March 31, 2014

LOTR Ultra

Guys. There really is no other way to say this, so here it is: I'm immensely happy at having discovered Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas are part of the proud tradition of ultramarathoners. Stage racers, what's more. While carrying weapons. And chasing orcs.

This makes me too happy, you might say, because they're fictional characters, part of a made-up world in which magic is real, and thus physical exploits aren't to be noted.

To that I say: Go fuck yourself.

Listening to the Lord of the Rings audiobooks while at work - because having read the series, oh near on 20 times in my life now isn't enough - I noted this passage, regarding the trio's orc pursuit, which takes place early in The Two Towers:
"It is now the fourth day since he was slain," answered Aragorn; "and since the evening of that day we have journeyed from the shadow of Tol Brandir."
"On foot?" cried Éomer.
"Yes, even as you see us."
Wide wonder came into Éomer's eyes. "Strider is too poor a name, son of Arathorn," he said. "Wingfoot I name you. This deed of the three friends should be sung in many a hall. Forty leagues and five you have measure ere the fourth day is ended! Hardy is the race of Elendil!"
A quick google reveals that 45 leagues is 155.355 miles. Which, if divided evenly in four parts, rounds up to 39 miles per day.

This, however, may not be terrible accurate figuring by our friendly Rider of the Mark. Karen Fonstad, author of The Atlas of Middle Earth, measures their travels at 135 miles in those four days. However, the split is as follows: 12, 51, 36, 36. The 12 on the initial day is not really counted in the traveling at all, as these miles are spent searching for tracks, clues, etc., and deciding which way to head off. It is only the latter 3 which are spent earnestly in pursuit. Were we to figure based on that, we'd have 123 miles covered in 3 days, including 51 miles in the first. (Info found here, on a rather old walking fitness website, apparently aimed primarily at middle aged women who are fans of the series: Even though I'm not quite the target demographic, I'm beyond thrilled that such a thing as this exists.)

If you're thinking I've spent too much time thinking about this, please do know that what I'm presenting here is really only a fraction of my delving, and that I'm nowhere near finished. I'll start another re-read myself in the coming weeks, and pay special attention to this section. I will try also to note the progress of the orc horde that they chase, although as everyone knows, orcs are dopers.

This slight nerd binge finished - for now - I leave you with this. It may not be true to the text, but it's truly funny.

March 26, 2014

A Thing I do Not Do

On evenings that offer weather such as this, sky slate grey and rippling, the air perpetually moist, as if the clouds are waves breaking on the Earth's atmosphere, and the precipitation the resulting mist, I do not run to a nearby golf course, just past dark, and then run on it, revel in the soft ground, the manicured turf. I don't do that, because that would be wrong. Breaking several rules, probably. I could get in trouble. What's more, it's simply immoral. Trespassing, of course.

So I don't do that. Not tonight, because the weather was as described, and on such nights, I explicitly avoid doing this thing which I never do on any other occasion regardless.

I don't, although the fence is broken in a place. And if one of less substantial moral fiber than I were inclined, this scoundrel could make way easily enough. But I run along past this break in security, rather than through it, for although wood may erode, ethics do not.

On this, you can can take my word, and be sure of it. In any case, no one lies on the internet.

March 24, 2014

When Wasting Isn't

Speaking of - a couple posts ago, at least, which you'd know if you're keeping up, reading everything I ever write, forever and always, and why wouldn't you? - my previous fitness ambitions, I ran in to a guy who used to lift at similar times as me. We never spoke much, because headphones, and that's simply not what you do, bro. But enough to recognize one another, even these years later. (He was one of the juicers - and not kale and ginger juice - to whom I referred in that other post, that you've certainly read.)

He was buying red peppers, and I was scoping the carrots. He nodded. I nodded, content to just shuffle on. But, people don't wear headphones at grocery stores, typically, so he engaged.

After what I can only assume were substantial enough formalities for him, he asked "What happened, man? You okay? You got really small."

