A Runner's Letter to Santa

To: Santa Claus
Location: North Pole

Dear Santa,

We hope this letter finds you well, and that your final preparations for Christmas Eve are going smoothly.

Hopefully you remember us as the running columnists from Monterey County who wrote you last year with a wish list of things that could make us better runners. We’ve had a pretty good year, Santa – but we’ve also seen a lot of things that make us sad about our favorite sport, and we’re hoping that you could help us somehow this year. Incidentally, many other sports face the same problems that running does, so if you can fix these things, you’d have the admiration of millions of sports fans around the world. (Not that you don’t have that already).

We believe in you, Santa, and we want to believe in our sport also. Unfortunately, this seems harder to do with each passing year. In light of this, would the following things be too much to ask?

The excitement of true fans: We used to love watching national collegiate or professional championship events, world championships and Olympics – but in recent years, we’ve grown pretty jaded. We’re at the point where we don’t know whether or not to appreciate the feats we witness on the TV screen anymore. We used to watch with a sense of awe and wonder – but now we just wonder. Maybe it’s because we’re lacking …

Faith in hard work: When we watched sports as kids, there was an underlying premise that success was available to anyone with God-given talent and the willingness to work hard toward his or her goals. But lately, as top-level athletes in every sport get busted for various forms of cheating, it seems like skills and dedication are only part of the equation. It also makes us lose our …

Belief in records: Here’s how bad things have become: whenever we see a record get broken, or witness a performance for the ages by a star athlete, our first reaction isn’t to say, “Wow, I’m watching history!”, but to ask, “I wonder what he’s using to perform so well.” This happens with alarming frequency in nearly every sport. Who was the last truly clean 100-meter dash world record holder, Tour de France champion, or baseball home run king? Nobody knows for certain – which makes every current and future record a cause for skepticism rather than celebration.

(Considering the previous three items, another request comes to mind … Santa, we know it sounds kind of Grinchy - but is there any way you could put Barry Bonds in jail for a while? The folks in charge of things down here don’t appear to be making much progress. We know this one’s a longshot, but figured we may as well ask.)

You know what might help, Santa? Maybe if we could get some …

Honesty from cheaters: Last week our newspaper printed a “naughty” list of 85 baseball players who are thought to have used drugs. Guess how many admitted intentional wrongdoing, Santa? Precisely zero.

Just once – just one time – this year, we’d like to hear someone who tests positive for performance enhancing drugs come out and say, “You know what? You caught me. I was cheating, and I was wrong to do it. I did it because I’m trying to compete against a lot of other guys I know who are also cheating – and here are their names. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done it, and I’ll accept whatever punishment you decide is fair.” Could you imagine how refreshing that would be? What if we also had some …

Humility from professional athletes: Santa, don’t you think someone like Alex Rodriquez could just say, “Honestly, I can live quite comfortably on 20 million per year instead of 27 million; why not use the leftover money to reduce admission prices by 10 bucks, or to give free tickets out to kids?

Can you imagine this? It could all be one small step towards restoring the notion of …

Athletes as role models: We’re thinking of runners in particular here. Remember a long time ago, when the most famous athletes in the world were Roger Bannister or Jim Ryun or Bill Rodgers? Nowadays, most people would have trouble naming an Olympic gold medalist in any distance event over the past 20 years. Running has completely fallen off the radar. But there are several young Americans today with world-class talent. Maybe if they become more popular, we might also see …

Respect for runners: It seems like there’s always been this notion that distance runners are the misfits of the athletic world, since they don’t often participate in more glamorous sports like football or basketball.

But take it from us, Santa: distance running is hard work. Cross-country is a brutal sport – and the runners are just as intense and competitive as any 220-pound linebacker. They push themselves beyond boundaries of pain that most other athletes dare not approach, and they do it almost anonymously. We’d just like more people to understand that.

Well, Santa, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Sorry to make this list so challenging, but we figured that we’d rather have meaningful change rather than toys and gadgets that we don’t really need anyway. We know we won’t get everything we ask for, but anything you can do to make the world a better place for runners would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for your time, Santa. Have a safe flight on Christmas Eve!


Mike and Donald
Monterey County, CA


Year-End Gift Giving

Financial advice is probably the last thing you would expect to find in this column, especially after we disclose that neither one of us are financial experts. However, the end of the year is a great season for last-minute donations to ease your tax burdens and to put you in the giving mood for the holidays. And since we have no idea how many runners read the business section, we thought we’d share some advice with you here.

When you open your hearts and wallets to think about year-end donations, make sure you consider the local worthwhile running-related activities that improve the lives of individuals in our community. Many of the following causes would benefit from your generosity:

JUST RUN. This great youth program developed by the Big Sur International Marathon helps fight the youth obesity epidemic. The award-winning program is in 40 schools in Monterey County and expanding nationally as well. It teaches students to love physical activity, to be good citizens, and how to strive for goals and reach them. The program is provided free to schools and youth groups, and depends on grants and personal donations. Over 10,000 children are expected to enroll this year.

See www.justrun.org for more information, or send donations to “BSIM JUST RUN”, PO Box 222620, Carmel, 93922-2620. Call 831-625-6226 for more information.

WNLR SCHOLARSHIP FUND. Since 2001, the famous (to us, anyway) Monterey Bay Wednesday Night Laundry Runners club has provided over $35,000 in college scholarship money to deserving high school seniors. Last year, $9,000 was awarded to 8 students from several local schools. The scholarships are based on academic achievement, leadership, running ability, and financial need. 100% of your donation goes to these deserving students.
Send donations to the WNLR Scholarship fund, 24630 Avenida Principal, Salinas, Ca. 93908, or call 831-905-4301 for more information.

MONTEREY HIGH SCHOOL FIELD AND TRACK RENOVATION. The public/private partnership to upgrade the field and track facilities at Monterey High School has been ongoing for over 5 years now. Almost $1,000,000 has been collected but the cost of the project requires approximately $250,000 more.
This upgrade is long overdue for the athletic facility that was built in 1915. It will be a much needed community asset that helps not only students at Monterey High but everyone on the Monterey Peninsula. Andy Bedell, Monterey High School Principal, says that any donations are welcome, and there are still many tiles left in the “Honor Wall.”

Go to www.montereyhightradition.org to look at investment opportunities and find out more about the Honor Wall or other ways you can help. Call Principal Bedell for more information at 831-392-3833.

YOUR LOCAL HIGH SCHOOL RUNNING TEAMS. You don’t have to look any farther than your nearest school to find a worthy charity donation. Nearly all track and cross-country programs are chronically underfunded in school budgets, especially in comparison to larger sports. Every team needs uniforms, travel money, and other training gear. Some Monterey County schools can barely afford shoes to allow students to race. Call your local high school and ask for the track or XC coach, and they’ll be happy to accept your donation.

DONATE YOUR OLD RUNNING SHOES TO THE TREADMILL. The Treadmill in the Carmel Crossroads shopping center has been collecting used running shoes for many years. The shoes are delivered to impoverished areas, including a recent shipment to Guatemala with the local Dentists Without Borders group. They also are given out locally to low income families in Salinas and the Monterey Peninsula. So don’t discard your old running shoes – they might be a great gift for a family in need.

ENTER A LOCAL RACE. This is the fun way to donate. Sometimes we forget that virtually all local races are fundraisers for worthy charities. So whether you are a walker or a runner, and even if you don’t feel like racing, go ahead and enter a race.

While we have you doing your year-end planning, go ahead and put these races on your schedule:

Rio Resolution Run on January 1st benefits Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Monterey County. Go to www.riogrillsresoltionrun.com

Together with Love Run on February 10th benefits the Monterey Rape Crisis Center. Go to www.mtryrapecrisis.org

The Big Sur International Marathon and related events on April 26th and 27th benefits local schools, public organizations, and charities. The BSIM has provided over $200,000 a year to local organizations. Go to www.bsim.org

GIVE THE GIFT OF RUNNING. This one’s not tax-deductible, but it’s the best gift you can give. As you think about your year-end donations, consider encouraging or coaching someone close to you to start a running program. There’s no kinder present for a loved one or a friend than health and vitality.

