Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series (4 of 6) Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 11th Edition 
145.7 miles run; 3000m swam in 2017 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 97 freaking degrees; sunny; humid

I started off my last of these recaps with the sentence: "Writing recaps for races that don't go well is not fun."  It is even less fun when they go WAY less better than planned. Alas.

This was the fourth time in as many months that I took on the Pure Austin Splash and Dash. (You can read the first, second and third installments of this race series here and here and here.) The first event was me feeling out how it was done.  The second was me racing it two days after a half-marathon and one day after a lot of international traveling. The third installment, 10 days after my most recent race, with some decent runs, a bike ride and as close to tapering as I get, felt prime for a big breakthrough. After a 26:02 and a 25:49 in the first two, I was looking to break 25 and start putting in respectable times. I didn't do it. So I formulated a plan.  My swim had not gotten how I wanted it to go so rather than rely on the fact I USED to be a good swimmer, I would actually  *gasp* train.

So for the past month I have hit the pool no less than three times a week, (mostly four) putting in around 10,000 yards a week.  Hardly Michael Phelps but assuredly the most swimming I have done in 24 years.  My last two workouts last week had me swimming some of the fastest 500 yard splits I had swam since I was 17.  I knew the race was calling for another 97 degree day but if it did that I should still be faster given my hard swim workouts.

Same race prep as before as I put my towel and shoes in the same place so I could quickly get out, have the shoes on and then run up the rocky steep embankment.  Right before I hopped in the bathwater that would serve as our swim portion, my best friend Shannon showed up and surprised me with some support.  As I so often train alone, race alone, and don't have many cheering for me, this was a huge spirit uplift.  I had been dealing with a rough day professionally and it put a smile on my face.  Well, my inner face. No smiling allowed when you are being mean tough competitor guy.

Swim:

video
I staked out a good position in the water and was happy I was not too crowded this time. I don't fear a start elbow or even worry about getting hurt. I just don't want people swimming into me. The water was the clearest it had been in all the swims I had done and that made me quite happy. Hopefully I would have a less erratic swim than I had recently. The horn went off and away we went.

I couldn't tell if I was swimming slow or fast but it felt comfortable. There is not much to say about this portion other than I was able to maintain my overall position virtually the whole way through with one guy slightly ahead of me and another to my side. For the entire 750 meters this is where we stayed. Without a doubt I swam much straighter  than I had before and that made me feel like I might have a quick time. I could tell I was roughly 12th or so out of the water which didn't help this feeling as I should have been faster.

Getting out of the water I could see a slew of runners putting on their shoes.  I might have been not as fast as I hoped bu I rarely was this close to so many others as we started the run.  Perhaps it was faster than I thought.  tried to get my shoes on but as I did I noticed a rock was in my shoe.  A big one. It looked rather deliberate although I can't imagine why anyone would do that.  It only slowed me a second as I put on my visor, shoes, and ran up the hill. Shannon cheered for me and snapped a picture.

I got to the top of the hill and clicked my watch to see the swim and transition time: 12:27. I think that tied me for the fast swim time ever. That sounds good. It is not. I should have been a minute faster with all my training the past month. Bollocks. Not a good start.


Run:

After racing up the craggy hill to start the run, I had two guy in my immediate sights. However, already feeling a bit let down by the less-than-stellar swim I didn't know what I had in my legs to catch them.

I had heard in the announcements that they were going to have two aid stations on this .66 mile loop and figured I had heard wrong.  However, sure enough, under the shade of a tree were people handed out water and asking if you wanted to be splashed with water.  That's service. I declined both here.

While the two guys I was trying to catch did not seem to get any closer, I passed another man about halfway through the first loop.  I have passed this same guy on the run in other version of this race and it always surprises me. While obviously fit, he is a bit barrel-chested with no six-pack of abs (N.B. neither do I, so I am not judging) but somehow is able to absolutely crush the swim. It shows it takes all kinds of bodies to compete.

Finishing this first loop after the small but killer climb on the back half, my lungs were burning and my legs ached. I had to have crushed this run and traversed the loop in the fastest time ever, right?  Did I run 4:15 or even sneak under 4:10?  Nope. 4:41.

I cursed out loud. The race ended right there for me. I knew the remaining laps would be just me running out the string as this was not my day. I got passed on the next lop by one guy and ran a 4:46. The next loop I passed another guy and ran a 4:38 loop.  This would make the run my slowest of all four aquathlons by over a minute and the overall time the slowest of all four I have done as well. Don't get me wrong: I was putting everything I had into those loops. There was just nothing there.

Finishing in a time of 26:33 or close to two minutes slower than I thought I would left me with a lot of questions. Yes, I bettered my position from last month, taking 13th overall.  I also was fortunate enough to win the Masters division for the fourth straight time. But placement awards are all about who shows up. A luck of the draw, so to speak.  I do not mean to put them down but they are not nearly as indicative of your effort as the clock.

So, now it is back to the drawing board.  Was it a bad day? Was it the weather? Was it, well, what?! The good thing about races is that there is always another one to go run and see what happens.

Back to the experiment.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Book Review: Running with Raven: The Amazing Story of One Man, His Passion, and the Community He Inspired

I was asked to read and review the book Running with Raven: The Amazing Story of One Man, His Passion, and the Community He Inspired and I gladly said I would.  I have personally run with Raven a handful of times and was intrigued to learn a great deal more about him than I already knew.

The book chronicled Robert Kraft's life, the man who has run 8 miles on the beaches of Miami, every single day since January 1st, 1975. Well, almost. The first thing I learned which I did not know is that claim is not technically true. I will say he has run every single day since that New Year's day 42 years ago but there is a slight discrepancy to say it has been 8 miles every day. Without ruining the book, I will leave it at that.

When you complete an eight mile run with Raven, he gives you a nickname based on what he learns about you during the run. I first ran with Raven seven years ago where he bestowed upon me my own nickname. I noticed something about him that day which made me really desire to learn more about what makes him tick.  It wasn't the running. It definitely wasn't the streak.  It was something else.

Raven has become a a cultural icon not just because he runs every day. There are actually people who have longer streaks than he does (not many but a few) and for the most part, I think running streaks are a bad idea. Rather, his status comes from the fact he is committed, self-disciplined, generous, aware, wants to building a community, and desires to have others join him. It is these factors which really draw in those who like him most.

