October 31, 2013

No Candy for You

Halloween, never one of my favorite holidays, and long since given up. This year, though, I dressed up as a person trying to run fast, and then I tried to run fast. I think perhaps that I did a decent impression of it, but not quite convincing enough. The New York Marathon is this weekend, and I just can't stop thinking about the pace needed to compete at the front of a race like that. Imagining stringing together that many < 5:00 miles (faster than that, really, but I'm being conservative) is nuts, and quickly dissolves any illusions I've got that whatever I'm doing is "fast". Sevens! I'm flying guys!

Of course, you can only get the most out of what you've got, and my last name isn't Mutai or Kiprotich. But, there is a Mutai and a Kiprotich racing this Sunday, at the NYC Marathon, and I'm stoked. The race is going to be broadcast on ESPN2, live, and the field is mind-blowing. Every major marathon is, these days, but still. The bullshit meme about "anonymous" East Africans is only true if you let it be, so, here's a men's preview by Let's Run, and here is the women's race breakdown. Now you know.

Stacked field. A real course with turns and hills and no fucking pacemakers. And live TV, showing the whole thing. Stoked.

Music for the day, because, obviously. Yes, I prefer the AFI cover to the Misfits original. Yes, I know what that says about me. But this whole EP is great, really. While we're on the subject, I still listen to Black Sails at least once a week too, so, there. There it is. Judge away.

October 30, 2013


Season 3 of Salomon's trail running tv has begun. Episode 1 features Bernd Heinrich - the former American record holder at 100 miles, up until a month or so ago. His running credentials are stacked, beyond that, which they don't really allude to much. Neither does Heinrich. Instead, he climbs a tree, and is moved to tears by the simple - and yet, of course, terribly profound - idea of people pursuing their dreams, using running as a vehicle for self-exploration and actualization. If the rest of season 3 is similarly highlights awesome old guys, still being awesome, then I'm stoked.

October 25, 2013

Racing the Crowds

There are three 50-mile races this weekend, each within 50 miles of Lawrence. If one were so inclined, since two of the races are on Saturday, and one on Sunday, it would be possible to do two of them. No one is doing that, however, for the not inconsequential reason that it would be insane, even by the lofty standards of utlra-folks. Heartland, of course, was two weeks ago. A week before that was Kansas' largest 50K. One week after Heartland was another nearby trail 50K, which took place the same day as the Kansas City Marathon.

So there rises to meet this increased demand for long races an increased number of long races. So maneuvers the supposed invisible hand. Adam Smith's child, all grown up, working hard.

But while we have an increased number of racers and races, I'm worried, somewhat, that we'll have a decrease in actual racing. That is, with more races to do, fields will be diluted, and the area's better runners will see less and less of one another.

Of course, this is only a concern if you view races as competitive endeavors in a sense that is perhaps becoming anachronistic, that is, as an arena where people try to best one another. What we're growing towards is an emphasis on competing exclusively with one's self, as a means to... some end that I've not yet found, but nonetheless continue to pursue.

These notions are not inherently contradictory, of course. No native of Eastern Kansas was going to compete with the visiting Kenyans to win the Kansas City Marathon; they were, rather, attempting to run faster than they ever had. Heartland, for me, was about bending the trajectory that began there three years ago in a positive direction. Everyone has their goals, and they are all valid. The person racing against the cutoffs is racing every bit as much as those at the front. Really.


As both a "fan" and member of the local running community, I'd like to see certain people race; and yes, these people are typically running at the front (or off of it). I'd like to be included in those races, frankly, and see if I could hang. I'd rather that, and get my ass handed to me, than win races and wonder how so-and-so might have done, if they weren't running such-and-such instead. (Of course, if losing badly is the goal, I've got a 10K and half marathon coming up in the next month, both of which routinely attract some very fast people. I'll get my wish.)

Anyway, we'll see. The area's most competitive ultra is a 50K in February - not a busy time for other races. It tends to attract a strong local field, as well as some fast folks from Colorado, Nebraska, and Iowa. I'll probably get my ass kicked there as well, which wouldn't be the worst thing. But that's a ways off. Something to worry about another time, or more likely, something not worth worrying about at all. It's just running, guys. And that's what I'm going to go do now. Peace.

October 24, 2013

Good Volume

Nine toenails, 14 miles. (Broken up as 3, then 8 shared, 3 again, with some standing around and talking to folks in between. Always nice to share your lunacy with other, like-minded people.) I kept the whole thing just a little south of 8-minute pace, cruising. Legs weren't peachy at the start, still fatigued from too many squats, box jumps, deadlifts, etc., yesterday, post-run. But the soreness was the right kind, wholly felt deep in muscle tissue. In terms of cardio, though, strictly "aerobic", entirely conversational.

