Category Archives: Running & Cycling

Feeling The Urge Again

A little less than two years ago, my wife and I were in Boston, walking to the marathon expo to pick up my race packet. It was a gorgeous sunny late morning, and along the Charles River people of all ages and body types were running on the path and over the bridge we crossed on our way.

I felt my body twitching, urging me to join in the fun. After a week of tapering, it wanted to run! I believe I actually began whimpering. My wife gripped my arm.

“Down, boy,” she said.

Thanks to her and the vestiges of self-restraint I had left, I saved my energy for the marathon, and even managed a negative split. (*) And that energy carried through to my other spring races, peaking with the Lighthouse 100 in June. A winter of hard training and running through cold and snow had paid off. It had been worth every bead of sweat and frosty step.

This memory came to mind because, finally, spring is poking its head up and temperatures are on the rise. And after a long, tough winter, I’m experiencing the “urge to run” once more.

Due to a nagging back issue, I’ve trained less hard in the gym this winter. And I’ve run fewer miles than usual, too. When it’s close to zero degrees outside day after day, and the roads and sidewalks remain treacherous, it’s tough to maintain motivation and consistent mileage. Thank goodness for PR Run Club. Without them, I’d have been strongly tempted to sit on the couch and bitch about the weather, rather than lace up and bitch about the weather while we climb a nice snow-covered hill.

Water stop at last Saturday’s club run. Thanks to Bin Xu for the photo!

But better weather lies ahead, and a few weeks ago Coach Paul and I established a rough plan for the year. Instead of going for a crazy-long distance target race, we’ll work on improving my speed, and trying to set new personal records (PR) at the 5K and half marathon distances. It’ll be a nice break to reset me for resuming long ultras in 2020.

That settled, I popped open the laptop and began signing up for events. Here are the ones I have so far, and why I chose them:

Potawatomi Trail Runs – early April

This event takes place at Pekin’s McNaughton Park in Illinois. The course is a ten-mile trail loop with rolling hills. Various distances are offered, from 30 miles up to 200, based on the number of loops to complete.

I chose this event because I wanted to get in at least one good spring ultra, and because a couple of my friends will be there, one attempting the 150-miler, and one for the maximum 200 miles. I decided 50 miles was enough to scratch my itch, which will leave me time to cheer on my friends and recover in time for my next event…

Trail Marathon Weekend – late April

From the “Poto” in Illinois to one in Michigan! Trail Marathon Weekend is on my list every year. It’s a beautiful trail that I never get tired of running on, and was my introduction to the “joys” of trail running.

At first I just did the Sunday five-miler, but in 2014 I upgraded to the “No Wimps” group: the half marathon on Saturday (one loop of the course), and a full marathon on Sunday (two more loops). You get a special “No Wimps” medal T-shirt and medal. Totally worth it.

Yeah, totally!

The two-day event is excellent for learning how to pace yourself. How should you run the Saturday half? Go slow and save energy for the longer run on Sunday? Or go all out for an award, and just grind it out the next day? I’ve done both, depending on my goals those particular years.

TMW also has a special place in my heart because it’s the first Zero Waste event I did with RF Events. It set the stage for what is now our fourth year working together.

Recycling makes runners happy! (“Happier”, that is.)

Sleeping Bear Half Marathon – October

We’ve camped in the Sleeping Bear Dunes area for many years, and I enjoy running and cycling on the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. So when I found out there was a Sleeping Bear Marathon (and half), naturally I wanted in, but couldn’t make it work until this year. I signed up literally right after I’d chosen it, as it sells out quickly.

Not to be confused with the famous “Kick-Your-Asparagus” run in March as part of the Empire Asparagus Festival..

The course includes a climb up a rather large hill toward the finish, so I may not be able to accomplish a PR there. So my target race for that is:

Richmond Half Marathon – November

Billed as, “America’s Friendliest Marathon,” this is where I set my current half marathon PR in 2015 (1:32:43). In addition to a PR-friendly course and lots of friendly spectators, Richmond is home to my daughter Tori, So either way it will be a fine way to end the racing season. (Well, nearly, since I always run the Holiday Hustle in December.)

2015 Richmond half, finish line in sight!

That’s the race news so far. I’ll keep you posted!

====================

(*) “Negative split” is runner-speak for running the second half of a race faster than the first half. It’s indicative of good planning. It’s uncommon among recreational runners because the temptation is strong to run early miles too fast, when we’re feeling strong and invincible.

Advertisements

Take Care of Myself? Good Idea, Wimp

Would someone please slap me upside my neofrontal cortex and tell me that resting and eating ice cream while I’m sick does not make me a lazy glutton.

I’ll go for a run right after this. I promise.

Because any time I skip some training, part of my brain is nags me about it, good reason or not.

I came down with a cold or something over the weekend. It’s not the worst I’ve ever had, but I’m tired and achy enough that I decided to forego my Monday session at Body Specs and my regular Wednesday 6 a.m. club run. Last thing I want to do is turn it into pneumonia.

So I’m taking naps, drinking plenty of fluids, eating chicken soup (and ice cream) and giving my longsuffering cats some extra attention. And while part of me appreciates the self-pampering, the other part will call me a wimp until I actually lace them on and head back out there.

Guilt over missing some training is common among runners. All someone in run club has to do is say, “Yeah, I had to skip long run due to [insert lame excuse like leg fell off]” to get sympathetic nods and confirmation. “You did the right thing, blah blah blah…” while they’re thinking, Thank God I don’t have to worry about him at next week’s 5K.