The book details how Raven was probably ripped off by a songwriter for Johnny Cash. You will learn of his strained relationship with both of his parents. Inside the pages, told by the author who has run hundreds of runs with Raven, there is so much more than just a guy who runs every day. He is opinionated, stubborn, and sometimes seems to be tilting against windmills because of a decades old slight, but by and large he is a collector.  Of miles, of newspapers, of trinkets (yes, he is a bit of a hoarder) but most importantly, of stories.

Through debilitating pain, a stint in jail, numerous torn muscles, lacerations, and something like 30 hurricanes, Raven will be on Miami Beach every evening to get in his 8 miles. Someday the streak will end and that is a little sad to think about. Not because the streak is that important per se but rather what it means to Raven.

I hardly consider myself a friend of Raven's; at best an acquaintance.  However, I have told him in our small chats that the streak doesn't define him. He could stop tomorrow and I doubt anyone would be less desiring to go for a run with him when he started it back up. I know it wouldn't diminish my desire.

But Raven really doesn't want to stop.  In fact, it might mean even more to some of the people who run with him than it does him. And in the book you meet many of these people. You learn their stories and how they become intertwined with Raven's. He has officiated weddings on his run, saved numerous lives in the ocean, and watched Miami Beach grow up around him.

You can imagine  a book that talks about a man running the same stretch of beach for 40+ years could get monotonous. But in actuality, it doesn't focus much on the run per se.  Sure it details the particulars of the course he runs, and highlights as variety of the runs he has done because a variety of things have happened on that run. Yet, the book never drags, due in part to the subject matter and in part to the excellent writing by the author, Laura Lee Huttenbach, who I have met myself on occasion.

One assuredly does not need to be a runner to enjoy reading this book. They just have to have a heart. And if you go run with Raven, you will also have a nickname.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

On Running for Time


Even as running in every form (mud races, foam races, relays, etc.) becomes more prevalent, the idea is always to get to the finish line in as little time as possible. But what if no matter how fast you run, you never reach the finish? That is the idea behind timed races.

Timed races—or runs where there is no set distance, only a prescribed amount of time in which competitors run as far as they can—have been around for over a hundred years. People used to pack crowded, smoke-filled, indoor stadiums to watch these “pedestrian walkers” (as they were called) traverse small cramped circles over long periods of time. The races faded out of style for decades as did the crowds who watched them.  Recently, however, they have roared back into the running public consciousness. The most common races begin at six hours and go up to 72 hours, but you can find just about everything else in-between as well.

However, running a timed race is a completely different beast than running a distance race. But before I get to some helpful hints on how to run one of these races, let me tell you why you run one in the first place.

1. First and foremost there is no “DNF.” If you start a timed event, go 10 feet, and stop, then you finished. I once ran a timed race where I ran for 3.5 hours, broke for 90 minutes and came back to run the final hour. I had originally decided to stop entirely but then seeing I was still in second place, decided to try and catch first place. Unfortunately, I did not as 90 minutes was too much time to make up the distance. Someone said they were glad I came back to finish the race. I looked at them and said, “I ‘finish’ this race whenever I choose to do so. That’s the beauty.”

2. Most courses are built around a short loop of a mile or so. As such, timed races are an excellent way for a novice ultramarathoner to go over the marathon distance for the first time. Access to food, drink, and one’s own clothes and supplies makes running longer distance far easier. Novices needn't worry about all the logistics; more seasoned runners can concentrate on running even further.

3. We often hear how running is the only sport where mortals get to run with legends. This is true, but that is only in the strictest sense of the term. A race begins and a few sub-elites will see the front-runners—for a few seconds. After that, well, they might as well be running a different race. But in timed races, once you get over the potential ego-crush of being lapped repeatedly (and you will, quickly), seeing and cheering on those much faster than you becomes a treat. You get to be a spectator and a participant at the same time.

Now that you know some reasons why a timed race might be appealing, allow me to give you a few tidbits on how to race them. Why should you listen to me? Well, I have run a few timed races, and even a few long timed solo runs, and have done fairly well at them. In fact, I have the longest distance ever run at the Presque Isle Endurance Classic, a 12-hour run in Erie, Pa., held in October each year. When I ran this race in 2003, just two months after my second marathon ever, I had no idea how to tackle this sort of event. As with running 52 Marathons in 52 Weekends, sometimes ignorance is bliss. Eventually, running 84 miles in that 12-hour period (8:34/mile), I was pleased to win the event without knowing how amazing that was for someone like myself who was a middling runner at best at the time. In fact, the closest anyone else has come to my distance since then is 77 miles.

In addition, I have epically bonked, bonked and rallied, and ran smart throughout numerous other timed races. The fact I have run the gamut of failure and success should be enough for you to give my opinion some weight. Or not. I am still going to share it anyway.

Tips:

1. Remember to drink and eat. You would think that with easy access to your nutrition, this would not be a problem. However, complacency sets in when you think you can grab what you need at any time. Next thing you know you are in the hole because you went 10 miles without so much as a sip of water. Force yourself to remember to take in what you need at regular intervals.

2. Break it down. Even though it is a timed race, you must think in small bite-size distances to get through. Each lap provides you with an ending point in which you can manage what can be a Herculean task. Because, as mentioned before, no matter how fast you run, you aren’t getting to the finish line any quicker.

3. Rest, but not for too long. There is a fairly good chance you are not going to win. So, plan ahead with not only a running strategy (your desired pace and possible goal distance) but also a resting strategy. In addition, you would be surprised what five minutes in a chair does to help you recuperate. Heck, you may actually win because of that break. I know I have.

Depending on the terrain, the size of the loops or the course, there are so many other things to learn.
Find the race that best suits what you like to do because you are going to be doing it for hours. You can also start a new category. Instead of setting a new personal best, you can set a new personal long.

Nothing wrong with doing something brand new and getting rewarded for it in the process.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

15000th Day of Life

My extremely un-noteworthy 41st birthday passed a few weeks ago. Forty itself was a bit of a milestone but 41 just sorta made me feel old.  But checking out something I wrote about my 40 km run on my 40th birthday made me realize I was approaching a nice neat little number: my 15,000th day of being on the Earth. So I figured I would celebrate in the only was a number-loving running nerd would - by running 15,000 meters around a track.

