2020 Tunnel Hill 100 Mile Race Blog

My 2020 Tunnel Hill 100 Mile training began in November 2019. Ending this season of a primarily 70.3 distance triathlon focus I ran the Indianapolis Marathon. Respectively, I finished in 2:37 from running on average 22 miles per week (with a lot of swimming and cycling). After much thought I decided in 2020 to switch from Ironman 70.3 racing to focus on the marathon. My goal was and still is to run Olympic Trials Qualification in 2023. I had decided to leave my bike and swim goggles behind for a new adventure. Sadly, with everything going on in the world due to corona virus this year both my spring, and fall marathon plans were cancelled. In July of 2020 I had set sights to run my first ultra marathon. For those of you who don’t know what an ultra-marathon, this is any running race over 26.2 miles. I had chosen the 100-mile distance at Tunnel Hill on November 14.

My sixteen week build into Tunnel Hill was the most consistent training I had ever done in my life. Monday through Friday I’d wake up at 4am to run 16 miles before school, then I would run 8 miles after school. All of these runs were what I classify as aerobic endurance. On Saturday’s I would run really long at a speed faster than goal 100-mile race pace. These long runs ranged from 32-40 miles. On Sunday’s I would follow up with a 26.2 mile run faster than race pace again. I repeated this cycle A LOT. Typically, I was running hard for three weeks followed with a de-load week. I had two key workouts that gave me confidence. On Labor Day weekend I ran a double marathon (52.4 miles) time trial in 5:53. Then two weeks before Tunnel Hill I ran 50 miles in six hours, and I followed up the next day with a three-hour marathon; this was wrapping up a 200-mile week. Over this four month build I averaged right around 170 miles per week. Getting this fitness level so unnaturally high required me to forfeit my life to my own training and nearly injuring myself several times. I had made more sacrifices than ever before in my life for this race, and my social life was nonexistent. Everything was surrendered to running. I had the attitude of whatever it takes.

When my 14-day taper started I was blown away. Everyday I felt a little fresher and faster. Finally, race weekend came, and everything went according to plan. Race day went very smooth; I had woken up around 3:15 to start my day and by then time Logan, Jared, Cole, and I left the hotel I was excited to compete. Up until I FaceTimed my mom twenty minutes before the race I was completely calm. However, as we walked to the start my nerves settled. Jared said “this is a day of pacing, not racing”; he was on the spot about that statement.

As the race started my body felt great. I had chosen to run in the Nike Alpha Fly, wrapping around them were Salomon high trail gaiters, I wore Smart Wool PHD performance socks, Rabbit FKT shorts, and finally in my hands were 22 oz Nathan bottles. My nutrition consisted of birthday cake flavored GU gels, Honey Stinger waffles, Cliff Block Chews, bananas, uncrustable PB&J’s, Powerade Zero with four teaspoons of salt, and a few shots of pickle juice. My race plan was 3:05, 3:05, 3:00, and 2:57 with a goal finishing time of 12:07

During the first hour of race my GPS watch was losing signal and throwing my pace off; it had said I was running either 9 minute miles or 2 minute miles. For the next 11 hours I had to base my effort off feel. Since I got my first GPS watch in high school I have been married to looking at it. I went out running at a warm up pace, my first few miles were around a 7:40 minute per mile average.  The first quarter of the race when exactly as planned. The guys were at every aid station; I could tell early on we were a unit on a mission. I am a true believer that having positive thoughts from the second a race starts all the way to the finish is key. I kept telling myself I feel fast, and the pace felt like I was walking. Just having a continuous conveyer belt of positive thinking is half of the game. Negative thoughts or doubt do not own any real estate in my head.

After I crossed Vienna Park for the first time I went down to Tunnel Hill; this is a slight downhill part of the course. Since my watch wasn’t working correctly I was running faster than I had intended. My plan was to run the first half in 6:10; that is a 7:20 pace, but since I didn’t know how fast I was running I was splitting 6:40 miles… yikes.  It was a down and back through Tunnel Hill. When I ran back to Vienna Park for the second time I was halfway. Anyway, 50 miles down and 50 miles to go! I had run the first half in 5:49. Because of my GPS issues I was 20 minutes too fast. *insert sweaty face emoji* However, I knew this wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. To be completely honest, I had the thought going through my head I was capable of running under 12 hours. Positive thinking goes a long way in endurance events.

Miles 50-75 I ran a more conservative pace. Also, this is when some cramps started occurring. I stopped the cramps from eating bananas, drinking pickle juice, and sipping on my 22 ounce Powerade that had four teaspoons of salt in it. I only carried water in my bottle, I sipped on my nutrition at the aid stations from my crew. Every time I started going through a rough patch I repeated to myself of a few things. First, I reminded myself I had trained for these dark moments. I continued to eat. I was taking in a gel or a block shot every three miles at that point. Then I would just try to increase my stride a little more, focus on higher knees, and kick back farther. A friend of mine told me whenever I started to feel down during my race to eat as much food as possible. I remember during the turn around at 62.5 miles I downed a Gu and a Block Shot back to back; that’s 350 calories and nearly 75 grams of carbohydrates. Most recommend 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. Thankfully, I can eat, digest food, and still manage to run well without my heart rate spiking.

When I came up at Vienna Park for the third time I took my headlamp. The race clock read nine hours and eleven minutes. As I am getting my aid from my crew I look at Cole, and he says “you need a 2:55 split.” Then I look at Jared and he says “you know what you have to do.” Finally, Logan gets my attention then says to me “whatever it takes.” This short moment between the four of us was something I will never forget. Over nine hours into the run is when my race began. The war against myself had started. I spent the past sixteen weeks of my life training for the final quarter of this run.

