Monthly Archives: January 2010

Recognition (good and bad)

Leading up to Chicago I was doing a great deal of my training with a group of guys who all run at a relatively similar level and who are all seriously engaged in competitive running. We were all preparing for the same marathon and had our respective goals to shoot for, of which some of us beat, some of just missed, but all had a, from what I’m told, good race experience. At the race our group finished within 2:21 to 2:25, which on its own is a pretty awesome showing at such a prominent marathon, but even more interesting is that we all live within a couple blocks of each other. Ok, 3 of those guys have all moved into the same house and I live a couple blocks away. It was amusing when we discovered our proximity after running together for awhile. So after Chicago it kinda hit a couple of us how cool it was that we ran at that level and all live so close. It was brought up that, if all goes well,Fall Creek (our neighborhood) might have 4 runners make it to the Olympic Marathon Trials this time around. At the very least, it’s pretty rad that 4 of us are in the position to go for it. That sounds like a regional news story to me anyways! The running joke now is that there “must be something in the water”.

This is the thing though, 4 runners placing as high as we did at one of the world major marathons means…well….nothing. No one cares. Ok, our friends and family that follow us along the way were incredibly supportive during and after the runs, but on any larger scale, it was just another race. And no matter how awesome it is to each of us individually and no matter how much work we know goes into pulling something like that off, we amount to nothing more than a couple blog posts around the internet. Our performances mean nothing to the local papers, but to be fair, that isn’t necessarily because they wouldn’t cover something like that, but rather because no one gives a shit about competitive distance running….for good reason to, which I’ll get at in a little bit. If news coverage were something we were going after, it would be up to us to generate it. We’d have to market ourselves. We aren’t high school basketball stars trying to go pro before college, something which a lot of people care about. We are merely runners. We get no respect. We get no recognition. But if you ask me, we deserve it. I’m not saying I don’t strive to be humble at every opportunity, but I’m also going to be honest about my feelings regarding my and my friends efforts. It’s that simple.

Let’s face it though, no one gives a crap about competitive distance running. It simply isn’t a spectator sport. No matter that the majority of our populace participates in the sport and no matter that while people have curbed their spending during the recession, running events continue to grow and grow with more and more participants, running as a competitive act is barely given the time of day. And there are so many legitimate reasons for this. If you haven’t put in the work and suffered through so many race experiences, you simply don’t GET the excitement of a race. You simply won’t get why a lot of us can be glued to our screens simply watching someone put one foot in front of the other. It’s just not exciting with its lack of variety in action. There are no stops and starts. There is hardly any tension build up. Tactics and strategies are so subtle that you barely know they are even taking place. Then there is the high turnover of stars. With a few exceptions, most runners have their few moments in the spotlight and then explode with the effort. It’s so hard to continue the progression, or even just sustain, at the level that most top competitive runners run. Their bodies just can’t continue over and over at that level. And then there is no continuation, no drama to follow. Runners aren’t necessarily part of teams that compete in a series that is shown every weekend. We can’t race every weekend. Each effort takes a certain amount of training, recovery, and peaking before we can put our best on the line. To expect this to happen every weekend for the sake of retaining viewership is just absurd. Running simply is not a dominant culture sport. It won’t keep the attention of the populace necessary for the proper advertising dollars. If you come up with a way to do so, short of naked running, let’s talk.

All this, however, doesn’t mean runners don’t deserve or shouldn’t seek out recognition, but in order to be effective it will have to be done on a much smaller level…locally probably. For awhile I wasn’t sure if I was the only one thinking in these terms, considering marketing oneself, seeking out sponsorship, building a culture of running based on a more attractive approach than most people perceive of it today, but it turns out most of the guys I run with think similarly, it’s just a matter of acting on it. With that in mind it was brought up that we should start a track club or distance squad or running team or whatever you wanna call it, and with that impetus we’ve now begun creating the structure for a running team that will look for the recognition and support needed to facilitate our running. Now, we aren’t looking to make it on billboards or anything, though I’m sure a newspaper might be interested in picking up a story or two, but primarily we are looking to gain sponsorship to help us out as we travel around the area for races. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but my motivations are two-fold. For starters I want financial help with my training and racing needs (shoes, socks, shorts, race travel money, etc.) and secondly, I want to bring attention to and build a new perception of competitive racing culture in the area. I want to coolify (yup, my word) running, taking part of it from the 4 to 5 hour marathon plodders (no disrespect) and push it towards a more aggressive, passionate, youth-focused approach. I want to present competitive running culture more like how the roller girls have marketed themselves, but without the self-debasing sexualization (though I think Little actually wants to be objectified). I want people to be excited to watch us throw down on the streets, to want our bumper stickers on their cars, to wear our t-shirts, to recognize our efforts, to think of crazy super humans walking the line of collapse instead of middle-aged well-to-do’s smugly patting themselves on the back for sticking to their new years resolution to “get healthy” when anyone mentions a running race.

