Martian Recap: The Little Athlete and the Little Monster

Last Saturday was the Martian Invasion of Races, and man, was it a beautiful day. Temperatures started in the forties but warmed up quickly to the sixties, and the sun was out the whole time – a complete contrast from the wet and cold race days the past two years.

As for my race . . . did I mention it was a beautiful day?

Wow. Enough energy at the finish to do a somersault? That's just wrong.

Wow. Enough energy at the finish to do a somersault? That’s just wrong.

Actually, it wasn’t that bad; only 17 seconds off my best half marathon time. But I’d been hoping for better. I started off at an aggressive pace, and held it successfully for the first six miles. The second half was different – six miles of continuous struggle to keep going. I’ve never felt a stronger urge to quit a race before. I didn’t – but it was close. And that worried me.

I talked with Coach Marie about it, and she wasn’t too concerned. “Thirteen miles is a long time to be running hard,” she said. She also noted that the Martian course has a long stretch up one road and back, which I agree is not the most scenic.  “Sometimes the monotony of a race can get to you,” she said.

As it happened, the latest newsletter from TrainingPeaks has an article – The Psychology of Suffering – which addresses the very thing I’d been fighting. Here’s a small excerpt (edited for brevity):

Q: How do I effectively control the voice in my head that’s telling me to slow down? Do I try to turn this off or control it?

A: There are a few things to consider. [It] may be telling you to slow down because your body needs something…Instead of “fighting” the voice, you want to recognize that it’s there and figure out what it’s trying to tell you. [We] all have a little monster on one shoulder and a little athlete on the other and whichever one you feed is the one that’s going to get stronger and grow. Sometimes trying to “turn off” the monster voice takes more energy than it does to accept it and then counter it with your “inner athlete”.

Little Athlete vs. Little Monster

This pretty well describes what was going on with me. Fortunately, the “inner athlete” was a little stronger on Saturday. But the little monster may have been trying to tell me something. For one thing, I’d brought a Gu with me, but never used it. I’d even passed up a free Gu at an aid station. Why hadn’t I fueled myself properly? Pride? Annoyance at my slipping pace? Something to think about – and apply to my next race – which, by the way, is coming up pretty fast. More about that coming up.

I'm not sure roller skis were race legal, but they're way cool.

I’m not sure roller skis were race legal, but they’re way cool.

R&R: Rest and Registration

FIGURES, DOESN’T IT. This week had the best weather we’ve had all year, and I spent most of it indoors.

It was intentional, however. With the Martian half marathon on Saturday morning, and adding swimming to my training routine, it was necessary to take a couple of days off from running and cycling. On Wednesday I got in a “brick” of a four-mile run and 16 miles on the bike, but took it easy after that. Fortunately, the weather is supposed to be just as good all weekend – a nice change from the past two years where Martian race day has been wet and cold.

0411141419I spent most of today’s gorgeous afternoon at the Expo for the Martian races, working the registration area for the half marathon and 10K. There’s not much too it really – people tell me their bib numbers, I dig them out of the boxes, verify the information is correct, and hand them their race button and T-shirt. The hardest part is standing in one place for a long time, which is not at all friendly to the knees. Fortunately, I got a break about halfway through so I could stretch and walk around for a few minutes.

Lordy, do I look pale. It's been a long winter!

Lordy, do I look pale. It’s been a long winter!

But I’m not complaining. Running Fit takes good care of its volunteers, and as I’ve written before, the atmosphere remains low-key and laid back even when the rush is on. I’ve signed up to do the same thing two weeks from now for the Trail Marathon weekend, so I must enjoy it.

My work in the water this week was mainly about getting control of my breathing. I’m trying to establish a smooth, even rhythm to breathing while swimming, while also rotating the body to avoid raising my head too much. It’s coming along, but there’s a lot of progress to make before I’m ready for the half-mile lake swim in my first triathlon on June 18.

And yet, even with some extra rest, I can only do so much. With running, cycling, gym work, and Aikido already in the schedule, something, unfortunately, has to give. So I am making a couple of very difficult decisions at the moment. I will keep you posted.

Shirt - Trample the WeakShirt - In Case of Zombies

In the Swim? Not so much, yet


My swim class this morning, the first in an eight-week session, didn’t go quite as planned. One hour into the 90-minute workout, both my calves decided they’d had enough and starting cramping. Stretching failed to help, so I hauled myself out of the water, apologized, and headed to the showers.

