Saturday, December 17, 2011

Prefontaine – My second Pre movie

If you actually read this blog (which I still find hard to believe), you may remember that I watched Without Limits, a movie about the great Steve Prefontaine, who died in a car accident when he was 24, before showing the World his full potential. I didn't get into the movie in detail at the time but I wish I had. I would have liked to have compared them in a little more detail. Without Limits was a good movie. The cast and photography was stronger. Still, this movie brought some richness to Pre's story that I didn't get from the one movie. You can't really summarize someone's life in a single movie.

The cast clearly wasn't on–par with Without Limits:
  • Jared Leto played Steve Prefontaine. It wasn't a bad performance. It didn't help that he is just too darned pretty. He looked 12 years old and that mustache looked stuck–on, which I'm sure it was. I had no idea who he was. My wife on the other hand seems to know him well. It clearly makes a case for me believing him to be too cute for the role. Billy Crudup in Without Limits was much more believable although he played Pre in a very dark and brooding way—maybe too much so.
  • R. Lee Ermey plays Bill Bowerman, the legendary track coach of Oregon and the founding partner of Nike. After this performance, I'm not sure if Bowerman was a lunatic of if Ermey is a little unstable. Probably a little bit of both I would imagine.
  • Dellinger, Bowerman's assitant coach is played by Ed O'Neil. I just love this man. I can't explain why and I know that I am not alone.

Jared Leto. Too cute.

Here's what stuck with me as I watched the movie...
  • There was some original footage mixed in to this movie. I liked that a lot. There's a cool home movie where Pre is doing push-ups as a kid. He looks super intense about it. A foreshadowing of the future drive that would make him a really inspiring runner.
  • Prefontaine depicts Pre as being too small to play other sports. There's a scene that shows him running home after an embarrassing football game. It cuts to him running when he is older. What I like about this scene is that I believe in the healing power of running and failure and frustration like that could well have been one of Steve's triggers. 
  • Pre was a huge Oregon fan but he wanted Bowerman to show him that he wanted him in the school. That's a pretty arrogant thing for a highschool kid to do. In Without Limits, Bowerman wrote a letter to Pre asking him to come to Oregon. In this movie, Bowerman wrote a published letter in The World of Sports. Later in the movie, Bowerman acts like he didn't actually write the letter at all. This doesn't seem to be accurate. This image of a letter from Bowerman in Flickr seems to show that Without Limits is more factual. I'm not an expert on the matter.
  • On the subject of Bowerman, the movie doesn't get into the craft of shoe making quite the same way as Without Limits but there are classic scenes of him making waffle soles with his wife's waffle iron. It's so sad that the noxious fumes from those days were what ended his life.
  • The other athletes at Oregon talked about runners being more upper class. It's strange to think that this classist carry–over from the old days still existed in the 1960's. 
  • This movie did a good job of balancing Pre's character. It made him seem arrogant but self aware. He was also tempered (willingly) by his parents and girlfriend who did not let him get too big for his boots. His role in fighting the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) was shown to have humbled him. I'm not sure if this was the real Pre but I'd like to believe he was more balanced than the more self-absorbed and arrogant version in Without Limits.
  • I didn't realize how sexy the mile was and maybe still is to track runners. Bowerman wanted Pre to do the 3 mile but Pre really wanted the mile. The movie makes it sound like Pre helped to make other distances popular with the Oregon fans. Not sure how true that is but he did have quite the following. He would have inspired me to run whatever distance he was running.
  • What is it with running movies and awesome music? The Who's Teenage Wasteland is an awesome piece of music to put to Prefontaine running. Perfection.
  • Without Limits does not get into any judgement of Pre's driving. Prefontaine seems to hint that he was a fast driver but doesn't peg him as reckless. He was even shown drinking a bit before he took–off in the car on the night he died. It's a touchy subject considering nobody ever found out why his car hit the rock. 
  • Why on earth would neither movie run with the story of Pre being half German? For someone with a German heritage to go to the Olympics in Germany would be huge. There's a whole storyline that is missing here. Only an American made film could overlook something that obvious. I would love to have known his mother's feelings. I would like to have known if it was his first time there. I would like to have seen him speak German and absorb the culture.
  • Without Limits didn't get into the emotions of the horrific terrorist act at the Olympics with the Israeli team. This movie made it a bigger story and portrayed Pre as being more sympathetic.
  • The first movie gets into the battle with the AAU. This movie goes a step further and you get to see Bowerman having conflict with them too. What this movie has that the other one doesn't is the deliberateness of Pre's involvement with fighting the AAU and how that brings him closer to others. This became a lasting legacy for him. 
  • His competitiveness with Lasse Viren, the great Finnish runner really comes through more strongly in this movie. In fact, it was one of the main reasons Prefontaine has him fighting the AAU in the beginning. I was relieved that when he came in 4th in the Olympics, he bounced back much more quickly in this movie. In Without Limits, they dragged it on and really played out the self loathing. I'm not sure which one is more accurate but this one was much easier to process.
  • Prefontaine was the first time I have seen a reference to Pre being called "World" as in World class. The fans were chanting "World, World".
  • I didn't realize that he held every record between 2,000 and 10,000 meters. I don't think that has been equalled and it's hard to match with runners becoming more specialized.
  • I can't image what it must have been like to be the person who found him after he had crashed, be unable to lift the car off him and then know that he died from the car crushing his chest. Horrible.
  • The funeral at the track where the crowd shouts "Pre, Pre, Pre" on a countdown to the time he was hoping to beat in his next race was really awesome. Sad but awesome.
Brian Lanker's amazing photo of Pre

I was curious about Pre's rock and how the memorial came to be. My brief research led to a couple of interesting facts. Initially, the memorial was going to be a part of the rock the car hit but they decided to make it a stand–alone memorial. Pre helped start Oregon State Penitentiary's running program. Apparently, he was pretty committed to it and visited a number of times. It was the prisoners who donated the money for the plaque. Eugene Granite and Marble donated the headstone. Pre's dad asked Brian Lanker if he could his his famous photo. I didn't realize that runners leave running paraphernalia on Pre's rock when they visit. Pretty cool.
Pre's rock
Another fact I randomly came upon was a letter Pre wrote to Bill Rodgers, offering him a pair of Nike shoes to wear in the '75 Boston Marathon. Bill was a 4–time Boston Marathon winner who is well known for crossing the finish line in the Virginia 10–miler hand in hand with Frank Shorter. At this point in his career, he hadn't won big, although he had just taken a Bronze in the World Cross Country Championships in Morocco. He wore the shoes that Pre sent and took the course record. A few months later, Pre died. I never knew that he was actually an employee of Nike! There's even a business card to prove it. I knew that Nike had a building named after him and they put a memorial in Sports Illustrated. I had never seen this Nike Prefontaine tribute but it's pretty cool. It says "The look in Pre's eyes. Nobody else every had it like that. Sometimes when he ran, he was trance dancing. There were carpenters, mill workers, shopkeepers in the bleaches at Hayward's Field. A competitor once said the cheering for Pre was so deafening, you almost wanted to stop running. He ran the kind of race that made spectators yearn. Pre died in a 1975 car crash and it just about broke everyone's heart. What would we have done with distance when he was 25 or 30 years old? He placed 4th in the '72 Olympic five thousand and would have been 25 at the next Olympics. How far could he have gone? He didn't get a chance. We didn't get a chance to know. What does a great runner who died almost twenty years ago have to do with Nike running shoes? Everything."

"Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run. I like to make people stop and say, "I've never seen anyone run like that before." It's more than just a race, it's a style. It's doing something better than anyone else. It's being creative." — Steve Prefontaine

See all the running movies I have seen to date.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Making a connection with Jim Axelrod

I didn't know that much about Jim Axelrod. I had seen him reporting from Iraq during the war and seen him report from the White House. You don't think about correspondents that much. You are usually more tuned into the news they are delivering. Sarah Lavender Smith (The Runners Trip) recommended his book In The Long Run. A Father, a Son and Unintentional Lessons in Happiness.

I was interested in the book because I am going through a rough patch with my son Charlie (turned 6 yesterday) and I hoped to find some insight that could help me re–connect with him. His mother understands him better than I do, although she claims he is just like me. I don't know about that. All I know is that his unadulterated boyness, his super high energy and his complete lack of focus lead to issues. The boy lives in the moment which is lovely, except that it often conflicts with just about anything you are trying to accomplish. On the other hand, when that kid smiles, it's like all is well with the World. He smiles with his whole face, including his honey colored eyes. It's a smile that warms you from the inside out. His teacher described him as "golden and alive". I just want to enjoy him. I also want him to feel loved by me—not just hear that he is loved. Sometimes I am not sure if he feels it and that makes me very sad. I don't care that he loves his mother more than he loves me. He should. It's a little boy's job to do that. I just have this uneasy feeling that a space is opening–up between us and it is a space I desperately want to close because I love that little man so much. I just have to find a way to connect with him. As I write this, he is downstairs in bed. I promised him I would sleep with him. It made me happy that he asked if I would.

Classic Charlie

The book is a lot more than a father and son's relationship. It was a good read and I'd recommend it. I came away from it liking Jim Axelrod. He has clearly become a very self aware man and shown a great capacity to change. I was routing for him throughout. These are some of the memorable moments for me. I don't go into the story but I guess some of the points are spoilers. You can read the book and then come back and compare notes if you like.

From a running perspective:
  • I am definitely sympathetic about what it is like to have a young heart but have a 40+ year old's body. It's amazing how fragile the old thing can be as you are pushing it toward an athletic goal. Jim's experiences of getting into shape are funny. I love the moment of shame when he is being overtaken by a lady in a jogging stroller.
  • Jim grapples a lot with mind barriers. It's amazing how mental running can be. There is a nice part in Born to Run were Chris McDougal says that Tarahumara (Mexican running tribe) elders do amazingly athletic things because nobody told them that they can't. 
  • The obsessive behaviors made me laugh. I loved that he kept driving routes in his car after running to check his distance. Running is such an obsessive business.
  • I was overjoyed to find that Jim's big race was about the enjoyment of the experience. In the book, he focuses a lot on getting himself to marathon condition. He talks about exhilaration but often it is tied to practical goals (distance or time). In the New York marathon, he writes almost exclusively about the positive experience. He stitches together some uniquely NYC moments, which really made that event really appealing to me.
  • The part where Jim's dad would not let him run with him when he was a kid was powerful. It was painful to read. It was cruel. It was something he probably regretted doing. I don't want running to be something that allows me to withdraw from people like that. 
From a human perspective:
  • This is an honest book. Jim puts himself out there and I admire him for that. He shares some very embarrassing and personal moments and I think he is probably stronger for it. He cries a lot in the book. I can relate to that. Nothing to be ashamed of there Jim.
  • He has some amazing clarity around his memories. I envy how vivid some of them are. It's lovely to hear all these little snippets of his life, like his dad letting go of the bike when he was learning to ride or the sweaty dollar bill in his dad's shorts at the beach.
  • I will look at corespondents in a whole new way when I watch the news from now on. I had no idea what pressure was involved in that profession. Not fun for them and certainly not for their families who have to go on with their lives with an absent mother/father.
  • I wanted to hear more of Jim's wife's experience. Jim was a selfish jerk in the past and really left his wife alone to raise a family. If that wasn't bad enough, he also kept up–rooting them. He is really honest about how he let her down but I'd still love to hear her perspective.
  • There are lots of lessons to be learned in Jim getting swept along with work ambition and stress. He does what most of us do and chase titles and "things" instead on concentrating on what is really important in life. You are so happy for him when he finally connects with his life.
  • I identify with Jim's dad's personality type. My grandfather was a real loaner. My father is too but he has been able to balance that with connecting with his kids. I would be blessed if my kids felt the same way about me as I feel about my dad. I need to keep myself in check. I have that reclusive type personality. 
  • There is a lovely moment where Jim has a lot of self doubt about completing the marathon and his friend Jo Gwin Shelby texts him "Go Jim Go". It's touching because Jo Gwin is a former runner and cyclist who is wheelchair–bound because of Lou Gehrig's disease. It reminded me that sometimes the perfect inspiration comes at just the right time in just the right way.
  • There is another lovely little interaction between Jim and his son where his son tells him "You know Dad, when I'm a dad, I think I am going to do this with my kids. They'll ask me where I learned it. I'll tell them I learned it from my dad."
  • Silly that it stands out but Jim uses a reference to Charlie Brown's mother's voice that is just like a reference I made in my last post.
So, what did I learn from this...
  • I need to continue to run for the experience and not the distance or time. I feel like I do a pretty good job of that already.
  • I need to make running something that connects me to people—not something that gives me an excuse to indulge my reclusive side. It should make me a better husband/dad, make me a joiner and allow me to run to benefit people. When New Balance finally sponsors me, there will definitely be a cause angle to it. That's non–negotiable.
  • I wasn't really interested in doing marathon distance on asphalt but I am turned on to the idea of running the New York marathon. I have a sense of loss in not running when I lived there. Maybe that race could make up for it somewhat.
  • Jim reminded me that parents are remembered by their kids in a series of mental snapshots—positive and negative. Your children will forgive you the negative ones as long as the positive prevail.
I decided that I want to start running with Charlie. He impressed me when we were in Cleveland over Thanksgiving because he did a mile on the track. He walked some of the way but I was impressed by his determination to keep going. After his mile, he positioned himself in the starting location and tried to rugby tackle me every time I completed my laps. He thought it was hilarious. That kid has a lot of fuel in the tank and running could be a way for him to blow–off some steam. I would obviously run at his pace and only allow him to do a short distance. The goal isn't for me to convert him into a runner or create a future athlete. My goal is much more pure than that. I want a physical activity that we can do together. An activity that is away from the rest of the family. Who knows, it could become a positive snapshot of me for him. A memory of time shared with his dad. A time when he felt special, happy and loved. We'll see. I'll keep you posted.

POST UPDATE (Dec 16th, 2011)
I just got a really warm and friendly email from Jim Axelrod. It was unexpected and very gracious of him considering where he is right now. Send some positive thoughts Jim's way as he moves with the last of our troops out of Iraq. Get home safe Jim.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Running toward my problems

I do realize that there is no consistency in the type of posts I write for this blog. To be transparent, I really wasn't sure what type of post I would have outside of the New Balance stuff. I'm discovering it as I go. Maybe you enjoy the light hearted posts. I like them too. This is not one of those posts. This blog is a personal blog and this post is very personal and not entirely easy to write. I'll let you be the judge of whether it is easy to read. If you prefer to stay with the light hearted stuff, that's OK, just skip this one.

