Category Archives: Running

200 miles in pictures: Reach the Beach 2013

A couple weeks ago, I ran the Reach the Beach Relay, a 200-mile footrace across Massachusetts. I’d never met anyone on my team before 9AM that Friday morning, when we gathered across from the Stata Center on Vassar St. at MIT to pile into two Dodge Grand Caravans and make our way into the wilderness beyond Greater Boston. A trunk already packed high with Nutri-Grain bars, fruit snacks, and Gatorade was further burdened by my duffel bag packed with running shoes and bananas.

I was enlisted for this drama by my labmate Christina, who knew a team of MIT chemists (“12 Angry Scientists”) looking for a happy engineer to fill out their roster. I had no idea what I was getting into, but signed up on a whim months ago, then promptly forgot about it in favor of working on my masters thesis. The morning of the race, I turned in my completed SM thesis to the EECS department and clambered into Van 2 carefree.

What it takes to feed 12 scientists for a day.

What it takes to feed 12 scientists for a day.

Twelve team members all accounted for, we headed to Wachusett Ski Resort in central Massachusetts, where we were subjected to a team picture and a quick orientation (“Wear reflective gear at night. Don’t stop in the middle of the road. Recycle. Drink beer—but not too much. Please do not answer ‘nature’s call’ on private or town property.”). The race would be broken into 36 legs of up to 9 miles each—3 legs per person—with a slap bracelet serving as a progressively sweatier relay baton to be passed (slapped?) from runner to runner at the transition areas. Each 6-person van would roll through their full lineup—around 4 hours of running—before handing off the baton to the next van, then rinse and repeat. We would run through the night, through forest and farmland, along highways and dirt roads, until we smelled seawater at the Atlantic coast.
Ski resort in winter, relay race start in summer.

Wachusett Mountain: Ski resort in winter, relay race start in summer.

Slap bracelet baton.

Slap bracelet baton.

Van 2 reporting for duty.

Van 2 reporting for duty.

Faster teams are assigned a later start time so that all the teams end at around the same time, making for a more dramatic finish. It turns out angry scientists = fast runners: we were one of the last teams to get going, 5 hours after the first team started their voyage. At 1PM, our lead-off runner Dan lined up at the start line at the base of Mt. Wachusett. The chair lifts are there for a reason—that reason apparently does not apply to runners. Dan’s 2.8-mile leg was a black diamond trail run in reverse, with 1.7 miles up the mountainside and abundant cursing. But back in Van 2, we had 4 hours to kill before our first leg—we cheered on our Van 1 teammates during their runs by blasting high-quality music like Call Me Maybe and Taylor Swift with the windows down, then stopped for a lunch of turkey sandwiches at a roadside convenience store in the middle of nowhere.
RTB starting line.

RTB starting line.

By 5PM, we were getting antsy in Van 2. After getting all pumped up to start the race, repressing the adrenaline for hours took more self-control than I could muster. So I gave up and took a nap:
Pre-run nap at Assumption College in Worcester.

Pre-run nap at Assumption College in Worcester.

8th in the Angry Scientist rotation, I woke up to grab the baton from #7 Jen and run my first leg, 7.53 miles from Worcester to Boylston. I knew I went out way too fast but couldn’t help it—it was one of the first hot days of the year, I’d been sitting in front of a computer writing a thesis for the past month, and a mile in I was panting like an overexcited puppy. Smooth. Luckily there was no one around to see me self-destruct—my teammates helped with some drive-by dance music—and after 52 minutes of contemplative misery, I rolled into transition area 9 under my own power.

