Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Connection Between Running and Facial Hair

(Currently I am training for my first mountain
 marathon and it just feels right to have a
mustache - my wife says it's my face
and begrudgingly accepts it.  She
secretly love its even if she doesn't know.)
I was talking with a man the other day who shaved his mustache of thirty years under the pressure of his children's wishes.  Besides not recognizing him at first and wondering how he could keep such a static facial expression of himself, this discussion got me thinking about a topic dear to my heart: growing facial hair.

I suppose it all started in seminary when a thought grew into my head that I should grow a beard, and not just any beard but a beard worthy of my current quest in life.  Thus began a long and strange affair into the art of growing and sculpting facial hair.

One thing I noticed almost immediately was that I felt as though my personality slightly changed depending on the facial hair I wore.  Subtle changes that allowed me to also to toy around with redefining who I was as a person from time to time.

This was the process of how growing facial hair became intertwined with my running.  I remember distinctly the conversation with my brother Bryan.  "We are getting ready to run our first marathon. The Memphis marathon is in early December.  Don't you think we should have beards?"  You can imagine the in depth conversation that followed with many ins-and-outs.
(This shot of my brother and dad shows the glory of the
chops.  One of my favorites!)

A few years later as we trained for the Boston marathon we had a similar talk. "You know Boston is in April and the beard just does not feel right."  And to the chagrin of our wives one of us said, "I am thinking mustaches."  So we grew some monstrous mustaches and we ran out butts off in the pursuit of our Boston Unicorn.

It may seem strange but the growth of random facial experiments has now become an intricate part of mine and my brother's running.  Mustaches, beards, chops, and even being clean shaven have become a part of being a Baddrunner!

(In absence of finding a good shot with
a beard I'll add the Boston mustache
marathon run shot.  It was a rough day
but who's mustache looked better?)
It does not always make sense when the call of the Beard or the Stache suddenly calls upon us.  At times the Beard will come forth during summer.  The Stache, no matter how awesome or often worn, still holds suspicion and doubt for guys our age to wear.  But much as we run, we grow our facial hair as we feel it is appropriate.

Just as often people bluntly, with a look as though there is something wrong with me will ask, "Why do you run?" Similarly people wonder about the facial hair. As with running those who learn to love facial hair understand in a way that those who do not cannot fathom.

I suppose at this point running is not necessary for my love of crafting what my face grows, but it certainly does still help me to have an excuse for why I am growing it when explaining to my wife.
(I was looking for one where the beard had actually reached
a more respectable status but this will have to do. This trail
that runs alongside the DC canal is nice!) 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mustache Mountain Running

(I cannot even mask my pain. How great it was to reach
the top but the way up really did...hurt.  Pearl Izumi -
we put their name to the test and these amazing trail
shoes passed with flying colors!)
I've rarely run mountains and I've never had a Lady Gaga song stuck in my head while running.  But this week gave me both.  I was "on the edge of glory," and literally running on the edge of mountain trails designed for hiking.

I have now done three runs with Ben.  Ben is an ultra-runner who loves to do hills and mountain running.  Even in my minimal mountain running, I have never done anything like what I did in the past few days.

The soreness was already somewhat there after a decently long hike the first day in Queenstown with my wife, Miriam, and Gordon.  Then I went on the first run Ben had convinced me to do.  "It's only a 10k loop basically."  And he did not lie as we were back to the apartment in around six to seven miles.

But after the first few ascents up this mountain and I was hurting.

Breathing hard, my heart wondering what game I was playing, my quads weary after a mile of uphill, it was only my hardened will from years of running that kept me going after Ben, and slowly I will add.

(The views really do make it worth all of the fuss.  I mean, it's not that easy
to just stop and see something like this when I'm running around town.
There are towns that have these views but pretty rare.)
Then we descended... I. Have. Never. Seen. A. Man. Run. Downhill. Like. That.

