Thursday, April 30, 2015

Three Things Thursday -- Indy Mini Edition

So in about 24 hours I will be on my way to Indy for the much-anticipated Mini marathon. Here are three things I'm thinking about as race day approaches.

*This is my first Mini since 2007 and I couldn't be more excited! The race was a yearly staple for me for several years, but it's been eight years since I've lined up for the 13.1-mile journey. Long story why I haven't, but let's just say the past is in the past and I'm focusing on the future, so I don't need to talk about it! :--)

Next to the Chicago Marathon, the Mini is my favorite race. I lived in Indianapolis for several years back in the early 1990s and just love the city. It's definitely changed a bit since then and since my trips there now only involve a yearly jaunt to the west side for the Indy 500, I'm looking forward to seeing the city on foot again.

*My favorite part of the Mini is the lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. With out the lap around IMS, the Mini would be just another half, but the fact they do incorporate the track is one of the coolest things about the event. At 2 1/2 miles long, the track is so big that you cross the six, seven and eight mile marks during your lap! While an Indy car at speed will make a lap in 38 or 39 seconds (which they will be doing when the track opens for practice on Sunday), it will probably take us close to 30 minutes on Saturday, but the nice thing is that the track surface itself is like glass and is very nice to run on.

The track also poses a real challenge during the race too, as the asphalt and the 220,000 metal seats suck up all the sun and heat they can, and because the grandstands are so large a lot of the track gets blocked from any type of cooling breeze. Experienced Mini-ers will tell you to be very conservative until you hit the eight mile mark of the race because the track takes its toll otherwise.

As a fan of the 500 since 1979, and a sort-of historian of the track and the race, it will probably be the coolest 2 1/2 miles I will run this year. The Speedway is a living, breathing place to me and I get a little giddy any time I enter its gates. I'm looking forward to "Kissing the Bricks" at the start-finish line just like the drivers and their teams do after they win the race!

*I'm also excited because I'll have some company! The weekend will be made very complete because of the presence of Darcy and my friends, Wally and Larissa. I'm thankful for Darcy and the support she always gives me, and I am always happy when she has the opportunity to come and watch my races. It's always fun to have new adventures with her.

If you have read my blog before, you'd know that Wally and Larissa are world travelers and runners, having completed races all over the world. Wally and I ran the Mini in 2006 we all last ran a race together in 2008. Wally and I were on the same team together for the Ragnar Great River Relay in 2009-10 but since we were in different vans you can't really say we ran "together". Plus, it will be the first time I've seen them since Darcy and I were married last July, so it should be a lot of fun.

After running the Mini on Saturday, they are heading to Cincinnati for the Flying Pig Marathon on Sunday. They like doing crazy stuff like that!

*Bonus: Well, not really. More like bad news. I found out that the group leader position I put in for with Team V for Rock N Roll Chicago didn't work out. It seems like they chose a different candidate. Oh well...I tried! I'm a bit disappointed about it but there will be other opportunities.

Best of luck in your training and racing this weekend! Look to this space for my Mini recap sometime this weekend!

Monday, April 27, 2015

It's Indy Mini Week!

Let's do a happy dance, it's finally here! In just five more days we will be running the Indy Mini Marathon.

To be honest, when it comes to my running I really, REALLY need this one. I've been dealing with a lot of disappointment in myself for the way I have been eating and training since the Viking Half. I haven't run nearly as much as I should have, only about 50 miles so far in April, and I've gained about five pounds as well.

I'm trying not to be so hard on myself, but it's difficult because there really aren't many excuses. I had a lot of days where I could've run and didn't, and that is upsetting to me. It won't hurt me on Saturday because the group of friends I'm running with are going to go at a pace that works for everyone, like a 2:35 finishing time or somewhere in that neighborhood, but it doesn't help me progress towards my goals the way I want it to.

I'm also a little stressed and anxious about the Team V group leader thing. After exchanging e-mails and phone calls last week, it looks like they will be letting me know Wednesday or Thursday if I am in. I'd be really disappointed if that doesn't happen.

I usually have a bit of a letdown after running a "big" race, and it reared it's head these last couple of weeks. But in the last few days I've had a few confidence building runs. On Friday I went out and ran 10.5 miles at about a 10:40 pace (my phone was running out of battery so I chose listening to music over running my Runtastic app, but that was my pace after about eight miles), and today I did a 3.8-mile tempo run where I ran the last two miles at about 9:20 pace.

