17 of 52: RRCA Ten Mile Club Challenge 2019

Where the Hills Are

Not like – giGANtic hills, but the annoying, never ending up and downy ones that seem to appear only after you’ve made a turn. Again and again. Turn after turn. Mile after mile. Oh – and there was rain… but I’m getting ahead of myself. This is not “the run” and it’s also not “not the run”.

So this is a race I’ve never done before. Hosted by the Howard County Striders, the RRCA Ten Mile Club challenge is a cross country scored club race which means I guess that everybody from your club who finishes somehow contributes points towards your club.

I was pretty stoked because FINALLY I would be joined by my friend Dennis who always gives so much support to all those around him. We’ve been trying to connect on one of these runs and have never quite been able to link up. It’s been too long since Dennis and I have run together and I was looking forward to catching up.

The Run

I thought I would be able to get to the race in time to make the club group photo, but I did not. I shed my Bear-like sleeping tendencies to get out of bed on time, ignored the cold, ignored the rain and got my show on the road. That’s a lie – I grimaced at the cold AND the rain but it did not get armer and the rain did not stop so off I went.

There was a fair amount of backup getting into the parking lot at the race, but I was early enough that no one was losing their mind over it. I parked and made a bee line to the gym for packet pickup. It took me a moment to figure out that instead of arranging the pick up lines by alpha or by bib number, the lines were sorted by Running Club. Whoa – I hope no one cares that I’ll be having a leisurely run with a friend during this race! I suddenly imagined that everyone in the room was basically an olympic athlete out to win for their home team. As usual, my imagination was far from reality.

Dennis and I quickly agreed to a pace for the race and decided it would be better to run the additional 3.1 miles after the race when we were already warm rather than before the race and risk having to wait around and get cold. Also – we like to sleep…

The race was well supported with water and gatorade about every two miles and plenty of course monitors to keep you on track. One surprising tidbit – there were ZERO porta-pots along the route. To be fair this information was in the pre-race materials so if you did your homework it was not a surprise.

By the time we were “encouraged” to go line up to start, the rain had passed. We joined the rest of the crowd and made our way. Knowing this was a competition race we picked a spot pretty far back in the pack and tried not to get pulled into the faster paces ahead of us. This was a little challenging due to the downhill start and “herd effect” but I think after the first mile we settled in nicely.

I may have mentioned the hills. Many folks mentioned the hills to me prior to the race. They were mentioned enough times by enough people that I had properly prepared for them. And by “prepared” I mean “woke several times the night before wondering if I should have done some hill work in the weeks prior”.

Look – it’s not like the run at Lake Placid but if you look carefully there’s just up after down after up after down…

For someone who trains on hills this race is not a big deal. I am *not* a person who trains on hills… The upside is that it kept us honest on the pace and for me personally added an additional challenge and much needed change from my usual approach to hill work – which is to approach a hill, and then turn around before beginning the incline.

But enough about the hills! Let’s talk about the rain. “What about the rain? You said the rain stopped before the race started.” You’re right. I did say that – but what I did *not* say is that a couple miles into the run the rain came back. At first it was a nice gentle mist, a sprinkle of good luck from Mother Nature – but around mile 6ish I realized – “holy crap it’s really raining.” If you’re reading this and thinking “geez I don’t remember rain at mile 6” that means you are fast and were already inside, enjoying a warm beverage and trying on your new gloves (race swag) when the rain hit.

At any rate – my pants started getting heavy and my warm hat – which is not optimized for rain (no bill) – was basically capturing all of the water that hit my head and guiding it to my face so that it could run the entire way from my rapidly disappearing hairline to my chin. But you know what? It was a good time. Dennis and I talked about kids and family and careers. We talked about our goals and our training. We talked about our troubles and our triumphs. It was an excellent hang from beginning to end.

