Monday, March 31, 2008

My formula for happiness

A lot of people out there are unhappy. Very unhappy. As in :(

Unhappy people are everywhere--on the TV, in our nation's capital, on the phone, in the line at the grocery store, at work, even in our own homes (though fortunately not mine). Just yesterday I saw many unhappy people during our weekly Sunday morning long run through Solon--a city with too many two-lane roads with no sidewalks. On multiple occasions angry drivers, some dressed in church attire and others not, buzzed us. A few perched us. And still a few rolled down their window and cursed at us. It happens every Sunday. It's like open season on us.

(While the overwhelming majority of church-going people are good people who would never want to hurt others and would actually go out of their way to help their fellow human being, as is the case with my family, it is kind of ironic that some folks would drive so aggressively to a house of God. I sometimes feel guilty for not attending church often enough as I run on Sunday morning, but that's a topic for another post....)

There are some drivers, as we saw yesterday morning, who not only won't give you an inch; they take away as many inches as they can and come all too close to hitting you. They seem not to care. In fact, it seems to make some of them...happy. An unhealthy happiness. Solon's a nice town with nice folks. I can't understand where these mean drivers we encounter are coming from...hell maybe?

Back to being happy.

About last year at this time, I discovered my own formula for happiness. Let me first disclose that I have my bad days. Just ask my family. Like any human being, I go through peaks and valleys. I get down. I won't claim my formula for happiness would work for everyone but maybe it would because it's really helped me.

First, a few observations. Everyone wants happiness but yet too many people relish anger, hostility and conflict and hold onto stress that they desperately need to release for their own health's sake. They lack a life's passion that would relieve them of stress because they're so paralyzed by the unhappiness of their own existence and circumstances around them (gas and grocery prices, childish politicians, bills, family in-fighting, etc.). Too many people simply don't make the effort to be happy--to find happiness--because they believe happiness must find them. They don't hold themselves accountable for their own happiness. Which is really tragic because happiness is contagious and to be happy is to make the world a better place. I have found all of this out through my own experiences--some good, some bad.

So what's the formula for happiness?

Happiness = Family+Faith+Job+Fill in the Blank

My family includes my wife, my family on both sides and my extended running family. As a general rule of this blog, I won't go into detail about my wife and family, other than to say they come first always and I count myself as fortunate to have each and every one of them. I talk about my running family often on here. I hope it's obvious how much I care about them.

My faith is my faith in God. Although you won't often find me in church on Sunday mornings, strong faith has allowed me to persevere in the toughest of times and find a purpose.

I have found happiness in my job because I am grateful for the opportunity to do professionally what I am supposed to do--writing and communicating. I know what it's like to be unemployed. I was unemployed this time last year and experienced a depression bad enough to make going outside for a run exhausting (which could explain my awful 3:23 at Boston). And so I find happiness every day when I enter the parking garage of my employer, knowing I have a job to do and that I'll be rewarded with a paycheck, benefits, maybe a raise and the camaraderie of a team.

Call me a Pollyanna.

OK, so what's supposed to go in the blank? Only you can answer that question. For me and many of my running friends, that blank is filled in the moment we lace up our running shoes and head out the door. That's because running is a passion for me and so many I know. Often, it's the only time the world makes sense to me, maybe because there's a spiritual element to it. Sometimes, I feel like I take my first breath of the week when I get out of my car at Lock 29 for our Saturday trail run. My passion brings balance to my life and, by extension, brings happiness to me and helps people I'm close to be happy.

For others, that fourth blank might be painting landscapes, riding horses, cycling, gardening, going on missions, cooking, sailing, walking, camping, playing bridge, golfing, teaching Sunday school, reading, playing tennis, etc. Only you can find that fourth element of your own happiness.

If you already have the first three in line but don't know what your passion is, what's stopping you from filling in your own blank? To not find your passion is a tragedy. You owe it to yourself, your family and the world to be happy. Be.Happy.Today.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The week in review

I had an excellent training week, ending with 101.1 miles with a few quality tempo runs mixed in and an awesome 30-mile long run on Saturday. My Mohican training is definitely off to the right start. I have 12 more weeks until the big event. A lot can go wrong, so I'll keep my fingers crossed and exercise common sense.

