Monday, October 27, 2014

Lessons Learned

October 26th, 2015 -- My first attempt at a 50-mile trail race.

So, whenever I mention running farther than 10miles, people always ask "Why?"  I never have a good answer for them.....probably because I can't think of a reason 'why not?'  Instead of giving myself reasons why I can't, I give myself reasons why I can.

Sunday started out early.  A 4:30AM alarm clock, a quick change of clothes, and I was out the door.  A short 45-60min drive, and I was in a dark parking lot behind a set of chain stores in Blue Springs, Missouri.  The run was scheduled to start at 7AM, but you are allowed to start at 6AM if you think you'll need more time (the cutoff was something like 5PM).  Being my first 50-mile run, I thought I better take the extra time.  This would be one of my only good decisions on the day.

Early start, headlamps on!

At 5:48AM, I realized that no one else was there, and I was starting to worry.  I drove around the parking lot a bit, and low and behold, I was about 1/4mile off from the right starting spot.  I had just enough time to jump out of the car, grab my hydration pack, sign-in and get lined up.  The moment I jumped into the pack of runners, the race director said "We'll get started at 6......oh, geez, it's 20seconds past 6....GO!!!"..........and that was our 'starting gun!  It took me 7miles to realize I had forgotten my sunglasses (which I wouldn't need for a while yet, but it was one more error on the day).

My goal was 10-minute-miles.  Our first four miles were 11:23, 9:32, 9:15, and 9:16.  I was running in a pack of runners with our headlamps on and we were just cruising along in the dark.  About mile 4 or 5, I ran into a fellow named Andy.  Andy and I got to talking.  This wasn't necessarily a race, and we both understood that, so we just chatted.  We chatted so long, before we knew it, we were 23miles into the run.  Our problem was our pace.....I think every mile between 5 and 25 was sub-8:45min/mile.  While the time passed quickly with great conversation, it was too quick.  And, constantly, we both told each other that, but we pushed on anyhow because we didn't necessarily feel exhausted.

Running the miles is so much easier with conversation!

After the marathon (26.2miles), I told Andy I needed a walking break.  He continued on, while I walked for about half a mile.  I wouldn't catch Andy again, but we'd pass each other and have a quick chat a few more times.  Andy is an Ironman triathlete...his list of accomplishments was awesome.  It's great to know that we both had fairly different backgrounds that got us to the point of wanting to run a 50-mile run, yet we both were there doing it.

I finished the 50K (31miles) feeling pretty good.  I stopped at my car and grabbed my sunglasses.  The bottoms of my feet had been hurting and I suspected it was my ultra-thin toe socks that were the cause.  I love those toe socks because it keeps blisters away as each toe has it's own slot.  But, in favor of comfort, I chose to switch out to my thick comfy running socks.  Thirteen miles later I'd pay the price for that decision as my left outermost toe would dig into my ring toe and cause an open wound that I wouldn't find until later that night.

Still smiling at the 50K.
I left the start area for the last time until I'd cross it again when finishing.  Unfortunately, the sun was also finally coming up.  I signed up for this late-October race, hoping for some nice cool 40- & 50- degree weather.  Well, the high for the day ended up being 88ยบ.

Everything after mile 31 was basically a disaster.  The sun had come up and I knew it was going to be hot.  I was drinking my water and my electrolyte drink at regular intervals.  But, I would come to find out later, it was not nearly enough, as I would end the day weighing 7.5lbs less and pretty dehydrated.  I also thought I was eating enough, but I know I bypassed several aid stations telling myself I wasn't hungry.  I should have forced food down...but it tasted awful.

At mile 37 the cramps started.  I've been able to successfully stave them off in the past, and even end them quickly after they start, but not today.  I would pop S!caps, drink water, etc.....and they would not go away.  Cramps in my inner thighs on both legs and my calf muscles on both legs would prevent me from running much after that.  I would run for 15-90seconds until the cramps started and then I would walk for 10minutes.

At mile-44, I would reach the final aid station.  They were waiting on me, and the the other two 50-milers still out on the course.  I sat at the aid station and contemplated how I was gonna do the last 6miles.  It would almost certainly be walk-running.  I didn't want my first 50-mile run to end by walking.  I was in horrible pain from the cramps.  My left toes hurt, and I had no idea (it was the cut I'd later find) why.  My sides were starting to cramp.  I'd realized I was dehydrated.  I knew the water stations were out of water, so I had to carry everything with me those final miles.  I knew there was no shade.  I didn't want to bring further injury upon myself, and so........I quit.  I had a good cry right there at the aid station and on my ride back.  It hurt bad, because quitting is rarely an option for me.

I look back now and wish I would have had my running partner join me for the final 10-12miles.  I needed someone there at that last aid station to remind me that I could have done it.  To remind me that I shouldn't wuss out.  To remind me that it's only 6 more in a journey where you've already covered 44.

Always a pleasure to make new running friends!

That night, I would spend 3-4hours laying on the living room floor, screaming in agony as muscles tightened and cramped over and over and over.  The kids were scared, but we assured them daddy wasn't mad, he was just stupid.  I had a plethora of other problems that are probably too graphic to describe here.  The next day, I would get up and drive six hours to Oklahoma, only to realize the most injured part of me was my pride.  During my drive, I would remember a quote that I had heard before, and Andy had brought up while we spent those many miles running together:

"Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you are right." --Henry Ford

Blue Springs 50/50 lessons learned:

*Drink.  Drink.  Drink.  Don't measure how much you should drink by how you feel, but rather how much time has passed in combination with the amount of ounces of water you have drank.
*Eat.  Yeah, sometimes it literally tastes like it.  You're gonna burn 5-7,000 calories in a 50-mile run....your body needs those calories, no matter how they taste.  Again, don't wait for your body to say it's hungry, measure it in time and calories consumed.
*Save your energy.  I was warned ahead of time, and again on race day, to take it easy and save energy.  I didn't, and I paid the ultimate price.
*Body glide.  Body glide in places you don't even imagine right now.  And, re-application every 2-3hours.
*Pacers....use them.  No one should be alone during a long run....find someone who will join you for some of it.
*Socks.  Use your trusted and true socks.  Of course your feet are gonna's 50 freaking miles!

