Saturday, January 21, 2012

Why I Run

I run because angry rock sounds better during Mile 6 of a planned 12-miler. Because I do more than just hear the lyrics. I feel them in my veins and my legs and my lungs. Because I can crank the sound to 11 and tune out the other noisy distractions of life.

I run because I like the peace and quiet. Because when I take off the earbuds, I’m left to listen to my rhythmic footsteps on crushed gravel, my even breathing, my beating heart. I experience the changes of the season a little more intimately, can feel them as I tick through the miles. I’m a wild animal running through the wilderness, and that’s pretty cool.

I run because I don’t believe in God. I believe in myself, in my own ability to transform my body and my mind. I run because I want to do my best in this life—to take advantage of everything it has to offer—and not worry so much about the next.

I run because when people piss me off—professionally, emotionally, politically, religiously—in the back of my mind I think I could kick their ass if I had to.

I run because I tell my kids I’m going to live until I’m at least 150 so they better get used to me. And if I’m out of shape, if I succumb to the conditions of old age, I won’t reach that goal. At the very least, I’ll be a burden. Besides, I hate taking medicine and going to the doctor, and I’m doing everything I can to stave that off for a while.

I run because my wife thinks I’m a little crazy for doing it. To run any distance, let alone 10 miles, 15 miles, 26.2, is akin to insanity in her mind.

I run because my wife sort of admires me for doing it. She’ll deny it, but secretly I think she likes telling people I ran a marathon, that I run half-marathons, that I’m training for an IronMan. Every roll of her eyes is an act of love on her part. Part of me runs to continue to impress her even as we grow older together. I want her to still think I’m hot.

I run because no one judges me when I do it. Because I don’t care if I’m fast or slow or somewhere in the middle. It’s not my time that matters anymore. What matters is the physical act of running itself. I stopped caring about the hours, the minutes, the seconds years ago. I’m never going to finish as fast as I once did, and, frankly, I don’t care.

I run because I like to buy outlandish, even garish, running shoes. They make me happy. They make me feel faster, the way I did when I was a kid and I got new shoes before every school year. We called them “tenny-go-fasters” back then. And you know what? I still do.

I run because I love to eat. I love to gorge myself on food. I don’t like being told to hold back on the buffet or to order the sensible meal when I dine out. I like to eat what I want when I want and as much as I want. Period.

I run because after a hot day on the road a cold glass of water tastes amazing. Or a beer. Especially a beer.

I run because it’s a small act of defiance on my part. Because every step is a slap in the face to those who say I can’t do something. Every mile is a kick to the groin to those who feel the need to give up or slow down. When I cross a finish line, when I reach a milestone, I feel like I’ve really accomplished something. Because if I can run 10 miles, 15, what can’t I do? I’m invincible. I’m 40 and I feel 20. I could do a hell of a lot when I was 20. I can do a hell of a lot now, too. More even.

I run because I can. Because my body still works. Because my knees are still strong. Because my heart is still in top shape. It seems a shame to waste that.

I run because I can’t stop. Because I feel miserable when I don’t get out there. Because my mind is clearer, more focused, more centered when I’m done. Because it makes me a better dad. A better husband.

I run because I love it. I run because…well…what else would I do?

I run because I’m a little selfish and running is my “me” time.

I’m not running away from anything. I’m not running toward something. I’m not being chased. I’m just running. It’s what I do. It’s who I am.

I’m a runner.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Getting into Gear

So I was out on a 12-mile run this afternoon and it occurred to me that I had a lot of, for lack of a better term, "crap" attached to my body. So I thought I'd use the opportunity to simultaneously write about my favorite running gear and hone my design skills. Just click on the image and it should open in a new window. Click on it again to enlarge it.

(By the way, my wife reluctantly took this photo. "You're so gross after you run," she said. "And I look like a freak taking your picture in the middle of the driveway." Thanks for being a good sport, hon. Love you!)

Oh, and look below the photo for a few more of my faves.

Other items:
Adhesive tape: "Sir, you've got blood on your shirt." I was on the treadmill at the gym a few years ago when a lady next to me made the observation. Sure enough, I saw the embarrassing blood and the underlying cause - runner's nipple, a relatively common ailment that occurs when your shirt chafes your skin. The solution? Simple pieces of clear adhesive tape. Not pretty, but certainly prettier than scabby chest parts. Price: $1 per roll at the Dollar Store.

Vaseline: Sure, stores will convince you that Body Glide is the way to go to keep that chafing at bay. Not for this frugal guy. Good ol' Vaseline works just as well for a fraction of the cost. Price: A couple of bucks at Walmart.

