Friday, December 23, 2016

A Marathon in 49 States - Boycotting North Carolina

Before I ran my 52 Marathons in 52 Weekends, I had thought of running a marathon in every state.  Not in one year. Just over my life. I had always wanted to see as much of the world as possible and I thought this would be the best way to do so. I also felt it might be novel and new. But when I researched it further, I saw dozens, if not hundreds, of people had already completed the task. As such, "just" finishing a marathon in each state lost its luster.  In fact, "just" finishing any marathon has lost some of its luster. I long ago became completely unenamored with simply completing a marathon. (Of course, ask me at mile 24 of any marathon and "just" finishing is usually all I want to do!)  My point is, I want to do more than cover the distance and collect my shiny bauble.  I want to race as fast as possible and give it my all.

With the resident of L'Arche Mobile.
As time has gone on, I have cultivated a following and my words reach more than the average running Joe. I realized this when I garnered a few detractors. Ones who created web-pages about me, tried to derail my speaking career, and were all-around crapweasals.  However, as they say, you don't get haters if you aren't important enough to be hated. With that knowledge, I knew I could do good with my feet. Not just raising money and "awareness" (a word which has begun to lost all meaning) or by being an "ambassador" for a product (see my thoughts on that here) but rather by doing more.  By speaking to children about obesity. By reaching out to homeless and the downtrodden.  By trying to bring people together by standing up for rights and common decency and morals and ethics.

Doing so has cost me money, sponsorship, and other lucrative partnerships. My staunch disgust for Donnie Trump and all those who support him has cost me "fans" as well. I'm fine with that. But much of what those of us who rant about this orange sack of rancid pus and those like him do is just rhetoric. Our actions matter most.

Currently, while Trump's puerile yet dangerous ridiculousness is eating up our bandwidth, there are other transgressions going on in states around the nation. Texas is trying to require abortion clinics to bury or cremate fetal remains. Ohio is trying to band abortion after 6 weeks. But right now, it is North Carolina which is doing everything it can to be the most repugnant state out there. From it's governor first failing to concede a vote he lost by over 10,000 votes, to illegal racial gerrymandering, to the transgender bathroom bill, to...Christ, I can't even list them all.  Basically, the Tar Hell State has given up on democracy.

The last race I ran in NC. A 100 miler.
Well, fine. North Carolina - I give up on you.  I have run a marathon in 49 states. While it has never been the most pressing of my goals, I would very much like to complete one in all 50. The only state I am missing? You guessed it! All together now: North Carolina. But until North Carolina gets its act together, my self (and my money) will not race in the state. No race fees, no hotels, no food, no gas, no rental cars, nothing. I know many good people in the state and this will affect them. I am sorry for that. But those people need to get rid of their elected officials. And convince those who care about them to get rid of those elected official. And convince those who don't care about them, but do care about money, to get rid of those elected officials.

Runners are some of the most affluent subsets of the population out there. Our dollars speak. Make them speak loudly. Join me in boycotting the state until they return it to the hands of the people. All the people. Not just the white people. Not just the rich people. Not just the straight people.

All.

The.

People.

Until that happens, I will sit at 49 states with a marathon run and never venture further. It might be something small but avalanches are started by the accumulation of small snowflakes.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Crystal Serenity Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 16th Edition 
198.2 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Crystal Serenity Marathon
Place: Willemstad, CuraƧao
Miles from home: 2255
Weather: 80s-90s; sunny; humid

The best-laid plans…

When asked by Crystal Cruise to run the first official-measured and sanctioned marathon on a cruise ship, I had a number of concerns. Knowing Crystal is a premiere top-shelf cruise line I wanted to make sure what “official” and “marathon” meant to them. With marathons springing up around the nation (and the world) at an alarming rate, I did not want this to be just roughly 26.2 miles around the luxurious deck.  If so, well, we had already done that in 2014 when I sailed with them from Chile to Tahiti.  When I learned they were getting their boat’s running deck measured and sanctioned by USATF, I knew they meant business. So I said, let's do it!


As part of my trip on Crystal would also include being a guest lecturer, we had to find the day which would work best for all involved. Personally, as I wanted to control as much of the run as possible, I was hoping to get the marathon accomplished as soon as we left port. In addition, I thought it would be best to get it done before I visited the islands of Grand Cayman and Jamaica. That way no weird issues with food would happen that might potentially fell the effort. Plus, I would be as close to running the marathon as possible to when I left home, eliminating all of the other concerns the usual traveling marathoner has to do deal with. Unfortunately for me, it worked better with the schedule to have me running the marathon the day after the visit to the islands.

As the day I thought would be ideal passed with the calmest of seas possible, I thought perhaps this would continue throughout. However, after leaving Ocho Rios, Jamaica and beginning our trip at sea, the weather turned almost immediately. The evening before my marathon the wind picked up.  The waves got choppy. To quote George Constanza “the sea was angry that day, my friends.” I got barely a wink of sleep as the rocking of the boat, which I am sure was turning many green and would have normally lulled me to sleep, kept me up hoping it would finally subside.

When I woke to start prep for the race, I turned on the ship’s TV to get the info on the outside weather. I already knew it was going to be warm. We were in the Caribbean. So the 80+ degrees was not surprising. The 49 knot winds, however, were. Egads.

I dressed and went down to the deck where the two members who were certifying the course for USATF, Phil and Paula, were waiting.  In addition, Scott, another marathoner who works for Crystal who I met in Miami many years ago and actually was the one who set this up, was looking a little forlorn. Phil and I met has a race he puts on in Santa Clarita some 8 years ago and it was nice to have them all here. The serene nature of all three however, belied what was ahead for me. Well, they are all British after all, so good luck getting much emotion out of them either way.

The said it was a “mite bit windy” and perhaps I should give it a test run. As I turned and ran into the wind, I could tell this would make for a tough day.  Then I hit the bow of the boat.

WHOOOOOSH!

At 6’1’’ and 180 lbs, I was stood straight up and nearly stopped in my tracks.  My sunglasses blew off my face and the air was knocked out of me. I powered through and the wind carried me to the stern of the ship where the previous biggest obstacle lay. (I will get to that in a minute.)  I finished the lap and to test it out again did another. It got even worse. I told the three that if I had to, I could do it.  It might be dangerous and it would definitely be slow, but I would.  However, if I had my druthers, I would like to try again the next day.  This seemed to be the answer they were expecting and it was 100% accepted.  Within seconds I was back to my stateroom and trying to figure out what to do with myself. I had planned my meals and my resting and my tapering to run on this day. Now what to do?  It is one thing to change a lecture or a speech or even a smaller distance race.  But to change the day of a marathon? That is something else entirely.

As the morning and afternoon rocked by with the winds barely abating, I knew I made the right choice.  I just had to weather this wind and hope that the next day would be better.  You see, the next day was the last chance we had to use Phil and Paula’s services as they had to disembark in Curacao to head home. So it was do or die.  Hopefully the former.

More than just postponing the marathon it was postponing my routine.  I had taken two days off before the marathon, as is my norm. This extra day off, however, immediately made me feel lethargic. In addition, there were zero signs of the winds slowing all day long.  As I went to bed, the boat was still be tossed side to side as the hull cut through 50 knot winds. I went to bed hoping against hope.

When 5 a.m. rolled around I turned on the ship’s TV to confirm what I already knew: nothing had changed. I met the mates on the deck of the ship and could see they agreed. The said to go back to bed and hopefully, when we got into harbor in 90 minutes, things would be better. It felt like I had no sooner laid my head on the pillow than my phone rang. Scott told me it was go time.  I could see if that it was a little before 7 am and the sun was fully shining. Exactly what I had tried to battle against using my knowledge from running on the previous ship.  With a lit deck, I could run at any time of the day or night.  But now it was warm and sunny. This might be a long day.

I quickly got ready and headed down to the 7th deck promenade.  By 7:20, less than half an hour after I had woken up, I was underway.  What a way to try and run 26.2 miles.