Now, I know this sounds kinda masturbatory, but I don’t mean to present it that way really. I’m just continuously in awe at what some of the local and regional athletes can do with their physical selves and just as amazed that these accomplishments go by with nothing more than a non-monetary gift certificate or a nice little plague to put on the shelf. People…this shit needs to be recognized! There are so many ways to do this, and I don’t expect anyone to feel obligated to do so, but if we really pull together this Fall Creek distance team you can bet we’re not going to hold back in trying. See you in the papers.

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Look, I promise you I’m not bringing up this topic repeatedly for the shock value, it’s just that this topic keeps bringing itself up, probably due to the inherent nature of its shock value. Regardless, remember those “Fuck this. I’m going running.” bumper stickers I made? Well, their effect continues to resonate throughout the more conservative avenues of our self-professed free society. I swear, if I knew they would cause such a continuous and volatile reaction I would have hired some Ivy League college to fund their creation for the purposes of some sociological study on human behavior in relation to language. It’s fascinating really. Today I received a call from my running friend out in Connecticut who is one of only a handful of brave souls to actually apply the bumper sticker to their car (and I’m still jealous that mine were ripped off twice and his has been left intact) and he relayed the following story.

Leaving church today he noticed a cop car was following behind for a short while. Not thinking much of it he pulls into a parking space to make a trip to the ATM when all of a sudden the cop pulls up next to him and makes a motion for him to roll down his window. If I remember the retelling correctly the following back and forth ensued,

Cop : “Not for nothing, but if I were you I’d take that bumper sticker off your car. Kids read that shit you know. Not to mention, there are some cops who will pull you over and ticket you for that.”

Friend : “Really? What would the charge be for that?”

Cop : “Disturbing the peace.”

Welcome to what is called “the land of the free”, which apparently is supposed to mean, you are free to conduct your affairs how you please in so far as they don’t disrupt the sensibilities of those in power, and if you do offend those sensibilities you won’t be arrested right away, but don’t think any number of threats won’t be first given allowing you the chance to do some self-censorship of your own instead of forcing someone’s hand.

I can’t help but wonder if the gentleman who told me, “You should be arrested” didn’t put out an APB to the nation’s police force and the chickens are finally coming home to roost.

Really though, I can’t get over the reactions these stickers invoke in people, considering how many other bumper stickers with arbitrarily defined swear words are out in the world, often related to politics and religion. And these are just about RUNNING of all things? Once I got thinking about it though, I started to understand (not agree with, just understand) the reactions. I don’t necessarily think the reactions spring from the usage of the word “Fuck”, but rather that it is used in the context of something so incredibly harmless like running. If the term was used to describe one’s feelings towards politics or religion I think there would be an unspoken respect for the intensity one feels towards those type of subjects, but because the word is being used for an activity that isn’t supposed to conjure up such a deep seated emotional reaction (methinks they just don’t REALLY UNDERSTAND running), people then respond to nothing but its casual usage. They are probably most offended that someone would have the gall to make the term so commonplace. However, I wonder if the cop would have taken a similar reaction if someone said this just standing on the sidewalk, or even went as far as saying it repeatedly as streams of people walked by? I doubt it. So yeah, maybe my observations touch on an unconscious reaction…..or maybe people just hate running. I guess I understand both.

However, I can’t help but think that, in my city anyways, if someone had a bumper sticker that said, “Fuck the Saints. Go Colts!” Not only would they not be rebuked and threatened by the police, but would probably be given a nice boys club pat on the back.

Or maybe I’m just bitter. Regardless, although I don’t want to be mistaken for a patriot of any sort, let’s just look at these stickers as doing their part to test the professed values of “freedom” and “democracy” that most of the public so vehemently stands behind. All I can say is…prove it. Oh, and the stickers aren’t going anywhere.

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Running domination 2010

Please interpret the sarcasm in the title. Thanks.

With that in mind though, I met with The Coach, “Coach”, “Coach Matt”, Matt, El General Supremo, etc. yesterday to get the 101 on his coaching style, philosophies, and to develop a plan for the coming year of running and racing.

Now, initially I was expecting that the 2010 plan would be about picking an appropriate spring marathon to train for, weighing the positives and negatives of its race date and then looking towards Chicago for a possible go at qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials. I was only partially right and this is the benefit of having a coach who has devoted many, many years to the science of running, even rubbing elbows with Mr. Lydiard himself. Before we even got to discussing a spring marathon he laid out a plan for me that culminates in running the  500 Festival Mini Marathon, which is a half-marathon, on May 1st as my primary spring race, meaning everything builds up to that. Upon bouncing back from that race, we will then gear up for a go at Chicago.

