Category Archives: Running and Cycling

When a Run Ain’t So Fun

ANY RUNNER WILL TELL YOU that while every run is unique, a pattern will emerge over time. Most of them will be somewhere in the “okay” range – it was good, glad you did it, end of story. There will be a few glorious runs when you feel indestructible and never want to stop. And there will be a few times when the entire experience just plain sucks.

Today’s 18-miler was one of the last kind.

Yeah, sometimes it does.

Yeah, sometimes it does.

Perhaps it was due to my stupid cat who started crying for breakfast at 4:15 a.m. Or it was the cumulative effect of my increased mileage the past three weeks. Or, maybe it was just one of those days and it was going to happen regardless.

The Saturday PR group run begins at 8:00 a.m., but I’ve started doing a few miles before then so the main run isn’t quite as long. So I crawled out of bed at 6:15, fed Miss Obnoxious and her sisters, drove to the studio, and got in just under four miles before joining the group.

It's a good thing she's so damn cute.

It’s a good thing she’s so damn cute.

Those early miles were among my toughest this year so far. It was bitingly cold and I felt creaky and lethargic, with zero motivation. But as I returned to the studio, the sun came up and lifted my spirits. After some water and a bite to eat, I figured the remaining fourteen miles would be the normal, “okay” kind.

Not so much.

I did finally get warm, and starting out with a large, enthusiastic group is fun. But my body still felt leaden and I struggled to hold my standard long-run pace. For a few miles I chatted with other runners, which always helps the miles slip by. But all too soon I was by myself, far out of town, with a lot of miles to go.

Our club's not afraid of a little cold weather!

Our club’s not afraid of a little cold weather! (Photo courtesy Chuanwu Xi)

Usually at some point on a long run, I ease into a steady stride and can relax and be grateful for being out there doing something healthy and enjoyable. About halfway through I thought I was there. It was sunny and bright, I was on a comfortable dirt road, and feeling almost normal.

Then my kidneys went into overdrive. How does drinking a half-cup of water result in the need to pee out a gallon? Twice? And try as I might, I just couldn’t shake the heavy body feeling. So it was slog, slog, slog the rest of the way back.

But you know what? I did it. Not that I’d given myself much choice. The route was an out-and-back, so after pushing myself to the turnaround point, there was no shortcut. Cruel, but effective.

You know you're in trouble when you see each of these as a potential toilet.

You know you’re in trouble when you see these only as potential toilets.

And while these types of runs are miserable, they’re actually very valuable. It’s outstanding preparation for a race, when you’re giving it your all and are guaranteed to be uncomfortable. Getting through a bad run, no matter how awful it feels, toughens both body and mind for the events that really mean something to you.

It had been a while since my last bad run, so I was probably overdue. Now that it’s over, I can be properly grateful for it. And I gave my weary body some consolation, downing two pastries at Sweetwaters instead of my usual one. I think I can afford it.

Now what to do about my “recovery run” on Sunday? Part of me wants to blow it off, and the rest of me doesn’t want to think about it right now. So we’ll see. I get the feeling I’ll sneak it in, though. After all, it can hardly feel worse.

Event Cancelled Due to Good Weather

I GOT THE UNFORTUNATE NEWS THIS AFTERNOON. My event this weekend has been cancelled.

Due to good weather.

frozen-watters-cancelled

Here was the promo for the “Frozen Watters” event planned for Feb. 25:

In the spirit of our Muddy Watters Trail Series, this race will cover lots of trails, stairs, hills, two track and bushwhacking routes for between 3-4 miles’ish. There will be exercise stops. Pray for snow because sledding down a dirt hill sucks! … Mandatory Gear? A disc to sled on – seriously. Not some big ass sled. You’re going to have to carry it for the entire race!

So I bought a disc sled (BTW, $27.99 seems like a lot to pay for a curved piece of plastic) and hoped for the best. Which, in a sense, happened, and in another sense, did not.

If you’ve been following the weather here in southeastern Michigan, you know that both our big dumpings of snow this winter have vanished completely. While there was sufficient snow in Grand Rapids for the Yankee Springs Winter Challenge, and in Traverse City for the Bigfoot Snowshoe Race, there was no such luck here.