The course was simple if not easy. I would run about half the length of the ship to start. Then from that halfway point, each loop would begin. Piece of cake, right? Just do this 89 times and garner a Guinness world record.

For the first six miles, things went relatively smoothly. I knew that I was not going to go nearly as fast as I had hoped with the starting temperature being 84 degrees – more or less the temperature they stop, or "black flag" most marathons. The only bad thing in the beginning, and it was bad, was the smoke.

No, the ship was not on fire.  Rather, you see, the crew members and deck hands of Crystal Cruise enjoy their breaks in the foremost front of the ship, away from virtually everyone else. They are also often from countries of the old Eastern Bloc of other far flung places. Unfailingly polite, very nice to be around and a pleasure to talk to, they have also not apparently gotten the memo about the whole cigarettes cause cancer thing. So, every time I made it to the front of the ship, I got to inhale smoke.  Yes this was outdoors. Yes, this was in a vastly open space.  But, and I have known this my entire life – I have the wimpiest lungs possible. Out of the factory mine we hardly made of hearty stock. I know even the slightest provocation means they are not happy. So, while I was clicking away loops, I was also dreading going to the front of the ship every single time. This does not help the mental state at all.

Nevertheless, I had run, almost like a metronome, 2:12 laps every single lap for the first 6 miles (it look 3.39 laps to make a mile, FYI.) As we approached 9 am, the time I had originally planned on finishing, there were more guests out and about exercising. Many had gotten up at the crack of dawn both days to cheer me on from their staterooms and had seemed as disappointed as I about the wind.  Thy had also been very kind to allow me to have the deck virtually to myself during times when many of them would go for a stroll.  However, many assumed I started at six in the morning so here, three hours later, they thought I would be done.  As such, I spent a great deal of the next six miles being very mindful of other guests and making sure not to inadvertently take out a septuagenarian. Many took pictures of me as I passed by or did a selfie when I looped behind them.  At this juncture I still had energy to make silly faces.  I hope they enjoyed it!

Suddenly, a storm came in and began to drench the passengers, myself and the deck.  I began to curse inwardly as a slick wooden deck was the last thing I needed. Moreover, I knew what would come after the Caribbean rainstorm would pass. A stifling humidity.  In addition, the rain wasn't even remotely cooling. Rather, all it did was increase potential for chafing, make me shoes soaked, add puddles to the deck and make me a whiny little runner.  One positive of this torrential downpour was that it drove everyone else inside. The deck was mine to run freely.  Hoping the storm would last maybe 40 minutes and keep the sun at bay, I was disappointed when it barely last 10. Then the humidity came.

As the ship was positioned, I spent half of the loop running in the sun and the other half in the shade.  The problem with the shade was that is an absolute dead zone. No air moved. It felt stagnant. I recalled this oddity from my previous run on the cruise ship when I was befuddled how one could be out in the air yet still feel closed in. There were also little further oddities to deal with. For example, I am unsure if there are certain air conditioning vents or ducts that are part of a normal operation of a boat, but I often felt like I could taste or smell pockets of air which differed from the rest.  Normally, this means nothing on a run as you pass by.  But the whole 89 laps things.

More importantly, I could tell that the rain, the multiple turns, and perhaps just bad luck, had caused med to have a cut on my right Achilles tendon. Knowing that there was no way I could finish with this worsening, I told Shannon, my best friend and guest on this cruise, to go to the stateroom, grab some new socks and my pair of Karhu triathlon shoes which have a very low cut. A few laps later I was sitting on a bench changing socks and shoes. You know, as you usually do in the middle of a race.

Regardless of the heat, and my laps creeping closer and closer to three minutes per,  as I approached 20 miles it still looked like I would keep my marathon time under 3:30. Far from ideal but not the most horrible of times, all things considered. I had ran most of the miles without a shirt as I had been drenched in sweat since about five steps in. Given how self-conscious I am about running with a shirt off, Shannon told me she knew how hot I must have been. Here I take two seconds to say that without my best friend handing me towels, forcing me to pull ice cold water over my head to cool my core, and knowing exactly what beverage I needed exactly when I needed it, I might not have even made it to 20 miles intact. A runner is only as good as his crew and I have the best out there.

Previously, the only time I really slowed was at the back of the boat.  I mentioned this previously as an obstacle and let me elaborate further. The other cruise ship I had run on with Crystal had a different stern portion. It was open and wide and I could make the turn easily.  The Serenity, however, had two open stairwells which cut into a runner's ability to cut each turn tight. I had done a few runs on the ship prior to the race and suffice it to say I found my overall pace slowed greatly here. For math's sake, I lost about three seconds on the back of the boat each loop.  Over the course of the marathon that is close to five minutes! Talk about adding up. Unfortunately, as I went over twenty miles, the back of the boat wasn't the only place I was slowing .

With 20 laps to go, or just a shade under 6 miles, I thought I had a fullproof plan. Unfortunately, fools often outwits those plans. Nevertheless, I thought if I could just do four sets of 5 loops, taking a one minute break after each set to sit on a bench, douse myself in ice water and move on, it would keep me still in a decent time. One set of loops went fine. However, halfway through the next set, I had to stop and sit. Then virtually every loop had me stopping on the homestretch as I came out of the shadow of the ship and into the intense magnifying heat of the sun on the starboard side.  It baked me. It cooked me. It simply sapped my will to move forward. My loops were now taking four minutes to complete as I even had to walk on the shaded side as well.

Finally, with five loops to go, I had had enough.  At the bow of the boat, I tried to use the shadow of the boat to propel me into what I hoped would just be 12-15 minutes of running to close out the day.  Cramps in my leg from dehydration had other plans. Shooting from my ankle to my calf to my quad, the pain was so sharp and intense that it made me woozy. I couldn’t keep a level head unless I made my body level. So down on the deck I went. Almost immediately, crew members were on me asking me if I was alright. I tried to assure them all it was not a head wound or overall woosiness causing me to lay down but just a leg cramp. But soon more members were called. Then a EMT. Then the ship doctor and all of my people involved with this race. I kept assuring them I was fine but soon they were taking my blood pressure and pulse and everything else. I told them I just had 3.5 miles to go and…is that a wheelchair?!  No, no, no, no.  I am not getting in that. Nor am I taking any IV fluids.  I didn’t push through this hell to be stopped short in the last mile. With some help from others, I was pulled to my feet. I swallowed my pride after lying on the ground for over ten minutes and realized finishing was all that mattered.  Any “good” time had long since passed.

I sauntered the last three loops with the ship doctor, himself a marathoner (and also seemingly wanting to let me know constantly that he too had runs lots of marathons) and Shannon who keep an ice cold towel on my neck. One loop turned into two and then finally I was on the last loop. I knew there were people waiting so when I turned onto the home stretch, I tried a feeble attempt at running to break the finish line tape. So, 4:27:14 after I started, I had another new milestone in my pocket. (Official time being verified.)

Was it the time I wanted?  Obviously not. But in my first marathon as a Master’s runner, and my 153rd slowest out of 158 total marathons, I had set out to do what I was asked to do. A huge round of thanks goes out to Crystal Cruise and Scott Douglass for putting this all together. To both Phil and Paula for measuring the course and making it official as well as timing it as well.  To Shannon I definitely extend my most heartlfelt thanks because even as the weather got stifling (over 90 degrees when I finished) I knew I was in good hands with her nearby.

As I spoke on the cruise ship as well (this was a working vacation for me, not even counting the 89 and change laps round the ship) this event was a great example of showing how often things can go awry even when you plan as hard as you can.  I jokingly told the audience that my intention was to run very slow so that Crystal will have me on again when they go through colder, more northern waters, and I can easily break the record. As it stands, on a ship full of people who have done many things right in their life and often don’t need much motivation, I was told I became a new source of it.  I laid to waste many of these “But I can’t run because…” excuses and opened their eyes to maybe trying something new. But following through will be up to them. We can be motivated all we wanted but unless we alone take the first step to doing whatever it is we want to do, nothing else matters.

