Category Archives: Running and Cycling

There Has to Be a Lesson In Here Somewhere

It’s August, and already Active.com has come out with an article named “20 Reasons We’re Sick of Summer Running.”

I call BS. No way I’m ready to give up summer yet. And it will be over before we know it, anyway. What’s the rush?

We just got back from up north, where I got in several “firsts” for the year, let alone the summer. One was a 70-mile bike ride that included the entire current length of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail from Bohemian Road to Glen Arbor and on to Empire. The long boardwalk section over the wetland is finally finished, and it has some great views. Even this photo doesn’t really do it justice.

I also enjoy running on the SBHT, and one morning I set out for a few easy miles as warmup to The Legend 10-mile trail race the following day. But just off the trailhead was a dirt trail heading into the woods on my left. I’d seen it before but always had other plans. Another day, I kept telling myself. Well, it was that day.

The trail led through a beautiful stretch of woods, and after about a half mile it got sandy underfoot. Then the trees parted to reveal Lake Michigan, with the trail ending at a short bluff above a short beach washed over by incoming breakers.

What the heck, I decided.

I took off my shoes and slid down the embankment onto the wet sand. I had the beach all to myself, with no people or signs of habitation in either direction. I saw no footprints except my own. How long had it been since the last person had set foot on this secluded part of the beach?

I ran along firm, loose, wet, and dry sand, over driftwood and fallen branches, and through tall scratchy grass. Running on a beach is really different from other surfaces, with its variable terrain and difficult footing. I’ve heard it’s a great workout for balance and foot strength. Certainly it’s not an easy effort; you have to adjust with every step to remain upright and moving forward.

After about a quarter mile the beach gave way to dense scrub and steep slope. I’d run out of runnable real estate, so I returned to the trail. As I climbed back up onto the bluff, I got this bright idea to take a photo of my footprints in the sand, followed by one with the waves washing them away. It would be a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life. Really original, right?

Back down to the beach I went and dug in my heels. But time after time, the waves were coming in so fast that my footprints were washed away before I could get a good photo. This was about the best I could do.

So I’m sure somewhere in all this there’s a lesson. Perhaps it’s this: not only is life fleeting and ephemeral, even the attempt to tell a story about it is here and gone before it’s fully told.

On the surface, that sounds pretty depressing. No matter what we do, how hard we try to make an impression on the universe, it all vanishes in a flash. How many stories worth hearing were never told, or told with no one to hear them?

But does that make our lives, or our stories futile? I don’t think so. After all, others continue after we’re gone. If we can make their lives better, that’s something that will carry on, at least. And perhaps far more will be remembered about us, and our stories, than we think.

So live your life. Share your stories. And listen to the stories of others. Whether or not anyone else ever hears them, maybe there’s something from them that will enrich your own.

Thanks for reading.

The Zen of Zero Waste: An Evening at Robin Hills Farm

NOTE: I don’t usually cross-post here what I write about Zero Waste, but I’m making an exception for my experience at Robin Hills Farm. (Plus I *did* run the 5K.) Enjoy!

Happy Planet Running

Organic, sustainable farming is growing in popularity. But how many places do you know who combine farming with education, family activities, and even athletic events? Well, there’s one just north of Chelsea, MI – right in my backyard – doing exactly that.

Robin Hills Farm was just scrubland in 2014 when the land was purchased, but it’s rapidly turning into a cutting-edge operation with diverse farming practices working together. Their focus is on zero – zero net energy, zero waste – using one product of the growing cycle to sustain another part.

When I happened across Robin Hills Farm on Facebook and saw it was hosting a “Zen Triathlon,” I had to find out more. So I emailed them, and not only did they invite me out to show me what they’re doing, they hired me to handle the zero waste activities for the event! So I packed…

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Running 50 Miles: Be Happy, Damn It!

SOME BIG NEWS came out of PR Run Club last weekend. At least it was big news to us! Three of our runners went to the Endurance Series Challenge in Ontario to run a hot, hilly 50-miler. Here are our intrepid badasses.

Alan (center) rocked the course, finishing 3rd overall male. Farsad (right) won his age group. Paul (left) was running his first-ever 50-miler, expected to go through hell (and did), but pulled himself together and got across the finish line.

Now, guess which one is my running coach. And how I feel about his performance.

I bring this up because of something I caught myself doing again today. Hearing about their race results naturally got me thinking about my own 50-miler (the Dirty German) earlier this year. In all-day rain on a flooded course I’d finished in the top 20 and third in my age group. Cause to celebrate, right?

Well, sure! Except my finish time was an hour slower than I’d hoped for, which if I’d achieved would have put me fourth overall. If only I’d spent less time at the aid stations. If only I hadn’t been so conservative on the third loop. If only, . . .

