Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book Review: My Year of Running Dangerously

Over Thanksgiving break, I had the opportunity to read the book, My Year of Running Dangerously: A Dad, a Daughter, and a Ridiculous Plan, by Tom Foreman. I was attracted to this book because it was written by a local CNN reporter and runner about one of my favorite local races, the Stone Mill 50 Miler. 

The first section of the book captured the feeling of being a new runner and starting out, as Foreman began training with his daughter to run her first marathon, and his first in many years. He accurately described the landscape of running, from people who have run a marathon once (have a “been there, run that” sticker on their car), to crowd runners (have sweaty running photos on facebook), to running animals (“they inhale the fumes of moldy, fungus-filled shoes the same way wine connoisseurs sniff merlots”). His writing here was a funny and accurate commentary about the world of running.

As the book moved on, there was some insight into his relationship with his daughter, through their experiences training together both in person and hours away from each other. A major theme were the differences between his 18-year old daughter and himself. It was interesting for me as the reader because there were elements of both youth and aging presented in the book that I could relate to. It was hard not to get swept up in the story of her first marathon, and his first marathon in twenty years. In fact, during these pages, I forgot that the book was about more than this. 

In the second half, the book detailed his experience up to and during his 50 mile run (the Stone Mill). Foreman describes both the terrain and a runner’s interactions with it. I found myself experiencing his race with him and rooting for him. In this part of the book he formalized many things I have experienced, such as the pain cave, a place a runner winds up late in races when literally everything hurts (Foreman’s description is a lot more vivid than mine), and the cat and mouse games we play as runners during races by passing and getting passed by various runners. 

Foreman articulated the power of running and the role it can play in our lives. For him, it was his mind wandering off during a show with his wife at the Kennedy Center thinking about his next run, but I'm sure any runner can recall a time when their mind was somewhere else thinking about training or rehearsing a race in their mind. On an even deeper level, Foreman shared how running has magnified the good things in his life. This part of the book was special to read because I feel the same way. This weekend, Andrea and I were able to spend some time each morning exercising around where my sister lives in Los Angeles. We had the family together for the first time in awhile, and having that time to run each day made it even more special. More about that in another post. 

The book could serve as a guidebook for any aspiring ultramarathoner, or a runner at any level. However, I would also recommend this to anyone interested in reading an inspiring story about relationships, determination and pushing your limits. I enjoyed reading this book. It made me reflect, think, and laugh out loud (apologies to the people on my flight).

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Things I am thankful for (running edition)

I am thankful for a good pair of running shoes. The kind you keep wearing even though you know they’re busted. The kind that you take off before you wade through a stream. And socks - that new woolish material that they seem to be making everything out of these days.

I am thankful for PR, DNF, GOTR, DNS, LSD, XT and BQ*. These wonky acronyms enable strangers to interact like they’ve known each other for years and give people something to talk about in the nervous, early morning moments of a race.

*personal record, did not finish, Girls on the Run, did not start, long slow distance, cross training, Boston qualifier.

I am thankful for post-run food and drinks. Somehow it’s ok to have a cheeseburger and a couple of beers before even getting home from a race (at least I think it is), and I am thankful for that. I am even thankful for unripe bananas, stale bagels and ridiculously strong gatorade at the end of the race. It’s all part of the experience.

I am thankful for races. Small, large, long, shorter races, each one brings a new experience and is the result of a ton of behind-the-scenes work by a lot of people. For the volunteers who have offered encouragement, support, and sometimes, legitimate medical help, enabling us to finish races, thanks. And for our family members who have staked out locations at 11:00 PM or 5:00 AM, dropped us off, picked us up, done our laundry, and braved rainstorms just to see us for a minute or two, thanks, and see you at the next race!

I am thankful for running’s ability to be bigger than what it is. For the organizations that have made differences in the communities I live and work. And for the participants who have taken a risk by doing something that they may not be comfortable doing, because someone, at some point made a connection with them.

I am thankful for a good playlist that pulls you through a run. Sometimes you want to hear Pitbull when you’re tired, or Adele when you’re not. Sure, it’s awful when you run out of batteries, or your phone crashes onto the street, but when the Rocky theme song comes on at just the right time, well, that’s pretty sweet.

I am thankful for the Tuesday afternoon running group at work. We started running before we even really knew each other, and now, not only are we friends, but we are much stronger runners.

