Thursday, June 22, 2017

Stand Your Ground - Lose Paychecks

It is no secret I absolutely cannot stand Donald Trump.  Couldn't stand him in the 80s when I was growing up, couldn't believe he got a reality TV show in 00s and, well, you can imagine how I felt this past November. Or don't imagine.  Read what I wrote before and after his election "victory".

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, I knew my stance against Trump would not be popular with some. As the year went on last year and into this year, I lost sponsorships, speaking deals, and other sources of income because I refuse to speak nice.  Ironically, that straight talk is what those who voted for Trump said they liked so much about him - he spoke his mind. And while I could surmise there were some paychecks I lost because of my fervent nature of talking about how horrible of a human being Trump is, and some had told me so in person or over the phone, I didn't have anything as striking in my hand as I did today when I woke up to this email.

This was in response to an elongated exchange of emails, texts, phone calls, etc about me being a featured speaker at a particular race. For those who don't know, speaking is one of my main sources of income. I speak at schools, economic summits, land title associations, cruise ships, massive banking institutions, etc. I have a fun story and I am good at telling it - relating it to whatever place I am in.  Having run 52 Marathons in 52 consecutive weekends, however, speaking at a marathon is a layup.  That's my audience.

For some context, this email was in response to my message which was following up on our last exchange wherein I said:

"Would love to speak to you about 2018 as I definitely do not want to get a late start in working together.  What would you need from me to make this less work for you?"

Suffice it to say I wasn't expecting that. Now, I have debated naming this particular race specifically because my intention is not to shame them. I also know they are not alone. But if you want to know who it is so you can say no thanks, drop me a line. Happy to do so privately.

In addition, let me nip a few things in the bud.

1. This is not necessarily a First Amendment abridgement. So many well-meaning people were getting up in arms with regards to this. No one was stopping me from saying what I wanted. I said it and knew there may be consequences.

2. We didn't have a contract signed at this point. As such they were not going back on anything concrete.

3. No one has to hire me to speaker for anything. It is always a choice.

Having said, that what bothered me most about this was the combination of how long we had speaking about working together coupled with the fact that the people who supposedly agreed with me appeared to be "warning" the person I spoke with (who also agreed with me) to not get involved with "my brand." Ugh. If you want to disgust me, call me a blogger. A close second is to talk about my brand.  (And who exactly was warning him and why? Warning him about what? Having a spine?)

IF I have a brand it is standing up for the weak, disenfranchised, powerless, historically underrepresented or minorities, or just fighting for basic human decency. Sometimes I get angry and intolerant of hate, ignorance, stupidity or malice.  I never said I was a tolerant one (so stop with the the "Oooh look at the tolerant left!" comments.  Tomi Lahren tried that with me and even her physically-threatening minions didn't stop me.)

So that's my brand. I am not overtly political - I am overtly anti-Trump/Trump sycophants. I can't stand religion but some of my best friends are Mormon. I think Ted Cruz is a soulless succubus but if you want to vote for him, we can probably find shared ground.  But Trump is where I draw the line.

Because of my stance, I have lost all of what I have said I have lost. That's fine. But those who are on my side of the aisle, or who see things the way I see them, haven't stepped forward to support me.  Sure there are likes on Facebook or retweets on twitter. BFD. Where are the social justice warriors when someone who is fighting for all the things they are fighting for, but more publicly and with more to lose, when I need someone to say "Damn right we want to hear you speak!"?

This may sound a bit bitter and that is because it is.  This email I received doesn't stop me from speaking elsewhere. But it sure does have a chilling effect on whether I think speaking my mind is wise course of action. If people who supposedly agree with you still won't stick their neck out a touch to work with you, how can you expect to make a living do what you do?

If I had the same stances about Obama or Hillary and this was the end result, I wouldn't be writing this right now. I would be on Fox News talking about the snowflakes in their safe spaces. Hell, Mike Huckabee would have already written a horrible pun in a tweet by now. (By the way, Mike, your son murdered a dog. No one ever forgets this. Block me all you want.) Instead, fortunately, I have an outlet here on a website which attracts a lot of attention.  Obviously it does or I wouldn't have received the above email.

So who is willing to help me out and pick up the slack?  My speeches rarely touch on anything even remotely political.  I take my personal experiences coming from a poor family, where I put myself through college and law school, have accomplished some impressive athletic feats no one else ever has done, all while suffering from a liver disorder and use my experiences to inspire others to chase their own dreams.


That's one hell of a brand. 

I can be reached at danerunsalot@yahoo.com if you are looking for your next keynote speaker.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series (3 of 6) Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 11th Edition 
143.7 miles run; 2250m swam in 2017 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 97 freaking degrees; sunny; humid

Writing recaps for races that don't go well is not fun. But I figured if I just got this one out of the way, maybe, like the proverbial band-ad ripping, faster will be better. (Or maybe that is wrong as Dan Ariely's "Predictably Irrational" makes a case for the opposite. Come to read about an athlete splashing and running; stay for the tangents!)

This was the third time in as many months that I took on the Pure Austin Splash and Dash. (You can read the first and second installments of this race series here and here.) The first event was me feeling out how it was done.  The second was me racing it two days after a half-marathon and one day after a lot of international traveling. As such, this third installment, 10 days after my most recent race, with some decent runs, a bike ride and as close to tapering as I get, felt prime for a big breakthrough. After a 26:02 and a 25:49 in the first two, I was looking to break 25 and start putting in respectable times.

First and foremost, let me mention it was 97 degrees at the start of the race and quite humid. I feel this played a part in my overall race but I am unsure how much. IT wasn't as if, during the race, it felt much worse than it had on the other days which had been cooler.  This is essentially a super sprint distance and it hurts no matter what the weather is for a long-distance runner like me. So, let's just say that the weather didn't help but it wasn't as if it was mile 22 of a marathon and I needed to be put in an ice bucket or die kinda feeling.  That said, as I positioned my gear for the transition I sought cover under a tiny tree. This was almost out of habit than necessity as I didn't feel particularly hot. Maybe I am getting used to Texas heat. (Ha! No way.)

