Sunday, January 29, 2012

Running, Rafa, Nole, and More Running

I was sick last week. I had a head cold that mercifully remained in my head. While migration was mitigated, it still sucked. It was one of those colds that you can feel coming on for several days. I started taking massive amounts of vitamin C and echinacea in the ridiculous attempt to make the onset light and the duration brief. Honestly, who the heck knows if that even works, but like moths to a flame, we all do it.

As the cold was settling in, I had knocked out a 10 miler on Sunday, took Monday off, and then (with a terrific headache and stuffed nose) did 5 more on Tuesday. Wednesday I swam. Thursday I ran 4 in the a.m. and then swam in the evening. I found that swimming with a stuffed nose is really no big deal. Since I'm gulping air with my mouth during the pool crossings, a blocked sinus isn't even really noticeable. I did another swim on Friday, and then a run and swim on Sat. My weekly total was in the 23 mile range for running. Not bad with the cold thrown in. I had never really done that before. I never pushed it on a run or swim. But I did refuse to let it hold me down.

So, I awoke this a.m. at 3:30. I knew that Rafa was playing Nole in the finals of the Aussie Open at that very moment. I knew there would be a replay, but thought, why not catch a bit of the action as it happens. And that turned out to be a good choice. I spent the next 4.5 hours dozing and watching an amazing match. Djokovic has owned Nadal for the past year or so. But today, Nadal fought back with everything he had. The match became a war of attrition, punctuated by some fantastic tennis shot-making. Nole always looked in control, but he would have momentary lapses where Rafa would take advantage. What should have been a relatively easy 4 set victory for Djokovic turned into a 5 set slog and slug-fest. By the end, both players looked weary. At the awards ceremony (and this was the first time I've ever seen this), Djokovic had to keep stretching and Nadal sort of slumped on the net until some Aussie official noticed this and brought them chairs to sit on while the awards were being presented.

It was a monumental match; the longest final in a Grand Slam event ever. And both players left everything they had on the court. I do want to add a couple of editorial comments here as well.

First, it was the longest finals match ever. But let's be honest. It wouldn't have been if the umpire had made the two players follow the rules of the game and actually serve in a timely manner. Djokovic and Nadal respectively went about 50% and 75% over the allowable time between each point according to the announcers. So what that means is that we, as viewers, got to watch each of the two players stand on the baseline and bounce the ball countless times between each serve. I'm not really complaining, but why have a rule, or why even reference a rule, if it is going to be so routinely and brazenly flaunted? All mentioning the rule does, is make the viewer aware of how quickly the match should be progressing in comparison to how it actually is progressing. Not a good thing to do.

Second, there is a constant comparison of Rafa to Federer in both print and electronic media. Federer is considered to be 'one of the greats, if not the greatest.' While Rafa is considered Federer's nemesis who is better when the two meet head to head. Pundits ponder how one can be the GOAT (greatest of all time), yet have a losing record against one's contemporary. I have a couple of thoughts on that question.

Roger Federer became one of the greatest (I'm still a bit of a Rod Laver guy) players ever by winning more grand slams than any man in history, and by being better than his contemporaries while doing it. Then Rafa came along. And what happened then was that Rafa made Federer better, who in turn, made Rafa better. So the Federer who was around (and still won some grand slams) after the onset of Rafael Nadal was actually a much better player than the Federer who stomped everyone before the Spaniard entered the picture. To my mind, Roger Federer is one of the GOATs, without being the best player. He certainly was the best earlier in his career. But I would argue that he became an even better player after he had achieved GOAT status, and ceased to win everything in his path. Nadal is almost certainly a better player than Roger is now if one is to look at their head to head meetings (particularly Grand Slam events). And Djokovic may be better than both Federer and Nadal.

History will give Roger his due among the legends (Laver) of the game. His fluid, artful, beautiful play is almost indescribable. Rafa, who had Roger's number, so to speak, will also be a whole lot more than a footnote. And it looks as if Djokovic will as well. Roger might have been greater, winning more Slams, if Rafa hadn't come down the pike. But the Swiss maestro would not have become as good a player if Nadal had not been there to challenge, and yes, overtake him. And now Djokovic, the man from Serbia, may prove to be to Nadal what Nadal was to Federer.


