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.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Saturday I will make my 3rd attempt at running 100 miles. I intend to finish. I may not. It is the only race distance I have ever attempted that I have never been able to finish.

It bothers me. It nags at me. I feel a twinge every time I talk to someone about my two previous DNFs. (Did Not Finish) It’s something I should be able to do. Yet I have not.

I think a fear of failure is a normal thing for a human being, but I don’t think it is simply failure that we fear. I think what really scares us is witnessed failure. Falling on your ass when you’re at home alone is one thing. Biting the dirt in the middle of your local Target is something else entirely.

I don’t really get much of an audience at a race, but I am surrounded by my peers, and the results live here online for the rest of time. I think I have handled my losses well. Even when I have failed to finish, I have still, often, accomplished something that I am proud of. But this will be my third attempt at this distance. There are people traveling in from 4 states specifically to support me at this race. I want very much to finish - and still I may not. I can't say that would be an easy thing to deal with.

But this really is the very simple, utter truth: It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. And the only way I could truly fail would be to not even try. Just by crossing the starting line, I will have already won. Not only the satisfaction of the effort, but a profound contentment at the knowledge that so many people care enough – and care enough about me – to show up and help me do it, or to send me thoughtful well-wishes from afar. It’s kind of like what old Scrooge found out that fictional Christmas Day: You can possess all the things in the world, but you’re only rich if you have friends and love.

I have every intention of finishing this race this weekend – I Am Not Talented, But I Am Stubborn – but even if for some reason I do not, I still feel like a lucky man.

Now let’s DO this thing.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Crew

There are runners who go to these hundred-mile events alone, prepare a few drop bags to be distributed along the course and then go “solo” from start to finish. I’m sure there are even runners who prefer to run their races that way, even though it’s certainly harder to do it like that.

Not me. I get by with a little help from my friends. I enjoy the luxury of a support crew. I like the idea of having a pacer, someone to run with me in the wee small hours late on the course.

But it’s one thing for me to drag my own butt all the way out to a race three states from home and spend a weekend working my way from aid station to aid station along a 100 mile course. It’s something else entirely to ask a small group of people to trek out there with me to sit out in the woods for 30 hours just to help me limp through it all. If I finish, I get a nice little award from the race director, a permanent record of my accomplishment to show off to my grandchildren (or you fine folks). The people who come with me just to carry me through it? Well, they mostly just get a sweaty hug from me, and my eternal gratitude, and, you know, hopefully not a sunburn or too many bug bites.

So, yeah, I’m pretty humbled to have friends willing to do that for me.

My team for this year’s Burning River 100 is coming together. I got confirmation this week from two friends in the Cleveland area who are both in to pace me for chunks of those last 40 miles. That brings my crew total to five. Five gracious, generous people who are going to show up and help out of the goodness of their hearts. That = a bounty of riches.

This is who they are:

I first met Sean & Amy at the 2009 installment of Burning River. Sean and I ran a big chunk of the first 50 miles together, shared a lot of stories along the way, and got to know each other about as well as any two people can who meet during a race. Amy was supposed to be running the race with him, but had to change her plans in the weeks before because of a foot injury. Instead, she insisted that Sean still run, crewed for him during the race… And Sean repaid her by popping The Question at the finish line. (She did say ‘Yes.’)

They passed through Chicago last fall and stayed over with me for the weekend. Sunday morning they convinced me to come out and run a little race with them, and we all did a brisk little half-marathon together. They will both spend a chunk of time pacing me overnight at Burning River this time. Sean will take me from around mile 62 to mile 75. (Sean will also be pacing a second runner, later on the course, after he has dropped me off at 75.) Amy is planning to take me the last 12 miles of the course. More than the pacing help, they have also offered up their home for all of us to stay at during race weekend. Have I mentioned that they are awesome? You meet a lot of great people in the ultrarunning world, but they are two of the best.

I met Ryan while on a little show tour four years ago. He worked on the house management staff for the theatre, and was assigned to drive our touring van that spring. It was during that little show that I ran my first ultramarathon and, soon, my first 50-miler (much to the amazement of everyone on the tour). Ryan’s dad was a runner and he inherited the habit from him, but his first obsession was martial arts. Jeet Kune Do is the style that Bruce Lee developed. His goal was to create a martial art practice that would exist outside of parameters and limitations – an idea that will fully apply to running 100 miles.

Ryan will be driving out from Chicago during the day on Saturday and will do about 15 miles with me overnight, bridging the miles between Sean & Amy. He was famous on our tour, four years ago, for starting us out each and every morning with a new ‘Chuck Norris’ joke. I'll be looking forward to sharing some quality time with Ryan -- and to hearing a few of those jokes.

