Monday, December 14, 2015

Race Review: Bulow Woods Trail Run

The 2nd annual Bulow Woods Trail Run took place on Saturday December 12th. Three distances were offered: 50k, half marathon, and a 4 mile (ish). 
Before I talk about the race itself I must let everyone know that the whole (race) weekend was a huge deal for my family and me. I was graduating from university with a B.A. in psychology the following day. My daughters and parents had flown in for the occasion and my wife, Harmony, had organized the whole weekend down to the last detail. As a runner, I really wanted to race this weekend; I knew it would add to the excitement and create memories. It didn't disappoint! Harmony, who earned both her B.A. and M.S. as an adult, and my girls, both of whom have their B.A.s, were running the half marathon and I was running the 50k. I mention their education to show how they were a huge part of the motivation for me to complete my degree! Thank you, my beautiful family, for your support!

On to the race! Very simply, the half marathon was a single loop of the out and back course and the 50k was two loops, obviously with a couple extra miles tacked on! The course was wonderful! It was flat and runable with a nice mix of trails through the trees, double track, and rooty/muddy sections that made me feel like the hard-core trail runner I am (in my mind).
The organization was fantastic, especially considering this is only the second running of this race. The race was held in the Bulow Woods StatePark and parking was a couple miles away in the Tomoka State Park. This was not as inconvenient as it sounds; shuttles were constantly bringing people back and forth. I must have waited for the shuttle for a total of 5 minutes! Easy! There were three aid stations but because of the course, runners were never more than 3 or so miles from the next one, and often closer. The food was great with lots of the perfect foods runners enjoy: fruit, candy, chocolate, Fig Newtons, water, Heed, etc. (and rum runners in a souvenir jar at the finish!).

I'd estimate 95% of the course was shady! 
 It was lovely! I brought sunglasses but ended up carrying them for the first half before dropping them off at the half way point!

Milling around the start of an ultra is always fun an exciting. There is a lot less stress in the air than at a road race (and exponentially less than at the start of a triathlon) and seeing all the equipment and clothing is fun! Before the gun (or the race director saying "go"), everyone was hanging out near the line and chatting about what runners chat about: running! No one was standing on the line ready to bound out of the gate for an immediate lead! It was very laid back and chill!

 ***Pro tip*** Don't judge a runner and/or change your race plan because of their equipment or body hair!

I found myself gazing at two guys that looked like every ultimate ultra-runner depicted by Trail Runner magazine! They were trim, wearing hydration vests, and had beards! Beards!! I thought to myself, these guys must really mean business; they have beards! Should I try and hang on to them at the beginning? Ugh! This was supposed to be a fun run and now these beards are goading me into running faster than I'd planned, and we haven't even started! For a few minutes I was cursing my clean-shaven face for hindering my performance! (Ha ha, I jest! Well, sort of!) Anyway, as in any race, once it begins, all pre-race jitters melt away as I did what I came to do: run as well as I could on the day!

I started with the front couple of runners at a fairly easy pace (8:15ish) and enjoyed chatting to a few guys for the first couple miles. (I'm #4 in the photo below! I'm guessing I didn't see the camera!)

The flat and shady course soon whispered that it was ok if I picked up the pace. I listened! I took the lead somewhere between miles two and three, not with the sole intention of running away (pun intended!) but more to look for the trail and make sure we stayed on track. On trails it is often easier to be behind someone and have them keep an eye out for the trail markers. This wasn’t really a problem at this race because the course was extremely well marked. It would be very difficult to get lost (this is coming from someone who has got lost several times on supposedly “well-marked” courses). 
 The course was relatively easy and very flat until the last three miles before the turn around. That’s about 6 miles per loop (12 miles total for the 50k) where we really needed to watch our footing over roots and through twisting trails. There were a few sections where the trail got muddy. As I was the first one through the first time, the mud wasn’t too bad but after all the runners had gone through, it got pretty sloppy (and fun). It wasn’t muddy with standing water but the mud was shoe-sucking soft (I heard one runner got their shoe sucked off their foot!). The first time through this techy section was fun and easy(ish). The second time through, fatigue was making it more difficult to pick my feet up as high as I needed. Although I didn’t go down completely, I did trip several times (This is the first trail run I can remember that I haven’t fallen!). At the second turn around with about 7.5 miles to go, I was wondering how far back the person in second places was. When I passed him, I timed it at 5 minutes and 40 seconds. Ugh! Not enough of a buffer to stop and rest, especially if he was feeling good and picking up the pace. In the last quarter of a race, it is not often I am feeling my best and freshest. Today was no exception! I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, determined not to stop. I knew I wouldn’t mind not winning if I had given everything. My determination paid off and I crossed the line in first place in 4:12:14. Needless to say I was VERY happy. What made it even better was my daughter, Michelle, running the last ¼ mile with me. She had wandered down the trail looking for me and made me dig deep to turn my legs over faster to finish strong! My wife and daughter, Libby, and Ryan (Michelle’s boyfriend) were all cheering as I crossed the line! In looking at the results, I can see I increased my lead over the last 7.5 miles, finishing 13 minutes and 17 seconds in front of the second place finisher. I guess the lesson is to just keep pushing on; you never know what you can achieve until you try! 

