Monday, March 29, 2010

Can't outrun the stress

In the face of a cross-country move to Denver, it's hard to be focused on running right now. This past week I was cruising along, on pace for a 90-mile week, and then Noah got sick on Thursday night, which led to a night of bad sleep and an exhausting weekend in which staying awake was a challenge in and of itself. Fortunately, he's much better now.

For a long time there I was fighting the good fight as I tried to keep my mileage at a decent level while dealing with all of the stress of this move. I think last week the stress finally caught up to me as I battled fatigue and emotional and physical overload that just basically wiped me out. I ended the week with a paltry 69 miles. This time last year I was about to go north of 100 miles in my Mohican 100 training and was as locked in as one could be.

Also this week, I worked my last day at University Hospitals, saying goodbye to a great job, trusted colleagues and many dear friends after three good years. That obviously wasn't easy, but it would have been a heck of a lot harder if I wasn't moving on to a fantastic development job with the Colorado Neurological Institute.

I wasn't able to make my last club run in Solon on Sunday for reasons I won't even discuss here--too personal. Suffice it to say, I missed for good reasons and I made the choice not to be there because there was another place I needed to be even more. I was pretty busted up inside that I missed Sunday's club run. I can't even find the words to describe how much I'll miss the Cleveland Southeast Running Club. It's an intense club and expectations are always high if you're one of the more serious members (as I have been), but SERC makes you a better runner and along the way you form strong friendships. Friendship among runners is a special kind of friendship. People who aren't runners couldn't ever understand the bond between us. We just understand each other on the most basic level and there's never a need to explain our love of running, why we push it so hard and why we keep coming back for more.

On Friday, I got my number for the 2010 Boston marathon, which I won't be attending since it's in the midst of the move. I would have worn #2630 and started in the highly coveted second coral. They don't let just anyone in the second coral, and so I'm bummed I won't be there to run in the world's greatest marathon at the front of the field. I'm deferring my entry to next year and plan to line up at the 2011 Boston. I think about two weeks ago I was in 2:50 shape, but now--as I'm pretty much reeling from the stress--I think I'd be lucky to run a 3:05. Being in good marathon shape is a game of precision. You have to peak at just the right time and have just the right balance in life. For me, my balance and focus are totally gone right now. I'll return.

With the move only days away, I've decided to give myself a break for the next few weeks. If I get in some decent miles, great. If I don't, I'm not going to beat myself up. With all that's going on, 2010 is shaping up into not one of my better racing years. But there's always 2011.

Whatever happens in 2011 happens. If I do well in the Greenland Trail 50K on May 1, great. If I suck it up, I'll just work hard to get back into shape. As far as the Leadville Trail 100 on August 21, I'm still heavily leaning toward it and need to make a move soon or else I'm going to get locked out.

Potentially next time I post on here I'll be a Colorado resident enjoying life out West. I'm excited about getting into the mountains and seeing the sites. We have many beautiful places to visit and these next few months will bring many new experiences.

Signing off as an Ohio resident.

Monday, March 15, 2010

I decided to go for a little run

Like the new look of this blog? I decided to do some spring cleaning and freshening up.

On Saturday night, I found myself cold, wet and borderline hypothermic as I trudged along the roadways of the Chagrin River valley en route to my 30th mile of the day. But before I go any further, let's take a step back.

As far as running goes, these past few months have been incredibly aimless--and it's a miracle I've been able to keep my weekly mileage at 70-80+. In January, right about the time we decided to move to Denver, my Boston Marathon training was supposed to be cranking away. But Boston is now off as April 19--race day--falls smack-dab in the middle of our relocation to the Mile High City. For several weeks there I was doing hard tempo runs and intervals on my treadmill without even knowing what my next race would be.