Whew, OK. Enough on tennis (the cause of all my knee issues - trust me, it was not running). Speaking of running and tennis.... After watching the marathon match, I was inspired to head out for a river trail run. I normally go at a chillaxed (holy crap, did I actually just use that word?) pace, and take a shortcut at around the halfway point in order to make the run closer to 8 miles. But today, with the memory of the herculean efforts of Rafa and Djokovic, I pushed the pace and blew off the shortcut. The weather was about as perfect as it ever gets for running. There were a lot of cyclists on the trails, but I saw no other runners. I had This American Life buzzing in my ears, and sun-dappled beauty all around me. I love tennis... But I love running more. Until next week....

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sh!t Ultra-Runners Say

You need to go here:

Cut and Paste....

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Know When To Fold 'Em

It was a bit of a breakthrough week. Sadly not in running, although that continues on its (always upward and onward) course. It actually was a breakthrough week in the world of aquatics. I was able to knock out back-to-back days of half mile swims. Coming from someone who was huffing and puffing (and, let's be honest, drowning) at 100 yards a couple of months ago, the new distance is really smokin'.

I popped out of the house for a couple of seriously cold runs this week. Due to the temperature, I always went for 3-3.5 and no more. I just don't really groove on the whole freezing road run oeuvre like I used to. I had designs on the Hawks' long Saturday run, but again, blew it off because I was tired of the cold.

Eric and another buddy and I are headed out in about this a.m. for a white course shot out to Land's End. It was 45F at the start, and getting warmer. I think holding off for a day might have been the choice. I struggled with what to wear. Two of us opted for lighter long pants and long-sleeve tech shirts. Eric went a little warmer. On the way home, he seemed a bit flushed from the heat. I was sweating like a pig (which is a stupid thing to write, because pigs don't sweat). But I was sweating. Sweating enough that a stream of it kept rolling off the brim of my hat. Can you imagine that this is really January in Kansas? I really can't. It is crazy.

In reading, I'm making my way through the amazing, Tobacco Road. I knocked out Hollinghurst's, The Stranger's Child - I think his best work - in the interim (it was a new book with a shorter 'due date'). I hate starting one book only to interrupt it, but sometimes that is what life dictates.

Below is a picture of my newest whip. I have always wanted a folding bike, and now I have one. It is ridiculously impractical, but oh so much fun. It is the "Tokyo" by Citizen Bikes.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Coleen's Frozen Ass Run

Chris Ford and Author signing in at Coleen's Frozen Ass Run (Hawks Coleen and Gary also pictured)

It was a pretty fun week for running. It was pretty fun, but I didn't do a lot of it. In fact, prior to Friday night's Frozen Ass Run, I had knocked out a whopping 10 miles. It was warm early in the week when I did the miles. As the week progressed, I moved indoors to the bike trainer and the Nordic Track. I also managed to get a swim in every day. So I wasn't exactly shirking. I simply didn't wish to step outside and embrace the cold as much as I have in past Winters. I think the warmth has softened me somehow this season. I no longer see the romance of hearing ice crackling underfoot as I traverse a path (or parking lot). The thought of biting wind pinching at my cheeks like an over-eager aunt, also induces a wince.

But all of the coddling from this blandest of Winters ended on Friday. Chris Ford and John Hampton Tyson (more commonly referred to as simply, Jack) stopped by for a dinner of rice, beans, tortillas, and vegan cheese (in any combination they wished to use). We also drank a lot.... of water, because we were heading off to participate in a local trail runners' rite of Winter, Coleen's Frozen Ass Run. The run, a counterpart to Coleen's Sweaty Ass Run that occurs in Summer, takes place once a year in January in the countryside just on the far western edge of Olathe (I know that in your mind, dear reader, you just went O O O O lath uh, didn't you?). It commences at 8 pm, and goes until 6 am. The run is actually a series of 3-ish mile loops, through trees, fields, and around a little lake. Runners can do as many or few of these loops as they wish for the 10 hours of the run. Most runners seem to do 1-3 and then call it a night. Some of the ultra-types, training for 50K + races, stay all night, circumnavigating the course 10 or more times.

Our plan was to run it 3-5 times and call it a night. It was, after all, cold as hell. It is always a conundrum, to figure out what to wear on runs in the cold. I like to be warm enough that I don't freeze (particularly the neck, hands, and face), but cool enough that I don't sweat excessively. The three of us all had slight variations on a theme as we chose our sartorial fare. Chris dressed in a cap, some shirts, a hoodie, a Southwestern University Track Team Jacket (ummmm, a little more bling than your average race shirt), super warm long underwear, and warm long running pants. Jack wore a cap, a couple of wicking shirts (one of them long-sleeved), shorts, and two pairs of socks. I had on a couple of wicking shirts, a sweatshirt, a windbreaker, a cap, and long (yet light) running pants. As the middle dresser, I would have switched with Chris if it came right down to it, but I thought Jack was bat-shit crazy. But there were other people running in shorts as well. They didn't seem unstable, but you can never tell. It really is amazing how different runners' temperatures are. That we were all in the same location, on the same night, doing the same thing, and dressed so dis similarly, was a reminder of how unique we all are (though some really are just plain crazy).

