"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

- George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian

Monday, November 28, 2011

2011 Year in Review

Finishing Pocatello

2011 At-a-Glance:
6 marathons (1 PR)
2 half marathons (1 PR)
2 10ks
1 5k (1 PR)
1 Friends & Family Turkey-Trot (1st place)
256 race miles
1251 total miles (as of Nov 28th) and counting
My first triathlon
Marathon Maniac status (bronze level, later promoted to silver)
Learned to swim 
It was full year of training and racing, with the first marathon coming the first weekend in March and the last race on Thanksgiving day. I'm ready for a little break through the holidays and with that, a chance to reflect on what I've accomplished, what my next challenges are and what I can do in 2012 to reach them.
Most Satisfying: Staying (running-)injury-free the entire year. Multiple marathons and other races weeks apart, the training in between, no more than a day or two of rest and recovery afterwards and no injuries this year. There's a difference between sickness, pain and injury. If you've got the first, you need to be smart (see Exhibit A from October). If you've got the latter you need to stop. If you've got the remaining one you need to suck it up. There was plenty of pain this year (post-Red Rock Canyon marathon comes to mind quickly), but no injuries.There was one week back in April where everyone from my parents to the surgeon thought I had a hernia that needed fixing, but that was from overdoing it during a spin class session(see also HERE, and HERE). I attribute this to another full year eating healthy, getting enough sleep and taking regular rest days at the same time every week (Sunday and Monday, light on Friday). I can still eat even healthier, but I've come along way since January 2010 when I first started making fresh fruit a regular part of my diet.
Best Race Medal: St. George Marathon. Made of sandstone, each of the 7000+ medals were unique. Newport comes in a close 2nd for its unique glass medal.

With Scott Jurek
Most Unexpected: Meeting Scott Jurek at the Seattle Rock 'n' Roll expo. Nicest guy ever.
Me, A, M after St George
Most Enjoyable: Hanging out with my buddy A, and his wife M at the St. George marathon. It was their first marathon and experiencing it with them was awesome. From driving the course the day before (M: "How far have we driven?" A: "About halfway." M: "Only half?!?") to the hanging out at the expo/pasta dinner, to the early morning bus ride, to killing time in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night for a few hours pre-race, to running the first half mile or so all together and then finally to see them cross the finish line together and (after some time) experience the awesomeness that is the feeling of finishing your first marathon. And then to get a phone call the following Monday morning that began with "I can't even walk down the stairs in my house I'm so sore today, so why do I have the urge to sign up and run another one?" He's been bitten (M, not so much).
Tri For Life Triathlon
Most Difficult: Without a doubt, learning to swim. Running was difficult at first too. But there was never any chance of drowning while running. Learning to swim was extremely frustrating and in the days leading up to my first triathlon, a 500 meter swim was about the most awful thing I could think of. And it didn't go all that smoothly on race day either. I didn't swim again until just a few weeks ago, and it was still just as awful as I remembered it. But something happened as I started showing up to the YMCA pre-6am every single day: it got easier. I started swimming 1000 yards every morning. And then on Day 7: a mile. In 44 minutes. Without a struggle. Now I'm swimming a mile a couple of times a week and combining 500 or 1000 yard swims with 5k runs on other days. 
Autumn Leaves 50 miler
Most Questionable: No question about it, the Autumn Leaves 50-miler. When your parents openly question if you can and/or should TRY it, even during the week leading up to the race you start to wonder a little bit if you should. When your wife half-jokingly (give or take a few % points) asks about the value of your life insurance policies and is satisfied with the answer you wonder if you're crazy. And in a quite moment at the starting line, when you're asking yourself "What. Am. I. Doing?" you try to answer the question. But you don't have time to, because the gun goes off and you do the only thing you can do at that point: you run.
Business Left Undone: A sub-4 hour marathon. I've got to get there. 4:07 in Seattle in June and 4:08 in Pocatello in September was as close as I got. In both of those races I was tracking sub-4 until miles 21 and 22, respectively.
Goals for 2012:
1. Sub-4 hour marathon. Stays on the list until it's accomplished.
2. Olympic-distance open-water triathlon.
I may have a few posts here and there in the coming weeks, but probably not too much. There may even be a redesign of this site if I get around to it. But I'll be back at it regularly in January, ready to hit the training hard for what I hope is another great year. If you don't want to miss any posts, be sure to subscribe via email in the box on the left side of the page or become a Google follower. Thanks for reading and staying in touch in whatever way you do (even if it's just stopping in every so often to read). Your support and encouragement means a lot.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Efficient Digestion

Here's a quick, 2 1/2 minute video of Tim VanOrden talking about efficient digestion. I don't eat as clean a diet as he does, but his emphasis on the benefits of eating foods that digest quickly and easily (think: fresh fruit) is spot on. He's a great speaker, also. Very easy to follow and understand. I would add that the same could be said about sleeping with a stomach full of hard to digest food: more energy is diverted away from the body repairing itself and directed towards breaking down and digesting whatever it was you stuffed yourself with before bed.

Friday, November 11, 2011

2011 Autumn Leaves 50 Miler: Nutrition & Refueling

Before it gets to be too far down the road I wanted to make sure I said a few words about my nutrition and refueling strategy during my recent 50 miler. You can read about my concerns prior to the race here, but basically it came down to two things:

1. Quite often I cramp in the final few miles of a marathon. Electrolyte depletion? Imbalance of nutrients?

2. How do I continue to replenish my energy stores after 20 miles and while continuing to run?

I wasn't sure what I would eat during the race, but figured I would just go with what my body was craving, particularly in the later miles. If you've followed this blog for any significant period of time you know I'm a huge proponent of a fruit predominant diet. I start every day with a half gallon of 100% frozen fruit smoothie goodness (oranges, bananas, strawberries) and try to eat fruit only (not including water) until dinner each day. Some days I do better than others, but I always start with a smoothie.

Running past the aid stations for the first few times I have to say, I was impressed. Heed, water, oranges, candy corn, bite-sized candy bars, gummy bears, pretzel/peanut butter bites, turkey and cheese sandwich bites, pb&j bites, and probably other things that I'm forgetting. It was quite the spread. Almost too much. I didn't know how hungry I would be as the day wore on and the sight of all the yummy, sugary goodness was actually a little frightening. I typically don't eat candy. Not because I don't like it, but because it feels like sludge in my stomach when I try to run on it.

As far as liquids go, I decided prior to the race that I would drink only Heed and no water. Scientifically correct or not, my thinking was that if I was going to need constant electrolyte replenishment during the day, that I had better start from the very first lap. From what I know about water, it dilutes things. So heed it was. (In the later laps I started mixing a Nuun Electrolyte tablet with the Heed in my water bottle, hoping it wasn't like mixing drugs). I also consumed 50z of EFS Liquid Shot after laps 1 and 2. I had more of this in my bag, but I just wasn't feeling it, so I left it alone.

Aid stations consisted mostly of orange bites. Lots and lots of orange bites. They tasted so good and I just kept craving them, so I just kept eating them every time I passed a station. Once I took a few gummy bears but couldn't swallow them (not sure why). Tried the pretzel/peanut butter bites once. Not bad, but left a bad taste in my mouth. After lap 4 I took about one half of a pb&j sandwich. It really tasted good. It sure didn't feel good 20 minutes down the road though, so no more of that. Other than that, it was orange bites, Heed and Nuun tablets all day.

No cramping.

No bonking.

My Garmin watch says I burned just over 6,500 calories during my run. That doesn't include calories burned just by existing the rest of the day. I don't know how many of those calories were replaced during the run, but I'm guessing not many. I don't know how many calories Heed has per 10oz, but I know how many an orange has and its not much, even with the number of oranges I consumed during the day.

Also interesting to me was the fact that post-race I never experienced the "I need a buffet NOW!" appetite that I often feel after a marathon. I waited for it, but it never came. The evening of the race I had a medium-sized plate of pasta, and then Sunday afternoon after church I had a 48oz smoothie. Another small plate of pasta Sunday night and that was it for the weekend. Monday came and I was back to normal.

