Throwback Thursday Race Report – RR #3, St. Vincent’s Spring Sprint 5K

(I’m a member of the Running Fools board over on The Motley Fool, and when I started running again they were the ones I went to to talk about it.  I’ve made it a point to do race reports after my events … and I’m going to be posting those throwback reports here to get us up-to-date.  This was my third 5K, in Harrison, NY.  This report was written in May, 2013.)

As of my last RR, my next scheduled race was the 10K in June. However, I got to reading old posts on the board and came across the discussion of prime13’s streak of running in an event every month for 10 years. Now, I’ve got no crazy illusions that I’ll ever have a streak like that – but if I didn’t run something in May then I’d have removed the option, which was bad. So I looked, and this 5k was about 15 minutes from the house. Done and done.

Pardon the negativity here. It rained this morning, so that sucked. The course was more difficult than I expected – an out-and-back with a loop at the end, and it sure seemed like we spent more time going uphill than downhill for an out-and-back. So that sucked. My training runs had been going very well – almost smooth – but, alas, ‘twas not to be today. My legs felt dead all morning. So that sucked. And the visual clock wasn’t working at the finish line, so I had no idea how I did until I got home and was able to look online. So that sucked. In general, this one sucked more than the others.

BUT … I PR’d by right at 40 seconds, so THAT’S good. I’m happy with progress, that’s for sure. I’m scheduled for my long run tomorrow on the ramp up to the 10K, and I imagine I’ll be doing it pretty slow based on the way I feel right now. And it was cool to get my mileage in on a rainy Saturday in a race, not just slogging through a soggy solo run. So, I’m happy with it, and I’ll be putting all of that negativity behind me.

I've gotten better at looking up...
I’ve gotten better at looking up…


1. Really good SWAG for a local $20 5k. Technical shirt, nice water bottle, actually useful coupons – was happy with that. And nice food spread, too – oranges, bananas, yogurt, pastries, bagels, muffins, danishes … good stuff.

2. A lot of the runners were employees at the hospital that was putting on the race, and they had made the race packet pickup available starting Wednesday of this week – so there were a lot of people wearing the race shirt. Which wouldn’t have stood out so much except that these shirts are probably the brightest fluorescent orange I’ve seen in a long time. Just stunningly orange. There was no missing people ahead of us making turns.

3. Designated people at the finish line to yell and “whoo” and say “great job” are awesome. They help.

4. I’m already signed up for races for June, August, September, and October – and I’ve got my eye on a 4K (automatic PR!) in July – so my streak should get to at least 8 straight months. So it begins.

Next up, for real this time: Phillips 10K Trail Run / Walk.

RR# 8 – Ragnar Tennessee

I talked about the bigger picture significance of this event for me here.

First, let’s talk about Ragnar.  The easy description is that it is a relay – 12 people run roughly 200 miles in 36 legs.  6 people “live” in one van, and they run the first six legs.  The 6 people “living” in van # 2 then take over and run the next six legs.  And the vans leapfrog each other like that until the finish line.  In this particular Ragnar, our team started in Chattanooga at 9am on Friday and crossed the finish line in Nashville at roughly 3pm on Saturday.   They build the legs so that teams can be formed with various levels of experience and speed – each leg is rated “easy” through “very hard”, and there are always one or two runners that have a relatively light load and two or three that have an exceptionally difficult load.

But describing a Ragnar by talking about the logistics is a bit like describing a song or poem by discussing its cadence or rhyme structure.  That’s accurate, but doesn’t quite get at the thing.

Ragnar is camping and running and “living” for 30 hours in a small van with people you just met yesterday (or maybe even this morning).  Ragnar is cowbells and encouragement and airhorns and pulling over every chance you get – and not just for your team, but for all the teams.

Ragnar is a shooting star during your 3.5 miler at 3am.

Ragnar is running and logistics and craziness – but Ragnar is also an experience and a memory.   And what an experience.

At Exchange #6, waiting on Van #1
At Exchange #6, waiting on Van #1

So … when I committed to do this I had run about zero miles.  Pretty much exactly zero miles.  So I got the “newbie runner” position – I’d been working towards a total of about 10.5 miles in three legs measuring roughly 4.5, 1.5, & 4.5 miles.  And I was very comfortable with that.  But about three weeks before the race kicked off, our team (Pants Optional) lost a runner.  Since the best options for last minute replacements probably needed to be in that “newbie runner” slot, I agreed to move.  And I’m glad I did … but.

