Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Oh, So THIS is What Running Feels Like!

Well hello there, everyone! It's been a while...like a 7 month while...since I started a running hiatus. The initial reason was I randomly cracked one of my lumbar vertebra back in March, and that led to a bulging disc and a couple months of insane pain. During all that fun, my dad's health took a sudden turn for the worse and he passed away in May. If the physical pain of my back was the catalyst for a running break, the death of my dad was even more affecting in a mental/emotional way. I know this, because when I was given the OK by my doctor to start running again, I did for one day, but it wasn't the same. Running is usually fun for me - I get to turn my brain off for 1 to 60 hours and just let my legs take me where I need to go. When all is not well in my non-running world, I have an almost impossible time going out for even the shortest run. My brain can't kick back in its skull hammock to relax and let my legs run freely when something is wrong with a friend or family member. For months after my dad's death, I had none of the mental rest I need to be interested in running at all. During that time I also bought a new house, which is awesome, but as anyone who has moved and not been lobotomized immediately thereafter knows, is also an insanely exhausting amount of work. ....and to end the list of things I'm whining about here, my Fall was also the busiest I've ever been at work. You know when you're putting in 70 and 80 hr work weeks, you're working a little too hard.

Me and my old man at the finish of my very first ultra (North Country 50M in Michigan, 2006)
....but every storm eventually blows through, and I'm happy to report the skies are looking nice and clear right now. Over the weekend, I finished setting up the utility room in our basement, complete with a new (to me) treadmill and the kind of Spartan feel I love when hammering out hard training miles around the clock to get back into shape. My theory is if you're staring at a concrete wall for miles and miles on the ol' hamster wheel, then the pleasure of getting out into the mountains for races makes for a nice analgesic from the leg/lung pain. The immortal quote from the movie DodgeBall: "If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!", always runs through my head when I psych myself up in training with, "If you can run for 5 hours on a treadmill staring at a wall, you can run any ultra distance you want."

Not exactly the buffed trails of Marin County or a 5-Star Health Club, but nothing beats a true Pain Cave when you have 7 months of rust to kick off!
Now the whining stops and the work begins once again. As AC/DC reminds us: "It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n' roll"...and I most definitely want to rock and roll down some trails in 2015, so it's off to Pain Cave Studios for me! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all, and I look forward to having some fun race reports to write next year!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Guest Blog Post - Amelia Runs a Marathon!

On Sunday, November 2, my best-friend-of-a-million-years Amelia finished the NYC Marathon. This was her long-delayed triumphant debut at the distance. She asked if she could write a guest post after her fantastic finish, so her words follow below. I do want to note a couple things first:

1) I dug up the photos included here from my archive, but through the grace of my kind heart I omitted the dozens and dozens of horrible Brightroom and MarathonFoto shots of her during her past races. She proudly shares the links to these photos with me post-race with email subject lines like "I know you're happy I'm running races again"...and you know what, she's right. Laughs of that level are tough to come by. ...but it's probably wrong for me to share those photos with the world on this blog. Especially now that the Halloween season has passed.
This just in! The race photo from the NYC marathon is actually fantastic! What a reward for all the hard work of running a first marathon...the ever-elusive quality in-race shot!
 2) Amelia wrote all sorts of stuff about things I've said and done in the past here. It probably doesn't speak well of me when I admit that I remember basically none of the good things I've done for her as a friend, but recall every last one of the jokingly mean things I've said with great pride!

3) I know most people reading this blog have run a billion miles longer than a Marathon, but rest assured Amelia has worked really really really hard to join the club. As she admits below, she's not really a runner at all. What she doesn't mention is she set all sorts of records in college on the swim team, is a member of her high school athletic Hall of Fame for her skill in the pool, and has to deal with asthma that makes her breathing sound like a Amtrak train whistle during most runs outside. I would say her biggest talent in terms of her translating her skills to the running world is that she's just as stubborn and relentless as most of us ultrarunners are: she set the goal of wanting to run 26.2, and even though it was delayed by having a two adorable kiddos in the past couple years, she stayed focused and found a way to get to the finish line at the NYC Marathon in 4:09 with a super steady splits. That's 100-mile-level dedication, and she has definitely earned her guest post here. Well done, Greenberg!

How Dan Inspired Me to Run a Marathon - Amelia Greenberg

I am Dan's friend Amelia and I just finished my first marathon. I asked Dan to let me post on a his blog about this experience as a guest writer and he kindly agreed. Dan has been a huge inspiration to me to set my running goals higher, as I know he has been to others, and I am so happy to have the opportunity to say publicly how grateful I am to know him and be inspired by him.

