Category Archives: Featured

How to run from a dog

Late afternoon, approaching the city of Elton, Louisiana, this good looking dog decided to follow me, like that one did in Florida last month. At first I didn’t mind it too much, just hoping that it would find something else to do and leave me alone. Well, it didn’t work that way.

This dog not just stuck around for miles, but was becoming an annoyance. I wouldn’t want to have a dog by the end of the day when I need to find a place to set up camp. That is a no-no! But worse than that, this dog was crossing the road back and forth all the time. Cars were swerving and having to slow down hard to not hit it. And most of the drivers were thinking that it was my dog! I was getting angry looks and a driver even came back to yell at me. Sensing that it was going to be bigger trouble than I want to handle I called 911.

The dispatcher on 911 told me that the city I was in does not have animal control services so there was absolutely nothing they could (or care to) do about it. I was on my own.

So I decided to run from it!

Nearing the end of my day I was on the road for more than 20 miles already and quite tired. At this point I just wanted to walk the rest of it, pass the city a mile or so, and camp. My walking speed is around 3 miles per hour, and the dog was still around me.

First I tried my “fast” pace, which for most runners sounds like a joke… a 5 mile per hour joke. But being about distance, and not time, 5 miles per hour is a pace I can keep for a good while and shift between surging and recovering for very good periods at this point. But not at the end of the day. After a while I was getting really exhausted and every time I looked back the dog was right there with me! I was going to blow a gasket that way.

Then I thought for a while about what I learned reading Born to Run, about the fact that the dog has to breathe once per step, how it cools off, and how humans can speed up towards the upper part of their jogging range, while a four legged animal would have to be at the bottom end of its aerobic range to keep the same pace. So instead of trying to outrun the dog at 5miles per hour in just a few minutes I changed strategy: Run at 4 miles per hour for an entire hour or more.

For the first half an hour or so the dog kept running happily right by my side at 4 miles per hour, but very gradually it tired and had to stop to cool off, while I could just keep going. It tried to catch up a couple of times but in about one hour he just sit down and stayed there.

That was a good reminder that you outrun a dog just the same way that you run from one ocean to another: You run with your head, not with your legs.

Paul Reese, on running

“Reflecting on 40 years of running and racing, I’ve come to the realization that the most important consideration about running is not how fast you can run, not how far you can run, but rather, the degree and manner in which running and racing enhance your life. That is the sum and substance of the worth of running. Having said that, I would venture to guess that very few runners either think or dwell on such enhancement. Their energies, their thoughts, are directed to times, PRs (personal records), races, mileage, gear, and the eternal search for the perfect shoe. I plead guilty to having done much of that when I was competing. Maybe the realization and appreciation of enhancement dawn only after a person has suffered the loss of running and racing. While active, we’re just too damned obsessed with the inconsequential to recognize how privileged we are, how running and racing enhance our lives. One thing for sure, if you lose running and racing, you had better be able to devise ways to compensate because you will have a huge void to fill when you come to realize how running enhanced your life.” – Paul Reese, 2004

How the Lost Boys help me running

Reading They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky was not easy. Actually it took me more than a month to go through it. That book is deeply depressing. It tells the story, in great detail and in their own words, of three boys who had to flee their village in Sudan when it was attacked by government troops. For weeks, then months, then years, these children had to run for their lives, fearing soldiers, lions, hyenas, poisonous snakes, starvation, diseases, and the full brutality of war. It is a profoundly sad story that will leave you wondering how is that possible for people to be so bad to each other, but most of all how can people be so bad to children?

But everything has to have a good use, beyond what is on the surface. And I have found it in my running. Sometimes when I am feeling lousy, the run is difficult, usually towards the end of it… I look around and say to myself “I don’t see any soldiers chasing me, there are no lions or hyenas around, and I have water and clothes. I guess my situation is very good right now!” and that lifts me up quite a bit. I keep thinking about how much harder it must be to run naked, thirsty, starving, crying, running from animals, being beaten by the adults, killed in bomb raids, having your things stolen, being constantly sick, and having to live running away in fear for years, starting when you are 5 years old! It is mind boggling, and it reminds me of how privileged I am, of how much easier my world is in comparison to theirs, and makes me find reserves of energy and motivation I didn’t know I had.

Would I still do it?

