Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Running for the joy of running

This is one of my favorite times of year to run. While I always love running, it’s this time of year that I feel like I can run for the joy of running and am free of worrying about training for a particular race. Training comes on January 1. For now, I run for no other reason than the joy of covering distances in and around the Chagrin River valley and in areas near and far.

Embrace the abominable snowman deep within you!

There’s something very special about cold-weather running. When I wake up at 4:40 a.m. every day of the work week, I get into my cold-weather gear and go downstairs to check the temperature. This morning the thermometer read 20 degrees. I check the weather for myself when I let our dog, Sophie, out, making sure I’m dressing just right for the conditions. Then I down a cup of coffee and water and usually a slice of toast and put on my running jacket, hat, mittens/gloves, GPS watch, knee wrap, lights, Road ID, and other stuff before heading out the door. The first mile or so I’m usually pretty stiff and going slow. But then I loosen up and my pace increases. If it’s really cold, breathing can hurt. Sometimes my nose will go numb and my hands will get a little frigid. But there’s something so invigorating about running in the cold. I’m sure it’s the same way with cross-country skiing—an activity that I want to take up sooner or later.

A lot of people avoid the cold at all costs, staying indoors for basically the entire winter and working out in a gym unless they’re just hibernating. They’re missing out! So long as you have the right gear, running or walking outside during the winter months can be great fun. Just make sure you don’t wear cotton and don’t overdress! And if it’s icy or snowy, break out some YakTrax (which function like crampons) and burn up the road or trail! Be sure to wear a light so motorists can see you.


This week will mark my seventh consecutive week at 70+ miles as I remain in a low/moderate-mileage "holding pattern." I've found that 70 miles per week is just right for keeping in good shape and just on the threshold of very good but not excellent shape (excellent shape comes at 90 miles per week and championship shape at 100+ per week). I feel really good right now. My legs are strong and, except for some minor patella femoral pain in my left knee, all injuries from the North Coast 24-Hour are healed. My knee wrap keeps the problem at bay and eventually it'll go away. My leg turnover is back to normal. I'm strong on the trails again and have some extra kick I haven't had in a while. This past weekend I covered 13 miles on Saturday and 18.5 miles Sunday and it was easy. I'm just where I want to be.

The plan is still for me to implement some quality starting on January 1. For January, I’m going to hold the weekly mileage steady at about 70-75 and introduce tempo running and some intervals—mostly all on my treadmill as the roads this time of year (and for the next 3-4 months) are usually too icy to go really fast—as in 6:00-6:15 pace. In the spirit of what I wrote above, I’ll still do the vast majority of my running outside because that’s where it’s most enjoyable. Every month between now and June I’m going to add 10 miles per week as I build up to spring and summer races. So that would come out to 70s in January, 80s in February, 90s in March, racing in April as I plan to run the Boston Marathon, 100-110 in May, and still 100-110 in June when I plan to run the Mohican 100. I think that’s a good plan.


In my last post I feel like I didn’t adequately express how I look back on the North Coast 24-Hour, which was held on Oct. 3-4 here in Cleveland and served as the USATF 24-hour national championship. I think I came across as saying my result at the race was a disappointment and nothing more.

Me at my lowest point during the North Coast 24.

Yes, I was unhappy with the result (130.67 miles and ninth overall) and yes, I believe I underachieved that day. I think I left at least 5 and as many as 10 miles on the course and had a faulty approach to the race, focusing too much on my 100-mile split and too little on a strategy encompassing the entire 24 hours. I think in many respects I ran the first 100-110 miles by myself. After that, I was spent and really dug deep (as you can see in the photo), inspired by all the family members, fellow runners, co-workers, and other friends who were supporting me—to the tune of $2,500—in my efforts to raise money for Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

When things got the worst for me, I thought about the kids and families at Rainbow who were going through a much more difficult time than I was enduring on the North Coast 24 course. I could step off the course and quit at any time. The kids and families at Rainbow had no such option. So I ran and did my best, and in the process I managed to use a selfish endeavor (running) to do some good in the world. The North Coast 24 was an incredible experience—one I will never forget. Every year I’m going to make an effort to support a children’s charity through my running. Running can’t be about me—it needs to also be about helping others.

All in!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

End-of-year plans and random thoughts

I'm now working on my fifth consecutive week of 70-plus miles. My leg turnover has returned. I'm able to power up the hills in the Chagrin Valley--hills that were kicking my ass in the days and weeks following the North Coast 24-Hour Endurance Run on Oct. 3-4. I haven't felt even a hint of discomfort in my once-ailing foot. Except for some minor aches in my hamstrings (what else is new?), I'm feeling mighty good and am primed for a big 2010.

So far, 2010 will include the Boston Marathon (already registered) in April and the Mohican Trail 100-Mile Run (comped) in June. I'm planning to run either the Buckeye Trail 50K (already registered) in mid-July or the Burning River 100 later that month. The 2010 BR100 will host the USATF 100-mile national championships and if I'm healthy from Mohican I'd like to join in on the action. Nothing stokes me more than a 100-miler.

Between now and then, I'm just going to enjoy running and train as hard as I can. For the rest of 2009--only about three more weeks--I'm avoiding anything really fast and am instead just training at about 7:15-7:45 pace. I did 21.4 miles a few Sundays ago and it was easy. I did 17.5 miles last Sunday and it felt like 5 miles. Time off from speed is really paying dividends. I feel very strong.

I'm also doing some cross-training and am continuing with my core strengthening. Every Monday I cycle on my indoor trainer for about 35 minutes and feel a nice burn in my lower quads--historically a weak spot for me that I plan to address this winter. Right now I'm not running at all on Mondays and thus on Tuesdays when I go for my first run of the week (my weeks are Monday-Sunday) I feel fresh as a daisy. I'll resume running seven days a week and will start upping the mileage come January 1 when my training for the Boston Marathon starts in ernest.

In terms of running, I think right now--as I log 70 miles a week and am enjoying a little extra leisure time that would otherwise be spent on a second run of the day--I'm exactly where I need to be. The goal is to be strong, fresh and well-rested by January 1, and then start amping it up to get ready for Boston. I may add a super-easy week somewhere between now and New Year's Day just for added effect.

One thing I've learned over the past few years is that what you're doing now will play a major role in what you do this summer. I'm emphasizing the enjoyment of running and not pushing myself too hard while still logging decent mileage and attempting to eat well.

The plan for Boston is simple--and it revolves around tempo runs and hills. No one approach works for everyone. For me, I've found that tempo running is critical. I'll be cranking out weekly tempo runs on my treadmill, unless Mother Nature allows me to go fast outdoors. I'm also going to do intervals but my treadmill maxes out at only 6:00/mile so going really fast will not be possible. I may try to get to an indoor track or club treadmill a few times to crank out 5:35s. We'll see. The plan revolves around tempo running and hills of the uphill and downhill varieties.

The hills will help me in Boston--and also at Mohican. Many may not know this, but Chagrin Falls is an amazing place to run and become a great hill runner. Everywhere you turn there's a long hill. I used to do zig-zags from Chagrin River Road up to Som Center Road/91 via the very hilly Jackson and Miles roads and will start doing that again soon.

I'd like to run a 2:55 or better at Boston.


Looking back on 2009, here's how I see the year:

Best race
Mohican 100--taking the lead at mile 86, not stopping at the mile-95 aid station and ultimately winning the race by 22 minutes.

Most surprising result
17:39 at the Aurora 5K. I was in much better shape than I'd thought.

Most fun race
This is tough, but I'd have to say the Lt. JC Stone 50K. This race was planned and executed flawlessly and I really enjoyed the whole experience.

Most frustrating race
Cleveland Marathon. I never got in a rythym and the wind really took a toll on me. I didn't have much in the bank when I crossed in 2:59:02.

Biggest disappointment
130.67 miles at the North Coast 24-Hour. I left at least 5 and maybe as many as 10 miles on that course. I had a meltdown in the early-morning hours of Sunday and was finally able to regroup after covering only about 2-3 miles in one hour.

Most rewarding race
Through the North Coast 24-Hour, I raced over $2,500 for University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital to support its child-life programs. Rainbow cares for every child who enters its doors; no child is turned away. When the going really got rough at the NC24, I thought about all the kids and parents at Rainbow for whom I was running...and I found a way to keep going.

Single-best moment
Crossing the Mohican 100 finish line with my arms raised.

Single-worst moment
The last 7 hours of the North Coast 24-Hour were hell. I went to places in my soul I've never gone before--and hope never to revisit. I'm not sure when my next 24-hour will be, but at least I'll know what's coming.

All in.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Edge

I recently watched Michael Jordan's hall of fame induction speech. It was pretty powerful and hard-hitting, though a bit raw. Jordan is the greatest, most dominant athlete I've ever seen in my life. He could jump like no one else, drive to the inside and dunk over you and, later in his career, pull up from almost anywhere and drain a three. And could he ever play defense. He was the closest thing to the perfect basketball player that you'll ever find.

