Friday, May 29, 2015

That long run

As a beginning runner six short years ago, I was very intimidated by the thought of the “long run”. Anything over 3 miles was “long” to me. And it turns out that I was not alone. The punch line here is that my intimidation was only because I knew nothing about endurance training and had absolutely no appreciation for what the human body can accomplish when properly trained and conditioned.

But without a doubt, the mere thought of doing a 10 mile run was daunting to me, never mind doing a 20 miler in prep for a marathon. I might as well have been contemplating a trip to Jupiter. It wasn’t going to happen. How is it that anybody could run that far?  Ultra-marathoners were some kind of super-freakazoids to me. How could I ever possibly run 10, 20 or 26.2 miles, particularly given my very late start to my running career? I was convinced that you had to have been born with a special gene that enabled you to run far and survive it. I was in awe of marathon runners.

It all kind of came together for me after running my second Half Marathon. I finally realized that it was all about the training. I also noticed the numbers of runners that participated in these HM’s – and they came in all different shapes, sizes, and abilities. They weren’t all “super-athletes” – they were normal guys and girls living ordinary lives. Some were older than me (a helpful omen), most were younger, some were heavier than me, and so on… and for the most part, they all were able to go the distance, albeit some faster than others. It seemed possible for mere sub-mortals like me to run distance.

However, having said all that, I was only slightly prepared to accept the necessary training plan for my first marathon. As I reviewed my plan and realized the reality of how many miles I was going to have to run to build up my endurance, my reaction was: “I’m going to do what??!!”  No way. It’s not possible.

As it turns out, it’s not really so bad. Those long runs turn out to be (almost) a piece of cake, and I actually look forward to them.  Three reasons:

First of all, I didn’t have to jump from running 3 miles to doing 12 or 18 miles -  
The training plan edged me up mile by mile – there was no surprise and I had slowly built up the endurance to do so. So when the day came for me to do longer and longer runs, I actually had the ability to do it. Three miles became 6, became 9, became 14, and so on. This of course, was the point of the training plan. Improve endurance, get stronger, build stamina, run further ….  Amazing how that works, eh?

Secondly, I found that the miles just click by.  I get myself into a groove and just chug. It literally involves getting myself into a mental state of accepting the fact that I am going to run “x” miles today – that’s my mission, that’s my goal, and I’m going to accomplish that goal. Period. Having arrived at that “mental state”, I just go, and yes, the miles just click by… And I like it!

Thirdly, that feeling that I get after completing that long run is awesome –
Really - it is a feeling of tremendous satisfaction. I may not have the opportunity to tell anyone that I just ran some silly distance, but inwardly and to myself I’m wearing a sly self-satisfying grin. And there is no better feeling. This is something that only another runner would understand.

I do, however, have a few requirements for my long runs:
a)      The route needs to be interesting or at least attractive (no highways or traffic),
b)      If I’m running solo (which I usually do when going long) I need to have good music or a good podcast,
c)       It’s important that I anticipate my fuel and hydration needs and prepare for handing them accordingly. Most of the time I carry everything I need, which can be a pain, but it’s also amazing how good it feels to be self-sufficient.

I’ve done most of my long runs as early in the morning as I can get myself up for, as close to first light and sunrise as possible. In fact the best time is before dawn, when there is barely a hint of the sun coming up. I do this mostly just because I like the freshness of dawn and the fact that there are so few people out and about at that time of day. It’s calm and quiet, and the day is new. But I do it early also so that I have time to recover afterwards and still be able to do things later in the day with my family.

The first half mile is always the hardest for me, probably because I’m not 20 years old anymore and so it takes a little while for me to get loosened up. And then once I get past the first mile I get myself into a zone and I am able to just chug, and the next thing I know I’m at mile 10 or something. 

For my long runs my preference is to pick a circular route. Ideally, I have never run that route before which makes it a bit of an adventure. Alternatively, and actually more realistic, are out-and-back routes… in other words run a bunch of miles out, turn around and run back. The tough and good part about out-and-backs is that once I get to the turn-around spot, the only way to get home is to run all the way back to my truck… so there is a pretty good incentive to get it done. Then finally, there is the multiple loop routine, which fortunately I’ve only done a few times. While prepping for the 2013 Marine Corp Marathon I did a 6 mile loop 3 times so that I could get 18 miles in, and it really fell into the category of “work” – it was no fun and I got no pleasure out of doing it.

