Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reykjavik Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10th; 15th Edition 
207.3 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Reykjavik Marathon
Place: Peducah, KY  (Just kidding: Reykjavik, IS)
Miles from home: 3720
Weather: 50s; Cloudy; humid

It's been 8 years since I did an off-continent marathon. That is just enough time to know that you shouldn't book a flight to get you there the day before. Leave leeway. Suffice it to say that what seemed like a good idea (and saved me a ton of cash) left me exhausted, worn-out and a plethora of other ungood things as I got to Reykjavik with about half of a day of rest before the race started.

Fortunately, one of the things which did go right was me getting a place to stay less than three blocks away from the start/finish of the marathon. With all else going less than wonderful, this was a welcome relief. I woke up with just enough time to saunter on down to start. I then realized I had enough time to run back home and use the bathroom one last time. Do not pass up this opportunity ever.

Back in the starting corral, Kathrine Switzer was the honorary starter. Her husband, Roger Robinson has spoken at the expo. Unfortunately, given my travel woes I did not have the energy to stay around.  So I missed Roger, one of the nicest and most talented masters runners around.  In fact, when speaking with Kathrine, I found out that he had just run his first half-marathon in 20 years, at the age of 73, on a replaced knee in a time of 1:48! What is amazing about Roger is his writing is even better than his running.  Read my review of his collaborative effort with Kathrine called 26.2 Marathon Stories here. I am fortunate to be able to call them both friends.

I gave Kathrine's shoe a tug from down below the stand she was on and she waved and smiled. Jumping back into the corral I readied myself.  I had goals in mind and most of them were relatively unrealistic.  Why the heck not, right?

First 10k:

With the gun shot we headed down the street right next to Tjörnin, the prominent small lake in central Reykjavík right in front of Reykjavik City Hall. An idyllic setting if there ever was one for a marathon start I found myself craning my head sideways to check it out. The weather was darn near perfect with cloudy
skies, a temperature right around 50 degrees, even if it was a bit humid.  Two quick turns took us down a small slope towards the water and through some small streets where residents were enthusiastically out banging pots and pans. The more organized areas for spectators were called "pep stations" and were marked on the map with a smiley face.  I smiled every time we went through them.

My "A" goal for this race was to get another sub-3 in a new continent..  I have one in North America and one inn Asia and this would be a nice feather in the cap.  In order to do so I would have to run 4:15 per km.  While I was trying to be conservative in the beginning, after the first 3-4km, I knew this probably wasn't going to happen. Rather than beat myself up over it I settled into the pace I was running and tried to be smart.

As we skirted the tip of the peninsula that juts out westward into the ocean, we passed a plethora of art museums, and buildings that look brand new. They very well might be given the constant volcanic activity on this island or maybe they just like things tidy here. Somehow putting the goals out of my mind for a bit had made them more feasible. Unfortunately, I knew the hills of the race were yet to come.


To the Half:

Shortly before the 9th mile, a long steady climb appears in front of the runners. It's beginning was signified by the iconic Sun Voyager sculpture on our left. I later met and talked to a guy from Houston, TX, who mentioned that while hardly the biggest hill in the world, this climb here trashed his legs. I didn't get trashed legs but it definitely slowed me down a bit even as I began passing runner after runner.

Bib numbers were different colors so you could tell who was running what race.  In spite of the fact that I was keeping a even pace, I was slipping by many runners. Unfortunately, next to none of them were marathoners. Instead, they were half-marathoners who had gone out too fast.  While I had figured out my pace per kilometer to some extent, small deviations were hard to compute in my head to tell me how far off I was from my desired goal. Instead, knowing my biggest goals of the race were probably out of reach, I focused on competing with the runners around me.

Cresting the hill, I saw the leaders coming back at us. I knew we would go back down a small hill before turning around and climbing again.  A less than beautiful part of Reykjavik, as it was simply a highway closed down, the visages just a few miles away of cliffs and water and clouds hugging both made up for any shortcomings.

I made the turn and began climbing, having counted about 60 some odd men and 6 women in front of me. I again felt better than expected and tried to turn up the juice a little. When we got to the top, after seeing the hordes of people behind us, I turned it up even more. I like running downhill. I had some of my best miles of the day here as we flew down the backside and began to separate from the half- marathoners. Here we were faced with two whammies.  First, the biggest climb of the day. Second, what felt like total isolation as the crowds disappeared for a few miles and we began running on bicycle paths next to highways. 

Here's the thing: I hate bicycle paths. They are always more twisty and turny than you think. The small rises come out of nowhere and look like nothing on a elevation map but always kill me. It is almost impossible to run the shortest distance using tangents without cutting someone off. Mentally I just get worn down by them.. (Although, as with all things, I know many love them. I talked to an English chap named Jonathan at the Sun Voyager statue the next day and he mentioned how he enjoyed them. Different strokes!)  Instead of worrying too much about these paths, I tried to concentrate on the runners around me instead. A group of about five of us played cat and mouse, switching who took the lead and led the charge. Clustered in here was one woman who was wisely (or unfairly, depending on your perspective) only so happy to fall directly behind whatever man took the lead.

We made the loop around what appeared to be a petting zoo and whose name didn't help make that any clearer (Húsdýragarðurinn). Sneaking in under 1:34 for the 21.1 km mark meant that I still had a chance to go sub 3:10. I readied myself for the second half and hoped for the best.

To Mile 20:

I knew the rolling and undulating hills would continue from the halfway point to around mile 18. After that there were just a couple of bumps to worry about. Perhaps I could throw down a negative split and surprise myself with my overall time. More likely, perhaps not.

On occasion, I had missed a kilometer marker as they go by so fast. Your internal clock is not set to alarm you to look for them and next thing you know they have gone by. Conversely, there are so many kilometers in marathon that when you are tired and still have 20 more of them to see, it can be a bit wearisome.

This portion of the race is a bit of a blur to me. As I mentioned, it was run mostly on a bike path and I really zoned out. Eyes closed, or partially closed and simply looking at right in front of me.  As much as trail runners talk about how much they love their races, that is something you can't do there lest you end up in a ravine.  Moreover, it was here I began getting thirsty beyond quenchableness. Here I would like to take a few moments to point out how perfect the aid stations were with their liquids. They were so wonderfully cold. Even on a relatively cool day, it was absolutely refreshing to be able to douse my throat with cool drink. However, even stopping as I did twice to drink at least three cups of water, I would barely be a kilometer away and be thirsting ferociously for the next aid station. Fortunately, these breaks only put me a few meters behind my competitors and I usually made up the time very quickly.
 
We finally finished those hills and began running next to the bay. The cool breezes helped wick away some of the sweat but in spite of the moderate temperatures I was still covered in it. Time to hunker down.


To the Finish:

Earlier in the last segment I had been able to throw down some quick kilometers but it seemed at the expense of interminable thirst. Knowing I just had six miles left was a big help but it did not stop my need to drink. Two more times in this last 10k I would come to a full stop to drink the liquids presented. The time lost was inconsequential and even if I was racing hard, a few seconds of slowing down means nothing to get liquids in your body.

When most of your goals are gone for the day and you are not in such bad shape that just thinking about surviving is all that takes up your mind, you have time to think. I thought about why I continue to try and race during the summer when I know I am just physiologically not built for it. I don't try racing sprints because I have no speed.  So why do I take on these races? Or more accurately, why do I take them on and then be surprised when they do not go as well as planned?  I think it is a delicate dance we as runners do walking the fine line between what we know is possible give our skill set and trying to ignore it and push past it anyway. We strive for more because otherwise we might as well stop doing the sport right now. Those who say they don't want to get faster are fooling no one. We run because we enjoy it.  But we race because there is a clock.

How long did that take to think all of that? Crap. Just one kilometer. Nine more to go. 

