Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The year end summation: sort of. . . whatever

This is the last post of the year.  But who cares, really. Tomorrow is simply another day in the current week.  I'll only have to remember to change one digit habitually written on my checks.  I probably won't be up for the stroke of midnight. So 2013-2014, BFD. Honestly.

2013 was the year that I finished the rough draft of my novel.  It is/was also the year where I fianlly ran both a trail marathon and then an ultramarathon.  I have an intense dislike for organized races.  But I got talked into the marathon, and then, while I still had the stomach for it, I thought why not just knock out the ultra as well.  So check and check.  I'm now back to running for running's sake (and possibly the endorphins that the longer distances and tougher runs provide).

I'll be honest, I understand why people who have no possible chance of winning sign up for races: to establish some future goal to goad them into getting into shape to do the distance.  A marathon, a half-marathon, a 10k, whatever.  That's all fine.  They do it and then go back to whatever lifestyle they led before they started training.  But the runners I admire aren't the ones who need goals.  They are instead, the ones who do it whether a race is coming up or not.  Some of these types are actually avid and acomplished racers.  But their defining characteristic isn't the race, it's the need to run whether or not some organized event is on the horizon.

A few weeks ago, a major college running coach I follow tweeted something that relates to this topic.  Basically he wrote (paraphrasing here), "If you want to run, run. If you want to race, train."  Brilliant in its simplicity.  I can't argue with that at all.  In a way, it describes a third type of runner - one who runs to win.  I understand that mind-set as well.  But I can't imagine being that type of athlete if I didn't already love to run.

If I were to draw a Venn diagram of these three types of runners, it would be easy to see that each will overlap the other where specific runners are concerned.  But, since I really kind of hate Venn diagrams, I won't do that.  You're welcome.

Anyway, I have very little else to say about 2013. It was a year like most others. I saw two movies at theaters - The Banff Film Festival (absolutely freaking amazing event that takes place over three nights - can't wait for it to come back in 2014), and The Dallas Buyers Club (also fantastic and moving).

My running mileage for the year is just above 1,500.

So that's that.  My resolution is try to enjoy other aspects of my life a tenth as much as I do the three Rs - reading, writing, and running.  I'll try, but I doubt it will happen.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Finally a Post

It has been the longest 'dry' period between posts for this blog.  I have a couple of excuses - both true, yet both still being excuses...

I took time off to go back through the first draft of my novel.  Now I'm in a 2-3 month editing process that should improve a reader's experience.  Writing the novel was fun.  Editing can be fun as well.  Just not as fun...

Excuse #2
I've been injured and depressed.  I hurt myself a bit finishing the Hawk 100 Marathon.  Something went a little off in my hamstring and IT band in my left leg.  A couple of weeks later, on a 17mi training run, my shoe caught a clump of grass and torqued the same leg up higher in a groin-adjacent area (but not a groin pull, mercifully).  So a couple of weeks later, I obliterated any chance of a speedy recovery when I completed the Prairie Spirit 50 ultra.  I ran a few times after to increasing pain each outing.  Finally, after run-walking the last mile of a 7 mile run at Clinton North Shore, I decided to take a couple of weeks off.

Two weeks off running... Something I haven't done in... well ever.  It didn't really suck as much as I thought it would.  I had my Specialized bikes - Sequoia (for road) and Rockhopper (for trails) - and an Olympic-size swimming pool 100 yards from my home's back door.  I got in a few good rounds of disc golf as well.   But I fretted about losing things like muscle memory and running fitness.  After two weeks I decided to hit the trails., a pied, again and see how things had progressed.  Somewhat frustratingly, no improvement to report as I did 5 days of 5 miles on the river trails.  At least there was no decline. So it was both good and bad news...

Then, a week ago, a friend gave me a treadmill.  I got it just as the weather turned nasty.  And running 4 miles a day on the stupid thing seems to be helping, not hurting - and I'm not sure why.  But every time my hammy gets sore or stiff, I hop on the mill and run.  When we get back into the 30s or 40s this weekend, I hope to hit the trails and see if improvement has taken root.  Never a fan of treadmills, I am finding that, in this case, the machine may just become my new bff.


My buddies at Bearded Brothers shot me a care package of their awesome natural energy bars (and a couple of groovy discs - a mid-range and a putter). That was a real pick-me-up, and hugely appreciated. If you haven't heard of them, check them out at www.beardedbrothers.com . Get on their email list as well - they run a lot of specials.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Prairie Spirit 50

I ran the Prairie Spirit 50K over the weekend. The weather was about as perfect as I could have wished it to be.  The temperature was high 40s to start, and low 60s at the end.  It really couldn't have been better.

A very typical view of the trail.  Pretty, no?

I decided to enter the race, as I do almost all races, at the last possible minute.  I always want to see how I'm feeling, what the weather will be, are there other things that sound more fun to do on any given weekend...  In short, I don't like to commit to anything like a marathon or an ultra way out in the future.  For most people, having a race for which to train creates a goal.  For me, that creates pressure.  And I run to avoid or ease pressure, not to increase it in my life.

A couple of things worried me about the race, put on by the really talented people at Epic Ultras.  One was that the course is the flattest course possible in the world.  I had run 17 miles on it in the summer, and had developed odd soreness from repeatedly landing in exactly the same spot for 17 miles. Without turns, rocks, roots, down and up hills, the repetitive pounding in the same spots can add up to some pain. Second, it is odd to admit, but the word 'ultra' is a bit intimidating.  I never look past any distance (ok, well maybe 5K or 10K - just kidding), because to do so is a quick way to get into trouble in a hurry.  I regularly run in the teens and twenties.  But that extra 10K tacked on at the end of a marathon distance seemed oddly daunting.

