Archive for the ‘Running’ Category

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On gentleness

November 26, 2017

If you can, be kind;
If not, at least be gentle.
Both are goals to keep in mind,
But only one is fundamental.
–Me

Personally, I think of kindness as positive support of others, and gentleness as an avoidance of negative words and actions.

On my good days, I try to be kind. When I am sleep-deprived and/or stressed out, I ask myself only to be gentle. This mindset is obviously not the stuff of sainthood, but it’s a way to get through the day.

This Thanksgiving weekend, I am feeling thankful for, among other things, a wife who is especially gentle, and a son who has made excellent progress in this area. (I’m referring to the 11-year-old, not the 10-month-old, who mostly ignores our frequent exhortations to “Be gentle!”)

Even gentleness can be irksome sometimes. For many years, I sort of turned up my nose at “Run gently out there,” the sign-off of Whidbey Island runner John Morelock in his many Internet posts and columns for UltraRunning magazine.

For me, running is first and foremost about self-improvement and competition rather than the community and the environment. I mostly aspire to run swiftly, boldly, determinedly, etc. “Gently” is not among my top 10 running-related adverbs.

Presumably, though, John wanted people to be gentle (when running) more or less in the way that I want to be gentle (when not running). In any case, if there was an appropriate time to debate his diction, that time has passed. John died of abdominal cancer on February 5th.

Rest gently, John Morelock.

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My interview of John L. Parker, Jr.

July 15, 2015

In May, Fleet Feet’s Seattle store hosted John L. Parker, Jr. for a visit celebrating the imminent release of his Once a Runner prequel, Racing the Rain. After the visit, I interviewed him for the Fleet Feet Seattle blog.

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Ultrarunners need to stop stigmatizing DNFs

August 6, 2014

Many ultramarathon runners talk fondly of the “ultrarunning community,” a diverse cohort of individuals united in our enjoyment of running absurdly long distances. We talk with each other, cheer for each other, and console each other, as kindred spirits do. We’re like a big, happy family with an abundance of eccentric, aerobic aunts and uncles.

But there’s at least one issue that brings out our petty, mean-spirited side: dropping out of races. We feel compelled to judge those whose performance is recorded as Did Not Finish (DNF), unless the DNF is attributed to a medical emergency or simply running out of time.

A perfect example is provided by Andy Jones-Wilkins. AJW is widely and perhaps rightly considered an inspiring ambassador for the sport of ultrarunning. I’ve met him; he’s a nice guy. But he once wrote a long blog post making insinuations about 5 elite runners (Scott Jurek, Anton Krupicka, Geoff Roes, Dave Mackey, Dave James) who had the gall to drop out of races.

1. Scott Jurek at Western States: I respect and admire Scott Jurek as I am sure most of the readers of this blog do. However, when he simply stepped off the trail at Devil’s Thumb this year a little of that respect drifted away. I would have thought the 7-time winner of WS would have gone a little further, dug a little deeper, tried a little harder, and given a little more before cutting off his wristband. Not to be. He dropped. Hal won. Game over.

2. Anton Krupicka at Leadville: This guy is an icon in the sport and really has not done a whole lot to deserve that status. But, he has won Leadville twice, torched both Rocky Raccoon and American River and this past year broke the Course Record at White River. Nonetheless, he dropped this year at the Fish Hatchery after leading Leadville for 70 miles. My son Logan, a huge Anton fan, was devastated. I know his quads were thrashed and he couldn’t walk another step. But, I recall another immensely talented, iconic Coloradan facing the same predicament back in 2004 and he struggled to the Finish only to ultimately finish the job the next year with a Course Record.

3. Geoff Roes at Miwok: I can’t really hold this dnf against him too much as his 100 mile Course Records during the balance of the year speak for themselves but in the most competitive sub-100 miler in the country I was quite surprised that Geoff cashed it in while still in the lead. I assume he was suffering mightily but a struggle to the finish and an 8th or 9th place finish would have spoken volumes. Maybe next year.

