My Summer in Heat

This may be it, the last heat wave of the year.  The red flag warning signals extreme heat and fire danger.  A normal person would turn on the air conditioning and call it a rest day. A sane fitness fanatic would head to the gym for a hamster wheel workout.  But, not me. I’m going outside to run.

Running outdoors in this weather is a matter of preparation and expectation.  Two words describe the strategy — hydrate and slow.  This summer, I’ve learned to carry water and run slowly.

In July, the excessive heat warning and the concerned hotel doorman did not stop me from exploring the Omaha’s waterfront.  I ran from my hotel down Dodge Street to the Missouri River where the views opened up. Following the river north, I passed the Lewis and Clark Landing and crossed the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge into Iowa.

After a few minutes in the Hawkeye state, I ran back to Nebraska and continued north to Miller’s Landing Rivers Edge State Park where I ran out water signalling the time to return to my hotel.  That’s over 4 miles in excessive heat.

In  early August, I ran circles around a lake (or pond?) in Evansville, Indiana in humidity so thick that my glasses fogged every time I stepped outside.  Why run in img_7801circles around this lake?  The locals rave about it.  It’s only 0.7 miles around, but it hosts local fishermen (I wonder what they catch), late afternoon BBQs (they roll out gas-fired grills and set up tables), and evening walkers.

In addition to the heat, the only other dangers are afternoon thundershowers which make you wetter than your own sweat and aggressive, giant geese who block the running path.  Still, I ran — six laps, two in a thundershower.  And, I learned how to frighten geese  by going slow and make myself big (that’s a puffed up chest and outstretched arms).

In late August, I braved 90+ degree temperatures in Roseville, California.  Just outside my hotel was the Antelope Creek trail, home to cyclists, runners, and wild turkeys.  Unlike Omaha and Evansville, Roseville boasts a “dry heat” much like an oven.  My six mile run taught me the importance of frozen water bottles and how to slowly baste myself until I was done. But, I still ran.

So today, I’m running in spite of the red flags. I have my water.  I plan a slow, easy route. And while I don’t expect it, I am ready for geese, thundershowers, and turkeys.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

-Benjamin Franklin



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The Alternative to Working Out

Yesterday’s run was horrible.  After two miles, my legs felt weak and I began to dream of food.  I bonked.  So today, I’m taking it easy with a new kind of workout.  Only this workout evolved into the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced.

(Warning:  this is not an inspirational story of my athletic prowess; just a rant against our broken healthcare system.)

My son goes to the doctor for an annual physical.  My health insurance policy states that all preventative care, such as annual physicals, are fully covered.  Two months later, I get the bill.  What, a bill?  How is this “fully covered?”

A quick call to my health insurance company reveals that the medical group has coded the routine test incorrectly and instructs me to call the medical group for a correction and re-submission.  I’ve done this before (with a different medical group) and it’s not a big deal — it just works itself out.

I call the “Have a Question” number on my bill and speak to the medical group’s billing department.  It’s a good  number to call with a question, but a bad number to call for an answer.  They don’t have an answer, just a powerless person who tells me to call someone else.  So, I call someone else and find another powerless person.  After two hours, I learn that I too am powerless.

In a vain attempt to regain my manhood, I post on Yelp.  Like magic, I find a semblance of power.  Almost immediately, I am connected to a billing specialist.  Perhaps the “Have a Question” number should be replaced by Social Media posting instructions.

Finally, I speak to someone with power. Actually, she only has the power to tell me that the HIPPA laws don’t allow them to discuss the test  on my bill with me.  So, I have a bill written in some foreign medical language, a billing specialist who is forbidden by law to translate it, and I’m still expected to pay it.

I wonder what I just bought.  I feel like I’m on “Let’s Make a Deal” and just purchased something hidden behind one of the three giant doors.  It could be a cool new bike, a vacation to Hawaii, or a giant tricycle with a clown sitting on top.  But, I’ll never know because the law doesn’t allow anyone to open the door.

The good news is that I didn’t need to work out today.  I just spent over two hours working out in my target heart rate zone sprinkled with a few sprints near my max heart rate.   Fortunately, I’m a well trained endurance athlete who can go for hours so long as I don’t go anaerobic.

Thanks for listening. I feel better now.

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My Best Chicago Half Marathon

The reality is that I’ll never “win” a race.  That is, I’ll never come in first.  For an age grouper, winning is something different — it’s redefining a podium finish to achieving the best you can offer.  It’s about goals and finishing strong.

