One Last Run on the Streets Where I Live

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I figure I’ve logged more than 2,000 miles on the roads and trails around my neighborhood over the last three years. Hundreds of runs begun from the same corner down the street from my house. It’s boring, but I love it. It’s comfortable, like a favorite pair of running shoes.

That corner is the spot where at times I really didn’t want to start a run, and it’s the spot where at others I really didn’t want to stop. I’ve struggled for so many of those miles, and yet I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I sorted out a lot of things, just me and my thoughts. I’ve notched more PRs than I can count. It’s on these streets where I truly fell in love with running.

Today, as my stuff is being boxed up and we’re preparing to leave this place, I ran my last loop through the streets where I live. It’s time to find a new route.

 

10 Rules for Running a Virtual Race

virtual_matt

Virtual races are a thing. Have you heard? And they’re becoming more and more of a thing. Recently I completed my first, a half-marathon. So I’m an expert, obviously.

For my virtual race, I paid my money, I trained, I ran my race, I got a medal. Sounds exactly like a traditional race, right? In many ways it is, and in many ways it isn’t.

One big plus is that for many virtual events you can run your race when it’s convenient for you. Don’t like getting up at 3:45 a.m. to schlep to the start line? You don’t have to! Are you booked solid for the weekend? Run it the next one—or even during the week.

On the flip side, a big drawback is with no actual, concrete start, you run the risk of putting it off or skipping it entirely. They’re shipping the medal to you anyway, right?

My virtual race experience was good. In fact, I’m already signed up for another one in a few months. I’ve yet to hear any horror stories—people paying their money but never getting what’s coming to them from the race organizer, that sort of thing. That doesn’t mean the horror stories aren’t out there. (If you know of one, please let me know!)

To get the most out of your virtual race,
consider these 10 rules

1. Ask yourself why you’re signing up. Like a traditional race, the virtual race might support a cause that speaks to you. Or maybe you were sold on a super-cool medal. So, what has you sending in your money to participate? There are no right or wrong answers here. Whatever the reason, you’ll want to have it in mind as you toe the virtual start line.

2. Check out the race organizer. Caveat emptor, people. Before you register, look into the company putting on the virtual race. Does it seem sketchy or legit? Trust your instincts. If you know of any friends who’ve run the same or similar virtual, ask them about their experience.

3. Follow the race rules. The point of a virtual race is you run a set distance on a set day (sometimes they give you a couple weeks or a month to complete it). So be true to yourself and run that set distance on that set day (or week or month). If something comes up, try to do it when you can.

4. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. I’m not talking about Shot Bloks. If the virtual race offers a 5K, a 10K and a half-marathon, for example, and you’re thinking about the half, maybe step down and go with the 10K. Unless you really want to push yourself, or you’d be going 10 or more miles in training anyway, you might find the shorter distance more enjoyable.

5. Give it a race effort. Spectators and runners. Music blaring on the PA. An energetic announcer shouting unintelligible encouragement. You will not find any of these things to get you amped up for your virtual race. So what can you do? Give yourself race-day goosebumps. Try to visualize your own scene. It also helps to have your motivation in mind, why you signed up in the first place. It will get you through any rough patch on your run.

6. Stick to your race plan. If you have a few traditional races under your belt, you probably have a plan to execute when you get to the starting line. Your approach to the virtual race should be no different. How fast will you start and for how far? When will you pick up the pace? What will you do if things don’t go as planned? Resist the temptation to change things up.

7. Run a familiar route. I see this as an extension of the “don’t try anything new on race day” rule. For my virtual, I so badly wanted to NOT do the same ol’ trek around my neighborhood. But a virtual race, like a traditional one, is not the time to explore or experiment. If you really want to simulate race conditions, you’ll want to be focused on executing your race plan, not worried whether you’re getting off course or you’ve gone too far (or not far enough).

8. Scout your location. If you’re doing your virtual race at a park, make sure you know about the hours and any parking restrictions. Also, search online to ensure there isn’t an organized race or another big event happening at the same time as your virtual race. (Thanks to my friends Jenny and Andrea for this rule.)