This race offers something for everyone! For those looking to tackle their first ultra distance race, this would be an ideal choice! The course does not add so much difficulty (terrain wise) that it makes the distance seem even more challenging! Let me be clear, running 50k is no easy feat, however, don't be put off by the course itself; it is welcoming and provides enough challenging terrain that makes you look forward to the flatter and open parts of the course! It was great having the other distance races too; there were always people to cheer and give high fives too! I received a lot of kudos from other runners on the course! It really helped me, especially during the last hour of the race! Support means everything and the running community knows all about this! Thank you!

My wife, amazing runner that she is, finished 3rd in the half marathon and won the Masters division! My daughters ran the half marathon together and came 2nd/3rd in their age group! What a great day of racing! Thank you to my wonderful family for making it extra special and memorable! 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Heed the call (of your body)

I want to recognize what many runners often find themselves dealing with, or not dealing with: pain/discomfort/injury. I, like many of my running peers, think we know what to do when it comes to training and injury prevention. We read countless articles, books, and scientific studies on the subject. To say listening to your body is important is a massive understatement. We know we ought to take a rest day (or several) when needed. Although empirical evidence supports we only lose a negligible amount of fitness after a two-week hiatus and that fitness is quickly regained, we often fret if we can't meet our subjective running goals. Why this willful ignorance when it comes to our own fitness and/or running? Why doesn't this blindness apply when we're talking to others about their goals and training structure. When talking about our sport with others, we truly want what's best for them and will err on the side of caution to help them avoid any unnecessary hardships and barriers to their training. With others, we use scientifically supported training principals which can be (inconveniently) forgotten/ignored in our own training. When questioning if I ought to do something (training or otherwise), my wife will sometimes ask if I would advise my daughter to do the same thing. This question helps reframe the situation. If I decide the answer is no and still go ahead and take the questionable action (e.g. double run day when the I'm overly fatigued) then I'm a hypocrite and ought not be surprised with a negative reaction. Furthermore, I may find myself in a state of cognitive dissonance which is not a comfortable psychological state to be in. Avoid it by taking actions that align with what you know and hold to be correct.

Why am I writing about this now? Well, if you follow me on Twitter or Strava you may know that I've been having some pain in my butt/groin/hip. Back story: in 2014 I broke my hip (stress fracture) while running the Boston marathon. It happened towards the end (near the Citgo sign) and I managed to finish the race. After stopping, I could barely walk! Below, the first MRI has an arrow showing the location of my 2014 stress fracture. The second MRI is zoomed in a little closer so you can see the fracture.

After about 6 months of low/no impact training I was able to resume running. I knew I needed to be more careful with my training and one of my 2015 goals was to avoid injury. Fast forward to today, the summer of 2015, and I'm training for a summer ultra marathon, The Pinellas Trail Challenge. Obviously, the heat has made it difficult to run but I've adopted running considerable slower than I used to. My easy runs are easy, rather than the moderate effort I used to run most miles at. I've enjoyed running more and my volume increased quite rapidly. Too rapidly for me. I know my orthopedic threshold is lower than I'd like but I've been ignoring that fact; I needed (wanted!) to train for my upcoming race!
Unlike my 2014 stress fracture that occurred suddenly with acute pain, my injury now feels relatively minor. I hope it’s not another one! However, the feeling is disturbingly similar to my 2014 stress fracture. When I first felt it last week, I took two days off then, on the third day, ran an easy 11 (see the video I made on that run below).

The discomfort was still there. Ugh! WHY IS IT SO HARD TO JUST STOP? Well, I've stopped now and it's not pleasant but I'm happy; I know I need it! I'm writing this during a two hour sesh on the elliptical. I am taking a whole week off from running before I reassess. Saturday August 8th will be the soonest I run. I have to identify a date in here because it, and my readers (all three of you (LOL)) will hold me accountable. If there is any pain I will hold off for longer and, if necessary, cancel my race (I REALLY don't want to do that!).

So...something to take away...hmmm. Although I am self coached, I see incredible value in getting one. She will give you structure to your training and workouts tailored to your individual abilities/needs. If you adhere to the plan, I think you'll be less likely to become injured. I also see incredible value in the running community, especially online; you can communicate with thousands of people and see what they're doing. Moreover, the running community provides support when you're doubting your own training. Although we think we know best, sometimes it helps hammer home an idea when you hear about and see others doing what you know to be best. 

