Archive for the ‘Year in Review’ Category

Life (and running) is not all about time but about our experiences along the way.
Jen Rhines

Let me just say that 2016 was another bigly year in racing for me. I ran some really really great races, believe me. And I ran them with great people, tremendous people, some of the very best people. I mean, some of the people I ran with are unpresidented—though of course I won’t be saying that if they don’t compliment me on their own blogs. A lot of clowns didn’t run the races I ran this past year. Sad!

Yes, 2016 was off-key in some notable ways, while hitting all the right notes in others. As for my own year in racing, I’ve been told by many many friends who are excellent runners that it was a phenomenal year—I don’t know, but that’s what people are telling me. So clearly 2016 deserves a quick look back before we get on with the better business of looking forward—after all, nobody knows the past year better than me, which is why I alone can recap it. Trust me, this is going to be amazing:

Mike Sohaskey & Paul Ishimine post-LA Marathon 2016
February
brought one of the year’s “must see” sporting events—the Olympic Marathon Trials—to our hometown of Los Angeles. On a sweltering winter day in SoCal, Galen Rupp dominated the Trials field in his marathon debut, Meb qualified for his fourth and final Olympic Games, and Shalane Flanagan willed herself across the finish line in 3rd place thanks to the unwavering support of teammate and eventual winner Amy Cragg. The next day I opened my own 2016 race season and renewed my love-hate relationship with the Los Angeles Marathon. LA is a fantastic big-city course I’d recommend to any road runner, though the organizers at Conqur LA need to do a better job of attracting more runners and showcasing the city’s historic landmarks to the runners they already have.

Peace Love Run San Diego 2016 with Mike Sohaskey, Katie Ho, Alan Nawoj
March was the calm before the April storm, the latter of which led off with the low-key Peace Love Run Half Marathon in San Diego. This would be my final tuneup for Boston, and what a non-groovy tuneup it turned out to be—a 15.1-mile half marathon, thanks to my running an extra loop on the pleasant but poorly marked course. The silver lining was that I still managed to finish 4th in my age group. And in all honestly I probably could’ve run 20 miles with no worries, so strong was my anticipatory buzz. Because as promised, two weeks later I’d be lining up on the other side of the country to run…

Boston Marathon 2016 Mike Sohaskey post-finish family hug
… the 120th Boston Marathon. My Boston debut took place on a warm Patriots’ Day that saw me struggle mightily in the second half of the race. Somehow, approaching mile 16 in the Newton hills where my father grew up, my body suddenly lost all interest in running—right in the middle of the most prestigious marathon in the world, with nothing I could do to convince it otherwise. And THAT in a nutshell is running. Not that my finish time (which luckily still began with a “3”) mattered, since this was Boston… and if I were looking to name my firstborn I’d still consider “Right on Hereford, left on Boylston” Sohaskey. As the cherry on top of my victory sundae, Massachusetts would be state #11 on my 50 states quest. Wicked pissa!

Mike Sohaskey & Krishna Keelapatla at start of Big Sur Marathon 2016
Less than a week later, to close out April and as part of the bicoastal Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge, I came together with fellow B2B’er Krishna (above) and completed my second Big Sur International Marathon in winds that topped out at 40 mph. In the process I regained my running joie de vivre and and finished with a faster time than I had six days earlier. And I earned what (aside from Boston’s iconic blue-and-gold unicorn) stands as the hands-down coolest finisher medal in my collection, the clay Boston 2 Big Sur medallion. If/when I run Boston again, you can bet I’ll be lining up in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park the next week.

Ice Age Trail 50 finish shot - Mike Sohaskey, Dan Otto, Dan Solera
After an April featuring Boston and Big Sur, I could have been forgiven for thinking the rest of the year would be anticlimactic. Oh, how wrong I would have been. In May, thanks to some gently applied peer pressure, I joined Dans Otto and Solera in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest for what would prove to be not only the most ambitious challenge of 2016 for each of us but, ironically, my most successful race day experience to date. On a chilly day that Disney couldn’t have scripted more perfectly, I knocked out my first 50-miler in less than ten hours at the verdant Ice Age Trail 50. Turns out Ice Age was an endorphin high that would keep me buzzing on cloud nine for quite some time. And it just so happened to be state #12 on my 50 states quest.

Mike Sohaskey & Katie Ho Hatfield McCoy Marathon finish selfie
With such a front-loaded 2016 schedule, I’d planned to take some time off after Ice Age to rest my legs. But that was before June fired a shot heard ’round the world. On hearing of Muhammad Ali’s passing, Katie and I made the spur-of-the-moment decision to fly to Kentucky to pay our respects at The Greatest’s memorial service in Louisville. Appropriate justification for this last-minute trip came in the form of my running the excellent (albeit sizzling) Hatfield McCoy Marathon across the state that same weekend. For me, it’s not the medals or the miles or any OCD desire to cross items off a bucket list, but rather once-in-a-lifetime opportunities like Kentucky that fuel my 50 states quest (state #13).

