Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Running Sticker Dilemma

Every so often, discussions of the meaning of running stickers -- you know, the "26.2" or "13.1" or "Put your distance here" magnets or stickers -- pops up on the Internets, especially during the fall when many people are arriving at the completion of a running goal, whether that's a 5K, half, marathon, or even an Ironman.

Like pretty much every issue in the world today, thoughts either sit on one end of the spectrum or another. Some people think it's awesome and inspiring, while others think it's annoying and just someone "bragging" about some accomplishment that they can't understand. Why the hell would you want to run 26.2 miles, and it really bugs me that you want to broadcast it to the rest of the world! After all, I ate a box of Twinkies recently, that doesn't mean I'm gonna put a sticker of an empty box on the back of my car!

(Editor's note: Seriously, I saw someone make that argument on Facebook once.)

Spend a day driving around and you'll see that the back windows and bumper stickers of most cars are filled with stickers, from Star Wars or Mickey Mouse-themed stick figure families, their favorite sports team or political party, their college alma maters, or teams and activities that contain their kids' names and numbers.

Let's be honest...all of this is the product of the "look at me" culture that we live in. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, because my car is adorned with a large sticker proclaiming my love of the Chicago Cubs (by the way, Joe Maddon, FTW), and another supporting my son's high school cross country team. I also have a license plate frame from the high school (Aurora Central Catholic) that my oldest son, Matt, attended and where my youngest, Kevin, will be going next year. And it is only a matter of time before I get back on campus and get a Benedictine University sticker on my car too.

We all live in the "LAM" culture, and whether we care to admit it or not, we all contribute to it. Social media has made it so easy to share our lives with others that we all spend a lot of time sharing stuff that, frankly, most people don't care about. I'm sure that a small circle of friends care about what happens in my life, but do my all 225 of my Facebook friends and the combined 750 worldwide followers I have between my two Twitter accounts (I also write a blog about IndyCar) really need to know the details of the 31:02 5K I ran on Sunday?

They don't, but I tell them anyhow. That's just the way our culture works. When one of our kids wins a basketball tournament, for example, the Tweet that says "Jason's team just won the St. Rita Tournament title!" goes out before you even get up from the stands to go celebrate. People even post photos on social media sites WHILE an event is going on, and we all have at least one person in our lives that are so obsessed with their phones that they miss out on a lot because they never look up.

So in our quest to share ourselves with others via social media, it's an easy extension to do the same in the rest of our lives. What is kind of amazing, though, is the fact that while we have no issue disseminating info on social media -- easily ignoring tweets and posts that don't interest us -- we get really, super offended when someone annoys us in real life.

I know I'm biased because I'm a runner, but it seems like the "26.2" sticker (or one similar to that) is one that really raises the ire in a lot of people. I think it comes down to the fact that for some reason people are just annoyed with runners in general.

I think there are a lot of theories as to why, but it comes down to the idea that they don't understand and can't relate to what we do. Plus everyone can cite one example where they had a friend or co-worker who is or was a runner, and how it was SO aggravating to listen to them drone on about their training runs, races or diet.

Oh come on! I can also site many times in my life I've had to sit and hear someone go on and on about their fantasy football teams or how they are in a dispute with their kids' coach over playing time, even though I know the coach is right on because their kid isn't that good. I smile and nod and contribute to the conversation because I'm polite, and besides, anyone who is passionate about something likes to talk about it, so why would runners be any different? I can't talk about fantasy football -- and don't want to -- but ask me about running or travel (I'll go on for days about my trip to Italy last year) and you won't get me to stop.

That doesn't make me an annoying person, it makes me normal. And the more time I spend in the running community, the more normal I think runners are compared to most people! :--)

Sure, sometimes seeing different things on the back of a car is nauseating, but the next time you feel that way, take a second to think about what that sticker represents.

My wife Darcy has a "26.2" sticker on the back of her car. To many it doesn't mean a lot, but to me the sticker tells quite the story. That sticker tells the story of someone who went through a tremendous loss, the death of her sister, Sara, from a brain tumor, and how Darcy was able to battle back from brain surgery of her own to get to the starting line, and more importantly, the finish line, of  the 2010 Chicago Marathon.

Darcy gets embarrassed when I talk about her like this, but she is a rock star. I couldn't imagine going through something like brain surgery, she is so tough and so inspiring to me. She's battled back from so many things, she's so good at her job and is one of the best people I know. That and she played a big part in bringing me back from some pretty dark places to get to the starting line of the Chicago Marathon last year. I owe her so much, and I hope our life together is long so I can live long enough to repay her for all of it.

And me? If I had a sticker on my car, it would tell the story of someone who went through the dark times of a divorce and the loss of my sister, Joni, to cancer in December, 2011. It would represent the things I've learned in the eight times I have trained for and run a marathon, and would represent the celebration of my life coming full circle between marathon No. 7 in 2008 and the one last year.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, you just never know. As I get older, I realize that more and more people fight the same battles every day that I do. Everyone is coping with something, and everyone has a story, whether that is how they got to the starting line of a marathon to their kids battling through something to make their travel baseball team.

Instead of scorning those that have running stickers on their car, I wish they would just show grace instead. Maybe that isn't their bag, but maybe what they have stuck on their car doesn't interest me, either. Still, I'm not going to ridicule them for what they choose to do and support, because they have a reason for putting it there, just like I do with my running sticker. No, I don't get the gist of the dog paw that says "Who Rescued Who?" magnets, because I can't imagine how rescuing a dog would make someone's life so much better (I like dogs but don't consider myself a big "dog person"), but at the same time I'm not going to write nasty things in a blog about it. Because maybe rescuing a dog did save someone's life.

Maybe Kasie the cheerleader was bullied and lacked self-confidence until she got up the courage to try out for the squad, or Mark the thespian was terrified of being in front of other people until he got up on stage and found out it was a rush to act out different characters and make people laugh or cry. Maybe their parents are just happy and proud that something makes that much of a difference in their lives.

You just never know.

In the end, running a marathon is a big deal, and no matter how many you run, each one changes you just a little bit. Heck, running a half-marathon is a big deal, and to some, running a 5K is a pretty incredible accomplishment. Life takes everyone to some dark places, for some people it's grief, others it's the uncertainty of a job or career, and to others it's about health issues, whether for them or a member of their family. Still, they showed the courage, discipline and fortitude to do something that they probably weren't comfortable with (like starting to run), and took it that much further by coming up with a goal and completing it.

