Saturday, July 2, 2016

Any Landing You Can Walk Away From

The General Dynamic's F-16 Fighting Falcon, this is the plane I was born to fly. Somewhere around age ten, already made up my mind, no doubt, I was going to be a fighter pilot. That summer, almost lost my mind seeing an advertisement for a new flight simulator game being released in the fall. It was torture waiting, but my training started the second Falcon came out for the Macintosh. My destiny was set, by the time of graduation, the Air Force would be begging me to join with all the hours of flight time I logged in this simulator. Heck, they wouldn't even need to train me, simply fit me for my flight suit and send me on my way.

Not exactly sure when my dreams were crushed. Needing glasses, could have been the deal breaker. Maybe it was finding out what pilots get paid. Or maybe it the threat of Mom never wanting her son in military with the constant reminders of being taken out of the will if I ever did join. Ugh, what about the realization of finding out even Air Force pilots have to take part of basic training....and all that running! Ugh running, who does that?

Thirty years later, give me a mouse and a keyboard, and I'll make those boogies sorry they ever shared the skies with me! Fox-two, a nine-G turn and a victory barrel roll later and the world is safe again! Yeah, it's safe to say I've never lost my love of the Falcon and dreams of flying it.

Sister Downhill and niece Bug decided to run a 5K. When looking up info for them, couldn't believe the price of this damn race, who charges this much? Then I noticed with race entry, also includes entry to the Air Show and parking pass. Hmmm, Air Show and a race, what's this they also have a half marathon and the Thunderbirds are in town? Was that a sonic boom? My finger may have broken the sound barrier registering before I knew it.

Running in July, isn't fun. Racing in July, makes even less sense. The ONLY reason I'm doing this is support for my girls, okay and maybe the reward of watching an air show after. Summer racing is for the birds!

Insert an F-16 with full afterburner here, for the start race gun here. It actually was a fairly mild morning, the temps were cooler for July, but I wasn't taking chances and went shirtless...for Freedom and American dammit! Plus it is essentially the 4th after all! Freedom!

The first few miles, it actually felt good to running easy to look down at the watch and see a respectable time, amazing the difference cooler temps make, but also knew it wasn't going to last. Clear skies and beating sun ahead. About mile three, they routed us on the actual runway, huh this is kind of cool. First time for this.

"Tower, this is Ace four one, clear for take-off?"

"Ace four one, pattern is clear, cleared for take-off."

Mile four, was the attempted take off. Running on a runway was exciting because it was different, the pace quicken. The unexpected part of runway running, can see forever and time feels like it stands still with no points of reference changing the view. Mile four, was the longest fast mile in the history of aviation running. In the distance, I could see the tails of the Thunderbirds and remember thinking how cool would it to be if we got close to them, but knew they are going to funnel us back just before we get to them in my gut.

"Tower, this is Ace four one, request for fly-by?"

"Ace four one, Rodger."

"Yankee, Echo, Alfa, Hotel!!"

Had they advertised getting to run directly in front of the seven Thunderbirds lined up as a perk to doing this half marathon, I would have been signed up months ago. The whole time as I got closer and closer to them, I expected it still to be some kind of cruel joke with the Tower waving us off at the last second. Instead, I could actually feel my heart racing with excitement, not because I was four miles into a half marathon, but it felt awesome to be this close to the plane I fell in love with so long ago. So close, could almost reach out and touch, better yet, how about just climbing into the cockpit and taking one for a test flight?

"Ace four one, this is Tower, stay on target."

Back to reality, the armed MP's standing guard, preventing those childhood dreams.

The whole rest of the race was uneventful. Maybe, because the climax happened and nothing after that could be topped. Maybe, my head was already in the clouds. All I do know is nothing was left in my body for speed, probably from all the extra heartbeats by the hanger, or possibly lack of training this whole summer, going with the racing heart early in the race.

"Tower, this is Ace four one, permission to land?"

"Ace four one, this is Tower, ummm, this is kind of FUBAR, but the runway is a bit short...good luck! Over and!"

For the second time this year, a race course ended short. But, any race you can walk away from is a good one.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Tribute to Shoelace

Didn't see this coming. Every race has a story I guess. This one, just came untied.

