Friday, May 31, 2013

Going the Distance: Don Sullivan

Way back when I was blogging the "Running Pyramid," I asked Don Sullivan a few questions about his running experience. Don is, to put it mildly, an avid runner, who not only inspires others through his frequent (and possibly compulsive) running, but also helps out the running community--he's definitely at the top of the pyramid.

Tomorrow Don will be participating in the FANS 24 hour race. While most people would never dream of running for 24 hours, I'm fortunate to know several dedicated (possible crazy) runners participating in tomorrow's race. I know Don's been training incredibly hard for this race. Anyone who's trained to run 24 hours has worked hard, but Don's running story is inspiring to all kinds of runners--whether they're tackling their first 5k or their first ultra marathon.

Amazingly, Don's running career began only five years ago. Don witnessed his brother and many other runners battle through the heat and humidity of The Twin Cities Marathon. "After seeing Tom and all the other runners go through such a grueling race," he said, "I was determined to give running an honest effort."

While some people might get put off of running by watching runners suffer through brutal conditions, Don decided to give running an honest effort. He'd run the Get in Gear 10k a few times, but had never really trained for it. Now, however, he was ready to train for real. "I told myself that Monday after work I’d set out to run 1 mile and continue to run nearly every day for 3 months," he said.

It wasn't easy. In basketball shoes, Don suffered through a 12 minute mile. Eventually, however, Don worked himself up to 2 and then 3 miles. A little over a month later, he'd worked himself up to a 10 mile training run. "I did 3 laps around Lake Calhoun with my brother and was so proud and amazed that I could run 10 miles with very little stopping," he said.

Don found support through his brother, Tom, and a local running club that developed online. After getting that support, Don soon began offering his own support to the running community. Besides offering advice, training runs, and words of encouragement, Don has also paced many races over the years.

In an especially memorable pacing experience, Don left his pacing sign behind at the Eau Claire Marathon to help a young runner finish his first marathon. "Faced with the decision of running my goal pace and finishing alone or throwing down the pace sign and helping this kid finish his first marathon with as much positive energy as possible," he said, "the choice was easy." Don dropped his 3:00 pace sign, and helped the 19 year-old finish his first marathon in 3:10.

What drives don to help others?
"I think more than anything it’s the joy I feel when I see others get excited about a goal, whether it’s a time goal or a general fitness goal, and work hard to achieve that goal. The enthusiasm that is generated when someone sees progress in their training is contagious and I cannot help but get excited for them and find myself asking about the progress of runners that I help throughout their training cycles. Maybe it’s because I remember what it was like to be there and appreciate all the help, motivation and support that I received. Or, maybe it’s the teacher in me that wants to see others grow and do well in their goals. Either way, there is a genuine satisfaction in helping others, whether that be in the area of pacing at races or by offering training advice to those seeking help."
Don will be running his second 24 hour race tomorrow, and I hope to get out there and maybe run a few laps with him and cheer him on.

Happy Running!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Autism 5k Race Report

It was time to shake the rust off and run my first "distance" race of the season at the Autism 5k. After running a course-best at the TC One Mile, I was optimistic that I could run a decent time. Yesterday morning the weather was so stormy I was worried the race would be cancelled. A couple of times on the drive to Lake Calhoun the rain was so heavy that people were slowing down to 30 mph on the interstate and there were frequent flashes of lightning

When I got to the race, however, the rain had let up a bit and it wasn't pouring so heavily. I wore my trash bag poncho over to packet pickup, got my number, and went back to my car to stay warm and dry until I warmed up.

About 20 minutes before the race, I jogged for about a mile to warm up. When I got over to the start line, I didn't see anyone lined up yet, and it was only 10 minutes before the race started. I thought that was a little weird, but I didn't think too much of it and I went to look for some coworkers who were also running the race.

I found Crystal, another teacher at my school, standing under a tent. She told me that most of the other teachers weren't coming because of the rain. She also told me that they'd postponed the start until 9:15 because of the lightning.. Oops. That meant my warmup was more than a little mistimed, and that I'd now be standing around for an extra 15 minutes.

Oh well. There was nothing I could do about it, so I just chatted with Crystal for awhile, and then went and did another short warmup as my legs were starting to feel a little stiff again. I ended up running almost two miles before the race started. It was unfortunate because on my first warmup my legs were feeling pretty good, but after standing around in the somewhat chilly weather they didn't feel as good.

Thankfully there wasn't lightning again before the start, so at 9:15 they sent us off. After holding out and waiting for the lightning to stop, about two minutes into the race there was a giant flash of lightning, followed by several more throughout the race. I'm glad mother nature waited until it was too late to stop us and that no one got zapped. She was not kind, however, with the amount of liquid she poured on us from the sky. About the time the lightning flashed, the rain also picked up to nearly a torrential downpour.

