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I swear I plan to write more about running and post less pictures of my beard in various states of frozen but it IS February and North Carolina is behaving more like the winters I am familiar with and less like the not-quite-tropical paradise I moved to in large part because I want to get away from the snow and the ice and the cold. I remember sometime in February three years ago, confined to my lousy apartment in Baltimore, the last time “snowpacalypse” was a popular made up word I thought to myself how I couldn’t stand this and had to get away. The past two winters down here have been fine, particularly my first. I remember running in t-shirt and shorts pretty much every day as I trained for Umstead. Last year felt a little colder overall but not too bad. As I type this, I’m sitting in my apartment. This is the fourth snow day we’ve had, which doesn’t take into account all the early dismissals and late openings for weather issues. I’m getting set to go run, and there are GIANT fluffy flakes floating down to earth and I would be shocked if there were school tomorrow.
I ran last night too. The snow was up past my ankle in some places and when the snow stopped, the freezing rain began. And it was windy, mostly blowing things sideways (which means directly into my face for about half my run). I don’t write this for people to tell me how bad ass I am. Mostly, I was an idiot. I drove an unnecessary amount and could have just as easily (more easily really) run my 11 miles on the treadmill at my apartment complex’s fitness center and not risked some sort of slipping-related injury. I write this to give some back story for the picture below. I could FEEL my beard freezing pretty much as soon as I started running. At one point I went to crack my neck and realized that the ENTIRE beard was frozen solid (which explains why the wind felt so weird on it an hour or so in). I ran mostly around my complex but also ventured up to the I-40 bridge to see what the highway looked like (desolate, a mess) and to see if Champps would be open for me to grab a burger when I was done running (they wouldn’t). I think I saw three cars the whole time I was running, and two people walking there dogs and looking at me like I was insane (they’re probably right). It was kind of peaceful in a way, when I wasn’t focusing on my footing, which was mostly horrible except for a few solid tire tracks. I ran for about an hour and forty-five minutes and when I walked inside I was curious to see just how frozen I looked. Apparently, the frozen beard had actually captured snow and held it to my face so it looked like I just went face first into a drift. What you can’t see from the picture is the fact that my jacket and shorts are all covered in a thick layer of ice, which I’ve definitely never experience before.
Thinking back a year ago, I know I definitely would have taken a zero for yesterday and been mostly okay with that. This year I’ve committed myself to consistency and, as I often do especially with running, am going a bit overboard on that front, attempting to run every day of the year. So far, so good. Progress, or something like that. But again, also stupidity. Then again, running for 24 hours at a time, or for 20-30 miles intentionally in the middle of the day in summer in NC, as well as many other things that I, and many other ultrarunners, do could be defined similarly. In a way, a weird way, it’s part of the fun of it, for me at least. Anyway, it’s snowing outside and I have another run to do. In a little over a week I’ll be in Baltimore running a 10 mile race and hanging with Johnny which is exciting. Also exciting… Spring getting here so I have something other than snow beard pictures to post. Mark, out.
The last few times I’ve seen John Stiner he’s said the same thing to me. “Just keep the ball rolling.” What I take it to mean is to re-find that consistency and then… be consistent. Last year was an extreme struggle in that regard, and ultimately a total failure, the likes of which I had not experienced in quite some time. It was a frustrating, mentally difficult year where I never really found a rhythm with my training and that translated into a slew of lackluster and disappointing race results, not to mention injuries galore. Blah blah blah last year sucked. I will try my best not to keep talking about that. But it did! But this is 2014 now and it is almost the end of January and I have run every single one of these 28 days so far and have covered more miles this year than I did until April 22nd last year. Yeah. Not bad. Not quite 2012, which was easily the best year I’ve ever had (or, really the best 7ish months, but I digress) but solid. As John has told me, the ball has started rolling and I intend to keep it doing so. I dunno if I’ll get into weekly recaps, they seem so boring but on the flip side at least I’d be writing which was a goal of mine for this year — to write more. And I dunno about monthly recaps either, but they seem more likely. As it is, January is not quite over but I am sitting here and I have a snow day tomorrow so I have not much to do write now but write and I’m feeling really positive about things, which as some regular readers might know is kind of a rarity here, so why the hell not.
