Tag Archives: goals

Once More Around the Block, and The Best Pacer Ever: 12 Hours at Dogwood

I clambered up a long, steady rise out of the trees onto a wide field of grass and sand. Up ahead I would cross a road and descend back onto the woods for the final part of the loop. The sky was dimming and a cold breeze had started up

“You’re doing GREAT!” a woman’s voice shouted.

I looked around but saw no one. Was I hearing things? I was over eleven hours into the Dogwood 12-Hour race, and the way I was feeling right then, anything was possible. I was giving all I had to get through this final loop and hold onto third place.

Then someone burst out of the trees behind me. . .

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The Dogwood is in the category of races measured by a fixed time, rather than a fixed distance. The most well-known is the 24-hour race, but there are shorter and faster varieties including 48 hours and even 72 hours.

These events usually take place on a short loop of road (such as one mile) or on a running track. Results are tracked by loops completed. Advantages include always having gear and refreshments close at hand, and relay team planning is simple, since each exchange takes place at the same point. Disadvantages include – well, sheer monotony – which is why I’d never run one. I like a variety of views and terrain in my ultras.

The Dogwood, however, caught my eye. I wanted an ultra around the end of March and the loop was on trail and decently long (3.4 miles). And it was in Virginia, meaning warmer weather and near where my daughter Tori lives. She even accepted my offer to pace me for a loop. Win!

I showed up at Twin Lakes State Park at 6:30 a.m. and was joined by a couple of relay teams and around 30 fellow solo runners suffering from the same condition – namely, that we find running all day something to look forward to.

I’d set a goal of 15 loops (50 miles) with an average 40 minutes per loop, which on paper would take ten hours. I would use the two remaining hours as cushion. Any extra loops would be gravy, and perhaps just enough to get into the top five.

Off we go.

We set off at 7:15, just as the sun was coming up over Godwin Lake. We ran along the shore for a bit, then up a gravel road and onto singletrack along rolling hills with a few long climbs and some fast downhills. There were a couple of stream crossings, which required nimble steps on the rocks to keep feet dry. Up to a road crossing, then back into the woods, one rooty section, then a final climb to the main park road for a downhill sprint to the finish. Quick stop at the aid station, then back out again.

I ran the first two loops with a nice chap named Alex. The morning was sunny and cool with soft, dry trail, absolutely perfect conditions for a race. My steps were light and easy, and the loops flew by. I lost track of him after that, and settled into running alone, maintaining an aggressive but sustainable pace.

Just as with the Land Between the Lakes 50, I felt terrific for the first third of the race. After five loops I was ahead of my goal pace. But I was beginning to feel subtle hints that things were going to get tougher. My legs were starting to complain on the downhills, and the bottoms of my heels were developing hot spots. I taped them more thoroughly and hoped for the best.

Finishing up an early loop.

My loop times began to slip, but I held onto the 40-minute average until loop 12, at which time I was told I was in second place! Perhaps I’d have been better off not knowing, because I struggled on loop 13, with my slowest time by far. My mind began suggesting that fifteen loops would be quite enough, thank you, regardless of any extra time. Breaking through that mental wall would take some effort, but I’d deal with that if and when I got there.

At the aid station, I met up with Alex again. Turned out he was the leader, one full loop ahead of me. He offered me his company for the next loop, and I set off with renewed energy. Unfortunately, the third-place runner (Corey) had also picked it up, and at the top of the gravel road he caught up to us. Both he and Alex were feeling stronger than I was, and on the trail they politely excused themselves and took off. Well, then, third place would have to do.

Trail runners are the best. They’ll smile and praise your effort while they blow your doors off.

Then, as I finished loop 14, there was Tori, all set to pace me for a loop. And so we ran loop 15 together. She’s a stronger hiker than a runner, but she gamely pushed through it. My one worry was that whoever was in fourth place would catch up. And about two-thirds of the way through the loop, someone ran by at a steady, deliberate speed.

Well, nuts. But what did it matter? A run with my daughter meant far more to me than a podium finish. And after this loop, with my 50 miles logged, I could quit! The clock read 10:30 as we came in. 90 minutes left, but with thoroughly fatigued legs and burning feet, I was happy to call it a race.

Just to be sure I wasn’t in podium contention, I checked with the scorer, who shook his head. “That guy who passed you is two loops behind,” he said. “You’re still in third.”

“So…I suppose I should get back out there,” I said, trying to sound upbeat about it. He agreed. “You’re looking strong!” Perhaps he was being kind, or perhaps I looked better than I felt, but he wasn’t helping me quit. Just one more, I promised myself. Just one more.

I pushed aside the physical and mental exhaustion and walked onto the sidewalk along the beach. Then, as with the previous fifteen loops, I began a slow jog. Final loop started; now just finish it.

I start one of the later loops. Photo courtesy of Dan’s wife, Luce( sp?).

By the clock I had plenty of time, but I still had no idea where the fourth-place runner was. So I ran it scared, at as quick a pace as I could muster. If I had to run this final lap when I’d already mentally checked out, then dammit, I needed something to show for it!

