The Year That Was

December is just as popular for year-end reviews as it is for menorahs and Christmas trees – yet somehow, running news typically goes underreported. We’re correcting that trend today, with a 2009 retrospective specifically for the running community:

January: Hundreds of runners participate in Rio Grill’s Resolution Run, and over a delicious post-race pancake breakfast, discuss the annual question: “How long do you think the race was this year?” Several hours later, thousands of slackers groggily roll out of bed and postpone their New Year’s Resolutions until 2010.

February: Pacific Grove’s Together With Love run triggers a collective awkwardness to rival a junior-high prom, as runners choose “partners” for the competition. Conversations like “I really like him, but I don’t want to give him the wrong idea,” or “Do you think she knows I even exist?” become frighteningly commonplace.

March: The Big Sur International Marathon’s JUST RUN Youth Program increases to over 6,000 participants for the school year. Appropriately, all of them get to wear bib number 1 in local races.

April: A huge month for running! At the Boston Marathon, Kara Goucher turns in the best American performance in 25 years, missing victory by a mere 9 seconds, then politely stands shivering in her singlet through an interview from a TV reporter who calls her “Sara”. Mike finishes 1 minute slower than his son at Boston, and suddenly feels old, but proud.

Meanwhile, back in Monterey County, the Big Sur marathon enjoys its most successful year ever, and will later be ranked one of the top 3 marathons in America. Afterward, a Herald columnist makes fun of the race’s periwinkle race shirts. Columnist gets in big trouble.

May: Christopher McDougall’s landmark book Born to Run is released, inspiring thousands of runners to ditch their shoes and run barefoot like the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico. In a related story, stock prices for Band-Aids and blister relief kits reach an all-time high.

June: Donald runs in the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run, finally confirming what many people long suspected: “Has he lost his mind?”

July: The Spreckels 4th of July 10K is as traditional as barbecues, parades, and fireworks. Veteran runners suspect the course is short, but nobody says anything so they can all enjoy their PRs.

August: The first-ever Carmel Valley Fiesta Run delights hundreds of trail runners in Garland Ranch, as well as dozens of yellow jackets who enjoyed a much heartier than usual breakfast feast. A few runners complain, skittish park officials panic, and the race is in jeopardy for 2010. We’re hoping this one stays on the calendar.

September: On-line entries open for next year’s Boston to Big Sur challenge; two marathons, two coasts, 6 days apart; 300 people sign up the first week. Mike’s son Bryan gets married, making Mike feel even older, but even prouder.

October: Birth and rebirth: the first ever Just Run for Peace takes place in Salinas, and the Big Sur River Run returns after a one-year hiatus due to wildfires. It’s good to see both races on the schedule.

November: Southern California-raised, UCLA-educated Meb Keflezighi becomes the first American in 27 years to win the New York Marathon – prompting a handful of idiot sportswriters nationwide to publicly ask “Wait … Is Meb really an American?” We wish we were making this up.

December: Tiger Woods hits a fire hydrant with his SUV at 2AM – and absolutely nothing else newsworthy happens anywhere in the world.

We hope that you had more good miles than bad ones in 2009. Thanks for sharing the year with us!

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Answering Your Questions

Running Life 12/03/09 “Answering your Questions”

We get quite a few e-mails from interested readers with questions about running – and of course, we’re always happy to answer. Here are some frequently asked questions:

I’d like to run, but won’t it just damage my knees?
This is a common misconception. Numerous studies have shown that runners and non-runners develop arthritis with the same frequency. What’s more, running actually improves bone density, flexibility, and strength, which can decrease your chance of injury as you age.

Are there any books you recommend for new runners? Jeff Galloway’s “Book on Running,” published originally in 1984, is still a must-read for all beginners. Also, if you want to be encouraged and inspired, read George Sheehan’s “Running and Being” from 1978.

My friend ran the Big Sur Half Marathon without paying and seems to be proud of it. Isn’t that wrong?
Your friend has violated the honor code of ethical behavior. “Banditing” a race is wrong on many levels; not only is it morally reprehensible, but it’s also considered fraud and theft. Races are very expensive to put on, and race fees support local charities and youth groups. Aid station goods are provided for paid participants, and course support (including medical personnel) that is intended for legitimate entrants could be diverted if something goes wrong. Your friend needs a “Come to Jesus” talk. Friends don't let friends run as bandits.

What’s the best running shoe? The answer varies for everybody. Each runner is an experiment of one. Comfort and fit are the most important aspects; don’t go simply for style, and don’t go cheap – plan on paying at least $75 for a good pair of running shoes. Stick with one of the major brands, and go to a specialty running store (Fleet Feet in Monterey or The Treadmill in Carmel) to address your individual needs.

How do I get my kid to get off the couch and start exercising? First, be an example. Many young kids respond positively to just being at a track while one of their parents run. Kids like to run around or just play in the long jump pit for a bit, but eventually they’ll start walking or running around the track. Older kids probably need some positive encouragement to start, and may be motivated by a parent challenging them. Tell your child to set a goal – either for a mile, or a lap around the track - and bet him (or her) them on how quickly he can reach it. Be persistent, and keep it positive.

Is it better to run in the morning, at lunch, or after work? Short answer: YES! Any time that you can fit running in is the right time. Schedule your run like you would any other appointment you must keep. We both find it easier to wake up early and get in our runs before work - typically there aren’t many work meetings or other distractions before 6AM. If you schedule later in the day, things tend to come up or interfere. On the other hand, many working moms may find it easier to run after dropping off the kids at school, or to do laps around the field during soccer practice. Run whenever it works for you, but make it a priority. If you’re not successful at one time of day, switch things up and try another. Above all else, don’t make excuses for denying yourself the gift of running.

Feel free to continue sending your questions, and we’ll respond directly or print them here.

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Be Careful Out There

This is the time of year when many of us start doing it in the dark. (Running, that is … what else did you think we meant?)

It’s also an important time for a refresher on running safety, so we can all be careful out there. Running in the dark requires some equipment, some advance planning, and vigilance.

Clothes and equipment: Wear light colored clothing, with reflective striping or accents wherever possible. Put some on your dog as well, if you run with one. Many runners wear flashing LED lights on their backsides – they’re inexpensive and easy to find at running stores or on-line. Use a headlamp to help you see the road and to alert oncoming cars to your presence. (Contact us for more info about headlamp shopping.)

If you wear a thick hat to keep your head warm, make sure you don’t pull it too far over your ears or eyes. You still need to hear and remain alert.

Routes: Run on roads that are familiar, and preferably well lit. Stay on the left side of the road to face oncoming traffic. Always assume that the driver doesn’t see you, or even worse, is out to get you - because some day, he actually might be. Be wary of sideview mirrors that stick out from trucks, and give them a wide berth. Above all, don’t be afraid to step off the road and stop; your time doesn’t matter as much as your life.

Most critically of all – NEVER assume that a car sees you, or that the driver will do the right thing and avoid you. Some drivers feel like they own the entire road – and all it takes is one arrogant jerk to end your running career for good.

Form: Running in the dark naturally makes you more adept at “high stepping” to avoid small bumps. If you typically shuffle with your feet low to the ground, a few stumbles will quickly teach you to raise your feet a bit higher with each stride. Doing so is actually good for your overall form as well.

Partners: Find a friend or group to run with, for added security in numbers – an issue of increased importance for women. Each person takes responsibility for his (or her) own well-being, but also looks out for those around him. For example, don’t hesitate to yell a warning when you notice a car coming or see a hole in the road.

A recent running magazine study found that more runners are hit by cars when they run abreast of each other than when single file. We call this a “Well, DUH” kind of study … but just because the point is obvious doesn’t make it less important. If you’re running with a large group, the person out farthest into the traffic lane is in the most danger. So whenever a car approaches, cut the chit chat and quickly go single file.

Headphones and Ipods: In a word: NO. Don’t use them in the dark. Sure, music is cool, but being safe is even cooler. In the darkness, you rely on your sense of hearing more than anything to keep you safe. You have to be hyper-alert to noises around you – especially in the era of whisper-quiet hybrid cars that can inadvertently sneak up on you.

Above all, don’t get complacent. These rules are simple, but they should be adhered to every single day that you venture into the dark. Be careful out there, and run safely all the way to springtime.

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Insider's View of the Big Sur Half-Marathon

With each passing year, it’s getting harder to come up with new complimentary adjectives to describe the Big Sur Marathon’s events – so we’ll just preface our report of yesterday’s Big Sur Half Marathon on Monterey Bay with the word PERFECTION. By race standards, events don’t get any better than this.

So what makes an event perfect? Start with the weather: cool at the start but with clear skies – conditions that were ideal both for running fast times, and for viewing the race as a spectator. Then consider the course: a beautiful coastline route with rolling hills that are challenging enough to provide variety but still gentle enough to allow great times. Large numbers of spectators congregated to boost the runners’ adrenaline and enthusiasm. And the out and back layout gives you the diversion of watching other runners for a while.

Logistically, the race went very smoothly as well. The wave start system was flawlessly executed and allowed runners to avoid congestion from start to finish. The d-chip timing system made sure everyone’s time was recorded accurately, regardless of starting wave. Course organization and volunteer support were second to none, as usual. The local military community and the Defense Language Institute provided hundreds of volunteers to help the race go smoothly.

And if all that wasn’t enough … we even loved the color of the race shirts; there wasn’t a trace of periwinkle in sight.

