Yesterday afternoon, I ran home under a great big blue sky of spring Alaska sun. It was 50F and there was just enough breeze to remind you’re just a few degrees off the Arctic Circle. I will say, this was exactly the type of run I looked forward to around Dec 21st, as I pulled on layer over layer and prepared for yet another run into the inky darkness with only my headlamp for company.


I also spent the first mile yesterday hobbling like a geriatric. There just is never a smartphone video camera around when you need it; I would have loved to capture that first mile. Honestly, I had to smile despite the morbidity residing in my quads. It didn’t get a whole lot better, either. Any stop or sudden deceleration was plain old painful. On top of it all, the fuel tank was a little low. 6.5 in the morning + 10.0 home in the afternoon = need for lots of calories. About a mile from home, the magnificent Tordrillo Range spilling sunshine and cloud break off my right shoulder, I stopped, stretched my tight calves, and honestly considered calling Jen for a ride home. By the time I made it through the door, all I could think about was food. I sat down in the pantry, ate half a bag of crappy snack mix, two handfuls of almonds, some kind of Japanese energy squeezy-thing and followed it up with a recovery shake. Gross.

If this sounds heinous to you and makes you wonder why I do this day after day, you’re getting it. The fact is, anyone who only has good things to say about running either a) runs less than he/she claims or b) is attempting to sell you something. Like fish oil. Or the “only running app you’ll ever need.”

Kneeling on the altar of the Great Truth Machine

The truth of it all: like John L. Parker put it in Once a Runner, running is “all joy and woe.” There are days when everything clicks and output is which despite effort being low, and those are the rare treasures. Everything else is the true substance of running, and it might hurt, but boy it hurts so good. Yesterday was just another reminder of why I love to run. It sucked starting a ten miler understanding that it was going to be a long, slow sufferfest. But man, it was awesome to be out there enjoying the vernal sunlight and to know that the more I hurt today, the stronger I become tomorrow.

I’m interested in what you think – leave a comment with a story about your most heinous/awesome run.

Once A Runner

I’m not sure when I first encountered the book; it was either my freshman or sophomore year. As I recall, I was sitting at our lunch table in Mitchell Hall, and as usual, we were talking about running. Definitely not girls. Never girls…at least not ones we knew anyway, but that’s another story. Anyway, the guys were talking about some book, how great it was. I’m sure I scoffed (as an English major I was the pre-eminent authority at the table, to be sure) at some piece of fiction…but Andy “Karlos” Marx said he’d let me borrow his copy. Later on, he handed it to me with a warning, while wearing his giant black afro wig:

“Be careful, Matzu; this book is dangerous.”

“Huh? Why?”

“It just is, man, it’ll make you want to do some crazy things.”

He was right…

Once A Runner set my expectations for what fiction about running should be, and ruined my ability to write it forevermore. John L. Parker Jr.’s hero, Quenton Cassidy, has captivated thousands of avid runner-readers over the years, and the book, which details Cassidy’s quest to break 4:00 in the mile, and what he undergoes to do it, simply astounded me. At one point in the book, Cassidy runs 60 x 400. Sure, you say – it’s fiction. But wait, there’s more: Parker put it in the book because he did it himself as a college miler.

Karlos was right – it made me want to do stupid things. I tried, once, to replicate the 60×400 workout. But I made it through 20 and threw in the towel. I borrowed a passage from the book for our senior year CC team shirts, which hardly anybody thought was cool (I still have a few for sale if you’re interested). I even tried to write a running story, but all I could do was plagiarize OAR and change the names and places.  Seriously? Obsess much? The book just generally made you want to go out and train really really hard, pull silly pranks, and come up with nicknames that sounded vaguely European. I’ve known guys who would swear up and down they were on the track to glory until they read OAR, and then they just ran themselves into the ground.

There are other good books out there, like  The Other Kingdom, which is as much a treatise on philosophy as it is a piece of running fiction. I’ve been wanting to get my hands on an out-of-print copy of The Long Road to Boston for some time, and even Parker’s sequel to OAR, Again to Carthage was decent enough. But OAR is literally the running book to rule them all, if you ask me. It’s got everything you need in good fiction, to include clever usage of select passages of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot (an absolute must if you have as refined literary tastes as me) Parker is a fine writer, to boot, and he knows how to keep you engaged as a reader.

