Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Putting the Ass in Ambassador

What is an ambassador? Well, Webster’s defines “ambassador” as …just kidding. As a rule, if anyone starts an article with the “Webster’s defines…” thing, stop reading. They are a horrible writer and you should not give them any of your time (quickly checks website to make sure I have never done that.) But we do need a definition, at least when it comes to what it means in the sporting world, especially running. So how do we define it?

I often get asked if I have sponsors. Almost always my reply is what the person asking me thinks of as a sponsor. To me, a sponsor is someone who pays you money or its ilk to endorse a product/service. Anything else is a partnership. However, lately, what makes a sponsor has become quite murky. 

A runner I once knew of limited talent, and even less appeal, would endorse virtually anything that came their way. I was curious how they had received so many sponsorships. I assumed if a company was willing to allow someone to speak for them, they were both well-thought of and paid for their endorsement. While none of the products this runner endorsed were conflicting per se, they were hardly cohesive. Only after a few questions did I understand more. This is where the term “ambassador” was first introduced to me.

Let me start here by saying there is absolutely a little bit of sour grapes in me writing this post. As part of my living is made by working with companies who feel I influence others, if this influence is watered down by hundreds willing to do the same thing, it hurts my bottom line. So save the a-ha moments on this one. Also, let me clearly state I am absolutely jealous of the brilliant marketing job various companies have done to get the ambassadors they have. For a free pair of socks, or even, in some case, paying for the “privilege” of being first in line to get discounts on gear (i.e., paying for the right to then pay more just to show they belong) hundreds of people are lining up to be part of a team. Freaking brilliant.

However, I wonder how much these companies get from this. I know they don’t have to sacrifice a great deal. X product allows Y runner to have a minimal amount of product and Y runner simply won’t shut up about it. At first there must be something good which comes from this exchange. But there has to be a law of diminishing returns on the runner's rambling. There must be some over-saturation point. And dear lord do I hope we are hitting it soon.

I am extremely upfront with the companies with whom I partner. I am hopefully refreshingly honest not only to them but to people who ask my opinion. If someone asks what shoe I wear, I tell them what I wear, how I like it, and also how hardly ever does a shoe mean the difference between being 50th overall and winning a marathon. I hope the companies I work for appreciate this honesty and see how if I am not just being a completely obnoxious cheerleader, how my words mean so much more.  In fact, I have eschewed working with companies who take part in this whole ambassador thing.  I have also had races approach me and ask me to be an ambassador and I have balked at the name. Instead, I find products I like and even if they can’t “afford” me, find a way to make things work. Insome instances, I like the product so much I become a minority owner in the company.

Being self-aware is a good thing. I know I am not the greatest runner out there. I also do not have the most Instagram followers. But I have done things no one else has ever done.  I also have people who appreciate what I have to say and are passionate fans. That passion means a great deal more to companies who realize this ambassador thing is garnering very little. If every person who is talking about your product are also the only the people who are part of the ambassador program, how much is it helping you? Like the people on twitter who create circles that seem popular or deep but are only shallow pools of self-congratulatory inner-worship amongst a baker's dozen of people, it is like shouting loudly in an empty room.

Are there ambassadors who are runners trying their best, repping a product that they actually enjoy?  Of course. Unfortunately, the hacks who fall into the category of the runner I mentioned above are usually the ones who squawk the loudest and actually do the least. I have heard people say that any publicity is good publicity especially for when it comes to creating brand awareness. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the only thing you recall about a company is they have some shill whose mere presence would make you not buy a product, that's not a good thing.

Unfortunately, what actually is true and what works sometimes don't make it up the chain to the decision makers. And in some instances, I am sure the program works for those who are deciding whether to keep it. As I said, it costs them very little from their bottom line. I, for one, however, now hesitate at even the mention of the word "ambassador." I came to learn a long time ago how few runners ever make any sort of living at being a runner (and few athletes in any sport, while we are talking about it) and how little "sponsorships" actually paid. (E.g., I read a few years back how the average sponsorship for a WNBA player was $5,000 a year. A mere pittance for a league of athletes at the top of their game in their sport.) Ambassadors rarely get anything other than fake prestige. 
 
Then again, in an era where being known for simply being known, rather than for achievements, is what many are seeking, perhaps that is more than enough for them.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Salt Flats (Adjacent) 50K Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 8th Edition 
119.1 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Salt Flats 50k
Place: Salt Flats, UT
Miles from home: 735
Weather: 50s; windy; sunny

Winning a race is something I have done a handful of times. Doing so, when you are not a world- (or even national-) class athlete is a mixed bag of emotions. On one hand, you know that if just some mildly talented runners had shown up, you would not win. On the other hand, they didn't and you did. Heading into the Salt Flats 50k, I knew the overall top-level quality of competition was centered in the two other distances the weekend held: the 50 miler and 100 miler. So while my chances of winning were high, they weren't, and never are, guaranteed.

I had been a thorn in the race director's side of this race since running the 50 miler last year. With 16 miles of running on the absolutely amazing Salt Flats, I asked why there wasn't a simple out and back 50k.  Mostly (I am sure just to shut me up), he finally lamented and added one.  (And here let me say something about Vince Romney, the RD and his merry band of wonderful organizers.  For the most part, I don't give a damn if a race director is nice. Get the job done properly and chances are we will get along fine. When you have a group of people who do both - count yourself lucky. Exhibit A: Someone asked about getting a drop bag when the race was finished.  An organizer said not to worry; if they left it, they would wash the clothes and mail them back to them.  Seriously?! Amazing.)

So everything seemed set for an inaugural running of an awesome event in an unbelievable place.  Then rain happened.  A lot of it. The dry lake bed in which those running the 50k would run the entirety of their race (and the other runners 16 miles of their respective races) became a sea of water four inches deep as far as one could see. As such, there was simply no way the course could be the
same as planned. Jumping into action, showing great planning in advance as well as the ability to function without sleep for like four days, the organizers had an alternate route ready for us runners. Unfortunately, it wouldn't spend 31 inches on the salt, let alone 31 miles. Hence we would be running the inaugural Salt Flats (Adjacent) 50k.

Race Morning:

In spite of the rain of the previous week, the forecast for the morning of the race called for pretty ideal racing conditions. About six hours later there might be some rain but I hoped to be long done and showered and back cheering for others by then.  Arriving at the start with my best friend Shannon, who would also be running the 50k, the weather seemed to be as forecasted. Unfortunately, the change that occurred was a very hard and very gusty headwind.  As the first 4 miles would be run directly into this headwind in an unwavering direction, we knew that already the race was going to be tougher than expected. In addition, because of a complete change of what we would be running underfoot, we knew there would be a great deal of changes to strategy, footwear, hydration, etc.  It would be entirely different than what we had in mind. Might as well get it underway.


To Mile 15 Turnaround:

From the start a pack of seven of us all went out together. It was me running the 50k and six others doing the 50 miler and 100 miler. I felt the pace was maybe a smidge slower than I would prefer, as it should be since they were all running longer than me.  But the difference was not so much that I did not mind running in a group. I was none to keen on taking on the headwind alone and these chaps seemed more than happy to run in front of me breaking the wind. However, it was a swirling wind and no matter where I positioned myself in the group it seemed like it was blowing me around. So it really didn't matter what I did.

As we ran down this long straight paved path, we chatted and either introduced ourselves or reacquainted ourselves, as the case may be.  I looked around and realized there was not another soul running the 50K. As my goal was to win, I saw no real reason to push the pace here. Since I normally have far better closing speed than a fast start, this was playing out well for me.

We mercifully turned out of the wind after 3.5 miles and made a right angle turn...into heavier wind.  Up a sloping hill we ran, leaving the pavement behind and hitting the trail. We made another right angle turn which abated the wind some, thankfully. Here we passed a self-service aid station with water and a solo porta-potty. I made note that this was located five miles from the start. With no mile markers or anything else to help realize distance, I knew these markers would be helpful down the road. Relying on any GPS system is never anything I care to do.

