Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Year in Pictures

Let's get this out of the way right from the top.  2016 was not easy.  I continued to battle a rare virus that limits my ability to talk and required seven more surgeries this year at UAB Hospital.  As a result, my health continued to decline throughout the year and now we are seeking new and more aggressive treatment options.

But with the support of my wife Rachel, we continue to fight it and are hopeful for the future.

Running was my escape and despite of, or in spite of the hand I have been dealt, it was a pretty good year.

In December, I qualified for the Boston Marathon for the 7th consecutive time spanning 10 years, when I ran 3:11 at California International Marathon in Sacramento, California.

I earned my first state title in anything, ever, when I was the top male finisher at the RRCA 5km State Championships, held in Muscle Shoals, Alabama at the Swampers 5km race.

I earned 4 overall wins, including winning the Care Center 5km for the 6th consecutive year, bringing my career win total up to 82.

I earned 20 master's titles, including top men's master at Bridge Street Half Marathon in April.

I finished on the podium (top 3) 13 times, including a strong finish for 3rd overall at Xterra Monte Sano in January.

I became the first person to win the Huntsville Track Club Open Male Grand Prix by running only one race at age 39, and the remainder of the events at age 40.  It also marks the 2nd time I have won the title overall (2013) in addition to the five times I have been runner up (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015)

I was standing at the finish line when my wife Rachel finished in the top 10 at Mountain Mist.  Did I mention that unbeknownst to her, she had a blood clot in her lungs at the time?  That's tough.

I became the only person to have finished every single running of McKay Hollow Madness 25km, dating back to 2007 (with a washout year in 2011 that cancelled the event), and with a strong climb up death trail, finished 2nd overall.

I ran in 2,400 total miles, across 3 countries (USA, Canada and New Zealand) and 19 states (Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin.)

I went on a meaningful run with Strava.

Did I mention that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series and that Rachel and I were fortunate enough to go to game 2 of the NLDS vs. the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, then return to Chicago for games 4 and 5 of the World Series?

Oh and we saw Guns 'n Roses in concert!

Photo Credits to We Run Huntsville, Suzanne Erickson and Keith Henry.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The wise man seeking out knowledge

"A wise man flourishes because he continues to seek out knowledge, while a foolish man perishes because he believes that he already knows everything." - Eric Charette

I realized long ago that I knew nothing about the sport of running.  I knew that it could start simply by putting one foot in front of the other.  I also knew that I was not very good at it, but that in order to become great, I needed to understand it.  I had very little physical abilities, so the only way I was going to succeed was to train smart.  I needed to know why a tempo run was important, the value it added to my fitness and how and when it should be run.  I needed to know how to train, how to recover, how to fuel.  

So I read every book on running; well I've read a lot of books on running.  I sought out the best runners in the area and listened to them talk about running.  I found mentors who were willing to share their knowledge.  I realized that I needed to be a sponge to absorb everything I could about running, soaking in the wisdom like water, so that one day I could pass that knowledge on to other runners, completing the cycle.  In the last 12 years I have gone on to coach individual runners, groups of runners, written training plans for others and for myself.  

For a small town, awkward kid who never ran a step in his life, I was able to perfect my craft through knowledge and training.  My approach had worked time and time again, but as I approached the end of my current training cycle, I realized that the labor of my hard work was not producing results.  I knew that it was time to call in the best.  It was time to reach out to my friend Will Rodgers of Running Lane.

I first met Will when he was a collegiate runner at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.  I believe it was back in 2008 when I was hosting a dinner at my house for the invited elite athletes running Cotton Row 10km on behalf of the Huntsville Track Club.  Long after most of the athletes had left and I was cleaning up, Will pulled into the driveway.  I don't remember why he was late, but he apologized and I invited him in.  Among a tremendously talented field, as a young 20 year old, Will was seeded 27th for the race with a qualifying time of 32:40 which was light years ahead of my 34:45.  Immediately I realized what a quality guy Will was, as we sat down for an hour and just talked about running like two old friends eating a spaghetti dinner.  He was humble, easy going and knowledgeable, unlike a lot of elite runners.

When I needed advice on goal planning for the marathon, I knew that Will was the one to call.  He and the team at Running Lane have built a great program of coaching to runners of all levels.  They believe that it is more important to train smart rather than to simply train hard.  Our beliefs are perfectly in line with each other; every detail of your training should have a purpose.

