Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series (4 of 6) Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 11th Edition 
145.7 miles run; 3000m swam in 2017 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 97 freaking degrees; sunny; humid

I started off my last of these recaps with the sentence: "Writing recaps for races that don't go well is not fun."  It is even less fun when they go WAY less better than planned. Alas.

This was the fourth time in as many months that I took on the Pure Austin Splash and Dash. (You can read the first, second and third installments of this race series here and here and here.) The first event was me feeling out how it was done.  The second was me racing it two days after a half-marathon and one day after a lot of international traveling. The third installment, 10 days after my most recent race, with some decent runs, a bike ride and as close to tapering as I get, felt prime for a big breakthrough. After a 26:02 and a 25:49 in the first two, I was looking to break 25 and start putting in respectable times. I didn't do it. So I formulated a plan.  My swim had not gotten how I wanted it to go so rather than rely on the fact I USED to be a good swimmer, I would actually  *gasp* train.

So for the past month I have hit the pool no less than three times a week, (mostly four) putting in around 10,000 yards a week.  Hardly Michael Phelps but assuredly the most swimming I have done in 24 years.  My last two workouts last week had me swimming some of the fastest 500 yard splits I had swam since I was 17.  I knew the race was calling for another 97 degree day but if it did that I should still be faster given my hard swim workouts.

Same race prep as before as I put my towel and shoes in the same place so I could quickly get out, have the shoes on and then run up the rocky steep embankment.  Right before I hopped in the bathwater that would serve as our swim portion, my best friend Shannon showed up and surprised me with some support.  As I so often train alone, race alone, and don't have many cheering for me, this was a huge spirit uplift.  I had been dealing with a rough day professionally and it put a smile on my face.  Well, my inner face. No smiling allowed when you are being mean tough competitor guy.


I staked out a good position in the water and was happy I was not too crowded this time. I don't fear a start elbow or even worry about getting hurt. I just don't want people swimming into me. The water was the clearest it had been in all the swims I had done and that made me quite happy. Hopefully I would have a less erratic swim than I had recently. The horn went off and away we went.

I couldn't tell if I was swimming slow or fast but it felt comfortable. There is not much to say about this portion other than I was able to maintain my overall position virtually the whole way through with one guy slightly ahead of me and another to my side. For the entire 750 meters this is where we stayed. Without a doubt I swam much straighter  than I had before and that made me feel like I might have a quick time. I could tell I was roughly 12th or so out of the water which didn't help this feeling as I should have been faster.

Getting out of the water I could see a slew of runners putting on their shoes.  I might have been not as fast as I hoped bu I rarely was this close to so many others as we started the run.  Perhaps it was faster than I thought.  tried to get my shoes on but as I did I noticed a rock was in my shoe.  A big one. It looked rather deliberate although I can't imagine why anyone would do that.  It only slowed me a second as I put on my visor, shoes, and ran up the hill. Shannon cheered for me and snapped a picture.

I got to the top of the hill and clicked my watch to see the swim and transition time: 12:27. I think that tied me for the fast swim time ever. That sounds good. It is not. I should have been a minute faster with all my training the past month. Bollocks. Not a good start.


After racing up the craggy hill to start the run, I had two guy in my immediate sights. However, already feeling a bit let down by the less-than-stellar swim I didn't know what I had in my legs to catch them.

I had heard in the announcements that they were going to have two aid stations on this .66 mile loop and figured I had heard wrong.  However, sure enough, under the shade of a tree were people handed out water and asking if you wanted to be splashed with water.  That's service. I declined both here.

While the two guys I was trying to catch did not seem to get any closer, I passed another man about halfway through the first loop.  I have passed this same guy on the run in other version of this race and it always surprises me. While obviously fit, he is a bit barrel-chested with no six-pack of abs (N.B. neither do I, so I am not judging) but somehow is able to absolutely crush the swim. It shows it takes all kinds of bodies to compete.

Finishing this first loop after the small but killer climb on the back half, my lungs were burning and my legs ached. I had to have crushed this run and traversed the loop in the fastest time ever, right?  Did I run 4:15 or even sneak under 4:10?  Nope. 4:41.

