Five Years a Runner

keysLeave it to me to forget the anniversary marking five years as a dedicated runner–June 1, 2017.  If you know me or have read some of my backstory on this blog, you’ll know that this whole thing started back in June 2012 when I challenged myself to 30 days of running.  I never could run more than 2 or 3 days in a week without injuring myself prior to this challenge.  Short version is that I researched run streakers and websites about getting into running regularly.  I needed to run slow as possible (lose the ego) and keep the distance low.  I’m good at following a plan and after a month, I was hooked.

Over the past five years, I have had incredible experiences, highs, lows, and have learned a lot about myself and abilities–not just on an athletic level.  I have met plenty of incredibly nice and wonderful people.  From running 5-10km at a time to finishing 8th at the Keys 100 miler in 2015, it seems as if I have packed a lifetime of experience on the roads and trails in just five years.

It has not been easy and I think there has been at least four separate times where my training has gotten off kilter or out of focus but I never quit.  Today I am with a renewed focus and know that I will continue to put one foot in front of the other for as long as my body permits.  I am a better person because of running.  It grounds me, makes me happier, gives me a stronger sense of confidence while providing me the ability to roll with the ups and downs in life.  It is cliché but one truly experiences life in a day when running ultra distances.

Finally, I am grateful that my wife and daughters support me and my crazy passion for a sport that such a small percentage of the world participates.  Next on the horizon: an even stronger five years to come.

43 for 43

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Since becoming a dedicated runner, I’ve tried incorporating a long run around my age.  Back in 2014, I ran 39 miles for my 4 country run starting in Belgium, traversing Luxembourg, touching briefly into France, and ending in Germany.  This year, I set out to complete 42 km for my 42nd birthday but ended up doing 43 km.  I justified the “43” since technically your birthday is the first day of the next year and the birthday means you have completed that many years.  It is all semantics, I know.

WARNING: This is more of a stream of consciousness type post.  While I would like all my articles to be top notch, I figured that I will sacrifice quality at this point to try to build the routine of daily writing.  Hopefully, over time they will improve.

43kI set out on this run to just enjoy it.  I had no preconceived notions of total time, pace, or expectations other than reflection.  My GPS watch was set only to show me my cadence (for those non-runners, that calculates the amount of steps I take per minute).  Too often I find myself in the never ending loop of checking my watch for my speed, how far I have gone, or how far I have to go.  If I am in a particularly low moment in a run, it can actually make the run drag even longer if I keep looking at the kilometers tick by.

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After seeing my daughters off to school, I took off with good lineup of music in the playlist and a smile on my face.  My journey was to take me all around the western part of Mexico City.  The “fun” part of running in this section is that is quite hilly.  For the most part you are either going up or down.

The last time I ran this distance was in March for the Marathon Before Work Challenge that Fast Corey created.  Since then, my training has been haphazard due to family obligations, random life things, but more importantly I lost focus of my fine tuned dedication I normally have.  In my mind this run was a re-confirmation to my movement forward physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  In fact, it was my 14th consecutive day running.  For those that don’t know, I like the concept of run streaking to get things going in the right direction.  If there is no choice as to whether I am running or not, it makes it a done deal.  After 3 weeks, habits are formed and it becomes second nature.Back to the run…  It was a cool but humid morning.  In the beginning, I did some out and backs to pad the overall distance to the big loop I was running.  The first 30% of the run would have 70% of the elevation gain–over 1000 meters/3300 feet.  On one particular part, I took a road in which I was unfamiliar.  Much to my chagrin, I quickly found that it was much more downhill than I anticipated.  As I continued to descend, I had this feeling that I was going further and further into elevation debt because I had to back track to the overall loop.  In the end, I decided that the uphills are what I need to get my fitness back to top notch so I forced the smile back on the face and went into diesel engine mode as I came back to the loop.43k - 3Shortly after that section I reached the peak of this run.  From that point I felt more relaxed and was able to hit cruise control for a while.  An interesting challenge during this run was all of the chatter coming across my phone because of my birthday.  As a technology geek, I have my GPS watch tied to my phone which would chime/buzz every time another birthday wish would come across.  On top of that, I had a family member in the hospital who I was trying to keep tabs on via text messages.  Then there were some phone calls coming in as well.  All of this caused many stops and starts.  Rather than get frustrated (which can happen to me easily) I remembered that there was no time limit on this run and to just enjoy.  Once I let go of any ideas of how I needed to do this run, I was not bothered by the interruptions.  I definitely need to remember this frame of mind going forward.43k - 4When I run 4 hours or more, I like to carry water and some sort of food.  I used a 3 liter hydration pack for water and brought some Huma chia gels along with some mini Larabars.  I have learned that when you are training for an ultramarathon, it is not just the running that you need to train.  You need to train with your equipment and train your stomach for the food options you will use in the race.  It is much better to find out that a hydration pack or type of food causes you big problems during a practice run then to have race day emergencies or melt downs.  This run was almost perfect in terms of water and food.  My only changes would be to eat about 15% more and to restock the water in the last hour.  I ran out of water with about 30 minutes to go.  Luckily the temperature in Mexico City is quite mild so I can handle it.43k - 5Another point of focus to help enhance my enjoyment of the special day was to take photos.  I love photography but am always too caught up in the moment to stop and take photos for good memories.  Today would be different and as you can see by this post, I was able to capture much of the scenery of the run.  Now that it is completed, I am content that I forced myself to stop often for the snapshots.43k - 6When I crossed the 3 hour mark, I could feel some flagging and fatigue setting in.  My previous experience with many long runs is that I know I have the capability to keep on trucking when I feel tired.  I think I did that for about 15 hours when I ran my first 100 miler.  The tough part is when I started flagging, I was almost at the lowest elevation on this run–meaning I had about and hour of straight uphill to contend with to complete the journey.  Let the mind games begin!!43k - 7Once I hit the final major uphill, I committed to myself I would just downshift to a low gear but keep the wheels turning over.  I knew I would persevere if I just let it come to me and not worry about how long the hill was.  Just relax and go with it… At the summit I had a quick decent through a neighborhood of winding streets.  I could hear my feet slapping the ground quite violently which meant my form was deteriorating.  Eventually I made it to the final huge albeit short climb.  Slowly but surely I made it up while definitely redlining.  From that point I cruised to my make shift finish line and with that, the run was over. 43k - 8 This run instilled and reminded me of a few things:

  • Relax while running
  • Focus on the next step and the rest will work itself out
  • Keep on smiling–it makes you feel good
  • When tired, remember your form
  • I still need a lot of training for 100 miler in October
  • Life is good when you are committed to making it good

 

Challenge Accepted

challenge

It’s remarkable what a random challenge can do for one’s motivation.  Earlier this week Cory Reese of the Fast Cory blog and of the fabulous book “Nowhere Near First” issued a challenge to those that friends with him on Facebook to run a “Before Work Marathon”.  In his challenge he also declared it a popup contest over a seven day span to win a pair of Altra running shoes.  For me, the added bonus of Altra shoes is AWESOME since I pretty much run exclusively in their various models due to their amazing toe box configuration and because I find the zero drop style of the shoe very helpful for the health of my body with miles and miles I log.

Cory posted the challenge on March 14th but I really didn’t want to wait around so I quickly started plotting when I could do this.  I also figured since I don’t work on Saturday and Sunday I would honor the challenge by only doing an early morning run prior to actual work.  This is where it gets interesting:  I have a family with three young daughters who all need to get ready in the morning for school.  Part of the balancing act my wife and I do is for her to get her gym time and/or running before she goes to work every morning.  She usually gets out of the house around 5:30am.  This means I needed to get this run done and be back in the house before she would leave.  On top of that, I felt like it really didn’t honor the challenge if I just did it the night before.  In my mind, I needed to go to sleep, get up, do the marathon, clean up, and go to work.  My calculations meant I would get up at midnight and get on the road before 1am.

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About to start

I got on the road at around at 12:38am.  What was going through my mind at this point was a) this will be fun, b) I hope I don’t encounter too many drunk people/drivers, and c) how is my body going to react considering I just did a 60km run six days earlier?  The excitement of this nutty adventure propelled me quite well for the first 10km.  Learning from the end of the 60km run, I planned this route not to end on a long uphill.  So I started on a big uphill to begin the run.  Where I live in Mexico City, you either go up or you go down– there’s no flat running to be had.  After about 11km, reality quickly set in that I still had over three hours remaining on this run and it was only coming up on 2am.  I got a bit demoralized and definitely started doubting why I did this to myself.  It was almost like I fast-forwarded to the later stages of an ultramarathon.  I knew the feeling all too well and had experienced it at the 50 mile mark in my first 100 miler and also 4-5 hours into my first trail ultra.  I think I remember reading in one of Dean Karnazes’ books that he recommended as preparation for an ultra to wake up in the middle of the night and train just to get you in that state where you aren’t well rested (like in an ultra) and to acclimatize you to running in the wee hours of the night/morning before sunrise.

Once I made up another large hill and to a gentle downhill section, my energy picked up again along with my enjoyment.  I was relishing the fact that I was knocking out a good long run while most of the city was fast asleep.  I also was laughing to myself of how such a random, spontaneous thing could get me out on the streets in the middle of the night.  As my wife mentions from time to time, I do like to challenge myself with crazy things.

