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!

Adam

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.

In Trying Times A Runner’s Case For Mindfulness

I’m sitting here on a Thursday night and I am not doing well. Not doing well at all. This is not a cry for help. You do not need to be alarmed. It’s just where I am. As we all navigate this new normal we are all going to have moments like the one I am having right now.

Four days ago was my last day of work when, in ones and twos, regulars spun through the revolving door and skittered like tumbleweeds through the near empty restaurant up to my bar. “We wanted to get in one last time,” was the usual refrain. A final act of normalcy at the end of a week that had long stopped feeling normal.

God what I would give for even a part of my old routine right now.

The irony of this moment is that I suddenly have far more time to devote to building some sort of consistency with my running. I would have given anything for that last year as I bounced around from injury to injury. Now, feeling more like myself and relatively healthy, my schedule has opened to run and to workout (at home at least) as often as I want.

I am finding that is hard to do when the rug has been pulled out from under me. There is no model for where we are. Where last week we were living now many of us have switched to survival mode. I certainly have. With that comes anxiety and worry and there are plenty of demons to focus my worry on. My debt, my bills, my rent, my concern that the industry I work in may be decimated, and my worry for my parents. I can kick those worries around all day if I wish and my running will simply be me running around in a miserable circle of my own fears and anxieties.

There is a blessing in that years of running have helped me cultivate tools to try to handle this. Running has enriched my life in any number of ways but I am perhaps most grateful for how, in my chase for PRs and BQs, I have built transferable skills I can apply to other areas of my life, areas where those skills have been sorely needed. With the fallout from coronavirus, those tools are being put to use.

In my response to these trying times, the foundation I’m laying down brick by brick will be built on mindfulness and meditation.

One of my favorite mental health advocates, Mark Freeman, describes mindfulness in his book You Are Not a Rock: A Step-by-Step Guide to Better Mental Health (For Humans), as “the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment – non-judgmentally.” Non-judgment here is vital, as he notes it is judgment that “sets off the chain reaction of anxiety, fear, and compulsions with which we so often find ourselves struggling.”

In the quest to be more mindful, meditation has helped me locate an anchor that keeps me in the moment: the breath. One of my favorite mediations on the Breathe app is called Lion Mind. In the meditation, we are told that we can be of one of two minds: the dog mind, which chases every intrusive thought like a dog chases a bone, or the lion mind, which focuses on what needs to be focused on. By simply bringing the attention back to the breath, that anchor that is always with us, we can stop chasing those intrusive, judgmental thoughts (coronavirus will ruin the economy and I’ll never recover, my legs are screaming in pain and there’s no way I can finish these last miles) and focus on what must be done right now (I can apply for unemployment, I can put one foot in front of the other until I make it to the stop sign).

What can you do right now to cultivate mindfulness and learn to meditate? Maybe the simplest thing you can do is simply sit down, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing for one minute. You can do this anywhere. Don’t worry when your mind wanders—it will—just bring your attention back to your breath. If you want to get more advanced, I recommend the Calm and/or Breathe apps. I have used Breathe most often in the two years I have practiced meditating. Something I will caution, is that meditation is not what some people bill it to be: a practice that will get rid of the anxiety and fear in your head. As Freeman notes, “Don’t bring [meditation] into your life only to take from it. If you’re selfish with meditation, you will have an unhappy relationship with it.” Instead, treat it as a way to build the skills to accept the things in your head while remaining focused on the present.

Being focused on the present, on the things I can control, is maybe the most vital skill I can employ right now. I cannot control the virus, but I can wash my hands and sanitize heavily-used surfaces. I cannot control what the economy will look like next week or what Congress will come up with as a relief package, but I can file for the assistance available to me and build skills that I can use in the jobs that will be waiting when this eventually blows over. I can run. I can focus on a sport that has brought me comfort and joy through good times and bad over the last decade. We’re going to get through this. Together, one stride at a time, we’re going to get through this.

Happy running.

A Tough Year on the Road, and Yet Much to be Thankful For

My family welcomed my second nephew to the world today. He is an early Thanksgiving gift and a much-welcomed addition to a length list of reasons to be thankful.

