All posts by Eldon

Nature Calls in Deer Country

It was the the year 2000, and my brothers and I were nearing the end of a week-long archery hunt for whitetail deer in the state game lands of Kentucky.  We had seen only a few deer and none close enough to shoot. As the week progressed we noticed that most of the sightings were in one particular area, but since only one of us would hunt there at a time, the deer would always slip through out of range.  On Friday, we decided that all three of us would hunt that area, to ensure that at least one would get an opportunity to make a kill.  

The “hotspot” consisted of two thickets, separated by a dirt trail usable by vehicles and a strip of hardwoods. One of the thickets had small saplings and brush, and the other a field of tall weeds. In the morning the deer would leave the saplings, walk across the trail and through the hardwoods, and finally disappear into the weeds. There they could remain safely hidden.  Our strategy was to make sure any deer crossing through the hardwoods would be within range of one of us. We took positions about 20 yards off the trail and about 50 yards from one another.  

By the time the sun came up, all three of us had our climbing tree stands locked in place and were ready for action.  All was quiet and uneventful until about eight o’clock. At that time, I eased out of my seat and stood up, expecting deer to begin moving through. Moments later, I began to hear a clanging noise coming from farther down the trail in the direction of Ty’s stand.  Two hunters came into view.  One had a tree stand strapped to his back, and the other was carrying a folding stool used for hunting from the ground.  I stared in disgust as they walked noisily past Ty and continued down the road in my direction.  I couldn’t imagine what bow hunter would be foolish enough to be walking around the woods at this hour when deer are typically on the move.

When the two men reached the point on the trail that was directly in front of my stand, they stopped.  After talking to each other in whispers for a few minutes, one of them continued down the path toward Merv’s stand while the other removed the stand from his back.  I waved at him from my tree to let him know that I was there, but he did not notice, even though I was in plain sight just 20 yards away.  However, he did not begin to set up his tree stand as I expected he might, but instead lit up a cigarette.  I shook my head in disbelief.  A perfect morning, a perfect spot, and another hunter was sitting in my shooting lane smoking a cigarette.  

I stayed silent, not wanting to scare any deer within earshot, and hoping the hunter would finish his cigarette and move on.  No such luck, for he had other business to take care of as well.  Taking a quick look in both directions, he lowered his pants and began to squat beside a bush in plain view.  Desperately wanting to get his attention without frightening any deer that might be lurking nearby, I whistled.

The hunter jumped to his feet and pulled up his pants in the same motion, his head turning from side to side as he looked to see who might be nearby.  I waved my hand again, but his gaze never traveled far enough up the tree to see it.  Grasping his pants to keep them from falling down, he stepped into the trail and took a long look in both directions.  Seeing nothing, he shrugged, returned to the bush, and resumed his squatting.

Restraining myself to keep from laughing, I  whistled again.  This time, the hunter paid no attention, apparently satisfied that he was surrounded only by wildlife.

Meanwhile, the other hunter had reached the spot in the trail that was directly in front of Merv and had sat down on his folding seat to wait for deer.  Like me, Merv waved his hand to try to get his attention, but the hunter would not look up.

Meanwhile, I could see Ty was having some excitement of his own. He was standing up in his tree stand and was watching some movement in the small saplings.  Less than 60 yards away from the foul smell below my stand, three deer were making their way toward the hardwoods.  Just as my visitor was pulling up his pants, Ty let an arrow fly at one of the deer.  It ran a short distance and toppled, and the two remaining deer fled back into the saplings.

Although both the arrow shot and the running deer were audible to me, the man below me still paid no attention.  He once again strapped his tree stand to his back and continued down the trail in the direction taken by his partner.  He was just out of my sight when he met the other hunter, who had finally spotted Merv in the tree stand above him, and both of them reappeared and retraced their steps back up the trail.  They again walked past Ty and me, and this time a deer lying on the ground as well, and still noticed nothing. 

