Tuesday, September 3, 2019

2000 Miles and my First Marathon of 2019

This has been a year of firsts. It will likely have many more.

Running has been difficult for me since I moved to Austin. The weather, which I knew would be warm, has been WAY warm. Last summer was the third hottest summer in recorded Austin history with something like 50 days over 100 degrees. This summer has been mildly cooler which has helped my running get to heights I haven't seen in years. However, before I even got to this summer, I was doing something I had never done before in my recorded running history.

I have never been much of one for running streaks. I also haven't been one much for piling up mileage for no reason whatsoever. Yet, this year, with a longer than normal "Spring" and a variety of other factors, I not only broke my previous running streak of a meager 48 days (with 143) but have been putting up more miles than I have ever run before.

Another factor in my mileage gain has been a significant lack of racing. When I race, I rest. That means my per run mileage is higher but my number of runs and amount of miles goes down. But when I hit 2000 miles for the year on August 27th, that was the fastest I had ever reached that milestone. The only year which comes close is 2008, the year I ran the most miles ever: 2894.25, I didn't hit 2000 miles until September 8th.

What makes this year stick out even more was the horrific running year I had last year. I was sick for almost six weeks. Had virtually no good races. Spent many days just slogging through the disgusting weather. It took a phenomenal December to even get to 2198.98 miles. Yest this year, I am on track to top 3,000 miles for the first time ever and that is definitely a neat side milestone.

But these are all just random numbers. What matters most to me is hopefully bringing it all to a head to run some good fall races. My goal race this year is a marathon in Europe in just under five weeks.  Starting in Austria, going into German, back into Austria, then into Switzerland before finishing in Austria, the Three Countries Marathon looks like it will be my best marathon in over four years.  I know I am not in personal best shape right now but I should be knocking at the sub-3 hour door, especially if the weather holds true to form. I learned a long time ago, the course matters not nearly as much to me as a cold day does.

I haven't had many races this year to build confidence. I normally like to race my way into shape.  But with the longest runs I have ever done by far on the treadmill this summer (my 20 miler is this Friday) I think this bodes well for me.

So now I am trying to pull it all together here in the last month. I have an triathlon race and then a very interesting 24 hour event just two weeks before the marathon. To be quiet honest, the marathon has lost a little appeal fr me the past few years. I am hoping that this race will bring some fire back into me and get the engine running again.



Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Iron Cowboy documentary review

I watched the documentary of the athlete James Lawrence who in 2015 attempted to do 50 Ironman triathlons in 50 days in 50 states. 

He did zero.

What Lawrence did accomplish was, and please read this statement before you get your underwear all knotted up, extraordinarily impressive. But he didn't do what he claims to have done, what his sponsors tout that he did, what the title of the documentary says, or anything else along those lines. What he accomplished was doing the equivalent of a 140.6 mile swim/bike/run workout in 50 different states in 50 days. This might seem like I am picking nits but bear with me here.

From a personal standpoint, I have a stake in this matter. I have partially made a career out of racing 52 marathons on 52 consecutive weekends in one calendar year. When I accomplished this in 2006 there were few, if any, who had undertaken and completed the same schedule - finding and racing 52 actual races on race day. Since then, I have been made aware of people doing similar things but there are always caveats in their races plans where they double (or triple) up on one weekend allowing them to take time off, or they run glorified training runs instead of races or a multitude of other things which take away from the spirit of the endeavor.

What do I mean by the spirit? Well, undoubtedly there are many people who could run 26.2 miles once a week for a year. But taking on the challenge to go to an actual race is one of the things that makes this challenge much more difficult. The other is something that, in 2006, I never thought would need to be mentioned. You see, when I raced these 52 marathons, I was actually racing them. Week in and week out I was giving everything I had to not just check off a box and collect a medal. I was not there just to say I had finished a race. This is proven by the fact that I ran 6 marathons that year which broke my personal best. In other words, it is not the time the marathons were run in that deserves accolades but rather the commitment to bettering myself compared to my own best which is the measuring stick. My stake is that when I say I have done something and try to make a living off of that, it is impeded when others aren't forthright with what they also claim to have done.  It affects my speaking engagements, my potential sponsors, and other things in that realm.


Last year, "fitness star" Ashley Horner declared she was going to do something akin to what Lawrence had attempted. Horner is undoubtedly aesthetically pleasing with smoky eye makeup, nice abs, and some big biceps. She also has on her resume, a supposed 230-mile 3-day run across Haiti. I say "supposed" because there is no GPS data of any sort to bolster her claim. So when she, who had never once completed single 140.6 mile triathlon claimed she was going to do the 52 in 52 in 52 (she was adding Haiti and some other place for 52), there was tons of skepticism. It turns out it was well placed. Within three days, the entire fiasco went to pot and Horner called it quits. Anyone who dared to point out how b.s. the entire endeavor was was met with "but she's doing it for charity!" by her legion of Instagram followers. Never mind whether the money she raised actually made it to the charity (there are plenty of reasons to think it did not including this bizarre denial of impropriety that is as convoluted as her 52 in 52 plans).

All the talk of Horner brought up Lawrence's attempt. If nothing else, at least most of Lawrence's workouts were easy to find. This documentary then puts the statistics for each day up as well. But it was not without controversy.

First, Lawrence never competed in an actual race. While he does have records for most 70.3 triathlons and 140.6 triathlons in a year (although, no emphasis is put on how fast he finished them, which, like it or not, DOES matter) every one of the 50 in 50 was going to be simply a workout. That's not mean to denigrate the effort. Spending upwards of 17 hours exercising a day is extremely difficult. Couple that with then traveling to another start to do it all over again 49 times in a row is a logistical nightmare. But he never was in an actual race.

Second, the reported times given never say how much time was between each discipline. In the film you might see his swim time was 1:30 and his bike was 7 hours and his run was 5 hours but it is quite clear there was substantial time in between each event where he was getting ready for the next discipline. But we don't know what those times are and I am sure it is not easy to find them.

Third, on a few occasions, due to weather or other circumstances, portions of the bike and run were done indoors on stationary bikes or trainers or treadmills. In fact, one of the biggest controversies was when he did a run on an elliptical trainer. This drew particular ire from these who were even in his corner as that is most assuredly not the same as running outdoors.

