Sunday, May 18, 2014

This is the end, beautiful friend.

The short version: The Buffalo Marathon will be my 100th marathon/ultra and it will be my last, at least for a while. Maybe forever.

The long version: All of us runners have a story as to why we started, for me it realizing in 2005 that I was overweight/ unhealthy and running was the only exercise I enjoyed (and it was cheap) Yes, I ran in high school, and was mid-level varsity in cross country, but I stopped as soon as I went off to college.

In the fall of 2005, I ran my first race in over 20 years, a little 5K and did ok, but knew I wanted to do more. I decided soon after that I wanted to train and run my first marathon, which I did in June, 2006. That represented the start of 8 years of running psychosis. In no particular order, here are all the goals that I made for myself, every one of them I achieved along the way:
- Sub 3 marathon
- Run Boston (2007)
- Run a marathon in all 50 states, each under 4 hours, before age 40
- Run a 100 mile race (x8)
- Get a ‘real’ sponsorship
- Top 10 finish in a national championship race (x2!)
- Set a world record (a cheezy one, yes, but still a WR)
- Finish every race I ever started (not a single DNF)
- Run around the Earth (total mileage equivalent)
- Run a barefoot marathon
- Win a marathon (x7 I think) and win a Hundo

After 8 years, as I am about to hit the magic 100 marathons/ultras, I look at what I have accomplished and think about what else there is to do that is different/new/exciting in terms of running and that list is very short, and behind each one is a reason against it:
- 50 states again (too much $$, time away from family)
- Even more 100 milers (I have finished 8 of them, now ‘old hat’)
- Run marathons faster (2:49 is a fine PR, thank you)
- Run Badwater/Spartathalon/some-other-really-long-race (time to train ‘right’ too much)
- Run across the US (too much $$, time away from family)

Put another way, there is no goal I can see in my (exclusively) running future that is anywhere near worth the effort needed to achieve that goal. And before you ask, marathons just don't do it for me after 100 of them and the effort (money/training) is now (sadly) never worth the payoff.

There will always be people closer to the ‘crazy cliff’ who will do those things (and more) no matter what I choose to do. I have accomplished so much and have nothing left to prove. I have no monkey on my back I need to remove. I am really quite happy with where I am. I want to go out with my head up, so to speak.

Running 110+ miles/week is time consuming. Those long hours on the road are no longer fun. I started running for improved health, but the difference between 40 miles/week and 110 miles/week is almost ziltch in terms of health. I could be doing a lot more ‘other things’ that I am starting to enjoy.

Now I have time that I can give back to the running/exercise world. I was recently elected at the President of the Friends of the Falling Waters trail. I sit on the board of the Fitness Council of Jackson. I am the race director/timer/marketing/all-other-jobs-too for the Falling Waters Fat Ass race series (spring and fall!) There are also other hobbies I wish to pursue, including photography and study of the Tao. I look forward to spending more time with my lovely wife as well.

Will I ever run a marathon again? Definitely, maybe. I know my ultrarunner facebook page will soon go away, and maybe this blog as well, though I like it as a diary. Who knows.

I want to thank all of you who have supported me and listened to me ramble about my boring running career. I know I have inspired at least a few of you, and that does make me happy. My experience and knowledge will never leave so feel free to keep asking me questions. I will always have answers. Promise.

Thank you, goodnight, and don't forget to tip your waitress.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

2013 Halloween Hustle Marathon Results


I try to come home to southern Wisconsin every few months to visit my folks so Salacia and I decided to head back in late October to spend the weekend enjoying the cool fall weather. About 10 days before the trip, karma told me to check the race schedule to see what might be going on. Turns out there was a marathon that weekend with a start line about 4 miles away from my parents house, so of course I signed up.

The race is still young and is trying to go with the whole run-while-in-costume schtick, and I would guess that maybe 1/3 of runners were dressed up in something resembling a costume. I found out later there were cash prizes for the costume contests. I had been hoping that my large entry fee was going to some good charity. Oh well. I have burnt plenty of money on other races, and they can't all be cheap.

