Thrills, No Frills, And A Wish Fulfilled

The vernal equinox is upon us, and with it came the annual No Frills All Thrills Trail Race at Huron Meadows Metropark. Hard to believe it’s been a year since the memorable 2014 race, with its Iditarod-like conditions.

Hardcore!

Hardcore!

The NFAT is one of my favorite races, in part due to the minimalist approach the organizers take. No shirts, no photographer, not even chip timing, just an 8K or 4K trail run through a pretty metropark. For an early spring run in unpredictable conditions, it attracts a surprising variety of runners of all ages. I even saw a stroller this year. Now that’s hardcore.

Just a couple of weeks ago, with snow still covering southern Michigan, I’d expected something similar to the 2014 race, where snow and ice covered the entire trail 3-4 inches deep. But the recent thaw took care of that. I asked the nice lady at the registration area what the trail was like this year.

“The first half mile is a bit muddy,” she said. “And there’s some snow and ice, but not much. It’s much better than last year.” Which would have been true about any year other than 2014. I replied that last year was one for the ages, and she said. “Yep. The Ice Ages.”

NFAT starting lineYet last year I pulled off once of my best efforts, aided by many runners deciding mid-race to drop to the 4K rather than stick out the full 8K. I wound up in 6th place overall. This year, with the trails mostly clear and runnable, I figured there was no way I would finish in the top 10 again. But I lined up in the front anyway.

As promised, there were some muddy spots, and a few large patches of snow and ice here and there. But most of the trail was in surprisingly good shape, and my Saucony Peregrine trail shoes provided good grip throughout. I got off to a good start and settled in at the rear of the lead pack, about 20 or so. We pulled well away from the rest of the runners, and with no one behind me to worry about, I began to work on those ahead.

The 8K route isn’t a killer but it has its challenges, and my winter workouts and all the hill work in Costa Rica paid off as I caught and passed other runners beginning to tire. And no other runners passed me. I love it when that happens! I crossed the finish line in 36:46 – good for an age group win and 9th place overall. Top 10 again!

Saving the best for last: a nice steep hill 100 yards from the finish line.

Saving the best for last: a nice steep hill 100 yards from the finish line.

Top things I love about this race:

  • The “no frills” as proudly advertised. Low key and straightforward.
  • A trail race in March means the conditions are unpredictable and practically guaranteed to be different from year to year.
  • It’s a good test of my fitness level as I get set for my late spring and summer races.
  • The organizers are very nice people, and so are the other runners. Every year I have a good time chatting with people after the race, and learning about other can’t-miss trail races. This year I found out about the debut Two Hearted Trail Run in the UP in June. (Don’t tell anyone – space is limited and I haven’t signed up yet.)
"No frills" race swag: gloves, chipless bib, and age group award.

“No frills” race swag: gloves, chipless bib, and age group award. (Spibelt is mine – and I highly recommend it.)

Normally, I’d be adding “the post-race goodies” to the list. But the homemade chocolate chip and red velvet cookies of the past few years were missing this year, replaced by boxes of store-bought. Perhaps it’s just as well – a couple more of those red velvet cookies and I’d have proposed to the baker, which probably wouldn’t have gone down too well with my wife.

And now for the big news I promised last time:

Coach Marie has a new baby daughter! Kasey June Morgan was born on March 13. Congratulations to Marie and her husband Rob, who faced difficulties in having a child, but whose patience and optimism saw them through. Kasey doesn’t know it yet, but she’s going to be a runner. Heck, she already has a 100+ support group!

Kasey doesn't know it yet, but she's going to be a runner. Heck, she already has a 100+ support group!

And in other news, I’m signing up for two spring ultras: the Pinckney Trail Marathon Weekend April 25-26, and the Glacier Ridge Trail Ultra (50 miles) in May. And the 100K retry is also on the list – just need to choose the venue. Stay tuned!

Exiled in Paradise, and I Shall Have No Pi

The running gods either love me, or hate me.