I notice often in the news articles about people who are endeavoring to do some athletic or adventurous feat. Be the first to do something, the youngest to do something else, or achieve some other noteworthy, and often newsworthy, goal. The feats require effort, perseverance, and preparation. But I sometimes end up with a slightly uncomfortable feeling about why the person is so hell-bent on the goal in the first place. I’m all for adventure. But for adventure’s sake. And when there’s a lot of hoopla around the effort, I can’t help but wonder… would that person still do it if there was no press, no fame, no book deal, no speaking engagements to be had in the end, and if nobody was going to know they’d even done it? Much of what dominates the news, these days, is election hype, political maneuvering, and the stories of people bent on wealth, power, or personal fame.

Then I asked… would I still do it?

Would I do the same run not because there was fame or achievement or a great book deal in it for me, but because I wanted to achieve something of value in itself?

Would I do it even if nobody would know about it? If I had to keep it a secret after finishing it, would I still do it?

I am absolutely comfortable to say that the answer is “yes”.

I want to make this blog not about me but about those helping, participating, and having a great time doing it. I want to make money not for myself but for EdenInAfrica.org and a fabulous person that dedicated herself to another cause that many would call “lost”.

Fame is one the most elusive and treacherous things to have, when it is pursued as a goal. And in a field like ultrarunning, fame seems to be even more elusive than anywhere else. Just finding information about other people that did runs across America was difficult enough. Checking their fundraising results was a major revelation: Very few raised more money than they spent doing the run itself. Of many that tried you can certainly pick up a case or two that had major marketing and PR teams behind it and well… they didn’t even finish their runs. If you look at their following on Tweeter just a few days after their run is done you will be surprised to see most of them back down at 3 digit numbers.

No matter what the goal, outcome, or hype, the fame that arises from most accomplishments rarely lasts. Ironically, the moments and people we remember best are often those who don’t even succeed.

“… Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being – a call that asks who they are…” – David Blaikie (Former journalist; Athletics Historian and Statistician. Founding Member of the Association of Road Racing Statisticians. Former President of the Association of Canadian Ultrarunners.)

Fear and God

I am not a religious man, but love a good reading and I love to talk about philosophy, religion, and other controversial and difficult issues. One of my favorite books of all times is Harlot’s Ghost, by Norman Mailer. In that book there is a part where the main character talks about his love for rock climbing and why it was so important in his upbringing. I can easily make parallels with my experience running.

“…I suspect that God is with us in some fashion on every rock climb. Not to save us – how I detest that tit-nibbling psychology – God saves! – God at the elbow of all misbegotten mediocrities. As if all that God had to do was to preserve the middling and the indifferent. No, God is not a St. Bernard dog to rescue us at every pass. God is near us when we are rock climbing because that’s the only way we get a good glimpse of Him and He gets one of us. You experience God when you’re extended a log way out beyond yourself and are still trying to lift up from your fears. Get caught under a rock and of course you want to howl like a dog. Surmount that terror and you rise to a higher fear. That may be our simple purpose on earth. To rise to higher and higher levels of fear…”

Kaihōgyō, the marathon monks

On the outskirts of Japan’s ancient capital, Kyoto stands a sacred mountain. It is here, on Mount Hiei that the marathon monks live, pray and defy death. These Japanese Monks are from the Tendai sect of Buddhism, a sect brought to Japan by the Monk Saicho in 806 from China. Their quest is to serve the enlightened Buddha through many duties but they are best known for their physical endurance in running, a form of extreme asceticism. The school is based north of Kyoto, at Mount Hiei, which overlooks the ancient Capital City.

The selection process for the Kaihōgyō is after the first 100 days of Marathons, the Gyoja (trainee Monk) will petition the senior Monks to complete the remaining 900 days. In the first 100 days, withdrawal from the challenge is possible, but from day 101 onwards the Monk is no longer allowed to withdraw, he must either complete the course or take his own life. The mountain has many unmarked graves from those who have failed in their quest, although none date from the 20th/21st century.

An Olympic marathon is 42 kilometres. On each of the next 100 days, Fujinami will cover twice that distance. Unlike a professional athlete though, the forty four year old must traverse treacherous mountain trails, often in complete darkness. There are no high-tech supplements to keep him going, just a daily rice ball and a bowl of noodles.

