Everything I Needed to Know About Racing, I Learned From Ralphie

“Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at it’s zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters decend upon us.” – from A Christmas Story

And so it was this weekend.

I mentioned yesterday that I had apparently injured my right calf muscle sometime during my races.  Truth is, I haven’t hurt that bad since completing the Route 66 half marathon last year.  After that race, anytime I sat down, it was very hard to get up, and it took everything I could do to get moving once I got on my feet.

Yesterday was just like that, except only in my right leg.  I have no idea what I could’ve done before, during or after the races.  I didn’t do anything goofy — I wore clothes I’ve worn before, shoes I wear regularly for running, and I stretched the same way I always do.  I don’t remember having any close calls where I had to avoid a collision, or any kind of potential ankle rolling that could’ve caused this.  I am totally lost about the root cause of this injury.

So after a painful, restless night of little sleep, I got up this morning, and was still in a fair amount of pain in my calf, but I was also feeling some pain across the outside of my right ankle, and noticed it was swollen.  I got dressed, and hobbled downstairs for a little coffee and poppyseed bread for breakfast.  By the time I was back at the room, it was obvious to me that four (or more) hours of beating up that already injured leg wouldn’t be the smartest idea.

Could I have finished?  Perhaps, but who know what kind of damage I would’ve done, and how much future racing it might cost me to recover from that.

I talked to Darla, told her what I was seeing and feeling, and she agreed that it was probably best for me not to put 13.1 miles of stress on my already-injured body.  Begrudgingly, I began to pack my bags, checked out of the hotel, and headed for Da Lou.

I’m disappointed.  I mean, really disappointed.  I had such high hopes, and was in such a great state of mind going into yesterday’s races.  Midway through the 5k yesterday, if you’d told me I be writing about a DNS for the half, I woulda told you you were nuts.  I knew I had these races covered.

I talked at the Blogger’s Forum Friday night about trying to keep a positive outlook, and that I really just wanted to run and write about my journey, and hopefully inspire someone else along the way.  Well, kids, this is part of the story too.  It’s not just easy every race.  Some races will challenge you like you’ve never been challenged.  Some will come easy.  Some will kick you to the curb like last week’s trash.

This weekend, I had both ends of that — the heights of revelry, and an unthinkable disaster.

But here’s the cool thing… I was smart enough NOT to push through this injury, and that probably means I’ll be out there running again sooner.  It’s one thing to be smart about running a race — working on pace, stride, breathing, and all the other things that make up a racer’s profile — but it’s just as important to be smart about an injury, and not make things worse.

Of course I’m bummed, and I’m one medal short of where I wanted to be by this time in the weekend.  However, there are always more medals to chase, more races to run, and more challenges to come.  Even if I’m sidelined for a few weeks, I’m still the same dude I was before the injury this weekend, and I’m still jonesing to get out there for my next race, and show this old body what it can still do.

#158/#159 – Route 66 5K and Fun Run

Yesterday, I motored into Tulsa for a weekend of Route 66 races.  However, before racing, I had some work to do.

I got into town around lunchtime, got checked into the hotel (painless!), and walked to the Cox Business Center, where the expo was being held.

First stop, the volunteer checkin table.  This is the second year I’ve volunteered at the expo, and I really enjoy it.  The folks at Route 66 really make it attractive too — for volunteering, you get a medal that’s as big as the 5K medal.  That’s a huge incentive, and I’m sure that makes it easy for them to attract the almost 2000 volunteers that make the race happen.

After getting checked in, I went to pick up my bibs.  Last year, this was a real challenge.  I volunteered there last year, and I was a whirling dervish, running up and down the boxes of bibs, finding folks’ bibs.  This year, they had separate kiosks broken up by bib number.  In my case I had to stop three times to get my three bibs, but it really worked sooooo much better!

Next stop was my stint was at the Fan Zone table.  We helped folks make signs to cheer on their runners — or strangers!  In fairness, there weren’t very many people in the expo at that time, so it was pretty slow.  After six hours of driving and three hours of being on my feet, I was ready to be done.

But, I wasn’t done yet.