Anyway, we took off on our first circuit. It was on the same course as the Sweaty Ass Run in the Summer, except it was run backwards. OK, hold it.... That reads weird. We did not run backwards. The race goes in opposite directions depending on the season. I mean, sheesh, we're tough. But running backwards, at night, through ice and snow is probably just a bit over our abilities. So, where was I? Ah, yes, we took off into the blackness that is outer Olathe. It actually was beautiful. The course is hilly, tree-lined, and has 3 water crossings (which were mainly, mercifully, frozen). The runners' headlamps in front and behind us looked like a current of lightning bugs meandering through the brush. We truly went over hill and down dale. Our favorite spot seemed to be where the trail actually went into a sort of light forest, with trees on either side.

Each time we finished a loop we were asked to sign in. The course officials (read Coleen), did not want to have to track someone down at 4 in the morning in the frozen tundra. The sign-in table was next to several other tables with a freaking smorgasbord of food runners would want. Fruit, cookies, salty snacks, gel packs, Heed (an electrolyte drink), etc... On each successive lap we vowed not to spend any time at the treat buffet. But every time, we seemed to linger longer.

On our fourth time around, we began to feel the effort that the run was taking. My calves started to freeze and contract. Chris was feeling it in his hips. And Jack was feeling it in both his calves and his hips (hah, take that, short-wearer). About half way through the loop, I was really unsure of my ability to finish. But then a miracle happened: Chris pulled pretzel pods encircling peanut butter out of his pocket and shared them with Jack and me. He, Chris, had grabbed a handful at the treat pile, and was willing to share. Even being handed over in his frozen, snot-covered glove, the pretzel looked appetizing. It is odd how situational sustenance becomes. On the prior lap, the three of us had shared a banana, carefully grabbing pieces that no one else had touched. On the final lap, we shared Heed (out of my frozen hand-held bottle -where ice kept forming in the cap - hey it was really coooold), and then the pretzels. And they really did make all of the difference. The little bit of energy stored in those salty snacks (probably psychologically) allowed for a burst of energy and a strong finish.

We signed out, and repaired to the lodge that served a race HQ for some hot, vegan, chili/stew. It was really wonderful. The four laps we did had gotten the endorphins flowing. Jack, a good runner, got in the longest run of his life. Chris and I had gotten in the longest cold runs (probably) of our lives - beating even the 8.5 mile knee-high snow run of ought 10 (although that run might have been a little tougher).

We ran into a ton of Hawks, Nerds, and Mud Babes. It was great to see everyone, and to meet people I had only written to and about prior to Friday.

I am so grateful to Coleen and the others who made the event such a special time again. I now have to wait about 6 months for the Summer version of the run. I have a feeling I'll be wearing shorts.

Eric "Banjo Hawk" Henry couldn't make Coleen's Frozen Ass run. But he was there in spirit.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Some Like It Hot

Here's a pic without too much of my normal 'crazy eye.'

What an incredible week. It was hot enough to cook an egg on the sidewalk. Well...maybe if you brought along a griddle. But it was pretty seriously warm for this time of year - Jan. 5. The temp in Lawrence butted its head up against 67 deg F. Not being one to take the thermometer at its word, I popped out for a knee-shortened run on the roads near my house (since the surgery, I have really tried to keep the road running to a bare minimum). And speaking of bare minimum, all I had on were socks, shoes, running shorts and a tee. I did my old stand-by 3.1 gravel and pavement run averaging just above 8 min / mi. I began to sweat profusely within the first 3/4 mi. It was surreal and exhilarating at the same time. I know a lot of other people who subscribe to this (or just give it a read) were also out on the 5th marveling at the stunning weather and debating just how bad global warming really might be if what we were experiencing was one of its results.

I'll come back to running in a paragraph or two. I wanted to touch again on swimming. Wow, is it a sport that I look forward to doing on a daily basis. I hit the pool while it is still dark outside, swim somewhere between a half k and a k (depending on how I feel), and then run later in the day. Sometimes I switch the order. Swimming is such a compliment to running. I find that even after longish runs, I don't mind diving into the pool to do laps. The manner in which the muscles are used is so different, that fatigue does not become an issue...usually.

