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Archive for March, 2012
There is no place like Italy
Monday, 26 March 2012 04:49
I am not sure there is any better way to recover from a road race than to take a vacation. We just spent the last 10 days in Italy visiting Rome, Florence, Sienna, and Venice. After spending ten days sitting at coffee shops drinking espresso’s, beer, and eating more Panini’s and pizza than one would think is humanly possible I feel fully recovered but my mileage did suffer even though I was able to keep my streak alive and extend it to 743 consecutive days. Yes, I finally crossed the two year mark on my way to 923 days. I wanted to take this trip and relax and not worry about running so I never ran more than 10 miles but kept most days right around 6 miles. How great is it that when you wake up to go run you’re heading down the cobblestone streets of Rome, around the Vatican or running over bridges along the Grand Canal in Venice?
Our first four days were spent in Rome and having been here one time before I knew just how great the food is there. It is tough to go a 1/4 block without seeing something enticing at one of the local snack bar. We have found that there is nothing better than grabbing a chunk of pizza, not piece and sitting down in the square to people watch while enjoying a beer or Prosecco. Tough huh? The toughest part may have been deciding between a crepe with hot nutella and gelato for desert. I am a sucker for Nutella they had me the minute I walked into every snack bar and there were 10 Costco sized jars of Nutella on the counter calling my name.
Running in Rome was something I didn’t do last time we went and my streak actually began just two years ago when we returned from Italy. I was running quite a bit prior to going but when we got there I decided to take a 10 day hiatus. I wasn’t going to let that happen this time around so I was determined to fight off the 8 hour time difference and jump right into my run after being on a plane for the last 14 hours.
Yeah, not a great idea since my legs were mush and my body didn’t seem to be awake at all even though I had slept a good portion of the flight. My goal for the first day was to just run my streak minimum of 4 miles but who would have known that it would feel like I was setting out to run a 50K. I must have looked at my watch ten times in the first two miles to see when I could turn around. By the time I got to my fourth mile I actually started to wake up a little but I decided 4 miles was plenty and it would be best to rest my legs since my day was only going to be 16 hours today with the time difference and I would be right back at it in the morning.
I am not even going to waste anyone’s time talking about the rest of my runs in Rome since there are so many better things I can talk about. We took the next four days and visited all the sites in Rome and must have walked 20 miles. There is no question why the Italians are so skinny. They almost always choose to walk everywhere they go but then again there are the thousands that brave their lives driving a Smart car or Vespa through the tight city streets. It is truly amazing that more people are not killed walking through the city because the Vespa’s are out of control weaving in and out of cars and walkers while carrying all their stuff on these tiny scooters. In talking with someone who rented a car they were told ignore your mirrors they mean nothing and just concentrate on what is in front of you. The lane dividers if they exist mean nothing and don’t be surprised if on a four lane road you have six cars side by side. We thought it would be much wiser to just walk plus it kept my weight down after all those pizza stops.
One of the best experiences on the trip was a pizza making lesson offered at one of the busiest restaurants in all of Rome. Traci had set us up to have a private lesson so Petra could learn to make dough from scratch and so she could see how real pizza was made.
We sat with the owner and got the pizza making background and after listening to some stories of old Italy and his family’s business it made me realize again just how much we take for granted as American’s and how we live way too fast paced of a life. If you think about it we never stop talking on our phones, answering emails and texts but two times a day Italian’s sit down together as a family and enjoy a meal and catch up on the day. For us a five to ten minute dinner is often the longest we can get our kids to focus to eat but there it is something kids learn at an early age and they respect the way of life.
Petra had the time of her life making pizzas from the moment we received our aprons and chef hats to the time her pizza came out of the oven and we sat down to ate. In Italy a pizza is considered a second course and a meal is almost always followed with dessert but this is different because the portion sizes of their meals are not supersized like we make them in the United States and they don’t try and eat in five minutes so they can get out the door to T-ball practice. I am not saying it is great to eat pizza every day, I am more saying if we cut down on our portion sizes and enjoyed the company around us we would probably be healthier. You learn quickly their culture is different when you notice that they never bring you the check unless you ask. You can sit there all day and they don’t care, nor will they ask you to leave because eating is about family.
