Archive for October, 2011

Back where I belong

Posted in Uncategorized on October 23, 2011 by Trail Boy

I couldn’t wait any longer.  This weekend, I ran my first race of the year: the Knobstone Trail Race.

It’s an annual favorite that takes place in the Morgan Monroe State Forest, about 60 miles south of my house.

There were four distance options: 5K, 10K, 10M and half-marathon.

Seeing as this was my first race of the year, and my leg is still on the mend, I chose the shortest distance, the 5K.

Let’s start at the beginning. A few days ago, I thought: Running around my neighborhood has been all well and good for the past month or so, since I’ve tried to recover from my ITBS problem.

But things are improving, and I’ve seen lots of progress, and it’s time for a slightly bigger challenge.

So how about a trail run to see how my leg handles a little more stress?

On Friday, I took a whirl around the Internet to see what trail races were available over the weekend. A few clicks later, I saw this race.

Instantly, I knew I had to do it. It’s a beautiful stretch of trail through the hilly, old-growth forest of southern Indiana. The organizers do a good job.

I’ve run the race a few times over the years, including the 10M and half-marathon options.

Sure, the longer distance options were out of the question this year. But surely I could try the 5K without killing myself.

I mentioned the race to Jake, my 12-year-old son on Friday, and he said he would join me.

So at 7 a.m. Saturday, we headed out, ready to show each other what we were made of.

We got there in plenty of time to register and chat with other runners I haven’t seen in ages, including Jeff, who recently ran a Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim at the Grand Canyon; and Jim and Vicky, who are longtime trail ultrarunners.

After a few minutes of chit-chat, we lined up at the starting line near a shelter.

Then sharply at 9 a.m., the horn sounded. We trotted a few hundred yards down the road, then turned right onto a wide carriage trail.

Jake, a strong runner, stayed in my sight for a little while. Here he is, in the yellow shirt.

Soon, the trail narrowed to a singletrack, as it zig-zagged down a hillside.

We coasted downhill with glee, enjoying the cool air and the fall scenery.

At the bottom, we ran for another half-mile or so along the creek, and then it was time to cross. We trotted carefully across a moss-covered log. Jake jumped off the log a few places ahead of me and ran along the other side.

Of course, what goes down must go back up. No one knows this better than a trail runner.

This steep, long switchback got my heart pounding. I had to stop and catch my breath halfway up, so I took another picture.

By this time, Jake was far ahead of me. I didn’t see him again until the finish line.

I just prayed that he would make the critical turn up ahead, follow the 5K course, and not take a wrong turn, following the half-marathon course and get lost for hours. (See map above.)

I chugged along, keeping alert for rocks and roots, so I wouldn’t stumble. I also said a prayer of thanks that I was on a trail again. It was glorious, despite my almost comical lack of speed.

But I knew I was pushing my limits. After about 25 minutes, I began to feel tired, and realized this was the longest I had run in months. I downshifted into first gear, and even took a short walking break on the next two hills.

For me, this was turning into a race in name only. I was just tagging along for the fun, pushing my workout to a new place and a new distance. I enjoyed the sights and sounds of the autumn woods.

I ran with joy and gratitude. But I also ran with a lot of huffing and puffing, and even a little cursing during the steep uphills.

In other words, it was a typical day on the trails: beautiful and challenging.

And I was glad I did it.

The toughest part of the race, besides the steep uphills, was a long stretch of gravel road that gave my legs a bit of a pounding.

But I eventually made it to the finish line, where I saw Jake, sitting by the side of the road, waiting patiently for me. He said he had finished five minutes before me.

And he had a new hat. He said the official timer had told him he was one of the first (or maybe the first, I’m not clear) in his age group to finish, and thus got a lightweight running cap with the name of the race.

Alas, I’m sure I was one of the last in my age group (or any age group) to finish, with my pathetic time of 39:43.

But we were happy to be in the woods, father and son.

Then we headed over to the pavilion, where the staff had set out fruit, soup, chips and cider.

A nice volunteer ladled out a cup of hot, spicy cider.

Then we got set to go. Does it look like I made a 12-year-old happy?

So long, state forest. We’ll see you again soon.

(To return to the home page, click here.)

Ten marathons: short and (mostly) sweet

Posted in Uncategorized on October 19, 2011 by Trail Boy

This is the heart of marathon season, no question. Just about every runner I know has just wrapped up a fall marathon or is about to run one.

Since I’m not running any marathons this year, I have to satisfy myself by hearing stories from my friends, and thinking back to my own marathons.