This time of year always brings to mind those things I am grateful for and that time for reflection extends to my running. In ways large and small running has enhanced my life. It has made me fitter, more disciplined, and brought me the joys of crossing finish lines.

Every year I am grateful for the support my family continually supplies for my running efforts. They have scheduled meals around my training, shifted vacation plans, and turned out to support my races. Running may be a solo affair but no person ever runs alone.

Running introduced me to my podcast co-host and led to us just completing our first year together discussing all things running. (You should check it out — search Rust Belt Running on most major podcast platforms.)

Running led me to want to be a better, healthier cook. It led me to gardening. It made me want to explore northeast Ohio’s many Metroparks and the Cuyahoga Valley in search of new paths to run. In the process I discovered a love of hiking. I’m grateful for it all.

Running made me a better coach. Thrust back into the struggles of being an athlete chasing goals, I was reminded of how hard it can be for an athlete to see the winding road of progress, to overcome plateaus, to trust that all this work is going to build toward something. It made me more patient when my players struggled and more understanding of how individual moments fit together into a larger puzzle.

Running helped me re-discover my purpose. Leaving teaching five years ago was, and remains, the best decision I could have made for my life. What I could not foresee was the devastation that would ensue when I lost my sense of purpose. The continual push to become a better runner helped me find new purpose. In coaching myself I found that I enjoyed coaching others, that I could help others looking to meet their fitness goals in the same way I was helping myself meet my running goals. I look forward to doing it on a larger scale.

It has brought me my share of disappointments, finish lines I’ve stumbled across and training runs I’ve found myself limping through. Yet I cherish even those memories. It is part of the experience. Foundations crack and it has been through those repairs that I’ve built myself into a better, stronger, more resilient runner.

That is the story of this year. Stumbling and limping, aches and pains. It is the year that wasn’t. Even then I am grateful. In lamenting that I was not where I wanted to be I learned the value of being ok with exactly where I am. Do I want to be back to being the runner I was on Saint Patrick’s Day, clicking through 15 hilly miles, feeling like I could take on the world? Absolutely. I am, however, enjoying that old feeling of having weary legs, of slowly but surely building up mileage, of laying a foundation for greater things to come. I run now, not with my mind on what I hope is coming but rather on what is, in this moment, right now. With this mindset every run, no matter how small, is a gift.

The large goals remain. I hope for another marathon PR next year. I hope for a BQ and a third straight year of putting my name in the hopper for Boston. It will be my tenth year of lacing up my shoes and heading out the door. If the first nine have taught me anything it is that the unexpected will happen. There will be moments of unadulterated joy and moments of pain and sorrow.

I will be grateful for them all.

The Year That Wasn’t: Three Lessons From a Bad Year of Running

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.

-Ernest Hemingway

 

The plan this year, my ninth year of endurance running, was simple: maintain the progress I’d made in 2018.

The results I was hoping for? A third straight marathon PR. A third straight BQ. If all went well, a sub-3 hour marathon (I’m coming for you, Eliud!). Celebrate my acceptance into the 2020 Boston Marathon. It all felt possible.

Those plans essentially ended on March 19. Two days prior I had celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, not with green beer, but with a 15-mile hill run through the green trails of the Cleveland Metroparks. I had felt strong and ready for the second half of marathon training. But on the 19th as I finished my last speed interval I planted my foot and felt a searing pain travel up my left calf. Multiple injuries would follow during the year. I would beat one only to sustain another. In mid-July I gave up entirely and hung up my shoes for almost three months.

Failures, however, provide valuable learning opportunities. In a year when nothing went according to plan there were opportunities to learn. Here are the three most important lessons I am taking away from Year Nine.

1. Don’t Chase Pain

My first significant injury of the year was a calf strain. I have experienced pain before. This was something else. I could barely plant to pivot and change direction when I walked. Everything below my left knee tightened up.

My natural reaction was to fix the immediate problem. I foam rolled tight areas. I performed eccentric calf raises to strengthen the injured area. My mind was solely on preserving as much of my training base as I could. Slowly but surely my calf recovered and it felt better. Then a month later I felt a sharp pain on the front of my right shin, likely an anterior tibialis strain resulting from an imperceptibly altered gait when I had returned to running after my calf strain. I repeated the routine: roll the tight areas, strengthen the injured area, return to running when possible. By this point my strength program had morphed from a carefully choreographed routine of hip, glute, and core work to a mishmash of exercises I had adopted to try to fix the various ailments I was picking up. When I felt pain in my right groin in July I knew I was way out of balance and needed to take time off to get the bottom of why I kept getting hurt.

