Wednesday, March 21, 2018

See The Sites, Go For A Run

I once had a discussion with a friend about the word "sight seeing." I was flabbergasted to find out during the discussion that it was not "site seeing" which, to me is the only form of the phrase which makes sense. You are seeing sites. You are not seeing vision. (Yes, I know "sight" also means something worth seeing but "site” just makes so much more sense.) Nevertheless, grammar aside, we came upon the conclusion that the best way to really get a feel for the land around you is on your feet. Preferably at a pace faster than walking.

In my book 138,336 Feet of Pure Bliss I have a chapter entitled "This Country is Beautiful". In this chapter I talk about seeing the country on foot. To clarify, I also talk about seeing the whole world on foot. Korea, Italy, the Caribbean. I've come to the realization that the more I see, the more I know I have seen so little. One can stay put their entire life and get to know their little nook so well that a bent weed is noticeable from its ramrod straightness the day before. Or, they can venture out and become acutely aware of the vast amount of things that they know nothing about. Obviously, many choose the comfort of familiarity. I myself barely left a 90 mile circle from my home until I went to college. But fortunately for me, things have changed. I want to see as much as possible and I wanted to do it while sweating, breathing heavy, and exhausting myself. (Get your mind out of the gutters 50 Shades of Grey-ers. I am talking about running.)

Back in 2013 I made my first foray into the province on British Columbia on New Year's Eve. My best friend wanted to see snow (she is originally from Texas) and I knew Portland wasn't going to get any. So we hopped a plane to Spokane, Wash. and picked a random city in Canada to go and play for a day. Cranbrook in BC was our destination and using my uncanny ability to find awesome places to run, I happened upon the Cranbrook Community Forest. Soft powdery snow and with a temp getting no lower than 18 degrees, it was ideal. Well, maybe not ideal but about as ideal as one can expect for December in Canada.

A year later in late summer, I took another trip to Canada. This time I wanted to take advantage of a rare weekend off and with the weather still nice and headed up to points along the Pacific coast. Vancouver, Whistler, Victoria, Campbell River and all the towns in between were just a few places we hit. (By the by, holy crap are ferry rides expensive. The two I rode on were about 1/3 of the total expenses for the whole five-day trip. No wonder people stay put. As an aside, I saw there is a marathon on one of the islands in the Strait of Georgia that requires three ferry rides to get to. Yeah,
I'll just buy a seaplane, thanks. Must be cheaper.)

But while the 1400 miles of driving allowed me to see some fantastic sites, it was when I got out of the car and went for little six milers that the true awesomeness showed itself. Granted most of the running was planned as exploring for too long just wasn't in the time table, but the nuances of a town or a city are lost when you are in a car. Walking takes too darn long to explore an area. Cycling is quicker but since we live in a rather biker-unfriendly world this means you are always about to become fenderfood and most pay more attention to safety than your surroundings. Running is the perfect blend of safety and speed that allows us to see so much of the world.

It is running that allowed me to check out the Burnaby Lake in suburban Vancouver and learn more about how it is in need of some serious dredging. My shoes took me to pay homage to Terry Fox statues in both his childhood home and also where he would have ended his cross-Canada journey if osteosarcoma hadn't taken his life far too soon. I found an odd bit of art along the Victoria SeaWalk which was hidden from virtually every other view that I would have had if I had not run right next to it.

Once I left BC and headed back to Portland via the long way along the Washington Coast, it was oddities like running on a beach in the westernmost zipcode in the contiguous United States that helped break up what would have otherwise been long drives. After leaving Forks, Wash. (home of the Twilight saga - I am Team Dane in case you cared to know) and heading to the famous Hole In the Wall rock formation, I found I could get there and back far faster than the hikers (who looked like they were going on a 7 day tour and not an hour long hike with all the provisions they had with them) leaving me more time to go see other things as well.

This was just one trip to a few places. Multiply that by all the places you can see not only in far-flung destinations but in your own area. Obviously a car will get you to places faster and walking will allow you to take everything in more deeply. But nothing quite melds the best of both worlds like a nice jog through the world.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Will Sweat With Anyone: A Guy’s Take on Running With Women

A few years back, there were many articles and schools of thought that tried to point out how similar men and women are. Perhaps festering from a long-standing patriarchal existence, women wanted to show that anything men can do, they can do better. Fortunately, the desire to group both genders into one lump seems to be diminishing as we realize we should celebrate the difference between the genders. There are, without a doubt, some things each gender seems to be a little bit better at than the other. That is what makes us a wonderful match. (Or a horrible dumpster fire. I am not sure which one just yet.)

But what about running with the opposite gender? Well, I am not a female so I can’t speak for any of them. Also, the Council of Men has not elected me its press secretary, so I can’t speak for everyone with an XY chromosome, either. But I feel I can generalize a little bit without too much fear of repercussions. (Okay, I seriously stopped typing for a bit to laugh. Having an opinion without someone on the Internet disagreeing with it?)

Prior to moving to Austin in the Fall of 2016, I had lived in three cities since my running career began. In each city I have had a certain number of people with whom I spent a great deal of time running. In Washington, D.C., most of my runs were with one female friend. She was nearly as fast as me in races and almost always a faster runner when we worked out, so we were a good fit. Our schedules coincided and we lived close to each other. It was perfect.

My time in Salt Lake City, Utah, was where I really hit my groove as a runner. While I spent most of my time running alone, when I did run with others it tended to be with guys. Living in Portland, Oregon, I can say I spend about 98 percent of my time out on runs by myself. In other words, I've run with both genders for a period of time and I've run solo. My conclusion: eventually, it is all the same.

