Friday, July 27, 2012

Dew Point and Runners: What is it and why should we care?

Recently I have become interested in understanding the dew point. Having lived in Southern California, a hot but dry climate, I never had to worry much about things like humidity and "dew point."  Now, living and running in Michigan, these have become forces that I confront on a daily basis in the summer.

Apparently I am late to the "dew point" discussion because my friends Kate and Paul were already on top of this. The impetus for sharing this information with me was a really disastrous failed lactate threshold run I had this week that left me feeling pretty down. Leave it to my running friends to find a scientific answer to rationalize why I wimped out.

Most of us have heard the saying "It's not the heat -- it's the humidity."  Well apparently it is neither of these. Apparently the dew point is the thing that we runners need to be concerned about when running on these hot summer days.

What the heck is "dew point"? After doing some research of the explanations of dew point and relative humidity, I understand it only a bit better than when I started, but I will do my best to explain it here. Relative humidity tells the percentage of water vapor in the air related to the amount that is possible at that temperature. During a day, relative humidity can go up and down related to temperature rather than related to a change in water content in the atmosphere.  

The dew point reflects the actual amount of water that is in the air, regardless of temperature.  This amount is reported in degrees because the dew point represents the temperature to which air must be cooled for condensation (dew or frost) to occur.  Apparently, it is a more accurate measure of just how much humidity is in the air on a particular day.  The closer the dew point is to the actual air temperature, the more saturated the air is and the more uncomfortable it will be.

No matter what the temperature or relative humidity is, the dew point will always represent the actual amount of moisture in the air, so it is a better way for runners to think about the effect of humidity on their running performance. 

Why does dew point matter? Well, since dew point is the actual amount of water vapor in the air, it affects runners in two ways. The most significant one is that a high dew point means that the air is highly saturated with water, so sweat is less likely to evaporate from our bodies. Thus we can't cool ourselves effectively and our core temperature rises, interfering with our ability to perform and ultimately causing a physiological breakdown.  

Additionally, high water vapor content in the air affects our breathing.  When water vapor content is high, the air can feel "thick." Ironically, water molecules in the air displace some of the oxygen molecules, actually making the air less dense.  It is similar in some ways to breathing at altitude.

How is dew point related to running comfort?

Paul shared an article from Running Times that had a really great chart  to help runners know how the dew point would affect running performance.

How can I find the dew point:
You can find the dew point on most weather sites. For example, here is a screen shot from with the dew point prominently displayed.

Or, Kate showed me this really cool site which will calculate the dew point if you enter the temperature and relative humidity (

An example of dew point at work:
I was anxious to see how this might apply to my running. I have a marathon coming up in August (Leading Ladies Marathon) in Spearfish, South Dakota. I have not been to South Dakota and do not know what to expect.

If I look up today's weather for both Lansing and Spearfish for today, this is what I see:

Right now in Lansing, the temperature is only 71o while in Spearfish it is 84o. That looks bad at first until one looks at the dew point. In Lansing it is 63o while in Spearfish it is 52o.  When I look at the chart from Running Times, I find that while in Lansing this may be "uncomfortable for some people," in Spearfish, I would be in "PR Conditions."  Whoo hoo!!

So now, thanks to my friends Paul and Kate, and with a little help from Running Times, I will be keeping an eye on the dew point to help me know what to expect on a hot day.  It does not make me feel a little better about my failed workout -- but not much. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rest, Recovery, and Easy Days: It's More Than Just Physical

Recently I have come to a whole new appreciation for rest and recovery days. I am on day 85 of a running streak that I started a while back to help add some consistency to my training. When doing a streak, one learns to really appreciate the rest and recovery days in a whole new way. To keep the streak from becoming too much like a chore, the easy days are critically important, not just from a physical standpoint but from a mental one as well.

Let's face it. Most runners, if not Type-A personalities, are at the very least extremely goal-oriented. Once one starts running regularly, and especially when one sets a specific time or pace goal, such as running that first 5k, half marathon, or marathon or setting a PR at any of those distances, running becomes about the training plan. It becomes bogged down in miles per day, miles per week, and paces. In the midst of all this, it is quite easy to lose the joy of the activity.

Easy days and recovery days often become just another set of miles to be ticked off on the schedule. Often they are run at a pace faster than they should be because there is a desire to just get them over with. Sometimes they are dismissed out of hand and replaced with cross training. To do so, though, is to miss the wonderful opportunity that these days represent.

In one of my favorite books by Thomas Moore called the The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life, Moore argues that in modern society we have become so analytical and scientific in our society that we miss the magical and the awe-inspiring in our daily lives and that this point-of-view does nothing to nourish our souls. He advocates opening the mind to the enchanting and awe-inspiring in daily life by paying more close attention to the magical in the things around us.