I really was impressed by the Heed. It felt good in my stomach and I really felt like it was the difference in continuing all day without problems. That and refraining from the candy offered every few miles and sticking with the fresh fruit. Maybe that doesn't work for everyone, but for me, it was a winning combination.

This is kind of scattered-brained. I'm two weeks removed from race-day now and some of the details I wanted to include are starting to fade a bit. But I wanted to make the point that good nutrition really does matter. I'm not sure if things would have turned out the same if I had spent the day pounding down Butterfingers, candy corn, gummy bears and sandwiches.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Psychology of the Final Mile

For the first 7 3/4 laps (48.44 miles) during my Autumn Leaves 50 mile race last Saturday I was completely locked in on only one thing: the lap I was on. That was my goal prior to the race, to focus only on the lap at hand and not to worry about anything else that had happened before or that still awaited me. For more than 10 hours I accomplished this goal, despite numerous opportunities to stray from it. A few quick examples:

Lap 1 was slower than I had projected. If this had been a marathon or another shorter distance race, running an early segment too slow would have mentally thrown me into a state of negativity ("it's just not my day") or into one in which I would try to make it all back up as quickly as possible and and up flaming out later in the race as a result. On Saturday I didn't care that my first lap was slow. I finished the lap, put it behind me, reset myself and started a new lap.

In a marathon, Lap 4 (miles 18.75-25) is where I would normally start to be extremely fatigued, walk more than I should, not want to start running again and quite often start to cramp. During the race though, it wasn't miles 18.75-25, it was simply Lap 4. Nothing more. This was actually my strongest and fastest lap of the entire day.

After completing Lap 6 and meeting my friend K at the aid station I looked at my overall time for the first time all day. I had been going for more than 7 hours. Just looking at that had the potential for disaster, much like the feeling you might get when swimming out into the ocean or a lake and not realizing how far out you are until you turn around. I could have panicked. But I reset myself again, as I had done a half dozen times already that day and started in to a new lap.

I was in a great rhythm all day and my running pace was remarkably consistent from start to finish (though my walking/recovery pace did slow in later laps).

So why then was the last 1.5 miles of the race so much more difficult? What changed?

As best as I can tell, two things happened.

1. I thought about how far I had come. 48.5 miles. Never had I run more than 26.2 miles at one time or 29 miles in one day. I was way out into that lake I mentioned.

2. I thought about how close (relatively) I was to the finish. Not the finish of the lap, but the finish of the race.

These two thoughts caused an almost instant change in my mentality. Instead of the confident, consistent pace I had been running all day, I was now in a struggle to keep moving. It's like I allowed my body to overcome my mind as it realized what it had done and it (my body) fought back by saying, "well if I've done all that, then I'm supposed to be exhausted and sore." And so I was. This was the battle I fought during the final 1/4 lap of the race.

As I wrote in my race recap though, I got to a point just about 1/4 mile from the end where I asked myself, "What do you have left?" At that point my mind took back control over my body and I sprinted to the finish line.

The quote from George S. Patton at the top of this site has been a fixture since I started running and writing here. Read it again now, given the context I've just laid out:

"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired."

I thought I knew what he meant by that. Now I know.

72 -- The # of Recovery Hours For 50 Miles

There was a point during my 50 mile run on Saturday that both time and distance felt like they had stopped. It was at 8 1/2 hours and more than 43 miles into the race, when I first noticed it, when it felt like I had run no further and had been out there no longer than during a marathon. I can't explain it. My recovery has been much the same as after a marathon also.
Saturday night was pretty awful. My knees were pretty swollen (I couldn't make out my knee caps anymore) and there was some pretty intense pain up and down my legs. Nothing sharp or acute, just dull and achy. It made it difficult to fall asleep because I couldn't ever get comfortable. At some point I fell asleep out of exhaustion and when I woke up Sunday morning, I was sore, but not like I had been.
I was moving pretty gingerly on Monday as well, but I took the stairs up to my office (my barometer of how my muscles are feeling on any given day) and felt decent. Once I got moving I was alright. It was the sitting and then starting to move that was most painful.
And then I awoke yesterday (Tuesday) and there was no pain. No muscle soreness at all. I helped out with our local high school's basketball clinic they put on for the local middle schools last night and before I could even think about it I found myself demonstrating a drill, running (yes, running full speed) up and down the court. No one else probably noticed or would have even cared, but at the end of the demonstration I cracked a smile, laughed to myself for a second and thought, "recovery complete."
And so it's back to training today. A good run this evening and one more tomorrow and then comes what could be my final race of the year on Saturday, the Silver Falls trail half marathon. It's a decently challenging course with some elevation change to deal with (including climbing a few flights of stairs around mile 10) that I ran in 2:02 last year.
I'm still working up my recap on my in-race (and post-race) nutrition and refueling strategy, which should appear here by the end of the week. I've said this before but I think it's worth saying again: I believe my diet is the biggest contributor to me getting back on my feet so soon after a long run or race.
Hooray for a quick recoveries.

Monday, October 31, 2011

2011 Autumn Leaves 50 Mile Recap: "It's Awesome, Baby!"

Part 1: Autumn Leaves 50 miler at Champoeg State Park: 10hours 19minutes 21seconds
(Pictures to come as they become available)

Let me start by saying that it didn't feel like I was out there for 10+ hours. I can't explain it, but at the end of lap 7 (of 8), I commented to my buddy who paced me the last two laps that I really hadn't felt like it had been 8 1/2 hours, or basically two marathons. In fact, the whole day -- the time spent, how my legs and body felt, even how the miles felt, didn't seem all that different from a marathon. I've spent the time since finishing trying to get my head around why and have come up with a few possible reasons, but nothing concrete. I'll mention a few of them as I get through my race recap. Also, I have to give credit to all of the amazing runners that were there. So many of them completed this race in 7 hours, 8 hours, 9 hours...just amazing. They are inspirations to me.

Lap 1 - Miles 0-6.25
Run/Walk ratio goal: 20/1
Projected Time: 1:01
Actual Time: 1:08

It was an extremely foggy morning, especially being as close to the Willamette River as we were. This made it a little bit difficult to see as we started out at 6am, but because we all (most) had headlamps on, it wasn't a huge deal. The first 5 miles of the loop was on a nicely paved bike path that presented no problems such as pot holes, roots or rough pavement. It was easy to find space to run in after just a few hundred yards and I settled into a nice groove at about a 10:30 pace.

The first pass through the aid station came at 1.4 miles and then it was a run through the forest area (still on paved path) up to the turnaround just short of 3.1. The last 100 yards or so before the turnaround was a pretty good incline and after running it the first lap I decided it wasn't worth it and that I would walk it in later laps. It was such a short distance that the difference between running and walking it pace-wise really was negligible in the big picture.

The second pass through the aid station came at 4.75 miles and at 5 miles we split off from the bike path and onto the dirt trail for about 1.25 miles. In the dark this was a very difficult section to run. In some areas the actual trail was only 6" wide with uneven grass clumps on both sides. Some areas were through the trees, which presented their own problems. Because it was so dark we were instructed to follow the green glow sticks that were placed every so often along the way. Between looking for the glow sticks, trying to stay on the trail and continuing to keep up a good pace I was a little slow to react when the runner in front of me yelled "root!" What roo---? oh, that root. The one I just tripped over and face-planted because of (and as I later discovered, cut my leg because of). A good wake up call if nothing else.

The final .2 miles of the lap were back through the parking lot we had started in and up to the start/finish area where we crossed the mat, went around the cone, attended to the aid station and our drop bags and then set out for lap #2.

I was about 7 minutes slower than my projected time, but didn't care too much. I was running at a comfortable pace and that was more important, especially early on. I also discovered that my car was parked literally on the course (in that last .2 miles of the lap) which was nice as I stored some of my stuff there as well.

Lap 2 - Miles 6.25-12.5
Run/Walk ratio goal: 20/1
Projected Time: 1:01
Actual Time: 1:07

By the time lap 2 began it was starting to get light. Still extremely foggy, but light enough that I turned my headlamp off by the time I reached the aid station. I continued on at the pace I had been running and continued to take my walk break every 20 minutes.

