Sunday, August 29, 2010

No PR at Greek Fest, and that's fine with me

For the past several months, I've felt stuck in a rut when it comes to 5Ks. I've been frustrated. Things came to a head on Saturday: Despite a reasonably cool day (for August in the South, at least) and a flat, fast course at the Yiasou Greek Festival 5K in Dilworth, I ran a full 25 seconds slower than the PR I set back in May at the Right Moves for Youth Twilight 5K.

I hung around afterward, but laid pretty low. I like supporting my friends, but this was the second straight 5K in which I couldn't get down under 21 minutes after three races in the 20s; I was miffed ... and, quite frankly, a little embarrassed.

Then I happened to walk by the Greenapple Sports & Wellness tent, where I said a quick hello to Dr. Clay Gasparovich and Dr. G himself (Scott Greenapple). Dr. G was hanging out with Meagan Nedlo, who had just finished second in the women's race with a 17:05 but feared she may have developed a stress fracture en route. He asked how my race was, I told him not great, and he replied, with a smile (I'm paraphrasing here), "Well, you've got to stop all that marathon training."

In other words: If you want to improve your 5K times, you need to start incorporating workouts that are designed to help improve your 5K times.

By the time I got into my car and started driving home, my whole perspective had shifted. I recalled my last six 5K times -- 21:08 in January, 20:38 in February, 20:41 in March, 20:37 in May, 21:06 in July, and then the 21:02 this weekend. All within a range of less than 30 seconds.

I realized I'm not -- as I had feared -- in a rut. I've just peaked. Or, at least, this is as fast as I'm going to get unless I change my training habits.

For more than a year now, I've almost constantly been marathon-focused. I trained for the New York City Marathon, which was last November; then I went straight into training for Thunder Road, which was in December; then I did Shamrock in Virginia Beach in March and Rock 'n' Roll San Diego in June. Currently, I'm training for the Ridge to Bridge Marathon on Oct. 30. Distance has been my priority, endurance. I do some speed and tempo work, but it's focused on building marathon speed.

Of course, even if I did switch from marathon training to 5K training, I realize I can only get so fast, that there's a limit to my physical ability. Maybe it is in fact 20:37. More likely (hopefully?), it's about a minute faster.

But here's some context that has helped me put my recent times in perspective: In her past five Run For Your Life Grand Prix Series 5Ks, Danielle Crockford -- one of the fastest women in Charlotte -- has run 18:31, 19:10, 18:38, 18:49, and 18:09 at Greek Fest Saturday. She ran the 2009 Greek Fest in 18:20.

Or consider Bobby Aswell Jr., one of our area's top masters runners: 18:30, 18:24, 18:49, 18:50, and 18:19 at Greek Fest Saturday. At Greek Fest in 2009, he clocked a 18:22.

I started running a little less than two years ago, and for the first year-plus, it was fun to PR every time out. But that streak was never going to last forever. I mean, I bring up Danielle's and Bobby's statistics to demonstrate that not even the best runners around can PR in every race. They can only work as hard as they can work; they grind it out in training, and sometimes there's a reward and sometimes it's "Shoot. Maybe next time."

Anyway, a great weight was lifted off of my back as I drove home from the race on Saturday. I decided that one day -- maybe -- I'd like to temporarily dedicate myself to 5K training. One day -- maybe -- I'll take a break from focusing on longer distances. One day -- maybe, just maybe -- I'll get down under 20 minutes.

But I'm happy running the way I'm running, and training the way I'm training. So today, my friends, is not that day.

Photo by Mike Beigay (I'm waving at his 1-year-old)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rocky roads await these two runners

Ken Bansemer's plan to run the Gore-Tex TransRockies Run started as a way for him to satisfy his thirst for adventure.

"I had been thinking about doing an ultra for awhile, but wasn’t sure I was ready to make the leap from a marathon to a 50-mile or 100-mile run – which generally takes place in one day only," says the 42-year-old Charlottean, a veteran of four marathons (PR: 4:13). "After reading about this race, I knew this was the kind of adventure I was seeking – it had manageable distances each day, but doing a challenging distance overall, in challenging terrain."

The 113-mile event begins in Buena Vista, Colo., and ends six days later in Beaver Creek, Colo. Entries are allowed only in pairs and rules dictate partners must stay within two minutes of one another throughout the race. If one drops out, the other also is finished.

As his teammate, Bansemer recruited Lynn Pettus, a 41-year-old Boston qualifier (PR: 3:47) who had been a training partner of his since the two met while prepping for the 2008 Disney Marathon through Team In Training. To date, they have completed three marathons together. "After Boston, I wanted to keep running but try something different," she recalls. "Ken approached me with this opportunity and it seemed like a great experience."

Then Bansemer came to a realization: If they were going to put forth this type of effort, they should raise money to benefit someone. Emmah Gudeman turned out to be an obvious choice for him.

