Trail Running is 90% Mental

Some people may make the case that a person must be mental to go running out in the middle of the woods, but that’s not actually what this post is about. Rather, I am simply making an argument that a successful trail run, especially a long trail run, is mostly about mental fortitude and attitude.

Case in point, I am currently training for my first ultra run; a 50k run in the Germantown Metro Park that will consist of four 7.75 mile loops around the park. Last week for my long run, I set out to do two loops in that park. Basically, I wanted to know what I was in store for. I’m not a big fan of surprises come race day. So, I set out and drove the hour and a half to see the park for myself. My first impression was that there were far more hills than I expected. About four miles into my first loop, the elevation started adding up. I instantly got down on myself and the negative talk began. Perhaps you’ve been there. “You can’t do this. You’ll never be able to complete four loops. You’re not a real runner. You have no business trying to do this.”

I hate to admit this, but the negative voice I hear in my head at times is my own. I have a tendency to focus on the negative when it comes to myself. Perhaps it comes from years of fighting obesity, but I am able to quickly forget how far I’ve come. I forget that I am not the man I used to be. I can do it quite easily. Long story short – I did not complete two loops during my first encounter with Germantown. I hit my limit after just one loop.

I walked away feeling defeated, discouraged, and embarrassed.

Today was a different story. I completed two loops in their entirety. Yeah, it was tough. I even got attacked by a swarm of bees at one point. But I overcame the bees and the hills. What had changed in a week? I’m still basically the same runner I was last week. The handful of training runs I competed over the last seven days didn’t make me twice as capable as I was. I’m still not fast or naturally gifted. The one thing that did change, however, was my mental state.

I went into today’s run accepting that it was going to be tough. I began the run in prayer. I asked God to give me strength, to protect myself and my companions from injury, and to protect me from myself. My negative self talk has the potential to cause some damage and I had no desire to go down that road today. I confessed that to God, asked for His forgiveness, and put my trust in Him.

I then spent the entire first loop focusing on staying positive. It helped that my wife stayed positive as well. Despite some aches and pains from a foot surgery she is recovering from, she stayed more or less in a good mood. That helped – a lot. I am convinced that surrounding yourself with positive people is the most basic way to stay positive yourself. Basically, I just tried to enjoy that first loop. I focused on the blessing of being on a trail with my wife and our son. I slammed my Tailwind to stay hydrated and walked the big hills with no apologies – I had bigger fish to fry.

The second loop started after a changed shirt and a PB&J sandwich – calm down, it was was sugar free jelly, natural peanut butter, and low carb wheat bread! Both Stef and Zach opted out of this loop, which left me on my own. The aftershokz went on and my running playlist was engaged. My running music is comprised of loads of positive, upbeat praise and worship music. Casting Crowns, P.O.D., Skillet, and Toby Mac. Before long, I found myself singing out loud; much to the chagrin of the various hikers I passed. I find it impossible to focus on negative things when I’m praising God.

This strategy worked well. The second loop seemed to be flying by. That is until mile 11. As a rounded a corner I saw a dog harness, cell phone, and various articles of clothing strewn about the trail, which is weird, but my brain didn’t even get a chance to process it before I was attacked by a swarm of bees. Before I knew what was happening, I had probably been stung about a dozen times. Eventually, I realized all the stuff on the trail belonged to another runner and his dog who had been attacked as well. The dog had accidentally stumbled into a hive and upset the bees. This was at about the same point the hills began.

Everything post bee attack was tough. Real tough.

My heart rate skyrocketed and I had some breathing issues. Fortunately, the inhaler I carry on my trail runs helped some. The hills were made tougher with the pain of the stings, but I had to take moment and thank God it hadn’t been worse. I also prayed for the dog, because she seemed to take more stings than the rest of us. The bee incident did manage to shorten my planned 19 mile run to just under 15, but on a positive note, I managed to complete two full loops.

The only change was my mindset an my attitude.

God’s Word tells us to to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable … excellent or praiseworthy” Philippians 4:8. I’ve learned the mind is the most powerful weapon a trail runner has. Sure … it would be nice to have the endurance and lungs of Jim Walmsley, but let’s face it, that’s never going to happen. Through dedication and hard work, I may be able to slightly improve my running performance … but nothing will have a more dramatic impact on my running than an improved attitude!

