Breaking the Wall

Rocket City 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: 232.17 Year: 3533.69
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
Green Crocs 2 Miles: 59.00
Night Sleep Time: 46.50Nap Time: 1.00Total Sleep Time: 47.50
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

Recovering from the fever. It went down, but I was still cautious and stayed home for the first two church meetings. Came for the Sacrament. It was a Fast and Testimony meeting. I did not fast, though, for health reasons. It was our last Fast and Testimony meeting in this ward. We bought a house in Orem at 395 S Palisade and will be moving there on December 17th. So we took advantage of the chance to bear our testimonies for the last time. First I bore mine, then Sarah, then Benjamin, Jenny, and Julia. Joseph seeing the example of his older siblings decided to bear his as well. He confidently marched to the pulpit, located and set up a box to stand on, adjusted the microphone, and then saw the crowd and was overwhelmed. He moved his hands indicating he had trouble. Julia walked up and helped him.

I found some energy after church to do my home teaching. However, after that I felt that I needed to rest. So I lay in bed. The feeling was timely as around 4:30 pm or so my fever came back and registered at around 100.5 F. I knocked it down with Tylenol. My reasoning was this - if my body did not need to fry the germs at all in the morning and early afternoon, why all of a sudden now and to the extent of pushing it over 100 F? I figured it was overreacting to a trigger and did not really need to be hot. I decided to be defiant against the fever. Knock it down, if it goes a way and there are no other symptoms, act cautiously normal. Train more or less normally, with the volume and intensity slightly reduced. This provides a hour of  elevated temperature which could do some germ frying. Additionally, eat a lot of garlic, onions, and vitamin C to make it less comfortable for the germs, and drink a lot of fluids to flush them out.

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

A.M. This week was supposed to be a taper for the Rocket City Marathon. Now with the illness things are a little different. I need to do the impossible. Allow the body to heal. Avoid losing fitness more than I already have and try to recover what I have lost. At the same time try to build a glycogen store and some freshness in the legs. Do not get a second round of sickness. Be ready to race on Saturday.

I was pondering those issues on Saturday night while I lay there with 102 F fever and considered dropping out of the race. Then I heard a voice in my mind that let me know the Lord wanted me to run the marathon and do my best. I hoped that it was just a voice of delirium from the fever, but I had heard that voice enough to know the difference. Plus the impression remained once the fever was gone.

I have made some progress since Saturday night. I know how to take those fevers down. It returned in the middle of the night and I kicked it waking up with a nice 97.7 F temperature in the morning and feeling ready to run.

I prayed to know how far I should run, and felt that I should run 10 with a 1 mile pickup to access the damage. So I ran with the kids first. Jacob did 0.5, Jenny and Julia 1, Joseph 1, and Benjamin 5. During Benjamin's run I did the pickup. He stayed back as he is still not 100%. I did the mile in 5:37, then turned around and ran back to Benjamin maintaining the same effort. This gave me about 1.15 of tempo running. The pace felt interesting. The legs could handle it, and were not giving in. However, I noticed that the breathing was quite labored. This gave me an idea . The problem could be caused by the drop in the red cell count. I figured it would be difficult to have the best of both worlds - high white cell count, and high red cell count at the same time. So if white go up, the red would go down. So I decided to add some iron supplementation to help the recovery.

After running with Benjamin I added about 2.85 more to make the total 10. What is interesting is that I was volunteering 6:30-6:40 pace without thinking about it, and at that pace I was not bothered by breathing.

Green Crocs 2 Miles: 10.00
Night Sleep Time: 8.00Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 8.00
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Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

A.M. Total of 8. 5 with Benjamin. Jenny and Julia did 1, Joseph 1, Jacob 0.5. Did the same 1.15 pickup as yesterday. It went better. The time for the mile was 5:31 and the breathing was not as labored. Still it was scary to think that I am expecting to average 5:43 for 26 miles when 5:31 does not quite feel as easy as it should. But I've got a few things going for me. Warmer temperatures, shorts,  lower altitude, a pack (hopefully), and a few more days to get healed. 

Green Crocs 2 Miles: 8.00
Night Sleep Time: 8.00Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 8.00
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A.M. Went to the temple. Did not feel like running in 10 F, worked instead so I can run in the afternoon. The kids ran a little later in the AM. Jenny and Julia did 2, Jacob 0.5, Joseph 1. Benjamin did a total of 5 including 2.5 in the AM, and then 2.5 with me in the PM.