A week ago last Thursday, my wife, DD #2 and I flew to Costa Rica. They came for fun and sightseeing. So did I, with the side effect of having to work at our office starting last Monday. (Yes, the company I work for has an office in Costa Rica. Deal with it.)

Costa Rica - Rachel with Macaw - 2We all had a blast over the first weekend, despite a lost passport that had to be replaced, and the ladies departed for home on Wednesday. I was to stay until Friday, then fly home to run the Pi Day race with daughter on Saturday.

What was the Pi Day race, you may ask? Well, as we all learned in school, “pi” is the mysterious number that expresses the relationship between the circumference of a circle and its diameter: (C = D * pi), more commonly known as 3.14159, etc. etc. to infinity.

From USA Today: amazing pi recitation feats. Because, apparently, all of the world's other problems have been solved.

From USA Today: amazing pi recitation feats. Because, apparently, all of the world’s other problems have been solved.

Saturday was March 14 (3-14), thereby the moniker “Pi Day”. Add in that it’s 2015, and it’s 3-14-15 – a once-per-century event. So Epic Races in Ann Arbor organized a little race: 3.14 miles on 3-14-15 at 9:26:53 a.m., thereby snatching the first 10 digits! And to top it off, there was pie (the food kind) at the finish line. Both of us being nerds (she a late bloomer) we signed up right away.

But the running gods had other plans for me.

Volcano eruption - Costa Rica

Thursday afternoon, one of Costa Rica’s slumbering volcanoes decided it was time for a little fun. The ashfall was light and no real damage was done, but they had to close the airport until they could clear it. Which led to incoming flights being diverted, which led to return flights being cancelled, mine being among them. “The earliest I can get you home,” the airline agent said when I called, “is Monday.”

So my part in the Pi Day race was scuttled, and I was forced to spend another weekend in Costa Rica. “Just so you know,” one of my coworkers helpfully told me, “no one here feels sorry for you.”

Well, si la vida te trata limones, haz limonada, I always say. The enforced additional layover allowed me to catch up on some things that I’ve been putting off due to a hectic schedule. Back home, I’d have run the race, then crashed for the weekend, or done stuff around the house. With none of those distractions here, I was free to focus on my backlog. And I got some more running in.

What is this "snow" you speak of.

What is this “snow” you speak of.

My runs have been short here – the longest has been 10K – but it’s included a lot of hill work (inescapable), and I climb six flights to my room several times a day. Plus it doesn’t take much heat to wear me out right now, as I’m still acclimated to below-freezing weather. But I hear it’s already much warmer at home, and spring trail races are coming up. Gotta stay in shape!

Heading home tomorrow – and there’s big news in my running life to share next time. Stay tuned!

What Would You Trade the Rest of Your Life For?

During a recent run, I was told that a number of world-class athletes had once been asked the following: Suppose there was a drug that would guarantee victories in whatever events you chose, but would also cause you to die in five years. Would you take that drug?

The surprising result became known as Goldman’s dilemma, after the physician who posed the question. Read on for how the athletes answered.

Hey, what if I could take the drug at age 95? By Kuebi = Armin Kübelbeck (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Hey, what if I could take the drug at age 95?
Source: Armin Kübelbeck, Wikimedia Commons

One could argue that the question is meaningless, because in reality there is no such drug, and therefore no actual choice to make. Yet isn’t a form of Goldman’s dilemma already in evidence from athletes who take steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, despite the known side effects and risk of getting caught?

And what about NFL players who continue to play despite multiple surgeries, tissue-destroying cortisone shots, and concussions? Many former players are practically crippled or have symptoms of severe brain damage from concussions.

When I was growing up, I was taught that delayed gratification was a good thing. And anyone who works out has heard the phrase short-term pain for long-term gain. But the examples above are doing the opposite – obtaining short-term money and fame in exchange for long-term suffering. This is classically portrayed as selling one’s soul to the Devil.

And over half the athletes asked the “magic drug + death” question said they would take it, willing to take the short-term success in exchange for no long-term at all.

