Sunday, September 13, 2020

How to Lose a Marathon - A Book Review

*I was fortunate enough to exchange books with the author of this book I am about to review.  That means, of course, given how I plan to totally use his limitless contacts, I will only laud praise on Joel and his tome.*

If you believe my review will be based on receiving the book from the author, you know nothing about me and how I operate. Which, given this is the internet, has never stopped anyone from doing just that. But on with the review!

I dove into this book immediately after receiving it, needing to just lose myself in reading. Three hours later, with a little texting to friends to interrupt me, I was done. How To Lose a Marathon by Joel Cohen, a writer on The Simpsons, was a quick-read delight.

Mostly written in a tongue-in-cheek tone, with great turns-of-phrase, Cohen recounts how he undertook his first marathon and his voyage there. I say tongue-in-cheek because he mentions how he couldn't find any books out there for the beginning runner and, sweet fancy moses, beginner running books are a dime a dozen. So, thinking I was about to read another first-time runner book filled me with a tad bit of trepidation. No offense to any newbie runners whatsoever but there are few jokes about fartleks or Phidippides "dying" I haven't heard yet. Fortunately, just a few pages in my fears were waylaid. (A reminder that good storytellers are good for a reason and how many athletes don't necessarily make the best speakers/writers.)

After deciding to do some running and putting in a few miles, Cohen figured he would make the New York City Marathon his first foray into the marathon distance.  However, he soon found getting into a race that everyone else wants to get into can be a bit difficult.  He then learned about the charity route and his next decision enamored him to me. Instead of asking others to contribute to his fundraising, he wrote a check himself to cover the entire amount. Obviously not everyone has the means to do that (and he readily admits as such) but "the idea of asking people to donate to a charity I chose so I can do something I wanted to do didn't sit well." Given how I have often bristled at how "raising money for a good cause" has been code for "pay for my vacation to run a marathon in Hawaii or feel like a bad person" this was music to my ears. *insert Benedict Cumberbatch hat tip gif*

The book is filled with humor as Cohen quickly progresses from barely being able to run a mile to planning his first marathon. To be honest, while he is self-deprecating in his ability, Cohen's progression is quite impressive. With his main stated goal to beat Oprah's marathon time of 4:29:20, I wondered if he would. That's not a fast time. But it is also not a "bad time", either. Hell, my first marathon was a 4:12. So I was hooked into reading whether he would have a glorious first marathon or a crash and burn (like mine was.) Given he was going from the couch to the marathon in just the span of a few months, I thought it might be the latter.

This is not necessarily the book one will want to buy for training tips.  But it is if you want to laugh. We type "LOL" in conversation and rarely mean it.  However, I literally laughed out loud at multiple times while reading. I won't ruin them all but when he described "chip time" as "What I scream out every time I open a bag of potato chips", I guffawed  How, in 20 years of running marathons, has "chip time" never once sounded to me like an exclamation!?  Kudos, Joel.

As the book concludes with an almost mile-by-mile recap of his first marathon, you find yourself cheering for Joel to get his goal. Whether he gets it or not, I will leave for you to read yourself.  (Seriously, buy a book for god's sake. Support the arts. Get a few of mine while you are at it.) Suffice it to say that it appears that in spite of not considering himself a runner or really enjoying running during the act, he ends up being a runner nonetheless.

A belated welcome to the club, Mr. Cohen.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Breathe Easy Sports Mask Review

 Well, since every race I was planning to run this year has been canceled, my foray into writing here has definitely been much less.  However, as I finally had something to write about, it was time to fire up the ole blogging engine.

Masks. First of all, wear them. Don't be an idiot.

I have been trying to find a mask that would work with my running. For the most part I was getting by on some masks that work just fine for day-to-day usage but couldn't handle the rigors of being heavily sweated in. Since I am me, the Sweatatron 3000, and live on the surface of the sun here in Austin, Texas, a mask that was breathable was a must. A friend suggesting I try the Breathe Easy Sports Masks and given that they looked like what I was hoping I could find in a running mask, I followed that suggestion.

Created by NYC fashion designer Kim Foley, who also happens to be a marathoner and ultrarunner, I figured the latter would make them work well and the former, which I couldn't possibly care less about, would make them look cool. And they do look cool. Whether they were functional would remain to be seen.

Getting the masks in the dead heat of the summer here in Austin, I knew I would put them through the ringer.  Note to companies: want to see if your product will work for 99% of people? Send them to me and let me run in it for a week or so. Can't tell you how many products don't make it through the juggernaut of existing on my body in the heat.

I wore the masks on three separate longish (12 mile) treadmill runs and a handful of outdoor runs as well.  My theory is that no mask will ever be enjoyable. Masks are not supposed to be enjoyable. They are meant to help cut down on the spread of deadly viruses. If they are super breathable then chances are they do not work. That said, having worn no less than five other types of masks, these Breathe Easy Sports Mask were far and away the best mask I have tried to date.

With the fabric consisting of 100% wicking Polyester and the lining a Nylon/Spandex mesh, the masks were extraordinarily lightweight. There was an adjustable strap which I actually used mid-run at least once because it was getting a little weighed down with my sweat.  Other than that, where other masks felt like I was self-waterboarding, these had the least amount of stick-to-my-face when I breathed in.  And giving I was often running a sub-7 minute mile pace, I was definitely sucking some wind.

The price is a little higher than one has paid for other masks (~$45) but they are made one-at-a-time for each customer (made in the USA as well, so that's nice) and are something you want to have quality in, you can handle the dollars spent. They also come in a variety of colors and I think they can possibly accept specialized orders as well.

I was supposed to give them the ultimate test on a 50k to be run on Labor Day weekend but because 2020 is a cesspool of filth and disappointment, even this smallish race was canceled. Nevertheless, I am confidant that they will continue to perform splendidly. You will likely think so as well.

*I was given a mask at no-cost and volunteered to write this review for no payment.*

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Ignore The Impossible - My latest book!

Right around Christmas 2019 I received an advance shipment of my new book from Mascot Books entitled "Ignore The Impossible".  While it won't be in book stores or Amazon until Spring, I had to award all of the people who backed my kickstarter to make this a reality with their own signed and personalized copy.

