Tag Archives: improvement

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.

 

 

I Want it ALL!

“I need to pick a different day for my speedwork,” I told my coach Wednesday night.

My current training consists of a Saturday morning long run, the PR Fitness Wednesday night run, and one day of ‘speedwork’ – tempo run, intervals, hill work, progressions, or similar torture, which has usually been Tuesday. All well and good.

I hear an "Except" coming...

I hear an “Except” coming…

Except that with my cutback in Aikido due to my hurt shoulder, I’d added a Tuesday session of strength training at Body Specs. So I’d put off the tempo run until Wednesday afternoon, and here I was that evening, putting in my second set of six miles. (And they’d thoughtfully started without me, resulting in more, unassigned, speedwork.)

“So,” Coach said, “what do you want? To get stronger at the gym, or get faster on the road?”

Well, that was a no-brainer. “Both, of course. I want it all!”

She ought to have expected that response. When I first hired her, right about this time three years ago, I’d outlined my goals; a marathon in 2011, then in 2012 a 500-mile bike ride and 50K ultra. Oh, and I wanted to get faster, too, and win at least one age group award. (I can’t remember if I mentioned my Aikido training, too.) “So what do you think?” I’d asked her. “I think you have a lot of goals,” she’d replied. Yet I accomplished them all, and more.

Good SignI know there will come a day when I stop getting faster. But as the sign says, today is not that day. I don’t think I’ve peaked yet, so why not give it a try? Coach has no problem with that, but points out that by trying for too much I could get injured. And in just over a week I will turn 52 – by no means a barrier to improving, but I shouldn’t expect my body to respond the way it would have at 22.

See, they promised! Click here to view the commercial.

See, they promised! Click here to view the commercial.

So is it realistic to want to have it all? I’m a baby boomer – isn’t that what we were about? Readers of sufficient years may recall the 1980s Michelob Light commercials that said we could. They reflected that age pretty well, I think. We were free of the 1970s “national malaise” and the economy and Wall Street were booming. Today, in the 20/20 vision of hindsight, this former Yuppie can look back and see the developing attitude of entitlement which, I believe, has led to some pretty reprehensible conduct in today’s corporations and our government.

Excuse me - when did this become a political blog?

Excuse me – when did this become a political blog?

Sorry. Back to running and exercise. I do them to keep my body and mind fit, and for self improvement. Is it unrealistic, or even unhealthy, for me to want or expect improvements in both strength and speed at the same time? I don’t think so, not yet at least. I explained this to Coach Marie, after stopping to tie a shoelace and catching up yet again.

“Everyone says that,” she said, shaking her head. “That’s the trouble I have with all my clients. Sometimes I think I just need to create an extra day in the week.”

“Good idea,” I said. “Get to work on that.”