Breaking the Wall

Utah Valley Marathon

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Orem,UT,United States

Member Since:

Jan 27, 1986



Goal Type:

Olympic Trials Qualifier

Running Accomplishments:

Best marathon: 2:23:57 (2007, St. George). Won the Top of Utah Marathon twice (2003,2004). Won the USATF LDR circuit in Utah in 2006.

Draper Days 5 K 15:37 (2004)

Did not know this until June 2012, but it turned out that I've been running with spina bifida occulta in L-4 vertebra my entire life, which explains the odd looking form, struggles with the top end speed, and the poor running economy (cannot break 16:00 in 5 K without pushing the VO2 max past 75).  


Short-Term Running Goals:

Qualify for the US Olympic Trials. With the standard of 2:19 on courses with the elevation drop not exceeding 450 feet this is impossible unless I find an uncanny way to compensate for the L-4 defect with my muscles. But I believe in miracles.

Long-Term Running Goals:

2:08 in the marathon. Become a world-class marathoner. This is impossible unless I find a way to fill the hole in L-4 and make it act healthy either by growing the bone or by inserting something artificial that is as good as the bone without breaking anything important around it. Science does not know how to do that yet, so it will take a miracle. But I believe in miracles.


I was born in 1973. Grew up in Moscow, Russia. Started running in 1984 and so far have never missed more than 3 consecutive days. Joined the LDS Church in 1992, and came to Provo, Utah in 1993 to attend BYU. Served an LDS mission from 1994-96 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Got married soon after I got back. My wife Sarah and I are parents of eleven children: Benjamin, Jenny, Julia, Joseph, Jacob, William, Stephen, Matthew,  Mary,  Bella.  and Leigha. We home school our children.

I am a software engineer/computer programmer/hacker whatever you want to call it, and I am currently working for RedX. Aside from the Fast Running Blog, I have another project to create a device that is a good friend for a fast runner. I called it Fast Running Friend.

Favorite Quote:

...if we are to have faith like Enoch and Elijah we must believe what they believed, know what they knew, and live as they lived.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie


Favorite Blogs:

Miles:This week: 0.00 Month: 103.30 Year: 1747.58
Saucony Type A Lifetime Miles: 627.15
Bare Feet Lifetime Miles: 446.12
Nike Double Stroller Lifetime Miles: 124.59
Brown Crocs 3 Lifetime Miles: 2191.97
Brown Crocs 4 Lifetime Miles: 595.71
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance
Green Crocs 3 Miles: 61.40
Night Sleep Time: 35.00Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 35.00
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

Day of rest. Went to church. We had a Fast and Testimony meeting. Then a lesson in Sunday school. Learned some Korean in it as we started a class for new members and investigators and we had two Korean speakers there. Then we had a lesson in the Elder's quorum on sustaining our leaders.

Night Sleep Time: 8.00Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 8.00
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Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

A.M. Ran with Ariel. Felt like I needed a mental reboot after the Saturday oddity. Figured it would be good to run a sub-5:00 mile. Short, fast, and a side benefit of increased glycogen accumulation kick-back, which I could use before the marathon on Saturday. Had Ariel help me for about 250 meters after 800. Ran it down the canyon. Splits were 71, 73, 75, 75 - 4:54.3. I think once I knew I had sub-5:00 in the bag I mentally relaxed and was not motivated to push harder. Plus 5:00 is not a walk in the park for me by any means even for short distances, so 75s was a nice compromise in the second half, I suppose.

Ran with the kids afterwards. Benjamin did 6, Jenny and Jacob 1, Julia and Joseph 2.

P.M. 0.3 with William. 

Green Crocs 3 Miles: 12.30
Night Sleep Time: 7.00Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 7.00
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Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

A.M. 8 miles total, all with the kids, except for a 0.5 pickup at 5:40 pace. Benjamin did 6, Jenny and Jacob 1, Julia and Joseph 2.

