Thoughts on fitness, health, good nutrition ... and running.

Welcome to Bald Man Running, a blog launched by Frank Murphy on January 1, 2015.

In March, 2013 I was selected as a contestant for the sixth season of Fort Wayne's Smallest Winner. Through this amazing program, I learned about good nutrition, sound exercise and accountability. By October, I would lose over 88 pounds (almost 37% of my original weight)! One of the many things I acquired through FWSW was a love for running. You can retrace my weight loss journey and discover how I became a runner by reading those entries labeled "fwsw" ...

Note: Many of the blog entries on this website predate 1/1/2015. Prior to launching BMR, I had written articles for various projects, and I have imported many of them into this blog (labeled "retro").

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Be Your Own Mom

When I was a kid, I remember several occasions where I refused to eat a piece of fruit because it was bruised. I'd look at an apple, pear, banana or peach and think "gross! I'm not eating it that way!"

My mom would tell me nothing was wrong with it. I didn't believe her. She said if I were to eat it with my eyes closed I couldn't tell if it was bruised or not. I didn't believe her. Inevitably, my mom would take a bite of that bruised fruit just to show me that it was okay. I still didn't believe her.

Now don't get me wrong ... my mom is completely trustworthy (she's awesome that way). I'm just a picky eater and had a hard time getting past that bruise. I don't know how many times my mom got to eat a piece of unbruised fruit. She took one for the team so often I wonder if she looks at a piece of unblemished fruit and thinks "gross! I'm not eating it that way!"

You might be thinking of making some resolutions for the new year. That's admirable. I'll toss out a suggestion for you ... this year I'd like you to considering being your own mom.

 Things like exercise, eating right, being accountable to friends for your health and wellness can be really unpleasant and difficult, especially when you're just starting out. The first month is really hard, and that's when a lot of resolutions die. When you're tempted to look at the hardships and give up, consider it to be a bruised piece of fruit.

You know you will benefit from it. You know it is good for you, even if it doesn't look that way sometimes. Maybe you need to just close your eyes, suck it up and plunge forward with your workout, meal prep and food journal. Give yourself the "you can do it" pep talk ... just like mom.

It's even okay to get a little frustrated with yourself. Sometimes those little fruit sessions would devolve into me stubbornly asserting "no, I absolutely won't eat it. You can't make me." If you guessed that never worked out too well for me ... well, you'd be right. Be your mom and don't take no for answer.

So ... as the new year progresses and you see a piece of bruised fruit, may it remind you of a great example and inspire you to continue pressing onward!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Event Report: 2016 Jackson County 50/50 (50 Mile Ultra-Marathon)

Event: Jackson County 50/50 - 50 Miler
Brownstown, IN


2016 was supposed to be the year I took my running to another level and went beyond 50k. I was planning on running my first 50 Miler in April (the IT 50) and my first 100k in September (Woodstock); however, my plans changed rather abruptly after I broke my ankle in January.

I was not completely cleared to begin running again until May, which meant no 50 Miler. I did make it the starting corral for the 100k, yet I wound up dropping at mile 41 (see previous event report). It was my first ever DNF, and it stung. While I remain confident it was smart to drop, I definitely wanted another bite at the apple. It didn’t take long and I was soon shopping for another >50k race. My options were limited for various reasons, but I really wanted to finish one in 2016.

Lesson learned -> Use a more robust criteria when shopping for an event. As it turns out, this course was extremely difficult, and perhaps not the best choice for a first 50 miler.

The event is organized by DINO (Do Indiana Offroad), which hosts triathlons, adventure races and other trail events (including the Tecumseh Trail Marathon). This was my first DINO event, and I was pleased with the professionalism and organization. They did a fine job. Swag includes a nice beanie, a long sleeve tech shirt and a medal (no buckle). For the price, it’s a good value.

The event takes place at Pyoca Camp, Conference & Retreat Center. Facilities are nice. You can use their lodging, which is available in two options: standard ($20/night) and upgraded ($30/night). The more expensive option means you might have fewer roommates, but I went standard and had only one roommate. The cabins are heated and have a fridge/microwave with separate sleeping area. It’s better than several hotels I’ve used.

