Monday, April 15, 2013

Mourning Boston

It's been less that two hours since the first explosion ripped through the crowds on Boylston Street. Only a few hours earlier, I was euphoric, having watched Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher fight for a hard won 4th and 6th place finishes. Now I sit here, wracked with overwhelming and alternating feelings of sadness and rage. I take a little comfort each time one of my friends in the Boston area checks in online and lets us know they're "OK." I choke back tears as the casualty reports trickle in.

As a normal person... a generally empathetic and compassionate person, I am deeply saddened that someone would do this, at a sporting event, a marathon of all things - an event where people of different nations, beliefs, and creeds come together to peacefully celebrate human achievement, strength, and perseverance... To celebrate that which unifies us. I am cut to the core when I think about all the people for whom this should be an unforgettable day of personal triumph, who will now have to live with the horrible memories of mayhem and destruction. As a member of the human race, I weep for Boston.

Over the last hour, I have also discovered and come to understand some deeper feelings that have welled up from within - that there is an element of this that is deeply personal for me. It's not just because, at another time, in another place, that could have been me (or my wife) crossing the finish line or cheering on spectators when the bombs went off. There's that. But as a runner, a bigger part comes from a feeling like this was an attack on my family, my clan, my tribe. I came to the sport of running by way of Born to Run, so I can't help but think of all runners as part of a global tribe of people who are equal parts passionate and crazy. A tribe bonded by shared experiences of pain and perseverance. Their struggles are our struggles. Their pain, our pain. Their joy, ours - because we've all been there, one way or another.

So whoever was responsible for this reprehensible act, know this:
You haven't just hurt and terrorized a city.
You've hurt MY people.
You've committed an act of terror against MY family.

This is personal.

I will not shrink in the face of your depravity.

And I know I'm not alone.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The First Step is Admitting You Have a Problem - My Running Shoe Collection Overview

Maybe this scene is familiar to you:
I came home from a run last week, took my shoes off, and put them... in a pile of three other pairs of running shoes.

The Wife often comments that my running shoes must breed like rabbits because they're all over the house. Now, I'm not sure how much of that is due to the fact that I'm not naturally the most organized/tidy person, and how much is due to the absolute number of shoes residing in our house. Nevertheless, I decided the little shoe mosh pit was a little unsightly, and so gathered them up and put them with the rest of my shoes. This got me thinking - exactly how many pairs of running shoes do I have exactly? How many do I regularly use? Are there any I could (GASP!) get rid of?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Zombie Garmin - Forerunner 305 battery replacement DIY

**Update 3/26/2013: I've encountered some odd (but not unprecedented, even pre-swap) behavior since the battery swap. I did a full run-down test and it appears to be able to crank through about 8 1/2 hours but it also came up dead after what was indicated as a full charge. Will keep testing. **

I've owned my Garmin Forerunner 305 since shortly after I started running. Purchased near the end of its product cycle, the 305 (and its HRM-less twin the 205) was a supreme example of value: bulletproof construction, great reliability, 10 hour battery life, HRM strap, and all for only $120-150 on clearance all over the internet. Even well after the release of the 310xt, the 305 remained for most folks, the lord of all GPS watches - mostly on account of the 310xt's occasionally flaky GPS and a tendency to suddenly, and for no apparent reason, die. (Obviously, not an ideal quality in a $300-400 product) At least that's what I heard on Dailymile and Facebook anyway.

My own 305 has logged well over 1000 miles over the last couple years, and has been my friend through many dangers.

It was with great sadness then, that early this winter I noticed the battery in my trusty wrist-mounted companion was beginning to flake out. By January, through a combination of age and frigid Wisconsin winter temps, it had gotten so bad that I could no longer rely on it for anything longer than a 3-mile outing without fearing that its charge would take a big steaming dump before I finished my run. A multi-hour trail outing was simply out of the question. At that point it was of no more use to me than a paperweight.

Since my search for a total replacement was not going well (subject of another post) I searched around for battery replacement options. Apparently, one can send the unit back to Garmin for service which will set you back around $85 dollars. Since you allegedly also lose all the data stored on it, this leads me to believe that they just send you a refurb unit.