For years I have done my best to motivate and inspire people with my endeavors and my speeches worldwide. But often I know that people are unable to attend those speeches and while they love my method and delivery, haven't been able to benefit from what I can share.

I often bristle at the idea of being called a motivational speaker because I have found many in the field do not present an accurate or true account of reality.  Perhaps it is a touch of cynicism on my part but I have never been one who believes in the kumbaya spirit. As such I was always reluctant to write a book that was about much more than what I felt I could really talk about: running.

However, given that running is such a small part of my life, and has just been the conduit which people have found out about what I have accomplished and still strive to do, I was finally convinced by enough cajoling to put my thoughts on inspiration and motivation down on paper.

To me, Ignore The Impossible is not just a mantra but rather the non-motivational-lovers phrase to motivate. It is the book which brings truth and reality to those looking to be inspired but who do not wish to be pandered to. I show from my own life experiences, as well as the lessons I have learned from countless others, how to succeed in life. These are ironclad solutions to problems of every ilk. They are all ways in which we can improve our station in life, rise above our troubles, and bring others with us.

I never say we can do anything we want. I have always said that the only way to find out what you can do is to ignore the impossible and try it anyway.

I have already done one book signing at an event for the wonderful NAHREP group at their Leadership Summit after giving a presentation there. As I ready for more speeches this year, with topics drawn from chapters in this book, I am excited to be changing the tune of my speaking engagements. Pivoting from the running aspect of my life and more into successfully challenging myself in a myriad of other ways, I have seen already what a difference that can make in the lives of others.

The feedback I have received from the advance readers warms my heart and the reviews online are wonderful. I cannot wait to bring this book and my speaking nationwide. If you are looking to hire me as a speaker, simply reach out to me at  That is where you can also order signed and personalized copies for yourself or people who need to be motivated.

I look forward to motivating you!

Monday, December 9, 2019

Perpetual Motion 6 Hour Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 13; 12th Edition 
168.12 miles run and 12.75 miles biked and 6409 meters swam in races in 2019 races
Race: Perpetual Motion 6 Hour
Place: Grapevine, TX
Miles from home: 216
Weather: 50-60 degrees; bright sun; warm

I haven't technically done an ultramarathon in years. In fact, the last time I ran over 26.2 miles in one shot was when I broke a course record in a 50k April 2016 - and finished second. Granted, I did a relay that had me running 40 miles the week before that April 2016 race and earlier this fall I raced an interesting format that had a total of 37.2 miles, but neither was a straight shot of running. I wanted to do end that streak with this race.

If you don't know what a race where you run for time and not distance is about, I wrote an article for Runner's World a few years ago about this. Basically, instead of trying to run a set distance in as little time as possible, you are running as far as you can in a set time. Slight difference but world's apart in preparation and execution.

Super hot in 2007
My goal was to win the race, go over 40 miles, and hopefully set the course record as well. In one of the rare occasions when I have dealt with just an out-and-out pain in the butt on the race course, I had to deal with one jackass during this race. I do not blame the race whatsoever but it made the effort that much more difficult. Hard enough to try to run far but being harassed as well adds layers. I will leave it at that as dips like this don't deserve any more bandwidth.

The last time I had done a race here in Grapevine was in 2007 and it was a similar style race.  In fact, I think it might have been the precursor to this race that new management took over. That 24-hour race went poorly for me mostly because of warm weather. It was also the race where, in the middle, I learned of my father's worsening health. To say it was not a good day would be an understatement.  The forecast looked much better this time and, well, my father has already passed away so at least he couldn't do that again. (That's what the call gallows humor!)


A 9 a.m. start meant a casual morning but it also meant that I would, eventually, be running into the warmest part of the day. We were scheduled to have mostly 50 degree weather, Unfortunately, the course had virtually no shade, no buildings to block the sun, or anything else which might shield runners from whatever the weather might have in store for us. We were indeed exposed and had to hope for the best. Situated mere feet from a large lake also meant would could be dealing with some wind. That was something I had experienced a great deal of before in the 2007 race but it looked calm for us today.

I felt relatively well-trained even if I hadn't done anything close to ultra-specific training in a long time, as mentioned above. But I told myself all I had to do was left, right, left for 360 minutes.  However far I went, giving all I had, was all I could ask for.

Hour One:

The loop we were running on was half of a mile and mostly flat. I say mostly because it definitely had a smile rise and drop each loop. We began running in a clockwise direction (which would change to counterclockwise after four hours) and went up a 14-foot hill. Who cares about 14 feet? Well, I can tell you that if you are running for six or twelve or 24 hours, that hill begins to loom a little large when you run it every half mile. In fact, when we ran the other direction it was slightly steeper and many were cursing it after a while.

I felt I had a fairly good shot for an overall win but I had to stay in my zone. Three-quarters of the
way around the first loop one runner - Aaron - passed me. I was already faster than I wanted to be at this point so I let him go. I was happy to let him set the pace and hopefully give me some competition for the day to keep me honest. By three miles, he had put a hundred yards or so between us. Part of that was because I had to stop for a pee break which was rather shocking as I had barely drunk anything so far. I closed the gap over the next three miles when, I'll be darned, I needed to pee again. I wasn't happy about this annoying development but I came out of each bathroom break feeling wonderful. I quickly closed the gap on Aaron each time.

As we ran, the temperature raised a little but more ominously the clouds started to dissipate. I was not a fan of that development whatsoever. As the first hour counted down, I noticed I was about half of a mile ahead of where I needed to be to get my goal for the day. I felt good. I didn't feel like I was pushing it and all systems were go.

Hour Two:

It was clear to me from the beginning that if Aaron was going to maintain this pace, he was going to be running roughly 46 miles. I did not have 46 miles in me today. As such, he was not a concern for the first hour. My feeling was he was either going to crush me or come back to me. At mile 8.5 I passed him for the first time. Now my goal was to maintain this pace as long as possible. I found myself, however, speeding up. I made a mental note to make a concerted effort to slowdown a touch. Ignore all the others around you and just run your race, I told myself.