I cannot explain the feeling of shock I had when Ben set off down hill at a reckless and obscene pace.  Roots, rocks, trees, and other obstacles jutted into the steep path I barely made it up, and Ben is actually having fun descending at what I deemed to be a "I want to die or be injured badly" sort of pace.  Worse yet, it's his favorite part.

We finished the run, him waiting for me at various places on the way up and down, and already with our jog back through town he is talking about tomorrow's run... uh, what?  He is describing the same run we just did only going past all that and to the summit of the mountain above.  Damn.

Somehow I started the run the next day with him to summit the mountain Ben Lomond.
(Here is Ben in all of his crazy - shamefully waiting on me to catch up)
My quads were already insanely sore and I seriously doubted the adventure. And honestly I did more walking fast while climbing than running because I just could not make my legs go. How did I make it up? It took every trick I know.  It even took Lady Gaga in my head, oddly enough helping me to enjoy the views even more with

In just over two hours we summited (around 6.2 miles up - my Garmin had a bad day) and rested briefly.  I doubted my body would be able to safely descend, especially because I knew now how Ben liked to do it.  Somehow the stillness of the mountain and peaceful lack of wind only further made me wonder - I could hear my heartbeat smashing against my ears and head.

We began our descent.  My body happily surprised me, and outside of my two adductor muscles
(It was pretty sweet watching as the other guy would
disappear into the cloud.  Here Ben took my camera
and got a shot of me ascending out of a cloud!)
cramping up routinely and a necessary stretch break to make them release, somehow I found myself enjoying downhill running/controlled falling.  Not enjoying it, but falling in love with it. How strange?

The view.  The still air.  The feeling of summiting.  The exhaustion.  The dampness that clung to us as we ran through clouds.  The risk.  The strange enjoyment of moving past fear and into thrilling excitement.  Quick stepping.  Rock leaping.  Heaving clean air.  The few faces of hikers going up as we screamed past them going down.

I've always had trouble trusting my body after that first major injury.  The injury.  It changed everything.  Limits decreased and the body was proven mortal.

This week I can honestly say that I have never been more happily surprised by my body's response to pain and endurance.  I asked so much of it, especially in ways for which it was not prepared.  Maybe tomorrow I'll pay, but for now the soreness of the summit feels amazing.  The new love for flying downhill is too real.

Perhaps the trails and I will have a new sort of love affair, one that the roads has deemed impossible. Maybe that's fine with me.  I'll tell you one thing, roads have rarely offered me the breathtaking views and wonderful joy that running these trails in the mountains of Queenstown bathed us in this week.
(It's always hard to capture how steep hills are in a picture. The lower
climb and descent was equally as beautiful but in a more woodsy way)

Ben is crazy and, as I told him, he should come with a warning label, but he has somehow exposed me to a new joy within running.  I will either be immensely thankful in a few years.... or broken.  But I am signing up today for the mountain marathon that traverses much of the same mountain ranges.

I just can't help myself.  "I'm on the edge of glory, and I'm hanging on a moment of truth."  Just maybe that truth is that my body has a lot of surprises left in it.  Maybe yours does too!  Wouldn't it be amazing if post aged 33 running eclipsed the accomplishments of pre aged 23 running?!  Maybe I really am on the edge of glory.

I might just fall off... but I'll be running that edge to see just how far it goes.
(Ya so I wasn't joking about maybe not having the energy to safely make it down...)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Losing Gracefully

What is racing if not a gamble?  We control as many factors as we can including training, attire, routine, sleep and nutrition but in the end we roll the dice and try our chances.  Sometimes we make ourselves vulnerable and fail.  It leaves us feeling ashamed and bitter.  That's the down side of the gamble, when things don't go as planned.  Right now in Memphis, TN a lot of runners are feeling cheated by things that are out of their control (if you haven't heard the marathon was just cancelled due to weather.)  The big question is...What's next?

