Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tempo Fun Run at the Dean Karnazes Silicon Valley Half Marathon

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of joining 3,000 runners for the Dean Karnazes Silicon Valley 5k/Half Marathon/Marathon in San Jose, CA. It was a wonderful romp through San Jose that introduced me to some great running areas, and a chance to test my speed at the half marathon distance.

Just when I thought Dean's announcement from the Chicago Marathon was big time branding (he thanked his sponsor, Volkswagen...whoa!), lo and behold a marathon that bears his name and face. He's definitely in a whole new stratosphere this year. I said hi to Dean and his wife after he spoke at the Expo on Saturday, and there were plenty of folks asking for autographs and pictures. Most of them, and I'm talking dozens of people, said his story was a key element to inspire them to get off the couch and do their first race. Say what you will about his promotional prowess, but there's no doubt in my mind he is using his powers for positive change.

My goals for this race were a bit more self-serving. I had one more long tempo run on my training agenda for the weekend (15 miles with 13 at 6 min/mile pace) before tapering down for the Lithia Loop Marathon in two weeks. I figured the DKSVM09 would be a good place to do it, since mile markers and snacks would be provided. And, of course, a t-shirt for the shwag hag (that's me!).

(Nervous runners in the port-o-pottie line)

(Gathering at the start)

At 7am, the race was off, and at 7:00:30 I finally crossed the starting line (the port-o-pottie line was a bit longer than I had planned). The marathoners and half-marathoners took off together, and we made our way through the streets of downtown San Jose before heading into a nearby neighborhood. I saw some familiar faces in the pack, including Michael Kanning (shooting for a sub-7 min pace in the marathon), John Burton (marathon), and Jon Kroll (half marathon, his first race after States in June and pacing friends at Leadville). I ran with Jon for a few miles, chatting as we watched the sun come up on a clear, cool day. At mile 3, we were 18:22, just a tad behind my goal pace. I bid a good luck to Jon, and picked up the pace and we headed into Willow Glen.

25-year-old Lenin Zapata was in a league by himself, off the front clocking 5:15 min/miles for the half marathon. It didn't take long before none of us could see him on the multi-block straightaways. A few more runners were spread along the course, and I was cruising with Brian Winco, Ironman Fred Haubensak, and marathon leaders Ed Conrad and Bruno Fiore in the first "pack". As we hit the bike trail, I spent most of the time hanging on the shoulder of a hard-running Rhodes Walton, who was doing a great job of surging on the tops and bottoms of every hill, making me pick up the pace to catch him again. The pace was a perfect tempo run - solid, hard 6 min/miles that always felt like I could go a bit harder.

(A beautiful dark morning on the bike path)

We caught up to some early marathon starters/walkers as we cut through one of many parks, and wished each other well. The sun was peeking over the trees and warming up the course. At mile 10 (1:00:20), runners split in two different directions after the aid station, and I hesitated just enough for Ed Conrad, Brian Winco, and Fred Haubensak to fly by. I caught up to Ed, but Brian and Fred were clearly in their final kick.

(Sunny morning along the creek)

Ed Conrad is an extraordinary runner, and his steps were so light they weren't even scaring away the birds and squirrels (I took care of that when I caught up). The crowds let us know that Ed was leading the marathon and I was 7th or so, but Ed kept his cool and focused on his fueling. At mile 12 he stopped for bio break, and I set my sights on the two runners in front of me.

(Finishing on the grass)

As we hit the track in the last half mile, Seaside, CA's William Swick sprinted by me with a phenomenal kick. Rhodes was just ahead, glancing over his shoulder to keep tabs on us, and William gave it his all to pick off one more. Unfortunately the track wasn't the last bit, and as we crossed into a grass field I was able to repass William as he faded. I finished in 1:19:34, good enough for 7th place, and turned around and congratulated William for laying it on the line! I love seeing that.

(At the finish!)

My pace felt good, and I had plenty left in the tank at the finish. The first thought I had was "Wow, am I ready for Lithia!". I guess that's the point of those last few tempo runs. It may not bring much to your body, but your mind is thoroughly convinced you can kick butt. I was all smiles as I got snacks and cheered in the finishers.

(Women's half marathon winner, Michell Meyer from Carmel, CA, clocked a 1:28:58)

(Jon Kroll and his friend, Luis Montoya, celebrate a solid race)

I took the bus back to the start just in time to see Bruno Fiore (2:41:43) edge out Ed Conrad (2:41:47) in a close finish for the marathon. Age over beauty? Perhaps it was that bio break, Ed. ;-) The kids race also kicked off, with plenty of smiles to go around. All in all, a great way to spend a perfect California morning.

(Marathon winner, Bruno Fiore)

(Bruno outkicks Ed at the finish)

(Sharkie wins the two fins and over group)

(Future champion gives it her all...hey, how did she get a medal already?)

I packed up my goodies and headed home, so we could hit the pumpkin patch with Sophie before the three of us went to the Bridge School Benefit Concert to hear Wolfmother, Sheryl Crow, No Doubt, Chris Martin, Neil Young, and a VERY impressive Adam Sandler who covered The Doors "Break On Through to the Other Side" and Led Zeppelin's "Hey, Hey, What Can I Do" with screamtastic accuracy. Sophie loved it!

(Sophie rocks out to Wolfmother; Bose headphones provided by nervous parents)

Exhausted? Yes! But I wouldn't want it any other way.

