Why I’ve Stepped Back From Racing and the Hidden Fees of All That Training

To have more time for late afternoon fishing with Dylan at Folsom Lake

To have more time for late afternoon fishing with Dylan at Folsom Lake

“We are what we repeatedly do.” – Aristotle

When I started to analyze the racing events I was doing, I uncovered some hidden costs that were never disclosed in the entry fees. A marathon/ultramarathon/ironman can range anywhere from $100-$700 but quickly increase if you need to travel, pay airfare and stay in a hotel. A monumental race like Race Across America is around $3,000 for the entry fee, but my out-of-pocket costs were closer to $20,000. In the beginning, the experiences were well worth it. I usually made some new friends, learned a little something about myself and added another finisher’s medal to my collection. But at some point, I started to realize the price of these events was more than just money. There were hidden fees for which I never wrote a check but still had to pay – things like time, energy, missing other family activities. When I began to add up everything it hit me: the price was more than I wanted to spend.

Everyone’s experience and journey is different and some might classify me as a quitter. But how many marathons do I have to run to prove I can run 26.2 miles without stopping? If running 50 marathons doesn’t prove the point, then I don’t think running 51 or even 100 would do the trick either. How about if I became an Ironman, would that do it? Apparently not, because I’ve done that too but still felt I had something left to prove. So I committed myself to something truly epic and entered the Western States 100 mile run. What if I ran 100 miles in less than 24 hours, surely that would be enough? Nope. Every time I crossed a finish line, the satisfaction would stick around for only a few days before I was out trying to find my next event. I kept having to upstage the previous race. How about riding a bicycle 200 miles nonstop? 508 miles? 3,000 miles? I did that too and was still left trying to satisfy the hunger.

I think pedaling a bicycle 3,000 miles in Race Across America finally gave me the time to come to terms with myself. I proved to myself that we can push our bodies and our minds to accomplish more than we imagine. We can chase and achieve our dreams. Now I feel I don’t need to keep proving it over and over. But for years, having to prove it over and over was part of the lure. After the race was over, the euphoria would fade and I was left feeling I needed to do it again. I needed to start training for my next event. I still had to convince myself I had what it takes. Just getting to the starting line of something like Race Across America required a focus so intense and selfish that most other areas of my life had to suffer. Ironmans/ultras/marathons all require a similar level of intense focus and training. Saying “Yes” to one thing meant saying “No” to something else and when I realized what I was missing and saying “No” to, the true cost of all that racing and training proved too much.

I love a good race and battling it out to the finish line. And I believe training and racing instills positive traits that carry over to other aspects of a successful life. But life must stay balanced. I don’t want to be the dad missing my son’s events because I’m married to work or constantly training for my next race. In the midst of Ironman training last year, I made it a point to schedule Saturdays around Dylan’s soccer games. I squeezed in rides before or after but was always there for the whole game. Same with baseball games and practice. When I had to ask myself which one to choose or which one took priority, I knew something was wrong. Why is missing my son’s soccer game to go for a bike ride even an option I’m considering?

I could justify it and say all that training gave me a healthier body. I absolutely need to exercise both the mind and body. For me, running is therapeutic. Yet, where is the point of diminishing returns? Exercising 45-60 minutes a day is going to give me a healthy body. Anything more is overdoing it. Using the minimum effective approach, if I need to boil water and water boils at 212 degrees, what do I gain by boiling water at 300 degrees? I’m wasting energy. And that’s what it came down to for me, I was wasting my time and energy training for so many long hours. The water already boiled. I already proved I could do it. I need about 45-60 minutes a day of exercise a day to maintain some level of health and fitness. The danger for me is when I try to convince myself the more the better. In this case, more is not necessarily better. Most often I just want to spend a few free minutes running in the mountains under the pines clearing my thoughts instead of worrying about who I’m chasing and who’s chasing me.

Heading out to clear the mind

Heading out to clear the mind

I’m a creature of habit and routine and training can become an addiction. I’ve never used or been addicted to alcohol, nicotine or drugs (although Nicole and Dylan will say I’m addicted to Starbucks and Chipotle). But when running got to the point that I couldn’t say no to missing a training run or not doing a race, then I realized I had my own addiction problem. Sure, it might be a healthy addiction, but I’m not sure any addiction is all that healthy. Unable to say “No”, doing the same races over and over, year after year, made me feel like a slave. Races like Ironman are not merely races, they are lifestyles. Be prepared to sacrifice. Every time I signed up for a big race, it was not only me making a sacrifice, it was the entire family. They’re noble events and I’m glad I did them. Now we can move on. I don’t want it to be the thing that consumes some of the best years of our life. Now I’ll have the freedom to channel and focus some of that time and energy to invest in someone and something else.

