Category Archives: Sporting

Running 13 Miles for the Homeless

On Saturday, Jan. 25, I’m running a half-marathon.

That’s 13.1 miles.

It’s a little crazy. I’ve never run that far before (12 miles is my record). But this is where my running is taking me and I’m giving it a shot.

I’m a little lacking in motivation, so I decided to use Mark Horvath and his work with InvisiblePeople.tv to help the homeless as inspiration. I’m trying to raise $500 for InvisiblePeople.tv with this half-marathon.

So please, cheer me on by making a donation.

I’m feeling pretty good about it today as I write this, but come Saturday I’ll need all the inspiration I can get. I felt pretty bleh when I ran 12 miles a few weeks ago, and I don’t want to feel that way on Saturday. I’d rather think about Mark Horvath and how running those miles is helping him and the homeless people he serves.

I’d appreciate your support. And InvisiblePeople.tv does incredible work telling the stories of the homeless and being an advocate for a people who have no voice.

You can make a donation here.

Thank you.

Thoughts About Running

I’m not exactly athletic. Anybody who knew me growing up knows that I stayed far away from most anything athletic. I liked hockey, bike riding and rollerskating, though I never played anything more than pond hockey. I did actually play intramural broomball in college, but that’s the beginning and end of my team sports experience.

My high school history teacher, who also happened to coach the cross country team, once told my parents I’d make a good runner. Maybe I should have listened.

I ran a 5K on Saturday and with the Twin Cities Marathon yesterday, running has been on my mind.

Personal Best 5K
I hate it when people constantly brag about their running achievements, so I try to keep mine to a minimum. But I did manage a personal best in the 5K on Saturday with 28:13. Most of the summer I’ve been doing longer runs (5-7 miles) and I’m not well adjusted to the relatively short distance of a 5K. But I did pretty well on Saturday, running hard early, not dying in the middle, and pouring on a ridiculous sprint I didn’t know I had in me at the end. It’s not a particularly fast time for a 5K, but the low-9 minute miles is a lot faster than I normally run.

Marathon
The funny thing about running is how much work it takes to get better. This is probably obvious to most people, but my complete lack of athletic experience gives me nothing to base improvement on. I have no idea how hard athletes work. Now that I’m running, I have an idea.

The problem with running is that there’s such a chasm between milestone achievements. If you don’t run at all, a 5K sounds daunting. Who wants to get up on a Saturday and run three miles? A few years ago, that’s the camp I was in. But now a 5K is too short. All that effort for 28 minutes of running? I’d rather run twice that far.

Of course getting to twice that far has taken about six months. This spring I actually read a book on marathons and thought maybe someday I’ll run a marathon. I wasn’t incredibly serious about it, but I did think it was conceivable. I checked out upcoming marathons and mapped out the training schedule to see if I could do it. If I followed the training schedule this book laid out, I would have been ready to run the Twin Cities Marathon with a week to spare.

That’s hilarious. Simply building from three miles to seven miles has taken me six months. Getting to 26 miles feels like an impossibility. I realized how crazy I was being when I noticed a 13-minute per mile minimum pace for the Twin Cities Marathon. At the time I was averaging a 12-minute mile on my longer runs. But I frequently started at over 13 minutes, and sometimes even 14 minutes for that first mile.

These days I’m running in the high 10-minute range, so improvement does happen. But it comes slowly. (For comparison’s sake, the winning marathon runners yesterday were in the 5-minutes per mile range. That’s freaky. A friend of mine ran in the 8-minutes per mile range.)

In the end, I have an incredible appreciation for people who run. It’s seriously hard work and requires tremendous dedication of body and spirit. It’s one thing to keep your body going, but it’s another thing to keep your spirit motivated when your body hates you. The time commitment alone is staggering. Serious marathon trainers run at least three times a week and those longer runs take time (it takes me an hour to run six miles). Simply finding the time to run (and get cleaned up afterward) is intense.

Sometimes I hate running. It hurts and my body is tired and I don’t want to crawl out of bed. But some days I crave it. I itch to get out and move my body. I’ve learned that sometimes stopping is the worst thing you can do and even when you think you’re completely spent and can’t go any farther, you can.

