I Was Stranded

Running Man outside Rogue Running

Running Man outside Rogue Running

Runners pick races to enter based on a variety of criteria – location, course elevation, entertainment along the course to name a few.  I don’t think too many runners would select a race because they hand out office supplies in the goodie bag. I needed to run a half marathon in Texas during winter because the typical warm weather in Texas isn’t compatible with my Transverse Myelitis.  I heard about January’s 3M Half Marathon in Austin.  The runners get 3M products in their goodie bags.   This idea of free office supplies to runners was intriguing and just the sort of thing that would appeal to a funatical runner like me.

I took a look at the course and the elevation map before I left for Austin.  I was delighted to see that, except for a hill at the start, this course was down hill.  That kind of course is PR (personal record) friendly.  I planned to give it my all and see how well I could do.

On my way to the Expo, I stopped in the Rogue Running store.  I have been following them on Facebook and on their blog for a while.  They have a lively community of runners and I wanted to see it for myself.    It didn’t disappoint me.  I’d be a regular if I lived in Austin.

Free stuff from the runner goodie bag

Free stuff from the runner goodie bag

The Expo was held in the Austin Convention Center in a hall next to a tattoo convention.  From what I observed, I can tell you that runners are very different looking than people who are interested in tattoos.   Runners wear bright colors and tattoo enthusiasts are more fond of black.  The goodie bag did contain a variety of 3M products, including a Clean Sanding System.  One runner I talked to thought the products handed out this year were “weird” compared to previous years.   I expected more Post-Its and not a sanding system.

Bag drop-off

Bag drop-off

It was chilly on race morning with the temperature in the upper 30s.  This was a point-to-point race so I packed my gear bag with dry clothes to change into for the ride back to the start area.  The bag drop-off was several school buses.  Each bus covered a range of bib numbers with people hanging out the windows to collect the runners’ bags.

The race field was a comfortable size of about 5,400 runners.  I didn’t feel like I was vying for a path on the course – there was ample room for all the runners.  There was limited course entertainment but that didn’t bother me.  I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to be standing around outside in the cold.  I did see plenty of cheering spectators, especially an energetic group from Rogue Running who made their way to several spots along the course.

I came within 27 seconds of a new PR for the half marathon.  I might have made it, if I hadn’t stopped every time I saw coins on the road.  I found a dime, two pennies, and a quarter – not enough to pay my expenses to this race.   PR or not, I was very happy with how my race went.

I was stranded like Stevie Ray Vaughan

I was stranded like Stevie Ray Vaughan

Because of the blizzard on the East Coast, my return flights were canceled – twice! – and I was stranded in Austin.  I was able to take the extra time to tour the city.  Austin is very unique with plenty of bars, craft brews, and, of course, music.  I can’t think of another city that I have visited that puts as much effort into promoting small businesses as Austin does.  I especially enjoyed the stores along South Congress (SOCO) that were selling clothing, art, jewelry, antiques, even fancy cowboy boots.  I was tempted to buy all sorts of things but my travel budget was already blown by the additional expenses due to my extended visit.

I might have been stranded in Austin but I can think of worst places to be.  Austin is a fun town and there are plenty of interesting things to see.  If I am still looking for that sub-2 hour half marathon at the end of this year, I might have to head back to Austin.

If you live in the Austin area or even if you are just visiting, stop in Rogue Running.  I have seen plenty of running stores all over the country during the course of my travels.  This is by far one of my favorites.  And if you can’t get to Austin, you can always travel with Rogue Expeditions on one of their “run-centric vacations” to places like Morocco, Kenya, Patagonia, Lake Tahoe, and Bend, Oregon.  Their trips accommodate runners of all levels and enable you to truly experience each destination.  Sounds like an exciting adventure to me!

Did They Make It?

Last January I wrote about people who set some impressive goals for 2015.  These were people who planned to run every day or planned to bike over 75,000 miles during the year.  I wanted to check back to see if they actually achieved their goals.

First there was Robert Kraft, a 65-year-old songwriter from Miami.  Robert planned to run every day in 2015.  More correctly, he planned to keep running every day in 2015.  You see, Robert is a member of the US Running Streak Association and he has been running every day since January 1, 1975.  I went out to the US Running Streak Association web site and checked.  Robert made it through another year.  In case you are wondering, Jon Sutherland, a 65-year-old writer from California holds the top spot on the Running Streak leaderboard.  Jon has run every day since May 26,1969 – over 46 1/2 years!

Steve Abraham is an Englishman who had a goal of biking every day at least 200 miles.  In doing so, he hoped to bike a total of 80,000 miles in 2015 and break the record set in 1939 by Tommy Goodwin, another Englishman who biked every day for a year for a total of 75,065 miles.  Unfortunately, Steve had a collision with a drunk on a moped back in March and ended up with a broken ankle.  Although he tried to keep going on a recumbent trike, Steve had to stop biking and spend some time healing.