9. Carry water and nutrition. There are no aid stations on the course, of course, unless you’ve REALLY planned out your virtual race and will hit up all the neighborhood lemonade stands. You’ll need to have everything on your person, or swing by the car or the house or a convenience store for refreshment.

10. Have someone track you. If you’re treating this like a race, you’ll be pushing yourself more than usual, and so you’ll run the extra risk of running into trouble. Make sure someone knows where you’re going and for how long, especially if you’re heading out on your own.

9 Lessons Learned at Ragnar Del Sol

matt-ragnar-arms-up

Ragnar Del Sol 2015 was a challenge of a lifetime. A voluntary testing of physical limits and mental toughness shared with thousands of like-minded people. Basically, a unique blend of crazy that I brought on myself.

That much I knew going in. What surprised me was how much I would learn about myself my others.

After running Ragnar Del Sol, I know …

Runners are good people. We get to the first exchange point under total darkness. Then, with runner 1 in and runner 2 out, we hop in the van to head to exchange 2. Turn the ignition and nothing. Click-click-click. Our battery died an hour into the race. Two teams came to our rescue, one to lend us a cable and one to give us a jump. In a time when I normally would have been losing it, there was a sort of calm. Somehow, I knew my fellow Ragnarians would hook us up. And they did.

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Arizona scenery can be gorgeous and boring as hell. We’re having our van jumped at exchange 1. The sun is coming up, finally. Runners from all over have their cameras out, taking pictures of the spectacular sunrise. I’ve lived here almost 20 years, and Mother Nature’s daily fireworks display still gives me goosebumps. Fast-forward an hour to my first leg, a 7-mile straight stretch of Vulture Mine Road in Wickenburg, and I can’t get away from the mind-numbing monotony. Hardly a car on the road to make it interesting. Give and get.

matt-ragnar-vulture-mine-road

Our bodies can do amazing things. Ragnar conditions can be harsh. And running was the easy part! Harsh is running 7 miles and then hopping right into a van so you can jump ahead to cheer on your teammate during his leg, leaving your sweaty self to cool down and collect thoughts on the way. Harsh is running 9 miles, or any miles, on two hours of half-sleep.

With the right mind-set, it’s possible to turn a bad run into a great one. My second leg ventured off the streets of Peoria and into the sandy, rocky, godforsaken Agua Fria riverbed. The conditions were treacherous—with my headlamp insufficient to show the way and no street lights in sight, I literally had no idea what I would encounter with each stride. I tweaked my ankle twice and stubbed my toe once. Not surprisingly, my attitude went south. Finally, out of the wash and back onto sidewalk, I had a choice: I could either continue to grumble and gripe or I could ditch my negative thoughts and focus on the 5 miles ahead. I chose the latter. I regained my footing, steadied my pace, focused my breathing, boosted my confidence and finished my leg strong.

matt-ragnar-leg-15

Headlamps are not for show. Ragnar requires a head light for night running, and for good reason. They want you to see and be seen by drivers on the open streets. I prefer hat clips over headlamps, because I’m already used to running with a visor but otherwise hate having things on my head. Turns out my meager two-LED hat clip works well in the familiar confines of my neighborhood but not in the pitch black of the Agua Fria riverbed. If you know of a bright clip light, hit me up.

There is no camaraderie quite like 2 a.m. camaraderie. With runner 6 on the course, our van was nearly finished for the night, so the six of us could finally break and (try to) get some sleep. We’re at Anthem Community Park. It’s so late, and it’s so freakin’ cold. But I’m there, and my teammates are there, to support our runners in the exchange. Runners from both vans getting together, swapping war stories. These are the moments I’ll remember.

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When people tell you to dress warmly, you need to dress warmly. Ragnar was all like, “Bring a blanket” and “Bring a sleeping bag,” and I was all like, “Pssh, it’s cold but not THAT cold. I’m from Arizona. I know better.” I did not know better. What Ragnar knew that I didn’t was the amount of time I would spend in the dark and cold not running—waiting for my teammates and cheering them on.