There were roughly 60 people running all the races which began simultaneously. Most were quite pleasant and supportive. A few, however, didn't seem to feel any need to concede the inside portion of the path to faster runners. Even more grating was when a few would walk or run three abreast. Without a doubt, every runner who paid their entry fee is entitled to the full amenities of the race and is allowed to run wherever they would like. But certain race etiquette would seem to indicate that you try to be as unobtrusive as possible to fellow runners. Hardly the biggest pick to nit, but when you are trying to run as far as you can, you don't want to run extra uncounted mileage.  Some of the runners were so nice to almost jump out of my way as I passed. I tried ot let them know that it was beyond appreciated but in my shortened breath it probably came out "thkuvrmch!"

Hour Three:

Beginning the third hour, I was a mile ahead of Aaron. Barring any major problems, victory would be mine. (Huzzah).  Next for me to be concerned about would be how far I ran and if I might be able to take down the course record s well. My loops were beginning to go faster than 8-minutes per mile. I had to keep pulling back on the throttle.  There was way too much race left to be running this speed just yet.

In spite of the raise in temperature, my gloves still were on my hands. I did this mainly to use the soft material to gently wipe the sweat off of my face. Apparently I was already known to more than a few runners as "the sweaty guy". I wanted to tell them they should see me when the temperature is twice what it was now. Then again, covered in sweat is covered in sweat. Wasn't much difference. I saw the female leader for the six hour race drenched as well. She was wearing tights and some sort of long sleeve hooded shirt.  She was killing it but I couldn't imagine wearing that much clothing.

I zoned out for a few laps and next thing I knew I had to go to the bathroom again. But now I was over 15 miles in and feeling like everything had settled. The clouds by this time were gone, though. The sun was directly overhead and heating everything up. I still wasn't drinking as much as I should be needed to change that. I couldn't afford to bonk in race I was doing so well in.

Hour Four:

My friend Sarah and her dog Ike had accompanied me on this trip and were wonderful spectators. Ike was hugely popular with all of the runners and received many head pats and chin scratches. It was nice to be able to see them, and my liquids, every half of a mile. Too bad I was not drinking the way I should. So I began stopping for ten seconds, grabbing a swig, booping a snoot (Ike's not Sarah's) and moving on every few miles.

I had put even more distance between myself and Aaron. As I passed him one time, I told him that his shorts and shirt were covered in white salt from sweat. Having seen this many times on myself, I mentioned he might really want to look into making sure he was getting electrolytes. One problem with a short loop like this is that you can forget to drink. Heck, I had done just that for like two hours!

I knew at the end of this hour we would change directions. I wasn't exactly looking forward to climbing the steeper hill but I used that change as something to break down the race into a smaller portion. With just three loops to go before we implemented this switch, my friend Jennifer showed up from nearby Flower Mound. She had sweetly brought me a Mountain Dew as well! Normally, I drink Diet Mountain Dew but in a race like this, the high-octane stuff is my elixir. It served me well when I an my 350 mile race up the coast of Oregon and many other events as well.

I finished this hour but before I could take a small break and talk with her, I had to do the first loop going the opposite direction. So I turned around a cone at the timing mat and retraced my steps.

Hour Five:

I changed shirts, lubed up parts that were beginning to chafe, toweled off my body, and talked to Sarah and Jennifer. I downed the entire bottle of Mountain Dew and grabbed a handful of pretzels. I didn't dilly-dally for what felt like a long time but before I knew it, ten minutes of sitdown time had passed. I bade farewell to Jennifer and decided to walk one loop to let all the liquid and pretzels settle down. It was actually a bit surprising how few calories I was doing this run on.

Doing the math it looked like I was going to end up with an even 80 loops. The course was actually slightly longer than .5 of a mile but I wasn't sure how long. I began doing math in my head and I thought that given what I thought I would co in these next two hours would leave me about half a mile short of the course record. I was actually a bit bummed about this.  So close.I don't blame the sitdown "lost time" because without it I wouldn't be moving forward again as quickly as I was now. Unfortunately, now instead of 4:10 laps, my laps were closer to 4:30. Each loop was pushing me further and further from the goal.

I was hot. The temperature was well over 60 and the sun was bright. I was beginning to feel the tell tale signs of dehydration in places like the crook of my arm. I remember how after my first ever marathon I was astounded how sore my arm was but when you hold it in the same position for four hours, that is what happens. I was stopping every few laps for a quick drink of water now instead of powering through. Knowing it was going to take everything I had, and maybe things I didn't, to break the course record meant the last hour was going to hurt.

Hour Six:

The start of the final hour lifted my spirits and the first two miles were right what I needed. But then
the next two miles receded back into times which weren't going to help me. I knew this race counted partial loops run. They did this by handing you a flag that you would drop on a loop that you started but weren't going to finish before the time ended.  they would measure that to get your exact distance which was a nice plus. I have been at similar races that only count full loops and that is a bit maddening.  Trying to do math in your head six hours into a race is not fun.

As the last quarter of an hour beckoned, my legs were heavy. I was drenched in sweat. I was running faster than everyone else but it was no longer people I was trying to beat. I saw that with three loops to go, I had to do it in 12 minutes at a 4 minute lap pace to break what I thought was the course record. Unfortunately, I had 11:23 seconds to do it and wasn't anywhere close to four-minute lap pace at this point

As I approached the timing mat, I told the timer that I wouldn't need a flag. I was going to stop at this lap and call it a day. I could tell I would finish this loop and still have about two minutes of running left.  But I didn't think it was enough for me to get the record I decided to walk a little bit and this allowed the aforementioned harasser one last time to bother me. Tis a shame that this will always be a part of this memory for me but I used his abrasiveness to spur me forward. I picked up the pace ran hard down the final hill, and came in with the victory.

When I asked how long the loop was, I was stunned. I found out the loop was longer than I thought it had been. My stomach dropped. Had I sabotaged myself into not getting the course record because of bad math on my part?! Did not running the full six hours keep me from getting the course record? They then totaled up the miles and let me know that I had run 41.16 miles

I beat the course record by .04 miles. That's 211 feet. Oy vey. That's way closer than I would want it to be.