I mentally ran through the available excuses – tired from Saturday’s run and bike ride, haven’t swum in years, form isn’t up to par yet – but it didn’t make me feel any better. That my body wasn’t at its best didn’t bother me, but rather that I’d quit in the middle of a workout. Both flesh and spirit were unwilling this time, as it were.

I felt better after watching this. (Click to see the video.)

I felt better after watching this. (Click to see the video.)

The nature of the class didn’t help. I don’t like being cold, and I really don’t like being wet and cold. Getting up before dawn on Sunday isn’t on my “A” list, either. So why did I get up before 6 a.m. to make a 7:00 swim class?

Apparently I needed a new challenge.

After years of being afraid I’d be sucked into the triathlon vortex, I succumbed and signed up for the Running Fit T-rex Tri Series – three summer “sprint” triathlons consisting of a half-mile swim, 20K on the bike, and 5K run. Swimming is the part I’ve trained for the least. But hey, I run ultramarathons and have no problems cycling 100 miles or more in a day. How hard could it be to swim a stupid half mile?

Resistance is futile. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Resistance is futile. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

The workout started with a 500 meter warmup (10 trips across the pool and back), followed by some 100 meter sprints and then 500 meters timed. It only took a couple of times across the pool to realize I was in trouble. I was too high in the water above the waist and pulling my head up too much at breathing time, so I was working much harder than I should have. Even so, I improved and was just getting into a smooth rhythm when my calves seized up. (In fairness,, my shoulder began acting up, too, so it was probably just as well I stopped early.)

As a point of reference, the triathlon swim is about 750 meters. But that’s all in open water, and I can currently do only about 100 meters before I have to stop and catch my breath. The solution is to do a lot more swimming. Oh, joy.

I get form tips at the triathlon clinic in February. (Swimming form tips - get your mind out of the gutter, please.)

I get form tips at the triathlon clinic in February. (Swimming form tips – get your mind out of the gutter, please.)

It’s Hard to Take it Easy


The Ann Arbor Marathon was last Sunday. Sounds like a natural for me to be in it, right? But it was too close to my next race. So instead, I biked downtown to join some of my PR Fitness friends in cheering on the runners.

I only felt a little guilty.

Cheering them on at mile 10, just before the monster hill.

Cheering them on at mile 10, just before the monster hill.

Rest is important. Rest is vital to improvement. Rest is underrated. All runners know this, or at least we’ve heard it plenty of times, and even repeated it amongst ourselves. But how much of this wisdom is actually internalized is up for debate. Consider, for example, a conversation that might happen at a Saturday morning group run:

Fellow runner: “So, Jeff, how far are you going today?”
Me: “Oh, just a quick eight today. Resting up. Race next weekend and all.”
Fellow runner: “Smart choice. Rest is important. Good luck at your race.”

Now, the same conversation as translated by my ego:

Fellow runner: “So, Jeff, how far are you going today?” Please ask me back, so I can tell you about my upcoming double Ironman.
Me: “Oh, just a quick eight today…” Boy, that sounds lame. Bet he thinks I’m a world-class wimp.
Cat smirking - wallsaveFellow runner: “Smart choice. Rest is important…” I shall smirk inwardly at your wimpiness during my 20-mile warmup.

Now this is NOT how runners think. We all train at our own level, for our own goals, and support each other in accomplishing them. But that didn’t stop my competitive nature from whispering why aren’t you out there in my ear Sunday morning.

Yeah, Jeff - wouldn't this be lots more fun than standing there shivering?

Yeah, Jeff, wouldn’t this be lots more fun than standing there shivering?

It didn’t help that it was cold enough (25 degrees) that I’d have been far more comfortable running. And that later in church several people asked me what distance I’d done. (Well, that was my fault for not changing out of my bike gear and 2012 marathon shirt.)

But there was a bright side. As the temperature neared 60 in the afternoon, I got back on the bike for another 14 miles. I’ve been itching for weeks to get back to cycling, and that ride was just the scratch I needed. Looking forward to more!

The lead marathoner (and eventual winner) as he approaches the monster hill for the second time.

The lead marathoner (and eventual winner) as he approaches the monster hill for the second time.

Next up: the Martian Invasion of Races in Dearborn, where I will do the half marathon, and the Trail Marathon Weekend at the end of April. It’s the logical (and smart) choice to get in some rest while I can. I’ll do my best.

Cold Logic: No Frills All Thrills Race Recap


(Warning: it’s based on the fact that I ran outdoors all winter, so I’m guessing that many of you will not be nodding your head in agreement.)

Oh, we're all ears, I'm sure.

Oh, we’re all ears. Enlighten us.