I was reminded today that I have another reason why I run and I didn't share that when I brushed on the topic in an earlier post. Today I was emotional. I was upset and had that feeling where you don't know where to turn. That feeling of being so unhappy with your thoughts that you want to crawl out of your own body to escape them. I wanted to be someone else or walk away from it with no memories. I battled with that internally for a while and then, I ran.

My daughter Maggie (7) has a very rare blood disorder. So far, it has turned out to be undiagnosable. She has had it for about 3 years now (I think). Maybe it is longer. I deliberately try not to think too much about how long it has been. I'm not from a medical background and it's frustrating for me because I don't understand half the stuff the doctors talk about. My wife, Maureen understands it. She is a Certified Nurse Midwife but even hearing her talk about it is like listening to Charlie Brown's mother. What I know is that Maggie is not producing red blood cells properly. They are breaking down in the bone marrow and nobody knows why. She has had multiple bone marrow biopsies that gave confusing results and has received treatment at Children's Chicago as well as The Cleveland Clinic. She has even had her genome sequenced by researchers at Harvard as a part of a study at Children's Boston. The outcome? Nothing. Zilch. Nobody has a clue. In the beginning, they thought she was on the road to leukemia. Now, they have no idea. Maggie needs blood transfusions every so often to get her red blood cell count back up. It never quite gets to normal. She is such a great kid with an old soul. I hate to say it but she is the only one of my kids who could have coped with this. She handles everything that is thrown at her and she is even empathetic to others in the process. A great example of that was when she gave a hug to a nurse who hurt her with an I.V. because she said that "the nurse felt bad. she was just trying to help me". She is often more mature than I am about the whole thing. She is not a frail kid though. My wife likens being physically exhausted all of the time to training at altitude. She is really strong and manages physical activity in short bursts. It's interesting to see behavioral coping mechanisms like that. If you didn't notice her do it, you could easily mistake her energy level as being normal. When Maggie's red blood cell count is depleted, she becomes extremely exhausted, her personality becomes frazzled, her voice breaks, she looks ghost white, she is black under the eyes, she has toilet accidents and develops a heart murmur, etc. It's not an easy thing to watch happen to your child over and over again. It's also not easy to sit there with her getting transfusions with all the other poor kids around you getting chemotherapy. Hats off to Children's Chicago. They do a great job of keeping that unit really positive. Kids are amazingly optimistic—much more so than adults.

My Mags this summer in Michigan
So, Maureen and I are in this weird ultramarathon-like limbo. There is no diagnosis and nobody has any ideas of what to do next. The only thing that we haven't tried that they have talked about is a bone marrow transplant. There is a chance she could die and there is no guarantee it will fix the problem. There is no way we would take a chance like that. So, we wait. We try Eastern Medicine—why not? We continue the limbo. The feeling is terrible. If you think about the possibility of leukemia showing-up, you feel guilty about thinking dark, negative thoughts. You feel it your duty to remain positive. If you treat it casually like a routine, you start to feel guilty that you are not being vigilant in the event something bad shows up. You want to feel like you are running out ahead of her and not leaving her out there at risk. In short, you just can't win. It's a roller-coaster of an experience. Trying to convey these feelings to family members is impossible. They understand having a diagnosis and can't appreciate what's involved in not having one. They don't know what to say or do. Some even act like if there is no diagnosis, there is nothing really wrong. That's very frustrating. All of that would be complex enough but then we have to deal with how to talk to Maggie about it. We have chosen to tell her the truth and be honest without any histrionics. We don't allow her to use it for sympathy to get out of gym when she doesn't feel like it, etc. Even things like that can be a tough call though because there are days when she is just too exhausted to run in gym—even for short bursts. Generally, I think we have dealt with it pretty well as a family. I'm proud of us.

Dealing with the emotions of it can be tricky. My wife is often very upset about it. She has a sleep disorder and I think this has become a big part of it. I feel guilty but I honestly don't want to talk to her about it as much as she would probably like to. I manage to suppress it in my own way and I don't think I can do that if I am exposed to my wife's real emotions more often. It's really selfish of me, I know. It's purely self preservation. I do the family no good if I fall to pieces on them and as the primary bread winner, I have to stay in the game. Maureen and I could both probably use a professional to talk to. Just writing this is therapeutic. Right now, my coping strategy is to do some semi–controlled emotional explosions like a Thanksgiving speech at my in–law's that will go down in family history as the most tears spilled. I'm honestly not sure how to have a healthier way to deal with it. As I am writing this, I realize that what I am doing isn't really healthy. As her father, I feel like I should fix things for Maggie. At one point when I became frustrated with the waiting, I took things into my own hands and through a bit of luck, a colleague of my brother in–law connected us with a research team at Harvard. After they had sequenced a part of all our genomes and turned up nothing that could help her, I felt very defeated. Right now, I am having those feelings all over again. Who else can we take her to? Who can tell us what this is? Who can tell me that she is going to be fine? I want so desperately to be told that she is going to be fine. No medical person has been able to tell us that. I tell myself she will be. I pray that she will be. I pass on every positive piece of energy I have to that cause. It's not the same as being told by a medical professional "it's all over. she is going to be fine". It's just cruel.

After Maureen and I talked about Maggie's situation today, that cruelty hit me again. I was in that danger zone and on the brink of an emotional explosion. As Maureen went downstairs, my mind was going to dark places. I had a brief moment when I thought about Dean Karnazes taking off over the Golden Gate in his boxer shorts when he had a life crisis. What would I do if something happened to my little girl? I would go bloody berserk. I stopped myself at that thought and I chastised myself for thinking such a horrible thing. I had already planned to run. I had my gear on. I opened the back door and ran. As I headed down Western Avenue, it was like those scenes you see in movies where people are taking heroin. At first I was tearful and taut. I felt anger and I had to stop the temptation to explode into a sprint. I stuck with the pace and finally I was there. Ahhh! My face loosened up, my jaw slackened and I became expressionless. I felt like I was floating along for 4 miles. The gray sky, the 34°C, the dreary city streets and the drizzle didn't matter one bit. It was euphoric. I needed it.

Here's the thing about my run today. I don't physically run so that I can mentally run away from things. I feel that I run toward them. I run inside them. It's easier for me to think about Maggie's situation when I am in that running state of mind. I feel like I can deal with it. I feel like it is lighter and more manageable. I feel more positive about it. In fact, I had a little moment as I was coming alongside Humboldt Park where I daydreamed that Maggie (on older version) and I were running a trail side-by-side on a very long run in the sun. It was a very good feeling. The best of feelings. I told myself that once we get this blood thing dealt with, she could make an awesome distance runner if she is interested. She has a lot of self discipline and she knows how to overcome the limitations of her body. Every day for her is like an ultramarathoner standing at the starting line of a 100 mile race but with the disadvantage of having run 50 miles already. I so admire her. When I returned to the house after my run, I felt completely different. Nothing about the situation had changed but I had changed. I felt positive and motivated to talk about what we could do next. That's no small gift. It's amazing what a quick 4-mile-run can do.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

I Had Running Idols?

