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Brock Butler

Race Report: Hartshorne “Masters” Mile 2019

Race Report: Hartshorne “Masters” Mile 2019

As I walked into Barton Hall at Cornell University this past weekend it was hard not to be overtaken by the atmosphere of the old 100-yr+ building filled with a combination of young collegiate athletes and young-at-heart masters runners. It is home to the Hartshorne Mile, a track meet that has been contested for 50 years and draws 40-90 yr. old athletes from all over the East, Mid-West, Canada, and sometimes beyond—many making the journey to Ithaca, NY year-after-year.

In my first year of competition, I approached the arena with some trepidation. I hadn’t raced a mile on the track in over 20 years, and I was up against some great competitors. The four-hour drive home and threat of a major snow and ice storm had me a little worried as well. In other words, I was anxious, and a little scared. But within 30 minutes of entering Barton Hall, my mood turned toward warmth, excitement, and relaxation. I have to give credit for this emotional flip-flop to the people around me. The check-in clerk greeted me with a smile and enthusiasm. Meet director Adam Engst gave me a moment of full joyful attention amidst his ongoing track meet. Competitors caught up with each other like they were old friends (which I’m pretty sure they were) and openly welcomed newcomers like myself. My Greater Philadelphia Track Club teammates joked and laughed. Even the rabbit for our race (yes, we had a rabbit) was enthusiastic and uplifting.

This made all the difference. By the time I began warming up, I was all smiles. The environment in Barton Hall shifted my mental state away from anxiety and fear toward enthusiasm and excitement. It was subtle but powerful. I enjoyed cheering heats of competitors, including my teammates, as they raced around the 200 meter indoor track (one mile = 8 laps + 9 meters = 1609 meters). My heat was last and I arrived on the starting line fired up. I gave a fist bump to every competitor — something I don’t usually do. The announcer completed his introductions and the gun went off.

I immediately settled behind previous champion (and super-nice guy) Mark Williams as we both followed the rabbit through the first 400 meters in exactly the time we told him to run (67 seconds). I felt relaxed and confident. We drifted a couple seconds off the rabbit in the next 400 meters. As we approached the 800 meter mark (half way), I had to decide if I should take the lead and try to push the pace for a fast time or sit on Mark a bit longer and go for the win towards the end of the race. You can watch the race on YouTube if you want. It only lasts a little more than 4.5 minutes.

Men’s 40+ Elite Heat at the 2019 Hartshorne Mile

Or let’s just cut to the chase — I took the lead and held on for the win in 4:34:80.

I’m happy with the performance and feel like I grew as an athlete. Growth is a big deal for me. It’s a huge driver of “why” I run, coach, and perform. The performance at Ithaca taught me about the power of a positive mindset, it taught me to reframe anxiety as excitement, and it reinforced that we are all in this together to make each other better. It also helped me learn that I still have some work to do to reach my full potential in the mile race. I could have pushed harder the second half of race, and I think I can break 4:30 with a little more training and practice.

Perhaps even better than the performance and positive vibes at the race is the ongoing connection with athletes that continues to this day. Thanks to facebook, email, and Strava, I’ve communicated with dozens of athletes in the last few days (most of whom I’ve never met). This dialogue and connection has opened up new opportunities for me, which have in turn brought more joy and satisfaction to my life. I love the reciprocal relationship between emotions and running, especially when it creates a positive feedback loop.

I’m grateful for everyone involved in making races like the Hartshorne Mile a reality. I expect I’ll be back next year and I hope to progress my mile performance even further.

Big Woods 50K 2018 Race Report

Big Woods 50K 2018 Race Report

Sometimes you train like crazy for an event. Nervous energy and excitement build as race day approaches. On race day, you to put every possible effort into running fast from start to finish.

The Big Woods 50K was not one of those events. Yet it delivered one of the most fun and rewarding running experiences of the year for me.

Never heard of the Big Woods 50K? Don’t feel bad. Now in its third year, about 40 athletes toed the line at the start on Sunday morning, double the amount that ran in 2017. As a self-proclaimed “fat ass” event, this event aspires to be a relaxed, low key, loosely organized, adventure run rather than a high pressure, competitive race. There is a great tradition of fat ass ultrarunning in the United States, but I never experienced it — until now.

A highlight for me was the route that linked Coventry Woods Park, Woody’s Woods, Warwick County Park, a nice stretch of the Horseshoe Trail, and French Creek State Park. I’ve ran or biked in all of them at one point or another, but I never linked them all together like this.

