Sunday, March 29, 2015

Viking Half Marathon -- March 28, 2015



This past weekend’s trip to Greenwood, Miss. to run the Viking Half Marathon was the first “road trip” race I’ve run in some time, since the 2010 Ragnar Great River Relay. That and it was my first half marathon of any kind since the Indy Mini Marathon in 2007.

The trip got off to an interesting start when my flight from Chicago to Memphis was overbooked and they were offering travel vouchers to anyone who wanted to give up their seat. After listening to the price go up a couple of times, I decided to bite, given we have some other trips scheduled this year, including our trip with my mom to Italy in October.

That left me about four hours to spend in O’Hare Airport, but they passed pretty quickly. One of the nice things about the wait is that I got a chance to catch up with Jay Mooney, a great guy who was a training partner leading up to the 2013 Chicago Marathon. It was nice to catch up with him, and we made plans to get together in the future.

Once we were in the air, it was a quick trip to Memphis and we arrived at 7:30 on Friday night. That still left us about two hours to Greenwood, and by the time we got a bite to eat and made it there it was about 11 p.m.

Fortunately the race is very, very small and the starting line is just a couple of blocks from our hotel. That meant I could sleep until about seven and get some breakfast before the race started.

Darcy and I at the starting line!
When morning came the sun was out but it was quite chilly, about 37 degrees. I figured it was going to warm up a good bit so I decided to not bundle up but just put on a long-sleeved shirt under my Race Raves tee.
We met Darcy’s friend and colleague Brent Bailey in the lobby about a half-hour before the race started. 

Brent, who celebrated his 45th birthday on Saturday, works at Viking and is a pretty good runner, having finished in 11th place in the race two years ago. He was going to run with me, though, since his training hadn’t been all that solid and he just wanted to run for fun.

Brent is a good dude who kind of looks like the actor Steve Zahn and has the kind of drawl you’d expect from someone who grew up in Alabama and has lived in Greenwood for the last 18 years. 

We gathered outside of the Greenwood courthouse for the start and were underway right at 8 o’clock. As I had mentioned before, my goal was to shoot for a time of two hours, twenty minutes – or 11 minutes per mile, give or take. So I started off pretty conservatively and felt really, really good.

Within the first half-mile of the race I learned two things: 1) the course was as ridiculously flat as advertised, 2)  and 3) Brent knows pretty much everyone in town! One of those guys came up behind us and we ran with him for a few miles. I feel bad for not getting his name, but he was interesting, he was in his early 60s and was in great shape. He made it clear early on that he was a grinder like me…not fast, but he could run for a while. He also likes swimming in catfish ponds, which I found kind of fascinating. 

I think at this point Brent and I were talking about the Auburn-Alabama rivalry!
We left him behind just after mile three, and up to that point there wasn’t much scenery to look at, so it was great having Brent along. There was very little time spent in silence, as we found we had a lot in common, and the miles just kept clicking off.

By mile five we were crossing the Yazoo River and up Grand Avenue, which, I discovered, is a pretty grand avenue. That’s where we saw Darcy for the first time, and while she was cheering for us and the other runners, she also had gone into PR-chick mode and become a race volunteer, helping us get turned onto the bridge. It was pretty funny!

Grand Avenue was very beautiful, and Brent said it was on the register of historic places. It was also the setting for the 2010 movie The Help, which was filmed in and around Greenwood. The avenue was lined with huge oak trees, which were beginning to bloom along with the lilac trees, and the grass was turning green. Given I won’t see that in Bartlett for another couple of weeks it was very nice to look at.

By mile six I looked at my Runtastic app and realized that we were slowly inching our way to the 10:30 pace neighborhood. I thought about pulling back a bit but I felt really well, and since this was my first half in eight years and was kind of a fact-finding mission anyway, I thought it would be good to see how far I could go at that pace.

I couldn’t believe how good I felt! I think it was one of those things where I wasn’t thinking too much or trying too hard, I was staying comfortable and enjoying the run. 

Darcy saw us again at about 9 ½ miles, which was a great time for a bit of a pick-me-up. I’m so thankful for her support, it’s because of her that I got back into running and started doing this stuff and getting motivated again in the first place.

With it being a small race in a small town, there wasn’t a lot of fan support, but the people that did come out to cheer for us were great. All of the people managing the water stops were helpful and encouraging, and a lot of people sat in their front yards to watch us go by.

From about mile eight on I started to slowly up the pace a little, or maybe Brent did and I just wasn’t paying attention! At about 10 ½ miles he pointed to a group of people about 100 meters ahead of us and said “hey, let’s make it our goal to pass them by the end of the race”. We ended up gobbling them up in about a mile and set our sights on the next group. In the meantime, we were running 10-15 seconds per mile faster with each mile.

