Monday, September 15, 2014

The Tunnel Lite Marathon Recap (and a quick look back at 149 others)

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 12th Edition 
191.3 miles run in 2014 races
Race: The Tunnel Lite Marathon
Place: North Bend, WA
Miles from home: 186 miles
Weather: 40-60s; bright sunshine

3933 miles of marathons. That's the number of miles in 150 separate 26.22 milers (amazing how much those .22 add up when you multiply them by 150.) That is also the number of miles of marathons I have run.  More or less.

I learned long ago that milestones like this are rather arbitrary. It all depends on how you decide to count things. First of all, I ran the Green Bay Marathon in 2012 when they black flagged it in heat. I finished it, walking the last 5k as we were told it was canceled. I still got a finishing time at first sent to my text message. After some thought, I realized it shouldn't count as a marathon.  In January, I ran the fastest marathon distance around a cruise ship ever recorded.  But that didn't really count either. Yet both of those count or don't count because of a set of rules I decided upon.  Then again, everything only counts based on a set of rules we decide upon, if you think about it.

The Tunnel Lite Marathon was, however, not even going to be what I considered my 150th marathon.  That was going to be in two weeks in Huntsville, Utah.  Then I partially tore my Achilles tendon about five weeks ago.  The reason I chose the Huntsville Marathon was because I knew it would suit my strengths (downhill running) and was run partially on the same course I have set a personal best on twice previously.  Go with what you are best at, right? But as I was planning on using Huntsville to set a new, which the torn Achilles threw out the window, I decided I needed at least a warm up race.  The Tunnel Lite Marathon popped into my head.

First and foremost, I love how the name of the race is "The" Tunnel Lite Marathon. Like how the band called "Eagles" does not have "The" in front of it but "The Edge" of the band U2 does. I can honestly tell you that kept my mind preoccupied for at least a mile yesterday as I ran this race.

Honestly, this won't be much of a recap of the event itself.  If you want to know more about this race, you can look at my Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon recap here (notice there is no "The" at the start of its name.)  It is the exact same course just run at a different time of year.  The main difference between the two is that, historically, this race is cooler. It wasn't that much cooler for us this year but I am sure I will touch on that.

My goals for this race were to simply run as hard as I can and make sure the Achilles didn't injure more. Note well, if I had thought I would injure myself running this race, I never would have started. I can guarantee that virtually every one reading this does not have any race so important that they must injure themselves to start and/or finish it. I have zero problem not running or finishing a race if it will be detrimental to my health.  But I had a feeling I was good to go in this race.

I hoped to get a Boston qualifier as my minimum time goal with an outside chance of going sub-3. Given I toed the line at the heaviest I have ever run a marathon (I don't know the exact weight but for it was much higher than ideal for a fast marathon attempt), I knew that might be tough. The cool 45 degree starting temperature before the tunnel was helpful. I had recently looked back at my race history and realized it had been about two straight years of racing for me where the temperature for the race was either at or higher than expected for that day of the year. I hate racing in the heat.

In addition, I have had a tough time with running in general lately.  I finished my 350 mile run up the Oregon Coast about two years ago.  My running after that was fine but slowish, as expected while I recovered. Then I crashed my bike in a training ride for the Boise 70.3.  Since then, my running has taken a nosedive. A litany of injuries, all seemingly stemming from that bike crash stymied progress. Only a new personal best in the Mt. Nebo half marathon (on a day when I could have easily chopped 3 more minutes if I was in actual good running shape) has been a shining moment in my running.  Since that crash I have only run 11 marathons and only 3 of those were Boston Qualifying times. Two of them were on this course. (Spoiler alert.)

When I crossed the line in 7th place overall in a time of 3:06:58, I was quite happy. I achieved a Boston Qualifying time for the tenth straight year. The time was 17 minutes slower than my personal best but I had no major complaints. I hadn't run anything close to a long training run in three months. The weather, while cool at the start, came from a cloudless sky.  The course was mostly shaded but when it wasn't the sun beat down. In the last 6 or 7 miles, it was baking. I was covered in salt by the time I finished (thanks for the picture, sign and support, Shannon!)

This recap also won't be too much of a look back at the 150 marathons I have run, either. I did that for my first 100 in my second book and I am not quite ready for another retrospective. I also see this as the springboard to getting healthy, strong and fast (for me) again anyway. So I am looking forward, not back.  But I will look at some stats, as I do love them so.

First, 150 marathons is fine.  There are a fir number of  people have "completed" more marathons than that.  However, what I am most proud of is few people have run faster for 150 marathons or give as much effort into each and every one of them, especially at my size (6'1'' 180ish pounds.)
* For the 150 marathons I have run, I have averaged a 3:17:52.  That number includes two Leadville Marathons (5:17:41 and 4:45:30) as well as one Pikes Peak Marathon (6:41:53).  Those three marathons alone sway the entire average by two minutes and 48 seconds!
* Seventy-one of the 150 marathons have been Boston Qualifiers and that includes the first 38 in 2006 when I ran 52 in one year, which were not BQs.
* 132 of the 150 marathons have been under 3:30.  Most of the ones which have not were caused by ridiculous courses, illness or something completely out of my control.
* From 2007 to 2009, 31 of the 33 Marathons I ran were Boston Qualifiers. (Ended, not surprisingly, by another bike crash.)

 * I have run every time from 2:58 to 3:31, at least once.  That means I have a 2:58, 2:59, 3:00, 3:01...etc.  Many times I Go out for a specific time and I can't tell you how hard that can be to hit a random 3:17 or whatever. If I get a 2:50, 2:52, 2:54 and 2:57 I will have every time from 2:49 to 3:31. I am missing some below 3:30 but I hope to never run that slow again.

