Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Wrap Up

I understand when people have had a not-so-great year and they declare loudly to all who will hear that they are soooooo over this year and ready for the next one to begin. In reality, however, many years are similar.  Some you beat cancer in and some you don't. Some you find the love of your life and some you get divorced.  But the pressure to make THIS YEAR the BEST is ridiculous.  For reasons I can't even recall, nine years ago I was interviewed in the Washington Post about finding someone special for a kiss on New Year's Eve.  I said then what I said now: New Year's Eve is vastly over-rated with far too much pressure.

The same goes with looking back at the past year.  I like doing it. We all like doing it. We like lists.We like Top Tens.We want things in a neat bow. They rarely are.

All told, I was quite pleased with how 2013 went because I made it through the year and virtually everyone I cared about in the world made it through the year as well. That's a pretty good year in my book.

Running-wise (and the only reason why 95% of you care what my opinion on anything is) I had a good year as well. Not a great year, per se but a good one.  Here are some of the things I will remember in no particular order.

* I had my plans to run across the Panama Canal thwarted because of incorrect information provided and horrible planning on my part.

 * I skied for the first time in my life and did it at the beginning of a winter triathlon. I ended up being the fastest trail runner on the day which is just hilarious given my love of road running.

* This year ended up having the most miles in a year for me (~2500) since 2008, when at no time did I feel like I was running that much or that far at all.

* My running and everything was put on hold for a bit when I contracted a nasty little staph infection in my foot which made it difficult to sleep, let alone walk, or even think about running. Fortunately, I am mostly recovered from that but know I have to be ever vigilant.

* I set a new half-marathon PR on a day when I was not really expecting much in the speed department at all at the Mt. Nebo Half Marathon.

*The Dane to Davenport was a success as I ran 165 miles in 3 days before hitting the Quad Cities Marathon the next day.

* With little to no cycling in the previous 6 months, I was able to have a solid showing at the National Duathlon Championship race and qualify for the world championships.

* My second book continued to sell well and received good reviews while readers continued to like my 52 Marathons in 52 weekends story.

* I finally realized the movie about my 202 mile solo running of the American Odyssey Relay would come to fruition at the start of 2014.

I have no major plans for 2014 in the sense that others want to hear about how long I will be running and from what point in the country to the other I plan on traversing. This year has a focus on returning to speed and trying to leave the long-distance stage running behind for a year or two. I continue to wish to try new races and distances but would love a few more cracks at setting a nice fat PR in the marathon.  It has been four years since I really tried with any sincerity and I think the time is right.

I think that, for the most part, if 2014 looks a lot like 2013, I will be a happy camper. I could do without any staph infections or similar injuries but hey, I haven't had a bike crash since 2012!

Here's wishing you the best in 2014 and I do hope your running. racing and life dreams do come true.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Seattle Locks Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 29th Edition 
1 mile skied, 2750 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 444.55 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Seattle Locks Marathon
Place: Seattle, WA
Miles from home: 180
Weather: 40-50s; Cloudy; Slightly humid

The full name of this race is the Seattle Locks Fat Ass Marathon. The “Fat Ass” portion of the name denotes, amongst runners, a very low-key affair, usually.   Recently, I was speaking to someone who was new to running.  They mentioned most of the marathons they had completed in were smaller events.  “You know, like 2000 marathoners or so.”  I laughed because even in my relatively short time of running marathons, the marathoning world has changed drastically.

When I ran 52 Marathons on consecutive weeks in 2006, there were ~300 marathons in the United States. A good 50 or so of those took place over two weekends in October. Finding a marathon to run every week was half of the challenge of doing what I did.  When my hand was forced to create my own marathon in the penultimate weekend of the year I went out of my way to make it as “real” a marathon as possible. Chip timing, course certification and the works, even though it was 105.5 laps around a high school track in my hometown. We had a 6-hour time limit.  Originally the plan was for five hours but a friend who is an amputee had thought about competing and I wanted to make sure they had enough time.

But today, there are probably twice the number of marathons out there, at least. The number of runners doing all kinds of events continues to grow and grow. The stigma attached to not even thinking about running a marathon unless it takes you less than four hours is gone. The definition of “running” a marathon has changed. Oodles of races are popping up that cater to those who like to complete 26.2 miles as often as possible, many times with as little training as possible. I say this not to denigrate anyone. I say this to say that the term “Fat-Ass” almost has to be thrown away. So many marathons fall into this running for fun only category that is it losing its meaning a bit.

