Thursday, December 18, 2014

VARIDESK Single Standing Desk review

Even if you average an hour of exercise a day, which is roughly what I get, you are spending a lot of time not exercising. If you work at a desk or are a writer like myself, you spend a lot of that time sitting down.  With so many reports calling sitting the new smoking, that’s a bad thing.

When I first moved to Portland, I was selling a few of my items I didn’t need anymore. One was a large dresser.  While I was waiting for the purchaser to come and get it (it took a few days) I had placed my laptop on the top of the dresser.  I would stand there and do work while I set up the rest of my loft. I found I actually enjoyed standing while I wrote. The buyer came and took the dresser away.  I tried to recreate it with a homemade version.  That didn’t work too well.  Then I tried a semi-desk but it was neither tall enough nor sturdy enough. To some extent I gave up. I bought a desk, and a chair and resigned to just sitting.

Quite some time ago, I heard of the product Varidesk. Then I stayed with a friend who had one and I used it for a few hours. I had to get my own.  Which I did. I am now the proud owner of the Varidesk Single (pictured to the right). After using it for a few weeks, I wanted to give you my thoughts on how it worked for me.

Whenever I go to write a review of something I usually go online to see what other people have said. More specifically, I look at the most negative comments. I want to see what potentially could be the worst aspects of a product. I then compare them to my own experience and make a combination of what I like and what I may not like down the road. Here is what I came up with.

First and foremost, there is no assembly required with the Single (I don’t know about the others.). Pulling it out of the box, setting it on my existing desk and beginning to use it in ten seconds was just wonderful.  

I am 6’1’’ and therefore a little on the tall side.  I can see how the VariDesk might be considered a little too short for people my height and above. Then again, we have spent the vast majority of our working life with a monitor at eye level or higher. Who is to say that is the right height?  But yes, looking down at the screen could possibly get a little tiring. So be it. It hasn’t bothered me so far. (And, in hindsight, can you blame the VariDesk if it does not go high enough? Maybe the desk it is sitting on isn’t high enough to begin with.)

When the desk is in the down position, and you are sitting (yes, I occasionally sit down as well when using it), it is a little high. If this bothered me at all, I would simply keep the desk in the upright position and move my laptop under the desk.  It was like it was in its own little cave. Problem solved.

That’s about it when it comes to complaints. I feel there is ample room for a mouse and a mousepad, a few things plugged into the other side, and in this case, all the accoutrements I happened to have on my desk when I was typing this review.  It is easy to move from the up to down position and back again. While it is a tad heavy, it is still sleek and cool looking.  Best of all, I know I am doing something better for my health for the hours I spend writing. It also makes it much easier to dance while I type.  I have moves like Jagger, FYI.

For anyone looking to get one of these, I would highly suggest you also get one of the mats they all sell on the website. It is extremely comfortable on your feet. Chances are you aren’t used to being on your feet and even in comfy shoes, you will need a little cushion.  It is worth the investment.

As a runner who writes, this has been one of the best self-gifts I have ever given to, well, myself. My recommendation would be to not wait as long as I did and get yourself one ASAP.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Review of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail... and a few other thoughts

The other day I was reading an article in a running magazine. The author of the article was touting a literal cross-country running route in Spain. In the article, the author makes a grand gesture of how they suddenly quit their job, went home that night and bought a plane ticket so they could leave the next day for Spain. When arriving they set off, with nary a plan, to run the length of the country.

Having flown approximately half of a million miles in the past half of a decade, I know a thing or two about air travel. I know price points and availabilities and the like. Upon hearing this supposed spur-of-the moment trip, I was already heading into this article a teensy bit more than skeptical about what I was going to read next. 

The author then goes on to speak about how they had little more than a passport, a spare pair of running clothes and a backpack on their person. The skeleton of an idea was to run this 500 mile route in a few weeks and then head back home. Or something.  It really doesn’t matter what the actual stated purpose was supposed to be. Why? Because by this point, the story feels like one of a thousand I have read where the author supposedly spontaneously does [fill in the blank] and we as the reader are expected to buy the story whole hog. 

I despise this type of writing.

With the proliferation of blogs and social media and the like, everyone can try to tell a story. This is wonderful in so many ways. Hidden talent is no longer hidden because it can’t find an agent or an outlet. However, the sheer amount of writing out there is chaff. Just because one can hit keystrokes doesn’t mean they are a good writer. (I constantly feel like a fraud when I write, wondering why anyone could possibly want to read my musings. I expect at any moment to never sell another book and have zero people click any link to any post I write.) As such, given the breadth of writings, this can lead to much exaggeration in order to make one person’s story more grandiose than the others. 

One of the things I have prided myself on when it comes to writing race recaps or tales of my adventures is to undersell what I have done. I go out of my way to keep any exuberances to a minimum. However, if anything unnatural occurs, I do my best to back it up with tangible evidence. If I say that I got cut off at the finish line by a rude competitor, it is rather vindicating when the pictures arrive and shows that is exactly what happened.

