My Covid Marathon

We started to hear about this Covid thing in 2019 and I figured I wouldn’t really have to worry about it. Previous viral events never became an issue for me, so why worry about this one. Well, it quickly became a pandemic and virtually shut down the world. I took it seriously from the beginning, wearing a mask, washing my hands more frequently, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, and avoiding social gatherings. When the vaccine became available, I got the two doses and followed up with the two boosters. For two years we lived our lives around this thing. Eventually, the vaccine had an impact, the virus became weaker in its variants, and we all started to let our guard down and move on with our lives. My wife and I decided that we could actually travel for our 30th wedding anniversary, so off we flew to join a hiking tour of the amazing Cinque Terre area of Italy. Even Italy, which had somewhat strict Covid policies, would remove the requirement of wearing masks on public transportation while we were there. The trip was awesome, and I was starting to believe that I had some special anti-Covid avoidance ability. Three days after getting back home, I developed a tickle in my throat. “Oh, I must be getting a cold,” I thought. I was planning to pick up my packet for the Chicago Marathon on Friday, but I just wanted to rule out that I had Covid instead of just a simple cold. The rapid at-home test was very definitive – I had Covid.

DAMMIT!

I have to say I wasn’t surprised, but I was a little pissed off. I had managed to avoid it for so long, but it eventually got me. I wondered where I might have been exposed. No one in our tour group really seemed sick at all. On the flight back home, Kari said there was a guy sitting behind me coughing quite a bit. I hadn’t noticed as I wore headphones while watching a couple of movies and was also sleeping for a while. I guess maybe it could have been there, not sure but it doesn’t matter. I now had it and there was no way that I was going to go get my marathon race packet, nor was I going to run the Chicago Marathon.

Within an hour I made the decision to pack my things and go quarantine at our lake home in northern Wisconsin. If I had to be in solitary confinement, why not pick a beautiful place to do it.

Morning in Minocqua, Wisconsin

The drive up north was no big deal. Other than the slightly scratchy throat, I felt pretty good. But the next two days were the worst of it. I describe it as having a mild case of the flu, or a mild-moderate cold. I would get a mild fever, some congestion, a dry cough, and some chills, all of which were dealt with by taking some over-the-counter severe cold and flu medication. By day four, I felt okay. Did some yard work, finished winterizing the boat and wave runner, and even went for a five-mile, easy-paced jog. On day five, I decided to head home. According to the CDC, I was done with my quarantine and could head back to work as long as I followed some protocols. My job keeps me separated from my coworkers for the most part. As I left, my son Ben said that he was also Covid positive now, and was heading to the “safe house” as he put it.

A week after testing positive I must say that I felt pretty good. There was some lingering congestion, especially in the evening. I had done a couple little runs just to see how I felt, and they went fine. After missing out on training for ten days in Italy, and also during my quarantine, I was starting to get a little concerned about my conditioning for the Tunnel Hill 100, which is only three weeks away. I checked my training plan and it showed that I needed to run 24-26 miles. I kind of dreaded that proposal, but on Saturday morning I packed up my running vest with supplies and headed out the door on a cool but beautiful morning. I planned the route to the west on the trail, as eastbound was being repaved, and I needed to make sure I could refill my water. I ran my usual 4 min. run/2 min. walk pace strategy and it was going well. I turned around where the trail ended at 11.5 miles and started heading back. Somewhere along the way, I decided that since Covid stole the Chicago Marathon away from me, I might want to steal it back. Getting back home would net 23 miles, a distance that I could be happy with, but I figured that if I felt good enough, I would add an extra 3.2 miles at the end and that is just what I did.

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I ended up with a marathon in five hours and twenty-four minutes. Nice and slow ultra-pace. I joked with a friend that all five of my Ironman marathon splits were faster than that. But it did wear me out. My joints were pretty sore afterward, and even though I thought I managed the nutrition side well, I felt wiped out. My wife reminded me that I was sick, and I’m sure that is a contributing factor. But the run was not the confidence builder that the 54-mile run I had done in September was. I think I will have to adjust my pace plan and run a 2-minute run/2-minute walk for Tunnel Hill. It worked very well at the Broken Anvil event, and the goal of Tunnel Hill is to travel 100 miles, not do it in record time.