All told, this was a well-run event and the vast majority of the runners were extremely pleasant. Aaron ceded second place to Robert McElroy a perfectly pleasant chap who had actually run my Drake Well Marathon (back when I was the executive race director). The overall female finisher, Keisha Williams, was running her first ever 6-hour event. Heck of a way to start your 6-hour career!

Was super nice to have my friend Sarah there to cheer me on. This was the first time she had watched an ultra marathon event and she shared with me a list of things she learned about runners, especially ultrarunners. It was hilarious how spot-on it was.

This was the furthest distance I had run since 2015 when I ran the Salt Flats 50 miler. To get the win and course record as well was just icing on the cake. With my newest book, Ignore the Impossible coming out this week, I can say that I too live by the title of the book.

I hope I have showed that you can as well!  If you want to grab a signed copy, simply email me at

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Fort Worth Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 13; 11th Edition 
126.96 miles run and 12.75 miles biked and 6409 meters swam in races in 2019 races
Race: Fort Worth Marathon
Place: Fort Worth, TX
Miles from home: 190
Weather: 50-60 degrees; bright sun; warm

I ran the Three Countries Marathon in Europe last month after thinking I wouldn't be able to do so as late as one day prior. Going from not being able to run at all to being disappointed I didn't get a time I wanted is something many runners can understand. Desiring to try to roll this training into another race, I looked around near me to find something that would fit. I found the Fort Worth Marathon three hours north of me and began to fervently watch the weather. Courses matter for running fast but weather matters more. When it looked like it was going to be fairly decent I pulled the trigger and registered.

The Course:

This race course is pretty simply and fairly easy. Two times of basically a 6.5 mile out-and-back allows for runners to know what is in store for them the second time around and for those with knowledge of the area, an opportunity to cheer in multiple places. I know the latter is possible as I saw more than a few people at locations all around the course. Or, heck, if you stayed in one place you could see the start, the runners pass on the other side of the West Fork of the Trinity River a mile later, the halfway point, a mile after that, and then the finish.

The vast majority of the course is run on a bike path that is not closed to pedestrians. I say that simply because you can't expect it to be free of everyone. It mostly was, but just mostly. There are a couple of few small rises but other than that ts is quite flat and forgiving. As it is an out-and-back, you will be running into runners coming the opposite direction (hopefully not literally) but that won't happen until the 6th mile on. By that point most runners will have been strung out a bit leaving the potential for collisions to be low. But it can still get a bit congested.

I would say 95% of the course is paved with small portions on crushed grave. There are a couple of places where it seemed like you could choose between the bike path or an adjacent crushed gravel path as there were no markings to tell you which to choose.  If it is certified, obviously there is one way to go; we just didn't see which it would be.

The entire course (or 99%) of it is exposed to the elements so whatever the weather is, you are going to get it. Plan accordingly.


After the malaise and breathing problems I experienced in Europe, I came back to what can only be called some sort of a cold for about three weeks. I didn't go to the doctor because I didn't seem sick enough to be able to describe what I had and, well, our health "care" system sucks. Hearing people in Austria during my race saying "Well, just go see a doctor" and being confused as to why I wouldn't just go reminded me of this.

I had a good week of training before the last week before the race. Then that week just went horrible. I told my friends I had either tapered perfectly or this was going to be a disaster. Regardless, I only had one goal for this race: to secure a Boston Qualifying time for the 15th straight year. Other people have streaks where they just want to show up each day and check a box. I have streaks where I want to push myself as hard as I can for as long as I can.As I have said (and have put on shirts and posters)  "There will come a day when I cannot do this. Today is not that day."

I drove up leisurely on Saturday to Fort Worth with my friend Sarah listening disappointingly to the end of the Penn State-Minnesota game on the radio. Grabbing my packet from the small expo, I was rather relieved not to be working this race. Most of the time when I race I have other duties. Be it a book signing or a speaking engagement or what not, as much as I enjoy it, it is still work. Walking in, walking out, and heading to a hotel felt pretty darn good.

Couldn't really decide what I wanted to eat. I had put on a few pounds since last months' marathon in spite of eating less and coupled with my general blah of the past weekend's workouts, I was wondering if I was wasting a trip up here to simply slog through a marathon. So I went to IHOP because that was what my belly told me it wanted to eat. I listen to my belly.

Somehow I got to bed at a ridiculously early time for myself and slept wonderfully. Normally 5 a.m. wake up calls are met with a lot of swearing but I was ready to roll. A little bit of traffic jam pulling into the paid parking lot (why they didn't just roll that into the price of the registration and save this bottleneck, I don't know) gave way to a quick park, a quick bathroom break, and a stroll to the start. My watch was giving me some problems as the counted down the final seconds before we began, so I just hit start when the gun fired and hoped it would grab my data. (It kindsa did.)

My Race:

Normally in a smaller race, I have some designs on maybe trying for a victory of some sorts. Today I knew I wasn't in shape to do that and gladly let a pack of about ten runners or so take off. The first mile marker seemed like it was off  by at least half a minute. Even on a bad day I don't run a mile that slow to start a marathon. The second mile marker seemed to make up the difference between the two. No harm no foul. Mile markers aren't certified and any race that has them I am just happy they are present.

But the next four miles surprised me. As the sun finally came over the horizon and began to warm us around the fifth mile (well, I had already had sweat drops on my sunglasses after the first mile) I saw that I kept clicking off miles right at 7 minutes per. One side or the other by a few seconds but I was running like a metronome. I had a few runners pass me and a few others I was tracking put some distance between us but I seemed to be doing far better than expected. I knew that this pace would bring me in at 3:03:33 but at six miles I wasn't thinking about that. I was thinking about how, while I didn't feel good, I didn't feel tired. I wondered how much longer that would go. I have had more than a few marathons where at no point did I feel spry or light. But I also never got worn down. Maybe this would be one of those days.

