Monday, March 28, 2016

Five Day Running Experiment

I am not exactly sure what prompted this. I am sure it was a mixture of a variety of things.  Be it me trying to tell those I coach how just the slightest variables can make any race different. Being asked extraordinarily vague advice about very specific things leaving me needing to say "It depends" and then being seen as aloof or a jerk because the asker doesn't get that yea, it really does depend. Happy to not have the flu anymore and wanting to get some miles under my belt.  Or any other combination of the things which pops into my head and sparks a reason for doing something. What am I talking about?

The plan: Run four laps of the 2.65 mile loop I have named the Bridge Loops on five consecutive days for 10.6 miles a day. 

Starting at the Hawthorne Bridge a few miles from my house in Portland, I would run north on the west side of the Willamette River to the Steel Bridge and then back to the Hawthorne Bridge. It is a solid and enjoyable run but not without challenges. For example, both bridges will lift at random times for a passing boat causing delays in your running.There are a plethora of pedestrians randomly walking around in their me-centric universe, taking pictures, walking dogs on 19 foot leashes, etc. In addition running along the water is very enjoyable which means that even the unsavory semi-homeless, or potheads or sundry others you wouldn't want to take to a dinner party are abound. (This makes it sound bad and it is not. But how you can watch someone openly and brazenly do some drug [I don't know what kind as I am not an aficionado but meth, crack, or heroin are my guesses] with no police intervention is a little unsettling. These are the things that a brochure talking about the best places to see in a city won't tell you. But I digress.)

The hypothesis for this (my friend told me an experiment must have a hypothesis or it is just an observation) was that I was going to be rather tired. Duh, right?  But given I had a bad case of the flu at the end of February, ran atrociously in the heat in Jacksonville the week before this (Gate River Run) and a multitude of other things, I was quite sure this was going to leave me quite exhausted.  I thought I might actually cancel the exercise in the middle of the week.  And honestly, if it was causing me any problems, I knew I would. Not because I don't stick to plans or want to work hard.   I simply know that no workout is worth one's health.

To try and keep each day as close as possible to the others, I started every run within an hour's time of each other, usually on the later half of the noon hour. I had the same calories beforehand (a glass of chocolate milk) and varied as few factors in my control as possible. I had never (or rarely- I am too lazy to check) run this many double digit mile days in a row immediately after a race of a half-marathon distance or more (having run the Oakland Half on Sunday.) Attempting to do so was also going to be a foray into the unknown.  There were a great deal of things to keep this week interesting for me.

Here is how it went down.

Monday March 21st 
Start time: 12:56 p.m
Time: 1:21:11 (7:40 pace)
Ending weight: 187.8 lbs

I was expecting this day to be the hardest of the bunch and time-wise it was the slowest of the week.  However, since it was just a day after a relatively hard run half-marathon, I was surprised how well it went. In fact, with lap times of 21:07; 20:37; 20:12; 19:15, it followed the exact pattern that I like for this run: faster every loop. It is almost a badge of honor that regardless of what the day feels like, I just have to get faster each loop.

I noticed a small ache behind my right knee but chalked this up to just the rigors of the previous day. I would keep my eye on it for sure, though. As I said, if things hurt, stop doing them.



Tuesday March 22nd
Start time: 12:15 p.m
Time: 1:18:57 (7:27 pace)
Ending weight: 188 lbs

This was an interesting run. My plan every day was to go into each run and run how I felt comfortable. Well, comfortably hard. I wanted to run the way my body felt best and not try to influence the overall week by wanting to try to get faster each day or something else akin to that. On this day, unlike the previous one, there was no significant picking up per lap. The first three loops were pretty interchangeable (20:01; 20:09; 19:56.) During the last loop, however, I came upon a runner who joined me from an angle coming off of one of the sidewalks. It ended up we were running at the exact same pace. Shoulder to shoulder I figured this was a little weird so I thought I had to either speed up or slow down or say hi. I was running the pace I wanted to and she wasn't changing her gait either, so I said "nice pace."

As it ends up in Portland, saying hello to a fast runner usually means you are talking to some serious talent. This talent was 61st overall at the Olympic Marathon trials and was one of the youngest competitors there. Jennifer Bergman was her name and we ran together for 400 meters or so. Then she branched off to run home or wherever. This little pick-me-up allowed me to run a solid 18:51 for my final lap of the day (this would be the 3rd fastest loop of the 20 I would run this week.) 

Wednesday March 23rd
Start time: 12:48 p.m.
Time: 1:19:41 (7:31 pace)
Ending weight: 186.8 lbs

I noticed when I started the loop each time, which is up a slight hill around a bend, the back of my knee was a little wonky. When I was running the flat portions of the loop, I was fine. But up and down the small hills and I could feel it.  Hmmm.