The other option I found is a DIY battery swap. It turns out that the battery for the iPod mini is the appropriate voltage and size so as to be a great replacement option, and is available online for cheap. So, if you've got an ailing Forerunner 305 (or 205) a few bucks, and some basic soldering skills, buckle up because its DIY time!

Things you will need:

  • Garmin Forerunner 305 or 205 (duh)
  • Soldering iron
  • Solder
  • Wire cutters
  • Watch case knife or something else to open the case
  • Shrink tubing, electrical tape, or liquid electrical tape
  • Silicone sealant/adhesive
  • A willingness to crack open an expensive piece of electronics, possibly irreparably, in order to do science to it

Before anything, you will need to obtain a replacement battery. An Amazon search for "iPod Mini Battery" yields a bunch of results. As the factory battery is of 720 milliamp-hour capacity, we will want to do at least as good as that. Also, since random 3rd party batteries of unknown provenance tend to be of lower quality than OEM, assume that the thing will give you less than the specs suggest. Go big or go home. Besides, there's like practically no difference in price. I bought one of these.

+ iPod mini battery
Running total spent: $5.58

First step is to crack the unit open. You will need a thin, flat, strong object to pry open the case. I do NOT recommend a screwdriver. The plastic is pretty soft and you will probably just damage the case and not be any closer to opening it. If you have one, I recommend a watch case knife. If you don't have one, they are easily obtainable for a few dollars online.

+watch opening tool set
Running total spent: $11.30

Alternatively, the battery replacement I bought came with some case opening tools for cell phones which might work too. YMMV.

Or you could be dumb like me and use an actual knife. (Also not recommended due to the increased risk of slashing your hand open, necessitating an ER trip and many stitches)

I found that the only real spot to get any leverage was at the seam below the antenna.

Work slowly and patiently around the case, coming back to the bottom seam to apply a little more oomph and eventually the unit will start to open. At that point you can carefully get in there and just slowly pry the thing open like a baby alligator's mouth. It will come apart into two pieces (>2 pieces is no good).

As you can see, virtually all the guts are in the half attached to the unit's face. The only things in the bottom are the battery, the speaker, and an 8 pin interface between the two halves. Pretty clever design really. One thing to point out at this point is the clear shield attached to the back of the face-half, just below the contacts that interface with the back-half. Make sure you don't knock that off. It appears to be there to prevent shorts or otherwise inappropriate contact with the exposed connections leading into the board. It also doesn't appear to be held on by anything other than hopes and fairy dust.

Next you'll need to remove the battery. My understanding is that the batteries are either held in by dab of glue or with an adhesive tape. Mine was affixed with the stickiest tape in the whole world. Seriously, I was afraid I was going to break something working the thing out. Again, patience pays dividends.

From here, you need to clip the old battery out, ideally leaving as much wire attached to the watch as possible. Strip the end of the wires. The wires are super thin so I my wire strippers wouldn't work, but I was able to pinch the insulation with my fingernails and strip them off that way. No turning back now!

The battery you buy will come with a connector. Clip that off and strip the ends of the red and black wires. Be careful not to let the battery wires short against each other. Thermal runaway in Li-ion batteries = bad.

Now you just need to solder the wires together. I wanted to use some shrink tubing (I used 3/16", I think 1/8" would work better) to seal the wires back up so I slipped those on before connecting the wires. I believe the easiest way and the "right" way would be to tin the end of the wires first then fuse them together. Otherwise, you pretty much need three hands to manipulate the iron, the spool of solder, and the wires. Fortunately I had one of these little jigs, so I could do everything in one shot.

That being said, I think working in steps, tinning then fusing would be an easier way to go. (Disclaimer: I know almost nothing about soldering) Once the wires are connected, close it all up with some electrical tape, liquid electrical tape, or shrink your tubing.

+Shrink Tubing
Running total spent: $13.29

At this point I would recommend dry fitting everything back into the case putting the two halves together and testing to if it powers on. If it does, give yourself a high five! If it doesn't power on, look for any bad connections, both between the battery and the unit, and the two halves of the unit. Power it down and take the two halves apart again.

