Friday, May 30, 2008

Running in New Orleans and Katrina

As I sit in the New Orleans Airport waiting for my flight back to Boston, I thought I'd drop a few notes about running down here in the Crescent City.

I've never been to New Orleans before and know little about it past a big party spot on Bourbon Street for Mardi Gras, Super Bowls and Hurricane Katrina. I always like to go for runs when I am traveling for work, as I feel like I get to see the real part of a city instead of just an airport and a hotel. If I am not familiar with the city I'll post a message on to find out about good running routes. The recomendation for New Orleans was to get to St. Charles Street and run on the grass strips along the Trolley tracks.

This was a very cool running route. I was running through the Garden District part of the city and felt fortunate to find grass to run on right smack in the middle of the city. At first I wondered was it ok to run right down the trolley tracks (i.e. on the tracks) but then soon discovered that everyone runs there. You just keep your eyes out for trolleys and move to the other tracks if one is coming.

The French architecture in the Garden District was beautiful, lots of historic buildings and houses to see. I wondered how bad the heat would be and learned the hard way that 87 degrees and 60 percent humidity was not the best conditions to do a long run in, but I managed, my body longing for the nice cool temps back in NH. When I went to run in the mornings at 6AM, it was "only 75" but still incredibly humid. I realize I could never live down here, I would wilt from this humidity.

The rest of my time in New Orleans was enjoyable, I got to sample all of the local foods, giving me plenty of reasons to get out and run to burn off the calories. The people I have met here have all been super friendly, lots of Southern hospitality.

OK, on to the memories that will stick in my brain forever-- As I was running along, I saw signs along the streettes that said "Evacuation Route" which made me think of Katrina and all of the damage it did down here. Things looked pretty good where I was and I was glad to see how much the city had rebuilt.

The next day, at the end of the conference I was at for work, I got to go for a ride with some colleagues down to the 9th Ward to see the real damage from Katrina. It's images I will never forget. Entire neighborhoods are gone, nothing but foundations left in many of them, old street lights ripped off their posts, utility lines sticking out of the sidewalk. Some have bravely rebuilt, leaving kind of a surreal image of new housing in the middle of a block of overgrown foundations. You still see houses that are nothing but piles of rubble, with condemned signs on them waiting to be torn down. A lot of the houses and buildings still have the spray painted codes on them from when the search crews went through the neighborhoods- you see the "TFW', meaning te building contained Toxic Flood Water, signs indicating how many dead animals and people inside the houses and what room the bodies are in.

It really struck me how damage the whole area still looks, especially when you consider that it was almost 3 years ago that the hurricane occurred.

We also drove along the levees and when you see them, you are left with thoughts that they still look woefully low and inadequate to hold back a hurricane. Katrina recovery is still all over the news down here- new engineering reviews of rebuilt levees and concerns that they are no better than they were before and that all of it could happen again with one bad storm. Watching the weather on TV, you see hurricane coverage like you see snow storm coverage near us, you get the feeling people will always be lookng over their shoulder waiting for the next big storm. This isn't news that makes its way on the National scene anymore but you can tell its very much on people's minds here.

As I leave New Orleans, I can only hope that people who lost everything will continue to persevere and rebuild. Parts of the city are incredibly beautiful but you also get the impression that large chunks of the worst hit areas will never completely recover, both from their losses and from the feeling that when they needed their government's help the most, they felt abandoned- and many still do. Those destroyed neighborhoods are an image that will never leave me memory.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

1/2 to 2/3rds tactic

This past Saturday was my first race since a 5k this past thanksgiving. It was a 1500meter race hosted at the High Performance meet in Boston. I was a bit nervous before hand so i executed what i call the 1/2 to 2/3rds racing tactic. Succinctly speaking, you cruise through the first half or a little more of the race and then you turn it from a workout to a race. So heres how it went

This is a great strategy for anyone early on in the season. It removes some of the pressure from the race and lets you focus on your surging not your stamina or race day shape.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Challenge Met

One day back in March, as my wife and I were perusing the race schedule for the upcoming year, she gently goaded me about doing a long run. “You seem to be better at endurance races” was here comment, a gently way of saying “your too slow to do short races.” Well for anyone who knows me once a challenge like that has been laid at me feet action must be taken! Soon after I began my search a long race, luckily (and I use that term loosely), I found one near by it was the aptly named Pineland Farms Trail Challenge. Double luckily they were beginning a new division this year, a 50-mile trail race in addition to their 50 and 25K races. Damn, why run only 50K (31 miles) when for only $15 more you can run an extra 19 miles. That was all I needed to hear, I was in.

Doing mostly triathlons this year left little training time for a long trail race, the time to do a long training run plus having to taking the next day off just didn’t fit into my schedule. So my only major training run for the 50-miler was to do the Boston Marathon dressed as Elvis (a blog for another day). Upon picking up my registration I heard a lot of stories of epic trail runs done in preparation for the race and believe you me it left me feeling a little queasy about being ill prepared for the race. In addition I had no idea what to expect after mile 26, is there a second wall you hit? Does everything just stop working? Would I become delusional and think Bush was really our president….

The race was extremely well organized, not Kirsch organized, but close. The 50-mile race started at 6:00 under a clear sky but with the omen of some heat coming later in the day. Omen is say because a good portion of the race was run across fields, exposed to the sun, which would be fine for the first hour but I wasn’t too sure about hour number 7.

I had asked many people about strategies they employ for a race of this length and got several answers, start out slow and build (hogwash to this strategy I say, there is no “building” after mile 30). Some suggested a warm-up the first few miles then just go with how you feel (this is the one I chose). Then there was the start out strong while you feel good and then hang on (this is the one I wish I picked) and lastly your doomed just run till you drop.