The course was a little bit of everything. The first 4 miles were flat pavement out in the wide open with a little wind. Then it turned into residential roads with gentle hills and lots of turns. Then dirt trail in heavy woods. Then long hills in open farmland. Repeat. They get mad props for variety of race course.

Being late October in Wisconsin, of course it is going to be a cool morning, so it was no surprise a 7-10 mph breeze with 32 degrees met us at race start. I wore two shirts + a throwaway shirt at the start and the temps increased to low 50's and slightly higher winds as the race wore on. I tossed my throwaway shirt just before we went into the shady woods with lower temperatures. That was a mistake, but not fatal.

It is rare for my mother and my daughter to see me race, so this time being able to see both of them whilst running was cool. I first saw them at about mile 1 (they avoided the chaos of the start) and four more time throughout the race. I have run many many races and almost never get a loved one to actually cheer me on as I run by. It was nice and I even stole a few hugs from Salacia when I had a chance.

In my new method of starting slow and speeding up in an effort to meet as many people as possible during the race, this was a fun race. I met many people including a Zoology professor at UW-Madison, 2 graduate students (biology and psychology) students, a supply chain manager, a manager of a local Target, a hedge fund manager, and a nuclear medicine technician and an IT guy (that's actually what he called himself). A few of them running their first marathon (those are the most fun to talk to) and a few veterans. The last group I ran with had just shy of 200 marathons run total between the four of us. We had some fun conversations.

I carried my camera with me to take pics of people and things but I wanted to make sure I got a good quality photo of my handstand and I knew that Salacia would be at the finish line. As I approached I was looking forward trying to find her and eventually did about 30 feet before the finish line. I stopped stone cold and handed her the camera (people immediately started talking, trying to figure out why I stopped there. I walked towards the finish line while she got the shot ready asking her "Are ya ready?" When she responded in the affirmative, I turned, did my handstand to the cheering crowd, and then looked back again at her and asked 'Did ya get it?' and again she answered in the affirmative. That was cool.

There was one sad moment of the day. About 20 feet past the finish line I saw a man on the ground having CPR being performed on him. Obviously overweight, I assumed he was a recent half marathon finisher and it happened very soon before I finished as the ambulance that had been partked 1/4 mile away had not yet got to the spot. Knowing what the statistics are regarding people who have CPR performed upon them is not great, I assumed the worst. I have been checking the news and had he passed away I am sure there would have been a mention somewhere. Since there was not, it seems like her survived which is great news.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

2013 Wildlife Marathon Results (Or: A New Way to Enjoy Marathon 'Racing')

11/123 overall

This was my third time running my only 'real' (not counting my FA races) local marathon, with the starting line about 10 mile from my house and portions of the course along some of my most favorite running routes. I try to no run the same race in consecutive years as I try to keep memories of individual races separate in my head. This was the 5th running of the wildlife race, but I had run it the inaugural year and the 3rd year.

So it was a beautiful course, and the race operation is getting better, now in its 5th year. The first year, there were only 28 finishers, but now there are over 100. While there are other bigger races going on right around this time (Detroit, Grand Rapids) this race is small and full of love. It will only get bigger and better.

After my 'restart' a few months ago, I have been trying to come up with new/different things to get me motivated to run marathons, like running barefoot for example. Recently came up with a  new idea where I start out slow, find someone to chat with, and when the conversation goes stale or reaches natural end point, speed up and meet someone new and start over again. Repeat until you find a person you want to finish with or until you reach a point where catching the next person is out of the question. My local race seemed like a great place to test out the new method. As predicted I learned a lot.

I got to the race about 45 min before the start and along with standard pre-race things (bib, timing chip, emptying my bowels, etc.) but I also got to chat with many friends of mine who were also running either the full or half marathon. Since it was my local race I knew quite a few of them. All good folks.