Digging the Racing this Year

Cedar Lake SpeedwayI’ve been a NASCAR fan for a while, but for some reason this year I’ve been getting more into it. It started with watching the truck series race on dirt at Eldora. Trucks racing on dirt? Awesome.

Because of that race I looked up a local dirt track and took the kids to see some Saturday night dirt racing at Cedar Lake Speedway. We’re definitely going back.

I think what I’m enjoying about NASCAR this year is diversity. They raced on dirt for the first time in 40 years and it was incredible. It also seems like there have been more road courses than in the past. Between Cup, Nationwide and the trucks, there were six road courses on five different tracks this year. I love road courses and that’s just fun to watch. (Trucks on road courses? Yes! With a last corner wreck/pass, it was an incredible race.)

It was also fun at the start of the year to watch Danica Patrick make some waves by scoring the pole in the Daytona 500, becoming the first woman to lead a lap in the 500 and then getting a top 10 finish. Unfortunately, the rest of her season has been downhill and she’s usually running a lap or two down in the 20th-30th position. Makes me wish she’d spent another year in the Nationwide series learning how to race stock cars.

But aside from Danica, there’s not a lot of diversity happening in the Cup series. It’s mostly the same bunch of guys running up front and it’s pretty hard for new guys to break in. I get tired of rooting for anybody but Jimmie Johnson. And let’s not talk about the recent controversy of collusion to get drivers into the post-season Chase.

That’s why the truck series has been so exciting. They raced on dirt. They did a road course. They’ve got a bunch of young, up and coming guys like Darrell Wallace Jr., Chase Elliott (who won with that controversial last corner road course pass), Ryan Blaney and Jeb Burton. They’ve got some international flavor like Brazil’s Miguel Paludo and Mexico’s German Quiroga Jr. (with Juan Pablo Montoya going back to Indy, NASCAR needs some more international talent).

The Nationwide series could be that exciting. They’ve got young guys like Kyle Larson and Brian Scott, international flair with Brazil’s Nelson Piquet Jr., and their token female with Johanna Long (running a less than full season with less than stellar equipment and being ignored because Danica Patrick gets the woman racer spotlight). Unfortunately instead of watching all these up and comers duke it out for wins, you have to watch Cup series regulars run away with it. Kyle Busch has 10 Nationwide wins this year. Brad Keselowski, last year’s Cup champion, has five wins. Brian Scott was even on his way to winning his first race and was going to do it by leading every single lap, until Brad Keselowski passed him on a questionable restart with 11 laps to go and stole the win. Lame.

This is an age old complaint that goes back to my favorite driver Mark Martin racking up a record number of Nationwide victories (until being bypassed by another Cup regular, Kyle Busch). NASCAR has even tried to stem the flood of Cup regulars by not allowing them to compete for the Nationwide championship. But still. This year Nationwide regulars have only won four of 28 races so far. And that’s not abnormal. In 2011 it was six of 34. In 2010, 2009 and 2008 it was only one race in 34. Last year was actually a breakout year for Nationwide with 16 out of 33 wins coming from Nationwide regulars. The last time the series had those kind of numbers was 2003-2005 when Brian Vickers, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. were coming up and hadn’t graduated to Cup yet.

There’s lots of fun racing to watch this year, I just wish those Cup guys would stick to their own series and let some new stars grab the checkered flag.

Love Runs

Love RunsI love it when things come together. When different concepts merge into a brilliant idea and when overlapping people start working together toward the same goal. That’s good stuff.

That’s what is happening with Love Runs. It’s a remote 5K that’s happening on Saturday to raise money to build a classroom in Uganda. What’s a remote 5K? It means you can do it anywhere. You don’t have to be part of any official run.

I’ve been running lately. Some days it’s horrible and I hate it and (less frequently) it’s awesome and I love it. But every time I feel good. Even when my feet hurt or my knee is acting up or I’m just exhausted, it feels good. So I keep doing it.

Then Allison Vesterfelt comes along and wants to celebrate her 30th birthday by raising $30,000 to build a classroom in Uganda. That’s the kind of crazy thinking I like. Allison has been kind enough to support my recent book by letting me write for her blog and for Prodigal Magazine. I kind of owe her. I wanted to support her effort, but I wasn’t sure how. Then I saw she was doing Love Runs.

Things come together.

