Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Get Off the Sidelines

When I left the corporate world over five years ago, I did so in direct contrast to everything that had led me to that point previously. College begat grad school which begat interviews with governmental agencies which begat…52 Marathons in one year? Where in the heck did that come from? Wait, you are now moving to Utah and taking a huge pay cut to take a job in the running world? And now that job was rubbish so you are going to work for yourself? Yep.

This was not done fearlessly. For those who applaud my braveness in taking on the unknown, I am quick to tell them that half of my decisions were simply reactions to things out of my control. I am rigid but I can adapt. Both attributes have been paramount to my steadfast decision to never work an ordinary job again. Curveballs would only begin to describe what has been thrown at me as I have done my best to move forward.

Very little of it has been easy yet here, where I am now, it is obviously worth it. If I had known it would take this long and all I had to do was persevere it would have been a cakewalk.  But that’s the point: we rarely, if ever, know when the payoff of what we work for will be. So we soldier on, hoping sometimes against hope that what we seek is just around that next corner.  Here an obligatory passage about enjoying the journey on the way to the end is too easy and would be a smidgen trite. We all know we should stop and smell the roses. I am hardly need to tell you this. And sometimes, honestly, those roses stink.

Focusing on a goal and sinking our teeth into it deeply all while shrugging off the stings of arrows is what gets many of us through each tough day. You cannot do so while ignoring all that happens around you but being aware and reacting is different from knowing and being distracted. If you have a goal, and you think it is worthwhile, then do not let anyone or anything stand in your way.

Life, like running, rarely rewards those who sit on the sidelines.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Publix Georgia Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 5th Edition 
1 mile skied, 5 miles biked and 49.3 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Publix Georgia Half Marathon
Place: Atlanta, GA
Miles from home: 2593 miles
Weather: 50s; sunny

This is the third straight year I have taken part in a race of some nature at the Georgia Marathon, running the half in 2010 and then 5k last year. It was also a very quick trip for me, at least when it comes to time spent in town. One of the things about moving to Portland is the extra hour and a half of flight travel to most destinations.  This is definitely adding to my time spent in transit but also increasing my frequent flyer miles. Good and bad, I guess.  I landed in the evening on Thursday and barely had enough time to grab a bit to eat before I was ready to crash.  I had only been home for 72 hour from the last weekend's excursion before jetting here to Atlanta.

Ah, expos. I love you and I hate you.  This is where I get to interact with people, meet new friends, see old ones and learn and give advice.  But my oh my are you exhausting. I never thought that sitting and talking could be so tiresome until I did it. You speak to others who have worked an expo and you all share this knowing glance.  This is going to be a long day. But I am thankful for the opportunity and excited to see so many people. Just a little side note: I do have a rather good memory but if I haven't seen you in three years and you have changed various hairstyles or waist sizes, please remember that you don't have a big sign behind your head telling me who YOU are.  Give me a second and I am sure I will be able to remember far more about you than you know about me!

Unlike two years ago when I was flying out the door mere seconds before the race started, I was ready and at the race with plenty of time.  I had more or less crashed in my bed after the Saturday expo at a time I think I last went to sleep when I was 13 years old. This rest did not exactly rejuvenate me but without it I know climbing the hills of the course would have been rather daunting.

As I positioned myself where I felt I would be time-wise, I really had no idea what time I really had in me. It is only very recently I have felt like a runner again and this was not the course I wished to test my luck upon when it comes to time. Eighty-seven minutes would be great. Eighty-six would be even better. Let's just see what the day had in store, shall we.

First four miles: 6:18, 6:24, 6:48, 6:57

I remembered from running this race two years ago that the first two miles are usually right about on pace and then for whatever reason the next two miles seem long.  Granted some of the bigger hills are in this section but you would think you are still fresh enough to overcome that. I knew, however, my time would be a little slower on any uphill as I flat out wasn't going to push it too hard. There might be a medal at the end and catered drink and directional service but this race really was just a longer run that other people could see the result of instantly. So I stuck to my plan of running the downhills hard and easing off on the uphills.

