I PAID FOR THIS?!

The ‘other side’ of the race!

The social calendar of the average runner is usually booked solid with upcoming races during the prime weather seasons between Spring and Fall. Runners love their races! They get to see the familiar faces of friends and acquaintances, they get their swag, ‘free t-shirts’, ‘free candy’, ‘free dinks’, ‘free bananas’. All included in the low, price of the registration fee. Fun, friends, and free stuff! What a bargain! But here’s the thing, all that ‘free stuff’ wasn’t ‘free’, you paid for it as an incentive to sign up for the race. A runner runs, it’s what we do, but when it comes to races we expect certain things. A commemorative t-shirt is top of the list for some runners. For long races such as marathons and half-marathons, a finisher’s medal is a MUST! Post-race snacks and beverages, as well as water stations are non-negotiable!  

 No runner wants to pass out after burning off several hundred to a couple thousand calories because the race was too cheap to provide post-race refreshments. So yes, we paid for it, and we expect it, but have you ever considered the logistic nightmare that is involved with even getting a race off the ground? The life-blood of any business is a loyal customer base. The life-blood of any organization is a combination of a dedicated ,skilled staff and helpful volunteers. A race event is both a business and an organization and has to balance a very tight financial equation to remain profitable. Losses of customers (runners), staff, and volunteers can kill a race.

CONSIDER THE COSTS

You paid your entry fee for the race, but what EXACTLY does that fee cover?

First, there are the visible tangibles like the T-shirts, race bibs, snacks, swag etc. You see these things and can physically hold them, but that is not the ONLY cost that your race entry fee has to cover.

Promotion and advertising-Any printed flyers advertising the race have a production cost. They have to be paid for. Online advertising companies also have associated fees. Web maintenance, site hosting, and domain name costs for the event, (or the group hosting the event if the websites are different) need to be paid for.

Graphic Design– The unique image to be printed for the event on the t-shirts and any promotional material or swag has to be paid for.

T-shirts or swag– These need to be ordered and paid for in advance of the event. There may be a small amount of extra ‘first come, first serve’ for the last minute day of race sign up, but extra costs extra so these tend to be in short supply as to keep costs down.

Licenses, permits, insurance and rental fees– There’s a lot of paperwork involved with organizing a race, and all of these things need to be paid for before the race can begin. You have to have a place to hold the race, and all the necessary legal paperwork to cover the event and any post race award ceremony.

Timing services– A timing company such as Pretzel City Sports has to be hired to time and record the race results. 

Marking the course- Prior to the race, someone has to physically run or walk the entire length of the  course marking any turns, and placing course indicators. This can be done with:

 spray chalk or flour arrows,

colored ribbon,

and even metal signs chained to trees.

If the course crosses onto an open road, someone also needs to be positioned to halt traffic so that the runners may safely cross .

 At the end of the race, again someone has to go remove said markings, The marking materials have to be purchased and the person marking the course should be paid.

Awards– Shiny trophies, medals, or prize money has to be purchased or set aside.

Drinks and snacks– Non-perishables such as candy, water, granola bars may be purchased weeks ahead, but the bananas, bagels, soft pretzels, or any perishable foods must be ordered and picked up shortly before the event, and must be paid for in advance. Plus someone has to do the shopping and pick-up the items, and this person might be either paid staff or a volunteer worker.    

Health and safety– On site paramedics , traffic control officers, first aid stations need to be paid for.

Portable Toilets– The bigger the event, the more porta-potties are needed. These have to be reserved in advance and delivered to the site of the race prior to the event, as well as removed shortly thereafter.

Charities– A portion of the profits of the race may be ear-marked for certain charities.

Volunteer staff– Just because they offer to help doesn’t mean there is no form of compensation for their valuable time or hard work. Some perks of being a volunteer often includes snacks or meals, leftover swag, and discounts or free admission to future events.  

Reputation– Reputation is PRICELESS! It takes years to build and seconds to destroy. Organizations have been banned from using public parks or trails because the attendees trashed the place. In 2020 a local marathon/half-marathon (which shall not be named) lost the privilege to have races on a popular trail near Valley Forge because park officials were unhappy with the state of the post-race clean up, or lack there-of. It doesn’t matter who was at fault. That race has not returned again this year, and may never be back.   

The bottom line is this: Races are expensive and complicated events to put on. For the runner, race day begins at sign in and ends after the awards and post-race snacks. For the people directly involved in the logistics of the race, the work has already been going on for weeks. It is both a nightmare of logistics and a labor of love.  Pre-race set-up took place hours before the race. Post-race clean-up may take hours after the race. The runners can go home as soon as they finish, but the staff will be there long after the last runner crosses the finish line.

Finding out if the event made money or lost money won’t be known for days after the race. So if you have a favorite local race, sign up for it early. Tell your friends about it and spread the word. Thank the race director, thank the staff and thank the volunteers. Don’t litter, and  leave the area in the same state you left it in, or better.  You paid for that race, but ensuring it’s future is also up to you!

You can find me at these upcoming local races:

April 2022

April 21st Third Thirsty Thursday 5K Race Series (#1 of 7) @7pm Reading PA  

May  2022

May 15th Chobot Challenge 15K Trail Run @9am Rustic Park Birdsboro PA

May 19th Third Thirsty Thursday 5K Race Series (#2 of 7) @7pm Reading PA  

Be sure to check back  on April 24th, 2022 for another article.

As always, I wish you success and happiness!

SUDDENLY, SUZAN!

When a runner dies…

I received a few queries about why there wasn’t a March 13th 2022 blog post, or a March 27th one either. The truth is I’ve been severely depressed and it’s hard for me to be enthusiastic , or even care about anything right now. I had two personal traumatic experiences in a six week period that have taken the proverbial wind out of my sails. I apologize for the personal tone of today’s blog. It’s very unprofessional, but no one’s paying me and InstantCoffeeWisdom.com only became a blog about running when running became the center point of my world three years ago. So let’s start at…

THE BEGINNING

My father was NOT a runner. The man could barely walk unassisted. He smoked, he drank, he ate meat. Exercise was unknown to the man. He weighed over 300lbs, most of it fat. When I was about 4 years old, my father was just a few years older than I am now, and one night he died in his sleep.  The reason given by the old-time family doctor was ‘natural causes’. After all death is natural. Everyone of us from the moment we draw our first breath is on a journey to meet the Grim Reaper at some unknown point in the future. There is not a person alive that will go to bed at night with the guarantee that they will wake up in the morning. It’s depressing, but it’s still a fact. This is why it’s imperative that we take care of our bodies. Your health is your wealth, and if you continue making poor choices about your health, you will reap disastrous or possibly even  fatal outcomes. You have one body, and one life here on Earth. Make it count. Be an inspiration, not a cautionary tale. Live a great story!