With the article I was reading, it was clear the author’s main point was to wax poetic about this particular trail. But barely buried in the subtext was how wonderfully care-free this author was supposed to be. Sticking it to the man, throwing caution to the wind and taking on Spain, come what may. Look at me! I am bucking convention! My bank account is obviously limitless and my talent and skills so high I needn’t prepare physically or gather proper gear, route-planning or provisions! Be inspired by my awesomeness! 

Of course, the author didn’t come close to finishing the entire run. Some injury flared up and they called it quits after about right days of running and halfway across the trial. But that doesn’t matter in today’s hyped world. Talk about what you are going to do and you will get press. Hype up your adventure with a slick website or corporate funding and many will forget that you never actually accomplished what you were getting all the attention for in the first place. Better yet, be vague about what you are trying to do so no one can ever say you failed. Couple your efforts with fund-raising and you become bulletproof. Only the mean-spirited would ever point out you actually accomplished next to nothing and we all just paid for your vacation to Hawaii to run a marathon. By the way, what were you raising awareness for again?

The biggest problem I have with this type of storytelling is, even if it does inspire, it often will do so in a foolhardy way. The thought process is, if the average joe can just pick up and conquer the world then others feel they can, too. In the abstract, this is a wonderful idea. In reality, it can lead to disaster or massive failure. More often than not, however, tales of adventure had simply paved the way for a defeatist attitude. Many stop before they even start. Having seen this first-hand, let me explain.  

When I speak about running 52 Marathons in 52 weekends, eventually not only just completing the marathons but running them faster than I had ever run a marathon before, I see many who are inspired to take on challenges. Unfortunately, I also see some who grasp the magnitude of the endeavor and it frightens them. They immediately shirk any notion of chasing their dreams. “I could never run 52 Marathons!”  They are missing the point of seeing someone do something challenging. 

I therefore specifically point out my undertaking was to challenge myself. It was not to compare myself against others or to try and break a world record. It was to push myself past my previous limitations. I tell them not to think about running marathons but rather to think about something, anything, they currently think they can’t do. Start a business. Run a race. Become a parent. Hopefully what I have done will put them in the right frame of mind to tilt against their own windmill. 

The point is to inspire, lift up and motivate. I make a sincere effort to show how much planning, hard-work and preparation went into not only the running of the marathons but the living of my life in between the races. That is why I say I despise the type of writing or story-telling which glosses over those important details. The task which gets the headlines is usually the easiest part of the entire excursion.  Lost is all the behind-the-scenes stuff many never think about. It is also one major reason the article I mention above bothers me.  It is also one of many reasons I am disgusted by movie Wild

Talk about burying the lede.

If you don’t know, Wild is the movie based off the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed which Oprah recently has lauded. The protagonist author talks about how after losing her mother and getting divorced she decides to walk 1000-plus miles along Pacific Crest Trail. That’s the headline-grabbing synopsis. (Note the actual full PCT is ~2500 miles.) What is glossed over is that Strayed appears by every account to be a manipulative user, a sneaky opportunist, and while possibly a good storyteller, one who may be completely full of shit.

Lest you think I am attacking her unwarranted, let’s tackle the “got a divorce” portion of her life. This wasn’t just irreconcilable differences between two people who grew apart. No, Strayed had a series of what we would generously call affairs. What they really were is nothing less than a whore turning tricks to support a raging heroin habit (or sometimes just to have sex.)  An affair would at least add a touch of connection between humans. Or maybe some person stuck in a relationship who because of their past is not strong enough to break free. But with Strayed, this was not the case. Her husband was apparently very loving and doting. She just wanted to sex up all of America. Even after her divorce, while she was hiking the trail, her cuckold husband was still sending her care packages along the way of her supposed hike. But I am getting a tad ahead of myself.

Losing a parent very young is not something I make light of. I am sure it could have hurt Strayed deeply.  But it rarely seems as if this was the case here. Rather, Strayed gives the impression that she uses her mother’s death as the excuse for her string of bad behavior and hurtful life choices. It is a subterfuge for a person who simply wants to use others. Why else would she pack a box on condoms in her backpack for her hike along the trail?  If she could barely resist staring at the outline of the penis of the male nurse hovering over her dying mother, how could this poor girl be expected not to sleep with every trail runner she runs into along the way? And according to Strayed, she was absolutely irresistible to anything she happened along during her journey. This, of course, makes one want to take a look at Strayed. Upon seeing a few pictures, I think most would agree that while she is not homely, she is not exactly the Lady in the Lake either.  But I digress.
Personal tastes aside, Strayed mentions the numerous people she happens across. This seems a little strange. How did Strayed happen across so many people on a trail that is not exactly the National Mall. Tourists are not dotting this trail, mile after mile. The answer lies in Strayed’s own admission that she did what those in the trail running/hiking community call “yellow-blazing.” Basically, she hitch-hiked major portions of the route.  So, for starters Strayed didn’t actually hike the whole trail. In fact, she didn’t come close. She received rides from many of her male suitors along the way.  She skipped massive portions of the more difficult trail because she was absolutely unprepared to take them on. She spent a great deal of time not on the trail, down in area’s of higher population with apparently lustful men (and women) who could not help but want her so bad. Whatever.