Following the bizarre 5K, that wasn't a 5K, did make me remember my Orange Crush that PR shoes. They have only been worn in 5K's, but warming up and running that 3K last week they did feel really good. So, the cardinal rule of never wearing a new pair of shoes on race day, well I'm about to break it. Besides, it's not not a marathon, just a half!

Hometown Half Marathon, here we go! Though my hometown has nothing to do with Michigan football, it's the spot I fell in love with it. So many Saturdays were spent watching games, cheering, bleeding blue growing up. Leaving for school, getting older, don't commit as much time as back then to the Maze and Blue, but I certainly still follow them, even in the down years (which the ship has been righted). One player who really deserves more credit than he gets, both for persevering and being put in awful situations in those rough years is Denard "Shoelace" Robinson. Why did they call him Shoelace? Because, he never tied his shoes! He was so fast, he must have been on to something, but who would ever try that? Guess that should make me, Pantless! Hang with me, I know this is a stretch.

Last year was a fluke, finished this race second. Not second in my age group, second overall! Even though this is a small race, for a small town, really didn't think success like that would repeat itself again this year, but obviously to be on the safe side, something made me wear my PR shoes.

Go Bluuuuuuuue! Goes the gun. First mile slightly faster than I wanted, but at this point felt comfortable that nobody bolted and were specs in the distance. Sixth overall and knew for sure two of the people ahead would die out, that only left three others. Mile two brought some separation between the lead two guys as they pulled away some. Really wanted to stay relaxed until after mile four, but felt it was best to keep them in range. About the same time my pace was lowering, my left shoe came untied. Now, I've had a shoe malfunction one time before in a race and even though it was much later in the race, felt stopping screwed me up, not making that mistake again.

Soon mile four is here, what does it bring? Oh, now my right shoe is also untied! This is where that lesson bell dings, never had this problem with these shoes because you've never gone this far in these shoes! This is when I had my first thought of Denard Robinson. Still in fourth place overall, but it sounds like somebody is also right behind me! Or maybe it's simply the noise of my laces whipping.

Mile nine is where it started, this odd sensation in my left foot, big toe specifically. It wasn't pain, but I could tell that my foot must be sliding forward in my shoe and my toe is smashing the front of my shoe. I wish common sense would have kicked in, I should have stopped and tied both my shoes. But I could still see all three runners ahead of me. It should have been obvious that they weren't going to die out, but maybe they were dealing with their own issues and hopefully worse than mine. Based on my foot trouble, knew I was going to begin to get slower. No, not stopping, body and mind said fight through it.

Mile twelve, I was in some major pain, still didn't stop, kept dealing with it. By now, my right foot was bothering me too, most likely compensating for the other foot. The final downhill about killed me, who decided to put that hill here? My toe was throbbing, each step felt like a hammer and smashing it.

Crossing the finish line, it almost pains me that ended up being about a minute slower than my PR, yet had I worn my normal shoes, probably would have done much better. Never did catch those other guys, so fourth overall, but turns out none of them were in my age group, so still ended up first for that.

In other news, CT has been on a pretty good running streak lately and had been trash talking that she was going to beat me today. Well, I'm happy to say she didn't, though it would have been my shoelaces fault had she, but she ended up coming being first overall female! As impressive as that is, she actually won prize money, that's a first too! Very proud of her though, she donated her winnings back to the race because it also is to help stomp out our least favorite c word. You know, stomp it out like what it feels just happened to my big toe!

Though I didn't PR or win overall, I do think I set some kind of record for 11.1 miles with untied shoes, Shoelace style!  

Saturday, May 14, 2016

World Record...Pink Slip

Wearing a pink shirt for a good cause and showing support for a wonderful friend, no problem. Braving low 40's and probably closer to 30's for a race, heck yeah! That's perfect for me and isn't sacrificing anything! Letting a stranger spray paint my head that's commitment!

Today is the Race for the Cure. Most races, there is uneasiness worried about times, distance, any number of things. None of that today, but it was a different and somber start to the race as moments before speakers spoke of losses from that awful c word. Not exactly a raw raw type start, instead we'll call it a calm start.