My mileage increased to more like 17.5.  My first leg was 8.1 miles, and was a total downhill bomb over the first half.  In the first 4 miles, I lost about 900 feet in elevation.  And while the downhill itself is tough, the bank of the road on the curves was worse.  I had to hold back to not just fly down that mountain.  And then at the bottom I had another 4 miles through the Tennessee countryside, ending in a town called Cowan.  I was runner number 12, so this leg happened during sunset and it was totally dark when I got to the exchange point.  And I was ready to be done running.

Comin' down the mountain on Leg #12
Comin’ down the mountain on Leg #12

Our van was then off-duty … we then went and ate some dinner at a little Italian place in Cowan, and it was GOOD.  And then we drove up to the next major exchange in Tullahoma to wait on the other van.  I wound up being “on duty” for a lot of this one, so got pretty much no sleep.

The second leg for me was a 3.5 miler that happened at about 3am.  The night was very cold and clear, but the race bible lied.  Well, not lied exactly.  But misled.  See – there is an elevation profile for every leg, and this one was no different.  But the Ragnar organization puts on races all over the country, in very rugged territory, and they apparently have standardized their scale – which was 0 to 2000 feet.  On this leg, with a total elevation change in a 100 foot range, that meant it looked very flat.  It wasn’t, however, flat.  Much of this one was one of those long, gradual uphill climbs that aren’t steep enough to slow down but never let you coast for a minute.  And I just wasn’t prepared for it.  Overall, my time was fine – but I was not happy with how this leg went.

Back in the van – I changed out of my clothes, laid down, and don’t remember anything for the next 3 hours or so.  The next major exchange was in Franklin, a suburb of Nashville.

When we got rolling again, there was a surprising amount of overall energy in our van.  At this point nobody had gotten more than 2 or 3 hours of total sleep – and I’d run nearly 12 miles in the most recent 12 hour period.   But, daylight makes things better and we were off again.

I'm not sure where this energy came from...
I’m not sure where this energy came from…

Leg # 3 for me was also the final leg for the team – and they did a spectacular job of showing off the city of Nashville.  We ran the first mile or so near the Belmont campus, and then ran the entire length of Music Row.  We then looped around to Bicentennial State Park, ran into Printer’s Alley downtown, and then through the crowds outside the bars and the nightclubs.  By this time all of the runners were very spread out, so those people were surely … surely … wondering what the sweaty fat guy was doing trying to run through all of that humanity.  And by then I was done – this was a 6 mile leg, and I started alternating runs and walks with a hill at about mile 4.  The idea was just to survive, and I survived.

About 200 yards from the finish line the teams all line up and wait for their runners – and then fall in behind them and the whole team crosses the finish line together.  It was both cool to see my team, and also a shot in the arm to have all of those other teams there cheering.  We crossed the finish line, had our team picture taken, and went straight to the beer tent and the pizza tent.  The beer was too hoppy and the pizza was awful.

But it was glorious.  I can’t wait until my next Ragnar.

Finish Line - Pants Optional


–  The biggest thing I’ll do differently next time is organize my bag better.  I spent just entirely too much time rooting around in my stuff trying to find the right shirt or shorts or socks, or panicking because I couldn’t locate my headlamp or my iPod or my race number.  That will need to tighten up.

–  Cowbells.  Seriously.  Cowbells are basically mandatory.

–  Three of us staggered to our hotel in Nashville after it was over and got takeout barbeque.  After eating until we couldn’t take another bite, we passed out at about 7pm.  I don’t remember anything else until 7am the next morning.  That was one of the most glorious sleeps that has ever been slept.

–  Really cool technical shirt in the SWAG, and the medals are big bottle openers.  My medal has already acquired magnets and been permanently placed on the refrigerator.   Our team captain had GREAT team shirts printed up, and we also got a stainless steel pint glass with a coozie emblazoned with the Pants Optional logo.  Plus I made a stop at the merchandise tent.  I LOVE all the stuff I came back with

–  Actually gave an “interview” (I put that in quotes because it was more like a recorded conversation) while I was in Chattanooga about taking up running and losing weight.  THAT was a pretty awesome experience, about which I’ll have more if and when that ever gets published.  That could also come with a big announcement.  Fun!

