Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Goal Review

Another year, another set of goals. As I've said in previous years, I like setting goals, especially in running. I know working out is good for my physical and mental health, but without goals it can really become a drag. With running, having a goal race and a goal time keeps me honest.

This year was my toughest year of running since 2009. The broken knee in November of 2012 got my year off to a slow start, and my slacking off on glute and core exercises in the weeks leading up to the Twin Cities 10 Mile and the St. Louis Marathon lea to the knee acting up again.

So, with those things in mind, let's take a look at the goals from last year. I'm including an abbreviated version of the goals, but if you'd like to read them in their entirety due to some horrible cabin fever or an unhealthy obsession with goals, you can read this post.

Goal 1: Rehab the heck out of my left leg
I did pretty well at this one for the first 9.5 months. Then, once school started, I really slacked off and almost certainly increased my mileage and quality workouts too quickly.  I'll give myself half credit on this one.

Goal 2: Do at least 3 sessions of core and balance work a week until April, then maintain at least 2 sessions a week.
I did not meet this goal. Once my knee started feeling better, I let the core and balance work fall by the wayside. I'll do better this year.

Goal 3: PR in the 5k.
This one did not happen. Rehab went slowly, and by the time my knee felt better I was focusing on the St. Louis Marathon and didn't bother to race a fast 5k. 

Goal 4: PR in the 10 mile.
Close, but no. It may have been a bad decision to race this one so close to the St. Louis Marathon, but I have no regrets.

Goal 5: Break 1 hour in the Rochesterfest Sprint Triathlon.
Another failure here. Horrible swimming coupled with poor transitions and windy conditions kept me from this one.

Goal 6: Successfully help several runners meet their goals.
Finally, a win! I helped my mom run her first 5k, my dad his first race in over ten years, and another friend run her first 7k. I also did two Running Room clinics, and helped several clinic members reach their goals.

Goal 7: Publish at least two more articles, and submit two to a major publication. Hang rejection letters on the wall. 
I did have two more articles published in "Run Minnesota." I did not submit two articles to a major publication, but I did submit one to two major publications. Unfortunately, said publications do not send rejection letters. I'm counting this goal as a win.

So there's my year. I count 1.5 goals met out of 7--a 21% success rate. Not my best year, but that's OK because 2014 is going to be better. Failing to meet my goals gives me something to shoot for this year, and helps me reflect on how to be a better runner.

Thanks to those of you who submitted goals on this blog. Feel free to leave a comment on how you did with your goals.

Happy Running!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Running in a Winter Wonderland

1/25/18 Update 
Over the last few years, I’ve cut way back on my outdoor winter running. Really though, I’ve cut back on my winter running in general.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy running outside in the winter—I do. But, besides running less in general in the winter, I don’t enjoy the preparation that comes with winter running. I need to find a relatively clear route, dress in the right amount and right kind of clothing, choose the right traction gear, or, if I’m snowshoe running, deal with the hassle of finding a good trail, driving there, and putting on and taking off snowshoes with cold fingers.

Still, I miss the days when I ran more outside in the winter—especially with a friend or training group. I like the convenience of jumping on the treadmill or indoor track, knowing exactly what to wear and knowing there won’t be any snow or ice to deal with, but I miss running with friends and I miss the outdoors. Here’s an old post about running outside in the winter:

I've been slow to get myself outside this winter. I've never been a huge fan of running in the dark, and from the beginning of December to the end of January in Minnesota, it's dark when I leave for work and almost dark when I leave for home.

I can still run in daylight on the weekends, but this year I've been dragging my feet getting footwear for the snowy and icy conditions of the Twin Cities sidewalks and trails.

Before Saturday, the only outdoor running I'd done in the snow was a little snowshoe run after work one day. With the snow in Eagan not too deep and the temperatures seasonable, I was really itching to get away from the fluorescent-lit treadmills of the YMCA and into the winter wonderland of snow and ice on the Eagan trails.

With visions of runs on the snowy paths and trails of the Twin Cities, and possibly Rochester (where I am now), last Saturday Laura and I dropped into Marathon Sports. I had a $20 gift certificate I'd won at the Victory Labor Day 5k in September, and I was itching to spend it on some trail shoes.