The Chicago Half Marathon is my last event of the year.  It’s my final test to see if my best has improved; to determine whether I’m a stronger running.

The 4:00 AM Central Daylight Time alarm is very painful because I’m from the west coast.   It’s really 2:00 AM my time.  While the early, early morning is a shock to my system, I still force myself to eat two oranges before going down to the hotel lobby and meet my friend, Eric.

We walk 5 minutes to the shuttle which takes us to the start line.  After a 15 minute ride in a yellow school bus with less legroom than an airplane, we arrive to a dark, near empty field.  It’s 5:15 AM and the race begins at 7:00 AM.  For an hour and a half, Eric and I aimlessly roam around the start area drinking coffee and staring at others who foolishly arrived excessively early.   We find a post-race meeting place, the best porta-potty locations, and lie in the grass waiting for the remaining 12,000 athletes to arrive.

At 6:45 AM, we line up in our start corral where we can see a full spread of humanity ready to spend their Sunday morning racing.  The pain of the early morning alarm is quickly replaced with the pre-race adrenaline.  I am ready for my best.

After the national anthem, the race begins.   Together, Eric and I run through the first mile until our natural cadences and the thick crowd separate us.   Quickly, I look over my shoulder and wave goodbye.

The thick field keeps my pace slow and holds me back from running too fast, too early.  It’s not until mile 3 when the course leaves Jackson Park and heads north up Lake Shore Drive that space opens up for a longer, faster stride.  With a little space, I keep my head up and enjoy the spectacular views of the lake.

Without much effort, I pass the 2:10 pace group and speed through the first 6 miles.  By now, I know that I won’t achieve the dream sub-2 hour race, and that’s okay.  My best will be between 2:00 and 2:10.  So long as I stay ahead of the 2:10 pace group, I’ll meet my expectations.

The only threat to my new goal comes during mile 8 when I hear the loud chatter of the 2:10 pace leaders behind me.  I thought I left them 2 miles ago, but I must have slowed. Feeling the pressure, I stretch out my legs, increase speed, and restore the gap.

At mile 9, the course reverses direction backtracking south on Lake Shore Drive.  With less than an hour of running left, I take stock of my reserves.  Should I go faster?  Can I go

At mile 10, I go for it.  I increase my speed testing my strength as a runner.  With only 5 km left, a random thought occurs, “Why are there so many people in front of me?”  Looking down the road, I can see Lake Shore still packed with people.  Did they run the first 10 miles that much faster than me?  Hubris tells me that they just started before me.  Reality tells me that, yes, they are just faster than me.

At mile 11, I think “only 2.2 to go” and try another acceleration.  While I feel like I’m working harder, I don’t think I’m producing more speed, just more pain.  Mile 12, 1.1 miles left, I accelerate again.  My muscles tell me that’s it, my top speed.  It feels impressive — the pounding of my heart, the straining of my legs, and the deepness of my breath.  But measured by the other runners who are still passing me, my impressiveness is clearly in my own mind.

I make the final turn and see the finishing gate.  I don’t care if I’m the only one impressed by my self-deluded speed.  I race through the shoot and throw up my arms.  Victory.

I’m one minute off my PR (which was obtained on a downhill course).  Yes, I ran my best. Yes, I finished strong.

“Run in such a way as to get the prize”  1 Corinthians 9:24

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Second Time Issues

This is my first second.  Since beginning my endurance athlete adventure, I’ve never participated in the same event twice — until Saturday’s San Diego Triathlon Classic. For the second year in a row, I am racing the Olympic distance triathlon (1500 Meter Swim, 40K Bike, 10K run).  Check out how I did last year here.

With an identical course, my goal is clear — go faster than last year.  Following the tips of training gurus on the internet, I confide to friends my sub-3 hour finishing goal.  I have a goal and accountability.

At the sound of the start horn, I plunge my head into the 71 degree water and begin swimming. With each stroke, I remind myself to swim relaxed and easy.  Through the first half of the swim, I’m encouraged.  I am in contact with my wave with only a few different colored swim caps passing me.

In the second half of the swim, I fall behind and become subsumed a full rainbow of swim caps colors from the later start waves.  As expected, most athletes from my wave have left me behind, but I’m not disappointed.  I check my watch and I’m right on pace — I’m going for the sub-3!

sdtriclassipixDropping into the aero position on my bike, I feel confident, if not arrogant.  Passing the line of bike riders from the other start waves simply boosts my self-inflated ego.

