Sunday, April 2, 2017


"You have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves and everything will fall into place."     - Paul "Mustang" Chelimo's Instagram account

Without a wristwatch, there are two ways of knowing intuitively how fast you’re going.  One way, combining a running pace’s affect on your body with past training experience, triangulates your speed feel-ologically.  Or you can gauge pace based on how fast things around you seem to be scrolling backwards into your periphery before they disappear in your wake.  

The latter is much less accurate, especially at night, when running always seems faster (and therefore more fun), or in the middle of a desert or something, when there isn’t much optical (or digestible, for that matter) fodder for your visual speedometer.  By the way, four minute mile pace (15 m.p.h.) looks disappointingly slow viewed from the cockpit of any semi sportsy car.  Forgo the eyes.  (Most) Well-trained athletes can easily and accurately run within five seconds per mile of a target pace, completely on feel.

Finishing the Gate River Run / US 15k Championship

I didn’t need my body to tell me I was running slowly up “Green Monster”, the sisyphusian bridge spanning the Saint James River in the final two miles of the Gate River 15k Run in Jacksonville, Florida.  The structure’s weathered green I-beams oozed viscously from Dali’s paintbrush into and out of my tunnel vision as we raced upward, hundreds of feet above the river.  The brackish waters below were replete with dolphins I would have given anything, (please, anything!) to be playing with instead of this.  The long curve of the bridge deck rolled over painfully, deliciously slowly, its false summit a tangential mirage that kept dancing away from the couple of others I was running with as we surged and yo-yo-ed to the top.

You needn’t be a mathematician to understand the calculus of that bridge’s curve.  In your legs you felt its concave belly inflect mercifully into its convex shoulder, a curvaceous spine transmitting hurt to its foolish pilgrims of pain.  Your best bet, a trick of the mind, was to celebrate inwardly when you reached the point of maximum incline, grateful for its rolling over, though there remained eons until you actually summited.  When you did, you had exactly one mile to go, all down hill.  

By the way, I was not running in the lead pack by the time Green Monster reared its head in the eighth mile of the race.  That maglev train of frictionless speed rolled through this elevated station minutes ago, roadside trash rollicking and concrete span joints groaning in the shockwave left by their hasty departure.  Race winner Leonard Korir ended up running the final, all-downhill mile in ‘only’ 4:08, finishing when I had about 900 meters (nine football fields + on your own 16 yard line) left to go.  

I extracted revenge on Korir when Gate’s athlete coordinator / benefactor in selfless deeds of U.S. distance running Richard Clark Fannin Jr. came up to me, ray banned, at the after-race pool-pizza-beer party (what other race has a scheduled, mandatory post-run pool party, not to mention after party w/ fried gator + after-after party?) and said “Joe, you’re a big guy, [thanks.] help me throw Lenny in the pool!”  After which, terrified, I chucked one of America’s greatest runners / Olympian, who can’t swim, into a four and a half foot deep pool, praying his legs cleared the ledge.

<——All that is to say, I survived (I type therefore I am) the first race back in a while, survived it and enjoyed it, even if it was a donkey-whipping.  On to the next one.

… In which, on North Carolina State’s track in Raleigh last weekend, I tithed Gate River’s 15,000 meter pain payment, stepping down to a mercifully bridgeless 1,500 meter race.  I was again beaten soundly, running 3:46 and experiencing what the industry calls booty lock: when your hamstrings and butt turn into rigor mortified slabs of round steak. 

Start of 1500m at Raleigh Relays

One of Pete’s Peteisms is that progress in distance running isn’t linear.  He’s right.  If you’re lucky, progress progresses sinusoidally, rising and falling across pretty snow capped peaks and lush river valleys in the off seasons.  More likely though, progress approximates some crazy thirteenth degree polynomial with random, remorseless asymptotic plunges to what seems like negative infinity, at the time.  Runners (like gamblers) live for those somewhat rare, glorious ascents to new maximums despite the powerful and totally obvious odds stacked against them.  And we love it. 

Given the comeback from injury in the fall, I have to be satisfied with getting to these start lines healthily and move on from losses quickly.  After a certain number of beatings, the legs figure out how to race again.  Neither of these first couple races were anything special by themselves, but they were good enough to serve as platforms for a great season.  Runners and humans should know that success can follow any sequential jumble of highs, lows, and failure.  You never  truly know when the next home run is: it could even come after your cat just died, you're sick, and your basement just flooded.  Or something.  

Just keep going and eventually it'll stick.  That's it.  Finding Nemo said it better than I did.

Upcoming Races:

DateRace NameLocationVenue / Distance
April 15B.A.A. 5kBoston, MARoad 5k
April 21Larry Ellis InvitePrinceton, NJTrack 1500
May 4Payton Jordan InvitationalPalo Alto, CATrack 5000
June 22-25USATF ChampionshipsSacramento, CATBA

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Afraid to swing my legs off the bed and put my feet on the floor, I stared at the blankness of my bedroom walls.  When I was younger, this would have been because I was afraid some raptor clawed monster with long, snatching arms waited beneath the bed, ready to drag me to its lair in the basement.  Or if at home in Milwaukee during the winter, because the hardwood floor of my bedroom tended to match the outside's midwest temperatures, ready to freeze bare feet.  Now I stared at the paintings on my bedroom walls.  Checked my heart rate.  The morning light made reflections in the altitude tent plastic, little faces that distorted and chuckled in the breeze coming from the window.