 I definitely did not race this one very well. At the start three guys took off in front. One of them "looked" like a speedy runner, the other two looked like they were going out too fast. I'd looked at past winning times of this race, and honestly I wanted to try to contend for the lead.

Unfortunately I made the mistake of not making contact with the leader early in the race. I tucked in at the back of the pack of three, and, like I suspected, the third guy dropped off in about a quarter mile. Then, I made the mistake of staying behind the second place guy just a little too long, allowing the lead runner to gap us significantly. By the time I went around the second place guy, he'd built up around a ten second lead.

I don't know if I would have run better if I would have tried to hang with him earlier, but I don't think I would have run much worse. I never did make contact with him, and he ended up finishing 21 seconds ahead of me.

My final time was 17:35. I wasn't too thrilled, especially with the way I raced, but I shouldn't be upset. Last year my first two official 5ks were 17:39 and 17:30 before I broke through with a 16:18 at the Med City 5k in Rochester. I'm not expecting that kind of breakthrough this year with almost no mileage base. Considering my total lack of running this winter and the crummy weather, I suppose I should be satisfied with the result. I'd probably be happier if I'd have raced a little better and put myself in a better position early.

Today it's off for a long run, and next weekend I'll be pacing my first marathon of the year. It should be a blast!

Happy Running!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Running in All Kinds of Weather

Ah Minnesota... This far north of the equator we get all kinds of weather. Sure, it's nice that we don't have to deal with the 130 degree weather of the mideast, the two months of summer of the arctic, or the constant heat and humidity of the rainforest region. What we do deal with, however, is the land of extremes.

Less than two weeks ago, there was snow and sub-freezing temperatures. In fact, not too far south of the twin cities, some people got over a foot of snow. Then, not too long after, we hit nearly 100. It was a temperature swing of around 60 degrees.

A change of 60 degrees isn't messing around. In fact, just between this past Tuesday morning, the day started out around 50 and ended close to 100. That's a 40 degree swing in less than eight hours.

I did not run on Tuesday afternoon. Call me a wimp, a wuss, a baby, call me whatever you want, but even if I did have time to run Tuesday afternoon (I didn't), I wouldn't have. It was 39 on Sunday morning when I did my long run, with a wind chill close to freezing. I wore running pants, a running jacket, and gloves. My body wasn't ready to go from being comfortably cool to incredibly hot.

Though it's tough to run in ice or deep snow, running in cold weather is more than doable. Some warm running pants, a good running jacket, gloves and a hat make running in all but the coldest weather no problem. The heat though, especially when you're not acclimated to the hot weather, is much more difficult.

In cold weather, you can always add another layer. In hot weather, there's only so many layers you can take off before committing a misdemeanor. And, when it's really hot early in the season, it's difficult to just up and run when you haven't been in the heat at all.

I don't like getting out in the heat this early in the season. My sweat glands aren't quite ready to pump out the gallons of sweat necessary to keep my body cool. My arms are still pasty white from a winter and cold spring of being covered by long sleeves. I appreciate the warm weather (especially after our terrible cold, snowy spring), but I'm just not ready to hit the roads in the extreme heat, when the soles of my running shoes heat up on the black asphalt, heated by the unseasonably warm sun.

I guess it's time to toughen up, because the weather's not going to get much cooler. If my body keeps cooperating, I'm hoping to keep increasing my mileage as the summer goes on, and unless the weather really gets crazy, things are going to stay warm and get warmer for the next couple months. I guess it's time to de-paste my arms and start upping my sweat production.

This morning I'm running the Autism 5k if it's not cancelled because, of course, Minnesota weather is doing that other thing it does with some morning thundershowers. Oh well, if it's cancelled it's cancelled, and if it's not, I'm waterproof.

Happy Running!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

TC One Mile Race Report

Let's cut right to the chase: for the third year-in-a-row I tried to break five minutes in the TC One Mile, and for the third time I missed it.

Honestly, this should have been the year when I didn't worry about breaking five. After breaking my knee in November and having to slowly work my way back up to be able to run consistently, a couple weeks ago I didn't think sub-5 was even a reasonable goal. Last week, however, I had a pretty good speed workout, so I decided I would go for it. Why not? I've tried to break five minutes every other year.

Last year's race featured a ridiculous headwind, but this year's race had a wind that was mostly a tailwind, though at some of the intersections it turned into a crosswind. While the wind was nice, the temperature wasn't quite ideal for the mile at a brisk 47 degrees. After saying "hi" to some friends, Jon and Linda, I got chilly and had to go back to my car for a little bit to warm up. Normally I'd watch the other waves, but I was too cold.

After a little warmup, I lined up at the start. I said "hi" to Jon. I wasn't too cold waiting for the race to start as it was pretty packed and I was sheltered from the wind.

When the race started, I couldn't really tell if there was a tailwind or not, but I was feeling pretty good for the first quarter mile. I wasn't sure, however, if I was running too fast or too slow after the first 30 seconds, so I decided to just keep running the same pace. At the first clock at the quarter mile mark, it appeared that I was running too fast, as I came through between 71 and 72 seconds. Not terrible, but definitely a little faster than I wanted to be going.

