A funny thing happened on the way to the finish

December 9, 2006

At the opening horn of the Sunmart 50-miler, the two Russians (Oleg Kharitonov and Denis Zhalybin) and the Italian (Giorgio Calcaterra) immediately charged into the lead while I followed at a discreet distance. In watching them from behind, I soon noticed several things. (1) Their pace was solid but not suicidal — perhaps conducive to keeping the pack together for a good long while. (2) The Russians were wearing full-length tights, which seemed like a bit much for the south Texas weather. (3) None of the three were carrying fluids. (4) None looked very smooth on the trail, stepping gingerly over the roots and proceeding cautiously down the short, gentle downhills.

This last point particularly intrigued me. When I do trail ultras, I tend to be respected for my road speed but hampered by my poor trail-running technique. This situation was completely the opposite: I had the least impressive road credentials of the four of us but (apparently) the most trail experience.

Anyway, I was running comfortably, enjoying the fact that I was in such distinguished company…. And then, about 3.5 miles into the race, the three foreigners went off-course. This part of the course is an out-and-back section on a dirt road, with an aid station just beyond the turnaround point. A few seconds ahead of me, the trio continued straight past the turnaround and past the aid station, as if heading for the Interstate. After confirming with a volunteer that I was indeed at the turnaround, I yelled out, as loudly as I could, “Oleg, Giorgio, Denis — turn around!!!” But they just kept running.

Another volunteer was dispatched in an all-terrain vehicle to chase down the wayward runners. Meanwhile, I headed back onto the course.

I spent the rest of the 12.5-mile lap, the first of four, wondering how long it might take them to catch back up to me. But by the end of the lap, my split time of 1:23:20 gave me a four-minute lead (as determined at another out-and-back section). That seemed pretty good! For lap two, I decided to try to maintain my cushion, so I ran a bit more aggressively and was rewarded with a 25-mile split of 2:46:00. Now my lead was seven minutes, but I was no longer feeling very fresh. I intentionally slowed down during lap three to reduce my chances of blowing up, and I finished the lap with a cumulative time of 4:12:25 and a 13.5-minute lead over Kharitonov. Calcaterra was even further back, and Zhalybin had now dropped out with an injury.

At this point, I recalled that the three-fastest 50-mile times in Sunmart’s 17-year history were 5:20, 5:33, and 5:38. The first two were clearly out of reach, but I ran the last lap pretty hard in hopes of beating the 5:38. I did back off in a few rooty sections because I was feeling slightly lightheaded and didn’t want to trip, but I ran an impressively fast closing mile (if I do say so myself) and finished in 5:37:39. Kharitonov wound up 2nd in 6:00, with Calcaterra 3rd in 6:11 and Hal Koerner 4th in 6:14. The top female finishers were Anne Lundblad (6:33), Kami Semick (6:42), Tania Pacev (7:15), and Christine Crawford (7:29). Complete results are available from DoIt Sports.

The Sunmart trophy is very beautiful but monumentally impractical. It’s a bronze statue of a stallion that’s about 1.5 feet long and 1.5 feet high and weighs 43 pounds. I wonder how many have been dropped over the years by weary runners with no upper-body strength. It will be interesting to try to get it onto the plane tomorrow.

A bunch of thank-you’s are in order here: to Roger Soler, John Welch (who provided the photo below), the Sunmart volunteers, and everyone else who makes the event what it is; to my Houston-based aunt and uncle and their daughter, for helping me out in numerous ways; to Liz, for letting me train for and attend the race; and to my aunt Beverly, for helping Liz with Phil while I was away.

Trying to stay ahead of the radioactive gloves...


  1. Great to meet you on the course as you went blazing by me!Congratulations on the win!I hadn't read things close before the race and when I saw you, I thought you were running 3rd in the 50K and had just lapped me. (Ha! Far from it.)Just tell TSA it is a real big paperweight. πŸ™‚

  2. I like how you make it sound like they would've beaten you if they hadn't made the wrong turn… I'd say you won because once you had the lead you wouldn't let it go.Well run.

  3. Way to go Greg! I was planning on being there this weekend but the weather kept me from going again (2nd time in a row)! I live about 3 hours from Huntsville in a small town called Port Lavaca. I was there the year before as a spectator and ran the previous 3 50K's before that.(I won my division the first year, got 2nd the 2nd year, and finished in 7th in my division the 3rd year I ran. (I have two of the slightly smaller stallion trophies). I know how you feel about the humungous trophy. I carried it for Tania Pacev when she won it a couple of years ago. Well I hope you plan on defending your title next year and hope to meet you!!

  4. Hey Greg, way to maintain the WA mojo on the ultras. I'm not sure how I stumbled on your blog, but it is now bookmarked for future reference, which I expect will include more such self-deprecating triumphs. I like your style. BB

  5. Nice job, nice win, Greg! And so much for your predictions πŸ™‚ which put you in an hypothetical fourth place!!… I have often run with Giorgio Calcaterra in Villa Pamphili here in Rome and he is a really good guy. Too bad he went off course! I'll have to ask him when I seem him what was going through his head… Anyway all the more to you for calling out to them and warning your opponents about their misdirection… Phil's going to be mighty proud all around… ciao and take care, corrado

  6. Congratulatons Doogie! Must feel good to end the year on an up note. Your modesty and sportsmanship are admirable as always (though it sounds to me like you would've won even had your opponents not gone off course). Maybe you can get Liz to wrap the horse statue up for you as a Xmas present. πŸ˜‰

  7. Just fantastic–both the win and the time!You've moved from the "nephew of my best friend" category to "idol."

  8. Saying congratulations doesn't seem like enough, but for lack of anything better, congratulations on an awesome run!I hope you recover well.Great race report!