This particular race was put on by Steve Walters, a Portland Oregon runner who probably directs no less than about 10 of these types of races a year. Often the races have better aid station variety than many marathons out there with thousands of dollars of a budget. Steve puts together good events, knows he has an audience of repeat offenders to fill out his ranks and often has waiting lists to get into his races.   His finishers’ medals are low-tech but neat. The awards are a bit sparse but that is fine. One’s body still gets the benefit of the run even if they don’t get a shiny bauble to display on the shelf. However, this race really fell into that category of low-key.  In fact, it was one of the more challenging races I have done for that specific fact.

Runners knew well in advance there would be potentially no aid stations on this course. Yep, none.  Maybe there would be one station at the halfway point because runners would come back there to finish, but don’t count on it.  Runners knew they should carry their own liquid with them as they weren’t getting any on the course. It was truly a do-it-yourself-er.

In addition, the course was not closed. Other pedestrians would be out “getting in the way” of us runners as we tried to have ourselves a merry ole time. Moreover, with a twice out-and-back course, part of each loop was through the middle of Seattle, with no stoppages for traffic lights or anything of that variety. If you hit a red light, well, you had to wait.  It would be, essentially, a long-run with a time at the end.

Personally, I wanted to just cap off what would be a 74-mile week and close out my 2013 with another marathon.  My 147th lifetime marathon, but only my 9th in the past two years.  So much of that sentence would make 25 year old Dane laugh and laugh. I had no idea whom the competition was, really what the course was like or anything else.  I knew it would be fairly decent weather (if even a touch warm) and a chance to check out a part of a town I had never seen.  That was good enough for me.  So I threw best bud Shannon in the car and we went up to Seattle to run a marathon.

Race Morning:

We were told in the days leading up to the race that there were some slight changes in our favor.  There would be an aid station at the start and half way point as well as one at the turn-around of the this 6.55 mile out and back course. As such, the fact I forgot to bring a water bottle was not a concern. Well, the fact that I forgot one is a concern because I have only been doing this sort of thing for a decade now and am wondering if I am getting dumber.  But the end result was that I needn’t be concerned.

The weather was cool (but not cold) and therefore I decided to eschew carrying any bottle with me at all. I hoped I wouldn’t pay for this too badly. I was dressed like it was a fall day; half the others were dressed like it was the Snowpocalypse. Glad to see my growing up in NW PA hasn’t been beaten out of me by the two warmest winters I have ever spent in my entire life here in Portland.

Which goes back to my laughter at 2,000 people being a small race.  More than half the marathons I have
Photo Credits: Ross Comer
run have had fewer than 500 finishers. But things are changing.  There were over 150 people signed up for this low-key, no-frills, carry-your-own-damn-aid race. Shannon pointed out that the registration fee ($0) definitely helped swell those numbers.  Nevertheless, oodles of people, in all different shapes and sizes and colors of clothing were here ready to compete. My all-black attire had me looking like the bad guy in an old western but it’s slimming and I am still carrying some of my baby weight.

The clock was counted down by Steve and away we went.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Thinking While Running

Put yourself in a position to get asked many of the same type of question and you better come up with a variety of different answers, lest you become ornery (learn how to pronounce that here) and not fun to talk to. In addition, repeatedly hearing the same question and its follow-ups allows you to surmise the reasons behind it. If you are any  good at piecing this together, you can answer all those questions at once and make the person asking you the question think about their reasons for doing so in the first place.

This seems to be a pretty heady way to approach being asked a simple question. Believe me, I am not that heady. My point is being in front of people means people are going to ask you tons of questions. Like, who are you and why should I care? I enjoy hearing the questions, often hoping to hear one which presents a new wrinkle.  More often than not, however, I know what is coming. That said, sometimes I surprise myself with my answers.

"What do you think about when you are running?" is one of the top questions I get when people learn how far I run. I have come up with many answers, all true, but one day it hit me to turn it around.

"What do you think about when you aren't running?"

This often gives people a little bit of pause. I know they are trying to think that one's mind must always be engaged or distracted in order to get through many miles of running. But there is also this air that comes with the question that unless I am thinking of something while I am running, I am wasting valuable time.