As this year comes to an end, here’s hoping in 2017 you take that first step toward what you have wanted for a very long time.

Then take another.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Cruise Ship Marathon - A Guinness World Record Attempt

I turned 40 in May and had a plan all set to celebrate my first marathon as Masters run all in place.  Then I ran 40km on my birthday in searing heat, slept in the next day, and missed the registration for the race I had planned to run.  You see, I wanted my first marathon as a 40 year old to be the marathon which would have me completing a marathon in every state. It was also suited to my strengths and I thought I might take a shot at setting a new PR.  Heck of way to run your first marathon as a 40 year old, right?  Well, as that was not to be, I sorta fell into a wary area. I have often said that when you try to make a big deal about a milestone marathon, chances are high it will bite you in the butt. The marathon distance is so challenging that the best-laid plans often get shown the door. As such, I simply couldn't decide what marathon I wanted to be my first as an old guy. Every time I planned one it did not seem "special" enough.

Nearly three (wow, really?) years ago I was a guest speaker on Crystal Cruise Lines trip from Chile to Tahiti with a stop over on Easter Island.  This afforded me an opportunity to set foot on one of the most remote islands in the world. In addition, it excited the child in me to know I would finally get to see the Moai on this most odd of places. Also, on the trip, I was asked to run the fastest marathon that had ever been run around a cruise ship.

I couldn't find any real record of any such feat but went about doing it nonetheless. I don't officially count the distance I did that day as one of my marathons run for a variety of reasons. However, when Crystal Cruise invited me on another cruise and asked me to replicate the feat, this time making it official, I couldn't turn it down.


So, in about three weeks I will be in the middle of the Caribbean, running 97 laps around the Crystal Serenity with official record keepers in tow. I guess technically any time I run will be the fastest ever recorded but I hope to do the record proud. I plan to at least best my own time from 2014 (3:14) and hopefully get under three hours as well.

Not a bad way to celebrate my first marathon as a 40 year old after all.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Recovery Tips - Get Out There Again!

So many people take on races each weekend. They prepare hard and long. They give it their all.  They collapse in either joy or frustration at the end of the event. But they often neglect the most important part: recovery.

Given I have made a name at recovering from hard events, and I have the added disadvantage of Gilbert's Syndrome making that more difficult (ignorance truly is bliss on that one) please let me share with you a few tidbits to help get you back to the starting line in the most efficient way possible.

BE PREPARED

The best way to recover from exercise and strenuous activity is to do your best to stay healthy and active for the majority of the time anyway. Obviously this is not the greatest of help to those who are looking to end a period of inactivity or unhealthy habits but it is a simple law of Newton’s: bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. Even if you are inactive, get moving. Today. Recovery will come much quicker once you lead a healthier lifestyle.

EAT WELL

Humans are complex machines, and no two are the same. What foods and drinks work well for one might not work for another. But there really is no secret to food, for the most part. Balance your proteins, carbs, and sugars with vegetables and fruits. It’s not sexy. I call it the common sense diet. Personally, I feel eating lean beef has always kept me in the best shape by helping me prepare my body for the strenuous activity I put it through on a regular basis.

THE INTANGIBLES

So much is unknown about how we do what we do. The old adage of picking right the parents to guarantee good genes is clever but can be misleading too. No one in my immediate family was a runner of any sort. There was no reason to believe I could do anything like I have done. Yet, I had the mindset to try and conquer what might be impossible.

I have used ASEA Redox Supplement for six years now to fill in the gaps of the unknown. I experiment with different sleeping cycles and training regimens. I do my best to shake things up whenever as possible. Mixing up life and keeping it fresh is the best way possible to help make sure each day is a revitalized and rejuvenated one.

And if all else fails, try a nice long run. It solves most of my problems.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Milwaukee Running Festival Mile and 5k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 15th Edition 
172 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Milwaukee Running Festival
Place:Milwaukee, WI
Miles from home: 1247
Weather: 50s; sunny

I'm not fast. If anything, I just can run longer than most, without slowing down as much. But lately, I have had a desire to try and do some of those really short, painful races. The ones where you can't hide behind "vert" or trail or anything else to explain away why you are just not, well, as fast as you would like to be. I am not talking about sprints like the 100 meter or 400.  To me, those are almost more weight lifting than they are running.  They are explosive bursts of speed akin to tossing running backs around. That is why many sprinters look like NFL linebackers. Inspiring, impressive, but not the type of running I am speaking about.

My entire life I knew this was not the type of fast I could be. Growing up, a vivid memory I have was being dusted repeatedly by virtually everyone in the short sprints of the Hershey Track and Field Games I would participate in every year. Then when I played football in high school, I marveled at the deer-like qualities of teammates. I could catch most everything thrown my way as a receiver, and rarely got caught from behind, but there was not a great deal of gas in my burners. I've fortunately always been curious about how to get faster, always tried to improve, but also understood my lot in life. I wasn't a sprinter.

Last year I took part in the Milwaukee Running Festival and I decided to run a mile race for the first time in half a decade. The last mile I ran was in Maui as part of a 5k, mile and marathon challenge in 24 hours. I expected little from the sprints on that day and that is essentially what I got. However, I ran the mile in Milwaukee and even though the course is not exactly conducive to a fast time, I really enjoyed it. As such, while I don't repeat races often, I thought I would give it another go this year.  But instead of running the half-marathon, I thought I should try the 5k on Sunday as well.  If you are going to hurt for a shot period of time, you might as well do it two days in a row, right?

At the expo before the 5k on Sunday, I met my usual cast of characters. Inspiring people who were running their last marathon before hip surgery that might make it impossible for them to run again. People who have followed my writing since last year when we shared a picture together. Silly people. Ignorant people. Ridiculously sweet and wonderful people. The entire human race passes by my booth in a short eight hours. I get to witness it all from a front row seat. But this expo happened after the mile race and I should speak about that for a second.

Mile Race:

My goal for this race was to run in the 5:15-5:20 range. I know I am no where close to the speed I would like to be right now to give a sub-5 mile a shot after the age of 40 but I felt that this slower goal was obtainable. My running has been a little better in the past few months and my speed has been upped a notch. It would all be about being able to focus my energy and remembering this would only hurt for about five minutes, not three hours.

As I lined up at the start of the race I noticed a large fella who had run the race last year and had absolutely dusted me. Dan was his name and he and his wife had just had a baby two days before.  What was most impressive about Dan was that he was every bit of 6'4'' and had to be over 200 lbs and crushed a 5:21 or so the year before. (He would go on to beat me again this year but by a much smaller margin.  I am sure he can readily blame lack of sleep over a newborn!)

The course, as I mentioned, has a fair amount of turns in it but unlike last year, we had perfect weather to run. With no wet footing, and me knowing the course this time, I decided not to start on the front line and instead, hang back a bit to have perfect ability to run every corner.  When the gun fired and away we went, I began to focus on trying to run as fast as I could.  the problem with being a long distance runner trying to run a short race is that it goes against everything you train your body to do. You sprint only at the end, when you have had 25 miles of warm-up.  You rarely go into oxygen debt. Your legs don't hurt from with the same fire in long distance as they do in sprints. However, I felt good as we hit what would be like the first 400m of the race, if we had been on a track. I looked down at my watch to see how I was doing as I had no clue from internal motors. I saw I hadn't hit start on my watch. Bollocks.

