Thursday, January 30, 2014

Conversations With Runners I Have Never Met

It may be odd, but I speak with runners I do not know and who do not know me every single day.  I am not talking about on social media but rather in the real world. How am I able to pull off this feat? Well, because these chats are not actual conversations but ones that go through my mind when I see other runners out and about. Sometimes, I am running and enjoying the day with them. Other days I may have already finished my run and I see them running by. And still others are when I am in transit in some other form than running shoes.

Regardless, when I do see them, there is no shortage of questions I want to ask them. I wonder if this is a good run for them. If not, what is keeping them going? What made them start running? Are they training for a race or running just for fitness? Have they always been a runner or did other sports call their name first?

If I am running, I curse silently to myself if they are going the other direction because the chance to talk will be nothing more than a wave or head nod. If I overtake them, I wonder if they mind if I would stop and chat. Sometimes, it is all I can do to not stop them and ask them some, if not all, of the questions I have in my mind. I obviously resist, as I would not want my workout interfered with by some nosy stranger.

However, I do often shout words of encouragement. Sometimes it appears to be appreciated. Sometimes it falls on deaf ears that are plugged with earphones. There are even a few times where I get a look as if it is none of my business how good or not their run is.

Nevertheless, even when I never exchange so much as eye contact, I silently wish them well. I am no great runner to be "proud" of people I do not know, but I am nonetheless. I am proud regardless of their pace, present physical shape, or grace in running. They are not on couch. They are running.

Once I mentioned to someone that runners are the friendliest/most honest group of people that I know. She scoffed. She said it was an arrogant statement because she felt people on the whole are honest and friendly. I was curious why she said it was an "arrogant" statement. She said by my saying "runners" I was including myself. To be honest, for whatever reason I was not even including myself in that "runner" category. It was as if I as looking at the runner category from outside. But upon further review, even though I have so much to learn from those who came before me and much to share yet with those who are yet to follow me, I am indeed a runner.

So arrogant or not, I stand by my statement. I cannot count the times I have been racing against each other neck-and-neck, straining against everything and neither of us giving an inch. The finish line looms and neither wants to give in. Then the finish line passes underfoot and I turn around to either give a hearty handshake or a sweaty hug. In fact, I have hugged runners at the end of almost every marathon I have run. I have also handed water to other runners in a race when I saw they missed a cup from a volunteer. And every time I have done this, I know I wasn't the only one.Go ahead and count the nice things runners do for each other. Even in the middle of the race. You will soon run out of fingers.

Think about other walks of life. Doesn't happen much there, does it? I think it was renowned runner, doctor, writer (and many other things) George Sheehan who said something akin to "Tell me you are a runner and I will understand more about than you can imagine".

Monday, January 27, 2014

Dr. Fitness & the Fat Guy Interview

Thanks to the folks at Dr Fitness and the Fat Guy for an interview last night. We discussed my movie No Handoffs, the use of PEDs, my cruise ship marathon record and much more!

Click here for the interview. (I start in at 15:30.)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Little Run on Easter Island

Growing up in Northwest Pennsylvania, I was not without the things I needed. My family, however, had some limitations when it came to finances. These limitations should have probably kept me from dreaming with largesse. Yet, one of the things of which I am most proud is how my mother tells me I ignored those limitations. I acted as if, and still do, what I shouldn’t be able to do is doable.

I loved mystery and intrigue then and now. The Loch Ness Monster, Jack the Ripper, Stonehenge and anything that dealt with the unknown intrigued me. One of the places which has always called my name was the remote, odd, and utterly befuddling Easter Island.

So, when Crystal Cruises asked me to be a part of their Southern Seas Soliloquy which would stop at Easter Island, you can imagine how quickly I said yes. In fact, the vast majority of people on this cruise were there because of the chance to set foot on this wonderful oddity.

When you sail for four straight days without stop from the shores of Chile and still need another half of a day to reach this speck of land in the middle of Pacific, you truly understand what the “middle of nowhere” really means. We had been warned that there was a decent chance we might not actually be able to get on the island itself given the swells which were hitting the shores. As we prepared to disembark on the western side of the island, it soon became clear this wouldn’t be possible. Our cruise ship then only had one more chance to get us ashore at Rapa Nui: the northern shore.

We heard that about 65% of the time ships cannot send their tenders (or smaller ships) safely to shore at this tiny pier. Fortunately, we were in this small 35% window. I cannot tell you the relief I felt knowing we would not be so close yet so far away.