The main lodge is open for meals throughout the weekend (Friday dinner through Sunday breakfast). Food is good, and definitely more convenient that going into town to find a place to eat.

Lesson learned -> Stay on the grounds the entire weekend. It’s inexpensive and high quality. I’m glad that I didn’t try to drive home immediately after the event.

The Course
It’s advertised as a ten mile loop, yet is closer to 10.3. There are substantial hills, tricky terrain, a couple of paved sections and some beautiful scenery. The “hills” are of varied difficulty level. The first major hill climb is relatively long and steady, yet not too steep. There are two separate sections of substantial length and steepness (both up and down) later in the loop. Overall, there’s about 1700 feet of ascent per loop (8500 total).

If I were to grade the difficulty level of each mile in the loop, I would assign the following letter grades (A = standard, F = very hard): A B C B D F C B A B.

I generally enjoyed the course, but it was definitely the most difficult course I’ve ever run. At times, it was so steep I occasionally used my hands on the ground to scramble upwards. On the steepest descent, I also sat down once or twice and scooted along on my butt simply because I was too nervous about picking up an uncontrollable amount of speed.

Oddly, it was less nerve wracking in the dark. When I was going through these steep sections during the day, I thought “oh boy, it’s going to be extra bad at night” but that really wasn’t the case. I could not see all the way to the top or the bottom and I think that kind of helped my anxiety.

One of the things that made the steep sections intimidating was the uneven terrain. It looked like rain water had eroded deep/wide ruts in the path that were initially filled with leaves (and roots, rocks, etc). As the day wore on, the many runners had semi-cleared a path through the deep leaves and that made it much easier to navigate with confidence.

Lesson learned -> I let the course dictate my pace and didn’t go faster than I could manage. I made sure I still had something in the tank on the last loop, and that worked out quite well.

Aid Stations
First, I’ll say that the aid stations were fine. The people were really nice, helpful and encouraging. Stations are at mile 4, 5.5, 8, 10 (which is also where you can check a gear bag).

I do have a minor criticism, which is likely due to being spoiled by the IT100 group. Don Lindley and those who manage rolling aid stations for IT100 training runs have set the bar high. That this event didn’t measure up to that standard isn’t saying it was bad, but that IT100 is just that good.

I was disappointed in the fare. It was not very diverse. For food, at first it was pretzels and full-size candy bars (Snickers, Hershey’s, etc). Eventually, they had hot tomato soup (which hit the spot). Drinks included water, Gatorade, an energy drink (didn’t try it) and eventually some hot chocolate.

There were no chips, M&Ms, sandwiches, potatoes, etc. I was expecting this kind of stuff, and it simply wasn’t available. I had little choice but to try stuff I hadn’t used before. I wound up eating one full candy each loop (breaking it in half and eating the separate pieces about an hour apart).

Fortunately, I was able to adapt. I had some of my own nutrition (something called QuicDisc) that I had brought with me, so I leaned more heavily on that than I might have otherwise. Considering the situation, I think nutrition worked out well enough. I was never hungry, had indigestion, etc.
Lesson learned -> It would have been a good idea to put familiar food in my gear bag. This could have went badly for me if I had struggled with the candy bars.

I was extremely blessed! The temperature was perfect (35-45 all day).No rain or snow either in the days leading up to the event or on the day of it. Creek crossings were not a problem. I’ve heard that in past years the weather had made the course a nightmare. Even under ideal circumstances, it was extremely challenging. I know that if the difficulty level was higher then I might not have finished. I am very grateful for answered prayer for good weather!

I wore running tights, a wicking base layer shirt, a thin jacket, wool throw away gloves, and a buff over my bald head. I carried my own water and nutrition in my UD vest. Nothing fancy. Nothing unusual. No problems. I did change shirts twice.

I had just got a new GPS (Garmin 920xt), and was excited to use it in a race. I still don’t know how I want to configure the data screens, etc., but it worked really well for me. I really like it. It records a lot of advanced metrics (cadence, ground contact time, vertical oscillation, etc). I don’t think it does a particularly solid job gathering this kind of data on the trail. Over the five loops, it was consistent on pace and distance.