All in all, the times are just fine to look at and I would happily bore you with details of every single race. But no one really cares in the grand scheme of things. I barely care. I like looking at numbers and playing with them. I like pushing my body and seeing what is possible. It has not been fun to run marathons the past few years because I haven't been close to the shape I know I can run them in. I totally understand why elite runners basically give up racing once they lose their top end speed.  If you could run a 2:10 marathon, running a 2:55 must feel simply awful. That is why I have so much respect for those pouring their heart into their 4, 5 and 6 hour marathon finishes. It is also why I absolutely don't get those who don't pour their heart into their finishes and jog along snapping pictures during a race. They are abusing or neglecting the gift they have which many wish they could.

As I sit on the cusp of my next marathon, I have no idea if I will run 200 total let alone another 150 Ten years ago I was one month away from my third, and what I thought would be my last, marathon. Who knows what the future holds. All I know is that it will hold me giving all I have every day to be a better runner, person, and juggler.

I know I can do 6 balls if I put my mind to it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jared Lorenzen: Please Don't Pass on the Steak

I don't know exactly how long this blog is going to be.  It could almost be a tweet the point is so simple.  But I have to go further with it.

I am reading an article in ESPN The Magazine about Jared Lorenzen.  If you don't know who that is, he is the amazingly talented former QB for the Kentucky Wildcats.  He also played most of his career in the neighborhood of 300 lbs. That is not a typo.

The most recently made headlines again earlier this year when the day after the SuperBowl he appeared in some Arena Football League game for the Northern Kentucky River Monsters. Wearing a "jersey" and "shoulder pads" that looked like second skin and his son's pee wee football pads, Lorenzen danced deftly around defenders, bowled others over and zipped the ball with the same record breaking skills he showed in the SEC.

The article, which I literally put down mid-paragraph to write this blog, is about his struggles with weight loss. In particular, one group of sentence made me lose my gourd.

"He is trying to get past the chomp-chomp-chomp phase. He orders a lot of salads. He's cut back on the steaks in favor of grilled chicken and sushi...And Sometimes, on the way home, that $5 Little Caesars pizza calls his name."

I am not even going to go into how a Little Ceasars pizza is far from bad, unless you consume the whole damn thing yourself. What made me blow my top was the "cutting back on steaks in favor of chicken" line. (My knowledge on sushi is limited but I do know it contains a lot more calories than people think it does. Check this out.)  When I read that line about chicken, however, I feel I understand what scientists trying to talk to religious people who believe the world is 6,000 years old feel.  How is red meat still getting the bad rep? There are 29 cuts of beef that are leaner than skinless chicken thigh. LEANER. SKINLESS.  

Why is it that facts and science and truth still cannot seem to beat out myths, rumors and misinformation? I spoke in another blog recently about how Eating Meat is the New (and Old) Eating Healthful about many of these problems with untruths. It seems the battle to educate people is never ever going to be won. But I will continue to fight it.

As I said in a blog about proteins over carbs, all people, especially runners, need a healthful does of all things. But without a doubt, the more carbs I eat and the less protein, the heavier I get and the more bloated I am. The body turns carbs into sugars, and when that is not burned off by the body, it is converted into fat. However, even after you realize this and go for the proteins, there is absolutely zero reason to choose any sort of chicken over steak, at least when it comes down to a nutritional argument.  You can have a taste preference, sure, bu in the case of someone, like Jared, who is struggling with weight gain, don't think that chicken is a healthier way to lose weight.

So, Jared, I can't possibly know your struggle or what other problems you are going through and I do not pretend to.  I do, however, know that eating less steak and more chicken is not the answer.

I will be in your neck of the woods at the end of this month to run the Evansville Half Marathon. This is my open invitation to take you, my treat, to the steakhouse of your choosing. Heck, I played  a little wide receiver in high school.  Maybe after we eat, if you toned down that cannon of an arm, you could throw me a few passes.

 In either case, keep eating beef and good luck in your weight loss quest.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Say Goodbye to Badwater. Say Goodbye, My Baby

And like that, Badwater is no more. Or at least what made it Badwater in the first place.

In a coincidental turn of events I recently wrote a review of a book on Badwater and have exchanged a few emails with its author since then. In addition, Badwater has always been on my absolute must do list. (The race is actually in a book I am writing.)  Now, because of the Death Valley National Park’s most recent ruling, it looks like that will never happen, at least in the way which Badwater has been run for decades.

I will admit I haven’t read the entire ridiculousness that is this decree by the DVNP. I haven’t done so mainly because of statements like the following, which show me logic, reason and actually caring about the health and well-being of people is not the cause of the new permitting regulations:

“One of the past permitted running events, the Badwater Ultra-marathon, takes place in July. Visitors have questioned why the park allows running events to take place during the hottest time of the summer, when they are advised not to engage in outdoor physical activity. By permitting events to take place during summer months, the park has provided a mixed message to park visitors and other users.”

Ignoring that they don’t know that “ultramarathon” is not hyphenated is the utter ludicrous notion that some visitors have asked why some people can do something and they cannot. Because that is how permitting, genetics, the law, power, prestige and about 8 billion other things work in the world we live in. Some people can do some things as and others cannot. If that fact isn’t enough of an explanation how about the fact the average visitor is an overweight person who had no idea what it takes with regards to years of highly regimented training specifically designed to get them through the hot dry blast furnace that is Death Valley in July?  Plus, why does the DVNP all of a sudden care about the well-being of runners? The race has been run, with a large amount of publicity, for decades. It hasn't been a secret. This paragraph in and of itself is so insipid it is hard for me to go on. But I will try.

