Nov 27, 2009

Race Report: 2009 Turkey Trot 5-miler

I'm the blue shirt. Thanks to Carl for the photo.

Interesting race yesterday.

As I wrote in the previous post, I finished the race last year with about 60% of the field in front of me and 40% behind of me. My time was 49 minutes.. just under 10 minutes per mile.

So I walked up to the starting area for this race saw 99% of the 2000-strong field standing in front of the 10 minute per mile area. There was nobody - literally nobody - standing near the "walker" sign behind the 10mpm sign. I decided to take an informal survey of the field. The extreme front - the 5-minute-per-mile sign - looked like it had real competitors - and as I started walking back, by the time I saw the 6-minute per mile sign there were folks standing there who obviously can't run the race that fast. I lined up at the 9-minute-per-mile marker, it looked like that was at 60-70% back from the starting line.

Like last year, the race had 20 minutes of sentimental stage-stuff with honor guards and national anthems, all after the 8:30 scheduled start. When we finally did get under way, it was obvious I made a good choice with my position in the field, it appears that most of the people who lined up at 9mpm were actually capable of running 10mpm, like me. However, I was still shocked at who I passed. Not only were there walkers in front of me who were difficult to pass, but I saw strollers, and even a person with a dog on their leash - all lined up in the middle of a 2000-person field!

And, by the way, if you'd ever like to see a case where races are not limited but really should be, check this race out. The two-lane road is impossibly crowded for for first couple of miles, and when we turn onto the one-lane road, it gets pretty crowded again. Even in the last mile, the crowds made it difficult to pass. It must have been much worse in the main part of the pack. One particularly interesting thing was the police car, presumably there for traffic control, parked on the side of the road a few hundred feet in front of the start. In an already-crowded race, I wondered what the cop was thinking when he left his car there.

I also screwed up, and apparently missed the instruction where I'm supposed to pick up a timing chip at the race, even though they had race packet pickup two days before in a different location. I picked up my packet on Tuesday, and just showed up at the starting line on Thursday morning assuming they didn't have chip timing. Oddly enough, I did go through the packet enough to go through each of the ad fliers and throw most of them out, so I can't imagine how I missed it - but apparently I did.

Anyway, my race went well. My main goal was to finish in under 50 minutes, which I did in 49:47 (net, 50:50 gross). My time last year was 48:34, and my secondary goal was to beat that, which I didn't. Can't complain. I ran hard and did fine.

I make this race sound horrible. It's not. There are better races out there but this one isn't that bad and a lot of friends show up to run it, which always adds to the fun. I'll probably be back next year if I'm in town.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at

Nov 25, 2009

Race Preview: 2009 Rockland Lake 5-mile Turkey Trot

The largest running event in Rockland County, every Thanksgiving morning, the Road Runners club here produces a five-mile road race at picturesque Rockland Lake. Offering runners a unique course with challenging hills in the first half and a pancake-flat second half, nearly 2000 folks line up at Rockland Lake's parking lot and run five miles before going home and stuffing themselves silly and sitting on the couch and watching football. It has become a tradition for many, and I've gotta say, it's a lot of fun.

Last year when I did this race, it was my first run after finishing the JFK 50-miler five days before. Any race where I average ten minutes per mile or better is good, and I did really well in 2008, finishing in about 49 minutes, much faster than I expected. My goal in 2009 is to meet or beat last year's time, and I honestly don't think it's going to be easy. Concentrating on long slow distances all year, I've found myself conditioned to slowly walk-run all day if necessary, but speed was gone - my ability to go fast had all but disappeared.

To compensate, for the last few weeks I've focused solely on faster, shorter workouts. Completely devoid of hill-work, I've been spending all of my time at the track or on a treadmill, hammering out sub-ten minute miles for as long as I can go or running 800-1200 meter intervals. Progress has been quick; I'm back to the point where I can maintain that pace for an hour, but that's on a treadmill at 0%. - there is a big difference between 6 miles on a treadmill and 5 miles at Rockland Lake.

Another factor, however, is the crowds. Apparently, most of the folks at this race are rather inexperienced - they simply don't know how to line up for a race. I lined up in 2008 as I always do, near the back of the pack with 10-minute per mile runners. I ended up running on the side of the road, in the grass, for the first half-mile as I passed hundreds of walkers and slower-than-me runners who lined up near the 8 and 9-minute per mile markers. I came in 1046th place out of 1726 finishers, but probably started in around 1700th place. It was really frustrating. In 2009, I will have to line up forward of where I normally go and hope I don't go forward too far. Based on the 2008 results, I guess I'll try to pick a spot with about 60% of the pack in front of me.

