Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series 2 of 7

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 5th Edition 
52.6 miles run and 1500 meters swam in races in 2018 races

Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 89 degrees;cloudy

I'm going to be straightforward and say that these races are starting to get a little frustrating for me.

I ran this series in Austin last year five of the six times they had it. (I missed one after I was attacked by two homeless men who fractured my face and hand.) I ran a 26:02, 25:49, 26:13, 26:33, and 27:13. All of those races were hodgepodge of similar run and swim times, with one race having a slightly faster swim or a slightly faster run but barring the final race where I was coming back from the injury, more or less the same time. When I started the year this year with a 26:35 just two days after my longest run/race of the year  (a race I won) I wasn't pleased but I wasn't unhappy.

Going into this race I felt relatively rested and even though it was a warm day in Austin, just minutes before the race started, the skies clouded over. They clouded over so much that storms were seen in the distance and unfortunately for about a quarter of the women in the race which started three minutes after the men, they were pulled from the quarry for safety reasons.

I am frustrated because it seems no matter what I do or how I feel I am destined to be stuck a bit in this time frame. I will be the first to admit that I have not been swimming nearly enough to garner the times I know I am capable of doing. In addition, this race is a short distance which is just not what my body is built for.  But I should, nevertheless, be able to go faster than I have.

My swim felt strong. After the initial washing machine of arms and legs for 25 yards or so, I found myself in position from which I would not move for the entire of the swim. No one passed me and I passed no one. I had a solid straight-line swim, felt great throughout and while I did come out of the water and the transition with basically my fastest time of any of the events, it was a full minute slower than what it felt.

The run was equally disappointing as each lap felt easily 15 seconds faster than it was with times of 4:36, 4:37, and 4:33 being some of my slowest lap times ever. As far as I can tell, I got passed by two swimmers and passed one. So basically I finished the race in almost the exact same position that I started it. Not only literally in place but figuratively in frustration. 26:17 was my time.

Now as the heat of the Austin summer will be upon us soon, I need to make some decisions about what sort of racing I wish to do. If I am going to improve at these shorter distances I am going to have to commit to doing so. But the trade-off is knowing that even if I do work hard, I am just not a sprinter. Never have been, and no matter how hard I try, I am not going to find fast-twitch muscle fibers at two weeks from my 42nd birthday.

Look, I know no one has sympathy for the guy who finished in the top ten (or close to it. I think it was 12th this time.) But I was reading an article recently about memories and stories from endurance athletes like myself. Or "extreme athletes": a term I think I actually coined a decade ago when I realized "Ultraunner, triathlete, sometimes-obstacle course racer, but also dabbles in snowshoe racing, winter sports, and the occasional sprint races runner" was a bit too lengthy. The article talked about how these athletes spin their tales of wonder mixed with crushing lows and euphoric highs, painting pictures of pulling themselves from the depths. I get it. That sells books. But I abhor this type of embellishment.

I truly believe athletes of all skill levels can be just as impressed and inspired by true  and honest stories about "Man, this shit is just NOT going right for me and I don't know why." That type of story is far more relatable that the superhuman tales spun. Sure, it brings you down off your pedestal a bit and people won't romanticize how badass and amazing you are (just like holding opinions about things that matter and taking a stand against injustices are done by like .01% of people trying to catch a comet by the tail in order to garner sponsorships or paychecks) but this is how I am made.

Sure it would be great if people were impressed with my feats. But what I want most is for them to read what I write, listen to my tales, and see themselves in me. Whether they are faster than me or not. So, with the that all said, the fact that my fourth book, Run This Place, is hitting bookshelves this week, I do hope if you enjoy reading what I write here for free, that you will help support forthright writing from an athlete who has done a thing or two. Get yourself an autographed copy simply by heading over here and throwing down a few quid.

