Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in Review

ORN: 16.1 miles, R4/W1, 2:50:30, 10:36/mile

The calendar year doesn’t really line up with my “running year”, as I enjoy winter running more than summer running. But, hey, using the term “fiscal year” for your hobby is a bit odd. So, a quick 2011 summary follows.

I was pleased with the year, completing three Ultras, four marathons, four half-marathons and a bunch of shorter events. Better, a touch of speed came this year, with PRs at the Half marathon, 15K and 10K distances and my best marathon time since my 2006 PR in Portland. No injuries, even better. And, as you can see from the annual mileage chart below, the best annual miles in this era of my running life.

  My graph

Why did running go well? At age 58, this isn’t supposed to happen, right? I’m not entirely sure. But one factor may well have played a key role.  This was the first full calendar year at my new lower weight. Whereas I had been in the 200-205lb range through 2009, I shed about 30 pounds in the middle of 2010 and held the weight between 175-180 for all of 2011. Cumulatively, that’s a lot less Joe to lug around. And I’m feeling great.

I’ll publish my 2012 plans in a bit. I’m looking forward to it but won’t be racing until the Kal Haven Trail 33.5 miler in late March.

 A brief family moment as well, with two pics from the year. In May, our youngest son Matt graduated from Wheaton College. He was on an ROTC scholarship, so was also commissioned as a new 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army on that amazing day in May. Oldest son David, who was in the Army, was in the commissioning ceremony.

From Matt's Wheaton Grad Weekend

Middle son Nathan was able to be here for Christmas and here’s a photo of our entire family, with the exception of Lt. Ely, who couldn’t get off.

From Family-General

From the left: Gretchen, Nathan, Nathan, Berneice, Susan, David, AJ, and me. It’s quite a crew...we are deeply grateful for each.

2011 is over...let’s make 2012 even better! Persevere.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How to Clean Really Muddy Running Shoes

My last post was long and philosophical.   This one is pictorial and practical.

The implication of running the HUFF 50K through lots of mud is really muddy shoes.  You can see me here around mile 29...check the shoes.

From Running-General

The shoes are supposed to be light grey...but are solid black.

When the race ended, I walked to my car and retrieved my cold, soggy feet from their mud-caked cocoon.  I sensed a photo series possible.

From Running-General
I stowed these beauties in separate plastic bags in the trunk of my car, letting them ferment.

The following afternoon, I laid into them.  First I removed the shoe laces.  Then, I put them in a 5 gallon bucket and hacked away with a stiff brush to get the bulk of the mud off.  Had the race happened in the summer, I would have done this with a hose in the backyard...but in the Indiana winter, it was a bucket indoors.

From Running-General
This is a time for "tough love"...scrub like crazy and get the gunk off.  No reason to be gentle at all.

Meanwhile, I rinsed and rerinsed the shoelaces and socks, then put them into a bleach solution.  This photo was after the third rinse, such was the grime.

From Running-General
At this point, I tried something new.  On the drive home from the race, Brian mentioned he had once just put his shoes right in the washing machine.  As I looked at my shoes, I figured I had nothing to lose, so I tried it as well.

I pulled out the insoles and threw in both shoes, sans shoelaces still.  I looked really hard in the owners manual to find the "Running Shoe Cycle" but didn't come across it.

From Running-General

So, I set the machine on a medium load to get plenty of water in the machine, hot water wash, warm water rinse, gentle cycle.  I put in plenty of detergent and four glugs of bleach just to de-gunk the puppies.  (I hope I haven't lost you in the technical language)

A half hour later, out they came.  Shoes were wet but clean.  The insoles held up well, it seemed.

From Running-General

I did NOT put the shoes in the dryer!  I just let them air dry for a few days.  Had I needed the shoes more quickly, I could have stuffed newspapers in them.  The shoelaces dried too.

Relacing the shoes, these babies were ready to go, looking none the worse for spending 7 hours and 50km tromping through mud and water.

From Running-General

This pair of Brooks Beasts (my 12th pair of Beasts, by the way...did I ever mention I like Brooks shoes??!!) now has 620 miles on them.  I wore them on a regular training run yesterday and they felt great. 

Hope you've had some fun with the photos!!  Don't ever give up on a pair of shoes just due to a muddy trail run!!