The repeated clash between national park people and runners is nothing new.  You can look at the JFK 50 mile race and its caps or virtually any other race (or simply an organized run) which use park lands, for that matter. At some point in virtually all of those races there has either been a threat of a shutdown of an event or an actual shutdown. I don’t know what it is about park rangers but more than a fair share of them can really come off as dicks. They have control over a very small part of real estate but it is complete and total control. As is such with anyone who has power over something finite and limited, they tend to act out of proportion to the actual importance of their job.

For example, I recently ran a race called the Lake of DeathRelay. We were told that our entry fee covered our park entrance fee (which it did.)  But when I rolled up to the entrance, a park ranger stopped me.  I said to him “We are here for the Lake of Death Relay” expecting him to ask me for a name for verification. All he did was shake his head saying “no.” He said nothing more. I looked at him and said “Yes, I am here for that.” His reply was that he didn’t know what I was talking about. So I started to explain the situation and he said I was the 7th person who went through here saying that to him.  So I guess the head shaking was more “No, you still have to pay” and not “No, I don’t know what you are talking about” as he said it was. Obviously at a stalemate, I reached for my wallet to pay the fare and he said “You can pay it or pay the $269 fine” (or whatever it was.)  At no point did I say I wasn’t going to pay or show any belligerence toward the man.  It was 7 am. I wasn’t awake enough to be belligerent.  But he held the keys to my enjoyment for the day and he would be damned if he wasn’t going to be an ass about it. This is exactly what it appears the DVNP is doing.

Yes, as runners we sometimes have a holier-than-thou attitude about open spaces and our desired use of them. We are often told to get over ourselves. To this day I can’t see a finely-tailored golf course in the middle of scrub grass or highways and not be bummed I can’t run on it (legally.) However, I know for an absolute fact that runners respect their surroundings more than virtually anyone else and if a race is held in some forest or park, chances are very high it will be cleaner when the runners leave than it was when they got there.

This new permitting issue does not seem to take into account certain things like the economic impact runners have. Death Valley is an interesting place and the locales there that supply travelers have a nice monopoly given the lack of amenities. However, if no one is coming through, the monopoly doesn’t mean a darn thing. I doubt it was too uncommon for someone to walk into a store and say, very Ron Swanson-esque: “I’d like to buy all the ice you have.” You don’t think they are going to feel a massive impact from 200 less runners and their crews with a voracious appetite for food, drink, ice and lodging? I wonder how the purveyors of these goods feel about a massive chunk of their livelihood being taken from them. Maybe they don’t like the runners.  That is entirely possible even though I can’t think of a single reason why.

Other things mentioned in the DVNP decree revolve around items like people properly relieving themselves in the desert or night time events only being permitted during a full moon phase. I am guessing the latter is because a clear night will provide ample lighting. However what happens if the sky gets a little cloudy? Are they pulling the permit and canceling the event?  Or are they just being pedantic about rules they just created for no reason?   (The paragraph on bathroom etiquette and the use of “personal portable toilet products” whatever the hell that is, is just as annoying as everything else.)

This year’s Badwater course already had to be changed because of new DVNP rules. Chances are great that those who operate Badwater (AdventureCORPS) will adapt again to thse new changes and find a way around all the sad “reasoning” put forth by the DVNP in their Manifesto. Yet the problem is when something like this occurs, it is hard not to picture people who had things taken from them as a child are using their powers now to take things back that others might want to borrow for a small period of time. The bullied have become the bullies.

Everything about this permitting issue just makes you sit back and wonder. If there were legitimate reasons for limiting the use of Death Valley, most would understand. Runners are logical assessors of reason, given they are by and large the most intelligent, wealthy, successful subset of the population.  But when actions by the DVNP smack of nothing but just wanting to see how many hoops you can make someone jump through to do the activity they want to do, it is infuriating. 

Unlike many other long distance events, such as marathons, where virtually no prior experience is required to traverse the distance, getting into Badwater is like a job application.  Your average Suzy Homemaker and Joe Six-Pack isn’t going to lose a bet on New Year’s Day and run Badwater six months later. The people who take on this endeavor are the ones who can actually handle it. Why stop those who are most adept to taking on a challenge, from trying to challenge themselves?

As it stands, things change. Some will always say the “old way” of Badwater will be harder than the new   I say running the Boston Marathon when it started at noon is definitely more difficult than now when it starts at 10 am.  Does it diminish the accomplishment of either?  No.

But the mere fact that people who want to run 135 miles beginning in the hottest place on Earth are finding the hardest thing about the endeavor is dealing with people wearing silly straight brimmed hats is pretty telling of the way things are in the world today.

Let's hope we can fight this and change it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Hey Runners: Stop Stretching

Right now.
It is a horrible idea.

(N.B. throughout this article, I am referring to static stretching and stretching that approaches the limit of a muscle's extension, before a major effort. Light, active "stretching" which more or less mimics the actions you plan on doing is a different thing.)

We have been told for years to stretch before running.  As runners gather around before a run they sometimes nervously stretch. God forbid that they be caught doing nothing. People will think they aren't a real runner. (Sort of like the person coming in to the finish line at a 6 minute sprint when their overall pace will be 11 minutes.We can do the math. It's cool that you are slower.) Before a race, as the nervous energy kick in, people start doing stretches they haven't done in a decade. They push against poles and vehicles. They grab their leg and pull their shoe up to their quad. They more or less are not only not doing anything beneficial but they are probably doing a great deal of harm. (I cannot tell you how much I hate this stretch, if only because anytime I did a news story the photographer would ask me to do that for the pictures. I used to oblige. Now I tell them to take a shot of me running.)