By the time I had boarded the tender to head to land, most of the passengers on the boat knew me as the “runner” or “the jogger”  or “that guy.” (That's what you get for setting the Fastest Known Time for a Marathon on a cruise ship.) Heading to shore in a pair of Karhu running shoes, short shorts and a handheld water bottle would confirm anyone’s suspicion if they weren’t sure. You see, while most people were taking pre-arranged tours of some nature, me and my best friend Shannon were going to be running on the island.

Originally, there had been plans to run the Easter Island Marathon course. However, even on the best of schedules with everything going right, this would have been a very tight fit. Planning to leave the cruise ship at 8 a.m., we would have gotten onto Easter Island no earlier than 9 a.m. With a return at 4:00 p.m., you can see how little time we had to play with. In addition, communication with the organizers of the race was spotty at best. Emails I sent took so long to get replies I thought I might have a better chance of sending real mail.

Given all of this, I scrapped those plans and decided on different ones. Those were in turn changed when we didn’t land in our originally intended place. Now we had to think fast to see how we could see as much of the island as possible, on foot and not get left behind and become part of the folklore!  Finally, we figured out we could get off on Anakena Beach, the only beach on the entire island, run 6.5 miles inland to the stone quarry and the Tongariki and return in time. Now all we had to do was do it.

Starting this run just two days after running 26.2 miles left me with very tired legs. Throw in the fact that the humidity, whose lack of I usual love, was at just 3% and you have a very parched Dane. Finally, if you have not experienced sun in the South Pacific, you do not know what a soul sucking orb it can be. It mean, it really bakes you even in January.

Shannon and I landed, took some quick pictures of the moai around the beach and did not even dip our toes in the ocean. We figured we would be back in plenty of time to enjoy this tiny spit of sand. Right now, however, we had an island to run.

Past the vendors and taxis which had convened at the landing was our first order of business. Ships like ours are few and far between so when our landing was moved, apparently all those with wares to sell quickly moved to where we would be. We knew we would be helping to line their pockets later but not now with many miles to run.

The plan was to follow a rough rudimentary map we had which showed we could follow what seemed to be one of the only roads on the island and hug the coast. With our limited time on the island, and my tired legs from the marathon run two days prior, I knew we wouldn’t get to see nearly as much as we wanted to.  But we would see it like few others would.

Down a loosely packed red dirt road we ran until we came to what I am guessing is the only fork in the road on this side of the island. A paved road went off into the distance and I knew this lead to the main town on the island, Hanga Roa. We, however, were not going that way. Our path veered left and toward the ocean again.

After about 2 miles of running, we got misted with a soft shower. It was rather refreshing. While the temperature was not that high (only around 75) the sun was relentless. But just as quickly as it came upon us, the rain was gone. We later learned that this small shower had been part of a system that had stirred up some waves and delayed further tenders from leaving the cruise ship. We had been extremely fortunate to get on one of the first boats ashore.

By now a few taxis and tour buses began to pass us. We recognized some faces from the cruise ship and more than a few flashbulbs went off in our direction. I’d like to say they were taking pictures of the statues but none were around. It was quite clear we were more of an oddity than mysterious stone faces.

The vehicles snaking off into the distance allowed up to see where the well-hidden road would take us. We estimated that to make it to the quarry it would be easily 6.5 miles. We could also see from the vehicles climbing that we had a nice hill to get up and over in those 6.5 miles. Earlier in the day someone who had actually been on the island previously mentioned that our proposed route would be flat. I asked them if they had run it or driven it knowing full well in advance it was the latter. When they confirmed it was driving, I knew not to trust what their idea of “flat” was. Coincidentally, as we huffed and puffed up this hill, they passed us in a vehicle. I wonder if they still thought it was flat.

Cresting the hill, we could see off in the distance the line of statues numbering 15 with scores of vehicles surrounding them. In addition, one lone house was off in the distance. When out running like this, you get a chance to think about things like “Does any one person actually own any of this land?”  It seemed one person owned at least a portion of it.

A nice downhill section meant only that we would have to climb it on the return. I was also out of water in the one handheld bottle I brought. No bother. I have been thirstier than this before. Now I was just thirsty for the sight of these magnificent statues.