One of the most important things I settled into on lap 2 was the mind set of taking this thing one lap at a time. I didn't worry about how many miles I had left or even how many laps were left. Nor did I look to see how many miles I had gone (I turned that setting off on my watch). I didn't even care what my time had been on previous laps. My only concern was the lap I was on, nothing else.

I finished lap 2 in 1:07, again a few minutes slower than projected, but I felt great and wasn't straining or struggling at all.

Lap 3 - Miles 12.5-18.75
Run/Walk ratio goal: 10/1
Projected Time: 1:09
Actual Time: 1:09

By lap three I felt like I knew the course well and could easily break it into smaller sections: the 1 mile marker, the aid station at 1.4, the bridge at 2.3, the turnaround at 3.1, the bridge again just before 4, the aid station at 4.75, the trail at 5 and the end of the lap at 6.25. That was my life for the final six laps. Just get to the next landmark.

I welcomed the chance to begin taking a walk break every 10 minutes during this lap and finished right on target, at 1:09.

Lap 4 - Miles 18.75-25
Run/Walk ratio goal: 8/2
Projected Time: 1:15
Actual Time: 1:07

Lap 4 was the best I felt all day. Early in the lap I would take my walk break every 8 minutes, but didn't feel like I needed the full two minutes of recovery so I would cut it short at just one minute. During the running portions I felt great and really tried to stretch my strides a little bit to challenge myself while remaining comfortable.

Normally during a marathon this is where I do a number of things, including bonking, cease sweating, and walking for long, long stretches. Not on this lap though, and not on this day. I broke into an almost sprint pace as I hit the parking lot for the final .2 miles (it wouldn't be the last time I would sprint to the a lap) and finished in 1:07, eight full minutes under my projected time.

Lap 5 - Miles 25-31.25
Run/Walk ratio goal: 8/2
Projected Time: 1:21
Actual Time: 1:14

My biggest fear, if you want to call it that, was laps five and six. This was uncharted waters for me and I had no idea how my body would react or respond to what I would ask it to do during these laps. I used some of my projected aid station time between laps 4 and 5 to stop at my car and start lathering up my legs with an icy-hot gel. While there I struck up a conversation with an elderly couple parked next to me. They were there to cheer on a family member and assured me they would be there all day, cheering for me to. It was nice to have a little adopted family there for support. They cheered for me every time I ran by as if I was one of their own and offered encouragement whenever I stopped at the car. It's one of the little things that made the day possible.

I owe a big thanks to my friend C, who sent me copies of her late-90's Jock Jams/Jock Rock collection. You remember those songs, don't you? Many of the songs are still played on stadiums today during timeouts and player introductions, but who can forget Will Smith, Coolio and the Backstreet Boys all jamming? And if you can have Dick Vitale yelling "America, are you serious? It is showtime baby!" in your ear as you pass the 26 mile mark, how can you not be pumped up? (Inconsequential note, I passed 26.2 at around 4:50, but didn't bother to stop to celebrate or make much not of it...that wasn't the goal today).

At the aid station in lap 5 I met up with a girl also running her first 50 miler. We had passed each other numerous times on the turnarounds and at the aid stations already and made chit chat as we left the aid station. I asked if she was following any sort of run/walk pattern and she said not really, so I told her what my lap plan was. We each had our music going, but it was helpful to have someone to run with to be accountable to. For instance, at the end of my running segment, I would tell her I was going to walk for one minute (or two). At one minute (or two), if I didn't look like I was starting to run again, she'd say let's go and get moving again. Occasionally I had to make sure she got moving again also. We ran the rest of the lap together and then lap 6 as well. Again, a small thing that made the day possible. Had I been left to run those uncharted miles by myself, maybe I get lazy and walk more than I should have.

Finished the lap in 1:14, another 7 minutes off of my projected time.

Lap 6 - Miles 31.25-37.5
Run/Walk ratio goal: 8/2
Projected Time: 1:21
Actual Time: 1:19

Much the same during this lap. Get to the next landmark, take the walk breaks, continue to refuel (more on refueling in a minute). My buddy drove up next to me about a mile into this lap to let me know he was there and would be waiting for me at the end of the lap. This was a shot of much needed adrenaline that served me well the remainder of the lap. 1:18, another 2 minutes off of projected time.

Lap 7 - Miles 37.5-43.75
Run/Walk ratio goal: 5/2
Projected Time: 1:21
Actual Time: 1:26

Definitely a slower lap. As far as I can remember I didn't walk any more than the 5/2 projected ratio, but my walk pace was probably slower than the 16 minute pace I was using in my calculation. I felt like my running pace was pretty consistent throughout the entire day though, including these final laps. My buddy K, was a great support and had brought all sorts of stuff that he thought I might have needed, including a leg roller and a sub sandwich, which I wasn't in the mood for, but appreciated a lot nonetheless. More than anything, his enthusiasm for what we (the girl I was running with stayed with us for lap 7) were doing was enough to keep me going strong. A 1:26 lap, 5 minutes slower than projected, but I made the cutoff to start the final lap! Hooray! (It wasn't close, I was almost 90 minutes ahead of the cutoff, but at the start of the day I wasn't sure). More than that, I kicked it into high gear the final 1/2 mile and ran a low 7-minute pace in the final stretch and felt awesome (mile 44 for those keeping track).

Lap 8 - Miles 43.75-50
Run/Walk ratio goal: 5/2
Projected Time: 1:21
Actual Time: 1:21

I'm not going to lie, this lap was a struggle. My running pace stayed where it should have been, but my walking pace was getting slower and slower. Just get to the mile marker, the aid station, the bridge, the turnaround etc. At the turnaround I knew I had just a 5k left. Then I got to the aid station and knew I had just 1.5 miles left. So close, yet the trail awaited, with all its uneven terrain and I was absolutely spent. It was here that K said probably the only thing he shouldn't have all day and that was to think about my family waiting for me at the finish line. That's certainly not a punishable offense by any stretch, but at that point it was all it took for me to get emotional for the first time all day and have to hold back tears. But on we went.

The last mile is no different from any other mile, in theory. Same distance, and on this course, a stretch I had already run seven times that day. But man, those little ups and downs on the trail through the forest seemed like flights of stairs and were really hurting (going up and down).

I was talking to myself quite a bit during this final stretch and K was pumping his fists, pushing me along. Just before the 6 mile mark of the final lap, I asked myself out loud "what do you have left?" I needed to know.

And so I did what any rational person who had just run 49.75 miles would do: I broke into a sprint, breaking out of the trees, into the parking lot, past my adopted family and towards the finish line where my wife and kids were waiting. I touched 6:33/mile during this stretch and crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. My final lap was right on my projected time.

Overall I finished in 10:19:21. Slightly slower than my projected overall time, but certainly in the "I'm freaking out because I can't believe I just did that" range. I definitely want to talk about my hydration and refueling strategy and experience, but I will leave that for another post because of the length here already.

So mark it down. I'm an ultra-marathoner. It's awesome, baby!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Autumn Leaves 50 Mile

50 miles.

10 hours 19 minutes 35 seconds. And a smile on my face at the end.

Full recap later this week.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Final Thoughts Before Running 50 Miles

Tomorrow is race day. 50 miles. And for perhaps the first time in a race I'm less concerned with my finishing time than I am with simply finishing. It's not since my very first half marathon, back in September 2009, that I have been more unsure of how a run was going to go. I've spent time working out various run/walk ratios for each lap (8 laps total), estimating how much my pace might decline in the later miles and trying to figure out how to replenish my energy stores on the go so there's something in the tank after 20 miles, and still I have zero idea what's going to happen tomorrow afternoon as I push past 25, 30, 40 miles.

I know I can run 25. No problem, especially with regular walk breaks early and often. That covers the first four laps. Two in the dark and two as the sun comes up on what should be a near-perfect morning to run.