Just before mile 12 Brent asked if I minded if he went up ahead of me, and I said no problem. But as he disappeared into the distance, I figured I had a mile to go and turned it up again. I passed about a half-dozen people, and when I got to the base of the bridge (again…we crossed it twice), Brent was waiting for me.

“We’re almost there,” he said. “Let’s go!”

We started up again and he spotted a woman wearing a yellow shirt in front of us. “Come on, man,” he said. “Let’s pass her before we get to the finish.”

I kind of looked at him…man, I had proven everything I had wanted to myself today, I was going to come in just over 2:16 and really wanted to just cruise it home. But since Brent is a competitive guy I knew he wasn’t going to have any of that! We eventually caught her just on the other end of the bridge, I ran mile 13 in 9:20, and a quick left onto an old brick street and we could see the finish.

I was hurting a little but I gave what I had left to the finish. I mean, I came this far, might as well, right?

I crossed the line in 2:15:39 (10:21 pace), with Brent right behind me. What a great race! We picked up our bling and Darcy and I grabbed a couple of adult beverages to celebrate the day.

I couldn’t be happier with the day I had. I felt good, my breathing was much improved from a few days earlier (I was diagnosed with bronchitis on Tuesday) and I had fun meeting a new running friend. I even felt good later that night and the day after, so thankfully recovery will be quick too.

After spending the rest of the day resting, we met Brent and his family for dinner, and he said that was the most fun he’d ever had running a race, and he hoped we came back down to run next year. Of course, dude, I’m there!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Three Things Thursday -- March 26 Edition

It's been a weird week around here, with the weather and all, and it just seems to be dragging. Fortunately, Thursday is the last day of the week at work for me, and the start of a three-day weekend! Actually with Good Friday falling next week I have two three-day weekends in a row! Score!

*Friday I'm heading out on a road trip! This is the weekend of the Viking Half Marathon in Mississippi, and I'll be flying down on Friday. Actually, flying and driving as the flight goes to Memphis -- I'm meeting Darcy there, she's been on the road this week -- then we drive a couple of hours to Greenwood. The hotel we are staying at, The Alluvian, is the host hotel for the race and is right next to the starting line, which is another big bonus.

As far as the race goes, my goals are pretty conservative. Although I've run faster in training I'm going into the race hoping to break 2:20, or just finish...whichever comes first! The weather looks to be pretty agreeable -- the high temp for the day is supposed to be 57 -- and the course is supposed to be crazy flat.

I'll also have a little company, which will add to the fun. Brent Bailey, a friend of Darcy's who works for Viking, decided that he is going to jump in and run with me. Two years ago he ran 1:32 to finish 11th overall, so I'm looking forward to some good local knowledge and a lot of conversation!

*Hopefully I'm feeling a little better by then. After staying healthy pretty much all winter long, I've come down with a bit of bronchitis and some congestion. I've had a bit of a cough for the last week or so, and it kind of blew up into more over the last couple of days. I have an appointment to see my doctor on Monday but decided I didn't want to wait ended up going to convenient care tonight. The doctor prescribed a steroid and antibiotic and told me to use my inhaler (I have exercised induced asthma) morning and night. I'm glad I knocked it out ahead of the trip and hopefully it will help me on Saturday too. It's funny that I feel fine when I run, it's just when I'm not that it bothers me. Given that's the other 23 hours of the day, it's important to get it fixed! :--)

*I'm closing in on 100 miles for the month! As of today I'm at 64 miles but with 4-5 more training runs plus the half I probably won't get there, but will come close. Actually, I had a goal of 90 for the month and that is entirely attainable. Now I'll try to get there in April. The weather is definitely energizing me and for sure the motivation is there to get it done.

*One more bonus item. Do you like basketball? Are you in a Final Four pool? That would be yes, and yes, for me, but my bracket is an absolute cluster. I tried to get clever and pick a few upsets and they just didn't happen. Oh well. Anyway, the round of 16 begins tomorrow and I'm going with the higher seeded team in every game to win...Notre Dame, Kentucky, Arizona and Wisconsin.

Have a great weekend! Look for my Viking Half race report -- and bling-filled selfie -- sometime after the race!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Gadgets...Forget What I Said!

In my Friday Five post a few days ago I posted an article about gadgets and went the I'm OK/You're OK route about them. Personally I didn't have a desire to use stuff like that, but if you like them, it's fine by me.

Sunday I got an iPhone 6. I downloaded the Runtastic Pro app. I went for a run tonight.

Let's just say I'm a convert. In other words I'm trying to say I was...I was...

Oh heck, I'll let Fonzie speak for me.


It's been a big weekend for me. I never had a desire to own an iPhone, yet I got one. I didn't think that using good things to track your runs were a big deal. Crazy what a few days does to you.
To recap:


Friday -- Get off my lawn
Monday -- Enlightened cat

Funny, I probably wasn't going to use my phone had it not snowed, I was just going to go out and run my normal 3.2-mile loop and call it a day. But when I saw the running paths hadn't been plowed (yes, they plow them here in Bartlett, it's awesome), I knew I was going to have to make up a new loop around my house just using the streets.

