Tag Archives: fitness

When the Runner is Ready

IT MUST HAVE BEEN THE FATIGUE.

I’d just finished the Potawatomi 50 and was seated at one of the base camp picnic tables, removing my soaking, mud-caked shoes and examining my feet. To my surprise I had no blisters, just a raw spot on one toe. Pretty amazing given what they’d been through.

Next to me, a woman about my age was conversing with someone about the trail. She’d been pacing one of the ultrarunners and her knees were acting up. She said something like, “I wish I’d been doing this twenty years earlier. I could have done more loops.”

As an introvert I’m not comfortable butting into other people’s conversations, but my natural restraint was offline. Maybe it was the finisher’s high, or the need to talk to someone after a long day of solitude, or I was just too damn tired to feel awkward. At any rate, I spoke up.

“Hey, Emily,” I said. (I knew her name because it was printed on her hat.) “As one person who discovered running later in life to another, let me tell you that I would have been a terrible runner twenty years ago, because back then I hated running. I wasn’t ready.”

Not that I follow my own advice, of course. I too have “wasted” plenty of time musing about how good a runner I’d have been had I started in my twenties or thirties. No matter how successful we are at something, don’t we fantasize about being even better?

When I was younger, I imagined myself as a famous golf pro (Arnold Palmer was my hero) and even more unlikely, a basketball star. But I’d never, ever, imagined becoming a runner. Nothing about the sport appealed to me; it seemed like a lot of pointless, unenjoyable effort.

And my life back then, with career challenges, raising kids, and other interests, was already full. To train and race like I do now wasn’t feasible without giving up something else I enjoyed. Then in my mid-forties, more time and mental space freed up for new pursuits. Add in my desire to remain physically fit, and the way had opened to give running a try. I’d become ready for it.

I don’t find it surprising that trail ultrarunning has so many participants over forty. I think the “long haul” aspect of it appeals to folks who’ve lived long enough to acquire some perspective. They’ve developed the discipline to see something through when the path is unknown and the end is a long way off.

In the 2016 Kettle Moraine 100, my first hundred-miler, 73 out of the 133 finishers, and six of the top ten, were age 40 or older. And a 74-year old finished too, less than a half hour before the cutoff. He was the first-ever runner over seventy to complete that particular race, but for him, victory and fulfillment wasn’t about his finish time. It was about getting over that line. As it was for me at that race, too.

I finished number 96 out of 133. The crowd went wild. (Trust me.)

As for Emily, she accepted my unsolicited advice with grace, and we chatted about ultrarunning, the trail conditions, other stuff. I don’t remember the specifics, but it was a pleasant conversation. She even said it was nice to have met me. (Whew.)

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!

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[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).

This is Fun? Damn Right!

A COUPLE OF MILES into last Sunday’s trail marathon, as I wound my way along the Potawatomi Trail, a low roar of excited babble came from across the lake to the right. The guy in front of me glanced in that direction.

“Sounds like the five-milers over there,” he said, referring to the shorter race that took a different path through the woods.

“Yeah,” I replied, “but they’re not having as much fun as we are.”

He agreed. “Got that right!” The morning was sunny and cool, and the Poto was in superb condition. Why settle for a measly five miles when you could run 26.2?

Saturday’s half marathon had been gray and bleak, with the wind off the lake driving most runners to warm places elsewhere for their afterglow. Working Zero Waste afterward, I shivered with the race staff and made liberal use of the heater in the volunteer tent.

No such issues on Sunday, the kind of day you’d want for a marathon, or any kind of run. Despite some fatigue from the half, I had good energy throughout. I finished slower than last year (which I’d run on fresh legs) but as I said, I was having fun.

So what exactly is “fun” about running four-plus hours up and down a trail?

I’m sure every trail runner would answer a bit differently, but “fun” and its synonyms are prevalent in our conversations. When someone says, “I nearly died out there. I couldn’t walk for a week. It was AWESOME,” we nod and make a note to look up that race.

This couple shows the joy on Sunday. (Photo from Frog Prince Studios.)

For me last weekend, enjoyment came with “being present” in the event, where outside thoughts and worries slipped away and my world shrank to the race and the trail. Hard effort, discomfort and pain mixed with runner’s high and feeling of accomplishment. The scary thrill of nearly losing control on steep downhills. Encouraging shouts from volunteers and spectators. Sweat-soaked PB&J and cookies in sticky hands. Exchanges of “Good job!” as I pass and get passed by other runners. A surge of adrenaline cresting the final rise and seeing the finish line, sprinting the final hundred yards, and capping it off with a somersault just for the hell of it.