Omaha Marathon finish shot - Dan Solera & Mike Sohaskey

With the fall racing season shifting into gear, in September I joined fellow heartland lover Dan Solera at another start line, as together we triumphed over the “Anytown USA” ennui of the Omaha Marathon. The race start was delayed for an hour after someone started shooting at passing cars near the course—and on further review, that was probably the highlight of an otherwise nondescript event. At the end of the day, Nebraska would represent state #14 for me and state #45 for Dan on our 50 states mission.

Mike Sohaskey at Brazen Goonies with RaceRaves Lunatics
In October I excitedly returned from a 4-year hiatus to run with my favorite Bay Area race organizers at the Brazen Racing Goonies Half Marathon. I even managed a sub-7:00 mile on the downhill, hair-on-fire mile 12. As much as I enjoyed another top-notch Brazen experience, the race itself paled in comparison to the thrill of meeting friends old & new in Lagoon Valley Regional Park, many of them united in sporting their RaceRaves gear. If you’re ever looking to run some amazing (and challenging) trails in the Bay Area with equally amazing people, you can’t go wrong with Brazen.

Mike Sohaskey at Ragnar Napa and Golden Gate Half finish lines

Ragnar finish line in Napa (left) and Golden Gate Half finish line in the SF Marina (right)

November led off with a reason to be thankful: an epic three-day running weekend, starting with 22 miles in 26-ish hours at Ragnar Napa Valley and concluding with another 13.1 miles of quintessential San Francisco at the Golden Gate Half. Two races with two groups of running friends (plus Katie) in one of the world’s most beautiful locales—weekends don’t get no better than that. And I’m never one to turn down a chance to run across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Mike and Chuck Sohaskey at finish of Toughest 10K in the USA
Last but not least, no better way to round out another memorable year than by convincing my brother Chuck to join me in December for the Toughest 10K in the USA, a tour-de-force of steep hills in nearby Newbury Park. And yes, the Toughest 10K would boldly live up to its name, with only the winner managing to finish in under an hour (barely). I even managed to max out my heart rate at 183 bpm. One ignominious asterisk to my final effort of 2016: having never run a timed 10K in my 76 career races, my 1:22:22 (13:17/mile) finish time now stands as my 10K personal best, less than 12 minutes short of my half marathon PB {yikes}.

So there you have it! While I don’t have the time or interest to blog about every race I run, my RaceRaves reviews fill in the gaps nicely. And now, with 2016 in the rearview mirror, I can happily look forward to 2017 and what’s already shaping up to be another amazing year. Not that I’ve mapped out my schedule in gory detail—in fact I’ve only committed to three races so far this year, with the first coming up next weekend in state #15.

No, the reason I have such high hopes is that the sun around which my 2017 training revolves is a race which once looked like a distant star—a celestial impossibility gazed at longingly by a boy through his bedroom window. Not many foot races could legitimately lay claim to the title of the “Ultimate Human Race”. But this one does, and rightfully so. And it’s a race that will require me to run stronger and more strategically than any I’ve run so far.

comrades-logo
This June will see Katie and me strive to add continent #4 to the racing résumé as I tackle the celebrated Comrades Marathon in South Africa, where I’ll have exactly 12 hours (and not a second more) to run 56 hilly miles at the world’s largest ultramarathon. It’s an awesome challenge that already has every neuron in my body crackling with anticipation. And it’s one I slot in difficulty above all but the toughest 100-milers, since the strict 12-hour cutoff means that—after factoring in aid station breaks—a runner can’t walk or even power-hike an appreciable distance and still have any hope to finish. Because at Comrades, to borrow a line from noted non-ultrarunner Ben Franklin, if you fail to plan you are planning to fail.

Now that is a race.

To help prepare my quads for the hills of South Africa, in March I’ll be joining Bay Area friends at one of the most popular and scenic ultramarathons in this country, the Way Too Cool 50K. There I hope to improve on another of my questionable personal bests, a 6:33:45 at the scorching hot 2013 Harding Hustle 50K. Not to mention the real reason I’m running WTC—their signature frog cupcakes!

Thanks so much for following along on my (mis)adventures here, in 2016 and always—the fact you take the time to do so (especially if you’re not related to me) is the ultimate compliment. My wish for 2017 is that you live strong, be healthy, run well, inspire others, laugh freely and celebrate often. I look forward to sharing my own revolution around the sun.

Trust me, it’s going to be YUGE.

Mike Sohaskey beachside motivation_bch
Other 2016 blog posts worth a read:

Through the (crack’d) looking glass: post-election thoughts on the state of America
Child’s Play: our silly sport as seen through a child’s eyes

Looking for the best races around the world? RaceRaves.com makes it easy to find, track & review races you’ve run or want to run, and connect with other runners—you can also follow RaceRaves on Facebook and Instagram, though honestly the website is much more fun than social media.

And as you plan your 2017 race schedule, check out our RaceRaves spotlight featuring “7 quick picks for 2017”.

