There is magic today.

image1

Sometimes running can only be described as magical.

Moments like the one pictured above – when I’m on top of a mountain with other mountains, the big blue sky, and big fluffy clouds all around. But, I can also feel the magic when I’m climbing that mountain in the rain with more mountains and miles ahead of me.

IMG_20150428_175736538

The mountains don’t even have to be there. I feel the magic when I’m deep in the dark green woods, following the dusty singletrack for miles and miles.

I live for this magic. The moments that last in my mind forever.

While running in the mountains and forests are the most fulfilling for me, I begin the majority of my runs by going out my front door and turning either left or right – and I don’t live near mountains or in the forest. When I’m grinding out the miles on the roads around my neighborhood during the week, it can be difficult to find the magic.

And, if I’m being perfectly honest, those weekday miles can really be a drag.

But, while they may not always be magical, those weekday runs are probably the most important. Without solid weekday miles, the long runs on the weekends and the adventure runs in the mountains would not be possible. It’s a simple equation. Much like I work during the day at my job so I can afford to do the things I love, I run during the week to have the ability to go on the adventures I love.

Just because my weekday runs don’t have the obvious makings of a magical adventure, that doesn’t mean that they don’t hold some type of magic of their own.

So, starting today, I’ve committed to finding the magic in every run.

I’m not going to force it, but I’m going to look for it. There is magic today; I just need to be open to it.

I’ll share my experiences on Instagram – so if you don’t already follow me there, you should! I’ll post a picture from every one of my runs that shows some of the beautiful places I get to run in town and in the woods.

I also want to challenge you to look for the magic in your own life. You’re in your life’s adventure today. Some day you’ll think back to now and say “Remember when…?” Make sure you appreciate it while you’re living it.

Save

Why Ultra?: Art Loeb Edition

Ever since I started running ultra distances, I’ve been asked a lot of the same questions. The first and most common is: “Why?”

It’s oddly one of the more difficult questions to answer; maybe because I think too hard about it. I try to look into my psyche and find the real thing – the deep answer about what makes me want to run farther and farther.

But, really – I don’t have to dig deep to find the true answer.


Loeb1

Several years ago, I embarked on a backpacking trip with a group of students from the university where I work. This was going to be my longest backpacking trip, and we were going to the mountains of Pisgah National Forest to hike the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail. This was before I ever dreamed of running, let alone trail running.

To make a long story incredibly short, things didn’t go super well that week. The entire trip was a lot harder than anyone anticipated. To top it all off, we finished on the wrong side of the mountain.

While things didn’t go terribly smoothly, the trip did leave me with the desire to go back and get it right.


Loeb2

One year later, I went back. This time, it was with Ashley and a friend. We caught a ride from someone to take us to the trailhead. While we were in the car, that person told us about a “group of crazy people” that comes out to the Art Loeb every December and runs the entire length of it in a single day.

“What? How is that even possible? How do they carry food, water…how do they make it up the mountains….etc., etc.”

I had just run my first half marathon a few weeks earlier, so the idea of going 30 miles in the mountains in one go was unfathomable. And, as as we tried to figure out the logistics of such an undertaking, it just became more difficult to wrap my head around it. But at the same time…something stirred inside me.

I want to run the Art Loeb Trail.


March 2017

For several years, I’ve had that trail in the back of my mind with every ultra I run. Every time I finish a 50k, I try to imagine what it would have been like to cover that distance on the switchbacks up Pilot Mountain, climbing up to Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain, and traversing the Shining Rock Wilderness and the Narrows – all major points along the Art Loeb, if you haven’t guessed that already.

So imagine how it felt when earlier this year, I learned that my running coach (Doug Hay) was planning to run the Loeb in March 2017. Imagine again how it felt when he asked “Want to join?”

On Saturday, Doug and I ran the Art Loeb Trail – an actual dream come true for me. I’ll write a post about the trip and the conditions and challenges we met with along the way later. But first, I want this sentiment to stand alone:

I run ultras because it feels so good to follow a dream from its infancy to its completion. It feels so good to say “yes” to the adventures that at first seem impossible or crazy. It really seems crazy and impossible are the most appealing to me.