It just so happened that the gentleman who helped me pick out some shoes was John Long, the owner himself. John helped me decide on a pair of Saucony Pergrine 2s. I won't spend any time reviewing them since Saucony has rebuffed my attempts at procuring free gear. I will, however, say that in my one run so far they felt pretty great. They also look pretty slick.

After running outside in the Peregrines on Saturday afternoon, on Sunday morning I hurriedly drilled some sheet metal screws into the bottom of my older pair of Kinvara 3s. I wanted to get a quick tempo run in before we left town for Rochester, and going to the YMCA was going to eat up too much time.

If you run in a winter climate, I highly recommend this shoe modification. With 3/8 or 1/4 inch sheet metal screws and a hex head drill bit, you can winterize your running shoes in about five minutes. I could tell you more about it, but this article by the great ultra runner Matt Carpenter does it much better than I could.

The downside of running in the Kinvaras, however, is that the upper has practically nothing to it. Its lightweight material and ventilation are great for 2/3 of the year, but running outside in temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit make for some numb tootsies. My tempo run went well, but when I got home my whole body was hot except for my feet, which didn't regain feeling until halfway through my post-run stretching.

Yesterday was another run on the treadmill, and today I'm going to sneak to the YMCA to try out a cycle and core strength class. I'm getting pumped to run the Modesto Half Marathon in March, and while I know a PR is not likely, I'd like to try to run under 1:20.

For those venturing outside soon, enjoy it. While winter running can get complicated, it’s totally worth it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


I have a hard time running consistently when I don't have a goal race coming up in the near future. Since I ran the Saint Louis Marathon in October, I've been drifting pretty aimlessly with my running. I've stayed in decent shape by doing fitness classes at the YMCA, keeping up with my glute and core exercises, and running a couple times a week, but my time spent running has been low and inconsistent.

The knee I broke last November is still acting up a little, but it really isn't limiting my running. I saw my physical therapist a couple times, and he gave me some great advice, exercises, and an easier way of taping my knee. I can't really tell if the knee is getting better, but I can say for sure it's not getting any worse.

Laura and I are now planning on running the Modesto Half Marathon in March, which is less than thirteen weeks away. This weekend I started writing a week training plan, and I'm working on how much time I'm going to spend running.

I suppose it comes down to a decision of what I really want to do with my fitness and my time. I've got a long winter break coming up from teaching, so I'll be done with the 50 hour or more work weeks for three weeks, so I can slowly increase my mileage without sacrificing core and glute strength.

I'm really digging the year-round schedule at my new school. I'm looking forward to having three weeks to spend time with friends and family, catch up on some reading that's not for work, and do some more writing.

Speaking of writing, I had my third article published in the latest issue of "Run Minnesota." You can read it online at runmdra.org. The story is on page 22. I also submitted a long form version of the story to "Running Times" and "Runner's World," which unfortunately was not accepted for publication. I'll be sharing that story on this blog soon.

Happy Running!

Friday, December 13, 2013

New Toy

In my previous post, I mentioned a nice 12 mile run along the Minnesota River. I enjoyed the run immensely while looking at the clear blue sky, the now-leafless trees, and the various birds that frequent the Minnesota River Valley.

What I didn't enjoy was my Garmin 205 dying again. It had decided that holding a charge was a little too much work for it. On some runs it would hang on for a couple hours, and others less. It died at mile 25 of the Rock 'n Roll Saint Louis Marathon, which wouldn't have been a huge deal had Competitor Events known how to work an electronic timing system. 

It then died during my birthday run, which was a little more irksome as I'm not sure how many kilometers past mile goal of 31 I ran.

Since then I'd been researching my options for replacing the 205. I looked into sending it to Garmin to get it refurbished, but $70 seemed a little step. I then looked into replacing the battery myself, but that looked unlikely to end in success and more likely to end in me cutting my finger, burning myself with a soldering iron, or gluing my finger to casing (see video).

Short story long, I went to REI on Saturday and bought a Garmin 210. It's pretty sweet. This one came with a heart rate monitor, which I haven't used since I had my first GPS watch. I won't write a long gear review about it because I've got enough readers who couldn't care less.

