Races vs. Miles

In 2016, I ran 66 races.  It started as a stretch goal, and built as I went along.  I built a plan of 46 races for my 46 years, but I hit race 46 in August, and went from there.

For the first half of the year, the majority of races were 5ks.  Twice, I ran three races in a weekend.  It seemed pretty badass at the time.

My real mission there was to keep reinforcing my newfound interest in fitness.  Have a race/fitness plan, and work it.  In response to a friend asking me why, I said I was the youngest I was ever going to be.  And thus I did it.

I took few chances.  The Ragnar Relay in May 2016 was a bit of a chance in that I was saying I’ll run 16 miles in 24 hours, something I’d never done, but other than that it wasn’t a stretch goal  The real goal was getting the number in.  That would require being injury free.  And I was.

In October, I ran my first half marathon after an entire week of preparation.

I lost exactly no races to injury.  None.

In 2017 I decided to change up.  Last year I found myself focused on the NUMBER of races, and I got those in.  Hell, I destroyed the goal by 150%.  This year I decided on miles.  Training miles.  Racing miles.  Whatever.  I promised myself I would try things I could fail at.  In January, I DNF’d for the very first time, but it was gratifying.

I COULD have finished, but there was a Nor’Easter blowing in.  It took me twice as long to drive home as it did to drive there.  The trail was covered in ice and snow.  The better part of valor, though, was to say, I’m out.

Sure, this year I’ve run 5ks.  Did pretty good at them too!  But this was the year I was doing distance.  On January 1, I ran a 5-Mile Race.  Then 15k, a combination 13.1, , 10 miler…a 50k…that this time I did finish.  A Ragnar Ultra team.  It’s been amazing.

Last weekend I ran the hardest race I’ve ever run.  It was truly a race that I wasn’t sure that I would be able to finish (One of my goals for the year was to do things I wasn’t sure I’d finish).  6000′ of elevation gain over 31+ miles.  4/5 stars difficulty, technical, and the like.  It was no joke.

I completed it.  My second ultramarathon this year…my second ultramarathon ever.  It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t competitive, it wasn’t pretty.  But I finished.

But I broke my foot.

This past week has been tough.  I’ve been largely sedentary, my toe hurts like a mother.  I mean, bad.  I’ve been to the E/R, I’ve been to the hospital, I’ve had no less than 7 X-rays on it, I’m scheduled for a CT scan and surgery next week.  It’s FUBAR and bad.  That race will cost me no less than 3 more races.  I insist it was 100% the right decision to push through and complete the race, but I’m disappointed that I can’t work my plan.

My friends all had wonderful and kind things to say to me about my race total goal last year.  By the end, I was dismissing their kind words with disclaimers such as “they’re mostly 5k’s…” or “my time wasn’t that good…”

Boy was I wrong, and here’s why.  You have to maintain health and physical ability to be able to run a race total goal.  My 2017 goal was miles – I’m likely to hit that goal, even though I’m likely to wind up out of commission for a month.  If I had taken a month out of my running schedule last year, I may not have hit my goal – July 2016 represented no less than 11 races alone.

66 races in a calendar year – more than 70 if I was holding to my February-January year – was a feat not because of the difficulty of the race, but because of the difficulty of staying healthy over that period of time.

As I now nurse my foot, and pinkie toe the size of my thumb that’s preventing me from participating my favorite races – a Spartan race and a fundraising triathlon – I have to remind myself that yeah, 66 races is pretty badass.

With my one race last Saturday, I equalled 10 of my 2016 races – One 50k vs. 10-5k’s, but they’re different races with different skill sets.  My goal this year is mileage, but the importance of acknowledging what’s been accomplished remains huge.  I’m racking up miles this year – and I’ll be hitting hit more than ever once I’m recovered –  but one can rack up a lot of miles pretty quickly.  To hit X number of races over a year requires stamina, but also staying power.

Lesson learned.  Staying power, doing those weekly 5k every Saturday is important.  It means you’ve made it through another week.  That you’ve outlasted everyone else sleeping in.

The number, then, is just as important as the mileage.  Don’t belittle your accomplishments, no matter how small.  There’s a lot that goes into every single one.  Take none of it for granted.

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28 Days of Inspiration – Day 26

28 Days of Inspiration

Cliff Young

He didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be able to run a 544 mile ultra-marathon.  Hell, he was a potato farmer – what did he know about endurance running?  He showed up one day at the starting line of an 875K race and won.