I do find that I negotiate with myself about the distance, like for example I’ll tell myself that in 3 miles I can suck down a GU or a banana, or in another mile I can turn around and head back, or I’ve only got 5 more miles to go, so if I run faster I’ll be done sooner, and so on! I never think about the time, i.e. how long I’ve been running, only the distance. The amount of time that I’ve spent on my feet doesn’t register with me until later, which helps me explain away why my feet might hurt. I do remember situations where I’ll promise myself a extra long Epson-salt foot soak, or (ever since my wife introduced me to it) promise to take myself to get a pedicure. [Side note here: my first time was after a particularly hard 19 mile run my wife encouraged me to go with her for a pedicure and I absolutely loved it – it was the best thing that I could have done for myself and I highly recommend it!]

The only caveat I have with long runs, particularly in prep for a marathon, is that I’m convinced that running for longer than 3 hours, or at the max 3:30 hours, is not beneficial.  I’ve done several 4hour runs because I was sure that I needed to be “able” to do it, but the truth is that those runs just beat the crap out of me. Recovery was tough, and I’m not sure that I actually helped myself or improved by conditioning.

The punch line here is that you shouldn’t be intimidated by that long run. It’s an adventure that you’ve been preparing for and now you are going to prove to yourself that you are good for it. The feeling afterwards is very satisfying and confidence building. When someone asks what you did this weekend you can say that, yeah you mowed the lawn, went to a party/dinner, and oh yeah by the way, also ran 15 miles…

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Plan A, no Plan B, ok.... Plan C

All runners go through this at some point:  Get up and out for a modest run before the day gets started and the sun gets things too hot.  That’s the plan -  no waivering.  Except that energy levels are really low, and I mean really low. It’s been a tough week, lots of miles, the house kind of has a lazy feel about it, and the resolve to get out for a run is crumbling. 

So Plan B begins to form in your mind… How about taking a “rest day”? After all, you deserve it, and your body will no doubt appreciate it. It’s a nice warm day, perfect for floating in the pool with a cool drink and a book.  Plan B sounds really good! Oh, and a sandwich. Something tasty and juicy. Key on tasty. Ohhhh yeahhhhh.

But then you remember your resolve to run… The sandwich sounds good, but then the guilt thing comes in, like maybe you should “earn” it first… So after pondering all of this for a while (and the sun continuing to rise along with the temperature) you finally decide on Plan C:  do a run, a couple of miles at least, and then follow it up with a guilt-free sandwich while floating in the pool with a book. But for the love of all that is good, get out there!  (remember it’s all about “showing up”….)_

That was me yesterday – I really struggled to get out for my run. All of my household members were being lazy and proud of it and I was getting sucked into their very comfortable aura. The day was beautiful: a clear, hot, Florida day. The allure of floating in my pool with a book and cool drink was intoxicating.

But what got me over the edge was two things:  I was hungry and I didn’t want to eat anything without having burned some c’s first (I don’t always feel this way, but I did yesterday) and secondly and most importantly, my insistence on “showing up!”.

As it was, I chugged out 6 miles in brutal heat. I started on the asphalt road but the heat from the road was getting to me, so I drifted to the cement sidewalk where there was some shade, and then tried to run whenever possible in the grass because it was so much cooler than the sidewalk. Unfortunately, the grass here is so thick that it is hard to run in – it’s like running through a sponge; I have to literally lift my knees up so that my foot can clear the sod – it really screws up my gait!

Nonetheless I did it, plopped into my pool afterwards, and thoroughly enjoyed a sandwich and cool drinks. Ahhh… oh yeah, now we’re talking!  I showed up, I did my best, and I felt great for having made the effort.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Show up...


1) Show Up - get out there
2) Be Honest with Yourself - Be honest about your current fitness
3) Pay Attention - Be aware of your body
4) Do Your Best - Anything less makes the run a waste of time
5) Don't be too Attached to the Outcome - It's always different later

I found these 5 points somewhere some time ago and I think they are worthy of posting. Items 1, 2, 3, & 5  were authored by Angeles Arrien (a cultural anthropologist), and I suspect that item 4 is an extrapolation that fits really well with the others.  I think that item 2 was originally "Tell the Truth" by Arrien, but while an excellent axiom to live by, for a runners list of goals I like the being honest phrasing.

