Archive for the ‘Running’ Category


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.


Jur-lock Holmes?

August 17, 2013

Sarah Lavender Smith has described ultramarathoner Scott Jurek as “familiar, cute, boyish and slightly nerdy in an attractive way … a cross between Peter from The Brady Bunch and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory.”

I claim, though, that I’ve found a better doppelganger for Jurek: English actor Benedict Cumberbatch in his role as Sherlock Holmes.

Cumberbatch? Jurek?

[Images taken from and, respectively.]


Interview with ultrarunner Charlie Engle

June 26, 2013

This spring I finally got around to watching the movie Running the Sahara, which has been out since 2007.

Having been exposed to many extreme ultrarunning challenges, I wasn’t as riveted as some people by the trans-Sahara quest per se. However, I was captivated by the on-screen charisma, eloquence, and humor of expedition ringleader Charlie Engle. He seemed like a complex guy who would be really interesting to go for a (non-trans-desert) run with.

Since that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, I did the next best thing: I asked him for an interview.

Charlie Engle, running in confinement.

GC: Hi Charlie! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. It will be interesting for me, though I’m not sure what (if anything) you’ll get out of it. I guess that’s my first question: given that you’re a busy guy, why agree to this? I’m just a guy with a blog who watched “Running the Sahara” and wanted to delve into a few things more deeply.

CE: Greg, in all my years, I’ve never turned anyone down who asked to speak with me. I don’t pretend to know where this path will lead. I just go with the flow.

GC: Fair enough! OK, next question… The movie “Running the Sahara” devotes a lot of attention to the medical and political logistics of covering the entire Sahara desert, but not much is said about the sponsorship side of things. Can you tell us more about how you raised the money for such an unusual undertaking, and how long that took?

CE: I take your question as a great compliment. I was adamant that this documentary not turn into an ad for sponsors. If a product couldn’t be represented organically, then it didn’t belong. That’s why the crew is driving Toyotas but we are not wearing Toyota logos. The same is true for Magellan GPS and Gatorade and Champion and Mission Skincare and Nike and others. Magellan GPS was the first to sign on. That was through a direct contact of mine. Then when LivePlanet, Matt Damon’s production company, signed on, they took over the sponsor acquisitions. LivePlanet also brought in investors to cover the bulk of the cost. It took about 9 months to put the financing together if i remember right. This was an expensive project but every single dollar came through investors and sponsors. In the end it was a very successful project. “Running the Sahara” is selling better than ever today.

GC: Many viewers of “Running the Sahara” see it mostly as a film about the immense physical and psychological challenge of running across the desert. Personally, I know lots of ultramarathoners, thru-hikers, and assorted other endurance-oriented oddballs, so I assumed all along that a traverse was physically possible, and that the logistical challenges (financial and diplomatic) would be even more formidable than the obvious physical ones. To what extent do you agree with that assessment?

CE: The logistical challenges involved in “Running the Sahara” were overwhelming. The entire project was on life support more than few times during the year leading up to the expedition. Raising money, finding sponsors, arranging support in Africa and managing the politics of the expedition itself were all far more difficult than actually running. The best times are the ones that involve physical suffering. That’s the part that makes all the stress worthwhile. Running is true escape. All the other stuff is just necessary noise.

GC: That certainly makes sense to me. Have your post-Sahara adventures reflected conscious choices to simplify the logistics? For example, I believe you subsequently tried to run across the United States in record time. That obviously requires significant planning, but it must be much more straightforward than arranging safe passage through six African countries.

CE: You give me too much credit for being conscious. Running America was inherently easier to plan for the obvious reasons of language and logistics. The AT [Appalachian Trail] and PCT [Pacific Crest Trail] are tough physically but one can be home safe in bed within a day if things go wrong. The same was true for “Running America.” The hardest part was planning the budget and making the film. The physical suffering was to be expected, there was no stopping that. And actually, the physical suffering was part of the goal, trying to scrape away the crap of daily existence and replace it with something better….hopefully.

GC: You’re saying that the physical suffering is not a simply a necessary hardship on the way to your goals; it is a goal in and of itself. That must seem perverse to some people. How does that work for you? Is there a spiritual dimension to this?