Sure, depending on your motives, running with a member of the opposite sex may mean at some point there may be some awkwardness. You think he has a cute butt; he is trying to suck in his gut a bit to make sure he looks good to you. But eventually it boils down to runners being runners. We gravitate toward one another because we don’t have to explain why we run. When runners say “Chicago” or “Boston,” we automatically know we're talking about marathons and it has nothing to do with the city itself. We are cliquish, even if that clique is rather large.

Absolutely more decorum is used when a man is running with a woman rather than when he is with his other running dudes. Flatulence is probably kept to a minimum (even if it is never fully stopped), and I am talking about both genders. But spit happens. Adjusting of nether regions is necessary and barely even noticed. I may tend to talk more when I am running with women than I do with men, but that happens even in normal circumstances. I remember back in college playing “Madden” with a guy friend for hours without saying so much as a word. A female friend who was waiting for our fourth to arrive marveled at how little men talked. It is sort of the same with running.

I am positive women have experienced that one guy who won’t let them pass them on the track or the dude who sees every opportunity to run as a potential date. But for the most part, once you get comfortable with a running partner, whether they wear a bra or not becomes far less important. Over time the difference between the genders eventually seems to be forgotten. The only question that remains is one of pace compatibility. It is of no surprise to me, even if I don’t mind if my running partner is a hottie, that mostly I hope they arrive on time so we can go sweat.

I suck in my gut mostly for me anyway.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

USA Fit Half-Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 1st Edition 
13.1 miles run in 2018 races
Race: USA Fit Half-Marathon
Place: Sugar Land, TX
Miles from home: 152
Weather: 60 degrees; cloudy; 100% humidity

When the year started I was one day removed from securing my 13th straight year of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I wanted to keep that going and not wait until the last minute like I did in 2017.  For a variety of reasons I needed to stay relatively local to race in January so I looked around at Texas races. On the same weekend there were three marathons in Texas: one in Waco, one in McAllen, and one in Sugar Land.  The last one enticed me the most because of the relatively flat nature of the course. However, I was wary of what the weather would be like as Sugar Land (two words, by the way) was a suburb of Houston, known for its heat and humidity. I have reached the point on my life that running marathons for squirts and giggles is for the most part gone. I want to run marathons to run as fast as I can. If the weather is going to stink, well, I don't really want to run that race.

As the time grew near to choose a race, Sugar Land looked pretty enticing. Mid 50s for temps with 50% humidity was the forecast when I signed up. As the days brought me closer to race time, it changed a little but not much. Then 72 hours before the race, a storm started brewing. The day before, it was roughly 60 degrees with an absolute saturation of water in the air. Bollocks. It was too late now. I had to hope for the best.

Race Morning:

I had gotten the VIP package for this race which allowed for special parking and a tent with private bathrooms and food. This was a treat indeed. The course itself was two laps of a fairly straightforward down and back on a boulevard leaving and coming back to University of Houston's campus in the town. However, as I sat in the car, my mind was a whirl. I had gone through the worst night of sleep before a race I have ever had. I am an absolute night person so race night is usually a folly of me trying to get into bed long before my body would even allow me to sleep.  But with a 5 a.m. wake up call I had myself in bed before 10 p.m. Then I think I got 90 minutes of sleep. There were a litany of reason why this happened (personal stuff was playing in y head for one) but without a doubt the weather was a big factor. It was a comfortable 60 degrees. There was a nice wind at times. But the humidity was 100%. How it can be that way and not raining is beyond me. I just had to race.


Here I break as while I was writing this recap my uncle, who is also my godfather, passed away. I stopped writing here, flew home the next day and spent time with my family. Coming back, I didn't have much in me to write this recap. 


What I can say about my own personal race is that I made the right decision. As mile after mile produced times which were slower than I was hoping, and I could feel the beginnings of chafing set in, I knew simply finishing the marathon was about the best I could hope for. As such, I just said forget it and by mile 8 had completely mailed it. I didn't even care to attempt to run a faster last five miles as I was not 100% certain I could drop to the half distance. Fortunately, as only about ten people had gone through at the time, and there was virtually no one around me, I finished the race, grabbed the timer and told him I was done for the day. They switched me over to the half with a time of 1:36. 

So, instead of knocking out my 161st marathon and notching my 14th straight year of Boston Qualifiers, I instead got my 101st half-marathon under my belt and my 88th slowest half-marathon ever. I am disappointed I had to make the choice I did but am happy indeed that I made it. It was the right decision and I am always pleased in racing when I choose correctly. The race was extremely well-run with excellent volunteers. The course is not nearly as flat as one might think, which is actually to you benefit. Some small rises here and there allow you to utilize the muscle groups all through your legs. Don't run this race if you need spectators though as the two loop course seems to be completely bereft of them.  I can say, however, if the weather had been less humid, I would have probably run very well here. So should you.

Forty-eight hours later, hearing my uncle had passed it was still a shock even if it was not a surprise. His liver had been failing rapidly since last summer for no reason other than sometimes the body does things that it has no reason to be doing. There had been s small window for me to even consider donating a partial part of my own, which passed before I could really fully decide.  given my Gilbert's Syndrome my liver itself is hardly a winner. Nevertheless, it was a rather devastating blow to my family and, as I learned, an unbelievably large amount of diverse people in small communities all over Pennsylvania.
My family is a rather stoic lot not often prone to showing emotion. However, when I, who have been growing the wispiest of beards lately for no other reason than I hadn't really shaved, was told how much I looked like my uncle (who had a beard the entire time I knew him) it was hard for me not to get a little choked up.