I trust that I'll be able to handle the last two laps (miles 37.5-50). My buddy is going to run them with me and has been given cart blanche to do whatever he needs to do to keep me moving. As I told him a few days ago when I was going over my race plan with him, his one and only job is to make sure I don't quit.

That leaves laps five and six, miles 25-37.5. This is the great unknown. This is the portion of the race where I'll find out if my early-lap refueling has been effective or not. No idea what to expect here.

A few other quick thoughts:

My wife walked into the kitchen the other day and (obviously referencing tomorrow) asked what I was worth in terms of life insurance. She was joking. I think. But she seemed satisfied with the answer. Uhh...

I'm hoping to have my little sister tweeting updates throughout the day tomorrow. Check back for those. I'll put the twitter gadget at the top of this page so its easy to find.

Finally, I occasionally come across things that I either wish I would have written or had the ability to write. The following, from Jeff Edmonds at The Logic of Long Distance, is both. How do you prepare to run 50 miles? Like this...
This is how it works:

Training is doing your homework. It's not exciting. More often than not it's tedious. There is certainly no glory in it. But you stick with it, over time, and incrementally through no specific session, your body changes. Your mind becomes calloused to effort. You stop thinking of running as difficult or interesting or magical. It just becomes what you do. It becomes a habit.

Workouts too become like this. Intervals, tempos, strides, hills. You go to the track, to the bottom of a hill, and your body finds the effort. You do your homework. That's training. Repetition--building deep habits, building a runner's body and a runner's mind. You do your homework, not obsessively, just regularly. Over time you grow to realize that the most important workout that you will do is the easy hour run. That's the run that makes everything else possible. You live like a clock.

After weeks of this, you will have a month of it. After months of it, you will have a year of it.
Then, after you have done this for maybe three or four years, you will wake up one morning in a hotel room at about 4:30am and do the things you have always done. You eat some instant oatmeal. Drink some Gatorade. Put on your shorts, socks, shoes, your watch. This time, though, instead of heading out alone for a solitary hour, you will head towards a big crowd of people. A few of them will be like you: they will have a lean, hungry look around their eyes, wooden legs. You will nod in their direction. Most of the rest will be distracted, talking among their friends, smiling like they are at the mall, unaware of the great and magical event that is about to take place.

You'll find your way to a tiny little space of solitude and wait anxiously, feeling the tang of adrenaline in your legs. You'll stand there and take a deep breath, like it's your last. An anthem will play. A gun will sound.

Then you will run.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I woke up in a panic sometime around 1am Saturday morning. One week away from an attempt at 50 miles, a few hours away from my last real run before that race (two 5-mile laps around my neighborhood) and two days after my boss (also known to me as "Dad") and multiple clients walked into our office visibly sick, I awoke with an acute pain in the back of my throat. Oh no, I thought as I jumped out of bed to guzzle some water, here it comes.
And came it did: the dreaded head-cold.
For the last 48 hours I've been working through this cold. Fortunately, I think I've done enough to speed it along as quickly as possible and this morning (Monday) I feel about 80%. It also hasn't been one of those energy-sapping colds with a fever attached that takes weeks to recover from. So that's nice.
I'm no doctor. But really, it shouldn't matter here, because a doctor can't do squat for a cold anyway. Anyway, here's my last 48 hours in a nutshell:
1. Lots of rest/sleep. 9-10 hours each night, a nap during the day and generally just taking it easy. (It helps to have a supportive wife)
2. Minimal eating on day 1 and very simple foods on day 2 (fresh fruit, vegetable broth, dry whole-wheat bread). Why force the body to digest food when it could be busy fighting off the cold. I still ended up eating about 1500 calories on Saturday and around 2000 on Sunday (about 1/3 to 1/2 of what I'm usually taking in on a daily basis), but it was all food that digested quickly and didn't require much energy.
3. A piping hot epsom salt bath each day. Sweat it out, baby.
4. As much water as I can handle. All of the time.
5. No medications. Again, why try to cover up the symptoms to simply feel good in the short-term while getting in the way of the body healing itself?
Yes, I felt horrible. But only for a few hours. I progressed through each part of the cold rapidly and now, 48 hours later, have the thing beat. I won't be running much this week, maybe a few miles on Thursday, and my preparation for Saturday will be much like the last two days: lots of rest, lots of water and lots of good wholesome food. And maybe a viewing of Rocky IV.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Marathon #9: St George Recap

Let's start with the positives: I just finished my 6th marathon in the last seven months and my 9th in the last 16 months. The other positive was getting to spend the weekend with my good friend and his wife, who were running their first marathon. Boarding a bus in the wee hours of the morning and then spending two hours in the dark at the starting line is far more tolerable with friends and seeing them as they crossed the finish line together was awesome.
Unfortunately, weren't very many positive things going on once the race actually started. It was a rough day all the way around. One that caused me to reflect and evaluate if running marathons is something I want to continue to do.
Maintaining proper nutrition is always difficult for me when traveling. Sometimes I'll bring my blender with me and make my smoothies but not when I'm flying to a race. This leaves me concerned with getting enough calories in the hours leading up to race day. I'm apparently not disciplined enough to go to a grocery store and buy tons of fruit and keep me going, so instead I went to Olive Garden Thursday night (horrible service, slightly less than horrible food), pancakes and eggs for breakfast and the pasta dinner at the expo Friday night. I did have some bananas in my car but it was so darn hot that they were not appetizing at all. So no fruit and way too much stuff that I usually only have sparingly. Doesn't make for a quality pre-race diet.
Then there was the weather. Freaking hot. One of the lead volunteers at the finish line told me that in the 35 years of the race, this was the hottest day. Whether that's true or not I don't know, but the sun was relentless all day and there was no where to hide from it.  It's so dry there anyway (especially compared to where I live here in the Willamette Valley) that I was drinking as much as I could handle at every aid station but still felt like I had a mouthful of chalk just a few seconds later. Dehydration was an issue during the second half of the race.
Veyo. Volcano and all.
The course itself was definitely scenic. From the Veyo volcano to Snow Canyon to St. George itself it's really a very pretty course. Friends of mine (who I'll get to in a minute) and I drove the course on Friday afternoon and felt pretty good about what we would encounter the next morning. For whatever reason though, I could have sworn I was running a completely different course. All of the course maps (and even my Garmin) shows the second half being almost completely downhill. My Garmin only measured 20 feet of elevation gain in the whole second half actually. Out there on the course though, on a long, hot day, it seemed like every time I came around a turn there was an incline in front of me. And every time I got to the crest of those inclines it seems like I would look out and see another one right in front of me. I can't explain it. But it was tough.
Proper rest is also difficult on the road. I've run races in other timezones before, but for some reason this one just kicked my butt. My friends and I loaded the bus at about 4:15am (3:15am my time). Before that though, I had been awake from basically 2am on (1am my time). By the time the race started at 6:45, I had been awake for nearly five hours. Tack on 4 1/2 hours for race time and it was a really long day by the time the last few miles came around.
So I finished in 4:30:59. Certainly not my best, but not my worst either. There was no excitement at this finish line though. Mostly just disappointment. I had higher expectations for this race given the course, the way I've felt in training and how I felt when I got on the plane Thursday afternoon. I spent some time Sunday thinking whether or not I wanted to continue to do this or if it was time to look for something else to do. I spoke with my friend to see how they were feeling and offered some encouragement, reminding him that they were marathoners now and that the muscle pains would start to subside in a day or two.
On Monday morning, still feeling a little depressed, I got a call from my friend. Usually we just text back and forth, so to receive a phone call was a little bit curious to me. The first words out of his mouth were, "I can't even walk down the stairs in my house I'm so sore today, so why do I have the urge to sign up and run another one? There was an enthusiasm in his voice that was infectious.
And with that, we spent the next 15 minutes talking about what race we could do next together, narrowing it down to Ogden in May, Utah Valley in June or possibly the Seattle Rock 'n' Roll at the end of June. I got off the phone and my outlook had completely changed. I was excited to look for my next race. The enthusiasm my buddy had had on the phone, despite the soreness he felt, reminded me of the excitement I had had after other races, when I couldn't wait to sign up for the next one. It reminded me that even though we hadn't run the race as quickly as we had hoped, we had still finished a freaking marathon and that we were doing things that the majority of people will never even attempt.
There have been people and experiences at various points along this road that have kept me interested, motivated and determined. Add my friend to that list. It came at a good time too because the Autumn Leaves 50 mile ultra marathon is now only 3 1/2 weeks away. It scares the dickens out of me and is the first time since I signed up for my very first half marathon that I really don't know how it will go of if I can actually do it. But I'll be there at the starting line prepared to find out.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Marathon #9: St George -- Keep It Simple

The game plan for St George this weekend is simple: let gravity work.