On behalf of all of these worthy causes, thank you for supporting the local running community!


Calculated Risks

“If you knew there was a possibility that something terrible might someday happen, would you stop doing something you loved?”

That question popped into our inbox this month, shortly after marathons made front page news for the worst possible reason: the deaths of competitors at separate events in October and November. Honestly, we’re still not sure what the correct answer should be.

In October, a 35-year-old man collapsed and died during the Chicago Marathon on a day of record heat and humidity in the Midwest. Four weeks later, 28-year old elite runner Ryan Shay suffered heart failure during mile 6 of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, and he died before the race was finished.

Sadly, deaths in marathons are not unheard of, and shorter races also see their share of tragedy. Furthermore, such events appear unrelated to weather, geographic location or to the victim’s level of fitness.

Our local community has even been impacted; two runners have died in the 22-year history of the Big Sur Marathon, and one runner suffered cardiac arrest (and was revived) during a 5K in Salinas this year.

Runner deaths are the shark attack stories of the endurance sports community: although they are exceedingly rare, they absolutely (and justifiably) terrify everybody to the point of rethinking their rationale for doing the activity in the first place.

That was the implied basis of the question in our inbox: Is running dangerous? And if so, why do we continue to do it? Why do we push our bodies to extremes of performance that could someday prove fatal?

All runners engage in a sort of internal decision-making process in response to that question. Like everything else in life, running comes with its share of risks. The question we all answer is whether the benefits we get from running and racing outweigh the potential risk.

With any activity, if the risk/benefit ratio is favorable, the activity appears acceptable. However, we all have different definitions of “favorable” (which helps to explain the existence of sports like BASE jumping or bull riding), and reasonable people will disagree about recommending certain activities.

People might tell us that runners have died in marathons. We’ll reply that nearly all of those people – as was the case in October and November – had preexisting heart conditions that were either undiagnosed or untreated. There is a good chance that those individuals might still have died very early deaths if they were sedentary.

Others might say we’re risking death by training and racing. We’d respond that our odds of dying in a car accident are about 200 times greater, but that doesn’t stop us from driving. In fact, the odds of dying while running are 6 times lower than drowning in the bathtub, and lower than dying from small animal bite. In other words, everything is risky.

Some may recommend that we take up another activity – but to us, that is simply non-negotiable. The physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits we gain from running are far more than we are willing to give up for a vague suggestion of greater security.

Country star Garth Brooks sings, “Yes, my life is better left to chance. I could have missed the pain but I’d of had to miss the dance.” Life wasn’t meant to be lived from the sidelines. We’d rather be in the game, facing all of the risks and all the rewards, than sitting out with fear of catastrophe.

We realize that to some people, that might sound reckless – and that’s why there’s no correct answer to the question posed at the top of the column. The two of us consider the risk of running to be incredibly small. However, if a cardiologist told us we had a heart condition that could kill us if we continued to run, perhaps our answer would be different. But the decision would be a lot harder than you’d think.

All we know for sure, above all else, is how thankful we are for the gifts that running has provided us. We’re thankful for the ability to do the activities we love, to whatever degree we desire, in the beautiful surroundings that we’re lucky enough to call home.

We also understand that nothing is promised, and there’s a slight possibility that each day’s run could be our last. However, if it were all taken away tomorrow, we still wouldn’t do it any other way. We’ve each been fortunate to experience so many wonderful things from running and racing that we would still be forever grateful.

So today, we’re giving thanks for the sport that means so much to us, for the opportunities and experiences it has provided, and for all of the miles in life we’ve covered so far. We can only hope that we’ll continue to be blessed with many more in the future.



The half-marathon is one of the most challenging and most enjoyable race distances many runners will ever experience. And yet, for many years it has suffered a reputation as the Rodney Dangerfield of road racing: it doesn’t get any respect.

Despite its growing popularity, the half-marathon has struggled to overcome a significant identity crisis. It doesn’t have the aura of the marathon, the popularity of the 10K, or excitement of the 5K.

The marathon enjoys widespread fame and prestige. Major races like New York and Boston receive network TV coverage, and almost every regional marathon enjoys several days of newspaper coverage before and after the event. The 5K and 10K and 1500 meters are the premier distance running events at every Olympics – where the heroic efforts of Billy Mills and Steve Prefontaine become the stuff of legend, and repeat winners like Haile Gebreselassie forge their reputations as the greatest runners of all time.

Here’s a quiz: who won the half-marathon at the last Olympic Games? Can you name any Americans who made the Olympic team? If you couldn’t think of anyone, don’t worry – it’s a trick question. The half-marathon isn’t even an Olympic event. In other words, in the vast pantheon of athletics, the half-marathon ranks below badminton, fencing, and team handball.

The half-marathon is the only race that is identified by comparison to another event. Nobody ever calls the 5K a “Half-10K”, or the 1500 meters a “One-third 5K”, yet the half-marathon goes through life as a diminutive variation of its longer, better-known relative. And if that wasn’t bad enough - in some parts of the country, 13.1-mile races are called “mini marathons”. No wonder the race has an inferiority complex.

Our local half-marathon (The Big Sur Half Marathon on Monterey Bay - the 5th presentation being this Sunday) is like one of those nerdy kids in school named Reginald Archibald von Finkelstein - saddled with an unwieldy name that’s almost impossible to roll off the tongue. It’s also identified by the bigger race (Big Sur Marathon) it’s associated with, but has to include the location to remind everyone that it isn’t actually in Big Sur.

Monterey’s half-marathon gets its own day, but many in other cities don’t – they’re forced to share a day as the undercard of a full marathon held on the same morning. If you’ve ever seen a race shirt from one of these events, they say MARATHON in huge letters at the top, and half-marathon in much smaller font below the logo. At the expo, half-marathoners feel like outcasts when picking up their bib numbers, often lowering their voice in embarrassment when the volunteer asks them which race they’re entering.

In the large family of road races, the half-marathon is like the red-headed step child. If road races were the Rat Pack, it would be Joey Bishop. If you’re too young to remember those guys, think of the Baldwin brothers instead: the marathon is Alec, the 5K is Stephen, the 10K is William, and the half-marathon is … that other Baldwin whose name everyone forgets.

The sad part is that the half-marathon is a wonderful race. It’s long enough to be a true test of aerobic endurance, but doesn’t require the 4-hour training runs that are necessary prerequisites for the marathon. It’s short enough to allow a strong finish over the final miles, but only if you use a smart race strategy to position yourself well in the final 5K. It’s attainable enough to welcome all variety of runners, and challenging enough to seriously test the most elite runners.

Clearly, the half-marathon needs a distinctive, more distinguished name. Over the past two weeks, we’ve been racking our brains to come up with something better – and after much consideration, we think we’ve finally come up with a suggestion for improvement. From now on, we’re referring to the half-marathon as the Triskadecathon.

That’s right … the triskadecathon. You heard it here first.

When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. The root is Latin for the number 13, which just happens to be the number of miles in the race. It’s an independent identity for an independent race. It also has a cool, slightly intimidating sound to it, which runners can say with pride when they pick up their race packets.

The word is just long enough and Latin enough and obscure enough to sound serious to anyone who doesn’t know what you’re talking about. (This counts for a lot – if you don’t believe us, try this: tell someone that you recently survived an episode of epistaxis, and watch their eyes fill with puzzlement and concern. You don’t have to bother telling them it means a simple nosebleed.) If you tell your sedentary friends or family members that you’re training for a triskadecathon, they’ll think you’re planning something pretty impressive.

The 13.1-mile race clearly deserves its own designation to set it apart from other road races – and that’s what “triskadecathon” provides. It’s a word that accurately reflects all of the race’s positive attributes (plus, it’s kind of fun to say, isn’t it?).