In fact, given her descriptions of the trails, or general lack thereof, it is not a far leap whatsoever to wonder how much of the actual trail Strayed hiked.  A person of already questionable scruples, it is not hard to believe most of what she is reporting was exaggerated, if not completely fabricated. The only person’s word we have to go on is Strayed’s. That’s what we call an unreliable witness in the law world.

(A side note here about Strayed’s surname.  She claims she changed it to this after her divorce to signify how she was lost. As many have pointed out in a review of her work, so much of this tale would be forgivable, if Strayed showed any remorse or growth along the journey. Instead, when she comes out on the other side of the trail, she seems virtually unchanged. Years later, recounting these events, she still says she is fine with her choices because obviously this is just the way she is. So if others are hurt or chewed up and swallowed along the way, so be it. Stay classy, Strayed.)

I could go on further to explain more why Strayed’s recounting of her hike bothers me but let me try to be more succinct. I just spent the better part of the year interviewing a large number of women for my third book, Running With The Girls. Throughout my writing career, I have made no qualms about the fact that I think writing stories about those who have come back from bad choices in life is the easiest type of writing possible. Anyone can write a heart-wrenching story about the recovering alcoholic or drug user. What is challenging is to show how inspiration and strength come from those who make the right choices and still get handed the business end of life. Showing how people handle the adversity of circumstances they didn’t choose is real inspiration. This doesn’t mean the others who did choose poorly can’t be applauded for their efforts.  But to do so at the sake of not giving accolades to the ones who get back up from every knockdown they did not choose to be in the ring for is folly.  And those people are often ignored for the low-hanging fruit of inspiring stories.

So when I see Strayed glorified for her own horrible choices, made again and again and when she appears by every description to be a rather yucky person, you can see why my stomach turns. Moreover, given the crux of her book is how a completely physically unprepared person takes on this long hike, you can see the correlation I am making to the author of the article about running across Spain. 

Strayed brags about her knowing nothing about gear, nutrition, or even trying out her shoes until the night before her supposed journey begins.  It is only through incredible luck, the graciousness of other hikers along the way, and probably more than a little stretching of the truth, that Strayed lived to tell her tale. There is nothing inspiring about the philandering drug user who takes on a hike she probably didn’t actually do. In fact, it is downright dangerous.  The vast majority of people who tried to similarly do so would not end up with Oprah’s seal of approval and Reese Witherspoon playing them in a movie. Rather, they would end up dead in an abandoned bus like Christopher McCandless of Into The Wild fame. I have no love-loss for this story either but Chris was probably, at worst, just unprepared for his journey. (As for the author of the Spain article, they at least seemed to be a seasoned runner who had researched this trail extensively.)

There are so many fantastic and true stories to be told in this world. Why the ones which are dubious at best catch the eyes of so many is baffling and sad.  I read account after account on running stories where people claim to have not even known that marathon was happening in whatever town and just signed up on a whim.  No, you didn’t. You might not have paid for the race until the day before but you knew it existed.  You had been training. You were ready to take on that challenge. Your story, without embellishment, is enough to inspire. You needn’t try to convince people to be impressed. Those who want to be impressed will be so. Those on the fence are probably going to see through the chicanery. Those who don’t like you or don’t care are going to continue to not like you or care. You could save their mother from a burning house and they would still call it self-promotion.

So, taper not only your workouts for your race but your need to play up that which is already inspiring and wonderful.  In the meantime, stop glorifying those who do not deserve it. There are heroes all around us. People with incredible tales that need no CGI or embellishment.  Find those people and share their stories. 
Stories like those in Wild need no celebration. They are exercises in futile navel-gazing with no payoff whatsoever. If this was a novel we would speak of the main character going nowhere.  We went all this way to get nothing.  Instead, it is a “true” story of a woman who has changed nothing about herself except her bank account. As I recoiled more and more at the thought of how this book smacks of so much bullcrap ala A Million Little Pieces (another Oprah pick, by the way) I purposefully looked up positive reviews.  I wanted to see what someone could possibly find riveting and/or inspiring. Time and again, I sat there reading a review thinking: “Wait. What book are they reviewing?” I finally had to stop reading the positive reviews because how completely off-base they were was driving me mad. 

The fact remains I would be completely unsurprised if 90% of this book was fictional.  I would also be completely unsurprised if the 10% which was true were all the unseemly character traits of Strayed. But even if that were the case, it won’t be remembered as such.  Instead, it will be remembered, somehow as #1 presently on Excursion Guides on Amazon even though there is hardly ten words in the book anyone wanting to hike the PCT would use as a guide.