If you read my last post, you know that I had a chance to run on an all-weather track for the first time in my life. It really made me think of watching great British runners when I was a kid. I totally forgot that I had these running idols and that running was a part of entertainment back then. I had asthma, so I was never going to be really interested in running as a personal endeavor but running was a big part of British TV and I was glued to the box just like everyone else. There were great athletes before and after but the period of the late 70’s to the mid 80’s was magical. The athletes that pop for me are Daley Thompson, Allan Wells, Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett, Steve Cram, Zola Budd and not forgetting Steve Jones. My readers in Britain will know these people like they are members of the family. For the rest of you, I’ll give you a quick trip down my memory lane. I actually learned a few things I didn’t know about these amazing people writing this post.

Daley Thompson
"When I lost my decathlon world record I took it like a man. I only cried for ten hours".

Great shot of Thompson. Last man standing.
Photo: George Herringshaw

An amazing decathlete from Notting Hill, London. I had no idea his real name is Francis Morgan Ayodélé Thompson. He was a handsome, cocky but lovable fellow. A great smile and a classic mustache. I include him when I think about running because a couple of his strongest events were the 100 and 400 meters. In fact, he won medals on the men’s 4x100 team in the European Championships and Commonwealth Games. He may not have been quite as fast as the 100 meter specialists but it was amazing to see him power away from the other decathletes. He won Gold in the '78, '82 and '86 Commonwealth Games. He won Silver in the '78 and Gold in the '82 and '86 European Championships. He won Gold in the '83 World Championships. He won Gold in the ’80 and ’84 Olympic Games. He broke the World record fours times and constantly kept beating Jürgen Hingsen, an amazing West German who was probably a better all round athlete but lacked Thompson's confidence and strength in the earlier events. His '84 World record lasted until '92 and is still the UK record. Daley was amazing to watch. He was as much an entertainer as he was a competitor. I didn't realize that after he retired in '92, he became a professional soccer player and was then a fitness coach in professional soccer. He also tried motorsports and did some motivational speaking as well as general appearances. He has been an ambassador for the 2012 London Olympics. Aparently he refused to carry the British flag at one event and got himself in trouble. He claimed holding a flag for an opening ceremony would spoil his event. A lovable rougue. This guy had big time charisma. I remember the nail biting experience of watching him rack up points over two days. Enjoy this 1984 piece of Thompson magic.

Allan Wells
"It’s about taking the body and mind to the limits. And I, masochistically, say that because I quite enjoyed doing that".
A picture that sums up Well's power.
1982 Photo: George Herringshaw
I think Allan Wells is the first man that made me jealous of another man's body. His legs were amazing pieces of machinery. He was controlled aggression. There was massive power in this Edinburgh born 100 and 200 meter specialist. I didn't know that he was originally a champion Scottish triple and long jumper. He turned to sprinting late in life at age 24. He retired in his mid 30's, setting a trend for sprinters to retire later. I remember his pale skin. I remember him being super intense while he competed. He claims that there were other sprinters with equal talent but nobody could match his commitment. His wife was an international sprinter too and together they were obsessive about their training. She now has a school of speed called Wellfast. I was interested to learn that the race that made him believe that he could be World class led to him receiving a winners trophy from Eric Lidell, the Olympic champion from the movie Chariots of Fire. If you can't remember the movie, I made a post about it. He won Golds for many years in the UK Championships, the AAA Championships, Commonwealth Games, European Cup, IAAF Golden Sprints, IAAF World Cup with his crowning glory being Silver in 200 and Gold in the 100 at the '80 Olympics. After he retired, he coached the British bobseligh team. It makes sense. Sprinting is a big part of the beginning of that sport. Apparently he is a system's analyst and a sprinting coach with Ian Mackie, another well known Scottish sprinter. I remember running in the back garden and pretending to be explosive like he was. I often think about him when I finish a run with strength. Enjoy this happy moment for Wells as he beats Ben Johnson.

Zola Budd
"Running was the easiest way to escape from the harsh reality of losing my sister because when I ran I didn't have to think about life or death".
Little Zola Budd catches up to Mary Decker.
The infamous South African born Zola Budd (now Pieterse) was best known for four things: Putting on a British vest in order to compete, accidentally tripping Mary Decker at the '84 Olympic 3000 meters, being a tiny 5'2" and running barefoot. As a kid, I didn't know that much about South African sanctions and I was certainly oblivious about Mary Decker, even though she is one of the most dominant female middle distance runners of all time. I was interested in a tiny girl who ran barefoot though. She was fun to watch. I really liked her running style. When Zola was 17 in '84, she broke the World record for 5000 meters but it was not recognized because of South Africa was banned from international competition. The Daily Mail newspaper helped Zola become a British citizen because of her grandfather and she ended up breaking the World record for real in '85. Her wins on track were spotty compared to some of the dominant runners of this period. Goodness knows how this kid would have performed without all the bullshit going on around her. How she managed what she did with that sort of pressure at that age is beyond me. She took two Gold medals in the '85 and '86 IAAF World Cross Country Championships. It was amazing to see such a tiny thing compete at that level and destroy competitors with her skinny little legs and bare feet. She was treated very unfairly because of politics and the Mary Decker incident. She had protestors on the track and crazy Decker fans threatening her life. Decker later admitted that it was her own fault because she didn't have enough pack running experience. Zola eventually had enough of the pressure and returned to live in South Africa. She now lives in the U.S. part of the time and competes for the love of running in masters races. She is married to a South Carolina track coach. Her feet must have softened over the years because she is now wearing Newtons. Check out Zola taking the 2000 meter World record. If you have some time, also check out the YouTube of her 1985 World Cross Country Championship win

Steve Jones
"I just run as hard as I can for 20 miles, and then race."
Jonesy running a marathon
I have a soft spot for Jonesy because he is Welsh. A blue collar boy who is humble and gracious but has a lot of drive and a desire to devastate his competition. The quote says it all. He viewed the marathon as a hard Sunday run and then a 10K and he fancied himself in a 10K against other marathoners. He grew-up not that far from where I am from in a town called Ebbw Vale. He got into cross country running as a favor to some friends and then ran in the Royal Air Force. He tried the steeple chase, did some cross country, 5000 but eventually found his way to the 10000 meters. He was spotty but gutsy on the track but then he graduated to the marathon and found true success. He was injured in '83 but he won his first ever marathon he entered in '84 in Chicago to take a World record. He did this without any pacer, race plan or special fuel. Just instinct and grit. In '85 Jones won the London Marathon even though he stopped for a bathroom break at Charlie Spedding (the favorite's) advice. He also won Chicago again in '85, came second at Boston in '87, won New York in '88 and won Toronto in '92. He currently lives in Boulder Colorado and I believe he is a painter as well as a personal running coach. When I think of Jonesy, I think of this video. He is well known for front running because he didn't have a strong kick. This video is so inspiring. If you get time, you can also watch the 1984 Chicago Marathon win too. That is also very impressive and shows the heart and courage of of the man. The post win interview gives you an idea how humble he is.