For me, that investment is already paying off. Lately, hitting a couple baskets of tennis balls after work with Dylan is more rewarding than adding another finishing time to the list. Being at one of his events and watching him in his element is proving more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. At one of his recent swim meets while Nicole and I were in the stands and watching, more butterflies bounced around in my stomach as Dylan stepped up to his starting block than I’ve ever had at the start of an Ironman. We were so nervous for him. We watched and cheered, squeezed each others’ hands as he swam from one end to the other. Racing, he appears so relaxed. I’m up on my tip toes and my insides are in knots. We are hoping, no matter what, he’s going to finish happy and with a positive attitude and climb out of that pool with a smile dripping off his face. And that’s where I am these days. A 4 mile run together beats an 8 mile run alone. Playing a little tennis together after work and chasing down his shots is pure joy. Riding our bikes to the lake and watching Dylan fish and untangling his line brings more happiness than if were out by myself and training for my own event.

When I was younger, I would imagine crossing the finish line with my family in the stands as they proudly cheer me on. At some point the dream changed. Now I want to be the one cheering them on as they cross their own finish lines. Give it some time and maybe I’ll need to toe the start line again. I still love hitting a trail for a run, but if you don’t see me racing/pacing at some of the events, hopefully you’ll understand why.

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California International Marathon: Bring Your Mask and Snorkel

Dylan waiting with Nicole at mile 13

Dylan waiting with Nicole at mile 13

Last weekend, we had the California International Marathon (and a rocking Bruce Springsteen show at Oakland). For the most part, previous years at this marathon were run in good to excellent conditions. Yes, some years had been bitterly cold with temps below freezing at the start, but nothing compared to this year. Everybody was worried about the forecasted pineapple express storm and a lot of questions at the expo centered around the weather, the rain, the wind and how much it would slow everybody down. One of the pacers had estimated the wind could require an effort of 30 seconds faster per mile. That meant if you were going to run a 3:15 marathon at about a pace of 7:30 per mile, with the forecasted headwinds, you would need to run at about a 7:00 pace effort to maintain the actual 7:30 pace. The question I received from most runners at the expo was whether they should adjust their expectations and run with a slower pace group. My answer depended. For someone running their first marathon, it might be wise to run at a slightly slower pace and not blow up trying to maintain a nearly maximum effort in difficult conditions. For those who already had some marathon experience and had spent months training for a 3:10 finish, then I encouraged them to stick with the plan. Few races are run in ideal conditions. And we still had no idea what the conditions would be like on Sunday and if the wind would be that much of a limiting factor. The optimist in me still held out hope we’d wake up to blue skies with a gentle tailwind. Why go into a race lowering your expectations and giving yourself an excuse not to perform your best? Instead, approach it with a “can do” attitude and give 100 percent. What a disappointment it would be to have trained to qualify for Boston, run the marathon with reduced expectations and miss qualifying, only to cross the finish line with a little left and knowing you could have gone faster and could have qualified.

But at 3 AM, when the wind and rain hitting our bedroom window woke me up on Sunday morning, I started to have my own doubts. This was not going to be easy. At 4:45 AM, I pulled myself out of bed and in about 15 minutes was out the door and walking over to Kayden Kelly’s house where Robin Soares was picking some of us up and driving us to the start line. I walked into Kayden’s kitchen and had to smile. Here it was pouring outside, literally filling buckets. There would be no chance of dehydrating and Kayden was filling up the biggest CamelPak I’d every seen with fluids as though we were about to embark on an unassisted 50 mile trail run in the middle of summer. Like me, maybe Kayden was still holding onto the hope of blue skies. Soon enough Robin rolled up with the minivan and we piled in and headed down to the start. We made a quick stop at Starbucks, but as we pulled in thinking they would be open at 5:30 AM, the store was dark. Then we noticed a couple of flashlights moving around inside and we realized, of course, the power was out. But the power wasn’t out as lights were on in the parking lot and other stores. Not sure what was going on but we may have surprised a couple of coffee thieves.

Robin was going to drop us off at Beale’s Point. But when she drove us to a dark parking lot and pointed to an even darker path and said the start is about 1/2 mile jog down that path, we asked if there were any other options. “Any chance of driving us right to the start?” So with the rain coming down a little harder and the wind howling, she drove us to the drop off at the start line and let us take shelter in the van until about 6:20 AM. With the wind and rain beating against the van, it was hard to find the motivation to open that door and make our way to the start. She kept the van warm and radio on long enough to drain the battery so when it was time for her to leave, her battery was drained. What a giver she is. Luckily the car next to her gave her a jump so Robin could make her own start at the second leg of the relay 6 miles away.

With only about 30 minutes to the start, normally the start line would be packed, but not this year in the rain. Most of the runners were huddled together trying to stay dry under the roofs of the gas stations. I know some people locked themselves in the porta potties until right before the start. As a pacer, we had a tent near the start line that we could stay protected from the wind and rain until about 15 minutes before the start. Then we lined up to gather and prepare our groups.