Many will say, where's the foul? If people gain inspiration from anywhere, that is a good thing. Perhaps that is true but the foul starts and ends with paying homage to some when others, who richly deserve it, go completely unheralded. Who here has heard of Kathy Faulks, Laurie Dressler, Debbie Higgins or Laura Seltzer? These four women just happened to hike the entire PCT the same year Strayed was out there with her ankles up in the area playing Russian Roulette with her health and occasionally hiking a bit.  Where is their book? Why is it nearly impossible to find information about their journey? That is a book which should be available to buy and read.

This all said, I do, however, think Wild would make an excellent addition to your hiking backpack.  You are going to eventually need some kindling to start a fire up there on the trail.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Winter Wobble 5k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 21st Edition 
272.3 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Winter Wobble 5k
Place: Slippery Rock, PA
Miles from home: 2542 (47 miles from childhood home)
Weather: 30s; rainy

When I decided to visit my mom for a post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas trip, I looked around the area to see if there was any races nearby. I found one or two within an hour's drive.  I settled on one smaller race at Slippery Rock University based solely on the fact that I had never been to its campus. As much of the United States that I have seen, I have seen so little of the surrounding area near my hometown.  Growing up I rarely traveled with any of my family.  I didn't get my first car until I was in my final year of law school. So, Slippery Rock it was.

The fact that the race started at 10:30 a.m. definitely helped my decision.

Then on Thanksgiving I got a third degree sprain of my ankle running a hilly 5k in Portland. I doubted I would be running at all, let alone racing. Fortunately, my wolverine-esque healing powers kicked in and 48 hours later I went from balloon foot to normal ugly foot. However, given the whole "I might not even run this thing" I didn't look at the course or elevation profile. Well, that would end up hurting a bit.

What was most special about this race was that it was the first time in many years anyone in my family had even seen me start a race. Always supportive but usually thousands of miles away, now they got to see me run. I was stoked.

After a completely respectable wake-up, a quick trip to pick up my aunt, my other and I were on our way to Slippery Rock. The forecast called for cold temps and rain which were not exactly to my liking but what can you do.  The start of the race was near Ski Lodge on the campus and while we waited out the cold and rain, we were treated to a nice warming fire inside.  Runners gathered inside until just a few minutes before the start.  We then meandered out onto the course as chilly raindrops fell.

A penguin with a starting horn lined us up, a prayer was said and away we went.

Mile 1:

After 20 yards of running on wet road we immediately went up a wet gravelly hill.  I was somewhere in the initial top ten of runners but wasn't too worried. My time was irrelevant as was my place. I was simply trying to make sure I didn't harm the ankle.  One young fella shot out and was chased by only one other guy.  About six of us hung together as the rain begin to come down harder.  It was chilly.

After the initial hill we flattened for a tough before a couple of sharp right hand turns. I didn't feel too uncomfortable at this pace but I wanted to push it more. We crested a small rise and I saw a nice downhill in front of us.  Use what you are good at, is what I always say.  I'm good at downhills so I sidestepped puddles, the lone female runner in front of me and a trio of guys undoubtedly half my age.  (That's just weird by the way. 19 year olds shouldn't be me divided by 2.)

I passed everyone but the two rockets who shot out of the gate and sidestepped a runner with a dog, who I couldn't tell whether he was in the race or not.  He had started out a little bit before us and ran the same course but obviously wasn't racing. Seemed odd to be out here if he wasn't.

When the hill ended one of the young bucks behind me and the guy with the dog caught up and passed me.  The guy with the dog continued on in a straight direction while we headed toward the street on the front side of the campus.

Mile 2:

Having drive in this way I knew we were in for a doozy of a hill.  I was not exactly looking forward to it. I wasn't happy about letting 3rd place go ahead of me either but I had to keep reminded me that a podium finish in a 5k meant absolutely nothing to my overall goals right now. So in fourth place I sat.

I could hear one of the younger fellas behind me but was more intent on trying to figure out exactly where we needed to turn and when. I was also very anxious to see the top of the damn hill.  As we finally approached it and made another 90 degree angle, I looked at my watch.  This was going much better than I could have hoped.

Mile 3:

The man with the dog appeared to cheer the young buck behind me on as we re-entered the campus.  Tell him "it is flat or downhill the rest of the way!" was more helpful to me than it was to the other kid.  Knowing, if he wasn't lying, I had no more uphill to contend with, I began to let loose a little bit.

Some dicey turns down some ramps and around a big rock (I am guessing some sort of unofficial mascot for SRU - I will have the check) meant just a half mile or so until we could get out of this rain.  We passed through some parking lots of residential housing for the campus and up ahead was the finishing clock.

I could see my mom and my aunt as well as my half-sister who had made an hour long drive to watch me as well. It was her first time seeing me doing anything remotely athletic (outside of maybe a swim meet in high school) so it was greatly appreciated.

