Tag Archives: racing

Taking Some Self

My first ultra of the year is just a couple of days away, and I’m training for it in the most sensible manner – resting up and eating a lot.

This is not as easy as it sounds.

Having trained hard all winter, it seems unnatural to hit the brakes, even when it’s logical and my body is telling me I need the rest. My coach set me straight. “The hay’s in the barn for this race,” he said. “Pushing yourself now will do no good and could get you hurt.”

So I took some self. I cancelled most of my Body Specs gym sessions and forced myself to take several days completely off. Naturally, it was warm and sunny those days. Sigh. Land Between the Lakes, you’d better be worth it.

I also indulged in a little mental self – as in self-reflection, in particular what it is about ultramarathons that makes me want to keep running them. My thoughts went back a few years to when my wife was bringing my brother up to date on my latest ultrarunning escapade. I forget which one. At any rate, Doug didn’t seem overly impressed.

“Does he enjoy torturing himself like that?” he asked her.

He had a point.

No, I don’t care so much for the pain and discomfort. Or the grind and tedium of the continuous hours of running. Or the mud, bugs, rocks, thorns, and other features of the trail.

But all that is part of the deal. An ultra is a spectrum of highs and lows, excitement and monotony, euphoria and pain, all experienced individually and yet blended into a complete entity I find highly satisfying. All of it, every sensation and emotion, contributes its part and would be missed if absent.

For a rough analogy, try Vietnamese coffee sometime. Espresso + condensed milk = bittersweet magic.

But the satisfaction stems from more than the event. The race is the cashing in of an investment I began months, even years, before the gun goes off. It’s the culmination of all my training, and planning, and the anticipation that motivated me to sign up and get to the starting line. Running the race is the manifestation of all that work, and the medal, or belt buckle, or whatever, represents all of it, not just that I crossed the finish line.

Or in this case, a small copper kettle. Was it worth running 28+ hours for? Yep.

So is racing the reason why I run? I don’t think so. I enjoy running for its own sake, and for the social aspects, and its physical benefits. I don’t need an upcoming race to get me out of bed and off to run club on Saturday mornings, or to toss on one more layer and go out for six miles in the snow. That’s all just part of my life now.

Ultrarunning taps into something deeper within me, an urge to push outside of my normally comfortable life and prove something to myself. Races, and the training for them, are a self-test of my limits. You won’t find me BASE jumping or climbing mountains in Antarctica; I don’t need to defy death to feel alive. But running ultras are times when I feel particularly alive, and in the moment. And that’s special.

Now it’s time to take self to bed. Need my sleep. Big day Saturday!

NOTE: I have Microsoft to thank for the Millennial-style post title. When I saved the first draft, Word used part of my initial sentence as the file name, and may have inadvertently created a new catch phrase. “Taking some self” just crushes. I’m so on fleek!


2016: New Year, New Dreams

I WALKED AROUND WITH A GLOW OF SATISFACTION. I had just won a race – a 5K trail race, as I recall – and I was trying to figure out how much to brag about it and to whom. Wouldn’t do to be overly immodest, after all.

Then I felt something nudge my head. My cat was telling me it was time for breakfast. And I remember thinking rather forlornly as I woke up, I suppose this means I didn’t really win a race.

That’s okay, though. What a wonderful holiday it was, with both kids at home and get-togethers with loving families and the best friends you could ever hope for. Chocolate and other goodies abounded, with my wife’s incredible carrot cake and about five tons of homemade caramels, and my daughters helping me make truffles. At least I burned off a few of those extra calories keeping up my tradition of running on Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.

New Years Day Mileage 2016

Back to training as usual next week. Big plans for the year ahead! And the wonderful people who read this blog can rest assured I will tell you all about them, especially when life doesn’t quite work out according to those plans. And who knows – just maybe there’s a race to win out there yet.

Happy New Year to one and all. May at least one of your dreams come true in 2016!


Wonder Woman and Ultra Man

SUPERHEROES LIVE AMONG US, particularly in the running community. They aren’t usually noticed because they don’t get (or seek) a lot of publicity. The challenges they undertake are generally personal, and it’s easy to mistake them for ordinary mortals.

Mission accomplished! 50K completed, Sept. 2012

Mission accomplished! 50K completed, Sept. 2012

When I’d planned my 2012 year-long celebration of turning 50, with its associated events and challenges, I’d assumed (rather naively) that it was, if not unique, at least uncommon. But when I talk to fellow runners, amazing stories pop up everywhere.

For example, here are two people I met at recent races who have either completed, or in the middle of, some pretty awesome stuff.