Before I get to the race, I'll speak a little about our friendship, which began our freshman year in college.

In actions, there is no one I rely on more. Dan has helped me move more times than I can count, he has given me more rides than I ever should have asked for, I call him randomly out of the blue all the time to say things like, "I am lost - can you get me directions to XYZ place immediately?" or "my computer crashed and gave me message $584&X - what do I do?" Dan once came and picked me up in Boston on his own initiative after he'd heard I'd eaten dinner in a sketchy part of town and was planning to take the subway home, and not only does he volunteer to beat up people who are mean to me, but once he paid his own way to go on a trip with me out of state to see if my younger sister needed rescuing from some horrible summer job where she'd ended up working for a mentally ill woman and being housed in the home of a coworker she'd not previously met who was a single male in his 40s. [Happy ending: turned out the guy had a fish fetish and was not interested in humans so my sister was safe.] When I left our group house early the morning of our college graduation to do something before the ceremony, and then realized I'd forgotten my gown and called home to ask Dan (of course) to bring it for me, I found out from our other roommate that Dan spent 20 minutes ironing my gown before the two of them headed out for the ceremony. When I turned to Dan and said in amazement, "You ironed my gown?" - something I surely never would have bothered to do - he said, "Well I didn't want it to be wrinkly!"

In words, Dan is the brother I never had. I have so many examples, but I'll give you just a few. I am relatively tall, and once when we were at a wedding where I wore a floor length purple dress, Dan spent the whole day calling me "Barney." When I am slow on the uptake, which alas happens all too frequently, Dan is fond of telling me, "You know, you are pretty dumb for someone who is supposed to be smart." Sometimes when he sees me, Dan likes to say, "You know Greenberg, you are really letting yourself go." Whenever Dan and I jog together, he invariably will say before the run is over, "Greenberg - you have been half-assing this workout the whole time." One Sunday in college, when Dan and I were watching football, I had purchased a fairly large bag of Reese's peanut butter balls [note: these taste like the cups, but are the shape of marbles - a delicious invention] and I ate the entire bag by the time the game was over. Dan spent the rest of the semester calling me "Whole bag" in commemoration / mockery of this event. Dan also calls me "stone hands" when we play catch and I drop easy passes. Incidentally, years into our friendship, when I met the lovely Lizzy who is now Dan's wife, one of the first things she said to me was something like, "I am so happy to meet you! Dan has said so many nice things about you." And I looked at her in genuine astonishment and said, "Dan said nice things about me? Dan ... Rose?"

Amelia and Dan prior to the New Year's Eve Central Park run in 2005. Half-pictured is Amelia's sister Emily who ran with us as well. Not sure why she was sawed in half like this, she's really quite lovely in whole form! Amelia's husband Joel (who was behind the camera here) also ran with us in our dorky matching race shirts. I don't recall much else from that race other than it was more of a "cattle call" than a race, and there may have been a dude or two running around in nothing but a speedo as well. Sure it was freezing out, but it was also NYC on New Year's Eve!
When Dan got his diagnosis of cancer, it was first and foremost of course a horrible shock to him and his family, but I felt pretty devastated and scared too, as did all of his friends. I watched Dan handle that time of his life with bravery and humor and an incredible amount of compassion for how difficult it was for the rest of us. Even in his very lowest moments in the hospital, that fight could not keep him down. In fact, one of my very favorite memories of all these years of friendship comes from a day I was visiting Dan while he was getting chemotherapy. We were watching a hockey game on tv. I don't watch much professional hockey, but I do watch professional football, and at the time the quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs was Trent Green and he was having a fantastic year. Anyway, we were watching the hockey game and the man calling the game said something like, "...and Trent Green chases down the puck." And I said outloud but half to myself, "Trent Green?" I was thinking it was surprising that both a professional hockey player and a professional football player active that year would have that name. Then, the color commentator said, "You mean Travis Green, not Trent Green." And the man calling the game said sort of testily, "Yes, though I suspect our listeners would have missed that mistake if you had not expressly pointed it out." And Dan, though weak from chemo infusion and half passed out in his hospital bed, cried out with great spirit, "But not Greenberg!!!"