After the turn around slightly before 7 miles I could see we would be getting a full blast of sun in the face. Some of the runners in front of me had chosen to not wear sunglasses and I bet they were regretting that. I fell in behind one runner who I would use for the next 7 miles, give or take, to keep me honest. I might fall a little bit behind him and then catch up but once again, all the way until the half way point I was right around 7 minutes per mile.

At the halfway point, I not only saw my friend Sarah but one of my athletes, Kevin, whom I had
never met in person before. (All my coaching is done remotely.) That was quite a surprise although maybe it shouldn't have been as he lived just down the road somewhere in the DFW metroplex. I hit the half-marathon split a 1:32:36. I had slowed in the last two miles but was still feeling just as good (or bad) as I had been for the entire race. I'd take it.

Second Half:

The mile after the half-way point is always one that can set the pace for me for the rest of the race. It is easy to get excited about getting to the halfway point of the marathon and running hard to get there. However, after that little expenditure of energy, to me the next mile lets you know what you have for the rest of the race. When I hit yet another seven minute mile even though I lost ground to those in front of me and had yet another runner passing me, I was getting to feel very good about my chances of setting another Boston qualifier.

At this point I started doing the math on what I could run the rest of the way and still get what I needed. By now the sun was solidly overhead and I was beginning to feel the effects of its brutal rays. There were a plethora of aid stations on this course for which I tip my cap to the organizers. I drunk heartily from nearly every single one of them on the second loop trying to stave off any wayward affects of the rising heat. I began playing a game with each mile as I ran having come up with a system of breaking down marathons into chewable bits. It's a neat trick I have where I use other places I have run, when I felt good, to think "Well, it is only two more miles to mile 18 and remember when you ran two miles in 11 minutes once around Liberty Park?" It takes me out of the moment and to a time when I felt good.

Coincidentally, around the 18th mile my times went from roughly 7 minutes per mile to 7:25 per mile. What was odd was that there was no gradual slow down between the two times but rather a direct drop of 25 seconds. There it seemed like that was the new normal. No matter how hard I pushed or how much I seem to let off the throttle, that new time kept popping up on my watch.

There were a few places on this race where spectators had gathered to cheer on runners and every time it was a nice boost to your energy. But for the most part this was simply a race with a bunch of runners going back-and-forth on a bike path. You got to notice a lot of the same faces and, even though you are racing each other, begin to cheer them all on.

A few miles back I had passed the man who had taken me through the halfmarathon point. With about 5 miles to go for me, I passed him in the other directions. I could see he was struggling mightily miles behind me. He had looked some strong earlier (even getting a kiss from his girlfriend/wife) running in the opposite direction at one point that I felt quite bad for him. But I had to focus on my own rapidly ebbing energy.

A marathoner and a half marathoner passed me together at one point which left me confused. The half-marathon had started half an hour later than I did. Anyone running a good clip should have been behind me still. Or in front of me. I also didn't recall seeing this marathoner on my out and back a few miles ago. Entirely possible I missed him but it seemed odd. Plus, he was moving along at a great pace. Within a mile or so he had put himself out of sight in the ever twisting path filled with runners or all races. He must have really saved himself for the end. Either way, trying to figure all of this out kept my mind off of running, which itself was a nice distraction.

With about three miles to go I could see, barring a major mishap, I was going to get the Boston
qualifying time that had eluded me in Europe. I began to think about how this day was one day short of my 18th anniversary of running marathons. In the Harrisburg marathon in 2001, on a day that went horribly for me, I never would have thought that running would shape the rest of my life as it has. As I dodged both cyclists out for exercise and half-marathoners coming in to finish their race I could only hope that the same will be true for many of the people here today.

One of the lead runners was struggling mightily as someone ran arm in arm with him obviously keeping him off the ground. I was not too concerned about the fairness of the help he was receiving but more so about the fact that if it was this difficult for him to move forward, then maybe he shouldn’t have been moving forward. I wanted to lend a hand but selfishly had to finish my own goal first. I knew I didn’t have all that much energy to assist in either case anyway. We didn't need to have two runners on the ground.

It was only 65 degrees but I was doused in sweat from head to toe and really beginning to feel the days' efforts. As I hit the 26th mile it was clear that I would secure my 78th Boston marathon qualifying time out of 164 marathons. I gave Sarah a high-five and turned to run under the finishing arch.

I crossed the finish line and 3:08:16 good enough for 15th place overall. One woman bested me with a stellar time of 2:56 taking third place overall in the whole race.
The race itself had a couple of very nice or different amenities. First were hot showers to any runner who needed them. A little trailer with three showers per gender was set up and was an absolute luxury. Second was free hot food for runners consisting of a variety of options to meet all tastest. The other was the handing out of prize money to randomly drawn runners. None was given to the overall winners of any of the races and I can argue the pros and cons of that decision either way.  Nevertheless it kept lots of people milling around and creating a nice energy post-race that is often missing these days.
Someday I will go a year without running a Boston Qualifying time. Fortunately, it wasn't this one.  Time to start scoping out 2020 and looking to not only go sub-3 again but maybe, just maybe try to set a new PR. If I get a sub-3 it will be the third decade I have done so. I started too late in life and in a wrong part of the other decade or I could be chasing my fourth decade. Love and learn.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Country Hopping: Liechtenstein, Austria, and Switzerland

I recently found myself in Europe where Austria, Germany, and Switzerland all are just a few miles from each other at the southern tip of Lake Constance. I was here because one of my clients chose a marathon that went through these three countries as his first and when it was brought to my attention I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore this geographical anomaly as well. While scrutinizing the maps, as I am wont to do, I noticed that the country of Liechtenstein was just a few miles away from the confluence of these other countries. I knew that even though I’d be running the marathon I had to find a reason and a way to tack on another country less than 48 hours later. I had to take at least a one day break, right?

While searching for the shortest possible way to get from Liechtenstein all the way back to where I was staying in Austria I found a tiny little road that left Liechtenstein and joined a larger road in Bangs, Austria. Soon thereafter that road crossed the Rhine River and entered Switzerland. And by "soon thereafter" I mean one mile is all you need to go through three different countries. Technically, I could have stopped there to get my three countries in one run but I figured I need more than four laps of a track to count as a decent trot. (Also, upon further review I see that you can not only follow a bicycle path that goes through all three countries in .36 of a mile but there is a point in the Rhine called the Dreiländereck where all three countries meet!)