The hunters were nearly out of sight when my eye caught some more movement back in the saplings.  The two remaining deer were on their way back!  I readied my bow and waited a few tense moments until the larger of the two deer gave me a clear shot at 30 yards; then I drew and released the arrow.  My shot was high and struck the doe in the spine, dropping it instantly.  The smaller deer circled and then made its way toward Merv.  Minutes later, he shot an arrow as well, but unfortunately it struck a twig and missed the target.  The deer ran into the saplings and this time didn’t return.

We stayed in our stands a while longer, exchanging a few words and some hysterical laughter using our two-way radios.  When we were satisfied there were no more deer in the area, we gathered our kills and headed back to the house, chuckling all the way.

 

Lems Nine2Five Review – Office Shoes for the Adventurer

A Little Background

For many years, I didn’t pay much attention to what I put on my feet.  I’d go to the shoe store, find an inexpensive pair of shoes my size, and make them work.  However, a couple years ago when I started running, that began to change.  When you run or even hike for several miles, all the little annoyances about your shoes become magnified. That place where the shoes used to rub a bit now becomes a blister. The snug fit around your toes means you’ll lose toenails as they impact the sides and top of your shoes thousands of times during your run.

My Shoe Criteria

Everybody’s feet and running style are different, and that means different shoes are right for different people.  For me, there are two things I look for in every pair of shoes I buy.

The first criteria is no heel-to-toe drop.  That means the heel is the same distance from the floor (or ground) as the forefoot area.  For some reason, shoe manufacturers for years have made shoes with heels higher than the toe.  For me, zero drop shoes just feel better, and put my body in a more natural alignment, the same as if I was barefoot.

The second criteria is a wide toe box. If you take a look at a typical shoe, you’ll see that the toe area is rather pointed when compared to the shape of your foot.  Why?  Perhaps it is for aesthetics.  A pointed shoe looks a bit more sleek than one shaped like a foot. But when I’m running 10 miles at a time and don’t want to lose toenails, function is bit more important than how a shoe looks.

When it comes to running shoes, there are only a handful of companies that make shoes that meet those criteria.  Some of the names that come to mind are Altra, Vibram, and Carson footwear. So far, all my running shoes are from Altra.  However, once I wore zero-drop, wide toe box shoes for running, I did not want to wear anything else anywhere.  So what to do about shoes for church and the office? Some of the previously mentioned companies have a small selection of non-running shoes, but none that suited my taste.

Meet the Nine2Five

But then I found Lems Shoes.  They make a line of zero-drop, wide-toe-box shoes for a variety of uses.  They do not make running shoes, although a few people have reported using their Primal 2 shoes for running. What sets Lems apart, in my opinion, is their sense of style. Their shoes are made with comfort in mind, but they manage to make them look good as well. Lems was kind enough to send me a pair of their Nine2Five shoes to review.

Sizing

Lems Shoes have their own sizing system, so translation is necessary. Their website lists Lems size 43 as equivalent to US 9-9.5, and size 44 as equivalent to US 10-10.5.  My dilemma was that I wear 9.5 in some brands of shoes and 10 in others, so I tried a size 44.  They were much too large, so I exchanged for a size 43, which fit me perfectly.

Quality & Durability

It is hard to know how a one-month-old pair of shoes will last over time, but these look like they are well-made and durable. The upper is made entirely of full-grain leather and is double stitched together.

Comfort

When it comes to comfort, I got what I expected. The wide toe box and zero drop sole made my feet feel instantly at home.  The shoes have a minimalist feel as well, weighing only 8.6 ounces. The sole is flexible to allow your feet do what they while still providing adequate protection against any rough surface you might be walking over. Unlike my TUNEfootware boat shoes I sometimes wear to the office, the Nine2Five shoes do have a small amount of padding. However, they do not have a soft and cushy feeling, which I frankly do not care for.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for shoes with lots of support, lots of padding, and a traditional restrictive fit, then the Nine2Fives are not for you.  On the other hand, if you want natural-fitting shoes that allow your feet to work the way they are designed while still providing protection and style, then head over to www.lemsshoes.com and get yourself a pair of Lems.

