Archive for the ‘ultramarathon’ Category


#50 – Running a Fever

27 February 2008

Most of the time the word “running” evokes positive thoughts – running with dogs, running on trails, running for fun, running a race, running to be alive.

Notice that “running a fever” is not one of them, nor is “runny nose” or “running to the store to get medication”.  Recently I came down with the flu, apparently for the first time in my adult life because I have never felt so physically miserable before!  Even the low point of my first ultramarathon didn’t feel so bad in comparison.  Also for the first time I had to call in sick at work as my wife and I were both non-functional on Monday.

I awoke that morning after a night of fruitless attempted sleep and staggered down the hallway to the easy chair, where I remained for the next few hours, unable to move.  Despite doing nothing but sitting, my heart rate was around 120 bpm!  More than double my usual resting pulse.  My body was working hard but I wasn’t going anywhere.

Finally I took my temperature and was stunned to see the mercury lined up with 102.5 on the scale!  I drank a couple glasses of ice water and an hour later my temp was down to 101.8 and I was feeling much better.  Another hour went by and the thermometer read 101 flat, which I maintained the rest of the day.

I wonder if my system was overheated due to the fever?  Being unable to thermally self-regulate, an external cooling source (ice water) was required to bring my physiology under control.  The high heat of a fever is beneficial to the immune system and it’s also a more hostile environment for the virus, but apparently 102.5 was borderline too hot for the rest of the body.

Interestingly, according to a fascinating article about exercising in the cold from the bloggers at The Science of Sport, the human body quickly heats up to about 102 degrees during physical exertion.  Maybe running a marathon isn’t quite so different from running a fever after all!

We need look no further than the 2007 Chicago Disaster to realize that 102 degrees of body temperature is very close to our physical limits.  When stressed to the point of being unable to thermoregulate, many marathoners in Chicago required external heat control (such misting fans or ice cubes handed out by spectators) in order to maintain a safe body temperature.

I suppose I could’ve stepped outside into the subfreezing Michigan winter to cool off, but I’ll save my physiological challenges for my foot running not my fever running, thank you.  Besides, hydration is quite important when sick, giving my ice water remedy a double-whammy of effectiveness.

Hydration, thermoregulation, heart rate…  is there any other way to relate the flu with running?  Why of course – body fat.  Two days of no appetite resulted in a net loss of seven pounds, a fat-burning trait that my body would do well to make use of during my next ultramarathon!


#46 – Running Goals

19 January 2008
Start Running

Start line of the 2007 Healthy Paws Healthy Cause fun run.

We all have to start somewhere. On January 1st, 2004 I went running for the first time in years. I made it just over a mile before I had to stop, gasping for breath and wondering if this former high school track and cross country guy could still call himself a runner! I set a few goals for myself and now here I am in 2008 with over a dozen running races and a few thousand miles underfoot since that humbling one-miler four years ago.

What initially set me down this path wasn’t even running – it was softball. In the fall of 2003 I played on my company’s co-ed softball team and was embarrassed to find myself out of breath just by jogging out to center field! Back in my college intramural days I could run all over the outfield without feeling winded, so I decided to get back in shape and I chose running as the means.

Running soon became the end, not just the means. I think a lot of runners can tell a similar tale of how just wanting to get in shape resulted in the discovery of a new passion for running. Ever since I have made sure to set many goals for myself, both for my running and for the rest of my life. These aren’t “resolutions”, mind you, but simply challenges to myself to remain focused in life.

The new year is a convenient time to review last year’s results and set new goals for the coming year. As early as last October I thought I had my running goals for 2008 all figured out – my plan was simple:

However, a deceptively severe hamstring strain has altered my plans. I don’t want to push myself to be ready for a spring marathon in case my hamstring doesn’t respond accordingly; plus, I haven’t been able to maintain an aerobic base over the winter like I’d been planning. So what do I do now?

No problem. Adapt my goals – after all, goals are challenges, not “assignments”. My 2008 racing goal is simply to finish the Wild West 100K, which will be my second ultramarathon and the first at that distance. My previous ultra was in 2006 when I ran the North Country Trail 50M as my primary running goal for that year. If all goes well, I’ll parlay that training into a sub-4:00 marathon, perhaps the Grand Rapids Marathon.

Clearly my time goals show that I’m not a competitive runner and my goals go beyond performance at races. In 2007 I ran 30% of my runs with a dog and I’m aiming to improve on that in 2008 with a goal of including a dog on at least a full one-third of my running sorties.

Along those lines I want to increase my trail running totals by logging at least 25% of my miles on trails. In 2007 I managed 22% of my distance with dirt underfoot. I toyed with the idea of bumping this goal up to 33% but I didn’t want to force myself onto the trails. I enjoy exploring (both the countryside and the neighborhood) during my long runs and that usually leads me out onto the roads.