My advice for trail runners, regardless of their skill level?

1. Stay positive! Don’t allow negative thoughts to get a foothold.

2. Focus on those things lovely about being on a trail! There are plenty of people who wish they could enjoy a train run, but for whatever reasons can’t. You are blessed!

3. Begin each run in prayer and praise God frequently throughout your run. You are never alone in the woods!

4. Finally, prepare yourself mentally before the trail gets tough. Spend time in God’s Word and in prayer during the week before your long run. Don’t wait for hills to talk with God … know that the hills are coming, and talk to Him in preparation!

I’m a work in progress, but this lesson is going to stick with me.

Dying 2 Self Episode #6: More BHAG Talk and Transformation

On this episode of Dying 2 Self, I talk more about the power of the BHAG and God as a necessary driver of transformation in your life. I also discuss Don Rose’s book ‘Average to Epic: A MId-Lifer’s Guide to Endurance Sports and Lifelong Fitness.” I would recommend this book to anyone who is a novice to endurance sports and is looking to learn more about it … especially those late bloomers like myself.

Mini Book Review of “Reborn on the Run” by Catra Corbett

Reborn on the Run by Catra Corbett

This book depicts the incredible journey of a meth addict turned ultra runner. The feats that author Catra Corbett accomplishes on the trail, are incredible. Reading her story helped encourage me that I can recover from my days as a Type 2 diabetic. In comparison, my mountains aren’t nearly as big as hers. Unfortunately, there are enough typos and errors in this book that it detracted, at least for me, from the amazing story. I’m glad I read it, however, and I am now a fan of Cards Corbett.

It Feels Like Something is Broken Inside of Me

Saturday I participated in what, is for me, the hardest run on my schedule. For the second year in a row I signed up for and ran the Indian Run at the Hocking Hills State Park in Logan, Ohio. It is beautiful, well-organized run through one of the most beautiful parts of Ohio. But it is tough. When I ran it last year it was, at the time, my longest run ever. It included many sections of climbs that I was not prepared for and it was all I could do to finish. As soon as I crossed the finish line in 2018, I knew I wanted to come back and do the run again. My long-term goal is to someday do an ultramarathon, but this 20k run through Hocking Hills beat me and I immediately knew I wanted revenge.

That revenge was supposed to happen last Saturday. With another year of training and some modest weight loss, I was convinced I would do better than last year. In some ways, I suppose I did. I beat last year’s time by 18 minutes and physically, I think I feel better and am recovering faster than last year. However, once again, this run beat me.

My problems began at mile 4 with a steep climb up Steel Hill Road. I had strategically planned to walk the hill and did so, however, about half way up the climb I began suffering from painful calf cramps. These cramps plagued me throughout the finish and hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt while running. Every step was a struggle. These cramps put doubt in my mind that I would be able to finish and caused me to walk much more of the course than I intended. I only finished because turning around at that point would have been a more difficult run; plus, my cellphone was out of service which prevented me from calling my wife to come get me. So I trudged forward.

The problems got worse at mile 9. For the second year in a row, in that exact spot, I experienced what I can only describe as an asthma-like attack. Wheezing, a failure to catch my breath, and elevated heart rate accompanied a feeling as if I were about to pass out. It was a sensation I hoped I wouldn’t experience again after last year. It was sensation that put me in survival mode. I was no longer concerned about time, or crushing the run, I just wanted to survive it.

In doing so, it felt like something broke inside of me. I vowed in that moment that I would never sign up for the Indian Run again. It’s just too tough. The 20k distance had beat me down again and any hopes of ever completing the 40k or 60k distance were dashed. In fact, in that moment of suffering, I began to question why I run in the first place. I thought I had made some gains, I thought I had improved, but here I was suffering in the same ways for the second year in a row. It called into question all the work and training I have done over the last year. It made me feel like giving up.

I told my wife afterwards that I was never signing up for the Indian Run again. I could hear the shock in her voice when she responded by telling me she had no doubt I would be back. But beyond that particular run, if I’m being honest, I’ve entertained the notion of just quitting all together. I’ve thought about giving up. I’m not a natural runner, I’m built more like an offensive lineman than an ultramarathon runner, I’m slow …. and here’s the deal, I I always will be.