My girlfriend, Jennifer, is flying out from New York to play crew for me out on the course. This will be her first time at an Ultra and the first time she’ll see me in a race. As a runner, your crew is just vital. It’s a lot like a pit crew at a NASCAR race: the driver pulls into the pit, and his crew does a full service job on the car (and the driver) while he just sits there waiting for them to finish so he can go back out and race more laps. The pit stop has to be brief and furious, but without that pit crew, neither the driver nor the car will finish the race. Stretch all that out over a 30 hour event, and remember than my crew will only be seeing me for a few minutes at a time every 2 or 3 hours. That’s it. They get to an aid station, wait two hours for me to get there, then I arrive, grab some food, maybe a couple of supplies and a few minutes later, I’m gone, and the crew heads to the next station to wait some more.

But I can’t do it without them. Having a good crew means there is so much less for me to have to think about. It means so much. Not least is the moral support of having my beautiful girlfriend out there in the woods urging me on. I’ll be looking forward to seeing here every 5 or 6 miles. (As an added bonus, Jen is a licensed massage therapist. At some point, those skills will be a gift.)

Finally, my sister, Heather, is returning, once again, to run this little show and keep everything together. She was with me for my first 100-mile attempt at Burning River in ’09. She came all the way out to San Diego with me to try again last June. I DNF’d them both, but she is almost as determined as I am to get me to the finish line this time. We’ve both learn a lot over the last two years. Hopefully, that applied knowledge and some stubborn sibling will-power will see us through.

Heather really is a perfect crew chief. She’s a professional stage manager, she’s used to making decisions, she’s not bashful about asking other people for what she needs, and she's willing to step in and step up whenever the situation calls for it. Plus, she’s, you know, my sister, so she loves me and worries about me is unafraid to coddle me or push me as she sees fit. These trials and errors the last two years have been as much hers as mine, and I’m very glad she’ll be back out there with me one more time. I'm also glad that Jen will out there with her, so she won’t be alone. I think, between the two of them, they might even have a little fun with it all.

As for me, my job is simple: Just keep moving forward, get myself from aid station to aid station, and never forget to say thank you thank you thank you to the incredible people who are volunteering just to help me do this silly thing.

Thank you, guys.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


The one thing about ultrarunning that I’m afraid I’ve never really mastered is my calorie management. How much to eat during a race? When to eat it? What to eat? I worry that it’s something which has affected my performance at my longest events. Some of my friends think I just run, run, run all the time – which is sort of true – but I’ve only run farther than 40 miles 5 different times. I’m still on a learning curve when it comes to super long distance.

I don’t think this particular issue is one that most runners have to fret about too much. At a 10K or a half marathon the primary concern in simply hydration, and a little salt intake. Marathoners have to give it a little thought, but for most people a good sports drink and a few carb-rich gel packs along the way do the trick. (That’s how it works for me, anyway.)

The caloric playing field will be very different at the Burning River 100-Miler next weekend. I fully expect to be out on the course for 28 hours. I’ll be burning off and discarding calories at a steady clip for the entirety of that time, and replacing those calories will be crucial. It doesn’t matter how well you’ve trained your body to physically handle the distance, if you don’t properly fuel the engine you’ll wind up stranded on the side of the road.

I say I haven’t “mastered” this process, but I haven’t been bad at it. I do eat during long races. Ultras always offer well-stocked aid stations at regular intervals and I have taken advantage. But a specific plan for calorie replacement? No. I will attempt to correct that oversight next weekend.

Research says there is a limit to how many calories your body can process in an hour, whether you’re in the middle of a race or not. Over-eating could result in stomach or digestion problems that would sink my race the same as not eating enough. I’ll be aiming for an intake of 300 to 350 calories each hour.

In the first half, I’ll aim for liquid calories, because the body processes them much more quickly – sports drink, energy gels (at 90 calories per pack), maybe watermelon, if it’s out on the course again this year. Every time I see my crew, I’ll be drinking a bottle of Ensure, a nutritional supplement drink intended for the elderly that also happens to be great for ultra-runners (230 calories per 8oz. bottle, plus protein).

As the race goes on, I’ll begin to focus a little more on solid foods. After 12 hours of the race, it’s just nice to actually eat something. Bananas (150 calories each), salted potatoes (130 calories), PB&J (250 calories) are also somewhat easy to eat and very useful out on the course. I may also take in chicken noodle soup, oatmeal, pretzels, potato chips, and other food commonly found at the overnight aid stations. I’ll also take regular salt tablets (and maybe even a few doses of aspirin) along the way.

Hopefully my crew and I will be able to track my food intake during the race with a clipboard and a log sheet. If it looks like I’m running low, they’ll be able to push me to eat more. The biggest eating sin I usually commit is not eating enough, because I don’t “feel” hungry. So when it’s offered, I tend to say “no” when I should say “yes.” With the log my crew won’t have to take me at my word that I’m feeling fine, and perhaps can help keep me from being stubborn.

I’ve read advice from more than one ultrarunner saying the only way to run a good 100-miler – or any ultra – is to eat, eat, eat. You have a good training build-up, take in the proper calories on race day, and you will finish your race. Sunny Blende, an aptly named sports nutrition scientist, has been quoted defining an ultramarathon thusly: “It’s an eating and drinking contest, with a little exercise and scenery thrown in.” I intend to operate on that theory on the 30th & 31st.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Question

Coverage of last October’s Ironman World Championships from Kona was on NBC this past weekend. I think it is the only endurance event, that compares to what I experience in an ultra, which is covered and broadcast on National TV. Each year’s race is lovingly filmed and the story-lines are artfully crafted and reported – not only that of the elite athletes, but also the efforts of the average folks who participate (the “age-groupers,” as they’re known at the Ironman).

