The training block for the Austin Distance Challenge wrapped up this morning with a 30-minute tempo run. Last night I tried to convince myself to catch up on some rest and allow myself to sleep in. But my eyes popped open at 3:50 a.m. and I tried to doze until I gave up and got out of bed at 4:15. Excitement invariably trumps the need for sleep. And I wanted to get out and see what I could do in this last fast run if I just let things happen instead of forcing some kind of split pace. I let it happen this morning, and I felt really good and strong and confident during and after the run.
The Austin Distance Challenge is an annual race series that’s organized by the Austin Runners Club. There are six races in the series. Each race progresses in distance and includes the biggest and most-attended events in the city. The Challenge offers a full track, for those who want to run the Austin Marathon as the last event, and a half track, for those who chose to close out the series with the Austin Half Marathon. The prior five races are all the same distance, regardless of track. There’s a 5k, a 10k, a 10-mile, and two half marathons.
I decided to sign up for the Austin Distance Challenge this year for a myriad of reasons. Recently I’ve felt really drawn to be more active in the broader Austin running community. And, so far, I’m really glad that I made that decision because I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing, kind, and generous people. I’ve made new friends. I also wanted to support and be more of a part of the Austin Runners Club. It’s a special run club that’s been in Austin since 1974 and it’s important that it stays vibrant and active in our community. I’ve been blessed to get to hang out with and forge bonds with the club’s staff, members, and volunteers, and my hope is that I can somehow continue to help them support its membership and mission. And, lastly, I wanted to keep learning and training. I was hesitant about signing up for the Austin Distance Challenge because I knew I wanted to focus on my training for this year’s Boston Marathon. Before signing up for the challenge, I built a 32-week periodized training plan leading up to Boston to see if I could strategically fit six races into my training cycle. I realized I’d start getting into longer marathon training mileage leading up to the final race in the challenge, so I decided I’d just somehow make it work. And so far, that has worked out. We’ll see how things play out at the Austin Half Marathon this Sunday.
When I signed up for the Austin Distance Challenge, my first thought was to have fun with it and perhaps compete in my age group. I thought I’d run the first race, the CASA Superhero 5k, see where I ended up on the leaderboard, and then formulate some kind of racing strategy after that. A few days after that first race I checked the leaderboard. I was first in my age division. For grins I check to see where I was stacked in the Masters division. I was first in Masters. I checked one more thing. I wanted to see where I ranked overall. I was in first place overall.
That formulated my strategy and training block. I want to maintain the lead and win the whole thing.
The next race was tough. A group of six of us ran a 120-mile Ragnar trail relay the Friday and Saturday before the second race in the distance challenge. I don’t recall if we actually had a plan to place in the relay, but we all ran hard through the day and night. I ran 23 miles harder than I should have. But we placed 2nd in our division and had a lot of fun doing it. After only a few hours of sleep in the previous two days, I showed up to the Daisy Dash 10k and gutted out a podium spot in Masters and put myself one minute ahead of 2nd place in the distance challenge.
I’ve been putting in the work ever since training started in early September. I’ve miraculously managed to stave off injury and illness. I’ve fought and trained my ass off every single day. I’ve pushed myself hard. I’ve prioritized winning. There is no other option.
I currently sit with a nine-minute and three-second lead on second place. There was a fleeting moment where I thought about finding second place at the Austin Half Marathon and settling in behind him to pace and maintain my margin. And then I grinned.
I never set out with the thought that I might have to stop, but sometimes I just have to stop.
I never wind up doing it, but I’ve always thought it would be a good idea to write down my thoughts and ideas as they come to me so I could write an essay, or maybe even a book, titled something like “Life Imitates Running” or “Running Imitates Life” or “Never Trust a Fart While Running.”
Of course, I usually can’t write down these thoughts or ideas when they come to me because I’m usually out somewhere on a run. I don’t carry a pen and paper with me, nor do I carry a phone. So these thoughts rattle around in my head and I’m hard-pressed to remember them whenever I get home after I’m done running. Whenever I do get home from a run other things take priority over writing down my thoughts and ideas that I’ve had while I’m out there. Things like showering and shoving calories into my mouth.
