Monday, July 30, 2018

Bix 7 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 10th Edition 
73.9 miles run and 4500 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Bix 7
Place: Davenport, IA
Miles from home: 1,099
Weather: 65 degrees; sunny; humid

I ran the Bix previously four years ago. You can read that recap here. I also included it in my recently published book of absolute must-run races and you can buy that signed and personalized here. As I included it in said book, you can only imagine how highly I think of the event. I can say that after my second running of it, nothing has changed in that regard.

The two days before the race I worked the expo. Hardly working in the coal mines it is nonetheless tiring. And if you haven't stood for a 12-hour day, solo, signing books, making small talk, deciphering questions, and listening to stories, it truly is hard to explain how exhausting something like this can be. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to make some new friends, see people I haven't seen in years upon years, and everything in between. (Like meeting another Dane!)

I finally got food in my belly and was back at my hotel around 11 p.m. By the time I settled into bed it was well after midnight for a 6 a.m. wake up call. I wasn't expecting much for race day but was happy the weather was as forgiving as it was (but far from "perfect" as people kept saying - they obviously meant as much as one could really reasonably hope for in July in Iowa).

Race Morning: 

Logistics of he morning required me to grab an Uber to the start.  I knew it might be a bit touch and go as the quickest way to get where I needed to be would be a bit heavily trafficked.  Nonetheless, it went by rather smoothly and I found myself at the front of the race starting line without much trouble.  I tried to move back a few rows to get into a position which would be more commensurate with where I expected to finish but the crowd was so tightly packed that moving backward was impossible.  So instead I listened to both the entire rendition of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA", the national anthem, a presenting of the colors by the Marine Corps, a military flyover, and I think a bald eagle crapped out an apple pie to be hit with a missile fired by Babe Ruth, too. (I honestly would be perfectly fine if no sporting event ever had any further connection to "patriotism" ever but that's just me.)

A countdown to a gun that never really fired (or I didn't hear it) and away we went.

Race:

I have a whole 1/10th of a mile warm-up before the infamous Brady Street Hill took over my lungs and legs. An infamously bad early-riser, fast-starter, and hill climber, you can imagine I did not do well with the combination of all three here. I hugged the far right curb as closely as possible to allow anyone who wanted to pass me a clear path and just tried to wake up, get my legs moving, and last to the top of the hill. I am quite thankful that it was only in the mid-60s and relatively non-humid, that is for sure.

When I ran this race four years ago I knew I did this first mile in 7:13. I was hoping to be somewhere within 15-20 seconds of that this time. I wasn't as tired as I thought I would be at this point after everything I described above but I felt that was probably because I wasn't working as hard on this hill. Then I saw I ran a 7:11 first mile. Huh. To be honest, I was a bit scared now. Maybe I had worked harder than I should have and the second half of this race, which is definitely more challenging, was going to eat me up and spit me out.

The much more forgiving second mile had me a touch slower in 6:13 than my previous 6:07. But I had held back slightly on what is a mostly downhill mile here because of my fear of going out too fast. Perhaps if I held it together through the third mile, I might have a shot at taking down my Bix PR. Nothing to be that proud of (the average pace for that is almost 30 seconds slower than the pace for my marathon PR, just to put it in perspective) but I am just not a short distance kind of guy.

As we approached the third mile, which has the worst climb on the entire course, I was enjoying the "racing" aspect of this event. If you pay attention, you can quickly learn who around you is good at what. This girl would pass me on uphills and I would pass her on the downs. This guy could smoke me in flat portions but came to a walk on every uphill. On and on you can quickly learn who you will probably beat in a race and who you will probably lose to. It is a part of racing you miss in less populated races with a more spread out crowd. I have done enough trail races and small marathons to know that that sometimes I love these heavily-runnered events where there is so much chess going on around you. My third mile, ending right after that cruel hill, was way faster than I thought it would be. The new PR was mine to lose.

The course is not a pure out-and-back, so you turned around before the 3.5- mile mark. This
year I did not even think about taking on the slip-n-slides.  I also can't recall even seeing them.  But I was focused on the road. Heading back, even though I had 500 people in front of me, made me feel pretty good about being in front of 8000 others.  My biggest challenge lay ahead with the mile from four-five being the one which would make or break this PR attempt.

The long steady incline of this mile is at least broken up with a nice crook in the road which takes the entirety of the climb out of sight. As I played cat and mouse with those runners around me whose talents I had learned in the past few miles, something changed. The runners who had previously put distance between me on the hills were doing less of it. Those who hung with me were falling back. My lungs and legs were finally waking up. When I hit mile five, it wasn't the time I was hoping for but it was a time that told me I would be setting a new PR. The only question was by how much.

Running along tree-lined Kirkwood Ave, which comprises the bulk of the significant straightaway on this course, it was amazing to feel how, even in this mid-60s weather, the shade of the trees made running so much easier. The minute the sun filtered through it was as if a weight was dropped on my shoulders. Obviously some of that is mental but the difference was felt.

The sixth mile, the first to not have a street-wide banner going over your head to signify where you were, was also a little slower than I expect but I knew with the downhill finish leading to the straight and flat last half mile, the PR was safely in hand. I passed no less than 30 runners on that downhill, once again marveling at how well I run downhills and how poorly the uphills and sometimes the flats slow me down.

Turning on to the home stretch, with the finishline banner in the distance, I was somehow reflecting Regardless, I finished in 48:21, taking 484th place overall. Four years ago I finished in 48:44 and finished 503rd overall. Oddly enough not a single person finished in 48:44 this year even though two people finished in 48:43 and three people finished in 48:55. If someone had finished in the same time I had four years ago they would have been 506th overall. 

That's some consistency of numbers there, fellow statnerds!

on this year in the middle of the race. It has not been a good year for racing for me and I hope the latter half of the year picks that up.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series 4 of 7 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 9th Edition 
65.9 miles run and 4500 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 100 degrees; sunny; humid

I had zero expectations of anything good for this race. I was feeling lethargic, had only done two swim workouts since my previous race here last month, and it was 100 freaking degrees as we climbed into the 87-degree water. My only goal was not to embarrass myself.