Here I am at about mile seven of my run on Friday. It was really windy and rain was falling here and there, so I'm trying to put on my best face. Think I succeeded? What I love about this picture is the background and how with each passing day we are seeing more and more green.

The wind has been blowing like crazy lately but I had a tailwind on the second half of today's run and wanted to take advantage! I could get a couple more runs like this between now and the Apple Blossom 5K on May 9 I might have a chance to break 28 minutes, which would be pretty sweet, especially because Matt is done with school the day before and will be running the race too!

I also got a nice boost today from a very unexpected place...a co-worker! Over the last few months, they have been renovating the office space in our building. My company moved into our building when it first opened in 1998, and it looked like the furniture went back even further. So an upgrade was in desperate order.

My department was sent to a temporary space in a building across the street in February, and today was our first day back in our new building. It looks absolutely fabulous. It's going to take a while to get used to my new cube -- which sits right outside the CIO's office, don't know if that is a good thing or not -- but first impressions are that I like it a lot.

As I was checking out the new cafeteria I ran into Sandy, who is an administrative assistant that works upstairs. She hadn't seen me since January (we moved to the temp space the day I got back from Dubai) and the first thing she asks me is if I have lost weight.

I told her I've probably lost about 15-20 since the fall, depending on the day, and she says, "Dude, you look fantastic".

Wow! How about that? It's one thing to hear that kind of stuff from people who see you ever day, I mean, Darcy is always complimenting me on how I look and how much running has changed my appearance, but for someone to just come up and say something out of the blue? That was excellent.

It's a great feeling when people recognize a positive change in you, and like my most recent runs I really needed something like that. It's a good week to start building some confidence and I think I'm off to a good start!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Things Aren't Always How We Remember Them

As many of you know, an EF-4 tornado touched down in north central Illinois last Thursday night, traveling almost 30 miles and spending 41 minutes on the ground. Most of the twister's path was through open farm fields, but it did cause considerable damage and has affected the lives of hundreds of people.

The tornado touched down outside Rochelle, a town that is about 50 miles west of where I live. Since I had watched the live stream of a couple of stormchasers, I had a pretty good idea of where it went, so on Friday and Saturday I went out to take a look. I wasn't really interested in the damage it caused -- in fact, that made me very sad -- I was more interested in it from a weather perspective and how it affected the land it went over.

Kevin was with me on Saturday and eventually we traced the tornado's path almost back to the beginning. It was truly a very humbling experience to see the power of nature when it decides to get angry. The need to feel in control is part of being human, but in the end we have very little control over anything, and are just a small part of a big universe.

Here are a couple of pictures. I refrained from taking pictures of anyone's homes because I thought that would be disrespectful, but I hope this photo of where the tornado crossed Interstate 39 shows what something like that does to anything in its path.

As I followed along the path I eventually ended up in the town of Belvidere, which is where I lived with my family from October, 1974 to July, 1978. I was in kindergarten when we moved in and had just finished third grade when we left. My oldest sister stayed behind as she had gotten married and started a family, but when they left town in the early 90s, my visits to Belvidere were few and far between.

Belvidere isn't all that big, it had about 14,000 residents when we lived there and how has around 25,000, but when I was living there it seemed as big as Chicago! Being that it was the 1970s, I was given a lot of freedom to explore, and so I spent a lot of time riding my bike or walking places, and it never seemed like I ran out of places to go.

But when I drove through there last week I realized how small everything really is. My best friend's house was just 1 1/2 blocks away, and when I was little it seemed like it was this long trek down the street, even when I was running as fast as I could, when in reality it's only about 150 yards. The side yard of our house was big enough to hit plastic baseballs around, but it's really only about 20 feet wide!

I drove around a little more, and all of these places that were epic journeys at the time: to my grade school, my sisters' high school or even the place we played baseball during the summer, are now just a few blocks away. Some of that is due to the magic of being a child, but it's also because as we grow our perspective on things changes.

As I drove around, I started thinking about how this relates to running. One thing about me most people don't know is that I end up trying to relate things to running a lot. And auto racing. And baseball.