Jordan's greatness was about his competitiveness, mental toughness and work ethic as much as his God-given physical skills and talent. He was so competitive and tough that when the game was on the line he wanted the ball--and it seemed everytime he sunk the winning basket and broke the hearts of many rooting for the other team. With him on the team, the Chicago Bulls won six consecutive NBA championships during the nineties (they didn't win during his brief retirement). Through it all, Jordan practiced harder than anyone--the first to show up and the last to leave. He also played harder than anyone, nearly throwing away his career over gambling and a misguided and thankfully brief foray into baseball.

As a man of decent but by no means great athletic ability, I don't look much to the immortals like Michael Jordan for inspiration because it's hard for me to relate to them. But I do draw from what made him great--competitive energy and a tireless work ethic. That said, Larry Bird honestly inspires me more than almost any other athlete--the fictional character Rocky notwithstanding. Bird played his heart out and talked some trash in the process. He had the sweetest jump shot there ever was. He played defense like a crazed Rottweiler, chasing you everywhere and trying to tear you to pieces. He never gave up. He was always angling for the upper hand. He ran down the court harder than the other players. Guys probably hated playing against Bird because he worked them harder than anyone (until Jordan came along). He was the ultimate plugger.

I try to run like Bird played basketball. I run with my heart, and I run hard. I'm not nearly as good at running as Bird was at basketball, but Bird had a mental edge that inspires me. I may not be elite fast--I never will be--my VO2 max might not be otherworldly (though I've never had it measured), and I might have only a limited number of fast-twitch fibers, but what I do have is intense focus and the will to work hard and then harder.

It wasn't always that way. When I was kid, I was timid, weak and anything but competitive. When I ran cross-country, I didn't run hard. I just ran without really caring much about where I finished, how fast I went and who I beat.

Things changed when I left cross-country behind and went out for the varsity football team, wanting to be like my big brother who was an excellent football player. There was this senior on our team who was a bully and really piled on the younger players like me. He took cheap shots at us and was really just a bad guy. He ridiculed a lot of the young players--including me--and no one stood up to him. Not even the seniors. This only empowered him to be more aggressive.

One day in practice I was at linebacker and he was on the offensive line. I was still learning so much about the game and the contact aspect intimidated me. Oklahoma drills had been nearly terrifying for me. He'd been doing his usual that day--hammering on the young guys like me and taunting us as well. I took it without really fighting back--as I'd always done. Finally, after he put a few nasty licks on me, I just got pissed off--not sure what exactly sent me over the edge--and went after him on the next play. I didn't knock him on his ass, but I sure hit him hard enough to send the message that I wasn't his victim. I wasn't anyone else's victim, either. I went hard from that day forward.

Things began to change after that day. I'm not sure why. Sometimes it's hard--I think--for those who knew me then as a weak, timid kid to recognize who I am today. I go hard, push myself and am always looking to go to the next level in exploring the limits of my endurance. I want to win and eventually go to the outer rim of what I can do. Sometimes this drive is misguided and hard to understand.

I wonder how many people out there have something deep within them that has never found its way into their being. How many people have gone through life without that trigger event that brought out their best and made them go for it all? It is for this reason that I want to continue focusing on ways I can help inspire people to run, achieve their goals and take on new challenges. Just as that bully found out that day, sometimes a raging fire can emerge from a weak flame in the blink of an eye.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Back in the saddle again! / Training week 11/9-11/15

I'm back in the saddle again! I'm back! I'm back in the saddle again! I'm back!

Sorry, but although I'm not a huge Aerosmith fan, I do love that song--and the lyrics pretty closely fit how I'm feeling right now. For the first time since the North Coast 24 on Oct. 3-4, I'm healthy and feeling pretty good. My heel is much better and I can run pain-free. My left knee is close to perfect. I battled influenza the week before last but am pretty well over that, too. Life is good.

For the week of Nov. 9-15, I covered 70 miles--the most miles I've run in one week since the 24-hour. It was great hitting 70 miles after weeks of struggling with heel bursitis and a series of aches and pains along with a case of influenza. At this time of year, I like to hold my weekly mileage to about 70-75 as I see this as my optimal maintenance level. I still have no plans for racing in 2009 and will instead focus on staying healthy, enjoying the holidays, running for the joy of running and getting ready for an awesome 2010 highlighted by the Boston Marathon and the Mohican Trail 100-Mile Run!


Meb Keflezighi winning the ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 1 with a time of 2:09:15--a personal best for one of America's all-time distance running greats.

In my last post, I failed to mention that something truly special happened in New York City on Nov. 1. The great American distance runner Mebrahtom "Meb" Keflezighi, 34, won the ING New York City Marathon with a scorching time of 2:09:15, becoming the first American since Alberto Salazar in 1982 to break the tape in the Big Apple's big race.

Anne and I watched the two-hour marathon special on NBC that Sunday, aired a few hours after the actual event concluded. Although we knew by that time that Meb had won for the men and Ethiopia's Derartu Tulu, 37, for the women with a 2:29:52, it was still quite exciting to watch as they fought off some strong competition. Tulu, with her forward-leaning form and ridiculous running resume, overtook world record-holder and defending ING champion Paula Radcliffe and never really looked back. Watching Tulu in action, it's hard not to really like her.

Meb's victory was/is amazing on several levels. First of all, he beat a very deep field that included Robert Cheruiyot, Ryan Hall, defending champion Marilson Gomes dos Santos, and many others. Second, Meb missed a lot of 2008 with a broken hip--a year in which he also lost one of his closest friends, Ryan Shay, at the US Olympic Marathon Trials in New York's Central Park. And third, I think a lot of people (myself included) mistakenly figured that Meb's best years were behind him. Wrong on that third count!

Given the magnitude of Meb's achievement, it's simply amazing that more wasn't made of his victory--and of the fact that six Americans finished in the top-10 at New York. US distance running is making a comeback! And yet so few people heard about what Meb and his fellow Americans did that day.

One friend I spoke with said Meb isn't really American since he was born in Africa--and so why should Americans really feel proud? Nonsense! Yes, Meb was born in Eritrea, but he came up through the American distance running system (attended San Diego High School and then UCLA, where he won basically everything), won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Marathon for the US, and very much showed his love of country when he crossed the New York City Marathon finish line wearing a USA singlet and draping himself in the flag. He became a naturalized citizen in 1998. He is as American as apple pie and I think Americans should be very proud that one of our countrymen--a real class act in an age of classless acts--won a race no American had won in 26 years. Go Meb!


Elite marathoners like Meb are amazing athletes. A lot of people might say elite distance runners aren't necessarily great athletes--just great runners. I couldn't disagree more. Elite distance runners--especially those at the marathon level--possess extraordinary natural abilities few have. They improve on their natural abilities through carefully-planned training to ensure that they peak at race time. During training peaks, I cover 100+ miles per week, run intervals around the track and blow down the roads at tempo pace and I'll never, ever approach what the elites like Meb do. Why? Because they have off-the-charts natural athletic abilities and I have only a limited amount of talent.

The distance-running elites have:
  • Tons of natural speed. Otherwise how else could they average sub-5:00 miles over 26.2 miles.
  • Ridiculous VO2 max. Running at such speeds over long distances, they need tons of oxygen, requiring VO2 maxes that very few people could ever achieve regardless of what they did for training.
  • Strength/endurance. It's hard to see strength in those skinny marathoners but--trust me--they have plenty of it. Their muscles have to be strong, resilient and loaded with endurance to support sub-5:00 pace over 26.2 miles. Most people who would try to run a sub-5:00 mile would burn out after maybe 100 or so yards. The elites can do that over 26.2 miles--just as Meb did at New York!
  • Perfect bio-mechanics. Most of the great distance runners have near-perfect bio-mechanics, meaning they can run with maximum efficiency. Everything from their foot work to their arm work functions in such a way that they use energy in the most efficient manner possible. Virtually no energy is wasted.
You can improve in each of these areas through hard work--I know I have. But I also know that, regardless of how hard I work, I'll never run a 2:09 marathon or even come close to it. It is for this reason that I really am in awe of elites like Meb. What they do is so amazing and so special that I believe in my heart and in my mind that not only are they great athletes--they're among the best athletes alive today.

All in!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Injury update / what's next

The last time I posted I was "wracked with injuries." My left knee and Achilles were killing me, and I had a sore right arch. As the saying goes, time heals all wounds. In my case, time is in the process of healing my wounds. My knee is about 90 percent and my arch pain is long-gone. My left heel, however, has presented many problems and is only now getting better.

Last week I saw my sports medicine specialist, Dr. Susannah Briskin, at University Hospitals, where I am proud to work. I had tried to "run through" and treat the heel pain, which I had self-diagnosed as Achilles tendonitis, but eventually I realized that nothing I did was working. The pain got worse and worse and there were times when I felt the tendon was going to come apart. I cut back my mileage to about 40 per week, avoided hills and even took a few days off here and there. The situation got so bad that I turned to Dr. Briskin.

Armed with x-rays and having examined my heel, Dr. Briskin diagnosed me with heel bursitis--good news, all things considered. My Achilles, she said, was very sound and really all I had was inflammation of the bursae sack between the tendon and heel bone. She gave me some temporary heel lifts, told me to continue with the RICE method (rest, ice, compression and elevation), prescribed dexamethasone (an anti-inflammatory), and told me to see Gordon in the UH physical therapy department. Gordon would administer the dexamethasone through a process called iontophoresis.

