Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Brilliant and Tough Year in Review

Defining rigorous goals in times that should never allow it can be both frustrating and fulfilling. I'm one to set my targets high, higher than should be allowed. So, I have had to be comfortable with failure knowing that 50% completion can sometimes be considered success.

I have a tough job that puts demands on me. I have a long commute. And I have a family, where I intend to be an active participant. After all these things, plus some sleep and relaxation, I have to find time to train.

After 2012, where I met "some" of my goals, I put a big one on the table. I wanted to complete a tough 50k. I didn't wait to see if I could get there; I put my money down early and got it on the calendar. 

Everything building up to this August race was training. Everything after has been recovery (though not much was needed). I knew what was in-store for in 2013 outside running, so I made it okay to have my one "A" race... my one big goal. 

So here is my running year in review. While the the apex is a few months back, the year had a surprisingly large number of high points, ones that ultimately made my first 50k finish look small in comparison.
  • January - I was selected to join Altra as a brand ambassador. I loved the shoes but found joining the team of inspiring runners was what really pushed me to train and perform as I headed into spring. I've enjoyed being a part of this family immensely, and have been happy to promote them to anyone who will hear me. I continue to believe that they make the best shoes on the market. Case in point is that I have gotten through 2013 completely injury free. I believe that the shoes have had something to do with this.
  • February - My family moved into our new home. It meant a longer commute, but finally put me closer to the "country." Not the Northeast Kingdom I'm used to, but I had a nice big home, some land, and more than enough trail heads within a few miles of my front door.
  • March - My wife gave birth to our second boy, little Marcus. He has filled out our family perfectly. Nothing more needs to be said about that.
  • April - Ran the NJ Half Marathon with my best friend. He came all the way from Argentina to do this one with me. I'm not great on the road, with the sustained, rhythmic pounding, but after a completely hectic start line situation, we finished strong along the seashore with a respectable time.
  • May - Finally found that with our move, I could get some trail training in. It gave me more confidence that the tough 50k coming up just might be doable. My commute was killing me, and finding the time to train was nearly impossible, but I found a way to make it work (sometimes at 4am). I saw a lot of sunrises.
  • June - Raced a short 10k trail race on my home trails and came in 7th. It was blazing hot which did me a lot of favors. I paced the first few miles well and passed a bunch on the biggest uphill. Hammered it home and gained just a little more confidence.
  • July - What should have been my heaviest training month provided the greatest mental anguish. With a young family, I had to make choices that pushed my training down the priority list. I kept at it when I could but really suffered internally. It forced me to question what I was capable of. Finally, towards the end of the month, I forced myself to hit the treadmill for a 2 1/2 run. This mill sits in my basement and forces me to stare at a wall 2 feet away. I told myself that if I could get through this mentally, I could get through much more while distracted in the woods.
  • August - That Night I Dreamt of Rocks. I got through my race. It had its suffering but the feeling after was fantastic. Immediately after, I started thinking about the next big challenge. Mentally, I signed up for the Vermont 50 in 2014. 
  • September - While I didn't stop running after the 50k, I did loosen the routine a bit. Eventually, this got me into the cycle of putting running way down the list. As September went on, my mileage dropped. I started thinking about little "micro adventures", little projects that would give me reason enough for getting out. I started thinking about a trail running club. 
  • October - Creeping along but I really started to feel that I had lost my momentum. I decided to start a running club for folks that like to get out in Watchung Reservation. With a few long(ish) runs on the calendar, I at least knew that I was keeping the base miles and it was really nice to run with other trail runners. Seeing that I would be living here for years to come, I felt that I might as well work to build a community of like-minded runners. So far, so good.
  • November - With a good bit of a fall cold wiping me out for two weeks, I went into a rough, quick 6 mile trail race (NJ HashAThon) completely unprepared. Found that the base lives on even when you are not consistently putting in the miles. It was only six, but I got through it quicker than I thought I would and enjoyed myself out there. One of the best trail races I've seen for crowd attendance and support. It's always nice to get cow bells in the middle of a climb. This will definitely be on my yearly calendar, and I look forward to eventually running it with my boys. The rest of November was a wash with little training. I went into December knowing that I had to change things.
  • After really struggling with motivational issues, I decided to go into December on a run streak. Bad weather wouldn't stop me because I had the treadmill in the basement. At least 1 mile a day was my goal, and I kept at it for 22 days. As I got into the holidays, I just got tired. Knowing that I had a race coming on January 4th, I decided to throw in the towel, comfortable knowing that I could get out there day after day if I had to.
Now, after surviving and tough but fulfilling year, I start to think about my goals for 2014. As I stated at the beginning, aim big and be happy with small successes.
  • A 50 miler run quickly. This will probably take two 50k's as training races, but I'm looking to finish the Vermont 50 in September.
  • I would like to complete a timed race, probably starting with a 6 or 12 hour race. Running with the Devil provides the perfect mix of climbing in a timed event. 
  • Hoping to race some trails in a different country. If we get to southern Italy this year, that would be the perfect place. We'll see.
  • Last but not least, I need to continue to work to find the appropriate level of balance in my family life and training. Always a struggle, I need to find ways to work around the family better, and involve them in the process whenever possible.
Otherwise, a good 2013. It will only get better in 2014.