Our pack had dwindled to five runners now and we more or less ran in a group of two or three, spaced out by a few yards. Some pulled ahead for a bit and then fell behind. I tried my best to keep an even pace. I felt as if I could easily move ahead but if there was no other competitor around me I knew I would be running the entire return trip alone. I didn't need to add any more time to my solo running. Winning was the main goal, with me running sub-4 hours as a secondary goal.  My pace was keeping right on pace for both, so no need to change it here.

We passed an aid station around mile nine and a few runners hopped in it for a second.  Earlier around mile seven I had tried to avoid some mud and stepped awkwardly on what I thought was solid ground. I had sorta wretched my groin a bit so I just took a few second here to walk it out. When the guys caught up to me again, I began running. I looked behind me at this point and still there appeared to be no challengers to my 50k winning attempt.

I talked with Joe, who had won the 50 miler last year and was attempting to do the same here.  He agreed with me about the running alone thing and how in races we like to at least have some competitors if we can't have spectators. Beautiful vistas are great for running; when it comes to racing we need a little bit more.

As we all passed the 13 mile aid station I continued on, thinking the guys would catch me. They never did. After a few miles of running, I saw the turnaround in front of me.  Sarah Patino, who will take over race director duties next year so Vince can actually run his race, and her family sat there checking runners.  One of their small children had a pump-action air horn. I know because I have the same one from the Dollar Store. The pump, in the echoing desert sounds less like an airhorn than a distressed goose.  It made me laugh with each "HONK!"  I hit my watch at the halfway, saw I had run a 1:57 and readied myself for 15.5 miles of solo running.


To mile 18.5:

As a group of four runners came up to me, I wished them all good luck. Three were running the 100 miler and Joe the 50. I felt for them indeed as I knew the rain they would run into later would be no fun. In addition, they were undoubtedly going to run into far less runnable footing conditions further down the line. While Joe would go onto to win the 50 in a stellar time of 7:32, I was very curious if Steven Jeffs, who I had met last year, would get the course record he was shooting for.  In either case, I marveled at the speed they were taking out the first portion of the course.  I asked them about it earlier and they said that with the hills to come they were just trying to get fast miles under their belt when they could.

About a minute or so running later I passed Tom Wolfe who was in our group earlier. He told me the race was mine for the losing but I knew I couldn't be so sure. A minute or so later an unknown runner, whose bib number told me he was running the 50k, appeared. I realized I had only a six minute lead on him, which was far less than what I was comfortable with. We both wished each other good luck and continued in our opposite directions.

About a mile later I began to feel a little queasy.  My stomach was sloshing which is usually a sign of drinking too much water. As I would learn later, that was not the case at all. But for some indiscernible reason I simply couldn't push the pace I wanted to without fear of throwing up.  The problem is I had virtually nothing to throw up. As I am wont to do before races, I had consumed next to no calories. I run best running on the food from the previous evening. All of that had been digested by now so whatever was bothering me was from an unknown origin.

I passed through the aids station from before, with a handful of exuberant and helpful volunteers at the ready. They told me I was the first in the 50k (which made me laugh as I figured that being the first person period, that was a given) and asked me if I needed anything. I couldn't think of a thing so I continued on after thanking them profusely for being out here. If I could just get this stomach settled.

To mile 22:

Not soon thereafter I saw Shannon and I stopped to chat for a bit. I asked her how her race was going and she lamented the wind from earlier as well. She was excited I was in first but I said I wasn't sure if that would be something I could maintain if my stomach continued to disagree with me. We parted ways and I began again the delicate dance of pushing the envelope without vomiting on my shoes.  What was enjoyable about this return trip was the fact that I got to see every single entrant in all of the races. As such, I could wish them all good luck. In return, seeing another human allowed me to go that much further without becoming a little bored.

Around the 21 mile I came to a walk. I don't recall making the decision to walk. I just did. If a camera had been on me I am sure it would have captured my surprised face. Something was just not right. If I ran an 8:00 mile I was fine. If I ran a 7:59, I was on the verge of puking. I guess my body did not want me to puke and overrode the orders from my brain to keep running. Fortunately, the aid station was just up over the next hill.

As I pulled into the aid station I knew I should go to the bathroom. What I saw in there showed me I was severely dehydrated. But the thought of drinking water right now did not sit well with me at all.  I came out and asked for a Coke as I felt it would perfectly settle my stomach. I had thought about eating some of my trusty Shurky Jurky which I had stashed in my pack but any food at all didn't seem like a wise idea.


As I drank the Coke and began to walk away, I made the executive decision to go back to the aid station and top off my Camelbak Circuit bladder. It was there I realized that here, 22 miles in, I hadn't drank nearly as much as I thought. Perhaps that had been the problem. Pack filled, I walked out of the aid station for another hundred yards.Time to get to the finish.


Heading Home:

It is funny what runners of ultras say. As I left I must have had a worried look on my face as the aid station guys said "Just nine more miles. You'll be there in a jiff." I vividly recall thinking that they were right.  But nine miles is a full third of the total distance of the race. Plus, I was hardly feeling like it would take just a jiff. I knew it had taken me an hour and twelve minutes to get here from the start. Unfortunately, because of the numerous walk breaks I had taken in the last few miles, I knew that even equaling that time on the way home would not get me under four hours. While it should have been easier to go home than it was to get here, given there was a touch more downhill and the wind should be gone, I knew I simply did not have the chops today. So it was all hands on deck to make sure no one passed me. The overall time would be a very distant second place goal.

I had broken the remaining miles into just a 4 plus mile run to the portpotty and self-service aid station at mile 5; then a brisk 1.5 miles to the straightaway on the road; then 3.5 miles to victory.  Unfortunately, that "just" a four miler turned into a long slog.  A brief bit of just a smattering of sprinkles earlier around the turnaround had given away to a very warm and unrelenting sun. From my clothing at the end of the race I could tell I had sweat quite a great deal. I might not be running on the Salt Flats but I was creating my own on my clothing. Over the next four miles, I walked four separate
times. The elevation profile doesn't make it look like there were many hills to climb but I know I wasn't the only one who was feeling these small rises. Each time I walked, however, I would look back and see where my competition was. Each time, I saw nobody.

Finally seeing the final aid station ahead gave me a new resolve. I made it there and deiced to take a long draught from the self-serve bucket. I used a handy collapsible cup I had toted with me to take more than a few drinks. I felt refreshed and ready to go. I started running. I began to feel like I would toss my cookies. This was getting old.

Down the last hill of the course I got to the straightway with 21 minutes to make it under four hours. I knew that wasn't going to happen. But I was feeling good finally and with no more turns or hills or anything to go, it was time to point my ship due west and go get this done. I took one last walk break and then began moving.

The tricky thing about this whole area is perspective. You have none. Items which look 100 yards away are actually half of a mile. If you have good eyes you can see something substantial on the horizon from miles away. As I traversed this lonesome freeway, I could see something in the distance. Was the the finish area of sagebrush? I had nothing to gauge its size on. I began to get excited. Maybe I could break four hours after all. If I had been able to do math at this juncture I would have know that wasn't possible. But math was out the window. My pace picked up. Sub-8 minute pace. Then the governor of my stomach said "Whoa nelly!" once again. THIS was the last walk break, damn it.

Finally, with the finish line actually being in sight this time I glanced behind me to make sure no one had snuck up on me while I was in my haze. Not a single runner was in sight. I laid on the throttle, vomit be damned, threw down a 6:49 pace and crossed the finishline. I finished in 4:12:32 for my second 50k win in as many attempts Maybe I should retire from the distance.

The next competitor would not come in until 14 minutes later and only one other runner would break five hours. The course may not have looked all the challenging but apparently it was harder than we expected. When Shannon came in breaking her PR by over half an hour, it was great icing on an already wonderful day.

