Monthly Archives: December 2012

Santa Hustle 1/2 Marathon Race Report

The point of this race was to get a gauge on where my fitness is at this point and to have another small race to push me through the winter, if you can even call this a winter. The temperatures at the start were in the low 50’s, which is, admittedly, perfect running weather, so don’t take that as complaining.

This Santa Hustle 1/2 was the first for our city and pre-race discussions questioned the validity of the distance, whether long or short, but no matter as this was just about running hard at the distance and seeing how everything felt as we move ahead.

At the line were a few racers of legitimate talent and competition, evidenced in part by past performances, but also by our choice of race specific clothing instead of the santa coat Tech-T’s, santa hats and beards the race organizers supplied to everyone. Behind us sat a massive river of red while up front only a handful were decked out in various colored singlets.

The MC bellowed through the mic, “5 seconds!” and then 2 seconds later yells, “Go!”, completely catching everyone off guard as we stumble into a rhythm down the wide sidewalk straight away. A small group of 5 instantly moved out front and away from the river of red behind us, at a clip a little faster than I had hoped, but nothing out of control. We made it about 800 meters before taking a 90 degree turn onto a four lane street that would bring us into the center of the city. Already the pack shrunk to 3 as I sat right behind the two leaders, unwilling to push the pace any further than we were already running. We passed the first mile marker and I hit my watch, “5:15”. That felt about right and was about 5 seconds faster than I had hoped to run the first mile, but I also didn’t want to let the two runners in front pull away from me and leave me struggling behind.

One of the leaders motioned me ahead, “Come on, Scott!”, hoping I would join them, but I was content hanging a couple paces off, knowing I would need more strength later in the race and it would be foolish to try and match them so early. And this is how it stayed for a good portion of the distance.

Moving just as swiftly as the first mile, in control, but a touch out of a comfort zone, we passed the 2nd mile marker and I hit my watch again. “5:41”. And instantly my concerns about the course distance, or at least mile markers, was validated. We did NOT run a 5:41 2nd mile, which was proven when I hit my watch on the third mile, “5:05”. From then on I gave up even trying to gauge pace. Now it was just about running within my abilities and seeing how the competition played out further into the course when it really matters.

At this point I wasn’t feeling as at ease or as strong as I had hoped, but I also wasn’t dying. Whatever pace the leaders were running, I was only 4 strides behind them, at most. I also noticed that I would fade ever so slightly on the inclines, but be right back with them when the course flattened, so I wasn’t losing ground. I even found myself moving up and challenging for the lead, but one of the other runners wasn’t giving an inch. If I started to move out, he would kick up the tempo to stay just half a stride in front of me, and I wasn’t interested in playing cat and mouse with our speed. I just wanted to run consistently and have enough to push at the end. So again, I fell back a couple strides and let them cut the wind for me.

The three of us continued to run alone, winding through mostly empty Sunday morning streets as we passed mile marker after mile marker. Then just after halfway we hit a sharp hill that curved to its crest before dropping back down, and although I fell off a couple paces, still not feeling strong in the legs, I moved right back up behind them in no time, giving me the confidence that I had more in my legs than it felt.

We met another rise that started to take its toll on everyone and as the course smoothed out into a couple rollers one of the runners ended up off my back as the leader sat just ahead. We ran past the 8 mile marker starting to feel the beating of the course when out of nowhere another runner pulled up behind us and passed by smoothly. I thought to myself, “Shit! I hope there isn’t a pack behind us.”

He then overtook the leader, but impressively the leader went with him and kept stride as the pace increased, leaving me and the other runner only hoping to hold on. Passing mile 9 there were now the two front runners and myself fighting with the other runner for 3rd, a position I didn’t really want to be in, enough that when the course flattened out I found myself, almost instinctually, pressing into the pavement and forcing myself out ahead, my tempo noticeably increasing as the other runner ever so slowly began dropping off my back further and further.

