Paris-athon

After a flurry of posts, I went silent because I was legitimately busy. Busy enough to not be guilted by those shirts that read, “Someone busier than you is running right now.” Last week I flew to and from Paris for work, ran my ninth marathon, AND AND AND…I ate all five bananas in the bunch before any of them went brown. *drops the mic*

*Picks the mic back up* In all seriousness, it was a whirlwind (and I did eat all of the bananas in time). Having never been to Paris before, I determined that I needed to see as much of it as possible on the day that I landed, my one free day before I had to work. So upon landing, I hustled from CDG to my hotel via the RER and metro, dropped off my bags, and instead of enjoying a daylight-consuming nap, I made hay while the sun shone: I walked around the City of Lights for over six hours, covering nearly a half marathon in distance per my Fitbit. The adventure exhausted me further, but I managed to check a number of “must-see” landmarks off of my list, so next time I visit Paris, it can be Anthony Bourdain-style, just eating well, drinking nice wine, and relaxing. My series of Selfies in Front of Notable Parisian Landmarks includes the Eiffel Tower, the pyramids at the Louvre (no time to go in, and it was closed anyhow), Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, the Tuileries, and the Musee d’Orsay. If I’m making a bad face in any of those photos (I’m not going to post them all here), it’s probably because someone is harrassing me about donating to the deaf mutes again. Who thought that in Paris it’d be the locals demanding to know if I spoke English!

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Is that an antenna sprouting out of my head, or is it the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair?

Fortunately, since my trip was so brief, I didn’t get adjusted to Paris time, so I wasn’t jetlagged upon my return. I flew out Monday evening, returned on Thursday afternoon, and made it into the office on Friday no problem.

More importantly, at least as far as this blog is concerned, the trip didn’t affect my race performance. Walking all around Paris helped refresh my legs after the 50k to Rock ‘n Roll Marathon debacle, so although my springs still weren’t 100% springy on Sunday for the Runners Marathon of Reston, I felt much better and managed a time less than 1:00/mile off of my PR. Given that my training got a bit derailed by the icy winter (and I’m not as painfully thin as I was when I ran the PR), I’m quite happy with that result. Since RMR is so very small, my time was still good enough for second place in my age group!

I love that the race is small. The logistics are a dream: I park in the parking lot of the high school where the race starts, and can leave without issue immediately after I’m done. No crowds. No depending on Metro to run enough trains with enough cars to accomodate the increased traffic during what otherwise wouldn’t be peak hours. It’s one of the few races for which I’d actually consider doing race-day packet pickup since it wouldn’t be a madhouse and I wouldn’t be stressing. Water stations are served by an abundance of friendly volunteers. (I’m looking at you, Rock ‘n Roll Marathon.) There are even finishers medals. Just perfection. I hope it never, ever gets big. (Oh darlin’ don’t you ever grow up, don’t you ever grow up, just stay this little…)

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Showing off my finisher bling from the Runners Marathon of Reston.

However, despite it being officially spring, my race day wouldn’t be complete without some weather-related misery, and Sunday certainly delivered. Temperatures hovered in the low 20s all morning, a biting cold that was worse than the six-degree start I experienced at Hashawha. I started cold and stayed cold. At one point I was convinced that the tip of my left middle finger had actually fallen off inside my glove, but I’m crazy enough that I wasn’t concerned enough to stop running. It’s a race and that’s just a flesh wound! As it turns out, I hadn’t lost any digits. It was so cold (How cold was it, Hope???) that at the mile 12 aid station, I spat out the contents of my cup, thinking I’d been handed a cup full of glass. As it turns out, it was a cup of water in which a thin sheet of ice had formed and broken as the cup was passed to me, mixing into the water like so many shards of glass. I’ve had cups frozen into ice cubes, but never frozen to this glass-like state before. It was pretty freaky at the time.

My Adidas Ultra Boosts were my constant companion during the Paris trip, so expect a review of those sometime in April…hopefully. For now, au revoir!

Slow Recovery

Each of my runs in the immediate aftermath of the Hashawha Hills 50k-Rock ‘n Roll DC gauntlet has felt as bad as the worst parts of those races felt. I’ve only gone for a few short jaunts and from the start each has felt like I’m out of gas and have already run 20 miles. Not fun. However, I’m learning an important lesson: I can stack road races like a maniac (though that isn’t a goal of mine anymore), but I can’t run an ultra so close to another long distance race. It’s entirely too draining. Ultras are beasts that must be respected. I can’t slay the dragon without getting burned a little. I’ll get through this slow recovery and be a better person for it, but it’s very frustrating wanting to run long without suffering or short and fast without praying for death and not being able to.

