Sunday, November 22, 2015

1300 miles

I finished an easy 5 mile run this pleasant Sunday evening hitting 1,300 miles for the year.  I feel stale, bored and just not caring about whether I run or not.  I thought about this as I walked through our neighborhood, wondering why I was in such a sorry mental state. I came to the conclusion that it's because I don't have any goals.  Right now I'm just running so I don't get too fat.  I have no races on the horizon and that may be a part of the problem.

Age is taking a toll.  I'm three weeks away from turning 60.  Running fast just isn't in my veins right now.  I used to love to blow it out once or twice a week but right now I just want to get out and get in a few miles without hurting.

I know that I'm extremely lucky to be able to run on an almost daily basis.  A lot of men that I know, that I looked up to as runners, can't lace it up anymore due to injuries.  These guys pushed themselves to the limits to get the most out of their bodies.  I'm ashamed to say that I never really did that.  One of them, Charlie Gray, who was a dominant figure in Kansas City road racing for more than a decade just had a knee replaced.  I can't imagine Charlie not running.

As for racing, it's not an easy thing to do right now.  I last ran in a real race in May.  Since then I've joined the board of the Fort Myers Track Club.  That's put me on the front lines of helping with race day set ups.  I feel like it's only right that I give back to the sport that I love by doing the grunt work that makes it possible for others to enjoy a quality race.

I just need to scan the calendar and plot out a couple of weekends where I'm not working at a race.  One of my favorites, the Naples Half Marathon is just a couple of months away.  But I could certainly use a 5K or something under my belt before tackling 13.1 miles.  I've got to race.  You know the old saying, use it or lose it. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Marathon Mess

Nothing beats road racing in Southwest Florida in the winter, nothing.  The courses by and large are pancake flat and once the humidity gets sucked out into the Gulf of Mexico the weather is awesome.  Yet for all of the top notch winter 5K's and half marathons, the area lacks a first rate marathon.

A local for-profit company called Eident Racing has been trying to make a go of it with marathons in Fort Myers and Naples but the results over the last three years have been at best, dicey.  The courses by and large are lousy and course management has been spotty at best.  Plus in the case of the Fort Myers event, November is not a good time of the year to try and pull off a marathon.

Eident first tried running the race in 2013 on Fort Myers Beach.  A lot of runners assumed the race would include a run along the wonderful stretch of Estero Boulevard that runs by the beach.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.  The out and back course took runners over the Mantanzas Pass Bridge to a mess of a maze 12 plus miles away in Lakes Park.  Runners got lost and the weather wasn't the best.

The 2014 edition moved to downtown Fort Myers.  Eident made the decision that three trips over the bridges spanning the Caloosahatchee River would make for a good marathon.  Plus, poor course management caused several runners to run a mile or so more than the standard 26.2.  It was an unmitigated disaster.

This year cane with slight improvements in the course and better course management, but
the weather turned the event into a death march.  The marathon and half marathon runners had to endure temperatures in the mid-80's plus humidity levels that were off the chart.  Eident is lucky that a runner didn't drop dead from heat stroke.

Make no mistake, planning and holding a marathon is no small task.  It is disaster waiting to happen.  But two things need to happen to fix the Fort Myers race.  The marathon needs to be moved to December or January.  November weather is too unpredictable to hold a race of this distance.  The course needs to include only one bridge.  No one wants to go over the bridges three time, they come to Fort Myers hoping to take advantage of a flat, fast course.

That's way the Best Damn Race in Cape Coral is the only viable marathon option for now in Southwest Florida.  Last year's inaugural race went off without a hitch.  The only drawback on the course is it is two loops.  That makes for a boring marathon.  But I'll take boring over bridges.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Racing Season

The 2015-16 road racing season has been underway for a couple of weeks in Southwest Florida.  The weather really doesn't start to cooperate until November and it stays pretty good until the beginning of March.  Now, there are a ton of races in Lee County and Collier County, but if you want to run in quality events, it's best to stick to races put on by the Fort Myers Track Club and Gulf Coast Runners.  The other "for profit" groups that hold races, simply don't measure up, with one exception.