I consider these broadcasts extremely addictive, and get sucked in by them every time I catch a glimpse while flipping channels. No matter how many times I have seen each year’s 90 minute special, I watch it full through to the end and cry and bawl as each runner struggles, triumphs, or fails. They capture so very well what it is like for us "normal" people who take a shot at one of those ultra-endurance events, and I’ve been through all of it: The highs and the lows, the overwhelming heat, the solitude of the after-dark, the pressure of the clock, the failure of a DNF, and the deep, extraordinary satisfaction of a completed race.

There was a short segment at the beginning of coverage for the ’10 championship that focused on those “age-groupers” as they waited in the quiet morning before the race, sitting silently with solemn expressions, steeped in anticipation, trying to control anxiety. The camera lingers on them in half-time speed, the dim light of pre-dawn lining their huddled bodies with a distance glow, and the voiceover poses the question you can see on each of their faces: “Is this possible? Can I do this?”

It’s the question on my mind, too. No matter what you’ve done, no matter how you’ve prepared, you still have to go out and run that race, on that day, and sometime the distance, the course, the weather... sometimes they beat you. Sometimes it’s not possible. The image of the previously omnipotent Paula Radcliffe weeping in pain and frustration on the side of the road in Greece in 2004 is indelibly etched in my mind. Four years later, in China, Deena Kastor was felled by a broken foot just 3.5 miles into her marathon. In 2009, Scott Jurek DNF’d at the Western States 100 only 48 miles into the race – an event he not only finished by won 7 times in a row between 1999 and 2005 (he set the course record in 2004). His quote after the race? "I went to the well, and the well was just dry." And then, of course, there are my own, personal race failures from the last two years...

The fact of that question – Can I Do This? – was clear on those Age-Groupers faces in Kona, and it gave me goose bumps. It is always a legitimate question, and you won’t have to look too closely to see it on my face in the next two weeks, either.

But having the question in mind is one thing. Defining my own answer for it is something else. You know what answer I intend to submit.

Monday, July 18, 2011


I don’t run all that well in the heat. I’ve survived it a few times. I finished the 2007 Chicago Marathon. I slugged through 32 miles at the rather steamy (not that kind of steamy) CRUD 8-Hour last May. I’ve dripped though some long, hot training runs over the years. But I definitely do not run well in those kinds of temperatures.

So it is with great concern that I peruse the forecast for the coming week. My date at the Burning River 100 still won’t happen until the end of the following week, but for now the entire Midwest is set for a serious heat wave that will last, at least, the next 7 days.

I am lucky the race is scheduled for the following weekend and not this next. Weather.com currently forecasts a high in Cuyahoga Falls, OH, on Saturday the 23rd of 91, with rain, which means high humidity. Just three days later, on Tuesday the 26th, the high is forecast to drop to 81. I can only hope that trend continues into race weekend on the 30th and 31st.

I plainly recall the growing dread I felt in October 2007 when each morning I checked the heat predictions for Chicago Marathon race day, and each day the temperature forecast went higher and higher and higher and still higher. You can see your quality race performance slipping further and further away, totally out of your control. I trained for, and expected run a 3:45 marathon that year. My final time was 4:48. I’m trying not to think what effect similar heat could have on my 100-mile attempt.

I’m not panicking. I choose to think that we’re getting this super hot week now, because a cooler, more temperate week is destined to follow for us on race weekend. That, and I also remind myself that it IS a thing beyond my control. I’ll get in my final training miles, try to enjoy my taper weeks, and keep my mind as bright as possible, doing my best to ignore the darker (hotter) peripherals. With any luck the title of this race won't become any more apropos.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


The Burning River 100 Mile Endurance run is now a little less than two weeks away. It has been – unfortunately – an up and down training cycle. I’ve had good weeks and bad weeks. Great training races along the way, and miserable ones. The yo-yo nature of the last five months has left me without the kind of confidence that a strong build-up would have given me in these final days.

The latest bump in the road was a little more than just a bump. While playing softball two Wednesdays ago, I had to dive back into 2nd base, and somehow managed to slam my left big toe into the infield dirt. It hurt instantly, but not enough to keep me from playing the rest of the game. The next morning, though, I woke to find it badly bruised and swollen, and I worried that I had broken it.

Just over 3 weeks before Burning River and I was afraid I’d broken my big toe. An unmitigated disaster.

But it seemed impossible. I couldn’t have hit the ground that hard. And I was wearing cleats, with their stiff foot beds, and spikes. I’ve stubbed my bare toe on the coffee table harder than that and not broken anything. But the pain the next morning was unavoidable and it was difficult to walk on it.