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CDMX at Night

Around the halfway point of the run, I started up a long uphill section that really sucked my energy in my 60km run.  I took a peak at my watch and noticed that I was going considerably slower than I did on that run, too.  This caused me to start getting into an internal debate regarding my speed.  Publicly, I have been repeating that I am just going by feel during these runs and that I’m not trying to push hard.  The idea being that I enjoy running every day and do not want risk injuring myself.  I’ve seen big gains in my endurance and fitness following this method.  However, the competitive side of my was thinking, “What’s up with you dude??!!  You are being lazy and taking it too easy.” The internal response was, “Don’t forget you just ran 60km only six days before.” This back and forth went on for quite a while but finally I reached a conclusion, “What does it matter?  I’m only doing this for me.  There is no race.  I feel good.  I’ve avoided injury thus far and if this is what my body wants right now then that’s what it’s going to do!!”

After all the internal dialogue, I reached a point in the run where I needed to reference the map on my phone.  I know the neighborhoods where I run very well in Mexico City but because of the length of the run and the fact that I didn’t want to be on any major roads, I needed to do some zigzagging.  A pit stop was just what the doctor ordered and I used it to also eat a little bit more, top up the water, and focus on what remained.  Visualizing the rest of the run showed me there would be three more major climbs to accomplish.  I was about to begin the first one.  Onward I pushed.

It took a good 5-6 months for me to be able to “run” the hills in Mexico City.  Since I had been living in the completely flat city of Merida for the past two years, I had to walk almost all the major hills when I arrived last summer.  Around January or February, I finally had built the strength to run the major uphills.  After knocking out one of the remaining three major climbs, I dropped down into a valley that would begin my homestretch also known as the last 12km of the adventure.

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The moon keeping company

This section was the worst of the remaining climbs including 267m of elevation gain over 8km including 179m in just 3km.  I was dreading it as it drew near but then something else popped into my head, I had never run this stretch with no walking/hiking breaks.  This would be my first attempt to run it straight.  I put my head down and envisioned my inner diesel engine.  It was rough but I did it.  When I got to the top of the tough 3km section, I felt a weird sort of excitement knowing that I finally did something I couldn’t do before.  It’s those little things that make me happy and keep me going.

After all that climbing was done, I got to enjoy about 3km of downhill and it felt great.  I did one more quick climb knowing I had it literally all downhill from there.  The joy of finishing this spontaneous challenge helped me push hard down the hill to the end of the run.  When I checked the numbers, I actually ran this section faster than I did at the beginning of the run.  Go figure that after 40km I could muster the energy to run faster than the beginning.

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Challenge completed

There it is…I am now part of the group that accepted and accomplished Cory’s challenge.  I’m quite happy that this random event popped up because it helped shake things up for me.   Some of the traps of constant training are routine and boredom.  I am always looking for ways to infuse more fun into my runs and this did it.

As a parting note and for those of you unfamiliar with Cory Reese, I highly recommend you read about him.  I do not know him personally (only through his blog, book, and Facebook) but he seems like a remarkable person.  From everything I’ve gathered, he is great father and husband, a genuine friend to everyone, a gifted photographer, and all around cool guy.  His positive, humorous outlook on life and how to make the best of it are things in which we all can use.

strava

The Art of Sharing

This past weekend I had the honor of running with a good friend of mine when he attempted his first ultra-distance — a 60km run (36 miles).  My buddy had run several marathons in the past but since we met around a year ago, I’ve been planting the seed for ultramarathons with him.  A little less than two months ago, after he finished a marathon, I challenged him to do this run with me.  I encouraged him and said that he would definitely succeed and would enjoy the experience.  He said let’s do it!

Fast forward to last Friday.  After work, I prepared my house as our aid station to pass by every 20km.  I had plenty of Hüma Chia Gels, Hammer Gels, Justin’s Nut Butters, Tailwind, Succeed Amino, Succeed S! Caps, hummus, and other snacks as well as a ton of water.  I had a blister kit, Trail Toes cream, and other aid station staples.  I mapped out three 20km loops around the city of Merida, Mexico.  I told him to bring extra shoes, socks, shirts, and anything else he might want to change during the run.

Getting ready to start.

Getting ready to start.