For the second year, I participated in the Blogger’s Forum.  This is always an odd thing for me.  I’m just a guy who writes what’s in his head, tries to write like I speak, and do my best to keep things positive.  Last year and this, there were big-traffic bloggers sharing the stage with me.  And they’re pros, knowing how to market themselves and their art — there’s nothing wrong with that! — and there I am talking about this crazy little blog that gets a small amount of traffic.  And just like that, something cool happens…

Man, that just makes it all worthwhile!  I met Jeremy after the panel, when he told me he was gonna run the half next year because of what I talked about.  Put that medals aside, that’s the real reward from this weekend’s events.  I’m still blown away!

(Guess I’ll have to come back next year, and cheer Jeremy on!)

I walked back to the hotel after the panel, having all my non-race obligations completed, and started to think about dinner.  This is when I discovered that the hotel doesn’t have room service.  🙁  However, I saw a place that deals in Coney dogs on my walk back.  I’m a sucker for a good dog, so I crossed the street, and walked in.

From what I’d read on Yelp, the right way to do this was to order three of ’em, so I did.  I got them back to the hotel, and they were crazy good.  Their version of chili is a little different than mine, but that’s ok with me!

Fast-forward to this morning, and it was oddly, all nerves again.  This is the third time I’ve run the 5k here, and I know it is a hilly mess, but for some reason, those hills had me nervous.  I pulled up my big-boy underpants, girded my loins, and headed out to the start line.

For a change, I didn’t get to the start line too terribly early (I’m only two blocks away), and didn’t have to wait in the cold too long.  It was 32°, and I was using today to figure out what I needed to wear tomorrow.  As it ends up, I was able to do shorts, and be very comfy, so that bodes well for tomorrow.

After a short wait, the gun fired, and we were on our way.  This race has a few really big hills in it, and the first is less than a kilometer in.  I trotted up it like I owned it, enjoying the view of almost 2000 runners on the course.  About two kilometers in, my calves started barking pretty hard — the worst in quite a while.  (More on that later.)  Around 4km in, my legs were doing pretty well, and from there, it’s downhill and then flat.  I was in the home stretch, and pretty quickly had the finish line in site.

The Fun Run starts about an hour after the 5k starts, so I bypassed the treats and goodies at the end of the race, and found my way over to the starting line once again.  This crowd was much smaller — both in numbers and stature.  There are a ton of kids that run in this race, and it’s just a hoot to see them tackle this.  Some of them make it, some get carried by a parent, but it’s a great, positive experience, and with them all getting medals and high-fives from costumed mascots, it’s something they’ll never forget.

Two Medals, Two Beers
Two Medals, Two Beers

By the time the Fun Run is over, all the food lines for the 5k are really gone, so I ended up with just a couple of sacks of cashews.  However, the beer truck was still serving, and I had four coupons (two from each bib).  I turned in my first two, found a bench, and started drinking my Michelob Ultra’s.  I chatted with some other finisher’s, each of us slowly putting down our brews.

I’d asked one of the locals where they’d suggest to go for lunch.  They rapidly came up with Caz’s Chowhouse, telling me it was comfort food.  That sounded great, so I stood up… and found that my right calf was so tight that I could barely walk.  I hobbled along, roughly in the direction of the Caz’s, and found that it got loosened up the farther I walked, so that was a good thing.

I got to the restaurant, and asked the guy setting up the chairs for outside seating about when they opened.  When I found out it was just about twenty minutes away, I decided to wait it out.  I asked about the menu, and he told me about something called The Big Nasty.  The more he described it, the better it sounded… and then the phrase “chicken-fried bacon” fell out of his mouth.  I was sold!  The manager invited me in for a cup of coffee and to warm up, so I sat at the bar drinking my cuppa joe, and chit-chatted with her and her staff.  As it ends up, she was from Knoxville, and a big UT fan.  Perfect!