As I have delineated above, there were many things that caused this race to not be what it was expected. My hat goes of and all the way to the salty ground to the organizers of this race for tirelessly working to make everything workout as smoothly as possible. I can't even go into enough detail to talk about how much they had to do to just keep their heads literally above water. This doesn't even count the salt, mud and everything else Mother Nature threw at them. A major kudos goes to all that were involved in getting this race off the ground. It was well- attended but simply amazing to me that it is not filled to the brim with more runners. With an unparalleled race visages put on by the nicest, battle-tested directors, it should be capped every year.

My gear for this race included:
Karhu Fluid3 shoes:  If the race had been on the actual salt flats I would have included IceSpike.  But with 8 miles on pavement I opted out (even though IceSpike works just fine on pavement.)
Camelbak Circuit: Now undefeated in three separate races.  Hard to get a better review than that!
Julbo Race sunglasses: I have worn these for a variety of races and they worked perfectly.
Times One GPS+: This measured the courses to be 31.0 miles. Gonna say that was pretty accurate!

Now I have to get back to thinking about next year and running the 50k on the salt.  Hopefully they will never run that course again so my record will remain ad infinitum. A boy can hope!






Monday, April 25, 2016

Karhu Fast 6 MRE and Fluid 5 MRE review

I have had a partnership with Karhu for well over three years now. So, if you feel that affects my ability to properly review their shoes, so be it. Also, this shows you have no idea how much I have no problem speaking my mind on whether a product is right for me or not.

So, with that out of the way, let me review  both the Fast 6 MRE and the Fluid 5 MRE, two of the newest shoes from Karhu.  *clears throat*

THESE ARE THE BEST SHOES EVER!!

OK, just kidding. But I will tell you this much: these are some good dang shoes.

I will start with the Fast 6 MRE (MSRP $139.99). I have always thought the name was interesting as the shoe is Karhu's heaviest model. Weighing in at 11.2 ounces, the Fast6 is a mildly heavier shoe. It isn't nearly as heavy as many other brands out there (Hoka, for example) but it's weight is at least worth mentioning.

As with all Karhu, it relies on the midfoot fulcrum for its special features. That is where the MRE comes in. "MRE" stands for Maximum Rolling Effect, which Karhu says blends a plush ride for the recreational runner with an improved rolling effect. I think that is an excellent description. I put about 60 miles on these shoes before forming an opinion and plush is a perfect fit.

The Fast tends to run a little small but Karhu specifically addresses this issue on their website. I don't recall any other shoe company going out of their way to make sure customers are aware of a potential sizing issue as such. Usually you have to rely on a shoe salesman or friends to tell you or perhaps by trial and error. (Just another example of what a great company Karhu is and how disappointed I am when I mention them and get a blank stare from runners.  But I digress.) So, I sized up a half-size and had no problems at all. In fact, I think I could have stayed at my usual 10.5 and experienced no major difference but better to err on the side of caution.

Like with the Fluid 5 I will get to next, I took the Fast 6 on runs of varying speed, distance and terrain. Obviously not a trail shoe, the cushion still provided ample amount of support and never felt like I would feel a stone through the shoe at any point. I traipsed up Mt. Tabor in Portland which allowed me to run on road and trail, both cedar chips, mud and roots. Also, Tabor is great to test how a shoe runs up steep uphills and screaming downhills. They performed admirably on all. This was one solid trainer. I felt no problems with any hotspots and had a great fit all over.

Could you race in them? Sure. However, I feel they are best suited for longer training runs, maybe even slanted more towards a recreational runner who is putting in 20-30 miles a week or so. Without a doubt a heavier runner looking for a tad more cushion would love this shoe. As as mentioned above, if you were coming from some of the other brands out there which are always a tad heavy, this would feel very light. It is indeed all about perspective. If you want something with a little less heft, well, that's where the Fluid 5 comes in.


Don't get me wrong, the Fluid 5 (MSRP $129.99) is not exactly a track spike, either. However, even at 10.5 ounces but it simply feels much lighter than it is. I noticed this difference after the first run and assumed that was because I was moving from the Fast 6 to this one. But even after a few runs, and mixing in other shoes, it still felt like it weighed less than it did. So off the bat that was a big plus.

The sizing was normal with the Fluid5 so I stuck with my norms on that. Everything worked out perfectly. Equipped with a half-length fulcrum (as opposed to the Fast 6 with a full-length fulcrum) The Fluid5 felt a bit more responsive. As if the shoe simply wanted you to get out of each stride and onto the next one, almost propelling you forward.  I did a few more runs with this show on the Waterfront in Portland.  Flatter than some of the other runs I do, it was meant to test the shoe out as a racer.  I could easily see myself taking on a road marathon in these. But just because I am weight snob, I will probably use them mostly for training. When you weigh 185 lbs, you want your shoes to be as light as possible over many miles of racing.

I had read that this shoe could feel a little stiff and I am unsure where that came from. I went into the runs with that in mind, searching for stiffness and found no such problem. In fact, the seamless upper reduced weight and provides excellent flexibility. I took it again to Mt. Tabor but this time utilized the slightly longer than half mile square around Reservoir to burn off some fast miles. It handled the speed and the tight turns more than adequately.  And it looked all kinds of snazzy to boot with the blue hue and the bear which pops off the shoe. (Karhu is Finnish for "bear", bee tee dubs.)

All told, I got a good 60+ miles out of each pair of shoes before forming an opinion. I can't see why they won't continue to be great shoes like everything else Karhu puts out.

Stay tuned for the Flow 6 MRE review. I am extremely excited about this shoe.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Illinois River to River Relay Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 7th Edition 
88 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Illinois River to River Relay
Place: Southern Illinois
Miles from home: 2135
Weather: High of 86, sunny, humid

The impetus for this race was many-fold. One of the main reasons was to experience a race which was a candidate for the book I am writing about must-run races in North America. Another was to take on a difficult feat with my buddy, Mosi.  We have been trying to get schedules to coordinate ever since we met over 7 years ago at a marathon in California.  However, during that time, in spite of our efforts, nothing came to fruition. When I approached him about taking on this challenging relay here in Southern Illinois we finally had our challenge.

I have had some experience taking on a multiple legged relay with just one partner.  I also have had the opportunity of conquering on a 202-mile relay by myself. So, logistics-wise I felt I had this one in the bag. Given the relay was 80 miles, I figured that if we tackled three legs at a time (roughly ten miles each) it would give each runner just enough time to recover from their run without getting too sore or stiff. Mosi would run approximately 39 miles and I would run 41.  It was about the easiest way to doll out the miles and get them as close to even as possible. Whether they evened out in difficulty from leg to leg was not to be trifled with.  Having done all this, I can say unequivocally this plan would have worked just fine. I say "would" because we were not expecting a high of 86 degrees and unrelenting sun. But I will get to that in a bit.

Another perk of this adventure was staying the night at a former law school professor of mine's house in Carbondale.  I hadn't seen Peter in 14 years and being able to catch up with one of my favorite teachers of all-time was an absolute treat. His house was also located in close proximity to many of the places we needed to go which was just an added bonus. So, after a steak dinner for both of Mosi and me, we were off to dreamland. Forget carbs, it is all about protein.


Race Morning: 

We were scheduled for a 7:15 start. In hindsight, I wish we had started an hour earlier. Then again, we didn't know it would be 86 degrees. (Sensing a theme, here?)  Plus, given my complete nocturnal nature, needing to get up any earlier than necessary was not on the list of wants for the day. As such, 7:15 seemed perfectly fine.  We got up in the 5 o'clcok hour somewhere, moseyed into the car and headed toward the start. We perfectly allocated just the right amount of time to get Mosi to the start and for me to cool my heels for a few minutes. I bid him farewell, gave him a high-five and watched him head off to begin our trek..

Mosi's First Leg: 10.15 miles (All distances according to website.)

