Friday, January 19, 2018

Heusden to Houston

A few years back, I mentioned to a college team mate that I was running a 5k in Heusden. It was July at the time. “Houston? Hopefully it won’t be too hot there.” Oh no, sorry, I said. Not Houston, Heusden - a little suburban town in Belgium. Heusden is to Brussels as New Jersey is to New York City. The nicer parts of Jersey, that is. And most Belgians don’t really commute. They ride bikes and walk places.

The summer European racing experience has been much doted upon in the blogs and Instagrams of many an American distance runner, myself included. Memories of riding a fart tube across the pond and trickling down through Ireland and over to Belgium from track race to track race each summer will always hold a beloved place in my heart.

Exploring the walls of Luxembourg, scarfing down the homey hospitality of Irish meet committees, climbing on castles, rolling ankles on cobblestones - this is what it’s meant to be a runner on the European ‘B’ track circuit. So far, my years as a professional runner have culminated in the annual July trip to Europe.

Heusden. The KBC Nacht Athletics Meeting held there every July is a must do if you’re a member of the extremely specific blood type American-middle-distance-runner-looking-to-make-it. It’s the meet a lot of people run fast at, but no one back home has really ever heard of. 

2013. It was my first year running Heusden (The statute of limitations is up on this war story). On a warm Belgian evening, the pacer for the ‘B’ heat of the 5,000m dropped out 3,000 meters into the race, leaving our nationally diverse pack of straining runners to propel each other to time standard glory on our lonesome own. Planters of carnations flicked by our feet on the infield. Avicii or something similar played from the press box. A kid dropped his waffle in the grass.


Last year's 5,000m in Heusden. Photo Fabienne Nicolas

As usually happens in these races, the pace slacked with about three laps to go. I decided to be a brash 23 year old (what’s my age again?), put myself on the sacrificial goat side of things, and push the pace at the front of the race. It works, sometimes. Other times it doesn’t.

My goal of 13:30 was in reach on the backstretch of the final lap. “All” I had to do was run a 45 second last 300 meters.

But I ran a 49, and a 13:34, and rode the late bus home to Leuven, the best little medieval, circular town in Europe, pleased with my effort but disappointed with the result.

The Heusden after party in Leuven is also famous amongst those of the aforementioned athlete-traveler persuasion. Stella Artois world HQ is in Leuven, and the beer is cheaper by the glass than water at restaurants in the square at the center of town. The Heusden 5k was to be my final race of the season. We drank a lot of Stella, danced our faces off, and didn’t go home until the sky woke up.

But also not before Aric Van Halen mentioned he was running a 3,000m over in Kortrijk later that day, Sunday, an hour’s train ride away, and would I run it too? On a whim, the last thing I did before collapsing drunkenly on my mattress in our small apartment was enter myself in the Kortrijk meet online.

I woke up feeling surprisingly good. Chugged some water, went for a walk, and ate a Doner Kebab. It was well past noon. Maybe I would go run this 3k in Kortrijk for the hell of it. You don’t think at a deep level when you have a hangover. In this case, that turned out to be the ticket.

…To a win and 3k personal best of 7:49 for 3,000m in Kortrijk. I don’t remember feeling any pain. The good ones sometimes go that way. Your body sends less stress signals. My brain was fuzzy from a long night out. It said shut up! to the any high rpm thoughts trying to escape my prefrontal cortex. 

I spent a few more years chasing times and a breakthrough across the country and world.


Zap Fitness training run in beloved Todd, NC.

2018. I’m 28, and on Sunday morning, I really did run in Houston - the one in big Texas. Not a 5k, but a half marathon. That’s right, I’m allowed to plant a 13.1 sticker on my bike. Yeah, I run. (It actually technically wasn’t my debut. My brother, David beat me up in a half in Milwaukee in what seems like an earlier life.)

When we planned for it back in September, the Houston half marathon represented a literal and figurative change of pace for my running career.  My body had to get used to running 100+ mile weeks again. I dubbed November “niggle November” for the roughly seven moderate injuries that paraded through my muscles and joints that month with the increased workload. Above all, I looked forward to trying something other than than chasing increasingly elderly personal bests on the track.

And then, around the time the new year hit, just two weeks before Houston, I entered a mental rough patch.