My father was a dentist and oral surgeon, and he’s always my first source for general medical advice. We talked over the phone, and based on my descriptions, we both agree that it likely is not broken, but only very badly bruised. We plot a schedule of icings and ibuprofen and decide that will we know inside of a week if it really is broken or not.

In spite of the positive diagnoses, the condition of my toe meant I had to skip out on my final planned training race. I was supposed to head up to Wisconsin that Saturday for a 50-mile race. It would have been a very hot race on a less than easy course, but finishing that race, no matter my finish time, would have been a great, final confidence booster before Burning River. Instead, I had to wait nearly a week before I could run on my toe again. Valuable training time lost just when I should have been at the peak of my build-up.

It’s been 11 days now since my injury. I’m running again, and planning to throw down one more 20-mile training run in the next couple of days, but it’s just 2 weeks ‘til BR100 and I’m left wondering again if I’ve been able to do enough to be ready.

Monday, May 2, 2011


I hardly ever actually “win” anything – especially when it comes to marathons or ultras – but I’m practically on a winning streak where the New York City Marathon is concerned. For the second time in four years, I submitted a lottery entry to run the NYCM, and for the second time in two tries, I “won” a slot to run the race!

Though not unheard of, it actually is a small miracle, as the majority of applicants do not get a slot via the lottery. This year, Mary Wittenberg, the race director for the New York Road Runners (who host the event), stated they had received nearly 100,000 lottery applicants and that only 1 in 10 would receive a lottery slot.

The entrants field has been capped at 40,000 runners this year (a 5,000 increase since I ran the race in 2007), so clearly, many of the runners will get a slot in the race by other means, and there are, in fact, a number of ways to earn a guaranteed entry to the event. Some meet qualifying times at previous marathons (which are a bit more stringent than the Boston qualifying times, but also not elite standards. Men under age 40 must have run a sub-3-hour marathon time, for example). Some earn entry by being NYRR club members and running at least 9 other events hosted by the NYRR during the year (and by paying all those dues and race entry fees). You can also be a carry-over from a cancelled entry the previous year, or have run at least 15 NYCMs, and there are other less common ways of guaranteeing entry.

Perhaps the biggest group of entrants, though, other than the lottery winners, are the charity runners. If you’re willing to commit to raising a large sum of money for a charity sponsored by the race, you get a guaranteed spot. Many runners who don’t get a lottery slot, then become a charity runner, instead.

There’s also one other way to get a guaranteed entry, and that’s to enter the lottery and fail to get a spot three years in a row. In the fourth year, they move you to the front of the line and give you an automatic spot in the race. That is exactly what I imagined I’d do in 2007 when I first submitted a lottery entry. Imagine my great surprise that year when I wound up winning a slot in the race on my very first try!

I had to rearrange some of my plans for November that year, but it turned out to be an incredible trip, because the NYRR hosted the Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials in Central Park the day before the regular marathon, and I got to be there in the park to see Ryan Hall and Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell each run amazing races to earn spots on the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing.

The marathon itself, on the next day was incredible. The sheer logistics of getting down to Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island before the race were not so fun, and the mass of people in the holding areas there was not easy to navigate, but once the race itself began, it really was extraordinary.

The start of the race on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is truly majestic and from the top of the bridge you can see all the way across the bay to your destination in the Park in Manhattan. It was the first time I had run a marathon that was a point to point course, and it was kind of awesome to see the full distance spread out in front of you from the top of the Bridge in that first mile. It was my 4th road-based marathon, and I ran a 4:03, which was short of my sub-4-hour goal, but still, a PR for me at the time.

The logistics and the cost of the event were so rough, that I knew I wasn’t eager to go back and run it right away, but the course and the race were so exhilarating that I promised I would be back.

And now it looks like 2011 will mark my return.

This January I decided to take my second crack at the lottery, and this past Wednesday (April 27th) was the lottery drawing for this year’s event. I wore my 2007 Finishers hat all day for luck, and sure enough, that evening when I typed in my name, the word “Accepted” popped up underneath!

There was a little payment snafu with my credit card that temporarily had my status turned back to “Not Accepted” on Thursday, and I was on pins and needles for a few days waiting to see if the NYRR would be able and willing to sort it out, but I got an e-mail last night letting me know that all was clear and I was officially, and finally, IN for 2011.

I love the Chicago Marathon and I have run some other, great, smaller marathons elsewhere in the country, but nothing in my experience compares to the NYCM. If you run marathons, you really do owe it to yourself to try to run New York just once in your life.

So, it’s going to be a busy year! I don’t have a lot of “speed” goals this year, but I do have a lot of “finishing” goals, most importantly at the Burning River 100 Mile in July. At some point in the next 7 months, I will run my 30th marathon or ultra. And I’ll wrap up my running year with a return to the NYCM in November. It remains to be seen if I’ll try to run it hard or just go back to enjoy the experience again, but either way, I’ll be looking forward to it. I expect to have a lot to celebrate this November 6th.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Race Report: Chicago Lakefront 50K 2011

Here’s my tardy report for the race held back on March 26th:

I wasn’t ready for this one. Not really. I slipped off my training schedule in the month before the race and hadn’t been getting in those very important long runs on the weekends. I wasn’t ready to run well for 31 miles, and I knew it. So, I made myself go out and run it anyway. As a punishment. A self-inflicted kick in the pants.

