Impact Running Newsletter: Links Worth Clicking to Improve Your Running, Performance, and Perspective Issue 5

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

          -James Baldwin

For two weeks now I have been trying to listen. There is so much that I do not understand, and that is my fault. I need to do better. I have to do better. So I have tried to listen. 

In the title to this newsletter I state that the links I post are selected in the hopes that they may improve your running, your performance, or your perspective. That last word may seem out of place for a space that is built on improving athletic performance, but I have always linked quality performance with a commitment to searching for a wider and more empathetic perspective. When I coached high school soccer, always at small, undermanned schools, I believed the only way to build a consistently winning team was to have the boys grow to be greater than the sum of their parts. I spent time trying to get them to care as much about their teammate’s success as much as their own. Running is an individual sport, yet I look at someone like Shalane Flanagan and the Shalane Effect, and see the same dynamic at play, that being giving and caring about the success of those around you brings the best out of everyone. So is it true in our society. 

This edition of the newsletter is about listening and perspective. Each of the articles adds a brush stroke to the picture of this moment we are in. They are from perspectives that are not my own and each led me to think about this moment in a slightly new way. So too do I hope they will do that for you. Let’s dig in.

1. America Doesn’t Benefit Everybody

For years professional athletes have spoken out against systemic racism, most notably Colin Kaepernick whose kneeling during the national anthem before and NFL game sought to bring about awareness to police brutality but also generated backlash from those who disagreed with his gesture and misinterpreted its meaning. (If you are still unsure about from where Kaepernick got the idea to kneel during the anthem, please listen to the former Green Beret who suggested it as an appropriate form of protest.) Since then other athletes have contributed their own views to the cause, often being told to stay in their lane. Lebron James was told to shut up and dribble. In this article, Michael Rosenberg asserts that athletes, many of whom spend part of their lives at the very bottom of the socioeconomic totem pole, only to then by rocketed skyward when they sign their professional contracts, are exactly the sort of people whose perspectives we need to listen to as they can speak to multiple audiences on the impact of racial and economic inequality.

2. Racing to Stay Alive 

Marielle Hall, was a 2016 US Olympian in the 10,000 meters. Her column is wide-ranging. Listen to what she says. To her frustration as a runner who loves her sport and profession but who knows black families are having to have conversations about not running, about not being in the wrong places lest it lead to misperceived intentions and violence. To the cruelty of that fact, as COVID-19 ravages through black communities with underlying health conditions, that running, an exercise which can prevent and reverse such chronic conditions, may not be safe. To the frustration of being an elite black athlete who feels she must tiptoe around racial issues, expressing frustration but not appearing too mad lest it send the wrong message. 

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge

“I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years.” 

“A riot is the language of the unheard.” In this op-ed, NBA hall of famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shares his insight on why that is so. Listen to him; his frustration is evident. Jabbar explains why the video evidence of Ahmaud Arbery’s death, George Floyd’s death, and other recent recorded examples of racism have spurred the protests we have seen over the last two weeks. He acknowledges the difficulty white people must have with signs of violence, but also notes that when black families see racist acts perpetuated against their own, when their votes seem to have little impact on the structures that support racism, when their own president calls them thugs, frustration searches for and needs an outlet. He is clear that he does not condone the violence that some cities saw in their protests, but he is clear that when people are ignored long enough they will do what it takes to get their message heard. 

4. I’m a cop. I won’t fight a ‘war’ on crime the way I fought the war on terror.

I can’t quite remember when I first became aware of Patrick Skinner on Twitter, but I remember the story that made him someone I wanted to follow. Skinner was a CIA operations officer during the War on Terror and, feeling that “we focused on who and what we were fighting against instead of who and what we were fighting for, and in the shade of that difference, a rot grew,” he left the CIA and came home, believing that he could best fight for what he felt we should be by serving his community. He became a police officer and has tweeted about his career, and what he wants to bring to his career, ever since. In this op-ed Skinner lays out the failures within policing that have brought us to this flashpoint: the language (a war on crime), the outfitting and training of departments to act more as soldiers than as servants, and the instinct to throttle up a situation rather than to de-escalate it. He details steps he has taken in his role as an officer to break from this mold. He explains the difference between blame and responsibility and then he takes responsibility noting that he may not be at fault for the conditions that have led to this moment of tension in the country, but he is responsible to help try to fix it. When we talk publicly about the need to reform police departments, and that we need good cops to do it, this is an example of who we should look to and listen to. 