This is how I see these items fitting in to running:

1) Show up - Get your shoes on, and get out there. Your fitness and health will not happen unless you make the effort to get out there. We do not get stronger or better by sitting back.  It may be a drag to get out the door - that first half mile may be hard, but after that you know that you will be glad that you made the effort. More importantly, not showing up is worse than defeat. What's that line from the movie The Shawshank Redemption: "Get busy living or get busy dying" ?  Very apropos. If you don't show up, you deserve what you get (or not).

2) Be Honest with Yourself - Don't kid yourself about your capabilities. And this actually cuts both ways: being overly optimistic about what we "want" to be able to do as well as being too humble and modest about what we "can" do. But this can be hard because we all aspire to be more than we are - be able to run faster,further, better... Genetics, fitness level, and more, create the reality is that is each of us. It's important to have goals and stretch goals, but they have to based on reality, a starting point. Recognize your reality and do everything you can to improve that.

3) Pay Attention - Don't ignore the little injuries, and the corollary to that, take advantage of when everything is right! Pay attention to things that hurt so that they don't turn into debilitating injuries that will keep you out of your running shoes. If something doesn't feel right, figure it out and fix it. And having said that, when your body feels like it is perfect, take advantage of it.

4) Do Your Best - It's a mind set, and it should actually apply to everything that we do. Running is weird in that we tend to have different goals for each of our runs. The point is, whatever the goal is for that days run, focus on doing your best to accomplish that goal. Sometimes it's pace, or form, or breathing, or gait, or distance, and so on... If you are not going to make a serious effort at it, then don't bother doing it. Anything less makes the run a waste of time.

5) Don't be too Attached to the Outcome - Having a great or bad run or race is just one event in a lifetime of events. Savor or admonish yourself for the moment, and then move on to the next one. Having a great run or a great race feels awesome, and yes it does wonders to increase confidence, but it's just a small part of the bigger picture. Think "what's next" and what can you do to get better. Just because you had a great race does not mean that all races will be great. Likewise with a bad run or race - it sucks and can be draining if you let it, but that is all the more reason to move ahead. Again, think "what's next".

But it all starts with SHOW UP !!

Show Up
Be Honest with Yourself
Pay Attention
Do Your Best
Don't be too Attached to the Outcome

Monday, March 23, 2015

It's really about the Newton's

During a St Paddy’s Day 5K event one of the 5 lugs on the bottom of one of my Newton Motion III’s ripped off.  Somewhere around mile 1 I could hear this “flapping” sound, but of course since this was a race I wasn’t about to stop and investigate.  After all, I was neither in pain nor bleeding profusely, so I kept on running. I ran the rest of the race with that “flap” sound at every step until I crossed the finish line, and then realized that one of the lugs on the bottom of the shoe was hanging by a thread (the “flap” sound with every step was the sound of the lug slapping the pavement), and then within a few steps while getting some water, ripped off completely. Ok, no biggie I thought, I still had 4 lugs left…  I took a picture of it and called it good.

I love these Newton’s… really. I’ve flirted with other brands, but I always come back to Newton’s. I’m on my third pair, if that is saying anything… In a crazy way, they help me run faster, they encourage me to run stronger, and I believe, they help me run more efficiently.  I just wish that they weren’t so damn expensive… I’d try other styles of Newton’s if I could afford them…

When I get lazy during a run and my form starts to droop, somehow the feel of the Newton’s prods me to pay attention. Other shoes don’t do that for me. I’m not exactly sure how it happens, but there is a subtle feel in my midfoot whenever I start to lose my form, coupled with another odd feeling in my core-area.  And as soon as I fix it, I start running more efficiently.  Best of all, when I get into the groove I can easily out-run my intended distance for that day – which has good and bad ramifications...

But I do find that in order for me to run in the Newton’s “properly”, i.e. get the efficiency of form out them, I have had to build relatively solid core strength as well as well-conditioned hams and quads. I’m not talking about going crazy with core exercises, squats, and so on –I’ve just been doing general routines – and I can both see and feel the difference. But it turns out that this is pretty important, because the stronger my core and legs feel, the better my form, pace, and endurance are.  And better yet, the more confidence I have. And I think that running with Newton’s has had a lot to do with it.