Have a great thanksgiving!

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at

Nov 23, 2009

Quick Tip - remembering treadmill workouts

So one of the little interesting challenges I have is maintaining an accurate, up-to-date log of my runs. Distance, time, and pace. I go out, I do my run, then go home and enter the log on the web site. How do I remember what I did?

For trail runs, I use my forerunner. I get home, sync it with the computer, and it tells me. For track runs, I have some sort of stopwatch and just remember the number of laps I did. And for treadmill runs, I used the notes application on my phone.

I'd get home, look at the most recent run, and enter it in my log.

This worked, but was not without problems. After just finishing a hard run, I'm pretty tired. Entering stuff on an iphone's keyboard without fatfingering everything is hard under normal circumstances - doing it while I can't see straight makes it that much harder.

Last week, a simpler idea occurred to me.

I can just take a picture of the treadmill!

I always have my phone with me because, if I'm working out on a treadmill, I'm definitely listening to something. And it's a lot easier to hit the shutter button than it is to enter numbers on that keyboard. I've been doing this for a couple of weeks and it really works well. Give it a try sometime.

P.S. - Another advantage is, in the photo's meta data, the date and time of the workout is automatically saved for you. It's just there with the photo. And, if you use an iphone or other GPS-enabled device, you even have the location. Pretty nifty.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at

Nov 20, 2009

Just thinking - Calories per hour

Just thinking..

A post on Amby Burfoot's Peak Performance blog (seen here) gives some very straightforward and interesting insight into the world of running and calorie burning.
For running and walking, your gross calorie burn/mile is directly related to your body weight, so we can produce simple formulas that you can use for your specific weight. In running, your gross calorie burn per mile = .75 x wt in lbs. For walking, it = .57 x wt in lbs.

So - let's take that little tidbit of info and translate it to me.

  • At 295 lbs, I can run a 10K (6.2 miles) in an hour. That is a 9:40 pace. Using Amby's formula, that burns about 1371 calories.

  • If I dropped my weight to 250 and tried to burn the same number of calories in that hour, I'd have to run a shade over 7.3 miles in that hour - 8:12 pace.

  • At 200lbs, I'd have to cover 9.14 miles in that hour. That sounds pretty fast, and at 6:35 minute miles, you'd have to be really fast to disagree.

Now I have no idea whether the calorie burn rate remains constant in the same person given the same level of fitness but different BMI. But, for the sake of stupid-self-indulgence, let's say it does. A 10K run at that 6:35 pace would mean a 40:40 finish time. According to Running Times, a person who runs a 40-minute 10K should be able to run a 3:07 marathon - and it only takes a 3:10:59 to BQ.

This is all meaningless, even without all those assumptions. As I said, I'm just thinking.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at

Nov 18, 2009


Steve: "You know, I can run a 10K in an hour now."
Me: "What's so special about that?"
Steve: "Well, I'm nearly 300 lbs."
Me: "Yeah, I guess that's pretty good for 300lbs."
Steve: "So here's the thing - if I can run a 60-minute 10K at 300lbs, how fast could I run it at 200?"
Me: "Interesting. Want to find out?"
Steve: "Definitely."
Me: "So what are you waiting for?"
Steve: "Better question: what the f is wrong with me that I haven't found out already?"
Me: "Yes, that is a better question."

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at

Nov 16, 2009

Race Report: Team Slug Russell B Cheney 50K

This race report is a little late, a full 6 weeks after the event. My memory of what happened has started to fade already, and it's high-time I got this thing written or else there will be nothing to write.

(if you can't see the video, please click here)

This was my second Team Slug event, and I'm really glad I came. Got up at 3:30am, was the first customer at my bagel shop, and hit the turnpike two hours before dawn.

When I pulled into the swamps of Delaware, Race Director John was the only one there and for a few minutes it looked like this might be a solo race. I didn't say anything, but recognized something in John that was different than when I saw him previously - he seemed a little melancholy - I didn't think much of it and we hung out until, finally, a couple more people arrived. Three or four of us lined up and got started, and three others showed up 20 minutes after we started and they went ahead, too.

