Sunday, February 28, 2010

Time for a change . . .

I've been "going at it" for quite a while now.  I started back running in 2003 after a 12 year period where I believed I couldn't run anymore (bad medical advice!).  But since I started running again, I have hardly taken a break.  Come to think of it I've really only had two breaks.

I took 7 days off when I had knee surgery . . . but it really wasn't much of a break.  I actually started back on the ellipse machine two days after surgery.  I did have to take about six months off in 2006 when I tore / irritated my upper hamstring where it attaches to the hip.  That really was six months off . . . no running at all.

Excepting these two, I have been running . . . a lot!  For the last two years I've been averaging a marathon (or longer) a month or more. There are a ton of people that run more and run longer . . . but for me this is a lot.

Believe me, I'm not a gifted athlete!  Those of you that know me know that is absolutely the truth.  At my best, I was a mid-pack runner.  But what I lack in ability I make up for in focus and persistence.   Once I start something I will not quit.

While I might not be a gifted runner,  I've always totally enjoyed my running.  And I've enjoyed the friends I've made while running.  But I'm tired.  Mentally tired, I believe.

My times have been getting slower and slower.  And I don't believe it is as physical as it is mental.  Walking has become too easy to do!  As I've started running ultramarathons, I have to wal more . . . especially up hills.  But most ultra runners do this!  It's a fact of life for these races.  To finish a 50k or longer you have to slow down.  Plus, most ultras are run on trails where the terrain is more severe (roads are graded but trails just follow the land!).  But once you start walking, it becomes mentally easier to walk.  So I believe I now walk more then I should.  More then I physically have to.  I've lost the mental toughness to run through the tiredness and pain.

So I'm getting more and more use to walking and going slow. And as I do this more often, my physical conditioning declines.

Plus, I don't really train!  Essentially, one race is my training for the next one!  In the last couple of months I started trying to run "pickups" or "intervals" one day a week . . . and I believe it has helped a tad!  Maybe if I ran a 5k I could go a little faster!  But it is not translating into faster marathons and ultras.  I'm stuck in a downward spiral where my times get slower and slower.  I've become a "blip bird."  (for the uninformed a blip bird is a bird that flies with ever increasing velocity in every decreasing almost concentric circles until it finally goes "blip" right up it's own ass!)

But who cares what my speed it?  Who cares if my marathons take longer?  As long as I'm having fun it doesn't matter.  But recently I have not been having as much fun!  There are these pesky things created by race directors called "cut-off times" and they are now a source of concern at almost every race.  I don't blame race director at all . . . they have to balance their runners' experiences with those of their volunteers.  And to ask a volunteer to hang around an extra hour for just a very few runners hardly makes sense.

Most of the large marathons are fairly generous with their cut-off times.  Most allow and even encourage walkers, so their cut-off times are 7-8 hours.  But to be honest I really don't like these "big event" race.  And I love running trails in the woods.  But these trail runs are the runs where cut-off times are usually shorter!!

So . . . what are my options?  Here are some I've been considering . . .

  • TAKE 3-6 MONTHS OFF.  Limit long runs to 8-10 miles max.  Maybe focus more on building speed.  Run a few 5ks.  Then, build back my distance.  This seems to be a fairly good option.
  • FORGET ORGANIZED RUNNING EVENTS and just run on my own.  Set up my own aid.  Run where I want, and when I want.  From  pure running perspective, this is a really good option but what I give up is running with other runners.  True, at the back of the pack I usually run alone, but before the race it's a lot of fun talking with folks . . . and seeing runners pass back by me on "out-and-back" courses.  Plus, I know it is crazy, but I still like the medals and shirts!
  • JUST RUN "BIG EVENT" RACES WITH GENEROUS "CUT_OFF" TIMES.  By definition, there are always a lot of people there.  And usually there are good shirts and medals.  But these races are almost always on roads, and I really HATE crowds.  Don't know why, but I always have.  Plus, these are expensive options . . . travel, hotels, entry fees . . . it just costs a lot more and that is an issue.
  • GET A REAL "TRAINER" TO HELP ME DEVELOP A PLAN.  Rather that just take 3-6 months off, I believe a well-developed training plan could help me add speed without stopping my long runs and then building back.  But following a "plan" doesn't sound like a lot of fun . . . and "fun" is why I run.  Plus, I really hate long-runs training runs by myself.  I usually don't push myself very hard.  But still this is a fairly good option.  Maybe if I was running faster and not having to focus on "cut-offs" the fun would return!
Bet there are some other options I haven't considered.  But I need to do something.  If I don't, nothing will change.  If you've been reading my blog for awhile you know this has been eating at me more and more.  I need ideas, not cheerleaders.

Next weekend I have the Umstead Trail Marathon.  Last year, I had to totally bust my ass to make the cut-off time and I was the last official finisher.  This year . . . I'm slower.  But we'll see.  Even if I make the cut-off for this one, I need a new plan.  I'm not just going to magically speed up.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

2010 Rocky Mount Marathon is history

Not sure exactly how many folks ended up participating!

