Thursday, January 31, 2013

ING Miami Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 2nd Edition 
18.1 miles run in 2013 races
Race: ING Miami Half Marathon
Place: Miami, FL
Miles from home: 3254 miles
Weather: 70s; humid

That might not have been the brightest idea.

In Miami to participate for the 5th time in some capacity for the ING Miami Marathon, I didn’t have much of a goal. The weather promised to be actually a little cool for the beginning of the race about a week beforehand. That promise was broken as the projected temperatures climbed each day. Moreover the dreaded humidity that simply saps me followed suit. By the time of the morning of the expo, I knew I was definitely not in town to race. So I decided to have some fun.

First, the expo was a wonderful experience as it always is when I come to Miami.  I have such a wide and diverse group of friends in the area that seeing them all is rather difficult.  Combine that with the fact that every time I come to South Florida I make new friends and my cup runneth over.

Prior to the race I once again had the privilege of being inspired by the ING Run For Something Better Program.  Through this free school-based running fitness programs, RFSB “challenges children to get active, set goals and start a lifetime habit of physical activity.”  Having been involved with it on three different occasions I can say that they are doing it right down here in Miami. I was presented with a chance to talk some kids right before the expo on Friday and then do a lap with them around their playground.  In the background, during a physical education class, one of the instructors was teaching the kids how to mamba, or samba or some other latin-infused dance.  Talk about awesome.  As I see more and more schools make P.E. non-mandatory, I thought about how fun of a way this was to get kids to be active.

I also spent time with Justin Loa, a child confined to a wheelchair. With the help of an iPad and a guiding hand of one of his instructors, he could type out messages to me and have the program “speak”.  When after learning he was 11, I told him that in a few years he could be driving.  He hilariously responded “Bad idea.”  I don’t know, Justin –in five years this super intelligent kid might invent a way to make that possible.

At the expo itself, I spent two days talking and learning and visiting.  With Dave Scott, the race director of the event, and my good friend G.P. Pearlberg, we spent two separate hours talking to those who wanted to learn how to run this race. Following an intimate course description (I have run it 5 times, Dave Scott has designed it, and G.P. has been on the lead car for all 11 years of the race’s existence) a question and answer session followed. It was fantastic to let what I have learned hopefully help someone the next day. As I say, knowledge not shared is wasted.

Somewhere during the expo, while people were walking around with giant orange inflatable “fist bumps” it was presented to me that a way to make this race harder would be for me to run the entire race wearing the contraptions. I will probably rue the day I agreed to that but alas. The die was cast.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"The Longest Race" - A Book Review

Ed Ayres' latest book is called The Longest Race (subtitled: A Lifelong Runner, an Iconic Ultramarathon, and the Case for Human Endurance.) I was fortunate enough to receive a signed copy from Mr. Ayres and on a long plane ride from Portland to Miami read it cover to cover.  The book is basically a race recap.  Well, two to be exact.  The first race recap is about the 2001 JFK 50 mile race.  The second is about the human race.

Ed is probably best known as the founding editor and publisher of Running Times magazine.  He also won the JFK 50 mile race outright in a time of 6:04 back in 1977, a time which was hardly topped for the next three decades. He sorta has some running chops, so to speak.

The book is loosely centered around the 40th running of the JFK 50 miler where in November 2001, at age 60, Ayres returned to see if he could break the race’s 60–69 age group record. Spoiler alert: He did - lopping over twenty minutes off the previous best. However, that is incidental to the rest of the book.  In fact, if you blink you will miss Ed mentioning he had done so.

When I say the book is a recap of the human race, it delves into other aspects of running and how we have humans have become who we are as a species. I thoroughly enjoyed references to the Tarahumara, the supposedly “hidden tribe” mentioned in the book by Christopher McDougall. Hardly too hidden if Running Times was writing articles about them in 1977, it made me chuckle to think that this might have been a slight dig at McDougall’s book. But I digress.

Like Born to Run, Ayres culls from the data of 55 years as a competitive road runner to show how he has really delved into the hows and whys of the human race as runners. The science and theory is never overpowering and when we jump back to the JFK 50 mile recap, sprinkled throughout it is almost like “Oh yeah, he was also talking about a race. I wonder how that is going along.” The book could be read as a pretty thorough recap of the JFK 50 mile race itself, without going too much into all the soup to nuts aspect of running it.  But it is so much more than that.   