As far as the race itself, there isn't much to say. Weather was perfect, but I was unusually slow due to the Vermont 50 fiasco only 6 days prior. I went at a decent pace for the first 4 or 5 laps, but really slowed down in the second half as my tired legs started complaining. I walked entire laps.

I took the opportunity to experiment with using only perpetuem to fuel my run, but by lap 6 I had really bonked and was craving some real food. John makes no promises to bring food for the runners at his races, but I was really glad that he had a small spread, paid for out of his own pocket, of some junk food to keep us going.

The winner, who was one of the guys who started late, came in just shy of 5 hours (he was given no credit for his late start.) 3 hours later I had my first DFL (dead-last) - winning the "Crazy Horse Award" in Team Slug vernacular - in 7:55.

The wonderful thing about these Team Slug events are that they consider the last-place person just as important as the first, and everyone - all the runners including the winner, family of runners, and the race director - hung out, had a good time, waiting for the last place person - me in this case - to come in. When so many events are wrapping up by the time a guy like me comes in, it's really nice to see that kind of support from a group of guys who accept no money, just come for the fun of it.

That evening, when I got home, I saw this post on team slug's Facebook. John had something on his mind all day, which explained why I thought he was a little quiet in the morning.

On October 3rd, 2009, TSI Co-Founder and Lifetime President "The Hitman" announced the "Death of Team Slug." TSI was exactly twenty years old. The Slug-Dream began in the Spring of 1989 in the seething swamps of Southeastern Virginia near Virginia Beach. TSI was founded by Running Man and Hitman, in honor of T.J.Key and his former Flatlanders Running Club based out of San Diego. In the early years, as in the latter, TSI attracted few participants; often starting fields of 10-15 ultra-runners. The course would usually be lined with strategically placed pint bottles of ginger brandy, coconut-covered marshmallows for markings, and not start until the early evening/dusk hours. The park closed at dark, and the Slugs would be "out there" into the wee hours, not only running, but evading Ranger Rick along the way.

The Slugs, and their shenanigans thrived throughout the mid '90's sprouting informal clubs in PA with Peanut Petley, MD/DC with James Moore and Dan Grayson; teaming with the Runner's From Hell, and Claude Sinclair, in South Carolina, and the grandest club of all based out of Gulf Breeze, FL. The Florida-band of gypsies was led by one Pavvy "The Big Brown Pony" Polur, and survived for years underground; passing itself off as a UF0 Search and Rescue Team. Pavvy's 42-Mile Boggy Bayou Swamp Stomp was never more than a whisper, but has since become ultra-legend. Then in early 2002, the Running Man mysteriously disappeared into the hills of North Georgia, apparently detained along with an eighteen year old female accomplice, on an Indian Reservation for possession of several dozen gallons of illicit fire-water (corn liquor). He hasn't been seen or heard from since.

Sponsoring an average of three non-events per year, the Slugs saw many hundreds of ultra-runners finish a Slug Run ... earning the World-Famous Black, 100% Cotton, Team Slug T-Shirt (Made in USA). TSI was friendly for first-time ultra-runners; with no time limits and no fees. If you didn't quit, you'd be given the opportunity to finish. And finish they did. Over the past twenty years the sport of ultra-running has gone mainstream ... Entry fees for ultras now cost hundreds of dollars, and 100-Mile Runs fill up on-line in minutes. Yet, Team Slug has not changed ... No Entry Fee, No Time Limit, and The Same Olde Black T-Shirt ...

Though Team Slug is now Officially Defunct, the Slugs will continue to occasionally gather, and run. The Slug shirt will infrequently appear at obscure ultra/marathon events around the country, and memories of past events will linger in the hearts of those many hundreds of Slugs who've "earned" that shirt. The Slugs lined up for the very last time this morning, Seven-Strong, just like the old days. Ironically enough, The All-Nighter and Sluggette, were there to "toe the line." Slugs we've come full circle ...What a Wonderful Twenty Years it has been ... It is Done ... THANKS for ALL ...

Apparently, I was the last person to finish an official Team Slug event. If there was ever a time to DFL an event, that was it. That last paragraph "the Slugs will continue to occasionally gather, and run" suggested that this won't be the last time I see John and company, but I really didn't know what he had in mind.

However, the next morning, I saw this:

Fattest Butt 50K set for Jan 2, 2010 (Mourning the Death of Team Slug --- Please be Respectful, and Bring a Black T-Shirt) Multiple Loops through frozen tundra of Central Delaware, well into the heart of winter. If you come bring cold weather gear, 300 feet of rappelling rope, and some emergency alcohol (should you become lost/disoriented in the forest). No Aid, No Fees, No Whining, No Kyle Busch fans, etc,etc,etc...

