Hovering over the Submit button

January 3, 2015

With one simple click, everything changes.

Anybody ever do this?  Fill out the online entry form and then just sit there, finger nervously twitching as you hesitate to press that mouse button and commit to something big?  Maybe a distance you have never done before?  A Full IRONMAN?  An Ultra?  Your first “race” (no matter the distance)?

submit-button-png-hiBecause now I have skin in the game.  Granted, it’s not IRONMAN money (which, more than the training, is why I will probably NEVER do one).  But skin, nonetheless.  Now I have to “train”.  Not just run.  I have to stretch to distances that make me uncomfortable.  I have to push my limits.  I have to be hungry and tired and wet and hot and cold and grumpy and sleepy and all the other dwarves at the same time.

So… After much self induced stressing and gnashing of teeth, I finally picked a race to start my longer distances journey with.  The Berryman Marathon on May 16.  Deep in the heart of the Ozarks.  It has a 50 miler as well but I’m not ready for that.  I looked at Land Between the Lakes in Tennessee, the Little Rock Marathon and a few others.  They were either (in my opinion) too soon or I had something going or… or…

In the end I just looked at what my goals are.  I just want to successfully complete a trail marathon, a road marathon and an ultra distance race this year.  So going slow and giving myself plenty of time to ramp up is not a bad thing.  There are a few shorter races in between to run and I’m also trying not to break the bank so the closer I can stick to home, the better.  Berryman may be the farthest away from home I get.  I might just do something crazy like run Heart of America for my road marathon (here in Columbia) and then run Rock Bridge Revenge for my 50K.  Anything else in, on and around those races is just gravy.  If I feel fantastic as the training progresses… maybe I’ll go farther…  A 50 miler, perhaps?  Or maybe I will hit the ceiling again and have to back off.  Either way, I’m more comfortable doing it closer to home than half way across the country.  If I have another great year…?  Maybe a mountain ultra… or a 100 miler.  Or… Dare I say… an Iron distance triathlon.

But I had to start someplace…

I ran 14 miles yesterday.  The significance of this run was simply that it felt REALLY good.  Dead on 9 minute pace.  Not breathing hard.  Nutrition feeling good (yay, Tailwind!).  I even ran with music… which I never do.  Just to see how it felt.  I felt like I could have easily gone 16-18 miles.  But why?  The good news is there is NO RUSH.  If I continue to slowly push up my mileages, I will still be at marathon distance by March 1.  This still gives me a month and a half before Berryman.  Since I am looking to go longer anyway, I may try to work up to 30 miles by the end of April if I feel good.

In the meantime, there is the ROC run in January, lots of little road races sprinkled all through the spring, the Sedalia half, a duathlon or two… Who knows?  It’s really fun to think of being able to do all of those races with no pressure.  Just going out to have a good time and do the best I can.  It’s a different world.


Two very different runs

December 30, 2014

trails_signI try to focus here on concepts and philosophy, rather than “what I did on my run today” kind of stuff.  The whole “I saw a cow, stepped in a puddle… my knee hurts” kind of blog is fine to read, but just not what I want to talk about.  And this is my blog… my sandbox, and my toys… so step off.

That being said.  I’m no purist.  I’m not a classically trained runner.  I don’t even play one on TV.  I just run.  And I have made most of the mistakes a wannabe runner can make, but I’m always up for more.  Some would say that to be really GOOD at something, you should specialize.  Trail running vs. road running, for example.  A lot of people I talk to say that especially road running is NOT good training for trail running.

OK… two things.

First, I have never been concerned about being GOOD.  Just getting better.

Second, I LIKE both.  I think each has something to offer the wannabe.  And in my somewhat unique situation here in Columbia, I have the opportunity to do both.

So here is an example of my last two runs.  My thoughts and actions applied to each.  It just kind of shows where I’m at right now with running and fitness in general:

12/29/14 Trail run- Rock Bridge State Park

This run actually starts the day before.  I had run 13 miles on a flat “rails to trails” section of the MKT.  A real gem of a trail here in Columbia that we are lucky to have.  I am trying a plan for marathon/ultra training that uses back to back long runs, so the trail run was to be 6-8 miles.  I like this plan because it is only 5 days per week.  This gives me two solid days off and also some flexibility with my work schedule.