Seeing I could not catch 3rd place, I made absolutely sure I would not get caught by behind. One final push built me a decent cushion of time and I passed over the finish in a respectable 19:36. Given the rain, hills and newly semi-healed ankle, I was pretty pleased.

We all reconvened in the warm ski lodge and shared smores, chili and good company. I gave a brief talk and thanks to the assembled as well as signed a couple of books.  My aunt pointing out someone who looked like the younger sibling of a high school friend but my brain couldn't wrap around the fact that this large man could possibly be that young kid I knew.

As I was talking to a few students he came up and said he too was from Titusville and I might know his older brother. I was indeed shocked that the kid I probably last saw when he was 8 could possibly be a full-fledged man.  when you come back home, you expect everything to stay the same.  It rarely does and that is good.

Receiving a small penguin as an age group award winner was a little consolation for getting pushed off the podium. When my mom won a door prize that dwarfed my award we could only laugh. I got to share some lunch with my family soon thereafter which consisted of some yummy steak at a local eatery.  A race, some steak and family time.  Hard to beat that.

But then it was back home to do some work around the house for my mom. I am still a son first after all. The rain stopped a bit which made things easier. And I couldn't be happier to help her out. Thanks, Mom!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Running With The Girls

About a year ago I began working with Lacie Whyte through her company Swirlgear. We formed a friendship over the next few months and then early this year she proposed an idea to me. She felt what was lacking in the running world were inspirational stories of women runners who fell in between the absolute extremes. Her feelings echoed something I had touched on briefly in my second book, 138,336 Feet to Pure Bliss, but had not fully developed.  Obviously, I thought she was exactly right.

Fast forward most of this year and we are happy to have filled the void that was lacking in the running world. I am happy to announce my book collaboration with Lacie is now complete and ready for sale!

Running With The Girls is a unique perspective on what truly makes a tale inspiring. We all love the account of the underdog overcoming insurmountable odds. However, this overlooks many stories of women, of all ages, races and runs of life, whose own narratives showcase the strength and resolve of the millions out there who never get their story told.

Focusing on seventeen vastly different women, Running With The Girls highlights the challenges of these women’s lives and how they have fought to get to where they are today. Not every story necessarily has the happiest of endings but fortunately none of the stories for the women in this book have ended yet. Regardless of whether all things are right in the lives of these women, every reader can draw motivation from the accounts of their lives as they represent us all.

Combining these uplifting accounts with a look at where women’s running has come from, where it is now, and where we can expect it to go in the future, Running With The Girls is unlike any book you have ever read.

If you are looking for the perfect holiday gift for the runner in your family, or anyone who likes to read about those who inspire, look no further.

 On Booklocker
On Amazon

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Tofurky Trot Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 20th Edition 
269.2 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Tofurky Trot
Place: Portland, OR
Miles from home: 1 mile
Weather: 50s; Slight drizzle; overcast

I don't believe in jinxes but I should have probably kept my mouth shut.

Going into this 5k on the very hill Mt. Tabor (which I look at every day from my desk in Southeast Portland), I made mention this was the best my legs had felt basically in all of 2014. I said I did not remember the last time I went into any race where there was not something bothering me in some capacity.

My plan to run this race originally was because I was in town, I could sleep in my own bed before the race, get ready in my own house and then simply go one mile to the starting line. Fantastic. When I saw it was a "Tofurky" trot I knew I would have to wear my Team Beef singlet just to have some fun. They say they run FOR the Turkeys, so I figured since I was promoting beef, we would get along just fine.

A friend asked if I thought I might win the entire thing to which I said that one never knows. But the short distance races such a 5k do not favor people like me who:
1. Have no short twitch muscle fibers
2. Are out of shape
3. Are still weary of their legs working after a rough couple of years
4. Basically don't warm up until mile six.

Yet I would give it my best.

At the packet pickup before the race, I looked at the map of the course and chuckled. There were no less than 800 million turns on this 5k course. OK, possibly a few less. But it was going to be a  twisty-turny course, half run on trail, half on road, with tons of descent and even more tons of climb, all in just 3.1 miles.  Oh, did I forget to mention no less than five flights of stairs, a variety of other pedestrians (with their dogs) seemingly oblivious to the few hundred of people trying to run around them, slick roads and oodles of other obstacles? To be honest, it sounded like a little but of fun.

My bestie Shannon, herself recovering from injuries and surgery, who runs at Tabor more than I do, wanted to try out her lungs, legs and everything else on the course. We arrived with plenty of time to use the bathroom once last time before the race should have started.  With about 8 minutes to go until said start time and ~40 more people in line to register, we knew there would be no on-time departure. The Chicago Bears game was starting at the ungoldy hour of 9:30 a.m. PST (weirdest thing about living on the West Coast which I don't think I will ever get used to are 10 a.m. NFL starting times) and with the race supposedly starting at 9 a.m., I was bummed I would miss the beginning. As it turns out, the beginning was the only good thing for the Bears on Turkey Day. Alas.