I knew I had a chance to place a little higher in the rankings than usual simply because some of the usual top dogs were not present. That is why age group awards and overall placings rarely move the needle for me. All it takes is for faster people to show up to move you down the ladder. Which is why I am always focused much more on my own personal time for a race. And I figured the combination of all the above would make for my worst race yet at this Splash N Dash series.

Swim:

Nice superhero stance, poser.
My swim felt fine. Nothing great. Nothing bad. I could definitely tell the soupy water was having a slight drag on me but I seemed to be cutting through the water at a decent clip. There also appeared to be a few fewer swimmers around me which allowed me to swim more unhindered. About halfway through the swim, I was able to get around two swimmers and opened up a few meters lead on them. There I swam for the remainder of the leg and was more or less resigned to that position.

Transition:

 Getting out of the water we did not have a mat like we did last time which would give us our transition time. As I was about to hit my watch a spectator said "fifth and sixth" to me and the swimmer directly behind me. This threw me as I was not expecting to be that far up in the standings. As I would learn, I was not.

Realizing I did not hit my watch for the swim and transition, I only had the total time for both which was 12:26. I am fairly certain that is my second fastest swim and transition ever. To say I was confused how that happened given the temperature, my lack of swim workouts and everything else would be an understatement.

Run:

As I started the run, I passed one swimmer who was in the transition area. If I listened to the spectator and believed him (which I did) I was in fourth place. Was I actually in contention to podium?

Up ahead I saw one swimmer running and he looked vulnerable to attack. However, I could hear footsteps behind me and I had an inkling it was the same guy whom I had passed in the swim last time and who had subsequently beat the stuffing out of me on the run. (It ends up I was right about his identity.) As the first loop ran on the backside and the dreaded uphill, I was pulling closer to the runner in front of me. Unfortunately the runner behind me was right next to me. Yet, when we got to the top of the hill, the part of the course where I always excel appeared and I put distance between us. I was hoping that was his surge and I held it off.

By the halfway point of the next loop, two things were clear: I was going to pass the runner in front of me and the runner behind me wasn't going anywhere. Hitting the dreaded hill again I held back for just a bit as I grabbed a cup of water from a volunteer. Swigging deeply, I felt rejuvenated and pushed hard past the runner in front of me, an athlete who you would have to double his age and add ten more in order to equal my own. (He was 16.) Now I was supposedly in third place overall.

We began the third loop and I could still hear the footsteps. We rounded the bottom of the loop and right before the hill the runner behind me finally passed me. I was hoping to stay in touch with him just long enough to get close to that final downhill section and make a surge. Then, almost immediately, another runner passed me as well. One of the fastest runners on the course (he tied with the overall winner for run time) had given me a nice 1:17 cushion from the swim and transition. Unfortunately, I needed more.

I have to admit that this second runner sucked the wind out of my sails. I watched him gain on the runner in front of me and had a front-row seat to their battle. In less than a third of a mile, these two pushed each other to put twenty seconds in between us. They pushed each other so hard that they had a photo finish and were both left with their hands on their knees. I came in with a time of 26:08 which was my third fastest time ever and I was just stunned. If I had stayed with these two guys I would have set a new PR for this course. Racing is a fickle, odd, beast who we try to pretend we control and know what will happen, but this is a perfect example of the opposite being true.


As it ends up, the spectator was wrong by one place. I can tell you I am quite happy I did not battle to the death with these two guys just to end up being fourth overall. In addition to not taking third overall, both these guys were in my age group, so I finished sixth overall yet only third masters. That's a kick in the butt and a bunch of fast old guys!

This race came at a good time for my racing ego. After getting my butt handed to me last weekend at the Boilermaker, I was fully waiting to see a personal worst today. Anything greater than that was a bonus.

I'll take the bonus.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Boilermaker 15k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 8th Edition 
63.9 miles run and 3750 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Boilermaker 15k
Place: Utica, NY     
Miles from home: 1,758 miles
Weather: 60-70 degrees; bright sunshine; slightly humid

When I was writing the best races to run in North America for my new book, Run This Place, I knew the Boilermaker had to be included. Then I realized it had been seven years since I had run this race. So even though I was severely under-trained, it was clear I had to make another trip up to Utica to run this special race in a special place.

As I have written two other race recaps of this awesome event, and have included it in my newest book, I am going to spare you the details of the race itself. I am also only barely going to touch on my own race which was, for all intents and purposes, rather disappointing. However, since two of the three Boilermakers I have run have been two of the coldest race day temperatures in its history, I think the race needs to have me on retainer just to ward away the heat. (100 hours before race time it had been 97 degrees. When we started, it was 63. You're welcome.)

When I hit the first mile over half a minute slower than I had when I set my PR here seven years ago, I knew any desirable goals were out the window. I had spent an enjoyable but exhausting few days speaking, signing books, traveling, and, well, working. I love what I do but it is not conducive to racing well. I knew this a decade ago and it isn't getting easier with age.

What was enjoyable was spending time with Roger Robinson and infinitely-more-famous-than-me Kathrine Switzer as we crammed ourselves into a cozy booth to sign books, chat about our expo experiences and throw in some talk about politics and soccer as well. I hadn't seen either of them since I was at the Reykjavik Marathon three years ago and that was fleeting. To spend the better part of two days next to these scholarly encyclopedias of running shows me how much more I need to learn about the sport. I might have run double the number of marathons of both of them combined but it reminded me that running often doesn't necessarily mean you know a lot.

I also had another interaction about which I am going to be intentionally vague to help protect their anonymity. Let's just say I had some correspondence with someone at the race which went on to a bit further over the next few days. During that time it was revealed to me this person was going to be making a huge life-changing decision. For whatever reason, something about me, what I have done, and my experiences, have inspired or helped keep this person on the path they are taking. I fully support their decision and to hear I helped even the tiniest bit warms my icy crotchety-old-man heart.