And I promise to keep trying to get to the finish line faster.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Wildflower 25k Trail Run Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 4th Edition 
50.6 miles run and 750 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Wildflower 25k Trail Run
Place: Bastrop, TX
Miles from home: 40
Weather: 60-70 degrees; sunny; 95% humidity

A few years ago a friend told me how the Bastrop State Park has been decimated by a fire. Starting to regrow, the park was something I wanted to see and had not taken the time to do so as a nearby resident of Austin. As I try to eschew driving to run, I hadn't made the trek out there to do so yet for  a training run. Seeing a friend who owns a great racing company (Trail Running Over Texas - one of his races is in my upcoming book of must-run races) had a series of events going on there, I put a pin in it in my mind. When this weekend's weather proved to be about the best one could hope for in the greater Austin area in May, I decided to pull the trigger on the 25km race.

Race Morning:

The park is just close enough that it I needn't grab a hotel but just far enough away that I still have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to make it on time. If you are new to See Dane Run Dot Com, let me fill you in: Dane doesn't like mornings. Picked the wrong sport for it, I know but one doesn't get to choose the talents the almighty gives you. All glory to God.

That said, I hit every single green light on the way to Bastrop, parked, walked to the shuttle which took us into the park, and grabbed the last seat on the bus. I was at the park, with my bib in hand, and my various race accoutrements set up with an hour to kill. Now what? I chatted with a guy whose chair was right next to mine whose wife was running the 50km race and he was also running the 25km. We both commiserated that even this "nice" weather was too warm for great racing.

As the course was three loops, two 6.2 miles(ish) and one 3.1 miles(ish), this allowed you to have your own little drop-bag station with all your goodies in one place. Normally, for a race of this distance, I wouldn't have single thing to bring with me. However, this was a cupless race meaning you had to have your own containers to receive fluids at the aid stations.  I understand the need and desire for these (cuts down on waste - yay!) but it is not my fave racing condition. So I loaded up a Camelbak with a 1.5 liter (mostly frozen) bladder and felt I should be fine without needing to stop once. Why mostly frozen?  Because like the star in Avengers: Infinity War (*small spoiler*) my body heat could toast Thor.

Soon it was time to go.

Lap One:

The course started in a small parking lot and IMMEDIATELY went up a steep, single-track hill.
Watching the 50k runners go off at 6 a.m. showed me that if you weren't one of the first few through, you were destined to be walking up the hill behind a conga line of runners. That was after you got through a bottleneck to even get on the trail. This meant I had to start off sprinting, uphill - two things I do not do well in a race. Alas, it was a necessity. Hitting the trail, after the countdown, I was in third place. That's a good position to be in.

It had rained the night before and I am thankful for that indeed. There was a great deal of this course
which was sandy or other similar footings which, if dry, would have been a bear to run in. The rain undoubtedly helped pack it a bit and the 50k runners who had gone through an hour before beat it down a little more. As we started climbing, I had sunglasses on my head. The sun was just now creeping over the horizon. Its yellow tendrils  were playing shadows between our feet and I wasn't ready to misjudge a step and break a hand or a face out here just yet. I mean, hell, the Austin police department wouldn't do anything about it if I did. (Oooh, thousands of dollars of medical bills from being assaulted burn! Take that APD!)

Within a quarter of a mile we crested this steep hill and me and the second-place runner (Tony) passed first place on a nice downhill. The first dollop of sweat dripped out of my hair and into my eyes. I was four minutes into this race. It was going to be hot.

We came to a footbridge crossing (one of half a dozen or so) and Tony went the wrong way. I yelled at him to correct his error and found myself, undesirably so at this juncture, in first place. I was not quite awake yet, I was not feeling my legs, and I did not want to be leading at this point. Fortunately, before another half mile or so, we came to one of many steep embankments and as I leaned to the right, he passed me on the left. I don't know what it is that makes people so much better than me on uphills (or me so much better than most on downhills) but I have no problem ceding way to those who are.

I knew we had a bit of a distance until the biggest hill of the course ending right around the second mile. There would be a few ups and downs, an area I would call the valley, and then some twists and turns as well. But before we got there, on another steep embankment, I heard an "on your left"  in my ear. Wasn't expecting to have to move for another fella just yet. Well, pooh. I didn't catch his name but he had a UK accent so I am going to call him Nigel.