Going back down to Tunnel Hill every fellow racer was cheering for me, thank you everyone. I apologize for not saying anything back, I knew I had to conserve as much energy as possible. Thirty minutes go by then the rain starts; it poured for a few miles. Thankfully, the rain stopped. Now, it was time to turn on my headlamp, and run into the night. I was running a ten-mile stretch where I would not see my crew. I came through the tunnel and approached the guys at mile 85; at this point it is pitch black. After this I make my final turnaround then come back to my crew at mile 90. This is when shit started to hurt. My crew gave me my tank with a new bottle, I ate a banana, had a big gulp of my nutrition drink then I was off. I asked them how fast I had to run. Logan and Jared said “you have to cook.” Cole said this was it, my negative split moment. For the next seventy-five minutes I was running alone chasing that 12:07 to the finish line. Reminding myself whatever it takes.

Thirty to forty minutes after I left my crew I started to hallucinate. I saw a guy at the end of a bridge looking down checking his watch with a headlamp on. However, when I got to the end of the bridge no one was there. I reached the 97-mile aid station, and I looked down at my watch for the race time. This is the moment when I knew I wasn’t going to break the record I had set out on. I’m not one to ever give up, but I would’ve had to run my final three miles in sixteens minutes for this to happen. So, I made the decision just to finish this race, and enjoy the final miles. I had nothing else to prove to myself. After twenty minutes I ran up on Cole and I asked him about three times if I was at mile 99; he wouldn’t tell me.

A few minutes goes by, and I can eye the finish line. It was the most rewarding sight I had ever seen in my entire life. I crossed the finish in 12:19:54. This time made me the second fastest American to run 100 miles on an unpaved surface. I couldn’t believe in my first ultra-marathon I ran 100 miles and came up 12 minutes short of the American Record. After crossing the finish line, I celebrated with my friends and my mom via FaceTime. The adrenaline was pumping through my veins for ten minutes until I sat down. My legs felt like they had snapped, and my body felt like I ripped it into half. For the first time in my life I left everything on the course. I did not regret going out at American Record pace and falling off. A few minutes later we decided I better get back to the hotel. My crew had to carry me into the car. I think if most people would’ve felt the way I felt they would be on their way to the emergency room. For the next two days I couldn’t stand up or walk without assistance.

Words cannot express how thankful I am for my crew. The guys were so incredibly vested in my run by doing everything possible to make sure I was running fast. Afterwards they made sure I was taken care of by carrying me into the hotel. I had never been in so much pain in my life.

I want to thank everyone for following along on race day and reaching out to me afterwards. This day was a dream come true to me. On May 1st 2021 I will be targeting the 100-mile treadmill world record that is 12:09:15. I want to run the 100 miles under 12 hours. Also, I will be returning to Tunnel Hill this November. Again, thank you for supporting my running endeavors. Normally, after my final race of the season I am fatigued physically as well as mentally. This offseason is different; the flame is burning hotter now than it ever has before. I am ready to get back on the roads doing my favorite thing.  Whatever it takes.

2019 By The Numbers

2019 By The Numbers

by Taggart VanEtten

Swim:

• 211 Sessions

• Longest Swim 7,250 yards

• Lowest Volume Swim Week 0 yards

• Highest Volume Swim Week 33,500 yards

• 2 OWS Swim sessions (not counting races)

• Averaged 5 swims per week

• 18,000 yards per week

• Average daily swim 2,500 yards

• Averaged 3,600 yards for 5 swims per week

• Made up 28.40% of my weekly training

Bike:

• 303 Sessions

• Longest Bike 6 hours, 132 miles on Zwift

• Lowest Volume Bike Week 4 hours

• Highest Volume Bike Week 14 hours & 49 min, 316 miles

• Indoor Bikes 264 (87% of bike training)

• Outdoor Bikes 39 (13% of bike training)

• 41 Zwift Races

• Averaged 7 bikes per week

• 156 miles per week

• Average daily bike 22 miles

• Made up 50.70% of my weekly training

Run:

• 167 Sessions

• Longest Run 26.5 miles

• Lowest Volume Run Week 0 miles

• Highest Volume Run Week 52 miles

• Averaged 3.5 runs per week

• 21.6 miles per week

• Average daily run 3.1 miles

• Made up 16.30% of my weekly training

Misc:

• 179 Core/Strength Sessions

• Averages to 4 10 minute sessions per week

• Made up 4.60% of my weekly training

• 88 Bike-Run (Brick) Session, averages to 2 per week

• 20 days completely off training

• 120 15 minute ice baths, 2.5 per week

• Most ice baths in a week is 6

• Lowest duration training week was 8 hours & 9 minutes

• Highest duration training week was 24 hours & 33 minutes

• Favorite Race was the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon

All of this averages to 15 hours & 30 minutes of swim, bike, run, core

Plus 37 minutes of ice baths (Yes, I count this into my training because recovery is equally as important as the hard stuff)

16 hours & 7 minutes of weekly training for all stages of training from December 30 2018 through November 10 2019

What did an average build week look like? I pretty much did core/strength after every morning session Monday through Friday. I’d say 95% of my bike training are 60 minutes in duration. I LOVE Zwift racing lol. Hard swimming (MWF) consisted of 2,000- 2,500 yards of work. Most Tuesday runs were 20-30 minutes of short intervals 1-3 min in length, Saturday runs were always 30-40 minutes of long intervals 5 minutes in length. Zwift races lasted between 30 to 55 minutes in duration of hard work. The rest was easy aerobic training. One thing I cannot stress enough to everyone reading this is all the easy recovery spins I do on my bike trainer, they are essential. Anyway, training is fun and I like to eat.

What does my diet look like? Oatmeal, bananas, apples, grapes, (any in season fresh fruit), peanut butter, salads w/ fresh vegetables, grilled chicken, baby carrots, canned green beans, frozen mixed vegetables, wheat bread, almond milk, vanilla whey protein powder, veggie straws, frozen berries, sweet potatoes, and Gatorade Zero.

My Mom & Sydney can confirm this food.

Yes, I have to carry a container of food whenever I leave my house for over an hour.