I got a sense of how each run went for the Ebony of Team Ebony and Ivory as we chatted post-race.  Nevertheless, my recaps of his experiences will not do them justice.  Suffice it to say that this first set of runs was the easiest of the day for all of us. According to the Mosi and the website, there were no three consecutive runs which rated "easier." Throw in the fact that these were run in the morning, when the temperature was still 55 degrees, and mostly in the shade and Mosi had it made. This is verified by the fact he was cruising along at barely over 7 minutes per mile. I told him before we started to take it easy. He needed to remember we were running 40 miles today.

He didn't listen to me.


Interim: 

It was a bit of a clusterbomb to get through the first series of turns with the car as everyone seemed to have the early-in-the-race jitters and was pushing the brakes like it was the plunger on Press Your Luck.  No Whammies! Fortunately, the cars/vans were given a 5 minute head start on the runners or otherwise Mosi would have caught me at the first exchange. This is no knock on anyone in particular, as we were on a narrow winding road and we needed to be safe.  I just wanted to get to my exchange ASAP and get ready.

I finally got to my exchange and parked the car. I readied my gear which included a Camelbak Circuit pack and got the car ready for Mosi to towel off and get going himself.  I figured it would take him about 1:15 for this leg. In fact, I hoped that was what we would both average for each leg as that would get us a 9:59:59 for an overall time. Ambitious, but I knew we had it in us. Sure enough, at 1:14 and change, here he was. Looked fresh as a daisy, too.  Even though he admitted he had gone out too fast.


My First Leg: 10.3

I took off knowing it would take me a few miles to get feeling right. Let's just say that not everything on the ole body has been working well. Not with the broken hand on Christmas and the 103 degree pneumonia in March. But I would be OK. Of course, I start off an immediately go up a hill. Not a big one but a hill nonetheless. Not soon thereafter I had someone pass me. Our rule for the day was it didn't matter who passed us. We had to remember that virtually everyone was running ten miles total.  However, when you are a competitor it is one thing to think this. It is another thing entirely to follow-through with sane plans.

I did my best to simply stay on target. Before long, I caught the gentleman and said good job to him.  Then the course sloped down a bit and I finally felt half-decent. Soon thereafter, we reached the first exchange and the runner I had passed sprinted past me to hand off.  I doubted that would be the last time that would happen on this day (and it most assuredly was not.) I also didn't realize this would be my easiest run of the day.

The next two legs presented quite a bit more hills. But I was still fresh and it wasn't too hot. Yet. I ran with a few people whose teams I would see a great deal of throughout the day. In fact, the 6:20 Club Team pulled up to me and said; "Hey, we are behind you and are a team of 8. Can you please slow down?"  I laughed and said if they would carry my water I would think about it.

I crested the last little hill, handed the baton to Mosi, and he handed the keys to the car to me.  We were 25% done for the day.




Mosi's Second Leg: 9.95 miles

Right out of the gate, Mosi had a monster hill to climb.  Then he settled into some flatter sections before some rollers at the end of his three legs. He told me that even though we had talked about pacing, he felt he wasn't going to be the one to "let us down." As such, seeing me come into the aid station right on time for our overall goal, he took off likewise. I told him afterward that finishing alone would be an accomplishment.  Even though we had an "A" goal, the caveat to any goal was we finished healthy.

Interim:

I was caught once again in a bit of a bottleneck and this time Mosi actually did catch up to me at the first exchange. I jumped out and gave him a high five. The problem is, this meant I had even less time than planned to get to my exchange, change clothes, get lubed up, etc. Suffice it to say I was a wee bit nervous. In fact, I had barely parked, gone to the bathroom and got everything ready when here my teammate came chugging down the hill. Here I go with Leg Two!


My Second Leg:  9.9 miles

I was happy to know that this leg was a little shorter than my first one.  There were also no majorly noticeable hills. Well, I take that back. The River to River Relay is virtually nothing but hills. There
are few times when you are on a flat. So it all comes down to a matter of perspective. In this instance, there were no hills that I audibly groaned at when I saw them.  Maybe a slight whine.

This section however, was the time where  I was 100% completely exposed to the elements. With a bright hot sun overhead, and running on open roads, I could tell I was slowing more than I would like. I was trying to focus on just getting to the exchange but then I realized that Mosi's next run would be his shortest of the legs all day. It would also be the easiest. This meant I would have even less time than normal to rest and recover.  I shouldn't have thought that far ahead but when you have to plan and conserve, there are many factors you must consider.

In both my first leg and this one I passed double-digit runners. I tried my best to encourage them all.  Unfortunately, some had headphones in and I didn't want to waste my energy if they couldn't hear me. So I would often just give a thumbs up as I passed, hoping it was encouraging to them.  At the same time, I hoped, out of the corner of their eye, they did not think I was giving them the bird.


Mosi's Third Leg: 8.85 miles

Mosi tells me that this is where he knew things were starting to get rough.  The temperature climbed dramatically and his pace did as well.  If we had been able to communicate (cell reception was all but non-existent) and had a third person to handle driving duties, it might have been wise to break up the legs differently. Unfortunately, all we had was our feet to get us to the next exchange.


Interim:

I had a relatively smooth going through to get to next exchange.  Good thing, as it was such a short leg. I parked and wandered over to the exchange area. Some lovely volunteers had a little picnic table with a umbrella and I asked if I could join them. Given the heat of the day, this respite was necessary. I couldn't take advantage of the bathrooms or the country store nearby as I simply couldn't risk missing Mosi. When he came in, we exchanged our normal pleasantries to tell each other how we felt, where the car was, etc. He then told me he was baked. I knew it was just getting hotter and Mosi runs in heat better than I do.

Uh-oh.



My Third Leg: 11.1 miles

I wanted to get this leg done as soon as possible. Perhaps that had me taking it out too fast at the beginning. The nice steep downhill assuredly didn't help me in holding back.  All that was on my mind was that when I finished this leg, we both had 30 miles under out belt.  I did the math and could see that unless we had a herculean effort in both of our last legs, we probably were not going to break 10 hours like we had wanted. But if we were able to keep everything in check then sub-11 was no problem.

My first portion of this section went fine. Not great but fine. Every once in a while a runner from another team might catch me and chat for a bit. I wanted to be friendly but I also wanted to save my energy. It is hard to do both. The second portion of this leg was just about the same. Slower pace, friendly runners. Then when I began the last portion I began to feel the heat. I felt like what Mosi had described at the end of his last leg. With two miles left in this leg I took a quick walking break and drank heartily from my Camelbak. It seemed to help and I powered forward. With one mile left, I knew I needed to take another walking break. As I took this break and made a turn I was presented with a rather cruel uphill. As I began moving again, my legs seized up. I came to a dead stop.

I was offered water by one runner and more from another. I knew, however, that lack of water was not the problem. It was a complete lack of salt that I had tried to balance throughout the race. I had the energy. I could powerwalk. But if I tried to run, the entire quad just shot through like lightning with searing pain. I knew that stopping here wasn't an option. I had to suck it up, walk, and hopefully get ready for my last three legs.

As I approached the handoff I told Mosi what had happened. I asked him did he think he could pick up one of my legs for me. Instead of him doing three and me three, if he could do two and then one for me and then repeating it, we could finish this. I knew he was tired but I also knew at this point I couldn't do what we needed to do. It is one of the things I have learned about my body from having Gilbert's Syndrome. Once I am wrecked, there is almost no coming back from it without serious time and calories off.  He said he could do it. I can't tell you how grateful I was for that.

Mosi's Next Two:

We didn't get to talk much about these.  I just know they did not go well for him.

Interim:

With just two legs to get ahead, I knew this was going to be even tighter than normal for me to get to the exchange. As I passed Mosi while driving I told him to simply go slow.  It would allow me to recuperate and would keep him from hurting himself as well.  As it had been a 41.85 to 38.15 split as originally planned, I told him this would also give him bragging rights as the numbers would be reversed. He smiled his million watt smile and away I went.



When I parked and began walking I knew I had a blister on my toe.  But I didn't have time to take care of it at this point. Plus I knew I needed to walk around and get ready for my next leg. The last thing I needed to do to Mosi was not be ready.