I had been sick most of the week before, so I was trying to rest and did little running. I wanted to start out 'slow' so I planted myself about halfway back hoping that would be about the 4 hour group of people. After about 1.5 mile I realized I had already matched up with people more along the times of 3:40. There were plenty of people in that group, so that was ok.

In brief, here are a few stories I got to hear in the first ~11 miles.

- At about mile 5, the eventual 3rd and 4th place female finishers in the half marathon caught me and the group I was with (The half marathon started after the Marathon, so these ladies were cruising at about 6:45) so I decided to fly with them for a half a mile. While focused and clipping along, we still managed a short conversation about half marathons and how cool it was that 5 of the first 6 half marathoners were women.

- A brother/sister group, his 9th, her 1st marathon. They both live outside Detroit and had never been to Jackson before, and were surprised. There found we have some cool stuff here.

- A 30ish year old runner on his 14th marathon, who was interested in my state quest and asked me lots of questions (cost, time, motivation) about it. He has been 'considering' that idea for a while. I gave him plenty of pros and cons.

- Three separate teachers over different parts of the day. A college professor, a 3rd grade teacher, and a gifted/talented teacher.

- At least 5 people who I tried to strike up a conversation with who ignored me or couldn't hear me because of their earbuds. I brought my iPod but only listened to it when I was doing my 'sprints' to catch the next group of people.

At ~mile 10 I met up with a young woman who was running her first race. She wanted to run under 3:30 and I am not 100% sure she did. I ran with her for a while, trying to keep her nearest competitor (at that point about 1/2 mile ahead) close. At this point, I was on a 3:25 pace, and I thought I could catch a few more people, so I said my goodbye wishing her luck, and decided to try to catch a few more people.

I eventually caught the next runner at about mile 12 who would eventually be the first masters finisher. It was first marathon and she is a cross country/track coach so she had a huge support group. We joined up with another gentlemen on the course and the three of us stayed steady for quite a while. Her longest run before this day had been 20 miles so at mile 15 I did my best to prepare her for what was going to happen to her at mile 20. I was blunt, but tried not to scare her. She started to fade at about mile 21, but I tried hard to motivate her. doing my standard late race motivation.

It was a great race, and it gave me a huge dose of I-Love-Running motivation. As someone who is trying to get back to the love of the sport, this helped a lot.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

FWFA Marathon Results (Or: Mark's Little Race)

1/4 overall

Fat Ass races are low-key events that have no entry fee, no timing chips, no race shirts, nor fancy finishers medals. With marathon entry fees going up, especially at bigger races, there has been a boom of these types of races around the country. These smaller, more personal races are more for the purity of the run. They can be just as fun and memorable as any big time race.

As I near my 100th career marathon(+) I decided I want to start my own Fat Ass race and bring people from around the southern Michigan area to a beautiful part of Jackson, the Falling Waters trail. I had figured out that there was a simple (read: almost impossible to get lost) 13.1 mile out and back section of the trail. Add that it was late September so the temperature was perfect and the trees had started to turn color and you got yourself a perfect set of race conditions.

My day began at 5:30 am with Misty and I going to setup the aid stations for the race. Since it was free, I went cheap on the supplies. At the 3.5/8.5 mile point I put a small table with a gallon of gatorade and a gallon of water with some cups. A similar station was placed at the the 6.55 mile turn around. We then headed to the start finish line to setup a table for people’s contributions to the event. I had asked for people to bring what they could for post race food. We ended up with a good variety including cookies, pretzels and apple cider.

For an 8am start, the first people showed up around 7:25. I hand made 2”x3” ‘race bibs’ out of some tarp I had lying around. I am trying to make this race a little different and fun. The runners seemed to enjoy it. A little after 8am, I explained the route and how simple it was and we took off.