P.M. 0.3 with William. He set a personal course record of 2:57. That distance is a little less than 0.3 and I have not yet wheeled it, but I write 0.3 to round it off. 

Night Sleep Time: 0.00Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 0.00
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Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

A.M. Did 6 with Ariel, then 2 with Benjamin, and 1 with Jacob and Julia. Benjamin added 2 more with Joseph. I ended up with 9 miles.

Yesterday I found an answer to a question that I have been trying to answer for years. We have these odd pieces in my running:


  • Best 100 m 13.9
  • Best 800 2:12
  • Best 5 K 15:37
  • VO2 Max 75.9 
  • Funny looking form, problems with stability on the right side
  • Constant feeling of running against myself, being stuck in the mud 

Now many runners would be happy with a 15:37 5 K and a 2:23 marathon even in St. George. But I was not. Something deep inside kept telling me I was not getting what I was worth in some way with those results. I've been very disciplined in training and in recovery. I've learned the best training principles and used them. Fast Running Blog became a witness to the power of those principles as time and again I've watched runners apply them and move to the level they thought was out of their league. I wanted to know why I had those struggles.

I have visited a number of specialists who provided various explanations and attempted various cures non of which have been effective. The challenge with such a problem, I think, is that when you tell most specialists you do not have any pain, their brain shuts down. How about that: "Doctor, with VO2 Max of 75 I am barely breaking 16:00 in a 5 K on a good day, it should be low 14. Can you tell me what's wrong?" 

One day a few months ago as I sat in the temple I prayed to have the answer, and it was time for it come, I suppose, as I met Sergio in the locker room. It turned out that Sergio was a physical therapist with an interest in neurology and running. I decided to see if he had anything to offer on this matter. Working with him eventually led to what I believe is the resolution of the mystery. He gave me a referral for an spinal X-ray to test for spina bifida occulta. Two images were taken, anterior view and lateral view

His conclusion after looking at the X-rays was that I have spina bifida occulta in L-4. In plain terms, and you actually can see it quite well in the lateral view,  a chunk of L-4 on the right side is missing, which creates stability problems. It is actually quite remarkable that with all of that I was able to run mostly injury free - never skipped more than 3 days in a row for any reason ever, no more than 1 day in the last 14 years. Sergio said with this problem you live more or less OK until you are 30, then if you get fat you can start developing clinical symptoms like numbness, back pain, etc. 

This condition is something you are born and there is no cure for it. It affects about 10-20% of the population. Unlike the spina bifida manifesta, which we hear about more often, this condition is mostly asymptomatic except that you are awkward, and might be going to the bathroom more frequently than a normal person. There is no effective cure for it. Surgery helps sometimes, but in the case like mine it will most definitely make it worse. It may be possible to mitigate its effects by strengthening the hip extensors and the abdominal muscles to provide extra support.

I told Benjamin I had good news for him. My L-4 is missing a chunk, I've run 2:23 marathon with my condition which he most likely does not have, and he is my son. While I do not have plans to give up, and through faith and hard work will try to find a way to work through or around this problem, I told him that even if I fail, he will have a chance to find out how much this condition slowed me down. So will Joseph, Jacob, William, Stephen, and whoever else we are going to have. 

P.M. 0.3 with William.


Green Crocs 3 Miles: 9.30
Night Sleep Time: 7.00Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 7.00
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

A.M. 4 with Ariel. 2 with Julia, Joseph, and Jacob. Jacob surprised me today. I challenged him to run 2 miles instead of just 1, and he agreed. I was expecting him to fall far behind as Joseph lately has been closing his 2 mile runs with a sub-8:00 mile, but he held on quite well and finished our hard 2 mile course that I think is actually longer in 17:02. I am estimating this is worth sub-26:00 in a 5 K. Benjamin's best 5 K at the age of 5 was 27:25.

Jenny ran 1 mile. Benjamin did a total of 4. I ended up with a total of 6.