We took the traditional starting lineup picture but then Misty Schmitt, Elaine & Brad Wiesner showed up just before the races started.  Then, once we started running, Michael Forrester showed up.  Plus, when I was finishing 6 miles, Elaine, Misty and introduced me to Husain (?) who was from Atlanta.  So the Rocky Mount Marathon pulled folks from multiple states plus we became an international event!  That's right . . .we went multi-national when Jim Plant from England showed up too.  Next year, we may NOT allow foreigners to participate . . .

It turned out to be a spectacular day.  Cool but clear to start but temperatures rose all day but never got too hot.  And no breeze at all!  Perfect racing weather!

I haven't gotten results from the 1/2 marathon yet, but I understand Elaine Weisner took top honors in the 10k event.  And her husband, Brad, won the 30k event!  Way to go Brad and Elaine . . . keep it in the family!  (Okay . . . we didn't publicize that we were having a 30k event.  It was a last minute decision!)

In the marathon, Jim Plant, with a strong surge over the last mile, finished in first place.  (Now you know why the race committee is re-thinking our policy on foreign entrants!  But Jim does make it more complicated since he is also a US citizen living in Sanford. . . ).  Here is a picture of Jim just before entering the finish line chute, clearly realizing this win was his!

I had considered running the 50k . . . but since there were no other entries in that distance (and I was too damn tired to go further!)  I settled for a second place marathon finish.

Last year's marathon winner, Dave Lavely, was there to defend his title, but was totally missing from the marathon finisher listing!  Guess he opted to drop down to another event . . .

Hope everyone had as much fun as I did!  Was really great getting everyone together and a beautiful day.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Last weekend didn't work out . . . maybe this weekend!

First a little history.

In 2008 we had the first running of the Rocky Mount Marathon.  Quite honestly, participation was marginal at best.  Probably 10 folks toed the starting line.  In the end, Arthur Bennett finished the 1/2 Marathon with the best 13.1 mile time, and I managed to hang on and cross the finish line of the 26.2 mile event in first place.

Okay . . . Arthur was the only one to complete the 13.1 mile event . . . and I was the only finisher of the 26.2 mile event.    Still, crossing the finish line first is a win!

(Picture shows the crowd going wild as I cross the finish line for the win!)

Fast forward to 2009 and the second running of the Rocky Mount Marathon.  Excitement was high, as there were at least twice as many starting the race as in 2008.

For 2009 we opted to not have a 1/2 marathon event.  But we did add a 50k event.  With temperatures remaining in the high 30s or low 40s, runners had a terrific day for running.  In the end, Dave Lavely managed to eek out the marathon win and yours truly finished first in the 50k.

Okay . . . Dave was the only runner that braved the cold conditions to finish the marathon and ditto for me in the 50k.  Still . . . the way I see it . . . if you cross the finish line first . . . YOU WIN!  (Notice we have not mentioned finish times here.  Since the event was not "chip timed" we opted to ignore times totally . . . if you can't be accurate, then say nothing!)

Okay, move now to 2010 . . . the dawning of a new decade.

We opted to vastly increase the marketing of this event.  Since the Saturday before, snow forced the cancellation of the Myrtle Beach Marathon and the local Sweetheart 5k, the race committee (me) voted unamiously to go to great lengths to notify others of this year's Rocky Mount Marathon and 50k.  Plus, we opted to add back the 1/2 marathon option.  At this point, the committee has mixed feeling about slow registrations for 2010.  On the negative side, the committee hoped for more interest and excitement about this low-cost option (cost being $0!).  But on the positive side we are excited that likey the course won't be too congested and hamper the effort of yours truly to finish as a winner for the third consecutive year.

Stay tuned . . .

Friday, February 12, 2010

This may be my big chance!

For the first time in probably 4 years, I'm running a 5k tomorrow . . . or at least I'm suppose to!  But I'm getting more excited by the minute.  Snow is predicted!

This could be my big chance!  Those of you that follow my blog know I've never actually placed in a "real" race!  Sure . . . I won the Rocky Mount Marathon two years ago and the Rocky Mount 50k last year.  But to be honest . . . I was the only official participant in each of these.

But the Sweetheart 5k could be a very different story!  3-4 inches of snow is predicted for tomorrow morning!  YESSSSSSS!  If I can just make the normal 1 hour drive.

And I hope Ralph Willey's driveway is steep!  "Stay home Ralph!  It's probably going to be really bad weather . . . and the driving will be really, really bad!"

I've had six days of rest and I'm ready . . .

Monday, February 8, 2010

Uwharrie . . . not a hard as expected!