I know I can run 50 miles.  The multitude of bad choices brought me down this time, but there will be other chances.  This run was all about learning lessons the hard way.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Plant a tree!!!

I hate New Year's resolutions.  Yes, that 'time-honored' tradition of exclaiming a change in yourself or your habits starting with a numerical change in the calendar year.  An attempt that will almost inevitably end in failure, further discouraging the probably needed change in the future.

"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The second best time is now."--Chinese Proverb

I hear people say all the time "I was never good at _____".  Why does that stop us?  You weren't very good at using the potty either, but with enough attempts, you got it down.  Why does difficulty discourage the human spirit?  This is what bothers me with New Year's Resolutions....why do you have to wait until January 1st to change?  Why waste all that time, when you could be growing now?  Plant the seed of change yesterday.......but if that didn't happen, then plant it today!!!

I remember picking up running again after quitting for nearly a decade.  I made it about 800m(1/2mile) and had to walk.  The next day, probably 801m.  The following day, I couldn't bring myself to do it.  The day after that....stopped after 400m(1/4mile) and walked the rest.  A week into it, I still wasn't running a full mile without a feeling of dying.  It was hard.  But, if it wasn't hard, everyone would do it.  "The hard is what makes it great!" Any great achievement is only made great by the adversity and challenge that went into preparing for it.

The mind throws up mental road blocks on a daily basis.  We can ignore them (and run head-on into them) or we can acknowledge them (and then hurdle them).  Just this morning, I was headed for a group run at 5AM.  I knew most of the group would back out and I'd be left to run solo with my headlamp in the darkness of pre-dawn.  Well, one lady showed up and we started off.  After half a mile, she told me to go on ahead, and after assuring that she was OK, I did just that.  Three miles in I could have turned myself back to the parking lot and finish with a nice 5K, but I told myself "Why not run another mile?".  After another mile, I said "We are already this far, let's get to the highway."  After the turn at the highway, I was headed back to the parking lot.  But, about half a mile before the parking lot, I said "Why not make a jaunt thru this neighborhood and tack on another mile?".  The end result was a 3.75-mile run turned into a 7-mile run.  Not because my body wanted to.  Not because I needed it.  But because instead of giving myself options out.....instead of making up reasons why I needed to be done (tired, lonely, dark, chilly, or it really was the first day of school), I came up with reasons to continue.  Fight mental road blocks by giving yourself reasons and incentives to go on.

Lastly, do something out of the ordinary.  We get so set in our daily routines that they become our daily ruts.  Find something outside your comfort zone and go for it.  Set a goal....and then double it.  If doing something sounds like it's going to throw your schedule off, I'd call it a great idea.  Add a few extra miles to your run tomorrow morning, try a new exercise, pick up a golf club, a badminton racquet, pull out a chess board, read a dictionary!  Go so far as to have people call you 'crazy' due to your ambitions, because then you know you are doing it right. 

If the only seed you planted 20 years ago was the seed of regret, set aside some time today to plant a seed of opportunity that will bear fruit for the next 20 years.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Math is easy!!

"Mathematics is the music of Reason" --James Joseph Sylvester

Most runners I know are pretty good at math.  Better than your average American.  Why?  Well, if you are anything like every other runner, you do math while you run:
  •  "....okay, one mile into today's run, 7:43 passed, looking to run 7 miles today.....carry the 4, divide by 60......I started at 4:30......I'll be done by 5:24!"
  • ".....10miles today, rest tomorrow, 6miles on Wednesday.....trying to get 50 in this week, Saturday is gonna have to be huge!"
  • ".....9hours into this thing, 39miles gone....boy, only leaves me a few hours to get that last 11miles...."
 And, if you have been paying attention during your running career you'll probably have noticed that most shorter races are measured in the Metric System. We all have ran 5Ks, 10Ks, 100m, 400m, etc.  But, with the establishment of the current marathon distance, in 1908, of 26.2 miles, we now have longer races measured in miles.  Marathons at 26.2miles, Half-Marathons, of course, at 13.1miles, 50M, 100M, etc.  Then, to confuse you a bit more, we throw in races for the ultrarunning community of  50K and 100K.

The inner geek in me enjoys mathematics.  I may not understand a lot of it, but I'm good at it, and can do some fairly large calculations on the fly.  Many, many, many hours of pounding the pavement have been spent keeping occupied by doing math in my head (if nothing more than counting cadence).

So, this is a short blog, pointing out the beauty of math as it applies to running.......

Everyone know what the Fibonacci Sequence is?  Well, quick definition:  The Fibonacci Sequence is a sequence of numbers (starting at either 0 or 1), where each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two.  So, 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc.  Easy enough, right?

Now, have you heard of the Golden Ratio?  Well, the math can be confusing, but basically, it's a rule of mathematics where two numbers have a ratio that is equal to the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two numbers.  The Golden Ratio is 1.61803.

Now, take the numbers of the Fibonacci Sequence and compare their ratios:
  • 3/2 is 1.5.....5/3 is 1.667.....8/5 is 1.6.....13/8 is 1.625
If you keep going, the ratios of the Fibonacci Sequence are quickly approaching the Golden Ratio.

