Thursday, December 24, 2020

Stars at Night Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 14; 1st Edition 
13.1 mile raced in 2020 races
Race: Stars at Night Half
Place: San Antonio, TX
Miles from home: 68
Weather: 50-60 degrees; windy; dark halfway through

A week ago I found out the only marathon I thought I may be able to do to continue my streak of running a Boston Qualifying time for 16 straight years was filled. I was more than a bit miffed. I am not exactly one who celebrates streak unless those streaks are ones that also include a touch of personal excellence. By that I mean, simply running, or racing, just for the sake of doing so to keep some arbitrary streak alive has never been my bag. But to race hard, get a time every runner at least knows about, if not hopes for, well, that is something different entirely.

But with that option out the window, and me refusing to endanger myself or others by needlessly flying or traveling hundreds of miles just to chase even this goal, I was resigned to reality. Hell, far worse things have happened to far many more people this year. So, as I cooled my heels on Monday after a 17.5 mile run, I happened to find this half-marathon in San Antonio just a few days later. While the BQ streak was out the window, lesser streaks of running a race every single year since last century (yep, 1999), running a half-marathon very year since 2004, and winning a race every year for 7 years straight were still up for grabs. The first two were accomplished simply by crossing the finish. The last one would take more effort.

I had been writing a post about how this would be the year with no races. Now I had to scrap that entire thing. But writing it further instilled in me why I race as opposed to why I run. I race to run as fast as I possibly can on that day. I had been listening to a podcast earlier this week when for the eleventy billionth time I heard some pandering person talk about how those at the back of the pack are both
a. working harder than anyone else; and
b. having more fun than anyone else

My simple question is, unless you have been at both the front and the back of the pack, how would you even know? Of course, this is extremely delicate territory. Unless proper genuflection is done, any such opinion is seen at elitist. My point being that very few people are the best, but you can be the best you and that truly is all that matters. I just had to figure out what the best me would be on this day.

Race Day:

First and foremost I could not have been happier that this race started at 5:15 p.m. I am a person whose body clocks skews toward the night. Even being undertrained, overtired, and having not raced in over a year, this start time would help me greatly. I was also very curious how a race would be handled in the COVID-ness of our current society. Without going into a great amount of detail, I feel how the race handled all the precautions was about the best one could possibly hope for in an event of any size over a few people.

It was obvious the entire experience here was a streamlined version of what it normally is and I can see how it would indeed be one fun adventure for racers and spectators alike when it was in full bloom. As it was, it was still a rather festive affair, being held on and around the grounds of the JW Marriott Resort north of San Antonio. It was quite clear that normally this was more raucous occasion but given the circumstances, it was still quite enjoyable.

First Three Miles:

The race started with runners making an immediate right off a dirt path we were corralled in onto a golf cart path which would comprise about 60% of the race's surface. Runners would be sent out in groups of about 20 or so every few seconds to help maintain safety protocols. I wore a mask (I reviewed here) for the first half mile or so until it became quite clear I wouldn’t be around many other racers. I had made an Ocular Patdown of my competition and I guessed I might have 3-4 people who would be vying for the overall win with me. Unfortunately, unless they started in the same 20 people as I did, I wouldn’t know how far back they actually were. I assumed that most trying to run for the win wouldn’t seed themselves back too far but people have done trickier things to win a race.

I passed by the staging area/finish line for the race and a runner passed me. I knew there was half-marathon relay going on at the same time but had no idea who was running in it. If I wanted to win, I had to at least keep this fella in my sights until the exchange.

Running on the golf cart paths for these first few miles we were treated to some rather formidable hills. I passed the first mile right around seven minutes and I was relatively pleased with that given all the things listed above. When I saw a mile marker 10 I remember that this course looped around on itself often so this hilly section is what I had to look forward to in the final 5k. Ooof.

We crested one hill and the setting sun was blinding in our eyes. How odd that this would be a race which would have required sunglasses at one point and would also necessitate a headlight later. Speaking of the latter, I had forgotten it would get dark but luckily the race sold $10 headlights for the forgetful ones like me. It didn’t look the best quality but for ten bucks, can one really complain?