IMG_6961
On top of Pilot Mountain (thanks to Doug for the picture!)

Save

2017: The year of…

img_20161209_171020891

I hope next year is epic. I’m already  planning for it to be. I have an A race in mind, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever attempted. But, it won’t be the farthest I’ve run. It’s “only” a marathon. It’s a marathon that one guy described as “a pissed off 50k.” It’s the marathon Trail Runner magazine calls “The toughest marathon you’ve never heard of.”

I call it my A race – for 2018.

I like planning. I like big goals. This race will require big goals, strategic planning, hard work, and dedication. It like the perfect puzzle piece in my lifestyle.

It’s the Athens Big Fork Trail Marathon. The course follows a 100-year-old horse postal trail through the mountains. It’s an out-and-back trail that goes up and over eight mountains – then back over those eight mountains, finishing right where it started after 9200 feet of mountain running.

Ever since I heard about it, I’ve been wanting to do it. The one thing that has been holding me back is that I don’t think I’m ready for that. That race is too hard, too much.

But then I realized that too hard and too much has never stopped me before.

Getting ready.

The running.

In order to run a race like the Big Fork, I’ll need to be really ready. There are cutoff times to think about, so I’m not going to be able to just meander the mountains hoping for the best. As a result, I’m treating all of 2017 as training for BF.

Here are the key races I’m planning to run:

  • Yamacraw 50k (April)
  • Gnaw Bone 50 mile (May)
  • Shawnee Hills 50k (August)
  • Rough Trails Ultra 50k (November)

Training for four ultramarathons will help give me a massive endurance base. Plus all four of those races are pretty hilly, so I’ll build climbing legs and develop more efficiency on the hills, which will be so important for Big Fork.

The working out.

But, as I know for a fact, and as I am not good at compensating for, merely running does not a good runner make. In 2016, I did a run streak: I ran at least one mile every day for the entire year – but what I’ve learned (and I’ll get into more in a different post) is that a run streak really doesn’t have a ton of actual benefits – aside from forcing very consistent running routine, of course. I definitely didn’t become a stronger runner because of it.

But, I did really like the consistency it brought to my training, and that got me thinking. I could do a different daily challenge that would bring more benefits to my running and goals. So, in 2017, I’ll be doing a core workout challenge. Every day, I’ll do a 10-minute workout including leg, arms, and core strengthening exercises. This will go a lot further toward making me a stronger, leaner runner. Which should get me up and over eight mountains – twice.

No excuses.

2016 was my year of discipline. Even with each day anchored by a run, I’m still not quite sure I really achieved the level of discipline I wanted to achieve. It’s illusive and it’s hard to say exactly what I’m looking for, but know that I’m not quite there.

One of my weaknesses is that I give in to my excuses too often. While I do get my runs done, I don’t do them when I really want to (i.e., in the morning), and I don’t get my cross training done as consistently as I should.

So, in 2017, I’m going to dive into all the clichés. No excuses. Just do it. The daily workout challenge is going to be a big part of that. It’s going to have a big, positive effect, but I know it’s going to be a challenge to  do it every day without fail.

But I suppose that’s what makes it appealing.

What are your 2017 goals?

 

 

Living la vida ultra

img_20161022_095143544_hdr

On November 12, I’ll be running my first 50-mile ultramarathon. I’m excited and nervous, but mostly excited. I’ve been training since May for a 50-mile race, and I’m ready to get this thing done.

Since I haven’t updated in a long time, I thought it would be nice to answer some FAQs regarding ultrarunning, and in particular my 50-mile race and the way I will be running it.

Most of the people in my various social circles know that I run, and that I run a lot. So, one of the common questions I get is: “When is your next race?” or something along those lines. Here are the answers!

1. When is your next race?

Tunnel Hill 100/50. I’ll run the 50-mile race!