After we crossed the finish line we made our way down to the track and began putting in the extra 3.1 miles. (Does it count as track work if you just run slow on the track?) In retrospect we probably should have hit the gym for a pit stop. Dennis was having some pain in his foot and smartly decided to call it a day so we parted ways and I ventured off of the track to finish the mileage. I knew that going another 2.5 miles on the track by myself would be pure misery and since I used to work right around this area I decided to run to my old office. It turned out to be exactly half of the mileage I needed so after a long pause to look at my old office I turned around and headed back to the warm gym. I was cold and tired and fighting stomach issues and ready to be done.

Not the Run

I’m behind on this report. This run happened almost two full weeks ago. With another run from last weekend to write about and my next run happening in about 10 hours, I’m really feeling the pressure of writers debt at the moment. It’s funny because I started this post the day of the race – but then a funny thing happened. I got very lucky and was referred to play trumpet in a local high school production of Chicago. Is it Broadway? No. Is it even Toby’s Dinner Theater? No. But that’s OK – I’m not ready for that yet. (Well – maybe Toby’s…)

I had a 5 hour rehearsal after this race, two 3 hour rehearsal during the week and then 4 shows in a row – Thursday through Sunday. I got busy. I got busy with something I really love to do so the running posts (which I also enjoy) took a back seat and it has me thinking. What is the relationship of this new love of running to my old love of music? What if I had a shot to play and teach and it could support me – but I had to give up running (and triathlon etc). Would I do it?

It’s one of those ridiculous questions because my reality brain immediately breaks into the conversation and says “you work full time now and you figured out how to do grad school and train for a marathon at the same time – you can do music and stay healthy at the same time.” So much for making a mountain out of a molehill. Thanks reality brain. I knew I could count on you. Now about those hills…

Next Week: Team RunL8ter vs Team HyberNation

16 of 52: The Pretty Okay Outdoors

What’s so great about the outdoors anyways?

I can say – that after last weeks slog on the treadmill – that the outdoors are pretty damn great. Whether you’re staring at the face of El Capitan (which is on my list of things to do) or just walking to the market to grab some butter and Saladitos – being outside is a pretty neat thing to be.

With this in mind, I thought I would get up early and run with the Striders half marathon training group again and maybe catch up with some friends. As it turns out I am 98.7% bear and this is still winter so – I overslept.

Me: Crap – it’s 8. I missed the training run…

Also Me: You did this to yourself.

Me: No I didn’t. I’m not built to wake up before 8 am – unless there’s a fire or something.

Also Me: Whatever. You still missed the run. Now what?

Me: I don’t know – but I will be OUTSIDE!!

It’s funny right? Shelter is considered to be one of those basic needs. Right up there with food and waaaay before movie popcorn (which is technically food but you know what I mean). And yet… when it comes to running I would definitely prefer to be outside. I guess “shelter” means protection from the elements – and when running “proper attire” counts. SO what I’m really trying to say here with all of this is that I don’t like the treadmill for long runs anymore.

There. I said it.

I’m breaking up with you treadmill. For long runs. (You can still call me for short runs. Shhhhhhh)

I have done several 20 mile runs on a treadmill over the past 10 years and many many more runs in the teens. I guess there some upsides. It can be okay if you’re watching a movie (or two). The bathroom is nearby. The food is nearby. You have the benefit of having precise control over your pace and form. But as we should all know by now – upsides inherently come with downsides. The scenery never changes and every foot fall is the same as the last.

Funny how that works. Contained within something good – is something equally as undesirable. Except for movie popcorn. Nope – nothing bad about movie popcorn at. all. (Not… a thing… at… alllll.)

WHAT?! IT’s a whole grain!!!

The Run

SO I did manage to get up and going pretty soon after that first realization that I had missed a group run. The weather was cold but hardly Winter (with a capital W) so I figured I would run from my place towards DTA and then maybe head back.

Problem #1 – I live a lot closer to downtown Annapolis than I thought I did. About 4 miles. Turning around at this point would obviously not get me 13.1

Problem #2 – I did not feel like running up and over the Naval Academy bridge and then on to Boulters Way (more hills). Yes – that would have been excellent for my fitness and training and I think with a friend I would most certainly would have taken it on, but I was still grumpy about the whole heart rate debacle and feeling sorry for myself about a host of other stuff so I decided to meander my way around some more hospitable (read: FLAT) parts of Annapolis – including some neighborhoods that I’ve been thinking about moving into when my lease is up. I figure that if I like running through a place I won’t mind living there.