Will and I sat down for two hours and poured over every detail of my training.  As an engineer, I track details and statistics about every step I take, knowing that it is all relevant in order to analyze labor vs. results.   We drank coffee and poured over the data, talking like two old friends, just like we did 8 years prior before Cotton Row.  He was able to consult me on where I was and what I needed to do in the following weeks leading into the race.  Then we talked about racing strategy and came up with the perfect plan for success. 

One thing that I really liked was that Will was very honest with me.  He did not inflate my ego to think I could accomplish times beyond my fitness, while at the same time he gave me the confidence that I needed to stand on the starting line and execute to the best of my ability.  I am sitting in front of my laptop at a hotel in California, 24 hours before the marathon, in part because of Will Rodgers and Running Lane.  

This is not a paid endorsement.  This is me writing about my passion.  This is me paying forward the kindness of those who have been kind to me.  I believe in what Will and his fellow coaches are doing.  They are experienced and accomplished runners who have turned their passion into a career.  They are coaching runners of all abilities, helping them realize their potential.  

So if you are a new runner, one who simply wants to get better, or at the top of your sport, there is always room for improvement.  Maybe you have not heard about Running Lane, or maybe you have and just have not taken the next step to contact them.  Be the wise man and seek out help from  Don't assume you know everything about running.  Even this old veteran runner was able to learn new things from their guidance!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Here is why the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series in 2016.

I have been eating M&Ms since I was old enough to remember.  My Uncle Charlie lived a few blocks away and it seemed like he always had a bag for me.  When I wasn't eating M&Ms from him, I was chewing on the collar of his flannel shirt, but that is a story for my memoirs.

I have not just been eating M&Ms, but I have been eating them a certain way; that is by separating them apart of colors of the rainbow.  Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue and Brown.  Of course there were the years when the color Tan made an appearance and Red dyes were harmful to your health and don't get me started on how to eat special edition bags with only two colors.

My methodology is that after separating them by color, I then eat one of each color until there are one of each color.  Here is where things get fun.  I then take the remaining six M&Ms and place them in the palm of my right hand and make a fist, leaving enough room for them to breathe.  I then go through an iterative process where I shake them M&Ms up, and blindly eat one at a time, reshaking them up in between.

When I down to the final M&M, I try to predict the color.  If I get it right, then that is my lucky color for the day.

Using an unscientific estimate, I have probably eaten 2,000 single serving bags of M&Ms in my life.  If you add in the 1lb and 3lb bags which offer multiple opportunities to perform this ritual, I would guess that I have performed this ritual about 2,500 times in my lifetime.  Peanut, plain, peanut butter, almond, coffee nut; I do not discriminate.

To the best of my recollection, over 40 years of M&M consumption, I have never predicted the last M&M color correctly.  Statistically this seems impossible.  After all, each trial is independent of the other trials and the likelihood that you guess the correct color is 1 out of 6 or 16.67%.  But that is my story and I am sticking to it.

Rewind to Friday, October 7, 2016.  My wife Rachel and I were on our way to Chicago to sit in the bleachers at Wrigley Field for game 2 of the NLDS when the Cubs played the San Francisco Giants.  That day, I ate two bags of M&Ms; both of which were peanut butter.

On the first bag, I got down to the final M&M.  I told myself that if it were orange or brown (Giants colors), that the Cubs would fall victim to the curse and lose the series.  But if it came up blue or red (Cubs colors) that it was destiny and the Cubs would not only win the NLDS, but break the curse and go on to win the World Series.

The last M&M.  I guessed BLUE.  It came up BLUE.  And I was on a roll.

On the second bag a few hours later, the same consequences were on the table.  The fate of the Chicago Cubs did not rest on their ability to play the game, but on my ability to guess the last M&M color correctly.

The last M&M.  I guessed RED.  It came up RED.  And the rest is history.

So now on the verge of game 6 of the NLCS, where the anticipated National League Cy Young Award winning pitcher from the Cubs is opposing the best pitcher in the game for the Dodgers, I have not a care in the world because the outcome has already been determined.

By destiny.  By M&Ms.  That trumps any curse.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Giving up or digging in

At some point during every race, if you are pushing the envelope, things inevitably will start to suck.  Sometimes its because you've gone out too hard or maybe you have just outrun your fitness level.  Regardless of the reason, when this happens you are faced with two choices; you can either give up or you can dig in.