It wasn’t intended as physical abuse. I’d never do that. That’s something not everybody understands when I tell them what I do. When it starts to hurt, you just slow down. When that starts to hurt, you walk. I take no joy in pain. The whole point of training is so that when you race your event, it doesn’t hurt (or at least, not as much), so that you can keep running faster for longer, and your finish times get quicker and quicker. I hadn’t properly done that work before this race, so it was a punishment for my ego, because, even though I expected to finish, I knew that my finish time would be slow and ugly.

The LF50K is a great little event. It’s classy, low-frills, well supported by volunteers, and a flat and gentle course. Plus, it’s the only Ultra in the world that I can drive to in just 5 minutes. There’s something really sweet about a race that allows you to sleep in your own bed until an hour before the gun, requires just a 2-mile trek, and has plenty of easy, inexpensive parking just a few feet from the starting line.

In fact, I considered just pedaling over on my bike, but the weather made that a bad idea. In fact, the weather was downright unpleasant. You never know what you’ll get in springtime in Chicago. Race morning was cloudy with air temps in the upper 20s and lower 30s, and a steady, persistent 15 mph wind that would gust up to 20mph from the northeast. Fun. I didn’t feel it so much when I walked out of my apartment, but when I opened my car door at the lake, the wind nearly whipped it right out of my hand and sent it smacking into the white van parked next to me. Like I said, Fun.

The course starts at the north end of the water front, near Foster Ave. Beach, and heads south for about 5 miles to a southern turnaround point, from which you run back to the start. You rinse and repeat that two more times for the full 31 miles. For the first half of each loop, the wind would be at our backs, but for the return trip each time…

My plan was to start out very gently, but try and hold a semi-decent pace for the first 20 miles. Then, for the last 10.5 miles of out-and-back, just do whatever I needed to do to keep moving forward and get to the finish.

The first southern leg went smoothly. I settled into a gentle pace that seemed slow, but knew would pay off later. I also made quick, efficient work of the aid stations (an improvement over the lingering stops I took at those stops on the course last year). The route had been redrawn since the 2010 event, and now featured an almost straight shot south to the new turn-around point below North Ave. Beach. (Last year the course was more like a big “S” and the turnaround was near Diversey Harbor. With the new route, it would be very difficult to cut the course, something I thought I saw happen last year.)

The LF50 is unlike many Ultras I’ve run, as there is a bit less socializing out on the course. People are still really friendly, but I’ve found that everyone is less likely to fall into those longer, rambling conversations with strangers as so often happens in a trail Ultra. I assume this has much to do with the course, which, being so flat, fast and easy, leads to faster paces and also attracts a lot of first-timers. But, I found I was less talkative this time, too, knowing that I would not be running my best race.

As it turned out, my anonymity didn’t last for too long, though. One of the fun things about the route is you go back and forth past all the other runners during the race and you get to see the leaders speeding along in the opposite direction. I took note of the Women’s leader in a bright orange vest when she passed me as I neared the bottom of the first leg, but as I neared my first return to the north end of the course, I was quite surprised when it was she who took note of me! She called out to me by name, which stunned me for a moment, but I responded with a, Yes? “I read your blog!” she called back with a touch of a smile. And by then she had sped her way past me and I had to turn around to yell, Thank You! I gave her a wave or a nod each time I saw her after that, and as far as I know, she was the first female finisher. (So, congrats, Jennifer, and thanks again!)

The start of the second out-and-back gave a welcome relief from the wind. It was worst on the sections of the course that were closest to the water’s edge. The wind creates significant waves on the lake, and one small section of the running path was washed out and required a very minor detour. It wasn’t fun running back into that wind, but I managed it, and at least there was a 2 mile section of the route that offered a buffer of trees and small hills.

It was nearly 10am when I headed south again, and in addition to turning out of the wind, the air temps had started to warm a bit. I felt loose and fresh and decided to push the pace a little during this part of the race. I figured it might be the only leg I could use to do any real running. The wind at my back made me feel a bit like a boat with a sail, and that was fine with me. I pulled off my gloves and hat for a while and enjoyed the feeling while it lasted.

Even after the turnaround, once more into the wind, I still felt pretty good and loose. I had to zip the jacket all the way up again, and re-don the gloves and hat, but I got all the way back up to the 18 or 19 mile point, before my legs started to tell me it was time to slow down.

Here, this was the limits of the training I had accomplished. 19 miles of running at a gentler pace, and now the body was saying it needed a break. So, now, with a little over 19 down and a little over 11 to go, the miles would begin to expand. The legs would begin to creak and demand a pace of their own. Time, itself, would begin to change and the ego would get its kick in the pants.