I have decided that there is no excuse not to do some speedwork/intervals, especially as I may be able to run the Cleveland Marathon, where I hope to break 3 hours. So I'm going to get on the track this week and start doing some 1200s and 1600s at about 5:38 pace or better. I'll just be careful and make sure that I'm not doing anything that could lead to injury during this high-mileage period. I will use my new Asics DS Trainers for my track work.

I also need to decide what approach I'm going to take to this Saturday's Spring Classic 1/2 Marathon in Strongsville. I can't decide whether to train through it, using it as a long tempo run, or to taper for it and make it a key event. This week I'm due for less mileage--about 70-80 miles--and so I may just train through the Spring Classic, being sure to take it easy on Friday. I think that's what I'll do. My goal will still be to break 1:24. If I don't, I'll know I have lots of work to do to be ready for the Cleveland Marathon.

I think I may take tomorrow off and recover. We'll see how I'm feeling. I'm definitely not running tomorrow morning but may entertain an after-work run of about 4-5 miles at recovery pace. I'd like to get out this week during my lunch hour and get in some miles--preferably down MLK to the lake and back. I'll just sponge off afterward. Unfortunately, we don't have any showers at work.

Training week 3/24-3/30 - 13 weeks to Mohican

This week the goal was to get to 100 miles with a very long run, which I achieved on Saturday. I plan to implement speedwork next week. I cannot afford to keep dragging my feet (pun intended) on this extremely important component of my training.

AM: 6 miles
PM: 5 miles
11 miles total

AM: 8.1 miles marathon pace (6:50)
PM: 4.5 miles
12.6 miles total

AM: 8.6 miles
PM: 5 miles
13.5 miles total

AM: 8.5 miles
PM: 4.3 tempo (6:30 pace)
12.8 miles total

AM: 8.2 miles
PM: Chose to rest to be ready for Saturday's long run.

AM: 24.1 miles (10 miles with Bob P. and Paul R. on the towpath. 14 miles with the Lock 29 group at a pretty aggressive pace)
PM: 6 miles
30.1 miles total

13 miles (probably should have run more miles but I'm adhering to the 10 percent rule)

Total for week: 101.3 miles

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tore down 30 today!

I am now on the precipice of a 100-mile week--my first in a few months. This morning at 6:30, I met Paul R. and Bob P. at Lock 29 and we got in a pretty fast 10-mile trail run in 1:18:46. We needed our headlamps only for about the first 15-20 minutes. Bob P. held a really strong pace for us. A few times I suggested to Bob and Paul that we slow down but it was just one of those mornings.... Based on what I saw this morning, I think Bob is looking at a great season and will do well at the 100K National Championship and also at the Burning River 100. I also think Paul will have a great season and will break 3 hours, if not this spring then definitely this fall.

So for the morning I got in a total of 24.1 miles, adding the last 14 with the Lock 29 crew as we did the quite challenging Carriage Trail loop from the Towpath. About 4-5 miles into the Carriage Trail run, Mark, Kam, Steve H. and Marc A. (who's also looking really strong) dropped the hammer and took off. I was too tired from the previous run with Paul and Bob to keep up, though I managed to hold on pretty well, finishing with Wayne. Wayne's looking much stronger than a few months ago. He'll do pretty well in Boston and I think he'll also do a great job of pacing me at the Mohican 100.

After our run we all went to Hudson's for breakfast, enjoying a great meal and talking some trash. We had a great time, and then went to VR to look around. I got some Asics DS Trainers--less than 10 ounces, making them the lightest and most aggressive shoes I've owned. I'll wear them at the Spring Classic next weekend and also at Cleveland, if I'm able to do it. Hopefully they'll give me an edge in breaking 3 at Cleveland and going sub 1:24 at the Spring Classic.

This afternoon I got in another 6 miles at easy pace. I felt really good, though right now my mid-back is pretty tired. I was going to only do 4 but then I realized 2 more miles would put me at 30 for the day. How could I resist that? So I did it.

