Monday, April 25, 2011

Making a Selfish Activity More Selfless: A Run for NF

Running several miles alone on the roads or in the trails makes me feel a bit of remorse at times. I'm spending all this time and energy trying to build a body that can cover long distances quickly, but for what? Am I helping anyone? Am I making the world a better place? I'm a healthy, able, motivated man child, so I often wonder if my labor could be better served by helping others.  It's times like these that I am able to run to solve problems instead of simply running away from them.

As some of you may know, I was planning on running a 12 hour shift at the Relay for Life event on Western Michigan University's campus to raise money for the cause. Due to a few unfortunate changes in the schedule, I wasn't able to pull it off. Due to a poor weather forecast, the event was moved to an indoor venue. This severely limited space and wouldn't allow for me to run or track mileage for my would-be donors(funds were to be raised on a "per lap" basis). I was also struggling with being sick, so perhaps it was for the best.

Last year at Relay, I was able to raise money by being forced into a last minute drag show...yeah. Running in circles for 12 hours sounds like a much less painful alternative. I'm not one to turn down a chance to make a fool of myself, so I had a go at the title of "Mr. Relay."
Does the world really want to see this again? I suppose there is less exposed skin than my usual running attire.

The world has a way of giving us second chances. My good friend Mark Robillard has given me the honor and opportunity to help him raise money for Neurofibromatosis.

Jessica, Mark's niece, was diagnosed with the disease over ten years ago. Mark has done numerous events in order to raise money for research and support for those suffering from this condition. NF is a genetic disease that cause an uncontrolled growth of tumors near cranial nerve VIII, affecting auditory and visual function. Most patients suffer loss of these senses. Jessica is an amazing girl, who has been on our local news, as well as Good Morning America, to raise awareness for others who have NF. Her resilience is something we should all emulate. She's also a talented artist.

Mark's page can be found by clicking this link. The site is quick and easy to use. He's more of a social networking mastermind than I am, so he's quite good at getting the word out. Help us raise money to the courageous people and families who deal with this disease every day.

A flat donation can be made on Mark's page, or we can make this interesting. How many miles am I capable of in 12 hours? I ran 64 last year. Anybody want to set a goal for me, making a donation if I meet it? I'm open to the idea of any challenges, and willing and eager to run hard. Help me bring out the best in myself and raise money to support those who need our help!

Again, this is my alternative to running to raise money for NF. Keep me off the streets and donate!
Left to Right: Austin Williams, Kelly Bosier, Adam Sefcheck, Kelly Frame, Me in my RuPaul costume
(Photos: Abbey Goetz)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sickness be damned

3 miles - Ran to snow. It's April 18th and there's 3 inches of snow on the ground. The steadily busy combination of class/work/class/meetings has me going until about 10pm, so I'll use my day off to run some miles tomorrow. Still feeling sick, but I'm getting pissed enough to try to sweat it out.
4 miles - This cold is knocking the crap out of me. I slept nearly 12 hours and awoke to find freezing rain pouring down. I decided to go do 4 miles anyway. I'm dumbfounded. I can manage to string together 4 miles at an average pace of about 6:30 without much effort, but this hacking cough and fatigue keep me from logging any substantial mileage. The sick, achy feeling seems to subside while running, but I headed home when I couldn't feel my toes-my feet were so cold that I thought my toes were in the wrong toe pockets of my Vibrams.

fact of the day - this spring weather sucks mega ass.


5 miles - From my place to Asylum lake for a couple miles of trails. Not having run long in so many weeks has helped me forget how to go at "ultra pace". The entire run, including some technical trails and climbing a fence, was done at a comfortable 7:30 pace. It feels good to have some spring back in my legs, but I still feel a bit of fatigue, so doubles or hard efforts will have to wait some more. I'll do what I can on each given day and do my best. I don't have the ability or drive to run long during finals prep week, so it will help out scholastically. Planning a long-ish run with Jason Sunday, so , I'll rest up for that.

0.0x10^1 miles. Had a little too much fun the night before and missed the opportunity for a morning jog, which would have been my only available time. It didn't really bother me too much - it was just above freezing and raining...again.

5 miles - 1.5 hours of hiking in the trails at the state park with Samantha. We had fun on a rare sunny day, climbing all the big hills and following our own paths. Checked out the wildlife and enjoyed the views of the lake. We're both really excited to head to Boulder, but being perched on a tree branch at the top of a sand dune overlooking Lake Michigan reminded us that natural beauty is in our own backyard. Being away from the lake almost gives me an anxious, claustrophobic feeling.