One of the very windiest sections of the course was the last ¾ mile back to the north-end turnaround. It was again a huge relief to finally get there and set out with the wind at my back again. I took a little extra food and the aid station there, and watched as the winner of the race celebrated his victory just behind me at the finish line. I didn’t dawdle very long, eager to just keep moving forward, but I set out at a walk, to rest my legs and eat the goodies I’d picked up.

This is when I got recognized a second time. A fellow just in front of me turned and said, “Hey, you write a blog, don’t you?” The official race website had crashed in the week before the race. The Race Director had done a nice job communicating with all the registered runners via e-mail, but the problem had sent some people searching for alternative information. Well, apparently, when you Google “Lakefront 50K” my blog entry from last year’s race is one of the top results. Go figure. That’s how this fellow found my blog.

His name was Brian (if I’m remembering correctly). My ’10 report hadn’t helped him much with the parking info he’d been hoping to find, but he walked with me now for a few minutes and we chatted. He was running his first Ultra, in the hopes of finding something a little more challenging to tackle than the marathon each year. I told him if he wanted to take one more gentle step up, he should look at the Rock Cut Hobo Run 50K out in Rockford in the fall. (Been a couple of years since I’ve been out there, but it’s a good event, and close by.) I left Brian and set off at a trot, but told him I expected to see him again. He was still behind me at the final turnaround, but did, in fact, sneak past me near the end to finish a few minutes ahead of me. (Congrats on your first, Brian!)

I made decent forward progress on that next-to-last leg. The wind was still giving me the push, and though I was slowing down a good bit, I managed to keep a limit on the now-necessary walk breaks. But the IT band outside my right leg had begun to stiffen up, and the lower bits of my left leg were getting a little creaky from the cold and the miles. I knew that turning back into the wind for the last 5 mile leg wasn’t going to be much fun.

I lingered an extra minute at the last turnaround, grabbing a little more food and drink, then bundled everything back up and set off. At least some sun was out by then. I held a trot for a half mile or so, but that wind was still whipping in at 15–20mph, and I was finally demoralized enough that walking for the next mile seemed just fine. I just wanted to make it back to the finish line, and I was no longer all that concerned about how I did it. A little more than half the route was completely exposed to the wind. I made sure I ran a bit at the beginning of each new mile, but otherwise I just walked each of those exposed sections.

By the time I got back to the final ¾ mile stretch, the wind had fully shifted from the northeast, to blowing directly in our faces from due north. One last kick in the teeth. I managed to trot most of the last half mile anyway. There was one runner who I caught up to in the last 200 yards. I wasn’t trying to pass him – not at all, I was just trying to keep a steady rhythm to get through the headwind – but when I moved passed him, his ego kicked in, and even though I held my exact same pace, he sped up so that I couldn’t “beat” him to the finish line. I was a little annoyed by that, but mostly because the wind had blown its way under my skin, and because I felt dubious about my finish time.

I crossed the line at 5:42:03, more than 33 minutes slower than last year. For the first 20 miles, I ran a pace similar to last year, but I slowed so much on my final loop that I added more than a minute to my final, overall pace. I collected my medal, then turned down an offer of hot food in favor of heading to my car for sweet shelter from the wind at long last.

So, yes, I “finished”. But, no, I didn’t really perform well. I have a lot of great friends who aren’t runners and they are constantly impressed that I run these things at all. I am always grateful to them for that. But there is a big difference in just showing up for work everyday, and actually being productive while you’re there.

I know that, were I in tip-top shape, I am capable of running the LF50K course more than a full hour faster than I did this year. Were it not such a gentle and forgiving event, my results would have been even worse. I gutted it out and got to the finish line, yes, and there is some small accomplishment in that fact, but the reality is, I’m not going to be able to gut out a finish on inadequate training at the 100-Miler in July. If I don’t do the training, I will flunk out of my third hundo in a row. I really don’t want that to happen. If I bomb out another one, I don’t think I can try it again. So, I punished myself with this race. As a reminder. The goal is in Ohio in July, and I have to keep going if I’m going to get there.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


It can be tricky to take care of the daily run when I’m traveling. At home, I know a collection of well-worn routes. I know their quirks and advantages. I know where I’ll have to wait for traffic lights, and where I can avoid them. I know where all the imaginary mile markers are.

A foreign territory deprives me of all that - but it also liberates me from it. I don’t have to worry about getting my "mileage" in, or my pace goals, I can just pick a general direction, and go for a run. It’s a cool way to see a new place. It’s an exploration adventure.

I’ve found that the easiest thing to do is take a quick look at a map to pick a direction. That way I can try to avoid unexpected dead-ends, and will have a general route long enough for a good out-and-back. Then I pick a time for the “out” leg – say 20 minutes – and head out to see what I see.

I’ve done this in a lot of places over the years: Rochester, NY; rural, western Michigan; the suburbs of Nashville; the Quad Cities in NW Illinois; and even along California’s Pacific coast somewhere south of San Gregorio. Last week, I got to explore the suspended views of Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan.

I started in Brooklyn Heights, near the Brooklyn Bridge, which, famously, has a footbridge that runs above the lanes of auto traffic. The first day, I ran one of my out-and-backs across that bridge into Manhattan. The pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks near city hall was a little tricky to navigate, but it was a lot of fun running over the old bridge and back.

