Childhood Idols as an Adult

WSERTomorrow at 5:00 a.m. Pacific Time, the Western States Endurance Run commences.  In my estimation and in the opinions of many others, it is the Super Bowl, World Series, or World Cup Finals of ultrarunning.  This race is 100 miles through California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.  While it isn’t the toughest 100 mile ultramarathon in the world, it is a race that’s been around since the mid 70s when there were barely any 100 mile races and it attracts the best athletes from around the globe.  For me, as well as many other aspiring ultrarunners, it is the first ultramarathon we read or hear about.  It reminds me of my youth when I would hear legendary stories about World Series games with stars like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Reggie Jackson.

Mr. October himself.

Mr. October himself.

As race day approaches, I have found myself glued to interviews, podcasts, blogs, and magazine articles related to this year’s event.  The enthusiasm in which I find myself made me look at the connection between my passion for ultrarunning compared to baseball.

Look at the profile of this race!

Look at the profile of this race!

Back in 1987-88, I had somewhat of a breakthrough athletically.  Prior to that, I wasn’t uncoordinated per se.  I was fast and strong but didn’t really stand out in any particular sport.  I was decent in basketball as a guard, I was good at soccer as a fullback, but in baseball I was relegated to the dreaded right field position.  For those that are unfamiliar with little league baseball, right field is where you would stick your worst players because the frequency of balls going out there was very little.  Yet in 1987, my parents had a great idea to send me to a baseball camp in Cocoa Beach, Florida–The Clint Hurdle Baseball Camp.  Those 5 days of working with professional baseball players changed my life.  By having people work with me and teach me drills, the technique of proper practice, and the repetition necessary to improve, I suddenly gained a level of confidence I never had before.

Eric Davis Cincinnati Reds  May 25, 1987 X 34717 credit:  John Hanlon - assign

credit: John Hanlon

When the next season started for baseball, I went from being a bench warmer to one of the top players in the league.  My love for baseball grew exponentially.  I watched and listened to as many games as possible (no internet or cable television in those days).  I collected baseball cards.  I played baseball video games on the Nintendo and my computer.  My friends and I played pickup baseball games all year long.  When we would play these games, one thing we would do was pretend to be players in the Major Leagues.  We would try to emulate their mannerisms, batting stances, and styles.  The player I always picked was Eric Davis.  He was a center fielder for my beloved Cincinnati Reds.

Quick side note–while I lived in the Washington, D.C. area for most of my life, I did spend 3 years in the suburbs of Cincinnati in a town called Loveland.  Because Washington did not have a baseball team during my childhood, I adopted the Reds as my team because I was not from Baltimore.  I followed the Baltimore Orioles but I loved the Reds.

Eric_DarrylAs a boy it was common to pick an athlete to idolize and I knew everything about Eric “The Red” Davis.  I knew what high school he attended, that one of his friends growing up was Darryl Strawberry, what minor league teams he played for, his birthday…well you get the picture.  What I particularly liked about him was that he played the game all out.  He gave EVERYTHING he had every single game.  He was fast, he could hit homeruns, he made amazing plays as a fielder, and seemed to be an all around good guy.  He was never mixed up with drugs, arrests, and other off field shenanigans.  I truly idolized him and tried to craft my game after him.  Since those times, I have always been known by my teammates as someone who would play at 100%, organize my own practices-even when the teams weren’t practicing, and would sacrifice my body to make a play or win the game.  I had coaches tell my father at various times that I should try to relax a little more during practice because of my intensity.

Looking back on those times and comparing it to today, I wondered do I idolize any runners?  Is it possible for me, a grown man, to idolize anymore?  Do I know enough about the sport of ultrarunning to really speak on the subject?  To answer the question about idolizing–I don’t think as a grown man I would idolize anyone.  I am content with who I am as an individual and my path in life.  However, I do know that finding a few people that represent some of the things I hold important and who have immense experience to share is important if you want to grow.  Think of the sensei-student relationship.  As for knowing enough to speak about ultrarunning, who knows…I have only been studying the sport for a couple years, have only been running ultra distances since 2013, and only completed my first race 6 weeks ago.

