Friday, March 14, 2014

Caesar's Head

I listen to the submarine bubbling noise my snorkel makes as I stand, upside-down, on the bottom of the sailboat in Lake Michigan.  It's a smaller spartan barque - a J/24 - and that means racing.  When I was twelve my dad bought the 1979 hulk in lackluster condition from a retired sailor in Racine, Wisconsin, going straight to work on it with the same can of elbow grease he used on our house and cars as I grew up.  This boat is a classic, he says.  It'll be the envy of the sail yard one day, if we can keep the water out of the hull.

We're anchored in sixteen feet of water a quarter mile off Atwater beach in Milwaukee last summer above the wreck of the Appomattox, a steamer that stranded here during a storm in 1905.  The crew gave up on her after two weeks of wallowing on the rocks.  I push off our own hull,  diving straight down until my ears pop and the water is chilly.  I can make out one side of the 319 foot steamer looming through the blue-green, slightly opaque water, imagining what it looked like in 1905.

View of Caesar's Head climb from Zap
Fitness' private jet
The Appomattox floats into my head because my ears are popping again during a hard run up to Caesar's Head State Park in upstate South Carolina on Friday.  I've flown dozens of times in the past few years without pain in my ears, yet climbing 2100 vertical feet up 7.4 miles on highway 276 is making them ring, probably because I don't have the luxury of yawning at this breathing and heart rate.  I'm too busy maintaining the tightly spinning feedback loop in my mind that I've set up to stay focused: "this hurts." "shut up." "it hurts." "feet under you." "f*** this is hard." ""shut up... knee drive."  The focus is incredibly easy to break out of as we grind up switchback after switchback through deciduous forest interrupted occasionally by Walhalla Sheet rock outcroppings to the top.  I try to keep Kevin's blue shirt within sight up ahead.

A staple in Zap Fitness' repertoire, the long sustained hill climb is a very aerobic, strength based session done at low speed that erases the pounding of a similar effort on flat ground.  My time of 47:59 on Caesar's head comes out to 6:29 minutes/mile.  On flat ground, I'd need to run almost two minutes per mile faster to achieve the same aerobic effect, but would be hurting much more the next day.  Our other reason for climbing big hills is form improvement.  Pete tells me it will help reduce extraneous lateral motion in my stride and keep everything moving forward.  Even so, we don't want to end the day with the memory of just 6:30 pace in our legs.  At the top we run 8 x 200 meter strides, getting faster on each as a group.  The first few felt sluggish coming off the climb, but we were rolling well by the end.

Being a rookie on the team, Friday's Caesar Head is only my second climb and I'm still getting the hang of them.  At the top I'll admit I threw a bit of a temper tantrum, partly because I got my ass handed to me by Kevin and Cole.  Thinking about it though, this is why I joined Zap Fitness.  My future improvement depends on the continued development of my strength and efficiency.  Sure, I could go out and rip intervals on the track all season long and maybe retire a 13:20's-low guy in few years.  But real, deep-down improvement begins with things like a little pride check from super strong half marathoners and 10k guys during a session a little outside my comfort zone on Friday.  Besides, I can always get back at them on fast stuff like the 200s.  It's a nice dynamic.

The crew at the top of the Caesar's Head climb.  This is purportedly the last known photograph of Chris' beard before he shaved it.  Left to right Kevin Schwab, Cameron Bean, Chri$ Moen, Joe Stilin, Cole Atkins

* * * * *
We have another two weeks of training camp down here in Greenville before many of us open up at the Raleigh Relays (pronounced rolly, not ra-lay, apparantly) and we return home to Zap in North Carolina.  Besides training I've been filling my time with several side projects.  I'm working with a friend on an entry to a worldwide sustainable engineering competition.  We're designing a wind energy system that uses a kite to generate power in disaster relief areas, places not accessible by large trucks, ocean buoys, and mountainsides.  In the interest of eventually being able to label myself as a halfway decent writer, I have three short stories in the works.  Two of them are collaborations with team mates Cole and George.  We each write about a paragraph and switch off.  The other is based in Austin, Texas.  And of course, I've been reading a lot.