The GAP Trestles Marathon – The story of my first 26.2

I started running in 2016.  It was a desperate attempt to get into shape, and I expected to hate every step.  But, as I explained in my Office Chair to Half Marathon post, things changed after I had run regularly for about a month.  Running became something I enjoyed and looked forward to, but I didn’t really plan to take it any further than short races like 5ks and 10ks.

Then, later in 2016, I watched a movie called Spirit of the Marathon, which is a story of six different people as they prepare for the Chicago Marathon. If you’re a runner and don’t want to run a Marathon, don’t watch that movie, because it might just change your mind.  When the movie was over, I knew I had to run a marathon.  And so the journey began.

I originally hoped to run a marathon in the spring of 2017 with my brother Ty from Kentucky.  However, he had signed up for a 50k trail run in the spring, so we couldn’t find a suitable marathon that worked for both of our schedules. I was tentatively planning to just run by myself at the Garden Spot Village Marathon in New Holland, PA. It was fairly close to home, and looked like a nice run.  I would ramp up training throughout the winter, run the Chambersburg Half in March as a training run, and then be ready to go for the marathon in April. Things were going well until I misstepped during a snowy run in December and injured my knee. As a result, I was not able to run during the Month of January, and I knew it was foolish to ramp up my training in time for a spring marathon.  I did run the Chambersburg Half, but then I concentrated on the local 5ks for the summer.

Around mid-summer, my brother and I began searching, and we found the GAP Trestles Marathon, a small marathon in Meyersdale, PA.  There was a lot to like about the marathon.  It suited both of our schedules, it was about an hour and half from my house, and it looked like a scenic run.  We signed up and started to ramp up the training.

My training was going well until July.  My long runs each week were up to 15 miles. I was planning to drive over to Meyersdale and scout out the course, which is a bike trail, and put in a 17 mile run in the process.  But the day before, I manage to stub my toe on a piece of furniture in my living room.  I ended up taking the family and scouting the marathon course by bike. An x-ray the following week confirmed my fears:  the toe was fractured and I would not be able to run for three weeks. By August I was back into the training, but I had to ramp it up slow to be sure I didn’t re-injure my toe.  When it was said and done, I had lost a month of training that I could ill-afford to do without.

There was no turning back now.  I was able to work up to a single 18 mile run and another of 20 miles three weeks before race day.  It wasn’t ideal, but it was going to have to work.

I went into race-day with three goals.  In order of importance, they were:

  1. To finish the race
  2. To run the whole way (no stopping or walk breaks)
  3. To finish in under 4 hours.

I knew the last one was a bit ambitious, but a few of the race calculators out there said I could do it.  I would need to run at a pace of 9:09 a mile or less.  I had run the half marathon at exactly 9 minutes per mile, so I told myself that with the additional fitness I gained over the summer, I could do a marathon at that pace.

The starting line of the race was the Meyersdale Area Historical Society, a historic train station. The runners would head east on the Great Allegheny Passage for about 2 miles.  The trail had a hardly noticeable downgrade in this direction.  After crossing the 1900 foot Salisbury Viaduct, the runners would turn around and head west on the GAP for a slightly uphill 6.55 miles, passing the starting area and crossing two other trestle bridges before again turning around and going back to the starting area for a total of 13.1 miles.  For the half marathon runners, the journey would end there.  Those running the full marathon would repeat the course to get to 26.2 miles.

A nice feature of the course was that we would pass the starting area three times during the race, at miles 4, 13, and 17.  This allowed my family to supply me with fuel on the way through.  I supplied them with three bottles of water mixed with TailWind Endurance powder, and also three small bags, each containing a few pretzels and half a banana.  Each time through, I would take one of the drinks and one of the bags of food.

