Tag Archives: improvement

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.)

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Running 50 Miles: Be Happy, Damn It!

SOME BIG NEWS came out of PR Run Club last weekend. At least it was big news to us! Three of our runners went to the Endurance Series Challenge in Ontario to run a hot, hilly 50-miler. Here are our intrepid badasses.

Alan (center) rocked the course, finishing 3rd overall male. Farsad (right) won his age group. Paul (left) was running his first-ever 50-miler, expected to go through hell (and did), but pulled himself together and got across the finish line.

Now, guess which one is my running coach. And how I feel about his performance.

I bring this up because of something I caught myself doing again today. Hearing about their race results naturally got me thinking about my own 50-miler (the Dirty German) earlier this year. In all-day rain on a flooded course I’d finished in the top 20 and third in my age group. Cause to celebrate, right?

Well, sure! Except my finish time was an hour slower than I’d hoped for, which if I’d achieved would have put me fourth overall. If only I’d spent less time at the aid stations. If only I hadn’t been so conservative on the third loop. If only, . . .

If there’s one thing a competitive runner has to accept to remain sane, it’s that once a race is over, it’s OVER. Done. In da books. And if I’d performed as well as I could under the circumstances, I need to be satisfied with it. To feel otherwise is unfair self-punishment.

The trouble, of course, is that time and recovery are terrific at making me forget about how hard I pushed out there. Three months after the event it’s easy to look back and think, “I could have done X, Y, and Z better” without remembering why I made those decisions at the time, in the moment.

Sure, I can do 7-minute miles through that!

When I recapped the DG50 for my coach, he agreed I’d run a good, smart race which demonstrated I was ready for my 100, just as we’d intended it to do. If I run it again next year, are there things I’ll do differently? Yes, circumstances permitting.

Which really makes me appreciate how my coach handled his race. Not only was it his first 50-miler, he’s still dealing with a nagging injury that affects his ability to run long distances. He struggled, he felt the heat, and at mile 36 he fell in the mud. I’ll let him describe what happened next:

I picked myself up and observed my cracked and leaking water bottle. I saw my carefully curated ice cubes melting in the hot sun and mud. So I did what any self-respecting PR runner would do and carefully wiped the precious ice cubes off with my doo-rag, got on my feet and ran the remaining five miles to the next aid station where Molly the puppy licked me on the face and a paramedic looked at me and asked me if was okay.

“Well, I’m running 50 miles on a muddy trail designed by a sadist. What do you think?”

“You seem fine.”

And so I had to continue

And so he did. Congratulations, Paul! You gave it what you had, and you got ‘er done. That’s setting a great example in my book.

Perspective Regained: Hills are Hard, But . . .

“I want you to push yourself on the hills,” my Saturday running assignment read. “Dig deep and crest the hill before you let off the gas.”

Saturday’s route would be a 14-miler that included several of the more punishing hills in the Ann Arbor area. In particular, the climb up to the Barton Hills Country Club is a soul-sucking slog even on good days. And after a week of stepped-up training I was feeling less than 100 percent from the start.

Coach Rob Morgan

This man (Coach Rob) was responsible for today’s route. He’s also married to Coach Marie. I sense a conspiracy here.

It was my own fault, of course. I was dumb enough to tell Skip, my Body Specs trainer, and Coach Marie that I wanted to work on getting stronger and faster over the winter. They have taken on the task with alacrity; on Thursday I actually heard an evil cackle from Skip as I groaned my way through one particular torture involving hand dumbbells.

And the Saturday long run? Normally I look forward to it. But this one was more like a trip to the dentist; you know it’s in your best interest, but it ain’t gonna be no fun. I was fretting too much about it, so I went to bed early and read a chapter about the Battle of The Bulge from Killing Patton, which my father-in-law loaned me over the holidays.

And those few pages were enough to restore my sense of perspective.

In December 1944 the men of the 99th Infantry Division faced a surprise onslaught from the German army, digging foxholes and defending themselves in freezing weather without winter clothing, waterproof boots, or sufficient weaponry.

American infantrymen of the 290th Regiment near Amonines, Belgium. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

American infantrymen of the 290th Regiment near Amonines, Belgium. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

They suffered intensely and took heavy casualties. But they blunted the attack and played a key role in preventing the Germans from reaching the key port of Antwerp. And they did it because it was their job, and it had to be done.

And me? I was going to have a challenging run the next morning, but it would be done with warm clothes, good shoes, and plenty of sleep beforehand. And I could stop early, or even not run at all, if I chose.

So long, worry and self-pity. Which was a good thing. (*)

The run went about as I expected. Per instructions I ran the level parts at a steady 8:15 to 8:30 pace. Then when a hill came up, I took off hard and tried to sustain the effort until after I crested the top.  I didn’t always make it, and many were the times I was bent over gasping for a bit. But a funny thing happened. Despite very tired legs I kept up a solid pace the entire way, and I even repeated a hill on the way back to see how my time differed from early in the route.

Coach Marie was at the studio when I returned. “You look good,” she said. So much for any attempt to complain that it was too much for me. This spells trouble for next week. I can’t wait.

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(*) I have more thoughts about the contrast between that generation and ours that I will save for a future post.

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.