5. I’m a black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet.

I thought long and hard about posting this, not because I disagreed with its premise, but because I worried bringing a discussion about climate change into a running newsletter was too far a stretch. However, an idea from author, Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, stuck with me: the time consuming nature of racism. “Racism, injustice and police brutality are awful on their own, but are additionally pernicious because of the brain power and creative hours they steal from us.” Throughout the column Johnson notes the ways, large and small, that attention spent on reacting to, worrying about, and fixing racism takes time and energy and focus away from issues, hers is climate change, that are pressing and urgent; these are issues that require the collective attention and brainpower of a diverse set of problem solvers. Much of the attention around racism focuses on the acute; state violence, judicial and financial inequality. Johnson’s message looks at one of the outward ripples, though it is no less important. It is a reminder than when the television coverage of yet another killing moves on to something else, the tendrils of racism remain and extend into the offices and living rooms and kitchens of people of color all over the country. Those of us who don’t have to live that are obligated to be aware of it, to listen, to help fix. 

Impact Running Newsletter: Links Worth Clicking to Improve Your Running, Performance, and Perspective Issue 4

A weird week for me here in Northeast Ohio. It is my first full week back to bartending and, well, things are scary slow to say the least. It’s another new normal to navigate and my hope is that things will slowly improve as people gain more confidence that we are taking the proper precautions to stay safe while beginning to venture out. Running, though, continues to go well for me. I am staring down my first 40 mile week in well over a year and official marathon training kicks off in a little over one week.

I am publishing this just one day after the Boston Marathon announced that for the first time in its history, dating back to 1897, it will not be held due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the right call but a devastating one. Other than being ordered not to work by Ohio’s governor back in March and having to cancel the trip to meet my niece that I was supposed to have taken back in late April, it is one of the starkest reminders of how wide ranging COVID’s impact has been on the world. The one silver lining is that with racing having largely been cancelled this year, the registration window to apply for the 2021 Boston Marathon (assuming that can happen) has been set to be begin with any qualifying race times run after September 15, 2018, meaning my BQ from the 2018 Columbus Marathon once again allows me to apply for the Boston Marathon. I’m not holding my breath that its gets me in, unless the field is significantly expanded, but we will see what happens.

Let’s dig in to this week’s links.

1. Episode 40: “The Big Three” come together for a first-ever three-way conversation! (Dathan Ritzenhein, Alan Webb, and myself)

I loved this three way conversation between Dathan Ritzenheim, Alan Webb, and Ryan Hall on Hall’s podcast. They came up together as three of the most promising American male distance runners in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, an era that was especially grim for American male distance running. Only one American man, Rod DeHaven, ran under the Olympic standard in the marathon and qualified for the 2000 games in Sydney. However, as Amby Burfoot notes in this excellent piece, Webb, Hall and Ritzenheim were set to usher in a renaissance in American distance running on the men’s side. In the podcast the three reminisce about their battles against each other in their amateur days, their successes and frustrations as pros, and how each is adapting to life in retirement. For running nerds this is well-worth the listen, especially when Hall’s wi-fi drops him from his own podcast…twice.

2. Eliud Kipchoge Unveils New Mission Targeting 3 Billion People

In this 45-minute interview Eliud Kipchoge discusses his goal to bring running as a lifestyle to 3 billion people across the world. Inspired by the messages he receives on social media, he explains how he hopes to share how running shapes his lifestyle, and how others can adopt it, all while weaving in details of the mental work he needed to do in order to tackle challenges like Nike’s Breaking 2 project and last year’s INEOS 1:59 Challenge. The interview reminded me at times of Michael Phelps’s stated goal of making swimming a mainstream sport in the US rather than one that people pay attention to only during Olympic years.