While today’s internet age puts everything we want right in front of us at the touch of a button, there are still sights which can leave you mystified. These statues can be counted as one of them. I sat down to look at them and then turned to look at the vast ocean behind them. How did anyone ever find this place? Why did they stay when they knew how remote it was? And seriously, what in the heck is the deal with the statues?!

This was the only time of the run that I had wished we had taken a car tour or at least had many more hours to explore. We knew we would not be able to make it up to the quarry. Well, actually we knew we could and we knew we could make it back but without water it would be a tough day. I wanted to explore every inch of the island. Learn more about its people and their day-to-day, non-selling-things-to-me lives. Perhaps be the intrepid discoverer of some unknown tidbit that unlocks the secrets of these statues. Also, I want to validate my reading of MAD magazine 25 years ago. More or less, I just wanted more time. But we were out of it.

So we had to head back to the ship.

Back up the hill we went and it felt like the ambient air had climbed ten degrees. In fact, again, while it was warm it was not all that hot. But stopping to take pictures had done nothing to cool our cores and here we were again exerting ourselves in a sapping sun.

As each car passed up and kicked up dust which seemed to then become a permanent part of our skin, we got drier and drier. After what seemed like forever, we crested this hill and could see the long slope in front of us with the deep dark Pacific behind it. Trees were so sparse we named them individually. (Hello, Eduardo!) Shade was only available if you dug a hole and climbed into it. Virtually everyone we encountered spoke of their sunburns and tanlines in incredulous ways. How can one get a burn sitting in the middle seat of a van all day?

At the bottom of the hill, I knew we had one climb left and then if memory served me we were mostly rolling downhill the rest of the way. Memory did NOT serve me.  I remembered essentially none of the downhill parts on the way out but they were making their presence known here as uphills on the way back.

We plodded along and a large herd of horses, which had been numerous smaller herds on our way out, appeared in front of us. Skittish in a way only a half ton animal can be, they were continually eying us and moving forward in a straight line on the road in front of us. We would trot and they would trot. If we happened to kick a stone or shuffle our feet in the dirt, one of the foals would skip ahead even quicker. If at any time they had simply move to the left or the right about ten yards we could have passed by them completely with no bother. But they continued forward on the road which was hardly any more smooth than the field beside us. Finally, the Einstein of the group crabwalked a few feet askew and realized we weren’t chasing them. In fact, unless there were sloths on Easter Island, we weren’t “chasing” anything.

At this point we could see the cruise ship around the bend. Too bad around the bend was still three miles away.

The remoteness of everything about this island really hits home when the only signs of human life you see, if you see it, is the human life you brought with you. As the occasional van or bus ferried cruise ship people back to Anakena Beach, we realized if we were not here, there was little to no reason for anyone else to be here. No rivers or streams, virtually no trees, brush vegetation at best; this is an inhospitable place to be.

Runners pride themselves on being able to tackle some of the harshest and remote terrains out there.
However, that is often for maybe a dozen hours at most after which they pamper themselves back in the luxury of air conditioning, plentiful food and drink, and an interstate highway system to drive to where they need be. Even as tough and remote as, say the Badwater race is, competitors know they can stop and be back to relative humanity within a few hours. Here, everywhere you look is ocean and the land you are standing on offers very little in the way of solace.

It gives you great pause to think about how fortunate many of us have it. The simple pleasure of amenities like running water are lost on many. I read accounts by athletes who claim to be so hardy as they go off gallivanting with their tech t-shirts and hydration systems, filled to the brim with the concoctions they either purchased at the grocery store or created from the luxury of having endless supplies of whatever powders and solutions they need. Then, after an air conditioned ride to the local trailhead, they endure physical activities for a few hours before returning to their comfy homes and down pillows to talk about how hard their day was on social media.

This is not me and not because I think I am a man who lives off the land. I know I am not. I like creature comforts. I just know how lucky I am to return to them after some exercise and don’t pretend otherwise. Here, laid bare to the elements, you have no choice but to become closer to yourself. Yes, I was just a few miles from being back on a freaking cruise ship and getting seven-star treatment, but knowing that even that cruise ship was thousands of miles away from what I was normally comfortable with really put it all into perspective.

One final up hill put us at the top of a climb that allowed us to see our cruise ship in the water and then a whole bunch of Pacific Ocean behind it.  The people who found this island hundreds of years ago probably weren’t aware of how amazing they were. I only hope that my own endeavors will be a smidgen as awe-inspiring after I have completed them.

