It Changed My Life! Or Did It?

On a recent Saturday run I caught up to someone I hadn’t met before, and to pass the time I struck  up a conversation. Turned out she’d run the Western States 100 just two weeks prior. “I messed up my leg less than two miles into the race,” she told me, “and it bothered me the rest of the way.”

“But you finished?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “Eight minutes before the cutoff.”

She said this in a casual tone, as though it were no big deal. But I knew she wasn’t downplaying what she’d done. Among ultrarunners, understatement is the preferred method for discussing races. So I then asked if she believed finishing that race was a true life-changing event for her. “Yes, definitely,” she said.

I asked her that question because I’d begun to feel the same way after finishing my own hundred-miler last month. Not that I’ve become a totally different person, but I’ve acquired a definite “before Kettle” and “after Kettle” perspective; a new reference point from which to compare life’s challenges.

This is going to stay on my fridge door for a long time, I think.

This is going to stay on my fridge door for a long time, I think.

For example, in the last few weeks I’ve been stuck in several long traffic jams, made worse because the air conditioning in my car is faulty. The most recent occurrence was heading up north on a two-lane highway, where a “seven-minute delay” (per cell phone app) stretched into nearly an hour. As I sat there steaming (figuratively and literally), the thought came unbidden:

You’ve run a hundred miles at a time. You can get through this, too.

This thought did not magically cure my impatience, as my wife can tell you. And yet, it did help. When one has steadily pushed through over 24 hours of continuous motion, a measly one-hour inconvenience seems rather silly to get upset about. Perhaps it even worked too well in my return from Toronto, where I endured two hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic before I got off the freeway to find an alternate route.

There are running jams, too, but the energy is much more positive. (2011 Chicago Marathon)

There are running jams, too, but the energy is much more positive. (2011 Chicago Marathon)

In reality, though, it wasn’t the race itself that changed my life. Running it was the culmination of all the training that went into preparation for it. Crossing the finish line was just the evidence that I could accomplish something I couldn’t have done before. Champion ultrarunner and coach David Roche puts it best: By the time you get to the start line, the work is done.

This is one of the appeals of ultrarunning that many others have written about; that in the end, the training is more about becoming a better person. Whether the goal is increased physical fitness, self-discipline, or even dealing with and overcoming addiction, the steady, consistent effort is what makes the end result possible.

So I suppose that means even if I hadn’t finished Kettle for some reason, I’d still be more patient and determined than I was five years ago when I began ultra training. Saying you’ve done X is just shorthand. Still, it feels really good to actually have done it.

But it hasn’t been just inner dialog. A couple weeks ago I was at Body Specs working through a particularly tough segment on a hot, humid afternoon. As I struggled to my feet I caught the eye of one of the trainers. She smiled.

“Bet you’d rather be running a hundred miles right now, huh, Jeff?” she asked.

Well, not really. But the thought was tempting.

On second thought - where's the starting line?

On second thought – where’s the starting line?

Ultra Recovery: How Not to Cut Back on Training

Today makes exactly one month since Kettle Moraine, where I completed my first 100-mile trail ultra. And with no upcoming goal races in the near future, what have I been doing training-wise since then?

The answer in brief is – not much, and too much.

Not much, because I’ve cut back on training volume. Too much, because it appears that I should have also cut back on training intensity.

Just three months ago, my race calendar looked like this:

Date                                 Race                                                    Goal
======================================================
April 9                    Martian Marathon                     Qualify for Boston
April 24                    Trail Marathon                         Test readiness for Glacier Ridge
May 14                 Glacier Ridge Trail 50                 Purge 2015 DNF,, prep for Kettle
June 4-5               Kettle Moraine Trail 100         Finish

Runner youarecrazy

I think most runners would agree that was an aggressive schedule. To pull it off I needed a training regimen to match. Last November I told my running coach and strength trainer of my goals, and once they stopped shaking their heads they came up with a program to get me there.