Ty and I started the race running at an 8:50 pace.  We felt great and everything went well for a time.  Kelsey and Cole, Ty’s children who were running the half, fell behind us slightly over the first few miles. The downhill grade was hardly noticeable, but when we made the turn-around 2 miles out, we could tell it got a bit harder for the 6.55 mile uphill stretch.

My Garmin Forerunner 15 can display only average pace or current pace, but not both.  On longer races, I typically set it to show average pace. By the half way point, it showed we were averaging 8:52 per mile.  I was still feeling great and optimistic that I’d meet our four-hour goal. After the turn-around at mile 15, we slowed a bit as we headed east on the final uphill stretch. By the time we passed the start/finish area at mile 17, our average pace was showing about 8:55, but we were still ahead of the game.

At that point, things started to get rough.  My appetite was gone, and I didn’t think my stomach could take any more pretzels.  I nibbled on the banana for a mile or two, and finally discarded the last bite.   My last bottle of tailwind drink was about gone, and I was glad because I was having trouble taking that as well.  Now I was craving water, and that was all my stomach would handle.

Ty started to move away from me a bit as our average pace started creeping up.  By mile 19 it was about 9:05, which meant our current pace had slowed considerably,  and I knew I was in trouble. Ty was about 150 feet ahead of me and I yelled to him to go on without me. I hoped that somehow I would be able to keep my average below the target 9:09 until the turn around at mile 21.5, and then I’d have the downhill grade to help me. But it wasn’t going to happen.

I had heard that late in a marathon, the challenge is more mental than physical, and now I was experiencing that firsthand.  My heart rate seemed fine.  I wasn’t out of breath.  There really wasn’t anything physically holding me back from keeping the pace except the severe pain in my legs. My body was screaming at me to slow down or stop, and my mind was starting to give in.

At mile 20 I let go of my goal of finishing in under four hours. Meeting two of three goals wasn’t too bad, I told myself, and I could be satisfied with that.  As I approached the turn around, I met Ty coming back the other way.  I glanced at my watch. “You’re in good shape for a 4 hour finish”, I said as he passed.  It read 9:12 average pace, and he was well ahead of me.  “They have Coke at the next aid station”, he called over his shoulder.

The downhill grade after the turnaround was too little, too late.  My current pace picked up slightly, but my average kept slipping. Ty had told me that Coke was “rocket fuel” late in the race, so I thought I’d give it a try.  I grabbed one on the way through next aid station, but could only drink about two swallows.  My stomach was in no shape for rocket fuel.

I was all alone now, except for occasionally passing runners going the other direction.  Somewhere along the way I passed a small group of people running together.  One of them had the name “Larry” printed on his shirt, and the words “1900 marathons and counting”.  I later learned he was the famous “Larry the Marathon Maniac“, who has indeed completed almost 2000 marathons and has been featured by ESPN  and several times in Runner’s World.

At the next water station I grabbed two cups of water.  I guzzled most of both, and then poured the rest over my head in effort to stay cool. I was suffering now, and the mental battle was getting worse. Why was I stupid enough to sign up for this? What’s the point of running 26.2 miles, anyway?  I wanted so badly to walk a few steps, but my stubbornness would not allow it.  I had suffered this far, and I wasn’t going to give up on the second of my three goals.

I started to mumble a hymn to myself as I ran, something that has helped me through some hard patches during training runs. Somehow the hymns that came to mind seemed to fit well with my situation:

O land of rest for thee I sigh!
When will the moment come
When I shall lay my armor by
And dwell in peace at home?

I had lost track of the miles now.  I knew my watch could tell me if I pressed the button on the side to flip to the next screen of data, but I didn’t want to know. All I could do is just continue to put one foot in front of the other.