I’ve been running professionally for nearly five years now, and it’s been exhilarating, heartbreaking, fun, boring, enlightening, maddening, and the best thing I could imagine myself doing. When you start out after college, you have a gas tank full of excitement and expectation for the future. It gets you through the hard days and bad performances, helping you come back hungry. But it leaks and gets used up. It becomes exponentially harder to improve, so you sift through a long string of new mindsets, subtly different training methods, and meditation rituals.

You look around and realize that most of your colleagues, the runners your age, who you raced when you were kids, have hung up the spikes, have “real jobs”, are married and having kids of their own. American society does a double take when you say you run for a living. And the the longer you do it, the stranger it is. All runners are weirdos, and we thrive on it. But sometimes it’s hard to keep weird. (Maybe I need to visit a former home - Austin, TX).

Agony and ecstasy. Photo Jason Honeycutt

Coming into Houston, running didn’t exactly feel new and shiny anymore. Maybe I was afraid I’d bomb the race. It would mean failing to grab ahold of the life preserver that the half marathon was trying to throw me from the horizon-bound sail boat of my running career.

Feeding my dark mood was a the fact that my big toes and feet had been suddenly and randomly losing control and going floppy at faster paces, especially after longer periods of running. So like, exactly what the half marathon entails. Those symptoms point to a funky sciatic nerve. There was no pain, but my foot plant was being affected, causing my calves to tighten up. And a small mechanical problem could add up over 13.1 miles.

I’ve looked back to that summer 2013 weekend in Heusden and Kortrijk, Belgium for inspiration and example many times. Not for the wild night, but for the place my mind was in when I started the 3,000 on the second day. My brain was animal, then. It didn’t care. It was blind to outside factors.

I had to get my sh*t together for this race in Houston. I had trained too hard to let myself get distracted by the future, or where else and what else I could be doing.

It started getting easier when we left our hotel in Tallahassee for travel to Houston on Thursday. Easier with the familiarity of airports and flights, by now strong associations with race weekends, sizing up competitors in hotel lobbies, feeling the tractor beam of excitement and nervousness beginning to suck us all towards the adrenaline moment of the starting gun on Sunday morning.

When I began feeling these things, I knew I was safe, safe in running. My instincts would handle everything. I was trained.

On Saturday, the day before the race, some of the elite runners in the race spoke in front of a large group of Houston kids who’d run a 5k that morning. One of their questions was typical of these kinds of sessions, and went something like

“what do you guys think about, like in your heads, when you run? How do you keep from wanting to stop?”

Wanting to stop is at the core of running. You heard it from a twelve year old.

When the mic came my way, I had time, and space, and temporality in my head, themes in these less than happy several weeks. I evoked the teachings of Master Yoda in my best impression:

“All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was... what he was doing.”

I told them: be in the mile you’re in, in the footstep you’re in, not thinking about how far there is to go. Back in the hotel room I re-watched the scene with Luke Skywalker and Yoda on Degobah in The Empire Strikes Back. Chills. I hopped up and did another round of neural flossing for my sciatic nerve.

The half and full marathons start at the same time in Houston. 7:00am. They share the same route for about seven miles before the half course turns off and heads back downtown to the finish. One mile into the race, I found myself running in the full marathon lead pack. Their pacer was assigned to hit halfway in 1:03:00, perfect for me. But by mile three it was clear the marathoners were rolling just a tad slower than I wanted. I peeked around the side of their lead truck. Up the road, Matt and the half marathon chase pack were a block of vacant pavement away.

Decision time. Pass the truck, dive into the vacumn, and hope for help from a fellow white-bibbed half marathoner? Or stay put and wait?

I went around the truck. Moments later, a small but powerful figure materialized on my shoulder in the form of Luis Orta, Venezuela’s star runner. Luis and I ran the entire remainder of the race together, bouncing moments of fatigue and spurts of energy off each other as we tackled Houston block by block.  My foot strike got numb and floppy at a few points, but by relaxing and not dwelling on it I kept it in the background. We never did gain ground on Matt’s group, but with each other’s presence we could exist in what would have been no man’s land. The sun rose, all golden light and signpost shadows, during mile four.


Luis Orta and I kicking to the finish in Houston. Photo Michael Scott

Luis and I battled all the way to the line, catching some good scalps in the final 200 meters. He just out-leaned me to break the Venezuelan half marathon record.

In the end, Houston and a debut at the half marathon distance gave me what I needed. I ran 63:35, a good time, not a breakout performance, but enough to be proud of. Sitting here five days later I’m still feeling the delicious soreness in my quads and hamstrings left by Houston’s pavement. It feels good to have a new personal best. Damn good, actually. Even if it’s a first go. I like that the distance feels so different than the stinging pain of a track 5,000m - like a novella that does some unfolding before you’re through with it. 

