31 August 2008


It’s August 31st and I just finished something I haven’t done since I was 17. I didn’t miss a day of running this month. 31 days, 31 runs. Along the way a few other personal marks fell by the wayside. For those of you keeping score at home, I topped my previous biggest month by 30 miles. And squirreled inside that number was my new biggest week at 76 trombones in my little parade. I’m not so much proud as amused, absorbed, and most of all, analyzed. Some say I over analyze. But to me, the analysis is a powerful motivation tool.

The specific numbers are bug dust compared to many, and frankly rather meaningless to you, though to me they represent another small chapter – and big fuel – in postponing the inevitable decline to the dirt. I quote numbers not to show off, but to illustrate the analysis mindset.

As for the absolute distance part, who cares, really? These things are quite arbitrary. Wasn’t an inch based on three kernels of corn, or was it barley, or something like that? So what’s the significance of having run past 49,886,496 kernels of barley this month? (If you’re checking my math, that’s 262.45 miles * 5280 feet * 12 inches * 3 barleys. Unless, of course, you have genetically modified mega-barleys, in which case your results may vary. Follow all label directions.) OK, I hear you say, it’s all relative. And you’re right. We’ll get back to that.

Now, the running every day thing does transcend the arbitrary nature of units of measurement. The sun does rise and set every day, and that pretty much absolutely defines a unit of time, barring those days that you have to fly across many time zones or are hanging out in an arctic locale. So to get out there every day does mean something. Perhaps it says commitment. Or perhaps it’s just addiction, obsession, or mild derangement. To me, the fact that I managed to get out there every day is an accomplishment. It’s now been 51 days straight, big for me, though obviously nothing compared to the many Cal Ripkin Jr. types out there.

But, hold on a minute! What about those highly recommended rest days? Perhaps, you are thinking, I’m just stupid? I’d like to think that’s not the case, but you must be the judge. Truth be told, I’ve not taken a day off running in a while, but that’s not the same as not having taken a day off. Scattered in those 7+ weeks are plenty of easy jogs with friends and low mileage days. What defines rest? Not running at all? Does walking fast count? Or must I sit still all day? Even bed rest has its problems. Suffice to say that if the body says stop, I’ll stop. I think.

Back to the amused, absorbed, and analyzed part of all this. The amusement is obvious, as is the absorption, or I wouldn’t be writing this. The analysis part has everything to do with continued motivation and is my real topic today. Last time I wrote about needing to go beyond the base fitness level to stay engaged, interested, and motivated. For me, analysis is a big part of that process. What did I do today and how does that compare to what I did before? Does that give me incentive to push a little harder?

This can’t always be a game of more, more, more. There are physical limits, there are practical limits. I’m lucky to have the freedom to slip a run in between meetings, but I still have to earn a living. And at some point in this ride, I will top the biggest hill on the roller coaster of life and start the downward side. And that’s why God invented age groups. We can analyze on any time period. Today I generally analyze against my second running career. Five years from now, when the big five-oh arrives, if I’m still doing this, I’ll have an excuse to analyze against those years. It never has to end, really.

Now, what’s tickling me at present is that I’m edging up against some of those personal marks I set back in my first lap. There’s a real pleasure in knowing that at age 45 you can, at least in some ways, top your younger 17-year-old self in some physical endeavor. We cheered when Joan Benoit Samuelson ran the Olympic trials, and cheered more when she set an age group record. (Way to go, God, on that invention!) We cheered louder when 41-year-old Dara Torres not only competed in the trials, not only made the US swim team, but came home from Beijing with metal clanging around her neck. But more than cheering, we were motivated. Your second lap needn’t take second place. So when my second lap starts to edge closer to comparison with my first, it’s a big motivation.

I’ve got these golden memories of the first lap. In my mind, I trained 60-70 miles a week consistently. Every training run was below 6:30 pace. And so on, you get it. Certainly there were some gems. Once upon a time I popped in a 15K at 5:33 pace, and turned a mile close to 4:30. But besides the memories, I have something more useful – my old log book. A low-tech affair it was, but it is revealing. Those mileage totals? Fallacious. It happened a few times. All those fast runs? Most weren’t even timed, and those that were, not all that spectacular. My feet hurt a lot. And there’s that page those shows I put 1000 miles on a single pair of Nike Daybreaks. (Probably connected to the feet hurting.) The truth isn’t pretty sometimes.