For the metric-inclined, 15kms is just a mere 9.3 miles of track running and nothing more than a semi-longish run for a normal day. But tacking on the milestone to it always means it will be more enjoyable and memorable than trotting along the same 10-mile loop I have some 40 some times since moving to Austin.

I got a later start than I wanted and as such caused myself some consternation in dealing with the heat.  Around 88 degrees and humid when I started, a supposedly cloudy day gave way to bright warm sunshine almost the minute I pulled up to a local track.  I did, however, bring a Camelbak handheld water bottle, a wash cloth to wipe my sweat off during the run and a towel to wipe it off even better afterward. Throw in a completely froze bottle of water to thaw in the heat and be ready for me to drink when I was done and I was better prepared than most runs in this oven-baked town.

When I started out I knew I had to do 37.5 laps. I like running laps. Some get bored or bothered by them but I enjoy the knowledge and clickability of knowing how far each and every step takes.  It is one reason why over Labor Day I am directing 5 different marathons/half-marathons in 5 States in 5 days - all on looped tracks. Having directed similar races, I have found people sometimes dread them coming in and then loving them going out.

Before my best friend Shannon came and joined me for a few laps, I ran a few miles with only one other soul on the track. A 56 year old black man whose name I did not catch (and looked like he was 39 tops; seriously, black don't crack, y'all) walked 6 miles while I was there. He said he did this every day. When he drove away near the end of my run is hos powder blue metallic Miata convertible I wanted to give him the Judd Nelson Breakfast Days Power Fist for being so awesome.

My goal was to keep the laps as similar as possible. I had no goal other than survive the sun so I figured whatever I ran for the first few laps would be the time I would set my inner metronome to.  When it comes to pacing, I am the bomb. A 3:09:50, 3:09:52 and 3:09:52 as the 3:10 pacer for the Carlsbad Marathon three years in a row will attest to that.  So, after my first half loop, I decided to se what I would be running today.

The first mile produced a 1:52.55; 1:52.34; 1:51.78, and a 1:52.44. To be honest, that 1:51 bothered me as it messed up my stretch of 1:52s.  How dare you, 1:51?!  A 1:51:04, 1:52.29; 1:52.56; 1:51.32 was what my second mile produced and after that I reached down and grabbed my handheld bottle. It was sweltering out and I needed to cool my core.

Stopping and grabbing a bottle didn't slow me down. In fact, I sped up a bit before settling into a nice even pace again. (1:51.72; 1:52.89; 1:52.37; 1:53.32.) I blame the first 1:53 of the day on me miscounting laps and thinking I had already done a 5k.  I was shocked how fast the time was for a workout and spent thought energy trying to figure it out. Realizing I counted the first half loop as a full loop took half a second of mental energy and slowed me down a touch. You will have to forgive me.

I made up for slowing down on the first loop of the next mile and began to notice a pattern developing.  For the third straight mile, I would run a 1:51 for the first lap of the mile followed by a 1:52. I'd like to say I was planning that but that wasn't the case. (1:51.92; 1:52.21; 1:53.98; 1:53.55)

Then I went and ruined this pattern with the slowest of the lap of the day so far. It was also the slowest mile with a 1:54.20; 1:53.66, 1:52.55; 1:54.31. By now, just five miles in, I was wishing I had been alive many fewer days. Oh, the loops!


I rebounded a bit with a 1:53.75; 1:53.03; 1:54.27; 1:54.63 for this mile but figured 1:54s might be where I was going to be the rest of the day. The sun was baking me and I was no longer sweating. That's not a good thing.  At the end of the 6th mile, I had drained the entirety of the handheld bottle and I dropped it at my bag.

I then proceeded to run my fastest lap since my second mile. That burst  could have been because I wasn't carrying the bottle or it was just easier to hit my lap button without it in the way.  Nevertheless, I was pleased with a 1:51.64; 1:53.23; 1:53.05; 1:55.48.

Just two miles to go had me running my slowest loop of the day at the onset with a 1:56.12; 1:53.58, 1:52.40, 1:54.52. Just when I thought it was going to get real ugly, the sun went behind some clouds and I got just a bit of a breeze. That was all I needed to bring it home.

My final mile ended with my fastest split of the day in 1:54.11; 1:53.01, 1:53.77. 1:48.58. I ended up running a respectable workout time of 1:08:44. It was nothing but a normal workout on a normal day.  But here's to another 15,000 ( and hopefully more) days of life.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Stand Your Ground - Lose Paychecks

It is no secret I absolutely cannot stand Donald Trump.  Couldn't stand him in the 80s when I was growing up, couldn't believe he got a reality TV show in 00s and, well, you can imagine how I felt this past November. Or don't imagine.  Read what I wrote before and after his election "victory".

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, I knew my stance against Trump would not be popular with some. As the year went on last year and into this year, I lost sponsorships, speaking deals, and other sources of income because I refuse to speak nice.  Ironically, that straight talk is what those who voted for Trump said they liked so much about him - he spoke his mind. And while I could surmise there were some paychecks I lost because of my fervent nature of talking about how horrible of a human being Trump is, and some had told me so in person or over the phone, I didn't have anything as striking in my hand as I did today when I woke up to this email.

This was in response to an elongated exchange of emails, texts, phone calls, etc about me being a featured speaker at a particular race. For those who don't know, speaking is one of my main sources of income. I speak at schools, economic summits, land title associations, cruise ships, massive banking institutions, etc. I have a fun story and I am good at telling it - relating it to whatever place I am in.  Having run 52 Marathons in 52 consecutive weekends, however, speaking at a marathon is a layup.  That's my audience.

For some context, this email was in response to my message which was following up on our last exchange wherein I said:

"Would love to speak to you about 2018 as I definitely do not want to get a late start in working together.  What would you need from me to make this less work for you?"

Suffice it to say I wasn't expecting that. Now, I have debated naming this particular race specifically because my intention is not to shame them. I also know they are not alone. But if you want to know who it is so you can say no thanks, drop me a line. Happy to do so privately.

In addition, let me nip a few things in the bud.

1. This is not necessarily a First Amendment abridgement. So many well-meaning people were getting up in arms with regards to this. No one was stopping me from saying what I wanted. I said it and knew there may be consequences.

