Friday, September 28, 2012

Omaha Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 7; 13th Edition 
287.5 miles run; 1 mile swam; 30 miles biked in 2012 races
Race: Omaha Marathon
Place: Omaha, NE
Miles from home: 1651 miles
Weather: 40s-50s; sunny

I have been waiting to run this marathon in Omaha for four years and I was not disappointed when I finally was able to get to the Cornhusker State.  First and foremost, I love geographic anomalies. After landing in Omaha after a long day of flying, I was ready to get to my hotel. Less than a mile out of the Omaha airport, however, I saw a “Welcome to Iowa!” sign. Wait a minute.  Did I take a wrong turn? I hadn’t crossed over the Missouri. What gives?  As soon as I got to my hotel, I fired up the internet and figured out that what I had passed through was the town of Carter Lake.  You can read more about it here, but basically, the Missouri River shifted back in the 1800s and what used to be Iowa found itself smack dab in the middle of Nebraska.  This small sliver of land maintained its Iowa passport and remains part of the Hawkeye State to this day.

Moreover, I realized that this marathon course ran within mere feet of the border. (I would have loved if it ran into Carter Lake itself but I am sure doing so would have required talking to yet another municipality, another set of rules and another bureaucracy to deal with so it probably was not worth it.  Maybe in future years this can be part of the race.)  The next day, prior to the expo, I went for a run to check out this area.  I didn’t even realize that part of my run followed part of the marathon course but later this would help me.  Familiarity is a wonderful thing.

The expo itself flew by in a blink. The Omaha Marathon has grown every year for the past decade and continually needs to change venues to host its expo. At one point, I got to see firsthand what I already knew existed – people thinking that because they are the “customer” that they can be entitled to the sky and everything in it. As the race director calmly tried to handle some poor chap who was losing his mind over the fact that his t-shirt might be delayed and would have to be mailed to him, I was reminded why after a short stint as a race director, I have no desire to do it anymore.  I am pretty sure that when the guy left the area he realized what an ass he had been but in the moment, it was more than clear he just wanted to bitch and wasn’t expecting to hear any pushback.  (N.B. the pushback did not come from the R.D., who was a saint, but rather from me when I told him he was being an idiot and needed to stop.  In case you are curious, fella, every vendor and person around thought you were a dipwad.  Hope it was worth it.)

But even this tirade could not derail a wonderful expo and an even more enthusiastic and involved crowd who gathered for the pre-race dinner. As I had just a few weeks ago in Pocatello, I was gifted with a standing room only group of runners who were eager to laugh, break bread and shake out the sillies the night before a big race. I also participated in an auction that helped benefit charity and modeled some shirts to be sold to the highest bidder. I met Marines running their first marathon, guys who had run some of the same 40-person races I had in far-flung corners of the world, girls who would go on to set twenty minute personal bests, and loads of people in between.

I was ready to get my marathon on.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Proteins over Carbs

I have been working with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association for over two years in some capacity or another as a spokesrunner. This title was coined by Daren Williams, Executive Director, Communications at NCBA to illustrate how I have taken it upon myself to educate people about the healthful benefits of eating lean beef as well as dispel myths, rumors, half-truths and just oodles of stupidity and ignorance about the beef industry.

So when one of the biggest proponents of the carb-loading phase comes out and says “Whoops, maybe add some protein in there as well” it is nice that people are taking notice. Tim Noakes, who wrote the book Lore of Running, has said you can go ahead and tear out the chapter in that book about nutrition as he has done an about-face. Read more here.

The 29 cuts of lean beef, which each contain over 51% of the protein a person needs in their diet daily, in just 3 small ounces netting barely 150 calories, fall smack dab in the middle of that protein-rich diet Noakes is now promoting. This goes right in line with what I have been saying for years. Why was I able to run 350 miles in 7 days up the Oregon Coast this past spring? Well, hard work, dedication and training definitely helped. So has a lifelong diet of lean beef.

So do I eschew carbs and the traditional runner’s diet of pasta?  Of course not! I love pasta. Always have. But I like my pasta to have protein in it. I also have always been against the "carb-bloating" diet that so many runners fall prey to. In fact, I touch on the carb-eating frenzy in Chapter 19 of my new book and why so many get it wrong. 

My point is not to deplete anything. Eating a healthful balance of carbs, fats AND protein is the key. But more over, get that protein from a delicious source that also has the right balance of calories and nutrients (zinc and iron on top of all that protein, just to name a few!)