My race itself had a nice redeeming moment when, coming down the infamous hill at mile four I was able to throw down almost a six-flat mile long after I had given up on running hard and know I still had another five miles to go. It helped sway thoughts that my best days were behind me and I actually just needed to be in shape for racing. Seven years ago when I ran this race I was in the middle of a 44-race year. I had run back-to-back sub-3-hour marathons, multiple other marathons, a slew of half marathons, a 70.3-Ironman, a handful of other triathlons, a duathlon, and so much more. I had also run a ridiculously low amount of miles that year, contrary to what so many people think they have to run to race well. In fact, it took a 268-mile December that year, nearly 80 miles more than any other month, just to crack 2,000 miles for the year.

In other words, kids, make your miles count; don't count your miles.

I ended up running my personal worst in a 15k by many minutes in 1:05:30. But I beat all the Danes in the race (all three of them) and averaged a 6:59 for the day. What was really nice was getting to meet one of the athletes I coach online. Krystal was running her first Boilermaker in the middle of preparation for her Boston Qualifying attempt in a little over a month. As she is quite the perfectionist she was not exactly happy with her time but she didn't know that the Boilermaker rarely gives out good times on the clock.  It gives them out on the course and at the post-race party where, in a sea of 20,000 people, we somehow ran into each other!

Here as I sulked a bit about my own time, I was also reminded exactly why I put this race in my book as once again it totally lived up to its billing. If you haven't run this race, you truly need to add it for next year.

Hopefully I will see you there.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Surviving Running in the Heat

Summer runnin’, had me a blast!

Okay, most of us don't have much of a blast when it comes to running in the summer. As for racing? Yeah, it takes a special breed to be able to peak on a hot and/or humid day. I’m not that special breed. In fact, I burst into flames like an ant under a magnifying glass when the sun comes out.

When you can see the sweat droplets in a picture - Yeesh.
It’s no mistake that virtually all of my best marathon times have come when the temperatures were in the 40s or 50s. There have been some extremely notable exceptions where a PR came on a hot day. All that leads me to wonder is how much faster it would have been if the weather had been cooler.

Regardless, because I run so poorly in the heat, and taking it to a treadmill is just not an option for me (I’d commit “runnicide”), I’ve had to learn how to cope.

Here are a few things I’ve learned.

Ease Off the Throttle
 
I’ve had many races where I knew I was in shape to run a specific pace but knew the weather wouldn’t even come close to allowing me to do so. Rather than try to muscle through it at the preplanned pace, bonk in the middle, and crawl to the finish, I slowed my roll. By actively choosing to go at a pace slower than what I was ready to run, I didn’t have the collapse at the finish. Sure, the overall time was not what it could have been, but I didn’t need to visit the ambulance.

The general rule is: Above 55 degrees, for every increase of 10 degrees, marathon pace increases by 1.5 percent to three percent. In other words, there are going to be plenty of training runs and plenty of races in the hot and sticky months where it just isn’t going to be optimum for you to go all-out. Accept that reality and you’ll have a much better day.

You Simply Must Get Fluids
 
I’m known for being a bit of a camel. If the run is going to be less than 90 minutes, even in hot weather, I barely even think of taking a drink of water before I run, let alone taking water with me. But as the weather changes, so should your plans. I still rarely take water with me, but I know where liquid is available in case I need it. I also know that hydration is something you do before, during, and after the run, if you want the best results. Of course, too much liquid is a problem, too. But don't let the fears of hyponatremia (and the rarity with which it happens) keep you from getting your fluids.

Mix it Up
 
Use the summer to focus on your speedwork. Think about hitting the track. Mixing up workouts is a good thing and, in the summer when it is difficult to run long, going short and fast can be greatly beneficial. This is also the time to try different race distances. The summer allows for many more opportunities of racing a variety of new lengths. Never done an 8K? Hop in and set an instant PR, regardless of the slowdown because of the heat.

Know It All Helps

 
It hurts like the dickens, leaves you crashed on the couch or side of the road, and makes you wish for the icy cold hand of winter. Yet working out in this weather, if done right, will make you a better runner. It’ll make that cool, crisp fall morning where you put on your bib number all the more savory.
Remember that much we do as runners is, or should be, delayed gratification. We put in the hard work and effort when others won't so we can achieve the things others cannot. The sacrifices we make in these not-so-prime months will pay dividends in the future.

If you want that first sub-four-hour marathon or the first sub-20-minute 5K, the summer is where those dreams are made.

Go get ‘em.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series 3 of 7

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 7th Edition 
54.6 miles run and 3750 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 77 degrees;cloudy

When a storm called for a temperature drop of about 20 degrees for race day from the previous day, I was excited. Then I realized how accustomed to Texas weather I have become when "77 degrees" counts as something I am excited to race in.

Arriving at the race, I was in a very good mood. I had just finished a wonderful phone conversation with the race director of the Boston Marathon and friend  Dave McGillivray. Always a pleasure to speak with him and I was excited to hear about his new running book for kids and how well it was doing. Check it out here!

While my most recent race at the USAT Off-Road National Championship had resulted in a DNF, I was feeling good for this race. My swimming as of late had been better than a long time. I knew I still wouldn't win the race given the speedy wunderkind who live in Austin, as well as a few others  but I knew I should do fairly decent. When I first started doing this series last year I assumed I would do a few, get my feet wet literally and figuratively and steadily improve. That wasn't the case last year and I hadn't started off that great this year either. But we put ourselves in the arena to attempt to get better and that is all I can do.

Swim:

The overcast skies and cooler weather didn't make the water any chillier unfortunately. It wasn't warm but I knew I would be a bit sluggish at the start. The numbers were a little lower than normal for this race which allowed me to get a slightly cleaner start. In fact, after the initial burst of swimmers, I would say twenty yards in, I never wavered from my position in the swim. There was one swimmer right in front of me who I just couldn't seem to pass. I would get about waist high on him and then fall back. I decided that it felt as if I was swimming faster than usual so I shouldn't waste too much energy here on the swim. My run in this race has given me the most problems this year so I wanted to save some energy for that.