But what do I know? I haven't stretched since the year began 19xx. My 150th marathon is in 10 days and the only injuries I have had stem from bicycle crashes. Go right ahead and ignore me. However, ignoring science might be a bad thing. What science? Oh, you know, basically all of it. Read this fella's blog for all kinds of sciency stuff.  He echoes or is saying many of the things I have said for years.

Why am I telling you this? Because my goal has not been about getting people to run. Motivating people for brief periods of time for specific goals is fairly easy.  My goal is to keep people running. The best way to keep someone doing something is to make it enjoyable and make it safe for them o do.  If they are injured, they are not going to want to run. Plain and simple. (This also goes to the point of streak running but that is another day's article.)

So many runners continue to think that flexibility is the key to being a good runner. They are wrong. For our sport the key is to keep everything going in a forward motion. Our need for lateral motion is very little, even for trail runners.The most efficient runners, especially as the distance gets longer are those who exerted the least effort to maintain a pace. Those runners are often the stiffest or ate least not all that flexible.

Knee injuries, almost never caused by running, are however often caused when the ligaments are loose and allow the knee to slide and grind. Guess how ligaments get loose. Go ahead. I'll wait. (It's in the title of this article.)

Yet people continue to stretch. They also continue to smoke/chew tobacco and drink alcohol in spite of the overwhelming evidence for how bad those things are for the human body, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. However, I hope this will help drive home the point that stretching is not only overrated but detrimental to your success as a long-term, healthy endurance runners. (Same as ice baths. Again, another article.)

So stay tight, warm-up appropriately before your running with some light jogging or other aerobic activity, and leave the stretching for the Armstrongs. (Google it, you damn millennials.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Disturbing Case of Abuse Survivor (and Current Prisoner) Wendy Maldonado

I recently watched the HBO documentary "Every F***ing Day of My Life). I had heard of the case of Wendy Maldonado previously but didn’t know the full details. Now that I know more it is heart wrenching to me and I decided I needed to do what I can to remedy the situation.

Normally this website is devoted to things of the exercise and health nature. However, I don’t think pleading the case of Wendy Maldonado is that far out of the usual scope as it pertains to her mental health and well-being. As such, I hope you will take the time to read this and do what you can to help free Wendy from prison.

You can read so much more about what happened to Wendy and her family on their own website here but allow me to give you the pertinent details. For nearly 20 years, Wendy was beaten, cowered and abused by her husband.  Her four children, all boys, were also frequent recipients of the sadistic beatings. Often driven out to the forest and told she had “ten seconds to convince me not to kill you”, Wendy finally snapped.

With no question, Wendy’s actions were brutal. She and her oldest son, Randy (himself the most frequent recipient of the beatings handed down to the children) slipped into Wendy’s husband’s room and quickly bludgeoned him with both a hammer and an axe. I share these gory details as I do not wish to be said to be sugarcoating or hiding anything. Wendy’s husband (who I refuse to give a first name to because any person who does such acts shouldn’t even be called human) later died at the hospital. The only reasons he made it to a hospital in the first place is because Wendy immediately called 911 to report what she had done. When the 911 dispatcher asked her “Did he try to hurt you or anything?” Wendy responded:

“Every f***ing day of my life.”

Wendy pleaded guilty to first degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 120 months (10 years) in prison; Randy pleaded guilty to second degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 75 months (six years and three months), which was reduced to 65 months (five years and five months) because he already served time. In spite of the fact that the court recognized this was “the worst case of domestic violence any of us has seen," it was noted that state law left the Judge with no flexibility in sentencing. Oregon statutes allow deadly force only against an immediate threat of serious injury.

In the interest of disclosure, in my former life, I was going down the path of a district attorney.  I am definitely one who sees things from “that side of the fence.”  However, I am absolutely baffled how the prosecution in this case sought to put Wendy and her son behind bars. Obviously their actions were awful. However, as the court even said, it is obvious they were done as reactions to a systematic beating and defiling of human life at the hands of Wendy’s husband. How they could not think they were always in an immediate threat of serious injury is beyond me.  How deputy district attorney Linda Wingenbach could say at sentencing that with regard to Wendy’s statement of her life being in danger “every f***ing day” could be an exaggeration leaves me stunned. How many days a week is an appropriate amount of not- exaggeration? Four? Two? Twice a month?

I know I am coming to this entire episode very late in the game but with Wendy still not to be released until, at the earliest, March 7, 2016, there is still time to seek clemency from Oregon’s governor. Granted, Oregon’s governor has only granted one clemency and that was to an inmate who didn't want his help, convicted killer Gary Haugen. Kitzhaber does not want Haugen executed on his watch. While possibly admirable, possibly simply politically minded, Wendy Maldonado’s clemency should be the second he grants.

It saddens me that this petition (which I just signed) is still 11,000 signatures short of the 20,000 needed to get this petition in front of the Governor. With so many people gladly clicking on “like” on Facebook for the most mundane things, or pouring ice over their heads in support of funding to combat a disease, here is a chance to actually make a difference, directly, in the life of another human being.