I usually start off a little slow and work into the pace intentionally. My first mile will usually fall around 7:40 to 7:45 instead of 7:15 right out the gate. But with a big headwind the first mile and not knowing what conditions would be like along the rest of the course, I told everyone I was going to stick with 7:15 right from the start. The second half can be faster than the first but with headwinds I couldn’t assume that. As I was waiting for the sound of the starting gun, I was shivering uncontrollably and already drenched to the bone. The starting gun sounded, I turned to the group and gave a half convincing “Thumbs up!”. There was no starting banner due to the winds and there would be no timing clocks along the course. When I realized we had already crossed the start line, I started my watch and could tell my Clif Bar pace tattoo was not going to last. Of all the times to try one of the Clif Bar Pace stick on tattoos, I had picked the wrong time. In only 20 minutes, the rain was already washing the ink and the splits away. The fading tattoo would prove to be a problem after mile 13.

That first mile was a little treacherous with all the debris of runners dropping garbage bags and other clothing. I’m hoping that next year the marathon encourages runners to use the drop bags instead of just discarding clothes and garbage bags on the road at the starting line. I think the rationalization runners make is the clothes are given to charity but what a mess at every marathon. It’s bad enough that there’s nearly a 26 mile trail of water cups and gels after a marathon. If it’s cold at the start, we need to put our clothes in a drop bag or hand them to a family/friend at the start. I think we can be more civilized than just dropping old clothes on the road that requires volunteers to come and pick them up and donate them. Trail races have less runners but nonetheless you never see that type of waste and garbage strung along a trail marathon course.

Right away in the first mile, the wind hit us head on. But miles 2 through 6 weren’t so bad as the wind blew more from the side. It was just wet. Miles 6 through 10 were probably the toughest with a good headwind and driving rain. Troy Soares flew past the group during this section as he was running the second leg of a 4-person relay. Around this time I also passed a guy in a mask and snorkel. He may have also been wearing a wetsuit but I can’t be sure. That was a fitting image for the day. I had a group of probably 40 runners up through the halfway point and we hit the halfway point exactly at 1:35. Nicole and Dylan waited under their umbrellas and we exchanged high-fives as we passed the halfway point. By this time my Clif Bar pace tattoo had started to wash away and the splits were nearly impossible to read. For the most part, I know we need to run about a 7:11 according to my Garmin to finish just under 3:10 at CIM. If I paced off the Garmin and ran consistent 7:15 splits (what should be a 3:10 finish time), I’d actually finish around 3:11. So I always remind the group at the start, don’t trust your Garmin because your Garmin is going to tell you are going faster than you really are. If you trust your Garmin and run at a pace which Garmin reports at 7:15, you are not going to finish in 3:10. Your Garmin is going to tell you are on pace for a 3:10 finish time, but when you see the finish line, it’s really going to say 3:11 or more because the course is measured as if you ran every corner perfectly and always in a straight line. You need to account for a slight margin of error, or understand that you are going to run more like 26.4 or so, if relying solely on a Garmin.

Miles 14 to 20 were pretty consistent but I seemed to slow ever so slightly on a few miles. I hit mile 20 and still had a good size group pushing to the finish. However, when I reached the stop of the bridge just before the mile 22 marker, I looked back and the group had suddenly disintegrated to just a few. And it was around mile 22 where I realized I needed to make up about 45 seconds. So where normally the last few miles I can put it on cruise control and nearly coast into the finish, this year I couldn’t let up for a second. I even had to slightly increase the pace without dropping the few runners hanging with me. I passed Jim and Barb Carlson working the Sutter aid station in a downpour just after mile 24 but had no time to stop and chat. At mile 25, my pace sign slipped from my hands. Criminy! I had to turn around and pick it up. Bending down I thought for sure my right quad was going to tear. My poor right quad had been complaining the entire second half and was not happy to have to stop, turn around, bend down then sprint back up. As I was shouting encouragement that last mile to the handful of runners left in the pack, I was also directing those positive thoughts to my right quad. “The finish is just around that corner! C’mon buddy just hang in there with me!”

Crossing the finish at 3:09:49, I’m not sure if I could have gone much faster those last few miles. It felt so good to put an end to this one and, although the conditions were difficult, it wasn’t that bad. (At least we didn’t have to battle mud like the North Face 50-mile racers the day before!) And on the way home, the skies cleared to usher in a nice, quiet and dry afternoon. This is a year that we’ll talk about.

Here’s my Garmin data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/248757292

What Are We Waiting For?

Morning run in San Juan

Morning run in San Juan

What would you give if near the end of life, you had the opportunity to start over? Imagine facing certain death and being given the opportunity to go back and start over with another chance. Some of us might give everything to live a second time. Yet the problem you face at the end of life is that most things have very little value. And there’s not much you really have to use for bargaining that’s going to be yours much longer. But if you metaphorically died and forced yourself to start again, would that be like getting a second chance at life? You could take everything you learned in the first act and apply it to the second act but you would start with none of the possessions you accumulated. The things you had spent a lifetime purchasing and buying would be wiped away (houses, cars, all the earthly possessions). Any job/career built would be surrendered. You would be forced to start over with the gift of having a second chance at life, a forced opportunity to remold your life. This doesn’t mean that everything in the first round was a mistake. There are some relationships that I would never trade. So let’s say things like family and friends don’t change with the restart. In the second life, you start near the beginning of the adult life with your family but no job, no possessions, no debt. The slate has been cleared. You can take a completely different path, try something new, make the decisions you wish you would have made years ago.

