Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Making Today Easier for Future Historians



This doesn’t have much to do with running but I am posting it here as I need to put it down somewhere.

I was a History major in college.  One of the main reasons I chose that route of study came from the fact that I have always been obsessed with simply knowing “stuff.”  I want to know why things happened, how they work, and what may occur next. Growing up, if I wanted to know something, my father would tell me to look it up.  While I grew up relatively poor we still had three sets of encyclopedias in our home. Funk & Wagnalls, Encyclopedia Britannica and World Book – the latter I received from my elementary school in some sort of giveaway as my principal (who was actually sort of an ass) knew that of all the kids in the school, I would apparently use it the most. He was right.  I read volumes like novels.  Ci-Cz tonight, for the win!


When the internet became a “thing”, I was astounded.  No longer would I need to go to the library or dredge through volumes to find information. I still, at 40, spend hours just looking at things.  Meet a person from a town I have never heard of?  I look it up. Two hours later I am 14 degrees of separation away reading about the Smoot Hawley-Tariff Act. When people say “You know, I’ve always wondered…”  I want to scream “In your hand you hold a device which can access ever bit of knowable knowledge.  LOOK IT UP!”

When I was younger, looking back through time I would often laugh at the things which weren’t known by people.  Ha ha, how could you not know the world was round?  Tee hee – they really thought that a sub-4 mile would kill you or women’s running would make their uterus fall out.  But then I realized while some of those “facts” might have been what some people thought, it was clear that it was not prevailing amongst most. For example, I learned doing research for a book that virtually no one of any actual intelligence thought running a sub-4 mile would kill anyone.  Or that women were in danger of losing anything if they ran. Instead, it was easier to just pretend and look back at people in the past and think “Silly cretins. We are sooooo much smarter now!”

With the advances that the country has made in the past few decades with regards to equality of genders and acceptance/understanding of race, sexuality and so much more, we still saw pushback.  We saw those relying on religion as a reason why stem cell research could not progress. People with zero knowledge of how things work could start an army of misinformation as long as they called themselves the “Food Babe” or something else catchy. The willfully ignorant, or the purposefully corrupt, or the duped followers held back progress in science, society, and everything in between.  But we had a record showing that while the fringe still denied climate change, or linked vaccines to autism, or thought one race was superior to others, the majority was in control and would tamp down the insanity.

Then Trump got 62 million people to vote for him. 

Suddenly, I felt like we were before the discovery of electricity. We were in the Salem witchcraft trials. We were in Spain before Columbus sailed the ocean. Undoubtedly, in all of those times, there were people who knew electricity exists but couldn’t harness it.  Or that there were no witches.  Or that the Earth wasn’t flat. But they were drowned out by shouting hordes.

What’s my point?  I am not sure.  I guess I am just hoping that in 50 years, when the history books look back, they will see this entire Trump thing as a blip of minor craziness.  When you don’t have to live through it day to day, it is almost unnoticeable.  Even a few years of something bad, in the grand scheme of history, is easy to overlook or not see as something which shook those who lived in it to their core.  Those in that time don’t know when the crazy will end.  As such, each day seems like an eternity. For example, the Civil Rights movement, so recent that many of the people who participated in it are still active in government, sometimes can feel like ancient history. We like to think we made it through the darkest of times and are moving forward, albeit not as fast as we would like. Gay rights have moved at a rapid pace in the past two decades. Transgendered issues can actually be spoken about in mixed company. Gender roles, race relations, and so much more is on the table. So much good had happened so fast that it felt like those who fought against it would be pushed aside into the dustbin of history, to be laughed at as fools who couldn’t see how wrong they were.

But we didn’t elect our first female president. We elected an absolute and utter charlatan of a buffoon who has duped millions into thinking he is for them. For the first time in my life, it no longer felt like the country was moving forward.  It doesn’t even feel like a stutter step to the side.  It feels like massive, Nestea-plunge backward into a muck-filled cesspool of ignorance and hate.  I am embarrassed to be alive during this time. It sickens me that after so much progress, I live in a country where, inevitably, a few decades from now, people will be sniggering at our stupidity in putting a sociopathic, womanizing, petty, small, insipid, crapweasel into the most powerful position in the world.
 
This utter piece of crap is going to be our President. 

What. In. The. F*ck?!

He won’t stay there. He can’t. I will be shocked if it makes it through a year. He will either resign or be impeached. He is too maniacally narcissistic to think he has to change any single thing about himself. As such, he will mess up “bigly” and it will cost him. Yes, Mike Pence is nearly as deplorable and Paul Ryan isn’t far behind.  Don’t get me started on Ted Cruz.  But all of these vile humans at least try to stick to decorum and rules.  They can be shamed.  They are fearful of losing their jobs and will not just piss all over Russian hookers the Constitution without fear of reprisal.

Instead of being an embarrassment, I hope this is seen as the time that those on the right side of history rose up, became ever vigilant, and used this unbelievable circus as the cannon fodder which propelled us forward in huge leaps and bounds. Campaign finance reform, wage inequality, equal rights in marriage, oversight into our government, healthcare, and so much more will hopefully be eons ahead of where they would have been if we had not lost our freaking minds and given a reality show festering boil the nuclear codes.

Benjamin Franklin said "Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are." While right wing morons call those of us abhorred by Trump and his tactics "snowflakes" I continually come back to this phrase. Compassion and caring for those who are not you shows you can look outside the shell of just your own existence. When I became outraged by what was happening in the election, I pointed out that *I* was fine. I am a straight, white male.  The only thing I am missing from being perfectly safe from everything is to be rich. I am not appalled by what may happen in the future because I fear for me. I fear for all those who are not me. Those with more melanin in their skin. Those with a uterus. Those who are not in power. 
So if this is what makes me a snowflake, so be it. But just like those of us who thought the weak minded, or racist, or homophobic or sexist could not be united into one front to put an orange huckster into office and were wrong, snowflakes can assemble as well. In fact, many snowflakes eventually can create an avalanche. 