I really enjoyed the feeling of being outside. The miles pass faster. My legs feel stronger. My mind feels free to wander – and not just repeat the same tired thoughts. The variety of inputs – sights and smells and sounds – really impact what happens inside me.

I did go a little bit over this week but I could do worse on a nice sunny 40 degree day in the middle of winter.

Not The Run

16 weeks into this I feel a little like I’m losing touch with how I felt in the beginning of it. I get this way in triathlon a lot. Waiting to get in the water I’m just a bundle of nerves and excitement and worry all rolled into one – but by the time I’m halfway through the bike I’m all “what should I have for lunch this week?” – which might just mean I need to eat more on the bike but it also might mean that even on short time scales I have trouble reminding myself what I’m “here” for let alone on a project that will take all year.

This is not to say that it’s getting harder to show up for – maybe even the contrary. It may be that since it’s so regular or common, I’m losing sight of what makes it beautiful. The very basic thing I wrote about a couple weeks ago. Why is that so hard to keep my eyes on? What else do I lose sight of?

I’m reading “Running with the mind of Meditation” (thanks to Dan for the Christmas gift) and in it, the author talks about – when you first learn to meditate – having to repeatedly bring your focus back to your breath. I feel it’s the same and comes back to that word – Practice.

Next Week: RRCA Ten Mile Club Challenge 2019

15 of 52: The One that (Almost) Got Away

The Weekend Started So Good

My girlfriend Katie and I had tickets to Jim Gaffigan for Friday night and then planned to drive directly from the show to Fenwick Island (which I don’t think is an actual island – but that’s what they call it). The plan was to just unplug and chill for a couple days then drive back home in time to take care of Sunday business. For me “Sunday Business” included the run because I made a deliberate choice to leave my running gear at home. I did not want even the chance of sneaking off to run 13.1 miles to enter into my mind as a possibility.

I knew this one would be hard to fit in with the schedule as it was. I did not know it would be hard to run. It wasn’t hard like physically like “I ran hard the whole way and it was tough.” It was hard like “I just got back from the beach and I’m tired and I need to start running before 7 but I just need a little nap first.” Which is exactly what happened. I laid down at 6, got up at 6:45 and started running at 7 so I could comfortably meet the 10pm Sunday deadline for this weeks run.

I mean – sometimes you gotta get away from the normal sights and sounds of your life, right? So that’s what we did – Katie and I. The uncertainty at work combined with *this bastard winter sun* really tipped it for me so off we went. To Mexico? No. I wanted to be somewhere where the Winter sun could still enter my eyelids from God knows where at any given moment regardless of where I turned my face.

Folks, I should really be living ON the equator and waking up at 8:30 every day, but for now I will just have to continue on in Maryland where the weather patterns match the design pattern of our flag and my sleep patterns follow. It’s pretty convoluted. Even if I didn’t wake up precisely 2 hours and 14.5 minutes after falling asleep *every* night, my inconsistent morning schedule would never let me get the same amount of sleep every day so I find myself in this crazy “rhythm”. Think of it like a yo-yo diet – but for sleep!

The Run

First, can I say something about heart rate training? I cannot get my body to play by the rules. I get it – there are 5 heart rate zones.

Zone 1 – This is your heart rate when you’re just hanging out, sitting on the couch watching season 2 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – but not the really funny parts – then you’re probably edging into Zone 2…

Zone 2 – Basically zone 1 plus some vigorous laughter (or if you’re into watching sports then maybe the fourth quarter and your football team can’t seem to get their puck in the other guys basket.) IDK

Zone 3 – Exercise – but take it easy sparky – we don’t want to actually sweat but we do want to be able to have a conversation with our workout buddy.