This one is for my wife. Not red haired,
but there in spirit (i.e. fiery)

Monday, December 2, 2013

From Dirty Running: Do Steep Things

     "We will continue to do steep things against better judgement, and fighting back my own fears and reservations, because my kids need to know that we can do steep things."

A great post from Dax Ross called Do Steep Things. I feel the sentiment dead-on.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Silly Project

I feel like I use this blog mostly to complain. What should have been thoughts about running became thoughts about not running. And so we begin...

0:56:53 - 6.53 miles (1300') - A Silly Project
I hadn't run this week (blah blah blah), so I figured I needed to make this one fun. It was an early morning run in 20 degree blustery winter feel. I needed this one to be more than a simple loop of the town so I finally veered off my regular path to attempt a silly little project that I've had in the back of my mind for a few months.

While tapping around at work I found that the highest point in the county is just a few miles away from my house. Not high by any one's standards, but still the highest bit of land around. I decided a while back that I was going to tag it to put it behind me.

I ventured out this morning thinking that I could get up there, snap a shot and head home, all within an hours time. I knew from the maps that I could get within about a half mile of the spot by a dead-end access road. From there I would have to bushwhack up a ridge to the high point.

I headed up the road but found that the hilltop was very well marked private land. There was a posting about every 50 feet along the road. I worked my way up the road to find a spot to bolt up the hill into the woods but couldn't find the spot. I eventually decided to attempt it again either early morning or around dusk when I would be less conspicuous. At exactly the moment I decided to move on and try another day, a big truck came down the road, slowing to my pace as I trotted back along the road. I gave a nod in the "I'm just out for a jog", and they moved on.

I think I need more projects like this to drive me in these low times. Devil's Path next summer should do it.

He Would Have Laughed by Deerhunter. Great song.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Week Ending 11/3/13

Be consistent.

Most would say that this is trick. Even if you only have a few minutes to get your run in, do it.

This is where I fail. I'm becoming quiet good at failing.

Mon - Nothing
Cold starting creeping in (thank you child that puts everything in your mouth). This will be a theme for the next two weeks as this thing destroys me.

Tue - Nothing

10/30/13 -10/31/13 - 11/01/13
More nothing. Getting good at it.

Saturday 1.0 - 0:43:42 - 4.63 miles (725') - Powerlines with a little added misery
Not my best one. Don't know if it was that I hadn't run in 6 days, the cold wreaking havoc on my body and mind, or the cheeseburger in my tummy, but this one was a sufferfest. Thought I'd do some repeats of my powerline climb but after the first one, nearly booted the lunch from a few hours earlier. Was going to bring it home after that but decided that if I was going to feel like crap, I might as well enjoy it. So, I linked up to my local trails and ran a few more miles before calling it quits.

Saturday 2.0 - 0:30:00 - 2.00 miles (100') - Passaic River Parkway Trail w/Marcus
After my earlier failed run, took "The Tank" for a hike. Wearing him is good for my legs so it was nice to get out there for a little clean-out.

Sunday - 0:48:04 - 5.64 miles (1000') - Watchung Res to home by way of Pink Trail
Went to the nature center at Watchung Reservation with the family. Ran home from there. Pink Trail to a link-up with the road home. A lot of climbing for a short run. Tried to power through the climbs to make up for yesterday's failure. Felt like my first good run in a while.

Miles: 12.2
Hours: 2:01:46
Elevation: 1,825'

Don't know why I chose this one. Just takes me 
back to high school.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Finding Motivation

As winter darkness creeps in and the days get shorter, I discovered a timely post from Gary Robbins on finding that motivation to continue on, to keep moving when the weather heads south.

It's no secret that I've found it hard lately to strap on the headlamp and pound out miles on the dark streets and trails. Just as he states, for me it is not due to any physical issue. The struggle is all in my head.

So, I will try to use some of his numbered techniques to see if it can get through the darkness to my next big race.

I used #9 (Give it Twenty) this weekend and as always, it worked. I felt awful after a steep climb. My plan was to cruise down and do a few repeats of the hill, but after sweating my way up, I was more concerned with keeping my stomach intact. I was about to turn-in but I forced myself to take a right and veer off on a path that would draw a few more miles out of me. It med me tighten up an un-do whatever was done by my big lunch and big climb.

I got home a little more tired than I would have liked but with not a single regret about the run.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Why We Run

For those who have known me over the years or followed my ramblings on social media, they may have been witness to a fairly dramatic transition over the last two years. A few years back, I was not really a runner. I may have run occasionally when some bit of fear was chasing me, but I did not identify myself as a runner.

Now I talk, write, post constantly about running.  I think about it constantly, not only why I run, but why I now have to allow it to envelop me. I've attempted to write about this new identity before here on this blog, though I think I will be struggling with this one for years.

Enter the new episode from Solomon Running TV. Bernd Heinrich is an inspiration and captures the essence of what I have been chasing for some time. I could watch this man for hours.