3. An Ordinary Runner’s Elite Training Dream

I am a big fan of Matt Fitzgerald’s books. His nutrition book, Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance, is the foundation I build my nutrition plan around and he has written about subjects across the spectrum of running. I was thrilled when he announced several years ago that he would be training with Ben Rosario’s HOKA NAZ Elite for a summer in preparation for the Chicago Marathon. The premise of the book is a simple question, one I have asked myself: Just how good could I be if I received the coaching and performed the training followed by professionals? This article is an excerpt from his new book, Running the Dream: One Summer Living, Training, and Racing with a Team of World-Class Runners Half My Age and details one such workout which, with an ironic twist, despite running with runners far faster than him he struggles to slow down enough for.

4. From Camping To Dining Out: Here’s How Experts Rate The Risks Of 14 Summer Activities

With all 50 states in various stages of reopening, despite the threat from COVID-19 remaining present, I have been wondering what activities are safest to venture out for and what activities I should be avoiding in the near future. This article from NPR looks at 14 such activities, from camping to dining at a restaurant and rates their safety. Though racing is not discussed, a thread throughout the article is that lengthy close proximity to other people is one of the more serious possible vectors for contracting the virus, which does not make me feel confident that racing is going to happen this fall.

5. SAM Phase 1 Easy Day

Building off that last link, I have been thinking long and hard about whether I will return to my gym once it is open or if I will revert back to training I can do at home with bodyweight, Swiss balls, and bands. I will be writing about this in a longer post in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, if you are like me and uncertain about jumping back into a gym environment, this runner-specific strength program is worth a look. SAM stands for Strength and Mobility and what I like about this specific program is it progressively builds in difficulty (Phase 1 to Phase 5) as you require more challenge in your strength building and also has different workouts for your easy and hard days. I used the program in 2018 and it helped me get to two BQ’s so I can vouch that even though the program requires no equipment and can be done quickly, it works.

That’s it for this week. Hope you all remain safe.

Happy running!


Impact Running Newsletter: Links Worth Clicking to Improve Your Running, Performance, and Perspective Issue 3

Some really interesting stuff this week, from how the pandemic is affecting college cross country programs to what physiological advances we might see in new attempts at marathon world records to Michael Phelps opening up about how the current state of the world is affecting his mental health. Let’s dig in.

1. What the Future of Fast Marathons Looks Like

I am a big fan of Alex Hutchinson and his work breaking down the complex science of endurance training into easy to understand information all readers can enjoy. His book, Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance is a must read for runners. Here, in his article for Outside Magazine, Hutchinson shares hypotheses from endurance sports researchers about what physiological traits might have contributed to the recent explosion in fast marathoning (beyond the shoes) and how those traits could be utilized in future races. One that stood out to me was improving neural efficiency, basically requiring the brain to use less oxygen during a race, which could possibly be accomplished with pacemakers (or for sub-elite runners more carefully following a pace group).

2. Is The Loss of Akron Cross Country Just the Beginning of the End

With the pandemic scything through college budgets, sports are starting to face the axe. In this piece Justin Horneker examines the University of Akron’s decision to cut its cross country program, a decision he explains may not accomplish the money-saving goals it is hoping to achieve. Horneker digs deeper into the finances of mid-major athletic programs, the drag football can be on their budgets, and why sports like track and field and cross country often bear the brunt of the cost-cutting pain. He concludes with a look into the future and the changes that will need to occur if the US loses college programs as its main development pipeline for world class runners

3. The Growth Equation Podcast: Olympian Shalane Flanagan On Marathons, Motherhood, Motivation And More

I linked to The Growth Equation Podcast two weeks ago and share another excellent episode in this week’s newsletter. The episode is wide-ranging, covering Flanagan’s late career, including her 2017 NYC Marathon victory, and her transition into coaching and more recently into motherhood. What stands out during the conversation is Flanagan’s eagerness to share performance secrets with others, something she did during her career, likely a contributing factor to the so-called Shalane Effect (multiple training partners made Olympic teams after working with her), and something she does in this podcast as well. I plan on listening to the episode again to take notes, the information is that good.