2. Don’t Ignore Faulty or Painful Movement Patterns

The root of this year’s problems likely originated during my training last year. Training for my spring race probably went as well as it could. I cannot remember any setbacks, major or minor, and I came away from training and from the race pain free. Training for my fall race in Columbus did not go quite as smoothly.

I am not sure when I first noticed that my pelvis had a slight rotation in it but it was something I noticed during the build up to Columbus. It was accompanied by some soreness in my low back, all the way out toward my right side. I dutifully used a lacrosse ball to mobilize the tissue and continued with my bodyweight strength training which included plenty of core work. I convinced myself the issue was minor: the pain was not too bad, the rotation could just be a weird defect of my body (this conveniently ignored that I had never noticed such a rotation before), I was continuing to strengthen my core and major muscles, and I was getting faster and stronger so could something really be wrong? No, I convinced myself, I was fine.

And I was fine, for awhile. I ran Columbus well, setting another PR and nabbing a BQ. Everything was a-ok! Here, right here, is where I should have sought help. I should have talked to my chiropractor about my concerns. I should have done some research on what could cause such a pelvic rotation. I could have headed off what this year would become. But I did not. I feared a lengthy layaway from training. I convinced myself that my improvement in speed and form showed I was fine.

The problem with many running injuries is that we cannot pinpoint their immediate cause. An acute injury like a sprained ankle comes with an easily identifiable cause. All the focus can go toward fixing the injured part. I have plenty of history with these sort of injuries from my soccer playing days. Many running injuries, however, are a result of pattern overload. A faulty movement pattern persists. Our body, brilliant in its design, has plenty of workarounds to make sure we can keep moving through those faulty movement patterns; one muscle weakness leaving us unable to move would have come with deadly consequences to our prehistoric caveman ancestors. Eventually though, the body cannot sustain these workarounds and an injury results.

What caused mine?

Well I’m not sure why my pelvis rotated. Likely an inconsistency or imbalance in the way I sit caused my left core muscles, including my psoas, a stabilizing muscle and hip flexor, to tighten up. That caused a chain reaction of events to occur, which included a less efficient firing pattern for my left gluteus maximus, the main driver of the hip extension pattern I perform thousands of times during any given run (running is essentially the constant repetition of hip extensions). In order to allow me to keep running syngergist muscles (helper muscles, in essence) had to take up the slack to continue this pattern of hip extension. The hamstrings and adductor magnus (a groin muscle) can perform those functions, though they are not supposed to be the main movers of hip extension. Guess what? Training in the spring often was accompanied by lower left hamstring and inner left leg soreness as those muscles took up the slack. My calves could also help power my stride during push off, an action they perform but, again, aren’t supposed to handle the bulk of. Sure enough, my left calf was often tight during training. When my left calf eventually gave out and strained in March, it was because a faulty pattern had been building for months, maybe even half a year, and if I had paid more attention to the signs, I could have seen it coming.

3. Run the Mile You’re In

After three months off I returned to running. I was ready. I was eager. I, well, I struggled daily to lace up my shoes. Sure, I was physically out of shape. I lost my wind barely a mile into an easy run. Five mile runs that used to be my standard easy run now were the furthest I could push myself. I remembered the runner I have been and I felt defeated.

I quickly realized remembering the runner I had been was part of my problem. Having had two years of solid training prior to this year gives me confidence that I can handle such training again when I am ready for it. I am not ready for it now though. That was the main contributor to my reluctance to run. Here I was, finally back to being able to do what I love, but so much of what I love about running is pushing myself to the absolute limits of my ability. Struggling through five miles is not the absolute limit of my ability when I am at my best. It is, though, the absolute limit of my ability now.

