Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Knowlton's run: This time, he's going for the record

Some of my readers may remember a blog post I did awhile back about Steve Knowlton, the Prior Lake man who ran across the United States, from Seattle to Florida, over the span of 99 days in 2010 to raise money for Crohn's disease, an ailment he himself was diagnosed with as a child.

Shot of Knowlton near the end of his
previous cross-country trek. Yes, he
did in fact tow that cart with him for
the duration of the trip.
I remember being amazed by his achievement for reasons that went beyond his ability to endure the almost-certain physical hell he put his body through. Here was a guy who was afflicted with a potentially debilitating disease, yet he refused to let the disease keep him from living life the way he wanted to live it. A lot of people make excuses out of their misfortunes; he made himself stronger because of his.

I also admired the adventurous -- some would say insane -- mindset he had to come up with such a bold journey. Many fitness-oriented people long to go on a cross country adventure like his, whether it be running, cycling, kayaking, canoeing or rollerblading. However, there aren't a lot of people who have the initiative to take the next step and actually do it.

Most of all, the thing I admired about Knowlton was his mental strength.  It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there and expose your body to ebbs and flows of Mother Nature and the traffic of an interstate road. It also takes a lot of will power to keep your wits amid the day-to-day grind his mind was undoubtedly going through. Most people -- myself included -- can barely even stomach the notion of running a full marathon, much less doing 1 1/2 marathons...every day...for more than three months.

Needless to say, it was a fun blog entry to write. I didn't really make much of it at the time. I had a relatively small, Mankato-centric audience and wanted to keep my blog focused on my own personal experiences of trying to live an active lifestyle. I enjoyed writing about Steve, but I figured my commentary about him would be relatively forgettable.

However, a few months back I found out that Knowlton had begun following my blog and he messaged me to say that he was planning another cross-country run., this time in an effort to both raise money for Aspergers research and break the world record for fastest time across the U.S., a record currently held by Frank Giannino (46 days, eight hours and 36 minutes, in case you're wondering). In order to do so, Knowlton will have to average close to 70 miles a day, almost doubling the average of his previous run.

I plan on writing more about Knowlton in the near future, as I did an interview/run with him last month (unequivocally the coolest thing that's ever happened to me through my blog) and it took a considerable amount of time to sift through 3+ hours of interview recordings. For the time being though, here's a video about his run by Dan Stewart as part of planned documentary:

******Note: The start date of Steve's run has been pushed back from June 1 to Sept. 1 in order to allow more time to raise money/publicity for the run.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A heavy-hearted goodbye

I got some sad news the other day while I was out walking to enjoy the weather.

My dad called to tell me that Leon Lechner, the former activities director at Sartell High School (my alma mater) and the first basketball coach I ever played for, had passed away at the much-too-young age of 58.

I was completely blown away by this. I saw Leon less than two years ago at my friend's wedding. He was his usual happy-go-lucky self, chatting it up with his former students and showing a complete lack of inhibition on the dance floor (I'm guessing he was never a dancer by occupation). But most of all, he seemed healthy, vibrant and capable of living on for many more years.

I remember having a great conversation with him that day, touching on everything from triathlons (one of his sons is a pretty seasoned triathlete whom I competed against in one of my early races) to fishing, a hobby he loved immensely and cultivated by working in the hunting/fishing department at Scheel's after he stopped working at the high school. As with all of our interactions since the day I met him, Leon was happy to see me and eager to talk.

In many ways, Leon was a hugely influential person in my life. We first crossed paths when I was in 7th grade, essentially the height of teenage awkwardness for me. My mom had just moved to Sartell that year and I was still getting used to a new school and classmates. Not helping the matter was the fact that I was oddly tall (at least for that age), asthmatic, painfully shy and sporting a humorous-in-retrospect bowl haircut.

I didn't play any sports at the time aside from baseball, but baseball didn't start until spring and I was desperate to make friends before that. I needed an activity and I figured my height would probably be useful on the basketball court, so I convinced my mom to sign me up for a travel basketball team (essentially an out-of-school club team). Leon was the head coach of that team and his son Drew was one of the players.

I can only imagine the tough task Leon had with coaching me early on. I showed up to my first practice in wind pants and a t-shirt, as I didn't own any basketball shorts or jerseys at the time. I didn't know how to run a play on offense, couldn't play defense without fouling someone and got my two front teeth knocked out in that first practice. In my first game, I nearly scored two points on the wrong basket (thank God I missed), got called for traveling nearly every time I touched the ball and probably tripped over myself at some point (I'm not sure about the last one, I likely blocked it out). I was basically the basketball version of Scott Smalls from "Sandlot."

However, Leon took all of my growing pains in stride and worked tirelessly to teach me the basics of the game. Everytime I messed up, he would simply say "let's do it again," and we'd keep working at it. I wanted to reach to point of not being an embarrassment on the basketball court and he wanted me to be the best player I could be.

The hard work from both of us paid off. I was never great at basketball, but thanks largely to Leon, I played it for four years in middle school and high school and continue to shoot hoops recreationally in adulthood. Beyond the basketball court, Leon's arduous practices (I still shudder when I think about running killers) steered me toward making healthy living choices, eventually getting over my asthma (I haven't needed an inhaler in seven years), getting into running and pretty much forming the basis of this blog.