I expected the normal kooks of Portland to be out and about but even more so in full force of their liberalness because of the sponsor of the event. Some girl had a shirt on that said, if I recall correctly, "Pro-feminism, Pro-LGBT, Animal-Lover, Plant Eater". So, in other words, she was sort of a decent human being but wanted to make sure everyone else knew it, too.

 As I milled around waiting for anyone to comment on my shirt, one gentleman came over to me and said my shirt was a hoot. Rocking my Team Beef shirt, I was hoping to get a few more people chatting with me about my wardrobe choice but I had a feeling most of them weren't exactly vegan either. They looked too healthy. *rimshot*

When we were finally ready to go, I lined up close to the start. A guy and his two young sons sauntered up and positioned themselves right in front of me. It was quite apparent they didn't need to be RIGHT at the front and this might be potentially dangerous. Then a few seconds later three tiny little girls slid through the crowd and positioned themselves right in front of the guy and his sons. Ugh. No doubt when this race started there would need to be a clean-up on aisle four.  I moved over to my right some so that when I started I would not have to hurdle the little bodies falling down in front of me.  I wasn't in the mood to be helpful and tell them they might want to move. Some days I just don't have the energy.

Mile 1:

We started, made a right hand turn, and immediately went up a hill.  I knew this was short-lived and we would get what was essentially the only downhill of the course until the last quarter of a mile, coming up soon. I shot out just to get around all the lil chitlins for what was inevitably going to be a trouncing from the other runners behind them. I was somewhere in a heap of about 10 runners as we hit the first staircase which we all eschewed in favor of the path next to it. Then down the slippery paved road we went. I had wisely worn my ICESPIKE for this race and it undoubtedly was a deciding factor from having me fall on my butt numerous times.

Almost immediately a kid rocking one fantastic white man afro was gone out in front. Well, any delusions of winning were now shot down. In a quarter of a mile he had a ten second lead on me and just about everyone else. Given the slippery, uneven footing of the course I had opted to wear my ICESPIKE which were serving me well.  I could tell on the slippery road I would have lost footing a few times without them.

We evened out, and made a couple of quick turns to make a loop around the first reservoir of the day. This reservoir has always reminded me of the rock quarry in Breaking Away. Some days it is empty and others filled to the brim.  It was a filled to the brim sort of day here but I was more concerned about keeping my footing. As we circumvented it, we had to go up two cement stairs and then ten feet later go down two cement stairs. Looping around, we had to then go down two more stairs, make a super fast right hand turn, run in between two tress which were perilously close to each other  (one also had a tree limb hanging low enough to decapitate anyone over six feet tall) and then sprint across a mushy grass field. It was actually kinda fun in a "going to destroy all my ligaments" way.

As we passed runners about o go around the reservoir, we ran down another hill, made an ankle-breaking 120 degree turn (Volunteer: "Be VERY careful! It is slippery here!") and then down a rocky embankment.  Spitting out onto a road, we had to make an abrupt 90 degree turn on this road before rejoining a dirt trial about twenty yards up the road which meandered through some trees.

This is all the first mile.  I ran it in 5:50 and was quite pleased.

Mile 2:

This trail had us skirting past some lovely old trees for a bit as we surged up and down over the hills. We briefly came into view of the lowest reservoir on Mt Tabor which I love to do repeat sprints around.  At .57 of a mile it is a good place to do mile repeats.  But we only saw it for a minute as we began climbing back up from where we had just come. The downhill was done for the day and it was time to hurt.  On the dirt for a while, we began running up the paved portion of the frontside trail on Tabor. (I don't know exactly how may miles of different trails there are on this mountain which does not have a ton of square mileage but there are a great deal.) As we climbed further, we saw runners behind use taking the aforementioned slippery 120 degree turn.  We turned left away from them and back onto another trail.

At this point I got passed by what would eventually be the female winner of the race. I simply didn't have the lungs to hold her off but hoped the later hills would be an equalizer. I had already shrunk the gap between me and the handful of runners in front of me who I figured were not aware how hilly the last two miles were. It appeared they might be within my grasp if I just held it easy for a minute here. My problem with 5Ks is I forget there really isn't supposed to be a time where you hold back.

We flattened out and began a semi-complete loop around the middle reservoir where earlier this year I had watched the Adult Soap Box Car Derby. As I ran in the girl in front of me's shadow, we saw a woman out for a leisurely run in front of us. She was coming down another path and she and her dog and its 6 foot leash decided that right now would be the perfect time to go directly in front of us on this narrow trail that cut through the trees around the reservoir.  As I watched the girl in front of me navigate her way around, I assumed the jogger would think maybe to look around and see if there was, you know, other people wearing bib numbers who might appreciate if she got out of the way. Right then, not paying attention to my footing but instead watching her, I twisted my ankle. Sweet Fancy Moses did I twist my ankle.