Around the back of the Harley Davidson museum we went where inside vendors were getting their wares ready for sale. I knew I would much faster than last year's abysmal 5:36 but how much I did not know.  I couldn't tell pace and couldn't tell whether I was pushing hard enough.  I guess I could have just pushed harder, if I was ignorant of the pace, but that wasn't happening.  I passed two runners nearly what felt like it would be the last 400 meters and soon had the best straight shot of running of the race in sight.  I turned the corner, heard the announcer say we were at 5:10 and gave it what I had left.  Finishing in 5:25, nipping one runner at the end, I hadn't gotten what I wanted but I was still pleased. When I learned I was the first Master's runner I was surprised. (Of course, there was a 53 year old and a 61 year old who beat me so wow. In fact, the 53 year old ran a 5:28 last year and a 5:10 this year so, double wow.)

I ran to my car as I needed to shower and come back to do a book signing at the expo I mentioned above. Then it was time to sleep and get ready for the 5k.

5k Race:

I had been much more nervous for the mile than this race but just as desiring to do well. Nerves kicked in however, when we had to wait 15 minutes past our start time to get under way for reasons we were unsure of on the course ahead. But when we started I was still feeling happy and gladly fell into a gap in the runners again, where I could run unimpeded.

The first mile felt good but I couldn't tell if it was because I was in good shape or running slow. When I hit the marker in 5:48 I had a feeling it wasn't exactly in the right spot. As always, I say to those who complain about mile markers being off: they are a luxury for runners to have them and they do not need to be certified. I figured that I would tell more by the second mile.  Regardless, I was feeling good and as the sun sparkled off of Lake Michigan, I fell into a groove.

As we circled the backside of the Milwaukee Art Museum and onto a boardwalk, I had reeled in a few more runners. I hit the second mile in 6:21 and figured that my pace was probably the middle distance of the two. As my GPS revealed, the actual mile pace was 6:07 for both first two miles. I had hoped or a six-flat but this was good. I began to pick up the pace for the final stretch. I might still be able to eke out a 18:30 if I gave it some hustle.

As we arched around the backside of the finishing area of the race, I could recall from the course map that we would turn around up ahead, loop back and finish where we started.  Unfortunately, I noticed that no runners were coming back at me yet.  Finally, up ahead I saw the lead runner (more about him in a second.)  Further ahead I could see runners going out on a jetty And I knew the course had to be long. I will admit this took a lot of wind out of my sails.

Out and back along this beautiful stretch of land we went and I saw the finish in the far distance.  I looked at my watch and saw my time and new I wasn't going to get anywhere close to what I wanted.

Cruising home, I passed one last runner, feeling solid about my effort and just held off the lead woman by a few seconds. Under the banner I went in 20:14 good enough for 22nd place overall (I had been 21st overall in the mile.) Surprising again was how I was the first Master's runner. Also surprising was that a different 50+ year old named Dan had beaten me by a great deal.  Apparently Dans are fast in Wisconsin.

As an aside, this weekend was also a wonderful experience for me as a coach.  One of my athletes, Lisa Nondorf, ran both the mile and the half-marathon. Lisa is one of the best obstacle course racers in the country and world but has been looking to improve her running. I have been working with her for a few months and without a doubt her attention to detail and drive have made it a treat. Her desire to do better showed when she crushed a 6:29.8 mile and a new half-marathon personal best of 1:55. 
Doing this while also continuing to train for the crazy obstacles she does, and coaching and molding young athletes in gymnastics was plain and simply awesome. It is one thing to hear about the athlete you coach and their success. It is another thing entirely to be able to watch it firsthand.

Way to go, Lisa!

After the race, I went to my hotel, grabbed a shower and some food and headed back down to volunteer a little bit at the finish line.  After handing out some hugs and medals for a bit I began my walk back to my car. There I noticed a familiar face handing out water at the back of the area where runners finished their post-race shuffle.  I walked up to the guy and asked him: "Did you win the 5k today?" The runner, named Jesse, told me he did. We chatted for a bit and he confirmed that course seemed a bit long for him as well.  What I found most impressive was that, while I did not know how long he had been out here handing out water, he had been out here handing out water at all.  I wonder how many of the other runners knew that the overall winner of a race was giving back. Without a doubt giving back like this is something more runners should do. You will find you bitch less about races when you know what goes on behind the scenes.

Speaking of which, there was a snafu with the marathon course that was far worse than the extra .2 I ran for my 5k.  Some pedestrians or vandals had moved a cone at a turn around point in the race causing some runners, including the female winner, to run way longer than they should have. This stinks. Note I am not rallying against the race itself. This sort of thing happens. It is unfortunate.  It is tiring. And I can tell you for sure, most race directors get a sinking feeling in their stomach when something like this happens because they too are runners. They want to put the best possible product for those who are paying to run a race. So, when it does happen, the reaction is important.  You can be like the Portland Marathon RD who when he found out that some runners had been rerouted adding a half mile to their time said:

"We think that the people who were involved with that are not normally Boston qualifiers," Smith said. "The only thing that would happen is it would impact their personal best."

"It's not a big deal," he added.  (Which may have been taken out of context, but I highly doubt it.)

or

you can be like Chris Ponteri, the RD of the MKE race who said:


"We apologize for the inconvenience this brought to the handful of runners in yesterday's race, as we understand the amount of training and dedication that it takes to complete a marathon. We strive to have a world-class experience for all runners that showcases the city of Milwaukee, and we will continue to stay focused on this mission. We will be providing refunds to any runners who may have been impacted."

I can tell you whose response I prefer (and the fact I lived in Portland for four years and never ran the Portland Marathon while running the Milwaukee Running Festival both years it has existed should give you a clue.)

If you haven't made it to the Milwaukee Running Festival either of the first two years, I highly suggest you go there for the third. Milwaukee is a fantastic city even if I am utterly baffled by the number of people I saw smoking cigarettes there. (They got that memo on the cancer thing, right?) Wonderful architecture, beautiful lakefront, very nice people (although, Jesus, could you have not voted for Trump?) Throw in a race that will only continue to get better as it grows and you have yourself a winner.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Running While Male

A few days ago I was in Hartford, CT to give a luncheon speech to some wealth managers at TD Bank. I arrived the evening before and got to my hotel ready to go for a little shakeout run.  I had tentatively planned out a route that would take me from my hotel down to the river and along a riverwalk. Never having been to the area I was relying on my skills at being able to look at Google maps and discern what makes for a good route. Having worked in the past designing long-distance running relays, I have actually become quite good at glancing at a map and almost uncannily knowing where I should run for a good trot.

I was a little askew in my planning this time, however, as one of the bridges I planned on crossing did not seem to have a way to get across. The riverwalk path ran a good 50 feet below it. As I saw no stairway to get up, I decided to venture further north before eventually turning around. I figured further south another bridge had to have a way to cross.  Evening light disappears quickly in late October in New England and shortly after 6 p.m. it was as dark as it would be for most of the night.

The temperatures dipped and for a person who enjoys running in cold far more than heat, and having just a few days before still had to endure 94 degrees in my new home of Austin, Texas, I was reveling in this chilly nip. Heading back south along the waterway, I figured out what I thought would be a route which would take me across a different bridge and then back along the northerly route of the riverwalk on the other side of the river.

The path, well-lit and recently paved, was obviously for use by all runners and walkers.  As I
undulated over a small rise, some weeds which needed to be tended to obscured my vision on both sides.  Up and then down I ran, passing within rock tossing distance of some lattice work of stanchions which held up the nearby highway. A railroad lay next to both of them and the lights cast some spooky shadows on my path. Above them all, off in the distance was this mystical blue onion-shaped Russian-dome-looking minaret striding atop some large rectangular building.

I found my way to the busy bridge upon which the Wilbur Cross Highway passed. A dark ramp allowed me to scoot up and on top of it.  I traversed the length of the bridge looking for an egress down to the other side of the river. Suddenly a staircase appeared with at least 10 flights of 6 steps each.  I had my phone with me simply to be able to check where I was in this new area but here I used it to illuminate each corner as I went down flight after flight, hoping not to trip.