Needing to really put the nail in that coffin, I kept pushing further out ahead until I couldn’t hear his labored breathing anymore, making sure there wouldn’t be a final mile surge. I passed the mile 11 marker and although hoped I could move on the leaders now, continued to see them get further out ahead, working off each other towards the finish. I was left alone to run out the distance.

And then, well, things got interesting. That sea of red behind us at the start line involved thousands of other runners, mostly 5k’ers whose gun went off 30 minutes after ours. Those 5k’ers ran a good portion of our course before heading off on their own, but eventually routing right back into the very last mile of the 1/2 marthoners race. Now, this happens in a good deal of races, however, when the two courses merge like this, there is USUALLY at least a two lane road that serves as the course, allowing for plenty of passing space for the faster runners.

This was NOT one of those courses. As a matter of fact, this course left the streets and onto a 12 foot (14 at MOST) wide SIDEWALK that was bordered by leaning saplings, and a cement wall on one side and a huge rock wall hiding the Indianapolis Zoo on the other. Basically, 4 runners across take up the ENTIRE sidewalk. And there were THOUSANDS of them.

I didn’t know what to do but stay running in the road until the very last minute, blowing by all the 5k’ers trotting it in. I did this until I had no choice but to jump into that tiny gauntlet of a pathway towards the finish, probably just under a mile away. And then things got dangerous. I was really looking forward to running through this path to the finish, putting all my reserved energy into a fast last mile, but there was NOWHERE TO GO! For as far as you could see there were fake santas blocking the path. I had no choice but to yell out, “Runner back! On your right! Runner back! Coming through the middle! Runner on the left!”, to which no one took heed, nor even had time to take heed.

I shot down the path, darting around runners into the gravel path and ducking trees threatening to swipe at my head, zig-zagging through wayward running kids,  turning sideways as I slid between couples, errantly nailing a few swinging elbows and trying my best to yell back, “SORRY! JUST TRYING TO FINISH!” And honestly, I had no idea where the 4th place runner was at this point, very likely coming up behind to snag a podium spot amidst all the jogging Santas. It was a complete logistical disaster for the race finish.

Finally, I busted out from the path onto a wide bridge that allowed for complete breathing room to the finish chute. I was able to FINALLY turn it on for the last 400 and run as hard as I could to the Finish line, where I crossed under the clock that read 1:12:34, solidly in third place and about 30 seconds behind 2nd place.

So, now I know where I stand….sort of…and that was the point of this race. I know I can kick out a fast 1/2 marathon now, and I know I can kick it out MUCH faster than 1:12, given the proper circumstances. I hoped I was in 1:11 or even 1:10 shape and I’d say given the obstacles today, I am there. A few garmins even read the course at 13.20 – 13.25, so take that for what it’s worth. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t feel as strong as I had hoped earlier in the race and annoyed that I let myself get taken out by the leaders instead of going at my own race, but satisfied that I stayed calm and was able to lay it down and fight at the end when needed.

Being able to run at this pace at the start of winter bodes well if I stay healthy and injury-free, leading into a solid spring marathon, where I will again chase that elusive PR I know is in me. For now, it’s back to training for a nighttime trail marathon in January, again, just to get me through the winter. Till then.

13.1(?) miles
1:12:34
3rd place

Think Kit – December 9th

Think Kit Prompt – December 9th

What did you do this year when things got hectic? How did you unwind?

———————-

I could tell you I sit in coffee shops and read books, drink coffee and write blog posts. I could tell you I watch Modern Family and The Office. I could tell you I bake cookies. But to be totally honest, and not just because I’m trying to keep on topic with this blog, I unwind by running.

It’s not something I ever considered would “unwind” me when I first started doing it, but day after day of running I realized it was imperative to a stable emotional state and mental clarity. I now NEED running to relax, to unwind….which is quite amusing since the act of running involves a lot of tension.

