Friday, March 30, 2007

Race Jitters

What is it about races that give you the jitters? For most us we’ll never win the race or even our age group. Maybe it’s the fact that we train and train through rain, snow, sleet. We are out there when the postman isn’t. We’re out the door at absurd hours of the morning when our rational thinking mind tells us we should be sleeping. We sacrifice lots to gain so little. Or is it little? These small victories, our ‘personal best’ bring out the Walter Mitty in all of us. In our mind we hear every cheer and the winners who finish miles ahead of you don’t really exist. Your race is the 50 feet in front and fifty feet behind some where around two miles to go.

You see I don’t believe in Type ‘A’ personalities. I believe every runner has something deep inside wanting to be their best that day. Whether your name is Gebreselassie or Smith you know that you have trained the hardest your schedule and life permits. Now you put it all out there for the world to see.

You expose yourself and whatever weaknesses you have. You against the clock for the ‘PB’. Superman has no weakness. There is no kryptonite today.

Yeah that’s it . . .jitters? what jitters? . .Bring it!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

What It Takes

There is a DVD released out there called What It Takes. It follows four Ironman triathletes around for a year in preparation for the Kona World Championships. I only remember hearing about it but I believe it follows the lives of Heather Fuhr, Lori Bowden, Peter Reid, and Luke Bell. I’m sure it’s a great documentary but these are top notch world class athletes, so gifted with endurance, speed, and focus that their entire lives are now eat, sleep, and train, repeat. Sure there are injuries to contend with and sponsorship deals to work out. They also have appearances to make and flights to get to on time. Aside from the injuries and the occasional flight I have nothing in common with these folks.

Don’t get me wrong I love my life and would not change a thing. I have a gorgeous sometimes understanding wife and three beautiful kids but my entire athletic career is built around family and job. To that end I don’t have time to train when I would like to, I train when life lets me. My running shoes haven’t seen the sunshine in months. All training must be completed and I’m showered, shaved and ready to go by 7 a.m. when the first child wakes. On some days where long travel is necessary then you wake up even earlier to get your run in. Some weekends you beg your now less understanding wife to drop you off at some point on the way home from a family outing just to get the long run in. As penance for leaving her with three bickering children, God plays his hand. It’s these same drop offs where the heavens open up and a torrent of rain falls down before your feet and into your shoes.

I was stopped by my next door neighbor the other day. Kevin is a twenty something kid renting the basement of his parents place. He is a really friendly guy, who is always quick to say ‘hello’. He’s in construction so I always see him early in the morning loading up his truck or pulling away as I’m coming back from my morning run.

Usually it’s nothing more than ‘Hey’ or the ‘How’s it going?’ but this day he stops me and says, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“Of course not, what is it?” I reply a bit bewildered.

“How do you do it? . . . How do you get up so early and go running? I mean I can barely function driving to work let alone exercise. And you’ve already finished a run. So how do you do it?”

I was a bit dumbfounded by his query. We’ve hardly had a conversation let alone asking a question that runs so deep to the core. I wanted to say something prophetic. I wanted to say something inspirational. But all I could muster was, “If you want something bad enough . . . you have to do what it takes”.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

iPod Inspiration

Magazine art and advertisements are there for a reason. They (the collective advertising media) want to make you think, they want to inspire you and of course buy their products. The magazine is a product in itself, the flashier the photos especially the covers the wider the appeal. You want picture yourself like the person on the cover.

One such cover that made me think every time I picked it up was the back cover of TrailRunner magazine from a few months ago. On it was Monica Scholz winner of Badwater Ultra in the women’s division. First of all there is nothing sexy or alluring about the photo, the woman is on Whitney Portal Road which I’m guessing from the blur of desolate landscape in the background is in the lower section still in Death Valley.

What I find interesting is what she is wearing. Her feet although it doesn’t say it looks like she’s wearing open toed running shoes. Which would prominently display her Injinji running socks (her sponsor)? It looks like she’s running in a skirt, a black one which sounds weird. Maybe it’s a gimmick maybe its not but it does make me think. She of course has on the white hat with flap on the back to protect the neck. She’s got on some nondescript sunglasses which once again makes me think. They aren’t Oakley’s or Bolle or some other sport sunglasses company. These thing look like something my Mom would wear. And lastly she has on her iPod shuffle (old style) complete with sport case.

I guess the reason I study photos like these is because I want to know what these Ultra folks wear to keep comfortable. They wear this stuff not because of sponsorship but because it is the most functional. Badwater is an extreme ultra in that its 135 mile which is long by ultra standards and the searing heat of the Death Valley floor make it cruel and punishing. I would think most of the garb worn for this ultra is ideal only for Badwater: the hat, the open toed shoes, even the sunglasses (who need shades in the forest).

The iPod was a bit of a mystery and I guess if I ever got a chance to interview Monica I would ask her. Why the Shuffle with its flash memory it only has at most 5 to 6 hours of battery life at best. Most people doing Badwater take over 24 hours to complete. My next question would be how often you would listen to your iPod. I don’t care about her playlists that a personal choice and highly subjective. As for myself, I take my iPod on every run whether it’s twenty minutes or three hours that thing is playing in my ears. Sure on occasion I love to hear the sounds of nature especially when I’m in the trails. I love to hear the sound of my dog’s paws and pants. But most times I can’t or don’t get to the trails and its street noise that I don’t want to hear.

So I pose the question, if you train with an iPod are you not training for iPod conditions? Your cadence and rhythm are dictated by what you listen to. Your focus or your state of mental relaxation is often controlled by your iPod. So if it is such an integral part of your being, is wearing an iPod during a race a social faux pas? I can imagine if you’re doing a short 10K or 5K and you are surrounded by happy, social runners then it might be considered rude. But let’s get a reality check here. How much conversation really goes on during a road race? Unless you’re ‘aping’ someone and going stride for stride rarely are you within ear shod of other runners. Even the guy you are pacing off of isn’t going to want to talk except maybe to give you a quick verb and adverb for not taking the pace. (true story)

So in the end you either have to do what you want. I’ve got a race this weekend, a half marathon. Last year it was quite a conundrum the night before the race. The clothing part was easy it was cold race morning so I wore a jacket and toque but the iPod. I didn’t want to seem rude so I put it away. Only at the start line did I see a growing percentage of runners wearing theirs. So this year I’m going to wear my iPod. I going to load it full of upbeat music for before and during the race and maybe even throw in a short podcast. After race I’ll put it away and be social.