It's just when I thought about how my perspectives have changed over the years it is a lot like running. When you first start, everything is so big and overwhelming, and to many even the shortest distances seem like a great journey. But as you grow as a runner and your confidence rises, the world you run in gets a little smaller.

All of the sudden, a 5K is a comfortable distance, and maybe you take on the challenge of running further. You start training to run longer distances, or traveling to different places to run and race, and suddenly you realize that the mile loop around your block that once seemed endless, maybe even impossible, is now just a warm-up for a longer run, and your neighborhood just doesn't look at big as it used to.

It's sorta funny how that works, doesn't it? No matter where you are in your running life, it's always a great thing to look back and remember where you came from, and that no matter what, things aren't always as big as they seem.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Triple T -- Black Thursday Edition

Happy day after tax day! Or in some people's cases, Black Thursday. Man, this year was a total ouchie as far as the IRS was concerned! Anyway, that's in the past and a huge day coming up on Monday, that's for sure! More on that in a few.

*After kicking it around for a long time, I've decided to work on getting certified to become a running coach. I've coached basketball for a number of years and helped coach Kevin's track team last year, and with him heading to high school and working under the tutelage of Troy Kerber, who in my mind is one of the best high school coaches in Illinois, I felt like now was a great time to get some certifications and officially move into the coaching circle.

I'm planning on taking the USATF Level 1 course over the summer, but for right now I signed up for a pre-coaching course through the National Federation of High Schools website to get a little more background into the track and field coaching world. If I get through the Level 1 stuff this summer, I'd like to go through the Road Runners Club of America program next year, followed by the Level 2 cert in the summer of 2017.

I enjoy coaching people and helping them to improve, so I'm looking forward to getting started with this. In a perfect world I'd love to help high school kids with cross country and middle distance, and coach adults to new PRs!

*Speaking of coaching (sort of)), I got an e-mail from the Team V director about helping with pace groups for the Chicago Half Marathon in the fall. They want to take the time to get to know me and answer any of my questions. I'm very excited about the possibility of this happening. It would be really cool to help people achieve their goals.

I'm hoping good things come out of this, please give me some good vibes!

* Boston! Best of luck to everyone who is toeing the line at the Boston Marathon on Monday. For many (like me) that race represents the pinnacle of our sport, and I dream of the day that I can be a part of it.

Most of all, I want to give a shout out to Meb Keflezighi, who will be looking to defend the title he won in dramatic fashion last year. Meb seems ready to go, a couple of weeks ago he ran a tuneup race -- the New York Half Marathon -- in a faster time than he did a year ago. As always, he will have his work cut out for him -- his marathon PR is 14th-best in the field and the forecast of cool temperatures and a potential tailwind could make for near-perfect racing conditions. But Meb seems to be on his game when it matters, and no doubt will run with the heart and determination that many of us have grown to love him for.

But he's not the only American runner to root for, as he will be joined in the elite field by Dathan Ritzenhein, whose 2:07:47 PR is 50 seconds faster than Meb. I interviewed Ritz a few years back at the Chicago Marathon for the website, and he was a very cool guy. Another favorite of mine is Wesley Korir, who lives and trains the US and is cool as well. I talked to him at the 2011 Chicago Marathon, and a few months later he won the 2012 Boston Marathon.

On the ladies' side, I would love to see Shalane Flanagan win, she has the third-fastest PR time in the women's field and has made it clear she puts winning Boston above all else in her running career. Another great American runner is Desi Linden, who all of the sudden is down in the 2:22 range for the marathon and knocking on the door of a big step up in her career, just in time for the Olympics next summer.

One thing I would recommend to anyone who runs is to become a little familiar with the names and stories behind pro runners. Not that you need to become totally engrossed in the sport, but there are a lot of great people in the elite running world and you might find some inspiration from one or more of them. Whether it's Meb, or Mo Farah or Shalane Flanagan, like all of us, they bring a story with them to t!he starting line of every marathon (or race) they run. That and most of them are so nice that they are easy to root for!

No racing for me this weekend, just a 12-miler on Sunday as we move even closer to the Indy Mini. But if you are toeing the line somewhere this weekend, best of luck and run well!