After some hills in miles 7-11 it's all downhill to the finish line. Just keep moving and let gravity do what gravity does.

That's it.

Now back to watching the Red Sox hopefully not complete a total choke job while I pack...


What a complete and utter failure by the Red Sox. I'm glad I have something to take my mind off of this epic disaster this weekend Maybe I'll get home on Sunday and realize that what I saw last night didn't actually happen. No way that actually happened. Right?...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Thanks for the concern, but...

I've heard the questions and concerns before. I first heard them back in early 2010 as I was training for my first marathon. They cropped up again as people found out I was going to run my second marathon just three weeks after my first. And again earlier this year as I was preparing to run three marathons in 30 days. They come from various family members, friends and people I go to church with. From athletes, other runners and people who have never run a mile in their lives. In person, on Facebook or from my wife, who hears them from others.

The comments range from a simple, "you're crazy" to "the body just isn't meant to run that much/far" to "aren't you concerned about your knees/other body parts/overall health" and often times include an anecdote about some friend or family member who will never be the same again because of some injury or health problem sustained by running. It doesn't seem to matter that said friend/family member may have been a middle-aged woman or a new runner putting in too many miles too frequently or someone who for decades has eaten a well-balanced plate of the five food groups: fast food, doughnuts, soda, high fructose corn syrup and fat (hopefully I didn't offend anyone there. If so, it wasn't directed towards anyone in particular). None of this seems to matter because everyone with an Internet connection is now a board-certified all-knowing medical specialist who KNOWS that running a marathon, or multiple marathons, or a 50 mile ultra-marathon just isn't healthy.

Wait, 50 mile ultra-marathon?


October 29th. Champoeg State Park. The Autumn Leaves 50mi/50k ultra. 
Why now?

1. I've got the mileage base in place. Since March 5th I've run five marathons, with my sixth coming next weekend in St. George. Six marathons in just under seven months. There's a number of 20 mile training runs in that time frame as well.

2. Timing. After my 3 in 30 days Marathon Maniac-to-be campaign in June/July, I backed it off for a few weeks and spend some time swimming and cycling as I prepared for my first triathlon in early August. After that I was back into marathon mode getting ready for Pocatello. Pocatello and St. Georege are four weeks apart and St. George and the 50-miler are another four weeks apart. That gives me a week or so of rest and recovery, two weeks to get in six or seven solid runs and a race week where I won't do much of anything. Many of the training plans I found online suggested a long run of 26-30 miles 3-5 weeks in advance before tapering. St. George does this for me.

3. Looking ahead. Next year is when I'll probably decide if long-distance triathlons are in my short-term future or not. I've pegged two Olympic distance races that I might want to attempt (one in July, one in September) and while I will still run a couple of marathons, I probably won't run as many as I have this year. The miles and and a focus strictly on running may not be there. If 26.2 miles isn't something to disrespect, 50 miles doesn't want to be messed with either.

4. Health. I feel great. I haven't had even a minor running injury in more than a year, despite the mileage and workload (my pulled lower ab muscle in April was a freak thing from my spin class and only caused me to miss one long run, so I don't count that). I've settled into a good running weight after gaining 10 pounds of muscle prior to the Red Rock Canyon marathon in March (lots and lots of hills). I've given back two or three of those pounds, but have my body fat % has continued to drop. It took a few months to feel comfortable at this new weight, but I feel awesome these days. I can run fast when I want to (PR'ed in my last 5k). I can run uphill, downhill, short, medium or long distances and I can do it while feeling great the next day (and even same day).

5. A new challenge. I've done the marathon. I'm a dues-paying Marathon Maniac. I'm getting closer to the 4-hour barrier with each race. But I feel like I need a new challenge and I'm still an eternity away from even thinking about an Ironman race. This race less than 30 minutes from my house on a flat looped course. It's a 10k course that I'll run eight times. It means I'll pass my drop bag at the end of each loop and be able to gather myself and whatever I need before heading out to run another 6 miles (there's another aid station out in the middle of the loop that is passed twice per loop also). If ever there was a course for me to try to run 50 miles, this would be it I think.

So while I appreciate all of the concern for my knees, my health and my sanity just know that I know what I'm doing. I'm nearly two and a half years into this running thing and have learned to listen and take care of my body. I know what I can do and what I think I can do.

Dig deep.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Marathon #8: "Running the Gap" Pocatello Marathon Recap

I'm going to skip all of the pre- and post-race stuff and just get right to it. The biggest thing I took away from this race last year was that under no circumstances could I allow myself to start too fast. The first 14 miles are downhill and while it was nice to run a fast first half last year, I paid for it on the back end.
The race had a pace team for the first time this year and given my pace problems in the past, I lined up next to Carol, the 4-hour pacer, who said she planned to run a steady 9:09 pace while walking through each of the aid stations. This sounded fine and good until the gun went off and Carol took off. It was too dark to see my Garmin, but I knew we were not running anything near a 9:09 pace. Barreling down the canyon, our 4-hour group of about 10 runners clocked an 8:19 Mile 1 and followed it with miles of 8:32, 8:33, 8:36 and 8:28. In fact, we didn't run a 9:09 mile until Mile 9, and it was the only mile in the entire first half slower than 9 minutes.
As we began the second half of the race Carol told those of us still with her (about six or so at that point) that we were about 5 minutes ahead of where we should be (no, really?) and that she was going to slow down. Myself and two other runners were comfortable at our pace though so we continued on. My thinking was that as long as I was running with people and the pace was comfortable I'd be alright. Its when I find myself alone in the later miles that trouble sets in. One of the guys I was with was running his 42nd state, the other, his first marathon.
As we started up the hill in Mile 17, the first-timer and I pulled away a little bit from our Canadian friend. Still under a 4-hour pace and feeling good making my way up the hill, I was in a good place. By the time I hit the top of the rolling hills at Mile 19 though, I had given up about 100 yards to my running partner as he powered his way up the hill. I wasn't sure if he would keep that pace, but more power to him -- he finished in 3:56.
My Canadian friend caught back up to me just after Mile 19 and we ran together for another mile before I took a few extra seconds at the Mile 20 aid station and he continued on. Carol caught up to me at Mile 21 and by the time we got to the top of the last hill at 21.5 she was 50 yards ahead of me. She was still a little bit ahead of the 4-hour pace, but I was working for every step at that point and didn't have enough left in the tank to catch back up to her.
I remained positive though and enjoyed the last few miles. My wife and kids were parked along the way in a few spots and offered encouragement and I eventually crossed the finish line in 4:08:21. 
A couple of take-a-ways:
1. I held the 4-hour pace for more than 22 miles. I'm getting there. I'm close.
2. I was 61 seconds off of my PR set back in June in Seattle. This is either satisfying or frustrating depending on how I look at it. Frustrating in that I know I could have come up with 61 seconds somewhere along the way. Satisfying in that I still felt like I ran a pretty darn good race.
3. I cut 27 minutes off of my time from this race last year. 27 minutes! There's been improvement.
Overall, it was a good race and I'm glad I did it. I learned something things that will help me going forward. Here's the obligatory post-race photo:

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Can a marathon ever sneek up on you? I've known for a month or so now that the Pocatello marathon is on September 3rd. My family has been making Labor Day plans around it, so it's not like I didn't know the date. But after hitting snooze a couple of times a few mornings ago and then asking/telling myself what day it was (I find myself doing this frequently) a light went off and for whatever reason it dawned on me that September 3rd was a mere 11 days away. I proceeded to have a good workout, a good 7 miles of hills, but I knew that my training was pretty much done at that point. I've since had a decent 8-miler on Thursday and a 9 mile final tune-up run this afternoon (in the blazing heat). There's still a few shorter runs that await me between now and next weekend but nothing of any consequence. I am what I am at this point and what I am is a runner who doesn't feel like he's put in as many miles my previous 7 marathon starts.

