Only a Thousand

THE FIRST TIME I RAN a thousand miles in a year was in 2011, also the year of my first marathon. I’d had to step up my game that December to get the final miles in, and broke the tape, as it were, on the 29th. On New Year’s Eve I had one more run to get a total of 1,010.10 miles for the year.

My coach was proud of me. My wife was proud. And above all, I was proud. After all, it was nearly double the 567 miles I’d run the year before. I was a four-figure runner; I’d arrived!

From 2011: 1,000 miles! Woohoo!

The first Saturday in January 2012, I went out for the regular weekend club run. I really wanted to share my accomplishment with someone, but wasn’t sure how. Then I caught up with a couple of guys chatting.

“How’d your running go last year, Sam?” one of them asked the other.

“It sucked,” Sam replied. “I only ran a thousand miles.”

That didn’t really deflate me much, just bring me back to earth. And I’ve run at least a thousand miles just about every year since, including this year, where I also hit the mark on December 29. Yay me!

2019 – 1,000 miles! Woohoo!

To be fair, a thousand miles a year is not that exceptional for regular runners. Many of them run 2,000 or more. And at least one runner I know has reached the 100,000 mile lifetime mark. Does this diminish anyone who runs fewer miles? Not at all. If you run, you’re a runner in my book, and in the books of all the other runners I know. Mega-marathon runner? Good work. Only run a couple of miles at a time? Good work.

Now it’s true that my mileage total is unusually low for an ultrarunner. People are surprised to find out that I run 100-mile races averaging only 20-30 miles per week. But I also strength train at the gym, and supplement running with long bike rides. Meanwhile, a couple of people I know whose exercise is mostly distance running get injured or struggle to finish ultras.

What do I take away from all this? That everyone’s body is different, and there is no single “magic formula” for accomplishing your goals. And I like mixing up my training. Running 50 miles per week is not something I enjoy, so I find other ways to build the base I need. This allows me to enjoy the training as much as the events I train for.

All that said. . .it may be time to step up my running, enjoyable or not. I’ve decided to try for one of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) races. More about this later, but the nickel summary is: it requires at least two tough qualifying races, plus a lottery. This makes it at least a two-year process, running the qualifiers in 2020 in order to apply for the UTMB race in 2021. And, of course, there are other ultras I want to try out, possibly including a 200-miler, or even the ten-day, 314-mile Last Annual Vol State Race.

To get through all that I’ll need to be in really good shape. Additional strength training will be part of that, but there’s no getting round more running too. So I’ll have to decide if the extra effort is worth it. For now, at least, I’m assuming yes. So you all can look forward to some (hopefully) interesting stories in 2020 as I share my adventures in getting to UTMB, and beyond.

Happy New Year, everyone!

The Write Stuff

IT’S TIME TO MAKE one of those “put up or shut up” moves. And ’tis the season to do so, after all.

I began this 2011 with the goal of sharing my journey to my first marathon and from there to my “year of being 50” celebrations, including a 600-mile bike trip and my first 50K ultra, among other challenges.

Like finishing this race (2016).

For eight years now I’ve continued to write about my adventures, mainly in athletics. But I haven’t shared much about my other writing, which includes fiction, essays, and technical papers. With everything else going on, including starting and running my own company, some things had to be set aside. And creative writing just for the sake of creative writing has been one of those things.

It’s a poor excuse. And it must end.

I’ve enjoyed writing since I was very young. In elementary school, my adventures of a police detective and his faithful St. Bernard were considered good enough to read to my entire class. And over the years I’ve written many short stories, worked on some ideas for novels, and even made some feeble attempts at poetry. I’ve also attended several writing seminars and been part of a writers group. It’s been fun, but always a sideshow to the rest of my life. In one of my very first posts on this blog, I confess to this. Here’s a link to it:  The Hard Work

Being part of a writers group helped me write more regularly, but it wasn’t enough.

