Saturday, April 28, 2012

In which our hero becomes "The Man"

I was promoted at work this week, I wasn't sure it was going to happen but I thought it might. I really wanted it to happen a year ago but it didn't so this time around I was a little less hopeful. With this promotion I took over the operation of a business unit with a budget of several million dollars and over 300 employees. I am not sure how I feel about that. I am responsible for all financial results good or bad and I have direct influence on the livelihood of not only myself and my family but hundreds of people and their families as well. I am very humbled and nervous. I know I can do a good job but only time will prove this. How did I, the guy who still listens to Rage Against the Machine and the Sex Pistols, become the establishment?

Honestly I always wanted to be a rebel but I am just not very good at it. The main problem is I hate being embarrassed, and I embarrass easily. So therefore not matter what I do I try to do the best job I can so as not to draw attention to myself. I also need to be constantly challenged or I get bored and dissatisfied. This desire to not be embarrassed and to banish boredom led me to every elite unit or school I could manage to attend during my 22 year Army career. Infantry,Paratrooper,Ranger, Green Beret,Sniper,Military Freefall, Tandem Master, Jumpmaster Static line and Freefall. 82nd Airborne Division,10th Mountain Division, 10th Special Forces Group and the Special Warfare Center. While attending these schools and doing my job in these units I eventually rose to the Senior Enlisted ranks and first found out what is was like to be "The man." It was a new experience for me to be the one everyone looked to for answers and at the same time they blamed for their unhappiness or any perceived faults of leadership. Being the man you are both leader and scapegoat. You are held accountable for a lot of stuff you have no control over. Looking back on that period I think I generally did a good job and I think I was a good leader. However I made some enemies, and that still bothers me because I have never been quite sure if it was me or them that was deficient.

Towards the end of my military career I decided I better get educated beyond the high school level or I wouldn't get a decent job. So I did, eventually obtaining a Masters degree after 7 years of part time study and full time employment. It was tough but satisfying. I am proud of the fact that I obtained an Associates, and Bachelors and a Masters degree while working a full time and a part time job and establishing myself in the civilian sector. During this period I also become qualified as an emergency medical technician. I started volunteering at a local ambulance service. Once again after a year or so I found myself as "the man." Even though I have not obtained the highest certification as of yet I am at an Intermediate level and experienced enough that I am often assigned to be the in charge on our various ambulance calls. Once again people are looking to me for answers and any screw ups are my responsibility. How does this keep happening?

So back to the original topic, I have reached the pinnacle at least at the local level. I can go no higher unless I am transferred to the corporate office and opportunities there are very limited. It took me 18 years in my military career to reach this point. The point where I was responsible for decision making that had far reaching consequences. The point where any further advancement would take me out of my unit.  This time the curve was much steeper.  I started out as a part time employee for this company 6 years ago and now I am in charge of the entire operation. America is truly the land of opportunity and no one will ever convince me otherwise. I have some big shoes to fill but I have been there before. I also know you are only as good as your last accomplishment so I will not be resting on my laurels. However while I am strategizing and business planning I will still be the guy who froze Curley Ward's hat in a milk jug. I will still be the guy who cranks up the Metallica.

Thanks for letting me ramble

Sunday, April 22, 2012

TrailMix 50K 2012

This race was to be the last long training run before the Ice Age Trail 50 and it followed the Hawkeye 50K that I had run 3 weeks prior. The race is conducted in the Hyland Park Reserve in Bloomington Mn. Bloomington is a suburb of Minneapolis/St Paul which worked out well as my brother lives in Otsego Mn which is about 45 minutes outside of the Twin Cities. Myself and Jay headed out on our 5 hour drive to Minnesota on Friday afternoon, arriving about 7 pm. We hung out with my brother and ate pancakes and ice cream for dinner.

Bright and early Saturday morning we headed to the park for the 0530 packet pickup and 0700 start for the 50k. First we had to stop so I could grab some bottled water and something for breakfast. I ended up eating a pop tart and Gatorade for pre race fuel. After about a 40 minute drive we arrived at the park visitor's center and I got my number and timing chip. Shirts and other goodies would be handed out at race completion. We sat in the car for about 30 minutes until I started assembling my gear for the start. I moseyed over to the start line about 10 minutes before start time and waited with the rest of the crowd. My brother Matt and son Jay followed me a few minutes later and we made small talk until the count down and starting gun went off.