Tony had pulled a way from me a bit as we hit that big hill at mile two, and ole Nige had split the difference between us. I ran this entire hill, without using the patented Dane HillWalk Method, and got to the top not in the worst shape. A nice downhill, followed by a series of switchbacks in a valley of sorts had me not too far back of the chaps in front of me. This vantage point also allowed me to see there was a relatively steady stream of other runners far too close behind me for comfort.

We crossed over a dirt road where we would turn right on our third lap for a shorter loop and went through a series of terrain and fauna that was rather surprising. I say surprising because we ran under and through a variety of types of trees, through a variety of types of footing, and altogether were presented with a variety of types of visages which I was not expecting. Without a doubt there was a plethora of things to keep your eyes on and your mind off your running.

At mile 3.8 we slid out of the woods and past the only aid station on the course and onto a dirt road. I had seen this on the map and thought this brief half-mile section might give me a chance to make up some ground, being that it was the closest to running on a road we were going to get.  However, it slopped uphill at a noticeable angle and all I saw were Tony and Right Good Chap staying just as far away from me as always. However, right before we turned off, I seemed to notice a small slowdown in Captain Britain. The game is afoot, Billy S.

Over the next half a mile I found myself gaining on Nigel and was soon in his back pocket. I thought about staying in there but I could no longer see Tony. If I wanted any chance of winning, I couldn't lose touch with the leader. So I finally passed Bowler Wearer and began my tracking down of Big T.

There were a ton of twists and turns on this course which blocked any long-term viewing of those in front of you. Just when I felt Tony might be out of reach, he appeared in front of me not too far away. We then hit a steep but short uphill that I had forgotten about and I walked just for a second. Then, knowing the vast majority was downhill until the cruel 100 yard uphill to finish the loop, I picked up the pace.

Screaming downhill, the route went over some washed-out ravines which I knew would provide for some sticky wicket of running on tired legs on the third loop. But here I could fly.  An abrupt turn onto a tiny trail appeared and I found myself ducking three branches as I accelerated at break-neck speed. Unfortunately, there were four branches to duck under.


The branch knocked my sunglasses clear off my head and I had to come to a screeching halt to try to locate them. Took me a full ten second to grab them and begin running again, completely throwing off all momentum. I have often said I learned that trail running when you are 6'1'' means you are going to take a lot of branches to the face that most runners will glide right under.

Over a log bridge which I knew would also cause some trepidation on tired legs, up a hill to cross a road, up some stairs, through the last bit of twisting uphill and one lap was done in 52:37.  Definitely slower than I expected (and I don't think this was exactly a 6.2 mile course but it's trail so, meh.)

The race director was standing there cheering people on and as he knows about my propensity to sweat, commented: "Sweating already, huh, Dane?!" If he had only known I was drenched to the bone three miles earlier.

Lap Two:

I looked to see if Tony had stopped to fill his bottle but couldn't see him around. I could also tell from the cheering that there was a runner right behind me as well. I took the hill at the start of the loop with less vigor this time but still felt decent. By now the sun was beginning to beat down on us all, not a single of those supposedly partly cloudy skies had a cloud in it, and I could drop my sunglasses down. As we were beginning to encounter other racers from the other races going on, we had to be a touch more careful where the footing was more challenging. I couldn't see Tony and thought perhaps he had stopped back at the finish for a drink.

Almost at the exact same place where Nigel had passed me before I heard footsteps behind me. The CamelBak I was wearing had, by now, melted most of the ice and was creating a back-and-forth swishing sound of ice and water. As such, I didn't hear approaching foot steps as far back as usual.  As a fresh-faced fella passed me, I assumed he was the one runner I had scoped out on the registrants list who appeared he might give me a challenge today. I fed off of his energy and allowed him to pull me along for a while.

Soon we approached the big hill at mile two and suddenly Tony appeared in front of us. First Young Buck passed him and then I did as well. This time, however, I walked a bit of the uphill.  Near the top, I heard Tony's footsteps and decided I would take off again.