Now, back to running......almost every runner knows that 1 Mile = ~1.6Kilometers.  The actual ratio is 1:1.6093.  Notice something?  That's right.....the ratio of Miles:Kilometers is almost exactly the Golden Ratio.

Take what you've learned to this point now and head back to the Fibonacci Sequence.  Pick a number in the sequence, let's say '13'.  Your number is in Kilometers.  The preceding number is that same distance, in Miles (in this case, '8')!!  Go ahead, check it out.
  • Your friend says he's running an 8K race this weekend.......Ask him, "What's your best 5-mile time?"
  • You're at a track meet and they announce the winner of the 3K having a time of 8min.  You can exclaim, "Wow.....4minute miles!"  (3K=2miles, 8/2=4)
  • You are trying to tell your German foreign exchange student that you ran a half marathon this weekend.  "Yeah, I ran 21K this was no biggie."
OK, OK, enough 'geeking out' for one day.  Next time you are out for a run, though....maybe you stretch that 10K afternoon run into a 13K, just to make it 'Fibonacci Compliant'!

Or, just slap those headphones back on and forget everything I just said........

Monday, July 21, 2014

Tahoe Rim Trail 100-mile Endurance Run (Pacing)

“A glimpse of Heaven….a taste of Hell”

This past weekend, I offered up my presence as a pacer for an ultra-runner during the Tahoe Rim Trail 100-mile Endurance Run.  I was pacing a man named John, and this would be his 7th attempt at a 100-mile distance (he had finished 5 of 6).  A pacer’s job, as I understand it, is to keep his runner moving, motivated and healthy (as possible) during the runner’s assault on 100-miles of trails and elevation changes; to help his runner fight the lows and get the most from their highs.  Pacers get no praise.  Pacers don’t have to pay (that’s right, we offer to run 50miles for fun).  Pacers don’t get a finisher’s medal/buckle.  Heck, Pacers don’t even get to use aid stations.

Keep in mind, as a pacer, I was not allowed to join my runner until mile-50.  Everything that happened to me happened to my runner twice over.  I can’t write it all down here, so you’ll just have to ask me to tell the story, but nevertheless, here’s how a beautiful week-long trip to Lake Tahoe can punish a man……….

I awoke at 3AM on Saturday morning and made my way up to Spooner Summit for the 5AM start of the 100-mile race along the shores of Spooner Lake.  The 10-mile trek up Highway 50 from Carson City takes you up nearly 3,000’, and you wonder how a person can climb that far on foot, seven times over, in a single day.  There is nothing glorious about ultra-running.  There’s no pomp and circumstance to accompany the race.  After a quick morning ‘hello’ from the race director, an audio recording of the Star Spangled Banner, and a 10-second countdown, the runners were off.

The headlamps faded into the distance and we crew members and pacers were left to wait.  We would not see our runner again for 50-miles.  Various checkpoints throughout the day would provide us with an idea of where he was and his anticipated arrival times.  I drove back down the mountain to have breakfast and lunch with my wife.  We checked the race checkpoints every 15minutes, trying to plan when to head back up the mountain.  Finally, at 3PM, anticipation got the best of me, and I packed my bags and headed back up to Spooner Lake.

I arrived at Spooner Lake at 4PM, nearly 11 hours after the start of the race.  The clouds, like they do every afternoon in the high Sierras, started to pile up.  Most days, it just makes for a slightly overcast afternoon and a wonderful evening.  This was not to be one of those days.  The clouds gathered together, the sky blackened, and by 5PM the storm was upon us.  First, a pouring, chilling, rain.  We took shelter under the pine trees, but pine trees don’t offer much shelter from anything.  After a few minutes of rain, the hail came.  I hadn’t even started the race, and everything in my pack, and on me, was soaked.  I spent the next few hours using a propane heater to dry my belongings.  Participant after participant came thru the 50-mile checkpoint.  They all looked miserable. Quite a few of them were battling hypothermia.  Many of them wanted to quit.  I, alongside many other pacers and crew members, spent hours tending to every runner that came in.

One woman came into the 50-mile checkpoint in tears.  She kept saying “Why do I do this to myself?”  I sat her down and just talked with her.  Her name was ‘Kate’.  I took Kate’s shoes off.  I found her drop bag and a clean pair of socks.  I pulled her socks off, and notice the giant blister between her big toe and 2nd toe on her left foot.  I asked if she wanted it drained, and she said “what’s the point?”  I told her I could drain it, and get her a clean pair of socks, and get her back out on the course.  So, we drained her blister, applied some moleskin, bandaged the area up a bit and put her socks and shoes back on.  I told her when my runner came in that she could join us and use my pacing services, too.  She was alone.  She was in a really dark spot.  Another runner came in and quit, so her pacer (Martin) was freed up.  Martin joined me in helping raise Kate’s spirit.  We spent the better part of 90minutes lifting her spirits.  Since Martin was free, he took up the pacing services for Kate.  More on Kate later……….

Finally, at 8:30, John came in to the 50-mile checkpoint.  He was talking about quitting.  His daughter, Arianna, was crewing him and she wasn’t going to put up with his attitude.  She told him he’d done this before.  She told him this was just a phase.  She tended to his food and drink needs.  He changed socks.  I spent a couple minutes loading up my pack, eager to tackle what lies ahead.
The rain and hail had brought the temperature down from the mid-80s to somewhere around the mid-50s.  We left the 50-mile checkpoint and started into loop #2.  Immediately, it was dark enough for a headlamp.  We walked and talked for about a mile before we hit the single track of the Marlette Lake Trail and I stepped in front to lead the way.  John and I had never met before this weekend, so we spent the first couple hours traversing the hills from Spooner Lake to Marlette Lake and acquainting ourselves with each other.  We did some running, but most of the time was fast walking and hiking.