Yesterday I got done with school at 4 and headed over to Duke’s east campus loop. I parked near the Whole Foods and started running some time before 5. It was in the mid-to-high 50s at the time and there were a ton of people out. I quickly headed for Campus Dr and headed to the chapel. I went past the chapel and turned toward the Al Buehler XC loop, something I miss now that my school has moved locations. Twice around that with an extension on the fitness loop and it was back toward east campus with the sun setting. When I got back to east campus I realized that if I went counter clockwise for 2+ loops I would have 18 miles, the distance I started off thinking I’d do. But with 4 and change loops I’d have a little more than 21 (let’s call it 21 Manz miles). Somehow that idea won out. I really wanted to venture into the downtown Durham area to break up the monotony but somewhere in my brain I decided that loops would also help with my mental toughness so loops is what I was doing. There was something sadistically gratifying about knowing I was going to be running by my car multiple times and could stop every time if I so chose. I wanted to, that’s for sure. Around mile 16 or 17 I started feeling kinda tired, kinda drained. I purposely hadn’t taken anything to drink or eat during the run; some crap about making my body adjust to using it’s energy stores on longer runs or some such ill-advised BS. Regardless, I’d made it that far, I was going to tough it out, however dumb that was. When I hit the end of a loop at 18 miles even, I really wanted to stop. But for some reason I trudged on. I had slowed some, and at times felt like I was shuffling. I was also light-headed and weak. The last lap in particular was brutal. The wind was blowing at me with about a mile to go. I had to stop and walk briefly and that was kind of a mistake because I realized just how light-headed and woozy I was. It was bad. I thought maybe I’d black out. The temperature had also dropped considerably and my hands were frozen solid. Somehow I managed to stay upright and finish the loop and the 21 mile run. It was the longest training run I’ve completed since July. Back then, I ran 21 miles on the nice, flat ATT on a Sunday morning with company for most of it. Yesterday was a different animal and much more reminiscent of the days where I’d come home from school after running around all day and head out for 3 or so hours just because I could. I thought I might die of hypothermia after the run, spending quite a while getting readjusted to not running and almost falling asleep in my car outside Whole Foods after. But I survived and today I went on an easy 11 mile run before the “snowpacalypse” hit Durham and my legs feel just fine. Onward and upward, the ball continues to roll.
I fully intend for this year to be somewhere near as productive and positive as 2012 and so far it’s off to a good start. I’m trying to balance the fact that I feel genuinely GOOD for the first time in months and want to GO GO GO with the fact that I haven’t run all that much of late and need to have some patience building the mileage base and all that back up so my legs don’t fall off. I drunkenly signed up for the Strolling Jim 40 mile race in May, mostly because Joe Fejes, one of the ultrarunners I most admire, is running it and posted a link and I figure 40 miles hard in May will be a good stepping stone to a big summer of training and (hopefully) a BIG 24 hour race in last September. I’m probably about a year away from being where I want to be but I have to start somewhere. The ball has to START rolling before you can keep it going. I think so far this year, I’ve gotten it off to a good start. Now to keep the miles coming, and building, and that damn ball rolling.
Friday night running around Durham in 15ish degree temperature. Ice crystals in my beard. 80% vapor from breathing, 10% condensation from sweating, 5% spit, 5% snot
2013 sucked. It was the worst in so many ways. But because this is a running blog (kinda), let’s stick with just running. Which sucked more than most things last year. It got so bad in the last few months of the year that I basically stopped keeping track of the running I did. Which is why it took me a few minutes to figure out that I’d run something like 1,234 miles last year. That’s it. In the first 13 weeks of 2012 I ran 1,181 miles. So yeah. Bad. At least it’s a cool number, right?
Let’s keep rolling with this theme — I identify myself as an ultrarunner. By most people’s definition, an ultrarunner is someone who runs more than a marathon, with the baby ultras starting at 50k, or 31.1 miles. I did not complete a single run or race over 28 miles last year. I don’t count the 41 miles I am credited for in the Croatan 24 results. I RAN 28 miles and then stopped and walked the rest over the next few hours because my left leg felt like knives were stabbing it in various places. Which is the main theme of the last few months of 2013 — knives stabbing my legs. Imaginary ones. Sometime in late August, I felt a pain in my hip that spread to my left knee. And for the next five months I battled this pain off and on with no real improvement. Fits and starts. Two failed (and retrospectively stupid) attempts at 24 hour races. One also kinda dumb half marathon pacing job in there. And nothing really positive to report until the last week or so of December when, following a treatment from John Stiner, things finally started to feel ‘not awful’.