When he rolled into the exchange, I knew something was not good. He told me he simply could not do the extra leg. I know Mosi and if there is any way he can push himself to do something, he will do it. If he said, no, then it was a definite. The only problem was that I had only brought my handheld from the car and not my normal Camelbak. It was too far to go back, and I didn't have the energy to add extra miles. I told him he had to go to the next exchange and meet me there with the car and liquid. I couldn't do two legs with just the handheld. I didn't realize how right I was.


My Next Two Legs:

Without a doubt I was a bit crestfallen I had to do these two legs. There was no fault or blame put on Mosi, I just had convinced myself of what I could do.  As I began the first portion, I could get the legs moving but only for a little bit before they threaten to cramp. Let's just move ahead to the exchange and say that the next three miles were much of the same. Awful, potential cramps, followed my loathing of my situation.  Anger that we had made it so far doing so well just to have the end be this death march.

When I came into the exchange, Mosi was waiting for me with water, ice-cold. I told him I needed to sit down in the car.

While there, my friend David from Evansville, IN just a few hours away, stopped by the car to offer support. He too was taking on the leg that I was about to try and get through. I asked him what his take was on this next leg and he paused.  He looked like he didn't want to tell me what he had to tell me.  "Um, it is the hardest leg of the entire course."

Well, crap.  To put it in the words of the race itself  "This is the favorite section for everyone except Runner number 6."

It was not pretty. It wasn't even ugly. I wouldn't even try to sell this leg to my friends as having a
nice personality. I sheepishly trotted down the long beginning downhill before crossing the bridge and seeing the hill from hell. Starting at 379 feet and going to 729 feet there was nothing to like. I walked virtually every step of this.  My heart was lifted only by the fact that many of the runners in front of me didn't seem to be going all that much faster. Only pride pushed me forward in the last few yards to give the baton to Mosi.

Mosi's Last Leg:

Screw that jerky jerkface with his jerky being done jerkness. Oh yeah, he finished strong, too. Or something.


Interim:

With just one leg to recover, there was no recovery. I had just given Mosi an hour and a half to recover and now I knew I wasn't going to get a third of that back. When I parked the car, I simply put the seat back and tried to get myself settled. Everything was cramping. My heart was racing. I looked at my shorts and saw they were covered in salt. It almost looked like a pattern on the shorts.  I had to remind myself that I had pure black shorts.  I had intended to change them throughout the day but there had simply not been enough time.

Sitting there, I had zero desire to do this last 3.3 miles. I looked at the chart. Oh, good.  It is a "hard" leg. too. And then I looked in the rear view mirror. There is Mosi.  Only like 7 hours earlier than I wanted him to be here.

I ambled out of the car, gave him a quick high-five as he gave me the baton and a swat on the ass.  I then promptly shuffled out of the exchange zone. I couldn't run.  I wanted to.  For all the people who were cheering me on, I wanted to.  I just couldn't.

My Last Leg:

I saw we had an hour and 45 minutes to finish the race under the time limit. I figured even if I crawled the last 3 miles that would still be enough.  As before, I had energy, not much of it, but it was the cramping that was the problem. Again, I do not wish to bore you with the woe is me portion of this run, so I will simply skip ahead to the last mile where I could finally run again. Well, "jog."

As I approached the merciful end of this relay in Golconda, I could see Mosi waiting for me to run the last .2 in. I told him that would still put him less than two miles than me for the whole race and that I hated him and he was a poophead.

We trotted down the final stretch to more than a few cheers from the teams who had finished, many I recognized from the run and had passed us in our last ten miles. I was a little ashamed to be ambling in after such a solid effort earlier in the day but the fact I was upright was an accomplishment in itself. As we neared the finish, I could hear another team coming up behind us. I looked at Mosi and said "There is no way in hell I am letting them pass me." I hobbled forward at double time and held off what was undoubtedly a great group of people who I had no intention of finishing after.

We held the baton aloft together, took a few steps, and crossed the finish line. I stopped my watch, and then embraced Mosi in a hug. Eleven hours and 48 minutes after we started, we could finally sit down.

Well, not just yet as a line of well-wishers had gathered. The last thing I wanted to do was seem rude to those who had stopped by to wish us congratulations. But I also thought it would be rude if I pitched forward as I passed out from exhaustion. So after a few conversations, I excused myself and sat down. Mosi, who doesn't exactly like the limelight, was forced into being the spokesperson for a bit. Thankfully, he had his wits about him a tad more than I did at this point.

Within a few minutes, I was able to get moving again, albeit slowly. We spoke to the race director, Brad Dillard, and told him what a wonderfully put together race he had with excellent volunteers and staff. Virtually every runner we encountered was affable and friendly, whether they knew we were a two man-team or not. It is no secret why this race completely fills, year in and year out, within minutes of its registration opening.

We were sincerely grateful to Brad for allowing us to compete as a two-man team as we knew he often gets such requests. I think, like all things in life, he looked at the totality of the circumstances and decided this one time would be worth the exception. We can only hope that we made everyone comfortable with their decision.

Next year is the 30th running of this race.  Maybe Mosi and I will come back with a few more people in our van to hand off to!

End total: Mosi - 38.15; Dane - 41.85.  Not that anyone's counting.  :)


Monday, April 4, 2016

Boston Marathon Qualifying: It Matters

More than any other race in America, the Boston Marathon matters. How you get there matters just as much.

I have been fortunate enough through hard work, genetics, and luck to have qualified to run this prestigious race seventy-four different times. On 74 different days, I crossed the finish line in a time that the BAA deemed worthy for me to run the Boston Marathon according to my age and gender. That is 74 different “BQ”s (Boston qualifiers.) Some have done more. Most have not.

Last year Mike Rossi defied every logic and reason known to his own running history and qualified to run the Boston Marathon. Well, it turns out that there is no way he actually did that. In fact, he would have escaped the ire of many if he had just kept his mouth shut about an incident involving his child’s principal. If you want to read more, just google this guy. After watching the story unfold, it became quite clear that Rossi seems incapable of keeping his mouth shut about much of anything so it is no surprise he got in hot water here.

A few months ago, my social media feeds were getting clogged by this one blogger who wouldn’t shut up about going back to run Boston for the third time. He was going to get his revenge on the course after just missing his goal of a 3:30 at another marathon. Wait a minute, I thought. Given what his age appeared to be, he had to run a 3:05 to get into Boston. What's the deal with 3:30? So I investigated. That “just missed” time of his was the PR he had set in a time of 4:40.  It became quite clear that he was only getting into Boston because he was raising money for charity.  *Digression alert.*

There are many schools of thought on whether runners should be allowed to run Boston as a charitable member who has not qualified for the race on their own merits. This is not going to be a discussion on that. In fact, to make this clear:

1.    I think people who raise money for organizations are wonderful;
2.    I am far more impressed with the effort of runners than I am sheer talent;
3.    I wish there were more selfless people like that in the world.

However, the reason people are raising money for the Boston Marathon is because it is the Boston Marathon. You don’t see hundreds of people raising money for the Paducah Towpath Marathon. (Not a real marathon that I know of.) There is an aura, deserved mostly, about Boston. THAT is why people run it and talk about it. Runner and non-runners alike know about the race. Say you have run Boston and eyebrows gets raised and you hear that Hmmm! noise people make when they are impressed. Ergo, if you want to talk about your decorated running career as a means for people to pay for your vacation, then you better actually have one.

So, I offered $1,000 and then $1,500 to this blogger’s charity if they hit their 3:30 goal at Boston. Why did I do this? Because if he somehow dropped 70 minutes from his time, I would be happy to pony up the cash. I also called him out because I was tired of him acting like he belonged at the race as a participant who earned a bib rather than buying his way in. Talking constantly about how it was such a great feeling to once again get his Boston Confirmation in the mail. Touting things that didn't exist. (Like saying he was a California Marathon Series Bronze Medalist, having me ask what that is, then having him delete it from his About section.)  I was hoping he would realize the difference between working hard to gain entry and posing for tons of idiotic open-mouth selfies with whatever brand of apparel or shoe he was NOT training in. After a while though, the blogger got bothered I was pointing out their grandiose posturing and swore at me and blocked me on Twitter.  Because, you know, adult stuff.  Too bad, I was about to up the donation to $2622.