Somewhere around 10PM, we stopped talking.  We mostly stopped running.  We spent the better part of 6hours hiking, in quiet, in the dark.  The clouds blocked what little light we might have gotten from the moon.  We passed several vistas that I was sure would be spectacular during the daytime.  The photo opportunities of Lake Tahoe would have been amazing.  We were hundreds of feet above the tree line.  As it were, we spent the majority of the time staring 8ft in front of our own feet at the trail, illuminated only by the lamps strapped to our heads.

During this part of the night, I began to realize that we were dangerously close to the time-limit cutoffs at certain upcoming aid stations.  The mile-80 aid station was the one in the most jeopardy.  At regular intervals throughout the night, I would pick up the pace to a slow jaunt for 3-4 paces, and look back in hopes that John would follow suit.  Time and time again, he denied my silent requests to pick the pace up.

A few minutes past 4AM, the sun began to light the sky.  The sun comes up earlier at 11,000ft.  I was still silently prodding John to run a bit.  Finally, he took the bait.  As the sun made its appearance over the horizon, and we switched off our headlamps, we had finally started to pick the pace up a bit.  The sun is an amazing provider of energy.  Unfortunately, John had already ran this loop once, and he knew what was ahead of him.  He kept talking about how he was ready to quit at Mile-80, so he wouldn’t have to climb Diamond Peak again.  I didn’t reply to his complaints, but just kept moving.  My only replies were things like “Let’s just get to Diamond Peak AS, and we can assess our situation then”.  I think this was probably the lowest point of the race for John.

We came into Diamond Peak Aid Station, Mile #80, at 7:10AM.  We had 20minutes to be in and out or we would be DQ’d.  John took a few drinks, grabbed some food, and bolted out the door.  I was amazed.  There were no complaints.  There were no 2nd guesses.  I would like to think that the prior 2-3 hours where I finally got him to run again and the energy provided by the sun, coupled with the presence of his daughter at the Aid Station had renewed his energy levels.  At this point, I think he realized he had only 20miles to go.

I had to tend to some areas of my feet that were thinking of blistering.  I needed some nourishment.  I took care of myself and headed out the door.  I left the Diamond Peak ski chalet only to look up at the mountain before me.  THIS is why John wanted to quit.  He’d already done this.  I was staring at a mountain peak nearly 2,000ft above me.  I was tasked with climbing that peak, a distance of nearly 2miles, and doing it fast enough to catch my runner.

The road up Diamond Peak is not really a road.  You can’t drive a vehicle up it.  It’s clearly only for snow grooming vehicles.  It’s steep.  Steep can’t even explain it.  You’d walk with such small paces your toes would touch your heels.  It was sandy rock.  At regular intervals, there were places where the water runoff had cut thru the road.  Those locations were relatively flat.  We would hike from cutoff to cutoff for the next 45minutes.  Any muscle in your back would be screaming at you.  I hiked it fast.  I caught up to John at the top, but that was the mistake I had made…..

I caught John, sure enough.  But, I had expelled so much energy to do so.  He complimented me on my hill climbing skills.  I told him I was amazed he had done that twice.  I told him I needed a break at the aid station, and I would catch up to him.  That was the last time I would see John for quite a while.  I sat at the aid station, refilled all my water containers, and checked my pulse.  I was running north of 180 bpm.  Diamond Peak had taken me to the ‘taste of hell’ the race had promised.

I left the Bullwheel Aid Station with intentions of catching John.  Tunnel Creek aid station was 3miles away.  I ran hard to Tunnel Creek.  When I arrived, John was gone.  I realized I was not going to catch John, but I smiled because I had done my job.  I brought him thru the night.  I reminded him of his nutritional needs.  I pulled him back to running.  No longer were time cutoffs a worry.  He was taking it from here.

I told the Tunnel Creek aid staff that I was leaving.  It was 35miles into my day.  They told me I would have to wait 3-4hours for them to pack up the aid station before I could hitch a ride with them.  I asked for any other alternatives, and they told me I could hike/run it back to Spooner Lake…..12miles.  I took them up on the offer and headed back.  I was alone.  I was pissed for losing John.  I felt like my ‘pacing’ efforts were a failure.  On top of all that, I had ‘quit’ at mile 35, only to have to hike/run 12miles to be able to relax.  I hiked/ran those 12miles along the Flume trail, which follows the cliff sides and offers spectacular views of Lake Tahoe the entire route.  From there, I took a turn and passed Marlette Lake and made my way back to Spooner Lake.

I arrived at the finish line at about 12:30pm.  It was 47miles into my day, and 16.5hours later.  I found John’s daughter, Arianna, and we waited at the finish line for John who had made every checkpoint along the way.  Around 1:30pm, Kate finished with her pacer.  We hugged.  She thanked me and Martin.  She was in such a low place just 17hrs earlier, but she was not there now.  Less than 20minutes later, John would finish in just under 33hours.  I hope John doesn't mind....but here he is finishing 100miles....still running!

John LaCroix was amazing.  He navigated the first 50miles of that course, only to come into the halfway point wanting to quit.  He and I left that checkpoint and spent the dark, quiet hours of the night fighting the urge to quit again.  He climbed Diamond Peak….twice!  He’d run thru the blazing heat of the sun at 9,200ft.  He’d ascended and descended single track trails to the tune of 20,000ft of elevation gain.  He was hit with hail, rain, and cold.  But he came to Nevada and did what he said he was going to do…..finish a 100-mile race.