FINAL STATS for 2016:
2020.5 in 211 days (and on the 366th day he rested), 9.6 miles/day average
0 days lost to injury
248.5 racing miles
11 races (one 200-mile relay, one 50-miler, 5 marathons, 3 half marathons, one 10K) in 5 states (CA, MA, WI, KY, NE)
Overall race percentile: 72.2 (down 22 from 2015, excludes the Peace Love Run Half and Ragnar Relay) → 15,763/56,786 total finishers
Fastest race pace: 7:21/mile (Peace Love Run Half, despite running two miles too far)
Slowest race pace: 13:17/mile (Toughest 10K in the USA)
8 blog posts & 9 RaceRaves original articles written
My Staging Area (profile page) on RaceRaves

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With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.
– Eleanor Roosevelt

Blisters spectator sign at Walt Disney World Marathon

In case you’re still wondering about my blog title…

2015 was a busy year. In fact, with apologies to the semester I took all those AP classes, it’s no exaggeration to call it the busiest year of my life so far. With RaceRaves gathering steam and new home ownership engulfing our spare time like The Blob, Katie and I felt very much like I’d imagine the proud parents of newborn twins must feel.

So my 2015 racing landscape was notably more sparse than in recent years. For instance, between May and November I ran exactly zero races, my longest streak without crossing a finish line since 2008. I notched marathons in only two new states (Florida and – race report still to come – Arizona), a rate of progress that will see me celebrating state #50 right around the time Puerto Rico & Guam gain admission to the Union. All the while, I watched through the envious lens of social media as friends took to heart our RaceRaves slogan to Run the world, collecting medals across the globe in countries such as Belize, China, Cuba, Greece, Hungary, Myanmar and South Africa, to name a few.

All that said, I was able to celebrate a few major milestones of my own this year (blogging frequency not among them). And though I’m not a big believer in looking back, how could I not revisit a few highlights of 2015 before looking forward to what’s shaping up as a can’t-miss 2016:

1) Walt Disney World Marathon (January): Florida was state #9 in my quest to run a marathon or ultramarathon in all 50 states. And freakish though the state itself may be (high praise from a Californian), with every day that goes by my memories of the 3 hours, 41 minutes, 42 seconds spent racing through the Disney World complex grow fonder. Not that they weren’t at the time – after all, I did stop nearly 20 times for photo-ops with the full spectrum of characters along the course. And I have a sneaking suspicion that before I reach state #50, I may be hopping another cross-country flight to Orlando to relive my WDW experience. (Current overall score on RaceRaves: 4.4/5.0 based on 13 ratings)

Mike Sohaskey at Walt Disney World Expo & finish line

2) Carlsbad 5000 (March): The Competitor Group’s signature event was the first time I’d ever paid to run a 5K, and only the second time I’d ever timed myself at the distance. And though I missed my goal of a sub-20:00 finish by one second, this oceanside race is easy to recommend. Where else can you run your own race, cool down and grab a front-row seat to watch the elites compete in theirs? Or meet an American running legend like Bernard Lagat, graciously shaking hands at the finish line? Or serendipitously bump into American marathon record holder Deena Kastor at her favorite local brunch spot? The word “race” doesn’t do it justice – Carlsbad is an all-out celebration of running. (Current overall score on RaceRaves: 4.9/5.0 based on 7 ratings)

Mike Sohaskey with Carlsbad 5000 elites

(L to R) Lawi Lalang (2015 Carlsbad winner), Bernard Lagat and Deena Kastor

3) Qualifying for Boston (May): I entered 2015 having shakily qualified for Boston in Berlin (3:24:14) and at the California International Marathon (3:24:15). With competition for much-coveted Boston slots at an all-time high, though, I knew those qualifying times had as much chance of earning me a Boston bib as a forged Kenyan passport. So rather than await September and the inevitable disappointment of a rejected application, I cranked up my weekly mileage to 60-70 and got down to work with my sights set on May’s local Mountains 2 Beach Marathon, one of SoCal’s finest. The result was a solid 3:22:07, a Unicorn-worthy time that seemed all but assured of landing me a spot at Boston in 2016.

That was, until the cheetahs showed up and nearly ruined the party. During application week, competition became so fierce that when the dust settled, beating my official qualifying time by nearly three minutes meant I’d survived the cut by 25 seconds. But the bottom line: survive I did, meaning Katie and I will be celebrating Patriot’s Day with the locals come April. And not a year too soon, since I’m suffering from Fenway withdrawal and my Red Sox cap is in desperate need of replacing. (Current overall score for Mountains 2 Beach on RaceRaves: 4.4/5.0 based on 5 ratings)

Mike Sohaskey - Mountain 2 Beach 2 Boston

4) Volunteering at The Special Olympics World Games (July/August): The World Games may have been the highlight of our first 2½ years in Los Angeles. As overused and diluted as the word “inspiring” has become, watching 6,500 athletes from 165 nations refuse to be defined by their intellectual disabilities was all-day inspiring. And volunteering at the World Games was that rare moment in time when spectating is more satisfying than competing. During the Closing Ceremonies, the high-five I shared with a gold medal winner from the Isle of Man was a fitting finale to an amazing week. If you ever have the chance to be part of a Special Olympics event, do yourself a favor and seize the opportunity.

Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles 2015

5) USA Half Marathon (November): I first heard about the USA Half from Boston Marathon Race Director Dave McGillivray at the Running USA conference in February. The idea of a qualifers-only half marathon – a Boston-like event that faster half marathoners could call their own – had been on my racing wishlist for years, and I immediately added it to my 2015 calendar. Despite a lower-than-expected turnout, the race itself didn’t disappoint. Event production (with help from McGillivray’s DMSE Sports) was flawless, the course was challenging yet runnable, and as late November race venues go, San Diego is a no-brainer. A few tweaks could (and should) be made to improve the experience and attract more runners in 2016, but for an inaugural event the USA Half pretty much hit it on the screws. (Current overall score on RaceRaves: 4.2/5.0 based on 33 ratings)

Mike Sohaskey at USA Half Marathon expo

Those wings came in handy on race day

Thanks in large part to inordinately high finishes at the Walt Disney World Marathon (793/20,048) and the Inaugural Sunset Strip Half (28/1,739), my overall race percentile for 2015 was a best-ever 94.2, meaning I finished in the top 6% of the cumulative field for the six races I ran. Not bad for someone who just stepped up to the {eek} 45-49 age group.

So “quality over quantity” sums up my 2015 nicely. But looking forward, I’m even more excited about the roadmap for 2016 which includes:

  • in February, the US Olympic Marathon Trials here in L.A. along with my second Los Angeles Marathon (which was moved up a month to coincide with the Trials);
  • in April, state #11 and the 120th Boston Marathon, followed six days later by a – fingers crossed – injury-free return to Big Sur as a participant in the Boston-to-Big-Sur Challenge;
  • in May, my first 50-miler in the woods of Wisconsin, where legs willing I’ll spend a Saturday with Otter and Dan chasing my pride around Kettle Moraine State Park – you know, for fun.
Dan Solera & Dan Otto in Chicago

It’s all fun & games ’til these two talk you into a 50-miler

Clearly my 2016 promises to stay true to this blog’s title… and that’s just the first five months. Meanwhile our vision for RaceRaves continues to expand and evolve, and we’re psyched to announce some key upgrades & new features that will make the Internet’s best all-in-one race resource even better. Curious what the fuss is about? Check us out at RaceRaves.com (and my own Staging Area HERE) – we’d love to welcome you into our fast-growing community of Raving Lunatics!

RaceRaves logos in 2015

As always, the most memorable part of 2015 was the people. Through running in general and RaceRaves in particular, I’ve gotten to know some amazing (and amusing) athletes from around the globe. Best of all, I’ll be seeing many of them again – and a lot of new faces – on my continuing journey across all 50 states, all seven continents and as many countries as time, budget & body will allow.

RaceRaves Raving Lunatic collage 2015

So stay tuned, and as always thanks for reading – I realize my blog doesn’t cater to short attention spans, but then again if length were my guiding principle I’d be writing “5 superfoods runners must eat NOW!” listicles for Runner’s World.

Here’s to a happy, healthy 2016 and your best running year yet. May the course be with you!

FINAL STATS of 2015:
2,222 miles run in 242 days (9.2 miles/day average)
0 days lost to injury (!)
107.9 racing miles
6 races (three marathons, two half marathons, one 5K) in 3 states (AZ, CA, FL)
Overall race percentile: 94.2 (up 5.0 from 2014, up 3.2 from 2012 & 2013) = 1,629/28,130 total finishers
Fastest race pace: 6:21/mile (Carlsbad 5000, my 5K PR)
Slowest race pace: 8:22/mile (Walt Disney World Marathon)
8 blog posts & 8 RaceRaves articles published
Check out my racing profile (past, present & future) on My Staging Area on RaceRaves

You will never understand it cuz it happens too fast,
And it feels so good, it’s like walking on glass.

Faith No More, “Epic”

World Marathon Majors (New York, Berlin & Chicago) medals

Bigger! Faster! Better! – three World Marathon Majors down, three to go

I don’t typically look to ‘90s experimental funk rap metal bands to summarize a year of my life, but in this case I’ll happily make an exception.  2014 was an epic year that flew by in a flash… and what’s a blog for if not to document epic-osity?

Consider the evidence:

1) The new year was still in its infancy when I tackled my first challenge of the year, running back-to-back (meaning consecutive days, not consecutive weeks) marathons in the Deep South, at the Mississippi Blues Marathon (in Jackson, MS) and the First Light Marathon (in Mobile, AL).  I finished both marathons in sub-3:45 and even qualified as a Marathon Maniac at the “Iridium” level (maniac #9273, if you’re counting).  All of this despite some discomforting race-day gastrointestinal hijinks, courtesy of the pre-race pasta dinner in Mobile.