The Big Nasty
The Big Nasty

Once they officially opened, I found a table, sat down, and ordered a root beer, the Big Nasty and some fried okra.  That, my friends, is comfort food.  While I knew that this was described as being laid atop a “cat’s head” biscuit, I didn’t realize the cat they were talking about was a tiger!  That biscuit was easily 6″ in diameter, and served open-faced, it was the foundation to a load of cheese fries, a piece of chicken friend steak slathered in gravy, two eggs over medium, and couple of slices of chicken-friend bacon.  I’ve had a lot of really, really good things on my travels for these crazy races, but that by far is the best, most unique thing I’ve encountered.  And it kicked my butt.  I got through about half of it before feeling like I was gonna explode.  I was told that I did pretty well with getting that far.  🙂

And as I exited Caz’s, I thought I had a couple of blocks yet to walk to the hotel, but I quickly saw that the front door of Caz’s was cattycorner from the back entrance of the hotel.  Beauty.

So, in all a really good couple of days, but I’ve gotta admit, the tight calf is really worrying me for tomorrow.  I don’t know if it was the cold, or if I overdid something on the hills, but something different happened today, and that’s unusual for me nowadays on 5K’s.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s attempt at the half marathon!!!

Race Courses

#157 – Trekkie Trek 5K

Today was likely the last tune-up before the Route 66 races in Tulsa this weekend.  With the unseasonably warm weather (about 70° today, and close to 80° tomorrow), I’m pretty sure that anything I do is gonna feel weird when I get to Tulsa, and take on races where the temps will be closer to 30° when I start.

This was also the last of the Star Trek anniversary medals I had squirreled away.  Much like the Back to the Future anniversary last year, I hung quite a few Trek anniversary baubles from my medal shelf.  I’ve thought a couple of times about taking ’em all down — and that’s a HUGE effort — and grouping like medals together.  Maybe some day!

It was a glorious day, with loads of sunshine, and several other folks out enjoying the midday break.  I changed my route a little, and took the path down Wren Trail.  It’s been a little bit since I’ve been on that stretch of pavement, and I’d forgotten how nice it was.  At midday, there’s plenty of shade to keep you out of the sun, but still enjoy the breezes.  It was really a cleansing, refreshing time spent out in nature.

I’ve been gathering up all my goodies for the races this weekend, and as I write this, it dawned on me to see how many events I’ve done between last year’s half marathon, and this year’s.  And that number?  Seventy-four.  Seventy-four times over the last twelve months, I’ve laced up my shoes, gotten my stuff together, and headed out the door to put miles behind me, generally to the benefit of some group or another.

That may be a pretty normal cadence for more avid runners than me.  For a kid that never put the word “run” in his vocabulary until he was 48, I’m thrilled that I can still do this, and that I’ve stayed interested enough to keep picking ’em up and putting ’em down, all in the name of good causes.

This event benefitted Team Mill Hollow.

Race Course

#156 – Election Day 5K

In theory, I was supposed to run this on Election Day, but I couldn’t pull myself away from the news of the day, so I ran this a couple of days after.

I set out after work, trying to clear my head of all the awful stuff I was seeing online and in the news — so much hateful rhetoric, from any side you can think of!  With the return to standard time, the sun sets much earlier, and I was gifted with a crisp day on which to take a slow, contemplative walk.

With music in my ears, I ambled down my regular course, and really looked at what was around me.  I stopped to pet an old dog that walks the neighborhood (Elvis is his name!), and chatted with his owner.  I continued on around the neighborhood, seeing the triplet deer that we’ve been watching most of this year, and watching the Canadian geese soaring overhead.

And, ya know what … I found a little peace.

Whatever we silly ol’ humans are doing with politics — and you can make your own call about the impact of that — nature remains.  I’ll still enjoy my quiet walks and runs through God’s glorious creation, and know that no matter what happens — ugly, awful, wonderful, righteous — it’s in His hands, and I’ll just keep on plodding along, one step at a time.

Race Course

#155 – Cancer Sucks 5K

I’m now within striking distance of my celebration of five years NED (No Evidence of Disease), which is a glorious thing.  Even as I revel in my wonderful outcome, there’s folks around me that aren’t so fortunate.

I belong to a running group called the Pathetic Runners.  It’s a fun crowd of folks from all over the country, always talking about running woes and successes.  I get a lot of inspiration from ’em.  The guy that spun it up, David Johndrow, is a real inspiration, and has written a book about his journey called ICU to Marathon: Diaries of a Nearly Dead Man.  It’s a funny and poignant read.