Monday, April 13, 2015

#Run3rd 5K, 4/11/2015

Though I have run a bunch of 5K's in the past, the #Run3rd 5K was a bit of a new experience for me, as I ran as a "virtual" participant for the first time.

The actual race was held in Mesa, Ariz. as part of actor Sean Astin's #Run3rd movement. You can read more about it here. I became familiar with #Run3rd a few months ago and joined their Facebook group soon after. It's a good group of peeps, Sean is a great guy (who I want to meet someday -- come to Chicago, Sean!) and I enjoy the feeling I get when I run for other people besides myself. All good stuff.

One thing I liked about being a virtual runner is that since it's all on the honor system you can pretty much run whenever you want! For me that was a big benefit because 1) I stayed up until 1:30 a.m. on Friday night playing FIFA and 2) it was kind of chilly early on Saturday but I knew it was going to warm up by late morning.

It was also a benefit because I had invited Kevin to come with me. Like me he isn't much of an early riser and the appeal of the sun an warmer weather would convince him to run.

So after sleeping until almost 11 -- if you have been reading this blog for a while you know that I can be an epic sleeper -- I got up and got something to eat and told Kev we would be heading out around noon. By then the sun was out and the temperature was nearing 60, so it was just a perfect time to run.

I took this photo afterwards and I wanted to include the forest preserve in the background, which is why we are both kind of squinting into the sun!

Thanks to my Runtastic app (I'll stop talking about it so much sooner or later!), which can measure distance, of course, I decided to run at the Hawk Hollow Forest Preserve trail, otherwise known as my most fave place to run. Since it would be an out and back course with a big hill in the middle, it wouldn't be my favorite type of course -- flat and fast -- but it would still be a lot of fun.

So we headed over to the trail and got started. As usual, I chose a soundtrack to listen to, this time it was a live set done by my favorite techno DJ, Hardwell. Big fan of his. Kev has this weird thing that he won't run next to me, he always runs ahead. Oh wait, he's 14, that explains it.

We were running pretty conservatively, but got a little momentum going down the hill and ran the first mile in 9:48. Just then Kev stopped to tie his shoe and told me to go on and he'd catch up. I ran on down the path and stopped at 1.55 miles -- the halfway point. Kev ambled up a couple of minutes later, and told me to go on ahead as he wanted to take a breather for a minute. I told him it was OK that we could run together, but he said it was all right and that I should just run my own pace.

So I was off again, and ran the second mile in 8:53, which put me on pace to break 29 minutes, not bad considering the hills. Speaking of, the uphill was waiting just after two miles, and it painful! The elevation change is 40 feet from the bottom to the top, it's pretty massive. Everything was hurting and I was breathing pretty hard that I couldn't thunder down the other side of the hill, but I tried to keep a pretty good pace going.

I ran the third mile in 9:09 (elapsed time of 27:50) and tried to hold my pace the rest of the way before finishing in 28:42, just three seconds off of my PR! Now, in all fairness I did stop at the midway point, so if I had set a PR I'd probably have gone with the asterisk! :--)

I jogged a little way back up the path and waited for Kev, and he soon came into view. He looked to be doing OK, and we jogged together to the finish, which for him was in 33:10. Not bad for the first time running that far!

I was really proud of him, he didn't think it was the most fun thing ever but he tried really hard and got an idea of what the distance is like. He plans on running cross country in the fall and I told him that after training with the team all summer a 3-mile run will feel like a breeze!

Normally I post a picture of my bib and medal at the top, but I don't have either of those things yet so I'll just go with a screen grab from Runtastic. I'm so glad that I did the run, not only to be part of the #Run3rd community but to spend some time running with Kev. I have a good (and hopeful) feeling that we will be running partners in the future.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Three Things Thursday

First things first, I made it out this morning for 3.3 miles in my new shoes and they were as awesome as I expected! I did notice a tighter fit so I looked at the inside of the shoe to check the size and realized my old pair had an EE width and my new ones are a D width! I don't mind the tighter fit, to be honest, it just feels better when my feet aren't feeling like they are sliding around.

Anyway...moving on.