Trail conditions were mediocre at best.  A light freeze on warm ground made for a crunchy outside with a soft, squishy layer underneath.  Rocks were slick and creeks were cold.  My mantra this year is “slow and easy”.  I decided to run with a small group who are training for an ultra in May (Berryman).  When I am just running on my own I usually run faster than they do, but MUCH shorter.  However, I’m really trying to ease up on the gas a bit and go longer so the pace was perfect.  They are all experienced ultra/trail runners so I tried to feel their pace.  I found that I am running wrong.  They cruise the downs, go easy on the ups and hammer the flats.  I would lose them on the flats if I wasn’t careful and run over them on the ups if I wasn’t paying attention.  Matching their pace I found that I felt better all the way around.  Especially at the end.

About half way through the loop, we took a turn I had not taken.  It was announced that this loop would take us 9 miles.  Given that I wanted less, I almost bailed.  But I didn’t.  And I’m not sure why.  It also took us backwards on a lot of the trail, which made it like running a new trail.  I think partly because of the company and partly because of the new (to me) trail, I was just distracted enough to take my mind off my legs and how sloppy my footwork was.  The trail was pretty crappy and there was a lot of hopping from side to side of ruts.  I also noticed that I was the only one doing this.  Everybody else just plowed right up the middle.  So I tried matching their line as well.  Sure, I got muddy, but the decreased effort to go the same distance was also noticeable…

As we came to the end of the run, one of the group challenged us to run some stairs.  My watch showed just short of 9 miles and, but for the peer pressure of the moment, I would have stopped.  Instead, I added another mile of stairs and finished at exactly 10 miles.

I’m not particularly proud of the fact that I went more miles.  In fact, that can be dangerous.  Over training leads to injury.  I will need to stick closer to my plan from now on.  I am training for a marathon.  They are training for a 50 mile race.  Of course they are going to run farther.  However, it was encouraging nonetheless.  A good run, longer than I had planned, successfully navigating crappy conditions, and learning a few things along the way.

12/30/14 Dreier’s Dirty Half Dozen (A route)

This fantastic running group that I have been privileged to be a part of for the past 7 years meets on Tue/Thur mornings at 5:30am.  We take attendance, honor the dedicated, and we name and announce our routes each day.  There are usually 3 distances from 5-10 miles.  In the summer, we can easily average 80+ runners.  But even this morning, there were at least 2 dozen hardy souls ready to roll on a breezy, 20 degree, DARK morning.  The motivation this group has given me is probably the only thing that has kept me going when things got bad.

Today’s route was one of the only ones (of the dozen or so we switch between) that I had not covered the entire “A” route on.  It’s long (9.3 miles) for us and there is a very real danger of getting hopelessly lost as it follows a twisty path through neighborhoods full of dead ends, cul-de-sacs and other perils for the directionally challenged.  Since only the fast runners usually run the full route, I can’t keep up.  And you really need a Sherpa the first time you do this run, so I was usually out.  But today I decided to tackle it anyway.  Hoping that perhaps I could hang with SOMEBODY long enough to get through the new stuff.

There is a reason they call this run the “Dirty Half Dozen”.  But I’m pretty sure they don’t know how to count.  I counted at least 50 hills on this route, all of which were steep enough to give me tunnel vision at the top.  OK… maybe not that bad… but still.  I wasn’t sure how my legs would behave after Rock Bridge (also kind of hilly) so I took it easy at the start.

So many runners whose blogs I follow or listen to on social media are scared of running in the dark.  Especially new ultra runners really fret about it.  But, for about 9 months of the year, we run in the dark every time.  This is significant in this case because on this route there are some spots where I would consider the darkness “advanced”.  Pitch Freakin’ Black… actually.  Which is weird for being in town.  At one point we went down a street and I completely lost 2 runners who were only about 40 feet ahead of me.  Street signs were hard to spot.  It was almost like I had just started running in the dark again.  Which sucks when it’s on a route you have never run.

To make a long story longer…  I fished a little for a group that was going the full distance.  My legs were good for about 8:20/mi pace so I knew the fast group was out of my league.  Two groups just laughed at me when I asked if they were going long, so I prepared myself for an adventure.  Luckily, there were a couple of runners just ahead of me who I guessed were going long and I could (barely) keep them in sight, so I stalked them.  They successfully navigated themselves (and, by association, me…) through the course and, though we shaved a little off because they were tired of hills and I had no idea where I was going… We still managed 8.5 miles and I didn’t get lost or die.  That’s a winner.

This run just reminded me that there are always new challenges.  My challenge was running long on tired legs on a new route.  I showed myself that I’m in good enough shape to do that.  Changing the new route from “stressful” to “adventure” made it more fun.  And, let’s face it… Columbia ain’t that big.  I would have eventually popped out onto a street I knew.  It wasn’t that big of a deal.