And that is how the last 10k went for me.  As the teeth of a biting wind bit into us a bit around a golf course/nature preserve, I put my head down and acquiesced to the fact that virtually all of my A,B and C goals were gone. Now, "Run well enough to be ready to run again in one week" was all I wanted to do.

The last few miles mirrored an earlier portion of the course and I could picture the end. I knew we had one final small but cruel hill with about half of a mile to go to contend with before the finish. I was battling it out with a few runners and wanted to hold them off the best I could. Fortunately, I did just that and came in with a time of 3:14:30. While good enough for 75th place overall it was only my 86th fastest marathon.

Because of the proximity of my lodging, I was able to shower, change, throw together a sandwich and head back onto the course to cheer for my best friend Shannon. She had to deal with a bit more of the wind and rain than myself as it picked up a tad after my finish. Like me, she was exhausted from travel (and from being a surgeon, which I have no idea how she trains after a day of taking care of people in the worst of shapes) and was just happy to be finishing upright.

Without a doubt, I do not take for granted that I can run a time many would be happy with having as their finish and be disappointed with that. I do not need a dose of perspective to understand where what I do lies in the eyes of others (both faster and slower.) However, I think, as we all should, our worth comes not necessarily from comparisons against others but against yourself yesterday. Without a doubt the day will come when I will slow and have no recourse but to deal with it. They say you have 7 years of running marathons before you start to decline. I ran my fastest marathon 8 years after my first. Perhaps my decline has happened. I don't think so, however. Just this past February, on a day that did not go as I had hoped, I ran my 17th fastest marathon ever at the Phoenix Marathon. But the fact remains that I won't run "fast" forever. I am just not ready to believe that ending is here.

Next up, what can only be considered a fantastic personal scenario, running a marathon in a town in Germany which I share a surname with: the Burgwald Marathon in Rauschenberg, Germany!  It is forecasted to be very warm and the course is not forgiving at all. Fortunately, I am already in Germany so no flight delays should mess up my travel!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Camelbak Circuit Review

This marks the 187th Camelbak product I have reviewed. OK, not really. It just feels like that because I love talking about products that are awesome.  So much running gear is just "meh" that when someone repeatedly makes good stuff, you wish to share it with everyone. For your reading pleasure, in no particular order, here are some of the other products of Camelbak's I have reviewed:  The Rogue; the Powderbak; the Quick Grip and Arc Grip handheldsthe Cloud Walker18 and Fourteener 24 and the fantastic Marathoner.

I admittingly do not put all the products through hundreds of miles of testing before giving my reviews. While ideal, I only have one back and can only wear one at a time. I do, however, wear the products in race situations which is where they matter the most or more likely, where a fussy runner like myself will notice all the things that go wrong with them. While I currently have a partnership with Camelbak, know I have been wearing their products for almost a decade, including my first 100 mile attempt back in 2007 at Old Dominion.

The latest product I will be reviewing is the Camelbak Circuit (roughly ~$80). The outside-the-norm testing I did for this pack included my running to the top of Corcovado in Rio De Janeiro and winning the Dam 15 Miler in Utah.

Here are some of the basics:
The back pouch holds a 1.5-liter Antidote reservoir, included as part of the product. a 2-liter reservoir will fit but defeats the point of efficiency with the pack.  On the front there are two stretch pockets which can hold additional water bottles for longer runs.  I can see how that might be handy in a race where time is of the essence and you want a fast change of bottles.  For me, this is where I store my Shurky Jurky, Body Glide or a few gels and the like.

It also has a smaller “envelope” pocket for quick-access items and a secure zippered sweat-proof pocket for a phone or MP3 player. I found it just barely did not fit my iPhone 6 with a bulky cover all the way but it did zip 90% of the way. At a total weight of 9.5 ounces sans bladder, the Circuit is minimalistic in design. It is not meant to carry all your other gear and socks and kitchen sink. Use this for a race or a run, not for hiking the Appalachian Trail.

On the runs I used above in Utah and Brazil, I was drinking my fluids at ridiculous speeds.  As such, I was curious how the sloshing would be in the pack. I found however, when you drink the liquid the elasticity of the bladder pouch retracts to cut down on sloshing! How ingenious! If that isn't enough to battle the watery motion just grab and adjust the side compression straps.

The pack sits perfectly between the shoulder blades, high up on the back and completely out of the way of your elbows as you run. It is almost as if you have cutest hunchback possible. Furthermore, and most importantly for someone who sweats like I do, is the ventilation pad with sundry and large holes where the pack meets the back. If you happen to have ice in your pack, even better as it helps keep you cold. As I sweltered in the dusty hot Utah sunny and humid Brazil "winter" this was beyond appreciated.

The dual chest straps were a major plus as they kept the pack snug on my oh-so-big runner chest. they adjust quickly, even on the run which I found I wanted to do when my breathing got a little ragged at 6,000 feet going up a hill. While I mentioned it above, I want to go back and talk about the waterproof pocket. Many things say they are waterproof but I was astounded how dry this pocket kept my phone.Battling my sweat is like a war of attrition with any product where the product loses.  This time, however, dryness prevailed.

All told, this is one fantastic product that you most assuredly need to add to your repertoire.   Lightweight, inexpensive, efficient and useful.  You can't ask for anymore in a pack!

(If you want to see a video of the product in motion, check out this little one here.)

 Specifications:
    Hydration Capacity: 50 oz / 1.5L
    Total Capacity: 1.5L Reservoir
    Total Weight: 9.5 oz / 270g (pack only)
    Dimensions: 17 x 13.5 x 2 in
    Torso Length: 30 cm
    Back Panel: Air mesh
    Harness: Fixed harness with cargo pockets and dual slider™ sternum strap. Fits 30″—46″ chest.
    Fabric: 70D reverse chain nylon.



Monday, August 17, 2015

Falmouth Road Race Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10th; 14th Edition 
181.1 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Falmouth Road Race
Place: Falmouth, MA
Miles from home: 3140
Weather: 70-80s; Relentless sun; humid

Oh yeah, I am awful at running in humidity.

As I continue to cross race after race off my to-do list, I am reminded of many things. I am not getting any younger, I am not great at short distance races, and humidity absolutely decimates me. But Life is good, right? That is what I was telling myself throughout this tough 7.1 miler on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Partly because I was trying to think of anything which would get me through a race where if a cab had showed up at the 4-mile mark I would have taken it to the finish area and taken a DNF.
But mostly because I was running this race as part of the Life is good Playmakers. When you are trying to help people through exercise you can't quit halfway through.

Running can amaze you. One day you can go for a gallivant through the woods on a whim for 31 miles, over hill and dale no problem, as I did in Forest Park on my birthday. The next day, you are wondering if seven miles might kill you. However, that unknown is why we lace up the shoes every time. Each day is an adventure which we rarely know what the outcome will be. Sometimes, though, we have an inkling what that day will be like at the onset.

The Falmouth Road Race is an iconic east-coast race in its 43rd running. (Read more about its history and why it was started here.) It can also be a sullen reminder of how non-elite you really are. When the winner ends up running a 4:37 per mile pace, for a second it can be a shot to the ego. Then you suck it up, realize you don't have the same genes, and simply give the best you can.

The best I could give on this day was not very much. I knew it would not be very much when the forecast called for a 75 degree starting temperature, not a cloud in the sky, and high levels of humidity. As we milled around near the starting line, a place which logistics necessitated us to be there well over an hour before the race started, the sun baked and baked. Before the race could actually start there were apparently some snafus along the course which needed to be take care of in order for me and 11,000 of my closest friends to run through this quaint little town.  As such, our starting time was pushed back a good twenty minutes or so.  By the time the gun went off, I was already sweating down the small of my back and wondering how bad today was going to hurt. But for some other reason, I felt like I might have a good day.