This message can apply to our running. Recovery days and easy days are an opportunity to put aside worries about time and distance and appreciate the wonder in our surroundings or even the wonder of our own bodies moving across the ground. Many use easy or recovery days as the time to socialize with fellow runners. This can be a wonderful activity that nourishes the mind and soul, but there is something to be said about the solitary and reflective runs, as well. Wonderful opportunities exist if one just is open to them.

For me the place I turn for these mental and spiritual recovery days is almost always the trails. I appreciate the soft surface that the trails give me from the physical recovery standpoint, but it is the mental/spiritual aspect that I have been appreciating a lot more lately. That is not to say that one must get to the trails to be mentally and spiritually refreshed by a run. I have had some wonderfully magical runs through neighborhoods appreciating the architecture or the landscaping. It does not necessarily take a lot of special planning, but it does take the willingness to open one's mind and one's eyes to an appreciation of the magic wherever one finds oneself -- as Scott Jurek said in a recent article just being alive and appreciating the moment.

I have discovered a gem of a spot for my recovery runs. It is a little known park, at least for runners. It is populated mostly by walkers, many with their puppies in tow, which is fine with me. It has a  little of everything: paved trails, grassy trails, packed dirt, a lake, wildlife, and wildflowers.

I had run there several times before I began to appreciate it as more than just a flat, soft surface. What really helped open my eyes was that recently, after my two very grueling trail races at Keyes Peak 
and Dances with Dirt, I was just physically too wiped out to go fast. I was forced to slow down to almost a walk, and this gave me plenty of time to look around. I was amazed at all the things I had been missing and how much there was there to "enchant" someone who took the time to look.

A second experience that drove this home was a recent run I had with my friend Kate on this trail. It was her first time.  It was also raining and almost dark. We had the most amazing run, complete with herds of deer, scampering bunnies, and some very aggressive little frogs. It was really magical. It did way more for my soul than it did for the body.

So, the next time you are feeling that your running schedule has become too much, too repetitive, too uninspired, try making a switch to your attitude on your easy days or recovery runs. Find a place that will nourish your mind and your spirit and run there. Leave your watch at home if you can. It will do a lot to infuse joy back into your running.

To get you motivated, I am including a video of my Hawk Meadow run. (Note: If what you see there are just a bunch of trees, some weeds, and some garden pests destroying someone's field, then your mind and spirit may indeed need some serious re-enchantment.)

Do you have a run that enchants you? I would love to hear where you like to run when you need a mental or spiritual boost.

Related Posts:
Related Video:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Race Report: Dances With Dirt Devil's Lake 50k

The buckle!
Last weekend was the third race in my quest to attain the Boned, Blood, Burned and Bruised belt buckle for doing the four ultras in the Dances with Dirt series. This race was in Merrimac, WI at Devil's Lake State Park. This was another road trip for me and my trusty ultra-companion, Leslie, who is my favorite running buddy because to almost any question I start with "Hey, do you wanna..." she finishes with a "Sure, what distances do they have?"  You have to love that!

The Trip:
This was another camping trip for us. Because I got a late start on the camping reservations, we were staying at Rocky Arbor State Park, just outside of Wisconsin Dells, which is a kid-friendly, tourist-trap type of town, with dozens of water parks, amusement parks, and other touristy things like duck boats, that we were not at all interested in. The race was about a 20 mile drive that took us out of the tourist scene and into a more beautiful natural area.

The drive up to Wisconsin was a huge pain. Both Google and Mapquest recommended the I90/I94 route through Chicago. Big mistake!! We sat in a traffic jam for hours. I had never been through Illinois before and was unpleasantly surprised at the tolls. Tolls alone on the trip ended up costing about $40. Are you kidding me??? I have to pay to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic and creep through continuous road construction... Not a fan of Illinois highways.

We found the campground and got camp set up. There was camping at the DWD site, but with no electricity or showers. We opted for the more cushy state campground with hot showers and electricity to the tent to power our much-needed fans. The temps were over 90 all three days we were there, but the nights did cool off.

Packet pick-up was uneventful, but we had a really fun time driving around and taking a look at parts of the course. I had spotted some flags crossing the highway on the drive in, and when we went back, we found some of the Running Fit crew unloading the supplies for the aid stations. We followed them like a couple of stalkers, whizzing along the highway chasing their white van, and were able to scope out sections of the course in advance.  
The Stalked...

Once we had completed our reconnaissance, we headed back to town to find a place with mashed potatoes, both Leslie and my choice for pre-race carbo-loading. We found an Applebees, had double sides of potatoes each, and then headed back to camp to turn in. The race start was at 5:30 am., with a 30 minute drive to the start. With 45 minutes for coffee and the rest of the pre-race routine, that meant up at 3:30.

The race:
We rolled out early and headed out for my 5:30 am start. It was a typical low-key DWD start, with probably a few hundred people. The relays for this race were canceled, and the half marathon, which Leslie was running, did not start until 7:30. I had time for two quick trips to the Porta-Johns and then we were off. The 50 mile, 50k, and marathon started together, so there was a pretty big group at the start. I was rushing to the start from the Porta-John, so slipped under the flags toward the front of the group but did not have a good sense of where I was seeded. I did not expect to do too well in this race, given the number of hills, so did not really think it mattered much.