I guess the point of all this is that I’m still learning, just about every time I go out.  And I still like both trails and roads.  I see no reason to specialize.  I may do a few more trail runs since I am looking at a trail marathon, but I don’t think I’ve lost that much by doing mostly road training.  I can navigate in the dark, on uneven surfaces and poorly marked roads/trails, in most any weather.  Maybe these runs were not so different after all…?


Staying in control

December 28, 2014

fit-just-go-runI’m still enjoying the euphoria associated with having a really good year.  And while celebrating my successes is a good thing (but hard for me to do), I found myself getting swept away in some over optimistic thinking recently.  While I do want to capitalize on the fact that I’m starting out 2015 in good shape (for me), and I want to build on that, I’m also trying to temper those thoughts with reality.

What I mean is, I was so excited about not starting the year at the bottom of the mountain in regards to fitness and having to run up… AGAIN, that I started making my schedule out for 2015… kinda blacked out… and when I woke up I had planned a road marathon, two trail marathons, a 50K and a 50 miler for myself.  That’s a tad optimistic.  Especially given the fact that I’ve only ever completed ONE marathon in a year, and I wouldn’t call that “successful”.  I survived, but was much the worse for it.  In fact, I was out for a year afterwards…

I had also only given myself about 2 1/2 months to ramp up for the first event on my schedule.

Yeah… umm…

No.

So I pulled my name from the lottery for that event (Double Chubb) and spent some time thinking about how to do this right.

What I “want” from this new era of fitness is longer distance and consistency.  After last year I’m all PR’d out.  Except for the marathon distance I met every goal I set.  And a PR for the marathon should be pretty easy since my last one was a 4:45.  I was 10 pounds heavier and cramped up the last 8 miles and walked all but the last half mile.

I’m kinda done with triathlons for a while.  I still love them, but I really want to simplify.  Later in the year I may switch back to do a little cross training, but my focus is simple.  I want to do a spring, off road marathon.  Then train for a 50K in the fall and use a late summer/early fall road marathon as a training run.  That’s it.  Two marathon distance races.and a 50K.

I may do other races, but they will not be the focus.  I may do triathlons, but only if they fit in my workout schedule.

I guess I like the feeling I have right now when I run.  Like I can control what distance I go or how fast I run.  I can, if I want to, push well down into the 7s and even upper 6 minute miles if I want to.  Or, like today at Rock Bridge, I can run for miles and miles at a 12 minute pace.  My only complaint about last year was that I always felt like I had to push every run, bike or swim.  It was all about “faster”.  While it was fun to see that improvement, it was stressful.

I am in control.  I don’t have to push my training speeds to achieve some magical time goal.  If I have any time goal at all it is for the road marathon and that is to get under 4 hours.  Or, just under a 9 minute mile.  Given I ran 7:42/mi at my last half marathon, I see this as very attainable.  Could I run faster than that?  Yes, I think so.  But I don’t WANT to.  I like where I’m at.  The only thing I need to do is just increase the miles.  Slowly and carefully.  Stopping for a while at longer distances of say 18 or 20 and running those distances a few times before moving on, to get used to them.  Like I said.  Control.

And, quite honestly, now that I am comfortable with triathlons, if things fall apart and I have to back off on my main goals this year, triathlons are a great “plan B”.  No offense intended to my triathlon friends, please.  That’s not me.  But we are all in this for our own goals, and right now… mine are along a different path.  Who knows, after that first 20 mile run I may come crawling back to the pool and bike and never go back again.  But I won’t know until I try… Right?


In the bushes

December 15, 2014

Some athletes give themselves gifts for the holidays.  New tech or gear… a race sign up or two…  Maybe some shoes (curse you Running Warehouse…).  I, however…

For the last 3 years I have given myself miles for Christmas.  Last year this backfired and I had to take a month off.  Hopefully I have learned from that experience.  I sincerely doubt it though.

Grizzly_CoromFallLike the college student who swears to be good and not drink at the party, and does a great job resisting… for the first hour or so, and then one thing leads to another and you black out and wake up in the bushes outside your apartment (not that this has ever happened to me… just sharing the experiences of a friend), I found myself looking at a very decent mileage total for me for 2014.  On or about December 1 I had 15 miles to go to get to 1200 for the year.  That’s awesome.  With my standard 25 mile week I could easily get 1300.  No.  Wait.  I would need a few extra.

No problem.  Three or four miles extra per week and I’m good.  No more than that.

But I need to start ramping up mileages for marathons, 50Ks, etc. next year, so maybe a few extras.  One or two long runs… but that’s all.  I swear.