You might be waiting for the tie-back to the Appomattox.  Well... aren't we all searching for something in a world that's slightly opaque at times, might feel chilly, and for which we may have to feel some pain in our ears to find?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Running Hacks

've compiled a list of twenty-seven running hacks. Not necessarily training advice, these tidbits pertain  to everyday running lifestyle - the products, fashion,  and habits that can make your running world great*

I.  Shave speed stripes on the right side of your head.  Less drag on the outside = easier left turns on the track.  I've taken fluid mechanics.  Would I lie to you?  Plus, they're intimidating?

II.  How to get rid of side cramps on the run: breathe rhythmically with your footfalls, exhaling every four steps and taking the time in between to inhale evenly.  Exhale the moment your foot hits the ground on the side of the cramp until it goes away. This really works.

III.  Just keep running.  Let's say you amass 50,000 miles in your lifetime at an average of seven minutes per mile.  According to Einstein's theory of Special Relativity, time will move more slowly compared to the couch potatoes around you, and you will save 1 / 134,217,728th  of a second relative to them.  I know what you're thinking.  If you're dreaming in the third level of inception, though, that's enough time to blink one more time in your life. Worth it.

IV.  End Saturday Nite with a Miller Lite to rehydrate.  #BrewCity

V.  Iron.  Man or woman, boy or girl; you should get your levels checked.  I became a totally new runner when I began taking ferrous sulfate after finding my ferritin level was low.  I also heard eating calf liver works.

VI.  If you're doing an out-and-back run on a cold, windy day, run the first half into the wind and come back with it.  Otherwise, you'll be running the second half sweaty and into the wind and you'll need a Ton-Ton from Han, who shot first by the way.

VII.  Vaseline.  Gold Bond.  Use them.  Gotta keep yourself greased up.  Don't end up like the tin man.  Or more accurately, Meat boy from Super Meat Boy.

VIII.  Pedialyte.  The stuff you give babies when they have diarrhea.  Because our society's fascination with the word 'electrolytes' is actually somewhat grounded in science, and this replaces them like no other.  Sip it all day.

IX. If someone heckles you from a car window in a positive way, good for you.  If someone heckles you from a car window in a negative way, the smart thing to do would be to ignore them.  Or you could yell exactly what they said back at them in your favorite voice.  Nicolas Cage, The Dark Night, and Gollum work pretty well.

X.  When running on the treadmill, make a habit of setting the incline to 1.0%.  This will simulate normal running more closely and reduce treadmill induced soreness and injury.

XI.  Keep your Achilles Tendon warm in the winter.  Don't expose it to the cold air - wear high socks, tights, etc.  Onset of Achille's tendonitis is highly correlated to running in cold weather.  According to a study by

XII.  Halfway to two-thirds of the way into long runs, eat something.  Bring a calorie dense item since you're running with it. (not twenty pounds of celery)  I've used Powergels and graham crackers to begin the recovery process before the run's over.

XIII.  Using your sock to finish doing your business in the woods is not a running hack.  You will develop a blister, compensate for it, and be rewarded with a knee problem or something.  Bringing toilet paper on runs is a running hack, however.

XIV.  Wet running shoes?  Stuff them with balled up newspaper overnight and they'll be dry for your next run.  Or you can be like my dad and put them in the oven... actually don't do that.

XV.  Do things that have a strong placebo effect, but make sure to pretend there's no placebo effect.  This can include wearing compression socks or arm sleeves, taking vitamins, and stretching.  Click here if you disagree.

XVI.  Assess what motivates you.  If you're running to get nice legs, a great tan, or for the social aspect, I've got some news for you.                 You're doing it for the exact right reasons.

XVII.  Wear short shorts.  But never on top of half tights.  This is how the non-running public identifies and forms their opinions about us, and we wouldn't want to disappoint or confuse them.