With loops of 20:52; 20:13; 19:39; 18:57 I was able to basically do a slightly faster version of Monday's run. Instead of the almost exact loops of the day before, here they were essentially forty seconds faster per loop, which is much more my norm.

One notation I made after finishing this run was that I was surprised that in three days of running I had not yet been caught by either the bridges being raised or been drenched in any rain.  We are in a record rain stretch in Portland (much needed) but somehow I had missed every little rainstorm.  I mentioned this oddity to my friend because I don't believe in jinxes.

Thursday March 24th
Start time: 11:55 a.m.
Time: 1:20:04 (7:33 pace)
Ending weight:  188.2

On my second loop the Steel Bridge caught me. Then three times in 80 minutes of running I got dumped on by the skies spaced out between gorgeous blue sunniness. OK, maybe I believe in jinxes.

My idea for when a bridge interrupts my run is that it all balances out. You get the rest from the workout but you lose all momentum. The most annoying thing about this bridge interruption as that it was for no boat whatsoever. Routinely the bridges will just go up, I guess, to test to see if they still work. So while I stood waiting I could look downstream and see I was going to run into a dump of rain that was making its way across the river. Sure enough, halfway through the next loop I was blasted with rain. With a hellacious wind accompanying the rain it is no surprise my lap times were all over the place. That said, being a number guy, I thought it was pretty neat the first loop was exactly the same as the first loop for the day before.

When the last loop and a half was nothing but sunny, I was able to pull it together and run the fastest loop of the week so far.  20:52; 20:05; 20:18; 18:49 were the four for this run.

Here I wanted to take two seconds to talk about GPS devices. All the time I hear runners complain that their "garmin" registered a distance longer than the race they ran. Well, there are 19 ways I can refute that thought process but here is one solid picture to throw into the mix.  While I think highly of myself, I guarantee you I cannot walk on water. Your GPS isn't any more accurate than this. Plus you probably don't run the tangents in a race.




Friday March 25th
Start time: 12:57 p.m.
Time: 1:17:27 (7:18 pace)
Ending weight: 189.2

My best friend joined me for this final run of the experiment. Going the opposite direction around the loop we'd see each other twice a loop. Her consistent pace gave me an opportunity to keep an accurate account of my own effort each loop. Even though I definitely knew I needed a rest after today, as the back of my knee was definitely complaining loudly, the day was beautiful and my speed felt great. The monkey wrench was when the third loop was inexplicably much slower than the previous.  I must have daydreamed or been thinking about this recap or who knows what else.  When I saw how slow it was I decided I would make up for it on the last lap for sure. I then closed it off with the fastest loop of the entire week. 20:13; 19:18; 19:38; 18:27 was this day's output.

So what is the verdict?

I surprised myself with the overall quality of these runs throughout the week. Another surprising (or actually non-surprising since I have kept extensive records on my own weight struggles) is how I initially dropped a few pounds before putting it back on again. My diet in the evenings was more or less the same. Moreover, weighing myself after the run, after showering and before consuming any liquid kept it about the most even possible. In other words, I ran 53 miles in six hours in 34 minutes just for the luxury of gaining a pound and a half. Yes, I am aware that it is entirely possible over the next few days the weight will change. Also, the number on the scale alone means nothing. But it is interesting nonetheless.

It ends up the pain in my knee was a Baker's Cyst. Not the end of the world but it means I will be taking a few days off for sure. But I am used to small setbacks. I have Gilbert's Syndrome, for example. (Again not the end of the world, but still not fun.) I have had two bike crashes which showed me how much my shoulders are made of porcelain. What I will look back on from this week is how I was able to run a solid week of double digit mile runs at an decent clip immediately following a half-marathon. Even more so, at the end of the week, I was able to pick up the pace a notch and throw down a nice ending workout.

So what does this all mean? Basically absolutely nothing. If anything it is just me using a method of routine to help me start getting miles back under my belt.  In three weeks I will be taking on the famed River to River Relay in Southern Illinois. Normally this 80 miler is for teams of 8.  However, I was fortunate enough to be invited to take part as a two person team with my ultra-fit running buddy, Mosi. The real purpose of this week was to start getting some miles back in my legs so I am not an embarrassment to our team, Ebony and Ivory.