Life is about celebrating accomplishments, and if you want to celebrate a running accomplishment with a sticker on your car -- go for it! Who cares what the trolls and haters think, you did something awesome. Some days, seeing a sticker on a car is the motivation I need to get up and go for a run, or think about my own journey and my own goals. In order for a running community to be strong, it needs everyone to feed off of each other, and sometimes seeing a sticker, or someone out for a run, is just what I need.

So when you see people being critical of running stickers, just block out the noise and remember that more people see your stickers and celebrate what you did than hate you for it. And, who knows, it might inspire someone else to do something great.

It's funny, but as I was putting this post together I found an article about Bob Kennedy running the New York Marathon this weekend. For those who don't know, at the turn of the century (and a few years before), Kennedy was a world class distance runner and at one time held three American records. The story talked about how he ran his last pro race 10 years ago (at the NYCM) but went five years without running and gained close to 60 pounds.

Story is here.

Anyway, in between raising his family and running his Indianapolis-based running store, he fell away from his identity as a runner, and didn't like running slow. I remember meeting him at the Mini expo in 2005 and asked him if he was ever going to run the Mini. His answer was maybe someday, when there wasn't this expectation for him to win or run really fast.

He now runs for the love of running, and hopes to run 3:30 on Sunday. I really liked a quote he had at the end:

“When you see people cross a half-marathon finish line in 2 hours 45 minutes with tears in their eyes, you kind of get it,” Kennedy said. “When I was 25, I didn’t get it. I really didn’t. I get it now.”

Don't worry about the haters. Lots of people get you, and lots of people understand and celebrate you. So celebrate yourself!

Matter of fact, I think I'm getting a 26.2 magnet for my car tonight!







Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Let's Get Speedy

Sunday in my race report (which I guess could've been considered a speed workout in itself) I mentioned the fact that I was ready to start doing some faster training. As I had mentioned, all of my running has pretty much been at the same pace, which is fine, because ultimately the better stamina leads to faster times, but I wanted to speed up that process a little bit.

Like the great marathon guru Hal Higdon says...to race fast you have to train fast. Not sure if Mr. Higdon was the first person to say that, but when it comes to getting regular peeps like us ready to run, he's the man.

So Darcy and I headed to the Bartlett Park District gym, where they have a newly-surfaced running track. The sign next to the track says it's eight laps to a mile, which would make it about 200 meters around. At some point I might go totally anal and measure it myself -- because there have been conversations that eight laps is a bit longer -- but for now it will do.

I started off by running a really easy one mile. Easy, like 13 minutes-plus easy. Then after a quick drink of water I went 6x200 with 200 jog recovery, then a 1/2-mile cooldown.

In my mind, I was thinking that a 60-ish second lap would be a pretty good effort, and given my splits it was. I wasn't going all-out -- then again, at 45 years old I don't think I have an "all-out" gear any more (!) -- but it was hard. Mostly I focused on my form: back straight, eyes up, good arm swing. And most of all, stay relaxed.

I was very happy with the results (see below) and it was a good starting point. I did a little speedwork back in the spring and it manifested itself pretty quickly as it was around that time I ran my best time of the year for the 5K (30:05) at the Apple Blossom 5K in the first weekend in May. Hopefully I get that type of improvement this time too!

Warmup -- 13:02.86
1-- 58.30
2-- 58.44
3-- 59.05
4-- 57.58
5-- 56.10
6-- 55.12
Cooldown -- 6:35

What I was really happy about was the fact that the splits were fairly consistent, and my last interval was the fastest. Those splits translate to roughly a 7:45 pace, which was a pretty good workout!

I think between now and my next 5K I am going to focus on doing two speed sessions a week...one consisting of intervals and the other some kind of tempo-type stuff. It will be a really fun challenge.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Dick Pond Cocoa Run 5K -- October 26, 2014

When I looked at the forecast for today's race the other day and saw the predicted high was supposed to be 65 degrees, I kind of laughed a bit as it looked like any post-race hot cocoa would not be necessary.

But when Darcy and I woke up this morning to get ready for the race, it was a different story! They temperature was sitting at a brisk 43 degrees, but fortunately the skies were clear and there was little to no wind at all.

By the time we arrived at the Danada Forest Preserve in Wheaton, the morning was turning glorious. While it was still a bit chilly out of the sun, by the time we were ready to get started at 8:05 a.m. it wasn't much warmer but still really comfortable.

When we arrived at the start/finish area I was kind of excited. It turns out that Danada is an equestrian center that has a grass horse training track, which meant the first half-mile and the last quarter-mile (or so) would have a cross country feel to it. Being a very dedicated fan of XC I was pumped because it was the first time I got to race on something like that.

There was also an 8-mile race, and those hearty souls took off a few minutes before we did. I got a few stretches in and lined up a little near the back of the pack. I am a big fan of techno/dance music and a few days ago I found a podcast from a DJ named Hardwell, so that was my music of choice for the race. The great thing about those podcasts is that it's close to an hour long and there are few breaks in the music, so the beat never stops.

The race got underway, and I tried to focus on what I had mentioned in a post earlier this week. Rather than force the issue and try too hard, I just wanted to be smooth and keep my breathing under control.

We cruised clockwise around the grass track, and it felt really good on my legs. I tried to find grass that was trampled down since if I ran in some of the longer stuff it would slow me down.

About six minutes into the race we made a right turn onto a (very) crushed path. So the path was a bit hard, but not as bad as asphalt or concrete. In fact, only a couple hundred feet of the course was pavement, which was really nice.

I had entered the race hoping to break 31 minutes, and hit the first mile in 10:12. So it was a bit slower than the 10 minute-ish pace I needed, but not anything to worry about. Plus, about a quarter-mile further down the line we came around a little bend and there was a HUGE hill. I thought that was a good thing -- for about two seconds. Then I saw the 2-mile sign (which was facing the other way) and looked up to see the leaders coming from the other direction.

Dang! So we had a nice hill to cruise down, but we were going to have to go right back up it a few minutes later. I was a bit disappointed because I think in a downhill/uphill situation I sit on the negative side of that ledger -- as in, I lose more going up a hill than I gain going down.

Oh well, a couple of minutes later we were at the turnaround, and a quick 180-sent us back the way we came. I was trying to find a couple of people who had seemed to have settled in to work with them, so that was a bit of a help.

But man, that hill. For a lot of people, it was like Heartbreak Hill at the Boston Marathon, because a lot of people's races came to a grinding halt. In fact, many people ended up stopping to walk as they neared the top.

I hit the second mile in 10:13, which was fine, actually I was quite happy with having put together two consistent miles like that. Lately I've felt like my runs have been all over the map in terms of pace, so putting together those two splits was great.