Zone 4 – Doin’ Work. Maybe. We. Can. Talk… A . Few . Words at a … time.

Zone 5 – I have no oxygen to spare. I can only keep this up if my child is trapped under a car or being chased by a pack of wolves.

Based on a test I ran a few weeks ago, here’s where my HR Zones are *supposed* to fall out:

  • Zone 1 – 0-142 bpm
  • Zone 2 – 143-154 bpm
  • Zone 3 – 155-163 bpm
  • Zone 4 – 164-174 bpm
  • Zone 5 – 175-184 bpm

Here’s my issue. I pop into zone 4 before I’m breathing heavy. Before I start sweating. Before I’m even aware that I am in fact no longer in bed dreaming about – well never mind you that – but anyways. I just think that 165 bpm is where my HR lives during easy exercise. I can stay there all day – well for a long while at least.

Here I am23 minutes in, running a moderately easy pace for me and I’m well into Zone 4? I don’t think so. Now mind you – I was also at 168bpm 10 minutes prior to this when I was running 10 m/mi pace. WTAF?!

I asked a friend about this awhile back and he said – look, as long as your heart rate settles down after a couple minutes don’t worry about it. And it does. If I walk for 60 seconds my HR drops down to 140 bpm (see above: Zone 1). I don’t get it. And it’s distracting. Especially when the treadmill is displaying a message every 30 seconds (the magic interval to absolve everyone but me from liability) that says : “Attention: Heart Rate is high!”

So I did what any reasonable person would do – I took off my heart rate strap and unpaired it from the treadmill.

As far as I can figure maybe one or two things are happening (or any gray combination of the two)

  1. I didn’t work nearly hard enough on the initial fitness test. (If you’ve been following me, you know how I am about really pushing myself.)
  2. My heart tops out closer to 250 than 190. I’m kidding. I have no clue what’s happening.

Maybe I can take one of those tests in a lab where you run your ass off and then they draw blood to see if you’re dying or not…

That big gap in my heart rate graph is not me dying and then coming back to life – it’s when I disconnected my HR strap and then I guess it started tracking the HR monitor on my watch.

Not the Run

IDK what to say here – I was consumed by the heart rate debacle for nearly my entire run so I’m a little short on reflection. I don’t like it. I mean that’s one of the reasons I run – so I can tap into the noisy space between my ears and pull out a coherent thought. Maybe next week.

Next Week: A coherent Thought?

14 of 52: Frozen with Friends

Just for the record – the cold has *always* bothered me.

And this Saturday was no exception. When I showed up to Dan’s at 7:20 it was 16 degrees with a real feel of “more than one”. I was wearing 2 pair of socks, 2 pair of gloves, lined cycling tights under running pants (in addition to a third base layer), a long sleeved lined mock turtle base layer, a second long sleeved heavy running shirt, a third (but looser fitting) long sleeved shirt (which is usually my last layer), and finally a light weight running jacket. Oh – and a balaclava covered by a windproof hat.

I hate the cold and today it was 16 degrees with a real feel of “more than one”.

I really don’t like leaving the warmth of my bed to go out into the cold – but once I get to running (especially if I’m properly dressed) I prefer it to running in the heat. I also take the cold weather as seriously as I take the heat in terms of potential for danger.

Everyone has their own threshold for comfort. Dan and Kari I think prefer to get by with fewer layers – even in this weather. Dan’s head ‘is a volcano’ – so – no need for a hat there. I heard once that if you’re too cold to run then you just aren’t dressed properly. (or something like that). I think that’s true and I also think “properly” is different for everyone.

The Run

The only plan was this – run so that we arrived at the Pip Moyer Rec Center at precisely 9AM. We arrived at 8:59:29. I’m not sure how we worked that out. Our actual pace was not what we used when considering different plans. We just sort of set out on our way, checking in with the time of day every few miles and adjusting our course to suit. It was a really nice low stress run and I was really glad we made it right on time.

