Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Why I run...

In the course of a conversation this past weekend with my mother about what my sisters were up to (they participated in an eclectic spiritual retreat in south central Texas) my mom asked me why I run. She suggested that my running is very much in line with what my sisters were up to. My first reaction was to deny a connection, perhaps there are indeed one or two. Is running an eclectic spiritual experience? Sure – it certainly can be.

There are many reasons why I run. These and others are captured within this blog, in photos and video, quotes and personal experiences that are beyond the scope of the written word. (If you’ve run into the dawn on a cool, crisp morning in the woods or mountains or watched a late summer full moon come up headed into a night of running you’ll know what I mean.) This post will attempt to describe a number of the reasons why I run…

I run because I’m an athlete; never thought I would or could call myself that. I was never that good at sports that involved some degree of coordination and the ability to throw, catch, chase, pass, hit or kick a ball. I’m an ectomorph so I didn’t fit in real well playing American football. As a runner there’s no real requirement to be coordinated or have the ability to catch or throw anything. Yes – I’m the last guy that got picked for any teams forming for Grade School Physical Education. And yes, I’m that kid that stood out in left field with my mitt over my face wishing I was fishing instead of standing out in left field. When it comes to athletics I’m an ultradork.

I run because I’m a member of the approximate one tenth of a percent of the people that do. Let me say that in a different way. According to Wiki.answers approximately 15000 people run ultras in the US. If you divide 15000 by the US population of 300M you come up with a very small percentage! Looking at it from a different perspective check out what the Center for Disease Control has to say…

I run because every now and then I can run for someone else at a charity event like the Brocken-Challenge or Le Grand Raid Dentelles Ventoux.

I run because my body and mind say that “I shouldn’t” or that “I can’t”. There are many mornings particularly here in Europe when I think, “It’s cold, raining and dark. If I go out I’ll probably catch a cold and besides, it’s dark. I ran yesterday and I have a run planned tomorrow; heck I could get a run in later this afternoon (NOT!). I honestly loath the first 2.5KM of just about any training run. It’s getting over that first hump in training that leads you to pay dirt. It’s knowing that “pay dirt” is out there that feeds the dedication to train.

I dread the sixteenth hour of a twenty-four hour mountain race like Le Grand Raid Dentelles Ventoux. It usually comes late at night on a lonely, poorly marked trail going up yet another tough climb in the middle of nowhere. It’s these times where deep inside I hear a quite, demanding voice that won’t let things rest - the voice of will. It’s a will to endure and a dedication to what I’m about. That voice and spirit know all too well that the pain of running now is fleeting; quitting is forever.

I’ve found that finishing a marathon or ultramarathon is not just an athletic achievement. It is a state of mind. A state of mind that says I can surmount almost any physical, mental or spiritual obstacle. “Going for a run clears your mind, but running 100 miles clears your soul,” Keith Knipling.

As we course through life we sometimes think that we have it all figured out. What we too often neglect to consider are those moments that change our lives forever. One such moment was my diagnosis of colon cancer. I run because I have cancer. I run because I’m at war with cancer. It is medically proven that colon cancer and running don’t get along. Running offers tranquility, a coping mechanism, a weapon in my struggle with cancer and freedom. Every day that I can run is a celebration of not having to pursue chemotherapy or be stuck in a hospital.

I run because running offers serenity whether running alone, with my wife or with a friend at dawn under a cold rainy sky in the French Alps.

I run because I crave the chase; I crave the race. No, I’m not that good; I’m a middle age, middle of the pack ultra athletic dork. Training forces me to concentrate my mind and effort. It gets me to the race. I dread, yet love the night before a race. It’s here that the sharpest reviews occur. It’s here that I can reveal my OCD behavior in the preparation of my kit. It’s here where nerves are on edge. It’s here just before the start that you look into the abyss; seek the will and go. Yes, the first five, okay, the first ten kilometers are filled with doubt and sometimes loathing. It’s after that first ten where mind and body settle that things begin to get wonderful. AC/DC is playing; it’s usually dark and I have time to work out all of the problems with technique, pace, posture and focus to conquer the next 10…, 30…, 50…, 70KM.

