Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Year in Review

My running for the 2020 reflected the general difficulty of this strangest of years.  Then, I had an ill-fated experiment during August and September when I refereed High School soccer, seeking to replicate that role I held through the 80s and 90s.   I had a bad hamstring and a minor quad injury in just a few weeks on the pitch and through the entire experience, I realized how much I missed distance running.   So, no more yellow cards or whistles.    Here's what the 52 week totals looked like....never consistently over even 30 miles per week. 

This of course meant my annual mileage dropped off, the lowest since 2013.    

Races were few in log shows only seven!!   I typically run twenty or more each year.  Such was the 2020, though and our necessary isolation.   Three stand out...Ground Hog's Day Marathon on February 6, before we entered lockdown (and I won my AG), my first ever 12-Hour race in June, which I really enjoyed, covering 48 miles and then The HUFF at years end managed to happen, my tenth consecutive HUFF.    

A lot happened personally over the year, most notably my long-planned retirement, today!!   Wrapped up a career in manufacturing management and I've been very blessed.   We will remain living here in Indiana (I never really wanted to move to Boca Raton...) and now I can do my training runs at any time of day I choose!!   I will establish new routines and reflect on new purposes.  

Persevere...into the new year.   


Sunday, December 20, 2020

Race Report: HUFF 50K Trail Race-2020

ORN:  50K, 7:09:29, 13:50/mile, R/W 4/1, 2/1; mid 30s, cloudy; 123rd of 163 finishers overall; 7th of 13 M60-69; lifetime marathon/ultra #94


Around mile 10, a fellow runner who had also run HUFF numerous times captured the race and the day:  “Each year the course is the same; each year the race is entirely different; you have to always adjust.”   

Yes...that’s the story of what has become a highlight of my running year.   In my tenth start and ninth HUFF finish, each run depends on weather, surface, wind and preparation, making it a “new” event every December.    

This year’s race was just tough for me...the first 15.5 mile lap had no rhythm and much malaise; the second lap was an exercise in endurance.  It was not a good run.   No glory, no breakthroughs, no drama.  Perhaps, more empathy.   One comic situation; one running hack; but otherwise, just a long, hard run.

Gory Details:

Lap One

The HUFF 50K course is two trips around a 15.5 mile route winding over and through the scenic Chain O Lakes State Park in NE Indiana, near Fort Wayne.  I felt ready and positive going into the event, almost pumped since we’ve had so few races this year.   Yet, the early going was anything but smooth.  I couldn’t find a groove, felt tight and generally clunky.   It was a full six miles before I even felt warmed up; yet even then, it was work...not the enjoyable run in the woods I had hoped.. 

Around mile 11, I felt an unfortunately familiar twinge in my left ankle.   This has come and gone since mid October in training runs.  I was wearing an elastic ankle brace over my sock which had helped before but the twinge returned.   Feeling poorly, with an ankle twinge, I figured I’d drop out at the halfway point and live to fight another day.  

This triggered two imaginary conversations in the four miles from the twinge to the end of Lap One.  

The first was with my work colleague and experienced competitive runner Mike.  We’ve had many real discussions on race-day adjustments and I tapped into what I thought he’d say in this.   His core quote:  “Joe, it’s not a capital crime to just have a bad race.  But quitting if you are not injured is bogus.  Let’s make adjustments.”  This conversation got me out of myself, giving me a mechanism instead to look at myself from the outside in.   Many words followed in this chat with Mike, analyzing my condition from the soles of my feet to top of my head.  We agreed on three adjustments with a specific place to assess them: 

  • Remove my ankle brace to see if it was my ankle or the brace causing the problem

  • Swap my knit cap for a baseball cap to cool off a bit in the mid 30s temps

  • Grab two bananas

  • Then, run four miles to the first aid station, where, if it appeared I was risking injury, the course layout allowed a short walk back to my car. 

All very logical (Mike is a fellow engineer, mind you).   Yet emotionally, I still wanted to bail.   I can’t recall ever wanting to drop out of a race as much as I was at this running of HUFF.   The logical argument alone couldn’t compete with my discouragement.    

Thus, the second conversation, this just with myself.  