Then today, another popular blogger (kill me if those words are ever attached to my name) was banned from running Boston indefinitely. To read Gia Alvarez’s website, it would seem she did something dumb but hardly egregious. According to a post, she had twice qualified to run Boston.  However, once because of a miscarriage and another because of the birth of her child she had not been actually able to run it. So she gave her bib to a friend the second time so the friend could enjoy Boston.  Now, this is against the rules and shouldn’t be done. But a lifetime ban?


It appears, however, that Alavarez forgot to mention that her friend ran a time that would qualify Alavrez to run Boston again, and using that time, and that time alone, she registered again for Boston this year. Well, that dear Gia, if true, is a no-no. Especially when your friend runs 10 minutes faster than your PR. Gia oddly didn't decline this was the case when asked directly about it.

(UPDATE: Gia has admitted to using another person's time in a new post. Obviously doesn't undo what she did but at least she came clean.)

The obvious and oft-repeated rebuttal is "Who cares?" Well, many people do and with good reason. People have been exaggerating their prowess since the invention of talking. That's understandable. Cheating or lying or posturing your way into a race on Patriot's Day in Boston is not the end of the world.  Yet just because it is not the end of the world doesn't mean that it should be ignored either. These three examples are not just people making faux pas or lacking in ability to gain entry somewhere. Rather, they are going after attention for whatever reason (blog clicks, revenge against a principal, charitable donations to fund their vacation to Boston) and therefore are open to scrutiny.

I understand scrutiny. I put myself out there. I coined the term "Extreme athlete" because I thought runner and triathlete and obstacle course racer etc as not only too wordy but also too bombastic. Regardless, I felt what I had done had earned at least a small title. (It's a REAL select club of people who have run a marathon every single weekend averaging 3:20 or better, for example.) Which is why I hold my head high being able to back up what I say I am going to do. I don't seek donations to break a world record running across the country and then go in unprepared but still taking money. I lay it all out here for runners to see warts and all. When crap hits the fan, oh well. Fortunately, for all of the higher profile things I have tried to gain attention and raise awareness for, I have been lucky to come out on top, completing what it is I set out to do. I know much of it has to do with luck. I have far more races which don't go to plan as those that do. Yet when they do, I am going to be very proud of my efforts.

I am acutely aware of where I stand in the running world. That is why I love running so much. If you have run a 2:49 marathon, then X amount of people are faster than you and Y are slower. That's undeniable. Put out the facts and let people be impressed or let people say big deal. But put out the actual facts.

The Boston Marathon, and runners in general, do not care about your gender, race, origins, income or anything else. On the roads or trail we are laid bare and stripped down to what we are at our core. This is what unites us more than virtually any other sport. Give it your all and only the biggest of asses will not be moved by your efforts. However, try and pull the wool over the eyes of those cheering you on and you should rightfully only see their back as they walk away from you.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Five Day Running Experiment

I am not exactly sure what prompted this. I am sure it was a mixture of a variety of things.  Be it me trying to tell those I coach how just the slightest variables can make any race different. Being asked extraordinarily vague advice about very specific things leaving me needing to say "It depends" and then being seen as aloof or a jerk because the asker doesn't get that yea, it really does depend. Happy to not have the flu anymore and wanting to get some miles under my belt.  Or any other combination of the things which pops into my head and sparks a reason for doing something. What am I talking about?

The plan: Run four laps of the 2.65 mile loop I have named the Bridge Loops on five consecutive days for 10.6 miles a day. 

Starting at the Hawthorne Bridge a few miles from my house in Portland, I would run north on the west side of the Willamette River to the Steel Bridge and then back to the Hawthorne Bridge. It is a solid and enjoyable run but not without challenges. For example, both bridges will lift at random times for a passing boat causing delays in your running.There are a plethora of pedestrians randomly walking around in their me-centric universe, taking pictures, walking dogs on 19 foot leashes, etc. In addition running along the water is very enjoyable which means that even the unsavory semi-homeless, or potheads or sundry others you wouldn't want to take to a dinner party are abound. (This makes it sound bad and it is not. But how you can watch someone openly and brazenly do some drug [I don't know what kind as I am not an aficionado but meth, crack, or heroin are my guesses] with no police intervention is a little unsettling. These are the things that a brochure talking about the best places to see in a city won't tell you. But I digress.)

The hypothesis for this (my friend told me an experiment must have a hypothesis or it is just an observation) was that I was going to be rather tired. Duh, right?  But given I had a bad case of the flu at the end of February, ran atrociously in the heat in Jacksonville the week before this (Gate River Run) and a multitude of other things, I was quite sure this was going to leave me quite exhausted.  I thought I might actually cancel the exercise in the middle of the week.  And honestly, if it was causing me any problems, I knew I would. Not because I don't stick to plans or want to work hard.   I simply know that no workout is worth one's health.

To try and keep each day as close as possible to the others, I started every run within an hour's time of each other, usually on the later half of the noon hour. I had the same calories beforehand (a glass of chocolate milk) and varied as few factors in my control as possible. I had never (or rarely- I am too lazy to check) run this many double digit mile days in a row immediately after a race of a half-marathon distance or more (having run the Oakland Half on Sunday.) Attempting to do so was also going to be a foray into the unknown.  There were a great deal of things to keep this week interesting for me.

Here is how it went down.

Monday March 21st 
Start time: 12:56 p.m
Time: 1:21:11 (7:40 pace)
Ending weight: 187.8 lbs

I was expecting this day to be the hardest of the bunch and time-wise it was the slowest of the week.  However, since it was just a day after a relatively hard run half-marathon, I was surprised how well it went. In fact, with lap times of 21:07; 20:37; 20:12; 19:15, it followed the exact pattern that I like for this run: faster every loop. It is almost a badge of honor that regardless of what the day feels like, I just have to get faster each loop.

I noticed a small ache behind my right knee but chalked this up to just the rigors of the previous day. I would keep my eye on it for sure, though. As I said, if things hurt, stop doing them.



Tuesday March 22nd
Start time: 12:15 p.m
Time: 1:18:57 (7:27 pace)
Ending weight: 188 lbs

This was an interesting run. My plan every day was to go into each run and run how I felt comfortable. Well, comfortably hard. I wanted to run the way my body felt best and not try to influence the overall week by wanting to try to get faster each day or something else akin to that. On this day, unlike the previous one, there was no significant picking up per lap. The first three loops were pretty interchangeable (20:01; 20:09; 19:56.) During the last loop, however, I came upon a runner who joined me from an angle coming off of one of the sidewalks. It ended up we were running at the exact same pace. Shoulder to shoulder I figured this was a little weird so I thought I had to either speed up or slow down or say hi. I was running the pace I wanted to and she wasn't changing her gait either, so I said "nice pace."

As it ends up in Portland, saying hello to a fast runner usually means you are talking to some serious talent. This talent was 61st overall at the Olympic Marathon trials and was one of the youngest competitors there. Jennifer Bergman was her name and we ran together for 400 meters or so. Then she branched off to run home or wherever. This little pick-me-up allowed me to run a solid 18:51 for my final lap of the day (this would be the 3rd fastest loop of the 20 I would run this week.) 

Wednesday March 23rd
Start time: 12:48 p.m.
Time: 1:19:41 (7:31 pace)
Ending weight: 186.8 lbs

I noticed when I started the loop each time, which is up a slight hill around a bend, the back of my knee was a little wonky. When I was running the flat portions of the loop, I was fine. But up and down the small hills and I could feel it.  Hmmm.

With loops of 20:52; 20:13; 19:39; 18:57 I was able to basically do a slightly faster version of Monday's run. Instead of the almost exact loops of the day before, here they were essentially forty seconds faster per loop, which is much more my norm.