When it came down to the actual run, I had some pleasant and unpleasant experiences.  I took off at a pace that I would now deem way too slow.  I was following advice from a friend who regularly does ultras who suggested starting out at a relaxed pace and conserving energy for later.  That advice, which might not have been bad for ultras taking place on courses with varied terrain, was deadly for this race. In hindsight, I should have just gone out and run at a pace that would have saved 1-2 minutes/mile for the first 17 miles, and then simply hung on for the rest of the run.

Muscle and mental fatigue really were not the issues.  The pounding was the issue.  Around mile 20, I began to have some structural (read tendon) twinges that put me on notice that my fun run was morphing into a challenge.  Luckily I had, for some weird reason, thrown an ace bandage in my drop bag at the 17 mi aid station.  Even more luckily, for some reason, I had grabbed it as I left the aid station.  So, when a tendon started complaining at 20 miles, I simply wrapped it tightly and ran on, with the problem mainly solved.  I grabbed the second bandage at the 23 mile aid station.  I'm glad I did, because I had some more misfires higher up on the same leg.  So, again, I wrapped it even tighter and ran on.  The repetitive use issues diminished, but didn't go away. The final  10K or so, was actually pretty painful.  But I was able to tell myself to ignore it, and think about how many endorphin were being released.  I do that sometimes on long runs.

I finished relatively strong - not really tired, yet structurally suspect.  In hindsight, I could've saved time by running much faster at the inception (savings would've been 17-34 min), spending a couple of minutes less at the aid stations (that added 10min total), and not stopping to pick up a beautiful ornamental box turtle and move him/her off the trail and into a more turtle-friendly looking area (3min).  In the future, all except saving the turtle, are things I would choose to change.

A moment with RD Eric Steele immediately after finishing in Ottowa, KS.

Epic Ultras did a great job. Their people, as I wrote earlier, were friendly and helpful, and showed an obvious passion for the sport.  There were plenty of pre-race, post-race, and aid station food options - even for vegans.   I would strongly recommend Epic if you are looking to do a well-run ultra in this region.

Most of the race was run the way I like it, alone.  On a couple of occasions, I did have the chance to run with another runner.  I will confess to forgetting how nice it is to meet people who share an addiction to running.  I ran for a few miles (miles 19-23) with a guy who turned out to be a vegan. His wife, who also runs, but is sensible enough not to do ultras, is also a vegan.  After the race, we sat and chatted over some wonderful-tasting veggie burgers.  I realize that this is not hugely interesting news to most people reading this.  But for me, so much of my running life - what I would probably describe as the part of my life I most value - is done alone. It was good to be reminded that even solo experiences can be shared and celebrated.

Now, a couple of day later, I'm pretty fully recovered.  The pain issues went away as soon as I stopped running. Other than a little lactic acid residue in the quads yesterday, I'm ready to go.  Discretion being the wiser choice, I am going to hold off on putting in any real mileage until later in the week.  Can't wait...

Final thoughts:  Prairie Spirit 50.  Tough?  Oddly, yes.  Beautiful?  Absolutely.  Worth the pain?  Always.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Hawk 100 Marathon

Ran the Hawk 100 Marathon over the weekend.  Well actually not over the weekend.  Saturday morning to be precise. Why isn't 'preciser' a word meaning more precise?  It makes sense... at least in my mind.

The weather was beautiful.  The trails were as punishing as ever.  The hills were brief and brutal (except for the Bunker Hill loop 13-15 miles in, where we had to run up one side in ankle deep grass, go down the other,  run through flat grassland, and then up the backside of the hill and back down - great tough feature for the middle of the marathon.  It gave a beautiful view of Clinton Lake, where we had come from, and how far we still had to go.

A quick aside here: I have volunteered at the race for the past two years.  Since there are 50 and 100 mile races happening at the same time, the marathon is really just the little brother of the three events. The aid stations and volunteers are what can make or wreck a race. The Hawk 100 always has stunningly good, efficient, friendly, and well-stocked aid stations.  I have never seen better.

Anyway, I felt pretty good through the first 21 or so miles.  I have hit 'the wall' before, so I recognized the signs of its onset and mentally prepared for a challenging 5 miles to the finish.  I used my 'thankful' practice; a way of approaching sports challenges that I learned from an Everest summit documentary.  I mentally become thankful that there are rocks, hills, roots, descents, streams, sand, etc...  Each challenge I face is something for which I am thankful, because it will make the completion of the run more meaningful.

As I ran the last few miles, I actually began to laugh, because I was starting to be thankful for every rock and minor root that I passed over.  The gratitude I was expressing to nature simply seemed excessive.  But it took my mind off of the fact that I was having some pretty real physiological issues with shoulder cramps (odd) and a bit if a chill that came on from unexpected dehydration.

Still, though, when all was said and done, it was a great experience. I almost never run races (and had only signed up for this marathon on the Tuesday evening, 4 days before the event).  One of my friends who was also running the race seemed shocked to find me at the start on Saturday.  Frankly, I was a little surprised myself.

Over the past couple of days, I've gotten some congratulatory emails from friends who mention that it is good that I officially have a completed marathon behind me. I have run the distance on other occasions for fun, but never for anything as externally notable as an actual race. I will state that it does feel pretty good.  I will very likely be running the Hawk 100 Marathon again next year.  And, I may add one more to my schedule - a 50K in Texas in 2014.  Otherwise, while fun, racing really isn't my 'thing.'  Running is.