As an added incentive to make the race more interesting for me personally, I ran it barefoot. I have been doing barefoot/minimalist running for a little over a year now and never run more than 14 miles barefoot before, but I knew that this would be a great first marathon sans shoes. The course is on paved trail the entire way, but this asphalt was is good condition so it was not that bad. Every once in awhile, I would wander off the trail and run along the grass next to the trail to give my feet a little break from the hard asphalt. The problem was that, while it was soft, the grass was high and it was hard to see sticks and rocks so I was running very cautiously. In the end, I ran a total of 3-4 miles on the grass. I was pleasantly surprised that I had only 2 quarter sized ‘wounds’ on the balls of my feet, that was it. Of course it slowed me down, but I was quite happy with a 3:31 finish time.

In order to get a few more attendees, I had both a half and full marathon distance. Misty was kind enough to hang at the start/finish and make sure that people got their finishers medal for the half marathon and hold down the finish line until I came in later. She is such a sweetie.

With the idea of trying to make this free race ‘unique’ I decided I wanted to make homemade finishers medals that were still fun. The design I settled on was a poker chips with hole drilled in it, the race information put on it by hand with a permanent marker and a twine lanyard. Memorable and cheap, all at the same time :)

The last finisher came in only 35 minutes after me, so I was able to get home pretty quick after that. It helps that the starting line is less than 2 miles from my house. The total cost to me to put on this race was less than $15, which is just fine. There were fewer people than I had hoped, but those who came were very happy with the event. I hope to do it again in the spring time.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

2013 Woodstock Mellow Marathon Results (Or: A Crappy Trail Race)

2/114 Overall
1st Masters

 2 years ago I ran the marathon at this ‘festival’ in 3:42. Yup, that race was horrible with it raining most of the 24 hours before the race. I won it, so that took some of the this-course-is-really-crappy sting out of the experience. This time, the course was dry, but in some ways, it was worse. I am not planning on running it again, just so ya know...

 Woodstock is a actually a weekend long party with music and people camping out and trying to get the whole woodstock feel. While people are chillin’ and listening to 1960’s music, there are races going on. Lots of them. The following race distances happened during the course of the 3 days:  1 mile, 5K, 5 mile, 10K, 10 mile, half marathon, full marathon, 50K, 50 mile, 100K, and 100 mile. All had different start times and were run on two different loops with some parts of the loops overlapping. That meant you were never alone for too long. You would think that would be good, well it wasn’t if you were trying to run it fast. 

 About 60% of the course was on single track with lots of rocks, roots, stumps. So not only was the trail crappy (some people like such a challenge, I do not) there were 100K and 100 mile runners on the trail who had been running for hours, so they were going slower than me so I had to keep slowing and asking for permission to go around them. That was more than frustrating, not because I thought the were in my way, it was just frustrating that I had to be rude saying ‘On your left’ about 3126 times during the race. I felt like I was being rude, trying to pass them to get a good finish time. 

 After the first loop I was in the lead by at least 300 m, which was the farthest could 'look back' at any point. My lack of serious marathon training did catch up to me as I was passed by two people at mile 15 and 17 respectively, though I did not slow THAT much. Well, until I fell down.... As with my last race, someone in front of me who should have finished before me took a wrong turn on the course and was disqualified. I learned my lesson to study the race course well before a race. Other still need to do that I guess. You never know when you will be the lead dog (or nobody near by) and if you don't know where you are going, you just might get DQ'd (or run long) because you took a wrong turn. 

A few days before the race I had been running on the road in my VFF’s and came down wrong, jamming my big toe pretty bad, a condition I later found out was turf toe. Such an ailment has been know to keep NFL football players out of games. Yeah, it hurts, but it wasn’t stopping me, of course. About a week before the race I had smashed my other big toe and it was still not 100% either. You don’t know how important your big toe is to your running form until you injure them. So as I was running this rocky/rooty course I was paying more attention than I wanted to on the ground in front of me. This task removes the enjoyment of running trails, being able to look at the trees and such. In the first 21 miles, I only stumbled (slightly) 3 times, never actually falling. At mile 21 I hit a rock and went down hard jamming my big toe on a mostly hidden rock. Again. I actually did cry out in agony and the next 40 steps were very very tender.