I saw Gordon this morning and received my first dose of the dexamethasone, a cortisoid. This will help reduce the inflammation and promote healing. The good news is that, going into the appointment with Gordon, I was already feeling better and am now hoping the dexamethasone will deliver the knockout punch to the lingering inflammation. I will see Gordon a few more times for additional doses of the dexamethasone.

This heel bursitis has been a real saga--similar to but not as bad as the knee injury I dealt with after the 2008 Mohican 100. The only difference was that after Mohican I had resolved to return to the 2009 race and do bigger and better things (which I did with my win); whereas now I'm pretty certain that I won't be doing any more 24-hour loop races for a long, long time. I think few good things are going to happen when you run a .9-mile loop 145-plus times. You run a huge risk of major overuse injuries. Maybe when I'm in my 50s I'll look at another 24-hour, but for now I'll stick to distance-based races up to the 100-miler.


This brings me to my newly revised 2010 racing schedule, which I'm still developing. Yesterday, I registered for the 2010 Boston Marathon, which will be run on April 19. I ran Boston in 2006 and 2007 and took 2008 and 2009 off. I missed Boston both years and am excited to return in 2010.

When I last ran Boston, I was a 50-mile-per-week runner who didn't do a whole lot of speedwork or tempo runs. Today, I'm very different. I often hit triple digits in my weekly mileage and am a disciple of speedwork, tempo runs and hill training. With all of that said, my goal for the 2010 Boston Marathon will be to set a new marathon PR (current PR is 2:58) and, if I get in the right training and am healthy, go south of 2:55. I believe that with strong, well conditioned legs and good aerobic capacity, Boston is a PR course. My Boston training will begin in earnest on January 1. Between now and then, I'm going to cover 60-70 miles per week and continue cross-training on the indoor bicycle trainer that Tim C. loaned me (it's excellent and puts my bike to good use!). Better to go into my Boston training fresh than worn down.

After Boston, I'll recover for a week or two and then transition into my Mohican Trail 100-Mile Run training. I'll have a solid base from Boston training (80-90-mile weeks with lots of quality) and will look to ramp up the mileage big time in May and early June to prepare for the 23,000 feet of climb and descent that Mohican mercilessly throws at you.

Along the way, I may run in the Youngstown Half Marathon in early March and potentially the Lt. JC Stone 50K in Pittsburgh also in March. I will not be running the Forget the PR Mohican 50K, which happens on Boston Marathon weekend, and will instead go to Mohican on a Friday in May or early June (day off from work) for an all-day training run on specific areas of the course.


Gordon asked me what drives me in my running. I didn't have a good answer, and it was a fair question. What drives any ultrarunner to do such distances as 100-plus miles? It could be any number of things. All I can say is that it's who I am. I love to run, compete with my legs and mind and heart, and battle the trails. I also love marathoning, but when passion comes into play we're talking about running 100 miles on hilly trails in wooded areas. One day maybe it'll be trails in canyons and mountains.

All in.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wracked by injuries

The biggest lesson I've learned from the North Coast 24-Hour Endurance Run/USA 24-hour national championship is this: running for 24 hours on pavement is very hard on the body.

To date, I have lost three toenails. I had to pull all three off with tweezers. The first of the three was very painful. The skin underneath was blood red. But they had to come off and, now that they're off, my toes can begin to heal. I've also pulled some large amounts of dead skin off my feet. I guess this is just part of the recovery process.

I have three injuries that I'm dealing with (ice, elevation, arnica, etc.)--three! They are:

1) Inflamed cartilage under my left knee cap--similar to what I came down with during the 2008 Mohican 100 but not nearly as bad. My knee's seen some gradual improvement in the last few days but still isn't "there." The strange thing is that it doesn't hurt when I run--it only hurts only when I'm walking. I'm using my Pro-Tec wrap during runs and it's working.

2) Sore right arch. I didn't pay my sore right arch much attention at first but eventually it got pretty painful on my runs. It's improved slightly and I think the worst is behind me.

3) The worst of my injuries--Achilles tendonitis in my left foot. Awful. I think it's just now beginning to get better though it's still pretty uncomfortable. The swelling is down considerably--a good sign, I'm sure. But this is without question the worst case of Achilles tendonitis I've ever had. I've found that running in my stability shoes, with raised heels, helps. My lower-profile neutral-cushion shoes are too uncomfortable for the time being.

None of these injuries manifested during the 24-hour. They all hit me when I resumed running (very easy pace) the Thursday after the race. I took three full days off from running after the 24, came back very gradually and still came down with injuries! Fortunately, the bone ache I had went away. No muscle injuries, either.

Despite my injuries, I'm easy pace. I ran 25 miles the week coming back from the 24-hour and this past week (Oct. 12-18) ran 59 miles. My Achilles tendonitis was without question the biggest issue of the week. If it doesn't see considerable improvement in the coming week, I will consider a shut-down. An inflamed Achilles is nothing to play around with. If it ruptures I can kiss 2010 goodbye.


I think it's safe to say that my 2009 racing season is over--as it should be. Looking back on 2009, I think this was a great year and I ran in some awesome races. Without question my win at the Mohican Trail 100-Mile Run was the big achievement of 2009 and, frankly, my entire running life to date. Nothing comes close. What made--and still makes--my Mohican 100 win so special is that I wanted to win in 2008, and then returned in 2009 looking for the victory and got it. For 18 months winning Mohican was the singular focus of my running life.

I'm still trying to figure out the North Coast 24. I'm not happy with the result. I should have covered more than 130.67 miles and finished better than ninth overall even as the field was very strong. I should have hit at least 135 miles and gotten close to 140. I went out a little too fast and, judging by what the race did to my feet, not having shoes that were a half-size larger really hurt me. I obsessed too much over my 100-mile split (which turned out being 17:02) and too little over covering the entire distance over the full 24 hours. I was mentally unprepared for what came after hitting 100 miles. Those last seven hours were the toughest seven hours I've ever had as a runner, and I've had some tough times like at the 2008 Mohican when I was hit with a blown-up knee and massive GI issues during the final 20 miles and dropped from 2nd overall to 4th overall, barely finishing with a 19:22.

Next to the Mohican 100, my most enjoyable race was the Lt. JC Stone 50K, a road race around North Park in the Pittsburgh area--the former site of the GNC Ultras. Despite a nasty virus that really took a tool on my respiratory capacity, I managed a 3:46 and 5th overall finish and really enjoyed the whole experience. I plan to return to the Lt. JC Stone in March of 2010 and will look to go sub 3:40 provided I'm healthy. That was one excellent race experience.

I don't know all of the specifics of my 2010 calendar except that I do know I'm returning to the Mohican 100 to defend. I plan to take my training to a new level and improve on my time. A 19:52 in the weather we had in 2009--80s, high humidity and very muddy--wasn't bad, but I really want to go much lower.

Of course, between now and then I have to get healthy!

All in.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

North Coast 24-Hour race report (still evolving)

Writer's note: This race report will continue to be updated in the coming days.

It’s hard for me to write a thorough race report on the North Coast 24-Hour Endurance Run (Oct. 3-4), because I’m still processing the entire experience. Also, I’m just not mentally 100% yet. My mind is a little foggy right now. But I'm a writer and so I'll write what's on my mind, regardless of how murky things still seem.

Standing at the start with ultrarunning giants around me: Scott Jurek (yellow shirt, white visor); Connie Gardner (white shirt); David James (black and red singlet), who led the first 119 miles of the race, reaching 100 miles in under 13 hours; ultrarunning legend Ray Krolewicz (gray shirt), who has more than 80 wins on his resume; Phil McCarthy (gray shirt) next to Ray; and fellow SERC members and ultra studs Mark Godale (yellow singlet, black visor) and Tim Clement (blue and black jacket and skull cap).

Over the 24 hours, I covered 130.67 miles--145 laps--finishing 7th among men and 9th overall out of a talented, deep field of about 110. My goal was 135 miles and a top-3 finish among American men to make the US 24-hour team. That may have been a bit too ambitious for a first-timer, but ambition is nothing new to me.

I reached the 100-mile mark right around 17 hours—an hour behind my goal pace. This was at about 2:00 in the morning. After the 100th mile, I downed a Red Bull and flew around the course for a few laps, before hitting the wall and really suffering for the remaining six hours despite another Red Bull. It was in those six hours that the story of this race resides. I covered those last six hours for the patients and families of Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, who I was running to support through my Run for Rainbow at the NC24 (more on that below).

Pretty early in the race. Photo by Mark Shelton.

First, the background. The North Coast 24 served as the 24-hour national championship. The race was run on a .9-mile paved loop path (10 feet wide) in scenic Edgewater Park in Cleveland, starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday and ending--you guessed it--on Sunday at 9 a.m. To the north and northwest, runners had a spectacular view of Lake Erie, a totally under-rated feature of Cleveland. To the east, a view of downtown Cleveland graced the eyes. To the south, you could see the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway and hear the sounds of cars zipping by. Occasionally, you heard a train. In almost every regard, Edgewater Park was a perfect venue for a 24-hour race--almost entirely flat and fast and scenic, too.