Shamrock ‘n’ Roll 10K, March 17

SharryI happened across “Irish Wonder Woman” after the race and just had to know what motivated her to run on a cold morning in this costume. “I’m turning 40 this year,” she said, “and I’m going to run 40 races to celebrate.” The Shamrock ‘n’ Roll 10K was race number eight since January 1.

Running three or four races per month is far from easy. In addition to the expense (entry fees range from $25 to over $100, plus travel), she’ll have to avoid serious injury and maintain the mental focus to run her best throughout the year. (The 20 races I ran last year were quite enough for me.)

Looks like we will meet again at the Martian Invasion of Races in April (me, half marathon, her, 10K) and Dexter-Ann Arbor in June. Her races range from 5K to half marathons, and at least one virtual race, something I will write about in more detail shortly.

To find out more about her, see her blog, “Sharry Runs 40 in 2013“. (Anyone who gives me a nice shout-out in her blog sure gets a plug from me!)


No Frills All Thrills 8K Trail Race, March 23

RonSay it’s your 50th birthday and you want to run an ultramarathon to celebrate, but there aren’t any nearby races that day. What to do? Create your own race, of course. That’s what this guy did, setting up and completing a 50-mile run on the Island Lake trails. He had a support vehicle and several friends ran part of the route with him, but otherwise did it by himself, with no water stops or spectators. Not even a fancy finisher’s medal.

So how did it go?

“Well,” he said, “At mile seven I got run over by some mountain bikers.”

Literally. They came around a corner and knocked him flat. “But I was unhurt, so I carried on.” Then around mile 18 his IT band flared up – bad enough that, “I wouldn’t normally have run on it.” But that day, “I swallowed a few ibuprofen, put some KT tape on my leg, and a few miles later, it was fine.” Other than that, it was uneventful.

Ron and Me - Age Group Winners

We took first and second in the 50-54 age group. Not exactly Olympic medals, but this was the “no frills” race.

Oh, and he biked over 2,500 miles last year, and ran for about 1,500. How I managed to finish ahead of him in the trail run I’m not really sure. But he says he’s going to come after me next year. Bring it on!

Every Run is a Victory

“SO WHERE DID YOU PLACE AT SHAMROCKS LAST WEEK?” my friend Larry asked during Wednesday night’s PR Fitness group run. He was referring to the Shamrocks & Shenanigans 5K in Ann Arbor on March 10.

“Second,” I said. “The first place guy ran under 19:00. There’s a couple people in my age group who are just really fast.” I sighed. “I’ve got to get better yet.”

Larry chuckled. “Now here’s a guy who finished second,” he said, “complaining about not winning.”

And I thought, Oh, no – I’ve become that guy.

Must...beat...the kid...

Must…beat…the kid…

Just two years ago, all I wanted was to snag one award – just one – in any race. If someone had griped to me back then about finishing second, I would have let him know (nicely, I hope) that some of us would be more than satisfied with that, and to be thankful he was healthy and fit, and strong enough to finish in the top tier of his group.

On my 50th birthday at the 2011 Holiday Hustle, I got my first award (a Christmas ornament, which I promptly dropped). Since then I’ve placed in the top 5 of my age group regularly, even winning several times. Now here I was beefing about finishing second in a large race. Did I now have to be in the awards group to feel like I ran a good race? Or finish first to feel happy? Heaven help me if it ever comes to that.

Sure, I’m competitive by nature, and finishing in the awards group feels good. But winning a race also depends on the weather, the terrain, and who else shows up (or more accurately, who doesn’t show up). And if we’re not elite runners, who really cares about how many races we’ve won? Spouses and kids, to a point. Fellow runners, good for a high five or two. Non-runners? Fuggetaboutit.

Serious Runners

Some serious runners at Shamrocks & Shenanigans.

More than anything, a race is a test of ourselves – a measure of our physical and mental fortitude, our discipline to stick out a hard run to the end. Improving as a runner, and as a human being, is really what counts. And that can come at any pace.

Last night reminded me of why I run races. Since I’m not in it for money or fame, I am free to set my own goals and to decide what “success” and “winning” mean. Isn’t that why we enjoy running – because it gives us that freedom? How blessed and fortunate we are to have that kind of opportunity. Every run, short or long, is a victory.

P.S. Now that I’m sufficiently grateful for being able to run, here’s what I got for finishing second at Shamrocks.

Unlike many awards, this is something I can actually use. Woohoo!

Unlike many awards, this is something I can actually use. Woohoo!