I guess it is time to race down that mountain.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Accept Your Talent

Saw a very fast runner recently state something akin to "I have worked very hard. I was not blessed with talent or good genes." Who the runner was is not important. I have seen this same statement time and time again by very talented runners (and other athletes) over the years. Steve Prefontaine famously said "Hell, there are a dozen other guys on the team with more talent in their little finger than I've got."  


Steve Prefontaine.  The guy with one of the highest recorded Vo2 maxes in history.

Look, I get why they say it. (In fact, I go into this in some detail in my book 138, 336 Feet to Pure Bliss.) Mainly, they don't want to let predetermined DNA say they don't work hard. To a great extent, they are correct. You can have all the talent in the world but if you never utilize it, it is useless. As such, they want nothing taken away from how hard they work.  And if you are at the top level of your sport, or game, or business, you got there because you worked hard. Why? Because all the other people at the top are talented, too. To differentiate yourself, you must give something else. You rose through the ranks, even quite possibly doing so with not a great deal of effort, because you were genetically superior to many of your foes. There isn't a single thing wrong with that. But then when things get tougher, it is those with a better work ethic who rise to the top.

When I speak about Ignoring The Impossible, one of my prime topics, I go against the grain of many who like to try to motivate and inspire. I tell you that you can NOT do everything you put your mind to. There are just some things you will never achieve. I know this go against wonderful memes about those who work hardest are the winners. And taken the wrong way some may use it as an excuse to never try at all.  If they can't do it because their genes forbid it, then why even attempt? Because you never know what you can do unless you try. Then try again. And keep trying. I failed miserably in my first marathon. I then went and made a career based on what I achieved in the running world.


It is completely illogical to not accept that some people are better at some things simply because they are. That is exactly how the world works. To deny you had some help from the DNA fairy (or God, or whatever you want to believe) is the epitome of arrogance. It is also a slight to those who do not achieve greatness. "Well, maybe you need to work harder." It is what is so wrong about the ridiculousness of The Secret, that self-help book from a decade ago. If things go right, it is because you worked hard or thought the right way.  If they don't, it is because you need to work harder or put it out into the universe in a different way. 

 No.  

Sometimes you just aren't going to be able to dunk a basketball. So, learn how to shoot better.  If you can't shoot better, play another sport. Being bad at something is not a problem. Pretending that everyone can be good at something is the problem.

So, simply accept it.  Yes, you rise early in the morning. Sure, you have four kids or came from the ghetto. Absolutely, your drive and determination are to be envied. But when the cards were dealt, you got a nice hand to start.  

But tt is how you play it that matters most.

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Marathon in 49 States - Boycotting North Carolina

Before I ran my 52 Marathons in 52 Weekends, I had thought of running a marathon in every state.  Not in one year. Just over my life. I had always wanted to see as much of the world as possible and I thought this would be the best way to do so. I also felt it might be novel and new. But when I researched it further, I saw dozens, if not hundreds, of people had already completed the task. As such, "just" finishing a marathon in each state lost its luster.  In fact, "just" finishing any marathon has lost some of its luster. I long ago became completely unenamored with simply completing a marathon. (Of course, ask me at mile 24 of any marathon and "just" finishing is usually all I want to do!)  My point is, I want to do more than cover the distance and collect my shiny bauble.  I want to race as fast as possible and give it my all.

With the resident of L'Arche Mobile.
As time has gone on, I have cultivated a following and my words reach more than the average running Joe. I realized this when I garnered a few detractors. Ones who created web-pages about me, tried to derail my speaking career, and were all-around crapweasals.  However, as they say, you don't get haters if you aren't important enough to be hated. With that knowledge, I knew I could do good with my feet. Not just raising money and "awareness" (a word which has begun to lost all meaning) or by being an "ambassador" for a product (see my thoughts on that here) but rather by doing more.  By speaking to children about obesity. By reaching out to homeless and the downtrodden.  By trying to bring people together by standing up for rights and common decency and morals and ethics.

Doing so has cost me money, sponsorship, and other lucrative partnerships. My staunch disgust for Donnie Trump and all those who support him has cost me "fans" as well. I'm fine with that. But much of what those of us who rant about this orange sack of rancid pus and those like him do is just rhetoric. Our actions matter most.

Currently, while Trump's puerile yet dangerous ridiculousness is eating up our bandwidth, there are other transgressions going on in states around the nation. Texas is trying to require abortion clinics to bury or cremate fetal remains. Ohio is trying to band abortion after 6 weeks. But right now, it is North Carolina which is doing everything it can to be the most repugnant state out there. From it's governor first failing to concede a vote he lost by over 10,000 votes, to illegal racial gerrymandering, to the transgender bathroom bill, to...Christ, I can't even list them all.  Basically, the Tar Hell State has given up on democracy.

The last race I ran in NC. A 100 miler.
Well, fine. North Carolina - I give up on you.  I have run a marathon in 49 states. While it has never been the most pressing of my goals, I would very much like to complete one in all 50. The only state I am missing? You guessed it! All together now: North Carolina. But until North Carolina gets its act together, my self (and my money) will not race in the state. No race fees, no hotels, no food, no gas, no rental cars, nothing. I know many good people in the state and this will affect them. I am sorry for that. But those people need to get rid of their elected officials. And convince those who care about them to get rid of those elected official. And convince those who don't care about them, but do care about money, to get rid of those elected officials.

Runners are some of the most affluent subsets of the population out there. Our dollars speak. Make them speak loudly. Join me in boycotting the state until they return it to the hands of the people. All the people. Not just the white people. Not just the rich people. Not just the straight people.

All.

The.

People.

Until that happens, I will sit at 49 states with a marathon run and never venture further. It might be something small but avalanches are started by the accumulation of small snowflakes.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Crystal Serenity Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 16th Edition 
198.2 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Crystal Serenity Marathon
Place: Willemstad, CuraƧao
Miles from home: 2255
Weather: 80s-90s; sunny; humid

The best-laid plans…

When asked by Crystal Cruise to run the first official-measured and sanctioned marathon on a cruise ship, I had a number of concerns. Knowing Crystal is a premiere top-shelf cruise line I wanted to make sure what “official” and “marathon” meant to them. With marathons springing up around the nation (and the world) at an alarming rate, I did not want this to be just roughly 26.2 miles around the luxurious deck.  If so, well, we had already done that in 2014 when I sailed with them from Chile to Tahiti.  When I learned they were getting their boat’s running deck measured and sanctioned by USATF, I knew they meant business. So I said, let's do it!