As the National Anthem played, gazed at the biker in orange and found myself thankful they had a bike official for this course. I did research the route, for twenty seconds, and had a vague idea, but it had more turns than I wanted to put thought into. Yeah, this is an omen, you can guess where this is going.

F-yooooooou (c word) goes the gun. Out the ball field we go. It wasn't too long before I was probably in fifth. While hardly what I'd called 5K trained, certainly wasn't going to set any records, curious to know where my 5K speed is. Soon the lead biker and runner are headed back, strange. Runner logic kicked in and though I thought it was odd, who am I to judge, so I turned where they did. In my head, I figured the game plan was to loop this section again, then we'd be sent out further on the trail. Sure enough, looped a small section again, before a volunteer enthusiastically told us almost done and pointed us into the ball field. Okay, this isn't right. At this point the guy in front of me and I started chatting about something is really wrong with this. As we entered the stadium, watched the lead runner cross the line. Yup, wrong. Checked my watch and hadn't even hit two miles yet. To cross or not to cross, that is the question! We ended up kind of laughing and crossing, once across, told him was might as well keep going and get our full distance in. So, back out the stadium we went.

Back on the course, it was obvious where the mistake was made. Instead of staying on the trail and crossing a bridge, the lead biker turned at a cone that was just before that bridge. As we cross the bridge and took a small turn, there was a water tent with a few very confused volunteers. My comment passing them, "traffic is going to be very lite today". We reached the official turn around spot, a cone, go figure, On the way past the water tent again, "Think we'll be the last runners you see today too".

I've wanted to break into the 19's for a 5K since I started and it took tons of work to finally pull it off. Like I said, haven't put any kind of 5K training in for a long time, well looking at the final results, 12:15! Going from 20's 19's crazy hard! Going from 19's to 12's, kind of easy! Later that day, I looked up what the world record for a 5K is, 12:37! Not only did I set a PR, but a WR! Crazy!

There *might* be an asterisk with those results. It really is unfortunate that something like this happened. Most people had fun with it, didn't seem to be anybody too upset about it. There will always be other 5K's, so it's not like it would be hard to find another one. Overall, it is for a good cause and fun, and for that, I'll put up with anything, even in pink. Now that lead biker, he might be getting the pink slip!  

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Sixth Sense

It's time again, my nemesis. The beatings will continue until morale improves, or something like that. This battle is so one sided, it's to the point the thought of "winning" doesn't even enter my mind anymore, it simply is how to minimize the beating.

Spent extra time attempting to find "it" prior to the start. Stretches, favorite tunes, pretending this is really a different race. The temps are on the cool side, but I know the weather report, it will be warm by finish. Knowing that, it makes sense to run this conservative making sure something is left for the end. My Sixth Sense tingles and reminds me that it's been tried before and ended in disaster too. If the beatings are going to continue, what happens if I run without fear? Lets make this a fight!

"I see dead people" goes the start of the gun. Normally, I start behind the pace I want. Today, at the pace I want, which I know is crazy, but I also know I can bank a few miles, then slow down a bit. The early miles are uneventful. Favorite turn is heading through the center of Kalamazoo where there are a few familiar faces and the crowd support helps. After the split between the half and full course, things really thin out, much less fun and much more work.

Wanting to stay minimal, didn't bring music. This is the point where it would be nice because for the next twenty miles, it's going to be kind of lonely. Sun is now up and I do have a shadow though. Coming out of campus my shadow and I are gaining on two women, one in a tutu. These two annoyed me prior to start. Can't say specifically what they did, but anybody in a tutu should be beaten, regardless. I mention to my shadow, tuck in behind me, I'll block the wind in this next stretch, figuring I'd be dying out at some point anyway, but wanted to give my shadow every chance I could to save some energy to beat the tutu girls.

Out of the wind, in the next section, my shadow started talking back. At this point we were about eight miles in, dropping 7:30 miles. Turns out my shadow lives basically in the neighborhood we are currently running through at the moment. She helped hire the one friendly face I saw downtown. Has about the same PR's. All of this is odd because I don't remember ever seeing her running before. Then she asks my name and immediately asks if CT is my wife. Of course Shadow knows her, everybody does! Small world. By this time we pass mile twelve and both get major support from Ms. Positive (see previous blog entry).