"The essential thing is to run, period... and to do it for a long time, and consistently. Then everything takes care of itself."

Monday, October 28, 2013

Week Ending 10/27/2013

I was going into this week knowing that I had to turn some type of corner, that last week was a bottom. It had to get better.

Started the week well motivated and got out a few times. Eventually, the cumulative affect of two sniffly, snotty kids put an end to it.

I found redemption by getting out on the trails with some folks from my running club. It was cold, and a hard run, but it made up for the last two weeks of no effort.

Mon - 0:29:45 - 3.65 miles (275') - Short (cold) Loop
After basically the last week off from running, I finally dragged myself from the hole I've been living in to get a quick, very cold run under a morning nearly-full moon. I was caught off-guard a bit by the cold temp but it helped move me along. Feeling out of shape, but I was happy to know that I can still get up and get out at 5am.

Tue - 0:52:12 - 6.05 miles (800') - New Prov Loop w. Powerlines thrown in
Had a chance to get out and run when the sun was up so I threw in a quick climb of the powerlines. It's a 300' climb with an average grade of about 25%. Hard not to stop and enjoy the view, but I use this climb to find a quick burn before I hit the roads for a few miles.

View from the top of the powerlines. What you can't see if the drop-off.

Wed - Sick children had me up all night

Thurs - Ditto

Fri - Now I'm starting to feel the cold

Sat - 2:00:00 - 11.2 miles (1800') - Sierra Trail with Watchung Res. Running Club
Out for a very early, very cold morning run of the Sierra Trail. Again, hit the ridge line at sunrise. Got a spend a few seconds looking at the glowing horizon. Picked up the pace the last few miles and turned this into a tempo run. Overall, felt great but started to get sloppy towards the end. Nothing like catching a toe on a root and doing the 10-step catch-up-to-your-head-dance to wake you out of your morning fog.

Separate note, had an opportunity to discuss running The Devil's Path with Brett after the winter. I've been intrigued by this and was happy to find someone thinking the same thing as me. Going to have to spend the winter doing my research.

Sun - 1:00:00 - 3 miles (600') - Chimney Rock Park Trails
A family hike along Chimney Rock's trails. Roman lead the way. Legs were tight and ankle a little tender from some of my toe-slams from the day before, so this was a nice way to loosen up and enjoy some time with the family. I like hiking with Marcus attached. 25 lbs of weight is noticeable.

Miles: 23.9
Hours: 4:21:57
Elevation: 3,475'

Had to include something from this man. Had a big impact on my early years.

Monday, October 21, 2013

It Gets Worse

I pretty much gave up this week. No sleep so the days never came together.

Decided to ride out the low like a fever to see if things would clear up on Monday. Happy to at least get some time on the trails with the kiddles. Hiking while wearing Marcus is good leg work. Like a weight vest. The kid is a tank.

Week ending 10/20/13

Mon - 1 mile (0') - Running with Roman
Had the opportunity to run a bit with my four year old. For a quick run, this was one of my happiest in a long time. Made me look forward to future runs with the boys as they get older. The kid can move pretty well and likes to weave around in front of me like it is a game. Felt like I was running with my cat.

Tue - No sleep, couldn't do it

Wed - Nothing

Thurs - "Rest" day

Fri - Another big day of nothing

Sat - 1:30:00 - 3 miles (500') - Hike and Seek
Got out for a hiking event with Roman. We went at his pace but had a great time working the trails. Nothing makes me happier than meandering with my boys.

Roman working as my guide. I let him manage the pace.

Sun - 0:30:00 - 2 miles (100') - Passaic River Park (with Marcus)
Had an afternoon with my little one so I strapped him on and went for a hike. Ran into a charming 95 year-old on the trail. Said my chubby little boy looks like he will be an athlete (apparently pronounced athaleet).

The happy tank

Miles: 6.00
Hours: 2:00
Elevation: 600'

Found this one recently.


Friday, October 18, 2013

A Shameful Week

Let's see if this public shaming works as a motivator to get me out the door.

So, on to the last week's training ending October 13th. Another soft week in a month of soft weeks.

Mon - Nothing

Tue - 0:49:50 - 5.84 miles (825') - Powerline Loop
After a completely crap day at work, it felt good to get out in the dark and do some climbing. This loop winds gradually uphill through some local neighborhoods until I get underneath the lines and climb and old school trail. Weird to do this much climbing in the dark, but sometimes its better when you can't see the top. The woods were cool and misty. Felt the Halloween season approaching. A bit spooky.

Wed - Zilch

Thurs - 0:37:51 - 4.5 miles (375') - Summit to BK Heights (from the train)
Decided that I had to force myself to run (my little one has decided that sleep is for weaklings). I just haven't been able to get up at 5am to get on the road, so this time I packed my kit in a bag and brought it to work with me. On my way home, I jumped off the train a few stops early and ran it home. Nice run overall. Need to do this more.

Fri - Big plans but nothing came of it

Sat - Same a Friday

Sun - 1:05:00 - 6 miles (600') - Watchung Reservation (Off-trail and Sierra Trail)
Met up with Dave from the Watchung Reservation Running Club and his dog Sally for an easy run through the reservation. Took some semi off-trail routes which meant some leg shredding from under-used and over-grown trails. Overall, a nice run in the beautiful fall foliage.