To get straight to the point, I would say that there are some people that I find represent many of the qualities in which I aspire.  I don’t know whether it was serendipitous, coincidence, or just plain old dumb luck but the very first two books I bought related to ultrarunning were Finding Ultra by Rich Roll and Eat and Run by Scott Jurek.  These two gentlemen seem to embody many of the things that are important to me at this juncture in my life.

Rich Roll

Rich Roll’s story is one of a school athlete who lost his way in college and by the time he was in his 30s was overweight, abusing alcohol and drugs, and unhappy with his life.  He had a moment of clarity one night climbing the stairs, finding himself out of breath and realizing that if he continues down this road, he may not see much of his children’s life unfold.  By way of reaching out for help, changing his diet, and dedicating his energy to improve his life he turned himself into an incredible ultra athlete who completed the Epic 5–an annual event consisting of 5 Iron Distance Triathlons, on 5 Hawaiian Islands, in 5 Days.  He wrote an amazing book chronically his journey, hosts a widely popular podcast “The Rich Roll Podcast” (which I am a dedicated listener), and now has a fabulous cookbook “The Plantpower Way“.  Reading his books and listening to him talk to such a diverse array of guests on his podcast has really given me an idea of what the guy represents.  His insights, personal successes and failures, and the information that is presented in his podcasts has had such a profound impact on my life.

Scott Jurek

After I read Rich Roll’s first book, I was thirsty for more.  The next recommended book by Amazon after Finding Ultra was Eat and Run.  This book by Scott Jurek tells his story starting as a young boy from Minnesota who worked his way up to being one the best, if not the best, ultrarunner in the world for a long stretch of time in the 2000s.  Starting in 1999, he went on to win 7 consecutive Western States Endurance Runs, a feat that has never been matched.  His story chronicled personal and family struggles as well as his journey to become a fully plant based athlete.  Besides his success at the Western States, he went on to set numerous other records during his career.

  • United States record for 24 hour distance on all surfaces (165.7 miles/266.01 kilometers).
  • Won the Spartathlon 153-mile (246 km) race from Athens to Sparta, Greece three consecutive times (2006–2008).
  • Won the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run (2007), and held the record time for one year until Kyle Skaggs set a new record in 2008.
  • Won the Western States Endurance Run seven consecutive times (1999–2005), and held the record time (15:36:27 in 2004) until 2010
  • Won the Badwater Ultramarathon twice (2005, 2006), and held the course record for two years (2005).
  • Finished first three times (2002–2004) and second three times (2001, 2005, 2006) in the Miwok 100K Trail Race.
  • Won the Leona Divide 50 Mile Run four times (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004).
  • Won the Diez Vista 50K Trail Run twice (2000, 2003).
  • Won the Montrail Ultra Cup series twice (2002, 2003).
  • Selected as UltraRunning Magazine’s North American Male Ultrarunner of the Year in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2007.

Dean Karnazes

I would also say that I am impressed with Dean Karnazes.  He is a polarizing figure in the ultra community but for me he is a genuine person who has done very well for himself by sharing and marketing his experience.  While many athletes are annoyed at the amount of attention he receives stating he was never the best runner in the sport, he has won many prestigious races and has some amazing accomplishments.  After reading his books and watching/listening to interviews, he passes my test in terms of guy who is the real deal.  Here are some of Dean’s feats:

  • Ran 350 miles (560 km) in 80 hours and 44 minutes without sleep in 2005
  • Single-handedly completed “The Relay”, a 199-mile (320 km) run from Calistoga to Santa Cruz, eleven times
  • Ran a marathon to the South Pole in −13 °F (−25 °C) temperatures without snowshoes in 2002
  • Ran a marathon in each of the 50 states in 50 consecutive days in 2006
  • Winner, Badwater Ultramarathon (135 miles (217 km) across Death Valley in 120 °F (49 °C) temperatures), 2004 (with five other top-10 finishes from 2000-2008)
  • Winner, Vermont Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run, 2006
  • Overall Winner, 4 Deserts Race Series, 2008
  • American Ultrarunning Team, World Championships, 2005, 2008
  • 148 miles (238 km) in 24 hours on a treadmill, 2004
  • Eleven-time 100-Mile/1 Day Silver Buckleholder at the Western States Endurance Run (i.e., better than ten twenty-four-hour finishes), 1995–2006
  • Ran 3,000 miles (4,800 km) across the United States from Disneyland to New York City in 75 days, running 40 to 50 miles (65 to 80 km) per day, 2011

What I particularly like about Scott and Rich as well as Dean is they come across as humble yet driven men.  They don’t seem cocky or have self-inflated egos.  From all accounts, they are down to earth and enjoy sharing their experiences and helping others–qualities that I strive for in my life.  While I may not attain such lofty accomplishments as these gentlemen, I draw inspiration and energy from what they have done and represent.   What is important to me is that I continue to strive for that which seems beyond my reach, to challenge myself to be better at my life, and to be a father and husband to be proud of.  I want my wife and daughters to see me in the light that I saw my idols as a kid and to truly be that person through and through.  That is what drives me in life.

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A Day Late But Not A Dollar Short

track

One of my concepts with this blog, beyond sharing my experiences, is to use it as tool to keep me focused and honest with myself.  I had intentions of writing a blog article exactly one month after my first race.  I even thought about writing this article today and back dating it just so it had the “correct” date.  But what is the purpose of doing that?  Is it just to make me feel like I do everything according to plan?  That is pretty laughable.  Why is it that we focus so much on how we think we will appear to others or to some preconceived notion of what is perfect?  What a waste of energy.  On with the show…

Last week I mentioned that I wanted to ramp up the training to my 100 km level that was my baseline prior to the race.  Good intentions they were but life sort of got in the way.  I had a long anniversary weekend getaway with my amazing wife at the beach so I thought it would be a lot more fun and wiser to spend it with her rather than pound the pavement for hours on end.  Cherishing my wife and our marriage is of the utmost importance and what gives me a foundation in my life that I never had before her.  The end result of last week, I spent four fabulous (rain filled) days with my wife in which we did not have any distractions and really were able to enjoy our time in a decompressed mode that most parents with young children rarely experience.  My distance for the week 73 km with no long run.

One good thing out my running last week was that I have started the framework of a more focused weekly training program.  On Wednesdays, I am focusing on speed work.  For an ultrarunner, speed work is a bit of a debated topic as to whether it is worthwhile or not.  When you are dealing with distances of 50 to 100 miles, there will rarely be a time that you will get into a sprint or a pace that gets anywhere near the speeds that a normal speed workout requires.  For that reason, the camp that is against it thinks that you are better off focusing all your efforts on training that is more applicable to the real life experience of the ultramarathon.  It is said that the time on the feet is more valuable than the shorter, more intense running in speed work.

The other side states that in order to run faster, you must run faster i.e. train faster.  The other idea is that by pushing your cardiovascular system, by way of intervals and hill repeats, you can improve your fitness and run at faster speeds with less effort.  For example, if I run at a pace of 6 minutes per kilometer in cool weather, my heart rate would be between 115-125 beats per minute.  The hypothesis is that after some dedicated months of speed work, I might be able to run at a pace of 5:30 or 5:45 per kilometer, in the same conditions, and with the same heart rate.  In effect, I would run faster with no extra energy expenditure by my body.  This idea seems to make sense to me.