My Nathan Minimist Hydration Vest Stinks

IMG_7099After two ultras and countless training miles over 15 months of service, my Nathan Minimist vest stinks. I mean it, it really reeks. When I strapped it on this morning over clean running clothes, I had to check myself — had I grabbed a jacket out of the hamper? No, that infernal odor is one with the pack, and probably always will be. It’s only distracting during those crucial moments when I’m wearing it indoors as I get ready to leave; the stink is inescapable. Much of the reflective material on the vest is peeling so I’m afraid to wash it and risk losing those nighttime safety features. So, the stink is here to stay. But with a vest this suited to my needs, I’m okay with that.

Pros:

Value. I scooped this vest on Amazon in December of 2013 for $52.02 before tax and it came with its 1.5L hydration bladder. Out of the box the pack is ready to go, unlike some high end models that require the bladder to be purchased separately.

Lightweight. I get all of the features I need (a zipper pouch for the bladder, a zipper key pocket, an open stash pocket, an open stuff pocket, two chest straps, and a velcro pocket) in a thin, lightweight vest. I haven’t yet even so much as considered overnight runs, so I don’t need a full backpack. I can carry what I need (e.g. Clif Shot Bloks, keys, Imodium, and a rain shell) in the vest and save myself the weight of extra layers of fabric — critical during a long run.

Durable. With the exception of the peeling reflective elements, this vest is in fantastic shape. No tears or stretching/warping in the fabric. The velcro still sticks and isn’t fuzz-encrusted, and the zippers operate smoothly.

Comfortable. In addition to not weighing me down over the long haul, the soft shoulder strap material doesn’t chafe. I wouldn’t recommend wearing this vest without a shirt since the chest straps would probably be rough on bare skin, but shirted up, it works great.

Slosh-free. The bladder is fairly quiet normally, but goes into ultimate stealth mode if I turn it upside down and suck the air out until I hit the water before inserting it into the vest. Incessant sloshing is second only to jangling keys in annoyance during solo runs (moaning/huffing and puffing runners during the late miles of a race is the overall most annoying noise while running!), so I’m thrilled that this isn’t an issue with this vest.

Cons:

Fit. It can be tricky to dial the fit in from day to day if I’m dressed differently due to the weather. An improperly adjusted vest is distracting — too tight and it becomes hard to breathe; too loose and it bounces so much that the straw comes loose from its clip and/or strap and starts slapping around.

Straw tastes terrible for the first few months. I mean inhumanly terrible. I don’t turn my nose up at Florida’s funky, swampy tap water when I vacation there, and I found myself having to spit out mouthfuls of water that had spent too long marinating in the chemical-laden plastic of the straw. Just horrid. It’s no longer an issue, but when the pack was new, I started considering buying a replacement bladder.

I couldn’t find the Minimist on the Nathan website, so it may not be available except from specialty retailers, but if you can get your hands on one, it’s a good lightweight option. The 1.5L bladder is too small to go super long without refilling, but I’ve had the good fortune to have access to a route with a water fountain, so that hasn’t been an issue for me. Overall, this hydration vest scores 8/10 for me.

I Specialize in Misery

Four days after the Rock ‘n Roll DC marathon and I’m still feeling snarky. Por ejemplo, actual mean thoughts of mine from race day that are still rattling around in my head:

“Whenever I see someone in a pair of Altras, I have to look up to make sure it’s not Tony Hawk. Those things couldn’t look any more like skate shoes. I don’t care if the model is bounding four feet off the ground in the ads, you can’t convince me that it’s possible to run fast in Altras.”

“Guys, if you’re going to run a race shirtless and you’ve got monochrome black tattoos in all the different quadrants of your chest and back, I’m going to have a really hard time not asking you how your time in Russian prison was.”

The Rock ‘n Roll DC marathon did nothing to dispel my opinion of the Rock ‘n Roll series as the grimiest, most corporate, worst run race series around. Far be it from anyone on the Internet to have an opinion unmolested! But I do so dare. I figure the Rock ‘n Roll DC planning went something like this:

“Hey, DC is a really pretty city. Instead of creating a course that passes by most of the major monuments, let’s run everybody through some ugly parts of Anacostia.”
“Sounds good, but we need to be sure to include lots of pointless out-and-backs and clover loops, people love those. And let’s make it a point-to-point; transportation convenience, especially for out of towners, is overrated.”
“Does five volunteers seem like enough?”
“Ah, four is more like it. You only need four people to pass out water to a crowd of 10,000.”
“Ten thousand? Ha! We’re going to secure a permit for 1,000,000 people so we can be sure to not sell out and make the field as crowded as possible!”
“Muahahaha more money for us!”
“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

Suffice it to say, I’m not running this race again. I mean it this time.