Apparently my preparation was lacking; I’ve run a few marathons (26.2 miles) and half-marathons (13.1) over the years, so I was ready for a calm 7.5- or 8-minute-per-mile pace. Although my total distance here (~22 miles) was similar to a marathon, it was split up into three frantic 6-8 mile races, so I felt compelled to run hard from the get-go rather than pacing comfortably and running to finish. Getting used to the pace was the second-hardest part of this race. The hardest was timing: When to eat, when to drink, when to sleep, when to stretch, when to get warmed up, and—most importantly—when to take a seat on a nearby toilet. No joke. Coordinating alimentary intake and inevitable emission over 24 hours of running is an engineering task far beyond my abilities. Our team captain Kit solved the problem in finest MIT fashion: He simply contracted food poisoning, so that everything he ate came right back up—no need to digest. Brilliant.

Slapping on the baton for my first leg.

Slapping on the baton for my first leg.

A botched hand-off. Sorry Andrew!

A botched hand-off. Sorry Andrew!

#9 Andrew booking it down the home stretch.

#9 Andrew booking it down the home stretch.

Van 2: Jen, Kurt, Stephen, and Yifeng, relaxed and ready.

Van 2: Jen, Kurt, Stephen, and Yifeng, relaxed and ready.

The rest of the race passed by in a blur of sleepless zombie running, insane cheering, dance music, and sweat. We ran over the proverbial river and through the woods and all through the night—creeping up in our van and whispering soft nothings at our runners instead of shouting encouragement—with a brief recess at a local hotel.
Stopping for a late-night dinner of spaghetti and meatballs.

Stopping for a late-night dinner of spaghetti and meatballs.

And... back to running, nighttime edition.

And… back to running, nighttime edition.

The next morning, we finally saw a proper hand-off, 160 miles in.

The next morning, 160 miles in, we finally saw a proper hand-off.

Why is Santa Claus here? Not impressed.

Why is Santa Claus here? Not impressed.

The brothers Horning, celebrating something.

The brothers Horning, celebrating their awesome color coordination.

Thanks to our late start and relative speediness, we passed progressively more competing teams as the race dragged on (I passed ~20 people in 3 legs, and was passed once myself, by an old guy who left me in the dust with his relentless uphill pace). Of particular intrigue was a team named GURL Boston All-Stars, composed of all guys. They were a mystery, and they were fast. At the last transition area, after 192 miles and 24 hours of running, the anchor for GURL Boston stepped into the hand-off zone wearing a short leopard print dress and carrying a clutch purse. Turns out GURL = Gay Urban Running League. As we passed their anchor—the guy had to be running sub-6:30 pace—our van started blasting It’s Raining Men (complete coincidence, of course) with the windows open. He pranced and blew kisses and mimed his thanks, hands to his heart, still running at top speed. What a team.
Damn, GURL.

Damn, GURL.

Our van pulled into Horseneck Beach in southern Massachusetts around 1:30PM on Saturday, with our intrepid driver and final runner Yifeng in hot pursuit. 12 Angry Scientists joined in for the last 100 meters of the race, crossing the finish line after more than 25 hours in transit. We were met with medals and Boloco burritos, and drove back to Boston in delirium.

Reach the Beach 2013 exceeded all my expectations for a relay race. Running for and with a team is infinitely more fun than running alone: you can cover a lot more distance, you get to travel with a built-in fan base, and there’s always someone around to feed you. This particular race was an incredible opportunity to get out of Boston and explore the New England countryside in all its glory: I’ve now used Porta-Potties all across Massachusetts. Who’s in for next year?

The beach, reached.

The beach, reached.

The whole team at the finish: Scientists do it better.

The whole team at the finish: Scientists do it better.

RTB 2013 by the numbers:
  • PB&J sandwiches consumed: 4
  • Nutri-Grain bars consumed: 5
  • Bottles of water emptied: 11
  • Changes of clothes: 4
  • Number of Porta-Potties visited: 9
  • Hours of sleep: 2.5
  • Number of Taylor Swift songs: Too many to count
  • Total distance covered: 200 miles (22.47 for me)
  • Total time: 25:07:39 (2:39:12)
  • Average mile pace: 7:33 (7:05)
  • Ranking: 11th of 147 overall, 4th of 15 in Mens Open division

The photos in this post were taken by me, Andrew, Jen, and Monica. Thanks!