Thanks for reading the navel-gazings of yet another runner. I do hope that as much as they were about me, you will find a little of your own running in here as well and apply some of the lessons I learned to your own training. If you want 382 more pages of lessons, check out my book 138,336 Feet to Pure Bliss. I make something like a whopping $1.50 off each copy you buy on Amazon so I am not sending you there to make me rich. I wrote the book because I felt I could share with you some of the things I have gathered through personal experiments and talking to so many others faster and slower than me. I can only wish there had been someone who had run 52 marathons in 52 consecutive weekends to guide me along on my journeys previously. Benefit from what I have done so you can hopefully do much, much better.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Oakland Running Festival 13.1 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 6th Edition 
88 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Oakland Running Festival
Place: Oakland, CA
Miles from home: 631
Weather: 60s; Sunny and humid


I ran the Oakland Half in 2011 and surprisingly ran what remains my 3rd fastest half marathon ever. It was surprising for a number of reasons, the least of all not being that the course was not exactly forgiving. It was not hard, per se, it just wasn't what one would expect to run fast on.  But that is why we toe the line as we never know what race day will bring.  On this race day, however, I had a fairly good idea roughly where I was going to run. Coming back from the flu there would be no such heroics or personal bests set on this day.  But I felt I had done well enough in my recovery to run perhaps in the 1:27-1:28 range.

At the expo prior to the race, I was doing a book signing.  To say I met some interesting characters would be to put it mildly. Luckily for me, I also had the great pleasure of meeting some new friends for the first time, old friends and social media friends who took time out of their day just to say hello. Warms your heart when you realize you are more than a mouse click on the "like" button to some people.

I spent a great deal of time explaining what the book was about to those who were curious as well as why I was wearing a shirt and jacket with ASEA on it. But most of the time is spent simply being a running psychiatrist. I really think my booth should just have a couch where runners can lie down and talk about what ails them, both physically and mentally. It is not as if this bothers me. I realized a long time ago that more often than not any question asked is done because there is a story behind the question. The sooner you get to that story the sooner everyone feels better about the encounter. Occasionally. I hear something new. Often I am inspired by people's struggles. And maybe, just maybe, the words I share to encourage or inspire will sink in over the next day or so and help push them to new and wonderful heights.

I remembered the day before the race, just like I had five years ago, that the race had a rather late start. Our gun for the half would be going off at 9:10 a.m. This sort of late start usually works well with me, especially if the weather cooperates. The weather was supposed to be 52 and cloudy for our start. Not "perfect" but pretty darn nice for me. Shouldn't be much of a problem!

Race Day:

I awoke to sun streaming into my hotel room. Bollocks. How can it be cloudy and sunny! Maybe it will be cool still. While it might have not been the debacle of the Gate River Run of last weekend, upon stepping out of my hotel, I noticed it was far from cool.  At race time, instead of the temperature I was hoping for, we had 60 degrees with bright sunshine. It felt much warmer, however. But, I told myself, it is "just" a half-marathon: Get in, run hard, get out and it may still be cool.  Or coolish.

On the way to the start I talked with a young chap named Daniel from Cleveland.  He lived in Houston and worked on space shuttle stuff.  It is encounters like this that make the sport so fun.  There would be virtually no other reason the tow of us would ever cross paths but here we were.  Coincidentally, as he saw my ASEA singlet, he said he had heard of the product and was eager to try it out.  I gave it my glowing approval and hope he does.

First Three Miles:

The course was slightly different than when I had run it half a decade ago so as I do, I measured it using an online tool I use for every run I do. I was surprised to see it came out well past 13.1 miles but figured perhaps I had messed up. I knew there was some construction on the course so perhaps it would all even out in the end.

Once I got to the starting line I shot out like a cannonball.  I felt like I was flying.  Picking my way through runners, I was amazed how good I was feeling. However, in the first mile we had nine right angle turns. Nine. Ooof. Not ideal as we went through sidewalks and little plazas and at one point a heavily constructed area. The race addressed this issue on their Facebook page and it was very cool of them to do so.

Even with all the turns, however, I felt like my first mile was smoking. Maybe I would surprise myself after all. However, when it came up 30 seconds short of what it felt like, I was alarmed. I usually feel slower than I actually am in the beginning. Now, with the benefit of hindsight and looking at my own data, I see the mile marker was simply off. As I have said many times, don't rely on mile markers. They are there as a convenience and are not always in the right place.

The other thing I noticed was how I was simply dripping with sweat. This was not going how I had envisioned it. After the first mile, where I let my head get in the way of my feet, runners were passing me and I had no response. The second mile came and went and I was hoping for a correction in overall time from the first mile but it showed me I was still not on my goal pace. As we turned into the bright sunshine, I tried to decide exactly what my plan for the day would be.