From December through March I underwent the hardest training I’ve ever had. I ran hard. I ran long. I ran hills. Sometimes I did all three at once. And at Body Specs, Skip and company were relentless, giving me tons of squats, core work, pull-ups, and the dreaded weighted jump ropes.

There were ups and downs during that period; times when I felt invincible, and times when I could barely drag myself through the day. But the payoff became visible almost immediately, as I set personal bests at the Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K in January, the Leap Day 4-miler in February, and the No Frills All Thrills trail 8K in early April. But would these short successes carry over to the long goal races?

Yep.

Finished! Yeah, baby!

All goals accomplished!

I’ve written about the races in previous posts (except for the upcoming account of Kettle), so I’ll just say here that all the training was worth it. Those two months went by so fast it’s still a bit hard for me to believe it’s over. 100 miles done. DNF purged. And Boston, I’ll see you in 2017!

So what’s my training been like in the month since I finished Kettle? Naturally, I planned in recovery time, then to gradually resume active training. My success with this approach has been mixed.

KM100 - My FootWith running, there was no choice but to cut back. My beat-up feet took over a week just to heal enough to walk normally. But on June 14, I went out with PR Fitness for the Tuesday evening six-miler, and I’ve been averaging one run per week, with distances between five and eleven miles with no issues. Good news there!

Body Specs has been a different story. Just four days after Kettle I felt good enough to resume strength training, so I asked them to go easy for a bit. And so they did – for one session. The following week, it was pretty much back to normal. I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t running much and felt good enough to complete the sessions.

Why is this man smiling? Because training is SO much fun!

Why is this man smiling? Because training is SO much fun!

This week, however, it caught up with me. I began to feel fatigued throughout the day – a classic sign of overtraining. I had no energy to run, and my performance at the gym got worse during the week instead of remaining steady or improving. Time for an enforced break.

Fortunately, this long weekend was just the ticket. With enforced rest, sleep, and lots of eating, my energy is returning. It hasn’t been easy. I feel like a lazy slug for sitting around, and worrying about gaining weight. As if putting on a couple of pounds during recovery is a bad thing. Just goes to show, you can always find something to worry about if you try hard enough.

It’s not all sloth and gluttony, however. I have gotten in an (easy) bike ride and a (somewhat easy) run. Can’t take the edge off completely, can I?

Happy Independence Day to all!

Flag fireworks

Ride Silent, Ride Strong

Last week I took part in the Ann Arbor Ride of Silence, a three-mile group bike ride through the downtown commemorating the five cyclists killed and four injured in Kalamazoo earlier this month. The mood was very similar to the “Boston Strong” group run in 2013; subdued, but with a strong undercurrent of positive energy as the community came together in support.

A2 RoS - Gathering

Tim Potter, the race organizer, told me the turnout was far higher than he expected. By my rough count, there were over two hundred cyclists. Ann Arbor mayor Christopher Taylor was there, and spoke briefly about the need for drivers and cyclists to share the road safely.

A2 RoS - Starting Out

We had a police escort, but even so the route presented a challenge, both to the cyclists and the drivers downtown during rush hour. The size of the group meant that it took over five minutes to pass through the intersections, and I’m sure many drivers felt inconvenienced as a result. I felt bad about that, but not enough to quit the ride. The nine riders in Kalamazoo struck by an out-of-control pickup truck were inconvenienced permanently.

You can read more about the reason for the ride here. And here you can read a letter of thanks from a Kalamazoo cyclist that Tim read out loud.

A2 RoS - State Street

And now I must editorialize.

Reading the articles about the ride on MLive, I was surprised at the number of negative comments. Some of them questioned the need or ‘purpose’ of the ride. And some adopted the ‘blame the victim’ angle by criticizing cyclists in general for breaking traffic laws, e.g. riding through stop signs. Yes, some of that happens.

But the Kalamazoo cyclists were doing nothing wrong. What happened to them was entirely the fault of someone who’d decided that society’s rules about driving responsibly didn’t apply to him. If the victims had been in another car (he’d sideswiped at least one) or pedestrians (he just missed a guy coming out of a store), no one would be talking about how “that group” was to blame in any way. This anti-cyclist attitude concerns me. Why does it have to be seen as “us versus them”?