Mile 1: 6:24

This mile went about as well as I could have hoped as you begin running and immediately go uphill (not unlike the other 7-miler I have done  at the Bix in Davenport, IA). Starting  a race as such bodes poorly for me given my lack of talent in running uphill but I held everything in check, keeping it nice and tidy. Even those I was pleased with my effort, I had really hoped the mile might be a few seconds faster. However, I didn't feel like I had pushed too hard, I wasn't winded and when my friend and fellow Life is good fundraiser, Melissa, passed me looking crisp, I fell in right behind her. The undulations of hills continued for the remainder of this mile as we snaked around a twisty road and headed toward the Nobska Lighhouse. Sweat was already covering me in a thin veneer. Melissa's Boston Athletic Association kit was cutting a swatch through the crowd and I was right behind her.


Mile 2: 6:48


The semi-shaded nature of the road continued for this second mile as did the undulating hills. After the initial large crowd at the beginning there was a noted lack of people here on the course. With virtually no shoulder on the road to speak of, there was little place for them to be even if they wanted to.  We passed under the Shining Sea Bikeway which appears to have been a converted railroad track. A handful of people were up there shouting encouragement. It was appreciated but I would have probably appreciated an icebath shower more. At the conclusion of this mile I could tell that any of my "A" goals were out the window. It was not going to b a great day. Maybe it would still be a good day.  I did not know just quite yet how bad of a day it would end up being. I fell back just a bit from Melissa's pace and she got swallowed in the crowd.  I figured I would pick it up and see her again soon.

Mile 3: 7:03

At no point during the first three miles were you running in a straight line for very long. Even in the first few hundred of runners where I was, running the tangents was nearly impossible. It seemed no one else understood that hugging the curves saves you extra steps which you do not get credit for. The course, known as a 7 miler, is actually 7.1 and I would like to not run 7.11 if possible. Furthermore, the up and down of the hills never abated and while hardly killer, they were taking their toll on me. Then the shade we had enjoyed in parts disappeared. Treeless and exposed, the road opened up to the sun above which said hello in the worst way possible

Oh my, I thought. This is not going to go well. I knew the hills, or at least the worst of them, were over at the end of this mile. I slowed my pace for a bit in hopes of regrouping and crushing the flat sections. I tried telling myself the race was only seven miles long and three of them were now gone. I would make up the time soon.


Mile 4: 7:33

After another brief respite from the sun, the flatness of this mile also put runners directly into the teeth of the sun. If there was any wind, it was a tailwind only which helps push you along but doesn't cool you. Unfortunately, cooling is what I needed. Up ahead of me I saw another runner walking. I tried to ignore him and not let it sink into my brain, But 100 meters down the road, I couldn't resist. I too began walking. What I hoped would be the small break to kickstart my legs was actually the beginning of the end. I was finding it hard to believe I need to break here.

I then walked for way longer than I wanted to initially and when I finally began running again, I could tell my day was over. Here is where I almost wished for the aforementioned imaginary car to whisk me to the end. Calgon take me away!


Mile 5: 8:18

The only thing good I have to say about this mile is I am surprised it didn't take me 9 minutes. As sweat just poured off my body, even the plethora of aid stations did little to stave off the deluge of perspiration. It would have been nice if the water had been a little cooler as when you reach the oasis and it is lukewarm it is so disappointing. But in this heat there is little the fantastic volunteers could have done to keep it cool. At one point I began to wonder if I was going to need an IV at the end of the race.

At this point, I was running with eyes mostly closed just willing myself forward.  I missed the ocean to my right and the throngs of cheering people all-around. Again proving my theory that scenery means absolutely nothing if you are racing hard or hurting bad.


Mile 6: 8:24
The crowds were unbelievably supportive starting form the third mile on. People who were simply beaching it came out to raise a toast as we struggled on by. I was asked if I still felt this race would be one I would recommend to run in spite of the heat, humidity and logistics. I have one quick story to explain why I definitely feel this race should be on your list.

Credit to MarathonFoto.com
As I came to a dead stop at one point, I bent over tugging on my shorts. As the bib numbers of runners have your name on them, people often surprise you by using your name to cheer for you. After a while you get used to it but it still feels like these people know you personally. After receiving some cheers to get moving again, I pulled myself up and began to jog. I made it about 100 yards before I came to another stop. As I continued to move forward at a snail's pace a guy came up to me. He put his hand on the small of my back and said some reassuring words. I thought at first he was another runner until I realized that no, this was the same guy who I had locked eyes with before just a few yards back as he cheered me on by name.  I had no idea who he was or why he was here.  The only thing I can imagine happened is he watched me when I started to move again, saw me falter, and busted ass down the road to see if I was OK. How ridiculously awesome is that?


Mile 7: 7:41

I was determined to run this entire last mile and was doing a decent job of doing so. In fact, I was picking people off here and there. But I also didn't really feel like pushing it too hard and take away from those who had worked so hard to be here by throwing down a 4:40 mile pace for 100 yards. That dilemma was solved for me though as we approached the last quarter of a mile. I had momentarily forgotten that Falmouth has its own Heartbreak Hill. However, unlike Boston when it comes with six more miles to go, here at the Falmouth Road Race, this beast pops up with about 2 minutes of running left. I pushed it hard enough to pass by the MarathonFoto sign painted on the ground and then that was it.  Another walk. That made six total walk breaks for the race coming close to half a mile or more of walking.

Close to the top I saw an older man who was needing assistance to get up the hill from a litany of what appeared to be a crew of some sort. I knew I could not simply walk by a person in this state giving his all. So I sucked it up and began running.

Credit to MarathonFoto.com
As the gigantic US flag signified the end of the race at the bottom of the hill, I picked up my pace. Almost immediately a cramp hit, well, virtually ever part of my body. I pushed on to the finish and almost immediately went down in a heap. But I was able to regain my composure after a few seconds and avoid the wheelchair the wonderful medical staff had brought out of seemingly nowhere to assist me (or anyone else in dire straits). As I ambled onto the next group of medical personnel, one asked me if I was sure I was OK.  I said : "I'm not going to die and if I do at least it won't hurt anymore."  He laughed and said: "If you can joke, you are fine. Way to go."  But he said it with the thickest Boston accent you can imagine and that alone made my day.  It was wicked awesome.

I finished in a time of 52:23 and finished 573rd overall.  My bib was 581 so at least I beat that. Afterward I caught up with a group of new friends who were all running for Life is good. Some of us jumped into the ocean and some of us hit the bar.  I was in the former group. God bless those who can throw back a beer at 11 am. Many of those in this new group of friends had exceeded their own goals for the day on a day when exceeding goals was extremely difficult. Furthermore, it was enjoyable for me to actually be able to hang around a race after it was done for a change instead of sprinting to an airport to head home.

Credit to MarathonFoto.com
I actually went for another run later in the day when someone needed to retrieve one of the vehicles we had used to drive to the buses in the morning. I filled up a Camelbak Circuit and ran over portions of the course which just hours ago had 11,000 runners and countless spectators on them. Here, these streets looked like those of any other sleepy beach town. There was almost no sign that they had been filled to the brim just a few hours ago. However, it also was no less hot or humid. The four miles I ran to get the vehicle (I added a few more to make the run worthwhile) left me depleted. I realized that it was time to go and cool my heels.

We reconvened as a group of tired but happy runners and spent the remainder of the day baking in the sun, eating clam chowder, and reliving the day.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Watching a Sub-4 Minute Mile

It has been 61 years since someone first went under four minutes in the mile. I hesitate to link to who that is because if you are reading my website you should know. But I will because I guess we all don’t know something until the moment we do, right? Regardless, the fascination with those who have run under four minutes to cover 1609 meters hasn’t really ended. It may have died down a little bit but it is not over.