The Tunnel Hill course is a crushed-limestone multi-use trail in Vienna, Illinois. It’s part of the rails-to-trails conservancy project. The trail was built on an old railroad bed. They took out the tracks and threw down some crushed limestone. It has virtually no hills, lots of bridges, and a notable 543-foot long tunnel. Through a hill.

2. 50 miles????

Yep!

3. How long will that take you? Is it all in one day?

I’m estimating it will take me between 10 and 12 hours. My goal is to finish in 10. Yes, it’s all in one day, technically. All runners (of both the 100 and 50-mile races) have to finish in 30 hours.

4. What will you eat?

Throughout this summer, I’ve been working on perfecting my nutrition plan for this race, and I’ve gotten it down pretty well now.

  • Roasted sweet potato wedges
  • Medjool dates
  • Tailwind

So it goes like this: I eat throughout the whole race beginning at 45 minutes to an hour in. It’s super important to keep fueling the whole time, not just when I get hungry or when I crash. It’s really hard to bounce back after totally depleting resources.

At about 45 minutes in, I’ll eat my first date. Then a little later, I’ll have some Tailwind. Then a little later, I’ll have some potato wedges. Repeat for the rest of the day. This is my main source of fuel.

I also like to have some Chex Mix (salty, crunchy, lovely), and it’s really nice to have a soda in those later miles. Occasional Gin-Gins to help settle a crazy stomach.

And of course I’ll drink plenty of water.

Why would you do this to yourself?

I love the challenge. It feels so good to set a crazy goal, work really hard, and eventually achieve that goal. There’s nothing like it. I know that no matter what happens in other areas of my life, running is a constant. And if I work super hard, no one can take away the progress I make, and no one can tell me that I can’t finish my ultramarathon. It’s all up to me.

But what about…

Do you have any questions about trail and ultra running that I didn’t answer? Feel free to leave me a comment below, and I’ll answer it!

Reminders

6

In 2008, I started getting my health, fitness, and diet in order. Started means I took the first small step toward being healthier. But, it was a frustrating number of months before I saw any changes at all.

It’s was so disheartening to have to convince myself every day that going to the gym over my lunch break was what I wanted to do, that it was the right thing to do – only to stand on the scale or in front of a mirror in the morning and see no change.

A few years went by before I had to replace a significant amount of clothing with smaller, better fitting clothes. Over five years, I went from XL/XXL tops to L, which was incredible. Now, I generally get medium tops, which is something I never imagined I’d be able to do. My pants were size 42 and 44, and now they’re 34 and 36.

Even today, the benefits of small steps I made eight years ago become very obvious when I’m looking through my closet and think “hey, I haven’t worn this shirt in a while” only to be swamped in material from something far too large for me.

Big life changes can’t really happen overnight, and it’s not fair to yourself to expect that they can.

I still take small steps today. The training programs I undertake are built on small steps.

When Ashley and I decided we would go vegan, we didn’t throw out all our cheese and cow’s milk, buy hemp milk, and plant a garden. We worked our way through the non-vegan food we had in the house and started to find new ways to keep all the fixings on top of our pizzas without cheese. This, by the way, after a lot of small steps through being vegetarian.

Big life changes can’t really happen overnight, and it’s not fair to yourself to expect that they can. Unhealthy habits are constructed over years. When you’re priorities shift to being healthy, get ready for a long journey that will never end. The reward will be the strength of spirit that grows every day with each small step you take.

Tough days.

IMG_20151114_095644254 [73589] Even after 1,200+ miles, this running activity can still throw a wrench at me. Or, perhaps more appropriately, hide a bunch of wrenches under freshly fallen leaves.

Let me explain.

After a week of pretty stellar runs, I headed into a high-mileage weekend with great hopes. The plan was to run 17 miles on the trails on Saturday followed by an easy 11 on the roads on Sunday. I felt really confident about these runs, and I was really looking forward to them.