I laughed. It was a brazen thing to say, first of all. And I couldn't not find his deathly earnest delivery amusing. Clearly, he suspected something - probably something rather grave - was the matter.

I explained that, well, I did in fact have a couple little health bumps a few years ago - though I omitted the finer details. (Necrotic gallbladder. Elevated liver enzymes. A little bout of pancreatitis. I really should've just done the steroids, given how things turned out.) But I certainly could've regained most of what I had without too much trouble, had I not redirected my efforts. But redirect them I did, and at present, I am this thin on purpose.

He looked no less concerned. Perhaps slightly crestfallen. As if I'd left the church. Which I had, in a sense. Willfully giving up the ability to lift heavy things in order to "do cardio"? The fuck?

He said it was cool though. Which is nice, because, you know, I needed permission.

I did find the exchange interesting, however. You see a lot of transformation stories, regarding running. People losing weight, fighting off chronic diseases, and finding something of themselves in the process. These are plentiful, but no less beautiful for the fact.

It occurred to me, though, that I'm rather atypical, in that regard. At last measurement, I'm 145 lbs with 9% bf. At one time, I was 170 pounds, and measured in as low as 7% bf. Now, getting that lean at that weight was, for me, brutal. Whereas this, at present, is a rather "indulgent" weight. I'd probably race faster at 135-140, but I haven't really got the appetite for conscious dieting anymore. Even still, that's a rather large amount of muscle I've pissed away.

But I really couldn't be happier about it, even if it would make for a rather shitty Runner's World cover quote. "Lose muscle now!" doesn't move magazines. But it did - and continues to - move me. So, cool, I guess.

March 23, 2014

In Which I See a Bald Eagle

There are things on a Kansas run that one, perhaps knowing little of the state, expects. A semi-industrial crop field to the left of a flat gravel road fits within that assumed aesthetic, and so it was, as I trundled along.

A bald eagle swooping overhead, very near, near enough that I ducked, some twinge of ancient primate fear welling up within me, does not fit said aesthetic. But it was there. Flying from somewhere near the river, perhaps, then to perch on a telephone pole at the far end of the field.

This happened two weeks ago. I did not write about it then, because I wanted to craft a larger narrative around the incident, take from that one moment and extrapolate a larger visage.

But I paused then, stopping my run, thinking that I could nearly have reached up and touched the thing, or that I felt that way, at least. That it was a big goddamn bird. I wondered if it could pick me up, if it had tried. My mind then drifted to prehistoric birds, their size, then further back, to the megalithic flying reptiles.

I began to run again, hoping that, as happens so often, I would find inspiration in the miles ahead, words strewn on the dirt.

Yes and no.

Nothing profound to say. No comment on the majesty of the creature, nor any patriotic symbolism. Simply a primal sensation, and a sincere one as well.

That was a big fucking bird, and it was really cool to see one so near.

A bit like a family (if that's the right term) of mountain goats walking right around me, as my brother and I hiked up Quandary Peak, last summer. Near enough we could touch them, and they totally unfazed. Grazing. Walking on by. Unconcerned with the bipedal hominids they surrounded. Certainly not noticing how thrilled we were.

Put another way, those were really cool fucking goats. I wanted to chill with them forever, basically.

What I'm trying to say, I guess - and trying to find absurdly convoluted ways to say, for no good reason - is that animals are really cool, guys. That's all.

March 22, 2014

Who Needs a Log when You Have a Blogger Account?

I've never been one for note taking. Not in grade school, high school, or even college. Truthfully, I never took anything at all to class. Not books. Not a binder. No notebooks. I'd remember what I read, remember what the teacher talked about - except when I didn't. In any case, that was the extent of my academic aspirations. It was a good enough strategy to get me an "A" average on my major (English) and minor (philosophy) both, so, aside from studying English and philosophy (useful!), I guess things mostly worked out.

I don't say this as any kind of endorsement, however. My academic laziness was probably some sort of failing, perhaps indicative of a deeper issue I've never bothered seeking out, much less fixing.

And so it is a very familiar sensation, really, when I read everywhere that one really must keep a training log. I heard it in school, and again, when I was more focused on lifting.