As part of my trip on Crystal would also include being a guest lecturer, we had to find the day which would work best for all involved. Personally, as I wanted to control as much of the run as possible, I was hoping to get the marathon accomplished as soon as we left port. In addition, I thought it would be best to get it done before I visited the islands of Grand Cayman and Jamaica. That way no weird issues with food would happen that might potentially fell the effort. Plus, I would be as close to running the marathon as possible to when I left home, eliminating all of the other concerns the usual traveling marathoner has to do deal with. Unfortunately for me, it worked better with the schedule to have me running the marathon the day after the visit to the islands.

As the day I thought would be ideal passed with the calmest of seas possible, I thought perhaps this would continue throughout. However, after leaving Ocho Rios, Jamaica and beginning our trip at sea, the weather turned almost immediately. The evening before my marathon the wind picked up.  The waves got choppy. To quote George Constanza “the sea was angry that day, my friends.” I got barely a wink of sleep as the rocking of the boat, which I am sure was turning many green and would have normally lulled me to sleep, kept me up hoping it would finally subside.

When I woke to start prep for the race, I turned on the ship’s TV to get the info on the outside weather. I already knew it was going to be warm. We were in the Caribbean. So the 80+ degrees was not surprising. The 49 knot winds, however, were. Egads.

I dressed and went down to the deck where the two members who were certifying the course for USATF, Phil and Paula, were waiting.  In addition, Scott, another marathoner who works for Crystal who I met in Miami many years ago and actually was the one who set this up, was looking a little forlorn. Phil and I met has a race he puts on in Santa Clarita some 8 years ago and it was nice to have them all here. The serene nature of all three however, belied what was ahead for me. Well, they are all British after all, so good luck getting much emotion out of them either way.

The said it was a “mite bit windy” and perhaps I should give it a test run. As I turned and ran into the wind, I could tell this would make for a tough day.  Then I hit the bow of the boat.

WHOOOOOSH!

At 6’1’’ and 180 lbs, I was stood straight up and nearly stopped in my tracks.  My sunglasses blew off my face and the air was knocked out of me. I powered through and the wind carried me to the stern of the ship where the previous biggest obstacle lay. (I will get to that in a minute.)  I finished the lap and to test it out again did another. It got even worse. I told the three that if I had to, I could do it.  It might be dangerous and it would definitely be slow, but I would.  However, if I had my druthers, I would like to try again the next day.  This seemed to be the answer they were expecting and it was 100% accepted.  Within seconds I was back to my stateroom and trying to figure out what to do with myself. I had planned my meals and my resting and my tapering to run on this day. Now what to do?  It is one thing to change a lecture or a speech or even a smaller distance race.  But to change the day of a marathon? That is something else entirely.

As the morning and afternoon rocked by with the winds barely abating, I knew I made the right choice.  I just had to weather this wind and hope that the next day would be better.  You see, the next day was the last chance we had to use Phil and Paula’s services as they had to disembark in Curacao to head home. So it was do or die.  Hopefully the former.

More than just postponing the marathon it was postponing my routine.  I had taken two days off before the marathon, as is my norm. This extra day off, however, immediately made me feel lethargic. In addition, there were zero signs of the winds slowing all day long.  As I went to bed, the boat was still be tossed side to side as the hull cut through 50 knot winds. I went to bed hoping against hope.

When 5 a.m. rolled around I turned on the ship’s TV to confirm what I already knew: nothing had changed. I met the mates on the deck of the ship and could see they agreed. The said to go back to bed and hopefully, when we got into harbor in 90 minutes, things would be better. It felt like I had no sooner laid my head on the pillow than my phone rang. Scott told me it was go time.  I could see if that it was a little before 7 am and the sun was fully shining. Exactly what I had tried to battle against using my knowledge from running on the previous ship.  With a lit deck, I could run at any time of the day or night.  But now it was warm and sunny. This might be a long day.

I quickly got ready and headed down to the 7th deck promenade.  By 7:20, less than half an hour after I had woken up, I was underway.  What a way to try and run 26.2 miles.

The course was simple if not easy. I would run about half the length of the ship to start. Then from that halfway point, each loop would begin. Piece of cake, right? Just do this 89 times and garner a Guinness world record.

For the first six miles, things went relatively smoothly. I knew that I was not going to go nearly as fast as I had hoped with the starting temperature being 84 degrees – more or less the temperature they stop, or "black flag" most marathons. The only bad thing in the beginning, and it was bad, was the smoke.

No, the ship was not on fire.  Rather, you see, the crew members and deck hands of Crystal Cruise enjoy their breaks in the foremost front of the ship, away from virtually everyone else. They are also often from countries of the old Eastern Bloc of other far flung places. Unfailingly polite, very nice to be around and a pleasure to talk to, they have also not apparently gotten the memo about the whole cigarettes cause cancer thing. So, every time I made it to the front of the ship, I got to inhale smoke.  Yes this was outdoors. Yes, this was in a vastly open space.  But, and I have known this my entire life – I have the wimpiest lungs possible. Out of the factory mine we hardly made of hearty stock. I know even the slightest provocation means they are not happy. So, while I was clicking away loops, I was also dreading going to the front of the ship every single time. This does not help the mental state at all.

Nevertheless, I had run, almost like a metronome, 2:12 laps every single lap for the first 6 miles (it look 3.39 laps to make a mile, FYI.) As we approached 9 am, the time I had originally planned on finishing, there were more guests out and about exercising. Many had gotten up at the crack of dawn both days to cheer me on from their staterooms and had seemed as disappointed as I about the wind.  Thy had also been very kind to allow me to have the deck virtually to myself during times when many of them would go for a stroll.  However, many assumed I started at six in the morning so here, three hours later, they thought I would be done.  As such, I spent a great deal of the next six miles being very mindful of other guests and making sure not to inadvertently take out a septuagenarian. Many took pictures of me as I passed by or did a selfie when I looped behind them.  At this juncture I still had energy to make silly faces.  I hope they enjoyed it!