Not all that long ago. . .

Not all that long ago. . .

So why not just have a trail race on Saturday instead of a snow race? The problem, according to the race director, is that the trails are so wet, we would put ruts in them that would subsequently freeze over and cause trouble all summer. So it’s a scrub. But I’ll be able to apply the race fee to one of their other races, so we’ll see.

And it’s not like I haven’t appreciated the sunshine and warm temperatures. I’ve been able to run in shorts several times already, although I do that anyway if it’s above freezing. But yesterday’s 8-miler was the ultimate.

february-sunny-day-run

What is that big yellow ball up there?

As you can see, I’m in shorts and a single shortsleeve shirt. But I also felt the need to wear sunglasses and – sunscreen! That’s a February first. It was a great run. Saw lots of cyclists out there, too.

So Saturday will be my regular long run with PR Run Club. Just as well, since the race would have been only about 4 miles and I need to keep my volume up. While short races right now are a fun diversion, my main goal is to be ready for the big ones coming up – Boston and Trail Marathons in April, Dirty German in May, and Lighthouse in June. That’s 204.4 miles of race in eight weeks. Since I did much the same thing last year, I know it can be done. I’d just like to finish in better condition this time. I have plans for the second half of the year!

And speaking of “other plans” – I’ve just received word from my friend on the Wet Coast (pun intended) that the date of my “covert event” has been set for June 24. I’ll spill the beans later, but if you can’t wait for it, a little research should give you the answer.

Next event: the Pi Day Race – 3.14 miles – on (of course) March 14!

Milestones, Intentional or Not

I REACHED A MILESTONE IN RUNNING last month that I didn’t find out about until today – just after I achieved a second one.

I wasn’t trying for either; they just happened in the course of things. I guess it’s true – If you just keep going, eventually you will get somewhere. Even if you don’t know it.

Today I logged onto Athlinks, as I do about once per year, to make sure my races from 2016 were properly accounted for. There were a few I needed to claim, so I took care of those. And when I was done, my main page looked like this:

athlinks-100-races-cropped

How about that? When I tramped across the snow-covered finish line last month at Yankee Springs, I completed my hundredth running event. Beginning with the Holiday Hustle in 2008, I’ve crossed the finish line of an official race one hundred times, ranging from 5K to 100 miles and everything in between. And that first race seemed to take place just yesterday. Where the heck did those years in between go?

My first race result. Not bad, but plenty of room for improvement!

My first race result. Not bad, but plenty of room for improvement!

To fend off the hordes of reporters who I’m sure would pester me otherwise, I’ll respond to their expected question here:

“Jeff! How do you FEEL about completing ONE HUNDRED races?”

Actually, I don’t feel much at all. Which is likely due to being wiped out from my gym workout and run today. It was never a goal of mine to complete that number of races – it just happened.

In fact, had you asked me ten years ago if I thought I would accomplish something like this, I’ve had said, “A hundred? I haven’t even done one yet! And who says I want to run races, anyway?”

And yet here I am with three 2017 races already completed and many more on my calendar, including my first Boston Marathon and another 100-miler in June. You really can’t make this stuff up.

And thanks to the training necessary to run those races, today I reached another milestone. When I stepped off the treadmill at Body Specs after a cooldown 5K, it marked the first time ever I’ve run for ten consecutive days. That may sound funny coming from an ultrarunner, but it’s true! The closest I’ve come before was several years ago, when to reach a yearly mileage goal I ran 9 days out of 10 at the end of December.

I began this streak to step up my weekly distance. Last year I got through my spring marathons and ultras, but had some foot issues. As this year’s 100-miler will be on pavement, it’s especially important I toughen them up. And the best way to do that is to run more miles.

I’m being careful, making most runs easy and relatively short, and so far my legs are feeling fine. And I have no problem stopping if something doesn’t feel right. It’s a fun streak to mention, but it’s by no means a vanity thing.