I can't speak for the races in Collier County because I have only run a handful of races there.  This missive will focus on the races on the calendar up through the end of 2015.  We've already had a handful of good races like the FISH 10K on Sanibel Island.  It is a race that has grown in popularity by leaps and bounds.  It's attractive for two reasons, it's a great reason to get out to Sanibel, plus it's one of the few 10K's in the area.  The only drawback is the weather.  It can be warm and muggy.

There was also a night race in downtown Fort Myers called Cops N' Joggers along with a scenic 5K and 15K called Race the Roof.  However the weather at any of the aforementioned faces can be humid at best, crisp and cool usually doesn't arrive until November.

If you like hitting tackling a bridge then the Veteran's Day race over the Midpoint Bridge is the one for you.  I like it because it's a night race.  That usually means good weather.  It's held on Veteran's Day and it draws big crowds.

From November 11 you have to wait until November 26 for the traditional Thanksgiving Day race, The Turkey Trot.  There are now a proliferation of Thanksgiving Day races across the area.  This one is the oldest and is a ton of fun.  I do have one complaint and that's the start.  The street where it starts is too narrow.  It would be an easy fix if the start were moved a block over to Del Prado or move it back to the old starting line on SE 6th.

The final race in 2015 is the River Run, held in downtown Fort Myers, on Saturday December 5th.  This too is one of the rare 10K races and it takes you up and over two bridges.  This used to be a big draw but attendance has fallen in recent years.  I can't say enough about what a great test this race is and the weather is usually pretty good.

I want to talk about two other races that are put on by for profit companies.  The first is the Fort Myers Marathon.  Besides the 26.2 on November 8 there is a half marathon and 5 mile race.  Stay away.  The first two editions of this race have been terrible.  First of all, the course is not very good.  Second, the lack of volunteers make it easy to get lost on the course and in some cases, a lack of water stations.  Oh and as for an awards ceremony, forget about it.  Maybe Eident Racing has its act together this year, but I wouldn't count on it.

The other for profit race is December 13th's Best Damn Race in Cape Coral.  This is a marathon, half marathon plus a 5K.  Last year was its first and all of the reviews were positive.  The course is flat.  The only drawback is the marathon is a double loop.  Given the lack of quality marathons in our area this one is definitely one to consider if you're looking to run a decent time.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

15 Years On

One of the things I regret is the fact that I didn't routinely keep a running log until 1985.  That's when the late, great Tom Dowling insisted that keeping one was an important part of a training program.  Tom started coaching me in December of 1985 and would routinely check my log and write observations and words of encouragement in it. 

Through high school and college I never kept track of my mileage or workouts.  I kept a list of my in season high school races and much to my regret, did not keep a list of the dozens of summer races I ran which included road races and track meets.  I only remember a handful of those summer races.  Remarkably, I can remember something about every race I ever ran for Lawrence High.  I guess they had more meaning than the out of season races.

Over the last month or so I started digging through all of my logs that I've kept over the last 30 years to create a database of all the races I ran.  I don't know why I'm doing it, except it's interesting to come across races that I have absolutely no memories of running.  I'm not sure I was a prolific racer.  Tom Dowling was not a big believer of racing a lot.  Over the 30 years I ran as many as 17 races in a year and as few as zero, which happened in 2005, a year in which I was dealing with a serious health issue which left me wondering if I would ever race again.

The one thing that stood out to me was the fact that the last time I broke 40 minutes for a 10000 meter road race was in 2000.  The 15th anniversary of that race is coming up in a couple of weeks.  It was in Fargo, North Dakota at a hospital charity race named for baseball great Roger Maris.  I wasn't in very good shape and was pleased that I ran 39:34, but if you would have told me that this would be the last time under 40 I would have laughed.

