How Runners Have Fun

WARNING: This post contains material of an “adult” nature. If it offends your sensibilities in any way, then I’ve done my job. And thanks for reading.

YOU NON-RUNNERS OUT THERE may wonder what runners do for fun. Well, the first answer of any runner would be, “running, of course.”  But contrary to what you may believe, we do know how to throw a party.

Me Playing Disc GolfHow good a party? Let me ask you this: at what kind of party can one have the opportunity to taste wine, drink a shot, sit in a Corvette, swim fully clothed, play disc golf, eat ice cream, and (gasp!) bare it all – while running? The answer is the Running Fit Events Dash and Burn Soiree, which took place Thursday night at a secret location near Northville.

The D&B is the annual “thank you” party for event volunteers, so only volunteers get invited. (See the end of this post for how to get involved.)  It’s low-key but a lot of fun. And this year the Events staff spiced up the pre-party run by adding a scavenger hunt. The mission was to locate area landmarks and/or perform certain activities, and Instagram photos back to the staff. As I (very happily) don’t own a smartphone, I brought along my daughter Rachel, who lent her social media expertise to the effort.

We teamed up with two nice ladies (Jen and Kelly), and were handed a hand drawn map of the Northville area and a checklist of things to find or do (including, yes, a “run naked” item). At 6:00 we were sent off. We had until 7:15 to return and hand in our checklist, along with the photos of items completed.

I believe this "half price for men" is grounds for gender discrimination.

I believe this “half price for men” is grounds for gender discrimination.

Some items were easy, such as climbing a tree or doing sit-ups. Others required exploring the Northville area – on foot, of course. Unfortunately, Kelly was injured and had to drop out, so our team of three hotfootted into town. Jen’s knowledge of the area proved incredibly valuable as we went through the list. Here’s a sampling of the things we were able to accomplish in 75 minutes.

Rachel scores big for our team!

Rachel scores big for our team!

Runners are very sophisticated drinkers.

Runners are very sophisticated drinkers.

The church people hoped we'd win. I didn't tell them what I thought we needed to do to win.

The church people hoped we’d win. (I didn’t tell them what I thought we needed to do to win.)

Lucky break: finding a real horse in the Northville Downs parking lot.

Lucky break: finding a real horse (big bonus) in the Northville Downs parking lot.

One downer in an otherwise great hunt: the Corvette owner rudely denied our request to sit in his car. And he worked in a sewing shop! Well, we know where we’re never going to buy embroidery supplies.

So – if you’ve gotten this far, I bet it’s because you want to know if people really ran naked. (That’s okay – I’d do the same). So here you go.

The “run naked” item was 250 points, and I felt that just might win it for us. So with Rachel out of earshot, I told Jen I would “take one for the team” when we got back to the party site. She was surprised but didn’t object, so I sprinted to the finish table and asked if there was time. But the clock was just past 7:15. Darn!

During dinner I moped a bit because of the missed chance. And the scuttlebutt (so to speak) was that at least one other team had done it. So I wasn’t expecting much when Randy stepped to the mike to announce the results.

“Wow,” he said. “This team really did all that stuff? The winning team, with 2,275 points. Jeff, Jen, and Rachel, come on up here!” We’d won it after all, and I hadn’t had to strip off. Just as well – I’m sure it saved at least one camera from exploding, not to mention my daughter’s head.

Jen on my left, Rachel on my right.

Me with race bag, Jen with camp chair and Rachel with her well-earned blanket.

Our prize was first crack at the swag table, piled high with shirts, mugs, and other race prize paraphernalia. I spied a Dances with Dirt gym bag – perfect as a drop bag for trail ultras. Mine!

And I got one more unexpected shout-out for my “Most Valuable Runner” performance in 2014, when I ran all 24 Running Fit races. Good grief. What am I going to do for an encore?

Actually, I got a possible answer to that the next day, when a friend of mine who lives in Portland helpfully told me about this:

World Naked Bike Ride website

It’s too late for this year, but in 2016? Do I dare? If I do, my devoted readers will be the first to know. Can’t promise any photos, though.