I have spent nearly my entire life trying to be better and more successful than my father. I live ‘clean’– free from the addictions of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, plus I’ve been a vegetarian since collage. As far as the exercise component, nothing really grabbed me until I started running. My times began improving with each race and training session, i rapidly made new running friends with whom I was now spending  most of my free time with. This was much to the dismay of my non-running, couch-bound friends who just didn’t understand the whole running thing, even to this day.

2020 was a great year for me, with one PR (Personal Record) after another. I felt amazing, and I had great new positive and highly supportive friends.

THE MIDDLE

The trouble with being a Clydesdale is that your body is taking a beating due to the excess weight.  Clydesdale is a term used to describe heavy-weight runners. Some women prefer the cutesy term Clydette or choose to be referred to Athenas. So because of our larger frame, we have a much slower pace and tend to be back-of-the packers, the turtle patrol, the sloth running team, etc.  Whatever you call us, we’re the big horses in the race, and the only way we’re taking 1st place overall is if everyone else trips.  So I found this second group of runners who had a similar pace to mine, and suddenly long races were being run side-by-side or within sight of other runners who you could match pace with. As we were running near the ventilatory threshold, it was still possible to hold conversations,  and encourage one another. There is a difference between running in a race with someone, and running with someone in a race. And that’s how I met Suzan. I remember the first time she spoke to me, I had seen her at other two prior Third Thirsty Thursday 5Ks, but by the August 6th, 2020 TTTK5, I hit a new personal speed record and flew downhill from the turnabout point screaming a triumphant battle cry as I sped past a wide-eyed  Suzan like a blur. After the race she was so impressed by my performance  that she came up to me and said “My MAN! YOU ARE BADASS!” , then high-fived me and gave me her phone number.

From then on, we were texting each other often, looking for one another at races, running together for as long as we could match pace, and waiting for each other at the finish line. By October I could run a half-marathon every weekend, and in November I ran my first full marathon at the alternate Labor Pains 10-hour endurance race at French Creek. I fell, bruised my legs and injured my IT band, but I limped to the finish line.

Unfortunately the labor shortage at my job decided to derail my new-found happiness. Endless weeks of 20-25hrs of forced overtime quickly took their toll on my health. In 2021 personal bests gave way to personal worsts, and almost every race found me dead last. I spent the most of 2021 trying to fight my way back.

In 2021 Suzan and I we were ‘supposed’ to run seven half-marathons together.  We actually ran 3 together. Gettysburg, The Dumb Dutchman, and BirdInHand.

She missed The Slyfox Dutch Half because she had signed up for a 2020 half that got rescheduled for the same day, and she really wanted to run that one. She overslept and missed the Lebanon Root Beer Half. She signed up for the Half-wit half-marathon. This is the hardest half-marathon known to man, a trail run up Mt Penn. Because she signed up for it, I did too. I told her, “If you can do it, I can do it!” The morning of the race she backed out due to a pulled muscle. I ran 13.1 miles up that damn mountain  without her, and it was the worst experience of my life.  In July I pulled my hamstring, so long runs were OUT, and I had hoped I could heal up by Fall. I did not. In September I had a half that I refused to miss. I struggled through BirdinHand, and honestly I could not have made it without Suzan. I texted her at the 10th mile that I was about to give up, and she texted back “YOU GOT THIS!” She was waiting for me at the finish line, took a bunch of pictures, helped me get my post race food, etc.

That race was my last half of 2021. I backed out of the End-of-the-Line half. Suzan ran it without me.

I decided to stick to nothing longer than a 10K for the foreseeable future, but even that was too much.

THE END

On February 19th 2022 I ran the Ugly Mudder 10k Trail Run. Once again I was dead last. I barely made it back to the finish line and into The Liederkranz (a bar) minutes before a blinding snow squall hit. So I’m sitting in the bar and I closed my eyes for (I swear) just one second. The next thing I know, everyone is yelling my name in my face, and not in the happy good way. They called 911, an ambulance arrived. Evidently I passed out two more times on the EMTs, but I don’t remember any of this. All I wanted to do was go home. I was FINE, I DID NOT WANT TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL! Well the only way I went was under to the threat of being banned from racing forever. One of the EMTS also made the comment that since I lived alone, if I went home and just went to bed without being checked, I could die in my sleep. (Remember what I wrote earlier about my older-than-me-now father dying in his sleep?)  So off to the hospital I went.

They checked me out, I was FINE, Combination of dehydration and exhaustion. After this I was pretty depressed. Then things got worse. I was texting Suzan thought this ordeal because I was burning a lot of sick-time. I had no desire to go to work.  She texted me back that I needed to take care of myself. On March 2nd, I sent Suzan a text about probably going back to work tomorrow, and that I doubted they’d fire me. She texted back “nah, they need you too much”. I trudged away at my job working 10-12 hrs days, and sent a few unanswered texts. I texted that I was going for a run Sunday at Gring’s Mill with our mutual  friend Denise, and she should join us. No answer. Called her. No answer.  Ran with Denise, sent her a text with pictures and said she missed a fun run. No answer. Tested her that she was ‘awfully quiet, is everything OK?’ No answer. I figured she was mad at me for something . A couple of days after that I got a text at work  from another mutual friend asking what happened to Suzan? She had just seen a post on Facebook shared by yet another friend that Suzan had died March 3rd. I fell to pieces. The next day I missed the March 13th Shiver by the River. The 1st time I ever intentionally blew off a race. I didn’t want to run, I didn’t even want to live anymore. I did go to the post-race banquet because I needed to be with my other running friends. Home alone was the worst place for me. Afterward I drove to her house, I was worried about her race medals possibly being tossed in the trash. And who was taking care of her dog? Her parents and an aunt were there going through her belongings. Her father assured me that they were taking her medals back home to Florida and would display them accordingly. Suzan ran the NYC Marathon, 75 half-marathons, and countless 5Ks.  Her dog Sprout went to live with a friend’s daughter.  They told me that Suzan had died from a pulmonary embolism caused by a blood clot in her lung. The ironic thing is that March is National Blood Clot Awareness Month.  If you catch a severe blood clot early, you have a 90% chance of survival. If you ignore the warning signs, your odds are about 50-50. Suzan had been experiencing some breathing issues, but she assumed it was nothing. It was a fatal mistake and it cost her parents their only child. She was 42.