Saturday was an incredible day. The skies were insanely blue, which is something I’ve been missing lately. The trees in Harmonie State Park had dropped many of their leaves, so my view of the sky and of the forest beyond the leaves was nearly unfettered as I plowed through the deep piles. In general, the run was pretty great. But, under all those fallen leaves were roots and branches that I couldn’t see until my feet landed on them or inadvertently kicked them. I was constantly stabilizing or recovering from dramatically tripping. I think I fell all the way down twice, which is always frustrating. But tripping without falling is just as frustrating, really – and surprisingly painful. My legs felt really beat up after a while.

I have a friend who is studying to be a physical therapist, so she can tell me if this is all wacko, but my theory is that constantly pulling myself upright and trying to correct sudden imbalances overworked my stabilizers, which led to pain in my IT Band (UPDATE: She doesn’t think it’s wacko). This pain is something I’m unfortunately really familiar with. When that pain starts, aside from stopping running immediately, there’s no way to keep it from getting worse. I kept running and finished my 17 miles on increasingly painful legs. It’s my own fault.

I used to deal with pretty regular IT pain. It made my first marathon incredibly painful – but after many months of dogged ITBS rehab, I had it under control really well, so I don’t deal with this very often anymore. It’s really frustrating when I get that pain, and it’s that frustration and ill-placed determination that keeps me running when the IT pain starts.

Anyway, I tried to treat my legs really well on Saturday night (compression, elevation, quality foam rolling time) so that I could still go out on Sunday and get those 11 miles done. You may not be surprised that a little more than 2 miles into the run, my IT band started hurting again. I stretched and tried to manage it, but ultimately decided to cut the run short. When I got home after 4.89 miles, I could barely get up the stairs to my house.


These are tough days.

It’s so hard to come home and have to say “Today was a bad run.” It truly is. I texted a friend a little while after my run to admit I cut it short. It was a therapeutic admission. While I was stretching and rolling, I thought, “Maybe I won’t tell her. I’ll keep it to myself and let her think I did just fine.” But admitting that I had a bad run was important for me in order to move past it and get on to the next part. She responded by telling me that she cut her long run short, too – and that we need to figure out a way to encourage each other through these hard times – and she’s absolutely right. We runners can spend a lot of time patting ourselves on the back for the great runs and impressing one another with the long distances, but being able to admit when we had a bad run or a bad string of runs is just as important to our ability to get out there and keep impressing and inspiring one another.

Maybe the hardest part about being a runner is when I have to admit that I don’t always have it all together, and that – despite the work I do and the food I eat – sometimes it just really hurts too bad to keep running the impressive miles I aspire to. Sure, most of miles come easy, but with each success, the perceived failures bite even deeper.

But, keeping true to the ultradistance, I’m in this for the long haul. Maybe I’ll “fail” a run now and then – but, as you may have read in an inspirational picture on the Internet – failure doesn’t come from falling, it comes from not getting up.

As I write this, there are three weeks and six days until my next ultramarathon (the countdown widget is a “nice” reminder). I had a plan for those weeks, too. But, this weekend’s IT trouble necessitates a new plan: ITB rehab from strengthrunning.com. This is definitely not a new thing for me. I’ve done this routine so many times, I could do it in my sleep. But I haven’t done it lately. This routine focuses on hip and glute strength, improvements that will keep me from relying on my poor IT band to stabilize me on downhills and unpredictable terrain.

While it’s hard to move past the disappointment of the weekend, I have a new vision and optimism as I start the last several weeks of training before Bell Ringer. As always, there are strengths I need to cultivate in my mind and body, new habits to build on, and routine to establish. Wish me luck, and I’ll do the same for you!
IMG_20151115_091445721 [73590]

Reflections on 1,000 miles

IMG_20151004_124846483
Over roads, bridges, fallen trees, rivers, rocks, and trails, my trusty two feet have taken me 1,000 miles so far in 2015.