This weekend’s Monterey Bay Triskadecathon promises to be fantastic. The course is beautiful, the volunteer support is outstanding, and the race is a world-class event. Good luck to everyone who is participating – have a wonderful run, and hold your head high with accomplishment afterwards!


Racing Away

In the past few weeks, both of us have traveled out of town for races, so of course we’re now full of advice for anyone who likes “racing away”.

Traveling adds an element of excitement to any runner’s race calendar – whether you are flying to a big-city race across the country like the New York Marathon, or driving within California for a 200-person trail race. The possibilities are limitless once you broaden your horizons beyond our local community.

However, race travel requires some logistical expertise - and if you’re not careful, too many mistakes can make your trip a frustrating experience, or cause you to have a disappointing race. So here are our tips for racing away:

Save your sightseeing for afterwards. We know, it’s tempting to check out all the tourist spots or to visit three different friends when you have some free time in your destination city – especially someplace like New York or Washington DC. But the best thing you can do beforehand is to sit in your hotel room and rest your legs. Bring a few books, watch some TV, and save your energy for race day.

For long-distance travel, the best time to arrive is two days prior to the race. Go to the race expo the day before and then veg out for the rest of the day. Schedule your trip to include free time after the race, and use those days to take in the sights or indulge at all the fine restaurants in town. The bonus for doing it this way is that the walking is good for your recovery, and after finishing your marathon, you can pretty much eat whatever the heck you want.

Adjust to time changes gradually. If you’re traveling to the Eastern or Central time zones, you can start correcting for jet lag and time changes a few days before you leave. Spend a few days waking up earlier and earlier at home until you are almost in sync with your destination time zone. We know, it sounds crazy, but this actually works.

Learn the course. Most major races have websites with course descriptions such as maps and elevation profiles. Familiarize yourself to prevent surprises late in the race. This also helps you decide whether to save more energy early in the race, or how hard to press the hills when they appear.

Bring your secret weapons. Even though you may be heading to a big city, don’t assume you’ll be able to find your regular pre-race meals. Pack any special food such as snack bars, energy gels, or your preferred coffee blend that you want to have with you. This saves you the anxiety of running from store to store to find something before the race.

Check the weather. Yes, this one seems obvious, but runners sometimes overlook it in their pre-travel frenzy. Go online to check the forecast at your destination, and pack for the most probable scenarios. Sometimes you’ll be surprised – as anyone who ran the normally-cool Chicago or Twin Cities Marathons in humid 90-degree weather a couple of weeks ago can tell you.

Traveling to races is costly. If you pack properly, you’ll spare yourself the additional (and embarrassing) expense of having to buy new gear at the race because you weren’t prepared.

Check your accommodations. Figure out where your hotel room is in relation to the race. For some races, the start and finish areas are in the same location, but other courses are point-to-point. Would you rather have convenience before or after the race? Close to the start line, you may be able to sleep a little later on race morning, but close to the finish you’ll be able to crawl into bed more quickly afterward.

You may also have to take buses either to the starting line, or from the finish area. If you picked an economical hotel somewhere out in the boonies, you might end up triangulating for a few hours before getting a chance to rest.

It’s usually worth a few extra bucks to stay someplace that’s convenient to the race expo, or within walking distance of the start or finish area. Most big races have a headquarters hotel that meets these criteria – but they tend to sell out early, so plan ahead. You can also call the race hotel and ask them for nearby alternatives if they are sold out.

Sometimes at big-city races, there are a lot of cancellations before marathon day from runners who couldn’t make the trip. With a little negotiation, you might be able to upgrade your hotel location at the last minute.

Beware of your friends. Many runners opt to stay with friends in the host city. Just be careful if they want you to stay up late catching up on old times and drinking margaritas - especially if you’re counting on them to drive you 30 miles to the start at 5:00 AM the next morning. In some cases, it’s better to be anonymous in a hotel room somewhere. Remember, there’s plenty of time for socializing after the race.

Wherever you may be journeying for your goal race this fall or next season, we hope our advice helps you have a P.R. day.


Running Annoyances

Sometimes, in a busy sports newsroom, professional journalists may dismiss minor stories in favor of reporting more mainstream topics. However, for amateur hacks like the two of us, no subject is too trivial for our column space.

That’s why we noticed a recent story about “spin class rage,” and considered the potential for something similar to happen within our local running community. But first, some background:

Last month, a Wall Street stockbroker was charged with assault after he became enraged during a cycling class at a posh Manhattan health club. During his high-intensity spin class, he apparently became so fed up by a fellow club member’s grunting and moaning, that he picked the offender off his bike and slammed him into a wall.

The attorney for the grunter called the attack "spin rage," and filed a criminal complaint, charging that the attack caused a back injury to his client. He maintains that the grunter was merely enjoying the "euphoric experience" of cycling, and making noises to increase his endorphin high.

Now, this isn’t one of our urban legends. Do you think we could make a story like that up? However, it got us to thinking about what kinds of runners might send us over the edge someday during the midst of a routine Saturday 12-miler through Pebble Beach.

In other words … is there a possibility of hearing about a “run rage” attack someday? And if so, what kind of runner would trigger such a reaction?

Honestly, it wouldn’t be a situation like the case in New York. Grunting is somewhat commonplace among a group of hard-working runners – especially during a difficult track workout. And if we were intolerant of moaning, we’d have clobbered our friend Marc Lieberman many years ago.

But we can certainly think of plenty of runner behaviors that are annoying – so many, in fact, that we’ve assembled a list below.

However, before getting to the list, we need to emphasize that we would NEVER condone a “run rage” reaction to anybody - even against cyclists (yes, we’ve learned our lesson). So let’s just call this an “annoyance” list, and hopefully if you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions, be on notice that you may be bugging the heck out of your training partners.

Here’s our list, in no particular order, of the most likely targets of “run annoyance”:
· The guy who shows up just as the group is leaving, then asks everyone to wait while he puts his shoes on
· The guy who says it’s going to be an “easy day”, then takes off at 6-minute mile pace.
· The guy who launches a lugie or snot rocket without looking, and nails your ankle while you’re beside him.
· The guy who keeps saying how terrible his training is going, even though he’s running more mileage or more days per week than you.
· The girl wearing an iPod who doesn’t hear you say, “On your left!” as you’re passing, then drifts over and collides with you, and gets upset that you startled her.
· The guy who tells the same story or joke he’s already told several times on previous runs.
· The guy who has to wait up for you at the top of a big climb, then tells you how his injuries are really bothering him today.
· The stats freak who knows the on-base and slugging percentages of every player on the Giants and A’s, and wants to make sure you know them too by the end of the run.
· The guy wearing the GPS who announces every tenth of a mile.
· The guy not wearing a GPS who keeps asking “How far have we gone now?”
· The guy who keeps telling you how fast he was 10 years ago, or how the training group where he used to live had all kinds of great runners.
· The guy who pulls off to the side for a “pit stop”, but does his business in plain sight because he’s too lazy to move completely off the road or trail.
· The walkers in lanes 1 and 2 of the track while a group of runners are trying to run interval workouts.
· The guy who speeds up when he hears another runner behind him, to avoid being passed – especially when he learns the other runner is a girl.
· The middle-aged guy in a race who puts on a furious sprint to outlean some little kid at the tape so he can finish in 642nd place instead of 643rd.
· The girl who goes on and on about all the problems associated with her “cycle” while running with a group of guys.
· The guy who speeds up to run in front of you, then breaks wind a few seconds later.
· The guy who blows his nose into his palm while running, then goes around shaking everyone’s hand after the run.
· The guy who never carries fluids, but always asks for a drink from your bottle during long runs.
· The sweaty, smelly guy who tries to chat up every cute girl running on the Monterey Rec Trail.

Do any of these items sound like anyone you know? More importantly, do they sound like YOU? If so, let this be a word of caution for you: other runners notice these things. And they don’t like them. So for all of our sakes, please try to refrain from anything on the list above.

