Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Cruise Ship Marathon - A Guinness World Record Attempt

I turned 40 in May and had a plan all set to celebrate my first marathon as Masters run all in place.  Then I ran 40km on my birthday in searing heat, slept in the next day, and missed the registration for the race I had planned to run.  You see, I wanted my first marathon as a 40 year old to be the marathon which would have me completing a marathon in every state. It was also suited to my strengths and I thought I might take a shot at setting a new PR.  Heck of way to run your first marathon as a 40 year old, right?  Well, as that was not to be, I sorta fell into a wary area. I have often said that when you try to make a big deal about a milestone marathon, chances are high it will bite you in the butt. The marathon distance is so challenging that the best-laid plans often get shown the door. As such, I simply couldn't decide what marathon I wanted to be my first as an old guy. Every time I planned one it did not seem "special" enough.

Nearly three (wow, really?) years ago I was a guest speaker on Crystal Cruise Lines trip from Chile to Tahiti with a stop over on Easter Island.  This afforded me an opportunity to set foot on one of the most remote islands in the world. In addition, it excited the child in me to know I would finally get to see the Moai on this most odd of places. Also, on the trip, I was asked to run the fastest marathon that had ever been run around a cruise ship.

I couldn't find any real record of any such feat but went about doing it nonetheless. I don't officially count the distance I did that day as one of my marathons run for a variety of reasons. However, when Crystal Cruise invited me on another cruise and asked me to replicate the feat, this time making it official, I couldn't turn it down.

So, in about three weeks I will be in the middle of the Caribbean, running 97 laps around the Crystal Serenity with official record keepers in tow. I guess technically any time I run will be the fastest ever recorded but I hope to do the record proud. I plan to at least best my own time from 2014 (3:14) and hopefully get under three hours as well.

Not a bad way to celebrate my first marathon as a 40 year old after all.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Recovery Tips - Get Out There Again!

So many people take on races each weekend. They prepare hard and long. They give it their all.  They collapse in either joy or frustration at the end of the event. But they often neglect the most important part: recovery.

Given I have made a name at recovering from hard events, and I have the added disadvantage of Gilbert's Syndrome making that more difficult (ignorance truly is bliss on that one) please let me share with you a few tidbits to help get you back to the starting line in the most efficient way possible.


The best way to recover from exercise and strenuous activity is to do your best to stay healthy and active for the majority of the time anyway. Obviously this is not the greatest of help to those who are looking to end a period of inactivity or unhealthy habits but it is a simple law of Newton’s: bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. Even if you are inactive, get moving. Today. Recovery will come much quicker once you lead a healthier lifestyle.


Humans are complex machines, and no two are the same. What foods and drinks work well for one might not work for another. But there really is no secret to food, for the most part. Balance your proteins, carbs, and sugars with vegetables and fruits. It’s not sexy. I call it the common sense diet. Personally, I feel eating lean beef has always kept me in the best shape by helping me prepare my body for the strenuous activity I put it through on a regular basis.


So much is unknown about how we do what we do. The old adage of picking right the parents to guarantee good genes is clever but can be misleading too. No one in my immediate family was a runner of any sort. There was no reason to believe I could do anything like I have done. Yet, I had the mindset to try and conquer what might be impossible.

I experiment with different sleeping cycles and training regimens. I do my best to shake things up whenever as possible. Mixing up life and keeping it fresh is the best way possible to help make sure each day is a revitalized and rejuvenated one.

And if all else fails, try a nice long run. It solves most of my problems. But maybe after you take a break from your last race.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Milwaukee Running Festival Mile and 5k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 15th Edition 
172 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Milwaukee Running Festival
Place:Milwaukee, WI
Miles from home: 1247
Weather: 50s; sunny

I'm not fast. If anything, I just can run longer than most, without slowing down as much. But lately, I have had a desire to try and do some of those really short, painful races. The ones where you can't hide behind "vert" or trail or anything else to explain away why you are just not, well, as fast as you would like to be. I am not talking about sprints like the 100 meter or 400.  To me, those are almost more weight lifting than they are running.  They are explosive bursts of speed akin to tossing running backs around. That is why many sprinters look like NFL linebackers. Inspiring, impressive, but not the type of running I am speaking about.