Note to anyone running the First Light Marathon in nine days: given that I’m still awaiting an explanation from the Alabama Department of Public Health (hey guys, what’s the poop?), you may want to consider the local Olive Garden for your pre-race carbo load.

2) Responding to my brother’s challenge in March, I broke 20 minutes in my first-ever 5K race, winning the monthly Boeing 5K in nearby Seal Beach in 19:53.  I was walking on sunshine after that race, even running eight more miles home from Manhattan Beach later that day.  All was right in my running world… until suddenly it wasn’t.

28 Days Later_BCH

3) Because then I got injured, developing a sudden case of that-which-must-not-be-named-iitis.  “Plantar fasciitis” is second only to “stress fracture” among two-word phrases that make healthy runners burst into tears.  For a while I tried to push through the nagging heel pain, even managing a satisfying sub-4:00 at the Big Sur International Marathon – though my heel would have its revenge in the days following the race.

Unfortunately, with no idea as to what had caused my PF in the first place, and thanks to a wealth of shockingly uninformed professional advice, I soon found myself lamenting (cue George Michael) I’m never gonna run again, achy feet have got no rhythm….  Luckily I found Doris, a physical therapist apparently sent by the running gods, who in short order prescribed a regimen of stretching and strengthening that completely cured my PF within a month.

Now in retrospect, after seven months of pain-free running, I’ll urge all PF-stricken runners one more time: before you numb your heel with ice and ibuprofen, before you order custom orthotics or switch to massively cushioned shoes, and before you consider expensive treatment options, please do yourself a favor and give Doris’ regimen a shot.  I’m not promising it will be your sure-fire cure as it was for me – but it just might, and full recovery may be just a Thera-Band away.  For those who have spent weeks, months or even years waking up every morning unable to put any weight on their heel, this “too good to be true” therapy may actually be both.

4) Coming on the heels of my plantar fasciitis, I got faster – in my next marathon in Berlin, I set my current marathon PR of 3:24:14, and in the process knocked 4:31 off my previous PR.  I followed this up with a 3:32:04 at the New York City Marathon and an oh-so-close 3:24:15 at the California International Marathon, closing out 2014 with three of my five fastest marathons in a span of 71 days.

5) Two of those three fastest marathons came as I ran dual World Marathon Majors in Berlin (on the world’s fastest course) and New York City (in the world’s biggest party).  Most runners (including me) would consider themselves crazy lucky to be able to run one WMM in a year, so being able to run two on opposite sides of the Atlantic was appropriately epic. For those of you keeping score at home that’s three Majors down (including Chicago), three to go.  Boston, I’m coming for you.

Mississippi Blues Marathon, First Light Marathon, Big Sur Marathon, California International Marathon finish line selfies

Top to bottom: Mississippi Blues, First Light, Big Sur, CIM

 

6) As the cherry atop my 2014 racing sundae, I qualified for Boston twice, at both Berlin and CIM.  Unfortunately, thanks to the Boston Athletic Association’s nebulous new “maybe you did, maybe you didn’t” qualifying standards, past performance is no guarantee of future results.  So I’ll have to wait until September to know for sure whether I’ll be lining up in Hopkinton in 2016.  In the meantime, I’ll use the intervening eight months to try to nail down a more convincing BQ.

7) Like the immovable object meeting the irresistible force, my pre- and post-pubescent lives collided head-on in November when I ran the Disney Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon.  I’m still finding time to chronicle the experience… though I’m probably Goofy to think that will happen before my next Disney race in nine days.

RaceRaves logo

8) Following through on 2013’s year-end promise of a new project filling the space between races, Katie and I launched a new online community based on our shared passion for running.  RaceRaves.com is a resource that enables runners (and running bloggers!) of all levels, distances and terrains to find, discover, rate, review and organize races around the world.  The site has only been public for a month, but we’re psyched by the positive response it’s gotten already, and we can’t wait to keep improving and evolving.  Plus, two PRs (that I know of) were set by runners wearing RaceRaves t-shirts in 2014, and I think it’s safe to assume that can’t be simple coincidence.

So please keep those raves and referrals coming in 2015 – we couldn’t do this without your support!

9) This one has nothing to do with me, but nobody in 2014 defined “epic” more than 38-year-old Meb Keflezighi, who pulled away from the lead pack and held off a late charge from Wilson Chebet of Kenya to become the first American to win the Boston Marathon since Greg Meyer in 1983.  In a year where no American cracked the top 100 fastest marathon times, Meb’s triumph allowed everyone associated with American running to stand tall for at least one Patriots’ Day.  In my own living room, watching Meb break the tape, don the laurel wreath of the victor and wrap himself in the Stars & Stripes – while dedicating it all to the people of Boston – gave me my most inspired case of runaway goosebumps since I-can’t-remember-when.

