Monday, November 30, 2015

Black Magic

I was running pretty hard thru turn 3, but felt sort of like I was floating. 150 meters left in the 3rd of 5 800m repeats we were running. Dakota, Owen, the Avery brothers,, and me... 5k pace... but a bit faster, knocking them out in the 2:45- 2:55 range. Coach Beth read out the times at the start/ finish line after each lap. She had 4 separate timers going on her smart phone.

But right then and there as I watched the track continuously pulling back away and under me... as it also simultaneously kept stretching forward... the phrase black magic suddenly came to me, like seeing a comet flash across the dark sky. Black magic. The track. What a name.

Running under the lights. Multiple groups of us running 800s at various paces and rest cycles. The younger kids running 400s, staying mostly in the grass so the older and faster didn't run up their small backsides.

Owen blew by Dakota on the last straight away. "You little $%*" was his response between gasps for air after we finished the rep. He was laughing about it. But a little serious too. Paxton cracked, "hey a 7th grader beat ya." "I know," said Dakota, with hands on his knees... he's a senior in high school as are the Averys.

Paxton started singing a Christmas carol, Jingle Bells... I chimed in and sang along. She was in jeans with a boot on her right foot, severs disease flared again last week. But there she was out on the track helping time, encouraging, cheering... being a kid and having fun.

After the last 800 Owen told me he negative split them all. A year ago he wouldn't have known what that meant. Maris asked me how fast was her fastest 800?  I estimated 3:07. She turned and proudly told her Dad. Riley on a cool down lap told me she PRd the 800 tonight, while adding how she wasn't fast. That doesn't matter was my response.

Later on the drive home it hit me how blessed I am certain nights. How I get to be right where I am supposed to be in those given moments. I got teary eyed...for this little running life I have stumbled upon is the gift that just keeps giving.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

4 Mile Trail Race

Ran the 11th annual Wilmington Road Runners Turkey Trot 4 mile trail race in the Carolina Beach State Park Saturday morning. Had a pretty solid race with a time of 25:08. Finished 4th overall out of 239 runners and won top Masters award.  Also several of the #CapeFearFlyers kids that I coach ran and won or placed in their respective age groups, as did some of my fellow coaches.

All of us had a beautiful late fall morning to run, sunny skies with race time temperatures in the sixties, and a light breeze. In fact on places in the course not shaded it got a bit warm out.  Participants were treated afterwards to a full, catered breakfast, including banana bread pudding which made quite the impression on a lot of the athletes.

The night before, as per my usual routine, I spent some quiet time down on the beach.... watched a full moon cast her feathery yellowy light down onto the rolling waves, and the flowing currents in between. I feel really alive and touched by life in these moments, as well as contemplative, and spiritually connected to the entirety of the world present, past, and unseen.

I thought about my Mom and prayed for her up in heaven. In fact I thought of and said prayers for several of my friends and their parents whom they lost recently... many of them dear friends through our shared love for the sport of distance running. I even got a little teary eyed and cried softly, which felt healthy and good. As I bade goodbye and gave thanks for the communion, I looked at the unfurling and crashing waves and asked if I could harness a little of the ocean's energy and strength for the next day's race.

Picked my packet up early Sat am at the visitor's center in the state park, had a nice chat with my friend Brenda about some of the local races that occurred on Thanksgiving, then parked my car down by the start line area to get some warm-up drills, stretching, and miles in. Saw Peyton and we headed back into the woods on the trail for an easy 15-20 minute or so jog while we chatted away, before looping back to the marina and meeting up with the Flyers kids and other coaches.

Led the kids on a 15 minute run, showed everybody the finish line which is in a separate part of the park, and got a few striders in on the main road before heading over to the start line back by the Cape Fear River. Was fumbling around with my Garmin watch as the race surprisingly to me began, and I almost ran over Sawyer and another kid while trying to reset and start the thing. Fortunately no-one went down.

The first half mile followed the main road back out the park, which lends itself to most of us going out a little faster then we would like as to not get to jammed up behind the pack when entering the single track trails. Though the pace didn't seem too fast Saturday, and I felt fairly comfortable settling into a race pace before making the right turn and entering the woods. Followed a tall guy whom I chatted with briefly on the road about a hole, for about the next 2 miles. I kept thinking (and was actually temped to ask) how old are you, are you over 40?  (he ended up winning the 35-39 AG).