I was delaying the beginning of the day because I felt a sharp ache in my upper outside ankle.  I didn't want to put weight on it and confirm my worst fears: another bone injury.  I was being dramatic.  A year ago Id’ve chalked this kind of pain up to just another demon sorely haunting my flesh, tendons, and bones.  One of the countless reliably exorcised during the first cracking, tendon popping shuffle to the bathroom, or if stubborn, during the first few running steps of the day. 

As it turns out, I got up, went to practice, ran, and have kept on running since.  The ankle thingy was just that: a thing.  But my hesitancy shows one thing: getting hurt last September has certainly made me keenly aware of my vincibility.  I think that’s a word.

Having neglected to write for so long I feel obliged to rewind (still a word I think) to September twentieth.  I had just posted a blog piece that mentioned how taking a longer break from running had left me refreshed and healthy.  I was about to be proven (mostly) wrong.  The very next morning, on a hard hill workout with (ya done messed up) Aaron at Bass Lake, hubris struck swiftly and sans mercy.  Somewhere in my pelvis, some of the strongest ligaments in the body pulled hard enough on my sacrum, a bone between the pelvic wings, to fracture it.  I knew immediately during the workout that something was wrong.  Donald Trump was way too close in the polls.  And my back really hurt.  Luckily I only ran about an extra mile on the injury, hoping it was just freak pain, before I stopped.

Several days later, an MRI confirmed what we were already almost certain of: a sacral stress fracture.  Pete’s recovery protocol called for a full eight weeks totally away from running. Unlike other types of fractures, virtually every cross training modality, including biking, elliptical, swimming, pool running, walking, and even helping to construct a scale replica of the Great Pyramids of Giza by hand end up irritating a sacrum fracture.  Exercise was out.  I was now wanted by the Sacral Police around the Zap Fitness campus.  Five-stars-on-GTA wanted.  If I was caught so much as dancing I’d receive a stern reprimand from team mates. Eight weeks of electrifying ossification it was.

Wanted by the sacral police in Boston

As it turns out, running problems aren’t much different from living in Egypt under Pharaoh and the Ten Plagues.  Pee transforming into blood.  Lyme disease.  Shards of glass impaling the foot.  Food poisoning from diseased livestock.  Disintegrating bones.  I’ve seen friends and team mates with it all over the years.

Stress fractures are about as common as Starbucks locations will be on the moon in 2050. Most athletes on the professional circuit have suffered at least one bone fracture or reaction in their career.  Many ridiculously accomplished athletes seem to exist in a perpetual state of duct taped-ness, cross training from one window slit of health to the next, yet still pulling off amazing performances in times of relative health despite their apparent fragility.  

Having been healthy for so long, part of me felt I had it coming; that every lucky streak comes to an end.  This notion made being hurt a little easier to swallow.  I was finally about to experience the other side of competitive runner life coin for the first time: video games.  I mean…  being debilitatingly injured.  Actually I just watched team mates play video games. I’m more of an observer.  Seriously though: a runner should always do everything in her or his power to avoid getting hurt, but when she does, he should remember that being hurt is part of the process.  Injury is a cost of doing business.

And I’m finally a member of the Bones Brigade.  I know their secrets.

Rule number one: You don’t talk about the… 
You believe you’re going to come back stronger than before.  Not in an abstract, cliche way, either.  You believe you’re going to have your best season ever, right after being in the worst shape of your life, or at least since your middle school skateboarding years.  As in, you’re going to win stuff you’ve never won before and run personal bests you’ve never run before. Which is the definition of a personal best.  This helps get you through the days when the altitude tent faces start to look like that clown from It, or worse, James Franco.

I didn’t delight in not engaging in the activity I enjoy the most for two months.  I had too much time to think.  I started writing a novel about a coach that mentors athletes for years, only to sadistically murder them and stuff their corpses in a collapsed mineshaft.  I envisioned a toaster that prints the weather forecast, motivational phrases, and market futures on your toast.  (already been done)  I did quite a bit of sifting through thoughts, most of which fall under the “holy shit I’m getting old where did the time go and what am I doing with my life” theme.

I’m proud to report I came out on the other side.  No.  I didn’t quite experience the sunlit burst of mach-nine-jet-fighter-flying-out-of-a-masisve-kerosene-explosion type inspiration that some people claim they get after overcoming injury.  I know success won’t be automatic. It’ll have to be worked for over time.  It’s a long trail back to peak lifetime fitness.  That’s the realist in me.  What I am feeling, now healthy, with three workouts under my belt and running mid-seventies miles per week, on the way up, is a sense of reset and swift progress away from the bottom.  

I returned to running Thanksgiving week with a blissful nine minute jaunt on the alter-gravity treadmill at 70 percent body weight.  We did several weeks worth of short alter-G runs alternating with swim days.  By mid December most runs were on land with all 9.81 meters per second squared of sweet gravity pulling my aching limbs that forgot how to run down towards the center of the Earth.