I have said many times I feel the best thing about running may be the worst thing. Because running is so participatory it does not necessarily lend itself to be a spectator-friendly sport. All those who are most interested in running are out there doing it, not necessarily watching it. That is a shame.

When it comes to running a sub-4 mile, I have no chance. I did not get the genes. I have, however, run a handful of sub-5 miles but they come with a caveat. One was in high school and while my coach an I know I ran it, we can’t find the actual newspaper clipping with the time. I then ran a 5:00 flat which naturally we can find because there is nothing so excruciatingly as just NOT breaking a huge barrier. I have run two sub-5 miles as an adult but they were on downhill courses. (I will add that while they were downhill, they did include three 180 degree turns, one 90 degree turn and two street crossings which were not closed. But the downhill helped.) I have run a 5:03 mile on a ridiculously hot freshly paved street in Harrisburg, PA just an hour after finishing work for the day at a law firm. So you can see I have come close to sub-5 as an adult.  In fact,  I know I have another sub-5 in me. Hopefully this fall at the Milwaukee Running Festival I will get that goal. If not, I will wait another 9 months and try to do it as a master’s runner. (It will be more impressive when I am an old guy.) But I say all of this to point out that I am merely trying to break five minutes. Not four.

Never will I not be impressed by someone running under four minutes for the mile.  In running long-distance events like the marathon you can fool yourself into thinking you weren’t all that far behind the winner. But if they beat you by 26 minutes, well, they were going a full minute per mile faster than you.  You still can delude yourself with your own greatness. But not in the mile.

This Saturday there was an event put on by FloTrack called the Thorwdown in Duniway Park in Portland. Even though Nike is getting a lot of crap because fan fave Nick Symmonds is (rightfully, I add) fighting USATF’s seemingly unclear contract that athletes must sign in order to be on the national team in Beijing coming up, they have done some remarkable things for the sport. The track in Portland is made up partially of some 20,000 pairs of donated shoes from Nike. That’s pretty cool. So when I saw Galen Rupp and some other highly-talented people would be making the trip to race here, I knew I wanted to watch.

There were a plethora of events going on, including world record holding decathlete Ashton Eaton in the pole vault, but everyone’s eyes were on the men’s mile. (There were some stellar female races as well and I am not shortchanging them.  They just don’t fit the narrative of this article.) Many were stunned when Galen finished fourth overall in this tightly contested race, especially since he has a 3:50 indoor (re: harder to run) mile PR to his credit. More were stunned when relatively unknown Peter Callahan upset the filed in the men's mile, kicking to victory in the final 200 in 3:58.43. Former Oregon runner Colby Alexander was second in 3:59.19. Hassan Mead finished third in 3:59.89.

Three guys, all talented no doubt, all went under 4 minutes in the mile on some random inner-city track on some random Saturday in Portland. I suddenly realized even though I am still in awe of the four minute mile, those times are so fast they are a little commonplace. A little. Then it hit me. I had never once seen someone run under four minutes for a mile. And I just saw three guys do it in the same race.

I sat there for a second and just contemplated how awesome that truly is. If I had run my sub-5 mile, these three guys would have come dangerously close to lapping me. Even-splitting I would have hit the 1200 meter mark at 3:45. They would have been less than 100 meters behind me but on the lap ahead of me. Wow.

The sport of running as a business is alive and well. Races will come and go as saturating points get met but it is thriving. However, the sport of running, ala track and field hangs in the balance. Fortunately, with social media, some of the biggest names are getting their stories heard. They are fighting for rights and causes which are just as important as those which Steve Prefontaine and Kathrine Switzer et al fought previously. Now they are looking for more than just getting paid for running or even getting allowed to run in the first place. Yet, it will take more runners getting more familiar with more of the elites and then showing up and attending events like this one here in Portland last weekend for this process to gain steam.

Running is about pushing one’s boundaries. It is relatively selfish and that is OK. But if we want to see it grow as a sport we, the hobby joggers, need to get invested. We need more people to sit in awe as three random fellas streak down the track to cover one mile in 3:xx:xx.

It will be worth your 239 seconds.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Not Since Moses 10k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10th; 13th Edition 
174.1 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Not Since Moses 10k
Place: Five Islands, NS
Miles from home: 3638
Weather: 60s; Sunny; a bit windy

This year in racing for me has been about testing boundaries, searching out iconic races, and finding hidden gems. Traveling and racing completely different styles of race hardly leaves me in good racing shape as I go from a 50 miler in the mountains of Utah to a 10k on Bourbon Street. Yet, what I am lacking in race results, I am making up in the realm of racing experiences. No where would this experience count be so more obvious than at the bottom of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia this weekend.

It has been a few years since I heard about this race called Not since Moses. The time between me hearing about a race and me getting to run can often be many years.  Often this lag is because of my own commitments, years will pass before I get to a race that is on my to do list. (Off the top of my head I can think of ten that have been there for a decade.)  But this time, it was not my fault.  It was the moon's.

The Not Since Moses race is run in one of the most unique places in the world: the Bay of Fundy. Its uniqueness comes from the fact that twice a day, the tides completely empty thousands of square miles of the ocean floor. The brainchild of a Californian, Dick Lemon, who moved to Nova Scotia and fell in love with the area, Not Since Moses can only be run in certain conditions to guarantee runner safety. The 2014 addition did not have a weekend in August (when it is traditionally held) that met all the safety criteria.  As such, while I had thought about running it last year, I would have had to do it solo, as there was no race. Luckily, the solo satellite orbiting our pale blue dot cooperated this year and I got to join hundreds others in traversing the sand.

Getting to Nova Scotia is not necessarily the easiest thing to do when coming from Portland but some traveling snafus made it even more difficult for me. While time changes (a four hour difference for me) and jetlag are usually things which bother me little, they hit me hard on this trip. An extremely fitful night of sleep on the night before the race, which I only mention because of its rarity for me a normal heavy sleeper, had me wondering if I would even complete 6.2 miles of racing. I woke up the morning of and just sat in the edge of my bed. I knew I could run the 5k if I wanted to but wanted to experience the entirety of this natural wonder. And in reality, the hardest part wasn't running. The hardest part was getting out of the bed. If there is a more perfect encapsulation for the struggle with many things, I don't know what it is.

In the previous day I had already seen what is really hard to believe with my own eyes. Tide coming in so fast and over such a vast area that even a brisk walk doesn’t keep the water from nipping at your heels is the stuff that tsunami movies are made. After being dropped off by buses for a short walk down a private drive, runners take a set of old wooden stairs to what would normally be the bay. But here, at 7 a.m. in the morning, you are walking on the ground. You can see the water line, well above your head, on the walls around you. It is almost unsettling when you realize what will happen in a few hours. If not for having actually seen the water filled in here previously, it would almost be hard for me to believe there could be such a difference in where the level would go.

Runners gathered in the gravel and mud and, like me, make at least one trip back up to the portapotties at the top of the stairs. With bathrooms at the place where the buses picked you up as well, the race was covering all their bases. It was indeed a nice touch to have so many places to make sure you were comfortable come race time. Speaking of which, as the 7:45 a.m. approached, the official race director simply climbed aboard a rock, sat down cross-legged and talk to all of, rapt with attention.  It could not look more Moses like if it tried.  Then, for a brief few minutes, a local geologist told us about the rock formations and how unique they were with a history of how they got to be there. Some smartass asked him when he was done if any of this was going to be on the test. (I was that smartass.) Soon we were ready to begin.

The RD jumped down, drug his heel in the stand for a starting line and we all lined up. It was time to start.