Ghost bike. Way too many of these.

Ghost bike. Way too many of these.

I ride over a thousand miles a year, so far without trouble. I do my best to be visible and to obey traffic laws. And yet I’ve been buzzed by cars and startled by people who think it’s funny to yell insults or bark like a dog as they roar by. I also know people who think that cyclists don’t belong on the road at all, and have told me how annoyed they get with those damn bikers getting in their way.

MDOT_share_the_road_sign_419309_7But cyclists have a right to the road in Michigan; it’s the law. And they deserve to have drivers treat them with the same respect as they would other vehicles on the road. That includes defensive driving principles that we all learned in driver’s ed. Slow down and give the cyclist a little space. And be sober when you get behind the wheel. Is that too much to ask?

I will continue to ride the roads. And I encourage anyone to take up cycling. It’s good for you. Ride strong, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, and everyone.

Kettle 100: Sights and Sounds

THE KETTLE MORAINE 100 WAS LAST WEEK and I’m still having trouble believing that a) it’s over, and b) I finished it. At least I think I did; I might still be out there hallucinating. (More on that next time.) I’m putting together a more detailed account, but right now I’d like to share some of the myriad sights and sounds of my 28-hour, 17-minute adventure.

The text in italics was spoken by other runners; where there’s no attribution, I just happened to overhear it.

Mile 2 or so, cruising along with a large group: “Hey! Walk the hills!”

KM100 - Early Hill Climb

“I was running with Nick and he picks up this big rock. He was going to carry it to the next aid station as a gag. He thought it was about a half mile away. It turned out to be over three miles. But he carried that rock the entire way.”

Mile 14 aid station, as I approached the drop bags: “Just take any one you like, they all got the same shit in ’em.”

KM100 - Emma Carlin - Drop Bags

Group of women to another group: “Happy Birthday, to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday, dear — people! Happy Birthday to you!”

“We’re celebrating our third wedding anniversary at this race.”

(To me) “What’s the Scuppernong cutoff? My wife’s worried she won’t make it.” Me: “Nine hours. She’s got plenty of time.” Him: “I don’t know why she worries. She did just fine at her 100 two weeks ago.” Me: “She ran one of these two weeks ago?” Him: “Oh, yeah. She’d do these weekly if she could.”

KM100 - Shirt - Our Shoes Have More Miles

Mile 45 aid station, sunset not far away: Guy 1: “You don’t have a headlamp?” Guy 2: “No, I didn’t think I was gonna need one.” Guy 1: “I have a spare headlamp in my bag. You will take it. Just turn it in at the finish and tell them my bib number.”

Woman ahead, turning to me: “What’s a name of a band that begins with V?” Me: “Um – Van Halen.” Her: “Thanks! Never would have thought of that one. Join our game, please. I’ve gotta do something to keep my mind off this.”

I stuck with running.

“Run, Smile, Drink Water, Don’t Die” – sounds like good advice to me!

Mile 62, as I start the second leg of the race: “100-miler going back out!! Woohoo!!”

Aid station, middle of the night: “What do you need?” Me: “A pizza and a large latte, that’s what I need.” Her: “How about some chicken noodle soup?” Me: “Sounds good.”

"So, like I'm considering swapping the PB&J for peanut M&Ms starting at mile 75. What do you think?"

“So, like I’m considering swapping the PB&J for peanut M&Ms starting at mile 75. What do you think?”

Several people along the way: “God, my feet hurt.” Me: “Yep, mine too.”

And this was *before* things got bad.

And this was *before* things got bad.

Aid station captain at mile 96: “You’ve got 4.8 miles left. You can do anything for 4.8 miles. You could stand on your head for that long.”

KM100 - Leaving Final Aid Station Mile 95

I stuck with running.

Just about everyone who passed me during the race: “Good job.” “Good work, man.” “Keep it up.”

Yeah. What they said.

Yeah. What they said.