Always a finish line, never a finish line

Before running the Garmin Marathon this Saturday, I took my family to see Josh Cox, Desi Davila, and Scott Jurek speak at the expo. As you can see from the power point, their talk was titled “Life of An Elite Runner.” Alternate title: awesome stuff only a few gifted people will ever have the talent and opportunity to achieve.

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There were lots of cool race stories, training tips, etc. However, I thought there was an unintentional life lesson that shone through that has application for all of us whether we are training, racing, or just living. All three of these athletes stressed the importance of having a goal race to work towards. Something to circle on your calendar. Something to accomplish.

As I’ve said before ad nauseam, I’ve run off and on my whole life. However, it wasn’t until about 3 years ago that I started racing. Nothing has improved my overall fitness and enjoyment of running more than the simple act of signing up for races. At first, one of my friends would spring a “hey, I’m running this 5K in a few weeks, do you want to do it too” on me and I’d join him. When I discovered that my tastes ran towards longer distances like the half and full marathon, I also discovered that a multi-month training plan was the only way to adequately prepare to race at those distances.

Hopefully you are in the home stretch of a training plan for Hospital Hill. If so, you are starting to smell that finish line as May is almost upon us. Having that finish line circled on your calendar gives you something to work towards. I’m in the recovery zone of a goal race right now – but I’ve already had HH circled on my calendar for months. I love having something new to look forward to and work towards already. I’ve already got another goal race planned after Hospital Hill. Do you? Whether you emerge injured or healthy, exhausted or raring for more – target something. When we stop setting finish lines out there in the future we stop the race. Never stop racing.

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Kickin’ it minimalist old school – Asics Piranha SP 3 shoe review

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I PR’d (3:11:03) at the Garmin Marathon in these shoes last weekend, so my opinion of them is obviously going to be a little skewed. (“Money it’s gotta be the shoes? You sure it’s not the shoes?”) Actually I think it’s probably the course – less elevation change than my previous three marathons.

About two months ago I started thinking about using some racing flats in this marathon. I had tried on the Mizuno Wave Universe a few years ago and really liked it – but the store I was at didn’t have them in my size. When I started searching for a pair this time around I wasn’t finding anything that wasn’t in triple digits. I did find the Piranhas on closeout though. Billed as the lightest racing flat out there, (4.7 oz size 9), they also fit my minimalist sensibilities with a 5 mm drop (22 down to 17). I suppose “racing flat” predated the term “zero drop” by several decades. Being a fan of the “Instinct” I would like to try a pair of Altra’s “The One” – their take on a minimalist racing flat – but they had just come out and the price was right for the Piranhas.

One of my requirements is a shoe that won’t crowd my toes. I am really careful about this after a very scary experience with the Newton MV2 a few months back. Despite a somewhat pointy appearance, the Piranhas do have the roomy toe box some reviewers actually complained about (I know – seriously?). I had zero problems with friction on the sides or top.

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Btw, check out that sweet “Japan” reference just below the laces. I can feel the Fukuoka vibe.

Mainstream wisdom is that the marathon is too long of a distance for a racing flat. For most people, that is probably excellent advice. I have run a marathon in less shoe than this though, so I knew what to expect. I also tested this shoe 5 times prior to the race (total distance 36.68 miles, but who’s counting). I used it for most of the speedwork I did in the last month, and also put in a middle distance goal pace run of 9 miles in them. I was pretty confident they wouldn’t present any major fit issues on race day.

The shoe feels so light in your palm it’s almost imperceptible. This translates to a great feel on your feet. I tried on my true size and a half size up and found they ran true to size. If you’re expecting cush, don’t. There is cushioning material in the forefoot, and more at the heel (more on that in a minute). The mesh is whisper thin.

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I was pleased with how these shoes performed in the race. No significant blistering or foot pain. I did have a minor blister just to the side of the ball of my left foot. It wasn’t a concern during the race. I’m not sure what shoe would have been blister free on this course – the entire second half is on a creek trail, the kind that doesn’t show hills on an elevation map, but in practice has lots of little ups and downs and tons of curves.

I am a devoted but apparently not dogmatic forefoot striker. These shoes easily accommodated my forefoot striking stride. However, with about 3 miles to go I was keeping a very nervous eye on a right calf cramp (which I attribute to the really watered-down gatorade at the aid stations). I got to a nice flat stretch of wide concrete sidewalk where the trail runs through the campus of a small university, so I decided to stretch it out by going about a quarter mile heel-striking. Thanks to the 5mm drop of the shoe and some cushioning in back, I was able to do this fairly comfortably. It seemed to help quite a bit and I got back on stride and back up to speed. I did get the distinct impression that I must have looked like a race-walker though.

It’s hard to rate durability at 63.06 miles, but the shoes are holding up pretty well. I think they might have a few more speedwork sessions and races left in them.

