Well, the good news is, I won. The bad news is, conditions weren’t exactly PR material. Temps were good – 10 or 15, but it was snowing and we ran on variable packed snow.
I got up early yesterday to get some food prep rolling, then kissed Jen and Rider on my way out the door. Driving up to Bartlett HS, the driving was a little tricky in the snow, and vis wasn’t great. Pulling in to the parking lot, I saw what I expected: super small race, just 100-odd folks around trying to stay warm. Luckily they opened the school for us, so I was able to duck in and drop some things off before warming up.
The course was three loops around the school, pancake flat. On a summer day, it was PR material. Yesterday…not so much. As I jogged around, I found myself on decently packed or shallow snow one minute, slipping and punching through crust the next. My hopes of ideal conditions were dashed in about the first 100 yds. So, I decided the day needed to be about effort, not time. Not any easy mindset shift for me, but necessary nonetheless. I felt pretty good, but I was still disappointed in the conditions.
I decided on spikes after warming up in my Yaktrax, hoping they would give me some traction when I needed it while staying light on my feet. On the starting line, the cold didn’t even bother me, thanks to the unseasonable weather last week, which was good.
I took the lead from the start, trying to pick paths with the best footing, but some of the turns required me to slow way, way down lest I risk eating it. In my head, I felt like my effort level was honest. I resolved before the start to avoid looking at my Garmin, so I had no idea how fast or slow I was going, but I guessed 5:30. As we neared the end of the first lap, I strained to hear the timer…
“5:56, 57, 58, 59, six minutes,” was the unwelcome cry I heard at the first lap.
Say what? Six minutes? I tempo runs faster than that pace! I tried to just let it roll off my back and focused on the task at hand. It was hard. Luckily, there was one guy on my shoulder to keep me honest. For the next half mile, I did my best to drop the pace, working the stuff with good footing and just kind of making it through the bad stuff. I dropped 2nd somewhere around 1.5-1.75 on a short surge, and never looked back.
I started to lap people, which got tricky. We were all looking for the good traction, but I made the standard pleas for space as I approached slower people. But, some folks just don’t know what “On your left!” means. So that was tricky too. Coming into the last mile, I really dug for another gear, but just as I felt like I was picking things up, my feet would slip and throw me off. It was a little frustrating but I didn’t let it bother me too much. I just kept thinking that I needed to work each section as hard as I could, and that kept me on track.
I finished in 17:48, which is not fast at all, but how do you account for conditions? There were times when I felt like a Loony Tunes character, feet spinning out as I tried to ratchet down the pace. I was able to negative split each lap, but not by much. And even those precious few seconds each mile came with a bill attached.
On Monday, I had to do a PT test I forgot about, which included a 1.5 mile run on an indoor 200m track. Without even a warmup, I ran it in 7:56 (5:17 pace). It was the fastest I’ve run the distance since my college days, and I while wasn’t jogging, it wasn’t 100% either. As a result, coming in to yesterday, I didn’t think that holding 5:25 pace for 5k was a stretch. So, it was definitely disappointing to run 17:48. But, keeping things in perspective, I think I raced as well as can be expected for the conditions. It’s a tough pill to swallow, because I want to be the guy who is fast regardless of how slippery the roads might be.
But, first is first. I even got a Butterball for my efforts so how can I complain? I know where my fitness level is at, and if I have to wait until spring to prove it in a race, so be it.
As a newly re-born cold-weather runner, I thought I’d share some advice and thoughts on running through the winter. Okay, check it out:
Quick – what was the first thing that came to mind? Bullwinkle the moose? Frozen, barren wasteland? Endless winters and months within literally no sun? The answer is that all responses are correct. Alaska is the size of about 30% of CONUS, and with it come the widest variety of climates you will find anywhere in this great nation (Author’s Note: non-scientific response, of course, but feel free to wiki or Google it at will.) Here in Anchorage, we sit next to a rather large body of water known as the Pacific. Technically, we’re on the Cook Inlet, which is an extension of the Pacific, but you get the idea. That large body of H2O likes to warm up slowly, and cool down slowly as well. As a result, it moderates the affected climate significantly. For example, average temps here in the winter are actually much warmer than where I grew up in northern Minnesota. More snow, but warmer for sure.