What I will say, however, is that when I was at REI, the nice gentleman selling me the watch said, "I think GPS watches are nice because they really get people running more." I do like setting goals and all that, and the GPS watches definitely make it easier to track progress.

Plus, I've been doing some classes at the YMCA, and now I have a way to load them on my training log with the heart rate information. Isn't technology great?

Happy Running!

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Post-Thanksgiving Slump

Thanksgiving bird

It hit me last Saturday: the post-Thanksgiving slump. It was a day late, but man I was feeling lazy. It was nice, really, because I've had way too much energy lately. My little fall manic rush is, unfortunately, a double-edged sword. It can make me very productive, but also restless, anxious, irritable, and unfocused. Plus, some of the stuff I'm "productive" with ends up being a waste of time because I either lose it and have to spend time looking for it or redoing it, or it's totally incoherent.

A head cold that'd been threatening to take full hold of my sinuses finally bloomed to maturity, and that morning I woke up with a nose full of snot, swollen eyes, and a feeling of ennui. I was waiting for the cold to show up since nearly every teacher in my school has had some sort of ailment this year, and I've been spared except for a one-day stomach bug.

Amazingly, the cold really only stuck around full-bore for that Saturday, and since then it's back to lingering. I've been told it's perfectly safe to run with a cold, so I did. I felt as good as I did all day that Saturday during my 12 mile run along the Minnesota River.

I love Thanksgiving, and now that the fun is over, I'm OK with having a little slump. Though being a teacher can be stressful and can sometimes feel like thankless work (it isn't, but it can feel like it), I'm still pretty fortunate to be at a year-round school where I'll get a longer winter break. I just have to push through these last two weeks, and then it's time for a little more fun and relaxation.

I did have a nice Thanksgiving meal on Thursday with our friend Brittany and my lovely wife Laura. Highlights included my mom's stuffing and a pumpkin cream pie with filling made by Children's Country Day students, crust made by the artisan bakers at Wal-Mart, and cream made by yours truly. After Brittany left, Laura and I did a little school work, watched "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles," and then started in on Christmas movies.

The Friday after Thanksgiving I worked on writing a training plan for our friend Jon and saw Ender's Game with Laura.. Since then I've been keeping crazy busy with work, getting some classes in at the YMCA, and getting some running in. I also got a new Garmin 210 on clearance at REI, and on my one indoor run it worked swell.

This past weekend we spent some time with Laura's family, and even braved the frozen tundra to play outside for awhile. I thought about going for a run Sunday afternoon, but the snow and well-below freezing temperatures kept me indoors.

Jeff (and I) braving the elements while hiking in Lebanon Hills park

Thanks again, readers, for reading. Even if you only look at the pictures or skim and scan, I appreciate you stopping by. This blog has been a nice writing outlet, and I hope I can keep it up in whatever form it takes.

Happy Running!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Turkey Trot Saint Paul; Pace Report

It was my worst pacing performance of the season. My poor Garmin 205 has decided its battery is only going to last somewhere between an hour and two hours, so I prepared for the worst this morning. After bundling up for the chilly Thanksgiving morning, I put my Garmin on one wrist and my $8 Target watch on the other.

The Turkey Trot Saint Paul was in downtown Saint Paul (I'm guessing that's where they got the name), so we got up bright and early to drive downtown and pick up our race numbers in Upper Landing park. The packets included sweet shirts, and a pair of Turkey Trot Fitsoks. It was still dark, and I didn't see the pace team leader right away, so Laura and I went back to the car for about ten more minutes to warm up.

My neck is still sore from counter-balancing that giant sign for over six miles

After telling Laura goodbye, I jogged down to the pace team area, met my co-pacer Dave, and after saying hi to Sam, the pace team leader, I volunteered Dave and I to run from the finish to mile marker six to see how far it was from the end.

For those not familiar with the 10k, it's about 6.2 miles long, so, if my math is correct, the mile six marker should be about 0.2 miles from the finish. Dave and I ran to where people where setting up, and I stopped to talk to a volunteer. "Where's the finish going to be?" I asked.