The day's result: 30.1 miles in 3:58:19, of which 24.1 were on trails. All in all a hell of a day. Tomorrow all I have to do is 12 miles and I'm at 100. I think I'll go for 15 and make it 103 for the week. Why the hell not?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Marathon & Beyond story

I just got word today that my previously-accepted story about my experience at the Burning River 100 will appear in the July/August issue of Marathon & Beyond, a prestigious running magazine I've grown to love over the course of my 2+ year subscription. M&B's editor is the great Rich Benyo who, with Tom Crawford, became the first man to do a double-crossing of Death Valley in 1989. He writes about it in his outstanding book, The Death Valley 300, which I hold to be one of the great books on running (you can buy an autographed copy through M&B). I am in awe of Rich as he's done what I'd love to do--attain success as a writer and runner in a way that pays the bills. And so I'm deeply honored to have a story in his magazine.

Anway, back to my Burning River 100 story. It will appear in the regular "My Most Unforgettable Ultramarathon (and What I Learned from It)" section. I am extremely excited about the story running for many reasons, not the least of which is that it'll be good for the Burning River 100, which is entering its second year and is looking at drawing close to 300 entrants. My hope is that my story may inspire some to try the Burning River 100. Also, I'm eager to have more of a writer's presence in the running world. This story, like this blog, is a step in that direction.


A quick update on my 100-mile week. I've run 12.5 miles today to put me at about 50.5 miles going into tomorrow (Friday). This morning I felt like a pile of garbage, but tonight I ran 4.5 miles at sub-7 pace and felt awesome. If I do only 8 miles tomorrow, I'll just have to run 42 miles over Saturday and Sunday to get to 100--very manageable. If I'm feeling good on Sunday, I may just shoot for 105 for the week.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

100 miles this week

With the Mohican 100 only 13 weeks away, the goal this week is simple--to run 100 miles. I haven't run a 100-mile week in a few months but I've done it enough to know it's not easy. I came close a few weeks ago when I put in 91 for the week. The difficulty of a 100-mile week--for me, at least--stems not from the actual mileage, but rather from the time it takes. Factoring in trail running which is done at a slower pace, we're talking about at least 15 hours in my running shoes.

Now, as I write this post, I've put in 38 miles so far this week--11 on Monday, 13.6 on Tuesday and 13.6 today, including some marathon-pace (6:50) and tempo (6:25) runs. That mileage isn't too bad, but when you throw in 10 hours at work and in the car commuting every day and, most important of all, family responsibilities, all in all I feel like right now is the first time in several days that I've been able to sit down and reflect.

This week, the main goal aside from 100 miles is to get to about 55 miles by the end of Friday. That will leave me with 45 to get in on Saturday and Sunday, which is totally manageable because I'll have time to do it. Finding the time to get to 55 by the end of Friday is the tough part. I'll do it, though. I always do! Imagine how tough it'll be when I start getting into the 110-mile-per-week range....

I am a big believer that to run a successful 100-mile race you need to put in 100-mile weeks. It conditions to the body to withstand the crazy punishment a 100-mile race will dole out. If you just want to finish a 100 miler in one piece, sure, 70-mile weeks may work. But if you have an ambitious goal, as I do, 100-mile weeks are in order. I put in several 100-mile weeks while training for the Burning River 100 last year and believe the high mileage served me well. My body held up, except for some inflamed IT bands, and I made it just fine. My approach to this June's Mohican 100 is the same--put in 100-mile weeks, doing my absolute best to get in some tempo, marathon-pace and interval runs along with tons of two-a-days to build strength and toughness.

For me, since I'm human as opposed to elite, doing speedwork during 100-mile training is very difficult. Since I put in all of my weekly morning runs at 5:30 a.m. and my night runs at about 6:00 p.m. right after getting home from a long day at work, my body is not always very cooperative in clocking 1600s at my target pace--about 5:38. Sometimes I can hit that pace, but in 100-mile training it's extremely difficult making my body go fast.

Ultimately, though, I believe doing well in a 100-mile race comes down to the ability to keep going--one's raw endurance. The winner of a 100 miler isn't going to run much beyond a 9- or 10-minute mile, with some exceptions, such as Mark G.'s super-human performance at the Burning River 100. The keys to succeeding in a 100 miler, as I see them, are to build your endurance up to the point that you can keep moving, not have to spend more than a minute or two at each aid station and remain focused on getting to the finish line. It's not a competition of speed, though certainly speed plays a factor. It's a competition of who's the toughest, who can go the longest and who wants the finish line the most.