I’m going to be pretty cautious with the final three weeks of training. I’m relying heavily on Kari being healthy in order to assist me during the hundred miler, so I don’t want her to get sick. I’m glad to see that Covid was mild for me, it could have been worse. We don’t seem to be done with this pandemic yet.

When Running Clicks

I started running in the late 1980s and like most, I was just dabbling with it.  I was a recent college grad in a new job, living away from family and friends and pretty much bored.  I was also gaining weight and couldn’t afford to buy new pants, so running became my interest.  It was never easy at first.  A few trips around the apartment complex were all I could do initially.  But I stuck with it somehow.

One day I decided to attempt to go further than I had gone previously, and before I knew it I was at five miles before stopping.  But when I got to that mark I had a feeling that I could keep going.  It was at that moment that running seemed to click with me.  I could and would keep going.  Within a year or two of starting those laps around the apartment complex, I set a goal of running a marathon.

I started doing local races and marathons.  I was just winging it.  How complex could running be?  You just run, right?  There was no internet during this time for me.  It may have existed, but it was in its infancy, and I didn’t have a computer to even do any sort of research into how to train for a marathon.  The first couple of marathons went okay.  I ran 3:50 in the first one and followed it up with another 3:50 a year later.  I really thought that I would demolish that 3:50, but a lack of knowledge about fueling and hydration was my downfall.

It would be a couple of decades later that I would become a triathlete with the goal of completing an Ironman, and that is where my mindset changed.  I followed a plan for the first time and learned a ton about how to fuel for the race.  Successfully training for and completing that first Ironman was a big deal.  It taught me loads about how to train and I applied that to my running goals as well.  Although I feel that it took me three Ironman races before I finally dialed it in and set a personal best, it did finally click with me and I found personal success.

Not long after that, I applied what I had learned from the triathlon training to running and I found myself setting new personal bests in the marathon, and getting that once elusive Boston Marathon qualifier was now in reach.  I set new personal bests in the marathon distance, all in my 50s.  I have now achieved three BQs and run the race in 2018,  CLICK!

For the past few years, I have set my sights on becoming an ultra-distance runner.  Something that I hadn’t done in the previous thirty years of running, and I had to learn to apply what I knew from my triathlon and marathon running experiences to running stupid far.  I basically had to learn to run slower and pace myself.  It clicked for me when I started applying walk breaks into my runs.  I had more energy to run farther.  Even with four ultra-distance finishes completed, I still am adapting and learning about how I manage the run.  Last weekend I ran my fourth last-runner standing format ultra and went farther than I have ever run – 54 miles.  I was shooting for 50, but knowing one more 4.16-mile loop would benefit me mentally, I pushed on and it helped me understand that I could get past that 50-mile mark and keep going.  CLICK!

Yesterday, I ended my recovery week with a run that I was planning to last about ten miles.  But as I meandered my way around the community, I started thinking about doing more.  I felt really good.  I ended up playing it safe, finishing with twelve total miles.  When you find yourself thinking that ten miles are just okay and want to do more, then I think that the work that I have been doing to get me to the finish line of Tunnel Hill 100 in November might just be clicking with me.

CLICK!  CLICK!  CLICK!

When did running click with you?  What was your a-ha! moment?