I waded into the water and felt not even a hint of shock from the cold which wasn't there. One thing for sure was this was going to be a warm swim. That means sluggish. I see now from looking at my records I have only done two swim workouts since my last aquathlon a month ago and one was the day before the race.  That is not the way to get better, Dane.

Swim:

When I won the Masters division of this race in my first race in the series, I won a pair of googles.  Starting this race as far away from the other swimmers as I could, these crystal clear googles allowed me to see that the buoys that we were supposed to keep to our right, had a rope between them. I had never seen this previously and for the first 50 meters or so thought maybe I had found an ideal way to swim without needing to sight, and not swimming off course.  Unfortunately, this rope soon descended into the depths of the quarry soon after those first 50 meters. Hopefully, the little fish that had been nibbling at my feet at the start of the race followed it away from me.  At least I hope it was a fish. It was a bit unnerving as the nibbling happened on five separate occasions even though I kept moving. I wonder if it was attracted to my socks. (Yes, I wear socks in tris for a variety of reasons, explained in the other recaps.)

With the rope gone I had to contend with my own attempt at straight line swimming. While the field was less for this race than the previous race (51 vs 54 finishers for men) it was still a bit crowded.  I did a decent job of making the first two dock turns and staying on line.  Then I started swimming like a drunk person. I couldn't keep a straight line at all. Nevertheless, I felt as if I was swimming strong and thought maybe I didn't need that many workouts after all. I'm Aquaman!

Holding steady with the same few swimmers throughout, I finally hit the home stretch. There, making the final turn, I began to pull away.  I did so with such ease I wondered why I hadn't been swimming harder to begin with.  Happy to no longer be bumping shoulders, grabbing toes or having the same done to me, I hit the sand exit way and scooted over to my shoes.  I expected to have a performance hopefully close to 11 minutes.

I had a less than stellar transition from swimming to running but it wasn't atrocious. Swim time and transition put me at 12:39, however.  Blech.  Something did not go right in that swim.

Run:

After racing up the craggy hill to start the run, I had one guy in my immediate sights. I could tell it would not take long to catch him so I just tried to settle into my run and get my lungs working. The race course on this event presents a variety of footing issues from gravel to roots to unkempt branches. Throw in the fact it is not a closed course and other runner are on it and it is not ideal.  I have no idea how they are going to handle the National Championship race here with a mass start of runners.It is narrow and there is going to be someone who goes down hard, mark my words.

I passed the first runner before even a quarter of the way through the first lap and then promptly twisted my ankle. It was one of the twists I have done a million times and either I have Gumby ligaments or cat-like reflexes.  My point being that within 5 steps it didn't bother me and I was on my way.  There is always that split second when I do this where I wonder if I have shattered all my tendons and then miraculously trying to figure out how I did not. About halfway through this loop, with two other runners in my view, I heard footsteps. Two much younger chaps slid by me like a hot knife through butter. I was not expecting that, this soon.  Crap.

As we made our way up the small rise, I passed another runner and grabbed a glass of water. I knew it was hot, I knew I wasn't running great, but I had passed two guys in a loop. Who knew what lie ahead. My time for the loop was 4:27.  The previous two races were 4:24 and 4:28. For some reason I had convinced myself I had run a 4:20 on these the first two times. I shouldn't have let it bother me but it did. I am unsure what or how the rest of the race had unfolded if I realized I was just a few seconds slower than my fastest start but alas.

Starting the second lap, I got about a quarter of the way through when I was in position to pass a third man. I did so and about 100 yards later almost took a water bottle to the face from some pedestrian gesturing loudly with her hands while she chatted on the phone.  I was almost certain a hipcheck would have sent her safely into the water below and she would not have been able to identify who did it. But I wasn't 100% sure so I abated.  My second loop felt like death warmed over and a 4:36 showed it. (A 4:25 and 4:23 had been my second loops previously.)

I started the third loop and I was ready to be done. I knew I wasn't going to get anything I wanted today and it was time to be finished.  About halfway through a female runner passed me.  I recognized her as one of the local tiny, young phenoms. I was trying to figure out what laps she might be on. I thought she had one more to go as the females started three minutes behind us. I had previously just barely beat her in the first race so I respected her as a competitor regardless of age and gender. But as I figured she had one lap to go, I wasn't in any frame of mind to duke it out with her here. Then, doing math, I realized this had to be her last lap.  However, even if I outkicked her, that just means I beat her by three minutes (my head start) minus my time to the finish. I saw zero reason to push faster and let her run by herself. I crossed the final lap in 4:30 finishing in 26:13 - my slowest of the three yet.

Bollocks.

Even though I finished 16th overall (12th male - the other females who were faster luckily didn't lap me and crush my soul further) I was the fastest Masters - courtesy of the other old guy in the group ahead of me finishing second overall.

This was disappointing race.  Hot weather, twisted ankle, blah blah blah.  It just did not go well. But it solidified in me that I absolutely must get back into the pool putting in 10,000 yards a week at least if I want to be back to a respectable time. I have a feeling my running will dip a bit this summer but it is just too damn hot in Austin to do the running I want to do and with no running goals on the near future, it is time to focus more on what I have on the race schedule. So today, the doctor has ordered up 3-4,000 yards at the pool.  Hopefully it will be the right prescription.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Stick - A Review

Recently I was looking for an article I wrote about The Stick. In spite of having access to everything I have written since 2007, I would be damned if I could find it. Occasionally articles I have written have gone missing but there is almost a broken link or something left behind like the vapors from the space hoppers in Jumper. (Yes, I just made a Jumper reference. In spite of constant plotholes, I really enjoy that movie. Perhaps it is a desire to see the world and not have to travel to do it. I know it is supposed to be about the journey, not the destination but the journey often sucks. But I digress.)  I finally decided I must just have never written a proper review. While I find this inexcusable and almost negligent on my part since I preach taking care of your body, I am remedying that now.

For those who don't know, The Stick is called the toothbrush for your muscles.  It is a muscle-massaging tool that has brought me great pain followed my great relief.  I don't use it nearly as often as I should even though it hasn't left my suitcase in nearly 11 years. Anywhere I travel, I am assured to be running.  And anywhere I am running I need a little muscle relief.