Finally, the IVs. It is unsure exactly how many times Lawrence received IVs to help with his fluids and hydration and whatnot but it is very sure that this was not allowed by the World Anti-Doping Agency. (A post-script in the documentary says that WADA has since changed their "regulations to take into account situations like James's (sic)".

OK, all of that said, most of which I already knew, I really wanted to root for the guy. He's likeable and likability goes a lot in this world. But I just couldn't endorse what he was doing. Not because I cared whether he was destroying his body or not. Do whatever you want to do if it doesn't hurt anyone. Nor did I care that he was throwing his wife and five kids in an RV for the trip as well. Good for him for letting his family come along with him and see more in their young lives (his older was 12 years old and youngest 5 during this movie) han most adults will ever see in their life time. No, it was a couple of other things that really rubbed me the wrong way about how this all went down.

First and foremost is not owning up to the fact that they weren't Ironman races. In my latest book I am writing, I talk about stopping the embellishment. I know that calling them Ironmans is good for publicity and much more catchy than "140.6 miles of swimming, cycling and running workouts." But here's the thing: that's exactly what they f*cking were! As a person who has completed in many such races, you would think that he himself would be most attuned to what makes a race a race. I sure as heck am. What made my 52 so difficult was not just the covering the distance. But showing up, on race day, and racing in whatever the heck came down from the heavens that day. I had to compete with other people, I had to deal with the weather, and I had to go when the gun fired, not whenever I wanted to. This is paramount. That is why how many free throws you sink in the gym don’t matter when it comes to nailing them with the NBA championship on the line.
Second was an entitlement attitude that Lawrence showed. When the IV controversy popped up, and other things from the internet reared their head (note to anyone doing anything anymore like this in the age of Twitter, etc : you are going to have people who don’t like what you do. DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS!) he was almost astounded that anyone dare question his motives. “I don’t have any sympathy and don’t understand the rationale for someone who criticizes what we were trying to accomplish,” Lawrence said. This is where he lost me. Immediately all I could think about was Horner and those who use charity to hide behind what they are trying to accomplish. When they fail it is always “But think of the kids!” When the filmmakers pushed Lawrence and asked if he could at least see the viewpoint of the those offer criticism he paused and then said “no.”

Furthermore, when he said “How could you possibly have an opinion it?”, the utmost of arrogance really shown through. In fact, all I could think of was Lance Armstrong denying every allegation of impropriety with venom and vitriol. How can they have an opinion, James? Well, they are human. Chances are they are triathletes. Chance further are they are the people who you were lamenting weren’t contributing to the cause you were trying to raise money for. So, opinions are going to be what puts money in your coffers. And I can have an opinion because I did something very much on par with your efforts and I did exactly what I aid I was going to do, what is on the cover of one of my books ,and what is the crux of many of my speeches. (He does, at the end of the film, seem to admit to giving up sense of entitlement but that appears to be much more for the narrative than an actual truth.)

There was also a charity controversy involved with his effort as well which was seemingly resolved at the end. This really rubbed me the wrong way. When I ran my 52 marathons, I too raised money for an organization. While during the initial planning of my races, I found one which was organizing by a group in Mobile Alabama that was part of a larger international organization called L’Arche. Dealing with mental and physically disabled individuals over the age of maturity, L’Arche also organized one of the races I was planning on running. Thinking that if I was going to be doing something difficult, I might have some extra gumption behind me if I had more people counting on me to finish, I asked L’Arche if they would mind me raising money for them. You see, I had worked with handicapped individuals in a variety of different ways for most of my life.  As I had never heard of L’Arche, I guarantee you many others hadn’t either. So on top of money raised, I would also raise awareness. We hear that a lot for diseases and cause which we are all pretty darn aware of. At least here I would actually be making people aware of something they didn’t know.
All told I raised over $43,000 that went directly to L’Arche through a third party fund-handling group. Whatever L’Arche decided to do with that money was up to them. That way I never had to deal with the controversy that both Horner and Lawrence did. I also then understand the frustration when you want people to donate and they aren’t. The thing is though you have to remember that this is a goal YOU took on. People have no obligation to be as involved as you are regardless of how difficult what you are doing is.

Finally, the complaints about how difficult it is or how much you want to quit are lost on me. Lawrence had one hell of a crew. He had monetary sponsors. He had said sponsors sending paid and unpaid employees down to help him with his endeavor. He had people with advanced nutrition and electronics and massage and so much more to get his body in the best shape possible. Hell, one day he actually had two crew members more or less carry him through the final 6 miles of one his marathons with a crew member on each side pulling him along.

Lawrence falls back one point on how being there to run with his daughter every night is what kept him going from the 39th day forward. That’s nice. I know that you can’t criticize family stories or you are seen as an ogre but ogre me up. I know I don’t have a daughter to use as a cool point in any of my stories. In fact, when a documentary was made of my solo running of the 202miler American Odyssey Relay, one complaint a friend had was that it wasn’t dramatic enough. So on top of running 202 miles straight, I was at fault for having what can only be described as a relatively drama-free run. I lucked out by not having a bear attack me or get into a fistfight with a crew member and somehow was punished for it. But I will never apologize for always putting the story out there exactly how it happened and simply letting people decide whether they want to support it or not.

That is basically my take away from this film and Lawrence’s effort. He is obviously very accomplished and very fit. He seems to want to do some good things for others while also experiencing awesome things for himself. I see no fault in that. There is nothing wrong with enjoying what you do when you are also helping others. But, like more than a few people commented, this seemed like not much more than a desire to do something cool which had a charitable component tacked on to help launder it a bit. Throw in the family aspect and you add another layer of criticism-proof protection.
What Lawrence accomplished was an incredible feat of endurance. It’s unfortunate he didn’t do what he is known for.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Lifetime Splash and Dash Series 4 of 6 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 13; 7th Edition 
32.35 miles run and 12.75 miles biked and 3300 meters swam in races in 2019 races
Race: Lifetime Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 95 degrees; sunny; humid; slight breeze

This is the 17th one of these races I have ran and written about in this particular race series. I am going to be upfront and say I am a touch disappointed that I haven't improved much more than I have to this point. When I ran the first of these I assumed soon I would be minutes faster and challenging for the overall win. However, there are a few caveats:
1. I don't swim nearly as much as I should in order to get as fast as I would like;
2. The vast majority of these have been in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees;
3. Overall win-wise probably won't ever happen as some of the top finishers here might just be kis but they have swim times even in my absolute prime I couldn't match.