Writing this in Tallahassee during a little down week in training, I think I have my spark back. I’m looking forward to another debut. Somehow, I’ve made it all this way never having run a 10,000m on the track. 25 laps fits snugly between the new experience of 13.1 miles on the road and the quick pace of the 5,000m, a world I’m quite well versed in.

Winning is fun. Being healthy and happy and PR’ing is fun. Especially when these things come easy, like in Kortrijk. When I drank a bunch of beer and shouldn't have run well, but did. The memory of that race is a curse, too, for how little I had to struggle for success. A simultaneously good and bad example from the past, for the future.

They're amazing, the intangibles in running. In any endeavor, for that matter. Wanting to stop, and then not having stopped - that's how you win.

It’s nice when life goes your way. But no one gets these things all the time.

If you did, you’d know nothing about yourself.



Here are some things I'm looking forward to:
DateRace NameLocationVenue / Distance
March 30Raleigh RelaysRaleigh, NCTrack 1500
April 14B.A.A. 5kBoston, MARoad 5k
May 3Payton Jordan InvitePalo Alto, CATrack 10,000m
June 21 - 24USATF Outdoor ChampionshipsDes Moines, IAWho knows?
July 4Peachtree ChallengeAtlanta, GARoad 10k

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Moving On Up

A few hours after the Ed Murphey Mile in Memphis, Tennessee I shifted balance on the wall I was perched on outside a bar filled to capacity. My track season had just ended. As I craned my neck to see inside through big glass windows, huge versions of Floyd Mayweather and Connor McGregor danced, projected onto the bar wall during round eight of their much anticipated fight. Out there in the Memphis night there was barely room to get an unobstructed view of a TV inside.

Earlier in the evening, eight of us took up our own stage on a high school track on the outskirts of Memphis.  Standing on the makeshift mile start line, thousands of fans clamored at our periphery in the outside lanes and the infield. We felt something like Mayweather and McGregor must have felt in the ring. All athletes do. Knowing that was pain was about to come. Feeling the proximity of human bodies, leaning in, anticipation palpable in eyes.

Just eight men and seven women comprised the mile/1500m fields in Memphis, including pacers. Crowded, physical races are part of running, but this very small field was refreshing after a spring and summer of jockeying for position in US, Irish, and Belgian track races. Minutes before our race, the women put on a great 1500 meter show, and the crowd was still buzzing. The entire track was lined with people. 

Their roar abruptly crescendoed at the start as if torn from the starter's gun, its wave rippling around the oval, preceding and following us as we covered four laps for the mile. I never remember much detail from a race, but I do recall hearing "USA! USA! USA!" on each run of the backstretch. The pace was good and fast early as we passed 800m in one minute and fifty six seconds. 

Pacer Jesse Garn (a great guy) takes us through three laps in the inaugural Ed Murphey Mile in Memphis, TN.

You never truly settle in a mile. It's too short a race, and even the smallest gap to the guy or girl ahead can lose you the race. You enter into a state of strained relaxation at the intersection of conscious thought and subconscious action. The world collapses down into a few blurry objects seen through a pinhole, the wind in your ears, and the notion of how much you have left in your legs versus how far it is to the finish.

With six hundred meters to go I was in second place behind Craig Engels, one of those young guns right out of college. He had just cut his magic mullet off a few weeks earlier, so I thought maybe my old man strength could prevail over him. We were cutting the fastest pace I'd personally been on for a mile or 1500 in the past several seasons, so the letters P and R started floating around in my head on the second bend of the third lap.

But seconds later, coming around into the bell lap, Craig, in the lead, slowed down considerably. It was then that I made the mistake of not maintaining our roll and going around him. Instead, Eric Avila shot out of third past us into the lead. By then there were 400 meters left, I was in third place, and the kick was on.

It is here that we come to the point of, or at least part of the thrust behind, this blog you are reading.

Sticking to a strategy that isn't paying off, but still has a chance to, can be scary. In most endeavors, (except for like, trying to hit a piñata blindfolded)  you'll never find success unless you pursue a given strategy for a long, long, (long) time, wringing it of its potential. We have a word for that: committing. Running is one of those endeavors (you should still commit to the piñata because there's candy in it.)