A quick shout out to all of my fellow Lawrence TrailHawk friends.  Thank you for running with me on various fun runs throughout the year.  And thank you to those Hawks who didn't run so that they could help make the event so successful - I know how much you do, and I appreciate it immensely.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Annual Event

I did 5 circuits of the 3 mile course at Coleen's Sweaty Ass Run in Olathe last night. It's kind of funny that earlier in the day, when someone asked me how far I planned to run, I had mentioned that I would knock out 15 miles and then assess how many more I wanted to complete.  Well, when it came time to 'assess' how I felt, I felt like the first three letters of that word.  It was time to quit.

I had taken in a Vega Orange Zest Gel shot. It was pretty good tasting, but I'm not sure how well it sat.  I also had a banana, a couple of small pieces of watermelon, and a few chips dipped in hummus. Really not much in the way of food.  By the fourth circuit, I had developed a bit of digestive discomfort, which by the fifth lap, became a stomach ache that hurt every time a foot hit the ground.

It may have less to do with the food than with the drink.  I tried my own sports drink, then switched to a tea I had brought.  Next I tried the run's sports drink.  Then water.  Then,with stomach hurting, switched to flat ginger ale.  I wasn't dehydrated. Instead it felt a little bit like too much water/liquid in the gut.

The drive home was less than pleasant.  It was 9:30 ish and I was really tired and felt quite ill.  My stomach was upset, and I kept looking around in case I needed to pull over and throw up.  Luckily I made it home without too much drama.  I knocked down a glass of rice milk with hemp protein and called it a night.

With all the above being said, 15 miles shouldn't kick my butt like it did.  I've done plenty of longer runs in much more strenuous settings recently.  But there is something about the course layout, the time of day (evening vs my usual a.m.), and the charge of running in an actual event that always seem to make the Sweaty and Frozen Ass runs much more challenging.

I have very few other organized runs that I'm considering doing. Maybe the Hawk 100 marathon.  I'm also looking at the Big Bend Ultra.  But Coleen's runs are always on my list.  Unless there is a blizzard, I'll be back for more this winter.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Time Out From Writing About Running

I got into an interesting Twitter exchange with one of the editors of Velo News (who was, I believe, speaking for himself, not necessarily the publication) after I had commented on a story that discussed the disparity in punishment for those 'caught' cheating in the TDF.  The article had pointed out that Lance Armstrong was treated more harshly than other riders.   That is a fair statement.  But I had pointed out that it was reported that he had also attacked those who had accused him in such a way, and with a vehemence, that surpassed others in the sport who were using PEDs at the time. I think that the manner of denial does have an effect on the way a punishment gets handed out.  Maybe it should.  Perhaps it shouldn't.  But a strong denial proven false does affect our emotional response.

To continue this train of thought: Suppose a gang has been defrauding a bank for years.  Due to a technicality, the statute of limitations (that has run out on the imaginary crime) is eliminated for one of the miscreants. That person is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  This perpetrator is still guilty whether the rest of the gang gets penalized or skates on the charges.  Are they all being treated fairly?  After all, they all did it.  And they were all subject to the same statutes. An argument can actually be made either way.

For the record, I am in favor of going back as far as possible to try to get to the bottom of the mess that seemingly overwhelmed the sport.  Cycling's governing bodies should be about fairness, even if all of its riders were not.  Lance, Tyler, Joseba, Jan, Floyd, and many, many more, held our dreams on their wheels and then ripped our hearts out.  Honest brokers like the Andreaus and others who questioned both rider and team integrity were dismissed by the cycling sports media.  Undoubtedly, many clean riders of the era were denied victories, or even spots on teams for some of the world's top tours.  We should set the record straight for them, and worry less about the feelings of those who weren't competing honestly.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Triathlons by any other name

Lately, I've been keeping my running between 20 and 30 miles each week.  I almost never run races, and had been doing 30-40+ miles regularly.  But since I have years of running as a base, coupled with an interest in other sports (swimming, biking, disc golf, etc), I don't think that the decrease will affect my overall ability to quickly ramp up for a marathon or some other distance should I choose to undertake one this year (I'm actually looking at the Big Bend Ultra in January if they ever open registration).

This past weekend, there were simply too many athletic opportunities available.  On Saturday, I got up early and hit the trails with my running buddy, Chris.  Except we weren't running.  We took our bikes for a change - mine, a new Specialized RockHopper, and his, my former Cannondale 400 which he had just decided to buy.  We cruised through the course pretty quickly.  I actually had to work to keep up with him on his more nimble, yet less boulder-happy Cannondale.  We finished the course satisfied with our new velos, and with the odd sensation always felt when you have biked a route that you normally run.  For me, biking always seems longer.  Not so much in time, as in distance.  While biking the trails, for instance, I continuously think about how long the route is, and how I can't believe I can run it.  When running it, however, it doesn't seem particularly long.  I think your mind simply goes into different states of time/distance awareness and calculations depending on the type of sport being undertaken.  That is the only explanation I have for the phenomenon.

Later on Sat, I played a round of disc golf with my buddy, Mathew.  While the round itself was unremarkable, I had putts of 30 and 50 feet that went in - not a usual occurrence (at least for me).

Sunday found me back on the trails - running them at 7 am, and then biking them at 3 pm.  Both times the humidity was a force to be reckoned with.  And both times I did so with aplomb.  I planned for the two jaunts to be my workouts for the day.  On the way home from the ride, however, I received a text asking me to throw another round of golf.  I threw on a new shirt and hit the links.  While a lot of my game held together, a lot of it, namely putting, faltered due to fatigue.

As I reclined on my couch last night, watching a few episodes of the wonderful BBC series Coupling on Netflix, I felt that great type of exhaustion and muscle fatigue that you only get when you overdo it a bit.  I always enjoy the weariness that comes as the result of going full-on athletically over the course of an extended period of time.  I usually just get the feeling from running and occasionally from swimming.  But the weekend's odd triathlons of running, biking, and disc golf, had served up the same feeling.