But now I know when my next race will be. On May 1, I'll be lacing it up for the Greenland Trail 50K on the Colorado Front Range. Here's how its organizers describe the race:
The Greenland Trail 50K is a trail race located on the front range of Colorado. It was started with the intent to kick off the trail running season by offering a variety of distances to suit your running needs. Run in the Greenland Open Space of southern Douglas County, the Greenland Trail 50K strives to be the premier 50K in Colorado.
The race's maximum elevation is 7,400 feet--pretty manageable. If the trails permit, I may just wear my light-weight trainers.

If Greenland goes well and I can get in the training--about 100-110 miles per week unless my lungs explode from the dry, thin air--I plan to run the Leadville Trail 100-Mile on August 21. Among the ultimate mountain races, Leadville will close out in advance of race day so my decision will need to come soon. Whether or not by August I'll be able to handle elevations of 9,000+ feet only four months into life in Colorado is yet to be determined. When we get to Colorado, I plan to embark on a few very challenging training runs--starting first with elevations below 8,000 feet and eventually working up to over 10,000 feet. I'm going to first need to buy a hydration backpack--perhaps a Camelback or Nathan pack with 55-70 ounces of capacity--along with some trekking poles for the really rough mountain trails.


So on Saturday night, the stress level in our house was pretty high. It was early evening and Anne and I were stressing over the fact that our house hasn't yet sold. We haven't even gotten an offer on it (yet)--just a few nibbles but no bites. We're going to have to make some last-minute upgrades to the kitchen that are going to set us back a few thousand--but what other options do we have when our society is so obsessed with spectacular cabinets, granite countertops and--alas--stainless steel appliances? But that's not the point of this post. The point is that in a moment of great stress...I went for a little run--30 miles on Saturday.

It was 41 degrees, misting and dark as hell--not too bad, I thought, as I got dressed for my evening excursion. I wore my usual for this kind of weather--compression shorts, running shorts, a thin base layer, a long-sleeve technical tee, my Adidas running jacket, a hat and some thin mittens. Only a few miles into my run, as I was soaking wet and feeling a chilly breeze whipping in all directions, I knew I'd underdressed.

But I didn't care.

I didn't care that I was cold or that it was pitch-black dark on these country roads and my eyeglasses were fogging up (I'd taken my contacts out earlier), creating visibility problems especially from the blinding headlights of passing cars. I didn't care about the deep puddles that soaked my socks and shoes. I didn't care that the wind cut right through me. I didn't care that I was shivering. None of that mattered.

All I did was run, enjoy the sounds of nature--frogs, hisses, random buzzes, sticks breaking from running deer, etc.--and the many parts of the Chagrin River valley I'll so miss once we're gone. I ran a big part of Chagrin River Road, which I consider the best road in Northeast Ohio to run. In the early-morning or late-evening hours, there's not a better road to run or bike than Chagrin River Road. It is the penultimate river road with its curves, hills, distinguishing natural features, and tunnel-like tree cover from Chagrin Falls all the way to Willoughby Hills and beyond. Chagrin River Road is the first 9 miles of the Burning River 100, my first 100-miler.

Chagrin River Road

I thought about these past five years in Chagrin Falls. The memories swirled in my head. I remembered my first ultra--the Summer Buckeye Trail 50K in 2005--and the hard work I'd put in to get from that first ultra to my win at the Mohican Trail 100 Mile Run in 2009. I thought about all the folks I'd met along the way--many who would become cherished friends. Every so often, you meet people who permanently change your life. I would not be the dedicated runner I am today had I not met Jeff Ubersax, Tim Clement, Mark and Steve Godale, Frank Duchossois and Kam Lee. I thought about my 100s and the good and bad times I endured with my trusty, supportive pacers/crew, Kenny, Ted and Dan. I couldn't have done any of it without Anne, Noah and my entire family by my side.