I’m still not in half-marathon shape physically, mentally, or emotionally, but Sunday April 10th, 2022 is the Gettysburg Half Marathon. This will be my 3rd time running in this race, only this time Suzan won’t be there running with me. I got permission from Gettysburg race director Lowell Ladd to place a memorial sign and some flowers at the race. Her father sent me a text wishing me success, and that Suzan will be cheering me on from Heaven. I’m going to cross that finish line Sunday if I have to die trying.     

You can find me at the following upcoming local races:


April 2022

April 9th April Foolish 10hr Endurance trail run. @ 7:00am French Creek State Park Elverson PA (only doing ONE lap)

April 10th Gettysburg Half Marathon @8am Gettysburg PA

April 21st Third Thirsty Thursday 5K Race Series (#1 of 7) @7pm Reading PA  

Be sure to check back  on April 17th, 2022 for another article.

As always, I wish you success and happiness!

YOU DESERVE A MEDAL!

The ultimate ego boost!

The ancient Olympic games date back to 776 B.C. At the games the victors in each competition were adorned with olive wreaths.  The contemporary tradition of awarding gold. silver, and bronze medals for the top three finishers began over  a hundred years ago when such medals were first awarded in every event at the 1904 Olympic Games held in St. Louis Missouri.  

The modern marathon also began with the modern Olympics first held in Athens Greece in 1896. Its current distance of 26.2 miles (42.195 km) was standardized by the International Amateur Athletic Federation 1921.

The practice of giving out finisher’s medals to all participants completing a marathon race did not become common until the mid to late 1980s.

Today, there are currently over 1000 marathons races held across the United States each year. About 1% of the US population has run a marathon. Marathons are the ‘gold standard’ of running. Nearly every runner wants to run at least one marathon in their life. Non-runners sometimes even put running a marathon on their respective bucket lists.  If you asked the average person on the street how many miles are in a marathon, 90% or greater would not be able to tell you the correct distance, despite the prevalence of all those oval car stickers with the 26.2 on them.  However, the MOST popular distance race is not the marathon, but the half-marathon.  The number of half-marathons held annually in the USA is nearly triple those of the full marathon. Many seasoned runners sign up for multiple half-marathons each year. 13.1 miles is still a challenging race, but it does not beat-up your body as much as a full marathon. The bonus of this race is that you also get a finisher’s medal if you complete the distance.  Some runners collect the various finisher’s medals, either by running favorite races annually, choosing races by the medal offered, or an combination of both.

Shorter distance races such as 5K , 10K or 15K do not as a rule hand out finisher’s medals. The only medal you’ll get in these races is if you place in the top of your division. Ultra-marathons also exist but only .03% of the population has run these distances of 50K (31 miles) 100K (62 miles) or 100 Miles (161K). At ultras, finisher’s medals may, or may not be offered depending upon the race.

Running half-marathons, full marathons, or (for those brave souls who dare) ultra-marathons is no easy feat. It takes up to 20 weeks of training to achieve these distances safely. If you skip the training program, you can expect a world of pain and physical injury, or possibly even death. Two out of every three Americans are overweight, and exercise is a foreign concept for most of them. Your health is your wealth, and you only get one body. I don’t care how easy or difficult running a half-marathon or greater is for you, but if you complete that distance you deserve a medal. You earned it! You’ve accomplished something that roughly 97% of the people in the country couldn’t do to save their lives. You are amazing!

In the short run

As previously stated, to earn a medal in a short-distance races such as a 5K, 10K, or 15K, you need to place in a top position in either your gender, age division, or weight class as is the case of Clydesdales.  By breaking the race down into different brackets, you even the playing field so that all participants are able to compete at their best in an effort to shine by going for the proverbial gold. Winning a medal in your division is an incredible ego booster. It is a physical representation which proclaims that you bested another athlete. It is an amazing feeling to have that medal placed around your neck, or handed to you in front of a room of your peers.  When I began running, I ran with a small group of fellow runners all of whom were very supportive and encouraging of ‘the new guy’. And that’s a great thing, to feel accepted and be part of the group.  But it was kind of a mismatch as this pack of runners were much faster than myself, and overtime, they began to grow weary of waiting for ‘the slow-poke’ at the end of these fun runs on local trails.  These athletes ALWAYS walked away with a medal at the post-race award ceremony.  THEY expected a top place medal. THEY WERE FAST!  My hope was just to maybe one day earn 3rd place.

Since then, I’ve met many other running-friends most of whom are roughly the same pace as myself and we have much more fun. 

Expect the unexpected

At the 1st Third Thirsty Thursday race of 2020, I was sitting with that original group of faster runners and watching them go up one-by-one to get their medals. By this point I had lost all hope of ever getting one.  I was stunned when my name was called for the 1st time ever.  I had to ask race director Ron Horn three time “ME?” while point at myself as he said “YOU!” while pointing back at me before I claimed my medal.

The best medals are the ones we don’t expect. The worst medals are the ones we think we deserve, but don’t get. It can be soul-crushing to see someone else walk away with the last medal when you ran you’re fastest pace ever and thought you had the award without a doubt.

Ironically this happened to me just last year. Once again it was at a Third Thirsty Thursday race on May 21, 2021. The thing about the Clydesdale Division is that after a while, you know your competition. The course is a straight out-and-back 5K.  You go straight down the trail 1.55 miles, turn around at the marked point, and run straight back. So as you run out, you’re aware of who passed you, and you have an idea of who’s still behind you. As you see people in your division heading back to the start, you count. 1St, 2nd, 3rd, etc. This particular race is a series, but it also allows for race day sign-up, so the line-up of competitors can change from race to race. As I counted the 4th male Clydesdale heading back, I was confident the 5th place spot was mine. Hitting the turn-around point, I saw that fellow Clydesdale Joe was right behind me by mere yards.  This began a frantic pace to stay ahead as Joe and myself kept trading the lead. I re-claimed the lead at the last quarter-mile calling out as I passed “I’m fighting you to the finish ‘Apollo’ you ain’t taking the win, I’ve got ‘The Eye of the Tiger’!” As the finish line came in sight, Joe yelled back “Alright, LET’S DO THIS!” We sprinted the final 50 yards neck-and-neck like two crazed stallions. And just like that, Joe crossed the finish line  with me just one second behind him.  I was crushed!