I listened to this podcast after I had read the Hutchinson article I linked to earlier. Shalane notes that one of the fallouts from her athletes having to train in isolation or small groups has been the recognition of how much more difficult it can be to train harder runs when the full group is not present to take some of the load (she specifically cites interval training where a group of ten running ten total intervals might have one person take the lead for one interval each with everyone else needing to focus only on keeping pace with the leader). I thought it linked well with what Hutchinson said about improving neural efficiency by letting the brain shut off.

4. Michael Phelps: ‘This is the most overwhelmed I’ve ever felt’

Told in the first person to ESPN writer Wayne Drehs, Phelps shares how the pandemic has at times overwhelmed him as he struggles to adapt to the necessary changes to keep the public, and himself, safe, and wonders what a post-pandemic world will look like. Phelps has been up front with his mental health challenges in the past and it is refreshing to hear from someone well-trained in handling the psychological aspects of performance about how he is nonetheless struggling with the monumental disruption to his life, something we are all dealing with. Phelps is forthright—he knows his financial situation allows him to weather the storm better than most—but his struggles with the disruption to his daily routine, with being locked down at home, with not knowing how or when this will truly end, are all familiar to me in the last few months and I suspect familiar to readers as well.

5. What We Can Learn From Endurance Athletes About Getting Through This Pandemic

I began a story a month ago on what Meb’s 2014 Boston victory could teach us about coming out of the pandemic and I was never able to make it work. In this article, Brad Stulberg far more eloquently gives voice to what I was trying to say and so I just link to him instead. Stulberg notes four practices that endurance athletes apply to their training and racing and that we can apply to enduring the marathon that this pandemic is shaping into. The practices are simple, but simple does not mean they are easy to apply; they will take time to incorporate into your own life and a clear head about where we are and where we are not. That said, this is my tenth year of endurance running and I have been thankful on several occasions these last three months for what marathon training has taught me about how to survive and even thrive during something long and difficult. This is a worthwhile read to begin applying some of those lessons yourself.

After the Race Weekend That Wasn’t, Even More Appreciation for What I’ve Learned from My Cleveland Marathons

Were times better I would be barely able to move right now. The stiff, sore, heart-wrenching agony of rolling out of bed or even worse, descending stairs, is a badge of honor the day after a race. It is proof you have done something hard and meaningful and memorable.

For the last nine years the weekend after Mother’s Day has meant running one of the Cleveland Marathon races (the exception is 2013 when an injury meant that my only racing would be chasing friends around the course as a spectator). Though I did not plan to run the event this year as I continue my slow build up to fall training, it was nevertheless surreal to see friends and fellow runners sharing pictures and memories of a race that has been so meaningful but could not occur amidst the COVID pandemic. I even spent part of my long run on Sunday going over part of the course, remembering old races and wishing that instead of seeing an empty city I could be partaking in the excitement usually found on those city streets on this particular Sunday in May.

Running through the city, especially over the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, had me mentally poring over the triumphs and, yes, mishaps from those old races. Races run in 80 degree heat. Races run in a white out. The race that made me fall in love with running. The race where I enjoyed my breakout marathon. Races, and there have been multiple, that left me on the side of the road, slowly trudging toward the finish line, nursing an injury or my wounded pride. Along the way I have learned more lesson lessons than I care to count. Here are five that stand out.

1. 2011: Punch through the wall; there’s more left in the tank

I lined up for my first half marathon, my first road race of any kind, vowing it would be my last. The previous December when a friend had asked me to train with her for Cleveland’s half marathon I agreed, though with plenty of hesitancy. I did, to an extent, like running. I had run track in high school, though largely to pass the time until soccer season began. When I started grad school in a new city where I knew no one, I had spent my first quarter doing laps of Ohio State’s campus, logging miles while the marching band practiced in a field behind Ohio Stadium. I was not a passionate runner though and I hated training for the race. Yes, I swore, this would be it.