I think on Saturday night, in the midst of that cold, wet run, I finally pulled myself together and looked ahead to the next chapter in my running life. It'll start at the Greenland Trail 50K and may just go through Leadville in late August. Maybe it'll even head through the San Juan Mountains next July (2011, that is) if I decide to line up at (and if I get into) the Hardrock Hundred. Who knows where life will take me. I'd love to see if I can be a decent mountain runner and maybe even use the elevation to my advantage in breaking 2:55 in the marathon. At this point, I don't know what to expect.

It was good to know on Saturday that I can still go the distance. After a few months of really struggling to train amid so many lingering questions, maybe I'm coming out of this fog and funk.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

ODDS can be a good thing

My trip to Denver went incredibly well. I had three huge goals to accomplish: 1) find a good job in development/fundraising utilizing my experience and skills, 2) find a place for us to live for the next few months until our house in Chagrin Falls sells and we can finally buy, and 3) find a good childcare facility for Noah.

Amid the beauty, odds to beat.

Two of the three have been accomplished. We found a nice apartment community in Parker (elevation 6,000+ feet), a very fast-growing city just south of Denver, and we have enrolled Noah in an excellent school less than two miles from our apartment. I have some great job leads and have received an excellent verbal offer from a wonderful health care organization in Denver. Things are looking up!

As someone who spends a lot of time in the yard, I'll often come upon a weed that has sprouted such deep roots that it's often hard to pull it from the ground. Sometimes it comes apart as you pull and you have to remove it a little at a time until the weed is totally gone. I don't see my life as a weed--far from it--but I do feel like with this move we're pulling up our roots and going to a far off land. At first, I didn't want to pull at my roots in Cleveland and was resistant--hence all the pain and suffering I've been through the last few months. It got so bad that I talked with a counselor here at University Hospitals who told me the following:

"You have a lot going for you. You have a loving, supportive wife and family. Your son is too young for this move to affect him. You have been very successful at UH and will get another great job. Your house will sell. Your wife already has a job so you have some income during this transition. You can still run in Colorado and you'll make friends there. And it's Denver--one of the most desirable areas in the US! Change your thinking and start playing positive messages rather than messages of doom and gloom!"

In this economy and housing market and with unemployment being what it is and the stories of desperation you hear, it was hard not to be overcome by doom and gloom. But I have changed my thinking and I now look at this move as an adventure and the start of a new life in a spectacular part of the country. I guess it doesn't hurt that I have some great job prospects.

When I survey my life from boyhood to now, it seems I have consistently beaten the odds, and I believe I'm beating the odds now in positioning myself and my family for success and a good life in Denver amid some difficult times for families across this nation. Or maybe I just see myself as a guy who believes the odds are always stacked against me--even if they truly aren't. Perhaps it's a subconscious mindset or mind game arising from some kind of inferiority complex. Maybe that's why I work so hard. In my mind, I believe hard work, devotion and a sense of purpose will almost always conquer the odds.

When I'm training for a race, I tell myself everyone has more talent than I do, and so I have to outwork them. I did that going into the 2009 Mohican 100--a race I won. Whether or not I have talent is immaterial to me. Talent alone doesn't win ultramarathons. Hard work, lots of miles, running through pain and suffering and generally devoting 20+ hours a week to training are the components of winning a long race. You have to motivate yourself every day--and I do so by telling myself everyone else is better than I am and they know it and so I have to outwork them and even outhink them. They look down at me and think I'm a joker and so I'll show them on race day. I will never give up and will keep going after those in front of me. It works!

When I'm looking for a job as I have been for the past several weeks, I tell myself other candidates have a better resume and maybe an MBA, and so I find ways to separate myself from the others. I show my smile and I believe in myself.

At work, I tell myself the last project I did wasn't good enough regardless of whether I got praise or whether what I did brought in money for the organization, and so I put even more effort and energy into my next undertaking. You are only as good as what you're doing now and can't base success in the workplace on what you did last week or month. Success is a day-to-day investment of blood, sweat and tears.