Okay, here goes.




(Remember, I warned you.)




Last Saturday, I ran the No Frills All Thrills 8K trail race at Huron Meadows Metropark in Brighton. I run it every year, and it lives up to its billing. No shirts, no photographer, and it’s timed by the gun – no chips on the bibs. But it supports a good cause (Girls on the Run), and whoever baked the post-race chocolate chip and red velvet cookies gets my vote for sainthood.

The metropark trails are challenging in the best of conditions, with some steep climbs and descents built into the course. This year was not the best of conditions. The snow may be gone from the roads, but the trails were still covered in several inches of the stuff, and while some of it had been tamped down, for most of the course we just had to slog through it.

Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

But that’s exactly what I’ve been doing all winter – slogging through the snow. And I was wearing the Hokas, which while not exactly letting me glide along, gave me good traction and kept my feet dry. I liked my chances.

The few...the proud...the nut cases...

The few…the proud…the nut cases…

I got off to a decent start at the back of the leading pack. The trail was mainly ice for the first quarter mile, which meant stepping carefully and trying not to trip over other runners. But when we entered the woods I settled in, and began to pass people one by one as they struggled in the snow. It was hard going, like one of those bad dreams where you’re running really hard and going nowhere. But no one passed me – no one – while I continued to improve my position.

No gold shoes for age group awards this year, but  check out the mug with integrated spoon.

No gold shoes for age group awards this year, but check out the mug with integrated spoon.

I crossed the finish line pretty sure I’d done well. And the initial posted results had me in 12th place overall, out of about 120 total. Quite satisfactory, although I had to settle for second in my age group.

But the story wasn’t over. That night, I logged in to look at the final results – and I’d moved up to 9th place overall. A top 10 finish! Woohoo!

But wait, there’s more…

Tonight I went back to look up my finish time so I could update my race results widget, and saw this!

NFAT 2014 - my race result

According to the race organizer, some of the 8K runners decided to take the detour and just do the 4K – and didn’t tell anyone at the finish line. They think they have everything correct now. Too bad – they way things were going, I’d have won the race by next week!

So there you have it. I rocked out a cold, snowy race for a 6th place overall finish – my best ever – and I owe it all to this winter.

For my next trick, I will explain how the 2012 Dexter tornado led to my current PR in the 5K. Or maybe not. One twisted logic story is enough for now.

Run to Get Happy, Run to Get Fit

“SO WHAT’S THE MOST DEPRESSING SONG you’ve ever heard?” the girl at the coffee shop asked me this morning. Actually, she was in a good mood. She explained how neat it was that listening to sad songs like the blues are actually a way to feel better when you’re down. Running works well, too, I thought.

But if you ask me, things are turning downright positive around here. After what seems like years, the Ann Arbor Ice Age is finally showing signs of ending. The temperatures are rising and the glaciers are in full retreat. Today I saw my actual deck surface for the first time in months.

My deck, January 9.

My deck, January 9.

My deck, today.

My deck, today.

And last night, despite a threat of rain, I went to the PR Fitness run at the local lululemon. To my surprise, only four of us showed up. It was warm – mid-forties – and the sidewalks were clear of ice. What’s not to like? I put on shorts and lightweight shoes and hit the road, and boy, did it feel good.

One of our group was Dan, a new guy who’s just moved to Ann Arbor from Toledo. He’s running to get in shape and to help kick his smoking habit. “In Toledo, everyone smokes,” he said. “But everyone in this town is fit.” He’d only planned to run two miles, but stuck with us a bit longer, and ended up doing close to four. He only had one beef – our route began with quite a bit of uphill rise. “Is this whole route uphill?” he wondered.

Gee, what makes him think everyone in Ann Arbor is a runner?

Gee, what makes him think Ann Arbor is full of runners?

I told him this was his introduction to the Rob Morgan school of running. For those of you who don’t know him, Rob is one of the owners of PR Fitness (his wife, Coach Marie, is the other) and he has a particular knack for choosing running routes with challenging elevation changes. I’m convinced that one day he’ll discover a route that starts and ends at the same location, but will be uphill the whole way. It’s just a matter of time.


Why does this famous Escher come to mind… (Source: Wikipedia)

Speaking of time – in my previous post, I related that one of my little tribulations with pacing last Sunday’s ShamRock ‘n Roll was the expiration of my watch battery in the middle of the 10K. It had been on its last legs for some time, but finally gave up the ghost. So what to do?