If there’s one thing a competitive runner has to accept to remain sane, it’s that once a race is over, it’s OVER. Done. In da books. And if I’d performed as well as I could under the circumstances, I need to be satisfied with it. To feel otherwise is unfair self-punishment.

The trouble, of course, is that time and recovery are terrific at making me forget about how hard I pushed out there. Three months after the event it’s easy to look back and think, “I could have done X, Y, and Z better” without remembering why I made those decisions at the time, in the moment.

Sure, I can do 7-minute miles through that!

When I recapped the DG50 for my coach, he agreed I’d run a good, smart race which demonstrated I was ready for my 100, just as we’d intended it to do. If I run it again next year, are there things I’ll do differently? Yes, circumstances permitting.

Which really makes me appreciate how my coach handled his race. Not only was it his first 50-miler, he’s still dealing with a nagging injury that affects his ability to run long distances. He struggled, he felt the heat, and at mile 36 he fell in the mud. I’ll let him describe what happened next:

I picked myself up and observed my cracked and leaking water bottle. I saw my carefully curated ice cubes melting in the hot sun and mud. So I did what any self-respecting PR runner would do and carefully wiped the precious ice cubes off with my doo-rag, got on my feet and ran the remaining five miles to the next aid station where Molly the puppy licked me on the face and a paramedic looked at me and asked me if was okay.

“Well, I’m running 50 miles on a muddy trail designed by a sadist. What do you think?”

“You seem fine.”

And so I had to continue

And so he did. Congratulations, Paul! You gave it what you had, and you got ‘er done. That’s setting a great example in my book.

Recovery: Fast, Slow, and Hungry

Now that the Lighthouse 100 is in the books, people ask me two questions. The first, naturally enough, is: how does one recover from a 100-mile race?

Group start photo from the website. Oh so young, fresh, and naive!

The TL;DR answer: Carefully.

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. (Feel free to Like this post and move on…J)

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Now for those of you who’d like a little detail – in short, recovery hasn’t been what I expected.

Last year after the Kettle Moraine 100 I was sore for about a week. With Lighthouse I was mostly pain-free in two days. Within a week I was taking short bike rides and even getting in some light work at the gym. This was really surprising as it was a road ultra, and usually road races take me longer to recover than the same distance on trails.

But under the surface reality was lurking. Two weeks after Lighthouse the summer Aikido session started, and I left class that evening pumped up and feeling good. That was easy! When I woke up the next morning I wondered what truck had run me over. And while I’m back to running, and enjoying it, even an easy run takes more out of me than usual. On the bike, all it takes is a hill or two to remind me not to push it.

Yeah, it’s like that.

Even after I feel recovered from an extreme endurance event, it takes more time to really be fully recovered. For a 50K it takes me 2-3 weeks, and for a 50-miler 3-4 weeks, so a 100-miler should take about 6-8 weeks. That means late July at the earliest to resume full training. So Body Specs sessions are maintenance rather than strength-building, and all running is “fun running” until August.

My appetite has been the other surprise. The evening of my Kettle finish last year, I went to a sports bar and polished off a massive cheeseburger and fries, and went back to normal eating quickly after that. This year I had virtually no appetite for nearly a week. Even the pastries I normally lust after weren’t appealing.

I’ll start here with one of everything.

These problems have corrected themselves, to where everything looks good at any time and I’m eating something every couple of hours. I’m not even back to my pre-race weight yet, so I’m letting myself indulge as long as my main diet is the good stuff.

Since I’m used to more rigorous training, part of me can’t help feeling a little guilty about this easy running and constant eating. Well, tough. Both physically and mentally it’s doing me good. Many elite athletes don’t train at all during their off-season. They rest a lot, eat a lot, and enjoy life (imagine that!), knowing they’ll snap back into shape when they resume training.

For years I’ve trained and raced year-round. (Skip at Body Specs has a fancy term for this type of athlete, which I’ve forgotten.)  But since I’ve started “front-loading” races ending in a June 100-miler, July and August have become my off-season, which I am coming to like. I’ve been missing long bike rides, and now I can do them without worrying about how they fit into my training schedule. Enjoying outdoor exercise for its own sake? What a concept!

I’ll be back to regular training soon enough, though. As much as I like some time off, I also continue to enjoy competitive running, and there are events I’m looking forward to this fall and next year. Which leads to the other question people ask me: What’s next?

Well, here are a few I have in mind:

  • The Great New York Running Exposition (my target for a 2018 100-miler)
  • The Burning Man 50K (sold out in less than an hour this year)
  • Pursuit of a sub-90 minute half marathon
  • Be part of an ultra relay
  • Get back into pacing a race or two

But for now, I smile and reply, “I have no idea what’s next.” And you know, that feels really good.