The first loop of the course for us was about 5 miles, up and down some ski hills by the Devil's Lake Resort where we started. I was expecting the climbs there and was pleasantly surprised that this section was not as bad as I thought it would be. Actually my biggest worry in this section was my hat. It was already starting to get hot, probably mid 70s, by the end of the loop. Besides the fact that my hat was making me hot, it would not stay put on my head and kept slipping back. If I would not have felt so strongly about littering the trail, the hat would still be up there on the ski slope. Instead, I pulled it off, tucked it in my top, and waited for the aid station at start/finish to ditch it. As I went by the aid station, I was surprised with how well the first hilly section had gone, but was dreading the next section with an even bigger climb.

The course: Yes, it really is as hilly as it looks
The next part of the course was another section of about five miles connecting us from the ski lodge area onto some really nice single track, much of which was on the Ice Age Trail, that took us over to the Devil's Lake State Park.  This was a long climb but with some runnable sections.

I did better than I thought here mainly because of the technical nature of the terrain. There were a lot of sharp rocks on the trail. I am not geologist, so I can't say much about the rocks except that they were plentiful, jutted up from the ground, and had sharp edges. This type of trail is what I love and is similar to the rocky trails I had run in the mountains of California, so it did not slow me down as bad as it did some people. On the runnable rolling and downhill sections, I know some people thought I was crazy for running as I did, but that was my strength, and I needed to take advantage of it to do well. I certainly wasn't going to be making up time on the climbs.

The aid stations on the course were nicely spaced, with some manned and with a few others unmanned but with plenty of water. It was nice to have previewed the course a bit in advance so that I had some idea of where I was headed. I got to the aid station at Steinke and someone called out "Hey, aren't you the stalker from last night!" It was one of the crew from Running Fit working the aid station. It was fun to see a familiar face.

After the aid station we began another section that included a climb. Since it was the first time I had run the course, I had no idea what to expect. As we reached the top of a climb, we merged with the half marathoners, who had by now started and were midrace. We were at about 17 miles. Suddenly, we popped out of the trees onto a ridge and the view was absolutely stunning!! We were on a rock cliff overlooking Devil's Lake below.
The view!

There were huge rocks and boulders jutting out and runners were stopping everywhere to take pictures. There was an aid station right there at the top on one of those big rocky outcroppings, and we all just were in awe of the beautiful view. Despite the climbing, I would be tempted to do the race next year, just to get to see the view again. Pictures cannot do it justice. I was so mad, though. I had dragged my cell phone along with me on this one to get pictures, but when I pulled it out, the battery had died. Isn't that how it always is? Thankfully Leslie saved the day by getting some really good shots.

After the beautiful view, things went downhill in more ways than one. We made a right turn and split off from the half marathoners and started down this long and fairly steep descent. Normally this would delight me, but about halfway down, people started passing me going in the other direction. That is when I realized that we were heading down to the "Bug Pit" aid station and a short out and back area of the course. I was going to have to go back up the ridge we were coming down. Damn! That made me pout for a little while, but soon the fun of having a nice continuous downhill took over. I was even singing at one point as I barreled down the hill, probably much to the chagrin of the runners within hearing distance.

At the bottom of the ridge we came to a meadow area that soon showed why the aid station for this portion was named "Bug Pit." Part of this section was a mowed area through the grass, but another section, in typical DWD fashion, looked like it had just been stomped down the night before. The "trail" here went through waist deep grass and weeds and was about ten inches wide. The only redeeming feature here was that the weeds had some type of flower that smelled really nice as we ran through. Unfortunately, by this time, it must have been about 10 am and about 90 degrees. There was not a bit of shade on this whole section, which led us across the fields, past an aid station (with cold wet paper towels!), across a wooden bridge to a sign in the middle of the field that said "turn around."  

Now, my "plan," if you can call it that, in these "races" had been to enjoy myself, take in the beauty of the trails, not hurt myself, and not worry about racing. Good plan -- it went right out the window as soon as I started watching people coming toward me. The 50 mile, 50k, and marathon were still on the same course, but the bibs were different colors, so we could tell what  race the people meeting us were in. As I got closer to the turnaround, I realized that I really had not seen many women with blue bibs (for the 50k).  That is when I started thinking that maybe I was doing better than I thought.  After I made the turnaround, though, I saw that there was a big group of women ranging from about 1 minute to about 3 minutes behind me and several of them were in the 50k. And, the one closest to  me looked like she could be in my age group.

I tried to pull myself together and pick it up a little. The problem was that we were soon back to the base of the big climb, never a good thing for me. Throughout the climb I kept expecting people to come by, and some guys did, but only two of the women caught me, and they were in the marathon. As I arrived at Steinke aid again, I looked up a long road behind me and did not see any women coming. I was feeling pretty good because I knew I had a good long section of downhill at the end.