The run was a hair over/under thirteen miles. But it was thirteen of the most eye-opening miles I have ever run.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Crystal Cruise Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 3rd Edition 
32.9 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Crystal Cruise Marathon
Place: South Pacific
Miles from home: Many, many
Weather: 70s-80s; humid

I have been planning my first cruise for many months now as I was invited to be a special Guest Lecturer on Crystal Cruise Lines. As part of the trip, I had worked with the cruise on a number of ideas on how to help make this one of the healthiest cruises out there. If you have ever spent any time on a ship you can understand how many variables there can be which keep people from sticking to a health plan.

One of the main attractions of this cruise was its stop on Easter Island. The idea of running the Easter Island marathon course as a solo participant was one of our ideas on how to get people to test their boundaries.  However, from the beginning of the cruise, weather around Easter Island had left the water rather choppy.  As such, until we actually got to the island we would not know when we would land and even if we did land, which port it would be. Planning an excursion and all the things to go with running 26.2 miles was nearly impossible. Therefore, we decided to go with one of the alternate plans which was to run a marathon distance around the ship itself. While no one would be joining me for the full distance, many signed up to run a few miles at least.

With the cruise ship having a promenade deck on the 7th level equaling .27 of a mile, in order to complete a marathon distance, I would need to run 97.1 laps. I didn’t realize until my first run on the ship at sea two days prior how difficult that would be.

Traveling at 20 knots with a constant 15 knot headwind, I would definitely be in for an adventure.  I had done two different test runs on the ship to try and gain a feel for how to handle the curveballs ahead. Each run has presented difference challenges.

On one day the boat moved a little more side to side; the other it rocked more forward and backward. The former would pitch me around like a drunken sailor; the latter would give me a feeling of weightlessness for a few seconds before pitching me up a sudden uphill.  I wasn’t sure which was worse. Throw in the 388 hairpin turns with a variety of obstacles at your feet and head (if you are over 6 feet tall), a few dozen other runners and well, I knew this was going to be tough.

Because of my duties on the ship as a speaker, we tentatively scheduled my run for the first Saturday of the cruise. On Friday evening, I got the OK from the Captain to undertake the excursion as it looked like it would be the calmest day at sea we would have. I planned to start around 7 a.m. as I hoped to avoid as the heat of the day but also wanted some sunlight to see the deck underfoot. I forgot that the deck is constantly lit and I could have started much earlier. Alas.

As I readied myself for the run in the morning, the temperature was warmer than I would liked but not horrific. The wind was again blowing steadily at 15 knots at least, almost directly in my face on the right side of the ship. I had been very curious about what my GPS would measure my movement to be on this run but it became a null point. We had entered an area the captain had called a “dead zone” and not only were we receiving no satellite for the internet or television, we definitely weren’t getting any GPS signal for watches.  No matter. With countless other fellow cruiseateers onboard I would have no shortage of people counting laps, taking pictures, and cheering me on.

Moments before we started, I decided to grab another towel to help wipe off sweat. This put me down on the level roughly 3 minutes past seven, the stated starting time. Karl, a passenger on board from Germany, mentioned I was late. His punctuality was greatly appreciated and created a big laugh. Other fellow passengers, Lark and Lynn, were there to start with me as well. It was nice to know I would not be doing this endeavor completely alone. We counted down and started running.

There is no “world record” per se for the fastest 26.2 miles run on a cruise ship, or at least one recognized by Guinness. Nor did I particularly care for making sure the defacto gatherer of existing records knew I was trying to run the fastest time ever for such a distance. However, I did want to know what I should be shooting for and the fastest time I could find was 3:40. I knew if I ran 2:00 per lap I would finish right around 3:15. If I could do that, I would be ecstatic.

The first mile or so was spent just getting used to the way the ship was rocking that morning. It would definitely change throughout the three-plus hours of running but getting my sea legs under me at the start was most important. It was supposedly only 70 degrees but it felt much hotter than that already.

Right off the bat I knew this run would be challenging because at no point would I be able to really just zone out. I was going to have to be constantly in the moment watching for all the obstacles which could pop up. Before too long I surpassed 25 laps which was now the furthest I had ever run on the ship. Even though that was a only hair shy of just seven miles, it was a nice barrier to break. Another mile later and the first third of the run would be essentially done.