In other words, go get yourself a nice juicy streak. I’ll join you. I am guessing Noakes will as well.

Check out "12 Foods That Contains Highest Amount Of Protein"

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fox Valley Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 7; 12th Edition 
261.3 miles run; 1 mile swam; 30 miles biked in 2012 races
Race: Fox Valley Half Marathon
Place: St. Charles, IL
Miles from home:  2085 miles
Weather: 50s-70s; sunny

To say this was an odd race for me would be an understatement.

Having originally planned to run the Final Fall 20 mile race, I made the decision instead to take on the Fox Valley Half Marathon to continue my recovery from the bike accident in May.  The decision was made easier when I learned that my friend and last year’s women’s marathon winner, Shannon Bixler, would also be doing the half. I asked her if she wanted someone to help pace her and she said that would be lovely.  We had run together for a portion of the course last year until my course for the 20 miler peeled off and she went her own way. Unfortunately for me she wanted to run a 6:30 pace for the half this year, something which normally would not be a problem.  However, given the fact that I was just getting back into shape this might be a stretch.  I told her I could give it my best shot and only hope to hang on.

The expo was a reunion of sorts, seeing so many of the warm and friendly people who put on the Fox Valley Weekend who I had spent time with the previous year.  The race itself had grown leaps and bounds and was beginning to burst at the seams with runners.  The secret of how well-run the race was and how nice of a course it was apparently no longer well-kept.

Of all the people I spent time with at the expo, the son of a friend named Zachary might have been my favorite. Zachary was born with Down syndrome and has some mental frailties.  But he was strong enough to teach me the sign language for “running” which I then signed to about 100 other people the rest of the day! Even though he has some significant mental and physical difficulties ahead of him, Zachary appears to be ready to meet them with a smile.

The talk of many was the weather for the race. The forecast for the day called for a relatively cool morning and then a warming throughout the race. Bright sunshine and a cloudless sky were also on the menu. This of course would have people who apparently have never run a long-distance race calling it a perfect day for running, seemingly having no clue what exposure to sun for 3,4,5 or 6 hours does to a person pushing their limits. Fortunately, the course provided shade for approximately 90% of the course and running right next to the Fox River gave ample coolness from the waters flowing by.

I was at the expo representing the Illinois Beef Association (“IBA”) and to say people were looking forward to the grilled bites of steak at the end of the race, as they had been provided the previous year, would be an understatement. Obviously this morsel is not everyone’s choice of post-race sustenance but I do know the IBA went home with empty coolers last year.  I assumed the same would be the case in 2012.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Faster is Better

A little long ago, I jumped into a Facebook discussion about running. Here’s the thing about me -  I get enough conversation on my own Facebook page that I try my best to limit going anywhere else and joining any other topic. The main reason is I am blunt, direct and literal. I figure if you comment on my page then you know my style and won’t get your panties in a bind by my replies. Going elsewhere negates that home-field advantage and someone with all the sensitivity of an 8 year- old girl watching a show about puppies and Justin Bieber is going to get their nose bent out of shape. Sometimes I forget my rule and stray.

In this discussion, someone said something akin to how no runner is better than another. An obvious pandering attempt by the poster to get everyone to say “Yeah! You are so right! Everyone is the bestest winner of all times!” it annoyed me. I replied “Of course some runners are better than others. Especially if by better you mean ‘faster’.” It seemed most people got what I was saying. Of course, one person didn’t and in an effort to try and explain my point, but stick to it at the same time, it ended up as most conversations on the internet do – badly. So I decided to clarify again here.

A faster runner is a better one, at least in terms of speed. The faster runner may be an ass, but they are better than the slower nicer one. That is a fact. There is no room for debate. No “well, it depends on your definition of ‘better’”. I am exhausted with trying to be politically correct when it comes to discussions that involve the masses. I am not, and will never, run for political office. As such, I don’t care too much about pissing off people if it is by saying what I truly feel. The thing that attracts me to running so much, after playing team sports for most of my life, is the accountability of it all. That is why I loved swimming so much growing up as well. You versus everyone else.

For you see, if you are prepared to race, and run a certain time, and another person runs faster than you, they are a better runner than you on that day and that race. If they have a better PR than you, they are a better runner than you overall. This seems so completely intuitive that I am shocked I even need to write it.  But apparently that is a must.