The route as seen by Strave

Hosted by the Big Woods Running Club, this race didn’t even have an entry fee. $10 for a t-shirt, food for the potluck, and an optional donation is all that was asked. Each runner was treated to so much in return. Trial maps, turn-by-turn directions, well-marked trails, 3 stocked aid stations, and a post-run bonfire feast were all included.

Even better than the awesome route was the relaxed nature of the event. Free from the racing mindset, I could really focus on interacting with the people around me and the environment in which we were running. The five-hour event passed very quickly as we traded stories. I spent nearly all of the run with three other runners, one of whom I’ve followed on Strava most of the year but never met in person. I learned so much from their races stories and all the awesome places they have traveled to. My bucket list of places to visit for “runcations” just got bigger.

And it didn’t end when we crossed the finish line. A huge spread of “pot-luck” food awaited finishers. I think I counted 12 crock pots. And a huge bonfire provided refuge for athletes rapidly cooling off in the 34-degree temps.

It is hard to compare big races with social running in the woods. And why should we? The variety is exactly what makes the sport of running so awesome. We can compete in short distances on the track, long distances in the woods, fast races on the roads, slow races in the mountains, team races on cross-country courses, obstacle course races just about anywhere, and “fat ass” events where speed doesn’t matter as much as camaraderie and community. What new running event are you going to try in 2019?

Brock’s 2018 Philadelphia Half Marathon Race Report

Brock’s 2018 Philadelphia Half Marathon Race Report

Having competed at running events from 400 meters up to 100 miles, it is surprising that this was my first time competing in a half marathon (if you don’t count the ones I ran at the end of half ironman triathlons). I love racing in Philadelphia, especially when my friends and teammates are there to cheer and race with me. This was also the first race with our new rabbit race kits. At least we’d look good!


Purpose and Goal

This was my “A” race for the fall. I didn’t feel up to running another marathon this year, so the half felt like a perfect way to test my fitness and see if I’ve advanced since last year. My goal these days is to be a competitive masters runner, so I had my sights set on beating as many over-40 folks as possible (which is highly dependent on who shows up).

Earlier in the year, it looked like I could get into shape to break 1:10. However, some injuries and inconsistent training in the late summer set me back. The last 8-weeks leading up to this race were solid, but it was clear that 1:12 was a better target for this race.

Pre-Race

I had a very busy week leading up to the race and had to really focus in the last 24 hours to get myself in the right mental state. Getting into an optimal mindset is just as important for me as optimal physical preparation. Race morning went well. Having run well at Broad Street 10 mile earlier in the year, I had the privilege of accessing the elite tent which makes many of the logistic much easier on race day. A warm place to change, dedicated porta-potties, a convenient gear check, and easy access to the starting line are just a few of the perks.

At first, my warmup had me second-guessing my taper, as I felt really stiff and un-energetic. But things got better as the sun rose along with my body temperature. I feeling good as I headed out to the starting line and was pleased to see some friends there — chatting a bit helped release some tension.

The Race

I’ve run a few 10 mile races, but I wasn’t quite sure how hard the additional 3.1 miles would be. My intention was to be conservative at the start and build through the middle of race. Based on my training, I didn’t want to run much faster than 5:30 per mile—and I wasn’t certain I could maintain that for the whole race.

It always amazes me how races can provide such a boost to performance. I went out in 5:22 and then ran 5:15 for the second mile. It felt really easy as I tucked in behind some guys and relaxed.

The pack I was with started slowing in the 4th mile. Around the 5-mile mark I had to make a move around them to stay under 5:30 pace. My friend Darryl also made a move at this point. We ran together for a bit but he took off for the next pack that was about 20 seconds ahead of us. I didn’t have the confidence to go with him.

For the rest of the race I ran alone, staying about 10-20 seconds behind the pack ahead. Each mile required more effort to hold 5:30 pace. Some small hills in miles 7-11 made things interesting. I really had to push hard here to stay in contact with the pack ahead.

I kept feeling myself slowing down, and each time, I would counter with a small surge followed by an attempt to relax at that pace. It seemed to work.

By 11 miles I was really feeling it. Fortunately, my team mate John Becker was there to encourage me (yell at me). There was also a nice downhill at that point that allowed me to throw down another 5:15 mile.

It was all flat from there, straight into the rising sun. I ran all out and still could just barely hang on to 5:30 pace. I tried picking up at the end but my legs and lungs were working at their max. So when I crossed the line at 1:11:39 I felt really good that I ran as fast as I possibly could on that day.


Outcome

I’m very happy with the effort I put in and I think the training for this race helped me progress my fitness. I did manage to take the 1st master trophy, which meant that I got to enjoy some additional privileges after the race (VIP tent, hanging with Meb Keflezighi and Des Linden at the awards ceremony). It was the perfect ending.