Think of Wendy Maldonado. Beaten, broken, threatened with murder on a frequent basis. Wearing dentures for years because her own teeth had been repeatedly knocked out. Covering holes in the walls of her home where her head had been using as a battering ram with the drawings her children made. Fearing the next strangulation will leave her dead and her children completely vulnerable. Finally, one evening, she sees a chance to gnaw her own leg off in order to escape the bear trap of her life and get her children out as well. Still covered in bruises and lacerations from her latest strangulation/beating she finally does that gnawing.

Now imagine Wendy Maldonado as your own mother. You are the beaten children cowering in the corner, sleeping with shoes on in case you need to flee. Finally, your mother saves you from death. Should she be still sitting in prison?

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Hood to Coast Recap: Fighting Squirrels Edition

If you want to see what the elevation profile of what runner number 10 (my leg) of the Hood to Coast Relay is, this is not the recap to read.  Looking for detailed descriptions of planning and executing a flawless transition between all runners with secret shortcuts to get your vans where they need to be before every one else? Yeah, you won't find that here either. Nor will you hear about how many people I may have passed during each of my running legs. Details surrounding the exact specifics of the race itself can not only be found more handily in many other places but they can be told to you by people who have experienced the HTC, five, ten, even thirty times. As for how I ran specifically, for the most part, not many care.

This is, instead, a recap about intensity, gratitude, kindness and fun.

To begin, in my very first leg of this relay, it appears I aggravated/created a partial tear in my Achilles tendon/gastrocnemius. Not the end of the world but a definite end to my immediate running plans. While I finished my other two runs, I did so gingerly and paid close attention to any potential damage I would cause. No race ever is worth long-term health. Fortunately, I was able to finish without much worse for the wear, especially since I was such a late addition to this race.

I was asked on the Wednesday before the event by my friend Shawn if I happened to be around Portland and willing to join his team. For a variety of reason, I was and I did. So when the leg reared its ugly injury head just 2-3 miles into this day, I was obviously bothered. The reasons for the injury, however, went beyond the usual. I did not wish to let my team down, nor did I want to potentially cancel other running plans with other friends. It really didn’t have much to do with my own health and well-being, but rather the promises made to show up to starting lines in due time. However, you play the hand dealt to you.

Relays are fantastic because of the intensity one can have during their own running and the silliness which can happen when they are not.  The seriousness each runner takes with their own leg is balanced by how little others actually care about their teammate’s performance during those very same legs. Didn’t run your projected time? So? As long as you had fun and gave your best, the team is happy. Very few will berate their buddies who gave what they had that day.  And if they do, I have a feeling those people are the ones who never get invited back.

Don’t get me wrong: people take this race seriously, even if they are sandbagging how much they actually do care. This is because people do not want to be the weak link. They want to be the one who can be depended upon. Need someone to run an extra mile (or four) because van traffic is so bad that vehicles take over two hours to go two miles (this happened and as of yet there is no real explanation as to why it did)? Well, pretty much every runner is happy to add to their total for the sake of the team. The team comes first.

In fact, the “team” becomes this amorphous entity which takes on a life and presence of its own. Even within the two separate groups of runners who barely interact, an ego and an id can rise and fall to balance one another out. One van is more stoic and anal; another is more wild and flying by the seat of the pants. Then that engrained irrevocable identity can switch magically in the middle of the night from one group to the other. The “team” is finding its own yin and yang.

My team, the Fighting Squirrels, was comprised of 11 other great guys. It was an honor to be amongst them on this journey. In a little over 25 hours, we experienced lost runners, mixed up exchanges, nearly overturned Chevy Suburbans, tremendous gastrointestinal distress and more inside jokes than normal people gather through months of being around each other. (“How many is a Brazilian?”)

In the end, crossing the sand to the finish line (albeit a tad hackneyed in its manufactured-ness even if I understand why) was not a spiritual experience. But it wasn’t far from one. I knew just one of my teammates before the race started. Now five of them are good friends and the six in the other van are, at the very least, close cousins.

The Squirrels put on a great show and ran well. More importantly we had a great time doing it. In addition, it sure is nice to know I picked up eleven more local running buddies. I can't wait to go searching for nuts with them.

Wait...that came out wrong. Where's the damn delete button?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hood to Coast - Last Minute Tips

So you are running Hood to Coast this weekend? Fantastic. Let me share with you some final thoughts to help you get through this 197-mile relay. Now, granted, I have never run Hood to Coast.  But I watched the movie, so that’s good enough to give you advice, right?

Kidding.  I have not only run a 200 mile-ish relay with some great friends and the awesome name of Postfontaine (7 years ago?!) but have also done the relay thing solo. So I know what it is like to be up and moving for long extended periods of time. And since I will be a last minute addition to a team of runners taking on this iconic race, I thought I would share what I have learned about relays to get you through.

1.    Start training for this months ago

That was all kinds of helpful wasn’t it? But seriously, while running three times in less than 24 hours is taxing, most can do it with aplomb if they have put in the miles. If you haven’t, well, you can still do it, even if it might hurt a bit.  Just don’t let anyone see you walk the next day. Luckily, the Pacific is cold and you can jump in after to wake up your sore muscles.

2.    Take care of yourself when you are NOT running

This includes eating properly, remembering to relube your body (I recommend Body Glide) and resting. There is no shame in a catnap here and there and it won’t detract from the fun you are having along the way. In fact, a little sleep here and there will make you much more fun to be around and your runs will go much better. Also, while it is good to have some quick hits of PowerBar or Gel blasts along the way, it will behoove you and your team to actually grab a real meal somewhere during the day. Trust me on this one.  Having 6 hangry (so hungry you are angry) runners in van will make no one a happy runner.