Quick sidebar. Snow, really? Last week the temperature climbed to near 70, on Saturday I went and ran in shorts and a sleeveless shirt, and it is supposed to be 65 on Wednesday. Today? As I was getting ready for work I hear a snowplow going down my street, so I opened up the window to this! Thankfully it won't be around for long!

For a second I thought I would just run and then drive my route to see how far it was. But then a light went on...I have an iPhone, with an app that does that for me! So I started up a Hardwell podcast that my phone had automatically downloaded for me, pulled up the app, hit start, and started running!

Remember how when you were in middle school there was a girl (or boy) that you liked but you didn't want them to know you liked them, so you avoided making eye contact with them if at all possible? That's what I was doing. I didn't want to admit to myself that I was liking it, so I just ignored it.

Then at the mile, a sweet British voice -- I'm a sucker for British accents -- came on and said, "You have gone one mile, total time, 10:34". Hooked. Right. There.

My run continued and I found myself looking at my phone more and more for feedback. I liked the blue dot and the way it was drawing a line along the map of my neighborhood. I was happy to know exactly when I crossed a mile and how I could see my real-time pace, which sat at 10:35 per mile for virtually the entire mile, like I was some pace-monster metronome. Like I said in this space a few months ago, but if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I was once a pacer on the European track circuit.

So once I finished I was amazed at all the feedback that little app gave me. Maps, charts, graphs...I don't know how it all fits in helping me with my running, but it's all pretty sweet!


That's not to say I'm going to leave all of my old school things behind. While I'm looking forward to getting a really accurate measurements of my loops, and how big some of those hills really are, there are times where I'll still want to just run for the heck of it, I just want to plug in my iPod (which has a better battery life than the phone!) and go off the grid, because that's one thing that I do love about running!

So am I a complete convert? Not yet. Have I seen the light? You bet!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

McFarland, USA

I'll start this post with a simple statement...McFarland, USA is a great movie! 

While the real story of the McFarland cross country team differs from the real story, quite a bit in a few spots, in fact, the movie is still good because it is a very well-done account of how a team from a migrant town in Central California became a cross country powerhouse that won nine state championships in 14 years and competed in meets around the world.

For more of the backstory, check out this Los Angeles Times piece from 1997.

Anyway, back to the screen. Jim White, played by Kevin Costner, and his family arrive in McFarland looking to get back on their feet after Jim wore out his welcome at another school. A football coach by trade, White had struggled with his temper and that led to confrontations with school administrators, other coaches and even players. Needing a job in time for school to start, White arrives in town as a science and PE teacher, as well as the assistant football coach.

What he didn't realize when he accepted the job was that McFarland was (and is) about 90 percent Hispanic, and most of them were migrant farm workers or other general laborers. Needless to say, blending in with the community would take some work.

When sticking up for a player leads to a falling-out with the head football coach, White is now a coach without a team, and a pretty bad PE teacher. His classes consist of calling roll and having kids run laps around the dirt track. What he finds is that several students in his class have a talent for running, and he approaches the principal with the idea of starting a team.

Approval for the team was easy, finding seven kids to run on the team proves a little more difficult. They go to their first meet and finish last. Discouraged, a couple of the kids want to quit and White has to talk one of them off a bridge (literally) after he has a disagreement with his father.

White discovers he knows very little how to relate to the kids. Most of them get up early and work the fields, then work them after school until practice. He joins them in the field one day and discovers how difficult their lives really are. This scene is where the team seems to accept him more, as well as the rest of the community.

Soon the team finds a bit of a rhythm, and some success. By the end of the season they are favored to advance to the first-ever California state meet, which they do as the last team out of the sectional. He rewards the kids with a detour trip to the ocean, which none of them had ever seen before. Some adversity follows (which I won't give away), but the team heads to the state meet with many of the community in tow.

As they really did in 1987 (when the movie is set), McFarland wins the state championship. The final two scenes of the movie are really cool...one shows the outside of the school with the state titles visible on the facade, and the last scene is the real Jim White following a group of runners on a bicycle. Although he was a wildly successful running coach, he wasn't much of a runner himself and usually followed the team on his bike. Also in the group run are the real seven runners from that state team. All of them at one point attended college, and all of them either live or work in McFarland or the surrounding area. One even runs the successful middle school running feeder program.


To me the star of the movie was cross country itself. As I spoke of my love of track in a previous post, cross country is something that is near and dear to my heart. It's as pure of sport as it gets, you are racing time as well as your opponents, and there are no breaks, no substitutions, and no timeouts. Once you toe the line, you are committing to go as hard as you can for the next three miles. It's a beautiful thing, and cross teaches so many things that you can take with you the rest of your life. And unlike many sports, which a kid might all but give up after high school, running is something you can always do and always compete in. The sport gave those boys things they never would've dreamed of, and opened doors to experiences that very few people get to have. That's special, and amazing.