I’ve had situations where during a run, perhaps within a mile or so from being done, I’d run into an acquaintance running the other way, and on a whim I’d spin around and join them (of course, I always ask if they want some company or a pacer… after all, sometimes we run because we want the alone-time…). My point here is that I couldn’t do it if I didn’t have the confidence that I had the endurance to extend my run. And I think that the Newton’s have done a lot to give that to me.

Oh, and by the way, I placed second in my age group on that 5K, flapping lug and all…!  I missed first by 27 seconds !  If I had paid a little more attention, maybe I could have claimed 1st Place !  But I should also note that this was a very casual event – yes it was timed event, but it was a gun start (no starting line mat) and the start itself was somewhat very half hazard.  For all I know, the guy that beat me had lined up way in front, whereas I was way in the back with my wife and son and had to bob and weave my way up..  Once clear of most of the starting area pack, I ran pretty hard, despite the fact that it was very hot (yes, this was a Florida event!).

I narrowly missed destroying my ankle while cutting a corner though: the course ran along an asphalt trail and just before the finish had a 90 degree turn onto a sidewalk. I was in the process of passing another runner at that moment (bad timing on my part – lack of patience) and he suddenly bobbed out towards me causing me to miss the sidewalk and land on a rocky edge. It’s amazing what goes through your mind in a situation like that. I remember simultaneously thinking that this had disaster written all over it for me, while at the same time calculating where could I place my left foot to take the weight as soon as possible. As it turns out I was able to get my left foot firmly on the sidewalk right about the time I felt my right ankle complain. Fortunately nothing bad happened (I have a history of ankle injuries) and I was able to finish strong. But that little tiny event, a duration of perhaps 3 seconds,  reminds that I ought not take this stuff too seriously – this is supposed to be fun and I want to be able to run for years to come. I could so easily of destroyed my ankle in my desire to pass somebody at the worst possible time and that would have sucked big ones!

But the best news of all is that I'm getting new Newton's !!! Yea!!!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Adversity as a challenge

"Adversity introduces a man to himself". This is a quote from Marcus Lattimore, a running back with the San Francisco 49ers who recently retired from the NFL due to knee problems, without ever playing in a single game. His is an interesting story, but I'll let you look it up on your own. The adversity that he is referring to I think was specific to his physical and athletic challenges and own personal athletic aspirations vs an interpersonal type of conflict.  Taking that assumption, his statement is in line with some physically issues of my own that, quite frankly, have been driving me nuts.

A few months ago I strained my Achilles, I worked my way through it and was able to have a good go at the Reach the Beach Ragnar Relay in September Reach the Beach Ragnar Relay  ( My ankle and Achilles were not perfect, and it hurt, but I figured out how to do the hills and run a respectable pace without destroying myself in the process. I love to run, I love the feeling of running, and even though I'll never win a race, I love to compete. But I won't do it at the expense of permanently damaging myself. And that is where the adversity comes into play.

I understand what Marcus Lattimore means by what he said. Granted, this guy is a star athlete. He's got the goods. I'm just an old, amateur wanna-be runner... But I get it. When something fails to work out as I planned, I get annoyed and I challenge myself to find a way to fix it. I've stopped being disappointed by injuries and feeling sorry for myself, and instead focus on solving the problem and setting a new objective. I'm not settling with the situation or even close to giving in, but rather I make myself accept the facts and look for solutions or other ways to satisfy my craving to achieve a specific goal.

Case in point: I had signed up to run a Half Marathon for this past weekend - but it didn't happen for me. For the last three weeks I've been fighting my Achilles strain and then I managed to roll my ankle, totally compounding my problem. I actually thought that I was going to be ok (after rolling my ankle), but couple of days later it reared its ugly head. I eased my way through my runs, feeling mildly optimistic that things would work out. But no cigar....

On a beautiful early Sunday morning, two weeks prior to my HM event, I started a run and didn't get 200 ft. The pain was a hard signal that I ought not be running. I could walk ok, but running was out of the question. And yeah... I got mad, was disappointed, and felt sorry for myself... I let those feeling last for the entire 200 foot walk back to my house. Time for a new plan and solutions. This half marathon wasn't going to happen for me (although I will admit that up until the night before the event I carried the thought that if my ankle felt better that I would still try to run it... But better sense prevailed..).