After all, the euphoric experience of running isn’t justification to irritate the crap out of people.


Look Up, Look Down

Look up. Look down. Look at my thumb …

Remember the end of this rhyme from when you were a kid? That’s what we’re talking about this week – except we’re leaving out the part about you being dumb. For now, think of it as a mantra to remember good running form, and to have fun or learn something while exercising.

Conventional wisdom says you should keep your eyes straight ahead while running. However, the two of us are anything but conventional – so here is our own advice, based on the aforementioned rhyme.

First, for proper form, try to look at your thumbs while you run.

Keep your hands loosely closed with thumbs pointing up at about a 45 degree angle toward the midline of your body. Pretend you are holding an egg in your hands to avoid clenching. This relaxed position will translate to your forearms, shoulders, and neck, which will help your body run more efficiently.

Now for the fun parts – that’s where looking up and looking down come in handy. Some of our most memorable running experiences have come when we let our eyes wander above and below, as the following examples show.

Look down: to find money! Areas like subdivisions or commercial districts often have all sorts of spare change lying in the roads or sidewalks. Shopping mall parking lots are great for finding coins – just be sure to look up every now and then to avoid cars.

Sure, it’s not exactly a gold mine out there - what you find is usually just a dime or a few pennies – but over the course of 20 years or so, you might save enough to buy a can of soda someday. Either that, or just do what we do - put the change in our kids’ (Donald’s) and grandkids’ (Mike’s) piggy banks.

Look up: and gaze upon the heavens. Dr. Jim Eagle, operations research professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, is the perfect running partner on dark morning runs under the starry sky. Jim knows exactly where and when to look for space shuttles, satellites, space stations, meteor showers, and other celestial objects.

A typical Jim comment is, “At 6:14, look east 21 degrees above the horizon and you’ll see the latest Soyuz”. Thankfully, he also points his finger in the direction we should look – and sure enough, the objects are always right where he says they are.

Look down: for sporting goods – especially around local country clubs. If you ever need used tennis balls for playing fetch with your dog, just run around the perimeter of a tennis club sometime. We’ve found dozens of balls over the years on Corral De Tierra Road, and usually thrown them back over the fence. We just hope the golfers there have better aim than the tennis players.

Look up: for birds of prey. As the dawn breaks on local trails, we frequently see owls, hawks, or vultures. Seeing vultures when you are tired and thirsty and a long way from home is somewhat disconcerting – but it’s an impressive sight nevertheless.

Look down: for mile markers. Many commonly used roads have cryptic markings in chalk or spray paint, sometimes with strange initials near them. Some of these are from local runners marking their courses. For example, WNLR 3 means the local club has placed a third mile mark. If you keep going, you are bound to find a WNLR 2 or WNLR 4 a mile down the road. These are helpful to judge your pace during routine workouts.

We have both run in the Las Vegas desert west of the Strip, following the old LVM (Las Vegas Marathon) mile markers. Sometimes those markers are the only interesting things to look at besides the tumbleweeds.

Look up: for architecture. Running in downtown Monterey or any urban area is a great way to take in the design and decorative features of historic buildings. You’d be surprised at how many gargoyles there are around here, in places you wouldn’t expect.

Look down: for history. Historical markers are abundant on city streets. Last week, Mike was in San Francisco near AT&T Park, and saw a bronze plaque marked Rammaytush. Initially, he had no idea what it could possibly mean – until he gave himself a history lesson.

It turns out that Rammaytush is the name of an indigenous people native to the Mission district of San Francisco. The word is from a combined dialect of the Mitsun people and the Awaswas. Their language consisted of only 173 words, and each one is embedded in a sidewalk in the city, along with its English translation.

Perhaps the strangest and most famous street markings are the “smoots” on the Harvard Bridge over the Charles River between Boston and Cambridge. The smoot is a distance measure named after Oliver Smoot of the MIT class of 1962. Smoot was a fraternity pledge who was used by his brothers to measure the bridge. One smoot is equal to Oliver’s height (five feet seven inches), and he repeatedly lay down on the bridge so his classmates could mark each unit in paint.

The bridge's official length was determined to be "364.4 smoots plus one ear". Today, anyone running across the bridge can still see the smoot markings, thanks to the incoming fraternity pledges who repaint them each year.

It is interesting to note that Oliver Smoot later became the President of the International Organization for Standardization and recently retired as chairman of the American National Standards Institute. Today’s Google’s calculator even uses smoots as an optional unit of measure.

These are just some of the fascinating things you can learn as a runner – but only if you happen to look up or down.



Thank you very much for your purchase of The Running Life. We hope you find it helpful to begin a running life of your own, or to enhance the one you already lead. Feel free to contact us at any time with your feedback, and if you're a new runner, we'd love to hear your story of success!


Betrayal of Character

Less than five months ago, a runner named Jay Zubick was doing early-morning hill workouts with the two of us, and talking about his plans to race at Ironman Coeur d’Alene this summer.

Today, he’s sitting in a jail cell, leaving a family behind, and a wide trail of devastated victims in his wake.

This tragic story played out in the news over the course of the past several months, culminating with his sentencing two weeks ago. After hearing the statements of victims who lost retirement accounts, college savings, and health care funds, the judge sentenced him to almost 25 years behind bars.

The entire saga sent shockwaves through our athletic community, because as far as we all knew, Jay was one of us. He was a veteran marathoner who served for many years on the Big Sur Marathon Board of Directors. He had done several Ironman events over the past several years, and moved comfortably between the local cycling and running clubs. He was one of the friendliest guys any of us knew, and we were always happy to see him show up at group workouts.

Runners often feel like bonds are forged with the shared toil of our mutual endeavors. We spend hour after hour talking to each other on the roads and trails, developing camaraderie amongst ourselves, and believing we have a sense of each other’s character.

But sometimes, we learn that we didn’t really know a person at all. Jay clearly had many positive attributes – and yet, somewhere inside him, a destructive force lurked. Unfortunately, none of us recognized this side of him until it was far too late to make amends.

Many of his victims are members of our extended family of runners, as well – and watching the pain and betrayal they have suffered seems almost too much to bear.

When we first started hearing these sordid details last February, we didn’t want to believe them. We wanted the accusations to be a misunderstanding, hoping that somebody simply got some facts wrong. We wanted there to be a reasonable explanation for all of our friends who believed their lives were ruined.

We wanted these things, because Jay was one of us. Scandals and crime shouldn’t happen in our utopian fraternity of runners. We’re supposed to be better than that.

Of course, we were mistaken. In reality, runners – even at the amateur level - are collectively no better than any of the other athletes who fell from grace this summer.

More than any year in recent memory, the summer of 2007 was a season of overwhelming immorality in the sporting world. Barry Bonds. NBA referees. Michael Vick. The Tour de France. These were the headline stories, and they all represented what is wrong with sports.

Deep inside, many runners feel like they live to a higher standard than most people. We believe that our sport is more “pure” than the high-profile professional sports tainted by scandal. We feel that the discipline, work ethic, and self-restraint we develop through our workouts will carry over to our personal lives as well, making us role models within the community. It’s a notion that athletes often take great pride in.

But clearly, no group of athletes is more or less honest than another. They’re all populated by humans who struggle with the good and evil forces inside them, with varying degrees of success. No sport can honestly claim moral superiority over another.

Most likely, there are just as many crooked people in the sport of running as there are in the general population. There are elite athletes who test positive, age groupers who cheat by various means (including drug use – which is a growing problem at amateur races), and role models who turn out to be criminals.

In other words, the bad guys are very likely to be one of us. Far too many people, with the exact same interests and goals that we have, decide to venture down the wrong path - and the consequences are universally heartbreaking for everyone involved.

Obviously, we realize that our former training partner isn’t an accurate representation of the larger population of runners. But on the other hand, we know his dark side isn’t merely an isolated case. And that’s what frightens us the most.

