Monday, January 26, 2015


"Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can."- Arthur Ashe

This was the first time in a long time that I allowed myself an off-season, not running 5 days a week, instead taking time to rebuild myself after going year round for 3-plus years.
Time was spent practicing yoga, getting back in the gym working to rebuild some strength lost while focusing on running, and in the end just relaxing.  Allowing myself slow mornings of coffee and reading before going to work, not pushing out the door for what sometimes turned into tired, junk miles.
But now that time is over, and I am starting to ramp up again with a body and mind that feels much fresher than in years past.
That quote from Arthur Ashe can be taken many different ways, for me I think of my running.   Everyone has to start somewhere, whether coming back after some time off, or stepping out the door for the first time.  You can wish you were in better shape, had trained harder, been more physically gifted, but you're not.  You have to start right where you are.
Use what you have, build up to where you want to be, it's all a process.  Nothing happens overnight. 
Do what you can, maybe it's just a mile today, maybe it's 10.  It's all about where you are, do what you can, come back to it the next day and do what you can that day.
As I start to ramp up my miles again I have to remember that I am not in the type of shape to put up huge mileage weeks like I was in September leading into the Superior 100.  If I tried that now my body would break down and I'd end up injured.  But I know that I can get one good longish run in each week, and the next week extend it out a little further.  Use the fitness I have today to get better tomorrow.
The first stage in this building process will be the Trail Mix 50K in late April, followed by the Superior 50K in mid-May with a backpacking trip to Zion National Park in between.  My goal for this season is to race, not run these events.  To really push myself, not for a time goal per say but to see what I can do, I know I can finish the distances but to find out how hard I can push myself.
After Superior work kicks in and limits my summer racing, but I plan to use this time wisely to build a base of training and strength for the next stage in the fall.  First will be pacing Ali through her first, and my 8th, Twin Cities Marathon.  Then I plan to tackle the Wild Duluth 100K, a distance I have yet to try.
But it all starts right here, where I am today, and if I focus on getting better today, tomorrow and the rest will take care of itself.

What I Wish I Knew Marathon Edition

This post first appeared here: 

I ran my first marathon in 2007, Grandma's Marathon in northern Minnesota, a 26.2 mile course that starts in Two Harbors and winds its way along the shore of Lake Superior before ending in Canal Park in downtown Duluth.
Since then I have run 10 other marathons (7 Twin Cities Marathons, 2 more Grandma's, and the Eugene Curnow trail marathon) and 12 ultra-marathons, but I always go back to the lessons I learned in that first one.
There is really no way to understand a race of that distance until you actually do it.  I read all the books, subscribed to Runner's World magazine, followed a training plan as close as I could but none of it truly prepared me for the actual event.
Books, magazines, blog posts all try to warn you about starting off too fast, staying hydrated, fueling, and staying mentally strong.  At my first marathon, despite all the warnings, I did just about everything wrong.
Part of it is just learning your body, knowing the training load your body can handle and how to taper.  For me I ran hard in all of my training, didn't understand an LSD (long, slow, day) did my hill work at top speed without recovering in between repeats and as a result ended up at the starting line exhausted.  For 18 weeks I pushed myself every day to get ready for this race and by the time I got to Duluth to pick up my packet I was spent.
Now when I train for a marathon I know how far I can go on my training runs without working myself to exhaustion, and better understand the importance of a rest day.  I am not a fan of a total rest day, but more active recovery so that I keep my body moving but don't stress it too much. 
Also the taper period is huge, slowing down a week or so before the event.  Resting, doing fewer miles and running slower during this time doesn't hurt you but allows you to toe the line feeling fresh.
Another area where I totally bombed in my first marathon was nutrition leading up to and during the event.
At the time I thought it was great, run a lot, eat all you want.  Carbo load, yes sir, give me all the breadsticks you have!
That's not really much of an exaggeration either.  I remember in the final week leading up to Grandma's I was eating pasta every night and on my way home I would stop at Little Caesars for an order of Crazy Bread to go with it.  Then fearing that I wouldn't have enough fuel, I'd walk down to Cal's Party store (great little joint by my apt in Marquette, MI) and get a huge container of peanut butter desert.  No idea what was in it but there were a lot of carbs which was a good thing in my mind, and it tasted amazing.
The problem was that kind of food is really hard to process and as a result I just got full...but I kept eating that week because I thought I'd need it.
When I arrived in Duluth I was so full I debated not eating the night before the race, but they had a spaghetti dinner so of course I took down two platefuls as 'fuel.'
The morning of the race my breakfast was a bottle of milk and an instant breakfast packet with a protein bar, not a great choice, none of that is very nutrient dense and there's not much sustainable fuel in there.
Biggest nutrition takeaway I learned was don't deviate too much from what you normally do.  Stick to foods you are used to, that you can process, and maybe in the days leading up add in some extra rice or something but don't go overboard trying to carbo-load.  There's a good chance you have enough carbs stored up to be just fine.
During the actual race there were two things that really stood out, lessons that I learned the hard way and think about every time I've toed the line since.
First, run your race.  My brother and I started that race like our pants were on fire.  We took off thinking we were going to win.  It didn't mile 20 for him and mile 18 for me we were cooked and it was a slow painful march to the finish.  Sure it was great to be booking for the part and feeling like you might place, but the last 6-8 miles were some of the worst miles I have ever 'run' in my life.
The second thing is fueling during the race, which may have helped stave off the march at the end.  Drink early, drink often but don't get a sloshy stomach.  So much of this really is about feel.  I didn't drink at any of the first few aid stations because I was so full (see my carbo-loading above) so I thought I could just run it off and then later my stomach would clear and I could drink water.  Didn't work out that way.
By the time I started to hydrate it was too late and my body was getting racked by cramps in my quads and calves. 
The other thing was fuel; find something that works for you.  In marathon's I use gels, in ultra's clif bars, and shot-blocks, whatever it is, find something you can stomach that gives you the energy you need to finish. 
In that first one, I had a packet of jelly beans.  They were like 'runners energy beans' or something but I'd never used them before and by the time I tried them I was 15 miles into the race and so dehydrated that when I popped a handful in my mouth I choked on them.  They shot up into my nose since I couldn't swallow them and eventually I sneezed out a full jelly bean, hilarious for those on the sidelines watching, but not much fun to go through while trying to run.
I'd love to say that since then I've mastered these areas and never had a bad race but that would be a lie.  It's all still a work in progress and you'll have good days and bad days it comes with the territory. 
There's a great quote I read once that sums it up 'Endurance running is special.  It requires paying attention to the mind, body and spirit.  It requires being honest with yourself.  It does not require pain.'