Runners like to think they are a heady bunch.  The reason is, usually, because they tend to be as such.  This book does nothing to dissuade any of those thoughts and really touches on a great deal of points I myself have just really begun to try to tackle.

I think you will thoroughly enjoy it. I give it 4 See Dane Runs.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lance Armstrong - Some Thoughts

I am writing about Lance more for me than for you.  Please help yourself if you’d like.  However, this is here so that I can keep myself from yelling at people specifically. It can be a generalized “Are you kidding me?!” instead of calling out Johnny Homemaker and Suzy Triathlete. Basically I am writing down some thoughts to see if they will change over time. I doubt it.

First, as with any high profile person who is accused of a crime or misdeed, until a verdict is reached or insurmountable evidence presented, I do my best to hold my tongue and thoughts upon the conclusion. If anything, I retain that from three years of law school. This is especially true when I am not hearing the facts firsthand but rather reading someone’s view of what may have happened. That is already way too many places removed from the initial story for me to trust my reading of someone else’s recollection. So, until Lance did his dance with the truth, all but admitting to everything which he had been accused of, I held back judgment. No positive test results, no doping. That changes now. He is a doper.

Second, I was asked by a few people if I forgive or could forgive Armstrong. Well, to me, forgiveness matters only if one or more of the people involved care or it affects them. Lance cares not one bit if I forgive him. On the other side, my life is basically unaffected by his lying (unlike some other pro athletes like Lauren Fleshman who writes a great letter here.) So my forgiveness is unnecessary or maybe not even existing given I am not angry at him to begin with. Can you forgive someone you don’t really care about? My triathlon career is just getting started, I don't care much for bike porn, and will never be a huge fan of cycling.

Third, I bristle constantly, even prior to the admission, when people said “But look what good he has done for cancer patients and cancer research.” Talk about incongruous thinking.  If he cheated, and did so vehemently, not caring about whose lives he destroyed in the process, then what he may or may not did for cancer research has to be balanced against the bad he did elsewhere. You can’t compare cancer research against the hills of France. That is indeed comparing apples and rhinos. If it was just a little doping to win some races against how much good he had done, then maybe the good he did wins out.  But it was so much more.

Fourth, how much he actually has done for cancer research is extremely up in the air. If you don't care to read this article in Outside magazine (it is long), let me boil it down for you: the amount that Livestrong has done for the battle against cancer is not anywhere close to what you may (and I once did) think.

Fifth, for all that is holy please stop saying that you wish to concentrate on the hope he has given cancer patients. I would like to think that positive thinking and hope both help cure cancer but it sure doesn’t look like it has any effect whatsoever. So that is the thinnest of straws to hold onto.
Basically, a myth was created, cultivated, defended, exposed and taken down in a burning blaze. I am not angry as I have no real reason to be. I am disappointed it wasn’t true. I am bummed that another person in a position to do fantastic things is shown to not only be human (seriously, while most of us haven’t lied systematically and unequivocally as Lance has, most of us have never been asked the same question by thousands of people either) but vindictive, narcissistic, egotistical and so much more all without cause. 

Is Lance sorry? Probably. I am guessing mostly because he has lost sponsors, cannot participate in sports he loves, got caught and is looking at mountains of legal bills. I don’t think he is sorry he cheated.  Sure it sucks to know that you couldn’t compete and win at your sport unless you were taking drugs and playing the way everyone else in the top echelon was playing.  But lots of things suck in life.

Kind of like Lance Armstrong.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Know Thy Enemy

“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” - Sun Tzu

Mr. Sun has said some really wise things that have become part of the lexicon of everyday normal use (I like to pretend he had a boy named Capri, but that is neither here nor there.)  In running, runners will do so much to be prepared for their race such as wearing lucky socks and pinning their bib number on the same way each time. So why is it that so many runners go into their races without more than the basic knowledge of the distance they are going to run (and even that may be a stretch)? 

I was once speaking at the San Francisco Marathon expo when I told no less than a dozen runners, who were about take on the half marathon course the next day, what to expect.  Some knew they were crossing the Golden Gate Bridge – and that about exhausted their knowledge of what lay ahead.  In the days prior to the internet this may have been excusable and understandable.  However, today, the race has to be pretty damn obscure for there not to be an elevation chart, detailed map, or some other information that gives you an idea of what to expect.