"Emmah was the 13-year-old daughter of my friends Jeff and Julie Gudeman. She was the oldest of 6 kids – ages 3 – 13. I introduced her parents to each other about 18 years ago. I worked with Julie and was friends with Jeff. So in a way, I feel that I played a role in helping bring Emmah into this world." Emmah died in February after a four-year battle with neuroblastoma cancer.

So far they've raised more than $4,400, and the total still is growing.

They are flying to Colorado on Thursday, a few days early, to acclimate to the altitude. The race starts Aug. 22. Some days the runners will cover as many as 23 miles, some only 10, but each day they will be running between 8,000 and 12,000 feet above sea level on trails and narrow gravel roads, camping each night in a mobile tent city and taking five-minute showers in a shower truck.

And on Aug. 27, when the husband and father of two crosses the finish line with Pettus, they will be greeted by Emmah's parents Jeff and Julie, who are flying out from Joliet, Ill., "to share that special 'completed' moment with us," says Bansemer, "so they can also be a part of the celebration dinner, and so we can present them with the money we have raised."

I caught up with Bansemer and Pettus recently to talk about the challenge ahead.

Q. There are lots of ultramarathons out there. What appealed to you about this particular one?

Bansemer: Having never done an ultramarathon before, I knew I was ready to move beyond the marathon as I wasn’t going to get any quicker, and I always seek a challenge where I can do something different. I happened to read about this in Runner’s World about two years ago and it sounded appealing in a number of ways. Different distances each day, in a different state, on different terrain, at altitude. Also the fact that we would be sleeping in tents at night -- something I’ve done maybe twice in my life -- and running in teams, which were limited to a total of 200. It had all the elements of a unique experience that I was looking for, and was going to be a challenge to boot.

Q. What kind of training have you been doing to get ready for this challenge?

Pettus: A lot of running! I also do quite a bit of cross training -- cycling, yoga, Pilates, and weights.

Bansemer: We have been following a training plan set forth on the TransRockies website. Since January we have been running longer miles each week. My weekly mileage peaked at about 65 miles two weeks ago. It used to be that running 25 miles in a week seemed like a lot, and even for my previous marathons, I never ran more than 35 miles or so a week. Now, going out for a 15-miler seems like nothing, and I don’t fret about it. I learned from another friend who has done many ultramarathons that the key to be prepared is getting in back-to-back long runs on the weekend to get your legs prepared to run while tired. It is so true. Unlike previous training, there haven’t been any days in the past few months where I wake up with sore legs. Tired maybe, but not sore. So I take that as a good sign. There is really no way to replicate running the hills we are going to face, or training at altitude, so the best I have been able to do is some training runs recently at Crowders Mountain, and doing incline runs on a treadmill. Since January, I’ve logged about 850 miles, and had to take six weeks off for a broken rib and another three weeks for an Achilles injury.

Q. You've said this isn't about being competitive or winning, but about finishing -- and about the cause. Finishing in and of itself will be a huge accomplishment. Have you already laid out a strategy? What is it?

Pettus: The most important "strategy" is to enjoy the experience. We will be surrounded by beautiful scenery and participants with similar interests. Winning for me is enjoying the journey. That said, we will probably take Day 1 slow and thoughtfully. I definitely want to feel good going into Day 2.

Q. Lynn, what's your running relationship with Ken like?

Pettus: We do talk quite a bit about running, new gear, how we feel, but we also talk about politics, current events, career. When it gets tough (in Colorado) -- and I know it will -- Ken has my back and can motivate me to keep going. I hope I do the same for him.

Q. Ken, was it difficult to get your wife to sign off on this partnership?

Bansemer: Since I have been married to Brenda for 14 years, and running for about 10 of those, she has always been supportive of my passion to do races every so often, but I knew this time was different. This would be a huge time commitment for me, and put extra burden on her to take care of the kids on weekends when I ran long. But how does she say no when she knows this is a challenge, and I am doing it to help out our friends and honor Emmah! Brenda was sitting in the room with me when I spoke to Jeff on the phone and brought up running a race for Emmah and after that she was bought in as well. She does know that I am a goal-oriented person, and that I need these goals to keep me motivated to keep on doing my running. Plus, Brenda has known Lynn [who is not married] since our training for Disney -- Brenda also ran the half-marathon there that year -- so she knows that running together gets each of us out the door each weekend as a commitment to one another.

Q. What's your biggest fear going into the race?

Bansemer: During the past few months I haven’t thought about the challenges too much, but as the race is approaching, I am getting nervous about only one thing: the hills. The miles of hills. I don’t believe I am properly prepared to tackle them for long periods of time. The altitude doesn’t worry me at all -- although others are telling me I should be worried -- nor does the distance worry me, as that is why the TransRockies run had an appeal. Fortunately, I recognize all sorts of people try to do this run -- this is the fourth year -- and that they are able to accomplish it. It will not be easy, but if it was, I probably wouldn’t do it. Of course, if you look at the race course, Day 2 looks quite intimidating. It's only 10 miles that day, the shortest distance of the six days, but it looks like it is straight uphill for the first five miles.

