Running …

… because I can … because it's fun … because it's healthy … just BECAUSE.

Running in the moment

Carytown 10k bib, Richmond, Va.

My last PR came at the Carytown 10K in May 2012.

In the past year and a half, I’ve had many thoughts about not wanting to do another marathon.

With the exception of the time I was running at Disney in January 2013, I’ve had no excitement about doing this distance since training ended in fall 2012.

Now that I have climbed my way out of a funk, I understand more and more than my funk lasted for so long because I felt like I should be training for a marathon, or maybe even beyond.

All other runs didn’t seem as important without having a goal for 26.2 miles in mind. I got too caught up in other people’s emotions and what it was like for them to hit goals for that distance.

I had a hidden secret that I was going to do the Blue Ridge Marathon this year; the reality is just before Shamrock I knew Blue Ridge wouldn’t be able to happen. After realizing what I need to do just to perform better at a half, I opted to move along from cramming in more miles and instead focus on another half … and then eventually knocking out a PR in the half and/or other distances.

While doing several quarter-mile intervals this morning, I realized even more that I’m just not excited about training for a marathon. I’m excited, though, about running faster. Out of nowhere, one of my intervals was in 1:47; they were all under 1:54.

When looking back at 10 years of running, the times I remember the most have been when I’ve gone for a PR at shorter distances.

Conquering the marathon distance for the first time in 2007 was definitely thrilling; breaking 4 hours in 2011 after an injury was amazing; doing Disney was quite magical; but my overall feeling toward long runs of 2-3 hours and 40-some mile weeks in the middle of summer (or winter) is not a positive one.

My last PR was in a 10K in May 2012, which came at the end of an awesome year-plus span of running. I know that I haven’t peaked yet.

It’s very possible that I take another 3-year break from the marathon like I did after 2007; the bug may bite me sooner; it may never bite again.

It feels so out of the ordinary and crazy to improve my 5K time and try to get it closer to 21 minutes; I need to find a 10K or two and go for 45 minutes; and, of course, I’d love to read 1:39:59 on a half marathon clock within the next year.

It’s time for me to live in the moment and go for other things with running that, at least right now, are more exciting and feel right. Now I just have to figure out what to go for first.

Jazzed up about racing

For the first time in four years, I’ve done four races in the first half of the year. There’s something about the variety of races I’ve done this year that have me really wanting to do more as I train for the Baltimore Marathon. And more is what I’ll do.

A run with my son … and a hill

Just after I got to mile 13 today, I saw my wife and son cheering me on. I saw a big smile on his face … I looked behind me to see no one near me … and scooped him up. Finishing the last little bit of today’s Lynchburg Half Marathon with him was special — something I won’t soon forget. I can’t wait until he can do his first kids race.

As for the rest of the race, I did what I wanted to do — a sub 4-hour marathon pace. I haven’t widely broadcast what I want to do for the Richmond Marathon, but less than 4 hours is my goal right now. So I went into today’s event with the mindset of this being a solid long training run. While I would have liked to have been around 1:50, my finishing time was 1:55:38. There’s really no need for a mile-by-mile recap because everything was pretty steady. Except for one thing.

The biggest issue with getting slowed down was a HUGE hill about three-quarters of a mile long — and it wasn’t really the uphill that caused the issue. Coming back down the hill kind of just killed the whole run. After the bottom of the hill, there were a little more than 3 miles to go. I just couldn’t go. I just settled into a pace a little more than 9 minutes a mile and eased to the end.

To put this hill into perspective, I have mapped this big hill and the middle miles of the race on Daily Mile. This rest of the Lynchburg Half is mostly flat, with some gradual hills along a bike path next to the James River. (For anyone new to my blog, this course has changed drastically from three years ago when it was a mostly flat race. I had NO IDEA that this hill was this big, despite what people told me.)

From a racing standpoint, this just wasn’t that great of an experience. From a training standpoint, it was actually a really good run. I’m not going to complain about it; I’m just going to move on from it. I learned some lessons today about hills — I may run on them every day, but I need to learn to work them better and not let them work me. I think I’ve become too used to them. I smell a hill repeat workout soon.