One notation I made after finishing this run was that I was surprised that in three days of running I had not yet been caught by either the bridges being raised or been drenched in any rain.  We are in a record rain stretch in Portland (much needed) but somehow I had missed every little rainstorm.  I mentioned this oddity to my friend because I don't believe in jinxes.

Thursday March 24th
Start time: 11:55 a.m.
Time: 1:20:04 (7:33 pace)
Ending weight:  188.2

On my second loop the Steel Bridge caught me. Then three times in 80 minutes of running I got dumped on by the skies spaced out between gorgeous blue sunniness. OK, maybe I believe in jinxes.

My idea for when a bridge interrupts my run is that it all balances out. You get the rest from the workout but you lose all momentum. The most annoying thing about this bridge interruption as that it was for no boat whatsoever. Routinely the bridges will just go up, I guess, to test to see if they still work. So while I stood waiting I could look downstream and see I was going to run into a dump of rain that was making its way across the river. Sure enough, halfway through the next loop I was blasted with rain. With a hellacious wind accompanying the rain it is no surprise my lap times were all over the place. That said, being a number guy, I thought it was pretty neat the first loop was exactly the same as the first loop for the day before.

When the last loop and a half was nothing but sunny, I was able to pull it together and run the fastest loop of the week so far.  20:52; 20:05; 20:18; 18:49 were the four for this run.

Here I wanted to take two seconds to talk about GPS devices. All the time I hear runners complain that their "garmin" registered a distance longer than the race they ran. Well, there are 19 ways I can refute that thought process but here is one solid picture to throw into the mix.  While I think highly of myself, I guarantee you I cannot walk on water. Your GPS isn't any more accurate than this. Plus you probably don't run the tangents in a race.




Friday March 25th
Start time: 12:57 p.m.
Time: 1:17:27 (7:18 pace)
Ending weight: 189.2

My best friend joined me for this final run of the experiment. Going the opposite direction around the loop we'd see each other twice a loop. Her consistent pace gave me an opportunity to keep an accurate account of my own effort each loop. Even though I definitely knew I needed a rest after today, as the back of my knee was definitely complaining loudly, the day was beautiful and my speed felt great. The monkey wrench was when the third loop was inexplicably much slower than the previous.  I must have daydreamed or been thinking about this recap or who knows what else.  When I saw how slow it was I decided I would make up for it on the last lap for sure. I then closed it off with the fastest loop of the entire week. 20:13; 19:18; 19:38; 18:27 was this day's output.

So what is the verdict?

I surprised myself with the overall quality of these runs throughout the week. Another surprising (or actually non-surprising since I have kept extensive records on my own weight struggles) is how I initially dropped a few pounds before putting it back on again. My diet in the evenings was more or less the same. Moreover, weighing myself after the run, after showering and before consuming any liquid kept it about the most even possible. In other words, I ran 53 miles in six hours in 34 minutes just for the luxury of gaining a pound and a half. Yes, I am aware that it is entirely possible over the next few days the weight will change. Also, the number on the scale alone means nothing. But it is interesting nonetheless.

It ends up the pain in my knee was a Baker's Cyst. Not the end of the world but it means I will be taking a few days off for sure. But I am used to small setbacks. I have Gilbert's Syndrome, for example. (Again not the end of the world, but still not fun.) I have had two bike crashes which showed me how much my shoulders are made of porcelain. What I will look back on from this week is how I was able to run a solid week of double digit mile runs at an decent clip immediately following a half-marathon. Even more so, at the end of the week, I was able to pick up the pace a notch and throw down a nice ending workout.

So what does this all mean? Basically absolutely nothing. If anything it is just me using a method of routine to help me start getting miles back under my belt.  In three weeks I will be taking on the famed River to River Relay in Southern Illinois. Normally this 80 miler is for teams of 8.  However, I was fortunate enough to be invited to take part as a two person team with my ultra-fit running buddy, Mosi. The real purpose of this week was to start getting some miles back in my legs so I am not an embarrassment to our team, Ebony and Ivory.


Thanks for reading the navel-gazings of yet another runner. I do hope that as much as they were about me, you will find a little of your own running in here as well and apply some of the lessons I learned to your own training. If you want 382 more pages of lessons, check out my book 138,336 Feet to Pure Bliss. I make something like a whopping $1.50 off each copy you buy on Amazon so I am not sending you there to make me rich. I wrote the book because I felt I could share with you some of the things I have gathered through personal experiments and talking to so many others faster and slower than me. I can only wish there had been someone who had run 52 marathons in 52 consecutive weekends to guide me along on my journeys previously. Benefit from what I have done so you can hopefully do much, much better.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Oakland Running Festival 13.1 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 6th Edition 
88 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Oakland Running Festival
Place: Oakland, CA
Miles from home: 631
Weather: 60s; Sunny and humid


I ran the Oakland Half in 2011 and surprisingly ran what remains my 3rd fastest half marathon ever. It was surprising for a number of reasons, the least of all not being that the course was not exactly forgiving. It was not hard, per se, it just wasn't what one would expect to run fast on.  But that is why we toe the line as we never know what race day will bring.  On this race day, however, I had a fairly good idea roughly where I was going to run. Coming back from the flu there would be no such heroics or personal bests set on this day.  But I felt I had done well enough in my recovery to run perhaps in the 1:27-1:28 range.

At the expo prior to the race, I was doing a book signing.  To say I met some interesting characters would be to put it mildly. Luckily for me, I also had the great pleasure of meeting some new friends for the first time, old friends and social media friends who took time out of their day just to say hello. Warms your heart when you realize you are more than a mouse click on the "like" button to some people.

I spent a great deal of time explaining what the book was about to those who were curious as well as why I was wearing a shirt and jacket with ASEA on it. But most of the time is spent simply being a running psychiatrist. I really think my booth should just have a couch where runners can lie down and talk about what ails them, both physically and mentally. It is not as if this bothers me. I realized a long time ago that more often than not any question asked is done because there is a story behind the question. The sooner you get to that story the sooner everyone feels better about the encounter. Occasionally. I hear something new. Often I am inspired by people's struggles. And maybe, just maybe, the words I share to encourage or inspire will sink in over the next day or so and help push them to new and wonderful heights.

I remembered the day before the race, just like I had five years ago, that the race had a rather late start. Our gun for the half would be going off at 9:10 a.m. This sort of late start usually works well with me, especially if the weather cooperates. The weather was supposed to be 52 and cloudy for our start. Not "perfect" but pretty darn nice for me. Shouldn't be much of a problem!

Race Day:

I awoke to sun streaming into my hotel room. Bollocks. How can it be cloudy and sunny! Maybe it will be cool still. While it might have not been the debacle of the Gate River Run of last weekend, upon stepping out of my hotel, I noticed it was far from cool.  At race time, instead of the temperature I was hoping for, we had 60 degrees with bright sunshine. It felt much warmer, however. But, I told myself, it is "just" a half-marathon: Get in, run hard, get out and it may still be cool.  Or coolish.

On the way to the start I talked with a young chap named Daniel from Cleveland.  He lived in Houston and worked on space shuttle stuff.  It is encounters like this that make the sport so fun.  There would be virtually no other reason the tow of us would ever cross paths but here we were.  Coincidentally, as he saw my ASEA singlet, he said he had heard of the product and was eager to try it out.  I gave it my glowing approval and hope he does.

First Three Miles:

The course was slightly different than when I had run it half a decade ago so as I do, I measured it using an online tool I use for every run I do. I was surprised to see it came out well past 13.1 miles but figured perhaps I had messed up. I knew there was some construction on the course so perhaps it would all even out in the end.

Once I got to the starting line I shot out like a cannonball.  I felt like I was flying.  Picking my way through runners, I was amazed how good I was feeling. However, in the first mile we had nine right angle turns. Nine. Ooof. Not ideal as we went through sidewalks and little plazas and at one point a heavily constructed area. The race addressed this issue on their Facebook page and it was very cool of them to do so.