I used Garmin’s LiveTrack feature to keep my wife updated throughout the whole run (she was a nervous wreck, and really appreciated the instant updates). I used the HRM to manage my effort level, i.e., avoid spending too much time in the “red zone.” I think I did a nice job in this area (overall average heart rate was 138 bpm and 85% of the run in zones 3-4).

The battery is supposed to last about 20-25 hours, but only if you configure it correctly. I haven’t got that stuff figured out yet, so I got my first “low battery” warning about ten hours into the race. I was going to be disappointed if the Garmin died before I finished. I prayed several times that God would allow the battery to make it all the way through, and I think He answered. There were no bars left on the battery meter when I crossed the finish line, but it made it to the end. Does God answer these kind of prayers? I won’t argue with you, but you won’t change my mind either.

I also had a new high quality Petzl headlamp. One of the major components of my failure at Woodstock was a faulty lamp and a useless backup. This event went much smoother.

Lesson learned -> Learning from your mistakes is really cool (i.e., the headlamp fiasco).

Of course I’m going to talk about my broken ankle. It’s kind of what I do. I know I’ve talked about it a lot, but dang it, it’s been a daily part of my life for months. Two interesting things about it:

1) It is still not quite healed in regards to tissue. The bone is fine, but I still have a limited range of motion. Going up or down the steep hills, I could place my right foot flat on the ground, but I couldn’t do the same with my left. For much of the steepest parts, I was going upwards on my tippy toes, which put a lot more strain on my calves and heels. Post race, the sorest parts of my body are my left ankle and my right knee. I think the knee is from compensating for the ankle. Overall, it’s just sore and has felt much better each day since the event. I am very thankful to have completed this challenge without injury!

2) Following my injury, I’d have flashbacks multiple times a day. Random and even silly things would trigger a flashback where I’d just replay the fall in my head. My wife notices when it happens because it’s accompanied by a noticeable tic or twitch. It even happens when I run, usually multiple times.

Throughout the entire 50 miles, I did not have a single flashback. I don’t know what that means. I even thought about the fall several times throughout the run, but never had one of those bothersome mental images or twitches. My single greatest fear about this event was that when it got dark, the flashbacks would get really bad. That fear never materialized.

I have had some flashbacks since I’ve returned home, so I don’t claim it’s completely gone, but something happened on the course, and for that I’m very grateful, even if I’m still unsure what to think about it all.

This was one of the hardest physical challenges I have ever attempted. The margin between finishing and DNF was razor thin. I was extremely fortunate that so many variables lined up perfectly for this weekend. With just one or two negative changes, I might not have finished.

Would I recommend this event to others? Sure. There are race options of one, three and five loops, so there’s something for everyone. It’s very difficult, so if this is your first 50k or 50 miler, perhaps you should keep looking until you find something a little more appropriate to a first timer.

I was not fast, but I was competent. My training had adequately prepared me. I am extremely grateful for the many people in the local running community who have ran with me, offered me encouragement and advice, staged training runs at night, and so many other things. If you’ve read this far, then you’re probably one of those people. I owe you. Thank you.

Final Thought
I wound up running almost the entire race alone, and I was fine with that. I had a lot of time to talk to God and think about life. It was a peaceful and serene experience. I tried to count my blessings, but I’d needed a course much longer than 50 miles to list them all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Looking Good Naked

Over the past few years, I've met several people with stories like mine. They've lost a lot weight (amounts ranging from 35 to 100+ pounds) in a fairly short period of time. I enjoy swapping stories with these kindred spirits.

You can imagine how much of these conversations go. We'd talk about exercise, food plans, workout buddies, and other predictable topics. However, after several of these conversations, I noticed one particular issue that popped up fairly often. It's a loosely kept secret within the weight loss community... one that we don't really like to talk about. And yet, I'm willing to share it with you. Are you ready? Here it is ...

... we often don't like the way our bodies look.

Allow me to explain ... when most folks begin a weight loss journey, they have an image in their mind of how great they'll look when they finally get to an ideal weight. I was almost certain that I would get unsolicited offers to model underwear or to appear in lite beer commercials. As the weight dropped off and it started showing in my face, I'd look in the mirror and think the transformation was well under way. I was soooo sure that soon (very soon!) I would be a sex symbol.