We all make our own choices in life. We decide which path we want to travel. Some choose a way of integrity, others choose to be destructive. And - as the two of us have learned this year, to our great disappointment - whether or not we happen to be runners is really quite irrelevant.


JUST RUN for Kids

Before each school year, we discuss the problem of childhood obesity, and how our local youth running program is an effective weapon for fighting this battle.

We know our ranting sounds the same each year – so this time, we’ll make a deal with you: once the epidemic is reversed in Monterey County, we’ll stop mentioning it every fall. Until then, we’ll do everything we can to promote the Just Run program.

Just Run is a free, school-based program created by the Big Sur Marathon Board of Directors to help get kids running and learning about healthy eating. Last year, 42 schools in Monterey County participated, and over 4,000 children ran a combined 134,000 miles in the Just Run program.

We’d love to see every school in Monterey County participate in the program. If your child’s school does not have a Just Run program, please talk to your principal about getting one started. The website http://www.justrun.org/ has all the information you need about the program, and you can also contact Just Run Director Susan Love at 625-6226 or susanwlove@sbcglobal.net to find out more.

Just Run has won several awards including the California Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness’s first ever Gold Medal for best youth program in California. Susan Love received Running USA’s award as national youth program contributor of the year. The program has been featured in Runner’s World magazine in the past, and will be profiled again in the next issue of the magazine.

There are some upcoming Just Run introductory meetings for principals, teachers, parents, or interested community members scheduled in the next few weeks:

Thursday, September 6th, from 4:30 to 6PM at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, Downing Resource Center.

Monday, September 10th, from 5 to 6:30PM at the Holiday Inn in Morgan Hill.

Tuesday, September 11th, from 5 to 6:30PM at the Marriott Hotel in Monterey.

Monday, September 24th, from 5 to 6:30PM at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero in San Francisco.

As you can see from the list, the program has been so successful in Monterey County that Santa Clara, San Benito, and San Francisco area schools have asked that the program be expanded to their areas.

The beauty of the Just Run program is that anyone can become a leader with the web-based information model. It only takes one enthusiastic person at a school or youth group to implement a successful program – teacher or parent, runner or non-runner. The website provides everything the leaders need to know regarding age appropriate activities, stretching, and nutrition.

The website also has downloadable forms such as parent permission forms, family fitness contracts, recommended fitness drills, logs for recording mileage, healthy fundraiser forms, and even mile markers. All of these are provided in Spanish and English.

Just Run sponsors several children’s races in conjunction with local running events. Children can do races (ranging from 400 meters to 5K) almost year round - from the Stevenson Run in the Forest on Sept. 22nd, to the Run Forrest Run at Cannery Row on November 11th, and the Together with Love Run in Pacific Grove in February.

Besides emphasizing running and healthy activity, the Just Run program promotes good citizenship through its Just Deeds program, which also teaches children goal setting, responsibility, and cooperative team spirit.

One of the most innovative parts of the website is the Run Across the USA. School groups accumulate their mileage and post it online. Their group’s personalized Just Run shoe logo gradually travels across a map of the United States as the group runs more miles. There are hundreds of links to historical, geographical, and fun locations as the group virtually runs across the United States. Teachers can link this trip to school curriculums to help brings these locations to life.

Upcoming Events

We are excited to announce some very special first time Just Run events planned for Monterey this year:

Whole Foods Market in Del Monte Center is having a Just Run day on Wednesday, September 5th. Five percent of the store’s sales on that day will be donated to the Just Run program. An informational table will be set up in front of the store so that you can donate or learn more about the program. Fleet Feet Sports, a few doors down from Whole Foods will also be participating with a similar donation. We applaud Whole Foods and Fleet Feet for their generous support of Monterey County’s youth.

The Big Sur Marathon, the City of Monterey, and Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula are planning a Just Run series of children’s races in downtown Monterey near the Custom House Plaza on Saturday morning, November 10th. This is the day before the Big Sur Half Marathon on Monterey Bay and the Run Forrest Run 5K on November 11th. Definitely mark this weekend on your calendar.

November 10th will be dedicated to kid’s races, fun activities, and health screenings. November 11th will be devoted to adults doing their best in the Half Marathon and the 5K. It’s an ideal weekend to promote fitness activities on the Central Coast.

Just Run is definitely making a positive impact on children in Monterey County, and so can you. Make sure your children get involved in a Just Run program at their school, and encourage them to participate in the childrens’ races this fall. Go shopping at Whole Foods and buy shoes from Fleet Feet on September 5th. Your participation will be greatly appreciated!


Opening the Mailbag

It’s been several months since our last mailbag column, so as you can imagine, our inbox has been bursting at the seams lately with all the e-mails we receive.

OK … that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But occasionally we do get running-related questions, and we enjoy providing answers whenever someone contacts us. Here are some questions we’ve received over the summer:

“I always see runners jogging in place on street corners while they wait for the lights to change. Is there any benefit to that?” Most people’s reactions to seeing someone bobbing up and down on a street corner dressed in running clothes is a mixture of mockery and pity. It may surprise you to hear that we completely agree.

Let’s face it, bouncing on a street corner looks pretty silly. It’s an open invitation for drivers to scoff at the “silly runner”. And there’s really no training benefit from hopping up and down in the middle of a run just to keep moving for a few extra seconds. So our advice is, just DON’T do it.

If you simply must keep moving, walk back and forth a bit, or stretch your legs until the light turns green. Then run as quickly as you can to a park, recreational trail, or anyplace else where you can run continuously and not worry about looking like a dancing clown.

“I’m 64, is it too late to start a running program?” It is never too late to start a walking or running program! We have had four runners in our Big Sur Marathon training program over the years, who started running when they were 70 or older, and they all finished the marathon. Don’t just take our word for it, though - because scientific evidence backs us up on this one.

Several studies have shown that anyone can reverse many of the negative effects of poor nutritional and fitness habits if they stick to a running program for 6 months and modify their diet. In other words, even if you are a lifetime couch potato, you can still lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, decrease your risk of getting cancer or heart disease, reduce your stress levels, improve your immune system, and gain other benefits from beginning an exercise program.

So stop slacking, and get out there, Grandma!

“Should I say hello or wave to other runners as they go by? We love questions about social etiquette while running. On this subject, the answer is somewhat determined by where you run and how many other runners you see.

Most people enjoy a smile and a hello. But if you’re running on the Rec Trail on a beautiful summer afternoon when there are hundreds of walkers, joggers, inline skaters, or moms with stroller-fitness groups sharing the trail, you’ll lose your voice trying to say hi to everybody.

In most situations, when runners are few and far between, it’s usually a nice gesture to wave and acknowledge other runners as they go by. Just by being out there running, you’re sharing a common experience, and probably have similar lifestyles.

There are two ways to approach the greeting:

When going in opposite directions: Go ahead and say hello or good morning or whatever greeting you are comfortable with. You can also do wordless acknowledgements like a smile or a slight nod, or any slight upward move of the hand and wrist that could be interpreted as a wave.

It’s probably a good idea to avoid high-fives – especially if the lady coming the other way is a 64-year-old woman starting a new running program. The last thing we want is to cause a rash of shoulder dislocations.

When going in the same direction: This is a situation of one runner (or group) passing another, so be careful not to say anything demeaning. A simple hi or good morning works well here, but you’ll probably have a few extra seconds to comment on the weather or ask about a logo on someone’s shirt.

Be aware, however, that some runners aren’t overly chatty – so if you make a couple of charming comments and don’t get a response, recognize that the other person prefers to run in silence. (Either that, or she’s just not into you – but that’s a whole separate column.)

Should I run every day or take a few days off a week? This one depends entirely on your goals as a runner and your reasons for running. Most competitive age-group runners train almost every day. For recreational runners we suggest you run 3 or 4 days per week for 30 minutes to an hour each time.