ICU to Marathon
ICU to Marathon

David’s fought cancer before, and is once again fighting, so he spun up this race as a fundraiser for several cancer charities.  Given my journey, I couldn’t help but support David in his.

So Thursday, I put on my running shoes, and headed out.

This was my 56th event this year, and was the first one since spring that felt terrific.  The weather was amazing, sitting in the mid-60s finally, and with another week-an-a-half off the trails, my legs felt really fresh.  I took my regular ol’ path on the sidewalks of the neighborhood, and didn’t really push too hard.

You might say I walked.  You might be right.  🙂

I’d been fighting a cold since we got back from the cruise, and had a slight injury on top of my right foot — the likely cause being the big ol’ feet of a certain “little” hundred pound dainty flower of a dog named Roxy.  I didn’t wanna do anything to jeopardize my races in Tulsa in a couple of weeks, so I just ambled along at my pace, enjoying the great weather, the color of the leaves and trees, and thinking about how fortunate I am that my cancer diagnosis and treatment had such a happy ending.

I really am blessed to have had the support of family and friends as I fought my fight.  And sure, my fight was nowhere near as tough as some that other folks have to endure — and I totally get that.  I was lucky, and each day, each step, is a blessing and a gift.  I never loose sight of that.

This event benefitted ZERO Cancer, Hope for Young Adults with Cancer, PanCan, and the Melanoma Foundation of New England.

Race Course

Route 66 Blogger’s Forum

Route 66 announced it today… I’m on the Blogger’s Forum panel again this year — woot!

I did this last year, and met some wonderful folks.  It was cool to just kick back, and talk running and blogging for a little while.  It helped settle my nerves before embarking on my first half marathon, and I really needed it then!

This year, Friday evening (November 18th), from 5pm to 6pm, I’ll be at Cox Center in Tulsa, talking with other running bloggers, spilling all my racing secrets.  (OK, I don’t have any real secrets, but it’s still a fun time!)

I’ll also be volunteering from 2-4pm on Friday at the FanZone.  Find me, and we’ll make some great signs!!!!

If I hear about about any live broadcasting of my panel appearance, I’ll update this post.

Tulsa is getting very, very, very real!!!

What Mad Universe!

In the mid-50’s, Frederic Brown wrote a novel titled What Mad Universe.  In it, our protagonist, a science fiction editor, becomes the victim of a shift left logical event that lands him in a familiar, but not altogether sane alternate reality.  Our editor eventually saves the world, which is not an unexpected result.

In my mad universe, I’m running.

The non-alternate-reality me would say Really?  You’re running?  Well, yeah, I am… and at times, it’s overwhelming.

It’s just over two weeks away from the Route 66 Half Marathon in Tulsa — my second half marathon, and a race I said I’d never run again, and a distance I said I’d never do again.  I was “one on done” with half marathons.  In fact, if you look at the finish photo of me crossing the finish line in Tulsa last year, it’s like some photo for the loneliest runner.  I was spent, and walking slowly across the line, ready for the day to be over.

And yet, here I sit, listening to the eighteen hours of music on my running playlist, overwhelmed by the thought that in just about two weeks, I will finish this race and distance once again, with high hopes to clobber my time from last year.  (We’ll see how that goes!)

In Star Trek IV, Kirk quips, “May fortune favor the foolish.”  Who, other than a fool, would not only chase a half marathon they said they wouldn’t ever do again, but use that one as an excuse to sign up for more of ’em?

Enter this fool.

Last year, at the Route 66 event, I won an entry into the Mississippi River Half Marathon in February.  And after doing the math, I realized that the MS River event and Route 66 were less than 90 days apart.  That’s significant.

Why?  Well, there’s this running group out there called the Half Fanatics, who celebrate running half marathons all over the place.  But, it’s not just a running group for which you sign up… you have to earn your way in.  There are loads of ways to do that, and they range from the just plain crazy to the man, you should be locked away somewhere.  For me, my path of lunacy was three half marathons inside 90 days.

So, you see the problem, right?  A challenge, a calendar, and bookend races for completing this big challenge.