* I think it's time to start doing more speedwork. My running is getting pretty consistent, which is a positive, and my times are consistent too, another positive. Last week I ran my 5.2-mile loop in 52:01 and Monday rolled through it in 51:57. But, I'd like to see a little bit of gradual improvement, so I'm going back to throwing in some intervals at least once a week. I don't mind 400s so that will be my interval of choice for now. I have a love/not like relationship with speedwork. Sometimes I love going out and pounding out some fast runs, but right now I'm just not feeling it. I'm sure a couple of good sessions will get me back and motivated.

*I have a goal race! I had been thinking of using Rock N Roll Las Vegas as my big goal race, the one in which I break two hours, and that's now up on the calendar as I entered it the first day registration opened. It's going to be a really good friends Wally and Larissa are already confirmed to be there to run, which I am very happy about. I've known Wally since the sixth grade and now have known Larissa for seven years, and because of our schedules we just don't get to see each other that much. They will also be running the Mini with me on May 2, then will head to Cincinnati for the Flying Pig Marathon the next morning.

When it comes to running, they are true globetrotters, having run marathons on all seven continents, as well as races in 19 states. Someday I want to sit down with Wally and get some stuff for a blog post. Actually I think their experiences of running such races as the Antarctica Marathon and Comrades Marathon in South Africa, not to mention marathons in places like Morocco, would make a great book. Maybe someday!

*Crossing my fingers. In 2013 when I trained with a group for the Chicago Marathon, I was so thankful to have people to train with and to be part of a pace group during those long Saturday runs. Our pace leader, Dan Padilla, was so good at keeping us all herded and on point, and he and I had some great conversations which helped the miles go by in a hurry. Since then, I've wanted to get into shape enough that I could pay it forward by leading a pace group of my own for either a half or full marathon.

Recently a member of a running group I belong to on Facebook asked if there was anyone in the Chicagoland area who wanted to help with group runs for Team V, a fundraising group associated with the Jimmy V Foundation. For those of you not familiar with them, Jim Valvano was a college basketball coach who in 1983 coached North Carolina State to one of the most improbable national championship in my lifetime -- or anyone else's for that matter.

A decade later he was dying of cancer when he appeared at the first ESPN ESPY Awards, where he was given the Arthur Ashe Award for courage. It was there that he announced the start of the V Foundation, which since then has raised over $130 million, all of which goes to cancer research. The speech he gave (which is at the bottom of this post) was one of the most inspirational things I've ever heard. Sadly he passed away eight weeks later, but he has left behind a pretty good legacy.

I've e-mailed some of the organizers and it appears they are looking for people for the Chicago Half Marathon in September. Hopefully they have a training group out in the 'burbs, I'm really hoping to run with them.

The weekend is almost here, what are your plans? Matt has a track meet on Saturday afternoon -- he is running the 800 -- and I will be running the #Run3rd 5K as a virtual participant. I've talked Kev into running with me, it should be fun! And with my schedule the way it is this weekend and since I'm off on Friday, I'll be heading out for my long run then.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Free Shoes!

I was so excited to get home from work today and find a box on my porch. In it were a new pair of shoes I had ordered from Running Warehouse on Friday. But just not any kind of shoes!

Right after the Los Angeles Marathon, Race Raves sponsored a giveaway of a $100 gift card to Running Warehouse to anyone who posted a race rating/recap from the marathon. Despite having last run the race in 2003, I went ahead and posted my experience, and lo and behold, I was chosen as the winner!

You know how things sometimes seem to fall in your lap just when you need them? Yeah, this was one of those times. While my quest for the greatest shoe of all time continues, I have done well with the Asics Nimbus 16's I've been wearing. Those shoes are at about 350 miles right now so it was getting to the point where it was time to think about a new pair. I don't necessarily prescribe to the 500-mile theory religiously, but it is a good benchmark to see how shoes feel and how well they are taking care of you.

I started perusing the Running Warehouse website and was actually looking at the Nimbus 17 or even a pair of Hokas since my friend Brent had recommended them so highly. I mean, this is house money, right? But then I went to the sale "rack" and saw that my Nimbus 16s were marked down from to $96, which meant that if I bought a new pair of those it wouldn't cost me anything.

After giving it about 30 seconds of thought, I went with you blame me? :--) Besides, my current Nimbus 16s have taken care of me pretty well ever since I threw a new set of Dr. Scholl inserts in them. It was more of a thing of necessity because my inserts smelled really badly after one of our cats went into my shoes, and I had to do something to save the shoes, but it also took away the soreness I occasionally felt in my left Achilles, which was a nice bonus. So I am more than content with going with another pair.