(My suspicion is that those who came to the race from other cities and states were surprised by what they saw of Cleveland. Like many out-of-towners I've encountered, they probably looked around and thought to themselves, "This is nothing like I expected!" Cleveland is so badly misunderstood and stupidly ridiculed and if people just came here and looked around they'd see that this is a beautiful area with so much to offer in the way of recreation, outdoor fun, etc. We have a world-class parks and recreation system with hundreds of miles of *connected* trails running through beautiful natural areas. The general perception of Cleveland is based not on reality, but rather on ignorance. This is no "mistake on the lake"!)

The weather was forecast to be pretty adverse—winds south/southwest at 19 miles per, rain, and temperatures dipping into the high 40s. This was a recipe for hypothermia. So on Friday I bought a Gore-Tex running hat and waterproof running jacket—all for $135. Of course, the weather experts were wrong. It didn’t rain a drop, though the wind was pretty fierce for much of the race. I’m sure the waterproof hat and jacket will come in handy some other time…. For most of the race just a few thin layers and shorts were enough.

This being a national championship event with money and membership on the US 24-hour team on the line, the race attracted many of the top ultrarunners in the nation. Before the race, I looked around and saw the likes of Scott Jurek, Akos Konya, David James, Jill Perry, John Geesler (48-hour American record holder), and others, as well Clevelanders Mark Godale (24-hour American record holder), Tim Clement (previous 100-mile and 100K national champion), Connie Gardner (national champion many times), and Debra Horn (all elites), and it was readily apparent that this event brought some serious talent. Ray Krolewicz, a legendary ultrarunner with 80something wins on his resume, was also there. Ray is a damn-good guy and a constant source of encouragement--just what you'd expect from a South Carolinian (I was born in SC). Everyone on the course was friendly.

I set up my bags at fellow Southeast Running Club member Tim Clement’s tent, which was about 200 meters from the start/finish line and directly across from Mark Godale’s tent (Mark is also a SERC member) and Scott Jurek’s tent. This was a great location, and I owe a huge thanks to Tim and his wife, Lisa, for letting me set up shop at their tent. Not bringing my own tent and having a crew were big mistakes. As I would learn, you can’t compete in a 24-hour without the help of others. Anne couldn’t be there for the entire event because she was with Noah (though they visited twice and couldn’t stay long because it was too cold and windy for Noah), and our extended family was tied up over the weekend and unable to help crew and look after Noah. So I was out there on my own.

There isn’t much to report on my first 100 miles, except to say that I listened to my iPod the whole way, enjoyed some small-talk with other runners, and really found peace in the scenery. I didn’t struggle too much during these 100 miles, except for a bad patch from miles 20-30. I really hit my stride at around mile 40 and for the most part stayed in a groove. I hit the marathon in 3:30 and the 50-mile mark in 7:27. As previously mentioned, 100 miles came around 17 hours.

After 105 miles, things got kind of ugly. Check out that crowd support, though! Photo by John McCarroll.

Around mile 105 things got ugly. It was at this point that I was very fortunate to have an expert crew member in Steve Godale, who had been crewing for his brother Mark and was now crewing for me as Mark had dropped from the race after coming up short on his hard-fought bid for the 100K team. Steve is a very experienced, accomplished runner, having completed many 100-mile races and a few 24-hours events with some impressive wins on his resume. So he knew what he was doing in crewing me and I knew full-well that I could trust him. His goal was simply to keep me going. He told me to tell him what I needed and he’d have it for me. Do not do anything but run, he kept saying.

With 105 miles down, it was now about 2:45 in the morning and my legs and feet were killing me. It was dark and many runners were resting in their tents while a few dozen of us remained on the course. It was quiet. Few were talking. I couldn’t come to grips with the fact that I had a little over 6 more hours to go. This seemed like a lifetime. My spirit was flagging. In times like these, you need a plan. And so I adopted a 10-minute run/3-minute walk program, hoping to get to 7 a.m., when I’d just walk the rest of the way. Ultimately, I made it only a few hours with the 10/3 program before I had a meltdown at about 6 a.m., changing into my Teva sandals because my feet hurt so badly and running a lap with them to Steve’s horror. Big mistake--Tevas aren’t meant for running. When I came back around, I changed into another pair of socks and shoes and put on a jacket to warm up and resumed running. I decided to get back to my 10/3 program and, somehow, I regrouped and re-focused on trying to get to 130 miles. Call it the grace of God. Steve was happy to see me back together.

A game of survival. This photo was taken near the end of the race. Photo by John McCarroll.

The last few hours were a game of survival. I believe that I probed the depths of my soul. I went places in my mind and soul I've never been. Never in my life have I been so stripped down, so exhausted, so beaten up. I couldn’t process much or make sense of much. All I could do was keep my legs moving—and barely. I wanted to reach 130 miles and kept trying to crunch the numbers in my head to see if I'd get there. But my mind was so shot that crunching numbers was a waste of precious mental energy. So I just ran when I could and walked when I needed to recover enough to run again.

When finally I realized that I had 130 miles in the bag, I began walking. Right then Kam Lee, a remarkable runner from the Southeast Running Club who I'm proud to call a friend, came up to me, offering encouragement and telling me to run it in. He was right--I should run it in. So I ran with him next to me, crossing the lap line one final time with only a minute or two to spare. I was now past 130 miles and decided to just walk until the horn sounded.

When the horn finally sounded, I was only about 100 feet from my bags and dropped the little wooden chip with my number on it that they handed me a while back. This chip would be how they'd measure the distance of my final lap. I sprawled out on the grass next to the course, basically wiped out. The dew was soaking through my shirt and felt good. Anne and Noah and our good friends Ted and Tami were there and they helped me back to my feet with Mike Keller, who'd also covered the 24 hours, assisting even though he too must have been exhausted and spent. We then walked over to my bags and got things packed up. I remember very little beyond that point, except that when we got home I showered and then went to sleep for a few hours. I remember very little of the car ride home. Anne said I slept most of the way.

Thanks and Gratitude
Along the way many, many people supported me. I owe a huge thanks to my wife, Anne, and our son, Noah, for their inspiration. I ran my best when they were there. Thanks to my family for their encouragement. With about an hour to go, my dad text-messaged me the following: “Go! Go!” My brother text-messaged me: “I’m very proud of you.” That says it all. Thanks to Steve Godale for stepping in to crew me when I needed help and to Tim Clement, fifth-place finisher with an amazingly strong 134 miles, and his family for their support. Thanks to Ted and Tami Friedman for the many, many ways they helped, including coming out to cheer me on and literally helping get me home with Anne and Noah. Thanks to all the members of the Southeast Running Club for their moral support, especially Mark Godale and Kam Lee. Kam ran with me the last few hundred yards when all I wanted to do was walk. Thanks to Marilyn McGrath and the Children’s Miracle Network team at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital team for their support. And, most of all, thanks to everyone--family, fellow runners/friends, co-workers, and others--who contributed to my Run for Rainbow, helping me raise what will be over $2,000 for the hospital. This money will go to Rainbow to support the hospital’s child-life programs.

I also want to give major props to race director Dan Horvath, co-organizer Joe Jurczyk, Connie Gardner, Jim Chaney (master timer) and many others who helped make the North Coast 24 a world-class event. I don’t think it’s possible to have put on a better 24-hour race. Once again Cleveland has shown that we know how to put on big-time races and execute the details flawlessly.

Congratulations to Phil McCarthy (151.5 miles) and Jill Perry (136.3 miles) for their wins. Phil and Jill were awesome. Jill in particular made an impression on me--her speed late in the race was crazy. Congratulations also to 81-year-old Leo Lightner (82.7 miles) of Cleveland for setting a new 24-hour record for his age group. David James, who won the 2009 Umstead 100 in record time (as did Jill Perry), lit up the course for the first 100 miles, displaying extraordinary speed and strength for such a distance. Congrats to him for running what may end up being the fastest 100 miles of 2009. Congrats also to my friend and fellow SERC member Tim Clement for his awesome fifth-place finish with 134.2 miles. To describe Tim as tough would be an understatement. I am tough as a result of exposure to guys like Tim, Mark Godale, and others who are tougher than I am. It’s a case of those who are great making you better.

Lessons learned
I learned many lessons at the NC24. Chief among them:
  • Next time I will have a crew the entire time and I will bring my own aid. The race did a great job with aid, but in a 24-hour race you need the exact foods that are going to work for you and then you can use the race aid as a complement to what you've brought.

  • I will also have a pair of shoes that are at least a half size larger. Your feet swell a great deal and you need larger shoes to accommodate this swelling—or you’re going to develop wicked blisters as I now have. I'm going to lose at least two toenails.

  • I will start my next 24-hour race in compression socks, which help stabilize your calves and promote circulation. It took me four minutes to change into my OxySox about 40 miles into the race.

  • Loop courses aren't bad at all. Going into the NC24, my biggest concern was mentally coping with the fact that I had to run a .9-mile loop for 24 hours. Turns out this wasn't a big deal at all. I never got sick of the course and the repetition never got to me. The biggest challenges were the time and distance involved--not the course itself.
What Hurts More: A 100-Mile Trail Race or 24-Hour Road Race?
Imagine two war zones. One is a war zone involving guns and maybe a few grenades. A lot of stuff is shot up and mangled badly--the result of lots of bullets and grenade blasts. The other war zone involves nuclear weapons. There's not much to see because it's almost completely bleak. The war zone with the guns and grenades is the 100-mile trail race; the war zone with the nukes is the 24-hour road race.