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Want to join the party next year? Volunteer for a Running Fit event – which you can do at an event’s website. (Click here for the 2015 race calendar.) In addition to a $30 credit for a race entry, you get on the “A list” for the D&B. Such a deal! And you don’t have to be a runner to volunteer, although it would help to study the language. (For example, “fartlek” is not an obscenity.)

DXA2 and Me: Five Years and Still an Item!

Recently I celebrated a special anniversary. Five years ago I ran my first half marathon – the 2010 Dexter-Ann Arbor Run. I’ve run many more since then, on roads and trails, but that first one will always be memorable to me.

Dark, heavy clouds were overhead that day and a storm had knocked a tree down onto the road, delaying the start. But then we were off through downtown Dexter and a crowd of spectators, followed by ten scenic miles along the Huron River and onto Main Street in Ann Arbor, with a soul-sucking uphill climb to the finish line. And I found out what happens to nipples that don’t get taped. (It’s not pretty.)

I was hooked, and I’ve run it every year since. Who says men can’t commit?

Yep, last year was hot.

Yep, last year was hot.

Last year’s race was particularly nasty. It was hot, and the long hard winter meant many people hadn’t acclimated yet. I heard later that several runners passed out. The heat along with a poor hydration strategy caught up with me at mile 8 and ended my streak of faster finish times.

This year I vowed to be better prepared. I hydrated early and brought a handheld water bottle so I wouldn’t be dependent on the aid stations. And with my training runs in Costa Rica this spring, I felt acclimated. Bring on the 85 degrees and broiling sun. I wuz ready!

DXA2 2015 - Starting Line

Obviously, Nature had other plans.

Weather Underground had originally forecast rain on Saturday, with race day fairly clear and warmer. Then it changed its mind and moved the rain to Sunday, with temps around 50. I got an email from the race director – lightning might delay the start, but the race was on!

I wore my triathlon outfit, which is proving more and more versatile. As it’s designed to shed water and dry quickly, it was perfect for the rain. I was wringing water out of my shirt, but the singlet and shorts kept me reasonably dry and warm. For shoes I wore my Kinvara RunShields, which are designed for inclement weather. My feet got wet, of course, but there was no squishing or waterlogged feeling.

Another great boost - the PR Fitness aid station at mile 6. Thanks again!

Another great boost – the PR Fitness aid station at mile 6. Gatorade and friendly faces – what more could you ask for?

I left the handheld behind. With the rain and cool temps I would have no hydration issues. And I ditched the poncho at mile 4, deciding it was better to embrace the rain than fight it. As I’ve said before, one can only get so wet.

My strategy was to stick with the 1:35 pacer, my goal being any time better than that. All went well until mile 8 when despite a double knot, my right shoe came untied. With five miles to go at a strong pace, there was nothing for it but to stop and tie it, my target group disappearing down the road.

I tried but failed to channel my inner Denard.

I tried but failed to channel my inner Denard.

Not again, I thought. And I decided right then that it would not be “not again”. I stepped it up and ran through the next aid station instead of grabbing a drink. Thanks to the rain, I could afford it. Within a half mile I spotted the 1:35 sign again and in another half mile I’d caught up. Around mile 10 I went ahead of them, this time for good.

DXA2 2015 - Finish Area with PacerThe final climb on Main Street was still rough, and I came the closest I’ve ever come to tossing my cookies. But seeing “1:34″ on the finish line clock gave me a boost, and I finished in 1:34:39. A new best time for me on that course. Hard to be annoyed at the rain when it does that for you!

Hard to believe it’s been five years since that first half marathon. And next year will be five years since my first full marathon! Like they say, you never forget that first one. And – oops, gotta go. My wife is walking toward me holding a rolling pin. She must want to make me cookies!

Brave New Wearable World

My Garmin GPS watch has a built-in heart rate monitor. It communicates with a sensor that I strap around my chest. Then while I’m running I can read my heart rate real-time on the watch. It’s a very useful feature.

I don’t use it.