Now you need to decide how you are going to mount your battery back in the watch case. One thing you want to be mindful of at this point is that the side buttons are attached to the face, but the external buttons you push are on the back half. This means you need to make sure nothing will get in the way of this hot button-on-button action once the the two halves are sealed together. Select your mounting orientation accordingly.

Another thing you'll need to deal with is this little plastic nub. With the original battery, it helped hold it in place side-to-side. However, our replacement battery is wider than the original so now it's just in the way. Break the little bugger off then trim it flush with a knife, x-acto, or razor blade.

Once you've got your battery position figured out, affix it in place. Dealer's choice on method. I used a blob of the same Silicone adhesive I would use to seal the unit. You could use a good strong double sided tape if you want, or crazy glue. Whatever you want. One thing to consider is, if you ever need to do this again, how much of a pain in the ass it will be to remove it. For me that ruled out the crazy glue. Also, I wanted to make sure it stayed in place and could withstand a pretty wide range of temperatures. That ruled out the tape. Plus, I didn't have any tape.

At this point I did one more dry fit of the two halves to make sure everything powered up and all the buttons worked. You're an adult, you can do what you will. Just don't come crying to me if it doesn't work later though.

Now, all that's left is to close it all up. I used an auto/marine RTV silicone sealant. You could use crazy glue or epoxy, but you're never getting that thing open again if you do, so keep that in mind.

+Silicone Sealant
Running total spent $18.28

Lay down a thin bead of your adhesive around the rim of the back half, then stick it together. Do one more power and button check before the glue sets (another reason not to use crazy glue) in case you need to make any final adjustments. Clean up any extra adhesive that squeezes out.

In order to hold everything together while the adhesive cured, I wrapped the body in some plastic, then tightly wrapped everything in some cheap electrical tape, stretching at the turns to apply pressure to keep everything together. I left it like this for about an hour before removing the tape - enough time for things to start sticking together, not enough time to mess up the buttons by depressing them too long.

You're all done! Let your Garmin sit for the prescribed amount of time to allow the adhesive to cure, usually 24 hours. You can be topping off the battery while you do this. Multitasking!

Since the battery swap, the battery life appears more like it was when new - short logs, like the length of a 10k don't budge the battery meter. I haven't done a full run down test yet to see what the full battery life of the new pack is, but I'll make certain to report back when I do. I'm super jazzed to have my Garmin back from the grave!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Back in the Saddle

Alright. We're back.

After suffering through a seemingly neverending recovery from a stooopid achilles injury suffered way back in July, weeks of zero miles, all the while watching my fitness disappear and the weight pile back on, I made some changes which have finally allowed me to start back on the track of stacking back on the miles.

The addition of a fairly burly night splint to keep my achilles from tightening, and a switch to a pair of my higher drop shoes to take some of the load off the tendons and ligaments in my ankle, seems to have done the trick for the moment. We're not pain-free, but its no longer debilitating, nor is it the first thing on my mind when running down the road. As great as the Rogue Racers are, long term the shoe switch is probably not going to work out, especially as I start running trail ultras again. But, in the meantime I'm just going to enjoy being able to get back out there and put down 3-4 relatively pain-free miles.

I've tentatively put Geoff Roes' Mountain Ultrarunning Camp on my calendar for 2013, and I really want to go back to Glacial Trail and see if I can finally get that monkey off my back. But, that being said, I realize that I've got a long road ahead and I'm going to make sure I'm 100 percent confident in the state of my body before I go and do something monumentally stupid that sets me back for a long time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pushing the Needle Too Far...?

I've done it now. I'm committed, and there's no turning back. Wait, can I please take it back...?

Hello, my name is Corey. I'm a runner, and I just signed up for my first ultra-marathon. Well, by "runner," what I mean to say is that I engage in what many consider jogging, 2-3 times a week. I've completeda couple of road half marathons, but I only started running regularlya year ago and most geriatric hip replacement patients probably movefaster. While we're clarifying things, by "ultra-marathon" I mean that I've signed up for a local 50k trail race. Technically it's an "ultra" as it IS longer than 26.2 miles, but an 5 extra miles hardly seemssufficient to catapult it into the same league as 50M, 100k, or 100M races. Well call it a baby-ultra then. Ergo, by completing I will be a baby ultra-runner. There, that sounds more reasonable.