As a general rule, the more mileage you run, the faster you’ll become – but there is also a direct relationship between increased mileage and higher injury risk. So if you plan on increasing your running days and/or mileage, be very conservative and build up to the new threshold over a period of several months.

If you get “edgy” by having a day without running, you can always cross-train by cycling, swimming, hiking, or going to the gym for some strength work. Over a long period of time, you’ll develop greater overall fitness without increasing your injury risk.


That’s all we have room for today – but feel free to contact us anytime with your questions!


Incentive to Get Started

One of our primary reasons for writing our column is to encourage everybody to maintain a regular exercise program.

Regular aerobic exercise is one of the best things you can ever do for yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re a walker, jogger, in-line skater, marathon runner, or swimmer. Believe it or not, we wouldn’t even mind if you’re a cyclist. The point is to pick an activity, and get out there and do it!

Of course, the two of us are partial to running, and we’re determined to find a way to get new people to join us. That’s why we describe the joy that running provides, and the excitement we feel when racing. We talk about the camaraderie we find from our fellow runners, and how being runners influences the way we see the world.

But if all of that doesn’t work … we’re not above resorting to bribery.

Luckily, we have like-minded allies who want to help you get started. Our friends Walt and Robin Dambkowski at Fleet Feet in Del Monte Center (near Whole Foods Market) are extending a generous offer to new runners. Between now and August 15th, if you go to their store and mention our Running Life column, they will give you a 25% discount on your first pair of shoes.

Fleet Feet specializes in finding the right shoes for new runners. Their staff can help you get a perfect fit on a pair of walking or running shoes, and they can also help you select running-specific clothing and other gear to help you get started.

Buying the gear is the easy part. Starting a new running program can be a bit tougher. But don’t be intimidated by the notion of becoming a runner. Everybody has to start somewhere.

The most important thing is to be determined. Make up your mind that you will succeed, and then go about the process of improvement.

Here are some tips to help you get started:

Schedule your workout time. If it’s difficult to find time for running, make an appointment with yourself just as you would an important meeting at work. The specific time of day doesn’t matter. Try for three “appointments” per week. For newcomers, anything between 5 and 30 minutes of running is plenty.

Don’t think of it as a “program” or “project”. Exercise should just be something you do. Don’t worry about running a specific distance or feel pressure to enter a race. Feel good about whatever you are able to do, and make a commitment to continue.

Create a habit. The discipline to stick with a schedule and alter your activity habits is extremely important, but sometimes it takes a while to develop. It’s natural to experience some difficulty during the first month or so, but then it becomes gradually easier. So give yourself some time and don’t expect miracles overnight. Remember – you’re seeking long-term results.

Find a friend. One of the key factors in maintaining any exercise program is having someone to exercise with. It can be your spouse, your child, a work acquaintance, or some random stranger you meet at a group run. Having an exercise partner makes you accountable, and helps pass the time during workouts. Best of all, before too long, that relative stranger may become a good friend.

Have fun! Running shouldn’t be drudgery. Training time is playtime. Think of it as recess from your daily grind.

Dr. George Sheehan was a modern-day running philosopher who once wrote: “Heed the inner calling to your own play … you can reawaken the passion, relive the dream, and recapture your youth.” We feel exactly the same way - running makes us feel like kids on a playground, every single day.


So … NOW do you think you can start running?

We know it can be difficult to get started. Sometimes it takes a push. In that regard, you may consider this column a great big shove from the two of us. As far as enticements go, we don’t think we can do much better.

Dr. Sheehan also wrote, “My fitness program was a campaign, a revolution, a conversion. I was determined to find myself. In the process, I found my body and the soul that went with it.” We want our readers to find themselves in the same way.

So go to Fleet Feet at Del Monte Center and buy a pair of discounted shoes. Then start making fitness and exercise a priority in your life. And if you need any advice along the way, feel free to contact us at anytime.


Urban Running Legends

Everybody loves urban legends. You know – those famous stories that are seemingly unfathomable, but gradually spread by word of mouth for so many years that almost nobody is certain whether or not the events actually happened.

Local runners also know their share of urban legends. And while our stories might not be as captivating as aliens landing at Roswell, or the guy who flew over LAX in a patio chair with weather balloons, we still find them rather interesting.

So today we’re passing them along to you – with a catch.

Some of the following stories are true. Some are urban legends. And we’re not saying which are which. If you want confirmation, you’ll just have to ask the people involved.

See if you can separate the myths from the facts.

Legend #1: Many years ago, local marathoner and triathlete Andrew McCllelland of Salinas competed in Ironman Canada. He had been married less than a year at the time, and the triathlon put his wedding vows to the ultimate test.

As Andrew exited the water after the swim, he felt his new custom designed wedding ring slide off his finger. It was decision time.

He could have stood around looking for the ring amidst hundreds of stampeding racers, but decided there was little chance of finding it in the murky lake. Plus, it would have slowed his transition time down (he’s a racer, after all – we completely sympathize). So he continued the race, and spent the entire bike portion contemplating what he was going to tell his wife afterwards.

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. The day after the Ironman, Andrew hired a man with a metal detector to search the area where he exited the water - and after only an hour, his wedding ring was found.

Legend #2: Steve Marshall of Seaside will try absolutely every training method he reads about in running journals. Unfortunately for Steve’s wife Mona, Steve once read an article about Emil Zatopek, the legendary Czech runner who won multiple Olympic gold medals in various distance events.

Zatopek used the very unusual training method of running while carrying his wife on his shoulders. Steve read this, and told Mona their first workout was going to be in two days.

The next day when Steve returned home from work he found bags from the Treadmill and Fleet Feet, where Mona had gone shopping for running outfits.

When Steve inquired about the large Visa bill, Mona calmly replied, “If I am going to start this running program, I may as well look good!”

Legend #3: Patty Selbicky of Pacific Grove was the women’s winner of the third Big Sur Marathon. She used to do speed work at the Monterey Peninsula College track with Richard Leutzinger and Glynn Wood. For a point of reference, Richard looks a great deal like Woody Allen, only scrawnier - if that’s possible.

On most afternoons, the runners on the track, and the MPC football team on the field, did their workouts in peaceful coexistence. However, one fateful day, the football team’s wide receivers thought it would be funny to interfere with the runners by executing their pass patterns out on the track.

Each time this happened, Richard got upset and yelled at the MPC players. After an especially close call, one particularly enormous football player confronted Richard face to face.

Glynn and Patty immediately came to Richard’s aid, and Patty stepped directly between the two would-be combatants. The player then made an “ungentlemanly” comment, and Patty decked him with one punch. The football players never bothered the runners again.

Legend #4: One of your Running Life columnists - we won’t say which one - was running along the path near Lover’s Point (notice that we didn’t call it a “bike path”). The columnist was running on the paved portion toward Pacific Grove and made eye contact with a very fast biker heading straight at him from the opposite direction.

As they got closer, the columnist assumed that the biker would go around, but a vicious grin on the biker’s face indicated otherwise. A last minute jump to the left by the very coordinated runner helped avoid serious injury, but the result was a collision leaving both runner and biker on the ground.

Before the biker even stood up, he started yelling, “THIS IS A BIKE PATH!” The columnist’s retort was calm: “Even if it was - does that give you the right to run me down?”

The biker remained enraged, and his loud arguments quickly drew a crowd of onlookers. The encounter finally ended with the runner lifting the expensive bike and body slamming it over the seawall as the crowd applauded wildly.

Legend #5: There’s an active subculture of Monterey Peninsula athletes who enjoy running naked. In fact, the nude running movement once became so popular that Jim Allen of Monterey started organizing nighttime Naked Runs at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club golf course.

For several years, by the light of the harvest moon in October, dozens of local men and women ran in the buff through the fairways of the MPCC Shore Course.

Unfortunately, the run became too successful for its own survival. Too many people started showing up to run, and bystanders began lurking in the shadows to take snapshots with cameras as the runners came jiggling by. Jim also realized that it really wasn’t very comfortable to run naked, anyway. So the Naked Runs are now a thing of the past.