The Stick is used to soften up tight muscles, which can cause stiffness and pain in short term and injuries in long term.  I am obviously huge on injury prevention. My personal preference for using the Stick came on your smaller muscles like around the shin and the calf.  While it also worked on quads, if you happen to have a concentration of muscles there, it might be a tad hard to get the proper amount of pressure there that a roam-roller could get to using your body weight. (More on that later.)

The Stick felt surprisingly good on my feet as well, an area people often neglect and then roll their eyes in pleasure when someone actually rubs them. Using the handle of The Stick and simply placing it on the ground and rolling my foot back and forth felt wonderful. 


There are a multitude of sizes and flexibilities but my personal favorite has been the Body Stick.  At just 24 inches it will fit in virtually any bag or luggage and the tautness of the mechanism is just perfect for me.  If you are curious what Stick would be best for you, they have a handy chart which you can look at the determine your best fit. 



I have found that The Stick simply gets into all the nooks and crannies that foam rolling simply cannot. Granted, there are plus sides to foam rolling as well, which I may eventually get to writing about as well.  In the meantime, for great information on The Best Foam Rollers check out this article from BarBend.com.

The moral of the story is we demand so much of our bodies and often do not reward them and take care of them the way we should. I have been a big proponent of massage for years but sometimes people do not get around to getting those for a variety of reasons. With the Stick, you have no excuses. 



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Paul Richey Memorial Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 10th Edition 
141.7 miles run; 1500m swam in 2017 races
Race: Paul Richey Memorial Half Marathon
Place: Oil Cty, PA
Miles from home: 1469
Weather: 60s; sunny; humid

I hadn't been home to visit my mother in over a year so I decided it was time to visit my hometown.  Facebook memories showed me, once I arrived, that I have been home this exact same weekend three years ago.  I found that coincidentally odd as there is no rhyme or reasons for most of my visits other than I wish to see my family.My memories from that trip were how unbelievably sweaty and hot my runs were. Fortunately, the weather looked much more agreeable and after experiencing Austin since September, I didn't think much would hurt me anyway in that department.


It was my Mom who posited the question "Are there any races nearby?" when I mentioned I would be coming home.  Truth be told, I hadn't even really thought about whether there were, which is another oddity for me. A quick search revealed a half-marathon in a nearby town. As I have put on a few races in my hometown and there are a few others there now which bring people in from all over the country, people will often say to me "I can see why you grew up a runner here!" They are referencing the hills and the lush green and the abundance of trails when they say this. Of course, the irony is that I wasn't much of a runner when I lived in my hometown. In fact, the vast majority of trails and streets in this area have never felt my feet upon them. As such, the opportunity to run on a bicycle trail just a mere 17 miles from where I grew up seemed like a fun thing to do. And if my Mom wants to come along and cheer, even better, especially since it would be my 99th lifetime half-marathon!

The half-marathon I decided to run was the Paul Richey Memorial Half to benefit the Franklin and Oil City YMCA's in memory of Trooper Paul Richey who was slain in the line of duty. Cop deaths in NW PA are (fortunately) few and far between so when they happen, the hit the communities hard. Titusville (my hometown), Franklin, and Oil City were all rivals in my high school days. So to have a little fun, I decided to wear my high school track singlet to the event. Technical it is not the one from high school but one that my track coach gave me in 2006 when I ran my 51st marathon out of 52 consecutive ones. But it is a reasonable facsimile of the classic one from days of yore.

It was a quick and easy drive to the start of the race. Once I had made countless times as I went to one of the only malls in the area growing up. My mom and I parked and I I went to pick up my packet. For a race of smallish size (111 half-marathoners) we had to park more than a short walk away from the packet pickup. No problem for runners but a little bit of a hike for older relatives. My Uncle, who lives just down the street tried to surprise me at the start but he recently had some hospital procedures done and was not his usual spry self. Unfortunately, when he arrived to come to the start, he couldn't make the walk in time. No knock on the race, just a bit of a bummer.

After an A cappella version of the National Anthem, under one of those car dealership, we-need-to-show-we-REALLLLLY-love-America sized flags, we left the packet pickup area and sauntered a few more hundred yards down to the start of the race. A local timer I recognized from the races I have done in the area was there setting things up and I sized up the crowd. I made a guess as to whom would be my competition, knowing full well it would show itself once the race started.

We lined up and away we went.

First Three Miles:

Within ten yards, after I sidestepped the usual not-supposed-to-be-at-the-front half dozen or so runners, I found myself behind three runners wearing matching singlets with names on the back. These runners would probably be my competition. I was a step or two behind them as we started and simply trying to make my legs up for the first mile as we hit the paved bike path under a cover of trees. As the sun flitted in here and there, I was so pleased the temperatures were only in the 60s, even if the humidity was typical for NW PA in June.

A topic I will be exploring in a future post deals with how I am experimenting with races in different weather right now. Suffice it to say I felt wonderful during the first mile which probably meant it was slow. A 6:37 surprised me with its ease as I began to pull away a bit from the other runners. I assumed, as I almost always does when a mile goes by quicker than I think it should, that perhaps the miles on the trail were not exact. Usually if this is the case, the next mile adds a little time and I just split the difference. Regardless, all I could so was run and see what would happen.

I somehow missed the next mile marker as I was realizing this would be a "race."  By that I mean the two runners behind me (a man and a woman) were just a few seconds back and I had a feeling they weren't going anywhere anytime soon. Their presence was a welcome edition to my day as I knew this would be yet another race which might as well be a training run.  Beautiful, scenic, enjoyable - but virtually all alone with no crowd, opponents, or much else to spur me on.

Before long I saw the 3rd mile marker and dividing by two saw that I had just run two more 6:38 miles. Maybe today was going to be much better than expected.

To Halfway:

Even though I was already covered in sweat, there was enough of a tree cover to make the course enjoyable. The surface was soft and very akin to the bicycle trail which played a major part in the Drake Well Marathon I created a few years ago. (This race was taken over by a local entity a few years ago, was changed greatly and I no longer am affiliated with it.) As I am not normally a fast starter in races, I assumed this surprisingly quick first few miles meant I would only get faster as the race went on.  This fourth mile, however, showed a time closer to 6:45. Once again, as I felt good, I didn't know if the mile marker was a bit off or what exactly. (Note, these are not markers the race put out. They are existing markers for the bike course and for all intents and purposes are fairly accurate.  But when you are running and the difference between a 6:38 and a 6:43 is all the difference in the world, it matters.)