All that said, there's no excuse for me not to get in some speedwork. I'll do it, just as I'll do it going into my fall marathon to give me the best shot at a sub-3-hour time--my ultimate near-term running goal besides having a successful Mohican 100.

Monday, March 24, 2008

"Why do you do it? What drives you?"

“Why do you do it? What drives you?”

Even as I'm still a relative ultra newbie and hardly as tried-and-true as some veteran ultrarunners I know, I am still often peppered by those two questions when people find out (not through me) that I do races beyond marathon distance. Most people know someone who’s run 26.2 miles--a great achievement in and of itself. But many of these people haven’t a clue that there are actually events out there that go 50, 100 and 100+ miles. Which is why they’re often shocked to learn I’ve done a 100-mile race and plan to do another one this June and then another one and another one…..

Then they're even more shocked when I tell them I have friends who run 2, 3 or more 100-mile races a year.

Although I am still relatively new to the ultrarunning scene and have much to learn about it (and look forward to the learning process!), there is one basic tenet of the sport that I’ve quickly understood. A true ultrarunner doesn’t seek attention. A true ultrarunner, in fact, finds attention uncomfortable because ultrarunning isn’t for attention-seekers, victims of a midlife crisis, those who wish to impress others, exercise freaks and the like.

As Yiannis Kouros has said, ultrarunning is for “unique souls”—people who wish to explore the basic elements of their being and the outer limits of their mental, physical and emotional endurance. The ultramarathon is, as Kouros says, a purely metaphysical experience of which the physical suffering is but one part. It is truly a mind-body experience beyond even that of the marathon (which has kicked my butt on a few occasions, e.g., 2006 and 2007 Boston Marathons). The ultra is not for everyone—not even accomplished marathoners.

Which is why the Karnazes influence irks so many ultrarunners, including me. Look, I don’t claim to be some veteran ultrarunner who knows the sport inside and out. I’ve run several 50Ks (which aren’t true ultras), a 50-miler and a 100-miler and, in the process of training for and completing the 100-miler, was overwhelmed by the experience (in a good way). It was the metaphysical nature of it that left me wanting more—the physical pain of training, the emotional exhaustion of the 100-mile weeks, the exhilaration of completing a hard week of training, the humility of staring down 100 miles, the camaraderie of the race, the inner struggle I felt, the fleeting temptation to quit, the sudden strength to keep going, the beauty of nature, the strength I drew from my pacers, the shadows of the night….

Ultrarunners aren’t glory hounds. They don’t run ultras to impress others or to make money, and even now I’m a bit uncomfortable writing on this particular subject. What ultrarunners do—run super-long distances—is amazing, but they don’t do it to amaze others. They do it because it’s who they are. It’s what they were meant to do. They have no choice. Ultrarunning is simply in one's DNA.

This brings me to the above-mentioned questions I’m often asked when people learn I’ve run a 100-mile race—“Why do you do it? What drives you?”

The answers are simple. I do it because I have to--because it's who I am--and what drives me is the love of it all—the experience, the people, the inner struggle, every damn thing about it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Training week 3/17-3/23 - 14 weeks to Mohican

This week I wanted to pull back and recover from last week's 90 miles, which left me with an ailing left foot. Plus, with a weekend getaway with my wife and some friends of ours planned, a reduced-mileage weekend was perfect timing. Call me conservative but I'd rather build up to 100 miles and stay healthy than jump into it too fast and get injured, ending my plans for both the Cleveland Marathon and Mohican 100.


8 miles

8.4 miles

8.3 miles

8.6 miles

AM: 10.2 miles in 1:15:00 - treadmill/tempo run. Took it easy first few miles, then exploded.
PM: 4.2 miles with Ted F. at Chautauqua Institution, Lake Chautauqua, NY

AM: 7.5 miles with Ted. F. at Chautauqua Institution, Lake Chautauqua, NY. Very cold. Finished with a 5:55 mile (time by GPS). Came back home to more than two feet of snow. The roads were too bad to run, so I got on the trusty treadmill for a short tempo run, which brings me to my PM workout.
PM: 6.5 miles - treadmill/tempo run. My miles were as follows: 1) 7:30; 2) 6:39; 3) 6:35; 4) 6:31; 5: 6:31; 6) 6:31; 6.5): 3:30.