Monday

AM: Recovery Bike

PM: Hard Swim

Tuesday

AM: Short Interval Run

PM: Recovery Bike

Wednesday

AM: Recovery Bike

PM: Hard Swim

Thursday

AM: Zwift Race-> EZ Brick Run

PM: Recovery Bike or Recovery Swim

Friday

AM: Zwift Race

PM: Hard Swim

Saturday

AM: Recovery Swim-> Long Run w/ long intervals

PM: Recovery Bike

Sunday: Long Bike-> EZ Brick Run

In 2020 you’ll find me focusing on marathons. As of right now I will be running the Creve Coeur St. Paddy’s HM, Lincoln Presidential HM, Illinois Marathon, Grandma’s Marathon, Tremont Triathlon, Ironman Muncie 70.3, Quad Cities HM, and the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon.

2019 Marathon Build

2019 Marathon Build

By Taggart VanEtten

A week before my last triathlon of the season I decided to sign up for the Springfield Marathon in preparation for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon three weeks later. On October 13 I raced a 70.3 distance triathlon called Tennessee ToughMan, on October 20 I ran the Springfield Marathon and I just finished up the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon on November 9. Wow, what a month. Before I get into the details about this build of racing I would never suggest anyone doing this because it’s tricky to plan.

I crossed the finish line first place overall with a course record in the Tennessee ToughMan 70.3, finishing with a 1:17 half marathon off the bike. I did two easy runs on Wednesday and Thursday of the next week in preparation for the Springfield Marathon the following Sunday.

In Springfield my plan wasn’t to run all out. I ran the first five miles at jogging pace, then in the middle I split a 1:18 half marathon after this I jogged to the finish line. I crossed the line in first overall with a time of 2:52. I did this marathon test to help me run better at Indianapolis. I learned not to drink too much before, keep on the carbohydrates during the race, and I wanted my body to feel what running 26 miles is about. Plus your longest run before a marathon should be three weeks out so this timing was perfect. I learned a lot on this day.

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After Sunday I ran again on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. These were all very easy eight miles runs. Then on Sunday I ran my last twenty mile long run. This week following the Springfield marathon was my highest volume run week since 2016. Again, I would highly suggest not doing this. I continued this cycle through the following Friday with a run workout too. During this stretch I ran more than seventy miles in a seven day period. With eliminating swimming and just cycling easy according to my Training Peaks account my body could handle the stress.

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Although I was about five years late running my first marathon. It was always 17 year old Taggart’s plan of focus for someday.

Race week comes of Indy and I completely dropped mileage. I only ran three times between Monday and the race on Saturday totaling of sixteen miles. I knew my body was going to need a huge run specific taper leading into the race. During this time I continued to stay on top of almost daily ice baths, spinning my legs on my bike, a healthy diet, and getting eight hours of sleep. I took Thursday completely off because I always take the two days before a race as a rest day. I woke up Friday morning and I ran three miles with six thirty second bursts in the middle. After my run I elevated my legs and took an ice bath. We left Friday morning to drive to Indianapolis. I was pumped for my final race of the season.

Saturday morning came along and I woke up at five o’clock. Drank two cups of coffee, then I had my usual two packs of oatmeal with peanut butter and a banana. We were off to the race. The weather was twenty-five degrees with fifteen mile per hour winds. The temperature didn’t bother me at all and neither did the wind as much as you’d think. The race start approached quickly and I took a gel with about twenty minutes before then said good bye to Sydney.

The run started and it was a pretty hectic first mile, a lot of pushing and shoving. I calmed down and got right into pace. I was coming through every mile between 5:50 to 5:55 minute per mile pace, a little fast but it felt good. Around fifteen miles I started feeling cramps in my left quadriceps and about eighteen miles I felt cramps in my right quadriceps too. It was so tight that if I would stepped wrong or turned awkwardly I probably would’ve fallen and DNF’d. I really can’t explain how bad these cramps were. This was the first time ever I was cramping while running. But I will take the total fault for this. I did not drink enough water with my pizza the night before and I didn’t drink much on race morning either. Even though I was drinking a cup of Gatorade and a cup of water at every aid station this wasn’t enough to stop the worst cramps I’ve ever felt. However, after almost seventy minutes of cramps I was still lucky enough to finish my first real marathon race in two hours thirty-seven minutes and thirty six seconds. The course I ran was a bit long, it totaled at 26.5 miles and according to my Garmin data I ran the true 26.2 in 2:36:10. Oh whale!

Where do I go now? Well in 2020 I’m going to shake things up a bit. I have decided to take a step back from triathlon and focus on the marathon moving forward. My plan is to run the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon in early April for a tune up race before the Illinois Marathon later in the month!

Side note: for 2019 I plan on releasing more insights on specifics of my training and after my final race I plan to post a “By the Numbers” blog about all of my training from December 30th 2018 to November 9th 2019. (I will get this done by December 1) If you made it this far and want to follow along feel free to add me on Facebook or follow me on Instagram and Strava (all my activities are posted there) @taggart_vanetten.

My First 70.3

Grand Rapids 70.3 Race Report

by Taggart VanEtten

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From December 31st through the current date I am averaging five swims per week, this is a little over 20,000 yards and this swimming takes around five hours per week. My average weekly cycling is seven times totaling at 145 miles lasting six hours and forty-five minutes. Finally, I am averaging four runs per week, that takes me a little over two hours and this averages to nineteen miles weekly. Counting in the core workouts my weekly training averages to be just over fifteen hours. This average comes from my base, build, speed, recovery, and peak weeks (I’ll get more into that at the end of the year blog, By the Numbers in November).