Pettus: My biggest fear is the altitude. I feel strong and healthy, but the highest I have trained was 6,500 feet, on Mount Mitchell. And blisters!

Q. In the end, what do you expect or hope to get out of this experience?

Pettus: I have told others I hope this will be a spiritual adventure. I have never been to the Rockies, and am very excited about the unknown. Also, I am viewing this as a "detox" from everyday life.

Bansemer: I would like to think this brings confirmation that if you put your mind to do something that may seem impossible at first, you can do it. The body achieves what the mind believes. However, driving me the past eight months has been thinking about Emmah. … I have worn my "KEEP EMMAH IN YOUR HEART" bracelet every day since her passing in February, and it serves as a constant reminder for me that when times are tough, there is someone who had it even tougher and fought until the end. I think when I cross the finish line on Aug. 27, there is going to be a flood of various emotions – relief, satisfaction, joy and sorrow. (Colorado) was one of Emmah’s favorite places. (Her parents) will be able to participate in the celebration dinner with all the runners on that Friday night, and I hope by then all the other runners will know their story as well. It will be a special moment for me, and I am sure for them. This journey I have been on in celebrating Emmah’s life, and doing a run a few years ago I wouldn’t have thought possible, will be coming to an end. Then it will be a time for a new beginning and a new journey for me – most likely the attempt at a true one day ultra. Just don’t tell my wife.

Ken Bansemer regularly updates his blog,, and promises to do so throughout the race. You may make contributions at the site.
Observer special correspondent Melinda Johnston contributed to this report.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Run for a reason (and a free trip to Vegas)

The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) is looking for people who are interested in training for the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon on Dec. 5. The CCFA's mission is to find a cure for Crohn’s disease -- a seldom-discussed, painful and unpredictable disease of the digestive tract -- and a similar disease called ulcerative colitis.

What's being offered: The Foundation will provide participants with professional training and will pay most of the expenses for the participants to travel as a group to the race in Nevada, where they'll stay a total of four days and three nights.

What's expected: Each person will raise money for CCFA; the Foundation guarantees that a minimum of 75 percent of all funds will be used to help find a cure for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis -- and to improve the quality of life for people living with the diseases.

The Carolinas Chapter is hosting several information meetings this month, on the following dates:

  • 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 14, at Earth Fare in Ballantyne.
  • 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17, at Borders Bookstore in Southpark.
  • 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 21, at North County Library in Huntersville.
  • 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 24, at Omega Sports (intersection of Park and Woodlawn roads).
Organizers are requesting you RSVP if you plan to attend a meeting. You can do so by clicking here.

Brittney Leigh daCosta, Team Challenge Endurance Manager for the Carolinas Chapter, says a very special Team Challenge participant will tell her story at select information meetings. Sixteen-year-old Charlotte resident Sarah Bailey Wilson, a sufferer of ulcerative colitis (a chronic and painful digestive disease), raised $15,000 and finished the Boston half-marathon in June.

Sarah Bailey was diagnosed with the chronic and painful digestive disease after a family vacation during Thanksgiving break in 2009. She completed the 13.1-mile race with her parents and brother, all of whom were trained by professional coaches and support by CCFA staff and mentors. Funds raised by Wilson and her family went toward research, education, and support services for the 1.4 million Americans living with Crohn’s and colitis.

For more info, contact Brittney Leigh daCosta at; call 704-817-7544; or click here.

Monday, August 9, 2010

I'll never forget my first love

I am a runner.

I'm not the fastest runner out there, but I'm also nowhere near the slowest. I'm no ultramarathoner, but I can toss back a 16-miler on any given Saturday without complaining about my feet hurting. I get up at 5 a.m. multiple times a week to run. I'll get out there even if I'm sick, or tired. Yeah, I am a runner.

I've decided that I'm not, however, a triathlete. I mean, I've now done six, and I enjoy them -- but I don't think I'm a triathlete. What I am, I suppose, is a runner who happens to do triathlons.

This probably should have been obvious to me in the run-up to the Stumpy Creek International Triathlon in Mooresville. I'd get on my el cheapo Trek 1000 once every couple of weeks and bang out 15 miles here, 30 miles there, but kind of directionless. And really all I was doing was succumbing to my own personal guilt trip ("If you don't ride this weekend, you won't get another chance till next weekend!"). In the three months leading up to Saturday's race, I probably rode a total of less than 125 miles. Then there's the swimming: Once a week, like clockwork, for about an hour. No more, no less. No hardcore drills mixed in, just some basic stuff.

Nope, I couldn't find time to bike or swim the way I really needed to. I was too busy running.

And thanks to a combination of naivete and overconfidence, I fooled myself into thinking my running would save me Saturday at Stumpy Creek, which was my first international-distance triathlon ever after five sprints.