I once read that there are two types of runners extrinsic and intrinsic. My take is that we all start out as extrinsic runners – it’s all about reinforcement. Through reinforcement there is a transition that occurs with time and experience that leads runners to become intrinsically motivated. It’s at this point where athletes run for the pure pleasure of running. The love of the experience enables them to persevere during the inevitable highs and lows of training and racing. President Theodore Roosevelt poignantly captured this sense while speaking on “Citizenship in a Republic” at the Sorbonne in Paris in April 1910.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Things that Make You Go Hmmmmmm... Tor des Géants

Sorry... Short post I neglected to mention this earlier...

I stumbled across the Tor des Géants a day or two ago while reading another article over on Trail Runner magazine.

Am toying with this as another long-term goal. Think about it: The event travels over much of the same terrain as the UTMB; the course is... Wait for it: A journey of 330 Kilometers that runs along spectacular paths of the highest mountains in the Alps with over 24,000 meters of elevation change. There are no compulsory stages, the winner is the runner who completes the race in the shortest time. The race closes after 150 hours. Cool!

Registration for the 2012 Tor des Géants has closed, but. This is definitely something to keep an eye on and consider. Long and hard.

Slow Week, but Lots to Learn

Was headed into this week with many plans of going long again. As luck would have it that was not to be.

Monday morning I started feeling under the weather. I should have listened a little more closely to my body. I shrugged tired and down feelings off as work related and went on from there. Headed into work on Tuesday and felt smoked by the time I got there. I quickly knocked out a project I was working on and headed back home.

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in bed trying to shake this crud off. Not sure what it was or where it came from. By Wednesday I felt ready enough to head back to work on Thursday, but not yet fit enough to run or work out.

Finally on Friday morning I was able to get out and get a 5KM in. Felt really good considering where I felt the rest of the week. Got a medium distance run in this morning and am hoping to get back out again tomorrow for a good one.

The week was not all for naught (smile). I got some great reading in (Read four editions of The Economist (finally caught back up), almost finished with Jason Burke's The 9/11 Wars and ran across several super articles. I highly recommend No Meat Athlete over on Trail Runner.

The No Meat Athlete article ties back to my endeavors to pursue an vegetarian diet and lifestyle. The first sentence of the first paragraph is an eye opener. Something to think about!

Get out and get running...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Doctor's Report

"My doctor told me that jogging could add years to my life. I think he was right. I feel ten years older already." - Milton Berle

Not certain what Mr. Berle's comment above will have to do with this post, but thought it was a good one following this past week's high mileage. It kind of addresses how I feel today.

I got three good time and distance runs in this week running two and three hours on each. This weekend I did a couple of hard back-to-backs with over three hours yesterday and right at two today. Yesterday saw me back out on the Graf Ulrich route I found last week. Today I ran "The Gut Check" which is a very hilly route between here and Holzgerlingen. Am feeling the kilometers and the time on my feet today which is good.

Next week I've got a couple of 25KMs and a multi-hour event planned. The weather conditions are perfect with spring in the air and sunshine projected for most of the later part of the week. Will be looking to remain injury free as we head into the Saaletal Marathon the last weekend in March.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Graf Ulrich Run

While gearing up for the Saaletal Marathon and the Hexenstieg at the end of April I set out this morning to find and run a new 30KM training route.

I headed out on our regular Max Trail from Ehningen towards Aidlingen with the objective of running out beyond
Döffingen following the Museumsradweg (Museum Bike Path). What a great trail! It's a mix of black top, gravel and trail coursing adjacent to the Wurm River with a good bit of elevation change throughout.

When I got just beyond
Döffingen I came across this monument to Graf Ulrich von Württemberg.

(Click the picture for an external link on the monument (auf Deutsch).)