Building into a three-week 70.3 specific block after the Pioneer Sprint was some of the best training I’ve ever done. On a typical week I was swimming over 30,000 yards, cycling over 170 miles and running around 25 miles with some core work thrown in there. During this build I’ve swam more than I ever have in my life, I topped out at over 33,000 yards in one week. You name it, I did it in the pool. My go-to swim would be about 500 yards of faster than race pace swimming followed up with 250 yards of recovery swimming with a buoy and drills, I would do this type of swim four to six times in a row three days per week. I’ve grown tired of lonesome cycling intervals, so I’ve chose to become a frequent Zwift racer. I’ve made these thirty to fifty-minute online races in place of my normal cycling workouts twice per week (Wednesday and Thursday). Zwift racing is the most exciting part of my training haha I love it. For cycling I topped out at 190 miles in one week that took right at nine hours of training time. I changed my Tuesday track run into a Tuesday tempo run. I would start off with between a thirty to forty-minute threshold run and end the workout with some mile repeats. My running peaked at 33 miles in one week that took three hours and thirty-nine minutes. During this block I didn’t run any hard bricks, all my runs following a bike ride were aerobic. On Saturday’s I would run long and on Sunday’s I would ride long. My highest volume week (the week before my two-week taper started) was just over twenty-three hours. Another thing I changed about the build into Grand Rapids was eight days prior I raced Tri-Shark, I think I will do a sprint again eight days prior to Michigan Titanium on August 18th

Now onto race day!

Race morning came along with a slight chance of rain, well it poured. I placed my bike in transition with everything set up, said goodbye I’ll see you soon. Then I walked down to the river to meet my mom with my wet suit for a swim warm up. The river was calm and a warm 70 degrees, it felt great! About thirty minutes later I took my pre-race gel at 6:45, hugged my mom then I went to the athlete corral to be lined up. There was a little over 200 of us that started in waste deep water.

After a few more fast strokes we lined up and the gun shot! As usual 99% of the field went out extremely fast the first 500 yards. I chose to dive in a second late then slowly work my way up through the chaos. After a couple of minutes, I swam my way through the washing machine and started swimming with a group. I decided I could go faster so I went up again on my own, this happened twice before I reached another swimmer who I pulled through the first 2/3’s of the swim then he pulled the last 1/3. We could see the front pack of four to five guys the whole time. This makes me wonder if I would start the swim a bit faster that I could’ve made it with those guys in the front. There’s always next time! I came out of the water in 9th place swimming a 2100 yard split of 29:26 (1:20 per 100-yard pace).  Looks like those 8+ hour weeks in the pool paid off.

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Sprinting out of the water I passed the guy who I swam with and another competitor in transition. I got to my bike that was drenched from the rain and I took off. I had the fastest T1 of the day.

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Onto the bike for the first ten minutes I settled in and got comfortable, no fluids or gels. Right at ten minutes I drank some water and took my first Cliff Shot. I rotated between water and my nutrition drink that was a 20 oz bottle with three scoops of E-fuel and two salt tabs every five minutes. I took a total of four Cliff Shots on the bike that I spaced out exactly every thirty minutes. I swapped my water bottle at the third exchange point (around mile forty) and by mile fifty I drank all my nutrition bottle. During the last ten minutes I only had a swig of water at mile fifty-five. My nutrition plan was executed perfectly.

Anyway, about fifteen miles into the bike ride I was passed by two guys who were clearly working together. The space between their bikes was about ten feet, I tried to keep them in sight for a few minutes, but I ultimately decided to race my race and let them go. Then I’d say around mile forty I was passed by two other guys who were legally spaced apart. I was coming off the bike in 11th place. My goal bike split was 2:18 and I truly felt as if I put the effort for that. However, because of rain and wet roads I ended up at 2:21 (23.73 miles per hour). The bike course was one of those courses where one can stay in the time trial position for all but about five minutes of the leg. Here’s an interesting fact; I raced the bike without power and cadence on purpose. I train with power indoors however, I am tired of myself obsessing over it while racing. I know my limits.

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I came into T2 and racked my bike. I went to put on my socks, and they were soaked from all the rain, in a split-second decision I decided that no socks would be better for my feet than wet socks. I didn’t want my feet to get all the rubbing from wet socks, wet shoes, and the rain that continued to fall. I was afraid I’d get terrible blisters LOL. This decision would come haunt me later in the run. I was absolutely sprinting through T2. I saw my mom right as I started the run, slid down my sunglasses and told myself out loud “whatever it takes.” (I promise I’m not a psychopath) I knew there were world class long course athletes and Age Group National Champions racing but I was here to run them all down. This moment is what I had trained for all season, coming off the bike with a deficit ready to rock and roll this thirteen-mile run.

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I went out a little fast the first mile, but I quickly settled into pace. The plan was the run 1:18 today. I was flying through aid stations drinking a sip of water and pouring the rest on my head. After 10K into the run I moved up to 4th place. Mile six was even my third fastest mile of the day and for the seventh mile slowed up through an aid station to make sure I downed a full cup of Gatorade for some carbs then washed it down with water. I was on pace to run 1:17 and be around a 4:14 overall time.

My feet started feeling hot at eight miles. I figured that I was probably starting to blister on my toes and just to work through it as I did during earlier miles, get through the rough patches. My toes were hot, then my heals started to rub and the bottom of my left foot felt like I was running through hot coals. That decision earlier to not wear wet socks was coming back in the absolute worst way possible. I could tell around mile ten that my feet were bleeding, I didn’t know how bad I just knew it hurt. I had still managed to come through ten miles in sixty minutes. I kept telling myself to hold on for three more miles. The pain in my feet kept getting worst, it hurt so bad I eventually had to walk. I was passed by a guy from Every Man Jack who tried to help me through the pain, but I just couldn’t go. My cardiovascular system was fine (my heart rate was not spiking) but my feet hurt so freaking bad. Then I was passed by another competitor, then three more and next thing I know I went from 4th to 9th in the final three miles.