In any event, I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew. Seriously, the moment after I clicked on the "submit" button, thereby solidifying my entry into the Glacial Trail 50k, the theme from Jaws crept into my head, and all I could think was "You're going to need a bigger boat."

I'd like to think that I know what I'm in for. An analyst by training, naturally I read everything I could get my hands on: Born to Run (not so much instructional as inspirational), Bryon Powell's "Relentless Forward Progress," and more blog posts and race recaps than I can remember including Donald's write-ups of Western States, Miwok, and others. I've scrutinized, analyzed, cross-referenced, and calculated. On paper I've got it all sorted out: Put down about 500 calories and 1 liter of fluids an hour and keep moving my feet at an average pace of 14 min/mile. See! How easy is that? Being the numbers dork, I've even got a spreadsheet that allows me to play with different scenarios, walk/run ratios, and paces to see how long it will take me so I make sure to come in under the cutoff. Strategy, I has it.

So whats with the overwhelming sense of dread? Maybe it's the X factors I haven't worked out yet. Shoes are a big one. I absolutely love my Merrell Trail gloves and they have treated me well through my running to-date, including my two half-marathons. Problem is, I've found that I likely need something with some cushion to protect my feet as the miles pile on, the fatigue sets in, and my form goes in the toilet. My last long run, for example, left my feet screaming at me after 15 miles; threatening bodily injury if I didn't "pull this car over right now mister!" I've tried the New Balance MT101 but they don't fit my wide feet well and only go up to 12 in half sizes (great shoes, but it would have killed them to offer a 12.5?). I've got a pair of Montrail Rogue Racers sitting in the rack waiting for me to try them out when I get home. Hopefully they fit the bill. But what if they don't? What then?

Weather's another factor, one that's particulary concerning as we're getting into the colder months here in Wisconsin. Inclement weather on race day will all but ensure that I have to break the cardinal race day rule: never wear/use something for the first time. 

The distance is a an obvious source of anxiety. Charitably, I will probably be able to build up to a 20-23 mile long run before I need to rest up for the race (I deplore the term "taper". Snooty, overly competitive people talk about tapering). That leaves somewhere between 8-10 miles of unexplored territory. That's nearly one third the whole distance of the race. I've brute forced my way through extra miles before, but I have this sneaking suspicion there's a difference between willing one's self through 3 miles and 10 miles.
Still though, when I sit back and think about all of these things, I can work them out in my head and get past them. I'm able go over them, again and again, like working on a rough hewn piece of wood that starts off splintery and dangerous looking but can eventually be worn down smooth, and perhaps even made into something useful or beautiful.

No, when I think about it, I think my issue goes deeper - down to my motivation for running in the first place. Which is maybe why this race scares the hell out of me.

A little over a year ago, I started running. As with many, I was quite taken with Chris McDougall's "Born to Run" as he sells the whole primal joy of running bit pretty well. It's been a long road (no pun intended) but I've arrived at a point where I genuinely enjoy running, particularly on the trails that run near my home. I've been inspired sufficiently that rounding Mont Blanc is officially on the bucket list - preferably by participating in UTMB, but a personal trip will suffice as well. I'd like to run the Grand Canyon and maybe go up to Alaska and check out what mountain running up there is like. I have all of these things I want to do now, places I want to go and enjoy, and this race is my gateway to that world. And maybe that's it.

I got hooked on running because I enjoy doing it. I rarely run when I'm feeling crummy or injured. I'm not very fast, and don't mind. I go out because the siren song of the road or the trail calls to me. I think perhaps what I'm feeing isn't so much anxiety as a loss of motivation. I think maybe, by putting so much on thins race, by believing that all of those goals ride on this one event, I've sucked all the joy out of it. I'm too worried about things like "what if I DNF" or "what if I find that 5-8 hours on the trail is boring?" I think I'm spending so much unconscious energy worrying about all of the things that I perceive as being contingent upon my completion of this race, that it's wearing me down. So maybe therein lies the answer. Perhaps what I need is to take some time and go and remind myself of why I run - to spend some "me" time out on the trail with no time or distance constraints. To just run. Maybe, hopefully, then I'll be able to find what I lost and allow myself to get excited. Excited about running my first ultra.