While I ran Lap One, I mentally scrolled through a too-long list of family and friends in a variety of tough settings.  Recent Christmas cards only added to this list of concerns.   Most were situations with little path forward other than just carrying on.  Tomorrow would look much like today.  Nothing was going to change rapidly; positive outcomes didn’t appear near or even likely.   They were just in hard places.   I ached for these people whom I knew well and cared about. 

And it hit me in a strange way:  symbolically, the rest of HUFF was, for me, no different.   It wasn’t going to be a glorious race with a new PR or an age group award.   No one would notice if I carried on or not.  I would be alone the entire second lap.   It was cloudy and the course was getting wet and muddy.   

So, if for no other reason than to identify with these people I love, I realized I needed to reload and get out and run the second lap.   

Lap Two:

A covid-induced course change allowed me to come within 30m of my car as I concluded the first lap.  I had laid out various supplies beforehand, so went to my car with a settled plan in mind and went to work.  I opened a banana and started eating while I pulled off my ankle brace, reset the laces on my left shoe, ditched the MP3 player and ear buds, swapped my knit cap for a lighter cap with a bill, drank a large amount of water with electrolyte and even shoveled down a homemade oatmeal-raisin cookie.   I grabbed a second banana to eat on the course, closed up the car and headed out with a new perspective.  

Back on the course, I was completely alone, listening only to my footfall and curious as to how this would go.  I slowed from a 4/1 run/walk to a 2/1.   Two miles in, I noticed my ankle felt a little seemed the abrasion of the brace was worse than any actual ankle discomfort.  By the time I hit the first aid station, I realized I was on for the rest of the loop.  

And that’s how it went the rest of the second lap.   I never did really feel all that great and never felt smooth.  One of the great joys of trail running is the sense of “gliding” through the woods, up and down the hills, splashing across creeks and mud holes.   None of that happened at HUFF this year.  What did happen though was 3+ hours to reflect on the particular concerns of these many people, offering prayers for each of them, making decisions on specific things I might do for each of them to help, a little.   Just one stride after another, keeping moving, however slowly.   In doing so, I sought to empathize in a small way with each of these dear ones who were also slogging through far more crucial experiences.   

With about a mile and a half to go, I was jolted out of my private thoughts when I saw my local running pal and work colleague Michelle about a hundred meters ahead of me.  I was stunned to see her. We drove separately to the race but we did meet up and talk in the starting grid. She’s had a strong fall of training and racing, is way faster than me and I fully expected she’d be half-way home by the time I crossed the finish line.   She was walking, fighting an undetermined leg tightness.  So, I walked with her quite a was nice to talk with a friend, though it hurt to see her hurt.   With about a half mile to go, she urged me to run to the finish but I told her I’d wait at the finish.   

Around the lake, up the hill and across the finish line it was.  Michelle shortly finished.  No trumpets or fireworks for either of us but we finished the race.   

Other Race Stories

The Comic Moment:

The silliest part of my HUFF experience this year was me thinking I could actually sleep in my car parked near the start.   Ha!!!!   While I certainly got a primo parking spot by showing up at 8pm the night before the race, I didn’t sleep.  Had my inflatable car bed remained inflated, it might have helped but neither the back of my SUV nor the driver’s seat, fully reclined, was an adequate bed.   I may have slept between 11pm and 3am but even that’s not sure.    Here I was, optimistic, before I tried to rest.  

The Running Hydration Hack;

Nerd moment here, but those who know me will not find it surprising.   I knew I’d need to stay hydrated during HUFF yet I really didn’t want to carry a hydration pack and I did want to use my preferred electrolyte drink.   Plus, aid stations were understandably “light” and thus I needed to be responsible for myself.      My hack took shape when I looked closely at the course map and realized it crossed the main road into the park twice, roughly dividing the course into thirds.   So, as I drove into the park the night before the race (excited to sleep in my car...oy...), I stopped at each of the crossings and found a hidden spot to stash a 20oz bottle of fluid.  Worked perfectly the next day, as I could reload my 10oz water bottle I carried twice on each lap and stay well hydrated.  And, on the way out after the race, I picked up both now-empty bottles, leaving nothing behind.   The things I get a charge out of....