At first I tried to relax and slow down just a hair, but after a little bit slowing down didn't seem to be an option, and I was really feeling it in my legs and lungs. Really, the first quarter should have been slower as it is slightly uphill, but since I rarely run a fast one mile race, I don't have a real good sense of pace.

I came through the halfway point at around 2:29--I still had a chance to break five if I could pick it up a hair, but I'd just run the second quarter much too slowly. I don't really remember the third quarter at all, but I think I went by that clock at something like 3:48 or 3:49. I was still losing time, and I'd really need to pick it up if I was going to break five minutes.

I did pick it up a bit, and started passing people. Amazingly, I didn't feel awful the last quarter mile, and it seemed like almost no time when I saw the finishing clock. When I saw the numbers ticking with probably around 150m to go, I knew I had a good shot at breaking five minutes.

I picked it up as much as I could, watching the clock tick 4:41, 4:42. It was going to be close, but I couldn't get any more speed out of my legs. The finishing clock kept ticking, but with about 40m left, I thought I might make it. I went across the line, stopping my watch almost as soon as I'd crossed it. I looked down and the numbers read 5:01. Yuck.

With the very low mileage I'd been running and running only two short speed workouts, I didn't think I had a good chance of breaking five minutes. It was almost more disappointing to be so close than if I would have run a 5:05 or something like that.

All in all I guess I shouldn't be too disappointed. My official time was 5:00.8, which is actually the fastest I've run the course. Though it was a little cooler than ideal mile temperature, there was a bit of a tailwind (though at the intersections it was more of a crosswind), which probably helped. I also think the extra strength training and crosstraining I put in while I was injured paid off, and it seems like I at least haven't lost any of my top end speed. We'll see how the 5k running on Saturday goes to see where I'm really at as far as my running fitness goes.

After the open mile, I hung out with Jon and Linda to watch the pros. The women's race was pretty exciting with a neck-in-neck finish, followed by a men's race where six runners broke four minutes with the winner, Nick Willis, breaking the course record.

This coming Saturday I'll try out the legs for a 5k, and I week after that I'll be pacing a marathon. Should be interesting.

Happy Running!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Pace Reports

Since I've been doing so great at blogging and didn't want to overload this blog with posts, I've decided to combine my last two pacing gigs into one report. A few weeks ago, I paced the Goldy's 10 mile, and on Sunday I paced the the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon.

Originally I was slotted to pace the 7:00 minute / mile group at Goldy's, but since I'd only run 10 miles in training once, I begged out of the 7:00 group to pace the 7:30 group. Fortunately, there were three pacers in my group, so that took the pressure off. It was a chilly day, so I opted to wear running pants and a long-sleeve tech shirt underneath my pacing singlet, along with a hat and gloves. It was a good choice as I was comfortable temperature-wise for the duration of the race.

The race itself went pretty smooth. One of the pacers in my group was having some problems with asthma, but he managed to finish with us, running most of the race about 10 yards in front of the other pacer and me. The course wasn't super-easy--it had a good amount of hills, including a decent one right at a turnaround, and another decent climb coming into the last couple miles.

My knee didn't give me any problems, and I was able to hang on to the 7:15 pace throughout the race, finishing in 1:15:01. Not bad for shaking the rust out.

The race gave me enough confidence to say "yes" to pacing the 1:35 group at the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon, a little more challenging 7:15 pace. I would also be without any co-pacers, so I'd be on my own to hit the pace.

The start of the race was pretty chilly--I was wearing shorts and arm-warmers with my singlet, along with gloves and a headband. Unfortunately, the race start was delayed when the lead police car wasn't ready at the start. Once we got going, however, I warmed up quickly and probably could have shed the gloves and the headband. Since I didn't have anyone to throw them to, I decided to keep them on rather than throwing them, as they were a little better than "throw-away" quality.

The whole way I had a handful of runners running with me. I felt like I kept a pretty even pace for most of the race, and went past each mile marker within a few seconds of 7:15. The course was decent--through the fancy neighborhoods of lakefront houses and along Lake Minnetonka, with several rolling hills, but nothing too extreme.

The last mile I think I accidentally picked it up a little too much. After being within a few seconds most of the race, I ran the last mile about 15 seconds fast, and ended up finishing in 1:34:41. After the race I had about half-a-dozen runners thank me for my pacing, which always feels good.

Pacing those two races was a pretty good confidence booster. I feel like my knee is better, and I'm hoping I can continue to up my mileage. I'm not really planning any big races, but I think that if I can stay on track this summer I might be able to run a decent race at the TC 10 mile in October. Besides the 10 mile and racing the TC 1 mile this Thursday, it looks like I might also be running the Ragnar relay--should be a nice summer of running.

Happy Running!