Our new rabbit race singlet, shorts and warmup top were amazing. Felt really good and looked great.

Lessons Learned

  • Be willing to revise goals based on training. Aspirational goals are great but not if they are impossible. I firmly believe I can go sub-1:10, but not right now.
  • Share running experiences with friends and family. I was sad my family couldn’t be there, but I had teammates and friends to enjoy the event and performance with. This was amplified by the number of friends who I interacted with on Facebook, Strava, and text message after the race.

Race Report: Cherry Blossom 10M (2018)

Race Report: Cherry Blossom 10M (2018)

Details

  • Date: 8 April 2018
  • Location: Washington DC
  • Type: Road Running Race
  • Distance: 10 miles

Purpose and Goal

I’m using this race as a gauge to see how my fitness is progressing at my “1-hour threshold” pace. I’d like to eventually run 10 miles under 51 minutes (next 1-3 years), and an awesome outcome for this year would be sub-53 minutes. I’d be happy with anything under 55 minutes as long as I raced as hard a possible.

Pre-Race

Training was really good the 2-3 weeks prior to the final week. However, I felt horrible all week leading up to the race. I overdid the speed workouts a bit the week before. Some of the bad feelings are likely mental. Fortunately, I know that the taper sometimes goes like this. I got myself to a good spot mentally the night before the race.

Race Report

Race morning is chaotic. 26K people. Lots of fast dudes, including several olympic medalists, lined up within a few feet of me at the start. Meb is there. Centrowicz is there. It is 33 degrees and windy. Had to be in corral 25 minutes before start just to get a good spot. My first mental battle was going out controlled and getting in a good rhythm without overdoing it. Mission accomplished. First mile in 5:22 which ended up being the slowest of the race. Felt really good from there. Really good! Just kept the foot on the gas and settled into the sweet spot just shy of redlining. Found a good group to hang with through mile 4. After that, I traded places with another guy the rest of the way. We were super-consistent. Just kept hammering 5:15-5:18 per mile. Breathing and form was effortless through 8 miles. At that point, we turn back into the wind and slight uphill. This was the only part of the race I really had to work and suffer. I knew I could break 53 minutes if I kept 5:20/mile. That turned out to be very hard. Even though I was running as fast as possible, I just couldn’t get the turnover to maintain pace with wind and hill. 5:21 and 5:22 last miles. The dude I was running with took off with 400 to go and beat me by 4 seconds. He’s in his 20s. It was fun battling with him during the race. We traded lead position at least 12 times.

Outcome

Very happy with 53:04 on this cold, windy day. Very happy to be the top master. Satisfied with training and preparation to get here. Surprised by how easy it felt. Very happy to have family there to support me.

Team Involvement and Celebration

  • Had the family with me in DC: Wife, kids, and parents. Very awesome having them there, although it increased the complexity of planning race logistics.
  • It was fun to celebrate with the family in DC after the race. We explored the city, had a great lunch, and bought yummy treats to enjoy on the ride home!
  • Super-cool to have so many friends comment on Strava about the performance.
  • A few friends checked in to see how I did — nice to feel like there are others out there who actually care about my performance.

Lessons Learned

  • Training body with long cruise intervals around goal race pace is very effective. After doing different variations for at least two months, I feel very comfortable with this pace and effort.
  • I still lack strength and technique to close strong. I should have been able to surge and go sub 53. Need more strength training and hill workouts in the future.
  • May have been cold temps, but my form was very compact and non-dynamic. Very short arm swings. Can’t complain about pace, but efficiency indicators did decrement as rave progressed. Video from mile 5 below.
  • For me, 5:15 is sustainable for an hour and breathing is not labored, but 5:05 is very hard and can only last for 3 miles. I have a very steep cliff between my 1-hour threshold and 3K VO2Max pace (4:57/mile at last month’s race). I think I can only improve my time further if I work on getting more efficient at VO2Max. I need to get my mile time down to sub-4:30 and my 3K down to 8:45.
  • It was good for me to start easy and build to 5:15 pace in 2nd mile. Not warmed up enough given crowd and corral dynamics.
  • 330W was precisely my average power for this race, and this is exactly what I targeted during track and treadmill workouts. I’m amazed at how consistent this is.
  • My mind nearly caused excessive stress and suffering that could have jeopardized race. Stopping this with breathing and meditation was effective, and I did a good job getting focused and positive the last 24 hours. Felt confident and strong by the time I got out to the race.
  • Having family with me at the race was an extra stress, but ultimately made the experience much more meaningful.