Unfortunately, I did not remember that there was a rolling section and a climb before I hit that final downhill...  My legs started to rebel on me in the rolling section. They did not want to make the necessary switch from hiking the uphills to running the downs. I was slowing down. Still, I wasn't being passed and was even managing to pass a few men who were worse off than I was.

Then, on the last uphill, somewhere around mile 28 or so, one woman came flying by me, with another one not far behind. The second one was the one I had suspected might be in my age group. She slowed down for a bit to hike behind me, so I asked the question and got the dreaded answer: "How old are you?" "50." "Oh crap, me too."  I was really dreading a race to the finish, but thought with a downhill coming up, I might have had a chance. That hope was dashed about thirty seconds later when she started to run on the uphill. I rallied for about twenty futile seconds, but there was no way I could keep up with her on the climb. I spent the next  ten minutes alternately cursing the running gods and praying for the downhill to be coming soon, but by the time I got to the downhill section and took off, she was nowhere in sight.

I finished the race strong, thanks to the downhill. As I crossed the finish, the Running Fit crew volunteer with the clipboard asked the usual question about my age group so that they could hand out the age group awards at the finish line. As she wrote my name on the clipboard in second place for the 50-54 age group, I noticed there were not many other names on the board at that point. I was bummed to be second in the age group, but happy I had done well in the overall. Later I found that I was 5th place overall for the women, which really made me happy. Apparently, before I had been passed by the two women on the last climb, I had been in 3rd place overall!  That really pumped me up and made me feel like my training is starting to pay off!  

Of course, Leslie was there waiting for me after the race. She had a good time in the half marathon and had met some great new friends on the top of the ridge and gotten some great pictures. I was glad to see her because I was in a world of hurt. The combination of hard uphills and downhills, with the lifting to get over the roots and rocks, had absolutely trashed my legs. I was in serious pain. It was the close your eyes, put your head back, don't move, and try not to cry kind of post-race pain. As one of my ultra friends used to be fond of saying, "Even my hair hurt." Leslie was so good, going to the car to get me my chair, a diet Coke, my flip-flops so I could take off my soggy shoes and socks... What a great friend! 

Not a smile -- a grimace

The post-race atmosphere was typical DWD, with music, food (even some awesome portabella burgers for us veggie athletes), beer, and runners draped around the finish line in various levels of pain and stages of repose cheering in the finishers. We hung around the finish line for another hour or two, but because we didn't know anyone in the 50 miler this time, decided to head out to get a much needed shower.

All in all, this race was a great experience, despite the hills and heat. The area is absolutely beautiful. If you are a mountain goat that eats hills for breakfast, this would definitely be a great race for next year's calendar. Even if you are not a fan of hills, it is worth doing at least once, just for the view from the top of the ridge.

The bling: AG prize a DWD flashlight upper left corner

The Video:

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Race Report: Dances with Dirt Gnaw Bone
Race Report: Dances with Dirt Green Swamp
2012 Goals: Burned, Bloodied, Boned, and Bruised

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Tour de France: A Runners Perspective

I know this is a running blog, but it is early July, and it is not running that is on my mind. It is Tour de France time, and for three weeks I will be obsessed with this event. I am a huge cycling fan, and as an endurance athlete have tremendous respect for the cyclists that compete in this phenomenal test of endurance. It is absolutely an amazing race!

In case you are not familiar with the Tour, let me try to put it in terms a runner might be able to relate to and that might approximate a running equivalent. 

Imagine that you entered a race --  not a single day race, but a grand race that took place over a period of 23 days, in a continuously changing set of locations so that basically your days became a whirlwind of competition, recovery in hotels, and transportation to and from race sites.

During that period imagine that you had to race every day, except for two days that were rest days.  Now imagine that most of those days were marathons or ultramarathons and that some of those were flat but others went over huge mountains. On the days when you did not have to run a marathon, you might have to do a 1 mile race or 5k or 10k at close to full speed. Oh, and to keep you honest and to keep you from lollygagging, you would have to meet a time standard that was a percent of the winner's time each day in order not to be eliminated.  If you are the competitive type also imagine that at the end of the three weeks of racing, there might only be a few seconds between you and your closest competitors.

If you can imagine what that would be like, then you might have some appreciation for what the riders go through at the Tour de France. They race continuously for three weeks across France and neighboring countries, including over the Alps and the Pyrenees, doing 3 to 4 hour races on most days (around 125 miles), but also doing time trial days that could be anywhere from the short 6.4km  (4 mi)  prologue to a longer 41 km (25.5 mi) race, which would be about the equivalent of a 10k for a running racer. It is truly amazing when you think of the level of fitness required to go out and race like this day after day.

However, that is not all that there is to the Tour.  When I was first introduced to it, the person explained that it was something like a rolling chess game, with a little soap opera thrown in. I have always felt that was an apt description. 