A week later, a "new" team slug shirt was announced, to be distributed at the FB50K

So it's hard to say what will really become of TSI. My worst fear, that it will fade into oblivion, is hopefully inaccurate. Perhaps John will morph it into something else. Perhaps runs will happen several times per year, completely unofficially, under no banner - "team slug" or otherwise. I don't know - but just to be safe, if you've never done a Team Slug event, you might want to make sure you get to Fattest Butt - it may just be your last chance to participate in something really special.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at

Nov 13, 2009

Steve's bucket list: Hardrock 100

This is part of a series of posts where I discuss items on my "bucket list." the introduction to the series is here.

The message from Blake Wood came through the ultra list yesterday. This one-line email likely sent a couple hundred people into immediate action, and a few hundred more (me) dreaming. It said,
On Thu, Nov 12, 2009 at 12:09 PM, Blake P. Wood wrote:
The entry application for the 2010 Hardrock Hundred is now available at

- Blake

Hardrock, for me, is the ultimate goal. There simply is no other race that appeals to me like Hardrock does. I find it very hard to describe the combination of challenge and setting in regards to its appeal. The setting - the rugged mountains of Southwest Colorado - for me epitomizes the concept of mountains in general to which I feel a primal attraction. I visited the area once and was immediately taken by it. The late august drive we took from Durango to Ouray through Silverton was one of the most memorable of my life. Given the opportunity, I'd love to move to the area and spend my days there. The photography I've seen suggest that the course is even more impressive than the scenery of that day's drive.

And then, there's the difficulty.

"It's not enough that you run 100 miles. This race has to add 33 thousand feet of elevation to it, too?" - Foster (coworker), looking at the printed elevation profile:

Depending on what you'd consider "monster", there are at least 8 monster climbs on that profile, probably more.

Not that I can attest from personal experience, but it seems to me that there are very few races that an ultrarunner can honestly say will actually test the limits of a homo-sapien's physical endurance. Some of the exceptions are made obvious by their 1-2% completion rates - courses that are just stupid hard, where a sadistic race director throws anything he possibly can your way, just to get you to quit. They're probably beyond the limit for most people. Others with higher completion rates still manage to push people to the limit but are not out of the realm of possibility. Races like Arrowhead or Badwater do it through environmental extremes - cold or heat. Hardrock does it by just throwing a really really hard course at you.

This video gave me a powerful look at the course's difficulty:

(if you can't see the video, please click here.)

I have long been interested in finding out where my real limit is. I've not found it yet, I feel like my DNFs all happened before my real limit (regardless of what I thought at the time.) It seems to me that Hardrock, however, will finally test exactly where the actual limit of my endurance is. That excites me.

What does it take to get into Hardrock? Well, there's a weighted lottery and waiting list, so it takes a bit of luck, at least in the first year you enter. However, before they even let you enter the lottery, you have to have proven yourself capable of finishing, and for most participants, that means completing a real mountain 100-mile race. 100 mile races like Rocky Raccoon, Umstead, and even Vermont aren't considered difficult enough, they want to see something like Angelest Crest, Wasatch, HURT, or Bear to be considered. Since I love the Grand Teton 50 so much, my plan is to return to Targhee in 2010 and try to qualify by running Grand Teton 100, which is considered adequate.

Image credits: Steve and Deb Pero. Thanks for licensing them under Creative Commons, I really appreciate being able to use them here.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at

Nov 11, 2009

cranberries without sugar experiments, part 1

Walking through the vast halls of my local Costco the other day, I came across this 3-lb bag of fresh (not frozen) cranberries.

Intrigued (and without much thought), I grabbed it. I knew that cranberries are one of the healthiest foods around, and the opportunity to get them fresh only lasts a couple of months per year.

Now I have never cooked with cranberries before, but I knew from years of thanksgiving dinner experience that these little morsels of health were usually served in a super-sweet sugar glaze that makes them.. less healthy. A few internet searches confirmed this, recipes typically added a whole cup (8-oz) of sugar to a 12-oz package of berries. Wow!! And sugar-free recipes were usually sweetened anyway, just with sugar substitutes.

So, living by the rule to "approach love and cooking with reckless abandon," I did the unthinkable: cooked cranberries completely without sugar. I boiled them for ten minutes until most of them "popped", then let them cool for an hour. Then I force-fed the result to my wife and kid.