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Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every night to function properly. The operative word here is properly. I edit healthcare publications for a living, so I’m well aware of the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations. At Ragnar, I did not heed them. Trying to curl my 6-foot-4 frame on the middle seat of a 10-passenger van, I couldn’t. If Ragnar had been one day longer, I would have been in real trouble. Thankfully, I lived to sleep another day.

Ragnar is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and you’re going to want to do it again. I figured going in that I would enjoy myself. I had no idea what kind of hold it would have on me. A week removed from the finish line, I can’t get my mind off Ragnaring.

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What’s Next?

Ragnar Relay has a sister series, Ragnar Trail, and there is a trail race in McDowell Mountain. It’s in my backyard, and if that weren’t tempting enough, Ragnar is offering a double medal for anyone who finishes the Phoenix-area Relay and Trail in the same year. I’m so doing this.

There Are No Comfort Zones at Ragnar

ragnar-desert-road

On Friday, I’m going to take turns running 205 miles across the desert with 11 total strangers. I’m so excited!

That is, I’m running Ragnar Del Sol, a two-day, 24/7 relay race from Wickenburg to Mesa, Arizona.

And I say I’m so excited, but I’m also uncomfortable. Sometimes, discomfort is part of the appeal. I’m not talking nagging-foot-injury discomfort. I’m talking way-out-of-my-comfort-zone discomfort.

Physically, I’m feeling good. I’ve trained well, and I’m particularly amped up for what awaits me on the desert roads.

How Ragnar Works

Each team comprises 12 runners, divided equally between two vans. Runners 1–6 take turns getting out of the van and plodding a predetermined distance (a segment or leg), anywhere from 2.3 to 13.5 miles each. When one runner finishes, a baton is passed and the next runner begins. On the sixth exchange, runner 6 in van 1 passes on to runner 7 in van 2, and runners 7–12 take it from there. Eventually, runner 12 in van 2 passes to runner 1 in van 1. And so on. (Ragnar explains it much cooler than I do in this 60-second video.)

My three legs are 7.1 miles, 7.6 miles and 9.0 miles. I’ve run all those distances. I’ll be running these legs around 7:30 a.m., 9 p.m. the same day and 7:15 a.m. the next day, respectively (depending on the collective pace of my team). I’ve run at those times.

When I say I’ve trained well, I mean I went so far as to simulate my legs, running this past Saturday morning, Saturday night and Sunday morning—not the whole distance, mind you, but enough to give me an idea of what I’m in for.

The conditions are nothing new. The race is on an open course and will consist of sidewalks and shoulders and side-stepping traffic. Been there, done that, got the technical T-shirt.

The question is …

Can I lighten up and just have fun?

Given my affinity for comfort zones, I’m a wee bit anxious about joining a whole team of people I’ve never met. Literally, they’re all flying and driving in from out of state today and will return from whence they came after it’s all over.

Given my respect for prerun regimen—like eating certain things at certain times, warming up, cooling down—I’m preoccupied with being at the mercy of five other people in my van who probably have their own prerun regimens.

Given my inclination to keep to myself, I get twitchy thinking of all the high-fiving and other close-quarters bonding that is to come.

Given my desire to look into something as much as possible before I leap, my answer to a lot of questions about this weekend has been “I think” and “Actually, I don’t know.”

One common denominator I have with my teammates-to-be is we’re all crazy enough to do this thing. I need to give myself permission to have fun with these 11 strangers. Based on everything I’ve been told, they won’t be strangers for long—36 hours cooped up in a car has a way of breaking down the walls of personal space.

So I’m trying to loosen the reins a bit and be OK not knowing all the answers about my Ragnar weekend. As long as I’m at the start line on time (alarm goes off around 3 a.m., BTW) and have my running gear on, everything else—well, a little mystery never hurt anyone.

Doing Fine: My 2014 Running Recap

baldpeak

In this 2014 retrospective, I celebrate all things fine.