Feeling good feels good.

Scott Douglas, somewhere, I think, commented that, at a certain level of volume, running less would actually be more of a challenge. Everyone has a different sweet spot, of course. But once you find it? Man. It just happens. I remember reading that, a couple of years back, and thinking it was nuts. Totally. I could muster some decent days, but couldn't string them together. Until I could, by virtue, really, of just doing it. You do more until you can do more and then you do a little more than that.

Not that I pretend to be any kind of an expert. In the grand scheme (whatever the hell that is), I'm terribly inexperienced and really quite slow. Also, my form is kinda shitty and I run like a dork. Though that's not very specific, my guess is your mental image isn't far off.

But smarter and fitter people than I am or will ever be espouse something similar. They probably have a more aesthetically pleasing stride as well, if that's your thing.

But that's enough about that, even though I haven't said much about anything, really. Here's a cool old running video, focusing on some older Kiwis. A better use of your time, even if it is a bit after-school-special in its tenor.

Toenail Down

My toenails all survived Heartland. One did not survive my office chair today, however. Fuck.

October 22, 2013

Real Running, Fantasy Basketball

Enjoyed running slow today. Got passed by a few people, each of whom gave me a look. I cover basically the same route, every day - because I like routine, I guess - so I see most of these people somewhat often. Usually, they don't go flying by me. Today they did. All good, though.

Meandered for 6, did 20 reps of some big fucking hill (a very specific workout, this), hitting both the up and down pretty hard. Then, wandered around for 6 more.

Nothing complained, and my heart rate stayed as low as my effort level would indicate. Low, except for the hills, then low again, no more than a minute and a half later. Which is cool. I'll probably take tomorrow pretty easy, then see what a "tempo" effort gets me on Thursday.

I also had my fantasy basketball draft tonight, because I'm one of the five people around here who really likes NBA basketball. Kyrie Irving figures to be my highest scorer. Sadly, you don't get extra points for doing this to people, or I'd be even happier to have him.

October 21, 2013

April Showers

Race shopping. Realized, for the first time, that I'm now in the 25-29 age group.

It's been this way since May, of course, but small-ish trail races don't tend to divide things up by age group. You're either the winner, or not, and that's basically it. There's something fundamentally honest about that, but perhaps a little harsh, as well. Not that the two things need be separated, of course.

Anyway, road marathons do tend to separate things that way, and every other way. Top 3 overall? Sure. Top 3 in every age group on top of that? A lot of medals to go around. But it's all good. Things to shoot for.

And that's what I'm doing. I've signed up for the Eisenhower Marathon, in my childhood hometown of Abilene, KS, on April 12.

If you're thinking that that's a long way off, you're right. But I like long-term goals. The second I finished the Hawk Marathon last year, my goal was to win it this year. My Heartland win happened two years ago in my imagination, before it became real last week.

Life has its horizons, but they're not worth much if we don't envision things beyond them.

So, the rest of this fall will be relatively chill, in terms of distances raced. Nothing longer than a half. That's my self-imposed ban, anyway. I feel good, after Heartland. But feeling good is good. No reason to ruin it just to see if you can.

That's not to say that I'm getting lazy. The idea - instead of attempting to artificially extend my peak - is to use my post-Heartland fitness as a big foundation, so that, come February and March, my legs can handle some serious intensity.

We'll see.

October 18, 2013


The first day of the year that could be accurately called cold, I think. A good reminder that running is best in weather that isn't really good for much else. Mid-30s feels pretty good, when your internal temperature starts to rise.

And the aesthetic was nice too, at least for me. I know some people enjoy their sunny runs, but I prefer to wait until dark, or nearly so. And the later in the year it gets, the earlier "dark" happens. An extra bonus: Today came with grey sky, and mist. My favorite recipe.

I could do without someone lurching at me in their truck, though. Green light. Walk sign on. I'm cruising through the crosswalk, but the guy wants to go right on red, and wants to do it several seconds ago. So, he leans on his horn, and jabs the truck forward a meter or so, as I pass.

I don't envy cyclists their more frequent incidents with jackasses who feel they've got some divine right to do whatever the fuck they want, by virtue of being behind a wheel, and encased in a large metal husk. Funny how that turns anyone into a badass. Not funny how many people are hurt by that idiocy.