So the last week I’ve run, and started going to the gym regularly again. Katie will be happy to hear I’ve done squats at least once a week for the past three weeks and that also seems to be helping. But let’s ditch the optimism for a few more minutes. I haven’t fully elaborated on just how monumentally bad 2013 was. The first race I ran I DNF’d. It was my first DNF ever. At the Uwharrie 40. I won’t get a chance to redeem myself this year because they went to a lottery and I didn’t get picked. But that’s probably a blessing because I’m probably less ready for it this year than last. When I think about the races I’m most proud of, or that I feel I performed best at, I think about a beer mile I did in April. Yes, a beer mile was possibly my best performance of the year. At any rate, it was the only PR I registered last year (unless we’re talking about PRs for being a shitty runner). I also didn’t do super awful at the Running of the Bulls 8k in June. It was very humid and I managed to run 29:35 which wasn’t super far off from 2012’s performance when I felt like I was in pretty good shape. Again, for an ultrarunner to point to a mile and an 8k as his best performances for the year tells one all you need to know about how bad the year was.
Let’s not forget to mention how fat I got. Yes, fat is a relative term. 165 pounds for a 5’9″ male is not fat fat and most people I’d tell that to would laugh at me or smack me. But let’s be honest — when I ran Umstead I was 150 pounds. I felt good. I felt fast. I feel like a blob. And it’s not like I put on muscle. I was basically making donations to the Y for most of the year and eating waaaaay too many frosted sugar cookies from Target. Oh, and being a lazy good-for-nothing layabout.
I’m not going to write about resolutions or specific goals for 2014. All I want is for it to be much more like 2012 and pretty much nothing like 2013. That’s all I want. Oh, and I’ll blog more. I wrote three blog posts last year according to wordpress. I believe it. I didn’t have much good to write about. Or much running-type stuff. But I want to write. I like writing. And maybe connecting with other runners. I want to FEEL like a runner, an ultrarunner again. I’ve made a bit of a start, but I am well aware of how far I still have to go just to get back to where I was, let alone where I REALLY want to go eventually.
I dunno. I sit down and think, “hey I should write something in that blog,” or, “hey, I DO want to write something in this blog,” but by the time I sit down to write, I just either don’t feel like it or it’s gone outta my head or whatever. But here I am, my sporadic entry for the month. It’s August, my favorite month for obvious reasons. And it’s the first day of it. Last month saw a number of first-in-a-long-time things happen and I hope the trend continues in August and beyond. I finally, FINALLY, felt like I was training last month and not just kinda screwing around running when it was convenient. I MADE running convenient at times (and it was still inconvenient at other times, but I made it work). I finish July healthy and better than I started it, which is about the best I could have hoped for. I’m actually pretty happy for a change so I guess that’s probably why I have less of a problem actually writing something up about it (that and the fact that I have something to write about instead of just saying, uh yeah, I’m running, some, and uh, doing other stuff, and oh yeah it’s hot. yeah).
First off, July was the first month since last September I ran more than 300 miles for the month. Yeah. Wow. Jeez. I can remember back in like 2008 or 2009 when I thought 300 this magic-like number that if I went above it would make me a ‘real’ runner or some such nonsense. Then I started taking things like that for granted early last year. And then life and injury happened. And even though I didn’t run quite as much as I’d planned, I ran consistently and put in the miles and am at a place where I can build upon that. So, yay.
I also ran more than 100 miles in a week for the first time in a while. Actually, it had been almost exactly one year since that happened, as astounding as that sounds. And it had been even longer since I put one together that didn’t have some sort of long race involved (I had to go back to mid-June for that!). It’s been a slow, arduous, frustrating process to get healthy and then be able to build and re-find the consistency and dedication to getting out there every day (or almost every day) and doing what I need. Just like with the monthly mileage, this isn’t meant to be seen as a stop and congratulate myself type thing, it’s an ‘ok, good, this step complete, let’s keep building’ type thing.
There are other things — like finally doing a 20+ mile run, something I haven’t done enough of this year or in a long while outside of a race. And just sometimes enjoying the act and not dreading how I’m going to feel. I can’t say enough good stuff about John Stiner, the monthly tune-ups I’ve gotten have certainly helped and I’m looking forward to making it bi-monthly or more as big races (and big miles) start coming. I was on a long run with Paul a few weekends ago and he mentioned that it seems I’m approaching running from a really good place, that I seem to be running for myself, for personal satisfaction and improvement instead of external reinforcement or motivation. It’s true. It’s part of why I stopped posting on Dailymile for half the year, because I didn’t want the often phony sounding praise or encouragement. And it’s why I feel I can be back there, because I still don’t seek it or need it but I DO like to keep myself accountable (and the cool graphs, of course). It’s probably another reason why I haven’t blogged much also. I just don’t find myself that interesting. My running is mine, my goals are mine and I don’t need anyone telling me they’re unrealistic and foolish OR that they’re attainable and to keep striving. Which makes me a pretty awful blogger I guess.