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The Amazing Race

I’m back at Stanford.

Last Saturday I competed––competed is a strong word––RAN the US Air Force Half-Marathon, the first non-marathon road race I’ve ever run and the first I’ve run outside of California. Besides a couple 100-meter dashes in 8th grade track & field, my parents have never seen me compete in a legit race before, so I’m glad they were able to come out and help me carry all those heavy, heavy 1st place trophies home. 🙂 OK, maybe not. But I’m still glad they came.

The race was scheduled to start at 8:30AM on the grounds of the National Air Force Museum, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, so I woke up at 6AM to eat a banana and drink some water––it’s best to eat at least 2-3 hours before a long run––and pump myself up for an exciting 13.1-mile journey with the Air Force’s finest. Right before a race I’m always worried that my race number or timing chip is going to fall off while I’m running, and Saturday morning was no exception. I probably checked my bib and chip at least 10 times before heading out the door.

With my super strength, I will tear off these warm-ups.

With my superhuman strength, I will... tear off these warm-ups.

The weather was perfect: 60-something and sunny. After a painfully slow Air Force rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and a flyover by a couple F-16 fighter jets––apparently, the “sound of freedom” is that of your eardrums exploding––we were off.

From mile 1 to the mile 6 turnaround, I just glided, sitting on the tail end of the 1:40 pace group. Life was easy. I didn’t keep track of my pace too carefully, but there was a huge, ripped Air Force guy right in front of me, and I figured if I could stay with him, I’d be in pretty good shape. Well, he kept a metronomic pace, but this guy was FAST; just trying to keep an eye on him, I left the pace group in the dust.

By the time we reached the tenth mile marker, I was ready to die. Every breath hurt.

If you compare the last 6.2 miles of a marathon with the last 3.1 of a half, they’re pretty much the same. In either case, you feel like you’re going to die. The only difference is despair. In a marathon, when you hit the wall at mile 20, you literally have no energy left in your body. In a half, at mile 10, you know the pain is temporary, no matter how much it hurts. In Harry Potter terms, it’s Avada Kedavra vs. Cruciatus. Both hurt like hell, but one is somehow infinitely worse than the other.

So when I saw the sign that said, “Your feet hurt because you’re kicking so much ass,” I grinned and kept on running. And at mile 12, I sprinted past my giant pacer––who I admit DID have a knee brace on––and never looked back. The tunnel vision kicked in around then, and I saw nothing but the next guy/girl I had to pass in order to make it to the finish line as fast as humanly possible. Then it was over.

The taste of victory.

The taste of victory.

I crossed the finish line in 1:36:35, a pace of 7:22 per mile. Negative splits too––I covered the first half in 49 minutes, the second half in 47. And as I discovered on Saturday, there’s a certain satisfaction in being competitive in a race––not necessarily in terms of being fast enough to vie for an overall or age group award, but rather in sustaining a competitive mindset throughout the entire race. Invariably, when the glycogen depletion rears its ugly head at mile 20 of a full marathon, all I can think of is finishing the race upright. In Saturday’s half, I crossed the line with the notion of finishing as quickly as possible still intact in my mind. It’s kind of like taking a class pass/fail vs. taking it for a letter grade––in one case all you care about is getting by, in the other you always want to do as well as you possibly can.

Will and me

Will and me

Post-Race Family Pic

Chilling with my parents

Today’s assessment: nothing bruised, nothing broken, nothing sore. Now I feel like running barefoot again.

What a way to end the summer.

-Joel

P.S. Congratulations to Mom for finishing her first 5-K on Friday!

Congratulations, Mom!

Congratulations, Mom!

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USAF Half-Marathon

I’ve been at home for nearly 3 weeks now, and I’m headed back to Stanford on Saturday.