Anyway, that interaction added a little more pace to my run than my quads were happy with, and kind of ruined the vibe. So, I came home and watched a video of a bear playing tetherball. You should do that too.
Life is better now, right?

(The bear in question, and the sanctuary at which the video was shot, if you're curious.)

October 17, 2013

Shoe Shopping

It's an oft-repeated truism that, in order to run, you really only need a good pair of shoes. I've managed to do just fine with far less than that, recently. My venerable Hattori - which were never really quite "shoes", properly - are now beyond salvage. Their cushion - of which there was never really any - is gone. The upper is coming apart. The sockliner is worn away completely where the ball of my foot strikes. The combination of those things basically means that I'm running barefoot, even when I'm not. There's just no material left.

I've logged probably 99.9% of my miles since December in that one pair - probably a couple thousand, at least, though I never count - so I can't complain of a lack of value. The things cost me $40, and they worked. Or at least, they let me work. (Which is what matters, really: You are not your shoes.) And they saw me through Heartland, over 50 miles of toothy gravel.

Regardless, it's time to shop. Not a favorite pastime of mine. I enjoy the paucity of gear running requires, and generally, hate spending my money on anything that isn't coffee, fruit, or books. I'm not a minimalist runner in the sense that I think skimpy shoes are right for all runners at all times; but I am one in that I like running is the least amount of shit possible. Because shit is shit. Simple, right?

In related news, mandatory overtime at work, now and for the foreseeable future. I can probably spend more than $40 this time around.

Probably some updates later. Maybe. Maybe it's not worth talking all that much about. I'd rather mention, while we're here, that I ran 8 today, at a not-total-slog pace. Everything felt good. High volume training is cool like that.

October 15, 2013

Heartland: Obsessive Progression, Quantified

Previous Results
2011- 10:53:07
2012- 9:01:49

The former was my first ultramarathon, and, if we're being honest, my first marathon as well. I was, to be kind to my past self, undertrained and underprepared. But I was determined to finished, even after a too-fast start led to a too-weak IT band going rogue, rendering me an ambling mess for the final 14 miles. Probably, this is the most important race I've ever run. It laid bare weaknesses in me that I could neither deny nor - my psyche being what it is - tolerate. So I decided to fix them.

That's precisely what I set about doing. 2012 was my first year of truly structured training - having really just taken to running the previous year - and as such, my goal with Heartland was simply to execute a good, smart race. I let the leaders go, ran 4:15 out, but slowed somewhat, returning in 4:46. I felt that the race was an accurate representation of my fitness, but that, as always, my fitness needed to improve.

The Plan
In short? Run as much as possible. No tracking miles. Just get in 1-3 hours, every day, starting in February. Lots of hills. Lots of pavement. Two speedier sessions every week as well. Thankfully, I enjoy training and have basically no other hobby, so this wasn't at all hard to stick to.

I used the common distances of 5K, 10K, and 13.1 miles for the purposes of semi-frequent self-testing, via solo time-trialing (on the track, for ease of measurement). Given that I usually race on trails, I wanted to objectively quantify any improvements I was (hopefully) making. The goal was to get my 5K under 18 (nope), my 10K under 39 (38:19), and my half marathon under 1:25 (1:24:39).

But none of that would matter if my legs couldn't hold up for 50 miles, so I spent three days a week on what I termed "durability work" as well. Aside from some vanity lifting, this consisted of squats, deadlifts, glute/ham raises, side lying leg raises, and all manner of planks. Despite my relatively ambitious running volume, I incurred no injuries (not even a solitary forced day off), so I'd have to say this worked.

My final long run was the Hawk Marathon, at Clinton Lake in Lawrence, KS. Despite my going rather severely off course (To be clear: This is my home course, and it was well-marked. But I'm directionally challenged.), and running somewhere close to an extra 2 miles, I managed to run 3:55:15, and win. My long run ended up being even longer than planned, and I felt fit, so this was a good result.

The Taper
Remember that part about having no other hobbies? Yeah. I didn't run the Friday before. Does that count?

The Gear
A cycling shirt, so that I could use the back pockets, and avoid carrying a pack.

Nike split shorts. Because pants are the law.

A 0.5 L Platypus water bottle. As it's soft, it could fold up, when empty. I planned to run with it that way, and only drink at the aid stations.

Heavily used Saucony Hattori. I'm a devout minimalist zealot, but this turned out to be a mistake. More on that later.