It appeared that I had put a little distance between me and my two pursuers but I wasn't too sure. I was trying to use an assortment of contextual clues I often use in order to keep from turning around and looking. Approaching the aid station between the fourth and fifth miles I employed a tactic of timing seconds between when the volunteers cheered for me and when they next cheered for people behind me. People tend to cheer when runners are equidistant away so this is one way to use your surroundings to your benefit.  It appeared I had put a few more meters between me and my pursuers. I felt comfortable in my lead.  The fifth mile showed a slight slowing with a 6:47.  However, as I really enjoy out and back runs, knowing what I have run and being able to prepare for it, I assumed I would just get faster at the turnaround. I would simply hit the afterburners and show everyone what's what.

Slightly before the 6th mile marker I heard footsteps and almost as quickly as I heard them one of my pursuers passed me. I was impressed with how he made the pass as it was swift, definitive, and he didn't hesitate. Superb passing technique, sir. Leave no doubt you are making a move. Even if I am was now realizing I am not going to win the race any longer, I can still appreciate the craftsmanship of the move.

In spite of this move, I gave a few hundred yards of chase. I soon realized that for whatever reason he just was moving faster than me right now. My best bet was to keep him in eyesight and maybe make a move later in the race. My aunt had told me she would try to be near the turnaround to cheer me on. Unfortunately, some faulty information provided by a cocksure but clueless spectator had sent her in the wrong direction. As we approached the turnaround, I did see her in the distance and gave her a wave as I made the 180 degree turn to head home.

Toward Mile 10:

I was surprised to see how close the female runner was behind me as she had quietly been sitting there ten seconds or so back.  The forest dampened sounds of footfalls, and the soft footing masked them even more. As we began our return trip home, the runner in front of me was already distancing himself greatly. When we hit the 7th mile I realized that while he may be speeding up, I was without a doubt slowing down. I had run the last two miles in the 6:55 range while feeling like I was exerting more effort.  I didn't "feel" tired or like I was slowing and with no other runners around to gauge myself, was a bit disappointed in this outcome.  Perhaps this was a longish section and the next mile would straighten things out, I thought.

Granted I was covered in sweat but I didn't feel like I had slowed so much. My singlet was soaked in wetness but it could have been worse. And while the runner in front of me was pulling away, the woman behind me, obviously accomplished herself, hadn't passed me yet.  Maybe we were stuck in the same space time continuum.  Maybe she was biding time to pass me.  Maybe it's Maybelline.

For the next few miles, all the runners from the half-marathon were heading toward their own turn around. I tried to say as many "goodjob"s as I could while conserving energy. I didn't know if the woman behind me was planning her own lie and wait strategy and wanted to be able to respond if she did.

The race course was on a rather wide bike path but situated next to it for a few miles was an equally as wide dirt path. The course was not closed to others doing activities and we had been warned there was expected to be a cornucopia of cyclists coming onto the track at some time. Sure enough a large number of them came my way here as I headed back. Virtually all of them left the bike path and ventured over to the dirt.This was greatly appreciated as I am sure it was not easy on what appeared to be road bikes. (I did have a few almost kill me as we went under a bridge with a tight turn. Not sure why they were speeding up in a blind spot but hey, you do do.)

Another high 6s mile at the 9th mile frustrated me. I felt I had undoubtedly picked up the pace and would make a push for a 1:28 or lower if I had. Unfortunately, that was not the case.  Now I had to figure out what these last four miles were going to bring. Racing is frustrating, especially when time goals go out the window and you are still miles from being done. Nevertheless, I thought I was still going to have a solid race if the last three miles could echo the first three miles.  The way I was slowing that would be a big "if."

Heading Home:

I had heard about previous years of this race being brutally hot and I was again quite happy it was only in the 60s. Nevertheless, the tree cover seemed like it would protect runners from any sun regardless of the heat.  Another thing for which I was beyond pleased was the ice cold drinks at the aid stations. I drank nothing on the way out but helped myself to at least three cups on the way back.  I would rather not have any liquid at all than reach for it and take a drought of bathwater. Kudos to the organizers for having a drink that cooled the core with each sip. Undoubtedly, this helped me keep it together as my energy waned.

With two miles to go I could see I was right on pace for a sub-1:30 half.  I had run 98 half marathons coming into the day and had averaged 1:30:30 for those races. I have often treated half marathons as hard workouts, or pacing efforts for friends, or gone into them unprepared. For whatever reason, I don't lend them the same credence as marathons. So, to have an average right at 1:30 for all 98 was pleasing. Actually, that is a lie. It would be pleasing to have my average below 1:30 but a few pacing efforts and flatout hot halfs had pushed it over in the past few years. (I can talk endlessly about stats and know it was the Lincoln Half, where I felt like I was going to die in my 74th half marathon where the time crept over 1:30.) I knew if I wanted to bring my average down, I had to start right now.  At this mile. I didn't care how tired I was or how hot it was. This race had to be under 1:30.

The next mile was slower than I wanted but I knew it would all come down to the last and final push.  It is a rare day when I cannot pick up the pace in the final hundreds of meters to nip a time with a :59 in it. Fortunately, because this was an out and back, I did not have any doubt about whether this last mile may be a touch long.  Or where the turn was.  Or anything else that would keep me from simply motoring in. I had already run the course and knew where it ended. That peace of mind was wonderful.

I allowed myself a quick glimpse behind me to see if there were any runners back there and all I caught was the first female runner. She wasn't closer but she hadn't gotten much further either. Kudos to her on running such a solid race. Now I just had to finish the day.

With 100 yards to go, the ever so slowly arching path straightened and I could see the finish. I could also see my mom, cheering away! Her yells got the smattering of other spectators all excited and I had a nice little cheer as I lengthened my stride and gave it what I had. I picked up the pace just to make sure and ran over the timing mat in 1:29:51. 

I finished 2nd overall and lowered my overall average - by one second.