Total miles for the week: 61.7

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Training week 3/10-3/16 - 15 weeks to Mohican

4.5 miles recovery pace

13 miles total
AM Run - 9.0 miles tempo at 6:30 pace
PM Run - 4.1 miles easy

8.25 miles easy. Sudden pain in my left foot. Likely plantar. It really slowed me down.

13 miles total
AM Run - 9.0 miles easy. Felt terrible first 3 miles, got into a groove and finished strong even in a nasty headwind. No foot pain.
PM Run - 4.2 miles easy

AM Run - 9.2 miles tempo

26.35 miles total
AM Run - 21.1 miles. First 9 with Paul R. Last 12.1 with the Lock 29 crew.
PM Run - 5.25 miles recovery pace.

AM Run - 15.65 miles with SERC. Felt amazingly fresh and light on my feet. Got incredibly hungry the last 2 miles.

Total for week - 90.25 miles

Monday, March 10, 2008

My Don Stanley Athlete of the Year Award thank-you message

Here is the thank-you message I sent to my fellow members of the Cleveland Southeast Running Club for voting me the winner of the 2007 Don Stanley Athlete of the Year Award:

I am honored to be this year’s recipient of the Don Stanley Athlete of the Year Award. I offer my sincerest congratulations to Dawn M. on being honored with the well-deserved Ruta Award.

I did not have the pleasure of knowing Don Stanley. But as he was a friend to so many Southeast Running Club members, I have a pretty good understanding of what this award means, which is why I am deeply honored to be among the recipients.

The Don Stanley Award is named after a great runner and has gone to accomplished athletes who engender the spirit of the sport. Maybe one of the reasons I am so humbled to receive this award is that I do not consider myself to be a particularly great runner. I am not blessed with a lot of athletic talent. But I am blessed with a love of running. I relish and am grateful for every step I take in my running shoes, especially steps I take with my friends on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Like so many of you, I work hard—mile after mile—for what I earn. But just as I have accomplished some of my goals—like going to Boston and completing a 50- and 100-miler—I’ve also experienced failure in my running. I have fallen short of a sub-3-hour marathon and many other goals. But never, ever have I given up. And never will I give up, because running deserves no less than 100%. That is probably the way Don Stanley saw it.

And it is how this club sees it. It is apparent every Sunday morning. We inspire each other to keep going, to improve as runners and people, to keep pushing the limits of our endurance, to get up after we have fallen, and, most important of all, to help others who have fallen. Along the way, I have formed strong bonds with many of you. It is true what they say about runners. We are not just friends who share a common interest. We are like family.

Last year was a memorable year for me, especially with the Burning River 100, which I finished 20 years to month after quitting my high school cross country team because it was too hard. Just as I was told going into the 100 miler, I now see the world through a different lens. You learn a lot about yourself during the last 20 miles. Many of you were there at the aid stations cheering on those of us who ran the race.

I owe special thanks to Wayne V., Mark and Steve G., Bill W., Kam L., Tim C., Jeff U., Paul R., Eileen M., and especially my wife, parents, and family on both sides for their encouragement and support.

Also in 2007, we found inspiration in a number of feats by our members—Kam’s gutsy performance in Chicago, Mark G.'s super-human performance at Burning River, Tim C.’s successful return to 100-miler racing after a few years away from 100s, Vince R.'s 2:46 at Richmond, Eileen M.’s courageous comeback from a serious injury, Frank D. qualifying for Boston at his first marathon, and more. We all found inspiration in these feats.

As no man is an island, I share this honor with each of you and thank you for your inspiration and friendship. Long live the Southeast Running Club.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Training week 3/3-3/9 - 16 weeks to Mohican

4.5 miles easy

13 miles total
AM - 9 miles - major case of dead legs
PM -4 miles easy

9 miles tempo at 6:45 pace

15.5 miles total
AM - 10.0 miles at marathon pace
PM - 5.5 miles easy

13.25 miles total
AM - 9.25 miles hills
PM - 4.0 miles easy

8.0 miles in Wheeling, WV, running the very severe hills in Oglebay Park

15.45 miles total
AM - 8.3 miles easy in Wheeling, running around the city and in my old neighborhood (Woodsdale)
PM - 7.15 miles tempo (6:30 pace) back at home, before heading to the SERC banquet

Total for week - 78.8 miles