Yasso 800s

After deciding that speed work was my route, I researched the various ideas out there to pick one to test.  Several websites, coaches, and books I read mentioned 800 meter repeats.  One coach in particular, Bart Yasso, has a method called Yasso 800s.  The concept behind this method is to start with four 800m repeats with a rest period equivalent to the time the 800m lap.  If you ran the 800m in 3:30, then run slowly for 3:30 before you attempt the next 800m lap.  Each week, you add another repeat eventually reaching ten repeats.  The added bonus to this method is that supposedly when you are up to 10 repeats, whatever your slowest repeat was of the 10 will translate to your predicted marathon time.  Let’s say your slowest time was 3:25 (3 minutes 25 seconds).  Then your predicted marathon time would be 3:25 (3 hours 25 minutes) provided you did all the sufficient marathon training as well.

I am not particularly concerned with a marathon time, although one day I would like to either do a BQ – Boston Marathon Qualifying time and/or run a sub 3 hour marathon.  I am encroaching upon my 40th birthday so I am not too sure I will be able to ever reach sub 3 hours.  My body is fighting father time and according to the experts, I am well past the window of peak performance for marathons.  In fact when I was in that window (age 31 for marathoners), I was in my worst condition of my life.  On the other hand, there are reports that show, in ultramarathons, the average age for top ten finishers for males is 37 with many winners in their 40s.  Who knows what the future holds?  What I have decided is that I am going to let it all hang out and train as hard and as smart as I can to see what I can achieve with full effort.  I refuse to be in my 50s, 60s, or 70s wondering what could have been if I had only tried as hard as could have.

The Washington National's new baseball stadium in Southeast Washington DC.

In a future post, I will dive into two previous passions (baseball and music) where I definitely did not put everything I had into achieving my best results.  For various reasons I did not dedicate myself in the way that was necessary to realize my full potential.  These experiences have left an everlasting imprint in my psyche.  It is the feeling of climbing the mountain only to turn back thinking I would never get there only to realize later in life that I was almost there.  I only needed to keep pushing and I could have reached my goal.  I think those experiences are what drives me now.  I am not anywhere near the fastest runner out there but I know I am also not in the back of the pack.  Regardless, I feel my tenacity (or stubbornness as my family might call it) is an attribute that serves me well in my passion known as ultrarunning.  In these short three years of being a runner, there have been several times when I have felt like I wanted to just stop but there is something inside of me that just keeps plugging away.  The more often I reach points of despair in long runs and then fight through, the more confidence I have the next time I reach those points of despair.

Diesel

Back to the speed work–one thing that has bothered me in my runs lasting over 6 hours is that I seem to lose any sort of extra gear.  I feel like a tractor-trailer going up a mountain in a low gear.  I can keep going and going but my max speed is topped out.  My feeling is that if I can keep my conditioning program improving, the speed work will help my late hour top speed.

One month removed from my first race, the post race glow has worn off.  I still feel proud but I am totally ready to get back into the deep grind of improving my fitness and focusing on new targets.  Besides researching several coaching possibilities, I have been inundating myself with as much ultrarunning information as possible.  I’ve added the following podcasts to my running playlist to try to absorb more tips, tricks, methods, and knowledge:

Wrapping up this entry I realize that I’ve entered the rambling zone.  I’ll end it with this, week two of speed work still hurt a lot but I know that it will take at least a month for it to start showing tangible results.  I have dedicated at least at least 60 minutes of nonstop downhill running per week by way of propping up my treadmill.  I am continuing to run with a group on the weekends.  Finally, I am incorporating core strengthening with a little bit of yoga poses each week, too.  My next project is to build a harness attached to a tire to drag during some of my runs.

Tire Pull

Back In The Swing of Things

Long Run

Sunday was my first time in three weeks that I did a long run.  This was quite intentional as I did not want to rush my recovery from my recent race.  While I have been very eager to get my training back to full force, I knew that if I pushed myself it could be a recipe for injuries, burnout, and other related issues.   For the majority of this run, I actually ran in a group a friends, which is a rarity for me.  Normally, I do about 98% of my running solo, but I am trying to strike a balance of more group running to break some of the monotony of my training routes.  Unfortunately in Merida, Mexico, there are not many places to run.  It is 100% road running with no hills or trails available.  Over the past nine months, I’ve pretty much run in about every area of the city that is decent to run.

group run

The other thing I am doing with group running is trying to help fellow runners.  I have a friend who is interested in making the plunge into ultra distances.  I am always eager to help and on top of that, having another runner in the city that would be interested in doing six to eight hour long runs occasionally will be nice.  Another friend is training for his first marathon attempt.  I am working with him to help him find his optimal pace to achieve a sub-four hour marathon.  Not that I am any kind of expert but I have done quite a lot of reading and communicating with experienced runners.  I love to share knowledge so this is great opportunity for me to give back to others who share my passion in running.