It is a real quick sum up of this entire swim to say that in his hip pocket is where I stayed until the final climb out of the water. We were separated just by four seconds as I stumbled a bit getting out of the quarry and regained my composure. For the first time since I have begun running this race, we had a timing mat as we got out of the water, giving us a true swim split  (instead of both swim and transition.)  Granted, I didn't see my time until later (I hit the wrong button on my watch like a moron) but my 11:42 is far and away the best I have swum in this event. Coupled with a not so bad :36 transition time (I stumbled putting on one shoe which cost me probably four seconds) and allowing the swimmer in front of me to run past me on the way up the hill, thinking I would track him down later in the run, and I hit the run at 12:12. If I ran the loops in 4:30 or less (which I was more than capable of doing) I would have my fastest overall time yet by a huge margin.

Run:

As I started the run I realized I had hit the wrong button on my watch. Fiddling with it almost had me going into a culvert ditch with a drainage pipe that ran under the trail. I veered off the stone path and had to deftly run around the pipe and stream and somehow miraculously did not break an ankle. Not a great start. Recovering, I decided to forget the watch and just run. As there is a clock at each loop I could do the math to tell if I was close enough to my desired pace.

The first loop was very pleasant for there was not a single soul to run around and no one out exercising to get in the way. I just had the one runner in front of me who was, much to my chagrin, steadily pulling away from me. I was hoping that I would catch my breath, settle down and soon I would be passing him.  I knew the first loop would tell me how hard I was actually running since I felt like we were flying. Upon finishing the first loop, I saw that neither was the case. I ran a 4:39,  which is just so frustrating. It was my very first aquathlon here where I ran my fastest run of all of these events. How that is the case is beyond perplexing. During the race, my first loop was a 4:25. To be so much slower angered me I am sure quite visibly to anyone watching.

The second loop gave me a chance to run around a few other runners as I tried desperately to open up my stride. I was obviously disappointed with how slow my first loop had been but passing runners always makes me feel better. Suffice it to say I find this course to be very challenging. The footing is uneven, there are some very tight turns, a few branches stick out here and there, and a beast of a hill on the back end always challenges me. Running just one second faster in 4:38 on this loop (compared to 4:23 in that first race) upset me all the more.

The third loop is where it gets quite congested but I knew it was four minutes of pain and I would be Unfortunately it was 4:33 of pain (compared to 4:20 in that first ever race.) I finished 10th overall in 26:11, having passed one younger runner and not getting passed by any. Forty-two seconds slower on the run when it should be forty-two seconds faster now that I know the course and every nook and cranny is a bit frustrating. I know I can be faster. I just have to keep plucking away.


Fortunately, I have another shot in a month. I doubt July's weather will be as hospitable as this race was but hopefully I will have figured out the right formula for success. I will never be fast in a short two-mile race and I know at age 42 I might have lost a step, but I refuse to admit that I can't drop this time precipitously, regardless of the heat, the challenge of the course, or anything else.

It's hard to beat a person who refuses to quit, they say.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

USAT Off-Road National Championship Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 6th Edition 
52.6 miles run and 3000 meters swam in races in 2018 races
Race: USAT Off-Road National Championship
Place: Waco, TX
Miles from home: 100
Weather: 84 degrees; sunny, humid

I have two main goals when I participate in a race:
1. Give all I have on that day.
2. Don't get injured. 

As I just celebrated my 42nd birthday, the second axiom holds more sway than the first. I don't recover as quickly from, well, anything, anymore and I have less patience to deal with the human race if I am injured and can't exercise. So being injury free is paramount to my, nay, all of society's survival.

Which brings me to my DNF at the USAT Off-Road National Championship this past weekend. But before I put the cart ahead of the horse, let me describe why I had both a cart and a horse to begin with.

While searching local races about a month ago, I saw this national championship race was taking place just up the road. As I do not have otherworldly athletic ability and will never really participate in national championship races where the absolute best athletes compete per se, I jump at any chance to take part in an event like this. Three years ago, when living in Portland, OR I saw the US Mountain Running Championships were three hours away in Bend. I am not a mountain or trail runner, and I hate running uphills, but hey - National Championship race.  I took part, did about as well as I could expect (horrible), and was glad I did it.  I knew that an off-road bike being sponsored
by Xterra would probably be out of my league skill-wise but I figured I would give it a go.

A week before the event I did a 42-mile bike ride on my 42nd birthday, which was just long enough to be the second longest bike ride I have ever done. (It is only bested by two half-ironman bike rides. Yep, I don't ride often or far.) I had picked up my swimming a bit in the last month and felt even if I was mid-pack on the bike, I should do a-ok overall. Who knows what might happen if I held it all together.

 

Race Morning:

I got to the Cameron Park starting line way earlier than I needed to on the morning of the race, because I know how hard it can be to set up all you need for a triathlon. So it was better to be safe than sorry and arrive early.  However, even putzing around for a bit, I had 45 minutes to kill.  Unfortunately, this had me looking around at all the gear all the people who knew what they were doing had with them. I don't normally care too much what everyone else brings to a race but that is when I am aware what is in store for me. Seeing bike gloves and elbow pads, and bike helmets which looked like could protect the wearer from a meteor shower did little to assuage my fears. Fortunately, I was blissfully ignorant of what lay ahead.

We gathered near the start of the swim which was the lukewarm 84 degree Brazos River.  I was told the event had once been shortened because the water had reached 92 degrees. A swim being shortened because the water was too warm was a new one for me. Texas life. One of the guys next to me told me he had come from Denver and was shocked how I was pleasantly surprised that our 8 a.m. start time only had a temperature of 82 degrees. "I don't think we have hit 82 degree yet for the year," he mused.

Swim:

I scoped out a place to try and get an unhindered swimming start but found even in this wide river, there were still people all over each other. I guess those pushing to the front were good swimmers.  As the megaphone the RD was using had conked out on him (this seriously happens more times than it doesn't at races I have attended. How fragile are megaphones?) a quietly spoken "go" was our firing pistol.

Immediately I was caught in a tangle of arms and feet as bodies swarmed over each other. I thought perhaps the one thing I felt I would do well at today, this swim, might be a weak leg for me.  The swim was to begin heading downstream to a bridge, around a buoy, upstream past our starting point to another buoy further up the river before turning around and heading home. As I pulled a bit inside to try and remove myself from the bodies, I saw a few swimmers already out in front of me. I also saw plenty of swimmers to my right who were WAY to my right. Not sure why they started so far over there as there is no need to swim longer than you need. Maybe to avoid all the other thrashing swimmers.