Right now I feel like I was nuked. I’m dealing with some serious bone ache in my legs and feet. Surprisingly, I have very little muscle soreness, which I've always had after 100s. This bone ache is a clear warning that I must not come back too soon. And so I’m likely done with racing for the rest of 2009--a tough decision.

Having said that, I look to do some crazy stuff in 2010! I'm going to gun for a fast time at the Lt. JC Stone 50K, a road race in Pittsburgh I did this past March, and may return to Boston in April. I'm leaning toward a return to the 2010 Mohican Trail 100, where I will defend after winning the Mohican this past June. The Western States 100 can wait. And, with a crew for the entire 24 hours, continued good training and a little luck, I believe that I can reach 140 miles in my next 24-hour bid…likely the 2010 North Coast 24.

My new motto: All in!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

North Coast 24 countdown--only days away

The North Coast 24-Hour Endurance Run is now just three days away. Over the past week, a number of elite ultrarunners, including the legendary Scott Jurek, have entered the 24.

When people ask me about this race, I tell them it's like playing in a golf tournament with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, etc. Outside of the Northeast Ohio ultrarunning scene, I'm a relative no-name up against some of the biggest stars in the sport. Once again, I'm an underdog--status that I love to have because it allows me to dig deep. In the face of such talent, I remain firmly committed to my goals:

1) Finish
2) Make the US 24-hour team (requires top-3 finish among Americans and 135 miles)
3) Contend

Based on what I've read, what I've heard from others, and what I myself have come to realize, the key to success in the 24 is running my own race, according to what I do best, and not getting sucked into what others are doing. My focus will be on possessing mental and physical strength and resolve in the latter hours of the race, when so many will be struggling. This was the story of the Mohican Trail 100-Mile Run. I exercised patience, made my move at the right time and right moment when the leader took a wrong turn, and closed the deal, finishing first overall by more than 20 minutes. Even that late in the race, I was intense, locked in and aggressive--just what I hope to be in the last few hours of the North Coast 24.


Last week was my first week of tapering. I ran about 55 miles. This week I'm doing some light running and walking and will basically shut down on Thursday and Friday. On Monday and Tuesday mornings before dawn, I ran a 2/3-mile loop in my neighborhood eight times. It was cold, rainy and, in the case of Monday, windy--great practice for the 24. As of today, the forecast for Saturday is 59/49 with a 40% chance of rain--not so good. On Sunday, we're looking at 57/49 and mostly sunny--good. Proper apparel will be crucial.


This will probably be my last post before the North Coast 24, so I want to make my final call for support of my fundraising efforts for Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital. Thanks to support of family and friends, I'm now likely to exceed $2,000 in contributions (provided all of my commitments come through). If you have contributed to my run, thank you! If you have not yet contributed and would like to, please e-mail me and I'll tell you how to make your (tax-deductible) gift--which is an easy process.

Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A week of Duck running / Training week 9/14-9/20

The week of Sept. 14-20 saw a well-deserved change of scenery as Anne, Noah and I spent five nights in Duck, North Carolina, vacationing in a beautiful ocean-front home with family. My family vacationed twice in Duck when I was a kid. We're talking almost 25 years ago. Needless to say, while much in Duck and the Outer Banks area has changed over the years, it is still a beautiful vacation spot.

Driving down to Duck (a 12-hour jaunt with a DC stopover at the home of my old college pal, Don, and his family), all I could think about was how my body needed the cold ocean water and my mind needed a change of scenery. Maybe the cool water would help repair some minor aches and pains and restore my muscles to 100 percent. Maybe the time away with my family would reinvigorate me mentally. The morning we left I went on an 11-mile run and felt--well--terrible. Yes, I needed this vacation. I needed that cold ocean water and beautiful scenery for some good therapy and family time.

A word on my DC stopover. I stayed at Don's house in Bristow, Virginia, a nice (but busy) residential area on the outskirts of our nation's capital. It was great reconnecting with Don and visiting with his family. Don is training for the JFK 50-Mile in November, and so it made sense for us to go on a run on Sunday morning before we a) went to IHOP for a send-off breakfast and b) headed to the beach. So Don and I went to the Bull Run battleground and ran a little over 10 miles along some beautiful and historic countryside with statues, monuments and markers galore. The sun beat down on us as we chatted away and had a nice time. As a historian by education (master's degree in history), I could practically feel the ghosts of first and second Bull Run hovering around us. This was some run.

Now for Duck. I'll keep this focused on running as I'm sure you couldn't care less about our vacation details. The water was cool--a good thing--while the waves were rough--a good and bad thing. I rode some nice waves on my body board, creating lots of fun. But some of those same waves beat the hell out of me. I took a few nice licks, including a vicious lick that left my right hamstring tendon a little sore. No worries--it's better now. The important thing is that Noah had a nice first-ever vacation and that it was in Duck, North Carolina, a beautiful place. It took me two days to fully unwind and I think I still may be unwound--a good thing, of course.

I managed some solid mileage while in Duck, completing anywhere from 10-15.3 miles per day. The Outer Banks is a very narrow straight of land, meaning there are few running options. Most of my runs were along a paved path on State Road 12 (the main drag), with a few diversions into some neighborhoods and two very scenic beach runs. I couldn't find any dirt trails, and I would have run along the beach more if only the footing were a little firmer. With the North Coast 24-Hour Endurance Run only a few weeks away, there was no need to risk injury, so I stayed on the road most of the time.

Oh, and I ate entirely too many chips. Chips are my weakness.

We returned to Cleveland on Saturday. I wasn't able to run a step on Saturday due to all the travel. But I made up for it on Sunday, running 26.2 miles--22 at 7:28 pace in Solon with the Southeast Running Club and 4.2 later that day on my treadmill. I ran the last 3 miles in Solon with Tim C., who is also doing the NC24 and looks awfully strong. Not a bad day, or a bad way to officially end my training and transition into the two-week taper. I completed 93.7 miles for the week.


My North Coast 24 training has gone fairly well. I've stayed very focused and held the line at anywhere from 90-100 miles per week, with some nice quality sprinkled in. My track work has been decent and my tempo runs have really impacted my leg turnover. I've had two decent tune-up races--a 1:03:23 at the hot, humid Perfect 10 Miler and a 17:39 at the Aurora Labor Day Classic 5K. These past few weekends have presented many time challenges that prevented me from going on long runs. I adjusted by breaking up my runs, maybe completing 10 in the morning and 6-8 or so that night. Not ideal, but it's mileage. Sunday's 26.2 miles was most needed.

With the taper now on, my focus is on actually preparing for race day. I need to make sure I have the right clothing, gear and aid on hand. It looks like I'll be wearing a Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital tee-shirt during parts of the race as I'll be running to raise money for the hospital. If you haven't yet contributed to my Run for Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, please do so by e-mailing me for details. The patients and families of Rainbow need your support!

The North Coast 24 is going to be the biggest ultrarunning challenge I've taken on. We're talking about 24 hours of running on a one-loop paved loop. I've considered lots of strategies. A few years ago Kevin Setnes completed 160 miles at the now-defunct Olander Park 24-Hour deploying a 25-minute run/5-minute walk strategy. There are many other strategies that are well and good. For me, I think the best strategy is just to run a smart race and stay focused on my own race and not what others are doing. In a race of this distance, lots can happen.


Now for some philosophy as it relates to the North Coast 24. If you didn't know any better, you'd think life in the 21st century is about having material things--a BMW or Lexus, a $200 pair of jeans, a McMansion, the latest iPhone, etc.--and achieving optimal comfort. Many runners think they have to have a $150 pair of shoes and the latest gear to achieve their goal. Many think you can do less and achieve more. This is often the message of certain popular running magazines.

What ultrarunning has taught me is that I get out of it what I put into it. There is no faking it in a 100-mile or 24-hour race. You have to have paid your dues. Ultrarunning has also taught me that I can live and run on far less than I previously thought. All I really need is my soul and a well-trained mind and body--not $150 shoes. It's taught me that comfort is over-rated. When you boil it all down, that's what ultrarunning is about--a spiritual challenge. If your mind and spirit are weak, you will crumble when your body surrenders.


With my taper now on, the goal this week is 55-60 miles with a few intervals at the track and a few miles at marathon pace.

Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In the home stretch of my 24-hour training / Training week 9/7-9/13

I am now in the home stretch of my training for the North Coast 24-Hour Endurance Run on Oct. 3-4. The NC24 is hosting the American Ultrarunning Association 24-hour national championship. It has already attracted some big names and will likely draw even more talent in the coming few weeks.

My approach to training for the NC24 was to build optimal endurance and leg turnover. All along the thinking has been to develop enough endurance to go for 24 hours and to take advantage of good leg turnover in achieving my goal mileage. That, plus a little strategy! So far, so good.