It's not that I've been lazy, I've just been doing other things. For many weeks I was devoting a lot of time to learning to swim. I also have been doing a fair amount of cycling since I bought a bike at the beginning of the month. My long Saturday runs the past few weeks consisted of a 12-miler followed by a 10k race, a solid 20-miler, a 5k as part of a sprint triathlon, 10 miles last weekend, when other commitments prevented anything longer and then the 9 miles today. My Tuesday/Thursday runs have been shorter than normal as well, usually in the 6-8 mile range rather than the 8-10 range. But they've been more focused -- a day devoted to speed work, a day of hills etc. The total mileage hasn't been too much less, but it feels like less. Like I said though, its too late to do anything about it now. I am what I am.

Maybe it will be a good thing though, the cross-training. There's an article out there currently, and a response from Amby Burfoot from Runner's World, about whether or not cross-training is effective or not. Personally I don't really care if it's helpful or not. Until a month or so I had never done any sort of cross-training. My time to exercise and train is limited and the time I did have I was going to spend running. After 25 solid months of this, though, I can tell that I've been approaching a bit of a burnout point, so the option to cycle or swim has been good for me. I do it for fun and for variety. It also allows me to get a bit more sleep, as I can go out for a quick, hard 7 mile ride in 20 minutes or so or spend 30 minutes in the pool -- much shorter than the hour minimum I feel like I need to run to really feel like I got a good workout in.

Will less miles, more focused training runs and more cross-training have a positive effect when the gun goes off next Saturday morning or will I be hating life during the 2nd half of the race? We'll see. Here's last year's Pocatello Marathon recap.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tri For Life Triathlon Recap

I felt as prepared as I could be for my first triathlon. Unknowns are always to be expected though, particularly for a first experience with a new event, and the Tri For Life event a few weeks ago was no different.

My swimming has come a long way in the last few weeks. The lifeguard at the YMCA pool has been giving me one or two things to think about each time I show up and its helping for the most part. Still though, some days are (much) better than others and I haven't been able to figure out what the common denominators are. Some days just feel like such a struggle, so sloppy, hard to breathe, etc that I'm out of the pool in 10 minutes. It's just not meant to be that day. Other days it feels so smooth and effortless. Given all of this, I wasn't sure what to expect once I jumped in the pool on race day.

The other thing I didn't expect was the length of the pool (and the distance of the swim). The website had said 500 yards and the YMCA pool I swim in is 20 yards long, so I had an idea in my mind about how long it should take me. What I didn't count on was a 500 meter swim and a 50-meter length pool. I walked into the pool area and froze as I looked down to the far end, which seemed a mile away at that point.
Once the actual race started I tried my best to stay relaxed but for the first 3 laps it wasn't happening. I found comfort in the fact that for about 35 meters I could put my feet down if I needed (not that I did, but the thought that I could was comforting). Unfortunately when I was going out on lap 2 I let my mind wander just for a moment at the time I entered the diving area where the depth drops from 5 feet to 12 feet almost instantly. Already struggling to stay relaxed, trying to find a good rhythm and just get the end of the pool, this caught me off guard and sent me into a minor panic attack. I tensed up, my breathing went erratic and I just did what I could to get to the wall so I could calm down a bit. After a few seconds I pushed off and set out back towards to other end. Laps 4 and 5 were actually fairly comfortable. I think my muscles were properly warmed up by then and I was basically swimming by myself, as the other three people in my lane were a 1/2 length or so ahead of me. I finished the last lap strong and jumped out of the pool in a time of 12:45. Not great. Only in the 25th percentile for all of the participants actually. But I finished it and I felt confident that my two stronger events were still to come.

I flew through my 1st transition in less than a minute. I hadn't practiced the actual transitions much, but I had run through them in my head over and over again and it seemed to do the trick. I was in and out in a flash and on my way on the bike.

Loved the cycling portion. Loved the fact that I was able to push hard for the entire course (13 miles rather than the stated 12.5, but whatever) and grew in confidence as I caught up to and passed almost all of the people who had been in my wave during the swim. It was a fairly flat course, something I don't get to enjoy anywhere around where I live, and it was nice just to set a gear, pump my legs and settle in. I made up considerable time during this portion of the race and finished with the 15th fastest cycling time overall which I was very pleased with (there was a group of 5 or 6 stud riders with the $3k+ bikes who blew every one away and finished in the 33-35 minute range, but I was solidly in the next group of riders and finished right at 40 minutes).

Transition 2 was even quicker than Transition 1 (thanks in large part to elastic shoe laces which I had just put in my shoes the night before -- love them -- won't ever go back to regular laces). My running shoes have never felt so good. Even feeling great about my ride, it was still nice to get back to what I knew best. I took off out of the transition area determined to give myself the first 1/4 mile or so to let my legs readjust to the new motions. Still though, I felt SO slow. But then I looked down at my Garmin and saw I was cruising along at a 7:30/mile pace. What?!? I've pondered this more in the last week, but my only explanation is that my turnover rate on the bike was such that once I started running, I felt slow...but it was still relatively fast compared to other times I run. Does that make any sense? I wasn't about to complain or question it during the race though, I just went with it.

About half way through the 5k I could tell I was starting to get a little fatigued (oh yeah, no water stations on the bike or run course even though there were some advertised -- that may have had something to do with it) when a guy went flying past me. He was taking such small, quick, gliding steps while I was trying to take a normal running step, a little bit longer and using a little bit more quad muscle. I watched him for a few moments as he ran away from me and then decided to try the quick glide step myself. Much more comfortable without giving up any pace. Also something to ponder for future triathlon events.

The final 1/4 mile I kicked a bit, caught up to and passed a guy who I had started the swim with, had almost caught on the bike and who I had been within eye-shot of the entire run. I finished the run (3.4 miles rather than 3.1) at an 8:04/mile pace and finished overall in 1:23:01, good enough for 24th place overall out of approximately 90 participants.

I really enjoyed the triathlon. Even with the little mishap in the pool, I basically did what I thought I would do in each aspect of the race. I could definitely improve my swim. Knowing now how I felt at the end of the ride I could probably push harder there. And getting comfortable during the run would definitely help. I would do it again. In running comparisons, this was my first 5k. I'm not sure I'm ready for a 10k quite yet (swimming would be the only thing holding my back), but I'd do another 5k. Baby steps.

Now its back to business getting ready for a couple of marathons. Pocatello is in two weeks. Trying to train for a marathon and sprint triathlon at the same time was difficult, but now I'm focused again.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Getting That Itch

Two weeks. That's how long it took me to officially recover from 3 in 31 days. I know this because this is when I was putting my training schedule together for the St. George Marathon on October 1st and thought to myself, "11 weeks...that's a long time. I need something to do in the meantime. Hey, the Pocatello Marathon is Labor Day weekend. Maybe I'll do that too!"
So we're going to Pocatello in 6 weeks. Taking the family, visiting some family in Pocatello and Salt Lake and making a weekend out of it. For our family, which isn't the most spontaneous group or biggest vacation takers by any stretch of the imagination, this was a big deal.
After looking at the calendar though, I started to have some doubts. Gee, only six Saturdays of training before that...one of them is the triathlon...another is a local 5k/10k that our office is helping to sponsor...I'm not going to put a 20 miler in the week before so that Saturday is gone...am I going to be able to get enough training in to be ready for this? I promptly got on my computer this morning and signed up. I'll work on the training details later. One answered question leads to another unanswered one though: Pocatello and St. George are 29 days apart. And that would give me five marathons in just over four months. The next Maniac level requirement is six in six months...I wonder if there's a third marathon in between those two races...oh wait, there is... Can I Make It Happen? 
With a paid race entry fee to any marathon I choose from my parents as a birthday gift, the only thing in my way is if I can/want to fork out money for a plane ticket. TBD...