Although we’re veterans of countless road races, we still take away lessons from nearly every event – and here are some things we learned from this year’s race:

You can’t keep runners from their beer: Mike was in the inflatable Michelob Ultra beer tent waiting for an after race treat when the tent started to deflate slowly, causing some out-of-staters to think we were having an earthquake. The locals didn’t panic, however – and before the tent could collapse, a hero we’ll call Big John (“he stood 6 foot 6 and weighed 245”), stepped to the middle of the tent and held it aloft, allowing the beer pouring to continue. It should be noted that Big John was wearing a race medal and most certainly had to be one of the biggest finishers on Sunday.

Old dogs can still learn some tricks: Rod MacKinlay holds the course record for the 65 to 69 division, and recently turned 70, so he should have been a lock to set another record for his new age group. Rod felt so good he ran the first mile in a bit over 6 minutes and 30 seconds, but paid dearly for his ambitious start later on and missed setting a record. We predict that next year he’ll start a bit more conservatively – and will almost certainly take the record down.

Persistence wins: Some local runners always win or finish high in their age divisions – and normally, Peter Krasa from Pebble Beach isn’t one of them. However, this year Peter has been on a tear, and won the 65-69 year age division yesterday. He’s made himself a fast runner by dedication and persistence. Peter also has a great sense of humor and a love of running that is contagious; so watching him win his age division was something that all local runners cheered about.

NO soup for you: Steve Marshall from Seaside ran the race, then stayed on his feet for hours providing hot soup to later finishers. At one point a table tipped and Steve bravely tried to right the listing soup tureen. Spilling hot soup on his bare legs apparently wasn’t a problem - but he did complain that his racing shoes and new socks were drenched. At his next race, he’ll be the guy who smells like minestrone.

Big Sur Half Marathon in Afghanistan: The marathon organization sent race shirts to soldiers who ran the first Big Sur Half Marathon in Afghanistan. 85 military personnel completed their race simultaneously with those in Monterey. We thank them for their brave service, and gladly welcome them to the family of Big Sur runners.

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Pre-race Routines

Professional golfers talk with reverence and almost mystical terms about their pre-shot routines. Having a consistent routine calms the nerves, heightens the mind/body connection, instills confidence, and sets the stage for the perfect shot.

Although neither one of us claims to be mystical, we believe strongly in the ability of a pre-race routine to improve race performance for runners just as much as whispering to the putter helps a golfer sink a high-pressure shot. If you’re preparing to run this Sunday’s Big Sur Half Marathon, you have a chance to put our theory to the test.

Here is a typical pre-race routine that has worked for us and thousands of other runners. It’s not a magic formula, but it is very simple and practical, and will prepare you to run your best when the gun goes off.

We’ll assume that you’ve spent several months doing all the proper training to carry you to the starting line healthy and capable of running a great race – but most of this advice will even help you slackers out there who haven’t prepared at all. So here we go.

Above all else, the most important rule is don’t do anything before or during the race that you have not done before. In other words, don’t try anything new. Don’t let a friend talk you into their special “good luck” dinner of spicy enchiladas. Don’t wear the super-sexy race outfit you bought at last night’s expo to show off your physique. Don’t accept gummy worms or Advil from fellow runner who promises that they’ll make you feel great. When in doubt … Just. Don’t.

But enough of what not to do; here are some things you should do:

The night before: Carbo-load with pasta or potatoes. Drink water with your meal. The combination of carbohydrates and water helps store glycogen in your muscles.

Lay out your race clothes and put your number and chip on so you don’t have to worry about it in the morning. Don’t wear the new race shirt – trust us, it’s bad juju. If you see anyone at the start wearing the race shirt, know that you have one advantage over him or her.

Set two alarms - one that is battery operated - and go to bed early. Try to get a good nights sleep, but don’t worry too much if you toss and turn. It won’t hurt you. While you drift off to sleep, visualize yourself running strong and smooth, having a great race, and finishing with a smile.

Race Morning: “Top off your tank” with a light meal, but not too close to race time. Try to get about 400-600 calories into your stomach before 5AM. The best options are carbs like a bagel, banana or a bit of oatmeal – something that won’t upset your stomach.

Do some light stretching at home and drink a bit of water. Leave home in time to allow for traffic and be comfortably parked by 6 A.M. Drink some coffee on the drive – the caffeine perks you up, and also provides an endurance benefit by helping you maintain your glycogen stores longer.

When you arrive at the start area, immediately go to the porta-john line and use the facilities. Then walk to the race staging area and determine exactly how you access your starting corral and what time you have to be there. Find the sweats/clothing drop area as well.

At 6:35, start a light warm up. For some this is 15 minutes of running and for some it can be 15 minutes of walking and stretching while you are talking to friends. It is important to warm up your body even if you do not have a time goal.

At 6:50 put on your Vaseline or body-glide, drop off your sweats, use the porta-johns for the last time if you need it. Be aware if the lines are long you might have to line up before 6:45 to insure getting to the starting area in time. Have a few last sips of water. At 6:55 if you have a time goal do some quick sprints to prime your muscles for running fast.

Make sure your shoe laces are double knotted. Get in position at the starting line. Do more visualization and think positive thoughts. Keep your legs moving a bit as you wait for the start.

At 7:05 start having the race of you life and enjoy every minute of it.

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Footwear Review

Hi there! If you're looking for Donald's reviews of minimal and natural footwear, follow these links:

Vibram FiveFingers

Feelmax Niesa

Nike Free Everyday

Newton Gravity

ECCO BIOM

Thanks for reading!

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Natural, Minimal ... or Naked?

We recently reported on the barefoot running craze that’s gaining popularity, and how several shoe manufacturers are designing “barefoot shoes” to combine the benefits of barefoot running with the protection of a traditional shoe.

When done correctly, the biomechanics of barefoot running have been shown in some studies to be more efficient and less injurious than using traditional shoes. However, even the most hardcore barefoot runners wear something on their feet occasionally – in which case they look for footwear that mimics naked feet as closely as possible.

The problem is that barefoot running form is completely different than the biomechanics of traditional footwear. That’s why footwear companies have developed two distinct new categories of shoes with barefoot biomechanics in mind.

Minimalist footwear

This style means just what the name implies: the absolute minimal covering you can get by with short of leaving your feet naked. Typically, the underside of the shoe is very thin and flexible, made of some kind of puncture-resistant rubber just a few millimeters thick. There’s no heel, no midfoot cushioning, no arch support, and nothing to give the shoes structure; in fact, most shoes of this variety can be rolled upon themselves like a sleeping bag.

Vibram is clearly the industry standard in this category, with its revolutionary FiveFingers gaining in popularity with each passing month. Check them out at www.vibramfivefingers.com.

Feelmax is a small Finnish company that is just beginning to make inroads among American consumers. Their styles have a casual athletic-shoe look to them, and can be used for exercise or casual wear. They’re sold at www.giftsfromfinland.com

Other runners wear aqua socks or thin moccasins to maintain the barefoot feel with a thin layer of protection and warmth.

Natural footwear

These shoes replicate the biomechanics of barefoot running – in particular, a forefoot strike instead of heelstrike - while still providing most aspects of normal shoe construction that consumers expect. This category has attracted the heavy hitters of the shoe industry.

Compared to traditional running shoes, natural footwear has a lower heel angle, less midfoot cushioning, and more forefoot flexibility. They represent a great intermediate step for someone looking to gradually shift towards minimalist or barefoot running.

With that in mind, here are some key players:

Nike: You may have heard of these guys before. Ironically, the company who almost singlehandedly kicked off the running shoe boom is now a leading proponent of barefoot running, and has several different lines of Nike Free footwear available online and in stores.

Newton: Their Gravity shoe is a lightweight trainer that is built for a pure forefoot running pattern. They’re also built for speed – and Newton enjoys a significant following among elite triathletes. See www.newtonrunning.com

ECCO: Better known for their high-end dress shoes, ECCO created the BIOM as a super-durable high-performance natural running shoe. It’s loaded with unique features and design innovations born from the company’s extensive background of research and expert craftsmanship. Learn more at www.biomproject.com.

Naked feet

Of course, nothing will truly replicate the feeling of running completely barefoot, but these shoes provide you many of the benefits without nearly so much risk or discomfort from cruising around with naked feet.

The worlds of minimal and natural footwear are definitely worth exploring if you suffer from frequent injuries, or want to gradually progress toward becoming a barefoot runner. Donald has done in-depth reviews of each of the products mentioned here; check out our website for all the links.

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What a Relief!

When running towards an aid station in the final miles of a marathon, most runners are looking for similar things: fluids, energy gels, some uplifting words from the volunteers, and perhaps a little Vaseline for problem areas.

At this month’s Twin Cities Marathon, Jerry Johncock was looking for a urinary catheter.

According to the Minneapolis-St Paul Star Tibune, Johncock is an 81-year-old who has finished more than 100 marathons since taking up running at age 50. He also suffers periodically from blood clots that block his urinary tract. During the marathon he recognized the painful condition happening again and stopped to ask for assistance at the mile 22 aid station. He had hydrated well, but his bladder was struggling, and he couldn’t relieve himself. The medical staff at the race told him they didn’t have the necessary equipment to assist him, and recommended that he drop out of the race and go to a hospital for treatment.

To nearly everyone’s surprise, a spectator in the crowd stepped up to say that he had a catheter in his car that the runner could borrow. The anonymous stranger retrieved it, the first aid worker helped insert it, and … problem solved! Johncock later called the Good Samaritan’s act “a gift from the Lord” in his time of need.

With his bladder freshly drained, Johncock was completely relieved and ready to roll. He ran strong to the finish, and even with the delay was the winner in his men’s 80-84 age group (there were only two runners in the category, but still). At the Twin Cities Marathon, that honor carries a cash prize of $225.

Strangely, since nearly no good deed goes unpunished, when race officials heard of the incident they suspended the official race results pending an investigation and consultation with USA Track and Field, the national governing body of road racing. They were trying to determine whether Johncock should be disqualified for violating race rules when he received the assistance.