It was fun to look these folks up again. I thought that I had no real roots in running but I realized that these people are my roots. I never ran myself. I couldn't. But, I ran through these people. I watched them and jumped up and down in front of the TV to help them win their races. Since living here, I haven't heard anything about them. It would probably be different if I still lived in Britain. You probably see them on TV from time to time. I was going to cover Coe, Ovett and Cram in this post but that's a post to itself. That was a rare trinity that deserves a little deeper dive. There was a lot of mythology built-up around the three of them and I wanted to make some sense of it. Stay tuned...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Apologies to you truckers

It’s official. The posts about me shaving went down a treat. I wish I had more of that type of content to please my perverted audience. I’ll have to think about that.

I have been in Ohio with my in-law’s for the holiday. Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who are in the United States. On Thanksgiving morning, I decided not to do the Cleveland Turkey Trot alone. It just didn't seem right. So, instead of being out-performed by a man wearing a turkey costume, I ran some intervals on the Rocky River High School track. Out of respect, I stayed in lane 4. It’s a fairly new track and it was hard to believe that it was my very first time running on a real all-weather track. 

It was unseasonably warm, the sun shone and I was really happy to be running strong as I watched some dudes preparing for a football game in the center. My son Charlie (5) even managed a mile walk/run and said “I didn’t know that when you run far, it feels like you are playing.” Well said Charlie. I feel the same way. After I had finished my workout and sat there on the track, I reflected on what I am thankful for in relation to running in 2011:
  • I’m thankful for the role running has played in helping me to lose 40 lbs. It’s probably more than that when you factor in leg muscle development. My body has transformed.
  • I am thankful for not being on asthma medication for the first time in my adult life. I’m not sure why I was finally able to run without exercise induced asthma but I’ll take the gift willingly. Diet played a role but as soon as I was able to run, it has done amazing things for my lung capacity.
  • I am thankful that in one year, I have transformed myself from an easy pace in the 11 minute miles to the 8’s and I’m still improving. Not bad for a 43 year old first timer.
  • I am thankful for the added confidence that running has given me. It’s a mix of feeling better, looking better and achieving things I never thought my body could do.
  • I am thankful to love running. It’s a great place for me to clear my mind, de-stress and feel like a part of something bigger. I pray while I run. I like to pass on that positive energy to others who may need it and give thanks in the moment.

And what do I hope to be thankful for next year? Well, it’s a bit early for resolutions but I am thinking it may look something like this:
  • Thankful to finally run a half marathon without pulling-out due to injury.
  • Thankful to start trail running and maybe thankful to run a trail race. I so want the ultra experience in future. I have to move toward that.
  • Thankful that New Balance recognized the role I could play in inspiring real people to love running. Yes NB running team, we will do something together in 2012.

OK, I’ll leave you with a funny Thanksgiving travel story. We pulled into a grimy rest stop on the highway for a bathroom break. There was a sign on the men’s toilet that said “Closed for cleaning. Use the trucker’s showers at the back of the building”. I read the sign to Charlie (5) and we went through the building, through the “trucker lounge” and found the trucker showers. As soon as we got in, I lost Charlie. Suddenly, he came out from behind a shower curtain. I asked him why he was in there and he said “I peed in the truckers shower”. I said “Charlie! That just meant to use the toilets in this room (pointing to a urinal), not the shower”! A man who was washing his hands laughed his ass off. Charlie just shrugged. My apologies to you truckers. A-pee-Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A shaving confession

Warning. If body hair and the discussion of shaving body hair disgusts you, please move along. Nothing to see here people.

Tom Selleck as Magnum
OK, I am just going to come clean on this subject. No pun intended. Let's get down to it. There was a time when body hair was cool. Facial hair has come back in fashion but body hair isn't so hot. I know, there are fetish folks out there that are going to disagree with me but I am talking mainstream here. You don't see the Magnum PI's with their bronzed and hairy chests on magazine covers. Top athletes, models and actors all keep their sculpted bodies shaven or well tended for the most part. Even models who are meant to portray the rugged nature of man (like REI models) have shaven bodies. Society has given men permission to take care of their manscaping business if they so desire. I didn't have a strong desire to shave, I just kinda stumbled into it. I'll explain...

The Genesis
I had dropped 20 of the 40 lbs I eventually lost. My upper legs must have been a bit chubby because I noticed that on long runs, I developed a nasty rash on my inner thighs. I tried different products to avoid it but it didn't work. Treating it was not ideal. Rubbing cream into skin through hair is messy and gross.

Phase 1
I decided to shave my inner thighs, so that I could better treat my rash and I thought that the clean surface may help the "glide" products to work and avoid further rashes. It seemed simple enough. I shaved a half oval shape on the inside of each thigh. I was pleased with the result until later when I decided to go for a run. I tend to go minimal with running clothing in hot weather, so I put on some split shorts (short shorts). I went to the bathroom and was horrified to see that the shaved areas were visible below my shorts. This was a critical tipping point. I should have worn longer shorts and grown the hair back but I went the other direction...

Phase 2
I decided to shave my legs. I told myself that it would be fine. My legs would look good. Lots of athletes do it. So what if I am lucky to run an 8 minute mile? There are no rules that say that mediocre runners can't have the same privileges as elite runners. It took me a long time to get the job done. I couldn't see the backs of my legs, so I went over the same areas about 50 times to make sure. I felt lucky that I was not very hairy. I remember talking to my friend Andres about how manscaping was impossible for him because he was so hairy. There are no "natural stopping points" for hairy guys. When I was satisfied that I had done the best I could do, I jumped out of the shower and began to dry-off. Suddenly, I realized that my feet were hairy. It was like I was wearing furry slippers. I don't think I had ever noticed the hair on my feet before that moment. Since it was sandal weather, I needed to clean it up. I climbed back into the shower...

Phase 3
I shaved my feet. It was quick enough to do. I nicked one of my ankles but not badly. I jumped out of the shower, started to dry again but then I looked in the mirror. I was standing with my arms down to my sides and noticed that it looked completely odd to have cleanly shaven legs but hairy arms. I tried my best to tell myself it was OK but I just wasn't happy with what I was seeing. I ran out of the bathroom, checked out REI website and confirmed that the models had shaved arms too. Maybe it would be OK. For some reason, shaving my arms felt like I was crossing into completely new territory. I went back into the bathroom and jumped back into the shower...

Phase 4
I shaved my arms. It wasn't that difficult. I didn't get caught out like I did with my legs because I instantly noticed the hair on the back of my hands. I shaved that too. I can't say I liked the way shaved arms looked on me but at least it was matching luggage with the rest of me. I got out of the shower and started to dry again. When I looked in the mirror, I noticed that my chest hair seemed really out of place. Since there is hardly any, I thought it wouldn't be a big deal to take care of it.  If I was going to the beach, I didn't want this one area to stand out. I jumped back into the shower...

Phase 5
The chest was easy to shave but I didn't realize how perilous nipples can be. This was a lot trickier than any of the other body parts. I jumped out of the shower but just as I had dried-off again, I realized that I had forgotten to shave my head. My head was actually the primary body part I had intended to shave. In the frenzy, I had forgotten it. I jumped back in the shower...