For the week, I ran 92.1 miles with an excellent hill repeat workout on Tuesday. I just sailed up Chagrin Boulevard each time, feeling great the whole way. On Thursday, I headed to the track, where I completed five one-mile repeats at 5:54, 5:49, 5:53, 5:55 and 5:58 with 400-meter recoveries. This was an awesome workout as I felt very strong and light on my feet. Saturday saw a 17.2-mile trail run in South Chagrin Reservation and on Sunday morning I ran 12 miles in Wheeling, WV, where we were visiting with family. I absolutely attacked the (huge and long) hill up to my old high school in Wheeling Park, recovering on the flatter stretches before going hard up the next hill. If you saw this hill, which is over two miles long with some steep climbs, you'd know what I mean when I say this was an aggressive workout. Later that day I ran again.

While I'd have liked to get in another 100-mile week, this was a good week overall despite travel cutting into my available time to run. In the face of a very busy September with lots of travel involved, I'm trying not to judge my training on what I'm doing each week from Monday to Sunday, but rather what I'm doing in the last seven days. Weeks are arbitrary--seven-day time periods seem to be a better judge of your output. So today is Wednesday and in the last seven days I've run about 97 miles. Not bad.


If you've made a commitment to support my Run for Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital at the North Coast 24, thank you! If you haven't yet made a commitment, please consider making a contribution today. Your gift will go right to work for the patients and families of Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, which is a not-for-profit children's hospital in Cleveland that provides excellent care regardless of a family's ability to pay for services. Your donation will be tax-deductible and you'll get a tax receipt from the hospital. Please e-mail me and I'll tell you how to get your donation to me.


Although it's technically not part of the week of Sept. 7-13, I do want to quickly chime in about the Aurora Labor Day Classic 5K on Sept. 7. This was an excellent race for me, and it doesn't hurt that it's run around the very beautiful Sunny Lake in Aurora and features absolutely spectacular pancakes afterward. Going into the 5K, I knew it would be hard to better my 5K PR of 17:45, set at last year's Aurora Labor Day Classic 5K. But I nonetheless gave the race my all and set a new PR of 17:40, which is 5:41 pace and got me 4th overall behind Mark Godale (1st overall, 17:17) and Steve Godale (2nd overall, 17:20). I'm thrilled by my result, and I'm glad Anne and Noah could be there to cheer me on.


My goal this week is 90-100 miles with good efforts on the hills, at the track and in my tempo run. Then--and this is hard to believe--I begin my gradual taper for the North Coast 24.

Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The great Yiannis Kouros on what it means to be an ultrarunner

This extended excerpt is from a very captivating 60-minute video on Yiannis Kouros, "Yiannis Kouros: Forever Running," that you can purchase on If you are a dedicated ultrarunner, this video is well worth your time and the $20 it costs.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New legs? / Training week 8/24/-8/30

I'm beginning to think that with running, like golf, you never quite figure everything out. There are always new tricks to learn, new techniques to try and new strategies to test. Sometimes you come back to an old way of doing things and find out that it works better than anything you've done since.

This describes my new outlook on tempo runs. Tempo runs used to be a cornerstone of my training, until I replaced them this spring with hill repeats to get ready for the punishing hills of the Mohican Trail 100-Mile Run. I've always known of the benefits of tempo runs, but I felt that as an ultra runner hill repeats, along with intervals at the track, would be more beneficial. I didn't see a way to incorporate tempo runs into my weekly schedule especially as it's important to have easy-run days. Something had to give, and it wasn't going to be the track, hills or long runs.

Not long after the Perfect 10 Miler on August 16, I noticed something different in my running (but not until after my strained hamstring quickly healed). I was running with more power, strength and efficiency. The 10 miles at 6:15 pace must have triggered something, I thought. So I decided to incorporate some tempo running into my Sunday long runs to see what happened. For the past two Sundays, I've done a few warm-up miles before transitioning into 6 miles at tempo pace (6:00-6:20), followed by additional miles at normal long-run pace. Sure enough, I feel like my legs have been infused with new strength and power. I feel great. My turnover is excellent. So tempo runs are now part of my Sunday repertoire for the time being.

When the day comes that I go after a sub-2:50 marathon, tempo runs will take on even greater importance.


For the week of August 24-30, I covered 101 miles with some good performances on the hills, at the track (3x1600 at around 5:40 pace), on the trails at the very muddy South Chagrin Reservation and in my Sunday tempo/long run. This was my second consecutive 100-mile week. Toward the end of the week, I developed some "discomfort" in my knee cap--"runner's knee," which I'm susceptible to as we learned at the 2008 Mohican 100--and resorted to ice therapy and my trusty Pro-Tec patellar tendon knee wrap to stabilize the area. It worked! The inflammation quickly subsided and my knee is feeling great. I will definitely rely on my knee wraps at the North Coast 24!

On Sunday, Anne had a horse show, where she was champion of her division(!), and so I ran long on my treadmill while Noah slept upstairs (and Anne was at her show). I was going to take Noah out in the baby jogger after my tempo run, but the temperature was in the 50s and rain was blowing in. I've missed going to Solon these past two Sundays, but I'm glad Anne could get in two great shows. I'll be back in Solon soon.

On Friday afternoon, I met Zach Lewis of the Cleveland Plain Dealer at Edgewater Park, where the North Coast 24-Hour Endurance Run will be held on October 3-4. Zach is also running in the NC24 and he and I met for an interview that he had requested. Although I've seen Edgewater Park before, this was my first time on the North Coast 24 course. Zach and I ran six laps before the sky opened up big time with rain. (It took me over 2 hours to get home--the weather was that bad.)

What were my observations of the North Coast 24 course? The first thing I noticed when I pulled into the Edgewater Park parking lot was how exposed the course is. There are very few trees. If it's a hot day, runners are going to have to endure without a whole lot of shade. I also noticed how flat the course is--flat as a pancake except for one minuscule "hill" on the lake side. Parking is ample--a plus on race day with crew members, families, and others coming and going. Once Zach and I began running, I noticed the stiff breeze coming off Lake Erie. This could have been from the nasty front blowing in, or maybe the park is just a breezy place. If there's a breeze on race day, what a challenge it'll be after a while.

Although the lake is quite a site, enduring 24 hours of Edgewater Park isn't going to be easy. I'm sure many friendships will be forged on the course that day. Without the entertainment of ever-changing scenery, as you'd find in a 100-mile trail race (or even a marathon!), I plan to talk to as many folks as I can, and then when things get intense I'll put on my iPod and retreat into myself. I still believe that the weather will be the single-biggest uncontrollable challenge. There could be a 30-degree gap between the high and low of the day and night. What clothing you have on hand will likely be critical.


People continue to pledge support for my Run for Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital. This is so inspiring! Let me be absolutely clear in saying that every dollar you contribute to my Run for Rainbow goes right to work for the patients and families of Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital. If there are any questions about the importance of a donation, think for a second about the:
  • Premature infants and critically ill newborns in the Rainbow neonatal intensive care unit right this very second--and the parents and families who are consumed with anxiety and fear.
  • Kids with cancer who are receiving chemotherapy right now when they should be playing with friends or in school.
  • Parents who've just learned that their 6-month-old baby has a heart defect and needs major surgery.
  • Child with cystic fibrosis who undergoes treatment daily.
  • Kid who fell off his bike and got seriously injured and was life-flighted to the Rainbow trauma center.
  • Little boy who just learned he has something growing on his brain that requires a surgeon to cut his head open.

Behind each of these kids are devastated parents and families. These are the kids and parents who I'm running to help. So please, let's join together through my Run for Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital and make a difference! E-mail me for details on making your gift--it's super-easy and your gift is tax deductible. You'll get a tax receipt from the hospital.


My goal this week is 85-90 miles with continued emphasis on quality. I'm scaling back just a tad to help promote recovery and ensure a strong final push into my taper for the NC24.

On Labor Day I run in the annual Aurora Labor Day Classic 5K. Last year I finished second overall (by about 10 seconds!) behind Steve Godale, clocking a new 5K PR of 17:45. This year I'll be looking to set a new PR. The Aurora Labor Day 5K is a great race at a beautiful area--Sunny Lake in Aurora--and the pancakes afterward make it all worthwhile. I've never had better pancakes.

Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Getting over a hamstring pull / Training week 8/17-8/23

When I woke up on Monday morning for my run, I thought I had a potentially bad problem. My right hamstring was aching and very tight from the previous day's 20+ miler that included a hard effort at the hot, humid Perfect 10-Miler in nearby Lyndhurst. I nonetheless slipped into my running attire, downed a cup of Java and a banana and headed out the door for 6-7 easy miles. Very little will keep me from running.

Despite logging 101 miles this week, my hamstring was almost completely healed by Thursday. After each night-run I applied ice to the muscle for a half-hour as I read a book or watched TV. I hate TV, which means I mostly read. I also stretched more than usual and canceled my regular track and hill workouts. The speed with which my hamstring healed was pretty amazing.

I hated missing my track and hill workouts this week, but going fast would have exacerbated the injury and prolonged the healing process. I felt that I could run through the injury, with some ice therapy and stretching, and--sure enough--it worked. I think I'm now close to 100%.