Daylight – yep, head up to Barrow and you will indeed lose the sun for a bit. But here in Anchorage, the shortest amount of daylight is about 6 hours, not including dawn/dusk, on 21 December.
The point of all this useless trivia is this: winter does in fact come to Alaska, but what it is largely depends on your location. Which brings us back to Anchorage, and the attempts of yours truly to continue to train through the colder months. And yes, it’s cold. Last week, when the above pic was taken, daily lows were in the negative 10s-20s F with the windchill. So, to make it through runs without ending up a frostbite victim, you have to equip yourself for the cold. The key here is layering. Try and head out in a something that looks like what your mom sent you out the door in when you were a kid, and you will quickly find yourself overheated and soaked with sweat under that sweet, neon-striped moon suit. Here’s how to break it down:
1) Base Layer. Your base layer should be tight, and next to the skin. Depending on temps, you can wear something very thin and light, or thick and warm. I prefer to keep it as thin as possible. The purpose of the base layer isn’t to keep you warm per se – it’s to transport moisture away from the surface of your body. Dry skin is warm skin – wet skin, not so much, and your body is constantly evaporating moisture as a part of its metabolic processes, whether it’s 50 below or 120 above. So, for example, last week I wore a Patagonia Capilene top and bottom, very light weight. On my hands were some tight-fitting polypro fleec gloves, and just the usual running socks on my feet. Oh, and before I forget…fellas. Invest in some windproof undies. So very worth the pain they prevent.
2) Middle Layer: This is where insulation starts to happen. Remember that warm clothes aren’t warm because they magically generate heat. They’re warm because they trap and reflect the heat generated by the 98.6 degree furnace beneath it. It still needs to breathe and wick, because the moisture your base layer transported needs to go somewhere, right? And that somewhere needs to be away from your body. For me, and this is all a matter of preference and body style, I actually wore a middle layer. I usually won’t until temps get to around zero, just because I prefer to err on the side of being cold as opposed to overheating. I should specify, however, that I did so only up top, not on my legs. My middle layers last week were technical running tops, half zips. A little thicker than the base layer, and a little more loose, but still wicking and still fitted enough not to be all baggy.
3) Outer layer. Your outer layer serves two purposes: keep what’s outside on the the outside, and move what’s inside, to the outside. Ideally, the outer layer should counter the environmental threat you face. If it’s raining, it should shed water. If it’s windy, it should block the wind. If it’s snowing, it should be water-resistant enough to shed the snow as it melts from the body heat escaping your layering system. Last week, my hat was a windproof North Face beanie, and my top was either a light softshell or an extremely light hardshell wind jacket. Over my fleece gloves I wore hard shell gloves to block the wind and trap heat. Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention glasses – I wear Rudy Projects with clear lenses, which are absolutely indispensable to keeping cold wind and snow out of my eyes. Also, I like to wear a gaiter around my neck when the wind is really bad and cold since breathing with a frostbitten neck can be problematic. My shoes are the same shoes I wear year-round, with Yaktrax to buy traction on the the snow and ice. I experimented with the pants – one day I wore some loose tights, the other day I wore the Saucony ones that highlight my curves. Both worked well, but the looser ones are the smart choice when it gets really cold since they keep the wind off your skin.
Okay, so that’s how I deal with the cold. Layer up, layer smart. The best rule of thumb is that you should always start the run feeling cold, and let the exercise-generated heat warm you as you progress. Now, let’s talk about how light (or lack thereof) affects how I train up here.
It’s dark here, boys and gals. Daylight is short, and doesn’t align well with prime running time (early morn/early evening). There are tangible effects and intangibles to short days…Tangibles: when it’s dark, you need to be able to see, and be seen. In order to see, I wear a headlamp to ensure I don’t run smack into a lightpole, errant moose, or another runner. Unfortunately, what I’m using right now is not putting out enough light for my comfort level, so I need to fix that. It also helps me to be seen, whether I’m on the trail or the roads. But while some manufacturers have gone to endless lengths to ensure their outerwear is easily visible (neon colors, reflective piping, and even battery-powered lighting), the cheap remedy is simply to drop about $3.50 on some adhesive reflective safety tape. Cut it up into some small pieces that you can stick/sew on your back, front, sleeves, whatever, and you achieve the same effect.