So again, in the world where virtually anyone who is not trying to be difficult for the sake of being difficult, realizes “better” means “faster”, some runners sure as heck are better than others. And hopefully, if you are the slower runner presently, you will be able to get better, challenge yourself and the person you are chasing, and in the end, nip them at the line.

Be better.

Friday, September 14, 2012

NYC Marathon Drop Bags

The New York City Marathon recently decided to end its bagtransportation from the start of the race to the end.  Already a logistical nightmare to get 40,000 runners out to Staten Island, some four hours or more before the race started, the directors decided they would not ferry bags of extra gear and clothing back to the finish for the runners.

Now, if you signed up for the race with the understanding that this would be one of the amenities you paid an $65,000 registration fee for (a slight exaggeration) then I feel you have every reason to be a little miffed. A race should not be allowed to promise something for part of a fee and then take it away once virtually everyone pays for it. 

As the complaining became vociferous, the NY Road Runners (who organize the race) abated and stated they would in fact ferry bags after all.  Good for them.  I support that decision. But if they also said, “Hey, next year, this ain’t happening, just so ya’ll know!” (Don’t ask me why my fictional NYRR rep has a southern accent) I would fully support that as well. You see, suck it the heck up, people!

Is it possible the weather could be a little inclement on marathon morning? Sure. Could it be uncomfortable out there if you don’t have proper gear? Yeppers. Are there mountains of ways in which you could deal with this situation as a runner? Assuredly.

1.    You could easily just not run the race.  This is not 1977 when there were like 50 marathons nationwide. A quick perusal of any website will show there are like 500 plus marathons out there in the U.S. If the restrictions make this race undesirable for you, then don’t do it.
2.    Buy a slew of dollar clothing at Goodwill and simply leave it at the start. For $20 you could have a full sweatsuit, mittens and a wool cap to keep you warm. You stay warm and help stimulate the economy. In addition, you help Goodwill, for chrissakes. Where is the downside?
3.    Realize that runners have become a tad bit of a bunch of whiny babes and just shut up. Running used to be the outside and fringe sport.  Now it is far and away the largest participatory sport in America.  Oodles of money (that is the actual amount of money according to Running USA) are spent every year by runners across the nation.  Runners are no longer the freaks in long underwear getting beer bottles thrown at them when they run on the roads. They are mainstream and can make more demands. This is all wonderful.  But with it has come a sense of entitlement. To be honest, it is rather annoying to me to hear these gripes and I love running. I can see those people’s points most of the time. But imagine what non-runners must think.

The fact remains there are a plethora of ways to deal with this inconvenience.  I ran NYC in 2006 and remember a man who had brought an inflatable pool raft with him to the start. He blew it up when we landed on Staten Island, laid down comfortably on the ground, pulled his hat over his eyes and promptly fell asleep. From the look of the clothes he was wearing, I am guessing not a single stitch of clothing was one he cared to see again. Brilliant.

Believe me, most of the events surrounding the NYC Marathon vex me.  But this is not one of them. With just a little thought it shouldn’t bother you either.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chicago Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 7; 11th Edition 
248 miles run; 1 mile swam; 30 miles biked in 2012 races
Race: Chicago Half Marathon
Place: Chicago, IL
Miles from home:  2126 miles
Weather: 50s-70s; sunny

Last weekend, I found out I can still complete a marathon with next to no training. This weekend I wanted to see if, having just barely started running again, I could get my legs firing at a decent clip. To say I am happy with the end result would be an understatement. I am hoping this all bodes well for a rapid return to some faster racing.

This would mark the third straight year I have run the Chicago Half. If memory serves me correctly, the year before was the final year of the race's previous course. I have only known one course and it is one I thoroughly enjoy. (Read my 2010 recap here and my 2011 recap here). I can definitely see myself setting a PR here if I could actually rest prior to racing.  As much as I love expos, and the fantastic people I meet, they are a tiring thing to do. Just when I really start to begrudge all the lucky runners who can sit in a hotel and relax, I get the pleasure of meeting someone super sweet and nice like JoAnne, her daughter Kyzee and her husband Earl.  JoAnne would be going for a new PR in the half while Kyzee and her Grandpa would be doing the 5K.  It's hard to explain how much this makes my heart swell.  When you no longer (and never had) the chance to do a race with your own father, seeing those who do makes you both melancholy and happy at the same time.