Although I didn't get to the track or the hills for my repeats, I managed some good running this week. By Friday, with my hamstring feeling much, much better, I thought I'd test the muscle a little and went for a tempo run. I completed 10 miles pretty fast and had minimal discomfort in my leg. The next day I ran the hills of South Chagrin Reservation with Tim C., Ted F., Steve et al and again felt great. On Sunday, with Anne at a horse show (where she and Lena did very well!), I hammered 8 miles on my treadmill (about 6:15 pace) and then, after Noah got up, we went to South Chagrin and ran 10 miles up Hawthorn Parkway and back. Thirty-eight miles over Saturday and Sunday isn't bad.

So, I'm happy to report that I'm feeling good in my legs and have just completed my first triple-digit week since June. It's been a while since I felt this good.


I will be towing the line with some seriously accomplished runners at the North Coast 24-Hour Endurance Run. Among them: Connie Gardner, Tim Clement, Serge Arbona, Bob Pokorny, and the legendary John Geesler. Eighty-one year-old Leo Lightner of Rocky River, Ohio, just outside Cleveland, will also be running in the NC24. I have the greatest admiration for Leo, who set a record for his age group at the 2008 JFK 50-Miler.

I've thought a lot about my race strategy and am glad that the American Ultrarunning Association has finally released its standards for making the US 24-hour team. Men who want to make the team have to finish in the top 3 and complete 135 or more miles at the NC24. Women making the team must also finish in the top 3 and complete 120 or more miles at the NC24. All remaining positions for the 12-member US 24-hour team (6 women and 6 men) will be filled based on performances at other USA Track & Field-certified 24-hour events.

I won't go into the details of my NC24 strategy, other than to say that I'm looking closely at my goal for the 100-mile split and whether the remaining time would be sufficient to log the necessary qualifying mileage on very tired legs. I'm also thinking about nutrition and apparel/gear needs. Of course, planning will get you only so far. On race day, the weather and conditions often dictate what your strategy will be. At the Mohican 100 this year, with the temperature around 85 degrees and the humidity close to 90 percent, I had to make some adjustments. The need to adjust to conditions will be especially applicable at the NC24, which will be run along Lake Erie in early October. My prediction is that the daytime temps could hit 80 and the nighttime temps could sink to the 40s. Wind could be a major factor. Rain could be a problem if the temps go low. Having the proper clothing on hand will likely be critical.

Whatever happens, I think it's safe to say that the NC24 will be the biggest running challenge I've ever taken on. As Kam said on Sunday, "a 24-hour is no joke." That's Kam's way of saying a 24-hour is huge challenge--which he should know. I think of a 24-hour as a two-headed physical and mental monster. All I can do is train my ass off, remain focused and do the best I can as I run my own race. Basing my performance on what others around me are doing would be a mistake. Twenty-four hours is a long time and involves a whole lot of miles and anything can happen.


I have gotten some generous commitments to support my Run for Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital at the NC24--and still need more! Among the contributors: An Illinois couple whose grandchildren spent time in a neonatal intensive care unit. Their grandchildren weren't even born at Rainbow and yet they felt compelled to give to my Run for Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital. This is so inspiring.

Trust me when I say every dollar given through my run will make a difference at Rainbow. Rainbow is a not-for-profit children's hospital that cares for a huge number of kids from poor families. Rainbow's NICU cares for babies born low birth weight, critically ill, and to addiction. Rainbow cares for kids with cancer, heart defects, neurological problems and other conditions. These are kids who need your support.

That's why I'm asking you to please give through my Run for Rainbow. E-mail me for details on how to make your gift--which is a very simple process. Don't wait. Give now. You'll be making a difference.


My goal this week is 90-110 miles. There is a lot going on this weekend, so getting in tons of miles may be tough. I'm aiming to log 65-70 miles by the end of Friday to set up a doable weekend in terms of mileage. I was going to take a recovery week this week but am going to shelve those plans.

Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Help me raise money for Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital / Training week 8/10-8/16

The North Coast 24-Hour Endurance Run is now just seven weeks away. This will be the biggest, scariest ultrarunning challenge I've ever taken on. The challenge comes down to many factors, including the course itself (.96-mile loop), the time involved (24 hours) and, potentially, the weather (you never know what you're going to get on Lake Erie in early October). Beyond the pure physical challenge, the North Coast 24 will pose an enormous mental challenge. It will be difficult remaining focused as I run the loop over and over and over again. We'll have 12 hours of daylight and a whopping 12 hours of darkness.

Running can't just be about me. It has to be about something far larger than the confines of my life and goals. That's why I've decided to raise money for Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital through my North Coast 24 participation. Rainbow is a not-for-profit children's hospital based in Cleveland that cares for all children who enter its doors. It turns no child away. Rainbow is consistently ranked among the nation's top children's hospital. Early in Noah's life, we turned to Rainbow a few times and were always so happy with the care we received.

Not every kid is as lucky as Noah or perhaps your child. Every day, Rainbow cares for kids with heart defects, rare cancers, cystic fibrosis, neurological disorders, serious injuries and other life-threatening conditions. Rainbow has a world-renowned neonatal intensive care unit that cares for babies who are severely premature, low birth weight and born to drug addiction. No kid should have to endure such trauma. At least once a week as I'm walking through the hospital (I work at University Hospitals, where Rainbow is located), I see a very sick child and the site breaks my heart. I want to do something--anything--to help these children, and I hope you will join me in this cause. As an added benefit, your donation will be tax-deductible and you'll get a tax receipt from the hospital.

If you are interested in supporting my Run for Rainbow, please e-mail me and join my Yahoo! group. Every dollar you contribute will make a difference.


This was an excellent week of training as I completed 96.5 miles. I had a good hill-repeat workout on Chagrin Boulevard and logged some decent times at the track, running 5x1600 at about 5:50 each. On Thursday I took Noah out for his first jaunt in our new baby jogger and he loved it. We went 4 miles for my second run of the day and he was fast asleep by the time we were done. On Saturday, I ran 14.75 miles in Peninsula with the Lock 29 crew and on Sunday did my first race since the Mohican 100.

Frank D. and I met at Jeff U.'s place on Sunday morning at 6:00 a.m. and ran to the start of the Perfect 10 Miler in Lyndhurst--which drew some excellent talent. The air was warm and humid and the sun completely out. Having already warmed up with our run to the race and some striders, I exploded out of the gate, covering the first mile in about 5:30, and then I slowed down. By mile 5, I knew this was not going to be one of my better races as my legs were sluggish and my right hamstring ached.

I came through the 5K in 18:11 and the 10K in 38:11. By mile 9, I was just trying to hang on. Finally, I crossed in 1:03:23 for 27th overall out of 450+ runners. This was not one of my better races but I went hard and gave it my all. I guess the heat was a factor. I would have liked to break 1:02 and will be looking for revenge next year. Now for a quick review of the Perfect 10 Miler:
  • Organization: Thumbs up
  • Course: Thumbs up--but my GPS did come up .2 miles short.
  • Markings: None. The volunteers provided the direction, which is a risky strategy.
  • Timing: Use a very light timing chip attached to the shoe laces.
  • Aid: Not enough water stations--maybe two more given the humidity. Also, a few times I asked for Gatorade and got water.
  • Volunteers: Good.
  • Finish line food: Pizza, doughnuts, water, Gatorade, energy bars, etc.--excellent finish line fare! It's really sad when a 10-miler has exponentially better finish line food than our own hometown marathon.
Afterward, Jeff, Frank and I ran back to Jeff's house and then we were off to the Original Pancake House in nearby Woodmere, where we met up with Frank's family. Although we waited a long time for our food (likely due to the place being slammed), it was worth the wait. My omelet and buckwheat pancakes were exceptionally good and our waitress was extremely friendly, welcoming and pleasant. The coffee sucked--it tasted burned--and there was no Splenda--a major no-no in the Age of Starbucks (that does not mean I like Starbucks; it means people's standards for java have gone up. But it does mean I like Spenda!). Even with bad coffee and no Splenda, I still give the Original Pancake House two thumbs up.


This week the goal is to keep the mileage and quality up--90+ miles with speedwork and hills. There is a chance I may do something very new this week with my running and, if so, I'll report back on how it went. I'm sticking to my core-strengthening because I know it helps in the long run. The next week I plan to pull back for a recovery week and then make one final hard push before my North Coast 24 taper.

I'll close with my new motto: Get busy livin', or get busy dyin.

Monday, August 10, 2009

You mean I have to run for 24 hours...straight? / Training week 8/3-8/9

Now that I've committed to running in the North Coast 24-Hour Endurance Run, which will host this year's 24-hour national championship, part of me wonders what the hell I've gotten myself into. I have to admit that the thought of running for 24 hours around a .9-mile loop sends shivers up my spine. Running 100 miles is hard enough. I've never run for 24 hours straight. But life's about new challenges and adventures, right? The NC24 (October 3-4) will be both, for sure. The fact that it's in Cleveland and only about a half-hour from home certainly helps alleviate a little bit of nervousness.

My training for the NC24 is now in full swing. For the week I logged 91 miles and had a good hill-repeat workout on Tuesday and a decent but not great showing at the track on Thursday. Now that Chagrin Boulevard has reopened, I knew visibility would be the key to safely running my fast hill repeats there. So I bought this super bright yellow Brooks technical tee-shirt and it's really great. You can't miss me, especially as I'm running the hill with my headlamp shining right in your eyes!