According to USATF rules, a competitor who receives assistance from any other person aside from official medical staff may be disqualified. There was also a question of whether Johncock re-entered the course at the exact same location where he stepped off the road while using the catheter.

Fortunately, common sense prevailed – although it took four full days to get there – as Johncock’s time was allowed to stand. He collected his money and was declared the official age group winner. When the race director called him with the news, Johncock had no hard feelings – in fact, he said that he plans to return to the race next year.

If that happens, he said he’ll take one additional precaution: "I'll strap a catheter around my waist."

People say that marathon runners have to be tough, and they have to be willing to overcome whatever adversity they face on race day - and the two of us have faced enough difficult extremes in marathon racing to appreciate just how challenging those rough moments can be. But in all our years of watching and participating in marathons, the toughness and determination shown by this octogenarian may be one of the most impressive displays we’ve ever heard of.

We know this story reads like satire, but it’s absolutely true. It’s also a nice lesson on the positive attributes that years of marathon running can instill in someone. Our congrats go out to Mr Johncock for finishing his race, and we wish him many more in his future - although we hope they won’t be quite as eventful.

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Running in Hard Times

The economy is finally improving! Or maybe it isn’t. It depends on who you talk to, and what indicators you consider. One thing is certain, however: at some point – whether in a few months or a few years – our economy is going to recover, and people will begin to feel a bit more financially secure.

When that time comes, it will be almost universally welcomed – by everyone, that is, except for runners.

There’s a curious running-related corollary to the ebbs and flows of our national economy: namely, hard times tend to produce more and faster runners. It’s a pattern that goes back more than 30 years, to the recession of the mid-1970s – which also happened to see the biggest running boom in modern history. The historical phenomenon is so notable that the Wall Street Journal has dedicated two separate articles this year to the relationship between the economy and the running community.

When disposable income becomes scarce, gym memberships and personal trainers are often the first casualties of personal rebudgeting. By comparison, running looks like a tremendous value: the price of entry is a t-shirt, shorts, and pair of shoes. The club facility is any road, park, or trail you choose. The hours of operation are whatever works with your schedule.

Running is also proven to be a great stress reducer, triggering the release of brain neurotransmitters that make us feel more content. For many people who are struggling financially, running is a great healthy outlet to vent their fears and frustrations - or perhaps just a place to escape them for a little while.

That last point may be especially appealing to people who have been laid off during the current economic meltdown. When full-time workers involuntarily find themselves with nothing but down time, many of them pursue fitness goals that were deferred while climbing the corporate ladder.

Despite their sometimes big-ticket entry fees, nearly every major marathon in America has seen increased numbers of participants in 2009, or filled to capacity in record time. Usually when races grow in size, it’s on the back end of the pack – but over the past year, the quality of the fields has improved significantly as unemployed (or underemployed) runners have more time to spend developing their fitness and speed in preparation for these events.

For example, the gold standard for marathon runners is running a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon. In one study cited by the Wall Street Journal, there was an overall 39% increase in Boston qualifying times at races across the country during 2009 compared to 2008.

There’s even a potential “trickle-UP” effect from the increasing ranks of marathoners, making everybody better by consequence. For the amateurs, laid-off marathon runners help to raise the level of competition within age groups. Among elite athletes, Olympic-caliber collegiate runners may be more inclined to pursue their athletic goals instead of hunting for work in a dismal market. So when the economy tanks, it’s potentially great news for the entire community of runners.

Of course, we’d never recommend quitting a job or blowing your retirement savings as a strategy to help you (or us) run faster – but in stormy times, any glimmer of positive reassurance may serve as a temporary port of shelter. When the economy finally recovers, we’ll be as happy as anyone else – but we’ll also be hoping that some of those newfound converts to our sport can figure out a way to stick around and enjoy running’s benefits in good times as well as bad.

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Fall Racing Season

Let’s say you’ve been running all summer and getting into pretty decent shape. The timing is perfect to test your fitness in some races.

Fall is a popular racing season nationwide, and the Monterey Peninsula is no exception. There are several great events coming up in the next few months – so break out your racing shoes and get your game face on; fall racing season is officially here!

This Saturday (Sept 26th) is the Stevenson Run in the Forest at 8AM. Registration starts at 7AM at Wilson Field at Stevenson School. There is a 10K and a 5K Run/Walk. Proceeds benefit Stevenson’s academic, athletic, and financial aid programs. It’s the ONLY road race held within the secluded confines of Pebble Beach. $30 will get you a wonderful buffet breakfast and a t-shirt as well.

This run is what we affectionately like to call a “SDFU” race: start downhill, finish uphill. SDFUs are the toughest test for a racer. Many runners fly downhill past the 1st fairway at Spyglass, only to have the wheels come off when they face the long uphill at the end of the race. Race smart out there.

October 4th brings a new race called the Grape Stampede that starts at the Soledad Mission at 8AM. Registration begins at 7AM for the 10K run, 5K run/walk, or Just Run kids race at 9:15. Your $30 entry goes to the Soledad Recreation Foundation and the Soledad-Mission Recreation District. Racers receive a t-shirt and raffle ticket. The Soledad Mission Fiesta and Grape Stomp follows the race.

This run is relatively F and F: flat and fast. There’s a little bit of dirt and a few rolling hills, but come ready to blaze a fast time.

The Big Sur River Run is October 24th. We’ve written about this race before as it’s always one of our favorites. Wildfires cancelled last year’s event, but the race is back on the schedule this year. The River Run is a 10K through the campgrounds at Pfeiffer State Park. Start time is at 10AM, so you don’t have to rush the scenic drive down Highway 1 to the race. Registration starts at 9AM and costs $28.

This one is a slight SDFU as you make two loops through the beautiful redwoods alongside the Big Sur River. You’ll see the beauty of Big Sur, smell the bacon and pancakes cooking in nearby campgrounds, and possibly even catch a scent of the previous night’s ganja parties lingering in the air. Good times all around.

November 14 and 15 is Big Sur Half Marathon race weekend. Our local half-marathon has become one of the best and most popular half marathons in the United States - and like all Big Sur International Marathon races, it is a world class event, where every runner is treated like royalty.

Saturday’s events include the Just Run 3K for all family members and the Run Forrest Run 5K along Cannery Row. Sunday morning is the main event – the Big Sur Half-Marathon on Monterey Bay.

If you’ve been procrastinating, it’s too late to sign up for the Half-Marathon, which is officially sold out. There’s a 10-mile event you can sign up for instead, or pick one of the shorter Saturday races – and make sure next year that you register early.

Choose one race, or choose them all, and put your summer training to good use by participating in these great local events. We’re certain that you’ll enjoy the experience.

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Fountain of Youth

Any runner will tell you that age is just a number. Our local running club has about two dozen members who are in their seventies, many of whom can keep up with the youngsters. The younger runners don’t see this as unusual at all; they know that age doesn’t matter if someone can keep the pace.

Legendary Bay Area runner Jack Kirk ran the fabled Dipsea race in Marin County a record 67 times, up to his most recent finish at age 95. The race starts with a climb up 700 stairs – equivalent to the height of a fifty-story building - before rambling up and down mountainous trails and treacherous terrain for over 7 miles. Kirk once famously said, “You don’t stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running.”

The Tarahumara Indians in the desolate Copper Canyons of the Mexican Sierra Madres are folk heroes of distance running. They reside in caves and adobe huts separated by great distances, and their only means of transportation is running on narrow footpaths up and down the steep canyons. Running is part of their culture, as kids play games where they run up to 100 miles at a time. Amazingly, their civilization knows no heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, depression, or hypertension.

Furthermore, many of their best runners are 50 to 60 years old.
The lesson from these stories is this: if you want to be healthy and productive in your golden years, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to get running. It’s like sipping from a fountain of youth.

Our local “older” runners are a great example of this. They make running a daily activity. Instead of talking about ailments and medications, they talk about their next race or next vacation. Many of them are among the fastest seventy plus runners in the country - In fact, four of them will be attempting to break a world record later in the year.

The world record for an age 70-and-over, 4x1500m relay (yes, they keep track of such things) is 27 minutes, 50.22 seconds. This works out to a 6:57.5 minute pace for each mile – and our local runners Rod MacKinlay, Jim Allen, Doug Shankle, and Jay Cook have a real shot at taking the record down. Rod turned 70 on September 1st and has run a 6:20 mile in a recent workout. The four of them will be setting up a certified attempt in December when Jay Cook turns seventy. We wish them luck and will follow their training progress closely.

Our outstanding local septuagenarians aren’t confined to the track, however. Phil Short, who took up distance running at age 60, does about 15 marathons per year, and plans on making his 200th marathon finish at next April’s Big Sur Marathon. Gloria Dake is 76 and has run every one of Big Sur’s 24 previous marathons. Next year will be Gloria’s 25th.

In addition to being great mentors to their younger training partners, all of these great older runners are perfect examples of how the benefits of running are available at any age. Even if you’re in your fifties, sixties, or seventies, it’s never too late to start! The fountain of youth is right before you; feel free to take a sip.

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The Barefoot Revolution

“The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.
- Leonardo da Vinci

We’re on record several times claiming that running is the simplest sport in the world; all you need is a pair of shoes.

However, a steadily growing contingent of runners is determined to prove that notion incorrect. Not the part about the simplicity - the part about needing shoes.

Barefoot running is nothing new, of course – it dates back many millennia before the waffle sole launched Nike into the stratosphere. Some anthropologists believe our prehistoric ancestors were tremendous runners, hunting animals by chasing them to the point of exhaustion. (It makes sense if you do the math: hominids were on Earth 6 million years ago, but mankind’s first known weapons are only 500,000 years old. Unless those cavemen were vegetarians, they must have had some means of catching and killing prey.)