The Graf Ulrich "Gedenkstein" is located just outside the village of Grafenau. It was dedicated in 1888 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Graf Ulrich's demise at the Battle of Döffingen in 1388. This significant battle was the largest and bloodiest battle of the Fourteenth Century in southern Germany. This battle, recognized later as the key battle of this war saw the Landed Royalty fighting the Free Reich States of the period. The battle saw the defeat of the Schwäbische Städtebund and facilitated the establishment of the Kingdom of Württemberg.

The history of this place blows me away. Döffingen and Grafenau are tiny villages. It's amazing that they played such a role in European history.

I spent a bit of time thinking about Graf Ulrich after finding this monument. Enjoyed the rest of this long, slow Sunday run. Am looking forward to running it again next week.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

One Year... Four to Go... Part II

So… February 2011 I found out I have colon cancer; have the tumor removed and start recovering and training again in late March 2011 with an eye first on the Grand Raid Dentelles Ventoux, the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 2011 and looking long I’m concerned about surviving, quality of life now and how this all fits into what’s left of my life.

Several of my initial thoughts and pursuits were focused on advice on my health, this disease and if running negatively impacted my well being. I asked my doctors what they thought about diet and colon cancer. They both indicated that the jury was still out on the question if colon cancer was hereditary, genetic, environmental, dietary or a combination of each. I specifically asked if I should become a vegetarian and was told that there was no need to. Against their advice I have; more on that perhaps in a later post.

One of the post surgical issues I continue to struggle with is what I term gastrointestinal stress. There is a wealth of information available on the net regarding the post surgical results of laparoscopic colorectal surgery. Mine included cramping, very frequent bowel movements and an incredible amount of gas. Following my doctors advice I initially focused on a low fiber diet to give my GI track the opportunity to heal and digest food. About six weeks after surgery I shifted my diet to one initially very low in red meat while high in vegetables, fruits and fiber. I’m no doctor, but I suspect that the changes in my colon (removal of a portion thereof) and in my diet foster what I’ve termed as GI stress.

Much of the reading I’ve done and my doctors have indicated that this GI stress should have gone away as my body got used to the changes made by the surgery. A year later they have not. I say that, but… In the first six weeks following my surgery there was no rhyme or reason to my bowel or urinary movements. They occurred when and where they wanted to which was frequently and often in the middle of the night. Over the course of several months that has changed. I believe that my current high fiber, vegetarian diet, time and healing have allowed my body to settle. And, although I go more frequently than in the past and have much more gas (I mean a LOT of gas), my body has settled into a very manageable rhythm.

In April 2011 I participated in an annual periodic health assessment (PHA). During this assessment I talked with my doctor about my health issues. One of the really unanswered questions I had and have now really been forced to answer myself is the issue of exercise following colorectal surgery. While at this PHA I asked the doc about running and cancer and in an off hand way he indicated that it was certainly healthy. I pressed him and told him that I mean – running, “I run an average of 100KM a week, is there an issue with that?” He looked at me a bit confused and asked, “You’re running 100KM a week!?!” I said, “Sure, sometimes more.” He smiled and told me that I’d probably be OK. My worry at the time was that I was overdoing things. He indicated that although there was a slight risk of suffering a hernia I was not likely going to overdo things.

I have a confession to make… I have been so worried about a hernia that I’ve not done any core exercises since before my surgery. Last month (February 2012) I returned to doing sit ups and the long awaited recovery of my gut. I hate sit ups! That said, other than a bit of muscle soreness everything is going well.

With an eye on my health and how my body was reacting I spent March to mid-May focused on getting ready for the Grand Raid Dentelles Ventoux. I identified the Grand Raid as a means of testing my body again under long term stress. Going into it I made the commitment that I would use each aid station as a check point to see what and how my body was doing. To see how this worked out check out my May 2011 posts.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

One Year… Four to Go…

I’ve been thinking about this post; whether I should post it; what to discuss and many other issues related to it for some time now. I’ve hesitated to specifically post on this topic for any number of reasons. After spending the better part of the past year looking for resources on these issues and the lifestyle I have decided to go ahead and describe some of the things I’ve been thinking about, experiencing and what I’ve learned.