Part of the intrigue comes from the idea that this is both an individual and a team sport. Besides the individual awards I will talk about in a second, the Tour riders are also members of a set of teams, each starting with nine riders. If a rider on the team becomes injured and cannot complete a stage, does not start a stage, or does not complete a stage within the time limit, the team loses a member, which it does not get to replace. The Tour started with 22 teams of 9 rider each, or 198 riders. Today, with 10 days of riding completed, they are down to 178 riders, with all but one of the rest being lost to crashes and broken bones.  

Tom Danielson, one of our American cyclists out after multiple crashes

The Tour is also a contest of many different types of abilities, with major awards going each day and at the end of the race, not only to an overall winner  for the 23 days, called the "general classification" (GC) winner, (the yellow jersey everyone has heard of) but also the best mountain climber (polka dot jersey), the best sprinters ("points leader" -- the green jersey), the best young rider (up to 25 y/o -- the white jersey), the stage winner for the day, and an award each day (a special red number bib for the following day) for the most "aggressive" rider (in terms of effort and bravery spent racing -- not aggression toward other cyclists).  Each day is a drama as the various riders and teams try to either gain the lead in one of these competitions or just gain a little fleeting glory for the individual or the team by taking home a prize for the day. It is a great honor as a cyclist to get to wear one of these jerseys for a day.
The Jerseys

One of the most fascinating aspects of the racing, especially from a running standpoint, since we have nothing like this in our sport, is the teamwork aspect of the race. On each team of nine riders, there is typically one man who is marked as the team leader who may have a chance at winning the most prestigious yellow jersey for the overall winner of the Tour in the general classification. Lance Armstrong is a great example of a team leader and . Most teams also have a rider who is a sprinting specialist who is competing for the green jersey. Some teams also have a climbing specialist who is going for the polka dot jersey, but those would normally be teams without a rider strong enough to have a chance at the overall win.  On a team with a leader who is competing for the overall win, the climber's role on the team is normally a support one.

On the teams that have a rider who has the possibility of scoring high in the overall standing, the entire team works for that rider. They will ride in front of their number one guy so that he can conserve energy by drafting, sacrificing themselves and their personal goals for the possibility of his greater glory. They will also go back to the cars that follow the race to get water bottles to give to their leader so that he does not have to exert himself or go through the dangerous process of dropping back and then catching up. If the leader has a bike problem, they will wait or drop back to help their leader ride to the front, or even give their leader their own bike if needed so that the leader may continue on and not lose time.  They also surround their rider in the "peleton," that huge group of riders you see on television, to help protect him from danger of crashes.

George Hincapie, domestique extraordinaire
These support riders are called "domestiques," which means servant, but which carries none of the negative connotations associated with that word. In fact, in the cycling world, being a strong, loyal, skilled, and devoted domestique is a huge point of honor.  Strong domestiques are highly regarded. George Hincapie, the American  cyclist, is hugely respected in the cycling world for his abilities as a domestique who has helped many winners of the Tour, including Lance Armstrong and last year's winner, Cadel Evans.  Occasionally, in situations where it is possible to be done without jeopardizing the position of the overall leader on the team, a domestique will be given a chance to win the stage.

Chris Froome winning the stage.
Notice his team leader and the challenger behind
A great example of this happened already this year in the Tour when the current leader Bradley Wiggin's domestique Chris Froome led him to the top of the mountain in a serious bid to keep him in the yellow jersey by not letting the second place rider, Cadel Evans, gain the necessary ten seconds advantage that would have put him in first place. After leading Wiggins up the hill and being sure that he and Cadel would finish together, Fromme was able to sprint ahead of the two and win the stage for himself. That is the type of thing that is a huge reward for a domestique, along with knowing that they did their job well to keep their man in yellow.

This teamwork aspect of the race is fascinating to me. There is nothing like it in running, except possibly in cross country (but even there it is not so much a matter of working for someone else on the team as it is a matter of the individual efforts being combined to create the team effort).  I envy the cyclists, who get the benefits of both competing in an individual and a team effort.

Of course, just like any sport, fans have their favorite riders and their favorite teams.  My favorite team is RadioShack Nissan Trek, and my favorite rider is Fabian Cancellara, a Swiss cyclist, who is the time trial specialist on their team.  He spent most of the first week of the tour in the yellow jersey. I thought he looked pretty fabulous.
Fabian Cancellara looking great in the yellow jersey!

My second favorite cyclist is Jens Voigt, also on the RadioShack team, who is 40 years old and competing in his 15th Tour this year. He is a character for sure and the originator of my favorite mantra: "shut up legs." He is known as one of the toughest guys in the sport, willing to punish his body to the extreme to help his team. He writes a great blog called Hardly Serious.  It gives some great insight into the mind of a tough-as-nails cyclist.
Jens Voigt doing what he does.

Thanks for bearing with me on this divergence from running-related topics. I hope I have convinced you to at least check out the Tour de France if you get a chance. It is on daily on NBC Sports. It is a little confusing to be a spectator at first, but the commentators are great. (Phil Liggett is my personal favorite. I hope he never retires!)  Once you have figured it out, it becomes really fascinating. 