Bring comfy clothes to change into when you are not running. You do not want to be in your sweaty running gear for an entire day. Also think about some compression of some sort. I will be bringing my SKINS socks for my weary legs and it will make them feel so fresh when I start the next run.

Have fun and don’t stress too much. Unless you are the Nike elite team, you are probably not going to win this thing. You are also all but guaranteed not to be last. So when you are not running, treat it like the awesome vacation it is. That said, don’t lollygag and mess up your team’s vibe. The last thing you want to do is NOT be at an exchange when a runner comes in. No friends will be made there, believe me.

3.    Take care of yourself when you ARE running

Remember to bring a visor or a hat and some sunglasses (I recommend Julbo.) The weather for this race is almost always bright and sunny so a hat will help keep the sun out of your eyes. Obviously, sunglasses will also protect your eyes from the sun. In addition, since you are running on roads not closed to traffic, the possibility of debris getting kicked up into your peepers is greater than other races.

Drink. (Not alcohol.) It might only be a 45 minute run but don’t try to be a hero when it comes to hydration. Take a small handheld with you (such as the CamelBak Arc Grip) and if it gets a tad warm, you won’t be dying when you finally get to your exchange.

Change at least your socks, and possibly your shoes, for each run. You might only need two pairs to alternate but you will be surprised how wet that first pair will still be when the second leg starts.  And don’t even think about wearing the same socks twice. Smelly, disgusting and rife with blisters opportunities they will be.  You can push through any quad pain but chafing and blisters will knock you down immediately.

4.    Bring more gear than you think you need – within reason

Don’t bring things you absolutely know you will not need. But having a second reflective vest or another SPIbelt for a teammate who happened to forget theirs is always nice. You can also make a brand new friend from another team. Running is about camaraderie and helping others out.  Here’s your chance.

Also, while the weather will start out warm through Portland, it will drop as much as 20 degrees once you head through the mountains and onto the coast. Having run the entire 350 miles of the coast myself, I know how much chillier it can be just 90 miles from Portland. So bring clothing which will allow you to be comfortable running in differing weather conditions.

5.    Familiarize yourself with your legs - thoroughly

Nothing is worse than making a wrong turn in the middle of the night in an area where you are a stranger and other people are not only looking for you but waiting for you. Also, knowing what is ahead of you will make each turn on the road that much better.

6.    Get to know your teammates

Many teammates will be meeting for the first time. Try to get to know what they are like, where they are from and what brought them to running. We all have our stories and we want to share them but there is plenty of time. Knowing that Steve likes to share and Mary is quiet will help you in the long run when you eventually regale everyone with your amazing PR stories. These people are going to be your lifeline for the next day and
maybe friends for the rest of your life. This is a great time to start to get to know them.

There are only about 8 million other things I could tell you but I think these few last minute tips will make people want to have you in their van again for the next relay.

If not, well, you can alienate a whole new bunch of runners next time.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

OK, that was an attention-grabbing headline.You really shouldn't be afraid, per se. But if you are nervous or excited or anxious or any of those other emotions before the start of your race (regardless of the distance) that is a very good thing.  Let me explain why.

When I am doing my usual routine of book signing and answering 18 quazillion questions at a race expo, I can almost immediately identify many of the first time runners. They more or less are biting off their bottom lip. Whether they are freaking out about what it is they are about to try, are simply anxious to just get the race started, or a combination of all of those things, I can always tell they just want to get rid of the nervous feeling. I say do not even try.

I have found that the biggest part of being nervous about running event has to do with actually being nervous. By that I mean, it is the nervous feeling itself that is making the runners wig out, not the actual event itself. I try to tell them that I have run 149 marathons and at the starting line of every one, I have felt butterflies. Heck, if I go more than two months without a marathon, I am a virtual wreck when I toe the line (which has happened a lot the past few years as I try different races and give my body a break.  Next month I will be taking on just my third marathon this year. I am going to be an absolute mess.

But here's the thing - I want that feeling. As an adult, how often do you get to experience the feeling of nervousness and anxiety and trepidation that does not fall before something that is probably not good? Called into the boss' office, get a call from the principal, listen to your carpenter/auto mechanic tell you what whatever you are going to get fixed is going to cost? That's about it, right? There are no more proms, first kisses, graduations, or Friday Night football games, for most of us.  But every starting line is filled with so much promise and hope.

What you do need to do is be aware you have that nervous feeling for a reason.  For a first-timer, you have never run that far in your life.  For a seasoned veteran, you know what it takes to get to the finish line and are aware it takes pain and sacrifice. For everyone in between, there is the knowledge that this could be a day when you set a personal best or it could be a day of horrific flopping. But until you start running, you are unsure what, if any, of these things it will be.

So embrace the nervousness. Know what it is and refuse to let it take over your mind. Know it is there to keep you alert and on the edge.  Hopefully it will remind you that you shouldn't done stupid things right now like eating spicy Thai food you have never had before in your life 8 hours before you get up to run.  Or you might be getting up for the runs.

My point is, the answer to a question someone posed to me "How do you keep from being nervous about stepping to the line and not feeling ready for the race even though your are properly trained and have been down this road before?" is "I don't."  .  Or more accurately,  I do not want to.

Imagining what can happen is part of the wonderfulness of this sport.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Camelbak Quick Grip and Arc Quick Grip Review

I began a partnership with CamelBak last month after many years of wearing and using their products.  As a continued public service I am reviewing some of their products for you, the runner, so you don't have to try them out for yourself without any firsthand knowledge. This review will be about two seemingly simply products but ones most people will use most often: the handhelds.