  9. Funny is right! I laughed with glee when I saw that you had won. Way to go Greg! I guess you can give Balto that advice now.

  10. Congratulations Greg!

  11. Great run! It sounds like you were going to win whether the Russians had gone off course or not. You wouldn't actually let 3 men in tights beat you, would you? You probably would have had a slower winning time had they stayed on course as you could have just trailed them before unleashing your superior trail speed! Congratulations.

  12. Great run Greg!A prior question was asked of you about your training for this race.Since it obviously worked would you mind posting some samples of what you did?Your humor/humility is great!TJ

  13. Congratulations!!You missed a fun time in San Francisco, but it sounds like it was worth it, and you got to run 8 times as far. πŸ™‚ Nice work.

  14. I'll join everyone in congratulating you for a fine victoryagainst world class competition.If I read this correctly,http://www.seattlerunningcompany.com/Houston/in February you ran the first 50 miles of a 100Kroad race in 5:38:42, just a minute off yourwinning time Saturday. I guess you run a consistentpace in Texas. :^)In Sept. you reported running a half marathon in1:09, then in Oct. you reported running a marathonin 2:24. (Is it creepy to have strangers lurkingon your blog? Please pardon me for doing so.) Inwww.counterpartcoaching.com/hadd.pdfA coach named Hadd says,"Usually I ask [runners I'm starting to coach] forrecent race performances. But I am not just lookingat the times here, more importantly I want to see therelationship between the race times and distances…Frank Horwill once defined this sort of relationshipby saying that if a runner slowed up by 16 secs/mile atany distance (actually, I believe he said 4 secs per 400mlap), that runner could then keep going for twice thedistance."My hand calculator says that you slowed by only 11 sec/miledoubling your distance from half marathon to marathon.According to these experts that is a *very* strong performance.Chatting with Jim Garcia at the GNC 50k/50m championshipsin Pittsburg in '99, he said he felt this "semi-logrithmic"relationship between race distance and pace extends out toultra distances. It seems like it would be very ambitiousto set a 50 mile goal based on adding, say, 16 sec/mile toa 2:24 marathon pace, as the result would surpass theworld record, according tohttp://www.angelfire.com/electronic/ultramentor/records_running.htmlSince this is your blog, perhaps you'd like to speculateon what you could do given a fast course, a focusedtraining regimen, and a baby who sleeps through the night. :^)Personally, I would like to know what the training regimenwould be!Lastly, when I see you lament a 2 min 'deficit' in the marathon,and then defeat an international field racing 50 miles, itreminds me of the autobiography "Swimming to Antarctica" byLynne Cox. As a teen the author trains her heart out tobe an Olympic caliber swimmer, but doesn't quite reach thenecessary level of performance. However when she's turned loosein the open ocean she suddenly outclasses everyone, breakingthe English channel crossing record as a teen, and going onto accomplish such unparalleled feats as swimming across theBearing strait and along the Antarctic coast.But I digress … congrat's again on your Sunmart Victory,from someone who can only dream of running that fast.Balto

  15. Congrats!

  16. I just saw this article -http://www.sanmarcosrecord.com/sports/local_story_350135015.html?keyword=secondarystoryThey spelled your name wrong, but they said something nice about you.

  17. Balto (and TJ), I'll talk more about training in an upcoming post.Regarding what my pace would have been under ideal conditions, Balto, I'd guess that the trail terrain and turns slowed me down by 20-30 seconds per mile relative to a fast road course. And if I'd been running with someone, battling for the win rather than being out there by myself, that might worth another five seconds per mile.Finally, I agree that the 16-seconds / double-your-distance rule doesn't seem particularly useful in extrapolating to ultra distances. I hope to say more on this topic in another upcoming post….

  18. Congratulations Greg! Not too shabby for someone who has to train in the cold, wet and dark of a NW winter. Hope you are relaxing for the holidays, but wondering if you will try the Bridle Trails 50k? If you want to be a trail stud, you can't just stick with the relay!

  19. Super Job Greg! I'm thoroughly impressed with not only your victory but your ability to run that far in one go. While you were out crushing 50 miles at 6:30-something per mile, and beating apparently world class competition, I was hobbling through the first mile (and unfortunately my last) of the USATF club cross country championship. I dropped out at the mile with a hamstring pull. It was only the 48th mile of my training week — still less than you put your body through in one day. Wow!P.S. Congratulations on becoming a father.P.P.S Will you have another go at the marathon before the trials since you are only inches from qualifying? Could I convince you to sign up for Boston this April? A group of us from the Bay Area are headed there to go sub 2:20 and we'd be happy to have you along for the ride.

  20. Habari Greg!Upon our return from Kenya, we were thrilled to see that you had an excellent run at Sunmart. Huge congratulations to you! The time you ran is quite impressive.Hope to see you soon (I know Uli wants to call to congratulate you "in person.").Kwaheri,Trisha

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