CE: I do genuinely believe that many of life’s most useful lessons come through hardship, usually situations that we don’t choose. Years ago, I decided to actively seek hardship with the hope of achieving the same life altering results that often come with surviving unexpected challenges. So I view my adventures as voluntary suffering that will lead to a greater understanding of what drives me. The trick I haven’t mastered is finding balance. I am trying to learn how to pursue and appreciate happiness as much as I crave the need to suffer. For me there is a great spiritual aspect to what I do. I am not a believer in any traditional religion but I do feel a strong attraction to certain people and to powerful places so this confirms for me that there is most definitely a power greater than myself. My personal suffering brings me closer in line with my higher power and that is important to me. In every long run, I want to push myself to that point where all seems hopeless because that is the exact place where I get to discover new things about myself.

GC: In many parts of “Running the Sahara,” you come across as humble, kind, and generous; in other parts, less so. Extreme suffering will cause almost anyone to say and do selfish things. Do you view your behaviors in your darkest moments as aberrations brought on by the circumstances, OR as a genuine part of you (even if they’re not the prettiest part)? I’m thinking about the possible parallels with drunkenness. Intoxication could be said to cause someone to abandon his/her true self; alternatively, it could be said to reveal a side that is normally hidden but has been there all along.

CE: It’s interesting that you characterize some of the things I appear to have done in “Running the Sahara” as selfish. I have learned the obvious lesson that everyone who watches the film brings their own life experiences to the mix. Some see me as a pushy jerk while many others see me as driven and passionate. I think that says as much about the viewers’ background as it does about me. I think the movie portrays me as 80% decent guy and 20% asshole. Much of what was in the film is not in context (500 hours of footage boiled down to a 100 minute film by a creative editor) but the fact is that in real life that ratio is probably accurate. I can say one thing for certain. The likelihood of three runners making it all the way across the Sahara is really small. My teammates have told me directly that without the urgency I put forth every single day, we would not have been successful. I can live with that.

The scene near the end of the film is the most perplexing to me. It makes it look like I might try to finish without my teammates. I have always found that fascinating. First, it begs the question; why would I do that? What would be gained? Had I actually finished before them, I would have looked like the biggest jerk ever. I may be a hardass sometimes but I’m not stupid. We started as a team and I always wanted us to finish as a team. Ray [Zahab] and Kevin [Lin] became scared that I would somehow finish before them and this made for great film drama. I had no idea what was happening behind me. I couldn’t have possibly run any slower. I was doing 15 minute miles. A pack of turtles could have caught me.

All that is to say that running reveals true character, amplifies all that I am, good and bad. Drugs simply acted as a mask for any feelings, a false and deceptive coping mechanism that only makes any situation worse. Running (adventure in general) is cleansing and enlightening. Drugs are debilitating, soul crushing substances. Drugs only destroy and never give back. Running makes everything clear, softens all the hard edges.

GC: You’ve written a lot about running in prison on your blog, Running in Place. In short, you were able to keep running, but without a lot of the amenities and variety that most of us take for granted. Did prison change your relationship with running?

CE: Prison changed my relationship with running in several ways. The most apparent change to me is that I learned to appreciate the purity of running again….or maybe for the first time. When I was young, I ran for pure joy, just to go play with friends. It always seemed so easy, I never got tired. Or at least that’s how I remember it. But my time in prison was just the opposite. Every step seemed burdened somehow, weighed down by stress. That’s how it started anyway. But I quickly realized all I needed to do was to find the joy again and that could only come from letting running do what it does best; cleansing the negativity and opening up the possibilities that are always there when I run.

GC: Finally, I’m wondering about the extent to which you’ve experienced a stigma attached to your conviction for mortgage fraud. On the one hand, you’re an engaging speaker who can win audiences over when you have a chance to tell your story. I imagine that serving your sentence has even made you more fascinating and more marketable in some ways. (“Charlie Engle: He survived Badwater, the Sahara, AND a Federal penitentiary!”) On the other hand, the phrase “mortgage fraud” will always sound terrible to many ears. Until I read the March 25, 2011 New York Times column by Joe Nocera, I had assumed that you had done something that was unequivocally reprehensible.