Then again, as Einstein said, information is not knowledge.  A simple perusal of a race and its comments on-line can give a runner whiplash  when they do a double-take to make sure the runner lambasting a race for one particular feature is talking about the same feature another runner is raving about.  “Hilly”, “scenic”, and “well-supported” are words which, without context, most assuredly mean different things to different runners.  Knowing ahead of time what you are in store for alleviates one of the biggest fears we have: that of the unknown.

When I put together the inaugural Drake Well Marathon in 2006, time constraints and logistical measures kept me from exploring the hills, woods and beautiful homes of my hometown of Titusville, PA (which the course now does, by the way.)  With the initial course being 105.5 laps around my high school’s track, many are heard to groan when thinking about the perceived monotony.  Perhaps monotony could be a problem but there was at least one splendid thing this course offered: no surprises.  No hills popped up at mile 22, no aid stations were out of place, and no one could possibly get lost.  As for mile markers, how does a marker every 400 meters grab ya?

My point is, when the fear of the unknown was removed and runners could concentrate solely on the act of running, so much more was a breeze.  Runners qualified for Boston for the first time, set new personal bests and figured out that knowledge is power.

So, don’t go into your next race without the knowledge that is easily attainable about the course, weather, food and drink available or anything else which may hinder your run.

Isn’t conquering a new personal best hard enough without ignorance slowing you down?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Running Across Panama

In a little over a month I will be participating in the Fuego Y Agua 25k race in Nicaragua. Going all the way to Central America to race 15.5 miles seems a little odd for most people. However, given how awesome and unique this race is, (helping out the local communities as well as running on a volcanic island) it makes a little more sense why I am going.  Yet, there is another reason.

When I ran my 52 marathons in 2006 I scoured available resources to find all marathons run in order to make sure I hit an actual race every single weekend.  I became a student of the sport and tried to learn as much as I could from as many people as possible who knew infinite amounts more about running than I did. A bit of a geography nerd (which I devote a chapter to in my new book,) I was often drawn to the idea of running from places of significance to other places of significance. One area intrigued me greatly and I was surprised that I could not find a race that traversed the course I felt was a natural fit.

As the years have gone by, I have learned that often when I want to run somewhere, it is far easier not to wait for an actual race but to go and simply run there. While I love “racing” I very much love “running” – there is a significant difference, which I plan to explore in a future article. As such, knowing about this race in Nicaragua, I finally saw the opportunity to combine an excellent adventure with a years-old dream:

Run the Panama Canal.

So, a few days after finishing the Fuego I will drive down to Panama. As the morning sun breaks in the city of Colon, I will begin running from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea, really) and hopefully before the sun sets, will be dipping my toes in the Pacific in Panama City. Following the actual canal is, for all intents and purposes, impossible, but I will be running alongside of it for as much as I can.  Relatively speaking it is not that far of a distance.  But the iconic nature of running across one of the most marvelous and dangerous undertakings in the 20th century is enough to get me giddy.

I am presently trying to figure out how I can have people track my progress as I have zero intention of using my own phone and paying $5000 in roaming charges. However, I will be checking in when I can and taking oodles of pictures along the way.

Stay tuned for more!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Allstate Life Insurance 13.1 Los Angeles Preview

What was said: “Let’s have you run the course of the Allstate Life Insurance 13.1 Marathon® Los Angeles about a month before the race so runners can get a perspective of what the race will be like before they ever sign up.”

What I heard: “Run. LA. In December.”

Yes. Yes I will.

This is the third course of the 13.1 series I have lined up to run prior to the race actually being raced by those who registered (hopefully) and trained (hopefully again.) The three courses, (Atlanta and Dallas before this one here in Los Angeles,) could not be more different from each other.  Without a doubt, however, this course has a flavor to it unlike any other.

Starting out in Venice Beach, runners will begin a mile of running down the oh-so-famous Venice Beach boardwalk. Whether you have ever been to Venice Beach or not, you have undoubtedly seen it in movies or television. For me, my first memory of Venice will be Chevy Chase in "Fletch" roller skating down the boardwalk.

It is not without reason that one of the postcards promoting the 13.1 race in Los Angeles prominently displays famed street performer Harry Perry, adorned in his usual garb, but with a race number attached.