I am thankful for pace groups. I have been on both sides of this one as a leader and as a participant. Thanks for the leaders who have helped myself and fellow runners reach their goals. And for those who have been a part of our group in Baltimore - I continue to be jealous every year of that feeling you have as you finish your first marathon. Not crossing the finish line, but the point in the race where you realize you will finish. Don’t forget that - you will only experience it once.

I am thankful for the fundraising aspect of running. I offer both thanks and apologies for anyone who donated to support BCAN or Livestrong over the past couple years in support of my dad's battle with cancer. If you politely declined, I am thankful for you too. Thanks for still being my friend after I pestered you.

I am thankful for Thanksgiving running traditions. My family has had Thanksgiving in different places recently, so it has been hard to establish one. Two years ago, I ran from my parents’ new house to my childhood house and back. It was bittersweet. Last year, we ran a 4 mile race in Florida, where we were celebrating the holiday. My dad and I ran together for the first time. He was the first runner I knew, and I vividly remember running with him once as a kid. I followed hundreds of feet behind, huffing and puffing. As a kid, I would routinely open the front door, and dad would be lying down on the front stoop, reading the paper and recovering from a run. It didn’t make sense at the time. Now it does. Later, when dad got sick I used running as an outlet. Anyway, at the end of race, the first 1,000 finishers got a free pie. We didn’t get a pie and we didn’t care. We went home, stuffed our faces, turned on the football game, and took a nap. After a couple rocky years, my Dad is up and running again. I am thankful for that.

(In the comments, write anything related to running that you are thankful for.)

Monday, November 23, 2015

A change of pace

My buddy Ben and I have been trying to get a workout on the books for months. We couldn't be more opposite on our exercise habits. Ben is a former swimmer, who now goes for weight lifting and yoga. I almost exclusively run. We agreed to try a morning trail run because Ben also likes hiking. Point for me.

For those local to DC, we ran down a trail between Mass. Ave and Wisconsin Ave in Tenleytown and caught the Glover Archbold Trail towards Georgetown. The terrain was rocky but runnable with a pretty steady decline towards the river. We ran slow enough to talk, but quick enough to feel a workout. The run served two purposes; catching up and exercising. Once we were done with the trails we walked back home.

Recently, I've started running with people and really enjoy it. This was my first run together with Ben since his first marathon and by all accounts it was a good experience. What I didn’t tell you about Ben is that he went through the trouble of training and running a marathon just to say he did it. Ben’s had a rocky relationship with running (get it). We ran at a slower pace than usual but sometimes a change of pace is good.

I asked Ben what he thought of and he had this to say: “My first time trail running and it's a lot more fun than running on the road. Especially with fellow Clydesdale Matt Wells. Highlight was probably the half eaten deer we had to jump over. Or cava.”

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Article about ultras

Thanks to my sister for passing on this article about the weird/wonderful things that happen when you run long distances.

Weird Things Happen in the Minds of Ultramarathoners

I will consider her sharing this with me an endorsement of my running habit.

Thanks, Jess.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Stone Mill 50 Mile Race Report

This was my second time running the Stone Mill 50 Mile. I ran the JFK 50 in 2013, and chose this last year as it was closer to home and cheaper. Last year, my time was 11:33, which was higher than I had anticipated. While the time was higher, my body felt great, and this feeling of completion and non-debilitating, good soreness was what led to my eventual running of the C and O 100 mile.

Photo by Jonathan Bird

This race really started for me on Friday night. We carb loaded at a small Italian place in Adams Morgan called Pasta Mia. Our company, the Turners, had their first date at this restaurant ten years ago so they joined. It was a nostalgic walk down memory lane for them and a great meal for us. I ate my pasta, most of my wife’s, some of my friend’s wife's, and a bit of my friend’s. From a carbohydrate standpoint, I was ready for this race.

I went back and forth leading up to the race about what to carry. I decided on using Andrea’s old camelbak since it holds more water and stuff. My plan was to use tailwind powder throughout the race and utilize the food at the aid stations. I packed 5 small ziplocs filled with tailwind, creating the illusion that I was both a runner and a drug runner. I also packed two fruit mush pouches that I impulse bought at Starbucks the day before, and had two gels leftover from the last time I used the pack (ooops). I had two goals leading up to this race: Finish under ten hours and beat my time from last year, 11:33. The ten hour goal was a little arbitrary, but based on some recent race times, and with the help of the internet, it seemed in play.