"I think it's around here," he said, gesturing to some power cords. I hit the "lap" button on my Garmin, and Dave and I ran to find the six mile mark. We measured it at over 0.25, and after running back to Sam, he asked me to move the marker.

"No problem," I said, so I ran back to the six mile marker. This time the finish mat was set up, so I measured again on the Garmin, and it came up at over 0.3 miles. There was also a 5k, and the three mile marker was off by almost a tenth-of-a-mile (an eternity in a 5k), but unfortunately that mile marker was zip-tied to a tree.

The six-mile marker was not zip-tied to a tree; it was just staked in the ground. I pulled it up, but as soon as I did I began to wonder if I'd be able to get it staked back down. It's been cold, and the ground is frozen hard. I walked it toward the finish, but still had to place it farther from the finish than it needed to be. I felt like I needed to keep it from being ridiculously close to the three-mile marker, as it might be a little jarring for a 10k runner to think they went a tenth-of-a-mile in 12 seconds.

Anyhow, I pushed it as far into the ground as I could, leaning it somewhat against a tree. I'd done my good deed for the day, so I jogged back to the start to do my other good deed--making the dreams come true for 10k runners wanting to break 47 minutes.

Unfortunately, I failed at that good deed. At mile three I stopped my Garmin instead of hitting "lap," and didn't notice until mile four. I had a good time chatting with Dave and with a lady who is running Boston in April, and though my pace was consistent, I didn't account for the long course, and finished in 47:30. I did have several runners thank me, and also got to see a guy named Peter. We work out at the same two YMCAs, and this year he ran every marathon in Minnesota. I also did of lot of thanking of volunteers--highly appropriate for Thanksgiving.

The post-race food was also pretty awesome--banana, candy, chocolate milk, and chips, but I didn't want to fill up because Laura, our good friend Brittany, and I, had a big Thanksgiving feast to eat later.

I'd definitely do this race again. Though the course is the same as several other races, the gear was nice and there was lots of room for people who wanted to race the 10k. Plus I got a sweet turkey hat (which I left at pacer area... whoops), and the Fitsoks were pretty awesome too. Also, they didn't have my shirt size, but simply had my write down my name and address and offered to mail me one. Podium Sports, the company that puts on the event, is quality in my book.

Thanks to all my readers. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and were able to count all the many blessings in your life. I feel pretty blessed to have such wonderful friends, family, and everything else.

Happy Running!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Cycle of the Seasons

On a Thursday in November, I stood inside our school gym supervising students as their parents picked them up. Against the window sat a young man, a seventh or eighth grader, watching the first snow of November coating the parking lot. I saw his face reflected in he glass, and remembered the same look on my face, almost seven years ago, as I sat on an uncomfortable brown chair looking out the window of a hospital lounge, reflecting on the peacefulness of the snow. That January, the snowflakes were thicker and heavier, but the effect was the same. Snow brings a kind of quiet--a peacefulness in a busy city, in a busy life.It looks nice, the snow," I said to the young man. "Yeah," he said, still gazing out the window.

"It's not as nice when you have to drive in it," I said.

I hoped my comment didn't spoil the peacefulness of the snow for the young man. I don't think it did, because, in typical middle school fashion, he said nothing. He turned back to look through the large pane of glass at the small flakes of snow as they coated the parked cars.


Yesterday, I went for a "long" run, and I enjoyed the cool. I ran on the Great River Regional Trail from Children's Country Day back to our home in Eagan. Most of the snow melted in Friday's sun, but the below-freezing frigid air on my face, the sensation of movement, and the bright afternoon sun helped me lose my thoughts of work, how I haven't been sleeping well, and all the other nonsense I wrap my mind in.

Saturday sun around 3:45 PM
I truly believe running is a blessing, just like the snow. It brings me a peace that sometimes hard to find. It makes me more ambitious and more energized. It teaches me about setting goals, and knowing when to slow down and when to speed up.

Have a peaceful day!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Birthday Run

It was a beautiful, windy fall morning in downtown Minneapolis. The sun was shining, the runners were frolicking through the chocolate-filled race course of The Chocoholic Frolic, and birds were probably singing too. The dog poop was washed off my hand, my picture had been taken with Laura and our chocolate, and I was off to continue my trek of thirty-one kilometers on the Great River Regional Trail, over the Mississippi River, through historic Fort Snelling, and to the Mississippi itself.