Timex Ironman watch: Mine's pretty basic - it keeps up to 10 split times and that's about it - but it's a good device for a lot of reasons. One, it helps me to set my pace on some of the predetermined routes I run. Two, it makes sure I get home in time for my wife to go to work in the morning. What else do you really need? Price: $25 at

Cheap sunglasses: ZZ Top was right, you don't need to spend a lot of money on fancy eyewear. The ones I wear are just Oakley-style knockoffs from Kohl's. I like the way they fit, they do a good job of keeping the rays off my eyeballs and I think they look okay. If I break them (which I'm prone to do), then I can just get a new pair. No harm done. Price: $15 at Kohl's.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Forest Gump and Me

I caught my first glimpse of him early on a Saturday morning as I drove into town for the start of the annual Zionsville Anti-Mini Marathon. He wore a long-sleeved white T-shirt, a black pair of shorts and a hydration pack slung across his back, and he slowly jogged along the side of the road, a solitary figure moving through the early-morning mist.

I didn't think much of him until I saw him again at the starting line. It was there when his appearance struck me.

His reddish hair was long and unkempt, like it hadn't been washed in days nor cut in months. His beard, the same. His forehead was deeply lined and tan, and his eyebrows were streaked white by the sun. His eyes were distant. Honestly, he was kind of weird looking, a little "off," like a homeless guy in running clothes.

So of course I introduced myself.

"I'm Steve," he said, his voice low and resonant. He seemed shy, like long conversations weren't his strong suit.

"You do this race before?" I asked and nodded to the woods beyond, to the start line of the half-marathon course I'd run five times before.

"First time here," he said and looked at his shoes. "But I've been running a long time."

"Really?" I said. "How long?" I expected him to tell me about a lifetime spent running. His answer, therefore, surprised me.

"Well, I left my house at midnight from Greenwood and it was pretty windy all night. I'm a little worn out." Greenwood is south of Indianapolis, roughly 30 miles from where Steve and I stood.

"Seriously? Wow. You do a lot of ultras?"

Steve smiled at the question, a little sideways facial twitch underneath his beard. "Sure. I just finished a 100-miler in Calfornia. Hitched my way across the country to get there."

Turns out, Steve's run a bunch of ultramarathons. Been doing them since high school, he said, which, as it happens, wasn't that long ago. "I'm 20," he told me, "but I look a lot older." He said he's met all the big names in ultramarathon circles - Scott Jurek, Dean Karnazes and the like. "They're all pretty cool guys," he said and looked back at his shoes.

By then it was race time. I wished Steve luck and headed out. The Zionsville Anti-Mini is a 13.1-mile race that requires runners to complete four 3.something-mile laps. On Lap 3, I passed Steve. He was still plodding along.

"Way to go, Steve," I said as I passed him. "Keep it up." He smiled that sideways smile again.

For a few minutes, I actually felt pretty good about my accomplishment - I just passed a guy who runs ultramarathons, I thought. And then reality struck; at Mile 13, I was going to be done. I could walk back to my car in the parking lot and head home.

Not Steve. For him, Mile 13 only marked a point just beyond halfway. When he was "done," I realized, he still had another 30 miles to go to get back home to Greenwood.

Suddenly, my accomplishment didn't seem so great anymore.

I've been thinking a lot about Steve since that race. I wonder what motivates him? I wonder, is he running toward something? Away? And what does he hope to find when he gets there? What must the world seem like 20 or 30 miles into a run at 3 in the morning? What goes through a man's mind?

Whatever the motivation or the reason, I'm glad I met Steve. He is exactly my opposite. Where my life is structured and rigid - filled with school bells and soccer practices - Steve's seemed open and free. He reminded me of Forest Gump running across the United States. Or Christopher McCandless in "Into the Wild," just experiencing the world and his place in it. I'm not saying I'd want to be Steve, but he was fun to meet, and his free spirit was something to experience.

I hope I can capture some of that spirit in the future.

Keep running, Steve. I hope you find what you're looking for.

Note: The picture at the top of this blog was taken before the start of the Zionsville Anti-Mini Marathon. That's me on the left (I'm not sure why I'm standing like that) and Steve on the right.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

New stuff = motivation

Author's note: Holy crap! I knew I hadn't blogged in a while, but this is ridiculous. Sorry. Won't happen again. Well, maybe it will, but it's a nice thing to, on with the post...

I downloaded some new songs to my iPod the other day. Just a couple of ditties from iTunes - a little Cake, some Prodigy, a dash of Radiohead. And about two weeks ago I received and wore the new Headsweats visor I ordered (thanks, Sean, for the recommendation). I got some new Livestrong running shorts, too.