Crossed the halfway point at an insane time of 1:39 something. In my best marathon, I don't think put in a time like this. On this course, with it warming up, I know this is a horrible idea. At this point, I let my Shadow go. Continuing to clock under 8 minute miles, would result in a quick and painful death.

From sixteen to twenty is the death march. Going out hard was probably foolish, but these miles were brutal sun miles and I'm convinced they were the real problem. At twenty I was feeling pretty miserable and knew the end was looming. Technically, I was still putting it decent times for miles, but I knew the good times were about to be done.

Mile twenty-two brought a Superstar face asking if I could use anything, "a Coke!". Unfortunately, poor planning didn't make that a reality. Around the next corner waits a smiling CT. While very glad to see her, it's a bitter sweet because I'm feeling very miserable and I also KNOW what it means with her here. "Hun, I'm done" leaves my mouth, her response "You're not quitting on me". Did that sound like a crack of a whip? It should have.

How to make the Kalamazoo Marathon harder? Well, I don't think it's possible to add more hills. They always could move the start time back even more to ensure we get the hottest possible temps. Or simply add CT as coach for the final miles.

The beatings did continue, every time I wanted to stop. The course that beats me every year, now has an accomplice, except now it's a tug of war, with my body. On side, Kzoo wants to win again. The other side, CT wants me to win. I'll admit it, I wanted to strangle CT, problem is I wouldn't be able to catch her and if I did I wouldn't have the strength to do much damage. She willed me across the line, or maybe threatened.

CT is born to coach, or maybe punish. Either one, she's good at it. Without her, never would have gotten the time I did. Crushed my previous best on this course by fourteen minutes.

Kalamazoo, #6 sense is in the books.  


Saturday, April 9, 2016

UltraNever Again!

It's been a while. Not, getting ready for a run on Saturday. It's been a while. Not, strolling up to a starting line. It's been a while. Not, wearing pants. It's been a while. Not, getting nervous for a race. That streak is over, nerves and an uneasy feeling has taken over my body. All the normal pre-race traditions are missing, it almost feels as if there is this thick fog haze over everything. It's as if I'm a zombie, stab me in the head! Is this my body going into shock preparing what it knows is coming? Nothing feels real at this moment and it certainly doesn't seem real that today is the day for the dun-dun-dun (dumb?) Ultra.

The fog horn sounds and it starts. Thirty-three and a half miles, then there's a promise it will finish, eventually. That's the only guarantee for certain in my mind, getting there is an complete unknown. Part of me expects to be face down somewhere after the twenty mile mark. This blog is full of complaining about weather, this is one day on what I expect to be my hardest run to date, the weather finally decided to cooperated with me. Snow overnight, temps in the 20's to start and highs only in the 30's, if ever there was a day for me, this may be it. Must have done something right to deserve this.

Ultras are easier than Marathons, or so I've read. Just slow your pace, enjoy, is the recommendation. Who writes these? Almost expect it to be some kind of inside joke. Longer is easier, so dumb. First mile, 8:25, okay maybe there is some truth to this. Second mile, 8:00. Boy, that "easy" didn't last long. Here come the voices. Annoyed with the excessive amount of tracks in the snow, the people around me, something clicked and plan of keeping it easy is now gone. Mile three, 7:30. This probably is a horrible decision, but this whole challenge is an unknown. Only way to learn is by doing.

The next few miles stayed consistent. The tracks never got better, couldn't figure that out (a day later realized they were from the people who did the early start and never would have gotten better no matter how fast I went!), now ahead of most people making them. Dropping 7:30 miles, found it didn't take long to lose the crowd, but somebody was on my heals the whole way still. At about mile six, my shadow made himself known. We chatted a bit, he was from Indiana, this was also his first Ultra. I made it known that after twenty miles, wasn't sure what would happen, to clear my conscious if he was looking for advic. At mile eight, let my shadow go, knew continuing to do miles at 7:30 would not be a good thing later, so eased back to about 8's.  