While the movie is a bit on the long side at just over two hours, it's completely worth it. While I of course enjoyed the movie, my 14-year-old son Kevin did too, calling it the best movie he's ever seen. Now if that isn't a great endorsement, what is?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Five

Since I missed my usual Three Things Thursday post yesterday -- but with all of the awesome NCAA tournament games going on, do you blame me(?) -- as both a penance and a celebration of the weekend I'm adding a couple of items.

*No matter how long you have been running, you can still do REALLY dumb things. A couple of weeks ago one of my cats left her, ummm, mark on my running shoes, and even when they dried out they smelled so bad I didn't want to run in them. While I was figuring out a way to make the shoes useable again because they still have a good 300 miles left in them, I pulled out an old pair that I just wear for kicking around and did a few runs in those. Now I'm left with a bit of a pain on the top of BOTH feet that are more annoying than anything, but is just a reminder that rookie mistakes aren't just reserved for rookies. Just to be safe I've taken the last couple of days off and the discomfort is going away, so I think things are all good.

*Still, that doesn't diminish the awesome weekend I had! Between my 5K PR, which you can scroll down and read about below, and my killer long run on Sunday, I got a big boost of confidence last weekend. I ran 28:38 in my 5K, which was 80 seconds faster than my previous best from last December, and then my 12-miler on Sunday I rolled through in 2:03:30, or about a 10:15 pace. Sunday's run was on the Prairie Path, which was a bit soft in spots (check out my shoes!) but otherwise was pretty fast. With the Viking Half Marathon coming up next weekend, I'm now feeling pretty confident that I can cover the distance. Hard to believe, but this will be my first half since the Indy Mini Marathon in 2007. Yes, you read that correctly! I'll probably run a bit slower than I did in this run -- I'll admit to getting a little carried away on Sunday and the last couple of miles were painful -- and be in the mindset of just finishing, but knowing I am in shape to do it is quite a boost.

*This weekend is quiet but it gets busy from here. I don't have much going the next couple of days, but then things take off! Between running races and my boys' track seasons starting up, right now it appears the first weekend in June is the next Saturday that I don't have anything planned. I'm really excited for track season...Matt is an 800-meter guy running his freshman season at Benedictine University, and has his first meet in St. Louis on March 28, while Kevin is in his final year of middle school track, though he will also run in high school too. I know I'm preaching to the choir here since anyone reading this is probably a runner, but I can't say enough good things about the sport of track, and cross country as well. They are such cool, inclusive sports that do so much for kids.

*Speaking of races, for the first time in a lot of years I actually am putting together a bit of a schedule, and it's exciting. For reasons I won't get into, I went a lot of years just running 1-2 races a year, or not running any at all. This year is so different, and I love it! Here is what I have going over the next couple of months:

Mar. 28 -- Viking Half Marathon (Greenwood, Miss.)
Apr. 11 -- #Run3rd 5K (Virtual)
Apr. 26 -- Breakthrough for Brain Tumors 5K (Chicago)
May 2 -- Indy Half Marathon (Indianapolis)
May 9 -- Apple Blossom 5K (Bartlett)
May 30 -- Ozzie's Home Run 5K (Geneva, Ill.)

I'm sure I'll throw a couple more in there but those are the ones set in stone for now. I'm really focusing on half marathons this year and hope to break two hours by the end of 2015.

*Here's a good topic for a conversation. Someone posted a recent column on the Runner's World website called The Lost Art of Pacing and the effect that GPS watches have on our running.

I've always been a bit old school and have run with a Timex Ironman watch for the last 10-12 years. Outside of wanting to know how far I ran in places that I can't measure, I don't need one. I tend to run a lot by feel and only wear a watch for speedwork, long runs and races, so that works for me. Others want/need more feedback and so they like what a watch like that gives them. That's cool, there's room for everybody!

Information is power, until it leads to paralysis by analysis, you know? When I run a race, for example, I'm happy with using my watch and the mile markers (and sometimes a pace band) to help me with what I need to do. Anything more than that would probably send my ADHD into overdrive and mentally screw up my race. Everyone has their own personal preferences, of course, but I tend to just want to shut my mind off and trust my training.

Give the article a read and share your thoughts in the comments. Does the author of the column have a point or is she off base?

Happy first day of spring! Have a great weekend!


Saturday, March 14, 2015

St. Paddy's 5K Race Report

When I signed up for this race a couple of days ago I realized it had been close to 100 days (last Dec. 6) since I had pinned on a number and done a race! Crazy! I had received an e-mail about this race a couple of weeks ago and when I saw how ideal the weather was going to be I thought it would be a great race to kick off the season.

Well, that and since I'm part Irish and all that too. 


