I like to run. I've learned that it really isn't about where you're going, it's about the getting there - the how, the why, the who with. This blog is just a little repository for my thoughts along the way; the setbacks, the lessons learned, and the occasional triumph.

Monday, January 25, 2010

1st Half of '10 is Taking Shape

It’s Official! I am a registered participant in the San Diego 100 Mile Endurance run on June 12th & 13th this summer. My application was received and accepted this weekend, and the Race Director posted the official list earlier today. So, my second attempt at 100 Miles shall commence in less than 5 months.

I’m well aware, 100 miles is never “easy”, no matter where it is run, but the course at Burning River, which I tried to finish in Ohio last August, is relatively flat. (Relatively.) On the other hand, SD100 is run in the Laguna Mountains an hour outside of San Diego. Not so relatively flat. I tried the BR100 on only so-so training. There’s no way that will fly this time. But I’m already feeling good about my prospects.

Even before I knew my entry had been accepted (it was possible that a lottery process would be required), I began training. I’ve been rebuilding base miles since mid-December. I’ve added extra aerobic work with a mile worth of laps in the pool several times a week on top of my running. I’ve added a gentle, low-mileage run to my week, which means I run 6 days a week now. The seventh day is one of my swim days; I’ve never gotten aerobic activity 7 days a week before.

I’m picking ways to add hill work into my routine. (Never easy in Chicago.) The treadmills at the gym will be good for that. I’ll start spending just a little time on the Stair Master a couple or three times a week, and I’ll be heading out of the city a lot more often to do my Long Runs on some actual, hilly trails (such as we have in Chicago).

The biggest change I’ve made is to begin some basic weight training. Nothing crazy, just basics, and not just arms and legs, but also trying to pay worthy attention to my core and back. I haven’t done any real weight training since I was a junior in high school and had to do a few quarters of P.E. to fulfill graduation requirements. So far, I’m enjoying it, though. Like I said, nothing crazy; the point is to serve my running fitness. I don’t want another DNF this summer. I learned early last year that I can get far better race results if I dial things back or even take unscheduled off days when my body feels run down, and I’ll do that again this spring if I need to.

I’ll run the Lakefront 50K late in March. I’ll use the first 2/3rds of it as a training run, then depending how I feel, I’ll ease my way through the end and try for a finish. I’m running the Wisconsin Marathon again on May 1st. That’s also, basically, a training run now, but I’m still hoping to turn in a good, strong time. Two or three weeks after that, I’m going to organize some kind of long, final training run for myself near Chicago. Something in the range of 45 or 50 miles. Then I’ll start a taper and head to San Diego in the middle of June.

The race awarded Brass Belt Buckles to 30 sub-24-hour finishers last year. 52 more runners finished before the final, 31-hour cutoff and received a Bronze Buckle. 43 other runners (33%) were Did Not Finishers. I don’t care one bit which color mine Buckle turns out to be, I just want to make sure I get one.

There’s still plenty of prep and research to do. Not sure yet what kind of a crew I’ll have with me. (My sister says she’s interested again, but we already know Laura won’t be able to come out.) I learned at Burning River that I really do need, at least, one over-night pacer. I’ll have to track down someone who’s willing to do that. Then travel, and a place to stay, etc… But I’m really excited about this. I like the way the schedule sets up the next few months and I already feel really good about the work I’m doing. It’s been a year since I was this in tune with my training.

Mark my words: I am NOT going to DNF this one.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I got an e-mail last week from the Shamrock Shuffle. It’s a big 8K race run in downtown Chicago every year. They typically get upwards of 30,000 runners and, for 6 of the last 7 years, I’ve been one of them. The e-mail was a cool little ego stroke. It was reminding me that if I sign up for this year’s race, I’ll be automatically seeded in a start corral near the front because of my past year’s performance. Despite that I still haven’t signed up. I really do love the course, which winds all over the heart of downtown Chicago. It’s just that the event itself is rather overwhelmingly large. So many runners, a heavy race entry fee – there’s even a runner expo the weekend of the race – it’s a lot for a little 8K. So, I was waffling.

And then it occurred to me: I don’t have to run it to be in it, I can work it as a volunteer! Then, as I looked at my prospective race calendar for 2010, the idea got a little bigger. I expect to run in 5 or 6 key races this year, so I will also try to work as a volunteer for the same number of events, and I will make that one of my running goals for the next 12 months, just like all the rest.