To The Stairs:

We started our jaunt by running across the timing mat (I am kidding; although we did have a timed finish) and then hanging a sharp left around the rocky abutment. Runners would simply head straight as possible over the sand to a fishing weir which I learned is a type of trap to catch fish. There, a woman with a flag would be waiting for us and as we ran around her we would make a 180 degree turn and then head back toward the start.  However, our return trip would be closer to the water and therefore more challenging because of the softer sand and mud. The first portion of this run gave a small taste of what was to come footing-wise as the hard-packed, but still wet and mushy sand, definitely added an element of difficulty.

Personally, I had no idea what to expect time-wise from this race. I also didn’t know if the baker’s dozen of runners who went out in front of me did either and whether I should try to stay with them. What I could tell was that they were all, at least at this point, better than me at running in this uneven footing. I was simply trying to pick and choose where to go. Sticking to the advice I gave the previous day to runners at the
packet pickup, I was not being first. I figured allowing a good 6 or 7 people to run in front of you would allow you to find the easiest route through the muck. Fortunately, the faster runners made sure I stuck to that plan.

The squishy sand was interlaced here and there will a small bit of standing water or small rivulets ebbing out into the bay. Also, as was the case in many places through the race, the floor was not flat but rather made up of small rolling waves of sand dunes. These foot-high embankments would provide quite a bit of challenge to me and many other runners throughout the day. It felt as is a rug had been bunched up at one end and you were forced to run over every one of the waves.

Back to the Start (and More!)


A few runners had seriously separated themselves from the pack and I could tell that they were serious about racing. Any potential though about taking home the lead place went the way of the two or three guys who bolted ahead. A small pack of about 4-5 was a ways behind them and then I was in a cluster of another 3-4. Occasionally, the ocean floor would provide us with a small stretch of flat, if not still rutted, rock to run on.  What was extremely interesting was how when I would hit these small portions, I would immediately either gain on runners or put runners behind me in just 10 or 20 yards of running. It completely reminded me of running the Gorge Waterfalls race where a small mile or so section of road allowed me to separate myself from the more accomplished trail runners who did nothing if not turn their nose at this concrete abomination. I used these to the best of my advantage as running in the sand was not my bag, baby.

We passed the starting point and even in the minutes it took to get out here, the tide had receded
exponentially. I had made note of one particular rock jutting out of the water which was not fully exposed when we started. Now, not even two miles into the race, it was bare and all the ocean floor around it was open as well.  Even though I was breathing hard I was still marveling at what was going on around my feet.


Up ahead I could see we ran straight for quite some time and it was interesting to see which route some of the runners would take. Some branched off on their own and others would fall right behind.  Others would strike out on a different tact and none would follow.  As the path along the beach was extremely wide, runners were given the choice of where to run down the beach. Some chose the sand and some chose to run elsewhere.  What was amazing was how different the sea floor was in so many places. From sand to flat rocks to small boulder fields to more, it was completely different from one mile to the next.  I would have never expected such a vast difference.

There was one female in front of me wearing the toe-shoes which were all the craze a few years back and have rightfully faded.  However, on this particular day, they very well may have been useful.  I was supplementing an older pair of Karhu shoes which were ready for the dustbin with my ICESPIKE. Unfortunately, as solid as the spikes were, they were no match for this terrain.

Around this point I begin running with one runner who would become my shadow for the remainder of the race. Meanwhile, I looked ahead to see where the runners were going and tried to triangulate the best course. As I did so, the chap near me would either run behind me or beside me. Whether he was using me as a water-tester, or I was picking the best way to run, this is where he stayed.  Regardless, it was quite clear he was a superior runner in the mulch; I could best him when it was solid ground. It was going to be an interesting rest of the day for sure.

To Old Wife

We passed a few volunteers handing out full bottles of water to the runners and they told us we were at the halfway mark.  I looked at my watch and thought if true, and I could maintain my pace, I was going to crush expectations for my effort and everyone in front of me was going to throw down some unexpected times as well.  I drank heartily from the bottle and threw it back over my shoulder to the volunteers.  I didn’t need any more and wanted to have my hands free for balance. On more than a few occasions I had an ankle give away slightly or clip the edge of something. Always able to stabilize myself, I now know for certain why the race organizers did not allow people to run the race barefoot.  It simply would have been devastating to someone’s feet.

Having put one last runner in my rear view mirror, there was a long expanse between me and the next small grouping of runners. I saw what appeared to be some flat surfaces ahead and hoped to make up some ground.  Unfortunately, while I was catching glimpses of the sheer cliff walls to my right and marveling at the water mark where the water would eventually go later on high above my head, I wasn’t gaining on the
runners in front of me.  This entire section was made of those wave-like undulations which just absolutely exhausted my legs. You would more or less take a step at the top of the wave, take a step down, a step across and then the fourth or fifth step would have you on top of the next wave. Each step had you sinking a few inches into wet sand which would then cling to your treads and make your feet feel like a ton. This may only be a 10k but the legs were going to feel like they had run a hard half-marathon by the end of the day.

Up ahead I could see tiny figures with many bright colored shirts. At first I thought they were drop bags of the 5k runners. Then I remembered the 5k runners did a simple out and back starting from the finish.  These were not bags but rather actual human beings. The scale of the ocean floor to the surrounding rocks allowed no perspective. Akin to running on the Salt Flats this past April, with nothing around to understand what you are looking at, reality becomes distorted.

Meanwhile, my shadow would not be shook.  I also noticed however he did not necessarily want to take the lead. Realizing he was along for the ride, I decided to save a little bit of energy on these sand dunes and hopefully save it for something with more footing solid later. Old Wife, a section where the rock juts out abruptly from the shoreline ad forms a silhouette of its name (try as I might, I couldn’t even use my imagination to see how it worked) this was an interesting section. The tides in the bay do not come in uniformly in one direction. Because of the islands that gave the neighboring town of Five Islands its name, the water flows in to the bay here in an odd manner. Rather than just in one steady flow up the shore, it sneaks in around the islands and will fill in areas closer to shore while leaving dry places further out to sea.  If one does not know how this whole tide system works they can easily get cut off from the shore and stranded.  For the slowest of the 5k runners, some will have to be rerouted because of this tide and instead of running around Witch’s Hat, go up and over a rocky lower-slung section of the rock. There was no danger of that happening for me and my runners here here and as I got closer I could see that next to the conga line of runners was a section of strewn rocks and pebbles. Instead of falling in line and added to the much, I ran next to them in the rocks. It might make for ankle-braking twist and turns but it was more solid than the sand.


As we picked our way through the 5k runners, I and my shadow took separate routes.  Before I knew it, as we crested the Wife and made a sharp right hand turn, he has passed me and put a good ten yards or so between us. With a mile or so to go it looks like he was making his move. However, he did not know about the mud.

To The Finish:

This last section is by far the hardest.  Shoe-sucking mud, well past the ankle and in some case half way up the shin, threatened to leave some in socking feet. Forget threatened; it did for more than that to a few. However, while I did not run well in the uneven footing, I seemed to be able to figure out a system to get through this mess.  Leaning forward slightly, while running mainly on my toes, seemed to allow me to not sink in as much while still maintaining some semblance of speed. This very well might work for all or simply worked on this particular day but I suggest you get it a shot. Because of it, the gap between me and my competitor narrowed and after a half mile of that slop, I was next to him.  He seemed surprised to see me and I felt I might have finally broken his spirit. The footing became more stable and we just had one more obstacle to overcome.

As we ran down an embankment, we could see a knee-high river of water 20 feet wide and growing.  I gave all I had down this hill and hit the water knees churning. Popping out on the other side and the shoes and legs were as clean as the second we started. However, crawling up the other side in loose wet sand with rocks here and there soon made them dirty again. It also seemed to be the end of my shadow.