So I signed up for the race on Thursday and given the way my runs had gone lately was feeling pretty optimistic that I could break my over-40 personal best of 29:51 that I had set at the Chilly Chili 5K back in December. My last 3-4 weeks of training have gone really well and though I hadn't done any speedwork some of my other timed runs made it seem like a possibility.

I got up at about 6 a.m. for an 8:30 race and took my time getting ready. I'm not really flexible and tend to be pretty tight in the mornings, so I thought taking some extra time would be helpful. Though my ankles were a little stiff this morning, everything else felt really good.

Deer Park, where the race was held, is about 30 minutes from Bartlett -- according to Mapquest -- so I left around 7:10 hoping to get there in time to get in a couple of warm-up miles before we started. That plan went out the window when I took a wrong turn and by the time I had realized what was going on and got back on track I had lost 15 minutes.

Things got a bit stressful because I had read on the website that they were closing packet pickup before eight, which was what time I pulled into the parking lot! I hustled over there and to my relief they were still happily giving out bibs and t-shirts. In fact, they did that all the way up to the time the race started!

I went back to my car and got all pinned up and took my inhaler, and still had about 15 minutes before the race was set to begin. That gave me a chance to still get some light jogging in and a few strides before heading to the start line with about five minutes to go.

Between the 5K and 10K there were about 500 runners/walkers, and the starting chute was kind of tight, but I didn't mind a lot. If you read my race report from December, in that race I went out like I was running 800 meters instead of 3.1 miles and was in serious oxygen debt for most of the run. Not to mention, the starting area also had some twists and turns to it, which meant the first 200 meters or so would be a bit slow.

It was about 45 degrees and the sun was shining brightly when the race went off right on time. There was a bit of a breeze which added a bit of a chill to the air, but once we got going it was quite comfortable.

The race started in front of a California Pizza Kitchen restaurant on the edge of a group of stores and restaurants, and we made our way through there and out to the street. It was a bit crowded for the first few hundred meters, but nothing too frustrating. I put on my Paul Oakenfold podcast and tried to settle in as best I could.

The course meandered through a big office complex and was a combination of streets and running trails. While it was definitely urban there were some retention ponds and the like along the route, which when the weather picks up will look really nice in a few weeks. I didn't mind...to me priority number one at a race is to have an accurate course. Everything else is just a bonus!

Going in with the goal of running 29:30, the plan was to get to two miles at a conservative 19:30 (9:45 pace) or so and then pick it up to the finish. Though I was having a bit of a hard time finding a groove at the beginning, I didn't feel like I was running too fast.

Then I hit the one mile mark and hit my watch.

8:38. Alrighty then.

Welp, now my race tactics were out the window so it was time to adjust. I wasn't feeling "awful" or anything, so I tried to back down from my pace a bit and find someone I could work with which didn't really work because either no one was running a pace I liked or I was just impatient. Probably the latter.

As we closed in on the 2-mile mark I saw a water stop up ahead, and while I normally never take water/Gatorade in a 5K unless it is really hot, I decided that it was probably best to take a quick walk break and do a little regrouping.

In the end it was a good idea. I was able to get my breathing a little more under control, and while my second mile was in 9:49 (I guesstimate I took about a 30 second walk break), at 18:28 for two miles I was still in good shape.

Must of the last mile was a long, straight stretch that mentally was a bit difficult, but I tried really hard not to look at my watch too often. The pace definitely felt much better than before I had taken my break. The final left turn left us about a quarter-mile to the finish, and it was up a gradual rise, so I just put my head down and tried to keep breathing.   
                                          
My third mile split was a more manageable 9:10, which I didn't know because I just hit my watch without looking. Just after that we went into a maze of cones and on to the finish. When I crossed the finish line I looked at my watch and sort of couldn't believe it. In fact, stunned might be a much better way to describe it. 

28:32!  

Are you serious? Needless to say I was gassed but really, really happy. I finished the race in 128th place and was eighth in my age group. Not a bad way to start my 2015 racing season!

After not racing for so long it felt really good to be back out there. From here on out it gets a little busier as I will be racing at a minimum of every two weeks through the end of May. Still, this was a great place to start and a nice confidence boost!


 







Thursday, March 12, 2015

Three Things Thursday!

You know how the other day I wrote a post about changing things up to beat the end-of-winter blahs? Well, I decided to do a few things myself.

*First of all, if you are reading this, you notice the name at the top has changed. Well, so has the URL too! When I set this page up back in September, I thought "I'm Going to Be Faster Than Frank" would be a catchy, clever name, especially given my desire to beat his time at the Indy Mini Marathon in May. It was clever all right, so clever that the first question most people asked me was "who's Frank?".

So I decided to "rebrand" my blog a little bit and change the name to fit my newfound running philosophy...Let's Run Forever. That was the inscription the great marathoner Bill Rodgers put in my copy of his book "Marathon Man", and it is just so perfect. For sure, I want to run the rest of my life, but I think it also describes my own running. I'm not fast, I'm a grinder...I won't dazzle you with my speed by I can run a long, long way!