Miles: 16.34
Hours: 2:32
Elevation: 1800'

To summarize, a pretty weak week. Consider me ashamed.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

My New Public Shaming Training Program

With recent lack of sleep (thank you very much infant child) and the big races behind me, I've let my training slide... likely when I could use it the most. Its sort of the "I'm not running because I'm depressed/I'm depressed because I'm not running"-conundrum.

So, I've decided on a public shaming.

Drawing from the "elites" that catalog their weekly training, I thought I try the same. Obviously few will care and none will be impressed with my lazy exercises and infrequent miles. To me, though, it could work as motivation. If I believe that one person out there who may inspire me with their own efforts or results could happen upon a post of mine, outlining a potentially weak set of training results, then I can hope to use it as the driver to get up and get out there when the rest of the world is sleeping. It isn't always easy or fun, but that motivation from shame may help me in many ways.

Let's see if it works. Next up, last week's lack of training.

The Jam - Funeral Pyre

Friday, October 11, 2013

A record attempt in the past

While digging around in my Instapaper app today I found an old blog post from Eric Grossman at Explore Fatigue.

Happy to have re-discovered it as it provided just the right amount of inspiration to close out an otherwise dulling work week. I literally needed inspiration just to get up and leave my desk.

He captures it beautifully.

"When you start your first 2200-mile journey on foot you will be wrong about something. Maybe you will overestimate how much weight you can carry. Maybe you will underestimate how many miles you can walk in a day. There are countless decisions you will have to make for yourself and you will have to change your mind about some things. And here’s what I love about big, physical challenges: to finish you will eventually have to get it right."

I guess I now need to do some research to find how he fared in his attempt.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


The "reasons not to run" list is long; over-tired, mentally exhausted, depleted, defeated.

Funny that the "reasons to run" list is exactly the same; because I am over-tired, mentally exhausted, depleted, and (most importantly) defeated.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What is Next?

Whoo boy!

I thought the post-race break would be nice. Some time off from getting up pre-pre-sunrise to weave through dark streets and trails. No grunting and groaning and arguing with the family over when is the best time to disappear for hours on end.

That was the plan anyway. Instead, it has turned into something much harder to manage than I expected. The wheels stopped turning and now I'm having a difficult time getting them moving again.

35 days post-race and I have lapsed.

Maybe not quite a lapse but a lull. Some silence that is becoming unwelcome.

I am quickly realizing that self-enforcement is not enough. Especially when my 6 month old keeps us up through the night. I'm the type that needs a race to keep me honest. I need it to give me a target and drag me out onto the dark streets to get a little closer to a better performance. I need to be afraid of my race.

I have to sign-up for something.

Fantastic song that I first heard while driving. 
Nearly had to pull the car over.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

That Night I Dreamt of Rocks

"Philistines may think that we were madmen indeed to go through such suffering and danger to arrive at this lonely spot. What did you hope to find up there, they may ask. Glory? Nobody cares about young fools who waste their best years in meaningless combats far from the eyes of the world. Fortune? Our clothes were in rags, and the next day we would go back down to a life of slaving for the barest essentials. What we sought was the unbounded and essential joy that boils in the heart and penetrates every fibre of our being when, after long hours skirting the borders of death, we can hug life to us with all our strength." - Lionel Terray

I hit my time to taper down. Felt odd in that I was not really doing heavy mileage to begin with, but I knew that it was better to be under-trained than over. At least this is what I told myself each night as I tried to fall asleep.

I was under-trained. That was understood.

But would I be able to use the accumulation of miles over the last year and a half to get my ass through three rough ten+ mile loops. The race was put on by Rick at NJ Trail Series. I had run a few of their races before and found them to be well managed, well stocked, and tough.

Could I do it? One loop. Absolutely. I even imagined I could get through it quickly if necessary. Two, sure. Three… unknown.

That is the fun with doing a first ultra. One does not know how the day will go until one is deeply embedded in the situation. That is when you begin to understand what is possible.

So in my downtime where I wasn't running as much, I had to do something race related. I prepped. I pulled materials together and planned the nutrition strategy. I went through the hydration. Clothing needs, socks, shoes, contingencies. Over and over I laid it out and convinced myself that it was happening.

Night before the race I put it all out in the guest bedroom. I knew I’d be up at 4am packing it up and getting ready for the car trip to the start line. I could have done it in the dark by that point.

Like always, I got there early. The sun had not crested the hills yet as the first batch of runners left the start/finish line area. This group consisted of the few running the 100k (six loops) and a larger group taking on the 50 miler (five loops). There was an hour for nervous pacing and prepping before we 50k (three loops) runners lined up.

I had heard Rick’s start-line prep talk before. As he has mentioned on other courses, you aren't running by GPS distance, you are running his course. Don’t complain if is it is longer/shorter, rocky or rooty.