It also leads me to my next goal: run a race purely for fun and photograph the experience. When aiming for specific finish times I don’t want to be distracted by a camera in hand, but seeing how much fun Scott Dunlap can have as a first-person race “journalist” has motivated me to try it out. While Scott is fast enough to document the front of the pack, my subjects will be from the middle of the field on back. 🙂

Lastly, I have the goal of running 2008 without injury. Realistically that’s near impossible – there are always aches and pains to varying degrees – but towards that end I plan to be much more proactive in preventing injury via cross-training, stretching, and responding more urgently to any tweaks. I probably could’ve cut a couple weeks from my hamstring recovery time had I actively sought treatment right away rather than waiting a month, hoping for it to heal.

Live and learn, which is another good reason for setting goals – it gives us a benchmark to measure our progress and allows for some instructive retrospective feedback for the next time we toe the line at the start of a new challenge in life.


#43 – 2007 Summary

1 January 2008

A year of good news and bad news, so I’ll get the bad stuff out of the way. 2007 ended not as I’d hoped thanks to my hamstring injury but at least it’s getting better with physical therapy. The downside was that I didn’t run a single mile during all of December, the first time I’ve missed a whole month since I started running four years ago today.

The good news is that I had a great year of running yet again. I ran 13 races including a post-high-school PR in the 5K and then lowered that mark with the help of my dog. It was all part of 1018.5 miles underfoot in 2007 so despite the injury, I was happy to crack 1000 miles even if it’s just a number. One of my goals for the year was to run 250 times but I only reached 207; however, I probably would’ve hit my target if I’d been smart enough to not overtrain into an injury. Live and learn.

Another positive is this very blog – since writing reason to run #1 back in April (which has been one of the most popular articles) there have been over 5200 visitors to Why Run?, much more than I would’ve thought my writing would attract. Thanks for reading!

Looking forward to 2008 my first priority is to get running again. Before the hamstring acted up I was hoping to try for a marathon PR in May and do some serious training for a sub-4:00 finish. Hopefully I can still go for that, but right now the prime race on my radar this year is my first crack at the 100K distance in August. Aside from that event I’m still working on sorting out my race schedule but I won’t be racing as many 5Ks this time around.


#26 – Badwater Big Dogs

5 August 2007

The Badwater Ultramarathon, one of the toughest foot races out there, was run last week under exceptionally low temperature of 112 degrees! Usually the competitors who race from Badwater (elevation 280 feet below sea level in Death Valley) to the Mount Whitney Portals (elevation 8360 feet on Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48) face temperatures in excess of 120 degrees in the desert summer. Anyone that can finish this race is a pretty amazing athlete, but I want to focus on two that caught my attention.

David Goggins finished 5th at Badwater in 2006 and this year he placed an impressive 3rd overall! In a feature article on the Badwater website David claims that “I am not a runner” but clearly this guy knows how to make progress on two feet, not to mention on two wheels and in the water – he finished 2nd in the Ultraman Triathlon! David Goggins is an absolute animal for endurance and pain. He works out twice a day, sometimes three times a day, rolling out of bed at 3:45am to get going. His day job? A US Navy SEAL! He competes in endurance events to raise money for children of special operations soldiers who have died in battle. A San Diego paper wrote an article about him and he also gave a speech to the San Diego Tri Club, both of which give further insight into David (unfortunately he doesn’t seem to have his own website). Can anything stop this guy? He started running six months before Badwater and started cycling just weeks before Ultraman. It’s almost unreal. My favorite tidbit about David can be found in the Badwater feature where he explains how he looked for events to run for charity: “I typed in a search for the ’10 hardest things in the world’ and Badwater came up.” No, David Goggins does not lack confidence!

Kira Matukaitis finished just 72nd out of 84 racers in her first Badwater race at more than double the finishing time of David Goggins. Nevertheless she did finish under the 60-hour cutoff and was the youngest woman in this year’s race. What caught my eye about her was the race roster, which listed her occupation as “CEO, Doggy Jog”. Given my love for dogs, I Google’d that name and found Doggy Jog, a dog walking and pet sitting service. How cool would that be? Get paid to go running with dogs – what a great idea! The Badwater feature story about her states that she gets in an extra 6-7 miles a day thanks to her job of running with dogs. There are some very happy (and tired!) dogs in her neck of the woods!