Everything leading up to this race caused concern:
  • Friends who had run Uwharrie in the past kept talking about how hard the trails were.
  • The day prior to the race, the eastern US had a tremendous rain / snow event.  Not sure how much rain fell, but there as a lot of it!
  • Race volunteers I talked with Friday night were talking about putting up ropes at stream crossing because the water levels were sooo high.   They said the trails were more streams then trails, with huge amounts of water flowing down.  One who ran 8 miles talked about how cold he got . . . and just couldn’t warm up due to the combination of cold and rain.
  • Park rangers said the parking area was too wet for cars (Duh!) so race officials had to scramble and put together a plan for participants to park at one of two nearby churches and ride shuttle vans to the race start.
  • Race officials were reserving the right to cancel the race up until the last minute.  And at the start of the 40 miler told runners they might cut their race short at 20 if the trails were too bad.
  • The race officials made a course change to bypass a section that was hammered by all the water.  They said it would be simply a mud bath.
  • They made a decision to not time the race, taking the timing volunteers and moving them to stream crossing duties.
  • Weather reports indicated the temperatures would stay in the 30s with rain / snow mixes all day.
I’ve got to admit, all this news got my attention.  But I was still really looking forward to the deep stream crossings and the muddy race . . . just was unsure what clothing to wear.

Race Morning

Race morning the rains had stopped for the most part, and temps were comfortable in the mid 30s. Morning weather reports sounded like all the significant rains had ended.  Ron Fleming and I decided to go early, anticipating problems with the shuttle service (there were none!)  We ended up getting to the start area by 7 am in time to see off the 40 miles and had a wait of 1 hour for our race to start.

At the start I finally got to actually meet in person Anthony Corriveau and Shannon Johnstone.  We've e-mailed for months but never actually had the chance to meet.  Both were running their first 40 miler . . . great choice of days!!  I also got to catch up with a bunch of friends and acquaintances.

The Start

With little fanfare, they started the race.  Immediately, we headed up one of the steepest climbs of the day.

While the trails were really wet, and there was mud in a lot of areas, for the most part the trails were amazingly good!  And it turns out that the stream levels had dropped significantly, making the crossings not much worst then what I would guess to be normal.  But with all the snow melt and the cold rains the day before, the water was VERY cold!  And the streams ran fairly clear so we could see our footing.  There was only one crossing where the water level was above my knee . . . piece of cake!  Some folks tried to avoid the water, but I just jumped in!

There are some moderately steep trail sections and TONS of loose rocks!  Loose racks are really the story of Uwharrie.  Plus, roots a plenty!  But I would rate the trails themselves as moderate; certainly not super challenging. Don’t get me wrong . . . these trails got me plenty tired!  20 miles at Uwharrie is equivalent to a marathon for sure.

Turns out I chose my clothing perfectly . . . two tech shirts, a light wind jacket (that came off about 2 miles into the race), a toboggan and light gloves.  I was very comfortable all day.

Before the race I met Matthew from Washington DC.  Matthew is an ultra runner and was running his first 20 miler . . . a guaranteed PR he thought!  He promised he would finish behind me but I knew I could be slower then him!  Turns out we had a very similar pace and running philosophy.  Unfortunately, as we were descending a muddy hill around mile 6 ½, two ladies in front just stopped!  Matthew tried to put on the breaks, but slipped in the mud and went down . . . hard.  He got up and continued on, but he had hurt his back.  Then, as we were arriving at the mile 8 aid station (and finish for the 8 milers), he tripped again . . . and again went down hard.  He finally got up and told me he was done for the day.  I had really enjoyed his company and missed running with him the rest of the day.  Hope he is okay.

For the rest of the day I played leap-frog with the rest of my “back-of-the-pack” friends (Patsy Hillyer and Christine Lamia mostly.)  Two neat ladies I enjoyed getting to know some!  This was Patsy's first run over I believe it was 10 miles!  She killed it!  And Christine ran like a lady possesed the last few miles, leaving me in her mud tracks!

I also enjoyed seeing all the 40 milers on their return trip.  AC and Shannon both looked amazingly strong as did Lisa.  I ended up the day in a little over 5 hours and still had some energy left.  All in all a very good day!

After the race, I was so lucky that Christine’s husband Vince was there at the finish waiting for her and they gave me a ride back to my car so I didn’t have to wait for the shuttle.  Thanks folks!  Hope we can meet up again sometime soon.  I don't know what happened to Patsy!  I saw her finish . . . but then she disappeared and I didn't get to congratulate her on her unbelievable run.

It's now Monday . . . and I'm sore . . . really sore!  That rarely happens.  Guess it was the mud!

Here is a link to the pictures I took:

Here is a link to some great pictures Ron Fleming took (password 1234)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Guess I have a little attitude!

I read back over my last post and realize how much I "vented."  A little 60 year old attitude popped out!!  Guess I needed to do that . . . I sure didn't mean to offend anyone!  Sorry if I did!

I'm really looking forward to Uwharrie this coming weekend.  Just wish I had signed up for the 40 (I'm saying that now . . . BEFORE I run it!!) But it will be a blast!

Then, its on to Vail, Colorado to visit my daughter, Laurie!  If anyone has any friends going to Vail next week, please advise them to keep clear of the "bunny slope!"

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Littleton, North Carolina
World's Slowest Runner . . . well, at least in contention for the honor. Just your average "below average" runner.