–  October event, which means the streak is now up to 8 months.   I’ve got races scheduled in November, December, January, February, & March.  That will get me to 13.  This is still no 10 years, but I’m starting to get attached to this streak.

–  Next race – Fall Pier-to-Pier Run/Walk, from the Hermosa Beach Pier to the Manhattan Beach Pier, Los Angeles, California … November 9th.

Photo Taken by Runner # 11 as I was running my first leg...
Photo Taken by Runner # 11 as I was running my first leg…

Saturday Weigh In / Long Run

First – the line:

Weight:  273.4

Two Week Gain / (Loss):  (1.8 pounds)

Total Gain / (Loss):  (54 pounds)

Last week was a no-weigh-in week because of the travel for the race, and when you stack that on top of travel I was a bit concerned about this.  This week has been OK, though my mileage was a bit lower than planned (I think I got a bit aggressive with post-event recovery runs) and the food situation is only “meh”.

HOWEVER – that number went in the correct direction, which is fantastic.  I bought a dress shirt today with a neck a full inch smaller than I was wearing a few months ago … and it isn’t even that snug.  I’m legitimately too small for many of my clothes.  And the mileage is getting ready to slowly start ramping up.  So I feel optimistic going into the holidays.

Also – I have lost 54 pounds.  I was walking around with the equivalent of 4 or 5 fat babies strapped to my waist.  And they’re gone.  It’s a remarkable state of affairs.

My long run this morning was scheduled for an easy six miles.  Because I missed a day out of the schedule this week, I extended that a bit and did about 7 ¼.  Overall felt OK – not great, but OK.  No pain, just tired.

Travel again next weekend, but also a 5K next weekend, too.  So much going on.

A Few Words on Food Drives

‘Tis the season for giving.   And that urge to give, that desire to be helpful in a world that needs it, is a glorious thing, a ray of light in what can be an otherwise bleak world.  But here’s the thing.  We are VERY BAD at making efficient choices.   Inefficiency = waste, and waste = not helping people that need help.   So lets boil this down to one sentence:

 If you really want to help people who are hungry, don’t give food to food banks, food pantries, or soup kitchens – give them money.

Lets do some math, shall we?

(there is some rounding here – the scale works, regardless of how you round)

At this link, you can buy bulk pasta:

That link takes you to dried spaghetti noodles that you purchase by the metric ton.  1 metric ton = 2,204 pounds of spaghetti.  And they charge, on average, $700 for that much pasta.

$700 / 2,204lbs = $0.32 per pound.

Now – this link takes you to the cheapest spaghetti noodles I could find available at retail:

Here, you get 24 pounds of spaghetti (which is still an awful lot) for $30.99 with free shipping.

$30.99 / 24lbs = $1.29 per pound.

Now – you won’t be buying a metric ton of spaghetti for donation, but you might buy 24 pounds.  And you’ll be doing the equivalent of setting money on fire.  Because a food bank WILL buy it by the ton.  And that means that if you give them the $30.99 instead of giving it to a retailer, they can buy nearly 4.5 times more food than you can.

If we assume that 1 serving = ½ pound, then you can buy 48 servings with $30.99.  They can buy 212.  Put another way – for every $30.99 you spend, you’re taking 164 servings of food OUT of the system.

I did this with spaghetti, but it works with just about anything – cereal, canned goods, fresh vegetables, etc.  And this is just for direct food purchases – food banks also get matching donations, which scale this up, and they receive food from the USDA for free or very nominal amounts.

And this is for real food, food that addresses nutritional and hunger needs.  They don’t need your dusty cans of chili sauce or Rotel.  Or your expired food.  Or really anything else but your money.

If you simply must give food rather than money, then at least don’t use it as an excuse to clean out your pantry.  Go buy new cans, and buy “meal-in-a-can” items.  Things like Chef Boyardee products, Campbell’s Chunky Soups, or other items that can be a single meal are the best, because they are the easiest and the least likely to sit and spoil.  Think about it this way – if you have no home, and no money for food, how are you going to cook spaghetti and sauce?  That’s not how you’ll think.  Instead, you’ll take a can of Chef Boyardee Raviolis and put them in a sink full of hot water at the mall, or the Home Depot, or anywhere you can.  And then you’ll get something resembling a hot meal, at least.

That’s sad, that people are heating cans of raviolis in public sinks.  But it is reality.  And we should work with the reality we’re given.

Give, and give generously.

But if we’re smarter about it, we can do more with it.