When I gave the eulogy at his funeral, I kept it short, not expounding upon how much my uncle had asked about my running over the years or how he helped me put on a race in 2006 when I needed a marathon to keep my 52 Marathon streak alive. It is also not lost on me, that the last race I ran while he was alive was in my Penn State Alumni singlet. My uncle was a Pitt alum and we kept the rivalry alive long after the two schools ended it.

He truly was a wonderful man.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

You Don't HAVE to. You GET to.

How many times have you encountered a running friend who, perhaps in the middle of a slump or dealing with an injury, has said they “HAVE to do X miles today”? I readily admit I used to be one of those runners who made it seem like it was a chore to be able to do something so awesome.

To clarify, I use the past tense in describing myself as such not because I never experience the desire to sit on the couch and do nothing. Quite the contrary. As much as I love exercise and feeling the wind whipping around me, I unabashedly can state that if liposuction was free, I would probably run less. There are days I just do not have the same desire to go for a run as I do on others. I will simply bide my time, dressed in my shoes and shorts, just hoping to get another spam email telling me that Ineed a better mortgage  so I can delete it and shake my fist at the email gods and continue to not actually go running.  Runcrastination, I call it.

But I know one thing for certain, and that is I do not HAVE to run. No, dear sir or madam as the case may be, I GET to run.

The distinct difference between “have to” and “get to” comes from the fact that all around us there are people who would run any chance they could, but because of serious injuries or other circumstances, have been robbed of that blessing. My own father was one of them before he passed away a few years ago. Crippled in a hunting accident before I was born, running was not an option for him. I have no doubt, as much as he jokingly stated that my running feats were a bit on the outlandish side, he would have gladly joined me for one of those jaunts rather than continue to not have the choice to do so.

All around me I see people who have lost limbs in war, have been hit with disease, or have had something else awful fallen upon them who refuse to use that as an excuse not to go for what they want. Watching wheelchair races in a marathon, or people using crutches in one of those obstacle course races or anything else in between is such an invigorating feeling.
I am in no way saying we cannot have bad days and that our own sufferings and troubles need to always be compared to others who have it worse. We are welcome to have our own down moments and lulls of appreciation as to the gifts we have. However, the next time you think about what workout you “have” to do, take just one second to realize how lucky you are that you “get” to do it.

Then go do it.

Friday, January 5, 2018

New Year's Double Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 15th Edition 
191 miles run; 4750m swam in 2017 races
Race: New Year's Double Marathon
Place: Allen, TX
Miles from home: 235
Weather: 25 degrees; windy; cloudy

What a year. And not in a good way.

2017 was tumultuous. For myself and for the vast majority of the world. I can say that much more than usual, this was the year I, I took on as much of the grief and strife of the world as I could bear.  It wasn't fun.

As the days ticked down to the end of the year, even though I had already run and bested the course record for the Salt Flats 50k (but ultimately took 2nd place overall) I had not run a marathon in the entirety of 2017. This meant that if I did not schedule one in December, I would put an end to a streak of qualifying for Boston every year since the first year I did so in 2005.  I have had close calls before, making it by just one second in 2012 at the Mesquite Marathon, the year I came off of a cycling accident and a move to a new home.  This year too was interrupted but by being assaulted by two men, not an accident.  While the District Attorney here in Travis County continues to not even respond to the detective who looked into my case (who himself verbally berated me saying that I somehow was at least at fault for having two homeless men stop my car and attack me, fracturing my face in three place and requiring surgery and pins in my thumb) I have tried my best to get back into running shape.

There were just a few options available to me locally which allowed me to save a few bucks on travel.  But I didn't wait all year to run a marathon in abysmal conditions and most of them showed me weather which was hardly going to be to my liking.  The last chance I had was to run the same marathon I ran last year in Allen, Texas on New Year's Eve.  This was actually supposed to be my 159th and 160th marathons, running on back-to-back days but a severe chafing issue on the first one on New Year's Eve had me deferring to run the half on January 1st of 2017.  So here I was, running the exact same race for my 160th marathon, just 364 days later.  It also left me with no margin for error.  Qualify for Boston here or the streak is over.

The race course is relatively simple.  It is four loops of a twisting and turning course with a pretty cruel double-ramp on one side of a highway leading to an underpass to a single ramp on the other to get across.  Having to traverse this twice on each lap, with other runners coming both ways, is my least favorite part of this course.  But I love loops or repetitive courses more than virtually everyone I know.  Getting rid of the unknown is just something which sits with me well.  Another thing that sits with me is the 25 degree cloudy weather. There was virtually zero chance I would overheat in this weather.

While others were (literally in some cases) dressed like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, I was in a pair of shorts, short sleeve shirt and a light winter cap. As the wind began to whip before we started, I asked the race director if she happened to have a pair of throwaway gloves.  Indeed she did, the stretchy kids gloves you get 3/$1.

Perfect. I was excited and ready to go. And I looked like a bad ass. Apparently, I thought a fight might break out with that Batman stance.

Loop 1:

We took off promptly at the advertised time and a slew of runners went off in front of me.  As there was also a half-marathon being run simultaneously, I couldn't right off tell who was all running what race.  It didn't bother me one bit as I was here to beat only one foe: the clock.

As we headed out for our double circumnavigation of the upper part of Celebration Park before exiting it for a nice straightaway after the cursed ramp, I reminded myself that the mile markers for this course were all a little on the "guideline" side of things. In other words, I would simply remember where I was in relation to points on the course and then use that to gauge how I was doing in relation to the previous loop. Otherwise, a 6:36 followed by a 8:36 mile might be deflating.  I might forget that one mile was a little long and the other a little short.