 It was the kind of injury that knew would be ‘ok’ in a few minutes, but it slowed me down because now I would spend the last 5 miles looking exactly 3 feet in front of me trying to not trip yet again. It is amazing how un-fun such a run is. I knew my place was pretty much set and I just wanted to finish without getting seriously injured, so I was not that upset with the resultant pace, but the reason for the slowing was frustrating. 

2nd and 1st place finishers
 After I crossed the finish line with my handstand, I chatted with Matt, the 31 year old winner who came in 4 minutes before me and was actually a really nice dude. We chatted afterwards for a good 10 minutes talking about running ultras, the course, etc. That was cool. It was completely different than my last race a few weeks ago (where I also finished second) where the winner had no intention of talking to me or any other racer that day. 

 As a big local race, I had many many friends who were running the races offered or helping out others as crew. I tried to chat with as many as I could throughout the day, but due to the varying start times, I only got to chat with ~10 of them. I only hung out for a little while afterwards, having some food and listening to the tunage, watching people occasionally cross the finish line to cheers from audience listening to the band. 

I will never race here again. I hate the course because of the constant tripping hazards and crowded trails, and am not a huge fan of the entire setup (so many races on top of each other) but I might come back as a crew member or pacer. I could handle that. There are plenty of races within a reasonable drive, so it is not like I am going to miss it. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The 16 Mile Training Run (or: The 'perfect' endurance workout)


       So we all have our favorite workouts, be it a certain route, format (tempo, interval), or time of day. Today on my new 16 mile route I had a major revelation. I contend that 16 miles is the sweet spot workout when training for any distance from half marathon up to 100 milers. 

       Before I explain why it is good for so race training of various lengths, let me just talk about how awesome the distance is as a training run. Here a few good reasons:
1. It is 'short' enough that your body does not bonk, so you can get away with only carrying liquids.
2. It is long enough that your body has to work for it, meaning you can't sluff it off.
3. It is long enough you will experience lows and highs during the run, so you have to keep your brain frosty.
4. It is short enough you can (after a few times) do it multiple times a week, as opposed to a 30 miler which you can do maybe twice in a week.
5. It is short enough such that you don't have to carve out a major chunk of your real-life schedule to fit it in.
6. It is short enough that you can do it fast (tempo-ish) or you can do it long-run pace.

 For half and full marathon training, you are trying to teach your brain that your body can handle the distance. Now, running a 16 mile race in training for a half seems silly, but I would disagree. The 16 mile training run builds endurance which you need for a half, and also give you that mental confidence. And for marathons, well every training schedule has many 16(ish) mile training runs.

       Using the 16-miler for ultra training is a little different, as you would think 16 miles is short, but after 16 miles in an ultra is when your body is getting to the point you need to start thinking about putting calories in your body. 16 mile training runs are great when you incorporate them into other ultra important training aspects including ultra diet training and mental end-of-race training. The 16 miler is essential there too.  And remember you can train for a 100 mile race and still have a life.

So go out and map a 16 mile route. Find one that is flat and fast. Find another one that is a little tougher. Find one that has nothing but hills. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

2013 Greater Lansing Area Sports Hall of Fame 10K Results (Or: A Little Farther For the W)

1/100 Overall

So I recently decided that I needed to get back to my running roots in an effort to re-motivate myself before I totally gave up on this sport. My first race in this new ideology was a small town 5K a few weeks ago which was great fun. This race was the next in the logical length sequence, a local 10K. I discovered a few things about myself, all of them good.

The race was organized by the Greater Lansing Sports Hall of Fame, an organization trying to promote athletic achievement in the (duh) Greater Lansing area. They have an annual induction ceremony and such, and just like the NFL hall of fame, they have a sports event to coincide with the induction, in this case, a 5K and 10K pair of races.