Even in the modern era, barefoot runners have competed at world-class levels. Abebe Bikila won a gold medal and set a world record in the 1960 Olympic marathon. Zola Budd is notorious for her collision with Mary Decker at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, but she also won back to back world cross-country championships in the 1980s. A handful of elite ultrarunners often run barefoot on mountain trails to complement their high mileage training routines.

Your may think that this is terrible for your feet – but the truth could be exactly the opposite. There’s currently a philosophical war among shoe manufacturers: on one side, the folks who think that foot asymmetries and irregularities should be corrected by various means of support and motion control. The other side believes that less is more: just allow the foot to work naturally, and the other irregularities don’t matter. Not only that, but overcorrecting the foot’s natural motion actually leads to higher injury rates.

Think of it this way: if you were engineering the perfect weight bearing structure, you’d create an arch. For perfect shock absorption, you’d allow that arch to flex slightly upon impact. For dynamic energy transfer, you’d surround it with several interlocking components that move in multiple directions. For durability, you’d make the building blocks out of the hardest material you can create.

Well, guess what you’ve just designed? The human foot!

From a biomechanical standpoint, there’s no reason why you need to wear running shoes – so why doesn’t everyone just run barefoot? The primary drawbacks are comfort and speed.

Running barefoot is certainly uncomfortable right off the bat; our feet aren’t used to the lack of artificial cushioning, and our skin needs time to build resiliency to irritants like gravel, sticks, and pointy rocks. In order to accommodate these, the runner is forced to slow down much more than he’s normally accustomed to.

Most of us aren’t patient enough to put up with it – but the drumbeat of barefoot runners is growing ever louder; so much, in fact, that the running industry has taken notice.

Vibram makes a brilliant product called Five Fingers, which is basically a glove for your foot with a thin rubber coating underneath: they allow you to run barefoot without worrying about injuring yourself on ground hazards. Other high-profile shoe companies, including Nike, ECCO, and Clark now have shoe models that allow the natural biomechanics of running barefoot.

One important caveat to all this: to become a barefoot runner, you have to progress extremely slowly to avoid injury. Donald has been experimenting with barefoot running recently; if you’re interested in finding out how to start, contact us.

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Fighting Obesity

The Center for Disease Control recently sponsored the first “Weight of the Nation” conference, where it was announced that the medical cost of obesity in the United States each year is $147 BILLION. Almost one-third of American adults are officially categorized as obese, with rates in many (mostly Southern) states approaching 40%. Even Oprah Winfrey is overweight again.

What’s the solution? The CDC has a standard laundry list of recommendations to stop the obesity epidemic, but it’s the same things we’ve been told for years: healthier food choices, lower caloric intake, more physical exercise. This is all old news, yet obesity rates continue to rise.

So we’d like to suggest some changes in perspective for all of us – the first of which is to encourage support from selected “influencers” who can connect with large numbers of people.

One such program is right in our backyard: the Big Sur International Marathon’s JUST RUN program. As we said, the formula for what works is no secret: less food, more activity. The Just Run program instills this lesson in elementary school children, and gives them opportunities to make healthy choices from a very early age. Good habits start young.

Our educational system can go one step further and make physical education mandatory in all schools. Programs can be supported with minimal cost, even at schools without a dedicated PE teacher – all it takes is a committed volunteer to get students walking or jogging every day. Healthy activity is just as important to our kids’ quality of life as art and music and great literature.

Parents play a key role as well. We should teach our kids to be participants in athletics instead of spectators. Modern-day sporting events (and their accompanying advertisers) emphasize tailgating, beer drinking, and pigging out on unhealthy food just as much as they inspire sandlot games and schoolyard shoot-arounds. It’s our job as parents to remind kids that the fun of sports is in doing, not watching.

Professional sports leagues can even get in on the act. Imagine if championship sporting events had associated running races, like a marathon on Super Bowl Sunday, or a 5K before the local pro golf tournament. Have the pro athletes make an appearance beforehand, or provide discount tickets to encourage participation.

Another approach is to borrow a page from the anti-smoking playbook, and make it cost-prohibitive for people to be unhealthy.

For instance, what if you had to pay for cable or Internet screen time in the same way that you pay for excess usage of water or electricity? Since obsessive screen watching makes people less active and obese – how about creating a graduated “sin tax” beyond a certain threshold?

Insurance companies can base their premium rates on physical fitness tests like the ones that used to be given in grade schools. Cardiovascular fitness is the most important predictor of overall health – and if you struggle with a 2-mile test, chances are that your health is lousy. People can be recertified every 2 or 3 years, just like smog inspections, where an independent timer verifies your 2 mile time, and insurance rates would correspond to your speed. Would that make you take your fitness more seriously?

These ideas may sound crazy – but that’s indicative of a larger problem, which is complacency to let things carry on the same way they’re currently going. If prioritizing our health continues to be seen as the “counterculture” approach, we’re in for far more troubling costs in the days ahead – both from a health standpoint, and a financial one.

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Running Tweets

First things first: We’re not on Twitter. We’ve never tweeted. We’ll never make our fellow columnist Laura McCoy’s top five list.

However, we were curious as to whether Twitter had any value when it comes to dispensing sage running advice – so we asked many of the best local runners and coaches to tell us how to be a better runner. We only gave them one rule: their answer had to follow twitter rules and be 140 characters or less.

Here are our favorite responses from the experts …

Former Olympic marathoner Nelly Wright from Pacific Grove: “It is all about attitude. Be positive. Be a good sportsman. Be consistent. Be passionate. Don’t let setbacks get you down. Have fun.”

Professional triathlete Alexis Smith from Seaside: “Set a goal. Write out the training plan. Follow through with your workouts; consistency plays a major role in becoming a better runner.”

North County coach Gus Ibarra took the team approach: “Everyone is a winner. Running takes work. Expect the best. The Team/Family concept overrides any individual achievement.”

Chris Zepeda, Hartnell College coach: “As you get older focus less on the mileage and go back to your youth and hit the track. Train like you did in high school and college.”

Jeff Magallanes from Marina was very specific: “Get Fast! Mon. do 3 to 7 one mile repeats at 10K pace. Weds. do 16 one minute “pulls” at 5K pace. On Sat. a four to 10 mile tempo run at half marathon pace.”

Jim Scattini from Salinas showed impressive versatility, as his answer qualified as both a tweet and a rhyme: “You want to run fast? Just get off your behind or you will place last!”

Matt Clayton, a former 2:14 marathoner from Salinas: “There are no secrets or shortcuts in this sport. Train hard, but be smart enough to listen to what your body is telling you. Don’t let your ego get in the way.”

Some local runners didn’t even need the full 140 characters to dispense their wisdom …

Former Olympic Marathoner and Runner’s World Magazine runner of the year Maria Trujillo: “Run fast and work hard.”

Patty Selbicky, former winner of the Big Sur Marathon: “Intervals, intervals, and more intervals…..and listen to Glynn Wood.”

Of course, we then went straight to Glynn Wood, the dean of local runners, with over 65 years of competitive running and coaching experience. His tweet? “Run Run Run!” It’s kind of eloquent in its simplicity.

We were actually fairly surprised to discover some valuable lessons in these short bursts, and considered our Great Twitter Experiment a bona fide success. Each individual tweet is interesting on its own, and when we put all the recommendations together, an ideal overall strategy emerges:

1. Be positive and optimistic.
2. Be consistent in your training.
3. You have to be thoughtful and have a plan.
4. To be fast you have to practice running fast.
5. There are no secrets and there is no substitute for hard work.
6. Enjoy the process and the running life.

Sounds like great advice to us.

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Western States 100 Race Report

Hello! If you're looking for Donald's full report and photo tour from the Western States 100, it's right here on his website. Previous editions of his Western States training diary are on the right-hand sidebar of that site as well.

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Western States 100 Summary

This week, Donald reports on his experience at last month’s Western States Endurance Run …

Last year, I wrote several articles about training for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, only to have the race cancelled due to wildfires. Don’t worry - I won’t take it personally if you’ve forgotten.

On the other hand, I never forgot about the race – if anything, my desire to participate grew even stronger during the fall and winter. This spring, I trained my tail off, and finally toed the line last month with the best ultrarunners in the world.

Western States took me to some unbelievable places, both physically and psychologically. Some were wondrous and exciting. Others were dark and terrifying. A few were just plain bizarre. The end result was a journey that was both humbling and empowering, discouraging yet ultimately uplifting.

The race begins in the former Olympic Village of Squaw Valley. When you’re milling around the start area, rubbing elbows with the superstars of ultrarunning, seeing the Olympic rings everywhere, and gazing at the tall mountains you’re about to climb, you can’t help but be inspired - and more than a little bit intimidated.

Over the next 100 miles, I would complete 18,000’ of climbing, and 21,000’ of descent traversing one rugged canyon after another en route to the finish line in Auburn. In the two steepest and tallest canyons, temperatures reached 105 degrees on race day. Fortunately, there were river crossings at the bottom of each canyon, where I soaked in the water for several minutes in order to lower my body temperature enough to survive the heat.

The river crossings continued throughout the race – in fact, the biggest one came in the middle of the night. It’s situations like this – standing waist deep in class 3 rapids of the American River at 1:30 in the morning, after running 78 miles with another 22 still to go, so fatigued that you have spasms in every muscle of your body and so sleep deprived that you start to hallucinate – that make you either fall in love with ultrarunning or realize just how crazy the sport is. Or, if you’re like me, both these things happen.