I felt terrible when I arrived home.  Achy ankles, sore feet, burning knees, drained energy, etc…..amazingly, not a single blister.  I woke up today refreshed.  I could go for a run right now, if need be.  A phone call from John made me feel better.  I didn’t fail at my pacing job.  I was given an amazing opportunity.  I got to see an ultra-running event first-hand.  I learned so many valuable lessons.  I learned that you can push your body farther than you ever imagine, and the next'll be fine!  I met some amazing people.  The ultra-running community is one-of-a-kind.  I know my wife will think I’m crazy, but this is something I want to do.

I want to earn my own belt buckle.

EDIT(7/22/14):  I would be remiss if I didn't mention how I got thru 50miles without using aid stations.  I was provided ample supplies by my mother-in-law, Carol.  Carol is a Shaklee provider.  She provided me with energy chews, which I took every couple hours, or when I felt just drained.  She provided me with performance drink, which kept my electrolytes in check.  She provided me with energy bars that were small enough to pack in with my Camelbak, but full of precious calories.  I kept my body fed & hydrated using solely Shaklee products.  Many, many thanks to Carol!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Youth vs. Experience

I don't normally compose 'race reports', but the races the last two weeks have been very well ran, and I felt compelled to tell someone, even if that someone is simply my computer.  Posting on Facebook would do no good, most people don't have the attention span.  I'm going to assume that if you are here, you are probably a runner, so you will stick around a bit, and even relate to what I'm saying.

Hospital Hill Half Marathon -- 6/7/2014

I really enjoy Hospital Hill and don't necessarily find the hills that hard.  I enjoy the jaunt thru Brookside, the Plaza area, and Crown Center.  If there's a list of 'must-do' races for runners in Kansas City, Hospital Hill is definitely on that list, if not the top of it.

This year, however, was about helping my running partner through her first half marathon, and doing it with a fairly aggressive goal of sub-2hrs.  We've ran enough times together to know that we had the pace and endurance for the race, we just needed to show up on race day.

Show up we did.....and so did Mother Nature.  The skies opened up and started dumping water on KC at about 6AM.  It NEVER relented until well after the finish of the race.  I've never been so utterly soaked in my lifetime.  Every step of the race was a 'squish-squish'.

We started off faster than our anticipated pace, but I intentionally did that with the knowledge of the hills later to come.  We worked our way through beautiful Brookside, made the halfway turn and found ourselves back at the Plaza.  Mile #10 is an uphill grind from the Plaza, up Broadway, for nearly 1.5miles.  It's not a terribly steep hill, but after putting in ten solid miles prior to that, in the pouring rain, it can be a shocker.  This is where my calves seized up on me a year ago.  This year, I didn't let that happen.  And my running partner didn't waiver at the sight or length of the hill.  We cruised through it.

We checked our watches with two miles to go, and we had 21minutes to our goal.  At that point, it was never in doubt.  But, really, all day long, it was never in doubt.  We ran our race.  We ran with what I considered quite the technical/tactical approach to Hospital Hill and a sub-2hr goal.

The finish was a bit bitter-sweet, as I stopped to help a wheelchair athlete who had lost control and wiped out.  But, we still finished strong, broke our goal --1:57:40--, received our gargantuan medals, and had ourselves a nice plate of pancakes.

Watkins Mill Get Outdoors 5K -- 6/14/2014

Many of you know I was a sprinter in high school and college.  Running 'fast' for more than a quarter-mile, really takes it out of me.  I can pace myself and run all day long.....but asking me to pick it up and run/sprint, usually doesn't happen anymore....that's for the youth.

Watkins Mill State Park is one of my 'stomping grounds', if you will.  Of the 2000+ miles I've ran in the past 18 months, 30-40% probably came from making laps around Watkins Mill.  It's a 3.75mile paved trail with rolling hills.  There really isn't much elevation change to speak of.  Still, many runners have spoken about how we'd like to have a 5K out there.  Well, this year, the Watkins Mill Association made it happen for us trail enthusiasts.  I wanted to win this race, or at the very least, run hard for my running club and for myself.

I know what you're hard can it be?  It's only 3.125miles, and it's relatively flat!  This is all true.  But, we had some really good runners show up today.  A 5K might be a 'short' race, but there's still time for a little strategy and a plan of attack.

While we all consider Watkins Mill trail to be 'flat', it really isn't when you start running it.  The hills are short, maybe 10-30seconds each, but the downhills are even shorter, and you immediately bounce back up another incline.  It's quite a lot of work on your quads and calves.

There's something about starting lines.  It's the sprinter in me.  I can toe the line at any race, and when I hear the gun.....the 'start'.......the 'GO!' triggers something in my brain that just shoots thru my body.  I tear away from every start line with reckless, Prefontaine-style, abandon.  Today was no different.  The lady at the start said 'GO!' and I tore out of there.  For almost a half-mile, I led the race (this is nothing new, just seems to happen to me a lot).

I could hear someone behind me, and I'm not one who likes to let people saddle in behind me and draft me, if you will.  I slowed my pace a bit, and two high-school aged kids ran past me.  I settle into a three-way tie for 3rd with another high-schooler and a man near my age.

For nearly two miles, we talked.  Yeah!  Right in the middle of a race, we had a discussion of our weekly, yearly, etc running goals and accomplishments.  Mind you, this was probably about 6:20/mile pace we were having a conversation at.  But, around mile 2.25, we lost our high-schooler and our threesome became a twosome in 3rd place.

Nicholas was his name.  Nicholas and I ran fairly quietly, but very confidently from that point on.  We spent the next half mile chewing up the distance between us and the high-schooler in 2nd place, eventually overtaking him.