That put me on a quest for a half marathon that was close to Da Lou, and somewhere in between those two races.  I found that race — the Run For The Ranch in Springfield MO on New Year’s Eve.  It’s definitely close, but this isn’t going to be an optimal race for me… it’s laps.

I loathe laps, but this race only has four, so it’s not too traumatic, and frankly, feeds pretty well into my mindset around the half marathon distance.  I try to think of a half marathon as four 5K races, with a little bonus kilometer at the end.  That keeps it sane, and keeps me from thinking just how far that distance is.  This maps pretty well to that view, so I think that’ll be a good thing.  And, they have a six hour cutoff.  That’s well within my ability, even if I have to loaf.

And you’d think I’d be done, right?  Well, not so fast…

I’ve given a lot of props to the Moon Joggers virtual running outfit over the last couple of years, and have run a ton of their events.  The people are fun, and I’ve had a hoot getting to know them virtually.  Earlier this year, they talked about setting up an “in person” gathering of the group at some event somewhere.  Well they did, so…

Yesterday, I signed up for the American Fork Canyon Run Against Cancer.  Yep, I’m running down a canyon road in Utah in June 2017.

This is supposed to be a beautiful race, with loads of support, a cutoff time that oughta be right in my wheelhouse, and a chance to run some really fast miles since the course is essentially all downhill. How downhill is it, you might ask.  Well, it looks like this:

I’ll admit that I gasp just a little every time I think about this race, and what I’m setting out to do.  But I’ll tell ya, half the battle is actually clicking “submit” on the race entry web page, and that’s the harder half to me.  Now that I’m committed, it’s just a thing, and like so many “things” over the last five years, I’ll nail this one, too.

What mad universe, indeed!  🙂

#154 – Go! Halloween 5K

With the onset of fall, it’s time for autumnal races to begin, and that means the Go! Halloween 5K gets a turn on my calendar.

After Saturday’s Midwest Jeepthing event at Moonlight Racing, I was pretty dang sore, and wasn’t entirely convinced I’d get up on Sunday for this race.  The race began at 7am, so I had to get up at 4:30am to drive to the Metrolink station in Brentwood, where I’d catch a train into downtown.  That was seriously early, and when I went to bed last night, I wasn’t sure I’d have it in me.

When the alarm went off, I rolled out of bed, threw on Flat Colin, and motored toward the train… after a stop at Dunkin Donuts for some coffee and Munchkins!

Beers on Wheels
Beers on Wheels

I got to the race site, early of course, and wandered around.  Kaldi’s was there with free coffee, and three food trucks were setting up in the shadow of a double decker mobile bierhaus.  It was a glorious fall pre-dawn, and I was waking up and ready to run.

And then we waited.  And waited.

Sunrise
Sunrise

I don’t know what happened, but we kicked off twenty minutes late, and when we did finally begin, we started the race with a hard right turn.  For some reason, the race folks had to change the course unexpectedly right at race time, which meant they had to move the start line timing mats to the new start line.   The horn sounded, and 1500 of us turned on a dime  and were off to the races.

Two Medals!
Two Medals!

Surprisingly, I found a fair amount of mojo, and ran a pretty good race.  The course was flatter than last year, and was really pretty enjoyable, and without hills to fight, I made good time.  And, I got a bonus medal for completing the Triple 5K Challenge.  (The Go! in April and All-American in June were the other two legs.)  I love working on multi-race challenges like this, and I was thrilled to get the extra medal for my labors.

This was also the first race I’d run in three weeks.  I suspect the time off helped my body do some recovery I didn’t know I needed.  No matter why, it was a great race, I had a ball, and I’ve got more hardware for the wall!  🙂

Race Course

#153 – Mo’ Cowbell 5k

5kmYesterday was my fourth running in the Mo’ Cowbell in St. Charles (last year’s race was EIGHTY-SEVEN races ago!!!).  This race is a favorite of mine for a lot of reasons.