In that tension, however, is where the value of unwinding lies, because after specific workouts, long miles of continuously “tightening the screws” and building the tension, the feelings of relief and relaxation that flood the body when the defined finish is reached are unparalleled. They are a state of relaxation that can not be met in any other way in my life. No other mental exercise, nor physical exercise, can create the way I feel when I finish a brutal workout and slow to a halt, letting the accomplishment and physical relaxation consume my body.

It is, no exaggeration, better than sex. Yeah…I said it.

Some runs, also, are unwinding in themselves. They are slow and deliberate efforts where one simply has to relax, let their minds go and just cover the distance, no more, no less. These runs are not about increasing muscular tension or any other physical strain, which gives me the opportunity to just get lost in the run. I don’t have to think about the effort and I don’t have to think about…well…anything else either. No personal issues, no work issues, no nothing. I can simply move through the distance as if there is no other possible thing to be doing in the moment. It is a simplistic, obligation free act that temporarily creates a world free of any struggle. It is unwinding in physical form.

And then there is the opposite, those brutally difficult runs where your legs and lungs flail wildly, and the tension is as powerful as it can get, building and surpassing any stress created elsewhere in the day, pushing you to the edge of mental and physical collapse before mercifully stopping at the very point you do. And that feeling of release and relaxation, juxtaposed against the previous torture device, the threshold of all your physical abilities, can not be described. It is an unwinding that leaves you sprawled on the ground, a wry smile that slowly fills the space where a painful grimace once sat, and a sense of calm that outdoes any nightcap, crossword puzzle, mental goosefraba exercise or any other pacification we trick ourselves into.

Running is, deceptively, the ultimate and most necessary form of unwinding in my daily routine.

Think Kit – December 8th

Think Kit Prompt – December 8th – What did you make this year? Whether work-related or something more personal (like a song, craft project, or work of art), share your process and the end result.

——————

Alright Think Kit’ers, blog readers, etc. I’m phoning this one in (remember what a phone is?) because I’ve laid out a day full of vegan cookie making, which I’m worried I’m already behind on. I was thinking of writing a piece on the aesthetics of running form, the art of progression, etc., but I decided to just post the xmas present I’m making for all my running friends this year, or anyone who likes woodcuts or inspirational sayings.

IMG_0242

 

Why is it backwards? It’s a woodcut…I’ll ink it up after I cut it all out, lay a piece of archival paper over it and then “pull” a print, repeatedly, for as many running friends I may have.

So yeah, there you go, among so much I’ve created this year….and UNcreated as well, this is one of my last pieces.

Do you smell cookies burning?

Preparation is the New Recovery

My coach and I have had some good back and forth about the benefits of “recovery runs”, and my recent realization about what a recovery run actually is. On my run today, I thought about it further and came up with what I think is a better way to get the idea across to thickheaded dolts like me.

As explained in a recent post, I just didn’t get what it meant to pace a recovery run. I always thought recovery runs were for recovering FROM the workout the day before, as the language alludes, and so if I went out and felt strong…I would run strong. The way I saw it, if I was feeling good and didn’t NEED to recover, since I obviously already did, then I could put down another quick run without concern. I was, unknowingly, not taking into account the accumulative effects that come with repeated harder running, but instead just responding to feeling good. If I could run a 6:00 “recovery” run after a hard workout the day before, then that would only help me right? Wrong.

After repeated aggravations (I hesitate to call them injuries), and some pretty amazing runs after a couple days off, the actual benefits of slow recovery runs really sank in. What competitive runners ultimately live for are those few hard runs we do a week, the Tuesday speed workout, the Thursday speed/strength workout and the Saturday long run. Those are the runs that turn us into the machines we hope to become and so those are the runs we hope to perform best in, the runs we need to be primed for. What I wasn’t considering with my faster “recovery” runs, was the sacrifice I was extending into my workouts. Whether by a lot or a little, I was taking away the strength and rest I needed for those hard workouts by putting in quick recovery runs, when I should have been slogging through those at a frustratingly slow pace.

Again, I thought I was supposed to be recovering FROM a run, not preparing FOR one. And that’s what clicked in my thoughts lately. It’s all about the language.

