Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Will the Real Runner Please Stand Up?

I think it was January 2008 when I listened to a voicemail that started, “Hello, I am looking for Eric Cameron, the marathoner….”  The voicemail was from a fellow Mr. Cameron who was also registered for Boston in April of 2009 and has a penchant for tracking down members of the Cameron clan.  If I received that call today, I would be tempted to say, “The marathoner isn’t in right now, I am expecting him back…eventually.”
I have heard/read people refer to being a real runner.  It usually comes in conjunction with a goal or achievement.  Be it running a certain number of miles or days of the week, achieving a certain level of speed, or completing a race or challenge, people feel that they are not a real runner until they have reached a certain level of psychosis dedication to the sport.
I used to be a real runner. I was a marathoner.  I labored over training plans and could be found pouring over my training log.  I awoke early to run while my neighbors slept.  I set goals and chased them feverishly.  I caught a lot of them.  I blathered on endlessly about races, training, recovery, and the friends that I made along the journey.  However, the real runner is MIA at the moment.  A flaccid temp has taken his place, wide eyed and panicky about how he can fill the shoes of his predecessor.   He has the real runner’s notes on how to get the job done, but is a bit overwhelmed.
So the question is this, if one has to reach a milestone to be considered a real runner, at what point does one cease to be a real runner?  Is it a certain number of pounds gained, dropping below a certain number of miles each week, or failure to maintain the training log because the truth is too painful?  Did I lose my real runner card when I abandoned goals to kick ass in my next race?
Ah…the next race. My real runner doppelganger is registered for the Pikes Peak Ascent in August and the Houston Marathon in January.  He had goals and aspirations for glory in those events.  He had a plan.  I have a belly and a growing feeling of doom.
Of course, being a runner is what has gotten me into this mess.  I trained like crazy for three years and was limping around Boston on the evening of Patriot’s Day 2011 after completing my 8th marathon.  The stabbing pain in my heel was the call for the real runner to go away for a while.  As I wrestle (I wish I could put this in past tense) with Plantar Fasciitis, an over-use injury from all that glorious running, I also wrestle with my identity.  If I am not a marathoner, who am I?
The answer: I am a runner.  Yesterday, the first day of summer, I took the dogs out for a run.  We all needed it.  The grass was high from the recent rain and the trails were soft without being muddy.  The sun was warm on my skin as we plodded along.  My mind was full of goals; where those goals would have been focused on race paces and strategies a few short months ago, they were now about how to finally whip this ailment and get back to my former state.  At what seemed like every turn on the familiar course, I thought about the hard workouts I had put in on those same trails over the past years.  While I am currently unable to hold the pace that I labored at while preparing for recent marathons, there was a spark.  I wanted to get back there.
And I think that is the answer to my question.  I am no longer a real runner when I don’t want to do it anymore.  Yesterday’s run was slow, and my heel was a little achy, but it made me want to get after it, which makes me believe that the marathoner will return from his hiatus.  As I turned off the trail to hit the neighborhood streets, I caught something out of the corner of my eye.  It was Eric Cameron, the marathoner, gliding through the tall summer grass in the angled sunshine of late afternoon, chasing his glorious goals.
I will catch him and pass him soon enough.  Really.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Everything I need to know about running, I learned at the 2011 Boston Marathon.

The 115th Boston marathon was my 8th attempt at the marathon distance.  I was coming off of a personal best time in Chicago and was really doubtful of my ability to run faster at Boston.  As I stated in the race report from Boston, I gave into peer pressure and planned on trying to run my fastest marathon ever.  I didn’t.
Of course, it was in the not running my fastest marathon where the lesson lie.  While I could have paced better, holding some energy in reserve in the first half, I didn’t.  I ran by feel, chatted with some other runners, and had great fun.  My  final time was my second fastest marathon ever, but the lesson was in letting go and enjoying the run.  Boston is a great town, and I met up with a lot of friends.  But the lasting impression of the race is that I raced well without putting pressure on myself to run fast.  Sure, in those closing miles, I ran proudly; I wasn’t going to quit, despite paying the price for a fast start.  However, it is that digging deep when things get tough that I love about this sport.  I gave my best but didn’t stress out that my best might not be “good enough.”
It was my best on that day, which is good enough for me.
And I learned that I love being a marathoner.  Granted, there are times when I am hanging on in the tough miles, or putting in that interval effort that makes my eyes bulge  and my breakfast threaten to reappear; those times are unpleasant, but I still like them—in hindsight.  But running a marathon, being prepared for the event (more or less) and sharing in the spirit of the effort and the race, is what keeps me logging the miles.  I like training.  I like running silently through the darkness in the early morning.  I like filling up the squares in the training log.
The question of running to “compete” or “complete” is often raised by marathoners.  While I have gotten to the point that finishing a marathon is taken for granted a bit, I think that there is some grey area between running just to finish, or complete, the marathon, and running to compete—in the age group or against my own expectations.  There is that sweet  spot where I am fit and prepared and can just run for fun.  There is no expectation of finishing time, just the expectation of getting the most of the experience.  I am blessed to be able to run 26.2, and there are times that the obsession with running faster obfuscates that fact.  The 115th Boston marathon reminded me of the fact that I love marathoning and that I love being a marathoner.
I learned that I am lucky to be healthy enough to complete the marathon distance, that I have great friends that share my passion, that I have a family that supports my madness, and that the people of Boston love their marathon and treat its participants like heroes.  I learned that I am a lucky man.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Boston Marathon 2011--A race report