It's a start.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

National Running Day

No, it isn't today.  I thought the day after my birthday was National Running Day as that was what happened last year. I usually miss the day because, well, it falls after my birthday and damn it, that's my day. But the date of this "holiday" is of no matter because while I was going to link a neat running tidbit to it, the fact it is not on the day we have denoted to celebrate running doesn't make it any less neat. (Neat is a weird word.  Don't say it a bunch of times in your head like I just did.)

Today was my 159th run of the year. It has no real significance but neither does any number unless we attach meaning to it. For me, the 159th run of the year goes back over a decade to 2006. That year I ran 52 Marathons in 52 Weekends. (Some might be tired of me talking about it but it defined my life and if you don't like me, how miserable is your existence to be reading the words of someone you don't like? I mean, damn, make a friend.) As my goal for that year was to run the marathons as fast as I possibly could, while still not even knowing if my body would hold up, the amount of miles I ran in the year meant little to me. Similarly, the number of runs was inconsequential as well. But the 1771.5 miles I ran that year were done in 159 runs.

In 159 I achieved what I had set out to achieve.  Not only did I accomplish my goal, I ran my fastest marathon of my life (to that point) and first sub-3 hour marathon ever in my 42nd marathon of the year. I would, all told, break my previous PR 5 times and almost break it a handful of others. I never
expected to do that, and never thought I would average a 3:21 marathon for all 52 marathons, while working a full-time job as well.

So now, every year, when I hit the 159th run of the year, I pause and reflect. We often put too much emphasis on the miles we run.  I see this constantly with the athletes I coach. One in particular was running an absurd amount of miles per week.  I cut it down by almost half and magically she is crushing her PRs. That said, I am guilty of number-gazing sometimes, too.  For example, I thought it would be nice to run at least 200 miles each month this year.  But as May was coming to a close I saw that it would be tight. As I tend to enjoy running something long on my birthday I figured I could make up the mileage necessary to keep the goal alive. Then I realized that there was no need to do that. Shoehorning a few extra miles into the month would not help me accomplish what I wanted. In fact, as it has been so warm in Austin recently, it might be far more detrimental to all I want to do.

Instead, I went for 41 mile bike ride, the second longest I have ever done. (I know, not that far. But if you remove to two half Ironman triathlons I have done the longest ride I had previously done was 35 miles on my, you guessed it, 35th birthday.)  The ride went off without a hitch, exceeded my expectations for how smoothly it would go and barring a very sore bum, I felt fine when I was done.  Mission accomplished!

I ended up with a measly 177 miles of running in May and couldn't be happier. Well, actually, if I could get my race times down again, I would be happier but with regards to the decisions I made in May, I am pleased. Today, on my 159th run, a little slower because of the heat and with legs a little sore from the bike ride, I enjoyed the day.  In fact, I saw, for the first time in my life, a baby skunk.  Holy crap was it cute. I have never seen a baby skunk in person (in skunk?) before.  I might have picked up the pace to stay away from mommy skunk who had to be nearby, but other than that, I was doing a recovery run.  Today was not about running fast but rather recovering from yesterday.

If there is any thing I wish any newbie runner or old time runner or any runner in between remembers (and this counts for me as well) is that so often in the sport, we should not be counting the miles.

Instead, we should make the miles count.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Road to Sparta - A Book Review

Dean Karnazes and I are essentially clones.  Also, Dean and I have nothing in common.  Let me explain.

When I first started getting into running I came upon a cover of Runner's World that had Dean on it. Bulky, muscular, tanned, he looked nothing like the other runners usually on the cover.  While I was hardly anywhere close to as chiseled, seeing what looked like a linebacker being lauded for running prowess gave me hope that my 6'1"180 lb frame might be able to do something solid in the sport. I was a fair runner in high school (for the two years I ran) then moved to rugby in college and even amassed a Golden Gloves record of 1-1 in law school (I lost, then won and then said, enough of that.) But running is what I turned to in my mid-20s as a way to stay in shape. It just so happened all the runners I knew at the time weighed about half my body weight.

As fate would have it, I would meet Dean a few months before my 52 Marathons in 52 Weekends journey. That same year Dean, who didn't tell me at the time we met, would be undertaking his 50 marathons in 50 States in 50 days expedition. I had already begun to find my niche when we met but it was amazing to meet him in person.  I also noticed the first of our differences: height. While down the line many casual runners would get the two of us confused (similar first name, long indecipherable last name, many of the same-type running feats) in person no one would mistaken the 5'8'' Dean for the 6'1'' me.  As I later did to runners, he inspired me here.


Part of the inspiration for me to do my solo running of the 202-mile American Odyssey Relay was Dean. I had worked briefly for a company that put on these relays and they asked me to use my connection with Dean (which was at the time something I would classify as a step below friends but definitely more than acquaintances) to get him to run their races. That connection between Dean and the company never transpired but in talking with him about it, the idea was planted. I wanted to try one of those myself.

So why in a book review of Dean's latest book am I talking about this? Because, when I read Dean's books I see them as an extension of so many things that I have done and also want to do.  I am highly critical of the way he writes, the stories he tells, the events the tackles etc., because I look at them through my own eyes. Arrogantly or misguidedly, I see us as very similar. Which we are and aren't.

Dean's book The Road to Sparta: Reliving the Ancient Battle and Epic Run That Inspired the World's Greatest Footrace is, essentially, a race report. A race report about his taking on the Sparthalon, a 153 mile ultramarathon race held annually in Greece since 1983, between Athens and Sparta.  That's the simple explanation of both the race and the book. Obviously, there is much more.

Dean gives an account of his own history, both in running and in life. I know most of this history, having read his other books. He doesn't repeat much in the book of his past from the other books or when he does he says it in such a way that makes it fresh. This personal history is where I learned how different Dean and I are.

The crux of this book is how Greek Dean is and how much he wishes to connect with his roots. He mentions his ridiculous calf muscles and how they are present in everyone in his family. (He is also not bragging- his calf muscles are ridiculous.) His running heritage is undeniable and since an early age it was quite clear he was a cut above others when it came to running. He is tied very much to his heritage and the exact places he comes from. With myself, I haven't been a runner from the start and while I love my family, stories have not been passed down through generations. I don't identify as one heritage. I am German, Irish, and English at least. In addition, I have not been a runner who anyone knew was going to do anything of note, even after my first few marathons. So, while Dean and I may have done many of the same things but we undoubtedly diverge here. And it this connection to a people, to a place, to a specific race is what drives this book and is its hook.