Throughout my years as a competitive runner I have set many goals and one thing that I am very accustomed to is Failure.  Falling short is what we do.  We push are bodies as far and as hard as they will go and eventually they fail us.  Every once in a while the dice roll the right way and we find fulfillment, but more often than not we are found wanting.  The few glimpses of success is what keeps us coming back for more like legitimate junkies.  Tomorrow we will lace up the shoes again and seek a new adventure.  We miss the mark for reasons out or our control.  Weather might even keep us from ever reaching the start line. But we will roll the dice again!

You don't have to like failure, but you have to learn to accept it.  Complaining now will not help you the next time you're facing the giant.  It's time to learn any lessons that might come from your current set back and scan the horizon for the next obstacle.  Tomorrow I plan to shrug off any cancelled expectations and go out for a run.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Rubbing is Racing

I have been very humbled by my running over the past few years as my speed and recovery have begun to fade.  This led to a bit of frustration as I continued to race but expected the same results from when I was 25.  Not to say that I am old or washed up at 31, but I've learned to set new goals that are not always based on time or place.  Two things that I have been focusing on in recent races or workouts are Running Smooth and Competing.  These are great goals because they are relative to each person and can even be different for each run.

Some days my smooth is 8 minute pace and some days I can work in some speed and still keep my stride together.  This is also why I have quit following a rigid workout schedule.  Some days my body is not going to respond and I think it's foolish to push it hard on those days and expect results.  So I shoot from the hip and do quality when my body feels awake.  As long as I can keep it Smooth.  Of course the flip side to this is that I'm being lazy or weak by not following a workout plan and pushing myself more.  I think I'm fine with that as well.  My real goal is to enjoy running and stay fit.  I've followed enough rigorous training schedules while competing in middle school, high school and college to get my fill.  Now I'm just trying to be Smooth.

Competing can also be relative.  Some days you're competing with yourself and others you're rubbing elbows with your rivals.  I hate running a race and feeling like I have no control of the outcome.  On those days I hit one pace right off the gun and just suffer through the discomfort.  Good races are when I'm mentally engaged in what is happening around me.  I'm talking to my body and running the course effectively.  I have had several of those days in the last few weeks including the Memphis Turkey Trot.  This year's course was harder than most, especially the first half.  So I let the leaders go out hard and beat each other up.  I think I was in 12th place at the 2 mile mark and finished 4th overall.  Along the way I passed some very respectable area runners, three of which I had never beaten before.  I kept Smooth, in control and Competed.  It came down to a lively finish at the end as well (picture below, but kind of blurry.)  It was a fun day and not because of my place or time, but because I wasn't a victim to the race.  I influenced the outcome and Competed.

Enjoy the run and don't be afraid to compete.  Stay smooth my friends!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Post Run Chill

There is no better feeling than having just finished an early morning run and having that one "in the bank" so to speak.  A quick little jaunt with my new running buddy in some beautiful weather - fabulous.

I just love it.  Kicking back and propping up my new Pearl Izumi socks my brother Bryan sent me.  I popped two ibuprofen for the sore knee and started my rigorous daily hydration.  The sun is beginning to warm the room and my mind is at ease knowing it's a good day because it's a day of running.

Bryan always used to talk about silencing his running demons through his  daily running.  The idea being that if he did not run at all, or did not run far enough, he would be tormented internally - entire days ruined by the absence of a nice run.

Running just makes me feel right.  Other physical activity will due in a pinch, say if I'm too busy to run thanks to a super long day of hiking or something like that.  But nothing substitutes for a good run.

The rhythm of feet hitting the ground.  The affects it has on the body and mind.  The chance to think through whatever is going on in my life.  There's truly something special about the whole process.

Lately on my runs I've been thinking about runs long past - people, places, events, particular races, certain competitors, and the lot.

The other day I was thinking of some good friends who came to run with me at Samford, the younger guys.  It was a long run and my mind wandered through the outcomes of their experiences at the school as runners, which for the most part ended poorly mostly due to some issues that arose with the program.  It was a confusing time for everyone on the team.  As I ran it seemed as though I could see more clearly into the past and I did not like how I saw my part in the whole process.  I saw who I should have been for those younger guys and my heart broke a little bit.  I suppose there were distractions - my personal pursuits to become a better runner, school itself, life, and I'm sure I was way too focused on a girl at the time.  It was painful to think of the team as it should have (could have) been and to see my lack of focus as the leader at the time failing them.  I expressed this to one of them recently and he aptly said, "Hindsight is 20/20."  True enough.