The first hard workout back was here in Tallahassee.  Brandon and Matt dragged my mouth breathing self around four times two kilometer repetitions on grass soccer fields.  The 800 meter loop that Pete measured and marked out would have made lovers of quicksand and many sided polygons proud.  I didn’t care how much energy the angel food cake-like ground soaked up from our strides.  I was just glad to be back rolling after so much lying around doing crosswords.

Matt, Brandon, and I running a hill cycle workout in Tallahassee earlier this month.

Admittedly, there were moments during time off and the early phase of starting again when I was mildly depressed.  Doubtful that I’d be able to climb back to competitive fitness.  I didn’t feel like a runner, which, despite trying to stay diversified in my interests, is a huge part of my identity.  While not running in September, October, and November, the next most exciting aspects of life began creeping into my thoughts.  What am I going to do after professional running?  I want to engineer and invent.  My dream is to be an entrepreneur. With nothing else to do, I began doing research, sketching ideas, calling people.  Which is great, except for one thing: I’m not done committing myself fully to running yet.  Post-running life was making a house call while running was away.  The desire to do something frankly stressed me out, because I was, and still am, around Zap, a running environment (except for the occasional drag race and pistol duel).  

In the end I learned from this injury something I already knew, but had to be reminded of: to just relax and live the life I’m living currently.  That’s easier to write now, when I’m grabbing fitness left, right, port, and starboard and beginning to see the light.  When you’re going through a tough time, believe that your wayward anchor, when it’s given back to you, will serve its purpose and make you happy again.  I forgot for a time how great working towards hefty goals, finishing a hard workout, and sharing a swift run with friends makes me feel.  Natural.  Purposeful. 

Maybe I just came to the exact same conclusion that many before me already have.  But everyone has to wade through the same experiences, bound by shallows and miseries at times.  Would life be any fun if you were born with the wisdom of humanity come before you?  Probably not.  I always preferred the Do It Yourself (w/ your contemporaries) section.

One day I was staring out of my window at a tree high up on the ridge opposite our house.  It towered above all the rest against the sky.  The wind had gradually bent its limbs until they permanently embraced the trunk’s leeward side.  I was trying to determine from my window whether the tree was an evergreen or a deciduous tree, but at that distance I couldn’t be sure.  I resolved to take a steep hike up to find out.  But then I got hurt and couldn’t walk.

Six weeks later in November when the valley was awash in fiery yellows and reds, I looked out the window and my tree stood out, clearly ever green, high on the ridge.  Sometimes you just have to wait.

Team field trip to St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge and alligator alley.  Matt was so scared he kept his eyes closed the whole time.

Zap Fitness is in hard training at Tallahassee training camp until mid February.  Then we’ll retreat back into the mountains and enjoy Chef Michael (co-author of a forthcoming Zap Fitness cookbook + workout book!) food once again.

Having started training so late following the injury, my agenda for 2017 is a long track and road racing season extending all the way into October.  The first time I put the uniform on will be to pace 5,000m and mile heats at the Iowa State Classic indoor meet in a few weeks. My first real race will be the Gate River Run / US 15k Championship in March.  That one will be successful if I avoid a post-race thermometer up the butt like two years ago.  TMI?

Thanks for reading all the way to the end, gentle reader.  To reward you, I leave you with this: flamingoes are pink because they eat shrimp.

Here's my tentative race schedule:

DateRace NameLocationVenue / Distance
February 11Iowa State ClassicAmes, IAIndoor track pacing duties
March 11Gate River RunJacksonville, FLRoad 15k
March 24Raleigh RelaysRaleigh, NCTrack 1500, 5000 pace
April 15Boston Athletic Assoc. 5kBoston, MARoad 5k
May 3Payton Jordan InvitePalo Alto, CATrack 5k

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Warming Up the Turkey

Before dawn, the sky black at the edges, stars number enough to reveal individual leaves' outlines in trees.  As the star quilted sky sweeps into view from above the house’s eaves, a meteor tears across the southern sky, extinguished and then reignited briefly, insane speed and energy dissipated mutely.  Orion hunts, slowly arcing from horizon to horizon.  The time before the beginning of a day.

Several hundred cubic fathoms of beer, immeasurable megawatt-hours worth of sun exposure, inundation in two each of ocean and great lake, multiple minor non-running related injuries involving jellyfish, rope swings, sidewalks, waterfalls, and physical feats a by definition athletically one-dimensional distance runner generally just shouldn’t be attempting, and 14 additional pounds of baggage later, I'm back to running after a cathartic six week break. I needed it. I sort of limped through the outdoor track season on a crutch of ibuprofen, running on a hip with internal workings that just, well, couldn't even. 

Motivating my recent demotivation were two people: the great Kenyan marathoner Paul Tergat, who purportedly took several years off every fall and gained innumerable kilograms, returning to running just rarin to rip heads off. His running career lasted at an international level well into his thirties.  And Pete, our coach at Zap Fitness, who told me I needed to finally let my usually pretty not-injury-prone physique actually rest for more ten days for once, for crying out loud. He had good reason.

Lucky enough to never have suffered from anything worse than achilles tendinitis (knocks on skull), I've never taken a break from training of more than twelve days since high school. Many runners would kill a fly for that kind of durability, but those long term injuries replenish your physical and mental energy stores.   Beside allowing the soft tissue in my hip to heal, pure off time would let the head scratching inducing symptoms of long-term overtraining subside.  I imagine fatigue from one season rolling over to the next season across relatively short ten to fourteen day breaks and compounding a runner to death later on.   Simulating a major injury and taking several weeks off could be the change in training I needed having spent several seasons on a plateau running similar track and road performances.  So Pete applied a jackhammer to my shins.