36 miles - Achy legs? Chafed ass? Vibram KSO cuts on my feet? Showed up late and stinky to Easter? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Must be long run day. Started at the County Library in Whitehall and ran the bike path/rail trail to Shelby. Long, straight, boring, paved path. The Mind the Ducks 12 Hour is my next race, so I wanted to accumulate some time on my feet. The surface is almost identical to the 1/2 mile loop I'll be on for 12 hours, so it seemed like a good idea to spend 5.5 hours on it.

Yep, I drank a 44oz Mountain Dew Slushie and ate a pack of Zingers midway through the run. I was tremendously bored and wanted to do something to entertain myself.

This run was a bit nostalgic for me. I've been snowmobiling this route since age 6. The rail trail is used to connect different snowmobile trail systems near the lakeshore, and I can't count how many times I traversed this path with my parents and my sister over the years. It doesn't seem as long when your traveling over snow at 90+ mph. The trail is also one of my first testing grounds for aerobic endurance. I biked the trail(plus about 50 more miles back from Muskegon) while training for my first Half Ironman race. On my furthest bike ride to date, I ran out of GU and scraped enough money out of my saddle bag and buy a Sinckers at a gas station and deliriously ride the last 30 miles home. Mistakes were made, lessons were learned, and I gained some grit.

On the path also lies the remnants of Carlton Creek Ironworks, my father's former employer. When the plant finally closed, Dad was working three management positions with a reduction in pay in an attempt to keep the place open. He said there were too many good men working there to let the bastards managing the place run it into the ground. Every time I pass the building and smell the refractory dust, it makes me think of how he smelled when he walked in the door at 1am every day. I'm reminded that my father is my biggest inspiration. He's not too Internet savvy, so he won't read in print that despite all the great role models in my life nobody has ever taught me more about rolling up my sleeves and doing what needs to be done. Shoveling sand next to a cupola full of molten iron isn't glamorous, but it sure as hell put food on the table for my sister and I. Despite his efforts(and those of his co-workers), the foundry closed its doors. Since then, my dad's outlook on life has changed for the better, and I'm glad he's doing something he enjoys a bit more.

Total- 53. Not where I want to be, but I've never heard of anyone being happy after wishing in one hand and pooping in the other, so I'll shut up.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

AM - 3 miles - 1.5 to chem class barefoot and wearing my backpack. The warm weather and naked feet made this short, boring trek less boring. Faced the wrath of the shoe police in the lecture building. It's a sensitivity not unlike that on the very soles of my ever so socially offensive feet. I have to get my feet used to rough pavement, and my reluctantly rebellious side used to getting hassled by the Fuzz. 1.5 home. There's something inherently glorious about hearing a guy in a Hummer yell, "Put some shoes on, you hippie!" as I trot down the sidewalk. I'm not really out to make a statement, just to add some variety to a rather stagnant running regimen. My upcoming change of scenery gives me a strong desire for the unexplored. Taking my shoes off pacifies the urge for the time being.

PM - 7 miles - Stopped off at the Kal-Haven trailhead on my way to work. Did a quick 3.5 miles out, then back to the car. I managed some semi-quick miles, but I'm nowhere near 100% yet. 7:20 ish pace overall. A couple fast ones, a couple slow ones, but a nice time on a flat trail in the woods. All I could hear were birds, wind, and my wheezing and crackling lungs. Beautiful day.

9 miles - Parked on the other end of Al Sabo today. Running from a different launching point broke up the monotony of feeling the same feelings at each mile marker. It was enough to make it more interesting, as was the perfect weather. Ran steadily, but my respiratory tract still isn't up to a tempo effort yet. It was a beautiful day, but I still felt Blah. Gotta keep my head up.

Class from 9-11, work from 12-8, now I sit in the library until it closes. Wednesday just doesn't look like a running day, despite the perfect weather. Too busy fighting off anxiety attacks about my possible failure of chemistry...again.

1.5 miles- Had my Vibrams in my backpack(sealed in a large freezer bag of course) so I could at least get some fresh air on the run home from the library. Its not that I don't trust this shady college town/ghetto scene at 1:00am, but...yeah, that's actually precisely why I ran home. I'm a half-sick, nerdy looking kid with a scrawny runner's build! I'm just asking to be robbed this late at night!

5 miles - I'm feeling better, but hesitant to push it. My legs still feel happy and fresh, but a session of playing in the hills made me hack and cough. I had a decent pace going, but the discrepancy between my legs and my lungs/respiratory tract has me playing it safe. The trails are in great shape and are finally starting to firm up after a long winter in the lowland areas. I used the relaxed nature of the run to do a long overdue loop of observation in my favorite spots at Al Sabo.