But mixed into that history is what I actually did, and it’s interesting to compare now to then. This month’s 262 miles turns out to rank 2nd all time, topped only by 279 in January of 1980. The 76 mile week stacks up 3rd all time, and hey, I had time to do double workouts back then. I can’t turn a 5:33-pace 15K anymore (I can barely do that for one mile now!) but I didn’t burn marathons back then, so we’re even on that score. And as for the streak of 51 days? Well, that’s one first lap mark that probably won’t fall. Adult life has too many interruptions to match the 375 day streak of 1979-1980. (Which ended on the day my mentor/coach was getting married. It seemed a good way out of it. And, 28 years later, he’s still happily married. Way to go, Cliff!)

The lesson I’ve learned is that while some things can and must change, there’s no reason to think the best is behind you. Age brings a different motivation that can drive you to new highs, despite having more miles on the odometer. So generate some numbers and pay attention to them! And remember, mine are not here to impress you (nor, I hope, do they bore you). They’re here to inspire you to analyze yourself a little – or a lot. Just don’t become quite as obsessed as me.

27 August 2008

What Motivates Us?

My calves were screaming at me yesterday, and today they continued to yell at a reduced volume. Not the kind of screaming you usually think of from overexertion, that tight “I can’t move” and “Please God let there be a sturdy handrail on the staircase” scream, no that’s too normal. These were the jiggle screams, when your muscles are flopping around like elastic gone bad, so far gone they feel like they’re no longer under the control of your own nervous system. An alien has intercepted the neurotransmitters and is telling them to sway in the breeze, uncontrolled. Oh yeah, and they hurt.

What did I do to enjoy this unique experience? Just a little workout Sunday morning before church, a 24-miler. That’s nothing to my ultra-marathoning friends (including blog host Chris, and racing companion Ron, both currently planning to abuse themselves in this fall’s Vermont 50), but to me it was in fact my longest training run to date, having not yet “trained the distance” for any of my seven marathons. Even many of my running companions find this sort of escapade utterly ridiculous, and all of my non-running friends attach far more strenuous terms.

Normally a 20-miler doesn’t really bother me. This time, I knew it would hurt plenty, because I hurt going into it. But the calendar wouldn’t let me take the sane path and not do this. Those infamous calves were already rebelling Friday and Saturday, before the long one. I’m not sure if they didn’t like the all-out gravity-fest screaming down the trails at the Lynn Woods Relays last Wednesday, or the tight-radius sprints around the bases at that epitome of American athletic events, the Company Softball Game on Thursday (where, by the way, I have to tell you that I batted something like close to .900 without ever really hitting the ball – a skill I simply don’t possess – just because I could haul butt down to first – see, running does come in handy!). In any event, I went into Sunday’s 5-town odyssey already a strike and a half down, and gutted it out including three nasty climbs in the last 3 miles. It hurt. Yup, there’s agony in them there hills ‘round here, there’s a reason we call our local club the Highland City Striders.

Why, oh why, do we do this to ourselves?

I had a doctor for about 20 years who loved to diagnose problems and apply lots of pharmaceuticals. Now, I’m not opposed to better living through chemistry by any means, in fact, I’m enjoying a good dose of anti-inflammatory meds right now and am a strong proponent of Runners’ Vitamin I (ibuprofen) in industrial doses, but this guy didn’t really notice that I went from zero to marathon and maybe, just maybe, it was time to adjust and /or eliminate some of these fine potions. What he did do, however, was to actually berate me for running too much. Yes, this fine practitioner of the medical arts, who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty, given the choice between a 40-something couch potato patient gathering scum in his arteries or a slightly obsessed patient willing to trade a few musculoskeletal ailments for actually doing something to live longer, scowled at me that the human body wasn’t designed to run marathons.

Needless to say, I got a new doctor. The old one made it easy by moving away. Thanks. New doc has sliced meds, sliced meds, and sliced meds again, and agrees obsession beats death.

Yes, 3 doses of aerobic exercise of 20-30 minutes duration per week will move you out of the Official American Couch Potato classification and into the Official American Physically Active zone. I don’t berate that. For many, that’s a worthy goal. But for me, I can’t stop there. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this right. I’d simply never stick to it at 20-30 minutes, 3 times a week. Yawn.

So, fall marathon season approaches. Funny how we think, isn’t it? For many, fall is football season, hunting season, soccer season, whatever, but for we the slightly obsessed, the onset of cooler weather means it’s humanly possible to run marathons again. (Yes, I know they did it in Beijing in the heat, but I said humanly possible, and let’s face it, they don’t really qualify, do they?) Ah, fall marathon season. What to do?