For the most part we live a very simple life. I’m lucky enough to have a career that allows me to work from home. My wife and I share one car. And I enjoy riding a bike around town for errands. It’s not uncommon to see my 4-year-old son and me riding our bikes around town on a late summer evening. We try to keep our expenses low and live below our means. The question that I keep coming back to is when, even when you have what you want, it’s OK to want to want something different. I’ve been struggling with this question for the past couple of years. But it’s too easy to go with the flow and make the easy choice, but probably not the best choice.

The last few months at work have been busy with adding Surescripts e-Prescribing to Ascend. e-Prescribing enables doctors to send prescriptions electronically to Ascend and the pharmacy. We’ve had this on the hospital/inpatient side for a couple of years but the retail/outpatient side is a whole new animal. A major milestone was reached this week when we finished our certification testing which had been keeping me occupied and somewhat stressed the past two weeks.

We welcomed September with our annual vacation. Our vacation this year was a return trip to Puerto Rico and a 7 day cruise through the Caribbean. Last year we did the exact same cruise and had a blast. So much that we wanted to do it again this year. We went with some friends and enjoyed it as much as last year. The highlight had to have been the last day on the cruise where we took a small boat around Saint Maarten and stopped for a couple of hours off the coast at a spot where sea turtles lay their eggs. The boat stopped just off shore and the water was about 50 feet deep and you could easily see all the way to the bottom. Large sea turtles swam everywhere and would surface for air about every 20 minutes. Nicole, Dylan and I mainly just floated along with the current for about 90 minutes, sometimes within a couple of feet of a surfacing sea turtle or passing jelly fish. The entire week was filled with terrific memories and we hope to visit the islands again.

Swimming With The Sea Turtles in Saint Maarten

Swimming With The Sea Turtles in Saint Maarten

On the running front, I’ve run a couple of marathons the past couple months, both pacing for the 3:15 time. In August, the Santa Rosa Marathon needed a pacer. Even though I grew up in Santa Rosa, I had never run the marathon and wasn’t familiar with the course (flat and fast). My weekly running has been averaging between 50 and 60 miles and it was reassuring to run the flat course with a moderate effort and have a good time pacing the 3:15 group. I spent a few miles chatting with a couple of Google employees but since my pace seems to increase when I start getting lost in a coversation, I had to limit the talk during the 2nd half. Then the St. George Marathon was last weekend with ideal conditions. When I arrived at the expo the afternoon before the marathon, I was relieved to see Chris was slotted to pace 3:05 and my picture was next to 3:15. That 10 minutes of extra time is like an eternity! We had a nice tailwind the first 6 miles but my group of 40 was down to 20 by mile 16. And I had just a few runners those last few miles. Some of the runners in the group raced on ahead between miles 18 to 20. And most of those runners didn’t end up as road kill. It was nice to see some happy faces with some new PR’s waiting at the finish. I hung around the finish, enjoying the free Coca-Cola and ice cream. I watched Deirdre Greenholz unleash a sub 4 marathon and she seemed to be moving better than me after the finish line. The main thing I notice with my lower weekly miles is the recovery period of the longer runs. I was still feeling the pain of St. George five days later. But the hours I’ve recovered from fewer miles has given me the chance to spend more time doing other things, like playing tennis with Dylan.

Tomorrow Dylan turns 5 years old. We can’t believe how much fun it has been to have him in our lives. I do wish for a 2nd (3rd, 4th…) chance at times when parenting. Just to have someone step in before I say or do something stupid would be invaluable. As I’m about to tell Dylan to do something different, what I really need is someone to stop me and tell me to do something different. “Hold on! Now before you say or do what you are about to say or do to that boy, let’s think about that for a moment.” Having someone correct my “dad correcting son moment” with a different approach is sometimes the real corrective action needed. But mostly it’s just spending time together, interacting and doing things together – getting him involved. When I thought about spending time and interacting with our son, I always pictured the period of time when he was 7 or 8 years old and we could play catch together. It never occurred to me that we could do these things (mountain biking, tennis, free swimming in the ocean with sea turtles) at 3 and 4 years old. But that is what we have done and those are experiences I would do over and over and over.

A Springsteen Revival

Getting Ready For Some Rock-n-Roll

Getting Ready For Some Rock-n-Roll

Music is one of those things that transcends time. We can spend our entire lives building and tweaking some widget that will only be replaced, upgraded and forgotten in a few short years. But a song that moves you, a piece of art that speaks to you, a good story that takes you away can span generations. While that latest piece of technology or all those running miles logged are long, long forgotten.