CE: Certainly my arrest and incarceration didn’t help my short term speaking career…..or much of anything else. But ironically I have gotten so much support that I have way more opportunities now than I did before this mess started. Speaking, writing and planning new adventures are all things I worried I might never do again. But just the opposite is true. I’m sure there will always be a stigma of sorts. I probably won’t be asked to help anyone fill out their mortgage application. (I didn’t fill out the ones I was accused of signing either.) I know I didn’t do anything wrong and that’s mostly enough for me. I have pretty thick skin. For a runner.

GC: Indeed — all that running through the desert must have created some impressive calluses! Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts so freely, and good luck with your next adventures!

[Related: Utrarunner Podcast interviews Charlie Engle]


Paces as acquaintances

June 11, 2013

If you’ve been a runner for long enough, you may eventually regard certain paces as old acquaintances, each with its own personality and role in your life. For example…

6-minute pace: Steady but unrelenting, you rarely make me uncomfortable (unless I really overstay my welcome), but you keep me honest.

5-minute pace: It’s hard to be with you for very long. I tire of you almost instantly. After our encounters, though, I feel like a better, stronger person.

8-minute pace: A gentle, soothing companion. When I’m weary, you’re there for me.

4:30 pace: You seem faintly familiar. Did we know each other in college?


Titus Van Rijn, Two Thousand Thirteen

May 31, 2013

Having Uli Steidl as your pacer is a bit like having Wolfgang Puck as your sous-chef. You don’t feel worthy of the honor, but still want to take full advantage while it lasts.

My latest attempt at the Titus Van Rijn one-hour track event came on May 25th at the Roosevelt High School track. I invited a few local running friends to join me; Uli was the only one to succumb to the temptation. He offered to pace me, I accepted, and off we went in pursuit of my goal of 11 “metric miles” (i.e., 44 laps of the 400-meter track).

At my request, Uli settled into a pace of about 82 seconds per lap, with a couple of slower lap times attributable to my consumption of Gatorade. We made it through 16 laps in 22:00 and 24 laps in 33:02, then picked up the pace slightly. We finished our 35th lap at 48:00, leaving exactly 12 minutes to cover the last 9 hoped-for laps. Uli locked onto the required 80-seconds-per-lap pace with his usual precision, and we ultimately completed lap 44 with 3 seconds to spare.

Our final distance was 17,615 meters. Thus, because of Uli, I was able to surpass my TVR distances from 2008 (17,420m) and 2001 (17,360m), though still falling short of my marks from 2006 (18,115m) and 2009 (17,920m). Not too bad for an old codger.

Thanks, Uli!


Coming of age

May 20, 2013

On Sunday I attended the annual “Coming of Age” service at the University Unitarian Church, where 9th-graders offer brief statements on how they define faith for themselves. Many were quite insightful.

One of my favorite speeches emphasized making the most of today, rather than dwelling on the past or the future. It’s a very familiar message, but one that bears repeating periodically.

The UU service came a couple of hours after I made my debut as a Master at the Nordstrom’s Beat The Bridge 8K.

Among runners, the word Master has a very specific meaning — 40 years old and beyond — but associated with that are numerous ideas and feelings. For some runners, becoming a Master represents a leveling of the playing field whereby they can let the young kids go and focus on the other Masters. For others, it’s a sort of rebirth — a time to resume serious training and competition after a period of inactivity.

For me personally, the “rebirth” concept was inspiring in the months leading up to my 40th birthday. But now that I have actually arrived at Master-dom, I don’t feel reborn so much as rebuilt with spare parts. I feel OK, but certainly not “as good as new.”

As I prepared for Beat The Bridge last week, I exercised what I thought was admirable caution in my speed workouts. I made them shorter than usual and obeyed “speed limits” so that I wouldn’t strain anything. Nevertheless, my left hamstring was bothered by 2x1530m on the mildly uneven surface of Cal Anderson Park’s gravel path and felt slightly gimpy afterward.