During the 28 hours I was on the course, I battled blisters, muscle pains, dehydration, mild renal failure, and severe nausea. I danced on the razor’s edge of medical stability, needing several minutes of observation at some mandatory health checkpoints. I was so debilitated that I could barely walk at times, and so discouraged that I wondered why I wanted to.

There’s a popular saying that the person who crosses the finish line of a 100-mile race is far different than the one who starts it – and at Western States, that’s especially true. The course breaks you down in every conceivable way - physically, spiritually, psychologically - and makes you question every aspect of your being. It strips you of all pretense and reveals the very nature of your soul.

Sure, it’s not the most pleasant place to be, but surviving such a gauntlet instills an unbelievable feeling of accomplishment, as well as a sense that anything is possible. All from the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other.

If all this sounds insane, believe me – this summary barely scratches the surface. There’s a very detailed race report and photo tour of the Western States 100 on my website which may give you the full measure of how crazy and amazing ultrarunning really can be.

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Carmel Valley Fiesta Run

Carmel Valley is known for its blue skies, warm weather, and adventurous spirit. It also enjoys a small-town charm – and one of the best examples of this ambience is the Fiesta in the Park hosted by the Carmel Valley Kiwanis Club, held in Carmel Valley Village on the first weekend in August.

This year, local runners have an extra reason to celebrate the Fiesta: the inaugural edition of the Carmel Valley Fiesta Mountain Run, an 8.3-mile trail running adventure through the hills and canyons of Garland Ranch Regional Park. The race takes place on August 1 at 8AM at the Dampierre Little League Field off Paso Hondo Road.

In creating this course, the race organizers weren’t messing around: the route includes single track trails through remote canyons, and challenging climbs up to beautiful vistas. Runners of all ages and abilities are welcome – but be sure to bring your spirit of adventure. As the race brochure explains, “The terrain is often rugged, twisty, steep, rocky, dusty, narrow, challenging, and dangerous.” You sure can’t blame the committee for lack of disclosure.

The Mountain Run is a second-generation race of sorts, and is especially nice to see in light of an article we wrote this winter lamenting how many local races had disappeared over the past decade. For several years, the Carmel Valley Fiesta featured a 5K and 10K run, but the mid-summer race calendar remained vacant after that race folded (sadly, under somewhat tragic circumstances) about eight years ago.

With the sponsorship of the Kiwanis Club, a group of Carmel Valley runners have reinvented the Fiesta Run this year – but it’s an entirely different event than its predecessor. Race committee members Mahir Agha, Richard Averett, Brian Rowlett, Grant Swanson, and Chris Hanson are all prolific trail runners, and the race reflects their dedication to enjoying our natural surroundings.

This year’s race features a completely new course that is 100% on trails, and is significantly more challenging than your typical neighborhood 10K. The committee also provides many of the perks that runners appreciate such as generous sponsors, tech fabric race shirts, and awards in each age group.

The race is unique in another way as well: since the official distance is unconventional, no matter how slow you run, your time this year will be a guaranteed PR – unless, of course, you happen to have done another 8.3-mile race somewhere. You won’t have to worry about getting faster for another whole year!

When you come to the Fiesta Run, be sure to bring the family with you, because there is a 1-mile kids race through Carmel Valley Village beginning at 10 AM. This fun run is sponsored by the Big Sur Marathon’s Just Run kids program, and parents are welcome to include strollers and dogs in this event as well. There is a parade immediately following the kids race, and a classic car show and free concerts throughout the remainder of the day. It all makes for a pretty great way to spend a midsummer’s day.

Race fees are very reasonable, and benefit the Tularcitos Technology Fund and trail maintenance at Garland Ranch Regional Park. Register for $25 online at www.active.com by July 22, or for $32 on race day (registration begins at 6:30 AM on race morning). You’ll have a great time for a good cause, then enjoy the rest of the day under the Carmel Valley sun.

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Hydration Pack Review, Part 2

Hi there - if you're looking for Donald's review of hydration packs, follow this link to his website, which is a summary review plus links to each of the five packs reviewed this spring.

Thanks for reading!

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Hydration Pack Review, Part 1

Summer is nearly upon us, which means that runners need to pay attention to hydration needs when exercising in warm weather. In recent years, hydration devices have become a multidisciplinary science, with several options available. We’re reviewing the most common types here, along with our recommendations for use of each kind.

As a general rule, unless you’re exposed to extreme heat or humidity (upper 90s for either category), you probably don’t need to take in fluids during your workout if you’re exercising for 30 minutes or less. If you are exercising for less than an hour, you can probably do just fine with water instead of sports drink.

When your body is working for more than one hour, make sure that you drink small amounts of fluid on a regular basis during the activity. There are a few different ways to carry fluids on the go:

Hand held bottle carriers: of course, before hydration accessories were invented, everybody did it the old fashioned way: by carrying a bottle of water in your hand while you run. Hand-held bottle carriers are little more than a comfortable elastic strap that fits around the bottle and the back of your hand; this way, you don’t have to grip the bottle to keep it in contact with your palm.

Most hand-held carriers support a 20-oz bottle, and many have small pockets on the backside to stash things like keys or an ATM card. Some runners find it awkward to carry bottle holders at first, but before long you’ll hardly notice a difference.

Waist packs: These are probably the most common option, and come in several varieties. Most packs hold a 20- or 24-oz bottle on your backside, often angled one way or the other for easier access. Waist packs also have larger pockets with storage space for cell phones or energy bars.

Variations on this design include packs that hold two full-size bottles, and others with several smaller bottles distributed all the way around your waist. In our opinion, the single bottle option is the simplest and most convenient, and should suffice for activity in the one to two hour range.

If you are running or hiking for more than two hours, a single bottle won’t be enough to sustain you – and that’s where the next category comes in.

Hydration packs: These lightweight packs are typically worn like a backpack, but contain a fluid reservoir that can hold up to 100oz of fluid. Models that are marketed towards runners typically hold about 70 oz.

Since they are designed for longer activity, hydration packs also feature a lot more storage space for food, clothing, or other gear. Modern materials and designs make these packs quite comfortable to wear, even when running at high speed.

Fluid reservoirs are slightly more high-maintenance than a typical water bottle - they’re a bit more difficult to clean and dry after each use – but they’re generally very easy to use, and the benefit of having adequate fluids during a long run is usually worth a little inconvenience afterwards.

Hand held bottle carriers and waist packs can be found in both of our local running stores. If you’d like more information about hydration packs, Donald did an extensive review of five different models this spring; go to www.montereyrunninglife.com to check them out.

Whichever method you choose, be sure to take care of your hydration needs so you can enjoy a healthy and safe summer of running.

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Props for Monterey High

The Monterey Bay Wednesday Night Laundry Runners club has provided college scholarship funding to local high school distance runners since 2000. This year the club, along with a large donation from the Big Sur International Marathon, is providing $7,500 in scholarship money split among six Monterey County senior runners.

For the first time in ten years, three of these runners are from one school - Monterey High School. Congratulations to Monterey High and Coaches Alex Peterson and Rob Erlich for developing three wonderfully talented student runners. Looking at the accomplishments of Kayla Harvey, James Caress, and Jake Arveson gives us confidence and makes us proud of our younger generation of runners. Props to their parents and teachers as well.

The scholarship recipients are nominated by coaches. They must be high school seniors who participate in both cross-country (XC) and distance track events. They must be talented and successful enough in their running to compete in college, as well as demonstrating academic success and leadership skills.

Kayla Harvey is something special. She competed in cross country and track all 4 years, as well as basketball. She joined a select few by earning the “Iron Woman Award” at Monterey high for her sports participation. She has earned all league in both Cross Country and Track for the last 3 years. She was MBL league champion in the 3200 this year.

Kayla has a 4.2 GPA and is ranked 4th in her class academically. She takes the most rigorous AP classes. She has been team captain in both track and cross country, as well as President of the film club, and secretary of the Christian Youth Group.

She has done Missionary work in Africa and Mexico and still managed to run while in Swaiziland. Kayla will be attending the Air Force academy because “she firmly believes you must contribute back to your country.” Her plans in the Air Force include Foreign Area Studies and Environmental Engineering. She wants to return to Africa some day to assist the people and the land.

James Caress has qualifications that seem to be made up but they are real including Valedictorian of his class and a 4.35 GPA in the toughest classes that are offered. He is an Eagle Scout, National Merit Finalist, and is active in World Without Borders, and the schools mock trial team. He even was a guest commentator in the Herald describing the effect CO2 gas has on oceanic PH levels.

James’s running is at the highest level as well in both cross country and distance track. He is current MBL champion in the 3200. He has qualified for the CCS and State meets in cross country.

James will be attending UCLA and majoring in English. He will write and possibly be a lawyer.

Jake Arveson is the most accomplished track and cross county runner in Monterey High history, holding records or top two times in distances from the 800 meters up to 3200 meters. He has run in California State meets in both cross country and track. He has been MBL league champion in several events for multiple years. Jake is running in the State finals of the 800 meters this coming weekend in Fresno.

Jake volunteers with the Monterey Reads project and MY Museum and works with kids to help give them a love of reading and music. He will be going to Sacramento State, running on the Cross Country and track teams, and majoring in History.

We’re thankful to have such talented and giving individuals on the Central Coast and proud that they are part of the Running Life community. If you want to help these and other student runners you can make a tax deductible donation to WNLR Scholarship Fund c/o 24630 Avenida Principal, Salinas, CA. 93908.

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National Running Day

Are you getting excited for National Running Day yet?

If you’ve never heard of National Running Day, don’t feel bad – neither had we until recently. That’s because this is the first annual event – and it’s taking place on Wednesday, June 3rd.