But on sugar loaf hill he slowed and I surged ahead of him , and ran the next mile or so by myself, save for the occasional glimpse of a lone racer up ahead on the trails. Gradually the distance between the two of us narrowed, until with about a half mile to go I caught up and ran behind him for a bit. I sensed he was not in position nor had the desire to challenge me if/ when I made a move... which I did with about 3 tenths of a mile left. It helps for me to be intimately familiar with the park's trails, not only the terrain, but to have a fairly precise knowledge of how far away I am from the finish at all times.

Cruised it in fairly hard but not all out after a brief glance or two back to make sure my fellow competitor in fact was not coming back after me. Splits afterwards revealed a fairly even effort, and there were 2 sections of the trails about 100-250 meters in length of real loose sand that slowed the pace down. Felt I could have gone a little faster overall, especially had I been pushed harder, but also ran a steady, consistent, and fairly intelligent race. All in all I'll take it. And I hope I've learned over the years to not pay too much credence to the typical runner's psyche that no matter how fast we've run, we feel we could have gone faster. Albeit it's true, but not something to get overly hung up on.

Had a lot of fun hanging out afterwards, eating breakfast with and talking to many wonderful friends in the running community. Our journeys are all unique, but on days like this they can all converge for a few brief moments in time...

Monday, November 23, 2015

Talking shop

Went to the North Carolina USATF Junior Olympic XC meet Sunday in Hagan Stone State Park, just south of Greensboro.

Several of the kids I coach on the Cape Fear Flyers Club ran well, and qualified for the national meet in New Mexico coming up on December 12th. We even had a state champion, Sarah Martin in the 9-10 girls 2K division. Second state champion that our club has produced this year.

Great experience again coaching and being a part of a coaching staff. Made some mistakes as well such as not having enough knowledge of the courses being raced before-hand and during the actual events. This led to me to yell to a young kid to kick real hard, since I thought the 2K finish line was in about 30-40 meters, when in actuality he had about another 150 meters to go. Worked out ok as he held his competitor off, and finished in second place.

We learn as we go. I wasn't the only one confused at times by the direction, finish lines of the multiple course being used.

Rode up and back with a fellow coach Jeff, who's son is a freshman XC  and track runner at Queen's College, and is off to a promising start already in his collegiate career. Jeff and I talked a lot especially on the ride home about all kinds of facets of training, and running histories in our own lives, as well as what his son had done during his high school years, and what he is doing now. It's always so great to talk in depth with others who are not only passionate about the sport, but have had a lot of wide ranging experiences and successes and of course failures as well.

Got into a conversation at one point about training for shorter races specifically the 5K. Jeff talked about at how age 52, he finds himself not wanting to grit through some of the pain associated with faster speed work needed to run at a high competitive level in the local racing scene. How his focus shifts to other types of running and work outs that will keep him in a great shape, specifically 20 minutes of core and strength work early each morning. And make no mistake, he is a very good runner who certainly has done his fair share of demanding, tough running.

Was interesting to hear, because for one, (god willing I am alive and running) it is a bridge that I will likely someday cross in my own running. And two, I found myself today amending a work out since mentally I just couldn't get into that spot I needed to be to really gut through what I had initially intended to do. Though I can step back and accept that this happens to every single runner from time to time, and that specifically on a physiological level I was not in the best spot to tackle a higher level intensity work-out. (7 hours driving yesterday + several hours on my feet at the XC meet).

On the flipside, he relayed conversations that his son and teammates have about being able to get to that spot where one can run through a lot of pain and fatigue. Or to be able to sort of disassociate from mentally, while physically moving thru the task at hand. Oh to be young with the world at your fingertips?

Small microcosm of where three runners are at a given snapshot in time.

Keep talking, and keep running all.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Some changes

Have gone back to a lot more stretching, similar to what I used to do in high school. Basic exercises to work mainly on my hamstrings, quads, and calves. Am cautiously optimistic that this is helping my lower legs, specifically my left achillies, and outer sole of right foot heal. Time will tell.

Also though, and in conjunction with some reading I have been doing, and ancillary work at Flyers practices, I am revamping how I look ay myself holistically as a runner and an athlete. I've caught myself at times and realized that I don't have as full of a range of motion as I would like to have, or should have. Or to state another way, my body is so conditioned to run and move in the planes of motion,, legs, arms etc, that it takes to run. But faced with a physical task, and it doesn't have to be demanding, that deviates from what my body is hard wired to do, it can be more difficult than it should be. And/ or such activities expose glaring weaknesses I have either strength wise, or range in motion wise.