And this disgraced former champion even said he'd cheat all over again. "Lance Armstrong MidiLibre 2002" by de:Benutzer:Hase - Self-photographed. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

And this disgraced former champion recently said he’d cheat all over again.
Lance Armstrong MidiLibre 2002” by de:Benutzer:HaseSelf-photographed. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I bring this up due to something Randy Step recently posted in the Running Fit Events newsletter. He cited the recent sensationalist articles claiming that running hard is as bad for you as being sedentary, and that life is not prolonged as a result (read a more informed analysis here). Randy’s point is that we don’t run to escape death; we run to enjoy the experience and experience a higher quality of life until we do shuffle off this mortal coil.

“Would you rather be living it up and running every day until you are 80 and then just drop dead,” Randy writes, “or would you rather live a sedentary life, develop congestive heart failure at 80, spend 10 years in a nursing home with multiple disease factors, perhaps Alzheimer’s and no quality of life, then die at 90?”

Fortunately, studies consistently show that people who exercise live longer and also have a higher quality of life than those who are sedentary, so again this is a hypothetical choice. But I’m pretty sure I’d choose the “run every day, die at 80″ scenario. Being active is about more than just staying healthy and fit. I believe it is a major contributor to my self-confidence and happiness.

Somehow I don't think Meb is interested in dying early. By Gr5 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a hard runner who I’ll bet outlives any couch potato.
By Gr5 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

As for dropping dead during a run, there have been races where I’ve felt pretty close to it. So far, so good, though. I’ll be sure to let you all know if I make it to 81.

There Will Be a Brief Interlude for Attempted Humor

Our Saturday morning run was just cancelled – apparently 14 degrees below isn’t the best weather for it. To celebrate this rare opportunity to sleep in, I’m taking a brief hiatus (a winter break, as it were) from my adventures in fitness to share some of my favorite jokes. Hey, it’s damn cold out – we can all use a little humor, right? Enjoy!

Favorite Geek Jokes

Schrodinger’s cat walks into a bar. . .and doesn’t.

There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

There’s a mathematics convention at a hotel. One night, a physicist wakes up and sees his wastebasket is on fire. He puts it in the tub, turns the shower on, douses the fire, and goes back to bed.

An engineer wakes up and sees his wastebasket is on fire. He goes to his computer, calculates that exactly 1.65 liters of water is required, fills his ice bucket with that amount, douses the fire, and goes back to bed.

A theoretical mathematician wakes up and sees his wastebasket is on fire. He looks at his ice bucket and then at the bathroom faucet, calls the front desk and says, “The solution exists!” and goes back to bed.

Question: Who was setting the fires?
Answer: A statistician, looking for a larger sample size!

Favorite Pun-Type Jokes

Two vultures hurt their wings and decide to migrate south by airplane. They bring some rabbits along as a snack. The gate agent asks them, “Do you want to check those rabbits?”

“No,” the vultures say. “They’re carrion.”

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Never trust an atom. They make up everything!

I once met the world’s best scarecrow. He was outstanding in his field.

Favorite Golf Jokes

A golf fanatic plays 18 holes with his best friend every Saturday morning. He’s always home by noon, so when he doesn’t come back, his wife gets really worried. Finally, at 5:00, he staggers in the door, looking absolutely exhausted. “What happened?” his wife asks.

“It was Fred,” he says. “He had a heart attack right there on the first tee!”

“Oh, God!” she cries. “What a traumatic experience!”

“You don’t know the half of it!” he said. “All day long it was hit one, drag Fred – hit one, drag Fred – hit one, drag Fred…”

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I was a caddie as a teenager, so I really associated with a particular Lolly comic strip. Sorry, I don’t have the actual strip, but here’s the text.

The corporate CEO is on the course sizing up his next shot, and it’s clear he’s undecided on which club to use. “You know my game pretty well, Albert,” he says to his caddie. “What do I need to get to the green from here?”

(The caddie says nothing but holds out about six clubs.)

And this old chestnut:

A golfer walks off the 18th green, hands his putter to his caddie and says, “Kid, you’ve got to be the worst caddie in the world.”
The caddie replies, “I doubt that, sir. That would be too much of a coincidence.”