Just kidding. But for 42 days I wasn't a runner, or even an active human except for some hiking and canoeing.  And Pokemon Go.  Sue me.  Going cold turkey is hard, but I reminded myself that even though my lifestyle closely matched that of Jaba the Hut, minus the weird frog things he heats, the runner within was being given a breather for the work and competition to come.  Whenever thoughts of training started leaking in, I'd reach for another beer.  At two weeks the strangeness of not running faded as hormones stabilized, the metabolism slowed down, and my body got used to not being stressed each morning and afternoon with a run.  At a month I was the one shouting run Forest run.  But in the third trimester of my training holiday, with the Olympics on full blast and inspired by the hugely successful US distance and middle distance olympic teams, I was ready to return to running like I never have been before.  

Week one was rough.  “left, right, left, right, port, starboard” I told my legs, ambulating at greater than three m.p.h. for the first time since early July.  It made me respect the fitness I’ve retained continually for over a decade.  In fits and starts my legs have come around since the break ended.  As uncomfortable as the first few runs were, being “out of shape” provides a good point of reference.  It’s kind of fun to feel the tangible gains made almost daily when you’re starting from a lower point: sure, you have a long way to go, but runners are happiest when we’re climbing.*

Last month’s Cameron Bean Memorial 5k and Magnum Mile in Chattanooga, Tennessee provided a timely mental and spiritual boost for the return to being a runner.  Normally we wouldn’t race or work out so soon after returning to training, but I couldn’t miss Cam’s run.  It’s been almost a year since our Zap teammate Cameron died, and getting to run that morning with Zap team mates past and present, Zap campers, and over 650 people who knew Cameron and to hear how he inspired them in life completely reassured me I’m doing the right thing by working to achieve the kind of goals Cameron set and lived by.  Despite it being so early in training, I ran the evening’s very well put on Magnum Mile event balls to the wall because Cam would have done the same.  I was pretty happy with a 4:25 road mile off no training, although my legs were not pleased the next day.

Aaron, Brandon, and I running a 7-6-5-4-3 fartlek
on Bass Lake in Blowing Rock last week
Team at Zap Fitness has been another big source of energy and inspiration for me in the early stages of this new buildup.  Running after college is a hard road/trail/track, and the team has changed a lot since I started running for Zap over three years ago.  I have a good relationship with everyone who’s run here and moved on, and I draw on the young energy we now have on the roster.  Like Count Trackcula.  Johnny Crain, Matt McClintock, Brandon Doughty, and Aaron Nelson all moved into our facility and campus on Blackberry Road late this summer, and their excitement for training at this level and competing on the professional circuit spreads to the seasoned members of the team, keeping things fresh and in perspective.  When you live, run, eat, cut the grass, and sleep together†, good interaction within the group begets good living and effective training.  

This was a natural transition year between being an early post collegiate runner and being a better experienced and hungrier athlete not afraid to set lofty goals.  The best running is ahead.  For now I’m training until November, when I’ll run two road races, including (my favorite) the Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving morning.  In December we’ll begin our cross country campaign with Zap as we run for the team title at the USATF Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee.  In January we’ll compete in several cross country meets across Scotland, Italy, Spain, and Portugal in preparation for February’s US Cross Country Championships held in Bend, Oregon.  With lots of cross country on the schedule, I’ll enter the outdoor track season strong and prepared to race into the end of the summer.

So we move into one of my favorite times of the year: when the smell of leaves and decay on the dry breeze and chilly mornings bring on olfactory nostalgia and mean hard, long training runs on dirt and grass and other rustic surfaces‡, and when those first anxious memories of competitive running formed for a high school freshman who didn’t know where this after school activity would take him.  You fall§ in love with the tired, sore feeling in your legs that pervades your days.  The feeling of accomplishment as you train for those short and rare moments when your goals are at their most vulnerable, ripe for breaking.  The trail to those days is long and full of switchbacks, manticores, man, a lot of core, and as I’ve said, many Coors.  Our objective is to run faster times, qualify for bigger meets, and win championships, but you can’t forget who climbs the trail with you, and even those who conspire to beat you to the top, because they have a funny way of becoming your friends too.  Without them, there’s no one to share the glory of running with.

Thanks for reading.  Here's my upcoming race schedule:

DateRace NameLocationVenue / Distance
November 12HCA 8kRichmond, VARoad 8k
November 24Manchester Road RaceManchester, CTRoad 4.748 miles
December 10USATF Club Cross Country ChampionshipsTallahassee, FLCross Country 10k
January 7Great Edinburgh XCountry Edinburgh, ScotlandCross Country 8k
February 4USATF Cross Country ChampionshipsBend, ORCross Country 12k

- - - - - - -

* The derivative of my fitness with respect to time is positive and large, and right now I might even venture to say that its second derivative is positive, meaning my fitness is increasing at an increasing rate.  All of this provides good momentum against the inevitable cooling off the second derivative into negative territory and the slowing of my fitness increase to zero hopefully exactly when I want it to, say next summer at an important competition, again ideally at an absolute value of fitness greater than I’ve ever reached before.
 In extended stay hotels and European dorm rooms
‡ How to say 'soft surfaces' with class
§ Pun premeditated
‖ Qualification required

Friday, April 29, 2016

Arrest Yourself

"They are human, like me.  Why should they be any better than me?  We have the same color blood."
       - Mark Wendot Yatich

Up here the wind sluices steadily down through the valley, crashing against thousands of trees loaning millions of branches to a symphony imitating the sound of surf and beach far to the east and below.  As if nature's ultimate tone is everywhere a powerful thrum, the wind sawing against forest and sea with the same taught bow.