Regardless, I could tell today was going to be windy. I was chilly but not cold. Nevertheless, I could do without the added effort of fighting wind.

By the time I got to the long straightaway which lead to a small lollipop loop at the end before returning, the leader of the race was already exponentially in front of me. There goes any chance of winning the race, I laughingly thought.  Then I recalled last year how, completely unbeknownst to me, I had passed runner after runner in the last loop to move up from 6th to 2nd overall. But that couldn't happen again, right?

I did like that the return straightaway would be with the wind.  That was nice.  Of course that mean the last half mile before the finish would be into the wind.  That was not nice.

I ended the first loop exactly on pace for a 3:10 marathon and felt solid. I thought it would be a little faster but I also felt I hadn't taken it out all that hard.  Perhaps a negative split would be in the works.

Loop 2:

I was playing cat and mouse with a few runners this loop as they would surge in front of me and then fall back.  I was doing everything in my power to simply stay on a pace that was conservation friendly in case the weather turned. My goal was to keep something in the tank if I needed it to battle the elements. I assumed that these three men were all running the half as they all passed me for good before we began heading back on the loop.

The course is as such that you are always passing someone whether it is in one direction or another. You get to see every single person in the race in some capacity and some people you never seem to lock eyes with and others become your buddy.  I tend to zone out but on this loop I made an effort to sort of say hello to everyone. Then I could go back to zoning out and not feel too bad.

As we approached the end of the loop I saw one of the three guys stop at the halfway point. The other two, however, continued on. They were running the marathon. I would have bet anything that they were done for the day but if they had that sort of energy in their legs, good for them. I would not be trying to match them.

My pace felt a little quicker for this loop but it ended up being about 30 seconds slower.  Not bad for 6.55 miles but I had hoped for more. Now I was on 3:11 pace.  I only needed 3:14:59 to keep the streak alive!

Loop 3:

This time around the park, the wind picked up a little bit more.  In addition, it started to snow. I was extremely pleased with this smattering of white stuff. There had been forecasted a slight chance of precipitation which would have made this a miserable day. But snow? I haven't run in a race where it was actually snowing in...I seriously have no idea.

The footing was a bit dicey in a few sections but there were amazing volunteers out throwing down some salt or other gripping material for the runners. There was a police officer to stop traffic in and out of the park. The aid station workers were very much on point. Speaking of which, because it was cold, and I wasn't doing my normal sweat-ten-gallons dance (I was still sweating generously as the ice crust on my hat told me when I would adjust it) I barely drank a thing. I think I had two glasses of water and one of Gatorade.  Partially by design but partially because every time I came into the aid station it was almost always on the heels of someone much slower who would come to a halt to grab a drink.


Nearing the end of the loop I no longer had any idea what place I was in. I no longer saw a runner or two who I was under the impression were running the marathon but I couldn't tell where they had scampered off to. My loop was unfortunately about two minutes slower than I had hoped which made me a bit flummoxed. It was going to be a tight finish to get this under the wire. I felt relaxed, if tired.  Hungry for a hard finish without feeling spent. After a momentary panic, I figured I had it in the bag.

Loop 4:

Beginning the fourth loop one of the runners who has passed me earlier came into view.  In fact he rapidly came into view.  I wasn't 100% sure whether he was slowing or I was speeding up or if it was a combination of both but I knew I would be passing him in mere yards. Soon I was flying down the south side of the park, with the geese and the ducks frolicking in water that had to be just about half of a degree above freezing.  The air temperature was 25 degrees yet except when the wind blew, I felt wonderful.  Many others did not look the same.

I went through the underpass, which was always a dicey affair (it had flooded earlier in the day and the race had deftly handled that somehow, delaying the 5k earlier by just 15 minutes.)  This time, however, using the mirrors that allow you to see into the tunnel, I saw no one approaching for the first time all day. I turned on the speed and almost ran full tilt into someone who decided to run on the completely wrong side in the pitch black.  My pirouette was not only impressive but should have deducted a minute off of my time simply because I did not blow this young lass up like the ski guy on the Agony of Defeat from ABC's Wild World of Sports.

Down the long straightway I went and around the lollipop.  I passed two guys who I swore were in the marathon but I hadn't seen the last lap.  No mind. Up ahead, as I focused on just running I caught glimpse of the final guy who had passed me in that second loop.  He seemed to be faltering.  I definitely was using him as a gauge to speed up a little but more important to me was the clock. Hitting one of the mile markers where it had routinely taken me 11 minutes to get from there to the finish had me feeling good. No doubt in my mind in my mind I would have a full minute to spare.

Nope. I had 10:30. Oh man, this is going to hurt.

As I ran up the ramp, two gentleman must have heard my belabored breath as they tried to very politely get out of the way.  This, of course, just made me almost run into the back of one of them. I bypassed the aid station grand central station and somehow still grabbed a glass of water.  I didn't need it per se. But I wanted to have just a little bit of wetness in my mouth for the final push.

Within 100 yards I passed the guy in front of me and ran full into the teeth of the wind.  Nice thing about being 185+ lbs is if I get moving and am determined, it takes a hell of a wind to stop me.  I threw myself headlong into it, pumped my arms, and gave it all I had.

With half of a mile to go I knew it was going to be close. At 26 miles, it hadn't gotten any easier. I finally made the last two right angle turns, avoided a little ragamuffin who chose RIGHT THEN to run in front of me, saw the clock ahead and sighed as I finished:


They put a medal around my neck and told me I was second overall. I have no idea how that happened but it was a mirror image of last year. Almost to a stitch. My time was only 8 seconds different than last year. I was wearing the literal same pair of shoes, the same shirt, and the same sunglasses. I don't mean the same kind. I mean the same freaking ones.