I was determined to not stop on the hill, but by the time I got to the top I was hurting pretty badly. It took another 100 meters or so for the lactic acid to subside and the different muscle group to start firing again. I had settled in behind a woman in a bright yellow jacket, and hoped to work with her to keep things going to the end of the race.

I'm not gonna lie, the last half-mile or so was kind of painful. But by then I just don't like to give in and slow down, I just tell myself "just five more minutes of running" and keep going. We made a turn left back onto the grass and I was quite surprised when I looked at my watch.

Kind of crazy, but I'd run the third mile in 9:43 and was sitting at 30:09 overall. All of the sudden, 31 minutes was in reach! I picked up the pace -- and passed the yellow-jacket-wearing woman -- and went as hard as I could the rest of the way. When I got to the finish line, I was just a bit short, crossing it in 31:02.

I was so focused and had my music going and I didn't hear the PA announcer say a few things about me! My PR-chick wife had been talking to him while we were out on the course and slipped in there that today is our three-month anniversary, so he was saying all sorts of nice things about me. :--) Darcy's just awesome. She really is.

Overall I was happy with the race. Dick Pond Athletics is a chain of local shoe stores that does a phenomenal job with whatever they do, so the race was very organized and well-done, and the hot cocoa at the end was fantastic!

Running-wise, I was thrilled. My splits were great, I negative split the race and made my last mile the fastest (always a goal of mine). I just missed my goal time by two seconds, so no complaints there. And, it was a beautiful day to run.

Performance-wise, thinking ahead to my next 5K over Thanksgiving weekend, I need to do some faster training. I'm doing some good base training stuff, but that's just running miles at the same pace. To get faster I'll need to throw in some pickups or hill work or something. I'm still holding fast on my goal to break 30 minutes by the end of the year!


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday

I won't do this every Thursday, but in honor of the Twitter tradition, I thought I'd post a couple neat photos today.

You are following me on Twitter, aren't you? If not, go to @run2ohfour39 and do it! I promise it will be fun!

And while you are at it, check out my Facebook page too!

OK, back on topic. Today I rounded up all of my Mini swag and put it into one photo. I'm a little disappointed because I am missing four of the seven bibs. Those got lost in a move somewhere. I'm especially sad to be missing my number from 2003, which I got autographed by the great Bob Kennedy.

I've had better luck with my medals though. I have six of those, and the seventh (from 2005) is hanging at my dad's grave in Indiana. I left it there on my way home from the race.

Anyway, here it is!

  


The other comes from 2009 when I joined my friend Wally Hines and some members of his Hudson, Wisconsin running club at the Ragnar Great River run. We also ran together in 2007 and 2010. Another friend, Scott Goddard, rode up with me and ran too. Scott has been with me through a lot over the last few years, so it was fun to experience that with him as well.

 

Yep, we made the local paper! The race had 233 teams and started in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, then finished in St. Paul, Minnesota. I can't find the results anywhere (I'll keep looking) but I think we finished in the 28-29 hour range. If you have never run a relay, find one and do it, you won't regret it!

One of the fun aspects of finishing a Ragnar is that when your teammate is about a half-mile away from finishing the final leg, they announce your team name over the loudspeaker. The other 11 runners head down the path (which runs along the Mississippi River) a couple of hundred yards and everyone finishes together. Then you get medals and pose for pictures.

I'm the guy sitting on the back right of the truck (sporting my sweet Oakland A's hat), Scott is standing behind me with the sunglasses and Wally is next to him in the hat. Wally and his running group have gone on to run several Ragnars all over the country! It's definitely something I would love to do again.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Things That Make You Go Hmmmm

Before I get off on my tangent, I wanted to celebrate an anniversary. It was 14 years ago today (Oct. 22) that I ran my first marathon (Chicago, finished in 4:27:42)! It's hard to believe, and in a way kind of strange. That's almost a third of a lifetime ago for me. What a journey it's been in so many ways.

Anyway, my two runs this week have been oh so different, as they involved different kind of efforts but returned kind of similar results.

So today, I ran down to my favorite route, Hawk Hollow, and back home, for a total of 6 miles in 1:04:07. All around it was a great run, the weather was perfect -- 53 degrees with a little wind and crystal clear skies -- and I actually ran a negative split, going out in 32:36 and back in 31:31.

The best part is that I didn't really feel like I pushed myself, it was just a good, solid run. A little faster than the infamous "run all day" pace, but not much more. While I was out there, I was even thinking of a few goals -- maybe mileposts might be a better word -- that I want to accomplish on my way to the Mini next May.

One would be to be able to run 9-10 miles at a 10-minute pace. Today's run averaged 10:41, so I feel like I am on the right track for that.

It was a good pick-me-up type of run, because Monday was a bit of a disaster. I headed out on my 3.75-mile route looking to do a sort of time trial in advance of my 5K on Sunday. So from the jump I was going at it really hard, just trying to get a gauge for the weekend.

I mean, I went at it HARD: legs hurting, breathing heavy and trying to stretch out my stride. I hit the 5K mark in a little over 32 minutes and finished in a total time of 39:45, good for a 10:26 pace.

It was a bit disappointing as I felt that I could go faster than that. I have to acknowledge that there were hills in there that won't be there on Sunday's flat course, but given training had been going well I felt like I should be going faster.

But here's the weird thing: I ran what I thought was hard on Monday night, and tonight I ran two-plus miles further and despite running a more comfortable pace was only about 15 seconds per mile slower.

Odd? You bet. But after some deep thought the reasoning was pretty simple...I was trying too hard!

Like any sport, you get the best results when you stay relaxed and focused. That helps keep your muscles nice and long, and lets your ability take over. If you try and press the issue too much, you end up tying yourself up and working way harder while getting worse results. It's the paralysis by analysis of the athletic world.

That's what happened to me. I was so focused and cognizant about trying to run a time that I kind of self-sabotaged the whole thing. Tonight I returned to one of my mantras -- "Relax and Flow" -- and just tried to glide along instead of trying to almost fling myself forward. And it worked out.

It was a good reminder ahead of Sunday, and I'm sure it's going to lead to good things!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Bib of the (Last) Week -- Indy Mini-Marathon, May 5, 2007

A little late on my BOTW since it I normally try to put one out on Friday or Saturday (so there will be another one coming out later this week), but in honor of getting some love from the 500 Festival Mini-Marathon folks -- thanks guys! -- I decided to post a race report about my most epic Mini ever.

In all, 2007 might have been my best overall year for running. From the beginning of the year I had been really motivated to lose weight and run well, and I had a lot of success in both of those areas. In fact, I'd love to have that same kind of success in 2015!