We trot down amongst rhododendron on sparkling mica dust trails to a lake that reflects scurrying clouds, swirling haven while above the pine tops lean slowly back, give, and oscillate murmuring against the gust.  At an overlook the mountains fold and scrunch in rows endlessly towards Tennessee and Virginia, each face a hue of blue-green assigned daily.  Cataloochee is the Cherokee word for their arrangement.

The olympic trials begin in just nine weeks.  Its tractor beam has the hearts and minds of every American track and field athlete with olympic aspirations in its grip, the supply of time for adjustments and gaining fitness quickly fading.  Some have the advantage of having made the team before, but many will leave Eugene first time olympians who had to have total belief in themselves when they stepped to the line.  In some cases unwarranted, against-the-odds belief.  Owning such belief, especially if training or results haven't yet added up, takes more than simply banging your head against the wall, willing it to exist.

“Rest is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be… To rest is to give up on the already exhausted will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right.”
       - David Whyte*

The non-physical component of rest, at times neglected by athletes (including myself) and all kinds of people facing any challenge or job, deserves some attention.  Many runners understand and get recovery training, sleeping, napping, staying off their feet, and therapy right, but they stop there, or rather embark on other projects.

Focused rest is described in that last line of Whyte's - not worrying whether you should be doing something else.  In that peace and quiet, the ability of the mind to control the body gets stronger.  When you rest without distraction, you’re preparing to compete without distraction.

Everyone has the will to prepare and the will to win, but will is exhaustible.  It gets damaged when things go wrong.  It takes energy.  You can want to run a fast time or achieve a goal really badly, but when that painful moment of decision comes in a race, your body doesn’t care what you want.  On the precipice of breaking, above your inner voice frantically yelling “mush!”, the body instead hears something we have less explicit control over: the Subconscious.

In Lewis Thomas' Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony he describes "one of the great mystifications of science: warts can be ordered off the skin by hypnotic suggestion."  Skeptical, I looked further into this example of the Subconscious playing a wieldy role in the mind-body dynamic.  There have been cases involving years-old warts targeted amongst groups of warts that when ordered to disappear obey within two weeks, and studies that hypnotized all the warts of one half of the body as desired.

In Thomas' words, "This is not the sort of confused, disordered process you'd expect at the hands of the kind of Subconscious you read about in books... Whatever, or whoever, is responsible for this has the accuracy and precision of a surgeon."

When the mind rests the Subconscious is fed.  Hypnosis is the catalyst in the wart example.  I’m not suggesting we start putting ourselves in trances, but wart surgeon or not, the Subconscious’ power to influence the body is incredibly more powerful than the Conscious'.   Estimates put "conscious processing power" at a mere 3% of the total compared to 97% handled subconsciously or autonomically. I think it’s possible to orient the Subconscious in the direction of the will when we rest, and call upon it when the will weakens, for example during a race.

When you train, your body breaks down and adapts to the stress you put it through.  Meanwhile you shape a portion of the Subconscious related to pain and discomfort by continuously willing forward a body that wants to stop.  In time, instinct is honed.  You learn to relax at paces on the edge of your ability.  Crucially, when you compete, you hardly have to think.  Pacing off competitors, making strategic passes, and shifting through levels of effort becomes automatic.  The best races and workouts feel effortless because something deeper is taking over.

Getting “up” for a race.  Worrying whether you’re going to give it your all.  Questioning your motivation.  All of it comes from a fear that your body won’t respond to your will.  The workaround is training your Subconscious with rest.  Reflect on the workout you did that day, not worrying about whether other tasks need tending to.

Be ok with periods of boredom.  Get away from the phone and feeling like you constantly need to be producing something.  Meditate.  Do what you love to do by being how you love to be: relaxed, focused, and not worried.  As always, this stuff applies to more than just running and sports.  Any time forces are against your will, resting could help beat them.

Stretching on the side of the lake after the run with spring growing around me, I remember how grateful I am for the opportunity to do this.  Things are simpler when you just let them happen.

 - - - - - - - -

GeorgeJohnnyJoanna, and I travel this weekend to Palo Alto for the Payton Jordan Invite at Stanford, where many of the fastest American performances are run year to year.  Not counting rabbiting the 5000m a few weeks ago at Raleigh Relays, the 5000m on Sunday night will be my outdoor season opener.  We’re looking to grab Olympic (13:25) and trials (13:28) standards out there.

In memory of our late team mate and friend Cameron Bean,
the Bean House is nearing completion up the driveway from Zap.