My entire life I knew this was not the type of fast I could be. Growing up, a vivid memory I have was being dusted repeatedly by virtually everyone in the short sprints of the Hershey Track and Field Games I would participate in every year. Then when I played football in high school, I marveled at the deer-like qualities of teammates. I could catch most everything thrown my way as a receiver, and rarely got caught from behind, but there was not a great deal of gas in my burners. I've fortunately always been curious about how to get faster, always tried to improve, but also understood my lot in life. I wasn't a sprinter.

Last year I took part in the Milwaukee Running Festival and I decided to run a mile race for the first time in half a decade. The last mile I ran was in Maui as part of a 5k, mile and marathon challenge in 24 hours. I expected little from the sprints on that day and that is essentially what I got. However, I ran the mile in Milwaukee and even though the course is not exactly conducive to a fast time, I really enjoyed it. As such, while I don't repeat races often, I thought I would give it another go this year.  But instead of running the half-marathon, I thought I should try the 5k on Sunday as well.  If you are going to hurt for a shot period of time, you might as well do it two days in a row, right?

At the expo before the 5k on Sunday, I met my usual cast of characters. Inspiring people who were running their last marathon before hip surgery that might make it impossible for them to run again. People who have followed my writing since last year when we shared a picture together. Silly people. Ignorant people. Ridiculously sweet and wonderful people. The entire human race passes by my booth in a short eight hours. I get to witness it all from a front row seat. But this expo happened after the mile race and I should speak about that for a second.

Mile Race:

My goal for this race was to run in the 5:15-5:20 range. I know I am no where close to the speed I would like to be right now to give a sub-5 mile a shot after the age of 40 but I felt that this slower goal was obtainable. My running has been a little better in the past few months and my speed has been upped a notch. It would all be about being able to focus my energy and remembering this would only hurt for about five minutes, not three hours.

As I lined up at the start of the race I noticed a large fella who had run the race last year and had absolutely dusted me. Dan was his name and he and his wife had just had a baby two days before.  What was most impressive about Dan was that he was every bit of 6'4'' and had to be over 200 lbs and crushed a 5:21 or so the year before. (He would go on to beat me again this year but by a much smaller margin.  I am sure he can readily blame lack of sleep over a newborn!)

The course, as I mentioned, has a fair amount of turns in it but unlike last year, we had perfect weather to run. With no wet footing, and me knowing the course this time, I decided not to start on the front line and instead, hang back a bit to have perfect ability to run every corner.  When the gun fired and away we went, I began to focus on trying to run as fast as I could.  the problem with being a long distance runner trying to run a short race is that it goes against everything you train your body to do. You sprint only at the end, when you have had 25 miles of warm-up.  You rarely go into oxygen debt. Your legs don't hurt from with the same fire in long distance as they do in sprints. However, I felt good as we hit what would be like the first 400m of the race, if we had been on a track. I looked down at my watch to see how I was doing as I had no clue from internal motors. I saw I hadn't hit start on my watch. Bollocks.

Around the back of the Harley Davidson museum we went where inside vendors were getting their wares ready for sale. I knew I would much faster than last year's abysmal 5:36 but how much I did not know.  I couldn't tell pace and couldn't tell whether I was pushing hard enough.  I guess I could have just pushed harder, if I was ignorant of the pace, but that wasn't happening.  I passed two runners nearly what felt like it would be the last 400 meters and soon had the best straight shot of running of the race in sight.  I turned the corner, heard the announcer say we were at 5:10 and gave it what I had left.  Finishing in 5:25, nipping one runner at the end, I hadn't gotten what I wanted but I was still pleased. When I learned I was the first Master's runner I was surprised. (Of course, there was a 53 year old and a 61 year old who beat me so wow. In fact, the 53 year old ran a 5:28 last year and a 5:10 this year so, double wow.)

I ran to my car as I needed to shower and come back to do a book signing at the expo I mentioned above. Then it was time to sleep and get ready for the 5k.

5k Race:

I had been much more nervous for the mile than this race but just as desiring to do well. Nerves kicked in however, when we had to wait 15 minutes past our start time to get under way for reasons we were unsure of on the course ahead. But when we started I was still feeling happy and gladly fell into a gap in the runners again, where I could run unimpeded.

The first mile felt good but I couldn't tell if it was because I was in good shape or running slow. When I hit the marker in 5:48 I had a feeling it wasn't exactly in the right spot. As always, I say to those who complain about mile markers being off: they are a luxury for runners to have them and they do not need to be certified. I figured that I would tell more by the second mile.  Regardless, I was feeling good and as the sun sparkled off of Lake Michigan, I fell into a groove.