My nutrition rationale was going to fall in line with many of the timed races I have done around short courses. I have found that when drinks are made available to you very frequently, you tend not to take them in at all, always thinking the next half mile is when you will grab a drink. So after the first five miles, I knew I had to make sure I was getting something every three miles to begin with, moving on down to one mile near the end.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Dream Job

I have a Dream Job.  Or so I am told by those who think I do.

Understand me, I very much enjoy my life. I write and speak for a living. I travel the world (well, mostly the United States), seeing it by foot in many places, and interact with thousands of people.  As a full-fledged adult (even if I don't act like it) I know how lucky I am even on that last point alone. Once you leave higher education, what are the chances that you will actually converse with more than 10 different people each day? You commute to work, work, commute home, then hang out with your family, if you have one. Getting out and about to meet new people is not part of that equation, for the most part.

Which is why I love the work I do. That is also one of the main reasons I do it. I am not getting rich off of it. My two books are well-received but have sold like one millionth as many as 50 Shades of Grey. My work is not without constant headaches. I am an instant responder in a world growing increasingly slow in response time. I am one who loves "persons" but cannot stand "people": that collective which grows exponentially in rudeness, ignorance and just plain self-centeredness as they increase in numbers in a single place.

The pictures of the places I post are usually done with my smiling mug in the foreground; the dreaded "selfie." I think it gives the photographs depth and cannot stand plain scenery shots. I am also not skilled enough nor do I have a nice enough camera to simply take a picture of a sunrise and awe you with it.  And of course I look good in the pictures I post- I am not going to post the eyes half-closed, spittle in the corner of my mouth shots.

My reports from afar often tell about the wonderful places I go and the fantastic people I meet. Only when the situation gets exceptionally hairy, and mostly for comic relief purposes alone, do I talk about all the blech that goes along with getting from point A to B and back again. Standing on a concrete floor for 8 hours in a row for two straight days, answering the exact same questions hopefully in a new and different way, running fairly far fairly fast and then lugging myself, the rental car and my heavy books back to the airport to do it all over again probably 5 days later sounds fantastic, doesn't it?

Believe me, this is not a woe is me column.  Like I said, the end product of what I do is worth it. I have experienced more than this small-town boy from Northwest PA could ever have hoped to experience in a lifetime. What I have done and what I continue to get to do are by-products of a ridiculous amount of work both athletically and professionally.  I also know how fortunate I have been, as this Slate article puts it so succicntly. But I also believe strongly in the idiom that things only fall in the lap of people who happen to go where things fall. (If that isn't actually an idiom, I am claiming it right now.)

Which leads me to the point of this article (this is called "burying the lede.") Without a doubt some people on this planet are just going to have stuff handed to them. So be it. The rest of us have to work hard, scrimp and save and chances are we are still going to not get what we want or need.  Unrewarded genius or hard work is almost a constant on this planet. Life is exceedingly unfair. But it is remarkably rewarding every now and then.

Dream Job or not.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Commitment Day 5k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 2nd Edition 
6.7 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Commitment Day 5k
Place: Portland, OR
Miles from home: 1
Weather: 39; Crisp; Foggy

There are a few times where I really wish I had a camera with me during a race and this was one of them.  While I doubt Mt. Tabor, as awesome as it is, will ever make me fall for it the way Liberty Park in Salt Lake City did it is a beautiful, challenging and fun place to run. The middle of last year I almost paid a ridiculous sum of money to run a one mile race up at the top of it simply because it was so close to my house and would be rather unique.  I instead ran the Trail Factor 50k in a torrential downpour, got some of the worst chafing I have ever had and had an excellent time nonetheless.

But as I was going to be in town for NYE I decided to combine the First Night  Run and Walk 5k put on by AA Sports with this run put on by Lifetime Sports. It was a contrast in how races can be run well and races can be run not as well.  My recap of the excellent First Night race is here. 

After racing in downtown PDX and then slogging the 3 mile hill back to my home, ingesting some quick calories, showering and passing out, I knew I had just about 5 hours of sleep before I had to be up and ready again.  As I was out of town for the official packet pickup for this race because I was too busy winning a marathon in Seattle (BAM!) I knew I would have to get my packet the morning of.  There are few things I am against more than morning of packet pickup but there was the only choice. Ideally, I would have a simply woke up about 45 minutes before the race, showered, and jogged the mile from my apartment to the base of Mt. Tabor.  Alas. 

