Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Not your average road races

As anyone can attest, being sick is no fun.

I've been working through a flu bug the last few days, presumably whatever has been going around the office lately. It's nothing major, mostly just a sore throat and a stuff nose. Still, it's not exactly optimal conditions to go outside for a long run or bike ride (the main reason why I haven't posted much lately, apologies to my readers).

If there's one benefit for a busy-body like me to derive from being sick, at the very least, it's an excuse to take it easy for a few days.

And take it easy I have. In the last few days, I've burned through a season of 'Seinfeld' on DVD, finished reading 'Slaughterhouse Five,' and embarked on a wonderful search through Google for strange and odd races to sign up for.

It's the last part of those occurrences that leads me to this post. The search was initially provoked by a Facebook message from a friend of mine to sign up for the Warrior Dash 5k next summer in Hastings. For those that are unaware of it (myself included, prior to the message), the Warrior Dash isn't so much a 5k as it is a battle of attrition through an obstacle course. Throughout the race, you climb a rope net, crawl through mud, repel down a ravine, climb up hay bales and jump over a fire pit.

Needless to say, I'm intrigued by it.

After running my fair share of normal road races and triathlons, they all kind of start to feel the same. It's not that I'm looking for something more challenging (believe me, Grandma's Marathon was tough enough and I can't even fathom doing a full Ironman). Rather, I'm interested in road races that are completely unique from your average 5K.

A quick browsing revealed the following:

  • This health and fitness features website has a running series titled "World's 10 most Interesting & Unusual races" (I know, easy one to find on Google). I couldn't find all 10 races on the website, but it included a marathon on the Great Wall of China and a 24-hour mountain bike race through the desert in Utah. Considering their races are a more challenging brew, I'd be curious to see if the Leadville 100 is among their other choices.
  • A blog on Gear Junkie's website (essentially a company specializing in outdoor gear) had an entry about the World's Weirdest Footraces. This one was a little more up my ally. It featured everything from a 100k race in Antartica, to a nude 12k race through San Francisco and a 'Tough Guy' race through mud, maneure and other obstacles in England. For Minnesotans who don't want to travel that far, the North Star State has its own weird foot race to enjoy: The Arrowhead 135 winter run. Stretching from International Falls to Tower, the two-day event takes place at the end of January and is considered among the coldest races in the world (the temperatures reportedly got down to more than 35 below zero one year).
Intriguing? Absolutely. Slightly insane? Possibly.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Another accolade for Minnesota trails

It should come as no surprise to any of my readers that I'm proud of the trail system Minnesota provides for outdoor enthusiasts.

It seems that whatever your outdoor fancy may be, the Loon state's got you covered.

For the cycling enthusiasts like me, there's an extensive (and growing, as mentioned in a previous post) number of bike trails scattered throughout the state to explore. For hiking, there's state parks everywhere you turn, including the wonderful Minneopa Falls in Mankato. Ditto for snowmobile and ATV trails.

Minnesota's diligence with off-highway trails has not gone unnoticed. Minneapolis was named the most bike-friendly city in the nation earlier this year (also mentioned in a previous post). Likewise, Minnesota was named the fourth most 'bicycle friendly' state in the nation this year (press release can be found here).

Well, trail enthusiasts now have another award to hang their hat on.

American Trails recognized Minnesota this week as being the 'Best Trails State' in the country (Minnesota DNR story about it can be found here). According to the DNR, the award (which is rewarded every two years) recognizes states for facilitating an outstanding statewide system of trails, whether it be bicycling, hiking, cross-country skiing or snowmobiling.

As far as sheer volume of trails, here are the figures on the state's DNR website:

"Trails managed by the DNR include more than 600 miles of paved trails for biking, 1,000 miles of equestrian trails, 1,300 miles of cross-country skiing trails, 1,000 miles of off-highway vehicle trails, 4,400 miles of water trails, 1,000 miles of snowmobile trails, and several thousand miles of hiking trails."

With all that taken into consideration, in addition to the state's continued emphasis to promote outdoor activity, it comes as no surprise that Minnesota would be recognized with such an honor.

Minnesota might not have moutains or a Grand Canyon to look at, but it sure ain't dull.