Running down the street the third mile approached. Another subpar mile told me that perhaps this wasn't going to be my day. The flu and pneumonia I had a few weeks back were obviously still not quite ready to let me run nearly as fast as I wanted. I made the executive decision to more or less shut it down. I hated to do so but it is folly to race hard when you simply do not have it. It leads to long term problems and then no one is happy. I was basically happy with the decision. Unfortunately, I still had ten more miles of running to do either way.

To Mile Seven:

The next four miles were a very strange mixture. No sooner did I decide to mail it in then I threw down a 6:25 mile. This wasn't just a short mile or my Timex watch being off. I passed dozens of runners who had steadily made their way by me in the previous miles. They all didn't just suddenly slow en masse. No, for some reason, I was injected with speed. I have zero idea what happened here. Perhaps it was the taiko drumming group that was riling up spirits. I know for sure I felt a pep in my step from this awesome group of people cheering us on. Regardless, I can only say I wish the spurt had happened for longer. But almost as soon as the burst of speed came upon me, it withered away. I did not lose my place in the race but I couldn't tap into it again. I kept telling myself to just hold it where I was and perhaps that burst would come back again. Stranger things have happened in racing!

Without a doubt, I was looking forward to running under the flaming, rusty, wrought-iron arch with real-life flames outside The Crucible, an Oakland based industrial arts school. A fixture since at least 2011, when I ran here it was at mile six if I recall correctly.  Here it was closer to mile 7.  Here for a second or two I allowed my mind to wander. As with all parts of any race, I always wonder what it is like for slower runners.  They undoubtedly experience a race completely different than people close to the front.  For example, I am very fortunate to be able to have the first shot at aid stations; I am not normally worried about narrow passes; flaming steel usually is not run under shoulder-to-shoulder with others. I am always curious what it is like when people are running five across.  As always, when people who don't run ask me what I think about when I am running, I can't even begin to tell them the list of thoughts that go through my head.

Approaching the 7th mile I knew I would be seeing one of my coaching clients who was running part of a relay with her team Too Legit To Quit. We tried to figure out, based on their projected time and my starting time, when I may see her. As it ends up, as I approached, Jessica was taking the hand off from her teammate. That's good timing!  I wished her good luck and then tried my best to once again harness any speed in my legs.

Off to Mile Ten:

The next mile is one of my favorite on the course. It is a gradually sloping downward mile, virtually straight, with the buildings blocking the rising sun. But this year there was something I flat out have never seen in a race before.  Ever. And that is saying something given the hundreds of races I have run, watched or read about.

A crane in the middle of this mile was suspending something over the road. With as much construction that was going on I just assumed it was another city project. Also, as there was what appeared to be a large structure with a flamethrower on it, my attention was diverted there. I already had a number of Mad Max: Fury Road jokes queuing up in my head for this recap. Then I realized what the crane was holding: blocks of ice. And the flame thrower thingie was melting them with every pull of the flaming trigger.  As such, a trickle of refreshing cold water was falling down from above. Sweet merciful heaven, how I have not only never seen this before but never even thought of it?!  Whose idea was this?  I demand they be awarded with many accolades. The only problem was that it was only a brief respite. I would have loved one of those every mile! (Also, what is with the fire motif in Oakland?)

Because of so many turns in this course I was being careful to run the tangents as much as possible. I mention this ALL THE TIME but I am doing it again. It boggles my mind how many runners will not run the shortest distance of a race course. These are the same ones who almost invariably the ones who complain about how long a course is when all is done. Here, however, on this straightaway, there was no need for that. Yet, inexplicably, for the third time  in the race, this one young girl runner saddled up to me, passed me, and then immediately fell in front of me. When I say immediately, I mean like I had to throw the Knight Rider Season Four side panel air brakes on. (First used in episode 70, FYI. I checked. You're welcome.)

As I fell back into position, I regained my composure. And for third time, within seconds, running the same pace, I was passing her again. One time is an accident. Twice is starting a trend. Three times means you get the look. What look? Think of Kevin Hart's ostrich reference. She wouldn't return my gaze. And wouldn't have a chance to do it again, either. I began to pick up the pace. Nothing helps a desire to run fast like a little disgust and/or anger.

There was great crowd support for the latter portions of this race. From the drummers, to the Raiders fans, to certain neighborhoods just being populated by cheering pedestrians, I was pleased. Could there be more? Sure, always. But this was nice.