In fact, any prideful thoughts I might have about a running streak was put to rest by this recent news. Ron Hill, at 78, recently ended his world record run streak at – wait for it – 52 years, 39 days. That’s right, he ran every day for over 19,000 consecutive days, competing in three Olympic Games and winning the 1970 Boston Marathon along the way. There’s a milestone worth bragging about. Not that he is. From the Runner’s World article:

“[The streak] doesn’t drive me that much,” he said. “I was more driven by competition when I was younger. I do it because I enjoy it. I try not to think about it.”

ronhill

Image from therunnereclectric.com.

 

So there you go. Ron wasn’t obsessed with setting the record. He just ran, and after a while he set it. Seems like a good example to follow. I will keep on training, and we’ll see where it takes me.

As Nature Intended

Near the end of my Monday workout at Body Specs, one of the trainers and I began talking dirt.

Mud, more correctly.

As I was catching my breath after a particularly strenuous set, she (Rachel) asked me how I got into running. I explained how I’d started with occasional short runs, which eventually led to a half marathon, which started me on the slippery slope to the full marathon and beyond to the land of Ultra.

And *up* the slippery slope, too.

Slippery slopes go both down and up in the land of Ultra!

Rachel said she had no intention of following me down the ultra trail, but she did sign up for a Tough Mudder later this spring. And just as she no plans to start running ultras (which I completely understand) I will not be following her into that kind of event. Chacun à son goût, as they say, but a TM is definitely not to my goût.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Tough Mudder, it’s one of a popular genre of events collectively known as obstacle races. These events combine running with various types of calisthenics and man-made obstacles to climb over, duck under, and crawl through. Here’s a sampling of typical Tough Mudder obstacles, courtesy of the Wikipedia article:

  • Arctic Enema – Participants plunge into a dumpster filled with ice water, dunk underneath a plank that crosses the dumpster, and pull themselves out on other side.
  • Electroshock Therapy – Live wires hang over a field of mud which participants must traverse.
  • Funky Monkey – A set of incline and decline monkey bars over a pit of cold water. The bars are slicked with a mixture of butter and mud.
  • Everest – Participants run up a quarter pipe slicked with mud and grease.

tough-mudder-pipe-crawl

Now I have nothing against getting dirty as part of a run. I’ve run several trail races where rain either before or during the event has turned the course into a slippery, shoe-sucking morass. My first trail 50K was a 6-hour slog following an all-night rain, and at some of the hills were impossible to climb without hand-over-hand grabbing of bushes and trees. I’ve even run through an actual swamp. Below is what happened when I stepped off the log I’d been dancing along.

DWD Hell - Deep in the Mud

I’ve run ultras in the rain, in 95 degrees and high humidity, and as of last month, in the snow. I’ve sweated buckets and frozen my tooshie. I’ve climbed piles of boulders and slid down ravines. I’ve flirted with hypothermia, bonked due to hyponatremia, and been sore everywhere a body can be sore. All with no regrets and every intent to keep doing it as long as I can or want to.

So why, you might reasonably ask, wouldn’t an obstacle race appeal to me? After all, trail race course designers make you run through tall grass, swamps, rivers, and up and down incredibly steep hills. Aren’t those obstacles?

DWD Devils Lake - Heading Down

But there’s a big difference between a muddy trail race and a Tough Mudder. The first is created by Mother Nature and the elements. The second is created by sadists with construction debris and garden hoses. And to me, that makes all the difference.

I like tackling a trail race as Nature intended. When I sign up for a trail race, I have no control over what conditions will be on race day. The trail could be dusty, hard as rock, soaked and slippery, or a paradise of soft pine needles. The uncertainty is part of the experience. It’s expecting the unexpected, as it were.

I may get covered in mud, but it won’t come about by dragging myself under electrified wire or sliding around flaming tires.

tough-mudder-burning-tires

Like Spartan Races, which I’ve written about previously, I find the concept fascinating but don’t really have the interest to participate. That said, I have yet to actually attend either a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race, so I won’t be saying “never” just yet.

Best of luck, Rachel!

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P.S. For those of you hoping my title might mean the kind of run that, say, one might do at Run Woodstock, I’m sorry to disappoint you. However, you can read a couple of stories about my experience there. Here’s a post from 2012 (my first such experience) and one from 2014. Enjoy!