Then, more than halfway though, I heard the voice from nowhere. And as I crossed the road, ready to let it go as a mystery, someone came out of the rise and ran toward me. Fast. Smiling.

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He was a kid, perhaps ten years old. Behind him came a woman I assumed to be his mother. Obviously her shout had been meant for him, not me. Such was my mental state that I checked them for race bibs! Seeing none, I finally relaxed and focused on just getting through the remaining mile. Loop 16 and 54.5 miles completed in 11 hours, 23 minutes. Fourth place was 14 loops. I needn’t have worried.

Podium: Me with Alex (left) and Corey (right), who are helping keep me vertical.

The bonk hit me fast and hard as soon as I’d finished. Sitting didn’t help, so I lay on the ground. Alex and Corey, bless them, looked after me and helped me stand back up at awards time. For my third-place finish I got a bottle of Tiramisu Stout. Tori and I split it. She helped, after all.

Best pacer ever!

This was a small race but really well run and a lot of fun. More people should do this one; it’s a hidden gem among ultras. Dan, the race director, is hoping to turn it into a 24-hour race in the future, which may well make it more visible and popular. I hope so.

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Plan for 2018: Keep Moving, Keep Improving

It’s 2018, and as usual, I have no New Year’s resolutions. More accurately, I’m not changing anything I’m doing just because it’s a new year.

Yet while I’m not a fan of artificial “resolutions,” I am a strong believer in continually improving myself and the world around me. I try to live in that spirit every day, and I also set goals and then train and work to achieve them. Having a purpose, and something to look forward to, helps me focus on what’s important in my life and spend my time and energy there, as opposed to just ‘running in place,’ as it were.

And because I like to balance repeating favorite activities with trying out new things, 2018 will be similar to years past but with some twists and even leaps out of the ol’ comfort zone. And I look forward to sharing it all with you.

Here are some things I plan to keep right on doing:

Running. No surprise here, I hope. After ten years it’s become a part of how I define myself. In addition to keeping me healthy and fit, I use running to step away from the everyday noise and restore a sense of perspective. Whether it’s concentrating on a training assignment or easy coasting for a couple of hours, it’s a great way to clear the mind of mundane chatter. And I’ll continue to compete in races, too. In an upcoming post I’ll share what I have planned so far this year. (Hint: they’re not getting easier!)

Here’s a hint. (Photo courtesy of the Vote Charlie blog).

Supporting sustainability. I don’t talk much about my Zero Waste business on this blog, but Happy Planet Running had a terrific first year. In 2017 I worked 30 events and helped divert over seven tons of waste away from the landfill into more productive use as compost or recycled materials. And at every event I get thanks and compliments from the runners. It’s a passion of mine and a true labor of love.

2017 Firecracker 5K – holding the total trash with two fingers.

Lifestyle makeover. Last year we got a serious start on long-overdue updates to the house, getting rid of stuff we don’t need, and re-evaluating our diet. A sustainable lifestyle isn’t just about recycling; it’s all about reducing our imprint on the environment while improving quality of life. Some of this I’ve posted here, and I’ll continue to do so.

Little indulgences. Coffee and chocolate in particular are two of life’s little pleasures that I will happily continue to cultivate. Any changes to diet are not going to include reduction in either. Moderation? Save that for other things. Life is for living, after all!

Enjoying the good life in Richmond visiting my daughter.

And in the spirit of balance, here are a few things, popular as they may be at present, that I firmly intend never to do:

Cold showers. Yeah, I get that they are stimulating, help the body recover, blah blah. You know what I hate worse than being cold? Being wet AND cold. When I’m done with a workout, even a race in the summer, when I get under the shower, I want it hot. I’ll happily stick my feet into a cold lake after an ultra, but the rest of me is just fine being warm and dry, thank you.

From one of my few triathlons. The swim part was as much fun as it looks.

Faddish foods for runners. Raw eggs? Nope. Green smoothies? Looks like something from a primeval swamp. And even coffee isn’t exempt from questionable shit being added to it. The latest? So-called “bulletproof coffee,” which is perfectly good coffee with butter and coconut oil dumped into it. If I want saturated fat with my coffee, I’ll dust some bacon with espresso powder. Hey, that actually sounds good. I could start a whole new trend.

Give up on humanity. Given our current political environment, it’s hard not to get cynical about our leaders and our society in general. Sure, I don’t like a lot of what’s going on. But to me that’s an incentive to me to get more active and work for a world I want to live in, and not stand by and let other people make those decisions. Maybe I can’t change the world, but I can change a little part of it and help it grow.

So I’m looking forward to a healthy and positive year, and while there are no guarantees, I’ll be doing my best to make it so. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to go join my club for the Saturday long run. Happy New Year!

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Postscript: I finished this post before my club run, but am publishing it afterward. It was ten miles at 10 degrees. But with coffee and chocolate afterward, life is good. (It was good during the run, too, but you know.)

Peak Experiences

The last few weeks have been peak training time for my spring marathons and ultras. And let’s just say I’m feeling it.

So what does “peak training” mean? Extra miles per week, longer “long runs,” and heavier weights and additional sets at strength training. And with hill-loving Coach Rob setting the routes, PR Fitness group runs make sure my legs and lungs get some good work in.

