Honored Beyond Words – But I’ll Do My Best

MOST VALUABLE RUNNER of 2014.

All I can say is – WOW. And thank you all so much.

Yesterday when I crossed the finish line at the Holiday Hustle 5K, I accomplished my goal of competing in every single event on the 2014 Running Fit calendar. It was a total of 23 events from January through December, including a snowshoe race, three triathlons, and six ultramarathons. Here’s the calendar (click it for a larger, more readable version):

Running Fit Calendar of Events 2014

No one has ever done this before, and throughout the year the wonderful staff at Running Fit Events cheered me on. And at each event I collected the little button pin. At each year’s Holiday Hustle, you bring your pins along, and the person with the most pins wins a prize. Since I had every 2014 pin, I was pretty sure I’d win, and I wanted to something more than just dump a pile of pins on them. So I put them on a posterboard along with some photos, to have something to display later in my man cave – when I get around to having one. So here’s what I made:

Collage - 2014 Running Fit races

Well, it received oohs and aahs from the staff, and they said they’d put it on display after the race. Little did I know how polite they were being, as they made an oblique reference to a “special award” for me.

So I ran the race, and got congratulations all round. Then they showed me what they’d prepared for me as the first-ever “Most Valuable Runner”. Not only had they come up with that awesome title, I had been out-postered! Check this out.

RFE poster - 2

And I got a couple of free race entries, too!

I was speechless. This has got to be about the coolest thing I’ve ever received. This is going up on a wall even if I never get around to that man cave. Thank you Randy, and Mandy, and Dawn, and Joanna, and everyone else at Running Fit Events for helping make this year so memorable for me. And special thanks to my family and friends who helped me reach the goal despite some challenges in other areas of life this year. I love you all.

Coming up soon, I will recap the year in running, cycling, and Aikido, including the highlights of a truly remarkable and unforgettable experience. And lowlights too – those are more fun to read, aren’t they. Until then, thank you all very much once again.

Breaking News: Exercise Good, Scams Bad

CAPTAIN OBVIOUS HERE with a couple pieces of information that will be news to you, if you don’t know about them already.

Captain Obvious

1.  The following news is from the New York Times (which is a New York City newspaper):

Study: Exercise in middle age is important to health

Yes, a landmark, ground-breaking study found that men aged between 65 and 83 who exercised several times per week were healthier and less likely to die over the 11 years of the study than men who were sedentary. And there’s more: previous studies have found that not smoking is healthier, as is being moderate with alcohol, and that wealthier people have fewer health problems.

These studies took years to complete and no doubt thousands, if not millions, of dollars to implement. Of course, they could have just asked some middle-aged people why they exercise regularly.

Really, Ms. Times reporter, this is more fun than sitting on my butt eating ice cream.

Really, Ms. Times reporter, this is more fun than sitting on my butt eating ice cream.

Now to give the Times a little credit for running this piece, the study also looked at sedentary people who started exercise in middle age. These people aged nearly as successfully as those who were active their entire lives. All exercisers lived longer and better than those who remained sedentary.

So while exercise throughout one’s lifetime is best, it’s never too late to start and gain the benefits. This is great news. So why are you still reading? Get up and DO something, slouches! Come back in 30 minutes. I’ll wait.

2. There are people online who would love to steal your money during the holidays.

I got a nice message at work today from our helpful SysAdmin, warning us about the proliferation of emails pretending to be invoices, “order confirmations” or offers of free gift certificates. All you have to do is “click here” for details. And if you do, you’re in for a nasty surprise. You, too, can have your identity stolen and your laptop hijacked to join the botnet!

Since I love collecting scam emails (you wouldn’t believe how many lotteries I’ve won that I never entered) I was already aware of the practice. But I just had to share this one.

Home Depot scam email

Looks fairly convincing at first sight, right? Naturally, there are a few clues – like it doesn’t know my name, and the bad grammar. But here’s the kicker:

Home Depot scam email - Sing UpWell, it IS caroling season!

Gotta go. I’m going to do a study to find out if people who stand in the rain get wetter than those who stay indoors. And for a few extra thousand, I’ll also study whether you get wetter walking in the rain, or running in it. Where do I send the proposal?

So Long, Mom, and Thanks for All the Comments

I was on mile seven of my Saturday morning run when I got the call. People don’t usually call me during this run, so I was pretty sure what it was about. And it was quickly confirmed. My mother had passed away.