Monday, July 1, 2013

3 R's - Running Reading Racing

I got in a couple of runs over the weekend.  One of them was good.  The other, not so much.  That happens.   If half my runs could be as good as the good one was, I'd be a pretty lucky person.  I saw two deer.  One on the trails on Saturday, and one in my back yard before I had even left for the run.  Unlike the past week, I had no issue with horse flies.  I had thought about what might have triggered the two attacks, and came to the conclusion that dark shirts might have been a deciding factor.  Both Sat and Sun I ran in light-colored shirts.  The result: not one fly was spotted.

I finished Albert Camus' A Happy Death.  The book was one of his first written, but wasn't published until after Camus had died.  I have mixed feelings about publishing works that writers had not wanted to have published. On the one hand, it is great to see and know everything the writer wrote.  On the other, the previously unpublished works can change a reader's view of the writer's oeuvre or not present the writer's actual intent.  It is a fine line.  I must say that I thought Camus' The First Man was a fantastic example of a work that should have been published posthumously.  Camus was writing it at the time he died, and had clearly wanted to have the work published.  A Happy Death, might not fall into the same category.

I decided to take a short break from the Camus fest of late, and started a book of short stories by Sartre - The Wall (Le Mur).  As with some other writers and thinkers, Sartre is never at the forefront of my mind when I go to pick up something to read at the store.  But every time I do read him, I am not disappointed.

I finished out the weekend hanging out with my friends at the VeloTek pavilion at 8th and Mass during the Tour Of Lawrence criterium.  It was a great vantage point from which to view all of the races.  VeloTek is a good all-ages team.  The teams riders did very well in most races (including a victory) from the low categories up to the pro race.  If you missed the Tour this year, look for it ti be going on right around the 4th of July in 2014.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


It was a nice week of running.  'Nice' is such a weak word, but it encompasses the nuances of this week's running.  After the ass-kicking I received from the heat and humidity during the 16 miler last Saturday, even the short runs this week were a bit of a trial.  What made them nice, rather than shitty, was the fact that I finished all of them.  So much of running well comes from running when you really don't feel like it; pushing through the fatigue,discomfort, and (sometimes) outright pain.

So, each run this past week presented a challenge that had to be met.  So, in some ways, it was a very rewarding week.  Overall though, the suckiosity balanced out the rewarding nature of the runs to account for the 'nice' designation.

This weekend, the running was a bit more than nice.  It was challenging, yet fun.  I took to the river trails both days.  I chose super early times, hitting the trails by 6:15 each morning in order to avoid the worst of the heat.  Both days I felt good.  The only downside for the runs occurred today when, for the first time ever, I was bombarded by horse flies over the course of a couple of miles.  That had never happened before on the trails.  Finally, at the most distant point, I abandoned the trails in favor of the sun and the levee.  Up on the monotonous gravel that stretched as far as I could see, there was a strong wind.  And a strong wind means no flies.

The remainder of the run was spent trying to get the awful song, 'Moves Like Jager' out of my head.  I ended up with Cheap Tricks, 'The Flame' playing nonstop in my mind.  Bizarre.

If you want some good sports docs to watch, check out Netflix for one about Ben Johnson and the doping scandal during the Seoul Olympics, and another on the rise of Usain Bolt.  Both are excellent, and worth the investment of time.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Running on the PST

If you like to bike, run, or walk on a truly flat surface, but don't want to take a trip to Florida (truly the flattest state in the US), you might try the Prairie Spirit Trail.  I had heard about the PST for years.  My parents bike there and several friends run there regularly.  However I had never been on it before yesterday.

My friend, Paul, had suggested that we pop out to Franklin County, and run the trail for 7 miles out and 7 miles back between Ottawa and Princeton (it's always surprising to me that cities in Canada and New Jersey are named after small Kansas towns).  I would do one loop.  He planned to do two (because he is, apparently, twice the badass that I am).

Driving toward Ottawa at 7:18 am, the NPR announcer mentioned that it was 78F; never a good temperature at that time of day.  Cue ominous music.  When we arrived, there were no day permit envelopes at the trail head kiosk.  The PST costs something like $3.50/day to use.  One can also purchase annual passes for $12.50.  And one apparently should purchase a pass of some kind, because the PST authorities are serious about enforcement.

Paul mentioned that a grocery store about a half mile away sold them.  So we began our run with a quick stop at the grocery store.  Cue ominous music again.  The store did sell passes, but they required a driver's license and social security # (seriously).  Well, fuck!  Not a huge problem,but not great.  I ran the mile round trip back to my Element, got my dl, and presented it to the clerk who then issued me my annual pass.  At that point it was probably just over 80F and humid.  We'd also added just over a mile to our run.

Anyway, we took off, and after a short trafficky initial half mile or so, found ourselves on the unbelievably long, flat, and beautiful PST.  Now if you are someone who does not like running on a skillet flat surface, and being able to see where you are running miles before you will arrive, then you will hate the PST.  Personally, I'm a fan of wide open spaces.  But I do like a hill or two (and a curve) every now and then.  The PST has neither.  The trail does offer pretty scenery and the ability to actually travel from town to town by pied or velo - something that is not too common around these parts.

Almost immediately, we were covered in sweat.  By mile two (not counting the grocery store mile), my shorts and shirt could not have been wetter had I jumped into the little ponds we passed.  Paul and I both had Nathan packs on, and we drank religiously (well, that might be a slight misnomer, because I never heard either one of us say grace).  But we did drink often.  It was really hot and humid.