The 115th Boston Marathon—a race report.
As Dawgdoc and I churn out the 22nd mile of the 2011 Boston Marathon, the crowds call us by name: “C’mon Eric…Go Jay.!”  The roaring crowd cheers us as we blaze towards Boston.  We are racing—not against each other, but with each other.
I ran next to Jay (AKA dawgdoc on the discussion board that I frequent) for a brief part of the marathon.  I don’t know if it was a full mile of the race; I think it might have been less.  But this moment  defines a lot of what this running of the Boston marathon means to me.
I am blessed to have the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon for a second time.  After ’09, I thought I would never return.  Don’t get me wrong.  I had a blast in ’09, I have qualifying marathon times, and The Boston holds a special place in my heart.  I just thought the journey was a little self indulgent.  Of course, I succumbed to peer pressure.  All of my imaginary friends were doing it.
The most significant social element of my running is participation in the Runner’s World discussion boards.  I started participating in the discussions before my run in ’09 and never left.  I didn’t know if I should stop posting because I doubted that I would return to Boston, but I had made a lot of friends through our daily discussion on running.  Those friends are what made the 2011 Boston Marathon worth the trip.
I met a lot of people during Boston ’09 and Chicago ’10.  The friends I have made online do materialize at races, and the opportunity to hang out with old friends and meet some new ones, combined with sharing the experience with my family, had me booking flights to Boston for Patriot’s Day.  I think I spent two months whistling the melody from the Dropkick Murphys’ Shipping Up to Boston. 
I was looking forward to the parties with friends, but was fearful of the race.  My training was OK, but I wasn’t ever as focused and driven as I was in the lead-up to Chicago (10-10-10) where I set my PR.  I worked through the training plan like a zombie (completing the workouts with little feeling) and tried to talk myself out of going for a best time in Boston.  The same friends I looked so forward to seeing gave me an earful when I proposed shooting for a goal some 7 minutes slower than my fastest race.  My wife called me names, including telling me to “toughen up, buttercup.”  Oh the indignity.
The course in Boston is a tough one that invites the hapless runner to hammer 16 miles of relative downhill, and then chews said runner up in the grinder known as the Newton hills.  After the hills, there are 5 more miles of downhill that can be a deathmarch if the early miles are run overly optimistically.  So I feared going out too fast, but also didn’t want to sell myself short, start too slowly, and have no shot at a good time.  My legs seemed good, but my head was a mess.
So I showed up in Hopkinton with a plan that would give me a shot at running my best marathon time.  I figured it was better to go for it and run the risk of failure than to play it safe and have regrets.  I met up with friends in the village, chatted, prepped for the race, headed to corral #2 of wave #1.  I could see the tops of the heads of the pro runners as they were introduced and filed out into their starting place several yards in front of me.  As I awaited the start, I fired up the Garmin (my GPS watch) to get a signal.  It wouldn’t turn on, despite several attempts.
I found myself standing in the starting corral of the 115th Boston Marathon laughing aloud like a fool and talking to myself.  Honey Badger don’t care.”  “Honey Badger don’t give a shit!”  I had my race mantra.
 Rather than obsess over the numbers and pace, I was going to run this one by feel, thanks to the expensive paperweight strapped to my arm.  I ran freely.  I tried to get other runners to talk to me in the early miles.  I loudly sang “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” and tried to get others to sing with me.  I high-fived kids.  I kissed a girl in Wellesley.  I smiled—a lot.  I didn’t know my pace and didn’t try to figure it out as I went through the checkpoints.  I was a honey badger.  I didn’t give a shit.  I went all “attacky” on that course and planned on having cobra for dinner.
My original plan was to run the first 6 miles at 5-10 seconds faster than goal pace, settle into goal pace for miles 7-16.5, then run the Newton hills to the best of my ability, and let it fly from Boston College (mile 21) into Boston.  Well, I ignored the watch (as any good honey badger would do) and felt as if I was passing people for the first six miles.  I wasn’t pushing nor zig-zagging through traffic, but felt as if I was moving up.  At six miles, I consciously pulled back the pace a little (without having the slightest idea of what the pace was) and felt as if people were moving past me.  They weren’t streaming past, but I felt as if I was slipping back.  I worried that my effort might be feeling too hard, too early, but the honey badger don’t care.
I spread my arms like an airplane as I made the right turn at Newton firehouse.  The crowd went wild[er]. One hill was behind me and now the three famous hills of Comm Ave were before me.  I expected to see my family on this stretch, and really wanted to run within myself on the hills.  I felt like I was going slowly, but there were a surprising number of people walking and running more slowly than myself as I picked my way up the hills.  I worked the uphill and then tried to speed up on the recovery between the hills.  I saw my family at about 18.5 miles.  They didn’t know that I had been possessed by the spirit of the honey badger, but I informed them.  They cheered wildly, and I set my sights on Heartbreak hill.
At the top of Heartbreak hill lies Boston College.  While the girls of Wellesley scream loudly, have a lot of signage, and are willing to kiss sweaty runners, BC is louder, and most likely, more drunk.  They were roaring!  The din didn’t let up, either.  The frenzy of the crowd built throughout the race and the course was lined without gap from the turn at Newton firehouse until Boston.  They called out the names of runners who had put names on their shirts and howled.  I honestly believe that the Boston Marathon has the best fans in marathoning.  From the top of Heartbreak into Boston it got so that I could barely make out what was being said; it was a roar of support.  Those awesome fans cheered for the runners like they were family!  It was an honor.  I didn’t want to let 500,000 people down.  After all, it felt like they were cheering for me.
Many of those fans were calling my name.  I think it is because I was starting to look pretty bad.  I was a hurting runner, but just kept telling myself to keep the pace up—to keep it honest.  To give anything less than my best would be, indeed, to sacrifice the gift—the gift of being able to run, the gift of returning to Boston, and the gift of a perfect running day (including a nice tailwind), to name a few.  So I churned on.  And that is when Jay (Dawgdoc) pulled up next to me.
I asked him how he was doing and he said he was hurting.  I think I said something along the lines of “of course you are.”  I had been following Jay’s training for months and knew (better than he did) that he was ready to break the three hour barrier for the marathon.  His training was excellent.  He destroyed his PR’s in his tune up races.  He showed up on race day in great shape, and all he needed to do was execute.  The honey badger might not give a shit about things like splits and his own time, but he doesn’t back down, either.
I talked at Jay.  I didn’t need an answer in words, just in deed.  I mentioned his awesome training, his toughness, and how his goal was there for the taking.  I did my best Knute Rockne.  Oh, and I picked up the pace.  I would estimate that I sped up about 30 seconds per mile.  Of course, I didn’t care about the numbers of my race.  I didn’t want Jay to slow to my pace, which was turning into a death shuffle, but to chase his goal.  I was willing to chase his goal too.  We ran side by side for a while and then I had to let him go, having given him all I could.  I wasn’t upset that I couldn’t keep up; I was thrilled that he could pull away from me.  I believed that he was going to achieve his goal.
It seems like it was only a minute or two later that I heard the crowds cheering for Boston College.  I knew what that meant.  My friend, Phil, who was also chasing his first sub-3 hour marathon (and wearing his alma mater’s name on his chest), had caught me.  He blew by me, and eventually passed Jay as well.  I yelled out some words of encouragement and watched him take off.  It was awesome.  For the first time in my marathoning experience, I wasn’t all wrapped up in my performance.  I wanted to run well, but was really loving seeing the hard work of my friends paying off.  In the past I would be upset that I was getting passed and want to compete.  This time, I wanted to share in their success and have fun.
I achieved all that I wanted in Boston.  I had a blast both on the racecourse and off.  I ran a solid time that I can be proud of, but didn’t let the obsession with time suck the life out of the greatest marathon on earth.  I charged down Boylston Street with a grimace, milking everything from my body that I could, and saw that I had not gone under 3 hours.  Of course, it was easy for this honey badger not to care; I shared in the fellowship of the marathon and knew, beyond a doubt, that both Phil and Jay must have achieved the coveted title of sub-3 hour marathoners.  The crowd roared, and I couldn’t help but smile as I crossed the finish line.  Of course, if asked, the honey badger was baring his teeth and not caring at all.
Since I had no watch, I didn’t see any splits until after the race.  I went out way too fast, running nine and a half minutes slower in the second half than in the first.  That execution is pretty terrible, but I finished in 3:00:36, which is my second fastest marathon ever, fewer than three minutes slower than my fastest, and a full eight minutes faster than I had run Boston in ’09 (which now stands as my 3rd fastest).  I ran naked (no watch) which could have been a source of stress and disaster.  Instead, it freed me to savor the day, sing a song, high five little kids, kiss a coed, run by feel, pick out my family from the masses, help out a buddy without a care about my own race, and have a Boston experience that I will never forget.
The numbers—(no thanks to Garmin)
5K:          20:32
10K:       40:18
15K:       1:00:17
20K:       1:21:13
Half Marathon (13.1M): 1:25:43
25K:       1:42:22
30K:       2:04:18
35K:       2:27:05
40K:       2:50:15
26.2 Miles: 3:00:36 (6:54/Mile avg)