Loop one felt okay. It was hard but well within my wheelhouse. After the yelled "go!" we were off along a grassy stretch next to the road before we turned and headed up a rocky ATV road that headed into the Wildcat Ridge Management Area. After a brief climb we were onto some undulating single track that wound through the woods through weird Appalachian-style garbage dumps. Sadly, it reminded me of dump areas you would find in some backwoods areas of Vermont where I grew up. Eventually the trail climbed up and up as it made its way to the open ridge line. Few seemed to take in the overlook on the first pass, we were still bunched so it was hard to stop and smell the flowers. I did stop and pause on loop three on the cliff's edge for thirty seconds before heading off for the finish.

After the first top out along the ridge we wound down a rocky dirt road to the first water station (mile four & nine). From here we headed out into the real nonsense. Up and down and up and down through rocks that ranged from small and unstable to large and unstable. There didn't seem to be a piece of flat footing for four miles. I believe I thought this was interesting on the first lap. It got progressively more miserable on the second and third pass. Eventually the "Nam" business calmed down and we hit more rutty dirt road. We then moved onto a bizarre paved, steep downhill spell through a quite suburban neighborhood until we were eventually back at the start line.

Still feeling good at this point

I hit the full aid station in good shape. Reloaded my bottles, grabbed more gels and quickly took off for the next pass.

Loop two started strong. What I found, though, was that as I came upon each hill, each rocky descent, I had to suffer through the thought that I would have to do this one more time on much more tired legs.

It was a few miles into the second ten that something got out of whack. The sun came up higher in the sky and the temp began to climb. I found myself needing to drink more. I guess I let my salt levels go south because at around mile seventeen the cramping began.

Pain begins as a manageable force. It grows along the way. Eventually it becomes all encompassing but still something that you can push out and move through. I knew that it was either going to get much worse or I was going to find a way to let it dissipate.

The pain became comprehensive. I couldn't ignore it anymore as the fire worked from deep inside my hips down to the tips of my toes. My mind burned with it and I found myself emotional and foggy. You begin to question that damage that is being inflicted with each step, to the point where I found that I could barely take the steps. My legs were seizing up. I was at a very uncomfortable trot, a shuffle. I was deep into the death march.

I ran (walked) miles nineteen to the aid station contemplating calling it a day. I would be at my car. I could rehydrate, get things back in balance, sit and end the pain.

At the aid station I stood in front of the food not sure what to do next. Someone asked me if I was okay. I said no, not at all. Explained the problem. She forced some salt tablets down my throat. Put some fantastic salty chips in my hand. Told me to regroup until I was ready then get my ass back out there.

I sat next to my car for a few minutes going through a quit in my head. It just wasn't going to work. I couldn't comprehend it. I sent a quick text to my wife telling her that I was in a bad way but was going to walk the damn thing if I had to. I took off before I could get a response.

For loop three, I had the pleasure of knowing that everything I was doing would be the last time. It didn't mean that things were easier though. As my body balanced itself out, I found that I could trot some sections, hiking the steep stuff. I eventually came upon a fifty miler (I believe her name was Lara). When I told her that I was in a world of hurt, she laughed it off and told me that I looked great. That little bit of reassurance was what I need to keep the pace up to get me across the line. She and I ran off and on together for the last few miles. I mentally attached myself to her and felt like she was dragging me in.

10,000+ feet of elevation change. I got there in 7:47:11. A few minutes under my target.

I immediately started to feel better the moment I crossed the line on the pavement. I did not have to run anymore that day, and now I knew that I could do just about anything I put my mind to. I just wouldn't be doing much for the new few weeks.

Some of the gear that got me through:

Shirt - Proudly wore my Altra Ambassador shirt. After the race I had a few conversations about the shoes. I believe it came from me wearing the shirt because it definitely wasn't because of my stellar results (or form).
Shoes - Altra Lone Peak 1.5. Best mountain shoe on the market in my opinion. I thought my feet would be wrecked, but they didn't have a mark on them.
Socks - Injinji Run 2.0 Original Weight. Coupled with the roomy Altra's, these toe socks have saved me from blisters, damaged nails, and otherwise bloody feet.
Bottle - Ultimate Direction Fast Draw Plus. Packed it with Gu's and flattened pieces of sandwich.
Waste Pack - Some small Nathan pack I picked up that fit about five more Gu's.
Nutrition - About 15 Gu's, a few pieces of PB&J, some chips, and a few bottles of Fluid Performance drink.
Hydration - The Fluid and either too much or not enough water. Very rarely did I get the balance right.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Leon Lutz Tries to Answer a Difficult Question

I actually had a difficult time making it through this one, as I've seen the same eyes asking the same question. I couldn't have put it any better than this and I'm happy that Leon Lutz took the time to write it. And thanks to irunfar.com for publishing this. Seriously... to me, this is an astoundingly thoughtful piece.

As a father of two beautiful little boys (and husband to a pretty amazing Mom), I understand the torment in those eyes as you get ready to head out the door. It is hard to need something that appears outright to be so selfish, yet feels so important.

I one day hope that I can teach my boys why I run.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Can You Train For a 50k on 25 Miles a Week?

For months I've been working on a post about trying to manage the balance between work, family and finding the time (and will) to run long distances.