The idea behind this, as he explained, is to concentrate intensely on building my speed, the speed I’ll need during marathon training to qualify for the trials in the fall. This, makes perfect sense, and shows a fundamental mistake I might have been making without him as a coach, if I decided to train for a Spring marathon followed by a Fall marathon. Sure, I would put in the appropriate work for a race like that, but it’s not advisable to train for a marathon again and again and again, as the workouts and efforts are geared for that specific distance and tend to neglect other areas of running progression. Diversity is strength.

Training for this shorter distance will also give me more opportunities to knock out some faster, shorter races while still putting in solid training. It’s much easier to do this, to practice the speed training, while running shorter races, without compromising the quality needed for the important workouts during the weeks. On a personal note, I’ve really been wanting to knock down my 5k and 10k PR’s, but didn’t get the chance while training for Chicago, because I was concentrating on running more key longer races, like 1/2’s and 15k’s and the like. I mean, my 5k PR is 15:47, which is pretty decent by my standards, but I was beating that time during workouts leading up to Chicago. So, if I can kill that time in the middle of marathon training, DURING a workout, I can only imagine what I’ll do to that during a race. Then again, that’s neither here nor there. Let’s keep our eyes on the big picture.

That big picture is qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials. And believe me, that’s a BIG picture. Matt said to me, he thinks I can run sub 2:19, which is the qualifying time for the trials. Admittedly, he said if I ran well under 2:19 he’d be quite surprised, but still, he thinks I can run 2:19. So do I….I think. It’s hard to say. I don’t have a lot of experience in the marathon, and when I make my go in Chicago, it will only be my second road marathon. And that’s quite a jump in time too….going from 2:25:55 to 2:18:59. Seven minutes. That span of time will haunt me for the coming year. I just know it. In a marathon it seems a lot less insurmountable than a 1/2 marathon, but it’s not really. That’s still a huge chunk of time to cut down.

And that makes me relieved to know I’ll be preparing for it for almost the entire year…fine tuning not just my marathon endurance, but more importantly, my speed, my muscle strength, my running economy, etc. I’m cutting nothing close on this one. I’ll be working myself like a machine.

But let’s also keep this in perspective. The goal of competitive running is about progression, always progression. We hit one time and then we want to hit one quicker. Over and over and over. It’s simply a race, quite literally, to see how fast we can run any determined distance before our body, or circumstance, says “enough”. It’s forever an unanswered question, “How much faster can you go?” I don’t want to quit or die without answering the question. That, however, doesn’t mean I’ll be crushed if I don’t make the Olympic trials. Hell, I still can’t believe I toed the start line of one of the world major marathons. That’s an accomplishment in itself. But there is always the question lingering. So, although I am focusing on the trials, it is merely a benchmark, a point in the distance to run to, but what will always matter is where I am in the process. No matter how close I make it to the trials, each step will (hopefully) be a new accomplishment, the question answered again and again and again. I might be let down if I don’t make it, but I certainly won’t be disappointed. That doesn’t mean I won’t be fighting like hell to get there though.

And finally, there is my son…who might have the same question someday. “Papa, how fast can you run?” This way, we’ll know.

So, here we go, toward the Mini and on to Chicago, in which we’ll find out where we go next.

Never too early…

…for race mentality.

Today’s “stressor” workout was a couple miles of warmup, then 30:00 minutes of hill running (and only hills, no flats), and a couple mile cool down. This is not an overwhelmingly tough workout and I wouldn’t have thought twice about doing it on any normal day, but if you life in the midwest you know today was not normal. Or maybe it was. It’s winter after all. Today we were dumped on with 5 – 6 inches of snow, causing me to spend half my work day shoveling paths for the school kids to get in and out of the building. It fell about an inch an hour and as soon as I had cleared a path from the outside buildings to the inside I’d turn around to find my path relatively covered up again with fresh snowfall. This went on all day.

So when it was going to be time to do the workout I knew I was going to be facing some problematic footing, yet I was looking forward to it. I consider it one of my positive attributes, that is, an appreciation of nature in all its forms and the ability to embrace adversity, not simply to overcome it, but to also swim deeply in all the values it affords us…or at least what I choose to derive from it. So when I left the house to drive with Michelle and Noah to my starting point (they were going sledding) I didn’t curse the slick roads, slow drivers or piles of snow. Actually, I couldn’t wait to get out of the car and be IN it all.

Oh, and this also gave me an opportunity to put some more miles on my Salomon Speedcross shoes, which are accented with the most aggressive tread I’ve ever had on a running shoe short of x-country spikes. And let me tell you, those sole lugs were like claws in that snow. I didn’t just keep traction, I FELT them grab the snow and push me forward. It was a joy to run in those shoes. Can you believe with a sales line like that I’m still not sponsored by them?