I’m still on a high from the other night’s Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band show in San Jose. We left feeling like we had just been to a rock-n-roll revival. Nicole and I had seen the band at the Arco Arena back in 2008 and I remember being amazed at Bruce’s level of energy while in his late 50’s. Now, at 62, the man and the entire band delivered an epic performance. Chances come and go and some opportunities never come around again and I thought this might be the only chance for all of us to see The Boss together. I’d been waiting months for this night. It marked the first concert for Dylan (ears stuffed with wax) and he was pumped, although unfortunately by about 10 PM Dylan was lights out until the encore. But even the first 90 minutes of the show together, with the three of us clapping, singing and having a good time feeling the music, were priceless.

At one point during the 3 hour, 26 set show, Springsteen took a few minutes and preached to the crowd in his raspy gospel voice. “We are here on the same mission we’ve pursued night after night, year after year. We are here to manifest the joyous power of rock ‘n’ roll music and shoot it straight into your heart. We want you to wake up tomorrow morning and say, ‘What the .. happened to me? I feel different.'” My son, understanding bits here and there, turned to me with a big smile on his face. We shared a good laugh. At one point during the concert, Bruce’s copy of his set list floated off the stage and he forgot the song. The crowd waited for a new set list to be brought on stage and we knew the music was live and there was no lip syncing. Of all the performances I’ve been lucky to see, nothing has risen to the level of a Springsteen show.

Yesterday, we drove back down to the Bay Area and Monterey for the Big Sur Marathon. I’ve paced this marathon the past couple years and it’s always good to connect with some of the other CLIF Bar pacers. The course, although providing incredible scenery, is a challenge. I wouldn’t want to attempt a PR on this course but for a destination and scenic marathon it’s hard to beat. There are some good climbs while the winds howl in your face, making your pace feel more like a crawl. And the last 6 miles have some good kickers. This year I had a good group up through about Mile 20 where a few stuck together. A highlight was running with Dan Mitchell, a solid runner whom I met last year. He was back again and ran a very solid 3:30 into some fierce headwinds.

Dan Mitchell Pulling Another Solid 3:30 On A Tough Day

Dan Mitchell Pulling Another Solid 3:30 On A Tough Day

The topic of legacy has been coming to mind lately. What’s so fascinating about this time in history is that almost everything we do is recorded. I can go on Facebook and look at my timeline and see how my life has progressed. It tells a story. It may or may not tell the story that I want to tell. But it does tell a story. Sometimes I think we are weaving an interesting story but then look back and it can all appear so boring and routine. Social media is the ultimate “keeping up with the Joneses.” A quick check of Facebook in the evening tells how cool and adventurous my friends were while my day was spent in the binary world. One friend just launched a new company. Another friend just left for a trip around the world. Another just finished a 50 mile run. Another just won a bike race. And what did I do today? All this information can have the danger of depressing instead of inspiring if I feel like I have to do to what everybody else is doing. We used to have just a few lines on our tombstone to describe the life we led. With the internet, there’s a lot more information we can leave behind to tell our story. Hopefully our story will be more than “He ran. He biked. And he raced.” Folks, there’s a lot of life to live out there. Don’t be afraid to treat life more like a smorgasbord and not get so fixated on a single purpose and eat the same thing over and over.

And sometimes trying new things can be hard. Like we keep trying to tell Dylan, just try it once and if you don’t like it we don’t have to try it again. And he can put up a fight when we want to try a new ski run, but once he starts skiing the new run and finds a new jump, it’s almost guaranteed at the bottom he’ll claim it’s his new favorite.

Dylan and Me Trying Something New Last Weekend

Dylan and Me Trying Something New Last Weekend

So we know the older we get, the harder we are to change. I’m so scared that at 50 my life will look the same that it does now. It can be so easy to stay the course and stick with the same routine. I’m a creature of habit and can get stuck in my habits like anyone else. One of the classic lines in The Matrix is when Trinity turns to Neo and says, “You’ve been down there, Neo. You already know that road. You know exactly where it ends. And I know that’s not where you want to be.” We might as well be telling ourselves this one. Whether in life decisions, relationships, training. Sometimes I keep doing the same thing and hoping for a different result. We don’t know what we don’t know. We do the familiar and the same, yet expect new and different results. I used to care about telling an impressive story. Now I hope to tell an interesting story.

Self-Efficacy At The Big Sur Marathon

Incredible Vistas During The Morning Team Run

Incredible Vistas During The Morning Team Run

Had the Big Sur Marathon on Sunday and again, for the second year in a row, we could not have ordered better weather.

The actual marathon was a modified course since a portion of Highway 1 had been washed away a few weeks ago. Instead of a point-to-point from Big Sur State Park to Carmel along Highway 1, this year the course was an out-and-back, starting and finishing in Carmel. And although the rumor was the course was more difficult this year, I had many runners hang with the 3:30 group into the mile 20. Last year, I really had only a few stick with me after mile 20.