Making one final left-hand turn we saw the arch line of the finish ahead.  I had lost track of what number I was in the race as I had spent four miles battling my foe. Give the crunchiness of the footing, I didn’t need to turn to see where he was to see if he would mount one last charge. I had enough distance between us to hold him off. I did just that and finished in a time of 49:11. This is an 8 minute personal worst in the 10k if that gives you any idea how challenging this course can be. On top of that, I finished 11th place overall. I think 11th place is second to 4th place as the crappiest of places (especially when I see now I closed the gap and finished just 16 seconds out of the top 10.)  But on this day, I was happy to finish at all.

I shook the hand off the shadow behind me, found out his name (Abdel) and said thank you for pushing me.  He thanked me for pulling him along and we shared some “Good lord that was tough” looks at the course over or shoulders. I could tell I had some sort of abrasion on my foot and upon removal of my shoe saw I had taken odd a quarter-sized section of skin and flesh from my heel. The three ounces of soot, sand and mud in the shoe had frictioned off a little bit of Dane.

Some people leave their heart in San Francisco.  I left my heel in Nova Scotia.



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

PNC Milwaukee Running Festival

Looking for an exciting new fall race?

While Chicago has earned the right to get the attention it deserves, look a little further north to Milwaukee for an exciting new series of events.  The inaugural PNC Milwaukee Running Festival is a full weekend created to celebrate the city of Milwaukee’s neighborhoods and landmarks. On Halloween weekend (October 31st - November 1st) come to the city that runners in the area already know is a heckuva a place to run and learn why they know that to be true.

In addition to the traditional marathon and half-marathon, the Milwaukee Running Festival is included a 5k, and America's distance: the mile! The love affair that this country has with the mile is decades old and while the mile has often been replaced with the 1600 meter race, there is a movement to return it to its rightful prominence. Stake your claim to this all-American race by taking on the distance in Milwaukee!

Furthermore, with the mile race on Saturday, you can do both that and any of the other events on the next day. Double up for an entire weekend of fun. In addition, while there are some perfectly fine marathons in and around Milwaukee, none is run entirely within the City of Milwaukee like this one does!

All participants will enjoy a beautiful combination of city streets and parkways, including several of
Milwaukee’s historical landmarks and a diverse mix of neighborhoods. With a distance for all skill levels, everyone can have a chance to participate and bring home some bling. There is no excuse to not come and take part in a new tradition.

Especially when, Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated you can register for any of the races with this code (DANERUNS) and save $10 off the Marathon and Half Marathon, and $5 off the 5k Race and Mile Race!

I will be at the expo signing books and taking part in many of the races over the weekend myself. With weather that almost guarantees fast times, a course designed to help your legs churn out a new PR and a city warm and welcoming, it is going to be an exciting adventure.

 Looking forward to seeing all of you there!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

US Mountain Running Championships Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10th; 12th Edition 
167.9 miles run in 2015 races
Race: US Mountain Running Championships
Place: Mt. Bachelor, OR
Miles from home: 150
Weather: 50s; Some sun; cloudy mist at top

Runners are not all the same.

I love how egalitarian the sport of running is these days. Without it, not only would I probably not be running as much as I do, I assuredly would not have much of an audience for my books, blog, speeches etc. I am perfectly aware that a 2:49 marathon PR would have barely qualified to run Boston back in the day. Those who feel I am cocky or arrogant (rather than confident or well aware of my value and worth) don't know me. Accolades and praise are definitely to be bestowed upon many who take up the sport of running, regardless of their finishing time. However, and this is huge, because of this "ours is the only sport where you can compete with the greats" sometimes we forget we are not the greats. But we are not. That is you and me (at least most of you, anyway.) We do the same sport as the elites but when you think about it, we really don't. I know this all seems rather obvious but to more than a few people, it is not.  For those who think that they are just a few pounds, a trainer and some hard workouts away from being elite, I highly suggest you sign up to run against the best in your country. That is exactly what I did at the US Mountain Running Championships.

There are no excuses for how I performed in this race. Only reasons. Actually, one reason: my parents. I didn't win the genetic lottery. Absolutely the people who excel in this race work very hard.  They have great work ethic and drive. But they also have, like Liam Neesons, a very particular set of skills, skills they have acquired over a very long gestation.  Even if I was in the shape I would like to be to take on this race, I would have still been destroyed by more of these runners than I could count. I am perfectly OK with that fact, especially when I give all I have on race day. If we do show up, leave nothing on the arena of play, we have nothing of which to be ashamed. As I have often said, no one should ever apologize for their skill level; only their effort. Having said all of that, let me describe this course and my own participation in it.

Designed by Max King, he of the enviable foot speed on road races (2:17 marathon PR, I think) and 100k world championship title, this course was brutal. Starting at the Sunrise Lodge at Mt. Bachelor near Bend, Oregon, the course immediately goes up upon commencing. Over 800 feet in less than a mile over a varying amount of terrain it ascends. Grass, roots, scree, sand, rocks of varying sizes and the like are all under foot.  Then, through a brief single-track trail, dodging trees which were literally right in the trail, you erupt onto a rutted jeep road for no less than nine switch backs as you descend from 7300 feet to 6500 feet. For the women it was two loops of this course; for the men: three. (For the reasoning why it was a different number of loops, read more here. I will also be talking about this in a later blog post.)


My bestie Shannon was entered in the women's race which started an hour before the men's. This allowed me to at least see not only her off but to get an idea how the course was run, as far as we could see it from the starting vantage point. When the bell sounded, I could see the running did not last very long for most people. By that I mean only a few non-mortals would be tackling this chin-scraper in anything resembling a run. Why I have signed up for so many of these types of races this year, when I am so so bad at them is anyone's guess.  But as I watched her climb up this monstrosity I was not looking forward to following suit soon thereafter.

I watched the women do their first loop in the company of Bryon Powell of iRunFar, ultra-star Megan Kimmel, and former track studette and now marathoner Renee Metivier Baillie. Nothing like being outclassed by not only all the competitors but the spectators as well. As the first few female runners came down the mountain, I loved seeing all shapes and sizes of women. Some were what you would expect with tight figures, great abs and small frames; some had dumps like a truck and curves to wreck a car; some were tall and rail thin; and some were 11 FREAKING YEARS OLD! Just awesome the whole way around.  But it was time for me to get ready to race.

Normally, while I don't cede too much space at the front of a race to too many runners, I will be a row or two back. This almost always bites me in the ass as I have to run around people who don't belong there. At this race, however, I knew I was outclassed. I put my butt in the way back of the 116 competitors. Doubling also as the collegiate mountain championship race, there were athletes from all over the country here to take on Max King's baby. I just wanted to not break any bones and hopefully not finish last.

First Loop:

The cowbell sounded and we were off. I immediately fell to the last 1/3 of the back.  More accurately, I stayed in the last third of the pack. Even on a good day, one thing I know about my body is that staring off and immediately going uphill is not something I do well. Throw in the fact this race started at 6,500 feet and my sea-level bum was having none of it. I looked in awe as some of the guys ran ahead. I shook my head at the number of people continuing to try and "run" which seemed like it was using so much more energy than they were getting results for.  Then again, I was way behind them so who was I to cast any aspersions?

The footing was fair and with a thin track where many had already run, it was easy to know where to go.  The loose rock and the like was easy to navigate when you are only moving along at a 20:00 minute mile pace. Up ahead runners turned left and out of immediate view.  I wondered how much of the 800 feet we went up at that point and hoped it was the majority.  When I made the turn myself I could see it was definitely not.

The roots and grass gave away to a mixture of sand and grey rock here with some scrambling needed to keep the footing.  Again, this was easier at this pace.  Then again, as I gasped for breath and used my hands to push my on my quads, nothing was really easy. After this very steep climb there was a quick 90 degree angle and for maybe 100 yards, you could actually run.  But before you could run a photographer was there to take your picture. As you walked. Hunched over. Dying for air. Or was that just me?