But I will at least write more ABOUT my boring journey and stuff. I’ve been told some people do find it interesting. And this way Mom knows what I’m up to so she doesn’t worry I’m out there killing myself (or at least knows HOW I am potentially killing myself, love you Mom!). It’s not a very well kept secret that I’m focusing on the 24 hour event this fall, out at the Croatan 24 here in NC. I have had one disastrous 24 hour race, I’ve done another that I never intended to run for the entire time. That’s 0 for 2 by my count on successful 24 hour races. One thing I’ve learned is it is certainly a different animal than even 100 miles. I didn’t almost end up in the hospital at any point during or after Umstead. And I don’t want to just get through the one in November without any IVs. I’d like to qualify for the US 24 hour world championships team. Thinking about all the amazing runners who will likely be vying for or are already guaranteed a spot, that is a BIG challenge. But just like with all of my running goals lately, the challenge is what makes it worth it.
It’s been a few months, and really there hasn’t been much in the way of a real update in many more. I ran that Uwharrie race in February. I ran most of it, 29 miles of it. And then I stopped. It was my first DNF. I didn’t write a race report. That wasn’t because I felt ashamed or embarrassed. I just didn’t feel like it. Around that time I gave up on DailyMile. Not because I didn’t want people to see I wasn’t running as much. I didn’t/don’t need to hide that. I just couldn’t take the positive/congratulatory/self-congratulatory nature of it. And if one more person wrote on one of my just every day training runs, “NICE PACE!” I was going to totally lose my shit. But I digress.
Winter sucks and I was listless and still in search of my mojo. Also, I was actually injured. Then I ran the Umstead marathon, the race I won last year. I did not win it this year. I ran almost a half hour slower and was 15th male, and I think 17th overall. Yuck. I hadn’t done any other races between then and now. I didn’t start the Umstead 100. I couldn’t even get myself out to the park. I was kind of disgusted with myself, with how out of shape and crappy I had gotten. It was pretty pathetic. There was probably a decent amount of self-pity, but with me it becomes more like self-loathing. Not a good look. So what is the point of this? Kinda dark so far, and depressing. But it gets better.
I got healthy. I started seeing John Stiner again which had/has a lot to do with that. I started working on weaknesses. I started running. And running more. And I started enjoying it more. I still am. In the past, I have often said that whenever my personal life seems to be going to shit, my running thrives. The running (along drinking) is a means to escape from the misery and general awfulness that is going on in all the other aspects of my life. Unfortunately, early on this year, the running was more the CAUSE than the solution. Being injured meant the running suffered and the horrible performances and painful runs just led to a downward spiral. Combine that with the lack of sunlight and frustrations elsewhere and it was not good. It seems that things have pulled themselves around in all aspects. Instead of running pulling me out of my funk, I pulled myself out and the running followed. In the past two or so months, things have really turned the corner. I signed a contract to be a full-fledged teacher at my school next year, which is totally awesome. I already mentioned, I started seeing Stiner again and doing some of the exercises he gave me to work on weaknesses and, no coincidence, I started feeling better and running stronger. I have an amazing girlfriend in Shuriah who is loving and supportive and helps push me to get out the door and be the best version of myself I can be. I have some good friends, I’m eating better, drinking less, losing weight blah blah blah.
I am no where close to where I need or want to be, in terms of my running, not by a long shot. I ran the Running of the Bulls 8k last weekend about half a minute slower than last year (29:35 vs 29:04) so I’m not a totally out of shape slob like I was in February. At least for now I am headed in the right direction. I don’t need a pep talk. I don’t need people to say I’ve been missed, or that they believe in me or anything encouraging and nice and rah rah. Not because I don’t care. I do. Not because I’m not an asshole. I try not to be. But I need to do things for myself. I don’t run for external validation. I used to, for sure. But I don’t anymore. It comes from within. It’s a personal quest now. I like connecting with other runners, I like the camaraderie at races. I like the atmosphere of ultras. But I need to run for me and because of me. I’ve come to realize that anything turns this into a hollow, joyless endeavor bound to end in failure and malaise.
I have a goal race for the fall — the Croatan 24 hour ultramarathon which is closeby in Kinston, NC November 9-10th. The next few months will be committed to starting that race in the absolute best shape I’ve EVER been in (which will be saying something). It will be a tough task but I am committed and determined and when I set my mind to something this intensely, I get it done. Some exciting things are on the horizon, finally looking forward to the journey again.
I am running the Uwharrie Mountain Run 40 miler, thanks to the wonder owners of Bull City Running Co, Kim and Jason. It’s been over four months since my last ultra race. This should be interesting. Stay tuned…