Winter 13.1

We signed up for it last year, but alas, it snowed a ton and it was canceled.  I guess that is part of the risk when you sign up for a night race which is held the last weekend of January in Indianapolis.  My brother Mike and I are always on the hunt for good trails here in the Midwest and this year, Eagle Creek delivered!

My brother Mike was with me (insert photo of us at the race here).  You would think there would be some convenient way for us to always carry a camera so we can capture these moments.  Maybe someday they can integrate one into a phone perhaps!  Anyway, we were both there and it was great.  This was Mike's first official half marathon.  I say official because he's done one by himself because he's hardcore like that.  You can see his race recap HERE.

Waiting at the starting line is always fun.  Seeing people's gear choices and feeding off of their energy is well worth waiting for the race director to start you off.  Everyone seemed excited and relieved that the temperatures weren't any colder.  Mike and I handed off our warm jackets to our step-father, Mike Young, who was there to support us, and then we were off.

I started slow as I know my tendency is to always go out too fast then burn out.  Plus my training up to this point had not been all that spectacular, so the goal was to take it easy and have fun.  I settled into a comfortable pace behind a young couple and I used their headlamps to light my path, reserving my batteries for later in the race when the sun had completely disappeared.  The girl I was following did a good job pointing out the roots I should watch out for by tripping over them.  She eventually ate it and I went around them (after making sure she was ok of course) and then continued on my way employing my own headlamp.  

When you sign up for a winter race, it's almost disappointing if there is no snow.  But, somewhere around mile 4 I believe, it started snowing.  Running in the snow with a headlamp is sort of like driving in the snow with your brights on.  It's kind of mesmerizing but at the same time peaceful.  

As I completed my first lap of my 2 lap adventure, runners became sparse.  I was running alone for most of the second lap, which is always nice.  The second time around I was comfortable with the course having noted the rooted and muddy sections from the first lap.  Though, the muddy sections were now a bit more frozen.  My lack of training became more apparent the second lap.  I took some moments to walk and eat some energy beans (which were frozen despite the lady at the running store's recommendation).  Last thing you want on a cold winter run is frozen beans...

Somewhere around mile 10 I got lapped by the folks running the marathon.  They looked fresh and were encouraging as they passed.  I rounded my favorite section from the first lap.  The section in which there were some trees down and you had to cross a little creek.  This section was mentally demanding which made for a good distraction from some of the negative thoughts floating through my mind.

I could hear the finish line music and the race director over the PA announcing peoples names as they crossed.  I crossed the finish line in somewhere around 2 hours and 40 minutes.  I'm happy with my time considering the trail conditions and training leading into the event.  The course was great and it was good to share another running event with my brother. I look forward to our next adventure together!

2015 Winter Night Trail Half Marathon (Mike's Recap)

We get a lot of inspiration from one another and we push each other to take our running to the next level.  Even though my older brother Mike lives over 200 miles away, running serves as a good medium for us to stay close.  We recently did a half marathon together and it was great!  I haven't quite finished (or really even begun for that matter) with my recap, but Mike has!  So I'm posting this on his behalf and I know you will enjoy reading about this adventure!  Here is what Mike has to say"

Eagle Creek Park
January 31, 2015

The 2015 Winter Night Trail Half Marathon (WNTH) was my second real trail run and what I’d like to call my first real trail adventure.  My first trail run was a 5k.  30 minutes and done.  This one was a shade over three hours.  I had run a half marathon on my own in November on flat roads so this would be only my second try at the distance and it was on much different terrain.  My training between November and the WNTH wasn’t what I had hoped for but I was banking on a couple runs around 8 miles, short runs of 3 miles and the muscle memory from the November Half to get me through.  This would be my second attempt to run the WNTH.  Last year my brother, Nick, and I signed up for the race but due to the early arrival of my son and bad weather, we didn’t make it.

The weather this year was just about perfect, 30 degrees at the start and no wind for most of the course.  Our step-father, Mike, decided to brave the weather and come out to watch.  Apparently that guy will watch any sporting event, anywhere, in any weather.  Its always good to see a familiar face cheering you on so I was happy he was there.  He also acted as our man servant and held onto our winter coats after we shed them at the starting line.  

The course was a 6.55 mile loop on some pretty nice trails.  Nick and I would run two loops for the Half.