As such, I can't be that bothered. Or I shouldn't be. But I still am. That's part of being a racer who wants to get faster. However, this is not a recap of complaints or excuses. This is one where I am more than pleased with my effort.

Swim:

I swam a few times in preparation for this race but not as much as I would like. A local pool that was supposed to be done in late May is STILL not completed. As soon as it is, I plan to be there a minimum of four times a week and really hope to take down my time on the weakest portion of this event for me. I know I can drop another 30 seconds in the run relatively easily, but this swim is where I could lose at least a minute, if not more, if I actually put the time in the water that it requires.

As I have described before the swim is a clockwise pentagonal shape around five major buoys that is usually rather pleasant. Today was warm as our summer is in full swing down here but as Austin hasn't had the repeated 105 degree days, it was at least mildly better than it could have been.  Sometimes it is just a pure soup of warm water. A nice breeze filtered in over the water as well which was unexpected and welcome.

After the horn sounded, I found myself right on the tail of a swimmer I didn't recognize. In fact, all the normal athletes who are around me weren't to be found. I didn't feel like I was doing too well but I also didn't think it was that bad. Open water swimming is difficult in my mind mostly because of the lack of ways in which to tell how hard you are working. Today was no different.

With the swimmer I was near, I found he wasn't doing that great of a job of swimming straight and as I was already on the outermost portion of the water I could be without going out of bounds, I was a bit boxed in.  I was trying to get around him but he was just fast enough to make this difficult.  However ,I knew in a little while I would have the inside as we made a hard right hand turn and from there I could make a move. I waited until we passed the third buoy and then picked up the pace. I soon had this swimmer behind me and was tracking down another. As we raced directly into the sun, making sighting pretty hard, I used the bubbles from his kicks to guide me. I felt relaxed and smooth but not like I was going too fast. I couldn't tell if today was going to be good or great. I knew it wasn't bad. Or at least I hoped so!

Heading for home, I got a nice straight line, must straighter than usual. I ran up the hill and towards the start of the three laps of running. I didn't have a watch on this time but I knew that wouldn't be a problem as they have a clock to read. Unfortunately, after putting on my shoes and heading for the run I could see the clock wasn't working. Now I had no idea how fast I had gone. Drats. Finding out later I had a swim and transition time of 12:06, my second fastest ever, was beyond surprising.

Run:


As I mentioned, none of the normal people I compete against were here and with no watch and no working clock, I had no clue as to how my time was going to be on each lap. So today was going to just be about position overall.

A bit ahead of me was a runner who had a touch of grey in his temples. I knew that chances were high he was a Masters runner and therefore in my division. I was not going to let him beat me if I could help it. Before half of a lap was over, I was in his back pocket. I passed him before the hill I hate and pushed hard on that small rise. I wanted to make sure to leave him behind and not give him a chance to use me to draft. Into the teeth of the hill and sun I accelerated, looking forward to respite given by the shade and ever so slight downhill which ends each lap. Getting there, I looked ahead and saw absolutely no one in front of me to chase down. I had nothing to help push me but fear of getting caught from behind. As I came to end the first loop, I saw the clock still wasn't working. Bollocks. It was clear I would have no indication of what my efforts were producing today. However, I ran a 4:23 which is actually faster than last month. Too bad I didn't know this.

The second lap now had me with more people on the course as a woman or two had entered the fray after their 3-minute delay in the water and some other guys were in front of me as well. The problem is, it is a little hard to tell if these are fast swimmers who can't run worth a damn or just decent swimmers who are decent runners. The best bet is to pass them all and worry about it at the end.

On the hill I fumbled with a glass of water which cost me a second. I didn't feel too hot which was a surprise. Just tired. And not knowing if the tired was because I was moving fast and could press more or tired and this was my limit was playing with my head. Damn watch and clock not working! I did run a 4:28 which was one second slower than last month. Again, that info would have been nice to know.


Onto the final lap I went and I didn't have much gas left. I was really just wanting to be done and with more athletes on the course (and others who are working out and really could wait just like 30 minutes for those us racing to have room on this narrow dirt and root path) it was hard to really get moving. But one man appeared in front of me and while I knew he was not in front of me in race position, I raced him like he was.

I had a sneaking feeling that maybe I had a great swim and that some of the swimmers I normally come out of the water with but then battle on the run might be sneaking up on me. But I looked behind me with about 90 seconds of running to go and saw no one of importance. Grabbed a quick glass of water and half-missed my mouth which wasn't bad thing.  Cold water on my body felt wonderful.

One final push had me running 4:24 for my final lap and more or less tying my time from last month in 25:22. Four races this year and these are my four fastest ever of the 17 I have done. Truly is a testament to the weight I have lost this year. This allowed me to win the masters division and place 6th overall male. Two girls beat me and I don't use that term impolitely. They are aged 14 and 20.  In fact, here are the ages of the top ten: 17, 16, 30, 24, 14, 15, 20, 43, 17, 29 and 47. There is a LOT of youth in there. And virtually everyone who beats me is doing 90% of that ass-kicking on the swim.

So if I get my butt in the pool, I might actually move up the ladder. And find an ab or two. There is no six pack there.


Monday, June 24, 2019

Oregon SummerFest 10 Mile Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 13; 6th Edition 
31.35 miles run and 12.75 miles biked and 2550 meters swam in races in 2019 races
Race: Oregon SummerFest 10 Mile
Place: Oregon, WI
Miles from home: 1179
Weather: 65 degrees; sunny; dry

I was in Madison Wisconsin for a speaking engagement at the Dream Bank, a community space dedicated to the pursuit of dreams, run by American Family Insurance. I had been at this Dream Bank six years ago when I was running from Dane Wisconsin to Davenport Iowa in an event that I created called, wait for it, Dane to Davenport. It was hard to believe that it has been six years since I was there but when you get old time flies by.