It's still alright to be a bit terrified though right?


This post was originally written for but was unused and so appears here.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Race Recap: Madison Marathon - Half Marathon

This recap is way late. But, better late than never I suppose.
At the end of May I completed my first half-marathon at the 2011 Madison Marathon. I had two goals for myself: 1) finish, and if possible 2) finish under 2:30. Despite some unorthodox training (read: minimal) and first time half marathon mistakes, I managed to accomplish both goals and chalk up my first official half-marathon time of 2:24:30.

Over the winter I toyed with the idea of running the Madison Marathon. Most marathon training programs are 16-18 weeks so I figured I had enough time to build up my mileage before the end of May. Well, as Sun Tzu said, no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. My January and February mileage sucked. Like, 10 miles in January and 5 miles in February sucked . In March I realized that there was no way I was going to be able to scale up to the distance I would need in order to complete a marathon in May without hurting myself. I still wanted to keep the Glacial Trail 50k as my big goal for year so I needed to make sure I still did a long race in the spring. I figured I'd split the difference and do a half-marathon. I justified it to myself after the fact that the half was the natural thing to do because the longest race I'd ever done was a 10k so the half was the next logical step. *cough*Bullshit*cough*

Despite forking over the not-inconsiderable registration fee, I still found it a little hard to make time to get out and run. It's not that I didn't WANT to go running. I just found it really easy to make excuses as for why I couldn't. I'm kind of lazy like that, and if anything's a struggle with me and running it's getting out the door. Once I'm out there, I'm golden. But getting up and putting on the shoes... let me tell you. Herculean effort. Through March and into May I managed a measly 2-3 runs a week, mostly in the 3-5 mile range with the occasional 6 miler. I managed to squeeze in one 9.5 miler a week and a half before the race, but otherwise that was it. It was betting everything on proper form, will power, and being well rested.

So having never raced a half-marathon before (heck, having never run that far ever) I was flying a little blind as to how to best prepare for the race. Here are a list of good calls, rookie mistakes, and just plain boneheaded moves:

Good call:
  • Bringing my own pack with a bottle of lemon lime NUUN and a flask loaded with slightly watered down Cliff Shots Double Espresso gels (mmmm... caffeine)
  • Wearing my Merrell Trail Gloves and Recofit calf sleeves
  • Chia Fresca half an hour before the race
Rookie Mistakes:
  • Not cutting down on the fiber in the days leading up to the race
  • Not budgeting enough time for pre-race bathroom trips before getting to the starting area (these two would create a related problem)
Boneheaded Moves:
  • Wearing a new top for the race
  • Not tending to the nipples pre-race (also related issues)
Next to the Crazylegs Classic and the Madison Ironman, the Madison Marathon is probably one of the largest non-UW Athletics events in Madison - although the Crazylegs could be considered related since it's a fundraiser for the athletic dept. The Madison Fesitvals people do a great job putting it on but there are a couple things that could be improved:
  1. More porta-pottys at the start. I know it's hard to imagine more. But seriously, doubling the number would be totally reasonable. 
  2. Better staging (any at all would be great) for the half and quarter marathon. 
As you may have surmised, I was denied a last minute opportunity to tend to personal business before the start. I figured everything would be fine though. Heck, I'd be at the finish in two and a half hours. I could wait two and a half hours right?

After listening to my friend the Mayor give the same announcements to both the marathon and half marathon starters (seriously, I'm sending him some material for the next race), the starter lined up the front of the pack and cut us all loose. With no visual staging of runners by pace, I locked onto the 2:30 pace team's sign in the crowd and followed that out of the starting corral. I figured I would hang back with them for the first half of the race and assess whether I had it in me to pick up the pace in the latter half. I got separated from the pace team some time in the first mile due to some course management issues but managed to reel them back in by mile 2. I tried to stay with them for a few miles but, to my surprise and delight, I found that the pace was actually too slow for me to run comfortably. So, I decided to forge on ahead and take my chances managing my own pace.