5 miles - Got called off work, so I went for an easy run. I wanted the goal to be just to focus on form and try to find a steady pace that felt easy and efficient. I know it's not what you read in all the form lessons, but I feel that there is a cruising speed that people have that is the optimal pace to cover a distance easily. Since the run was fairly short, I opened it up and focused on being smooth. I was breathing heavily, but just kept going with it, not wanting the kick in the balls I usually get when I check the Garmin. Ran a fun route that had me jumping over landscaping rocks, climbing some old stairs made of railroad ties, and sprinting across driveways in traffic(maybe the inherent danger of "suburban running" helped the pace). I did a cooldown mile from the Wendy's to my house, then checked the watch- 6:40 pace! I was pretty excited, but glad because it felt fast and didn't want to be disappointed. Not looking at the watch during the run helped me focus on feel instead of numbers, but having it track the run help me associate a feeling with the pace. I think my body is finally recovering from being sick.

Friday - 3 miles - Ran from my house to the Rec for Relay for Life. I stayed for about and hour, then ran to a meeting, then Beer Exchange for some...nutrients. That's about it for the running for the day, mostly due to time constraints. The goal for the week was to slowly get back into consistent running, even if it's not much, but every day.

Saturday - Hey, cool, My cold/fever/secreting orifices/bulging eyeballs are back! I suppressed the symptoms long enough to accompany my friend and partner in crime Kelly to her banquet where she received the Presidential scholarship. I realized that since my role was to be "arm candy," be witty and let women play with my hair, that I'm officially a man-bimbo. I don't know what women are complaining about. It's awesome. Not to get sappy, but I was proud to be there. I'm usually not a fan of awards, but seeing great people getting honored for great accomplishments is awesome. It was also the marking of 6 years that Samantha and I have been together. I've spent a quarter of my life with the same girl by my side. She's seen my at my best, and she's seen me the other 99% of the time. I might be young and stupid, but I hope she wants to see me grow old and stupid.

Sunday - 0 miles - I slept almost 14 hours again last night, so I woke up in time to eat lunch and head back to school. Here I sit now, trying not to fail chemistry for the 3rd time in a row. I have a f$%king 3.7 GPA! How do I manage to fail a general chemistry class TWICE. I'm totally willing to farm this work out if anyone's interested.

So here I sit, just less than a month away from my first ultra of the year, the Mind the Ducks 12 Hour in New York. I feel like crap, but my legs are fresh. My tentative plan is to run high mileage for 3 weeks, then commence a sharp but well-executed taper. I'll probably do 1 long run of about 5 hours, but mostly doubles of shorter distances and tempo efforts. I'm fit enough and have the base to improve from last year, but I need to get my running legs back under me before it's too late. A few weeks ago, I ran 37 miles with no tapering, 3 hours of sleep, and fueled by beer, and ran the next day. Exactly 1 year prior to that, I ran 34 miles on the same course...about 40 seconds/mile slower(in an actual race-I just ran it this year)...with a taper...and properly fueled. I couldn't walk for a week. This improvement over a year slightly negates the worries I have about not running jack shit over the past 3 weeks. There's still hope of a decent performance at MTD, provided I can string together a couple solid weeks of running and shake this cold.

Pardon the babbling.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

VIVOBAREFOOT EVO 1 year follow-up review

It's been almost a year since my VIVOBAREFOOT EVOs, the first barefoot running shoe from the UK-based company, arrived at my door in all its crazy colored, vegan-friendly glory. The shoe has held up well from the standpoint of durability, but did it stand up to the test of time as all the new barefoot-ish style competition rolls in? I'll discuss the shoe with regard to my use of it for the past year, as well as compare it to some of the new kids on the minimalist block. I'll post some pictures when I can, but they look as good as the day I got them and did the original review.

Long story short- the EVO looks like new. After roughly 300-400 miles of use, the shoe looks like it did out of the box. Not a single seam is coming apart, and the sole is unaffected by a variety of surfaces. The only notable wear is typical for any shoe. The hexagonal panels that allow for more unrestricted movement have small raised bumps in them, presumably for traction. On the most heavily landed-upon areas, these have been scrubbed down. Bear in mind, these raised sections are roughly 1mm thick, so this wear would seem reasonable after 300-400miles of asphalt, rubberized track, and gravel.