The race ultimately went fine. With my time of 25:42, I won the Masters division comfortably over David McCulloch (26:46), Travis Adams (27:13), and Mark Donohue (27:51). But the kids left me in the dust. After 1 mile, my hamstring was not quite normal, and I was already out of contention for the Nordstrom’s gift cards given annually to the top 5 finishers. (I placed 3rd in 2006 and 4th in 2009 and 2010.) The winner, 29-year-old Jordan Horn, ran 23:37.

Thus, as I embark on life as a Master, I don’t feel like a master in the sense of “master of the universe” or “master of disguise.” I’ve managed to regain some speed on a schedule of running every other day, and I may improve further in the coming months. But my very fastest and healthiest days are almost certainly behind me.

As a wise 9th grader once said, I’ll try to make the most of today anyway.

with Health E. Hound
My post-race checkup with Dr. Health E. Hound.


A Praeg-matic view of exercise evangelism

March 28, 2013

Like any popular fitness magazine, Northwest Runner has an unabashedly pro-exercise flavor, and that’s OK. But in the April 2013 NWR, triathlon coach Wade Praeger goes too far in his scornful dismissal of past and present concerns about possibly negative aspects of exercise.

Praeger’s column is titled “The Real and Imagined Perils of Being an Endurance Athlete.” It begins:

Back when I started running in the 70s, I often had to deal with the questions, “Why are you running so much?” and “What do you think about out there?” Like many of you, I put up with or ignored those silly questions and just kept on truckin’.

In fact, “Why are you running so much?” and “What do you think about out there?” are perfectly reasonable questions. Sure, it can be tedious to answer them over and over and over, but true running ambassadors will respond willingly and patiently, thus demystifying the sport for their acquaintances and perhaps even gaining a few converts. To brush off such inquiries as silly does not help the cause.

Praeger continues:

…Every month I read another article about the perils of endurance athletics…. In a recent article in the journal Heart, Dr. James O’Keefe from Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City proposed that people who run too often or “too fast” have the same mortality as sedentary slobs…. Though his work has been thoroughly debunked and discredited by other cardiologists, the tenor of the article is repeated elsewhere in our popular culture.

These words suggest that O’Keefe is a lone quack whose only success has been in attracting publicity. Actually, he leads a team of research physicians who are publishing their work in respected peer-reviewed journals. Not everyone agrees with their findings, but the team is making a legitimate contribution to the field of exercise research, as Amby Burfoot has explained.

After further discussion, including examples of physicians’ genuinely nutty warnings from the 1890s, Praeger writes (under the heading of “Spreading misinformation”):

…I see at least three distinct causes for all of this hand-wringing and proscriptive do-goodery… Firstly … people who don’t work out need some justification for their non-participation… Secondly, there is the age-old Protestant distrust of having fun… Lastly, there is some semantic confusion between the meanings of “health” and “fitness”…

In listing these three poor reasons for worrying about exercise, Praeger implies that that there are no good reasons for doing so.

He concludes:

…When it comes to athletics and fitness, we all make choices and set priorities for ourselves. And anytime you try to impose your choices and priorities (your values) on someone else, you are being a prude, or a snob, or just a plain old pain in the ass.

I agree. The problem is that, by lumping together all exercise-related skepticism and rejecting it all as equally ludicrous, Praeger sounds as snobbish as those he’s criticizing. He should work harder to distinguish between imagined risks and sincere, reasonable questions.

[This was published as a letter in the May 2013 issue of Northwest Runner.]


A brief history of Uli’s times

March 8, 2013

So there I was at a birthday gathering for Uli Steidl, wanting to sing him the parody I had written at the gym that day (“Uli Uli,” to the tune of “Louie Louie” as performed by The Kingsmen). But I couldn’t comfortably sing and play the keyboard simultaneously, and nobody else would join me on either keyboard or guitar.

“Come on, people,” I pleaded, “it’s three chords! A-A-A, D-D, E-mi-nor, D-D … over and over and over again. Anyone? Anyone?”