2. We didn't have a contract signed at this point. As such they were not going back on anything concrete.

3. No one has to hire me to speaker for anything. It is always a choice.

Having said, that what bothered me most about this was the combination of how long we had speaking about working together coupled with the fact that the people who supposedly agreed with me appeared to be "warning" the person I spoke with (who also agreed with me) to not get involved with "my brand." Ugh. If you want to disgust me, call me a blogger. A close second is to talk about my brand.  (And who exactly was warning him and why? Warning him about what? Having a spine?)

IF I have a brand it is standing up for the weak, disenfranchised, powerless, historically underrepresented or minorities, or just fighting for basic human decency. Sometimes I get angry and intolerant of hate, ignorance, stupidity or malice.  I never said I was a tolerant one (so stop with the the "Oooh look at the tolerant left!" comments.  Tomi Lahren tried that with me and even her physically-threatening minions didn't stop me.)

So that's my brand. I am not overtly political - I am overtly anti-Trump/Trump sycophants. I can't stand religion but some of my best friends are Mormon. I think Ted Cruz is a soulless succubus but if you want to vote for him, we can probably find shared ground.  But Trump is where I draw the line.

Because of my stance, I have lost all of what I have said I have lost. That's fine. But those who are on my side of the aisle, or who see things the way I see them, haven't stepped forward to support me.  Sure there are likes on Facebook or retweets on twitter. BFD. Where are the social justice warriors when someone who is fighting for all the things they are fighting for, but more publicly and with more to lose, when I need someone to say "Damn right we want to hear you speak!"?

This may sound a bit bitter and that is because it is.  This email I received doesn't stop me from speaking elsewhere. But it sure does have a chilling effect on whether I think speaking my mind is wise course of action. If people who supposedly agree with you still won't stick their neck out a touch to work with you, how can you expect to make a living do what you do?


If I had the same stances about Obama or Hillary and this was the end result, I wouldn't be writing this right now. I would be on Fox News talking about the snowflakes in their safe spaces. Hell, Mike Huckabee would have already written a horrible pun in a tweet by now. (By the way, Mike, your son murdered a dog. No one ever forgets this. Block me all you want.) Instead, fortunately, I have an outlet here on a website which attracts a lot of attention.  Obviously it does or I wouldn't have received the above email.

So who is willing to help me out and pick up the slack?  My speeches rarely touch on anything even remotely political.  I take my personal experiences coming from a poor family, where I put myself through college and law school, have accomplished some impressive athletic feats no one else ever has done, all while suffering from a liver disorder and use my experiences to inspire others to chase their own dreams.


That's one hell of a brand. 


ADDENDUM (07.01.17):

I have had a large outpouring of verbal support from many who wish to know which companies currently sponsor me so that they can support those companies. I greatly appreciate that. I am currently in a state of re-evaluating all partnerships and when a full slate of sponsors is put together, they will all be on my Sponsors page.

ADDENDUM II (07.24.17) 

I'd like to say it is shocking I am still receiving messages from companies with the same "We agree but keep our mouths silent as money matters more" message but I am unsure if it is. This time from a company which interacted with me on social media but then said the following when I approached them about partnering. 


I will admit it is getting harder to do the right thing when so many others refuse to support you even though they believe in what you are doing.


I can be reached at danerunsalot@yahoo.com if you are looking for your next keynote speaker.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series (3 of 6) Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 11th Edition 
143.7 miles run; 2250m swam in 2017 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 97 freaking degrees; sunny; humid

Writing recaps for races that don't go well is not fun. But I figured if I just got this one out of the way, maybe, like the proverbial band-aid ripping, faster will be better. (Or maybe that is wrong as Dan Ariely's "Predictably Irrational" makes a case for the opposite. Come to read about an athlete splashing and running; stay for the tangents!)

This was the third time in as many months that I took on the Pure Austin Splash and Dash. (You can read the first and second installments of this race series here and here.) The first event was me feeling out how it was done.  The second was me racing it two days after a half-marathon and one day after a lot of international traveling. As such, this third installment, 10 days after my most recent race, with some decent runs, a bike ride and as close to tapering as I get, felt prime for a big breakthrough. After a 26:02 and a 25:49 in the first two, I was looking to break 25 and start putting in respectable times.

First and foremost, let me mention it was 97 degrees at the start of the race and quite humid. I feel this played a part in my overall race but I am unsure how much. IT wasn't as if, during the race, it felt much worse than it had on the other days which had been cooler.  This is essentially a super sprint distance and it hurts no matter what the weather is for a long-distance runner like me. So, let's just say that the weather didn't help but it wasn't as if it was mile 22 of a marathon and I needed to be put in an ice bucket or die kinda feeling.  That said, as I positioned my gear for the transition I sought cover under a tiny tree. This was almost out of habit than necessity as I didn't feel particularly hot. Maybe I am getting used to Texas heat. (Ha! No way.)

I waded into the water and felt not even a hint of shock from the cold which wasn't there. One thing for sure was this was going to be a warm swim. That means sluggish. I see now from looking at my records I have only done two swim workouts since my last aquathlon a month ago and one was the day before the race.  That is not the way to get better, Dane.

Swim:

When I won the Masters division of this race in my first race in the series, I won a pair of googles.  Starting this race as far away from the other swimmers as I could, these crystal clear googles allowed me to see that the buoys that we were supposed to keep to our right, had a rope between them. I had never seen this previously and for the first 50 meters or so thought maybe I had found an ideal way to swim without needing to sight, and not swimming off course.  Unfortunately, this rope soon descended into the depths of the quarry soon after those first 50 meters. Hopefully, the little fish that had been nibbling at my feet at the start of the race followed it away from me.  At least I hope it was a fish. It was a bit unnerving as the nibbling happened on five separate occasions even though I kept moving. I wonder if it was attracted to my socks. (Yes, I wear socks in tris for a variety of reasons, explained in the other recaps.)

With the rope gone I had to contend with my own attempt at straight line swimming. While the field was less for this race than the previous race (51 vs 54 finishers for men) it was still a bit crowded.  I did a decent job of making the first two dock turns and staying on line.  Then I started swimming like a drunk person. I couldn't keep a straight line at all. Nevertheless, I felt as if I was swimming strong and thought maybe I didn't need that many workouts after all. I'm Aquaman!