I cursed out loud. The race ended right there for me. I knew the remaining laps would be just me running out the string as this was not my day. I got passed on the next lop by one guy and ran a 4:46. The next loop I passed another guy and ran a 4:38 loop.  This would make the run my slowest of all four aquathlons by over a minute and the overall time the slowest of all four I have done as well. Don't get me wrong: I was putting everything I had into those loops. There was just nothing there.

Finishing in a time of 26:33 or close to two minutes slower than I thought I would left me with a lot of questions. Yes, I bettered my position from last month, taking 13th overall.  I also was fortunate enough to win the Masters division for the fourth straight time. But placement awards are all about who shows up. A luck of the draw, so to speak.  I do not mean to put them down but they are not nearly as indicative of your effort as the clock.

So, now it is back to the drawing board.  Was it a bad day? Was it the weather? Was it, well, what?! The good thing about races is that there is always another one to go run and see what happens.

Back to the experiment.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Book Review: Running with Raven: The Amazing Story of One Man, His Passion, and the Community He Inspired

I was asked to read and review the book Running with Raven: The Amazing Story of One Man, His Passion, and the Community He Inspired and I gladly said I would.  I have personally run with Raven a handful of times and was intrigued to learn a great deal more about him than I already knew.

The book chronicled Robert Kraft's life, the man who has run 8 miles on the beaches of Miami, every single day since January 1st, 1975. Well, almost. The first thing I learned which I did not know is that claim is not technically true. I will say he has run every single day since that New Year's day 42 years ago but there is a slight discrepancy to say it has been 8 miles every day. Without ruining the book, I will leave it at that.

When you complete an eight mile run with Raven, he gives you a nickname based on what he learns about you during the run. I first ran with Raven seven years ago where he bestowed upon me my own nickname. I noticed something about him that day which made me really desire to learn more about what makes him tick.  It wasn't the running. It definitely wasn't the streak.  It was something else.

Raven has become a a cultural icon not just because he runs every day. There are actually people who have longer streaks than he does (not many but a few) and for the most part, I think running streaks are a bad idea. Rather, his status comes from the fact he is committed, self-disciplined, generous, aware, wants to building a community, and desires to have others join him. It is these factors which really draw in those who like him most.

The book details how Raven was probably ripped off by a songwriter for Johnny Cash. You will learn of his strained relationship with both of his parents. Inside the pages, told by the author who has run hundreds of runs with Raven, there is so much more than just a guy who runs every day. He is opinionated, stubborn, and sometimes seems to be tilting against windmills because of a decades old slight, but by and large he is a collector.  Of miles, of newspapers, of trinkets (yes, he is a bit of a hoarder) but most importantly, of stories.

Through debilitating pain, a stint in jail, numerous torn muscles, lacerations, and something like 30 hurricanes, Raven will be on Miami Beach every evening to get in his 8 miles. Someday the streak will end and that is a little sad to think about. Not because the streak is that important per se but rather what it means to Raven.

I hardly consider myself a friend of Raven's; at best an acquaintance.  However, I have told him in our small chats that the streak doesn't define him. He could stop tomorrow and I doubt anyone would be less desiring to go for a run with him when he started it back up. I know it wouldn't diminish my desire.

But Raven really doesn't want to stop.  In fact, it might mean even more to some of the people who run with him than it does him. And in the book you meet many of these people. You learn their stories and how they become intertwined with Raven's. He has officiated weddings on his run, saved numerous lives in the ocean, and watched Miami Beach grow up around him.

You can imagine  a book that talks about a man running the same stretch of beach for 40+ years could get monotonous. But in actuality, it doesn't focus much on the run per se.  Sure it details the particulars of the course he runs, and highlights as variety of the runs he has done because a variety of things have happened on that run. Yet, the book never drags, due in part to the subject matter and in part to the excellent writing by the author, Laura Lee Huttenbach, who I have met myself on occasion.