Intro to Cycling

My swimming is improving and the running I have no problem with but that still leaves one event of the triathlon unaddressed: Cycling. I've never owned or ridden a road bike. In fact, I think I can count on one hand how many times I've ridden a bike since I had two stolen from me five or six years ago. I quickly learned that researching bikes is not like researching running shoes, which you could do fairly well in an hour or so. Not so with bikes. Recognizing I was in way over my head I called a friend who knows his way around a bike. I started searching Craiglist and other sites trying to find something used that wouldn't require a month's paycheck to pay for, emailing my friend links every so often asking what he thought of them. He also graciously let me borrow his own bike and indoor training stand to start getting used to riding.
I took the bike out on the road the next day and needless to say, it was a little shaky at first. The road bike is a different beast, a little squirrely on the front wheel at first and so so smooth going down a hill. I put in some good miles and loved pushing myself extremely hard on the indoor trainer for 45 minutes or so out in the garage (my kids kept poking their heads out the door wondering if I was alright).
After a week or so I finally spotted a bike that my friend agreed would be good for what I needed at a price that was reasonable. I went to check it out, made an offer, watched the seller squirm because he didn't want to sell it to me at that price, kept my mouth shut as he was waiting for me to apparently offer more and then handed him an envelope of cash containing my original offer after he had agreed. I now have a bike. It fits, it feels good and I'm getting more comfortable riding it.

Learning to Swim

I've done a brave thing this month: I started to swim. For someone who doesn't swim doing so can swing somewhere between embarrassing and horrifying, depending on the day, my energy level and the number of people within view. I struggled through the first couple of days, completely out of breath after just 50 yards. I'd catch my breath and then do it again. I'd finish my 500 yards, get out of the pool frustrated and wonder if I would ever come back. And then I came across an article under a Google search entitled, "If I'm so fit, why is swimming so hard?"
I read the five page PDF wondering where this gem had come from. It described me and my struggles precisely. I later traced it to a book call "Total Immersion" which I promptly check out from the library. Over the next 24 hours I plowed through 120 pages, nodding my head, creating a picture in my head of what the perfect swim stroke should look like. I watched YouTube videos and marveled at how easy the subjects made it look. On page 121 I came to the first drill: float on your back.
I called my wife and told her I wasn't sure whether I wanted to throw the book across the room or cry. 120 pages of gold and the first thing I'm being asked to do is the thing I absolutely cannot do: float. (The second and third drills, by the way, called for me to float on my side). Frustrated but determined I skimmed the rest of the book and was about to put it away when I stumbled across two pages which had five simple visualizations to keep in mind. They described the picture I had created in my head exactly. Following the visualizations was a note to those who struggle with the drills and how if they did nothing but pay attention to these visualizations, they'd probably be alright. Good enough. I went to work and lo and behold, swimming got easier.
I'm still a massive work in progress but I've got my basic mechanics down. Various lifeguards at the YMCA have offered tips and advice (which I appreciate) and slowly but surely I'm getting better. Even with my less than perfect form I know I can finish the 500 yards I'll need for my first triathlon next month, but now it's about doing it well.

29 for #29

The 4th of July also happens to be my birthday. So in addition to running a marathon, becoming eligible to be a Maniac, attending a parade and getting together for a big family reunion that day I had also planned to run 2.8 more miles to make it an even 29 miles run on my 29th birthday. After the marathon I drove 90 minutes back to my hometown for the local parade festivities (always a treat, especially if you're from the area). After the parade my wife and I ventured over to the university track and I put in the additional miles. I actually felt pretty good and could have gone on (despite the on-track temp pushing 95-100 degrees) but 29 was the number I was aiming for and that's what I did. Happy Birthday self. See you next year at 30.

Catching Up...

I've got a handful of updates from the last three weeks that are going to come fast and furious here. Let's get going...
Marathon #7: Foot Traffic Flat Marathon - July 4th, 2011
My third marathon in 31 days. First the actual race. It was a warm day, but an early 6:30 start helped to alleviate this problem slightly. The full marathon course consisted of a 12+ mile out and back (covering miles 5-17) and then 9 more miles around Sauvie Island back to the finish line at the pumpkin patch. I struggled through the middle portion of the race and was pretty gassed by about mile 17. The heat, the boring course and possibly some lingering effects from the previous two marathons. I was using a run/walk approach for a few miles and was being passed each time I walked by a guy who was keeping a pretty consistent pace. When I resumed running again I would pass him and build a slight lead and then he would pass me again the next time I walked. Just before the Mile 22 marker, as I was catching back up to him, I noticed that he had stopped running and was walking very slowly, head down, hands dropped to his side. I recognized the look instantly.
I caught up to him, asked him how he was doing and received the obligatory, "doin' good" answer. I said I didn't believe him, but told him I had been impressed by how consistent he had been the last few miles. His parents had been following closely behind on bicycles offering him support and water but were now next to him trying to talk him into continuing to run. I offered a few more words of encouragement and then said, "alright, let's go. We'll finish this together." I'm not sure whether he wanted to or not, but he started running again and together we ran the last four miles. After telling me it was his first marathon I related my first marathon experience, where I hit the same wall in about the same place before a friend came up from behind me and talked me through the last few miles, turning what had been a completely miserable day into positive experience. I honestly doubt I would have ever done another marathon if not for my friend's assistance that day. Instead, I'm now addicted to them. I don't know if this guy will ever run another marathon, but I know he was smiling and tearing up at the finish line as he looked at his medal and had his picture taken.
I finished the race in 4:18, not a PR but not a PW either. However, given the weather, the fatigue and running the last few miles slower than I normally would have (as well as having the experience of helping someone get across the finish line), I'll take it.
I submitted my Marathon Maniac application the next day and now have the title of Marathon Maniac #4113.
I won't spend much time on the non-running parts of this race but I will share a few brief thoughts. At the outset I have to say that this race gets glowing reviews. Most people love it. It's not really my thing though. For a race that tries to come off as folksy, hometown-ey, low-budget, eco-friendly or whatever, it sure isn't priced like it. $75 plus $15 extra for a shirt. Not a terrible price for a marathon, but too high in my opinion for the amenities that came with it. I thought the course was pretty boring. The aid stations were nothing more than a folding table with one or two people standing there holding only one or two cups at at time no matter how many runners were approaching. The medal is pretty cheap looking (original, but cheap). The post-race food spread was lacking. I realize that all the half marathoners and 5k-ers finished before me, but there were still several hundred people still out on the course when I finished. That said, I enjoyed a 50 cent hot dog, a bottle of water and a small serving of strawberry shortcake. There was no other food in sight. I could tell that some people love this race and probably participate every year. I'm glad I did it once, but I won't be back.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Impossible Things

Three years ago today I ran my first race, a 2.6 mile 4th of July fun run prior to my hometown's annual parade, without a single day of training. The following year I did it again, except I spent a few weeks training for it. At the time, the word "marathon" was synonymous with the words "crazy," "insane," and "impossible" in my mind. 
In the two years since, I've completed seven marathons (all in the last 13 months including three in the last 30 days), six half marathons, multiple 5k, 10k, and 15k races, 18 runs of 20 miles or more and more than 2500 miles total. What was once crazy, insane and impossible is now just what I do for fun.
Two weeks after the fun run (the "mini-marathon" as it's called) in 2009 I toed the line at my first 5k race. At the time I figured I could probably do it, but it was a daunting task. 
In less than 6 weeks I will make my first attempt at a triathlon. The 20k bike ride and 5k run don't concern me a bit (despite not owning a bike at the moment). It's the 500yard swim that gives me the creeps. Why? Because I sink (my wife says I'm dense).
I've never really been a swimmer. The swim check at summer camp was always a struggle. I can play around in a pool and get from one end to the other if need be. If my canoe or raft flips over, I can get back to it. I can jump off of a dock and make it back. I even made it across the Deschutes River and back as a teenager (without question the stupidest thing I've ever attempted -- very much could have ended tragically for me, my brother, or both of us).
In short, I've swam laps in a pool exactly three times in my life (all in the last two weeks). It's the swimming equivalent to where I was in my running prior to that first 5k.
I received an email from a friend last week containing details and pictures of his first Ironman triathlon completed last week in Coeur d' Alene, ID. The very first thought through my mind? "He's insane. That'd be impossible."
Interpret that how you'd like.
I don't know if I'm committed to doing something like that just yet, but I'm signed up for the triathlon equivalent of my first 5k on August 13th. We'll see how it goes. If I do decide to go in the Ironman direction, it may take me another two years to get there. It would be a long difficult road. However, I would know that I've already taken one "crazy, insane and impossible" and turned it into a "done that."
Stay tuned...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Running Vs. Racing