As we circled the backside of the Milwaukee Art Museum and onto a boardwalk, I had reeled in a few more runners. I hit the second mile in 6:21 and figured that my pace was probably the middle distance of the two. As my GPS revealed, the actual mile pace was 6:07 for both first two miles. I had hoped or a six-flat but this was good. I began to pick up the pace for the final stretch. I might still be able to eke out a 18:30 if I gave it some hustle.

As we arched around the backside of the finishing area of the race, I could recall from the course map that we would turn around up ahead, loop back and finish where we started.  Unfortunately, I noticed that no runners were coming back at me yet.  Finally, up ahead I saw the lead runner (more about him in a second.)  Further ahead I could see runners going out on a jetty And I knew the course had to be long. I will admit this took a lot of wind out of my sails.

Out and back along this beautiful stretch of land we went and I saw the finish in the far distance.  I looked at my watch and saw my time and new I wasn't going to get anywhere close to what I wanted.

Cruising home, I passed one last runner, feeling solid about my effort and just held off the lead woman by a few seconds. Under the banner I went in 20:14 good enough for 22nd place overall (I had been 21st overall in the mile.) Surprising again was how I was the first Master's runner. Also surprising was that a different 50+ year old named Dan had beaten me by a great deal.  Apparently Dans are fast in Wisconsin.

As an aside, this weekend was also a wonderful experience for me as a coach.  One of my athletes, Lisa Nondorf, ran both the mile and the half-marathon. Lisa is one of the best obstacle course racers in the country and world but has been looking to improve her running. I have been working with her for a few months and without a doubt her attention to detail and drive have made it a treat. Her desire to do better showed when she crushed a 6:29.8 mile and a new half-marathon personal best of 1:55. 
Doing this while also continuing to train for the crazy obstacles she does, and coaching and molding young athletes in gymnastics was plain and simply awesome. It is one thing to hear about the athlete you coach and their success. It is another thing entirely to be able to watch it firsthand.

Way to go, Lisa!

After the race, I went to my hotel, grabbed a shower and some food and headed back down to volunteer a little bit at the finish line.  After handing out some hugs and medals for a bit I began my walk back to my car. There I noticed a familiar face handing out water at the back of the area where runners finished their post-race shuffle.  I walked up to the guy and asked him: "Did you win the 5k today?" The runner, named Jesse, told me he did. We chatted for a bit and he confirmed that course seemed a bit long for him as well.  What I found most impressive was that, while I did not know how long he had been out here handing out water, he had been out here handing out water at all.  I wonder how many of the other runners knew that the overall winner of a race was giving back. Without a doubt giving back like this is something more runners should do. You will find you bitch less about races when you know what goes on behind the scenes.

Speaking of which, there was a snafu with the marathon course that was far worse than the extra .2 I ran for my 5k.  Some pedestrians or vandals had moved a cone at a turn around point in the race causing some runners, including the female winner, to run way longer than they should have. This stinks. Note I am not rallying against the race itself. This sort of thing happens. It is unfortunate.  It is tiring. And I can tell you for sure, most race directors get a sinking feeling in their stomach when something like this happens because they too are runners. They want to put the best possible product for those who are paying to run a race. So, when it does happen, the reaction is important.  You can be like the Portland Marathon RD who when he found out that some runners had been rerouted adding a half mile to their time said:

"We think that the people who were involved with that are not normally Boston qualifiers," Smith said. "The only thing that would happen is it would impact their personal best."

"It's not a big deal," he added.  (Which may have been taken out of context, but I highly doubt it.)


you can be like Chris Ponteri, the RD of the MKE race who said:

"We apologize for the inconvenience this brought to the handful of runners in yesterday's race, as we understand the amount of training and dedication that it takes to complete a marathon. We strive to have a world-class experience for all runners that showcases the city of Milwaukee, and we will continue to stay focused on this mission. We will be providing refunds to any runners who may have been impacted."

I can tell you whose response I prefer (and the fact I lived in Portland for four years and never ran the Portland Marathon while running the Milwaukee Running Festival both years it has existed should give you a clue.)

If you haven't made it to the Milwaukee Running Festival either of the first two years, I highly suggest you go there for the third. Milwaukee is a fantastic city even if I am utterly baffled by the number of people I saw smoking cigarettes there. (They got that memo on the cancer thing, right?) Wonderful architecture, beautiful lakefront, very nice people (although, Jesus, could you have not voted for Trump?) Throw in a race that will only continue to get better as it grows and you have yourself a winner.