HUFF History

I went back and listed all my times for HUFF...Clearly “Each year the course is the same; each year the race is entirely different; you have to always adjust.”   

2011  7:33:44    High Water year link

2012  6:36:49 link

2013  6:32:01 link

2014  6:19:28 link

2015  5:59:51    Course and 50K PR link

2016  7:23:12 link

2017  DNF...ran one lap only in near blizzard (and didn't write a report)

2018  6:46:46 link

2019  6:25:42   Best running conditions link

2020  7:09:29

Thanks for reading!!  


Sunday, July 19, 2020

Race Report: Eight Hour Endurance Race-2020

Summary:   26.2 miles, slowest marathon ever.   Weather: sunny, 95F, humidity 84%, brutal.  65th of 94 men.   

I managed to run the full marathon distance on Saturday in just plain brutal heat and humidity.   It baked and was muggy and awful.   Thus, the race was not about “racing” but rather “how long can you survive and keep moving.”    And so I got 26.2 miles done and also logged the slowest marathon of the now 93 marathons/ultras I’ve finished.    

Gory Details:

The event went from 10am to 6pm...the person covering the most miles wins.   I’ve run it the past four years and learned the key to success in the event is staying out on the course and moving, rather than sitting and recovering.   Knowing that and doing that are two different things, however, which was painfully obvious on Saturday.    

The course had two options from the same starting point...a long loop of 5K and a short loop of 1.89 miles.  Timing mats automatically counted which loop you ran and there are differing strategies based on shade, hills and temperament.   That’s if you want to win.    

A brutal, single track trail included on both loops ...super steep, in the woods with little air. 

For me, it was just about staying out on the course.    Here's a more typical portion:

And regularly, just couldn’t.   I had to stop and rest, get the HR down, reload fluids and ice.   My running buddy Jon and I went together and set up our base camp underneath a shade tree just past the start/finish line

Our set up

My ice chest.  The Mountain Dew 2L bottle was just a container for electrolyte drink, not The Dew.   Before you ask...

So I landed back in my chair after each of my laps...even though previous experience told me I needed to just keep moving...I just couldn’t.   It wasn’t smart.    So, the 8 hours progressed like a lap, sit and recover, go do it again.   I used a run/walk from the start...a 2/1 early and then a 1/1 for quite a while and then mostly walk for the final lap that got me to 26.2.  Not much to write about, in was just a grind and I managed to grind out a marathon distance.   

We did get some rewards...all who covered a full marathon got was was touted as a “Trucker’s Hat”.   When I got mine, I wasn’t quite sure what made this generic-looking head covering a “Trucker’s Hat” but, hey, that’s what they called it.    

The belt-buckle was nice though, big and with excellent detail.   If you look closely, our base camp was underneath the tree in the foreground of the buckle.   My problem now is I have way more belt buckles than I do belts.    

While I struggled mightily, others did not.   The overall race winner was a 19 year-old female who covered 47.3 miles.   She beat the men’s winner by a mile and a half.   And the second place man was a 50 year old guy who had his base camp right next to ours.   I saw him blow through regularly while I was recovering.    And Jon did well...he has been fighting injuries for about two years and managed 20 full miles, a massive step forward for him.   We had a good trip home.  

There you have it.   If I wasn’t so stubborn and didn’t like running so much, I would not have done such a crazy thing.   But I did.   And I was still sincerely smiling after it all with the Butler University Mascot:

Thanks for reading.   And stay cool as you persevere.


Sunday, June 14, 2020

Race Report: Royal Beast 12 Hour Endurance Run 2020

Quick Summary:   12 hours, 48.3 miles, 2/1, then 1/1 R/W

Coming out of the Covid-19 induced cancellation of so many races, it was fun to finally take part in an event again, even though the event was substantially reduced in footprint at the last minute.   This was my first-ever 12 hour endurance run, setting a new PR for the longest time I've ever ran.   It went well and I was pleased with the outcome.  Here’s how it went.