Many thanks to my wife and running peeps for what you do. You don’t know how much I value what you provide!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lesson learned: Pace yourself to meet your goal

You know how it can take an extreme example to prove a point? This is what happened to me with the point that going out too fast in a race is not the most effective way to run a race. Going out too fast in a race is a rookie mistake. It is a rookie mistake that even after running for 10 years, I still make. When racing, I often find myself running faster than planned during the early miles; I’ll think about banking time knowing (when I say “knowing” I mean “incorrectly assuming”) fatigue in the latter miles will force me to slow down. My reasoning for banking time is that during the latter miles, I will be able to cash in the banked time and still meet my goal. While I can tell myself this strategy is successful because I meet my subjective goal, it is clearly an anecdotal fallacy; there is a ton of evidence supporting the claim that running a positive split (running the first half of the race faster than the second) is not the most effective way to meet your racing potential.
I’m not going to go into the data supporting negative splits but if you’re interested, this link provides a great analysis of some race times and allows you to draw your own conclusions about successful pacing strategies. If you typically run a positive split in your races, don’t feel bad; you’re in good company (and the massive majority). Why? It’s really hard to run a negative split!
Check out this Runner's World article: What World Records Teach About Marathon Pacing
My unintentional experiment came on a day I had planned to run 13 miles. I have recently been trying to slow my roll, to run the majority of my runs easy, rather than at the medium pace that I would usually fall into. 

Running slowly is like a breath of fresh air; it’s fun (and easy). I like the idea of the 80/20 running plan (80% of your mileage is an easy effort, 20% is a medium to hard effort), and especially the data and scientific support behind it. FYI, It’s likely I have been encouraged by Matt Fitzgerald’s book, 80/20Running, which I am currently reading. 

Although running slow is fun and easy, I still need to do some hard work to harness my full potential (I cringed at writing that but I’m leaving it in!). That was my thought as I set out to keep my heart rate (HR) below 140bpm (70% MHR) except for the 5 X 0.75 mile intervals I wanted to do. By the way, this run started at 10am with a temperature of 89F (31C). It was HOT! I warmed up for three miles before starting the intervals. I noticed my HR was not going under 140bpm during my recovery (0.25 miles) but I wasn’t worried; I had several miles to run after the intervals in which I would run in the easy zone 2. However, much to my surprise, my HR was extremely hard to get into zone two after the intervals were done. I really slowed down too! It want’s until I slowed to a walk that I could get my HR into the mid 130s. A lot of runners don’t like to walk (I am one of them), even if their goals would be better served by doing so but I think that comes down to ego (fodder for another post). Anyway, after my short walk, a very slow trot kept my HR in the range I wanted but it was several miles before I had recovered enough where I could speed up without putting my HR through the roof. Below is a graph of my pace and HR.

So, what did I learn from this workout? Well, nothing I didn’t already know but rather, something I chose to ignore. Recovering from a hard effort take longer than I thought! If I were racing a long distance, I would have jeopardized my race, or at least my race time, by burning through my glycogen stores so quickly. Then there is cardiac drift which is the normal phenomenon where your HR increases throughout your run (exercise session) although your speed remains the same. Even if you don’t increase your effort, your HR increases. If you raise your HR too early it has nowhere to go. Your effort will, obviously, be unsustainable. Although my interval workout and racing are not exactly the same, the lesson I learned is if you want to meet a certain goal (time, HR), correct pacing is the key to success! Deviating from your race/workout plan can lead to goals not being achieved.
Run hard when you have to, run easy when you don’t.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Gluten-Free? Me? No way! (Or so I thought!)

It’s quite fashionable and trendy to eat a gluten-free (GF) diet these days. Fashionable, trendy, and EASY. Wifey and I went on a cruise a few weeks ago and there was an entire section of the buffet labeled “Gluten-Free.” Granted, most of the items on the buffet were obviously and naturally free of gluten like meats and potato and they also had some kind of bread but the point is, even a major cruise line is jumping on the GF bandwagon. And why wouldn’t they? Almost 1/3 of Americans report being GF! If the United States has 320 million people, 106.667 million of them report eating GF even though estimates 1/133 people have celiac disease (CD), which equates to 1,418,671 people who need to eat GF. 

And need to they do; CD is a genetic autoimmune disease that damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. 

CD can lead to a number of other disorders including infertility, reduced bone density, neurological disorders, some cancers, and other autoimmune diseases. Ugh! So clearly it is imperative that some people eat GF, but I found myself rolling my eyes at everyone else who was eating this way just to be trendy.

I choose to be vegan for a plethora of reasons. However, as time goes by, I see that the ethics of a plant-based diet is my primary motivator. I don’t eat animals because I don’t want to contribute to their suffering. I’ve always been an environmentalist and science clearly shows a plant-based diet is better for our planet. Yes, I realize I’m talking about the trendiness of a GF diet when it is clear veganism is also, thankfully, trending now. 

This is my blog so I guess I can overtly favor one thing (diet) over another, right? My point is to show that I have made a decision to eat a certain way and have my reasons yet I found myself wondering about the sense behind the GF movement. After all, eating GF doesn’t benefit other sentient beings or the planet.
Is GF a marketing gimmick used to sell us certain foods at a higher price? The economic factor is definitely part of the puzzle but so are cognitive biases which power the economic machine: the availability heuristic, the availability cascade, the social desirability bias, and the bandwagon effect (I am clearly experiencing the bias blind spot effect so no need to comment about that. Ha ha). As I first stated, it is first and foremost a social trend. It is cool to be, or at least claim to be, GF.