Nicholas and I both knew this trail/course VERY well.  We said to each other, "You go catch that kid, there's one more hill left to get him....we can't let a kid beat us!"  Neither of us took each other up on the offer, but instead, we ran together.  We reached the final hill, and sure enough, the high-schooler in 1st was hurting, and we used the hill to blow by him.

With no more hills left, we approached the dam.  Our pace picked up a bit, but neither runner really committing to the finish.  With about 1/3mile to go, I saw a group of people and decided that was the finish line and went into 'kick mode'.  When I reached those people, it was NOT the finish line.  I continued along the path for another 200meters or so, made a hard left to see the 'FINISH' balloon and the timer......still under 20:00.  I sprinted up that final incline to a surprising First-Place finish and another sub-20minute 5K on the year!  The strategy was to run hard today, but not out of control.  Let someone else lead the way, just keep them in sight.  Let the rolling hills of Watkins Mill take their toll on the leader and be ready to strike while the iron was hot.

Strike we did.

Today, the winner was Experience.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Perspiration & Inspiration

“I’m not train­ing to be skinny. I’m train­ing to be bad ass.” --anonymous

I'm a sucker for a good quote.  Luckily, I'm not a Pinterest person, or I'd probably spend valuable minutes each night looking thru endless images of mountains, flowers, sky and other scenic venues with bold, inspirational text sprawled across it.  I love hearing a quote that makes me think a bit, and then working thru how it applies to my own life.

“It’s much eas­ier to get over pain than regrets.” --anonymous

This is one of my favorite quotes when the alarm goes off at 4:15AM.  Or when the hill in front of me is begging me to walk.  Or when my mind is trying to justify a 'day off' because my muscles are sore from Lisa's morning Spartacus class.  I'm not gonna lie, sometimes those outside forces win the conversation.....and, sure enough, the regret sinks in later.

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” --anonymous

 I recently undertook a 50K race.  It was scary to think I was going to have to eclipse my best day running by nearly 30% in one single, cold, snow-fallen February day.  Since then, I have taken to planning much more ambitious runs.  Everything from a day of trails (not just a couple hours, or just doing them all, but spending a DAY running them) at Wallace State Park, to the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim challenge of running the Grand Canyon from South to North and back again in the same day (~45miles), to pushing myself harder than I ever have during a 5K.  I plan to run a 100K and a 100Mile race, and I want to partake in the Western States Endurance Run someday.  I'm starting to think I need to add the Boston Marathon to my wish list.  I want to find new ways to push my body that might not always be successful on the day of the event/race.

"If we all did the things we are capa­ble of, we would astound our­selves." --Thomas Edison

I hear so many people tell me they "can't".  My children tell me they can't do something.  People I meet tell me they can't run.  People who talk with me about my running tell me they can't run that far.  I see people saying they can't, all the time.  I tell myself I can't do double-unders (I need to stop using "can't", because by summer's end, I'm gonna master them).  What I've started to notice, though, is that those who say they "can't"......are often the ones who haven't tried.  In middle- and high-school, I told myself I couldn't run long distances.  I told my coach I couldn't run long distances.  I stuck to running everything less than 200meters.  Man, if I could go back and slap that stupid kid for thinking like that....
“I run because some­how com­pletely exhaust­ing myself is the most relax­ing part of my day.”

This one is funny, and relevant to me......and really, to everyone.  In this day and age of instant information, technological advances, etc....we are more stressed as a population than ever before.  Isn't it a bit ironic that a 10.5mile run this afternoon will be the relaxing part of my day?  Maybe the effort we put into the rest of our lives should equal that of our pavement pounding time?  Or, perhaps, it's the sheer love of running that keeps a person from recognizing exhaustion?  Maybe it's a good night's sleep after a long, slow run that tempts us back each morning?  Whatever it is, I wake up each day looking forward to pushing myself to exhaustion.

“I don’t stop when I’m tired. I stop when I’m done.” --anonymous

At first glance, this one might seem to contradict the previous quote.  But, there's a difference between 'tired' and 'exhausted'.  Tired can be corrected with a few moments of rest.  I get tired during many of my runs, and I simply back off the pace a bit.  Exhaustion means there's nothing left in the tank.  I can run myself to exhaustion doing just a 5K.  But, I would say neither exhaustion nor tiredness causes me to stop my run each day.  I quite literally stop when I want to (or if one of the ladies at running club has brought cookies).  I like to expand this quote to life in general.  I undertake each task I begin with the same goal in mind.....being done.

"The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare." --Juma Ikangaa

Be it victory or defeat, those moments are fleeting and rare.  They are sensationalized moments in life that come and pass too quickly.  If we only lived in those moments, our lives would be drastically shorter.  Every accomplishment is only made better by the preparation that went into it.

Lastly, speaking of victory & defeat, I recently had some success running 5Ks.  Admittedly, this is a bit of a 'chest thumping' moment, but here goes......In two consecutive weekends, I managed to win a 5K.  Neither one was a spectacular accomplishment, but neither one was by accident either.  I run hard when I'm alone.  I put the miles in each week.  I've learned to run farther than ever before in my life.  Winning was awesome, I won't deny that, and it was a good validation of the hours I've put in.  But, after the race, a good friend (who wasn't at the race) sent me the following text:

That was me!  I stood very near the finish line and clapped and cheered for every 5K finisher for the next hour and a half.  Just knowing someone saw me and noticed my efforts, was better than winning.  Quite literally, the only moment of joy from winning was crossing the finish line with arms raised high.....but it's still a 'chest thumping' moment to be able to say that I stayed to cheer on everyone else.  This is a trait you will find unique to ultra distance runners.  It's not about the's about finishing what you started, and finishing it on your terms.