Ironically, it was all for nothing.  I had missed a ‘faux pony’ who must have technically just barely been a Clydesdale. The coveted 5th place spot had already been claimed. Joe was 6th and I was 7th. But what a race it was!

The Epic Battle for the gold against Muhammad Ali

Until I began running, the only medal I ever earned in my life was that one time when I was competing against Muhammad Ali. First I didn’t even know I was battling him, it was a total surprise.  Second, it wasn’t THAT Muhammad  Ali. It was this short Muslim kid in 9th grade named Muhammad S. Ali. It was our final year as seniors at Van Wyck J.H.S 217 in Queens NY and we were both the top students in computer programming. We had to right a computer program that did two things based on the info entered. I don’t remember the specifics, but I only know that my program worked and his didn’t. I ‘think’ I used a bit of spaghetti logic with an IF-THEN-GOSUB line that delivered the proper answer.  At graduation we earned the top awards in computer science, I took the gold medal, he got the silver.     

The eye of the beholder

Like beauty, these medals  only have value given to them by the recipient. They are either treasured mementos, or worthless trinkets.  If it’s important to you, then it’s important. Most runners like myself display our medals on the wall.

Some pack them away in a keepsake box. One very competitive runner I know has an entire trophy room to display medals, trophies, race-bibs, and framed news articles,  If I owned a house, I might do likewise some day. On the other end of the spectrum, I know a runner who throws away his race-bibs, and gives away his awards to his grandson to play with. He ran the race, he knows how he did. It’s done, who needs a keepsake? Well that’s his viewpoint not mine. I earned my medal and you can have when you pry it from my cold dead hands!

You can find me at these upcoming local races

March 2022

Shiver by The River 10K Winter Race Series #4 of 4  March 13th @ 10:00am Muhlenberg PA

Be sure to check back  on March 13th, 2022 for another article.

As always, I wish you success and happiness!

THE CLEAN SLATE!

Starting over, AGAIN!

It’s 2022 and the first month of the year is just about over. Like many people, you probably started the year out with a New Year’s resolution or two.  That’s a wonderful way to begin the year by wiping the slate clean. The bad news is by the end of the first month, about one in three people have already broken those resolutions and given up.  To those of you who have still managed to hang in there and are on track to accomplishing those goal, kudos to you! You are awesome! For those you stumbled and fell this first month, you too are awesome! You tried, you didn’t succeed, BUT you still have eleven more months of the year. There is no rule that says you can’t start over, again. January is a long, cold month. I only managed to get two runs in this month. A personal 5K on New Year’s Day so that I could start the year running, and the Shiver By the River 10K on January 16th. My New Year’s Day run is  a ‘new tradition’ I first began on January 1st 2020 with my running friend Steve.

It was cold, but we did it together.  I do it solo now, but we all have to start somewhere and that was the beginning.

 I encourage all runners to start the year out with a New Year’s Day run. It’s a way of setting the year up. You can tie this in with any number of personal Virtual Races if there is no local in person race, and you can earn a medal to commemorate the occasion. But it’s vitally important to start the year with a run to set your mind for the year ahead. If you didn’t do this in 2022, plan to do it on January 1st, 2023. A runner runs!

Also be sure to sign up for the Run The Year Challenge from Run The Edge.  Registration includes a tracker app that you can pair to your Strava or Garmin so you can track your mileage for the entire year . Last year I only managed to run just over 300 miles, but hopefully I’ll do better this year. In order to run the entire 2022 miles, I needed to achieve a 5.54 mile every single day.  I fell short by missing most of the month. Now to achieve my goal, I need to up the mileage to 6.6 miles per day, every day for the rest of the year.  You need to challenge yourself and keep motivated, this is a great way to do that.

So IF you fell short of your resolution in January, all is not lost. Begin again on February 1st. February is a cold month, but it’s also the shortest month.  I have 3 in-person live races slated that I plan to run. Once again, these winter months are brutal, but the key is not to quit! Winners never quit, and you are a winner, not a quitter.  Grab those running shoes and go for a run! The ONLY goal I task you with is to run more miles in February than you did in January. That’s it. I can do it, and so can you!  

You can find me at these upcoming local races

FEBRUARY 2022

Arctic Blast 5K February 5 @ 10:00 am Reading PA

Shiver by The River 10K Winter Race Series #3 of 4  February 13th @ 10:00am Muhlenberg PA

Ugly Mudder 9.5K Trail Race February 19 @ 10:00 am Reading PA  

Be sure to check back  on February 13th 2022 for another article.

As always, I wish you success and happiness!

FEEL THE BRRR!

Baby it’s cold outside!

Today is January 9th, 2022 and it’s the 3rd week of winter. The unpredictability of winter weather can pose difficulties for the safety of runners.   

Today was ‘supposed’ to be a race day. It’s not  because of another four letter word, snow. Snow which melts a bit, then re-freezes and becomes known as ‘sleet’, or little pellets of ice. If it doesn’t re-freeze on its journey from the clouds to the ground, it arrives instead as ‘freezing rain’. If air turbulence bounces the precipitation up and down repeatedly for a prolonged period, allowing the snow/rain/sleet particles to melt, freeze, melt again, refreeze and merge with other particles as it hits them, we wind up with hail. Hail is pretty rare as far as precipitation goes, but it has been known to destroy cars, roves,  crops, windows and even kill people or animals not fortunate enough to find shelter in time.

You probably recall the terrible fate that befell a group of runners in China last year.  

On May 22nd, 2021 21 Chinese ultra-marathoners died from exposure to freezing temperatures. The ill-fated 100K race took place at 9am at the Yellow River Stone Forest in the Gansu province of China. The forecast that day predicted some wind and rain, but a freak winter storm caught the participants off guard at a mountainous section of the course. The unfortunate runners were pelted by hail, heavy rains and gales as the temperatures sharply plummeted three hours after the start of the race.