After finding success in them, I've been committed to running shorter distance races (1500m, mile, 5,000m) since college, and I've been consistent. But pretty much just that: consistent. Running up to and just barely kissing personal bests each year, racking up many 5k performances in the thirteen-thirties and miles with one or two seconds of four minutes. Good performances, but not ones in line with my desire to continue improving.

So imagine my mingled dismay and disbelief when, after that last lap in Memphis, after cushioning ourselves by a full four seconds below four minute mile and P.R. pace through halfway, and seeing the door open to the lead heading into the bell, I finished fourth and the clock read 4:00.3 next to my name in the end. We’d slowed down too much on the third lap and it cost us. Btw, I had ran 4:00.7 three weeks earlier in Raleigh. I told you I was consistent.

(I'm not asking for your phalanges to ply the world's smallest fiddle for me here. Everyone's running career is a big series of experiments, and results are results, especially when they're less than "stellar". [Let me also say that disappointment very quickly gave way to joy at being part of such a great event in Memphis. The top three got under four, so it was a historic race. Having barely finished, I turned around and jogged down the line of spectators for a round of high fives.  My legs experienced a second round of numbing lactic buildup even at ten minute pace {how the hell do people do victory laps or post-race dances <Ezekiel Kemboi> looking so good?!}, but my spirit was quickly repaired. That's the beauty of events that get the fans close, physically, to the athletes. Like Memphis, Sir Walter Miler in Raleigh, the Long Island Mile, and others have been popping up. Like boxing. {In fact I started writing so much on the topic of making running more popular through format and presentation that I had to fork it over to a  separate, forthcoming blog. Stay tuned.}])

Getting fans close to athletes is the future of this sport. Sir Walter Miler in Raleigh, NC.

Memphis ended as somewhat of a paraphrase of my entire season: healthy, running pretty fast, but performing time and time again on the same plane. Our strength coach at Texas once told us that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That’s not really what it says in the dictionary, but I’ve been feeling a bit insane in that sense lately. 

So it’s finally time to try a new strategy. I’m selling my car and moving to Saskatchewan!

Just kidding. I’m not going anywhere. Luckily running offers more than one surface to gallop upon, and plenty of distances to gallop over.  It's time for me to move up in distance. 

No, not to the marathon. Yet. I’m not ready to relinquish all my fast twitch muscle fibers. Just half of them. I’ll be running the Houston Half Marathon in January. Race weekend in Houston will likely have a healing and inspiring effect on the city after Hurricane Harvey, and I’m excited to run and be part of the race. The remainder of 2018 will include more racing on the roads than on the track, although I’ll run a track 10,000m or two in the spring, and will probably hate myself afterwards.

Training will change, too. I’ve never trained like a true miler, but in parallel with the shorter distances I’ve targeted in the past few years, things like volume (mileage over time) and intensity of workouts have always been closer to a shorter, faster, trackier motif while at Princeton, Texas, and Zap Fitness. That’s going to change.

Basically my running pedigree boils down to a battle between my mom and dad’s sides of the family. Dad, with his shorter, stockier stature lends speed and power (and my big butt) to the equation. But then mom comes in and lets me run really far, with her thin, tall dad and willowy ancestors. I’ve been giving them both a chance up until now by focusing on the classic speed/distance combo that is the 5,000m event.  So sorry, dad. Time to give mom and the longer, strength oriented side some more love with things like triple digit mile weeks, longer threshold workouts and tempo runs, and farther long runs.

Squad. Andrew, Aaron, Brandon, and I line up for the Morton Games 5,000m in Dublin this summer.

Absolutely the most important thing for a runner (or anyone, with any passion) is to be excited about running and to keep having fun doing it. When you’ve reached a stale point or a bit of a plateau/mesa type thing, it’s time to make a change. Running in a few new events and getting a novel race calendar is exciting. Even more so is the renewed prospect of finding my true strength and reigniting my belief that I can make a world championship or olympic team. With new goals and a plan to reach them, it feels as if I’ve retired from one job and taken up a new one, where the water cooler is twice as far away, I work late on weekends, and have a brand new stapler.

I took a two week active break after the Memphis Ed Murphey Mile, and am now in the second week of building up mileage. My first race back actually makes this whole blog look like a lie, since it’s a 5k - the USATF Championship / Dash to the Finish Line race in New York City. Last time I ran that race, in 2013, I first met and shared a hotel room with the late runner David Torrence, who tragically died last month at way too young an age. It being one of my first races on the pro circuit, DT made an impression on me. He was eager to hand down seasoned wisdom on training and traveling and racing to a young pro just getting started (though he kept the room way too cold). I was always very impressed with his racing savvy and ability to run everything from the 800m to the 5,000m and beyond at a super high level, and his ability to pump up crowds and make people love him. He will be missed.