At last Joe spoke up. He had played the piano a bit as a teenager and was willing to unretire for an evening. For 15 minutes we worked in the corner of the room while the others ate cake and talked. Once we labeled the keys with a dry-erase marker, he started hitting the right ones pretty consistently, but I worried that he might never get the rhythm down. Like the long-distance runner that he is, though, he persisted until he got it.

Then he tried to continue while I sang softly. That derailed him, but only temporarily. He tried ignoring me, focusing only on his notes while I followed his beat, and that seemed to work.

Finally we got everyone’s attention and gave it our best shot. Joe hung in there like a champ, others joined in on the chorus, and, if I do say so myself, my lead vocals were appropriately gritty and emotive.

the Gray/Crowther warmup
Gray and Crowther warm up. Photo by Joe Creighton.

* * * * * * *


sung to the tune of “Louie Louie”
as recorded by the Kingsmen (1963)

Uli Uli, oh no —
He’s gettin’ old!
Aye-yi-yi-yi, I said,
Uli Uli, oh baby —
He’s gettin’ old!

He grew up in southeastern Germany;
Rode his bike all around the country.
At 17, he went to a 10K race;
Didn’t have a clue, but took 1st place.


Uli came to Portland and then U-Dub;
Joined the Seattle Running Club.
Once got invited to go to Pyongyang, [rhymes with “song”]
So he ran a 2:13 marathon!


Uli got lonely; he made a wish.
Things got better when he met Trish!
Now they coach together on Capitol Hill,
But he keeps running and he’ll beat you still!



“Run Simple”: a conversation with author Duncan Larkin

March 2, 2013

Last November, a Taiwanese woman interviewed me about trail running. That was the ostensible topic, anyway; four of the five questions addressed the clothing, gear, and cross-training equipment that one might use in becoming a trail runner.

Concerned by this focus on “running stuff” rather than the actual act of running, I recommended that the interviewer read the book Run Simple by Duncan Larkin.

Then I decided that I should probably read it too.

“Run Simple” is a good, provocative title, but it doesn’t mean exactly what you think. I was surprised, for example, to find that one full chapter is devoted to cross-training exercises, and another contains detailed 8- to 16-week training schedules. Wanting to ponder the nature of simplicity a bit further, I conducted an email interview with the author.


1. The title “Run Simple” reminds me of Apple’s colloquial-sounding “Think Different” slogan. Was that parallel intentional? Would an adverb (i.e., “Run Simply”) have been too sophisticated or elegant for a book about simplicity? Chapter 6 advises runners to wear cheap clothing, even if it looks a bit shabby; did you want the title to have a rough-around-the-edges feel too? Or am I overthinking this?

The parallel between Steve Jobs’ brilliant philosophy of simplicity in terms of design and my own vis-a-vis running was not intentional. Originally, I wanted to call the book ORGANIC RUNNING, and even suggested MAO’S LITTLE RED BOOK FOR RUNNERS, but those titles were rejected by my publisher, who kept seeing the word “simplicity” in my manuscript and made the suggestion, because that’s really the overarching theme of the book. As it stands now, I like the title, because it does have a rough-around-the-edges feel and is itself minimalist (just two short words that hopefully reach out and grab people when they see the cover).

2. In the book’s opening chapter, you describe how various experiences led you to simplify your approach to running over time. (The bit about your dog burying your $25 gloves was priceless.) Aside from the fact that you’re a writer, what made you want to create a whole book about your approach?

Great question. I wanted to write this book, because I felt compelled, almost obligated, to point out something very important to my fellow runners. Why? Because I feel a strong sense of loyalty to this community and want to help give back to it in some way. As I went to expos and lined up on the starting line of races, I saw thousands of well-intentioned people who thought (and had been conditioned to believe) that they could run faster if they spent their hard-earned money on solutions. Here in the United States, we tend to think that technology can make life easier for us in all facets of our lives, but I don’t necessarily think this is the case with running. I really didn’t see the “run simple” approach going on anywhere I went. I saw ads in running magazines and a whole lot of salesmanship going on in expos for GPS watches, technical tee shirts, specially designed running shoes, and electrolyte-infused jellybeans. I saw more and more of my fellow runners donning headphones and heart-rate monitor straps. I overheard conversations about “power songs” and witnessed people poring over biometric data that they collected during their runs in the effort to draw conclusions about their running that I think are quite basic to grasp. I think offering people this perspective and getting them to at least consider a simpler approach was worthy of a book.