Two of the casualties included 31-year old Liang Jing, one of the most accomplished ultramarathoners in China, and 34 year-old Huang Guanjun  a hearing-impaired Paralympian marathoner. 

172 runners went missing in the limited visibility, but were found by rescue teams before they succumbed to the elements. 6 ‘comparatively lucky’ runners were rescued by  local sheep herder Zhu Keming. He had been sheltering the storm in a cave were he stashed emergency  supplies when he saw one of the participants. As he guided the man to the cave, four other runners arrived. A fire was built. Zhu then rescued a sixth man. The four men and three women  warmed themselves and dried their wet clothes until the storm passed.

There are two things to keep in mind here. 

1. You cannot predict the weather to 100% certainty. You can only make an educated guess based on available data. The officials running the Yellow River Stone Forest 100K made a horrible, bad call on allowing the race to start when they received late-breaking information of worsening storm conditions. As a result, good people died, and charges of criminal negligence were filled against the organizers of the race.

2. Expect the unexpected.  Ultramarathoners  tend to know their stuff, but sometimes that also leads to overconfidence.  I cannot imagine running 62 miles with an impending storm wearing only shorts and a light jacket, or worse, no jacket at all. Yet some chose to because they were comfortable wearing the lighter gear. It is better to have what you don’t need, than to need what you don’t have.  I have already had seasoned runners chide me about my large waist pouch, but it’s my choice to carry gear if I believe I may need it. I’m a Clydesdale, and I’m also not the fastest horse in the race.

My late mother used to tell the temperature by the calendar. It didn’t matter if it was one of those weird January days when the temperature nearly hit 60°F (16°C) and it was sunny. You had to put on six layers, gloves, a hat, boots, and a 12′ knitted scarf that you could wrap around your neck four times and still trip on.  The woman, God rest her soul, had no clue! You dress accordingly and everyone has a different comfort level. Listen to your body!  I have seen people run outdoors in winter wearing shorts, while others looked like they were dressing for an expedition to the North Pole.  

You can’t skip a season of running because it’s cold outside, and no one wants to run like a deranged hamster on a treadmill for months.  So sign up for those winter races because a runner runs and it’s fun to race with your friends and peers. Just dress accordingly.

The key is to wear layers, and have a hat and gloves SHOULD YOU NEED THEM.

You want to keep your core temperature at 98.6°F (37°C) and protect your skin from frostbite in cold temperatures.  When you are done with your run, you want to quickly change into warm dry clothing so keep a change of clothes (including socks) in your vehicle.

If you are running alone in winter, keep distances SHORT, and stick to well traveled trails. These is nothing wrong with doing a morning 5K followed by an afternoon or evening 5K. You just don’t want to get injured or stranded miles away from help.

If you are running in darkness, wear reflective clothing and use a light. Options include headlamps, sneaker lights, LED rope-vests, blinker bands, or a simple flashlight. Just make sure you  can see and be seen.

Wear appropriate footwear, with optional ice-cleat clamp-ons  for icy conditions. You can even purchase neoprene toe-warmers to wear over your socks.

Running outside in winter doesn’t have to be a bad experience as long as you dress smart and always keep personal safety in mind!

You can find me at these upcoming local races.

January 2022

Shiver by The River 10K Winter Race Series #2 of 4 NEW DATE January 16th @ 10:00am Muhlenberg PA

February 2022

Arctic Blast 5K February 5 @ 10:00 am Reading PA

Shiver by The River 10K Winter Race Series #3 of 4  February 13th @ 10:00am Muhlenberg PA

Ugly Mudder 9.5K Trail Race February 19 @ 10:00 am Reading PA (still tentative due to my hamstring issue)

Be sure to check back  on January 30th 2022 for another article.

As always, I wish you success and happiness!

It’s the Most ‘RUN’derful Time of the Year!

Shivering by the river in Muhlenberg PA

Today is the 12th of December 2021 and Christmas is 13 days away! It’s also the second Sunday in December and the start of the 34th Annual SHIVER BY THE RIVER 5K & 10K Winter Race series.  Each year this 4 race series is held by the PAGODA PACERS athletic club (PAC) , a regional Berks County running club founded in 1980.  Shiver by the River is held on the second Sunday of each month at 10AM from December through March. The course starts at Dietrich Park Muhlenberg  and loops though a nearby housing community before heading back to the park. The course is well-marked and staffed by volunteers to keep you con course . The race is timed by another local running giant, PRETZEL CITY SPORTS (PCS).

Although SHIVER is not specifically a Christmas-themed race, the  first race of the series usually marks one of the last times local runners can wish one another a Merry Christmas before December 25th. The  ONLY one other local race between now and then is PCS’s Humbug Bustle 5K on Dec 18th. On the day after Christmas, the PAGODA PACERS will hold a 5 Mile Kris Kringle Run in Leesport PA.  Many runners today, (myself included) dressed in Christmas running attire.

4 Winter Running Tips

  • Always have a hat and gloves YOU MIGHT NEED THEM
  • Always have a running jacket YOU MIGHT NEED IT
  • Always have shoe-cleats YOU MIGHT NEED THEM
  • Always have a dry change of clothes YOU MIGHT NEED IT

In the winter, temperatures can vary drastically by region. Today in Berks County, it was 43°F (6°C). The sun was shining brightly, but there were occasional wind gusts.  It was cool enough that I was very glad I had a runner’s jacket in my car. Just my red t-shirt would not have been enough, buy my Santa Cap kept my head warm.   Thankfully we have yet to have a regional snowfall, so the streets were nice and dry.  It was just warm enough that I could keep my jacket un-zipped to vent, so I did not work up a sweat. The key to safe winter running is to be prepared for the unexpected. On a short 5K loop, the furthest distance away from your vehicle may only be 2.5K (1.55 miles) but that can be a cold and miserable run back. You can always shed a layer if you need to, but it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Hypothermia kills.  

Know your limits

The Shiver series gives you the OPTION of doing a second 5K lap provided you make the first round before the designated cutoff time of 50 minutes.