Why not? Well, the strap is annoying to wear. And I don’t know what my target heart rate should be for a given workout anyway. So even if I were to use it and collect all the data, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Which is one of the issues that wearable tech is bringing to the forefront, in particular in the medical device field. Here’s what just one new device called the Simband can collect and track:

Simband fitness trackerThe Simband … can keep tabs on your daily steps, heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, and how much sweat your sweat glands are producing.

I’m not disputing that this can be useful. And there’s nothing revolutionary about what it’s collecting. But this technology promises to disrupt the established medical model. We’re moving from doctors collecting selected information on an as-needed basis to handling floods of information coming in 24/7. It’s a change from assaying some ore samples to trying to filter out a few particles of gold from an onrushing river.

email_overloadThe fast growth in gadgets that can track your vital stats has the attention of the Food and Drug Administration as well. Medical devices are heavily regulated worldwide and must receive FDA approval before they can be sold in the U.S. The key is figuring out where an app crosses the line from providing information to attempting a diagnosis or prescribing treatment, and thus becomes a medical device.

So early in 2015 FDA published guidance that differentiates so-called “general wellness” products from those that pose risk to the user or provide medical advice. (If you’re one of those perverse individuals who likes reading government documents, you can access it here.) But here’s the gist of it: devices that strictly track information you would use for training or general health improvement are not subject to FDA regulation.

So the tracking of heart rate, calories consumed, sleep patterns and the like are fine. And the annoying app CARROT that I mentioned last time can suggest you are gravitationally challenged as long as it doesn’t diagnose you as clinically obese. (Some comfort, eh?)

It wasn't me! My phone said your butt looked fat!

It wasn’t me! My PHONE said you have enough butt for both of us!

Behavior is another hurdle to medical wearables becoming commonplace. According to a 2013 study, while one in 10 Americans owned an activity tracker, nearly half had stopped using them after six months. And the main consumers of wearable tech right now are millennials – young, healthy, and who readily embrace new tech. It’s unclear how the older and less affluent – those most likely to have chronic health issues – will embrace the new technology.

Finally, there’s the problem of protecting against those you don’t want seeing your training and/or medical history. Data privacy regulations like HIPAA are all well and good, but (surprise!) not everyone respects them. There are lots of people and organizations out there who would find your personal medical data very useful. Can a phone, watch, or other wearable keep data safe, or can the “cloud” can be made secure? I guess we’ll find out.

And perhaps I will be kicked into this brave new world anyway. Last week after the Dexter-Ann Arbor half marathon, my watch went kaput. So I will be getting a new one which will most likely have a heart rate monitor easier to access and use. And, no doubt, many other features I didn’t know I couldn’t live without. I can’t wait.

How did people ever run without all this stuff.

How did people ever go running without all this stuff?

How Fit Are You? Ask Your Clothes

A year ago or so, out enjoying a group run, my serenity was suddenly interrupted when the right hip of the runner in front of me began talking.

“You have completed three miles,” it told us. “You are thirty seconds behind your target pace.” Its tone carried the implied command, Step it up, sluggard.

Had this insolent iPhone been mine, it would quickly have found a new home at the bottom of the Huron River. I like high tech just fine but hell if I’m gonna take any crap from it.

My phone is an iRock. It no talk.

My phone is an iRock. It no talk.

But a tidal wave of new technology is sweeping in that promises to integrate so deeply into our lives that one day soon, like Amazon.com and Beyond Meat, we’ll wonder how we got along without it.

wearable-tech-433We’re moving fast and furious toward a full-blown Internet of Things, where a massive amount of information becomes available in real-time. Can we, the unwashed and untrained, properly interpret and use all this information? That’s yet to be seen.

Regardless, the sports and athletic industry is riding the crest of the wave. “Wearable tech” is barely in its infancy but it’s estimated that 1 in 5 Americans already own at least one piece of it.

Here’s just a sampling of the stuff these things will track:

And for those of you who don’t mind abuse from your tech, there’s CARROT, an app that tracks your weight and will admonish you if it’s not good news. Nothing like a little body shaming to start your day!

CARROT app

They are even putting biosensors into bras and underpants.