1602/23,879 Finishers
1497/13806 Males
238/2303 M40-44

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hair of the Dog

According to Wikipedia, the phrase, “Hair of the dog” originally referred  to treating a dog bite by putting the hair of the biting dog on the wound to avoid rabies.  Of course, in our modern usage, it refers to having a drink in the morning of the booze that we over indulged in the night before in the hopes of ameliorating a hangover.
This rabid runner figured he would return to the well as I headed out for a recovery run after a hard half marathon in which I bucked a headwind for 13.1 miles.  While I won’t go into the details of the race here (click the race report link if you are interested), let it suffice to say that I gingerly got out of bed this morning.   Some dog replaced my lower legs with wood while I slept.  So while the family was still asleep in the motel room, I slipped out for some cure—more running.
Marathon training, and racing of any kind, is hard.  While some people run socially, soaking up the atmosphere, I feel the need to push hard at every race, and the Canyonlands Half Marathon was no exception.  While I train and race hard, every training plan has recovery runs built in.  The idea is to run slowly and just get those wooden pegs loosened up a bit.  While the running is slow, it is often difficult.
As I headed out of the motel at the southern end of Moab and headed west along the Colorado river, I was hobbled.  Everything hurt, and I could barely fake a running motion.  However, like magic, the same activity that put me in this position slowly rescued me.  My legs stopped hurting by degrees and the pace picked up a bit.  The wonderful part was that I had no other goal besides logging some miles, so I could look around.  Yesterday I raced down a beautiful canyon, but anytime I thought of looking at the scenery, I was quickly drawn back to the task at hand: racing and cursing the wind.  This morning, I checked out the river and the beautiful canyon walls.  I saw sleepy campers slowly emerging from their tents and even a couple of llamas who watched me curiously as I ran by.  I trotted along with only the beautiful scenery and my thoughts.
The recovery run did more than just enable me to walk through Moab shops and hike to some magnificent rock formations in Arches National Park with my sons; it recharged my love of the sport.  I ran for medicinal purposes, but loved every step of the way.  The early Sunday morning jaunt greeted me with very few cars, comfortable temps, about 6 miles of joy (after the first mile of painful clomping) and even a breeze that seemed less hostile than yesterday.
So I am now back home with 28 days until the Boston Marathon.  That works out to one more week of hard training and then a taper—three weeks where the mileage lessens each week, but the intensity of individual workouts remains with the hopes of delivering me to Hopkinton with fresh, speedy legs.  In 29 days, I will probably try a little more hair of the dog that bit me.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