If you didn’t know by the name of my blog, I like to run. As a population, runners are notorious for having higher rates of anemia than the average Joe. I am no exception. My blood work often shows me flirting on the edge of anemic red blood cell count. Recently, I also displayed markers indicating possible CD. I discounted this possibility, mainly due to my disdain at the thought of having to join the hoards of those eating GF and also because I was not experiencing any symptoms (symptoms include: bloating or gas, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, itchy skin rash, tingling/numbness, pale mouth sores, joint pain, delayed growth, poor weight gain, thin bones, infertility, headaches, depression, irritability, and discolored teeth).
I visited with a gastroenterologist and scheduled an endoscopy to take a gander at, and biopsy, my duodenum. 

To make a long story short, results showed I have asymptomatic CD! Whaaaat??? Ugh! What now? Now I have to make drastic changes to my diet as limiting food containing gluten and derivatives is not enough; even the smallest amount can damage the villi in the intestine. To be honest, the diet is easy. Finding options that are both vegan and GF can be a little trickier but there are still a ton of delicious, nutritious, and satisfying foods I can eat and enjoy. The main struggle I have is being “that guy” who asks about GF options. But if worrying about other people’s opinions of me is my biggest challenge, I’d say I’ll be just fine.
On the bright side, I’ve found GF products that I would not have taken a look at before my diagnosis. 

GF Chex cereal is amazing (and rightly falls into the vegan junk food category) and is a perfect dessert! The only big changes I’ve made are with grains. Although oatmeal is technically GF, it is a rotation crop therefore can be contaminated with wheat, etc. There are certified GF oat options but the recommendation is generally to steer clear of oats for the first year after diagnosis, introducing them again only after giving your intestine time to heal. Oh boy! I used to eat a lot of oatmeal! With this in mind, I wanted to replace it with something. That something is quinoa; it is the perfect replacement even though the consistency is quite different! Change is good, right? “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” ~ George Bernard Shaw.

I’ve not only changed my eating habits, I've also changed my perspective. I’m now a plant-based GF foodie and I accept my GF brethren for whatever reason they choose to live GF. Do what makes you happy and healthy, peeps.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Race report: 119th Boston Marathon (2015)

Hooray! Marathon Monday is upon us again! The Boston marathon is a revered race in the running community. The 119th running was my third consecutive time running it. It didn’t disappoint…of course, it can be cathartic to complain about something and the weather forecast provided such catharsis. The race was still super fun! A few days before, this was the forecast. 

Burr! Needless to say, there was a lot of moaning and groaning within the online running community.

Exited to get going on my race weekend, I left Tampa, FL early Friday morning, flying into Manchester, NH.

I am fortunate my parents live pretty close to Boston so I can stay with them. This has so many benefits above being able to combine a family visit with a race; I get to eat my normal food and stick to a fairly similar routine, which is something that can be lacking when you travel for a race! I had mailed some food items to cut down on food preparation time and to ensure I had exactly what I wanted. Some may call this “rigid” or “fussy,” I call it rigid AND fussy, but I also call it being well-prepared. It makes me happy, reduces stress, and makes me happy. Who is against happiness?

Like every runner before a big race, I had been checking the weather, compulsively. In a nutshell and as you can see from the forecast above, it didn’t look good. However, the weather in the three days leading up to the race were beautiful: sunny skies and mild temperatures. But, really, who cares about the weather before a race? It’s race day that matters.This was a video I made on my Sunday shake out run, the day before the race. Look how beautiful the weather is!

The taper ought to be a time of celebration. It's when your hard work and preparation get rewarded with tons of rest. Although I walked quite a bit in the days leading up to the race, I had reduced my mileage and eliminated any additional cardio activity (elliptical, Stairmaster, bike) in the two weeks leading up to the race. Although I know I have rested, I struggled with not feeling as rested as I'd like. Why were my legs a little achy the day before? There were little feelings of discomfort on my shakeout that had me worried in the beginning, although they soon went away.

Race day arrived and I had slept well, which can be unusual before a big race. I made it to the drop off point in a light rain …

…but by the time the bus reached Athlete’s Village it had stopped. I only had about 30 minutes before I had to walk down to the start line and in that time I had another banana (my fifth of the morning) and a spot of coffee. It’s about ¾ of a mile from Athlete’s Village down to the start line and, as usual, the atmosphere was thick with excitement with runners making their way. I was still wearing my warm clothes, which I was grateful to have; the temperature was 41 without any wind-chill. About 5 minutes before the start I shed my sweat pants and trash bag rain jacket, keeping my sweatshirt, hat and gloves on. Unfortunately, the planned Army helicopter flyover was cancelled due to a low ceiling, which was funny; the news helicopters’ had no trouble flying over the crowd. Oh well. 10am arrived quickly and we were off. For those who don’t know, the first miles of the course are downhill. After a taper, and with extreme excitement and eagerness to run, it almost feels like you’re falling. Below is the course profile with my pace (the dip in pace at mile 14 came courtesy of a potty break)!