If either of these marathons had gone the way I really wanted them, I would say I would wear this outfit more often.  But that was too close for comfort.  Instead, I quickly got in my car and readied for the three hour drive home (after a quick stop for a shower.)

Huge kudos to the race director and all the volunteers for putting together a race in condition that were wonderful for me to run in but undoubtedly not too fun to stand around in. I was so happy they were there so that I could tie a bow on a crappy year and quickly send it to the trash.

Time to hit 2018 running.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Running IS Control

I wrote this seven years ago and it remains exactly the same today.

Life often does not go the way we would like it to. Circumstances rarely play the way we want them to. Happy endings are called fairytales for a reason. Fortunately, there is one thing we can control when the proverbial “you know what” hits the fan. That is running.

Last week I had some personal things come home to roost in an unsavory way. I could neither control the outcome or how it was handled. I was forced to simply sit and wait when I knew I could not, well, sit and wait. The weather outside was, according to, cold and drizzling. The weather outside according to disagreed. The sun was shining and it didn’t look that chilly. But I bundled up anyway and began my run. I could control the run.

My mind was completely wrapped around the events of the day and I was wondering what exactly would happen next. As I ventured out on a familiar 9.9-mile course (I designed the course and then looked up the mileage afterward, which drives my numerically-minded friends crazy, saying they would run longer to get an even 10 on their GPSs) there was a tender bit of nip in the air. Soon, however, I heated up, took off my hat and rolled up my sleeves.

I realized that the temperatures were warming even while the sky was cloudy. Will that cloud and its dark underbelly venture north from the point of the mountain near Provo and head towards me in Salt Lake? (Yep.) Is that guy making a right turn going to even look to see me coming from his right? (Nope.) Is my mom going to forgive me for not making it home this Thanksgiving? (Remains to be seen.) Oh yeah, I then remembered I still had this crappy situation to deal with.

In the interim, I had run five miles and at one of the places where I checked to see how my pace was going I realized I was cruising along fairly well. I felt a little pleasure at this and then felt a little guilt right afterward as I shouldn’t be feeling pleasure because I am worried about what is going on. Soon I felt nothing. Leaves crunched underfoot, a few raindrops fell and I began the final descent of the last two miles, which drop me about 800 feet from the foothills of the mountains down into the valley near my home.

I finished, running one of the fastest times I ever had on this particular course. I went inside with no real answers to my problems, but at least I had burnt 1400 calories and killed 73 minutes while I waited. And also, I may have actually gotten some insight. Who knows?

Time will tell, that is for sure. But for even a small amount of time, I was in control. That is just one of the many reasons why I run. When the hail began to fall about 90 seconds after I stepped inside, I was thankful that I control the run, because I do not control the weather.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Madison Half Marathon Recap - My 100th Half-Marathon

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 14th Edition 
164.8 miles run; 4750m swam in 2017 races
Race: Madison Half Marathon
Place: Madison, WI
Miles from home: 1194
Weather: High 30s-Low 40s; cloudy

Races don't care about your milestones. I have learned this specific fact time and time again.  Want to run a PR on your birthday? Race don't care. How about something special for your 50th marathon? Race still don't care. In fact, one way to almost assure you will not have a good race is to attach special meaning to it before it occurs.

OK, races aren't sentient and they can't affect outcomes.  My point is that racing is hard. You rarely have the day you want on race day period and trying to sync it up with a certain date makes it even less likely to make you happy. So, when I headed into the Madison Half Marathon, as my 100th half-marathon ever, I was trying not to get excited. Couple this with the fact that it was first road race since being assaulted and having my face and thumb fractured (for those curious, 3.5 months after this happened, charges against the guys they had in their custody immediately still have not been filed) and I was both nervous and wary.

I would also be carrying a 3'x5' flag with me the whole way.

A few years ago I ran with the flag on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in Chicago. Then I decided I would like to do so on Veteran's Day to honor all vets, especially my brother and both grandfathers who served. I didn't want to run with it too often as I never wanted it to be too "showy." And showing that no matter what your intentions are, someone is going to be offended anyway, we have the lovely Daniel Alan Mabie from Jupiter Florida who decided to chime in on twitter after I ran this race with the following lovely comments. (This is a reminder that if you want to do something - just go right ahead and do it. Someone is always going to be an ass.)

Regardless, I knew that this race was going to be a challenge.  My thumb was hardly fully prepared to hold that flag for the entirety of the race, I wasn't in the shape I would like to be to race, and blah blah blah.  But it was my 100th lifetime half-marathon and I was running it in Dane County.  Doesn't get much more fun than that.

Race Morning:

After an very nice expo wherein I did a book signing and met a plethora of extremely pleasant new running friends, saw old ones, and mixed and mingled, I was really happy to be racing.  The temperature at one time showed it might be in the 20s which made pleased beyond my ability to tell you.  After a year of living in Austin's heat, and having over two plus years of races where the weather was always warmer than ideal, this seemed wonderful. Even when race day broke at 35 degrees, warmer than I wanted, I was still happy. I even debated the necessity for gloves and hat but figured I would err on the side of caution. Perhaps Texas had made me weak in the cold.

First 3 Miles:

I moved to the front of the corral before the start as I wanted to get to the side out of everyone's way.  In order to make sure the flag wouldn't hit anyone in the face, I put myself up a little further than I might have normally stood.  Then again, I almost always end up passing dozens of people who line themseves up incorrectly, so sixes. My goal was to get under 1:30 and maybe even challenge for the time I ran at that Chicago race above (1:27:47 and my fastest ever with the flag.) I knew this course had a few rolling hills early and one that might be a toughie later in the race but who knows what the day would hold.