Not only did I set my half-marathon PR at the Mini that year, I also had two of the better runs of my career. Last year I mentioned both, my moonlit-inspired midnight run at the 2007 Ragnar Relay as well as the Chicago Marathon a couple of months later, where I didn't set a PR but ran perfect splits in the 87-degree heat.

Most, well, probably all, of that was the result of running close to 100 miles per month and eventually losing close to 40 pounds. That year was one of the most consistent running years I've ever had, and it certainly paid off.

The 2007 Mini represented the seventh straight year I had run the race, and as it turned out, the last year I have run it. To be honest, when I arrived in Indianapolis the day before the race, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I knew my training runs had been going well but I hadn't raced yet so I didn't fully know what I was capable of running. I thought my half PR (1:48:36) was a possibility, but I thought the best thing to do was go out a bit on the conservative side and see what would happen.

The cold weather from the previous year turned out to be an outlier, as the conditions returned to their normal Mini-type state (hot and humid) in 2007. It wasn't warm --temps were in the low 60s -- but it was pretty humid, so the idea of going out under control was the smart one. One thing I had learned in my six previous races was that if you burned yourself out at the Speedway, it was a long trip back downtown.

Mom and Karen came down with me, and were positioned just across the start line. I was in Corral D, so a little bit back, but things got spread out quickly enough that I got off to a good start.

One thing I remember about that day is that I felt really, really good! The pace was really free and easy for me, but I knew better than to try and press the issue early. I hit five miles in 40:42, so about an 8:08 pace, which was pretty close to perfect. I had hoped to run right around 40 minutes, but didn't mind being a little "behind" because I was confident that time could be made up later.

Entering the track, I kept to the plan since it was working so well. Once we were onto the front straight, just after mile 7, I felt like it was OK to start picking up the pace, and when I did, I just took off! Once out of the track, I hit the 10-mile mark in 1:19:47, which meant I ran the second five miles in 39:42 (about 7:54 pace).

I was still feeling good and my momentum just kept taking me forward. As we were heading back downtown and I realized that I had reached the point where I was passing A LOT of people. As I turned onto New York Street for the last mile, I just turned it up with what I had left, and when I crossed the finish line and looked at my watch, I could hardly believe it.

1:42:35.

Are you freaking kidding me!?!? I had broken my half-marathon PR by close to six minutes and had run the last 5K in 22:38, which was (and is) just 12 seconds slower than my 5K PR! I had run the last 5K at a 7:17 pace!

It was such an amazing day, and I realized after the race that it was the first time I had run a half-marathon non-stop. Usually I'll take a quick walk or two through a water stop, but I didn't even do that! Just like the Ragnar run later on in the summer, I had just stayed in the moment and followed a plan, and when it came time to go I was able to do it.

I'm not sure how I was able to have so many "perfect" runs in such a short amount of time, but I'm glad I got to experience that feeling. It's one I hope I get to have again someday.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

3 Thoughts For Thursday

So I'll explain the photo in a minute, but as we careen towards the weekend here are a few things on my mind.

* First off, congrats to everyone who ran the Chicago Marathon on Sunday! I hope everyone reached their goals and finished with a smile on their face. Whether it's your first time or your 10th, it will be an experience you will remember forever.

I didn't run, of course, but that didn't stop us from heading downtown to spectate. So while I thought that I would be in Atlanta over the weekend, instead I stretched my streak to 15 straight years I have been a competitor, spectator or member of the media. I think...maybe it's 14 of 15, but either way, it's a long time!

My brother-in-law Adam was running his first marathon on Sunday, so we went downtown to support him. Hopefully he felt the love, because unfortunately we never saw him until he made it to the finish line.

It wasn't for a lack of trying, though. Darcy and I picked up the race at about Mile 2, spent some time on the Adams St. bridge (Mile 13 -- as you can see it was pretty windy), spent some more time at halfway and a while at Mile 17. With no sight of Adam, we headed to the finish. Darcy had secured us tickets to a Bank of America hospitality tent that included entry to the bleachers at the finish, so just after noon we headed there to wait for Adam's arrival.

In the meantime, my friend Noah crossed the finish line in 4:24:52, and we were able to cheer him on to the line. That marked a significant
milestone, because Noah and I have been friends since 2000 and I never had the chance to cheer him at the finish of a race. That's usually because he got there first and cheered me on instead! Glad I finally got to return the favor.

The finish line of a marathon is so inspiring. I like to see the faces of the people as they approach the finish, and I especially like seeing so many different nations represented by the participants. I think it would be so cool to go to a different country and run a marathon, and that's something I hope to do someday.

Finally, Adam lumbered his way to the finish (in 4:57:32), and I couldn't believe we missed him so many times! First off, at 6-foot-2 (or so), he stands out in a crowd, and second, he was wearing a bright blue shirt. Oh well, I'm glad we at least got to share a little bit of the accomplishment with him.

Then it was on to the tent, where I chowed down on some of the great food! I took advantage of that because last year after running the race I just didn't feel like eating.

It's always fun to spectate and we had a blast this year. As time goes on, it gets more fun and more exciting thanks to technology and social media. The marathon's runner tracking software gives your favorite runners's splits in 5K increments, and includes an estimated finish time and realtime estimate as to when they will cross the finish line. It also sends text alerts to your phone, as well as Facebook and Twitter, among others. Being a fan of social media, that's a cool thing.

Adam had a tough day Sunday, and I was a little worried that would leave him to not want to run again. But it was quite the contrary, he said he had a great time and was looking forward to running in 2015. Hey, what a coincidence! So am I!

* Props also go out to Matt for setting a HUGE PR in his race on Friday night. It's rare that a cross country team gets a "home" meet, but Benedictine hosted the Eagle Invitational at a forest preserve not far from campus. After following the team to South Bend and St. Louis for their last two meets (and heading to Oshkosh, Wisconsin this weekend), it was nice to have a short drive to watch him run.

It was an insanely fast race, and Matt hauled his way around the 8K course in 29:01 to drop his personal best by almost two minutes! He was also selected by his team as the Athlete of the Week. He's having a great season for a freshman -- as are several of his teammates -- but it's hard to believe they only have three races left in the year. Then it's on to track!

* I haven't been running a lot lately. I ran 3.8 miles on Saturday and 3.7 today, but with three days to go in the week I can still make my 12-15 mile goal. With how well my 6-miler went a couple of weeks ago, I may stretch a run on Sunday out to seven and see how it feels.