Early running is easy but IT’S A TRAP! Going too fast here can cost you later in the race. I managed to hold back and was quite pleased with the restraint of my first three 5K splits: 20:45, 20:29, and 20:40. I felt good and could have gone way too fast! At mile 8 the rain began and at mile 11 is was a complete deluge. I was soaked and, worst of all, my shoes were soaked. I cannot emphasize enough how miserable I was between miles 11 and 13. It was so cold. My face felt frozen. In short, it was very uncomfortable! My metal game went out the window with the downpour and I had to battle to get it back. I kept on and when I checked my watch at mile 16, saw a 6:31 split, and felt good, I knew I had made it through the worst. I would not allow any mental weakness for the remainder of the race! Next up was the Newton hills, culminating with Heartbreak hill. I knew the hills started at mile 16 and ended around mile 21. I told myself I was up for 5 miles of work and my reward would be an easy 5 (mostly downhill) to the finish. I used a few mantras during the hill climbs including “run within yourself” and “do what you can do in this moment.” Furthermore, I refused to look up the hill. I kept my gaze about 20 feet in front and hammered it out. The final 5 were not as easy as I told myself they would be, due to the pounding my legs took in the hills, but it was nice knowing I was so close to the finish. At this point, I saw my average pace, up until this point, was 6:44 and I knew, barring anything unforeseen, I would be achieving my primary goal time: under 3 hours. I was very happy but I tried not to focus on the finish, yet. “Do what you can do in this moment!” I ran as hard as I dared (could?) in the last 5 miles and I felt great! Turning onto Boylston is a real treat; you can see the finish line in the distance and the crowds really motivate you to go all out!
I crossed the line in 2:57:39. This was my third time running Boston and I had made it a goal to go under 3. 

It turned out, in spite of, or perhaps because of the weather, to be a fantastic day…until I stopped running. Wow, that is when the cold hit me. Luckily, my parents were quickly on scene and had a sweater and jacket for me but it was still SOO cold. I knew I’d be posting about the race so I took a few (freezing) minutes to take some photos. 

The walk to the car was brutal but I made it to the sweet warm cocoon. Speaking of sweet warmth. This review is being written on an insanely turbulent flight back to Tampa but I have warm temps to look forward to upon my arrival.
Congrats to all runners who ran today! You’re all amazing athletes!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Image is everything, or is it?

Don’t we all want to be thought of, or seen, in the best light possible? When we identify with a particular sport/job/activity, it’s pleasant to work hard at it, to become better and see improvement. When those efforts are recognized by others it only serves to increase one’s feeling of well-being an enhance one's self-image. It’s a basic tenet of the supervisor-subordinate relationship: praising the effort, rather than the result, achieves greater success and happiness in the subordinate. Of course, we all know that one has to be happy with one’s self to truly achieve happiness. It’s a repeatedly cited cliché but Whitney was right: learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all
Anyway, enough of all that; if you’re reading this then it’s likely you accessed it from Twitter. Social media allows us to present out best selves. Social media doesn’t care if you love yourself; it cares about presenting your best self. The side of self that will be looked up to the most, appreciated and “liked/favorited” by as many people as possible. 

We often show only the side that makes us look like the superstars we all are. This is my blog so take me for example, I ran 20 miles today! Wow! Yes, I know, that is a long way. If you’re reading this then you may be (probably?) thinking, “Plantfedrunner is one freaking amazing guy! I want to be just like him. I wish I could go out and run that far and be so freaking awesome, like him!” (Don’t unfollow; I jest!) Ok, that may not be exactly what you’re thinking but the fact that I posted my long run earlier today painted me in a pretty positive light, especially if you’re a runner and into that kind of thing. What you don’t see is the struggle I had on the run. It was hard. I needed the motivation of my wife when, at around 7 miles, I ran into her near the house. I stopped and walked with her for a bit. She told me to “just get it done” and that I’d be really happy if I did it. I knew she was right but when you’re not in the right mindset it’s very difficult to focus on a future feeling. Social media doesn’t care about that. It’s the end result, not the journey that followers, me included, like to see. I like to see all my online friends activities and postings because it can be motivational. I don’t think (often enough) about how hard it was for them to run that day or what else they had to sacrifice to get it done. Just waking up can be a PITA and getting out of that sleepy, relaxed mode can be super hard! I will try harder to appreciate the effort that goes into the work and workouts you all post!

There is also the faulty self-image that social media and our training logs can provide. I like looking back at my training block to see what I’ve done. It can be comforting to know you’ve worked hard at achieving a goal. “Trust your training” is great a mantra to overcome race day anxiety! 