I have ALWAYS run the second lap ever since I started in 2019. Today I had every intention of doing so once again.  Unfortunately for the past 5 months I have been plagued by a hamstring injury that just will not heal. I was doing well up until mile 2.5, then I began to feel the discomfort in the back of my knee. I did get my lap in before the cutoff time, but I could not be certain that I could finish a second lap if I dared it. I hesitated 15 seconds before I turned right to the finish line instead of left to an uncertain outcome. Yes, I was disappointed that my knee let me down once again, but IF I had not listened to my body and stopped when I did, I might have made things worse and possibly missed even more upcoming races.

Running is supposed to be fun

The joy of running these great local races held by both PAC and PSC is that you get to see familiar faces and are surrounded by friends. The power of a few encouraging words and thumbs-up from your fellow runners can be all the difference between a good time and a bad one.  I carried a small Bluetooth speaker in my running bag today and played upbeat Christmas music as I ran. I wished people Merry Christmas. I told people they were doing great, and they had this in the bag. I had a good time that my non-running friends will never get, and I outran everyone who sat home. I had a great time.

ANOTHER YEAR OVER, A NEW ONE HAS BEGUN!

In regards to running 2021 didn’t turn out the way I intended. I got hurt, missed races, and my times went from personal bests to personal worsts. The good news is that I was able to run as many races as I did. I didn’t quit, I didn’t give up. My times are slowly dropping back towards my normal, and hopefully by Spring I’ll be able to start running half-marathons again, and by November I’ll be ready for that elusive Philly Marathon that keeps slipping through my fingers. I would not be half the runner I am today were it not for the support and encouragement of all my running friends.

December 2021

HumBug Bustle 5k December 18 @ 10:00 am Reading PA

Kris Kringle 5 Mile Run December 26 @ 10:00 am Leesport PA

January 2022

Shiver by The River 10K Winter Race Series #2 of 4 January 9th @ 10:00am Muhlenberg PA

Well this closes the book on another year, as Christmas is in less than two weeks. InstantCoffeeWisdom will return in the New Year. Be sure to check back  on Janury 9th 2022 for another article.

As always, I wish you success and happiness, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

A HOP, SKIP, AND A JUMP!

More bodyweight exercises!

(This is the third and last article in a series of body weight exercises for runners. For the first article read WORKING THE PLANK, and the second article is STEP UP YOUR GAME. )

The two  biggest excuses for not exercising are a lack of equipment, and not being able to get to the gym. In body-weight exercises YOU are the ‘equipment’ so all you need is yourself. No matter where you go, there you are, NO EXCUSES! To be a strong runner you must incorporate some sort of exercise regiment in addition to running. Running is a wonderful exercise and a great way to meet some positive and awesome people at local races. If you want to have a long and productive running  ‘career’ you must strengthen your core and legs with additional regular exercise .  So now that you have mastered working the plank and can step up your game, it’s time to go to the next level.

Standing on one leg, and hopping!

Standing on one leg is a great simple exercise to work your leg muscles while improving balance at the same time. You should be able to balance on one leg for at least 20 seconds un-aided.  This exercise primarily targets the quads but to a lesser degree also targets the glutes, groin, hamstrings, hip flexors and outer thighs.  Always remember to switch legs and give the same amount of time and attention to each leg. When you work up to the point where you can stand still on each leg motionless for two minutes, you can make the exercise harder by hopping instead of standing. You should only need to do this for a minute or two. No all-day hoppers please!

Skipping Rope

Ok, this is the ONE body-weight exercise where you need a ‘prop’ besides yourself, so shoot me. A speed rope is a minor expense and only costs $10 or less, and you can easily keep it in your gym bag with your sneakers and other running gear.

 Alternately, you should be able to find a suitable length of rope or flexible wire-cable. EVEN IF you had zero access to a speed rope or a substitute, you could STILL do this exercise just by pretending you have a rope and mimicking the motion. You might look pretty silly jumping with an invisible rope, but at least you wouldn’t have an excuse!

Skipping rope (or jumping rope, both terms are used) enhances balance while improving coordination and agility. It’s an efficient form of cardio which strengthens your whole body. The rapid bouncing motion up and off the ground and back boosts bone density. Again, this is a short duration exercise. Aim for 5 to 15 minutes as a warm-up exercise, besides skipping rope all day would get boring pretty quickly.

To skip rope, you are going to jump and inch or two off the ground while swinging a arch of rope over your head and under your feet in a constant rapid and rhythmic motion. The swinging of the rope in generated by wrist motion only, and your hands should be kept along the midline of your body. Keep your knees slightly bent and jump on the midsoles of your feet. Maintain a neutral spine with your head up, eyes looking forward. Timing is EVERYTHING. You need to be in the air a split second before the rope is about to pass under your feet. Simple huh?

Jumping Jacks

Again, this is a basic exercise, most of us were introduce to this in elementary school gym class. You stand straight, with a slight bend in your knees and your hands resting on your thighs. You jump and spread both your legs out wider than your shoulders  to each side while swinging your arms from your thighs out to the side and above your head. Then jump again reversing the motion to return to the starting point.  Your body should form a sort of x-shape when your arms and legs are fully extended. You want soft bouncing, and do not extend your legs out too far to the side or you will but undue strain on your knees.  You don’t need to do this very long, 5-10 minutes max.

Vertical Jump

This is a simple jump test, straight up in the air from a standing position. Only do one or two of these a day as a test of how high you can jump straight up. Stand against a wall and reach up with your arm fully extended. Make a mark on that wall. Now make your jump and mark where your fingers touch at the height of your jump. That is the total distance up you jumped. If you’re doing this on a wall in your home, you might want to make your marks with something that isn’t going to leave a permanent mark. You could slap a post-it note up there, or a piece of low-tack tape.

Frog Jump

This is a combination of squatting and jumping.  From a squat position, you jump straight up and land back in place in a squat, and repeat. You are only jumping up, not forward. Picture a frog jumping in place on a lily pad.  

 BURPEE, THE KING OF ALL BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES!  

The Burpee combines four different exercise into one very, very, VERY tough exercise. The Burpee is named for a physiologist named Royal Huddleston Burpee who invented the exercise in 1940.

Burpees consists of  a jump, a squat, a plank, and a push-up . If done correctly, this total-body strengthening exercise is super-effective.  (Full disclosure, I cannot do one of these now, but I hope to by summer.) AGAIN this is an extremely tough exercise that requires strength and coordination, it’s essential to take your time and perform them properly to avoid injury. Only attempt this exercise after you’ve mastered jumping, squatting, planking, and push-ups. An improper form in any exercise will put undue stress on your muscles and joints, so please make sure your form is solid, and proceed with caution.  