Then I blacked out…

Instead of the bushes, I woke up this morning 3 days into a “challenge”.  The 12 Running Days of Christmas.  Twelve miles on the 13th, eleven on the 14th, ten on the 15th… etc.  Until you either collapse, blow up, get hurt or make it to Christmas.  Now, granted, NEXT week will be a piece of cake (or two).  This week, well, sucks.  The whole challenge is 78 miles in 12 days.  With the majority (63 miles) coming in the first week.

…wait.  I just said 63 mile week.  Or, over twice my usual mileage.

What could possibly go wrong?

Lessee… Ten in the rain today.  Then the temperature drops.  Nine into the dark (I have to start late afternoon) tomorrow.  Eight cold ones on (and not the good kind) on Wednesday.  Seven fairly normal miles on Thursday and then it snows.

Bring it.

If I’m going to do this “Ultra” crap, this will kind of be normal.  So what is the strategy?

Slow the hell down.

Yup.

That’s pretty much it.

It’s all about time on my legs now.  Pace means nothing.  It’s almost like starting all over again.  Being able to run 3 miles at 6:45 is great.  But now I’m looking at running (any pace… just running), for 5-6 HOURS.  It’s a totally different mindset.  A completely different kind of stupid.  And the whole goal is to simply avoid the bushes…


Talk me off the ledge (again)… please.

December 12, 2014

I am not a mileage junkie…

I’m way worse.  I’m a WANNABE mileage junkie.  And this time of year I get “Seasonal Junkie Disorder”.  That’s where I SAY all year long that mileage doesn’t matter… but then I panic in December and do something stupid like put in a fifty mile week just trying to achieve some nebulous, meaningless mileage goal.

And… here we go again.

crazyThis year is not as bad.  As of yesterday, I’m at 1197 miles for the year.  Considering most of the year I was training for triathlons and only running 3 days a week, 23 miles a week is fine.  I will hit 1200 on my 10 mile run tomorrow and be done with it… right?

*sigh*

See… I have this friend…  and he does this thing every year… called “The 12 Running Days of Christmas”.  I don’t want to say or curse his name… but his initials are Shawn Goertz.

If my mad math SKILLZ are correct, this is 78 miles in 12 days and 63 miles of that in the first week.

I’ve done this before… and it hurt.  A lot.  I don’t think I was in as good shape then as I am now… but it hurt.  I also know that if I’m serious about ramping up for ultra distances, mileage needs to stop scaring me.  You know… big girl panties and all that.

It will also put me at 1275 miles(ish) on the 25th.  You know… with one more week to run the last 25 miles to get to 1300.

I need therapy.

p.s. If anybody is doing this craziness as well and needs some company, please call me.  I’m available every day but Tuesday (until after 3).  I can only run about 7:45/mi for these distances at the fastest.  But I will GLEEFULLY run 10-15 minute miles if you let me run with you…

…please?


Gear check

December 10, 2014

gearSo it’s the end of the year and I am looking at going after some different goals next year.  Marathons and ultras, mostly.  Maybe an offroad tri if I can find one (you would think with as many trails as we have in Missouri there would be AT LEAST one…).

But since it’s the end of the year I have kind of been taking inventory of my gear.  We all know you can never really have enough stuff and most of us are at least closet gadget freaks, if not full blown hoarders (you know who you are…).  I have desperately tried to stay pretty minimal on the gear, which, in focusing on triathlons, is REALLY hard to do.  The lure of 3 different wetsuits and a cockpit full of electronics strapped on a $10,000 bike is seductive and I did fall into that at first.  But no.  Now I am perfectly happy with my bike, wetsuit and other gear so unless it breaks, I’m using it.

Unfortunately, my other gear is fraying around the edges a bit.  Not shoes, of course, those are perishable items with a known life expectancy.  It’s the other stuff that is starting to die.  I should really record purchase dates and set them up with an aging summary (no, I’m not anal or anything…) so that I know when to start expecting a breakdown.  This would be things like helmets, sunglasses and goggles, GPS, etc.

Some things, however, need no aging summary.  They announce their age… um… fragrantly.

That’s a kind way of saying all my clothing, most of which is 5 years old or more, STINKS!  When I take off my shorts or shirts now they just walk over to the corner and whimper to get into the washing machine.  And if I don’t wash them immediately or, even worse, forget them in the car or backpack… the results are, well, eye watering.  Now I know this happens with everybody, but when some of your shorts/tights/gloves, etc. are approaching 10 years old, the time between “mountain fresh” and “bog of eternal stench” is greatly reduced.

So I’ve been digging and researching potential purchases for next year.