Dean writes with passion. He also writes very entertainingly. In addition, he does a thing that I absolutely love and have found I do in my own writing. He will recount a story that seems a bit far fetched. One might even be inclined to believe it is exaggerated a bit or he tied a few instances together to make for a more cohesive tale (I can totally understand this. You have multiple conversations with many people and for the sake of brevity it is Steve from Poughkeepsie who asked all of those questions.) But then he produces a picture, photographic evidence of the exact thing he was talking about. Every time I see it I smile.

There are many moments where he lays himself bare. He talks about his failings. He mentions internet trolls and dealing with people who just want to snark on his achievements (again, Dean, feel ya there.) Most importantly he takes the reader along on this race and even though you may have zero desire to take this race on, you are rooting for him to complete it nonetheless.


Then, at the end of his race report, he makes this History major and knowledge sponge so excited by talking about the actual and literal history of the events which transpired to set this race up in Greek history thousands of years ago. Again, akin to my second book where I talked about my own experiences but also showed how running has played a major part in momentous occasions throughout history, Dean shows how one runner might have changed the course of the entirety of the human experience. That seems a bit of a reach until he lays it all out in black and white. It truly is hard to argue with his logic. Even if you do, you are engaged nonetheless.

This book is a totally enjoyable read. If you are even a casual runner I think you owe it to yourself to grab a copy. Part history lesson, party inspirational tome, and part tale of Dean's life, it is all rolled into one solid piece of work.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series (2 of 6) Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 9th Edition 
130.6miles run; 1500m swam in 2017 races
Race: Pure Austin Splash and Dash Series
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 80s; overcast; humid

I was barely home from my half-marathon in Winnipeg 48 hours previously when I found myself driving to the Pure Austin Aquathlon near my home. (Read about my first foray into this event last month here.)  After I had finished that first aquathlon, I had decided I needed to hit the pool and getting into swimming shape. So, in between two trips to Utah and Minnesota/Canada, I got in 6 swim workouts.  Hardly enough to prepare me for the Tokyo Olympics but better than "having not swum in 7 months" like the last race. However, as I had my number written on my arm and prepared to get ready for this quick burst of energy, I knew that the travel, a 50km race and a half-marathon all in the past 16 days, were definitely not going to make this effort easy.

Not the race but the exact outfit.
Control what you can, they say. They are smart. They should run for office and ix our bridges and roads. Having now done this race previously, I knew one thing I could work on greatly was my transition. I put my gear in a different place, wore a form fitting top to swim in (in lieu of trying to put on a singlet over my wet body in a hurry - never a good ting) and figured this would help me could cut some serious time down. My run might be slower but my swim should be faster.

Last month there were only 34 male finishers in this race.  This time there were 56. Definitely a more crowded field. I cut it a little close this time with traffic but was still in the water ready to go with time to spare  The weather was cloudy with a serious wind creating a little bit of a chop on the quarry's surface. There was actually a little bit of a chill in the air. I felt surprisingly good.


Swim:

I positioned myself in a spot I felt would be more advantageous to avoiding other swimmers but still swim as straight of a line as possible.  Unlike last time in the middle of a washing machine, I was almost immediately out of the thick of things and swimming on my own. While I could tell I wasn't exactly cutting through the water like a hot knife through butter, I still felt like I was going fast and more importantly, felt quite relaxed. In fact, at no time during the whole swim did I feel all that tired.  That tells me I definitely should have tried to swim faster. Alas.

For what seemed like at least the last half of the swim I was right next to two other guys.  We were swimming in unison in a bit of a goose V-formation. I couldn't quite pass the guys and they couldn't pull away so I just sat in their pocket. As we neared the shore I wondered if they were good runners and not just good swimmers. I had half of a mind to try and pull ahead to at least beat them out of the water but decided to save my effort for the run.

While I don't know my exact swim time last month the combination of my swim and transition was 12:52. This time it was 12:27. An improvement for sure but I know a great deal of that came in the transition. It was a very smooth and quick one and I think I have that portion down about the best that I can.  I now know my spot and what to do and will repeat it for the next race. The time on my watch for this race had me at 11:46 for the swim. From the water to shoes to up the rocky hill to starting the first loop was just a mere 39 seconds. It can be better but that was pleasing.

Run:

A gentleman I spoke to earlier in the race who had beaten my by 1:10 last month was right in front of me. Oddly enough, while I never saw him in the last race he had been exactly 7 seconds faster than me on the 1st and 3rd of the three loops of that run while we ran identical times on the second loop. I didn't know this at the time but when he didn't immediately pull away from me in the run, I thought perhaps I might be able to reel him in.

We made our first loop on a relatively empty first half. As we trudged up the back side of the loop, over the loose gravel and up the twisty turn hill portion, he began to pull away. However, I hung onto him long enough to pass a rather large muscular fella who must have been an amazing swimmer but was not so hot on the run.  Unfortunately, I had no idea if I was running fast or slow.   I just knew I didn't seem to have much zip. But right before I hit the end of the first loop a fella passed me by.   Well, damn. I wasn't expecting that. I ran the first loop in 4:28 (compared to 4:25 last month) and was pleasantly surprised.  It felt much slower.

Right before I started my second loop I saw one of the many female wunderkinds in this race start her own first loop.  The women in this race started a few minutes behind us which is a blessing as this path is narrow enough as it is.  When I do the aquathlon championship race here in October, where it goes run, swim, run, this is going to be a ridiculously crowded course. I am already not looking forward to that, especially with the twists, roots, gravel and uphill on each lap.  But I digress.  I had only beaten this tiny little girl by 38 seconds last month so I was determined to make sure I did it by more now. On the back half of the loop I passed her, meaning that, given I was running a ~4:30 loop, and we had a 3:00 head start, at least I would beat her by a whopping 90 seconds this time if I kept up the pace. I hit the second loop in 4:25 just two seconds slower than last month's 4:23.  Not too shabby.