I had a dreamlike spring, running my first two sub-3-hour marathons at Boston and Buffalo. One of these days I’ll post my stories from those and other races – by the way, I love Buffalo! With those under my belt, I’m easily qualified for Boston and could cruise through the fall on 5Ks and after-race cheeseburger and beer fests. But we’re not like that, are we? If we can, we will.
But I hemmed, and I hawed, shall I go back to Bay State, my local favorite? Or something interesting like Mount Desert Island? Oh, I’ll decide later…but marathon prep times sneak up on you! You’re not thinking October in August.

Family needs dictate a trip back to Sweet Home Upstate New York this fall, so I figured, why not get some new scenery in the process? At sis’s suggestion, I’ve decided to run her hometown race (no, she doesn’t run, but…), the Wineglass Marathon, from Bath to Corning NY. And then reality kicked in: Holy Cow, it’s the first weekend of October, that’s barely over a month out! And I really hadn’t started putting in the long ones. So a week back I sandwiched in an 18 and a 21, and this Sunday, knowing that next weekend is our local Laborious Labor Day Ten Miler which will preclude absurdly long training runs, I hammered out the 24. And just to press the point home, tonight was speed night for the Striders. Pile in on, deeper and thicker. Ouch, good pain.

Take that, calves.

So, let’s see… 20-30 minutes, 3 times a week. Or respond to that siren call, “It’s fall! It’s fall, run a marathon!” which means counting weekends, fitting in crazy long stuff even when you’re hurting because with racing schedules, limited training time, taper-down time, well, it’s just got to happen this weekend.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Easy. 20-30 minutes, 3 times a week? Boring.

22 August 2008

Into the Woods!

Wednesday night witnessed the latest chapter of a New England tradition, the Lynn Woods Relays, not surprisingly held in the Lynn Woods Reservation, which is, also not surprisingly, in Lynn, Massachusetts. Now, I’ve only been at this game for three years in this, my Second Lap (I do promise and/or threaten to pepper in stories of my first lap as a spry teen), and as such I’m only learning about these classic events. So I can’t wax poetically or otherwise about this venerated tradition. All I know is that they’ve been doing this for a long time, and what I learned Wednesday night is that it’s a kickin’ fun event.

Diversion! I’ll get back to that in a minute. This brings up the topic of your local friendly running club. (They’re all friendly, I promise, because all runners are friendly. Every last one of them. Except when they’re not.) If you’re not a member of a local running club, fix that. Join one. If I wasn’t active in my local running club, I wouldn’t have known about this event. I wouldn’t have had the benefit of the club teaming up to register, organize teams, and plod through God-awful traffic together to get there, the ‘being together’ part making the ‘God-awful’ part not only bearable but even fun. I wouldn’t have had the kid-like glee of showing up for a team event in real live team uniforms. Admit it, win or lose, team stuff is fun.

And while you’re at it, don’t just join your local running club, help make it fly. Over the summer we’ve taken our club, the Highland City Striders, from a casual group to a real-live non-profit corporation, RRCA affiliated, insured, oh-fish-ee-all and ready to show our faces to the public. Life is a series of new adventures, and admittedly it was a slightly frightening one when I clicked the button on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts web site creating a corporation with myself listed as a corporate officer. Yikes! Maybe a scant bit more oh-fish-ee-all than comfortable, but like anything else, if you don’t push your comfort zone, well, you’re a runner, you get it. So now we’ve got this real live entity, we’re getting publicity, and we’re having fun!

Back to the Woods: And so we fielded three teams, one open, one women, and my Old Fart masters team (pictured below, that's Ace Old Farts Dom, Dan, and Ken) amongst the 75 teams who took to the gravel, ruts, rocks, water bars, and other obstacles of the 2.5 mile relay course. It defies logic to think that a start / finish / exchange zone in a park gate not much more than one car width wide would suffice for an event this big, but it not only works but provides a great little zone where competing runners meet, chat, and enjoy while awaiting their teammates’ arrival. The tight quarters actually added to the fun of the evening.

The course itself is mostly fire roads with a short trail section, and while there are only a couple of turns, at least two runners managed to get lost, which gave purpose to a nice warm-down jog doubling as a rescue mission. Our lost friend later reported passing through Gettysburg and chasing stray sheep, but came out unscathed. Funny thing about this, of course, is that just last week I ran and duly reported on another trail race where the leader lost his way. Ironically, before the race we asked about the course and monitors at the turns and were told, “You’re all adults, you’ll figure it out.” OK, most of us did. Did I mention jogging the course ahead of time last week?