Starting from a standing position, you do a vertical jump, land in a squat, kick your legs back into a plank position, do a push-up. Then you reverse the procedure, pulling your legs from the plank position into the squat, and then jump up and land in the starting position. Repeat this exercise 10 to 25 times then go buy yourself your favorite beverage of choice because YOU EARNED IT!      

You can find me at these upcoming races:

December 2021

Shiver by The River 10K Winter Race Series #1 of 4 December 12 @ 10:00am Muhlenberg PA

HumBug Bustle 5K December 18 @ 10:00 am Reading PA

Kris Kringle 5 Mile Run December 26 @ 10:00 am Leesport PA

Be sure to check back  on December 12th for another article.

As always, I wish you success and happiness!

STEP UP YOUR GAME!

Work those legs!

(This is the second article in a series of body weight exercises for runners. For the first article read WORKING THE PLANK)

Most health care experts cite a weekly minimum of 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise, or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of high-intensity exercise, or an equivalent combination of the two. Additionally, at least two-three days should be used for strength training.  A more basic rule of thumb is 30 minutes of exercise daily with one rest day off each week.  Two of the biggest excuses given by people for not exercising are:

No time to get to the gym

Don’t have the proper equipment.

The beauty of body weight exercises is that they can be done practically anywhere, and require little or no equipment.

Running is a body weight exercise. When you run your feet and legs are propelling your entire body mass forward. Just as a strong core means faster run times, so do stronger feet and legs. If you are not actively working to make yourself stronger, then you are actively making yourself weaker. So if you’ve mastered working the plank, it’s time to step up your game and focus on your legs.

There are five major muscled groups in the legs, the quadriceps, the hip flexors,  the hamstrings, the glutes, and the calves.

Think you know SQUAT?

Squats are essentially deep knee bends which work most of the muscles in the lower body including:

  • gluteus maximus, minimus, and medius (buttocks)
  • quadriceps (front of the thigh)
  • hamstrings (back of the thigh)
  • adductor (groin)
  • hip flexors.
  • calves.

While bending your knees, you lower your thighs to the floor until they’re parallel while keeping your chest upright.  Hold the position, then stand straight back up to the starting position. Pause a second or two and repeat. Shoot for 3 sets of 12-15 reps.

If a regular squat becomes too easy, you can add dumbbells to the routine, or you can always try a single leg squat, but this requires really good balance.

Step it up.

You don’t need a Stairmaster Machine to do step exercises!

Climbing stairs or just doing single step-ups are a very simple exercise. Who doesn’t know how to go up steps? You probably learned that shortly after you first started to walk as a baby.

Step-up  exercises are great as a lower body conditioning workout. It targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.  All you need is either a small step stool, and aerobic step platform, or just a set of stairs you can use.  It’s simple, you step up, you step back down, you repeat. Nothing to it.

If you do happen to have  a convenient  staircase you can run up and down, GO FOR IT.

LUNGING ONWARD!

The forward lunge exercise strengthens the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. They can be done as an in-place exercise, or as a forward lunge where you ‘walk’ while lunging. Begin by standing straight, then step forward with one foot until your leg reaches a 90° angle. As you are stepping forward, drop your hips straight down and  bend your rear knee until it is parallel to the ground.  Do NOT touch the ground with your rear knee, and your front knee should not extend past your toes. For an in-place forward lunge, simply return to the starting point by bringing your forward leg back as you stand up. Switch legs and repeat for 10-12 reps per leg.

 To do the walking lunges, pull your rear leg forward as you stand up. Again switch legs and repeat for 10-12 reps per leg.

Just remember that exercise only works if you do it correctly, and on a regular basis.   If any of these exercises become too easy, you can always add a lightweight dumbbell to the routine. Just don’t go too crazy on the weight, you’re a runner not a bodybuilder!

You can find me at these upcoming races:

November 2021

Crappy Year 5k November 20 @ 10:00 am Union Twp. Park  Birdsboro PA

Flippin Fun 5k Turkey Run November 25 @ 9:00 am Wyomissing, PA

Be sure to check back  on November 28th for another article.

As always, I wish you success and happiness!

WORKING ‘THE PLANK’!

TARGETING THE CORE OF THE MATTER!

(This is the first in a series of articles on strength training exercises)

Running is a great cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise which raises your heart rate, increases circulation, and burns fat.  According to a 2020 report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, about 15% of the US population regularly participates in some form of running or jogging activity. Kudos to you for taking an active role in maintaining your good health, you’re in the top 15%! But why settle for a ‘B+’ when you can shoot for an ‘A’ or even an ‘A+’ score?  In addition to running, runners also need strength training exercises to build lean muscles and tone the body. Running will get you in good shape, but strength training will get you in great shape! Every exercise training programs for runners incorporate both types of exercises, as well as cross-training activities such as cycling or swimming. Yet despite this, many new runners  (as well as a few seasoned weekend recreational runners) neglect or ignore strength training, and this can lead to sports injuries. Running is FUN! Getting hurt is NOT!

One of the most neglected sections of the body that most new runners overlook is your core, or midsection. You engage your abdominal muscles when running, so strong core muscles  are key to getting faster running times. One of the best exercises to strengthen your core is ‘the plank’.

What is a plank, and how is it different from a push-up?

The plank is a distant cousin of the push-up and both share a very similar form. There are noticeable differences between the two regarding arm position and movement.  As a result, different muscles are worked. While the push-up strengthens the chest and shoulders , the plank is an abdominal exercise that targets both your  core and lower back muscles. Push-ups will not help your core, but the plank will! Together these two similar exercises will help you build a strong body so let’s compare and contrast the two.

PUSH-UP

To do a proper push up, you get down on all fours with your hands placed slightly wider than your shoulders. Your head, back, and legs should be perfectly aligned.  Eyes should be looking straight ahead, not staring at the floor. Bend your elbows and lower your body until your chest almost touches the ground.

Pause a second then push yourself back up to the starting position. Repeat for as many reps as you are capable of.