Other people helpfully suggested a new watch, but I love my Garmin Forerunner 305. It’s an oldie but a goodie, with a nice big display and features I know how to use. But the battery is not easily switched out. It requires taking the watch apart, clipping off the old battery, and soldering in a new one.

My running watch and definitely un-smartphone. Yes, I am a caveman!

My running watch and definitely un-smartphone. Yes, I am a caveman!

Fortunately, I could turn to the fount of all wisdom – the World Wide Web (which is celebrating its 25th birthday this year), and found a terrific video that shows how to replace the 305 battery, step by step. I could buy a replacement 305 battery online, too, but there’s a better option – the iPod Mini battery. It’s the same size, has the same voltage, but twice the capacity. And it’s cheaper. Sold!

The toughest part turned out to be getting the watch apart, which involved about an hour of gently working the tight seam all the way around the watch face to break the adhesive. Replacing the battery was fairly easy, even with my barbaric soldering skills, and I put it back together and charged it up. So far I’ve put over four hours of use on it, with plenty of charge left.

Next up – Saturday’s No Frills All Thrills 8K trail run in Brighton. They tell me “the trail will be groomed.” I’ll settle for ice-free, which would be an improvement over last year. Hoping to defend my age group title, and earn the matching gold shoe!

2013 race finish. What am I supposed to do with one shoe - and spray-painted to boot?

2013 race finish. What am I supposed to do with one shoe – and spray-painted to boot?

The Perils of Pacing: Race Recap, ShamRock ‘n Roll

KARMIC RETRIBUTION. That must be it.

As payback for my perfect-weather Dances With Dirt race last week in Florida, Nature turned the polar vortex back on for this morning’s ShamRock ‘n Roll 10K. In another tweak of cruel irony, the race is part of the Kona Running series – hardly a name that evokes sub-zero wind chills.

But I’d volunteered to pace it, so I pulled on two pairs of tights, slipped a green shirt over my Heater Hog and wind jacket, and headed to Kellogg Park in Plymouth. And to my surprise (well, not really) the turnout was as strong as ever and the costumes just as wild. There were so many runners that wave starts were used for both the 10K and 5K.

I warned you.

I warned you.

Larry, the pace organizer (among other duties) gave us some advice before the start. “We know there’s black ice out there,” he said. “So don’t worry so much about sticking to your time. Just line up in the proper spot and be safe out there.”

I was grateful he said that. Because I apparently wasn’t done paying for the great experience last week.

Cold - No problem - we're PR Fitness!

Cold? No problem – we’re PR Fitness!

For the first time in a Kona race, I paced solo. Usually Larry assigns two or three people per time, but understandably he was a few pacers short today. So I took the 52 minute sign and assumed my place in the starting queue. The horn sounded at 7:30 and off we went.

I started in the back of the first wave, so I had to work through the crowd for about a half mile to get to my target pace of 8:23 per mile. And just as I was settling in, my right shoe came untied. I’ve run with an untied shoe before – even set a 5K PR that way – and my hands were numb despite the double gloves, so I stuck it out a while.

By the end of mile 2 my hands had thawed, so I pulled over. Procedure: Put sign down. Take off two sets of gloves. Tie shoe, with double knot. Put gloves back on. Pick up sign. Resume running, faster, so I can catch up. This wasn’t a problem for me, but it meant I was passing a lot of people. “I thought you were [already] ahead of me,” a woman said as I went by.

Now I felt guilty; the runners around me may not have been as fast or as fit as I am, but they were working hard. It couldn’t have been encouraging to see a pacer pass them. But it was only until I got back on target. As the end of mile 4 approached, I was just about there – and then my left shoe came untied.

This time I stopped right away and duplicated the above routine, except for jamming on the gloves rather than fitting them on right. And I was determined not to embarrass more runners, so I lowered the sign and took off in a sprint. After a bit I glanced at my watch to see when to slow down – and it had shut off. Battery failure.

Bundled up but rarin' to go! The 5K starts.

Bundled up but rarin’ to go! The 5K starts.

Now there was nothing for it but to make it look good. So I slowed down and just winged it, and headed toward the finish line with head and sign held high. And after all that, I finished at the 53:26 mark. Given I’d crossed the start line over a minute after the gun, I was remarkably close to target. Maybe the cosmic spirit likes me after all.

Right afterward, someone came up to me. “Thanks for keeping the pace,” he said.

“Hey, no problem,” I replied.

Me with another famous "Shoelace", Denard Robinson. Taught him everything he knows about running with untied shoes.

Me with another famous “Shoelace”, Denard Robinson. Taught him everything he knows about running with untied shoes.