Today was a bit rough, I just felt tight and had trouble with my pacing, so much so that I stopped and walked a couple of blocks to slow myself down before resuming at a much slower pace. That seemed to help, but my legs felt like lead for the most part. Oy. I'm thinking it has something to do with my water intake and hydration as I haven't been doing too well at that as of late.

Finally, about the picture. The Bartlett police set up one of those "Your Speed" signs at the end of the street, which I'm happy to see because people like to fly down our street. Anyway, I've run by those so many times over the years but have never recorded a speed. As you can tell, this one was different, so I had to get a picture!

Little things, folks. Little things.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Chicago Marathon From Behind the Notepad -- and Tape Recorder

Tomorrow I will be spectating at the Chicago Marathon, and at this time last year I was gearing up to run the race for the fifth time. But in the previous two years (2011-12) I had a different role...as a member of the media.

In both 2011-12 I covered the marathon for the running website Letsrun.com, and several years ago I wrote a weekly column and covered the Elite Athlete press conference with the Aurora Beacon News. There are many sides to the marathon, and the one from the perspective of a credentialed media member is one that many aren't able to see.

As a writer, it was really special to be able to cover an event as prestigious as a major worldwide marathon, and as a fan it was a treat to be up close to the runners I really admire. I've had so many interesting conversations with elite runners over the years, but what's funny is that while I have no problem talking to other professional athletes I'm still a bit nervous when I talk to them.

For me the weekend would always begin with the Elite Athlete press conference on Friday, which is held at the Chicago Hilton and Towers. If you get there early, it's kind of a who's who of the running world as runners, former runners, commentators and coaches are all hanging out and catching up with each other. For lots of people, the running season is a traveling road show, as they go from race to race, so they always take some time to catch up.

Once the festivities get started, race director Carey Pinkowski begins with some remarks. I've dealt with Mr. Pinkowski on more than a few occasions, and he is always kind and cordial. Nowadays the race is probably too big to do this, but years ago you could call or e-mail him and he would always reply. He cares deeply about the race and the city of Chicago, so as long as he is in charge the race is in good hands.

Then the elite runners are introduced, and a few of the top contenders take to the stage for questions. Since runners are probably the most humble athletes on the planet, you don't get much more than "I'm happy to be here" or "my training went well and I'm ready to go on Sunday". Of course, that's also because many of the runners are from other countries and either don't speak English or it is their second language, so that's understandable.

Once all of those festivities are finished, the runners move to another room and sit at individual tables for one-on-one interviews. If I really needed something from a specific runner, I would normally try to sit with them when someone like Kathrine Switzer (the first woman to run the Boston Marathon and now a commentator) or Toni Reavis (a world-renowned running journalist and commentator) are talking to them because the runners are comfortable talking to them and are more open to answering their questions.

After that I try to find one of the top American runners and get a few comments from them. Again, they are great people and more than happy for the coverage.

Once I'm done with all of that, it's time to write. You can read one of my pre-race stories here and here.

Sunday dawns bright and early, as I try to beat the crowd downtown and get to the Hilton by about 6:30. Nothing is going on yet but it's a good time to get some breakfast and get my workstation set up for the day ahead.

They are nice enough to feed us breakfast, but we aren't allowed into the dining room until all of the elite runners have eaten. I peeked in there once a couple of years ago and saw a Kenyan runner eating quietly at a table all by himself. I really wonder what was going through his mind.

Unlike most in the media I'm in fan mode until the race starts, and I like to go out and watch the start of the race. A credential is a big help to get into a good spot to see the start! :--) At some point I head back to the hotel, and by then the elite runners are about 10K into their race.

The press room is set up much differently on race day. While the Friday presser was a stage with some chairs set up in rows, race day has dozens of tables, each set up with power and network capabilities. Large TVs are set up for the broadcast of the race, and big screens are set up at the front of the room showing the current standings.

During the race, there is a person with a microphone who calls out mile split times and other notables about what's going on. I usually write down the individual splits and the elapsed time for each mile.

As the race is nearing its completion, a marathon staffer goes around asking the media who they would like to talk to. Normally they bring in the top 2-3 finishers on both the men's and women's side, but other times there might be someone who has had a good race that might be interesting to talk to.

When the race is finishing, most of us get to work. It's usually a little bit before the runners so I would start writing and fit the quotes in later. It's interesting to see them 30 minutes or so after the race because when you see many of them on TV they look like they could run another 10 miles, but when most of them make it to the media center, they look just as worked over as the rest of us!

I would typically write a game story and what's called a sidebar. The game story focuses on the race and the winners, while a sidebar takes something from the race in focus.

Here is my game story and sidebar from 2011, and my story and sidebar from 2012.

All of that writing usually takes about as long as it took the elite runners to run the marathon! Still it was an amazing experience to be a part of, maybe not the same as running the race itself, but pretty close.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Medal Of the Week -- 2000 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon

"Medal of the Week" is taking place of "Bib of the Week" since unfortunately I no longer have my bib from my first marathon. And as I type this, I have decided that MOTW might become a feature too because I still have all of my medals (close to 30 of them) even if I don't have the corresponding bib.

As I have mentioned before, my interest in running the marathon in 2000 stemmed from watching the 1999 race. I had moved from Ohio in October, 1998 and while I knew about the marathon I didn't KNOW it was such a big deal. That changed when I caught the start of the '99 race on television, and it was immediately something I knew I wanted to be a part of.

I decided to wait until the start of the New Year to begin running. Looking back I'm not sure why, maybe it was when I -- to quote John "The Penguin" Bingham -- had the "courage to start". I don't know, but I remember going to the Foot Locker at the Fox Valley Mall in Aurora and picking out a pair of Reebok DMX shoes to start my training.

So my first run was on Jan. 2, 2000, and I ran a mile in about 15 minutes. At the time I thought "this was hard...how am I going to be able to run 25 more of those?" But I kept working at it and it got a little bit easier every time, and by late March I was running four miles in about 32 minutes.

My first official race was the Shamrock Shuffle, where I pretty much did everything wrong! I wore cotton clothes, lined up in the wrong place and went out way too fast. Still, I finished in a gun time of 49:24 (they weren't using chips yet for that race) and had a blast.

So I kept at it. As I moved towards my goal I was still not sure if I was going to be able to do it, so very few people knew. In fact, it wasn't until June that I told anyone outside of my family. I eventually told my friend Noah while we were sitting at our desks at work, and within 15 minutes he had signed up too!

The long runs were so hard. I was trying to do them all by myself and I'd have good and bad days. It was a struggle to train because by the middle of the summer I was working three jobs: my day job in IT, my night job on the sports desk at the Beacon News and a paper route in the morning. Looking back I'm still not sure how I was able to make it!

