Back to the Marathon!


The Boston Marathon bug, that is.

Now wait a minute, I hear you say. Isn’t the Boston Marathon the ultimate goal of every runner? How can you not have run it by now?

Yes, it may be hard to believe, but up until now I had no desire to run Boston. There are plenty of other races that I enjoy very much, and many more that I am considering doing some day. Besides, I’m much more of a trail guy. I’ve now run 12 ultras (50K or longer) with more to come, but only two marathons to date.

The 2015 PR Fitness Boston Marathoners.

The 2015 PR Fitness Boston Marathoners.

Now, running Boston is very popular in the PR Fitness running group. Every year 25 or more of us end up going. This included 2013, the year of the bombing. Fortunately, no one in our group was among those killed or injured. Nor did it scare any of them away from running it again. I proudly participated in a large “Boston Unity Run” in our area later that year (see this post) but still didn’t feel the desire to join the big dance.

The 2013 Boston Unity Run. Boston Strong!

The 2013 Boston Unity Run. Boston Strong!

So what changed my mind? I’m not really sure, but a couple of things helped.

In December 2016 I turn 55 and join a new age group, and I thought it would be a fun birthday present to myself to run Boston in 2017. And I also think it would be fun to be part of the whole experience – the tradition, the history, the crowds, to tackle Heartbreak Hill and cross that finish line. And I’d get to wear that cool Boston Marathon Finisher jacket.

And exactly the right colors, too!

And exactly the right colors, too!

So, for one more time at least, I will be stepping off the trail for a bit, and running one of those short races – the road marathon.

Actually, make that at least two marathons. To get into Boston, you need a qualifying time based on your age group, in a marathon that has been certified as a Boston qualifier. The Martian Invasion of Races in Dearborn next April will be where I attempt to qualify. I’ve signed up, and my training has already started.

For my age group in 2017 (55-59) I will need to beat 3:40. And the faster my time, the better the chance I have of getting a spot. But if I don’t qualify then, I have until next September to try again.

What are my chances? Hard to say at present; my Chicago time (first marathon) was 4:12. My second (Ann Arbor 2012) was 3:55, but I ran that one casually and took photos. But based on my half marathon time, I should be able to run a 3:30 or better. I guess I’ll find out. It’s going to be an interesting winter!

Richmond 13.1: The Other 60 Percent

One week before the Nov. 14 American Family Fitness half marathon in Richmond, I went out for my regular Saturday group run. Since I was tapering, I kept it to ten miles at a moderate pace.

On Sunday I knew I was in trouble.

The run had taken more out of me than usual. I felt drained and weary, and did not bounce back the next day like I normally do. And this was after a week of cutting back. Since I was going to attempt a PR (new best time) in Richmond, this was not good. So – what to do?

Against every instinct, I decided to rest the entire week,  cancelling my Monday gym workout and Aikido class, and skipping the Tuesday night run. A short bike ride on Wednesday was all I allowed myself.

Resting? What a crazy idea!

Resting? What a crazy idea!

Finally, arriving in Richmond on Friday, I felt my energy returning. But was it enough to run 13.1 miles hard and fast? When I got tired, would I have the physical and mental fortitude to keep going and set that PR?

Then I came across an article about Jesse Itzler, an ultrarunner and entrepreneur who’d be considered an overachiever by 99.9 percent of the planet. Not Jesse; he decided he needed to “shake things up,” as he put it. So he hired a Navy SEAL to kick his butt for a month. In the winter.

You can read about that crazy month in his book, Living with a Seal: 31 Days Training With the Toughest Man on the Planetor go here for the CNBC interview. Along with ice water soaks and night runs, the SEAL gave him lots of advice, including this: “When your brain tells you you’re done, you’re only 40 percent done.”

Well, when a Navy SEAL says that, I believe him. Anyone who survives a year of that training, including the infamous Hell Week, ought to know. Could I use this little gem of wisdom to get me through the tough part of the race, when my brain would be strongly suggesting it wasn’t my day and how about we slow the hell down? I hoped so. Even tapping a little of that other 60 percent would be a plus.

Sure, *you* go ahead and tell this guy he's full of it. I dare you.

Sure, go ahead and tell this guy he’s full of it. I dare you. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Race morning was sunny and about 38 degrees, good conditions for a fast race. I warmed up with a jog of a mile or so, with some short sprints at the end. I felt ready to go and lined up near the front of the first wave to ensure I could get out of the gate and into stride quickly.

Anything under 1:33:49 would be a new personal best.