I’m not exactly sure why I’m blogging about OAR today. Probably has something to do with yesterday’s post and the idea of looking back at influences along the way. If so, it makes sense, since OAR has informed me in quite a few ways. At any rate, it’s a great book, and I highly recommend you at least give it a shot, since it’s back in print these days.

My copy of OAR is the same one I read some fifteen-odd years ago, because when he graduated, Karlos left me his copy as a sort of going-away present. The flimsy paperback is threatening to disintegrate from overuse, and the pages are dog-eared and yellowing. But not a year goes by when I don’t read it at least one more time, and recall those younger days and ways, with not just a little bit of nostalgia.

7 for 7: Training

Ahhhh. The training. I love it, I hate it, I love it and hate it all at the same time. I love it for what it provides, but I hate it for the suffering it inflicts.

My take on training starts pretty simply: do it. Training is what gets us from here to there. It’s the one thing you can control in the process, really. You can’t control how you feel, your luck, or the genetic coding your parents passed along. Training is the one thing that not doing guarantees failure.

My second foundation for training is consistency. In his classic novel Once A Runner, John L. Parker Jr’s character Quenton Cassidy talks about a concept called “The Trial of Miles, Miles of Trials.” I think it accurately depicts the concept and importance of consistency. The miles required to achieve the goal, the sum itself is a challenge and opportunity for victory. In the same way, each one of those miles is its own little challenge and victory once completed. It’s a day in/day out  commitment to put numbers in the mileage box of your training log, and watch as those numbers add up over weeks, months, even years depending on what you are trying to achieve.

Consistency is also perhaps the most difficult aspect of training to achieve, especially with life’s standard infringements. Work demands are my primary enemy when it comes to consistency. Having spent about six of the past twelve months on the road, I understand first hand the difficulty of staying on schedule.

My last, equally important approach to training is the importance of quality work. Quality work is what you might think of as “sprints,” but you might want to re-categorize as “anything harder than just going out for a jog/run.” This, combined with regular old running is what makes a program, and achieving goals requires both. Track intervals, fartleks, hill repeats, sustained moderate/hard runs…it’s all deadly.

Beyond the foundational tenets of doing the training, doing it consistently, and doing the quality work, there is the issue of methodology. I think of methodology as how you put it all together into a cohesive training program. There are many, many ways to train. From the ubiquitous cookie-cutter programs available on any online running website, to systems devised and led by individual coaches; there are simply a ton of options. I can find it a bit overwhelming, to tell you the truth.

I currently train predominantly off Coach Jack Daniels’ (I know, cool name, right?) methods. His book, Daniels Running Formula, 


 is starting to fall apart from me paging through it constantly. It’s in-depth as well as simple, and includes recommended training plans for runners of all abilities and distances. I also inject some of Michele’s workouts, which she took from Alan Storey. Unfortunately I don’t have any resources for him, which is unfortunate due to the fact that he’s got some killer hard workouts.

 There are several others out there I trust. Mark Twight’s stuff on is pretty much my sole resource for strength these days.

Chatting with Coach Jay at the 2010 Chicago Marathon Expo

He tells me that he’s working a research project on strength for endurance athletes, which I eagerly await. Additionally, Coach Jay Johnson,, has some wonderful stuff both on his website and in the podcast videos on with regards to building a strong body capable of handling the toll running can take.

Lest I totally geek out, I’m not going to get into the details of my training right now, since I could go on forever. I will say that I’m currently focusing on trying to run 16:30 for 5k by the end of Jan. As such, my training is focused heavily on shorter, faster intervals with some sprinklings of the moderate sustained work. I will also say that I stay very flexible due to my travel schedule.

Here’s a depiction of the four weeks of training done prior to this week:

Training Snapshot for 1 Nov - 28 Nov

As you can see, I do 2-3 quality sessions a week, usually Tue/Thu/Sat in order to give me some recovery in between. I’m running higher mileage volume and long runs than is typical for most 5k programs, but I’m doing that to see how I react to sustained higher mileage.

Alright, that’s it for today. Like I said, if I get going into the science stuff, you’ll be here (and bored) all day. Check out some of the links for more information if you’re interested. Hope you found all this informative…in the future I will probably post some of my own recommended training plans.