 But comparing ourselves to others is (mostly) not a good thing. True, it can provide motivation to better our selves but, overall, we are our own person and should embrace it. That brings me to the real reason for this post. I have been looking at my Tweet statistics and am not getting much attention. Apparently, photos increase the attention each post receives. Duh, of course! I know I like seeing personal photos! During my run I knew I was going to take a few photos to post immediately after my run. The only thing is that I was tired at mile 7. At mile 20 I would be exhausted. Who cares! A photo is just a snap shot in time. It does not have to capture my fatigue! 

I also remember seeing a photo of Rich Roll that, I thought, captured the grace of running. Even though it is not a typical running step, Roll looks strong and elegant. FYI, I just copied the photo from his site. If you want to check out his podcast, click here!

I’m that kind of runner (I thought). I will recreate that photo.
Post run, I walked in the door and immediately ask wifey to come out and take a few photos and a video of me. The photos are not too bad but, unfortunately, the video captures the real me. 

Not the imagined elegant and graceful runner I imagine myself to be. This is pretty self-depreciating so, in my defense, I did just run 20 miles. Enjoy!
Ahh, but what happens if I take some stills from the video?

Admittedly, these photos still do not paint me as the most elegant or graceful runner but they are clearly better than the video. Lesson learned: It is easy to adjust the image you portray to your followers. Are your photos showing the real you or the "you" you choose? Either way, I guess, it's all fun!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

GOOAAAALLLLLLLs......can make all the difference!

Runners are, generally speaking, a pretty successful group of individuals. Yes, admittedly there may be a slight bias to that statement, but I stand by it. Setting goals is an important part of getting anything done. This applies to most things but i'll try and keep it running related. Goals really help when training for a specific distance or time; without them, our workouts lack structure and focus. Goals provide motivation and direction. They help us get up early and get out the door or to log a run after a long day at work (something I am not motivated to do). Most importantly, setting and working towards goals is fun! Achieving one's goal is also fun but it's the process that matters. It adds another level to your workout instead of just floating, aimlessly, through life and mindlessly logging miles without direction. It seems like a safe assumption that most runners are goal setters in some regard, however, I think many of us could use a little more focus and direction with our goals.

A goal ought to be both specific and measurable; an ambiguous goal will not allow you to plan the specific actions needed to meet the goal. E.g. Bad goal: I want to run faster. Good goal: I want to run a 4:00 marathon!
There is a goal setting sweet spot that runners should consider: Goals ought to be hard enough to attain that they encourage one's top performance but not so hard that they're inconceivable. For me, It would be not be a good goal to want to break 2:00 in the marathon; training, body type, orthopedic threshold, and the time commitment needed, make it an inconceivable goal. Oh, and the fact that it has never been done (yet) is a small limiting factor for this recreational runner!

Once a goal is set, the next step is appropriate implementation intentions, that is, how, exactly, are we going to achieve the goal? This is an important aspect of goal setting theory and separates those who reach their potential from those who do not. E.g. It would be silly of me to make a goal to run a hundred mile race and then only focus on 5Ks leading up to it. It is probable I would not meet my potential in the 100m distance (This is where having a coach can be beneficial!). Make challenging and achievable goals; your performance will improve and you will move towards it. Motivation can be maintained, when your goal is far in the future, by making mini-goals that keep you on the right track. An example could be running a 1:50 half marathon before your primary race where you go for a 4:00 marathon.

The Reality of Goals

We all know how important it is to make good goals and how effective they can be. I always find it funny how, during a tough interval sesh or race, I will catch myself negotiating with my goals. That's why I like to set various goals to account for different race day variables. I use the "A", "B," and "C" goal format where the "A" goal is the primary goal if everything is perfect. My "B" goal is still a good goal and I'd be happy with it but I have fallen back on it because some element was not perfect. The "C" goal is the catch all. A lot of people put "finishing" in this spot but I still prefer, and recommend, having a quantitative goal. "Finishing" allows too much leeway in effort and can lead to slacking off the pace more than you otherwise might if you still have a time you can work towards.

Goals are your friend. They push and motivate you to be your best possible self. With them, you can become the best runner you can be. Without them, you're doomed to run aimlessly without the satisfaction of working for and achieving something. They are not totally rigid; they're flexible and can be reasoned with when absolutely necessary. Try it today! If you haven't set a goal for this summer's race season, do it. You'll be amazed at how your motivation increases and you have purpose and direction in your sport.

What are your goals for your upcoming races? Remember, letting others know your goals holds you accountable to work towards them.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Leaving the GPS

There have been several articles in various running publications about runners' reliance on their GPS (Click here for one published by I will usually read them, contemplate them for a very short time, and move on. Why do I move on so quickly? I am one of those data obsessed runners. I can't wait to get back from my run and look at my stats: pace fluctuations, splits, and, when I'm wearing a monitor, my heart rate. It's a huge part of the fun. Furthermore, I get a kick out of seeing where I ran; that little map with the red line showing my course brings a little more brightness to my already amazing day! I'm really showing my simplistic tendencies! The thought of not tracking my run seems like it's wasted. That's horrible to admit and seemingly goes against my statement, in a previous post, that I'm intrinsically motivated to run. However, my Garmin/running relationship is what icing is to cake. Well, that's not entirely true; I prefer icing to cake so, to be truthful, that statement ought to be: my running/Garmin relationship is what icing is to cake; I'll always eat the icing but a little cake can improve it and add to it! Just to drive this analogy into the ground, I will eat icing without cake but I will not eat cake without icing! Done!