One assuredly does not need to be a runner to enjoy reading this book. They just have to have a heart. And if you go run with Raven, you will also have a nickname.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

On Running for Time

Even as running in every form (mud races, foam races, relays, etc.) becomes more prevalent, the idea is always to get to the finish line in as little time as possible. But what if no matter how fast you run, you never reach the finish? That is the idea behind timed races.

Timed races—or runs where there is no set distance, only a prescribed amount of time in which competitors run as far as they can—have been around for over a hundred years. People used to pack crowded, smoke-filled, indoor stadiums to watch these “pedestrian walkers” (as they were called) traverse small cramped circles over long periods of time. The races faded out of style for decades as did the crowds who watched them.  Recently, however, they have roared back into the running public consciousness. The most common races begin at six hours and go up to 72 hours, but you can find just about everything else in-between as well.

However, running a timed race is a completely different beast than running a distance race. But before I get to some helpful hints on how to run one of these races, let me tell you why you run one in the first place.

1. First and foremost there is no “DNF.” If you start a timed event, go 10 feet, and stop, then you finished. I once ran a timed race where I ran for 3.5 hours, broke for 90 minutes and came back to run the final hour. I had originally decided to stop entirely but then seeing I was still in second place, decided to try and catch first place. Unfortunately, I did not as 90 minutes was too much time to make up the distance. Someone said they were glad I came back to finish the race. I looked at them and said, “I ‘finish’ this race whenever I choose to do so. That’s the beauty.”

2. Most courses are built around a short loop of a mile or so. As such, timed races are an excellent way for a novice ultramarathoner to go over the marathon distance for the first time. Access to food, drink, and one’s own clothes and supplies makes running longer distance far easier. Novices needn't worry about all the logistics; more seasoned runners can concentrate on running even further.

3. We often hear how running is the only sport where mortals get to run with legends. This is true, but that is only in the strictest sense of the term. A race begins and a few sub-elites will see the front-runners—for a few seconds. After that, well, they might as well be running a different race. But in timed races, once you get over the potential ego-crush of being lapped repeatedly (and you will, quickly), seeing and cheering on those much faster than you becomes a treat. You get to be a spectator and a participant at the same time.

Now that you know some reasons why a timed race might be appealing, allow me to give you a few tidbits on how to race them. Why should you listen to me? Well, I have run a few timed races, and even a few long timed solo runs, and have done fairly well at them. In fact, I have the longest distance ever run at the Presque Isle Endurance Classic, a 12-hour run in Erie, Pa., held in October each year. When I ran this race in 2003, just two months after my second marathon ever, I had no idea how to tackle this sort of event. As with running 52 Marathons in 52 Weekends, sometimes ignorance is bliss. Eventually, running 84 miles in that 12-hour period (8:34/mile), I was pleased to win the event without knowing how amazing that was for someone like myself who was a middling runner at best at the time. In fact, the closest anyone else has come to my distance since then is 77 miles.

In addition, I have epically bonked, bonked and rallied, and ran smart throughout numerous other timed races. The fact I have run the gamut of failure and success should be enough for you to give my opinion some weight. Or not. I am still going to share it anyway.


1. Remember to drink and eat. You would think that with easy access to your nutrition, this would not be a problem. However, complacency sets in when you think you can grab what you need at any time. Next thing you know you are in the hole because you went 10 miles without so much as a sip of water. Force yourself to remember to take in what you need at regular intervals.

2. Break it down. Even though it is a timed race, you must think in small bite-size distances to get through. Each lap provides you with an ending point in which you can manage what can be a Herculean task. Because, as mentioned before, no matter how fast you run, you aren’t getting to the finish line any quicker.

3. Rest, but not for too long. There is a fairly good chance you are not going to win. So, plan ahead with not only a running strategy (your desired pace and possible goal distance) but also a resting strategy. In addition, you would be surprised what five minutes in a chair does to help you recuperate. Heck, you may actually win because of that break. I know I have.

Depending on the terrain, the size of the loops or the course, there are so many other things to learn.
Find the race that best suits what you like to do because you are going to be doing it for hours. You can also start a new category. Instead of setting a new personal best, you can set a new personal long.

Nothing wrong with doing something brand new and getting rewarded for it in the process.