The EVOs held up well as my go-to casual/running shoe

Fit and Feel
I'll be completely honest. My relationship with these shoes started out a little rocky. I was so used to running barefoot and in Vibram KSOs that adjusting to a closed toe box was difficult. This makes me a bit of an anomaly. Over the past year, my running focus has shifted from barefoot running to more of a performance-based objective. I now want the best tools for the job. During the winter, the VIVOBAREFOOT was my choice shoe for dry(but frigid) sidewalks and track workouts. It seems as though the faster I ran, the more I appreciated the shoe. This may be due to my form being better at higher speeds. Groundfeel isn't the best(I give that award to a worn-out KSO or a huarache), but protection and comfort are top notch. As the cold weather insisted on sticking around here in Michigan, I found myself using the shoe more and more for road runs. I could wear wool socks on wet, nasty days, and enjoy warmth of a closed toe box on the more bearable days.

The EVO became my gym shoe of choice this year as well. Western Michigan University's Student Recreation Center banned the use of Vibrams in the weight room. I didn't like wearing them anyway in there because they stink like crazy, they bring too much attention, and they stink like crazy(yes, I said it twice). For fitness classes that were mostly push-up, sit-up, and sprint intensive, the EVOs fit the bill perfectly and passed for trainers to the untrained eye. 

Comparability(a slight rant)
The market is now flooded with shoes that capitalize on the popularity of barefoot running. In my book, many of these shoes are useful, yet the word "barefoot" rarely comes to mind when I think of them. Most of these shoes are of use to the general public because they offer the familiar squishy protection of trainers, while still utilizing the proposed benefits of a more natural midfoot landing...At least that's the claim. I feel a bit differently, but hey, diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks. For those of us that find maximum comfort from minimal cushioning, shoes like the EVO make for a far better purchase than a squishy-soled faux barefoot shoe. As minimalism in running reaches peak trendiness, we must be a aware that some shoe companies favor image to functionality and want to give the illusion of safety and make padded shoes. Not the case with the EVO. VIVOBAREFOOT shoes have zero cushioning and zero heel, but they provide resources to safely transition to natural running. (e-book review to follow).

I still maintain that the best way to learn to run is to take out that forgiving squish that EVA foam gives us. The EVO is nothing more than a rubber sole with a removable insole. A simple idea, and it works. The thinness and simplicity is much more preferable for road running than some of these new models like the NB minimus road, Saucony Kinvara, and other shoes with raised heels and foam padding. I'm often drawn to the idea of comfy padding, even after my several bad experiences. Groundfeel makes me far more comfortable than padding on the roads. Shoes like the the EVO(and the KSO) are still the best on the market for me on the streets, despite a few drawbacks. A few of my training partners have commented about how loud the shoes are on the track. My foot audibly hits the ground, no matter how I land. People commented that since I usually sneak up on them barefoot or in KSOs, it was odd to hear me. As a winter shoe, the only real problem is that the cold can go right through the rubber bottom of the shoe. No biggie as long as one stays moving.

The shoe wasn't really intended as a hardcore trail shoe, so I don't hold it up on a pedestal as such. I think  the shoe falls a bit short in this category, but that's what trail shoes are for. For those of you that dig the trail experience of feeling every rock, stick and acorn, this shoe is great. Just as with the road, it provides that slight buffer between the ground and the foot. On some days, and for runs of a certain purpose, I like that feeling. For the majority of my trail runs, I like to go fast and/or look around, observing my environment. It's made a little easier by having a little more protection underfoot. The more technical trails in the Michigan area are most enjoyable for me to run in either Vibram Treks or Merrell Trail Gloves, which offer a bit more give when stepping on pointy things. Call me a poser or a fair weather barefooter, but its a formula that works for me. If a trail specific EVO were to surface, I think it would be tough competition for the current offerings.

To Conclude-
The EVO has proven to be a great shoe, worthy of even its rather hefty price tag(about $160MSRP). Its suitable as a "do it all" shoe, but really excels on hard surfaces like roads and tracks. The super flexible shoe provides groundfeel and protection without the drawbacks of the gorilla feet(KSOs).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

finding bottom at the top

I awoke this morning to pain in my legs. Probably not the best sign since I didn't run at all yesterday. It seems as though every time I have one  of my "episodes," it completely unravels me(I'm good at two things-one of them is making excuses). My ankles, knees, and calves have a dull ache to them. I'll try some running today on the trails and see how it goes.

....4 hours later...
The legs still hurt and I continue to find better things to do than go running. I love running for the exploration and observation. When my legs hurt and I'm surrounded by broken glass and dead plants, it hits the motivation pretty hard.

---4 more hours later...
Time for bed. Shit. 0 miles.
Since I won't have time to run tomorrow, this is officially the most consecutive days that I've been off running, rivaled only by my post-marathon flu/recovery. Three days is the longest I've been off running in over a year? I guess I should be pretty thankful for that.