I kept waiting to pass over the path which on the third loop we would take to the finish but it didn't seem to come. When I finally hit it I knew there was no way that the third loop was only half of the second. Even knowing this course was definitely on the long side, all I could think was "One more lap and I can take it." I thought I might try to grab some ice or something cool at the midway aid station on the road but when I popped out of the forest there was a huge gathering of other racers there filling their bottles, packs etc. I decided it wasn't worth the wait or effort to grab a drink here and just began up the dirt road hill.

Up ahead, Young Buck (Alex was his name)  was just turning out of sight and he was cooking.  I looked down for a second and saw that my bib number with the chip on it was in danger of falling off my shorts. Near the top of this hill road I decided there would be no better time to fix it than right here. So I slowed to a walk and reached down to fumble with the safety pins. I had sweat so much that I dampened the semi-laminated type bib number to the point that the pin had pulled right through it. Bib reattached with a new hole created further down the paper, I began running again.

Even though I could tell I was slowing, I was passing loads of runners which always helps placate the
ego. I decided to purposefully slow just a touch more as I could tell the third loop was really going to take a lot out of me. Also, my legs were getting a bit wobbly. At one point, ascending some stairs to cross a footbridge, I stumbled a bit and almost smashed my face into a log.

I finished the second loop in 56:30 which was slower than I hoped but not as slow as I expected given a few walk breaks on the hills.

Third Loop:

I began this loop a little perturbed. There were a large number of runners sort of milling around in the narrow area where we went from the parking lot to the hill and none seemed too concerned about getting the hell out of the way. I mean, we ALL just came through there at one point, people. Come on.

As I began the hill climb again I let go of all pretense of shuffling up this beast and just power-walked it. I tried to drink heartily from my Camelbak but while not warm, the water wasn't particularly cold, either. I could tell all I was doing by drinking it was bloating myself. It stinks when you want to remedy the energy level of your over-heated body but know what you have won't do it. Yet, you drink anyway. Alas *holds back of hand to head*

I felt great on any downhills had but any semblance of an up brought me to a slow walk. You really begin to notice how many quick up and downs a course has when you are forced to walk when the path slopes at all. Realizing I didn't have a chance to catch Alex in first place took the wind right out of my sails. Would have been wonderful if there was some actual wind, I thought.

Passing runners and thanking those who went out of their way to step off the trail (I would tell them they did not have to do so and wanted to let them know that if they simply stayed where they were at the pace they were going it was easier to gauge where they would be — I had one or two close calls when someone just stopped) I got a little bit of a second wind. Then, as I approached the big hill at mile two I heard footsteps behind me.

A spritely young lass passed me and I hoped she wasn't in the 25k.  When I inquired and she cheerfully said she was, my spirits sank. Not because I was being "chicked", mind you.  Rather, in the late stage of a races, I have often been able to fend off many runners who might make a move too soon. But those runners are often male  If a female runner is with me at the end, chances are almost 100% that girl can fly and has properly paced herself throughout. As it stands, Anna had done just that. At the end of the first lap, she as in eighth place. At the end of the second lap, she was in fourth. And now, with ~two miles to go, she as in second.  Solid run, Anna!

I will cut to the chase and say the remainder of my race was a war of attrition. It was walking up hills and wondering if I should just lie down and then hitting a downhill and feeling like a champ.  Undoubtedly this was part of being less trained than I would like to be at this point of the year, trail running being very different from road racing, and the fact I have Gilbert's Syndrome. The latter being where when I start to overheated and bake my insides, my body basically says "Yeah, you're done. Sit down, son."

But I pulled it together for the final surge, even running the last bit of up hill.  I was disappointed as heck with a 41-minute last lap (on a supposedly half as long loop — which there was no way it wasn't longer than stated) came in with a final sprint to go 2:29:59. This was good enough for third place overall and 2nd male. Tony had regrouped, came in fourth about a minute behind me, and told me after that he saw me walking the hills but I had put too much distance in between us in the interim.

Coming in third in any race is nothing to be bummed about, but just because it isn't doesn't mean I am not. Part of the reason I moved to Austin, Texas in 2016 was to try to get my body to the point where it can tolerate heat. So far that hasn't worked as well as I would have hope it had but I am still working on it. Running is a constant experiment and we must always tinker. I guess I will just keep on tinkering!