Guess what?  As my weight loss continued, I started noticing a lot of empty, flabby skin just hanging from various places on my body. Just because I dropped 12" in pants size doesn't mean that my skin tightened up to the same degree and at the same rate as my belt did.

I'm not alone. Other successful people couldn't help but notice the "chicken wings" drooping from their triceps, or how they felt like a human-size bobble head doll ("my head looks way too big!"), or how they now had "turkey neck" syndrome. Just about every woman who has lost a lot of weight laments the corresponding reduction in bra cup size. And those who did feel good about how they looked often had to respond to people saying things like "you look like a skeleton; eat a cheeseburger for Pete's sake." I think each one of us thought we'd get to our healthy weight and then we'd look good ... real good ... while naked.  It's a severe understatement to say that our collective expectations were sorely unmet.

So, this is a real phenomenon. If you're struggling with your appearance post-weight loss, let me offer you some encouragement ...

You may not like the way you look now, but I know you didn't like the way you looked "before" either. The "now" you may not be gracing the cover of a fashion magazine any time soon, but you do look unimaginably better.

I think about it like this: my old, obese body was the result of being lazy and making poor choices, but the lean body that I have now is one that I have fashioned through hard work and good choices. My "now" body is a trophy that I have won, and I enjoy celebrating that fact by pushing it and discovering what it can do. I went from being unable to climb a flight of stairs without taking a rest to running two full marathons in a two week span.

And I'm not alone ... everyone I've had this conversation with can tell you similar amazing stories of their own post-loss accomplishments. We may not look like we thought we would, but we definitely have many good reasons to appreciate what we have.

So ... here I am ... inside of my flabby, loose skin lives a fit beast. I may not look like I thought I would look, but I now take pride in what I see in the mirror ... a body that I have earned ... and that's quite attractive!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Recovery from Injury

Lately, I’ve fielded a lot of questions about injury recovery. I’ll share some of my thoughts regarding recovery with the intent of helping others who have suffered injuries.

Background: I’m a long distance runner. In January 2016, I slipped on ice and broke several bones in my ankle. Surgery was required, and I now have a permanently implanted plate and several screws. It’s now November 2016, and while I’m not quite back to where I was, I am certainly doing fine.

Ask your health care professionals A LOT of questions.
If you have a doctor that doesn’t like questions (which I think is rare), then you need another doctor. It’s normal to have high anxiety and fear when freshly injured. Asking questions is the only way you’ll understand what has happened and what needs to happen. Doctors appreciate patients who ask questions. It demonstrates that you are their partner in treating your injury.

Recruit a secretary.
Take someone with you to doctor visits (pre-surgery, post-surgery follow up visits, etc) so they can take notes. The doctor will give you something in writing, but it’s likely to be short bullet points. Your secretary’s job is to write EVERYTHING down. When you’re dealing with anxiety, it’s easy to misremember something or to forget to ask certain questions. Your secretary can cover these bases for you.

It’s quite likely your doctor won’t quite understand your fitness passion. For example, my doctor hasn’t treated many long distance runners, so it was really helpful to have a secretary that could “translate” between me and my doctor.

Under ideal circumstances, you wouldn’t need a secretary, but it’s really helpful for those for first few visits. Yes, it is a lot to ask of someone, but it can make a huge difference. Plan on returning the favor by being a secretary for someone else in need.

Ask for some rules.
Sometimes doctors struggle to get patients to do a bare minimum (i.e., “you should walk a little everyday, even if it is still uncomfortable”). My doctor saw that I would have the opposite problem. I needed limits placed on what I could do. I promised to stay within the guidelines, and he promised to revise those guidelines after each checkup.

Obey the doctor.
If you’re told not to run for two weeks, then don’t run for two weeks. Runners have a reputation that screams “I’ll show you … I’ll prove I can run just fine.” It’s not brave. It’s not beast-mode. It’s stupid.

Be smart. When someone runs in spite of the doctor’s advice, they usually make the injury worse. Instead of two weeks with no running, they wind up with six weeks of no running. This type of setback is easily avoided if you just obey your doctor!