#18 – The Path is the Story

6 June 2007

Trail running blogger Scott Dunlap wrote a touching article about his recent 50K race. Due to witnessing a horrific event days before he was mentally and emotionally drained to the point that he barely finished. Usually this speedy guy is among the fastest finishers! During my 6-mile run today I was thinking about Scott’s story and how it reminded me of a run I struggled through in high school…

Early morning April 5, 1994 one of my best friends killed himself – it was the day after my 18th birthday. What caused Jamey’s death and how it affected my friends and I is a novel unto itself that I won’t get into here. Where this story relates to running is that Jamey is the reason I joined the track team. Monday, April 4 in the school hallway after track practice was the last time I saw and talked to my friend.

When we learned of his death on Tuesday morning, my mind felt numb yet on high alert at the same time. The track team had a meet that evening and I remember being surprised that it was canceled; I hadn’t planned on racing but I figured the rest of the team would still go. Funny how the mind works under stress.

Same goes for the body. Wednesday after school I went to track practice – my first one without Jamey running next to me. The coach was kind to us and asked only that we run 4 miles and go home. I decided to run this practice loop in Jamey’s honor – I was going to will myself to run the fastest 4 miles of my life; I believed that my memory of Jamey would transcend any physical limitations and send me flying across the sidewalks in storybook fashion.

It was the worst run of my life. I started out fast and soon was gasping for air, watching my teammates run ahead and out of sight. I tried to speed up but my legs wouldn’t respond. Then it began to snow. In April! Trudging up a slight hill I gave up and slowed to a walk, shivering and alone on a long strip of concrete. It was supposed to be the greatest run but there I was, staggering among the spring snowflakes. I can’t remember the rest of the run but somehow I made it back to school.

One of my favorite aspects of running is that it is a microcosm of real life. Life is unfathomably complex yet running is simple; lessons learned from various running experiences can be extrapolated into lessons to guide us in life. No matter how much we care, no matter how hard we try, we’re only human.

That awful run in high school did teach me a lesson – we can’t force a storybook ending. Some chapters end in tragedy; some end in glory. As long as we’re reading the book, we’re going to experience both. Trying to skip the terrible pages is delusional at best. All we can do is run, just run and follow the path. The path is the story and if we can stay on it, we’ll experience all of the great moments, good and bad.

I was impressed how Scott Dunlap sought and found some solace in running his ultramarathon. He simply ran and let the trail take him where he knew he needed to go. When Jamey died so many years ago, I thought that I could save my friend by going running. What I should’ve done was go running simply to save myself. Live and learn. And run.

Run I did – today was a beautiful, sunny 62 degrees and my feet floated across the sidewalks for six miles. For whatever reason, today was one of the chapters that ended happily ever after. It’s depressing to know that Jamey ran his last run years ago, yet it’s uplifting to remind myself that hey, I’m still alive, healthy, and enjoying a good run.


#1 – Conserve Your Heartbeats

1 April 2007

One of the interesting facts about land mammals is that their life expectancy is the same – if you measure it in terms of heartbeats. All land mammals will live for about 1 billion heartbeats. A shrew has a heart rate of 600 bpm (beats per minute) and a life expectancy of just three years. An elephant with their 30 bpm heart rate can expect to live over 60 years. The hearts of each animal will beat 1 billion times in their expected lifetime.

Humans, of course, are the exception – we can last for about 3 billion heartbeats. I’m not sure why – maybe medical technology, nutrition, who knows. Marine mammals don’t follow the pattern either, but let’s stick with ourselves and our 3 billion heartbeats. There are 525,600 minutes in a year, and the average human has a resting heart rate of 72 bpm, so divide that into 3 billion and you get a life expectancy of 79.3 years.

I was talking about this topic with a co-worker when he asked me “So how many days of your life did you burn up by running that ultramarathon?” Holy cow. My heart rate was probably around 150 bpm for the 12 hours it took me to run 50 miles, so in half a day I used up just over a day’s worth of heartbeats! More than that, I ran for 180 hours total in 2006 – that’s 7.5 days of extra heartbeats spent on running! Is it really worth it?

Before I started running three years ago, my resting heart rate happened to be the average 72 bpm. Let’s assume that I lived my first 28 years at that heart rate, which means I used up 1.06 billion of my life’s heartbeats in that span. Now let’s assume that I keep running (or cycling or otherwise keeping in good shape) for the rest of my life. My current resting heart rate is about 56 bpm, so if I keep that up for my remaining 1.94 billion heart beats, I would live another 69 years… to the age of 94!

By getting into (and staying in) good shape, I increased my life expectancy by 15 years! Each year I spend as a runner costs me one week of heartbeats, but the improved fitness adds 13 weeks to my life expectancy for a net of +12 weeks. Another way to look at it: Every month of regular running adds one week to my life! Diving deeper yet… assuming I run 3.5 times per week, that means that each run adds 12 hours to my life. How’s that for a good investment?

Yes, it’s worth it. Assuming, of course, that my clock will tick 3 billion times…