I also wanted to get away with having a "theme" type of name for the blog. In its first incarnation, this blog was called "Project Marathon 2013". Well, I reached that goal, and if I am faster than Frank in May, then what? So I went with a title that I think reflects my overall running goal. And at the same time, it will never go out of style!

I have also changed my Twitter handle to @letsrun4ever and will be transitioning to a new Facebook page soon too. I hope that you will join me!

*I got a cool new shirt yesterday. A while ago my good friend Wally Hines connected me with a fellow runner in California named Mike Sohaskey. He has a great website called Blisters, Cramps & Heaves, which is a great read. When I reached out to Mike I also found out that he was just about to drop a new website called Race Raves, which gives runners the chance to post about their race experiences.

Race Raves got off the ground a couple of months ago and so far has been really successful. I told Mike I wanted to help him spread the word about his site, and he offered to send me a shirt to wear at races. It finally arrived yesterday, and it looks great! (and it's also kind of thinning, don't you think?) I'm looking forward to wearing it at the 5K I'm running this weekend!

I'm hoping to take a little bit of the magic I felt from the shirt yesterday into my race on Saturday. When I got home from work I was feeling crappy and was planning on not running at all. When the shirt arrived I all of the sudden felt the motivation to go out and run my 3.2-mile route.

About a mile in, I was feeling so good I decided to stretch things out a little bit, and by the time I was done I had logged 5.2 miles. So the question is...does the shirt have a 29:30 5K in it? I guess I'll find out Saturday.

If you haven't already, check out the site as well as his Twitter and Facebook page. You won't be disappointed.

*Speaking of races, who is running one this weekend? You can find me at the Deer Park St. Paddy's 5K, where I hope to kick off my racing season with a new over-40 5K PR! Then in two weeks it will be the Viking Half Marathon, and two weeks after that I will be a virtual runner for the Run 3rd 5K. If you don't have a race planned that weekend, give that one a thought. It's benefits kids in the Mesa, Ariz. area who want to become runners. The #Run3rd movement is led by actor Sean Astin, and the online community that is beginning to form (you can check them out on Facebook) is growing by the day.

Tomorrow (Friday) I hope to head to the Hawk Hollow trail and hit my favorite running spot for the first time in a long time! Then it's an 11-12 miler on Sunday. Busy! Busy!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Winter blahs? Change It Up!

For a lot of us, it's been a long, tough winter full of cold, slippery runs outside, or miles upon miles on indoor tracks and treadmills. But even though daylight savings time provides an extra hour of daylight in the evening, the sun is out and the snow is melting, it's still hard for some to break out of the motivation-sapping winter funk.

Sound familiar? With the weather and a couple of injuries, I've caught myself feeling that way lately, but I've made a couple of changes to my routine in hopes of getting all the way back. Here are a few of them...maybe they might work for you too!

*Go back to a route you haven't run in a long time. One thing winter lends itself to is the same old, same old. Wearing heavy clothes every day or putting on the same coat every day for months at a time is just depressing, isn't it? During the winter I find myself doing the same kind of routine all...the...time. In fact, I'm realizing that I have worn the same quarter zip sweater I'm wearing today to work for like the last five Mondays!

The best runs I had all winter were ones I had on my trips. Sure, the warm weather had a lot to do with it, but getting out and running in new places was very revitalizing!

So once the snow has melted, go find a route you haven't run since last fall, or even longer than that. Find a path you like, go run the same route as your favorite 5K, or drive somewhere you've always wanted to run but have just never gotten around to actually doing it.


*Do a different workout. If you have run for a long time, there is one type of workout that you dislike so much you avoid it like the plague. For me it's a tempo run...don't ask why, it is just one workout I refuse to do. Tempo runs and burpees, I'll do anything else in the world you ask, except for those two things.

If you have a workout like that, go do it! Yes, you heard me! Even though it's hard and not your favorite, get out there an challenge yourself a little bit. It's a good way to break the chain of a bunch of runs that may have gone a bit stagnant.

*Change your playlist. This one is huge to me because I love listening to music when I run. I wasn't looking forward to my 8-miler on the blue track last week (64 laps! Ugh!) so I went and downloaded some techno podcasts I was listening to when I was really rocking my training during the 2013 Chicago Marathon.

You know what? It worked! I felt super motivated and put in a killer run. One thing that gets forgotten sometimes is that so much of running is mental. Listening to that music reminded me of a very recent time where I was running well and having a lot of fun. As I was listening to the music, I was thinking of the warm Saturdays I spent running with my training group, and how easy it felt to absolutely crush our runs. It was a big boost for me.