Add to that Kevin was born on Sept. 15th and working in training runs was tough. I also had an injury issue in August as my right IT band started hurting. I took two weeks off and went to Dick Pond's to get fitted with some shoes, and the first pair didn't do the trick, so they were nice enough to get me in another pair, the legendary Adidas Bostons (RIP). I eventually went through about eight pair of those, and to me they are still the best shoes ever.

Still apprehensive, I didn't even register until August (can you believe that!?!?) and in September I had my first big test at the Chicago Half Marathon. Through 10 miles I was just cruising and looked like I was going to run about 1:55, then I just...stopped. My body told me it didn't want to run any more. If you have never experienced that, it's just the weirdest feeling. I struggled in the rest of the way and finished in about 2:05.

A couple of weeks later, when it was time for the 20-miler, it got even worse. Noah and I decided to run together on the Lakefront Path, and it was hot and very windy. I had hoped to run a 9-minute or 9:30 pace, but the conditions were just horrible, and eventually the run took us over four hours. Needless to say, it was a nervous next couple of weeks before race day.

At the time Noah was living in an apartment just off of Lake Shore Drive (actually, he lives around the same place again now), so I stayed at his place the night before the marathon. Despite having an awesome soft leather couch to sleep on, it was a short, restless night, and I probably only got about 2-3 hours of sleep.

But race day dawned, and we headed to Grant Park. Funny thing was, after all of the worrying and anxiety, I felt so calm when we got down there at a little before 7 a.m. It was still dark -- the race was on Oct. 22nd that year -- and with just over 27,000 actual starters wasn't the crazy bin that it is now.

Even all these years later, I still cannot describe my feelings as I stood with the massive crowd at the starting line. I know as the race got closer my anticipation started to build, but I don't remember being overly nervous or anything. I've never been able to do this in any other sport I play but when I line up to run I always feel confident. By then there is no reason to be nervous, it's time to run and I'm either going to finish or I'm not. That -- and my time -- is completely up to me.

One thing I do love about the marathon is the almost silence that falls over the runners right before the race actually starts. Then when the horns go off it's almost like releasing the air out of a balloon, almost like a collective "it's go time!".

As usual it took several minutes to cross the starting line and I noticed that a lot of people were jumping up and touching the starting line banner. I decided not to, because I had this picture in my head of jumping up in the air and coming down and spraining my ankle or something.

(Editor's note: No joke. I read after the race that a guy slipped and fell on a trash bag someone had been wearing to keep warm and he tore his ACL.)

As I got to the start line I didn't jump up but had this huge surge of adrenaline, so much so that just as I crossed the start line I screamed "LET'S GO!" to no one in particular. But as I made my way up Columbus, I made what turned out to be one of the better tactical decisions of my career.

It was kind of slow going at the start and I thought to myself "you know, you could run at this pace all day long". So I did, I just focused on keeping a slow-ish, comfortable pace and simply navigated my way through the streets.

As I did, I was having an absolute blast. For much of the first several miles of the race, I just rode the waves of everyone's emotions and enjoyed the sights. In what seemed no time we had reached the furthest point north the course went and turned back towards the city. So I just stared at the skyline and kept going.

Just before the halfway point, I spotted my sister, Joni and my brother, Tim. They had been in on the plan from the early going, as they were one of the first people I told. Of course, out of everyone in my life then, they were two people who supported me no matter what. They had driven up from Peru, Ind. the morning of the race, and it was such a big deal to have seen them.

I continued on, hitting the halfway point of the race at 2:17 on the clock, which was the gun time, I think I was at about 2:10 in total time. That was when the race began to grind a bit for me. Miles 13-17 on the marathon course go out west to the United Center then turns back towards the city. I've never liked that stretch, the streets are really cambered, there is little crowd support and absolutely no shade. Blah.

Once we got closer to downtown, my spirits rose again, and I just focused on getting to Mile 20. By that point I was really looking forward to seeing Chinatown. The year before, I had made it home from church to see the elite runners covering the last several miles, and thought Chinatown just looked so cool. And, yes, it's everything and more. Lots of people, lots of noise, dragons dancing -- they pull out all of the stops.

Just like that, we had about five miles to go, and the miles just kept counting down. I was still feeling pretty good, all things considered. I had been really smart with my eating and drinking and had found the perfect pace for me.

As I crossed back over the Dan Ryan, I took a look to the north at downtown. Let me tell you, at that point in the race is just looks so far away! A couple of blocks later I saw Joni and Tim again, and they actually jumped out and ran a couple of blocks with me. Joni asked me how I was feeling and I said "my feet hurt!". To which she replied "yeah, but you look great!". She always found the positive in everything.

Back then, the course would go all the way out on 31st Street to Lake Michigan, then would hang a left on the old Lake Shore Drive for the final push home. Once I got turned that way and was running towards the tunnel under McCormick Place, I started thinking about the great runner Khalid Khannouchi (who won Chicago in 1997, 1999 -- where he set a world record of 2:05:42 -- 2000 and 2002) and how this was the point in the race the previous year where he dropped the hammer and passed Ondoro Osoro to win the race and set the world record.

Once we got through the McCormick Place tunnel, it was just over a mile to the finish! We wound our way through the park south of Soldier Field and made our way to a short jaunt on Lake Shore before going up the Columbus Drive ramp. Like this year's course, which has that final hill up Roosevelt Road, the last stretch to the 26-mile mark was up a bit of a hill, but it made for a great sight to get to the top of that rise and see the finish line.

I was almost there! I picked up the pace (well, what pace I had left) and headed home. I made sure as I passed the grandstands that I looked up and took everything in. Thirty seconds later, I crossed the finish line in a final time of 4:27:42, which is still the second-fastest of the eight marathons I've run.

It is hard to describe the feeling of finishing, and after receiving a mylar blanket the next thing I wanted was that medal! I was almost giddy as the volunteer hung it around my neck. That medal was the one thing I thought about through all of my training and all of the tough days I had were I worked too much and didn't get enough sleep.

I was just so proud, one of the proudest moments of my life. The next day at work I hung up my race number in my cube and basked in the accomplishment. For days afterwards, I still couldn't believe I had done it -- and so had Noah, who finished in 3:53: 27.

Despite my original prediction that I would be done running after the marathon, I've kept at it, off and on, for the last 14 years. I've had some great experiences running and have done some really cool things, but so far nothing has topped that day, and I don't think anything ever will.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sunday's (Sort Of) Long Run

What a crazy weekend for the weather! Part of me feels bad that I missed running in the snow on Saturday morning, but then part of me is glad I stayed in bed. After all, there's plenty more where that came from, and plenty more chances to run in the snow.