The countdown ended and we were off. With the beautiful capitol building in the background we make a couple of quick turns in the first mile including our first small climb just a block into the race. Well, that's one way to start.

Even though scores of people seemed to be passing me I felt like I was running fairly hard.  Normally I can tell what my pace is and ignore others but being I am not in my typical shape and was undoubtedly slowed by carrying the flapping flag (let alone the non-use of one of my arms which really throws you off), I couldn't tell my pace. Hitting the first mile around 6:30 made me feel really good. But that is just the first mile. We made a few turns and soon were on Gorham Street which I knew we followed for a few miles at least. This game me a chance to settle into a pace, find the right grip for the flag, and get ready for the rest of the day.

My second mile was a bit slower, as expected but my average was still a 6:44 pace. A few runners had recognized me from the expo (no small feet since my hat covered my ears- my most prominent feature) and all wished me luck and I wished them as well. The weather hadn't warmed at all but I was already quite sweaty. There was a touch of a headwind which I only could really tell as he flag was standing straight back. Other than that, this was the best race weather I had run in for years.  I was rather ecstatic.

The third mile would give me a good assessment of how the day was going as the first tow were abut feeling out the race.  As that third mile approached, I looked at my watch and saw it wasn't running.  Crap. I had hit the wrong button.

I was wearing a new Timex GPS watch whose buttons were configured slightly different than a watch I had worn previously.  Out of habit, instead of hitting the lap button. I had paused the watch.  When I went to start it again I stopped it completely. Total user error here. Now I had to wait for it to save, start it up again, and do this all while wearing gloves and carrying a flag. As a result, had no idea what my overall time was as I ran. I just had to run each mile as its own little race and get them all under 6:52.

To Mile 6:

A little perturbed I had messed up my watch, I now was simply trying to get back into rhythm.  I had settled into a spot amongst runners who I would more or less be running with the entirety of rest of the race. Well, they would pull ahead of me on the flats and I would catch up to them on an uphill and then scream down them on a downhill.  Lather rinse repeat.  There is something about flat running that just doesn't work well with me. But give me a grade, especially a down one and it is like we are running different races.

There was a rather sparse crowd out cheering us on and I felt for the marathoners. Usually if the half-marathon crowd is light the marathon crowd is worse.  But as the marathon course utilized different parts of the city and wasn't just the half marathon could plus a longer loop somewhere, it is entirely possible they have fans the whole way as well.

Around the 5th mile my hand started to get a little numb. I was curious when holding the flapping flag would get to me and this is where it happened.  I switched it over to my left hand but without even thinking switched it back to my right hand a few hundred yards later.  Regardless, as I entered Warner Park, I was ticking away 6:45 miles and feeling great.  Not counting the one mile I wasn't sure of my time, I was pushing a 1:28 marathon.

To Mile 10: 

The miles from 7-10 (and I think 19-22 for the marathoners) were indeed the toughest.  There was an odd little dogleg that we ran which went straight u a hill, turned around a cone and then straight down. Then there were the two hills of Maple Bluff which undoubtedly made many a runner swear.

After continuing to play cat and mouse with a few runners over the hills, the toughest challenge for most runners began here in the Bluff.  First was a tougher hill which curved out of sight.  Then after a nice downhill to get some of your time back, there was the much higher and steeper hill ending at mile 9. And it was a bear. Fortunately, when I finally crested it, I knew we had just another mile to go before we crossed through Burrows Park and had a long straightaway home.

I passed a few runners in this section and had a few runners pass me.  It is always interesting to me how runners will plan their strategy.  There is no real right or wrong way but some are front runners who just try and hold on and others who need some time to warm up before finishing strong.

To the Finish:

I took some time during this final straightaway to just focus on how happy I was to have finished 100 half-marathons. When I ran my 100th marathon in 2009, I had only run 14 half-marathons. My life began to become more involved with the running world around that time as an occupation which made me focus more on half marathons, primarily because it was far easier to work two long days of an expo and then run 13.1 miles rather than 26.2. I often used halfs as hard training runs to prepare me for a whole litany of different races and distances. There is something about the pace and length of a half-marathon that lends itself to be a multi-use training race. Thinking about this made the pavement fly under my feet and the few little bumps of hills we had sailed on by.

On the 11th and 12th miles, I was excited that both were well under the 6:52 average I needed.  I had lost nearly half a minute on the big hills in Maple Bluff but figured I would have enough cushion to get under 1:30. However, as the final mile stretched on, I knew something was askew. From the course map I knew we had to run past the finish before turning around and coming back to it.  Looking at the real estate ahead of me and the time left needed to cover it told me that there was no way I was getting under 1:30. Throw in the exceedingly cruel long hill at mile 12.5, a sharp downhill followed by a handful of right angle turns, and one final uphill, and this was a tough finish.

When I conquered the last hill there was a solid crowd waiting to cheer runners to the finish.  I lifted the flag as high as I could and pushed it hard. I could see the clock ahead echoed what I knew from earlier - the course had to be long.  I don't say that lightly and I don't just rely on what my "GPS said." But it does appear the course as a good quarter of a mile long. Oh well. I ran a 1:32:13 for my 100th lifetime marathon and just missed cracking the top 100. Runners came out to run today, that is for sure.  I haven't finished that far back in a half-marathon since Miami in 2016. On a curse no one would describe as easy, there were some stellar times.