I'm now looking back on the unfinished post last touched weeks back. This is how it started...

"I am desperately in need of some inspiration in otherwise uninspiring times."

A bit odd to be quoting myself but looking back it now warrants inspection. The buildup to my recent (first) 50k race was not going well. Over many months, starting in December 2012, I had devised a thorough training plan that then seemed to systematically breakdown week after week. My running had gone from a study in joy to just another reason why I sometimes consider myself a failure.

Any job hunt or "best companies" list search turns up plenty of language around work/life balance. It's what most "young" people add into their "must haves" in determining their reason for selecting one company over another. It is expected that life should truly be a balance between the do what you love and and love what you do-job and all the rest of the world outside of that.

But what about work/life/training balance?

In the past six months, my family and I have gone through a significant move. Not far in distance, but further enough from my job to put me a little more out of pocket each day as I manage my new commute. While this move was underway, we welcomed a new little man into our lives. And while all of this was going on, I was looking to build up my mileage so that I could attempt my first pass at an ultra-distance trail race.

See, I was turning 40 this year and had planned to do something significant. I wanted to do something both as a reward and punishment for getting old. As my running mileage picked up last year I thought to myself that a running challenge would be just the thing to show me that turning 40 could be better than 30... or even 20.

I didn't want the watch or the new shiny, fast car.

Instead, I found a race and put it on the calendar. Life be damned, I was going to make it happen. The problem was that good parts of life kept getting in the way of me developing and building to the point where I could have the confidence to complete this thing. Every week I would have my plan written out and over and over runs would be a little shy of the prescribed distance. Long weekend runs wouldn't pan out. My family life and obligations would take precedence (sometimes happily, sometimes not) over all other things.

I wasn't upset that these things were getting in the way (usually). I was terrified that I was slowly getting steps closer to failure. Each missed check-mark in the plan would send me into a bit of a mental tailspin. I watched Unbreakable. I read blogs and articles on running long. I couldn't get away from the fact that I was signed up for the Wildcat Ridge Romp 50k, a fairly challenging course made up of three 10.7 mile loops through some rocky, rooty New Jersey wilderness. August 10th loomed on the calendar.

My mileage hovered around 25 to 35 miles a week. It just didn't feel long enough to pull it off. As I eased into my "taper", I told myself that I was going to go out and give it a shot. I believed I had the toughness and fortitude to get through the pain of it, and I've always been a proficient and quick hiker. At worst, I would walk it in. I would have 12 hours to go roughly 32 miles. Seemed possible if I could focus on running your own race. So I made a plan to write RYOR on my arm and venture off into the woods.

This was not going to be a race but a run... or possibly a walk. I was going to finish.

Wildcat Ridge Romp 50k race report coming soon...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


"on summits haunted by the unfettered elements, you may take long draughts of the foaming cup in the headiness of action which admits no obstacles."

     - Guido Lammer

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Where Have I Been...

I've been absolutely negligent with my blogging lately so it's time for some output over the long running weekend. I have two race reports, 3 or 4 reviews of some excellent Altra shoes to share, and maybe a few other things about how difficult it can be to train hard when other, more important things get in the way. I have my first 50k in a few weeks and I do not believe that I have trained enough.

Enough of the nonsense. Time to get on the trails.

Monday, May 6, 2013


In the madness of a family move and a newborn, I haven't really had the chance to write much. I'm working on a post about my most recent results at the Longbranch Half Marathon. Should be up over the next few days.

In the meantime, I read and enjoyed a recent article from Running Times' Steve Magness on True Grit. As
I am only 24 hours out from my race, it was a bit of a cathartic experience to read about pain. I'm feeling a lot of it right now.

Here is a great quote from the article. I might have to give my mom a call.

"Falling apart in a 5K is painful, but it's just pain," says Frey. "But falling apart in a marathon, I believe you lose a year of your life. You complete the marathon feeling utterly defeated, knowing that it got the best of you, and you go home and ask your mom if she still loves you."

Monday, April 22, 2013


One week on, many tens of thousands of words have already been put on paper and screen expressing sentiments regarding the tragedy at the Boston marathon. I don't know that I can add much to the dialogue but I do have something.

I love my running community.

By most runner's histories, I am a newcomer. And I have found a welcoming, challenging group of people. Each choosing to suffer for their own personal reasons.

And everyone suffers in this sport. Never equally, but equally consistent. From the elites setting records to the weekend warriors bringing up the back of the pack, each hurts their way through each and every run. And yet, to quote Jeff Edmonds, "ours is not a violent sport."

I remember back to a particularly difficult trail race I ran last year. The wheels were coming off in full force and I found myself suffering through an overwhelming feeling of loneliness out there in the woods. I had been running alone for the last few miles. I was practically walking and people behind me were catching up. Each one slowed down, checked to see if I was okay, and gave me some encouragement to keep going. One even cruised with for a few minutes to chat. He got me running again and brought me into the next aid station where I was able to right the sinking ship.

These were my competitors telling me to pick it up, to finish with them. The loneliness subsided and I ran through the pain of the last 6 miles.