This morning there was an occurrence while out on my run. Not thoughts or ideas. Today I stopped. According to my training plan, I’ve been training hard since September 5, 2022. I’ve been training for a race series that I’m hell-bent on winning. And my training for this race series overlaps with my training for the Boston Marathon on April 17th. I’m self-coached and I’ll often find myself riding this fine line of injuring myself or over-training. I’ll also very often find myself teetering on the edge of stripping away the happiness and mental health benefits that running gives to me. It’s a love and a dance that I try to hold in some modicum of infancy which, I’ve learned, has to be nurtured as such.
The girls and I were out of town this past weekend for a lacrosse tournament. After the games were over on Saturday, I walked to the hospital that was next to our hotel and I ran 1.25-mile loops around the campus. I ran those loops hard to practice running fast for my upcoming half marathon and then dialed back the pace for a few loops to practice maintaining a pace and cadence for Boston. We came back to Austin on Sunday and headed downtown to go on a long run to practice running on tired legs.
Training catches up to me. Yesterday I was tired and while I can find any excuse under the sun to go for a run, I just wasn’t feeling it yesterday. So I didn’t run. I didn’t go on my easy recovery run because I just didn’t want to. A coach once told me that “no run matters.” Those three words are very philosophical in their simplicity. Replace the word “run” with many other things and that’s why I think running imitates life.
It’s been raining and the temperatures crept to below-freezing last night. Central Texas shuts down whenever there’s ice. The schools shut down whenever there’s ice. The city of Austin is pretty much shut down right now. It was cold, dark, and quiet when I set out this morning on my tempo run. I could feel it when I was only a quarter mile from the house that this morning’s run was going to be a struggle. It’s just one of those things where when you know it, you just know it. But I kept lifting my knees and decided that I’d just see what happens.
I think it just took some time for my brain and body to warm up. And it was eerily quiet outside in the otherwise noisy suburbs in which we live. I knew what I was supposed to do on this morning’s run, so I went after it. I finally settled into a groove after a mile and I pushed myself because I’m training for something. You train so you can adapt your mind and body, become acclimated, and teach yourself to do hard things.
A little after mile three I just stopped. I stopped running. My head wasn’t where I wanted it to be. My toes hurt. My hamstrings hurt. I was cold and hot at the same time. It was hard for me to breathe. So I stopped. The first thought that invariably pops into my head whenever I stop is that I lost. I’ve always maintained this tough guy runner mantra of “you can let it slow you down, but don’t let it stop you.” That’s usually what I tell myself whenever I come upon a hill. So if I ever stop, I feel like I’ve failed. The obstacle, whatever it might be, beat me.
A running coach that I admire recently wrote that it’s okay to stop. Mid-workout. Mid-hill. Mid-tempo. Mid-long run. If you need to stop, then just stop. You don’t have to quit. It’s okay to stop. To stop during a run is to catch your breath. Let your heartbeat come to its resting state. Let your brain take a rest. Recenter yourself. And I’ve learned that it doesn’t take long at all to reset. Often times no more than 30 or 60 seconds. And then you go again. You just keep going.
And a third coach that I admire recently wrote “stop trying to make it happen and just let it happen instead.”
I stopped on a run today to reset and recenter. I’ve done it before and I’m sure I’ll do it again. I never set out with the thought that I might have to stop, but sometimes it just has to happen that way.
No run matters. It’s okay to stop. Stop trying to make it happen and just let it happen instead. Life imitates running.
The 3M Half Marathon has a special place in my heart. The 2015 running of it was my very first road race. I’d started running just two years prior, and I had no intentions of racing. I ran to get physically healthy, and then I really started reaping the mental health benefits.
And I blame my friend Harry for getting me into racing.
He kept tabs on my running when I started out and he put it in my head one day when he told me, “you know, you should really sign up for a race. You’re getting fast, and you’d have a lot of fun in a race.”
I shrugged him off. He nudged me about it a few more times. And then he had me tag along for a 10-mile training run as he was preparing for the Austin Half Marathon.