3. Your book argues that many runners have become overly dependent on high-tech apparel and food and gadgets and so forth. What do think are the most egregious examples of this? Live-tweeting one’s runs? Monitoring heart rate 24/7? Ingesting expensive, specially formulated recovery foods after a 3-mile jog?

One that comes to mind is the time I saw a guy line up for the start of a one-mile road race wearing headphones. I can begin to understand people who want to listen to music after six hours of running, but why do you need to listen to music for six or so minutes? Are those two songs really going help you pass the time? Can’t you get motivated from just listening to the huffing of runners around you and the roar of the crowd? Another egregious example is the time I watched a track race (3000m event, I believe) and some guy was wearing a GPS watch. It’s a track for crying out loud; you get pace feedback every lap!

4. Your sample training schedules seem good to me, but are not what I’d call “simple” — there are 16 different types of workouts listed, plus cross-training exercises. To reconcile this with the simplicity theme, I’d say that you advocate keeping each individual day relatively simple (e.g., not worrying about exact paces and heart rates) while still pushing for lots of variety in any given month of training. Is that about right? Do you think a lot of serious runners are stuck in a rut of doing essentially the same workouts every week, and need to shake things up a bit?

To me, simplicity requires some level of method. A runner can’t just be told to run simple and then left with no ideas of what that means. I put forth 16 different types of sample workouts in order to get the reader thinking about how to apply the principles I espouse. Each of the workouts map to three key concepts: “race”, “rest”, and “just run”. I don’t expect the reader to memorize these workouts and try to figure out exactly when they should be doing exactly what. However, I do want runners to ask themselves every day which of the three concepts their body and mind crave and then run accordingly. I hope that eventually, after some degree of experimentation, readers come up with their own types of runs they should be conducting on the race, rest, or just run days. I debated for a long time whether or not to put sample training plans in the book, because I think sample plans can lure people into believing in what I call “running recipes” (e.g., If I follow the plan exactly, I will reach my race goal). But I believe putting plans in the book was ultimately necessary since it can help people see how to put everything together. That being said, I think each runner needs to come up with their own plan and that their plan doesn’t necessarily have to be a daily schedule; it can be much more abstract. As to your second question: absolutely. I think many serious runners reach plateaus and don’t alter their workouts or approach that much in order to break through. Why? Because most of us are creatures of habit. We pretty much run the same routes and do the same workouts. We have our dearly held routines. Forgoing them entails taking risks, and so I believe instead of significantly altering the approach, runners rush to the store for a solution.

5. The part of the book that seems most contrary to my notion of simplicity is in Chapter 7, where you suggest creating and studying wind maps and elevation maps for your race courses. I claim that the kind of runner you’re cultivating — one who reads his/her body well without high-tech aids — can run through changes in wind and elevation simply and effectively by sticking to a constant effort (aside from any drafting opportunities that arise). To what extent is this complementary to or in conflict with your view?

Yeah, I know it seems odd that a book espousing simplicity has a runner studying the race course the day before (or running on it in training) and creating a wind/elevation map. But a race is usually a pretty important event and so why not be prepared for it? By suggesting these ideas, I’m trying to set the reader up for success and help them as much as possible reach their goal. Thoreau, no stranger to simplicity, once penned that “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” So if you are exchanging large chunks of your life training in the pursuit of a race goal, then the price to attain it is high, and therefore the person should come prepared with knowledge. Running simple doesn’t equal racing ignorant. (e.g., I didn’t know there was going to be a 20mph headwind and a mile-long hill!)

6. Your book provides training schedules, but your ultimate goal is to help people create their own schedules based upon their individual goals and bodies. I applaud this, but it will be hard for some people to make this transition. What sort of feedback on this have you gotten from readers? What are the main difficulties (if any) that they have faced?

