Thursday, December 25, 2014

1000 Days of Consecutive Running

One million four hundred forty thousand minutes;
One point four million moments ablaze.
One million four hundred forty thousand minutes;
How do you measure, one thousand days?

In miles? In shoes? In races? In laps ‘round the track?
In DNF’s? Aid stations? Belt Buckles? Muscle malaise?
In one million four hundred forty thousand minutes-
How do you measure, one thousand days?

The Goal: Run at least 1 mile every day forever
The Result (so far): 1000 days, 9863 miles, and four pairs of shoes

It’s hard to say if I could ever imagine the reality of the ultra runner I have become. I started this thousand-day adventure on 31 March 2012. But it really started long before that.  I’ve always enjoyed running and have been fairly good at it. Some of you may use different adjectives to describe how good I was (or am), but I never thought I was some super human like the Flash. I remember back in fifth grade when our teacher, Mr. Richwood, would take us outside and tell us to run to the end of the field, around the backstop, and back to the classroom. He’d give us a decent enough head start and then come charging after us. One time, he must have miscalculated or something because I nearly beat him. Whatever the reason, it made me feel pretty good about my ability. In junior high for P.E., we ran a mile every single Friday. Needless to say, I loved Fridays. By the end of seventh grade I was able to get my time to just under seven minutes. And by the end of eighth grade, just under six. I was a decent runner for high school cross country, running frosh/soph my freshman year and varsity the next three. But neither I nor our team ever made it to state. Even though I could run a 17:30 5k, I wasn’t even close to making it to state. Maybe it’s because this was California and there was a little more competition than in other states. In any case, I quickly found out that there were tons of people faster than I was and way more willing to push themselves to the limits to be better. I never liked pushing my limits. I wasn’t good at blocking out the pain and going faster. I couldn’t ignore what my body was telling me. I just wasn’t cut out for this kind of beating. I just liked running for enjoyment and pleasure. When I got to college, I didn’t even bother trying out for the cross country or track teams. I ran a 5k turkey trot my freshman year, but other than that, every run I did was just at whatever pace I felt like and for however long felt right. The internet was still new at the time (and I don’t think Garmin’s or their ancestors existed yet) and so I didn’t have much of a clue as to how far I was running. I didn’t even have a car to measure the distances and I never logged any of my times either. I just ran when I felt like it and tried to get others to go with me, to which they’d say, “I can’t run that fast/far. You’ll kill me.” And I still today reply with, “I’m asking to run with you. I’m not gonna leave you behind. I’ll run, jog, walk, or whatever with you for as long as you want.” And I think I’m pretty good at doing this without making them feel like they’re holding me back. If I want more, I’ll go run an hour warm up before we meet up or run a really long cool down.

I teach high school science. I somehow got involved with the school’s cross country team after a few years of teaching. Twice a week I would run with the team and do whatever they did. It was fun and brought back a lot of memories. For two years I did this, and then I was asked if I wanted to be the coach for the team. After much consideration, because it’s something I had thought about doing for a long time and would totally enjoy, I turned down the offer. The next year I went to a new school and they had no sports program. Someday, though, I would love to be the cross country coach that runs with the team and ends up exposing countless kids to the exquisite bliss that is ultra running.

Last year for one of my best friend’s (Brian Neesham) birthday, I wrote him a note thanking him for introducing me to the runner that I had become.
It started with you telling me about birthday runs when I was 28. I thought that'd be really cool, even though I'd never run anything longer than 9 miles or so. I mapped out a 28-mile course and that next weekend I went out to do my birthday run. The first 16 miles went by with no problems at all. Then I hit a wall and walked most of the next 10 miles and jogged a tiny bit. After stopping at a friend's house, I was able to finish at survival pace. Those 10 miles sucked so much. But instead of crossing something off a bucket list, I vowed to not let that happen again. So, when the fun Houston summer was over, I started running a lot more and added in much longer distances on the weekends so I could learn how to handle those situations. By the time my 29th birthday came around, I knew I was ready. I completed those 29 miles at just under 9 minute pace. And then for the next year, you convinced me that since I already knew I could do 30, "Why don't you try 50?" So of course I think this is a great idea. I missed it by 4 miles (I had to call it quits as I realized I was walking and staggering around like a drunkard) but still kept a 10:16 pace. RAGNAR informed us (we did the Texas RAGNAR and the next year it was cancelled for good) that we could have a free team if we got at least 3 members together from our original team. I chose the Wasatch Back (Utah) and got an ultra team (6 runners instead of 12) together to relay-run 197 miles (of which I ran 76 miles). I had ran an actual half marathon the year before and was going to do it this year as well, but I saw the price had risen a lot and didn't feel like paying that much. I looked at other races like the Houston Marathon. But it was already sold out (6 months before the race). So I looked around for something interesting when I stumbled upon this race called Rocky Raccoon. It was a 50/100 miler. Wow! I never knew races of such distances even existed. Since I knew I could basically finish 50 (birthday run) and since I finished 76 (RAGNAR) within 24 hours, I decided that I just had to try the 100-miler. I had no idea how to train for it other than I needed to run a lot. My weekly mileage ranged from 30 to 70 miles a week with long runs ranging from 24-35 miles. I felt confident that I would succeed with this race. And with freezing temps (it was 23 when the gun went off) and frost covering the course, I finished in 19 and a half hours. My new passion was found. And I owe it all to you for getting me started in the right direction. Thank you so much. And have a great birthday.