For the past month or two, I've been sitting around wondering how people can just go on slow auto-pilot and swim lap after lap in the pool with no let up and no apparent fatigue. On Thursday (yes the same day it hit a billion degrees outside), I went to the pool early and started to swim. I thought I'd try to go as slowly and smoothly as I could possibly go, focus on my breathing and form, and not worry about anything else. And with that, everything started to click. I finished the first few laps with much more in the tank than normal, and then continued on. I've been able to replicate it the past several days, and can see how the fusion of the components, about which my coach spoke, would come together, just as they do in running. Swimming is just a bit less forgiving on issues of proper form than is running. So now I can write that I have had one of those rare AHA moments in another sport. I love when they occur.

OK, back to running... So Saturday rolled around, and Eric 'Banjo Hawk' Henry and I decided to pop out and join the other hawks for the Sat. a.m. run. It was cold, and I mean really cold at the start. I thought it was cold at Land's End as well. But if we kept moving, the temp stayed bearable. There was little to no wind and plenty of sunshine to accompany the 8 of us (+ dog) on the run. My Garmin frapped out at the 6 mile mark. Gary 'Story Hawk' Henry (no relation to Banjo Hawk other than they are both human beings) had listed the run at 9.75 mi. Eric's GPS had it at just about 11. I had always thought it to be in the 9-10 range, but need to take my Garmin out again and confirm. There are wonderful, new, seriously easy-to-read mile markers on the trails. They are a very welcome addition to Clinton North Shore running. If you haven't been out there recently, you will be pleasantly surprised (well maybe not after reading this) when you encounter them.

Below is a pic taken by Gary Henry of the Sat. 1-7-12 run

You can follow Gary's Blog at

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 + Reviews

2011 introduced changes and challenges to my life. In April, after facing an increasingly problematic situation at work, I left my job of 17 years, and (with my friend and co-worker, Marisa) went to create a national sales network and distribution channels for a new company with some great products. Working for a start-up is not an easy chore to undertake. And, I will confess, it has been the single most difficult position I have ever held.

But coupled with the trials of a new company come the rewards. The first of the rewards was that I suddenly (over night, actually) had a new group of friends. The company is small enough that we all got to know each other very well, very quickly. And our new co-workers turned out to be a smart, interesting, and supportive group of people. It was a truly refreshing change. The second reward is, what I would refer to as, 'the house-painting' reward. That is: with a new company, you can actually see your achievements and feel a sense of accomplishment and progress as a new store chain or distributor adds your line, or a magazine or blogger gives you a great review. Since April, Marisa and I, along with a stunningly smart and dedicated small team (trust me, I'm the stupidest person in the room on many occasions), have been able to get our products placed in stores stretching from Florida to Washington State, and New York to California. Have the rewards offset all of the day to day stress? I'll tell you next year. (Hey I've got to have a bit of a cliff-hanger or no one would ever read this;-)

Running was alternately awesome and disturbing. 2011 was the first year that I decided to enter no races. It was a decision with which I struggled as I thought several times about doing 50k races in the region. I felt, and still do feel every now and then, the urge to have an official ultra under my belt, rather than simply having the satisfaction of knowing that I had done one on my own. I upped my mileage as the year progressed. By late Summer and continuing into the Fall, I had the distance capability to run a marathon any day I had the urge.

But there was a growing issue that was building in my knees. Too much tennis and raquetball had quickened the pace of some cartilage issues in my right knee. I took care of increasing pain with a series of hyaluronic acid shots in the afflicted joint. But as the year passed, my doctors recommended a micro-fracture procedure that would include a 3 month recovery time. Very reluctantly, I agreed to the procedure for late November. I figured that I would take the Winter off.

When the day of the surgery arrived, I was incredibly unhappy and stressed. I honestly could not imagine my life without running. But when I awoke after surgery and was informed that it had gone better than expected, and that my recovery time would be 3 weeks rather than 3 months, I was ecstatic. Don't misunderstand, the recovery process really sucked. I think I had underestimated just how much it would suck. The running road to recovery, once the knee had strengthened was baby steps. 2 miles, then 3, then 5 - all spread out over a few weeks. My quads had evaporated, and my hamstrings were seriously taxed. The after effects of the initial runs felt like those awful growing pains I had in my legs as a kid. The never-ending dull ache that simply couldn't be addressed sufficiently. But, I'm happy to report, a month and a week after surgery, I was back up to 8.5 miles with no strain at all. I still can't knock out miles at full speed without feeling a bit of pressure on the knee. But distance doesn't seem to be a limiting factor anymore.

