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Confessions of a Large Trail Runner

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With the coming of 2018 its time to review the races of 2017. It was a great year and I made the transition from trailrunner to occasional road racer.  I’m not a competitive runner so all races are either: to support a cause, the race has a great setting, I like the drama of the race, or the races are good training for longer events.

Trailrunning is my running passion and I usually run in the Lucius Birch Natural Area of Shelby Farms Park in Memphis, Tennessee.  (

I’ll do more on Shelby Farms Running in a future post along with some cool video and some stories of the “mysteries” of the deep woods: exotic wildlife and interesting people.  Who knew Yeti’s were real?



Race: 6th Annual Mike Cooley 10K Trail Run

Place: Overton Park, Memphis, TN


I have developed a very careful pre-race routine that serves me well.  Step one: prepare excuses.  This is not something to leave to race mornings.  For this race my excuses were well in hand.  I had contracted Malaria in New Guinea in the Fall of 2016 and spent the holidays consuming my body weight in cookies, cakes, and the other two food groups (See Elf). The 17 pounds I gained impressed my personal physician, RA, who referred me to a specialist . . . a large animal veterinarian.

Step two is finding a group with which to start.  Larger races will have corrals with times posted but this never helps me because I run trails and my trail running paces are much slower than road races.  So, I have developed my own system.  I go by body type.  The group of runners at the start of each race are the ones I call “really skinny people.”  I’m often tempted to give these wisps of humanity some money for food so they won’t have to depend on post-race pizza for their only calories of the day.  The next group is made up of the ones I call “Athletes.”  I’ve known people like this my whole life and have great respect for them. Some of my best friends are athletes. Ultimately, I’m looking for my people, whom I will call the “Pears.”  (Note: If I line up next to you in some future race you have my permission to feel insulted but don’t worry, we can have post-race pizza and work it out).

Step three: PAY ATTENTION TO THE RACE DISTANCE.  As a trailrunner I usually run about 9.5 to 10.5 miles three times a week and have done so for over a decade.  I really don’t care about the distance so if I want to run more or less I just do it.  This was my first ever 10K but I never really thought about what pace I should run.

Race Day Report:

It is freezing but sunny at Overton Park in Memphis.  The race will begin on the golf course and then traverse the “historic woods.”  Good news is that the Memphis Zoo is next door if I need medical attention.  The race crowd looks young . . . I mean really young.  Where’s the gray hair?  I’m wearing my nasty trailrunning shoes but everyone else is wearing snazzy road shoes.  I suddenly realize that a 10K is really just two 5Ks so this will be a fast pace.  We start off going uphill on the thick, dead grass of the golf course and a thought penetrates my frozen brain.  “You are in last place.”  When we hit the more technical sections in the woods I overtake a few people but my extra weight from Christmas is not pleasant to carry around.  I’m very competitive so I kicked it in gear at the end.  I didn’t finish last!  To the lady who “tripped” at the finish line to make this possible I want you to know that that wasn’t me.

Pace: 12:03/mile

Time: 1:14:45


May 2017

Race: Bluff City 10K

Place: Cooper Young District, Memphis, TN


Yeah, another 10K but at least this one is all on pavement.  My students tell me that hipsters live here in the Cooper-Young District but most of the people I saw were in running shorts and T-shirts, oh well.  I love meeting new and interesting people, especially those friendly race day paramedics.  Go Young People!

Race Day Report: The weather was perfect, the course was flat, and my weight had started coming down.  Memphis in May is beautiful.

Pace: 10:16/mike

Elapsed Time: 1:03:40


Race: Zoom Through the Zoo–4 Mile

Place: Memphis Zoo, Memphis, TN


This race is the first of the four “M Town Series” races.  It was my second year to run the series and it all starts with a nighttime 4 miler through the grounds of the wonderful Memphis Zoo.  It’s an unusual distance but the nighttime atmosphere is a lot of fun.  I think about 1,000 people entered.

Race Day Report: Even casual runners have some complaints although this one is minor.  The race started in the parking lot and the course had an immediate sharp turn that caused quite the traffic jam.  If you stayed in the lane you were immediately reduced to a barely-walking pace unless you were in the front of the pack.  Hey, back-of-the-packers have feelings, too.  Also, no massive downpour of rain this year. Yeah.