I had experienced a variety of different handhelds over the years, even though I (as I mentioned in my review of the CamelBak Marathoner vest) for the most part hate to carry anything when I run. I'd rather push through 90 minutes in the hot sun with no water than carry anything with me. I am lazy. But I know that is not wise, especially when the temps get pretty darn warm or if you are going to be in an unfamiliar place with no access to water. The latter rarely happens for me but the former hit home when the temperature broke 100 degrees in Portland the other day. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to test out the CamelBak Arc Quick Grip.

Out and about on the Portland waterfront I took the 10 ounce bottle. It is super lightweight (.35 oz) with two separate pockets. The first has a Velcro flap so you could store the more important items in there. The second, closer to the hand, is open and allows for easier access for things like a PowerBar Gel or some  Shurky Jurky. The curvature of the bottle fit nicely into either hand and I tried switching it back and forth to see if there was any noticeable difference. I felt none. The stretch binding held tight to the bottle and did not slip off the end like some other ergonomic bottles. While I didn't need it on this sunny daytime run, it was also fitted with reflective tape. It was simple and effective, topped with the awesome CamelBak jet nozzle. Love that thing.

With only a 10 ounce capacity, you aren't going to run across Death Valley with the Arc but it is perfect for a mid-distance run in warm weather. The lightweight nature of the bottle means it is thin and doesn't keep water as cold as you would like for as long as you would like. Then again, my test run was in 100 degrees, so take that as you may. The liquid inside stayed cool for about 45 minutes before I could tell my body heat and the sun totally cooked it.  So, not too shabby at all.

The Quick Grip however, is a freaking marvel. It is insulated so it keeps your drink colder much longer than a normal bottle. In additional it carries a whopping 21 ounces of liquid which will be more than enough to get you through a tough 20 miler.  I have worn the Quick Grip in numerous races that required runners to carry their own supplies and have never been disappointed.

Even though it is indeed larger than most handhelds, and as such is a little longer, it never felt bulky or cumbersome.  For a 6'1'' guy I have tiny hands so I thought perhaps it might feel a little overwhelming.  That wasn't the case. Even when my hand would get a little tired for me to clasp the bottle, or perhaps the liquid got light and made it feel like it was jostling a bit, a quick tug on the strap held the bottle firmly in place. The strap also has a cool little function that keeps it from flapping around when there is excess at the end. (I am not exactly sure how it is done but the guys reviewing it in this video make mention of it as well.) 

For a larger bottle, the pocket is a little on the smaller side, but you can still easily fit in a PowerGel, keys, ID or camera. Again the self-sealing Jet Valve has a quick turn dial that allows you to tightly close the nozzle when you are sure you aren't drinking it.  When in the open position, you still won't get much leakage at all, even when you are running. Regardless, I have yet to find a water nozzle that more efficiently sprays the water into your mouth than Camelbak's. I can't say enough about how much I like that top.

All told, these products are ones you might not put much thought into but the good thing about them is once you have them you no longer have to think about them.

Get your hands in or around these.  You will thank me later.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Mental Aspect of Taking on an Ultramarathon

The great ultrarunner Ann Trason was asked how she runs 100-mile races. This was not a deep philosophical question posed by an experienced runner looking for that last little tidbit of information which would finally give them the edge to win a race. Instead, it was one posed in the format our NRF (non-running friends) ask us about any race longer than about 100 feet. It was more along the lines of  “How can you possibly run 100 miles?!” Her answer?

“One tree at a time.”

Very akin to the old joke about how you eat an elephant (one bite at a time), Trason detailed her strategy for taking on an event that would comprise 185,000 steps (give or take a hop, skip, or a jump.) Her point, more or less, is you can’t see the finish line when you start so don’t worry about it until you can. It was the mental aspect of the task that she was trying to impart upon the one who asked the question. Her response could not be more true.

This article comes from a question posed to me about how the mental aspect of an extremely long run  comes into play. Like Trason said, the mental aspect is paramount. I made my bones in the running world when I ran 52 marathons in 52 consecutive weekends back in 2006. Unlike now, when I started that endeavor I knew very little about running long distances or how to handle those types of events. But I grew up quickly that year. While each race was its own event, I soon realized that the endeavor itself was the completion of the entire year's worth of marathons, not just one particular marathon.

I had made it abundantly clear to those following me that nothing short of an actual marathon race each and every weekend would do. No doubling up. No treadmill runs. No running the course prior to the day of the race. I started when everyone else did and (hopefully) finished quicker than most of them. Because of that, I made each 26.2-mile run into its own subset of the total 1362.4-mile adventure. Each marathon became, mathematically, one-half of a mile when compared percentage-wise to the overall goal. It would never make sense in an actual marathon to sprint for one-half of a mile three miles into the race, so I kept that same mindset with my 52 marathons task. Why did I do this? Because each marathon was my “one tree at a time.”

On three other occasions, I have taken on an event that goes longer than even the most traditional longest of ultramarathons out there, the 100 miler. In 2010, I ran the 202-mile American Odyssey Relay, from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Washington D.C., solo. In 2012, I ran the entire coast of Oregon, from the California border to the Washington border, over 350 miles, in seven days. Last year I ran 165 miles in three days from Dane Wisconsin to Davenport, IA, then taking part in the Quad Cities Marathon the next day in an event dubbed Dane to Davenport. These events required me to not only push myself in ways that I had yet to do physically but included aspects of mental gymnastics the likes of which I had never attempted.