I was happy to representing both the Illinois Beef Association and the Wisconsin Beef Council jointly. What I loved the most was not only the word getting out that I personally am known as the spokesrunner for beef but already people are saying that they have seen Team Beefs across the nation.  More and more people are realizing that lean beef is good for you, refuels you and helps you feel good.  Myths and rumors will always be out there but educated with the facts, many more athletes are glad to be saying they are eschewing the pre-race pasta dinner in favor of a pre-race beef dinner!  My works is far from done, but we have come a long way in the past 2-plus years.

When the expo ended on the second day, I eschewed hanging out with friends and tried to go get some food. The previous two nights had been fiascoes in that arena and I was starting to get a three-day Hanger (Hunger + Anger) thing going on. I thought about eating and joining my friends as I did not expect the next day to result in anything faster than 1:35 but after eating a ridiculous amount of food (compensating, I guess) I was sleepy.  I decided to turn in and get ready for the awful 4:30 a.m. wake-up.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Pocatello Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 7; 10th Edition 
234.9 miles run; 1 mile swam; 30 miles biked in 2012 races
Race: Pocatello Marathon
Place: Pocatello, ID
Miles from home:  miles
Weather: 50s-70s; humid; sunny

Well, 6 years later, I got my wish.

Back when I was running 52 Marathons in 52 weekends in 2006, I saw the elevation profile for the Pocatello Marathon and knew someday I would run the race. The downhill portion really suits my strengths and at the time I had never once been to Idaho.  I just never assumed when I did run it, that the race would be the first marathon I had run in over three months with only three 12-mile runs to serve as “long-distance training” in between.  But that is what life does to you.  It makes you deal with the unexpected. The only question which remains is how will you handle it?

Back in 2006, when I told my Myspace friends (yeah, seriously) about the Pocatello Marathon, I also didn’t expect I would be headlining its first ever pasta and lean beef dinner. However, that was the case this year as part of Idaho’s Team Beef.  I was fortunate enough to speak to one of the best crowds I have ever had at a pre-race dinner. Engaging, bright-faced, attentive and good-looking, and the crowd wasn’t bad either.

As I told my tales, hoping to inspire some, calm the nerves of others and make them all laugh, I was treated to many wonderful experiences.  Not the least was having one of my best friends on the planet in attendance, attempting her first road marathon in 14 years. Shannon, who crewed me on my 350 miler, was herself coming back from an injury. Both of us were treating the Pocatello Marathon as a barometer of where our fitness was at this point in the recovery process of our injuries. 

The dinner was packed and there was a plethora of people in the crowd who I was happy to have heard tell their tale earlier in the day.  One in particular, John Schmitt, who survived a horrific car crash, subsequent torturous surgeries and the prognosis of never walking again, was here to complete his 30+- marathon in the past 12 years. Truly amazing. I met one woman who, like me, lived in Portland and I found out I literally ran three blocks from her house just a few days prior. Another large group of 30-plus members from Colorado had made the trek to Idaho to Run the Gap.  Heck, I think I even saw a Denver Broncos cheerleader at one point.  She looked like she wanted my autograph but scurried away with her food all shy-like.

After the dinner, I surprised myself for the second weekend in a row by being in bed before 10:00 p.m. With a 6:15 a.m. start, and a bus out to the beginning, I knew I would have to be up around 4:30 in the morning. I kept telling myself the lack of sleep would be fine as this was not a race.  This marathon was a chance for me to see if I could run over twice the distance I had in three months and hopefully not do any further damage to anything that was already healing.  Somehow, that was comforting enough to get me to sleep.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hall and Uceny: A study in DNFs

I was recently published in Pure Outdoor Adventure Magazine detailing two high-profile DNFs in the Olympic Track and Field events.  Read that article here.

EDIT:  Article was taken down so here is the text.

In the last few days of the Olympics, there were two rather high-profile athletes who did not finish their respective track and field events. Prior to these DNFs, Americans were experiencing a resurgence in distance events on the track.  Galen Rupp garnered the U.S.’s  first medal in the 10,000 meter in decades. Leo Manzano took a silver in the 1500 meter, shocking as many as Rupp did. Bernard Lagat just barely missed a bronze medal in the 5,000 meter as did matthew Centrowitz in the 1500meter.

