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 runningandrambling.com 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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Shoe giveaway contest, Coupon code & Finding work appropriate minimalist footwear


First off, Donald Buraglio, one of the bloggers I read, is having a giveaway contest for some really great casual/work minimalist shoes which I will get to in a minute. Head on over to www.runningandrambling.com and enter the contest before 7pm central today for a chance to win a pair of Vivobarefoot Kali shoes of you're a gal, and either a pair of Oaks or Dharmas if you're a dude. He also has a 20% off coupon code for these shoes, which is a really good deal and runs for several more days. Check it out

Very shortly after I started running in minimalist shoes, I noticed that most of the shoes I owned were no longer comfortable, with some becoming downright painful to wear for any length of time. Initially, I muddled through, wearing slippers (you mainland folks would call them flip-flops), huaraches, my ZEM shoes or, if I really needed to wear shoes, my Nike Frees. Eventually I decided that I probably ought not to be wearing running shoes to work every day (I work in a professional environment), or worse, footwear that are essentially aqua socks.

I had already purchased a pair of Vivobarefoot EVO II running shoes to wear during the winter, and fell in love with the feel of those. (Donald also has a review of those shoes on his blog ) So, much to my wife’s dismay I purchased a pair of black Vivobarefoot Dharmas to wear as my everyday work/dress shoes.

I have worn them for about a week now and I have to say, I absolutely love them. Here’s a breakdown:


  • Roomy forefoot allow your toes to move freely
  • Thin yet durable sole provides great ground feel, particularly with the insoles removed
  • Styling can pass for nice work shoes with slightly moccasin-like styling
  • Faux carbon fiber trim panel on the heel counter (Bitchin!)
  • Comfortable without socks


  • Expensive. Like really, expensive. Ouch. Use that coupon code people
  • Looks a bit like moccasins with the seam running down the middle of the upper (this may not appeal to some)
  • Construction quality. This may end up being nothing, but with my pair, there are a few loose looking threads that are visible when the insole is removed.
  • Heel biting. On my right foot, the heel tends to dig into my achilles tendon a bit. I think this is something particular to Vivobarefoot shoes and my feet as I have the same problem with my EVO II shoes, and only on my right side. Probably not a problem for most
  • Toe lift. The forefoot has a bit of a toe rocker which lifts my toes off the ground when I'm standing. This detracts from the barefoot feel a bit while standing but isn’t really a big deal while walking or running

Overall, I'm really happy with them and highly recommend them for anyone looking for work shoes that give a nice minimalist feel. And with the coupon code from runningandrambling.com they are a pretty good deal.

Finding the groove


I wrote the following post on the road about a month ago and had given it up for lost as I had typed it out on my Blackberry which I replaced on that trip due to battery issues.

I'm in Washington D.C. for a week on a work related trip, and before I came out I mapped out a little route that turned out to be one of the most interesting runs I've done to date.

Before I left, I checked online to see if there were any good places to run near where I'm staying in Silver Spring. The first thing that caught my eye when I pulled up google maps was Rock Creek park, pretty much the only sizable chunk of green in the District other than the National Mall. The northern tip of the park was only about three-quarters of a mile from my hotel and the southern end includes the National Zoo and is close to the Adams Morgan/Connecticut Ave area. I immediately thought, "I should run that." I would set out from my hotel and run the length of the park down to about the zoo and then take the red line back. All told, a little less than 6.5 miles. No sweat.

Never mind the Park Service warnings not to go through the park without a partner because of the risk of muggings. (They did find Chandra Levy's remains 9 years ago in that park) Never mind that I knew nothing of the trail and what kind of terrain or elevation there might be. Also never mind that I've never run that far before. NEVER. Not in my youth, not in the days when Andrea and I were regular gym rats, never. None of it mattered. It looked like fun, and that was the end of that. Anything that came up, I would just roll with it.

I waited until 1, giving enough time for the temps to climb out of the 50s but leaving plenty enough time before dark in case my body imploded and I had to gimp my way out. I started out relatively slow, mindful of the personal best I would be setting in distance. Two minutes in I began to have doubts as I worked my way through the hilly neighborhoods on the way to the park. A series of climbs followed by what felt like never ending slow descents made me realize, "if the whole route is like this, I'm screwed." My quads would be fried easily by the half way mark, and once the fatigue set in I'd end up pounding my feet into paste as my form deteriorated.

Thankfully the elevation settled down once I reached the park itself. And, aside from a few bastards who somehow managed to get their cars in, West Beach Rd., which runs the length of the park was closed to motor vehicles as it typically is on weekends. The wide open park road, coupled with the sad fact that I'd probably get my dumb butt lost if I ran on the actual trails, convinced me to stick to the paved road since I didn't want to be pulling my phone out every 20 minutes to make sure I was on the right path.

I made the fool mistake of checking my distance about 1.5 miles into the park. After that, every step felt futile as doubt crept in and told me that I wasn't even a quarter of the way done and my legs were already starting to get tired. I made a deal with myself: run out a 5k and get a little break. I'm not sure if that made things better or worse as each step seemed to cry "are we there yet? Are we there yet?" I pushed myself through what felt like an eternity (but was in fact only one mile) and took a short breather walk.

I checked my blackberry, answered a couple of messages from Andie and pulled up google maps. I was pleased as punch to discover that I was past the halfway point for my initially planned out route. I decided I could totally do the rest of the distance to the Zoo. I set off, and
about five minutes in things just started to click into place. I settled into a comfortable rhythm and began enjoying more of the scenery around me. I did a little people watching. Said "Hi" to all the black squirrels on the path. My feet seemed pretty comfortable just wheeling along under me. At one point, after stopping to check directions on my blackberry for a second time, I just figured "screw it, I feel like I can go all day at this pace." Either I would find the zoo or I would run out of park. Which happened first I didn't much care.