After New York it’s a few more road races in November and the Club Cross Country Championships in December. The fall/winter cycle builds to the Houston half marathon in January, after which we’ll start looking at that 25 lap track race and road races around the country.

For those of you who’ve somehow managed to read all the way to here, I reward you with an update on the Zap Fitness vegetable garden. This year has seen by far our most abundant harvest. The tomatoes did decently, though many get caterpillarized if you don’t pick them soon enough. Our real windfall was in jalapeños. They are the spiciest, tastiest ‘peños I’ve ever indulged in. Going in and coming out. And we have more basil than we know what to do with. Make a lot of pesto I guess.

That's it for now. Thanks for reading.

Upcoming race schedule:
DateRace NameLocationVenue / Distance
November 4US 5k Road Champs/Abbott Dash to the FinishNew York, NYRoad 5k
November 11VCU Health 8kRichmond, VARoad 8K
November 23Manchester Road RaceManchester, CTRoad 4.748 miles
December 9Club Cross Country ChampionshipsLexington, KYCross country 10k
January 14Aramco Houston Half MarathonHouston, TXHalf Marathon

Monday, June 19, 2017

Mud

“And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around.
Lucky me, lucky mud.
The only way I can feel the least bit important is to think of all the mud that didn’t get to sit up and look around.
I got so much, and most mud got so little.
Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep.
What memories for mud to have!
What interesting kinds of other sitting-up mud I met!”

- Excerpt from the last rites of the Bokonist Faith, Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut




Here are some of the kinds of things I think about during a run:

[This is a run amongst trees and on dirt, pine needles, and rocks tumbled from the oldest mountains in the world, the Appalachians, which are beginning to look soft and rounded now, after all this time.]

I can't help but think, me being a piece of mud that got to sit up and look around, that running is just Earth playing catch with itself. With a piece of itself. A piece of Earth’s own mud. Every stride, lasting around one third of a second, a parabolic hop, an orbit, albeit short, about the planet. This leads to some questions.

What happens to Earth when I push off of it? Does Earth move below me? Wouldn't you feel more important if every time you leapt off the ground you moved an entire planet? Why haven’t all the runners pushed Earth out of its orbit with all their pushing and shoving and hopping over the years?

How much of the mud has been a human at one time or another?

As it happens, you do move Earth when you jump off it. It moves away from you in the opposite direction. Earth has a mass of 5.972 trillion trillion kilograms, and a 150 pound runner, for example, whose stride bounces her center of mass up and down three inches every step, would move Earth 341 billionths of a trillionth of an inch. A pretty small amount, but you can be proud that you made a difference.

Don't forget that you exert your own gravitational pull on Earth.

While you're floating through the air, dreaming of brunch or whatever, Earth is attracted to you [All matter in the Universe is attracted to you for that matter]. When you push off, Earth begins moving away, but immediately its speed begins lessening. At the height of your parabolic, beautiful gliding stride, the Earth also reaches its [much, much smaller] furthest distance of shoved-ness, and as you start falling back to terra form, Earth begins moving back to you. You crash into each other, exactly canceling each other's motion.

So no matter how much running you do with no matter how many friends, once you stop, everything is as it was. Like life. Like mud that got to sit up. But that’s ok. Enjoy your orbit.

You can calculate what percentage of Earth has been part of a human being at one time or another, given the 107 billion humans who have ever lived, their average weight, their average lifespan, and the myth that your body’s cells get replaced every seven years. It’s like 5.56 trillionths of the planet’s mass. Not much mud, relatively, has been lucky enough to sit up and look around. But some has.

All that is to say:

On one hand, it’s tempting to write off your impact on the world as minuscule. "All we are is dust", "Alas poor Yorick", etc.

On the other hand, you could view your life's effect as a force that, no matter how minuscule, still moves a massive world. A massive universe. Which sounds cooler.

Walk across the room. In 105 years, some particle of dust floating in space 105 light years away will feel your movement, you gravitational influence having traveled at the speed of light through space to it. That should make you feel Relatively Special.

Who are we, then, to claim that our effect on the world and on one another isn't large, doesn't matter? We move planets when we go running.