"If at first you don't much for skydiving!!!" --anonymous


Thursday, March 27, 2014


"Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart."--Martin Lither King Jr.

At some point each week, during random conversations with people,  I am inevitably confronted with the standard, "Well, how far did you run last night/week?"  That answer can vary, anywhere from 4 to 50 miles. But the retort never varies, "You're crazy!  How can you run that far?  I hate running."   I'm not gonna lie, I just might be crazy.  On the other hand, the smile that raises the corners of my mouth when someone calls my running 'crazy' usually provides me with enough energy and motivation to power thru the next outing.

People ask, "How can you run that far?" ........ I ask, "How can you not?"  I question how a person can run one mile and stop. Didn't that mile.....a mere 6-15 minutes......give you a sense of accomplishment?  Wouldn't another 6-15 minutes only double the pleasure?!  Did you not feel more in tune with the world around you?  A feeling of being closer to Mother Nature?  Wasn't it great to remove yourself from the daily hustle, shuffle, busy-as-a-bee lifestyle and just slow down without all the distractions?  I don't enjoy running......I LOVE it.

You know that cup of coffee you have to have to wake up to each morning?  You know that feeling of taking off your ski boots after a day on the slopes?  You know the fulfillment you get from whatever your chosen vice is?  That's running for me.  I'm not me without my daily run anymore.  It's not something I do when I 'have the time'.  It's not something I schedule into my day when my schedule permits it. It's part of my daily routine. Like showering, brushing teeth, putting in contacts, etc.....the day is just missing something without it.  And any day a friend calls and wants to run, I'll gladly put in a second run, just to have the pleasure of another run.

Too often, I think running is used as a punishment. A coach making you take laps; a warm-up to a rigorous workout; a demanding race; or, most often, a tool for weight loss. In those instances, a person isn't running for the's only a means to an end.   When was the last time you just took off down the street, the trail, the track, etc and just enjoyed the breeze in your face?  The only runs I regret are the ones I don't take.

Throw aside your 21st century gadgetry and run in quiet, peaceful, bliss. Let your mind wander while your legs explore.   Don't restrict yourself with time, distance, or even route limits. Slow aren't winning any medals for practicing.  Run like there's no finish line.  Running shouldn't be should be euphoric.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


"Adversity introduces a man to himself"--H.L. Mencken

February 8th, 2014 is a day that has been burned into my memory for all time.  I'm not gonna lie, this post is mostly going to be me thumping my chest, hoping to give everyone a small glimmer of what today's 'adversity' was.

Today was the "Psycho Wyco 50K Run Toto Run" trail race around Wyandotte County lake.  If you've never ran that trail, I HIGHLY suggest it.....just not in the conditions it was today.  It's a beautiful, challenging, technical 10.3mile loop.  Today's race was 3 of those loops for you non-metric folks (There was also a 10mile and 20mile race).

Without further ado, here goes:

I ran this trail last week for my birthday, and managed 1 loop (10.3miles) in about 1:45.  This past week it snowed about 8".  Not a nice snowman-making snow, either, but dry, powdered snow.  This snow never packed down today.  It would fill your shoe track the moment you picked your foot up.  Every step was effort.  The only good thing was that the rocks in the trail were covered in snow for the first lap atleast.

7:55 --The race director calls for everyone to line up at the start.  Little did I realize I was basically standing at the starting line.  So, I got a front row seat.  We took off at a very conservative pace (trail runs aren't about speed, they are about conserving energy).  I hung with the top 15 runners for almost 6miles.  At approx. mile 2 we crossed a couldn't hurdle had to navigate it.  EVERYONE's shoes got wet....with 29miles to go.  At first, I felt like I'd made a mistake by running with that top we ran the whole time.  At about mile 7-8, we began to break apart into 3-somes and 4-somes and the walking of the hills began.  See, in long trail races, you walk the uphills, run the downhills (at breakneck speed sometimes) and run/jog the flats.  My first mistake came at mile 9....I stepped on one of the many, many, many rocks and rolled my ankle.....POOF!!....faceplant into the snow.  My first fall of the day, and not my last.  I got right up and by mile 10, I couldn't feel it.  RUN IT OFF!

First loop complete in about 2:10.33.  Now, the important thing about 'ultra' marathons is hydration and food.  Aid stations.  Stop at them.  Stop at every, single, one.  You know what the best food was at each station today?  Ice-cold Coke and Peanut M&Ms.  I planned for this day beyond aid stations, too.  I carried with me my Shaklee performance powder to add to my drink.  I carried Shaklee's energy chews.  I made PB&J sandwiches.  More important than running, is to keep the body fed.  I finished this massive run today....with absolutely no weight loss.  I worked my nutritional input to perfection most of the day.

Loop #2 starts and I noticed the trail has not packed snow....nothing.  Just endless hills of powder.  And, my mistake #2 came right after completing the half marathon (13.1miles).  I got a cramp in my right calf muscle.  DAMMIT!  I was so angry with myself.  I knew this has been a problem in my races in the past, and I just didn't stave it off.  I don't know what the numbers are, but for me, once cramping's about 75% chance it will plague you for the rest of your race.  In today's case....that would be another 18miles. :(  It wasn't more than 2miles later, and mistake left calf cramped.  I was beyond angry with myself.  I trudged my way to the nearest aid station, and began to try to reconcile the problem.  From that point on (about mile-15), I pounded bananas and S-caps (sodium replacement) at EVERY SINGLE aid station.  To my amazement, my cramping never came back.  This was such a huge win for me.