Why do I mention these trinkets? Because they help. Well, they help me anyway. See, no matter how dedicated I am to running, getting out there on the road or treadmill day after day after day can get a little monotonous. The same songs, the same clothes, the same scenery - it can get redundant, and it can make even the most obsessive athlete think about taking a break.

But something about a new item can take a little of the edge off and can give me something new to keep me going. New songs, new shorts, a headband, all of it gives me a fresh perspective on the road.

New scenery, too. Last weekend I was in Portland, OR, for a journalism convention. I taught a class at 8 on Saturday morning and then, rather than sit in on a couple of additional sessions, I decided to hightail it back to my hotel, throw on my running gear, lace up my shoes and head out to the Riverwalk along the Willamette River. It was a beautiful little trail along the waterfront, taking me past the Saturday Farmer's Market underneath Burnside Avenue and a quaint little shopping plaza a little farther south. In the water were several rowing sculls filled with dozens of people learning the sport. The weather was beautiful - 60 degrees and partly sunny, just perfect for an extended run. I probably ran eight miles that morning, but it certainly didn't feel like it. I was too busy checking out the new sights to worry about how far I ran. If anything, I had some extra fuel in the tank. I was ready for more, and that motivation was enough to get me through the next several days once I returned home.

I'm not suggesting you go broke trying to find new stuff to keep you going. Just small stuff can be enough. A new set of music. A new snack. A new trail. That's about all I need.

Oh, and the new water bottle I've got my eye on...and that new running shirt...and those socks I've been thinking about...and...

Happy running!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

My idol Scott Jurek and me

So I've finally got a running idol. His name is Scott Jurek and he's an ultrarunner.

For those of you in the dark, an ultrarunner is anyone who runs distances farther than a marathon. Fifty, 60, 100, 150 miles at a stretch, these men and women take extreme sports to the extreme. They run races like the Badwater, a 135-mile race that starts in Death Valley, CA (200+ feet below sea level) and ends at the Portals of Mount Whitney (8,000+ feet above sea level) in July (average temperature, 115 degrees). Or the Western States, a 100-mile run that takes place on trails in California's Sierra Nevada mountains. That ultra starts at the base of the Squaw Valley ski resort and ends in Auburn, CA. Runners climb a cumulative total of 18,000 feet and descend a total of 23,000 feet on mountain trails before they reach the finish.

But what makes Scott Jurek cooler than most is not that he's won those races multiple times, which he has (he won Western States seven consecutive times and Badwater two times). No, I admire two other qualities that Jurek possesses that go beyond his unbelievable endurance - his tenacity and his sportmanship.

Granted, I've never met the man and probably never will (though it'd be really cool - Hey, Scott - can I call you Scott? - we're about the same age. Wanna go out for a drink sometime?), so this is all based on accounts I've read, including Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and an article by Steve Friedman in the April 2010 issue of Runner's World.

First, his tenacity: By all accounts, Jurek was never the fastest guy growing up. Yes, he was fast, just not as fast as his teammates, who used to call him "The Jerker" because of his slow speed. As he moved beyond high school and college, though, Jurek realized, while he wasn't necessarily speedy, he could keep a good pace for a really long time. That tortoise and the hare wisdom certainly applies here; Jurek still holds the course record for the Western States with his 9:20 pace over 100 miles. I can run a 9:20 pace. Hell, I can run a 6:30 pace, but not for 100 miles. That's insanely awesome.

Second, and perhaps more important, Jurek's sportsmanship is above reproach. It seems "Jerker" only applies to Jurek's running style. The man is most certainly not a jerk. Quite the opposite, in fact. According to every article I've read about Jurek, at the end of every race, whether he wins or loses, Scott Jurek waits to cheer on every single finisher, no matter how long that might take. Think about that - every single finisher. That's a hell of long time, especially in an ultramarathon, which might take a couple of days to finish. Are you kidding me? I don't care how fast or famous you are, that kind of regard for his fellow athletes makes Scott Jurek top-notch in my book.

So there you have it, Scott Jurek, my running idol. I thought about him today as I ran - a 17.5-mile loop where I averaged 8:40 miles. I was burned out at the end, though, nothing left in the tank. That run made me think about the feats of endurance that Scott Jurek completes on a regular basis. And when I was done, I just wanted to go inside, ingest about a gallon of fluid and take a nap. I couldn't even imagine staying out there for who knows how many hours waiting for my fellow competitors to finish. I admire Scott Jurek for his athleticism. But I admire him more because he is a good representative of the sport.

Run on, Scott Jurek. Run on.