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Race Report: HUFF 50K Trail Race 2011

ORN:  31.0 miles, 7:33:44, 14:33/mile

Quick Summary

This race was more than a running event.  The second of the two 15.6 mile laps was my hardest run ever. . And yielded the most profound insights I’ve ever gained from running.

Gory Details 

If you are interested in race details, there are some very good summaries out there, including these from  MeggieMary and Bri.

For me, the race was much more than a race, however. It was a truly profound moment which I’ll try to explain. This is a long, somewhat philosophical musing. Thanks for reading.

The HUFF 50K has been around for 17 years and holds a special place in my running heart. It was the first trail race I had ever run in December 2004 when I took their 10 mile single loop option. The race that day was the farthest I had run at that point, my first time ever to run on trails and was central in cementing my enjoyment of running. Funny to reread my blog post from the 2004 event...what did I know then about running??!! I  ran a portion of it again in 2005 (blog post here).

State park funding circumstances forced this race to move to a new locale this year, however. The race organizers did a nice job creating a new course at the Chain O’ Lakes State Park; a 15.6 mile loop which 50K runners would run twice.

The one uncontrollable bugaboo for Race Directors struck, however. We had 3+ inches of rain mid week which swelled the 8 lakes and connecting marshes at the aforementioned Chain O Lakes Park. This meant mud. This meant high water. And when the temps dropped on Friday into the mid 20s, it all turned into frozen mud and icy water.

Fellow Marathon Maniac and local club member Brian and I made the 3 hour drive to NE Indiana after work on Friday. Saturday morning dawned with light snow falling. The HUFF has become a big event, with nearly 900 total runners in the 50K, 50K relay and single loop runs. The cannon sounded at 8:15am and off we went. With temps around 28F and snow continuing to fall, the first lap went reasonably well. We got a tour of the park, saw where the really high water was and an early glimpse of the mud to come. I even found folks with whom to chat; that's me on the right.

From Running-General

I finished the first lap in 3:20:24, a 12:51/mile pace which I was quite pleased with in the circumstances.  A friend of my sister-in-law captured this photo of me at the halfway mark...still feeling good

From Running-General

 And then came lap two.

The temperature was now in the mid 30s, just above freezing. The 800 pairs of feet ahead of me had churned the turf and dirt into a slippery, sloppy mess. Little did I expect what awaited.

Three specific events during lap two changed the tenor of the day, of the race for me

The Flop. In the 21st mile, we descended a deceptively short hill of about 80m. The churned up mud and left-to-right tilt of the trail turned the descent into an ungainly combination of running, surfing, skiing and snowboarding. There was no traction and no control. I made it ¾ of the way down when I lost my balance and went splat in the mud. I fell onto my right side, rolled onto my back, slid and ended with my head pointed downhill, my feet above my shoulders. Adding to the awkwardness, my right calf spasmed when I went down. Flopping helplessly in the mud with a locked-up right leg was not in the plan.

Wonderfully, a runner who was right behind me immediately came to my aid. Her quick thinking led her to grab a perfectly-placed tree trunk with her left hand as an anchor, reaching to me with her right hand, pulling me to my feet and letting me immediately stretch the balky calf. She stopped to talk with me, as did another runner. I was not hurt at all. But I was muddy all up my right side and back, clogging my water bottles, covering my watch and making a general mess. Plus, I needed to get to the bottom of the hill with 10+ miles still to go. The fall knocked the wind from my sails for a good while.

The Slog. During the first lap, a 2+ mile section of the loop along the western side of the park was mushy. 800 runners and 8 degrees later, this section (miles 23-25) was cold, black, churny, ankle-deep muck.

From Running-General
From Running-General
There was no running here. It was only one pitiful step after another. The area was flat. There was no drainage. There was no getting around the mud. It simply went on and on. It broke the soul. Indeed, it was the most discouraging portion of a difficult day. I truly wondered why I was doing this event or why I even bothered. I could only think of photos I had seen of agonizing troop movements during World War I across the water-logged fields of France in winter.  It nearly broke my spirit, it was so slow and difficult. Only a 2 mile stretch on a park road and some higher ground from miles 25 to 27 allowed some mental recovery before encountering the third stage.