10) Best of all, thanks to my running trinity of racing, raving and blogging, I renewed old friendships while building new ones, in the U.S. and abroad.  The core attitude behind RaceRaves is reflected in the Christopher McDougall quote on our home page: “The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other… but to be with each other.”  From Boeing to Big Sur to Berlin – and despite the endless solitary hours spent training on the track and along the beach – Katie and I are very fortunate to be able to practice what we preach.  Bottom line: neither personal bests nor glorious bonks mean a whole lot without others to share them with.

My “Go far, go fast” mindset will continue to evolve in 2015.  I’ve got my sights set on my first 50-miler, though I’d like to improve my marathon PR before that happens.  And after an entire year of nothing but road races, I need to get back on the trails, pronto.  Other than that, with no World Marathon Majors or other high-profile events demanding a commitment months in advance, I’m looking forward to a more spontaneous racing schedule than 2014.  So if you’ve got something epic in mind, let me know and I just may join you!

And while I refuse to label this a resolution, I may even work on getting my race reports under 10,000 words each.

Hope you conquer all your running goals and make 2015 your own epic year, filled (of course) with Blisters, Cramps & Heaves.

Run strong and rave on!

2014 collage of Mike Sohaskey & friends

FINAL STATS of 2014:
1,912 miles run in 197 days (9.7 miles/day average)
~ 60 days lost to injury (plantar fasciitis before & after the Big Sur International Marathon)
173.4 miles raced
8 races (six marathons, one half marathon, one 5K) in 4 states (AL, CA, MS, NY) and on 2 continents (North America, Europe)
Overall race percentile: 89.2 (down 1.8 from 2013) = 10,853/100,532 total finishers
Fastest race pace: 7:44/mile (Berlin Marathon, a PR)
Slowest race pace: 9:01/mile (Big Sur International Marathon)
14 (epic) blog posts written

Darling I don’t know why I go to extremes.
– Billy Joel

[Happy birthday, Sandy! To the best sister genetics can buy… even if you do misguidedly tout your climbing addiction over my running fetish.]

Mike Sohaskey "Sohaskey-nicking" after 2013 Portland Marathon


If 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick can kiss his right biceps after scoring a TD, this seems an appropriate way to celebrate a running year like 2013

My 2013 was dramatically different than anything I anticipated at the end of 2012.  From day one the year evolved not so much from one month to the next or one race to the next, as from one extreme to the next.  It was, for example, the first year I’d race nothing shorter than a 25K (15.5 miles).  If you’re interested in numbers, you’ll find them at the end of this post.  But it’s largely by its outlier nature that I’ll remember my 2013 year in running:

Snowiest race ever:  Nestled all snug up next to Canada in the corner of the country, January’s Orcas Island 25K was the archetypal Pacific Northwest trail race, with a generous helping of brumal fury thrown in to keep things interesting.  The race started in cold rain and ascended into colder snowfall before descending to an even soggier finish line.  The pristine whiteness of snow-covered Summit Lake was an unforgettable highlight.  Even without the excellent company of Katie and three wonderful Washington wunning fwiends, this race would have stuck with me as the first time I’d ever raced in snow, falling or otherwise.  Yet despite the wintry conditions, this wouldn’t qualify as my coldest race of the year.  Because that singular distinction belonged to…

Coldest race ever:  Antarctica.  In March, Katie and I – along with nearly 100 other (insert appropriate adjective here) runners – set sail from Ushuaia, Argentina bound for Antarctica.  As you might imagine, this trip was all about extremes:
– The opportunity was extremely unexpected, given that we were plucked off the waiting list at the last minute, three weeks before our flight would depart for Argentina.
– Our fellow travelers were an extremely diverse group, and an amazing cast of some of the most motivated and inspirational characters you could ever hope to meet.  Among them were the former chief of security for Nelson Mandela, and a 14-year-old who went on to become the youngest person to run a marathon on all seven continents.  The trip truly opened my eyes to what it means to be part of the worldwide running community.
– And the continent itself is extremely, well, extreme: unless you’re an astronaut working on the space station, there’s very little in life to prepare you for what awaits on the coldest, highest, darkest, driest and windiest continent on Earth.

As it turned out, race day was less extreme than we’d feared.  In fact, I’d rather run in the conditions we did (temperatures in the low 20s with little wind) than on an average winter day in Buffalo.  Besides, Buffalo is fairly lacking in penguins and glaciers.

My two blog posts on the Antarctica Marathon were picked up by Reddit and Metafilter, and “surreal” is what happens when you find yourself reading comments about your blog posted on another site’s re-blog.  An abridged version of my narrative also appeared last month in the inaugural issue of Marathon Running, an online magazine available as a free subscription in the iTunes Store.  Though I’m clearly biased, I recognize the need for a good interactive running magazine, and I’d recommend Marathon Running based on its eye-catching debut.  Plus it’s free!  Cheap at thrice the price, so I hope you’ll check it out.  I’m eager to see what the publishers have in store for the future.

Metafilter comment


This was my favorite comment on Metafilter re: my blog posts… sorry about that, otter lady!