That distinction is key. In order to enjoy running again, to fight through the nagging voice in my head that was all too happy to find any excuse for my not running on any given day, I needed to find compassion for the runner I am right now. The runner I am right now cannot push for a Boston qualifying time. The runner I am right now cannot handle 50 miles a week. Where I am right now is back to square one, where being disciplined five days a week is a victory, where handling 25 miles a week is pushing it. When I can lump together enough of those weeks I will again be the runner who is ready to push to that edge I love to test.

What’s Next?

I have my sights set on the Pittsburgh Marathon next May. My last year coaching at Ravenna we took our pre-season trip to Pittsburgh. I really came to appreciate the city (not easy for a Clevelander) and I think a marathon there would be a gorgeous run.

I have a time in mind though I am keeping that to myself at the moment. It is a big goal that is pushing me forward but as I just explained, I need to be focused on where I am at now, pushing myself to run mid-20 mile weeks while building up strength. It is not yet time to fully commit to big goals.

I am, however, excited to see what this next year, my tenth as a runner, brings. My previous breakthroughs — breaking 1:30:00 in the half marathon and earning my first BQ — followed difficult, injury-riddled years where weaknesses forced me to adapt my training and rebuild from the ground up. I am once again rebuilding and this time next year we will see where this new foundation has taken me.

 

 

What Do We Make of 1:59:40?

In 2014 Runner’s World ran a story detailing what it would take to break two hours in a marathon. It listed the factors that would lend itself to such an endeavor and the qualities the runner attempting it would possess. The race would be run on a cold day (check), on a “mind-numbingly boring” course (check), with pacemakers forming a human wall (check). The runner would be 5’6″ and 120 pounds soaking wet (check), possess towering self-confidence (check), and “have access to things we can’t imagine” (big old check – more on this later). The author predicted the barrier would be broken. In 2075.

What the author, sports science writer Alex Hutchinson, did not envision, and probably could not envision at the time, was the clock-like consistency of Eliud Kipchoge. Hutchinson envisioned that the runner who would break two hours would be in his early twenties. Kipchoge broke the barrier at age 34. But the world then had not seen a runner like Kipchoge. At the time Hutchinson wrote the article, Kipchoge was on his way to finishing his fourth marathon, winning three (his one marathon loss was a second-place finish in the 2013 Berlin Marathon, won by Wilson Kipsang in then-world record time). But he was in his late twenties at that time, a peak age for distance runners who quickly stare down the inevitable decline. That he would still be winning marathons, in fact winning every marathon he’s entered since, and getting faster at the same time, would not have been easy to predict.

Now that two hours has been broken, what do we make of it? When I woke up last Saturday to the news, I was not surprised to see my running friends celebrating the accomplishment. But even friends who are not hardcore runners were aware of the accomplishment and celebrating. Much as the four-minute mile captured public attention in the 1950’s, so too was the draw and aura of running 26.2 miles in under an even two hours a cause even those who barely pay attention to running could understand and wonder at.

The press was less effusive in its praise. In his Morning Shakeout newsletter Mario Fraioli described the attempt as “engaging, inspiring, and a genuinely good show” but noted, correctly, that the level of engineering that went into the attempt made it an experiment rather than a race. Hutchinson, now writing for Outside Magazine, noted how unsurprising it felt, a compliment to Kipchoge and his consistency given that just five years ago Hutchinson was speculating that such an attempt was decades away. The Atlantic’s headline was succinct: The Greatest, Fakest World Record.

There is perhaps something lost when crossing the mythical two-hour threshold was accomplished for the first time in engineered conditions. Just as Hutchinson predicted five years ago, a wall of pacers formed a sort of reverse flying V to block the wind. A car maintained the pace and projected a laser grid that Kipchoge and his band of pacers could follow, alleviating the mental energy needed to maintain the barrier-breaking pace. The course was a flat, straight stretch of road that eliminated the concern over losing seconds to tangents. The absence of competition meant that any late drama would be confined to whether or not Kipchoge could maintain his pace during the last several miles.

There would have been a heightened sense of excitement had the barrier been broken in a race. Say Kipchoge had returned to defend his title in Berlin just a few weeks prior, he may have been naturally pushed to two hours by Kenenisa Bekele whose winning time in the race was a mere two seconds off the world record Kipchoge set there last year. But then racing is not always conducive to chasing a particular time. The hard charge down the finishing chute between Kipchoge and Bekele may never have materialized as both, and certainly Kipchoge, would have been inclined to throw in surges to break each other, a tactic that is good for racing but not necessarily good for maintaining the even pacing needed to chase a time goal.