Even with all the turns, however, I felt like my first mile was smoking. Maybe I would surprise myself after all. However, when it came up 30 seconds short of what it felt like, I was alarmed. I usually feel slower than I actually am in the beginning. Now, with the benefit of hindsight and looking at my own data, I see the mile marker was simply off. As I have said many times, don't rely on mile markers. They are there as a convenience and are not always in the right place.

The other thing I noticed was how I was simply dripping with sweat. This was not going how I had envisioned it. After the first mile, where I let my head get in the way of my feet, runners were passing me and I had no response. The second mile came and went and I was hoping for a correction in overall time from the first mile but it showed me I was still not on my goal pace. As we turned into the bright sunshine, I tried to decide exactly what my plan for the day would be.

Running down the street the third mile approached. Another subpar mile told me that perhaps this wasn't going to be my day. The flu and pneumonia I had a few weeks back were obviously still not quite ready to let me run nearly as fast as I wanted. I made the executive decision to more or less shut it down. I hated to do so but it is folly to race hard when you simply do not have it. It leads to long term problems and then no one is happy. I was basically happy with the decision. Unfortunately, I still had ten more miles of running to do either way.

To Mile Seven:

The next four miles were a very strange mixture. No sooner did I decide to mail it in then I threw down a 6:25 mile. This wasn't just a short mile or my Timex watch being off. I passed dozens of runners who had steadily made their way by me in the previous miles. They all didn't just suddenly slow en masse. No, for some reason, I was injected with speed. I have zero idea what happened here. Perhaps it was the taiko drumming group that was riling up spirits. I know for sure I felt a pep in my step from this awesome group of people cheering us on. Regardless, I can only say I wish the spurt had happened for longer. But almost as soon as the burst of speed came upon me, it withered away. I did not lose my place in the race but I couldn't tap into it again. I kept telling myself to just hold it where I was and perhaps that burst would come back again. Stranger things have happened in racing!

Without a doubt, I was looking forward to running under the flaming, rusty, wrought-iron arch with real-life flames outside The Crucible, an Oakland based industrial arts school. A fixture since at least 2011, when I ran here it was at mile six if I recall correctly.  Here it was closer to mile 7.  Here for a second or two I allowed my mind to wander. As with all parts of any race, I always wonder what it is like for slower runners.  They undoubtedly experience a race completely different than people close to the front.  For example, I am very fortunate to be able to have the first shot at aid stations; I am not normally worried about narrow passes; flaming steel usually is not run under shoulder-to-shoulder with others. I am always curious what it is like when people are running five across.  As always, when people who don't run ask me what I think about when I am running, I can't even begin to tell them the list of thoughts that go through my head.

Approaching the 7th mile I knew I would be seeing one of my coaching clients who was running part of a relay with her team Too Legit To Quit. We tried to figure out, based on their projected time and my starting time, when I may see her. As it ends up, as I approached, Jessica was taking the hand off from her teammate. That's good timing!  I wished her good luck and then tried my best to once again harness any speed in my legs.

Off to Mile Ten:

The next mile is one of my favorite on the course. It is a gradually sloping downward mile, virtually straight, with the buildings blocking the rising sun. But this year there was something I flat out have never seen in a race before.  Ever. And that is saying something given the hundreds of races I have run, watched or read about.

A crane in the middle of this mile was suspending something over the road. With as much construction that was going on I just assumed it was another city project. Also, as there was what appeared to be a large structure with a flamethrower on it, my attention was diverted there. I already had a number of Mad Max: Fury Road jokes queuing up in my head for this recap. Then I realized what the crane was holding: blocks of ice. And the flame thrower thingie was melting them with every pull of the flaming trigger.  As such, a trickle of refreshing cold water was falling down from above. Sweet merciful heaven, how I have not only never seen this before but never even thought of it?!  Whose idea was this?  I demand they be awarded with many accolades. The only problem was that it was only a brief respite. I would have loved one of those every mile! (Also, what is with the fire motif in Oakland?)

Because of so many turns in this course I was being careful to run the tangents as much as possible. I mention this ALL THE TIME but I am doing it again. It boggles my mind how many runners will not run the shortest distance of a race course. These are the same ones who almost invariably the ones who complain about how long a course is when all is done. Here, however, on this straightaway, there was no need for that. Yet, inexplicably, for the third time  in the race, this one young girl runner saddled up to me, passed me, and then immediately fell in front of me. When I say immediately, I mean like I had to throw the Knight Rider Season Four side panel air brakes on. (First used in episode 70, FYI. I checked. You're welcome.)

As I fell back into position, I regained my composure. And for third time, within seconds, running the same pace, I was passing her again. One time is an accident. Twice is starting a trend. Three times means you get the look. What look? Think of Kevin Hart's ostrich reference. She wouldn't return my gaze. And wouldn't have a chance to do it again, either. I began to pick up the pace. Nothing helps a desire to run fast like a little disgust and/or anger.

There was great crowd support for the latter portions of this race. From the drummers, to the Raiders fans, to certain neighborhoods just being populated by cheering pedestrians, I was pleased. Could there be more? Sure, always. But this was nice.

As I approached mile 9.5, I passed some girls in banana suits running a relay. Or I was high on meth. Not quite sure which. I made what I am sure was hilarious to me but not funny at all joke. Fortunately, another runner laughed and therefore he became my best buddy for the day. Chris was his name and we chatted for a bit about how surprisingly warm it was. I asked him what he was shooting for and he said he was on pace for a PR. I said I wasn't feeling that great and he shouldn't base his pace off of mine.  However, if I could keep my crap together I would try to help him get that PR if I could. We approached the tenth mile and got ready for a run around Lake Merritt.


Heading Home

This section around the lake was different than I recall from five years ago as well. Again, there were far too many twists and turns for my liking. Chris and I were more or less running together but every once in a while a tight corner or a hill would separate us. The park was open to pedestrians, which I completely understand. It is hard to get permits to close down large areas in big cities. What I don't understand is why pedestrians would be so callous as to not realize thousands of runners are coming through and perhaps they could choose a slightly different route. Maybe that is the myopic egotism of a runner. But I like to think it is the common courtesy of knowing that sometimes exactly what I want to do flies in the face of the masses. But I digress.

When we hit the 11th mile, it was clear that this course was going to measure long. This bummed me out a little bit as I had been working hard to get back on the right side of sub 1:30 halfs. It isn't the end of the world however. As we wound around a long curving road, I again took to the innermost angle while the rest of the runners stayed far outside. I wonder how much in the end all of this adds to the the total. Dozens of yards? A quarter mile? It doesn't matter really how far as it is further than anyone needs to run. But the clear path forward, unimpeded by any other runners, was greatly appreciated by me for sure.

With a mile to go, Chris and I drew shoulder to shoulder. I encouraged him to keep the pace, even if
Awesome shot of my sweat from MarathonFoto
he didn't care for me to encourage him or need it. I wasn't sure exactly what his watch would read because we had started at different times. I knew I wouldn't break 1:30 with the added distance but wasn't too concerned about that. We pushed hard up the remaining cruel hill to the finish and passed under the banner. For Chris it was a new PR. For me, it was another lesson in racing. My 90th half marathon lesson to be exact. I finished with a time of 1:31:47 which was good enough for 62nd place overall. A far cry from what I hoped but alas.

As I rapidly approach my 100th half-marathon, I have long since realized how fickle racing can be. Especially when you are a simple age grouper like myself, you have to be ok with the fact that you will never be "fast." But you can still push yourself and push hard. Also, if you are wise and want to race for a long time, you have to know when it is not your day. If you race often, many days are not going to be your day. In that subset of not so great days, you have to do the math to see how much it is not going to be your day. Can every race be all out? Sure, if you do short distance races and not that often. Otherwise, well, at least for my body, it will fail if I try that.

My point is, every day and every time you put on running shoes, it is part of one large experiment.  I enjoy being the test subject and finding out more and more about myself each finish line. Hope to see you out there testing yourself soon.