It’s flat.  It’s fun.  It’s fast.  So there.  🙂

I got up super early, got my usual breakfast (half an English muffin, toasted, with peanut butter), stopped at Dunkin Donuts for a cuppa joe, and headed toward St. Charles.  There’s always a ton of traffic on I-70 dropping into St. Chuck for this race, but I’ve learned some back ways to scoot in, so I had little traffic to deal with.  Part of that is that I also elect to park at Ameristar, and walk a mile to the race site.  It’s a great warm up before the race, and cool down afterward.

This year, the weather was amazing, right at 60° at the start of the race.  The last three years, it’s been much cooler, prompting longer sleeves and legs.  This year, it was shorts and a running shirt, which is ideal for me!

Like previous years, the event kicked off with “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, and 5000 of us clanging our cowbells in rhythm (more or less!).  It’s a sight not to be missed!

The marathoners kicked off at 7:30am, and while I knew a couple of folks in the throng — one of whom ran his first-ever marathon this weekend! — I didn’t see any one I recognized.  I cheered ’em on, and waited for our 5K to start at 8:00am.

It came quick enough, and I got on course at my running pace.  The first hill (and really, the only hill of any significance) came about half a kilometer in, and I chugged right up it, slowing to a walk to catch my breath a bit at the top.  I remember thinking how quickly we’d gotten to the hill.  And that was the theme throughout the whole race.  I don’t know if it’s my comfort with this distance or this race, but either way, the race seemed to fly by.

Not Quite Flying
Not Quite Flying

I got out on the street, headed toward the turnaround, and saw a co-worker on the way back in from the turnaround.  A quick high-five, and I was left to my race again.  After making the turnaround, we headed for the Katy Trail, paralleling the river.  I enjoy this part of the race, as it’s crushed limestone, so a little easier on the knees, but it’s also beautiful, with loads of trees around.

Soon enough, I could see the finish line, and like I’ve done lately, I’ve tried to be photogenic, and kick in some hustle for the finish line photographers.  While I didn’t have a “flying” shot this race, I came pretty close.

And I did pretty well in the race.  Last year, I was a skosh over 45min (a PR for me at the time), and this year, I was a skosh under 50min.  That’s kinda my bar for a “good race” anymore, and I was pleased to just be under it.  Yeah, there were places I coulda run more, and added a little speed, but it was wonderful to just go out, and enjoy the surroundings, the nice weather, and commune with so many other runners!

This race benefitted the Boys and Girls Clubs of St. Charles County.

Race Course

#152 – Run Long and Prosper 5k

I hate running in the summer.  It’s too hot, and I melt.  That’s been well-documented here.

Ordinarily, our weather indicator here in Da Lou flips from summer to fall during Jeepstock weekend.  However, that didn’t happen this year.  In fact, summer held on for another week, with highs well into the 90s and heat indices approaching 100°.  Not exactly running weather for your intrepid author.

Sunday night, however, the weather changed, and suddenly, our temps dropped by about twenty degrees, settling the Midwest into fall.  With the busyness of the work week, last night was the first night I’d been able to get out since fall fell.

When I headed out, it was cloudy, with occasional breaks that let the sun shine through.  Temps were in the mid-60s, and the wind was blowing.  Perfect shorts and t-shirt weather for me!

This was the first time I’d been on the path in two weeks, and while I could feel the stiffness in my joints that comes with extended spans of not running, the lack of blazing sun and scorching temps made last night’s trek (get it?) so very easy.  With fall firmly in place (I hope), I certainly expect that I’ll have more runs in the books over the next few months.

And I need to, as I have some long races coming up.  I’ve signed up for the Route 66 Half Marathon in Tulsa (November), Mississippi River Half Marathon on the Mississippi/Arkansas border (February), and Gasparilla 15k/8k in Tampa (February).  And, I’m looking for another half to do somewhere between Route 66 and the Mississippi River half.  So, why would I do that?  Well, I have a desire to join a group called the Half Fanatics, and membership is gained through running a number of half marathons across a span of time.  For me, it’s three halfs in ninety days.  We’ll see what happens there.

So, welcome back fall!  I’ve definitely missed you, and look forward to enjoying your cool, wet weather over the next few months!

This event benefitted the Space Camp General Scholarship Fund.

Race Course

can·a·peel (noun) ˈkan-ə-pēl – A meal with a lot of variety, where each participant finds and cooks their own food.