All told the event was extremely well-run with helpful volunteers. Rob Goyen, the RD, is as affable a fella as you will meet and he is seemingly at the finish for every single runner as they come through. He has created quite a company and I love telling people about good people doing fun things. If you are virtually anywhere in Texas, Rob probably has a race an hour's drive from you.

Go check them out.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Do Stop 3 Hour Trail Run Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 2nd Edition 
33.1 miles run in races in 2018 races
Race: Do Stop 3 Hour Trail Run
Place: Bremond, TX
Miles from home: 113
Weather: 50 degrees; partly sunny; VERY windy

I like running loops. I liked timed races. Running a certain time rather than a certain distance is a different type of racing which requires a different mindset. (I wrote about that here.) When I saw this oddly named race relatively nearby in a part of Texas that I wouldn't necessarily have any other reason to go to, I checked it out. When the weather looked positively delightful for race day, I was sold.

My training has been very much off this year. For well over six weeks in February and March I was either sick or had the flu or was coughing or whatever. I don't know what I had and it doesn't matter. What matters was I was barely running and when I was it was utter crap.When I looked at the three-hour option for this race I knew that was the absolute most I should attempt. Glancing at my trusty Dane Running Spreadsheet™, I could see that the longest I had run all year was 97 minutes on a 12.6 mile training run in the second week of January. Yes, I could probably hobble through six hours or more on such minimal training but it would be a disaster. Three hours was plenty.

The course was deceptively tough. I mapped it out myself to try to get a sense of the elevation and I saw there were virtually 50 meters on the two mile loop we would be running that were flat. The rest of it was undulating in one direction or another. In addition, upon checking it out the night before I ran, I could see there was a creek crossing we would have to make twice per loop and a lot of the course had little twists and turns in it. Without a doubt this would be no walk in the woods.

Race Morning:

While the temperature and humidity were both to my liking, what rolled in the day before the event was a hellacious wind. The race itself started at 7:30 p.m. Friday night for those doing the 24-hour edition. Also, for about half an hour in the middle of the night, rain absolutely poured down on the runners. When I woke to race in the morning, the rain was gone but the wind, gusting well over 40 mph and making life hell for the organizers of this race, was ever present and swirling.

Setting up at the starting line was an easy task for all four races going on (3, 6, 12, and 24 hour) as there were only about 25 competitors. When I went to collect my bib to pin, they told me it was on my chair. As I held my chair in my hand I was a bit confused. Then I saw, as part of the race premium, there wasn't a t-shirt but rather, your own folding chair with your name on it. Now that is
pretty damn cool!

The wind was whipping around something fierce and as I was down to my customary shorts and shirt with nothing else on (I knew I would be way too hot with anything else once I started running) I alternated between using the Porta-Potty and a last-minute reprieve in my car to stay warm. This race truly was set up about as easy as possible for anyone wanting to run it.  The land owner had recently built a beautiful home with a pool and hot tub and what appeared to be more than a few rooms in a line all with separate doors. Sure enough, it was almost like a hotel. If they want there is no way they couldn't sell these out next year to people wanting not to camp nearby or in a hotel 20 miles away (like I did). Before too long, it was time to line up and go.

First Four Loops:

I had no idea if the other seven or so people would present any challenge for me today but I intended
to make them work for it if they did. I shot out of the gate and immediately plunged down a hill before going back up again. Through a small cluster of trees the trail led us to the steepest downhill of the course and then through a cattle fence.

After that, I saw the creek crossing ahead and realized that it might have been more of a puddle. There appeared to be at least a small portion on the righthand side where I might be able to skip the water entirely.  Granted it was rocky and partially covered in slippery mud but that was better than wet feet. Half way across, however, I noticed some bushes protruding and before I could avoid it, I took a few of them right to the thigh. Literally two minutes into this races and I was bleeding already. Then I took two full steps each in the water soaking my feet for good measure.

He's a big dumb animal, ladies and gentlemen.