Then there’s the shoes, the latest edition of Nike’s Vaporflys, in which Kipchoge broke the barrier (and, to add fuel to the fire, Brigid Kosgei used to break Paula Radcliffe’s 16-year-old women’s marathon record the next day). If there has been a consistent discussion point following Kipchoge’s run, it has been what role shoe technology plays in the sport and where the line should be drawn on how much innovation is too much innovation. Des Linden quote tweeted herself noting the lack of discussion about carbon plates in shoes. Ryan Hall added his own criticism of Kipchoge’s shoes later in the week (that he later clarified so as to not seem to knock Kipchoge’s accomplishment while maintaining his criticism of the shoes). Steve Magness wrote an interesting thread on what Vaporflys and carbon plate technology do to decrease marathon times. The attention to the shoes is needed. Linden is right: a sustained discussion about the role of carbon plates in shoes has not been had since they first hit the mainstream when Nike developed the first Vaporflys for Kipchoge’s first attempt at a sub-2 hour marathon three years ago, which they then successfully mass produced to everyday runners. That said, Nike was neither the first, nor the last to utilize the technology. Their innovation was built off of an attempt first made by Adidas. In response to Nike’s successful production, Hoka, Saucony, and Brooks all produced experimental shoes with carbon plates in them. Linden won Boston in Brooks’s prototype.

The consternation about carbon plates in shoes has several different threads. First, non-Nike athletes were reasonably concerned when only Nike athletes had access to the technology, especially technology that has been shown to save up to 4% of the effort needed to run. Were they losing to these runners because they were better or because they were wearing a certain shoe? Second, new iterations of Nike’s Vaporflys are rumored to have added more carbon plates inside an even thicker sole, leading to questions about how springy the shoes are and if they provide even more of an advantage than the first Vaporflys. Calls to ban the shoes have begun.

It is hard to imagine banning the shoe precisely because, as Linden pointed out, a conversation about carbon plates has not occurred. Banning the technology entirely would be a multi-billion dollar decision, at least if the ban extended beyond what elite runners can wear in competition. In addition, what makes this technology the line we decide to take a stand on? Have times decreased with those who are wearing Vaporflys? Yes, but then such improvements are hardly new within sports. Rubber tracks changed track and field. Fiberglass poles changed pole vaulting. Fiberglass shells changed rowing. Today we have better understanding of nutrition, recovery, strength training, all through scientific research and innovation, and competition has improved as a result. Rounding back to Alex Hutchinson, in an article he wrote for Outside Magazine in August in which he broke down newly released data from Nike on Vaporflys, noting:

If it does turn out that the Vaporfly is unusually good at protecting your legs, then it adds a twist to the debate about banning them. A key argument in favor of permitting ever-advancing sports technology is that the benefits eventually accrue to society at large: we get lighter tennis rackets and safer helmets and so on. That’s not always true: when high-tech swimsuits were banned in 2010, one reason I didn’t shed any tears was that it didn’t seem like a great loss. Squeezing into a single-use rubber corset is only worthwhile if you’re trying to win races by a fraction of second. But if the Vaporfly, in addition to boosting efficiency, helps more people run farther in greater comfort, what then?

The unambiguous solution would be to limit sole height which would likely limit the amount of curve of carbon plates in shoes and limit how many of them could be put into one shoe. Will that happen? Nike has a lot of money riding on that question and when money is involved, who knows how regulations will be handled. We may simply be entering a new era of technology in running.

So then how to do view Kipchoge’s 1:59:40? If the engineered nature of the event takes away some of the aura for you, I can understand that. There is a reason we reserve world records for competition. Competition is what brings people to the sport. I love to see the hotly-contested race, one man stretching just a little further to break the tape first, the woman who stares down the pressure and completes her final, and furthest jump to snatch the medal back from the opponent who had just out-jumped her. Yet I still appreciate what Eliud Kipchoge has done, the consistency he has brought to his marathoning. It feels, in some way, like a capstone to an impressive career, that if anyone was going to push us closer to a barrier that felt so far off only a few years ago, it would be him. It also leaves me hoping that someday soon we will get to witness that late-race drama between two men thundering down that final straightaway, chasing that first true racing attempt at breaking two hours.