If I would have been told to go out for a “preparation run” at a slow pace, I’m pretty sure I would have made the connection sooner and kept the next run in mind, instead of feeling good about already being “recovered” and putting in another moderate effort on the current run.

And in that simple change of language I have been able to temper myself, because if you couldn’t already tell, I get carried away. I simply love to run, so to think about going out for a deliberately slow, unchallenging, dispassionate run just doesn’t entice me much. I feel like I’m sacrificing the experience of running, of working against your pounding heart, of twitching muscles and wobbly legs when all is said and done. To starve myself of those sensations and overall experience just doesn’t sit right, but that is what I have to come to terms with and my shift in internal dialogue and language has helped.

Now, when I’m out slowly plodding away through 10 or 12 miles and I’m barely putting in any effort, feeling like I’m power walking, I’m no longer thinking about the need to feel better after the previous workout, but gearing up for the next one…I’m just biding my time. I’m looking towards that next workout and knowing that with a slow pace and deliberate restriction NOW, I’m setting myself up to really maximize the effect and experience of the effort to COME. I’m not “recovering”. I’m PREPARING.

I’m preparing to kill it. To go all out. To suffer. And, ultimately, to get better. To get stronger. To get faster.

And that little switch in language has made all the difference.

Think Kit – December 7th

What did I get myself into with all these Think Kit prompted posts? I guess I naively assumed I would simply be writing about running/veganism/etc., not DOING things. They never mentioned DOING stuff. Like interviewing people and making inspiration boards. I don’t know about you, but between a full time job, a part time job (running) and general house/project responsibilities, I really don’t have time for much else….which is funny, because that segues directly into the essence of today’s prompt…

Think Kit Prompt – December 7th – What do you want your life (or your kitchen, your job, your x) to look like? Create your own inspiration board.

—————————————–

To use the specific suggestions…

My job – Done! I didn’t have to create an inspiration board, because I want my job to be non-existent. Period. I’m done…but I can’t leave. Loooong story. Ill spare you everything.

My kitchen – Really? You wanna know what my kitchen should look like? Don’t get me wrong…I’ve got ideas, but they’re all useless to you.

My life – Ok, let’s discuss this. Because I have this internal dialogue about my “ideal life” often, and of course, it involves running. Or at the very least I conduct that “if you won the lottery” mental exercise, and that too involves running.

There are, of course, endless options for how I want my life to look like. At times I’m pulled towards the utopian ideal of running, traveling the world meeting internet friends, sleeping in fancy hotels where my breakfast is always made for me when I get back from running, and just not giving much extended thought to the money I’m spending.

At other times I appeal to my emotional desires and imagine what life would be like living by my son, raising him and watching his daily accomplishments as any good parent wishes (the obstacles to making this a reality are much more complex than simple hopes…another story, another time).

Then I imagine a more practical and realistic existence, where I simply don’t dread going to work every morning, where I manage all the typical inconveniences and obligations of adulthood, but keep an obnoxiously positive outlook overall.

If I had my way, however, to split the difference between fantasy and reality, my days would look something like this…

6:00 am – Wake up, run 4 or 5 miles.
8:00 am – Eat breakfast, go to the coffee shop, read and write for hours
12:00 pm – Run 10 – 15 miles, probably a hard workout or “preparation/recovery” run
2:00 pm – Create art, take photos, help run a business, do more reading/writing/etc.
5:00 pm – Do some strength training at the gym
6:00 pm – Eat an awesome dinner that I make
7:00 pm – Create more, read more, write more, etc.
8:00 pm – Socialize
…..Repeat.

I know, I’m not trying to save the world or anything…but no one said this had to be supremely ethical. This example of a daily schedule, however, is not realistic, pragmatic or maybe even advisable. No matter, that’s not the point. The point is to look past your comfort level, to look past your routine to imagine another existence and consider if you can find other avenues to get there, or at least integrate parts of that ideal into your life. I understand this, had understood it quite some time ago and always seek to reimagine my life, striving for a better existence, never settling for less.