Now if you want to know anything about this race, then you will know there is very little time you spend running on even flat ground.  You are either hiking up or flying back down some hill or another. I don't know how man hills there are exactly in this half marathon but someone told me that they counted 58 times when they went up a hill in the marathon.  Oof.

Miles 5-9: 20:11, 6:39

Apparently my mind went blank over the next three miles as each time I forgot to hit my watch to get the split at the mile marker.  In fact, one of the times I think I stopped the watch completely before restarting it at the next mile. Given how easy my Timex RunTrainer is to operate I really have no excuse other than user error.

By this point I was right where I feel most comfortable in a race - with no one around me.  I usually do not like people around me as it tends to throw off my pace.  When someone is hanging onto my shoulder letting me take the wind or set the effort, it irks me a little bit.  But here, right around a 1:26 pace for the half, I felt comfortable.  I felt very comfortable actually. To hit a time in the 1:26s after travel, working an expo etc on these hills would feel mighty fine.  I was running by myself and able to think about a lot of things, as I often do while running.

As we continued to go up and down, through vibrant crowds decked out in the St. Patty's gear, I got lots of cheers for my bright green Craft shirt and Karhu Flow Trainer 3. The last name might be Rauschenberg but I have an entire maternal side of Irish flowing through my veins.  (Ironically, with that make-up, I don't like alcohol.  Go figure.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Old Running Memories - Blossom Time Run

Back while I was in law school, I began running races.  A little 5k here and there with the one near-disastrous first marathon throw in for good measure. I don't give much thought to the those shorter distance races from that time period, even though it is not intentional.

Looking over some unrelated papers from around that time period last night with a good friend my memory was jogged (ha) about a race I did three consecutive years with some friends in the greater Cleveland area.  Called the Blossom Time Run, it was an odd-distance 5.25 mile race in Chagrin Falls, always right around my birthday. I remembered running it twice but when looking for the results, was shocked to find out I had indeed run thrice. Memories began flooding back to me about this course and those races.

I remember the race more or less shutting down the entire city of Chagrin Falls as well over 1000 people ran it in the years I did (2000-2002.)  I recall the race being rather hilly for the two miles or so while sloping down to the finish with rolling hills the rest of the way. The paper entry form also contained the course map of such a rudimentary throwback nature you could not help but love it.  In fact, here are the course directions:

"Walkers turn right on South Street, while the runners continue out on Chagrin Road to their first right on Catsden, down to County Lane turning right, up to S. Franklin St., turning right again to the finish."

That's it. Now, you have to remember I was in law school all three years I ran this race.  So when reading it I wondered if there was a second left on Catsden or was this just the first right we could make? Does County Lane turn right and we follow it or does it continue on and we make the turn?  Will Franklin Street be up a hill or is the midwest version of "up" meaning either "north" or just "continue along"? Why right "again" to the finish?  Needless to say I had so many darn questions.

One thing was for sure and that was I was indoctrinated into how, as many runners get older, they get better. Some memories:

*In 2001, at the age of 24, I ran this 5.25 miler in a time of 34:56 at a 6:39 place.  I took 84th place overall and finished third in my age group. I distinctly remember that both guys who beat me were 25 years old and would be moving up an age group.

*In 2002, at the age of 25, I improved greatly running a 33:07 at a 6:18 pace.  However, one dark horse youngster came out of nowhere to steal first place in my age group and I settled for second. Drat.

*In 2003, besting my previous year with a 32:59 at age 26 (I pushed so darn hard to go under 33 minutes that I remember dry-heaving), only left me with a disappointing 5th place in my new tougher age group. I used to have video of this and probably still do somewhere.  Unfortunately, it is on actual "tape" and lord knows if it has degraded over time. That last little uphill was a killer.

* I also vividly recall my best friend Scott Baker, the one who introduced me to the race, running a time slightly slower in his second year than the first before knocking a full minute off in the third year. Then promptly saying he was never running again. (Not true by the way.)