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After I recover I’m going to try to decide whether or not to attempt the Hospital Hill Half barefoot. If I’m not barefoot, I’ll almost certainly be wearing these.

Garmin Marathon: Heavy heart, light feet

Friends, I’m a runner. You knew that. You may not know that I’ll be running the Garmin Marathon this Saturday with a heavy heart and (hopefully) light feet. The route starts and finishes at Garmin’s Olathe headquarters, and comes right through the heart of where I live. If you live here too, we’d love it if you cheered on the 3,000 of us who’ll be running on Saturday. You may also wish to join me in contributing to The One Fund Boston, intended to raise money to help those families most affected by the bombing at the finish line of Monday’s Boston Marathon.

Give thanks for those who support you.

The horrible, awful events of today have my emotions wildly vascillating between anger and sadness. Initial reports would seem to indicate that most of those killed and injured in this senseless attack were spectators and race support. Many of us know someone who ran Boston today, and some of those runners brought families and friends along to celebrate their achievement.

As you join me in praying for those whose lives have been forever altered today, remember to also give thanks for those who support you as you train and race. Thank them personally too. Our families and race volunteers sacrifice their personal time and their time with us to help us achieve our goals. How many of us have been urged on by spectators who don’t even know us? Thank you all.

MARATON at Smak-Tak!

If you don’t like cryptic titles, you probably aren’t reading this. I was in Chicago on business this week, and I had dinner at Smak-Tak!, a Polish-American restaurant, on Wednesday night. When I came in the tv was playing a Polish language sitcom. The lady who waited on me clearly didn’t speak English as her first language, but she must have noticed my Kansas City marathon shirt. A few minutes later I noticed that she had changed the channel to NBC Universal, which was showing a re-run of the Paris marathon. Coincidence? I think not.

I had a delicious meal – white borscht, some potato pancakes, and a grilled kielbasa with a fanastic sauerkraut side.

I get to indulge my Greek heritage food-wise a lot more than my Polish heritage. There’s a dearth of Polish restaurants where I live. On the other hand, it seems Greeks gravitate to the restaurant business (my grandfather included). Just about everywhere I’ve ever lived, there’s at least a “Pizza and Steak” Greek restaurant with a few Greek dishes on the menu, if not a full-blown Greek-focused menu.

Btw, MARATON is Polish for marathon!

Unbroken – finding inspiration in other runners

I recently finished Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. The book tells the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympian and WWII POW.

When I’m in training for a goal race I think it’s really motivational to mix an occasional book or movie about running into my leisure time. My wife had borrowed Unbroken for me from a friend a few months ago and it sat on a dresser collecting dust. I had a vague idea that it was a riveting true story about a POW. I didn’t realize it was about Louis Zamperini or running. I had heard of Zamperini before but didn’t realize this book was about him. Then I happened to notice an athlete profile in RW last month where it was listed as a favorite book of the athlete.

Once I realized that I had immediate access to the book, I couldn’t read it fast enough. The book is basically in three acts – pre-war childhood and racing; the war; and post-war. Zamperini was a middle distance runner with huge potential. He qualified for the 1936 Berlin Olympics in the 5000 meters at age 19. He didn’t medal, but ran an incredible bell lap. Many think he would have been the first to break the 4:00 mile had his rise not been interrupted by the war. This is vividly illustrated by a blistering timed run he made while at one of his island stations in the Pacific, witnessed only by a friend pacing him in a Jeep.

The war not only interrupted his racing career, it ended it. After his bomber was shot down in the Pacific he survived in a raft for a month and half, only to be captured and imprisoned by the Japanese. His mistreatment at the hands of his captors was a brutal combination of beatings, subhuman living conditions, and inadequate food.

After being liberated by American forces at the end of the war, Zamperini briefly attempted to train to race again, but an ankle injury suffered in captivity soon reared its ugly head and put an end to any ideas of returning to competition. He suffered from PTSD and nearly drank himself to death. However, his wife stood by him, eventually bringing him to a Billy Graham revival, which catalyzed a change in his behavior and outlook on life. He has since traveled extensively as a motivational speaker and has been a torch runner at several Olympics.

Despite horrible adversity, physical pain, and the emotional pain of unrealized potential, Zamperini continues to lead a life that inspires his sport and anyone that comes into contact with him.

The book is the second work by the author of Seabiscuit. Zamperini’s true story is meticulously researched and attributed. The bulk of it is set in wartime, but Zamperini’s status as a world-class athlete followed him into captivity and throughout his life.

I was left with with a deep sense of admiration for a man with the drive to succeed at the highest level, the endurance to survive horrific conditions, and the will to overcome assaults to his psyche and reclaim his life. He is truly “Unbroken.”