While I could go on and on about the nice weather, my sore knee, and all the deep nonsense I think about as I run, I'll tell the rest of the story through the lens of my iPod camera.

After the 10k, sporting my Husker gear for the rest of my run

From the sandstone river bluff above The Great River Regional Trail
Saint Paul, where I started my run, from the Mendota Bridge

Historic Fort Snelling with my thumb over the iPod lens

Historic flood levels of the Mississippi
The Mendota Bridge, where my Garmin died.

View of the shore of the Mississippi

After that last picture, the foot pod in my iPod died, so I ran back to Children's Country Day Preschool where my car was parked. I ran somewhere north of 31k, so I made it. Birthday run completed. Thanks for reading.

Happy Running!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pace Report: Chocoholic Frolic

It was a beautiful day for a pacing in downtown St. Paul. It was clear and the sky was bright the way it only is in November, when the cloudiest month gives way to sun. I don't know the scientific phenomenon that gives the sky an almost white color on these bright days, but I do know that my pin-prick pupils couldn't get any smaller while driving east, dangerously squinting to make out pedestrians going to the farmers market, trying to stay calm as I directed Laura to the start of the Chocoholic Frolic 10k.

It was a brisk morning, and the breeze through the downtown buildings made it even colder. Laura wanted to park closer to the finish line, though that meant being almost a mile from the start. After finding the pacer table and getting my number, I found out that there was no bag drop.

Since the weather was so cold, Laura had decided to wait in the car. I called her, and asked her to come ASAP so I could take the things back to the car. Unfortunately, I was a little crabby at the amount of time it took her to walk to the start line from her car, parked 0.83 miles away across the Wabasha Bridge in a strip mall parking lot.

After being crabby with Laura, I stuffed my things in my bag and asked my co-pacer, Ryan, to meet me at the start. There was no way I was going to be able to carry a ten-pound bag of Laura's and my stuff to the car and make it there 30 minutes before the start.

Karma quickly struck me for me crabbiness with my wife when I jumped off a ledge, putting my palm in dog poop. I tried not to think about it as I walked and jogged the 0.83 miles to the car, but as soon as I put the bag in, careful not to touch anything with my right hand, I went into a restaurant called Joseph's and washed my hands.

Lining up before the race
 The pacing itself wasn't nearly as memorable. My knee was taped up and still giving me some problems, and there really wasn't much of a group with us. The course was fun and had a lot of hills at the beginning as is crossed out of downtown Saint Paul over the Mississippi River, then flattened out through Harriet Island Park and along the river on Water St.

I think they call this a "selfie"
Ryan passing some 5k walkers

Ryan and I did a lot of chatting and cheering, and a lot of joking around about pacing a 10k. I brought my iPod along to snap some pictures, and at the end I took a video of the finish, so I could show how "spot on" I was with a screen capture.

Finish line shot from my ipod
I don't know what's up with the official results, as I am not listed and my co-pacer's time does not appear to be accurate. Oh well, we had a good time eating all the chocolate. I don't think this race was meant to be super-competitive.

After congratulating some runners and running into the race director and thanking him, I met up with Laura and ate a little chocolate and apologized for being crabby before the race.

Getting ready to replace all those calories we burned with chocolate

I could have gorged on more chocolate, but I had a birthday run to finish, which I will write about approximately whenever I feel like it.

Happy Running!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Runner's Prayer

Coming up on mile 21 of the St. Louis Marathon, the wheels start to come off. I'm suffering. My eyes hurt from the sun, my knee is stiff, my neck aches.

Chad catches up to me. His stride looks smooth--too smooth for someone who'd just run 22 miles. "Hey," he says. "What are you shooting for today?"

"I was going for a 2:50, but my 'B' goal is sub-3," I say.

"Let's go get that sub-2:50," he says.

Chad weighed almost 200 pounds, but had completed several ultra-marathons. "I'm shooting for a 2:52," he said. "I was up until almost one AM celebrating the Cardinals' win."