I knew there was one more water station, and I desperately needed water.  But there was a slight dilemma:  the last water station was unmanned, meaning that if I wanted water I’d have to stop and fill up my cup myself.   To this point, I had never stopped.  I had always grabbed what I needed on the run.  I would either have to finish without more water, or let go of goal #2, which was to run all the way.

As it turned out, there was a third option: as I approached the water station, a familiar figure was there, pouring water over his head. Ty had been well ahead of me, so he must have ran into trouble.  “Hey, pour me two cups of water”, I yelled ahead.  “I am going to die!”, I shouted, jokingly referring to stage 5 of the 8 Stages of Marathon Running. I swiped the water off the table as I ran past, and asked him if he was OK.  “Got some severe cramps, but I’ll finish”, he said.

My watch beeped, and this time I allowed myself to look down. Mile 25. I was going to make it.  I kept looking back, thinking Ty was surely going to overtake me, but he was nowhere to be seen. He must be hurting bad, I thought. If it was humanly possible, he would be giving me some competition. It’s not often his office-dwelling brother has an opportunity to beat him at a sporting event.

My watched beeped again and the finish line came into view. A much-needed surge of adrenaline allowed me to break into a sprint for the last 50 yards. The time was 4 hours, 12 minutes and 45 seconds.  Ten minutes later, Ty walked gingerly across the finish line as well. The year-long journey was over.

Final Notes & related links

In addition to Larry the Marathon Maniac, we also shared the course with a woman who is attempting to run 52 marathons in 52 weeks in 52 states/districts/territories.

GAP Trestles Marathon Info
GAP Trestles Marathon 2017 results
Meyersdale Area Historical Society
Great Allegheny Passage

Scouting the Gap Trestles Marathon Course

Two Saturdays ago my family and I paid a visit to the location of the Gap Trestles Marathon to scout out the course.  The race starts and ends at the Meyersdale Area Historical Society, an old train station that has been made into a museum.  If you like to walk, run or bike; or if you are a railroad enthusiast, it is definitely worth a visit!  Below are some photos and videos I took while I was there.

Here are some video clips of the course that I recorded during my bike ride:

Altra Instinct 3.0 vs One 2.5

When I first considered purchasing a pair of Altra running shoes, I was pretty confused over all of the different styles and versions available.  After some head scratching, I eventually purchased a pair of Instinct 3.0s, and a few months later, added a pair of One 2.5s.  I still do not have a complete knowledge of the entire Altra product line, but now that I have a couple hundred miles in each of these shoes, it is time to share what I know so far.

You can think of this as two reviews in one. I will take look at what both shoes have in common, what differences they have, and then share my final thoughts.

Commonalities

Zero heal-to-toe drop

Altra Instinct 3.0

There are two things that all Altra shoes have in common.  First, they no heel-to-toe drop.  Altra calls this common feature “zero-drop”.  The vast majority of shoes on the market have a heel that is quit a bit higher than the forefoot, or toe, area.  I don’t know all the reasons why shoes are made this way.  There has been a consensus for a long time amount health professionals that high-heeled shoes typically worn by women aren’t good for you.  Yet almost every shoe on the planet has a heel at least a little higher than the two. Altra’s philosophy is that the foot works best when it is in it’s natural position, which is flat.  For that reason, all of Altra’s shoe are “zero-drop”.

Wide toe box

The second feature in common amount all Altra shoes is what they call the “foot-shape toe box”.  Basically, its a wide, roomy space at the front of your foot so your toes don’t get squeezed.   It gives the shoes a boxy look that some people criticize as being kind of ugly. The shoes aren’t sleek and pointed.  They are basically shaped like feet, which is a good thing even if it means they are not pretty.

Neutral

The other thing the Instinct and the One have in common is that they are both neutral shoes.  They have cushioning, but arch support is fairly minimal, which is right for most runners out there.