As this was supposed to be a training run I started off at a trot hoping to try out my race strategy for the upcoming 50 miler. The race was a total of four 12.5 Km or 7.75 mile loops around the park. My crew of two hung out at the start finish line with my drop bag. The course was run entirely on grass or wood chip covered trails and was not very technical. There were quite a few rolling and even some steep hills on the course. I just settled into my pace as the course went up the first hill through a meadow then up another hill. About that time my pace program informed me I had completed the first mile in 9:49. I knew this would be too fast for the entire race but I was feeling pretty good. I decided right then to just go with it. I also decided that I would not walk all the hills as I had done in previous ultras. I would run them if I could see the top and only walk them if they were steep or I couldn't see the crest.  We went down a hill and hit the first aid station at about mile 1.5

About mile 2 I had to stop and tighten my shoes but for the rest of the race the were fine. After the aid station the course headed into the woods and up and down several hills until we looped back to the same aid station at about mile 4. The course then headed east over hill and dale until we hit a section of paved bike trail for about a mile that headed up hill. I ran on the side of the trail and avoided the pavement. We then headed on and out an back route on a wood chipped trail that was very spongy and soft. By this time the lead runners were starting to pass me headed the other way towards the start/finish. I completed the loop and headed back myself starting to pass other 50K runners as they made their way to the turn around. This section winded along side a lake and once we hit the eastern edge it took a left turn and headed to the start/finish. Lap one was complete for me in 1:20. This was relatively fast and but me on pace for a personal record. I didn't want to get my hopes up and just wanted to stick to my hydration and refuel plan. I had been taking a gel and salt tablet every 30 minutes as well as grabbing trail mix and powerade at every aid station. I had been drinking enough water that I was staying well hydrated.

I headed out and laps 2 and 3 were pretty much carbon copies of Lap 1. My rough splits were 2:44 and 4:15 for those laps. Between laps 2 and 3 I stopped to refill my camelbak and grab some more gels from my awesome crew. At the end of lap 3 I was starting to get a little bit of soreness in my feet but I told them I would see them in 1:20.

I was definitely on pace for a PR and unless I walked the entire lap I would finish somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00 hrs. My pace had been consistently in the 10:30-10:40 range per mile and I was feeling like my plan was working. But then things change as they usually do in a ultra. The first thing was I started getting lazy and mentally losing my edge. When I hit that first hill on lap 4 I decided to walk it instead of run. I mean I was way ahead what was the worry? I think right there subconsciously my pace started to slow. Runners I had been hanging with started to pull away from me and I also started getting passed. By the time I hit the aid station I was running 10:50 miles and I felt like I was giving it all I had. The second thing was I was starting to get stomach cramps when I took in solid food like trailmix so I had to stick to the gels. I was starting to struggle and even though it wasn't the worst I had felt on an ultra it was the worst I had felt all day. Eventually I was running through the woods with no one in sight in front or behind me. I was feeling sorry for myself  as I hit the point were there was 4 miles left to go.

It was then and there I told my self to man up and pick up the pace. I decided that this was going to become a race. Surprisingly as I lengthened my stride and concentrated on my form and foot turnover I started feeling better. I started feeling stronger, then I caught sight of a runner ahead of me and I was determined to catch that runner. She started walking up the hill with the bike path and I kept my feet and arms moving. I concentrated on my breathing as I passed her on the uphill. I then saw another runner and I passed him too. With everyone I caught I felt stronger and stronger. I felt like Anton Kupicka racing the Western States 100 or Geoff Roes powering up the mountains of Alaska. I felt like I was an elite runner like I was flying down the trail (in reality I was probably doing 8-9 minute miles but whatever). I blew right through the last aid station with 2 miles to go. I smelt the barn and picked the pace up even more. I passed 6 runners in those last 4 miles beating the closest one by almost 2 minutes. I crossed the finish line in 5:24:56.8. I beat my previous Personal Best for the 50K by by almost 50 minutes. I had just set it 3 weeks previously. This race was the culmination of 6 months of training and with 3 weeks before my second 50 mile attempt it is time to taper. Ice Age Trail 50 I am coming for you.