I made it to about mile 4 when I realized that nature was calling and that I was going to have to stop at some point during the race. I skipped the mile 4 aid station and figured I'd hit the next one. When I got to the mile 5 station the lines were still longer than I cared to wait. I pushed on ahead to the next station, but I kept thinking about a line from a blog or a book I've read that talks about how some ultra-runners run into problems when, due to late race fatigue, they are unable to tell the difference between a bowel movement that is imminent and one that is in progress. Needless to say I stopped at the next station, paid my newbie penalty on the race clock and moved on. (I promise that's the last of the poop talk)

Much to my dismay, as I was waylaid in line at the aid station the 2:30 pacers caught back up with me and stretched out a good couple minute lead for good measure. As I started back on the course, I considered my strategy for the second half of the race. I was quickly going to be venturing into unknown territory but I figured I still had the legs to click back into the slightly sub 11 minute pace I had been running, and persistence hunt the 2:30 pacers. Then, once I caught up with them, if I felt I had enough gas left, I would hold that pace until the finish. Otherwise, I'd just hook into the 2:30 group and cross with them. But I'd be damned if I wasn't going to catch them.

Despite the slight hassle of having to lug the weight around, I found it nice to have my own water and gels because it made it so that I didn't have to get caught up in the traffic jam at all the water stations. It wasn't so much about the time as not wanting to slip on cups, crash into someone, or get run over negotiating the entry and exit. I don't have much of a frame of reference versus water, but the NUUN seemed to work well and it remained palatable throughout the race. The Double Espresso Cliff Shots became a little hard to suck down near the end, but otherwise I had no complaints there either as I never really experienced any real glycogen deficit.

Throughout the race I had been employing a "strides" technique I picked up from Jason Robillard's blog where, instead of slowing down for a break when your legs feel tired, you actually speed up and do 10 or 20 strides. It seems counter intuitive, but the logic is that speeding up works more fast twitch muscle fibers giving your slow twitch muscle a short break. That's close enough to real science for me, and I can't really argue with the results. Other than my little 5 minute bio-break, I never stopped or slowed down.
Between miles 6 and 9 I was passed by a guy with a sign pinned to his back that said "Still Running from Scott Walker." I have to admit that, at the time, I found it pretty darned funny. During this stretch I also ended up running along side this tall, cute girl with a massive overstride. She had the obvious look of a regular runner so I figured I would stay with her pace as it was close enough to mine but pushed me a little bit. We caught up to the 2:30 pace team around 8.5miles. I wasn't sure if I had enough to hold my pace until the end, but I figured that I was close enough that I would push it till I finished, or something blew up. I started playing games with myself like, "only 5 more miles, you've run 5 miles tons of times." and "Only 5k left. A 5k is nothing."

A little before 9.5 miles my tall coed "running buddy" dropped the hammer and left me behind. Looking back at my splits, I know she actually poured on a decent amount of speed because my pace was pretty consistent throughout but she was just plain gone. A little later, I passed a guy running barefoot who was looking pretty good for his pace and for the fact that he had put down 10 miles on asphalt and cement. At about the 10.5 mile mark, there was an Elvis waving a sign that said "3 miles till beer." Mmm... beer.

At around the 11.5 mile mark, the Marathon winner came running past. I tried not to think about the fact that he had run more than twice as far as I had in about the same amount of time. As we headed towards the 12 mile mark, it was then than I knew that I absolutely was going to finish the race. With one mile left I decided to lay it all out and push for a descending series for the last four quarters. I hadn't really been looking at my time, but I didn't want to finish and then know I could have done better if I had pushed it harder. I knew hitting that kind of pace on spent legs was going to be a challenge, particularly since the last mile includes the climb back up W. Washington Avenue to the Capital Square, only the second real elevation change in the whole race (the first was back at the beginning when you run out from the Square, down W. Washington). Still, I managed to push it through, the growing crowd, cheers, cowbells, and vuvuzelas urging me on. I crossed the finish with nothing left, and had to restrain myself from puking on the back of the guy in front of me in the finish chute. I found Andie at the sideline and she told me that I had managed to finish under my goal time. After walking for a bit, I grabbed some food and started to feel better. I made I may over to the beer tent and grabbed myself a cup of slightly chilled Michelob Ultra (mmm... light beer)