(But if any of our readers want to buy some great photos … you know where to find us!)


Strawberry Fields

This week, Donald writes about running through the agricultural heartland of California.

Occasionally, when my work schedule allows it, I can take some time in the middle of the day and go for a run through the fertile fields of the Salinas Valley.

The campos are generally laid out in a large grid pattern, with major thoroughfares paved, and the others simple dirt roads. It’s a convenient place to run, because there are many opportunities to shorten or lengthen the distance as necessary, depending on how much time I have available.

The aromas of the fields vary with the seasons, and I’ve learned to avoid particular grids simply because of the smells I anticipate there. Certain crops have a powerfully unpleasant odor when baking in the sun all day. And needless to say, when it’s time for fertilizing any of the fields, I make a beeline upwind.

Summer is the best time of year for running in the fields, as the overwhelming smell is the sweet fragrance of strawberries. One of my favorite sensory experiences is to go running through the campos and smell the berries with every breath I inhale.

The visual effect is also pretty cool. The tops of the bushes are covered with leaves, and as I cruise between adjacent fields, I feel like I’m sailing through a lush green ocean, with a strawberry-scented sea breeze in my face.

In the campos, I also witness the labor that harvests the strawberries I’m so fond of.

I see the teams of migrants who walk through the bushes bent over at the waist, gathering countless boxes that are placed in cartons alongside each row. I watch a separate group carry the cartons across the field and into a nearby truck, where another team awaits to sort and stack the berries for delivery to the produce company.

Sometimes there are as many as 100 people working the same grid, but I frequently drift past them almost unnoticed, as the entire crew remains focused on the task at hand.

Since I’m usually in the fields at midday, I run past some workers on their lunch breaks. They sit in the roads on the fringes of the fields, leaning against their cars to utilize whatever shade they can find in the summer heat. Their clothes and bodies are filthy, and they sit quietly to save their energy to get through the remainder of the day.

I know their bodies probably ache from the strain of hard labor. By comparison, the fatigue of a strenuous run is trivial.

I know that most of them will go home and share a house with many other workers, living in conditions we normally associate with third-world poverty. I know that many of them left wives and children behind to work in these conditions. I know that they sleep restlessly, worried about their health or their security or their ability to provide for their families. I know that the next morning, they’ll wake up and do the same routine all over again.

In those moments, there’s definitely a guilty feeling when I glide past them in expensive running shoes, dressed in colorfully clean workout clothes, peering at them from behind darkened glasses, taking a midday break from a job that pays me more than in a month than they may see in a year. I sometimes wonder what they think when they see me. I’m sure it’s some mixture of resentment and envy and disregard, but you would never tell by their expressions. When I pass in front of them and our eyes meet, I’ll lift my hand and say a quick hello, and occasionally I’ll get a head nod or a short greeting in reply. Then we go on with our respective tasks.

But when I finish my run and see the layers of dirt stuck to my legs from the windblown soil, I realize how much dust must be in their lungs. When I notice the tan lines from my running shorts, I remember how harmful spending day after day in the sun can be. When I feel the soreness in my legs, I consider the damage their bodies endure just to make it to the next day.

And sometimes when I smell the beautiful fragrance of strawberry fields, I think that for many people, perhaps that smell is not particularly sweet.


Best Running Lessons

One of the joys of running is that every time you step out the door you may learn something valuable. Often the best running lessons you learn are also your best life lessons. This week, Mike shares some thoughts on one such lesson.

Strangely, my best running lesson happened before I was a runner and I am still learning from it. My best friend growing up in San Jose and in College at Berkeley was Paul. Paul had polio when he was a kid but recovered and became a great athlete. He had tremendous eye-hand coordination and excelled in all aspects of sport using that skill. He would beat me and everyone else, like a drum, shooting hoops, in golf, pitching and hitting the baseball, ping pong, and as quarterback.

But Paul wasn’t that big and was overweight and had no speed. So he became a playground legend rather than a high school or college star, although he did achieve some competitive success in golf. His leg speed was legend but for the wrong reasons. All the proper nicknames applied – molasses, ice flow, continental drift, backward. He was slow with a capital S, L, O, and W.

Paul headed off to Santa Barbara for his last few years of college and came back a different person. He grew several inches and started running before running was cool. When I saw him after a year break he was a different person. Slim, tan, and more confident. When he challenged me to a running race I thought he was joking.

A running race? Certainly I could never lose to “molasses” Paul. But why do it? He wanted to race two miles on the track the next day and I started my bidding at 200 yards in two weeks. This race could very well be won or lost in the negotiation stages. We decided it would be fun and settled on the classic mile distance. No spectators – just mano a mano. San Jose City College track in a week.

I trained a bit over the next week, but really knew very little about running. Race day was very warm and I decided the best strategy was to just stay at whatever pace Paul was running and then outkick him with a hundred yards to go. I had no doubt I would win. Paul was S. L. O. W.

The first lap was pretty tactical and I was very comfortable running alongside him. There was a lot of trash talk and he actually seemed to be laughing at me and smirking. He picked up the pace gradually on laps 2 and 3 and seemed very comfortable as I was gasping for breath and struggling by the end of lap 3. On the last lap he forged ahead about 10 yards, then 20, then more, and I could visualize myself defeated and demoralized. Losing to Paul would be a lifetime setback.

But just like in the movies, with my heart pounding, legs and arms like lead, I willed myself closer. My body said NO every step, then started yelling “Hell NO!” but my mind was stronger. It was a complete surprise and I put on a finishing kick and passed him with about 30 yards to go.

I had learned huge lessons that day. The human body can do miraculous things if you let it. Strength of will can carry you to success. I should have prepared more. There is great personal satisfaction in striving to be your best.

Now, forty some odd years later, I am still learning from that lesson and Paul. Paul, like so many others who had polio when children, had a ticking bomb inside. He is now stricken with post-polio syndrome. A disease most people have never heard of. The ravages of polio, due to weakened muscles, return later in life. Muscle weakness, trouble walking, trouble breathing, nerve damage, all return. My father, also a polio victim when a child, had the same debilitating disease later in life. It’s vastly unfair. Even more unfair in that they were both athletes.

While Paul has trouble breathing and walks using a walker, I can run marathons. While Paul takes tons of prescribed medications, I choose to take vitamins. While every effort is a struggle for Paul, I find things easy. While he is depressed and pessimistic, I am upbeat and optimistic. Certainly in his condition I would be depressed and pessimistic as well. Probably more than he is.

Do I feel guilty for being healthy? Actually, yes. Do I feel guilty when I see Paul? Actually, yes. Do I feel guilty that I can’t help? For sure. Do I feel I am lucky to be healthy and he is unlucky to not be? Yes. Do I feel I am in control of this luck? Unfortunately, I don’t.

Looking back on this seemingly unimportant mile race at San Jose City College 40 years ago, I now realize the biggest lesson was that I was in a situation where I ultimately controlled the outcome. My own will pulled me through. Also I realize that if Paul had been faster or better trained, I could have tried my best and still finished second, but I still would have known inside that I did my best. No guilt. No random acts. The win wasn’t the lesson, it was the total effort. It was about control.

Every time I run now I feel the same way. In control. Healthy. No Guilt. Life is fair. It’s when I stop that I have my doubts.


What's a WNLR?

Quick - what does WNLR stand for? If you know the answer, you probably belong to (or know somebody in) our local running club. If you don’t know … just keep reading.

We’ve mentioned WNLRs in this column before but never really given them a proper introduction. And since we’ve finally run out of Big Sur Marathon stories for this year, we figured that it’s about time we did.

WNLRs are the heart and soul of the Monterey and Salinas running community. The official name of the club is the Monterey Bay Wednesday Night Laundry Runners – you can see why we prefer the acronym - and we are both long time members.

The club has about 260 members, who come from all walks of life. Many have been running for decades, but there are also a large number of beginners. The youngest member is 17 and there are several over age 70. The percentages of men and women are roughly equal.