P.M. 0.3 with William. 

Green Crocs 3 Miles: 6.30
Night Sleep Time: 7.00Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 7.00
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Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

A.M. Did my pre-marathon carbo-load stimulation workout. It was my number 3000 or however many I've done in my life speed workout done with spina bifida occulta, but the first one in which I knew I had it. I wondered how it would affect me - would it make me slack off some knowing I had an excuse to be slow, or would I get mad and push harder? I believe the workout was sufficiently short and painful to not allow me time to think about it - I just ran. The workout was 1000 meters down the canyon with the target of under 3:00. Jeremy helped me with the first 200 meters. The splits were 35, 36, 34, 37, 36 - 2:58.2. I believe the variation was caused by the shifting direction of the wind. I did not feel like I increased the effort for 34 or decreased it for 37.

Benjamin did 3, Jacob 1, Julia and Joseph 2, Jenny 1.

P.M. 0.3 with William. 

Green Crocs 3 Miles: 6.30
Night Sleep Time: 0.00Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 0.00
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Race: Utah Valley Marathon (26.22 Miles) 02:41:31, Place overall: 8
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance

A.M. Utah Valley Marathon, 2:41:31, 8th place.

The fields was loaded today, but the times were slow due to a headwind from about 7.5 to about 20.  I felt the effects of headwind a lot. Up to 7.5 I was doing great. I worked together with Jordan Perry and Scott Keate, we traded leads every 4 minutes. Jon Kotter and three Kenyans were up ahead. Riley Cook and Bryant Jensen were behind but they caught up to us around 7. Our splits were 5:33, 5:32 (11:05), 5:31 (16:36), 5:31(22:07), 5:41 (27:48),  then with some headwind/crosswind next two miles in 11:34 (39:22). Little did I know that I would have only one more mile in the race that would be under 6:00.

And then we got onto Hwy 189 heading to Provo, and the headwind started. Last night Scott expressed concerns about the headwind in the forecasts. I dismissed it saying the wind is never too bad when it does blow the wrong way, and it usually blows the right way anyway. However, today was an exception. It was more than just occasional gusts - it was steady and relentless, and gradually eating away at my hopes of a decent time. This was bad news for me for two reason. Slow time is one. Ability to compete is the other. Lately I have experienced problems with the headwind consistently slowing down more than what is usual even for me which is more than the average runner in my bracket. I tried to address them by doing speed into a headwind with no results. I am wondering if my lower spine experienced some deterioration in the last year. Regardless of the cause, it is a fact that at this point headwind is a serious competitive disadvantage for me.

I quickly went from being conversational to struggling to maintain contact with my partners. It was an odd feeling. I still felt like I could talk, the headwind did not tax my breathing. But I just did not have the power in the legs to go the pace, or so it felt. Perhaps the wind was changing the position of the torso which made it impossible due to the vertebral defect to get either good bounce out of the spinal column or push with the leg muscles effectively.  

I struggled for about a mile, then lost the contact for good, and now had a problem. The headwind moved me down into a lower bracket, but I had been in a higher bracket for the first 7.5 miles which was enough to gap my current bracket by a lot. So I was alone, battling the headwind, and whoever would come from behind I would not likely be able to keep up with because anybody who could catch up would want to go faster. Those who would go the pace I could handle were too far behind to be able to close the gap. And that pace was somewhere in the 6:20-6:40 range. There was one 5:55 mile (downhill), after that no downhill could compensate for the wind for me. I got to 10 miles in 57:55, so that is 18:33, 6:11 average, but that was helped by that miracle 5:55 mile. 1:17:06 at 13 (19:11 for 3 miles, 6:24 avg), 1:17:53 at the half.