So I got the shoes at no cost to me -- even shipping was free -- and redistributed the funds towards entering the Rock N' Roll Las Vegas half in November. I'm really looking forward to running that one and a flat course will hopefully put me under my two hour goal.

I'm really thankful for the generosity from the folks at Race Raves. If you haven't had a chance to check out the site, do it! It's a great place to read about races and learn more about events you might want to do. They also have some interesting articles about running that are really fun to read.

One of the biggest differences between today and when I started running 15 years ago is the wealth of information that is out there for runners, as well as the opportunity to meet people in the global running community. Race Raves is a great resource for both.

Today was an off day for me and I wasn't feeling well anyway, but I'm off work Wednesday and can't wait to try out my new shoes!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Three Things Thursday

Is it that time again? Actually, in terms of work it's Friday since we are off tomorrow, which is nice because they also declared it casual day. So we've got that going for us, which is nice.

*I hope everyone had fun reading my post from yesterday. Normally I don't get into April Fool's stuff, but I remembered that it was 30 years ago yesterday that Sports Illustrated ran George Plimpton's brilliant story about Sidd Finch, a reclusive, monk-like world traveler who was blessed with a 168 mile per hour fastball.

I was 15 and at a New York Mets spring training game that day when in the middle of the game this guy walked through the grandstands followed by a bunch of people with cameras. They stopped a few feet from me and he spoke to everyone and then left. When I got back home to Illinois a few days later and opened my SI to the story, I yelled out, "I SAW THAT GUY!"

So that was really the crux of the idea, just to do some funny storytelling that I hoped you would like. The post also had references to the Brady Bunch (George Glass and his wife Jan), as well as the Chicago Bulls (Scottie Pippen). Although it was all a story, if someone from Nike reads this and likes my idea, give me a call, OK?

*Tech/tactical tip. It's pretty common after a race, especially a big one, for people to go on social media and say a course is long/short because their GPS said it was. This typically happens after big city marathons, which in those cases I can assure you they are as accurate as can be. If a course is certified by the USATF -- and has a certification number -- you can be confident in the fact it is accurate. If it's not, chances are there may be a little wiggle room in there.

The Viking Half Marathon I ran on Saturday isn't certified, and my Runtastic app had me running 13.23 miles instead of 13.1. While it is likely there is some "wiggle room" in there, what I got out of the data was the importance of making the course as short as possible. While in many races it's hard to run the tangents -- and Saturday they had cones in places that widened some of the turns a little -- and the exact line used to measure the course because of the crowd, it's also beneficial to either look at the course ahead of time or look ahead to figure out where the course is going next, and adjust accordingly.

So let's say the course I ran Saturday was accurate, if my GPS was correct, and there were no buildings or anything that would've gotten in the way, I ran .13 miles longer. In terms of time, at a 10:21 pace, that adds up to more than a minute. While in this instance it doesn't really matter, think about when you are gunning for a PR, or even getting close to that magical Boston qualifying time. Then, it matters. It matters a lot.

Many people put so much detail into their training and racing, but course management always seems to be a forgotten piece to the puzzle. Now that I have a way of gathering data related to that, I'm going to try and do better in the future.

*I brag about my son Matt's running a lot in this space, but today I'm going to brag a little about my younger son, Kevin. He had his first track meet last night and set PRs in all three events in which he competed. His jump of 12 feet, 6 inches in the long jump was 18 inches better than his best last year, and in the 800 he improved from 3:35 to 3:09.

In the last event, the 4x400 relay, he was the third leg and he and a boy from another school had a pretty nice battle going on. Kevin looked like he was starting to slow down with 100 meters to go, but with a lot of encouragement from his friends he took off running and easily won his leg and handed off the baton with his team in first place (they eventually finished second). His split of 1:19 was nine seconds better than his PR, but what was even more inspiring was just the way he raced that leg instead of just running it. He was very happy with himself.

Running doesn't come as easy to him as it does to his brother, but he is starting to love the sport and enjoys competition, and that in itself will help him improve. Because he got in a little situation with homework, he won't run in a meet for another two weeks, but I'm sure some new PRs are waiting when he gets back on the track.