As I tossed back the brew, I basked in the fact that I had just finished my first Half-Marathon.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why I run

I was originally going to have a race recap of my first half marathon at the Madison Marathon as my first post back on this blog. However, I had a somewhat heated conversation with a good friend of mine that has since been banging around in my head for a few weeks, and the monster wants out.

My friends Eric and Kevin participated in the Capital View Triathlon last month, and as my wife and I stood around talking with them after the race, Kev asked "so you going to join us next time?" I gave my pretty standard answers, that I don't swim well enough (true), I don't own an appropriate bike and the Boss isn't likely to let me buy one (true), and that I really just wanted to focus on long distance running for now and didn't think I had the time to properly train for two other events (true and true). I got some nods, provided some basic surrebuttal to their rebuttal questions (like "you know, I don't really dig on having a hard metal object up my backside for 10+ miles"). But, for the rest of the day my answers bothered me. They felt like an attempt at a dodge and that I wasn't truthful about why I would have, at that exact moment, been more likely to agree to have my eyebrows waxed than sign up for a triathlon.

Why then do I run? Why does the notion of doing a marathon or a trail ultra light the fire in my belly where the triathlon clearly does not? Since the Internet is the modern surrogate for a shrink's couch (That is what folks do these days, no?), I might as well plop right down and work out my issues.

The first reason I came up with was pretty straight forward: I run because I enjoy running. When running isn't fun - and I will concede that I'm working with a variable definition of "fun" - I don't do it; such as when I injure myself or overdo the mileage. I don't listen to music when running because it takes away from the experience. I often like to run alone, just me and the sound of my feet against the ground and the rhythm of my breathing. As a result I'm not very fast, but that's fine by me. I go at a pace that feels good, or feels challenging to me at the moment, depending what I'm in the mood for.

I participate in races from time to time because I like to run, not the other way around.  I also register for some events just to keep me honest, to make sure I have some goals out there, and as a check to make sure I maintain a certain level of fitness. But generally, I just like going out and hitting the road or trail. Races are the byproduct of my desire to run, not the other way around.

I know for a lot of people though, it IS the other way around. They're competitive and want to do events like 5ks, marathons, or ultras, and so running for them is simply training for the event, a byproduct. The event and the competition is the objective, and there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, for hundreds of years mankind has used sports and athletic competition as an alternative to conflict and war. After all, there is more honor in beating a man in a race than in killing him. Healthy competition, whether with others or with ourselves, is a commendable pursuit.

Then there are always the folks who run for exercise, where weight loss or fitness is the goal. They're typically easy to spot, as they're the ones who look like they are hating every minute of life while they're out on the road. I feel bad for those people, because for them there is nothing in the act of running itself that they enjoy. The competitive person at least gets off on the thrill of the race. They may not always enjoy the training, but at least there's always the competition. But for the fitness or weight loss runner, running is simply a means to an end, much in the same way colonoscopies are a means to an end. "We want to to be thinner, healthier and cancer free, but why in god's name would I enjoy what gets me there?"

There's nothing wrong with either of these reasons to run. They are both noble causes. I wish that the fitness runner could learn to enjoy running a little bit as it would probably help them stick with it and achieve their goals. I wish that some of the competitive types could dial back the competitiveness, because (and we all know at least one) sometimes they can be a real douche. Although I suppose for that sort, sport is a better outlet for those impulses than, say dog fighting or overthrowing a small third world government. In the end though they are both admirable causes. (Just try not to be "that guy" okay?)

Which brings me back to triathlons. And the other reason I run. But before I continue I need to make one thing clear:
The triathlon, regardless of length, is a test of endurance and the completion of one is to be commended.