Next we went over a quick bump with some white, fist-sized rocks which were very loose and hard to navigate, through an easier to avoid puddle, and then back up a small hill. After that we weaved through a forest with quick turns and a few ankle-breaking turns as you tried to swiftly navigate the terrain. After sliding through there, an opening appeared and we entered the field we would run through later in the loop. This small section was the flattest stretch of the entire race.

Into the forest we went again for another twisty-turny portion, also with a small climb before leading into a fast descent with another quick climb again. through another cattle guard and now we were in the field for the longest downhill of the race. Unfortunately, what goes down comes back up in this loop and around a cluster of trees, and through some low-hanging branches we went before cresting this hill and rejoining the trail we ran on previously to once again navigate the two bodies of water.

Then it was up the steepest uphill of the race before a spin around a field leading to a downhill and then an uphill which brought you to the conclusion of the loop. As I said, this was not an "easy" course. I was hoping to get these loops in around 15 minutes or so to attempt to get 24 miles in for the three-hour period. When my first loop took 17:08, I realized I was probably going to have to re-evaluate my whole plans.

As I began the second loop, the landowner's blue heeler dog decided that I obviously needed to be herded. For the next loop, Emma, the dog, would run right next to me until such time as she saw someone else ahead of me. What was really nice about this race was at virtually no time were you alone. When Emma saw someone else she would sprint ahead to guide them. Then I would catch up and she would look at me like "Oh! You are the pack leader. My bad!" and stay with me until another person appeared. Lather, rinse, repeat. I ran this loop in 16:56 and I credit Emma for helping me.

On the third loop, I finally felt like I was catching my wind. With Emma by my feet I started to pick things up. She would cut through the forest where I was sure she was going to go chase a squirrel or something and then somehow always ended up in front of me. She obviously knew the lay of the land and was looking at me like "We doing this, biped?" When I came in with a time of 16:28 for the third loop I thought maybe I could still get those 12 laps and 24 miles.

Emma decided to leave me here and grab a drink of water or scratch herself. To be quite honest I was a little bummed. Even though she had twice run into my foot and almost tripped me in a wooded section, I was loving her company. She had helped take my mind off the wind which was truly one of the top three windiest races I have ever run. On this fourth lap I assumed I would slow a touch without the aid of my illegal pacer but coming in at an exact 16:28 again buoyed my spirit.

Next Two Loops:

I grabbed my first swig of a drink of any kind after these four loops. I didn't feel like I necessarily needed it but I knew I was already eight miles in. The wind was still gusting and had made me a little parched. As it was a feed-yourself kind of race, I simply grabbed my water bottle, stopped to swig it, and then kept running. I came in at 16:38 for this lap and the only difference in time between the previous two laps was essentially the time I spent stopping and drinking.

By now I realized I would not be running close to 15 minutes per lap no matter how hard I tried. As such I was in a bit of a dilemma. Five loops done put me at 1:23 on the clock. If I equaled that for the next five loops I would have 14 minutes to complete one loop before the three hours was done.

Now, each timed  race is different and some count partial loops, some mark exactly where you were when the time is up (usually a track race) and others say any unfinished loop doesn't count at all. So if I equaled my time, I wouldn't really have enough time to do a full lap. The next loop would tell me what my fate would be. As I barely broke 17 minutes with a 16:57, I knew it would be next to impossible to get an extra loop. I would have to settle for ten loops and 20 miles run.

I drank heartily from an electrolyte drink and the race director appeared next to me. He must have seen exactly what I saw and told me that any loop that starts before the clock hits the hour can be completed. They just tack the time on. So if I ran what I was running, I could finish 22 miles in three hours and two minutes. I told him it would give me something to think about and took off.

Next Two Loops:

By now I had gotten adept at prancing across some rocks which had been placed in the puddle in order to help keep feet dry. They weren't the most stable but they were better than nothing. As I entered the forest after this water hazard, I ran straight into a branch. It took a sizeable chunk out of my neck and hurt like the dickens. I actually had lamented that being tall in trail racing is a big pain in the butt. Most shorter runners never take out the obstacles which end up wacking me in the face!

I was definitely feeling a bit knackered and when I came in this loop at a 17:24 (which counted the time of me drinking and talking with the RD) I realized I was only going to do ten loops. It actually made me feel good to know I only had three more to go. The next loop gave me a 17:16 and my legs were feeling weary.