Suddenly, a storm came in and began to drench the passengers, myself and the deck.  I began to curse inwardly as a slick wooden deck was the last thing I needed. Moreover, I knew what would come after the Caribbean rainstorm would pass. A stifling humidity.  In addition, the rain wasn't even remotely cooling. Rather, all it did was increase potential for chafing, make me shoes soaked, add puddles to the deck and make me a whiny little runner.  One positive of this torrential downpour was that it drove everyone else inside. The deck was mine to run freely.  Hoping the storm would last maybe 40 minutes and keep the sun at bay, I was disappointed when it barely last 10. Then the humidity came.

As the ship was positioned, I spent half of the loop running in the sun and the other half in the shade.  The problem with the shade was that is an absolute dead zone. No air moved. It felt stagnant. I recalled this oddity from my previous run on the cruise ship when I was befuddled how one could be out in the air yet still feel closed in. There were also little further oddities to deal with. For example, I am unsure if there are certain air conditioning vents or ducts that are part of a normal operation of a boat, but I often felt like I could taste or smell pockets of air which differed from the rest.  Normally, this means nothing on a run as you pass by.  But the whole 89 laps things.

More importantly, I could tell that the rain, the multiple turns, and perhaps just bad luck, had caused med to have a cut on my right Achilles tendon. Knowing that there was no way I could finish with this worsening, I told Shannon, my best friend and guest on this cruise, to go to the stateroom, grab some new socks and my pair of Karhu triathlon shoes which have a very low cut. A few laps later I was sitting on a bench changing socks and shoes. You know, as you usually do in the middle of a race.

Regardless of the heat, and my laps creeping closer and closer to three minutes per,  as I approached 20 miles it still looked like I would keep my marathon time under 3:30. Far from ideal but not the most horrible of times, all things considered. I had ran most of the miles without a shirt as I had been drenched in sweat since about five steps in. Given how self-conscious I am about running with a shirt off, Shannon told me she knew how hot I must have been. Here I take two seconds to say that without my best friend handing me towels, forcing me to pull ice cold water over my head to cool my core, and knowing exactly what beverage I needed exactly when I needed it, I might not have even made it to 20 miles intact. A runner is only as good as his crew and I have the best out there.

Previously, the only time I really slowed was at the back of the boat.  I mentioned this previously as an obstacle and let me elaborate further. The other cruise ship I had run on with Crystal had a different stern portion. It was open and wide and I could make the turn easily.  The Serenity, however, had two open stairwells which cut into a runner's ability to cut each turn tight. I had done a few runs on the ship prior to the race and suffice it to say I found my overall pace slowed greatly here. For math's sake, I lost about three seconds on the back of the boat each loop.  Over the course of the marathon that is close to five minutes! Talk about adding up. Unfortunately, as I went over twenty miles, the back of the boat wasn't the only place I was slowing .

With 20 laps to go, or just a shade under 6 miles, I thought I had a fullproof plan. Unfortunately, fools often outwits those plans. Nevertheless, I thought if I could just do four sets of 5 loops, taking a one minute break after each set to sit on a bench, douse myself in ice water and move on, it would keep me still in a decent time. One set of loops went fine. However, halfway through the next set, I had to stop and sit. Then virtually every loop had me stopping on the homestretch as I came out of the shadow of the ship and into the intense magnifying heat of the sun on the starboard side.  It baked me. It cooked me. It simply sapped my will to move forward. My loops were now taking four minutes to complete as I even had to walk on the shaded side as well.

Finally, with five loops to go, I had had enough.  At the bow of the boat, I tried to use the shadow of the boat to propel me into what I hoped would just be 12-15 minutes of running to close out the day.  Cramps in my leg from dehydration had other plans. Shooting from my ankle to my calf to my quad, the pain was so sharp and intense that it made me woozy. I couldn’t keep a level head unless I made my body level. So down on the deck I went. Almost immediately, crew members were on me asking me if I was alright. I tried to assure them all it was not a head wound or overall woosiness causing me to lay down but just a leg cramp. But soon more members were called. Then a EMT. Then the ship doctor and all of my people involved with this race. I kept assuring them I was fine but soon they were taking my blood pressure and pulse and everything else. I told them I just had 3.5 miles to go and…is that a wheelchair?!  No, no, no, no.  I am not getting in that. Nor am I taking any IV fluids.  I didn’t push through this hell to be stopped short in the last mile. With some help from others, I was pulled to my feet. I swallowed my pride after lying on the ground for over ten minutes and realized finishing was all that mattered.  Any “good” time had long since passed.
video

I sauntered the last three loops with the ship doctor, himself a marathoner (and also seemingly wanting to let me know constantly that he too had runs lots of marathons) and Shannon who keep an ice cold towel on my neck. One loop turned into two and then finally I was on the last loop. I knew there were people waiting so when I turned onto the home stretch, I tried a feeble attempt at running to break the finish line tape. So, 4:27:14 after I started, I had another new milestone in my pocket. (Official time being verified.)

Was it the time I wanted?  Obviously not. But in my first marathon as a Master’s runner, and my 153rd slowest out of 158 total marathons, I had set out to do what I was asked to do. A huge round of thanks goes out to Crystal Cruise and Scott Douglass for putting this all together. To both Phil and Paula for measuring the course and making it official as well as timing it as well.  To Shannon I definitely extend my most heartlfelt thanks because even as the weather got stifling (over 90 degrees when I finished) I knew I was in good hands with her nearby.