Topping it all off
I shaved my head, decided to do my face too. Why not? I don't know how long I had been in there but it felt like a 3 hour shower.

The aftermath
I have to admit that I felt a little sleazy for some reason. Standing there like a slick otter made me feel a little ashamed. I told myself that I was being silly. I told myself that young men must do this all the time. This and more! They shave and sculpt their eyebrows for crying out loud. I did feel the need to confess the whole story to my wife. I knew that she would ask lots of questions if I didn't address it proactively. She thought I was insane. She laughed at me when I changed for bed that night.

What I learned from my shaving experience...

  • You need to plan it. You have to think through what you are going to shave before you do it. If you are super hairy, you have to think about where you are going to stop.
  • Limbs look better shaved. There is no doubt about it, my legs looked like sculpted machine-like objects. 
  • You treat your body differently when you shave. There is something intimate about shaving. You take time with each limb. You caress it to feel the hair as you shave. It's like you are giving your limbs special attention. I felt like I was treating my legs with more reverence.
  • People notice. Don't fool yourself, people can see that you shave - even if they don't say anything. My training partner asked me "do you shave your arms"? This was day one of us running together. I had to tell her the whole sordid tale.
  • People probably judge you. Maybe people will think you are self absorbed. Who cares? As a runner, being judged is not new. People already think you are insane for putting all the effort you do into running.
  • You can't grow hair back without going through an awkward stage. When hair grows-in, it is all symmetrical and spiky. It looks weird.
  • You get used to it. As alien as it all seemed to me at first, like all things, you get used to it in a very short amount of time. I did not feel like a sexual deviant after a few shaves.
  • You notice other men who shave. I was much more tuned in to other people's manscaping.
  • Clean shaven legs inside running tights or compression socks are so much better. You don't get that horrible mashing and pulling of the hair.
  • Treating rashes or cuts is easier. This is the main reason given by cyclists.
  • Other people lie to excuse shaving. If someone you know tells you that they shave so that they don't have as much wind resistance, they are full of shit. Unless they are a millisecond off a World record, that is a complete fabrication to hide the fact that they like the way their legs look clean shaven or some other reason.
  • It feels weird. When you shave your legs for the first time and touch them, it's like touching a strangers legs. I can't fully describe the feeling and it's a little perverted, so I'll drop the subject.
  • Shaved on shaved feels weird too. When your legs rub against your wife's (or partner's) shaved legs in bed, it's freaky for both of you. I can't actually go into how it really made me feel.
  • Shaving is a pain in the backside - even if you don't shave that part of your body! It's a lot of work and needs to be done way too frequently.
As of right now, I let the hair grow back but wearing winter running tights has made me think it's time for a little manscaping. Maybe I won't get carried away this time.

Post Update:
My son (5) looked at the picture of Tom Selleck and said "Dad. Is that a picture of you when you were young"? Classic.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My first sponsorship rejection

This isn't what you think. It's not related to New Balance and it wasn't a negative experience. In fact, I now feel like a person who is making progress with one solid rejection under my belt. It seems like you should have many rejections on the path to anything. Bring them on I say. This one was a practice run of sorts.

You may remember my post about bandanas. If you didn't catch it, you can check it out here. I had been looking for the ultimate technical bandana and discovered Buff. I was so taken with the potential of the product that I emailed them to tell them. I also got a little carried away and suggested that they may want to sponsor me.

I got an automated email back from Buff immediately telling me that a proper proposal needed to be sent for sponsorship applications. Since, I didn't really have a proposal other than me being me, there wasn't a whole lot I could do about it. I then got a really lovely email from Erin from the Buff Marketing Team in the US. She said that she thought my blog was entertaining and gave me some sponsorship advice. It was quite honestly, the softest let-down I have ever had. My hat is off to the nice folks at Buff. Just because some person asks to be sponsored, has no proposal and has a site all geared-up to pursue New Balance doesn't mean you can't be nice.

This outcome was no surprise of course. I didn't have a proposal. Also, Buff doesn't have the resources of a brand like New Balance and their sponsorship dollars need to be spent wisely. They are going to put their money behind an initiative that is going to get them publicity and reach as many people as possible. I can't give them that yet. Maybe one day.

Last night, I dropped-off my two older kids at kung-fu class and took the little one with me to REI to return a jacket. I noticed Buff is there now. They seem to be pushing onward in their US marketing efforts. This US website has a fun way of demonstrating the many ways you can wear a Buff. Check it out.

When I try their product, I will post my honest experience with it. On paper, it sounds like a perfect fit for me.

Friday, November 11, 2011

In defense of Ann Trason (Born to Run)

There is something that has been bothering me for a while. I felt it at the time and did nothing about it. It has stuck with me and I now find myself posting about it. Clearly it’s an issue for me:) It’s the way Ann Trason is depicted in Born to Run. I never thought about it in-depth at the time and maybe it's why I didn't act but, I did walk away from the book with a sense of injustice. After writing this post, I have fully realized what my gut was telling me at the time and it has been pretty cathartic.

Ann Trason. Photo by Patitucci Photo.

Let me be clear. I love Born To Run as much as the next person. I think Chris McDougall did an extraordinary job of pulling together many fascinating running related facts and stories into a really inspiring book. A book that can be enjoyed by runners and non-runners alike. I enjoyed it so much, I am reading it again. I am also very impressed with Chris as a person. He is an exceptionally passionate man who is an inspiring speaker, as well as a writer. Check out this TED conference video. It’s also important to point out that even though he is criticized by people like Jenn Shelton for glossing over facts about the poverty of the Raramuri (Tarahumara), a Mexican running tribe central to Born to Run, he did bring Worldwide attention to them. Jenn herself may never have become involved with them if it hadn’t have been for Chris. He can also be thanked for the barefoot/minimalist running craze we are seeing right now. He was not the first to push that agenda but certainly one of the most successful. Whether you like barefoot/minimalist running or not, it’s great to see shoe companies pushing their research further and creating more innovative and interesting running shoes. We all benefit from that. It's also great to see Chris' book encouraging thousands of people to try running for the first time. I was a beginner when I read it and it really fueled me. Chris seems genuinely passionate about running and interested in injury avoidance through natural form. It’s the basis for the journey he took on Born to Run. My friend Tony shared a link of Chris demonstrating an exercise by Walter George, a famous British runner who was in his prime in the 1870's and 1880's. The more I see content like this, the more I believe that Chris' motivations are honest and I have a deeper appreciation for the spirit behind Born to Run. On a more critical note, there is no doubt that Chris can seem a little too self-promoting, over-confident and a little too black and white with his point of view but I can live with that. My main issue with Born to Run was that he sometimes seemed to use real people as vehicles to carry the overall story, regardless of how harsh or unfair it was to those people. Maybe that happens in all books in order to serve the main story thread but I don't have to like it. He wasn't writing about fictional characters. These are people who have lives and feelings. Born to Run has become so mainstream that the way people are depicted in the book will be a powerful lasting impression of who they are. All the more reason to be fair in representing them. The poster child (in my mind) of unfair treatment in the book for me was Ann Trason.