The second leg of our trip we took to Florence, Italy. We had not been to Florence before so we didn’t know quite what to expect about the city but we were excited to go and check it out. Our trip was set up as a package deal and included first class train tickets from Rome to Florence and from Florence to Venice later in the week so we were going to have the chance to see the countryside and relax on the ride. I am not sure what to chalk up our train mix up to but I am pretty sure my impatience was the cause. The Rome train station is extremely busy and you’re often approached by people trying to sell you things so your first instinct is to just get on the train. I wanted to get on the train early because our last train had very little room for luggage and we had a couple big bags that I didn’t want to hold in my lap.
Walking around the train station it is similar to the airport where you look up at the monitor and find your destination and go the gate. We checked our tickets and they said Firenzie (Florence) and the time matched up so we went over to the number two train. We hoped on board car three as our tickets said and looked for our seats but only a few of the enclosed cabins had seats numbers and ours was nowhere to be found. They don’t check your train tickets when you board but they occasionally come around during the trip to make sure you actually have a ticket.
We decided to just take one of the enclosed six person cabin rooms and if they told us to move then we would. No one ever came around on the trip and about an hour and fifteen minutes into our supposed hour and a half train ride we figured we were almost to our destination. Traci went and looked at the map and came back to tell us that we are at stop 5 and there is 14 stops to go. We had barely gone anywhere and instead of being close to Florence, we were barely outside Rome. It quickly dawned on us that we had jumped on the commuter train and not the speed train. We were frustrated but at that point what are you going to do. The rest of the train ride wasn’t too bad and we arrived in just over three hours.
We when got to Florence we noticed the train we were supposed to be on said it was going to Milan on the board, not Florence so we realized the mistake we made and nothing lost, nothing gained from the experience except I need to be a little more patient but that is nothing new.
Florence is a busy city just like Rome but the majority of people get around by foot and you don’t need to dodge as many Smart Cars and buses as you do in Rome. As is always the case in Italy the architecture is absolutely amazing and you visit a Duomo and think what made one decide to build this massive complex that took 600 years to build. The infinite details on every wall, building, fountain and home is truly amazing and it is something that pictures or words cannot do justice.
Our second day in Florence we headed to Sienna to check out the sleepy little town about 50 KM away and it was amazing. On the way into the city we stopped in San Gimignano which is built up on top of the hills and as you enter the town all you can see all the towers that were used in ancient times to protect their city.
We toured the hilly streets and ended the day with a trip through a wine vineyard in the Tuscany region. I am not a wine drinker myself but I always enjoy the experience of being at a winery and seeing the process. We tried six types of wine and a few different cheeses that they produce there and by the time we left we had ordered a large shipment of wine to be delivered to our house and I was now carrying around a 2.5Kg cheese wheel in my backpack. They are not allowed to ship the cheese into the country but you can carry it on as long as it is declared and after tasting this cheese we could help but pick up a wheel of it.
Our final destination was Venice and this time we jumped on the right train from Florence and had the first class treatment which included food and Prosecco on the hour and a half trip. Last time we came to Venice on a train I was so out of it and woke up I was questioning how we got out to the island. This time I would see the beautiful water crossing on our way there and as soon as the train hit the water the memories of one of my favorite cities came rushing back to me. I never used to want to leave the United States but the moment I arrived in Venice I never wanted to leave.
If you have never been to Venice this is a must see place in your lifetime. Walking off the train you head down to the waterway to jump on the Al Vaparetto (Water Taxi) and take it to your stop.
The water taxi is just like a bus station and people are crammed in at times but once you jump on the boat and head out onto the water you get to take some of the most incredible scenery one will ever find. The taxi system is very easy to get around but it is not for anyone that is in a hurry since there are several stops going each direction.
I could go on all day about Venice but I will end this long blog by telling you about the maize I found myself in on day two. This is not a hard city to get around but there are 4 foot alley ways everywhere and signs pointing every direction but apparently I am the only one that cannot find my way around. I really try and follow directions but my sense of direction is so bad that is no wonder I often run 55+ miles during a 50 mile trail race.