Intangible effects of the evil dark: who the hell wants to get up at oh-dark-thirty and crush a run in the cold? Nobody – that’s who. The human body is solar-powered and sun-timed. When days get short, bodies get lethargic and prefer to exercise jaws through the ingestion of peppermint bon-bons and frosty refreshments. There’s even a disease called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD, get it?) that has to do with folks in norther climes getting so bummed by lack of sunlight that they get uber-depressed. While I’m not planning on offing myself anytime soon, I have noticed the lethargy. I want to sleep longer, later, and just generally have a hard time waking up. Even a cup of inky French-Pressed Ethiopian Go-Juice can’t seem to get me going. So, I bought a full spectrum lamp (known colloquially as a “Happy Lamp”) that essentially puts out sunlight. When I get up, I make my coffee, then sit in front of that bad boy while I enjoy my drank. Within 20 minutes, I feel like noticeably more energetic and motivated to get out the door.
So, that’s it. I’m happy to report that my worst fears moving from the Dirty Durty regarding running in the winter have proven unfounded. It’s true I won’t be on the track too much until spring, but maintaining a good base should be no problem. I’ve started running to and from work in the mornings and afternoons, and that gets me about 13-14 miles a day. For speed, I just hop on a treadmill. The conditions outside are a challenge – sometimes I’m on hard-packed trail, sometimes road, and sometimes, I’m struggling to hold 10 minute mile pace because I’m on soft snow or crust. But I like the challenge, and the variety. After two years of pounding nothing but pavement, it’s nice to get the same benefits on a multitude of surfaces.
Look, you can get super nerdy with this stuff. It’s not like summer: shoes/shorts/tee? Simple Check. And it’s all individual, and sometimes gender-driven. You’ll ge
Man, a lot has happened since my last post in March. It’s been seven months, to the day. I look back at that post, and it’s hard to imagine trying to even summarize everything that has gone down since then. I won’t try and do it all in one post – I owe those of you who actually take the time to read my posts some actual details. But I’ll hit the major points tonight, and try to go from there over the coming weeks.
For those of you who weren’t aware, we lost my grandmother, Tokuno, in the tsunami. Even as I type these words, it doesn’t seem real. It’s hard to think about, really. She died when the tsunami hit the rest home in Kesennuma at which she spent portions of her weeks. Some were evacuated to the roof of the building, but unfortunately she was not one of them. We don’t have a lot of detail on it, and it’s difficult to even try to imagine, so I try not to think about it too terribly much. It was an absolutely agonizing several days as we waited for word from our family, glued to televisions, Skyping with relatives who were not in the affected area, and watching news reports on the internet. For some time, there was simply nothing. For all we knew, we lost everyone. My dad carried an especially heavy burden for those days, as he received only a 30s phone call from his brother in the wake of the tsunami before the call terminated. For days, we knew nothing other than that. There was simply no information. Then, as we slowly started establishing accountability, we finally received word on the death of my grandmother. My youngest sister was the first to learn, and it was she who had to notify my dad. Finally, at least we knew.
In the wake of that, I pushed hard within my chain of command for release to deploy to Japan for what was beginning to be known as Operation TOMODACHI, which is Japanese for “friend.” Through the hard work of a dedicated network of peers, supervisors, and what I can only see as divine intervention, I was able to navigate the complex military bureaucracy and soon found myself deployed to Yokota Air Base, Japan. What followed over the next month, I consider the most honorable thing I have done yet in my career. My role was small, miniscule even, in comparison to the dedication the US military poured into that mission. But I count myself a lucky man to have been able to participate for even a brief period of time. Hopefully, I can capture in writing some of my experiences there and share them with you all.
Because life is life, while all this was going on, Jen and I were undergoing a major transition. We decided to leave active duty and pursue an opportunity with the Alaska National Guard, so as all this was going on, I was assembling application paperwork, conducting interviews, and praying for the best. Shortly after returning, I received word I was selected, and thus began major preparations for a huge life transition. Also no small potato! The summer passed quickly, between work, prepping to leave, and everything else, not a day was wasted. We sold cars, bought a new one, filed paperwork, and generally tried to figure out how we were going to live in a radically different location.