On the clothing side, I need to replace most of my shorts and shirts.  I can get through the rest of the winter with the tights I have but they are falling apart by degrees as well.  Because of my build (read: legs like a mountain troll and a dwarf had a love child) I may have my wife custom make me a pair or two just so I don’t end up with 6 inches of fabric bunched around my ankles at the end of each run.  I have always liked Asics and New Balance running clothes and will probably stick with those shorts.  My socks of choice are and have always been SmartWool.  My shoes used to be New Balance but I have fallen in love with clown shoes from Altra (ugly… but comfy and stable).  Save for a good distance shirt with a pocket (Hoka makes some nice ones) and a singlet or two for hot weather (still too fat to go shirtless), I will probably just stick with race shirts.  If I’m gonna spend $$ on a shirt, I might as well get a race to go along with it… I have a decent hydration pack and two handhelds for really long stuff.

Where I’m going to have to lay out some cash this year is in 3 pieces of gear.  A good, bright, long lasting headlamp, a new GPS with a battery that lasts longer than 6 hours, and a good rain jacket.  After MINUTES of exhaustive research, here is what I want:

  1. Headlamp- Petzl NAO.  $160 but worth it.  Bright as a Night Sun spotlight, 20 hour battery (in reactive mode), USB rechargable and has a top strap to keep the damn thing from sliding down over my eyes suddenly as I bounce down a trail.  Yes, that happens now with my old Princeton Tec… A LOT.
  2. GPS- Garmin 920XT.  $450.  Hands down, the right one for me. 18+ hour battery, still waterproof for the occasional triathlon, and more features than I can even begin to describe.  I know Suunto and some others have long lasting batteries, but I need one watch for all of my obsessions endurance sports.  The Garmin is the only one that does it all.
  3. Rain Jacket- Patagonia Houdini.  $100(ish)  This mostly comes on the recommendations of others.  Whenever anybody asks about rain wear, this jacket always gets rave reviews.  Most of the time, unless it is below 50 degrees, I just run.  No jacket.  But some races (especially longer ones) require some sort of rain jacket and this one is supposed to be light weight and packable.  Unfortunately, nobody local carries it.

Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.  As are links to cheap stuff or coupons.  I’m one of those odd males of the species that like to shop… :)


The problem with cross training

December 8, 2014

sport-spray-for-shoesRemember when cross trainers came out in the 80s?  A little bit running shoe, a little bit tennis shoe, with a sprinkling of basketball thrown in?  If you wear them now you are just marked as old.

Why?

The problem with the “cross trainer” shoe was and, to a degree, still is, that it is OK at everything… but GOOD at nothing.  You can do a little of any sport in it, but if you specialize, it will fall apart pretty quick because it is not made for intense, daily use.

Serious athletes have long since learned that purpose built, specialty shoes provide better support and last longer because they are DESIGNED for the singular type of abuse you plan on giving them.  Likewise with training.  If you want to be really good at something, you have to focus and specialize.

What does this have to do with anything…?

At my “advanced” age… That is 48 in 10 days…  Several years ago a sage doctor looked at me in the exam room, beaten and broken by “specialized” training for marathons, and suggested I look elsewhere for my endurance fix.  After initially snorting at him and dismissing his suggestion of triathlons as “cross training”, I spent the next 9 months trying to prove him wrong by coming back as a runner… and failing.

Low and behold, 7 years later I experienced my best year as an athlete by being balanced in my training for, of all things, triathlons (and somewhere that doc is getting his deserved “I told you so” on).  By being disciplined and not overloading one sport, I felt good and strong all year.  Not “GREAT” at any one sport, but good at all three.

But just like the cross trainer shoe, I also felt that I couldn’t be really good at one of the sports without giving up something on the other two.  AND, just like the cross trainer shoe… Once September rolled around and I changed my focus to running only for the fall, I have slowly started falling apart too soon again.  Nothing major, but my knees, achilles and back are starting to show some twinges that they did NOT when I was running less.

Again, what does this have to do with anything?

I REAAALLLY like to run.  More than anything else.  And I REAAALLLY want another shot at the marathon since it kicked my butt last time.  AND I REAAALLLY drank the trail running Kool-Aid this fall and am completely enamored with running AT LEAST a 50K next year as well.

…but I’m afraid I’m going to fall apart again like that old cross trainer…

I’ve found a plan that has me swimming on Monday and Friday and only running long on Saturday/Sunday (back to backs).

…I don’t know.  I just feel like I’m insane to even try this again…  And adding miles…?  Offroad…?  Something is wrong with me… obviously…


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