When we got to the first buoy and began to swim upstream, I can honestly say I felt no difference in the current. In fact, if I hadn't known which way the river flowed, I wouldn't have even known there was movement. (Interestingly enough, I read in other reports from other athletes how they HAD noticed it.) I had heard someone say knowing the river helps as there are places where the current is stronger and can tell you I had never once in my life thought of that in terms of racing. (I also learned about a thing called "fetch" from the overall winner - and I actually still have no idea what he is talking about.  ) Talk about home river advantage!

Approaching the second buoy I was a little confused. I could only see a handful of swimmers in front of me and none had turned to come back home yet. When they finally did, I could only count a few.  Was I really doing that well?

Turning and heading for home, it appeared I was in the top ten. Huh. I finally was beginning to feel my groove and passed one last swimmer in front of me before exiting the water. It ends up I was seventh out of 126 men (and technically 40 women as well but they started after us.) In addition, while I am not necessarily going by my GPS, I will go by my time and there is no way that was only  1500m swim.

Transition:

There was a long tenth of a mile run on the road from the swim to where bikes were racked.  A bit further than I would like to run but it gave me a chance to get out of swimming mode and ready to bike. I didn't speed through the transition, as I wanted to make sure I had all my various accoutrements. I grabbed a drink of water and Gatorade from the station and was a bit bummed they were lukewarm.This would play in my decision-making a little bit later. (FORESHADOWING!) As an occasional race director I have prided myself on making sure drinks are always cold. That is so paramount to runner success, especially on a blisteringly warm day.

Bike:

I was pretty unaware of the actual bike course. I knew it was supposed to be hilly, twisting, and had lots of roots and cervices. I figured, worse-case scenario I would just take it easy when necessary and just power through. I came out of the transition right after another cyclist and was immediately on his heels (tires?). I didn't know we had about half a mile of payment riding before hitting the trails or I would have sped up a little bit to take advantage of the part I was half decent at. As it stands I passed him and another cyclist as we climbed a big steep hill.

I had rented a nice mountain bike from a store in Austin with shocks and bouncy bits and air canisters and lots of other things I had no idea what they were. What I did learn, however, is that getting "up in the saddle" as they say didn't really work on this contraption. Every time I tried it, I just bounced up and down on the shocks. No bueno.  Once I got to the top of the hill, saw the narrow entrance to the trail and motioned the two cyclists behind me to go ahead. I wasn't going to start out with two guys on my ass when I had no idea what lay in store.

Here is where I am going to cut this short. I am not going to describe every fall I took (at least four),
every time I almost fell (at least ten) and the countless times I trepidatiously scooted around one twisty-turny bend only to be confronted by a steep uphill that almost had me losing my manhood on my handlebars. All I know is that once I took a tree trunk full-onto the collarbone and chest.  I was certain I broke it as I came to a stop with a sickening thud. (Same overall winner from above in his recap mentioned he crashed a quarter of a mile in as well. I feel less bad about my skills now.)  I know I went over the handlebars twice. I almost went down about three ravines. I will say without a doubt that half of that was because of my inexperience of riding a mountain bike. But half the credit goes to this course which was absolutely ridiculous. I don't mean that in a bad way per se. If one had ridden it they would know what was in store for them. I did not and I am glad as I wouldn't have even attempted it.

After about the 30th rider who passed me (seriously) where I either had to pull over or just stayed over after a crash, I was beginning to wonder what I was doing out here. I thought perhaps I could just take it easy and go slow and make it out alive. The problem was that even taking it slow was dangerous. On one particular hill, I had pulled over after almost crashing and five cyclists went by in rapid succession. Then, this blur of a human, went down the hill like he was on rails. I have zero idea how he avoided ever hole, root, branch, rock, etc. and make it look like it was a sled ride down a water park hill.

I used this stopped time to take a long swig from my water bottle and drained the entire thing. I had a feeling the aid stations were going to just have beverages warmer than before. I was three miles into a nine-mile loop we had to do twice. Granted there looked to be about two miles on each loop near the end which would be easy to ride but who knows what the rest would have in store for me. Then, my last tumble ended it for me.

Just last year I had to get my thumb surgically repaired after I was attacked by two men at an intersection in Austin. I got my thumb caught in the shifter as I went ass over tincups and I felt for sure I messed it up. I sat there for ten seconds before I even tried to move my thumb. When I finally mustered the courage and could tell it was just sore, I knew it was time for me to call it a day. Sure, I think I could have pushed my bike the rest of the way and still finished high enough to qualify for the World Championship team (I am serious) but that was not why I was here.

I rode on and came to a road we had to cross. I asked one of the volunteers how I could get back to the start. Then I did the painful but smart thing and quit. I rode down the hill, passed the spot where we entered the trail, and found the referee for the event. I turned in my chip and stood there.

Finally I decided to go for a little bit of a run to just feel out my body and make sure nothing really was broken.  I have hurt myself before, gone to get x-rays and been given a clean bill of health, only to find out I did a doozy of a number to myself weeks later. (How do you miss this?!) After a short two-miler, it felt like I was ok. I won't rule out I somehow put my spleen into my stomach or something else just yet but all systems seem go.

The decision I made was correct. It still sucks. Then going to grab some consolatory food after the race I got a speeding ticket in some street that magically went from 45 to 30 for one block. That has nothing to do with anything other than let's just say the day was not a good one. In talking with a few people at the event, most of them offered consolation but at the same time told their stories of how they had continued on with a broken femur or a case of Black Death they caught at an aid station or how they fought off a lion, skinned it, and wore its pelt back to transition two before going back out to look for their arm. It is this kind of bravado which is lost on me.