Actually, I like running in the snow. Not the kind that piles up and makes things slippery, just the lightly falling stuff that coats the road a little bit and crunches under my feet. That's fun.

The conditions the last few days have been quite an adjustment, haven't they? After spending the last few months trying to figure out what we need to do to stay cool, now we are all of the sudden looking for ways to keep warm.

I don't mind the cold as much, it's the wind that gets to me. It was pretty breezy on Friday afternoon when I went out for a 3.1-mile run, and I struggled finding a pace as the wind was swirling around quite a bit. One minute it was at my back, the other it was in my face. And man, was that wind cold!

Of course, that was partly my fault because I didn't dress accordingly. The area around my house is generally well protected from the wind, and it feels one way, but once I get out on the path along Bartlett Road it's a bit of a different story. When I walked out of the house I felt like in a shirt and shorts I'd be OK, but I guess my blood is still a little thick from the summer because I never got comfortable.

I kept that in mind when I headed out on Sunday and wore a quarter-zip on top of my shirt, which was much, much better. I'm calling it a "sort of" long run because with so many people at the tail end of training for the Chicago Marathon -- or in heavy training for another fall marathon -- I feel almost bad calling a 6-miler a for-real "long run".

I usually drive down to the trail at Hawk Hollow, but instead I ran down there from home as it is just over a mile, so with the 3.8-mile trail and the 2.2-mile commute it comes to right about six. I struggled again to find a good pace over the first mile or so...for some reason, that's just been an issue for me lately. Usually I'm pretty good with pacing but that has deserted me a bit as of late. It doesn't seem to be anything to worry about, it will probably get better the more I run consistently.

Once I made it to the path (about a mile in) I was feeling pretty good. It's just amazing how much better a non-pavement trail feels on your legs. I'm going to try and get on that path and some of the others around here as much as possible because my experience with the CARA group in Wheaton last year made me a big believer in soft surfaces.

I've always know they were better, I just didn't spend a lot of time on them in the past. But over the course of marathon training I'm guessing I did well over 50 percent of my training on soft surfaces, and I didn't experience as much knee and shin pain as I had in the past when I would run a lot on pavement. Our long runs on the paths were really smooth and I think the fact I trained off pavement so much was how I got through the training cycle and to the starting line with very few problems. So needless to say it will be a big part of what I do in the future.

What's funny is when I finished the stretch on the trail and went back to the pavement just how quickly my legs started to fatigue. That or it happened because I was 5-miles into the run! :--) Still, I made it to the end and felt pretty good the entire time. I don't have a watch but I'm guessing I ran at around 11 minutes per mile, maybe a little better than that, which is fine for now. I also didn't feel sore Sunday night or Monday, which is a positive too.

I'm a big believer in long runs and hope to get to 8-10 miles soon. That means I can also stretch a midweek run into the 6-7 mile range. I loved the days when I could go out and run an "easy" 10 miles and I think about how nice it would be to do that again. Guess I just have to keep working at it.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Bib of the Week -- 2001 Indianapolis Mini Marathon

One fun thing I like to do every so often is post a photo of a bib from a race I did in the past and share some memories I have of that event. For years I made it a point to collect the bibs from all the races I had run and hang them in my garage, but after I moved into an apartment about half of those bibs got lost for some reason.

Still, I have a bunch left and continue to accumulate more, so I don't think I will ever run out of bib-related material. With the 2015 Indy Mini Marathon my goal race, I decided to make my first one the subject of today's post.


I was still pretty much a newbie at the start of 2001, having only gotten into running a year before. In fact, my desire to take up running was inspired by the start of the 1999 Chicago Marathon. I was up early for church and warming up my car when I switched on the television and caught the beginning of the race.

It was quite an epiphany for me, because for so long I had always associated runners as being skinny, waify-types. I had grown up in a small town with a good cross country and track program -- one of my schoolmates, Mark Schierer, won the 1987 Class AA state individual cross country championship and was a state champion in track as well -- and all of them were skinny...and fast. I knew nothing about the sport and had never even been to a road race, but what I saw on my TV that morning were people who looked just like me, and it blew me away. Not to mention it looked like they were having fun. So my goal was to run the 2000 Chicago Marathon, which I did.

What I didn't anticipate was that I would love running as much as I did. For much of the first part of 2000 I thought the marathon was going to be a one-and-done thing, and I would hang up my shoes once I crossed that item off my list. Funny thing was, the more I ran and the more I raced, the more I began to enjoy running and the running community.

So even after finishing the marathon, I decided to continue on. My sister Karen lives in Central Indiana and was running at the time, so she mentioned the Mini Marathon, and how it was a big race in downtown Indy that included a lap around the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In reality, she could've stopped there. I have had a deep, intense love affair with auto racing and with IMS that dates back to 1979, and the thought of running a lap around that amazing place was all I needed to know. Sign me up!

I also found a willing participant in my friend Noah Schwartz, who was a co-worker of mine back then and still is a friend to this day. He had run the marathon too and after some consistent training was turning into an absolute monster on the road.

So we were all set for the first week of May. I had that goal in mind, but a second one was to get a seeded number so that I could start up front and get off to a better start. With time running out to get a qualifying time, Noah and I entered the Wacky Snacky 5K on Feb. 25 in hopes of running a 19:30 (Noah) and a 22:30 (Mike) to get our seeded bibs.

Though the weather was crappy (25 degrees and 30 mph winds) we were both going to go after it. Noah certainly did, I went over a little big of a bridge about a quarter-mile into the race and looking ahead I could see him running with the leaders! Me, meanwhile, took things out way too fast, running a 6:48 first mile that to this day is still the fastest race mile of my life.

It was hard from then on in and my splits got progressively slower, but a late flourish gave me a finish in 22:26, meaning I set a 5K PR (which still stands) and while Noah slowed down too he broke 19:30 and got his seed as well.

So we were all set and headed to Indianapolis the day before the race. I was feeling good...training had been going well and I felt like I could maybe break 1:50 if all went well. Noah was thinking even bigger as he wanted the special finisher's medal they gave to the Top 500 runners.

We stayed at my parent's house just up the road from Indy and headed down with Karen (who was running), my dad and brother Tim in tow. I still don't know how I talked my dad into going, but I'm glad I did because it was the only race he ever saw me run.

Looking at the Weather Underground website, it says the high temperature that day was 82, and that it was about 65 and cloudy when the race went off, but with the humidity it was kind of sticky. Still, conditions were pretty good all things considered.

