in the running motion Jeff was clearly stronger, not just in proportion to his body weight, but in the absolute power of the pull. To add to this, in 2003 I increased my hamstring curl max by 50%, and the leg extension by 10%, yet the increase in individual muscle group strengths did not make any difference in an all out 100 sprint. So this led to the contemplation of the need to be able to use the muscles together, that there might be some kind of limit not related to individual muscle strength that you could hit when you have to use several muscle groups. We started talking about the kangaroo, how its preferred way of motion is hopping, and began to wonder exactly how inefficient humans are at moving this way.

So we did a kangaroo hop for 100 meters. The results were interesting. Jeff was a much better kangaroo. He hopped it in 33 seconds, while it took me 49! However, my HR got up to 140, which (over 49 seconds) suggests I was probably putting in an equivalent of maybe 5:30 running effort. We did not have an HRM on Jeff, but subjectively he said he really felt the pain of the effort. Our next experiment was the bound - cover 100 meters in the least number of steps. Jeff bounded 100 meters in 46 steps and it took him 20 seconds. I took fewer steps (44), but it took me 21.5 seconds. We did one more experiment - 100 m sprint on one leg. Jeff did it in 25 seconds, I did it in 28.

This gave us some food for thought. One legged hop was consistent with our all out sprint difference. The bound results were consistent with what we've seen in the past, although we still do not understand why I can bound further than Jeff while he outdoes me by quite a bit in every other strength measurement prorated for body weight that we have tried so far. Perhaps the leg length? But at the same time, I've performed on par in the past with people my height in a bound that would outsprint me by quite a margin (24.5 200 for the peer group vs 27.5 for me). And I am not that much taller than Jeff anyway (5'8 vs 5'10). So we still have this bound mystery to solve.

The difference between the kangaroo and the one legged jump was interesting. Both of us were faster on one leg than on two. Probably because the other leg was making a good contribution with a swing, which was more than what it could have contributed in the power when forced to be on the ground at the same time. One question that remains unanswered is why I did such a bad kangaroo job. One thing I can try is see if I can improve it with training, and when improved if it will have an effect on the all out speed.

Then we ran into a lady on the trail that was doing 8x800 with 1 minute rest at about 3:05-3:15 range. Her names was Cherri Erickson. So we paced her over a few of those. She has 3 children, used to run for BYU, and graduated in 1994.


1.05 with Julia in 10:23, 2.1 with Jenny in 18:45, another mile with no running kids. Pushed Jacob and Joseph the entire time.

Five Fingers - 880.20 miles.

Night Sleep Time: 7.17Nap Time: 0.83Total Sleep Time: 8.00
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

A.M. Ran with Tyler and Jeff. Tyler ran our warm-up, 2.5 out, then 1.125 back to the start of the tempo. Then he went on back to the house, and we ran the Gerry Lindgren style tempo. The plan was to start out at 5:00 and hold it until I could not. Then run the best pace I was capable of to the end.

Rather unconventional, but it makes sense to me. You will not learn to be comfortable at 5:00 pace by running tempos at 5:20-5:30. At least I won't - I've tried for years. There is a hard barrier around 5:20 where I lack something that cannot be overcome with pure aerobic training. Nor will you learn by running mile repeats at 5:00 pace. Those essentially are mini-mile races. All I've gotten out of those is that I learn to be comfortable running 5:00 pace for exactly one mile. Then in a race as short as a 5 K (flat), I get to the mile in 5:00 feeling good, I might be able to go another quarter at that pace, and then I am done.

So I wanted to try something new. Ask the body - why can't you run 5:00 pace forever, and make it ponder the issue for 5 miles of pain. This would also provide a chance for lots of measurements and observations.

We had one false start - 100 meters into the run I realized that my watch had not started. So we called it a stride, and went back to start for real.

Jeff was feeling sleepy and took me through the first quarter in 78 according to his watch. I did not look. We sped up on the second to 74 according to Jeff, but my watch said 2:31. Next quarter was 76, and then my legs started to give out. I made an honest effort to keep the pace, but was falling behind. Maybe subconscious fear of really leaving it all there in the first mile vs kind of when I had 4 more to go. I could only do 81, which gave us a 5:08 mile on my watch. What is interesting is that HR only got up to 164 at the point of failure.

The subsequent quarters were 86,86,87,85 for a 5:44 mile. HR dropped to 159-160. Better than I expected. I had concerns that I'd be running slower than 6:00 for a while to recover.