I think that we have all heard this acronym as a plan of attack: keep it simple, stupid.
There are some things that are more simple to me than to other people.  For example, I find it easy to get dressed in the morning; I find fashion simply stupid, so I just cover up and set out.  However, there are other things in my life that should be simple, but they are not.  A good example is this blog.  I read the blogs of others who appear to just dump ideas on the page and post.  I feel the need to craft blog posts, which results in drafts simmering for weeks at a time, and long periods of time developing between posts.
Another thing in my life which should be simple, but I tend to complicate it, is running.  Honestly, is there a more simple sport than running?  It is a fundamental element of many other sports, but as a sport itself, even more so as a hobby, it is pretty darned simple.  Put on some shoes and get running.  Simple.
This simplicity yields simple joy in running along.  Yes, I can complicate it with race goals, training plans, electronic doohickeys, and expectations, but, in its simplest form, it is just perambulating, much like my primitive ancestors did.  Of course, they didn’t have fancy shoes, which brings me to one of the simple joys of being a marathoner: buying new shoes.
One of the ways that I complicate my training log, but simplify the decision of when to buy new shoes, is to keep track of the mileage on my shoes.  Simply, I needed new trainers, badly.  So I did a little research online, but headed to my local running specialty store to see what they had to offer before sending my money off to the Internet.
I love going to the local shop: they know me; I know them; we are kindred running spirits.  The process is simple: they bring me shoes; I try them on and trot around the building; and then I decide.  All the while, we are talking running.  Honestly, it is difficult to find people willing to talk about running, racing, goals, and, of course, footwear.  On this occasion, I bought two pairs of trainers.  I had run in one of the models before and the other was a new iteration of a shoe that I have had luck with in the past.  I left the store with two new shoe boxes feeling happy and motivated.  I spent some time with some running acquaintances and stimulated the local economy.  More importantly, I was simply happy to be a runner.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The BAA has spoken

For those of you not closely monitoring news about marathoning, there was a huge announcement Tuesday.  The Boston Athletic Association (BAA) announced a new registration process and new qualifying standards for the Boston Marathon.  This news has been anticipated and rumors and speculation have been plenty ever since the registration for the 2011 Boston Marathon filled in an amazing eight hours and three minutes.
First of all, many people said that something had to be done after the race filled so quickly.  I do not agree.  There was a lot of buzz in the weeks leading up to the opening of registration that it would fill up quickly.  I have many friends who were part of the 20,000 people to sign up in those eight hours.  It seems to me that selling out isn’t a problem for the race, nor is it a problem for the runner who planned ahead to register at the earliest possible moment.
In a nutshell, there are still qualifying standards based on age and gender, but those standards are a baseline and do not guarantee entry.  There is a tiered registration system where runners who have run a race 20 minutes (or more) faster than their qualifying times get to register first, then those 10 minutes faster, then five, then an open registration.  At whatever point the race fills, the faster runners will be registered prior to slower runners.  This system will be in place with the existing qualifying times for 2012, and the qualifying times will be lowered (made faster) by five minutes for all ages and genders for the 2013 iteration of the race.
There seem to be two responses to this news.   The majority of runners whose comments I have seen/heard  feel that the BAA has just raised the bar.  Those runners see the new system and the new standards as just another goal to be met.  In fact, there are now ranks of qualifying.  The runner who qualified with six minutes to spare is now eyeing that BQ-10 (Boston Qualifier minus 10 minutes) to ensure a better chance of getting in the race.  There are also people out there who feel cheated.  They want to know, without a doubt, that they can get into the race, and this system of rating applications by speed relative to the qualifying standard could, potentially, mean that a runner has qualified, but will not get into the race because too many other applicants have qualified by a larger margin. 
I think that the mindset about qualifying will change a bit.  There is still the goal of making the qualifying time, but the larger the margin of beating that time, the better one’s chances are of getting in the race.  That doubt about whether the qualifying time has been surpassed enough to actually get in is a little rough on the runners, but it is good for the race.
The BAA has a good solution here.  They have ensured that the fastest registrants will get into their race and they will not need to adjust the qualifying times because those times are self adjusting.  If the race fills up, it will fill up with the runners who have beaten the qualifying standard for their age and gender by the largest margin.  Reducing  the qualifying time by five minutes makes the pool of applicants smaller, and  the tiered registration will avoid the rush on the servers, allowing the BAA to “dose” the rush of applicants.  They have taken measures to control the rush of applicants into the race (a wave start, if you will) and have maintained the quality of the field.
The Boston Marathon is prestigious because it is old and because it attracts the best competition from the masses of citizen runners.  It is hard to get into, and that difficulty should not be based on beating the rush on registration morning, just beating the clock and running the best marathon possible to qualify.  The BAA has maintained their prestige. Of course, people will complain.  They complain about change, and they complain a lack of change.  Let them complain, but let them train!  There have been changes to the registration process and to the qualifying standards, but one thing hasn’t changed:
Do you know how to get to Boston?  Training, training, training!

