Inspiration Run – TBT Owls Head Personal 5K 2013

20130903_061405As I have mentioned before, I like to race the sunrise to get to a beautiful location and start running just as the sun heralds in a new day.  This day the sun gave me a couple hours head start by sleeping in and pulling a heavy blanket of fog up over it’s head. There would be no sun at Owls Head State Park in Maine this day.

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In 2013, my manager was overseeing 2 locations for our company, one of which was in beautiful Rockland, ME.  Whenever she would need a hand when this smaller location was understaffed, I was quick to volunteer.  The Maine coast is always inspiring and I had found a perfect little park to stretch my legs and start my morning right.

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Getting to Owls Head State Park is very easy.  Owls Head is just a couple miles south of Rockland’s city center.  I usually get to the parking lot and walk up to the stalwart little lighthouse to watch the sun rise and the fishing boats head out of the harbor, but that kind of view was not to be had that day.  Instead, a cool cloud hung about the remnants of a late summer scorcher the day before, making for a more comfortable, if damper run.

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I like to start my run right at the base of the lighthouse stairs. The first half mile takes us out of the park and along beautiful fields overlooking the sea. You’ll notice I went off road and ran along the rocky beach from Lobster Lane to Wharf Street.  I love the smell of the ocean that lingers and percolates along the harbor, though it might be to pungent for some. Another mile along the harbor and the bay and then a run back
to the park on rolling country roads.

I love 20130903_070758to finish my run by jumping into the ocean at the beach just behind the light house.  Two warnings, firstly bring water footwear, the rocky beach can be very sharp.  Secondly, the water in the morning there is always chilling. I feel it’s great therapy for my legs after a run however not everybody will enjoy the shock to the system as much as I do.

wpid-screenshot_2015-09-24-09-47-47.pngI have turned this into a 5 mile run by running out and back on Dodge Point Lane and Garthgannon Road.  Usually an exhausted runner’s wave will calm the locals enough for them to lower their rifles.  They may have even smiled as I ran back past.

When I am in Rockland, I usually end up at Home Kitchen Cafe. Griddled polenta is amazing with over easy eggs and bacon and I’m usually there early enough to get one of their limited number of sticky buns.  This, however, was a Tuesday and on Tuesdays Home Kitchen Cafe is closed.  Instead I was treated royally at one of Rockland’s classic breakfast joints, The Brass Compass.  The Sailor’s Breakfast would have been more appropriate if I ran a half marathon, but this explains why I run but don’t lose weight.  A fantastic way to start my day.

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Marathons Are For Wussies?

Doing some research on people who run multiple marathons over various time frames, I came across a subset of articles and commentary which called the ability to do marathons into question.  The arguments were very well laid out and the statistics were overwhelming.  My own experience makes me feel that the argument has some validity. I’ve been roughly 100 lbs overweight for years with questionable willpower and still I’ve been able to complete 3 marathons this year so far.  I tell people all the time that they could run a marathon – I really believe that if I could do it, anybody could do it.  Most of these articles work along the theme that anybody can run a marathon, but it takes real commitment and athleticism to win marathons.

Out of 729 marathons held in 2014, there were 590,399 finishers. Over half a million people completed marathons last year. Median times for the most popular marathons fall under 4 hours.  Unfortunately for those who enjoy the feeling of running a marathon, there is a tapering of elation like with any addiction.  Just finishing the marathon becomes passe.  One needs to improve upon the initial experience – striving for a better PR (Personal Record), reaching towards a BQ (Boston Qualifying time), doubling up events or pyramiding events like Disney’s Dopey Challenge (5k,10k, Half Marathon, Full Marathon, over 4 days), running a marathon in each state, running ultra-marathons.  These new and different experiences can help us overpower the brains natural tendency to try and shut us down as we push our bodies to do more. When you hear about these runners upping the ante, it can make it seem like the marathon is a paltry distance.

With so many people entering the ranks of first time marathoner each year it becomes easy to dismiss the marathon as a dated benchmark.  However dated it may be, it is still THE benchmark. This is not a race that someone who is physically fit can easily say “I think I’ll go run a marathon today.”  There is a commitment and forging that must occur both mentally and physically.  “The Wall” is real and although it starts in the brain, it can wreck the body without proper preparation.

Many of the aforementioned articles make it sound like first time marathoners don’t deserve much respect because, in this day and age, everybody s doing it. While a half a million is impressive, it is still a far cry as a percentage of total population.  No matter what time they are crossing the finish line, they are still lapping those sitting on the couch.  When someone says they are raising funds for a cause by running a marathon, you can still be impressed and donate to the cause.  At the end of the day, a marathon is still 26.2 miles – a distance to be reckoned with.

Planning a Sunrise Fun Run

Plan a Sunrise Fun Run

Belfast Walking Bridge, Belfast, Maine

I am not a morning person by nature.  I love the luxury of  lounging in the bed sheets and sipping hot, sweet coffee while listening to new tunes. However, I find I am strongest as a runner in the morning.  Most races are in the early morning, in fact one of my favorite races,  KVYMCA’s Rise ‘N Shine 5K Road Race is coming up at the end of this month.  It starts officially at sunrise.  The race is always on a Friday, so most folks go to work right afterwards. It is a terrific local run and most of the runners in the area look forward to it with great anticipation. I never have a problem getting up early for a race.

I usually have a problem getting up early for training. I set my alarm for 6am but don’t hit the road until 7am or sometimes 8am. Most of the time, I have been training for races that are 3-4 months down the road.  That’s a whole lot of early morning boring miles.  I do mix up my runs – hills, tempo, road, trail. At some point though, things get a little monotonous. Enter my Sunrise Fun Run.  I try and plan these every two to three weeks.  I enjoy finding a new place to run and the planning involved to fit it into my day. I think that the short term anticipation gives me a little pep in my step and helps me build towards my longer term goal.