The only qualification to become a member is to have a love of running. But that’s not to say there aren’t some serious runners. Over the years, a few WNLRs have become Olympians, and many others compete in local, regional, and national competitions.

The club’s origins go back more than 40 years, to a group of runners who met on a weekly basis every Wednesday night. The meeting place was near the Pacific Grove High School track, across the street from the Mission Laundry office. The club name makes perfect sense now, right?

The club’s newsletter is called the Communique, with the apt slogan, “All of the news of the fit in print”. It explains the club origin this way: a “loosely organized running club was formed one August in the Mid 1960’s after several runners ran as fast as they could through the Del Monte Forest for about an hour and then consumed large quantities of pizza and beverages.” That could pretty much describe many WNLR runs today, also.

The Wednesday Night Laundry Run continues to this day, and anyone is welcome to attend. The course is roughly 7 miles long run, traveling into the Del Monte Forest, up formidable Congress Hill, and past the Robert Louis Stevenson high school track before heading back to the start.

In the summer, the run starts at 5:30PM on the dot, so get there a bit early if you want to join them. Then feel free to follow the runners to a pizza joint or local pub afterwards.

There are regularly scheduled group runs on weekends, and smaller “splinter” groups in various areas during the week. The largest groups, that provide you with the best chance of finding someone at a compatible running pace, meet on Saturday morning at 7:15 near the foot of Ocean Avenue in Carmel, or Sunday morning at 8:30 at the Fishwife restaurant in the Asilomar area of Pacific Grove.

On the Salinas side, you’ll usually find a group of WNLRs at the Toro Park shopping center ready to run at 6:30 on Saturday or Sunday morning.

If you are inclined to do speedwork and run at the track, you can find WNLRs in clumps at Monterey Peninsula College on Monday nights at 5:30 or at Hartnell College in Salinas at 5:45AM on Thursdays.

So what’s in it for you if you join the WNLRs? In addition to improving your chances of getting in shape (that peer pressure thing is pretty powerful), membership is one of the best bargains in town.

For the unprincely sum of $10 per year, you get 4 to 6 newsletters per year, invitations to free pizza parties 3 or 4 times a year and other social activities. You also get 20% off shoes at The Treadmill store in the Carmel Crossroads, which may (depending on how many shoes you buy) fully offset your membership costs.

You also receive group e-mails telling you about events that are happening in the running community, and you’ll have access to great advice from fellow runners. Best of all, you’ll meet people who are very interesting and a lot of fun. There are certainly worse ways to spend ten dollars.

WNLR Scholarships

Another great thing about the WNLRs is the way they give back to the Central

Coast community in many ways. For example, this spring, WNLR members (along with a generous donation from the Big Sur Marathon) presented over $8,200 in college scholarships to deserving high school senior distance runners.

The WNLR Scholarship committee received nominations from local cross country and track coaches, and made decisions based on very difficult criteria. Scholarships were awarded only to those with high academic achievement, love of running, demonstrated leadership, extracurricular activities, success in running competition, and a rigorous interview. Winners must be planning on continuing their running at either a 2 year or 4 year college.

This year’s winners are Hector Aleman (Seaside), Mark Blucher (Alvarez), Francisco Cornejo (North Monterey), Thea Lee (Carmel), Shannon McVannel (Salinas), Steven Otero (Palma), Ty Rothstein (Carmel), and Cynthia Toth (Carmel). Congratulations to all of them.

These runners exemplify all that is great about running, and reflect the spirit of the

WNLRs. We wish them continued success in college and beyond. And if they eventually settle down in Monterey or Salinas, we’d be proud to have them join the WNLRs for life.


Bang the Doldrums

In the closing scene of Finding Nemo, the “tank gang” from P. Sherman’s dental office finally pull off the escape they’ve dreamt about for years. After Dr Sherman places them in plastic bags to change the tank water, they manage to roll their bags across the counter to an open window, freefall into the bushes below, then roll across four lanes of traffic before plunging over the wharf and into the welcoming waters of Sydney Harbor.

After hitting the water, they all let out a triumphant cheer. But as they continue bobbing on the waves inside their plastic bags, they suddenly grow quiet and pensive. Just before the credits roll, Bloat the pufferfish (voiced by Brad Garrett) asks the question that is on all of their minds: “Now what?”

It’s the same question that local marathon runners have been asking themselves for the past three weeks.

The tank gang had focused so much time and energy on accomplishing their task, they hadn’t really considered what to do once they completed it. Similarly, many runners spent countless weeks and months preparing for last month’s Big Sur Marathon, without giving much thought to what would happen after they crossed the finish line.

It’s simple human nature (and since the Nemo characters felt it, maybe it’s fish nature as well) to feel directionless, or suffer through some doldrums after a big event. It becomes tough to find motivation for even the most basic workouts. Runners of all ages and abilities frequently struggle to find inspiration for training.

Luckily, there are many strategies that can kick-start your motivation, and summer is the perfect time of year to try some of them out. Here are some suggestions:

Thank you sir, may I have another: This seems obvious, but the easiest way to stay focused on marathon training is to sign up for another marathon. In our area of California, there are marathons within a single day’s drive almost every month of the year.

If you ran Big Sur this year, another marathon in late summer or early fall should give you enough time to recover from the first race and train properly for the next one. Find a race online, pay your entry fee – and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll feel compelled to start training again.

Change your game: If you’ve been focused on primarily one race distance, take on the challenge of an unfamiliar distance. Being a good 5K or 10K runner demands far different strengths and skills than marathoning does, and the variety in training is guaranteed to keep things interesting.

Conversely, if you’re in a rut of doing the same 5K/10K races all the time, try stepping up in distance to the half- or full marathon this year. If you’ve already got the speed, building endurance is usually a lot easier than you think.

Get spiked: Summer is when many informal track meets take place, and when many runners lace up their spikes to build speed with short distance races.

How fast can you run a mile? How about a quarter mile? If you dedicate yourself to track workouts for a whole season, you might be amazed at how quickly you improve.

A fun bonus of track racing is that you can compare your times to local high school meets, to see how you stack up against the young guns. Just don’t get too depressed if your best 800m time would only place you 6th in the “C” heat of the girls’ JV meet. It’s true what they say about aging, you know.

Play in the dirt: Summer is the most popular time of year for trail running, and the number of races in our area has grown immensely in recent years. Trail races usually cater to beginners, with short race options and a laid-back attitude that doesn’t emphasize speed – in fact, many trail races don’t even give awards afterwards.

Check out the websites of Envirosports (www.envirosports.com) and Pacific Coast Trail Runs (www.pctrailruns.com) for local trail races this summer and fall. The trail running experience is too good to miss - and many runners enter their first trail race, then never return to roads again. Go and see what all the fuss is about.

Try to Tri: If you’re really looking to supercharge your training, think about making the transition from a runner to a multisport athlete. Many runners already cross train with cycling and swimming – so it shouldn’t be too much of a leap to consider entering a triathlon.

The timing is perfect. Long summer days are ideal for warm bike rides and finding easy pool access, and in September, one of the finest triathlons in the world takes place right in our hometown. Entries are still available for the Triathlon at Pacific Grove; go to www.tricalifornia.com for details.

Wait it out: Sometimes lethargy is just your body’s way of telling you that it needs a break, dummy. Runners often get so preoccupied with achieving certain goals that they ignore signs of cumulative fatigue until they become overwhelming – for instance, after finishing a marathon.

If this is the case, just pamper yourself with a few weeks of lighter activity and extra sleep, and you may rediscover your motivation for getting back on the horse once your body has recharged its battery.

The tank gang from Finding Nemo eventually get out of the bags and enjoy their new life in the ocean. Likewise, most runners usually snap out of their doldrums without doing anything unusually drastic. But if you’re looking for a quicker solution, try one of our ideas above to keep training strong all summer long.


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