Things began to improve in the third mile to my surprise. HR went up to 163, and I started hitting 84 quarters consistently. We hit 2.5 in 13:42 (2:50 for 0.5), and then 16:30 at the 3 mile mark (5:38). I made a mental note that I'd be a second or two faster than my 5 K race time on Saturday at the 5 K mark.

I managed another mile in 5:38. HR started to hit 165-166. With Jeff challenging me to give him five I managed 5:35 in the last mile, HR climbing to 170. Total time was 27:43.4, 5:32.68 average.

We ran a cool down after that to make the total 12.17.

Some analysis - the whole run felt like I was running uphill. I was concerned after being unable to run 5:00 pace as early as 0.75 into the run that things were really going to go downhill, but was pleasantly surprised when they did not. The result provided some evidence in support of the heat sensitivity theory to explain a set of recent sub-par 5 K performances. I was pleased to see HR getting as high as it did in the second half of the run and staying there. It was high for the pace, though, but this is to be expected. Running anaerobically early on produced some oxygen debt (although not much, from VO2 Max data my max RER is only 1.06 vs more normal 1.10-1.15), and so it would be reasonable to expect that the heart would be pumping harder to clean it up the rest of the run. But it is good to actually see that my heart can work into those ranges for a sustained period rather than just theorize that it can because it used to be able to when I was less fit. I wonder if the Gerry Lindgren tempo might be about the only way I can give my heart a workout until the neural drive/strength issues are fixed.

In spite of the Gerry Lindgren maneuver, and the fact that the second half is naturally about 7-10 seconds slower than the first due to the terrain, the splits were 13:42/14:01.

This run also has resolved my concerned that I might have gone into a slump similar to the one after DesNews 2006. Back then I struggled to run 28:26 on the same course starting normally with plans to negative split, and those issues continued for over a month.

P.M. 1.05 with Julia in 9:50, 2.1 with Benjamin in 16:52, Jenny joined for the first 1.6 in 13:10, and one more with no running kids. Pushed Julia and Jacob for all of the run except the initial part with Julia running.

T4 Racer - 370.23 miles

Five Fingers - 884.30 miles.

Night Sleep Time: 7.25Nap Time: 0.50Total Sleep Time: 7.75
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

A.M. Jeff messed up setting his alarm clock and did not make it. Tyler for some reason was not there either. So I ran solo for 10.1 miles. Opened with a 2:28 quarter and a 9:03 mile. Then was able to speed up to 8:00. I say "was able" but I really mean "was able while running naturally". My rule is to never force the pace during an aerobic run. Whatever the body chooses without pressure is the right pace. Towards the end of the run I worked up my way to a little slower than 7:00. With a mile to go I had a thought that I should be thankful for my ability to run sub-7:00 pace on a whim. A lot of people cannot race an all out mile like this. So as a token of gratitude, and in behalf of all those who cannot go sub-7:00 in spite of their best efforts, I decided to run the last mile under 7 minutes, and finished with a 6:52, 1:17:55 for 10.1.

P.M. 1.5 pushing Julia and Jacob, 1 with Julia running and Jacob in the stroller in 9:10, 0.5 more pushing both, then 2.1 in 17:40 with Benjamin and Jenny running and Jacob and Julia in the stroller. Need to teach Julia to ride a bike, then I'll be able to take all of my children at once for a run (until William is born at least).

Five Fingers - 899.50 miles.

Night Sleep Time: 6.75Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 6.75
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

A.M. Ran with Jeff and James. James turned around after 3 miles. Then Jeff and I did 5x10 seconds all out for me, a nice stride for Jeff, with 5 minute rest. Total time for 12.1 was 1:35:59.

I gave Jeff a history test that he passed in spite of his young age. The question was - which East European communist regime went down violently? For me, of course, this was not just a history question. I anxiously watched, read, and listened as those regimes went down wondering how far away we were from losing the communist grip over the Soviet Union itself. It directly affected my life, so of course I remember, just like most Americans living today will remember September 11th, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Probably even more.

So anyway, Jeff passed the test. I wonder how many bloggers will without the help of Google and other references. So post if you did or did not know the correct answer before looking it up. To check if you are right, or to find out if you have no clue to begin with, click here.

Also, I took a look at the Deseret Book catalog I found lying on a table. It had an interesting collection of books. How to Raise a Strong-Willed Child. Strangling Your Husband Is Not an Option. How Do I Change My Husband? And the best - Parenting Breakthrough with a picture of a kid cleaning a toilet on the front cover.