As is the case whenever I travel, if I have time, I try to find a local race to take part in. As luck would have it there was an event just south of Madison in Oregon, Wisconsin. Because I strive for accuracy you’ll be happy to know that the pronunciation of this city is different from the pronunciation of the state. The emphasis being on the last syllable and pronouncing it "gone" was difficult for this former resident of the tate to say this when he had to stop his mother from doing that very same pronunciation all the time. But I persevered.

This small local race had usually only had a 10 or a 5K race in it, neither of which fit my limited skill set in running. Fortunately, this year they added a 10-mile race. That sounded pretty darn good to me so I signed up.

The weather called for 50s and 60s most of the week leading up to the race with strong possibility of rain. But as the morning broke it was clear that it was going to be rather sunny. In fact by race time it was in the low 60s with a bright sun ahead. This is obviously not “ideal“ but for summer it is hardly bad whatsoever. Throw in the fact that on Tuesday just four days before this race I had done in an aquathlon in Austin Texas where at 6:30 PM it was in the mid 90s and let’s just say I was quite happy with the weather. One thing that I was not happy with, however, was a breathing problem that I had the morning of the race.

This spring has been a very good training spring for me and I thought that my racing was going to come together at a marathon in Canton, Ohio in April. But I had trouble breathing that day and ended up tanking it just about three miles in.  In Wisconsin, I was experiencing the same thing I don’t know if this was allergies or what but it is quite a bummer to feel that you are trained and not have the results on race day. So I got to this race well in advance hoping to maybe jog out some of the crap in my lungs. I ran over certain parts of the course and got in a good two miles before the race started. By then my lungs felt much better but far from perfect. I noticed it was sparsely populated race for us 10 milers, as we started before the other events.  But I noticed one fella who looked quite spritely.


RACE:

Within a quarter of a mile, after the start a very frustrating thing happened. I’m not particularly fast. I can win a race here and there but all it takes is someone with moderately good talent to show up and I don’t have a chance. In other words, the race has to be relatively small in order for me to maybe get a victory. Well this race was small but some ringer came down from the Movin Shoes store in Madison Wisconsin to show the locals and travelers like me who was boss. I could see that there was no way I was going to win this race and soon the leader was gone from sight. Also, another gentleman was between the two of us leaving me solidly in third place.

The race was well-organized for a small town race with wonderful markings on the ground for all four of the different races that were taking place. However, the one thing that was missing was mile markers. I found this out as we entered into what was the first of two loops of a park system. It was hard for me to tell if the gentlemen in front of me were running fast or if I was simply running slow. As my GPS watch was on the fritz, I was simply using a standard stopwatch which I thought would be enough if I had mile markers. That was not the case. As such I was now in no-mans land with no one really to chase in front of me and no idea of how fast I was going. Normally I have a good idea of my pace but as the past few years have been off, with me laboring in Texas heat, my inner sensors haven't been calibrated to what felt hard because it was hot or what was hard because I was running fast.

As i was hoping for a win on this day, it was difficult to keep myself motivated with that out the window and the thought that I wasn't running well at all. I run for a multitude of reasons.  But I race to run fast. When that isn't happening the fallback is to place high in the event, the thinking being that everyone is suffering. However, by the time we left the park and crossed a road into another smaller park I had a little bit of motivation.

There was a runner who I could simply not shake probably about 30 yards behind me. As we made little turns here and there, I was given glimpses o whomever was behind me and this young fella was doing a great job of hanging on. I figured I might not get first or second but I was going to be damned if I let him keep me from joining the podium. Especially since he was wearing baggy basketball shorts. I can't sleep at night if someone wearing basketball shorts of five finger shoes beats me. So as we ran down and started the second loop I began to pick up the pace. At least I think I did as a distance between me and my chaser grew.  My lungs finally opened up and even though I was drenched in sweat in spite of it only being around 65 degrees, I felt like I was running fast for the first time all day. However, I could see I was getting demolished by the first place runner. I wondered if he had not been there if I could have made a race out of it with the guy in second place. It didn't really matter now, as he too was also solidly in front of me.

By now runners from the other races were beginning to either exit the first park or enter it from another direction. So, while there was nary a spectator cheering out on the course other than the few that were manning the aid stations, it was still nice to see other participants.

I had a fair estimate of an idea of where the 8th mile was simply by extrapolating a course map I had seen for the 10K the night before the race. When I hit that spot it look like I was actually going to have a solid time for this race. As such, obviously not feeling that great about my effort, I figured that this might not be the right mile marker. As I headed down a stretch of road where I had run earlier in my warm-up I realized I was much closer to the finish than I thought. I knew the 10K and 10 mile course finished the same but doubting my own ability I figured the 10 mile course must branch off for an extra half mile or something somewhere.

However with about three minutes of running left I realize that I was on the right course and only had the finish line in front of me. I looked at my watch and was beyond surprised. If I had known a little bit sooner I might’ve been able to put a bigger push on to run a tad faster, But as it stands when I passed in third place and a time of 1:07:21 I had well over a one minute PR. I temper this excitement simply with the fact that I have run a faster pace for no less than five or six marathons and numerous halfmarathons as well. But the fact that I’ve only run a handful of 10 milers means I still set a PR. Can't argue with facts, people!

What was quite hilarious however is my desire to not be kept off the podium didn’t matter as the race only gave out awards for first and second place. I’m not complaining whatsoever as I have more than enough non-precious metals in my collection. It just tickled me that one thing that was spurring me on was one thing that I never ended up getting.



I thoroughly enjoyed my time in this small town eating some pasta from a place that after 40 years was closing its doors in just a week. While I always lament that I have not traveled internationally nearly as much as I would like, I do like how much I have seen of United States. Going to small towns like this and experiencing the local flavor has always made any travel woes well worth it. Seeing good friends and meeting new ones is also a plus. When you start a trip with a vocational opportunity that allows you to inspire some people and hear their own stories and finish it with a new race personal best all in about 48 hours then one must consider that a sincere success.