Things are great at Zap. The stream keeps trickling and the birds wake me up every morning. Now that Sinead, Joanna, and Nicole have joined the team, Andrew won’t be able to mow the Zap field naked anymore.  Chef Michael Ryan returns for the summer season on Monday and we're looking forward to his tasty meals, especially the beets. The new Cameron Bean house, which will house some of our athletes, is nearing completion and complements the eight month old Andy Palmer house just up the hill. We're looking forward to a busy running camp season full of new campers and  returners in the Zap family.

Thanks for reading.

Race schedule for the next few weeks: (June races TBA)

DateRace NameLocationVenue / Distance
May 1Payton Jordan InvitePalo Alto, CATrack 5000m
May 12US 1 Mile Road ChampionshipsMinneapolis, MNRoad Mile
May 20Hoka One One MD ClassicLos Angeles, CATBA
July 1-102016 Olympic TrialsEugene, ORTrack 5000m

*Whyte's short essay on rest is a great read
† Good blog on using the Subconscious by Catherine Collautt, PH.D.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

9555 Blackberry

Sunday evening I went for a walk.  In the running world Zap Fitness coach Pete Rea's style falls on the eclectic side, and one of his slightly quirky training tidbits is prescribed Sunday evening walks following the morning long run for the week.  They're meant to knock loose some of the inflammation in our legs.

The Zap campus sits at the bottom of a valley in the Appalachian Mountains.  Blackberry Road dips down into our little hollow complete with a creek that rushes by and a mile section of dirt road that somehow never got paved.  Just up the hill from the long Zap driveway the construction site of a new house is already daily bustling with activity as a new athlete lodging rises from its foundation.  It replaces an old white house that just months ago was my home.  The white house held a lot of Zap history but needed to be torn down.

Darkness falls earlier now and as I come upon the equipment and mounds of dirt left by the contractors, I try to find remnants of our old house.  There isn't much.  But on the edge of the site where a chain link fence was bent into a tangled mess by the bulldozer are a set of busted-up wicker chairs.  And a dirt stained bed sheet.  It was Cameron.  He used to love getting people together around the fire in our backyard and projecting movies onto the sheet against the fence.  That stuff sat out in the weather all summer long since the last showing.  I'd look at it from my bedroom window and think, "I better bring those chairs in from the rain and get that sheet."

I imagine where the old house was, my room floating in the air and Cameron's below it, his cat Nala chasing birds around in the yard.  Cameron died two months ago after being hit by a car while running in his hometown of Chatoanooga, TN.  The magnitude of support from the local and running community is testament to how many people were influenced by his huge personality.  His dreams were not abruptly and totally ended that day.  They live on through us at Zap and everyone who takes on the challenges and strives to live the way Cameron did.  Cameron is cheering us on now, and I can feel a certain determination and electricity in the Zap team as we approach the Olympic year (Thanks in no small part to the occasional Drake and house music we play in his honor while lifting).

Cameron and I on the last night I saw him.  Wouldn't have wanted
it any other way.
-  -  -  -  -  -  -

The Olympic Year focus has had a strong effect this fall and early winter.  We've tweaked autumn training compared to the past two years, and it's already had good physical and psychological effects. 

Friday is now #FastFriday.  On Fridays we typically run 50-55 minutes in Moses Cone National Park before putting racing flats on and doing two to three kilometers worth of fast, uphill running.  It's not a lot of volume, and I wouldn't label it a full workout, but economy on hills helps with proprioception and activation of prime mover muscles (ok, now I'm using language that only Pete Rea understands).  This is nothing new - almost every serious runner does hills - but we've never made it this much of a focus this early in the buildup into the new year before.

Lifting.  Core, stability, and plyometrics have been in my training plan since high school.  The focus has gradually shifted from traditional core "abs" in college towards stability in the hips and pelvis at Zap.  Now we've added real, actual lifting with real, actual bar and plates twice a week, doing weighted squats and weighted step ups onto a box.  We save the core and stability for four other days during the week and take a break from the weight room on Sunday.

Diet.  I've always had what the average American would call a healthy diet, but as a bigger runner, I have to pay a little more attention to what, how much, and when I eat.  "The flame burns hot" mentality does not cut it for me.  I eat often during the day and in small amounts, eating just enough to stave off hunger until the next small snack.  Carbs generally go in early and protein more in the PM.  I have a medium-sized snack 45 minutes to an hour before dinner to keep my eyes small.  Tuna is my best friend.  I'm not gluten free, but I tend to avoid it with some wiggle room.  (Like if I go to my girlfriend's parent's house and we're having lasagna, I eat it.)  Figuring out how to stay lean while training hard and not getting hurt sustainably has taken me years, and I'm continually testing new strategies and foods.  What I have found for sure is a strong motivation to stick to the plan this fall.