We meandered our way around the Naval Academy Stadium, through West Annapolis and headed downtown where we took a second to admire the frozen water. As I looked across the water I could see the radio towers on Greenbury point – where I ran the Eternal Winter 6 hour run the week before. I love looking out at a place, seeing the size of it all at once and thinking “I ran there. I was there with my feet on the ground moving through it. I saw the whole place under my own power.”

We were soon underway and I was really struck by the unique sound of our feet crunching in the snow on the wooden dock. It was an amazing resonant variation of just – feet crunching in the snow. It sounds silly to read that back but really – it’s recognizing and enjoying that type of little detail that reminds me how much there is to enjoy and discover in life.

Kari – “I’m no good at selfies.” Also Kari: Nails it.

Dan just had the time of day goal – to meet his family for a morning activity, Kari did not have a mileage goal – just looking for some base miles with friends and I – well you know what I’m up to. So when Kari and I left Dan at the rec center we had run just about 9 miles. Since we had both parked at Dan’s we decided to run back to his place and then see where we stood. Where we stood was just about 10 miles. 3.1 to go for me.

Fortunately for me, Kari was in the mood to tag along for the last 3.1. Though I had met Kari volunteering at the Sailors Tri and also volunteering at the Iron Man Maryland water stop – I knew I was in good company even though I didn’t know her well. (Volunteers are the best people.) Plus running is one of the best ways I know of to get to know people.

We improvised a short loop back out to West Street, back towards DTA (Downtown Annapolis) and then back to Dan’s. Luck was with us again as we arrived at exactly 13.1 miles.

Not the Run

Sometimes I have to remind myself that a thing isn’t nearly as bad as my mind is telling me it is. I have to practice separating the memory of a thing from the objective facts that surround it.

My Mind: “I hate running in the cold”
The Truth: “I was warm after the first mile and had a really good time”.

In my case we’re just talking about being uncomfortable in the cold. Or we’re talking about job uncertainty. Or we’re talking about losing a loved one. Or finding out you have cancer. (Or finding out you don’t anymore). Or that your relationship with someone is changing. Or ending. Or – just name it. I forget to practice taking account of all of the thing’s I’ve experienced and realizing that that experience is valuable to me moving forward.

And sometimes the truth of an experience is worse than what your mind tells you. I don’t know how it works, if the mind tries to protect us from pain or what, but I do know that recognizing your truth (while a lot like staring into the sun) can be very powerful indeed. This practice helps when it comes time to understand that just because someone else’s truth doesn’t line up with yours doesn’t make either of you a bad person – or wrong.

I was telling Kari that one aspiration I had as a kid was to score movies. Did I go to school in LA? Where they make movies? Where I would meet people who would know people who knew a person who’s cousins uncles brothers mother also – wrote music for movies? No I did not.

I didn’t even apply to any schools in California. “I was such a dumbass.”

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile – or at least since I started that last paragraph – and it occurs to me I did not apply for two reasons:

  1. I didn’t understand the impact that my surroundings outside of school would have on my experiences and on the path I would take in my career.
  2. I had already been to California.

Now – I know that second one sounds silly but really. Here’s the truth about me: I have and always will be in search of something new. Some new place or experience. Something that makes me understand what it is to be a living learning loving human being. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or tragic or life changing. We can see those things as sure as they will come to us wether we want them to or not. It’s the little things that add up for me, that life offers in abundance.

The feel of my keyboard, or the design of my laptop. A long moment of silence with my daughter in the car – I look over and see her struggle and my heart breaks and overflows all at the same time. The way a soccer ball feels coming off of my foot – decades after ever kicking one. Watching a plane take off – or land. Hearing the wind in the trees. Watching two people talk. I could go on probably all day and I bet so could you. It only takes a second to see something beautiful or hear something new. Like a new sound. Like the sound of crunching snow on a dock.

I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday.

Alan Ball – American Beauty

Next Week: Running on a Sunday Evening

13 of 52: Eternal Winter 6 Hour Run

Does this race make my butt look big?