Whether it's Patton Oswalt's uplifting rant or numerous others out there, the message is clear; for every bad, angry person trying to push their skewed outlook on the world, trying to prove to the world that this is a bad place, there are a million citizens that choose good.

Ultimately, few run endurance lengths for bad reasons and I would say that none have been made worse psychologically or spiritually through the regular act of running. It is a sport of the internal, and it didn't deserve what happened in Boston.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Altra Instinct Jr.

This summer Altra is set to release the Jr. version of something that looks to be a cross between the Instinct and the Superior. I am very excited to get my son a pair. I love their shoes and am very happy to get my boys in shoes that are good for their feet.

a good one from way back

Friday, April 5, 2013

Road Marathon vs. Trail Ultra: Which Is Harder?

Road Marathon vs. Trail Ultra: Which Is Harder?

Interesting post from Sarah Lavender Smith at The Runner's Trip. I always enjoy her thoughts on running and this one is a look at the challenges that come with two very different types of racing. Very different in format and form, but both difficult none the less.

Makes me think of the importance of specificity training.

I love running in the woods, but because my next "A" race is on the road, I've been pushing myself up and down the streets. I know that the pounding of pavement is what I need to be able to jump my next hurdle.

Then on to a 50k trail race... and into the woods.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Pro Compression Sleeves

Just got a pair of compression sleeves from Pro Compression in the mail. I've heard talk of how effective compression wear can be for endurance athletes, and also I've read the opposing studies.

My legs were stiff from a few tough runs this week. Slipped the sleeves on and cooked dinner. I was shocked to feel the difference in how my calves felt.

Won't say that I am converted, but I will have to try them a few more times over the next few days and runs to see if they really make a difference.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Footfeathers: Briefly on What it Means to Suffer

Fairly recent post from Footfeathers Racing.

This perfectly captures my recent thinking. If it didn't hurt I don't think I would be interested. After the hurt, I feel I can deal with anything.

"Footfeathers: Briefly on What it Means to Suffer: I've always been of the mindset that suffering in training makes racing pleasant.  I don't mean the common knowledge that training ..."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Why I Run, Possibly

I spend a great deal of time trying to understand why it is I obsess about running. Why does it take up so much of my thoughts after the running is done?

For my family, I would like to live longer, but I know that I do not run for health. I could give a shit about that unless it is working toward the end goal of being able to run faster or go further.

I don't run to lose weight. That became an easy, natural by-product of the miles. The extra pounds had to come off. Now I do everything I can to keep enough calories coming in to push the growling stomach away.

Beauty in a snowstorm
Two other possible reasons come to mind. Suffering and the commune with the natural world.

Second one first. I like nothing more than listening to my own breath and footsteps in an otherwise quiet environment. I can't find that indoors, and I love the woods, the dark streets. I am at peace there.

This is why I don't do headphones, why I do not run with friends. Not because I don't like music or conversation when I move, but because everything is so loud all the time. Home, commute, work. It is nice to hear very little, to give myself the opportunity to think to the point of void. When it all just wipes away.

Then there is the suffering. Anyone who has known me over the last twenty years knows that I have always been a fan of self-inflicted melancholia. When I was younger I sought out creative and (occasionally) destructive ways to suffer through life. I eventually smartened up, but never lost the need to feel torment. Running into pain filled the gap. As long as there is a further distance or harder route to attempt, I know that I will never be without my beloved misery.

I am going to spend some time over the next few months probing these thoughts further.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Struggling With Goals

I find setting personal goals challenging. While they help to keep me motivated, putting them on paper also works to eventually highlight my many little failures.

With this year's running schedule, I am attempting brief three month training windows. Ramps that take me to some adequate level of performance in time for some "A" race. The race will happen and then a new window opens. The obstruction I find is that I haven't yet figured out how to bake my life into these goals. How do I plan my sometimes hectic life into this rigid structure that will get me to some peak performance so that I can walk/limp away from a race satisfied with my result?

Do I plan in my weekly running schedule for a known early morning Wednesday meeting that will not only eat into my Wednesday pre-dawn run, but will eat away at me with stress all through the Tuesday before? The short answer is that I currently do not. Then I toss and turn through a few hours of sleep on Tuesday night. When the alarm beeps at 4:30 am the next morning, I push it away and decide that it would better for my health to get another hour of sleep. Then I spend the day in regret.

I have not found a way through this struggle. Not yet. And honestly, I'm not sure how to look for the answers.

It gets tougher with a recent move. While I am happy to have the family in more relaxing and greener environs, the payment for this comes in the form of a longer commute. Add to this the exciting upcoming addition to my family, and these goals push further and further down the priority lists.

One recent ray of light on all this has been the invitation from Altra to join a bunch of talented athletes in their Ambassador program. Being able to listen in and share with the team our daily activities and thoughts provides the inspiration for me to push a little harder... to keep moving my line of limit a little further out into the distance.

Now it's about taking the successes where and when I can. I push harder, and try to work smarter. If I have to miss a day, I stubbornly push on. Eventually, I will get it figured out.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Learning to love it as it goes away

When I first got back into running after a few years away, I started on the treadmill. It seemed like the safest way to test the waters and it saved me from venturing too far from home before my heart and body would collapse. I could simply hit stop and go lie down on the gym mats when it was time to end. I hated every minute of it.