The things is, very few, if any, of our thoughts each day are groundbreaking. Most of them are rather subconscious reactions to the stimulus around us. We barely even think for the most part. It is not as if  those that aren't running are finding the cure for cancer when they are watching Dancing With the Stars.

You see, when I am running, I am often thinking about many things.  Often I think about next to nothing. This does not mean my mind is idle. It means I am concentrating on what I am doing. I am listening to my body. I am paying attention to aches and pains. I am learning more about my form moving through space and how unbelievably different one can feel from one day to the next on the exact same route.

I am not saying I am some great thinker. But I do get many of the ideas for articles I want to write or things I want to do when I am out on a run. I can catalog the day, put things into order, and make decisions for later. Or I can simply get clarity.

And sometimes I don't think a damn thing other than "It feels so good to be able to be out here doing this."

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Live Ultimate Run Quarter Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 28th Edition 
1 mile skied, 2750 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 418.35 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Live Ultimate Run Quarter Marathon
Place: Miami Beach, FL
Miles from home: 3257
Weather: 70s; Sunny;Windy; HUMID

My original plan for the Live Ultimate Run was to be a running concierge for Swirlgear, the women’s running apparel company I was working with this weekend.  However, the runner I was supposed to be a concierge to was unable to make the run last minute. As such, I was left with a bit of a quandary.  I wasn’t really ready to “race” a quarter-marathon race but was a bit aimless in my goal.

My friend Hannah mentioned I could help pace her if I wanted to.  Actually, she asked if she could pace off of me which I found funny since presently most of her short distance PRs are faster than mine. I told her I would hold on the best I could but I probably would be staring at her back before too long.

Race morning:

Lots of changes in travel plans in the days before the race had me needing to book last minute accommodations. As such, you can imagine the pickens were slim.  Even though the race would be taking place on the far southern end of South Beach, I was staying way out by the airport. I tried to allow myself enough time to not only navigate through notoriously difficult Miami traffic but also find parking on the equally notorious sparse parking area of Miami Beach.  This was all made much more difficult by me thinking I was out smarting traffic by taking some surface streets that had me facing construction with no visible exit strategy.  Luckily, I navigated my way through all of that to only get stymied by a drawbridge letting some early morning vessel go by. It was really looking like I might not even make the race at all.

Finally through the bridge, I took a gamble on a parking garage that was the closest to the start of the race but very likely filled to the brim. Miraculously I found a spot and soon found my way to the start with minutes to spare.

I found Hannah at the start and while others were worrying about a stiff breeze blowing off of the Atlantic, I was worried about the humidity. “You are sweating already,” a runner said. Check back in a mile if you want to see a waterfall, I thought.

Local fast runner, Bryan Huberty, one of the RDs of the race, was also handling emcee duties.  While I chided him later there is a reason they hire people to do these things, you could tell he was earnest in wanting everyone to enjoy his town.  Before more than a few minutes passed, the countdown to zero happened and we were off.

Mile 1:

Almost immediately I was swallowed up in a group of runners. This quarter marathon grouping also included runners in the 5k, so it was hard not to get swept up in speed you couldn’t possibly maintain for half of a half of a marathon. This mile took runners from the tippytip of South Beach down the infamous Ocean Drive on South Beach. Some major road repairs were going on all over South Beach but this mile was fairly decent. Other sections of town looked like a war zone and I can only imagine the traffic that snarls through them on a regular beach day.  But right now I was only thinking about the river of sweat running down my back.

Hannah mentioned she wanted to go out in about 6:10 or so.  I could see she was going to be much faster than that and bid her adieu. I passed in 6:12; she in 6:01 or so. Bye bye Hannah!

Mile 2:

I am not saying this mile was improperly marked.  I am saying it felt like the longest damn mile of my life. Most of this feeling came from watching the 5k runners in front of me turning around and heading back toward the finish.  Realizing how nice it would be to be done in 18-19 minutes instead of 40-45, I was rather chagrined.  Right after the turnaround for the 5k I heard a pair of feet and a woman slipped by me rather effortlessly. Suddenly we were alone.

Up ahead I could see Hannah pulling away and I could see one, count ‘em, ONE other runner. Man, I was getting crushed. I was just now hoping to finish in the top 10.

Mile 3:

As we turned off of Washington Ave, and in front of the Miami Beach High School , I realized I had run this same stretch in many different races.  But when you only have a thin spit of land to run races on you are
bound to utilize a lot of the same real estate.  I looked to my left as we made a right angle turn and could see a handful of runners not too far behind me.  As my miles began to drop to the high 6s, I expected all of them to be passing me soon.