Filled with characters that no movie could invent and have audiences believe, Venice Beach has been a staple for counter-culture since counter-culture existed.  Jim Morrison and the Doors then; ridiculous amounts of “medical marijuana” bandied around now. Musicians of all types, lively locals, people with monkeys, people who are stranger than people with monkeys and more than the occasional celebrity sighting abound.

There is sand to your right. There are a plethora of stores with every possible garment and concoction you could possible imagine on your left. The sun is kissing your skin and the salty breeze from the Pacific Ocean fills your nose.  By the way, you haven’t even gone one mile yet.  Or made your first turn.

When you finally do make a turn, it is to run along the area of the city made to look like its namesake in Italy, the Venice Canals. These beautiful homes of varying styles and shapes, nestled against the canal make for a wonderful backdrop which could not be more different than the boardwalk you just left seconds ago. Opulence and wealth, fit in so comfortably with the airy still-prevalent hippie and carefree lifestyle feel.

Busting out of the canals, the next three miles take runners on a circumnavigation of Marina Del Rey. Rarely leaving sight of the marina, with hundreds of masts of ships just off to your side, there is always a reminder the nautical nature of this area of Los Angeles.  Up to this point, while the course has been relatively flat, there has been juuuust enough elevation change every once in awhile to give your legs the slightest bit of break.

In addition, as you will be running on a cordoned off street you will not do something idiotic like I did and run quadriceps-muscle first into a fire-hydrant.  (In my defense, given I was being filmed by two guys on a tandem bicycle, I was watching the traffic and potholes for them and not watching my own path. Let’s just say running 11 miles after you take yourself out with hardened steel is not an easy task.)

The next six miles of the course is simply fantastic. You begin with the type of running one would wish to have for a race in the land of beaches and it does not disappoint. After leaving Marina Del Rey, you run down the Ballona Creek Bike Path and onto the Ballona Creek Bridge to cross the, wait for it, Ballona Creek!

First up for runners after crossing the bridge is Lagoon Park and the first glimpses of the beautiful beaches that will comprise the remainder of your course. Winding along the bike path, the Pacific Ocean is now so close you can almost reach out and touch it. A gorgeously manicured beach, seemingly bereft of any sunbathers most of the time, looks like it was made just for this race. A small cliff wall off to your left separates the beach from Vista Del Mar and those lucky enough to have a house on the cliff overlooking the ocean.

Next up is Dockweiler Beach State Park where you begin the only thing that can be considered a climb for the remainder of the race. A mere thirty feet of upward motion over the next mile or so is done not only gradually but in a series of steps.  You will be hard-pressed to even notice the difference as the planes from LAX periodically take off overhead. If the morning fog is hanging low, as it often is, the planes are obscured enough that only the noise of their departure will be present.  It is as if the airport is serenading you as the revelry of engines emanates from the sky every half mile or so (pace dependent, of course.)

Before much longer you find yourself turning around to head back to the finish.  With barely a 5k to go you will be able to see the runners behind you on the bike path going to the exact place you just came from.  Entertainment on the course is in full force for these last six miles with bands aplenty to help entertain you - just in case, you know, the scenery, perfect weather and fast course are not enough.

The finish takes you right near the Del Rey Lagoon along the beach. The finish line will be festooned with a variety of foods and drinks to help those who have conquered their race kick back and enjoy the beach and revel in their accomplishments.   

As with every one of the races that I have run (and there have been many) created by the people at US Road Sports, this promises to be a top-notch first-rate event. Sure to produce fast times, I think you will be far more delighted running the course on race day than I was routing this course for you and I had a blast!
Best of luck!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Hangover Handicap Fun Run Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 7; 21st Edition 
408.6 miles run; 1.75 mile swam; 59 miles biked in 2012 races
Race: Hangover Handicap Fun Run
Place: Couer d'Alene
Miles from home: 383 miles
Weather: 20s; chilly

I went home to visit my mother, to what should be snowy Northwestern Pennsylvania weather, right before Christmas.  Instead, it was mostly warmish and drizzling. I got some great runs in along the course for the Drake Well Marathon that I thoroughly enjoyed. However, it did not feel or even look like winter without tons of snow on the ground.

Do not get me wrong, I am not the biggest fan of snow. But I want to see it during the holidays.  It reminds me of my youth and what the months of December and January (and sometimes February, March and parts of April) looked like. So I decided to book a quick little vacation to not only a beautiful town but a place where I could all but guarantee some snow. Starting in Coeur d'Alene, one of the gems of this country, I and my awesome travel partner Shannon, hit the road up to Cranbrook, British Columbia. 