This is where the mental games started. Tunnel vision is an understatement, the world consists of a trail, a treeline on either side, and a vanishing point disappearing in the distance, yet never seeming to get closer. Redrum, Redrum, isn't this how Jack Nicholas started his trip to insanity? There is an occasion runner to pass, but for the most part doing the solo ultra is fitting, it's solo, you are alone. Better get used to it, there is still a long way to go.

Getting to the halfway point, found myself thinking of past experiences doing this race as part of a relay team. Good times. This is the point I'd be taking over and would be starting, fresh and full of energy. Now, it's a seventeen and a half mile warm up, with last sixteen miles to go, alone. No team cheering, no support, just back to the monotony of the trail never seeming to end.

Just passed mile twenty, this is where things always happen. Knowing my history didn't help the mind games. Knowing still had a half marathon to go, definitely didn't help the confidence. My pace was still good and still felt good, but found myself starting to look forward to the next aid station, which I thought was at mile twenty three. It was getting to the point where I needed food and planned a drop bag with snacks for this purpose. Mile twenty three clicks, nothing. Okay, maybe it's twenty three and a half, nothing. Of course can see for what looks like forever and still see nothing. This is where mentally the wheels came off. Doubt, confidence, history, loneliness, the Wall looming, everything coming at once. Then I see it, finally, the aid station at twenty four! Salvation! First thing I notice, no drop bag, this isn't the aid station for that. The few seconds of relief instantly gone with the realization that my stuff wasn't here, low to high, to back looooow.

Luckily, this aid station is being hosted by a super positive runner friend of ours, Ms. Positive. She hits me with the usual "you're looking great", "you're doing great", all the things I know are lies based on how I'm feeling and roll off my back like water off a duck.  "Can I get you anything?", wakes me from my trance, just as I notice cups of Coke. My response, "a bike!". Then I also notice a GU, Coke and GU, not an exact replacement for not seeing my drop bag, but certainly helped. Took a moment to crouch, stretch, and attempt to find whatever strength that was still inside to continue. Ms. Positive, "that's it, find your mantra". Didn't have the heart to tell her, I was really just looking for that damn bike under the table!

Coke, GU, Ms. Positive, or the combination of all three, but what I'm sure was my downward slide, prevented and righted the ship. While nobody feels great after running twenty five miles, I felt much better than mile twenty three/four. Pace slowed a little, but not bad, still low 8's. Had any of those things not been there, would have totally changed the rest of the race and not sure I would have made it.

When mile twenty six clicked, waiting until it was officially at point two past to check my time. Fourth fastest marathon, in the middle of my first Ultra, that helped gain some confidence back. Believe the next aid station was around mile twenty eight. At this point, felt things were a success simply for the fact I was still running and knew surviving and finishing were a sure thing. Definitely was getting tired and mentally had some runner's head going on. Awwwww, light shines down, there's my drop bag! By this time the trail was more wet than snow covered and while I could finish without, felt it was best to do a sock change. Hands and fingers didn't want to work, felt as though lost lots of time making this switch, but also felt as though I needed a slight break (looking back, never should have bothered). It wasn't until about a quarter mile after realized didn't eat or take any of my damn snacks that I wanted way back at mile twenty three/four. Five more miles without anything, we'll call this ultra surviving.

Mile thirty was my Wall. Honestly, really not sure had I remembered my food, if it would of made any difference. My body was tired and this is also about the point where some of the relay team people were now passing. My mind didn't get anywhere near the place is was at around mile twenty three/four, but it really didn't feel like I was doing very well and didn't see any reason forcing myself to keep going and chance injuring something, so the last miles became the walk run mix to finish.

Crossing the line, I'm not even sure what my emotions were. Glad to be done for sure, but wasn't even excited to complete my first ultra. Maybe it was simply too tired to care, but really wanted a smiling CT standing there waiting. My favorite Bug was there with Downhill, it felt good to have somebody there, super excited, and that was unexpected. The whole time of being out there alone, figured I'd have to wait until CT finished before being able to see anyone. As we waited, Buggy wanted me to take a blanked because I was shivering. Had to tell her, I'm not cold, it's my legs quivering from what they just went through! Ran thirty three and a half miles, really basically thirty four since course changed, still label it as thirty three, liars! Yet, my legs felt the need to vibrate for probably another two after.