Now I just need to figure out this breathing problem and tackle some more races soon.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Lifetime Splash and Dash Series 3 of 6 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 13; 5th Edition 
21.35 miles run and 12.75 miles biked and 2550 meters swam in races in 2019 races
Race: Lifetime Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 95 degrees; sunny; dry

I had set three consecutive PRs at this distance going into this race at I doubted that would continue on this evening as we neared the 6:30 p.m. start time and we were still hovering around 95 degrees. With water temperature at a posted 83 degrees the only thing that was going for us weather-wise was a nice breeze and relatively low humidity.

Swim:

I had actually hit the pool a few times since the last swim race  so I expected to be a little faster than normal. I decided to push it a little harder this time because I figured I would wilt during the run anyway.

The swim is a clockwise pentagonal shape around five major buoys that is usually rather pleasant. Today wasn't too bad as it felt even a touch cooler than advertised. I found myself right on the tail of a young swimmer who almost has always beaten me out of the swim. In fact, by the time we hit the third buoy I had passed him. I figured I was having the swim of my life. Unfortunately, I brought a crappy pair of googles with me and as we turned and swam into the sun, I had an awful time seeing in front of me. My swim started to zigzag a little and I wasted precious seconds getting back on course. As we passed the final buoy and headed home, I saw I was in front of another swimmer that was normally in front of me. I must be swimming out of my mind.

Getting out of the water, I stumbled a bit putting on my shoes but figured I would be fine. Both the swimmer right in front and behind me transitioned quicker and were off to the races. I crossed the mat to start the run in 12:07. This was my second fastest swim and T1 ever but no where near what I thought it was going to be. These fellas must have been having an off night. All 14 and 16 years old of them. Damn yoots with their skillz.

Run:

So a little disheartened by a swim a tad slower than I expected I set off on my run. I saw the 14 year old had passed the 16 year old, whom is the one I am normally able to catch on the run. But I didn't seem to have much zip in the legs and as I was indeed catching him, it wasn't as quickly as I liked. The 14 year old began to pull away right when we hit the backside loop hill that I despise. But right then I felt a small slowing in the other runner and began to pass him. Right before the end of the first loop, he was behind me. I hit it in 4:25 which was not bad but wasn't great.

The second loop allowed me to get a glimpse of a new-found nemesis, a perfectly affable young man of 29 named Kyle. Now Kyle had beat me by 4 seconds in the first race of these this year, partly because I hadn't know he was on the same lap as I was and I hadn't kicked it in. Last month I bested Kyle by a time of 12 seconds. So this seemed to be the rubber match. However, throughout this loop I couldn't seem to make any ground on him. I crossed the second loop in 4:27 and figured I would have another slower loop to finish out. I just couldn't seem to find the will to run harder.

Suddenly, Kyle slowed just a touched on the downhill portion and I was just a few seconds behind him. He got mildly caught up in a narrow portion of the course passing runners behind us on their loops which allowed me to turn this into a tactical race. I love "racing" like this. Most of the time I am just pushing myself against the clock but sometimes it is fun to take down runners as well. The problem was I soon on his heels right as we began the backside hill.  I really can't tell you how much this tiny little hill slows me down but I knew I had to keep the momentum and pass him here.

Unfortunately, I made the cardinal sin of passing and I did not do it definitely. Energized by my passing him (Kyle's final loop was 21 seconds faster than his first) he saw me falter ever so much and suddenly had a five second lead on me. As we hit the final homestretch, which is shaded, and slightly downhill (and I always crush on each lap) I now saw he as fading a touch.  But I had given him too much real estate. I narrowed the margin with a 4:20 lap but ended up 2 seconds behind Kyle for 7th male overall. The PR streak ended with a 25:21 but this remains my third fastest time ever of all these races,  with those three all happening this year.

A new community pool is supposed to be opening soon in my neighborhood. When it does, I fully intended to try and re-find my gills and get my swim time down 30 seconds to a full minute. While I will never catch Kyle's brother Kasey, who routinely wins the entire race (with a swim and T1 2:30 faster than me) I should be a bit more respectable. AS it stands, I won the Master's Division for the second time this year and am looking forward to the July edition of this race when I am sure it will be 100 degrees and humid!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Dexa Scan

I recently received an offer to get a DEXA Scan which measures body composition (muscle, fat, bone). As a tinkerer and a stat lover, I love anything that can give me more insight into how to make myself healthier or a faster runner. Also, as a fan of the show Scrubs, all I could think about was the episode where full scans were the bane of Dr. Cox's existence where they showed perfectly healthy people all their imperfections. Obviously not the same thing, it was a nice discussion I had with myself before realizing it wouldn't be a bad idea just to take a peak under the hood anyway.

So off to the Fitness Institute of Texas courtesy of the generosity of the DEXASCAN people I went. I knew the chances were low I would be happy with much of the results I would see, simply because I am fairly hard on myself.  However, this is the best shape I have been in since 2012 so I was glad I was doing it now than just about any other time in the recent past.

I was a bit surprised when I weighed in a good ten pounds more than I normally weigh, especially since I have taken off so much weight this year. But I hadn't run yet for the day and had eaten heartily over the Memorial Day weekend. Another nice surprise was that I was, barefoot, 6'1''. I have been 6'1'' since I was 18 but I know that guys often fib their height a bit. I often joke saying I am the only 6'1'' guy in existence as most who claim they are actually are 5'11.5'' and the ones who are 73 inches, skew upward in their tales. But here I was, no shrinkage or anything at all, (I was in the pool!) proving years of running hadn't shrunk my spine a bit.




The scan was quick and painless, as I simply lied down on some butcherblock paper as the arm of the machine gave me the once over. My pleasant and affable test giver, Rachel, peppered me with questions while we waited. When the results came back, I can say I was both unsurprised and also, as expected, a little disappointed. The biggie was body fat percentage. Mine was supposedly 24.8% which really gave me pause. But in our conversation, Rachel mentioned that if I weighed a bit less the percentage would go down as well, which I didn't think seemed to make sense because the weight alone shouldn't dictate the percentage of body fat. Perhaps I misunderstood her. (Or the scan works with some simple plugging in of weight as a number which makes it a little less exact than I thought.) Since, I already thought I weighed a bit less (and I came home and weighed myself on my own scale at 176) my guess is that it is closer to just under 20%. Still, egads.