I’d decided on an unorthodox race strategy. Instead of trying to hold my target pace of 7:00 per mile for as long as possible, I would run sets of two miles at 7:10 and two at 6:50. I hoped the varied pace would keep my mind engaged and provide some recovery time at the slower pace.

The first four miles went exactly to plan – two at around 7:08, then two at 6:50. I didn’t recover as much as I hoped on miles 5 and 6, but I hit the 10K timing mat at 44:00, right on schedule.

Then we entered a park and began about two miles of gently rolling hills. I struggled to hold my pace and was breathing hard. With over six miles left, I felt fatigue set in, and the mental chatter changed accordingly:

Well, looks like a week off wasn’t quite long enough. What did you expect? You ran a 100K not long ago and it takes time to recover. How about we ease off a bit? Just not your day. No big deal, right?

Fortunately, I was prepared for it. I played the trump card.

Hah! We’ve only reached the 40 percent mark. Let’s press on and see what we have left, shall we?

With that, I relaxed, took some deep cleansing breaths, and pushed through the final inclines and out of the park.

Digging into the other 60 percent.

Digging into the other 60 percent.

The remaining five miles were by no means easy, but the worst was behind me. At mile 11, I surged to catch up to a couple of other runners and stuck with them, trying to match their stride and cadence. Together we hit the final half mile, a wide, sprint-inducing downhill packed with loud spectators on both sides. Richmond bills this event as “America’s Friendliest Marathon” and based on what I saw, I can’t disagree.

As we passed the cameras at mile 13, I looked at the finish line clock. 1:32! With a downhill-assisted 6:40 final mile, I finished in 1:32:43, a new personal best by over a minute!

Also taking part - daughter Tori (center) and Jess, her SO, finishing the 8K..

Family fitness! My daughter Tori (center) ran the 8K despite a bum foot. her SO Jess (right) also finished the 8K. Great job, ladies!

And even better, I’m feeling good again. Yesterday I ran ten snowy miles without any trouble, then went home and shoveled my driveway clear – twice. Guess what I was telling myself out there?

Mr. SEAL, wherever you are, thank you very much.

Yesterday's snowfall in Ann Arbor.

Yesterday’s snowfall in Ann Arbor. Thank goodness I have my energy back!

Habit: A Three-Year Itch?

Last year I was pacing the 10K at one of the local Kona Running Company events. I’d been assigned the “1st Time 10K” sign, and having lost the runners I started with, I was looking for some more first-timers to run with. About halfway along I came upon a middle-aged couple chugging along and asked them if this was their first 10K.

I finally did find one!

I finally did find one!

“Oh, no,” they told me, “but it’s been a while since we’ve run one.” They were running the race as a family event with their daughter, who was apparently some distance ahead of them. They were hoping to get back into running more, but told me it wasn’t much fun at present.

“That’s okay,” I said. “It took a while for me to enjoy running, too.”

How long was that, they asked me.

“About three years,” I replied. Three years from when I started running on a regular basis and began logging my miles. Back then, I told them, my attitude was often, “Man, I guess I got to go for a run today.” Now it was, “I can’t wait to run today!”

What had started out as just another exercise to keep fit just sort of took over. I study Aikido, I ride my bike, I go to the gym – but I am a runner.

What had happened during that time? What changed me from a reluctant runner into a dedicated (some would say addicted) one? I’m not really sure, but if I had to identify one key factor, I’d say it was this:

It became a habit.

Click here for "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Hobbits." (No, I'm not kidding.)

Click here for “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Hobbits.” (No, I’m not kidding.)

In other words, it was putting on the gear, lacing up the shoes, and getting out the door on a regular basis that did the trick. It was an instance of a new routine, triggered by a desire to keep fit, that my body and mind first resisted, then got used to, then craved. Maybe it did become a kind of addiction. Then at least it’s a beneficial one.

I wonder if too often we associate “habits” with negative behaviors and don’t give good habits the credit they deserve. Habits, after all, are one way we get through life without having to constantly analyze and decide what to do next. While animals are driven mainly by instinct, we can transform our instinctive behavior to suit our needs and desires. In other words, we’re able to choose which habits we keep and which we stop. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is possible.

For example, one of the coaches in my running group told me how he quit smoking. “Whenever I had the craving for a cigarette,” he told me, “I drank a glass of water and went for a walk.” He’d replaced a bad habit with a good one, and today he’s an elite-level triathlete.


Some habits shouldn’t be replaced, however.