Even worse? When a runner disobeys the doctor’s orders and doesn’t immediately aggravate the injury. The patient thinks “see, I’m fine … what does that doctor know?” In reality all they did was dodge a bullet. People who play Russian Roulette and don’t draw the bullet chamber aren’t good at Russian Roulette … they’re just dumb lucky. Don’t press your luck. Behaving in the short term pays off in the long term.

Watch your food intake.
I suddenly went from burning about 8500 calories (or more) a week to complete bed rest. I couldn’t afford to eat the same way after my injury that I did beforehand. It’s really easy while on bed rest to let food get out of control.

If you don’t normally keep a food journal, start one. Use an app like myfitnesspal to keep track of your calories. Failure to watch your dietary intake can lead to unwanted weight gain, which then leads to negative emotions, which then leads to further setbacks.

See a physical therapist.
This isn’t always possible (i.e., health insurance may not cover it, or it might not be critical to your specific injury), but it can make a huge difference.

While my surgeon fixed bone damage, there was still significant tissue damage too. Without physical therapy, I would have had a surgically repaired ankle, but it would have been very stiff for a very long time. My physical therapist helped me regain range of motion and flexibility, which is an area where the doctor wasn’t able to do very much for me.

It’s also important to see a therapist familiar with your training (i.e., for me, I needed a therapist who has experience treating long distance runners). I am fortunate to have a therapist who knows me well and is also covered by my health insurer.

Like your doctor, you must also listen to your therapist. When a therapist gives you homework (exercises and/or stretches to do at home), do it.

Don’t lie to your doctor or your therapist.
If you were told not to run, and you did, fess up. Lying to a health care professional is stupid. They’re trying to help you, and if you withhold information, then you compromise their ability to do that.

You might be afraid of getting chewed out because you disobeyed. Suck it up and tell the truth. It’s one thing to disobey in a moment of weakness, but it’s far worse (in my opinion) to intentionally lie about your activity simply to avoid a tongue lashing.

Set a goal.
If you’re asking lots of questions of your doctor and/or therapist, you’ll have a rough idea of when you’ll be able to resume activity. Find something to challenge you at the end of your treatment plan as a way to celebrate your progress.

For me, I found a race I wanted to run and that race became my target. This goal kept me motivated to train and rehab responsibly so I could be ready for my target race. Having something to look forward to and to focus on was a huge help for me.

Be prepared for the doctor/therapist to shoot down some of your goals, so have multiple things to consider. Several of my initial ideas were not feasible, and the doctor said so. Eventually, we settled on that race and it was great for my mental well-being.

Attack your rehab!
I know a lot of athletes that love a great physical challenge. They look for extreme events and push themselves hard to complete the task. Apply this same mentality to your rehab. All of the exercises, PT sessions, restrictions, etc. can be very difficult and tedious to do. These things are not sexy or regarded as major victories. After all, you never see a bumper sticker that says “I did 4 sets of 10 ankle flexion stretches.”

Consider rehab as a challenge to be conquered. For many athletes, they’re fighting the wrong battle. It isn’t about getting back on the course or field as quickly as possible … it’s about getting out there in optimal condition. Rehab correctly and you’ll be back out there soon enough. Skimp on rehab and you will compromise your performance and health.

Adjust your expectations.
Throughout my recovery, I actually had many goals of varying degrees of difficulty. The “big one” was my race, but there were several smaller milestones I wanted to reach. Some of those goals I achieved, and some I did not. I now realize some of my goals were too aggressive, and I had aimed higher than my capabilities. If you’re not careful, failing to meet a difficult objective can feel like a setback, when it isn’t.

In my case, that big race goal was to complete my first 100k (62 mile) race. I started strong, but faded badly and wound up dropping at mile 42. At first, it stung and felt like failure because I didn’t finish. However, I eventually realized I had also accomplished quite a bit. For example, my previous distance PR was 32 miles, so I had shattered that record. I also learned a lot from the experience, and am now better equipped when I choose to tackle it again. I have found silver livings in an experience that initially felt like dismal failure.

Final thoughts: Much of this advice is simply the same basic principles I learned while a contestant in Fort Wayne’s Smallest Winner (FWSW). They taught me how to work out responsibly, eat cleanly and practice accountability. Look over my advice, and you’ll see it’s just these three principles worded in different ways. In FWSW, it’s not about losing weight (which I did), but it’s about approaching life with a healthy mindset. What made me a FWSW success is the same thing that helped me recover from my injury.