I almost never twist my ankle. I roll them all the time, take one step, and it is as if nothing ever happened.  But searing pain shot through my foot and ankle and then into my shin, causing me to come to a dead stop.  I took a couple of very tentative steps. It didn't feel like I had done anything that would keep me from finishing so I gingerly put some weight on the foot. A few more steps and I think adrenaline took over. There was no pain worse than what I would expect so I took off again. I passed the woman with the dog, perhaps a tad closer than necessary to make her jump a touch, and began the big climb to the top.

Mile 3: 

As we all once again went from trail, to paved road, to gravelly road to trail again, I heard some breathing behind me and a second female runner passed me. She had some cute tail fathers and I think a pilgrim hat made out of cardboard on a headband.  I laughed.

Even though it was a touch cool on the mountain, I was generating some ferocious heat.  As I slowed to take on this beast of an uphill, my Julbo sunglasses fogged up. I guess running much faster had at least kept some cool air circulating over them. Here, not so much. I then realized I was thinking too much.  This is another reason why I am not good at the shorter distances. There really isn't all that much time to think. If you want to do well, you have to run hard, think as little as possible and just make it hurt.  So I decided to do that.

Finally and mercifully nearing the top of Mt. Tabor, there was another set of stairs I ignored to go up the grass next to them. I could see both ladies and three men all in front of me within striking distance. As we rounded the top, numerous pedestrians were enjoying their day, barely making way for us. As we began the descent of one staircase, a family of approximately 634 was coming up the stairs at the same time. Dodging, hurdling and somersaulting this family had me right in the hip pocket of one of the runners. I passed her on the steps and taking them two at a time, started to reel in the other runners.

At the end of the third staircase, the adrenaline finally wore off and I could tell the ankle was hurting. Destroying myself for a 5k was not on my To Do list today so I eased off the throttle, slide down the remaining hill and came in under 22 minutes  in 21:52, good enough for 9th place overall. Three other runners had barely finished 10 seconds in front of me, and the speedster who probably ran 15:xx on a normal course, barely cracked 19 today.

As I found some ice to immediately try to stop the swelling I was quite hobbled. I sat down near the finish after speaking to the few people who had finished in front of me. We all agreed it was a darn tough course. I was hoping Shannon had not had the same problem I had. somehow I missed seeing her come in but she walked over to me. Seeing the ice on my ankle, she said "Uh Oh.".

I hobbled down to my car. Luckily I had driven even though it is only a mile away (it had been raining and I am lazy- give me a break.) After continuing to ice it and using my SKINS compression socks for that day and the next few, I found out it was a third degree ankle sprain. It could have been much worse, but it nonetheless has put my running on hold for a few days at the very least. Fortunately, it doesn't hurt much but it sure is ugly. So I will be resting it a bit as I am in no hurry to rush back just so I can hit some arbitrary number of miles per week to make my spreadsheet look more full.

My goals are to treat 2015 like what 2014 was supposed to be before a string of ailments sidelined it. As such, I have no problem whatsoever hanging up the shoes for a bit and hitting the pool.  Not what I was expecting when I signed up for a trot a mile from my home but life is full of what we don't expect.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Six Ways You Can Succeed in Running

I have sponged a great deal of running tips from running greats, common folk and everyone in between in my past 15 years or so of participation in the sport. I don't have all the answers (I am not even sure I have any, come to think of it) but I do know ways which will help you be a success at this sport regardless of what your finishing time is. Here are six ways to get the most out of your running.

1. Adjust Your Plan

It is admirable to push through a race when it is not going your way. It is foolhardy to think that on race day, if things start to go south, that you shouldn't change your goals or strategy. This follows the same with workouts. You will be doing non-races more often than races (well, you should, at least) and you are going to have plenty of  days where what you wanted to do is not what you are going to be able to do. Weather, exhaustion, time constraints can all throw a monkey wrench into your well-oiled plans.  Roll with it. Do the best you can at the time with what you have. That's a good metaphor for life, actually.

2. Stop Worrying About Others

I wrote an article for the Good Man Project called Do It For You.  The article talks about how many get motivated by what others say they cannot do.  I think this is detrimental to mental health.  There is nothing more powerful than indifference. You should feel the same way about others workouts, personal best or finishing places. No matter how hard you work, some people are going to be faster than you. On the flipside, you are that person to someone else. You were given a set of DNA that you simply cannot change. I don't say use this as an excuse not to try but the only person you should try to be better than is yourself yesterday.  It sounds like a stupid phrase which should have the backdrop of clouds and a fake attribution to Morgan Freeman, but it is true. You’ll be much happier if you relish in your accomplishments and stop trying to be or beat somebody else.