Traci and I had dinner and Petra slept through the entire meal so when we got back to the hotel she asked me to go get her a Panini. Most of the snack bars were now closed for the night so I ventured across a few bridges and found one with the sandwich she wanted and attempted to make my way back to the hotel.
I walked and walked and walked for almost two hours up and down the same streets, through San Marcos Square, and close to our hotel but I could not find it for the life of me. After about an hour and a half and attempting to ask for directions to a hotel I didn’t know the name of I realized I had the hotel key in my pocket which had the name on it and was finally able to get the directions back to the room. I was gone so long that Traci and Petra had gone out to try and find me as they were getting worried how it could possibly take someone 2 hours to go somewhere five minutes away. This really could only happen to me. The next morning as we walked through the streets I asked Traci how she gets around so well without a map and she pointed to the painted signs on the buildings and said “you do realize you just follow the arrows?” I saw all the signs the night before but they all read Per San Marcos no matter what street I was on so I assumed it was just the name of the neighborhood not an arrow pointing to the direction you need to go to get there. The arrows don’t point straight so I really didn’t pay any attention to them but they are done that was so you take the correct alley way. Oh well I guess we live and learn.
So that was our trip to Italy and it was a great way to spend our upcoming tenth anniversary. While our anniversary is not until June 1st it is a tough time to go for us so we decided to take the trip early. Now we are back and I am back to full fledged training getting ready for a rematch at Zane Grey 50m on April 21st. My first couple longs runs when I returned have not been great but I think it is just a matter of getting used to the terrain again.
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Mountain To Fountain 15K
Sunday, 11 March 2012 19:01
Wow, what can I say except again today I reminded just how much it hurts to run fast. I give road runners all the credit in the world because running at that pace gives the body one hell of a pounding. It blows my mind that people can hold a sub 5 minute pace for an entire race while I am struggling to hit 9 minutes per mile on the trails at times. I will keep today’s blog short since that’s what the race was.
This was just my second ever road race, although I have paced a half marathon and a marathon for my wife, this was just the second time I would try to go for it right out of the gates. The nice part of the road race for me is I couldn’t lose, couldn’t help but PR since my only other road distance was the Tucson Marathon a year and a half ago where I blew up at mile 22 and walked it in for a 3:28. Mountain to Fountain is put on by my Coach John Reich and our team the Bandido’s and it is run from the Pemberton Trailhead to the famed fountain in downtown Fountain Hills, AZ. It is quite ironic that for once in my life I was running away from the trails instead of heading out to the McDowell Mountain’s to spend the day.
The race starts with a .75 mile slight uphill before one of the best downhills you can find in a road race for about 3 straight miles. It is a gradual downhill that takes you from an elevation of 1940 feet to 1550 feet. I would not even call that a downhill on trails but it really allows you to open up your legs in a road race. My plan was pretty simple for the day and it was to run 6:30 pace consistently throughout the day. I knew I would go hard on the downhill sections and gain a little time before reaching the hills just in case I started to suffer a let down. Coming out of the first 5K I was right on at 18:27, who would have guessed and I felt great at this point. After the 5K mark you exit the park and you hit the first aid station where I attempted to grab a drink from the volunteers. That was an absolute disaster, how in the hell does one grab a cup while going 9 miles an hour and try to get a drop of liquid in their mouth? I think my toungue got a little wet but the volunteer got drenched by my inability to drink and run.
The second 5K is a slightly tougher section but not until you hit the 5.2 mile mark. From mile 5.2 to 7.2 you make a climb up the boulevard for around 200 feet before the road levels out. I made it out of the second 5K unscathed and I was 44 seconds ahead of schedule. I will take it knowing that from the 10K mark to mile 7.2 it is all climb and even though all I do is climb it is never easy to climb with that kind of intensity. My leg turnover felt great going up the hill and I kept saying to myself, you’re strong, it is only 3 more miles. I don’t think I have ever felt that good with 3 miles left in any race but that may have something to do with the distances I run.