Holding steady with the same few swimmers throughout, I finally hit the home stretch. There, making the final turn, I began to pull away.  I did so with such ease I wondered why I hadn't been swimming harder to begin with.  Happy to no longer be bumping shoulders, grabbing toes or having the same done to me, I hit the sand exit way and scooted over to my shoes.  I expected to have a performance hopefully close to 11 minutes.

I had a less than stellar transition from swimming to running but it wasn't atrocious. Swim time and transition put me at 12:39, however.  Blech.  Something did not go right in that swim.

Run:

After racing up the craggy hill to start the run, I had one guy in my immediate sights. I could tell it would not take long to catch him so I just tried to settle into my run and get my lungs working. The race course on this event presents a variety of footing issues from gravel to roots to unkempt branches. Throw in the fact it is not a closed course and other runner are on it and it is not ideal.  I have no idea how they are going to handle the National Championship race here with a mass start of runners.It is narrow and there is going to be someone who goes down hard, mark my words.

I passed the first runner before even a quarter of the way through the first lap and then promptly twisted my ankle. It was one of the twists I have done a million times and either I have Gumby ligaments or cat-like reflexes.  My point being that within 5 steps it didn't bother me and I was on my way.  There is always that split second when I do this where I wonder if I have shattered all my tendons and then miraculously trying to figure out how I did not. About halfway through this loop, with two other runners in my view, I heard footsteps. Two much younger chaps slid by me like a hot knife through butter. I was not expecting that, this soon.  Crap.

As we made our way up the small rise, I passed another runner and grabbed a glass of water. I knew it was hot, I knew I wasn't running great, but I had passed two guys in a loop. Who knew what lie ahead. My time for the loop was 4:27.  The previous two races were 4:24 and 4:28. For some reason I had convinced myself I had run a 4:20 on these the first two times. I shouldn't have let it bother me but it did. I am unsure what or how the rest of the race had unfolded if I realized I was just a few seconds slower than my fastest start but alas.

Starting the second lap, I got about a quarter of the way through when I was in position to pass a third man. I did so and about 100 yards later almost took a water bottle to the face from some pedestrian gesturing loudly with her hands while she chatted on the phone.  I was almost certain a hipcheck would have sent her safely into the water below and she would not have been able to identify who did it. But I wasn't 100% sure so I abated.  My second loop felt like death warmed over and a 4:36 showed it. (A 4:25 and 4:23 had been my second loops previously.)

I started the third loop and I was ready to be done. I knew I wasn't going to get anything I wanted today and it was time to be finished.  About halfway through a female runner passed me.  I recognized her as one of the local tiny, young phenoms. I was trying to figure out what laps she might be on. I thought she had one more to go as the females started three minutes behind us. I had previously just barely beat her in the first race so I respected her as a competitor regardless of age and gender. But as I figured she had one lap to go, I wasn't in any frame of mind to duke it out with her here. Then, doing math, I realized this had to be her last lap.  However, even if I outkicked her, that just means I beat her by three minutes (my head start) minus my time to the finish. I saw zero reason to push faster and let her run by herself. I crossed the final lap in 4:30 finishing in 26:13 - my slowest of the three yet.

Bollocks.

Even though I finished 16th overall (12th male - the other females who were faster luckily didn't lap me and crush my soul further) I was the fastest Masters - courtesy of the other old guy in the group ahead of me finishing second overall.

This was disappointing race.  Hot weather, twisted ankle, blah blah blah.  It just did not go well. But it solidified in me that I absolutely must get back into the pool putting in 10,000 yards a week at least if I want to be back to a respectable time. I have a feeling my running will dip a bit this summer but it is just too damn hot in Austin to do the running I want to do and with no running goals on the near future, it is time to focus more on what I have on the race schedule. So today, the doctor has ordered up 3-4,000 yards at the pool.  Hopefully it will be the right prescription.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Stick - A Review

Recently I was looking for an article I wrote about The Stick. In spite of having access to everything I have written since 2007, I would be damned if I could find it. Occasionally articles I have written have gone missing but there is almost a broken link or something left behind like the vapors from the space hoppers in Jumper. (Yes, I just made a Jumper reference. In spite of constant plotholes, I really enjoy that movie. Perhaps it is a desire to see the world and not have to travel to do it. I know it is supposed to be about the journey, not the destination but the journey often sucks. But I digress.)  I finally decided I must just have never written a proper review. While I find this inexcusable and almost negligent on my part since I preach taking care of your body, I am remedying that now.

For those who don't know, The Stick is called the toothbrush for your muscles.  It is a muscle-massaging tool that has brought me great pain followed my great relief.  I don't use it nearly as often as I should even though it hasn't left my suitcase in nearly 11 years. Anywhere I travel, I am assured to be running.  And anywhere I am running I need a little muscle relief.

The Stick is used to soften up tight muscles, which can cause stiffness and pain in short term and injuries in long term.  I am obviously huge on injury prevention. My personal preference for using the Stick came on your smaller muscles like around the shin and the calf.  While it also worked on quads, if you happen to have a concentration of muscles there, it might be a tad hard to get the proper amount of pressure there that a roam-roller could get to using your body weight. (More on that later.)

The Stick felt surprisingly good on my feet as well, an area people often neglect and then roll their eyes in pleasure when someone actually rubs them. Using the handle of The Stick and simply placing it on the ground and rolling my foot back and forth felt wonderful. 


There are a multitude of sizes and flexibilities but my personal favorite has been the Body Stick.  At just 24 inches it will fit in virtually any bag or luggage and the tautness of the mechanism is just perfect for me.  If you are curious what Stick would be best for you, they have a handy chart which you can look at the determine your best fit. 



I have found that The Stick simply gets into all the nooks and crannies that foam rolling simply cannot. Granted, there are plus sides to foam rolling as well, which I may eventually get to writing about as well.  In the meantime, for great information on The Best Foam Rollers check out this article from BarBend.com.

The moral of the story is we demand so much of our bodies and often do not reward them and take care of them the way we should. I have been a big proponent of massage for years but sometimes people do not get around to getting those for a variety of reasons. With the Stick, you have no excuses. 