About the time I was getting mentally prepared for the operation, I hired a swim coach to get my form under control. I figured that while I was off of running (for 3 months, I thought), I might as well learn to swim well. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. In the past month I have fallen in love with the sport. I am no Mark Spitz (wow, does that date me), but I am getting better at form and increasing distance. Swimming will never usurp running, but will rather, compliment it.

Running highlights for me in 2011 included helping out at a couple of races. Eric Henry and I got up at 3 a.m. one day and were clearing crazy scary spider webs off of the trails by 4 a.m. ahead of the inaugural Hawk 100 race. The eerie nature of the Clinton North Shore trails in pitch blackness is something you just have to experience, because any description I'd give wouldn't convey the surreal vibe that envelops you in that place and time. The second race that I assisted was the Heartland 100. The race took 20 hours out of my day (including travel time), and was a lot of hard work. But the joy of being in the middle of the Flint Hills superseded all other emotions. It was windy,with intermittent rain, but stark and beautiful. During a lull in runners coming through our station, another Trail Hawk and I took off on a 5 mile run that was one of the great runs of the year. It was truly big sky country. I loved it.

Other memorable runs of the year:

Ponte Vedra Beach, FL - daily runs to the beach (and a spectacular beach it was).

Running with Scott Jurek in Anaheim and Brendan Brazier in Baltimore - a nice fringe benefit of being in the natural products industry.

Tucson, AZ - 7 and 10 mile runs along a dry riverbed. Deserts are my favorite places to be.

LA, CA - Always my top run - Hollywood Hills to Griffith Park Observatory and back. A run that cannot be beaten - mainly wilderness in the heart of LA.

Lawrence, KS - A run that began as a 5 miler along a pretty country road near my home, but with an exuberant burst of energy expanded to 18 miles, and included the SLT trail and Bunker Hill at Clinton before all was said and done.

Olathe, KS - Colleen's Sweaty Ass Run - I decided at the very last minute that I would drive over and run for a spell (as they say). I think it was 12 miles later before I thought I ought to head home in order to beat the weekend bar crowds driving home on K-10 between Lawrence and KC. Great run in the country.

River Trails, Lawrence, KS - Chris Ford and I ran the trails on a snowy day. It was stupid and shockingly brutal, because the snow came up to our knees in places. Once the run was complete it was great. Until then, it sucked. Just kidding, we had an awesome time confronting the challenges that the conditions presented.

Clinton, KS - Woodbridge - Honestly, the 8.5 miles we did on the (new-to-me) trails there yesterday were a relief. They provided ample evidence of my return to form since surgery. The trails are also alternately smooth and technical.

Total Mileage for 2011 - @ 1,150 mi

In other news

2011 was the year I rediscovered Albert Camus. For months I could not stop reading works by, or about him. He replaced Hemingway as my favorite writer. I wrote a lot about him in previous blogs, so I'll forego additional comments here.

The top book on running for me was Once a Runner. It is a classic. I'm reading the sequel, Again to Carthage, now.

Other top reads: As God Commands - a brilliant novel by Niccolo Ammaniti - translated from Italian. Just Kids - Patti Smith's book about her life with RObert Mapplethorpe (I might've had this on last year's list as well - it was a Christmas present). I read a lot of other books, and almost included The Taqwacores, but nothing else really jumped out at me, quite honestly.

Movies and TV

Breaking Bad - nothing beats this crazy, spectacular series.
Bold Native - interesting movie.
Win Win - an odd and sweet movie about a wrestler and his coach.

Most listened to song of 2011

Robyn - Call Your Girlfriend - I know, I know. Trust me, I know....

I'm going to think about these abbreviated lists a bit more, and maybe have additional posts later.


Overall, 2011 was not a great year. I felt way too much stress, and was unhappy for large chunks of it. I don't feel right going into all of the complex feelings and machinations that brought it all about. However, as noted in this blog, there were some tremendous bright spots. My friends and family all are well. I'm happy to be mobile and once again creating new personal goals for intellectual and athletic growth.

My plans for 2012 are to run and swim more; do a few 50K-type runs with friends; go back to Europe or South/Central America; drink a bit less; and try to be a more 'present' and compassionate person. I want it all to lead, eventually, to a life that is driven by a greater sense of purpose, and much less by money (and the baggage that accompanies that type of life).

Ciao for now.