Have a whole new appreciation for the Ultra Marathoners out there. It's one thing to physically train your body enough to do the distance, but I can't even comprehend how tough they are mentally or how you prepare for greater distances. They probably just have water boards setup in their basements, because that's about what it felt like those last miles.

Official goal was simply to finish. Unofficial goal was getting under five hours. 4:50:55 and a promise to never do that again. Hmmm, wonder if I could do better...


Sunday, February 28, 2016


This is my race, cold, snow, short, perfect. Winter Blast is the one race I can count on to be in my sweet spot for races temperature wise. This will be the fourth year running it and the previous three all have been good times for me. I call it my race because it's one of the few times most people know me, as the guy in shorts.

Well, the one thing I'm known for isn't working today and I'm essentially the Invisible Man. This global warming thing is no joke! Instead of standing out in shorts, the people wearing pants are the odd ones today. The announcement made prior to race start, the temps today are more than the first three years temps combined. So much for my one advantage.

Prior to start, struggled with finding my zone. In what has become an almost regular occurrence, I'm alone again. No buzz from the Superstars, no outrageous requests from CT (out of town), just me.

Waaaaarm goes the gun.  The first four miles were fairly uneventful. Worried a little about the wind, but didn't seem to notice it any in these miles. Somewhere around mile four, got a little demoralized as a guy caught me from behind and powered ahead. Even though I felt good, felt fast, wasn't expecting to get passed so easily. Confidence returned as I watched him make the turn for the 10K, that makes more sense.

In the long straight away, I finally cheated and looked at my watch as it chirped for the last mile. It clocked a 6:45 mile, for my mile seven. Runner fuzz logic was definitely active, first thought was damn watch isn't reading right, figures. Mile eight chirps, 6:48! While I knew I was working hard, I couldn't figure out how I was clocking miles this fast, that's almost 5K pace.

Mile nine, cleared the fuzzy runner's logic, turning into a full force headwind. Awww, that explains a lot. Here's the payback for all those easy miles. The final miles were nothing easy, knew it was going to be close for a PR, but it was going to have to be earned into the wind.

The next four miles, all the glorious miles with the wind at my back, gone. The real work started here. At no point did the extra gear show up and I wasn't even sure if or how close I'd be to my PR I'd be, mentally just told myself to keep going and see what happens.

Last curve the clock came into view and knew I had it. One of the running coaches this year shared a TED talk explaining the benefits as to why runners throw their hands up crossing the line to signal their accomplishment. It's never crossed my mind before, probably because I'm always too tired to have any energy to even bother. This time, it did feel like an accomplishment to PR a time that I didn't think I'd ever be able to top. Arms raised, finishing strong!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Foolish is as Foolish Does

The Kal-Haven Trail and I have quite the history. Soon, it will have another story tied to the both of us. I must be out of my mind, for what I'm about to say and do. Moments ago, committed to running the whole thing as my first ultra marathon! The same trail years ago, I dreaded riding a bike for the whole distance, now is going to be covered by foot (maybe even by hands and knees).

How did I get suckered into this? One word, and you've already guessed it, CT. The girl who doesn't want to do marathons anymore, because they are hard, for some reason doesn't have an issue doing ultra marathons instead. How foolish is that? Common sense flows strongly through me, almost like the Force. I know my limits, I thought I could resist, in the end I couldn't. CT worked her magic and planted the seed, and that's all it took.

She planted that damn thought in my head, then slowly backed away. My mind took over and before I knew it, I clicked the button and signed up, becoming foolish. For somebody who falls apart every marathon at or around the twenty mile mark, going even further seems like a receipt for disaster. Why didn't my common sense come to my aid? Simple numbers. Turning thirty-five, made a goal to run a 5K. This ultra marathon, is a 50K. In five years (okay dangerously close to six, but still forty), in my mind, it translates into getting ten times better. Common sense loses to being able to say something cool.

Don't have a clue how to train for this, so this will be an adventure. My plan is to modify my most successful marathon training plan by adding miles to it. Instead of running back to back sixteen and ten mile runs to equal marathon distance, changed it to a twenty mile run followed by a thirteen mile run to simulate the thirty-three miles of the trail. Will this be good enough? Only time will tell.