As I approached mile 9.5, I passed some girls in banana suits running a relay. Or I was high on meth. Not quite sure which. I made what I am sure was hilarious to me but not funny at all joke. Fortunately, another runner laughed and therefore he became my best buddy for the day. Chris was his name and we chatted for a bit about how surprisingly warm it was. I asked him what he was shooting for and he said he was on pace for a PR. I said I wasn't feeling that great and he shouldn't base his pace off of mine.  However, if I could keep my crap together I would try to help him get that PR if I could. We approached the tenth mile and got ready for a run around Lake Merritt.


Heading Home

This section around the lake was different than I recall from five years ago as well. Again, there were far too many twists and turns for my liking. Chris and I were more or less running together but every once in a while a tight corner or a hill would separate us. The park was open to pedestrians, which I completely understand. It is hard to get permits to close down large areas in big cities. What I don't understand is why pedestrians would be so callous as to not realize thousands of runners are coming through and perhaps they could choose a slightly different route. Maybe that is the myopic egotism of a runner. But I like to think it is the common courtesy of knowing that sometimes exactly what I want to do flies in the face of the masses. But I digress.

When we hit the 11th mile, it was clear that this course was going to measure long. This bummed me out a little bit as I had been working hard to get back on the right side of sub 1:30 halfs. It isn't the end of the world however. As we wound around a long curving road, I again took to the innermost angle while the rest of the runners stayed far outside. I wonder how much in the end all of this adds to the the total. Dozens of yards? A quarter mile? It doesn't matter really how far as it is further than anyone needs to run. But the clear path forward, unimpeded by any other runners, was greatly appreciated by me for sure.

With a mile to go, Chris and I drew shoulder to shoulder. I encouraged him to keep the pace, even if
Awesome shot of my sweat from MarathonFoto
he didn't care for me to encourage him or need it. I wasn't sure exactly what his watch would read because we had started at different times. I knew I wouldn't break 1:30 with the added distance but wasn't too concerned about that. We pushed hard up the remaining cruel hill to the finish and passed under the banner. For Chris it was a new PR. For me, it was another lesson in racing. My 90th half marathon lesson to be exact. I finished with a time of 1:31:47 which was good enough for 62nd place overall. A far cry from what I hoped but alas.

As I rapidly approach my 100th half-marathon, I have long since realized how fickle racing can be. Especially when you are a simple age grouper like myself, you have to be ok with the fact that you will never be "fast." But you can still push yourself and push hard. Also, if you are wise and want to race for a long time, you have to know when it is not your day. If you race often, many days are not going to be your day. In that subset of not so great days, you have to do the math to see how much it is not going to be your day. Can every race be all out? Sure, if you do short distance races and not that often. Otherwise, well, at least for my body, it will fail if I try that.

My point is, every day and every time you put on running shoes, it is part of one large experiment.  I enjoy being the test subject and finding out more and more about myself each finish line. Hope to see you out there testing yourself soon.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Barkley Marathons: Movie Review

Whenever any movie comes out about running I get all excited. Even movies which end up not being all that good (looking at you, Spirit of the Marathon II) still makes me happy that at least a movie exists about the sport I love. Fortunately, making a movie has never been easier with GoPros and drones and everything else that twenty years ago would have required a Hollywood budget to make. As such, more and more movies about running are hitting the theatres. When I heard a movie about the Barkley Marathons was coming out, I was intrigued to check it out.

If you are wondering what exactly the Barkley Marathons is, let me give you a brief tutorial. Founded by locals Lazarus Lake (aka Gary Cantell) and Raw Dog (aka Karl Henn)  the Barkley Marathons was originally conceived when Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin, James Earl Ray, and several other convicts escaped from a state penitentiary in 1977. Cantrell jocularly thought how sad it was that in the time the prisoners were missing, they only made it about 8 miles away. He figured he could easily do 55 in the same time. So, he began putting together a plan for a race in the same rough and tumble Tennessee woodlands that the prisoners had trekked through. (In fact, even though the course changes every year, one regularity is that participants have to traverse a tunnel that actually passes under the very same prison.)  This race would not be like other races.

First and foremost, there really isn't much of a course per se. It is a looped course in only the strictest term of the word loop. Moreover, each of the five loops has approximately 24,000 feet in elevation gain and loss with 2/3 of the course being completely off trail. Supposedly 20 miles in length each loop would grow in length as it went over hill and dale, often reaching 26 miles. Participants are not allowed to use GPS devices to traverse the course. They must landmarks which prove they have been where they are supposed to be (by tearing off pages of books planted there.) There are ridiculous climbs. Thorns and briers are everywhere, making participant's legs look like the stuntman for The Passion of The Christ. Ever-changing sticky hot weather with rainstorms are likely. In other words, there is absolutely positively nothing about this event that makes me want to do it.

And I still enjoyed the movie.