Now I can do my run and support a good cause. Plus I can help out a friend. Plus, the school in Uganda that Allison is helping is supported by Bob Goff, the author of Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World, a book that’s been on my reading list for a while. I saw Bob speak last fall and he’s the kind of ridiculous guy who puts his phone number in his book and urges people to call him. (He genuinely wants to talk to you. So of course his phone rang while he was speaking. Awesome.) It should come as no surprise that when Bob saw I was doing the run he thanked me on Twitter. When I responded and mentioned that I needed to read his book before Saturday, he offered to send me a copy. The guy’s got heart. So yesterday I picked up Love Does from the library (yes, I should probably buy it—it’s good stuff) and I’ll probably have it done before the run on Saturday. I get bored with nonfiction books, but this one is captivating. Bob loves people so much that he’s just crazy. I think that’s kind of the point.

Things come together.

So Saturday I’m doing this run for all the reasons I just said. Want to join me?

It’s a remote run, so you’re welcome to take part. Pony up some money to Allison’s cause and let’s do this. Strap on your shoes and go! You can walk if you want. 5K sounds like a lot, but it’s only 3.1 miles. Go 1.55 miles from your house, turn around and go home. Done. Take a picture and let’s celebrate with Allison.

If you don’t want to run (or walk) but still want to support Allison’s birthday project, you can make a donation here.

Things come together.

Born to Run

Last week I finished the book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Chris McDougall. It’s easily in the top five best books I’ve read this year. And that’s not just because I’ve been doing more running this year than any other year. It’s an incredibly interesting book that makes the most mundane things completely fascinating.

The writer starts off the book with a running injury and wants to know how he can run without getting hurt. His doctors tell him to stop running. It launches into an exploration of running shoes, which didn’t come into use until the late 1960s. The author ends up pursuing a lost tribe in Mexico called the Tarahumara who easily run up to a hundred miles a day in ridiculous canyons with little more than sandals for shoes.

Personally it’s engaging because I’m fighting the same battle. I’ve taken up running recently but I’m terrified I’m going to hurt myself. Something like one in three runners get injured every year. I was going to run a 5K this weekend, but I came back from a run on Thursday with my knees hurting. Pushing it didn’t seem wise. The idea of barefoot running that’s explored in Born to Run suddenly seems appealing.

The fact is that for all our fancy cushioned shoes, running injuries have only increased. Running shoes actually increase the power of your footfall, magnifying potential damage to your feet, ankles and knees. But people have run for millenia without such fancy shoes, so why not do it that way (or at least in minimal shoes—I’m too much of a wimp to go completely barefoot). This barefoot or minimalist trend has skyrocketed recently, to the point that Nike has released their own “barefoot” running shoe. Here’s a good summary from the author’s site.

I’m not sure where I’ll land. I know I need to ease into minimalist shoes if they’re going to work for me, and with my iffy knees right now I need to be especially careful. Exercise shouldn’t be this difficult.

And that’s the most compelling part of this book, that perhaps we’re doing something wrong. Virtually every disease that plagues Western nations can be blamed on poor diet and exercise. Many of our health problems could be solved if we simply went running. We need to re-learn how to run, both to get back into the practice but also to learn how to do it right so we can avoid the epidemic of running injuries.

Which brings me to what I thought was the most fascinating portion of the book. McDougall talked to some evolutionary biologists who theorize that the human body was made to run. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which holds that our design is for walking. But as they compared human and animal physiology, they found that we have more traits in common with runners than walkers. As they explored further they found that we’re especially designed to run—but not sprints like a jack rabbit or a cheetah, but long distances. More than any other animal, humans have a capacity to go fast over long distances.

At first this stumped the biologists. How could that be helpful? Long distance is no good if a tiger catches you in the first 10 seconds. Likewise dinner would manage to escape in the first 10 seconds as well.

Then they discovered an ancient art of hunting that involves literally running an animal to death. It’s very rare today with fenced in preserves and what not, but they managed to find a tribe in Africa that would hunt this way: Persistence hunting. They would run an animal down over 20 miles, tracking them, herding them to keep from losing the stragglers and eventually the animals would overheat and die. A deer might be able to outrun you, but if you keep after it, the deer has to slow down to rest and you don’t.

