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.


  1. Frank I think you are on the right track. I think 1. you should put some focus on fun runs and group runs with no time limits or pressure every now and then. the last run you did looked like SO much fun!! I enjoy trail runs with the iron mtn trail runners even more so than races!!

    However, if you aren't happy with where you are: I think getting a trainer is an AWESOME idea! A trainer will hold you more accountable for speed work and long runs. The speed work will help your intensity. I struggle with the same things for trail running. There are times I feel I really need to be moving WAY faster but the technical terrain slows me down. lol.. and trail running cut offs Scare me too!! I am always worrying about them!! no one wants to get stopped or turned around. not fun. I am sure you can improve. Every runner has peaks and valleys.. you know this because you have ran for a long time. even with me, some years I'm faster and others I struggle. I think it's like that with everyone.

    I think you are a HUGE inspiration!! please never think because you aren't first over the finish line that what you are doing isn't important or doesn't count. IT DOES COUNT and Is SIGNIFICANT!! You are out there living life to the fullest and doing what you love!! :o) the majority of us doing the same thing! it's not for first place.. it's just us against the course and trying to finish.



  2. You have to be slow in order to a do Marathon or Ultra every month. Even those freaks of nature who run fast Ultras get injured eventually.

    If you want to get faster, I don't think you need a big change. Just cut back to 4 or 5 Marathons/Ultras a year. I know it will be hard, because there are so many good ones out there!

    But you can get your race fix with some shorter races. There a lot of good trail races that are 14 miles and less like Owl's Roost, and Run at the Rock.

    The whole point of running is for it to be enjoyable, so forget the trainer, and don't quit racing.

    We will see at Umstead! Don't worry, it looks like it won't be as hot this year.


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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.