Having said that, let me clarify my conflicting last two statements. I have often written about how many races are falling into the difficult for difficulty's sake category. In addition, I have read that races like ultras with ridiculous amounts of difficulty and adventure races with crazy obstacles are existing in great part because it is easy to hide times in those races. Everyone knows the pace for a half-marathon or a marathon. But throw in a volcano you have to traverse or a spear you have to chuck and you still get the shiny medal without having people see your average for the race was 12 minute miles (or whatever.) I don't disagree with this theory. However, the Barkley Marathons has been around long before this trend started happening. (To clarify, I have no doubt that many people want to take on this race for their own reasons.  But to deny that some of those reasons are so they can look down their noses at those who have "only" completed the Whatever 100 miler, would be a bit disingenuous. At least one of the runners in the race makes that point. Sorta akin to the ol Brian Regan skit of "That ain't nothing!")

I heard about the race when I was running my 52 Marathons from some kind soul who I think felt it was necessary to tell me people did harder things than what I was doing. Unsolicited putdowns are always the best. But when I researched the race I knew I would never even attempt it.  I like to run. Somewhat pampered, too. I can go a really long way at a pretty good pace. But while doing so I don't like to have to spelunk or do any orienteering or carry my own supplies. If I am going to put in a great deal of physical effort, the least amount of mental effort as possible is preferred. However, it is still possible for me to appreciate watching others push themselves to the limits of their boundaries.

This is not to say the movie was without faults. Many of the things I felt about the race played out exactly as I imagined them.For example, Cantrell seems folksy and down home but you can tell he is not a hillbilly hick. His commentary is helpful and at times funny but also smug. He openly admits that he has come nowhere close to finishing the race. When I was in high school, my track coach was a guy who could do the workouts he assigned us. Today, when he has to be at least 55, he can still run a faster marathon than me. When people tell you to do something hard, it is always easier to swallow when you know they can do it themselves. Cantrell can't. Or hasn't. And the mild curmudgeonly way in which he sits back with almost a twinkle in his eye as people put themselves through the grinder is a touch off-putting. It is almost as if he is playing the irascible character in a movie who really has a heart of gold and will teach you life lessons if you just go through the hardships.

Don't get me wrong. I think he truly cares about the participants. I also think he seems like a perfectly nice guy. He just seems to fit the profile I thought he would. Or he is playing the character well.

Those looking for a lot of gore porn won't really get much. There is one blister popping scene and lots of shots of the lacerated legs, but other than that it is more a testament of the human spirit.  In a race that only has had 10 finishers in 25 years, to get to the end of this movie and have multiple people actually racing for the overall title was very exciting. I will say no more to ruin the ending but it is pretty good running (and editing) to make a 130-mile race look like it is coming down to the wire.

I was surprised to see it had such a low rating on Netflix and was trying to figure out why that was. (Did the filmmakers have vindictive ex-girlfriends?) After watching it, I still couldn't figure it out. It isn't going to win an Oscar but it most assuredly is worth spending the time to watch, even if you are not a runner. You don't have to want to do what the people in a movie are doing to still be inspired by them. Not just in athletics but in every facet of life.

So take a hour and change out of your life and go be inspired. You get to even find out who or what the hell Barkley is. Can't beat that.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Gate River Run Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 5th Edition 
74.9 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Gate River Run
Place: Jacksonville, FL
Miles from home: 2936
Weather: 70s; 95% humidity

For four years I lived in heat and disgusting humidity of Washington, D.C. For four years I lived at the solid elevation of Salt Lake City.  I was mildly prepared to run in warm temps because of both (elevation somewhat helps you battle humidity.)

Now I live at sea level in Portland where the humidity is fairly negligible. Any sort of "immunity" I built up to running in sticky weather or in the mountains is now gone. Throw in recovering from the flu recently and I knew that taking on one of the warmest Gate River Run 15ks in history was not going to go well for me. That didn't stop me from still thinking that maybe, just maybe, I should go and try and crush it anyway. You can probably see where this is going.

My 15k is one of those very weak PRs that most runners have. I say that because I can think of at least six occasions where I have run a faster 15k in the middle of a longer race than what my PR for a standalone 15k happens to be. When I signed up for this race, I have every design to crush that time.  Then I had the setback of the broken hand on Christmas. But I recovered fairly well from that. Then a few weeks ago I was almost taken to the hospital with a 103 degree fever, pneumonia and just a whole lot of what Jon Stewart likes to call the "boubons."  I didn't run for eleven days. When I finally did run again it was as if I had forgotten how to do it. I was running like Phoebe from Friends.