On a side note, today was the 10th half marathon I have completed since the summer of 2006, and my third this year. The past two experiences — this one with the hill and the Blue Ridge Half in April — have really taught me to respect this distance more than I already did. My other eight half marathon experiences have been mostly flat, including six half marathons at Virginia Beach. Experiences like today and in April are eye opening and why I want to keep going. It makes training for my second marathon all the more worthwhile.

Small steps, big picture

About a year ago, I went to the doctor after dealing with various foot issues on and off since late 2007. It’s odd to read the post about the visit and see what didn’t happen. I didn’t do physical therapy; I didn’t run on the weightless treadmill; and I didn’t get any shots in my foot. I simply wore some insoles for a little while (that temporarily hurt the other foot) and the infamous plantar faciitis “slipper” on and off for a few months and that was it. That was all I needed to get through the summer.

Fast forward a year later and I’m in a completely different state of mind. At the time of the doctor’s visit, I privately considered giving up on long distances. I wouldn’t have had a problem doing that — I never ran any longer than 4 miles for the first two and a half years of running anyway. Now, I’m planning a schedule of races to do this year. I haven’t done this in three years. I’ve focused on the big picture races and rest — Shamrock, rest, Rock ‘n’ Roll Half, rest, repeat. Big picture is important — I’m completely focused on the Richmond Marathon in November — but it’s the smaller picture races that will make the big picture even more rewarding.

I’m almost scared to put this out there, but it’s part of my shell-breaking that I’m doing. Sure, some of these races might not happen for various reasons, but this is the plan through November in addition to what I’ve already done.

* May 8: Bella 5K Stroller Race in Roanoke
This will be a first for me — racing with my son. I’ve never done more than 2.6 miles with a stroller, so it’ll be the longest distance with him. My main goal will be to finish without tripping over a baby or two … I guess as far as time is concerned, I’m really just shooting for under 9-minute miles. While I can run any time with my son, I’m looking forward to the racing experience. That makes the entry fee worth it.

* June 5: Trail Nut Half Marathon in Bedford
Another first — an all-out trail race. I’m hoping to do more trail running this month beyond a mile or two to prepare for this. It will mark the third half marathon this year, all with increasing difficulty. From what I’ve heard about this race and what I know about these mostly single-track trails, I think two hours or so will be likely. I’m looking forward to doing something radically different so my focus isn’t on a PR, but rather just having a good time.

* July 3: Academy Mile in Lynchburg
There needs to be more mile races. It’s been three years since I did a 6:26 in this race. I’ll set my mind on this much later, but it would be awesome to be even faster. Maybe that weird goal of mine of running so hard I throw up will come true.

* July 17: Percival’s Island 5-Miler in Lynchburg
This is one of my most favorite races around this area. It’s flat; it’s fast. One of my best races ever came here in 2007, so I hope that I continue what’s happened so far in 2010 and nail it again this year. This race will be a good test of where I am with my speed and endurance and can help set the tone for the three months of marathon training that will follow.

* Aug. 14: Lynchburg Half Marathon in Lynchburg
Want to run a half marathon for $20? That’s all this race is. It’s also a very flat race, a rarity for this area. It’s hard to believe that when this race gets here that this might be the fourth half marathon of the year. There’s also a 5K that same day — I might change my mind and do that as a speed workout instead. We’ll see. No reason to rush on that decision.

* Sept. 25: Virginia 10 Miler in Lynchburg
This is a wish-list race that is dependent on marathon training. This very tough race is only $30 through the end of August, so I’ll decide by then whether or not this will happen. If you’re looking for a challenge and can’t afford some bigger-named fall half marathons, this is one to consider doing.

* Nov. 13: Richmond Marathon in Richmond
Marathon No. 2 — the big prize — is 192 days away. The countdown is officially under way.

An instant classic

Every so often in the running journey, there are particular runs or races that come along that are life-changers. They’re the type of runs you look back on years from now as events that helped define who you are as a runner. For me, I have a few moments that stand out before I started blogging — my first race comes to mind, as does my first long-distance race in the Virginia 10 Miler in 2006. Since I started writing three years ago, I haven’t had too many of those moments. Besides the marathon in 2007, nothing is worth talking about. That is, until January of this year.