Why Cranbrook?  Because it was the closest city of decent size, over the border into Canada where I could get a decent hotel for the night. It ends up that I found a city right near an absolutely gorgeous forest with a well-used but very secluded trail. 

You know you run a great deal when you are disappointed that the main trail is only about four miles long.  I laughed thinking that non-runners would be more than satisfied with that length of walking but as a runner, you immediately go into planning more as to how you can get more. Nevertheless, we found some gorgeous landscape, cold weather and the snow I was looking for.  After that it was back to Couer d'Alene.

After some gambling at a casino near CDA that left a little to be desired (the blackjack tables were electronic - if I wanted to do that I could play at home on the computer) thoughts went to finding a race the next morning. Well, in the next few hours, actually, as it was now after midnight.  As CDA is a great exercise community I was sure one could be found and sure enough the Hangover Handicap Fun Run was the one we chose. The race benefited Tesh, Inc a private, not-for-profit organization whose core purpose is to offer choices and opportunities to people of all ages seeking greater independence, self-sufficiency, and participation in their community - even better. $12 for the registration, no chip time, no bib numbers and just an great overall feeling of runner camaraderie.

I checked out the course and as coincidence would have it, the race would be run on the exact same waterfront that I had just serendipitously decided to run the afternoon before.  Nestled on the Centennial Trail on the shores of Lake Coeur d'Alene, a simple 2.5 mile out and back was what the race offered.  It also offered some slippery ice along the way and a very deceptive uphill finish, but it was still pretty wonderful.

My goal for the race was to simply start off the year right by pushing myself enough to see how my leg was recovering from running into a fire hydrant a few weeks prior. hopefully this would be a good barometer for the rest of 2013 as I make some transitions into the triathlon word and "shorter" distance racing. The ice on the course definitely made for some tiptoeing and slowed many of us down here and there but altogether the race was divine. Seeing all the runners behind you on this narrow bike path was exhilirating as hundreds of people got out of bed on a cold morning to kick off the New Year.

I was fortunate enough to push out a decent time of around 33:29 to finish tenth place overall.  Shannon crushed a personal best coming in right around 45 minutes.  Having never run on snow or ice in her life she was definitely more than a little cautious on some of the terrain.

Within a few hours, I had caught a flight back home to Portland, where 40 degrees felt like summer weather. (The coldest we felt in British Columbia was 9, which to tell the truth, I was a little disappointed with. Come on, Canada!) One day into the year and I had already run a race, flew on a plane and was still going to sleep in my own bed.

As 2013 opens before me, with some pretty epic plans in the works, I look forward to all that is in store for me. Here's to a wonderful year to you as well.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013 Active at Altitude Running Camp

After an extremely successful first year of working together I am more than happy to announce that I will be joining Terry Chiplin again this spring to put on a camp at his Active at Altitude location in Estes Park, Colorado. Held from Sunday, May 19 to Friday, May 24 2013, this camp is open to runners of all abilities and combines not only physical training at high altitude but explores the mental aspect of running as well.

In my camp this past May, I had the great fortunate to spend time with a diverse group of people who were able to bring differing abilities and personalities to the camp. (Read more about this past year’s camp here.)

On top of the advice and training Terry and I brought to camp, we were also visited by other local running legends who added their own unique slants to the week.  In addition, we broke up the running with tons of good meals and lively discussion.  To keep things fresh, the campers even went rock-climbing where many overcame fear of heights and the unknown to challenge themselves in ever-differing ways.

In 2013, we plan to build on the success of this camp to put together an even more challenging and event-filled week. However, we will keep in place the aspects which have been proven to work for all campers: hard work, high altitude and positive attitudes.  Hard to beat the beautiful scenery in Estes Park and the easy runnable trails.

We have already confirmed as guest speakers are Patrick Rizzo. Patrick, who recently took 13th place at the 2012 US Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials, offers extremely poignant perspectives about the life of an elite runner in today’s world. I have had the pleasure of talking with Patrick extensively and look forward to having him be part of the camp.

I can't wait to have you there as well, helping us create an even better camp in 2013. The Active at Altitude brand that Terry has bene cultivating for years is one that is tried and true and I am excited to be back in Estes Park again in 2013.

Register in advance!