As I spoke on the cruise ship as well (this was a working vacation for me, not even counting the 89 and change laps round the ship) this event was a great example of showing how often things can go awry even when you plan as hard as you can.  I jokingly told the audience that my intention was to run very slow so that Crystal will have me on again when they go through colder, more northern waters, and I can easily break the record. As it stands, on a ship full of people who have done many things right in their life and often don’t need much motivation, I was told I became a new source of it.  I laid to waste many of these “But I can’t run because…” excuses and opened their eyes to maybe trying something new. But following through will be up to them. We can be motivated all we wanted but unless we alone take the first step to doing whatever it is we want to do, nothing else matters.

As this year comes to an end, here’s hoping in 2017 you take that first step toward what you have wanted for a very long time.

Then take another.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Cruise Ship Marathon - A Guinness World Record Attempt

I turned 40 in May and had a plan all set to celebrate my first marathon as Masters run all in place.  Then I ran 40km on my birthday in searing heat, slept in the next day, and missed the registration for the race I had planned to run.  You see, I wanted my first marathon as a 40 year old to be the marathon which would have me completing a marathon in every state. It was also suited to my strengths and I thought I might take a shot at setting a new PR.  Heck of way to run your first marathon as a 40 year old, right?  Well, as that was not to be, I sorta fell into a wary area. I have often said that when you try to make a big deal about a milestone marathon, chances are high it will bite you in the butt. The marathon distance is so challenging that the best-laid plans often get shown the door. As such, I simply couldn't decide what marathon I wanted to be my first as an old guy. Every time I planned one it did not seem "special" enough.

Nearly three (wow, really?) years ago I was a guest speaker on Crystal Cruise Lines trip from Chile to Tahiti with a stop over on Easter Island.  This afforded me an opportunity to set foot on one of the most remote islands in the world. In addition, it excited the child in me to know I would finally get to see the Moai on this most odd of places. Also, on the trip, I was asked to run the fastest marathon that had ever been run around a cruise ship.

I couldn't find any real record of any such feat but went about doing it nonetheless. I don't officially count the distance I did that day as one of my marathons run for a variety of reasons. However, when Crystal Cruise invited me on another cruise and asked me to replicate the feat, this time making it official, I couldn't turn it down.


So, in about three weeks I will be in the middle of the Caribbean, running 97 laps around the Crystal Serenity with official record keepers in tow. I guess technically any time I run will be the fastest ever recorded but I hope to do the record proud. I plan to at least best my own time from 2014 (3:14) and hopefully get under three hours as well.

Not a bad way to celebrate my first marathon as a 40 year old after all.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Recovery Tips - Get Out There Again!

So many people take on races each weekend. They prepare hard and long. They give it their all.  They collapse in either joy or frustration at the end of the event. But they often neglect the most important part: recovery.

Given I have made a name at recovering from hard events, and I have the added disadvantage of Gilbert's Syndrome making that more difficult (ignorance truly is bliss on that one) please let me share with you a few tidbits to help get you back to the starting line in the most efficient way possible.

BE PREPARED

The best way to recover from exercise and strenuous activity is to do your best to stay healthy and active for the majority of the time anyway. Obviously this is not the greatest of help to those who are looking to end a period of inactivity or unhealthy habits but it is a simple law of Newton’s: bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. Even if you are inactive, get moving. Today. Recovery will come much quicker once you lead a healthier lifestyle.

EAT WELL

Humans are complex machines, and no two are the same. What foods and drinks work well for one might not work for another. But there really is no secret to food, for the most part. Balance your proteins, carbs, and sugars with vegetables and fruits. It’s not sexy. I call it the common sense diet. Personally, I feel eating lean beef has always kept me in the best shape by helping me prepare my body for the strenuous activity I put it through on a regular basis.

THE INTANGIBLES

So much is unknown about how we do what we do. The old adage of picking right the parents to guarantee good genes is clever but can be misleading too. No one in my immediate family was a runner of any sort. There was no reason to believe I could do anything like I have done. Yet, I had the mindset to try and conquer what might be impossible.

I have used ASEA Redox Supplement for six years now to fill in the gaps of the unknown. I experiment with different sleeping cycles and training regimens. I do my best to shake things up whenever as possible. Mixing up life and keeping it fresh is the best way possible to help make sure each day is a revitalized and rejuvenated one.

And if all else fails, try a nice long run. It solves most of my problems.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Milwaukee Running Festival Mile and 5k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 15th Edition 
172 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Milwaukee Running Festival
Place:Milwaukee, WI
Miles from home: 1247
Weather: 50s; sunny

I'm not fast. If anything, I just can run longer than most, without slowing down as much. But lately, I have had a desire to try and do some of those really short, painful races. The ones where you can't hide behind "vert" or trail or anything else to explain away why you are just not, well, as fast as you would like to be. I am not talking about sprints like the 100 meter or 400.  To me, those are almost more weight lifting than they are running.  They are explosive bursts of speed akin to tossing running backs around. That is why many sprinters look like NFL linebackers. Inspiring, impressive, but not the type of running I am speaking about.

My entire life I knew this was not the type of fast I could be. Growing up, a vivid memory I have was being dusted repeatedly by virtually everyone in the short sprints of the Hershey Track and Field Games I would participate in every year. Then when I played football in high school, I marveled at the deer-like qualities of teammates. I could catch most everything thrown my way as a receiver, and rarely got caught from behind, but there was not a great deal of gas in my burners. I've fortunately always been curious about how to get faster, always tried to improve, but also understood my lot in life. I wasn't a sprinter.

Last year I took part in the Milwaukee Running Festival and I decided to run a mile race for the first time in half a decade. The last mile I ran was in Maui as part of a 5k, mile and marathon challenge in 24 hours. I expected little from the sprints on that day and that is essentially what I got. However, I ran the mile in Milwaukee and even though the course is not exactly conducive to a fast time, I really enjoyed it. As such, while I don't repeat races often, I thought I would give it another go this year.  But instead of running the half-marathon, I thought I should try the 5k on Sunday as well.  If you are going to hurt for a shot period of time, you might as well do it two days in a row, right?

At the expo before the 5k on Sunday, I met my usual cast of characters. Inspiring people who were running their last marathon before hip surgery that might make it impossible for them to run again. People who have followed my writing since last year when we shared a picture together. Silly people. Ignorant people. Ridiculously sweet and wonderful people. The entire human race passes by my booth in a short eight hours. I get to witness it all from a front row seat. But this expo happened after the mile race and I should speak about that for a second.

