On Being a Pacer at the Rumspringa Half Marathon…

I needed a purpose for this race.  Two weeks prior, I set a PR at another Half, and I was in the middle of a taper for my upcoming marathon.  So, the Rumspringa Half would be my fun race: My “race between painful races.”  It was also the first time I have ever traveled to such a race with three friends.  The four of us, collectively known as The Cemetery Runners (since we do many of our runs in a cemetery) had this race circled on our calendars for a couple of months.  However, without a race goal, what would be my purpose?

My purpose evolved into three tasks:  Bus driver, DJ and Pacer.  Since I was relaxed for this race, I offered to drive, which meant coming up with a Pump Up Playlist for the car ride.  My additional purpose came as a pacer for my friend Chad who wanted to go Sub 1:30.  It was only his second Half, but the way his training had been going, he figured himself for the 1:32-1:34 range.  Once he mentioned 1:30 as a goal, the 1:32-1:34 range became irrelevant to me…Chad would be going Sub 1:30 today

So, we set out for Amish country to Adamstown, PA (just over an hour from Philadelphia).  It was a chatty ride full of laughs and conversation you would expect from men aged 40ish, complete with body function talk.  We are all roughly age fourteen mentally, aren’t we?

Upon arriving at the registration gazebo, we were met with the following:

New start time 8:15am” is what the sign said.

“Hmm,” my first thought was, “I guess they are more laid back here in Amish Country.”

The start and finish are in Stoudt’s Village, all part of the Stoudt’s Brewery complex of buildings.  The village has a very “Germany at EPCOTesque” feel to it:  Beautiful, clean and fun yet not quite real.  The perfect weather helped add to the Disney-like atmosphere.

As we lined up at the start, we were made aware of why the race was delayed.  The officials had to push back the race fifteen minutes because it would otherwise run head on into an Amish procession traveling to church that morning.  We were told that the frontrunners might be able to see some of the buggies but progress would not be impeded (for either the runners or Amish churchgoers).

So, at roughly 8:20something (because who’s keeping track of time anyway?) we were off…

Generally, I get the chills at least once just before or during every race; however, seeing dozens of Amish buggies and bicycles heading towards us gave me sustained chills. What a sight it was.  I will never forget this.   Two worlds collided but everyone was smiling, and observing each other.  Our common bond: No mode of transportation required an engine…only the heartbeats of horses and humans.

The course itself was challenging.  The first six miles were flat to downhill, but the remaining miles more than made up for it with rolling hills, and some were doozies.    It was when the hills started that I began to worry about Chad.  His breathing was labored, and he was struggling.  A couple of “F Bombs” may or may not have been dropped.  I tried my usual motivation tricks as a pacer.

Generally, I have learned when to tell the person I am pacing the truth, and when to blow sunshine up their hamstrings.  I knew that unless Chad bonked, we had some money in the bank on the cumulative pace through the first seven miles, which should still make it possible to go Sub 1:30.

Somehow, Chad mustered up a second wind, and despite a couple of slower miles, he managed to finish in 1:29, winning his (our) age group in the process.  Chad was thankful, especially when he learned he won our age group…he gave me a big High Five.

I like to help others because every one of us can use some help once in a while, no matter what our perceived ability is. There is always something to learn…there is always room for improvement. Running is such a solitary sport, but it’s hard to improve by always going it alone.

Being able to assist and witness someone reach or surpass a goal, whether it is a PR or finishing a first race, is a tremendously gratifying experience.  For me, in some ways, it can be even more rewarding than finishing my own race.  Imagine being able to do the thinking for someone and live vicariously through their achievement.  It is a very nice feeling. My bonus reward was the fact that I had a ton of fun throughout the race (and got a six pack of beer as a “thank you” later that day).

Post-race food included Bratwurst and German potato salad, and both were delicious, even at 10am in the morning.

The Rumspringa Half Marathon is put on by Uber Endurance Sports. If you don’t know their races, I suggest signing up for one.  Their events are smaller, more laid back, more low key and more fun.  It is the Anti-Rock N Roll Race series.  For me, that is ideal. Oh, and the age group awards?  German Cuckoos!!!

…and no Uber race would be complete without Lederhosen, dancing and beer….lots of selections from Stoudt’s Brewery from which to choose.


Cemetery Runners


The Playlist


Post-Race Fun

Running For Your Life

Let’s face it, we are temporary passengers in our bodies.  Sure, in the day-to-day, things feel permanent, but who are we kidding? We get one shot at this, so, many of us become dedicated to taking care of ourselves…to keep this temporary thing called “life” going.  We eat right, workout, attempt some semblance of adequate sleep. But, in the end, we will all die. The Reaper is undefeated, right? Ok, enough depressing chatter.