I will openly admit that I don't always dig in.  It can be very emotionally and physically draining to go to "the well" too often.  That doesn't mean that I don't always run hard, but when you run 30 or more races a year, taking it to that next level is reserved for just a few races.

At mile 12 of McKay Hollow Madness this year I was faced with this choice.  Do I give up, or do I dig in?

But first, let's rewind to the start of the race.

We rolled out a little fast in the first mile.  Wearing inov-8 x-talon 212's with their substantial lugs while running on pavement makes you feel a little like a pig on roller skates.  But my plan was to be "in position" by the time we hit the trail head.  "In position" meant leading the chase pack behind Josh Whitehead.  The race was for 2nd place and the competition was last years 3rd place finisher, Jon Krichev, who was also my family doctor.  Jon had been running great lately on the roads, having run a sub 5 minute mile earlier in the year.  Then there was Tim Pitt, who had been been logging a lot of miles and beat me at Mountain Mist in January.  I wanted to be leading the pack and setting the pace.  A pace that was aggressive and maybe a little too fast for what they wanted to run.

As we descended down Sinks and onto Logan Point, Jon and I had created some separation.  But when we started to climb Panther Knob, we could see that Tim and Martin Schneekloth were still running very close behind.  After that, it would be a long time before we would see anyone again.  Over the Knob, across Stone Cuts, down Sinks and climbing back up to Mountain Mist.  Jon and I stayed very close together, with me setting the pace.

The pace stayed fairly quick on Mountain Mist heading toward the first aid station and I was feeling good.  Maybe today was my day?  The longer I held the pace, the more confidence I gained.  Jon and I crested War Path together, running through the aid station in mile 5 at O'Shaugnessy Point.  Jon stopped for water, but I stayed on it, trying to flush the acid out of calves after the climb.

I took some quick energy to get me ready for the next section.  I fueled with the new Honey Stinger Organic Energy gel in mango orange flavor!

We dropped off the mountain at the split of the 25k and 12k courses.  Jon joked that if I slowed down that he would have an easier time keeping up.  Bombing down Rest Shelter takes a deranged mind, where you are willing to disregard your personal well being.  The footing is sketchy at best, mixing lose rock and a steep drop down into the hollow.

Slush mile was not that slushy and Arrowhead was less than eventful.  Running hard.  Keeping an eye where I could on Jon.  Wondering where Tim and Martin were.

I did not climb Natural Well very well.  Pun intended.  It was a slow grind to the Well itself, starting to feel the heat of the day bearing down on my shoulders.  Holding back a little on the climb helped to recover quickly after cresting.  The pace dropped back into the 7's heading south on Natural Well.  Jon had closed the gap again and as we approached the intersection with Arrowhead he was in my footsteps.

Here is where things got interesting.  I made the hard right turn onto the new Arrowhead section toward Trough Springs.  Jon followed.  I had looked at the course map in advance and it confirmed that the course was the same as in the last few years.  Arrowhead to Trough, back on Natural Well crossing the ditch.  So we ran on Arrowhead, following the flags that were on the right.  About half way to Trough, flags switched to the left side of the trail and there was orange tape blocking the trail.  It lead us back down toward the ditch.  Jon and I knew that this was not right... it was taking us to the ditch when we knew that we needed to route through Trough for the aid station.  So we stopped and tried to figure out what to do.  Quickly I started bushwhacking up through the briers to find the trail again.  When Jon and I got there, we moved the flags and pulled the tape.  If someone messed with the course, we didn't want everyone else to get confused by their evil!    We ran on to Trough Springs, popping out and confusing the aid station workers.  They said that Josh had come through from the opposite direction.  I grabbed a sip of water from Rachel and we ran on, heading down to Natural Well trail.  Within minutes we saw Tim, Martin and others running toward us.  In dealing with the mismarking, we had lost critical time and the pack had caught up to us.  After crossing the ditch, we ran back up to the intersection of Arrowhead and Natural Well to see that someone had corrected the markings, blocking off the newer Arrowhead trail.  The tape was so low that there was no way that both Jon and I could have run under it.  We would have torn it down taking that path.  We were both confused, but we couldn't let it bother us.  But it was eating away at me.