Of course, regular runners already recognize the many gifts that running provides. However, National Running Day is a great chance to get the word out and help our friends and co-workers get started.

If you’re not a runner, this is a golden opportunity to give it a try – use this occasion as your first day to get out and run.

National Running Day is a grassroots effort to promote the benefits of running as a healthy, fun, easy, accessible, and inexpensive form of exercise. Across the country, the day will celebrate the benefits of running as an integral part of a healthy and active lifestyle.

The foremost race organizations in the country, including the Big Sur Marathon, are encouraging everyone of all ages and fitness levels to get out and run. Big Sur Race Director Wally Kastner says the message of the day is that “Everyone can run.”

Anybody can join in the National Running Day festivities simply by going for a run. A website has been created, www.runningday.org with advice for beginners and activity ideas for June 3. You can even download an “I’m a Runner/I Ran Today” Facebook button - because as everyone knows, it’s not a real party until someone puts it on Facebook.

Your responsibility as a runner is to find one non-runner and get them started. Provide advice to one person, or schedule an informal run at work and encourage sedentary co-workers to get involved. Teachers or administrators can have their students run that day as part of relays or other fun activities. Look at www.justrun.org for great running related activities for kids.

If you manage or own a business, make it a priority for your employees to schedule a run that day. Give them time off in the middle of the day and encourage them to start a healthy lifestyle. It will save you medical costs and raise employee energy and morale.

If you have a retail or food service business you can provide special discounts to runners on that day. How do you know who is a runner? By the smile on their face and the sweat on their brow when they ask you for the discount. Or just check their shoes.

Our two local running stores are both providing great deals. The Treadmill in the Carmel Crossroads is providing a 25% discount on running shoes on National Running Day and will throw in a free pair of socks as well. Fleet Feet at Del Monte Center is providing a 10% discount on shoes from now through June 3rd as an incentive to get started – just mention our article and say that you’re a new runner. Fleet Feet also has programs to help new runners train for local races.

Doug Logan, CEO of USA Track and Field, says, “This is a day to celebrate the most universal of all sports. You might be running toward a goal, running with a purpose, or even just running away from your problems. Any reason is a good reason to run, especially on National Running Day.”

We encourage you to get out and run on June 3rd. Wave and smile to others who are doing the same thing. Remember, if you get someone started, it’s the best gift you can give to a friend.

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Try the Tri

Let’s say you’ve just completed a marathon, and you’re wearing your periwinkle race shirt with pride, but wondering what your next big challenge could be. Or maybe you’ve done so many road races that they seem repetitive, and you’re looking to add a little more excitement to your athletic exploits.

If so, we’ve got the perfect antidote for you: taking on the Triathlon at Pacific Grove this fall.

September 12th and 13th will be the fifteenth anniversary of the PG Tri (as it’s locally known), which was one of the first races created by Tri-California Events, owned by Terry and Betsy Davis of Pacific Grove. The race is another example of the world-class offerings we have right in our Monterey Peninsula backyard.

Through the years, both Tri-California and the PG Tri have enjoyed enormous growth in size and prestige. The first Pacific Grove race had just over 200 entrants, and the business operated out of the Davis’s garage on David Avenue. This year nearly 2000 triathletes will participate in what has become a two-day event, with an Olympic Distance race (1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run) on Saturday and a shorter Sprint Triathlon (.5mi swim, 12.4mi bike and 2mi run) on Sunday. Go to www.tricalifornia.com for detailed race information.

Tri-California has expanded to include races throughout California (including the world-famous Wildflower and Escape From Alcatraz triathlons), and has grown from a shoestring budget to a successful enterprise that also raises thousands of dollars for charity. Their events attract top professional talent as well as amateur and novice triathletes of all ages – and the PG Triathlon is definitely the best opportunity for locals to get their feet wet in the sport of triathlon.

Transitioning from running to triathlon isn’t as complicated as it might initially seem. Obviously, you’ll need to adjust your training schedule a bit, and make a few investments in (or borrow some) basic gear - but your general fitness from being a runner will carry you a long way towards getting started in triathlon.

The timing of the PG Tri is perfect, as warm summer days and long daylight hours provide expanded opportunities for training. The race date in September typically sees ideal weather conditions. And if you start now, you’ve got more than three months to prepare, which is plenty of time.

Here are some tips to get started …

· Assuming you’re already a runner, decrease the number of days per week that you are running, and substitute a swim or bike workout instead. You won’t lose overall fitness by cutting down running mileage to cross-train; in fact, it will probably improve. Try to bike and swim at least once per week.
· Get a bike – but it doesn’t need to be expensive or fancy. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a road bike; many first-time triathletes use off-road bikes for the sprint distance. Use whatever you already have or can borrow; you can splurge on a bike after you decide to become a full-time triathlete.
· Likewise, you’ll definitely need a wetsuit for the cold ocean swim. If you can’t borrow one, you can rent one online at www.wetsuitrental.com or similar sites. Until then, your swim training can be done in a pool.
· Fleet Feet Sports in Monterey schedules coaching sessions for new triathletes. Call 372-5664 for details and times.

Many local athletes successfully jump back and forth between the sports of running and triathlon; with a good plan and a little bit of help, this may be the perfect time for you to join them.

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Scenes From a Marathon - 2009

Donald ran the 24th presentation of the Big Sur Marathon, while Mike did the 5K and worked at the finish line for an hour in his capacity as a race board member. Here are some observations from inside the lines and behind the scenes:

Real men wear … lavender? We’ll get this one out of the way early: The color of this year’s race shirts seemed awfully girly. So much so, that it triggered a conversation between Donald and the expo volunteer handing them out:

Volunteer: Here’s your shirt.

Donald: OK, but … can I have the men’s color please?

Volunteer: Yeah, um … that’s the one. Sorry.

Donald: Me too.

It never gets easier: No matter how many times we do this race, the 3AM wakeup call is always the hardest part of the day. You’d think we’d eventually get used to it, but we guess we’re still waiting.

Are we there yet? Part 1: As soon as the course left the trees at mile 5, someone near Donald looked at the road ahead and asked, “Is that Hurricane Point?” Not yet … but keep running. You’ll find it.

Most unexpected dose of hipness: was provided by the Palma High School band, overheard playing a Violent Femmes song at mile 9. Sure, the song was “Blister in the Sun”, which isn’t the most promising phrase for a group of marathoners, but the simple fact that they know that tune is pretty darn cool.

The beast is back: For the last couple of years, runners have been lucky to enjoy very mild breezes – but this year, the wind roared back with authority. It slowed everybody down by several minutes, and even pushed some folks around near the top of Hurricane Point. We kind of like it when the wind flexes its muscles – we don’t want anybody tempted to call this race easy.

Are we there yet? Part 2: At two different points on the Hurricane Point climb, a group of runners crested a hill around a curve and shouted “Woo Hoo! Made it!”, only to peer around the bend and realize that the hill keeps going. Here’s how you know you’re at the top: when you’re leaning downhill, but not moving because the wind is blowing so hard. Until then, it’s better not to ask.

You’ve heard of us? Having names on race bibs ensured that nobody was anonymous on the course. We’d like to think that the people yelling “Go Donald!” and “Nice job, Mike!” happen to be fervent readers of our column, but we know better. The bibs were a nice touch.

If you want a lot of friends, carry balloons: there were huge swarms of people around each of the Clif Bar pacesetters, who carried balloons indicating their estimated finish times. In between, there were long stretches of open pavement. The pacesetters did a great job bringing hordes of runners home right on their predicted pace.

Ask an obvious question … : the most common answer by finishers when asked "how do you feel?" by Mike: “Tired!”

However, by Mike’s estimate, 98% of the finishers crossed the line with a smile. We’re guessing that the other 2% were happy, but just too tired to smile.

We hope your experience at this weekend’s marathon was a good one. Congratulations to everyone who finished. Rest up for a while, then get training – there are only 52 weeks until we get to do it all over again!

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Wednesday Night Laundry Runners

If you stand anywhere near the finish line of Sunday’s Big Sur Marathon, one of the most frequent cheers you’ll overhear is “Go Laundry Runner!” The athletes receiving those cheers aren’t dry cleaners – they’re members of the Monterey Peninsula’s biggest running club.

Laundry Runners are the heart and soul of the Monterey and Salinas running community. The official name of the club is a strange one: the Monterey Bay Wednesday Night Laundry Runners – typically shortened to WNLR - and we are both long time members.

The club has almost 300 members, from all walks of life. Many have been running for decades, but there are also a large number of beginners. There are teenagers and septuagenarians. 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 official newsletter, The Communique - with the apt slogan, “All of the news of the fit in print” – describes it 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.” With that, the Wednesday Night Laundry Run was born.

The Laundry Run continues to this day, and anyone is welcome to attend. The 7-mile route starts at 5:30PM, and newcomers are always welcome to join in. Feel free to follow the runners to a pizza joint or local pub afterwards.

There are group runs just about every day of the week, with the largest meeting on Saturdays at 7:15AM near the foot of Ocean Avenue in Carmel, or Sundays at 8:30AM at the Fishwife restaurant in Pacific Grove. The WNLRs also have a strong Salinas contingent, with runners meeting at the Toro Park shopping center at 6:30AM on Saturdays or Sundays. WNLRs can also be found on the track (in Monterey or Salinas) and the trails (Friday 6AM at Garland Park), and at just about every local race.
WNLRs also give back to the Central Coast community in various ways. They serve on race committees and volunteer at races, and donate money towards college scholarships for local high school senior distance runners.

Even if you’re not a marathon runner, there are many benefits to joining the club. It’s probably one of the best bargains in town.