The Race
My goal was to minimize the importance of the race itself, somewhat, by focusing so wholly on the preparation. Simply, I wanted to do the work, show up, and not fuck it up.

Goal 1) As always, finish. Hopefully without an existential meltdown. Goal 2-9) Win. Goal 10) Run a fast time.

Given my priorities, I started at what I felt to be a fairly relaxed pace. One runner came with me, and we ran together for the first 16 miles. They were certainly more pleasant miles, for having the company. (I'm awful with names, but I believe this was Chris Perry, who ended up having a great run, finishing in 8:48:37.)

I reached the turnaround at 3:50, by which time I had opened up a small lead. Unfortunately, last year's muddy race had given me a false sense of of security, regarding the gravel. Simply, my shoes, basically slippers to begin with, were getting shredded. Large portions of the sole were already missing, and they could not likely sustain the return trip.


I asked, not expecting an affirmative, if the aid station had duct tape. Thankfully, they did. My Dad (and crew for the evening) quickly taped up my shoes, and I was off again, with my redneck rockplates.

Still, I ran very conservatively back to the next aid station. There were still a lot of miles to go, and I wanted to be sure that my improvised shoe solution would in fact work. Once there, I ate two figs, and popped a couple Ibuprofen.

With a mild sugar rush and not-so-mild pain suppression fogging my mind, I decided that this was fun again, that my feet felt fine, that this duct tape was working perfectly (it seriously saved my race), and that I should push it, just a little. Get to the final aid station, see where you stand, I told myself.

I cruised in and looked down at my watch, which read 6:48. I knew that I had run to this aid station at the race's start in 1:10, so I quickly downed two cups of ginger ale, and decided I could finish in under 8 hours. Maybe. Possibly. Certainly, I would try like hell.

The 8 miles that followed were some of the most satisfying running of my life. Every time I asked my legs for just a little bit more, they responded, and with very minimal pain. Even my feet felt just short of awful, rather than downright necrotic. Every 100 miler I passed (and their pacers) offered encouragement, and, in a few cases, commented on the daring fashion statement my shoes were making. One pacer (in a pink tutu, I believe) probably best summed up the absurdity of it all when she said: "Holy shit!"

The final 4 miles, by my hazy math, would require slightly sub-9 minute pace. Hills behind me, I thought this reasonable, and found the challenge invigorating. So, I told myself, simply run as hard as you can for 5K. At that point, the finish will be so close that adrenaline will take over. I hoped.

I hoped, and turned on to the finishing stretch of pavement with a little under 3 minutes to go. Fucking sprint. Or, you know, what passed for sprinting, at that point, for someone with basically zero natural leg speed. Still, I sprinted, and in my mind, I was David fucking Rudisha (not his real middle name, sadly), rather than some floppy haired jogging enthusiast with duct tape on his tattered running slippers.

2013- 7:59:59

The Aftermath
Potatoes. A lot of potatoes.

In short? Run as much as possible. No tracking miles. Just get in 1-3 hours, every day, starting now. Lots of hills. Lots of pavement. Two speedier sessions every week as well. Thankfully, I enjoy training and have basically no other hobby, so this won't be at all hard to stick to.

October 14, 2013

Perpetual Motion

The thing about race reports is that the deal entirely with things that have already taken place.

Heartland happened. It went well. I am genuinely pleased to have won the race, but more so, that the two years of work that went into making it happen worked. I'm not really interested in romanticizing my training, however, or dramatizing my "journey". 

It's not that I'm not proud of my progress, so much as I always just assumed it would happen. Three years ago, I told my roommates I'd win this race one day, despite having never run further than 9 miles, at the time. I believed it, because I'm fucking nuts, basically. But here we are. 

And where are we?

Back in the gym. Getting my legs moving and trying to coax some strength back in to everything above my waist. Home, searching ultrasignup for another race. A 50k in two weeks looks cool. If my legs get back under me in that time, I'd be fit enough to hammer a fast one, and it's a flat course. Maybe a 6-hour ultra in November? Or a road marathon? 

Can't say. I can say that every good race can be turned into one hell of a workout if you just sign up for something else right after it, and I'm probably going to do that. 

For me, that's really the entire source of satisfaction from a race well-run. I'm not really ever pleased with my performance, as much as I am pleased that it moves me one step closer to some ever-improving ideal version of myself. Essentially, the better I do, the better I think I can do. Those imagined prospects quickly drown out past accomplishments, and I plow forward.

I never catch the carrot, but fuck, I do really like carrots, so I guess I better keep going.