A funny thing happened when I was looking at the pictures after the race. I detailed it in a series of tweets here but I would be remiss to not at least mention it here. I highly suggest you check it out.

In addition, I want to take the time to mention a father-son combo who were doing the six-hour race. Running side by side, Craig (14) and Jose (39 - damn, I am almost three years older than a guy who has a 14-year old?!) were in lock step the whole way. As you may know, my father was crippled in a hunting accident right before I was born. I never so much as played catch with my Dad let alone ran a race with him. Seeing families run together always gets me right in the heart. These two were exuberant and friendly and always had a good word for me whether we were going in different directions or I was passing them. I love the example Jose is setting for his son and I can only wish them the very best.

Final Two Loops:

Feeling quite parched as I finished my eighth loop I spent an entire minute drinking a Gatorade. The wind had really taken a great deal out of me, as did the up-and-down on the trail. I decided I would take this loop a little easy and then really pour it on for the last loop. Since I wasn't concerned about how much time I left for a loop I wasn't going to attempt, a few more seconds of reprieve here was appreciated.  The race has a side challenge I have never heard of before in timed races. In order to persuade people to be moving as much as possible, they have time limits for how long you can be sitting down somewhere. For the three-hour event, you only had twenty minutes where you could be lollygagging and not running. It wasn't exactly enforced per se but it was interesting nonetheless.

After traversing the loop and coming onto the fist-sized rocks, I could tell my legs were quite tired. I stumbled and barely had the proprioception and energy to keep myself upright. Falling down on those rocks would have hurt a great deal. Far and away my slowest lap of the day, even taking out the drink break, I went through the mat at 18:40. I then began to give it all I had.

It was quite clear that even though there was one guy nearly two laps behind me, no one else was going to challenge me today. I pushed hard throughout the loop, this time running straight through the water each way..  I hoped I might be able to get a sub-16 lap but fell just short with a 16:11. I sat down with ten minutes to spare and a total of 20 miles in two hours and fifty minutes. I was the winner. There was great rejoicing.

This marks the fourth straight year I have won some race outright which is pretty nice. Winning a race for some people is easy. I am fast but I am not fast. I've had three second places in just the last few years because of the fact that all it takes to not win is have one person show up who is faster than you. So I savor overall victories far more than I do age group wins as those are the same thing as overall wins but on a smaller scale. I never poo-poo any of them because your running days could be over any day. But winning a race?  That's pretty fun even if there are only a handful of other competitors. As I turn 42 next month, I might have to accept that many of my PRs might be permanent PRs.

I might have to accept that eventually, but I am not ready to do so just yet.

In total, I think this event could be a destination race if they promoted it a little better, came up with a better name (it is supposed to be almost a challenge, like saying "Go ahead. Stop." but really kinda falls flat) and worked out a few more tweaks. The organizers seem to be very affable chaps and I hope this recap gives their registrations a little boost in the future. This victory, and just my second race in 2018 (which is just mindboggling to me) really helped apply salve to a rough athletic start to the year. I am ready to use it as a springboard to a far better second half.

Hopefully with less wind.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series 1 of 7

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 3rd Edition 
35.1 miles run and 750 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 86 degrees; sunny

This was only my third race of the year. My second race of the year was three days ago at a three hour trail run in Bremond, Texas whose recap I have yet to write. The fact I made it to mid-April with one race under my belt is a testament to how "off" a year this has been for me. A sickness for the better part of six weeks helped nothing at all and it was only because I thought the weather was going to be nice for the trail race that I even attempted it. (More on that later.)

I raced this aquathlon series last year, missing only one race after I was assaulted by two men whom the police never arrested and the DA's office never charged in spite of me jumping through every loop you can imagine for six months.  (Thanks, assholes!) I wasn't sure I would do it again this year, having not swam one meter since last October when I qualified for the World Championships in Denmark this July but won't be going. But after my race on Saturday I knew I had to sign up for these if only because of their convenience to my home and how I do best when I race myself back into shape.