My pair must have a glitch. The moment I put them on, they started snickering

 Intrigued? Want a quick, easy to follow guide to see what kinds of information these gadgets can collect and track for you? Thanks to Brian Gibson for pointing me to this infographic on the Verizon Wireless website.  And this page explains a little about how they work.

Google Glass - crazy man in showerBut at least one annoying piece of tech is on hiatus at the moment. Remember Google Glass? This man single-handedly set it back years. And for that he has my undying gratitude. Read here for the amusing story.

As for me, when I go running I wear my medium-tech basic GPS watch. It does not talk. My deliberately selected rugged flip-style definitely unsmart phone does not talk either. This makes me happy. I want to remain smarter than the stuff I wear. For a little while longer, anyway.

Not flashy and most definitely unthreatening. Just the way I like them.

Not flashy and most definitely unthreatening. Just the way I like them.

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Coming up: I work in the medical device field, where wearable tech is making big, fast inroads. Sound good? The government doesn’t think so. I’ll share with you why progress in this particular area may grind to a halt for a while.

How to Get Hot Women Runners to Notice You

MY WIFE WORRIES when I head out to a race, decked out in my neon shoes, tech shirt, and compression shorts. “What are you going to do,” she asks me, “when all those hot women throw themselves at you?”

Until now, oddly, this hasn’t been a problem.

However, at last week’s Hightail to Ale 5K in Detroit, it finally happened. And as a public service for the frustrated, lonely men out there, I will tell you how I did it.

Hey, baby, wanna have a look at my collection of ultra medals?

Hey, baby – wanna come up and look at my ultra medals?

Guys, we all know there are several “can’t miss” ways to get attention from the ladies. Which one of them did I employ that evening?

  1. Be rockstar-rich and famous. Nope, not quite there yet.
  2. Look like a Greek god (or better yet, be one). Never been mistaken for one.
  3. Hand out free beer. YES! And it COUNTS!
Readying for the onslaught.

Readying for the onslaught.

And how did I exploit this enviable situation? Read on for a key lesson I learned in relating to the fair sex and how I used it to my advantage.

I’d volunteered for the Hightail to Ale as part of my new interest in seeing how races handle all the trash they generate – food, water bottles, cups, and the like. At the Gazelle Girl half, I’d seen how careful planning and key partnerships resulted in the composting or recycling of 99% of what usually goes to a landfill. Now I wanted to see how a more typical event dealt with it.

But instead of the garbage detail, I was assigned to a central part of the event; the Atwater Brewery beer to be handed out at the finish. While this was a real race (the winner finished in under 16 minutes) most of the 4,400 runners were there for the fun of it. It’s amazing what people will do for a free beer.

The 5K starting queue. (This is about half of the runners.)

The 5K starting queue. (This is about half of the runners.)

Last year, the line for the post-race suds had gotten so long that people waited over an hour, and many gave up. So this year an entire parking lot had been set aside, with a long line of tables staffed by several volunteers each. All runners had to do was walk up, tear off and hand over the bottom tab of their race bibs, and get a beer. (Minors didn’t get the special tab.) It worked perfectly. The beer area filled up, but nobody had to wait.

I think Drunk 1 was under the table.

I think Drunk 1 was under the table.

Look at that form, that determination, that purposeful stride. She wants that beer!

Look at that form, determination, and purposeful stride. She wants that beer!

It was a warm and humid evening, so the runners were particularly eager to get a cold drink. From my spot behind a center table I was approached by many hot and sweaty women. (There were plenty of men too, but we needn’t go there.)

My lesson in male-female interaction occurred unexpectedly. While showing an ID was not necessary, some people, women in particular, had their driver’s licenses out and ready to show. The first time someone did that, I just handed her a can, smiled, and said I didn’t need to see it.

“Oh, so it’s that obvious,” she muttered.

Apparently I’d made some kind of faux pas. Did you know women can be sensitive about their age? Clearly, I would win no friends by being straightforward. So I changed tactics.

Soon a pair of women of obvious legal age approached my table. With the first I just took her tab and congratulated her on finishing the race. But I stopped the other. “Hmm,” I said, “I think I need to check your ID, young lady.”