Other Favorite Jokes

Q. How many Californians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Three. One to change it, and two to share the experience.

Q2. How many Oregonians does it take to change a light bulb?
A2. Four. One to change it, and three to chase away the Californians.

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A Catholic priest, a Baptist minister, and a rabbi are out walking in the woods, arguing about which religion is the best. The Baptist spots a deer. “You see that deer?” he says to the others. “I’m going to bring him to Jesus.” He goes over to the deer and preaches a real blood-and-thunder sermon. At the end, the deer is on its knees looking up to heaven and sobbing. The preacher baptizes him and the deer leaves with its head high.

The priest sees an eagle. “I’m going to make that bird a Catholic,” he declares, calls the eagle to his side and tells him all about God’s love and the promise of eternal life. At the end, the eagle is wearing a crucifix and plucking a set of rosary beads.

The rabbi spots a bear. “You guys wanna see real religion?” he says. “I’m gonna turn that bear into a Jew.” He walks with the bear into the woods. Suddenly horrible screams are heard, and the rabbi staggers back into sight, scratched and bloodied all over.

“What happened?” the priest and minister cry.
“Well,” the rabbi says, “perhaps I shouldn’t have tried to circumcise him.”

I’ll wrap up with one that was once declared to be Great Britain’s favorite joke.

A woman takes her baby on an outing and boards a bus. The driver looks at her and says, “Lady, that is the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen!” The woman is flustered and angry, but says nothing, pays the fare, and stomps to a seat in the back.

“You know,” she says to the man next to her, still fuming, “That driver was incredibly rude to me. I feel like going up there and giving him a piece of my mind.”

“So you should!” the man says. “You go right ahead and do that. I’ll hold your monkey for you.”

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Hope you enjoyed this post! Feel free to pass along favorite jokes of your own, running-related or otherwise.

Running Transforms a Town: McFarland, USA

There’s nothing like a story of overcoming adversity to make you appreciate your own life – and make you re-examine your attitude toward many things.

Last night I went to a pre-release screening of McFarland, USA, based on the true story of Jim White, the high school cross-country coach in the town of McFarland, California, and how he built the team into state champions. While there’s plenty of running, the story is more about the characters – the coach (played by Kevin Costner) and his family adapting to life in an overwhelmingly Hispanic community, and the struggles of the kids and their families to escape from the lifelong grind of working as pickers in the Central Valley orchards.

Movie poster (source: Wikipedia).

Movie poster (source: Wikipedia).

Once past the first 10 minutes, an awkward, clichéd “fish out of water” sequence as the White family arrives in McFarland, the story takes off. Jim forms the cross-country team and turns them into dedicated runners, making mistakes and dealing with their frustrations and family challenges, but never giving up on them.

So what adversity did the McFarland runners face? Start with getting up at 4:30 a.m. every day to work in the fields until school started, then after school going back to the orchards to train for 10 miles or more. On weekends, and when school was out, they worked all day, every day, in the fields, along with their families. And they’re up against better funded, better trained teams from privileged schools. Jim uses this as motivation.

“At the end of a race,” he tells them, “it’s all about who can stand the pain. You guys have the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen.” And they prove him right while coming to believe in themselves and their potential not just as runners, but as people.

There are some really good scenes of the kids running through the orchards and up and down tarp-covered mountains of almond shells while Jim accompanies them on an old bike. A low-paid teacher, he somehow finds the funds to equip the runners with shoes and uniforms. To help establish trust with the local families, he spends a day in the fields harvesting cabbage, with predictable results.

Piles of almond shells, like the kind used for hill training in the movie.

Piles of almond shells, like the kind used for hill training in the movie. (See Almond Girl’s blog for lots more about almonds.)

The acting is absolutely first-rate. You’d expect that of Costner, but the other actors, the kids in particular, also shine. I totally bought in. I thought the re-created meets and races were also very well done – long enough to satisfy the runners in the audience but not too long to bore the non-runners. (Let’s face it, if you don’t have someone in the race to root for, watching a race is akin to, well, watching golf.)