Steve got back on his bike on August 8 and he ended up biking 63,568.2 miles for the year.  But Steve still wants to set a 365-day cycling record so he also started a new attempt at the record.  (The Ultra Marathon Cycling Association rules allow him to also use the August 8 date as his start date for this new attempt.)   Sadly for Steve, on January 9, 2016 Kurt Seavogel finished his own 365-day cycling marathon and set a new record of 75,496.5 miles.  Steve is going to have to bike a bit harder to beat Kurt’s record.

I think Kurt’s achievement is just mind-boggling.  Kurt biked between 10 and 13.17 hours a day for a year.  He biked a total distance equivalent of 25 times across the US and more than 3 times around the world.  I hope he is taking a long rest now.

New shoes and a new Garmin to help me reach my 2016 goal!

New shoes and a new Garmin to help me reach my 2016 goal!

While I would never attempt a cycling record, I have thought about starting my own running streak.  It sounds like a good goal but I don’t think it is a Transverse Myelitis-friendly one.  I need a lot of rest after long runs.  I also don’t want a hobby that ends up feeling like a job.  That would take the joy out of it for me.  I am just going to keep doing my thing – running 3 days a week and getting in my strength training while watching what I eat.  That will help me achieve my next goal – a half marathon personal record (PR) in 2016.

Don’t Count Me Out

I was looking at my racing statistics recently on athlinks.com and was amazed at what I have achieved.  I have raced over 1,100 miles in nearly 100 races (5Ks and up to marathon distances) – all since I started running just 9 years ago, in November, 2006.  I remember back then it seem inconceivable that I would be able to complete a marathon.  Look at me now – I have done 11 of them!

Running my first marathon

Running my first marathon

When I first started running, I am embarrassed to admit that I did minimal training.  My first Team in Training coach had developed a training program that included 3 days where I ran and 2 days of cross training.  True confessions: I did the bare minimum in terms of training.  I ran 3 days a week but I never once did any cross training.  I finished my first marathon in a respectable time of 5:19.  I didn’t beat Oprah’s time in the Marine Corps Marathon but who cares.  I was happy.  I kept running and somewhere along the way decided that I wanted to run faster.  If I had completed a marathon with minimal training, how fast could I go if I really put some effort into it?

About 5 years ago I had the opportunity to meet a well-known runner/running spokesperson.  While talking about PRs and aging, this person stated that I had already run the fastest marathon that I could run.  Older athletes just get slower, this person said.  According to this person, in the trajectory of my running life, I had already passed the apex and was heading straight down.  I recall getting very angry about this proclamation regarding my running future.  No, I wasn’t ready to say my best running days were behind me.

Before I go further, to be fair I should note that this is not just this person’s belief but one that is widely held by many running experts – as we age, we slow down.  I came across one article that stated age 35 is the last age at which most people are able to set a personal record (PR).  After that, we get a bit slower until we hit 60 when our running speed really tanks.  My personal challenge was to prove this notion wrong.  Last year I decided was the year I would do it.

I never bought one of these but it sure was tempting.

I never bought one of these but it sure was tempting.

In 2015 I hired a running coach who gave me a training plan.  I had to report in every day on what I had done.  I didn’t skip the cross training days but I certainly didn’t push myself as hard as I could have.  I didn’t make any changes to my nutrition, although she did bring that up a couple times.  On days when I was depressed about my dogs dying, I would stop at Walgreens and buy a bag of Red Vines licorice, my go-to comfort food.  I’d eat the entire bag before I made it back home.  I put on a few pounds, which didn’t do much to help my speed.  By shear determination, I was able to pull off that sub-5 hour marathon at age 57.  So there, running know-it-alls. I can still get a PR!

Last month I got to thinking about my marathon PR and decided that maybe there was still more that I could do.  I called up my running coach and said I wanted to finish a half marathon in under 2 hours.  We met to talk about where I was, where I wanted to go, and how we were going to get me there.  One thing that she needed me to invest in was a heart rate monitor.  The data from that will enable her to see how efficiently I am training. We also talked about nutrition and strength training.  Those were going to be as important as getting out to run.

In the month before my running coach kicked off my training program, I bought a Garmin Forerunner 235, a nifty watch with a built-in heart rate monitor.  I started using it to get use to the new technology and to start collecting data for her to review when planning my training.  Heart rate monitor: Check!

Nutrition has always been a sore spot with me.  I was raised by parents who treated sugar as if it was one of the basic food groups.  I realized that I couldn’t keep making detours to Walgreens for Red Vines.  I found a nutritionist to help me improve my diet.  She noted that I needed more muscle (my upper body muscles had atrophied from my broken arm) and I needed to change my diet to help create that muscle.  More protein, less sugar, more veggies and fruit.  I haven’t seen the pounds melt away yet but I feel better – not so fatigued.  Nutrition: Check!