I am happy to see the race is in its 37th running this year. Even with chip-timing the race is done for a measly $20 at its registration. When was the last time you paid $20 for a race?  I am pretty sure you also get a t-shirt (or did when we ran.) and there were clocks at every mile.

 I do hope to get back to it sometime. It would be a great test of fitness to see where I stand now.  By all accounts I should be able to run close to 31 minutes or so. It would be fun too know that a decade later I am still getting faster on some courses.

That is what is so wonderful about this sport of running. I see why people go and run the same courses year after year.  It is not my bag to do that all the time as I love seeing the country and exploring all the wonderful races that the world has to offer.  But familiarity and being able to compare yourself against the years aare too wonderful yardsticks.

What do you say, Scott? Wanna shoot for 2014?

Friday, March 15, 2013

X-Trifecta Winter Triathlon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 4th Edition 
1 mile skied, 5 miles biked and 36.2 miles run in 2013 races
Race: X-Trifecta Winter Triathlon
Place: Macungie, PA
Miles from home: 2837 miles
Weather: 40s-50s; bright sunshine

Diversify. It is good to do in life and it is good to do in racing.  It is also good to have an idea what you are getting into when you do.

I took on the X-Trifecta winter triathlon this past weekend.  I did not do so lightly, per se, but I did not do so with the full knowledge needed to do well.  More accurately, I did not take on the event with the full skills needed to do well.

The X (that's what I am calling it for this recap)  is a triathlon different than virtually every other race out there.  Starting off with a ski or snowboard portion, athletes then take on a technical (pay attention to that word) mountain bike course, followed by a trail run following much of that same course. It would behoove you to actually have skied before in your life but even more so to have done some mountain biking before taking this event on.  I had done neither. Ever.

To be honest, my focus for the last few months was on a few other events, more specifically getting myself ready for a running across of Panama which got postponed. The challenging Fuego Y Agua 25k in Nicaragua left me barely enough time to recover and start to run well again before the X popped up. I knew the skiing portion would be tough and my theory was that rather than try to take a couple of lessons, it might be best to just throw myself into it and hope to make it down the hill upright.  With just 3/4 of a mile, mostly downhill, how difficult could it be? Stop laughing.

My friend Jessica, in the same boat when it came to skiing and mountain biking accompanied me to the race. Her attitude of simply just trying something new and challenging was virtually the same as mine. When we got the hotel we were both staying at to meet with the race directors, we found they were about to start putting together the packets for the race.  Not ones to idly stand by, we pitched in and had the packets thrown together in no time.  I received final instructions on where my bike, helmet, skis, poles, boots and everything else would be on race morning and began to feel for the first time I may have bitten off a little more than I was ready to chew.  No turning back now.

Race morning:

Getting to the event locale with plenty of time, I realized that while a typical triathlon requires a great deal more planning than a simple footrace, one of this nature takes even more. In addition, as the slopes of Bear Creek Mountain Resort loomed behind us, it was more than a little humbling to see 3 year olds swooshing down hills I know I would easily faceplanted upon if I tried. But before long, all the gear was in its appropriate place and it was time to put the skis on for the first time - you know, about five minutes before hurtling down a hill.

Jessica and I were seeded in the same wave of skiers and we slid across the 20 feet of snow to the chairlift to begin the ride to the top. This was interesting to say the least.  Once on the lift, we only later learned that we had not put down the safety bar to keep us from falling out. Someone might have wanted to tell us that.  As we rode to the top, we watched the people going down, jokingly saying this was going to be our ski lesson. I hoped in that brief ride I would be able to glean some semblance of wisdom to keep me upright.