This week I ran the Eternal Winter 6 Hour Run – twin race to the Endless Summer 6-Hour Run, held to benefit the Annapolis Light House Shelter and Pantry of Maryland. It’s what’s known as a Fat Ass style race. No – I did not run all 6 hours. That would be irresponsible seeing as I’ve only been running about 2 hours give or take. More give than take. Enough about me – let me tell you about me. Running this race…

…but first let me rewind to that big butt/fat ass thing. A Fat Ass race (as I learned myself this past weekend) is a laid back ultra race type of thing. No winners, no prizes, super low key, small field. When I went online to find out exactly what it meant I found that these type of races have been around long enough that there are some varying opinions about what is and isn’t a Fat Ass race. As with anything like this there are purists and progressives. I don’t know where this race fell on the continuum but it was a good time. Will run again.

Here’s a couple of links if you’re interested in reading more:



The Run

This race was probably somewhere in the middle of the Fat Ass spectrum. It was a small group. There were no winners. No time clock. No pomp or circumstance. There was a minimal entry fee – which would be returned (if you chose) as long as you showed up to the race with at least 5(?) food items to donate to the Annapolis Light House Shelter and Pantry of Maryland.

There *was* race support by way of a small heated tent full of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. After doing a few larger marathons as well as the smaller 50ks and races like this one – it seems as though the smaller scale of the race allows the support to be more personal. A reflection on the people helping.

Yeah – delicious.

The run was a figure-eight-ish loop in and around Greenbury Point, starting at the Nature Center. I don’t know what they do there, but they were nice enough to have the bathrooms open for us. Big move. One loop was about 3.5 miles around.

There were picnic tables where folks staged their gear and nutrition. Very low key. Jimmy and Brian and Kim and I had all parked near a spot we ran past on the loop so we just left our stuff in our cars and made quick pit stops as needed. For me that meant every loop I would stop for a drink and to make sure I had something to nibble on (cliff blocks).

The run went right on that sidewalk past the picnic tables – both directions.

You may recall that over the past couple weeks I’ve been putting some “speed” work into my 13.1 runs – and by speed I mean running faster than I would normally on a long run. On a long run (if you’re also doing speed work and tempo work during the week) you’re supposed to run uncomfortably slow in order to convince your body to make changes to it’s mitochondria. Don’t roll your eyes at me – I didn’t make it up. It’s SCIENCE! Anyways…

The plan this week was to run a solid effort for 13.1 (faster than my declining times) and then roll easy for another – hour? So not really a plan per se, but a rough outline. Fortunately for me Brian was down with the plan and willing to run my pace. He was on a mission to see how long he could keep moving which meant he would be running a bit slower than he usually does – perfect for me. (cus he’s fast)

There were a few small trees down on the trail which made for a good time – do we go over or under? I went under on the second loop – that was enough for my uni-directional knees for one day. You know what else was on the trail? PUPPIES! You know who loves puppies? BRIAN! This guy is seriously upbeat and friendly – he really helped me focus on running a steady pace for the first 13.1. We hit 13.1 right around 2:04 – which is right where I wanted to be.

I decided during this race that I’m going to try to PR the B&A Half Marathon. I have 8 weeks to train. My PR for that race is 1:55:33. Maybe I could lose a few pounds between now and then. That usually helps.

The perimeter trail. It has a name and everything – It’s actually a road… W Road. Not much of a name really.

After finishing 13.1 I took a break and Brian went on in search of more puppies. I took it easy, trying to keep my heart rate low(er) but once you’re in the bag it’s really hard to get out so I found myself walking to keep it down. A half lap later I decided to call it a day and get some soup and a grilled cheese. So good. 15.9 miles for the day.

Not the Run

I could feel the depression creeping back in this week. I will say this. Since I have been working out during the weeks more regularly (and this past week even more so as I start a new program) I am much better equipped to fight it off. I still feel it – but it isn’t debilitating. I have to believe that all of the musical exercise has helped as well. Now – If I could just get that spark of joy between 9 and 5 I’ll really be on my way.

Next Week: Freezing with Friends