Then I hit the big hill and remember the comradery of the sport.  Because we all suffer in the face of steep grades, I shout encouragement to struggling riders, bike walking riders, and the woman who fell over because she was going too slow (don’t worry, several of us checked and she was okay).

Returning to the transition area, I feel good until  I check my watch.  The sub-3 dream is turning into just that, a dream.  I will need a PR (personal record) in the run (10K) and my calves don’t seem to share the same dream (yes, it’s the “pre-cramp” feeling).

I begin the run asking the self-doubt and regret questions.

  • Why am I slower this year?
  • Did I push to hard on the hill?
  • Maybe I should have done more brick training?
  • Did I really need that potty break?  (actually, yes I did!)

I wrestle with disappointment when two in my age group pass me in the first 3 miles of the run.  I’m falling down the rankings.  The dream is turning into a nightmare.

But at mile 4, I awake from my self-loathing stupor when I pass a 72-year-old sprint athlete.  Next, I see a blind athlete with his running guide.  Like me, everyone around them is in awe watching these athletes overcome incredible obstacles.  I want to be racing when I’m 72!

With a half mile left, I accelerate to my maximum effort.   My heart rate quickens and my breathing deepens.  I’m no longer racing for a sub-3, but for the pleasure of competing.  I’m even immune to 19-year-old who makes me look like I’m standing still as he speeds by me.  I want to finish strong.  I will finish strong.  I do finish strong.

I don’t regret missing my goal by a few minutes.  I do regret the constant comparison to a younger version of myself.  Even though it’s the same course, I am a year older (and racing in a new age bracket) making this new race.  And with every new race, I will rise to the challenge.  After all, I’m still racing.

Work hard at whatever you do, because there will be no action, no thought, no knowledge, no wisdom in the world of the dead”

(Ecc 9:10, Good News Translation)

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Finding Kilroy

I’m in Washington DC for business, but my real mission is to find Kilroy.

Kilroy was here.  While the origins are disputed, the Kilroy graffiti is associated with American soldiers in WWII.  On this trip to Washington DC, my son sent me on a mission to find Kilroy hidden in the World War II Memorial.

It’s 6:30 PM. I arrive in my hotel room and dedicate myself my mission — find Kilroy. And, what better way to do this than squeezing in a run before dark. While checking my phone’s weather app — 8:00 PM sunset with a 30% chance of rain, I unpack by dumping my clothes on the bed, change, and head out the door for my run.

I’ve been to DC before and blindly trust my instincts.  Run 4 blocks to the Mall, turn right, and find the WWII Memorial somewhere along the Mall.  What could be easier?

Heading out the door, I begin by turning left.  After several blocks I find the White House and am confused.  Instead of finding the Mall, I ran parallel to it.  So much for my excellent instincts. But that’s okay because I can see the Mall from the White House.  I make my course correction and run toward the Washington Monument.

Reaching the base of the Monument, the 30% chance of rain becomes 100% when the big drops appear on the sidewalk. It’s not a heavy rain and the locals are ignoring it (they continue to play Frisbee, soccer, and softball).  Taking their lead, I also ignore it and turn west hoping to find the WWII Memorial.

I follow the tree-lined path of Constitution Avenue until I find the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Somehow I missed the WWII Memorial, but I’m not disappointed since I’m steps away from the Lincoln Memorial.  Distracted from my mission, I stop for a quick visit. Unfortunately, the rain’s intensity is increasing.   Umbrellas are popping up.  Segway tourists appear wearing trash bag-like capes.

Turning around at the Lincoln Memorial, I head back along the Reflecting Pool when the deluge begins.  With the sound of rolling thunder, the heavy drops transform into a curtain of rain.  The tourists and locals disappear (even the Segways are gone).  I feel alone except for the few other foolish runners stranded outside.

With the downpour, Flashbacks of last year’s Rock and Roll Half Marathon come streaming back to my mind.  I am soaked, but I keep telling myself, “it’s not as bad as the half marathon.”  After all, this is a warm thundershower, not a cold rainstorm.

I debate sprinting back to the hotel or continuing with the mission when I stumble across the World War II Memorial hidden behind the Washington Monument.  I’m close.  Searching through the huge granite columns, each representing a state or territory, I come to the end of the row and a maintenance gate.

Then I see him.

I pull out my phone to take a picture only to find that touch screens don’t work with wet fingers.  I have no dry clothing to wipe my hands. Socks? Underwear?  Everything is wet.  After several failed attempts, I discover friction.  Vigorous hand rubbing creates just enough dryness to snap the photo.  Kilroy Was Here.