Early mornings, later-than-I’d-like evenings, crazy fast races, and mind-numbingly long, hot runs all comprise an effort I wouldn’t have thought possible just a few years ago. Not every mile was glorious. It hasn’t always been fun, especially when those miles were picked up over snow and ice, into an icy cold wind. Conversely, many of my 1,000 miles were run into an oppressive, humid heat.

Most of my runs, though, were outstanding – and when completed, I was grateful for even the tough ones. Perhaps especially the tough ones.

I can thank training for a spring ultramarathon for racking up quite a few miles. In training for Gnaw Bone, I ran my first (second and third) 100+-mile month. I also ran the entire winter, which was another new sensation. In previous years, I basically went into hibernation after my fall marathon, and gratefully didn’t step foot outside while there was snow or ice on the ground. This winter was a little different – though I did avoid some of the more inclement days by running many miles on the treadmill. Not a fan of that.

When I started writing this, I intended to do short highlights of my year of running so far (which is nowhere near over, by the way. 1,000 miles apparently is just the beginning). But as I started looking back through my blog, there really is only one run that stands out. Not because of the run, but really more for what it represents to me. So I’ma talk about that instead.

Perception of potential

I look back on Gnaw Bone with great pride, to be honest. It’s a great accomplishment, and I get to join a pretty cool group of people when I say “I’m an ultrarunner.”

What I recall most fondly from the Gnaw Bone experience isn’t even the run itself – rather, it’s the training. I know I’m a different person today – not because I ran an ultramarathon, but because I trained for one. Training required me to test myself and push my body much further than I had ever done. The dark times, both literal and figurative, regularly brought me to a place where the daily push simply had to mean more than it did in that moment. When the going got tough, I told myself so many times “This is where you build.” Knowing that it was not just my muscles I was working on, but my determination, endurance, and character.

I asked myself “What are you doing? Do you realize what you’re getting into with this?” I thought my hubris was leading me in a direction that would ultimately end in failure. But I didn’t give up. I dug deeper and learned more about my own potential.

“I’m not a runner; I’m not an athlete; I’m not at that level.”
On May 9, when I crossed the finish line to the cheers of my wife and my friends, I broke through a layer of deep-seated self-doubt that I had built up over years of giving in to fear of failure. Before, at races I would look at other runners – old, young, thin, fast – and unfairly compare myself against them. I still do that to a certain extent; it’s a hard habit to break. But, I now look at these other runners with a new perspective. When I start to feel down and doubt myself when compared to someone faster, I remind myself that I don’t know that runner’s past, goals, or training. Celebrate the run, celebrate today. Stand up straight and run strong.


Runs

My next big challenge.

clock

The biggest challenges I’ve undertaken have usually been proceeded by “I’ll never…I could never…”

After deciding that I would not be held back by fear of failure or fear of the unknown, I have been able to achieve some amazing things that I’m proud of. Through the process of tackling these challenges, I’ve also been awakened to the idea that I can accomplish anything.

So what comes next? Well, I’ll be working hard to reach the next level of fitness. Further, faster distances. A leaner physique. Basically upgrades to the things I’ve already accomplished – and that’s great. It’s still motivating and inspiring to me, so it keeps me going.

But there’s something else I’ve faced many times over the years. I’m sharing it with you in the hopes that it will hold me accountable to this next goal. It isn’t a glamorous one, but it may be my biggest one yet.

5:00 a.m. Wake-up Call

I’ve never been a morning person, and that seems to get worse and worse with each passing day. I’ve tried and failed several times to wake up earlier in the morning to get things done, whether those things are running, housework, reading, writing, or whatever, nothing seems to work. After a week, or even just a day, of getting up at 5:00 a.m., I begin to hit that snooze button again. Then I give up, and it’s back to 6:45 for me. Well, to be perfectly honest…it’s back to an initial 6:30 alarm followed by resetting my alarm for 6:45 before getting out of bed.

It all sounds so familiar:

  • I’ve told myself I can’t do it.
  • I’ve tried several times to overcome it and failed.
  • It’s something I really want to do because I know it will make a big, positive change in my life.