Monday, February 7, 2011

A snowy long run

I had an awesome 20 mile run yesterday.  There was every excuse for it to be horrible, but I chose that it was going to be a good run.  The schedule called for a long run on Saturday, and Sunday was a scheduled rest day.  As the weather got worse on Saturday, and my other obligations kept putting the run later and later, I decided to postpone it to Sunday.  I figured if I got out early enough, I would be able to run down the middle of the snowy streets; they weren’t calling for that much snow, anyway. 
I  awoke at 6 am and the snow was hammering down.  There was a good six inches on the ground and it wasn’t showing any signs of letting up.  I decided that I was going to run for three hours or twenty miles, whichever came first.  As I headed out with Fletcher for 4.2 miles, it looked like I would be going for the three hours.  The roads were dicey with a few tire tracks but no signs of a plow.  When I got to the lake, which is usually one of the first places to have plowed paths, I discovered that I had beaten the plows.  A good 2 miles of those four miles were breaking a fresh track in 8 inches of powdery, Colorado snow.  I chugged along, at one point seeing that I was in the 11 minute mile range, but I didn’t care.
I decided that I was going to take what the day gave me and “run like a child.”  My kids love the snow, and I like running in it.  However, I have recently gotten too caught up in the numbers of a training plan; so I decided I was going to run joyfully and ignore the numbers.
I returned home with Fletcher and it seemed like the snow was letting up.  I leashed up Finn and headed off for a wandering tour of the residential streets in the area, because they had some tire tracks that I could run in, which provided the best surface to be had.  After wandering five miles, we hit the same lake where I had run with Fletcher.  I had played it right; they had just plowed the inner loop, which is 1.1 miles.  There was still hard crunchy stuff covered by a thin layer of fluffy snow, so the footing was good.  We settled in for about 9 laps, (with a mile to run home from the lake) and started hitting some descent splits.  The sun came out. A couple of the miles dipped below 8:00/M which is in the range that I am trying to run my long runs.  I snapped off a couple of good miles and then I started to fade.  The early 10 miles of working hard to run through the snow started to show.  I just ignored the pace and ran out the miles.
It was a great run for many reasons.  I headed out into questionable weather and got to experience the silent run of fresh snow and empty streets. It was beautiful and fun.  I worked hard, but ran happily, not stressing about pace or distance, taking all the joy I could from a beautiful winter day, running along, with my four-legged running partners.
It was interesting to see who was out on a wintery day.  Early on, when the snow was still falling, I saw mostly shovelers and snowblowerers.  There were very few tracks in the snow at the lake on the first visit; the few I saw were human and canine.  The dog walkers were getting it done, although I didn’t see them yet, just their tracks in the snow.  On the second round with Finn, I saw snowshoers, XC skiers, walkers, runners, photographers, and, of course, dog walkers.  It is great to live in a place where people love the outdoors.  As the park department got the paths plowed, more and more people were heading out to enjoy a 30 degree snow day.
I thought I was going to have to tough this run out.  It got a little hard near the end, but it was one of those runs that are so joyful that it will propel me through the next week of training.  I ran like a child.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mike's Hotel

A high school friend with whom I have been in contact off and on over the years posted some pictures on FaceBook the other day. His name is Mike Pop.  He posted a whole album of pictures of the renovations he has made to his home.  He owns an old hotel (originally build in 1880) in rural Nevada and is renovating it into a small storefront and three apartments. 

The enormity of the task is daunting to me.  The pictures show the old rooms prior to the changes, and then the removal of walls, repairs to some of the brick arches, building kitchen cabinets from recycled wooden doors, replacing windows, cutting holes and installing stairs, and basically repurposing the entire building to his needs.  In addition to all of these changes, my friend creates a lot of art from things he finds in the Nevada desert; all of the railings on the hotel are handmade—Mike Pop originals.  Wow, that job is huge!

As I looked at the pictures, impressed with all of the work that my friend had done, I noticed that all of the pictures were labeled, stating what it was that was depicted: new window in the kitchen, new cabinets in the kitchen, the kitchen when fully painted, etc.  There would be groups of pictures as an area of the hotel was transformed, with several shots of a given area, then a shift to another area.  While the enormity of the transformation of this old hotel did not lessen, it became clearer to me how such a task can be completed.  The entire project is the renovation of the hotel, but within that project, are smaller projects. Removing the walls, framing new walls, creating a kitchen, creating a utility room all fall under the Hotel Project banner.  And those smaller projects are comprised of numerous projects themselves: wiring for the appliances, building the cabinets, changing the window, sheet rocking, painting, etc.

I think that Mike’s project is going really well; it is impressive to see all that he has done, but the list of things to come is still daunting.  However, he finishes a task and moves onto the next item, all with an overall vision of the finished product.  His journey parallels any big task.  He is not getting paid to repurpose the hotel; in fact he spends a lot of money, time, and labor on his task.  He does it because it makes him happy and he sees worth in it.  His process, of taking one step at a time is inspiring.
I get frustrated doing any kind of home repairs and improvements.  Something always goes wrong and I am left grumbling as I make one more run to the home improvement mega store.  Mike told me that the nearest lumberyard is 80 miles away and Home Depot is 130 miles.  But he has had no shortage of setbacks along the way.  I would be a basket case.