Friday, April 13, 2012

FlashBack Friday: Inaugural Groton Road Race 1992

Most of you know I like to run. At my age it has become the only competitive athletic event I still do on a regular basis. Sure I like to shoot, mountain bike, play golf and swim but running is my sport. Running is the thing I consistently do day in and day out. I am always training for my next race, races that I obsessively plan out months in advance. This keeps me from becoming a has-been coach potato if only for 30 minutes a day. This is all somewhat strange as I was never a runner as a youngster. When I was young running was only a means to an end. I never ran track or cross country in high school although I wish I had. I ran to lose weight for wrestling, I was a wrestler and running was the unpleasant torture I put myself through to become a lighter one. After high school when I joined the military running was still a necessary evil. As a paratrooper we ran in boots in tight formation singing cadence at the top of our lungs. Later when I started attending a few elite schools like US Army Ranger School and the Special Forces Qualification Course running was used as punishment and to weed out the weak. As the saying goes you don't have to be the fastest just don't be the slowest.

Eventually I made my way to my first Special Forces assignment on ODA 085 Ft Devens Massachusetts. In Special Forces everyday was a competition. When we lined up for our morning run there was no easy day, we took off like bats out of hell trying our best to beat our teammates back to the team room after covering the predetermined route. Fortunately or unfortunately my team had some phenomenal  athletes. One in particular, Carl could run like no one I had ever met before. Everyday I would try to catch him and inevitably he would leave us all in the dust. However as time went by I started noticing that although I never caught Carl I was starting to beat my other teammates on a regular basis.

As time went by Carl made a permanent change of station move and my team deployed to Incirlik Turkey to provide Combat Search and Rescue coverage for the Iraqi no fly zone, that was in place after the Gulf War. By the power of circumstance I had now become the fastest guy on the team.We would run the 8 miles around the airfield for team PT and I would just fly, letting my legs take me where they wanted.  The rhythmic drumming of the Native American music my wife had sent me played through my head as I sucked air deep into my lungs and ran towards the rising sun. At the end of the run I would stop in front of our team GP large tent and patiently wait for the rest of my teammates to catch up. I think it was in Incirlik where I started to enjoy running just for the joy of running.

I was making our bed the other day and I noticed the design for the Groton Road race on the "quilt of awesomeness" my Mother made for me out of old race t shirts.

Reading the date I realized it was 20 years ago this month that I ran my first competitive race. We had returned to Ft Devens from Incirlik some months earlier. One day while we were hanging around the team room one of my teammates mentioned that there was a guy on another team that had paid to run in this 10 kilometer race in nearby Groton, Ma but he would not be able to run the race. He was giving away his entry and wanted to know if anyone wanted it. For some reason I thought that sounded like a good idea, so I was in.

I woke up the morning of the race and drove the few miles to Groton from where I lived in Pepperell. I parked in front of the school and went inside to check in. I had to tell a little white lie and make the people believe that I was the other fella but they gave me my number, tshirt and safety pins. I asked them what the pins were for? They told me it was to put my number on my shirt ( new guys, geeez). I kinda milled around with  the rest of the folks at the starting line until they announced the race was about to begin. I had no idea where to stand so I just stood in the middle of the group. Plus or minus a few minutes from race time a starter pistol went off and the pack started surging forward. Being in the middle wasn't the best plan as I got stuck behind a bunch of people walking or jogging across the start line. Eventually I worked my way to the outside and tried to make up some time by running off road on the people lawns that bordered the course. I jumped back on the road as we took a hard right and headed out of town. I had no idea how far 10K was compared to what I usually ran and I had no concept of pace. I was just running as hard as I could until someone told me to stop. The course wended its way on country roads through the beautiful New England countryside. After 21 years I don't remember a lot of race details I just remember we ran up and down hills and through neighborhoods and villages. It was exhilarating to be part of this inaugural road race.

We turned back towards Groton and finished where we had started. I crossed the finish line somewhere under 40 minutes and in the top third of the racers. I was tired but I was hooked. In the years since this first race I have run too many 5 and 10K races to keep track of. I have run a dozen half marathons (13.1 miles) and 7 actual marathons (26.2 miles). Currently I am on an ultra marathon/trail race kick and have finished three 50K races with some 50 milers planned for this summer. Although I am definitely not the fastest anymore or even in the top third, running has become my hobby and my passion. It all started on a whim 21 years ago.