The water had turned into a thick glaze, but without sugar.

Steve, unusually tolerant of unsweetened bitter flavors (I eat 100% chocolate.. and prefer it to milk chocolate): "This is ok. I can learn to like this."
Alex, "It's not as bad as I thought it would be. Which isn't saying much."
Joe (5-years old), "Um, it's ok." do you want more? "No."

Verdict: too tart for most tongues.

I decided to add a little sweetener to what was left. The last time we made pancakes, we used half of one of those little cracker barrel bottles. The remaining half was sitting in our cabinets, waiting to become a science experiment.

It seemed to me, and I was hoping, that when it came to sweeteners, "a little bit goes a long way." So I added that little bit of maple syrup to that big bowl of cranberries, and repeated the force-fed taste-test.

Steve: "Cranberry taste and tart still present, but the overall flavor much more pleasant."
Alex: "Much better. I like it."
Joe: "Um, it's pretty good." Do you want more? "No."

Verdict: not inedible. would serve with dinner.

I have 3lbs of this stuff, so I will experiment more and report back here.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at

Nov 9, 2009

Ultra Listserv Gold Part II: Does running 100 miles ever get easy?

The wisdom of Lazarus:

Sat, Nov 7, 2009 at 12:31 AM

i dont know that it becomes easier, so much as you simply adapt.
as you extend your boundaries, distances get easier.
50 miles makes 50 k easier.
100 k makes 50 miles easier.
100 miles makes 100 k easier.
and the first time you are excited to have "only" 100 miles left,
nothing is the same any more.

i look back on my earlier ultras,
and some of the reasons i felt i had to slow down... or drop out,
and i am amazed that i gave in so easily
when i later discovered how much more i could survive.

you learn to take the pain
wall it off in a corner of your mind
and just keep moving.
it doesnt matter if you are having a good day, or a bad day.
the only difference in the two is your time.
you dont think about quitting
you dont think about finishing.
you just keep moving.
because that is what you do.
that is who you are.

it is a useful skill,
knowing how to simply endure.
it is the ultimate reward for running ultras.

i think some people come by it naturally.
but everyone can acquire the skill.
if i can, anyone can.
no one is less inherently tough than me.


New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at

Nov 6, 2009

2009 is a wrap

I seem to have caught a cold. It's been with me all week, and hasn't gotten any better. I waited until Thursday, but I reluctantly withdrew from this weekend's 50-mile race.

Which means - 2009 is probably finished, at least with marathons and ultras. The highlight of the year was the PR at Caumsett 50K, and the finish at Grand Teton 50M - I persevered in the latter, and had a really good solid run in the former.

As soon as I get over this cold, I want to dedicate a few months to running faster speeds and shorter distances, because I really feel like that kind of training makes me better at longer distances. Marathons and Ultras are "easy" after a few really hard efforts at sub-half-marathon, and all of my best performances have been in periods of short training runs.

Also, short intense training seems to be the best fat-loss strategy for me, as the "long slow burn" only seems to increase my appetite in compensation.

But for those of you who crave ultra content on this blog, don't fret! With the Umstead 100-mile a mere 4½ months away (crap!!), I'll be certain to be writing plenty about going long as that approaches!

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at

Nov 4, 2009

Meb is not an american?

This is just an educated guess, but I'll bet that most the people who complain that Meb Keflezighi is not really american, have something in common - they're the ones who've never heard of Meb Keflegzighi before he won the NYC marathon. cretins notwithstanding, they're not the running fans. Only running fans bothered to watch the 2008 olympic trials that were not televised, but were streamed over the internet. I don't think many fans who watched him struggle with the stress fracture he had and ultimately drop there said, "well, he's not american anyway."

This is what I'm talking about:

These people don't deserve to have their opinions printed any more than I'd deserve to have my opinions on Cricket printed. I don't know anything about Cricket. Why should my opinion matter?

Fortunately, at least the talking-head haters are getting what they deserve:

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at

Nov 2, 2009

What I learned at the NYC marathon

1. I'm fat
2. I'm hopelessly inconsistent in my training
3. The best way to make your legs feel like they ran a 50-miler without actually running a 50-miler is to run an ashpalt/concrete marathon in trail running shoes.

My official time was 6:10:53, a half-hour off my PR.

great race, btw. crowds were amazing, especially in brooklyn.

full race report later.

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