That's actually fine. I have already made great strides towards losing fat and building muscle this year, even while not working specifically on that. You see, being a long distance runner and being all ripped do not go hand-in-hand. I remember a good friend of mine once saying he was surprised given al the running I do that I am not significantly more "cut." Well, I sorta eat what I want (in moderation) and running alone doesn't give you that cover of Men's Health magazine build. (Also, thank goodness I have a good sense of self-worth or that comment might have hurt, SCOTT.) It was reassuring to see that my bone density is thoroughly fantastic, so hopefully no new hips anytime in the next three decades. Also, I laughed at the density of my collarbones, both of which I have broken twice and one could actually see where those flimsy porcelain snapsticks had shattered previously.

There were a lot of numbers I didn't fully get a chance to understand but the gist is I have another set of guideposts to help me along on my journey. Sure, we all want to look good in the mirror, and to have fat wrapped around our organs, but the numbers which usually mean the most to me are those on the clock above the finishline as they cruelly tick upward. The less of those numbers I see the better. If I can use this scan to help me get those numbers down, than it was well worth my time.

But I guess I could go do a few more crunches.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Lifetime Splash and Dash 2 of 6 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 13; 4th Edition 
19.35 miles run and 12.75 miles biked and 1800 meters swam in races in 2019 races
Race: Lifetime Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 86 degrees; sunny; dry

2019 has been a tad of an anomaly for me. I am running my workouts the best I have in nearly a decade. However, this would only be my third race of the year.  The last race I did, a half-marathon, I had hoped would show me if I was going to race well or just have good workouts. Unfortunately, I dealt with a respiratory problem which left me just as unsure about my progress after the race as before.

The last aquathlon I did, five weeks ago, went spectacular for me. The only thing which hadn't gone my way was breaking the 25:00 mark. With the weather being much warmer on this day, I didn't expect that to happen. One good thing for me is unlike that race, where I hadn't swum in six months, I did have one swim event and three workouts under my belt. That is not even REMOTELY enough to make big leaps but it was at least something.

The day of the race there had been a rain storm in the mid-morning which somehow had cleared the humidity out of the area. I am sure there is an explanation for that but didn't make sense to me. Regardless, since I wasn't expecting to have a great race, and I am experimenting with all sorts of different workout regimens, I went for a small four-mile jog around lunch before this 6:30 p.m. race.

Arriving at the quarry, I hoped the water was still cool given all the rain Austin has received as of late. Someone told me it wasn't but as I slipped into the water, it was far cooler than I expected. This gave me some hope.

Swim:

I picked my usual spot along the further buoy and when the gun started, I was a little perturbed that someone came from my right, on the other side of where they were supposed to be.  Soon, I had no choice but to let them get in front of me and then slide to the right again. Open water swims can be a tad annoying and I am glad that I am a strong swimmer who doesn't have any water anxieties.

I soon found that I was right in the slipstream of another swimmer. I couldn't pass him, but he wasn't going any faster than me. As I hardly felt spry enough to make a move on the swim, and was worried what the heat would do to me on the run, I just used his bubbles to guide me along. Without needing to sight while swimming as I could use him to keep me in a straight line, I had a rather enjoyable little dog paddle. As usual, a few swimmers blasted out like sharks, a few were behind them and then there was me. No one really around me on either side and no one nipping at my heels. Overall it felt good but until I got out of the water there was no way of really telling.

I slipped up the ramp, threw my shoes on, and crossed the mat to begin the run at 11:58. I knew that 12:10 was my fastest ever and that was two years prior.  I never came close to that in all of last year having swum a 12:50; 12:30; 12:18; 12:27; 12:30; 12:31, 12:29. In fact, this was 13 seconds faster than last month when I PRd. Well, that's good!

Run:

My first lap was just trying to get rid of a small side stitch as I tracked down a youngster (160 years old) in front of me. I knew I was faster than him on the run as I had beaten him handily last month.  This time, however, he held me off a tad longer than I expected and I wondered if he was rounding into shape. His swim was faster so who was to say his run might not be.

I passed him a little after the first lap but didn't hit my watch lap to see what I had just split. Rather than fumble with it and risk tripping, I knew I could just see what I had left on the next lap and do the math. As I have said before, this run course is not easy. The footing is dirty and rocks and roots, and it twists and turns with branches hanging down from trees. I was thankful for those trees today as they blocked the sun on the front half of the loop. But on the cruel climb on the back half, the sun was fully bearing down.

I could see another runner in front of me as we approached the end of the second loop and if I wasn't mistaken, he was the fella who had finished just a few seconds in front of me last month.  I hadn't known he was on my loop and while I might not have been able to catch him last month, I'd like to think I could have dug deep to do so if I was aware he was also finishing.  This time I wanted to make sure that didn't happen. It took me a bit longer than I wanted to catch him but I passed him on the same downhill portion I had passed the teen on the previous lap.

The stitch in my side was not relenting but I felt I was going to break 25 minutes and if so, it could hurt for another few minutes. I hit the last straightaway and saw I had 30 seconds to break that barrier. I gave it all I had and set my third consecutive (going back to last fall) PR and eked out a 24:58 which was good enough for 7th place overall. I lost overall Masters to a newly minted 40-year old who hadn't raced a single one of these last year. He used to beat me by two minutes. This time it was just 30 seconds.

What made me very happy was that my run appeared to be three consecutive 4:20 loops. I have no doubt in my mind I can get those down to 4:10, maybe even 4:05 each. If I actually get my butt in the pool and work on my swim, it is entire possible I can take another minute off this PR. That still won't put me close to winning this thing as the overall leaders would still be two minutes faster than me (most of that coming on the swim) but it sure does make me feel good that somehow, at less than two weeks away from being 43 years old, I still seem to have some surprises left.

The weather in Austin isn't going to do me any favors in the upcoming months but I have already shown that even in far less than ideal conditions, I am still improving. Here's to that upward climb!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Streak Ends

A week before my longest running streak ever ended, I finally knew when it would. After 143 straight days of running (besting my previous record by nearly 100 days), a very early morning wake-up call, a two-hour drive to an expo, a long day of signing books and talking to runners, and a desire to race well the next day meant that Saturday, April 27th would be the end of the streak. I know you were all so very concerned.