The following year I was training for a marathon and couldn't get below that 40 minute barrier.  I was 45 years old and still running 5K's in the low 19's which would translate to being able to break 40 but alas, it wasn't to be.  It was downhill from there.

I can remember a couple of years later it was a struggle to try and break 20 minutes.  A number of leg injuries, the illness I suffered and age was taking its toll.  But I think the biggest problem was my training.  I no longer had the desire to do long runs.  In my 30's the long run was a 21 mile Sunday ritual.  By my 40's it was a 16 mile ritual.  After my illness, concerns about dehydration made runs of more than two hours a dicey proposition.

Even if I were to somehow reinvigorate my training regiment, lose 20 pounds and devote myself to breaking 40 as a goal, I know that ship has sailed.  I think I could still run 5 kilometers under 7 minute pace but I have to ask myself, is it worth the work?  I'm still reasonably competitive in my age group.  Yet being a 60 year old cock of the block holds to luster for me. 

I train now because I still enjoy running.  I race because I love the feeling of effort that racing brings.  Times mean little anymore.  The test of self means much more.  And I'm thankful that I have those logs that Tom Dowling insisted that I keep to remind me of those tests.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Run Florida

I'm a little late to my own anniversary.  Technically, I purchased a run specialty shop on September 1, 2014.  I didn't start working there full time until the third week of September.  So somewhere in the midst of this small business madness I'm celebrating one year as owner of Run Florida On McGregor.

While it may have been a long, strange trip for the Grateful Dead, for me it's been a short, educational one.  I had wanted to get into the run shop business for the better part of the last 20 years.  Mike and Candy Pemberton decided I was the one they could trust to not mess it up.  They had created a homey, old school, slice of running nirvana that they really didn't want to see turned inside out.  Outside of a picture of me running the St. George Marathon in 1990 behind the counter and a poster of this year's Prefontaine Classic overlooking the showroom, little has changed.

Oh sure, we carry a few more shoes, maybe too many more shoes, but I hate it when a customer comes in and we don't have the size they're looking for.  And that's probably the biggest lesson I've learned, inventory control.  The shoe companies don't make it easy.  They create too many shoes in too  many awful colors, a few of which are way over-priced and they obviously have a pack mentality.

The minimalist movement reared its ugly head about a half dozen when Born to Run hit book shelves.  Now thanks in large part to Hoka One One, the pendulum has swung 180 degrees.  Maximal cushioning with a minimal heel drop is the hot new trend.  And then there are the tried and true shoes that fall in between, but that's really not what this blog is all about.

It's about people.  95 percent of the people that walk into my store are incredible.  They are looking for guidance and direction and we bust our hump trying to find the perfect shoe from them.  There are the four percent that come in and try out shoes, never to return because you know they're going online to order them and save all of five dollars.  I'm okay with that because at least they know we exist and a time will come when they're in a pinch and they'll come back.

And then there's the one percent, unhappy, confused and just awful people in general.  They hate all the colorful styles.  You show them every conceivable style and color in every catalog and they're outraged that the shoe companies don't make old-fashioned black or white shoes.  They order shoes and never come in to pick them up.  Or they come six months later after you've called them three times and become angry when you've sold them after waiting for three months.  Then they have the nerve to ask you to order more shoes for them.  I asked them if I have a sign hanging around my neck that says I'm stupid.  Needless to say they aren't my customer anymore.

Yet it's really about the new runner who walks into the door looking to enter a world that you've lived for the last 40 years.  They want to run.  Maybe they want to lose a few pounds, challenge themselves with a 5K or a half marathon.  What they find, rather quickly, is a huge community that is ready to open their arms up to them.  Southwest Florida has some many running groups that support every type of runner imaginable that it's easy to find a place that fits for you.

So here's to another year of Run Florida On McGregor, where we celebrate good shoes, a good run and the good men and women, who grace our store, all in search of the best run experience possible.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Beijing Bust

Anyway you slice it, the 2015 World Championships was an unmitigated disaster for United States track and field.  We took six gold medals, the same number that we won in Moscow in 2013, but the overall medal count fell by seven.