Of course, I am a basket case, but it is not an old hotel that is highlighting my dementia.  I am not building a home from the remnants of an old hotel, but I am building a marathon.  I am sure that people, when seeing my friend’s home upon completion, will be in awe that he did it all himself, yet still not grasp the enormity of the task.  When people find out that I have run a marathon (or 7) they have a similar reaction.  They are impressed, but usually don’t “get” it.

A different friend of mine once wrote that marathoners know the secret that a marathon is short.  Yes it is 26.2 miles and takes a number of hours, but those measurements pale when compared to the thousands of miles and hundreds of hours that are dedicated to preparing for the task.  Of course, like the renovation of a hotel, training for a marathon is an accumulation of a lot of smaller tasks.  There are training cycles, mesocycles, weeks, and daily workouts.  One task at a time is completed, which accumulates into a section of the tasks being completed, which eventually leads to a finished project that is turgid with my effort, focus, and passion.

In our culture of immediate gratification, it is easy to forget that change often occurs slowly.  We should dream big, set our goals high, but focus on the immediate task at hand and its contribution to the goal rather than being overwhelmed with the enormity of the goal.  Take it one step at a time, do that step to the best of your ability and move on.  The big picture will take care of itself.

Last week’s running plan (11 weeks until Boston!) got disrupted by a minor illness; I took two consecutive days off, making up one of the runs on Sunday, my usual rest day and skipping an 11 mile run.  I wound up with 56 miles for the week.  I can’t recoup those 11 miles I missed, but I don’t have to. It was a solid week, including a 22 mile long run that went very well.   I will just press on.  This week started off strong, despite some bitter cold and snow.  I completed a recovery double (6 miles am, 4 miles pm) on a treadmill at the local recreation center on Monday, bringing January’s mileage total to 270 miles (a monthly record).  I ran 146 laps of an indoor track on Tuesday for 14 miles.  Today’s project is five recovery miles.  The forecast calls for a high in the single digits (F), but I owe it to myself and the pups to get out there.  So I will bundle up and tend to the task at hand, knowing that the finished product in Boston will be something that I can be proud of.

Here are some links from Mike Pop.  More information about the hotel is available in the “pages” link on the right side of the blog.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Merit Badges and Hit List Kills

I was a cub scout.  I was a boy scout.  I am a cub scout leader.  I play Mafia Wars on Facebook.  I say the first three with pride, and feel shame about the last. The first three activities are productive, while the last seems like a waste of time.  However, these activities all have something in common, and I think that something has to do with running, too.
When we learn to do anything in life--cook, drive a car, run, complete 3rd grade math (as a student and as a parent), or defeat fictional adversaries disputing our turf—we usually progress slowly and are rewarded with the ability to do the task at hand better each time.  However, the scouts and Mafia Wars both have the benefit of acknowledging the completion of the training and task with awards:  patches, beads, pins, ribbons, rank, special bonuses, weapons of destruction, and other doohickeys to mark the occasion. 
I saw, this morning, that someone earned a “badge” for checking in to Foursquare—a program that uploads your GPS location onto FB/Twitter and the like.  I guess there are awards for broadcasting your location.   Apparently, people like knowing their standing and progress in a lot of venues.  I like the bling, myself.  Of course, when achieving a rank, much of the work goes unheralded.
And this lack of fanfare for the daily toil of earning small achievements and enduring the task of accumulating work is where running fits in.  I run because I like the little achievements of setting goals and then surpassing those goals, only to strive for the next benchmark.  Occasionally those running goals are rewarded with a prize of some sort—a medal, ribbon, or gift certificate, but more often, the rewards are intangible and personal.
Running provides many opportunities for these small victories.  Sometimes getting out the door is a victory well savored after the workout is done.  There are mileage goals, pace goals, and goals against competitors.  There are “streakers” who keep running every day, just to keep the streak of consecutive days of running alive!  Like compiling good deeds and learning skills in scouting or accumulating mouse clicks in Mafia Wars, running provides me with daily tasks that accumulate, and hopefully, yield rewards.
The biggest rewards are those that keep us in the game: learning that knot, improving a scouting unit, completing a mission, and just persevering.  The small achievements fuel our pursuits.   I love to complete a workout, log it, and watch the charts, graphs and numbers of the training log swell.  I monitor daily, weekly, monthly, and annual mileage totals.  I compare workout times from this training cycle to the last cycle that I did (and occasionally from very old workouts) just to see how far I have come.  There is no pin, badge, patch, ribbon, or medal for completing 7 marathons, meeting mileage goals, of gutting out that tenth 800 meter interval on the track, but I wear them proudly.  I wear them in my in my running log, in my posture, and in those dark moments during a race or hard workout, knowing that I have earned the ability to conquer the task at hand.
I don’t run just to get a medal or to proudly wear a Boston Marathon jacket.  I run because I like the work, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t savor the tangible trappings of running almost as much as the intangible ones.  The things that I have accomplished--having qualified for Boston, breaking three hours in the marathon, (earning a scout master or thug award),and that age group win in the local race--do as much do as much to keep me in the game as the prospect of achieving another goal.
So, I train.  Today is the last day of the sixth week of Pete Pfitzinger’s 18-week training plan.  It was a “recovery” week that featured little speed work and reduced mileage.  I needed it.  Last week (65miles), I struggled through a couple of the workouts, feeling dejected and depleted.  I questioned why I train so hard. From that struggle came a good week of recovery runs, and a topic for a blog post. 
Now, would you like to join my mafia?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