Minnesota's application form for the American Trails award can be viewed here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sizing up Steve Knowlton's cross-country run

A few scattered thoughts on the accomplishments of Steve Knowlton, the Prior Lake man who recently completed a 3,717-mile cross-country run from Washington to Florida. Apologies for the delay on this. I've been meaning to write about Knowlton since he finished his amazing trip last week, but family visits and work obligations intervened.

  • First off, holy shin splints, Batman! According to the article on ABC News, Knowlton ran the equivalency of 142 marathons in 100 days, averaging about 37 miles A DAY (for reference, I averaged about 35 miles of running a week while training for Grandma's Marathon, and even that took a toll on my body). And despite dealing with sickness, fatigue, weather and Lord knows how much leg pain, Knowlton never took a day off from running. I understand how a person can become used to feeling sore all the time when arduous exercise is an everyday routine, but Knowlton's ordeal likely required a pain threshold only few can fathom.
  • Knowlton's cross-country trek was done to raise money for research on Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease which, according to the Mayo Clinic website, can lead to abdominal pains, diarrhea and malnutrition. Knowlton himself was diagnosed with the disease when he was 17 and his weight plummeted more than 40 pounds. Given the symptoms, Crohn's disease can certainly make healthy living (and exercise) difficult. Kudos to Knowlton for not letting it keep him down. Now 45, he has completed 43 marathons in his life and, obviously, keeps himself in good shape.
  • According to the article, Knowlton got permission from several states to run on the shoulder of their interstate roads in order to keep the trip's distance (in a realtive sense) short. Biking on the shoulder of busy roads can be a difficult ordeal (constant wind of vehicles, fear of cars getting a little too close, etc.). It had to be more than a little tough getting used to running on interstate roads with cars zipping past at 70+ mph.
  • Knowlton supposedly went through a grand total of six pairs of shoes in the entire run, meaning he got more than 600 miles of usage out of each pair. Most running websites say a good pair of shoes can usually get between 300-400 miles of good training on them, depending on form, maintenance and terrain that you're running on. Either Knowlton's uncommonly light on his feet, or he's as stubborn about getting new shoes as I am about buying new clothes.
  • People who saw Knowlton run offered him food, water, shelter and even a new pair of running shoes along the way. This reminds of something Eric and Christie Nelson e-mailed me when I was writing about their bike trip to South America: People have an understanding and respect for the difficulty that comes with doing something like that. Anyone can get in a car or plane and travel cross country, but to do it on foot is something that requires a whole different level of commitment. If that's not enough, Knowlton put himself through this for a good cause.
  • According to the exercise calorie counter website on the side panel of my blog, Knowlton burned an average of roughly 4,200 calories a day on his journey (averaging 6 mph and weighing 150 pounds). Unless Knowlton was feasting on a Michael Phelps-caliber diet, I would guess he probably lost a fair amount of weight during the run. However, I couldn't find any concrete information on that.
  • Like just about everybody else, this is the movie clip that came to mind when I first heard about Knowlton. I don't think I need to say which movie it is.

Knowlton's blog about his run can be viewed here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Life and running: A look at Dick Beardsley's 'Staying the Course' book

When it comes to inspiration, it doesn't get much better than Dick Beardsley.

Everything about the man feels like something out of a Hollywood movie, from his humble beginnings as a runner, to his fast rise as a marathon star, to his downward spiral into drug addiction and finally, his subsequent rise out of the abyss.

I already knew all this about Beardsley. I heard him speak at the Men's Health expo in Mankato earlier this year and was enamored enough with him to write a lengthy blog post about the experience. Looking beyond his talents as a distance runner, Beardsley seemed like a wonderfully down-to-Earth person with a positive attitude and a true passion for his sport.

So I had a pretty good base knowledge last week when I finally got around to renting his book 'Staying the Course: A Runner's Toughest Race' from the local library. I browsed his name on Wikipedia, looked up some of his course records and even watched his famed 1982 Boston Marathon race on YouTube (check out the whole thing if you have the time, amazing stuff).

I didn't think there was much I could learn from Beardsley's book. I figured I had done enough research about him where nothing could surprise me.

Despite all that, I couldn't put the book down. I read the entire thing in less than 2 days and probably would've read it faster had laundry not intervened.