The format for the event was simple: one 750meter (ish) swim in an unbelievable cool quarry that Pure Fitness Austin apparently owns as part of their gym (I am extremely intrigued how much that cost or how they came to own it) then three loops of a 1 km(ish) loop around the quarry. I say (ish) because, well, the race says so itself and without a doubt the 3 km (1.86 miles) is definitely 2 miles. Sounds nitpicky but .14 of a mile at 6:30 pace is another 55 seconds of running.


I got into the water where people were wearing wetsuits and other accoutrements and in spite of being a bit chilly it was not bad at all. I relished this as I remember how much it turns into soup in the later Austin summer months. As we started off, more than a little unnecessary pushing and shoving by people who had no business being at the front was a bit frustrating.

I could tell this wasn't going to be a fast swim but after say a third of the swim I finally started to feel good. I more or less stayed in the exact same position for the entire lap of the quarry with me passing one guy about half way through and a guy passing me with about a third left.

As I got out of the water, I looked to see my time and was confused. Something had happened to my watch and it wasn't recording. Then I pushed some buttons and saw it was recording the time but it hadn't grabbed the GPS. Some of the kicking at the start seemed to have clicked a button or two. Oh
well. I fiddled with that far too long as I climbed up the (now paved) ramp to transition.


I was a little slower getting through the transition than I would have liked but it still went pretty smooth.  When I hit the start of the run I was pleasantly surprised to see my time of swim and T1 was 12:50. I expected it to be much slower.

One chap had left the transition just a few seconds before I did and I assumed he would be easy prey for me to run down. I assumed incorrectly. He shot out like a lightning bolt and within half a loop he wasn't in sight anymore. He ended up running the fastest run split by a WIDE margin but only finished 8th overall because of his "pedestrian" swim.

As I approached the end of the first loop I prepared for the worst. I know I am capable of running under 4 minutes for each loop but the fastest I have achieved has been 4:18 or so. Here, however, I was fully prepared to see a 5:00 on my watch. When it came through in 4:38, I was pumped.

I began the second loop and I knew it was more than likely that the overall winner would lap me. I was hoping for that not to happen but given my overall time it was destined to be so. About halfway through this loop, sure enough he did. I tried to stay on his heels but he was just a superior athlete to me. However, on one section of this loop (which is a surprisingly difficult loop because of the footing and the tight corners and the small hills in it, not to mention the people who are also doing workouts and seem to care very little there is a race going on in tight quarters) I saw him veer off the path a bit and run next to it on the grass. How I had never thought to do this in a section that had the biggest hill, in the the loosest footing, is beyond me. I hit the second loop in 4:36 and was ready to give it all I had.

The third loop presented more of a challenge as now there were many more people on the course.  I had one woman who was passing more than a few people who seemed to be unaware I was on her tail.  I finally had to cut inside to get around her. Then I saw a gentleman in front of me whom I was fairly certain actually was in front of me and not behind me by a loop. I passed him with half a loop to go and then set my sights on using the little footing "shortcut" I saw the leader use the last loop. It was a godsend.

Up ahead I could see I was closing on two runners but I was unsure if they were a loop behind me or not. As I hit the final stretch, which is a slight downhill with good footing, I gave it everything I had and passed them both. Then the kept on going as they had another loop to go. No worries as it helped spur me on to a 4:28 loop and a time of  26:35 and 15th overall.

This was actually the same time as one of my races last year and faster than another. I know the "cooler" temperatures helped even though this was one of the warmer days in Austin this year but it made me feel quite happy about what could be in store for the rest of this year.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

See The Sites, Go For A Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I suck in my gut mostly for me anyway.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

USA Fit Half-Marathon Recap

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

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

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

Race Morning:

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


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


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

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

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

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

He truly was a wonderful man.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

You Don't HAVE to. You GET to.

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

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

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

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

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

Then go do it.

Friday, January 5, 2018

New Year's Double Marathon Recap

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

What a year. And not in a good way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loop 1:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loop 2:

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

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

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

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

Loop 3:

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

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


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

Loop 4:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Time to hit 2018 running.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Running IS Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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