The running part of this story is one that I think that most of you, Dan's readers, already know. When Dan finished his treatments, he not only rededicated himself to his sport, but set goals that seemed outrageously unreachable to me, and then reached them. And then he'd set even higher goals and reach those too. It was impossible to be anywhere near that comeback effort and not be inspired. So, although running was never my sport, I started to consider some higher goals for myself. It took me until 2010 to get up the guts to commit to the dream of running a marathon, and it's taken me until 2014 to put that plan into action. And, as you'd suspect, Dan has been a very steady coach and encourager throughout my marathon training. If I texted him that I'd had an off day, he'd say, "What a fantastic time you ran given that it was an off day!" If I said I had a good day, he'd say, "What an amazing time! You're a machine!" If I had a day that was totally ordinary in every way, he'd say, "When your runs start to feel mundane, it just means you've been doing a lot of training. Congratulations on doing all that training!" Now that I'm done, he's texting me, "Now we can do 100 milers together!" It has been really fun, but also undeniably important to my training, to have someone believe in me even more than I believed in myself, and to show me by example how a person who at one point can barely walk out of a hospital can still get himself into ultramarathon shape just by daring to have that goal and then committing to it. I never would have run this marathon had I not seen Dan set and work toward his goals.

Pretty sure Amelia has helped me a million times over the years in my running goals as well...like when she crewed for me at MMT100 in 2008...

...and when she paced me for a million miles of Run 192 as well. I don't recall which night this was, but I will tell you that smile is a lie! That run hurt!!
As for the race report, today I finished my first marathon - the New York City marathon. The views of the city were fantastic, the wind blew in hard and icy gusts at times to give our day a little dramatic flair, the crowds cheered loudly, and when I heard one cute little voice from the crowd call out "Mom!" to a passing runner, I almost cried because it was so adorable. I saw many signs that were giant photographs of the heads of runners on posterboard and then attached to a stick so that the fan could wave it in the air. Is this how people make signs for their favorite runners now? Many different bands played along the course, and I got a big surge of adrenaline when one of them played "Hit Me with Your Best Shot." I started to lose my legs somewhere in the Bronx and never really got them back, but I did feel a great rush of joy when the course turned into Central Park and I knew we were almost at the end. I teared up at the finish line. And, I finished in 4 hours 9 minutes and 20 seconds. Yay!

I wish I had pictures to add to this post of me and Dan in college, but I don't. However, he's said that he just might append one of me eating ice cream for breakfast, so we can hope for that!

Thank you thank you Dan for the friendship that has now lasted over half my life, for the unwavering support, and for inspiring me to achieve a goal that I can now list as one of my proudest accomplishments. I'm still not running 100 miles though.
No "ice cream for breakfast" photos here, sorry! ...and none of that Barney dress either. Just one random shot of the future formation Amelia will follow when running her first ultra. C'mon Greenberg, it's only a few miles longer than a marathon. You know you want to run one. Think of all the Reeses products at the aid stations!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Thomas Jefferson 100K - Race Report!

-Thomas Jefferson was our 3rd President.
-I finish 3rd in an absurdly high percentage of my races (as previously mentioned here).

-The original building of the Library of Congress is named after Thomas Jefferson.
-I work in that building at the Library of Congress.

-Thomas Jefferson put the city of Charlottesville, VA on the map, founding the University of Virginia as well as building his Monticello estate there.
-My wife earned her masters degree from UVA, and Charlottesville is on top of a very short list of places to which we'd consider moving in the future.

-Thomas Jefferson's second Vice President was George Clinton.
-I've seen George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars in concert.

...Ok, that last one was a stretch, but all of the other facts are solid reasons why, when the inaugural running of the Thomas Jefferson 100K in Charlottesville was announced, I immediately knew I had to sign up. This race is the brainchild of one of ultrarunning's elite personalities and performers, Andy Jones-Wilkins. AJW, as he is known by many, has about a million ultra finishes on his resume, including multiple 100 mile wins and a stellar 7 consecutive years of finishing in the Top 10 at the Western States 100 miler. Andy moved to C'ville a couple years ago and, following a long-time dream, organized the TJ100K as his first-ever race from the other side of the clipboard.

As expected from a guy like AJW, every facet of the TJ100K was top-notch. We were all invited to his school for the pre-race dinner/meeting as well as the Awards Breakfast.
The picturesque setting for our pre & post race gatherings on the campus of the Tandem Friends School (at which AJW is the Head)

Couldn't resist taking this shot of the main building on campus while walking back to my car.

I was a happy boy when I saw the cap of this Starr Hill brewery treat peeking out from my swag bag at the packet pick-up! The odds of AJW, a man who loves beer, including this Thomas Jefferson recipe-based brew in our bags for this race was pretty much 100%.