And sometimes it just takes a new approach or outlook on how one is going about their daily routines to interject a shot of new life into their overall running and fitness program. Get a little bounce back in the step. For me the genesis too has been running in pain often, and finally getting around my sometimes own pig headed -ness to change what I have been doing.

Monday morning got in about 7 miles total. Ran a 2.5 mile easy warm-up back into the Carolina Beach State Park. Then ran 5 minutes at a fast 5k pace x 2, with a 5 minute slower recovery jog in between. Felt pretty good, pacing fell around 5:50 per mile for the 2 fast segments which equates to a low 18 minute 5k time. Going to get a couple moderate paced 800s in tonite at Flyers practice, then likely take tomorrow off. Planning this week for my first 40+ mile week since the middle of August. Praying, hoping, and working towards doing that with less and less pain and discomfort.

For new challenges always lie ahead... 

Friday, November 13, 2015



The essence of growth. Asking questions. Looking for answers. Which lead to more questions. For my own training, as well as for my development as a coach.

Couple great peals of wisdom I've come across the last few days. Listening to Coach Jay Johnson's podcasts;  a story about his former college coach Mark Whetmore at The University of Colorado. Whetmore was coming off his first XC NCAA national championship, and planning for the upcoming season. Instead of having the mindset of simply recycling the training plan from the previous year, he was more interested in seeing what improvements could be made. Taking what he had learned since then and applying to his training, looking for areas or aspects to become more efficient at, analyzing processes with fresh eyes... and not being willing to rest on his laurels as a coach.

Also reading Vernon Gambetta's blog Functional Path Training. The importance of seeing in our athletes the complete spectrum of movement, and the need to develop strength, coordination, speed along interconnected planes of motion that we all use in our respective sports. Continually searching and seeking as practitioners of sport as well as coaches of sport new ways to improve upon how we train and view the training processes holistically. Never being content with what we know. The best in any field do not always have the answers; rather they are the ones who are asking the questions.

Coach Brad Hudson:  Believe in nothing since one needs to believe in everything.

Last night our Cape Fear Flyers XC team had an exhibition meet versus our cross town friends and rivals from the Without Limits squad.  As a coach it was a great opportunity to observe what my more experienced coaching brethren across the field were doing. The attention to detail, from the time they got there and set up their tent, to the very last stretches being done with elastic ropes by their athletes long after ours had gone home. Plus it was awe inspiring to watch 17, 18 year old boys run 2 miles on grass circling soccer fields in a little over ten minutes. Efficient and smooth, and in control.

It's wonderful and humbling to feel like after nearly three decades in the sport I am just scratching the surface.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Run, Roll and Stroll 5k

I had a feeling about a half to three quarters of a mile into the race that I was going to win. The steep hill which climbs back away from the Cape Fear River on Walnut Street hadn't taken too much out of my legs. And I was able to steadily wind my pace down though the 6:20s per mile into the 6:10s running on a slight upgrade, as the course made its way towards New Hanover High School.

But the principle logic for such heady speculation was that I was leading a small pack of runners, which then fell off to just me and Owen. His breathing had become a little more pronounced and labored as I continued to periodically call out our pace times. As we could see the one mile mark sign alongside of the road I began to pull away from him, but hollered "stay with me Owen." 

Then I was on my own.

I told myself a few times to "just keep it together" and you'll win. I figured if I could keep the hammer down through the middle section of the course I would be ok. Take the slight uphill city blocks hard and no-one will come after you, or if they do they'll have to bleed it out of themselves to catch up.

Those were some of my fuzzed thoughts as the sun continued to throw warmth onto the unshaded areas of asphalt on which we trod.  Hardly immune where we either to the abundance of humidity that permeated the November morning air. And added challenge to test the meddle of even the most hardened and battle scarred athletes amongst the smaller field of runners. It felt more like a late spring race...certainly not the middle of fall. But so it goes in our beloved sport.

And so I followed the kid on the bike. One block after the other. Past 12th, 11th, 10th, 9th streets... dear God get me through to the next block, and eventually back to the river. Then a half block at a time as I'd catch the alley entrances in my peripheral vision. Don't drop me now God I asked. And I got on myself for being a bit too whiney in my devotions. Keep it pure. A low hanging tree branch knocked my hat off. I didn't bat an eye and ran on.

We've come this far to get caught. I was the pursued, like a wild animal in the bush running with all it's might to avoid the ultimate penalty, death itself.  I passed Brenda again at the intersection of 5th street. I couldn't spare the energy this time to acknowledge. I listened though as I went past for her voice again... until I heard "go Owen"... which gave me a sense of what was coming up behind me.