One-two punch

I felt great running 20 miles on Sunday; today I am exhausted after 14.  Pete Pfitzinger’s one-two punch put a hurting on me today.
Yesterday, the schedule called for 9 miles with 5 miles at my half-marathon race pace (6:20 per mile).  It had snowed about six inches the night before and the temps were in the single digits.  While sucking in that cold air, well, sucks, the snowy footing is not conducive to trying to run fast.  The last time one of these workouts was prescribed (referred to as a lactate threshold (LT) run), I did it in some loose snow. The times were slow that workout, but I figured that I worked hard making it a good workout.  I really wanted to try to hit the splits this time, so I got on the road to nowhere—the treadmill.  Ugh.
I don’t own a treadmill and have only run on one about five times.  The last two times, it was under similar circumstances where the snowy weather precluded running fast, but both of those workouts were intervals: running fast for a prescribed distance and then jogging a prescribed distance.  The variation of speeds made those workouts bearable.  Yesterday was a different story.  The treadmill is good in that I punch in the pace that I want (9.5 mph, which works out to 6:18 per mile) and try not to fall off.  However, grinding along at that pace with no variation at all for over half an hour is torture.  I was really struck by how much I must vary my pace in the course of a mile; the treadmill was relentless.  I did a two mile warm up, stretched, and then ran another mile at a comfortable pace prior to the LT portion of the workout.  I had to take 60 seconds rest after 1.5 miles of fast running, and then another 60 seconds after 3 miles total.  I lowered the speed to 9.4 mph (6:22/mile) and banged out the last two miles.  Besides the constant pace, the heat in the recreation center was brutal; I was sweating buckets and was nauseated by the end of the speedwork.  I finished with a mile cool down.
Today was the second hit of the combination: a 14 mile medium long run.  My legs felt heavy, it was 20 degrees outside (up from the single digits in the morning), and the roads varied from dry to soft, deep snow.  I trudged through it, but it was more difficult than it should have been.  Of course, I am happy to have it done and in the training log.  Tomorrow is an easy five miles; you can be sure that I will run it very  s l o w l y.
The dogs didn’t run on the treadmill, obviously, but they got some miles today.  Fletcher loves the colder temps and the cold snow on his paws:  3.19 miles @ 8:39 per mile.  Finn acted rested today as I had to keep him in check:  11.11 miles @ 7:51 per mile.
Of course, the importance of the last two days’ struggles is not lost on me.  Marathoning is not an easy hobby.  While there are challenging workouts, it is the accumulation of training that hardens me to bring my best on race day ( I repeated the mantra: Bos-ton, Bos-ton during yesterday's dreadmill session).  That hardening is not just physical; the last two days tested my concentration and resolve.  John L. Parker Jr. writes of the “trial of miles” in his novel Once a Runner,  commenting on the accumulation of training to get to the goal.  Pete Pfitzinger is trying me, and I like to think that I passed…with a B+.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Glimpsing the Sublime

How divine,
The liberty, for frail, for mortal, man
To roam at large among unpeopled glens
And mountainous retirements . . .regions consecrate
To oldest time! 
[Wordsworth, Works 5.125]

The 20˚ air held my German Shorthaired Pointer’s exhaled breath in billowy white plumes as we were a couple miles into a 17 mile long run.  As we turned to the southeast, the sun was peeking over the crest of a hill and its rays were caught by the frost on the golden brown grass, which had not yet been trampled under heavy winter snows.  It was as if frost had collected on my lens as each strand of straw stood illuminated in the morning sun, all silver and gold, etching crystals into my vision.  Time stood still in the morning chill as I experienced a moment of sublimity that would make Wordsworth proud.  Of course, the dog was just happy to be running.
I had an excellent long run yesterday.  Fletcher ran 2.6 miles and Finn ran 17.3 to bring me a tenth of a mile or so short of 20 for the day.  The weekly totals are: Teamcam—65.5; Finn—49.6; Fletcher—15.9.  Week 4 (14 weeks to go) of the Pete Pfitzinger 18/70 plan contains no speedwork, just a lot of medium long runs and long runs, so the dogs were in for every mile.  We all seem to be holding up quite nicely.
It was a glorious run yesterday as the only people out on the paths were dog walkers, and there were not a lot of them on a cold Saturday morning.  After the sublime scene depicted above, Finn and I made our way to a greenbelt that parallels Clear Creek.  The sun was shining, illuminating the snow and frost as the creek steamed.  It was one of those runs that make me happy to shun the treadmill and get out there.
I understand that some people live in places where the weather is just too bad to run in all of the time and that the treadmill offers convenience for those short on time, but I would not trade the feeling of covering ground and seeing my surroundings for anything.  I am blessed to live in Colorado, but that is not to say that I only run in beautiful surroundings.  Yesterday’s course went through some bleak industrial areas, but even those were picturesque in the blues, grays, and whites of a January morning.  We saw both a fox and a coyote on different parts of the run.  There were several views that were just breathtaking.  And we finished several hours of running feeling wonderfully tired and with the feeling that we had gotten somewhere.  Where to?  Well through the fourth week of training for my second Boston Marathon and into an ice bath—brrrrrr!
I hope that your running gets you to where you want to be, and that, for even just a moment, you feel at one with the world in which you run. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Running alone, with my friends

I ran 14 miles last night in the dark, not getting started until 7:30pm and an easy 5 today.  The dogs were with me for all of those miles.  While I ran, I listened to podcasts.  Runrunlive, Stuff You Missed in History Class, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, This American Life, and Phedippidations were all on the iPod.  I like listening to podcasts while I run long, general aerobic, and recovery runs because they occupy my mind.  I enjoyed them all, but something Steve Runner focused on in his Phedippidations podcast really struck me.