Mile Race:

My goal for this race was to run in the 5:15-5:20 range. I know I am no where close to the speed I would like to be right now to give a sub-5 mile a shot after the age of 40 but I felt that this slower goal was obtainable. My running has been a little better in the past few months and my speed has been upped a notch. It would all be about being able to focus my energy and remembering this would only hurt for about five minutes, not three hours.

As I lined up at the start of the race I noticed a large fella who had run the race last year and had absolutely dusted me. Dan was his name and he and his wife had just had a baby two days before.  What was most impressive about Dan was that he was every bit of 6'4'' and had to be over 200 lbs and crushed a 5:21 or so the year before. (He would go on to beat me again this year but by a much smaller margin.  I am sure he can readily blame lack of sleep over a newborn!)

The course, as I mentioned, has a fair amount of turns in it but unlike last year, we had perfect weather to run. With no wet footing, and me knowing the course this time, I decided not to start on the front line and instead, hang back a bit to have perfect ability to run every corner.  When the gun fired and away we went, I began to focus on trying to run as fast as I could.  the problem with being a long distance runner trying to run a short race is that it goes against everything you train your body to do. You sprint only at the end, when you have had 25 miles of warm-up.  You rarely go into oxygen debt. Your legs don't hurt from with the same fire in long distance as they do in sprints. However, I felt good as we hit what would be like the first 400m of the race, if we had been on a track. I looked down at my watch to see how I was doing as I had no clue from internal motors. I saw I hadn't hit start on my watch. Bollocks.

Around the back of the Harley Davidson museum we went where inside vendors were getting their wares ready for sale. I knew I would much faster than last year's abysmal 5:36 but how much I did not know.  I couldn't tell pace and couldn't tell whether I was pushing hard enough.  I guess I could have just pushed harder, if I was ignorant of the pace, but that wasn't happening.  I passed two runners nearly what felt like it would be the last 400 meters and soon had the best straight shot of running of the race in sight.  I turned the corner, heard the announcer say we were at 5:10 and gave it what I had left.  Finishing in 5:25, nipping one runner at the end, I hadn't gotten what I wanted but I was still pleased. When I learned I was the first Master's runner I was surprised. (Of course, there was a 53 year old and a 61 year old who beat me so wow. In fact, the 53 year old ran a 5:28 last year and a 5:10 this year so, double wow.)

I ran to my car as I needed to shower and come back to do a book signing at the expo I mentioned above. Then it was time to sleep and get ready for the 5k.

5k Race:

I had been much more nervous for the mile than this race but just as desiring to do well. Nerves kicked in however, when we had to wait 15 minutes past our start time to get under way for reasons we were unsure of on the course ahead. But when we started I was still feeling happy and gladly fell into a gap in the runners again, where I could run unimpeded.

The first mile felt good but I couldn't tell if it was because I was in good shape or running slow. When I hit the marker in 5:48 I had a feeling it wasn't exactly in the right spot. As always, I say to those who complain about mile markers being off: they are a luxury for runners to have them and they do not need to be certified. I figured that I would tell more by the second mile.  Regardless, I was feeling good and as the sun sparkled off of Lake Michigan, I fell into a groove.

As we circled the backside of the Milwaukee Art Museum and onto a boardwalk, I had reeled in a few more runners. I hit the second mile in 6:21 and figured that my pace was probably the middle distance of the two. As my GPS revealed, the actual mile pace was 6:07 for both first two miles. I had hoped or a six-flat but this was good. I began to pick up the pace for the final stretch. I might still be able to eke out a 18:30 if I gave it some hustle.

As we arched around the backside of the finishing area of the race, I could recall from the course map that we would turn around up ahead, loop back and finish where we started.  Unfortunately, I noticed that no runners were coming back at me yet.  Finally, up ahead I saw the lead runner (more about him in a second.)  Further ahead I could see runners going out on a jetty And I knew the course had to be long. I will admit this took a lot of wind out of my sails.

Out and back along this beautiful stretch of land we went and I saw the finish in the far distance.  I looked at my watch and saw my time and new I wasn't going to get anywhere close to what I wanted.

Cruising home, I passed one last runner, feeling solid about my effort and just held off the lead woman by a few seconds. Under the banner I went in 20:14 good enough for 22nd place overall (I had been 21st overall in the mile.) Surprising again was how I was the first Master's runner. Also surprising was that a different 50+ year old named Dan had beaten me by a great deal.  Apparently Dans are fast in Wisconsin.

As an aside, this weekend was also a wonderful experience for me as a coach.  One of my athletes, Lisa Nondorf, ran both the mile and the half-marathon. Lisa is one of the best obstacle course racers in the country and world but has been looking to improve her running. I have been working with her for a few months and without a doubt her attention to detail and drive have made it a treat. Her desire to do better showed when she crushed a 6:29.8 mile and a new half-marathon personal best of 1:55. 
Doing this while also continuing to train for the crazy obstacles she does, and coaching and molding young athletes in gymnastics was plain and simply awesome. It is one thing to hear about the athlete you coach and their success. It is another thing entirely to be able to watch it firsthand.

Way to go, Lisa!

After the race, I went to my hotel, grabbed a shower and some food and headed back down to volunteer a little bit at the finish line.  After handing out some hugs and medals for a bit I began my walk back to my car. There I noticed a familiar face handing out water at the back of the area where runners finished their post-race shuffle.  I walked up to the guy and asked him: "Did you win the 5k today?" The runner, named Jesse, told me he did. We chatted for a bit and he confirmed that course seemed a bit long for him as well.  What I found most impressive was that, while I did not know how long he had been out here handing out water, he had been out here handing out water at all.  I wonder how many of the other runners knew that the overall winner of a race was giving back. Without a doubt giving back like this is something more runners should do. You will find you bitch less about races when you know what goes on behind the scenes.

