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'.