For the 202 miler, I had to wrap my head around the fact that I had never run continuously for longer than 87. The 87-mile mark was where I had dropped out of my first 100- mile attempt at the blistering hot and humid 2007 Old Dominion race. Of course I did not think I needed to run anywhere close to 202 miles to do it as it is not really uncommon to run far less than the race distance in training, even for ultras.But you must run far somehow.

For instance, the great Karl Meltzer, who once ran run the entire length of the Pony Express Trail, states he rarely runs more than 20-30 miles while training for his 100-mile races. He just happens to run those distances two to three days in a row. However, the difference between a 100-mile event and running 202 miles solo is more than just doubling the distance. There comes a point when the amount of miles begins to add up exponentially. But it is not just the miles run that takes a toll.

For example: with my 350-mile run up the coast, running more miles in one week than I had in any month in my life was quite an undertaking. But if the feat had just been running lots of miles, that would have been infinitely easier. How is that possible? Let me explain.

Now, when I picture doing something like running 50 miles a day for seven straight days, I no longer do what I used to do and what I know most people still do. The immediate inclination is to picture a place where you can comfortably run at a moderate pace somewhere near your home that is familiar and safe. You then picture the weather being perfect and supplies always at hand. Further thought is not wasted on where you will be sleeping because you immediately think that you will stop running and be back at your own door, with your own foods and your own bed and your own toiletries. You’ll drop off your dirty running clothes and pick out fresh ones from the endless supply of things you have in your closet. Your brain does this so it can think of the easiest way to go about doing something harder than anything you have ever done. It is self-preservation.

But that was not what I did in either the 350-mile run, the Dane to Davenport or the 202 miler. In the 202 miler, I was running from point to point with an ever-ticking clock, and I had to deal with ever-changing weather and topography. When I finished the 202 miler in just a hair over 50 hours, I was stunned. I hadn’t expected to come anywhere close to that time. Not because the time in that distance is astounding (my friend Phil McCarthy set the US record for a 48-hour run with 257 miles in 2011) but that I was able to do it in this sort of race. In McCarthy’s race, and in other races of similar ilk that I have done, much of the thought is removed by doing multiple loops of 1-mile courses over and over again. This sounds horrible until you realize how nice it is to not have to think. In all three of the events I have described I was not so lucky.

The 202-mile run is probably the hardest physical task I will undertake for quite some time, even more physically difficult than the 350 miler. But it was dwarfed by the mental energy and preparation needed for the Pacific Coast 350. Sure, the weather was brutal on some days but, given what the Oregon coast had been beaten with that winter/spring (even just one week prior), the weather was a relative non-factor. Even the topography was far from the biggest challenge. Going from sea level to 900 feet in just a few miles on many occasions was not exactly ideal but this wasn’t what made each day difficult. Pounding 350 miles on pavement definitely put some strain on my feet but the surface of the road wasn’t the addition that made everything so challenging.

The hardest part of each day was quite tellingly the most rewarding as well. Stopping in mid-run and addressing a student body at one of the many schools along the coast, sometimes with runners in attendance and sometimes to just the general assembly, is what made this adventure what it was. Starting in Gold Beach, moving to Bandon, heading up to Lincoln City, stopping off in Tillamook, and then eventually talking to inner-city Portland schools, I probably had over 1,000 kids in front of me. These were impressionable, eager-to-learn children, many of whom were wondering how the guy in the salt-encrusted shirt had the power to get them out of class for a few minutes and what he was doing or had just accomplished.

Eventually, they were won over and the questions flowed. Some questions were about the run itself. Other questions centered around how I could possibly fuel myself properly to do this much running…and still more curious, brave souls wanted to know if I shaved my legs. I am not sure why but that was asked on a number of occasions.  I am just, thankfully, not a hairy guy.

Almost without fail, I began one of my speeches to the kids within 15 minutes after many hours of running. Almost without fail, I was pretty exhausted when I started. Almost without fail, I left more energized than when I began.

Which brings me back to the mental side of preparing for these types of events. Obviously, undertaking one long run or a longer run over a period of days requires a different set of calculations, crewmembers, and tactics specific to that run. So to tell you how to prepare for all of them without knowing what you are planning to do would be folly on my part. The best thing I can possibly say is to know you are not alone in trying to ignore the impossible. If you think you are the first to worry whether you have trained enough, prepared your crew enough, or done the right homework, you are wrong. Many have been in your exact situation. There will be setbacks before, during, and most definitely after.

The finish line does not mean you are done. When I finished the 202 miler, I jumped right back into racing as soon as I could (just a few weeks later where I took 3rd in a half marathon) as I had no specific or obvious problem. However, while nothing was major or telling, the 202 miler left me with a deep-seated exhaustion that hung with me for months. When I undertook the 350 miler, I reminded myself that, chances are, the same thing would happen again. To no one’s surprise, it did and knowing it would has allowed me to handle the let down much better. The key word here is “better.” 

Last year, I took on one of the last of the long-distance stage events I plan to take on for quite some time- the Dane to Davenport. I put to use all that I had learned from the previous long distance runs. When crushing heat wilted me in the second day of running, I put to use all my tricks of the trade. But it was what I had learned that helped me not only prepare for the race properly and run it wisely but recover afterward. I also knew while I might know a great deal there was still unexpected to come. The mental aspect of running very long distances is something I now completely understand takes precedence over virtually every other thing.

It reminds me of what Bill Rodgers once told me, and I am pretty sure he wasn't misspeaking. "Running is 90 percent mental. And 10 percent mental.”

He was so right.