Around 6pm he showed up and by 6:30pm we were off and running.  My goal for the first 20km was to slow him down and keep us at a reasonable pace.  I use a heart rate monitor so I used that to judge our effort.  Luckily for us the weather cooled a bit–but don’t misunderstand me–it was still around 86-88°F/30-31°C with substantial humidity.  It was just cooler for us because of how hot Merida normally is.  Things were pretty easy going and as we passed by a little village, we actually found a dog that had run with us for around 5-6km a week earlier.  The dog recognized us and even paused to consider running again but thought better of it.  I think we wore him out the last time.  At around the 40 minute mark, I got my friend started on his eating regiment.  It was one of my goals to show him how important calorie intake will be during this adventure.  He had experienced problems around the 35-38km mark in past runs where he completely ran out of energy.  We made it back to the house a little over 2 hours later and started our refueling.

20km in the books, 40km to go.

20km in the books, 40km to go.

When we set out for lap 2, it was dark.  I knew this is where things will start to get a little rougher.  We plowed through the first 10km without problems but I noticed that oddly enough the temperature in the city was rising and the air was getting more stagnant.  This added to the challenge.  I was trying to keep tabs on my friend’s rhythm, pace, and breathing to notice any changes or struggling.  Right around the time we passed the halfway mark, I could tell things were getting tougher for the both of us.  At 35km, I had gone through my water bottle and my other bottle that had tailwind mixed with water.  I was sweating profusely and my legs had definitely lost their spring.  When I had to jump up and down on curbs and sidewalks, it was definitely more of a challenge.  Shortly thereafter, my friend let me know his knees were starting to really bother him so I suggested us do some intervals of 5 minutes running and 1 minute walking.  We used this change of pace to stop by a store and get some more water.  Funny enough, when we walked out of the store, we encountered another runner I had met a few weeks earlier who was also out for a long run that night.  It is a very cool bond runners have.

Merida runners unite.

Merida runners unite.

After chatting with the runners for a couple minutes, we headed off for our remaining 5km to the house.  This was definitely the challenging moment of the night for my buddy.  He was experiencing that low feeling that one encounters multiple times during an ultra.  I decided my goal was to try to motivate him, cheer him up, and see him through the woods so to speak.  I assumed the role of the pacer to the racer in an ultramarathon.  We continued our 5/1 intervals and about 1.5km from the house we gutted it out to finish loop 2.

40km done but we still have 20km to go.

40km done but we still have 20km to go.

Upon reaching our aid station aka my house, my buddy dropped to the floor.  He was definitely suffering but was also trying to recuperate.  I found a Hüma Chia gel with double caffeine to boost him out of his hole.  I made him drink more water and take an S!Cap to help with electrolyte loss.  While he was laying on the ground, he asked if we could alter our final 20km and do two 10km loops.  Great idea, I thought.  This way it was mentally more paletable and he could pass by our aid station once more.   I could definitely see where going out for a 10km run is a lot easier to think about than going out for a 20km.  He eats 10km for breakfast.  After 40km and nearly 5 hours on his feet, another 10km shouldn’t be too bad.  After about 15 minutes or so, we headed out for our next loop.

Sometimes you just need to lie down.

Sometimes you just need to lie down.

Something amazing happened during our run between the 40-50km mark, my friend started to rebound.  He no longer needed intervals and was running with a rejuvenated spirit.  It was exactly what I was hoping would happen.  This is quite customary during ultra distances.  If you can just get past the dark moments, you will experience comebacks that you thought were impossible.  We ended up running about 8km and then walked for about a half of a km and then ran the remainder.  That loop was much easier than the last one.  We refueled, stretched a bit, and headed out for the last loop.

Limbering up for the final part of the run.

Limbering up for the final part of the run.

The last loop is where I started to feel some of the fatigue setting in but I wanted to stay strong for my friend.  As we wound our way though a nearby neighborhood our conversation picked up quite a bit more and I shared some of my experiences of similar runs.  We did one more walk break of about 5 minutes at the 55km mark and then pushed the effort to get home.  I started experiencing some gastrointestinal issues, I guess because of some of the experimenting with different food combinations.  Like the experts say, training runs are the time to experiment and not the race.  It was nip and tuck to see if I could make it home with out having to find an “emergency” bathroom but around 7 hours after setting out on our adventure, we made it!

We did it!  60km in the books.

We did it! 60km in the books.

The aftermath of the run was a moment of joy I had not experienced before and the reason I’m writing this post.  To hear the sense of accomplishment in my friend’s voice brought a huge smile to my face.  He kept repeating over and over, “60 kilometers, 60 kilometers”.  My best guess is that he was happy, amazed, proud, and exhausted all at the same time.  This moment was the reason why I challenged him to this run–I knew he would love it and knew he could do it.  I wanted to provide for him what I didn’t have when I first got into ultrarunning:  a person to share it with and a person to learn from.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the path I have followed to arrive to this point but it would have been a lot easier to do some of my first ultra-distance runs with an experienced person to help push me through.  That night adds to the many reasons why I love to run.

This is where we ran.

This is where we ran.

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.