The Thorns. Miles 27-29 were low-lying sections around one of the park’s lakes. While this trail might be a scenic, even romantic, walk during a mild spring afternoon, it was substantially overflowed Saturday.

From Running-General
This video by one of my fellow runners from this section is so real, it still gives me chills


 I had waded through some of these knee-deep water holes on lap one, including one nearly 40m long. Half-way through that traverse, my calves and feet felt nearly frozen. On lap two, I chose not to wade again, so discouraged was I from the Slog. The alternative, while less freezing, was more painful. Many of us bushwhacked around the 8-10 water-filled areas. I termed this part of the race the “Multiflora Rose 50K” in honor of the thorny, pernicious weed-plant which has invaded of our state’s woodlands. It scraped my legs and ankles as I scrambled to make progress.

The last two miles of the race were relatively clean, with the course moving to higher ground and then park roads heading back to the start/finish line. I had to walk all of mile 30...running just wasn’t going to happen. However, I was able to run most of the last mile, hitting the finish line in 7:33:44. But lap two was nearly a full hour slower than the lap one, with a pace of 16:14/mile. Not even a modest walking pace on average, such was the impact of my fall, the muck and the water circumvention.

When I finish a race, I’m usually euphoric, thrilled with what just happened. While my body felt fine this time, my spirit felt broken. I was deeply discouraged and I didn’t know why. It took me three days of reflection to grasp what happened.

I realized this race, lap two in particular, was a metaphor of something much more profound, something far larger than distance running.

Lap two was chemotherapy. Lap two was long-term unemployment. Lap two was raising a difficult teenager. Lap two was not what I signed up for.

Let me explain.

I entered this race wanting to run. To run a trail race. I was prepared and psyched to do a 50K trail race in cold weather.

I didn’t enter a Warrior Dash or Tough Mudder or any of the adventure races designed to put physical obstacles in the way. Not my style. Not interesting to me. Others may enjoy them but I don’t.

I signed up for a 50K trail run. And I couldn’t run. The trail was unrunnable over significant stretches. It was not the trail conditions themselves which broke me down, I came to realize, however. It was the complete and utter denial of doing what I had hoped and planned to do.

From this stems the metaphor.

I want to be healthy, we say. I want to live fully And then I’m racked with cancer. And the treatment is worse than the disease at times.

I want to work, we say. I want to support myself, my family. And then I’m unemployed. Have been for 18 months. No one even wants to interview me.

I want to love my teenager, we say. I want to communicate, appreciate, encourage, guide. And she rejects me. Turns her back. Yells at me. And worse. And has been for five years now.

These disappointments are examples of the many ways our lives become difficult, deeply discouraging. So much of discouragement stems from the dashed dreams, the hopes we feel have been unjustly taken from us. These dashed dreams can break our spirit. We didn’t sign up for the tough times.

You see, when I got done with lap two, I was fed up with that race. As runners, we are often full of bravado and enthusiasm, welcoming the pain, the difficulty of a race as a challenge, as a badge of honor.

I had none of that on Saturday. I hated lap two. If the Race Director were to call me today, offering me free entry into the race next year yet saying the conditions would be the same, I’d turn him down. I don’t want to do that again. I just want to run.

No one I’ve ever known would choose to go through cancer and treatment again. No one I’ve ever known would choose long-term unemployment. No one I’ve ever known would relish having another angry teenager around.

But we find ourselves in those situations. We don’t like them. We wouldn’t want to do them again. But in the moment, we have to do them. We have to keep moving. One step at a time, whether through freezing water or thorn-filled clambers on a non-trail. We flop and are so grateful for someone to extend a hand at the right moment.

The metaphor helps me have empathy for those with far more serious issues than mud and cold water that resolve in seven hours. Lap Two taught me all this and more, afresh. I hope it’s been helpful for you to read. It’s been helpful to me to write.



Sunday, December 04, 2011

Galloway Run/Walk Method: Update on 5 Years Experience

In September, 2008, I wrote a summary post on my experience to that date using Jeff Galloway’s run/walk approach to distance running.  Recently, several folks have asked me to update my experience and it seemed useful to do so as a reference.  