As it turns out, not everyone was so enthralled by our Antarctica adventure.  Our recent holiday card featured two photos of me and Katie, one under the Antarctica Marathon banner and the other in front of the Hollywood sign.  While visiting my childhood pal and his family back in Texas, their 9-year-old son asked us: “I saw your Christmas card [and here his eyes widened]… did you really go to HOLLYWOOD?”

And one last footnote on the Last Continent: on Thursday all 52 passengers aboard another Russian ship, which had been trapped in ice off the coast of Antarctica since Christmas Eve, were airlifted to safety by a Chinese helicopter.  Most amusing was the ship’s name, which was coincidentally (almost) perfect for a floundering research vessel that found itself relying on Chinese competence: the Akademik Shokalskiy.

Most shocking race moment:  April 15, 2:49pm EDT, Boylston Street, finish line of the Boston Marathon.  Bombs exploded, chaos reigned, lives were lost, lives were saved, runners united, Bostonians rallied and the world rallied around them.  I shared my thoughts the day after and the week after, with the solidarity of runners everywhere on display like never before.

Hottest race ever:  Curiously, my next race after Antarctica would be much closer to home, though no less extreme.  Held in the Cleveland National Forest on the hottest weekend of the year, the Harding Hustle 50K saw 40 runners toe the start line amidst predictions of record high temperatures up and down the West Coast, and the potential for a new planetary high temperature not too far from us in Death Valley.  And the day didn’t disappoint.  As my body struggled to cool itself over the last 20 miles, temperatures reached a reported 107°F on Santiago Peak, the pinnacle of the course.  By the time I shuffled across the finish line over 6-1/2 hours after I’d started, the mercury had plummeted to a relatively temperate 98°F.

And as long as we’re talking extremes: six months earlier, during a training run on that same course, I’d run (literally) into a driving snowstorm that had forced me to retreat back down the mountain.  A snowstorm… in Orange County.  Have you ever felt like you were living in a video game?

Most mature first-time runner:  I met 87-year-old Claire during an otherwise routine training run around the local marina.  She appreciated my form, I appreciated her moxie.  Our five minutes together stands as one of my most endearing memories of 2013.

Darkest race ever:  August saw Katie and I hop in the car and road trip to Las Vegas for the E.T. Full Moon Midnight Marathon.  The race is run (as its name suggests) under the full moon in Rachel, NV, 2-1/2 hours outside Las Vegas in the heart of Area 51.  Although E.T. wouldn’t be my first nighttime race, it would be my longest.  Unfortunately the novelty of moonlit solitude would quickly wear off, as my darkest race ever morphed into my…

Most painful race ever:  Because on an otherwise pleasant (if sensorily underwhelming) evening, I misjudged a cattle guard crossing at mile 17 and felt my left ankle try to unscrew itself from my leg.  But as nauseating as the throbbing in my ankle was, my brain throbbed even worse at the idea of a DNF (Did Not Finish) next to my name.  And so, before common sense could rear its ugly head, I ran nine more painstaking miles to finish in under four hours and earn second place in my age group.  Most importantly, I secured a sweet glow-in-the-dark medal of a stoic alien face that seemed to look at me like, “So? Was I really worth it?”

Running is all about managing fatigue… overcoming mental and physical exhaustion is the name of the game.  But this was the first time I’d ever had to confront acute pain during a race – normally that’s a clear cue to stop running.  And although I’d recommend many things about my 2013, running with the sensation of having a sandbag strapped to one ankle wouldn’t be one of them.  Did I mention the medal glows in the dark?

The take-home lesson from my E.T. experience was that Las Vegas, with its vast human mazes winding circuitously through monolithic casinos, is the absolute worst city in the country to have a sprained ankle.  If you think it’s an obstacle course on two good feet, try navigating it on crutches.  Throw in the relentless electronic mating call of the slot machines, and again it’s like being in a bad video game, minus the extra lives.

Best race ever:  “Best” is a wholly subjective term to be sure, but The North Face Endurance Challenge (TNFEC) Championship Marathon in December was a serious contender.  Certainly it wasn’t the fastest marathon I’ve run – the 4,700 feet of elevation gain and loss saw to that – but it may have been my most consistent and rewarding effort ever from start to finish.  In my first TNFEC marathon (and first TNFEC race since 2009), I managed a sub-10:00/mile performance and third-place age group finish.  I chalk up my successful day to a healthy dose of Karno karma, and to the unbearable lightness of being in the Marin Headlands.

Mike Sohaskey - 2013 race collage

Surprisingly, the only statistic I (still) really care about – my overall race percentile – held steady at 91 this year, as I crossed the finish line 706th out of 7,633 total finishers.  Meaning that once again, after all was said and run, I finished in the top 9% of all losers.  That’s a status quo I’m happy to maintain.

Clearly these races and race moments testify to an unforgettable 2013.  And yet the hands-down highlight of the year would have to be my good fortune in meeting and getting to know so many passionate runners – and excellent people – from across the globe, while continuing to live and run every day in one of the most consistently beautiful places on Earth.  California may get singled out for its high cost of living and heathen mindset, but the rest of the country (to adapt the rant of Colonel Nathan R. Jessup) wants us on that seawall, it needs us on that seawall.  And since moving here 20 years ago, I have yet to run a single mile on a treadmill.