Organization-wise the event was well-run. There was a surprisingly large amount of prize money for an event that while good-sized was hardly huge (roughly 1000 finishers this year.) Starting and finishing in the same place is always a plus for logistics and there was ample free parking near both. The t-shirt was a nice long-sleeved cotton blend that was uber soft and a solid medal to boot.  There is a corner taken out of the medal which lends me to believe that if you get four they form some sort of design in the center. (I failed to ask.)

I literally only took one drink of water the entire race so I cannot comment on the aid stations very much. I know they were plentiful and the sip I had was cold but it was 34 degrees- it would have been shocking if it wasn't! All in all Madison is a lovely city. This is a low-key but still well-put together marathon that deserves to be on your list. With its date in November (it used to be in May but they said no on that a few years ago) and location in Wisconsin, chances are no matter how much race temps keep climbing later in the year, weather will be good for fast times.

For me, this was a nice race to get #100. I have run in 28 states and once into Canada for my half-marathons. I have paced friends, run charity events, and even made a short movie. I have averaged a 1:30:30 for all 100 races with my 3rd fastest happening just last year.  (In other words, I know I still have a half-marathon PR in me and I think it will be a doozy when I get it!)  I have plenty of more stats to look at and have fun with but now I have 100 marathons and 100 half marathons under my belt. I guess 100 ultras is next.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Timex Ironman GPS Review

I have been wearing Timex watches for as long as I can remember. They have had some hits and misses when it comes to the GPS market in the past few years, however. Some watches having some awesome features and others having other awesome features but never really hitting it out of the park so to speak. It seems, this time, Timex decided that they were just going to give many of us exactly what we wanted: "The Simplest GPS Watch Ever." Whether that is true remains to be seen but at a cost of less than a benjamin at $99, you will be hard pressed to find a less expensive one.

Timex has rarely gone with flair on its design for its watches, of which I am fine. The Ironman GPS falls right in line here with an unassuming, but well-put-together model. The only touch screen on the watch comes when you want to tap the screen for lap intervals. Other than that it has your standard five buttons configuration. In addition to running, biking, and swimming, the Ironman GPS can also track multisport workouts (triathlon training, for example.)  I haven't gotten around to those yet as since July I have only swam twice and haven't gotten on a bike. (Thank you, two random miscreants who assaulted me ad the Austin PD still haven't charged.)  But I have been putting the run part of the watch to the test.

You can customize the watch face to include whatever of the plethora of options one might want to see while running:  pace, distance, time of the day, lap, etc, rather simply. And you can keep it simple on the display as well.  That pleased me.

Like many other reviews I read, I saw I was not the only one pleased that there is no proprietary cable or dock needed for charging. Simply plug any microUSB cable into the bottom of the Ironman GPS and you are set.  Having had other cords go awry and having no way of charging or uploading data without delving into the Mines of Moria to find he right cable, this was pretty awesome.

Speaking of uploading, I really miss the automatic upload of data the Timex ONE GPS+  had available. It is not much of an extra step to plug your watch into your computer and manually upload the file or use the Timex Connect app to transfer the data.  But I am listing the pros and cons and that was one I really liked. But they were going for simple, so I can't complain, right?

The time to grab the satellites was super fast, something that has often been sketchy at best with other GPS watches. By the time I left my door and got out into the street to run, the GPS was ready.  That is a huge plus. It seemed to do a fairly decent job of tracking me and getting the distance almost spot on for runs I repeatedly do and know exactly how far they are, so that was appreciated.

Also, there is just something about the band of this watch that I really liked. I can't tell if it is its pliability or lack of heft or what but it just feels light and snug. Big fan.

So does, the Timex Ironman GPS do exactly what it sets out to do?  I think so. In fact, it might be simple and it might be inexpensive but it isn't lacking in any real measurable way for the person who is walking the line between just wanting a stopwatch but still wanting to let everyone know where they run.

Good job, Timex.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Running: Thank Goodness It's a Universal Language

Every sport has its own language. To convey essential ideas, shorthand is invented to save time. Running is no different. In fact, you know you've become a runner when you no longer giggle at the word “fartlek.”

But running has a different language from even that which defines its inner workings. Running becomes a mish-mosh of all the dialects of the traveling runner. Once you leave your own comfort zone and local colloquialisms and enter into another, you realize the differences in a language we all think is the same. When we cross a border or fly across a continent, we realize not everyone calls it “soda” or “pop.” Heck, if your fellow runner is from Texas they just may call everything “Coke” and be baffled when you don’t realize they want a Diet Mountain Dew. I mean, why wouldn’t you be able to figure that out?

Having spent some time in Canada recently, which is just different enough for me to think it might
actually be a different country, I got to thinking about our diverse language. Truisms which you feel are absolute are shattered when a completely normal group of people have no idea about which you speak.

What is a drinking fountain in one part of the country is a water fountain in another. Heck, in a few selected places, which obviously are still stuck in 1950s, said device is called a bubbler. You can almost imagine the poodle skirts.

If you happen to wear running tights to a black tie event in the South, someone is apt to say “Bless Your Heart.” Don’t think they are saying something nice. You should have definitely looked at the dress code on the invite. People are going to be talking about you for quite some time.

If you run the Boston Marathon, there is a high chance if you are up in Massachusetts, someone is going to tell you how wicked far that distance is to run. Your friends from Kentucky might wonder if you are fixin’ to go for a shakeout run the day before the race. But if you have some older catch phrases in your arsenal you might reply that you would rather stay home and rest if you had your druthers.