At the bottom I crossed under as dense tree cover and a misty gloom setting in. A man in the shadows in the distance stood silently along the river, seemingly fishing. I saw a path that looked like it had just been paved but I knew it did not go where I wanted. In addition, as it was not lit, I couldn't see how long it went off in the distance. Otherwise I may have added some distance just to check it out.

Crossing over a footbridge I was brought right alongside the water's edge. Up ahead a system of street lights lit the path with their white lights piercing the darkness. I had always wondered why orange lights were more prevalent amongst streets until the internet became more widely available and I could find the answer (Answer: orange light is cheaper even though white light makes things much easier to see. *sigh* Of course price over safety reigns.) These lights here reminded me of the beginning of Harry Potter and I expected a wizard to snuff them all out as I ran on by.

After this jaunt through a park, I passed a serious of parked cars with people of both genders occupying them. Some were eating, some listening to music, some were, well, I actually don't know. It seemed like an odd time to be here in an odd place but I am quite sure they thought the same thing of me, this solitary runner out at night.

I looked over and again saw the blue onion of what I later learned was the Colt Armory. It seemed so out of place settled between the other buildings but I can imagine it looks beautiful in the snow at night. I passed by all the cars and went up a small ramp. Up ahead I saw the bridge which would take me back to my hotel.

As I bounded up some stairs, a large man came down the other side. He looked me over and said "Good job" as I passed him.  I gave him a tip of the cap and exhaled a quick "thankyou".  I hung a hard 180 degree turn and almost bumped into a guy wearing a black hooded sweatshirt who I hadn't seen. I felt rather embarrassed given how much I try to think of others when I am in motion and hate being inconsiderate, but he seemed unfazed.

Over the bridge, down some stairs, and finally at my hotel, I stopped my watch.  A crisp 6.5 miles at
a good clip made me feel good to be alive. While I waiting for my Timex to upload my data to Strava wirelessly, I took in the night. Suddenly, I was absolutely thunderstruck:

If I had been a woman, that run would have been absolutely terrifying. Let me explain why.

Not knowing exactly where I was going in a strange town at night. Tall weeds where anyone could have been hidden. Railroad tresses obfuscating both my sight lines and the light. Dark passages. Blind pitch black turns on staircases.  Dead end paths. Passages through trees with no sign of exit. Shadowy figures silently standing next to the river with no face. Random people idling in cars for no particular reason. Large men checking me out. Guys with sweatshirts pulled over their heads on the wrong side of the sidewalk.  All of it was lost on me, a guy, while running.

By no means do I mean women are timid or cannot handle themselves. But, by and large, most violent crime happens to women by men. You don't need to believe me. Just look up any crime statistics. And this run I just did was absolutely fraught with opportunities for a bad guy to take advantage of a nice person.

This is not the first time this thought has occurred to me, either. In fact, I am in the process of creating something which is based specifically on the idea that women runners tend to need an extra layer of security when out for a jog. As such, it has been at the forefront of my mind. However, in spite of that, I still forgot how easy it is for me, a relatively large, relatively fast, male to be able to go out for a run, anywhere I want, at any time of the day, and probably be fine every step of the way.

I am not throwing my gender under the bus and acting like I am the only good guy and girls can love only me.  In addition, there are obviously instances of male on male crime while running (e.g., the absolutely heartbreaking story of Dallas runner attacked by a mentally unstable former Texas A&M football player.) Furthermore, it is not the wild west out there and fortunately even attacks on female runners are rare enough to still be quite shocking. But the fact remains that running while male is something most guys do not even begin to fathom as anything other than safe and secure.

There is no fantastic way to wrap up this article. I have no solution for how to solve violence. I wish crime against all people would simply stop, an idea so quaint and naive it makes me laugh to even type it. I guess I can only hope that someday a day will come in which either gender, of any size, can run down a dark alley or the backwoods and the worst thing that can happen will be you get a side stitch or your iPhone dies.

Until then, be careful out there runners. And women, I am sorry you have to take extra care.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How Runners Sabotage Their Own Running

With something like 400 races under my belt, I have learned a great deal how to screw things up. Fortunately, that is how you learn what you should do the next time as well.  

While most of these are based towards the long distance runner, the tenets involved within can benefit any runner of any talent level.  I come back to them often when things don't seem to be working out just right.  Here's hoping they help you, too.

During Training:

Building up mileage too quickly

Easily one of the most frequent errors made by both newbies and experienced runners is ramping up mileage too aggressively. Your body needs to rest and have time to adjust. Sure, when you feel good you want to go from 20 to 30 to 40 to 50 miles week by week but that is a recipe for disaster.  We have all heard about the 10% rule for adding mileage and while that may be a bit conservative, it is not a bad way to start.
 
Neglecting speed work

Without a doubt if you want to do well at long distance stuff, you have to run long distance.  But there is just something about speed work.  I touch on it here on my article on loving the track. Track workout, and sprints are like weight training. I have often said that long distance running and sprints are even the same sport and that is no knock on sprinting.  It is a powerful, burst of speed akin to hitting the gym but also while running.  Total win-win.

Running recovery runs too fast

As I have beat into the heads of the athletes I coach, recovery runs don't mean just 20 seconds slower per mile.  That's hardly a recovery.  Your body only truly recovers at rest and if you aren't doing that, it is a hole you are digging to even get back to where you were, let alone improve. Recovery runs should be just that: recovery.


Prioritizing a training plan over how your body feels

Another thing I tell my athletes is that when I give them a plan it is a guideline. Sure, I painstakingly craft a schedule tailored to what they should do for that week.  But I also know that life gets in the way and often you just don't feel it.  I often make workouts shorter or longer depending on how I feel that day.  Don't listen to your body and you will end up very unhappy.  Your logbook doesn't care how you feel and will get over the slight.  I promise.


On Race Day

Going out too fast

There is no such thing as time in the bank.  That is a bank from which you will not withdraw without serious penalties. If you are running a marathon you have 26 miles to pick up speed.  Of course it is nice to feel good after months of training and the rush is in you and the blood is pumping. But it feels SO much better to run fast at the end than it ever will at the beginning.

Waiting too long to fuel

As a heavy sweater, no one needs to tell me to drink a lot and often. But many make the mistake of trying to play catch up and by then they are dehydrated. I now there was a lot of hoopla recently about hyponatremia and drinking too much.  However, that is far less common than even the worst of those with fears about it would believe.  Look, you don't need to drink a gallon at each aid station but a swig or two is great.

Also, master the pinch trick and you don't even need to stop running! Simply pinch the paper cup in the middle at the top, make a spout and pour the water down your throat.  Voila!

Not adjusting pace to race-day conditions

Everything can go right in training and fueling and everything else but we have no control over the weather.  It is a tough break if you get to the starting line and the day is not what you want. But you will not win over Mother Nature. If it is too hot, well, I am sorry but a slightly slower time on a planned acceptance is far better than a fast start and a trip to the hospital.

The elements play just as much a part in a good race day as anything else. We can't ignore them no mater how badass we think we are. 

Losing focus

I know it has become beyond acceptable to make races more about the experience and taking selfies and whatnot but if you want to have your best race, then pay attention. You can have wonderful gabby training runs but when you put the bib on, you are there to race. So pay attention to our surroundings, to your body and to how you can make each step propel you forward to your goal.

 Some runners like to break the race into smaller, more mentally manageable sections. I do this all the time with section I run at home. If there are 6 miles left, I think of a 1.5 mile loop I run all the time and think it is only 4 times around that loop. It is all minds games in long distance running and while it is nice to lose yours every once in a while, being in control of it is even better!

Overestimating your fitness

We all like to think that we are putting in hard work and long miles and as such are ready for the task ahead of us.  Sometimes we have and we are.  Other times, we are remembering runs that didn't happen at speeds we didn't run.  It is OK to not be in the shape you are hoping for on race day.  Unlike other sports, there are no timeouts and no teammates to hand off to.  Not every day can be your best. So going in with a clear understanding of where you are fitness-wise on that day is the best way to arrive at the finish line in one piece.  It is better to plan to how up ten minutes slower than think you can hit a time goal, bonk and show up two hours later, bedraggled, exhausted and swearing off the sport entirely.