We tan down Arrowhead and through the Cistern.  We dropped off Big Cat.  Then out of no where, Jon said, "we have company."  I had somehow forgotten the lost time we gave up on the bushwhacking.  Climbing back up to Arrowhead, still running 2nd, but with 3rd, 4th & 5th all in my shadow, I considered giving up.  I had worked so hard to be in this position.  I could just step aside and let the guys pass me up.  I could ease off the pace and finish comfortably.  No one would question a 5th place finish.  After all, I would still be top master's finisher.

I could either give up, or I could dig in.

I chose to dig in.

In the mile and half segment back to the lower intersection (of Natural Well and Arrowhead) I dug in and ran harder in this section than I ever had before.  Despite the never ending mud and slop, I kept pushing the pace, not willing to give up.  I did hear some shouting behind us, which turned out to be whoever was running with Tim had fallen.  Tim would say later that he had fallen too.  I pushed on, not taking my foot off the gas.  I ran down deep into the hollow at an uncomfortable pace.  We crossed the creek, climbed up, crossed the creek, then climbed back up Cry Baby hill.  Gregg Gelmis was there to capture us the moment that we were power hiking the top section.  We joked a little, but pushed on.  I needed to recover quickly, then get ready for the final climb.

Death Trail.

I knew that I needed to have a very good climb to hold off Jon and Tim.  I needed to dig deep.  I had long since committed.  I had already gone to the well.  Now I needed to take it to the next level if I wanted to hold on.

I powered up the climb, never looking back.

With just a few hundred meters to go, I could see the top of the waterfall.  The finish line.  I saw friend Keith Henry taking video.  I could hear the cheering crowd.  I summited the climb, crossed the stream and onto the finish.    I had opted to dig in, and not give up.  I had held off a massive charge from the chase pack. I had finished 2nd overall.

With this finish, I became the only person to have run in all 9 (official) runnings of this race.

My Race History

2007 - 7th (Geno Phillips)
2008 - 4th overall (Rob Youngren)
2009 - 2nd overall (David Riddle)
2010 - 3rd overall (David O'Keefe)
2011 - Rain out
2012 - 2nd overall (Brandon Mader)
2013 - 1st overall
2014 - 1st overall
2015 - 2nd overall (Josh Whitehead)
2016 - 2nd overall (Josh Whitehead)

I was supported today, as I am in all of my other big races; by my lovely wife Rachel.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Year in Review

There is no easy way to dance around it.  2015 was the most difficult I have known in all of my 40 years.  Diagnosed early in the year with Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (RRP), my vocal cords have been under constant attack from this virus.  Treatment consists of direct micro laryngoscopies with surgical removal using a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser. Because the virus lives in the normal appearing tissue surrounding the papilloma, recurrence is likely, and repeated endoscopic removal is required every six weeks.  Translated this means that I have had eight surgeries this year so that I can have some assemblance of a normal life with being able to talk at more than a whisper.  The virus is extremely rare in adults, impacting less than 1 person of every 200,000 Americans.  There is no cure.

Running has helped to maintain my sanity amidst these health issues.  There isn't as much witty banter on the run as there once was, but my legs can still turn over at a decent pace.  The virus makes it difficult to breathe at times but I refuse to let it beat me.  With the Grace of God, we pray that the virus will eventually go into remission.  Until then we fight the good fight.

Above all else, the love and support from Rachel has made everything possible.  She is my voice when I can not speak.  She is my strength when I am weak.  In September we said our vows at the majestic Snoqualmie Falls in North Bend, Washington.  That truly was the highlight of my year.

Here was the story of my year afoot!
  • 3,105 miles running (34,022 career)
  • 5 wins (78 career)
  • 4 masters wins since turning 40 in November
  • 14 top 3 finishes (176 career)
  • 29 total races (368 career)
  • HTC Open Male Gran Prix Series runner up for the 5th time (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, winner 2013)
  • Two-time overall winner Southern Tennessee Half Marathon
  • Raced New York City Marathon in November, competing all three U.S. Marathon majors (Boston, Chicago, New York) for the second time
  • Overall winner of Care Center 5k for the 5th consecutive year
  • Three time winner of Krispy Kreme Challenge (4th time overall) with second best time on record 29:25 (28:53 course record)
  • Paced 3:25 at Rocket City Marathon and 1:30 at Scottsboro Half Marathon
  • 1,575 miles cycling