I fulfilled my mission in spite of getting lost, being distracted by other monuments, drenching rain, and wet fingers.



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Ride Report: Riding The Tour (Stage 1)

Today is the day before the Tour of California.  I call it, Tour of California Eve.  And, today is the day that I ride the same (almost) route as the professional cyclists.  106 miles, 7000 feet of climbing.

It’s 7:20 AM.  After listening to the National Anthem played by a high school kid on an electric guitar, the mass of cyclist begin rolling out of the parking lot.  Unlike the Pros who start in Mission Bay (San Diego), my Tour of California starts at the Trek Store in Chula Vista near the 60 km mark just before the Honey Springs climb then circles back toward Mission Bay, through the Imperial Beach sprint, and returns back to the  Trek Store.

The cool, overcast day is perfect for riding.  After 10 miles I hit the Honey Springs climb with fresh legs.  Expecting a long day in the saddle, I climb the 6.7 miles an 1,800 feet keeping my heart rate low and enjoying the conversation and the view.


Slowly, I separate myself from the pack of riders and make a new friend, Ryan.  He’s young and doesn’t appear to sweat (making me feel old and out-of-shape) as we reach the peak and descend to our first rest stop.

After 60 minutes of climbing, I enjoy the leg stretch and a natural break (that’s the “pro” word for bathroom break, but the pros don’t seem to stop for bathrooms along their race — makes you think a bit — how do they do it?) while I wait for the group at the rest stop.


After regrouping, we head to San Diego’s back county through tree lined roads and Captureincredible vistas.  I savor this portion of the ride since the second half will be through the congested streets of the city. Unlike the pros, my pace is easy and gives me ample time to contemplate the view.

The back county is deceiving hilly.  At one point I crest a rolling hill and look down at a long descent only to find it is not a descent, just an ascent that looks flat.  This route is well established and used by regular riders who name the hilltops.    Here, I pass a self-styled a label drilled into the asphalt, “Petit Col Du Japatul”.

The descent back to civilization is fast with long sweeping curves and few cars.  I feel like I’m flying as my computer registers top speeds over 35 mph. Upon entering the city, the traffic and congestion reduce my pace to a crawl. Suddenly, fatigue and hunger set in.

I  battle the temptation to eat a processed nutrition bar knowing that there are sandwiches and real food in another half hour at the Mile 65 rest stop. But, I am crushed with disappointment when I see emergency vehicles blocking the planned route through Mission Valley.  A detour means waiting longer for real food. Fearing the dreaded bonk, I beg a few Cheez-Its from my friend to hold off the hunger for a few more miles.  When I finally roll into the rest stop, I make a beeline to the food.  I eat 3 half sandwiches, two cups of Coke, a bag of chips, and a banana.  I guess I was really hungry.

Refueled, we ride through Balboa Park turning the tourists’ eyes to our peloton.  Now I feel like I’m in the Tour with gawking eyes and adoring fans cheering me along.

Silence settles in when I realize that 30 more miles means two more hours.  It’s been a long day, my shoulders ache, my legs are tired, and I really want to sit on something larger than a bike seat.  Riding through the  Imperial Beach sprint point (and not sprinting — much too tired for that) tells me that it’s time to turn east for the final 15 miles.  The group’s mood lifts in anticipation of the finish line.

The final turn from Otay Lakes Road to Lane Avenue sees the pace quicken for our amateur version of a sprint finish.  It’s not much of a sprint and there is no “lung” to cross the finish line, but the feelings of elation, accomplishment, and relief put a large grin on my face.

I just finished Stage 1 of Amgen’s Tour of  California.

  • My Total Ride Time:  7:53 hours (not counting rest stops).
  • Peter Sagan:  (Tour of California Stage 1 Winner):  4:20 hours.
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Who Needs Sleep? My First Ragnar Race

I usually run alone squeezing  in workouts during lunch and whenever there’s downtime from the family.  After all, running is an individual sport.  But a Ragnar — that’s different.

What is a Ragnar?  It’s a 12-person relay race covering almost 200 miles (Huntington Beach to San Diego) in two days and one night.  Each runner is assigned 3 legs and sequentially runs until the last team member crosses the finish line.  Van 1 carries runners 1 through 6, and Van 2 carries runners 7 through 12. Van 1 leapfrogs its runners launching one runner and meeting him/her at the end of the leg in time to launch the next runner. After runner 6 is done, Van 2 springs into action while Van 1 takes a break, looks for food, and sleeps (like that really happens). Vans 1 and 2 continue leapfrogging until all runners complete their legs.  I am on team: “Who Needs Sleep?”