Here's hoping these tips help you in your own training. Learn from my mistakes which is far better than experiencing them yourself!


Friday, October 7, 2016

Louisiana Marathon Weekend

In early 2015,  I still had never been to Louisiana. Not once. Not for a second.   had studied law in Florence, Italy, ran a marathon (twice) in Seoul, Korea, and went for a jaunt amongst the moai of Easter Island. But after running the Crescent City Classic and then the Louisiana Marathon, I am happy to be heading back to Baton Rouge for the second straight year to once again be part of the Louisiana Marathon festivities. This time I will be taking part in the half-marathon after securing my 77th Boston Qualifying marathon time there this past January. More importantly, I have carved out more time for myself to enjoy the events of the weekend. (Register here!)

This past January I was on a tight schedule. I ran the marathon and had to quickly skedaddle to get to the airport and get home. I missed out on what is truly separating this race weekend from others.  Let's be honest, the racing world is changing for the masses. You can't just have a well-run, well-marked course if you want to attract customers (the people formerly known as "runners.") You have to have bling. You have to have bands.You have to have swag. You have to have something that separates you from the pack. That is where the Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge comes out on top.

Let me give you a brief overview of what one can expect.  First ,you have the Finish Fest which has a variety of beverages of the alcoholic variety. They aren't my cup of tea but tons of people enjoy them and apparently the four different Abita beers on tap are well-received.  There are dozens of local food for people to taste many with that cajun flair. Finishing a marathon leaves you with the weirdest cravings and chances are you are going to find what you want here from someone.

The course itself is quite beautiful with a distinct bayou sense, neighborhoods right on top of the Mississippi River, a loud and large support from townsfolk and some fun fans. In fact, one of my favorite most original signs ever was just after 13 miles in the marathon when the sign said "You have [picture of then LSU coach Les Miles] to go then before!"  That was brilliant. I don't care if he got canned. I hope that sign is there again.

It is a forgiving course. It is not easy. It is not hard. But it is just the right amount of differentiation to give you a challenge but also help you out.  Often shaded by large beautiful southern trees, with wide streets shut down for the runners to enjoy.  No shuttling you off to a place where tons of cars and people are in your way.  This race is about you!

With an average 40 degree start temp and 60 degree finish temp, that is about the best you can hope for in this climate change world we live in. With an expo in close proximity to the many wonderful hotels downtown and all of them close to the start/finish line, there is not any real fear of getting caught in traffic on your way to the start.

If you need another, more altruistic reason, think about how hard this area has been hit with storms.  First Katrina a decade ago and then this year with a storm, that because it didn't have a name didn't receive the same amount of media attention. Where do you think your tourist dollars will go further?  In Vegas or NYC or here in the bayou where businesses are trying to rebound, people put their lives back together and communities rebuilding?  So above and beyond all the other reasons you could run in this beautiful area, think about how much good you can do by showing up and throwing a few bucks at local establishments.  Runners like to talk about how much good we can do - well, now here is your chance.

In addition, on top of everything else, I have partnered with the race to even offer you a discount.  If you use "RUNWITHDANE" you will get 15% off your registration for any of the wonderful races. 

So come join me while I run the half-marathon, take in the culture, throw back some calories and enjoy good ole Red Stick this upcoming January.

See you there! 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Quad Cities Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 14th Edition 
167.7 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Quad Cities Half Marathon
Place:Moline, IL
Miles from home: 1100
Weather: 70s; humid, sunny

Ugh.

That's about all I can say about my race performance here at the Quad Cities Half Marathon, if you can even call it a performance.

A friend once posted something about how when you toe the line of a race, you should give your all. For the most part I agree. That is what differentiates a race from a run.  I also know that there are certain caveats. In long distance racing, if you know it is simply not your day, there is nothing wrong with mailing it in. The thing about this sport is, unlike other sports like football, or baseball, or other ball sports, there is no downtime. You can't take a play off. You can't milk the timeout. You can't draw a foul and take free throws. If your day sucks, well, guess what pal, it is going to suck nonstop until you cross the finish line. The only question is how you mitigate the suck.

For myself, given that I have Gilbert's Syndrome, (a relatively benign but potentially bad disorder that inhibits recovery from hard exercise - to generalize) I know that if I redline too much, I'm gonna have Trouble. And that starts with "T" and that rhymes with "P" and that stands for "physician, gonna need one soon." So I pick and choose my battles.

I was in town to run this race for the 4th time in 10 years because it is a must-do race.  The course is not particularly beautiful, although it has its moments. The crowds aren't ten deep but they have their spots. The weather is a little volatile but can be fine. But the organizers put on one of the best races in America and for those who are stuck on bling or mountain visages and do not realize what really makes a race tick are all the things you haven't the foggiest CLUE go on behind the scenes, you go with the people that make those things work. That is the Quad Cities Marathon for you.

The last time I ran this race it was part of my Dane to Davenport- a 165 mile stage run over 3 days that tacked on the Quad Cities Marathon after for nearly 200 miles of running. I was happy to be back and just running 13.1 this time. Doing a book signing at he expo, meeting some really salt of the earth people and talking about how ASEA helps me recover was all just icing on the cake.

Posting an APB for a Diet Mountain Dew and having not one but two separate people from the Quad Cities bringing me one at my booth just goes to show you what sort of awesome people live here. (Also, seriously, Mountain Dew, I do more for you than X Games. Hook a brother up.)

I met a slew, a litany, a plethora of fantastic people at this race and knew I would be seeing many of them after the race. As my hotel was so close to the finish, I knew I could quickly shower after my race and head back out to hand out medals. People often praise elites for doing this sort of thing but if I ever have an opportunity, it is something I jump at doing.  It simply warms the heart.


Race Morning:

I got an excellent night of sleep both before the expo and before the race. I was hoteled mere yards from the start courtesy of the awesome RD, Joe Moreno.  Having just moved to Austin, TX, I was still living amongst boxes a week ago. Being a tad more rested than I had been when I ran a 1:22 half in Utah two weeks ago, I was hoping to have a solid performance here on a less forgiving course.

The weather forecast called for some potential thunderstorms. I didn't like that but that at least meant it wouldn't be sunny and hot.  Humid, sure, but the other two would be gone. I woke up, threw open my curtains...and a mostly cloudless sky and warm sunshine penetrated my window.

Eat me, weather.

Honestly, if climate change doesn't bother you for the myriad of reasons it should bother you, at least be selfish and realize how it is ruining so many good racing days. I would move to Barrow Alaska but I just checked and their high the other day was like 49. Even that is too hot.

So I begrudgingly made my way to the start wondering that perhaps I could suck it up, be a man and power through this race.  I got close to the start, saw Will Leer (wait, wow. I thought I recognized him ushering his girlfriend Aisha Praught past my booth the day before when she stopped and looked interested in talking) and readied myself for the howlitzer to start the race.

Away we went.


First Three Miles: 6:45; 6:42; 7:24

The race runs straight down the street, underneath an American flag (that would make Howdy Honda in Texas jealous of its size) and then curls up on a ramp onto the I-74 Bridge. This first mile didn't feel particularly fast so when I ran a 6:45 I wasn't surprised. However, as we ran across the bridge, and a drip of sweat or 17 had already dropped from my short race haircut onto my Julbo sunglasses, I was hoping the downhill would give me a boost. It did. All of three seconds. Consarnit.

I have impeccable memory when it comes to race courses and what happens during them at random spots along the way. Why in the sam hell I always forget about this bugger of a hill before mile three of this course is beyond me. However, the 1:30 pace group leader passed me with a gaggle of runners behind him as we just about crested this hill. I thought that perhaps with the hill behind me I might finally wake up and salvage the day.