Around the top of the ski lift and finally down we go. I had been telling myself I was taking this first loop "easy" until I saw what it had in store for me.  I also told myself that since I am a fairly good downhill runner, I would be making up time on those in front of me. I envisioned reeling in dozens on this descent. Instead I reeled in three. A large crowd was waiting at the place where we sent ourselves hurdling back up the hill.  I greeted them all with a very Clark Griswoldian "This is stupid. This is stupid.. This is stupid." Then back up I went.

Second Loop:

I can tell from my pace off my Timex ONE GPS+ that my second loop was not faster.  I can tell you, however, that it felt much easier than the first loop. I stayed in virtually the same position amongst racers this entire climb up the hill.  Two older gentleman passed me as we started the climb but then stayed about twenty feet in front of me the whole way.  When we finally to go the point where I could run, I glimpsed behind me for the first time in the race and saw some thin fellas behind me moving rapidly.   Oh you have got to be kidding me. I am going to get lapped.

I was trying to decide what to do as I did not want to get in their way. The only portion of the course where this is a reality is the 1/3 of a mile section on that very narrow-single track.  As I crested the hill and began running down it, I assumed I had enough distance and leg speed to get out of there before these flashes of light got to me.  I was wrong.

"TRACK!"

For those who don't know track parlance, this phrase is used when someone approaching you from behind to let you know you are inexplicably running WAY too slow in lane one and are about to get, as Ludacris said: ran the Eff over. I found this humorous because where we were currently running could not be less like a track if it tried. Also, well, I really didn't have anywhere to go. I too was running downhill at breakneck speed (for me) and while I know people should pass on the left, the right side of the trail provided the only real place for this to happen. So, hoping the guy barreling down upon me saw this conundrum as well, I stepped onto the slippery sliding left side of the trail. Bear in mind I didn't stop running as that would have caused me to go down in a heap of arms and legs. Fortunately, all went well and no collision occurred.

A few meters later, I heard some voice and some word being said. What was said was rather indistinguishable. (It wasn't "track".) Here, however, I had at least a small shoulder to stop and pull over. As the runner passed me, I looked back and didn't see a third racer even though I recalled one being behind me. So, I began running again. Almost immediately, I heard heavy footsteps approaching, which made me realize this was the indeed final runner. I again, at the corner of a switchback, had a small area to pull over. This runner, taking no chances, simply went up and over an embankment. As I began running again myself, I wondered how much faster they were running than me as I began to give chase. The answer was "Quite a damn lot."

I soon passed the two older gentleman who passed me on the uphill and they both pulled over for me like I
was one of the leaders. I immediately felt bad and told them they needn't do that. This was their race just as much as it was mine and the nature of trail and mountain running is that the person passing has to find a way to get around. Of course, the person in the way needn't be an ass about it but that's just the way it is.

When I hit the runnable section I was astounded how much distance the front runners put in between us.  I mean, I should not have been surprised since they just lapped me but nevertheless. Wow. A different breed. As I neared the end of this loop one last runner passed me from behind, just to make sure I really understood how much of a different class I was in here on Mt. Bachelor.I began my final loop meters later, locked eyes with a spectator, nodded at the lightning bolt which had just passed me and said; "Well, that wasn't disheartening." 

Third Loop: 

The third loop was cathartic. I found out what was in store for me on the first loop.  The second loop was there to remind me I was not only not done but that people far superior to me were going to crush my spirit.  This loop was about completion. As I began the climb to the top this final time, the crowds had begun to thin. Everyone was heading toward the finish to cheer on whomever they wanted to cheer on. Ahead of me were a few runners I felt I would catch by the end of the day.  However, I had the sinking feeling I was absolutely last in the "open" division. Granted I am less than a year away from "masters" (holy crap. really?!) but today I was 39 and therefore running against people potentially 20 years younger than me.

I passed two runners as we approached the summit and one stayed in front of me. As I had not seen him most of the day I assumed I would have more in the tank to pass him on the downhill. Winding through the singletrack gave me no time to look to see if I was making any progress on catching him. I couldn't look as I needed to make sure I did not become one with the mountain and not in any sort of "zen-like" way. Popping out onto the jeep road, I saw I was within striking distance to take down one final competitor.

When making a pass in a race, there is one thing I have learned in all of my racing one must do: make it definitive. If you pass a runner, and then slow down, all you do is fire their engine up. As such, if you aren't ready to pass, save your energy. Two weeks ago in the Dam 15 Miler I wasn't ready to pass a guy in front of me for the lead quite yet. However, he slowed exponentially and left me with no choice. So, in spite of my desire to hold off for a bit, I passed, turned up the speed and went on to win the race. Here, the chap in front of me did not exactly slow but for some reason went reallllly wide on one of the curves. With me on the inside of turn, I was left with no choice but to make my move here. So with a mile left, I did.

I could tell, however, this guy was not going to let go easily so I really had to run with abandon. At one point, my foot slipped on some loose rocks and kicked out to the inside. Hitting my other foot, this could have easily sent me sprawling. Yet somehow it hit my shoe at just the right angle to send it forward. I stumbled a bit but recovered. The twisting and turning of the road underfoot was definitely giving my proprioception a run for its money.

Up ahead appeared was what I was guessing was one of the last  finishers, who was just on his second lap. Sixty-seven year old Guenter Hauser was out here on this brutal course giving his all.  I passed him and in spite of being in full race mode wanted to show him what an inspiration he was, even if I only saw him for three seconds. I gave him a pat on the back and said "way to go."  He returned the exchange and it invigorated me.

Down the final quarter of a mile and I could hear the footsteps behind me. One of the three remaining spectators was a young kid who yelled: "Go Dad!" Obviously the guy hard-charging on me from behind was this boy's father. As we left the path and began running over uneven grass and field, I could almost feel his breath. I was going to be damned though if I was going to let him catch me.

Down the final stretch I gave everything I had (and accordingly it showed that for a brief sprint I hit a nice 4:47 mile pace) and secured 99th place overall in a time of 1:13:06.  I have never been so thoroughly knackered or excited to finish in the bottom 15% of an event.  In fact, I don't think I have ever finished in the bottom 15% of an event.  But that is what happens when you race people out of your caliber. (Full Results Here.) Knowing now that working hard kept me in the double digits of finishers made all that extra hurt so much more worth it. There really is no difference in between 99th and 100th, except for the fact that we all know there sure as heck is a difference.

Also, I didn't finish last in the open division. The fella I passed at the top of the last climb had that honor. So two weeks ago I won a trail race outright by a large margin and this weekend I got destroyed by the competition. It all goes to show it only matters who shows up to a race in order for you to go from feeling great to wondering if they are the same species as you. So, in this arena, just show up. Put yourself on the starting line even if you may very well finish way behind everyone. Let the naysayers say what they will and by definition they will say "nay." Allow them to poke holes in your accomplishments when they sit at home on the couch. Because even if you finish absolutely dead last, every person who didn't race that day got destroyed by you.

Kudos to all the runners out there who took on this challenge. It was beyond fascinating and inspiring to see so many ages, shapes and skills on the mountain all at once. It reminds me, as it does virtually every time I run a race, why I like to be out here, pushing myself. The feeling of accomplishment by stretching your body to its limits is euphoric. Your quads hurt, you have lightheadedness, and you do briefly wonder what the hell you were thinking. But that all passes and all you are left with is the glow.

Go get your glow, runners.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Fallacy of Fat AND Fit

I recently read an article in Runner’s World about Mirna Valerio, a just barely not morbidly obese runner. By the way, that description of Valerio is not meant to be hurtful.  It is, in fact, accurate (she is 5’7’’ and 250 lbs giving her a BMI of 39 when 40 is morbidly obese) and uses the exact terms she uses in the article about herself.  The crux of the article, which you are welcome to read and form your own opinion, is whether one can be both fat and fit at the same time. However, if you are looking for an answer to the question, save yourself some time. The article doesn’t really say one way or the other even though it definitely leans in the direction of “Sure you can!”