It wasn’t just willpower that made running a habit for me, though. Having a group to run with, especially in winter and bad weather, was a big help. So was the good feeling afterward of having done something good for myself. And the thrill of completing a new long distance or faster time at a race. If running and racing weren’t so much damn fun, it’s doubtful I’d be so into it.

And yet . . .

All this came back to mind due to a recent interruption of my routine. About an hour before my Monday session at Body Specs a couple of weeks ago, my boss called to request my attendance at an urgent call to a customer. I did so, but I had to cancel my session. The following week, I told my trainer (who I’m sure apprenticed at the Tower of London) how I’d felt about it.

My Lord, thou shalt do 50 reps with the 50 pound kettlebell!

My Lord, thou shalt do 50 goblet squats with the 50 pound kettlebell!

Back when I started, I told him, if I’d had to cancel a session, it would have been with some measure of relief. “But last week,” I said, “I was genuinely annoyed.”

And when had I started my torture sessions with Body Specs? About three years ago.

Chalk up another one to habit!

Hey, Wait a Minute – Wasn’t This Supposed to be Fun?

From my first Aikido Yoshokai class in 2005 as a raw beginner, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue. Ten years later, I’m still training and grateful for how it’s improved my life.

Increased fitness, agility and coordination have been physical benefits, but the philosophy appeals to me too. I appreciate the emphasis on seeking harmony, of bringing positive energy to class, and setting the ego aside and training for its own sake.

Not to mention great stress relief.

Not to mention great stress relief!

And the benefits have extended beyond class. Aikido training has encouraged me to be more patient and respectful in all situations, not just on the mat. This post from a couple of years ago relates one instance where I used Aikido principles to turn a potentially unpleasant situation into a positive one.

For the first several years, Aikido was a fixture in my life. Testing for increased rank is completely optional, but I enjoyed the challenge and added it to my annual goals, with a plan to try for black belt in 2013 or 2014. From 8th Kyu up to pre-1st Kyu rank, I progressed steadily and passed every test the first time. The last rank before black belt is full 1st Kyu, and I tested for it at the end of 2012, right on schedule.

Jumping over partner.

1st Kyu test – I jump over my partner.

I did not pass. I’d felt ready and done as well as I could, but it had not been good enough.

I was disappointed but not discouraged. It’s not unusual for someone to fail a test along the way. I studied Sensei’s written feedback and began actively training for another go the following spring.

Then, as they say:

life is what happens etc

During a routine run in March 2013, I tripped and fell hard, injuring my left shoulder. I thought the pain and mobility loss would clear up but it got worse instead, and by June it was clear I would have to suspend training to let it heal.

Recovery took nearly a year of physical therapy and careful exercise. While I was often frustrated at the slow improvement, it gave me sufficient time away from Aikido to really reflect on my training. The main question I asked myself, over and over, was why I was trying for black belt. Not the flippant “because it’s there,” answer, but the genuine, deep-down reason. Why was it important to me?

I had no good answer.

Recognition and increased respect from other students? Nope. While there is a hierarchy to be followed, you’re taught to respect everyone.

To show the world what a kick-ass dude I’d become? Hardly; I didn’t feel like one. And Aikido is about finding harmony, not starting fights.

For personal satisfaction? Aikido emphasizes letting go of the ego, not feeding it. The black belts in our school are among the most humble people I’ve ever known. I’ve never seen one flaunt his or her rank. Rather, they go out of their way to help those junior to them.

All right, I could adjust my goals; Aikido isn’t about pursuit of high rank, anyway. But when I resumed training, the old spark wasn’t there. What had changed? And that’s when it hit me, so to speak; I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Instead of looking forward to going to class, I was stressing out about it.

And the stress was mainly coming from where?


Yep – from my rank – what I’d worked so hard to achieve, because I’d thought I wanted it. The higher Kyu ranks carry some extra responsibilities, which is fine, but I’d thrown in some additional expectations of my own making.

A couple of examples: on top of learning my own techniques, I’d been trying to learn all those of the junior students, so I could help them prepare for their next tests. I’d been attending advanced classes and instructor clinics, because that’s what black belt trainees do. But all that extra study and training was in the pursuit of rank rather than personal improvement. I was sacrificing what I enjoyed most about Aikido to meet an artificial, meaningless objective.

Looking back, I can see how much unnecessary stress I’d caused myself for a goal I’d been pursuing blindly, automatically, rather than as something fulfilling. That fall in 2013 was truly a blessing in disguise – a temporary discomfort that allowed me to recognize, and correct, a chronic one.