‘Tis the season

Throwback Thursday Race Report – RR #2, JFK Runway Run

(I’m a member of the Running Fools board over on The Motley Fool, and when I started running again they were the ones I went to to talk about it.  I’ve made it a point to do race reports after my events … and I’m going to be posting those throwback reports here to get us up-to-date.  This was my second 5K, in Queens, New York.  This report was written in April, 2013.)


JFK Runway Run, 4/14/13, Finish Line #2
JFK Runway Run, 4/14/13, Finish Line #2

Summary: I’ll take it.
The JFK Runway Run is one of (if not the) oldest runway runs around – they’ve been doing it continuously since 1972. They shut down the main runway at JFK Airport in Queens and the race happens right there. From the starting line, you run about 200 yards, then take a hard right and it is a perfectly straight, perfectly flat shot down to a turnaround into a (duh) perfectly straight, perfectly flat 2nd half.

After packet pickup at an administration building, they loaded us onto a bus for a 15 minute shuttle out to the runway, including a pretty serious looking security stop. We sat out there waiting in the wind (and, holy crap the wind) for all of the runners to be delivered for a 9am start – which they are supposedly pretty strict about, because any delay could screw up the airport for the rest of the day. The biggest problem was wind – about 5 minutes before the scheduled start time, a gust of wind blew the entire start / finish line setup down … the clocks, the pace signs, everything. We wound up starting 15 minutes late.

I was concerned about this race because I’ve done very little real training since my last race three weeks ago. It turns out that the injury to my ankle that I sustained at the finish line of that one was more severe than expected – even my toes turned purple. So between that and travel for work (and I got lazy – there, I said it – I got lazy) I wound up doing less than half of my planned miles over that time period, and many of those were not quality miles. Knowing how my mind works, the worst possible thing for me would have been to beat my previous time … that kind of positive reinforcement encourages my laziness. I finished about 45 seconds slower than my previous race, which is still significantly farther along than I expected to be at this point when I started running. Also, I’m pissed off that I let myself get lazy and go backwards on a perfectly flat course. All in all, though, given how poorly I’ve trained over the last three weeks – I’ll take it.

Quick notes:

1. Several people in this one didn’t follow the board’s collective wisdom. There was a pink tutu, a guy running with boxing gloves on, race t-shirts everywhere, etc. Plus, this is Queens – you can imagine the humanity. Lots to see.

2. Which is a good thing, because … perfectly flat and perfectly straight is not all it is cracked up to be. I’m used to running on hills and mixing up muscles. And scenery that changes. It was tougher than expected.

3. Because it was an out and back, I got to see the leaders coming the other way – holy crap, I cannot imagine ever running that fast. Holy crap.

4. The FAQ on the website said something like “it tends to be windy – don’t wear loose fitting caps”. Biggest understatement ever. I have no idea how they land airplanes in that kind of wind. Also – in an out-and-back, tailwinds will eventually be headwinds. Yeah.

5. Wings and beer on race day are AWESOME.

Next race: Phillips 10k Trail Race, June 9th

First run since the Ragnar…

And it went fairly well.  An easy 3 miles, just to make sure everybody remembers how we do this.

I’m currently working on the Ragnar race report – hopefully it’ll go up this weekend.  Another Throwback Thursday race report tomorrow, too.


Preview of the Ragnar RR?


Following Through


If I’ve figured out the “Schedule” feature on this blog, this is going to go up Friday morning as the vans begin the trek from Chattanooga to Nashville for Ragnar Tennessee.    So, quick story:


When I decided to get it together, I started with only food – no exercise.  And that worked famously for the first few months – I dropped 35 pounds in roughly 3 months without what I’d think of as a ton of effort.  And then I had the summer from hell – just a summer full of hospitals and funeral homes and yucky jobs and exhaustion and etc. and etc.

Now, anybody that has ever tried to lose weight will confirm that doing so takes a certain level of energy.  You have to be able to focus, to shoo away the food demons (blerches), to control the hunger and not let it control you.  And my energy bottomed out, and the weight started piling back on.  I’d gone from 327 to about 293, and then all of a sudden I was back up to 315.  Just like that.  And it bummed me out.  I was in a serious funk, and wasn’t even trying to eat better anymore.  I needed something, but I had no idea what that was.

Then I got an email that, looking back, is going to have been an email that changed my life.