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The original plan of 4:15 overall was fading away in a slow death. I was doing a run/walk effort at this point. I didn’t want to jog at eight-minute mile pace my way in, I was either going to run 5:45 pace or walk. With a mile to go the pain got so bad in my feet a tear went down my face. After the toughest struggle of my life I crossed the line in 4:18, 9th overall. Splitting a 1:22 (6:16 mile pace). (Yes, I know the Garmin shows otherwise but I cannot always trust technology when over 1000 watches are signaling on the same course). As soon as I crossed the line, I kicked my shoes off then two competitors carried me to the medical tent because my feet were covered in blood with inches of my skin hanging off the bottoms and sides. (Pictures of my feet are shown below)

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This moment was bittersweet to say the least. I had given this race my absolute everything, I went very deep into myself. I was the only competitor under thirty years old in the top ten. I placed myself in good position during the run with only three miles left in the race. As what I have been told, live and learn. Next time even if the socks are wet I’ll put them on and hopefully run to my capabilities. The Grand Rapids Triathlon is an excellent well ran and supported event, I plan to return in 2020. Where do I go next? Well, I’m in the middle of a recovery week then I will start to build towards my next event; an Olympic Distance Triathlon in downtown Indy on July 28th.

Side note: for 2019 I plan on releasing more insights on specifics of my training and after my final race I plan to post a “By the Numbers” blog about all of my training from December 30th 2018 to November 9th 2019. If you made it this far and want to follow along feel free to add me on Facebook or follow me on Instagram and Strava (all my activities are posted there) @taggart_vanetten.

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My First Half Marathon

2019 Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon Race Report

by Taggart VanEtten

 

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The months leading into the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon, my first half marathon I completed a lot of high-quality swim and bike training. I only had a few tempo runs along with, one interval and a hill sprint workout. Looking back three weeks ago I think this hill workout saved my race lol. My average weekly run mileage going into the event was 17.77 miles per week for the 13 weeks of training starting on Monday December 30th.  This came after I took my mandated three weeks off after Challenge Daytona. My highest volume run week was 25.5 miles and my longest run was 14 miles. (Don’t forget I swim and cycle too.) I typically run four times per week; Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

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My mom and me celebrating

Leading into the half marathon I had talk to a few people about my goal time on a perfect day was 1:14:30 (5:40 mile pace) for this race. A close mentor of mine told me that if I ran 1:16 (5:48 mile pace) based on current lack of run intensity and volume that would be an awesome time for my first half marathon. I agreed with him, I had sights set on 1:14:30 but to me anything under 1:16 would have been a successful day. Although, I knew I could run somewhat of a respectable time I didn’t have any pressure to perform well.

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Shannon, another mentor mine and me after the race

Race morning was gorgeous, when I warmed up it was sunny and 49 degrees. By the time the event started the weather turned to just over 50 with a light breeze. From when the gun went off all the way to the finish line, I probably smiled for 90% of the race. Throughout the run I made sure to thank the volunteers for water, I made three out of the four cups into the garbage cans while running past them. And I liked to think I made some of the volunteers and spectators laugh. Why did I do this? Well personally I’m tired of taking myself too seriously.

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All smiles!

From the beginning of the race all the way through the finish I was in fourth place. There were two runners in front of me who regularly run about 100 miles per week. Having these two studs just seconds ahead of me kept me more than motivated. I was also drawing tons of inspiration from all the people along the streets of Springfield who were watching the race! I had never run in an event that showcased the city like this before.

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I came through the first 10K in 34:59 and thought well this is either going to end well or I am going to blow up lol. Finally, after 13.20 miles and 1,280 feet of elevation gained later, I crossed the finish line in fourth place in 1:14:54 with all smiles then hugging my mom. The course was a tenth of a mile long so according to my watch I came through the true half marathon mark (13.1 miles) in 1:14:22. Second place finished 32 seconds in front of me and third place finished 10 seconds in front of me. (I’ll note here that first place ran this course in 65 minutes lol that dude was in a league of his own) Anyway, both guys helped pull me through the race along with the volunteers and race spectators cheering us on. All in all, I was impressed with the race and as of right now my plan is to return next year!

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Coming through the finish, Abe Approved!

Where do I go from here? Well, in less than four weeks I have my first sprint triathlon on May 4th, then four weeks after that I have a 70.3 distance triathlon on June 9th.  Yay for six weeks of true grinding into my first “A Race.” The Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon couldn’t have come at a better time. I was able to test run fitness and engage what I need to critique building into a year full of 70.3 racing.

Side note: for 2019 I plan on releasing more insights on specifics of my training and after my final race I plan to post a “By the Numbers” blog about all of my training from December 30th 2018 to November 9th 2019. If you made it this far and want to follow along feel free to add me on Facebook or follow me on Instagram and Strava (all my activities are posted there) @taggart_vanetten.

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My First Triathlon

My First Triathlon

by Taggart VanEtten 

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Around March of 2015, I decided to get out of my run specific comfort zone and I signed up for a local race about 25 minutes from my house, the Tremont Triathlon.

Leading into the race the most swimming I had ever done was teaching 4-9-year old’s how to swim at the local pool I was at lifeguard at. I had done some cycling on my mountain bike but since I was a decent runner I should be able to cycle fast, right? That’s 19 year old Taggart logic. I mean I was a (below average) collegiate track runner. Taking on a 400-meter swim, 15.5-mile bike, and a 5K run should be a piece of cake!

I found out a few days before the race that my mountain bike wouldn’t cut it if I wanted to be competitive. So, the night before the race I picked up a friend of mine dad’s bike, thanks Ron! When I got to their house about 12 hours before the race he said something along the lines that I could have prepared better.  I pedaled it down the road for about 2 miles and put the bike my car for the morning. Good enough for me.

My mom and I pulled up to the Tremont Pool about 75 minutes before I started. I racked the bike up in transition, ran for about 10 minutes along with some drills and stretches then I was off to the pool deck.

The swim was 400 meters, I showed up with no goggles for what I thought would be a four-lap swim. It ended up being double the distance I had planned for. Wonderful. I jumped into the pool and tried to swim. I was swallowing water, taking breaks at the wall, and regretting signing up for this. After eleven minutes I was able to crawl out of the pool and run to my bike through transition one.