In February 2011 I was an active (ultrarunner), 46 year old, weighed 70 kilos, married, employed, and father of two. I had undergone two stress tests and multiple blood and PSA samples related to my work and periodic health assessments. On 12 February I completed the 2011 81KM Brocken-Challenge setting a personal best finishing in 10:29. Physically I felt great and was on top of my game!

On 14 February 2011 I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Following surgery on 21 FEB I was awarded a T2N0M0 cancer staging. My oncology board determined that we would not purse chemo or radiation therapy. So how did I get there?

As I’ve read, many runners experience “runner’s trots”, or the need to vacate while running. I got into serious running in 2007. Prior to then I had been a relatively active person, but not a marathoner. Physically I had undergone two hemorrhoidectomies in 2006 and 2007. Recovery from both was extremely long and painful. I linked my need to vacate while running back to both of these procedures.

In October 2010 I noticed some blood in a stool I had while running a 30KM training run. I chalked this blood up to training, diet and hemorrhoids. While training I watched for additional blood and found none until November. At Thanksgiving we were on a ski trip in Sölden, Austria and I observed blood in my stools each morning. Yes, this made me a bit nervous, but I didn’t say anything to my wife and decided to see our medical staff when we got back to town. The next week I followed up with our medical staff who again chalked this blood up to hemorrhoids. I didn’t have an exam at the time; I only described what was going on and started using hemorrhoid suppositories. The medical staff told me to come back if the suppositories didn’t help. During December and January the bleeding would come and go, my stools were frequently pencil then; at other times I experienced stools that were very loose and full of mucous. Still thinking this was all related to hemorrhoids I made an appointment with a gastrointestinal doctor for 14 February following the Brocken-Challenge.

You might imagine the shock, fear and even anger I felt after being told that I had colon cancer. For myself there were a lot of questions – “How?” “Why?” “What next…?” “You’re not supposed to have these illnesses at 46.” “Besides, I’m an ultrarunner!” And… “This is going to ruin my annual race plan!” “I really don’t want to deal with this…”
On the 18th of February I checked into the hospital and got ready to get whatever was inside me removed. On 21 February I underwent laparoscopic colorectal surgery. Not long after waking up from surgery one of my first questions was, “how long is this crap and the associated pain going to last; when do I get to leave this damn hospital?” Time seemed to stand still while in the hospital; I felt imprisoned. It was cold and sunny outside – perfect weather for running and training for the next event.

The doctors and nursing staff were great and encouraged me to get out of bed and start walking around. My head told me that doing so was wrong and the pain and discomfort of walking around with a pain pump and catheter were a pain in the ass. Each day however, found me getting physically stronger and dying to get the hell out of the hospital. My desire to get out was so great that I started a pysop on the medical staff. I made certain they saw me walking the floors; I sang, spoke with everyone all the time and asked to leave every time I could find a nurse or doctor.

On the 28th of February the medical staff finally decided to let the nut case that I had become out of the hospital. I headed out to continue my recovery and the pursuit of a cure at home. I spent almost two weeks at home taking it easy, learning to eat and develop a normal approach to stools. During these two weeks I went on walks at least three times a day, took multiple naps and set my sights on running again. At week three I started working half days again. I felt I had to get out of the house and get back into the swing of things.

Based on my surgery in February I had to cancel running in the Saaletal Marathon 2011. I set the Grand Raid Dentelles Ventoux in May 2011 as my next objective and test race. I started training for the Grand Raid the last week in March with a five kilometer run that was physically miserable based on post surgical pain. During this run I set my sights on gaining back what my colon cancer had stolen from me – My health!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Primordial Running

There is something primordial about heading out for a run before dawn to find everything shrouded in fog...

It takes you back to our wild roots...