It's not that it's about a pity trip into the past though.  For me it's about literally running into the future and not making the same mistakes, while at time same time trying to account for the past.  Running and my running mentors have given me much.  I have given back a lot and am quite proud of many moments where running has been an opportunity for me to pour back into others.  I think this one just sticks with me because I love the guys I ran with at Samford.  I loved running there.  We could have done better, not just in running but in our lives as a team.  I hope those who look back on those days linger in the same nostalgic euphoric state that I do as I recall it as a whole.  Most days I miss the runs - the dinners - the laughs - the team.  What a great group of guys.

Eventually I would like to start another blog as a place where as runners we can all post to share our experiences - our stories that come from running.  Could be really cool.  Not yet though.  For now, keep running and keep on encouraging others to stay in motion!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

New Zealand Running

It's been too long since the last post on this blog and we are about to ramp it up.  Fortunately this is not because we were injured or not running, though I'm sure we were injured a few times during the gap of posts as that comes with running.  We have just been negligent, but that all ends now.

(Upon moving here we lived in a house provided by the hospital for the
first few weeks.  When I ran down the street for my first run this is what
I saw.  I was so overjoyed that I almost felt the salty discharge of a tear...
almost.  So nice)
 My wife and I have moved to New Zealand in a commitment to stay for at least one year (you can click here to see a blog totally committed to that - running makes its way into posts at times).  This move was a big deal, and just one of of the many things that came along with it, was leaving my running community behind.  For the past three years we lived and worked in Norfolk, VA, and that move was hard enough in the running department.  Yes I got to meet new people and yes I got to run new runs, but my brother and I had done quite well with the running community in Memphis. Not to mention my main running partner on a day in day out basis was my brother who still lives in Memphis.  I have tried to get him and his wife to move wherever we go but they seem to have their own thing going on - selfish.
(some of these runs are breathtaking)

Since moving here my running has taken an upswing.  There were some pretty good moments in Virginia where my running started to approach the level I had kept it at in Memphis, but then a weird injury to my abductor (I think that's the right spelling) on my left leg crept up and really waylaid me.  Through all of the massage therapy, exercises, and stretching it persisted, even when I finally committed to total rest (I hate total rest).  It was not until I started doing Yoga twice a week that my leg slowly began to loosen up for me.  There are a few stretches we did that just absolutely hit it.

Anyway, while it still bothers me a little bit (especially if I do not do any Yoga), I'm back and running to a certain extent and enjoying some nice runs.  While I am trying to take my training pretty easy as I gradually work back into some real mileage, we have finally met a few runners in the area and other runners always encourage you to get out there more.  Just this past Monday morning I went to run with a guy that my wife works with at the hospital. He's an ultra runner from England.  

(There is a lot of water and trails that move in and around it)
Let me pause there.

I'm not an ultra guy.  The furthest I have run is 26.2 miles a few times.  And I will be honest, the idea of running some of the runs these folks do has always seemed just a little bit stupid to me, but one tries to keep an open mind right?  I agreed to go out and run with Ben as long as he knew ahead of time I was not going to do anything longer than thirteen miles.  I ran a half marathon a week and a half ago, and though I'm feeling great both of my knees have been acting up in different ways.  Having never talked to Ben we drove out to do this run, Sarah riding along so she could do a walk while we ran.  As we drove we got to know each other a little bit and we both asked probing questions to see what sort of run we were in store for that day.  Ben is a really honest guy and my favorite comment was one he dropped before we even made it out of his driveway, "Well we are going for a nice easy run.  Not competitive.  But let's be honest.  We are both guys and you know that it's going to be competitive - it always is."  He said all of this with a smile and I appreciated the truth in his comment.
We worked our way South to a town called Bluff where there is a nice park of trails that go up, around, and down a pretty good set of hills.  Ben explained that as he was trying to get back into ultra shape and that he needed to do some good hill work. Apparently most of these ultra runs go through mountains.  The route that he had picked for today was just a six mile run but I had been walking out in this area with my wife before.  I knew these hills and from what he explained I was not looking forward to some of the run right off the bat.  It has been a long time since I ran any proper hills and the last time was a short trip in Colorado where I ran some hills I was not prepared for in any degree.  This day was a little different but not entirely.
(this is the only shot from the park we actually run on Monday - you can
never tell how steep hills are in pictures!)