Forest Park, hurting

I'm interested, as I'd woken at 12:30 AM, and slept poorly after that. My thoughts turn to the creaky floorboards of the Jones's apartment, when I'd tip-toed to the couch to read "The Yearling." I'd finally fallen asleep at two AM, and snuck a couple restless hours before our five AM departure to the public transit station.

"OK," I say. "I'll try."

Chad leads the way, cutting into the five mile-per-hour headwind through Forest Park. We pass Andy and Stephanie as we chat about Rochester, where Chad attended Catholic High School.

Chad and I
Our conversation meanders with the road, turns to the Boston Marathon. "It's sad," I say. "That's all I can say about it. People will try to explain it, but it's sad."

"There's evil in this world," he says. "Some of my friends don't believe in evil, they believe everything is kind of relative."

Some of my friends could have been hurt or killed in that blast. "I don't know how people couldn't believe in evil," I say. "Are you a believer?" I ask.

He is. We talk about faith, and suffering. Chad feels God through the suffering, he says. The ecstasy of finishing, the joy of the breeze chilling my cheeks, the sun so bright it hurts; sometimes I feel God's presence, but I'd never thought about the suffering until now.

God knows. The creator of the universe, who sees our days as grass, which wither away and are thrown into the fire, He knows. He knows what it means to suffer, to give up everything for people who don't love him, people who hate him, but who don't think he exists.

And in the joy of a personal record, in the pain of a cramp the last 200m of a forty-two kilometer race, he cares. Does he care who wins or loses? I doubt it. Has he ever had a hand in a professional or collegiate football game? I don't think so.

But running--he knows. In a letter to the church in Galatia (Galatians 5:7), Paul told the Galatians that they were running a good race. Running has been important since the ancients chased the wildebeests on the African savannas, and its illustrative purposes are nearly endless.

I haven't been to church in awhile, and I have a feeling I need to get there. Fortunately, I'm blessed with a Creator who knows me, knows I don't have any good excuses, knows how selfish I am, knows how much I need forgiveness, and knows when I'm too stubborn to ask for it.

Thankfully, it doesn't matter if I go to church tomorrow or not; because the church is not a place. It's a body of believers, and when I pray, when I ask God for forgiveness, He supplies it lavishly.

Does that mean I should keep messing up, keep skipping church, keep making selfish choices, so I can be forgiven even more? Nope. Because that would make grace cheap. It would make forgiveness something to take for granted

I can still go to sleep at night, every night, with a peace that passes understanding, because my salvation has been accomplished; it was taken care of over two-thousand years ago, when a God who could destroy every living creature with a flood, chose humility.

The Creator doesn't want puppets. God wants us to worship because we have a choice. When I look at the canvas of creation in yellows of birch, the brown of the oaks, every shade of orange, to the deep purple leaves of the sugar maple--my unbelief and my doubt melt away.

Chad is gone by now; I told him I couldn't talk anymore (amazing), and soon after he left me alone with my thoughts, alone with my suffering.

by myself

Chad finishes his race in 2:52, just like he said. He waits for me at the end, congratulating me for breaking three hours. I thank him, wondering if I'll ever see him again.

So as I pray when I run, my breath feels God's spirit, the wind, the light, the exhilaration of life. I'll be praying as I run tomorrow. I'll be thanking God for life, all 31 years of it. For my dad's successful surgery and the doctor's hands he guided. For my mom's servant heart; a teacher of three generations, taking a day off from teaching first grade to take care of my dad.

For my sisters, their kids, the husbands that take care of them and the parents that guide them.

Thank you to all my readers. This is a blog first and foremost about running, and I appreciate the patience people have reading my ramblings when I get somewhat off-topic.

Today I'll be (trying) celebrating my 31st birthday by running 31k. The first 5k or so will be a warm-up to the Chocoholic Frolic 10k, and the next 16k will be along the Mississippi River. It will be my third birthday run (2011, 2011 (second write up), 2012) in three years, and the first where I'm not feeling completely healthy (unless you count a kidney stone).

I'll pray that the knee holds up, because whether it does or it doesn't, I know someone's listening.

Happy Running!