And what’s next? I continue to train, but with a firm resolve not to test again until I know why I want to. So far that answer has not appeared to me. And that’s okay. I’m back to training just for the sake of training.

And it’s back to being fun.

Yes, this is fun. Trust me.

Yes, this is fun. Trust me.

Enjoy the Journey: It May Be All There Is

Improvement is not measured by the distance between where you currently stand and the finish line, but by the distance between where you currently stand and your starting point.
The Good Vader blog, “The Wounds of Failure”

Something I’ve been musing about lately:

When the Journey is Awesome

And going even further: What if there is no destination?

What if every event that appears to be a destination is really just another milestone?

Woodstock Saturday Finish (JW) - 2018My first long distance runs were based on goals. Finish a half marathon. Finish my first marathon. Complete my first 50K trail ultra. And so on. But what did crossing the finish line mean? Did that act change me? No. Crossing it only showed how much I’d changed. I could run a new distance, but it was the training, not the race itself, that made it possible – and set the stage for the next goal.

I’ve been training for and achieving new running milestones for six years now. It took three years to go from “I have to run today” to “I can’t wait to run today” but I can say I’ve enjoyed all six. Along with the race medals and increased fitness, I’ve made new friends and heard a lot of amazing stories from amazing people, some of which have been related here on this blog.

On a related note,  many people experience a letdown after they’ve completed a big running goal – the first marathon, for instance. Apparently it’s fairly common. Here are just a couple of runner experiences.

Runners World: 6 Signs You May Have Post-Marathon Syndrome

Angry Jogger: Experiencing Running Depression After A Full Or A Half Marathon. Is It Normal? When Will I Feel Better?

I’ve never had post-race depression. Sure, I was bummed about my two DNF races, but those experiences made me more determined to fix what was wrong and come back stronger. It’s been a month since I finished my first 100K (on my second attempt) and I’m still riding that high.

Why? Perhaps it’s because no matter the race, I’m thinking about what I could do after it. As long as there’s something to look forward to, whether it’s a new distance, new location, or new race type, it keeps me from getting too low if I don’t do well in any one race. And at times I look forward to resting and running easy, with no races for a while. I enjoy running in any season and (most) types of weather. I’ve felt the same way about my multi-century bike rides. After I finish one, I want to start planning another.

Well, maybe not just yet.

Well, maybe not just yet.

One day, I suppose I will have to stop running (which I hope is a long, long time from now). Let’s even suppose that I will know which race or run is my last. Will that be a “destination”? It could be, if I choose to look at it that way. Yet there’s another way to view it, and that’s to see my years of running as a contribution to a well-lived life. In that way, the journey continues, and I certainly hope there will be more opportunities to enjoy it.

Good Sign

But what if the opposite happens? What if the destination, or next milestone, becomes more important than the process of getting there? What if failure to meet a goal makes you feel like the training wasn’t worth it? Yes, it’s happened to me. True confessions next time.



Eyes on the Prize – But What’s the Prize?

A recent posting on the Seeds4Life blog has me thinking.

When You Have One Eye on the Goal, You Have Only One Eye on the Path – Zen Master

Here a student asks the Zen master how long it will take him to achieve enlightenment. The master’s response basically tells the student not to worry about getting there, but to focus on the path.

Zen cat

My first reaction on reading this was something like: Yes, that’s very Zen and all, but it doesn’t make sense for everything. Like running, for example. Goals are what get runners off the couch and out the door, right? We all set goals for ourselves, whether it’s a 5K, a marathon, a trail ultra, or just being able to run a few miles in the fresh air.

Then I remembered my 100K attempts at Run Woodstock, and how I’d set myself up for failure in 2014 by thinking about how much distance I had left rather than where I was and how far I’d come. This year had been different, as I’d reminded myself to focus only on the trail directly ahead of me. By keeping my mind on where I was at the moment and letting the milestones unfold, I kept myself on a mental even keel and finished the race.

Perhaps this is one reason why I prefer trail runs for long distance running. In a road race, you don’t need to look down at the road, and the mile markers are clearly visible. With less mental energy needed, there’s more to worry about how much there is left to go, and how tired you already are.

By contrast, in trail running there is a literal reason for keeping both eyes on the path. You need one eye to watch where your feet land, as there are stones, roots, slippery spots, and sudden elevation changes to deal with. You also need to keep an eye out for the trail markings. Let your mind wander too much and you’ll wind up on your face in the dirt, or off in God-knows-where-land trying to get back on course. (Ask me how I know.)