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When I got to the bike I put on socks, shoes, sunglasses and my helmet then I was out riding a road bike for the second time in my life. I was at around 2 miles in when the leader was coming in on his bike. I remember how fast he looked I was amazed, about a year later I found out this guy was a pro level Ironman athlete. Anyway, I had reached the turnaround point on the ride and still had not drank any water. For the next 7.75 miles it was a headwind coming back into town. In the last 5 miles I drank my whole water bottle. Over 50 minutes later of pedaling, my back screaming of pain, and a little bit of sunburn I was able to get off and start to run.

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Leaving transition two I remember kind of smiling to my mom. After about 1/2 of a mile (that I ran in 2 minutes and 40 seconds) I stopped and got sick all over the road. However, it was time to puke n rally and keep on plugging away. Miserably, I got myself to the turn around and the sun’s rays were blazing. I was performing a strategical approach to this 5K; run hard for 4 minutes and walk for 1 minute.  Finally, I made it back into town and my watch’s distance was getting closer to 3.1 miles. At last I turned left and saw the glorious finish line covering a 19:45 run split. I had never been so relieved but yet satisfied to see a finish line, the longest 1 hour and 29 minutes of my life was over.

Later that night I was at a buddy’s fish fry and I was sitting there eating with my friends. As supportive as they are I was being asked about the race. I remember Kody turned and looked at me and said, “Tag you’re shaking.”

Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed anything about this day or even the lack of training before it and I’d day the rest is history…

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Challenge Daytona 2018 Race Report

Challenge Daytona 2018 Race Report

by Taggart VanEtten

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The build into Daytona was a lot like the race itself; my training had ups and downs. After a long season my body was getting tired. Some days I felt I was training at my peak but I also was forced to take some unexpected recovery days. Thankfully I can adjust. I had plenty of speed on my body and the obstacle was turning that speed into getting comfortable at a longer tempo effort. Nevertheless, training for an outdoor triathlon in November is not mentally easy either.

To say the least this day was very exciting. The morning started off as usual my body waking itself up, having my normal race breakfast and since our hotel was so close to the race venue I rode my bike down to the start. We were scheduled to start at 7:30. After riding down, setting up transition and concluding my warm up I found out the race had been altered to a different format. The original middle distance race was planned to be a 1.2 mile swim, followed by a 56 mile bike ride then a 13.1 mile run. From the high winds and heavy rains the course was altered to an 800 meter swim, then a 20 mile bike ride and finishing up with a 13.1 mile run. I’m still curious why it was changed, there was no thunder or lightning and there have been plenty of other longer distance triathlons completed in similar conditions. Luckily, this new format did follow to my strengths.

The race was a time trial start, for those of you who don’t know what this is a time trial start means that your official race time begins when you cross the first mat into the water. One could start the race far behind the leaders and still place well. My strategy for the day was to start as the last person entering the water then move my way up the field. I chose to do this for two reasons. The race director moved the start time up to 7 so we couldn’t get a swim warm up and the water was 64 degrees. It takes me a couple minutes to get comfortable in cold water and I knew if I went in with the faster swimmers my heart would feel like it was going to explode out of my chest during the first few minutes. Secondly, I did this because I wanted to swim, bike, and run down hundreds of people to keep my vibe going.

Finally, after 20 minutes I made my way down to the water and I crossed over the first timing mat. I stood there for about 30 seconds (while my time already begun) and did rapid breathing drills in the lake to get my face and chest used to it. Then I dove into the water to start my swim. I had to swim around and through everyone but I was perfectly fine with this so I could be more comfortable in my starting position. I was unable to draft from a superior swimmer but in triathlon you must pick your poisons and I believe I did the right action. I came sprinting out of the water in 14:24. Not my best swim performance but considering a spent half of a minute getting used to the temperature I’ll take it.

I got through T1 in 1:16; I tore off my wet suit and put my helmet on then ran my bike out to the mount line. While doing a flying mount on my bike I missed my right shoe and starting swerving. From the swerving I rode right into a fence and flipped off my bike. This was the first time I had ever wrecked my bike. With the adrenaline pumping I got back on and started off my ride. The course was altered to two 10-mile loops. I came into T2 with a bike split of 44:27.

Coming into T2 I didn’t notice any dismounts signs until I was about twenty feet from the dismount line. Here I was forced to lock up my brakes and once again I went over the handlebars though this time it was a lot worst. The bike did a summersault with me, my right shoe stayed clipped into my pedal and my left foot came out of my shoe and off the pedal. On top of this I had a bottle fly off my bike. Running into T2 I was bleeding down my leg from road rash while pushing my bike and carrying my left bike shoe with a bottle. My T2 was 1:25, once again I’ll take it after crashing my bike not once but twice. :’-)

I collected myself in transition, slipped on my socks and shoes then I was off for the run. Every step I took the rain seemed to come down harder. Although we were inside the track one could still feel the winds picking up. I was feeling smooth and I came through the first 10K in 35:55. The second half of the run was a little rough. During the last few aid stations I slowed down to drink water. Finally, after a day of ups and down I crossed the finish line splitting one hour and fifteen minutes for the run. My overall finish time was two hours and seventeen minutes placed me seventh overall and first in my age group.

After a few days of looking back I am pleased with my performance, but I am not completely satisfied because of the course changes. I am glad I was able to prevail over my mishaps in the race but I wanted the full distance that I signed up for. Now I will have all winter and spring to get ready for my next middle distance triathlon the second weekend in June. I want to prove to myself that I can swim, bike, and run a quick 70.3 time.

2019 will be the year that I turn all focus towards the 70.3 distance. After about six weeks of true middle distance training I figured out what I need to succeed at the 70.3 distance. I wanted to thank my mom for her loving support. She made the trip with me and it always helps me to see her during a race. As I have said before she makes a lot of sacrifice (like constantly eating grilled chicken and vegetables) to help boost my athletic career. The dream would not be possible without her.