The next day, I decided to get more creative. The Brooklyn Bridge gets all the press, but the Manhattan Bridge crosses the East River right next door, just a little to the north. I wasn’t too sure what the overall distance would be, but I plotted out a big loop course that would take me over both bridges and return me whence I came.

It was great! I followed the same path as the day before up and over the Brooklyn Bridge, then followed the city streets in Manhattan north to Chinatown and then east again to the foot of the Manhattan Bridge, where I followed the street signs to the pedestrian walkway along its south side.

Both bridges are massive and majestic. (The Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883, and the Manhattan Bridge in 1909.) They each arc high over the East River and offer stunning views of both the boroughs. But the footpath on the Brooklyn Bridge is suspended above the cars, exactly in the center of the bridge. When you peek over the edge of the walkway, you see cars just below you. On the Manhattan Bridge, however, the walkway is on the outer edge of the bridge, and there is little more than a short cement wall and curved fence that separates you from the drop to the river 150 feet below. It’s perfectly safe, but impressive nevertheless.

I’ve done travel runs in New York City before, but they were mostly along the bike path along the west side of Manhattan beside the Hudson River. It’s a nice, long path, but a little bit boring. This double bridge route was fun, scenic and quick.

There’s just no better way to get to know a new place than to get out on your own two feet and explore. I often tell people how nothing about New York made much sense to me until I ran the NYC Marathon through all five boroughs. It was great to put a few more pieces of the city together with my running shoes on.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ultra Radio Lab

I love, love, love, love this radio show. RADIO LAB is one of the best, coolest programs in any medium, and this week they've given me an excellent excuse to post a link to their show on this blog. They did a mini-show on ultrarunner Diane Van Deren. Hers is a story that's been making the rounds in the running media over the last year and half, but it's still a really interesting tale.

I met Diane, briefly, at the McNaughton Park Ultra back in 2007. I was out to run my first 50-miler, and she was one of the ambitious few attempting to complete the 150-Mile division of that race. (I finished mine in 11.5 hours, she finished hers is just under 47 hours and was the only woman to complete the course.)

Her story is not nessesarily a good representation of my experience, not only because she is a much more gifted runner than I, but also because of the affect her brain has had on her athletic pursuits. Nevertheless, it's a facsinating story, and Radio Lab always does a stellar job of presenting.
I've embeded the story in this post with the player below. (Just hit the play button). Or you can check it out on the Radio Lab Website. Give it a listen. It's worth 18 minutes of your life.

Friday, February 11, 2011


I dreamed about running last night. Not the standard, there’s-something-terrible-and-unstoppable-chasing-me-and-I-must-run-and-run-and-run-even-though-my-legs-feel-like-bricks dream. (Have you had that one?) No, I dreamed about Running – Racing, even. Yes, I dreamed about Ultra-running.

I was running a 100-Mile race – something that resembled a combination of the Burning River 100, which I ran but failed to finish in 2009, and the San Diego 100, which I ran but failed to finish in 2010.

In the dream, I was coming into the aid station on the course just after mile 70. That is the point where I had to drop out at Burning River, but in my dream it also looked a little bit like my drop point at Mile 44 on the San Diego course.

But this time, instead of being in pain, worn down and broken, I am actually able to jog into the station. I’m a couple of hours ahead of the cutoffs, and there are still 12 hours left in the race for me to cover the final 30 miles. Each of the most important people in my life is waiting for me at the finish line, and as I pick through the food at the aid station, I am filled with the overwhelming, glowing certainty that I will finish the race.

I don’t often remember my dreams, and I hardly ever dream about running. More than that, my next 100-Mile attempt hasn’t really been on my mind that much the last couple of weeks. (It’s been a number of other changes and upheavals that have had my attention.)

I have had empowering dreams like that before, but it has been awhile. Every now and then I have “flying” dreams that leave me in a very positive state, and I’m given to understand those are a somewhat common human occurrence. I love that I had a “flying” dream that came about as a “running” dream.

I was inspired today to look at some race calendars to find a couple of good build-up races scheduled before my return to Burning River at the end of this July. I should be signing up for the Chattanooga Mountain 3-day Stage Race and the Devil’s Lake 50-Mile very soon.

Hours later, I’m still feeling some of the afterglow. I wonder how it will feel when I actually cross that finish line on Sunday morning, July 31st.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Build Up Begins

I managed to knock out my first real “long” run in weeks on Saturday. 8 miles. Yes, 8 miles qualifies as a long run again for me right now. It’s not like I haven’t been running at all, but there’s been little spare time – or energy – for hour+ runs on the weekends (let alone weekdays). I managed a late evening 10-miler one Friday night back in early December, but that’s the only double-digit run I’ve been out on since the Chicago Marathon back on 10-10-10.

It’s normal to go through a period during the year when you cutback on your mileage somewhat, and allow your body a long recovery cycle. Most runners use the winter for that cycle anyway, since getting outside is not as fun in the weather.