I don’t mean for this post to be a downer, but for the first time since I began running and losing weight, I am questioning if its all worth it. I’ve run a couple of times since then and I’m starting to recover physically, however, I feel like I’m a long way from recovering mentally. I feel like something is broken inside of me.

I’ve never experience this type of pessimism and dread following a run and I’m not sure how to recover from it. I don’t know if it is normal to feel this way after such a hard effort, but I know I don’t like. Running normally gives me pleasure and peace. That is not where I’m at right now … and I miss it terribly.It

Things I Would Endorse if People Cared That I Endorsed Things: AfterShokz Bone Conduction Headphones

aftershokzI must preface this review with a short story. I was running on a nearby rail trail the other day and almost got hit by a tractor. True story! One of the things I like about this particular path is the lack of motorized traffic. The most dangerous vehicle I normally encounter is a random bicycle. Because it is a safe path, I tend to turn on my tunes or a podcast and zone out while I run. Such was the case when the tractor almost took me out! I was running along in my own little world when this fella on a large tractor  passed me out of the blue. Maybe he yelled on your left, but I didn’t hear him because of my music, and I certainly didn’t see him until he practically plowed my over. I nearly jumped out of my skin and I instantly reached my maximum heart rate.

I came home right after that run and ordered a pair of AfterShokz Bone Conduction headphones. I have no idea how these things work, however the premise behind them is that they rest just in front of your ears and somehow transmit sound via vibrations into your bones. This leaves your ears open allowing you to simultaneously hear the noise that’s around you. Although skeptical, these headphones have intrigued me for quite awhile. I love the theory behind them. Having played drums all my life, I suffer from a nasty case of tinnitus. I have constant ringing in my ears that is made worse when listening to music through headphones, so I’ve always wondered if these bone conducting headphones would be a better alternative for me. My skepticism and general cheapness always kept me taking the plunge, however, the tractor incident pushed me over the edge.

I opted for the mid-priced wireless titanium headphones which were $79.95 on Amazon. There was another model that came in over a hundred dollars, but like I said, I’m cheap. Here’s my experience with them so far. Both Good and Bad:

The Good

Fit: These things wrap around the back of your head and feel like they should fall off, but they don’t. I have a pretty big sized noggin and they stay on me pretty well. They might come off if you take a nasty fall, but I think most headphones would do the same thing.

Function: I was surprised to learn they actually work as advertised. The sound is pretty decent. I can easily hear both music and podcasts while hearing the surrounding noise as well. When running on the treadmill, I was able to easily have a conversation with my wife without turning off my music. They probably aren’t quite as loud as some traditional headphones, but they are more than loud enough. Any sacrifice in sound quality is certainly surpassed by hearing oncoming tractors as they approach!

Connection: These particular headphones are wireless and connect to my phone via bluetooth. They connected easily and seem to have a strong signal. I can walk around the house with my phone in another room and not lose connection.

No Rubber Ear Buds: I think this is my favorite. You know those little rubber ear bud, stopper looking things on your headphones? I’m constantly losing them somehow. That’s not a problem with these. There’s nothing on them that can fall off and get lost.

Tinnitus: So far, these haven’t aggravated my tinnitus at all. That may not be the case for you, but I certainly think they are better for my hearing.

The Bad

They Tickle: There is a weird tickle from the vibrations where these headphones contact your head just in front of the ears. It’s really kind of weird and is going to take some getting used to. The more I wear them, the more I seem to be getting used to it, but for some people, it may be a turn off.

The Buttons: The button locations are not very intuitive. I imagine I’ll get used to them, but for now I’m having a hard time finding the volume up and down buttons while these are on my head.

As you can see, the good certainly outweighs the bad. I have yet to test out the battery life on a really long run, but if they come in close to they advertised 6 hour battery life, they’ll be golden! I really love these headphones and am glad I bought them. My only regret may be not buying the more expensive model … if they’re even better than the ones I bought, I’m sure they’re great!