At the turnaround point, Princeton (blink and you'll miss it), we stopped to refill our packs with water and soak our heads.  We took off as the sun moved into better position to administer a beat down.  For me, it was all manageable until about mile 13 or 14.  That is when I really began to wilt.  15-20 miles are not distances that will kill me. But in the heat and humidity, I just couldn't get enough liquids down to hang in there. By the end of the run at 15.84 mi, I had consumed 2 liters of water/sports drink, a Powerbar Gel, and half of a Bearded Brothers Bar.  Stepping on the scale later at home, I had dropped 7 pounds.

As I prepared to drive home, I cautioned Paul about the heat.  He set off to redo the trip we had just completed, mentioning that if one doesn't run in the heat, one will never learn how to do it.  Since I'm not in training for Badwater, I couldn't have agreed with him less.

I called Paul some hours later.  He had cut the run short, and had completed about 27-28 miles.  Around mile 21 he had decided that the heat was getting to him.  He made it back to his car after his water had run out.  But Paul is a pretty resilient guy.  He sounded better than I felt when we spoke.

I'll hit the PST again several times I'm sure.  I'd actually like to bike it's 58 miles sometime soon as well.  The temps, however will have to be tolerable.

Here's a link from a biking website.  It has a better description than any other I could find: http://bikeprairiespirit.com/

Monday, June 10, 2013

Geneva and Paris

                                            Geneva - Seen from atop the Cathedral

It has been some time since I last posted.  But, if you are a regular reader, you will know that I have been working on a novel.  Story-telling and composition of the work has taken up a lot of my time.  I've also been travelling.

In May I went to Geneva for business, and then Paris for pleasure.  I had the chance to run in both cities - Geneva, along the waterfront each morning, and Paris, from our flat in the 7th to Les Invalides to the Grand and Petit Palais (or Palaix - I'm not sure how to pluralize that) and then back.  All the runs were great experiences, even in the cold and rain.

Paris, my favorite city, again did not disappoint.  The Orsay and Montmartre were probably tops for me.  But I found many pleasant days were spent simply wandering through various neighborhoods, and not at the tourist traps like the Louvre and Notre Dame.

The grandeur of the city is always um, grander than can be described.  Our flat (I was travelling with friend and biz partner, Marisa and her husband, Chris), was stunning (thanks AirBnB), with just the right blend of ancient and modern.  The location, almost equidistant between the Jardins Luxembourg and the Orsay was perfect as a launching point for forays into the farthest corners of the city.

I dropped too many Euros at Shakespeare and Co.  I also couldn't walk by a bakery without buying a baguette (and we stopped at two bakeries that had won the best baguette in France competition in different years - those were some fricken good baguettes).  Ile de la Cite and Ile Saint Louis were great places to stroll and people watch.  The Marais was great for Centre Pompidou and sitting and splitting a bottle of red with a friend also visiting the city at the same time.

All in all, a fantastic experience.  I hope to get back this year and spend another week in October (after the tourist crush has subsided).

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Book, Running, and (oddly) Books

I've been writing a lot lately.  Not a lot here, though, so it probably seems as if I haven't been writing to anyone who reads this blog.  I even wrote a long entry that I had planned to post here, but opted instead to let it hang in the purgatory of the 'written but unpublished' section of my account.

As many of my friends know, I've been working on a book for the past year.  It is coming along nicely.  But it takes up quite a bit of time.  And time that I spend writing this blog is really time I could also spend working on the book.

The book, as some of my friends know, is a story about running.  It is a work of fiction.  I hope to have it completed sometime in the next 6 months (definitely by the end of the year).  And for now, that is all I'll say about it.

I just wanted to let anyone who might follow this blog know the reason for the sporadic nature of my recent posts.

In terms of running, my life has been pretty good until very recently.  I have been doing 30-40 miles each week, and, for the most part, really enjoying the runs.  Over the past couple of weeks, however, I started to feel some pain in my knee.  Never a good sign.  On a recent 12-ish mile run, I torqued it several times in mud.  With 5 miles left to go on my return, I knew something was not good.  I walked about a quarter mile and then thought fuck it.  If it is ruined, it is ruined. And I hobbled the rest of the way home at a 10-ish min/mile pace.

I made an appointment with my sports doc for Tuesday.  And other than walking around NYC, and a bit of swimming and biking, I took the week off from running.  Yesterday I popped out for an easy three.  I ran the entire distance with a non-traditional (for me) front foot strike (I am normally mid foot).  I felt little to no pain.  Today I plan to try 3-5 miles and see how it goes.  I am keeping my Tuesday appointment regardless of the outcome of my run.  I am hopeful that my knee was just telling me it wanted a little change in mileage every now and then; and that I shouldn't continually go bigger without taking some breaks.

In other news:  I finally finished the Electric Koolaid Acid Test (oddly, a book I had never read).  I bought a Camus book I had never read, and plan to take that with me to Geneva and Paris as fitting Summer reading. And I picked up John Irving's, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Kindle edition (to read right now).  A quick note regarding that.  Every day Kindle has a sub $2 deal on 4 or more books. The deal is only for 24 hours.  You either buy then or you miss it. Usually the offerings are crap (at least for my taste).  But once or twice a week, there is something really good. You can get on their daily email list and see for yourself.  Write me if you want a link.

I'll try to have more sometime soon.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Running and Some Irish Culture

I've been doing a lot of writing lately.  Not on this blog, as you will have noticed.  Instead, I have been spending a considerable amount of time engaged in creative writing.  I hope to have something out late this year, or early next.  I have a particular project where the more I write, the farther away the conclusion recedes.  Luckily, I enjoy writing, so having a receding conclusion is less distressing than having a receding hairline or an expanding waistline.  Anyway, while I've been working on writings of a more creative nature, I am worried that I have turned this blog into a bit more of a phone-it-in kind of experience for the readers.  While blogs invariably are the last refuge of the self-involved solipsist, I do want my blog to offer insights and encouragement to others on at least a moderately frequent basis.  So, in the coming weeks I will try a bit harder to bring something meaningful into this space.  It may not be today, in this posting, but I will try.  Otherwise this blog may start to live up to its heretofore ironic name.