There is absolutely nothing impressive about continuing on in a race where nothing but your pride is on the line when you are hurt or about to be hurt. Sure if you are stuck in the mountains and the only way down is to keep on going, then you should keep on going. But too often we applaud the efforts of people who soldier on when they were either unprepared, under-trained, or any of a variety of things where the "Come back with your shield or on it" faux toughness is paramount. I wonder how many of these people would be so willing to risk their health or well-being if there wasn't social media to tell them how epic they are.Well, I know I am not one of them. Think you are tougher than me because you would have kept going? Okey dokes. Doesn't bother me one bit. Even if our health care system didn't suck, it is not worth it to me to collect a non-precious medal or bauble, rather than return home unwounded.

But I went for a swim two days after my race and it was the best swim workout I have had since I was in high school.  So I have that going for me.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

It's All About the Weather

Having been running races for two decades now, in every conceivable condition, for every conceivable type of distance, I can tell you what matters most when you want to have a good day: weather.

It is not how fit you are, what the course is like, what you ate the night before or anything else. Being under-trained, or overcoming a big hill, or puking out some bad food are often things you can't get over relatively quickly in a race.  But the weather on race day is the one variable which will bring you to your knees the hardest.

I have paid special attention to how weather affects performance mostly because of something very specific: I am horrible in warm temperatures. And by "warm" I mean basically anything over 60 degrees. So bad am I when the mercury rises in the ole thermometer that, I was asked to give a speech in Ecuador at a Gatorade Sports Science Institute on sweat loss. In addition, while there, I performed like a gerbil on the treadmill, doing a brisk 45 minute run, indoors, losing seven pounds in sweat alone. (I wish I could tell you how hilarious the owner of the treadmill, who was loaning it to the event, was when he continued to wipe down the outer plastic shell as I ran. Isn't that what the plastic shell is for? He acted as if I had Alien acid sweat that would burn through it if he didn't wipe immediately or thoroughly.  But I digress.)

In addition, I have Gilbert's Syndrome. A relatively mild disorder (if you listen to Wikipedia) it comes into play for those of us who do endurance sports as it affects one's ability to recover from strenuous activity. Since I put myself in situations where I push my body further than most people ever have, I would disagree about how mild it is. Nevertheless, you take all of what I have described and suffice it to say I look at the weather app more than I do anything else as race day approaches.

Of my top ten fastest marathons, only one came when the weather was inclement: the Steamtown Marathon in 2007. Run on the day that Chicago infamously had to blackflag its race for heat, how I was able to put this race out of the hat (after a wrong turn added extra miles) is beyond me. In fact, as I look through even the top 25 marathons I have run there are many different things which present themselves. I was in various level of fitness. I ran them over various terrains. Different elevations. Various times of my life. But one things remains the same: nice weather.

I don't say this without proof.  In fact, I have written down what the weather is for every race I have ever run. (They are all accessible on this very website on the right sidebar.) Over and over again, I perform best when it is cooler.

OK, so that is anecdotal. It is rather Dane-centric. So don't just look at what works for me.  Look at science.  Then look again. And again. Wherever you look, it shows you that when the weather is cooler you run better. If it is less humid, you run better. If it is less windy, you run better.

Obviously there are going to be some people who feel they run better in heat and when people just want to "feel" something, you can't tell them otherwise. But the science points to how our bodies warm the ambient air around us by 20 degrees when we run which is why we are told to dress for the run we will be having in the middle rather than the one we start with.  Otherwise, you end up sweating so much that your clothes get soaked and even if it is cold when you start, you will be drenched in sweat. Then when you finish you freeze because of all the wet clothing.

Note that with this analysis, I am primarily speaking about longer distances races. Shorter distance races like the 100 meter dash (which I still contend is more like power lifting than it is running) need a warmer temperature to keep those ridiculous fast-twitch muscle fibers from snapping like a twig. But the longer you run, the cooler you want the temperature to be. Again, don't take my word for it.  Read this exhaustive study here.  Researchers reviewed weather and race data from past Olympics and determined the ideal temp for elite marathoners was 49.4 degrees for men and 51.8 degrees for women. Athletes in sprint events fared better in warmer temps. For the 100m dash, for example, men did best when the race day temperature was 72.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and women excelled at 73.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Since they run so much faster than us mortals, elite runners are in the weather for far less time than the rest of us.  A person finishing in 5 hours for a marathon is essentially running in a different day than when they started, the way temperatures climb.

So, next time you are looking for that fast race, it may behoove you to check out its historic weather even more than what type of downhill course it has or anything else people use to determine how they will have a good time. Planning for the factor which will probably have the biggest impact on your race, shouldn't be left to chance.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Shut Up and Run

I have been told to "shut up and run." I won't. And I am not even remotely sorry.

I am mostly referring to taking a stance in the past few years to all the horrible atrocities which are going on around our country, mostly regarding those which touch on politics and minorities. In 2016, when trump (I refuse to capitalize his name) was showing that he was, at the very least, one of the leading faces of the Republican party, something I had been struggling with for years finally became quite clear. The vast majority of the Republican party leaders are horrific humans, with either zero desire to help this country, or such vast ignorance to how to get it done that their existence might as well be labeled as treason. In many cases, it is obvious their own desires have often led to selling out the American people and this country as a whole. I saw anyone who supported trump as an enemy of me and the things I stand for because, well, they were. I deleted hundreds of Facebook friends, cut ties with real life friends and family, and began to make it clear that I wasn't just a runner who would run.

My website has chronicled how my stances have cost me tens of thousands of dollars in speaking fees, sponsorships, partnerships, etc in a post here. I will not go into that again but I do ask you read it. I couldn't have been more shocked to get pushback from people who agreed with what I was saying but refused to get involved. When I saw that reaction I knew I was in for a rough ride. I don't have a "job" per se. I have an occupation. It is one which relies on others to pay me. I was well aware I would be taking a hit in the pocket from people who either disagreed with me or were on the fence but I wasn't expecting it from those who were behind me. And behind me in such a way that they would gingerly peak out occasionally to see if it was ok to even say  "Yeah, what he said" before ducking back for cover.