STANDARD VARIATION PLANK

To do a proper plank, your elbows are directly under your shoulders and your forearms are facing forward. Once again your head, back, and legs should be perfectly aligned, and you should be looking at the floor. The goal is to hold this position rigidly for 30 to 60 seconds with no sagging, arching  or drooping. You are only engaging your core abdominal muscles if and only if you are in proper planking position. The  moment your stomach droops to the ground, your hips sag, or your back arches up, you are no longer receiving the benefits of the exercise. Perfect alignment from head to toes is key!

SIDE VARIATION PLANK

Instead of facing the floor, you are propped on one forearm on your side looking off to the side. In this position you can work your non-planking arm or leg by raising them towards the sky, and you can work your core by doing a slight dip towards the ground, followed by a raise and hold. Always remember to work both sides equally when using this variation.  

SUPERMAN- The plank from another planet.

Look! Up in the sky! No, never mind you’re lying perfectly flat on the ground for this one. If you can’t do THIS exercise, it’s time to hang up your cape for good.  Your arms should be fully extended in front of you, and your toes are pointed back behind you.  This is the classic Superman pose as the comic book superhero would fly through the sky, and that is why the exercise is named what it is. Sounds a lot better than a floor plank, huh?

The ONLY movement you are going to make is to simultaneously lift your arms and legs off the ground and hold the position for 30-60 seconds. Then lower and repeat for as many reps as you can. This will work both your lower back and abs while engaging your core. Plus you get to brag to all your non-exercising, couch potato friends  that you were exercising like Superman! Now go and build up those abs of steel!

You can find me at these upcoming races:

November 2021

Crappy Year 5k November 20 @ 10:00 am Union Twp. Park  Birdsboro PA

Flippin Fun 5k Turkey Run November 25 @ 9:00 am Wyomissing, PA

Be sure to check back  on November 14th for another article.

As always, I wish you success and happiness!

THERE ARE NO SHORT CUTS!

Rest and recovery take time!

“According to the brain-centered model of exercise performance, a runner achieves his race goal when his brain calculates that achieving the race goal is possible without catastrophic self-harm.” ― Matt Fitzgerald

Each year, more than half of all runners experience some type of injury. This is a higher percentage than in any other sport. The reason may be that unlike football, baseball and countless other sports, running has no set season. For both the elite runner and the weekend recreational competitive runner, this lack of a sport season leads to a cycle of endless running. We train and run constantly without allowing our bodies to have a break for rest and recovery. It is the constant push to attain faster speeds and run longer distances which pushes our bodies to the breaking point. Pain is our body’s way of telling us something is wrong even though our mind refuses to accept the reality of the situation as we attempt ‘just one more lap’.

The number one goal of most new runners is to run a marathon. A marathon is 26.2 miles (42.16km) and this distance is very hard on the body of the newbie. Scientific research has concluded that after running 26.2 miles you experience significant muscle, cellular, and immune system damage which can last  for 3-14 days post race. Notice that the range of recovery differs from as short as 3 days to as long as two weeks. An experienced marathoner can recover much faster than a runner who attempts their first marathon. The more fit you are, the faster your body recovers and heals itself.  This level of health and fitness takes time to achieve, there are no short cuts! This is why all training programs for runners gradually increase the distance on the short and long runs over time to allow the body to grow strong and adapt. Compare and contrast training schedules for novice runners vs elite runners if you have doubts.

Given enough time and training, your body can be conditioned to endure physical achievements that would have been impossible when you first started out. When I began running in 2019, it took me a month to fully recover from my first half-marathon.

By mid 2020, I was capable of running a half-marathon every weekend, usually setting a personal record (PR) with each race I ran. By Fall of 2020 I had placed 5th in my division twice on 5Ks!

This all changed in 2021. Suddenly I was ending races in last place, and hitting my worst times ever, slower than when I began. Yet I kept pushing myself because my mind was telling itself that I was capable of running 10 minute miles even as I struggled to run 18 minute miles. Eventually this constant over-training lead to a hamstring injury in July. Still I tried to force my body to heal itself faster. THERE ARE NO SHORT-CUTS! I re-injured my hamstring in August when I attempted to run the DOUBLE TROUBLE 15K Trail run at French Creek State Park in Elverson PA. I tripped on an ‘invisible rock’ at mile three, twisted my leg the wrong way to avoid slamming into the rocks, and then limped in pain to the water station where I pulled myself from the race. My first DNF (did not finish).   Last month, I forced myself to run The Bird-in-Hand half-marathon. I struggled the final four miles, but I did actually finish. Dead last, 1169 out of 1169.

It was worth it, but it also forced me to accept the reality that my mind was rejecting. My body needs to heal and this is going to take time.  The Bird-in-Hand half-marathon is my last long race of this year. For the remainder of 2021, this has lead me to the difficult decision to STOP ALL long distance running and focus on strength training, short distance runs, and speed-work. Sadly I will not be able to run in 3 upcoming half-marathons,  nor will I be able to run the Philly Marathon, The OLEY Classic, and the Dirty Bird 15K either. For the next 90 days I will not run any distance greater than a 10K. It’s the only choice I have at this point as I have tried EVERYTHING else to avoid this drastic decision . THERE ARE NO SHORT-CUTS! The sad fact in that the endless 60+ hour work weeks at my day job  have left me in a state of perpetual exhaustion, and I cannot properly train under these conditions.   My mind keeps telling me that “today would be a beautify day to go for a run”, but my body is screaming “are you out of your mind?!”

The Road to recovery.

The plan for the rest of 2021 is to take it easy and stick to the three goals of strength training, short distance runs, and speed-work.  Hopefully I will be able to get my 5K times close or better than my PR of 33min 22sec. Come January, I will re-initiate the Hal Hidgon training plan for novice runners with the goal of running the Gettysburg half-marathon Sun April 10, 2022 Gettysburg, PA 17325 US  and setting a PR. Forcing myself to not run is a hard thing to do, but when you’re confronted with the choice of sacrificing a few upcoming races verses never being able to run again, it’s definitely the smart thing to do.

You can find me at these upcoming races:

OCTOBER 2021              

Third Thirsty Thursday   5K Race Series – Race 7/7 October 21st @7:00 pm Reading PA (The last TTT of the year is a night race in the dark followed by Halloween Dress Up party!)

Be sure to check back on October 31st for another article.

As always, I wish you success and happiness!