Long Run Motivation

I thought that I might try my hand at some poetry, so forgive me if I make a mockery of it. ~ Chris

~~~

LONG RUN MOTIVATION

Breakfast was had, time to head out / I have 20-miles planned, got to hit the route

Saturday long run is about to begin

I bring my phone, not a typical action / And choose some music for the distraction

I thumb through the artists held within

Begin the day with a friendly voice” / I kiss the wife goodbye, with Rush as the choice

Out the door with my favorite band

I cue up the watch for running and walking / GPS finds me and off I go jogging

Spray on some sunscreen, getting very tanned

Over the tracks I’ve been told not to cross / It’s Barney Fife’s personal albatross

One mile in and the sweat has begun

The weather has been dry / But the wildflowers are high

The nature preserve never fails to stun 

Over the bridge, the creek filled again / Yesterday provided the much-needed rain

Two miles from home is the watch alert

Out of the hills and onto the trail / Once upon a time there were trains on the rails

Mile three, starting to sweat through my shirt

Up ahead, I see a lady running with her dog / It’s my friend Julie with Blue – out for a jog

That’s something new for Julie to do

Miles four through ten were somewhat of a blur / Runners and bikers enjoying the day I figure

Maybe for their races, they’re training too

I hit Cherry Hill road, just as predicted / Time to turn around, but I’m not conflicted

Not going away from home any longer

At twelve and a half, the vest needed filling / I replaced the warm with water that was chilling

Eat a gel and candy bar, got me feeling stronger

Off the trail and into the preserve, three miles to go / The pep in my step had turned slow

Finishing the run with hills will eventually pay off

Hit the stop button at twenty, go jump in the pool / The run is done, it’s time to cool

Recovery time has begun, a Gatorade I quaff

But Sunday comes, I awaken to realize / Another long run is the plan’s surprise

Motivation is lacking, I still put on running gear

Another breakfast, I skip the music and running vest / Just a water bottle and off on another quest

Running on some sore legs is what I fear

But to my surprise, I feel really fresh / Maybe back-to-back long runs make my legs mesh

I’m quite surprised and skip the walk breaks

A different route, to east this time I go / Running through the hills, but I don’t feel slow

Muggy but not hot, I feel few aches

Once again, I turn onto Old Plank Trail / Seeing Angela, Susan, and John running help me sail

This run is going better than I was expecting

I hit the neighborhood, a little shy of 90 minutes / I add a little extra, I have no limits

Feeling good after two days of running, I’m not objecting

The hardest part of running long distance / Might be trying to find the persistance

Got to fight the desire to quit or not even begin

An emotional finish to a couple days of long running / To the starting line I will keep gunning

I’ve learned that what it takes I might have within

Thanks for reading.

I Be Trippin’

I’ve heard people say that time seems to slow down when you fall, and you feel like you are falling in slow motion. But that hasn’t been my experience, quite the contrary. For the second time this year, I tripped and fell today and I barely was able to brace myself for the impact, just like the last time.

The first time I fell I was on my fifth loop of the WausaUltra Backyard Ultra in Wausau, Wisconsin back in late April. I was doing well and feeling pretty good as I closed in on twenty-one miles. But out of nowhere, something grabbed my toe, and down I went.

Today, I was pacing myself through a 10-mile run and was just coasting along on the paved bike path. It was pretty sunny and I had decided to head into the forest preserve for the much-appreciated shade. Once in the preserve, I had a choice to make; I could stay on the paved portion of the path, or I could live dangerously and run on the much more technical trail. Now, for the past few years, I had sworn off running on the dirt path because I was training for some big race and didn’t want to chance – get this – possibly tripping and injuring myself! But for some reason, my brain overrode that failsafe breaker switch, and happily, I trotted onto the tree root-laden path.

I wasn’t more than a quarter-mile into the path when I encountered a walker ahead of me, going in the same direction and wearing earbuds. I attempted to get his attention with two loud requests to pass and as I watched to see if I had got his attention, I got tripped up and down I went.

I seemed to fall with the same velocity as the first time, but I was actually able to instinctively tuck my arms underneath me and brace myself for the impact better than I did the last time. I kind of felt like a wide receiver that had been tackled by the ankles and was glad to know that I was still holding on to the football. It’s comforting to know that I’m getting better at falling. Maybe someday I will be able to do a tuck and roll and pop right back up.