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Paul Richey Memorial Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 10th Edition 
141.7 miles run; 1500m swam in 2017 races
Race: Paul Richey Memorial Half Marathon
Place: Oil Cty, PA
Miles from home: 1469
Weather: 60s; sunny; humid

I hadn't been home to visit my mother in over a year so I decided it was time to visit my hometown.  Facebook memories showed me, once I arrived, that I have been home this exact same weekend three years ago.  I found that coincidentally odd as there is no rhyme or reasons for most of my visits other than I wish to see my family.My memories from that trip were how unbelievably sweaty and hot my runs were. Fortunately, the weather looked much more agreeable and after experiencing Austin since September, I didn't think much would hurt me anyway in that department.


It was my Mom who posited the question "Are there any races nearby?" when I mentioned I would be coming home.  Truth be told, I hadn't even really thought about whether there were, which is another oddity for me. A quick search revealed a half-marathon in a nearby town. As I have put on a few races in my hometown and there are a few others there now which bring people in from all over the country, people will often say to me "I can see why you grew up a runner here!" They are referencing the hills and the lush green and the abundance of trails when they say this. Of course, the irony is that I wasn't much of a runner when I lived in my hometown. In fact, the vast majority of trails and streets in this area have never felt my feet upon them. As such, the opportunity to run on a bicycle trail just a mere 17 miles from where I grew up seemed like a fun thing to do. And if my Mom wants to come along and cheer, even better, especially since it would be my 99th lifetime half-marathon!

The half-marathon I decided to run was the Paul Richey Memorial Half to benefit the Franklin and Oil City YMCA's in memory of Trooper Paul Richey who was slain in the line of duty. Cop deaths in NW PA are (fortunately) few and far between so when they happen, the hit the communities hard. Titusville (my hometown), Franklin, and Oil City were all rivals in my high school days. So to have a little fun, I decided to wear my high school track singlet to the event. Technical it is not the one from high school but one that my track coach gave me in 2006 when I ran my 51st marathon out of 52 consecutive ones. But it is a reasonable facsimile of the classic one from days of yore.

It was a quick and easy drive to the start of the race. Once I had made countless times as I went to one of the only malls in the area growing up. My mom and I parked and I I went to pick up my packet. For a race of smallish size (111 half-marathoners) we had to park more than a short walk away from the packet pickup. No problem for runners but a little bit of a hike for older relatives. My Uncle, who lives just down the street tried to surprise me at the start but he recently had some hospital procedures done and was not his usual spry self. Unfortunately, when he arrived to come to the start, he couldn't make the walk in time. No knock on the race, just a bit of a bummer.

After an A cappella version of the National Anthem, under one of those car dealership, we-need-to-show-we-REALLLLLY-love-America sized flags, we left the packet pickup area and sauntered a few more hundred yards down to the start of the race. A local timer I recognized from the races I have done in the area was there setting things up and I sized up the crowd. I made a guess as to whom would be my competition, knowing full well it would show itself once the race started.

We lined up and away we went.

First Three Miles:

Within ten yards, after I sidestepped the usual not-supposed-to-be-at-the-front half dozen or so runners, I found myself behind three runners wearing matching singlets with names on the back. These runners would probably be my competition. I was a step or two behind them as we started and simply trying to make my legs up for the first mile as we hit the paved bike path under a cover of trees. As the sun flitted in here and there, I was so pleased the temperatures were only in the 60s, even if the humidity was typical for NW PA in June.

A topic I will be exploring in a future post deals with how I am experimenting with races in different weather right now. Suffice it to say I felt wonderful during the first mile which probably meant it was slow. A 6:37 surprised me with its ease as I began to pull away a bit from the other runners. I assumed, as I almost always does when a mile goes by quicker than I think it should, that perhaps the miles on the trail were not exact. Usually if this is the case, the next mile adds a little time and I just split the difference. Regardless, all I could so was run and see what would happen.

I somehow missed the next mile marker as I was realizing this would be a "race."  By that I mean the two runners behind me (a man and a woman) were just a few seconds back and I had a feeling they weren't going anywhere anytime soon. Their presence was a welcome edition to my day as I knew this would be yet another race which might as well be a training run.  Beautiful, scenic, enjoyable - but virtually all alone with no crowd, opponents, or much else to spur me on.

Before long I saw the 3rd mile marker and dividing by two saw that I had just run two more 6:38 miles. Maybe today was going to be much better than expected.

To Halfway:

Even though I was already covered in sweat, there was enough of a tree cover to make the course enjoyable. The surface was soft and very akin to the bicycle trail which played a major part in the Drake Well Marathon I created a few years ago. (This race was taken over by a local entity a few years ago, was changed greatly and I no longer am affiliated with it.) As I am not normally a fast starter in races, I assumed this surprisingly quick first few miles meant I would only get faster as the race went on.  This fourth mile, however, showed a time closer to 6:45. Once again, as I felt good, I didn't know if the mile marker was a bit off or what exactly. (Note, these are not markers the race put out. They are existing markers for the bike course and for all intents and purposes are fairly accurate.  But when you are running and the difference between a 6:38 and a 6:43 is all the difference in the world, it matters.)

It appeared that I had put a little distance between me and my two pursuers but I wasn't too sure. I was trying to use an assortment of contextual clues I often use in order to keep from turning around and looking. Approaching the aid station between the fourth and fifth miles I employed a tactic of timing seconds between when the volunteers cheered for me and when they next cheered for people behind me. People tend to cheer when runners are equidistant away so this is one way to use your surroundings to your benefit.  It appeared I had put a few more meters between me and my pursuers. I felt comfortable in my lead.  The fifth mile showed a slight slowing with a 6:47.  However, as I really enjoy out and back runs, knowing what I have run and being able to prepare for it, I assumed I would just get faster at the turnaround. I would simply hit the afterburners and show everyone what's what.

Slightly before the 6th mile marker I heard footsteps and almost as quickly as I heard them one of my pursuers passed me. I was impressed with how he made the pass as it was swift, definitive, and he didn't hesitate. Superb passing technique, sir. Leave no doubt you are making a move. Even if I am was now realizing I am not going to win the race any longer, I can still appreciate the craftsmanship of the move.

In spite of this move, I gave a few hundred yards of chase. I soon realized that for whatever reason he just was moving faster than me right now. My best bet was to keep him in eyesight and maybe make a move later in the race. My aunt had told me she would try to be near the turnaround to cheer me on. Unfortunately, some faulty information provided by a cocksure but clueless spectator had sent her in the wrong direction. As we approached the turnaround, I did see her in the distance and gave her a wave as I made the 180 degree turn to head home.