Once I felt confident enough in my endurance to get out of the streets, I rarely got back onto the mill. Occasionally, when the weather was particularly rough, or my time limited, I would strike out again on the rotating mat.

When winter hit, I found myself heading downstairs to our building's gym more frequently. In sub-20 degree weather it meant less gear prep and less time. I could run through a few miles and be back in time to deal with my early-waking toddler.

It was painfully boring.

At first, I could only do a few miles at most before I needed to stop. Time went slower on the treadmill, faster paces felt harder to maintain. It was no longer running as a means to liberate, but meandering as chore... checking the training plan box.

Then, a few weeks back, I seemed to push through the barrier. I found a mental test waiting for me that reminded me of my first long trail race. In that race, in the woods at mile fifteen, I was alone and trudging up and down rocky muck. I hadn't seen anyone for 30 minutes or so and started to lose track of my distance from the last aid station. I was staring at the ground ahead of me and nothing else.

On the treadmill, I go through the same grind. Can I continue to suffer, staring straight ahead at the blank white surface? My eyes relax and go unfocused. The wall could be six inches from my face, or it could be miles. It is here in this head space that I find out if I can do this distance. I am beginning to find that I like the mental challenge of the treadmill and actually look forward to it. There is no change of scenery to distract me, no undulating hills to keep my mind focused on the immediate. Instead I am left with a goal in mind and a ticking red clock counting off each slow second.

Now, in just a few days, it goes away. I am moving to a new house with beautiful quiet streets to run. A trail head sits just a quarter of a mile down the road. But I won't have the treadmill left to taunt me, to fill me with doubt and make me question each run. Very oddly enough, I am going to miss it.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Jez Bragg Completes 3,054-Kilometer Te Araroa Trail Expedition

Great article from Meghan Hicks of irunfar.com on the extraordinary 1,898 mile run by Jez Bragg through New Zealand. I hope that the record holds for a long time.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Altra Torin Shoe Review from Runblogger

Another review of the new Altra Torin. This one from runblogger.com. I cannot wait to try this shoe and think it will be the one for a long, hard road run I am planning for late summer.

Over the last few months I have fallen in love with my Instinct 1.5's, as they have basically made my toe issues go away. I'm practically drooling over this new one.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

What I'm (Nolonger) Running In - Nike Free 3.0 Shoe Review

I had always intended to put some posts together that went through some of the shoes/gear that I play around with in my running. The point of these posts was that I wanted to write about what I'm using and hopefully liking. It was not in the plan to spend that much time looking at what I am no longer using, but the Free changed my mind.

The Nike Free 3.0's were given to me from a co-worker. They were a sample pair that didn't fit him, so he passed them on to me knowing that while I run I also obsess about the shoes and other gear.

Free shoes so I did not mind the color

I started running in these as I was recovering from some ITB pain that travelled with me through most of the summer. I used them for some mid-length runs at first. While I enjoyed the feel of the shoe, there was something about the upper that always made me take some time away from them.

During my hot summer runs, I found that the neoprene-type upper worked like sweat bags on my feet. There was no way for the feet to cool down. This has been a significant complaint that I've seen everywhere the shoes are reviewed. My problem with hot feet is that the wet friction starts to tear my toes apart. I somehow seemed to forget the pain, because I eventually took the shoes for a nine mile run in the sun. When I got back, I found a puddle of blood and the start of what would become a black nail.

The blood bath. Looked much worse when I first removed the shoe. Lost the toenail a few weeks later.
Another "challenge" I found with the shoe was the flex point on the top of my foot near the first knuckle on my big toes. The too thick upper creased consistently in the same spot, mixing with oil and sweat, digging a little hole in each foot. Now, I seem to be left with a permanent scar.

Recently, I took them out of the closet again for a short, easy run. After a few months in shoes with larger toe boxes (Altra Intsinct 1.5's), I quickly remembered why the shoes had collected dust. I bled for the first time in months. The spots on top of my toes were raw again. I can appreciate the fact that shoes can only fit as well as the design of the feet within them, but I would guess that few find the swimsuit effect comfortable. This would be the last time I would run in the Free's.

The split sole. Flexible and pillowy soft
This is really too bad. Nike obviously has the resources to design and test the perfect shoe, but something is missing here. Another reason to feel regret over torching these shoes in an oil drum on the street is that the outsole is great. Responsive, flexible, pillowy soft. You feel the ground but do not spend the majority of the run wishing it wasn't there below you.

When I first came back to running seriously, I went through a bit of a shoe romance, collecting many models, trying different types and feels. Now I just want a shoe that fits and feels good every time I put them on. Bring on Altra.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Winter Running

Whether running in extreme winter (or extreme heat in my opinion), the toughness that comes from running through these conditions is undeniable. This is a great, short article from Scott Jurek on the positives that come from continuing to push yourself when winter comes.

Personally, I find it's harder to get out there but ends up being a much more rewarding run when I know I've suffered a bit in the process. I like getting out in the cold. You may even hear me brag about it now and then.