How do you know you're getting stronger, if you're not tracking what you did last week, last month, etc?

I'd always respond that I simply did the most I could on that particular day, and didn't worry about the numbers. My concern was the stimulus. Getting to failure, which felt so much like success. Breaking myself down, touching exhaustion as often as possible. If I felt like doing max effort weighted dips for ten days in a row, then that's what I'd do. If a particular area didn't feel destroyed, I kept going until it did. Then, when it felt better, I went back.

Simple. Probably a little stupid. Maybe a lot stupid. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't love it. And, hubris aside, it worked pretty well. When, sans needle, you get frequent steroid accusations from fellow gym goers, things are good.

Or were good, right up until they weren't. But that's a longer story that, oddly, I've never really told here. Now isn't that time, though.

The point is, that was five to seven years (and about 25-30 pounds) ago. I was young and naive.

Now, as a 25-year-old, presumably a genuinely functional adult, I ought know better. I wouldn't possibly have just switched targets, but kept the same perspective? Would I?

Well, of course I would. And of course I have. As then, I do read vigorously on my athletic endeavor of choice. And I do use that knowledge to loosely implement something that one might call a "plan". But, reduced to its essence, that plan generally is: Do as much as I can today. Do I have time for three hours? The legs for it? Then go. Hilly too, if I'm up for it. And as fast as I can manage. Don't write a damn thing down, because, as ever, I'm looking for a stimulus (physical and psychological), not a progression of data points.

And, as ever, this is not an endorsement. While there is quite a lot to be said for listening to one's body, and training accordingly, I'd never argue that my implementation of said philosophy is optimal. Not for you. Not even for me, really. It is, however, as before, "working". And, despite what may seem a somewhat confessional tone to all of this, I really do enjoy myself, every day. I'm not injured. I don't dread runs. And I haven't lost any organs in several years! That's a good sign, you have to admit.

Tomorrow, I'm going to do a long run. How long? It depends. So does the course. And the pace. It will be as easy as it has to be, and as hard as it can be. Sunday is nominally a recovery day, which is to say, as easy as it has to be, and as hard as it can be.

How does this fit in with what I did a month ago? Excellent question. I have no idea.

March 20, 2014

This Post is About Music You Will Hate, Skip Accordingly

Because someone texted me, asking what the picture at the top of this blog is:

Probably don't actually click play, though, since you'll probably hate it. Most people do.

Anyway, it's the cover to Wodensthrone's Loss, an atmospheric black metal album from England. It's the sort of thing I like to listen to at work, as it's quite easy for me to bliss out to. Other examples: Wolves in the Throne Room, Fen, Falls of Rauros, Agalloch. All of these bands fit under what I (only somewhat in jest) call hippy black metal, given the dirt worshiping nature focus (among more typically misanthropic and nihilistic themes), even if the style in which said content is presented resembles Burzum. In any case, I enjoy this sub-sub-sub-genre (these bands are largely distinct from what many would call "true" black metal, the satanic/antitheistic Scandanavian bands) and the accompanying aesthetic - certainly moreso than the corpse paint/combat boots crowd, which I find generally absurd.

And so, when I couldn't find a picture of my local woods that I liked - and lacking any sort of camera - I decided to use a rendering of imagined woods that I see on most days anyway, and of which I'm quite fond.

March 19, 2014


My office is doing an incentive-based fitness program, wherein employees track time spent exercising and fruit/veg intake. If you clear the fairly low bar, you get extra PTO. This is good, and so I am participating, even though such programs are more aimed at getting people to exercise, than getting obsessives to turn in data.

But I have begun to turn in said data, which has had the unfortunate consequence of outing the depths of my indulgence.

The bad: I'm forced to somewhat talk about myself, and my running. If you can believe it, I'm actually very slow to share personal details in "real life", and am far too self-conscious about my (slow, relative to my perpetually fantastical expectations) running. Also, I'm getting the "knee talk" from a few people.