Before we get any further, let me lay down some ground rules for this article. I do not know Ms. Valerio. Any conclusions I draw from here on out will use her story as a generalized example, but are not meant to mean her case exactly. She seems, by all accounts, to be a lovely person whom I would enjoy getting to know. I am, at least, greatly interested in many of the things she said and learning more about them. So, while I will draw from her story, nothing I say is a personal attack on her whatsoever. There. Is that enough of a caveat? (I doubt it. But let’s move forward.)

The article says:

“A highly publicized 2008 study, for instance, found that compared with normal-weight active women, the risk of developing heart disease was 54 percent higher in overweight active women and 87 percent higher in obese active women. In effect, the study seemed to suggest, you really can't live healthfully with obesity; being fit and being fat truly were mutually exclusive.”

Then it says:

“Since then, however, a number of studies have been published reaching a somewhat different conclusion. “The scientific evidence has become quite powerful to suggest that a healthful lifestyle dramatically mitigates the risks associated with mild levels of obesity,” says Yoni Freedhoff, M.D., author of The Diet Fix and a professor at the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Medicine in Canada.”


I get chastised by people who think I parse words too carefully. They throw “Well, of course, you think that. You went to law school!” as if being educated and knowing that words have an assigned meaning so we as a society can understand them is a bad thing.  But let’s take a look at these two paragraphs. to begin, I think you would be hard pressed to find any recent study that would refute to any discernible degree the heart disease percentages stated above. Perhaps they have changed, however. If so, we need only to move onto the statement by Dr. Freedhoff to realize how little water in holds as a counterargument. If you break that down, you would have a difficult time finding a sentence with more qualifiers in it that really still doesn’t say much at all. Bear with me.

1.    The evidence doesn’t say or point to anything but it suggests.
2.    A healthful lifestyle? Could that be more vague. I am guessing nowhere in “healthful lifestyle” is morbidly obese considered one of the categories.
3.    “Mild levels of obesity.” Not severely obese. Not morbidly obese. Not super obese. (How sad is it we have a standard above “morbid” obesity?)

In other words, we have a suggestion that if you vaguely live well, it will decrease some of the risks connected to being overweight. This is the smoking gun statement to combat the studies which show obesity leads to massive increases in developing heart disease?! That’s pretty darn flimsy.

The study of exercise and weight-loss and physical performance is extremely important to me. I am invested in learning as much as I can for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it affects not only my livelihood but my own personal racing goals. I have come out, time and time again, to state that being fit is an extremely hard thing (even if we all agree on what “fit” actually is.) I struggle with it all the time. While I have made my name doing things that few have or could do, I still struggle with weight. I am 6’1’’ 185 lbs for the most part. One of my proudest personal achievements is that my marathon PR, my placements in National Championship races, and virtually all of my racing has been done around that weight. It matters not if that weight is all muscle (it is so not even close to all muscle) or not, it is still 185 lbs. It is a lot of body to move through space. Simple physics says it is harder for me to do what I have done than a person who weighs, say 155 pounds. In fact, I would also love to know how many 185lb men have run a sub 2:50 marathon.  Not as a pissing contest, but so I could meet them and learn their secrets. Learn what they eat. How they train. See how many of us there actually are out there. But I digress.


My point is, I work very hard to maintain my weight. I also know that running alone is not the best way to keep it down. Valerio says something I have heard from many people: “No matter how much I run and work out, my weight never goes below around 240 pounds.” Again, I use her quote as one used by many and am not attacking Valerio.  But if you are running and working out so much that “no matter” what you do you can’t lose weight (in and of itself hard to believe) then you must look at your diet. Through a completely scientific method I just created, my feeling is that 65% of weight loss and good health comes from diet. Exercise comprises the other 35%. And I think it easily could be less. Basically, we think our furnace can burn off more than it does and we underestimate how much fuel we are placing in it in the first place.

Reading the article, I very much liked the approach of Valerio’s doctor which was blunt and to the point. (Want to not be dead when your son turns 10? Lose weight.) Good luck finding anyone of note in the running world to dare say anything remotely disparaging about people that are overweight or not in perfect shape.  They know where their bread is buttered.  But I have no problem being as blunt as that doctor, even if it makes me have a few less twitter followers. The reason I feel I have every right to do so is because I do not have six-pack abs. I am not model-thin. I race long, hard and often. Note I said “race” and not just run.  Yet, I continue to have to watch my diet. I was not blessed with a fast metabolism. I was rail-thin when I was child and through parts of high school but that was a long time ago.  In spite of the success I have achieved in my exercise and athletics, it did not come from the body of one who was traditionally built to run relatively fast. As such, I have earned more than enough cache to know what it is like to be a decent runner AND have to work hard as heck to not have a double chin. So if someone wants to dismiss my views as those coming from a guy who doesn’t know what the middle of the pack feels like, well that just shows their ignorance.

At one point in the article it says “Valerio runs at about an 11-to 13-minute-mile pace, roughly the same rate at which Terry Fox ran across Canada on one good leg and one prosthetic leg in 1980.” It was here that I knew no reasonable answer was going to come from this entire reading.  If you want to compare Valerio’s pace for her roughly 30 miles a week to what a cancer-stricken, one-legged man did in a single day, I now know this is article is more about feel-good than it is about facts. Mentioning Valerio’s excellent singing voice, dealings with deep-seated racism in the South, and a plethora of other things make for an excellent story. They also completely obfuscate the facts or at least the reason for the article. The questions get muddled and no answer comes forward. So let me answer the question for you.

Can you be fat and fit? No, not really.

Will exercising make you a fitter version of the exact same person who is not exercising? Absolutely. Is Valerio (or anyone in this scenario) better off by hitting the roads and trails and putting miles under their feet?  Of this there is no doubt. But let us not sugarcoat the facts that we all know. I am not even remotely saying you have to be ready for the cover of Men’s Health magazine to be fit. You needn’t be ready to take on American Ninja Warrior Climbing Mountain Skills Competition to get through your daily life. But just because you can’t be that pinnacle of fitness doesn’t mean you can be the other side and think there is no way that is going to affect your health.

I am in no way saying that those with weight problems need to hate themselves. But I am saying that pretending that weight problems are not an actual problem is a bad thing. (I wrote extensively about this in the Cost of Obesity.) It is perfectly fine to say that being fat is not healthy.  It is perfectly fine to be on the road to better health and still not be as fit as you would like. Rarely are we where we want to be health-wise for a long period of time. There are ebbs and flows. There are changes in lifestyles and workloads and injuries and setbacks which keep us from being where we would ideally like to be for very long. It is OK to embrace that we have work to do. I know I do. I know I have to eat a little healthier than I did a decade ago. I know my workouts have to be a bit more structured. I know that even doing all of that, I remain right around 185lbs. But I also know that disparaging those who are thinner or are healthier (fit-shaming) doesn’t automatically by default make my situation any better.

In summation, I think it is wonderful Valerio is out there moving along.  I applaud anyone who is attempting to better themselves. But we don’t need to sugarcoat the results or the facts. Runners like hard numbers. We are tough people willing to run dozes of miles for non-precious medals. I know we live in an era of instant-gratification and thunderous applause for the even the most minute accomplishment but science is science. While every way we know to study fitness has some flaws it is very hard to make a reasonable argument that being fat is just as healthy as not. So rather than make excuses or distort the truth, simply give a pat on the back to the person who is bettering themselves.

We all need encouragement far more than we need misinformation or to be praised where praise needn't be. Just like "You're almost there!" at mile 20 of a marathon, we may want to believe it but we know it isn't true.