If you think this is a viable option for long runs, you can stop reading now. You don't get it.

For long runs? Thanks, I’ll take the snow and hills, please.

The extra physical effort is just part of the experience, however. It being late winter in Michigan (*), conditions have varied. This morning I ran 18 miles with a big, enthusiastic PR Fitness group in shorts and single top layer, bright sunshine, and clear, clean roads. It was easy to feel good out there, even with tired legs.

But just a couple of weeks ago, I ran 20 miles by myself on a cold, gray, blustery day on snowy roads. With no one to pace with or keep me motivated, it was hard to remain focused. I had problems with my shoes, I needed several biological breaks (too much coffee), and with sweaty clothes it was a struggle to stay warm.

Along the 20-mile route that day.

Along the 20-mile route that day.

With five miles to go I stopped at a cafe for a snack and water and took stock. I would be on a busy road at rush hour, going uphill, and it was getting dark fast. It would have been easy, perhaps even sensible, to call a cab (**) for a warm ride home. Instead, I took a deep breath, stepped outside, and slogged out those final miles.

Good question.

Good question!

Would missing those five miles hurt my time at my upcoming marathon? Not likely. The 15 miles I’d already run were probably equal to at least 20 miles on a good day. And I might get hurt during the last stretch due to the weather and road conditions. Physically speaking, there was no reason to finish the run.

But Coach Marie understood why I did. She’s had many of those herself. “It makes you mentally stronger,” she said. And when things go wrong, or the unexpected happens, or you “hit the wall” five miles from the finish line, it’s the mental toughness that gets you across it.

Great weather and a happy body are treasured by runners when they occur, but they provide a very limited view of what we’re truly capable of. This morning’s run was wonderful, but the one two weeks ago did more for me. The miles in the snow, or rain, or mud, or 90-degree heat (with precautions, of course) tell me far more about what I’m really capable of, and give me confidence that I can accomplish my goals.

Building character.

Building character.

Not that I want one like that every week.

And “peak training” is nearly over! Soon I will begin tapering – easing back on mileage to recover and be at peak condition on race day. Sounds great, doesn’t it? In fact, extra rest can be as challenging as peak training, in a different way. I think I’ll find a way to get through it.

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(*) Actually, conditions are never predictable in Michigan. It’s part of the appeal of living here.

(**) I don’t really buy into this Uber thing yet. Call me old-fashioned.

Enjoy the Journey: It May Be All There Is

Improvement is not measured by the distance between where you currently stand and the finish line, but by the distance between where you currently stand and your starting point.
The Good Vader blog, “The Wounds of Failure”

Something I’ve been musing about lately:

When the Journey is Awesome

And going even further: What if there is no destination?

What if every event that appears to be a destination is really just another milestone?

Woodstock Saturday Finish (JW) - 2018My first long distance runs were based on goals. Finish a half marathon. Finish my first marathon. Complete my first 50K trail ultra. And so on. But what did crossing the finish line mean? Did that act change me? No. Crossing it only showed how much I’d changed. I could run a new distance, but it was the training, not the race itself, that made it possible – and set the stage for the next goal.

I’ve been training for and achieving new running milestones for six years now. It took three years to go from “I have to run today” to “I can’t wait to run today” but I can say I’ve enjoyed all six. Along with the race medals and increased fitness, I’ve made new friends and heard a lot of amazing stories from amazing people, some of which have been related here on this blog.

On a related note,  many people experience a letdown after they’ve completed a big running goal – the first marathon, for instance. Apparently it’s fairly common. Here are just a couple of runner experiences.

Runners World: 6 Signs You May Have Post-Marathon Syndrome

Angry Jogger: Experiencing Running Depression After A Full Or A Half Marathon. Is It Normal? When Will I Feel Better?

I’ve never had post-race depression. Sure, I was bummed about my two DNF races, but those experiences made me more determined to fix what was wrong and come back stronger. It’s been a month since I finished my first 100K (on my second attempt) and I’m still riding that high.

Why? Perhaps it’s because no matter the race, I’m thinking about what I could do after it. As long as there’s something to look forward to, whether it’s a new distance, new location, or new race type, it keeps me from getting too low if I don’t do well in any one race. And at times I look forward to resting and running easy, with no races for a while. I enjoy running in any season and (most) types of weather. I’ve felt the same way about my multi-century bike rides. After I finish one, I want to start planning another.

Well, maybe not just yet.

Well, maybe not just yet.

One day, I suppose I will have to stop running (which I hope is a long, long time from now). Let’s even suppose that I will know which race or run is my last. Will that be a “destination”? It could be, if I choose to look at it that way. Yet there’s another way to view it, and that’s to see my years of running as a contribution to a well-lived life. In that way, the journey continues, and I certainly hope there will be more opportunities to enjoy it.

Good Sign

But what if the opposite happens? What if the destination, or next milestone, becomes more important than the process of getting there? What if failure to meet a goal makes you feel like the training wasn’t worth it? Yes, it’s happened to me. True confessions next time.