When I got to Jacksonville, I was buoyed by meeting lots of new friends and seeing old ones as I did a book signing at the expo. I felt wonderful. Well, in reality, I didn't feel wonderful. But when you have spent so much time feeling like you are at Death's door, when you go out to Death's lawn to get the newspaper, relatively you feel like an Olympian.

Race Morning:

I was smart enough to realize, however, that this was not going to be my day. As such, I decided to get a little more running in on race day.  My hotel was two miles from the start so I figured a good way to get limbered up would be by getting a slow jog to the beginning of the race. This felt like a good decision as I had an idea that driving to the start would get a little dicey with all the runners.  About half of a mile into my trot, I crossed the Main St Bridge (the "Blue One" I heard some call them as they can't seem to remember all the bridge names) and a line of cars slowly trudged by. Looks like I made the right decision.  Having said that, the Jax cops were still actually doing a decent job of moving traffic. I still would have been worried.

Even jogging slowly, I got to the starting area WAY earlier than I usually do. I used the bathrooms (twice) and sat in my corral in the shade. It was already 95% humidity and the supposed cloud cover that would make the race at least not akin to suicide was far too rapidly burning off. I was doing all I could to stay as cool as possible. Having brought a throw away rag with me to at least wipe off the sweat from my two mile run on the way to the race, I now had a completely soaked and therefore useless piece of cloth. As we lined up for the start, I wiped my brow one last time and tossed the rag to the side.

First 3 miles:

This is a big race. Usually 15,000 people finish this 15k. I wanted to do my very best to stay in front of all but about 200 of them.  The previous year 209 runners had broken an hour. I wanted to be one of those this year even if I wasn't going to get the huge PR I was hoping for.

The first mile went rather smoothly. People flew around me from all angles, eschewing any idea of running any sort of tangents.  To this day it boggles my mind how bad so many runners are at reading a course, running the shortest distance possible, and simply just working so hard to make the race so much harder for themselves.  I hit the first mile in 6:14 and thought how were all these people going to expect to keep this pace up.  In fact, the pace surprised me (and if I had kept it I would have finished 99th overall.) I thought it would easily be 6:30 or more.  Unfortunately, that gave me hope for something which had little to no shot of happening.

The second mile, after going over the small rise of the Main Street bridge was slower than I expected.  Perhaps the first mile marker had just been a hair off  If so, the average of the two miles was right on the 6:30 pace I thought I might be able to hold for the day.

As I approached the 3rd mile, the wheels began to fall off.  The clouds were gone, we were running with a blue sky and full sun overhead and I was spent.  My buddy Andy Dutra passed me and gave me some words of encouragement but I couldn't hang with him.  I knew this was going to be a long six remaining miles.

To Mile 6

I have often told runners at expos that whatever you are planning to run that day, that is the furthest you can possibly imagine running. Running a half marathon? 13.2 miles seems impossible. Here, as I hit the fourth mile, all I could think about was how I was only half of a mile from being half way done. I couldn't fathom running a half marathon today.  Now usually, that is because if you run correctly, you are racing at the peak of what you can do that for distance. Unfortunately, I was running at the peak at what I could do for half of the day's distance. I was absolutely drenched from sweat. I felt lightheaded. If I wasn't running this race as research for a new book, I would have stopped and gone back to my hotel. (N.B., If I had really thought I would do myself actual harm, I would have also stopped. I vary greatly from some who like to think that toughing out every race regardless of potential harm is necessary. That's also why I am an injury free runner who has done things some people never will do.)

As I hit the 5th mile I was doing what I could to take in the surroundings. I was here to observe and report how I felt about the entire race, anyway.  Might as well get out of my tunnel vision and do just that.  Perhaps it would distract me from the exhaustion I felt.  I had heard about the thick crowds cheering people on and the boisterous atmosphere. The first three miles had been rather underwhelming. Understandably so give their location but I was still expecting more. In this area, however, the crowds picked up. In addition, there were at least eight aid stations throughout the course. For a nine mile race that is pretty darn impressive. I would have appreciated some ice in the water to make it cooler but the volume of aid stations alone was very well done.

The sixth mile was a nice winding mile through some very nice neighborhoods. The crowds were much more exuberant, sitting in lawn chairs and handing out mimosas. It was such a nice respite, with the occasional tree to provide some cover as we had just ran directly into the teeth of the unrelenting sun. The people were cheering and clapping with the usual assortment of funny signs.  One struck me as particularly original and I actually laughed inwardly.  However, for the life of me, I can't seem to remember what it said.

I was in pure survival mode at this point. Andy's wife Tracy passed me here. Now all the Dutri were beating me. Thankfully their child is only like a year old or so, or she might have passed me too.