Even beyond that, his steadying influence gave me confidence in myself at a crucial point in my life. Being a teenager is never easy; it's awkward, uncertain and full of embarrassment. But thanks to Leon, I found an activity to focus my energy on and grew up as an athlete and a person because of it.

I wouldn't be the person that I am today without Leon's presence in my life. Given his outgoing personality and career in education and guidance, I'm sure there's a lot of people who can say the same.

So wherever you are, on behalf of all the people whose lives you touched, thanks Leon.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Braving the elements, surviving the duathlon

A few scattered thoughts about the 2012 Falls Duathlon I raced in last weekend in Cannon Falls (apologies for the tardiness, I was waiting for event photos I could add to to the post):

My running faces look weird
  • It would be impossible to describe this race without mentioning the weather conditions. Simply put: They were brutal, among the harshest I've ever raced in (right up there with a 5K I ran the day after freezing rain turned the course into Level 4 of Super Mario 2). According to the Weather Channel website, temps at race time hovered in high 30s and low 40s, which would have been fine if Minnesota wasn't coming off one of the warmest winters on record. Like most Minnesotans, I was spoiled by a steady stream of "sunny and 60" days in March and early April. So when the weather turned south, it was a bit of shock to my system. Adding to the misery was a steady diet of rain and 10-15 mph winds coming from the NNE, which meant that the first half of the duathlon's 14-mile down-and-back bike course was almost directly into the wind. Add it all up, and racers were in for a tough day.
  • For me, the weather conditions created an unnecessary conundrum when it came time to figure out what outfit to wear for the race. I initially planned for the usual t-shirt and shorts combo. However, when I checked the weather on race day before heading to Cannon Falls, I switched to a longsleeve running shirt in anticipation of the rain. I thought about bringing warmer clothes just in case (longsleeve spandex, stocking hat, gloves, ect.), but I've always been reluctant to layer up for a race. I tend to warm up quickly while running and once had to take layers off during a half marathon because I was overheating, leading to the wonderfully awkward situation of hopping a fence to get my shirt back after the race (my legs were pretty beat up from the run so it probably looked hilarious). Because of that mindset, I left the extra layers at home instead of bringing them along just in case. Decision-making was never my strong suit at 7 a.m.
  • This was my first multi-sport event in almost three years and the first duathlon I've ever raced in, so I really didn't know what to expect. I felt like I was in pretty decent shape for it, but for whatever reason, I had a hard time getting into a regular running/biking training routine. It seemed like I would get three or four good workout days strung together, followed by taking a weekend off the visit family and friends. I did my fair share of 1-hour workouts on the trainer bike and got up to the point of doing 3-5 mile runs about four times a week, but I never worked up to my previous levels (at my peak, I was doing 40-50 mile bike rides followed by 8-10 mile runs). Pretty much all I knew was that I wouldn't have to do any swimming, which I was more than OK with.
  • I've never been big on spending a lot of money to be a multisport athlete. I don't own high-tech running shoes or socks, never invested in brand-name running attire and my bike is still the $85 steel road bike I bought from a pawn shop four years ago (albeit with a fair amount of modifications on my part). I guess I'm a little weird in that way; I'm dedicated when it comes to training for events, but not so much when it comes to buying the equipment used by serious athletes. Consequently, I don't expect myself to take first place in race; usually I'm just racing against myself.
  • I'm probably cursing the weather
    under my breath at this point
  • As par for the course, Mark Bongers and the staff at Final Stretch put on a first-class event. The race was well-organized and every volunteer knew what they were doing. Final Stretch even had the state of mind to have have coffee and hot chocolate promptly ready at the finish line, as well as extra tents put up to help get people out of the rain. Really, the only complaint I have is that the race t-shirt I got was likely sized for a female (large-sized t-shirts should not be cutting off the circulation in my arms).

As far as my race experience goes, it breaks down like this:

  • First run stage went about as well as can be expected. I kept a good steady pace and didn't wear myself out at all. I haven't done a 2-mile run in a race setting before, so I really didn't know what pace to go at. Might be something to work on in the future.
  • First transition went smoothly; pretty much just grabbed my bike and went. However, because I warmed up from the run, I opted not to throw on a sweatshirt at the last second. Bad move.
  • Bike stage was admittedly pretty rough. The wind started to wear on me after the first few miles and my legs and hands were pretty much numb by the end of it. The lone saving grace was having the wind at my back for the last seven miles.
  • Second transition likely took several seconds longer than the first (I couldn't tell you exactly, the results didn't have transition times listed) because I was a little disoriented from the biking and it took me about 30 seconds to take my bike helmet off (stupid numb hands).
  • Second run stage started off pretty rough because my legs basically felt like cinder blocks thanks to the biking and cold weather. However, I found a decent group of runners early on and managed to keep a steady pace with them.

Overall, I'm satisfied with how I did. I didn't handle the elements as well as I could have, nor did I train as well as I have in previous events, but I thought I did a good job hanging tough and getting through it. I finished 33rd out of 238 overall, so I can't complain too much.