He recently participated in the Mojo Loco run where 13 podcasters from around the world got together in Florida to run an unofficial relay from Fort Meyers to Daytona Beach.  Steve focused upon the significance of meeting and running with a group of people he had befriended via “new media.”  I could not help but feel a bit smug.

I have been participating in the Runner’s World Online discussion forums, particularly the Boston Marathon forum for more than two years.  I post every day, with few exceptions, and have made a lot of friends.  I have also met many of those runners.  The largest forumite encounter (FE) occurs the Saturday before the Boston Marathon (held on Monday, Patriot’s day).  Of course the weekend is full of mini FE’s as we group up to dine, hit the expo, run shake out runs, and wait in the athlete’s village for the start of the big event.  In addition to the festivities the weekend of the Boston Marathon, this group seeks each other out all year long.  People meet up at other races (including running Reach the Beach last year and a huge contingent at Chicago), and try to run together when forumites travel for work and pleasure.

Steve Runner is right, meeting the people that have become friends online, through Twitter, Facebook, podcasts, and discussion boards is great, but I think that he missed something important.  I run with those people every day.  Sure, I listen to podcasters and feel like they are with me on the run, but I think of my online friends every day as I prepare for, recover from, and, of course, when I execute my workouts.  I think about their successes and setbacks both running and otherwise.  They educate and motivate me.  I feel accountable to them and know that they support this crazy running habit of mine.  The meet ups are great, but the running is great because of the people that I have met through these social networking tools.
My dogs keep me company on my runs, but I am often accompanied by thoughts of my many friends and cannot wait until the next time we get to meet face to face.  Many people think that running is boring, but I have plenty of friends who help me while away the miles.  I hope that this blog continues that trend.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A day of rest and a day of soft snow on the track

Yesterday was a rest day on the schedule, and I was happy for it.  I had run 12 consecutive days, with the last six comprising a 60 mile week.  I was ready for some down time.  I embrace the rest when it comes on the schedule and like to position the rest day at the end of my training week for two reasons.  The first reason is flexibility; if I have the rest day at the end of the week, I can take it during the week if necessary and still complete all of the work for the week.  The second reason I like the scheduled rest day on Sunday is that it feel like a reward for all of the hard work done during the week.
I think that a lot of runners (especially those new to the sport) have a tendency to not rest enough.  It is appealing to work hard on every workout and to view rest days as missed opportunities.  However, a single day of training has little impact on our performance come race day; it is the accumulation of weeks/months/ years of training that pay off.  I rest on rest days and run the recovery runs easy.  I monitor my pace closely in an attempt to stay in the pace ranges that Pete Pfitzinger suggests.  I know that there will be hard workouts and there is no need to make any single workout harder than prescribed.  I take it easy when allowed and empty the tank when necessary.
Of course, workouts sometimes become harder due to circumstance.  Today’s run was 9 miles with 10X100 meter strides.  I kept thinking of Running with the Buffaloes, which I read a few days ago, where they do a lot of strides (most of theirs were 300 meters) and constantly said how it was muscle stimulus.  The idea is to train the legs to turn over quickly without putting too much strain on the cardiovascular system.  Well, I got to the track, where I intended to run on the field or run the 100 meter straights and jog the curves.  There was 3-4 inches of snow on the track and field, despite most of the roads having melted off by this time.  To add to that, there was a nasty wind.  So, I did the strides on a very soft surface, half with a tailwind and half with a headwind.  I was working hard.  Usually they feel fast; today they were just difficult.  But they are in the training log.
So, the moral of the story is, rest when I can because I never know when a seemingly innocuous workout is going to be harder than expected.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A fresh [re]start

My resolve lies in the same place that it did yesterday, to train and race well.  However, after today's 15 miler, I was struck by the zeros in the training log.  The MTD and YTD were reset to zero.  I felt as if the zeros were taunting me.  It was a "what have you done lately?" kind of taunt.

Plenty of people start out the new year trying to accomplish something that they have not accomplished in the recent past.  I think that any motivation to improve ourselves is a good one; however, we all know what often happens to new year's resolutions.  The attendance at health clubs soars, diet plans and quitting smoking aides have record sales, and marathon registrations soar. OK--I made the last one up.  Nevertheless, using the calendar as an impetus for change is rarely successful. 

Marathoners know the secret.  One day is inconsequential.  It is the culmination of days, months, and years that affect change.  When we strive to change our lifestyles, it starts with a single day, but that change is not realized until it becomes habit.  John "The Penguin" Bingham speaks of the courage to start, and I commend everyone with that courage.  But change is glacial.  One day, one week, one month at a time, we carve out a new lifestyle.

As I ran today, I thought about the new year and change.  I posted my first blog post yesterday, but does that post make me a blogger?  I am not so sure.  I think I need to stick with it a while.  Resolutions are good, but resolve is better.  My exciting new year's eve consisted of re-reading Running with the Buffaloes by Chris Lear.  The book follows the University of Colorado's cross country team in their pursuit of the NCAA title in 1998.  There is a scene, near the end of the book, when the harriers are about to start the NCAA championship race.  One of the runners starts to freak out an his teammate says that everything they are experiencing at that moment is bullshit.  The preparation, the training, is what is real.  While the pressure of the race and the expectations for that event surely have weight, it is what we have done, not what we intend to do, that is real.

Go out there and do.  You can look back on those accomplishments with pride.