Arriving at the race start I didn't even know if there was a race going on.  Pictures from other Commitment Day races across the country have shown mass signage, music, bands, stages, etc. Here, I saw about 20 people standing in one line in front of a tiny tent. Don't get me wrong; one doesn't need a lot of frou-frou stuff to make a nice race. I just expected a bit more.

Unfortunately for the people manning the tent, apparently the computer system went down and it was taking eons to process each individual person. They eventually formed two lines; one for those wishing to have a time and one for those wanting to do it as a fun run. Well, I got one of the cheapest races and found a discount and I knew I wouldn't want a "fun run". Those who paid $40 probably didn't either. But two lines formed.

I was looking forward to this 5k as I knew it would be one of the most challenging 5ks out there. With all kinds of loops and turns and hill climbs, I was ready to do some battle.  I had my Karhu Trail shoes on, knowing the course would have at least 33% trail and I wanted to be able to do some mudding.

As time drew near for the race, the RD turned on a portable speaker to address the crowd. With just 78 timed participants (and maybe half that many untimed) he could have probably just talked to us.  He informed us of the reasons for the downed computer and the sparse festivities.  Mainly neighbors in the Mt. Tabor area did not want music playing in the park at 9 a.m. on New Year's Day. I can understand that but it is not like it was 6 a.m.  Also, for reasons not explained, the course had completely changed and would be two loops of essentially the same course, all on road.  I normally love road running; just not in my trail shoes.

They say you can't judge a book by its cover but "they" are often wrong about most things. I looked around at my competitors and immediately picked out the two who were going to give me the most trouble. We lined up in front of an extremely narrow starting chute and  one family had no problem butting their two elementary school children in the front of the chute.  No this couldn't possibly cause any problems. Metaphorical gun was fired and away we went.

Right out of the gate, after hurdling said toddlers, one youngster shot down the hill.  this would be a great start to this tough course because of this little bit of downhill but the road was slick, there were curves and I was still barely awake.  When I ran a t a 4:31 pace for about 100 yards just trying to kep the youngster in sight, I knew he was going to win the race.  Half of a mile later when the course had stopped going downhill, flattened and began its first climb, the other runner I knew would be tough to race passed me as well.

As we made this first loop around the upper reservoir of Mt. Tabor the fogginess of the mountain was nearly thicken enough to taste.  It was eerie and gorgeous.  Suddenly, as we edged our way up the first big hill, the sun broke through in spots. You know those pictures you seem with streaming sun through holes in caves?  That is what it looked like.  Almost made me forget we were climbing a monster hil in a sprint race. Almost.

At the top of the hill we were instructed to go down the other side. I knew this meant a nice little respite but then another climb to the finish.  We were told that on the second loop we would cut off before this downhill and just head to the end of the race.  That was all I could keep my mind on right now.

First place was untouchable but I was still holding hope of catching up to 2nd place.  I could see there were some other runners who were surprisingly (to me, at least) close to me.  I used the final downhill here to close the gap a touch on 2nd place and hopefully open it more from my trailers.  Climbing this hill to the end of the first loop was a good feeling.

the second loop allowed even more of the sunlight to stream in from above.  I have fought a never-ending battle against the idea that Portland is rainy ever since I moved here.  It baffles me that logic, data and actual empirical evidence get outweighed by hysteria, bad recollections and misinformation.  This was a perfect example of that.  It was 40 degrees on January 1st with beautiful sunlight warming our cool skin. Yet I know people will remember the morning fog as rain and then later they will remember it was 18 degrees or something.

By now it was clear I would take 3rd place.  I just needed to get up one last big hill.  At the top I looked for the sign telling us to trun to go down to the finish.  There was none.  I more or less stopped and asked the volunteer: "Second loop?" and she pointed where we had gone for the first loop.  "Are you sure?"  She nodded and pointed again.  I knew she was wrong but I could see neither first nor second place had taken the way to our left.

I started heading down the hill and looked at my watch.  Yeah, this was the wrong way.

Heading down and then finally back up hill to the finish I was wrung out. I saw the other two guys shaking their heads as they looked at their watches.  Then not long after I finished, the first woman came through.  I turned around and saw that runners were now coming from both the right finsih and the wrong finish. the results were, for all intents and purposes, useless.