What I read from Marcus Lattimore's quote is that when things go sideways you discover if, and how, you are able to handle them. You are truly introduced to yourself. How will you handle this situation. The question then becomes: are we able to, or even willing to, look beyond the problem, the adversary situation. Are we willing to look in, and out of, the box for the solutions... Sometimes it's all about getting our head in the right frame of mind. I think that it's ok to feel the emotions of the moment (the disappointment, anger, etc), but the key is to get over it quickly and move on.

Of course, this particular situation just happened to suck just a little bit more.... I couldn't help but look at the race results yesterday: It turns out that there were only 13 runners in my age group that ran the HM, and given the pace that I've been training at, I had a pretty solid shot of placing in the top 3, if not first in my age group! This kind of set up, an event where there weren't really any seriously faster runners than me in my age group signed up, is a rarity, and it sucks that I could not take advantage of it. <Sigh....> But that's cool - I'm still all in. It just means that I need to put a little more effort into the next one!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

How much should I run?

Seriously, how many miles should I run?  How much should any runner put in?

I put this question up with a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek - because the answer invariably is: "it depends".  It depends on where I am in my running experience, level of fitness, and specific goals and targets.  It is easier to answer the question if I have an upcoming race event, and therefore I am structuring my  running mileage accordingly in order to be adequately trained and ready for the event.

But I'm pondering the question outside of training for an event: given my age and overall health (which fortunately is pretty good) how many miles per week will provide me with the optimal return in maintaining a healthy body and mind...?   And the corollary: at what point am I causing damage to my body (by running too many miles)...?

If I put this question up to Google, I get over a billion results... so this seems to be important to a lot of people.

I run about 30 miles per week, sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less... I'm prepping for a Half Marathon, so every week I'm doing a 10, 12, or 14 mile long run - no big deal, right?  But I keep asking myself: for conditioning purposes, should I be running more weekly miles, like maybe closer to 40 per week? Or should I be doing fewer miles to reduce the risk of damage or injury?

On the one hand I am concerned about whatever conditioning I might be missing by not running more miles, but on the other I worry about what part of my body I might be damaging or wearing down. We've all heard the saying "what hurts you makes you stronger...", which I've bought into most of my life, but now I'm beginning to wonder if I'm always going to be able to recover from that which hurts me... You can see the conundrum...

Well, it turns out that even science (my usual go-to source) can't help me here, simply because I don't have access to the specific data regarding the status of the wear and tear of my joints, muscles, ligaments, cardio, or vascular systems, etc.  I have to literally rely on "how I feel".  I have to try things and if I feel that there is improvement, continue doing it, and if something hurts, I am supposed to back off. Hardly scientific, but it's the best I've got (short of instrumenting myself somehow and having a budget of many dollars to pay for it).

So as runners, we push ourselves through pain and discomfort in order to build endurance and performance levels. And by doing so, we believe that we are able to do more. If at some point the pain is so uncomfortable that it is not tolerable, we say 'ok -that's as far as I can go', but we do so at the risk of actually damaging a critical part of our body.

Let's not kid ourselves: as we run we are wearing down cartilage and all the other pieces that help us move. And we have no idea how much of that is happening or at what point it will cripple us. For some people it happens faster than others.

So what do we do? What should I do?

I'm going to run until I feel that I've run too far or too much. I'm going to be confident that I will recognize the signals that I should tone down my mileage or workouts. Obviously this is highly subjective and I may be influenced by what other runners my age or older are accomplishing (or not accomplishing) or by my own competitive nature. But the other reality is that we, as a species, never got better by not trying... so therefore I want to push the envelope until I sense a tear in the seam... (does that make sense?).

Now - what about the other part of that question: how do I know if I'm not running enough?

That turns out to be a multi-faceted question since it has at least two parts: 1) how much running is necessary to achieve a desired level of endurance or performance, and 2) how much running is appropriate for a better than average cardio-vascular health?

The answer to the first part is actually very straightforward because it is actually just asking how competitive do I want to be?. If I am really competitive, I have to put in a lot of miles... no bones about it, and guess what?, this falls back into the question of how many miles can my body take...  ahhhh, the catch-22, the self-eating watermelon...

