Wednesday, January 30, 2013

50 Marathons in 50 States

I forget exactly when I decided to run a marathon in all 50 states. I would like to say that I came up with it all on my own, but it was probably when I read about the phenomena (and its associate clubs) in Runner’s World. Like deciding to do my first marathon the idea grew on me fairly quickly once the seed was planted. I like variety and exploring and the marathon was a natural vehicle to justify both. It’s a big enough race that you invest enough time into that you can justify traveling.

So far I have completed 12 states. I also ran a marathon during my deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan but, fortunately, those are not US states (although sometimes I’m not sure if our congress is any more functional). At the moment I try to do about two races a year. There are some folks who have the time and money to do over a race a month. I respect these people, but this is not my style (or budget). I like to do each marathon with full effort and preparation.

The one drawback to this project is that I do not have the time or money to do unnecessary marathons. Even if I find an amazing marathon, it is doubtful that I will get back to it anytime soon. So far this has not bothered me. I respect my friends who are on their 3rd or even 13th Boston Marathon, but the same part of me that loves trying a new beer also loves trying a new area.

I have not gone to a bad one yet, although some have been more fun than others. I primarily rely on the reviews in to make sure I find good races. So far my top 3 favorites have been:

1.       The Boston Marathon – You cannot beat the history of this race or the crowd support. It is also amazingly well run – they’ve have had over a century to work out the kinks. And I will never forget being able to hear Wellesley College from over a half-mile away.
2.       The Bataan Memorial Death March – I am glad I got to do this while there are still surviving members of the march. The day before the race my wife and I got to hear one of the survivors tell his story. It really put my race-day discomfort in perspective. This was good because there was a lot of it. At mile 6 I realized that my good time so far was because I had a 25 mph wind at my back. For the next 7 miles as I went uphill, I ran into the wind. Everyone should do this challenging course while they can still see some of these people who fought during one of the most desperate moments in US history.

3.       MDI Marathon – This was my first marathon. It is run during the fall on Mount Desert Island (home of Acadia National Park) in Maine. The leaves are at their peak and you have some beautiful stretches running along the rocky coast.

Other honorable mentions so far: Ogeden Marathon (Utah), Missoula Marathon (Montana). Next up is the Rockin’ K Marathon in Kanopolis, Kansas. Never heard of it? Never been there? Neither have I, and that’s what I love about this project.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Making peace with treadmills

While I will always prefer running on trails outside, I have come to appreciate treadmill running in certain situations. At the moment I find two main advantages to running on a treadmill:

1. form-work
2. shelter from the storm

I was recently forced into treadmill running again. I was on a business trip and I had to get ready for the day’s work early enough and work late enough that running with the sun on my back was not an option. My work schedule combined with the cold weather in the morning (11 °F) caused me to rethink my plan of driving to a nearby bike path network and use the treadmills at my hotel.

The funny thing was that I turned off the TV that was on the treadmill in the hotel’s workout room. It was not just because the news program was classic TV new dribble (I could really care less if BeyoncĂ© lip-synced the national anthem), but I realized that I have come to really enjoy the silence of running. I have also come to a separate peace with the boredom of treadmill running. At some point my thoughts grudgingly admitted to what I liked about treadmills.

I realized that a treadmill running is a great way to focus on my form. If I swing my arms wide they hit the side rails. Most often I am looking at a mirror or, in this case, the turned-off TV screen. I can see when I am hunched or my shoulder are scrunched. Since I am usually at some point in my run checking the time countdown every 15-20 seconds, this is a great time to see how close my stride frequency is to the magic 90 strides per minutes that they claim the best runners have – regardless of the distance raced. When I say 90 strides per minute, I count the left or right footstrikes in a minute (180 if you count both). This first time I found that I was around 80 to start. I found when I tried to go closer to 90 the running felt easier. While a lot of this is probably finding the result that I want to find, it is definitely something I plan to try next time I am on the treadmill.