When I look in the mirror, I see a guy who has beaten the odds in losing over 50 pounds and keeping it all off for over seven years and counting. I tell myself every day the fat, lower-back pain and size-38 pants will come back if I don't stay focused, disciplined and dedicated to my running and healthy eating. I have never declared myself "fat free" forever and never will. It's a daily battle.

I guess these messages keep me motivated. I want to be counted out and told I have no chance. I want the world to overlook me and tell me I'm not this and I'm not that. That only motivates me to work even harder. And regardless of how many more ultramarathons I may win (maybe no more!), I want people to tell me any victory I achieve was a fluke because, while that may aggravate me, it will also motivate me. I believe those who achieve and fully know success are at great risk of laziness and an ultimate decline. We have seen this time and again throughout our history--the rise and fall of fill-in-the-blank.

Success--it's come here in Cleveland and maybe that's why this move was so agonizing for so long. I got lazy and forgot that life brings challenges--many painful. This new challenge has the odds stacked against me--or maybe I just see it that way--and so now I practice what I preach. I work hard and with focus. Nothing comes easy and this move to Denver certainly will be no exception. I will have to dig deep.

I give thanks to all who have believed in me throughout this painful but ultimately growing period of my life. And I give thanks to the depressing news headlines, alarmist talking heads, staggeringly depressing statistics and other discouraging mumbo-jumbo that made me work my tail off to find a job and discover a sense of hope and excitement as our new, wonderful life in Denver awaits us. I'm sure there I'll find plenty of big odds to beat. Bring 'em on.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

In love with the Rocky Mountains

As I write this post I'm in a Best Western hotel room in beautiful Castle Rock, Colorado--with spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains right outside my window. I'm here in Castle Rock, which is south of Denver and kind of close to Colorado Springs, to accomplish a few things:

1) Interview for jobs
2) Find a place for us to rent until our house in Chagrin Falls sells and we can buy here
3) Find a nice childcare facility for Noah

It is hard to believe that we'll be here--"out West," as they say--about a month from now. Out West.... Man, this is exciting!

It has been a great day. I interviewed today for a position potentially being created that sounds so very good and a really great match with my skill-set, passions and experience. And, beyond the position itself, this is a great organization with friendly, professional people. Tomorrow I go back for more interviews and will also be talking with another great organization. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Denver is a very different place than what I'm used to--but different in good ways. Tonight, I ran 8 miles in and around Castle Rock, which is at about 6,000 feet. That's enough to feel it in the lungs, but I did OK and breathed only a little hard as I climbed a few hills. Anyway, I ran past a skate park and saw a bunch of teenage boys who looked like Shaun White, the gold medalist half-pipe snowboarder, doing stunts. I think only in Denver would I have seen what I saw--kids doing crazy maneuvers with their skate boards and bikes. I've never seen anything like that in Cleveland. It was really cool. They seemed like good kids and I'm glad they were doing something physical versus playing video games, watching TV, etc.

Unless you've seen the Rocky Mountains, it is hard to describe how beautiful they are. On the way back to the hotel tonight, I watched the sun setting behind the mountains. As twilight set in, the mountains became blacker and blacker while the sky behind them was bright orange. The colors and contrast were awe-inspiring. I can't wait to get into the mountains. I think I'm in love with this land out here. I can't imagine what the pioneers must have thought when they saw the Rockies for the first time as they trudged westward across the plains. Living at this elevation, I'll be able to train well for the Leadville 100 and mighty Hardrock Hundred, both of which are here in Colorado.

These past few weeks have been unspeakably hard. Leaving Chagrin Falls, friends, our home, and a really great job at University Hospitals, where I'm valued, respected and recognized for my good work, has been a tough pill to swallow. I'd be lying if I said I haven't had some feelings of despair leaving a good job and putting a beautiful house up for sale. But I believe in my heart that things will work out. When I take the long view, it's obvious Denver is where our future will be brightest. The next few months won't be easy. I'll endure knowing that a finish line will eventually come. And it will come hopefully before I know it.