I thought running 10 miles was crazy. I couldn’t wrap my head around why anyone would want to run double-digit mileage in one outing. But when that first 10-miler didn’t kill me, and I actually kind of enjoyed it, I started pushing myself to run further distances.
I don’t know how or why, but I signed up for the 3M Half Marathon as my very first race. And I told Harry that I’d done so. He didn’t say, “that’s awesome!” or “congratulations!” He said, “you know, I’ll bet you could run that race in 1:30.”
Damn Harry. I had no specific plan or goal time for my first race. But he put a number in my head.
So, despite not knowing what the hell I was doing, I trained hard for my first half marathon. I was chasing 1 hour and 30 minutes. I beat that goal time.
I ran my first 3M in 1:27:31 in 2015. I ran my second 3M in 1:28:11 in 2017. I ran my third 3M in 1:29:47 in 2019.
Today I ran that same race in 1:19:33. PR’d the course by 7 minutes and 58 seconds. And PR’d my recently-set half marathon time by 5 minutes and 40 seconds.
I’m reeling in it now and, in a way, I think I’m lucky that I was in my late-30’s when I discovered running. I missed out on a lot of beating myself up in my teens, twenties, and early thirties.
I’ve already come to terms with the fact that I’ll start slowing down soon. I’m getting older. And I’m absolutely okay with that. As long as I can get out there and run around and have fun at whatever pace my heart and legs will take me, I’ll take that every day that I can.
A good friend of mine once wrote about how he had finally run a sub-3-hour marathon. And I thought, “I wonder if I could do that.” In order to do it I would need the right training, preparation, and a good pair of new marathon shoes.
And I found you, in all of your bright and loud green gorgeousness. But not without the proper preparation first. You see, you were very high class and expensive. And I needed to make sure we were a fit. I went to the local run specialty store located just below my office and I informed the merchant that I was looking for something special. A pair of shoes that would go with me far and fast on the adventure of a lifetime. But it had to be a perfect fit for both of us.
The merchant measured my feet with the latest 3D modeling technology. I learned that my previous shoes weren’t quite the right fit. My previous were always close, but not perfect. We were always a half-size off.
I knew I wanted you, but I also wanted to test the waters with others. He brought me three, of which one was you. The other two fit, but they weren’t perfect. You were.
I put you on my feet and I promise you that all the universe became silent except for the quiet and distant hum of assent as the divine smiled and nodded unto us both as if to say, “this is right.”
And it was. We experienced the rapture as the two become one. An augmentation and synthetically natural extension of my own feet. You felt like nothing while still feeling like everything to me. You were weightless and so powerful.
I took you home and we practice our dance. It was perfect and joyful from the first step. We moved and danced for a little while the first time. A little longer the next. And then we were ready.
We went to the big dance together and it was, in a word, beautiful. Just like you.
You gave it your all. And you were tired and beaten down a bit. I gave you a well-deserved rest.
We practiced our dance again before another big one. On the day of the big dance, we did our thing again. And there were cheers. And we were happy. We’d done it again. You’d done it again. You were wonderful and perfect.
But I knew you’d become very tired. It weighed heavily on my heart knowing that our dancing days were coming to an end. It was inevitable. I knew our relationship would be short-lived when I’d set out to find you. But you knew you wanted to make me happy. And you did just that. You made me smile. Big, big smiles.
We had one last big dance in New England. It was toward the end of our dance and I knew you were tiring and this would be our last big one together. You quietly whimpered, and I heard it, just like that distant hum when we knew it was right in the beginning, but you gave me what you had left. And I took it.
Recent are the realizations that our big dances are done. But I won’t put you out. Despite any rest, you’re tired and worn. We both know it.
Our run this morning was fast and powerful and beautiful. But that can’t be forever. I’ve hurt you and you will only grow to learn to hurt me.
We can still dance in the dark and in the quiet. Just you and me. We sure did make a go of it.
Lacrosse season is starting up and the oldest child asked me to build a run training plan for her so she can get whipped into shape as lacrosse is very much a running sport.
My client has informed me that she wants to run three days a week. But it can’t be too structured. She just needs to know that she has to run three days a week, and she will do her runs as schedule and desire permits. And she hates speed training. And I can’t yell at her. And she’s not paying me.