When you criticize something, those on that side always retort with the "Yeah, well you would say that! You are a [opposite of what they are.]" When I criticized the Republican party the flamethrowers on the right seemed to not realize that until 2016 I was a registered Republican. When I pointed out the problem with guns in America, the ignorant labeled me a a libtard snowflake. This ignored the fact that I absolutely love shooting guns, grew up in a part of the country where I thought the first day of Buck Season was a national holiday, and absolutely know more about guns than most of them. (I'd link to my tweet thread about that but, well, I will get to that in a second.) I detailed greatly how I knew who the trump voters were, especially the real hard core ones, because I lived amongst them for the first two decades of my life. They were my classmates, teachers, grocery clerks, repairmen, etc. After all that time living with them, and the years since then hearing why they supporter trump, I didn't need any new information on why they were doing what they did. It was all quite clear.

For over two years now I have taken deep personal financial hits. I am not lying when I say it would have been SO much easier to keep my mouth shut. I am a white, straight, male. There is literally nothing better to be in today's world unless you want to add "rich" to the front of that description. Nothing is truly against me. Disagree? Well if you are any of those things, if given a genie in a bottle, would you change them? If you said yes, you are lying. The world is set up currently to make it far easier for someone like me to succeed.

But I was given a small niche of fame. A little corner I carved out by being semi-athletic in a sport North Carolina until it resembled a democracy again, to all the things I have already mentioned, I knew I was risking a livelihood.
which has a lot of people in it. I did a few things no one has ever been able to do before, was articulate enough to write about them, and gained a following. I took a huge risk by being so outspoken. From ending a personal goal of running a marathon in every state at 49  by boycotting

A sponsor with whom I have been working with since 2009 up and disappeared. Every other athlete that remained on their roster said not one word outside of "I like sports!" and toed the company line. I continued on. Through Twitter I amassed a sizable following and felt like I was helping make a difference. From supporting the crisis in Flint by buying t-shirts to rebroadcasting stories to my followers who might not have seen them otherwise, I still tried to keep as many of my athletic endeavors on the forefront as well. I did not wish to just be a provocateur but someone who also inspired and empowered others.

Then my Twitter account got indefinitely suspended. Why? Because I dared call out a white supremacist. Suddenly, one of the venues I had cultivated to get out my message, to earn paychecks, and do what I could was taken from me. Recently, I had begun to regain support from groups and organization who liked my overall message. A few paychecks came in. Things were looking better for me to continue to do what I do. Now, who knows?

I received death threats on Facebook. I received trolling on Twitter. I wanted to tell these people that I take them seriously but I am not one to stop. I have been dealing with assholes online for a decade. I have had people come after my livelihood, my friends, and my family before. In other words, bitch, I am the one who knocks. Do you really want to test the resolve and endurance of a person who ran 202 miles straight? Is questioning the intestinal fortitude of a man who competes in highly taxing athletic endeavors with Gilbert's Syndrome, a liver disorder that more or less says what I have done should be impossible for me, your best bet?

My point is, if I haven't stopped yet, I am not going to. I do not put myself on the same level of people like Colin Kaepernick who risked his entire NFL career to take stand. But I also didn't have a few million in my pocket when I started doing what I was doing. Nor did I have the national media there to potentially help elevate what I was doing.

Instead, I will continue to do what I can with what I have. I will fight for those who are not me. I will show compassion for ones with less, who have had so much taken from them, or never had anything to begin with. Ideally, I would love to simply talk about the tough times while running the entire coast of Oregon in a week's time. Or coming back from having been attacked by two men who fractured my face and hand last summer and qualifying for the U.S Aquathlon team. But I will not shirk the responsibilities that come with having more, of being able to do more, and pretend others do not matter.

If I can't make rent, or have to sell my car, or anything else, I guarantee you, I have been in tougher times. I grew up in subsidized housing. My father was crippled in a hunting accident right before I was born. My mother, who was bed ridden for three years a child with rheumatic fever had two open heart surgeries by the time she was my age to fix problems which stemmed from that illness. I'd rather not suffer and struggle obviously, but even when I wonder how I will pay for groceries sometimes, I at least warm myself inside by the knowledge I am doing what it right.

Want to see me shut up and run? Catch me in the middle of a marathon. I tend to talk less then. Otherwise, grab a chair because it is going to be a long ass wait.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Suspended from Twitter

About two years ago I began using my public persona to talk about more things than just athletics. I know any athlete that does as such gets the whole "stick to sports" routine from those who don't want to think of their athletes as being anything besides one-dimensional. (Like Laura Ingraham's "Shut up and dribble" banality to LeBron.)

That said, I still do try to talk about sports the most as they are what matter to me - namely running and the like. However, two weeks ago, during the Royal Wedding, something I could not possibly care less about, KT Hopkins, noted white supremacist and all around anal carbuncle said the following about Meghan Markle. "No competition.  You can't buy class."  Now, even with trump and his ilk allowing Nazis, racists, sexists, etc more free reign to say things out loud that they should be saying in their inside voice, KT still had the brains(?) to be mildly vague with her racist dogwhistling about Markle's blackness.  So I replied.



Granted, this is not the most couth reply. But I would much rather someone speak the truth in a harsh tone than peddle bullshit with embroideries. It was well-received by many who felt the same. (And I put this picture up to show I am not afraid of what I said. You can disagree with it and that is fine. I
am used to dealing with people who want to silence me.  Hell even the ones who agree with me don't have the balls to say so.)

KT replied to me with some inane retort about how it was not two women getting married (intentionally missing the point) and I replied to her. Then it was done. I went about my life.

A week later I get notification my Twitter account has been suspended for "targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. We consider abusive behavior an attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice."While this is utter b.s. I know women on Twitter who have posted messaged they received threatening to rape and kill them and THEY have gotten suspended - not the person who sent the message. So I wasn't surprised. Disappointing but not surprised. I assumed I would wait 48 hours or whatnot and be back on Twitter.  But then I realized it was an indefinite suspension.

I can no longer tweet. I can no longer access my direct messages with personal information from those who purchased my book and whose addresses I need to send them said book.   can't see virtually any tweet posted in an article online as I essentially no longer have an account  Guess who still has an account - KT Hopkins. (and trump and Orrin Hatch's Social media guy who likes to say just as insulting things about me and like a billion other people who are far worse than me. Hell, Roseanne Barr still has an account, even after she said she was done with Twitter after calling a black woman an "ape.")