Of course, my cutbacks have been forced upon me by my schedule, but I can see the benefits. I’ve been pleasantly surprised all season at how speedy my “easy” workouts have been. I like to run easy days by feel. I start at a gentle pace and after a mile or two I can tell from the splits on my watch how the rest of the run is going to go. Even though my runs the last 12 weeks have been mostly short, 4 or 5 mile efforts, I’ve been pleased about how many of them have settled into a brisk (for me) 8:20ish pace.

My 8-miler on Saturday wasn’t so quick – I intentionally dialed the pace down to just under 9 minute miles – but it was an easy, low-stress effort and my body felt good when I was done. (A far cry from the weary, run-down 4-miler I struggled through after a difficult week last Friday.) A treadmill isn’t the most scenic place to spend 75 minutes, but some podcasts got me through and it was nice to escape the single-digit cold outside.

I felt my spirits rising as I left the gym, my optimism for my running plans returning. And I felt a little lucky. Lucky to be able to dash off an easy 8-mile run like it was no big deal. Lucky to have the opportunity to do so just because I feel like it. With any luck, I'll feel the same way on the morning of July 30th, with 101 miles stretching out in front of me.

I heard on the radio this morning that Jack LaLanne, the original fitness guru, died on Sunday. I was not a follower of LaLanne, per se, but he began saying 75 years ago what we all consider common knowledge today. He was 96 years old, and still worked out a couple of hours every morning. He would say, “The only way to truly abuse your body is to not use it!” Makes a lot of sense to me. I’ll keep using mine until it’s done.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


The past week was a bear and my running has suffered, as a result. Working 14-hours days between two jobs has many drawbacks, and the hit my running schedule takes is only one of them, of course.

The running, though, continues to be such an accurate barometer for the rest of my life in so many ways. I managed to squeeze in a quick 4-miler last Monday between jobs and then didn’t have time for another run until Friday.

The plan that night was a 5-miler, but I had to add 45 seconds to my mile pace, barely made it through the first three miles anyway, and then, finally, gave up after just four. I was so exhausted when I stepped off the treadmill that I was a little light-headed. I totally skipped the weights work and the short swim I had planned and went home instead. I walked in my front door before 9pm, but half an hour later I could barely keep my eyes open.

Unresponsive workouts like that are typically a sign of over-training. Well, I’m under-training with my running right now (in a big way), but I’m definitely overtraining on LIFE. I’m badly fatigued – just as much as I would be after a 60 or 70-mile week. I’m not as young as used to be. Burning the candle at both ends turns into burning myself out a lot quicker that it used to.

The reality I’ve been facing, though, is I’m only doing this to myself. I don’t work 2 jobs because I need the money. The income from my day-job supports me just fine. The second job I pursue because I have a passion for it, even though it cannot support me on its own. (If it could, my life would be a little simpler.) But I’m fast reaching an age when I must seriously question if the return value I get from that pursuit can still outweigh the cost it extracts from my quality of life.

There are other things in my life that are very important to me now. Running is certainly one of those things. If one pursuit begins to override and erode all the other things that are valuable to me in my life, is it still worth it? Finding the balance is always a struggle and there are only certain things I can control. But whenever the balance slips so much that even the running time I can squeeze in is such low quality, it forces me to confront these difficult questions all over again.

Luckily, after this week, my schedule will start to re-balance again. The first big race of my season will be the Chicago Lakefront 50K near the end of March. I don’t have much time to build my mileage back up to where it needs to be. I expect my first road marathon will be in Kenosha again, at the beginning of May. I’ve been doing a lot of quick 4-milers over the last month, and though my overall mileage has been low, I’ve been encouraged by the quick paces I’ve been able to run at in those shorter sessions.

If I can just win the struggle to find training time, I remain optimistic about 2011.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Life. It never stops changing you, does it? And why would you want it to stop, anyway? Mine is. Changing, I mean, not stopping. (Definitely not stopping.) Old goals blend with new ones. New priorities emerge and take you in directions you wondered were still possible.

I am still on the Journey.

2011 finds me with plenty to do and the highest of hopes. There is one bit of unfinished business still nagging at me and I'm going to do whatever I can to cross that line this year. I paid for my slot in the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Race today. I came up short there in '09, and the mountains outside San Diego left me breathless last June, but we're going to see if the 3rd time's the charm back in Ohio in 2011.

The biggest hurdle will be finding the time to get in all my training miles over the next 6 months. There's a awful lot on my plate this year. Somehow, though, I'm going to do it. I've learned a lot on the last two failed attempts. I've got friends this time who may be able to join me on the course. And I think even my sister may get help playing crew out there this time.

The Journey has a great deal in store for me this year, and I'm so excited about all the possibilities. The video I posted last month still resonates deeply in my mind.

There is so much more to come.

"What is a Journey?
A journey is not a trip.
It is not a vacation.
It is a process. A discovery.
It is a process of self-discovery.
A journey brings us face to face with ourselves.
A journey shows us not only the world,
but how we fit in it.
Does the person create the journey?
Or does the journey create the person?

The journey is life itself."