Where has the time gone?

It doesn't seem like that long ago that I created this blog with aspirations of posting regularly... that clearly hasn't happened.

What has happened is A LOT of stuff ... some of it good and some of it not so good. I don't think trying to recap the last two years is productive or interesting, so I'll try to simply pick up from right where I am at this moment. I'll try to post blog entries on a consistent basis, and I'll cross-post these entries to the Bald Man Running Facebook page.

I'll follow this post with my grand return to the blogosphere ... an entry about recovering from a serious injury.

If you like what you're reading, please like and share. Thank you!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Event Report: 2016 Run Woodstock

Event Summary
Run Woodstock Happening 100k
Hell, MI


First, some background ...
Back in January, 2016, I was in the middle of a trail run at Chain O Lakes and took a break to use the bathroom. I slipped on some ice surrounding the outhouse, and broke my ankle. Surgery was necessary, and I would up with a plate and several screws permanently implanted in my ankle.

When I met with my surgeon, I think the first question was "when can I run again?" I had a lot of events on my calendar, and he crossed them off as I brought them up. We eventually settled on Woodstock as a good comeback event. At the time, I wasn't sure which event I wanted to do, but Sept 9-11 was written in stone. “I will run Woodstock” become my mantra.

I also worked amazing physical therapists (Summit PT). They consistently emphasize good form, because inappropriately compensating for an injury can develop bad habits that lead to further injury. I listened (really!) to my surgeon and therapists. I firmly believe that being patient and following their orders helped me get back on track more quickly than expected. I could have easily sabotaged recovery by doing too much too soon.

I'm not sure when I settled on the 100k, but once that became my goal, I took advantage of as many training opportunities as possible. I found a training plan and stuck to it. I'm thankful for the night runs out at COL and opportunities to run with friends. As I increased my weekly mileage my ankle held up quite well.

Now to the main feature ... Woodstock!
Pre-race preparation was difficult with a Friday, 4pm start. I never know what to do with myself for an afternoon race. What do I eat for lunch? How early should I get dressed? Should I take a nap? There was a lot of time for me to get edgy ... not my favorite way to start.

My group (the Wild Bunch!) got there early enough to set up camp and get settled before the start of the Friday races. It helped to hang out with friends prior to the race as chatting and taking pics distracted me just enough to keep my nerves in check. This was a good move. If I were alone, I would have went a little crazy.

The afternoon heat was oppressive (90-ish with high humidity). I tried changing into running clothes in a tent, but it was like a sauna in there. I was dripping sweat! I think the sweat compromised my attempts to apply 2toms, particularly on my feet. Apparently, it does not go on well when you're sweaty. This would come back to bite me in the butt. I need to figure out how to deal with these kind of circumstances.

I packed a large crate with a several separate large Ziploc drop bags (one for each loop). I felt organized and ready. Based on my experience with the previous year 50k at Woodstock, I didn't think I'd need a bag at the loop's halfway point, so I only had supplies at star/end of each loop. This is another decision that would also bite me in the butt (other cheek this time). If I'd had a bag at the loop’s halfway station, I think it would have made a difference.

When I stepped into the starting corral, I teared up. I'm glad Jen Moeller was nearby because I needed a hug and she was her usual upbeat and encouraging self. I had been looking forward to Woodstock for so long that it seemed unreal to actually be there. After months of saying “I will run Woodstock” I finally about to do it! I would be able to say “I’m back!” Unfortunately, this moment would be the pinnacle of my first 100k experience. In a way, I can see that getting to the starting line was a victory.

The first loop was rough, due to heat and humidity. I was moving well enough using a 16/4 run/walk ratio for the first 15 miles or so. Eventually, I switched to 7/3. I had tried these intervals at COL and was comfortable with them. I intended to run/walk like this for the entire race.

Towards the end of loop one, I was fortunate to run a few miles with Brenda. What a pleasure! Loop one? Hard, but I finished in less than four hours. I stopped for about ten minutes at the aid station to change into fresh clothes and get my headlamp. I felt strong and ready to press onward!