Towpath 10-10 Race Recap: Process Over Results in Action

I do not normally write race recaps for throwaway races like this. I like having a race or two I can run just for fun. I am still at a point where most of my time and attention spent on running is spent on obtaining PR’s but I find it refreshing to lace up, head to a small local race with no expectations, and just see what I can do. The Towpath 10-10 fits the bill. Held every Father’s Day, the 10-10 offers racers the option of running a 10 mile or 10k distance. My spring race is done by Father’s Day and I am usually not at the start of my cycle for fall. Running the 10-10 allows me to just enjoy the pure act of racing.

And so last Sunday I lined up at 7:00 am with my fellow 10-milers. For the first time I can remember, the sun wasn’t scorching us, the clear skies replaced by a fog that settled over the Cuyahoga Valley, the 80 degree temperatures common to this race replaced by a cool but humid 64 degrees. Ideal racing weather, or as ideal as you can get in mid-June. I was not sure what sort of pace I could expect to sustain.  I have been running steadily around 35-40 miles a week for a month, but I am three months removed from any speed or tempo work. My lone goal was to find a rhythm I could settle into, one that felt challenging but manageable until the final miles when I would empty the tank.

My initial pace felt hard on the legs but easy on the lungs, somewhere around a 6:45. This was the pace I sustained last year, but I had been in much better shape then. I was unconcerned about my legs; they often take a mile or two to settle in and feel comfortable in a race. What was concerning me was the dialogue going on inside my head. I have finished top-3 overall in a race exactly once in the 8+ years I have been running. It was this race last year when the residual fitness I had kept from my Cleveland Marathon BQ somehow put me near the front of the pack. The heat was brutal last year and I overplayed my hand inching my way into second place. It caught me in the last two miles but I somehow hung on to third place. Well, a year later my head was asking if I could do it again. Two miles in and I was running through different scenarios, wondering if I could pick up the pace, wondering how many runners were in front of me, remembering this stretch where I ran myself into the position to challenge for that top-3 finish. My focus was everywhere but where it needed to be, on the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other.

Last week I wrote about the parts of the process I am looking forward to as I train for the Columbus Marathon. I made my case for the idea that the process is far more important than the result. Mid-race, in an event that was simply supposed to be fun, I was far too worried about a result, one that was frankly out of my reach. I don’t have the volume to run truly hard through ten miles. I don’t have the speed training under my belt to tap into my highest gears. I needed to simply settle into a pace and enjoy it. I also needed to take the time to practice a skill that I hope will serve me well when I’m running my marathon this fall, that of working my early miles to put me in a position to attack the final 10k and challenge for the sub-3 marathon time I crave. Getting to this position goes beyond running through 20 miles at a specific time. It requires me to run smart, saving as much energy as I can, even while maintaining a fast pace, so I can attack at the end. It means I have to run relaxed, letting go of worries about what could happen if I don’t do X, Y, or Z. Two miles into a race I knew I could not possibly challenge for a top spot in, I was squandering the important opportunity to use it as practice for races down the road.

I returned to basics. I checked my breathing. Relaxed and controlled. The legs? Getting into a rhythm. My upper body? Upright but loose. I was simply running again. My plan from the start had been to run easy through the first four miles and then check how I felt. I did. Could I pick up the pace at all? No, it was not time for that. Two bridges remained at Mile 9 and I preferred to save whatever energy I could for that final stretch. I tracked a runner who was cruising about 50 feet ahead of me. I tried to reel her in but could not. I did not have the training volume to kick. The lack of heat made the going much easier that in years past and my pace remained consistent, somewhere between 6:50 and 6:55. When I hit the two short bridges, in the ninth mile, I was rewarded for my decision to hold off on picking up my pace five miles prior. While I did not have the energy to attack them, they did not kill my momentum as they have in year’s past when the heat and sun combined to finish me off. I crossed the finish line, not far off last year’s pace, winning my age group. Even better, I woke up the day after without stiffness or soreness. I felt ready to train. Columbus was waiting for me, 18 weeks away.