I love the kid too. We joked before the race. We both know he is going to beat me one of these days. Sooner then later. I want that for him. But when he does he's going to have to earn it. And it wasn't going to be today.

Finally I could see the Cape Fear River as the course began to roll down hill towards her gently flowing waters. Blessed river. Just keep following the bike. You'll get there. Just keep taking the pain. Keep following the bike. Another half block, another block. Elaine and her Girls on the Run friends cheering again. God I'm almost at the boardwalk. I can smell the river. It's right there. Follow the kid on the bike and take a left. Watch your step. He called out to some people to make way.

And I just kept following, it was all that mattered. Life right then and there was that elementary. Follow the bike. Down the boardwalk, past some people but it was all a whirling blur peppering my senses. I glanced back, once. I didn't want any surprises. Then we went behind the Hilton. Dam this hotel is big. Takes awhile to get past. I dry heaved behind this hotel years ago near the end of a race going in the opposite direction. I had told the story when me & coach Peyton and a bunch of the kids were warming up. But I didn't think of that gastric occurrence now.

Finally we went through a congregation of spectators cheering at the finish as I heard my friend Colin on the PA system calling out my name. And that quickly it was over. 18 minutes and 45 seconds. Once again I was able to stare down and sort of square up the waves of pain...and mute all the conniving voices which beg and plead for us to slow down. Was it Emerson that said the best way thru it is a straight line?

Owen came in 2nd and Zach 3rd. Was happy and proud. Later I would find out that Paxton was 1st, coach Amie 2nd, and Hannah the 3rd female. A clean sweep for the Cape Fear Flyers Club. Several other of my fellow coaches and our runners won age group medals.

One of the best days out of thousands of days that this sport has blessed me with. I hope and pray the ride never ends. For me, for you... for all of us.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

2 Tough Miles.

Been staying in Shallotte and running the Copas Road 8.5 mile loop. Sunday morning I added 5 pick-ups of 2/10s of a mile at about 5k race pace at the start of each new mile. Felt petty good, but was a warm, humid morning. I chided myself shortly into the run for not shucking my shirt at the start. Back in Pennsylvania, we would have referred to such as weather as "Indian summer."

Took off Monday and Tuesday as the warmth and the sun were replaced by clouds and a deluge of rain. But the Gods of Nature can work in our favor, or do things for us that we seemingly can't always do for ourselves. Which in this case was to take some needed rest.

Wednesday morning ran a moderate effort based 5 mile cut-down on the Brierwood loop. Started the run in the mid 8s per mile, and ended in the mid to high 6 minute range.

Flyer's practice then later in evening. Set up a half mile course around the perimeter of some soccer fields to mainly take advantage of the lights that ring the complex. Plus to keep the workouts on softer surfaces, and avoid the macadam and asphalt by the schools.

Workout called for 2 x 1600m with a rest interval of half the mile split time. Ran very hard at the beginning of the first rep to stay in front of Dakota and the rest of the fastest boys in order to direct them around the course. But it was a good exercise in being able to take a punch run wise, and not hit the mat. Or to simulate what happens when we would go out too fast in a race, and have to quickly navigate through the unyielding demands of oxygen debt.

On the far back stretch, and in the darkness (the lights had been turned off along the far end of the adjacent soccer fields) I was able to regain some modicum of control, and settle into a tough hard pace while following behind Dakota and Thomas, two seniors in high school. I had a brief flashback to running the 1500 meters in Myrtle Beach last June, when I clung to the backs of Thomas and his two brothers for 3 and 3 quarters laps.

Ran the first 1600m (or in actuality a mile per my garmin) in 5:35, then after an all too quick sub 3 minute reprieve, ran the 2nd 1600m in 5:39. I let my mind sort of check out for a good bit on that one, and just let the legs and body take over and pull me through.  Sometimes it's best to just to strip it down to its barest essentials, and let our animal like, primal instincts guide us through the undulating levels of pain and discomfiture.  Or if we check in, its on the most basic terms like how much farther is left to run.

Added 5 striders for good measure after the 1600s, and had a nice, easy cool down run with Paxton and Elle.

This morning I ran an easy 4.5 miles thru the fog and mist... clearing out some of the lactic acid from yesterday's tribulations.

Going to rest Friday, and perhaps race Saturday. Blessed to be living the running life.