Loop two was definitely more difficult. As it got darker, I got slower. I can freely admit I was anxious on the technical portions of the trail. While I never fell, I was paranoid about breaking another bone. Those fears were never far from my mind, and it was more difficult as it got darker. Fortunately, these fears were not crippling, and overcoming them was another victory. Thank God for answering prayer!

I ran a few miles with a different folks throughout this loop, and it was enjoyable to make new friends. I really enjoyed this aspect of the event.

I wound up power walking a lot on loop two, particularly when I was alone. When I was on pavement, I tried to make up time and pick up the pace. It had started raining by this time, and while it wasn't too bad at first, that would change. By the end of loop two, even I had slowed down a little, I was still pleased with my progress. I was 8.5 hours into the run and halfway to the finish.

This is when things started to go wrong. At the aid station, I tried changing my headlamp batteries, but something wasn’t working. I asked a stranger for help, but she couldn't get it to work either. I spent about 30 minutes at the aid station (first trying to get my lamp working and then changing clothes).

I finally decided to go with my backup lamp, but I wasn't too excited about it. It is a cheap lamp and I didn't have much confidence in it, particularly in the rain. My  new friend saw that my backup was not sufficient and insisted that I use her lamp. I was reluctant to do so, but I'm glad I did. Lesson learned: don’t take something as a backup if it's not good enough to actually use. I need a better lamp option as a backup. Thank God for the kindness of strangers!

The rain had intensified, and I had stiffened up after such a long and unplanned rest. I was also stressed out because of the lamp, so loop three was off to bad start.

By the time I made it to the first aid station, I was almost exclusively walking because I was quite intimidated by the conditions (very dark, hard rain, dropping temps, etc). I figured I could walk through the night until visibility improved then reassess the situation in daylight.

Progress in those wet/muddy conditions was slow going, and blisters which had formed on my feet were getting worse. When I realized I was walking funny to compensate for the blisters, I knew I was in trouble. I could hear (audibly, believe it or not) my therapist explaining how compensation leads to injury. I was afraid of trying to go another 25+ miles when I couldn't even walk normally. That seemed like a recipe for disaster.

The temperature continued dropping and I wound up feeling very cold. By the time I got to the halfway point of loop three, I knew I was in trouble. I had no drop bag there. Lesson learned? Pack drop bags for each stop in the future. If I could have changed into more appropriate clothes and treated my blisters, it’s quite likely I would have been able to continue.

This is when I made the decision to drop. Mile 41 (2.5 loops) after almost 12 hours (4:00 am). I didn't think I could make it back to the drop bag at mile 50. I told the guy at the aid station I was going to drop, and he encouraged me to think about it and take a short rest before going back on the trail. If I were simply hungry or tired, then a rest would have been helpful, but I knew my situation was not going to improve with rest ... the blisters would still be there, and the uncertain footing would only get worse after they released the 50k/50m runners.

It’s been a few days since I made the decision to drop, and I am at peace with it. Obviously, I wanted to complete the race, but I felt like I was in danger of injury. I knew exactly what the remaining course held, and I didn't think I could handle the remaining hills with my feet in the condition they were in. I was shivering and I could barely walk. I thought it was the right call then and I still feel that way.

A few random thoughts before my final thoughts
My nutrition worked well throughout the entire run. I was able to eat at each aid station, and I never felt like my strength was flagging. My stomach was cooperative. While I was getting tired, I was not operating on empty. In this area, I'm encouraged that my training paid off. I think I nailed this one.

I can look back at this weekend and see where my lack of experience cost me. My margin for error was razor thin. I learned some valuable lessons, and recognized mistakes that I intend to never repeat. I don’t think I would have done anything differently with what I knew at the time, but if I could back and try it again with what I know now, I would indeed do things differently. As it stands, I have no regrets.

I also have no excuses. It wasn't the weather's fault. It wasn't the initial heat or the subsequent cold. It wasn't the blisters or the night. It was me. I tried to do something really hard and I failed to finish. I knew when I signed up that the weather could be bad and that night running was required. I now know that I underestimated the difficulty level. Many runners did complete the course, and I’m looking forward to learning from them in the future (Pat Q, Christy, etc).