The weather this week kicked me around as it alternately raised and then dashed my hopes.  Several times I went out with too little clothing for going into the wind, and to much clothing for running with it - all in the same run.  So I would begin feeling the bite of the wind and frost, with cheeks and chin chilly, and feet and fingers frozen.  I'd return feeling as if my clothes we a portable sweat saturated sauna.  I'd enter my house and tear the garments from my body as if the sweat-soaked togs were covered in acid (I'm trying to say that sweating in hot clothes sucks a lot more than sweating in lighter clothing).

I dd have one day where I was able to run in a long-sleeve top and shorts.  Nice, but it was a day I had planned initially to take off, so my run was only 5k-ish rather than 15k-ish.  Whatever.  If you can't stand the vagaries of Kansas winter weather, you should move.  I'm thinking Tucson, seriously (just kidding, but maybe, seriously).

Anyway... for mixed media, it was Irish week at casa Allen.  Movies were The Wind that Shakes the Barley, and Borstal Boy.  Reading, was the brilliant book, At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill.  Irish history from the late 1800's on (and actually well before that but...) is a terrible tale.  Nothing you read or watch is ever going to end well.   You go in knowing that fact up front.  But it is a fascinating period.  I had seen both movies and read the book before (as well as Brendan Behan's book that became the movie, Borstal Boy).  But all three are so well done that a week of Irish immersion seemed both a treat and a respite from present day inanities.

This is, sadly, not a trail week for me.  It will be all road all the time for the next 5-7 days.  Until my next post, don't put off a run or a workout that you'll regret not doing later on.  How's that for a double-negative awkward final piece of encouragement?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Another week of running

I was able to crank out 41 miles last week.  It was a beautiful week for running, and I tool advantage of it.  As the weekend drew near, I figured I'd go long on Sat, and then do a shorter recovery run on Sun.  But Saturday was really a bit colder than I envisioned for a long run.  So I bundled up and played 18 holes of disc golf with some friends.

When this morning dawned, I knew I was going to be out in it.  At 10 am, I geared up and popped out the door.  It was an incredible morning, with light wind out of the south.  I wasn't feeling too good, but I ran.

The reason I wasn't feeling fantastic could be the result of altered diet before the run.  I had read that you could do protein before a workout.  I never do because I have also heard that doing protein before or during a run can kind of make you sick.  But I woke this morning, brewed some Yirgacheffe coffee (oddly from the town of Yirgachefe, Ethiopia - normally spelled with just one 'f'' - but don't get me started on all of the bs that surrounds that coffee, though it is good) and a Boulder Bar then waited a couple of hours before heading out the door - just to make sure the protein was digested.

While I enjoyed almost all of the run, I did get hit periodically with waves of nausea. It was very odd, because I am not a runner who normally experiences any type of stomach upset.  I did manage to finish the 12 mile jaunt without losing any of my breakfast.  I will, however, stick to carbs in front of, and protein in back of the workouts.  Life lesson learned.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

More Miles

I am finally back on track with training (specifically) and running (in general).  Training for what, you might inquire.  Well, that is complicated. I'm always training, but unlike most runners who train for a specific event or race, I almost never have a race or event in mind.  Instead, I have a fitness level in mind.  Could I go out today and run a marathon?, is the first stage.  Could I go out and run a trail marathon?, is the second.  The answer to the first is yes, but not well.  The answer to the second is maybe, but definitively not well.  So,  judging my fitness by my own internal standards - really not calculable on a watch or GPS device - I still have some serious work to do.

In getting that going, this week I will be back up over 40 miles for the first time in at least a couple of fortnights.  I calculate my weekly mileage between Saturday and Friday.  And last Saturday the city was recovering from some wetness.  I had gone on trail runs the weekend before.  Both experiences left me looking, to a casual observer, as if I collected mud for a living.  So this past Saturday, I vowed to steer clear of mud for once.  I popped out to the levee and did a pleasant 10 miler.  It was a little bit boring, because the levee is the very definition of flat.  It is actually that kind of flat where no matter how far you run, you simply cannot detect progress.  Yet the day was stunningly beautiful, and I kind of mentally checked out and just ran on auto-pilot with the expansive fields on one side, and the trees and river on the other.

Sunday I awoke, got dressed for running, and took off.  I felt great as I ran, until 200 yards into the run, the wind hit me in the face and I turned around and went home.  I waited the rest of the day for the gusts to die down, but they never did.  I just couldn't see myself putting in 10-12 mi in that kind of wind.  I did an indoor workout - one that was as hard as I could make it, took a sauna, and then put the windy day behind me.

Monday was gorgeous.  I decided to take a slightly longer lunch than normal, and popped out for another 10 mile run.  I had the SLT trail completely to myself except for a lone cyclist who showed up right as I was attempting to lose some water weight behind a tree at the western end of the trail.  It was truly weird timing.  I finished the run strongly and was able to knock out the rest of the day's work with ease.  I plan to do the same run for the next 2-3 days before taking a day off.

Less about running - I spent the weekend watching the new Netflix series (all 13 hours released so far), House of Cards.  It is a remarkably fun show, and not the kind to which I normally gravitate.  Once I had finished that, I finally set my sights on the illustrious Downton Abbey.  Now DA, may just be a show that will earn its creator a place in Heaven (or at least a place in a loftier caste).  The writing is wonderful, the setting, stunning, and the costumes non-pareil.  If you haven't seen it, you should treat yourself to an episode or two. I believe you will be hooked.

