WEEK 12 – Getting Faster

I wanted to start off by thanking folks for their generous donations over the last few weeks. We are getting very close to our goal of $2500.00; and as a first-time, charity seeker, the strong community response helps to make this a lifelong part of who I want to be as I continue to grow in life. Thank you, for your donations and your kinds words of support.

I am six weeks away!

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that my biggest fears leading up to the 50-mile race are the cut-offs. After 25 miles, runners must be on pace to finish the 50-mile trail in less than 12 hours. If you are not on pace to do so after 25 miles, you are pulled from the race right then and there. Worse, if you do barely make the 25 mile cut-off, but cross the finish line in 12:00:01, you are not considered a finisher. …maybe in your own mind, but not in the official results.

Because of these cut-offs, I have been working diligently to increase my speed. I must become stronger and increase my ability to run faster, longer.

This week I showed some real improvement in speed. I ran my speed training day, Wednesday, at a 7:42 mile pace, for 4 miles. This is as fast as my fastest 4-mile race ever, and I did it in training, a day after running 8 miles. I felt very good about this level of improvement and believe it represents some of the strength improvement that I seek.

Long runs this weekend were supposed to be 5 hours on Saturday, followed by 4 hours on Sunday, however, Friday I was sidetracked with a splitting headache that affected my diet (didn’t eat anything solid for over 24 hours) and energy levels for the entire weekend. I dug as deep as I could and suffered through 2 hours of trails on Saturday and 3.5 hours of trails + road running on Sunday. All-in-all, about 50 miles this week which is shy of where I should be, but acceptable leading into next week.

Next week I peak at another 5 hours for next Saturday and 4 on Sunday. I would like to find a marathon to run on Saturday to try to ease the mental anguish of such long runs.

Thanks for reading and keeping up with all the physical, mental and emotional challenges that this intense training has created for me; and, as always, I know I say it each week, but if ya have $5 bucks, $25 bucks …whatever… that you believe you can spare to help some homeless kids get some healthy meals, please donate. Credit cards make it so easy …and it’s 100% secure via PayPal.

Cheers!

WEEK 11 – Just as I hoped…

…things really turned around this week.

Man, do I ever feel good. Normally, I wait until after Sunday’s long run is complete before writing a week’s training review, but Saturday’s long run was so awesome, both physically and spiritually, that I just can’t wait to express it.

The scene was Dawsonville, a very small, north Georgia town at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The route was the 8.4 mile approach trail that connects the Appalachian State Park to the southern terminus of the 2,144 mile Appalachian Trail. We would be running the trail out-and-back, for a total trail run of 17 miles.

During this phase of my Mountain Masochist 50-mile race training, it’s important that I train on the toughest hills I can find in the area. Not just “tough” by measures of steepness and distance, but “tough terrain” as well such as big, thick roots, loose rocks and single-track courses requiring concentrated footing. …and quite honestly, this is my favorite kind of running. I crave the meanest, nastiest, toughest trails I can find. I like to get my “man” on out there, and come back a little, or a lotta’, dirty and kicked around by the mountain. Nature has a way humbling a man when he feels he is strong.

A local speedster, and fellow ultrarunner, Greg, met me at the trail and we began the Appalachian trail approach in the pitch dark, led carefully by his headlamp as trail illumination. …it’s a little spooky in the mountains, in the dark and all alone.

The trail is tough. The hiking books rate it as “strenuous”, but I was sorta thinking that was just a way to let the average hiker know it wasn’t to be taken lightly and to prepare properly; but I am not scared to say that the strenuous rating is a fair rating whether a hiker, or speedy ultrarunner.

The initial 1.5 miles or so, consist of a very steep climb, with loose rocks and footing obstacles a’plenty – tough, but just what the doctor ordered.

The rest of the trail? …well, pretty much the same thing all morning. Steep climbs up, and steep descents that became quad-killers later into the run.

I know, I know, sounds tough, but, where’s the spirituality in all this?

As we ran along the approach trail, I learned a lot about Greg, and him a lot about me. I think that element of the sport is what draws a lot of athletes to ultrarunning — the camaraderie and time spent on the trails getting to know each other. Quite honestly, the trail was not as hard for him, as a seasoned and well-trained ultrarunner, as it was for me – but the fact that he let me set the pace and spent time educating me about my upcoming race, which he ran last year, was very powerful for me. It was one of those times where you recognize that someone is modifying their experience for the benefit of BOTH of your experiences, and those kind of example-lessons are important to absorb and remember …and to pass on to others.