My running coach has been creating cross training routines that are a bit more demanding.  I am honestly working harder to make sure that I do them properly.  Then I got a gift.  One of my friends won a 50% off membership at her gym for semi-personal training and she gave it to me.  This gym has done wonderful things for her.  I could only imagine what they could do for me.

This week I met with Justin, the gym’s owner, to go over my physical challenges (right arm that I can’t fully lift, twisted ankle that hasn’t healed, Transverse Myelitis complications) and what I wanted to achieve, specifically strength training to regain functionality in my arm and strength to improve my running.  I thought he might roll his eyes at me but he didn’t.  Justin listened and watched me go through a series of moves to determine my level of fitness.  His assessment matched the things that I already had figured out with my massage therapist and physical therapist.  He defined a program for me to gain the flexibility in my arm as well as in other areas like the hips that tend to be tight in long distance runners.  Better flexibility in those tight areas will also mean less potential for injury.  Justin also is adding in strength training to build up my atrophied muscles.  Strength Training: Double Check!

Despite what all the experts say, I am not ready to throw in the towel.  I can’t accept that I have already seen the best days of my running life.  To be a faster runner I have to do more than just run.  I have to focus on nutrition as well as strength training.  I am committed and I know I have a team of experts in place to help me do it: my running coach, my nutritionist, my strength coach, and my massage therapist. I am going to prove there is more kick left in these legs.

I found this interesting article about aging and running performance.  Check it out.

Last Isn’t Losing

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 8.05.15 PMOn New Year’s Eve, I ran my last race in 2015.  What better way to ring out a year of running than toeing the start line one last time?  I opted for the 10K distance instead of the 5K because I am back in training for a marathon.  The 10K race started about 10 minutes after the 5K.  I watched the 5K runners take off and then made my way over to the start line.  Looking around, I noticed that there were significantly fewer of us running the 10K.

When the 10K race got going, a lot of runners were passing me.  I got a bit flustered because I was worried that I would come in last.  At one point in the race, we had an out-and-back loop so I was able to see the number of runners behind me.  I relaxed when I saw there were quite a few.  Unless something catastrophic happened, I was not going to finish last.  I ultimately ended up finishing in the middle of the pack.

Finishing last in a race is one of the biggest fears of any runner, especially newbies.  At any race, a handful of people will be standing around waiting for the last runner to finish.  Instead of arriving to cheering crowds, the last runner can be greeted with sighs of relief from race officials and volunteers who couldn’t leave until they crossed the finish line.  I can’t imagine how embarrassing that might feel.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately after seeing news reports about the woman who was the last person to finish the New York City Marathon.  I think she got more headlines than the runners who won.  Sala Cyril, a 38-year-old Brooklyn teacher, was the last person to cross the finish line.  She finished with a time of 8 hours, 28 minutes and 24 seconds.  The race officials and volunteers were there to applaud her finish but the huge crowds that welcomed the winners were long gone.  Regardless, Sala was on top of the world.  After months of training and hard work, she had achieved her goal of finishing the marathon.  Sala might have been the last to finish but she received the same medal as the runners who finished hours before her.

Mainly Marathons is a race series that recognizes not only the first person to finish one of their races but also the person who finishes last.  They realize finishing a marathon is a big deal for anyone.  The runner who finishes last in one of their races receives a special award – the Mainly Marathons Caboose.  I wonder if people battle it out to be last just so they can win one of those special cabooses.

My friend Buzz did the Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon in Savannah with me.  It was only her second half marathon and she was worried about finishing.   She was disappointed to see that she was assigned to corral 22, the last corral.  Buzz later told me that the only thing behind her were the garbage trucks picking up the trash along the course.  She showed me a picture to prove it.  Despite being at the end of the line, Buzz kept her eyes focused on where she was headed.  Although she was diverted when the race was canceled, she had passed other runners and walkers along the way.  Buzz proved that starting out last doesn’t mean you will finish last.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 8.02.58 PMI heard this catch phrase a few years ago from some people who were training for a triathlon.  Their coach had told them this at the start of their training season.  I think about it frequently when I am running:

Dead Freaking Last (DFL) beats Did Not Finish (DNF) beats Did Not Start (DNS)

The person who finishes last achieves more than the person who can’t finish.  And the person who starts but can’t finish is doing more than the person who didn’t even get to the start line.  Being last is not the worst thing that can happen to you.  It shows that despite the challenge, that person made it.

We are all running our own race.  When I head to the start line of any race, the only thing I am competing against is myself.  For many people the risk of being last is enough to keep them from even starting.  Last doesn’t mean you are a loser.  The loser is the person who never had the courage to try in the first place.

I love this Nike commercial that shows what my friend, Buzz, might have felt in the back of the pack, bringing up the rear.  No matter what, you just need to keep going.