Pardon, Andrew and I moving some mud around in hopes of turning mud into food
for mud that got to sit up and look around.
But sometimes I get caught up in trying to attribute too much matter and meaning to what I do.

If someone asked me at the post office, “who’s your biggest enemy?” my third answer would be “myself”, after burnt toast and car commercials that ruin perfectly good classic rock songs. It’s easy to get in your own way trying to attain something you want perhaps too badly.

Let me bring this back to the genre of this blog.*

Running’s challenge for me boils down to a fight against my serious side. It helps me work hard, but often keeps me from relaxing. Relaxing is the main ingredient in running well.

In the fall, when I was hurt, I had a “Why do I run?” existential crisis. I kept trying to attach a meaning to running (besides the millions I make, of course). I was inspiring others. I was bettering myself for the future, when an improved work ethic would pay dividends. Whichever way I spun it, the answer still had a tint of selfishness in it.

As Pete gradually nursed me back to my current state of health and fitness, I made a pact with myself. I would enjoy running for running, without a higher motive. This basically required thinking less and having more fun. It meant paring my sight into the future down to the level of a couple days, rather than dwelling on what I wanted to happen two months down the road.

And I came to the conclusion:

There is a meaning. There’s always a meaning. You don’t need to know what it is though. Just trusting that there’s a meaning is enough. That’s why I think about shoving the entire planet around by infinitesimal amounts while I run on it. You don't have to be as weird as me to prove this to yourself.

Still, that serious side of mine got me in trouble a few times this track season. I came into a few races a little jumpy and rigid, and found myself in places I didn’t particularly want to be. I wanted to run fast so badly that I got in the way of myself.

In the Payton Jordan 5,000m early in May, the whole field was looking at each other as we fanned eight wide in the first half lap, no one wanting to set the pace. I had “too good” of a start and found myself leading the race from the gun on an unusually breezy Palo Alto night, at a disadvantage compared to those tucked in behind me. I couldn’t get relaxed and in rhythm and it cost me. The field beat me over the final lap to a 13:57 5k.

At the Adrian Martinez Classic 3,000m earlier this month, I found myself in a similar position, leading, when the pacer dropped out after a mile. Someone’s gotta be the sacrificial lamb, leading the race far from the finish, but I’d prefer not to be. The extra fraction of a percent of mental effort spent keeping the pace moving took away from my finish once again.


Adrian Martinez 3,000m in Concord, MA

But I kept thinking short term and ran better at the Oxy High Performance meet in L.A. (13:39) and last weekend at Portland Track Fest (13:34), increasingly relaxing mentally and physically.

Hands, face loose, mind blank, run tall, chin up, don’t muscle out the last lap. Don’t think so much. Run to run.

Meaning is revealed in hindsight, when you see where your gravitational waves spread to.

This coming week is the USATF Championships in Sacramento, California. Zap Fitness has seven athletes running (Joanna, Aaron, Johnny, Andrew in the 10,000m, Brandon in the 3,000m steeplechase, and myself in the 5,000m). It’s going to be hot out even at night, so anything can happen in the distance events [I mean, someone could slip on a banana peel!]. The top three athletes in each event qualify to represent team USA at the World Championships in London in August.


Workout on Bass Lake in Blowing Rock, NC with the Zap Fitness men's team.

Zap is a really healthy place to be training and living these days. I've always loved our training base in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but this year there's a special energy around the team that's really made it fun to work hard. Adult running camp season has started up and that adds a ton of energy to the elite team too. Our campers come from all over the country and world, and every one of them has had an inspiring journey in running and life to tell. We learn just as much from them as they do from us.

Last thought: If running is the Earth playing catch with itself, is interplanetary spaceflight just the planets playing catch with one another?

Thanks for reading. Here's a list of upcoming races:
DateRace NameLocationVenue  Distance
June 23US Track ChampionshipsSacramento, CATrack 5,000m
July 7Letterkenny Intl. Track MeetLetterkenny, IrelandTrack mile
July 12Morton GamesDublin, IrelandTrack 5,000m
July 18Cork City SportsCork, IrelandTrack 3,000m
July 22KBC NachtHeusden Zolder, BelgiumTrack 5,000m
August 4Sir Walter MilerRaleigh, NCTrack mile
*nominally running but primarily misquoted literature, self deprecation
provided they obtain their event’s world ‘A’ standard by July 21st

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Calcallous

"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