In late January, I had my first-ever mountain run. That run set the tone for the rest of the winter. If it wasn’t for that run, other things with my running wouldn’t have fallen into place. I most likely wouldn’t have gotten out in the snow as much as I did; my streak of 10-mile runs wouldn’t have been nearly as long; and all that would have translated into another disappointing Shamrock Half Marathon. I credit that run to leading to my PR in the half and to last week’s 5K PR … and to tackling what I did today: the first-ever Blue Ridge Half Marathon in Roanoke.

The experience of this half is just unbelievable. After a relatively flat mile, the next two-plus miles were uphill. As in straight uphill. As in, you have to live near the mountains to appreciate a hill like this. Timing wise, I kind of messed up — at mile one, I hit stop instead of lap, so I missed exactly what the second mile was. Two of the first three miles were in 19:40; my friend Travis called out about a 9-minute mile when we got to the second mile. We intentionally started slow, knowing what was about to come. We even did some power walking at some point to keep things fresh. It was funny to watch people pass us the few times we walked only to pass them again a minute later.

I've worn this hat for my last two half marathons. Maybe it's bringing me some good luck.

Somehow, though, going uphill, we pushed along pretty well. Fortunately mile 4 had a nice downhill … only to have to make a turn right back up the hill we glided down. Mile 4: 8:33. The next mile was by far the toughest of the race. Straight uphill toward the Roanoke Star. This mile included some walking as well, helping me feel completely in control. Had I forced myself to run, I honestly wouldn’t have made it to the end. This was not a race against the clock, but rather a true test of endurance to finish in one piece. That mile was in 11:05. Early in the race, I said it would be awesome if we could do the first five miles in a less than 10-minute pace. Do that and we can nail this race in less than 2 hours, a quiet goal that I had.

After just a little more incline, we made the turn for the best view of the race at the Star, took my time drinking some water and even grabbed a couple of pretzels for the journey down the mountain. I also touched a small alligator that someone was holding from the nearby Mill Mountain Zoo. YES, I touched an alligator during a half marathon. How awesome is that?

And then it was on.

Mile 6 was in 8:06; mile 7 was in 7:24; and mile 8 was in 8:09. Those three miles were a bit slower than I expected, but I was quite shocked at how much I actually had to hold myself back on the decline to stay in control. By the time we made it to the bottom of the mountain, I could feel some cramps in my lower legs and even in my lower back just a bit — the mountain had certainly taken it’s toll, but we kept going.

While the course elevation map looked flat, the last five miles were not — considering the literal mountain we had to climb and descend, of course it would seem like the streets of Roanoke would be flat. It was more of the rolling hills variety, but after the first 8 miles, the little up and down hills were hurting by this point. Mile 9 was in 8:39 and mile 10 was in 9:02, which included a small walk up a hill.

With 5K to go, when I would normally have a push in a half marathon, I had nothing left to give. I just kept it steady, finishing the race with miles of 8:58, 9:03, 8:52 and a final tenth in 52 seconds. My chip time was 1:57:39, finishing 117th out of 450 runners and 93rd out of 216 males. (Travis had some fuel left at the end and finished in 1:56:01.)

When I crossed the finish line, I immediately had this new feeling of respect for the sport of running. Besides my one and only marathon, the difficulty level of this easily surpassed any road race I have ever done. This doesn’t touch the heat I experienced in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in August 2008. There were times today in which I really second-guessed what I was doing. I was never vocal about it and I knew that the uphill climb wouldn’t last forever. There were other times after going up and down the mountain that I just wanted to slow down. I wanted to revert back to the way running was just six months ago — I just wanted to slip down to a lower gear and log the miles and just finish.

Oddly enough, I never felt like I had to dig too deep to get those thoughts out of my head. When I had a negative thought, I could void it out quickly. I thought about how two years ago today was the worst day ever in my career and that I wouldn’t let this April 24 be a story about a bad race experience. I thought about all these people out there who called us runners crazy for doing this today. Tell me, please, what’s so crazy about reaching a mountain top?

This race is an instant classic in my running journey. How it changes me will take a while to figure out, but I just know that after today I am a new runner.