My original plan was to cross from Austria into Switzerland over the Rhine River and take a bicycle trail all the way to Saint Margrethen. From there I would hop on a quick half hour train to get me back to my hotel in Lochau, Austria.

However, as fate would have it, I met the CEO of SkinFit, an apparel company that I was in partnership with for this marathon that I was running a few days before this run. He mentioned that the route I was taking would put me mere feet away from their offices and that I should stop in for a tour. Knowing this would be about 7 miles into what was turning into at least a 17 mile run I figured the small break would do me well. Silke, one of the SkinFit employees generously volunteered to take me to the start of my run. She had just run the half-marathon herself so was surprised I was doing another 30 km run. I said I couldn't pass up the opportunity for such an adventure.

We made our way down the highway and the weather looked just amazing for this run. Cloudy, in the low 50s and just way more pleasant than I have experienced any time in the past six months in Texas. Silke dropped me off near my starting point and I walked the remaining meters to a small stone bridge which went over the smallest of streams. If not for a country crossing I doubt this would even be here. A small shack of some sort was positioned to the right and I was hoping it was a bathroom. It definitely was not any sort of border patrol. As I got ready to run and take a selfie to commemorate it, in the middle of nowhere, after seeing no one for a miles, a man and his dog came around the corner. We truly aren't alone virtually anywhere in this world any more. I snapped a photo and away I went.

I quickly entered Bangs, hung a left and scampered down the road to the bicycle trail. A quick ramp up took me right alongside the Rhine. A well-maintained bikepath lay in front of me and I was far from the only one using it here at noon on a Tuesday. Cyclists were abound as was a random car which seemed to be tending to a her a cattle. I am not exactly sure how the car got here but my German isn't strong enough to ask the fella doing the tending.

Three miles later I passed over the Ill River, a tributary of the Rhine and was roughly halfway to my first stop of the day at SkinFit. I wasn't aware that his tributary passed through Feldkirch, a town I had been exploring the day before on my "recovery" day. Recovery included trying to find a zoo and encountering 390 stairs that I decided to hike. Ooof.

The weather continued to be just perfect and even though I had a very light weight SkinFit Ranna jacket tucked into my Camelbak pack, there was never a need for me to pull it out. The next few miles were just as uneventful as the ones behind me.In addition, I was running surprisingly spryly, maintaining roughly an 8 minute mile.

Eleven kilometers after I left Liechtenstein I found myself at the foot of the SkinFit offices. A new-to-SkinFit employee, James Lamont gave me a tour which allowed me to see how the product was made and how it was sold. They had a very interesting business model for sure. I could see given the care and quality that went into each piece of clothing why they were priced a little bit higher than most people who are looking for bargains will wish to pay. After the tour and some discussion about exercise in general, I was told that another employee of SkinFit, Florian, would be guiding me along my destination for the next few miles.I tried to express how I was hoping to run as short a distance as possible but they were also interested in showing me another geographical anomaly. I had come all this way and decided there was nothing wrong with tacking on a few more miles.

This extra mile segment included the bulge in Switzerland called Diepoldsau. The only part of Switzerland that lies east of the Rhine River, this area was also a crossing point for Jews escaping Nazi Germany. Thousands of Jews were saved despite the general Swiss policy of restricting Jewish escape during that time. One man, Paul Grüninger, saved the lives of up to 3,600 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria by pre-dating their visas, enabling them to migrate 'illegally' to Switzerland.  Take that, Schindler! (Seriously, kudos to both men, obviously.)

Florian guided me through this area which would have been rather tricky to find by myself. In fact we even got a tad off track adding a little more mileage to my ever-lengthening run. But soon we crossed the Alter Rhein and here is where Florian gave me the quick history lesson I addressed above.  He was often apologizing for his "less-than-perfect" English, and I said that if he wanted to see less-than-perfect, we should have a conversation in German.

When we officially crossed the Rhine, it was a border crossing that somehow was even less impressive than the one I had started my entire day with. A few planks of wood were placed down in a small stream section of the river and as I crossed Florian pointed to one side and said "Austria" before pointing to the other side and saying "Switzerland". Pretty darn neat.

At this point it was time for him to return back to work and time for me to finish the last seven miles of my run. We parted ways, he told me to keep up my fight against the current political administration in America (as I assured him most of us hated what was going on here) and now I just had roughly 10km to go.

Four miles later I found myself leaving Switzerland to cross into Austria for what would only be a half of a mile. Then I would finally cross the Rhine proper (my  for the first time and head back into Switzerland. A quick stop at a convenience store to down a Coke for calories meant that I only had three more miles to go. I sat outside of this shop, contemplating the $3 I had just spent on roughly a can-and-a-half and how fortunate I am to be able to do what I do. I work hard for sure, but at 43, I am 12 years older than the last time my father had use of his legs. I am fortunate indeed. Doesn't mean I can't be tired though and man I was ready for this run to be over. Away I went.

The weather had been intermittently sunny and cloudy with a spritz of rain here and there but the final two miles were a brisk 52° with a bright sunshine and slight wind.Up ahead I saw where I would be ending my run even though I had another mile to walk to the train station. If I hadn’t stopped in where I did, in another 200 yards I would’ve left Switzerland once again and entered Austria. In fact, if I hadn’t been so tired, I would’ve noticed that two days earlier I had ran on this exact same stretch of road at mile 17.5 of the marathon!

All told, I ran 18.5 miles and maintain that there really is no better way to see this world than by our own two feet. I sincerely hope to be back to this area for a multitude of reasons and races. This time it will feel like home.

Thanks again to the people of SkinFit, the Drei-Lander Marathon and the people of these four countries for making this trip so enjoyable.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Three Countries Marathon (3-Länder-Marathon) Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 13; 10th Edition 
100.75 miles run and 12.75 miles biked and 6409 meters swam in races in 2019 races
Race: Three Countries Marathon (3-Länder-Marathon)
Place: Bregenz, Austria
Miles from home: 5500
Weather: 52 degrees; mostly cloudy; cool

This race was about 24 hours from not happening for me. That has nothing to do with the event itself, which was pulled off expertly by the race organizers.