When I broke 100 days, I wrote a little blog-post about it because it was extremely earth-shattering and you needed to know. Actually, the vast majority of this blog for the past 12 years has been a place for me to write my thoughts and feelings down and if other gain insight from them, then fantastic! I will save you a repeat of the intense navel-gazing of that post, and suffice it to say that I am beyond pleased with no only how I performed during this streak but the fact that I ended it.


Only twice during that time did I feel like maybe I shouldn't run. However, while I went out for a run each time expecting to maybe turn around, I instead quickly got over the potential fear of injury of soreness and soldiered on.

I have been extremely lucky the past half-decade as I have not suffered a single running injury, per se. Sure I tripped and broke my hand in December of 2015 and was mugged by two men breaking my face and my thumb in 2017  (yes, you read that right) but since 2014 when I had intense calf pain that left me grimacing on runs for months, I haven't not gone for a run once because of pain in my legs. That is a long time, with a lot of races and a lot of miles to not tweak something. I do not take that for granted. And I think most of that comes from knowing when not to run.

As racing goes, however, I had a horrible half-marathon on the day my new streak began, mostly because of a breathing problem which I should have realized would happen. I don't wish in retrospect I had run the night before to keep the streak live, however. Racing is a crapshoot. We try to put ourselves in the best position possible and hope all the other dominoes fall the way they should. They didn't for me on race day but I am in the best running shape I have been in for nearly seven years and it is only a matter of time until that shows up on race day.

Unless the Austin heat kills me first.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Pro Football Hall of Fame Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 13; 3rd Edition 
17.35 miles run and 12.75 miles biked and 1050 meters swam in races in 2019 races
Race: Pro Football Hall of Fame Half Marathon
Place: Canton, OH
Miles from home: 1310
Weather: 40 degrees; rainy; windy

What makes racing so much different than running is the fact that there is a clock attached to it. I have long advocated that anyone of any talent level get out and run. I have also done the same for racing. But the difference between the two should be the effort given and the desire to give all you can give. That is why racing holds such a special place for me personally. One shouldn't put on a bib number and toe the line unless they are willing to give all they have that day. Granted, most days it won't be anywhere close to what you would like. But, for me, running a race just "to have fun" (which is always code for "to take pictures, give less than your best, and mess around") goes against what a "race" is about. Your views may differ (and I have no doubt for some of you they do as any time I have broached this subject, I get labeled as an elitist or that those at the back of the pack have more fun and blah, blah, blah) but to me, that is what separates a race from a run.

Because there are so many variables that can make a run good or bad, hoping that a good run falls on a race day is what makes each race such a wild card. It is what makes it extremely special to race well on the day of the event and not just during training.To show up, ready and prepared and then also have the fates play into your hands and give you what you need. Not simply collecting medals and accolades but doing the whole left, right thing as fast as possible.

I coach athletes and have gotten dozens to set new PRs in all sorts of distances. The first thing I tell them is how lucky they are to get to the starting line of any race.With so many variables that can stop that, sometimes it is a miracle. Second. as luck plays so much into how we do on race day, we cannot get too excited about the highs and, more importantly, do not get to let down about the lows. I try my best to listen to my own advice. This weekend in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame half-marathon, I had to deal with the "lows" portion.

Until two weeks ago I hadn't run a race since the first weekend of December. Given the downright pleasant weather we have had in Austin this year, I have been taking advantage and putting in some great training miles. When I ran an aquathlon and a triathlon last week, the run portion of both was about the best I could hope for.  As such, I was excited to see where I stood just running alone at this half-marathon.

I spent the day before the race at the expo, where I was apparently out of focus very often for people. Nevertheless, I got to see people I hadn't seen in years, meet others I had talked to but never had the pleasure of meeting face-to-face, and make new acquaintances as well. I would mention all the great people I met, but would undoubtedly leave out one and feel like a jerk!

When my friend, and running legend Bill Rodgers came over to say hello, I realized we had been friends now for eleven years. Bill gives so much back to a sport that loves him so much that it is always a pleasure to see him. Today's runners know less and less about our recent history in the sport and that is a shame. But Bill is one who sticks out in most runners' minds and for good reason.

Race Morning:


A windy Saturday turned into a windy and rainy race day.  There had been predictions that this would blow over by race time but as the clock ticked down, that showed it would not be the case. I sat in a invited athletes section, fortunately warmed from the weather. I finally met in person a runner and educator, Taylor Sowers, whose class I had Skyped with years ago. Taylor would end up running a 2:55 to take third overall in some serious sloppy conditions and setting a new PR as well. That was a stellar time indeed!

Walking to the start, I talked to two individual athletes; one, Eric, who would end up winning the half-marathon in a ridiculous 1:15 and the other, Barbara, who would take first in the female edition of the marathon in another fantastic time of 2:59. Interesting that in my sleepy morning time, two of the few people I would talk to ended up doing so well. Too bad it didn't rub off on me.

As we counted down to the start, I took off my jacket and asked Bill Rodgers if he could give it back to me at the end of the race. I know this is like asking LeBron James to hold your jock but Bill gladly gave it to someone else to make sure I got it back at the end. A cannon fired and away we went!

First 3 miles:

I can normally tell how a race will go for me, or at least in what direction, in the walk to the start.  Today I had no clues. I had slept just fine, eaten a decent meal, and felt sufficiently awake. But I neither felt tired nor did I have a spring in my step. I had taken the previous day off from running, which also was my first day off in 143 days. That running streak beat my previous streak of 48 days by quite a margin. One would think I would be rip roaring ready to go.

When we hit the first mile and I only clocked a 6:39, I was a bit disappointed. It felt so much faster.  My lungs, also, were burning. This, unfortunately, is mostly my fault. Suffice it to say that I have allergies that I know I have that I could have dealt with better and should also have not put myself in  place where there had been so much cigarette smoke the day before. I have sissy lungs that need perfect conditions to function properly and I didn't do what I needed to do to make that happen.  I have no one to blame but myself even if I did think that I would have them clear by the time the race started.  But, I thought, perhaps the mile markers are a little askew and by the second mile I will be back on track.

