Posts Tagged ‘scott dunlap’


#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.


#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.