The second part is easier: Thirty minutes of aerobic activity 3 times per week is what is lauded as the "minimum recommended" for general cardio-vascular health, or 90 minutes per week. I have no idea what exactly is that based on, which makes that a somewhat less than a satisfactory answer, but let's take it at face value for now.  [I think that it is based simply on the fact that any activity is better than no activity, which is kind of a lame answer.]

So for a "better than average cardio-vascular health" goal, my personal goal would be running a minimum of 200 minutes per week, split up across the week, with an actual target of ~250 minutes, and a stretch goal of 300 minutes. Head's up: this is a purely arbitrary conclusion on my part based on my personal condition. But it seems in keeping with general fitness thought. Personally, I know that if I run at least 200 minutes per week I can drink beer and eat ice cream...  :-)

And just for grin's I thought I'd also toss in this notion that our heart has a lifespan of a defined number of beats (say what? says who? and how do they know?) and so by engaging in an aerobic activity such as running, and thereby increasing our heart rate, that we are more rapidly using up our allowance of heart beats.  And that is so wrong.... As it happens, if you regularly exercise aerobically, your heart conditions itself to the point where your resting heart rate is sufficiently lower than if you did not regularly exercise. There are numerous studies on this - do an internet search - that quantify this in detail. The interesting fact is that by regularly exercising aerobically and conditioning your heart to beat at a lower rate (resting) you actually wind up using substantially fewer heart beats than if you did not exercise.

More as it happens...
Honeymoon HM in 3 weeks.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Reach the Beach Ragnar Relay 2014

Confirmation that runners are truly insane is volunteering to participate in a 207 mile relay race. I was invited to join a team running in this year’s Reach the Beach run in New Hampshire that goes from Cannon Mountain at 2000 odd feet down to Hampton Beach and, oh yeah, it was an experience.

If you don't know what one of these relay events are like, this is how it works:

The first thing you do is get a team of 12 runners together and split them up into two groups of 6 runners, each group has a van. Preferably, each group of 6 can get along pretty well with each other - and this is important, because each group is going to spend the better part of the next 24 to 40 hours in very close proximity to each other. Seriously close.

The next thing is you divvy up running rotations. There are 36 segments, so each runner will ideally run 3 legs. The distance of each leg is determined by the relay event organizers, officially defining a "transfer point", with legs varying between 3 to 9 miles more or less. So, "runner #1" starts the first leg - everybody piles into the van and you drive down to the next transfer point, and he/she passes the baton to "runner #2", and so on. After you cycle through your 12 runners, runner #1 gets another go, and the cycle continues until you "reach the beach" ie the finish line. No hotels, no stopping. You are always hopscotching the current runner. 

Here is the elevation map... wicked for those of us (me) who have spent the last 12 months running on flat terrain:

Each team has to have a name – ours was “Close the Gap”. There is a significance to it, but I don’t remember what it was about... Other teams had crazy names like: “Girls gone Miled”, “Fuster Clucks”, “Beach Balls and Bikinis”, and so on… One of my favorites was “Out of Breathalyzers”.

The teams are divided into 2 vans. Vans 1 and it's 6 runners go through the first 6 segments and then meet up with Van 2, where upon Van 2 takes over for 6 segments and the folks in Van 1 get a little break until they take over at the end of the 12th segment. And then Van 2 gets a little break, and so on.... You sort of getting the drift?

It all sounds very straight forward, and it is, except that we are talking about more than 500 teams, each of which has 12 runners.  Some teams are "elite" teams with only 6 runners, or in our case 11, due to a last minute drop by a team member. Believe it or not, it took us 2 hours to figure out how to fill in the segments that the dropped runner would have run.

The transfer points are chaotic and crazy with vans pulling in and out, runners finishing their segment and handing off their baton (or in some case arriving and not having someone to hand off to because: a) the Van is late b) the van got lost c) the new runner is not ready d) the new runner is in a porta-pot, or maybe e) the runner is so incredibly fast that he/she is beating expected times....). Remember that are over 500 teams and there are two vans per team!  That’s a lot of traffic. This picture is from one of the very "calm" transfer points.