Things changed when I arrived downtown though. The energy of 20,000 runners infected me. It never occurred to me that hundreds of thousands of spectators would line the route the cheer people on. As the race wore on I began to enjoy, then to love, the togetherness I felt amidst a sea of people who were driving toward the finish line. Yes, I decided, I liked this running thing. However, I had never covered more than nine miles at a time and as I entered Tremont, that reality began to catch up with me. At Mile 10 I could not believe I had three more miles to cover. Worse, I had yet to climb the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, an unwelcome, leg-pounding section that was hitting right as my tank was emptying. As I neared the top a woman passed me, glanced left, and saw my misery. She offered words of encouragement, something about being able to do this. The words lifted me when I needed them the most. She was right. I could do this. I punched through the wall that had gradually been building and discovered a well of determination lay behind it.

The bridge crested and the slope began to descend. My turnover quickened, life returning to my legs (though my quads would take four days to forgive me). The kind words and the downhill were all I needed to break through my first ever wall. I reached the end of the bridge, took a hard left past Progressive Field, and powered my way through the city streets to my first race finish. I was hooked. I liked this running thing. I loved this running thing and was eager to race again. Nine years later I still remember that kind pick up from a fellow runner. Walls are a part of running and racing, of pushing boundaries. Keep pushing through them. There’s more left in the tank.

2. 2012: Knowing the area does not equal knowing the course

I returned to Cleveland a year later and feeling like I was very much the serious runner. The winter of early 2012 was one of the mildest I can recall and it lent itself to a much more strenuous training regimen. I can remember running in 80 degree weather in March.

When the weather on race day reached similar temperatures, I was unconcerned having trained through the mild spring. I was still inexperienced and chasing a time goal and so I went out hard and fast. I was doing this after three days of awful stomach pain which meant it had been hard to keep much food down or to sleep. I was chasing a fast race time that was not going to happen. I was too dumb to know it yet.

I was still hanging on when the race entered Tremont, one of my favorite parts of the course. Tremont has some of the most vocal support in any race I have run. For those inclined, beer is offered at impromptu “aid” stations. The whole community turns the day into a giant street party. Leaving Tremont for the return leg to downtown had been a straightforward affair the prior year. However, construction was now being done to build a new inner-belt highway section into the city and that meant the way out of Tremont had changed. I had not scouted this new route. I was a life-long Clevelander and knew Tremont well. What could possibly be so different?

Cleveland bills itself, and rightfully so, as a flat course. Other than a few bridges the course does tend to be flat. However, hills lead down to the Cuyahoga River that cuts off downtown from the neighborhoods that immediately surround it. Steep hills. The sort of hills you would not build into a race course unless highway construction forced your hand.

The way out of Tremont fell on such a hill. As I recall the hill was not particularly long but it was steep, so steep that if I had been able to hold on and keep running I still would’ve had to significantly brake to keep myself from tumbling down the hill. And the climb up? Forget about it. I was done. The combination of the heat, lack of sleep, lack of food, and the climb up my own personal mini-Everest introduced me to the first of what would be many instances of walking on a race course. I am pretty sure to this day that second Cleveland half marathon remains my slowest go at the distance. I learned my lesson: I’ve driven or biked every new course I have run since.

3. 2015: Prior success guarantees nothing

After the debacle of 2012 I enjoyed a solid stretch of training and racing. I could handle more mileage and my race times began to drop. Even an injury-plagued year in 2013 became a minor speed bump and by 2014 I was back to running longer miles and racing fast times. In the Towpath Half Marathon in October of that year I broke 1:30 in the race for the first time ever, the first true goal I had set for myself in the aftermath of my 2011 race. When I showed up to the start line of the 2015 I had put in another solid cycle of training. If there was a training code to crack, I felt I had certainly cracked it. I was going to learn that in running as soon you think you have everything figured out a run or a race will smack some sense into you. So it was in 2015.