A right hand turn had runners passing behind the Miami Beach Golf Club.  The female runner in front of me had put some distance in between us but not a sizeable margin. I heard footsteps from behind and was more than surprised when a runner much larger than me appeared. I am not the fastest guy in the world but when it comes to 6’1’’ 180+ pound guys, I don’t usually have a lot of competition.  I figured he would pass on by.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Operation Jack Northwest 6-Hour Run Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 27th Edition 
1 mile skied, 2750 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 411.8 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Operation Jack Northwest 6-Hour Run
Place: Tigard, OR
Miles from home: 14 miles
Weather: Teens-20s; Sunny;Windy; Brrr

A short drive in the morning from my loft to the race, while picking up bestie Shannon to go run around in the cold meant I not only got to sleep in my own bed, I did not have to get up at 4 a.m. to get to the start. Those are rare treats for me I do not unappreciate. (Yup, I made up that word.)

Of course, in the four years of the running of this event (last year's recap) it had never been anywhere close to this cold. It wasn't exactly freezing - it was actually well-below. (Didn't think I was going that way, did you?) But we knew the sun was supposed to shine the entire day and about 85% of each of the barely under one-mile loops would be in that sunlight. (The RD says they were .94; I say they were .96)

In addition, lest anyone think the course was flat, here's a look at the elevation profile of each loop. Not a lot gained or lost per loop, but the ups and downs add up over time (to the tune of 5,600 feet of change for me personally.) Also, for those who felt they were constantly turning left, there were actually 7 left hand turns and 4 right-hand turns of note per loop. If stats you want, I gots them!

With a starting temperature around 19 (and the "feels like" hovering around zero) 52 hardy souls ventured out in support of both burning off some calories and raising money to fight autism, as the race funds would go to Operation Jack, an organization started by my buddy Sam.

My personal goal was to get a 50k in and anything else would be icing on the cake. I paid special attention to the first 20 miles as I wanted to keep them on a nice clip, but after that it would just be running hard when I felt good.

First 20 miles: 2:33:01 (7:09, 7:20, 7:09, 7:26, 7:09, 7:14, 7:12, 7:25, 7:13, 7:16
                                        7:32, 7:02, 7:28, 7:11, 7:14, 7:14, 7:13, 7:21, 7:21, 7:17, 7:25) 

The first 3 loops were probably the best of the day for me. I was in the lead and was enjoying that there weren't that many others to run around.  I like to run as completely zonked out as possible when doing these timed runs (of which I have done more than a few) but one cannot do that if there are other runners to be aware of around you. At the beginning of the fourth lap, I hopped into a portapotty and one runner passed me by. I would spend the next many laps running well within sight of this runner (Keith.)

The day did not exactly warm up as much as it got less brutally cold. On the northwest corner of the loop, which stayed in shade most of the day, a fierce wind would whip up. Almost everywhere else on the loop it was not present but knowing you would be diving into the teeth of this brute each lap was not ideal.

Somewhere in the middle laps a fella I had met at a race a few years ago (Jon) went flying by me. I wasn't sure what method Jon was using but he was sure sprinting a few laps whenever he wanted to (case in point: I had the fastest one-loop run of anyone but Jon in 7:02; Jon ran a 6:33!) However, I routinely found myself catching and passing him. I assumed he was taking long breaks to replenish. The thing is, in ultras, it has been empirically proven that great distances can be covered in short periods of time by periodically resting. You might not win or set a course record but it is all but guaranteed you will do well.

Another bathroom break in the first 20 miles meant I was well-hydrated but gripping body parts in chilly weather is fun for no one. As I passed Shannon one time, she handed me two electrolyte pills.  I had been drinking every three miles or so but mostly just water. Actually, ice water, as it was freezing in the cups the poor volunteers were pouring our drinks into, but at least I was drinking. It is easy to forget to hydrate in races where hydration is so readily available. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Oregon Turkeython Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 26th Edition 
1 mile skied, 2750 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 374.3 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Oregon Turkeython
Place: Tigard, OR
Miles from home: 14 miles
Weather: 40s; Sunny

It has been over two years since I ran a 10k race. However, the last two times I have run one, I set a new PR (even on the course that was waaaaay long.) Since that run,  I have gone the ultra distance way with my 350 mile running of the Oregon Coast and my Dane to Davenport this past fall.  Needless to say, I was not in "sprinters shape" and there would be no PR on this race day.  However, the way to get into that sort of PR shape, is to simply go out and get some. So, even though I knew it would hurt oodles, I decided to take on the Turkeython put on by the local Uberthons group.