If you’re on the fence about these, I would highly recommend you pick them up. I’ve gone through several pairs of headphones over the years and have used many different makes and models – the Aftershokz have quickly become my favorite.

Disclaimor: I was not compensated in any way for this review. I actually use and like these headphones. 

My Goal to #Run50

Yesterday I turned 49 years old. I feel blessed to have done so. I once had a doctor tell me I would be lucky to turn 30 if I didn’t get my diet and obesity under control. I was a young man then with a newborn baby. Since that time, I have lost significant amounts of weight and unfortunately gained significant amounts on multiple occasions. Most recently, I’ve dropped in excess of 100 lbs and maintained it, for the most part, for the last two years. I could still lose some more weight, but I have managed to get off my diabetes and blood pressure meds. For that, I am grateful, because I recognize it as pure grace. There are plenty of people out there in similar situations who are losing their battles with obesity and diabetes. They would give anything to trade places with me and go for a run; even at my slow speed.

Even so, I live in fear of failing. Of giving up. I fear I will gain my weight back and sacrifice my health and new found fitness for food and gluttony.

My mind is constantly working out this tension. The desire to become more healthy and conquer my weight issues verses my desire to indulge in pizza, chips, and snacks. As such, I have formulated a plan to keep me inspired over the next year. A plan to run a 50k at 50 years old. My plan to #Run50.

My longest distance thus far has been a 20k ran through the hills of Hocking Hills State Park in Logan, Ohio. It’s a run that I will be repeating in September. It almost beat me last year. I bonked after mile 9 and struggled to finish … so I recognize I have a long way to go if I want to run a 50k. My goal is to structure my next year of training to enable me to run a 50k ultra at 50 years of age. In doing so, I’m going to do my best to lose as close to 50 more pounds as I can.

I want to do this for me. I want to do this for those who can’t do it. I want to do this to honor God who has blessed me with life. I hope you’ll follow along and help me accomplish my goal.

Things I Would Endorse if People Cared That I Endorsed Things: Orange Mud Endurance Pack 2.0

IMG-0004As a bigger runner that’s firmly entrenched as a clydesdale (I’m 6’2″ and weigh in at over 250 lbs) I have been on the look out for quite awhile for a hydration pack that fits me comfortably. I’ve been searching for a replacement for the cheap pack I found on eBay that fit, but left me struggling to breathe.

I hit the jackpot with the Orange Mud Endurance Pack 2.0. Before purchasing, I sent the company an email and asked them if if it would fit and they assured me I would be good to go. They were right. The pack adjusts at both sides and at two points on the chest. With my wife’s help, I quickly had it adjusted to fit. My chest measures 48 inches and the pack fit with no issues. Not only does it fit, but I’ve been able to secure it in place and still get air. Needless to say, I’m in love with it.

The pack itself comes with a a 2 liter soft bladder. The bladder is nice, however, I’m not especially fond of the way it closes. The top of the bladder folds over and then you slide a plastic piece over the top that works sort of like a ziplock bag. It works well but it normally takes me several tries to get it closed. Otherwise, it’s great.

Pocket-wise, this pack has plenty. There are two compartments besides the bladder compartment on the back, two vertical shoulder pockets, and four o

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From Orangemud.com

ther pockets on the front that can accommodate flasks, gels, or trash. I was also happy that my iPhone X fits in these front pockets giving me quick access.

I love this pack. If you’re a clydesdale runner or cyclist, don’t hesitate to get one. If it fits me, odds are it will fit you as well. I’m sure it’s just as good for smaller athletes as well. You can pick one up at orange mud.com.

Mini Book Review of ‘Training for Ultra’ by Rob Steger

traingultraMini  first became familiar with Rob Steger through his excellent podcast entitled Training for Ultra. In the podcast, Steger connects with all sorts of personalities from the Ultra Running community and recaps races and training methods. He has frequent reoccurring guests which serves to engage the listener in a way that few podcasts can accomplish. Along the way, Rob shares his own story of how he became an ultra runner.

I was eager to learn more about his story, so I picked up this book for my kindle. Essentially, this book serves as a detailed account of the first three years of the author’s ultra running endeavors. I was amazed at how much he accomplished and how far he grew as a runner in just three years. While he points out he is a ‘middle of the pack’ runner, Rob Steger has accomplished amazing things. Early in the book, he states that his goal is to inspire people to run, and he has done just that.