3. Get Over Bad Runs
I have one friend (actually like 10,000 acquaintances) who simply do not seem to get that one bad run doesn't define them. Listen, it stinks to have a bad run, doubly so if it is during a race.  But don't worry about it so much that it derails the rest of your week, month, year. Preparation and hard work are key but so is knowing when to realize that sometimes DNF means Do Nothing Foolish. Cannot tell you how many bad runs were followed the next day by an exquisite one.

I did some coaching of athletes for a while and the most annoying thing was telling them to take a rest day and then noticing they ran an "easy three". That isn't rest. The year I ran 52 Marathons in a row was also the year I ran the fewest miles i have run in a year since I have been keeping track.  I averaged a 3:21 marathon by knowing I needed to give my body time to recover, or at least as much time as was possible.Without rest, our bodies simply can’t repair, rebuild and strengthen. If you feel guilty or weak for taking a recovery day, do some pushups. After about 100 you will be cool with your rest day.

5. Learn to Embrace Discomfort
I am not a fan of the whole "Harden the Eff Up" fake toughness displayed by some. "I will NEVER not finish a race," they say. Well, yeah, someday you probably will. It happens. However, the best way to know the difference between pain and exhaustion is to know what discomfort feels like. It is OK to be tired. Or hungry. Or thirsty. I see so many people going for runs and they have a Family Buffet wrapped around their waist. You are going to be gone 90 minutes- you don't need a sandwich.

6. Remember How Lucky You Are
Personal bests are great.  Besting your opponents are fun.  Getting a six-pack is fantastic (I have heard. I've never had one.) But the main and best thing about running is that you get to do it.  If it is cold and rainy, it might be tough but guess what?  You get to do it. It is going to be hot out there today but guess what? You get to do it. Boy, that run was absolutely awful. I had absolutely no energy.  But guess what? YOU GOT TO DO IT.

You are traversing the world, one foot at a time, releasing tension, strengthening your body, mind and sou. There are thousands who wished they had it so easy. Don't take it for granted.

Friday, November 21, 2014

PowerBar Product Review

I have been eating Powerbar products for as long as I have been running. Back in 2006 when I was doing 52 Marathons I also got braces on my teeth.  I remember for a few months I couldn't eat their signature bars and got so frustrated.  When I finally could, I was so relieved.

I have been a part of Powerbar's Team Elite since 2010 and have made full use of my time on that team, enjoying and promoting their products. I have written before about much I love the gels Powerbar offers, but I felt it was time to update that and offer a few more product reviews.

First, the gels. Not all gels are created equal and people definitely have different tastes. Obviously people are going to enjoy one flavor over another. But when it comes to both flavor and consistency, I think nothing beats the Strawberry-Banana gels. Unlike other brands which can almost be chewy in their consistency, these flavored gels are almost liquid. I love how easy they are to consume and how good they taste. I always have a stash with me on my trips and when I can't prepare food I want in the morning before a run, I know I can always rely on the old standby I have been eating for like a decade. Even more important is during a race, you don't have to fumble around trying to figure out how to swallow some sticky mess. While it is always nice to have water to help wash down a gel, I have always been surprised how easily these go down without it.  That's essential if you need some energy and are not near an aid station.

The second product that stick out to me are the PowerBars gel blasts. I first remember reading about these many years ago when someone who absolutely adored their cola-flavored blasts absolutely lost their mind when they learned they were being discontinued.  Fortunately for the sanity of this poor girl (I have to find her rant) they were brought back. I tried the cola ones and they were fine but once again my tastes go toward the Strawberry-Banana.  But before you think these taste or even chew like other block products, let me say that once again the consistency of the gel blast is a huge selling point. In addition, there is this thin coating on the top of the gel blasts which makes it taste even better. When you bite into it, there is small amount of of yumminess in each center which is reminiscent of a jelly-filled doughnut.

I recently introduced a fan at an expo to a pack of these delicious snacks and they were hooked.  They do not stick to your teeth like other similar blocks, are easy to chewy and are delicious. I have had them on hand for virtually every ultra run I have done in my career.  They are quick, easy and I always know what they are going to give me. You truly owe it to yourself to try these. You will be very surprised.  (The raspberry are quite good as well. Just not my favorite.)

A final product which I was just introduced to this year at Hood to Coast event in August are the Energy Wafers.  Remember those Sugar Wafers we ate as kids (re: like two weeks ago) and how you were always excited to see them. Then you had like one and instantly you remembered how much they tasted like cardboard. Why did we never remember that? We always got suckered in to trying them afresh each time. Well, think about those but think about them actually tasting good. Voila! PowerBar Energy Wafers.

I had a box of these for my team at the end of HTC and while I am handing them out, I had someone from another team try to come and snake some. Never met the guy but he apparently had tasted them previously and went all Mad Max savager  on me. I gave him some to try and get him to scamper back to Master Blaster. But I digress. These wafers rock. Get some.

I will review a few more of my favorites soon but I think this should keep you satiated for now. Time for me to go grab some gel blast and head out for a run.