Toward Mile 10:

I was surprised to see how close the female runner was behind me as she had quietly been sitting there ten seconds or so back.  The forest dampened sounds of footfalls, and the soft footing masked them even more. As we began our return trip home, the runner in front of me was already distancing himself greatly. When we hit the 7th mile I realized that while he may be speeding up, I was without a doubt slowing down. I had run the last two miles in the 6:55 range while feeling like I was exerting more effort.  I didn't "feel" tired or like I was slowing and with no other runners around to gauge myself, was a bit disappointed in this outcome.  Perhaps this was a longish section and the next mile would straighten things out, I thought.

Granted I was covered in sweat but I didn't feel like I had slowed so much. My singlet was soaked in wetness but it could have been worse. And while the runner in front of me was pulling away, the woman behind me, obviously accomplished herself, hadn't passed me yet.  Maybe we were stuck in the same space time continuum.  Maybe she was biding time to pass me.  Maybe it's Maybelline.

For the next few miles, all the runners from the half-marathon were heading toward their own turn around. I tried to say as many "goodjob"s as I could while conserving energy. I didn't know if the woman behind me was planning her own lie and wait strategy and wanted to be able to respond if she did.

The race course was on a rather wide bike path but situated next to it for a few miles was an equally as wide dirt path. The course was not closed to others doing activities and we had been warned there was expected to be a cornucopia of cyclists coming onto the track at some time. Sure enough a large number of them came my way here as I headed back. Virtually all of them left the bike path and ventured over to the dirt.This was greatly appreciated as I am sure it was not easy on what appeared to be road bikes. (I did have a few almost kill me as we went under a bridge with a tight turn. Not sure why they were speeding up in a blind spot but hey, you do do.)

Another high 6s mile at the 9th mile frustrated me. I felt I had undoubtedly picked up the pace and would make a push for a 1:28 or lower if I had. Unfortunately, that was not the case.  Now I had to figure out what these last four miles were going to bring. Racing is frustrating, especially when time goals go out the window and you are still miles from being done. Nevertheless, I thought I was still going to have a solid race if the last three miles could echo the first three miles.  The way I was slowing that would be a big "if."

Heading Home:

I had heard about previous years of this race being brutally hot and I was again quite happy it was only in the 60s. Nevertheless, the tree cover seemed like it would protect runners from any sun regardless of the heat.  Another thing for which I was beyond pleased was the ice cold drinks at the aid stations. I drank nothing on the way out but helped myself to at least three cups on the way back.  I would rather not have any liquid at all than reach for it and take a drought of bathwater. Kudos to the organizers for having a drink that cooled the core with each sip. Undoubtedly, this helped me keep it together as my energy waned.

With two miles to go I could see I was right on pace for a sub-1:30 half.  I had run 98 half marathons coming into the day and had averaged 1:30:30 for those races. I have often treated half marathons as hard workouts, or pacing efforts for friends, or gone into them unprepared. For whatever reason, I don't lend them the same credence as marathons. So, to have an average right at 1:30 for all 98 was pleasing. Actually, that is a lie. It would be pleasing to have my average below 1:30 but a few pacing efforts and flatout hot halfs had pushed it over in the past few years. (I can talk endlessly about stats and know it was the Lincoln Half, where I felt like I was going to die in my 74th half marathon where the time crept over 1:30.) I knew if I wanted to bring my average down, I had to start right now.  At this mile. I didn't care how tired I was or how hot it was. This race had to be under 1:30.

The next mile was slower than I wanted but I knew it would all come down to the last and final push.  It is a rare day when I cannot pick up the pace in the final hundreds of meters to nip a time with a :59 in it. Fortunately, because this was an out and back, I did not have any doubt about whether this last mile may be a touch long.  Or where the turn was.  Or anything else that would keep me from simply motoring in. I had already run the course and knew where it ended. That peace of mind was wonderful.

I allowed myself a quick glimpse behind me to see if there were any runners back there and all I caught was the first female runner. She wasn't closer but she hadn't gotten much further either. Kudos to her on running such a solid race. Now I just had to finish the day.

With 100 yards to go, the ever so slowly arching path straightened and I could see the finish. I could also see my mom, cheering away! Her yells got the smattering of other spectators all excited and I had a nice little cheer as I lengthened my stride and gave it what I had. I picked up the pace just to make sure and ran over the timing mat in 1:29:51. 

I finished 2nd overall and lowered my overall average - by one second.

It's a start.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

National Running Day

No, it isn't today.  I thought the day after my birthday was National Running Day as that was what happened last year. I usually miss the day because, well, it falls after my birthday and damn it, that's my day. But the date of this "holiday" is of no matter because while I was going to link a neat running tidbit to it, the fact it is not on the day we have denoted to celebrate running doesn't make it any less neat. (Neat is a weird word.  Don't say it a bunch of times in your head like I just did.)

Today was my 159th run of the year. It has no real significance but neither does any number unless we attach meaning to it. For me, the 159th run of the year goes back over a decade to 2006. That year I ran 52 Marathons in 52 Weekends. (Some might be tired of me talking about it but it defined my life and if you don't like me, how miserable is your existence to be reading the words of someone you don't like? I mean, damn, make a friend.) As my goal for that year was to run the marathons as fast as I possibly could, while still not even knowing if my body would hold up, the amount of miles I ran in the year meant little to me. Similarly, the number of runs was inconsequential as well. But the 1771.5 miles I ran that year were done in 159 runs.

In 159 I achieved what I had set out to achieve.  Not only did I accomplish my goal, I ran my fastest marathon of my life (to that point) and first sub-3 hour marathon ever in my 42nd marathon of the year. I would, all told, break my previous PR 5 times and almost break it a handful of others. I never
expected to do that, and never thought I would average a 3:21 marathon for all 52 marathons, while working a full-time job as well.