When we hit the top I told Jessica we would have to do a small hop off of the chairlift seat and then slide down the small ramp. Let's just say she wasn't quite ready for this. Next thing I know, I got a ski in the back and was sent sprawling.  Poor Jessica was about to head back down the hill on the chairlift before the operator stopped it.  She unceremoniously fell off of the chair, the whole time worrying that she had hurt me.  I was completely fine but worrying the same about her.  I had landed in the snow where she had sort of slithered down some wooden stairs. While the attendants were nice enough, they seemed more annoyed than anything. I guess most people don't go up a chairlift without ever having had skis on before.  They seemed perplexed that we had never skied previously but helped us get over to the starting line. A few minutes would pass and soon it would be our time to go.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I'm Not Going Barefoot

It matters to me not if you run barefoot.

I honestly could not possibly care less. If it works for you to not run in ANY shoe ever again, it affects me in no way, shape or form. Actually, that is incorrect. If it gets you out running pain-free and allows you to enjoy the sport you no longer were able to enjoy because shoes appeared to be the bane of your existence, then it does affect me, because I am now happy you are out running again. But holy mackerel please do not try to convert me.

I have now spent a great deal of time scientifically researching the human body when it comes to how it works while in motion. I have questioned runners of all calibers and speeds. I have friends in the medical field in every discipline (doctors, nurses, massage therapists, etc.) who know way more than me about the mechanics of running and how my muscles work than I could ever hope to. Yet even these friends, who are all very learned and make their living knowing about the human body, can disagree on seemingly the most simple of things.

I do know, very well, what works for me, or at least what has worked in the past and will hopefully work in the future. If whatever I am doing stops working, I will modify what I am doing in hopes of making it feel right again. But if what is working is indeed working, why would I wish to change it?

Often studies are shown to me by the barefoot running aficionados of how shoes have hindered runners and caused injuries. I have said I am extremely sorry for those runners and wish they could run pain-free. But they are not me. I have run 142 marathons, pushing myself in almost every single one of them and have averaged under 3:20 (including time-skewing upward marathons like Leadville and Pikes Peak). Fifty-two of those were done in one year without a hint of injury. Furthermore, I have run all of the nearly 20 million feet of those marathons in running shoes. That doesn’t even count the training, half-marathons, 5Ks, and running to catch airplanes.

Chances are the next million or so feet will be traversed in running shoes as well. I have dabbled in minimalist running shoes and remember the days of super clunky shoes in the 1990s. I have tried the trends and fads as I always wish to be experimenting lest I leave behind something important. But after years of one thing working with unequivocal success, I will stay shod.

So, while I appreciate how much running barefoot has done for you, please remember as the wonderful Dr. George Sheehan said: “We are all an experiment of one.” In other words, we have to find what works for us. No one can run the race for you and only your own legs will propel you forward.

And for the time being, my legs will end in rubberized soles.

Monday, March 4, 2013

1981 Cascade Run Off

Last week, I went to a viewing of the 1981 Cascade Run Off but on by Run Portland.  If you don't know what this race is, well, you should.  Not should in the "runners are the bestest and you should know the history of every little tiny race that ever existed" type of should.  But should in the "it more or less effects every single aspect of sporting events in the United States since its running."

So what makes the Cascade Run Off so memorable? Well, for the first time, runners openly accepted prize money, ringing the death knell of what was known as shamateurism. It is hard for many to believe today that there was an era, let alone decades, of time when people could not compete openly for money in whatever sport they wished. However, with Olympic glory more or less being the only way many athletes (especially runners) had any chance of making any sort of living whatsoever off of their abilities, runners had to do everything they could to make sure their ability to run in those games wasn't taken away from them. Openly accepting any sort of prize money would be one way to all but guarantee a lifetime ban.

When the runners who came to this race decided to do so, they knew full well what the potential dangers were.  They knew this could mean they would never race in an Olympic games again and any shot at representing their countries at home or abroad as a runner would be done. What was special about this reviewing (and those wishing to watch some grainy film that feels about 30 years older than the 30 years it is can find online) was the race director of the Cascade Run Off, Chuck Galford was there to give us some history of the race, especially the epic 1981 running. It is one thing to listen to those who have heard secondhand what went down- it is another to listen to the man responsible for the race existing.