For a mere $15 per year, you get a quarterly newsletter, invitations to free pizza parties and other social activities, and 20% off shoes at The Treadmill in Carmel or Fleet Feet in Monterey, which might offset your membership costs right away. You also receive e-mails announcing events in the running community, and you have access to great advice from fellow runners.
Best of all, you’ll improve your chances of getting in shape, and meet people who are interesting and fun. There are certainly worse ways to spend fifteen bucks.

Check out www.wnlr.org or contact us for more information about the Laundry Runners, and be sure to cheer for them when you see their racing shirts during Sunday’s marathon.

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The Big Sur Marathon for Dummies

Sometimes it’s hard for non-runners to understand what all the excitement is about when it comes to marathons. Here’s a primer on basic facts about the event, and this weekend’s Big Sur Marathon in particular, so you can dazzle your friends with your newfound knowledge.

Q: The marathon is a long race, right?
A: Ummm…yes, it’s very long. The standard distance is 26.2 miles.

Q: Who came up with that number?
A: The race commemorates a victory of the Athenian Army over the invading Persians at the city of Marathon in 490 B.C. The Greeks dispatched a messenger to announce the victory back in Athens, approximately 24 miles away. The messenger, Phedippides, died from exhaustion immediately afterward. Uplifting story, huh?

Q: What about the extra 2.2 miles?
A: At the 1908 London Olympics, England’s Royal Family wanted the course lengthened so that it would start in front of their residence at Windsor Castle, and finish in front of their viewing box at Olympic Stadium. The distance was changed to 26.2 miles and sanctioned as the official distance.

Consequently, it’s not uncommon for exhausted marathon runners to repeatedly curse the Queen during the final two miles of the race.

Q: Do the runners get any help?
A: Definitely. Several hundred volunteers work at aid stations along the course handing out water, Gatorade, and nutritional aids to the runners. Many others provide things like traffic control and medical support throughout the event.

Q: How come on the other 364 days of the year, runners won’t drink anything that isn’t in a factory-sealed, tamper-resistant container, yet on marathon day they’ll gladly grab unmarked open cups from any potential psychopath standing on the side of the road?
A: Good question. Maybe runners are inherently trusting. Maybe their judgment is impaired from glycogen depletion. Probably a little of both.

Q: Almost every city has a marathon. Why is Big Sur so special?
A: Easy - it’s because of the course. The coastline between Big Sur and Carmel features one of the most spectacular vistas anywhere in the world. The relentless hills and wind of Highway 1 make the BSIM very challenging (even by marathon standards), but most runners find that the beauty they experience is well worth the physical suffering.

Q: Why do local runners get so geeked over this weekend?
A: Think of it this way: if you could get a group of your best friends together to play a softball game at Fenway Park, would you do it? Local runners are a close community, and our hometown marathon is one of the most prestigious in the world. The friendly competition in such a famously beautiful setting is an opportunity that’s hard to pass up.

Q: Great, but I’m not a runner. Why should I care?
A: Because those people crossing the finish line at Big Sur aren’t professional runners - they’re everyday folks. They are your neighbors or co-workers who are giving a supreme effort on Sunday, then returning to work on Monday (OK, maybe not Monday…but probably by Tuesday) to resume their routine lives.

Many of them are fulfilling a dream by doing the marathon, and every one of them has overcome numerous challenges just to finish. Sure, by the time they reach Carmel, most of them look like hell and stink to high heaven - but each runner is a reminder that through hard work and dedication, great things can be accomplished by all of us. It’s an idea that anyone can get excited about.

Good luck to everyone who is running - or watching - the race this Sunday!

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Boston or Big Sur?

As soon as the calendar turns to April, the dreams of marathon runners take flight. Springtime marathons are marquee events in all the greatest cities in the world: Boston, London, Paris, and of course, Carmel.

Yes, our hometown event ranks right up there with the most highly respected marathons in the world. Runners from every state and all corners of the globe come to the Monterey Peninsula to run the Big Sur Marathon on the last Sunday in April.

Likewise, it’s nearly every marathoner’s dream to run the famed Boston Marathon, traditionally held on Patriot’s Day, a Massachusetts holiday observed on the third Monday of April. In 2009, as most other years, the Boston Marathon is a mere six days before Big Sur. Therefore, local runners face a dilemma each spring in deciding which marathon to attend.

Honestly, you can’t go wrong with either choice – and for a handful of hardy (feel free to substitute crazy) local runners, the decision is too agonizing, so they just do both. This year the two of us are doing split duty: Mike will join about 15 other Central Coast runners who are running at Boston on April 20th, and Donald will stay home to run Big Sur six days later. Although both races are world-class events, the experiences we will take away from each will undoubtedly be quite different.

Big Sur will always be our favorite. It’s our hometown marathon. We know how much time is donated by local volunteers and how hard everyone involved with the race works to ensure its success. It’s an opportunity for friendly competition with our friends on one of the most challenging courses in the world. The scenery is breathtaking, and it’s the only day of the year that it’s safe to run on Highway 1. Big Sur has been voted the best marathon in North America by several publications.

No other marathon can compete with the sights and sounds of the Big Sur Marathon (as we’ll describe in two weeks) – so why would locals go anywhere else? Only the allure and history of Boston can occasionally take us away from home.

Simply put, Boston is the most famous and prestigious marathon in the world. Running there is like playing baseball in Yankee Stadium, golf at Augusta National, tennis at Wimbledon, or driving at the Brickyard – while competing right alongside the professionals. Boston has more history - over 110 years worth – and attracts more talented runners than any other footrace. Runners are required to meet qualifying standards in order to enter, so participation in the race is considered an honor by all marathoners. Best of all, the entire city goes marathon crazy and treats every athlete like a star for the entire weekend.

In addition, Mike has extra incentive to travel east: his son Bryan lives in Boston and will also be running the marathon. It’s going to be a father-son dual for family bragging rights.

The choice between Boston and Big Sur is always tough – and next year, the temptation to do both races will be greater than ever. For Big Sur’s 25th presentation in April of 2010, there will be a special “Boston to Big Sur” challenge. Any runner who does both marathons will receive a special award, jacket, and recognition on race day. If you’re someone who likes to experience the best of both worlds, maybe you can join them.

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Lessons From a Loser

Of all the cardinal sins a runner can commit, the greatest is claiming to run a marathon when you really haven’t. The commandment is clear: Thou shalt not call thyself a marathoner if Thou hast not covered the entire 26.2 miles.

Dane Patterson, a contestant on this season’s Biggest Loser, learned that lesson the hard way last month, and incurred not only the wrath of God, but of thousands of angry marathoners. His is a cautionary tale that highlights a couple of vital lessons for novice runners.

First, some background. After being voted off of the show’s Feb 25th episode, the follow-up piece showed Patterson running a marathon in Arizona. Viewers saw him cross the finish line, and wear a finisher’s medal as the crowd cheered him. Meanwhile, a caption reported that he completed the race in 3 hours, 53 minutes, and Patterson’s voiceover described it as “the most amazing experience of my life to run an entire marathon.”

It was a great story, except for one problem: he didn’t actually do the whole marathon.

Patterson entered the marathon and ran about 17 miles before NBC producers realized that he wouldn’t make the finish line before the race finished and the sun went down. Somewhere around mile 23, Patterson agreed to ride the NBC van to the finish, where he was filmed crossing the line victoriously.

Like other scoundrels of the information age, Patterson’s undoing came via the Internet. Two runners reported on their personal blogs that they saw Patterson and his wife get out of the van just before the finish line. Mainstream media picked up the story, and NBC was soon apologizing for creating a staged accomplishment.

After the controversy broke, Patterson reasserted that he only rode for 3 miles in the van - but to anybody who has ever run a marathon, it didn’t matter. He became a lightning rod for an angry mob of runners accusing him of the highest form of treason.

The whole fiasco raises two interesting points – the first of which is that almost everybody is trying to do a marathon these days.

Twenty years ago, new runners targeted 10K races as incentives to get in shape; today, the marathon is an entry-level race. Training programs (many of which are fundraisers) promise to turn sedentary people into marathoners in a period of weeks. 10Ks and half-marathons aren’t impressive enough anymore; everyone is reaching for the brass ring right out of the gate.

While the notion is admirable, this isn’t always a good thing in practice. The injury risk for a novice runner starting a marathon program is quite high – and many of those who do complete the race find the process so dreadful that they never return to it.

Which brings us to the second lesson from Patterson’s story: the importance of setting manageable goals.

A new runner would probably benefit more by building up to the marathon challenge slowly, after successfully completing shorter distances over a longer period of time. Your chance of long-term success is much greater, which should be the primary reason you start running in the first place. Besides, it’s not like marathons are going away anytime soon – your goal race will still be there for you to tackle when you’re properly prepared.

We’re glad Dane Patterson was able to run 23 miles last month. He is trying another marathon in April, and we sincerely wish him the best of luck in finishing it. Above all else, we wish him the many years of health and happiness that dedicated runners have come to enjoy.

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Running Innovations

These days, it seems like technology is taking over every aspect of our lives. Even the sport of running – the simplest activity imaginable – is susceptible to the avalanche of high-tech innovation, as Mike learned at the 2009 Running USA conference in San Diego last month.

That’s not to say that all of the applications are beneficial; in fact, many of them seemingly exist just to make an otherwise basic pursuit overwhelmingly complicated.

For example, you can now download something called iMapMyRun for your iPhone to help measure your distance, speed, and average pace with GPS tracking. Because as we all know, you really can’t have peace of mind on a run unless you’re carrying your iPhone. The product is marketed as “Your Redefined Running Partner,” so be sure to let your current partners know that their services are no longer necessary.