Finally, a treadmill can be a necessary shelter from the storm (i.e. weather). In this case the treadmill saved me from running in an unfamiliar place in the dark and cold (or, more likely, not running at all). The other time in my life I turned to treadmills was when I was on base in Afghanistan. This base was not plowed. By February the roads were an icy, hard-packed snow. After one run in the cold were I took several falls I decided that my body would not take too many more runs in these conditions and went to the treadmill. I was blessed to be on  base with a gym and reasonably good power. The treadmill allowed me to maintain a base of running fitness until the base roads cleared with the spring.

While I still find treadmills monotonous and a poor substitute for even most cold, dark and / or rainy conditions, they do have a place when the weather crosses my thresholds (which I imagine will get lower with age and, someday, parenthood).

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Fast and the Flurry-ous

Fast and the Flurry-ous Cross Country 4.1 Miler
Sat. 19 Jan. 2013

One of the things I like about racing it that it keeps you honest. I can tell myself that I feel great in training, but a race give you a true assessment of where you are at. For my first race of 2013 and at 32, I chose the Fast and the Flurry-ous. The bottom line is that this is a well-run race and with a challenge course and stiff competition.

I chose this over some other attractive races in Denver (Snowman Stampede is a fun one that I’ve done in the past) because this one was 1.25 miles from my house. It also had the added attraction of being one of the races in the Boulder Track Club series. Even though I am not part of the development team, it is still fun to race with the guys that I train with.

This race is also fun because it’s an old-fashioned cross country race. I felt like I was back in high school as I toed to the line. The course is three laps on a grass course near the South Boulder Rec Center. The weather was unseasonably warm (high 30’s, I believe) and the course was virtually free of snow. I actually ran in a singlet in January.

In spite of these ideal conditions, I found the running on grass to be more challenging than expected. The uneven surfaces made in hard for me to get into a rhythm. I also went out too fast (5:29). However, I hung in for a 24:07 which made for 5:53 miles. 

I really liked the course. It has a good mix of hills and turns. The worst I could say about it was that the 2-mile mark was only about a kilometer past the 1-mile mark. Or I ran a world class mile.

The registration and sign-up was easy and well run. The results also posted pretty quickly. I would also give the race administration and logistics a solid score.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Denver Fly Fishing Show

Denver Merchandise Mart
Sun. 6 Jan. 2013

Justin, Greg and I went to the Denver Fly Fishing Show at the Denver Merchandise Mart. The show is the first weekend in January after New Year’s Day. It claims to be the largest fly fishing only expo. I love this expo for three things:

1.       Getting cheap flies for the spring: You can generally find $8-10/dozen flies and $2 for mouse and other large flies. While you can get similar prices online, at the fly expo you can at least inspect them to weed out the ones that just are not worth even 60-80 cents. This year I got stashes from the Front Range Anglers Fly Shop ($8/dozen) and the Crested Butte Angler ($10/dozen and $2 mouse flies, cash only).

2.       Buying rods, vests, and other equipment: The great thing about the fly expo is that you can cast everything on their two casting ponds (providing that a demo is not going on). But more than that you can try rods from five or six different fly shops. Justin got fine 7-weight streamer for $250. He had never heard of the brand but liked how it casted.

3.       Attending the talks and demos: This show has some of celebrities (at least among the high brow fly fishing community) – John Geirich, AK Best, Gary Borger. These were just the names I had heard of – I am sure there were many other great names that I walked right past.

The demos are great for learning new casting techniques. This year we saw Gary Borger give a talk on casting. It was both a lesson on the history of casting (we learned the inventor of every cast and when it was unveiled) and a great lesson on the basic casts. Even though I consider myself able to get a fly on the water I still learned some things.

The talks are great for hearing about great trips and fun adventures. We did not go to any of these talks this year (just not enough time). There are also fly tying demos, but last year I found these to be tedious to watch and did not attend any this year.

Going back next year we plan to give ourselves that whole day instead of getting there mid-day. However, we did prefer eating off-site. There are brews there though which are good for working up the courage to tell your wife about your purchases (although we felt we were very well behaved this year). I definitely intend to hit this one up again next year.