Race day was cool but humid and I knew I didn’t run well in humidity. I was so focused on chasing time goals that I had not yet devised strategies to handle racing in different types of weather. From the outset I put the pedal to the metal and soon enough I was gasping for air and slowing my pace from cruising speed to a trudge. The year before, when I had been coming back from a year of injury, I had endured an up-and-down training cycle and purposely run the race at an easy pace, letting myself settle into what felt comfortable which ended up being surprisingly fast. A year later, with far better training under my belt and a recent sub-1:30 time at the distance I managed to come in slower than I had the year before, penance for failing to adapt to the conditions when I assumed my recent success would easily carry over.

4. 2016: We may run on our own but the suffering, and triumphs, are shared

The 2016 Cleveland Marathon is like a war story. Find a fellow runner who ran it and all you need to say is “2016.” You both know. Oh sure, you can say more, you can talk about it, in fact you will talk about it. But it’s not necessary.

It was the most Cleveland race ever. The day the race expo opened saw temps reach a comfortable 70 degrees with a mild breeze. Less than 48 hours later on race morning found the thermometer flirting with freezing and winds gusting to 40 miles an hour. The precipitation that fell morphed from a slushy sleet, to white-out level snow, back to sleet, and then rain.

This was the setting for my first full marathon.

Running a marathon meant a great deal to me. After I broke 1:30 in the half marathon I spent one more year training hard to better the time. Then my attention shifted to the full. I have wanted to run the Boston Marathon since 2011 and that 2016 Cleveland Marathon was to be both a first attempt at the distance and an opportunity to take measure of how far I still had to go to earn a BQ. True to form though, I planned to run hard and see how fast I could go, whatever the consequences.

Oh were there consequences. The conditions on race day in 2016 were not what did me in. Somewhere in training I had picked up a hip injury, one I thought I had beaten when race day arrived. When I felt a twinge of pain during my warm up I registered alarm but with less than an hour before the starting gun was to go off I didn’t think of backing out. I decided to go for it and prayed for the best. For 16 miles I ran hard and well. My half marathon split was the third fastest I had ever run the distance. However my hip had started acting balky at Mile 8. I was able to weather the storm for another eight miles but by the time I reached the turnaround to head back toward downtown the pain became overwhelming. Wet, hurting, and unable to maintain the speed that had built up my body to a temperature that made the conditions bearable I began a slow march back toward the finish line. I walked, I jogged, I did whatever I could to move forward, the cold settling in. I am shocked I did not get hypothermia. Given the reaction several runners had when they saw me maybe I did. At Mile 20 a rap of thunder echoed in the distance while it continued to snow. Thunder snow in May. All you could do was chuckle.

The marathon course back then finished on the Cleveland Shoreway which exposed runners to everything Lake Erie could throw at them. Wind that had been blowing mostly from the west now hurled itself from the north in waves off the lake at the exposed runners. I still had three miles to go and was on a section where no one could spectate and support runners (overall, despite the conditions, the support that day was incredible). At Mile 24 I heard someone shuffle along next to me. He was older than I, maybe in his 40’s. We made eye contact. “Let’s take this in together.” He was Chris from Michigan. He too had come to Cleveland to try to BQ after missing it at the Glass City Marathon just weeks before. He too was freezing but in far better condition than I to wrap up his race and get into something warm. But he insisted on staying with me. We walked a bit, then he’d encourage me to jog. This continued for two miles. When we exited the Shoreway and eyed the final straightaway he encouraged me to go on ahead of him. I echoed his initial encouragement back to him: “No, let’s take this in together.” And we did, finishing in identical times of 3:29:56. It was the only time I ever saw him, we’ve never spoken since. There is no doubt his selfless gesture got me to the finish line that allowed me to call myself, for the first time, a marathoner. Chris, thank you. I hope you’ve made it to Boston.

5. 2018: Trust your training and every now and then everything will come together

I learned much from 2016 and after a slight detour that required chiropractic care I once again eyed up a marathon in 2018. I had read about the training approach developed by the Hanson brothers, coaches to a number of notable world class marathoners, including Des Linden at the time of her Boston victory in 2018. Their system is unique: weekly mileage is spread out over multiple quality runs each week rather than crammed into one lengthy weekend long run, a practice they believe leads to injury, especially amongst sub-elite runners. The system intrigued me and I adopted it for my 2018 training. It was new territory and though I felt myself getting stronger I had to see it in practice on a race day to know if it would translate into marathon success.