If you’ve been in a romantic relationship longer than a Bachelorette courtship, you know not to use the word “fine.” It gets you into trouble. Never mind that fine is defined by words like “superior,” “best quality,” “admirable, “excellent.” (You have probably also learned not to justify your use of “fine.”)

I would use those nice-sounding words to describe My Year in Running 2013.

My Year in Running 2014? It was fine. And I’m OK with that.

Like using the word fine in a relationship, comparing how you’re running year over year can get you into trouble—or it can provide valuable insight, if you learn from it.

So here’s what I learned from My Year in Running 2014:

  • Not every year is going to be a banner year.
  • I’m getting faster.
  • I can run hills and not die (and maybe even enjoy it).
  • It’s time to change things up—different distances, new races.
  • I still love running.

Check out my 2014 stats.

573

  • Total miles run (54 less than last year)

74

  • Miles run in May (most)

22

  • Miles run in March (least)

8:52

  • Average pace per mile (6 seconds faster than last year!)

7

  • 5Ks run

4

  • Medals earned

3

  • 10Ks run (new focus)

2

  • Half-marathons run

1

  • PR set: 10K
  • “Double stack” run (5K followed by 10K)

0

  • Injuries (again!)

Bouncing Back From a Demoralizing Run

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This isn’t a how-to. This is a help-please! A desperate plea to the runners of the world.

I have a 10K race coming up a week from today. In fact, by this point I’ll be home and cleaned up and chilling on the couch. I thought I would be ready by now. But I am not ready. Not even close. I’m sure of that now, after this morning’s disaster of a run.

Instead of settling into a comfortable pace for one last long(ish) run, I struggled and had to stop to walk. Eight times. I even cut my distance short. At least by now I know when I’ve had enough.

Instead of feeling primed and powerful and ready to take on this 10K, I’m feeing like a failure. I’m floundering. Flustered.

So I ask you, oh wise ones of the internets, a week from my race, what should I do?

  • Do I hit the roads hard this week to try to make up for my lackluster long run?
  • Do I take the week off and rest up?
  • Do I carry on as planned and shoot for my original goal?
  • Do I pull up the reins and run a slow race, so long as I can actually run the whole thing and maybe even enjoy it?
  • Do I step down to the 5K?

I’m Not Very Fast (So Say ‘Serious’ Runners)

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This month I finished my second 5K summer series. In the last race, I missed a PR by 36 seconds! So you could say I was feeling pretty good about myself. Oh, but not today.

No, today, because I was feeling so good about myself, I searched for what people consider a “serious” 5K time. I had in my head 25 minutes, which I can do (I hesitate to say easily) just about every time I toe the starting line these days. Boy, was I wrong, according to “serious” runners on the internets.

The “serious” runners think that any 5K over 20 minutes is not serious. That serious runners could cover 5,000 meters in 20 minutes as a warm-up nursing an injury on an off month. Never mind that I may never get to that easiest of thresholdshealthy, in the best shape of my lifeno matter how much I train.

I’m sure these “serious” runners would prefer that I join the Clydesdales.

See, there is talk among these “serious” runners that seriousness is a result of effort. Because I haven’t broken 20 minutes, naturally I’m just not trying hard enough. Maybe that’s it, “serious” runners. Or maybe it’s genetics.

At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds on a good day, I’m not built like a runner. I’m more like Jimmy Graham than Galen Rupp. I would venture to say the Saints tight end can’t run a 5K in 20 minutes, either.

Look, guy, let’s not be so negative.

Deep breath. After grinding my teeth a bit, I turned my frown upside down by thinking about how far I’ve come in 5K Land. In 2004 I finished my first one in 28:20, after kinda-sorta training on the treadmill for all of eight days. I remember feeling this monumental sense of accomplishmentand also rewarding myself with utter laziness for the rest of the weekend. I ran another race in 2007 (29:26) and another in 2008 (33:49) before finally cracking the 25-minute mark in 2010, when I caught the running bug.