Our start time is 8:15 and there are already runners on the course.  With over 650 teams, Ragnar staggers start times sending the slower teams out first.  The carnival-like start line atmosphere is aided by colorfully decorated vans, running costumes, loud music, and pre-race jitters. 

At 8:15, the announcer yells the team names and sounds the horn.  The race is on!  Making an early statement, our  Runner #1 (you can see him in blue; that’s the announcer in orange and black trying to get out of the way) sprints out of the gate leading the pack.  It is a glorious, albeit, brief moment.

For each runner, we cheer their start, run back to the van, navigate to some mid-route point to offer support (only to get lost, confused, and hope that the runner hadn’t passed the midpoint before we get there), and meet him/her at the next exchange.

With 12 runners, I bring a book expecting long wait times.  But with all the texting updates, photos, and weird conversions, I never open it (note to self —  don’t bring a book next year).  Instead, I learn about about my teammates.
One team member summarized it nicely.

  • one team member grew up in Kentucky though you’d never guess it (no accent)
  • one team member absolutely refuses to use a port-a-potty (I don’t blame her)
  • one team member has an fanatical obsession with decorating our van
  • one team member can practically sleep anywhere
  • one is apparently dead set on getting lost during one of her legs

I am Runner #4 and my turn quickly approaches.  It’s a flat 5K.  With runners #1 through #3 running faster than our projected estimated times, I am inspired.  In the exchange, I receive the baton (a magnetic wrist bracelet that you slap on the next runner).  It’s moist.  Yuck.  Pushing aside the grossness factor, I speed through the route clocking a 5K personal best . Back in the van, I re-hydrate, towel off with baby wipes, and settle in for the long wait (about 12 hours until my next run).  This feels easy.

My van’s second set of legs (Legs 13 to 18) occur at night.  Safety rules require head lamps, blinking tail lights, and safety vests.  
The colorful array of electronics make it easy to trace out the route.  I like the night leg because the air is cool and roads are empty. There is a meditative quality of following blinking lights and listening to thumping of footfalls.

That is, until you miss a turn. Not me, but I can see how it happens.  This is what it looks like.

Capture1The good news is that we found our lost runner.  The bad news is that she ran an extra 3 miles.

My night run is 5.3 miles and hilly.  Two big hills remind me that running can hurt.  But, I refuse to go slow especially when I hear my teammates cheering as I pass the the top of the first hill.   Inspired, I continue to push the pace up the second hill finishing over one minute per mile faster than my planned pace.  Sitting back in the van, I think I made a mistake –my legs are beginning to feel sore.

Once Van 1 finishes our night runs, we bed down in a teammate’s office building.   Thankfully, his office is near the race route and has showers.

Unlike other teams who brave the cold night air sleeping outdoors or in their vans, we hunker down in a climate controlled office building with sofas for a glorious 2 hours of sleep.  The only disadvantage of the office is the easy listening soft rock music that cannot be turned off.  But still, it’s better than outside.

The next day begins at 4 AM.  By now, the lack of true recovery (too little sleep) and the rebellion of my muscles from leg 2 remind me that a Ragnar is an endurance event.

Despite the lack of sleep, fatigue, and muscle aches, I get to watch the sunrise as my team runs along the southern California coast.  This is the magic hour.

My final leg is 6.5 miles along the coast then cutting inland.  The coast is flat and easy with the only difficulty coming from within my body (sore legs).  But at mile 4, the route begin over 500 feet of climbing. Not wanting to let the team down with a slow split, I power through the hills including one quarter mile stretch that tops out at a 14% grade (that really hurts).  As I approach the exchange, I hear the cheering and tell my legs to shut up.  100 yards to the end, I feel victory and sprint.  I’ve finished my portion of the relay (still ahead of my planned pace)!

As Van 1’s running comes to an end, the zombie-like looks begin to grow.  Two runners have disappeared under blankets sprawled out on the van’s long benches.  We find a parking lot near the end of the course and wait slowly fading between consciousness and unconsciousness.

After 32 hours, the entire team gathers just short of the finish line and together run the last 100 yards under the Ragnar finish line banner.

Ragnar is different — I am not alone.  I am part of a team.

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor

Ecclesiastes 4:9

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