More next week.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Mots - Mabe Bon, Maybe Non

I saw Calexico last night. What a fun band!  The opening act, a band called Bahamas, was also fantastic.  Originally, I had tickets to see Morrissey.  But as the week wore on and he seemed to be getting sicker and sicker in the pages of the paper, all bets were off.  The evening was a total blast.  I ran into friends of all types – some I hadn’t seen in a while, one who’s moving to Oregon shortly, a former trainer of mine, a musician acquaintance, etc…  Anyway, if you haven’t seen or heard Calexico, you should at least try them out on Spotify.

The week in running was less successful. The long run I had planned for Saturday fizzled. I had a headache before the run even started, and then felt an asthma attack coming on within the first mile.  I slid right out the back of the pack and slowed down to keep the wheezes at bay.  I managed to get in between 4-5 miles, but it was about half of what I had planned.  Today I waited until the warmest part of the day and popped out to the trails again, this time in shorts and a long sleeve shirt.  I only wanted to do 5-6 miles which turned out to be a good workout because the trails had turned to mud.  My shoes continuously picked up a pound or two every hundred yards.  Parts of the trail looked like the muddy old battlefieldf pics from WWI.  I still managed to crank out 5 miles and enjoyed the heck out of the run.  I don’t like running in mud.  But since there was nothing that could be done about it, I thought I might as well try to enjoy it.

I got a bit of swimming in this week as well.  I’ve really taken to hitting the pool whenever it gets too cold outside.  I’ll run in frigid conditions sometimes, but if there is an option like the pool, I’ll opt for it on a pretty regular basis.  It is either a sign of aging, or good sense (I'm not sure which).

Finally: If you have Netflix and are looking for a good movie, check out Nate and Margaret.  It is one of the best little movies I’ve seen in some time.  It follows the friendship of a kind of awkward gay college student and a 52 year old aspiring comedienne who lives in the apartment next door.   It doesn’t sound promising, but it will surprise you as you laugh and cry your way through it.

Until next time: Nonne descendite adulteri

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Faster and Longer In Good Weather

Following a pretty light week, I put in another, um, pretty light week.  Last week's light week wasn't purely intentional.  I knocked out a 10 mile trail run on Saturday (I count running weeks as Sat-Fri).  I had every intention of putting in a good 40-ish week.  But I'll be honest:  this year I've gotten kind of tired of running in the cold. Oh, I'll go out and do it.  But I'm just as likely to replace a run with a swim or an indoor session on the bike, NordicTrack, or rower.  And, this past week,that's what I did.

Ultimately, I got in a couple of swims while knocking out only 20 miles in runs (including Saturday's).  The most interesting run of the week happened around 4:45 on Friday afternoon. I had my GPS watch on for some reason (I like it, but rarely wear it, because it makes running stressful).  I took off and thought, why not  push it for a 5K?  So I did.  I ran the fastest 5K I've run in quite some time.  I felt good at the end, but a little gassed.

On Saturday morning, I awoke and vowed to have a good running week - 30-40 miles.  I popped out to the river, and moved easily through 8.75 miles (according to my GPS).  I had been worried that I'd do a crap run after kicking through a 5K the night before, but there was no need to worry.

Later in the day, at the home of friends, over bowls of chips and dips, and a few margaritas, I watched KU play OU.  I left feeling as though I'd just let my training down.  Instead of blowing it off to being foolish,I decided another workout was in order.  I hit the pool and did about 2/3 mile before calling it a night.

This morning when I woke up, I knew it was going to warm up.  Even though it was a bit dark, blustery, and rainy, there was a warm up on the way.  I threw on a sleeveless tech shirt, a long-sleeve shirt over it, tights, and shoes and socks, and then headed back to the river.  And, to be honest, today I felt the run.  After a fast run, a decent run, and a good swim (not to mention the margaritas), my legs and core were a bit overcooked.  But to me, to go out and do the run when I'm really not feeling it, makes for a great training session if I can just go do it.  So I just did it.  I enjoyed the air, the mud, the wind, the discussion of the French forces in Mali on NPR, and the simple freedom to be in nature on my favorite trails with almost no one else around.

I did run into Coleen and Ricki on a training run.  We were headed in the opposite direction, but paused to talk about an upcoming 100 mile race that some of Coleen's protoges are doing next week. Otherwise, I saw no one.  It was simply too muddy to bike, and most runners do the 3(ish) and 5 mile routes on the trails rather than the full distance.

On Saturday's run I wore my Mizuno trail shoes.  Almost all of my shoes are Mizunos of some sort now.  I have come to love the brand over the past three years.  For today's run, I pulled out my old Brooks Cascadias.  I'm not nearly as fond of them.  But since they have a much lower tread profile than my Mizunos, I figured they'd pick up less mud (even though that would technically give me less traction).  The Brooks worked fine.  I've been a little critical of the Cascadias over the past couple of years.  But they have held up pretty well.  Still, though, if I'm just heading out the door to run trails, I will always opt first for Mizunos.  Just to give you an idea, my road shoes are 4 pairs Mizunos, and 1 pair Nike, and a minimal pair by Merrell.

Since we are supposed to hit 68F manana, I'm sure that I'll be out somewhere.  I'm thinking the 7.5 Lecompton Interchange run might be the ticket.  And shorts (also by Mizuno) will be in order!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A nice, but very light week

After the trip to the Bay Area and the jaunt across the GG Bridge, I actually had a pretty short mileage week.  I only put in 20-ish.  I did other workouts, but couldn't find the gumption to get out in the cold and put one foot in front of the other.  But, for once, I decided not to beat myself up about it.  Instead, I put in a few miles and waited until Saturday morning to head out for a longer distance.