The second mile went by in 6:36 and I had a feeling one of the first two mile markers was off. I have always said that mile markers are neither certified nor are they required. So when they are present it is a nice addition. Unfortunately, while I normally know what my pace is by effort, being so out of racing shape, I was going to have to rely on these to know if I was really tired or just tired as I hadn’t run sustained sub-7 mile pace in quite some time.

As the path twisted and turned, I could see some of my competition behind me. I had a little more breathing room than I had expected but was also surprised to see an older chap nipping at my heels. With a nice long downhill in front of me, I used one of my few running strengths to not only put a little space between us but also close in on the leader, now just about ten seconds in front of me. The third mile had me at a 6:26 on my watch. Could I really be doing this well?

Onto the 10k:

Coming off of the golf course and down into the hotel area, we were greeted by cheers from spectators. An ankle-breaking but visually pleasing jaunt through some Christmas lights and Santa’s sleigh display in the back courtyard of the hotel was followed up by a quick chin-scraper of a hill. Down the other side of that hill, and through the parking lot, with a little bit of dirt trail running popped us out onto the roads surrounding the complex.

I am a road runner. When I get even concrete under my feet, I am happiest. With both lanes of traffic blocked off, I could save the mental energy spent on thinking about my run and switch it all to the quads. I could hear the footsteps of a runner behind me but wasn’t quite ready to let him pass me. The lead runner turned around some cones and I soon followed suit. A few hundred meters later, Chris, the older fella I mentioned earlier, popped up beside me. “I think we can catch him. He is slowing,” he said.
“No, you are just picking up the pace,” I replied.

We stayed together for a few seconds, exchanging a pleasantry here and there but still in racing mode. Another turn on the road had us climbing an incline again on another blocked off two-way street. I let Chris go but fell in not too far behind him. He separated a bit from me and cut the distance between me and the lead runner in two. We all went around the cones to send us the way we came just a few seconds apart. I was surprised to see a younger fella far closer behind me than I expected. I decided to use the downhill here to close the gap on the two guys in front of me and hopefully stop any charge the young fella had in mind.

We turned back onto the road we had come from and it was clear we were going to take it all the way back to the cones again. The sun, having been set for about ten minutes was finally completely extinguished by the hills around us. It was time to grab the headlight.

To Mile Ten:

As Chris passed the leader they both did not do a full turn to head back the way we came but rather were directed down a side path. They plunged into darkness and disappeared. The last thing I saw was both of them reaching to turn on their torches (shout out word to my British readers.) I took my lamp off of my hand (I didn’t trust this on my head the entire way having never worn it on a run), slipped the strap over my head, and pushed down hard on the light to turn it on. I must have had the lamp on upside down as pushing down on the top to turn it on instead completely removed the light from the strap and sent it onto the path below me, shattering into a million pieces.

“Well, crap,” I said except I didn’t say crap and I didn’t just say it. "I best catch up to the guys in front of me," I thought. I could at least kinda sorta use their light to help me see in the dark. I knew this effort  wasn’t going to work very well after the first few steps, however, as the twisting path also undulated at unexpected intervals. 

But I pushed on best I could, as we passed runners still doing the 10k. Luckily some of them were lit up like Christmas trees and I used them to guide me. I next slid into this under-bridge tunnel which, given a rain shower earlier in the day, had some standing water in it. Some runner were mincing around in the few places where it looked dry so I was forced to splash through on the far left and hope there wasn’t a bottomless moat.

Coming out the other side, up a steep embankment, across a little bridge and the up another steep embankment had me right on the heels of the former first place runner. “Ooof, this is a toughie!” he said and I agreed. About a quarter of a mile later, I could tell he was done being in front of me and I slipped on by. I wasn't ready yet to pass him but it was time for that to happen. He looked at my head and I said “dropped and broke my headlamp!” He laughed and replied “Well, go get the other guy and use his light!”

Now completely in the dark, with fortunately, or only, a sliver of moonlight to guide me, I could make out Chris, a bit, in the darkness ahead. He had two different bike guides, which had previously been leading the guy I just passed. Every once in a while I would see him turn off his headlight and as impressed with his racing technique. Earlier I had seen him do the same thing as he was approaching the leader. It was clear he didn’t want to alert him to his presence. Smart tactics. I could tell this guy didn’t just know how to run, but he knew how to race. I guess if anything, not having a headlamp would at least not alert him to my presence. Maybe I could catch him napping.