DWD Devils Lake - Heading Down

Not a good time to put a foot wrong. (Dances with Dirt Devil’s Lake 50K, 2014.)

So how should goals fit into my running? As an important part of my training. But once out there running it, there’s no value in thinking about the finish line except as part of following my race plan. I’m running this pace because I’d planned to run this pace on loops two and three. I’m picking up the pace because I’m on safe, flat gravel road instead of tricky singletrack. I’m easing back because I’m ahead of schedule and don’t want to burn out.

When I took a Running 101 class five years ago, we were all asked to write down a goal for after the class was over, and how we’d reward ourselves for achieving it. The idea was to give us a reason to continue running regularly, and not stop when the class ended. I chose “run a half marathon” and promised myself a new pair of running shoes when I did.

That goal drove my training for five months, until I ran, and finished, the half marathon. Would I have continued running without that goal? Most likely, but I doubt I’d have improved as much without that 13.1 to work toward.

And it was finishing that race that convinced me I was capable of a full marathon, if I set that as my next goal and continued to train. And so on from there. And having completed the 100K, I’ve set a goal of running my first-ever 100-mile ultra next year. You heard it here first! (Actually, my wife and my running coach heard it first, but you’re next.)

You know, a road 13.1 sounds pretty good right about now.

You know, a road 13.1 sounds pretty good right about now.

Now, how about this? If I can agree that the journey is at least as important, if not more important, than the destination, what happens when the journey becomes unpleasant but I still have the goal? My thoughts on that coming up.

Scrumpy Skedaddle Recap: The V.I.P. “Inside” Report

Last Sunday was the second annual Scrumpy Skedaddle at Almar Orchards. Hard to believe it’s been a year since the notorious happenings of 2014! But there I was, with a couple thousand of my best friends, lining up for a sprint through the orchard on a brisk fall day. Overcast and drizzly? Who cared? This was gonna be fun!

Scrumpy - 10K Run

The 10K takes over the orchard.

Last year’s Skedaddle, as has been related on this blog, had issues with long lines for the porta-potties and the cider and pancakes after the race. I’m happy to report there were big improvements this year, with shorter lines, a much better course layout, and the addition of the 10K and the two-race “Cider Slam” – which, of course, I just had to do. Along with Run Woodstock, the Skedaddle is becoming one of my favorite events – and you all know I’ve run a lot of events.

The 5K and 10K both started out on dirt roads, then into the orchard on wide grassy strips between rows of apple trees. It gave the run a feeling of intimacy, even of exclusiveness, despite the large number of runners. It had the best features of a trail run without the hazards of rocks and roots.

Scrumpy - Running in the Orchard 2

The Head Goat (orange jacket) directs traffic.

Randy of Running Fit Events (orange jacket), a.k.a. “The Head Goat”, directs traffic.

I ran the 5K hard – not my best time, but solid. And the top four age 50-59 runners (which included me) beat all but one of the 40-49 group. We rock! Then I ran the 10K easy, which is why you see these photos of the course. What a contrast! Instead of focusing on my breathing and pace, I could relax and take in the scene around me, just running for the fun of it.

2015 Scrumpy - Post-race Cider

I could have done this all afternoon.

Like last year, the post-race food was excellent. They moved the pancake production outside, with two lines, so everything flowed smoothly. The live band was a nice touch, too. And the hard cider on tap was amazing; not too sweet, with just a touch of tartness from the mild fermentation. Scrumpy in the bottle is good, but this is unbelievably good. And they do it just for this event.

Can I have one of these installed in my man cave, please?

Could I have one of these installed in my man cave, please?

And finally, what I know you’ve all been waiting for: what was the VIP potty like? Well, here you go!

The outside.

The outside.

The magic pass that got you in the short line!

The magic pass that got you in the short line!

Happy passholders. (And note the guy on the far right who'd like to know why he's in the LONG lines.

Happy passholders. (And note the guy on the far right who’s not too happy about being in the LONG lines. Hey, it’s all about who you know, fella!)

And as a special bonus, exclusively for my readers: the INSIDE VIEW!

VIP Potty - inside

Loaded with amenities.

Reading material!

Reading material!

Specially printed toilet paper!

Specially printed toilet paper!

Will I be back for 2016? You bet, VIP or not. And you all should come along. Even if you’re not a dedicated runner, you’ll have a good time. It’s a cider mill, after all. How could you not have a good time? See you there!