This book will make you want to train for an ultra event. i enjoyed it a great deal.

Am I Still a Runner If I’m Injured?

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you’re aware that a hip injury has sidelined me recently. I’ve certainly griped about it enough! There was no fall, stumble, or other mishap that led to my injury. I didn’t get hit by a car or fall over a steep cliff on a nasty trail. I can’t even say I had upped my weekly mileage too fast. I went for a run in January during a period of less mileage than normal (cold weather has that effect) and my hip just started to hurt. I fought through it for four miles. They next day, my hip hurt a little worse, so I took a day off. When it still hadn’t resolved itself after a couple of weeks I shut my running down and eventually went to a sports medicine doctor. The diagnosis? An MRI revealed I had a “mild focal marrow edema involving the inferior margin of the left femoral neck.” I’ve heard it described as a bone bruise. My doctor called it a “baby” stress fracture and indicated it would turn into the real deal if I didn’t stop running. He shut me down for another three weeks. Then I am to ease my way back into running and shut myself down if I still experience pain. I’ve already missed all of February and with this plan of attack, I am likely to miss most of March as well. In addition, the half-marathon I had signed up for at the end of April isn’t going to happen. Even in a best case scenario, there wouldn’t be time to train for a long run.

I must admit I was originally fairly disappointed. Running has been my primary source of exercise over the past two years. It has helped me lose well over one hundred pounds and has given me a great deal of joy. I love it. I’m slow and I struggle, but I love it. My running is my alone time with God. It allows me to pray and to listen for His response. Not being able to do it hurts. I am blessed, however, that there is hope this will all heal and I will able to run again soon.

I wonder though, how long can I lay off of running before I am no longer a runner? The doctor gave me the go ahead to bike, swim, and lift during my layoff … but I identify as a runner. I’m hoping to use this forced time of cross-training to work on my swimming and maybe even dabble into some sprint triathlons later this year. But in the meantime, not running stinks! Maybe I need to identify as an adult-onset athlete rather than an adult-onset runner. Cross training may have to become my new best friend.

Happy running to all those out their doing it. Know that I am jealous!

2018 In Review

My 2018 turned out better than I expected. After losing a bunch of weight in 2016 and beginning to run, I lost ground in 2017 when I suffered a calf injury and gained back around 60 lbs. This year I was faced with the choice; I could give up and gain all my weight back or I could fight back one step at a time. I fought back.

As I write this, I’m almost back down to my lowest weight. I ran 487 miles in 2018 and added another 227 on the bike. I ran in an organized 5k, a 10k, a 4 miler, and a 4 mile trail run. I also completed my first duathlon. My hardest run, however, was a 20k trail run that I wasn’t quite ready for. In the Hocking Hills Indian Run I bonked around mile 9 and struggled mightily to finish. But thanks to some grace from God and an angel armed with twizzlers, I survived. And I learned a little bit about myself in the process. I like to be tested. I like to approach the edge. I like to challenge myself … and I hope to continue to do so in 2019.

My goals? I want to complete a full half marathon. I’m signed up for one in April. I also want to return to the Hocking Hills Indian Run and do more than just survive. I would like to finish that one better than I did in 2018. I’m also considering a longer duathlon if I find one that fits into my schedule. Along the way, I would like to run 750 miles and add another 400 on the bike.

To achieve these goals I think I need to clean up my diet a little. I’ve done well, but would like to lose another 20-30 pounds. At 258 pounds, I’m still a little too heavy. I’m thinking about exploring a lower sugar and lower grain diet. That seems a little daunting to me, because I seriously like to eat, but I’ll take it all one step at a time. Hopefully, I’ll find something that works.

I pray you’ve had a good 2018 and I pray your 2019 is fantastic! –

Regardless of what happens to me, I will continue to praise my Lord and Savior. I can only run because of His grace. I’m very much aware that many people who are nearly 400 lbs and diabetic face a much different reality than mine. They would give anything to lose weight and run. I run for them and I run for Him! –

Happy New Year and God bless!