As we began the final loop it was now fully crowded with men I was lapping and women just starting out. I had not much left in my legs but felt like I was pushing. I didn't have the zip to verbally give my usual "attaboy"s to anyone I passed. I was just was looking forward to being done and not getting passed by anyone else. (I learned afterward the the fastest runner fo the day was breathing down my neck.  Thanks goodness his swim was worse.)  Around the loop I went one final time and headed home. I was passing guys in groups of three or four now and unfortunately had to adjust my stride accordingly.  With one final push, I hit the last straightaway, pushed past a few runners, and ended this lap in 4:28 (compared to 4:20 last month.)  My time last month overall was 26:02.  I hit my watch at 25:49.  I finished 7th overall in the men as compared to 9th overall last time.

Honestly, in spite of the chop on the water, the races run and the miles traveled, I was still disappointed. I felt I had been much faster in the swim and that was where I could make up the most time. 13:21 for the two miles of running (the course says it is 3k or 1.8 but it is wrong) is hardly bad but another thing I need to work on. I should be a minute faster than that.

As I write this my total place is a bit unknown for men and women. There was some snafu with the women's time that had a batch of them ahead of men they didn't beat and I think one man wasn't listed. More than handful of the same guys ran this race and I was one of only three who improved their time. So while I feel I have much to work on, especially in the swim, this is not a bad barometer. I only have one race (a half marathon near my home town) scheduled between now and the next aquathlon and that is ten days prior.  There should be no reason why I am not at least two minutes faster next time.Well, except I am old, fat, and out of shape.

But I won't let that stop me from pretending otherwise.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

MEC Winnipeg Race Two Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 8th Edition 
128.6miles run; 750m swam in 2017 races
Race: MEC Winnipeg Race Two
Place:Winnipeg, Manitoba
Miles from home: 1495
Weather: 50s; Windy; Partly Sunny

This race happened because I like maps.

When scanning the map for places I wanted to go see, the Northwest Angle came across my screen. If you don't know about this place, read more here.  Suffice it to say, as I have already been to a number of exclaves in the US, if an opportunity arises to check out a new one, I jump on it. I was planning a random trip to Minnesota anyway so I knew I had to check out this geographical anomaly. While tooling around on the net learning more about it, I came upon the story of the last oneroom schoolhouse in Minnesota. I was beyond intrigued.  Before long, I had booked not only a trip to the area and a cabin to enjoy it but was going to give a talk to the kids at the Angle Inlet School. Meeting them on an absolute beautiful May day, in their tiny haven of education was an absolute joy for me even though.  Unfortunately, because the Goulets were out of town, half of the school's population was missing when I was there. (I am not using hyperbole.)

In my planning, I decided after vising the Angle, I would want to see a little bit of Manitoba. While I could spend weeks doing just that, my time was short so I decided I would head to the lovely city of Winnipeg.  I then, as I do anywhere I am going to go, looked to see if there was a race that weekend. Sure enough, the extremely blandly named MEC Winnipeg Race Two was on the docket. (This is not an insult.  In fact, I found the simplistic name very relaxing. And for $20 CAD, that is a price you can't beat for a half-marathon virtually anywhere.)  MEC (the Canadian sorta-equivalent of REI) sponsored the event and after a few emails exchanges with them, I was soon signed up for the half-marathon in the "the most popular Race Series in Manitoba." Here, I would like to give a special thanks for the RD of the race for helping me solve a logistical issue with a park pass, necessary in order to enter the area we would run the race. Although, honestly, I have a feeling that no one really checked if we had those passes in this large but still somehow quaint park we would traverse.

Upon looking at the race website, I expected the sort of low-key race that has become very familiar to runners who don't participate in one of the events that boast 20,000 or more runners.  It seems there are far more races on the two ends of the spectrum these days then a heart bell curve midsection.  It is either over the top huge or Frank, Suzy and their nine pals.  In other words, this race looked like it would be big on camaraderie and making people feel good and very low on any other frills. I have said before that when it comes to racing, I like frills. But it is ok to not have them.

Race Morning:


I debated eating or drinking anything prior to the race. If you have read my recaps, you know I get by fairly calorie free way.  For  example, in my 50k two weeks ago I drank water, had one swig of coke and a corner of a corner of a PB&J sandwich during the race and nothing the morning of.  This is not because I think I am a badass who doesn't need calories but more along the combination of I feel a heart meal the night before should suffice and I don't process food very well at all in any sort of speedy way.  If I eat something and go for a run five hours later, I am still tasting it.  But I thought I might want to try a beverage beforehand this race,  as I do at least process liquid calories somewhat well. I came to detest that decision and will refer to this recap in the future when I make similar decisions for races that are only going to take 90 minutes.

I drove from my hotel to the Birds Hill Provincial Park about a 15 mile jaunt.  I realize "Provincial Park" is just the Canadian version of "state park" but it sounded so regal. It added a little zest to the race in my mind.  Like maybe there would be people regaling all participants with long horns adorned wit the flags of the various families of the crown.  (It was early. I was tired. I don't think straight then.)

Arriving earlier than normal to this race mostly because would because I was unaware of how the park was laid out, what the traffic situation would be, and other intangibles, I was unhurried. I am glad I did as it was definitely a more populated race than I as expecting with both a 5k and 10k joining our half.  With just a singular one-lane road (which would serve as our race course as well) in the interior of the park, it would definitely get crowded later.

I parked my car and ambled toward the finish.  After a quick bathroom break, I meandered toward the start which was a few hundred yards away.  On my way I eavesdropped on the Canadians around me and just reveled in their accents. I jokingly asked if anyone knew what the exchange rate was on time and if I could run less because I was American. At the start there were what appeared to be close to 100 or so other runners who milled around rather lackadaisically even though were were just about two minutes from the start of the race. I had no designs to win the race, but hoped for a top 5 showing.  We were called to the start and when no one else moved to the front, I decided I wasn't going to run any further than necessary and literally toed the painted line.  A quick countdown happened and we were off.

Loop 1:


The loops were just a hair over 5k each and we would do four of them to complete the course.  Upon doing so, we would add another bit at the end of the fourth loop, taking us to where the 10k started. A sharp left off this ten foot wide paved path would have us thirty yards from the arch finish (a nice touch I wasn't expecting.)