That year, the race used a dual-start line procedure which saw half of the field line up on one street and the other half on another street two blocks away. Noah and Karen started on Washington Street and I was over on Maryland, with the fields merging just past about a half-mile near Victory Field.

The cool part was that my seeded bib got me line up right behind the elite women. There were only a couple dozen of them so at the start of the race I was only about 15 feet from the actual starting line. I thought that was pretty awesome.

In the end it was a blessing and a curse. While it was great to get such a clean release off the start line, the fact I was starting behind the elite women and in PR shape led to me cranking it up a little to much at the start. I was able to settle myself down a little bit and I hit five miles in 41:03.

The five-mile mark sits just outside the Speedway, so when you pass that it's a quick jaunt down 16th Street before hanging a left and going into the track. We went through a tunnel under the actual track and through the museum parking lot before finally reaching the track's surface itself on the back straightaway.

Now, before this I had been to the track about three dozen times, and got used to cars zooming around the 2 1/2 mile track in less than 40 seconds. It wasn't until I was on the track itself that it hit me -- this place is just humongous.

Just for perspective (and this still stands today), you hit the six, seven and eight mile marks inside the track, and hit nine miles just after exiting it and getting back on 16th St. Amazing. The track itself has two straights that are 5/8-mile long, each corner is 1/4-mile long and there are short straights (called "chutes") in between the turns. We ran on the actual track on the straights and the warmup lanes in the corners so that we weren't running on the uneven banking.

It was so hot in there too! The aluminum bleachers sucked in all of the heat and what sunlight there was and it was just baking on the asphalt track. One thing I've learned is that if you want to run a fast time, the race doesn't start until you exit the track.

While runners are circling the track they are showing the broadcast up on the video boards, and I was just at the start/finish line -- the yard of bricks -- when Kenyan Simon Rono was finishing up his win in 1:02:36. I'm so amazed by those guys.

I cracked 10 miles in 1:22:30, so I was holding a nice pace of 8:15 per mile. I knew to break 1:50 I had to run to an 8:23 pace so I was happy with that. The last 5K was hard, though, as the warm temperatures started to get to me a little. Still, I averaged 8:28 over that final stint so it wasn't like I fell off the side of the earth, it just felt that way!

The final turn onto New York St. is a little like the start...it feels good to know you are in the home stretch but there is still a mile to go! And it's not an easy one, either, because once you come off a bridge over the White River, it's kind of an incline the rest of the way.

Still, I couldn't help but smile in the final stretch as I knew I was going to meet my goal. When I crossed the line my finishing time was 1:48:51, and I finished 2,738th our of 19,677 finishers. Noah fell just short of the Top 500, finishing 534th in 1:31:30. Still, I'm guessing that is still his PR! Karen also did well and finished in 3:30:42.

The Mini has a reputation for handing out cool medals, and the one we got was pretty sweet.  I ran the race the next six years, and set my PR of 1:42:36 there in 2007. Unfortunately I haven't been able to run it since then, but looking back on my first one makes me even more excited about going back.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

The October Five

Happy October! I have to admit that October is up there as a favorite month of the year for me. Between the great weather for outdoor stuff (especially football and cross country!), playoff baseball and pumpkin spice lattes (yeah right), October is a pretty cool deal. About the only bad thing about October is that at the end of it we will be close to turning back our clocks and seeing it get dark at 5 p.m.

Oh well, no month is perfect. Except for May. May is about as perfect as life can get.

Anyway, I started the month off right with a 3.7-mile run. I was hoping to maybe do a little bit faster stuff, like hill repeats or a few short intervals, but my legs were a bit tight -- despite hitting them with the massage stick -- and I didn't want to do anything rash.

I think that's one thing I've improved upon as I've gotten older, I've learned there is a time to push and a time to put it off for another day. In the past if my schedule said to do intervals, I did intervals, or if it said to do a tempo run, I did one, and sometimes that led to crappy efforts that weren't a lot of fun. At my age and current fitness level, that's just not very smart, either. When you are 45 years old, need to lose weight and your goal race is still seven months away, it's OK to be patient.

So I just ran, and by the end of the run was feeling really, really good. I think I might stretch myself out to 5-6 miles this weekend and see how that goes.

One thing I did do while on my run is think about goals. For the last couple of years, outside of training for the marathon last year, I just ran for fun. I didn't keep logs, ran an occasional 5K here and there, and just did things a little more recreational as opposed to a structured program.

Which was fine. If you scroll down and read some of my older posts, you'll understand why I needed to do that. In the past I was way too hard on myself and never enjoyed what I accomplished. I would do something great, like complete a marathon, but I'd still be unhappy because I regretted not doing things I could've done to have ran even better. That's just not the way to do it.

But now, with a lot of things in my life coming in order, and making positive changes on the things that aren't quite there yet, I feel like I have the time, energy and mindset to put forth the effort to do something more, whether that be upping my mileage, focusing a bit more on performance (in a healthier way than a used to) and trying to drop my times.

With that in mind, I decided that at the beginning of each month I'm going to set five goals I'd like to achieve. They don't all have to be running-related, although a majority of them will be, but running will be a key to being a success in the other things.

Back when I was a department supervisor and wrote reviews, I had to give my people goals, and I was told to make them specific and attainable. So, I'm doing that here as well. I think the most important element is the attainable part. I could set some massive goal (like lose 15 pounds) and while I could probably get there it would be at the expense of other things. That's not good.

Balance.

So here they are:

1) Run 12-15 miles per week. I got started towards this goal on Monday when I set up a log online. They key to improvement is mileage, and if I can start getting more consistent than adding mileage through the winter will be easier.

2) Run my 5K on Oct. 26 in under 31 minutes. This one is pretty attainable right now as I've been in that range in the three other races I've run this year. Still, it's a good stepping stone to eventually breaking 30 minutes by the end of the year, which is my goal.

3) Lose seven pounds. Yesterday I weighed in at 254 pounds, so needless to say there's a lot of work to be done. Still, if I don't eat more and run 50-60 miles during the month, I'll lose 3-4 pounds just from the calorie burn of running. So there's that, the rest is up to me! Actually I plan on doing cardio on many of my off running days, so hopefully I'll have surpassed this goal easily by Nov. 1.

4) Drink more water. I've gotta admit, I'm not a fan of the high-quality H20 (and if you get that reference you become a hero in my eyes!). I know I have to drink it, and I know it's good for me, but it's just so...bland! But I'll make it through.

5) Drink less soda. Confession here...I love the stuff. The problem is that it's not good for us and is partly responsible for my weight issues. I want to try and be down to one a day (if that) by the end of the month.

So there they are, goals, in writing. Here's hoping everyone has a great month!