Loop One

The race started in waves.  Full marathoners first, then a couple minutes later the one-hour-per-lap halfers and so on.  I told Nick “good luck” and “have fun” as he took off with the wave in front of me.  I left with the hour and half per lap group.  As soon as we started I hit the “go” button on endomondo and music started playing.  Not what I had planned.  I pulled over and stopped a mere 3 minutes into the race.  I got the music stopped and endomondo going again and I was off. 

The first couple miles were fairly congested with lots of stop and go.  It seemed some of the Quarter Marathoners had started early, but no biggie.  I was planning to take it out pretty slow to start anyway.  Everyone seemed to be having a good time.  Lots of little groups of people running together.  One guy was blasting some tunes for all of our enjoyment.  Watching the string of headlamps wind through the woods was pretty neat.  This part of the course was about 50-50 single track and wider trail, all in good condition.  The first aid station was at about two miles.  I didn’t stop this time.  I was carrying my hand held water bottle with fruit snacks in the pocket.  

After the aid station there were a couple of pretty muddy hills to navigate and then it flattened out on a gravel path with lake on both sides for about a mile.  At this point I was feeling pretty good and still taking it easy, but made a mental note that this would be a good place to pick up the pace on the second lap.  After the lake path it was up a slight incline on a gravel road then back to single track to the next aid station at about mile 4.   In this stretch I passed a guy who was walking.  He had turned an ankle and was dropping at the aid station.  My water supply was in good shape so I cruised on through the aid station again.  It was right after the aid that the snow started.  It would snow until the end.  Never really heavy, but enough to start accumulating on the trail.  

After that it was more nice single track through the woods.  I was feeling good overall but noted that my left knee was a bit tender below the kneecap.  It’s usually my right knee that flares up on longer runs, so this was new.  I didn’t think too much of it and assumed it would settle down like my right knee usually does.  A toe on my left foot was hurting a bit too.  That’s not uncommon on long runs so I didn’t think too much of it either.

There was a significant change in terrain on mile 5.  The trail went from nice smooth single track to very narrow single track with lots of small trees on both sides.  There were several trees across the trail, two small stream crossings, a couple bridges and stairs.  It was my favorite part of the course!  I had a blast through that part.  I bounded over the down trees as people gingerly climbed across.  I jumped straight down into and out of the stream crossings.  This was some real trail running and I loved it!  Mile 6 to the start/finish was back to nice smooth single track.  

After mile 5 I noticed that now both my knees were hurting, except on the downhills.  Maybe I had a little too much fun that last mile.  It was at this point that some thoughts crept in about stopping after one loop.  Were my knees going to hold up for another loop?  Was there a risk of permanent damage?  I decided that if I had to walk the entire second loop I was going to keep going.  I wasn’t here to “race” anyone, not even the clock.  I was here for an adventure and it would be one whether I could “race” or not.  I was actually looking forward to some more solitude on the trail.

Loop Two

After a quick stop at the port-a-potty, a quick chat with Mike to see if he’d seen Nick (he had missed him), I started the second loop.  A quick self-assessment revealed that mentally I felt great and my energy level was good.  My knees were a little sore and my toe was tender but not really bothering me.  A little self-massage on the quads once in a while seemed to help my knees.  The plan would be to pick up the pace on the flats and slight uphills, bomb the downhills and power hike the steep uphills.

Loop 2 was much less congested.  After crossing the line there were only two people in sight in front of me.  After only about half a mile the knees were really starting to bother me on anything but the downhills.  Even going down steps was difficult.  I made my way to the first aid station where I refilled my water bottle and grabbed some trail mix.  I walked while I ate the trail mix and slipped my way up and down the muddy hills.  Unfortunately one guy fell right in front of me pretty hard.  He got up and moved to the side of the trail.  He said he’d be alright so I motored on.

The gravel path through the lake was next.  I started to pick up the pace as planned and passed several people who all had encouraging things to say.  Then two things happened.  First, cutouts in the heel of my shoes started to fill up with rocks and snow.  This happened last winter but I didn’t really think about it before this race.  Apparently the cut outs are there to save weight, and fill up with rocks and snow.  Second, my knees started hurting so bad that I had to stop and walk. I massaged my quads, IT bands and knees.  The people who had just encouraged me as I blew by them passed me in silence.  Frustration set in for the first time.  Just minutes ago I was ready to blast through the second loop.  Now I was bent over at the side of the trail rubbing my quads as two women jogged by talking about their plans for the next day.  Power walking didn’t hurt so I did that for a while but I had to scuff my heels every 45 seconds to get the snow out.  I even sat down at one point and grabbed a stick to dig a large rock out of one of my shoes.  Why, Mizuno, why???