You have to read Born to Run to understand the full context of what I am talking about. To be fair, Chris gives Ann a glorious build-up. He talks about how raw and pure her talent was. He talks about her thirst for distance. I remember the part of the story where he talks about Ann completing two marathon equivalent runs in the morning followed by another 15 miler in the evening as a self reward for fixing the plumbing. He then talks about how she started competing, winning and how she became stronger, beating men and winning ultra races outright. A real impressive woman. He described her as a runner with no weaknesses. Where things start to go downhill for Ann in Born to Run is where the Raramuri come into play in the famous Leadville 100 mile race. It’s a culminating point in the book and very intense. Chris talks about Ann being so aggressive in her competitiveness that she was mean to the Raramuri tribesmen. They refer to her in the book as "La Bruja" (the witch).

A Raramuri runner. Note the smile on his face.

Like I said, I had no real reason to believe that Ann Trason was unfairly treated in Born to Run other than my gut feeling. For all I knew, she was just a real downer. But, I didn’t want to believe that she was. So, when I started thinking about writing this post, I asked myself... You don't know Ann Trason, so why do you believe her to be a better person than Born to Run depicts her? It was a fair position and this is what I came up with:
  1. Ann seemed super passionate about running. Chris made it sound as if she would do it if races didn't exist. So, how could someone like that feel anything other than adoration for a Mexican tribe who run hundreds of miles just for the joy of it? They embody her passion.
  2. If Ann wanted to win at all costs to obtain fame and glory, why wouldn’t she have become a marathoner and an Olympian? Ultrarunning wasn’t mainstream. There was no significant fame or money in it for her.
  3. Ann is the most dominant female ultrarunner in history. She broke 20 World records. Could her self esteem have been so low that she would try to intimidate some Mexican tribesmen who were in a foreign place?
  4. Ann had been beaten by men in races many times in the past. Why would she suddenly become obsessed with beating these men? These natural athletes that didn’t even have the same competitive motivations?
  5. Ultrarunning is a lonely sport but it’s also about community. You can’t do it without a crew, friends, pacers, competitors to tag along with and volunteers at aid stations, etc. Ultrarunning is about the experience – not just the win. I'm sure there are people in it to win but I think it would be rare to find one that didn't respect the experience of it.
So, with my hypothesis in hand, I turned to the trusty Interwebs for some answers. I wasn't necessarily looking for absolutes. I just needed to find enough to make me comfortable having some heart for Ann. First of all, I checked out Caballo Blanco’s web page. He was a central character in Born to Run and he was there. He may be a tad odd by mainstream standards but he seems like a good human being. Caballo said that some American runners were complaining about the Raramuri showing up for the Leadville race. He didn't go into the reason why. He also claims to have had this interaction with Ann Trason:
Ann (as she was overtaking the Raramuri): "Ask them how it feels to be passed by a woman!"
Caballo: "Learn Spanish and ask them yourself"
Ann: "I hate them"
Caballo doesn't claim to have heard the last statement. He says that other people heard her say it. Caballo also says that the reason they called her "La Bruja" was because he himself had used that word to try to describe a woman with great powers. His Spanish is limited. He never intended the name to be used it in a critical way. Being viewed as a powerful woman is not the same as being a mean old witch. Caballo can probably also be blamed for some of the weird interaction between Ann and the Raramuri. He advised them to stalk her and not pass her until the end. Apparently, when Ann stopped to take a pee during the race, Juan (one of the Raramuri) stopped and waited for her. She was understandably weirded out by this because she thought he was taunting her. Caballo said that he and the Raramuri were very impressed with Ann's performance at Leadville. She didn't win, so it must have been the way she ran. In fact, the Raramuri were so impressed, they presented her with a special gift of hand-made sandals at the awards ceremony. That doesn't sound like bad blood to me. Why would they do that for someone who had been mean spirited?

Caballo Blanco

Sarah Lavender Smith, a runner, a blogger and an old neighbor of Ann's said:
Like the terrain she runs in, Trason’s personality can seem remote, tough and demanding. Beneath that exterior, however, I found someone who’s warm, supportive and humble. If you run by her while she’s volunteering at an aid station, she’ll call out, “You can do it—you’re just gonna love that hill!” Or if you tell her she’s been called the greatest female ultrarunner ever, she’ll shake her head, look down and say, “Nah, I wouldn’t say that. There are so many good runners these days.”

Sarah says that Ann does not like to give interviews and does not like to have her picture taken. So, I think it's safe to say that she isn't a show-boater. After seeing Ann fly by her house so many times to hit the trail, Sarah said that she finally got the chance to run with her. She likened it to being given a soccer ball and being told that Mia Hamm was coming over. Sarah makes a point about Ann referencing her husband Carl breaking a course record in the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 but was too humble to mention that when she ran it in 87, she created a record that still stands today. Ann and Carl took over co-directing the event because they were really fond of Dick and after his death, they wanted to make sure that the event retained the same positive spirit. Ann said that it is the type of race that you “kind of run and have a picnic at the end”. This sounds like a confident but pretty humble woman to me. A woman who was in ultrarunning for all the right reasons.

I ran across some notes about Ann on It was to do with an award they call Every Runner’s Friend. They actually talk about how she is unfairly portrayed in Born to Run. They talk about her encouragement and inspiration of thousands of runners and sight her smile and spirit at aid stations. When Ann was injured, she would volunteer at aid stations and it's awesome to know that she still does that as a co-director since her injuries have forced her into retirement. It sounds like she still has plenty to bring to the sport.

Ann Trason (far left) helps at an aid station. Courtesy of

Maybe Chris McDougall wanted to play with the concept of a highly trained and uptight American versus the natural and serene Tarahumara from the Copper Canyons. Maybe it made for good storytelling. Maybe Ann had an off day and did do and say some things that were off character. I don't know for sure. I wasn't there. What I do know is that there is plenty of evidence out there to support the idea that Ann Trason is a good human being who believes in the positive spirit of unltrarunning and has gone out of her way to support and mentor. I feel justified that my gut was correct. Apparently Ann herself has been vocal about her disappointment in the way she was portrayed. Regardless, the book can still be a great book. You can't keep everyone happy in a book like this. Let's not forget that this book is Chris McDougall's perspective or interpretation. As such, it is capable of being unfair and harsh. Is Rick Fisher as big an asshole as the book makes out? I don't know.

As far as I am concerned, if anyone who has read Born to Run had a slightly negative impression of Ann Trason but now questioning that viewpoint based on this post, I have paid humble homage to a very inspiring woman who deserves all the respect the running community can give. That's just my opinion. I'll leave you with an awesome quote from Sarah Lavender Smith's interview. Her new blog is TheRunnersTrip.comShe writes beautifully. She is not an untrained hack like myself :) 

“It’s a journey. … It’s experiencing something different, and exploring. I always say it’s a life in a day” – Ann Trason

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Insurance Policy on my wrist

I know some of you will laugh at this but who cares. The nice thing about positioning yourself like a fool is that you don't have to care about seeming cool or smart :)

I have never been particularly safety concious. I do wear a luminous Pearl Izumi cycling jacket when I run at night but that is just common sense. What I mean is that I have never really over-thought safety. It's unusual for me because as you know from this blog, I tend to over-think lots of things. Inevitably, I started thinking about safety and I had this vision of me getting hit by a car and being unconscious. My family would not be informed because I have no identification when I run. The docs at the emergency room would not know that I have a history of asthma and that I am allergic to penicillin. It's true that Penicillin isn't the go-to drug for a head injury but you know what I am saying. So, having had this creepy vision, I decided to look for some sort of medical bracelet. I was pretty sure that I didn't want one of those old-schol tacky jewelry options dangling around my neck or on my wrist.