The event was not unexpected; Mom had declined rapidly. For the last few weeks she’d been awake less and less often, finally slipping into a coma from which she rarely stirred. The night before, we’d had Thanksgiving dinner at my brother’s house, where Mom lived, and spent the evening with her. We’re very grateful for that final opportunity to include her in a family event.

We’ll hold a celebration for her during the holidays. In the meantime, life continues, as well as this blog, from which I’ve lost a dedicated reader. So this post is dedicated to her and the support she gave me in documenting my adventures on the web.

Mom's 80th birthday party last year.

Happier times: Mom’s 80th birthday party last year.

Growing up, Mom’s main contribution to keeping me and my siblings fit was kicking us out of the house on nice days. When I took up cycling, Aikido and running in my forties and began blogging about them, she became one of my first readers. Like the movie Julie and Julia, the first comment on my blog (then Fitness at 50) was from Mom. She continued to follow my posts and submit comments for over three years, until she was no longer well enough to use her computer.

She enjoyed the stories about the people I met and towns I visited on my long bike trips (click here for one in particular). Not so much with my race recaps. “Another one of those, ‘I did this, I did that’,” she’d say, discounting the idea that the blog was supposed to be about my personal adventures. Talk about tough critics! But I wrote more “color” stories as a result.

Mom's handle was "rhgramma" (rh standing for Red Hot).

Mom’s web handle was “rhgramma” (rh standing for Red Hot).

Here are a select few of her more colorful blog comments. You may get an idea where I get some of my sense of humor – and love for all things dark chocolate…

Oh! Usain Bolt is a man — a very fast man — I thought it was a name for a runner’s super drink. oh well . . .

Regarding Mr. Jurek’s book: — is “Eat and Run” anything like the signs you see along the country roads — “Eat and Get Gas’?

42 times the personal pronoun “I” appeared in this last blog. Only 8 (eight) more and you could have hit the 50 mark and added it to your goal of 50 things to accomplish. Oh well, there’s still time!!!

Have you considered giving up your day job and becoming a chocolate reviewer. Me — I’ll just go on being a chocolate “conna-sewer”: eating what I like and not eating what I don’t like. And right off the bat we can discard white “chocolate” and milk chocolate and any chocolate that has nuts or other ingredients that interrupt the chocolate flow ….

Stay tuned for a NEW BLOG! What it’s like to be Jeff’s mother — starting 50+ years ago.

Finally, I have Mom to thank for a great insight. I once wrote a post about going out one cold morning for a run, and how what started out as a slog turned into a terrific run as the sun came out and I warmed up. I wrote about how grateful I felt to be out there that morning, and it was almost like praying. Here’s the key paragraph from that post:

After six miles, the sun came out full and I shed my jacket. Conditions for the last twelve miles were perfect for running, and I was now grateful for choosing the morning to run. And while I was in the mood, I also took the time to be grateful for the other things that allowed me to be out there – for being healthy enough and strong enough to run, and having the freedom, both political and economic, to do so. It wasn’t a specific prayer; I just let myself experience the feeling of gratitude for a minute or so. I recommend this practice. It does a great job of making minor discomforts disappear for awhile.

Mom responded to the post by writing, “Gratitude IS prayer. Amen.”

Right on, Mom. Rest in peace.

Rx for Recovery: Eat, Sleep, Stretch

THIS NOT RACING IS TIRING ME OUT.

After all my races this year I’m on a recovery break, and I was expecting to feel re-energized, even restless. Instead, I’ve had less energy and been more sore. I asked the head trainer at my gym, Body Specs, about it.

“All year long, running more races than ever, I felt great,” I told him. Now in my recovery time, I feel run down. What’s going on?”

“It’s very common,” he said. “Especially among competitive athletes. They’ve been going hard, working toward their goals, and then they’re done and they don’t know what to do next.” He coaches college athletes and former NFL players, so he sees this a lot.

Body Specs is good at making sure I don't slack off too much.

Body Specs is good at making sure I don’t slack off too much.

“One thing we encourage people to do is to try something new,” he continued. “You know, you train at your sport and never have time to try out other activities you might want to try. Now you have the time.”

As it happened, I was considering trying yoga, both for its body conditioning and for its mental aspect – calming and focusing the mind. The downside I’ve heard is that the extreme stretches can be detrimental to running. We rely upon a certain amount of “spring” in our muscles, and overstretching them – becoming too flexible – can cause a loss of that spring. One fellow runner told me that running strong is “all about how flexible you are not.”