When gathering at the starting line and looking around at the faces running with the 3:30 pace group, it’s hard to determine which ones will be around at the final miles. The lean, fit and chatty triathlete may look promising, but somehow fades in the middle miles. On the other hand, the short, stocky, fullback-looking, salt-stained runner struggling on my left somehow hangs on mile after mile. It’s hard to know which ones not only have the physical strength, but also the mental strength, to push through those final miles. I always enjoy talking with some of the runners but have to remind myself not to wear someone out over a conversation that may run over an hour with the same runner. Usually at the start I give a disclaimer when pacing a 3:10 or 3:20 group that I will keep my chatter to a minimum. And the one piece of advice I always give right before the starting gun goes off is that this race is as much mental as physical and they need to stay mentally strong and mentally positive. The term is self-efficacy: believing in yourself, believing that you can accomplish your goal, believing that you are going to succeed. And when you know you can accomplish your goal then you’ll likely persist through the temporary pain. Whereas the minute you are battling doubts and your mental state goes negative (“I feel awful”, “My legs hurt” or whatever the excuse), you’ve opened the emergency exit door, an escape clause for not succeeding. And once that door opens even a crack, it is almost impossible to get it closed again. You have to believe that it is possible to accomplish your goal.

The 3:30 Train Around Mile 7

The 3:30 Train Around Mile 7

One of the guys running with my group was James McGaugh and he had told me he once weighed 330 pounds. I looked over at him and honestly said, “No way!” He looked about half that weight now. He also said he averages about 4 hours sleep a night and I think he said he was the trainer for the Cal Berkeley football team. He kept cruising along with the group mile after mile but somewhere around mile 20, he started to trail and I eventually lost sight of him.

One of Phil Hann’s favorite lines is “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Whether it’s finishing a marathon, qualifying for Boston, running a 50K or 100 mile race, at some point it’s going to feel hard, maybe impossible. But you have to break it down, “one bite at a time”. You could see this at Big Sur. At mile 20, the pack starts to thin. You can hear some on the edge, their breathing heavy, the salt stains forming down the sides of their faces. Now they are trying to eat an elephant and they just need to take one bite at a time. Just get to the next mile. Pick an object off in the distance and run toward it. Then pick another one. Simplify the task. Small goals. Manageable targets. Keep moving.

At this point the goal of pacing is to push those with some gas in the tank ahead and keep motivating those already redlining, nudging them forward one step at a time. At mile 24, there was a short section through Point Lobos State Reserve where we were running out of the park while runners were coming into the park. I spotted James McGaugh still running and looking strong. By this point, I had sent most of the pack ahead as they were gaining steam and we neared the finish. I had a couple of runners with me, including that short stocky guy on my left that I would have never picked to finish in under 3:30. But here he was. We had one more hill at mile 25 and as we started up the hill, he started to slow down, about to start walking. But one more “C’mon. You are almost there!” and he caught himself and was next to me, stride for stride until mile 26 when he sprinted across the finish line.

After I crossed the finish line, I immediately removed my chip tag and then turned around and ran back out to catch my real Biggest Loser runner. I waited just after mile 25 and then joined him for his last mile, and caught his finish on video. This is what Clif Bar Pacing is all about.

Here’s the data from my Garmin.

Loooking Ahead and Looking Back

Kayden Kelly Showing How It's Done During My Rare MTB Ride

Kayden Kelly Showing How It's Done During My Rare MTB Ride

December is closing fast, the rivers are rising, the days are too short and the occasional night run can be downright California cold (long sleeve may be required). We’ve had record-setting rain this month but we still took the bikes out for some mountain bike action on Troy’s birthday last Saturday. A good 20 mile ride out to Clementine and then down Mammoth Bar and up the heart-pounding Stage Coach. Kayden led the charge, followed closely by Troy – both riding single speeds.

After the ride and a thorough hose down, we watched the Ironman Kona Championship. Did you see it? Did you see the marathon battle between Macca and Raelert and when Raelert caught Macca around mile 22? They ran shoulder to shoulder until the final mile or so. In the heat of the battle, Macca even gave Raelert a sponge to cool off. Macca who wants to see his opponents suffer. Macca who wants to be the punisher. There he was offering his opponent a cool sponge. Then he offers a handshake! With a couple of miles to go, Macca says something to Raelert and then offers a handshake, like two fighters coming out for the final round and tapping gloves in mutual respect before they try to knock each other out. And then at the next aid station around mile 25, as Raelert reaches for a cup, Macca surges and Raelert cannot match his stride. It’s a couple of steps. Then a couple of yards.  Then he is gone. Macca finishes in 1st with a 2:43 marathon. And while we are enjoying the NBC footage, we see a shot of Tim Twietmeyer running the marathon. Well done Tim!