The Manchester Road Race is tomorrow morning.  It's my first race in over two months and the beginning of the road to the Olympic Trials in July.  The course is 4.748 miles long and has a large hill in the second mile that will test what we've been working on a little bit.  Can't wait to feel some burn and taste some bile.  I'll be running for Cameron.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody.  I think Black Friday started already too.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


There is nothing else than now.  There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow.  How old must you be before you know that?  There is only now, and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion.
    - Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Once upon a time there was an alien race from the planet Tralfmalador*.  These creatures perceive time differently.  Actually they have no notion of time, seeing every moment simultaneously, as we might view a broad landscape from a spatial point of view.  Events in our lives happen in places at singular times:  When your wedding is over you can't come back to its moment.  Your first kiss is finished.  You can return to the baseball bleachers it happened on, but the diamond's been plowed into a Whole Foods parking lot.   While Tralfmaladorians get to be everywhere and everywhen, we're caught in a swollen  river of time after a rainstorm with garbage and treasures rushing past us.  Clutch at them. Save some of them, put them in photo albums.  But they are hazy.  They fade.  We can't hang on to the bobbing grandfather clock with the warped veneer  flapping in the current coming around the bend.  

But I think the Tralfmaladorian alternative would be boring.  Sure, that's an emotion invented by a species concerned with time, so I might be biased.  But time makes for challenges.  Time is the sap of progress and goal setting.

The earthling world of olympic sports takes four years to journey around the Sun.  (It must be easier for people born on February 29th to understand this.)  When I got back from racing in Europe last month I looked at my Egyptian water clock and noticed there are less than ten months until the Olympic track and field trials next June.  I’ve been counting down to 2016 since the day the 2012 trials ended in Eugene. Does the countdown “year” field ticking to zero change my training?  Why would I not have been training to my full potential already?

A year ago after the thrill and swagger of peak fitness that comes with a season's end faded, my break was over, and I began building base again,  I forgot some things.  Normal running waxed routine, workouts grew longer and aerobic, and there was little to remind me of sharpness and lactic acid and racing.  The battles of summer were once again far-off dreams, each training mile a block I mortared distractedly into a slowly-drying conglomerate that would later, I knew, become my rock but was today only the necessary work put in.  I forgot what it was like to sit in a warmup area in silence surrounded by the nervously stretching and shuffling competition.  Their affiliations, brightly colored plumage, adrenaline, the start, calm, and the finish.  Things that are far from Zap's quiet home on Bass Lake in Blowing Rock, NC.  But maybe there's a reason for that.  Taking a breath.

All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, hmm? What he was doing. Hmm. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things.
     - Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

Beginning the drive.  The last few years have been about prodding, testing what the sacrifices feel like each day and each season.  Learning what it takes to do everything within the context of Zap Fitness, our training, and our racing schedule.  That took some distraction; some rest.  I suffered some mental lapses and learned from them.  But it's now, and if now is only these ten months, the next
 two months, these two days, make them your entire life and all will be in proportion.

-    -    -    -    -    -

European track meets are an irony.  Plopped in rows of corn or along an old canal is a track lined by chest-high fence.  Sensory reminders of high school meets:  scents of icy hot and overflowing toilets at odds, spikes scraping on concrete and distant cries circling through still twilit air following straining combatants heeding anciently laid instinct.  The sun sits low and an insect hatch clouds the air, tiny sparks spiraling in random paths about each other in the failing light.  Here the athletes outnumber the spectators, and they are good at what they do.  Accents and languages from across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas meet, endpoint of various pilgrimage to staged trials.  To a Belgian out for a causal trackside beer, this looks like another athletics circus come to town.

I didn't look at the clock with a lap to go like I always do.  The 5000 field in Ninove, Belgium had broken into two groups; one in front running 64 second laps and a chase pack running 65's.  By one kilometer remaining our slower group had caught and overtaken most of the first bunch.  My fifth race in only 24 days between Ireland and Belgium, this was the last chance to grab a 5k personal best in the summer.  After a painful and sloppy 14:14 performance in Portland two months earlier, Pete asked me seriously if I was mentally ready to travel to Europe and compete.  The U-turn from that point to now took some patience and confidence building.  I looked to all the good work I'd put in since January and couldn't settle.

Eyes on the prize in Ninove, Belgium last month

Up front Great Britain's Andy Vernon and Azerbaijanian Ibrahimov Hayle were stretching the pace out.  It was going to be a kicker's race with a lap to go and a pack of nine vying for third.  (The group had some good international flavor: Burundian Irabaruta Olivier, Djiboutian Bouh Ibrahim, Somalian Ali Mohamed Mohamed, Moroccan Hadadi Tarik, and representation from Germany, Australia, and Canada.)  In many of the 5000s I've run in the past two years the final lap has been the sticking point.  As in someone sticks a knife in my leg and twists it.  I tense up knowing the finish nears, trying to muscle out a kick and straining, in the process actually slowing down in some cases.  I'd had enough of that.  On an international trip and in a race hinging on time, I need to paradoxically forget the clock and just race the guys here, around me, now.

Tunnel vision kept my brain from laying down a detailed memory of the final minutes of the race and that's a good thing.  In the moments after the finish I relished in the thrill of racing others to the finish in a 5k instead of just trying to get there.  I'd closed the final lap in 60 seconds and finished eighth with a small PB of 13:32.21, my first 5k personal record in over two years.  

I won't deny that I have to improve greatly to accomplish my 2016 goal.  I would have liked to be further along this year; I'm still in the 13:30's club three years after joining it.  But that's not how I'm thinking.  The pressure for a breakthrough has built.  Every run, every day, every week and month are fractal components of the time remaining, and as they march by they are each Now.