So now, every year, when I hit the 159th run of the year, I pause and reflect. We often put too much emphasis on the miles we run.  I see this constantly with the athletes I coach. One in particular was running an absurd amount of miles per week.  I cut it down by almost half and magically she is crushing her PRs. That said, I am guilty of number-gazing sometimes, too.  For example, I thought it would be nice to run at least 200 miles each month this year.  But as May was coming to a close I saw that it would be tight. As I tend to enjoy running something long on my birthday I figured I could make up the mileage necessary to keep the goal alive. Then I realized that there was no need to do that. Shoehorning a few extra miles into the month would not help me accomplish what I wanted. In fact, as it has been so warm in Austin recently, it might be far more detrimental to all I want to do.

Instead, I went for 41 mile bike ride, the second longest I have ever done. (I know, not that far. But if you remove to two half Ironman triathlons I have done the longest ride I had previously done was 35 miles on my, you guessed it, 35th birthday.)  The ride went off without a hitch, exceeded my expectations for how smoothly it would go and barring a very sore bum, I felt fine when I was done.  Mission accomplished!

I ended up with a measly 177 miles of running in May and couldn't be happier. Well, actually, if I could get my race times down again, I would be happier but with regards to the decisions I made in May, I am pleased. Today, on my 159th run, a little slower because of the heat and with legs a little sore from the bike ride, I enjoyed the day.  In fact, I saw, for the first time in my life, a baby skunk.  Holy crap was it cute. I have never seen a baby skunk in person (in skunk?) before.  I might have picked up the pace to stay away from mommy skunk who had to be nearby, but other than that, I was doing a recovery run.  Today was not about running fast but rather recovering from yesterday.

If there is any thing I wish any newbie runner or old time runner or any runner in between remembers (and this counts for me as well) is that so often in the sport, we should not be counting the miles.

Instead, we should make the miles count.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Road to Sparta - A Book Review

Dean Karnazes and I are essentially clones.  Also, Dean and I have nothing in common.  Let me explain.

When I first started getting into running I came upon a cover of Runner's World that had Dean on it. Bulky, muscular, tanned, he looked nothing like the other runners usually on the cover.  While I was hardly anywhere close to as chiseled, seeing what looked like a linebacker being lauded for running prowess gave me hope that my 6'1"180 lb frame might be able to do something solid in the sport. I was a fair runner in high school (for the two years I ran) then moved to rugby in college and even amassed a Golden Gloves record of 1-1 in law school (I lost, then won and then said, enough of that.) But running is what I turned to in my mid-20s as a way to stay in shape. It just so happened all the runners I knew at the time weighed about half my body weight.

As fate would have it, I would meet Dean a few months before my 52 Marathons in 52 Weekends journey. That same year Dean, who didn't tell me at the time we met, would be undertaking his 50 marathons in 50 States in 50 days expedition. I had already begun to find my niche when we met but it was amazing to meet him in person.  I also noticed the first of our differences: height. While down the line many casual runners would get the two of us confused (similar first name, long indecipherable last name, many of the same-type running feats) in person no one would mistaken the 5'8'' Dean for the 6'1'' me.  As I later did to runners, he inspired me here.


Part of the inspiration for me to do my solo running of the 202-mile American Odyssey Relay was Dean. I had worked briefly for a company that put on these relays and they asked me to use my connection with Dean (which was at the time something I would classify as a step below friends but definitely more than acquaintances) to get him to run their races. That connection between Dean and the company never transpired but in talking with him about it, the idea was planted. I wanted to try one of those myself.

So why in a book review of Dean's latest book am I talking about this? Because, when I read Dean's books I see them as an extension of so many things that I have done and also want to do.  I am highly critical of the way he writes, the stories he tells, the events the tackles etc., because I look at them through my own eyes. Arrogantly or misguidedly, I see us as very similar. Which we are and aren't.

Dean's book The Road to Sparta: Reliving the Ancient Battle and Epic Run That Inspired the World's Greatest Footrace is, essentially, a race report. A race report about his taking on the Sparthalon, a 153 mile ultramarathon race held annually in Greece since 1983, between Athens and Sparta.  That's the simple explanation of both the race and the book. Obviously, there is much more.

Dean gives an account of his own history, both in running and in life. I know most of this history, having read his other books. He doesn't repeat much in the book of his past from the other books or when he does he says it in such a way that makes it fresh. This personal history is where I learned how different Dean and I are.

The crux of this book is how Greek Dean is and how much he wishes to connect with his roots. He mentions his ridiculous calf muscles and how they are present in everyone in his family. (He is also not bragging- his calf muscles are ridiculous.) His running heritage is undeniable and since an early age it was quite clear he was a cut above others when it came to running. He is tied very much to his heritage and the exact places he comes from. With myself, I haven't been a runner from the start and while I love my family, stories have not been passed down through generations. I don't identify as one heritage. I am German, Irish, and English at least. In addition, I have not been a runner who anyone knew was going to do anything of note, even after my first few marathons. So, while Dean and I may have done many of the same things but we undoubtedly diverge here. And it this connection to a people, to a place, to a specific race is what drives this book and is its hook.

Dean writes with passion. He also writes very entertainingly. In addition, he does a thing that I absolutely love and have found I do in my own writing. He will recount a story that seems a bit far fetched. One might even be inclined to believe it is exaggerated a bit or he tied a few instances together to make for a more cohesive tale (I can totally understand this. You have multiple conversations with many people and for the sake of brevity it is Steve from Poughkeepsie who asked all of those questions.) But then he produces a picture, photographic evidence of the exact thing he was talking about. Every time I see it I smile.

There are many moments where he lays himself bare. He talks about his failings. He mentions internet trolls and dealing with people who just want to snark on his achievements (again, Dean, feel ya there.) Most importantly he takes the reader along on this race and even though you may have zero desire to take this race on, you are rooting for him to complete it nonetheless.


Then, at the end of his race report, he makes this History major and knowledge sponge so excited by talking about the actual and literal history of the events which transpired to set this race up in Greek history thousands of years ago. Again, akin to my second book where I talked about my own experiences but also showed how running has played a major part in momentous occasions throughout history, Dean shows how one runner might have changed the course of the entirety of the human experience. That seems a bit of a reach until he lays it all out in black and white. It truly is hard to argue with his logic. Even if you do, you are engaged nonetheless.

This book is a totally enjoyable read. If you are even a casual runner I think you owe it to yourself to grab a copy. Part history lesson, party inspirational tome, and part tale of Dean's life, it is all rolled into one solid piece of work.