They rang a cowbell to signal the start and we were off. First there was a short 3+ mile loop followed by 3, 25K loops. I started out slow, 28:27 for first 3 miles, in retrospect too slow because no matter how slow I would have started (except for never getting out of the car in the first place) I would be suffering the last 10 miles. Therefore I should have made time while I could. I chatted it up with some dudes, all who had done this before. Even met the husband of the woman who runs Innov8 (he said to say hi to Kevin “Hi” and I thanked him for sponsoring our series). After the 3-mile loop I felt like I was wasting time and opened it up a little, it felt good to get moving. This also moved me away from a crowd of shufflers and into some faster company.

Speaking of strategies one that a lot of people were employing was “walking the hills,” now this being a cross-country ski trails there were constantly hills! In fact it is considered a hard 50-miler (like there is an easy one?) because of those hills. I tried it for awhile until one of the other runners said that’s there weren’t many people out here in the kind of shape to run through all the hills and it was a good idea if I walked them. Well now that sounds to me like another challenge to me (if you remember that’s how I got in this mess in the first place). So I proceeded not to walk any more hills, I believe this helped a lot in my final placing.

The first 15 mi loop went relatively easy, 2:12 or 9:15 miles. I had some company on and off but, even though they were running 4 races on the course this day, after this first loop I ran the race mostly by myself. I also quickly came to hate (I know hate is a strong word but I am justified in using it here) the fields part of the course. They were mostly hay fields and we ran around there perimeters, up one side down the other. They were a bit mushy, had plenty of ditches, were all slanted, were fully exposed to the sun and had the occasional snake underfoot. Other than that they were, you know, OK.

The second loop was a bit more difficult 15 miles in 2:30 or 10:00 miles ; this one went from mile 19 to mile 34+. Before this race I thought this would be the hardest part of the race, far enough into it that you began to feel tired but still a long way to go (I was wrong about that). Due to the hills it was impossible to put it into cruise control but I was feeling OK. Eating at the aid stations, my favorite was the boiled potatoes dipped in salt and the Pringles, and drinking my Sustained Energy HEED at the drop bag area and generally just running.

The last 10 miles of the 3rd loop was the worst, I completed this15 mile section in 2:40 or 10:40 miles. I was told I was in the top 10 so walking or even slowing down now was not an option, but I sure felt like it. The thirties went by pretty fast and without anything remarkable (except for those fields!) but by the time I got to mile 40 the sufferfest was on. The heat had started to take its toll and I was becoming dehydrated, even though I was drinking at every aid station. I just can’t drink more than about 24 ounces an hour and run without my stomach shutting down. I was still eating, and taking some Rolaids now and then (which really helped) as well as Endurolyte tablets.

In the 50-mile crowd their benchmark times are: under 10 hours, which is considered a solid effort, under 9, better effort and under 8 (I wasn't even considering that!) Once I saw the hills and heard the weather report I thought I would never get under 9 so I was planning on doing it about 10 hours. But along the way things went well and now, with 10 miles to go, I only need to do a little more than 10-minute miles to get in less than 8 hours. Problem was that right now 10-minute miles seemed near impossible. That’s when I switched to drinking coke and mountain dew at the aid stations. On long bike rides I would often switch near the end to soda, but with an hour and a half to go till the end I wasn’t sure I could make it just on soda (and Pringles) but it really did the trick. I instantly felt better and my pace become easier, although not all that much faster.

At the second to last aid station, with 3 miles to go, the volunteer said if I hustled I could make it under 8 hours. I found that a little funny, like the last thing I could do after 47 miles was do a dance from the 70’s, but I thanked him for his encouragement and tried to hustle. I skipped the last aid station and did my best impersonation of someone sprinting to the finish and got in at 07:56:13 !!!! I have to admit I was quite stunned with my time. It was good enough for 8th overall and second in my age group, my age group winner came in 4 minutes ahead of me (ah, if I didn’t go so slow at the start), my fastest mile was a 8:14 the slowest 12:03, ugh.

The post race BBQ was great and they had free beer! For finishing I got a gold cowbell, a commemorative glass, a pair of Innov8 socks and in the near future some new toenails!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Online Coaching

Hello my fellow milers. From the avid health walker to the aspiring marathoner, we all pick our feet up in succession for our own reasons. For myself, and my better half Jen Campbell, running is as much a part of us as any other optional (arguably) part of our lives. From different theories on training, to the importance of form in the longevity of a runner career or even the transcendence of a well placed trail run during a busy daily schedule we love to talk about it.

With that being said, there is one saying that comes to mind "THERE ARE MANY DIFFERENT WAYS TO SKIN A CAT" and while that platitude seems a little out of place after the first paragraph it does have a point when you refer to the title of the Blog.

So, Jen Campbell and I are offering our services in the capacity of online coaching. We have open minds and want to work with people of all abilities. There is no such thing as too modest of a goal. From walking to running, please contact us, and we will do our best to cater a personalized week by week (and day by day) running plan.

We have both gone through the USATF level 1 course and competed at the collegiate level. We compete under New Balance Boston and can be reached at and

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Miler Clothing is Here!

New Miler clothing will be available at our fun runs, starting in June. We have blue wicking shirts in both mens and womens sizes, some mens sleeveless Ts in L & XL along with some white wicking shirts in kids sizes. Prices will be $20 for adults, $10 for kids shirts.

We will also be putting in an order for racing singlets sometime soon so let us know if you are interested.