In fact, he took significant time off the world record for similar races.  He was 61-years old in 1983 when he won this race.  Take a look at my times this year, I haven’t come close to winning a solo race of any distance. He didn’t just win, he CRUSHED it.  544-miles at aged 61.  I’ve spent the past year running races, slowly building up distance from a 5k in February to a half-marathon in October.  I’ve run training runs, pushed myself as much as I can.  Cliff Young ran the inaugural  Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra-marathon…and won.  I must be a loser – I’ve been running my butt off this year and I’m struggling to get mediocre times on some fairly modest courses.

The lore will have you believe he’d never run, just strolled up to the starting line – oblivious to the challenge ahead of him – wearing overalls and rubber boots.  A real naif.  He didn’t understand ultra running so he didn’t know he was supposed to run for 18 hours and sleep for 6.  A great story to be sure.  But incomplete at best, and misleading at worst. Take a look at the video below.

So far as I can tell, he really WASN’T a runner and he really WAS a farmer.

But this wasn’t his first attempt; he didn’t just show up and decide to run.  Perhaps in 1982 when he attempted a 1,000 mile effort one could argue he had no clue – after all then he had only trained for a few months.  Upon failing half way through he wrote he and his support team were inexperienced.  You don’t just stroll up to a starting line in work boots and spend 6 days running a 550-mile race without having done SOME work.  In this case he had been training.  He knew the challenge before him.  He had a plan and he worked that plan.

Merriam-Webster defines “Inspiration” as “something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone.” I tend to think watching the results of another’s hard work and effort toward a goal is far more inspirational than hearing a story that’s been sanitized, cleaned up and repackaged.  Cliff was ridiculously inspirational but not because he showed up one day out of the blue and laid waste to a field of other runners en route to finishing an ultra-marathon, but because he worked his ass off as a 60-year old to position himself to be able to do that.

He wasn’t some rube fresh off the farm who decided to run an endurance course because he had time on his calendar.  He planned this.  He worked for this.  It’s unlikely that a 61-year old man is going to win an ultra marathon, but that’s the inspirational part of it. He worked and trained.  We don’t need to embellish the story; we don’t have to make up or gloss over the reality.  The facts are remarkable on their own.

Be inspired because he had a goal, worked his ass off for it and made it happen.  There’s nothing inspirational about flukes or luck; there’s everything inspirational about someone deciding they’ve got a goal that they’re going to make happen. Cliff’s story makes for a great tell, but bear in mind his wasn’t the story of unexpected glory, his was the story of hard work paying off.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 21

Patrick Downes & Jessica Kensky and Adrianne Haslet-Davis 

On April 15, 2013 their lives changed.  While at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, then recently married and Boston area natives, Patrick and Jessica were there to enjoy the day.  It was that day they became victims of the Tsarnaev brothers first bomb in their bombing attack.

It was that day Adrianne fell victim to the second bomb in the attack, opening her eyes to find her left ankle and foot missing. A professional dancer, she was looking at her life’s work and direction irrevocably changed in an instant

This year they demonstrated ridiculous resilience when Patrick became the first marathon bombing survivor to come back to the race and finish it on foot.  Through it all, Patrick and Jessica have stayed together and become stronger.  Three years after the attacks, Jessica is still undergoing surgeries. He’s lost a leg.  She’s a double amputee.  This is still a fresh wound for them both. Adrianne also lost a leg and took up running because of her injuries – not in spite of them.

usa-athletics-boston-marathon
Patrick raising his arm to approach the finish line.  From the NY Daily News.

Patrick didn’t know it, but he finished the race at just about the time the bombs first went off that fateful day completing the race in 5:56:46

“[When I first started] learning how to use the blade, I made a pact with myself that I would at least try to run. I [thought], ‘Gosh, this blade is so difficult to use,’ so I decided to make it a challenge that I would overcome.” Adrianne Haslet-Davis 

Adrianne too was at the 2015 Boston Marathon, as a dance performer at the finish line.  This year it took her about 10-hours to run her race. Less than a year after the bombing, she performed on Dancing with the Stars.  From the beginning she knew she was in for a challenge.  She accepted it, and worked on advancing.  She did not quit.

Neither were runners previously but have used their life experience.  All of them could have easily succumbed to the ease of “giving up.”  They could have easily have made excuses for themselves, to feel sorry for their condition, to allow themselves to hate the Tsanaevs for what had happened to them.

When you focus on hate, you don’t allow yourself to grow, to change, to rise above.  All three of these people have risen to become more powerful, more inspirational than they were before.  Patrick was running to raise money – $250,000 – to fully endow a scholarship for disabled students.  Adrianne was running to raise money for Limbs for Life, a charity for providing prosthetics for those who cannot afford them.