Up in the dark I saw the leader make a right hand turn at a lighted-up intersection. I had lost my bearings a bit and as such didn't know where on the course we were. But as I passed this same spot I realized we were now back at the starting line heading somewhat in the direction of the golf course. Running by the spectators at the hotel, I heard a few hearty cheers. Then I heard the cheers for me. I ascertained they were cheering for the leader and by the time difference between the two of us I could tell I was a gaining ground. 

But just as quickly as we stepped into the well-lit golf paths, we left them again, Now I was in the dark. I mean, I usually am figuratively but now so literally. As we climbed the hills from earlier , I knew running them in the dark would be that much more difficult.

To The Finish:

For these final three miles I was basically running blind. I could juuust about see the golf path (or the grass or trail we ran on occasionally) but from the previous loop, I knew it had some cracks in it, had tons of little bumps, and was not something I could ignore and simply try to catch the runner in front of me.

And in front of me he stayed. I somewhat closed the gap but was wasting precious energy looking where my feet went for the remainder of the race. Every time I would lose a bit of focus I would do one of those “I thought-there-was-one-more-step-left-on-this-staircase-throw-out-your entire-knee-and-hip"spasm step which would bring me back to the task at hand.

I could see, as we looped around areas we had just ran through, that there was no one behind me unless they too were a fumblefingers fool who broke their headlamp as well. A rather treacherous path in the dark spit me out onto the golf path for the last half of a mile. I shockingly saw the leader runner just a few yards away and then realized I had to do the little out and back on the hotel yard again to catch him. A brief and fleeting thought of perhaps still winning the race gave way to a sad trombone noise in my head.

In the last 100 yards I had to dodge some pedestrians who, even though one runner had just came through, thought there would be no way another runner, here on this race course with lots of runners, might also be coming by. Granted I didn’t have on a headlamp but come on, people.

I slipped on my mask again, made the final turn to the finish and saw the clock ticking away. I was pretty disappointed with the time I lost in the final 5k but accepted that a 1:32:18, in the dark, on a tough course, was a heck of a good comeback race. This was my 105th lifetime half-marathon and my 75th fastest. In addition, since moving to Texas I can think off the top of my head of three marathons, two half marathons, and a 25k in which I have finished second. I think the rest of my life I have only finished 2nd in three other races.  I am almost destined to JUST miss out on the brass ring. Boo hoo, I know, but when you are only moderately fast, the chances of winning are not much better than if you are moderately slow. It only takes one person to beat you and that has happened a great deal in the past few years for me!

The winner, Chris, exchanged elbow bumps with me and I saw he beat my by about 45 seconds. That's close but not really all that close at the same time. He asked me what age group I was in (not sure why, since he won the damn race) and when I told him I was 44 he replied "I'm 61."  (Oh, that's why. A little well-deserved bragging.) Normally I would hang around and congratulate other runners but then I remembered "Pandemic".  Instead, I trudged through the finish, around a lazy river, a pool, through the back yard, across the big ass hotel, down three escalators, through a parking lot and to my car. I toweled off at my brand new Mustang, making it's first drive of any length, and made the hour plus drive back home.

This has obviously been an exceedingly awful year for many of us. As much as I love running and racing, and some of my livelihood is tied to it, I know how mostly unimportant it is for most of us who still enjoy doing it. Having said that, and having had some amazing races that I had planned for the year get cancelled, I had accepted that I might not race for the foreseeable future. I had come to grips with that and didn’t think I missed racing that much.

I was wrong. I miss it intensely, especially when it is a real race, with competitors doing their best to use their skills and racing tactics to one-up their competitors. I have also run so many races lately where I was alone for miles and miles without seeing another soul. Granted that is how the last few miles of this race were and complaining about being at the front where there aren’t a great deal of spectators is rarely going get you much sympathy. Oh, the poor guy winning the race didn’t get lots of cheers. Boo hoo again.