Anyway, here's my recap of the race:

The 1,500-meter Swim

The lake temp was reportedly 84 degrees at the start, which is not quite bathwater. I mean, I guess it's all relative. If you're an ocean swimmer, that's hot; it isn't terrible for Lake Norman in August. Anyway, I waded into the water with my wave start (blue caps) and was pleased with its temperature, but not so pleased with the rocky bottom and the slime that was growing on it. As we waited for the gun, I also heard a couple guys talking about how it felt like there was a slight current, and indeed, I found myself waving my arms a little bit to keep from tipping over backward. I was lined up toward the rear of the group since I swim about as fast as a baby crawls. The horn sounded and I tried to stay relaxed and just concentrate on my breathing and sighting. My goal was to stay on course tightly, so as not to add extra meters to what was already going to be a long haul for me. It was a rectangular course that ran counter-clockwise, and I think I stayed in line relatively well based on the fact that I kept drifting toward the inside of the buoys. I mean, I figured it was better than drifting right constantly -- although it's probably the same difference. I did a nice job breathing every third stroke, alternating right and left sides for the first 600-700 meters, but there were a couple times when faster people from the waves behind me clipped my feet as they overtook me. This doesn't induce panic but is still somewhat unsettling, and had me switching to breathing every other stroke. (Of course, I certainly know people who have been banged up pretty good during the swim legs of tris, and the amount of contact I had to deal with was pretty minimal.) After the turn, I made my way down the other side, still in control; I wasn't very winded, but swimming is very mentally tiring for me and I was more than ready to be done. Meanwhile, it felt like a million people were passing me, and I kept looking -- mostly futilely -- for other blue caps around me, the idea being that would let me know I'm not THE slowest person out there. Unfortunately, if there were any, I didn't see 'em. We made the last turn toward the shore and since there were lots of people cheering near the swim exit, I think I tried to bring it home strong (which for me is going from about 1.3 mph to about 1.35). Upon leaving the water and heading up the ramp, I realized my legs were more tired than I thought they'd be.

Swim: 39:51, 245th overall out of 286 men.

Transition 1: One thing notable about T1 is that I put on my left sock while balancing on my right foot, and was momentarily racked with the pain of either a muscle cramp or slight pull in my left hamstring. I wound up having to sit down to get the sock and bike shoes on. T1: 2:11 (mediocre).

The 24.3-mile bike

I knew this wasn't going to be my leg, either -- I've never been a strong cyclist -- but I didn't expect to get crushed on it as badly as I did. I got passed early and often. Although I have clip-in shoes and pedals, I haven't worked hard at getting power out of both the downstroke and the upstroke. As it was the longest of the three legs, I had plenty of time to curse myself for not getting in more time in the saddle this summer. I also went back and forth with myself about equipment, and what kind of advantage it gives you. My bike is aluminum and I don't have aerobars. Many of the 400 people who flew past me like I was riding backward seemed to have carbon bikes, lighter/better wheelsets, and aerobars. And being frustrated by my sluggishness, I'd be thinking in my head, "Yeah, if I had $3,000 to spend on a bike, I could go that fast, too!" Which of course isn't true. I mean, I'm not saying it wouldn't help -- aerobars, while potentially dangerous, have got to be more comfortable than the contortions I was going through, and there were some rough parts on certain stretches of road where I felt like I was riding a jackhammer; carbon might have mitigated some of that. But as many of you have heard before: It's not the bike, it's the person on it. Right? I was able to get a couple of GUs down over the course of the leg, but I think in hindsight my hydration strategy was pretty faulty. If I could do it over, I would have mixed in some Gatorade and some salt with my water. And I wouldn't have frozen the bottle overnight. Although it was a warm morning, it wasn't particularly sunny and the ice block I started with just wasn't melting fast enough. I was able to get more fluids down during the second half of the bike, but I think I better hydrating in the first half of the bike would have helped me feel better over the course of the run leg. Also, next time I'd wear my Garmin and/or preview the course; it felt like I was out there forever, and not having any idea how close I was to the end was disorienting. The course was fair, with a few decent hills but no heartbreakers. The toughest climbs were in the last few miles, and I felt like I did get a little stronger on those, mainly because when I got passed on the hills, the people didn't go by as quickly, so I'd give a little something extra to try to stay with them (or, in a couple cases, re-pass them). The approach to the finish was a long, fast downhill. I enjoyed that. I knew my time was going to be ugly, but I still figured that I had held back enough to have a good run.

Bike: 1:21:31 (17.88 mph average), 252nd overall out of 286 men.

Transition 2: This one also might have been a bit faster, but after being so careful before the race to lock my bike placement into my head, I swear I wasn't seeing my Livestrong bag or the blue swimcap that had been stretched out over the rack. I looked around in a mild panic for probably 10-15 seconds before I finally took a deep breath and my setup seemed to materialize out of thin air. I decided to ditch my tri top (which I later realized was a mistake), and strapped on my Garmin. T2: 1:49 (mediocre).