Cruising along the back half of the loop.

Trail Marathon Weekend remains among my favorite events. I like going to new locations and rarely repeat a trail race, but every year I go to the Poto. It’s local and low-key, with, to me, a “just right” mix of smooth running and difficult climbs and descents. Not overly rocky or rooty either, though there are places that require careful footwork. You can spot them by my face prints in the dirt.

TMW also scratches a particular itch I have to push my limits. You mean I can run both the half on Saturday and the full marathon or 50K on Sunday? And it’s called the “No Wimps” option? You sadists! Where do I sign up? (You can read here about how I graduated to this from the 5-miler.) This year I even ran an “ultra half” which you get by missing a turn and running 14 miles instead of 13.1. (I’m thinking of suggesting this become an official category.)

And the marathon has a special award, the Rogucki Trophy, for the top finisher age 50 and older. Each year the male and female winners get their names and finish times put on the trophy. As the 2017 Rogucki winner, I had a title to defend, which reason would argue for resting on Saturday instead of doing No Wimps. Reason lost. (It usually does with races.)

Nearly as famous as the Stanley Cup!

So did I successfully defend my Rogucki title this year?

My name added for 2017 (bottom left).

Well, no. Two guys in the 50-54 age group smoked me like a pork butt. The winner finished second overall in 3 hours 35 minutes, a time I wasn’t going to touch even with a month of rest and an IV line of espresso. And that’s just fine with me. Frankly, I was stressing a bit too much about it. With the pressure off, I can enjoy that I won it once, and have that much more fun next year.

And, BTW, our Zero Waste effort rocked again, with reduced overall waste and a 97 percent landfill diversion rate. That’s three straight years of winning that no one can take away!

The Sunday morning Zero Waste crew – a gaggle of Girl Scouts. They did great! I’m wearing my marathon and No Wimps medals. Wooden! Very sustainable!

Lifestyle Makeover, Part 1: Pillow Talk

Note to readers: My wife is at home for several weeks following major abdominal surgery. The good news is she’s expected to make a full recovery. And we’re using this time to make some overdue upgrades to our house and our lifestyles. In this and upcoming posts I’ll share these changes with you.

One thing my wife and I have had in common the last couple of years: several times a week we get into bed together and moan.

OMG, I thought parents didn’t do that stuff.

No, it has nothing to do with that. This mutual moaning is generally followed by the question, “What did Skip do to you today?”

For we well know what resulted in our conditions, namely our visits to this place:

Photo from Body Specs Facebook page, Halloween workout 2017

This is Body Specs (a.k.a. Tower of London, Ann Arbor wing) where we surrender ourselves to head trainer Skip Bunton and his able crew of assistant tormentors. While the workouts differ in focus and intensity, they get those muscles working, dammit. And so, when in the evening one or both of us takes a little longer to stand up, or just crashes on the bed with a groan, we get it.

At this point you’d be forgiven for asking why we do this sort of thing not only voluntarily, but pay for it as well.

Professional amateur runner. Closed session. Do not attempt.

You see, around age 50 the body begins deciding that if you’re not actively using a muscle, you don’t really need it. As for some bizarre reason I enjoy running and cycling long distances, I need my muscles, thank you very much. But running alone doesn’t do the job; my lower body needs some amount of training under load, and my upper body and core need to stay strong and toned. In other posts I’ve shared photos of some particularly moan-inducing maneuvers. Here’s one of my favorites.

Extension pushups, anyone?

My wife doesn’t share my obsession with running (yet), but she works at a desk all day and has a long commute. She’d been wanting to get into better shape, but wasn’t sure that she could handle the kinds of workouts I’m subjected to.

Finally I persuaded her to talk with Skip, who assured her she’d receive training appropriate to her fitness level and personal goals. While she now shares the post-workout experience with me, she’s glad she signed up. Regularly scheduled workouts with a trainer are her guarantee that she will exercise.

And her training has had an additional unanticipated benefit; when we found out she needed surgery, she worked hard to be in the best possible shape for it. She’s convinced that it’s contributed to her steady, uncomplicated recovery.

Her surgery has put her training on hold for several weeks, but she’s walking every day as recommended to improve blood flow and speed recovery. And she’s looking forward to resuming regular sessions. For we’re making plans to do more activities together, and those will require both of us to be in good shape.

Up next: Changing what fuels us.