This thread on LetsRun.com has some pretty funny takes on runner’s guilt. But this excerpt is something I can actually take away from reading it.

My college coach used to tell us this: “Every night, ask yourself what you did that day to make yourself a better runner. Realize that sometimes the best answer to that question is, I rested.”

Amen, brother.

No BHARG This Year? What’s Wrong with Me?

I have a confession to make. For the first time in four years, I have no BHARG.

It’s February, and I ought to be at the peak of my winter training, working my buttinsky off at Body Specs and prepping for my spring ultras, culminating in a Big Hairy-Ass Running Goal in late May or early June. It’s worked like a charm for the Kettle Moraine 100 (2016), Lighthouse 100 (2017), and Veterans Memorial 150 (2018), with lesser sufferfests along the way, including 50-milers in the rain, 12 hours of trail looping, and the Boston Marathon. And it’s been an absolute blast.

Crossing the finish line at the Kettle Moraine 100, 2016.

Dirty German 50, 2017.

Third place (54.5 miles) at the Dogwood 12-Hour, 2018

Well, this year is different. I haven’t chosen a BHARG, and my strength training has been hampered due to lingering back stiffness. Had this been any of the previous three years, I’d be frustrated with the wrench tossed into my carefully laid plans. This year? Not so much. And I’m cool with it.

So what happened?

My attitude toward staying fit and challenging myself is as strong as ever. And there’s no shortage of races that look fun and suitably punishing. I just didn’t have the same enthusiasm to pursue the usual program this time. After wondering why for a while, I decided to stop worrying and just go with it. Perhaps my subconscious was telling me it was time to change things up.

For instance, I’ve been wanting to improve shorter distance times. I’m pretty sure I can still improve on my 19:38 5K PR and half marathon best of 1:32:40. But I’ve kept putting it off. After the BHARG races I’ve spent most of the summers in recovery, and then been too busy working Zero Waste at the fall events to focus on my own races.

And 2018 was going to be a difficult act to follow anyway. After running 150 miles in 90 degree weather, earning two podium finishes at the ultra distance, riding naked through a major city, and running a 50K and practicing Vulcan martial arts in the Nevada desert with 70,000 self-expressers, what am I supposed to do for an encore?

WNBR Portland, June 2018.

Burning Man, August 2018.

With all this in mind, I met with my running coach yesterday. We had coffee and kicked around some ideas, and out of that came a basic plan for the year, with a focus on improving my shorter distance event times. I signed up for two events right there and then, and added a couple more today. The enthusiasm is back, folks!

In my next post I’ll share my training plan and which races I’ve signed up for. And I’ve already started on the plan for 2020, which will definitely include a BHARG. Watch this space for developments!

=========================

P.S. And by the way, I haven’t been idle while I worked all this out. At the end of December I ran a “Fat Ass” event with some equally trail-crazy folks. I enjoyed it a lot; a dusting of snow brightened up the woods, and an “aid station” of brownies and a shot of cinnamon schnapps provided the energy to carry me 21 miles.

And last month, like I have since 2014, I strapped on the snowshoes and ran the Bigfoot 5K up in Traverse City. It was colder than usual, but trail conditions were excellent, and I finished in the top 10 for the first time!

Sprinting to a 7th place finish!

Need Inspiration? AI Has the “Answer”

SO LONG, TONY ROBBINS.

The twenty-first century face of motivation and inspiration has arrived, and it’s not a human one.

It appears artificial intelligence (AI) has quietly reached a new level, to where it can generate inspirational messages tailored to you – without you telling it anything about yourself.

I know, you’re skeptical, as was I. After all, what computer can compete with this?

But recently one of the fitness blogs I follow posted about a visit to InspiroBot, a motivational quote-generating website. For them it generated this message:

Can’t argue with this! Bodybuilding can make you stronger, but it doesn’t necessarily lead you to do anything productive with the stronger body. Basically, it’s saying endless repetition of something won’t create change. Or at least it can be interpreted that way. YMMV. [1]

Well, I’m always on the lookout for good inspiration. Running is a great stress reliever, and long runs provide an atmosphere for self-reflection, but it isn’t a change agent. For that I need the “spark” of something profound.

So I went to the InspiroBot website, and without telling it anything whatever about myself, I clicked the “Generate” button.

And this is what I got:

Admit it, doesn’t this beat Tony? Attention-grabbing, outside-the-goalposts thinking, plastered on a photo of someone running along a beach. Perfectly suited for an ultrarunner.

Spooky. . .

Outside of a simple coincidence (borrr-ing!) I can think of a few somewhat plausible explanations:

  • The Internet knows way more about us than it’s been letting on;
  • AI has become sentient and is toying with us; [2]
  • The human brain is terrific at creating meaning out of random strings of garbage.

Okay, so my twisted mind found a way to make it applicable. But did it work? Was I inspired to do something as a result? Yep! It inspired me to write this!

As for boxing with self, I’m trying to figure out the context. If I’m in the middle of a 100-mile ultra and find my body and spirit flagging, should I punch myself in the face to keep going? Or am I to self-apply a good right cross before I hit the “Sign Up” for said 100-mile ultra? I’ll keep you posted.

Are you inspired to visit InspiroBot? If you do, let me know what it generates for you!

======================================

[1]  YMMV = Your Mileage May Vary

[2]  Are we sure continuing to pursue AI is a good idea? Check out Frederic Brown’s classic short story about creating the ultimate computer (hence the tie-in with this post’s title).