Michelle dropped me off in a parking lot and before she had even begun to pull away I was bounding up the Monon trail for my warm up run before heading over to a 2k figure 8 loop of hills in a nearby neighborhood. Getting to the neighborhood wasn’t that much of a problem and, fortunately, the roads had yet to be plowed, save for a couple independent pick up trucks pushing away the freshly fallen powder to reveal packed snow and patches of ice (thanks guys!).

I started up the first hill of what would be 4 loops on this route and started thinking about why I love to run so much in this type of weather. Honestly, there are lots of reasons. I love the look of a blanketed white ground cover, exposing no part of darkened asphalt. I love the snow gently falling to the already accumulated pillow of white. I love the soft footfalls. I love the reserved pace it forces upon a world that moves at breakneck speed. And then, I also love the opportunity it gives me to overcome its inherent obstacles to my movement. When most roll back over in bed and swear at a day of straining and struggling with a seldom used shovel, I get the chance to continue my routine and enjoy the new challenge, the new pace. Snow and I don’t hate each other. We’re like brothers in a wrestling match, playfully trying to keep the other down, in a positive spirit of cooperation and accomplishment. We often come to a stalemate before going our separate ways.

Then there is something a little more personal, a little more racing oriented. Although such a snowfall shoots down most runners training plans, or at least forces them inside to wait in lines for the dreadmill, I’m still out there. Mentally, that goes a long way. Just as important as building up the physical strength to run fast at long distances, the mental strength that goes along with the effort is just as important, maybe even more so. So there I am running up a long, steep hill and I think to myself, “This is going to be invaluable on the start line at my next big race.” And it’s true.

When I step to any start line I have one mantra I always want to be able to say, “You put in the work. Now all you have to do is run.” That’s all I can hope for. The race is essentially already run, not always at the finish line, but everything leading up to the start. Being able to say “I put in the work” gives one the confidence to run at a level once before not thought possible, to overcome the struggle, to push past the weak voices that whisper, “Ease up. It’s too hard. You can’t keep this up.” If I step to the line of an important race that is going to take a serious amount of effort, the ability to think back to so many redlined workouts, to so many runs in wind and rain, to so many exhausting long runs, and to runs in the  most absurd of conditions, conditions that keep 95% of most runners on the couch, then I’m a huge step ahead of my competition. Because I guarantee there are faster people on that line, but they might be saying to themselves, “Damn, I hope I’m ready for this. I shouldn’t have skipped those workouts. I shouldn’t have passed on those long runs. I shouldn’t have wussed out when it snowed for a week straight.” For, even if they are physically faster than myself, if they don’t have the mental strength to push through when things get hard, when they don’t have the awareness of overcoming those adverse experiences to draw on, at some point they will fade. Or if you put the pressure on at the right moment, they’ll break.

In racing, nothing is guaranteed, but the effort requires filling one’s reserves with every weapon possible, from physical strength and stamina, to the mental strength that comes only from running as hard as possible in 6 inches of snow, blowing wind, and icy footing. At least now I’ve left behind a few more “I should have’s” and created one more “I put in the work” for the next start line to come.

Get out there everybody, you won’t regret it.

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Log

15 minutes of warmup
32+ minutes of hill running on a figure 8 2k loop
15 minutes of cool down

Core workout at home (will have to give more details on these some time)

Music

Fischerspooner  Pandora station
All Shall Perish – Awaken the Dreamers

sofa king lazy writing

I’ve had a couple good posts swimming around my head lately, mostly during my runs and walks to work. One concerns the concept of “recognition” and the lack thereof in relation to our sport and efforts, while the other was about a realization I had today while out on a beautiful single digit temperature run where I didn’t pass a single person for a good 45 minutes. It had to do with the concept of maturing and how we as individuals choose to hold on to the excitement that defines our youth, wherein some find ways to do so that benefit both their mental and physical quality of life and others, well, don’t. If they aren’t passive, then they are effectively working against themselves, funneling themselves into that well-worn path of destructive hedonism of adulthood. Yeah….

But instead of writing about all that (maybe tomorrow?), I really just feel compelled to tell you that if you cut up a banana into little discs of potassium soaked goodness, drizzle some natural peanut butter on top, sprinkle some coconut on that, then drizzle some agave nectar on top of all that, and garnishing the whole shebang with some almonds..well….you got yourself an AWESOME snack.

I’m just sayin.

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A successful 30+ week in the books and I’ve now received my first week of training from Coach..Coach Matt (?)…Matt (?)…Coach Ebersole (?)…I gotta come up with a good name to reference him by. Next week tops out at 52 miles with two speed workouts. More Fire will soon commence! We’ll also be meeting up to discuss this years goals and races leading up to those.

Finally…the core workout continues and has seemingly gotten easier already. Stoked.