-    -    -    -    -    -

The final race of this late spring / summer / early fall season is the US 5k Road Championships in Providence on Sunday.  A calf issue kept me from working out for a couple of weeks recently, but with the help of Zap's Alter Gravity treadmill, some pool running, and time off it's stopped mooing.  The workouts this week showed that it was only a graze and that I'm still milking the track fitness.  I'll stop with the cheesy puns now.

It's been a busy time at Zap Fitness lately with running camps and preparation for our yearly Mayview Madness road 5k in Blowing Rock this weekend.  It's illuminating chatting with our campers during their stay; the team learns just as much from them as they do from us.  The interaction helps keep everything in perspective and reminds me how lucky I am to be able to run full time and pursue a difficult goal with life-changing implications in the process here, now, and tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday's CVS 5k US Road Champs:
Runnerspace coverage

VERY tentative upcoming race schedule:
Date Race Name Location Venue / Distance
September 20 CVS 5k / US Road 5k Champs Providence, RI Road 5k
November 15 .US National 12k Championships Alexandria, VA Road 12k
November 26 Manchester Road Race Manchester, CT Road 4.748 Miles
December 28th-ish Third Annual Grind Fest Milwaukee, WI Indoor Track / Speed Skating Oval Battle To The Death

*Real creatures living in the mind of Kurt Vonnegut and in some of his novels including Slaughterhouse Five

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Cork and Kortrijk, Fundamental Particles

These word travel in a battalion of binary, tinily constituent of a surging light pulse torrent hastening at the universal speed limit within a three inch diameter fibre optic cable on the bottom of the Atlantic.  Outside this intercontinental information superhighway lies absolute inky blackness, vertical miles of ocean hammering down in mute pressure.  At one point the cable passes a group of thermophilic deep sea organisms huddled around a volcanic vent for sulphur and heat.  We share some DNA with them.

Belgium was warm when we got in on the third of July.  That Saturday, Leuven set an all-time temperature record of 35, convert that, 95 degrees fahrenheit.  The bell tower near us played the Star Spangled Banner in the afternoon. #America.  Our apartment at the summit of its very steep and narrow staircase stuffed between buildings doesn't have air conditioning.  So it goes.

Ireland on Sunday was much cooler.  During the bus ride west from Dublin I was surprised to see large rolling hills and occasional stands of coniferous trees lining the highway.  Southwest Ireland was beautifully cast in late evening light filtering through clouds as we rolled into Cork, a harbor city.  The athletes competing in the Cork City Sports meet were put in student housing near the track a couple miles out of town.  There was one very weak wifi network set up for an army of twenty-somethings far from home.  We looked like thermophiles around a volcanic vent.

The 3k in Cork in front of race winner Brett Robinson
I think I enjoyed all the potatoes and sausage (bangers and mash) more than most.  The Irish are very hospitable and easy to strike up conversations with.  Most Irish will say they can't even understand the accent of the Cork Irish, and I could hear why.  The (friendly?) rivalry between Corkers and Dubliners extends to their respective local beers.  Drinking Cork's Murphys Irish Stout and Dublin's Guinness back-to-back, I'd have to say Guinness still takes the blood pudding.

Despite windy and chilly conditions for the meet, the 3000 went a relatively quick 3:08 for the first three paced laps.  I put myself immediately behind the rabbit and when he dropped off American Jon Peterson generously took over the lead.  We slacked a bit on laps four and five and I let my eyes off the front of the race momentarily which cost me.  Australian Brett Robinson and Jeff See plucked a lead ahead of the pack.  With 200 meters to go I was moving really well and passing Dave McNeil, another Aussie while the announcer billed it as an Australia versus America finish.  I was third in 7:54, a good start to the five race tour in Europe.

By mid-week the drove of American professional runners had settled in after their annual migration to Leuven, Belgium.  Like Canada Geese we are here for the climate, we fly in V-formations on runs, eat a lot, and generally piss off the locals.  Leuven is an out-of-the-way small town with everything Canada Geese need: a track to shit on (metaphorically), lots of awesome green space for our activity, and the by now famous waffle stand.

On Saturday seemingly everyone ran the 1500 in Kortrijk, a small town on the Belgium - France border.  Courtrai (the french name) has been nice Nice to me in the past: it's given me a 3k PB  before and nearly a 1500 PB last year.  This time the fields were large and loaded, perhaps to the detriment of the races.  I didn't get out quite hard enough over the first 100 meters, even though it was probably 13.xx, was far back in the pack, and had to make at least three huge moves, each on the backstretch of every lap, until I gained a spot in third with 200m to go right behind Lopez Lomong.  The moves cost me a strong kick to 3:42, a subpar time but decent considering the whipsaw pace.

George and I got in a little fartlek and 400s tuneup session this morning in light mist.  Both of us feel great coming into Saturday's KBC Nacht meet in Heusden, where we're both running the 5k along with Leuven apartment room mates Brian Shrader and Maverick Darling and several other US runners.  The Olympic qualifying window is open and a fast time is the target.

For now thanks for reading and I'll post an update after the next couple meets.  Here is my upcoming race schedule:
Date Race Name Location Venue / Distance
July 18 KBC Nacht Heusden, Belgium Track 5000
July 24 Morton Games Morton, Ireland Track 3000
August 1 Flanders Cup Ninove Ninove, Belgium Track 5000
August 7 Sir Walter Miler Raleigh, NC Track Mile