Unfortunately, I didn't see the second mile marker and given the very blustery conditions, it is entirely possible it was blown over. Regardless, I knew the projected times of some of those around me and regardless of mile markers, I knew I wasn't running what I wanted. Hitting the third mile marker I just divided by two and knew already that my desired goals for the day were out the window. I was going to come nowhere close to the 1:25 or so which I knew was entirely possible for me to get today. Now the question begins: what do you do on a race day when you know your race is over but you have miles to go before it literally is?

To Mile Six

The fourth mile had us approaching the boundaries of the small Evangelical Protestant liberal arts college, Malone University. The first boisterous crowd of the day was led by some vocal students here and it was greatly appreciated. Kudos to any and all who braved these less than desirable spectating conditions. I didn't mind running in them too much even if they weren't ideal, but standing around in near freezing temperatures in wind and rain required a hardy soul.

This also marked the high point of the course for us elevation-wise and a small downhill, with a wind at our back coming up, provided me with some of the best miles of the day for. We traversed some of the most beautifully laid brick roads I have ever seen in the Ridgewood Historic District which provided me with a little spark as well. (I also love how we ran up Yale Street and back down Harvard Street. Not sure if that is mocking the students of Malone or what exactly.)

The next turn had all of us front runners passing all those behind us on a mile-long stretch of Market Ave. I spent precious resources cheering on those behind me and they did the same for me. Yet in spite of all of this, I was showing no signs of picking up the pace. Granted, neither was anyone else which at least made me feel that I wasn't the only one struggling. However, as I read from many others, they were dealing with the rain and wind much more than I was. For the most part, while cold for sure, I wasn't too bothered. I just couldn't breathe.

At this point, I felt like I was rather locked into my position in the race. It didn't look like I was going to catch much of anyone and no one else seemed to be closing the gap on me.


Heading to Mile 10:

With a nice turn around right in front of the Stark County Courthouse, I saw Taylor on his way to his awesome finish. I could also see that here were a few people closer behind me than I thought but after that it was a long stretch of no people. One woman who would overtake me on the uphills and allow me to slip past her on the downs was right beside me. We would do this cat and mouse again for the next few miles.

We passed the Timken High School where the student band/dance/step squad was out performing for runners. That was beyond appreciated, especially given the weather. Normally, I would have whooped it up with the kidlings but I was too buy feeling sorry for myself.

At 7.5 miles the course rejoined the first 1.5 miles through a nice park area which could definitely lend itself to boisterous crowds as this race, in its third year, continues to grow.  Today, however, they were silent, save for our footsteps and the rain drops. And if your soul leaving your body makes a noise, it was about to make a loud one for me at mile nine. The above-mentioned woman drew next to me as we lopped back to pas under the start line and we began to run in lockstep. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I knew I was going to puke.I pulled off to the side, right in front of some Porta Potties and let go what could only be described as a slightly wet dry heave. I hadn't eaten anything since the night before and, for the first time, realized I hadn't drunk a single drop on this course. This expulsion and heaving was the nail on the coffin for me to even try to have a respectable time of sub-1:30.

I stepped into the Porta Potty and used it. Not sure what I was coming out of me given the dearth of foods and liquids but that's the human body. Coming out, I also grabbed a throwaway shirt. Why, you might ask. Well, let's just say I was having a bit of a wardrobe malfunction and was trying to be a bit modest. Unfortunately, I didn't resolve the issue. Fortunately, the crowds were sparse. That's all that needs to be said there.

On to the Finish:

Right when I was beginning to feel pretty damn low, the course took us past a quarter mile section put on by wear blue: run to remember. This national nonprofit running community that honors the service and sacrifice of the American military had put out picture after picture of fallen military members.  We hear the numbers all the time but seeing faces put to just a smallest of fractions to those numbers was sobering. We see those wonderful videos of military members surprising their family members by coming home early from their service. As wonderful as that is, I always say wouldn't it be even better if we weren't always sending soldiers to fight wars that are unnecessary or unwinnable?

*steps off soapbox*

Right after these pictures were dozens of people standing on either side of the road leading to the McKinley Memorial Park holding full 3x5 American Flags for runners to run through. It was, all in all, a rather moving sentiment and one that took my mind off my own personal suffering for a few minutes at least.

Next it was a little jaunt around WaterWorks Park and circumventing West Lawn Cemetery. You didn't get to see nearly as much of them as one would like before skirting over Interstate 77 and beginning the final mile and a half to the finish. At this juncture the wind and rain were pretty bad, my shorts were turning me into a roving indecent exposurer, and I was just wanting to be done. When one final runner came up next to me and was challenging me for a finishing place, I wasn't in the mood to try and outkick him. He would be the only runner who had passed me while I was running since mile four but I just didn't have it in me to care.

Around the Hall of Fame Stadium we went, entering at one endzone, running all the way to the other, through the length of it like we are celebrating a touchdown before a quick turn to the finish. I was done and couldn't have been happier. My time of 1:32:16 was my 71st slowest half-marathon ever out of 104 I have run. That said, I was 27th overall out of 1,241.  I think that tells you how much the weather seemed to affect all of the runners. Plus I got to show everyone how svelte I looked in my high school track and field singlet. Wait, were we supposed to give those back? Is 25 years the statute of limitations on petty theft. (Joking. I was gifted this when I ran my 51st of 52 consecutive weekly marathons in 2006. Cool down, sad pathetic people who are always looking for something to snipe about.)

It can be difficult to assess how well a race is put together when you are in the middle of having a bad day. Yet, when you realize that you never once thought about how the race was run that tells you everything you need to know about the race. No race is perfect and after running over 500 races I have seen just about everything that could go wrong. This was far from an ideal day to run or put on a race but the organizers did a bang-up job. The medals were fun and the shirts were comfy. Moreover, upon finishing, each runner was given a lovely, huge fleece blanket to wrap up in. Given the weather, this could definitely be an almost literal life save for some. For me, one who loves to run in the cold but the minute I am done want to be warm, it was beyond superb.

Now I just need to sit back and figure out what my next race is and hopefully do it where my lungs work with me.