The good: A number of people in my department seem genuinely enthusiastic about creating positive exercise habits, and eating better. Those things have gone a long way in creating the life I presently have, and continue to shape it, so I'm always happy to see people taking those steps. Also, while I'm reluctant to talk specifically about my fitness endeavors, I love speaking about the subject more abstractly. Why yes, I would like to talk about how you might do a 5K in a few months. More than you want to hear, assuredly.

So, on balance, this is a good thing. Something I'd like to see more of, though I'm not at all sure about potential ideas, or how to then implement them.

March 18, 2014


A picture of the Clinton Lake trails, taken in April, some years back. I'm stealing it from a race website, so I don't know the photo's genesis, nor who took it. But it's pleasing, isn't it? We're nearing that burst of vibrant green, those moments of life's epiphany.

It will be novel, a sight unseen - since last year, at least. It will, not long after that, become old, of course, as things do, then pass on to the next season, then the next, until the wheel spins back around. There will be beauty along the way, each season offering testimony to our aesthetic sensibilities.

These are things you know. Things people have known for as long as there have been people, and it was true before that. The woods, though, instruct in ways that even such collective knowledge fails to. Trudge in the snow, dance in the mud, suffer in the humidity, crunch through the leaves. You know these things and then you know them again, anew. You discover forever.

There is more to be said about this than I could ever write, and I do not pretend at profundity or comprehensiveness. Indeed, I've deleted much more than appears here, spent an hour more staring at a blinking cursor.

Because I want to say more than that I ran around some woods this weekend, then again today, and that I enjoyed those experiences. That I will do so again and again, in an evolving tableau. I want to tell you that that means something, and what it means.

But you know already, even if you can't find the words either.


Didn't have a goddamn thing today. Rode my bike for a couple hours, lifted, jogged 3.

A few little niggles, some DOMS, but mostly just flat. As a training stimulus, I'm pleased with this. I wanted to go out stupid hard, hurt like hell, and hold on. A month out from my Spring's goal race, there isn't much to do that will add appreciable fitness. But I can, perhaps, increase my access to the fitness I've already attained.

Regarding that, there is something to be said for suffering. A lot to be said for it, really. We could talk about Noakes' Central Governor, discuss how that modulates effort and perception of fatigue. But it's intuitive, really. Racing well requires sustained discomfort. You need to get used to that feeling.

You have to go down that road, and come back fine, with the hope that you're body will allow you to go a little further next time. Build immunity via repeated exposure.

This, I hope, doesn't seem like macho posturing. Because it isn't. I certainly won't tell you that I enjoy being entombed in suck for minutes on end, or that I'm capable of regularly pushing myself there. Truthfully, I'm not really ever capable of pushing myself there, strictly speaking. That's what the clock is for. And, of course, the other people racing.

So no, I don't imagine myself an embodiment of some tough guy archetype. I just want to jog a marathon I'm not embarrassed by, and that's one hell of a motivator.

March 16, 2014

Post Half

River Rotation Half Marathon this morning. A windy, rolling, bike trail that skirts the river in North Lawrence. Wind chill below freezing, a little damp. Ground moist for the most part, slick here and there, intermittent puddles.

Ran 1:31:57, which won by about thirty seconds. Second place was a guy I run with every Thursday, with whom I share very similar fitness. It was always going to be close, and always going to hurt a bit. A ten second gap at the halfway point held though, and even expanded over the last mile. Still, don't know that I've ever raced harder, really hammering every step, constantly aware that any lapse would result in losing my place.

I'm happy. Happy with the race, of course. But also happy with where my fitness seems to be, now that we're less than a month away from my first crack at a road marathon. Seven minute pace on trail is worth... uh... nevermind. I'll find out soon enough. This was a good day, and it can stand on its own as such.

Photos by Mile 90 Photography. I've probably mentioned this before, but they do amazing work. It's a two person crew, husband a wife, both very good runners. They know how to shoot trail running. Also, yes, I duct taped my shoes. There are holes on the bottom, and I didn't want the moisture from the ground to get my socks wet. They say the only equipment you need to run is a good pair of shoes, and I think that's too high a bar.