Where was I?

Yes, running over a lifetime

For those of us who run, we often set goals: a 5k PR, a marathon in every state, 1,000 miles in a year, etc; however, how many of us actually set a goal of “Running over our lifetimes?”  My guess is, overtly, not many of us.  Sure, we love running and want to keep going, but how many of us think about running until we die?

For the most part, we focus on the next race.  This is normal.  We sign up, follow a plan, and if all goes well, get to the starting line.  However, sometimes, we don’t make it to the starting line.  Sometimes, we get injured.

Our first thought?

“Oh my goodness, what about my race???”

We see the doctor, and the doctor recommends the one word runners hate: “rest.”  We are bummed, devastated.

But, just as life is temporary, so are injuries.  There will always be another race, there is not another body for us.  Once we accept being sidelined, we do what we can to come back.  We try to renew and extend our running lives.

…and our running lives are unpredictable.  Some of us never get injured.  Some of us can go years without injury, while others can have several injuries in one year. So, to reduce injuries, here are a few of my tips for running over a lifetime…

1) Ease into things – Do not overdo it in the beginning.  Do not be a victim of “Too Much Too Soon Syndrome.” Sooner or later, you’ll have a “Breakthrough run” where you will feel like a runner.  It will come to you…don’t chase it.  Back off your mileage every third or fourth week.

2) Listen to your body – If you’re in Week 8 of a twelve week training plan, and your shin starts to bother you, take an extra rest day. This rest day might be just what you need to make it to the starting line.  Why push it, and have that shin pain turn into a stress fracture?

3) Race, but don’t race too much – I recommend one race per month (at most), and vary the distance while you’re at it.  Furthermore, as tempting as it may be to become a “marathon maniac,” keep the marathons to one or two per year.

4) Vary your speed – Don’t always run hard.  Really, one harder workout per week is plenty.  Run with a friend when you can.  Better yet, run a race with a friend who might run a different pace than you. He or she will appreciate it, and it will give you a sense of purpose…good karma too!

and most important:

5) Have fun.  When running starts to feel like work, back off. Do anything but run.  Sooner or later, you’ll get the itch to run again.  If you ever want to reconnect with running, attend a race as a spectator.  If you get a fire in your belly, maybe it’s time to lace up the sneakers again.  If not, take more time off.

In the second half of 2014, I’ve backed off my mileage for several reasons, and I’ll spare you these reasons; however, I know I’ll keep running…hopefully, over a lifetime…and if I die while running, so be it. What a way to go out.

In the meantime, I’ll try to outrun the Reaper as long as possible.

“Kinda bent, but we ain’t breakin’ 
in the long run 
Ooh, I want to tell you, it’s a long run…”

– The Long Run by The Eagles

5 Things I Learned About Trail Racing in the Half Wit Half

Welcome to pretty much the center of the universe for stupidity.  We are proud of that here in Reading, because we have nothing else to be proud of here.”

So said the race coordinator for the Half Wit Half, a trail half marathon just outside of Reading, Pennsylvania.  He said this at approximately 9:12am as roughly 500 “half wits” lined up late for the 9am start. We also had to recite the “Half Wit Oath” which began with “I are a half wit…” and got funnier from there.

The Half Wit Half isn’t so much a trail race as it is an obstacle course, and registering for it as my first-ever trail race was probably not my brightest moment; however, it was consistent with half wit logic. I was not alone as I convinced two friends to join me in my stupidity.

Instead of summarizing all of the incredibly difficult terrain we had to navigate, and the ridiculous, jaw-dropping uphills and downhills, which had all of us cry-laughing incredulously by the end, I will focus on some observations of trail racing.

1 – Concentrating is exhausting

I am a road runner.  I am decent. I like to “go,” and when I am racing, I have the ability to rest my brain, go on “auto-pilot” and just race.  In the Half wit, I could never relax. The course is so rocky and full of hazards, I could never “open it up.” In fact, I had to concentrate so much to stay upright (in which I was unsuccessful – more on that in #2), I was mentally drained by the first water stop at the 5K mark.