Have a great Easter!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

I Have A Shoe Contract!

Man, I can't believe I held this secret in for so long, but I'm proud to announce that I have signed a two-year contract to be part of Nike's new "Grinder"-brand running campaign. It's part of a new line of shoes and apparel that Nike is marketing to the grinders of the world, those of us who can't run fast but sure can run far. I'm one of 10 people in the United States who is part of this new branding, and Nike plans to expand the campaign worldwide in the next few months.

When I agreed to be a part of this a few weeks ago, it was under strict confidentiality, I couldn't even tell my wife! Needless to say as April 1 got closer I have been ready to burst.

It's a cool thing...myself and the other Grinders will be featured in print and TV ads, will receive free race entries, get to travel to race expos and, of course, get free gear and shoes. We also get to pick a color scheme and name our own style of Grinder shoe. Mine will be the "Grinder Redbird", named after my high school mascot. It will be red with a black Swoosh and black laces.

Pretty sweet, right! It's so amazing, but what is even more crazy is the story behind it.

When I was out for a run in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico over Christmas break, I was stopped at an intersection when two guys came up to me and asked if they could join me on my run. At first I was a little intimidated because these guys looked hard core. They were the stereotypical runner -- tall and thin, and they looked fast standing still.

A bit reluctantly, I said "sure!". Just a few minutes into the run I could tell these guys were really cool. Both of them worked for Nike: George Glass was in the design department, and Sidd Finch worked in marketing. They asked a lot of questions about my "story" and I told them about me and what running has meant to me in my life. They didn't seem too interested in talking about themselves, so I just rambled on. I do that sometimes.

When we arrived back at my hotel, I was delighted to find out they were staying there too. In fact, they had just checked in and wanted to get a run in while their wives took a nap. We agreed to shower up and meet at the bar down by the pool for some drinks later in the afternoon.

It was a really hot, sunny day, so once we saddled up to the bar, the rum punches started flowing. George, who looked to be in his early 30s, had started running right after college. His wife, Jan, was a college runner and he jumped in and began running 5Ks with her. He later jumped to the marathon and ultimately ran in the Olympic marathon trials.

Sidd, who by the way liked to run in army boots, had given professional baseball a try, but arm problems led to the loss of his huge fastball, so he went back to college at the University of Oregon and was approached by the great Alberto Salazar about running with a group of guys on the Nike campus. He and Salazar had a falling out when Sidd wouldn't give up his army boots for racing flats. He wasn't as serious of a runner as George, but he was good enough to place in his age group from time to time.

The two of them started telling me about a campaign they were trying to put together featuring everyday runners who didn't fit the "typical runner" profile, but worked hard at trying to get better and accomplish goals. Skinny runners were out, they said, they were interested in people who truly represented the masses. The "Grinder" name was Sidd's idea, he had gone to training camp with the 1985 Mets, a team that featured guys like Wally Backman and Larry Bowa, players who were short on talent but loved the game and gave it all they had every day.

I had told them about my blog during the run and they said they had read it in their rooms, and after seeing my rugged good looks and 240-pound frame, they knew they had their guy. Since I was leaving the next morning, they said they would call in a couple of weeks with more info.

I kind of blew it off a little, but three weeks later Sidd called and said the project had been greenlighted and he wanted to get started. First, I had to come to Oregon to meet some Nike higher-ups and give my ideas about shoes, colors and apparel. They wanted to keep it a secret, and things worked out perfectly because the week they wanted me there was the week Darcy and I were supposed to go to Dubai. So as a cover, I sent my twin brother Scottie, and no one was wiser.

I had a great time in Oregon, the people were great and I met a lot of awesome people, including Mo Farah, a personal hero of mine. After spending a few days on campus, going over the shoes, picking my colors and taking some test photos, I was sitting across from Phil Knight himself, who had a contract at the ready.

So I signed it! All these weeks later, I still can't believe it's real. My gear started arriving this week, and I'm so excited to be busting some of that stuff out in the next few days. Look for it on all of my social media platforms. I'm also looking forward to getting to a lot of races -- I'm still finalizing my schedule -- and meeting a lot of my virtual running partners.

Heading into this year I really wanted to make it a special one when it came to my running. Little did I know how special it was going to be!

Happy April 1 everybody! ;--)