The far I went each hour and the important distance times:

Hour        Total Mileage      Segment Mileage
1                  5.2                            5.2
2                10.3                            5.1
3                 15.3                           5.0
4                20.1                            4.8
5                24.8                            4.7
6                29.2                            4.4
7                32.5                            3.3
8                34.7                            2.2
9                38.5                            3.9
10              41.9                            3.4
11              43.8                            1.9
12              48.3                            4.5

Half Marathon:    2:33:21
Marathon:            5:19:39              
50K:                     6:29:08

48 solo runners started the race.  I was the oldest runner in the field.   Amazingly,  I placed 7th of the 48, was 1st of 3 in the men 60-69 AG and the oldest person ahead of me was 46 years old, who placed 5th.   The race was won, outright, by a 33 year old female.

The numbers tell the story.  And, in 12 hours of running, 7am to 7pm, much goes through my mind.   I’ll spare you most of it.  The day came down to two adjustments, though

Gory Details:

The race took place at Southeastway Park, a hidden gem SE of Indy.   About 200 acres totally surrounded by flat, plain cornfields, this mature, well-planned and tended public park emerges....thousands of lush trees, open space, many picnic areas, three large, modern playgrounds, all tastefully tied together by a series of hard-surface, all-season walking paths.  It was scenic and the middle of nowhere.   Our race utilized a 1.93 mile loop along the perimeter of the park.  It was a great setting for a race.   I got there early and backed my car up to the path near the start/finish line.   This worked perfectly to grab food and fluids as the day progressed every couple of miles.

The first 50K went quite uneventfully and enjoyably.   From the start, I did a 2/1 run/walk pattern, carried 10oz of fluids which I drank and then reloaded every lap and just settled in.   No problem...just keep going and I hit the marks you see above. 

After getting through the 50K mark though, the wheels started to come off.  I started cramping below the knees, not only the usual calf muscle culprits but my left foot and the tiny muscles running along the shin.  Yikes.  I was not yet to 7 hours and I really wanted to keep going but was not going to in that condition.   I racked my brain for similar situations in the past and recalled the seemingly miraculous properties of chocolate milk, which I had in my car.  But I’d never drank milk DURING a race, only afterwards.   Would it work?   I had nothing to lose.   

So, just after the 7 hour mark (2pm), I took a break.   I got the cooler from my car and my food bag, found a nearby shelter with a picnic table in the shade with a pleasant breeze blowing through.  I sat down (wondering if I could get up again) and, in 15 minutes, drank 20 oz of chocolate mile, a 20oz bottle of Diet Coke (the cold and fizz tasted really good), ate a full PB&J sandwich I had packed, changed into dry socks and donned compression sleeves over my calves.   I could feel my heart rate come down, my core temp lower and a renewed sense of normal.   I packed up and got back on the run, wondering what would happen.    Amazingly, I was back to near normal.   I logged only 2.2 miles that segment, as I had sat 15 minutes.   But I bounced back and was moving, cramp free, feeling new again.  I shifted back to a 1/1 run/walk at this point and continued in that way to the end.   

(Note:  I named my compression socks "Alan Greenspan" years ago...but that's a story for another day.  "Alan" was good to me yesterday, though)

The second adjustment happened 3 hours later, just after the 10 hour mark (5pm).  While I was still moving comfortably, a real sense of fatigue hit.  No cramping or pain but the energy was gone.   I decided I needed to rest a bit more, as the core temp was creeping up.   Once more, I grabbed what I had planned as my post-race cooler and downed a second round of chocolate milk and Diet Coke, this time with half a PB&J and a whole bunch of salty tortilla chips.  Again, the time seated in the shade, refueling and reorienting really helped.   I took almost 25 minutes this time, as it had become evident it was more important to finish strong than chase down a fading hope of covering 50 miles.   

It seemed to work...while I only covered 1.9 miles in that segment since I sat so long, my final hour on the course was worth 4.5 miles, even at the 1/1 run/walk.  

As the time wound down, I crossed the start/stop line with 11 minutes to go, not early enough time to do another full 2 mile lap.   But I didn’t want to stop, keen to see just how far I could go in 12 full hours.   So I pushed with what energy I had left, using my own watch and Garmin.   I smiled and truly enjoyed those final minutes and felt terrific.    48.3 miles...done and happy. 

