Make a Donation to PAWS Chicago

give_back_wide

Happy tax day! If you’re like me, you waited late to file (oh, but not too late!). Did you get all the deductions you wanted? Maybe you wished you could have given a little more to charity.

Well, you can do something about that charity thing right now. By giving to PAWS Chicago at this link, you can …

 

  • Deduct 100% of your gift on your 2016 taxes
  • Support a worthwhile cause, giving hope to homeless pets
  • Help me get to the Chicago Marathon

 

Won’t you donate to my cause today?
Our area’s homeless pets and I are grateful for any amount.

—> CLICK HERE TO DONATE <—

Change of Pace: My 2015 Running Recap

2015_review

When this year began, one question I never thought I’d ask myself is, how do I keep wind-driven snow from stinging my eyeballs?* Yet here we are.

Holed up in my new Chicago suburb home, I’m writing this running retrospective 1,750 miles from where I wrote the last one (Scottsdale, Ariz.). I felt every bit of that distance, literally and figuratively, on the morning of the eyeball-stinging snow, considering about this time last year I was enjoying some fairly fantastic runs in the sun (though the temps in the two places were similar!).

I could make more out of the distance between my two homes, but I won’t. Truth is, I’m doing OK in my short time in Chicagoland. And I have running to thank for it. Not long after I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post about running streaks, I started a streak for real. Logging at least a mile a day—for 97 days, as of this morning—has been one constant to get me through the turbulence of a cross-country relocation.

Whereas 2014 was perfectly “fine,” 2015 was the best year of my running life. Here are a few reasons why.

Change 1. After years of dedicated work toward half-marathons and full marathons, I trained exclusively for a 5K, in May. Following a speedwork-heavy regimen, I blew away my goal (hello, 21:10 PR!). The delightful byproduct was a base of strength and speed that transformed my running ever since.

Change 2. I joined a running club, RunEatTweetAZ. The people I met on the group runs and online added a social dimension to running that I was missing. My only regret was not being involved longer. (Unless they’re interested in chartering a club in Chicago’s northern suburbs.)

Change 3. I switched training plans. A cross-promotional email from Runkeeper prompted me to try out MyAsics. Initially the program struck me as soft—it wasn’t nearly as intense as my previous plan. But therein lies the beauty! After following three programs (one 5K and two halfs), I had three shattered PRs to show for it. Best of all, the absence of all-out intensity inherent in MyAsics got me to fall in love with running.

So yeah, 2015 offered upticks in almost every facet of my running. Here’s a look at the numbers.


1,239

Total miles run (more than double last year)


167

Miles run in October (most)


97

Consecutive days with at least a mile run (current streak)


91

Degrees F of hottest run (several in June–August in Arizona)


50

Miles run in March (least)


23

Degrees F of coldest run (Dec. 19 in Illinois)


8:14

Average pace per mile (38 seconds faster than last year)


8

5K races run


6

States with at least a mile run (Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon)


4

Race PRs (13.1m, 15K, 4.2m, 5K)


3

Half-marathon PRs (January, July, November)
Virtual races run


2

Ragnars run (Del Sol Relay in February, McDowell Mountain Trail in November)


0

Injuries (again!)


*Seriously, if you know how to keep wind-driven snow from stinging your eyeballs, do tell.

Area Man Ends Running Streak After Nine Days

forrestgump

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—The Kierland community streets were noticeably quiet this morning, the missing element being the labored huffing and puffing of 40-year-old Matt Morgan, a more or less familiar face to walkers and other runners who only sometimes acknowledged him on the roadways.

He had already run two days in a row—a Saturday and a Sunday—when, spurred on by Runner’s World and other promoters of running streaks, Morgan decided to see what it would be like to string more days together.

“I didn’t even intend to start running every day, necessarily. That’s the funny thing,” Morgan said. “It sort of just happened.”

The streak began in earnest on a Monday, a day Morgan normally doesn’t run, when he went out for a mile after a cross-training session. He recalled that his legs felt heavy from doing an awful lot of kettlebell swings and jump squats. Still, he persisted. And after his cross-training session later that week, when he should have been not running, he ran a mile again.

On Friday, he tacked on 2 more miles, despite the fact that it was his rest day. The streak, it seemed, was in full effect. And because it’s not unusual for him to run both Saturday and Sunday, those two days were a gimme.

Though starting the running streak sort of just happened, ending it was quite deliberate.

“I suddenly realized, why the heck am I running every single day? Am I trying to prove a point? This is silly,” Morgan said. “And so I stopped. Besides, odd numbers like nine make for good story headlines.”

Morgan said he enjoys running for the cardiovascular benefits, weight management and some other stuff, but he needs his breaks, too. “My body and my brain need the rest,” he explained, wincing in pain as he rubbed a muscle roller stick over his calves. “I know that for sure now. I just don’t get why some people would ever want to go out and pound the pavement every single day.”

In Morgan’s nine consecutive days of running, he totaled 36 miles, logging runs of 1 to 6 miles each, none of which is all that impressive.

With the streak over, Morgan vowed to continue running his normal, boring route every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. “But not those other days,” Morgan said. “That’s just nuts.”

One Last Run on the Streets Where I Live

last_run

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.

matt-ragnar-sunrise-jump

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.

matt-ragnar-night-exchange

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.

matt-ragnar-blanket

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.

matt-ragnar-medal

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.