When we arrived at the race, the school was locked (no fault of the race director). We quickly hunted down a McDonalds because I really had to go (see: Pasta Mia). Back to the school, and we were gone. Traversing the woods in the early morning darkness, with several hundred other runners wearing headlamps was quite magical. I wish I had a picture, but it was across between the Peter Pan ride at Disney World and the Blair Witch Project.

I had mentally divided the race into three parts: the first 27 miles, miles 27-34, and 34 - 50. The first 27 I am familiar with, and it is early in the race, so I figured I’d be able to get through it pretty easily. The next segment, my goal was to keep pace until I saw Andrea at 34. Finally, for the last stretch, I would utilize things I had been resisting, such as Coca Cola and music.

The first 27 miles went great. The terrain was beautiful and runnable, and I felt like I was moving at a good pace. The rolling hills keep you engaged but not panicked. I reached the Stone Mill Aid Station at Mile 27 at 11:00 AM, 5 hours into the race. There was maybe a mile on sidewalks (which was a welcome break from trail running) and three on the C and O Canal (ditto). I had one fall during the trail part of this section, but it wasn’t bad. It felt like a reminder to wake up and start paying attention. At Stone Mill I had a couple grilled cheese pieces and refilled with Tailwind. New to the course this year, we actually ran through the Stone Mill (instead of past it). It wasn’t a huge change or big deal, but it was cool.

Photo by Alex Reichmann

From mile 27 - 34, I really pushed it, coming into 34 at 12:20 PM. Unfortunately, I was meeting Andrea there at 12:30, and missed her. In addition to being in the doghouse for the rest of the race, I didn’t have my music, which I was planning on listening to.

Photo by Ken Trombatore

Put bluntly, miles 34-40 crushed me. Every hill seemed bigger than the next, and while my pace was decreasing, it felt like I was exerting more effort than earlier in the race. I wasn’t comfortable temperature-wise, and a stream crossing had my shoes soaking wet (although that felt kind of good). I also went down a few more times. Once again, not bad, just caught a toe on a rock or root, more demoralizing mentally than anything physical. It was in this section that I met a nice woman named Rebecca from Philly who was in the process of organizing a 50K that followed all of the routes that Rocky ran (how cool is that?!).

I hit mile 40 at 2:15 PM, and was able to regroup, eat some ramen, and give myself a little pep-talk. With ten miles left, I was back to running the 12 minute miles I planned, and Andrea and I were able to see each other at mile 44 (right near where her parents live). I finished strong, before the sun went down, in 10:13:47.

The Good:

Reached one of my two goals, and the other is “in range” as they say.
Well organized race with friendly and helpful volunteers.
Aid stations had great food and support.
Weather was the nicest fall day so far.
This little gem at the finish line:

The Bad:
I fell a bunch of times. I wound up wearing my normal road shoes, because I was having shoe issues (long story) leading up to the race.

Moving Forward:

I recommend this race to anyone looking for a fall 50 miler. The course is beautiful and fair, and is centrally located for a lot of folks.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

No Runner Left Behind

I run and I teach. I teach math in an elementary school. I love what I do all day, as well as all the work put in after and before with my sneaks. I run on roads and trails around DC, where I live, and Maryland, where I teach. I’m blessed with good friends, a great wife, and several networks in which I am able to pursue the two things I care the most about. This blog is a place for me to share thoughts I have, things I have seen, and anything else that I think would be beneficial to a fellow runner or teacher (or both). I will refrain from extending the No Child/Runner Left Behind ad nauseam, but I will state that this blog is inclusive for all runners alike, and therefore will leave none behind.

Generally, when I share that I teach math, people respond with some combination of disgust and shame. Let’s face it – people hate math. They hate that they feel unsuccessful at it, have failed at it, and they probably grew up in a world of math haters. Math equals anxiety, which in turn leads to avoidance, lack of confidence, and eventually failure. Hey – that sounds like how many view running. When I tell people about a recent race, they usually tell me I’m crazy, stupid, or both. At this point, I have dedicated my days to promoting two things many people despise, and I love it. As my students feel better at math, they like it more. And as we, as runners, the better we get at it, the more we like it. We get hooked, and something that was once dreaded is now looked forward to. We read about it, blog about it, and before you know it, it becomes cool. We run on vacation, in the snow, and we obsess over it. The lesson here is that something bad can turn good with some practice, confidence, and improvement. Who wouldn’t like something they’re good at?

I hope this blog will reach people across the running and education world, and pay back the inspiration that runners, teachers and students provide to me every day.