As I lay there looking at some gnarly roots and groaning loudly, I could hear the gentleman asking me if I was okay, repeatedly. I guess I had his attention now. I took an assessment of what happened and I quickly came to the conclusion that I am one dumb-ass trail-running fool. It was nice to know that the guy was able to see me embarrass myself in front of him. I think it was the fifth or sixth “Are you okay?” that I finally answered him with a “yeah, I’m okay.” I also added, “Why the fuck does this keep happening to me?!” It was a rhetorical question, and he didn’t answer it anyway.

What’s the old saying? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, if trees are anything like me, you bet your ass they do. There was a loud OOMPH! when I hit the ground. I got up and grumbled, and ran off down the path swearing loudly at myself – WTF? WTF? Dammit!

The last time I fell it was into some mud. You’d think that might have worked out better for me, but I must have hit the wooden plank footbridge first. This time I hit the dirt, but somehow managed to miss the bazillion roots that surrounded me. I looked and saw some abrasions, but no bumps or bruises this time around. I took my water bottle and rinsed the dirt out of my wound and continued down the path. Then I realized that I had to run the remaining four miles home looking like I had just ran a Tough Mudder or something.

I got home in one piece. I grabbed my phone to document my stupidity and then jumped into the pool to cool down and wash off the rest of the dirt from the fall. I think I’ll skip the trail running for a while. I’m not “falling” in love with falling.

What’s My Running Thing?

Sometimes I find myself wondering about people who are highly skilled at something and how they discovered that they were good at it. Maybe more importantly what if they weren’t exposed to the thing that they had become highly skilled at. Would they have been successful at something else? What if Michael Jordan had decided to focus on baseball after being cut from his high school basketball team? What if Yo-Yo Ma had been given a trumpet instead of a cello as a child? What if Eddie Van Halen hadn’t switched from piano and drums to guitar?

I was thinking about my running history the other day and was thinking about how I have found that I am really enjoying running trails and ultra-distance events. These are a new frontier for me and have certainly become a joy of late. Not that I’m any good at either, but it made me wonder what type of runner I really am. I regret that I didn’t have running in my life as a youth. I didn’t run track or cross country, but looking back on those types of running I wish I had experienced some of it. I have tried my hand at many types of running in my adult life and found that I love it all. But what am I best at? What distance or event do I perform best at? I’m not really sure.

Looking at my race results over the years I can see that I’m slightly faster than the average runners, usually placing in the top half of finishers or higher. In races, I almost always find myself alone chasing the faster runners ahead of me and yet gapping the rest of the field. I find that very interesting. It happens in almost every race, including the 25K trail race I did last month. From 5K’s to marathons, that is where I fall.

But of the races I have done, which distance is the one I perform best at? I don’t feel like I have blazing fast 5K speed, yet I can usually win an age group award at it and finish in the top 10% or so in the local races. That’s pretty good I think. My 5K PR is 19:29, which isn’t all that quick. My current average 5K time is over 22 minutes, thanks to getting older. I’ve been fast enough at marathons to qualify for the Boston Marathon three times now. And the nine half-marathons that I have done, all have been 1:40 or under, and I have always thought that to be pretty good. I like to keep the challenge of being under 1:40 going, but as I get older that is going to be difficult. I can’t imagine trying to average 7:30 per mile for 13.1 miles right now.

Maybe short-distance running is my thing. I ran a 5:44 min/mile a couple of years ago. That was an all-out effort and I spent a good chunk of summer and fall prepping myself for that. Or maybe it isn’t a speed thing, but rather a distance challenge that I may personally excel at. I’m currently discovering pushing myself to go farther than I have ever run before and I keep surprising myself each time. Maybe long and slow is the way!

I have heard the term “jack of all trades, master of none” before and maybe that’s the type of runner I am. Maybe I’m just good enough at a variety of distances, but just not ever going to be the top dog at any one of them. I guess there’s some fulfillment in that as a running journey.

What is your best event or distance? Did you know it right away or did it eventually come to you?

Running Stories: My Obsession With Numbers

When I run I have a habit that I think a lot of other runners may share – I have to make sure that it ends on a mile exactly, or the quarter, half, or three-quarter of a mile. A 5K, or 3.1 miles has always made me uneasy. 26.2? Couldn’t they have made it 26.25, or just plain old 26?

When I started training for Ironman the plan I followed had built the cycling and running workouts around time, not distance. That was very tough for me to get used to because I always went for an even-mile run, not a 45-minute or an hour-long run. Fortunately for me, my easier Zone 2 pace is at about a 9 minute/mile, so I would get 5 miles done in 45-minutes. But a 30-minute run would push me over 3 miles. I would usually quit three minutes early, or push a little more to get that extra quarter mile. I never wanted it to be a 2.68-mile run. And if do a run in some unfamiliar place and I get back to where I started on some weird number, you can bet that I would do a little more to get the number I want.