The course had something I very much like: loops.  It also had a few things I definitely do not like: hills and crowded runspaces. And because it was 4 loops of a 1.55 mile loop, you would get those hills and crowds for, well, at least the last 3 loops! But Tootie and Natalie always taught me to take the good and take the bad.

Loop 1: 9:36

As the race was run with hundreds of runners but on a relatively narrow runway (just one lane of traffic around a mall) there were waves sent out once every ten seconds or so.  As always I almost always line up a few rows back from the start.  Not many but a few.  Why? Because I am not the fastest guy there and I know it.  When I see people crowd the front who are just going to basically get trampled I want to offer them kindly advice to get the heck out of the way.  It is annoying and dangerous. But I was a bit too chilly this morning so I decided to simply side step them and move in front.   When the big ole bell rang for us to start, I was somewhere in the top 15 runners or so.

We immediately went around a bend and down the biggest downhill of the course. A right angle turn has up immediately going up hill.  Soon there after we had a nice long straightaway which would afford you the next chance to get into a rhythm. It was mildly uphill but nothing like the big ole beast right around the first mile of every loop.

After this it was basically some twists and turns through a parking lot or on the road surrounding the mall then on the way to finish the first loop. Hardly scenic but I could not have cared less. I was running hard and barely breathing. I also knew we had to do these hills three more times.

Loop 2: 10:12

I tightened up a pinch on this loop and felt a little twang of disagreeing-with-what-I-was-doing in my hamstring.  So I decided to ease the throttle a bit and remember I wasn't going to be a hero today.  I was astounded at how many people were keeping ridiculously fast clips.  I always have been and always will be jealous of those blessed with lost of fast-twitch muscles fibers.

As we got near the end of the second loop I heard the quick pitter-patter of short legs.  A little sprite of a girl zipped by me. Some man presumably her father, said something akin to "100 more yards!"  Then I realized that most of the people in front of me were running the 5k.

Doesn't matter: they were still fast.

Loop 3: 10:12

I knew this would be the toughest loop. Right when I started it a youngster appeared by my side.  We would spend the vast majority of then ext two laps pacing each other. Also, this is where the lanes were getting very crowded. Lots of families and people running with friends were doing so maybe three or more abreast.  It was a little dicey to say the least.

On the backend of this loop a car who must have been REALLY eager to get in line for the Black Friday sales the next day, decided to cut in front of me and my young companion.  I had to put a hand out on his chest to make sure he didn't become roadkill.   Almost stopped my race right there to go kick in this guy's fender.

Coming through here I was surprised that I ran the exact same time as I had on the previous loop.  I just needed to run 10:00 for the final loop to get a nice sub40 10k time. Shouldn't bee too hard.

Loop 4: 10:02

Unfortunately, it was harder than I hoped.  Part of that was my legs and lungs not responding the way I had hoped and the other part was the thickening crowds on each lap. Even with all of this I would have at least snuck in under 40 if not for the very last few meters. Each lap had a little split for the 5k and 10k runners to go on each side. It was a tight fit right on a corner.  As I rounded in full sprint, I almost trampled some poor lady who was realizing she was heading down the wrong corral.  My spinning pirouette would have made Baryshnikov proud but that stoppage kept me from sneaking in under my desired time.

Having said that, a 40:02 while hardly speedy, was enough to garner my an age group win. With this being the Oregon Age Group Championship race for the 10k, that means the guy with no fast twitch muscle fibers actually is a state champion in a sprint for a year. Well, how about that.

As I have always said, you can only race who shows up.

As with the Oregon Half Marathon I ran put on by the Uberthons people, the medals for this race were just resoundingly nice.  I have raced and won a 50 miler that had a smaller meal than this beast here. Dang.

Another cool thing about the day was my best friend Shannon setting a new 10k PR just a month after she set a 100k PR.  Now that is range, people!  Here's hoping you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Remember that the fourth Thursday in November is not the only time to take stock of what you have and be thankful.

Never a bad idea to do a little of it each day.