To the 10k: 6:50; 7:08; 7:23

After this hill, there is a slight downhill and then another much smaller uphill before a nice screamer of a downhill on 18th street. When it only yielded a 6:50 mile for me, I knew my day was done.  Well, my racing day anyway.  Now what to do with the finally 9.1 miles.

A nice grouping of people had shown up in the neighborhoods we had passed through and as we crossed over an overpass next to The Isle of Capri riverboat casino for a short but cruel hill, there were even a few more people from Iowa out to cheer us on.  By now, any cloud cover we had experienced at all was gone. While I do not do well in heat and humidity, at this point it wasn't so hot or so humid as to explain my lethargy. I just couldn't get my motor running.

We slipped down onto the riverfront and joined a nice bicycle path that I have run virtually every time I have been to the Quad Cities. Fortunately, here the morning sun was on our back. Unfortunately, I ran way way too slow to even be remotely pleased with how this day would go. I just had to run hard enough not to embarrass myself.

Right at the 10k mark I looked over and saw the statue of Bill Rodgers and Joan Samuelson celebrating how they helped put the Bix 7 mile race on the map.  This made me a smile for a bit as Bill is a friend and Joan was kind enough to sign this awesome poster I found of the 1984 Olympics at the World Famous Golf & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas (made famous by the show Pawn Stars on History Channel.) But soon that memory faded and I knew I had 7 more miles to go.


To Mile 10: 7:21; 7:24; 7:28; 7:15

I knew the next four miles were all flat and I just had to keep progressing at this pace and nothing would go wrong. I knew for whatever reason pushing it was not going to happen. But I most assuredly did not wish to go slower.

As we crossed under the bridge which lead to Arsenal Island around mile 8, I could see the race leaders were crossing overhead on their way to mile 10. That was a touch disconcerting for me as I should not already be that far behind. Nevertheless, even if I had been on my "A" game I would have been extremely far behind them. Just not that far! But it was a nice reminder that there is normal, there is faster (me) there is really fast and then there is "Are you human?"

A plethora of signs told runners that those running the half were supposed to stay to the right and I knew the Modern Woodman Stadium was approaching. This was where I ended my Dane to
Davenport and I so wished I was ending my run today here. I had next to nothing left in the tank and it took all I had not to run a 7:30 mile.

We passed this beautiful stadium and headed onto 2nd street where we were shaded from the sun. For the first time all day I felt good. My speed did not increase but it didn't take everything in me to get going. I began to rev my engines a little bit as we approached the bridge I mentioned above. I raced a gentleman to the top, told the guys holding warning signs that "Mats on Bridge are Loose" that they shouldn't make judgment calls on the morals of the mats (ha!) and began to try and build some steam.

The reason for the signs were that a red carpet of mats had been laid down over the metal lattice work of this bridge to keep runners safe.  But they were not completely nailed down or anything and could possibly budge. Picking up my feet and racing for the first time all day (I was making it hard for the guy behind me to pass by picking up the pace) I saw the sign for the tenth mile at the end of the bridge. Thank goodness.  Double digits.


Bringing it home: 7:26; 7:18; 7:13

The last time I was on this island was right before the last six miles of the marathon in 2013.  As I passed by the cemetery on that day I saw a man go down in the distance.  Running the half-marathon this man had a heart attack. Before I could even get to him members of the military post stationed nearby were administering aid. I was extremely happy to learn later that he fully recovered. AS those memories flooded back, I knew when I left the island today I would be almost done. Now all I had to do was get through it.

Arsenal Island is the largest government-owned weapons manufacturing arsenal in the United States.  And we get to run on it.  It is always eerily quiet as spectators are not allowed on the island (I don't think) but the quiet is serene and wonderful.  It also often provides a great deal of shade which was undoubtedly needed today.

After holding off the runner on the bridge, he passed me on the flats here. But when we hit a small incline I passed him back and this time I made it stick.  If you are going to pass someone, do it definitely. Someday I am going to find out why I am not a very good runner on flat courses but it always happens to me in race. Give me miles of flat and watch people pass me. Give me small hills, and I win it all back and then some.

Now, feeling decent for the first time in the whole race, I began to pick up the pace. A few runners came into focus and I knew I had just enough real estate left in the race to get a one or two of them and put them behind me.

Over the last bridge and into a throng of people cheering on both sides I went. Down the last bit of street toward the finishline I was so happy to see I ran. I mercifully crossed in 1:35:01, good enough for 48th place and 4th in my age group.  My friend and announcer Creigh Kelley called me over and we chatted for a bit.  Other than being mildly out of breath, I felt fine. Not sore, not tired, just completely realizing how bad of a day I had just finished. Sometimes there simply is no explanation.

I sauntered over to my hotel and thought about showering and taking a nap. It was still only 9 a.m.  But I knew I would much rather go back outside and cheer on as many people as I could. I could not have been happier that I made that decision.

Back out at the finish, I saw numerous people I had met the previous day and many seemed surprised to see me, let alone the fact I recalled some of the minutia of their life stories. When I am asked what inspires me and I say all people, some people think that is pablum. But truly, seeing people meet their own goals, apropos of their speed, is what really makes me smile. If I am able to share in a small part of that, it is even better.

As I celebrated with some, consoled a few others, and on occasion acting like a wall for some to
simply hang onto lest they fall down in weather which had become warmer and more humid, the disappointment of my own day faded.  I knew it would. Part of the reason I came back out was to salve my wounds with the victory of others.  That is one of the reasons why after running that half marathon two weeks ago in Utah I went to the end of the Wasatch 100.  I wanted to witness the triumph and emotion of people pushing themselves to their limits.  It truly is a feeling I don't think any other sport can generate. You can be happy your football team won the SuperBowl but you have never been there.  Same with the Masters in golf or the World Series.  But anyone can run a 5k and cross the finish, giving all they can.

Then you get up, sign up for another race, and experience it all again.



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Big Cottonwood Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 13th Edition 
154.6 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Big Cottonwood Half Marathon
Place: Salt Lake City, UT
Miles from home: 2797
Weather: 40-50s; dry sunny

I originally scheduled this Revel Big Cottonwood half-marathon race as having a two-fold purpose. First, I wanted to set a new PR in the half-marathon and to do so as a Masters. Second, it was going to be a barometer race for attempting a new PR in the marathon about 6 weeks later.

On my birthday, I ran 40km around a track to celebrate turning 40.  It was a hot day as you can read here.  I crashed post-run, slept in late...and missed the tiny window for registering for the marathon at which I wanted to set a PR. So throw that out the window. Then at the end of July I decided I would be moving to Austin a month later. The majority of August was spent packing and all that was moving-related. I then took a 6 day road trip with my Trump Pinata to make it to Austin. Right before I left, I got a notification that I was off the waitlist for the marathon. There was, however, no way I could get into shape to train the way I wanted to in order to run fast. Long has the day passed in which I just run marathons to collect finishes and medals. When I race 26.2, I am by and large, racing. So no marathon.

Given how tiring moving to Austin was, and then the subsequent unpacking, the chances of a new PR in the half were slim to none. Doesn't mean I still wasn't expecting to do so. I often refuse to let logic or reason cloud my judgment when I get uppity about trying to run fast.

For the first time in a long time, I wasn't working an expo before a race. I cannot tell you how liberating a feeling that was. I might be tired, at elevation, staying with a friend who has cats (which I am allergic to) but I thought not having to expend so much energy the day before a race might just be the boost I needed.

Race morning:

I went to bed at an absolutely unheard of time of 9 p.m. in the hopes of buttressing my potential PR chances. Given I had to be up around 4 a.m. to make it to the bus, that really wasn't even all that early. I slept well, got on one of the glorious luxury buses the Revel company had provided for runners (there were also some regular school buses - I was so happy not to be on one of those) and tried to get in a racing mindset. For some reason the bus driver thought that loud country music should be piped in through the speakers and some other racers felt the need to have their overhead lights on the whole way up the dark canyon. (Some might think it cruel to say that it may have been for last second preening but if you have seen the number of women who cross the finish line in Utah races wearing full faces of makeup, you would know I am in no way exaggerating.)