Take a trot through America’s Dairyland and you may hear someone tell you about one whoopensacker of a night. This night was one which was so amazing it almost defies definition. I say “almost” because Wisconsinites invented “whoopensacker” to cover that gap in our language.
If you are trying to avoid baggage fees but still get everything into your carry-on, you may need to pank all your clothes and toiletries down really hard to flatten them. It is almost like you are giving your luggage a snuggie, which people in Iowa know means a wedgie. Don’t be chincy, though, others in Ohio might tell you and just pay the baggage fee. It’s just a few bucks, your friend in Colorado might say so they have no idea why you are faunching about it so much.

Yinz from Pittsburgh and youse from Philly might wonder why y'all from Mississippi are being so snoopy on your ex-girlfriend’s Facebook page. Have a grinder, sub, hoagie, po-boy and relax. In fact, go for a jog in the forest and run through a crick. Better yet, go down the shore like your Jersey buddies. If the road is without a shoulder or berm, you might be able to run on the tree lawn. Unless, of course, you are in California where those weirdos call it a parking strip.

You might be surprised to learn that some in New York call “sprinkles” jimmies, especially when you learn that “jimmies” is slang for male contraception. Seriously, you sprinkle them. They are sprinkles.
While you might meet your buddies kitty corner from the Plaid Pantry in Oregon, you would meet them catty corner from the QuikTrip in Oklahoma. After a hard track workout in the Midwest you might be happy your Mom has the potluck dinner because you ate the hot dish when you were coming back from Minnesota, dontcha know. If you are thirsty, you can always drink from the faucet, spigot or heck even the spicket.

Regardless of where you go, you will learn on your runs that what we think is the same is not the same. But while you may call the sidewalk the pavement or add hella to modify how hard your workout was, know that speaking in terms of sweat is something which all runners can relate.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Weather Permitting

Having been running races for two decades now, in every conceivable condition, for every conceivable type of distance, I can tell you what matters most when you want to have a good day: weather.

It is not how fit you are, what the course is like, what you ate the night before or anything else. Being under-trained, or overcoming a big hill, or puking out some bad food are often things you can't get over relatively quickly in a race.  But the weather on race day is the one variable which will bring you to your knees the hardest.

I have paid special attention to how weather affects performance mostly because of something very specific: I am horrible in warm temperatures. And by "warm" I mean basically anything over 60 degrees. So bad am I when the mercury rises in the ole thermometer that, I was asked to give a speech in Ecuador at a Gatorade Sports Science Institute on sweat loss. In addition, while there, I performed like a gerbil on the treadmill, doing a brisk 45 minute run, indoors, losing seven pounds in sweat alone. (I wish I could tell you how hilarious the owner of the treadmill, who was loaning it to the event, was when he continued to wipe down the outer plastic shell as I ran. Isn't that what the plastic shell is for? He acted as if I had Alien acid sweat that would burn through it if he didn't wipe immediately or thoroughly.  But I digress.)

In addition, I have Gilbert's Syndrome. A relatively mild disorder (if you listen to Wikipedia) it comes into play for those of us who do endurance sports as it affects one's ability to recover from strenuous activity. Since I put myself in situations where I push my body further than most people ever have, I would disagree about how mild it is. Nevertheless, you take all of what I have described and suffice it to say I look at the weather app more than I do anything else as race day approaches.

Of my top ten fastest marathons, only one came when the weather was inclement: the Steamtown Marathon in 2007. Run on the day that Chicago infamously had to blackflag its race for heat, how I was able to put this race out of the hat (after a wrong turn added extra miles) is beyond me. In fact, as I look through even the top 25 marathons I have run there are many different things which present themselves. I was in various level of fitness. I ran them over various terrains. Different elevations. Various times of my life. But one things remains the same: nice weather.

I don't say this without proof.  In fact, I have written down what the weather is for every race I have ever run. (They are all accessible on this very website on the right sidebar.) Over and over again, I perform best when it is cooler.

OK, so that is anecdotal. It is rather Dane-centric. So don't just look at what works for me.  Look at science.  Then look again. And again. Wherever you look, it shows you that when the weather is cooler you run better. If it is less humid, you run better. If it is less windy, you run better.

Obviously there are going to be some people who feel they run better in heat and when people just want to "feel" something, you can't tell them otherwise. But the science points to how our bodies warm the ambient air around us by 20 degrees when we run which is why we are told to dress for the run we will be having in the middle rather than the one we start with.  Otherwise, you end up sweating so much that your clothes get soaked and even if it is cold when you start, you will be drenched in sweat. Then when you finish you freeze because of all the wet clothing.

Note that with this analysis, I am primarily speaking about longer distances races. Shorter distance races like the 100 meter dash (which I still contend is more like power lifting than it is running) need a warmer temperature to keep those ridiculous fast-twitch muscle fibers from snapping like a twig. But the longer you run, the cooler you want the temperature to be. Again, don't take my word for it.  Read this exhaustive study here.  Researchers reviewed weather and race data from past Olympics and determined the ideal temp for elite marathoners was 49.4 degrees for men and 51.8 degrees for women. Athletes in sprint events fared better in warmer temps. For the 100m dash, for example, men did best when the race day temperature was 72.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and women excelled at 73.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Since they run so much faster than us mortals, elite runners are in the weather for far less time than the rest of us.  A person finishing in 5 hours for a marathon is essentially running in a different day than when they started, the way temperatures climb.

So, next time you are looking for that fast race, it may behoove you to check out its historic weather even more than what type of downhill course it has or anything else people use to determine how they will have a good time. Planning for the factor which will probably have the biggest impact on your race, shouldn't be left to chance.