I think I’ve done a pretty good job. You may not believe me if we had a recent conversation in person, for I feel like I’m continuing to slide closer to whatever “bottom” may be right now, and have expressed this often, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize the good in my life.

For one, above all, I’m running again. And running hard. Whatever bottom I may feel I’m heading towards, I’m climbing back to the top on my running game. As a matter of fact, no matter how terrible my days seem, for at least an hour every day I feel on top of the damn world. I refuse to let that go.

And then, well, there is everything else I’ve created with my days. Yeah, I’m single/”alone” now and I really, really, really dread my job, but the before and after to all that is filled wish as much awesomeness as I can pack in. There is bike rides, running, strength training, reading and writing in coffee shops, making cookies and giving them away to strangers, creating art at night, and just packing every second of my days with reward and value.

So yeah, there is always “better”. There is always reason to create inspiration boards in the mind and strive for that utopian existence, but ultimately we must settle for what is in our control and make the best of all that. Just as in running, you can’t sit around and wait for accomplishment to happen. You have to create success, create reward…make it happen. Sure, my utopia will always remain a utopia, but I really can’t complain about what I’ve created outside that ideal.

Think Kit – December 6th

Yeah, I didn’t do a post yesterday…I don’t think many participants in this Think Kit project did. I don’t know who these Smallbox people are (actually I do) with all the free time to interview 3 separate people for a post, but that wasn’t happening. I skipped on a lifeline as well, trying to avoid a forced and weak post. Whatever…I’m not getting paid for this. 🙂

December 6th Prompt – How do you want get involved in your community this year?

—————————————

Speaking of not getting paid. I’m working on yet another time consuming project that I REALLY hope to bring to fruition. If you follow my instagram (@runrevolt), then you know a little bit about what I’m doing, but I’ve been pretty low-key about promoting it because the last thing I want to do is say I’m going to do something and then not carry through. That has to be one of my most loathsome character traits, talking about doing, but never doing.

At best, this trait is a lack of pragmatism, a lack of understanding, a naive hope to make something happen that one has NO IDEA how to implement. At worst, it’s an attention getting tactic, where one talks about grandiose plans that SOUND great, in effect getting all sorts of positive feedback and back patting, but once that is achieved the idea is dropped and forgotten. You can only do this for so long before people start to doubt you and roll their eyes at all your romantic plans and expressions. Soon, they just see you as an insecure, unreliable blowhard.

I don’t want to be one of those. I’ve been that in the past and I don’t want to again.

So I’m a little hesitant to talk about this, at least not until I know for sure this is going to happen, that I’m going to carry through with a dedication I so easily apply to my running. But, then this prompt came and now talking about it seems unavoidable. So here goes, with reservation.

I have many communities of varying connectedness. My family community, my work community, my vegan community, my internet community (of which I use the term in it’s loosest sense),  and most of all, my running community. That last one, the running community, has it’s own fluxuating sense of community as well. There is the communalism of my Saturday long runs, brief interactions with so many others slogging the miles away on the Monon trail. There is the communalism of my team, meeting at our Tuesday workouts and periodic long runs, solidified during our races when we draw a line between us and others as we don our matching jerseys. Then there is this larger, more general and less connected community of vegan runners, who I am primarily connected to through social networking and my blog. The individuals in this particular community span the globe and I feel cheated that I don’t know them in a more immediate sense, but only through daily facebook messages and comments on my blog. That community, however disconnected it may be, is one of my most valued and so being able to contribute back in some way seems imperative. I derive so much inspiration from other vegan runners and their respective communities that it’s only fair I can offer something as well.

Which leads me to my project and my involvement.