4. Dave Mackey at Western States: Nobody expected this. Nobody. Returning to Western States for the first time since 2004 and seemingly in the best shape of his life most prognosticators saw Dave as the man to beat or certainly a force to be reckoned with. Reduced to a walk on Cal Street he chose to end his day 78 miles from Squaw. I am sure he had his reasons but with Scott dropping at Michigan and Dave at The River, Hal had a cakewalk to the finish. More power to him. And, perhaps, to the rest of us as well.

5. Dave James at Western States: This guy has been incredible this year! On fire, actually. 13:05 100-mile split in Cleveland, a huge Course Record at Javelina, hell, he even did a 14:30 100 miler on New Year’s Eve just for kicks. But, he bailed at the Big Dance, hard. Dropped like a bag of potatoes before he even entered the Canyons. Why? I don’t know. But, to get it right in this sport you need to finish what you start. Hopefully, that’s coming in the year’s ahead.

In the comments, I called out AJW on his judgmentalism:

Losing respect for someone based on a DNF without even knowing (or caring about) the particulars of the situation is just plain silly. AJW, you (and others) make the unfortunate assumption that everyone else should have the same racing goals and values as you (e.g., “dropping out is almost always wrong”). Anton explained in great detail on his blog why he dropped out of Leadville, and if all you can muster in rebuttal is to cite the example of Matt Carpenter, well, that’s exactly the point I’m making. Anton is not Matt Carpenter and should not be expected to behave identically because he has his own goals and his own values.

AJW responded:

I did not intend to pass judgement on Anton for dropping. By all accounts he did the right thing and I know he spent considerable time and energy trying to continue his race…. And, just to be clear, I was not judging Geoff, Dave, Dave or Scott either. I know they all had very good reasons to dnf (stomach, heat, injury, etc…) I was simply saying that, as an observer of the sport and a lover of the sport, I was disappointed that they dnf’d and I was wishing that they hadn’t.

To which I said:

When you say you’re not judging these folks, I’m afraid I don’t quite buy it. “A little of that respect [for Jurek] drifted away” when he dropped out at WS? If you lost respect for him, how can you claim that you’re not judging him? Likewise, regarding Roes at Miwok, “a struggle to the finish and an 8th or 9th place finish would have spoken volumes.” You mean that struggling to the finish would have indicated great things about his character; the obvious implication is that dropping out indicates less-than-great things about his character…. You are indeed judging these people, whether or not you can admit it.

So why am I rehashing a four-year-old argument, aside from being a prisoner of my own ultra-stubbornness and ultra-persistence? Well, irunfar.com (home of a weekly column by AJW, by the way) just posted two pieces on DNFs: Your Ultra-Training Bag Of Tricks: Handling The Dreaded DNF (by Ian Torrence) and To Finish, Or Not (by Jessica Hamel). Both are interesting and well-written, yet both propagate the notion that a DNF is something to be avoided at all costs.

Torrence’s post begins,

Did. Not. Finish. They’re an ultrarunner’s three least-favorite words.

This may well be true. But couldn’t our three least favorite words be … oh, I don’t know … “thunder and lightning”? “Eggplant for dinner”? Sure, dropping out is often a major disappointment, but it’s not always the worst thing that happens at a race.

Hamel writes,

Elite runners are often scrutinized for their decision to DNF, especially when it comes at a time when they appear to be in a decent physical condition. These moments often result in “he/she could’ve walked into the finish” responses from the crowd. If the back of the packers can finish in over double the time and in worse condition, then why can’t elites push through their low moments to avoid a DNF?