I’ve volunteered plenty of times before – at least 3 or 4 times a year the last few years – but I’ve never made it a mission like I’m doing right now. I’ll start with the Shuffle this March, and be sure to pick up a couple more of the local 10Ks and such here in town. But, I’ll also pick an Ultra somewhere in reasonable driving distance and spend a weekend out on the course at an aid station or something. And here’s the last wrinkle to my plan: I’m going to try and convince someone else to come out and volunteer with me at each of these events; if I’m good they’ll be a volunteer virgin, or even someone who’s not a runner at all.

This only makes a lot of sense. I’ve always enjoyed the atmosphere of racing. The first times I ever volunteered, it was for races that I couldn’t run, for one reason or other, but wanted to be a part of anyway. These last couple of years, rising entry fees (and lack of time) have encouraged me to race less, but now I can go back to races I used to enjoy and give back a little work instead.

Wherever you are, I encourage you to do the same. A 5K only takes a few hours on a weekend morning. Go help set up tables, hand out paper cups and cheer on your crazy neighbors!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Race Report: 100kout Mountain 2009

This Race Report has been a little delayed because, well, the truth is, the race didn’t really go well for me this year. I had a great time at Lookout Mountain last year. It's a class event and a lovely course, and even though I knew I wasn't in great racing shape for the run, I didn't want to completely miss it this year.

Funny, though, how the spirit of optimism can carry you through almost everything but the finish line.

I got through the first 14.5 miles relatively unscathed – and then, much to my great surprise, the wheels came off. I’ve had tough stretches and difficult races and totally bad days, but I can scarce remember another time when I was moving along relatively well, and then, all at once, I had no energy to run anymore. Worse, at that point, I was at the bottom of Lookout Mountain and was about to begin a long 8-mile climb back to the top of it. Suffice it to say, about an hour into that ascent, I was cooked.

I might have slugged it out, but for the weather. It wasn’t bad, but the temps were in the low 30s and it was windy. The rain that had nearly cancelled the race the day before was mostly absent (at least, while I was on the course), but the after effects were still present, and parts of the trail were a sloggy mess. So, between the wet and the cold and the wind, I just wasn’t confident that I could keep moving rapidly enough to keep my core temperature high enough to stave off a mild case of hypothermia. (That’s not an exaggeration.)

So, I did the smart thing and called it a day when the course brought me back through the Start/Finish line at just over 23 miles into the race. I would have been a lot happier with my DNF if my drop point could somehow have been past 26.2 miles. Then, at least, I could say I ran an Ultra distance. As it was, I didn’t even get in a marathon, and that bugged me – but, still, it was the right thing to drop when I did. I’m sure of it. I’ve run the 50-milers. I’ve run the hard, hilly 50Ks. I made it 70 miles into my first shot at 100M. I know how my legs feel in those late miles. I know when my quads are trashed and even running down hill is a stiff-legged, difficult task. My legs felt like that after only 18 miles this year. I was done.

It’s all good, though. I had a lot of work the last few months of 2009, and I made some good money doing it. It wrecked my training time, but honestly, I needed some down time for my legs anyway. 2010 will shake out differently and I’ll see about taking another crack at 100kout Mountain. I’ll finish it again next time.

It was good to see some folks I got to know at last year’s race. Kris Whorton, last year’s RD, recognized me at the pre-race meeting and was glad to see me back again. I ran into one of the runner who I got lost with at last year’s race. She and I had a good time reminiscing about that as we ran. And Abigail was back running again, too. Unfortunately, she had a worse day than I did. She took a fall just 10 miles in, twisted an ankle and had to drop at the second aid station. I caught up to her as she was walking her way there, and walked in with her those last ten minutes, talking and catching up a little as we went. I joked with her that last year she had to slow down to escort me to my finish and this year, I was doing the same for her. I warned the aid station volunteers when we came in that she was dropping, but to watch out for her, because she was stubborn and might try and talk her way back out onto the course again. I told them not to let it happen because the injury was real and she needed to stop. Then I made sure Abi got a phone call in for her family to come get her, gave her a warm kiss on the cheek, and promised to see her again next year, at least.

I also met a guy (a kid, really) who, just a month before, had just finished a complete, summer-long, through-hike of the Appalachian Trail, Maine-to-Georgia. He was running his first-ever ultra after having entered the race only the night before on a whim on account of his weekend plans to drive to North Carolina for a friend’s wedding were cancelled because of a snow storm in North Carolina. Yup. He was a good-natured guy and had a lot of questions about ultras, this being his first one. A lot of his questions were really good ones, and I guess, after I answered his first one in a friendly way without laughing, he decided it was safe to ask me a bunch more as we ran. (I did my best to represent the Collective Wisdom as best I could without excessive pontification.)