A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have been caught dead saying what I’m about to say: maybe the tutu wearers have got it right. They’re out there racing for the sheer fun of it. Maybe they put in serious training hours, maybe they didn’t, but either way, they’re not taking race day too seriously. Why race if not for fun? Don’t be that guy wearing a sub-4:00 goal pace pinned to the back of his singlet making a huge deal out of stopping to stretch frequently when he’s half an hour behind where he wanted to be to show that “SOMETHING WENT HORRIBLY WRONG.” Don’t let the clock make you miserable like that poor guy.

I always set three goals when I run races so I’m guaranteed to feel like a winner no matter what happens. Goal 1: Usually a reach time goal. Goal 2: A more realistic time goal. Goal 3: Have fun. This isn’t always my format. For the JFK 50 Mile Run, my goals were as follows: 1. Finish without crying. 2. Finish. 3. Have fun. Happily, I managed all three!

It’s important to truly enjoy training because you can’t control all of the variables on race day, you’ve just got to roll with the punches. If something doesn’t go according to plan, you can’t let that derail your entire experience. Find fun out there somehow.

Saturday’s race was a case in point: it poured down rain the entire time, and the temperature hovered somewhere in the low 40s. Far from ideal conditions — I actually got colder during Rock ‘n Roll USA than I did during the Hashawha Hills 50k because I got drenched. In a text message after the race, one of my friends commented that I “specialize in misery.” That’s pretty spot-on, but it’s a different kind of misery from the unhappy guy who missed his goal time. Rather than beating myself up for not putting up a certain time, my brand of misery lies in the tough race day conditions that I endure. When I sign up for a race, I’m committed to running it, regardless if the forecast includes rain, sleet, or frigid temperatures. As it happens, the nasty race day conditions that make other runners quit or stay in bed, have popped up a number of times for me so I’ve had the opportunity to prove to myself over and over that I’ve got no quit in me. That’s often a miserable experience, but it’s a life-affirming one, and fun in its own way. However, make no mistake: I do not think I’m a badass for running long distances and running them in lousy weather. I’m just a runner, and these experiences, although they demonstrate the depth of my grit and determination, are more humbling than anything else.

Even though I was not a fan of the race (despite getting the aforementioned satisfaction out of it), I’m not above showing off the finisher medal.

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So Here We Are Again

I promised myself after the 2013 Rock ‘n Roll USA Half Marathon that I’d never again run a Rock ‘n Roll race in DC. It’s pretty much the grimiest, most corporate race series around, not to mention too crowded and understaffed.

Fast forward to late 2014. I’ve just finished the JFK 50 Miler (Do I think running a 50 miler makes me special? I’d love to say no, but the distance magnets on the back of my car would probably give me away.) and in a rush of good feeling (RUNNING IS AWESOME, MUST RUN ALL THE RACES!) I signed up for the 2015 Rock ‘n Roll USA Marathon. So here we are again. Below is a frankly pretty lousy snapshot of some of the gear I’ll be wearing or leaving in my car tomorrow. (I don’t think you need to see my underwear, we’re not that close yet, Internet.)

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The waterproof phone arm band setup is pretty unique, as is my preference for Gold Bond Friction Defense over BodyGlide (that stuff is so sticky and so expensive — not everything sold at running specialty stores is better!), so I might post more in-depth about those at some point, but now I just need to hop in bed since I’ve got an early start tomorrow. Oh how I long for low-key races!

Guess Who’s Back

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Would you believe me if I told you one of these was a men’s pair? It’s true. Guess which one.

Shoe of the year right here in the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante, by the way. Probably the best shoe I’ve ever run in, come to think of it, and that’s really saying something given my massive collection. Stop what you’re doing and buy a pair. Full review coming soon. I’m basically crying with joy at having acquired a second and third pair before people catch on and they get scarce. So serious!

In other news, I ran a brutal 50k on February 28, 2015. Ultra running is like fishing in that the stories of adventure and peril get taller just as the fish that got away in anglers’ stories get bigger over time. Well, here’s the race report to check my facts: Hashawha Hills 50k Race Report
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I faced treacherous snow and single digit temperatures en route to earning my coveted finishers mug. 43 of my fellow 96 starters weren’t so determined or so lucky.

I’m really jazzed about running in the mild spring weather, so expect more blog activity in the coming weeks.