Yoga pose - Drew_Osborne_3 - Wikimedia Commons

Right. Sure. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Well, Running Fit to the rescue! They’re offering a Yoga for Runners class in December and January. And with my Aikido class on break during that time, it fills that spot perfectly. The only drawback is that it’s in Northville, which means fighting rush hour traffic. But Skip’s advice nudged me into signing up. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’m making a change to my regular habits as well. I’ve always been a night owl to some degree, but as I get up fairly early for work, it means I get by on about 6.5 hours of sleep much of the time. I’ve started to make myself get at least seven hours. It’s already making a difference in my energy level.

And I’m trying to keep in mind that a rest and recovery period, where I feel less motivated to run and want more idle time, is natural and healthy. Many elite runners take off several weeks entirely and allow themselves to gain a few pounds. Scott Jurek, one of the world’s most successful ultrarunners, does no running at all during his break. I enjoy running too much to stop, but it feels good to just run for fun for a while.

Of course, your definition of "fun" may differ from mine.

Of course, your definition of “fun” may differ from mine.

MORE: Running Times says Give It A Rest: the lost art of recovery between training cycles.

Already bouncing ideas around for 2015. Looking forward to another year of adventures out there!

Cocoa Power: Kona Chocolate Run Recap

Just how powerful is chocolate? Witness the following.

Chocolate Run - 10K start

7:00 a.m. in downtown Plymouth, MI. 26 degrees and dull gray sky. Sensible people are still in bed or enjoying breakfast and coffee in a warm location. And yet over 5,200 people are standing outside, shivering in Spandex, gloves, and beanies, waiting to begin a 10K or 5K run.

Yes, today was the Chocolate Run, the final race in the series put on by the Kona Running Company every year. Along with some pretty snazzy gear, runners got a trip to the chocolate tent after their race, where they refueled with chocolate chip cookies, chocolate bread, and pretzels with dipping chocolate, and, of course, a nice cup of hot chocolate.

The half-zip is a nice upgrade over the standard race shirt. And it's cat-approved.

The half-zip is a nice upgrade over the standard race shirt. And it’s cat-approved.

As usual, I volunteered my services as a pacer, which got me the same snazzy gear and chocolate tent visit without feeling like I needed to run my butt off. I was joined by  fellow PR Fitness runners Ray and Melissa for the 10K 50:00 pace. Our group was well represented, including the 6th place overall finishers in both the 10K and 5K, and many of our runners achieving personal best times (a.k.a. PRs). That’s the spirit!

She's run six Ironman triathlons but claimed holding the sign for a couple of miles was "too hard". Hmm....

She’s run six Ironman triathlons but claimed holding the sign for a couple of miles was “too hard”. Hmm….

The course is mainly flat, which makes it good for first-time and casual runners and made sticking to pace easy. It took about a mile and a half to fully warm up, but we had a good time chatting about Melissa’s Ironman experiences.

After the 10K and some chocolate, I took the 8 minute/mile pace sign and went off to the 5K. Thanks to the cold and a half hour wait before the start, I was a bit stiff at the outset, but I was grateful to be running relatively fast. And it was fun yelling at people to pass me in the final few hundred yards.

Chocolate Run - the goodiesA couple of logistical issues from last year were much improved this year. To cut down on crowding during the first mile, the runners were sent out in waves at ten-minute intervals. But the best improvement was the flow through the chocolate tent. Last year there was just a single line, and it got so long that many people gave up and went to the nearby coffee shops for their hot chocolate. This year there were two lines and the goodies were more pre-arranged so people spent less time getting their goodies.

Finally, a trip to Plymouth to pace a race isn’t complete without a good cup of coffee. Plymouth has many choices near Kellogg Park but my favorite is the Plymouth Coffee Bean, where in addition to a good latte they make sweet and savory crepes to order. Life isn’t just about chocolate, you know.

This is all that's left of my crepe when I remembered to take a photo. Yes, it was very good.

This is all that was left of my crepe when I remembered to take a photo. Yes, it was very good.

Star Spangled Thanks, and Running Thoughts

To all active and retired members of the U.S. armed forces and their families, I’d like to express my gratitude and respect for your sacrifices and service to our country. I hope you all had a safe and happy Veterans Day.

Seen at Whole Foods today. That's the spirit!

Seen at Whole Foods today. That’s the spirit!