People ask me "Why run?" and running for 12 hours is even more curious.  For me, it's about figuring out how to keep doing this thing I enjoy.   And this race captured the criticality of thinking, executing, adjusting and tweaking a plan, on the fly.   The two adjustments at 2pm and 5pm made the day both successful and fascinating to me.   Yeah, it's not everyone's cup of tea but I sure enjoyed it.

A good race.   And a fun feature was having my wife and my three best running pals in a text group all day...I posted to them and they connected in such a fun way all day.   Virtual fans...they helped urge me on!

Some inconsequential learnings from the day...which I post mostly for my own benefit...skip these unless you are fighting insomnia:
  • Food supply.  I packed quite a bit of food to take but realized that all carbs aren't created equal.  The bananas were perfect, as they usually are.   Easy to eat on the run, digest well and no waste.  I had one gel which was unsatisfactory.  I had some sweeter items...I ate a few Oreos but they didn't sit so well.   Tortilla chips were a plus.   Not only did I eat a bunch at 5pm but grabbed 5 or 6 on many laps.  Licking the salt off my fingers when I was done with them didn't hurt either.  Fluidized carbs via both Gatorade and Liquid I.V worked very well. 
  • A long sleeve tech shirt as sunscreen.   I really don't like the feel of sunscreen lathered all over me.  Yet, being in the sun all day isn't smart.   So, in anticipation of this event, I ordered a couple of lightweight, long-sleeve tech shirts with UPF50 ratings.   But, wait, you wear long sleeves in hot weather?  I tested them the last couple weeks on afternoon runs in 90F temps (remember...nothing new on race day...).   Surprisingly, they worked great.   They were big and "billowy", I wore it untucked and thus got a lot of airflow under and over the shirt.   Surprisingly comfortable and zero sunburn.  
  • Drinking big gulps vs sippy cups.   In trying to stay hydrated, I observed it was hard to get a big quantity of fluids as I drank from my handheld water bottle while I ran.   I tried too modifications
    • From my 10oz handheld, I would unscrew the cap and just gulp fluids, rather than taking the small stream through the lid.   
    • When I refilled at each lap, I often drank from the handheld, refilled, drank again and then filled again to take off.   
    • In short, I found just taking these big gulps really helped get more fluids down. 
  • Recharging batteries at a long event.   Total nerdness here, but I managed to figure how how to keep my phone, Garmin and bluetooth speakers charged all day.   Too much to go into but having a reliable portable charger made all the difference.   

So there you go...a full, long Saturday.   I was happy to be out racing again, even if the event was officially unofficial.   A good 40-50 folks showed up anyway.

Persevere.   And make adjustments to keep persevering.


Sunday, February 02, 2020

Race Report: Groundhog Day Marathon, 2020

Groundhog Day Marathon, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Saturday, February 1, 2020

4:50:33, 11:06/mile aggregate pace
60th of 96 overall
1st of 3 in Men 65-69 AG
Marathon/ultra finish #91

This was a fun race, set up on the theme of the movie Groundhog Day, where the same thing keeps happening over and over.  Thus, the route was six identical laps in a big city park, each 1/6th of a marathon distance, about 4.4 miles.   Weather was actually pretty good for early February in central Michigan...34F, heavy grey clouds, not much wind, and light snowfall for the final 3 hours of the race.

I ran it for two reasons; get in some winter miles and assess my fitness for the spring running season.   In that sense, the race was a total success.

Race started on a narrow bridge, which was fun and kind of unusual.

I'd guess about 400 runners total, with 3/4 running the half marathon option.

We went off right on time at 8:00am.   The running path was excellent, wide-enough asphalt which had been swept clean of earlier snowfalls.  It looked pretty much like this all the way around.

The organizers had two aid stations set up and the volunteers did a terrific job.   I fell fully in love with peanut butter filled pretzel balls...salty and tasty...every couple of miles...nice to grab.   I also continue to like my option of wearing the hydration pack rather than a waist water belt.   That all worked great and way more comfortable.