Pace: 10:14/mile

Elapsed Time: 40:56.50


June 2017

Race: Harbortown 5K

Place: Harbortown on the Mississippi River, Memphis, TN


Selfie with daughter Laura and wife Lee Ann

Race Day Report: The second race of the four M Town Series of races is in one of the best race locations in Memphis. The designed community of Harbortown sits on an island in the Mississippi River in downtown Memphis and the run through the quaint neighborhoods and along the river is a delight.  Residents will even come out and look at you as you run by. Cool!

Pace: 9:14/mile

Elapsed Time: 28:41.32


Race: Navy Nautical 10 Miler

Place: Naval Support Activity Mid-South, Millington, TN


When I joined the Army and they told us to run a mile, we ran a mile.  Sometimes they would say things to motivate you to run (like, “Hey Chaplain, you’re really slow” and other disparaging comments) but no matter what they said A MILE WAS A MILE.  The Sgt. never told us it was an “Army Mile” or some other thing.  Well, apparently for we landlubbers the Navy miles are different!


I signed up for this race and never thought to read the fine print. Later when I realized that we were going to run nautical miles I asked myself the important question, “How long is a nautical mile?”  Turns out 10 nautical miles is about 11.508 Army miles.  This will make my fancy Garmin Fenix running watch useless for keeping pace.


Race Day Report: Race day was overcast but the humidity was through the roof.  I decided to wear my retro WW2 era Army Air Force T-shirt.  Note to self: IT’S 100% COTTON YOU MORON.

The course was flat and the early start was a blessing. I love beginning the day with an honor guard and the National Anthem. I also had the honor of running for an American airman who gave his life in combat serving our country.  I wore his name under my racing bib.  Go Navy!


Pace: 11:33/mile

Elapsed Time: 2:14.15


Race: Gibson 5K

Place: Downtown Memphis, TN


Race Day Report: The third race of the M town series starts near the Gibson Guitar Factory and, for the second year in a row, it was hot and humid.  The course is flat (with one steep hill near The Orpheum).

Daughter Laura (on the left) walked it with a broken foot and MABTS student MR finished her first ever 5K.  Way to go ladies!

Pace: 10:00/mile

Elapsed Time: 31:00.68


Race: Global Hunger Relief 5K

Place: Phoenix, Arizona


I attended the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix and found out they had a 5K there.  I was not planning on racing but I had my running bag with me.  After all, who doesn’t want to run outside. In Arizona. In the Summer.  Saw old friend GH there!

Race Day Report: The course was in a city park and the day started off a chilly 80 degrees (it’s a dry heat).  I actually had problems with the low humidity and felt like I was sucking on cotton after 10 minutes.


Saw JR the leader of Baptists in Texas who had some kind of massive heart surgery last year and still beat me. #Don’tMessWithTexasIMG_3652.jpg

Took a selfie with another guy you may have heard of…David Platt, president of the International Mission Board (

Pace: 8:50/mile

Elapsed Time: 27:53

Postrace water consumed: Quite a lot, actually.

Commitment to Missions: Confirmed


July 2017

Race: Memphis Stars and Stripes 5K

Place: Memphis Botanic Gardens, Memphis, TN

Race Day Report: The location is gorgeous but running July 3rd in Memphis is a bit warm.  I train in the afternoons in the Summer while wearing a camelback full of water so I’m used to the heat and humidity but this race was a scorcher.

Pace: 9:53.73

Elapsed Time: 30:44.64

This was the last race of the 2017 M Town Series.  In 2016 I averaged an 11:11/mile pace for all of the races.  This year I dropped that to 9:42.22/mile.  Yeah for me.


August 2017

No races in August but I was able to run in a place of my dreams–Kapiolani Park in Oahu, Hawaii!  It’s a long story but it is a place that I wrote about in my book Sons of the 43rd ( My great Uncle, Delmar Dotson, played trumpet in the Amphitheater in the park in the 1930s while serving in the Army at Schofield Barracks.  I felt like the run was retracing his life from 80 years ago.


My uncle Delmar Dotson is second from the left playing trumpet


Here’s a pic of the park while Lee Ann and I were there.


September 2017

Race: Chick-fil-A 5K

Place; Downtown Memphis, TN

Labor Day in Memphis and who doesn’t love chicken? Or Chick-fil-A?  The race was hot and humid and there was no post-race pizza but it was still a good day.