Speaking of which, there was a snafu with the marathon course that was far worse than the extra .2 I ran for my 5k.  Some pedestrians or vandals had moved a cone at a turn around point in the race causing some runners, including the female winner, to run way longer than they should have. This stinks. Note I am not rallying against the race itself. This sort of thing happens. It is unfortunate.  It is tiring. And I can tell you for sure, most race directors get a sinking feeling in their stomach when something like this happens because they too are runners. They want to put the best possible product for those who are paying to run a race. So, when it does happen, the reaction is important.  You can be like the Portland Marathon RD who when he found out that some runners had been rerouted adding a half mile to their time said:

"We think that the people who were involved with that are not normally Boston qualifiers," Smith said. "The only thing that would happen is it would impact their personal best."

"It's not a big deal," he added.  (Which may have been taken out of context, but I highly doubt it.)

or

you can be like Chris Ponteri, the RD of the MKE race who said:


"We apologize for the inconvenience this brought to the handful of runners in yesterday's race, as we understand the amount of training and dedication that it takes to complete a marathon. We strive to have a world-class experience for all runners that showcases the city of Milwaukee, and we will continue to stay focused on this mission. We will be providing refunds to any runners who may have been impacted."

I can tell you whose response I prefer (and the fact I lived in Portland for four years and never ran the Portland Marathon while running the Milwaukee Running Festival both years it has existed should give you a clue.)

If you haven't made it to the Milwaukee Running Festival either of the first two years, I highly suggest you go there for the third. Milwaukee is a fantastic city even if I am utterly baffled by the number of people I saw smoking cigarettes there. (They got that memo on the cancer thing, right?) Wonderful architecture, beautiful lakefront, very nice people (although, Jesus, could you have not voted for Trump?) Throw in a race that will only continue to get better as it grows and you have yourself a winner.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Running While Male

A few days ago I was in Hartford, CT to give a luncheon speech to some wealth managers at TD Bank. I arrived the evening before and got to my hotel ready to go for a little shakeout run.  I had tentatively planned out a route that would take me from my hotel down to the river and along a riverwalk. Never having been to the area I was relying on my skills at being able to look at Google maps and discern what makes for a good route. Having worked in the past designing long-distance running relays, I have actually become quite good at glancing at a map and almost uncannily knowing where I should run for a good trot.

I was a little askew in my planning this time, however, as one of the bridges I planned on crossing did not seem to have a way to get across. The riverwalk path ran a good 50 feet below it. As I saw no stairway to get up, I decided to venture further north before eventually turning around. I figured further south another bridge had to have a way to cross.  Evening light disappears quickly in late October in New England and shortly after 6 p.m. it was as dark as it would be for most of the night.

The temperatures dipped and for a person who enjoys running in cold far more than heat, and having just a few days before still had to endure 94 degrees in my new home of Austin, Texas, I was reveling in this chilly nip. Heading back south along the waterway, I figured out what I thought would be a route which would take me across a different bridge and then back along the northerly route of the riverwalk on the other side of the river.

The path, well-lit and recently paved, was obviously for use by all runners and walkers.  As I
undulated over a small rise, some weeds which needed to be tended to obscured my vision on both sides.  Up and then down I ran, passing within rock tossing distance of some lattice work of stanchions which held up the nearby highway. A railroad lay next to both of them and the lights cast some spooky shadows on my path. Above them all, off in the distance was this mystical blue onion-shaped Russian-dome-looking minaret striding atop some large rectangular building.

I found my way to the busy bridge upon which the Wilbur Cross Highway passed. A dark ramp allowed me to scoot up and on top of it.  I traversed the length of the bridge looking for an egress down to the other side of the river. Suddenly a staircase appeared with at least 10 flights of 6 steps each.  I had my phone with me simply to be able to check where I was in this new area but here I used it to illuminate each corner as I went down flight after flight, hoping not to trip.

At the bottom I crossed under as dense tree cover and a misty gloom setting in. A man in the shadows in the distance stood silently along the river, seemingly fishing. I saw a path that looked like it had just been paved but I knew it did not go where I wanted. In addition, as it was not lit, I couldn't see how long it went off in the distance. Otherwise I may have added some distance just to check it out.

Crossing over a footbridge I was brought right alongside the water's edge. Up ahead a system of street lights lit the path with their white lights piercing the darkness. I had always wondered why orange lights were more prevalent amongst streets until the internet became more widely available and I could find the answer (Answer: orange light is cheaper even though white light makes things much easier to see. *sigh* Of course price over safety reigns.) These lights here reminded me of the beginning of Harry Potter and I expected a wizard to snuff them all out as I ran on by.

After this jaunt through a park, I passed a serious of parked cars with people of both genders occupying them. Some were eating, some listening to music, some were, well, I actually don't know. It seemed like an odd time to be here in an odd place but I am quite sure they thought the same thing of me, this solitary runner out at night.

I looked over and again saw the blue onion of what I later learned was the Colt Armory. It seemed so out of place settled between the other buildings but I can imagine it looks beautiful in the snow at night. I passed by all the cars and went up a small ramp. Up ahead I saw the bridge which would take me back to my hotel.

As I bounded up some stairs, a large man came down the other side. He looked me over and said "Good job" as I passed him.  I gave him a tip of the cap and exhaled a quick "thankyou".  I hung a hard 180 degree turn and almost bumped into a guy wearing a black hooded sweatshirt who I hadn't seen. I felt rather embarrassed given how much I try to think of others when I am in motion and hate being inconsiderate, but he seemed unfazed.

Over the bridge, down some stairs, and finally at my hotel, I stopped my watch.  A crisp 6.5 miles at
a good clip made me feel good to be alive. While I waiting for my Timex to upload my data to Strava wirelessly, I took in the night. Suddenly, I was absolutely thunderstruck:

If I had been a woman, that run would have been absolutely terrifying. Let me explain why.

Not knowing exactly where I was going in a strange town at night. Tall weeds where anyone could have been hidden. Railroad tresses obfuscating both my sight lines and the light. Dark passages. Blind pitch black turns on staircases.  Dead end paths. Passages through trees with no sign of exit. Shadowy figures silently standing next to the river with no face. Random people idling in cars for no particular reason. Large men checking me out. Guys with sweatshirts pulled over their heads on the wrong side of the sidewalk.  All of it was lost on me, a guy, while running.