And just for the hell of it, I’m going to recap my 10 marathons. Why not? A good marathon will make you feel warm all over for years. A terrible one will haunt you forever. Don’t believe me? Read on.

1) Chicago Marathon, October 2002. My first and most thrilling. Could I even run that far? I had no idea, since my longest training run had been 23 miles. I was filled with hope and fear. I ran the race very conservatively, waking through water stops and enjoying the sights. Not until 22 miles did I pick up the pace and start passing people. Like many other rookie marathoners, I finished with a lump in my throat. At age 43, I finally was a marathoner, after years of dreaming about it. Finish time: 4:28:10.

2) Columbus Marathon, October, 2003. Now that I knew I could handle the distance, it was time to train harder. I began doing hill work, interval training and tempo runs with Denny, my running partner. We put in serious miles. Our goal was to run Columbus together and finish in 3:45. The race went well, although the last miles were challenging. We hit our goal time, which qualified Denny for the Boston Marathon. (My BQ time was lower, 3:30.) I went home tired and very happy. Finish time: 3:45:58.

3) Columbus Marathon, October, 2004. Could I push myself even harder? I stepped up the training, throwing in a longish midweek run of 10-13 miles, on top of everything else. Denny and I trained again together, but he took the fall off from marathoning, having run the Boston Marathon in April. On race day, I was ready. knowing I had trained smart and hard. I ran strong for the whole distance, never hitting a wall or feeling raw. Finish time: 3:40:08.

4) Cleveland Marathon, May, 2005. My first spring marathon. Why wait a whole year to try another? I picked my hometown race with a goal of 3:30 BQ. But it was not meant to be. I was unfamiliar with the course and started out too fast. I was bummed when the 3:30 pace group passed me at mile 16. I was twice as bummed when the 3:40 pace passed me just before the home stretch. Finish time: 3:42:25.

5) Sunburst Marathon (South Bend, Ind.), June 2006. I had hoped to run a Fall 2005 marathon, but my life turned upside down when I took a new job in Indianapolis. With a difficult move, a new job, and three months of weekend trips back to Ohio, I had no time for training. So it would be 13 months between the Cleveland Marathon and my next one, Sunburst. I trained hard, but in the final two weeks, running in the rain, I caught a nasty cold. On race morning, I woke up with a fever and a cough. Did I stay in bed? No. Should I? Yes. I ran out of gas at mile 12 and trudged through the final 14 miles. Finish time: 4:32:30.

6) Cleveland Marathon, May 2007. For whatever reason, I trained half-heartedly. I did very little speedwork or hillwork. I was 15 pounds overweight. My modest goal was to break four hours. I ran the race with Kayleah, an Indy running buddy. She finished in 3:49 and qualified for Boston. I finished 12 minutes later, filled with regrets and self-loathing. I had committed the worst sin: I didn’t respect the distance, and half-assed the training. Finish time: 4:02:32.

7) Akron Marathon, September 2007. Upset with my lousy spring training, I vowed to get serious. I pushed hard, pulling out the “Run with Denny Handbook” (see No. 2 and 3, above). I was the beast of hills, tracks and trails. I lost weight and put in serious miles. I planned to use Akron as my last training run in preparation for the goal marathon in Columbus a month later. I ran Akron without watch or worry, with no goals but to get the miles done. I ran with Kevin, an old friend from Cleveland. We finished within a minute of each other and celebrated the end of training with a beer. Finish time: 3:49:34.

8) Columbus Marathon, October 2007. Flushed with a great training season, Kevin and I got ready for the race of our lives. We met in Columbus, had a blast at the expo and the pre-race dinner. We killed a few hours Saturday night watching the baseball playoffs in our hotel room. On Sunday morning, we lined up with our game faces on. I was locked into my goal: 3:30 BQ or bust. The first half went perfectly, as I crossed the 13.1 mark right on pace, 1:45. Then the sun came out, my legs strangely turned to cement and the hills in miles 17-22 sapped  whatever energy I had left. I slowed to a crawl, running mile 23 in 14 minutes. I trudged to the finish line 45 minutes slower than my goal, as beaten and discouraged as I have ever felt. Finish time: 4:15:05.

9) Tecumseh Trail Marathon (Yellowwood State Forest, Ind.), December 2008. It took months to recover my motivation after Columbus. By then, I was incredibly busy with work, church and home projects. The spring and summer went by. By September, it dawned on me that this might be my first year without a marathon. That shook me out of my funk. I quickly found an end-of-year marathon. And it looked fun: on a trail, just two hours from my house. I trained as well as I could for three months. On race day, I decided to just enjoy the experience. It was awesome. The scenery blew my mind. But the snow, ice and hills were tough and never seemed to end. I got to the finish line without breaking any bones. That was a success in my book. Finish time: 5:57:09.