The 10K Run

I came up through the run start and began the first of my two loops by waving to my wife and daughter. My Garmin was set up to pace me to 7:50 miles. I was on pace for less than a minute. Having not done a bike-to-run brick in months, my legs just felt trashed at this point -- and I still had to run six miles! A guy I sometimes see at the MAC pool, James, trotted by me less than half a mile in looking strong, and asked me how I was doing. I think I said, "Terrible," although he probably could have told that just by looking at me at that point. My form was bad, and I could feel that the sting of that cramp/pull in my hamstring hadn't entirely worn off. I was just trying to keep pace with a couple of women in my vicinity. It worked for maybe the first mile, which I think I clicked off in about 8:40. That turned out to be my fastest mile.

It was great that there were water stations at about every mile on the run course. Volunteers were handing out hand towels soaked in ice water, which during summer races is the most awesome treat imaginable. But I realized almost immediately that losing my top was a bad idea. With the shirt on, I could have tucked a cold towel into the back of my neck and enjoyed the cooling sensation for at least a couple minutes; draping it around my neck with nothing to keep it in place did not work. It would bounce off in a matter of just a few strides. Anyway, I took a rest break every mile to drink and douse myself with the ice water, but those were the short breaks. Both times around the course, I also had to walk partway up this monster hill (and I do mean monster -- close to half a mile, over one of the steepest grades I've run in this area). Also, right as I finished the first loop, I spotted my friend Amy along the side of the road. When I waved, that hamstring suddenly flared up and cramped violently. It was bad enough that I thought I might be done. The prospect of fighting a cramp for three more miles made me feel pretty hopeless. But after a minute or so of wincing in agonizing pain, I shuffled on. Fortunately, the cramp didn't come back. Unfortunately, that stupid hill did. More walking (although I did pass someone on that hill who was walking even slower than me), but I jogged up the last half of it and felt OK as I approached the entrance onto the soccer field where the finish line was set up. The final 800 involved some tricky off-roading, and we all got our feet dirty in a giant mudpit that there was no safe way around. Right before the final turn, I heard my friend Michelle call out that she was going to catch me, and in those last 10-15 seconds, I became that runner I had hoped to be from the start. It was as fast as I had moved all day. She didn't catch me.

Run: 57:12, 215th overall out of 286 men.

Official time: 3:02:32, 236th overall.

My first reaction upon seeing my splits on Setup's website was embarrassment. I mean, as I mentioned at the top, I'm not the fastest guy in the world, but I'm nowhere near the slowest. I can deal with crappy swim times and weak bike times. But the run is supposed to be mine. I've run 5Ks at a 6:38 pace. Half-marathons at a 7:24 pace. For crying out loud, I ran the Thunder Road Marathon at an 8:29 pace. And I barely broke a sweat. 9:12 miles?? I was demoralized.

I've written before about not respecting the distance. This time, it was about not respecting the training. If there's one thing I've learned as I've become a distance runner and part-time triathlete, it's that no matter how much you run or how hard you train, there will always be a distance or a type of event that you are not in shape for. Just because you are well-trained for a 5K doesn't mean you're automatically well-trained for a 10K. You may be able to run 50 miles, but that doesn't mean you can get on a bike tomorrow and ride 50 without having put in some previous work. Et cetera, et cetera. In my case, I know that I can get away with one swim a week and semi-frequent rides and still post a respectable time in a sprint triathlon (I've done it); that's not enough, however, to do well in an international-distance race. Just because I'm a good runner, I'm not automatically a good triathlete.

By the end of the weekend, though, the self-consciousness and the demoralized feeling had begun to evaporate. I'm able to take pride in the fact that I finished. It's still a grueling distance to cover, especially for someone who's training was admittedly half-assed, and the run course was legitimately tough. I mean, even if I had posted a 45- or 46-minute 10K, that's still close to three hours of work -- way longer than a half-marathon, and starting to flirt with the amount of time it takes to complete a full. I finished, even though at times I wanted to drop out. And I learned a lot.

The most important thing I learned was that I am a runner. Rather, I didn't really "learn" this so much as I "was reminded of the fact." I'll probably always dabble in triathlons, maybe even try a Half Ironman someday if I can properly commit to the training. But running is what draws me in and nourishes me.

After a rest day on Sunday, I got up at 5 o'clock this morning and set out for an easy nine miles at a gentle 8:35 pace. My swimsuit and goggles? Tucked away in my gym bag on the bedroom floor. My bike? Hung up on its hooks in the garage. I'll get back to them eventually. For now, though, I've gotta run.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

You? A cross-country coach? Why not?

Do you get a lot out of running? Would you like to give something back?