As she walked away she said to the other, “That was awesome. I never get carded anymore.”

Success! From then on when a woman showed me her ID, I would toss out lines like, “That ID looks fake to me,” and “Are you sure that isn’t your older sister’s license?” Corny as hell, yes, but it never failed to get a smile.

But the best part occurred near the end of the rush. A woman walked up to me with stuff in both hands so she couldn’t tear the ticket off her bib. “You can take it off,” she said, leaning toward me.

“Best offer I’ve had all day,” I told her.

Meme - Keep Running My Friends

Cure for a DNF: Water, Shade, and Perspective

One week after the Glacier Ridge 50-miler DNF and feeling much better. Ran Saturday morning with PR Fitness, holding it to 8 miles per Coach’s direction (OK, 8.3 miles, but she wasn’t looking). About halfway out it began to rain. Some people grumbled, but I loved every minute of it. Man, could I have used some of that last week!

This would have been good, too! (From last year's Kona race.)

This would have been good, too! (From last year’s Kona race.)

Not finishing was a bummer, but it’s okay. I’d signed up to find out how ready I was to retry the 100K. By mile 40 I’d learned that I wasn’t, and the main reasons why. Going on would have been a miserable slog with nothing else to learn. And as a bonus, the whole thing was put into perspective very quickly. See below.

My biggest lesson was how much I’d underrated hydration. I’d gotten into the (bad) habit of not drinking anything before a race, because I hate standing in line at the porta-potties right before the gun. I can get away with this for short races, and up to 50K on the trail. Beyond that and the lack of water catches up with me.

I now drink at least 8 ounces of water when I wake up, and will on race days, regardless of the consequences. I also need to drink a lot more during the race, and start drinking earlier, especially on hot days.

My backpack has pockets for two bottles. I just need to use them both. The camera can go elsewhere.

My backpack has pockets for two bottles. I need to use both for that purpose. The camera can go elsewhere.

And I need to protect my head from direct sunlight. I hadn’t counted on such a long stretch of open road and trail late in the race. I should have put a baseball cap in my backpack just in case. I will from now on.

On the plus side, I recovered quickly. Just three days later I ran with the Tuesday night group, stretching a planned two miles to three. Yesterday I felt good enough for my usual 12 miles but didn’t push it. The Dexter-Ann Arbor half is in two weeks, so there’s no sense in doing too much too fast. After that, I’m looking at another 50-miler in late June or early July.

And from the Count Your Blessings news desk: Last week after I accepted the strong hints at the aid station and turned in my chip, I got a ride back to the start from a race staffer named Dan. We got to chatting and I asked if he also ran ultramarathons. “I used to,” he said. “But I can’t anymore.”

A few years ago Dan’s heart became enlarged due to a leaky valve. Surgery corrected the problem but his heart didn’t return to normal size as hoped. Now, he says, running even a short distance leaves him out of breath.

“I was devastated,” he said. “Running was my stress relief. My meditation. I had to come up with an entirely new way of coping with things.” He has, but it was clear how much he missed being able to run.

All that evening I did my best to feel sorry for myself, but the magic just wasn’t there.

For a wicked take on why self-pity is “dangerously comfortable” see this article on Cracked.com.

Note to self: he carried two water bottles. He finished.

Note to self: he carried two water bottles. He finished.

And I want to thank J.R., who ran with me for many miles, and who helped me out when I was sitting on that log at mile 36. He gave up a chance at a faster finish to walk with me to the aid station. His encouragement was a big reason why I was able to get there, and I made sure the race staff knew it. See you next year, my friend.

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Next up: Chatting up the ladies at the Hightail to Ale 5K. (Key to success: be one of the people handing out free beer.) Details to follow!

Melted at the Glacier Ridge

I slowly walked over to the aid station checkout desk. The nice lady there looked up at me. “What do you think, Jeff?” she asked.

“Well, I’m stupid enough to try,” I said.

I was hoping for a laugh. Instead I got a look of motherly concern that made my heart sink. “You have no color in your face,” she said.