A persistent but oddly-occurring breathing problem happening for most of this year had me sucking wind just one day before the race. I have chalked it up all year to some sort of allergies or weather but I honestly have no real idea what is causing it. Given that all the other circumstances have changed every time I’ve had this problem the only thing that it can seem to actually be is something that I’ve never really dealt with before: stress.

This race was brought to my attention because one of the athletes that I coach was choosing it for his first marathon ever. As such, I reached out to the race and we decided to work together in arrangement between myself, the Visit Vorarlberg and the apparel company SkinFit to have me come in, speak about my endeavors, run the marathon and share it all with you my experiences. But the morning before the race it look like I might be downgrading to a half marathon jog rather than exploring the three countries of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland this marathon course traversed.

As I spoke to a group of multi-national citizens about what brought me to this event something happened with my lungs and they opened up. That night I was cautiously optimistic about running, albeit slowly, the marathon. The next morning, still cautious, I dressed for the race feeling like I could breathe for the first time in days. To say that I was elated to not be “wasting” this trip on a half marathon alone would be an understatement.

The race course itself starts on an island in Lake Constance in the city of Lindau, Germany. From there it runs into Austria for a majority of the race before skipping over into Switzerland for just a brief minute and then heading back in to Austria for a finish in the town of Bregenz. The race has a wonderful starting time of 10:30 AM which would only be a problem if there is unnaturally warm weather. That was not the case for us as we had an idyllic 52° with heavy cloud cover and the occasional spritz of rain.

As I readied myself for this midsize marathon I was shocked by the absolute lack of any overweight people whatsoever at the race. At many races in America we see people taking on the marathon as part of their weight-loss program. Here it appears that absolutely nobody would dare to eve toe the line of the half marathon distance until they had lost any of those extra pounds. So kudos to these citizens for conquering one epidemic. However, as I explored the countries over the next few days it was clear they seemed to miss the memo on cigarette smoking. You win some, you lose some.

I also got to experience what is the closest one can ever have two public urination without getting arrested as I saddled up to one of these "Iron Crosses of Humiliation", as I call them. With four patrons relieving themselves simultaneously all while looking directly at each other with just the smallest lip of plastic shielding your manhood from the prying eyes of anyone walking by, this set up really illustrates that there is no modesty in long-distance running.

I scored a nice spot near the front of the race while a rockabilly band played numerous American songs with just a hint of an accent and listened to the countdown in German: “Drei, Zewi, Eins!...GEHEN!"

First 5km: 21:43

It is funny how quickly ,as an athlete, you go from "I won't be able to run at all" to "I should probably be able to run this under three hours". As we left the island in Lindau and headed onto the mainland, my first few kilometers surprised me. All were under sub-3 hour pace. But I felt fine.  I didn't think I was pushing it and no alarms were going off.  However. when the third, fourth and fifth kilometers slowed down my pace, it was for the best. I decided to only look at my watch every five kilometers during this race which would keep me from being too obsessed with time. I just had to be happy to be here.

When I heard some cowbells here, I thought "Typical. So many spectators have those these days."  Then I looked over and it was an actual cow in a field about ten feet away. I laughed about that for like a mile.

When I hit 5km and saw I was on pace for a 3:03 marathon, I told myself I would be over the moon with that time and just see how long I could hold that pace.

10km: 21:46

The next 5km was just like the first 5km: running along a paved bike path right next to Lake Constance (or Bodensee in German. There are all kinds of fun facts about Lake Constance which touches all three countries. Like how you are in international waters the minute your toes hit liquid.) At this point and all the way for miles, I had picked up a shadow. A chap named Gabriel decided that my back pocket was where he was going to be sitting. Apparently Gabriel had lots of friends on the course. I wish some had run with him so that he would have quit riding my ass.

He finally decided to pass me, on the turn, on my inside shoulder with no space to spare. I don't know if "Come on, dude" translates but I know my tone did. I decided right then, I would beat this guy to the finish. But for now, I let him slide ahead.

15km: 22:06

We literally ran through the seating of the Bregenzer Festspiele which is an arts festival sporting the
Seebühne- the world's largest floating stage. That was actually pretty darn neat if not a tad precarious because of the tight turns. Then back onto the path again we went. By now I have settled into a place where a group of about five runners were a few dozen yards in front of me and no one else was around me. This is perfect for me. I don't like having other runners on my sides. But having a group of runners in front of me helping keep that pace (if they are in fact doing so) was quite nice.

The paved path turned surprisingly into trail mix of dirt and stone. I say surprising because we were well within the city of Bregenz and I expected it to stay paved the whole way. It was well-packed and except for the occasional puddle was pleasant to run on. Right around 13km the sun shot out from behind a cloud. I gave it a withering glance (but at least I had sunglasses on and it wasn't a solar eclipse, like some freaking moron) to let it know I did NOT want to see it at all today. The weather was so wonderful for me and even though I was covered in sweat, I was mildly cool. I hadn't experienced that in about six months.

We passed over the Bregenzer Ach, a river which I thought was the Rhine and that threw me. I knew the Rhine was about the half way point and didn't know this was here as well.  But as we ran over the bridge, a blast of cool air tickled my skin. "Yes," I thought. "That'll do, pig."

20km: 21:52

I was now settled into my pace. the group of runners in front of me, comprised of about six or seven, would occasionally overtake one runner or lose a runner from their pack. I too would overtake someone and keep on churning out miles. While I wasn't checking each mile split, I felt like I was clocking the same times and my watch shows me after the race I was doing just that.

We had out first small out and back of the day and I could see that the fifth, sixth and seventh women were just in front of me. If you are that close to the top of the women in the race, you are usually having a good day. We swung around a 180 degree turn and entered the town of Hard. The kilometer markers and signs all had the town's name on them and I said "Yes, this is."