Litchfield OLY 2018 Race Recap

Litchfield OLY 2018 Race Recap

by Taggart VanEtten

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It is important to say that this race started when I crossed the finish line at Age Group Nationals in Cleveland one month ago. I finished what I would call my worst triathlon ever. What was supposed to be the best race of my year came crashing down on me. From the outcome of this event I trained the next 4 weeks ticked off. My track workouts were the best I’d ever ran, I was pushing huge power on my pedals and I was pulling myself through times I didn’t think I was capable of this year in the water. In the past there were days when I trained with a grudge on my shoulder but for the next month it never went away.

The day before my event I performed my usual routine. It consisted of a twenty-five-minute bike ride with some high intensity efforts followed by a run that included some pick-up speed. However, during my ride I had some mechanical issues. These issues were not major, and I was lucky enough to get it fixed before my race. Later that day after we got into Litchfield and went to packet pick up. I was able to get into the water. People looked at me like I was crazy because it was raining and about sixty-five degrees outside. However, the water was a warm seventy-seven degrees so after splashing around and doing some sprint outs I felt comfortable for tomorrow’s swim.

The morning started at 4AM when my body woke itself up. I had my normal pre-race breakfast that consist of two bananas, two cliff bars, and a bagel with peanut butter. Then I was off to the race site! My mom drove there and dropped me off when it was still pitch-black outside. I set everything up in transition and I was off to my run warm up. After my running concluded I did some stretches, drills, along with a few strides. I checked my bike one last time then I went to the locker room to put on my kit and wet suit. At about 7:20 I got into the water for a swim warm up and felt smooth. My body was awake, my muscles were warm and after a few minutes of swimming followed by some hard stokes I brought my heart rate back down, so I was good to go.

The swim course was two loops. When whistle blew everyone was sprinting into the water. It was shallow for the first few feet. Other competitors dove right in and started swimming and doing dolphin dives in the shallow water. I’ve heard how this can be faster than just running in waist deep water, but I do not believe it. Neither am I comfortable with it so I ran right behind these people letting them cut water for me. Once the water hit my belly I dove in. Getting into the motions right away was vital and I made sure I did not go anaerobic in the first few hundred meters. I was leading a guy in the age group above mine who swam in college, so I was feeling fantastic! I pulled him through the halfway mark then his superior swimming endurance trumped mine, so he took over the lead. Nevertheless, I could still draft from his feet and come out of the water about five seconds behind him. I swam a personal best of 21:38.

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T1 was tough. I sprinted out of water ripping my cap and goggles off along with my wet suit. Then you had to climb about 30 steep steps to the bike area. Running out of T1 I saw Sydney and asked her where I was at. She said I was in fifth place, perfect.

The bike leg was an out and back course. The roads were rough and had a few hills. Winds were about 15 mph and it was under 60 degrees outside, I couldn’t feel my toes. (I am perfectly okay with a cold bike because that means the weather should be great for running) Around mile three I took the lead on the bike course however, at the same time I had a water bottle fly off my bike. Luckily, wasn’t my bottle with nutrition in it. I knew I had to get to the turnaround about two minutes before the stronger cyclist who were gaining time on me. At the turnaround the winds turned into a tail/cross wind. I got to here feeling like a popsicle and headed back into town. I was able to see the rest of the field too. I took one gel and drank my whole nutrition bottle during the ride. I came into T2 with the lead. My bike time was only 63 minutes. I had anticipated a faster split, but this course just didn’t agree with me.

I got my flats slipped on for a 10-kilometer run. I heard my mom and Sydney as I ran right out of T2. After a few minutes of struggling to get into rhythm and a little uphill I got into my groove. I stretched my lead out to running the first 5K in 16:35. However, I had a head wind on the way back. I came the 4-mile mark where 2nd place was heading out. We high five’ed each other and he said some encouraging words. On my way back I was cooking, I can’t thank all the other competitors enough for cheering me on. I kept watching my watch for mile splits until mile 5 when I knew I was going to have a personal best OLY time. I needed to see where the actual clock was, so I switched my watch over and it was on. This was a true mental battle against myself. The wind was at my face and I was starting to fade. I had reminded myself all race about my how terrible nationals went. At this point I said some nasty words to myself and kept plugging away. Right here is when I got my second wind. Finally, I had about 1/2 mile left of my run and the uphill I faced at the beginning of the run turned into downhill. I heard a volunteer radio’ed to the finish line that the leader was approaching, this made me smile. I came into the finish line competing my 10K run in 34:32, my overall time was just over 2:02.

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This time was a personal best for an OLY distance for me by almost 6 minutes beating my Lake Zurich race in July. I want to give another shout out to my mom. She cooks the healthy food I need throughout my week and she make sure I do not have stress on race day. Whenever she gets to watch me compete and knows I did well I think she gets more excited than me. I always hear her through the race. Lastly, I wanted to thank Sydney for coming to watch me. I know my lifestyle is not easy on our relationship and I’m a selfish person because of it. Luckily, she is such an amazing person that supports me in chasing my dreams.thumbnail (4).jpg

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2018 Lake Zurich Race Recap

2018 Lake Zurich Race Recap

by Taggart VanEtten

Before I go into detail about the race I wanted to thank the Woodward family for housing and feeding me the weekend of the event. Triathlon is not cheap to compete in so having a place to stay the weekend of a race helps me out so much. Especially, I can’t thank Tyler enough for making sure everything about my weekend was non-stressful and catered to me the whole time.

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As usual it was tough for me to sleep the night before a race, this is nothing new. I slept for about a solid four hours and I’ll take that. After waking up at 3:40 AM I had my normal race day breakfast that consists of two cliff bars, two bananas, a bagel with peanut butter, and a bottle of red Gatorade. Then we were off from Tyler’s house in Naperville to Lake Zurich. Luckily, when we pulled in we were the last car to get a parking spot on the race site opposed to parking across the street that was a four-lane highway. I racked my bike in transition then Tyler and I set off for a run warm up. My legs felt very heavy on my warm up but after doing some drills and strides I felt fine. After the run warm up we walked down to the lake, so I could get in the water before the start and it felt perfect for a non-wet suit race. Finally, the starter lined us up at a beach for sprint start into the water in groups of five, I was in the third group.