I think this might be the first client that I fire. And we haven’t even started yet.
It’s now been 10 days since I gave up refined and added sugar. Now, I don’t know if I’ve actually been doing it right. I’ve had peanut butter and some generic Ritz crackers, and possibly some other things that have a little sugar in them, but I can tell you that I’ve reduced my sugar intake by a huge margin. And I’m feeling pretty okay. The first week was rough. I ain’t gonna lie.
And when things got rough, I powered through it. By the end of the week, I decided to treat myself. Because I got to go to the grocery store by myself. And I found myself in the candy aisle. But I was still good! I decided to purchase a variety of sugar-free candy. You know, the kind that Grammy gives you and the kind you can find next to the “durable medical equipment” at the pharmacy.
Did you know that sugar-free candy contains “sugar alcohols?” Sugar alcohols are also known as polyols. Now, the “alcohol” isn’t the ethanol that’s found in fuels and liquor, so you can’t become intoxicated. And the “sugar” is created by, what I’d have to guess, is some scientific voodoo chemical plant extraction process that creates a sweetener that has little to no calories per gram.
And did you know that if you eat upwards and, maybe a little beyond 20 grams of polyols, a human might experience things like borborygmus, flatus formation, and osmotic diarrhea?
So I’m definitely not eating sugar-free candy because, you know, I read about it on the internet and realized that it can do some really weird things and wouldn’t want that to ever happen to me. Again.
I worked from home today and as 5 p.m. rolled around, I still had a lot to do but I really needed to get outside and stretch my legs. The dog, who dutifully stays in the office with me, got up and excitedly invited herself to go out for a leg stretch with me.
We walked around the block and took in the cool air and recounted our Christmas break walks we took last week in Des Moines. And then the dog took a big steaming dump in a lawn half a mile away. And I didn’t have any dog poop bags with me.
Now, I condone living by the Golden Rule, so the dog and I walked all the way home. The dog went back to her spot in the office while I got a bag and walked the half mile by myself back to the pile she’d left on a neighbor’s lawn.
After I’d bagged her poop, I started making my way back home and realized that I was now walking alone with an obvious green bag of fecal matter. I paused for a moment and realized the walk of shame that I was embarking upon. And then I just embraced it and sauntered on home. I even lifted the hand that held the bag of poop as I waved to a nice young couple who were out walking their dog. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take a bit of pride in letting folks think that not only did I take a poop out in the open, in public, in broad daylight, but I also managed to get it all to land in a little green plastic bag, tied it off and was carrying it home with
I’m pretty sure that’s how the term “got it in the bag” originated.
We’ve been at Steve and Joanne’s house for a little over a week now for the Christmas holidays. Their house is like home to us. As such, we’ve all kind of settled into our respective ways. I slept in this morning and took my time before setting out for my daily run.
Boppa and Gran aren’t big drinkers, but they keep a little supply of beer, wine, and hard seltzers in the fridge in the finished basement. When I came back from my run, Mara, age 10, was camped out in the basement, watching the Disney Channel, and had an open can of peach-flavored hard seltzer on the table next to her. I picked it up and felt that there was a sip or two missing from the cold can.
“Whatcha drinking there?”
“Does it taste funny?”
“Yeah, a little bit.”
“That has alcohol in it.”
“It’s like a beer.”
“Oh. Ughh. I thought it was sparkling water!”
“How ya feeling?”
“Man, you ever look up at the clouds and think about how cool it would be if Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page had a child together?”
I wasn’t planning on PRing the half marathon this morning but wound up pulling off a PR at Decker. My loose goal was to run a 1:29-something and PR the course. And then I thought about leaving the 1:30 pace group at mile 8 and going for a 1:27-something.
The legs and lungs were feeling really good early on so I left the pace group at mile 2, ran a 1:25:13, and got 6th place overall and 2nd place in masters.
Decker was the fourth race in the Austin Distance Challenge. Two more races to go. The next one is on January 22nd. I sense another PR around the bend. Training starts tomorrow.