Certainly extreme is in the eye of the beholder, and the potential exists for more extreme opportunities going forward, including longer distances, higher altitudes and faster finish times.  In fact, my first test of 2014 will be one that even many runners would call extreme (or just plain dumb)… but to me it’s simply another new wrinkle in the fabric of a sport that never lacks for compelling challenges.

Like every year, 2014 will feature its fair share of personal goals and running subplots, and I’ll continue to hit them all hard.  But as a disciple of the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) school of running, I’ll always defer to what for me has become Running Strategery 101: Just run.  Sometimes too fast, sometimes too slow, sometimes just right.  On hard pavement, in soft dirt, over the river and through the woods.  No matter if my brain is melting or the rest of me is freezing.  Just run, and the rest will take care of itself.  And if we happen to cross paths on the road or trail, don’t be surprised if you see me smiling.

Looking ahead, my 2014 race schedule at this point resembles an EKG… long stretches of quiet interspersed with abrupt spikes of activity.  The schedule will continue to evolve as new spikes are added.  But for now the BC&H world tour will take us down to the Deep South next week and up the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur in the spring, as well as across the country to New York City and across the Atlantic to Berlin.  I’m especially psyched by the prospect of running two world marathon majors in less than two months.  But the most exciting part of my year may well fall in the space between races, and I look forward to sharing all the details of our new project when the time comes.

So stay tuned!  Hopefully you’ll continue to follow along… after all, more than a few BC&H readers set personal records in 2013, and I can’t help but think that’s not coincidence.  And for you non-running types, you never know – I may just convince you that a 30-mile run up and down hills really is the best possible way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

And so, with apologies to Billy Joel, actually I do know why I go to extremes – because they’re sure not coming to me.

Hope you hit all your goals in 2014!

Mike Sohaskey running at sunset along beach

FINAL STATS of 2013:
2,326 miles run in 235 days (9.9 miles/day average)
17 days lost to injury (sore psoas muscle after the Orcas Island 25K; sprained ankle at the E.T. Full Moon Midnight Marathon)
157.6 miles raced (including the Women’s Health RUN 10 FEED 10 L.A. fun run in September)
6 races (one 50K, four marathons, one 25K) in four states (CA, NV, OR, WA) and on two continents (North America, Antarctica)
Overall race percentile: 91 (same as 2012!) = 706/7,633 total finishers
3 age-group podium finishes (1/10 at the Antarctica Marathon; 2/20 at the E.T. Full Moon Midnight Marathon; 3/13 at The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship Marathon)
Fastest race pace: 8:02/mile (Portland Marathon)
Slowest race pace: 12:30/mile (Harding Hustle 50K)
20 blog posts written

2012 by the number

Posted: January 1, 2013 in CATCH-ALL, Year in Review
Tags:

Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off. 
– Paul Brodeur

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(© 1980 Arnie Levin, published in The New Yorker)

I love numbers.  As a scientist I genuflect at their altar, and I understand the power of their use and (maybe more so) abuse.  But I don’t so much love them in my running.  Sure, like most runners I’m constantly chasing my next PR.  But many of my training runs are unscripted, and I often leave my Garmin at home.  Admittedly I do track most of my miles, but the idea of counting my every step flies in the face of why I run in the first place.  I train, I train hard, and I try to get everything I can from everything I’ve got.  I’m not convinced more numbers will help me do that.

On the other hand, I do acknowledge and appreciate their importance for many runners, and I’ve now read several blogs that break down 2012 by the numbers: total miles run, races subdivided by distance, average finish times, average pace, even the number of GU packets consumed (ok, I might have made that last one up… but I’m betting it’s out there somewhere).  The head-spinning reams of statistics in the running blogosphere – together with lingering injuries – provide their owners with a clear, concise representation of their personal year in running.  Naturally all these blogs got me thinking about which of my own running numbers matter the most.

And I realized that, aside from personal records, the only number I really care about is this one: 91.  That’s my overall race percentile, meaning that I finished in the upper 9% of all runners at the ten races I ran in 2012.  If I were to combine my seven half marathons, two marathons and one 50K from this past year into a Pangaea-like super race, I would have crossed the finish line 5,433rd out of 61,281 finishers.  Or to turn that lemonade back into lemons, I finished in the top 9% of all losers.  That’s the number I’m most focused on surpassing in 2013… the five pairs of new running shoes I bought in 2012 notwithstanding.

I hope you hit and surpass your own numbers in 2013, running or otherwise.  I realize this blog, like running itself, is an inherently selfish act, and I appreciate your indulging my selfishness.  Except for you Mom, I know you’re only here to make sure I wear clean underwear on every run.

Happy New Year!

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With a little luck, I should easily double my shoe collection in 2013
(© Matthew Diffee, published in The New Yorker)