It was walk/jog/scuff heel/bomb downhill/repeat from the lake to the next aid station.  I was feeling a bit down.  I grabbed more trail mix from the aid station, crossed the road, hit the trail and then stopped.  Dead end.  Where’s the trail?  I walked left and right.  I don’t see it!  At this point I figured I was a little out of it, so I’ll just keep going and I’ll see the markers.  Nope.  “Hey!” yelled an aid station worker, “over here.”  He was pointing to the real trail about 20 feet to my left.  Very well marked, I might add.  I had wandered into some sort of drainage bed.  I laughed at myself, told him thanks and continued on my walk with my trail mix.  That episode lightened my mood a bit and I reminded myself I was here for an adventure, running or walking.  The next mile a group of about five of us traded places back and forth as we made our way quietly along the trail.  Everyone seemed to be in about the same boat; tired, hurting a little, but not quite ready to be done.  At one point we all, like lemmings, got off course for a couple minutes on the wrong trail but found our way back.

Our group broke up and I was alone again.  I turned on my music for the first time on purpose and one of my favorite Christian songs “How He Loves” by David Crowder Band was the first song up.  Man I needed that song right then.  If I could have, I would have started sprinting, but the knees weren’t as pumped up by the song as I was so I just walked faster. 

The last couple miles may have been the best part of the night.  Even though I couldn’t run without pain, I was able to enjoy the time in the woods with good music.  I was able to grimace through the pain to at least jog that last hundred yards across the finish line.  Nick and Mike were there to greet me.  I was a little out of it mentally and relieved to be done.

Overall, it was a great experience.  I got to do another race with Nick which is always fun, even though we didn’t run together. 

What I learned:  1)Mizono Wave Riders are not the best option in snow or on rough terrain. 2) If I’m going to race on trails, I need to train more on trails.  3) I think the knee and toe issues were partly due to lack of training on hills and partly due to improper shoes for the trail.  4) I need a brighter headlamp if I do this race again.  When I was all alone on the trail, I couldn’t see as far or as well as I would have liked.  5) I really like being in the woods, running or walking.        

By: Mike Smith

28th Birthday Run Recap (Better Late Than Never)

Well, another birthday passed (Sept. 23rd) and that meant another birthday run. For those who don't know, for the past 3 years now, on my birthday I have run 1 mile for every year old I am. I can't remember who implanted this thought into my head but it was one that I couldn't shake, I'm drawn to it. It helps me stay motivated and in good running shape throughout the year. This year had new difficulties, new learning experiences and new motivations. It was a really rough one, but I'm glad I kept on with my goal.

Like I said, my birthday run is a way to keep myself running throughout the year. But this year, things went a little unexpectedly. Our little baby Valor was due 5 days after my birthday, but ended up coming 3 weeks prior to my birthday. Kara and I don't ever do anything the easy way either. So what can be 3-4 days in the hospital turned into 2 weeks. A week before Valor was born, Kara's appendix ruptured which required surgery and a difficult recovery process as she was 35 weeks pregnant at that point. The surgery went great! I'm so thankful for the skilled surgeon and God's goodness as a ruptured appendix can often be fatal. Six days after the surgery, while still in the hospital, Valor's heart rate kept dropping and they had to take the baby out. That left Kara with some more recovery to do. Two major abdominal surgeries within six days! I'd rather run 28 miles... This makes my wife one of the toughest people I know to recover from that! All this to say, four weeks from my birthday, I was sitting in a hospital for 2 weeks, anxious about the safety of my wife and son, not sleeping, and definitely not running.

The run began a little later than planned, but in good spirits despite the inconsistent sleep the night before which is typical when adjusting to a new little person in your home. I decided on a route that I had traveled the majority of through other runs in the past several years. But this year, I decided on some path not previously explored. I needed this extra path to make my 28 mile mark, but still, incorporating trail that I had never set foot on was a bad idea. When I got to the new path, somewhere around mile 10, I discovered it to be tall(ish) grass which was a bummer. But, you just gotta see it as an adventure and go for it.