How about it? Any other runners who are also cycling fans out there? 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Race Report: T-Rex 10 Mile Trail Race

I am writing this race report with some reluctance. It is like the dilemma you might face with your favorite restaurant or watering hole: you want to tell your friends about it, but you really don't want the place to get too crowded and lose its initial charm. That is how I feel about this race. It is everything I love in a trail race rolled into one: small, quirky, inexpensive, friendly people, great course with lots of shady single track, enough uphills to bitch (then brag) about and enough downhills to enjoy. Seriously, what is not to love about a dinosaur themed race on the 4th of July, with a cardboard cutout of Mel Gibson as a mascot, and make-it-yourself snow cones at the finish line?

Proof that I can legitimately call myself an Old Fart
The first thing you need to know about the race is that it is put on by a group called The Old Farts Running Club  (of which I am a proud member). I have got to say that this group is one of the friendliest groups I have ever met, and that is saying a lot because I know some really friendly running groups! Besides being incredibly friendly, they are also an eccentric and fun-loving bunch. Besides the TRex 10 Miler (and Wimpy 8k) dinosaur-themed race on the 4th of July, they also put on such gems as the Beat the Grandma 8k and also some pretty serious (albeit still quirky) races, such as the Fallsburg Festival of Races  and  the Wild West 100k and Grin and BearIt 50k.  

These races are all about every competitor having a good time, and it shows. A great example of this has to do with the adjustments that were made after last year's race. Last year it was hot, hot, hot. A lot of runners really suffered, so they made two adjustments for this year's race. They moved the start time back an hour and rerouted the course in the last few miles of the course onto a shadier section of single track to remove a road section with little shade. Those were two little changes that did a lot for the comfort level of the racers. I know I really noticed and appreciated the changes.

Another thing the race director does to make the atmosphere fun is to make sure that nearly everyone has something to take home. (He really does understand that for some of us, it is all about the "bling"!) However, he handles this in a typical Old Farts Running Club kind of way. First of all, this year everyone that finished got a fossilized shark tooth (which went well with the dinosaur theme). Also, top finishers got the traditional TRex 10 miler towel. I did not get one this year, but love mine from last year. Overall, Masters, and Grandmaster winners also get a special basket full of all kinds of goodies.

The fun continues in the age group awards, which are three year groups rather than the traditional five year, and prizes go three deep. Here is where the quirkiness kicks in. The first place is a really nice medal, but second and third are a little more unusual. Last year, they were salt and pepper shakers that said something along the lines of  "I just didn't have the pep-pa."  This year, they were some really cool railroad spikes painted in bright colors that said "Missed the medal" on one side, and "Got the metal" on the other. They were so cool, it made me wish I had gone a little slower and got second.  

Finally, in case you still managed to be empty-handed, there is a raffle that is unlike any other. It is easier to just let them describe it:  If you don't win your age group then you might win at the "NOT" so Famous T-Rex Raffle ... and odds are you'll win something Old Fartish or something Too Lame to be called a raffle prize! Last year we had over 50 raffle winners!

Here is how the raffle works. They dump out a bunch of stuff onto a table. The "stuff" is so random! This year there were everything from old racing shirts, shorts, and hats to a pine derby kit, LED flashlights, a pair of men's extra large Superman briefs, collapsible clothes hampers, and two 3 ft. tall stuffed Christmas elves (which I dearly wanted to win).

Prior to the start of the raffle, we all stalk the table making choices and checking sizes (and sometimes figuring out the answer to the "What the heck is that?" question). Then they draw names from the jar. If your name is called, you have 30 seconds to grab your raffle prize. They call out the names in rapid succession, and the table becomes a free-for-all of raffle winners grabbing whatever is still left that looks good to them. Last year, I picked up a very cool running poster and also a nice thermal shirt for Jer (they had more prizes than runners last year). This year, unfortunately, the raffle gods were not smiling in my direction. I was heartbroken that I didn't get to bring home a stuffed elf. However, one of the winners was gracious enough to pose for a picture so that you could see what I missed out on.

You'd be smiling too if you got to take home one of the coveted  elves.
Okay, by this time you may be saying "Wait, isn't this a race report? Did you actually run a race?"  Well the answer to that one is yes!  I ran the 10 miler while Leslie (my partner in crime from the Dances With Dirt Gnaw Bone adventure and the Mango Madness race report author) ran the Wimpy 8k (the doctor had just cleared her on Monday for physical activity after her leg wound from the Mango Madness fall had become infected). 
Leslie and Me Ready to Start

The race is at Fallasburg Park in Lowell, MI. The finish line is at one of the picnic shelters at the park. Both races start together on a grassy field below the finish line. Runners start across the grass field, but then it narrows down to single track, with a bridge crossing and then more single track for the first mile before emptying for a mile or so onto a dirt road. It gets kind of congested in the first mile, as we do the conga-line thing on the single track trail. Last year, I went out fast to get ahead of the crowd. This year I tried a different strategy and went out a little slower hoping to have more left for the latter (hillier) half of the race.