I have a story to tell about a neighborhood Turkey Trot. But before I get into that, an explanation of what a turkey trot is. The turkey trot is usually a fun run, ranging in distance (usually 5 kilometers, or 3.1 miles) that is held on or near Thanksgiving. It’s a celebration of friendship, health, happiness, and a way to burn some extra calories before the traditional big Thanksgiving meals. I don’t know the actual history of the turkey trot but, if I had to guess, it was started by a guy named Jeff somewhere in New England at the turn of one of the past centuries. Jeff wanted an excuse to get out of the house during the annual Thanksgiving family gathering because his sister-in-law had a penchant for expressing her many political opinions and she always brought ambrosia salad with nuts to the family gathering.
I started running in July of 2013. My love of running increased very quickly and I found myself running pretty much every day of the week. On Thanksgiving morning in 2014, I woke up extra early to get in a run in the neighborhood before the rest of the family woke up. I saw a big group of unknown neighbors also out for a run. We all waved and said “Happy Thanksgiving!” from across the street as we passed each other. Those unknown neighbors were endeavoring upon a small turkey trot amongst friends.
The 2014 holiday season passed. More months went by. My love of running continued to thrive. I saw and waved at many other neighbors throughout that year while out on my morning runs. One morning, while running, I decided that I wanted to meet as many of those unknown running neighbors as I could. So I created a Facebook Group and called it the Circle C Run Club. I promoted this new Facebook Group in our larger neighborhood Facebook Group and before I knew it, I had dozens of “members” of this run club.
Since our neighborhood now had a Facebook Group dedicated to running, we kind of organized our own “official” Thanksgiving morning Turkey Trot in 2014 and a bunch of running enthusiast neighbors showed up and ran a few miles together. It was grand. We all had a commonality in that we were neighbors and many have since become great friends. The city of Austin has held a really large, organized, and busy Turkey Trot since Jeff moved here from New England at the turn of some other century, raised our property taxes and invented Snapchat, ACL Festival, and absurdly overpriced food served from a truck of questionable origin. However, our neighborhood is rather large, and has enough runners, and otherwise happy and nice people who would prefer to avoid traveling to downtown Austin, finding parking, and risk getting their heels stepped on by an “influencer” on Thanksgiving morning for a chaotic turkey trot. So a smaller and close-to-home turkey trot for the neighborhood has always just made sense.
Over the next few years our Circle C Thanksgiving morning Turkey Trot tradition grew and grew. The whole neighborhood really rallied around it and hundreds of folks would get excited about our annual event. We started having neighbors who owned businesses come out and set up tents and give away products and discounts on services. Local businesses would donate snacks and refreshments. Our turkey trot grew organically and it really became a fun and exciting tradition and event.
Now, mind you, our turkey trot was never “official” or truly “organized.” We announced the time and location of our turkey trot on a few Facebook Groups. We never really had permission to organize a “race” (which is kind of how a modern-day, turn-of-some-century traditional turkey trot is organized). We were just a really large group of neighbors and friends coming together on Thanksgiving morning for a group run.
In 2018 our little Thanksgiving morning group run turned into damn near 1,000 people and we overtook a major thoroughfare that goes through our neighborhood. And, wouldn’t you know it, we pissed someone off who really needed to get to the grocery store at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning for ambrosia salad ingredients.
I’m pretty sure it was Jeff’s sister-in-law. She called the police, the City of Austin, and our neighborhood homeowners association to complain about the gaggle of people who were running, laughing, and having a gay old time on Thanksgiving morning in our neighborhood. So the aforementioned authorities contacted us and told us we could no longer promote or organize our neighborhood’s annual Thanksgiving morning turkey trot and impede traffic without the proper permits, traffic control plans, monitored street barricading, and other things of a costly variety.
So, in 2019, we still held our turkey trot, but we didn’t refer to it as a turkey trot. We just promoted it in our run club’s Facebook group as a normal morning “group run” and hundreds of people still showed up. But it wasn’t as big as the year that we were shut down. And a lot of neighbors were sad that there wasn’t as much pomp and excitement as years prior.