Pre Half

I'm a couple hours away from racing a half marathon. Soft dirt, sifted snow, hints of virgin green. The late start means I'm currently streaming the NYC half, drinking my slightly sugared black death coffee - a profoundly overstrong and rather disgusting brew I use for race mornings exclusively. This is a good morning.

March 11, 2014

Things that Matter

There are uniformly special races. Within a certain demographic, these are known, and have meaning. There is agreed upon significance.

I know a guy with a Western States buckle tattooed on his calf. I know another person who shows up to every goddamn race in his Boston jacket, which he takes off to reveal his Boston singlet.

Silly, maybe. But earned. And understood. You qualified. You went. You finished.

The race that matters to me, though, is The Hawk. Maybe the only race that matters, in that I could mix my calendar up any which way, but I need to be there.

It's on a trail system that's maybe five miles from my house, the place where I first - literally by accident - stumbled into trail running. Initially, I ran out there because there aren't really roads within eyeshot, so there was less audience. Being the self conscious sort, I didn't want anyone seeing me struggle to run/walk for an hour.

After a year or so of that moderate fitness, we get to 2011. Volunteering at the inaugural Hawk 100 (they added a marathon and 50-miler the next year) was - without hyperbole - the single biggest factor in setting me down the path towards "runner", rather than "fitness dork who runs some, and would maybe consider a marathon someday as a bucket list item".

In 2012, I ran the marathon (blew up, finished in around 4:15), volunteered at an aid station after, before accidentally pacing a guy for the last 40ish of his 100 (picked him up, never stopped). He beat the cutoff by a half hour, and it was about as happy as I'd ever been.

I came back in 2013, won the marathon, went to Starbucks, brought back coffee, sat around. Felt blissed out.

My parents got in on the aid station action instead. (Hi guys. Hope you don't mind that I posted a picture of you.)

This is, however, quite a bit of rambling without any conclusion. Because I don't know what I'm going to do there. Other than, you know, show up and run something.

March 9, 2014

Sunday, in Which We Dance on Winter's Grave

Long run today in 60 degree weather. First time in too long that the weekend temperature exceeded my mileage. 60 > 20. Math is pretty, sometimes.

Had this much fun, roughly:

Yes, this is the second time I've posted this particular video. But, in my defense, it's a goddamn bear playing fucking tetherball in an animal sanctuary. This blog would probably be improved if, instead of my usually self-deprecating running musings, I just posted this everyday.

March 8, 2014


A statement to myself, as I contemplate what they hell I'm going to do this fall: Don't try 100 miles.

You're not ready. Not mentally. Not physically.

In your best 50 mile performance, you averaged about a 9:30 mile. Not aerobically taxing in the slightest. Why? Because your legs couldn't handle really running the distance. So you jogged it. Which was smart. On that day, that was the best you could do.

Sure, you remember the last few miles. Finishing felt good. Winning felt better. But it hurt, didn't it? And those middle miles? 32-42? When you swore off, for the third time, ever doing anything this goddamn long again? Remember that?

I'm not saying to avoid pain, or that you don't have the capacity to endure it. What I am saying is that the damage was severe, even at such a slow pace. Your legs were telling you something crucial, something you shouldn't ignore. That your limiting factor is your training age, and thus your lack of structural and slow twitch development.

Sure, you've run consistently high volume for two years. Put another way, though, you've only done that for two years. No single training cycle can make up for that. No several training cycles can.

If you try 100, it won't go well. Not by your standards, anyway. You want to run it, for the most part. Approach it basically like any other race. And that won't work. Maybe not ever, but certainly not now.

Simply, you can't rush these things. Don't try.

March 6, 2014

Some Marathonish Things

A sign of increased confidence, or simply less fucks given? My occasional running apparel could be either. The new habit is simply running in whatever shirt I had on that day. T-shirts stick out less than the polos or the button ups. Less laundry, though, is a win. And sartorial apathy is easy for me.