Morgan Uceny was in the thick of the hunt for another medal for the US with one lap to go in the Women’s 1500 meter.  Then disaster struck.  Clipped from behind or simply tripping in the thicket of runners, Uceny went down in a heap.  One year earlier, in the world championships, Uceny had also taken a tumble. Seemingly overcome by this double amount of ironic failure, Uceny could do nothing but pound the track in dismay. I, on the other hand, stood, screaming at the TV “Get up! Go!” 

With one full lap to go, and the way Uceny landed, it looked like she could have easily rolled into a run again and took off after the pack. Now, I know that is easier said than done, especially with just one lap to go and the group of runners about to begin their final kick, but it is far from impossible.  (Don’t believe me? Check out this 600 meter indoor race from the 2008 Big Ten Championship.  I could tell you what is about to happen and you wouldn’t believe me anyway so I would rather you just watch.) Even when the runners completed their final lap, Morgan was still on the ground, distraught.  When asked later why she stayed on the ground she mentioned as soon as she fell she knew it was over.

A few days later, in the men’s Olympic Marathon, the U.S. had its slight medal hope decimated just about 10 miles in when, in the span of just a few meters, both Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman pulled off of the race course. While the third member of the U.S team, Meb Keflezighi, would run one of the most inspiring second halfs in Olympic marathon history, closing from about 20th place at the half way point to a fourth place overall finish, talk was about both Ryan and Abdi’s DNF. Actually, for some reason, most of the talk was about Hall. 

Messages boards and facebook comments from runners of considerably less talent questioned his heart, his training, his mindset. “*I* would NEVR give up, even if it took me seven hours to finish” was a typical comment. A few more comments talked about how Hall had let down his country, should not have stepped on the course if he wasn’t ready to give his best and, in the best use I have ever heard of the following phrase to really encapsulate what was said next, blah, blah, blah.

Granted it is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease and I am sure there was an overwhelming majority of people who felt exactly like I did – that Hall had given it his best shot and stopped when he had to out of necessity. But these people appeared to be, for the most part, silent in his defense.  No surprise here that people don’t stick up for their convictions when a more vocal minority get all up in a tizzy.

The thing is, Hall’s DNF seems infinitely more defensible than Uceny’s. Hall stopped, not because he wasn’t going to win the race, but rather because he wasn’t even halfway done with an event that would go on for another hour, and he was already feeling the pains in his hamstring. Having never not finished a race before in his life, here he was realizing that continuing on could possibly add a long-term injury from which he may never recover. Uceny wasn’t injured, save for a bloody knee from hitting the turf. She could have easily hopped back up and continued on. Or at least it looked like she could have done so.

Please note, however, while I said Hall’s DNF was more defensible than Uceny’s,  I still think there is much to be said for Morgan hitting the turf and staying there. By that I mean, very, very (very) few of us have reached the pinnacle of our sport the way Hall and Uceny have. Moreover, after reaching that pinnacle, they were then confronted with split-second decisions which could have an impact on not only their immediate racing and vocational lives but also long-term as well.  

Both made decisions that seemed best suited for them at the time.  Hall’s was made, seemingly, more by his head, where Uceny’s was made out of the anguish of her heart. But they were their decisions. Even though I was screaming for Morgan to get up and run, I wasn’t doing it because she wore the red singlet of the United States.  I wasn’t yelling at her because she owed me anything. I was trying to verbally pick her up and get her moving toward her dream. When a few days later, I saw Ryan Hall pull over to the side of the road, it was far less dramatic and therefore there was no screaming. But the feeling I had for him, and the desire for him to be fine and just get going again was exactly the same.  “Come on. Oh no. No.” were my words this time.

Nevertheless, the end result is the same for both runners. DNF. I wrote about a DNF a few months ago and how sometimes it is a wise decision. Without a doubt I think Hall (and Abdi’s) decisions were wise given the damage which could have been done by continuing. I am bummed Uceny was put in the position she was where her body and mind made the decision for her. I think that if she had gotten back up, and still finished last, she would have become the darling of the games. Instead, we are reminded of Mary Decker Slaney hitting the ground way back in 1984 and both of those images sting.

We hold our athletes up to pretty impossible standards for the most part.  We turn on them for the most random and inane of things, almost exactly in the same way that we exalt them. To be clear, while I “get” Hall’s decision more, I can absolutely understand where Morgan was coming from.

More accurately, I understand as much as a person who will never run in the Olympics with the weight of a nation, after four years of training toward one specific race, decided in just a mere four minutes, can possibly understand.