But given everything that had to go into making this race as safe as possible, which the organizers did an excellent job of, it still felt like an actual race. Not a virtual run. Not a fun run. But a race where people were pushing to not only best the clock but best their fellow racers. It felt so good.

After a year of none of this, I definitely didn’t realize how badly I craved it. I can’t wait to get out there again soon and hopefully experience it tenfold in 2021.

Wear a mask, and get the vaccine, people. Then, let's race.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

How to Lose a Marathon - A Book Review

*I was fortunate enough to exchange books with the author of this book I am about to review.  That means, of course, given how I plan to totally use his limitless contacts, I will only laud praise on Joel and his tome.*

If you believe my review will be based on receiving the book from the author, you know nothing about me and how I operate. Which, given this is the internet, has never stopped anyone from doing just that. But on with the review!

I dove into this book immediately after receiving it, needing to just lose myself in reading. Three hours later, with a little texting to friends to interrupt me, I was done. How To Lose a Marathon by Joel Cohen, a writer on The Simpsons, was a quick-read delight.

Mostly written in a tongue-in-cheek tone, with great turns-of-phrase, Cohen recounts how he undertook his first marathon and his voyage there. I say tongue-in-cheek because he mentions how he couldn't find any books out there for the beginning runner and, sweet fancy moses, beginner running books are a dime a dozen. So, thinking I was about to read another first-time runner book filled me with a tad bit of trepidation. No offense to any newbie runners whatsoever but there are few jokes about fartleks or Phidippides "dying" I haven't heard yet. Fortunately, just a few pages in my fears were waylaid. (A reminder that good storytellers are good for a reason and how many athletes don't necessarily make the best speakers/writers.)

After deciding to do some running and putting in a few miles, Cohen figured he would make the New York City Marathon his first foray into the marathon distance.  However, he soon found getting into a race that everyone else wants to get into can be a bit difficult.  He then learned about the charity route and his next decision enamored him to me. Instead of asking others to contribute to his fundraising, he wrote a check himself to cover the entire amount. Obviously not everyone has the means to do that (and he readily admits as such) but "the idea of asking people to donate to a charity I chose so I can do something I wanted to do didn't sit well." Given how I have often bristled at how "raising money for a good cause" has been code for "pay for my vacation to run a marathon in Hawaii or feel like a bad person" this was music to my ears. *insert Benedict Cumberbatch hat tip gif*

The book is filled with humor as Cohen quickly progresses from barely being able to run a mile to planning his first marathon. To be honest, while he is self-deprecating in his ability, Cohen's progression is quite impressive. With his main stated goal to beat Oprah's marathon time of 4:29:20, I wondered if he would. That's not a fast time. But it is also not a "bad time", either. Hell, my first marathon was a 4:12. So I was hooked into reading whether he would have a glorious first marathon or a crash and burn (like mine was.) Given he was going from the couch to the marathon in just the span of a few months, I thought it might be the latter.

This is not necessarily the book one will want to buy for training tips.  But it is if you want to laugh. We type "LOL" in conversation and rarely mean it.  However, I literally laughed out loud at multiple times while reading. I won't ruin them all but when he described "chip time" as "What I scream out every time I open a bag of potato chips", I guffawed  How, in 20 years of running marathons, has "chip time" never once sounded to me like an exclamation!?  Kudos, Joel.

As the book concludes with an almost mile-by-mile recap of his first marathon, you find yourself cheering for Joel to get his goal. Whether he gets it or not, I will leave for you to read yourself.  (Seriously, buy a book for god's sake. Support the arts. Get a few of mine while you are at it.) Suffice it to say that it appears that in spite of not considering himself a runner or really enjoying running during the act, he ends up being a runner nonetheless.

A belated welcome to the club, Mr. Cohen.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Breathe Easy Sports Mask Review

 Well, since every race I was planning to run this year has been canceled, my foray into writing here has definitely been much less.  However, as I finally had something to write about, it was time to fire up the ole blogging engine.

Masks. First of all, wear them. Don't be an idiot.

I have been trying to find a mask that would work with my running. For the most part I was getting by on some masks that work just fine for day-to-day usage but couldn't handle the rigors of being heavily sweated in. Since I am me, the Sweatatron 3000, and live on the surface of the sun here in Austin, Texas, a mask that was breathable was a must. A friend suggesting I try the Breathe Easy Sports Masks and given that they looked like what I was hoping I could find in a running mask, I followed that suggestion.