The local running store hosts a Thursday night group run, which serves as my weekly... sustained hard running? Not technical terminology, but it does the job. There is talk of adding a track session earlier in the week, and maybe a longer run on the weekend as well. I'm for all of it. While I've got my youthful enthusiasm, competitiveness, and durability, may as well hammer with other like-minded (and bodied) folks.

Speaking of, I'll be sharing the Eisenhower Marathon (in Abilene, KS, my childhood home town) with a frequent group run participant, and good guy. I hope he nails it, and not just because his "nailing it" pace would pull me along nicely.

Funny how different people react to marathon goal pace in the mid 6s. Not fast enough for Lets Run to even call slow. Certainly slower than plenty of guys I know. Way slower than a few others. Lydiard said any "normal man" could run 2:30, which I'm not doing. Not close. So, sub-"normal", Arthur?

And yet, coworkers with whom I discussed my training (they started down that road, which was a mistake) legitimately asked if such a time would be close to "Olympics good". I laughed, and told them I wouldn't qualify for the women's trials. All relative, right? That's what people tell me.

In any case, I'll do the best I can at present, which is all you can do. The perpetual ideal, then, is to get a better best, which takes time, and patient application of volume and quality. Sounds fun.

March 4, 2014

The Science of Running, Reviewed

I finished Magness' book in a couple of days. That could imply that it's a light, breezy read, which would be incorrect. It's heavy on the science, and if I'm being a touch critical, the prose wanders a bit. A co-author, or at least a heavier handed copy editor, would have improved things, I think. They also might have prevented the small handful of typos and formatting errors I noted, just on an initial reading.

It is worth noting, though, that I get paid to notice things like this. Furthermore, I'm paid to read scientific and medical journals, so sub-Joyce prose isn't immediately offensive to me, nor is jargon filled verbiage. But it is there. Noted.

Despite that, the book is still crucial, for the right person, and a useful reference for many others. If you're an exercise science dork, or obsessed with the why/how of running, then you need this. If you've read Noakes, Daniels, Pfitzinger, et al., and found yourself wishing there were entire pages spent on muscle fiber adaptations to various paces, then this is for you. Magness seems to presume that such people are probably quite fast, and in fact, cites the self-coached, sub-elite crowd as something of an intended target audience. But, despite his assertions to the contrary, there is a lot here for the intellectually hungry, of all fitness levels.

I can't speak as a coach, given that I'm not one. However, if I'm permitted a moment of imagination, this book would soon be dog-eared, were I advising others. There is a great deal of advice on tailoring plans to individual events, and distinct talent levels/fiber types within those. And the appendices are loaded with workouts, structured by event and intended stimulus. Speed endurance session for a  800m runner? Covered. Marathon specific long runs, peppered with surges, pace work, and all sorts of "stuff"? Covered. Strength circuits? Covered. I'm not kidding when I say that this is worth the money, even without the preceding book. (Of course, the book may be necessary to deploy these correctly. Unless you're already smarter than I am. Which is certainly possible.)

If you like running, and want something to inspire you out the door? Stay away.

The book is called The Science of Running. The title is instructive, and the contents deliver on that promise. It is, to my knowledge, the most comprehensive - widely available to the public - guide to what running is on a cellular level, how it happens mechanically, and how we might improve it. The niche that will appreciate such a book is perhaps not large; but that niche should appreciate this book for that very reason. It is unashamedly dense, esoteric, and ultimately, for me, both essential and fascinating.

A few other notes:
  • Though Magness spent some time working at NOP, Salazar is never mentioned by name, that I can find. Nor is he included in Magness' list of coaching influences. Just sayin'.
  • Though many coaches are referenced throughout, Canova seems to me most influential to the philosophy and terminology contained. 
  • There are sample plans here, but they function as just that: Samples of how one might apply his training. There are no plans you are intended to follow yourself, which is precisely the point. Everything depends, and you have to figure out what works for you. The book challenges you, first in understanding it, then in applying what you've learned.
  • The references section is a fucking gold mine. So many fascinating citations. An endless rabbit hole.