But right before I get on that Frontier Airlines flight bound for San Francisco, I’m running the US Air Force Half-Marathon with Will, one of my childhood friends. I’ve been training pretty consistently most of the summer, but for some reason, I’m not really nervous or even completely aware yet that I’m going to be running a 13.1-mile race in less than 2 days. Usually, right before a marathon, I’m all hyper and raring to run, but this time, I guess I have other things––the start of another school year, mostly––on my mind. Also, in terms of difficulty and glycogen drain, 13.1 miles is definitely NOT equal to half of 26.2 miles, so I haven’t had to carbo-load or taper. And no taper = no “taper madness.” 🙂

12 weeks of training: Check. Race number (4469): Check. Broken-in shoes (Brooks Adrenaline): Check.

So I’m in pretty good shape for the race, right?

Nope. So on Tuesday morning, I picked up the book Born To Run, by Chris McDougall, and couldn’t put it down until I finished it that afternoon. It’s a hyper-paced story that revolves around a lost tribe of sorts, the Tarahumara Indians of the treacherous Copper Canyons of Mexico. The Tarahumara are legendary among those in the know––essentially two communities: ultrarunners and crazy sports scientists––as the world’s natural-born superathletes, gods among men. The problem is, with AK-47-toting drug lords guarding their precious crops and perilous cliffs that drop away into nothingness, few people ever make it in AND out of the Copper Canyons alive (the Tarahumara themselves are a peaceful people). Anyway, McDougall weaves together a storyline involving a mysterious gringo named Caballo Blanco (“White Horse”), a delegation of the world’s best ultramarathoners, and a 50-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country pitting the best of modern running against the best of the “Running People,” who run in sandals made of used car tires and rope. And the book is NON-FICTION. Amazing.

The most exciting non-fiction book I've ever read

The most exciting non-fiction book I've ever read

The book talks up the genuine joy of running so much that, naturally, I decided yesterday that it would be a good idea to try running barefoot, kinda like the Tarahumara. And well, it sure felt good while I was running.

Then I woke up this morning.

It felt like Chris Brown had gotten mad at my calves and decided to teach them a lesson. (Too soon? Sorry, Rihanna.) Luckily, I still have another day and half before the race, so I should be at full strength by the time I pin on my race bib.

At least the race t-shirt looks sweet.

-Joel

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An Auspicious Start

It’s 9/9/09.

Welcome to my first-ever post on my first-ever blog!

First order of business: an introduction. I’m Joel, a junior (Class of Oh-Leven!) EE major at Stanford University. Some of my greatest interests lie in entrepreneurship, solar energy, tennis, marathon running, and changing the world, so most of my posts will probably touch on at least one of those topics. I might also use this blog as a training log and a journal of sorts, to keep track of my weekly mileage and occasional profound thoughts.

Maybe if I smile big enough I won't remember later how much this hurts right now...

Big Sur Marathon 2009: *Maybe if I smile big enough, I won't remember how much this hurts right now...*

I decided to start writing a blog for a few reasons:

1. Writing’s fun when you don’t need a thesis and “6-10 pages double-spaced by Friday at noon.”

2. EE problem sets rarely call for more than a few written words, and never a complete sentence. Given my courseload, if I don’t do any writing on my own, I’ll leave Stanford in 2 years with diploma in hand, broke AND illiterate.

3. I missed out on Pokémon cards, Tamagotchi pets, Xanga sites, Furbies, Monica Lewinsky, and all manner of useless trends that made the rounds in American high society near the turn of the century, so I’m long overdue for an atrocious lapse of judgment.

Another good reason to blog: I’m serving as Marketing Director for the Asia-Pacific Student Entrepreneurship Society (ASES) at Stanford this year, and even though I have no formal marketing experience at all, I do know that, as a marketer, the more people you can reach, the better. So starting in a couple weeks, I’ll be posting periodic updates on ASES speaker events, mixers, and conferences. Most ASES events are open to the public, so if you’re in the Bay Area, come on by Stanford to hear and meet the best and brightest in Silicon Valley and beyond.

Thanks for reading.

-Joel

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