I don’t think I would call myself obsessive about it, it’s just that I used to handwrite my mileage into my running log, and to have those nice numbers made it easier for me to add up at the end of the year. I just got used to it and stuck with running distances ending in x.0, x.25., x.5, or x.75.

The 2010 Chicago Marathon had something going for it in addition to being a world-class marathon. People were excited to be in the field and run through the city. But I think that they were more excited about it being run on October 10. Yes, 10-10-10. I found myself also thinking that it was kind of cool, even though the year was 2010, not 0010. I’m a nitpicker. 10-10-10 was plastered all over the event that year. People were enamored by it, so much so that I remember one person suggesting the marathon for 2011 to be moved from October to September so that the date would read 9-10-11. That didn’t happen. Anyway, I have to admit that running the 10-10-10 Chicago made it a little more memorable for me than any of the other years that I did it.

But this year I am trying to change my old ways. I no longer personally log my mileage into a running log, I let my much smarter Garmin watch and app do all that logging and adding work for me. I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but this year I decided not to obsess over a run ending in zero-point-nine. So far, I have had a 7.16-mile run and one 4.24 miler. Baby steps.

Do you have a weird running thing? Maybe you’re a streaker, running every day? Or maybe your normal looped run route is always done counter-clockwise? I’d love to know.

I’m NOT a Health Nut!

I went to see my doctor on Monday for a check-up and inquired about the shingles vaccine, and he reiterated once again that I was his healthiest patient and not to worry about it for a couple more years.  The doctor and I are very close in age, our birthdays separated by only a couple of days, and he has told me that he uses me as sort of a barometer for his own wellbeing.  But I always chuckle a little when he tells me that I’m his fittest or healthiest patient.  If I’m the fittest the others must be really bad off.  Isn’t he looking at the same body that I see in the mirror?  Maybe those tests that he runs on my blood don’t tell him that I scarf down a Nutty Buddy every day.  Sometimes more than one.

The next day, I met a woman whom I was gifting some old running clothes to and I mentioned that we had a common friend.  She said that her friend told her that I was a “health nut.”  Huh?

Okay, what the heck?!  I’M NOT A HEALTH NUT!  I’m a running nut, and there’s a big difference!  But really though, do these two things go hand in hand?  I don’t think that they do.  I’m sure that there are those who are steadfast in their nutritional intake and also exercise, but I would bet good money that they are very much in the minority.  The pros are probably more apt to look for any advantage they can get, and I assume they look for performance advantages with their diet.  But for us age groupers, we are generally the type that uses running as an excuse to eat whatever we frickin’ want.  

I’ve ranted about this before (I’M SHOCKED!) and I find it somewhat interesting that people who don’t run think that being a runner also means that I also eat kelp and quinoa.  Trust me, I don’t.  I had to look up how to spell quinoa.  

What is a health nut anyway?  Am I just defining it incorrectly?  I Googled it and the first definition I came across was “someone who is very serious about their health;   someone who exercises a lot and always eats healthy food.”  Well, I’m definitely half of a health nut.   And what’s with the nut part?  Are they indicating that they think I’m nutters because I like to run?  Is running a nutty thing to do?  Nuts taste good and I think some nuts are healthy, too.  I eat some nuts occasionally – maybe I am a health nut!

I guess if there is one thing that I could be doing better is not sabotaging my fitness with bad food choices.  I’ve tried in the past and failed.  I just like to eat foods that give me pleasure, not some spinach-laden salad thing.  Who doesn’t?  In all honesty though, I don’t overdo the junk food stuff.  I haven’t ate at McD’s in years.

I mentioned above that I assumed that the pros are health nuts when it comes to diet and exercise, and now I can kind of understand why others assume that I am some sort of health nut too.   

Maybe I should become a full-on health nut, then I won’t take it as an insult.  Yeah, that’s right, I’M A HEALTH NUT AS WELL AS A RUNNING NUT!  Eh, maybe not.  I’ll stick with just being a running nut.  Being a health nut is hard!  And there’s no medal for it.  

Running Stories: Head Games

Adapting to life in a pandemic can lead to a little paranoia. Now that winter is here, any little sniffle or scratchy feeling in my throat or a need to cough makes me think that I’m coming down with a full-blown case of Covid-19 coronavirus. I’m sure most of us have gone through that and realized that you are probably overreacting. So far for me, I have not turned a need to cough into a need to quarantine myself.