My time for the 5k was 23:19 but when measured, I ran 3.6 miles. That pace would equal a 20:04 for a 5k but the extra hill took more out of me than that allows. So, for the sake of reality, I ran 2 19:xx 5ks a few a hours apart with about 8 other miles of running in between just about 72 hours after finishing a marathon. I'm not complaining.

I am also not complaining about the race.  It wasn't particularly well-run, it was the wrong distance, the volunteers weren't exactly well-versed in the most important of their jobs but it is all ok in the end.  That extra half of a mile  will go in my log book, will be good for my training and makes for a good story in the end.

All told, life is about good stories.  It is the bumps along the way that make for the best cliffhangers.  Although, I wouldn't mind some smooth sailing, especially in the weeks ahead.  Stay tuned!

First Run and Walk 5k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 1st Edition 
3.1 miles run in 2014 races
Race: First Run and Walk 5k
Place: Portland, OR
Miles from home: 3
Weather: 30s; Crisp

I have run a few races that have ended either at or near midnight in the past few years.  But to my recollection I had never ran one that started at midnight. When I first started doing some races a few years ago I always thought the idea of doing the 4-miler in Central Park at midnight would be the best way one could ring in the New Year. But time passes and things just don't happen. So, I decided to make it happen.

Even though I had just ran a marathon on Saturday, I decided I wanted to take on the First Run and Walk 5k, put on by the people at AA Sports. AA Sports run and work with a whole slew of races here in the Pacific Northwest with their signature event being the Pacific Crest Sports Festival Weekend.  Their marathon in Sunriver, OR is one that never disappoints even as it challenges. I have run it twice (in 2006 and last year) and have no doubt I will be back again to take on one of the other events they offer there. Given the events they put on, I knew this 5k would be great. But I wasn't expecting it to be as sweet as it was.

Given that the race is run just "down the street" from where I live in Portland, I thought a good way to end 2013 would be to run the three miles to the start. Then I could race the 5k, run back home, catch a few hours of shut eye and then take part in another 5k another mile away. Busy few hours.

As I jogged down to the start of the race, Portland was eerily quiet. I don't live in the heart of downtown but rather in the Hawthorne section which is not known to ever be particularly quiet or tame. This is the largest city I have ever lived in and I was expecting more on a New Year's Eve. I figured when we got to the start there would be some more revelry. I didn't know how much.

Crossing the Hawthorne Bridge as I have done so many times we could see people all walking in the same direction we were heading. Part of the allure of running this particular race is that the course was comprised totally of a portion of a run I have done dozens of times while living here in PDX. The familiarity of having run a course multiple times has a value hard to state.

When I got to the festival area, I was astounded. I expected something but not this. There were vendor booths and a DJ with a video screen. Food and drink were all available as was oodles of tables and chairs and those little heater lamps. As it was barely below 40 degrees and no chance of snow in sight, there was actually a little snowmaker blowing the frosty stuff into the air in one area for those to get in the holiday spirit. There were large lit snowflake lights hanging from the rafters of this outdoor pavilion and tons of people dressed in odd costumes. It was pretty fantastic!

I was now in the mood to race.

I had no idea what to expect out of my legs and honestly was a little tired. I am a total night owl but even that was making it hard to get ready to race at midnight. My goal was to run right around 19 minutes which given the fact I had run a marathon three days prior and am not that fast to begin with would make me happy.

We lined up at the start where some directions were being given but there were far too many people talking and far too many directions being throw at my head. I knew I wouldn't be first, I knew it was a loop around bridges and I knew it would hurt for less than twenty minutes. Everything else would sort of work its way out. The clock on 2013 counted down to zero and as 2014 began I was off and running.

First mile:
As we sprinted down the sidewalk along the Willamette River two things were abundantly clear to me: the winners were going to beat me like a rented mule and I cannot stand the smell of marijuana.  I jokingly refer to getting a contact high on certain portions of this run due to Oregon's apparently lax marijuana laws and far too abundant chosen-homeless (by this I mean young riff-raff who probably are sitting on a trust fund but find skateboarding and being all Alexander Supertramp to be worth more than contributing to society.)  Well, the latter were out in force this night and clouds of cold breath and clouds of pot were intermingling without prejudice. I have been an old soul (cantankerous and moody) my whole life so getting drunk/wasted/what have you have never been on my list of things to do and my tolerance for those who like it is even less. It is near zero when they are getting in my way.