I put myself out there via my blog and get a lot of feedback, most always positive, some not so positive. I also get a lot of questions regarding training, diet and other various issues related to veganism and running, which I’m more than glad to respond to. I hope I haven’t neglected anyone’s questioning. After some time though the questions start to repeat themselves, and I it hit me that I’m in a good position to put together a “Run Vegan Primer” to help answer some of these questions and lend a little more insight and perspective to vegan running, at least in the way I see things.

On one particular day of caffeinated inspiration I really decided to go at it and write out an outline for the primer. What ended up happening, I should have foreseen, was this primer very quickly turning into a book. Though I’m VERY hesitant to call it a book. It’s not a book. It’s a…a…very long blog post? I don’t know, I’m still writing it.

The good news is that I’m still very inspired to create this Run Vegan Primer, bringing together the facets of running, veganism and other perspectives to offer a bit of my experience for others to pick and choose from. The bad news is, well, there isn’t any bad news yet, unless I don’t actually finish this thing, or when I do I realize it’s a pile of crap and I throw it away. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Right now, however, I WANT to complete this, because I want to offer this to the vegan running community. Up to this point my running has been, and will continue to be, a selfish endeavor where I try to hit greater and greater achievements. It has also been a relatively unselfish endeavor in that I always want to use my talents to bring light to the issue of animal exploitation, with the intention of seeing it end. Those two efforts are easy though. It’s offering something of value to the greater community, in this disconnected internet form of bits and bytes, that poses the bigger challenge.

With that said, now I’ve…well…said it. And that has power. And accountability. Now I’m held to complete this project with an even greater sense of urgency, because I don’t want to add one more notch on my plank of “unfinished projects”. And don’t worry, if it DOES come to fruition, you’ll certainly hear about it. If, however, I go silent….kick me in the ass. Keep nagging me and asking me when it’s going to be finished, cause isn’t that what community is for, holding each other to our word?

Thanks for all your support and encouragement…I hope to return the favor.

Think Kit – December 4th

Think Kit Prompt – What was the wisest decision you made this year?
——————————————
I stood by the car in the trailhead parking lot, shirtless, my shorts soaked in sweat, my body breathing a huge sigh of relief while my legs twitched with tiny muscle spasms. Catching my breath I managed to form enough words to make full sentences,
 
“God, I’m so glad we do this. I’m so glad I decided to start running again. No matter how hot and humid and difficult this can be, it always feels so incredible to do it.”
 
It was a typical mid-summer day of trail running, hours spent struggling up and down the Southern Indiana single track amidst a blanket of warmth threatening to rob you of all the oxygen needed to keep going, like a cloth bag pulled over your head and cinched at the neck. It was brutal, but at the same time exhilirating, unparalleled, satisfying beyond all normal measure.
 
I stood there in the parking lot, basking in the glow of accomplishment and relief, because a few months prior I couldn’t contain the fire within me anymore. I couldn’t relegate myself to episodic bouts of running, slogging away on a treadmill, repetitious and purposeless. I just couldn’t deny the growing fire that burned stronger with each successful run, with each day I managed to do it again, with each noticeable increase in fitness.
 
My coach said, “It’s good to see the fire still burns.”
 
I replied, “It was always burning. I just put it in a box and tried to hide it in the garage…but then the garage caught fire.”
 
Through a number of almost synchronized circumstances the drive to run, to train, to compete again surged into me like through broken floodwalls. And I didn’t try to hold it back. I decided to do whatever it took to make it happen again. 5am wakeup calls. Training runs in the pitch dark. Whatever it took. I made that decision…
 
And it was the wisest decision I made all year.
 
Because suddenly I had “me” back again. I knew who I was. I was grounded again, calm, and yet driven. I had a sense of purpose, cathartic release, and was, in a way, doing what it feels like I was born to do. Everything was right with the world again.
 
I stood in that parking lot, completely exhausted and drained from the hours of effort I just expended, in a state most would register as near death, something most would try to avoid at all costs, and yet I felt better, more satisfied, more excited about what was to come than I had in a long time.
 
To run again, to train…that was certainly the most wise decision I made all year. It continues to prove itself every day.