Unfortunately, at the same time, my mind was beginning to quit on me.  You see, I think the hardest part of this 'ultra' racing is your mind.  And, at mile 16 thru 20, I wanted to quit.  I was noticeably slower....walking most hills...worrying about cramping up again.  I made it thru loop #2 in 2:40.45...and I was emotional beaten.  I was 90% sure I would drop down to the 20mile race and quit (and 38 people did just that).  I sat at the aid station/start/finish line and just moped.  I was torn about continuing, worried about making cut-off times, and just ..... beaten.  At that point, I remembered something I read in 'Born to Run' about how ultra-runners LOVE their PB&J sandwiches during a race.  I reached for my bag, withdrew one of the 3 sandwiches I had made, stood up, started walking, and dug in.  I walked a full mile while eating that sandwich.  Every bite was work, each step was work, it was lonely.  But, after finishing that sandwich, I had really no choice.....I was 21miles in....and the start/finish was behind me.  I was totally energized!  I was gonna do this.

Loop #3 was the most technical for me.  The snow was finally parting some, but it was still deep.  I walked EVERY hill.  It's run for 10-15seconds, and then  you go straight up another hill....for a 4-5minute walk.  I was determined to make the half-way aid station before the cut-off.  I did, with more than 3hrs to spare.  That really lifted my spirits.  Little did I know the race was really about to show it's bite.

At mile #26, I stopped to take a picture and pat my back for my first marathon.  Less than a quarter-mile later, I passed a man who was pissing blood.  Yes, blood.  I stopped no more than half a mile later to do the same and make sure I wasn't bloody.  At mile 27, I passed a man dry-heaving.  The hills of the west side of Wyandotte Lake were breaking people left and right.

At mile 29, I could hear no one.  I had left the last aid station, with 3 gargantuan hills to summit.  I have never in my life been so at peace with myself.  I knew I would finish.  I knew I had worked the nutrition almost perfect.  I could hear no one.  I could see no one.  It was a moment of introspection that lasted the final 2miles.  I won't comment on the specifics of my thoughts, but my children were the main focus.  I wanted to do something to make them proud.

DJ music!  I could hear it.  Cowbells!  The finish had to be near.  I plummeted down the final hill with reckless abandon.  I crossed the finish line, arms raised, and a HUGE smile on my face.

I found out that 145~ people signed up for the 50K.  Only 69 finished.  I was 37th.  But, place didn't matter, just finishing did.  Many people were out with ankle sprains, or just beaten physically.  It was truly an accomplishment to everyone who finish 1, 2 or 3 laps today.  It took 7hours......36minutes....and 48seconds....but I beat everything thrown at me today.  My legs are fine, my ankle is fine, only minor bumps and scratches, and most importantly, no cramping.  I cannot wait for my next trail race.  I cannot wait to find a race longer than 50K and push the physical limits of my body.  My mind was pushed today....and I found a new me with resolve and determination.........or maybe stupidity............

Monday, January 27, 2014


"Russell, you'll never be more than a 'shot put catcher'..."

That was the advice from my 7th grade track & field coach.  I don't think I ever had a teacher/coach impart such blunt worldly wisdom on me than Mr. Aden.

I wish I could say I took his 'advice' to heart.  That I worked out tirelessly and endlessly to better myself.  But, my attitude in life at that age just didn't bear that kind of effort.  Instead, I went about my ways.

Something changed over that following it genetics if you want, but I credit my father for making me push mow an acre+ lawn each and every week, all summer long.......and I hit the track running(pardon the pun) in my 8th grade year.  I broke records all year long, every meet....even in events where I had no form, I just had natural speed.  I took home handfuls of ribbons/medals at every meet.  It was a successful transformation that lasted all thru high school and resulted in a shoebox full of medals stashed away in my basement somewhere nowadays.


"Run with your legs, not your mouth"

My attitude, and especially my mouth, had caught up to me in high school.  One teacher, Mrs. Martin, the high school media specialist, allowed me to be her student assistant.  She seemed to take it upon herself to change me, and imparted those words of wisdom on me.........and took a sharpie and put them on the back of my track spikes, too!

My final two years of high school track were more of the same -- winning-- but with a different approach & attitude.  It was a life adjustment that had come a few years too late, but at least someone had taken the time to make the adjustment at all.


 "God gave you an all-weather body, the boosters gave you an all-weather track."

College track was an eye-opener.  You think you are good in high school (and maybe you are), but when you get to college, even at the D2 level, EVERYONE was good in high school.

I was nowhere near the best runner on the team.  Heck, I probably didn't belong there at all.  But, the attitude change Mrs. Martin imparted on me told me to 'stick with it'.  Coach Al(sup) took no pity on runners who couldn't keep up; runners who gave up; or runners that whined.  It was Coach Al that recognized I would not continue much farther with a career in sprinting (much to my disappointment).  He almost immediately moved me up the ladder to "long sprints" (400m, 800m, etc).  He had me train with the XC team in preparation for the Winter(indoor)/Spring(Outdoor) track seasons.  I only now wish he would have pushed me just a bit harder to leap into the distance events.


 "Citius. Altius.  Fortius."

After a decade layoff from any real physical activity intended to keep me in shape, my weight surged and I was driven to a grand maul seizure.  Thru a weight loss competition, I lost most of the weight and regained my love of exercise, and more importantly, running.  Running is a priority in my life sleeping, eating better, breathing, etc.  I can do things at (nearly) age 35 that I couldn't have done at 21.  I spend time at the gym and even more time running, all in the pursuit of 'Faster.  Higher.  Stronger.'....the Olympic motto.  This is the story of my beginning.........but trust me, it's only the beginning.