Despite my grassy letdown, the first half went great, making it past the half marathon mark in under 2.5 hours. But my legs were starting to feel the lack of training. My shoes were soaked from running through the tall grass that had not yet spent enough time in the sun to evaporate the dew. Mentally, I was feeling good, happy to be outside on a beautiful day and thankful that the previous month didn't end up in the worst case scenario. So, I sat down to eat a granola bar, and enjoyed the moment.

I was back to the tall grassy section and by the time I got there, the sun chased off the dew, leaving clover grass dry. Now that it was dry, running through it was more pleasant however, the dry clover was inviting to local honey bees. I didn't even notice the bees, or the clover for that matter, until I was already stung. Right on the ankle too! I would have preferred a sting in the face at this point! But, now I noticed the bees and instead of looking around at the beautiful prairie, I was looking down as if navigating technical terrain, careful of every foot placement. The mental chess game begins.

I usually don't have issues with cramping but the bee sting altered my gait a bit, causing some weird additions to my running form. So, more new pains. One of those pains that feels like you need to stretch out your muscles, but that doesn't really help. I got into the pattern of walking for a long while, thinking, "Okay, you can run again," then remembering why I was walking. So the running after mile 16 never went any longer than bursts (slow bursts) of about 100 yards.

So this was by far the most mentally exhausting run I've experienced to date. I had almost convinced myself to call Kara to come pick me up more than once, but part of me knew that she wouldn't anyway. I think what kept me going was something more than making the goal. It was the idea that I wanted to be able to tell Valor about this goal. I want to show him that its good to follow through with your big plans and crazy ideas.

I'm already looking forward to my 29th birthday run. Excited to do some training while pushing Valor in his stroller. I'm excited to see the new adventures that this year has to bring. I am hopeful that they will be less stressful in nature than the previous year but thankful for the lessons learned and thankful to still have my wife with me.

Winter Running

After a few Chicago winters myself and seeing how my brother handles running in the winter, I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that running in the winter really isn't that bad.  I can't use this as a reasonable excuse.  The only reason I get cold is because I didn't dress properly.  Most of the time, I get too hot!  This is also easily remedied by removing a layer.  It takes a few weeks of understanding what you need to wear at 30 degrees and at 5 degrees.

Winter time is usually a sad time of year.  It has a way of forcing us indoors.  But this need not be the case.  I think of Scandinavian countries that embrace the cold.  There is much to be learned from this.  Just because the temperature drops, doesn't mean our routines need to.  If there is a lot of snow, pick up a new hobby of snow shoeing or cross country skiing.  Embrace the winter or move to a warmer location because winter isn't going anywhere.

Photo By: Julia Revitt

In the winter it is easy to lose sight of the reasons why we should stay in our exercise routine.  We can be come conscious and therefore more motivated if we write them down.  Start with the superficial then move into the more meaningful reasons and big goals.  Here are mine:
  • To not get fat.
  • Keep up that tan.
  • Providing space and time to unwind and think.
  • To be an example to my son that doing hard things is rewarding.
  • I would like to complete a 50 mile race within 2 years and a 100 mile race within 4 years.
Set yourself up for success this winter by putting on some extra layers and writing out your motivation for running.  Good luck out there!

Why I Generally Ignore Training Plans

Often times, when I sign up for a race, I get urge to find a training plan. I have never successfully completed a training plan and have given up on the pre-made ones for the following reasons.
  1. Psyched Up For A Second - When you first find a training plan you are excited. You think, "This is what will lead me to my dreams and goals." But after a week goes by, and you have a day that you can't fit a run into and you get bummed. Really bummed. Your training plan looks like another obstacle to traverse. This leads to many days of beating yourself up as you fall short of your scheduled plan. And that's no bueno. 
  2. Because I'm Always Available - Training plans assume a lot. Perfect health, that you don't have a social life, and that you don't like to do things spontaneously. When you have a 10 mile day, but only really have 45 mins to run, for some reason it's easier to scrap the whole day then to just do what you can in that 45 minute window.  Do the 45 minute run, your training plan isn't going to yell at you for going against it, it's just a piece of paper.  Be aware of the inner critic who is talking down to you in these moments.  Choose to ignore that voice.
  3. Put Me In Coach - Many training plans are based off of High School and Collegiate running programs and mentalities. Five days of hard running is just too much for those of us who aren't in college or High School. Interval training? Now we are adding a lot of complexity for guy or gal who is just trying to get in shape and have fun with running.
I've gotten really burnt out trying to follow programs. If you are just starting out, make a goal to run or run/walk for 3ish times a week for about a half hour each time. If you can't run the whole time, that's fine, you will work up to it. You want a plan that empowers you and makes you think, "Ok, I can do this!"