*Speaking of a group. Reacquaint yourself with some of your running friends, or get involved in a running group or club. I joined the Dick Pond Fast Track team (a team sponsored and run by a local shoe store) and though I haven't had the chance to run with them I'm excited to join the group and meet some new people.

*Run a race! Yeah, this is the easy one for me -- I don't have to twist anyone's arm on this one, do I? I haven't run a race since early December and I am really ready to run one. For sure I'm running the Viking Half Marathon, since I'm already signed up, but there is a local 5K this coming weekend I might get out to and officially kick off the season. Find something coming up and sign up for it, or pick a "bucket list" race down the road you've always wanted to do and sign up for it.

Take a bit of a leap...it will be fun!




Thursday, March 5, 2015

Three Things Thursday -- March 5, 2015 Edition

Actually, this may end up being more than three things, but it's still Triple T, well, just because it is!

*Leading off, congrats to everyone who got into the NYC Marathon. Tuesday was certainly an exciting day for a lot of people on my social media feeds as the NYCM conducted its lottery for the race in November. I'm happy to see so many peeps that got in, but at the same time bummed for those who didn't. Still, it will be a great experience for everyone who will be running. I've never run NYCM but after running the final part of the course to the finish line when I was in New York last November, I really want to.

I know I've posted these before, but
for those that haven't seen them, here are pictures of the paint marks on the curb in Central Park marking the 26-mile post and the finish line. I ran there the week after the race and the finish line was already gone. I wish the major marathons would take a page from Boston's book and leave them on the pavement. 

This coming Tuesday, runners can begin entering the Chicago Marathon lottery, with the results of that announced next month. Although I have a guaranteed entry after deferring my entry last year, I won't be running. I just feel like with the goals I have I'd like to focus on the half marathon distance this year, because I'd like my next marathon to be a big step towards my goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon in the next five years. My goal this year is to run a half in under two hours, so if I can get there by the end of the year a marathon will be in my 2016 plans.

*As I had mentioned before, my confidence has been waning the last couple of weeks. Between my back injury and my lack of real running since my Dubai trip, I have to admit that I just haven't felt as confident lately as I did, say, a month ago. That all changed on my 8-miler last night. Although the plan is to go 10 this weekend, I thought I would stretch out a run to close to that distance just to get into a better place mentally.

Although it was a bit mind-numbing to run 64 laps on the blue track, it was a huge step forward. I averaged 10:21 per mile and negative split the second half of the run by almost two minutes! I even picked up the pace in the middle of the run, and covered mile six in 9:22, but the other miles were in a more consistent range of 10:15-10:25. I'm picking back up with the Hal Higdon advanced half plan next week, so moving forward things should be OK.

*Spring ahead. I know there are a lot of people that don't like Daylight Savings Time, but I've always been a fan, and am looking forward to moving the clocks ahead this weekend. I'm definitely not a morning person and have always worked kind of strange hours, so the extra hour of daylight at the end of the day has always been a plus. Since I do most of my weekday runs at night, it will be nice to be in the sunlight for a bit as well. The biggie for me, though, is that it means some of my favorite paths are open longer, so it's also a chance to get onto some soft surfaces.

*What's ahead in March. So far I have one race scheduled, the Viking Half Marathon on the 28th, but I'm looking to add a local 5K next weekend. I'd like to find a race to run every couple of weeks this year, and then find a half in late fall to really make a run at a fast time.

Looking even further ahead, I'm trying to get a team together for the Ragnar Relay Great River run Aug. 14-15. Right now I have three people on the team -- a full team is 12 runners -- and would love to meet some new friends and have a lot of fun. So if you are interested or know someone who might be, hit me up in the comments section and we'll try to work something out. Right now the race is 70 percent full so we probably have a month to get everything together.

*TBT. Speaking of Ragnar, here's a TBT to when I ran Great River in 2009. This was the first leg I ran that year, a quick 3-miles-or-so jaunt into Nelson, Wisc. I remember it being a really beautiful day, and it was maybe around 8 p.m. when this picture was taken. The area there is really hilly and very, very green, so it was definitely a rave run for sure!

What are your plans for the weekend? Have any big races coming up?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Movies!

I love to watch movies, so much so that I usually watch several of them every week. There has just been something about movies that appeal to me, not only do I love going to the theater, I enjoy watching them at home too.

There are a lot of good running movies out there, and since I haven't seen two recent ones, McFarland USA and Unbroken, I thought I'd write about a couple of favorites I have watched in the last few days. With my balky back and crappy weather sucking up my motivation, they were just what I needed to get back on track.

The first one is The Long Green Line, a documentary about the 2005 York High School cross country program and their quest to win the 25th state championship in school history. Yes, you read that right, York is a cross country powerhouse in Illinois, and under coach Joe Newton have made 52 appearances at the state meet, winning 28 titles while capturing 44 top-three trophies.