Things started to look ugly. I was concerned that inefficient headwind running could run me out of fuel, and then I would be jogging (more than I already was), and that jog could start very early, so this could be a very long day. Unlike my last marathon, though, I had good things going for me - I was healthy, and I had good opening miles, which is an indication of good fuel levels, and I also felt not too weak in the fuel department even with the headwind. 

 Nevertheless, the idea of 6:20s that early in the race that could eventually deteriorate into who knows what did not sound appealing to me at all. I really did not want to run any further. Nevertheless, I had taken a comp, and when I do I make it a matter of principle to finish unless there is a serious risk to my health. I knew that it would matter to Hyrum to have one more person in the results with a time under 2:50 especially on a day like this when sub-2:50 becomes a more rare commodity. And I did not want to set a bad example for my children by not finishing the race I could have finished. So I just pressed on hoping that if things got worse they would not get much worse.

Was still at sub 6:00 average at 15 - 1:29:50, but that was the last mile where I had sub-6:00 average. Got passed by a runner I did not recognize in the 16th mile. Tried to go with him, told myself try until 16th mile marker, but after about a quarter mile realized he was out of my bracket under these conditions. Saw Jeremy around mile 17, he ran with me for about half a mile or maybe a little more. It helped a lot. Kept watching my mile splits. They seemed to be stuck around 6:24. Well, at least they are not getting slower, and maybe in the last 6 there will be no headwind.

20 miles in 2:01:48. So 31:58 for the last 5. That is almost exactly 6:24 per mile, 2 seconds faster. If I hold that, that is a 40:00 10 K, add a little slippage in the last miles, so we are looking at 2:42. With the wind this is better than embarrassing. 

The headwind subsided some in the last 10 K, although it was still present. I began to use the knowledge of my recently discovered condition to help with the speed. A way to partially compensate for the missing chunk of L-4 on the right side is to contract the right glut to help with support. I've always known that if I managed to do that at the right time during ground contact I run faster. But now I knew why, so I remembered it at this point in the race. It was not easy, it did not want to contract, the timing of contraction was difficult, it felt like a complex acrobatic maneuver that required focus. But it obeyed me somewhat, and I was able to slightly pick up the pace.  My last 10 K was 39:43 at a fairly steady pace which is 6:23 average, and I was able to finish faster than the projected 2:42 by 29 seconds.

Ahead of me - two Kenyans went 1-2, Jon Kotter third, then Bryan Jensen, Jordan Perry, Runner X (will find out who he was when the results are posted), and Scott Keate. At least that's all I could gather at the finish line. Apparently Riley and one of the Kenyans dropped out. Not sure about their times, I left before they got posted at the finish, and they have not been posted online yet. But I do know that Jordan got around 2:35 and Scott around 2:37.

Benjamin took 2nd place overall in the 10 K with 38:42, which is now his 10 K PR. During the awards, the announcer first observed that the third place overall finisher was 15, then she realized that the second place overall was 13. Benjamin remarked it would have been funny if the first overall was 11, but that was not the case.

P.M. 0.3 with William. Kids did their runs. Jenny and Julia did 2, Joseph did a total of 2 including his track meet, Jacob did 1. Joseph ran 800 meters in the USATF Utah Junior Championship. He was very excited about it, and did quite well winning Sub-Bantam boys in 3:16.13. In fact, he beat all the Bantam boys as well, and lost by a second to a Bantam girl - they were all in the same heat, but the awards were separate. What is impressive is that he managed to run a negative split (1:39/1:37) in spite of the windy conditions. Then we saw a funny line on the stadium display - "Joseph Pachev Fast 3:16.13". Fast Running Blog, which is Joseph's team, got appropriately abbreviated to just Fast.



Green Crocs 3 Miles: 27.20
Night Sleep Time: 6.00Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 6.00
Easy MilesMarathon Pace MilesThreshold MilesVO2 Max MilesTotal Distance
Green Crocs 3 Miles: 61.40
Night Sleep Time: 35.00Nap Time: 0.00Total Sleep Time: 35.00
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