The Moments Tick Away

Last week I was getting my ass kicked at Body Specs (or, more accurately, I was kicking my own ass), when Pink Floyd’s “Time” came through the speakers.

Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

Roger Waters wrote these lyrics in his late twenties. I’d call them ironic, given he was part of one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Hardly a slacker.

But having achieved twice that age, I can agree on one part for sure: whether you spend your life killing time or filled with activity, years can slip by in what seems like a heartbeat. And the older I get, the faster time does that. Seems like just yesterday I turned 50, which I celebrated that entire year, as documented right here in this blog.

And next month the odometer rolls over as I turn sixty.

Unlike the rest of the stanza, though, the last ten years have been the most active of my life, and a great deal of fun. From just a handful of races at age 50, I now have well over a hundred under my belt, and I’m there for that starting gun, in the sunshine or the rain (or snow). And all but two times so far, I’ve crossed the finish line – even finishing first a couple of times.

Here are just a few of the highlights of my past ten years:

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          My first 50K, 50-miler, 100K, 100-miler, and 150-miler, and triathlons;

          Racing in snowshoes, including one year at 20 below zero

          Running a 50K at Burning Man (and the whole experience there)

          Cycling from Ann Arbor to Empire and back (600 miles over six days)

          Riding naked in Portland

          Achieving brown belt in Aikido

          Starting a Zero Waste company that’s serviced over 100 athletic events

          Walking my daughter down the aisle at her wedding

And earlier this year, I completed my first novel, for which I’m currently soliciting an agent.

Yet while I’m still looking forward to more adventures, I’m feeling a little pang about the change of decade. Even though nothing is really changing by leaving my fifties behind, it feels like the end of an era somehow.

But as my Aikido sensei pointed out many times, every end is also a beginning. And in that spirit, I will begin my sixties with an appropriate welcoming activity. A celebratory ultra, naturally. The day after my birthday, I’ll be running the Loup Garou 60-miler in Louisiana. As for 2022 and beyond, there are many intriguing opportunities, in running and in other areas of life. One thing I will never change, hopefully, is to always have something to look forward to.

There have been some sad times for sure, like my mother’s passing, and my wife’s health challenges. But for anyone who’s not looking forward to getting older, I have only this to say: Think again. At any age, you can do a lot more than you think. Just show up for that starting gun!

Ten Years of Distance Running: A Brief Reflection

I was at a recycling station earlier this week, dropping off stuff from working Zero Waste at the Ann Arbor Marathon. A woman there noticed the stickers on my Jeep’s hatch and beckoned to me.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Did you really run a hundred miles?”

I don’t use a lot of bumper stickers. But when I do, it really means something.

I confirmed I had – several, in fact – and wasn’t cured yet. “Wow, that’s amazing,” she said. “I’ve done a 26.2, but never a hundred miles.” I assured her that a marathon was also a great accomplishment. Even with the explosion in marathon finishers in recent years, they still represent less than one-fifth of one percent of the U.S. population.

This infographic is actually from 2011, so this was the situation when I ran my first marathon.

That stat is hard to put into context when you’re at a major marathon like Boston or Chicago, toeing the line with tens of thousands of others. I mention those two specifically because I’ve been there. The 2011 Chicago Marathon, ten years ago this month, was my first one and trust me, I didn’t feel at all special. I was one guy in the middle of a sea of humanity, most with probably far more miles under their belts.

But, as I came to learn, that doesn’t matter with marathons and ultras. For the 26.2, 100, and longer distances, the real competition is not with other runners but against yourself. It’s a test of what you are, or, more accurately, what you think you are, and a challenge to use that hard-earned knowledge to make yourself better, not just as a runner, but as a person.

My first marathon showed me that not only could I complete that distance, perhaps I was capable of more. The following year I ran my first 50K (at age 50), and things spiraled rapidly downhill from there. I have since run more marathons (although half of them are on trail), but over three times as many ultras, including three of the aforementioned 100-milers and a 150-miler. And, as I said, I’m not cured yet. I’m not sure a cure is even possible.

As for personal improvement, as I’ve written about before, I’ve become more patient and tolerant of situations I don’t like but are outside my control to change. And small annoyances are more easily put in perspective. While I’m far from perfect here, given my current family situation I’m glad to have at least improved somewhat. The reduction in my overall life stress has been much needed.

So, looking back on ten years of long distance running, I’m grateful on many levels. It’s kept me physically in shape, improved my self-discipline and stress management, and brought me new friends and new experiences. In a way, I’m feeling sorry for the over 99 percent of the U.S. population who haven’t run long distance. I know it’s not for everyone, but if you’re at all daydreaming or seriously considering it, you have my full enthusiasm and support. Get out there!