I daydream about getting that work out to a wider audience, or even pursuing (yet another) career as a writer. That takes time and effort. And above all, having a writing routine. Among the “keys to success” of prolific writers is that they write on a regular basis. Stephen King writes every day. With no distractions or excuses allowed.

And so while I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, I’m going to make one for 2020. And that is to find out if I really want to finish those stories and novels, and do my best to get them read by others. From ultrarunning and Aikido training, I know I possess the discipline to accomplish anything I really want to do. It’s time for me to decide if creative writing is one of them.

“If you want to be a writer, write.” – Epictetus (*)

And if it ends up that is not? Then at least I will know that. But even if I end up going in other directions, my athletic and other adventures will definitely continue. As will my dedication to share them with you in this blog. Thanks again to all of you for finding the time to include me in your life.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from my family to yours.

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(*) I suppose I should mention that, like Socrates and many other famous teachers (including the one whose birth we celebrate this week), Epictetus never actually wrote anything down. We are fortunate enough to have some of his teachings thanks to his students. (Then again, Epictetus never said he wanted to be a writer.)

This Running Life

Life would be so much simpler if I hadn’t started running.

This fall has been ten solid weeks of continual “busy mode” with any time I haven’t spent at my office job consumed with working races, running them, or travel. All my own fault; I knew what was coming and signed up for the commitments anyway. And yet, even “winding down” has its share of little adventures. Here a just a few.

Half the fun is not the run: Earlier this week we returned from Richmond (their marathon weekend), where we visited my daughter and her wife. With fall race season (mostly) over, I was really looking forward to kicking back with family and relaxing. And we did the race: Tori and Jess ran the 8K, and me the half marathon.

Richmond lets you choose the name on your bib. Silly, but fun!

Richmond claims it has “The World’s Friendliest Marathon,” and they back it up well. Lots of cheering spectators on the course, a huge crowd lining the last half mile to the finish, and well organized. And when I couldn’t find my drop bag afterward, the staff invited me into the VIP tent while they searched for it. Turned out I’d been looking in the wrong station, but they forgave me, saying they were grateful they hadn’t lost it.

But my half marathon was a self-imposed sufferfest. I hadn’t trained enough to seriously attempt a PR, but I just couldn’t run easy, take pictures and enjoy the live bands and the junk food station. No, I had to run it hard anyway and be miserable for 13.1 miles. One of these days I’ll be able to get out of my own way and have fun. Maybe.

What is this “Free Time” you speak of? On the drive back I went over my upcoming commitments. There was a high-priority office task to work out, I had to finish a composting talk for Frost Middle School, and what about the weekend? Every weekend since early September has involved working a race, running one, or traveling somewhere. I had to finish planning for whatever this one would be.

Wait a second. What do I have coming up this weekend? Nothing. It’s a free weekend at last. It was true, but such was my frame of mind that I couldn’t process it. Even now, on this free weekend, it’s kind of hard to believe.

The keys to happiness: At 5 a.m. Wednesday I got up for the regular 6 a.m. club run. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to talk myself out of it. The run went fine and I returned to my car as the rest of the group went their way. You know that little fear we get sometimes that we’ve locked the keys in the car, or they’ve fallen out of our pocket? Well, I reached into my coat pocket where I keep my keys – and they weren’t there.

So: it’s cold out, I’m sweaty, by myself, with no nearby businesses to duck into. What now? Call an Uber? Run to the nearest coffee shop? And how will I find my keys? They could be anywhere on the 6-mile loop we all just ran. Then I checked more carefully and found they’d snuggled way down deep in the pocket. All was well. But the key gods were in a playful mood, because I misplaced them twice more that morning.

Snow long, it’s been good to know ya: Earlier this month we got a YUGE dump of snow – about nine inches in 24 hours – and after shoveling it all out of my driveway, I decided to make some hay with it, so to speak. I broke out the snowshoes and spent a couple of hours tramping down a quarter-mile trail around my property, and testing it with a mile run. I’d be able to get in some early training for the Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K in January! Then off I went to Richmond, and of course it warmed up and it all went away. C’est la vie en niege!