As a runner, I have noticed that when it gets close to race day I can become very sensitive to some of the most minor issues that runners often deal with.  A slight twinge can make you think that you are about to have a serious running injury that will derail your race. These little aches and pains can very easily become big issues, but I find that most of the time they are benign. You just have to know when they are serious and when they can be ignored. And I have learned to ignore most of them.

Case in point – take a look at this photo:

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This is one of my favorite race photos.  Notice anything about the shoes?  Yep, they are brand new.

In 2009 I ran the Rockford Marathon in Rockford, Illinois. I was just getting back into running marathons after taking several years off from it thanks to enjoying my growing responsibilities as a new dad. Running was going well even though I was just winging marathon training as usual. Then race weekend approached and I developed a discomfort in the top area of my foot where it bends. I had not experienced this type of issue before and it only occurred when I was running. So naturally, I started freaking out. I couldn’t wear my shoes without it bugging me. I would attempt a jog around the block and think my foot might fall off. I was obsessing over it and I thought that I had really messed it up. So on the Saturday before the race, I went to the local sporting goods store and bought a new pair of shoes. And even though my foot felt weird in them still, I had no other option.

Trying something new on race day is generally thought of as a bad idea, and running in a new pair of shoes definitely fits in that category. But as I got to the race after a two-hour drive in the car fretting over the issue, I toed the line and told myself to just forget about it. And guess what?  The pain never presented itself again. Maybe all of the circuses surrounding a marathon was distraction from it enough, but I think I was just obsessing over it. It seems that I was just hypersensitive to the way the shoes felt on my feet.

In another example, my teammates and I were all together in Louisville, Kentucky to participate in Ironman Louisville in 2017 when I heard Alex complaining to his dad Dave that his foot was killing him. He was convinced that he had developed a foot injury, probably plantar fasciitis, as it was bothering him just to walk around. I immediately thought of the marathon in Rockford and told him it was all in his head, that he was just hypersensitive to the sensation he was feeling in his foot.  I’m not sure if that made him feel any better or not.  Alex ran a 3:30 marathon on his way to a 10:14 Ironman and 5th in his age group finish. I didn’t hear him complain about his foot after that.

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Me (bib 2400) on my on my first of two loops cheering Alex (bib 513) on toward the finish of his second loop/race as he passed me.  My wife Kari just happened to be in the right place at the right time to grab this great shot.  I don’t think his foot was bothering him here.

I still tell my self to ignore most little twinges of discomfort.  I would be reluctant however, to tell someone that the pain they are experiencing is not real. But when it’s near race day, sometimes it’s just in your head.

Running Stories: I Have Discovered Trail Running

It’s winter here in Illinois, and although mostly mild this go around, we’ve had a little bit of snow added to our area and it’s just enough to cover the trail and make it icy after people start packing it down. This forces me off of my usual running route and onto the local side roads where there is better running traction and little traffic, but not as much scenery.

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad I have the option to still run outside when the ice-covered trails make them difficult to run on. I have my favorite route too, it’s hilly and has enough variety that it’s a much better option than running inside on the treadmill. But after a few runs on this route, I started thinking about branching out from it and try some off-the-beaten-path trails. I am still signed up to do a “last runner standing” style trail ultramarathon and getting some practice and familiarity with running on trails would be a good idea for me.

One of these trails is located in the Van Horne Woods portion of the Hickory Creek Preserve located off of Route 30 in Frankfort, IL. The path starts just as you enter the preserve. There used to be a sign there where the unpaved portion of the trail began that said it was for use by the “Environmental Learning Center ONLY,” but that sign is now gone, and when I Googled it it said that it was permanently closed. A Facebook page for the site says it was closed in 2017. Seeing that the trail is still pretty heavily used, on Wednesday I decided to explore the icy path for the first time.

Trail running, where have you been all my life?! I loved it! Although the trail was a mix of snow, ice, and a few clear portions, my trail running shoes handled them fairly easily. I slowed down where it was necessary, but otherwise it was runnable. There is a fairly steep ravine that had some great views and lots of twisty paths through the wooded area.