Here's an opportunity: Cross-Country for Youth is beginning its fourth season in an after-school running program designed to combat childhood obesity and promote character-building among middle- and elementary-school students.

What does this have to do with you, and with "giving back"? Well, the program needs volunteers willing to provide support and encouragement to young runners who are trying to reach their goals.

More than 250 students participate in the 10-week program run by Reggie McAfee, the first African-American to break the four-minute mile barrier. In addition to local practices, which will be held on Monday and Wednesday from 4 to 5:30 p.m., kids will be competing in a series of cross-country meets. The program begins Sept. 13.

The volunteer opportunities are as follows:

COACHES NEEDED: Time commitment is two hours a week over the 10-week period. All materials and training will be provided, and it's OK to buddy up and coach with a friend.

"CHARACTER PRESENTERS" NEEDED: Time commitment is one hour -- 30 minutes on a Monday and 30 minutes on the following Wednesday. You choose the week. All materials will be provided, and the "character messages" -- or, "lessons" -- have already been created (so significant planning is not necessary).

For details on Cross-Country for Youth, click here. Or you can contact McAfee via e-mail ( or phone (704-634-4688). There's also a volunteer informational meeting for prospective running coaches scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 12, at the Coca-Cola Company in SouthPark (4100 Coca-Cola Plaza, near the intersection with Morrison Boulevard).

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

He's run for 11,616 straight days ... and counting

Streak running is a very different type of running. It's not about distance -- that's for marathoners and ultramarathoners to obsess over. It's not about speed -- there are plenty of former high school and college track stars out there vying for overall and age-group awards at local races.

No, streak running is all about the streak, about getting out there day after day after day after day after day after day after … well, you get the picture.

David Todd, a custom home builder in the Marvin and Weddington area, has been building on his running streak for more than 11,000 consecutive days. In sweltering heat, in freezing cold, in rain, and -- on at least one occasion -- in shoes and clothes that weren't at all designed for running (more on that shortly).

Now 58, he keeps plugging away at a pursuit he's worked on for better than half his life, and that ranks him 30th on the U.S. Running Streak Association's list of active streakers.

Todd, a Charlotte native who now lives in Matthews, tells me: "The streak started Oct. 14, 1978. I was 26 and recently separated so I needed a distraction, and running at least one mile every day became that distraction. I’m not sure who started first, me or Forrest Gump, but I’m still doing it.

"I don’t run competitively. It’s usually me and my golden retriever running in the evening through the neighborhood. I’m again recently separated -- this time after a 28-year marriage and two wonderful children -- so again as a distraction, I have changed my routine and I now run a little over two miles daily instead of one."

According to the USRSA website, the official definition of a running streak is "to run at least one continuous mile within each calendar day under one's own body power (without the utilization of any type of health or mechanical aid other than prosthetic devices). Running under one's own body power can occur on either the roads, a track, over hill and dale, or on a treadmill. Running cannot occur through the use of canes, crutches or banisters, or reliance on pools or aquatic devices to create artificial buoyancy."

A mile may not sound like much, but there's no question Todd is a real runner. He estimates he's probably run about 15,000 miles since the streak started. That's a lot. As a younger man, he posted PRs of 43:09 for a 10K and 5:24 for a mile. That's fast. Today, he runs about an 8:00 to 8:30 pace. That's respectable.

I caught up with Todd recently to talk about the streak, and how he's kept it alive.

Q. So when you went out that first day, on Oct. 14, 1978, you told yourself ... what?

As I said, I originally started running as a distraction from a failed marriage. I needed something to make me feel good about myself. I had actually been running daily for about six weeks before the streak started. I was driving back from Colorado with my best friend, and we drove until late one night in a pretty bad rain. I missed that night but decided that I would not miss again until I was physically unable. I am extremely lucky and blessed that I have not been physically unable to run in that amount of time. I’ve had a few close calls, a bad back, a knife wound in my shin, but nothing so bad that I couldn’t get in a mile that day.

Q. But you also say it was just a few years ago that you learned of the USRSA. Was it just a coincidence that the association's eligibility requirements were also "at least one mile"?

It truly was a coincidence. I actually read a story in The Observer about a guy from Black Mountain that had a 20-plus-year running streak and was a member of the USRSA. I had been running longer than that so I contacted them and joined.

Q. Before you knew about the USRSA, did you have any other personal "rules"?

The only rule that I ever had was to run every day for at least one mile and not to run on a treadmill. ... I never have enjoyed running in place. When I was much younger I would always time myself and make sure that I ran a pace of less than 7 minutes. Now I only check my time every so often just to see if I’m slipping any. I’m not sure I could break 7 minutes now but I could come pretty close.

Q. What's your current running routine?

Unless I am traveling, I pretty much run the same 2.1-mile route every day with my dog. I do leave him home on occasion if the weather is too bad. I probably run more in the evening than any other time but I do enjoy running in the morning. If I know I will have a busy day and evening, I will make it a point to get out early and run. It just takes me a little more time to get warmed up in the mornings. I have never been one to stretch or warm up before I start. If I am not loose, I just run a little slower until things start loosening up.