The ultimate achievement is the completion of the 1,000-day challenge, which would rank among the most demanding physical and mental challenges in the world. Only 46 men have completed the 1,000-day challenge since 1585.

The purpose of the marathon is not to walk per se. We visit places of worship and we go there on foot. Then we go to another object of worship. It is like a pilgrimage. In Australia the Aborigines have the same sort of practice that they will wander and they can “walkabout”.

They walk it seems but if you’re next to them, they are really moving fast. I’ve known there’s been marathon runners who try to train with them, they can’t last than more than a week. They blow out then they poop out. They just have no energy left. They can’t follow the course. They can keep up with them, the pace, but they can’t do it continuously. A week is the maximum.

Running form

There is no single correct way to run. However there are certain characteristics that seem to be common to most great runners. Striving to run like them will not guarantee you can become a great runner, but it will make it easier to become the best runner you can be.

High stride rate in relation to speed, a tendency to strike the ground on midfoot or forefoot, more time in the air and less ground contact time, knees bent during contact, relaxed and upright upper body.

Four out of five runners overstride, landing their feet ahead of their body, heel-first, causing running injuries. Barefoot runners can’t do it because heel striking is immediately painful, but runners in shoes keep doing it without noticing.

Racing x Running

Racing is an artificial event, with finish lines, boundaries, preset courses, and plenty of rules to follow.

Running is much more free. There are no boundaries, there are no finish lines, there are no schedules. There is the freedom of going as you please, watching and exploring, a much deeper connection with the world around you.

It’s my nature to prefer the adventure and freedom of running instead of the regimented and contrived environment of racing. That is why when people ask me if I will later run marathons my honest answer is “I don’t know”, because at this moment I don’t feel like racing at all.

My challenge to run across the country placed me in between those two concepts. I end up with rules, schedules, and boundaries. But they were all self-imposed, and to some extent I could change them without affecting the end result.

Lack of recovery

Failure to recover properly can result in chronic dehydration, accumulating muscle damage, systemic inflammation, depressed immune function, and changes in hormone levels.

In the short term insufficient recovery causes muscle soreness, fatigue, and poor performance. If a runner neglects recovery continuously more damaging effects occur like loss of muscle tissue due to excessive muscle fiber breakdown, diminished immunological capacity and, worst of all, permanent damages to joints and other structural damage.

Runner’s knee is considered to be an overuse injury, as are many other types of common running injuries. As the term suggests, overuse injuries involve the gradual breakdown of body tissues resulting from repetitive motion over long periods of time. These injuries are quite different from acute injuries such as ankle sprains.

Beginning runners (like me) suffer the most overuse injuries per hour of training because their bones, muscles, and connective tissues are not yet well adapted to the new lifestyle.

Abrupt changes to training pace or style, like suddenly increasing duration, frequency, or intensity of workouts, can make those problems flare up. The solution for that is to instead ramp up conservatively as the body adapts.

An easy way to measure your recovery status is to take your pulse at rest one day that you are fully recovered and rested, and then again first thing in the morning of every running day. A pulse rate that is much above your reference number suggests that your body is still working on recovering from the most recent workout.

The human body has remarkable capacity to adapt, with proper training, resting, and nourishment. But you must keep an eye on the signs it gives you to know when to push forward and when to let it relax and recover.

Running used to be fun

I have very few memories from childhood related to running. The earliest one I remember may be from my 5th or 6th year, it was a day when I was playing on the sidewalk in front of the house and my father was leaving for work. The house was on the corner and I loved to spring all the way to the next corner, about a 100 yards away. I remember often asking my father to run that distance with me. As far as I can recall he never did. It is clear to me that I loved running.

I remember some sort of school olympics and I was assigned to run a 100 meters against other boys of same age or grade. It was probably 3rd grade. I remember that I performed miserably and was in last place and I felt embarrassed. I liked running but I hated losing.

Around 12 years old or so I was showing some clear signs that I was over my ideal weight and I had very bad posture. I used to seat hunched down all the time. My mother forced me for many days to run around the block. I was unmotivated and unconditioned and of course my mother had the best intentions but no knowledge of motivation or training techniques. The block where we lived was flat in one direction but steep in the other and by consequence every lap included a steep downhill and a steep uphill. I hated both. I hated running at this point. And I am sure I never liked running ever since…

…until August 2010.    🙂