I’ve had a few people write me to say that they PR’d after reading the book, which was music to my ears. Most people tell me that they are unable to follow the schedules to a tee, which is great, because that’s what I want. Their main challenge with going out on their own has been keeping up the confidence that they are doing the right thing on a daily basis.

7. The book also provides examples of and interviews with runners and coaches who employ principles similar to yours. Who is your all-time favorite example of a “simple runner,” and why?

It’s hard to come up with an all-time favorite “simple” runner. I guess my top choice is Japanese marathoner Yuki Kawauichi. I tried to interview him for the book, but unfortunately couldn’t connect with him. Why Kawauchi? He became a 2:08 marathoner while holding down a full-time job. His approach to training is surprisingly simple (just three structured weekly workouts: one long run, one speed session, and one soft-surface trail for recovery). He doesn’t train with gadgets; he doesn’t run on an Alter-G treadmill. He isn’t out promoting whatever product. To him, it’s all about putting in the miles and believing in yourself. I wish there were more pros like him.

8. Your main target audience for this book is people who want to achieve their racing potential. How would you modify your advice for people who aren’t particularly interested in races?

Do fewer “race” workouts in favor of more “just run” workouts. Racing is all about attaining comfort at a particular pace. If people don’t want to race, then don’t focus on that aspect, but I still would argue that this type of runner should at least do one “race” workout a week as breaking up the pace is good for preventing burnout.

9. Ultramarathons, especially trail ultras, could be considered the ultimate in simple running: enjoying nature for hours at a time, with competition and exact pace an afterthought for many participants. On the other hand, issues like refueling, maintaining the right body temperature, and seeing in the dark become more important in ultras, and can be addressed with the specialized products that you normally avoid. You’ve done a few ultras; what are your thoughts?

I recently did my first 24-hour race. I didn’t run with a headlamp (the course was lit). The only thing I carried was an 8-oz bottle. My fuel was whatever they had for me at the aid stations. I wore trainers with thousands of miles on them and my holy shirts/shorts were what I’ve been wearing for a nearly decade, so at least I practice what I preach! That being said, I think entering into the ultra realm requires some element of “gearing up”. There’s nothing wrong with getting a nice headlamp for night running and there’s nothing wrong with doing some research about finding the right fuel to consume, but I still think all runners should “gear down”. Most ultras do a great job supporting runners. Aid stations are stocked with pretty much everything a runner needs. The weight of carrying things for 100 miles, no matter how small, can add up to a significant amount, so I would suggest that ultra runners look at paring down in a race. They can best do this by experimenting in training.

10. “Run Simple” ends with a chapter of questions that readers might have, along with your answers. What additional Q&A would you now add, based on reactions to the book?

I would probably spend some more time clarifying why I have so many sample workouts in a book that supposedly espouses simplicity. I can see why some readers would be confused by that and I believe I need to add some more clarification about the purpose of these workouts.

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review of “Run Simple” (
The Most Dangerous Man in Running, and The Book He Wrote (


Over the hill … and still climbing

January 17, 2013

On October 29, I was just about to start an uphill interval when I had an unsettling realization.

“I haven’t done a hill workout in over two years,” I announced to my training partners, “…because hills are bad for my Achilles.”

My left Achilles tendon had been feeling fine, so I went ahead with the workout, which didn’t seem to do any real damage. But boy was I slow! Ian and Tim repeatedly glided away from me as if I had just given blood.

In the long process of regaining fitness, regaining uphill speed has seemed especially hard. Eleven days after the workout noted above, I repeatedly climbed a Ravenna Park hill that, in my heyday, lasted about 83 seconds. Now I needed 95.

You know what, though? Training still works. I’ve since done a bunch more hills, supplemented with some stair-stepping at the gym, and I’m getting better. In last Saturday’s Bridle Trails 5-Mile race, I finally shed my 25-year-old pursuer with a surge on the course’s last ascent, about half a mile from the finish.

It was, if nothing else, a reasonable sign of progress.

post-race smile Hooray for hills! Race volunteer Eric Sach and runner-up Keith Laverty are in the background. Photo taken from Win Van Pelt’s collection.