As we stepped off the buses at 7250 feet above sea level, I felt something I haven't felt in I do not know how long: cold! I could see my breath. Sweet Fancy Moses was I going to get a race day I could race in?! With a temperature that in no way was warmer than 45 degrees, I was in heaven. After a slightly longer than necessary wait in the portapotty line (not the organizer's fault but rather people with no sense of an internal clock and common courtesy) it was off to the start.

Making my way to the front I passed no less than half a dozen runners I either knew or was a social media acquaintance with. It was a pleasant surprise and also a nice little warm addition to my morning. The sky was just beginning to reveal the azure blue which would accompany us the entire day.  But for now we were still in the clutches of nighttime. There was just enough time to line up for a quick and subtle countdown before away we went!

First three miles: 6:09. 6:13, 6:12

The beginning of the race was the everything for me. I wanted to nail a couple of 5:45s to feel good about

race and then cruise into the rest. To say I was a bit disheartened with my first mile of 6:09 would be an understatement. But I know mile markers are not certified and often in races a longer mile here means a shorter mile there. So while I held my pace, and felt like I was running under 6 per mile, I was even more dismayed by the second mile. Was this entire effort going to be over before it began? Was I really that tired and out of shape? When the third mile hit still above what I wanted I began to do a great deal of assessing. I knew these miles were not as downhill as some to come so I just had to hold on.  Perhaps as I woke the body up, reminded it that it could indeed run faster, and take advantage of the downhill, I would get some better times.



To the 10k: 5:39, 5:51, 6:16

That's more like it! In a mile that didn't even feel particularly fast, I was right back in the game. But wanting to make sure this was not the mirage I mentioned before I held my celebration inward. The next mile would reveal if the previous was just an anomaly.  When I went under six minutes per again, I was quite happy. I just needed to keep this downward trend going.

However, right after the 5th mile there was a hairpin of an S-curve that, while still downhill, was banking enough to make one lose momentum. In fact, this entire course, again, while decidedly downhill, had just enough twists and turns in it to actually take away more of the advantage of the down than one would think. Nowhere was it more evident than on this next mile. A product of the turn, I slowed by almost half a minute. Bollocks. This was going to be just one big crapshoot as to what happens the rest of the way. Could I go under 1:20? Could I set a PR?

Interestingly enough, while not official, I ran faster than my official 10k at the 6.2 mile mark. This is a time I also have crushed in two other half marathons as well. My 10k PR, like a lot of my shorter distance PRs, is just asking to be broken as I have aged over the 40-year mark. But I digress.


To mile 10: 6:10, 5:52, 6:07, 6:58

The next few miles began a game of cat and mouse between me and a few runners. It also became a show how even fast(ish) people are unaware, or don't care, about running tangents. As we serpentined (Babou!) our way down the canyon, I would routinely pass and then gap runners who steadfastly stuck to the far outside of each turn. (Incidentally, even running every single tangent possible, my GPS still had me a 13.15 which means these poor people were running far too long. This is not a knock on the race - GPS are not infallible. I am simply saying that they ran further than they needed to.)


Here I also began to lose touch with some runners I had been with since the beginning. I had been in the top 15 or so since the start but I started to fall off the back a little bit. This irked me, and after realizing that if I wanted to run fast, I had to stop thinking and run, I threw down another sub-6 mile. It pleased me greatly even as I could begin to feel the soreness in my quads and a warm spot beginning to form on my right heel. This is the same heel which will blister greatly on many races in which I run downhill. Why just the right heel is beyond me. As such, suffice it to say, I began thinking again. I very much wanted to run another sub-6 mile if for only for my mind. When it was not, it deflated me a bit. I knew this 9th mile was the last one which would contain no uphill or flat. Doing the math I knew I had little to no shot to PR.

As I mentioned above, the weather was perfect. In fact, at times, we even had a slight tailwind. Moreover, as I would see later, we would not even have the sun creep over the mountains and onto our backs until mile 11.5. It was, virtually everything I could want in a race.  I just wasn't going to get it done the way I wanted.

When the last downhill ended, we left the valley and began a small uphill climb to mile 10. I had a weird taste in my mouth and tried to figure out what it was. Then I remembered that by coming down below the pollution level in Salt Lake, we were now smack dab in the middle of the dreaded inversion.  It had never bothered me when I lived here for four years but I could taste it now. When the tenth mile yielded near 7 minutes for the time of running it, my goals were shot. Now I had a disappointing final 3.1 miles to run.  My only goal which remained was to not ruin a good start with a bad finish. But few things suck worse in a race than knowing all of your main goals are gone but you still have to run out the string.

Onward toward the finish. 6:53, 6:44, 6:50, :42

I then just got passed by two women running in tandem and chatting up a storm. Color me impressed. Not long after another woman passed me. I was fairly certain I was out of the top 20 now. Various random goals out of the way, I began calculating what I might run. I was hoping it would still be in the 1:21 range but didn't have much to base that on. I figured 6:30s the rest of the way were within my wheelhouse. But then I ran a 6:53 for the 11th mile. I knew that right after mile 11 there was a short, but blisteringly steep, downhill that I could throw my weight behind to try and salvaged the remaining distance. When I crossed the next mile marker at 6:44, in spite of giving it all I had, I just sorta sighed and called it a day.

The sun was out on a beautiful day and as we ran down the long straightaway to the finish, we could see the arch way in the distance. In fact, well over half of a mile away I could hear the announcer. I heard him announce the women's overall winner, in the time I was hoping to run. Then I heard the 1:20 barrier go by. A man and a woman passed me with less than half of a mile to go. I had no response. My PR barrier passed from the announcer's voice and I still had a third of a mile to go. I kept chugging along.

One of my best friends, Chris (aka Vanilla Bear) and his wife Kathy Jo (aka Mrs. Bear) and their baby Calvin (T-Minus 8 days old and ready to come out) were cheering me on at the finish. I unfortunately did not hear them as I was in the pain cave at this point. Nevertheless, I crossed under the arch for my 94th lifetime half-marathon in a time of 1:22:32.  It was my third fastest half-marathon ever. I finished 27th overall and was lucky enough to take 3rd Masters as well.

As I was running this race and knowing I would not realistically be going for a PR, I spent a little more time evaluating it from an organizer's perspective. I had to think about things which I would improve or change.  Right away that tells me a race is well run.The race provided not only free pictures but had them up on the website 48 hours after the race was done. The swag in the bag was very nice with gloves, a great shirt, a mylar blanket and a beanie to wear if you were cold at the start. There was a timing mat at mile 4.5 and mile 10 which means in theory the runners could set new PRs at those distances if they were certified. I have run a fair amount of these downhill races and have always told the organizers that if they threw a mat down at 5k, 10k, 15k and ten miles they could advertise how their race could provide so many chances to set PRs.

I did not stay around for the finish line festivities but if they were anything like the rest of the race I am sure they were top notch. I was however very proud that one of the athletes that I coach ran a 7 minute personal best in the half, so kudos to Jessica for that! Person after person seemed to be streaming in with a smile on their face and a new R in their pocket. Will downhill running help assist you in running faster?  Of course, but you have to take it.  No one just gives it to you.

I have had very good fortunate in running races that were put together well and most of that stems from having a pretty good idea which races to run. So if it seems as if many I run get top marks, that is why.  It is called having worked in the business in every aspect from runner to course designed to race director and everything in between.  As such, I can definitely see me running more races put on by Revel in the future.  They specialize in this downhill variety so I would highly suggest learning how to run downhill, practice and then celebrate at the end with your buddies with a big fat PR!

As for me, I am back to Austin where I hope the heat and humidity will help make the remainder of my races this year an breeze, even if I don't get the perfect weather I did in Salt Lake City.