A Strange and Fickle Beast

Last weekend I had an opportunity to run a “fatass” trail race (up to 30 miles) reasonably near where I live. On that morning it was near freezing temperatures, raining, and I had a slightly painful knee that I’d “tweaked” somehow the previous night. Plus I had a 50-miler coming up in a week. So I passed on the fatass, stayed home, and did my taxes.

From last December’s Fatass run. I’m in the bright yellow jacket on the right. I did 21 miles because I had no excuses.

Now, those of you who aren’t ultrarunners, or who don’t know me all that well, are probably saying, “Sensible choice, what’s the issue?” The rest of you have, to a person, who I’ve told this to fully supported my decision.

Everyone except me.

Despite knowing it was the best choice, I still had some twinges of regret for at least not showing up and giving it a shot.

Why?

Because I have run ultras in the cold, and in the rain, and with a bum knee (although not yet all three at once). And enjoyed the experience each time. So I have a certain reputation of “indestructibility” that’s hard to set aside. Plus I just like being around trail runners.

This weekend is the aforementioned 50-miler at McNaughton State Park in Illinois. I arrived Thursday to see off those running the really long distances here, including my friends Kurt (150 miles) and John (200 miles). It was chilly and raining at the 4 p.m. start. The runners were geared up and ready. And no one – runners, race staff, or race director – complained about the weather.

Kurt (bib #400) and John (bib #415).

There’s very little fanfare at the start of most ultras. Runners are upbeat but quiet, grabbing a snack, conversing about other ultras, stretching, or jogging a bit to loosen up. Usually no music – that’s for pumping up people at shorter races, like marathons. And the starting “gun” is the race director saying something like, “Get outta here.”

And yet the energy is palpable, a current washing over the entire starting area. I’ve felt it every time, running or not. Watching the runners standing quietly in the queue before the start yesterday, I began twitching, and bouncing on my heels. Mind you, I was grateful not to be starting with them. But part of me was ready to jump in anyway. And had I signed up for that start time, I’d have been there, just as eager as the rest of them to get out on that trail.

They’re off! (Okay, maybe some are feeling the vibe more than others.)

My race begins early Saturday morning, and it promises to be a great day – sunny, with temperatures in the sixties. I’m really looking forward to it. And I’m only a little disappointed that it won’t be raining.

Yes, motivation is a strange beast, indeed.

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March Weather Rambles, so I Will Too

The problem with March is that it can’t figure out what it wants to be.

At the start of this month I ran on a sunny morning in Minnesota, temperature -11 degrees F. Here’s what I wore on that run – and yes, I wore EVERY article pictured.

In like a lion, out like a lamb? This year it was more like, “In like a polar bear, go through every creature in the zoo, and on the last day it snatches the lamb away (PSYCH!) and back comes the bear.”

Help! March is chasing me!

Then last Friday I ran in shorts and a single T-shirt. Spring was coming. Life was good! Saturday it rained, then snowed, and today (Sunday, March 31) it was back to winter.

I was so discouraged…I gave up a Saturday trail run to do my taxes.

NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

But some good things happened in March. Two PR Run Club members, Jason and Hirak, were awarded U.S. citizenship! The club threw a little party for them yesterday.

Jason contemplates what he’s just accomplished. Or what a wicked good cake that is.

Jason runs the club’s interval training Thursday afternoons. I’ve been able to avoid them, hiding behind my ultra training. But as I’ll be working on my shorter distances this year, I get the feeling I’ll be joining them. It’s good for me. At least that’s what I’ll tell myself.

Hirak and his family help clean up the Ann Arbor Marathon course last week.

Hirak organizes a 6-mile run every Wednesday at 6 a.m. Which I’m a regular at. After all, why just run in the cold when you can in darkness, too? While sometimes we have up to six people, sometimes, like with this week, it was just Hirak and me, and his dog Ashoka. (Bonus points if you are familiar with that name.)

And hope lies ahead. Next weekend is the Potawatomi Trail 50 in Illinois, and the forecast is for dry weather with temps in the 60s.

And my taxes are done!

Pre-Ann Arbor Marathon Cleanup Plog!

The Ann Arbor Marathon is Sunday, March 24, and I’ll again be serving as Zero Waste Team captain. Since 2017, when we began the zero waste program at the marathon, we’ve recycled or composted over 97 percent of all race waste!

2018: Less than four pounds of trash, and over 99 percent landfill diversion!

This year we’ll make it an even more environmentally responsible event by doing some cleanup before the race. And if you’re a runner in the area, you could help!

This is an event Ann Arborites, especially runners, should be proud of. It’s an official qualifying race for the Boston Marathon and New York Marathon, and the course runs through some captivating scenery including central campus, Nichols Arboretum, and a long stretch along the Huron River in Gallup Park.

The inaugural Ann Arbor Marathon, June 2012.

Unfortunately, the melting of the winter snow has revealed litter strewn along the roads – an embarrassing amount in some places. This afternoon I ran a loop of the course and observed discarded bottles, cans, paper cups, and even twelve hubcaps. Hardly stuff we want our runners to see, especially those visiting our fair city to be part of a healthy outdoor event!

So this Saturday we’re holding the first ever Ann Arbor Plog-athon!

Glad you asked! “Plog” is the nickname given to an increasingly popular activity of picking up roadside trash during a run. And on Saturday, March 23, some dedicated runners will be out on the marathon course, taking that litter off the streets and putting it where it belongs. And with Zero Waste principles in mind, we’ll recycle or compost as much of it as possible.

Readers, are any of you coming to Ann Arbor to run that weekend? Or do you live in Ann Arbor and want to help make the course condition something we can be proud of? Join us! Details are on the Happy Planet Running page on Facebook. Or email me, and I’ll forward you everything you need to know.

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!

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(*) “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.