Ten years ago. I did it! Even got a free beer. What could be better?

A “Humorous” Run

Today at my club’s usual Wednesday “6@6” run – 6 miles at 6 a.m. – it was just me and one other runner. The other Wednesday regulars were either preparing for a marathon, or recovering from one, or nursing various injuries.

Along the way my companion, an instructor at the University of Michigan, told me about the class she was preparing to teach that day, on Shakespeare and the use of “humors” in his comedy. Back then it was popular “knowledge” that the body consisted of four humors: blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm, and that one’s personality, as well as physical health, were determined by the amount, and balance of, these humors. For example, a “choleric” state was caused by an excess of yellow bile, while “melancholy” by black bile.

My running companion explained that Shakespeare used the “humors” to model his characters. Women were considered “colder” than men, and thus less complete. But if they got “too hot” they would be aggressive like men, which that age definitely did not like. (Thus, in Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio decides to tame Kate by removing some of her heat.)

You could say that I “saw the humor” in this, and wondered out loud why it was, then, that women had the babies, and maybe it was men who were actually the “incomplete” humans. Yes, we agreed, it was as illogical back then as it seems now.

I was fortunate to be raised in a household where the equality of men and women was a given. Never did I doubt that my sister, or any girls, were inferior in some fashion. And I made sure my daughters were raised the same way. Yet there was one big difference: my wife returned to work after our kids were born, and my mother did not. She had planned to leave work and be a housewife as was traditional to that period, but hearing her boss tell her not to expect her job back rankled. Yes, they could do that back then.

We still have a long way to go to give all genders and  ethnicities the equality and respect they deserve, but we have made some progress over the last fifty years.  I’m grateful that my daughters have less of a glass ceiling to break through. In running, too, much more attention is being paid to top female runners, as it should be.

Now lest I end this post with you thinking I’m some kind of enlightened being, or pompous ass (or both), there is another connection with all this to the morning’s run. For I’d done a tempo run the afternoon before, and was looking forward to an easy pace. But my companion took off at her usual healthy pace, and we ran at about a minute per mile faster than I’d wanted to. It was tough, but I stuck it out.

One reason was I enjoyed her company and wanted to hear more about her teaching experiences and challenges. But, alas, there was more. As much as I wanted to slow it down a bit, I just couldn’t bring myself to ask her to. I don’t care if you’re half my age, I’m Jeff the indestructible!

Yes, I have plenty of room for improvement, too. Maybe I should eat more Good Humors.

Recovery, and Recovery from Recovery

It’s been eight weeks since I finished the Burning River 100, and overall, my recovery is mixed. The first four weeks went well – deceptively well, I told my coach.

What do I mean by “deceptively,” I hear you ask? I mean that physically, my body was telling me I was ready to get back at it – full speed training. It was trying to tell me that just one week after I finished. But I learned better – the hard way, naturally.

In both my first two 100-milers I felt physically ready to resume training one week after finishing. I went easy on the running, but I was back in the gym on my regular schedule. And in both cases, I paid for it. One year I was doing some weight work – presses or such – in the third week, and suddenly asking myself why I was feeling so goddamn weak? The wave of fatigue lasted a week.

Rest? Hah! I got stuff to TRAIN for!!

So I know it takes me six to eight weeks to recover entirely from a 100-miler. But for a couple of reasons, this time is different. The second four weeks, far from ramping my training up for my next ultra (a 55K in mid-October) have been more like stagnation.

One reason is my lower abs, which continue to be frustratingly mildly sore. Not like a few months ago, where it really hurt to run even a short distance. But it has never healed completely. Even a full week off of running didn’t help. So, after consultation with my trainer, we’re shifting the focus of my gym work to “rehab” which basically means we’re working to keep everything loose and manage the pain rather than try to get rid of it.

And for the past month, I’ve had unpredictable swings in energy levels. There are days I feel like there’s very little in the tank. Sometimes a run will recharge me, and sometimes not. Sometimes naps help, and sometimes not. Frustrating. I seem to have good energy for the races I’m working, at least. Good thing, given this month was Dances with Dirt – a 15-hour day – and Run Woodstock, three days of nonstop Zero Waste. It’s rewarding, and I get lots of appreciation, but it does suck me pretty dry.

Did you know I have groupies? I do now!

Finally, there’s a family medical situation that is not going well. We’re releasing the news slowly, and probably won’t be doing much social media. I’ll share more about it soon in this blog, however.

But I don’t want to make it sound like things are rotten all over. There are things to look forward to, and I’ve got races to run. And I’ll be telling you all about it here. Thanks again, readers! I love you all.