- SD

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Toenails Optional (NY Times)

The NY Times ran an article today called "One Ultrarunning Problem Solved for Good", interviewing a few hardcore ultrarunners who have had their toenails permanently removed. If the above bald toes aren't enough eye candy for ya, be sure to check out Dr. Lisa Bliss' step-by-step pictures of having hers removed. Sooo gnarly. But if you do this, you can't make your own toenail necklace. Why miss out on the fun?

One of my favorite quotes:

“You know any sport has gone off the rails when you have to remove body parts to do it,” said Christopher McDougall.

Well said, my man.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Meeting Caballo Blanco (from Born To Run)

About ~100 people were welcomed to the home of Mike Nutall last Saturday, where Kati Bell hosted a talk by Caballo Blanco, the now-legendary gringo who befriended the Tarahumara running tribe in Mexico in a story eloquently captured in the best-selling book by Chris McDougall, Born To Run (review).

(Caballo Blanco with host, Mike Nutall)

It was great to get a chance to meet Caballo Blanco (aka "Micah") up close, and hear him talk about the Tarahumara people. The first hand accounts were incredible, and gave a unique window into this indigenous tribe of super-runners that are likely the most content people on the planet. The Copper Canyon Ultramarathon that Micah directs now attracts 200+ Tarahumara and a record 60 gringos slated for 2010, and how the non-profit Norawas de Ramamuri ("friends of the running people") is designed to raise money, corn (for prizes), and awareness for the events that the Tarahumara frequent. Micah's casual and welcoming charisma made it easy for all of us to connect to his mission.

(Micah shares his stories of the Tarahumara)

Questions from the audience ranged from "do the children of the Tarahumara cherish the traditional ways?" (he said teenagers are teenagers in every culture, displayed by rebellious acts such wearing jeans instead of the traditional garb) to "what shoes do you wear" (as little as possible). It was all engaging and he had our complete attention. Mike Nutall was also quite eloquent in drawing the parallels of our daily passion, and this amazing tribe that shares the our ability to use running to fill our souls.

(The Tarahumara, photo courtesy of Luis Escobar)

(Scott Jurek runs with the Tarahumara in 2006, photo courtesy of Luis Escobar)

Although this was a fundraiser, Micah was sure to point out that the Tarahumara didn't "need" anything since their multi-thousand year old culture was based on sharing what you had, when you had it, and living a simple life of tranquility. But I got the impression that a donation to the Norawas de Raramuri could have a significant impact on this culture ($5 is enough to cover all expenses for a Raramuri runner to attend the Copper Canyon, where corn is dished out by the ton for prizes). I was happy to contribute and instantly felt I had done something very special.

(Micah shares a laugh with Jean Pommier)

Want to catch Caballo Blanco yourself? He will be at ZombieRunner in Palo Alto, CA, on 10/23. If you can make it, I would highly recommend it. If not, please do consider making a contribution to the Norawas de Rarmuri. It will make you feel connected to an amazing group! Check out Luis Escobar's page for pictures from his amazing trips in 2005/06.

My thanks to Kati, Mike, and Micah for a great night!

- SD

Friday, October 09, 2009

Grit - The Highest Determinant of Success

Good news, endurance athletes. Recent studies are showing that "grit"- the determination to persevere to a goal no matter what the obstacles - is a better predictor of lifetime achievement than IQ, race, socio-economic background, and more. It's spawning a whole new field of psychology in the last 4 years to understand it better. It sorta feels like a "no duh" breakthrough, but read on - it's pretty fascinating.

This article from the Boston Globe summed it up well:
"In recent years, psychologists have come up with a term to describe this mental trait: grit. Although the idea itself isn’t new - “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration,” Thomas Edison famously remarked - the researchers are quick to point out that grit isn’t simply about the willingness to work hard. Instead, it’s about setting a specific long-term goal and doing whatever it takes until the goal has been reached. It’s always much easier to give up, but people with grit can keep going."
The story goes on to find examples in West Point cadets, how measurements of grit can predict who might be a finalist for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, how pre-school is effective in building these traits, and more.

Clearly there is more to the story than just pure "grit". You need to have passion to pursue a problem over an extended period of time. You need some fundamental skills and intelligence. And you need to have cojones - the willingness to try in the face of probable failure. Malcolm Gladwell would probably argue (as part of his book, Outliers) that other macro effects will contribute to the lifetime achievement. Further studies are going to try and determine how this all comes together, and you can be a part of it by filling out this study.

Perhaps these studies can help us answer "why do we do these crazy ultra events?". Somewhere deep inside, we know to develop our grit by practicing the art of setting big goals and persevering to them. We welcome the challenge of being knocked down again and again, only to prove that we can get back up and keep moving. It's a core value that needs to be nourished, practiced, and celebrated.

It might also help explain why all of our fellow athletes are such amazing life achievers. I can't run 5 miles in an ultra without being blown away by the stories from those around me, and impressed with how each of us seeks adventure in all parts of our lives. The smiles tell it all - it's how you live in this world instead of on it.

Now let's just hope the media doesn't get too crazy with this word, "grit". It looks like troubled Italian Prime Minister is on board, saying he will now "govern with grit". Too late! Grit has officially entered the international lexicon. ;-)

- SD

Friday, October 02, 2009

Can Geoff Roes be stopped?

(Geoff Roes post-race)

Just two weeks after setting a course record at Wasatch, Juneau, AK's Geoff Roes set a course record at the Bear 100. And he didn't squeeze a few minutes off of each record - we're talking hours. That's 6 100-mile wins and a course record on every 100-mile course he's run. Can he be stopped?!?

(Geoff sets a course record at the Wasatch 100, photo courtesy of deltaMike)

Let's hope for now he just rests. ;-)