Tag Archives: winning

It’s Okay. No, Really, It’s Okay.

This running life can be funny. Two times recently I’ve had to be told, or tell myself, that something perfectly normal and reasonable is okay. As in, I was actually feeling guilty about something I had no business feeling guilty about.

The Thursday after I got back from the Grandmaster Ultra 50, I went to Body Specs for a recovery workout. I chatted with Skip, the owner and head trainer, about my experience at the race, and how I’d won by a single second. I was downplaying it a little because it was a small field and a close finish.

Skip said something to me then that I just had to turn into a meme. Here it is.

Meme: Trainer with arms folded saying IT'S OK TO WIN - WE DON'T TRAIN YOU TO LOSE

He explained that he wasn’t really a fan of the “everyone who participates is a winner” mentality. Competition is healthy, and if you win, that’s a good thing. If you lose, then learn from it, improve, and try again.

“Yes,” I said, “but there are people out there who will always finish ahead of me, even if I run the best race I can. The finish order depends a lot on who shows up and who doesn’t. My usual goal is to set a personal best, or beat a certain time, or to do better than my previous effort. That’s something I can train for.”

We agreed in the end that winning doesn’t necessarily mean finishing first, but he trains people to perform their best and hit their goals, not to do less. And I shouldn’t discount winning, even if it’s by a single second in a 50-mile race. I showed up, I put in the effort, and I finished first. It’s okay to win. I’m keeping the belt, thank you.

My second, “it’s okay to…” moment happened this weekend. For the first time in what seems like forever, we had a sunny Saturday for club run. I’d really enjoyed the sun in Arizona, but the two weeks since then had been unending cloudy gray gloom. It felt so good to run in the sunshine that I stretched my original plan of 10-12 miles to fifteen.

PR club run, Saturday, Feb. 22. I’m in the yellow jacket. (Photo courtesy of Bin Xu.)

That afternoon I lay down for a while, accompanied by some of our resident furry nap coaches. I looked out the window at the bright blue sky and thought, I’m wasting all that sunshine. I should be outside doing something. Anything other than lying here doing nothing.

As an ultrarunner I already know I’m nuts, but this was really ridiculous. Not only was there no work to do outside, I’d run for over two hours in the sun that morning. I had to tell myself that resting was okay. Essential, even. Running is the exercise, but recovery is what makes me stronger.

The cats knew better how to take advantage of the sun, stretching out on the patches of sunlight that fell on the bed and basking in its warmth. I guess they were better coaches than I gave them credit for.

These guys understand the importance of rest. And enjoying life in the moment.

2020 Bigfoot 5K: The Snow Must Go On

“SUCCESS” CAN BE AN ELUSIVE BEAST, depending on how you define it.

Last Saturday was the Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K/10K at Timber Ridge Resort in Traverse City. Despite rain all the day before, the race went on as scheduled. I’ve run the 5K every year since 2014. I look forward to it until about three days before, when the “why did you sign up for this AGAIN?” thoughts show up.

Why the ambivalence? Because I much prefer a well-paced ultra to going all out for 3.1 miles. There should be no way I’d want to run in snowshoes. It’s the ultimate cardio workout, and even the 5K is REALLY. HARD. WORK.

Yes, I am as out of breath as I look. More, actually.

But dammit, it’s fun. And easy to learn. I’d never worn snowshoes before my first Bigfoot, and I fell a few times (eight? I forget) but had a good time. So I definitely recommend it for anyone who’s interested.

There are a few differences from regular running, footwear the most obvious. Snowshoes require a wider gait to avoid stepping on yourself and face-planting. And the singletrack gets narrow and thoughtfully runs through parts of the woods where branches poke up out of the snow, perfect for tripping on. On the plus side, good form is enforced because racing snowshoes are hinged in front, so the toe rises last and comes down first..

One key strategy is to establish a position where you can run your pace. Get stuck behind slower runners and you have to pass in the deep ungroomed snow, burning up your energy reserves. Conversely, give way to faster runners when possible so they don’t have to pass in deep snow.

So how do I define “success” at this race? For me it should be the same every year: run the best race I know how, with an age group award a bonus. And so it was until this year, when I became a victim of my own success, so to speak.

As I mentioned, I finished in the top 10 in the 2019 5K. But more significantly, I was second in the Masters category – both exciting and frustrating. What’s the big deal? Trevor, the Masters winner, got a Bigfoot statue trophy. And for second place I got a lovely mug with Hershey’s Kisses as an age group winner.

I could also have gotten a hug from this guy. Others did.

So there’d only been Trevor between me and that trophy. He’d beaten me by over five minutes, so I wouldn’t have caught him even with a JATO strapped on. But I was getting faster, right? Maybe this year I could close the gap, or maybe he wouldn’t show. I was cautiously optimistic.

It had rained all Friday, and Saturday temps were mid-30s (up from 14 below in 2019), so I was concerned about snow quality. The parking lot at the resort was icy and slushy, but on the trails the snow was in surprisingly good shape. I wore just one shirt under my wind jacket, a wise move as I was warm from the start. Some runners were even in shorts and T-shirts.

As usual, I went out hard to get a strong position on the singletrack. Once I got there I caught my breath and ran a strong steady pace. I was well behind the lead pack but I knew I’d have opportunities to gain some ground.

Sure enough, I passed a few runners on the wider tracks, and a few others had snowshoes issues and had to drop back. As we slogged up the monster hill back to the top of the ridge around the two-mile mark, I figured I was in good shape, maybe in the top 10 again.

The second key to a strong time is to stay upright. Falling down is painless (and comical) but it takes time to stand back up and get back on pace. During the toughest part of the course I kept my balance like a pro. Naturally it was on the final leg – wide, flat, well-groomed straightaway – that I tasted snow. Twice. A couple people shouted encouragement as they swept by me.

Then again, I could have fallen at the finish line! (She took it in good humor.)

It turned out not to matter much. I still finished in 30 minutes, 40 seconds, my best time by over a minute! And yet I dropped from #7 in 2019 to #20 this year, and from second place Masters to fifth. The warmer temperatures had brought more runners this year, and the good trail conditions led to faster times across the board.

So was I less successful than last year? Here’s how I’ve decided to handle it: celebrate my new best time, and train to do even better next year. And be grateful I’m healthy and fit, and can be competitive in this race. I shared the Kisses in my newest mug with my wife and friends who’d come to support me and help with race cleanup. They’re the best!

The Masters winner? Yep. Trevor, again. He also improved on 2019 by a minute. Hey, dude, have you considered trying the 10K? I mean, winning the 5K all the time has to be getting tedious…

BONUS: Here are some examples of northern Michigan humor.

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!