That’s incredible. I’m probably summarizing the story poorly, which is why you should go read the book, but that’s just fascinating. I’d like to see how it goes over with my hunting friends. What if instead of grabbing the rifle or bow, they headed out in shorts and a water bottle, ready to run that buck to death? Think you need a hunting license for that?

Here’s a good video that summarizes the book and includes persistence hunting:

Olympic Fever

We’ve been swept up in Olympic Fever around here, taking in as much Olympics as we can. And since it’s a vacation, I’m probably watching more Olympics than I have in a long time. It’s really fun getting into the drama and the stories of each athlete.

But I have to say it breaks my heart when the silver medalist breaks down in tears. I know it’s not gold, but you’re second place in the entire freaking world. Buck up.

That was the image we saw of Russia’s Victoria Komova after the women’s individual all around. She lost to Gabby Douglas (Could anyone have a more infectious smile? Yes, Missy Franklin.) and collapsed in tears, inconsolable. She could barely even stand to wear the silver medal.

I get the disappointment, but it’s also the Olympics. You’re awesome. In a world of 7 billion people, you’re number two.

That was the sentiment of the jovial Missy Franklin: “I don’t think fourth at the Olympics is a disappointing swim at all,” she said, talking about teammate Lochte’s finish (though she had a fourth place of her own).

Then there’s 15-year-old Katie Ledecky who destroyed the field in the 800 meter freestyle, winning by more than 4 seconds. Afterword when asked how she did it, she said something to the effect of, “I set high goals and reached for them, and this just blew everything out of the water.” She gives the impression that her “high goals” were far short of gold. But there she is, a shocked and glorious winner.

Then there’s the Chinese athlete who won silver and broke down crying on live national media coverage, apologizing for letting his country down (it was an NPR story, can’t find it online). That’s harsh.

There’s also the 3-time gold medal winning Chinese diver who after winning her medal learned that her grandmother had died–more than a year ago. And that her mom had been battling breast cancer for years. Her family didn’t want the death to distract her from the Olympics. That’s a little too intense.

The Olympics are an amazing opportunity and a chance to celebrate human achievement and skill. It shouldn’t be a time for sore losers. Personally, I’m sitting here on the couch amazed at how these athletes can contort their bodies, whether it’s the cyclists pouring on the speed for the last sprint, the runners with their feet flying a fluorescent Nike blur, the gymnasts spinning in the air (and with biceps bigger than my head) or the soccer players running for 45 minutes straight. It’s incredible and inspiring.

Makes me want to run and bike and swim. And yesterday I did. One lap of the pool left me gasping. Not like the women’s 100 meter sprinters who hardly looked winded. That’s just incredible.

Tony Stewart Kicking Ass

(I don’t blog about NASCAR often, so you’ll have to indulge me)

Last night the NASCAR season came to an end with the showdown of all showdowns. Going into the final race of the season, Carl Edwards held a three point advantage over Tony Stewart for the championship. Nobody else was in contention. And nothing else mattered—Carl and Tony would take the first two spots, they just had to fight over the order.

With all the different scenarios, Carl could spot Tony a few positions at the end of the race and still claim the championship, unless Tony won. If Tony won, there was nothing Carl could do. Even if Carl led the most laps (bonus points) and finished second, they’d still tie and the tie-breaker goes to the driver with most wins, which was Tony.

And that’s exactly what happend. Carl led the most laps and finished second, about 1.2 seconds behind winner—and now three-time champion—Tony Stewart.

  • It’s the first time NASCAR has determined a champion with a tie breaker.
  • It’s also the first time an owner-driver has won the championship since Alan Kulwicki in 1992.
  • It’s also the first time a driver has come from behind to win a championship by winning the race.
  • It’s also the first time a champion has won the final race since 1998 when Jeff Gordon did it.
  • It’s also the first time a driver has won five races in the season-ending Chase.
  • Tony also came from 9th place when the Chase started, the farthest back a champion has ever started (since the Chase format started in 2004).
  • It’s also the first time a driver has entered the Chase winless and went on to claim the championship.

And Tony did all that while passing 76 cars in Sunday’s race. Debris punched a hole in his car’s grill and the team fell back to 40th place while making repairs. They pitted again during another caution for more repairs and fell back again, only to climb back to the top, going three and four wide on multiple restarts to pick up positions.

“They’re going to feel like [expletive], after we kick their ass after this,” Tony said over the radio.