P.M. 5 miles, 2.5 with Benjamin.


Green Crocs 2 Miles: 5.00
Night Sleep Time: 7.00Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 7.00
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Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

A.M. Total of 7. Decided to take Jacob for the full mile. Jenny and Julia joined us. This was the first time in his life that he's run the full mile. I told him he could run as slow as he wanted. He ended up doing 9:15 with the splits of 2:16, 2:17, 2:20, 2:22. The conditions were not ideal - about 20 F, he was wearing a thick coat. I was quite impressed with that. Benjamin at his age (5 years and 4.5 months) had a PR of 8:47, but it was not done the first time around, not in those conditions, and he was mentally determined to get the record.  I think Jacob is our most talented runner in the family so far. He just needs to work on self-confidence and determination, but that will come with age.

Then I ran 5 with Benjamin. With a mile to go he needed 7:01 to catch 7:30 average, so I challenged him to do that to test his health. He was volunteering 6:24 pace on some stretches. I thought - this pace gives you 2:47 in the marathon, and it feels so easy. If only I could run just that on Saturday it would be so nice. Maybe I should volunteer to pace the ladies for the OTQ, this would give me an honorable excuse to run 2:47 and avoid the possibility of finishing in some embarrassing time like 2:42 after trying to run what I should and running into the limits of my health. No, I should not even think that, but run an honest race, and if I run  into the limits of my health, then let it be so, and let me learn humility.

Benjamin picked it up to 92 after 0.5 left to go, then said he was feeling weak. But that fired up my tempo pace engine, and I did not want to shut it down. So I told him to coast to the finish while I kept going. I ended up doing the last quarter in 86, he did it in 95.

So coming into the Rocket City marathon I have the following hierarchy of goals:

  • Goal 101 - avoid the need for serious medical attention and be able to drive back to the airport at the end of everything.
  • Goal 102 - finish the race.
  • Goal 201 - finish the race under 2:40.
  • Goal 202 - finish the race under 2:37:25 - my time in 2003.
  • Goal 301 - under 2:35:00
  • Goal 302 - under 2:34:15 - TOU time this year
  • Goal 303 - under 2:33:21 - UVM time this year, fastest marathon this year
  • Goal 304 - under 2:31:58 - fastest time in the last two years
  • Goal 401 - under 2:30:32 - honest course PR
  • Goal 402 - under 2:30:00
  • Goal 403 - under 2:29:00
  • Goal 404 - under 2:27:46 - non-St. George PR discounting the short DesNews course in 2004
  • Goal 501 - under 2:25:00
  • Goal 601 - under 2:22:00
  • Goal 701 - under 2:19:00

In setting these goals I decided to start with the basics - goals 101 and 102, then gradually progress upwards. Too many failures, if not most can be attributed to the neglect of some basics. We must pay due respect to the basics.

At the same time while taking care of the basics we must not neglect  shooting for the stars. Thus I put up quite a range of goals that are unlikely to be attained in this race. Nevertheless, if things are going well, I do not ever want to think "I am done, I have no higher goal to shoot towards".

Green Crocs 2 Miles: 7.00
Night Sleep Time: 8.00Nap Time: 1.00Total Sleep Time: 9.00
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

A.M. 2 miles before getting on the plane. It was nice to fly out of Provo. Feels almost like I have my own private jet.  Except the flight left late because of fog problems in Denver, and then I missed my connecting flight. But private jets get delayed too for odd reasons. So I am now having a nice 3+ hour layover in Denver as I am typing this. On the positive side of things, Denver airport has a nice recharging station and free although somewhat buggy WiFi.

Green Crocs 2 Miles: 2.00
Night Sleep Time: 7.50Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 7.50
Race: Rocket City Marathon (26.21 Miles) 02:44:58, Place overall: 10
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

Rocket City Marathon, 2:44:58, 10th place.

Stayed with Jon Elmore and his family the night before in Decatur. They have a very nice family. I felt a spirit of peace in their home. It was a privilege to meet them.

I have been schooled by the reality of having to run a marathon after a recent illness. As I mentioned earlier, I was concerned and prayed to know if I should go to the race, and felt that I should.  After the first mile in 5:49 which felt hard, followed by 5:55 which felt OK, but too hard for 5:55 this early in the race, I knew something was up. I prayed for permission to drop out and did not get it. Yes, I somehow I knew that I should not pray for a miraculous healing and a flow of strength.