Race Day Report: The only problem of the day was my major-magnetic-race-bib-holder malfunction.  I got these magnetized buttons to hold my race bib on my shirt so I could lose the safety pins.  The magnets are incredibly powerful, so powerful in fact that I can use them to pick up my car keys while standing up.  Well, all of the magnets decided to merge into one, big, bundle of magnets on my shirt.  Oh well, safety pins anyone?

Pace: 9:28/mile

Elapsed Time: 29:25.03


Race: Move It Memphis 4 Miler

Place. Downtown Memphis on the Mississippi River

One benefit of the Memphis racing schedule is the opportunity to see parts of Memphis that are off of my beaten track.  This race started in Loflin Yard which is kind of a retro-cool collection of old railroad tracks, diners and apartments.

Race Day Report: Weather was great for this 4 mile race and all would have been well except that the course was (cue disturbing music . . . AN OUT AND BACK.  I checked out the race map before the race and thought, “Wow, that looks like a single line on the map” but thought nothing else of it.  We started at Loflin Yard and ran down scenic Riverside Drive to the Bass Pro Pyramid. But then, to our horror, we turned around and came back the same way. (More scary music here).

The reason “back of the pack runners” fear out and backs is because all of the fast runners get to the turnaround first and then they are running to the finish line while you are still headed out on the course.  It can be mentally depressing until, of course, you make the turn and then you run past the slowest runners/walkers as you head for, you guessed it, post-race pizza!!

Pace: 9:21/mile

Elapsed Time: 37:27.70


October 2017

No races in October but I did get to run while on the campus of Emmanuel University in Oradea, Romania.  Apparently long-distance running is not too popular in this part of the country since the staff had that “another crazy American” look as I racked up the laps.  I did get to work on my linguistics since I called out my lap numbers as I passed the security guard. Unu, Doi, Trei, Patru.  Go Romania!!



December 2017

Race: St. Jude Memphis Marathon

Place: Downtown Memphis, TN

This race benefits the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital so not only is it a fantastic cause but the race is well managed and I think over 25,000 ran in this year’s event.  The Half-Marathon and Marathon alone had 16,000 runners participate.

This was my first marathon ever.  One day BT and I had the bad idea to run about 26 miles on the trails of Shelby Farms but that was my only attempt to run this distance.

This was my fourth St. Jude race.  I started with the 5K and then the last two years I had run the Half-Marathon.  Since I usually run about 10 miles per session the Half-Marathons had been a fun run but deciding to up to the Marathon was a big decision.  Because of work schedule I didn’t get to follow a marathon training plan but I figured, “What’s the worst that could happen to me?” I could quit the race and miss the post-race pizza.

When I picked up my race packet at the Convention Center I stopped in to listen to a race preview presentation.  The most interesting comment I heard told all runners not to drink unauthorized water on the course. In the neighborhood parts of the race some people will offer water spiked with alcohol. Not cool!


Race Day Report: Race weather was warm for December with temps in the mid 60s. 16,000 lined up for the start of the Half-Marathon/Marathon.  The challenge in running in a combined race is that the Half-Marathon people are going faster than my pace and so you can feel left behind.  I started out way too fast and had to keep reminding myself to slow down, it’s a long race.


Here’s a pic of my game face. Unfortunately it has my game body attached.


I felt good for the first part of the race and when we came to the split (where the half marathoners leave the route and go get post-race pizza!) I was cruising along.  I saw some illegal and spiked water along the route so I’m glad for the warning.  The only race problems were a right calf tremor at mile 19 which cleared up quickly.  About mile 23 both calves tightened up so I started walking and running for the next several miles.  By mile 25 I worked through it and ran the rest of the way.  I also found out that eating power gels and drinking Gatorade together causes stomach cramping.  Too much sugar.  Lesson learned for next time.

When Pheidippides ran the first Marathon in 490 B.C. some tradtions say he finished running, uttered the Greek word “Nikomen” which means “We win” (It’s got the word Nike in it) and then he died.  I know just how he felt.


Pace: 13:05/mile

Elapsed Time: 5:42:32*

*Note: My time would have been faster but my ambulance got stuck in traffic.

On to 2018!!

This entry was posted in Running.

One comment on “Confessions of a Large Trail Runner

  1. Rob Mullins says:

    You are officially my spirit-animal!


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