The book is essentially an autobiography of his life as a distance runner. Much like his real-life story, it can be divided into three parts: His rise to prominance as a world-class marathon runner, his fall into drug use, and his eventual recovery.

Simply put, there's a lot to like about the book.

For aspiring runners, there's a wonderful story of shy high schooler falling into cross country as a fluke and eventually embracing the sport with a love and passion we should all be so lucky to have. Beardsley wasn't the best when he started running, but he eventually became great through hard work and dedication.

His knack for storytelling really comes out in this part of the book. Beardsley has a wonderful memory for small details in races he ran, training routines and he went through, and the perseverance he had to show to make a name for himself in the running community.

For the non-runners, there's an inspiring story about a man who became so addicted to pain killers that he was forging prescriptions and taking up to 90 Percocet a day. Beardsley is brutally honest about his addiction, even admitting that his need for pills consumed his life to the point where family, friends and running were all mere background noise.

In a way, the addiction part of the book served as a subtle juxtaposition for Beardsley overall addictive personality. His addiction to running was strong enough to make a life for himself, while his drug addiction was equally strong enough to almost destroy it.

Thanks to the support of his family and friends, Beardsley eventually climbed out of drugs, remade himself as a motivational speaker and dedicated himself to telling his story to others. He hasn't lost his love for running either, as he still runs on a regular basis.

As an avid runner, I'm a little biased, but I found his career as a marthoner to be the most grabbing part of the book. His career rise is remarkable and his chapter about the Boston Marathon was vividly described to the point where I felt like I was in the race with him and Alberto Salazar. It also helped me take a mental note of some of the insane training he went through to get to that level (140 miles of running a week, are you kidding me?!).

However, that's not to say there weren't other redeeming qualities to the book. His early beginnings as a runner are told with wonderful humor and his rock bottom point in drugs is told from the heart. Beardsley is honest and direct throughout the book and keeps the storytelling pace brisk.

The only criticism I have is that some finite details get left out. I have no idea how he met his wife, nor do I have a solid understanding of his parents and why their marriage was so volatile (which inadvertantly helped Beardsley fall in love with running). In some respects though, those details probably would've bogged down the pace of the book and taken away from the other major points.

Overall, I found it to be a wonderful read that I would recommend to both runners and anyone looking for a little inspirational guidance.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

From the mineshaft to the marathon

Celebrities run the New York City Marathon all the time.

Puff Daddy ran it in 2003, as did Ryan Reynolds in 2008. This year, Jared from Subway and TV weatherman Al Roker will be "running" it (I say "running" it for Roker because he is hoping to finish in under 7 hours, not exactly a record-setting pace).

However, Edison Pena (pictured in green) is not your typical celebrity. The Chilean miner will be running the marathon this weekend less than a month after being among the 32 men rescued from the collapsed gold and copper mines. Like the other miners, Pena was trapped down in the mineshaft for more than 2 months, where he apparently passed the time by running back and forth on a 1,000-yard path in darkness and extreme heat.

The story about this came across the AP wire while I was at work yesterday, and I am still in awe of it.

Even in ideal conditions, a marathon is extremely difficult to train for and compete in. The two I completed required months of hard work, several pairs of running shoes and lord knows how many training miles.

But my training was merely a recreational hobby that fit around my work schedule. I trained on the security of YMCA treadmills and the serenity of outdoor running trails. I viewed the training as a constructive way to fill my free time; nothing more, nothing less. Any aspiring hobbyist would do the same with an activity they enjoy.

However, Pena's training took on a much deeper meaning. For him, it was a necessary distraction from a situation where both he and everyone else in the mineshaft weren't sure they were leaving there alive. Food, water, light and comfort were all limited.

Instead of a nicely paved running trail, Pena ran on rocky and muddy terrain in the dark. Instead of fresh pair of running shoes, Pena did the majority of his training in steel-toe boots cut off at the ankles. Since being rescued from the mineshaft, Pena has kept up with the training by running on an everyday basis, even completing the running leg of a relay triathlon recently.

Regardless of how long it takes Pena to complete the NYC Marathon (I would bet money that he'll beat Al Roker), he can count me as one of his many admirers.

Incredible stuff.