October 13, 2013

Heartland, Briefly

The narrative of most any successful race is essentially this: I ran as hard as I could for as long as I had to. I finished and it was hard but ultimately gratifying.

Heartland fits the template. I ran hard and led the whole way. I won comfortably in 7:59:59, sprinting like hell to make finish under 8 hours. The middle miles lagged a bit, and the gravel shredded my shoes to the point that duct tape was required to keep them and my feet together. (Just a day later, and my feet are fine, however.)

I have a lot more to say, not about how the race unfolded specifically, but about peri-race things. When I can organize them somewhat, you'll hear more.

For now, I'm just gonna chill.

October 11, 2013

Killing Time

Time is both uniquely hard to kill and yet supremely vulnerable when we'd least like it to be. No shit, right?

Time flies, allegedly, when fun is being had.

Today has felt its length. Is feeling it. Tomorrow will be no different. The race starts at 6, and I will be totally, horribly lucid for every moment, from my inevitably too early waking to the shuffling, ambling start. 

And then? 

Jogging. Glancing. Who's going for it? Do they know what the hell they're doing? Chill. 

Miles to go, but time, time.

Time killers today:

Overtime at work.

Browsing a bike shop, where it was noted that, to my supreme amusement, my arms were too big for the "race cut" jerseys. (I'm 5'10, 140 lbs. A bike shop is the only place I'm anything but a stick. Maybe I should hangout more often?)

Rice and beans, apples. Carbs. No running today though, so no appetite. Pre race stomach didn't help. I got down roughly 1,000 cals today, total, gave up. Is this how cyclists eat every day?

Read some things, watched some things.

Now? Writing this. No shit, right? 

October 9, 2013

Pre-Race Non-Thoughts

Trying to find something to say about my pending race, because I feel like there should be words here for it. 50 miles is a long way, long enough to appear something of an impossible stunt to my new coworkers, who haven't been introduced to ultramarathons as things that exist. But I don't have much to tell them, nor do I have much to tell you.

It is a silly thing I'm about to do. No arguing that.

And yet.

It should be a beautiful night. 

Things are good. Fitness is better than ever. Nothing hurts. 

I'm not nervous, not scared. It's just running. It might hurt, though. Almost certainly will, in fact. And? 

Not excited really, either. No anxiety at all. No nervous energy. It's just a run. Go cruise. Let the hills do the work and turn your legs over. Chill. 

You run 50 miles the same as you run 5 - one step at a time. Bullshit cliche but the race goes through a lot of pasture and so there will be plenty more bullshit to come. I'm just getting comfortable. Anyway, neither your legs nor your mind can cover the distance at once, so don't try. 

So... No goals? Time? Place?

Honestly, I've got them. I'd like to run fast. Goal is 8, or a little under; and I think I could flirt with 7, if everything clicks. If that happens, looking at the rest of the field, I guess I'll probably win. 

But shit, I don't know. And truthfully, honestly, my only real goal is to have a sensation-filled run. I want to feel. Good? Bad? Everything. I'm looking for an endorphin bath, not a belt buckle.

(Sitting here for thirty minutes. Can't think of a tidy or profound ending. That's it? That's it.)

October 3, 2013

Prairie Ode

Stealing this from the Heartland race packet, which is, in turn stealing it from William Least Heat Moon:
There are several ways not to walk on the prairie, and one of them is with your eye on a far goal, because you then begin to believe you're not closing the distance any more than you would with a mirage. My woodland sense of scale and time didn't fit this country, and I started wondering whether I could reach the summit before dark. On the prairie, distance and the miles of air turn movement to stasis and openness to a wall, a thing as difficult to penetrate as dense forest. I was hiking in a chamber of absences where the near was the same as the far, and it seemed every time I raised a step the earth rotated under me so that my foot fell just where it had lifted from. Limits and markers make travel possible for people: circumscribe our lines of sight and we can really get somewhere. Before me lay the Kansas of popular conception from Coronado on - that place you have to get through, that purgatory of mileage. 
Hiking in the woods allows a traveler to imagine comforting enclosures, one leading to the next, and the walker can possess those little encompassed spaces, but the prairie and plains permit no such possession. Whatever else prairie is - grass, sky, wind - it is most of all a paradigm of infinity, a clearing full of many things except boundaries, and its power come from its apparent limitlessness; there is no such thing as a small prairie any more than there is a little ocean, and the consequence of both is this challenge: try to take yourself seriously out here, you bipedal plodder, you complacent cartoon.