There is nothing routine about completing a marathon.  There is nothing routine about experiencing life changing circumstances, and resolving to accept the challenge.  There is nothing routine about accomplishing goals and then setting them higher.  It takes mental fortitude, resilience, and commitment.  And ANYONE can do it, but not everyone does.

Goals

On or about my most recent birthday, I committed to a plan to run in 46 events for each of my years.  Actually, it kind of evolved from 50 Events by Age 50 – meaning about 11 yearly because I was going to retroactively apply the handful of races I had done the year before…you know, just to make an even 5 year period and not because I had questions.

The idea wasn’t that there is some magic number, but rather that attaining that goal would require continuous, sustained commitment to fitness over a lengthy period of time…and that I really didn’t have enough T-Shirts so this seemed like a good way to get them.

Realizing, of course, that having a goal without actually having a plan, was a recipe for failure, I set about finding these events to run.

In the months previous, I had registered for several races in advance as doing so is generally cheaper and, frankly, I’m kind of cheap.  I signed up for the Rugged Maniac onsite of last years race at some ridiculous discount, and the Battle Frog sometime in October at an equally ridiculous discount – both of which I’d registered to run by myself, something I’d never EVER tried.  Sometime later, I registered for the Spartan Sprint, so I had the nascent beginnings of a “plan,” but only that.  I suppose it’s really helpful to WANT to do  what you’re planning.

My plan slowly grew – adding a “fun run” 5k in February run by a local running group, then a series of St. Patricks’ Day themed runs and my plan was hatched.  In fact, it was at this point that I began thinking “perhaps I could do a little better than 50-by-50.”

Now, I have to disclose at this point, that I’m not much of a runner.  I don’t particularly like running, I’m not really built for speed either.  What I do enjoy are obstacle races – hence, the reason the first three on my agenda were OCRs.  They’re physically and mentally demanding, and let’s face it, pretty damn badass.  Not everyone wants to do them, not everyone actually can do them so when you want to and can, you should.

There’s little by way of a secret as to why it became important to me to pick up this mantle on or about my birthday.  As one’s youth gets progressively distant, and the questions, doubts, perhaps even fears of middle-age come into the forefront, time ceases to be your friend.  If it’s going to happen, it needs to happen now.  I didn’t want to be that late middle-aged guy who has a few tweaks and dings, perhaps a spare tire, and high blood-pressure medications.  I didn’t want to be that senior who has to sit by a window watching others go about their activities of daily living.  We’re not here forever, and we’re only here once, so I want to be sure I’m physically able to do everything I want to do.

By February I had done 4; March 10; and April 16.  By this point, I’d registered for a couple of what I would consider epic challenges: A 200-mile Ragnar Relay, a Spartan Super, and quite possibly the most demanding Spartan Beast.  A marathon relay tossed in there, and some thoughts of a half-marathon as well, although that remains unscheduled.  Some weekends I would run 3 races: once I ran 2 5ks on Saturday and a 10k on Sunday, another weekend I ran a 5k and the Spartan Sprint on Saturday and ran Sprint a second time on Sunday.  This was as much an expression of my goal motivation as it was my sometimes extreme personality.

None of this happens, of course, without accountability and without a supportive peer group.  The people I went to high school with have been the most important influence toward working to this goal, holding me accountable – because they all have their individual goals as well – and, perhaps most importantly, refusing to allow those goals to keep me from achieving more: achieve one goal, define a new one.  I’m thankful I had the good sense to define my peer group wisely and I’m thankful I have such a strong bond with these men.

Today, I run race 38 on the year – a 5.5-mile, hillfest.  My 46 has grown now to a plan of 54 and half way through the year I’m left to redefine my goal further and to set new ones.  None of which could have happened without setting that initial goal getting me off the couch.  There is a lot of literature about goals and goal setting, not all of which I’ve found helpful in this journey.  For me, having a fitness goal was important, but I needed to bite off small chunks.  I needed to have a series of successes and demonstrate such a schedule was possible before I lept in.  Had I set a goal of 100 races for the year, I could imagine being here in Mid-July deciding I couldn’t make it.  For me, having a modest goal and building out worked wonders and I can’t imagine I’d have been better off for having a more audacious goal – I may have been worse off.  I know my personality and that’s made all the difference here.

I’m pleased with what I’ve accomplished to this point, accomplished with the support of my friends and family, but I’m not done and nor is my plan done.  Without my initial simple goal, I’d have never have found out where I could go and the power of ones friends.  I’m incredibly fortunate.