The race pretty much was just running and I just enjoy running.   The tale of the race is captured in my individual lap times, which are helpful in this case as they are all exactly 1/6 of the total distance.   Here is my time and pace for each of the six laps

  1.  41:09, 9:25/mile
  2. 45:46, 10:22/mile
  3. 46:24, 10:37/mile HM split:  2:13:19
  4. 50:39, 11:35/mile
  5. 53:52, 12:20/mile
  6. 53:13, 12:11/mile
I ran the first lap steadily and it felt fine but became quite clear to me by the time I finished the 4.4 mile loop that such a pace was never going to hold up all day.   I backed off to a 4/1 run/walk early in Lap 2 and carried that on through mile 18, which was toward the end of lap 4.  At that point, I realized the fitness was gone yet I'd have no trouble finishing if I just dialed it back and kept moving.   So, I then shifted down again, this time to a 3/1 run/walk (i.e. run 3 minutes, walk 1 minute) and that held up over the final two laps, as the times show.   18 good miles, 8 lousy miles...given the total number of miles I've run in the past three months, that's a fair assessment of where I am at the moment.

I felt good as I wrapped up the final lap back onto the bridge and, boom, done, marathon/ultra #91 in the books.

I walked back over to the nearby heated HQ tent to get my medal and official finish time.   To my utter surprise, the man looked at his laptop, told me my (lousy) time and then informed me I had won my AG.  I was incredulous...I really thought it was a cruel joke, having run so poorly.   He assured me he didn't joke about such things and sent me over to the awards table.   He made eye contact with the Prize Lady and she started digging stuff out for me.   A coffee mug, a stocking cap, a couple of race-labeled neck buffs and, most significantly, a new pair of bluetooth sport speakers.   They are designed to let you listen to music (or, in my case, top level soccer from England or podcasts of interest) while you are running while not blocking your ears.   Safer, right? Nice prize, I'll see how it works.

Two other nice parts of this race (many races, actually) are conversations along the way.   On my lap 6, I caught up with a long-time running buddy, who had a tough day with a calf injury.  We walked together for about six minutes and it was a great catch up with Mark,  as we discussed retirement, running, Lean Manufacturing and how to fix the impeachment mess.   Not bad for a short walk during a marathon.  You're welcome.   Then, after the race, I happened to have a wonderful conversation with a young couple who had both finished Western States 100 mile run in the past few years (this is why you read other people's t shirts).  That was a treat...and they seemed to appreciate meeting someone who knew what "Rucky Chucky" was.   And they paid me quite a compliment: "You're not walking like you just finished a marathon."  I'll take that as a win.

So, the assessment from this race helps me know how to plan running for the rest of the spring.

Thanks for listening!!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Race Report: ONU Indoor Half Marathon 2020

ORN:   13.1 miles, 2:22:28, R/W 6/1

I finished the Ohio Northern University Indoor Half Marathon on January 26 in 2:22:29.   105.5 laps on a 200m track.  Some are put off by multi lap indoor events but I actually enjoyed it.   I think this is my 9th such event. Took about 30 minutes or so to find a rhythm, but that came and settled into consistent lap times.    With my current level of fitness and where I am in the training cycle, I was totally fine with the time.

After 105 laps, I ran the final lap as hard as I could and was happy to hit the finish line:

The men's winner set a record at 1:24.   First female finished the HM in 2:01.   The full marathon men's winner went 3:29.  In a loop marathon, you really see just how fast the leaders are as they zing by you time and time again.

The event was a fund-raiser for this small D3 school's XC and Track programs and evidently has been quite successful to raise funds for needed equipment.   The deal for the team is they have to show up and manually count laps for each runner...a one-to-one connection between counter and runner.   Each counter also had to make a poster for his/her runner and they had a contest on who had the best poster.   I met my counter, Kameron, before the race.   She was delightful.   Here we are after the race, with the poster she made which I got to take home.   Like anyone else would want it, right???

It also afforded a road trip with my local running buddy, Jon.   The conversation there and back again was wonderful.   Really appreciate this guy...good friends matter. 

In addition to the HM, I did more running before and after the race just because I need the miles.   Got a total of 16.2 miles done on the day and that felt good.   And I just plain never get tired of Race Day, in whatever form it comes.

Persevere.   Even when you go in circles.