Anyway, what was this post supposed to be about? Ahh yes, going without a GPS for a change. Today was that day for me (Gasp). Well, sort of.

I ran a 10k this morning and although I wore my Garmin, I pledged not to look at it throughout the race (I still wanted the stats and the map!). I would not use it to set my pace.

Let me interject a short story: I arrived at the race site at around 6:10 for a planned 7am start. I went for a warm up, did a few strides and got back to the start area around 6:50am. The crowd seemed pretty thin. Where was everyone? I asked another runner and was met with incredulity as he told me the race didn't start until 8am. I was then told that it would be unsafe for runners to run in the dark! I guess I'm just a rookie who (obviously) can't follow directions (race start time) or understand basic safety procedures. I wanted to rattle off the many races I've run that began before sunrise and the plethora of races that last through the night, but I resisted. To fill the extra time, I went for another warm up run. I ended up running 6.29 miles before the race.

Ok, back to not using my Garmin. My plan was to run as hard as I could for the whole distance (I guess that's what racing is all about) without using my watch to keep pace. I had set a goal to go under 40:00 for the 10k which equates to a 6:26 per mile pace. I haven't run a 10k in years and had no idea how I would do. 40:00 seemed like a nice round number. The race started and a few guys took an early lead. After about 1/2 mile I could feel my heart beating and I wondered if I was going too fast. Nah, just hang on! The miles clicked by and I started to feel I was slowing down a lot. I knew I was not maintaining the same pace as in the beginning but I wasn't getting passed so I figured I wasn't completely doomed. The vibrating on my left wrist, a Siren's song begging me to look, came without fail every mile. I didn't submit to it!
As the finish line approached I saw, with amazement, 38 minutes was on the clock. I had run faster than I'd planned because I didn't use my Garmin to set the pace. Would I have been slower had I looked at my watch? We'll never know, but it was surprisingly refreshing, and freeing, not to glance at my wrist every mile (at least).
A bonus is that I was able to look at my data after the race. According to the Garmin, I ran 6.27 miles in 38:34. That's a 5 second PR!

Check out the pace and map. Aren't they fun to look at!

2014 Space Coast Marathon

This photo below was taken the day before the marathon. We had just finished a short "shake out" run and were practicing our pose to cross the finish line.

This race was a big deal in a lot of ways: this was my first marathon after a summer of recovery and healing; I had sustained a stress fracture in my hip at the Boston marathon last April; and, because of the injury, I had spent the summer cross-training (including a lot of boring hours running in the pool). For those who have been through it, you’ll be able to empathize. The healing process is long and frustrating and it is frustrating not being able to do what we love. During my recovery I was often without any pain or discomfort, giving me a false sense of health, which led to running again too soon and then aggravating the original injury. Ugh! I have done this before and it is a vicious circle perpetuated by a mixture of passion for your sport, weakness of the mind, and irrational though processes! The right motivation, however, can work wonders. In August, my wife and my daughter asked me to refrain from running until November. They knew I needed at least eight weeks without any running to heal and have a chance to run my next scheduled marathon: Space Coast. This would be My daughter's first marathon and we were planning on running it together, which is why this race was such a big deal to us! She had diligently followed a training plan and put in all the hours of training. She had followed in the footsteps of her mother (a 3:00 marathoner herself) and me. This race experience potentially had all the elements of a fantastic day and it did not disappoint.

We stayed in a hotel about 8 miles from the start line. We drove our route to the start line the day before and decided where we would park. We are planners! On race morning we got up super early so we could eat, drink our coffee, and get to the start line early enough to mill around with the other runners. There is always a great atmosphere before the start of a race and I was enjoying it immensely. I was watching my daughter and imagining how she was feeling, finally facing the start of her first marathon. My wife was race-walking the half marathon which started 30 minutes before the marathon. My daughter and I were well trained and well tapered, so when the starting gun went off we settled into a pace that felt easy, so I was not worried that we were going too fast. Our initial pace was faster than we had planned, but only by about 10 seconds per mile. After about 8 miles we slowed down to an 8:00 pace. Our ‘A’ goal was a 3:30 finish. Was it an aggressive plan? Yes, but that’s what ‘A’ goals are about! Our ‘B’ goal was a 3:45 finish and, as is appropriate for one’s first marathon, simply making it to the finish line, in whatever time and condition, was the ‘C’ goal.