On a somewhat related note, we’ve just returned from a trip to visit DD #1 in Richmond, Virginia. She moved there for college several years ago and refuses to come home (there’s gratitude for you). Mostly we just hung out and enjoyed being together, but we also headed to D.C. one day to visit the Smithsonian. Along with the Air & Space Museum (mandatory for DD #2) we checked out The Star Spangled Banner exhibit at the American History Museum.

Star Spangled Banner exhibit

Yes, this is the Star Spangled Banner – the flag that flew over Fort McHenry two hundred years ago as the British burned the White House and threatened Baltimore. If you get a chance to go to Washington sometime, I highly recommend seeing it. You get a good close-up view, and there are other artifacts on display, including the original handwritten text of the poem that became our national anthem.

The next day I ran 11.11 miles as a small tribute to Veterans Day and what it represents. Here’s just a few examples of how the running community and veterans come together:

Team RWB-Liberty Run- Team RWB (Red, White, and Blue) – a nationwide organization of runners who carry the American flag at races and support veterans awareness and community activities.

- The Marine Corps Marathon – one of the most famous running events in the country. I haven’t been to one (yet) but I hear it’s an intense and fun experience, with real Marines putting the medals on the finishers.

- The Bataan Death March – a run in New Mexico honoring the troops who were captured early in WWII and underwent the actual “Death March”. I heard about this event from a woman at Run Woodstock, who said it was her most memorable marathon. “Some vets ran it in crutches,” she said, “and there was one guy carrying another one up a hill.”

This kind of stuff provides me with a real perspective. Trail ultras are not easy, but I run them by choice, and with an intact, healthy body. And I can do them because others put their lives on the line to defend us and our way of life. To all of you who do this: thanks again.

thank-you-veterans

Joy and Subterfuge: Wicked Halloween Run Recap

I WAS SURROUNDED BY SUPERHEROES, monsters, and even a refrigerator, but what impressed me most was a nine-year-old girl.

Pacing assignments at 7:00 a.m.

Pacing assignments at 7:00 a.m.

Last Sunday I paced the Wicked Halloween 10K, one of the races put on by the Kona Running Company. I enjoy pacing their events for many reasons – the large turnout, the cool shirts, a great location (downtown Plymouth, MI) and the energy of all involved. They are also unusual in providing pacers for 5K and 10K distances, something normally reserved for the half marathon and longer. But I hear compliments for the pacers at every event, so they’re onto something.

They also make a special effort to recognize first-time racers. I normally run the 52-minute pace, but they needed someone for the “1st Time 10K” so I took the sign. The pace would be easy; the tough part was finding first-timers, despite over 1,600 runners lined up behind the starting gate. There are plenty of first-time 5K runners at Kona races, but most 10Kers have already run some before. (Which leads me to wonder: where do people run their first 10K?)

Never mind "first time" - how does anyone run *at all* in those things?

Never mind “first time” – how does anyone run *at all* in those things?

Eventually I found a few near the back, and after congratulations and photos, off we went. But I got distracted looking at the costumes and lost them at some point. After futile attempts to find more first-timers, I declared a few people to be “Honorary 1st Time 10K” and ran behind them holding the sign. They didn’t seem to mind. Heck, they got some extra kudos from the spectators.

Wicked Halloween Run - Bearded Couple

One of the many cheering sections along the way - another nice touch.

One of the many cheering sections along the way – another nice touch.

At the water stop at the halfway mark, I tried again to locate some genuine first-timers. Finally, I found someone. Yes! My life had meaning again! Then I found a couple more – even a dog. And then I came across this young lady.

Wicked Halloween Run - Joyful Running

Kaney was running her first-ever 10K, but watching her I wouldn’t have guessed. Her pace was steady and her form was excellent. And she was obviously really enjoying herself . “This is what running is all about!” I wanted to say to the adults with her. “Having a good time!” And I did say it, actually.

Wicked Halloween Run - Finish.jpgI stayed with them the rest of the way, and got this photo at the finish. Another good event on another beautiful day. And downtown Plymouth is a fun place to wander around afterward, with small-town charm and at least two excellent non-chain coffee shops – the Coffee Bean and Espresso Elevado – easy walking distance from the park.

Looking forward to pacing The Chocolate Run in a few weeks!

Oh, yes, and here’s the refrigerator. This lady is known for her elaborate costumes!

Wicked Halloween Run - Refrigerator Costume