And thus my life as an ultra runner was underway. I was in love and totally addicted. And like all addictions, they start off small and continue to snowball. In 2009 I started keeping a running journal, but I only wrote down runs that were at least 7 miles. By 2010 I started making some goals. Between January and December, I wanted to run 1500 miles. I still didn’t have much regularity in my running schedule. I went out whenever I felt like it. My goal was completed in September, but that didn’t stop me. By the end of the year, having completed over 2100 miles, I needed a slightly tougher goal. So I doubled the goal of the previous year’s mileage. 3000 miles in 2011. This was the year when I started ultra racing, running both Rocky Raccoon 100 and Cactus Rose 100. By the end of the year, with one week to go, I noticed that I needed almost 100 miles to obtain my goal. Thankfully I’m a teacher, and time was not an issue. I ran between 12-20 miles every day, a total of 101 miles for the week, and completed the year with 3002 miles. At this time, I noticed that I was taking a lot of days off. My records are kept on Excel, and I figured out how to quickly count how many days off I’d taken over the last two years. In 2010 I ran 180 days (185 off). In 2011, 255 days ran versus 110 off. Sure, my average daily miles looked great (just under 12 if you didn’t count the days off), but 110 days is over three months. I couldn’t believe that I took three months off (though not consecutive) from running. My goal for 2012 was to minimize the number of days off. I didn’t know what I’d be able to handle, but surely I could do better than I had been. January passed without a day missed. The first week of February brought Rocky Raccoon 100 again. I took a couple days off after that race, but got back to running right after that. I missed a few more days that month and some more in March. I don’t know what came over me at the end of March 2012. Maybe it was Drew Myers posting that he had been running at least a mile every day for a year. Maybe I realized that I really wanted to accomplish my goal; that I wasn’t really needing all this rest and I just needed to stop being lazy. But on 31 March 2012, I vowed that I was never going to take another day off for the rest of my life.

Running every day wasn’t usually too difficult. I just had to go out and do it. And then the next day I could worry about what I was going to do then; I just had to take it one day at a time. Finding time wasn’t hard when I made it my priority. I remember learning lessons about time management growing up. You get a jar (that represents your day) and you gotta fill it with as many rocks as you can. The bigger the rock, the more important that task is. Well, my running rock is one of the first rocks into my jar every day. Getting out in the morning on weekends was hard as my brain always tried to convince me to stay in bed. Sometimes things came up and I wouldn’t be able to get out until after the kids went to bed. I’m a volunteer firefighter for my city, and I typically work one or two 12-hour shifts on weekends. Those days I had to wake up early or face a consequence that I never wanted to experience. A few times I just really didn’t want to go out. But no matter how much or little I wanted to go run on a particular day, as soon as I got out there, I was happy and couldn’t remember why I even considered not running. Back in the saddle again. After finishing some of my kinda long races, I’d be in old grandpa mode the next day. And even though these races would start on Saturday morning and I wouldn’t finish sometimes until early Sunday morning, I never counted those after-midnight hours as a Sunday run. We’d get home and I would take Amy (and sometimes the kids too) and we’d go “run” as fast as I could, which was really just a shuffle or a walk. I felt that it helped the healing process along if I got out and moved despite the muscle soreness. After a day or two more, I’d be back to normal pace for short distances and after another few days, normal distances were no problem either. By Friday or Saturday I could go out and run a half marathon no problem.

Earlier this year, Amy and I separately met Rob Goyen and his posse at some of my races. He informed us of his series of races (Brazos Bend Trail Races) and I quickly added to my race schedule. What used to be just two yearly races was upped to three and then in 2014 up to eight ultra races. Amy teases me about how I promised I’d only run those two races each year. But I’m pretty sure she’s okay with it (since she’s in charge of the kids while I have a day-long time-of-my-life). And I’m fairly certain that my race schedule is only going to be added to. But all of this came about because of Rob and his idea of forming a team that would support some local runners in realizing their running dreams. There are currently seven of us on Team TROT. We’re getting to know each other and helping support each other at races. Rob and his sales background found us sponsors with Altra, Hammer Nutrition, Epic Bars, and Trail Toes. I had little to no knowledge of these brands a few months ago, but have really come to love them as I was exposed to their products. I could only imagine that one day I would turn out to be an athlete that had sponsors for running. I still think it’s crazy and dream-like that I would be chosen to be part of this team. Who knows what lies ahead in my running future? I don’t really know, but it’s going to be quite the adventure as it comes to pass. Now on to 2,000 days.

Thanks so much to all that have supported, inspired, and run with me along the way: Amy Zmolek, Brian Neesham, Drew Myers, Rob Goyen, Lorenzo Sanchez, Thomas Orf, Team TROT and the HATR’s, Juan Medrano, Josh Udy, and many others (especially the countless volunteers at all the aid stations along the race courses).

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