I have personally been fortunate enough to talk to two key components at length about that day's events.  Bill Rodgers, who took fourth overall, once shared some interesting perspectives on that day as we went for a run in Pittsburgh a few years back. Anne Audain, who won the women's race, filled me in on a great deal of her personal feelings about the race when we met in Boise back in 2010. 

Without a doubt, the boycott of the 1980s Olympics by Jimmy Carter fueled an ever-burgeoning balloon of amateur athletes who were against the ability to make a buck off their talents.  Robbed of what was for many, their only shot to compete, they saw little reasons to worry about what the downside would be.  With races exploding in numbers and more people running than ever before, the time seemed right to take a stand.

Unintended implications can now be seen emblazoned on shirts like "In my dreams I am a Kenyan."  When elite runners from other countries saw that a few big paychecks could more or less fund not only their training but sometimes the training, food, schools and virtually entire livelihood of some villages, the entire landscape of running changed.  When people wonder what happened to American runners in the past three decades and how until only very recently have we become to be competitive again, they needn't look much past that warm day in June in Portland. There are obviously other factors which contributed to a lull in American dominance but when the talent pool increases, matters become different.

Regardless, to think that such things like NBA stars in the Olympics and paychecks for elite runners which allow them to not have to work 40 hours in a retail store (while the latter still is far too prevalent) can more or less trace their roots back to a 15k held in the Pacific Northwest, it is good to know a little bit about that race.

(For more info I suggest checking out this great Running Times article from two years ago.)

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Wonderfulness of the Track

While for many, the winter is not the time to talk about track workouts, I have recently received a few questions about what I think about hitting the oval, so I felt I would share my viewpoint. Here it is: I stand by track workouts for every racing distance. Period.

My lifestyle these days is different from most of my friends. However, a few years ago I had a normal office job. I commuted to work alone. Once there (as the first one in the office), I would go to my corner office and work. The company I worked for had very few employees. I rarely ate lunch out of the office, using my lunch hour to work out and almost always carrying my lunch. (The latter saves so much money that it is ridiculous. People wonder how I could afford to run 52 marathons in one year. I swear that little money-saver alone paid for half of it.) I would then commute back home alone. So I rarely actually saw other humans during the workday.

At the track, however, even though there is little talking going on (if you are talking you are not working out hard enough) there is still interaction. Being with other runners, learning about their races, hearing the inevitable litany of injuries, (some real, most imagined) is the juice that helps many of us get over what can often be a solo sport.

My life has changed since my office days. Until race weekend, I see even less people than I used to with the office job. I enjoy running most of my miles alone.  Or perhaps I have realized that when I have time to run I will be running alone and therefore have adapted. Regardless, I thoroughly look forward to the simple social aspect of hitting the track and being amongst others who are pursuing similar goals.

But more important than the social aspect, is the exact science of the track. There are definite splits. No needing to guess how far you have run. You know it. Every lap is 400 meters. There is no way around it. No stoplights exist to give you a break, there is no traffic to avoid (impolite walkers in lane one notwithstanding) and a soft forgiving surface rests at your feet. Exactitude, I like to call it. Too tired to do miles? Well, push hard on some 800s. Looking to blow some gunk out of the gaskets? Let it all fly on some 200s. Do as many as you want, as hard as you want of any distance. You are never far from your gear, water or anything else you may need in case you absolutely must stop.

The track gives you a chance to run fast. Everyone likes to run fast. No one actually wishes to run slower. And there is something about the track that makes it okay to actually want to be as fast as you can. You are not showing anyone up by blowing past them on the track. It is just fine to want to chug away as hard as you can. No one thinks you an elitist because you have the need for speed.

Moreover, runners of all distances whom I have spoken to, worked with, and run alongside swear by track workouts as a way to increase their strength, speed and enjoyment for the sport. You don’t need to actually ever run a single race on a track (although I highly suggest you do) to get benefits from what these track workouts will do for you. Often I have heard about “training like a miler to run a fast marathon.”

The benefits of this little, often orange, oval are nearly limitless. It should definitely be an arrow in any runner’s quiver.