This first portion of the course had numerous people cheering us on but unlike other races where I have no fear of anything stupid happening, I wasn't too sure about these people. I was expecting a Vanderlei De Lima moment at any point. Fortunately, nothing that bad happened. However, as we streamed in one direction, others were racing us in heels or party hats and even more idiots were running at us in the other direction blowing horns and the like. All of a sudden a couple who were jumping up and down and screaming bounded right into me. I put my arm up instinctively and took a hard whack on the forearm. Instantly it stung like the dickens and I was taken aback. But I had no idea what to do but move forward.

Be it known I am not blaming the race for not "containing" the people on the walk. I am blaming drugs, alcohol and stupidity. I have no idea what body part or device of theirs hit my arm but I can only hope that whatever it was, it broke. Because it felt like my arm had.

Toward the Steel Bridge we went and I searched for a mile marker. When it appeared it said I ran a 6:25.  I knew that wasn't right and hoped the second mile marker would make up the difference.

Mile Two:

In my so-called "Bridge Run", an 8.65 miler I have done more than 50 times in 2013, this portion of the run is where I catch a bit of a stride and really open my legs. There is a slight downhill to bring runners to almost exactly river-level and then 100 yards or so later, another ramp to take you back up. It seems I was settled into the position I would finish the race in now and I was just trying to continue to make it hurt in a good way.

To be honest, running marathons and long-distance stuff is, to some extent, easier than running fast 5ks and 10ks. These things are so short that if you race the way you should, they hurt the whole time. Marathons are 20 miles of controlled anger and then six miles of heavy running. It is clear why they are so popular. The marathon or half-marathon carries so much more cache without the same hurt. Heck, I tell someone I am running a 10k and they say "You can do that in your sleep!"  I usually respond that if you run it hard enough, even a 400 meter race can leave you wrecked all day.

As I saw the next mile marker approaching I knew I just had another 6 minutes of pain to deal with.  As expected, a 5:40 on this mile meant I had more or less run two 6:15s in a row and the first marker had been a little off.  Nevertheless, this was all just little slower than I had hoped for but not too far off.

To the Finish:

As we went under and then over the Hawthorne Bridge I knew there were just a few more minutes until this would be all over. We passed an aid station, both unexpected and entirely unnecessary for a 5k but appreciated nonetheless. On occasion I have been running across this bridge when the alert goes off telling us the bridge will raise any moment. I turn it into a full sprint to beat the arms coming down obstructing traffic. When I do so, I count the steps that it takes to have me traverse certain cut-away sections in the sidewalk below.  Here, even feeling like I was ready to die, I was running faster than that during workouts. That made me happy.

Down the bridge I went and I heard footsteps behind me. One runner was trying to make a pass. However, he was doing it on the wide side of a turn we had to negotiate before we headed into the final quarter of a mile home. I mentioned race-tactics in my Live Ultimate Quarter Marathon race and here I was using them again. If he was going to pass me it was going to be after he ran extra long around a turn.

I hugged the curve and went under the bridge again. The runner behind evened himself up with me and pulled a few yards ahead. I could see where we were ending up ahead but I was not exactly sure how we got there. As there was also a 10k going on and in a kick to the ego there were a few runners doing that who were still ahead of me doing the 5k, I wasn't sure which direction to go. The runner in front of me now chose one direction and I another.  At the last moment a volunteer shouted for me to go the other direction and I swerved. I didn't lose more than a second but I lost all momentum. Drats.

I finished just a few seconds behind the runner in front of me in a time of 19:06. I placed 14th overall which was not too shabby. There were some freaking speedy guys out there with the overall winner clocking a ridiculous 14:54. Wow.

As it ends up, for overall placing purposes, this guy had started behind me so he actually was faster than that anyway, so even if I out kicked him it would not had mattered. But it would have mattered for age group awards which usually go by clock time and sure enough he was in my age group. However, I was focused on too many other things to worry about awards at this juncture.

I immediately went to get my arm checked out and it was already swollen and a little purple. I got ice on it and went back out to cheer on my best friend Shannon who would be doing the whole jog bag and forth and double 5k races in 8 hours thing. She finished super strong in what would end up being a new 5k PR for her. Not a bad way to start out the year!

A quick drink and some chicken noodle soup and my first race of the year was in the books. In spite of the forearm contusion I was extremely pleased with how the race was handled by AA Sports. Kudos to them for putting on such a great event.  If I am in town at midnight of NYE this year, you can count me down there running again.