A good friend had just completed this crazy relay race across Tennessee.  Ragnar, he said – google that shit.  So I googled it.  And when I said “wow – that looks pretty amazing,” I got the kick in the ass I needed (however gentle) … he said that even if I didn’t want to run it, some teams had dedicated drivers and that would be awesome.

One of the things I always said about my weight is that it wasn’t a problem until it started ruling out doing things that I otherwise wanted to do.   Limiting choices was a red line that I wouldn’t let myself cross.  Of course, now I was faced with a moment – I wanted to do this, but didn’t think I could.

Because of my weight.

I asked him, my friend, if he thought I could do it.  He responded immediately – 100% yes.  And not only that, but when I did it I’d be one of the very few people that got to say they followed through.

Two days later I bought a pair of shoes and penciled in the date.

I’ve run nearly 600 miles since then.  And this weekend (holy crap right now) I’m running that Ragnar.

I’m following through.

And it feels good.

Throwback Thursday Race Report – RR #1, St. Bartholomew Academy 5K Run / Walk

(I’m a member of the Running Fools board over on The Motley Fool, and when I started running again they were the ones I went to to talk about it.  I’ve made it a point to do race reports after my events … and I’m going to be posting those throwback reports here to get us up-to-date.  This was my first ever 5K, in Scotch Plains, NJ.  I was nervous as hell going into it … this report was written in March, 2013.)

Summary: First 5K = automatic PR!

So – I left my tu-tu, rainbow wig, & fuel belt at home. I did not wear the shirt after I picked it up. I was pointing in the right direction when they said go. And if I did any farting I wasn’t paying enough attention to really notice.

This morning was upper 30s and sunshine, and a beautiful day for a run. We got there early, picked up my packet, and got my bib and chip in their appropriate places. The pre-race ceremony was all you would expect from a small-ish town race run out of a religious academy – city mayor, city police chief, long prayer, etc. Then they sang the national anthem and we lined up (me at the back) and took off.

The course was basically flat with only one decent sized hill right at the 2-mile marker, and things felt decently good throughout. Because I was ahead of the pace I expected to be at I did a bit of walking around that hill, but otherwise maintained what seemed to be a pretty consistent pace. As we neared the end, it turns out my wife and son were able to get set up about 200 – 300 yards from the finish line to cheer, which was awesome. Even the guy running next to me said “wow – that’s a real shot in the arm, isn’t it?” So I began my kick, and was shocked when I saw the clock at the finish line – I finished a solid 4 minutes faster than I expected to, and nearly 2 minutes faster than what I felt was my “hope to get” goal. It was great.


Apparently I got over-zealous at the finish line and extended my stride on the last step over the chip mat. When that foot landed it immediately buckled and rolled, and I wound up hobbling out of the chute. My ankle is currently fairly swollen, but no discoloration – and ibuprofen, ice, and elevation have helped quite a lot. I was frustrated with my lack of gracefulness at first, but that has worn off – I don’t think I hurt myself too bad.

Observations from someone who hadn’t done this before:

1. People of all stripes all over the place. Though I felt like I had a neon sign over my head that said “newbie!”, in actuality I stood out not at all. So that’s good.

2. Clocks at mile markers are cool. I currently don’t run with a specific running GPS – I use an app on my phone to track my runs. One thing that doesn’t do is give real-time feedback. So when I saw the clock at the first mile marker I was able to gauge how I felt versus how I was doing (much better pace than anticipated) and adjust accordingly. Which means, as I told my wife on the way home, that I’ll shortly be buying a Garmin.

3. I had underestimated how much difference having people around you affects your pace. There was one guy that I marked early on in the race (the one that remarked about the “shot in the arm”) and then one lady that I was around most of the race that I just mentally marked as people I wanted to finish in front of. Because of that I couldn’t let them get away, so I wasn’t able to let up like I might have on a training run. I really think that contributed to my faster-than-expected time.

4. Even cheap swag is cool to get. My race t-shirt was one size too small, but they were giving out a different round of donated shirts when you turned your chip in – so I got two shirts for the price of one. And the cheap little bag with the cheap little cup and cheap little coupons – those are cool.

5. Burger and beer for lunch on race day tastes AWESOME.

They haven’t posted official times yet, but I’ve already started plotting my goal for the next race. In the meantime, I’m going to ice my ankle and drink beer tonight.

Next race, the JFK Runway Run 5K, April 14th.

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