Within a few yards I found myself behind a handful of runners. At first blush, the loops look relatively flat but they were anything but. There was a tiny rise, then a downhill, then a flat section, then a bump, then a nice sloping downhill, then two flats separated by one long gradual uphill. I would become intimately knowledgeable about every inch by the end of the race.

After another few hundred yards a few other runners passed me and I think I counted I was in 8th place. My stomach was not happy at all but I figured it would settle. The course had no mile markers (we were in Canada) but had most of the kilometers marked. Those come much faster than mile markers (brilliant observation, Dane) and the fact that there were markers for the other races as well meant there was always a marker on the horizon. It was either cool or annoying to have so many reminders of how far you had run, depending on how well you felt.  When it became quite clear by the second mile that I wasn't winning or placing in the top three, I sort of settled into a rhythm.  I had hoped that this race would be a springboard back into fast racing. I expected cool temperatures to help me suss out my progress.  However, it was 50 degrees when we started, there was bright sunshine, and it was a bit humid. Then we hit the back side of the loop.

A stiff breeze stood me up a bit and I heard some footsteps. A runner passed me (named Derek) and even though he got a few yards in front of me, he just sorta stayed there. I figured that I would use him to help set the pace and maybe break a little of the wind for me. Not only had the cool weather I had hoped for had not appeared but I could feel that I wasn't quite rested from my 50k two weeks prior.  All the traveling from the previous week, as well as adding some swim workouts (I had an aquathlon race in Austin just 48 hours later) and I guess today was not going to be the day that I spring boarded back into "fasthood."

We approached the end of the first loop and I had hoped for 22:00 even.  I ran 22:25. Not bad.  Not great, though.

Loop 2:

I am reading Dean Karnazes latest book and he touches on how runners can become thoroughly familiar with random pieces of nondescript land. Already, after one loop, I felt I could tell you where
every nook and cranny was on this trail. I couldn't remember what pace I wanted to run each kilometer in but I knew I should hit this one hump near the aspen tree in 8:30 per loop if I wanted to stay on pace.

About halfway through the second loop we were already dodging runners from the 5k and the 10k who had started after we started our half.  Suddenly the guy in front of me, who had ebbed and flowed and was now just inches in front of me, pulled over to grab a glass of water.  I accelerated.  If he was going to pass me again, he was going to work for it. He gave what seemed to be a bit of a chase and then fell back. However, I don't know how far back he fell as the other runners' footsteps masked his progress.  I would just have to run hard and hope. The wind on the back part of the loop was present again and appeared it would be here each time. I tried to slingshot from runner to runner in an attempt to use their bodies to block the wind. Shake and Bake!

Any major acceleration I attempted was met with a revolt from my stomach. The speed I was running was apparently the governor my gut  had put on my legs today.  As I was not wishing to see my food from the previous night in reverse, I paid it heed. I approached the lap and hit my watch.  22:28.  Well, that's consistent.

Loop 3: 

On this loop some of the runners who had pulled away seemed to come into focus again. I had passed one runner before the end of the first loop and another right at the beginning of the second.  I thought I might be able to reel some of the runners in ahead who perhaps had gone out too fast. But this entire loop I would spend running in the exact same position, inching forward on the runners before me.  I mean, "centimetering" forward.  I'm sorry, Canada.

Hardly hot, the sun nevertheless was shining down from above and I was, as per usual, pretty dripping wet. I grabbed my first and only cup of water around what I think was mile nine. This was the only time all day the table was on the side I was on, there were no other runners in the way, and I felt it was time to drink. My mouth had become quite dry and I couldn't believe I would end up running 13.1 miles on just one mouthful of water.

This loop felt pretty awful even though I felt I was gaining on the runners in front of me. I knew with just one lap to go, if I could close in on them a bit, my racing instincts might kick in. Passing the starting point in 22:39, I was surprised once again, how metronomic I had been even on an "off" loop.  Only 14 seconds different over 3.2 miles.

Loop 4:


I was really hoping to turn it on and catch some of the runners in front of me but instead of getting closer, they had moved further into the distance. Now I had a decision to make: should I work extra hard to move up from 8th place to 7th to run a time that would still be far slower than I had hoped or should I just hold my ground, keep the pace, and lived to race another day. With about two miles to go I decided on the latter.  Just then I heard footsteps and a runner went flying by me.  I later learned that Jin had showed up late and was making up time the best he could. I made an attempt to fall into his slipstream for about 100 yards but that was all I could muster. I glanced behind me and saw not a soul as far back as the turns of the forest would allow.

The only question which remained was whether my time would be 1:30 or 1:31. I did the math and figured if I ran close to the same loop again I would be right over 1:31. As I passed a few remaining 10k joggers I could hear the finish line megaphone in the distance. I slipped by the starting point for the final loop in 22:27.  I laughed at the exactness.

A handful of runners had gathered on the last turn I mentioned previously and cheered me as I made the left. I passed a few 10k runners in the final few yards while the announcer said my name and that I was from Austin, Texas.  While here was a sizable gathering of runners, hardly a hand was clapped as I finished in 1:31:38. Guess they don't like Americans!

About a minute or so later, however, the next half marathoner finished,  and he too was met with stone cold silence. I was quite surprised actually.  As I stood there and chatted with this runner, Derek, a few more half-marathoners and a smattering of 10k runners came in.  I clapped for everyone of them and I might have been the only one doing so.  I am not saying that one must lose their mind for strangers but when you are literally inches away from where they are finishing, it is almost awkward not to cheer for them. This is hardly a big thing but just something I recognized.

At the awards ceremony, I donated a few DVD copies of  the documentary of my solo running of the 202 mile American Odyssey Relay which were given as door prizes.  I signed the copies, spoke to a few runners (including Jin where I learned of his late arrival) and then headed toward my car. 

I was at least the fastest American. Also, let's hear it for the old guys. This was not the race I was hoping for but wasn't too bad. It was also my 98th lifetime halfmarathon. I might need to start making plans as to what my 100th will be and carry a handful of confetti with me to toss at the finish.