Differences

Cushioning

Altra One 2.5

Altra has several cushioning levels: light, moderate, high and max. The Instinct has moderate cushioning, and the One has light cushioning.  The difference is enough that you notice it, but my legs and feet typically don’t feel any different after running with these shoes.  I’ve run a half marathon in the Ones and wouldn’t be afraid to run a full marathon in them.

Weight

The first things you’ll notice about the Ones is that they are very light.  They weigh in at 6.6 ounces, where the Instincts come in at 8.1 ounces.  The fabric on the top of Ones is also very thin – there is no insulation whatsoever, in case that matters to you.

Other differences

The One has a wider toe box than the Instinct.  My Instincts felt roomy until I starting use the Ones.  Now the Instincts feel a bit cramp.  The One is also a more flexible shoe than Instinct, giving you a better feel for the ground.  I like that feeling on the road, but if I’m on a trail where there might be some large pebbles, I’d rather be running in Instincts.  Of course, for trail running, neither of these shoes are the best choice because neither have a large amount of tread.  One of Altra’s Trail running shoes would be a better choice for that.

The One has one design flaw: the grooves in the sole pick up pebbles. This happens in almost every run I do with them.  This really doesn’t cause any issues at all when I’m running.  But I always be careful when I’m finished to make sure there are not stuck pebbles before I go indoors.  I don’t like to leave pebbles laying around in the house or scratch the floor.

Final Thoughts

I like both pairs of shoes, but if I had to chose one or the other, I would pick the Ones.  They are the most comfortable shoe I’ve every put my foot into.  They are my favorite shoe for road running and my favorite for everyday use and walking.  But I like to change things up so I don’t run in the same shoe every day.  I still wear my Instincts from time to time, especially if my feet are feeling a bit sore from the previous one.

Regardless of which one you choose, you’ll be getting Altra’s zero drop, wide toe box goodness; both of which I find it very uncomfortable to do without.

 

 

Backpacking in the Otter Creek Wilderness Area

The boys and I have been wanting to try backpacking for the last year or two, but we have been slow in getting it done.  The main reason for that was the cost of all of the necessary equipment. We had plenty of camping gear, but none of it was small and light enough for backpacking. But this year Landry’s school teacher invited all of the boys in the class and their fathers on a three day, two night backpacking trip.  So that was the motivation I needed to spend the money and get geared up.  Sometime in a future post I’ll give you a run-down of all the equipment I purchased.

A test run

Being new to backpacking, I decided to take a short one-night backpacking trip just to test my equipment in preparation for the longer trip.  I took all three of my sons on a 1.5 mile trip into the state forest near our house and we camped for one night.  My friend and his son also went along.

Everything went well, except that our 2-3 man tent was very cramped with myself and my three boys.  But that was to be expected.  Only Landry and I were going on the longer trip, so we knew tent space wouldn’t be a problem.

Day 1

About a week after our test backpacking trip, we arrived at the parking lot for Otter Creek Wilderness Area to start our three-day, two-night adventure.   The trail started by crossing Otter creek on a suspended bridge.  Then it was a rugged hike for a short distance until we got to what appeared to be an old railroad bed running along Otter creek.  The trail was relatively flat, but muddy in places and there were a few small streams to cross that flowed into Otter Creek.  When we reached the first creek crossing, I removed my Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes and wore my Crocs for the remainder of the day.  They were not the most comfortable shoes to walk in, but thankfully we had only planned to go 3.2 miles on the first day.

Our campsite was a flat, dry area on the banks of Otter Creek.  We reached it around lunchtime, so we had plenty of time to hang out and explore.

As far as scenery goes, Otter Creek was the highlight of the trip. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, except perhaps in some Montana trout fishing videos.  It was one waterfall or white-water area after another, with water crashing over huge boulders.  Some deep pools in-between looked like perfect places to hold trout. Several of our group who were under 16 (no fishing licenses needed) fished for a time, but we didn’t have any success.