Jeff Galloway has suggested for some time now most of us mere mortal runners can go longer and farther by interspersing walking with our running.  I’ve been doing this since January, 2007.

It works. And I'm still enthusiastic about this approach to running.  

I run/walk virtually every training run I do.  It is simply second nature for me now.  The mechanics just are part of how I run. I don't think its a coincidence I can’t recall a single injury in the nearly 5 years since I started which has caused me to stop training.  And, in that period of time, I’ve finished 20 marathons/ultras and a lot of shorter races.  Given that I’m not anticipating a spot on the US Olympic Team, that’s all I could ask be able to run, enjoyably, injury-free, year round.  

Why does this method seem to hold injuries at bay?  Jeff has long held breaking up a long run with regular walks is worth a lot.  I agree.  So many times, especially during marathons or long training runs, I’ve felt fatigue or discomfort start to set in.  Amazingly (and it still truly amazing to me), I’ll go to a regular walk break, collect my thoughts, perhaps extend it by 10-15 seconds, and the situation improves.  Often, after one or two more of the regular walk breaks, I’m back to normal.  It’s happend too many times to dismiss as mere coincidence.  The variation in pace/muscle/jostle/mental rhythm is restorative.  

In addition to this, I’ve come to appreciate other benefits of run/walk in the past few years.  

Run/Walk allows for real fine tuning during a race or run.  On several occassions, I’ve been deep into a race when weather or fatigue simply causes the run to start to head south.  If I was simply running, I’d be forced to slow down.  But, as the mind gets mushy during a long run, that can be hard to do.  It’s been much better to throttle back to a lower run/walk ratio.  The shift from a 4/1 (run 4 minutes/walk 1 minute) to a 2/1 is invigorating, as odd as that may sound.  It allows a much more precise improvisation as the need dictates. The associated precision builds confidence. And confidence is huge, mentally.

At a macro level, run/walk also allows specificity in training.  For example, last summer, as I planned out the race calendar for this fall, it became evident that the Veterans Marathon on November 12 might be a chance for a “quick” marathon for me.  As a result, I began to train towards running a 6/1 pattern for that race...doing most of my training at 6/1, mentally preparing for the running sequences longer than my base ratio of 4/1, constructing some intermediate time windows for this pace. And, in this case, it worked.  With that race under my belt, I’m now looking at a series of maintainance races during the long winter months.  Time is not a big concern in these events, so I’ve dialed much of the training back to a 4/1, content to simply get the miles in and keep running.  And I might even run two of them at a 3/1 or 2/1. Looking farther ahead though, I just signed up for a race in May which may led itself to a 6/1 or 7/1. I can mull the plan during the long cold runs in the next few months.

Yet, what about racing?  Can you ever go “fast”?  Are you doomed to slow running?  Here’s how I’ve made sense of this.

For half-marathons and shorter, in moderate temperatures, I usually run continually.  Over the past 13 months, I’ve set PRs at the 5K, 10K, 15K and half marathon distances.  How does this work??  Again, I’m not entirely sure, but I think part of it is the fact that using run/walk in all my training allows me to pack on more injury-free miles.  And the larger mileage base allows me to run the occasional race hard.   Put another way, it keeps my legs fresh enough to go hard.  Functionally, I set the pace for these races according to what I can comfortably hold through the run segments of my normal training--it’s not like I can suddenly do 6 minute miles.  Yet, with a decent training base, you can go hard for shorter races.  And it’s kind of amazing to me that I can even consider a half marathon a “shorter” race.  

How do I keep track of running and walking?  Do I stare at my watch all the time?  No way..that would be awful.  I simply use the Timex Ironman 100 lap watch.  It has an interval timer feature in which I can set up my walk and run breaks.  Geek note-- I always set my walk time as segment one, my run time as segment two and set the watch to loop back continuously.  Why?  Because at the end of segment one, it beeps for two seconds, whereas at the end of segment two, it beeps for 10 seconds.  When I’m running, I need a stronger reminder, as my mind often is off on some other topic.  While walking, usually for one minute, I don’t need much of a signal to begin to walk again.  End of geek note.  

Hope all of this is helpful for you.  If you have questions, feel free to get hold of me.  

Persevere.  Whether running, walking or both.