P.M. 1.25 with Julia in 12:55, 2 with Benjamin in 16:09 with the last 0.5 in 3:08. Jenny joined us for the first 1.5 in 13:01. Another 1.25 alone.

Five Fingers - 916.1 miles.

Night Sleep Time: 7.75Nap Time: 0.50Total Sleep Time: 8.25
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

A.M. Talked to Curt last night and realized we were in big trouble. The course of the Provo River Half would be impossible to follow correctly in the last 3 miles, and barring a disaster or an unexpected super-runner appearance, Jeff would be acting as the "lead vehicle". So he needed to know the course. So we had Curt show us the course this morning (the last 3 "loopy" miles), and then we ran that section again to make sure we knew it. On the second try without Curt we managed to miss a turn and it took us a minute before we realized it.

In any case, I decided to plot out the map - check out Provo River Half 2008. Rather approximate, but reasonable. To avoid a complete disaster I had to code up a couple of features in the Course Tool. The USGS service was down, so I found a new elevation data service called Eathtools.Org which is not as accurate (only 90 meter segments), but at least it is up. So now we have a failover - first try USGS for 3 seconds, if nothing comes back or nothing good comes back, then try Earthtools. In the process I made an oops and incorrectly resolved the missing elevations in a number of existing courses, including a part of the Provo River Half that I was making. To fix this I needed a new feature - Re-lookup Elevations. Coded that up. Then figured a Save button that returns you to the course editing would be nice, since this was essentially a freebee after reworking the code. Then the elevation profile from the low resolution of Earthtools was just terrible and the supposed ups and downs extended the distance by a good 0.6 of a mile compared to the crazy grade adjusted distance. So I figured before I make this map public the crazy grade adjustment needed to happen first. So I coded up adjusting the crazy grade permanently as well. With all said and done the course now shows as 13.27 miles, which is very reasonable considering that I was not 100% sure on the start, the trail in some places is very difficult to follow from aerial view, and Google Maps probably do have a measure of geo-coding drift. Expecting lots of comments from Paul on the subject.

After running the "loopy"section, Jeff and I ran more on the trail to make the total of 12 miles. In the process I did the hyena workout - once every 5 minutes you pretend for 10 seconds that a hyena is out to get out and run as fast as you can to get away. Did that 5 times. Coming back down the Provo Canyon we tried some race pace strides. First we ran a quarter in 82, and then a while later in 74.

P.M. 1 with Julia in 10:20, 2 with Benjamin in 15:25 with Jenny running 1.5 in 11:54, and 1 more alone in 7:40. Pushed Jacob.

Five Fingers - 932.1 miles.

Night Sleep Time: 7.75Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 7.75
Race: Provo River Half Marathon (13.1 Miles) 01:12:14, Place overall: 3
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

A.M. Quick report, details to follow when I have more time. Provo River Half 1:12:14, 3rd place. Jeff won with 1:08:55, Dave Holt was second with 1:09:56. Barely held off Adam Wende (4th), and Chad (5th). Walter was 6th, so that's at least 1-6 FRB parade.

Struggled with neural fatigue pretty much from the gun, but as it usually goes with this problem, things kept getting worse as the race progressed until they just could not get any worse. I was able to run with Dave for the first 2.5 miles, then ran alone the rest of the way until Adam came up to within 10 seconds of me around 10.8. Then my first thought was I don't care if he passes me, then I told myself to do my best, figured that if I could just bluff 5:30 pace for half a mile, that will play a trick on both the neural fatigue and Adam, and then I'll be safe. The operation was successful.

More details. No trouble felt in the warm up, actually maybe a bit feisty. Noticed that the mind was not quite there on the bus - had a hard time connecting words into sentences. From the gun the pace felt a bit fast, but sustainable. First mile was 4:57, then 10:00 at 2 miles (by the official mile marker). Dave and I tried to hang with Jeff, but backed off after about 0.5 or so. Noticed that I was not breathing very hard, but felt unmotivated to breathe harder. Nevertheless decided to stick with Dave. Made it to about 2.5, then I was supposed to take a quarter, but could not pass Dave to do the job. Then I just could not hold the pace, not even for another quarter if they had told me the race ended right there. So I backed off.

Dave and Jeff gradually kept disappearing into the distance. The uphill on the highway actually did not feel too bad. Hit the official mile 5 in 26:11, then 32:02 at 6 miles. Started experiencing an urgent need for a VPB, but there were no good bushes on the highway. Then shortly before mile 7 I grabbed some leaves off a tree on the run, and shortly after jumped into a conveniently located bush. Because there were so many people on the trail, I could not do my patented technique, so I lost about 10-12 seconds instead of the usual 5. The quarter was 1:35, and the ones that followed were in the 1:22-1:25 range.