Just before we left for Richmond.

And when we got back. You can just make out the traces of the trail I made.

Why do I not feel so relieved? One recent Sunday morning I joined a group to run the Potawatomi Trail in Pinckney, just for fun. The “Poto” as we know it round here can be challenging with rolling hills and plenty of rocks and roots, but it’s one of my favorite trails. While we were out there, someone mentioned hunters. “Wait,” I said, “Deer season doesn’t start until next week, right?”

“Gun season hasn’t started yet,” he said. “Bow season is still open, though.”

Back, and There Again

I GUESS IT’S TRUE WHAT THEY SAY: You can’t go home again. You can’t even go back to where you’ve been.

Last weekend I worked a race at a cider mill near Charlotte, MI. I’d had lunch there many years ago during a long bike trip, and looked forward to seeing it again. My route would also take me through Eaton Rapids, a classic Michigan small town for which I have particularly fond memories.

That first bike trip, I’d been struck by how charming its main street was. I’d stopped at a coffee shop (naturally) with terrific chocolate chip scones, had a nice chat with the baristas, and enjoyed the view of the pretty pond out in back. I arranged to go through it again during my 500-mile bike trip in 2012, and had another welcome break there.

The place back then. Later renamed Evelyn Bay Coffee.

I’d been told at the coffee shop that there was only one “Eaton Rapids” in the entire world. Someone in the UK had put that to the test once by addressing an envelope to a friend with the address reading only Eaton Rapids – no state, no zip code, no country – and it had been successfully delivered. Urban legend or not, it’s a good story.

Swapping stories with Aron and Andrea at the coffee shop.

This visit was a bit different. Instead of cruising on my bike on a warm summer afternoon, I drove through at 6 a.m. on a cold morning in my Jeep, towing a U-Haul with my Zero Waste equipment. No worries, though. There would be time after the race to see the town again and have my coffee and scone.

The race went well, and we were finished, packed up, and out of the orchard just before it clouded over and a light rain began falling. I pulled out my phone and asked the “Big G” for directions to the coffee shop. But there were no results. Just a sandwich place that served coffee drinks.

A more detailed search turned up Evelyn Bay Coffee at the address I remembered, but it was closed. Not a good sign. But Charlotte also had a coffee shop with that name, so I drove there. After ordering lunch and coffee, I asked my server (a co-owner) if she knew what had happened to the shop in Eaton Rapids.

“The owners sold out,” she told me, “and the people who took over just couldn’t make it work. They offered it to me, but I had my hands full managing this one. Too bad.”

Still, as I drove through Eaton Rapids on my way home, I stopped to take a look around. The coffee shop is now a Mexican restaurant. Sigh.

The place today. (I didn’t ask if they had chocolate chip scones.)

I walked down the main street and browsed a bric-a-brac shop of vintage items, but I couldn’t shake a feeling that matched the weather outside – dull and gray. Perhaps on a sunny day filled with the gorgeous fall color, I might have recaptured some of the nostalgic glow. But even the other buildings and shops now seemed – well, just ordinary. I returned to my warm, dry car and headed for home.

And yet, on the way down M50 I passed another place I’d stopped at on that same trip – a party store, of all things.

The sign that had read, in part, “Dragon’s Milk” had intrigued me enough to turn the bike around and go back to find out what that was all about.

I’d found out, as most of you probably know, that Dragon’s Milk is a type of dark, strong beer. While it didn’t appeal to me much, I just had to get a bottle to share with my D&D gaming group. And there was the store, all by itself along the road, looking the same as ever. I didn’t stop. They didn’t have scones.

But this experience doesn’t mean I want to return to those times. Life goes on, and a lot has happened since then that I wouldn’t want to give back. Like, for instance, getting hugged by my daughters after my safe arrival at our campground during that 500-mile trip.

I can always go back, too; maybe next summer another bike trip out there will be on the docket. And even if I don’t, I’ll always have the memories of those summer days by the pond, with good coffee and scones.