Day 2

We packed up camp after breakfast and resumed our trek along Otter Creek.  The trail was a slight uphill grade and followed Otter Creek for about 6 miles.  There were several large waterfalls along the way. We forded the creek a total of four times.  One crossing was a little treacherous, and I wouldn’t have wanted the water to be any higher.

Somewhere around mile nine the trail left Otter Creek and headed up the mountain.  I was glad to finally be able to put on some dry socks and shoes and be able to keep them dry for a while.

The trail flattened out when we reached the top of the mountain, and we had an easy hike through the hemlocks to our campsite beside a spring at mile 12.

We hung-out for a couple of hours and had a good supper, and then escaped to our tents at dusk just in time to escape the rain that continued into the night.

Day 3

The rain stopped sometime during the night, and day three was another great day to hike.  It started with several miles of hiking a slight downgrade on the top of the mountain, so I assumed it would be reasonably dry in spite of the rain.  I was proven wrong when we slogged through mud again and again.  The thick rhododendron was nearly overgrowing the path and was wet from the rain.  Add in a few rocks and roots to trip over, and it made for some treacherous hiking.  It was especially difficult for the two younger boys.  For them much of the rhododendron was head level, making it difficult to watch for obstacles.  Landry fell at least five times, but thankfully didn’t have any injuries.  I was relieved when the trail opened up and then headed sharply downhill.

At around mile 16, we rejoined the trail along Otter Creek that we had started on, completing a loop.  From there we retraced our steps about four more miles to get back to the vehicle by early afternoon.

Lessons learned

Here are a few things we learned on our first multi-day backpacking trip

  • Blue jeans get really heavy when they are wet.
    For this trip I wore lightweight hiking pants that I was very happy with. Landry, on the other hand, wore blue jeans. Everything was OK until we crossed the creek a few times and he got wet up to his waist. At that point the denim got heavy and began to chaff his legs. Thankfully, we had an extra pair of pants for him. Next time, denim clothes will be left at home.
  • Paracord and carabiners are very handy for all sorts of things.
    Take some of both along when you go backpacking.
  • Take extra socks.
    An couple extra pairs of socks take up very little space and you will be glad for them if the trail is wet and muddy.
  • Bacon & Cheddar Cheez-it crackers are a very tasty trail snack

All-in-all, we had a great time.  Our equipment worked well, in spite of the fact that we were pretty frugal in the products we selected. Luke and Jared did a good job of planning the trip as well.  The hike was difficult and long enough to be an adventure, but not so much to cause many aching muscles.

From Office Chair to Half Marathon

Staying in shape was not a problem in my growing up years. Between working on the farm and playing with my friends at school, I did a good job of staying on the move.  But when I reached the age of 20, things started to change.  I started a business of fixing computers, something that soon was keeping me busy for long hours. Still, I found time to play softball one or two nights a week, plus some volleyball now and then.

By the time I hit 30, there were more changes.  I was a husband and a father, and other priorities had crowded out my playing of sports. Now it was just time at work and time with the family.  I got more into hunting and fishing, but that doesn’t add up to a whole lot when it comes to building physical fitness.  Life was great, but physically some undesirable things were happening.  By the time I was approaching 40, my waistline was steadily growing.  I could not run more than 50 feet or climb a flight of stairs without getting out of breath.  It was time to take action.

In April of 2016, at age 39, I signed up for a local 5k, the Strawberry Stampede 5k.  I didn’t like running, but I had to do something.  And I still had enough of a competitive spirit that having the race on the calendar would keep me running even though I would hate it.  I used my vehicle to measure out a roughly 3.1 mile section of roadway, and I started to train.  At first, it was mostly walking, with a little running mixed in. It was brutal.  Before long, I started getting a variety of running aliments.  Sore calves.  Shin splints.  Runner’s diarrhea.  It seemed my whole body was unhappy with my decision to run.