But beyond the human connection, running difficult trails does something for my mind, heart and spirit. I never knew there were such spectacular mountain views that existed in Georgia. At times, we could see miles and miles of nothing but mountain tops, trees, and the occasional, lucky mountain home tucked away in the distant greenery.

I believe that I breath better in the mountains. I always feel like there is some sort of a presence, be it animal, spirit or whatever… It’s a sort of feeling of contentment and safety, while also spicing it up with some fear of the unknown.

It’s “an experience” and I like experiences.

After we covered the first 8.5 miles, we came to the official southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. A very famous, well known spot in the world of hiking, mountaineering and ultrarunning. This is where, if up to the challenge, one can begin the 2,144 mile trek along the AT all the way Mt. Katahdin, Maine. Many people attempt it – many quit along the way – but a very select few hang in there and cover the distance in an average of anywhere from three months to one year.

That famous, yet unusually simple spot, had a lot of energy all around it. There we stood, alone, two dirty runners, standing at about 3500 feet, clouds and moisture all around us, and that famous plaque. To think of the thousands of people that began their journey here, for whatever reason, with all their chaotic thoughts, feelings, fears, and expectations about what they were about to do, was a pretty heavy thought. You could almost hear and feel all those swirling emotions on that summit.

Then, I read a note posted on a tree, DUE THE RECENT PROBLEMS WITH BEARS, IT IS NOT ADVISED TO CAMP AT THE SOUTHERN TERMINUS.

Well, that stayed on my mind for the entire return trip, and everything I came across was surely a bear.

We never saw any bears.

The trip back was more descent than ascent and we ran those downhills at a fast clip. Since it was later in the morning at this point, we began to come across other hikers. It’s always funny to see their surprise when they see two dudes, running fast, down the mountain out of nowhere. The surprised look on theirs faces is always classic.

True to my trail running reputation, I enjoyed the opportunity to soak my aching feet and muscles in a freezing cold mountain creek. I love doing that and this time, it was necessary as I had completely run out of water and had to fill up in the creek as well. Whenever I recharge in the mountain springs and rivers, I seem to come alive. Once a water boy, always a water boy, I suppose.

We completed the run in a total time of 4 hours and 17 minutes, which was a little faster than what I was told we could expect. I felt very good about this since I have been beating myself up so much lately about being so slow.

The kicker was Greg’s question to me after the run.

He asked, “…so, what type of recovery do you do after runs like this?”

I had to laugh as I thought about my wife, looking at her watch, checking her cell phone, and tapping her foot at home.

“I don’t get that luxury”, I said. “When I get home, my wife is quick to warn me not to get too comfortable because we have Whole Foods, PetSmart, Target…”

After a second of recollection, I continued, “I guess my recovery is chores!”

We both laughed.

These are the types of training experiences that make this project, this seemingly crazy obsession, such a wonderful part of my life.

WEEK 10 – What Goes Up…

I experienced a very bad low this week. My training did not go well and I spent too much time letting myself experience deep mental lows. These mental lows have such a profound effect, and while I am certainly not depressed, the powerful intensity in which these lows can hit you, and the focus damage they can do, are very real. I no longer wonder why depressed people can’t “just get over it”. When negativity consumes you. It consumes you.

But I am fighting back. The first step in getting past it is to recognize that it’s normal. Every ultrarunner I know has experienced it, both during training and during endurance races, and it’s simply a common component of intensity training.

The next step is to refuse to allow the negativity to alter my goals and expectations. I need to analyze my training and ask some questions…

Am I training too hard for perceived ability?

I had a great race at the US 10K, but running that hard took it’s toll on my body in unexpected ways. While I managed an easy eight miler the day following the race, that pretty much summed up my running for the remainder of the work week. I managed some good core training during those following days, but what I probably needed was just some quality rest. But why so much rest? — I really don’t like to rest.

So instead of taking the necessary rest, I toughed out Saturday and 4-hours of running Sunday, in the middle of day, in really hot temperatures, and as expected, had a very difficult time. Took me four hours to run 18 miles Sunday …actually a little under 18 miles, and today is filled with more fatigue, constant yawning and feelings of intense hunger. Probably signs my body is rebelling a little.

Am I eating enough? too much?