2 – Falling down Hurts

I went into the Half Wit with two goals: 1) Finish safely, and 2) Try not to fall or twist an ankle.  I finished, and have that going for me, which is nice; however, I lost count at the number of times I turned my ankles, and yes, I fell four times.  Falls #1 and #2 were on a steep downhill in which I needed to grab trees to avoid falling. The thing is, it is harder to grab trees while on such a steep grade than you might think.  So, I landed on my ass twice. If you have ever fallen during a race, you know it feels like slow motion as it is happening. Fall #3 I will call the “Ironic” fall because it occurred on pavement as I crossed a narrow paved path to resume the wooded path on the other side. Today, the entire left side of my body remembers this fall.  Fall #4 was just plain mean in that there were rocks hidden under the brush, and I went airborne into sticker bushes.  Ouch. The best part was having to use my hands to get up from this fall, with my hands in the stickers.  Did I say, ouch?

3 – Downhills are more difficult than Uphills

With the few times I had run trails, I already knew this, but the reality was more apparent under racing conditions.  I felt like I was two different runners. One runner was quite competent and in control going up hill. The other runner had to nearly walk down many of the rugged downhill sections because 1) Gravity forces you to lose control, and 2) I was so uncertain of the terrain.  So, I passed people on the uphill, and they passed me on the downhill. In a sense, I became a spectator, watching in awe how the more experienced trail runners navigated the downhill with ease.  I just kept asking myself “How do they do that?”  I wanted to be able to do that too.

4 – Walking is perfectly acceptable

As I ran passed people that were walking uphill, I wondered “Do they know something I don’t know?” and “Should I be walking too?”  The answer was not necessarily yes; however, during the ridiculous verticals, including some crazy switchbacks, it became more obvious that running would be either 1) Stupid or 2) Not possible.  So, I learned how to walk without worrying about walking during a race.  It was safer and allowed my body to regroup because I also learned the further I got into the race, the more clumsy I became.

5 – Trail runners are a different breed

I mean this as a compliment to trail runners.  The majority arrived in casual clothes and flip flops. I did not know this was a thing.  In general, they appear more laid back and friendlier. I noticed more beards and tattoos than I had noticed during the many road races I had done.  I jokingly wondered to myself: “If I grow a beard or get a tattoo, would it help my trail running competence?” Probably not.

Running my first trail race, I was reminded I am competitive, but it also hit me that I am not a laid back racer.  This laid back attitude is worth pursuing some more; however, I am not sure I am wired that way, so I will learn how to become a better trail racer instead.


A NO WHINING ZONE is in effect for the rest of the winter.

I love Twitter.  It helps us connect with people we want to connect with.  It’s also valuable for information updates and resource sharing, as well as getting inspired by fellow athletes.  Sometimes, however, Twitter is reduced to a repetitious weather report from many (present company included).

You’ve seen it: A screen shot of the frigid temperatures, a photo of a snowy yard.  I’ve been guilty of this myself.  We are sharing what we already know: it’s cold and it snows in winter.  Can we get over it?

Here’s the thing: We are athletes.  We train twelve months of the year.  If a big spring race is coming up, we must train.  Yes, a foot of snow will force us to get creative and flexible with our training plans, but at the end of the day, we must get in the workout.  Whether it’s using a treadmill, Yaktrax, or running on a planned rest day (if that day turns out to be the better day weather-wise), our training plans must be “breathing training plans.” We mustn’t ruminate if we need to adjust.

The other thing I won’t do: I won’t complain about the weather. Yes, on the inside, I might be worn down or frustrated by it, but I can’t waste my energy worrying about it.  Whining doesn’t get the workout done.  The race date doesn’t get moved, so neither should our training.

To help cope with the bad weather, I’m sharing some of the things that help me deal with it:

Wind Chill Factor (the “Feels Like” temp):  Wind just reminds us we are alive. When it smacks you in the face, smile back at it.  What else can you do?  Sometimes I yell too…it’s cathartic.  Try it.  If that doesn’t work, cursing is acceptable.

Snow:  Remember when we were young?  The snow excited us.  We couldn’t get outside fast enough.  Throw on the Yaktrax and greet the snow head on.  Instead of sledding, hit a trail or right-of-way path to stay away from cars.  Otherwise throw on your Hi Viz gear or hit the treadmill.

Darkness: Personally, I have more trouble with the shorter days than the actual weather because of my poor vision.  This year, I bought a headlamp and I have my NB jacket, which glows in the dark. These things help, but it’s still hard to catch the potholes.  I’ve turned my ankles at least three times.  Perhaps, try a midday run when temperatures moderate and the darkness is gone.

Group: If I know I have to meet a friend to run, it gets me out of bed to do it.  Plain and simple.  If it’s just me running, there is more risk of hitting the snooze.  So, if you can find someone as crazy and willing as you to brave it, I’d try it.

I’m not saying to be stupid or be a hero out there, but it’s possible to make it through winter and come out in great shape for the spring.  Also, we can do it without whining about it.

Yes, it’s winter, thank you for the reminder