Created by NYC fashion designer Kim Foley, who also happens to be a marathoner and ultrarunner, I figured the latter would make them work well and the former, which I couldn't possibly care less about, would make them look cool. And they do look cool. Whether they were functional would remain to be seen.

Getting the masks in the dead heat of the summer here in Austin, I knew I would put them through the ringer.  Note to companies: want to see if your product will work for 99% of people? Send them to me and let me run in it for a week or so. Can't tell you how many products don't make it through the juggernaut of existing on my body in the heat.

I wore the masks on three separate longish (12 mile) treadmill runs and a handful of outdoor runs as well.  My theory is that no mask will ever be enjoyable. Masks are not supposed to be enjoyable. They are meant to help cut down on the spread of deadly viruses. If they are super breathable then chances are they do not work. That said, having worn no less than five other types of masks, these Breathe Easy Sports Mask were far and away the best mask I have tried to date.

With the fabric consisting of 100% wicking Polyester and the lining a Nylon/Spandex mesh, the masks were extraordinarily lightweight. There was an adjustable strap which I actually used mid-run at least once because it was getting a little weighed down with my sweat.  Other than that, where other masks felt like I was self-waterboarding, these had the least amount of stick-to-my-face when I breathed in.  And giving I was often running a sub-7 minute mile pace, I was definitely sucking some wind.

The price is a little higher than one has paid for other masks (~$45) but they are made one-at-a-time for each customer (made in the USA as well, so that's nice) and are something you want to have quality in, you can handle the dollars spent. They also come in a variety of colors and I think they can possibly accept specialized orders as well.

I was supposed to give them the ultimate test on a 50k to be run on Labor Day weekend but because 2020 is a cesspool of filth and disappointment, even this smallish race was canceled. Nevertheless, I am confidant that they will continue to perform splendidly. You will likely think so as well.

*I was given a mask at no-cost and volunteered to write this review for no payment.*

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Ignore The Impossible - My latest book!

Right around Christmas 2019 I received an advance shipment of my new book from Mascot Books entitled "Ignore The Impossible".  While it won't be in book stores or Amazon until Spring, I had to award all of the people who backed my kickstarter to make this a reality with their own signed and personalized copy.

For years I have done my best to motivate and inspire people with my endeavors and my speeches worldwide. But often I know that people are unable to attend those speeches and while they love my method and delivery, haven't been able to benefit from what I can share.

I often bristle at the idea of being called a motivational speaker because I have found many in the field do not present an accurate or true account of reality.  Perhaps it is a touch of cynicism on my part but I have never been one who believes in the kumbaya spirit. As such I was always reluctant to write a book that was about much more than what I felt I could really talk about: running.

However, given that running is such a small part of my life, and has just been the conduit which people have found out about what I have accomplished and still strive to do, I was finally convinced by enough cajoling to put my thoughts on inspiration and motivation down on paper.

To me, Ignore The Impossible is not just a mantra but rather the non-motivational-lovers phrase to motivate. It is the book which brings truth and reality to those looking to be inspired but who do not wish to be pandered to. I show from my own life experiences, as well as the lessons I have learned from countless others, how to succeed in life. These are ironclad solutions to problems of every ilk. They are all ways in which we can improve our station in life, rise above our troubles, and bring others with us.

I never say we can do anything we want. I have always said that the only way to find out what you can do is to ignore the impossible and try it anyway.

I have already done one book signing at an event for the wonderful NAHREP group at their Leadership Summit after giving a presentation there. As I ready for more speeches this year, with topics drawn from chapters in this book, I am excited to be changing the tune of my speaking engagements. Pivoting from the running aspect of my life and more into successfully challenging myself in a myriad of other ways, I have seen already what a difference that can make in the lives of others.

The feedback I have received from the advance readers warms my heart and the reviews online are wonderful. I cannot wait to bring this book and my speaking nationwide. If you are looking to hire me as a speaker, simply reach out to me at  That is where you can also order signed and personalized copies for yourself or people who need to be motivated.

I look forward to motivating you!