After my nerves settled down the starter told us to go, I sprinted into the lake until my knees touched the water then I dove right in. However, when I dove my goggles flew off and I inhaled a mouth full of water. I was forced to stand up, walk, and grab my goggles while other competitors are bumping into me. This was by the worse swim start I have ever had. I finally get my goggles on then start to swim and I am so far back from the lead back plus my stomach was full of water, I started to panic. I have never come so close to a DNF luckily, I was able to calm myself down and get into my groove by the first buoy. Once I got to the beach I took off sprinting to my bike. I heard Tyler say 23:34, this was a swim personal best for me by three minutes (before this my swim personal best was 26:30 in a wet suit legal race). By the time I crossed the mat the race clock had me at 24:16, perfect.

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I jumped on the saddle with as usual tight quadriceps for a technical forty-kilometer ride. The course was nowhere near flat with had a good amount of turns but it was also a two-loop course. I felt much better for the second loop and even had a negative split! I burned a few matches on the ride nevertheless still had some left in the box for the upcoming ten-kilometer run. My bike split was 1:06:56. I came through transition and put my flats on for a hard run and I felt very fluent.

Unfortunately, during the run I had to stop in the first half mile to straighten out the insole of the left shoe, I suppose this took around ten to twelve seconds. On top of this my watch was not working correctly, I could not see time, distance, or pace (after the race I realized I forgot to hit my lap button). So, for the first time since high school I was running off feel and mile markers. My pace felt smooth, I suspected I was running around six minutes per mile which would be a solid effort for an Olympic distance event.

After finishing the first lap of the run there was probably quadruple the amount of people running their first lap of the course. I now had them to use to mentally pick off, this helps a lot. I came to about four miles and slowed down to a jog to grab water for the first time, it tasted great and I was good to pick up the effort again. Right after this I ran by a middle-aged woman who was severely struggling by doing a walk/jog effort. Both of us made eye contact and I told her ask yourself right how bad do you want this, I reminded her she trained hard for this event and today was payday for both of us. She smiled and thank me for the encouragement then picked up her pace. When I was running away she asked me the same question and said go for the win. This moment right here propelled me to speed up and give myself the second wind I needed to finish strong, I hope she had a great race. Here it is important to point out that both of us were feeling discomfort and needed the other to get through the perceived effort of pain we felt. No matter what pace a person is competing at in a distance event there is a good chance they are very uncomfortable and feel like they are walking on a bed of fire coals. To me this was the most important portion of my race, the psychological part of competition is half the game. I came through the finish line with a 35:02 run that is an average pace of 5:39 per mile (personal best by more than four minutes).

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I was able to brake the mental barrier for an Olympic distance run leg that I desperately needed. In the past I could run quick for a sprint triathlon, but never could I run the equivalent for an Olympic. My finishing time of 2:08:50 got me 10th place in a stacked field of competitors and was my best finishing time of this distance by more than four minutes. I had a great swim/run split. Now I have managed to get my swim time down to about ninety seconds off the lead pack compared to eight minutes where I was last fall. I suppose I should keep doing the same swim and run work that I have been but now I must do harder bike efforts since this was my weakest out of the three last Sunday.

Next up will be the Naperville Sprint Triathlon then six days later Age Group Nationals!

2018 Tremont Triathlon Race Recap

2018 Tremont Triathlon Race Recap

by Taggart VanEtten 

The fourth Saturday in June is one of my favorite Saturday’s all summer, I look forward to it all year. This Saturday I am speaking of is a small sprint race about twenty-five minutes from my house, the Tremont Triathlon. Before I even began training for triathlon I competed in this event. Since I first ran this race back in 2015 I have the ability measure myself every year. To be honest, I will probably compete or volunteer at this triathlon for as long as I am around. Truly, it is one of my favorite races.

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Saturday was very cool, cloudy, with low winds. One couldn’t ask for more perfect weather to compete in. After I pulled into the parking lot and set up my bike in transition. I started to warm up with heavy legs. Although this maybe one of my favorite events of the season this triathlon will never be a “peak performance race.” On Monday I have a fifty-minute bike time trial then Tuesday I ran a grinding track session. So, I halfway expected my legs to feel like this.

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Finally, my run warm up concluded and I headed to the pool deck. After some nervous pacing I was able to hop in the water and do a short warm up. Then about thirty seconds later the race started. The water felt smooth to me and I swam 400 meters in 5:53. I jumped out of water in second place and started sprinting to my bike. I hopped on the saddle and went for it. Going from a heated to pool to a low 60’s temperature is never easy on the legs, my quads felt tight through about halfway. But I’ll take a cold bike over a hot bike every day of the week. Around the one-mile mark I was able to take the lead and control of the race. However, I knew there were faster cyclist behind me. I got to the turnaround point in first place and examined the field. Now with a little bit of a head wind I pushed back into town. I still had plenty of worries that someone was going to past me however, it never happened. I cycled 15.45 miles in 38:05, I averaged 24.3 mph, this was the fastest bike split of the day. I think I hopped off my bike doing about 18 mph in a flying dismount. I racked my bicycle then put on my running shoes for a war against myself. I was flying through the 5-kilometer run course. Finally, I crossed the finish line with a 16:34 run split (5:20 min/mile) in an overall time of 1:01:29, I beat my 2017 time by five minutes.
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The Tremont Triathlon started in 1988 and my time of 1:01:29 is the second fastest time in that thirty-year span. I am sitting right behind a former professional Ironman athlete. It is safe to say I will be back again next year with the hopes of running new course record. I wanted to thank everyone who showed up to watch me, it is extremely motivating to go fast when there is a crowd cheering you on. Also, Tom did a great job at putting on the event and so did the rest of the volunteers.

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Here is my 2017 v 2018 times:

Swim- 6:13 … 5:53

Bike- 40:50 … 38:05

Run- 17:26 … 16:34

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