Happy running.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Slow and Steady

We made it. Better yet, we made it together.

As I previewed a couple of weeks ago, this weekend, Sean, my college buddy, and I completed the ING half-marathon in Atlanta, GA. For me, it was my 10th (or 11th, or 12th - I've lost track) race of that distance. For Sean, it was his first. Granted, he finished a full Ironman a year or so ago, but he admitted to me at the starting line that he'd never signed up for just a run before.

I'll admit the race was a different experience for me for two reasons. First, for all the races I've run, I've never run one with a partner before. I'm used to sticking in the headphones, cranking the tunes and going. On Sunday? No headphones. It was just me and Sean and 16,000 other runners.

Second, I'd never run a race at that pace before. While I'm not as fast as I used to be, I can still average an eight-minute mile or so for 13 miles. Sean, on the other hand, cannot. The cancer he had more than 10 years ago left him with poor circulation in his legs. He explained that when he exercises, the blood in his legs starts to pool and his heart starts to pump harder to push that blood through his body. If he's not careful, his heart rate can spike to an unsafe rate. He takes beta blockers about an hour before he works out which helps to regulate his heart rate, but the medicine only works to an extent. Sean wears a heart rate monitor, and I found myself constantly asking him how his heart was doing as we ran. If the pace was too fast, we'd have to walk for a bit. Once his heart slowed below 120 or so, we started to jog.

At first I thought the slower pace (about an 11:30-mile average) would be a problem for me. I wasn't used to it. I hadn't prepared for it. And I worried about Sean. Would I just arbitrarily start going too fast? Would Sean, being the competitive person he is, try to work too hard to keep up?

Turns out, those worries were for naught. In fact, I found the pace to be liberating, even exhilarating. See, the thing is, it turns out people who run 11:30 miles are way more fun than people who run eight-minute miles. At the faster pace, it's all business. No one talks. No one smiles. It's just running, running, running for 13 miles.

At 11:30 there's a lot of chit-chat. There's a lot of camaraderie. At an 11:30 pace, there's time to slap fives with the kids who line the road. There's time to say a genuine "thank you" to the volunteers who hand out Gatorade and water. There's time to actually enjoy the scenery (including the really hot woman we ran behind for some time - thighs so tight you could bounce quarters off of them) and appreciate the spectacle of 16,000 people bobbing along a street at the same time.

Along the way, I met people and actually had conversations with them, like the group of barefoot runners who talked about remodeling their Web site (the address of which escapes me at the moment) and the guy who saw my 1993 Ball State Bike-a-Thon T-shirt. "You from Muncie?" he asked in a race in the middle of Atlanta, GA. He'd run the Muncie Endurathon, which, according to him at least, is the longest running half-Ironman in the country.

We cheered at each mile marker as we neared the finish line. Or, well, I cheered. The people around me weren't quite as rousing at that point, but I think they appreciated my enthusiasm. And when we reached the finish line, Sean and I crossed it together. Sean said he was pleased with his time (about two and a half hours). Me? I was pleased with the time I had, too - not clock time, mind you, but a great time just the same.

In the end, that race made me realize something pretty important about life. It made me realize how valuable it can be to slow down from time to time, to appreciate the little things, to not constantly worry so much about what's around the next corner. That race reminded me that it's not the finish line that's the most important part of the experience; it's the journey to get to there that matters.

And it made me remember how important it is to have good friends. I'm glad I ran that race with Sean. I think he was glad, too.

I can't wait to do it again.

Happy running.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The agony of da feet

It's a good thing my wife hates feet. She always has, which is helpful because if she married me based on the current quality of my dogs, she'd be running for the hills as we speak.

Bottom line: While running may be good for a lot of things, it isn't good for the tootsies.

I don't mean to be too graphic here, but I can't avoid it; my feet are disgusting. At present, I have the following ailments: three black toenails, several big calluses on the tips of my toes, some thick calluses on my heels and a Band-Aid covering a blister on my Achilles heel. Don't get me wrong, my feet feel just fine, they just look gross.

I'm not alone. According to an October 2009 New York Times article, "Most runners end up losing a toenail from time to time. It is called onychoptosis, which means 'falling nail' in Greek, and is typically caused by injury or stress to the nail." Additonally, an article in the January issue of Runner's World indicated black toenails are a badge of honor. "Congratulations!" the article states. "These bruised nails are tiny trophies conferred upon you for roughing it out." In a strange way, then, I should be proud of my damaged feet.

Still, I'm glad the problems are confined to my feet and not, say, my forehead. At least I can keep my toes covered. Then again, summer's coming soon, which means flip-flop weather.

Sorry, honey.