On Thursday, I decided to do it again, this time running it in reverse. Another awesome run, but there was a lot of rough running going on. I still had pretty good traction, but it wasn’t the best. Occasionally the tread of my shoes would nick my ankles and that is no fun. On Friday I stopped at the local hardware store and picked up some 1/2 inch sheet metal screws and screwed them into the bottom of my shoe. This is an old trick used by runners, but one I have never tried.

Saturday morning I woke up to a new coating of about an inch of snow and I was super excited to get out there and run through the woods again. The traction I now had with my modified shoes was unbelievable. I ran like there wasn’t any packed down icy snow at all. It was a game-changer. Even my pace picked up for the run from the previous days. This time I decided to explore some more of the off-trail segments and found myself following a set of fat bike tire tracks in the freshly fallen snow. I followed those tracks for almost three miles until I ran into those two bikers on the trail. I realized that these were the same two guys that always post pictures of their rides on the local biking Facebook page that I belong to. I got to get a fat bike someday. It looks like fun.

I ran until I realized that eight miles had passed and that I had three more to get to home, and without any water or gels to fuel me along, I decided to save some exploring for Sunday. I came home and told my wife that this was one of the best runs I have ever had.

A little bit of a warm-up occurred on Saturday afternoon, melting what had fallen that morning. But I woke up again to light snow on Sunday and decided that this was going to be another amazing run. This time, however, I drove to the forest preserve so not to waste energy running three miles to get there and have to save enough energy for the three miles to run back home. I’m glad I did, this run was an awesome repeat of Saturday, only more so! I explored further east along Hickory Creek until I got turned around and lost my bearings. I found the creek and knew what side I was supposed to be on, but I truly believed that I had crossed it somehow. It wasn’t until later when I reviewed the gps map that I realized how turned around I was. I ended up backtracking until I saw some familiar things that I thankfully took the time to study for just this reason. I had also drawn some arrows in the snow to make sure I knew where I should turn at a few of the adjoining trail spots.

I was getting a little tired and a little worried that I was overdoing it, so I decided to head back and save some more of the unexplored areas for another time.

In all, I ran 53.5 miles this week, which is very high for me, and all because this little off-the-beaten-path rekindled a passion for running that I hadn’t realized was missing. I certainly felt like a kid again. I will definitely be running more natural surface trails in the future.

Running Stories: Throwing Down The Gauntlet

As I approached the trail I was about to turn onto from the sidewalk I was running on, I could see a runner off to the right about 100-yards away, heading in the same direction that I was planning to run. As I hopped on the trail I kept my pace the same as it had been for the previous three miles and didn’t think much about the guy behind me. He ran behind me for about five minutes and then I started to hear footsteps. I was about to be overtaken. He was about to throw down the gauntlet.

In Medieval days, a gauntlet was a type of armored glove used to protect the hand, but if thrown down it was meant as a physical challenge to your opponent. I had a pretty good feeling that he was challenging me, as I have done this move before. Many times before. Too many times before. Enough times that I gave it that term – throwing down the gauntlet.

You can throw down the gauntlet in a race, but everybody is challenging each other throughout the race. You might have someone kick hard near the end and you either respond or don’t. But out on the trail during a simple training run, throwing down the gauntlet is a move to see what the other guy is made of.

Since he took his time coming up from behind and then sped past me fairly quickly, I figured he was making a tactical mistake. I know that mistake well. You run hard to catch the guy ahead of you and then struggle to keep up the increased pace once you pass him. I have often thrown down the gauntlet only to regret having to run much harder than I am capable of after the pass. You learn not to throw down the gauntlet if it means that you will run out of gas by doing so.

I picked up my pace to match his from about 15 yards behind him. It was a pace I could handle. I made some noise just to let him know I was still there. A quick glance over his shoulder told me all I needed to know. He was trying to outrun me and now realized that I had responded to his challenge.

As I ran behind him for about a mile I had no plans to throw down the gauntlet myself, I was already pushing it pretty hard just to keep up with him, plus my route was about to take me on a different direction and I had about four more miles to run. As I made a left turn onto the trail that heads back home and he continued straight, I think he now knows that throwing down the gauntlet might get you the challenge that you weren’t expecting. I know this because I have learned that lesson myself many times before.