Last 3.3 miles

After the trot through the neighborhood I could not have been more pleased to see the mile 7 sign.  I had actually picked up the pace by about ten seconds through the neighborhood and thought perhaps I could put together a nice push at the end. But I knew I was going to be running by personal worst at the distance so did it really make sense to push harder to run a slightly better personal worst which would still be horrifically slow?  Now sitting at home I can say I could have pushed harder. During the race the answer was "Hell, no."

I knew this race had a tough bridge to finish on. I heard some people say it was a killer. I heard others say it wasn't so bad, it was just the placement of it. To the latter, I would say then by definition it is bad because you don't get to pick and choose when you run over it!  In either case, I knew I was not very happy about it at all. As we turned north to the Hart Bridge, it curved out of sight. At first you couldn't tell how far it went. You just simply had to run it.

One of the nicest touches that his bridge had was a series of speakers set every 18 feet pumping music to try and help you get to the top of the bridge. I say every 18 feet because it was three strides for me. I counted. I wasn't running fast. I wasn't racing. I was just trying to survive. So I was distracting myself with things like counting speakers.

Twice in this climb I had to stop and walk. I was beat. There was next to nothing in the tank. I also remembered that I had a two mile run to get back to my hotel after this whole thing was done. As such, ten seconds of walking wasn't going to hurt.

Another nice touch this race has is the Downhill Mile. Starting at the top of the Hart Bridge, there is a timing mat that measures the last mile of the course. Normally, this is the type of thing I would eat up. I love downhills. I race them well. But there was none of that today. I looked at the long sloping hill, the curving off ramp and the finishing arch in the distance. It might as well have been 5 miles off. With 800 meters to go I saw one man staggering. I had already seen this on two other occasions earlier in the race. I so want to know these guys stories.Were they acclimated and just had a bad day?  Were they from colder climes and weren't ready like me?  I wish I could just download data on every runner I passed so I could hear their story.

Luckily, here, the runner had three buddies with him (or maybe kind strangers) who were helping him move along. One was forcing water down his throat while two others guided him. I have said it a thousand times and will say it again; runners rock.

I finally was able to pull myself together and stumble across the finish in a time of 1:08:52.  This was somewhere in the top 500 or so which was obviously no where close to what I thought was possible. Furthermore, to fill you in on what the conditions were like, as I mentioned above, the last person to break an hour the previous year was 209th overall. This year only 138 people had that honor. That should tell you something about the conditions.

I came to Jacksonville looking for a race to live up to all the hoopla. Rarely any race does but that doesn't mean it still isn't one you should put on your calendar. This is not only does but one that is going in my next book. Just hope for cooler temperatures when you run it!


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Do It For You

I often see people say something akin to the following statement: “There is no greater pleasure in life than doing what people say you cannot do.”

With this statement, I could not possibly disagree more.

Similar comments constantly fuel Instagram inspirational posts, all containing that same defiant attitude. Basically they are saying "You said I couldn’t; now watch me while I do." I find this attitude, however, to be counterproductive to a happy mindset. There are few worse ways to live your life than by deriving pleasure accomplishing things simply because you want to prove people wrong.

Achieving whatever you think is success or fulfillment should not be either spurred on or validated by negative opinions. Perhaps the reason some feel this mindset has merit stems from the fact that studies show negative people are seen as being more intelligent. So, if you can prove those intelligent people wrong, they are not as smart as they think they are.  Or something like that.

Maybe there is a certain amount of comeuppance we like to give those who stand in our way. I mean, I understand why it can feel good to stick it to someone, but making it the crux of your enjoyment is a horrible idea. You see, there are many things in life which feel better than showing people they were wrong. Indeed, not caring at all what people say about your wants and dreams might just be the best feeling in the world.

Is it easy not to care about what people say? Of course not. No one who is a decent person likes to have people put down their desires. Even those in the public eye, who have to develop thicker skins, don’t like to hear negativity spewed from the anonymous reaches of the Internet. But focusing your mind on the task at hand and ignoring those who say nay is the best use of your time and energy. Then, when you do what was deemed impossible, celebrate with the ones who supported you rather than giving the jerks more attention. Why take away good vibes from people who like you so you can waste time on those who don’t?

Instead, know that virtually everything difficult achieved by anyone throughout history was seen as impossible or ludicrous by many. If you truly wish to accomplish something, and feel the best at having done it, the only way you can achieve that is by doing it for yourself. The satisfaction of completing what you hoped you could do is a delicious treat.

Savor it without the spiteful aftertaste of needing to prove others wrong.