It's been an extremely wet spring and start to summer here in the Willamette Valley. For someone who loathes the rainy, grey, dismal winters, June - September is supposed to be what keeps me here in Oregon. June did not do its part. Tuesday was beautiful however. As I made my way across town through traffic yesterday evening there were handfuls of runners going in all directions. I sat in my car, stopped at the n-teenth red light and just thought, "I really want to run today."

Unfortunately, I couldn't. Or rather, I shouldn't have. Though the soreness from Saturday's Seattle Rock'n'Roll Marathon had worn off, I still had fatigued legs and knew that with another marathon just 6 days away it would be stupid to try to go run any distance. And so I started thinking, which do I enjoy more: running or racing? The answer is both.

I know that if I don't have a goal to work towards in the form of a race that my training will suffer. I suspect that my motivation will drop, days will be missed and training will not be as intense. Hence, in 2010 I ran marathons in June and September and a couple of halfs in November. I started 2011 running a marathon in early March, followed by this current set of three in June/July and then I'll run the St. George Marathon on October 1st. These races are spaced far enough apart to get some rest and recovery in between but not so far apart that I can just ignore my training for weeks at a time.

On the flip side is my love of running. And days like yesterday make me realize just how much I like to run and how difficult it is to feel like I can't because a race is quickly coming up on the calendar. I love to get out and run and think it's pretty cool that I could go out on any day and knock out 10 or 12 or 15 miles without batting an eye. But when it comes to race day, I've paid the money, done the traveling and prepared in every other way to perform as best I can on THAT day. To do that, sacrifices sometimes need to be made along the way, even if one of them is to NOT run.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2011 Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Recap

Let me start with the expo Friday and then move quickly to the actual race. As we (mom/dad/brother/sister -- all ran the half) headed up to Seattle there was a post on the race Facebook page announcing that Scott Jurek would be doing a Q&A at the expo. Good stuff, but he was on in an hour and we were still 2 hours away. We figured by the time we got inside he would be gone so we quickly dismissed any thoughts of hearing Scott or meeting him.   

The Rock'n'Roll check-in has been a breeze both years. They really have this down to a science. After arriving and getting our bib numbers, shirts and swag bags, we set off into expo. As my brother an I were wandering through the grossly overpriced race apparel I came around the side of clothing rack and who is sitting at a table five feet from me? Scott Jurek. He was signing autographs and talking to people and the line was only 6 or 8 people long, so I told my brother we were getting in line. He wasn't quite as excited but he was playing photographer so we got in line and eventually my parents and sister joined us.

Scott Jurek, ultramarathon legend
Scott Jurek: Nicest. Guy. Ever. Took time to talk to each person, ask different questions, and actually hold a conversation with each person rather than just signing the stack of pictures in front of him and moving on. Whenever someone wanted a picture he got up from his chair, came around to the other side of the table, took his time, kept talking and made sure the picture snapped was a good one before returning to his chair. Genuinely good guy. Back when this whole running thing started (just over two years now), most, if not all, of my family passed around a copy of Born To Run, which prominently features Scott and his experiences in the documented race. I don't know if the book got us all to start running, but it definitely got us through the initial hurdles of becoming regular and consistent runners.
Last Minute advice from Scott Jurek

When I came to the front of the line I asked him if he would sign my bib number instead of the picture. More than alright he said but before signing it he started talking to me about my running. After a time he said he was going to write "Dig Deep" on the bottom of my bib (and then sign the top) so that when I looked down at it late in the race it would serve as a reminder. He did the same for the rest of my family and then we posed for a couple of pictures. Cool stuff.
Travis @ Finally Airborne

When it comes to the actual race I don't have much to report in the first 15 miles. Aside from meeting up with Travis from Finally Airborne and passing my dad and two other people I knew from home on the bridge, the first 15 miles were pretty uneventful. I tried to treat the whole race like any other Saturday run and for the first 15 miles, that's really what it was. Nothing of significance here, just cruising along at a good pace feeling good. I pushed passed the halfway mark in a fairly easy 1:53:12. The Mile 15 marker comes up after leaving the downtown area and getting back onto the freeway heading towards Aurora Ave. It was here that I had the thought, "ok, this is where the race really starts."

I knew what to expect the final 11 miles: a couple miles of hills, two out and backs and a run to the finish line. The hill going north on Aurora Ave (approx miles 16-18) was taxing, but after running it last year I was more prepared for its length. Though I took a few brief walking breaks through the aid stations, I really tried not to walk. I knew I would be in the ballpark of 4 hours if I just kept going and that was the goal. I'm actually really pleased with how I pushed through the thoughts I had to walk, even if it meant slowing my pace slightly.

I didn't need to look at my split times from last year to know that I was running almost almost an identical race from a time perspective (once I got home and looked at how close they were, it's very interesting, as least to me). Last year I crossed the final split marker, at mile 24, 3:42:00. This year: 3:41:28. I knew that if I was going to beat last years time (and PR), I had work to do. I kept pushing, despite wanting to walk. When I finally turned off of the freeway onto the exit ramp leading to Quest field I was exactly 7 minutes from last year's time of 4:07:22. I knew about how far I had left and knew that it was going to be awfully close. I gave it all I had left (and started weaving in and out of people as I passed them). 6 minutes...5 minutes...4 minutes...man,it was going to be close. 3 minutes...2 minutes...I turned the final corner and could see the finish line up ahead. With my legs on fire and wanting to walk for just a second but knowing I couldn't, I sprinted (relative term after 26 miles) down Occidental Ave. 30 seconds...15 seconds...ahhh!!!....and through the finish line at 4:07:20. PR by 2 seconds.

There's a certain brain fogginess that kicks in immediately upon finishing. It seems like I'm thinking completely rationally all the way up until the finish line. I'm calculating split times and pace and generally aware of my surrounding, but once I cross, get handed a couple bottles of water, get my metal, and sit down about 20 yards later, its like my brain needs time to readjust. I saw my brother standing along the fence about 20 feet away looking at me, but it was all a daze. After a few minutes I got up, inhaled 7 or 8 bananas, a couple of oranges and about a half gallon of water and I walked off fine.

It was a good race. I did PR, but still didn't break 4 hours. I did all I could do though and so I'm pleased with the outcome. As I replayed the race in my mind on the trip home I couldn't come up with any point in the race where I slacked off and mailed it in. Maybe I could have walked a little bit less through the aid stations but that would have saved me an extra minute or two at best. I know I didn't leave 7 minutes out on the course and so I'm content with the result.

In other news, while at the expo my youngest sister decided to sign up for the marathon next year if I would help train her. She's going to learn what sweating at 5:30am on a Saturday feels like. My parents also both signed up for the full and my wife may sign up for it too (more on that later. Stay tuned...).
Committing to Seattle RnR 2012!

It's a quick turnaround this week, with only 9 days between Seattle and the Foot Traffic Flat marathon on July 4th. Probably won't do much more than a 2 or 3 mile run later this week while trying to recover/prepare. July 4th also happens to be my 29th birthday so at some point in the day, after the marathon, I'm going to run 2.8 more miles to make 29 for the day. Just because.