Hit the official marker 10 in 54:21. Saw Iain Hunter running in the opposite direction. Was stuck at around 5:35-5:40 pace. Was not breathing very hard, but could not go any faster. We made a turn at 5200 N and I noticed that Adam was about 10 seconds behind with Chad about the same distance behind him. My first thought was that I do not care. The race already went down the toilet. I just want to get to the finish and ensure a deeper blogger sweep, and I do not care about which order we come in. Then I told myself that this was a bad attitude, and I needed to fight it out to the finish no matter how poorly the race was going. Then a thought I occurred to me. Although I was neurally fatigued, if I gave it all for 0.5 mile I could run 5:30 pace. Adam and Chad would not have the cardio and the glycogen storage to run 5:30 pace on the flat at this point. So that would give me another 10 seconds on them at least. Then I could jog at 6:00 pace for a bit, recover, and maybe even kick at 5:30 pace, and that should be enough to hold them off. So I just focused on that 0.5, and it worked.

My GPS showed 13.20 for the distance. That may be right, may be not. Who cares anyway? It is a new downhill course. We have to figure out what its worth empirically in any case. My conservative guess is a minute slower than Bryce Canyon, and three minutes faster than Striders Half with the headwind this year. Probably about the same, no more than 30 seconds faster if at all compared to the 2006 and 2007 versions.

No cool down after the race, had to hurry to make it to a temple wedding of our friend.

For those who do not know what neural fatigue is all about. It is when your body can go faster, except the brain or the nervous system is malfunctioning and in spite of your most noble efforts does not produce or deliver the signals that are strong enough to get the muscles to perform at their potential. The symptoms are that your breathing becomes more comfortable, your heart rate drops, but the legs are in slow motion, they start feeling unbearably heavy when you try to push the pace, and your normal race pace very quickly becomes so impossible that you cannot do it for another quarter mile even if you did not have to go any further. This is one of the days when you can run a 5 K at a slower pace than you normally race a half marathon. Yet you can still finish the race at a slower speed wondering the entire time why you cannot go faster when nothing hurts. This is a very frustrating experience and it is very easy to get depressed and mentally quit. The sad part is that if you just kick back and coast to the finish you run only 5 seconds per mile slower than when you are giving everything you've got, when normally this much difference in effort would give you 20 seconds per mile.

To prevent it you need to sleep well, eat proper amounts of carbs, avoid stress, and not speed on your base runs. Sometimes it happens anyway even if you do everything right. Many people never have to worry about it because their cardio/glycogen storage will hit a limit first before they reach the limits of their neural drive even on a bad day.

On the positive side, the neural fatigue this year was much milder than two years ago when I ran 1:14:00 on the same quality of the course. I believe it was also less severe than during Minuteman 5 K. At least I was running 5:50 up a slight grade at the end of a half marathon instead of at the end of a 5 K, and I could do several sub-5:40 miles down 1% grade after running 7 instead of only one after running one. And I could will myself into running 5:30 pace down a slight grade for half a mile, something I do not think I would have pulled off in the same place at the end of Minuteman. So things are getting better.

As to the cause of the neural fatigue, there are two suspects. A popular opinion suspect is DesNews, but I question it. Last year there was no neural fatigue (I surprised myself with 1:09:40) even though every muscle of my body hurt for three days after DesNews. This year in DesNews it was just the cramped calf. The rest of the muscles had not experienced noticeable damage because I ran too slow. However, it is a possibility that the pain in the calf lasting for 2.5 hours caused some brain damage.

Another theory is itching skin. My skin has been itching pretty bad over the last couple of weeks, and it has interfered with the quality of my sleep. Two years ago when the neural fatigue was worse, the skin itched pretty bad as well and my sleep suffered. It affects not only sleep. It puts me on alert during the day, so towards the end I have been somewhat irritable. Our kids have been doing a lot of push-ups, squats, and household jobs for various rule violations. All well deserved, they have been taught and warned multiple times, but I normally do not notice that much.

P.M. 1 with Julia in 10:48, then 2 with Benjamin in 16:20 with Jenny running the first 1.5 in 12:33. It started raining and we got soaked.

T4 Racer - 385.13 miles.

Night Sleep Time: 6.00Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 6.00
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance
Night Sleep Time: 51.67Nap Time: 2.83Total Sleep Time: 54.50
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