The attitude summarized by Hamel is not necessarily her own, but it is prevalent. So I will answer the rhetorical question of why. They can no longer reach their goal of setting a PR. They’re not having fun anymore. They’re saving themselves for another race. They’re saving themselves for a tough upcoming week at the office. There are a million reasons, none requiring validation by a jury of peers. With few exceptions, ultrarunning is not a team sport, and ultrarunners are not professional athletes. The 99% of us who are hobbyists should be free to pursue our hobby in whatever manner gives us the most fulfillment and pleasure. So: can we as a community stop assuming that DNFs are, in general, tragedies of the highest order? Can we as individuals stop feeling so defensive about our decisions to drop out?

I hope so.

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Best DNF ever

April 15, 2014

About 46 miles into Saturday’s Mad City 100K, I slowed to a walk.

For a minute or two, walking felt AWESOME! But then even that became difficult, and my race was over. I got a ride from the arboretum aid station to the start/finish area, reported my status to the race director, and took shelter in a friend’s vehicle.

It was a disappointing outcome, to be sure, but it felt different than my past racing failures (e.g., Mad City 2008). This time I was more ready to accept the result, less worried about whether it was “fair” or avoidable. I began the race aware that it would be hard to reach my very specific goal of breaking 7:20; I took my shot; and I came up short. It’s a shame, but it’s no Greek tragedy.

Thanks to everyone who helped me get to this point. And congratulations to the Mad City finishers, especially women’s winner Pam Smith and the five (!) men (Zach Bitter, Joe Binder, Nick Accardo, Jim Sweeney, Kevin Grabowski) who did go under 7:20.

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Mad City 100K preview: I’m running it. So are some other people. Any questions?

April 9, 2014

On April 12th I will run the Mad City 100K — my 27th ultramarathon, but my first since 2010.

Much has changed over the last four years. Here’s one telling example.

Before my 2010 ultras (Rocky Raccoon 100, Mad City 100K, White River 50), I researched the competition and wrote detailed race previews.

Right now, all I have to say is that I’m glad to have gotten in some decent (though unorthodox) training, and I hope to break 7:20. If I succeed, I’ll probably place in the top 5, though probably not in the top 2.

… And it will be nice to see race director Timo and his wife Ann, my Williams College classmate Pam, and my uncle Scott and aunt Katrien.

… And I hope that the thunderstorms predicted to hit Madison on the 12th hold off until mid-afternoon.

OK, I’m done. Really.

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Reminder: correlation is not causality

February 27, 2014

A research study by Martin Hoffman and Eswar Krishnan concludes, “Compared with the general population, ultramarathon runners appear healthier and report fewer missed work or school days due to illness or injury.”

The March 2014 issue of my local running magazine summarizes this study as follows: “Keep logging those miles, ultrarunners! Your body will thank you for it in the long run.”

See the difference?

The study itself simply notes that ultramarathoners are, by most measures, healthier than normal. The running magazine leaps (or perhaps sprints) to the conclusion that these runners’ training is what keeps them so healthy. But we can’t rule out the opposite: maybe these people’s good health is what allows them to run so much; maybe their impressive mileage tallies are an effect, rather than a cause, of their good health. Or maybe the ultrarunners surveyed differ from the general population in other ways, unrelated to running, that account for their superior health.

Numerous studies have provided strong evidence that running promotes good health, but this study isn’t one of them.

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When the ridiculous becomes the routine

February 26, 2014

Yesterday I went for a total of 8 runs. Today I did 7 more.

This isn’t intended as bragging. Some of the runs were only half a mile, and none exceeded 3.5 miles. But they do add up.

My new several-short-runs-a-day schedule sort of emulates that of Pam Reed. As reported by 60 Minutes in 2005,

Reed, from Tucson, Ariz., has an unorthodox approach. With no coach, no nutritionist and no training schedule, she simply runs as much as she can – up to five times a day. For a mother of three, that means in the middle of the night, in between errands, or during her son’s soccer practice.

When I first heard about this, I thought, “That’s ridiculous. Can’t she just carve out the time to do one or two ‘proper’ runs per day?”

It doesn’t seem so ridiculous anymore.

Before my left Achilles tendon gave out in 2010, I had adopted a Reed-like approach to commuting. But that was just a single 6-mile run on an easy day, or two of them on a harder day.