There. Now that that that is crystal clear, I can continue.

As you can probably guess by now, a triathlon does not fall into the category of things I would consider fun. More specifically, I really have no desire to spend hours and hours training on a bike and in the pool, just so I can do a tri. Additionally, as I've long abandoned the illusion that I will ever  be competitive in individual sports, I don't really feel that competitive bug that might allow me to overcome the aforementioned un-fun-ness. Finally, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that no one, or very few people anyway, does triathlons to get into shape. I mean really, there are much less masochistic ways to get into decent shape. Like wrestling a bear, that's probably easier.

So clearly, there's nothing in it for me - nothing that makes me WANT to do a triathon. Which is fine. Whatever. The one thing I discovered though, in talking this out with people, is that there is a perceived negative (at least for me) that tacks onto my complete ambivalence about the triathlon and totally kills it for me. That's the fact that I don't want to get tagged as a triathlete. Allow me to explain.

Most people who do triathlons do them for some of the reasons I've identified: 1) Because they inherently find all three events so much fun that they want to string them all together into some kind of glorious celebration of all things swimming, biking, and running; or 2) they are competitive and want to prove their mettle, either to the world to to themselves. Both of these reasons are hot-damn, fantastic reasons to enter into a triathlon and you go get on with your bad self. There is this small minority however, that's into it because the triathlon is the new "it" thing, the new status symbol - and for some reason when economics enters the picture it really cheeses me off and totally ruins the party for me. 

I seem to remember marathons being the athletic status symbol, and at least I can deal with that. At the end of the day, a marathon is a foot race and there is almost no amount of technology or money that can compensate for pure athletic ability. You can beat my ass at a marathon? I will concede that you are the superior human specimen. True, greater affluence makes it easier to find the time to log the miles and have better nutrition. In the end though, it's still mano-a-mano with little bullshit in between - and the scrawny kid from a village Kenya is just as likely to beat you as the son of a millionare with too much time on his hands. More importantly, this is true whether you're an elite runner or a back of the packer like me.

That's not the case with the triathlon. 
  • Full wetsuit for added bouyancy and reduced effort during the swim: $400
  • Tri singlet to reduce transition time during stages: $80
  • Tri bike with carbon frame and tricked out components for decreased weight and increased efficiency: $4000+

Access to better gear can make a huge difference in performance, particularly in the middle of the pack. The result is an ability to essentially buy performance. 

And it's not just the gear. I've noticed that this particular type of triathlete is particularly taken with the Ironman distance events. It takes some serious time to train for a marathon - you're talking runs at least 3-4 times a week, typically with a long run each week that hits around 20miles at the peak, pre-taper. And that's for one event. There are two others you need to train for, each equally as demanding. Realistically, unless you're a college student, it takes some non-trivial economic means to be able to afford that much time on the road, in the saddle, and in the pool, both in terms of opportunity cost and access to the necessary equipment and facilities.

Most people who consider themselves a triathlete are aware of the fact that they are blessed with the means to train and participate. Most are thankful and are unpretentious about it. The status seekers however, flaunt it. They rock out with their Ironman branded apparel, while driving around in their Prius, with their tri bike strapped to the top, and an ironman bumper sticker on the back and a 140.6 sticker on the hatch.

I will concede that it is a fine line between doing all of those things because one is justly proud of having finished a triathlon, and doing so because one feels superior for it. Nevertheless, there is a line, some people cross it, it makes me want to punch them in the ear, and I want nothing to do with it.

What does this have to do with why I run? Well, in exploring my deep seeded hatred of douchey behavior, it occurred to me that I like running precisely because of how simple it is. Do I usually run with a garmin on my wrist, and the newest in minimalist shoes on my feet? Yes. But, I am equally as happy when I go out for a run with no timing device, wearing huaraches that are little more than sheets of rubber strapped to my feet with nylon cord. I like running for the purity of it. But moreso, I like it because it's something that anyone can do, no matter who they are or how much money they have. I like it because it's about the most democratic (if I may use that term) sport there is. Now, if this makes me my own special brand of asshole I guess that's something I'm going to have to live with.