25 km: 22:29

Finally crossing the Rhine, we had our first "hill" of the day as runners looped over an overpass. I was still feeling pretty good but just wanted to see what the half-marathon split would be. Entering Fußach and seeing a small mat for the half-marathon was what I had been waiting for. Clocking a 1:32:14 for the half had me elated. I was certain I could maintain at or close to this pace for the rest of the race. Running a 3:05 would just be wonderful.

I began playing a game with a few runners here where they would pass me and I would pass them.  But together we were passing other runners who we would never see again. Shoulder-sitting Gabriel and an Asian man were working together in front of me about 50 yards ahead. They were still in striking distance and I was still using them as a barometer for how I felt.

There were a smattering of crowds dotting this course even though it might have been a bit difficult to get out to cheer people on. That was definitely appreciated. In addition, when we passed through neighborhoods, a few residents had come out to cheer as well. I have always lamented that so few residents in American marathons use the fact that a marathon is going through their front yard as a chance to see the human spirit in motion. Here, that was not the case.

I was getting closer to running in a new country as well.

30 km: 22:35

We crossed the border into Switzerland with our bib number being our passport. There were high school (or their equivalent) bands and cheerleaders out as well as many fans and vuvuzelas (because it is still apparently the 2010 South Africa world cup.) I played with the crowd and cheered and whooped and got a new hop in my step. I would need it as there would be no less than three different underpasses we had to climb. Hardly Mt. Everest, but at this point, I just wanted flat running.

I passed Gabriel on a long straight path on the west side of the Rhine and was feeling good. For about a mile. Then the energy started to slip away. But no one was passing me. I just wanted to get to mile 20. Then I could get into my head and play all the games I do to forget about how tired I am.

I rarely look around when I am racing but there were plenty of funny signs encouraging runners that were just a bit off in their translation. Right now my memory fails me but they definitely made me smile at the time. I do think one said "Run Cool. Be Hard." Easy there, cheetah.

35 km: 24:09

Unfortunately, mile 20 did come but with it was the climb over the bridge again. I could tell my time was slowing. I just wanted to hold on the best I could.  The best part of this section was the fact we had been here before going the opposite direction. I knew what was ahead. I could picture it in my head with all the twists and turns and tangents to run. Sometimes the fact a marathon has so many more kilometers than miles can be a blessing. It feels like the race is flying by. When you begin to tire and each kilometer now seems further and further away, however, it can play with your head.

Yet even though I was slowing, no one was passing me. It was like we were all suffering together. The signs that said "Hard" were no longer funny but rather letting me know that it wasn't going to get much easier. I needed to bite down and focus. Each little raise of a hill or slight turn was taking more and more energy to do. Finally, it was just too much.

40 km: 25:15

As I approached the last 5km of this race I could tell I was going to need to do something. When an aid station appeared, my executive decision was to take a walk break. Fortunately, this aid station had cola for the runners. (Most had water, tea, and some energy drink which I did not venture to try. Some also had cola.). I put three glasses into one and grabbed another glass of water. None of these were particularly cold as, if you have ever traveled in Europe, they don't chill many of their beverages. Finding ice even at a hotel is like a search for the Holy Grail.  But here I needed the calories and the sugar more than the ice.

I downed the cola quickly and kept walking. About 100 meters later I used the water to wash out my mouth a bit and then took the rest down the gullet. About a mile back we had joined a bunch of other runners doing either the half or the 10k. I wasn't sure. But now I had more than few runners around me and I was trying to suck out their energy.

Suddenly two marathoners passed me. I decided now was the time to go. I fell in behind them and almost immediately felt like a 100 Euros. (Which is even better than 100 bucks.) I looked at my watch and saw it was going to take a Herculean effort to get a Boston Qualifying time but I was going to give it my best. The quarter mile walk break had severely drained my time but without it I am not sure I could be running like I was right now. Three minutes before I was wondering if I was going to have to walk the last three miles. Now I was running below seven minute pace.

During my walk break, Gabriel had passed me.  But with one mile to go, he was just 50 meters in front of me. I revved myself up and began to ready myself for a duel to the finish. I knew he had speed but I had grit. I was ready to go. I hope you are, Gabriel. Because now is time for me to kick your a--
I turned the corner and Gabriel was walking. So much for that showdown.

In spite of my pick up, I know it was now nearly impossible to break 3:10. Last year, my age group BQ time was 3:15. But they sped it up for 2020. If I want to keep my 16 year streak of at least one qualifying time going I will have to be faster. I pumped my arms,  stretched out my stride, avoided the massive amount of runners in front of me and gave it all I had. But it was just not enough.

Entering the stadium finish I eased off the throttle a bit. I avoided some random mascot who wanted to high-five me (when I just wanted him to get the hell out of my lane) and finished my 163rd lifetime marathon in a time of 3:11:49. This was only my 77th fastest marathon but my fastest in four years. I am not going to say I "needed" this but it sure helped the psyche a bit. (I found Gabriel and shook his hand.  Competitors during the race and friends after.)

I wasn't quite finished with the day, however. I coach athletes remotely from around the world. One of them just happened to be running his first marathon at this particular race. Stefan Wegner was in the middle of one heck of a tumultuous period of time. He unfortunately lost his father just a few weeks ago. And he is getting married in two weeks. As if a first marathon marathon is not trying enough, imagine these other two things happening that the same time.

Over the past two years, he has lost around 40 pounds and during his time with me has lowered his personal best in the half from a 2:18 to a 1:41. And as he finished his first marathon in a time of 3:52, I was here waiting with his medal to put around his neck! It might have been a bigger thrill for me than it was to him. Way to go, Stefan!

All told this is an excellent race. The organization is top notch, the volunteers are great, the crowd, while a bit thin at times was boisterous and fun where it counted.  To be able to run through three countries was just a cherry on top of everything else. I would highly recommend taking the time to ignore some of the bigger marathons that every one seems to get bothered by not winning the "lottery" to be afforded the opportunity to spend $250 to enter a race where you are one of tens of thousands and truly experience something unique at 25% of the cost. 

Come run the 3-Länder-Marathon!