I managed to keep moving until I reached one of the east entrances to the National Zoo and felt good enough to attempt to run through to
the Connecticut Ave. entrance. I failed, as it's basically one big hill, but managed to make it about half way for about 1/4 mile of extra unlogged distance before I had to walk the rest of the way. I grabbed some water and Gatorade and a Cliff bar to rehydrate and refuel a little before heading back. As I rode the Metro back to my starting point I took stock of the day's run: 6.74 miles, 1:19 at a 11:50 pace (according to my sportband at least). Not bad, although not great. We'll have to work on that pace.


My ankles were sore for about 4 days after that run, and I didn't feel confident enough to run again for about a week after, a sure sign that
I totally overdid it (which I could have predicted before the run) but overall I felt pretty good. I have since done distances almost as long
and just completed a 10k on Thanksgiving which I followed up with a 5k job the following Sunday. Slowly but surely I'm increasing my distance. But more rewarding to me is that I'm learning to tune into the run, listen to my body and find the rhythm and the flow of that particular run, which dramatically increases the enjoyment. Still not very fast, but I'm praising myself for showing up and for finishing. That is enough for me right now.

Arches? We don't need no stinking arches!

I have what I believe are clinically referred to as flexible flat feet. When standing almost my entire foot comes to rest on the ground, but when I flex my foot, a natural arch appears. Or at least they used to. Since I started running in minimalist footwear I have noticed that the arches of my feet have slowly become more distinct. I would show you in a pic but, I think that one pic of my ugly feet is all the web can bear for now. You'll have to take my word on it.

About the time I started to notice the strengthening of my arches, I also noticed that when I stand, my ankles would have a tendency to kind of crash in medially which would flatten out my feet.

Brittany Zimmerman 5k

photo of Brittany Zimmerman 

This past Saturday Andie and I participated in the inaugural Brittany Zimmerman Memorial 5k run/walk down on the shore of Lake Mendota in Madison. Despite some first year teething on the part of the event organizers and some chilly, breezy weather, about 350 of us came out to support Madison Area Crimestoppers and the Zimmerman family. All in all a good time had by all.

Dog Jog 2010

The rain stopped this morning just long enough for the 2010 Madison Dog Jog. The event is an annual fundraiser for the UW School of Veterinary Medicine. The funds go to humane organizations that participate in the vet school's spay/neuter program for shelter animals. It's also the very first organized running event that my wife Andrea and I have participated in.

The dog jog is a nice little two mile run/walk around the park north of the UW hospital near University Bay. The fun, and challenging, part is that it's an event most people do with their dog(s). That means that the course also includes speeding labrador avoidance exercises, poop stops, and detours so your dog can mark every vertical surface along the route. We brought our two Shiba Inus, Hachiko and Inari with us (Hachi's on the right) . After some thought I gave Hachi to Andie because he knows how to walk and run properly on a leash so she wouldn't have to fight him the whole way. That meant that I got Inari, our almost 8 month old puppy who has boundless energy and doesn't quite understand "heel" yet. For just a two miler I found running it out fairly challenging because I had to devote so much concentration and energy to controlling the 15 pound pinball I had on the end of my leash, that I had a hard time running with good form. Also not helping was the fact that I forgot to attach my Nike+ sensor to my huaraches so as it was bouncing around in my jacket pocket it was only recording half the distance travelled, leading me to believe that we had waaaay farther to go that we actually did. I know this affected Andrea's mood a bit, but she stuck it out and pushed hard all the way to the end. I found the finish line a pleasant surprise as I had downshifted to conserve energy. When I was told by one of the volunteers along the route that we were almost done I managed to find the energy to sprint the last 100 meters across the finish line.

Lessons learned: take the time to set up any gear you're brining along, and train the little one to run properly on a leash before the next dog friendly event.

All in all, a good time and I am so proud of Andrea for how well she did. Thanks to all the other participants and I'm sorry if my dog was a little shit to your dog.

Slow down, you're moving too fast


My calves, it seems, like to sing a little Simon and Garfunkel from time to time.

One of the principal challenges faced by most runners who embrace barefoot or minimalist running is the transition to a new running form. Barefoot running forces encourages a mid/forefoot landing coupled with quicker, shorter strides. This loads muscles and connective tissues in ways that the body is not accustomed to if one has historically used a longer, heel-strike running form. Ask anyone who has tried barefoot running, or read any blog on the topic, and you will invariably see some comment about muscle pain in the calf, and sometimes some tenderness in the tendons and ligaments in the foot. Even elite ultradistance runners who regularly run in more minimalist shoes experience the trademark burning calves when they switch to footwear that more closely emulates barefoot running.

The obligatory gear post


As a self professed minimalist/barefoot runner, I have already begun to get questions about what kind of shoes I wear (we'll get to the irony of that in a minute). So, I figured I'd take a moment to get those questions out of the way and talk a little bit about my thoughts on running gear in general.

Beginning at the beginning

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, or so goes the overused, often misattributed, and possibly mistranslated quote by Lao Tzu. But there it is, and I think its use is fitting here. In my case, the journey began with a single mile. Specifically, a mile on a treadmill, in a basement, barefoot.

It started off quite typically really. I had been on the road for over a week for work, and between sitting through lectures for ten hours each day, massive quantities of food, beers in the evenings at the hotel bar, and a wedding thrown in for good measure, I swore I could feel my ass get bigger by the minute as I sat through yet another day of trainings. I had packed a pair of running shoes for my trip, and the hotel had a fitness center. So, like any good American I decided I would go down and run off the bacon and eggs, turkey sandwich with chips, baby back ribs and pint of beer I had wolfed down that day. One mile should do it right?