We started off and Ben took an immediate right up the only trail in this park that Sarah and I had not done already.  Well let me just tell you it goes pretty straight up.  I've not done too many runs before that without warm up or anything shoot for a hill that is steep enough I am using all of my mental tricks just so that I keep in motion.  But we made it through the first hill and Ben shot, and when I say shot I mean he was rolling, down the first few downhills. We were running so fast downhill I thought I was going to end up in the trees, once especially. But a few good adjustments and I was enjoying the raw speed of these down hills - maybe not quite as much as Ben but it was fun.  I'm not sure I've ever run down hills as fast except for in races, and I've never liked it in races as I sort of lose control at times.
(I have not been able to do much running around Queenstown yet but
have hit one or two.  Plans to do more - look at this place!?)
We came out of the hills and had a little reprieve momentarily but the next hill I had gone up before and it was by far the worst.  As we started up it I joked to Ben, "I've got to get you talking," as I could barely breathe, "what's your life story?" He laughed and we kept chugging along. At one point I realized in my effort to keep close to him because of how tired I was he might think I was trying to push the pace. Crap, at that exact moment it was the last thing I wanted. So I risked speaking and explained I was just keeping close so I would not drop behind. After the run was over we laughed about that because at about that same moment he said he thought, "Dang, I guess Brett wants to go faster."  Glad I said something.
(When Breakaway made this shirt I had already done
quite a bit of running globally but had no idea how
much more was in store - running around the world
has been quite a joy.  It's such a fun way to see a new
place.  You notice so many more things that way.)

Overall it was a great run and on the downhills or in betweens we were able to talk quite a bit about running. While I would not say I am sold on the sort of distance running that Ben does, I am supremely interested in the amazing runs and sites he can see simply because of the distances he can run at one time. They have many different treks you can do in New Zealand and there are nine called the Great Walks. Most take two to three days to hike but Ben can run most of them out AND BACK in a day.  What? Now that is pretty cool.  We have signed up to do three of the Great Walks so far with definite plans to do a fourth, and let me tell you it can get just a little bit expensive and time consuming. If I could get myself into a little bit better shape for longer distances and this allowed me to experience some of these hikes, with a camera of course, in the way that Ben is talking about...well I might get a little excited. Who knows? It's a little bit early in the conversation and there is much thought that needs to be put into it. For now my main concern is the soreness in my knees.  It seems a little bit crazy to think about taking my long runs even longer when my knees are complaining about the kind of running I've been doing.

But maybe.  Perhaps this ultra running is just what I've been looking for at this stage in my life.  I'll tell you one thing - running 5ks is something I just need to stop doing.  I am not able to enjoy the times I'm turning out, my body seems to tighten up like I just ran sub 15 minutes, and no matter what I tell myself my mind will just not allow me to go run one for fun.  Maybe running longer will actually save me from myself.  I know one thing - I love to run.  I've had a massive IT band surgery to continue it.  I've gone through all of the tough collegiate miles.  I've even given it up, tired of injuries, only to have my brother resurrect the passion for it deep inside.  It's a part of me and I'm going to keep running as long as I can.  When my body refuses to run I'll fall in love with hiking (which I already like), assuming it can still do that.

Who knows where the next path leads but for now I'll be running it!