The final couple miles felt like a victory lap because the road flattens out before one final slight downhill sprint to the fountain. I looked at my watch a few times during this stretch calculating where I needed to be to break an hour and unless I completely fell apart I knew I had it from there. I followed a few of my fellow Bandido teammates to the finish and crossed the line in 59:35. I am estastic with my time, I honestly didn’t think I had any chance of breaking an hour let alone run a 6:22 pace.
It felt good to be done in an hour but as I stood around it felt like an aid station stop and I needed to get back out there for another four times around the course. The nice thing about it being a short race was it was over quickly and I got all my miles in with a great workout. They announced the team winners and individual winners and our team ended up in fourth place for the mixed open division and I was deep in the pack individually as the winner ran a 44 something. Who runs a 15K in 44 minutes, crazy. I headed back out to the course to watch Traci finish and she ran hard to the finish in 1:21. She has taken off a minute and a half a mile in the last few months, and just keeps making amazing progress. It is very impressive how hard she has worked to achieve her goal and her Coach Ariana has her running better than ever. Well that is my road story and you probably won’t see another blog on a road race by me until California International Marathon in December where I will try to go sub 3 hours or bust. For those of you who don’t know I swore I wouldn’t ever do a marathon again but last week I was handed the ipad from Traci and it said thank you Jay Danek for registering for the CIM Marathon. Great, I will have to reopen that chapter…..
USATF Nueces 50M National Championship Race Report
Monday, 05 March 2012 15:43
Nueces 50M USATF Trail National Championships
This was an interesting weekend to say the least as I had the chance to experience another USATF National Championship in Texas. This time I would be running the 50 Mile race at the Nueces 50 put on by Tejas Trails. I flew over to San Antonio for the Bandera 100K in January and when I finished there was no doubt that I would be signing up for another race in the series I just didn’t know quite when I could fit it into the schedule. This race had the allure of being a National Championship which meant it would draw excellent runners from all over the country. I have heard people say that the USATF is nothing more than a moniker to make a race seem more important than it actually is but those that are saying that have never participated in such an event. For 99.9% of all runners we will never get the opportunity to run for our country but for those individuals that win a USATF event they will get to represent our country on the National Stage. It may not be the Olympics but it is still running for our country and say what you want there is no greater honor than that when it comes to running.
Read my entire race report from the Nueces 50M Race here.
Rock Springs, Here I come
Friday, 02 March 2012 07:13
Well it is back to Texas for me this afternoon but this time I am leaving the valley this afternoon for the first time without my crew so right from the get go this will be a different race for me. I am running tomorrow in the 50 Mile Trail Championships in Rock Hills, Texas. I am expecting this to be a fast paced race since many of the runners will be going for the cash prizes and also to be a USATF National Champion. With another great elite field of runners this is going to be a push right from the beginning for me. I don’t plan on getting wrapped up in the lead group but I do plan on pushing from the beginning of the race until the end and we will see exactly where that will land me.
My goal for this race is to hold a consistent 8:30-9:30 pace throughout this race with an ultimate goal of breaking the 8 hour mark in the 50 mile. Most of the elite runners have broken the 7 hour mark in a 50m and this race will probably be won in the 6:30 hour range but a sub 8 would put me in the top ten without question. I don’t worry about the endurance to finish a fifty, nor do I worry about the pain, it is all about beating my mind in a race like this. I have lost to my mind before in a race and it cost me some down time and this time I will not let it happen. My body is so much stronger than my mind tells me at times and it is just a matter of going out and executing what I practice day in and day out for the last 718 days. My previous best in an actual 50 Mile race was almost a year ago to the day at the Old Pueblo 50m in Sonoita, AZ which was actually the OP 55m for me since I was lost early in the race. In this race I ran a 9:56 which at the time I considered to be a good run but in retrospect anything over 9 hours that day was truly a disappointment for me. I had a better race in me and most likely would have broken nine hours if I didn’t miss the turn but who knows. We live and learn from lessons like that so now I pay much better attention during the races and don’t get caught up running with a group and zoning out. I have ran sub 8:20 for the first 50 miles four times in races longer than 50m, but I have not done it yet in an actual 50m race. So here goes my attempt for a 1 hour 56 minute plus PR on Saturday. Thank you to everyone for all your support you offer each time I go out to race.
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