Did I mention that this was a non-stop event? I didn't sleep a wink for 40 hours. It's been a long time since I've done that...

Ok, so let's run through this: I was runner #8 and in Van 2 (the "cool" Van - btw; apparently there is a bit of competition for coolness between the vans...).  At the transfer point runner #7 hands off to me and I take off for a ~6.7 mile jaunt. No biggie; the course goes from the mountains to the beach so it's all an easy downhill, right?  No way dude - we're in New Hampshire - and it is freaking hilly! And the down hills are brutal!  But I gut it out and run hard. But oops, there is going to be a problem...

There are so many vans associated with the event that we have created our own traffic jam in one of the little New Hampshire towns. And I mean serious traffic jam – these are two lane roads and we have overwhelmed the traffic capability. A couple of miles out from the town (and my transfer point) I can see that vans and local cars are all backed up and I start thinking about what do I do if my van didn't make it to the transfer point with the next runner. Do I keep running? Do I just kind of hang around? What is the protocol? So as I'm pondering my options I happen to pass a van that has an arm hanging out the window with a water bottle and I'm think "damn I could use some water", and I realize that it's my van, they see me coming and were thoughtful enough to realize that I might need some water, but even better, had already busted out our next runner who was trekking on foot to the transfer point! Awesome! I happened to catch up with her about a half mile from the transfer point and we jogged in together for the official hand off. Hooraa, one down for me.

But now it's back into the van (after walking back through the traffic to find it), squeeze into the designated "stinky" seat (no time for post run stretching) and we rush to get to the next transfer point before our new runner gets there. Now I can give myself a wet-nap bath, get out of my sweaty running duds (safely locking them into a zip lock bag to reduce some of the stinkiness), and do a little stretching.

My first run had started at about 5PM, and this pic is one of our runners coming in from the dark at around 8PM. My next run, leg #20, isn't until around 3AM. Yeah, you read it correctly. 3AM. But I can't stretch out in the van and take a nap - there just isn't room. It’s just a minivan.. We've got bags, snacks, fluids, clothes, towels, maps, garbage, etc. it's a packed van. Plus there are things to do - like, someone has to drive, someone else needs to navigate, someone needs to keep a eye on a stopwatch so that we can keep track of the runner we just started, the runner that just finished their segment needs to get themselves cleaned up a bit, and so on... Hopefully, we get the to next transfer point in enough time to let the upcoming runner change into new (and dry and better smelling) running duds and ideally warm up for their run. Oh, and we need to keep the other van updated on our progress so that they can be sure to be at the next Van Transfer Point so that they can take over for their 6 rotations. There is a fair amount of necessary coordination and organization. 

We (Van 2) finished our first rotation around 8:30PM, sending Van 1's first runner off with a big cheer. We dive into a restaurant eat and try to relax a bit. Then it's back into the van and we navigate our way to the next Vehicle Transfer Point, roughly an hour away. As soon as we get there (a school parking lot) we try to find a place to park and hopefully catch some zzz's. But this is not a nice quiet school parking lot...  There are at least 200 odd vans pulling in and out, there are people (trying) to sleep on whatever patch of grass they can find - picture cocoon-like blobs (runners rolled up in sleeping bags) scattered helter-skelter everywhere - people (trying) to sleep in their vans - car alarms going off because someone accidentally hit the Panic button, headlights, backup beeps, trucks with flashing/rotating beacons... Are you getting the idea yet that this was not the place for some rest? You got it...

Ok - so it's getting close to my turn to run again... Do you remember that our team was down a runner? So, out of all this we shuffled rotations and distances around and I'm picking up a couple extra miles in order to somewhat relieve the guy running before me (because he’s a stud and he picked up another segment). That means that we are going to pull off to the side of the road at a location determined by us and wait for him to reach us (and find us in the dark) for the baton hand off. It's 3AM. Dark. 40-odd degrees. Country road. Hilly. We had already passed a van that pulled off to the side but missed seeing a deep ditch and fell into it, breaking an axel and who knows what else - bad night for them – hope they bought the extra insurance :-(. 

And so we are waiting. I'm all set. Reflective vest. Headlamp strapped to my forehead (I've never run with one before). Blinky light clipped in front and one in back. I'm ready. And we're waiting.  Did he run by us and we missed him?  There are lots of vans and lots of runners going by... Easy to miss him...