XVIII.  On out-and-back runs, run a minute or two longer than half the desired total run time out, since you'll probably negative split back.  This will help you avoid running in circles when you get back to base looking like a chicken with its head cut off.

IXX.  After a race, take care of your gear.  Remove the position stickers before washing shorts to avoid gunk.  Unpin your bib number: the pins can rust into your singlet if it's sweaty.  If that does happen, remove the little rust stains with some lemon juice and vinegar.

XX.  If you've run a half marathon or marathon, make sure you have a 13.1 or 26.2 sticker on your car, or it doesn't count.

XXI.  Increase your stride frequency.  Higher turnover translates to a more efficient stride.  On runs, you can count the number of times your left foot hits the ground and multiply it by two.  (Elite runners tend to have stride frequencies of 180 hertz or more.)  Make a conscious effort to increase your rate on runs and it'll slowly become natural.

XXII.  Dancing.  In my experience, a night of dancing actually recovers the legs.  You get dynamic stretching, plyometrics, and euphoria all in one dose.  Best done the night after a race.

XXIII.  Peruse Google Maps in satellite mode whenever you're in an unknown place and want to go running.  It's great for finding trails, green space, and sketchy parking lots.

XXIV.  Lose weight / achieve race weight by eating more often.  Instead of taking in two or three big meals a day, keep the insulin spikes low by eating lite meals every two hours.  Your metabolism will churn around the clock and you will feel great.

XXV.  Alternate between two pairs of trainers.  Run in pair A on odd days of the month and pair B on the even days.  With the rest, the material in each will last longer which means you save ca$h.

XXVI.  Use running shorts as underwear.  You will be ready to run in any situation.  This really solidifies your identity as a runner.  Not sure if this works for girls.

XXVII.  Let yourself do things that make you happy.  Running is not always about unyielding sacrifice.  It's about channeling yourself through one outlet during training and on race day, but being a full person otherwise.

* I do not purport to be an expert on any of the above made claims.  I am not a coach, physicist, pharmacist, cartographer, nutritionist,  masseuse, sports psychologist, fashion designer, or comedian.  Really, I'm just a guy.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Run The Story

C'mon, get him all the way in... Dammit.
Damn her, Thetis, for failing to fully immerse her son Achilles in the River Styx.  He, made only partially invincible by her act, ultimately fell by his heel, with which she held him under, not touched by the chilly, black water. Achille's end was Hector's arrow to this sole mortal piece of flesh, and today, us runners suffer the vestiges of Thetis' mistake in the guise of Achilles' tendonitis.  It doesn't always halt training like stress fractures or serious illness do.  But it has a way of punishing good faith training by competitive (read: stubborn) athletes.  Lingering, then withdrawing and encouraging, again returning and dismaying.  And so, when I felt Hector coming back for the kill late this fall, we immediately played it safe and took some time away from running.

Not much time.  I have no right to complain about injury given what many runners go through, missing entire seasons and years of training to broken bones, Lyme disease, coffee tables, you name it.  I prefer to draw positives from injury and the associated lull in the waves.  Coming during an effective intermission in my career, this most recent bout of Achilles tendonitis timed itself well, relieving Part I: Student-Runner and Part II: Professional Runner.  (Stay tuned for the epilogue, Joe Runs 100 Miles and Drinks 100 PBR's In One Week at Age ___.)

I used the extra time to mull over one question: why do I want to run and to win?  I sought a concise answer - the pillar of my purpose, season to season and day to day.  Awareness of purpose beats sickness, injury, motivational lows, and the naysayers.  Instead of blindly throwing thousands of miles and hundreds of workouts into a mysterious black box and hoping for a good result, I wanted to get inside and take control.  I was looking for a few words I could sharpie on some paper and tape to my bedroom wall.  Something that would take me, day by day, to 2016.