All the years of going out too hard to chase time goals had provided valuable lessons. In 2018 I was more patient in part because my training allowed me to be. Though my pace in the early going suggested I was pushing, my effort felt calm and relaxed. When I think of that race I find that I have difficulty remembering much of the first 16 miles or so. My running felt smooth, absent of challenges. I was coasting, waiting for the real race to begin rather than making the mistake of attacking from the get go which had resulted in so many poor Cleveland races in the past.

Hitting the turnaround and powering around it was especially meaningful. It was here that I had come to a screeching halt two years prior. Now I made the turn with ease and began my trek back home.

As I checked my watch and noted the time I saw that I was two minutes or so under the pace I needed to be at to run the sub-3:05 that I was aiming for, a time I felt would comfortably earn me a Boston Marathon qualification. That would hold until somewhere around Mile 21 when I first felt one and then both calves start to spasm. I was about to suffer from cramps and right when I was beginning to feel like I had the race wrapped up. Still, the spasming was not painful nor was it slowing me down. I had the mileage under my belt from training to continue pushing the pace. I fixated on being aware of what was going on with my calves but not worrying. The spasms thus far were not slowing me down nor were they painful. The worst thing I could do was let worry take hold.

I was able to maintain that mindset for another three miles or so. Turning onto Detroit Avenue, the final stretch that would take us into downtown, I reached back with my left leg and felt it deaden. It simply would not extend. The calf cramps had been unnerving. This was bad. Very very bad. I could not run if my legs would not extend. Here was where the minutes I had banked would help. My left leg for the moment would not actually extend but I could still move forward with an awkward sort of pelvic swing while I waited for the cramp to subside. That second-to-last mile screeched by, my pace slowing by over a minute. Still, I was moving forward. With the last mile upon us I hoped that my body, sensing that this was almost over, would dump whatever reserves it had into restoring my stride. Thankfully it did and in that last mile the pace I had so engrained into my body over months of training returned. I did not break the 3:05 goal I had set for myself, but I did run a 3:05:11, a huge PR, my first BQ, and certainly a ticket to my first Boston Marathon.

That was not meant to be. That year’s field would be so fast that the BAA would lower qualifying standards by five minutes in an attempt to avoid excluding so many runners who had set BQ’s. I was one of the excluded, missing entry by three seconds. I was disappointed when I opened that email but looking back on the race that allowed me to even register for Boston, I cannot help but smile. I ran the best race I could. Years of hard-earned lessons in Cleveland had made me a better runner and prepared me for the day when my training, maturity, and experience would all come together to allow me to truly show what I was capable of doing. Now that we have sat through a race day that wasn’t, I am even more thankful for those experiences and look forward to the day when I, and we, can toe a start line downtown, hear that starting gun, and race forward into further possibility.

Links Worth Checking Out: May 15, 2020

Another Friday and another round of links from running and around the world that are worth a look.

1. Running on empty: Coronavirus has changed the course for races big and small 

Races cancelled. Runners waiting to see if summer and fall races will be held. This article sheds light on the state of the race industry (I had no idea how many sub-contractors can be involved in getting a race run) and how COVID will change the business side of running. Before reading this I had not been high on the idea of signing up for virtual editions of my favorite races but one race director’s explanation, that races should be viewed more as local businesses than as yearly events changed my perspective and has made me re-think that stance.

2. Ahmaud Arbery: The Continued and Condoned Lynching of Black America

An uncomfortable but necessary read for the running community. This is a story that has left me feeling helpless and feeling shame that helplessness has been all I can muster. The hours that I lace up my shoes and head out the door for my run are often the best moments of any given day. I do so knowing that I need not worry about the neighborhoods I will be running in and that no one will care how I dress. Far too many of my fellow runners are not allowed that luxury. Runners need to know why this is true, and this article clearly traces through history why the black community cannot enjoy that safety that I can. To confront a problem we must acknowledge it exists and understand why. Then we must work in ways large and small to correct this tragic wrong.