After some experience and understanding of yourself as a runner, make your own training plan. Modify ones you find on the internet and understand that it's just a guideline to help you run, it's not the end all Biblical truth. Running should be enjoyable and challenging. You will be more likely to follow a plan that reflects more fun.


Photo by: Jay Mantri

Romans 5:3-5 (ESV) says,  "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

Let me be a good Biblical Scholar, and take this out of context.  Suffering is actually good for you.  When was the last time you as a good American suffered?  We spend most of our lives avoiding suffering at all costs, but maybe that is at our own detriment.  Endurance, hope, character... these are big things!  Great things!  Maybe we are missing something in our lives when we avoid suffering.  Or even on a lesser scale, difficulty.  The most difficult thing a lot of Americans will do this year is file their taxes.  We are privileged in America to not have to face much suffering or difficulty, unlike other parts of the world.  Maybe this lack of suffering makes our lives feel stale and hollow.  Hollow lives tend to be filled with self inflicted suffering, as if it is built into our DNA.

A life without difficulty.  We will always find ways of filling it with suffering.  Maybe it's no wonder that heroin is on a rise in the suburbs.  Relationship issues can be a great source of self inflicted suffering too.  But maybe in America we don't chose our suffering well.  Our suffering doesn't produce endurance that leads to character and hope.  It leads to destruction.  We don't invite the right types of suffering into our lives.  We ignore our diet, physical and psychological states, and self medicate with TV, alcohol, relationships etc.   

Here's a solution, stick to your diet and exercise!  Suffer in the right way by keeping your negative thoughts to yourself!  Running is a great form of suffering!  It is one that I have found to lead to endurance physically and psychologically.  It encourages a healthy diet and surrounds us by good influences, you know, the ones who aren't into heroin...  If you are running, you will find you have little energy to fight with your significant other.  

Choose the good types of suffering.  You will know it's a good type if it produces endurance, character and hope in your life.

Running Nonsense

Runners often get the question, "Why?" I think for many runners, we are just as surprised by the question as the person who just found out you actually enjoy running. I like to ask people, "what about distance running seems so strange."  The answers vary, but usually are attributed to the time commitment, their own hopelessness of getting into shape, and those who believe that running is actually bad for you.

Time Commitment - I think there are a lot of us who get into our own heads with this one. People naturally avoid things that cause stress and committing to run a couple times a week or signing up for a race can cause stress. To avoid this stress, they don't follow through with the training. Everyone gets touchy when it comes to "me" time. Running is often perceived as something that is going to take away our precious "me" time. What most find, is that running is a great way to energize your day, allowing you to more fully invest yourself in your pursuits. Unless you are trying to break some records, just start out small. Run 1 day a week if that's all you can commit to, it's better than no days a week.

The Hopeless Folks - Some people are so pessimistic about their own health, that they can't avoid but spreading that negativity to others. "Oh, 3 miles, I could never..." and "You ran 31 miles?! I don't even drive my car that far!" Fact is, you can and you could if you would tell yourself a different story about it. "3 miles, I could work up to that." Don't put yourself down, you have the ability to get into shape to do anything, seriously, stop telling yourself no, and start giving yourself excuses why you can.

Running Is Bad For You - Most of these folks have some personal story or have a random fact from some study that they didn't read but heard about on the News. "It's bad for your knees." This is true, if you have crappy form or try too much too fast. Running is a discipline, you need to watch some youtube videos on good running form, like this one ---> Just because you are born with legs, doesn't mean you know how to use them... Don't run when things have some sharp pains, take a few days to rest. "It's bad for your heart."  This is true, if you are running a marathon every weekend at a race pace... don't be that guy.  Start slow, and gain some knowledge about how to run well, that seems to be the key to running for a lifetime.