The race started in downtown Lansing just a few blocks from the state capital, then headed south along the Grand River with both races being simple out and backs. I made sure to enjoy the view of the river during my warm-up, because I had a feeling that I would not be wanting to sight see during the race. I was right.

At race start, I looked around and tried to get a 'read' on the competition and saw nobody who looked like they were real speed demons. There were a few high school guys up front with me but they were both running the 5K, so I would not know what I was in for until ~1.5 miles in when the 5K races took their turn.

I go out in what I think is a comfortable pace, hitting mile 1 in 6:02, but not knowing if I could hold it that long. It felt good, but difficult. Part of this race experience was to test that middle distance speed+endurance race strategy. I have been doing more short (6-8 mile) training runs with a speed component, and it paid off. As I came up to the 5K turn, the leader was ~50 meters in front and I was gaining on one of the teenagers. Much to my surprise, the leader had turned, which meant I was leading the 10K race and I would stay there all day. There was volunteer whose job it was to be lead dog (well, he had a bike) for the race who had been waiting at the 5K turn. He wasn't really paying that close attention, so I actually had to say 'GO!' to him as I almost ran into him. I did not look back to see what sort of lead I had, but from cheering spectators, I could tell it was small.

I hit the turnaround in 19:10 and finally had a chance to see what my lead was, and I got concerned as it was only about 20 meters. I was feeling ok, but not sure how long I could hold that pace. You see, I always start races too fast and generally wilt at the first sign of distress. For whatever reason, this race was different. I was going hard, but still had plenty of energy. I ate a Hammer Nutrition Energy Bar 2 hours before the race, my electrolyte pills as well as some amino acid pills. My brain and muscles did great all day long.

The mile markers came and I was holding 6:05-6:10 pace mile in and mile out, which surprised me a little. I was getting tired, but maintaining speed. Again, this is not normally me. With about 1.5 miles left to go, I looked over my shoulder to see what my lead was down to, and I swear he was only 5 meters behind me. I briefly had my standard thought in such a situation, "oh good, soon he will pass me and I can relax and take second place".  Then a new, never seen before thought appeared.. "Or, you could press a little harder and try to break his confidence, drop him, and go home with hardware." I bore down, pumped my arms and tried to put in a good 600 meter pickup in an effort to separate me from him and it did not work. With about 1200 meters to go, he was still 5 meters back. By now I was breathing heavy and my arms were doing a lot of work. Nearing the finish, maybe 400 meters from the end there was 1-block-long hill, and so I again I dug a little deeper, tightened my face and pounded up the hill in an effort to separate myself and this time it worked. When I got to the top of the hill I looked again and he had dropped back to about 10 meters behind me. I was confident now I could hold him off, but I still caught myself glancing back to make sure he didn't have some super-human afterburner that he was waiting until the very end to use. He did not.

Finish time of 38:10 means I negative split a 10K. Read that again. I, the not-known-for-consistent-speed runner negative split a 10K race. No, that has never happened before. In my 140 races in the modern era, I have negative split (maybe) 2 races. That is just not my nature. Until today.

A pleasant post-race cool down with some of the other runners, including Karen, the female overall winner. As we were coming back from our cool down run the announcer was asking if anyone had seen Karen or I and that we were to report to the finish line. They had been wanting to give us our hardware.

My award given to me by Eric Zemper, a 2013 inductee into the Greater Lansing Sports Hall of Fame. In reading his resume, he is a pretty big deal. Nice guy, too. The whole award ceremony was done in short order and I packed up and got ready to go.

You might just think this was just another race, but it was significant. The W is nice, for sure, but more importantly I learned that I do have some killer instinct still in me. Lately I have been trying to get my groove back, and it is returning, but the competitive incentive is helping.

I am really looking forward to my next race in 3 weeks, a local half marathon. I would tell you my goals, but I am not sure what they are yet, except I wan to enjoy it. :)