At the track, I ran some 100-meter striders, followed by 3x1600 at 5:39, 5:40, and 5:42 with 800-meter recoveries for a total of 9.5 miles. Maybe my legs were a little tired from the two-a-days this week.

I ended the week with a very enjoyable 13.5-mile in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park with the Peninsula crew on Saturday (great to return to Peninsula!) and a pretty strong 20-miler in Solon with the Southeast Running Club. The weather on Sunday morning was rough--80s with high humidity. For a second there I felt like I was running in soup.

To prepare for the NC24, my goal is to try to hit anywhere from 85-100 miles per week until two weeks out from the event, when I begin my taper. I think I'm in pretty good shape now and hopefully I can enhance my fitness level in the next few weeks. I have six weeks of training left--plenty of time since I'm building on my Mohican 100 fitness.

I am still debating my approach to the 24. Part of me wants to go out aggressively and try to potentially break 16 hours for the 100-mile split. I want to continue talking with 24-hour veterans I know, such as Mark Godale (American 24-hour record holder at 162.4 miles) and Connie Garder (who has come within a hair of setting the women's American 24-hour record) to get their feedback on how-best to approach the challenge and come away with the best-possible result.

I've heard 24-hour races are tent and RV cities and bring a real community atmosphere. I am really looking forward to spending time with the other runners on the course and having some good conversations. Of course, I doubt there will be much good conversation late in the race....


Every once in a while you see or hear about an athletic talent that really amazes you and makes you wonder if this is a once-in-a-lifetime prodigy. This is sort of how I view Anton Krupicka, a 25-year-old mountain ultrarunner who currently lives in Leadville, Colo. Anton, or Tony as some call him, just won the White River 50-Mile Run in Seattle with a blazing-fast time of 6:32:09, besting Uli Steidl's old record by 43 seconds, and is now a few weeks away from the Leadville Trail 100, which he's already won twice. Leadville is an extremely challenging, high altitude, out-and-back course in the Colorado Rockies. The lowest elevation is 9,200 feet and the highest (Hope Pass) is 12,600 feet. Yikes!

What's amazing about Anton, who's been known to run 150-plus miles per week, is that he's won races at so many levels. He's won the Leadville Marathon, 50Ks, 50-milers such as White River and the Rocky Raccoon 100 in addition to two Leadville 100s. He's a mountain-running stud and it's going to be interesting to see what he does in the next few years. Had he been healthy for this year's Western States 100 (he was injured and DNS'd), the task before repeat-winner Hal Koerner would have been all the tougher. I think Anton is going to do some crazy things in the years to come.

I've always been fascinated by mountains and my dream is to one day run the big mountain 100-mile ultras--Hardrock, Leadville, and, of course, Western States. Closer to home, I also want to experience Masanutten, which is billed the hardest 100 east of the Rockies.

But before I do any of that, there's a 24-hour race to train for....

Friday, August 7, 2009

Winners of 100-mile races, USA Championships and other ultras in 2009

100-Mile Races

  • HURT (1/19): Geoff Roes / 20:28, Top Female: Tracy Garneau / 27:43 (results)
  • Rocky Raccoon (2/7): Andy Jones-Wilkins / 15:57, Top Female: Jamie Donaldson / 16:51 (results)
  • Yukon Arctic (2/15): Markus Wiaderek / 31:25, Top Female: Marianne Heading / 48:30 (results)
  • Susitna (2/18): David Johnston / 27:25, , Top Female: Laura McDonough / 31:12 (results)
  • Iron Horse (2/21): Brad Smythe / 17:11, Top Female: Kim Battipaglia / 23:21 (results)
  • Coyote Two Moon (3/13): Roch Horton / 21:31, Top Female: Wendy Wheeler-Jacobs / 25:27 (results)
  • Moab (3/28): Duncan Callahan / 18:52, Top Female: Janet Thomson / 27:01 (results)
  • Umstead (4/4): Dave James / 15:05, Top Female: Jill Perry / 16:02 (results)
  • McNaughton (4/9): Joe Winch / 23:53, Top Female: Laura Waldo / 27:06 (results)
  • Keys (5/16): Ryan Krognabb / 16:31, Top Female: Jennifer Vogel / 19:10 (results)
  • Masanutten Mountain Trails (5/16): Karl Meltzer / 18:29, Top Female: Amy Sproston / 24:59 (results)
  • Sulphur Springs (5/23): Geoff Linton / 18:40, Top Female: Sue Lucas / 21:47 (results)
  • Kettle Moraine (6/6): Zach Gingerich / 15:17 (new course record), Top Female: Jenny Chow / 20:26(results)
  • Old Dominion (6/6): Jason Lantz / 18:35, Top Female: Liz Bauer / 22:44 (results)
  • San Diego (6/6): Ben Hian / 18:15, Top Female: Suzanna Bon / 19:32 (results)
  • Big Horn (6/19): Karl Meltzer / 19:15 (second 100-mile win of 2009), Top Female: Ashley Nordell / 24:51 (results)
  • Mohican Trail (6/20): Wyatt Hornsby / 19:52, Top Female: Jenny Chow / 22:58 (results)
  • Laramie (6/27): ?
  • Western States (6/27): Hal Koerner / 16:24, Top Female: Anita Ortiz / 18:24 (results)
  • Hardrock (7/10): Karl Meltzer (third 100-mile win of 2009) / 24:38, Top Female: Diana Finkel / 27:18 (course record) (results)
  • Tahoe Rim Trail (7/18): Erik Skaden / 20:27, Top Female: Bree Lambert / 23:42 (results)
  • Vermont (7/18): Jack Pilla / 16:36 (51 years-olds!), Top Female: Stephanie Case / 18:38 (results)
  • Swan Crest (7/25): Canceled
  • Burning River (8/1): Mark Godale / 16:17, Top Female: Connie Gardner (2008 champ as well): 19:21
  • Stormy (8/7)
  • Headlands (8/8):
  • Viaduct (8/8):
  • Leadville (8/22):
  • Lean Horse (8/22):
  • Cascade Crest (8/29):
  • Grand Teton (9/5):
  • Lost Soul (9/11):
  • Superior Sawtooth (9/11):
  • Wasatch Front (9/11):
  • Haliburton Forest (9/12):
  • Plain (9/12):
  • Angeles Crest (9/19):
  • Delaware (9/19):
  • Iroquois Trail (9/19):
  • Bear (9/25):
  • PCT Ultra (9/26):
  • Rio Del Lago (?):
  • DRTE (10/2):
  • Grindstone (10/2):
  • Arkansas Traveler (10/3):
  • Heartland (10/10):
  • Oil Creek (10/10):
  • Pony Express (10/16):
  • Boulder (10/17):
  • Syllamo (10/23):
  • Cactus Rose (10/31):
  • Javelina Jundred (10/31):
  • Ozark Trail (11/7):
  • Pinhoti (11/7):

100-Mile Grand Slam Races - 2009

  • Western States (6/27): Hal Koerner / 16:24 / Top Female: Anita Ortiz / 18:24 (results)
  • Vermont (7/18): Jack Pilla / 16:36 (51 years-old!) / Top Female: Stephanie Case / 18:38 (results)
  • Leadville (8/22):
  • Wasatch (9/11):
50K, 50-Milers and 100K Races - 2009

  • Way too Cool 50K (3/14): Leor Pantilat / 3:39, Top Female: Caitlin Smith / 4:12 (results)
  • American River (4/10): Maxwell King /6:04, Top Female: Kami Semick / 6:45 (results)
  • Miwok 100K (5/2): Eric Grossman / 8:35, Top Female: Kami Semick / 9:02 (results)
  • White River 50 Mile (USA Championship, 7/25): Anton Krupicaka: 6:32 (new record) / Top Female: Kami Semick / 7:57 (results)
  • JFK 50 Mile (11/21):
  • The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship 50 Mile (12/5):

USA Championships - 2009

  • 50K (Caumsett 50K, NY, 3/1): Michael Wardian / 2:56, Top Female: Kami Semick / 3:29 (results)
  • 100K Road: Not held
  • 100 Mile Trail (Tahoe Rim Trail, 7/18): Erik Skaden / 20:27, Top Female: Bree Lambert / 23:42 (results)
  • 50 Mile Trail (White River, WA, 7/25): Anton Krupicka / 6:32 (new record), Top Female: Kami Semick / 7:57 (results)
  • 100K Trail (Where’s Waldo, OR, 8/22):
  • 50 Mile Trail (Tussey Mountainback, PA, 10/3):
  • 24-Hour Championship (North Coast 24, OH, 10/3):

Notable 100+ Mile Races - 2009

  • Arrowhead 135 (2/2): Eric Johnson / 46:55) (results)
  • McNaughton 150 (4/9): Ryan Dexter / 34:42, Top Female: Van Phan / 47:39 (results)
  • Badwater 135 (7/13):
  • Spartathlon / 152 Miles (9/25):

Notable Timed Races - 2009

  • North Coast 24-Hour Endurance Run (10/3):