I’m not a big fan of Tony Stewart. I was rooting for Carl Edwards, who was robotically consistent over the Chase, with an average finish of 4.9 and finishing no worse than 11th in any of the 10 races. But winning is what matters and Carl’s consistency wasn’t enough. And I don’t think anything was enough for hard-charging Tony Stewart. I’m not a fan, but what he did to win this championship was incredible.

And in the end, I’ve been rooting for anyone but Jimmie Johnson for the last six years.

Sidebar 1: People complain all the time about NASCAR. Non-fans don’t get why it’s exciting. Those folks need to watch Tony Stewart pass 76 cars to win a race and a championship. Fans complain about everything, but you couldn’t ask for something better than a history-making finale like this one.

Sidebar 2: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won NASCAR’s Nationwide series championship on Saturday (it’s kind of like the minor leagues), running most of the season without sponsorship. He literally ran a blank, white race car throughout most of the year. There’s been a lot of economic fallout in NASCAR the past few years with major teams closing up shop or merging with other teams. This is just proof that it’s not getting better. And maybe proof for interested advertisers that there should be some deals available. Anybody want to sponsor a stock car?

St. Paul Classic: I Biked St. Paul

Yesterday thousands of bike riders stopped traffic across the Twin Cities as part of the annual Saint Paul Classic Bike Tour.

I was one of them.

I rode 30 miles around St. Paul, following Mississippi River Boulevard along the bluffs, down Shepherd Road to downtown and the waterfront, then back up the bluffs to Indian Mounds Park, then along parkways to Phalen Park and Como Park, then past the state fairgrounds, across University and the light rail construction and over 94 to get back to the start at St. Thomas. Yeah, it was as tiring as it sounds.

Earlier this year I started riding my bike more to get some needed exercise and even more needed stress relief. I decided early on that I wanted to do the Saint Paul Classic. I’ve always thought that’d be a cool event to take part in, but I was never active enough on my bike to seriously consider it. I should have. The short route is a very do-able 15 miles.

While I’ve probably only biked more than 15 miles once this year, I decided to go for the 30 mile route. I tend to overdo things like that, but I also wanted the bragging rights. Amazingly, I can still walk today.

While they did close off streets and intersections for the ride, I’d guess that 95% of the route was along streets with marked bike lanes or on streets next to paved bike paths. St. Paul is pretty bike friendly.

We also passed a lot of public art, which was fun for me.

Twin Cities Marathon: Buzunesh Deba

Yesterday runners overwhelmed the city with the Twin Cities Marathon. I’m not much of a running enthusiast, but sometimes it’s fun to check in on these local events. Especially when the winner of the women’s marathon is Ethiopian-born Buzunesh Deba. The 23-year-old finished in front of 3,393 other women with a time of 2:27:23*, eight minutes ahead of the closest challenger.

If I understand the prizes and incentives correctly, Deba won $1,500 for finishing first and likely some additional money for the Olympic qualifier, but she missed out on a $25,000 bonus for beating the course record. She would have needed a time of 2:26:50 to claim that bonus.

So, um, 33 seconds cost her $25,000. Ouch. I’m not sure I’d ever want to know that.

By the way, at the pace she was running, Deba was doing 5:38 miles. 26.2 of them. That’s insane. And perhaps why I’m not a running enthusiast.

Deba now has the third fastest women’s time in the history of the Twin Cities marathon and set a new personal best by more than four minutes.

Deba also won the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth earlier this year, also by nearly 4 minutes over her closest rival. She’s the first woman to win both the Duluth and Twin Cities marathons in the same year.

Not too shabby.

*Apparently marathons are timed with two different methods, chip time and gun time, and in this case those methods vary by 1 second. I’m going with chip time because that’s what came up by default when I loaded the results page.

Teaching the Kids to Watch Hockey

Goal!Tonight I watched the Detroit Red Wings with the kids. The Wings faced elimination against the San Jose Sharks, but they battled back and won 7-1 (the first time in 45 years the Wings have won when facing elimination in a 3-0 situation—or something, didn’t quite catch that crazy stat).

Anyway, the Wings scored five times in the first period (on only 9 shots!), so I had plenty of opportunity to teach Milo how to say, “Goal!”

I also got to show Lexi an octopus (a Red Wings playoff tradition).