I was at mile 40 and ten hours in. Only ten miles to go, and I had time to walk to the finish. But even that wouldn’t be easy. I was in trouble – and it was my own damn fault.

Glacier Ridge - first mileThe Glacier Ridge Trail Ultra takes place at Moraine State Park near Pittsburgh, in rolling farm country. Normally held in April, the organizers were getting tired of cold temps and ankle-deep mud. So this year they moved it to May, hoping for warmer and drier conditions.  Be careful what you wish for was never more true. The temperature at the 6:30 a.m. start was already in the mid-sixties and would reach 90 that afternoon.

The race staff had bought lots of ice and hired extra EMT units, and told us to be careful out there. I planned to run it nice and easy, in around 11-12 hours. That wouldn’t earn any awards, but I was there to prep for an upcoming 100K, not win anything. Let the ego go, I told myself. Just finish.

Ready to rock! Little did I know...

Ready to rock! Little did I know…

It was a small event, just a few hundred runners taking part in their choice of a 30K, 50K, or 50-mile individual or relay. Everyone was in good spirits as we took off, chatting about their longer races coming up later this summer.

The first half of the race was awesome. My new trail shoes were performing well, the woods were filled with white and purple wildflowers, and I felt terrific. Despite two face plants (&#%@$ roots), I cruised into the Route 528 aid station at mile 21 right on pace and after a bite to eat and a water bottle refill, I headed out into the Swamp Run section.

Yep, this was part of the course. Reminds me of the almond-shell hills in McFarland, USA.

Yep, this was part of the course. Reminds me of the almond-shell hills in McFarland, USA.

This 19-mile leg had long stretches of gravel road and double-wide snowmobile track. It was a nice respite from the rocks and roots of the first part, but open to the sun, which now beat down full overhead. When I began to feel its effects around mile 26 I wasn’t too worried – the aid station wasn’t far away. Except it was.

The Swamp Run aid station was 8 miles from Route 528, three miles farther than I had thought, and in the heat I ran short on water. I’d made a big mistake by not grabbing my second water bottle. I slowed down and finally reached the station, where the nurse there sat me down and put cold wet towels on my neck. I ate cold melon, took salt, and drank lots of water. I went on to the turnaround point, rested some more back at the aid station, and began the return feeling better. But it didn’t last; the damage had been done.

Halfway back to Route 528 (around mile 36) I knew I was in trouble. I went from slow jog to walk but was still breathing hard, and wetting down my face and head was no longer helping. This was bad – and I was at least an hour away from the aid station. Finally I did something I’ve never done in a race; I stopped, sat down on a log, and waited. After a few minutes a group behind me came up and I joined them. Everyone was suffering from the heat and we were all grateful to see the cars and hear the voices that meant we’d reached Route 528.

I sat with fluids and a large bag of ice for about half an hour, hoping I could recover enough to attempt the final ten miles. The volunteers manning the station were wonderful, making sure I had whatever I needed and checking on me frequently. All that time I debated what to do. Finally I thought I was well enough to try the finish. Until the nice lady gave me that concerned look.

So I went to the EMT technician, who looked me over and took my vitals. “It’s your call,” she said. “But you’re gray in the face, and you’re not sweating as much as I’d like you to.”

“We can give you a ride back to the start,” the checkout lady suggested, hope in her voice. “The truck’s leaving right now.”

As a final check I used the porta-potty. What came out wasn’t much, even with all my drinking, and it looked like a strong cup of tea. That clinched it. I removed the timing strap from my ankle and handed it over. It was the hardest thing I’d done all day, but the relieved expressions told me I’d done the right thing.

So I called it a day at 40 miles. My only goal had been to finish, and I hadn’t even done that. But it occurred to me that I had accomplished one thing. Ego? An attempt to finish would have soothed it. But stopping – that was truly letting it go.

.  .  .

Thanks again, buddy. (J.R. after finishing)

Thanks again, buddy. (J.R. after finishing)

Up next: What I learned, and a couple of stories from people I met on the trail. I also specifically want to thank Dan and J.R. for their help during the race. Details next time.