American Medical ID's marketing strategy. Scare the crap out of you. Nice!

I looked for the most simple and minimal wrist band I could find and came up with Road ID The elite model is like a Liverstrong rubber bracelet but has a no-nonsense customizable metal area where you can display contact information, medical information or whatever you want. You can pay more and have no personal information displayed but first responders can call a special number with a code to identify you. I'm not that secretive, so I went with the basic option.
Obviously, they have different styles and colors. You can even get ankle or shoe versions if you don't want to wear something on your wrist. They also sell a product called Firefly which is a flashing light that can be worn. There are other reflective belts and bands too. I like Road ID"s copy. They aren't beating around the bush. Example: "Yeah, we know Neon Yellow isn't exactly high-fashion, but who cares - if it keeps you from being run over by a bus".

Clearly, the purchase of this Road ID was a smart move on my part because Edward Wimmer, the co-owner of Road ID emailed me about my order and told me "it is quite obvious that you are a highly intelligent individual." I don't think I have ever been buttered up this much by an order confirmation email. I like it. More please.

If anyone wants to buy one, the first 20 people can get $1 off by using this coupon number: ThanksSimon9390013. Come on! All the paranoid kids are getting them. Even Dean Karnazes is wearing one. If you want a fun time, check out the Team Road ID video to hear a bunch of athletes talk about their near death experiences. They all add the fact that Road ID would have given them much needed peace of mind in these situations.

Old Deano's section of the site says "For me it’s like the best and the cheapest insurance policy I’ve ever owned". He reminded me of another cool thing about buying this product from Road ID. They donate a portion of ever purchase to a charity. They allow you to choose from the following: Arthritis Foundation, Lance Armstrong Foundation, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, National MS Society, Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Wounded Warrior Project or the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

My friend Paul was also trying to turn me on to a lightweight running headlamp that has a reverse flasher (not unlike the Firefly idea). A great thing for running safely in the dark. A couple of issues with this.... I run mostly on city streets with lights. It would also be the fastest way to get my ass beaten by a gang in my neighborhood. My luminous jacket gets me enough unwanted attention as it is. I think I am all good with safety for the moment until the next near death vision.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Shin Frickin Splints

Hello friends. I took some time off. I was out of town visiting friends in Georgia. It was a humbling experience to see what happens to the stats of this blog with no content. I was so amazed by how quickly it nose dived that it inspired me to write a note to Pete Larson the RunBlogger himself ( I told him that I had been learning how much work it is to keep-up a blog. I also told him that I am a fan of his and that he is my go-to person when I want a shoe review. I find him to be thoughtful and fair. Pete was kind enough to email me back and give me a little blogging advice. He seems like a super nice guy.

Anyhow, people have been asking me how my recovery from stress fractures has been coming along. I had been in an air cast for 3 weeks and then had a carbon fiber insole for 4 weeks to stop me bending my foot. A few weeks ago, I got the go-ahead from an orthopedic guy at Rush. I told him that I felt great except for a feeling like I had a lump under my metatarsals where the stress fractures were (2nd & 3rd). He told me that it wasn't my imagination. He showed me my digital x-ray and pointed out where my fractures had been and where there was new bone. The healing process made the metatarsals add another layer of bone to make the necessary repairs. The good news is that these are less likely to fracture again unless I have particularly weak bones or terrible running form. The bad news is that the extra bone feels like a lump under my foot and it will take my brain a while to stop registering it as something to be aware of.

So, with a go-ahead from the doc, I went into a 7 week recovery routine. I wanted to take it slow and found the perfect plan. I found it on Pete Pfitzinger's site Pete was an elite athlete, an MBA and also studied University of Massachusetts Department of Exercise Science which led him into coaching. 2 things I like about Pete. He is from New Zealand and Jack Daniels is one of his mentors. I figured he could be trusted to put together a recovery plan. Here's the link to the full article that was originally printed in Running Times magazine but I'll include the plan itself for your convenience.

Pete Pfitzinger's 7 Week Recovery Plan

It's basically a walk/run/walk that steadily gets you back to 100% running. It is also time based - not mileage based which is a smart way to stay injury free during this period. Next week is week 4 for me. As the mileage goes up, I am going to take another piece of advice from the doc. He said that he would like to see me wear shoes with a little more padding at higher mileage, at least until my body is back to full fitness. I am turning to Saucony for a solution. The Kinvara stack height is 21 heal and 17 forefoot. It's the same 4mm drop that my current New Balance Minimus Road (MR10's) are but with more padding. It has been a while since I ran in a shoe with this much distance between me and the ground but Pete Larson likes them and I trust his opinion. Pete said that the Kinvara 2 is very similar to the old model, so when I noticed that the Saucony store was selling the old one's off for $55, it was a no-brainer. I suspect the Kinvara may be a bit narrow in the toe box and if it doesn't work for me, I am going to turn to the Hattori's. I tried them on at Fleet Feet Chicago and liked them. They are a 13/13 stack height just like the New Balance MR00's. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saucony Kinvara 1
There has only been one major hitch to my recovery so far. It's shin splints! I have never had them before (at least not to this degree) and I am just blown away by how debilitating they are. I ran today and after 2 miles of hobbling a 10:30 pace, I was forced to stop. I walked for a bit, sat down and massaged my shins. Eventually, I managed to run another 2.3 miles home which saved a great deal of embarrassment. There is nothing more pathetic looking than a man in tights, a bandana and a luminous jacket limping down the street. I was later getting home than I had planned, so the sun had well and truly come up. My luminous yellow jacket caught someone's attention. He shouted from a third floor deck "Hey you in the yellow. You can stop running now. It's daylight"! So, how to tackle these shin splints. My friend Jim told me I should be drinking plenty of water and I'd say that is good advice. I am bad about drinking water in general. I even downloaded a little iPhone app to help remind me to down a glass from time to time. My Zensah compression sleeves have helped (I have tried running with and without them) but there is only so much a sleeve can do. I am going to tackle this affliction with a combo of things. I am going to cross train and rest it for a couple of days to let it recover. I am going to stay well hydrated and I'm going to stretch out my calves before running. A discrepancy between calf and shin muscles is meant to be a big factor. The extra padding of the Kinvara's should help too because the impact of hard surfaces can aggravate the shins too. I think I'll try to scale back my pace and therefore distance because I know that I was pushing some of my earlier runs harder than my body was ready for. 

I need to be smart about it. Why is it so hard to be smart? I can't wait to be back in the swing of things fully. I had one euphoric and out-of-body run already and I crave more of that. I have planned out a training program with the use of Jack Daniel's book. More on that later. I was thinking that I'd like to do some track work but I'm not sure how I can get access to a track without being a student or joining a running club. Baby steps! Let's get past the shin splints.

Update Nov 7: My friend Jim also suggested I try the Wharton Active Isolated Stretching Program. I am going to give it a go.
Running Times Article

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