3. May 6: a historic date for Roger Bannister, Eliud Kipchoge and the running world

For the running history nerds among you, last week saw anniversaries of two of the more meaningful days in running lore. A quick history read that might inspire some poking down a few rabbit holes.

4. Grand illusion: how the pandemic exposed we’re all just pretending

In discussing COVID with people my age, often the same question has been asked: just what else can happen to us? I am an older Millennnial; three weeks into my freshman year of college I woke up to the horror of 9/11 and saw the world reshaped by its economic and societal ripples. This was followed seven years later by the Great Recession and now COVID. Three generation-shattering events and all in the first 18+ years of my adulthood. It is good to be reminded of these things, to recognize that if we are not where we thought we’d be or where we wanted to be, it is not all a reflection of our individual faults. It is important we recognize this and exercise self-compassion.

Links Worth Checking Out: May 8, 2020

Every Friday I want to start bringing to you links I think are worth reading, listening to, or watching. Often these are going to involve running or can be applied to it. Sitting here in the middle of a pandemic though it seems a lost opportunity to limit the scope to running. When I coached soccer one of my goals was to build the whole person. Well-rounded high school boys were bound to be better teammates and better soccer players. So too with running and runners. If you have any interesting links, please send them my way.

1. When We Are Ready, The Practice Will Be Waiting

With an abundance of free time on my hands I have often fallen into the trap of believing that I need to be moving forward forward forward. Wasted time, I have reasoned, is lost, and when will I have have this much time on my hands again? In this post Ed Batista reminds us that progress in any form can be made when we are ready. In the meantime, if you find yourself overwhelmed by the various ways life has changed and do not feel the need to push, accept it. Do not judge yourself. I have had good days and bad. When we are ready, we can recommit to the practice.

2. Tech Gurus And ALL CAPS TWITTER Vs. Actual Science

I nerd out on Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg quite a bit. You will see my linking to their work often. This article is a must-read for the moment we are in. COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges and created uncertainty in our lives. In such a time it is easy to look to any information for reassurance and to explain just what the hell is going on. Yet not all information is created equal. Here Brad and Steve take a hard look at what exactly science is and what it is not. This article will help readers understand what they should look for in sources they see online (even those damned conspiracy theory videos) and what scientific thinking can and can’t provide in an era of widespread uncertainty.

3. How to Change Your Mind

I nerd out on Brad and Steve so much I link to them twice this week. This was one of the more powerful podcast episodes I have listened to lately. It helped me identify some of my hidden assumptions. Those conspiracy theory videos I referenced in the last post? Prior to listening to this podcast I would’ve fact-dumped anyone sharing one and then criticized them mercilessly. It’s a poor approach, and one not likely to change anyone’s mind. Listen to this episode and it will provide a framework for engaging in discussions that just might help someone uncover some underlying assumptions, maybe even your own.

4. Is your health and fitness routine broken? What to do when staying in shape feels harder than ever.

Full disclosure: I recently started earning my Precision Nutrition Essentials of Nutrition and Coaching Level 1 certification. I am a big believer in PN’s system and method of coaching clients.

This article is another relevant read to these weird times. For many of us, routines have been disrupted. Runners likely had spring races cancelled and who knows if summer and fall races will occur. Altered routines mean new systems have to be built in order to fit old practices and new routines into our new realities. While the focus of this read is on fitness, you could apply the approach to any area of your life. If you are feeling it is time to get back on the horse and re-start running (or any other interrupted part of your life) this article can help you rebuild the system to make that routine stick.


That’s it for this week. I’ll have several new links up next week. If you’re looking for more runner-related content, check out my podcast, co-hosted by Andrew Hettinger. Last week we discussed new challenges and goals you can tackle with racing this summer and fall looking tenuous at best. This week we sat down with Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon race director, Darris Blackford to discuss this fall’s upcoming race (hopefully) and the changes the racing world may be looking at in the next few years.