Things were going well until around 16-17 miles in, when all of a sudden, the race was on (at least the hard part was). The mile markers were a little off from what our Garmins were showing, indicating we would be running a little further than 26.2 miles. This was having a psychological impact as, when running at race pace, the thought of going even one step further than necessary is a daunting prospect. As the cliché goes, the 20 mile mark is the halfway point in the marathon. The final 10K was a slog! We were digging so deep that we could feel the heat from the Earth’s core! About a half mile from the finish line, my Harmony’s screams could be heard. She had race-walked the half marathon, finishing in 2:34:55, and was there to cheer us in. Her encouragement, along with being so close to the finish line, helped us  increase our pace (slightly) and we realized were actually going to do it! Of course, there was never any doubt, but we were excited it was finally happening! The training had paid off! We crossed the finish line in 3:42:03, with our arms held high and holding hands, as all champions do!

This photo was taken shortly before the finish. You can see my right arm, holding M's hand; we were about to raise our arms in victory!

It was a hard race; marathons often are (especially the first one)! I am one proud Dad! Lessons were learned, especially in the areas of nutrition and pacing. There is something to be learned from every race! Races have many variables, some of which can be controlled, but it is far from an experimental design! As runners we ought to train hard, prepare for the worst, and hope for the best!

After the post-race festivities, my wife and daughter went back to our hotel to shower. I celebrated the race by running back to the hotel. I had to give them time to shower, right? Also, because I ran without any pain, I had my eye on a 50 miler. To be honest, I had my eye on the 50 miler before the Space Coast Marathon, but now it was really a possibility.

Many thanks and much love to my two favorite people for giving me the motivation to rest my body to let it heal and for the best race experience ever!

2015 Everglades Ultra: 50 miles

Saturday February 21st. It was 3:30am and the alarm had just gone off. The day before I had gone to bed at 3am after finishing work. Needless to say, I was pretty tired. I had registered for the Everglades Ultra (50m) fairly recently and all the hotels close to the race site were full. I was staying in Naples: 45 minutes away. It was wonderfully cold (46) at the start and that only made my excitement more intense. The heat would not be an issue, at least for a few hours. Milling around the start line I heard a guy talking about how he was going to win and set a new course record. I found that confidence intimidating! I wanted to win and set a new course record! My desire, however, was based on nothing! No experience at the distance, no experience with eating while I ran, no experience with the extreme fatigue that awaited me.

The race started on time. It was dark and this was also my first time running with a headlamp (something I was irrationally exited about)! I took off near the front of the pack. There were a few guys ahead of me and the lead guy was WAY ahead (he finished 1:21:02 in front of me). I ran with one guy for a few miles but I stopped at the first aid station and he continued. Of the 50 miles I covered, I'd say I covered 46 alone.

I was in 7th place for the first half of the race. The terrain was flat and reasonably dry with wood plank bridges crossing the wet spots. There were a lot of Cypress knees (roots that grow up out of the ground). They were a major trip hazard! Another terrain trip hazard was the exposed limestone. The potential to break an ankle or hurt yourself falling seemed pretty high. I went down hard twice in the first half but, amazingly, was fine. Only a few small scrapes!

The aid stations were amazing. I ate a banana and PB & J at most of them and refilled my bottle. Oh yeah, this was also my first race carrying a water bottle! I ate a lot during the race and even started to feel a little full. The good news is that I didn't bonk. I had no energy issues.

Around mile 26 or so I passed another runner and then another one soon after that. That was a confidence booster! At about mile 35 I passed another runner which put me in 4th place. I held 4th place to the finish! By the time I passed those three runners it was getting pretty warm (it was 77 at the finish) and crossing the prairies with no shade was pretty intense. Although the aid stations were pretty close, I found myself running low on water a few times during the hot stretches. Two of the guys I passed were from much colder climates so I'm sure the heat was affecting them a lot. The third guy had run a 110 mile race the weekend before so I really couldn't give myself too much credit for passing him! LOL. Mile 30 is where the race started for me; I started getting tired although, surprisingly, I was happy to "only" have 20 miles to go! How often does one think that?! If the race started at mile 30, mile 40 was the beginning of the end. Wooo, those last 10 miles were the hardest I've ever run. There were a lot of walk breaks! I would tell myself to run until my Garmin gave me my mile split and then I could walk for a minute or two. I fell two more times between miles 40-42. I was having trouble just picking up my feet! The last 8 miles were on a dusty road. I had thoughts of picking up the pace and flying into the finish, passing loads of people as I did. Sadly, and probably expectedly, that did not happen. I continued my slow shuffle towards the finish, trying desperately to maintain a quick turnover. All of a sudden the finish was upon me. there was no sprint over the line. I was cashed! What an experience! Although my quads were screaming and I felt that if I sat down I may never get up again, I was elated!

I didn't feel hungry but I knew I needed to keep eating. Funnily, the more I ate, the hungrier I became! Luckily, the finish line grill was fired up and they had veggie burgers and tons of other runner junk food!

The worst part of the day was getting out of the car after my 3 hour drive home. Not a pretty sight!

The whole race was a great experience. I am one happy plant fed ultra runner!