AJW leads the pre-race meeting...then slips behind the curtain and reemerges to act out the one man play "How the Battle of Western States 2005 was Almost Won".
The race itself took place in the scenic Walnut Creek Park a few minutes south of the Tandem Friends School, and the course consisted of seven loops of 8.9 miles with 1,000 ft of gain/loss on each circle of the merry-go-round. On paper that might seem like a bit of a yawn, but let me tell you, it's anything but boring. Traversing the rocks, roots, and rollercoaster rises of this lyric little loop through the cold darkness of the morning, the warming glow of the sunrise, and the high-noon heat offers runners something different to experience every time around. As one can expect, the hills also tend to grow a bit later in the day, so loops 5, 6, and 7 bring out new appreciation for how much you really hate the wonderful people in out sport, such as Andy Jones-Wilkins.

As for my personal race report, here goes:

This being the second year of running on my Daddy Schedule (i.e. on a 75% training level), I've settled in nicely to not caring about much other than enjoying the experience of running a long way with friends on race day. That said, I still have long legs and love the trails, so when I start chatting with a fast new friend in a race like this, I can still kick out the carbon a bit to keep the conversation going at a faster-than-fitness-level pace...for a little while, anyway. Such was the case from the giddy-up of this race when the masses headed out on the first loop at 5:00 a.m.. Brian Pickett was sporting bib #2 (which makes my lungs hurt just typing), and darned if he wasn't a fun dude to run with...so we stuck together at the front of the race...for the first 36 miles. The good news is, if either of us ever needs someone to write our biography in the future, we pretty much covered all the necessary life topics during those 6 hours of running together. The bad news, for me anyway, was when we started out on loop #5, I found myself grinding gears a bit trying to keep Brian in sight as he slowly pulled 2 minutes ahead by the mid-loop aid station. At the time I didn't think that was a huge problem since I had the two long downhills in the second half of the loop to open things up and try to reel in Blazin' Brian...

...A few minutes later, when a guy pushing his mountain bike up one of those hills stopped to ask if I was OK, I realized, in no particular order: 1) I was not catching Brian, 2) Trying to run downhill on one's face is a bad idea.

We've all tripped on the trails a million times, and countless "best blood" awards have been given post-race for crimson knees and hands, but actually hitting my face on the ground? That was a new one for me. The good news is, my cheekbone turns out to be pretty sturdy, so aside from seeing a few stars, I was no worse for the wear in the facial disfigurement department. The downside, in terms of the race itself, was I knew I'd be running the last 2.5 loops in a bucket of syrup just to get it done.  So that's what I did, and you know what? It was still pretty enjoyable. Sure I was tired and a bit wobbly on the downs, and yes it was getting a little warmer than any of us were accustomed to after this past winter's crazy cold, but nothing can take away from the pure fun of running around in the woods all day. The race's TJ-inspired tagline "Persue Happiness" couldn't sum up the whole experience better for me. What a great day for running.

With RD AJW at the Finish
The talented Mr. Pickett enjoying his hard-earned first place finish in the sun!
In the end Brian held our original lap pace pretty evenly the whole way and grabbed the win in a solid time of 10:33. I was lucky enough to hold on to 2nd place about a half-hour later. Peter Jetton rounded out the Men's podium, and the ladies superstars of the day were Stephanie Wilson in first, Jennifer Nichols in second, and Carter Wiecking in third. Congrats to all! Full Results here. Also, AJW was the RD, but there were dozens more amazing volunteers of all kinds who made this race such a smashing success in its first year: Co-RD John Andersen (of Crozet Running), Sophie Speidel and her course-marking crew, and so many many more. Dave Snipes gets his own sentence here, just because he's awesome. This dude always seems to have my back - thanks again Sniper!

The great gifts kept coming after the race with everyone getting a crisp $2 bill (with Jefferson on it, of course) as they crossed the finish line, and I was lucky enough to also score this sweet pewter Jefferson Cup as well!
An engraved pewter Jefferson Cup ranks just behind the Loch Ness Monster on the list of things that are impossible to photograph.
One final note: As it turned out, the week of this race marked my 10 year anniversary of being officially cancer-free. I ended up really appreciating the chance to run solo during the last few hours of this race. We are all really fortunate to be able to enjoy life in whatever manner we choose, and for me to be out on those trails running around like a kid in the woods all day, well, I didn't take one single step for granted.

That said, my next race will be one of the greatest experiences I've ever had the chance to enjoy. I've spent the last few months putting together a team of 10 ultra-running cancer survivors, and we're all headed down to run the Virginia 24 Hour Run in Hampton, VA on April 26-27. This is most definitely NOT a fundraiser for our team. Everyone is tired of that type of thing at this point. Instead, we're all teaming up to try and break the course record for total team miles (somewhere north of 700 miles). It's going to be a blast being a part of a Team out there encouraging each other all day and night, and while we may not get that record, if you want to see toughness and grit on display in a race, we'll definitely be the poster team for that!