By no means do I mean women are timid or cannot handle themselves. But, by and large, most violent crime happens to women by men. You don't need to believe me. Just look up any crime statistics. And this run I just did was absolutely fraught with opportunities for a bad guy to take advantage of a nice person.

This is not the first time this thought has occurred to me, either. In fact, I am in the process of creating something which is based specifically on the idea that women runners tend to need an extra layer of security when out for a jog. As such, it has been at the forefront of my mind. However, in spite of that, I still forgot how easy it is for me, a relatively large, relatively fast, male to be able to go out for a run, anywhere I want, at any time of the day, and probably be fine every step of the way.

I am not throwing my gender under the bus and acting like I am the only good guy and girls can love only me.  In addition, there are obviously instances of male on male crime while running (e.g., the absolutely heartbreaking story of Dallas runner attacked by a mentally unstable former Texas A&M football player.) Furthermore, it is not the wild west out there and fortunately even attacks on female runners are rare enough to still be quite shocking. But the fact remains that running while male is something most guys do not even begin to fathom as anything other than safe and secure.

There is no fantastic way to wrap up this article. I have no solution for how to solve violence. I wish crime against all people would simply stop, an idea so quaint and naive it makes me laugh to even type it. I guess I can only hope that someday a day will come in which either gender, of any size, can run down a dark alley or the backwoods and the worst thing that can happen will be you get a side stitch or your iPhone dies.

Until then, be careful out there runners. And women, I am sorry you have to take extra care.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How Runners Sabotage Their Own Running

With something like 400 races under my belt, I have learned a great deal how to screw things up. Fortunately, that is how you learn what you should do the next time as well.  

While most of these are based towards the long distance runner, the tenets involved within can benefit any runner of any talent level.  I come back to them often when things don't seem to be working out just right.  Here's hoping they help you, too.

During Training:

Building up mileage too quickly

Easily one of the most frequent errors made by both newbies and experienced runners is ramping up mileage too aggressively. Your body needs to rest and have time to adjust. Sure, when you feel good you want to go from 20 to 30 to 40 to 50 miles week by week but that is a recipe for disaster.  We have all heard about the 10% rule for adding mileage and while that may be a bit conservative, it is not a bad way to start.
 
Neglecting speed work

Without a doubt if you want to do well at long distance stuff, you have to run long distance.  But there is just something about speed work.  I touch on it here on my article on loving the track. Track workout, and sprints are like weight training. I have often said that long distance running and sprints are even the same sport and that is no knock on sprinting.  It is a powerful, burst of speed akin to hitting the gym but also while running.  Total win-win.

Running recovery runs too fast

As I have beat into the heads of the athletes I coach, recovery runs don't mean just 20 seconds slower per mile.  That's hardly a recovery.  Your body only truly recovers at rest and if you aren't doing that, it is a hole you are digging to even get back to where you were, let alone improve. Recovery runs should be just that: recovery.


Prioritizing a training plan over how your body feels

Another thing I tell my athletes is that when I give them a plan it is a guideline. Sure, I painstakingly craft a schedule tailored to what they should do for that week.  But I also know that life gets in the way and often you just don't feel it.  I often make workouts shorter or longer depending on how I feel that day.  Don't listen to your body and you will end up very unhappy.  Your logbook doesn't care how you feel and will get over the slight.  I promise.


On Race Day

Going out too fast

There is no such thing as time in the bank.  That is a bank from which you will not withdraw without serious penalties. If you are running a marathon you have 26 miles to pick up speed.  Of course it is nice to feel good after months of training and the rush is in you and the blood is pumping. But it feels SO much better to run fast at the end than it ever will at the beginning.

Waiting too long to fuel

As a heavy sweater, no one needs to tell me to drink a lot and often. But many make the mistake of trying to play catch up and by then they are dehydrated. I now there was a lot of hoopla recently about hyponatremia and drinking too much.  However, that is far less common than even the worst of those with fears about it would believe.  Look, you don't need to drink a gallon at each aid station but a swig or two is great.

Also, master the pinch trick and you don't even need to stop running! Simply pinch the paper cup in the middle at the top, make a spout and pour the water down your throat.  Voila!

Not adjusting pace to race-day conditions

Everything can go right in training and fueling and everything else but we have no control over the weather.  It is a tough break if you get to the starting line and the day is not what you want. But you will not win over Mother Nature. If it is too hot, well, I am sorry but a slightly slower time on a planned acceptance is far better than a fast start and a trip to the hospital.

The elements play just as much a part in a good race day as anything else. We can't ignore them no mater how badass we think we are. 

Losing focus

I know it has become beyond acceptable to make races more about the experience and taking selfies and whatnot but if you want to have your best race, then pay attention. You can have wonderful gabby training runs but when you put the bib on, you are there to race. So pay attention to our surroundings, to your body and to how you can make each step propel you forward to your goal.

 Some runners like to break the race into smaller, more mentally manageable sections. I do this all the time with section I run at home. If there are 6 miles left, I think of a 1.5 mile loop I run all the time and think it is only 4 times around that loop. It is all minds games in long distance running and while it is nice to lose yours every once in a while, being in control of it is even better!

Overestimating your fitness

We all like to think that we are putting in hard work and long miles and as such are ready for the task ahead of us.  Sometimes we have and we are.  Other times, we are remembering runs that didn't happen at speeds we didn't run.  It is OK to not be in the shape you are hoping for on race day.  Unlike other sports, there are no timeouts and no teammates to hand off to.  Not every day can be your best. So going in with a clear understanding of where you are fitness-wise on that day is the best way to arrive at the finish line in one piece.  It is better to plan to how up ten minutes slower than think you can hit a time goal, bonk and show up two hours later, bedraggled, exhausted and swearing off the sport entirely.

Here's hoping these tips help you in your own training. Learn from my mistakes which is far better than experiencing them yourself!