As it’s a Disney production, naturally there is a happy ending, but you don’t mind because it actually happened. There’s also a surprise at the very end of the film which I won’t spoil for you, but I have to say was really heartwarming, in the true sense of the term.

Watching the almond-hill climbing reminded me that I’d kissed off my own scheduled hill work last Tuesday, choosing instead to finish an important assignment at work. (That it was dark, cold, and snowy outside may have also contributed to my decision.) Still, what did it say about my own dedication to my training? They did back-breaking work in 100-degree weather and still trained. I get to sit in a temperature-controlled office all day, and I worry about a puny six miles with some hill repeats?

“Well,” my daughter said as we left the theater, “now I feel really good that I went out for my run this afternoon. I don’t have to feel guilty.”

“Thanks for that,” I said.

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P.S. Once calling themselves, “The Heartbeat of Agriculture”, McFarland transformed its image around its runners. Click here to see how.

Bonus: Click here for more talk with Jim White, and a few differences between the movie and the real-life story.

Stand Up to Work, But Sit Down to – What??

I hope you’re NOT sitting down when you read this.

In yet another wave in the media tide that says we’re f***ed no matter what we do comes the news that extended sitting is bad for your health. Not only that, it can apparently undo any good work you’ve done when you’re not sitting, such as walking, running, or engaging in other exercises that are supposed to keep you healthy.

Fine, I give up. Screw the run, pass the donuts.

Fine, I give up. Screw the run, pass the donuts.

The eye-catching, sensationalist headlines trumpet stuff like, “Sitting is the New Smoking,” “Sitting will kill you, even if you exercise,” and “Sitting All Day Is Really, Really Bad For You.” And even that famous medical expert and Apple CEO Tim Cook was quoted recently as saying that, “[S]moking is the new cancer.” I could not find a comment from him as to why he leads a company making devices that encourage people to be seated for extended periods.

Anyone who knows me knows my interest in maintaining and improving my health and fitness, and how seriously I take my training. And yet, in order to afford my fitness activities and the rest of my life, I have a job – one that requires me to spend considerable time in my office reading, typing, or meeting with people. Which, most of the time, is done while seated. As is eating most meals, driving, watching TV, and writing blog posts like this one.

No sitting means no laps! Bad idea! says Gabby.

No sitting means no laps! Bad idea! says Gabby.

Yikes! What ever am I to do?

You can see this, and other examples, at Amazon.com.

You can see this, and other examples, at Amazon.com.

Fortunately, brilliant minds have come up with solutions. Two recent innovations include the stand-up desk, and for those who want even more help exercising, the treadmill desk (although its benefits have come into question). These wonderful inventions come at a price, naturally, starting at around $300 and going up to whatever your fantasies and your wallet can stand.

The thought that while I’m sitting at my desk I’m undoing much of the good I do myself while exercising has been bugging me for some time now. So I decided to experiment with working at my desk while standing. But heck if I was going to drop $300 or more to get a desk unit to try out. Besides, once I’ve made a decision, I get impatient about carrying it out. So here was my solution.

Do-it-Myself Stand-up DeskWho needs IKEA? I’m an engineer!

I spent most of this afternoon (about 4 hours) working like this. I even conducted a meeting with someone while standing up. (He was seated, but hey, it’s his body to wreck.)

The results were mixed. The first 3 hours or so were comfortable. After that my back got stiff and I took some “sit breaks.” Many of the stand-up units can be raised and lowered for just such occasions. A few more trials may be needed before I spring for one, though. I’ll keep you all posted (pun intended, of course).

Meine Herren, Please Sitz Yourselves

Taking the opposite position, as it were, there is apparently a long-running debate in Germany about whether men should sit down when doing “Number 1″ or if they should continue to relieve themselves standing up. There are even terms for the two sides: sitzpinklers (those who sit down) and stehpinklers (those who do it standing up). Being a sitzpinkler is seen as “non-masculine” by some men, while others see it as progressive and a way to help out toiler cleaners, who are mainly women.