Continue reading “I’m Not Very Fast (So Say ‘Serious’ Runners)”

The Hills Are Alive! My Hillsboro, Oregon, Bald Peak Half Review

The Hills Are Alive! My Hillsboro, Oregon, Bald Peak Half Review

Bald peak Half Marathon-2014

The moment I signed up for this race, it went straight to my head. And not in a good way.

The Bald Peak Half worked out well for a family trip in the area—and oh, when did I turn into the guy who says, “Dear friend, I’ll be in your locality. Perchance I’ll run a 13.1-mile race!”?—and I have to admit, I didn’t look much at the course or other details before I sent in my money.

In my defense, unlike the bigger distance races I’ve run, for this modest little event there wasn’t much detail to be found. With fewer than 300 total finishers in the previous two runnings, the data were sparse. I searched online for anyone who tracked the course, and found at least one. (Thanks, krushgrapz.) It was then my jaw hit my keyboard.

I obsessed over this “hilly half” for the next three months.

The prospect of 1,800 feet of elevation gain (not a typo)800 in the first 2 miles and 300 in the last half-mile (also not typos)had me looking around my flat Phoenix-area surroundings and wondering how I would ever get ready for the hills of Hillsboro.

bald_peak_elevation

Using MapMyRun’s Climb Ratings, I was able to look for local runs of 3-ish miles with crazy elevation gains. A trend emerged: summit hikes. Gulp. It took me weeks to work up the nerve to get out there. My trail of choice was the Quartz Ridge Trail, not too far from Piestewa Peak. I could hit it on my way to work in the morning and clean up at the office. I did it three times (4, 6 and 3 miles) in the three weeks leading up to my Oregon trip.

Continue reading “The Hills Are Alive! My Hillsboro, Oregon, Bald Peak Half Review”

I Had a Dream (About Running)

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This week I had an elaborate dream involving me running a 5k race. (I was getting ready to run one this weekend.) I was late to get there and missed the bib pickup period, so they gave me a 3-year-old’s time chip and sent me on my way. (I have a 3-year-old.) Soon enough, well-meaning volunteers were chasing me through the course to give me a bib, and when they were successful, I struggled mightily, fumbling as I went, to pin said bib to my shirt without slowing down or stopping. The course was in a mall, and because I was so far behind, I never knew where I should be running amid all the shoppers. (Not my first dream where I was running in a mall.) Although my pace was good, I never did catch up with the pack. The end.

OK, psych pros, unpack this one for me.

» What About You?
Do you ever have dreams about running? Tell me about them!

Is There Any Cure for My Half-Maranoia?

picard_maranoia

Maranoia (n.): Fear of something going wrong (illness, injury, etc.) in the weeks before a marathon.

I came across this fabulous “new-to-me” word this week. Best I can tell, credit goes to tweeters Runner’s World (@runnersworld) and Will Britt (@WillOnTheRun). (Good stuff, RW and WB!)

Maranoia—or more specifically, half-maranoia—perfectly sums up my last week or so, and the last week or so before all my races running up to this one.

The week before a half or a full, I am certain I’ll come down with a chest cold or turn my ankle stepping off a curb, thereby wrecking all my hard work over the previous 10 to 14 weeks. Every cough, every sniffle, every hitch in my hip is a sure sign of doom.

None of these things has happened yet, of course (please, please, please give me a pass, oh running gods). But it hasn’t stopped me from being, well, maranoid.

Is there any cure for my maranoia? So far, not yet. I do take extra precautions to avoid sickness (read: I become a hand-washing freak) and otherwise try not to do anything stupid (like not pulling my hamstring playing softball). But, overall, I live my life as close as I can to normal and try not to go too much out of my mind about the race.

No, not that maranoia

It should be said that “maranoia” has a second meaning, referring to reefer-induced delusions, and there is a book about the same abject subject. Instead of getting you to NOT think about it, I’m going to leave you with something that lodges it firmly in your brain. You’re welcome.

In the tune of “Smoke Two Joints” by Sublime
I run two miles in the morning,
I run two miles at night.
I run two miles in the afternoon.
It makes me feel all right.
I run two miles in time of peace,
And two in time of war.
I run two miles before I run two miles,
And then I run two more.