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!