Final Thoughts
I am still somewhat uncertain about my long term goals. I still want to complete a 100k, but will reassess my objectives. Perhaps I will get a 50 miler under my belt before retrying 100k. Outside of this, everything is on the table and I’m open to exploring events that I would have previously considered impossible. Is a 100 miler in my future? I would have said “no” before, but now I’m just not too sure about that “no” any more …

I did have an epiphany on the course ... all summer long I kept saying to myself "I'll be back. I am going to run Woodstock." I'm not as fast or capable as I was before the injury and I wanted to get back to where I was. But somewhere around mile 38, when I was alone in the dark and driving rain, I realized that I didn't need to "come back" at all. Maybe it’s just semantics, and it was certainly clearer to me then than it is now, but I finally realized that “back” was the wrong goal.

I have learned to better sympathize with injured runners. I have learned how to rehab a severe injury. I have learned how to do pool running. I have learned how to train for a distance longer than a 50k. I have learned a lot! By the time I dropped, I had set a distance PR by 10 miles (previous long was 50k)! It was also my first DNF … which stings, but not in a wholly bad way.

I don’t need to “come back” because that implies I hadn’t accomplished much in the interim. I realize now that, despite the injury, I had kept moving forward the whole time. I don’t want to give up what I’ve purchased through hard work and study. I am stronger and smarter now than I was nine months ago.

Bottom line? I have already come a long way, yet there’s still a lot of open trail before me that I have yet to experience. I’ve learned many lessons this year, and I promise that I will take them to heart and emerge even stronger and smarter than I am now. For me, DNF also means Does Not Forget.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

WANE-TV Feature for F4F

Link to a video feature by WANE-TV in advance of 2016 Fort4Fitness. Thank you, Hannah Strong, for putting this together.

WANE-TV: Former FWSW Contestant Gives Back

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Event Report: 2016 Mainly Marathons (Heartland Series, Day 3)

Event Summary
Mainly Marathons
Heartland Series, Day 3
Potato Creek State Park (Plymouth, IN)

I just ran my ninth full marathon+ overall. This was also my first event with Mainly Marathons. In a word: amazing!

First, the staff is top notch. They know the drill and have every base covered. From the beginning, I was impressed by the speed with which they respond to email. You get nice pre-event communication as well. Once you show up for race day, everything functions smoothly. The aid station staff are friendly and very encouraging. They joyfully stay alert for each person and celebrate all the way to the last finisher. I particularly enjoyed being addressed by my name throughout the event. The staff alone is reason enough to run a Mainly Marathons event.

The quality of the aid station fare is unusually high. I've ran a few ultra/trail events, and this aid station is more like what you'd see in that setting. You've got a wide variety of fresh options: pretzels, gummies, M&Ms, soup, pickles, etc. Be careful though ... you're likely to find a lot of foods that you never even thought to try in your training, and it's a risky proposition to try something new on a race day. I'd encourage you to stick with what you know you can handle.

The medals are some of the best you'll ever find. They're unique and high quality. Very cool.

The routes tend to be short loops or down-and-back affairs. I know some runners who hate loops, and if that's you, then this will be tough. A typical Mainly Marathon course is roughly a mile long and you run it multiple times. For my marathon, I had to complete twelve circuits of 1.1 mile "down-and-back" track. I understand the logistics of using such a short course (it makes it possible to have the above mentioned amazing aid station). On the plus side, these courses typically have lots of shade and are fairly flat.

Mainly Marathons seems to attract a certain type of crowd ... and it's a good crowd. All of the runners were encouraging and supportive. Some of these folks are attempting to run 7 marathons in a single week, and yet they're out there helping others along the way. You'll be hard pressed to find a cooler running community anywhere.

On the negative side, they've got me thinking of doing something crazy... I ran only one race (part of the Heartland series). I enjoyed the experience so much that I'm now seriously contemplating a "seven for seven" next year. I'd like that "183.4" sticker for my bumper. Just be real careful around these guys or their enthusiasm is going to rub off on you.

Overall, I give this outfit a score of 6 stars ... on a scale of 1-5 :) ... top notch all the way around!