It was hard working through the bullshit; the multitude of superficial reward systems we set up: personal bests, chasing mileage, roaring crowds, victory laps, award stands, descending order lists, traveling, media coverage.  So many things that motivate me seemed egocentric and impure.  Or maybe I was being too harsh, seeking a sugary answer to an interview question.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
- Shakespeare, As You Like It

I arrived at this: By the time I've shuffled off this mortal coil, I want to have written an absolutely enthralling story.  Not with a pen, but with my feet.  One featuring great running accomplishments and the events that brought me to them.

So I put on my wall: Run the Story.

Those three words contain the instructions for training, everyday.  Mileage, paces, race tactics, recovery, workouts, strength, strides, injury rehab, planning: encyclopedic knowledge by now, but driven  and motivated by the story.  The story holds me accountable.  It gives me reason to run.

Nine days into winter training camp in Tallahassee, FL, Zap Fitness is working hard for the track season.  We have a special mix of personalities and types of runners that I'm enjoying training and living with. In the best week of training I've had since May, I've completed two strong workouts (Fartlek + 200m hills and 9 x 800), brought strides back into the equation, and had good long runs coming off that Achilles injury.  I always forget how quickly fitness and that feeling of confidence comes back after a break.

My next race: Mile at the Boston University Terrier Invite on January 25, with perhaps some Distance Medley Relay action the day before.  After that it'll be a 3000 in early February, date TBD.

Sunday, December 8, 2013


It's been a while since I posted.  This isn't a post, it's more of a promise of a post coming soon, to hold myself accountable... school's over for me soon, and it'll be all running and no bumming very soon!

stay tuned.

for now, here's a poem:

That I ran on,
Soaked but smooth,
Giving under my feet, pliant to my stride.
This dirt if the salt of the Earth and the malt of my mirth.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Ten Minute Battle: Izumo Ekiden, Japan Pre-Race

On Wednesday I board a Boeing 777 for a thirteen hour flight to Tokyo.  I am part of the nine-man Ivy League Select relay team bound for Izumo, Japan for the 25th edition of the All Japan University Izumo Ekiden Relay Race.  It consists of six stages run on the roads of Izumo in the Shimane Prefecture with lengths 8.0 kilometers, 5.8k, 7.9k, 6.2k, 6.4k, and 10.2k for a total of 44.5 kilometers.

Roughly the Japanese equivalent of the American fall cross country system, (but on roads) Ekiden racing is run at the high school, university, corporate, and international levels all over Japan.  Races vary in number of stages (usually between five and nine) and length of stages (from 3k to 13k).  Our race in Izumo serves as the kickoff for the university Ekiden season and is part of the "big three" of university Ekiden events, along with the All-Japan Collegiate Ekiden Championship in early November and the Hakone Ekiden in January.  Most of the races, including ours, are gender-specific, but the International Chiba Ekiden, which draws teams from all over the world, features stages run by both men and women.  Ekiden is a unique Japanese sporting event: these races draw hundreds of thousands of spectators roadside and attract huge national television audiences.

Alone, a trip to Japan is an amazing experience - but I believe we are going to encounter more than the average American tourist ever will.  Sure, we'll see the sights, enjoy the food, language, and culture of the country.  But on Monday the fourteenth of October, when we line up alongside twenty one Japanese teams in front of the Izumo Taisha Shrine,  I expect we'll be seeing and feeling, through the hurt of the race, a lot more.

Of the week long trip, I am specifically looking forward most to an approximately ten minute period: the last ten minutes of my relay leg.  I have imagined it many times now: an unspoken understanding, an absolute focus,  a complete determination to win in my competitors.  I have heard and read of, and experienced myself in the US and most recently in Belgium on the track, how fiercely competitive the Japanese are.  They won't pack up.  They won't wait and kick.  They will be doing everything in their power to deliver the sash to their next man with a lead, to give their remaining runners a better chance.  When the freshness of the start has worn off, the acid has begun to accumulate, when the pounding of the road begins to add up; that's when I'll learn about Japan.  From men from Tokyo, from Yamanashi, Komazowa, Fukuoka, and Sappro.  From places I've never been to, and perhaps never will.  I'll learn a little bit about each of them in that ten minute battle.