Scott on his way for a FKT on the AT.

Scott on his way for a FKT on the AT.

On a side note, I have been following Scott Jurek and his attempt to complete the Appalachian Trail in the fastest known time.  I’ve been a huge fan of Scott and have recently gone back to re-read his book Eat and Run.  It’s been very interesting to read it a second time now that I have more experience in the ultra running world.  Eat and Run was the second book I ever read related to ultra running.  Reading it three years later gives me new insights.  Much of the book was so foreign in terms of training load and distances that I could not completely comprehend it all the first time.  This time around, it makes more sense and I am gaining new insights.  I am really pulling for Scott to set the FKT for the AT!

Coming this week will be my first full week of training.  I plan to run at least 100km/62mi and start the beginning of a training plan to prepare me for my next race–most likely in December.

Three Years Running

3 years

Three years of dedication adds up.

Some of you know my story but most do not.  On June 1st, 2012, I decided that I was going to challenge myself to a run streak of 30 days.  It wasn’t going to be complicated.  I just needed to run 30 minutes or 5km for the entire month of June.  At the time I was still overweight and had been battling to continue my weight reduction.  Some six years prior to that I was at the most unhealthy point of my life and was tipping the scale at 225lbs (102kg).  Keep in mind I’m only 5’8″ (173cm).  During those 30 days, some sort of miracle took place–I became a runner.  The seed was planted and for the first time in my life I figured out how to run regularly without hurting myself.

During the first year of being a dedicated runner:

In my second year, I didn’t start very strong.  I had a light June and July of 2013 and found myself adrift in my training schedule as the year progressed.  By December I realized that I needed to focus on a goal of sorts.  Looking back on what made me successful in my first year, I decided to try a running streak again for the month of January.  During that streak, I set my sights on a distance farther than 50km–a run across the entire country of Luxembourg (63km/39mi).  I picked that my route to give me a distance of 39 miles.  I wanted to run 39 miles before my 39th birthday.  After 4 months of dedicated training, including some cycling, I successfully ran from Petange, Belgium to the German border next Remich, Luxembourg.  While I was very proud of that run, my second year of being a runner wasn’t as focused as I would have liked.  That gave me some real motivation for year three.

In year three, I feel like I finally was able realize some of my potential through dedicated training.  There were many new firsts and achievements that made me proud and gave me a feeling of accomplishment.  Here are a few of my highlights:

  • Ran my first race of my life – Keys 100 – 100 miles in 20:28.
  • Ran my first 100 km distance from Olney, MD to Georgetown, Washington, DC and back.
  • Ten runs of a marathon distance or more.
  • Three 50km runs in the month of December.
  • 5153 km / 3202 mi run in total.

3 years summaryAs I look back on these three years of progress, I am shocked by the numbers because it doesn’t seem like I could have done all that running.  However, the years have taught me many life lessons and one in particular–no distance is insurmountable, you just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other and never stop.  I am fully aware that my accomplishments pale in comparison to many runners out there but accomplishments are not the primary reason why I run.  I run because it is who I am.  I run because I feel alive.  I run because it connects me with life.

Most importantly I also know that none of this, absolutely none of this, would have ever been possible without the support and belief from my wife.  Knowing that she is there at ever step, either physically or emotionally, keeps me going.  I love you Karina!

My wife and I on a run in Heidelberg, Germany.

My wife and I on a run in Heidelberg, Germany.