Landry crosses the finish line

By the time race day arrived, I had worked through most of those ailments.  The race was brutal, like my training.  I pushed myself as hard as I could, but still had to walk much of the way.  I finished in about 30 minutes – right in the middle of the pack. I was delighted to get an award  for finishing second in my age group.  Then I realized that I was one of only two 30-39 year old males in the race, so the medal was basically a finisher’s medal.  My 9-year-old son Landry finished in around 27 minutes, good enough for first male under 12.

I still didn’t like running, but crossing that finish line was rewarding, and my competitive spirit kept me running for a few more weeks. I rewarded myself by purchasing a pair of Altra Instinct running shoes. Soon I found I could “run” the whole 3.1 mile distance.  It was quite slow, more like a jog, but nobody wants  to be a jogger, so I called it running.

And then the unthinkable happened:  I started to enjoy it. Running was still hard, but physically it started to pay off.  I had more energy. I didn’t need as much sleep. In fact, the amount of time I spent running was more than made up for by the extra time I was awake. I could actually sing in church without running out of breath or getting light-headed. Over time, running became easier and my speed increased.   In July I ran the Shippensburg Fair 5k and finished in 25:45.  In August I ran the Bremenfest 5k and finished in 24:45.

When Crystal turned 40, she and I had taken an overnight trip to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad to celebrate.  With my 40th birthday looming, it was my turn to decide on a destination.  When I stumbled on the Runner’s World Half and Festival in Bethlehem, PA, I knew that was the place.

Crystal ran the 5k and I ran the 10k.  I had set a goal of finishing it in under 50, and it took everything I had to finish in 49:48. It was probably a bit too ambitious of a goal, because within a few minutes after crossing the finish line, I had a severe case of IT band syndrome that left me hobbling for a day or two and then fighting with it during my runs for several weeks.

On thanksgiving day Crystal, Landry and I all ran the Greencastle Turkey trot.

Then I took the plunge and signed up for the Chambersburg Half Marathon, which was scheduled for March 11, 2017.  My plan was to train for distance and use the Chambersburg Half as a training run to prepare for the Garden Spot Village Marathon in April.  But my plans took a turn for the worse in December when I rolled my ankle during a run and pain shot through my knee.  I suspect I had a mild LCL sprain.  I never got it diagnosed, but it made running more than a mile impossible for about a month.  It was February before I could start building mileage again.  I still wanted to run the half, but I knew it was foolish to plan for a full marathon in April.

I had to ramp up my mileage rather quickly in order to be ready for race day.  I did weekly long runs of 6, 8, and 10 miles in the weeks leading up to the half marathon in addition to my usual two 3-mile runs each of those weeks.  Somehow, I made it to race day without any further problems.  I knew better than to set an ambitious goal this time, so I decided to shoot for a 9 minute mile pace, which would put me at the finish line in just under two hours.

Race day turned out to be cold.  At the starting line, it was about 18 degrees F and 10 degrees with the wild-chill factored in.  I had never run a race in this kind of weather but somehow I ended up wearing just the right amount of clothing.  Once I started running, I was comfortable. The easier pace made it a very enjoyable race.  I felt great until about mile 12.  At that point, my legs started telling me it was time to stop.  But I kept them moving and crossed the finish line in 1:57:54.  My family was cheering me on as I approached the finish line.  By the time I had collected my finisher’s medal, they had escaped to the vehicle to warm up.  Landry collected a few video clips and put together a nice highlight reel of the race.

Running has been a life-changing experience for me. It has become a form of therapy.  My weekend long run is something I look forward to all week. Running is a time to enjoy nature, to reflect, and even to worship.  And in the process of doing something I enjoy, I’ve lost 25 pounds and feel about as good physically as anytime I can remember.

This Saturday, I plan to once again run the Strawberry Stampede 5K, the race that started it all a year ago.   My goal will be the same as it was a year ago, to cross the finish line.


Note: Because running is a bit off-topic for my Great Cove Adventures YouTube Channel, I have started separate channel for my running-related videos.  To visit and subscribe, click here