Where the 44.5 kilometer relay road race will start with an 8 kilometer stage: outside the Taisha Grand Shrine in Izumo, Japan.  The Shrine is dedicated to the Shinto god of marriage, Okuninushi-no-mikoto.
I have huge respect for who us Ivy League boys are up against.  In the fifteen years the US has sent an Ivy team to Izumo, the highest we've finished is a respectable eighth.  The quality of competition in Izumo is stellar - I would venture to predict that the winning team there would do a great deal of damage at NCAA D1 Cross Country Championships every year (yes, even against Wisconsin or OSU)

In recent editions of the race, guys from outside the Ancient Eight have been used on the American team, potentially expanding our firepower.  But this year the Japanese required Ivy Alumni exclusively, and we're bringing a very good team.  All of us have continued training and racing at a high level since college.  We have speed in guys like Kyle Merber (Columbia, 3:35, 14:02) and Trevor Van Ackeran (Princeton, 3:39, 8:46 SC), who now run for NJ*NY track club.  We have strength in Dan Lowry (Brown, 3:59, 13:34, 29:22), Brendan Martin (Columbia, running for Hansons-Brooks, 14:06, 64:38 HM), Tommy Dialynas (Princeton, 29:41), Ethan Shaw (Darmouth, 14:06, 29:17, 64:45 HM), and Jonathan Gault (Dartmouth, 14:25).  And we have good combinations of strength and speed in Mark Amirault (Princeton, 7:53, 13:45) and myself (Princeton, running for Reebok / Zap Fitness, 3:39, 7:49, 13:33).  Many of us have former team mates in the group, making us a cohesive unit, much like all the Japanese teams will be.  And we're coached by 1976 Boston Marathon Champion Jack Fultz - that can't hurt.

I hope to take away from this trip a new perspective on running - one that reflects the culture and work ethic of the Japanese.  The more I see of the world, and the more I learn about athletes outside the American system, the better a competitor I become.

The teams competing in the 2013 edition of the Izumo Ekiden on October fourteenth:

1. Aoyama Gakuin University
2. Toyo University
3. Chuo University
4. Hokkaido University Ren selection
5. Tohoku University Ren selection
6. Nippon Sport Science University
7. Komazawa
8. Teikyo University
9. Waseda University
10. Juntendo University
11. Meiji University
12. Hosei University
13. Chuogakuindaigaku
14. Hokushinetsu science Ren selection
15. Chukyo University
16. Kyoto Sangyo University
17. Kwansei Gakuin University
18. Hiroshima University of Economics
19. China Shikoku University Ren selection
20. Nihonbunridaigaku
21. First Institute of Technology
22. Ivy League selection

Monday, September 16, 2013

Don't Scorn the Base Degrees By Which You Did Ascend.

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures.
 - Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (4.3.224 - 230)

Fresh out of the collegiate running scene I found myself in a somewhat  middling position: just fast enough to keep running and support myself a little, but not yet good enough to make an Olympic or World Championship team, marry and raise between three and seven children.  People might call my choice to delay an aerospace engineering career for one in professional running risky economically - but no one enjoys any real accomplishments in life without indulging in some risk.

When I do begin real life after running, I'll invoke Brutus: on Opportunity: when the interviewer asks what I've been doing the previous four years.  For now I sit on a precipice, squinting far across the divide to "real" life; in between a vast chasm of "work".  Miles to run; goals to accomplish.  Why brave the rift?  Because the opportunity is perishable... existing  now in strong legs that only weaken with time.
Death of Caesar, Vincenzo Camuccini
On a hot n' sweaty morning run in Austin recently, a sophomore on Texas' team (who loves questions) asked me what I'm going to do to 'get faster' in the coming years.

Until this December I'll be living, training and going to school in Austin at UT, following Reebok / Zap  Fitness coach Pete Rea's instructions day to day.  I have a very solid fall road racing schedule set up, but the focus is outdoor track next year.  Once I have my Master's Degree I'll forget everything I know about airplanes (hopefully not) and head to North Carolina to train, where Zap is based (and airplanes got their start).  Thus begins my full immersion in running. For the first time in my career.