These are all ingredients to the success pie I’ve enjoyed for almost 10 years.

missing me

So I’m definitely going to do it. I’m committing, recommitting, to get this done. To become a morning runner. There are those who do and those who don’t, and I’m going to be one who does. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m greatly looking forward to the benefits!

  • Increased energy and focus at work.
  • More time to do things after work.
  • Less traffic.

Or as I read in a recent book on motivation by Doug Hay at Rock Creek Runner:

Imagine a time when your schedule is completely clear.

Where your phone isn’t ringing, no one expects you at work, and your kids don’t need a thing.

Sounds like paradise, right?

It’s called the early morning. When everyone else is in bed.
Doug Hay

The Plan

Ain’t nothing no good without a plan. In the past, I’ve tried to ease myself into waking up early, and it didn’t work for long. One thing or another would derail me. This time, I’m going to tear off the bandage. Cold turkey may be the key to success. So, my plan is basically no plan. Just do it. Don’t overthink it. Be it!

Want to join me?

If anyone wants to join me for a nice morning run virtually or in reality, let me know! I may not be much of a conversationalist, but I’ll enjoy the company!

Goals check in.

banner
Right after I ran a marathon last October, I set a few goals for myself. It doesn’t count to set goals if you don’t review and assess, right? Well, I’m going to get all vulnerable and review.

I set three goals:
1. Lose 20 pounds.
2. Run a 20-minute 5k.
3. Go vegan.

I didn’t really say what my deadline was for achieving these goals, but I’ve always planned on having them all checked off by the end of the year.

Here’s how I’m doing:

1. Lose 20 pounds.
When I set this goal, I weighed 207 pounds. I had stopped running and working out regularly following my October marathon and gained some weight. This wasn’t a surprise. There’s a lot of fluctuation of weight anyway, but especially when coming off an intense training period. I hadn’t weighed over 200 since I dropped below it two years ago, so I was really interested in getting rid of that extra luggage.

Have I lost 20 pounds? Not yet! It’s difficult, and probably not safe, to try to lose weight while training for an ultra, so this goal was not a priority. That being said, getting back into consistent training (and running four 100+-mile months) did burn away some fat. As of today, I’ve lost 13 pounds from that top 207 weight. I’m getting close! Currently I plan to have lost at least that initial 20 pounds (weigh 187) by the time I start training again in late July.

Status: Underway

2. Run a 20-minute 5k.
I set my current 5k PR in 2013 at 24:36 (7:55 pace). I need to cut 4:36 off my 5k race to reach my goal. Since I set that PR, I didn’t come near it again until a few weeks ago when I ran the Laufenfest 5k in Haubstadt. I managed to pull out a 25:07 race (8:06 pace). I was pretty pleased with this, since it’s the closest I’ve come to my PR in two years. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my Garmin turned on to track my run, so I don’t know what my splits are. This information would be really helpful to see where I might have slowed down slightly and where I could open up to try to cut some time. Oh well. Next time!

I also have not been training for speed. The ultra training I just went through was not focused on speed, but on distance. To me that makes my 25:07 race really encouraging. If I do some speed training, I hope to be able to nail that 20-minute 5k by the end of the year. It’s an aggressive goal, to be sure. But I’ve never been one to set easily obtainable goals.

Status: Underway

3. Go vegan.
Ah, sweet success! Going vegan has not been nearly as difficult as I thought. Really there were only a few things that we needed to change in order to make this happen. Namely, no eggs, no cheese, different mayo, and a few things like that. It really hasn’t been that difficult. Most days, I’m not hungry all the time. On the flip side, there are days, and there always have been days, when I can’t stop eating. Those are always interesting days when I just grab a tortilla, put whatever I can find in it, throw some Frank’s RedHot sauce on there, and get busy. While not very glamorous, peanut butter, banana, Frank’s, and a tortilla sometimes is just really the best thing in the world.

Status: Super duper did.