Here are the four steps I use to plan my Sunrise Fun Runs

1. Choose Somewhere Dramatic

We all like to be inspired.  A local running hero, an underdog story, an internet workout meme can all be a spur when we are just moseying along. This sort of run should have a spectacular element.  Living where I do in Maine, I have a wide array of scenic paths to choose from – crashing coastlines to rocky outcrops.  Ask your friends where there’s a beautiful lakeside path or rolling river route.  Even architecturally interesting small towns with their massive mills and glorious churches reaching for the sky can make you feel like a luxury sedan driving around the streets in the early morning.

2. Map It Out

Because I usually choose a new area, I want to make sure I know where I’m running. On race day you have volunteers to point you in the right direction. I like to use Google Maps and Street View to plan out my miles and see what major crossroads look like so I don’t mistakenly run an extra couple of miles. I also like to look for alternate paths so that depending on how good I’m running, I can choose to add an extra scenic route or take a short cut if injured or strained.

3. Be Ready to Run Before Bed

Just like a Race Day, I like to line up all my gear and equipment. Especially for these Fun Runs, I’m waking up an hour and a half to two hours before sunrise, I can’t trust my brain to remember every detail, so I lay out all my gear and write myself a checklist. Water and breakfast I can have on the drive, but it should all be set up and ready to go.

4. Race the Sunrise

With all the preparation, you might think about getting to your destination early. I like to cut it a little close.  I plan to get to my destination right before the sun comes up.  It keeps me focused on the drive and starts the adrenaline pumping even before I start my run.  The early morning sun is great for picture taking and I enjoy some light stretching while I watch the glory of a breathtaking sunrise.

I hope you plan a running adventure soon.  It doesn’t need to be a big vacation.  These little runs can be right in you backyard and just the right size to energize your training schedule.  Where do you like to go for your local adventure run?  Let me knw in the comments section below.

Staying With Strangers

“Don’t talk to strangers!”, “Stranger Danger!”, and “Beware of strangers bearing gifts”are all sensible admonitions, but I have never been known as the sensible one. One of the biggest questions people have asked me about my upcoming trip is “Where are you going to stay?” No matter how good hotel websites and apps make their prices, I could never afford 365 days of hotels.  Mostly, I will stay with friends I know.  After I posted my first road trip itinerary, I had about 20 friends reach out and offer guest rooms, floor space or back yard tents.  I’m sure I’ll have a few more friends accommodate when I ask them directly.  However, I don’t have friends in every state.  Even staying with friends of friends, I will probably stay with strangers about a quarter of the time. I don’t mind taking candy from strangers so if someone is offering a pillow and a roof over my head, they are practically family.

Four months from today, I will have run the first of my 50 marathons in 2016.  That week, as planned, I will be spending in comfort with my sister, her husband, and my two adorable nieces.  I will have my own room and a pool and the luxury of people who love me and want to care for me  After that I thrust myself into the unknown. Three of the next states (Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas) are completely unknown to me. After reaching out to friends, it will be a pot luck of accommodations.  I certainly won’t be expecting strangers to tend my blisters and rattled bones.

I have used some websites before like Couchsurfing.com and globalfreeloaders.com with mixed success.  I have been told that recently, getting people to respond on those sites has been difficult.  I will save my experiences with them for a future post.  I do know that it is difficult to ask people you don’t know to trust you and invite you into your world. It’s difficult to do for people you know! I had to overcome nerves and ego recently for a race practically in my own back yard.

Five months ago, a friend of a new acquaintance offered us a place to stay when we came to town for a half marathon we would be pacing. My pacing friend soon had physical restrictions that required her to cut back her race schedule, and I promptly forgot about contacting her friend to see if I could still stay at the house.  In the back of my head, I was thinking “I don’t need to worry about accommodations – I’ve already got that covered.” Time flies and four months later I’m getting emails from my pace director that it’s time to officially register for a race which is at the beach, during the height of beach season. The chances of getting a good price on a motel are slim to none.  I need to reach out to complete strangers, at the last minute and hope for a roof over my head.

Finally, asking wasn’t so bad.  The worst that could have happened is they could have said no and I would have had to stay (gasp) an hour away.  Instead, since I took the leap, I stayed with an amazing couple who have made racing their passion.  The amount of medals and race bibs and mementos and photographs of running friends and family was empowering.  I had a clean bed, a hot shower, great bedside reading material, and even a hot cup of coffee in the morning. I gained so much more than my worry and fear would have let me.

Please note that as I write this, I realize I am a 6’3″, 275lb man who is, perhaps, a little overconfident in the charm department and thinks he can handle himself physically.  This column is not not meant as advice but merely perspective.  If anything, maybe I am naive to think that people are inherently  good.  Some might also be inherently selfish and stupid, but essentially still good.  Someone offers me their home to lay my head, I am not thinking that I will be robbed or held at gun point – let’s face it, it’s clear that I don’t come from money.  I doubt that I will be trussed up and sold to an overseas sex trade operation.  If someone stole my car while I was sleeping, they probably won’t get far and would make more money if they stole the just the tires. I just choose to believe that there are many good people out there who are looking to share their lives in a tangible and present moment.  If you take a look at my schedule and see that you know someone who lives in one of the cities on my route (like Mobile, AL or Grand Island,MI), give me a shout. It’s getting time to make some new strangers into family.