The simple answer to Brady's question, and something I'm very excited for, is that all of me will be a runner beginning soon.  In college, and even now, one hundred percent has never been possible.  In fact, it's taken me this long - since I began running at fourteen - to get (somewhat) close to understanding what one hundred percent even looks like.

The runs take care of themselves.  In high school, to be good, you run year round, and you'll do well.  You can beat superior talent.  In college, everyone runs year round and talent plays a larger role.  There, everyone talks about 'the little things' - Drills, stretching, icing, napping, strength, strides, eating, sleeping, hydration - that fill out those last percentage points.

But 'one hundred percent' is not stubbornly abstaining from things you enjoy in a martyrly pursuit of perfection.  That's not sustainable.  When I make a sacrifice for running, I make damn sure it's worth it.  It's something I'll do again- and never dread.  It's taken time, but I've come to truly enjoy spending time outside of runs doing many things to recover and stay healthy.  A sustainable recovery system - something I'll never half ass - something that's become habit - that I practice because I understand why it works and not just because someone told me to do it - is what I think causes longevity  and consistency in the sport.

...Running + The 'Little Things' + Knowing Why.

The other element of improvement in my plan is running stronger.  The types of 'fitness' I've brought to races so far in my career sit atop tall, pointy pinnacles of anaerobic work - temporary, fragile.  At their foundations, base fitness stretches far to the horizon: permanent, unmoving.  I want to move that base higher above sea level so I don't need to build such lofty towers.  The longer approach featuring more base building and aerobic work throughout the year is a natural consequence of post collegiate running's structure - something I'll need to get used to, that requires patience.

'Tis a common proof,
That lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost rung,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend.
- Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (2.1.22 - 28)

This is my 2013 fall racing schedule:

September 22:   CVS/Caremark USA 5k Road Championships in Providence, Rhode Island
October 14:       Ivy League Alumni Ekiden Relay.  Izumo, Japan
November 2:     Dash To the Finish 5k.  New York City
November 17:   .US Road Racing Championships (12k).  Alexandria, Virginia
November 28:   Manchester Road Race.  Manchester, Connecticut

Friday, July 5, 2013

Arrival in Leuven

The past two weeks have moved incredibly fast: I signed with Reebok / ZAP Fitness three days ago and got the opportunity to race in Europe, something I dreamed of doing coming into this track season.  I count myself very lucky to have spent less than four months in the 'unattached-drifting-limbo' phase, something that can be difficult to get out of for post collegiates and even pros - look at Leo Manzano, the Olympic Silver Medalist for crying out loud (into a microphone).  His situation is a different story.

I'm writing from the lobby of the Mercure Hotel in the town of Leuven, which is the beer capital of Belgium and home of Stella Artois.  Tomorrow I'll be running a 1500 in the town of Oordegem at Memorial Leon Buyle, part of the Flanders Cup series.  That race serves chiefly as a rust buster/shakeout for the 5000 a week later in Heusden-Zolder at the KBC Nacht Meeting.  Tomorrow's meeting features quite a few Americans, many of whom I've already raced this season.  Of course there will be stiff competition from Europeans and Africans there as well.  It'll be nice introduction to European racing.  (Entries)

I arrived in Brussels around nine AM this morning and am doing my best to stay awake.  I did a pre meet shakeout run with IU Alum Danny Stockberger from a nice little track nestled in the woods next to the Movements and Posture Analysis Laboratory Leuven, out into the countryside on a rustic soft surface trail.  We followed that with lunch at a sandwich shop we found.  Leuven is a nice little town; a great place to base... the only problem: the amount of chocolate, waffles, ice cream, and beer that tempt at ever corner (alley, crevice, hole in the wall) you encounter.

Working out in Leuven on 7/09/2013 with Will Leer and Aisha Praught

 Geez, I've only been here four hours and the girls are already after me.