In the end some über-humans from Worcester’s Central Mass Striders whomped us for the masters’ crown by a mind-blowing margin of nearly ten minutes (remember, this was only a ten mile race!), setting a new masters record along the way. We of course believe they are really all 14-year-old Chinese girls with altered passports, but the IOC would hear nothing of it, so we shut up and happily took our second-place medals off to the pub for hydration and nutrition.

Random Entirely Unconnected Topic: For as horrible as Massachusetts drivers are supposed to be, I find them incredibly hospitable to runners. On this morning’s run (which, by the way, started out at a 6.1 on the Creaky & Crusty scale with the 48-hour burn kicking in from having used muscles long ignored while climbing those trails Wednesday, but I digress) I had one of those “cranking it, nearing the top of the hill and – crap! – the light is turning red!” moments. Being slightly obsessed, I really don’t like to stop, I’m big on inertial. But it wasn’t looking good, the cross traffic was already moving. Yet, I tell you, people are either genuinely good at heart or maybe it’s simply pity, look at that poor confused soul who doesn’t seem to understand the function of a car! Oh, so sad! But truly, if they see me, they really do all stop (except, oddly, school buses, which rarely do). I always offer the friendly wave in return. Then, of course, they go back to cutting each other off, offering each other the driving finger salute, and all the other tricks required to maintain their good standing as true Massachusetts drivers.

20 August 2008

It’s August and I’m Still Alive

I think about that every year around this time. Chris Russell (who hosts the "home" version of this blog) chose a unique name for his web site, “Run, Run, Live.” Might have been a philosophy, might have been what was available at the web domain registrar. Whatever. For me it rings true. Fact is, had I not run, I most likely wouldn’t be alive. Don’t run, don’t live.

It’s August of ‘81, I’ve just graduated high school, the world is at my feet (running pun? perhaps.). I’ve been running since my freshman year in high school. I was a geek, a skinny and fairly short geek at that. No coordination, hopeless at “normal” sports. But I could run, and run I did. So now I’ve finally gained a little respect in the cruel world of high school, I’m in top shape, and I’m having the time of my life before the college grind arrives.

I get the flu. In the summer? I feel like crap for a couple days, then I’m better. It’s Thursday morning, I remember. I decide to skip work again and sleep it off one more day. I drop back into bed, tired but in pretty good shape. Two hours later I’ll be almost dead.

Within an hour mom rushes me to the doctor who I hear through my fog directing us to the hospital with the command, “Don’t stop at red lights!” As I’m wheeled into the hospital I manage to crack that I must be pretty sick because they didn’t ask for any paperwork. Spinal tap. Later I’m told they hurt like hell. Don’t care. Out.

Near midnight I emerge from the coma. I’ve survived a very nasty bout of bacterial spinal meningitis, which is still nasty today but at the time carried some absurd mortality rate. I’m honored to learn that my family and friends are on meds, my co-workers are on watch, and the county health department is on alert. Wow, what a commotion, all for little ‘ol me! More important (and, you say, get to the point, this IS a running blog, isn’t it?), the doctors tell me that had I not been in terrific shape from all that running, I would be dead. Run, run, live. Touché, Chris, you nailed it.

Of course, I didn’t really learn my lesson. Full recuperation took close to a year. By then, life got in the way. My logs from those days speak of frustrated attempts to get back to my running, but it never happened in a serious way. Twenty years passed. Forty pounds accumulated, even though I’m small, fit, and active. Still, it happens. Three years ago my legs weren’t feeling so good. I made that big mistake (or was it?) of Googling “tingling in legs”. Don’t Google any symptom greater than a pulled muscle, it’ll just scare the pants off you. And it did. It came back and said, “Congestive heart failure.” Well, I doubt that was for real, but Holy Crap! I’ve got to do something!

So in March of ’05 I picked up a pair of shoes from the discount rack at the Big Warehouse Store and began to revisit my youth. And that’s what I meant in my introduction (previous post) about being in my second running career.

18 August 2008

Just Get Out There, This Week’s Edition

How often do we procrastinate over getting out the door? But how often do we regret it once we finally do get out the door? I can guess your answers, because they’re they same as mine. Often, and almost never.

This past Thursday was one of those days. There was a small 5K slated in the evening a couple towns over, the Officer Chuck Martin Memorial in Clinton. Unfortunately, none of my local running club buddies were up for it. Those wackos wanted to do hills instead. The twisted priorities of runners’ minds… I vacillated till the last moment. A dozen more peeks at the online weather map monitoring the thousands of thunderstorms we’ve had this summer (Live by it!). Oh, what the heck. I’ll go it solo.