Many years ago, races started with someone yelling “GO!” and the first person to the finish line was the winner. Then we evolved to the more sophisticated method of giving every finisher a numbered popsicle stick. When we first strapped timing chips to our shoes, we felt like we’d entered the Space Age – but nowadays, race timing continues to evolve exponentially.

One company offers modular timing systems that are flexible and scalable. Another uses a disposable RFID tag placed on each runner’s shoe. Another has a J Chip attached to the race bib to time the athlete’s torso instead of his or her feet. We have no idea what any of this technical jargon means – but we’re eagerly awaiting the inevitable ZZ tag as all the letters of the alphabet are eventually exhausted.

Modern timing systems also allow runners to have their split times during a race e-mailed or texted to their relatives and friends, via desktop, laptop, cell phone, or other hand-held devices. This way anyone wanting to see you at the finish line can wait until the last possible moment to finish their latte before heading to the finish line to scream your name.

Besides being technical, many races are striving to be greener as well – which is the kind of technology we all appreciate. For instance, some race bibs are now recyclable, and others have self-adhesive to avoid the use of safety pins – an especially nice perk for small children doing youth races. You can even buy race bibs that have seeds in them, so that instead of recycling the bib after the race, you can plant it in your garden, water it, and a short time later you have flowers. Honestly, we’re not making this stuff up.

Technology is also changing the way races are promoted. Several speakers told race directors to create “virtual velocity” for their races by generating buzz about the event on YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, blogs, running forums, and other on-line communities. One went as far as to say that, “Any race that doesn’t use virtual velocity is in the dark ages.”

Listen to these sales pitches for long enough, and it seems pretty amazing that we were ever able to run races and enjoy them without all these modern advances. While we appreciate any development that improves the experience for race committees or participants – as well as anything that helps the environment – we never want to lose sight of the basic qualities of running that we fell in love with in the first place.

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Jokes on the Run

Everyone knows about the healing power of laughter – but did you know that it can also make you a better runner?

Nothing makes a run seem shorter and easier than someone sharing a great joke along the way. The longer the joke takes to tell – and the more mileage it preoccupies – the better. Whenever someone tells a “shaggy dog story”, the pace of the group inevitably picks up, adrenaline surges, smiles appear, and fatigue dissipates. Whether you are the storyteller or the listener, the effect is the same.

That’s why it’s wonderful to have someone in your running group who stays up to date on the latest jokes. It’s also a great idea to have a “joke day” run when everyone in the group is required to bring a new joke to share. Include some stakes to make it interesting: the worst joke teller has to buy beer or coffee after the run.

We’ll get you started: there once was a running club that valued humor so much that they issued every member a copy of “The World’s Best Joke Book”. Each joke was numbered and everyone memorized the book. That way, instead of telling the whole joke, a runner could just yell, “Number 23!”, and everyone exploded in wild laughter.

One day a new runner joined them, and tried to embrace the joke tradition by yelling, “Number 71!” There was a long, absolutely dead silence and the pace slowed dramatically. Finally one of the group members said, “Nah … you didn’t tell it right!”

Obviously, this kind of group misses the point of utilizing jokes on the run. The benefit is in the telling. It’s in the anticipation and mystery of the punch line. It makes time go faster. It gives camaraderie to the group.

As longtime runners, the two of us have more than a few all-time favorite jokes that are told in our group over and over again. When somebody new joins in, it won’t be long before he (or she) hears all of the group favorites. And his reactions to the jokes are closely observed – sometimes, the amount of laughter might even determine whether he is invited back to the next run. Have we mentioned yet that we take joke-telling seriously?

We’d love to share our favorite jokes here, but they would take way more column space than this skinny sidebar allows us. Besides, we’re told that this is a family-oriented newspaper, and many of our jokes would definitely tarnish that reputation.

So what we’ll do instead is to give you our favorite punch lines. The next time you see us or e-mail us, feel free to ask for the “the rest of the story.”

This might even be a fun game: can you identify any of these jokes just by their conclusions? Here are the top 10 punch lines that have entertained our running group through countless miles:

1. Death............BY BONGO!
2. JUST YOU AND ME!
3. They call me Pierre, the Famous Architect!
4. You have to see her Trot!
5. It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.
6. OK, your pace or mine?
7. KOOSH!
8. Typically nasty weather!
9. I’m not really a Navy pilot!
10. Thanks, most people leave me on the swing.

If by chance you recognize any of them, we give you complete permission to use these jokes to improve your next run.

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The 10,000 Hour Rule

Most runners probably don’t think they have much in common with the likes of Mozart, or The Beatles, or Bill Gates. However, according to Malcolm Gladwell, we have more in common than we ever realized.

Gladwell is the author of Outliers: The Story of Success, currently sitting atop bestseller lists nationwide. In the book, he analyzes countless factors – many of them unknown to the people they most impact – that determine why some people enjoy abundant success in life, while others toil in frustration and obscurity.

One of his revelations is the “10,000 Hour Rule”: in order to maximize any given talent, you need to spend approximately 10,000 hours practicing it. This rule partially dispels the myths of the child prodigy or the naturally gifted artist that many of us accept at face value.

For example, Bill Gates is widely considered a genius – but he also happened to have extraordinary access to cutting-edge technologies as far back as junior high school, and he spent nearly every night and weekend of his youth experimenting with computer programming. Mozart wrote symphonies at age 4, but the body of work he’s recognized for was composed after he had spent another 10 years perfecting his craft. And by the time The Beatles broke on the American scene, they had developed their songwriting and polished their musical chops in thousands of shows in various foreign nightclubs.

The 10,000 Hour Rule has implications for runners as well - in fact, veteran runners have used a variation of it for a long time, known in running circles as the 10-Year Rule. Basically, it says that runners will get gradually faster during their first 10 years, before their performances plateau for another 10 years, then decline precipitously over the next 10 years.

It doesn’t matter what distance you run, or what age you start at: whether you’re 15 or 55, your best race times in any event will improve for up to 10 years if you train consistently. If you could somehow manage to run 1000 hours per year, you’d develop abilities on par with some of the greatest achievers of our age. Yes, natural talent also plays a role – but not nearly as much as most people attribute to it.

(Sure, at first glance, training for 1000 hours per year – 3 hours per day, every day - seems shocking. However, if you ask just about any Olympic athlete, they’d tell you this is consistent with their typical regimens. There’s a reason why it’s so hard to make the Olympics.)

Perhaps the most well-known novel about running is Once a Runner by John Parker. In one famous passage, the author ponders how somebody becomes a great runner: “What was the secret, they wanted to know … and not one of them was prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes."

In other words, there’s no secret, and no trick. Do you want to be a better runner? Go for a run. Wake up the next day and do it again. Keep doing it until you wear out the bottoms of your shoes, then buy some new ones and start again. Repeat that process over and over until you’ve done it for 1000 hours, then 2000, then 10,000.

It’s really quite a simple process. Sometimes we just need to be reminded.

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Running With The Raven

On January 1, 1975, 23-year-old Robert “the Raven” Kraft, ran 8 miles in the sand on Miami’s South Beach. He started running because he felt frustrated that his songwriting career was at low ebb; one of his songs had been stolen and made into a fairly large country hit and he received no credit.



A funny thing happened that day; something that happens to a lot of new runners. Kraft was invigorated yet calm. His anger had mellowed, and he felt great satisfaction from those 8 miles. Running often grabs you when you most need it.



He made running a habit. Many would call it an obsession. Amazingly, the Raven just completed his 34th year of running on South Beach without missing a day. That’s over 12,400 days of running in a row.



Along the way, he’s become a bit of a celebrity. He’s an icon on Miami Beach, and his fan base extends around the world. People travel from far and wide to run with the Raven. He maintains a list of them - one that now approaches 800 runners, from every state and 54 foreign countries. To date, the Raven has run 99,300 miles, and should pass 100,000 on March 29. When he does, ESPN will be there to cover it.



In a sport where injuries are the norm, the Raven never misses a day to sickness or muscle pain. He runs through all kinds of weather: hurricanes, hail storms, heat and humidity. He’s as reliable as the US Postal Service.



He came close to missing a run once, when he was hospitalized for a concussion and needed 17 stitches to close a nasty wound. Luckily, some lifeguard friends smuggled him out of the hospital for his daily run, then returned him after the eight miles were finished.



As you can imagine, Kraft is a creature of habit. He’s called the Raven because he always wears Black spandex shorts, black socks, black headband, and one black wristband. He has long black hair, mustache, and beard. He always runs shirtless and has a dark tan.



The Raven’s also a bit of a philosopher. He chose 8 miles for his run because “7 seemed too short, and 9 seemed too long.” He runs the same 8 miles each day, in loops starting from the 6th Street lifeguard pier. Sometimes he loops in one direction, sometimes the other. He never travels out of Miami; in fact, he doesn’t even own a car.



The Raven never does races. He runs for the simple pleasure of how it makes him feel, although he admits that his streak has become an obsession.



Nicknames are a big part of his persona, as Mike and his family found out while running with the Raven on a vacation to South Beach a few weeks ago. During the run, the Raven questions you on your life, and annoints you with a nickname after you have completed the run. Then he inscribes you on “the list”.



The day Mike ran there were a dozen runners who earned the nicknames Burke’s Law, Chapter 11, The Reverend, Seaside Sparrow, Interrogator, Cooker, Tax Man, Wine Taster, and Unruly Julie. Mike is now known as Just Run, his wife is the Fiction Reader, his son Bryan is Pedicab Man, and Bryan’s fiance Melanie is Zot.



It is a pleasure and an honor to run with the Raven. Next time you don’t feel like running think about the Raven. May he and you run evermore.

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