The ten miler has lots of little ups and downs, as well as three increasingly difficult hills: Mini TRex, Little TRex, and Big TRex. The 8k runners get to turn back after the Mini, hence the name
"Wimpy 8k."  Mini and Little TRex are not the kind of hills that give an ultrarunner much problem, but Big TRex is truly a thing to dread. It is not really so much a hill as it is a cliff, and you go right up the sandy, hot, unshaded face of it at about mile 5.5.  It is a hands-on-the-knees type of climb that makes the rolling hills that follow it a bit more painful than they would normally be. Last year, it was much more of a shock to the system, though. This year I was more prepared. That does not mean I went up it any faster, just that I did not mind as much. I just told myself it was excellent training for DWD Devil's Lake and pushed on. For those interested in such things, the course is very well marked, with little chance of getting lost. There are also mile markers and friendly "tourist information" signs pointing out things like dinosaur eggs ahead (in a particularly rocky section), identifying Stegasauras ridge, and warning of the upcoming TRex area.

I felt pretty good for the first four miles of the race, but the hills and the heat in miles 5 through 7 really got to me. I struggled quite a bit and walked more than I should have in a race of that length. I tried not to look at my watch and just keep doing what I could do -- running when I could and walking when I felt I couldn't. Luckily, I had done an extremely hot, uncomfortable, and ugly ten mile training run last Friday afternoon with my friend Kate that had reduced us to walking breaks in the last three miles, so I just kept telling myself "This isn't as bad as the run with Kate. At least there is shade." That helped me get through the rough parts.

Toward the end of the course, after mile 8, there was some really pleasant downhill on a shaded dirt road, and I was able to pick it up. The last mile is back on the same trail we came out on, so I knew what to expect and how far it was to the finish. I was able to pick it up some and felt a little better.

Now, let me tell you about the race finish. Remember how I said the race starts in a field "below" the finish line.  The finish line is on a low bluff overlooking the field where we started. At the finish, we come out of the single track, run across a grassy meadow, cross a bridge over a creek, and then have to go up a ramp to the top of the bluff. The ramp is short, maybe 50 ft., but it is very, very steep on tired legs. It is not the kind of thing I even like to run on fresh legs! Thankfully, though, the finish is just over the top.

As I started running again after cresting the ramp (yes, I did walk up it -- no pride here), I saw the time on the clock 1:40:03. As I crossed the finish line, my watch said 1:40:23 -- exactly, to the second,  the same time that I had run the previous year. That time was good enough to win the age group last year, and it was also good enough to win my new age group this year. I was really happy with the result, both time and place, because I think it was even hotter this year than last, despite the earlier start time, and with the marathon I had just done not quite two weeks ago, I thought it was a pretty good outcome.

Soaking the legs post race
Post-race festivities here are some of my favorites. There are no bands, beer tents, or huge crowds. Save that for the road racers. What there is -- besides the aforementioned raffle -- is a stream for cooling off in and chatting with fellow runners. I met some really nice people, including Suzanne Kosloski, the perennial Grand Master's champion (Someone really needs to check her I.D. She is so beautiful and full of energy that she can't possibly be over 60!) and a couple of really nice people I met at the post race soak, including a 5th grade teacher whose name I did not get but who took those great pictures of me in the creek). 

 I also got to see one of my RUT friends Brandon who was both helping out with this race and advertising for the upcoming Naked Run.
Nuff said

One of the other post-race amenities that is my favorite is a snow cone machine where runners can make their own post-race snow cones. If you have never had a snow cone on a 90 degree day in Michigan after running ten miles through the woods, you have no idea what you are missing! If you look closely at the photos of me in the stream, you can see the tell-tale blue lips from my post-race snow cone. Everyone knows blue is the best!

So, if you are putting together a race calendar for 2013, you may want to pencil this one in. And, as I promised all those people I took pictures of at the race, here is a video. (If you are in any of these pics and want to download the JPG version, they are available on the Through a Running Lens Facebook page.)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Vegetarian Athlete Part Two: How Is It Going?

In my previous post  I explained that I had finally decided to address my problems with weight and nutrition in relation to my running .  My decision to take meaningful action on this had been brought on partially through my own observations, but had been pushed over the edge by reading Scott Jurek's book Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness. I decided to focus more on the quality of the food I was putting in my body and to give a vegetarian diet a try.