And before you know it, the wheels start to turn and the big zero slowly spins and the one starts to appear. And there it is: 2011. In many ways, 2010 was still a recovery year on my limited schedule. I would often joke that I was still recovering from RAAM but I think there was a little truth in that remark. Physically, the effects had gone but mentally there was still little desire to push and reach. In 2011, I’ll feed the fire and put some races on my calendar that will push me. The only 100 mile run I really desire to do is the Hardrock 100. However just to gain entry into the lottery, I need to complete another 100 mile trail run. So I’m seriously considering adding Leadville to the list and using that as my qualifier without going overboard with monster miles. What’s the Minimum Effective Dose (MED) on training for a successful 100 mile effort while balancing family and work? I’ll take a break from most of the marathon pacing but may fill in depending on timing and schedules.

Date Event
1-1-2011 Resolution Run 10 Miles
3-12-2011 Way Too Cool 50K
4-9-2011 American River 50 Mile Endurance Run
4-17-2011 Annadel Half Marathon
4-??-2011 Devil Mountain Double
5-1-2011 Auburn Downtown Criterium
5-22-2011 Auburn Triathlon – World’s Toughest Half
6-4-2011 The Wildest Ride In The West 140 Miles
7-17-2011 Tahoe Rim 50 Mile
8-20-2011 Leadville 100 Trail Run
12-4-2011 California International Marathon

Looking ahead and looking back. 2010 provided some terrific highlights and memories. Can’t forget CIM just a few weeks ago and meeting some new friends along the way and catching up with some old ones in those 26 miles. And I was very proud to see Dave Campbell fly across that finish line in 3:18 and qualifying for Boston. Here’s my Garmin data from CIM. But after CIM, I’ve taken a little breather. Put on a few pounds. Tried to let some of the nagging aches and pains go away.

Pacing 3:10 and some strong runners at the California International Marathon

Pacing 3:10 and some strong runners at the California International Marathon

Here’s a couple of comments from some of those that I ran with at CIM:

Thanks a million for your encouragement and leadership at the CIM.  You set a great, steady pace throughout the race.  I was fortunate enough to feel strong throughout the race and was typically ahead of the group by about 20 yards for the first 20 miles.  From then on, I stayed with you (shoulder to shoulder) to the end.  I appreciate the High 5 from you at the finish.  Thanks for the 3:09:34, it gives me the NYC qualifier I came to this race to get.

G. Scott Manis, FACHE
Chief Executive Officer
Doctors Hospital at White Rock Lake

I found your email on the CIM website for Pace Group Leaders.  I have been training for CIM since this fall after racing some shorter distances this summer.  It was my 7th marathon and by the time I got to the start line I knew I was in good shape but a bit burned out from a long training season and busy life.  I’d come to the marathon with a group of friends who were a few minutes faster than me and I wasn’t sure who I was going to run with during the race or how I was going to run it.  I heard mixed things about pace groups and wasn’t sure if I should go for it on my own or try to run with the group.  Late Saturday I decided to run with the group and it was the best decision I could have made.

I crossed the finish line with and 11 minute PR (I was the girl in the purple tank top and white compression socks).  I finished in 3:09.15 and just wanted to thank you for not only pacing our group but for your encouraging words along the way.  I ran almost exactly even splits, my second half marathon was 15 seconds faster than my first.  I wasn’t having a great day, my legs were feeling flat and tired but our coach had told us over and over again the importance of running in a group so I just hung in there and kept going.  I just wanted you to know that you did a great job and I wanted to thank you as well.

I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you did for us on Sunday.

Thank you again,

Robyn Hefner
Seattle, Washington

And for me, looking back, my Top 5 memories of this past year:

Number 5: Seeing the Grand Canyon for the 1st time

Number 4: Running the PCT in Tahoe

Number 3: Bob’s Mt. Shasta Bachelor Party

Number 2: Vacation to Alaska with Nicole and Dylan

Number 1: Seeing Dylan riding his pedal bike next to me at 2 1/2 years old

Squeezing 3 Weeks Into 1

Times Square - Before The Evening Rush

Times Square - Before The Evening Rush

I unlock the door and step outside to a sun that wasn’t supposed to be here. It’s cold as I exhale. Tiny flakes of snow shoot from my mouth and fill the air in front of me. These are the lost days between October and November. A frozen mist floats in the air. Not sure where I am going or exactly how to get there, I follow the road back the way I came last night. The constant tone of traffic makes me reach for my headphones to quiet the city noise with something a little louder.

Within a couple of minutes I’m reminded why I would never survive in this city. The millions of traffic lights I encounter break the rhythm of the early morning run. Not just a stop and go, it’s an endless wait for the hundreds of cars that need to go from left to right, right to left. I’m exhausted just waiting for them. Impatient and itchy, I briefly considering making a dash for it. A minute goes by. The sights, the sounds, the smells the city has to offer seem to be intersecting at the corner where I am now stranded. New York is not the place for me.

On the subway. Riding the train. Passing through the alleys. Times Square on a Friday night. Up and down a thousand steps. Head back, eyes staring up at another skyscraper. Bundled up and keeping each other warm. Pushing the stroller over the Brooklyn Bridge. Finding another favorite new place to eat lunch. Running through the airport, almost missing our flight home. Our little boy doesn’t even know how far from home he is. But even in New York, I’d call New York home to be with you.   