Q. Do you ever run with other people, or just with your dog?

I run alone (with my dog). No particular reason for this, but I do enjoy the time I spend running as an opportunity to reflect on what is going on in my life. If I allow my mind wander while I run, it makes the time pass quickly. I don’t mind running with others, but the opportunity rarely presents itself unless I’m traveling or something. My dog (Bear) lives for it. He is the fourth generation that I have raised and all three before him were a part of my streak.

Q. Have you kept a log of your total mileage?

I do not keep a log of my mileage. For most of the nearly 32 years of this streak, I ran exactly one mile. I would always know exactly how far from my house I would have to run to finish a mile at my house. Back when I was running some 5 and 10K races, I would run a lot of three-mile training runs. I don’t think I’ve ever run more than about seven or eight miles. About nine months ago, after another failed marriage and desperately in need of another distraction, I increased my mileage to 2.1 daily. If I had to guess, I’ve probably run about 15,000 miles since the streak started. I am sure that I have run at least halfway around the world by now.

Q. Do your friends/family members think you're crazy?

I think that most of my family and friends think that I am pretty normal. My kids are 25 and 26 now so I’ve run every day of their lives. I’ve run into a few people that probably think I am “certifiable.” I had a couple of buddies that thought I was crazy for running in the Linville Gorge while we were on a two-night backpacking trip, but to me, there was no choice. Another time I had to leave a bar at the beach at 11:50 p.m. and run in street clothes and shoes in order to keep the streak alive. I’m sure my neighbors think I’m crazy when they see me running in some really nasty weather conditions.

Q. How do you stay motivated?

Once this streak was maybe a few months old, motivation came easy. It is a rare day that I dread hitting the pavement. Weather is never an issue for me. When you have been doing it for as long as I have, you have run in every condition imaginable. I have clothing for about any condition other than ice. I just have to be really careful when it is icy, which isn’t often.

Q. Did you have a running background prior to 1978?

Other than running track in the eighth grade (880 mostly), I didn’t have a running background prior to 1978. Prior to that, I would usually choose to run (a mile) if I was looking to improve my fitness.

Q. Those are pretty solid PRs. How old were you when you clocked those/at what period of your life were you in what you would consider you "peak" running shape?

I am pretty sure that those times were clocked back in my early thirties. I’m 58 now so it is hard to remember. I could run a sub-6-minute mile without much effort back then. My 10K PR was in one of the Charlotte Observer races and my mile PR was on a track at Quail Hollow. It was just a training run.

Q. What's the most valuable thing streak running has taught you?

I know for a fact that if I did not run every day, I would not run regularly. The motivation would not be there. That is probably not the same for everyone, but that is how I am wired. I’m not sure what running has taught me, but I can tell you that it (running) is a great time to reflect on what is going on in your life. There are obvious health benefits of course as long as you don’t wear out your feet or knees. I’ve just been very fortunate that I have not experienced any adverse wear and tear after all these years. I am a person that needs a structured routine in my life. I wanted marriage to be that for me but for reasons outside of my control, that did not work out. Running daily is something that only I can control.

Monday, August 2, 2010

And we're off to the races...

Looking ahead to events happening over the next two-plus weeks in the Charlotte metropolitan area:

Saturday, Aug. 7

Blue Points 5K

When: 7:30 a.m.
Where: The start and finish is by the East Gate of Bank of America Stadium, 800 S. Mint St.
Why: Proceeds will benefit Carolina Panthers Charities.
Cost: $20 in advance, or $30 on race day.
Of note: It's the seventh race of the 2010 Run For Your Life Grand Prix Series, and it's perennially one of the most popular 5Ks of the summer -- last year, there were 1,275 official finishers. ... The course will follow the same path as in 2009, when it was reversed at the last minute due to construction on Stonewall Street. Click here for details. ... All race activities take place outside the stadium, but the venue does open to the public at 11 a.m. for FanFest, which will feature contests, entertainment and a team practice.
Race website: Click here.

Stanly County Family YMCA 8K

When: 7:30 a.m.
Where: 427 N. First St., Albemarle.
Why: 100 percent of registration fees will go to the YMCA Strong Communities Fund, which provides financial assistance to citizens who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford YMCA memberships. ... In 2009, only 49 runners crossed the line -- all but five of them walked away with some kind of trophy.
Cost: $15 in advance, or $25 on race day.
Of note: The course mainly traverses residential areas in and around downtown Albemarle.
Race brochure: Click here.