I appealed this suspension. Twice. I'm on the third time right now. I have begun sending daily messages to Jack Dorsey (CEO of Twitter) through his email stating my case.  I don't exactly expect him to reply (and a week into doing so he hasn't) but one hopes. I have been fortunate enough to have a variety of people send tweets and messages in my support, both famous and not, as well.  (You can, too: Jack@twitter.com or @jack on Twitter.) I have also had some people gloat. And honestly, if you want to judge me as a person, look who supports me and look who is gloating. That says everything you need to know about my message.

Some say "And he calls himself a motivational speaker!" First, I never have. Second, even if I did, a speaker who wants to motivate isn't beholden to every single person who demands they spout nothing but flowery platitudes. "Dance for me, monkey!" has never been something I responded to. I do my best to inspire people. And I have tons of examples that I have. However, because what I said made you unhappy doesn't mean I have failed at what I do.

Will I ever get my account back? I honestly do not think so. It is disappointing but for a week and counting to not see the horrible things that trump and his feeble-minded supporters have done has been a blessing. I will miss being able to do what I can with what I have to help people who are not me. But I fortunately still have other forums.

But for any other person who has an audience, especially athletes, and does not attempt to use it, I feel sorry for you. I know I am the one who has lost thousands of dollars in sponsorships, partnerships etc, but you are the one who silently stands by while others are harmed. I hope the money helps you sleep at night. I hope refusing to take a stand allows you to be able to look at your minority friends in the eye.

It appears people are finally beginning to back me up (now that it is safe for them to do so, naturally.) I bore the brunt of the worst of it for coming out first, which, well, kinda sucks, but I am who I am. In the meantime, I will continue to push my body to new heights athletically. It is what I have control over. The rest is just noise.

I turned 42 yesterday. I continue to grow as a person. Could I have just said "Now, KT, I think it is bad you don't like black people."?  Absolutely. But horrible people don't deserve niceties. They don't necessarily deserve harassment either.  Regardless, I didn't harass her.

So, Jack Dorsey., CEO of Twitter: why don't you get half of a backbone and stop kowtowing to the worst dredges of your website and give me back my account? It is fun to be on the right side of history. Come join me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series 2 of 7

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 5th Edition 
52.6 miles run and 1500 meters swam in races in 2018 races

Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 89 degrees;cloudy

I'm going to be straightforward and say that these races are starting to get a little frustrating for me.

I ran this series in Austin last year five of the six times they had it. (I missed one after I was attacked by two homeless men who fractured my face and hand.) I ran a 26:02, 25:49, 26:13, 26:33, and 27:13. All of those races were hodgepodge of similar run and swim times, with one race having a slightly faster swim or a slightly faster run but barring the final race where I was coming back from the injury, more or less the same time. When I started the year this year with a 26:35 just two days after my longest run/race of the year  (a race I won) I wasn't pleased but I wasn't unhappy.

Going into this race I felt relatively rested and even though it was a warm day in Austin, just minutes before the race started, the skies clouded over. They clouded over so much that storms were seen in the distance and unfortunately for about a quarter of the women in the race which started three minutes after the men, they were pulled from the quarry for safety reasons.

I am frustrated because it seems no matter what I do or how I feel I am destined to be stuck a bit in this time frame. I will be the first to admit that I have not been swimming nearly enough to garner the times I know I am capable of doing. In addition, this race is a short distance which is just not what my body is built for.  But I should, nevertheless, be able to go faster than I have.

My swim felt strong. After the initial washing machine of arms and legs for 25 yards or so, I found myself in position from which I would not move for the entire of the swim. No one passed me and I passed no one. I had a solid straight-line swim, felt great throughout and while I did come out of the water and the transition with basically my fastest time of any of the events, it was a full minute slower than what it felt.

The run was equally disappointing as each lap felt easily 15 seconds faster than it was with times of 4:36, 4:37, and 4:33 being some of my slowest lap times ever. As far as I can tell, I got passed by two swimmers and passed one. So basically I finished the race in almost the exact same position that I started it. Not only literally in place but figuratively in frustration. 26:17 was my time.

Now as the heat of the Austin summer will be upon us soon, I need to make some decisions about what sort of racing I wish to do. If I am going to improve at these shorter distances I am going to have to commit to doing so. But the trade-off is knowing that even if I do work hard, I am just not a sprinter. Never have been, and no matter how hard I try, I am not going to find fast-twitch muscle fibers at two weeks from my 42nd birthday.

Look, I know no one has sympathy for the guy who finished in the top ten (or close to it. I think it was 12th this time.) But I was reading an article recently about memories and stories from endurance athletes like myself. Or "extreme athletes": a term I think I actually coined a decade ago when I realized "Ultraunner, triathlete, sometimes-obstacle course racer, but also dabbles in snowshoe racing, winter sports, and the occasional sprint races runner" was a bit too lengthy. The article talked about how these athletes spin their tales of wonder mixed with crushing lows and euphoric highs, painting pictures of pulling themselves from the depths. I get it. That sells books. But I abhor this type of embellishment.

I truly believe athletes of all skill levels can be just as impressed and inspired by true  and honest stories about "Man, this shit is just NOT going right for me and I don't know why." That type of story is far more relatable that the superhuman tales spun. Sure, it brings you down off your pedestal a bit and people won't romanticize how badass and amazing you are (just like holding opinions about things that matter and taking a stand against injustices are done by like .01% of people trying to catch a comet by the tail in order to garner sponsorships or paychecks) but this is how I am made.

Sure it would be great if people were impressed with my feats. But what I want most is for them to read what I write, listen to my tales, and see themselves in me. Whether they are faster than me or not. So, with the that all said, the fact that my fourth book, Run This Place, is hitting bookshelves this week, I do hope if you enjoy reading what I write here for free, that you will help support forthright writing from an athlete who has done a thing or two. Get yourself an autographed copy simply by heading over here and throwing down a few quid.

And I promise to keep trying to get to the finish line faster.