We are back from our East Coast trip where we successfully squeezed in a 3 week vacation into 10 days. First we flew into Washington, DC and attended the Rally to Restore Sanity, took a tour of the White House (Obama flew away just as we arrived) and did the typical tourist walk up and down The Mall, making stops at The Capitol, The Library of Congress and The U.S. National Archives. Then on Sunday I paced the 3:20 group for the Marine Corps Marathon. I’ve written about this marathon before but it is one of my favorites. There are just so many sites along the course: from seeing the soldiers running, some of the wounded soldiers competing, the Marines at the aid stations, the landmarks and the finish in Arlington Cemetery. The Marines run this with such precision that when my watch flipped to 8:00:00, the canon sounded. An 8:00 AM start means 8:00 AM EXACTLY. Here’s the data from my Garmin.

The meaning and significance of this marathon can be lost in the moment of the run. But as you run and look around and see someone running on one leg or pushing a wheelchair, and mile after mile hundreds of Marines line the course, you realize the price so many men and women pay to serve our country.

After the marathon, we had some time to get out since we weren’t catching our train to New York until 3 AM the next morning. We took the subway over to Arlington Cemetery and walked along the paths and visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I had been talking to Theo the day before and he had mentioned it is a must-see and he’ll never forget seeing the soldier that guards the tomb and marches back and forth. Theo said every now and then he’ll be doing something and maybe it is raining and dark and he’ll realize that guard is marching back and forth guarding that tomb. No matter how cold, how dark or how wet. For me, it was a surreal experience to visit the tomb. There was the feeling that you were witnessing something sacred, that you really didn’t deserve to be standing in their presence.

We tried to get a few hours sleep before getting to Union Station around 2 AM then caught the train to New York and then caught another train in New York to Niagara Falls. That was a long day on the train but we finally made it to Niagara Falls only to sit on the train for almost two hours while the Canadian customs agents grilled a number of passengers on the train. One passenger was led off and we were finally allowed to disembark on the Canadian side and found our hotel within walking distance of the Falls.  

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

We spent a couple of days in Niagara Falls and then took the train back to New York City. The first day it rained all day and Nicole went to see the filming of Regis and Kelly while Dylan and I ducked into one corner Starbucks after another. First, it was early in the morning and we needed a place that was open so we could keep dry. Being from California, it had never crossed my mind to pack an umbrella. Second, it is nearly impossible to find a bathroom in New York. Dylan doesn’t give advance notice he has to go so when he says he has to go there’s not a lot of time to locate a bathroom. We’ve had this discussion while driving and we talked about it again while going from store to store along the streets of New York searching for a bathroom. Finally, at 10 AM, the Childrens’ Museum opened next the Central Park so we spent the rest of the morning in the Dora and Diego area.

New York Marathon.

New York Marathon.

Before I knew it, it was time to run another marathon. The New York Marathon tested me a bit. I led the 3:30 Orange pace group. The pace was a nice and easy 8 minute per mile pace but I’ve run New York twice now and both times my legs felt pretty beat up towards the end. Meb Keflezighi spoke a bit at the start about hoping to repeat but in the end Gebre Gebrmariam finished first in 2:08:14, probably crossing the finish just as we were crossing the Queensboro Bridge.

Nicole and Dylan hung out around mile 11 with Jordan. Amazing with around 2 million people watching the race, I spotted them as we passed through Brooklyn and the course was still pretty congested. I find New York a more difficult one to pace because it is impossible to get on pace until a few miles into the course and even then you are still having to work to get through people. The course doesn’t really open up until the Queensboro Bridge.

But there’s nothing like running down 1st Avenue and then finishing in Central Park. Last few miles the legs were feeling a bit heavy but crossed the finish line just over the 3:29 mark at 3:29:07. Had a lot of good runners in the group and enjoyed talking with quite a few at the start and along the course, especially Mohamed Belkhir who finished in 3:27:24. Another one of the guys in the group was Michael Mendes, the CEO of Emerald Nuts. Here’s the data from my Garmin.

After the finish it took nearly one hour for someone to locate my drop bag so I could put on a jacket and warm up. Then it was back to the hotel to meet Nicole and Dylan and catch our flight back home. And we barely caught our flight. It took us over 2 hours to take the subway from the hotel near La Guardia over to JFK. We got off the subway at 6:50 PM for a 7:25 PM flight from Terminal 4. We still had to take the tram to Terminal 4, check our bags, get through security and find the gate. There was no way we were going to make our flight. I was running through the airport, pushing Dylan in stroller to the Jet Blue counter, begging them to let us on the flight and we would happily forget our bags. “They can go tomorrow. We just need to make this flight.”

“There’s no way!” they said. But in a few minutes, our tickets were printed and they rushed us through security and we made the flight. Always an adventure. Always.