I was running with Josh Whitehead and Fernando Cabada. Fernando is a 2:12 guy who already qualified for the Trials and was doing a progression workout. Josh was a 2:34 guy but set a PR of 2:31:37 today Fernando invited us to be paced by him for the initial part of his workout.

We did 17:28 (5:44), 23:17 (5:49), and then Fernando went into the next stage of his progression and we did 28:54 (5:37). At this point I had to back off. I continued with the 40:44 (5:55 average for 2 miles), 46:50 (6:04), not a good sign this early even though there was some uphill, but it should not have done that to me if I was anywhere near normal, then I think 52:50 (6:00) and 58:44 (5:54) at 10 miles. OK, at least sub-6:00 for the first 10, so maybe I can get to the finish on my own two feet today.

At this point we were on a long stretch with tailwind, so I was able to keep it sub-6:00 for a little longer.  Hit the half in 1:17:25. OK, at least one half of this mess is over. Well, not quite one half because the second half brings more surprises. Two more miles under 6:00. 1:28:30 at 15. Thankful to have gotten this point so far.  

Now comes the headwind and a 6:30 mile with it. Another 6:30 mile. A runner passes me as if I were standing still. I think that was Scott Fannining. It must be more than just the headwind. OK, how bad can this get?  Another runner comes by - Hirbo Hirbo, and he was struggling enough himself that I was able to latch on. 2:00:56 at 20 miles. This is beginning to look very ugly.

Somehow I managed to run sub-7:00 miles for the next four. I was with Hirbo. George Dewitt who is 53 years old caught up to us and we were able to latch on. Then Zachary Koch went by, no latching, all three of us were too slow and tired.

Then at 24 I found another wall. I began to be concerned about my health. This had not happened to me since perhaps my first marathon. Once I find my wall, I crawl alongside, it is bad, but it does not get worse. But I suppose when your health is off, your marathon gets a couple of miles longer, so anything past 24 is an ultra, or in other words life beyond the grave.

Fortunately I had enough sense to grab two Powerades and empty them out at 25. Half a mile later I found some moderate zip in my legs and passed Hirbo, which put me in 10th place. Thus I was able to find a small consolation in running my slowest marathon in 12 years.

After the race the marathon was not over. I had to get to the airport. Apparently I looked pretty bad as the volunteer kept asking me if I was OK.  I ate some food, and headed to my car. There were two ladies in the parking lot waiting for their friend to come in. I asked them if they could give me a ride to my car, which they happily did.  Somehow I was able to get dressed without taking forever and 3:04:47 after the start of the race I was driving to Nashville. When I got to the airport, great was my surprise when I saw Steve Anderson already there. He finished behind me, how did he get ahead? I suppose a few things helped him - he did not take a wrong turn, which I did, he might have driven faster, although I did maintain good speed throughout, and he did not have to go through as much airport security as I did as he is a pilot. He was there ready to fly me home! It turned out that that flight was piloted by another crew, but Steve flew on that same plane with me to Denver, and then piloted the flight to Salt Lake while I flew in my virtual private jet to Provo.

Provo now has one commercial flight by Frontier. If more people fly on it, there will be more, so I figured I'll help spread the word.

So what lessons did I learn from this marathon and how am I going to use what I learned to get better? Sickness is a double hit. You lose aerobic fitness, with that you lose fuel efficiency. Those 2 hours 44 minutes and 58 seconds have etched this concept in my mind in a way that I will not forget. Aerobic fitness is very closely connected with fuel efficiency. In the first 15 miles I learned what it is like to run with underperforming aerobic system. In the last 11 miles I learned that my underperforming aerobic system not only made me slow but also ate up all of my fuel - how rude!

So the moral of the story is that to run a good marathon you need to have solid aerobic fitness. It is built primarily through mileage, but you need to be careful not to go into diminishing returns. Fitness cannot be developed or used when health is lacking. Thus the three foundational elements of marathon performance are, first health, second aerobic fitness, and only third specific fuel storage/efficiency conditioning.

In spite of a bad race, I decided I am coming back to Huntsville next year and will make it a routine trip in my schedule. It is a place where they shoot for the stars. Both literally (they have a space center) and figuratively. I find it more than just a coincidence that the Huntsville has a concentration of fast runners that is unusual for the South.

Green Crocs 2 Miles: 27.00
Night Sleep Time: 8.00Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 8.00
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance
Green Crocs 2 Miles: 59.00
Night Sleep Time: 46.50Nap Time: 1.00Total Sleep Time: 47.50
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