And then there was a pandemic at the turn of some century. I think it started with the ambrosia salad. In recent years our neighborhood run club has really grown to the point where we have a group run almost every day of the week. Many close friendships have been forged and we now have a leadership committee. In early 2021 we decided that we wanted to give our friends and neighbors what they wanted and revitalize our neighborhood turkey trot. We contacted our friends in the larger Austin running community and solicited help and advice on how to organize an “official” turkey trot. And the help and advice came in droves. A small group of us have learned so much about all of the logistics, intricacies, and ins and outs of organizing a true running event.
I’ll spare you all of the details, but will say that we have been working extremely hard for months. And months. And turns of centuries to prepare in bringing an organized Thanksgiving morning turkey trot to our neighborhood. We’ve had to procure engineered traffic control plans, city permits, applications, inspections, and insurance. We’ve had to create street closure notifications in the forms of postcards and posted signage throughout the neighborhood. We’ve had to secure barricading services to close and monitor our streets. We’ve had to hire police officers and race services for timing, scoring, bibs, a start and finish line, and a sound system. We’ve had to solicit sponsors and sell registrations to try to raise the money required to pay for all of the aforementioned requirements, services, products, and vendors.
And the bills have not been cheap. The money required to put on a neighborhood turkey trot could put a child through community college and buy a 2016 Toyota Corolla.
And the people who have been working to organize this Thanksgiving morning tradition have been doing this as a labor of love and commitment to the community. They have full-time jobs, families, children, and other obligations. We have been working extremely hard in our spare time to re-create a fun holiday tradition for our neighborhood. Yours truly has been keeping a turkey’s eye on the financials and it brought me great joy when I was finally able to very recently realize that through generous sponsorships, donations, and our friends and neighbors registering (i.e. paying) to participate in the turkey trot that we’ll be able to barely pay the invoices that are due.
This morning we’re all convening at our neighborhood’s Fleet Feet running store where our friends and neighbors can come pick up their bibs and beautifully-designed commemorative 2022 Circle C Turkey Trot t-shirts in preparation for tomorrow’s first official turkey trot. All of our hard work has culminated to this point. We can finally give the community what we’ve worked so hard to provide for them. Enough people have registered for the turkey trot that participation will rival that of the year where we grew so large that we were forced to shut down.
And at the same time that the doors open this morning for shirt and bib pick-up, we also have to call into a meeting with the City of Austin and the National Weather Service for details and advisement on the large thunderstorm that is expected to roll into Austin at the same time as our turkey trot. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a heavy heart. But I also have hope. I have a lot of hope. I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to contribute to this endeavor and I’m blessed to have worked with a bunch of other people who are so amazingly selfless and care so much about our community.
There are only so many things that you can control in this life. We’ll just have to take it in stride with whatever Mother Nature throws at us and what the City mandates. And so long as I have the legs and heart to keep running and share my love and enthusiasm for it, then that’s all I can do.
This morning I was having one of those deep thought moments while I was in the shower. I remembered my short-lived career in pee wee baseball. My parents put me in baseball before I think I even knew what baseball was. The first year or two were dad-pitch seasons. Then we moved up to kid pitch.
I remember being up at bat. The pitch came. I connected. It happened in the blink of an eye. I felt the ball, and then I saw the ball, slowly rolling back toward the pitcher’s mound. But I didn’t swing. It was a close pitch and the ball hit the ring finger on my right hand.
The ball hit the nail on my finger hard enough to reverse direction on impact and roll all the way back to the pitcher’s mound.
I didn’t know what happened. One second I’m watching the pitcher wind up, the ball comes, and then the ball goes. I saw the ball rolling before I realized what’d even happened. The hit. The ball. The confusion. And then the pain.
I think I might’ve been six or seven years old. My coach, my team, and everyone in the stands didn’t know what happened either. We all saw the ball rolling toward the pitcher. I was confused and I was hurt. My coach screamed, “Run!” Everyone on my team screamed, “Run!” My parents screamed, “Run!”
I think I might’ve tried running to first base. I’m pretty sure the pitcher had already sent the ball there. I was just trying to not cry. Blood was pouring from my finger, I was in pain like I’d never felt before, and all I wanted to do was run to my mom in the bleachers so she could stop the pain.
I was out.
And that was the last time that I played baseball.