Oh, and there was also a lot of running. While in Japan, I didn’t have a lot of time to train, so I just tried to stay as fit as possible. Coming home and getting back in the groove was no picnic, but with the help of my friend and mentor Matthew Whitis, I got back on track. There were successes: at the age of 34, I posted a 4:47 mile / 10:44 2 mile in a local track series in the dead heat of the SC summer. And there were frustrations: my 5k race times were nowhere near where I wanted them to be. But through it all, I trained hard. Looking back, I consider some of those workouts achievements in and of themselves. The last track session I hit in SC was 20 x 400 with 200m jogs, alternating sets of four between 78 and 83s per quarter. I haven’t done a workout like that since college.
The move was incredible. Everything just seemed to keep working out and falling into place, to include finding a buyer for our second car literally days before we drove out of town. We spent time along the way with family (I built an earth oven with my pops in MN, which was super fun), and caught the fall colors on our way up the Alaska Highway in Canada. We saw wildlife, and scenery that would literally blow your mind. And then…we were here, in Alaska. Not for long for my better half, though. After ten days here, Jen got on a plane and spent four incredible weeks in Ethiopia. While there, she supported a new clean water/well rehab project and taught health and hygiene courses to the types of folks who still think disease is caused by evil spirits. You can learn more about her work at http://www.projectwuha.com, and I simply can’t express how proud I am of my wife.
Which pretty much leads us to the here and now. To be honest, I’m not sure where Run For Something is going in the future. Recently, I re-connected with some old friends, who have established a new NPO called Team Run For Veterans (www.teamr4v.org), and the focus will be on supporting athletic opportunities for disabled vets. Supporting vets has been on my mind for a while, and my new job up here in the AK opens some unique doors. I’ll continue to support Mocha Club’s clean water work in Sudan, but I’m considering making this year more about R4V. Today is Veteran’s Day, and to be honest, I’ve had vets on my mind for some time now, wondering how I can better support my own brothers and sisters.
Oh yeah…running…well, by now you should know me well enough to realize I’m 100%. 100% stop, or 100% go. I’m happy to report it’s still 100% go these days. My first act as an Alaskan was to participate in the Bonny Sosa Tuesday Night Run racing series here in Anchorage, and I didn’t suck. In fact, I manage to place top three in five consecutive trail races. The running scene here is vibrant and a rock-solid aspect of the community – the Bonny Sosa runs are essentially cross-country format trail runs, all hand-timed, and require only a 5$ entry fee. Volunteer-supported, and city-led. The courses are held secret until the time of the race, and each race, which occurs weekly in the fall, is held at a different location. One night, we saw over 1000 Anchorites ranging from newborns to octogenarians out there for the race. It’s one-of-a-kind and a definite kick in the ass.
It’s not going to be like SC, where I could race and train on the track and roads year-round. We’re officially in winter, and the snow ain’t going anywhere. But I feel strong. Strong-like-bull strong. Strong enough to post solid track workouts at altitude, and follow them up with a 3.5hr mountain bike ride of 24 miles and 2400′ of elevation change starting from 7500′. Strong enough to stomp treadmill workouts on the same day I post PRs for a 1000m row on the Concept2 (3:29 if you were wondering). Strong enough to get out in the backcountry on my splitboard and feel like I have miles of travel in my legs. Strong like…well, you get the idea. There’s a turkey trot in a few weeks, and if conditions aren’t heinous, I think I can get under 17. After that, Jen and I are looking at cross-country skis and running snowshoes for winter fitness, but we’re still learning the winter ropes up here.
Over the coming weeks, I want to tell you all some stories, and share some ideas and passions. If you want to hear about anything in particular, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section. I’ve already got a suggestion to talk about strength work as it relates to endurance, and I think it will be interesting to talk about how runners get through harsh winters and emerge ready for summer/fall racing. I’ll be honest…posting every day just isn’t realistic right now (or ever probably), but I think if I set the bar low enough (weekly sound good?), we can see some success. Jen, Eric, and Megs – thanks for your encouragement and re-igniting the embers of creativity. Until next time, true believers…