But suddenly we spot him as he is passing us - we did almost miss him! and I'm off. Now I'm off on this surreal run - ok, it's only 5.5 miles, no biggie there, but it was just weird.

I'm expecting a run down a quiet, rolling, dark country road illuminated by what's left of the super-moon and guiding my way with my headlamp. Oh no.. not so much... It was not quiet and it was not dark. The road was a constant parade of vans leapfrogging their runners.  Plus, the pavement was not perfectly smooth - hey, it's a rural road, what did I expect? So I had to concentrate on where I was stepping to avoid potholes or cracks in the road or rocks and so on...  I found it helpful to draft a runner and let her find most of them for me. Yeah, it would have been way more chivalrous of me to let her draft me and let me stumble through the mine fields, but hey, she insisted on passing me and I decided to keep up and follow her. Besides..., well, you know.....  So anyway, I never saw much of the moon. The bright side is that I also never had to over-anticipate an upcoming hill because I could never see it coming - I just knew t was there when I hit it. The downhill ones were the biggest surprise because all of a sudden I'm loading up my quads and wondering just how steep and long the damn thing is going to be.

One of the other elements of the event is the concept of "road kills", i.e. how many people have you passed. I'll tell you right now that I got passed a lot, even though I was running at what I thought was a respectable 8:15-8:30 pace. At one point I get passed by this one bonehead who mutters to me as he passes "road kill!" And I shout up to him "yeah, and I've got 30 years on you - how do you feel now?!" To which he now felt some measure of chagrin and I think said "sorry". Some vans made a big deal of it by decorating their van with tally marks of their "kills". It's all good - I get it ;-).  I just thought it was funny.

The hardest part is the third segment, especially after having no sleep. Three of our guys had to run a total of 4 segments so this last leg would be even tougher for them. I managed to rest a little bit by laying down on some grass at the last vehicle transition point while we waited for Van 1’s last runner. With the help of a little 5HR energy shot I gave my last 6.8 miles all the game I had, still managing to maintain an 8:15-8:30 pace. My quads were getting hammered on the down hills and my calves and hams screamed at me on the up hills. From an endurance perspective I seemed fine, but my legs did not like the terrain. I was sooooo happy to finish.

Once we launched our last runner on the last and final segment of the event, we all cram ourselves back into our van and scoot down to the finish line area. Now we are truly combating with all 1000+ vans, plus local traffic (the town of Hampton must of hated us!). Fortunately we had rented a house within a half mile or so from the finish line and could park our van at the house and walk over. The temptation to jump into a shower before doing so was huge, but if we did we would have missed our finishing runner. The bummer of being the last runner is that he had to run about 3/4 of a mile on the beach to the actual finish line – I’m not sure that I would have had the juice in my legs to do that through the sand! But here he trudged, running in his socks, shoes in hand, gamely claiming a "road kill" at the finish line, and we all joined in with him to cross the finish line together with the announcer calling out the name of our team. It was great to be done. Now, where’s the food and where’s the beer!!

We weren't able to capture a "crossing the finish line" picture, but we did get a group pic at the end. That's the beer and food tent behind us - lets go already!

540 teams signed up to run, 530 started, 522 finished. The fastest team finished in 20hr 24min (an incredible 5:54 pace), the slowest finished in 37hr 30min.  We finished in 28hr 43min (an 8:18 pace), 133rd place overall.

From an event organizational perspective, I was impressed. The race organizers had to coordinate an entire 207 mile route and all that it entailed; through towns and villages, arranging transfer points, traffic and police, signage (i.e. runners: go this way.. Vans: go this other way..), do whatever they can to avoid totally annoying the entire population of  New Hampshire, organizing volunteers (especially tough on those needed to work the midnight hours), and so on. I suspect that it was a tremendous undertaking. I totally appreciate their work and efforts - thank you.

It was truly a different experience for me, so different than running an individual event – fun at so many different levels, hard at others, as well as being challenging. I was running with a team of whom I only knew one person and fortunately we all got along great and helped each other. I’d like to do it again and if I have that opportunity I’ll have a better training routine and a better race-day strategy to manage my legs.  Hooraah

Next up, Honeymoon Island Half Marathon November 8 !

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