Charlotte Soccer Academy 5K Run

When: 8:30 a.m.
Where: McAlpine Creek Greenway, 8711 Monroe Road.
Why: A portion of registration fees will go to the Charlotte Soccer Academy's scholarship fund "to allow more children to learn and play soccer throughout Mecklenburg County."
Cost: $25.
Of note: McAlpine Creek Greenway consists of groomed trails, and is not rocky or rooty. ... Runners should park in the lot off Monroe Road, then cross the wooden bridge at the far end of the parking lot; registration will be on the other side of the bridge.
Race website: Click here.

Go For Blood!

Events include two bike rides, and a 5K road race.
When: 63-mile and 35-mile rides depart at 7:15 and 7:30 a.m., respectively. Road race starts at 8:30 a.m.
Where: Cane Creek Park, 5213 Harkey Road in Waxhaw.
Why: This annual fund-raising event supports the American Red Cross.
Cost: Register by Thursday for $25. On Friday and on race day, fee is $35.
Of note: The two "cycling adventures" go through "the rolling hills" of southern Union County, and will include rest stops. The 5K racers will be treated to "wooded scenery." ... The first 300 registered participants will receive a pair of performance socks. ... All cyclists and runners are invited to a post-event cookout.
Race website: Click here.

Friday, Aug. 13

Miles of Mooresville

1-, 2- and 3-mile races.
When: One-mile race starts at 7, two-miler starts at 7:20, 3-miler starts at 8 p.m.
Where: The Charles Mack Citizen Center in downtown Mooresville (North Main Street and Moore Avenue). The start line is two blocks south, on South Main between Center and McLelland streets.
Why: All proceeds will be donated to local charities in the Mooresville area, including the Humane Society of Iredell County's "no-kill" shelter.
Cost: For $25 (or $30 on race day), runners can participate in any or all of these races.
Of note: This is the third and final event of an annual summer series. ... Each runner will receive a technical T-shirt and one free beer provided by Carolina Blonde (ID required).
Race website: Click here.

Tour de Elvis 5K Run

When: 8 p.m.
Where: Don Montgomery Park, 500 U.S. Highway 52 North in Albemarle.
Why: Proceeds will benefit the Roger F. Snyder Greenway.
Cost: $20 in advance, or $25 on race day.
Of note: Finishers of this Elvis Presley-themed evening race will receive a "Thank You, Thank You Very Much" Tour de Elvis finisher towel. ... On Saturday the 14th, Vac & Dash -- which is hosting the race on Friday night -- will sponsor Elvis-themed 40K, 65K and 100K bike rides through Stanly County, beginning at 8 a.m. from God's Country Outfitters (1448 U.S. Highway 52 North).
Race website: Click here.

Saturday, Aug. 14

NC Music Factory 5K Rock-'N-Run/Walk

When: 8 a.m.
Where: 1000 Seaboard Street in Charlotte.
Why: Proceeds will benefit four nonprofit agencies: Crisis Assistance, Hope Haven, Historic Rosedale and Uptown Men's Shelter.
Cost: $20 by Aug. 7, $25 by Aug. 13, or $30 on race day.
Race website: Click here.

Saturday, Aug. 21

OrthoCarolina Classic

What: 10K and 5K road races.
When: 5K start is at 7:30 a.m., 10K goes off at 7:45.
Where: 1915 Randolph Road, near Carolinas Medical Center-Mercy.
Why: "To promote and encourage active families and healthy lifestyles ... while raising awareness for the OrthoCarolina Research Institute."
Cost: $25 for the 5K, $30 for the 10K (fees go up $5 on race day).
Of note: This is an inaugural event, and is the city of Charlotte's only significant 10K road race of the summer season. ... According to the race website, "the course offers a beautiful yet challenging route, passing the major medical facilities in Charlotte, along with a great view of the Charlotte skyline."
Race website: Click here.

Trail Run Challenge

What: 5K and 10K trail races.
When: Both start at 8:30 a.m.
Where: The Adventure Pavilion at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway.
Why: This event is benefiting The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and promoting its Team in Training program.
Cost: 5K is $25 in advance, or $35 on race day; 10K is $30 in advance, or $40 on race day. Parking at the Whitewater Center is $5.
Of note: The courses for both trail races have some technical aspects, and some single-track portions. Some trail running experience is helpful, but not required. ... More than 50 items will be handed out as door prizes. ... In 2009, 314 runners completed the 5K, and 145 did the 10K.
Race website: Click here.

Tomato Trot 5K

When: 8 a.m.
Where: Unity Presbyterian Church, 885 Woodleaf-Barber Road, in Woodleaf.
Cost: $20 in advance, or $25 on race day.
Of note: The road race takes place in the rural part of western Rowan County. Runners will see cows, farms, and -- of course -- some tomatoes, say organizers, who are hoping to hit 150 registered runners in the race's third year. ... A "fun run" will begin immediately after the 5K, and costs $10 (includes a T-shirt). ... The races kick off the annual Tomato Festival, which features a parade, an attic sale, stage entertainment, the unveiling of the Tomato Queen, and food for purchase (hot dogs and tomato sandwiches).
Registration page: Click here.