Fast-forward to today. I’ve moved to a different home, my Achilles is healthy again, I’m splitting my work time between UW’s main campus and a lab at the south end of Lake Union, and I have child drop-off/pick-up duties. All of this leads to itineraries like yesterday’s:

7:20 AM: B.F. Day (my son’s school) to South Lake Union (SLU), 2.5 miles

8:30 AM: SLU to Padelford Hall, 3.5 miles

11:25 AM: Padelford to Guggenheim Hall, 0.5 miles

12:20 PM: Guggenheim to Padelford, 0.5 miles

12:40 PM: Padelford to SLU, 3.5 miles

1:55 PM: SLU to Hitchcock Hall, 3 miles

3:45 PM: Hitchcock to Padelford, 1 mile

6:00 PM: Padelford to B.F. Day, 3 miles

You may ask whether I’m getting in any speedwork. Yes, I am. A couple of times per week, I’ll find myself late for an appointment across town, so that leg becomes a hard “tempo run.”

It remains to be seen whether I can translate this routine into decent race results. Pam Reed managed to win Badwater twice and set American records for distance covered over 24 and 48 hours, so I suppose there’s hope for me as well.

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The center of attention?

November 8, 2013

My favorite pictures of me racing (e.g., from the 2005 World Cup 100K, 2006 Houston Ultra Event Weekend, 2006 Sunmart 50-Miler, and 2009 Sundodger 8K) now include this shot from the 2013 PNTF championships, taken by Seattle Running Club president Win Van Pelt.

2013_11_05_PNTF_me_Tom_Doris

It’s a nice image of me grinding away on the unrelenting Lower Woodland Park course. But there’s more. Behind me, clapping, is beloved coach and world-class talker Tom Cotner. At the extreme left is Doris Brown Heritage, one of the all-time greats of American distance running.

Often the most interesting people at a race are not the ones racing.

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The once and future ultrarunner

October 25, 2013

To read my latest blog entry, head on over to SeattleRunningClub.org.

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The playing fields of Eph-dom

October 8, 2013

As Williams College — the home of the Ephs — renovates its Weston Field Athletic Complex, “complex memories” are being collected and shared. Here are mine.

When I was an undergraduate at Williams, the short run down to Weston Field for cross-country practice was one of the best moments of my day. It often felt exhilarating to put away my work, put on my shorts, and burst out the door, full of anticipation. Would I be able to keep up with Billo today? What new stories from the weekend were circulating? Might I get to talk to one of the women? A lot of what I wanted out of life at the time was waiting for me at Weston.

We didn’t do that many of our cross-country workouts at Weston’s Plansky Track (named for coach Pete Farwell’s predecessor, Tony Plansky), but one exception was the annual “Plansky workout.” For several days beforehand, the upperclassmen kept the details of the workout a secret while hyping its overall difficulty (“I’ve never puked so many shades of green before,” etc. etc. etc.) Then came the big reveal: Farwell, in Plansky’s voice, assigning “fo-uh qwah-tuhs” (4 quarters, i.e. 4 x 400 meters) in 80 to 82 seconds apiece … “because most of you will never race faster than that anyway.”

A final Weston memory comes from spring track. We distance runners had many talented teammates in the sprints, jumps, etc., but the one guy who absolutely knocked my socks off was Sal Salamone ’93. During the winter, Sal competed with reasonable success in the 60-meter high hurdles and the 500-meter dash, but in the spring he focused on the 400-meter intermediate hurdles. Long-legged and lean, Sal sprang over those 36-inch barriers with the efficiency and grace of a halfback evading fallen tacklers. If any particular Eph was ever predestined to run one particular race, surely it was Salvatore Salamone, Class of 1993, in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles.

When the news came back from the 1993 national meet that Sal had been disqualified, I was sad, but his legend remained intact. In my mind, a DQ was the only plausible reason Sal would not have won.