The race is put on by the Central Mass Striders, who in my experience put on a good race for a reasonable price, and it helps that as a group of people, I just plain like them (which is pretty easy to say about most runners). About three quarters of the Chuck Martin is run on trails along or near the Wachusett Reservoir. Very nice course, but like any trail course, even one this simple, you’d better know where you’re going.

Which brings up a pet peeve. I’m not real fast, but I am a little faster than the average mid-packer. In a big race, I’m in the pack. But in a small local race, I know there’s a decent chance I’ll land in the top few. Not much chance of winning, but up there enough that there is sometimes no pack to follow. The best marked course can be confusing when you’re breathing hard enough to bend gravity with your air intake and your contact lenses are jostled well out of focus. All I want in life is a course map that I can study beforehand. How many races don’t provide these? CMS, I love ya’, but post a map (for that matter, same goes for my own club!). But wisdom trumps brute. Lacking that map, I jog the course beforehand.

Out the start there’s a half-dozen of us cruising Route 110 for the first quarter mile till a youngster turns on the up burners and makes it a race. I settle into 5th till we’re climbing up the Wachusett levees, where I pick one off. The first mile is quick for me, I’m feeling good, and PR is in my head. At one and a quarter I pick off #4 on a short hill, putting on a burst while passing to make my point, “I don’t want to hear from you again, you got it?” Now in 3rd, I accept my fate. The youngster is in the next county, #2 is also in another league, and I know he’s a master. So much for the master’s crown, I’ll push for the PR. All this strategizing and we haven’t hit the halfway of a 5K yet!

Why is it that a marathon passes so quickly but a 5K takes forever? I’m not really cut out for speed. Maintaining that pace joggles the head. Dodging the walkers, who were given a 20-minute head start, adds color to the adventure. Even having jogged the course beforehand, I’m still a little confused. Maybe it’s me. Maybe not.

Finally back on the paved road, four tenths to the finish, an onlooker shouts, “Solid second, nobody behind you!”. Huh? Was I that confused that I couldn’t count places? Drive to the finish, grab the ticket, sure enough, second. How’d that happen? Wisdom over brute. The youngster in first didn’t jog the course and missed a turn. He rambles in 5th or 6th or so. Too bad for him.

Wisdom rules, masters sweep 1-2-3. It’s a day for us old farts (I love this sport!). My time is a few seconds off my PR, but my good friend Google Earth hints that the course was a bit long, which makes me think of it as a PR. More importantly, CMS and the Martin family threw a pizza party that couldn’t be beat. Especially because it was indoors. Because yes, it rained again. All in all, a fine fun evening.

And to think, I vacillated.

Signing On!

A friend of mine in the running world, Chris Russell, who writes for http://www.coolrunning.com/, has a book to his name (The Mid-Packer's Lament), and is otherwise generally moderately famous in small circles, graciously offered me blog space on his web site, http://www.runrunlive.com/ for some periodic rants and ramblings, and so The Second Lap is born. As for why this came about and how I met Chris, that’s a good story and I’ll save it for later. For now, I open with my greetings to the thousands, or hundreds, or the dozen or so who regularly follow Chris’s blogs. Perhaps I can boost his readership to 14.

I’m a 45-year old guy in my second running career. I’ll explain that in a future entry. But that’s the origin of the name, The Second Lap. I started writing on running after being asked to tell the story of my first marathon way too many times – so I wrote it down. Hey Mikey! They liked it! Thus followed another, and another…and so those post-marathon tomes are now taking a bold new leap into the blogosphere.

I live in Central Massachusetts, and I’m married with a team of two lovely daughters, both with that runner build, which is as much my wife’s fault as mine. In real life I work for a technology company as a sales engineer. Or maybe in real life I run, and that work part is just an illusion. Hard to say. If you’d like the 30-minute condensed version of who I am, or at least what’s in my head, check out Episode 8 of Chris’ podcasts on his web site.

Blogging as a social phenomenon is an interesting topic. Everyone’s got something to say, but can I be so presumptuous as to think you want to spend your time and read it? Of course! Allow me to be presumptuous, just for a moment. [ Moment ] Fine, now that that’s past, I’ve got to entertain you or you won’t bother. I've split this initial entry into two chunks: this introduction and today's real blog, making the sum total a bit lengthy. Future editions should be a little tighter.

Aw, who am I kidding? I'm verbose, that's life. But I hope I can be entertaining for you.