Newton has created an amazing program centered around a roster of close to 200 runners. Despite having a team that large, he has a personal relationship with all of them, checking them in before practice, shaking hands with everyone as they leave the track and giving ownership of the program to them. It's an amazing thing, 80 percent of the kids will go through the program never running in a varsity race (they do race in most meets and invitationals in open and class races), but they stay with the program because they love coach Newton, they enjoy being part of the team and do feel a part of any success the Top 7 runners achieve.

York is located in Elmhurst, Ill., a city of 50,000 people about 15 miles west of Chicago. Entering the 2005 season the Dukes had won three consecutive state titles and five of the last six. Led by twins Matt and Eric Dettman, the team had an unusual depth of runners to choose from on the varsity squad, and looked almost unbeatable in November.

Of course, it's never that easy. One top 7 runner is kicked off the team for drinking, then is arrested -- and expelled from school -- along with another top 7 guy for setting a house on fire. Injuries and a viral infection with the twins made York look human mid-season, but by the state meet in November they posted all five of their scoring runners in the top 26 finishers to claim the championship by 83 points over the next closest finisher.

While I enjoy following the top runners, one of the things I liked about the movie is it showed the impact cross country has on every kid who runs on a team. One runner on the team was born with cerebral palsy and didn't run an entire 3-mile race without stopping until he was a sophomore, but being on the team gave him confidence, self-esteem and acceptance from the team. When he raced the entire team would line up near the finishing area and cheer him in.

There are all sorts of stories like that in the movie, and as a fan of cross country -- I usually attend the state meet and was there to watch York run in 2005 -- I thought it was a great advertisement for the sport, which I think is the best high school sport there is.

I finished watching this movie at about 1:15 in the morning, and it took everything I had to not go out for a run!

The other movie I love is Spirit of the Marathon, which follows the journey of six runners, including elites Deena Kastor and Daniel Njenga, as they prepare for the 2005 Chicago Marathon.

Of the four amateur runners, two of them are newbies running their first marathon (Leah Caille and Lori O'Connor), one is an experienced runner hoping to someday qualify for the Boston Marathon (Ryan Bradley), and the other is a 70-year-old man named Jerry Meyers who took up marathoning at age 65 and runs because he likes collecting shirts and medals! He is also guiding his daughter through her first marathon.

The movie picks up just as training is starting in June. The newer runners are getting used to the training, and figuring out how to juggle running with their lives in the process, while the more experienced runners are getting back to the 18-week routine.

By the end of July, Bradley learns he has a torn meniscus and is out of the race, while Kastor is dealing with a foot injury caused by stepping on a pine cone while playing with her dog. Njenga is splitting his time between his native Kenya and Japan, where he lives while working for the corporation that sponsors his training.

The middle of the movie focuses on the training and lives of Njenga and Kastor. Njenga, who finished second or third at Chicago for six straight years without winning, goes home to spend time with his family and dedicate a home that was built for his family using his marathon earnings. You get a great glimpse at Kenya and its culture here, and how running changes the lives of entire communities.

Kastor lives with her husband and trains at altitude in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. Unable to run for several weeks, she instead cross trains and runs on a zero gravity treadmill, but once cleared to run she gets back to her routine of 100-plus mile weeks of punishing runs in the thin mountain air. Buoyed by her performance at the 2004 Olympics where she won a bronze medal in the marathon, Kastor still thinks she can win the Chicago Marathon if she stays healthy.

Once race weekend arrives, the runners converge on Chicago and begin the weekend of activities. Kastor and Njenga go to the elite athlete's press conference (where you can see me for about a second when they pan the audience) while the other runners take in the expo.

(Sidebar: I interviewed Deena earlier that summer and she is one of the sweetest people you could possibly meet. She seemed genuinely excited to hear that I was running the marathon that year as well.)

Up to this point, the movie is great, but the way it captures race day takes it to another level. The morning of a marathon is such an intense experience, one that has to be experienced to be truly believed. The mixture of emotions like confidence, fear and excitement are felt at a level that is so hard to describe. What is interesting to note is that those feelings are the same in all of the runners. That's the marathon!

Then the race goes off. Njenga and Kastor form up in their respective lead packs, while the others go on their own journeys. Kastor has to fight off fatigue and another runner to win the race, while Njenga finishes third. O'Connor, who is very analytical and focused, has a smooth race, while Caille has to fight through IT band issues but grinds her way to the finish. Meyers, who was a breath of fresh air the entire movie thanks to his outlook on life and wonderful personality, finished hand-in-hand with his daughter.

I feel a connection to all of these people, and not just because I ran that day too (I set my personal best of 4:07!). There was something in every one of them that I could relate to, from the struggles of personal hardship to figuring out why I run and what I want to get out of it. When I was training for the 2013 Chicago Marathon I watched this movie every couple of weeks to keep me going. If you are looking for some "pump up" material before your next big race, you can't go wrong with this one.

Here are the trailers to both movies. Enjoy!