Tuesday - 0 miles...but one hell of an unscheduled week-changer.
Nothing like a random-ass road trip with no planning whatsoever.
Hopped a plane at 6am to Boston. An unplanned trip with Jason Robillard didn't leave much time for running, but was one hell of a good time. Jason's planning a very long RV adventure with his family and needed a tow vehicle. The particular truck he wanted was located in Boston, so off we went to pick it up. 2 plane rides and a bus trip later, we met the dealer and took off in the new Barefoot Running University-mobile, a 2003 Suburban 2500, in all its glory with the 8.1L V8. I may be a Subaru driving hippie kid now, but my backwoods DNA is strong enough to still be slightly aroused by such a huge engine. From here we went to Northampton Mass, where we saw Jill and Tim, the owners of a soon-to-be opened minimalist shoe store. We talked for while and had a great time, saw the store, and shared Ideas. Jill and Tim are great people who embody this fitness/lifestyle revolution. I think they'll do great things in their community. Back in the truck for the 2 hour drive to Bear Mountain, NY, where we loaded up on authentic Mexican food(not sure why) and crashed in a hotel. Being nomadic was one of the greatest feelings I've experienced. No ties to anything.

3.5 hours, unknown mileage. We awoke at 6am to for our first experience of actual mountain running, or at least we think so. a little over 3 hours in the technical singletracks gave me a whole new appreciation for the word "technical." I'm sure the distance we covered in that 3 hours was nowhere near my normal 3 hour run distance. The climb to the first peak took about 25 minutes. I felt like a child in a playground. Jumping over rocks and skipping over the jagged stones on the trail. We'd run until we were exhausted, stop to take in a view, and run some more, just the way I felt when I was a child. We were so eager to keep climbing that we only stopped long enough to slug down some more water and take a breath. It reminded me of watching kids play tag. They run as hard as they can, stop when they're tired, repeat. Jason and I were not only in a euphoric state from this run, but also basking in the life affirming situation we both are in. We loved that moment in time so much, and knew that we're both on our way to being able to live the lives we want, lives where we can experience this much more often. The only way that I can describe the way I felt is to talk about my youth again. Ever been to an amusement park at a young age? Remember never wanting it to end? That's what it felt like-that indescribable feeling, on that washes over you that seems to be made of several emotions.
I think this climb was around 1100 feet in .25 miles...whatever that means. I have no reference for mountain running and avoid numbers like the plague.

It's funny how pensive and incoherent can look the same.

Too bad we had no idea where we were going, or how far. It was a great feeling.
0- big surprise. Contemplated running, but my body had other plans. Upon my arrival back in Kalamazoo, I slept nearly 15 straight hours, then awoke only briefly to go to class and buy cold medicine. Down for the count. Congestion, phlegm, even some rather nasty projectile...never mind. I was down for the count. Perhaps my lingering sickness form earlier in the week was my body attempting to fight off the infection, and the combination of flight, travel, sleep deprivation, and a 3.5 hour run(not to mention an absolutely atrocious "road trip" diet) finally weakened my defences.

...why am I bothering to post? I didn't run again today. I attended class and travelled home to see family and celebrate my brother's birthday. Loaded myself full of enough dayquil and Redbull to be able to interact with people, then went to bed.

...Back to my roots. I was yet again unable to run, but was feeling good enough for moderate ambulation around my house. Some chores at home, some wood cutting, worked on a couple cars with my dad, and sat in the front yard in the grass. I had an overwhelming urge to be outside, even though I wasn't able to be running. So there I sat, with my gigantic polar bear-sized golden retriever and a library copy of Dharma Bums. Library books are cool- in a 20 year old copy of a book, you can see which passages meant the most to past readers. Seeing the minute contributions of other students makes the reading that much more powerful, as if we are reading the book together. Ben, the aforementioned giant dog, grew tired of being used as a pillow, so we went for a walk.

Trying to sleep this godforsaken cold away. 12 more hours of uninterrupted sleep. I awoke in time to do some laundry and drive back to school. Here I sit.

Total 3.5 hours - at least it was the most enjoyable run of my life, I may as well give it its own week.
My worst week of running in nearly 3 years. Just when things were starting to look good for the summer, all seems to be lost. My boredom needed pacification. What better to cure boredom than the necessary rebuilding of my fitness. One of my lonely talents is the ability to crawl my way back from setbacks, and it seems to be time to employ that. Onward and upward,  back to the upper levels of mediocrity!