The issue came to a head (*) recently when an apartment renter in Duesseldorf sued his landlord for this right (standing up for standing up?). The landlord claimed the renter’s urine had damaged the marble bathroom floor due to his, shall we say, poor aim, and had withheld part of the security deposit. The case was decided by a judge in favor of the renter. The moral of the story: He who installs marble flooring near a toilet is a dummkopf.

For my part, I remain strongly in favor of a man’s right to pee standing. If nature gives one the ability, one should use it, I say. Besides, what would we do with all the urinals?

You know, the men's room is SO much more aesthetically pleasing these days!

You know, the men’s room is SO much more aesthetically pleasing these days!

Check out some highly entertaining (and somewhat shocking) unusual real urinals at this site here. One more example below.

Go ahead, sitzpinkler! I dare you!

Go ahead, sitzpinkler! I dare you!

See you next time, if I survive all my sitting. You know, even in doctor’s offices and waiting rooms, what are we asked to do? Sit! Quick, have Tim Cook set them straight!

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(*) Jeez, I’m full of puns today. Is it okay if I release them sitting down?

2015 Super 5K: 26 and Done

RIDDLE OF THE DAY: What causes schools to close, leads to massive traffic accidents, requires huge trucks and tons of salt to control, but has absolutely no effect on runners?

Meme - Late for Run - Snow

Sunday morning was the 2015 Running Fit Super 5K, and over 1,500 unstoppable runners showed up – because, after all, what else would they do on Sunday morning before the Super Bowl? While they’re all badass, especially the ten runners aged 70 and over, I think the baddest were the 20 who took over an hour to finish. That’s a long time to slog through slush and cold for a medal, pint glass, and a hot dog or two.

Super 5K starting line

The snow had already been falling a while when I pulled out of my driveway and headed to Novi. I gave myself extra drive time and arrived early enough to get my race bib and warm up (somewhat). Thankfully, the venue had changed from the Novi Civic Center to the high school, avoiding the frostbite-inducing quarter mile march of previous years to the starting line.

Super 5K - Me at start

The consecutive streak ends at 26! My bib number was an unintended tribute, I guess.

As the roads had not been fully cleared. I wore my Saucony Peregrine trail shoes for extra traction. Others wore Yaktrax or put sheet metal screws in the soles. While snowy and windy, the temperature was in the low 20s, positively tropical compared to the last four years, so my Heater Hog and a light wind vest kept me plenty warm, once I got going.

The race starts down a main road and tucks into a private subdivision about a half mile in. Although it’s a loop, it seemed like twice as much uphill as downhill, especially in the second half. This actually helped my cause, as I passed a lot of people losing steam on the long, slow rises. I was breathing pretty hard myself, but all that trail running pays off in races like this.

I finished a minute faster than last year, which was in deeper snow. I managed third in my age group, but once again, like in Bigfoot, I beat everyone in the age group below mine. “I wish I were 49 again,” I said to a friend. “I’d be winning my age group!” Maybe I’ll have to start lying about my age. On the other hand, the finishers over 70 got the most applause.

Super 5K finish line

Super 5K finish line 2

The post-race food was junkier than average, by design due to the Super Bowl tie-in. 9:30 a.m. is too early for me to eat a hot dog, but I broke down and had some of the meatballs – and went back for seconds. Dang, they were good. Turned out I needed those calories, as I spent the rest of Sunday, and Monday morning, shoveling my driveway.

This was a bittersweet race for me. It marks the end of 26 consecutive Running Fit events, starting with the 2013 Holiday Hustle through every event in 2014 and the first two events of 2015. Due to other commitments, I won’t be at the Dances with Dirt Green Swamp and Shamrocks & Shenanigans races next month. Ah, well – looking forward to the Pi Day run with my daughter on March 14!

At least this streak continues! Me with fellow PR Fitness racing fiend Michael.

At least this streak continues! Post-race with fellow PR Fitness racing fiend Michael.