Now I am about seven weeks into the change. In the past seven weeks, I have eaten meat only twice, both times when eating out (a steak salad and some chili that contained meat). I have drastically changed my food choices and am now eating a diet that is almost exclusively vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, with some dairy and eggs mixed in. I have drastically reduced my consumption of diet soda, replacing it with iced green tea. I have eliminated nearly all junk food from my diet (if you don't count frozen yogurt or apple chips as junk food).  How is it going?  Pretty well. Here are some of my observations:

1. It is easier than I thought it would be to make the changes. If a person is going to make this type of change, summer is the best time to do it. There are so many fresh fruits and vegetables available at this time of year, that it is easy to forget that the meal does not include meat. It is also easy for me to choose salads for lunch and dinner when it is hot like it has been. Fresh fruit for a snack always seems like a good idea in the summer, with the variety of yummy choices available. I don't know if this will change in the fall, but for now that aspect is working.

I don't miss meat nearly as much as I thought I would. Interestingly, I don't crave chicken at all. I used to eat a lot of chicken, so I was surprised about this one. A few times early in the process I did crave steak (as evidenced by the steak salad), but even that has gone away. Truthfully, any cravings I get now are normally brought on by burger commercials, and all I have to do is think about how bad most of those are for me or how the advertisers are manipulating me, and that is enough to put that thought to the back of my mind. I have already decided that if I do eat meat, it is going to be quality stuff, like lean steak or pork chops, but so far I haven't really wanted either of those enough to actually have some. The meat cravings tend to be very short-lived. The diet soda cravings are way more intense for me. What is it about carbonation that makes it so addictive?

2. It is fun to learn a new way of eating. I like to learn things and try new things, so I am actually having fun with this. I am learning about new foods that I have not done a lot with before, such as tofu, tempeh, quinoa and other grains, and am trying new recipes. I am also learning how to use vegetables I am familiar with in new ways.  

From Incredible Smoothies: How to make a  Green Smoothie
Last night I made portobello pizzas, not as a substitute for real pizza, but as a fun new way to work with portobello mushrooms. A few days ago, I made a creamy cauliflower and mushroom soup from scratch. Thanks to a recipe posted by Dr. Tom (of fixing my IT band fame), I made eggplant subs. I have also tried my first "green" smoothies, using kale and spinach, respectively. Some of the stuff, I have not been crazy about and will not try again (not a fan of kale in the smoothie, but the spinach was surprisingly good). Most of the things I have tried I have really liked.

My Little Garden
An added bonus is that I have found several new and interesting resources. I am a magazine junkie, and I am delighted right now with Vegetarian Times. I have also found a new blog that I really enjoy, Closet Cooking, which has some great recipes. This is not an all vegetarian site, but there are many, many recipes there that are vegetarian or which can be easily adapted to be so. I have also planted a little garden to help supply some of the vegetables that we use the most. 

3. It does seem to be helping with inflammation and energy levels. This is a hard one to prove because it is so subjective. I can say very confidently that the diet changes have made a difference with the inflammation. I am nowhere near as sore as I was six weeks ago. The soreness after short and easy workouts is almost completely gone, and the soreness after hard workouts is greatly reduced.  I have not had to use NSAIDs, except for after the trail marathon at Keyes Peak.

In terms of energy levels, this is a tougher one. I do seem to  have more energy, but that could also be because my stress level from work is currently down. I do seem to be sleeping better most of the time, but I am still having middle age hormonal issues that sometimes interfere there. As a whole, this aspect is slightly better. 

4.  My weight is coming down.  Since I made the diet change, I have not been counting calories. I have pretty much been eating all I want, but trying to make better choices when I do. I am still eating six meals a day, and my portions do tend to be a little out of control, but because of the food choices I am making (more fruits and vegetables), I am still losing weight. I have lost 3-4 pounds in the last six weeks. That is despite having developed a serious frozen yogurt habit in the past week or so.

5. Making better food choices is not as convenient. The one drawback to this change so far is that it does take a little more thought and planning than my previous diet did. We are eating a lot less packaged and processed food. Making meals from scratch, even simple meals, takes a little more time and some planning. I think part of this is a learning curve, though. In the beginning, it seemed like it was a lot harder to "throw together" a meal or figure out what to have for lunch or dinner. Now that I am a little more used to things, it is getting easier. Another aspect of the "not as convenient" is that we shop more often, especially for fresh fruit and vegetables.

We also are doing a lot less "fast food."  Despite the fact that many fast food restaurants now boast "healthy" choices, these are mostly salads, and they are way overpriced and often not that good. Fast food has been pretty much reduced to either bean and rice burritos or veggie delight subs (which are actually quite good and only $5 at Subway). 

As a whole, I am pretty satisfied that I am on track with the nutrition and the food choices I am making. This brings it down to the last two questions on all runners' minds: Is it helping my running? Is it going to make me faster?

I think the answer to these questions is yes, but it is a little early to tell for sure. I did have a trail marathon PR last week, but I am not sure if that is diet related or course related. I am lighter, which should result in some improvement in times. My training is going very well. The lessened soreness is doing a lot to help with the regular training, and I think I am running better because of it. I will know more as time passes, but for now, I feel that I am moving in the right direction. I feel that this piece of my overall performance is starting to come into line with my training. Hopefully the race results over the next few months will bear this out. I will keep you posted with updates.

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