(Note: I didn’t run a marathon in 2009. Instead, I ran my first ultra, the Buckeye Trail 50K in July. For the short report, click here. For the long report, click here.)

 10) Cleveland Marathon, May 2010. OK, it was time to get back down to business. I vowed to push myself for another good performance. I chose Cleveland, which was held on my 51st birthday. My goal: break four hours, which I hadn’t done in nearly three years. I threw myself into training and showed up at the starting line in good shape. I ran hard and avoided my usual mistakes (starting out too fast, not eating/drinking enough). By mile 25, I knew I would beat my goal, if I just kept my pace. And I did. I had my best marathon in five years, and felt over the moon. Finish time: 3:48:07.

So what’s next? Stay tuned! As soon as I recover from ITBS and rebuild my base, I just might see if I have another marathon in me.

Still plugging away, rebuilding my base

Posted in Uncategorized on October 15, 2011 by Trail Boy

“Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance.” – Samuel Johnson

I’m making progress. Just a month ago, I couldn’t run 100 yards without stopping. Now, I’m up to a bit over two miles.

I went out this morning and pushed the distance a bit more. That’s what I do on Saturdays, go a bit further, a bit harder, as I try to rebuild my base.

It was a blustery, chilly morning. But I enjoyed the crisp air and after a minute or two, I adjusted to the wind.

Here’s my run at a glance:

* Started and ended at 77th and Cree. One loop of Arrowhead Estates, two loops of Royal Pines.

* I pushed the distance to 2.2 miles, up from the 2 miles I’ve been running all week.

* For the first time in ages, I ran farther than one mile without stopping. I actually ran the full 2.2 miles non-stop.

* I added more gentle hills into the course.

Yes, in the big picture, the distance seems modest.

But it’s my rookie year, all over again. And I’m thrilled. If I keep at it, I’ll have my base back in a month or two, ready to do some longer runs and races.

I have to take little steps like a rookie. I have to be patient like a rookie. I have to stay excited and motivated like a rookie.

The one thing I can’t do is make any rookie mistakes. And that list is long:

* Doing too much, too soon.

* Not stretching and icing my legs twice a day.

* Not drinking enough.

* Jumping into the race scene before I’m ready.

* Getting sloppy with form.

* Wearing old shoes or wrong clothes.

* Overtraining, overstriding, overeating, over-everthing.

* Getting over-confident or under-confident.

* Not listening to my body.

* Doing someone else’s workout.

* Losing sight of the goal.

Of course, I’ve made all these mistakes and others plenty of times over the years.

But with my injury, the margin for error is tiny. I can’t make dumb mistakes.

It’s time to be Rookie of the Year. Not the guy back on the bench, rubbing his leg and wondering what went wrong.

Crashing through the 9-minute wall

Posted in Uncategorized on October 12, 2011 by Trail Boy

When’s the last time you got excited about running a mile in under 9 minutes?

Pretty tame stuff, huh? Well, not to me. Not today.

This morning, for the first time in maybe a year, I broke through the 9-minute wall.

Maybe it was still pretty slow. But it felt fast. And I’m ready to throw a party. My comeback is coming back.

At least, I think it is.

It’s a major milestone. For the past three weeks, I’ve been shuffling along, trying to find my legs, trying to keep my ITBS from flaring up again. I’ve been racking up a lot of 10- and 11-minute miles. I haven’t been able to get out of first gear.

But lately, I’ve been able to shift into second gear, and then a few days ago, into third gear.

The result: I ran two miles today at an average pace of 8:53.

I know, I know. I’ve run marathons at a faster pace. But this ITBS recovery is my marathon now, and 8:53 for two miles is huge. I’m going to celebrate.

How huge? Well, here’s my workout calendar lately since I started writing this stuff down a few weeks ago. The following times are my average pace for 1.5 or 2.0 miles.

11:42, 12:01, 11:46, 11:54, 11:42, 11:04, 10:29, 10:38, 10:48, 9:40, 9:18, 9:18, and 8:53.

Tell me that’s not a nice trend. Well, if it holds up, that is.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get back under 8:00 one of these days. And you’ll hear the shouting all the way from Indy.

And don’t even get me thinking about the 7:00 barrier.