To add insult to injury, I don’t think I am eating enough. I am so concerned with getting my weight down, that I am forcing myself to limit calories. Something has got to give. I can’t expect to have the energy to cover 50+ miles a week and not consume adequate calories; but in the same argument, I don’t want to eat too much and end up affecting my running negatively because of the added weight.

It’s the Clydesdale runner’s classic catch 22.

So, wow, as I read over this post, I realize it’s negative and self-defeating; but I really don’t have a choice but to be honest with myself, and the people who are following along in my journey. I wish I could rah-rah the whole time and paint a picture of ease, but it’s just not that way; and part of me really doesn’t want it to be…

It’s not like I’m training to run a 5K or 10K or even a marathon. All of those are worthy goals, but darn it, I’m training to run 50 brtual miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and it’s supposed to be hard. I suppose if just anybody could do it, there would be more people doing it. I understand that anything worth anything takes real, solid, dedicated effort. Someone once told me, “nothing worth anything is easy”, and I believe that to be true.

And lastly, it’s not just for me, it’s for the kids of Project Kids Eat, remember? Maybe I need to remember that more often because that’s real hard stuff. Sure, whether I make it to the starting line or not, those kids will get the promised financial support from all the great folks that are supporting my efforts, but when things are hard, I have to remember that no matter how hard it is, it isn’t that hard, and moreover, unlike the homeless kids, I have the power to change what I perceive as hard

I’m reaching out – please pass some positive vibes my way. If you pray, add me to the list. If you meditate, please think of me as you ponder. If you just like to think good thoughts for people, I could use a few of ‘em…

Thanks for reading …and as always, please donate a ching or two if ya can. It’s free to do, takes all the usual credit cards, and no amount is ever too small.

Cheers! …next week will be better, I promise.

WEEK 9 – Lessons are Everywhere

Jan’s inspirational letter of support“Jan” has known me since the day I was born. She knew my grandmother, loved her immensely, and was present during her funeral in 2005.

After I had my unbelievable, grandmother-influenced, experience at Laurel Valley, and knowing that her two sons were up and coming cross country superstars in NE Ohio, I sent her an email with a link to my Laurel Valley race report as an explanation of what took place in those mountains.

In return, I received a wonderful email of support and well wishes; but a few days later, a letter, pictured to the left, arrived with a generous, monetary donation and words of inspiration and support that really touched me in a lot of ways.

In the beginning of the letter, she touches on the awareness cause of my upcoming 50-mile run, and uses the perfect adjectives to express a painful reality regarding homeless children – “innocent and helpless”.

It doesn’t take long to stop and think about that for a minute and truly realize just how much of a bummer it is for kids who end up homeless. Victims of circumstance.

But, along with supporting the children of Project Kids Eat, I am learning that this project is not only supporting a just cause, but also passing the positive vibe to others who may also be inspired by what I am doing.

In Jan’s letter, she mentioned that her sons, the cross country duo, were very impressed with my efforts and had been telling their coach and people at their school.

— Duh! — Light bulb!

I never thought about that when developing this project. I mostly was just thinking, “you know, this extreme running is pretty interesting to some people, maybe I can use it to create awareness for a cause….”; But, I never thought about it much deeper than that until Jan’s letter.

Have you ever seen the commercial that begins with a woman stopping an unsuspecting street-crosser from entering an intersection and getting hit? …then, another person sees what she did for that person and ends up doing a good deed for someone in her office …which is then seen by someone in her office, and that person ends up doing something nice for someone later in day, and the whole commercial manifests into this ongoing influence of personal kindness. Have you seen that? I like that advertising spot.

I now realize that my Run 50 Miles, Feed 2000 Kids project is about a whole lot more than just handing over a check to the leaders of Project Kids Eat and walking away feeling all proud of myself. It’s also about influencing others to grow. It’s about example.

Christians might say, it’s “living like Jesus”.

Hippies would say, “it’s good Karma” …and then throw in a “Namaste” for good measure. (ok, I’ll stop picking on the hippies)

Whatever it is – it’s growth, it’s positive and it’s enlightening. I never imagined that training this hard, promoting a cause in which I believe, and taking on this entire project would be so powerful for me.

Each week I have new experiences.

New UPS and new DOWNs. High points and low points.

I learn more with every training run, every race, and every conversation leading up to my big race in November.

I absolutely cannot wait to see what’s next.