What made this so cringe worthy were the lack of medals in events the U.S.A. usually dominates.  No medals in the men's 400 meter hurdles, no medals in the women's 100 meter hurdles, no medals in the men's and women's 200 meters, oh and yes, another botched men's 4 X 100 relay.  Sunday's men's 1500 final summed up the American effort.  Leo Manzano, Robbie Andrews and Matt Centrowitz all made the finals, an amazing feat.  Yet none of them finished anywhere near the top three.  Centrowitz was perfectly position with 300 to go but lacked his usual giddy-up fading to 8th.

Kenya and Jamaica dominated these championships.  The other obvious headline was doping.  Some of the performances screamed performance enhancement.  I'll offer two examples.  In the women's 1500 Ethiopia's Genzebe Dibaba ran the final 800 meters in the race under 1:57.  That was more than a full second faster than the winning time in the open 800.  Then in the women's 5000 another Ethiopian Almaz Anaya cranked the final 3000 meters in a near world record 8:19.

The lone American bright spot was Allyson Felix, who won the women's 400 and ran a stunning 47.7 in the 4 X 400 relay which should have resulted in another gold medal but only ended with silver.  Felix picked up another silver medal in the women's 4 X 100 relay to boot.

My favorite moment came in the women's marathon.  American Serena Burla, a cancer survivor, had allowed herself to be gapped by some 300 meters very early in the race.  Burla worked from about 5K to 15K to close that staggering distance to reunite with the lead pack.  She hung in with the group until the real racing began at 30K and still managed a respectable 10th place finish.

Track and field is in a world of hurt.  The rampant drug abuse is on a scale seen during Lance Armstrong's hey day on the Tour de France.  The IAAF appears as corrupt and ignorant as their soccer counterparts at FIFA.

As for U.S.A. track and field, one can only hope for better days in Rio at next year's 2016 Olympics.  Oh to be in Eugene next summer for the second best track meet in the world, the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Close But No Cigar

It was like watching a train wreck unfold in slow motion.  Molly Huddle seemed to have a bronze medal just for the taking.  A final sprint in over the last 50 meters and she would join an illustrious group of American distance runners to medal at 10000 meters at a major championship.  Behind Huddle, Emily Enfield was charging hard, but surely it was too little too late.  And then it happened, something I had seen countless high school runners and even adult runners doing in races and workouts, Huddle eased up and failed to race to the finish line. 

The Notre Dame grad threw her hands up a step to the finish assuming the bronze was hers as Enfield slipped by.  It was a jaw dropping experience.  Enfield was the third wheel of an amazing duo of Huddle and Olympic bronze medalist Shalane Flanaghan.  Even the pros can screw it up.  And unfortunately, that's the story the media is focusing on.

The bigger story is the fact that three American women, took three of the top six places at the 2015 World Championships.  For those of you keeping track, our American trio kicked some major Ethiopian and Kenyan butt.  If you were scoring this like a cross country meet, the USA came out on top.

Think about this long and hard.  20 years ago American distance running was in disarray.  Bob Kennedy was the lone beacon in a desert of distance running disaster.  The United States is now competitive from the 800 to the 10000, both men and women.  Let me repeat, the USA can deal with the East Africans from the 800 to the 10000. 

Odds are in the remaining distance races, the United States will be fortunate to pick up a couple of more medals.  It should happen in the women's 800, possibly in Tuesday's women's 1500 final and a sliver of hope exists for a medal in the men's 1500 as well.  Emma Coburn could medal in the women's steeplechase and leaves both the men's and women's 5000 where chances for a medal are fairly remote and downright impossible in the women's marathon.

The big story is that American distance running is back.  Enfield, Huddle, Galen Rupp, Evan Jager, Jenny Simpson, Shannon Rowburry, Matt Centrowitz, Brenda Martinez and Leo Manzano are the real deal.  The USA is in the mix and isn't it grand.