At 7:30 on Saturday I showed up at the Corps lot at Clinton.  Including me, there we only three of us.  We took off at a pretty good clip.  The weather was on the line between needing gloves and going hands to the wind.  Two of us opted to leave the gloves behind.  Gary wore his though, because I heard somewhere that he is a former victim of frostbite.

The run was 10 miles at a good clip.  When it ended I felt great, and still do today (athough it is a bit chilly, so I may do an alternate workout;-)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


This past Sunday I did something I have never done; I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge using only human power.  It is slightly interesting that I had never done this considering that I had lived in San Francisco for a full year in 1991-1992.  At the time I wasn't much of a runner, having given up the sport some years before, but I did own a bike.  And, for a short time that year, I worked less than a quarter mile from the bridge.  So you think I would have crossed it, or at least approached it in some other fashion than sitting in the seat of a car.  But no, that never happened.

I had a business trip to SF scheduled for this week.  So, instead of flying out on Sunday night as originally planned, I headed to the Bay Area on Saturday.  When Sunday arrived with wind and a temperature of 40F,     I was undaunted.  I pulled on a short sleeve tech shirt, a long sleeve tech shirt, a water-proof (ish) Patagonia jacket, some loose tights (true dat), my killer Mizunos (I still geek out over them), a hand-held water bottle, and then set out.

I had chosen to stay on Fisherman's Wharf for the first time in all my years of going to SF.  I chose the location not because I love the single most touristy place in the City, but because of its proximity to the waterfront that leads to the bridge.

I first ran through the wharf.  Soon after, I passed Aquatic Park.  There were actually people swimming in the bay.  With the serious chill in the air, it seemed crazy.  But then again, polar bear swimmer types often have the same world view that crazy runner types also hold.  Heading to Fort Mason I encountered my first serious hill.  It wasn't crazy long, but just long enough to let me know that attacking it as I had done was not the smartest strategy on a run that would exceed ten miles.

Coming down the hill from the fort, I caught my first real glimpse of the bridge beyond the expansive Marina Green.  Running Marina Green is not something I had ever done.  I had walked it on numerous occasions, and it always seemed to take forever.  Sunday it did seem to drag out a bit.  But the straight, flat slog was broken up by the sheer beauty of the area, with its nature preserves and bay on one side, 1915 World's Fair architecture on the other, and the Golden Gate Bridge looming large ahead of me.

As I was nearing the end of the Green, and approaching Fort Point, I realized that I didn't exactly know how to access the bridge.  It isn't highly intuitive.  For the past mile, I had discerned the slapping of feet behind me.  A fellow traveller, no doubt.  So I slowed to let the trailing runner catch up.  In about a hundred yards, I found myself running next to a guy who was slightly taller, and a few years older than me.  I asked how to get to the walkway or bikeway for the bridge.  He replied in a distinct Australian accent, "Mate, I was following you, hoping you'd know."

After a couple of quick stops to inquire about the route from people we encountered, we found our way.  We ran up a second solid hill, some steps, and a couple of switchbacks, made our way through an absolute maze of Asian tourists, and found ourselves on the bridge.

Ross (the Aussie) and I had decided to run together.  As we crossed the 1.5 mile (roughly) span, he asked me about the scenery - Alcatraz, Sausalito, Marin, etc - and he told me about the 7 week vacation he was on with his family; two weeks in Cuba, some time in Mexico, SF, LA, Yosemite, Sequoia, and more.  I got to ask a lot of questions about Cuba, in particular.

We stopped once on the bridge, and once on the Marin side to take pictures - I posted a couple on FB and Twitter.  On the way back I also got a picture of a container ship passing under us on the bridge.  Pretty cool.  We stopped one more time on the way back to the wharf.  He hadn't seen the Palace of Fine Arts - the architecture left over from the World's Fair.  We did a quick once over, and then proceeded back through the Green, over the Fort Mason hill, past the Aquatic Park, and that is where we separated.

I don't really have a pithy way to conclude this post.  I got to do something that I've wanted to do for some years.  I had one of those encounters/interactions you can only have while running.  I got to see the Bay Area on one of the clearest days I had ever experienced from vantage points that were new to me.  Perhaps Ross had summed up what we were doing best.  About 5.5 mi into the 12 mile run, he mentioned that, as a runner, he always was looking for places to run when he travelled. For this trip to the US, the Golden Gate Bridge run was the run that he would classify as 'epic.' I couldn't agree more.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Solo Trails in the Snow

After a week of light running as a result of the flu, I had planned to come back with Coleen's Frozen Ass Run on Saturday night.  But late in the week, I still had a bit of a cough, and was still feeling a little tired in the mornings.  I decided not to push the issue.  If I were to show up at the event, I was pretty certain I'd overdo it.  So, for the fist time in four events, I blew off one of my two favorite runs of the year (the other being Coleen's Sweaty Ass Run in the Summer).

I fell back to the 8.75 mi River Trail loop.  I knocked it out both Saturday and Sunday mornings and felt fine.   I felt so good, in fact, that I questioned my decision to pass on Coleen's.  But in the early afternoon on Sunday, a weariness (that I don't normally feel after a run) set in.  I had to take a nap to get it together.  So, maybe I did the right thing after all.

The runs were both glorious, with ice and snow making the run slightly more challenging.  I also pretty much had the trail to myself both days.  Deer made their presence known on a couple of occasions, but otherwise I only saw a couple of cyclists and one other runner.  Just the type of running I like best.  So, if I did have to give up my favorite group run, at least I replaced it with top-notch solo runs that I prefer.