He was a little on the short side, broad shouldered, and had an impressive, long, dark reddish beard – earned, I’m sure, with 4 months of cross-country hiking. He looked to me a little like John Rhys-Davies in “Lord of the Rings,” and in my head I couldn’t help but nickname him Gimli. Whether by my advice or his own natural fortitude (the latter, I’m sure), he finished all 50 miles in just under 12 hours. A great run for a first-timer!

Finally, I tried a new trick while I was on course for the race. Instead of just taking photos with my camera, I shot a few videos of myself giving in-race updates. They’re a little silly (at least, I feel a little silly about myself when watching them now), but they aren’t too long, and I’m going to dare to post them here. The only disclaimer I offer is that it was dang cold out there and my face (and mouth) muscles were not as agile as they would normally be. Anyhoo, here they are without further apologies. (My personal favorite is “UltraRunner Lamaze”, the next to last clip.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The King is Dead. Long Live the King.

When your shoe company discontinues your favorite shoe, what do you do? Accept change, move on and try out the replacement, or cling to the past and stock-pile the old model? (I think Elaine once had a quandary similar to this on Seinfeld.)

It’s not a decision I’ve faced before. Nike is apparently famous for it. They develop a shoe, offer updates with gradual improvements, get it to where everyone (or lots of people) think it’s just right and then – boom – they scrap the thing, never to be seen again.

I don’t wear Nikes, though. I wear New Balance, and until now, I’ve never faced the loss of my favorite shoe model. But this past Fall, New Balance discontinued production of the 790. It was a trail running shoe that also got a lot of cross promotion as a casual fashion shoe. It was nothing fancy, but the minimal, fly-weight construction isn’t very common in a trail-running shoe. It was kind of like an off-road racing flat. And it was kind of perfect. In fact, I already own three pairs.

New Balance now sells, instead, a completely redesigned light-weight, trail running flat which they’ve dubbed the 100. (All New Balance shoes are named with numbers if you didn’t know.) Same general idea as the 790 – but a totally different shoe.

I hesitated. New isn’t bad. The 100s could be awesome. I already had a set of the 790s. I could just wear those out and, in time, make the switch to the new shoe. Then I started reading the reviews. The consensus? Good but not better. Improvements, but also setbacks. Worst of all for me, the 100s are built on a narrower foot bed than the 790s and I have wide feet.

So, over Christmas, I panicked.

It took a lot of searching online (it’s amazing how many links within links you have to chase to buy certain retail items online nowadays), but I finally turned up a source (maybe the only one) that still had those glorious old 790s in stock in my size. They were at a Nordstrom in Skokie, of all places, so I guess it was the casual shoe market that saved me. I bought two pairs, bringing the total in my possession to five. I nearly bought a third pair, but managed to restrain myself. They were on final clearance sale, too, which was a bitter-sweet silver lining.

Yes, at some point, in spite of my efforts, the end will still come. But I might be able to get three of four years out of the shoes I’ve stashed, maybe longer. Perhaps by then there will be an update (or two) of those 100s and I’ll be happy to try them out for real. Who knows?

In the meantime, I’ll be asking myself one question frequently: is this run 790 worthy?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Cold Weather Coward

I glanced back up my training chart yesterday and realized that I've run outside just twice since Thanksgiving. One of those outside runs was a race and the other was a day when the air temp was nearly 60 degrees.

It's official: I'm a cold weather wimp.

I said as much to Laura yesterday and she laughed her dissent. It's true, I have done some decidedly un-wimpy things out in the weather and the cold (and she's seen many of them), but lately, the thought of heading outside in the cold, dark, late afternoon just scares me right back inside again.

In past winters, I've had little choice. This year, I've got a cold weather coward's golden ticket: a monthly pass at the YMCA. I've been getting my fill of 4 and 6 milers on the indoor treadmill at the Y. I once scoffed and giggled and pointed a jesting finger at the gym rats and their hamster wheels, and now I'm officially one of them. There are perks, though, to working in the gym: a fancy heart-rate monitor built into the treadmill, a room full of weight machines, and best of all, a pool in the basement. (In which I now swim a full mile several times a week.)

I'm in the process of rebuilding my base mileage this month before hopping full bore into marathon training for the spring, so at some point I'm going to have to Man Up again and head outside for some weekend long runs. But now that we've cleared Christmas, the days are getting longer again, and the temperature ought to soar north of 45 again by, oh, say, April. When that happens, I'll be the first one outside again in my shorts and long sleeves.

Until then, a Coward I shall remain.