Friday, April 29, 2011

Fifty Nine!

A week ago today I had the honor and privilege to run with my new friend Bill Frye as he commemorated the 10th anniversary of the unexpected passing of his father, Sheldon Frye.  It all began a year ago on April 19th.  Bill was feeling pretty low and thinking about all the time he had lost with his dad over the past 9 years.  They both shared a huge passion for Dallas sports.  They were regular fixtures at Mavericks and Stars games. 
This past year he decided to do something about the sad feelings he experienced around this date.  He decided to run in honor of his father.  Bill set his sights high.  As a very once-in-a while runner he had never done much more that a casual 5k.  Bill declared to the world that he was going to run 59 miles on April 19, 2011.  59 is how old his father was when he unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack.

From the very beginning many of his friends were concerned about Bill jumping so far out there.  Bill’s mom was especially worried about his health and the potential danger of taking on something like this.  Bill undertook a full physical from his doctor as he began hi s running regiment.  Throughout 2011 he worked on his running.  A major milestone for him was completing the White Rock Half Marathon in December.  Granted 13 miles is a long way from 59, but Bill was committed to the cause and still had over 4 months to keep training.  To create additional accountability he began telling all his friends and co-workers about this quest.  He also decided to raise money for the American Heart Association along the way and set another lofty goal of raising $15,000. 

Bill grew up with a very tight group of close friends in Jr. High and High School.  Among these is a guy by the name of Michael Durkin of Durkin’s Pizza fame.  A long time veteran of the restaurant business he makes the best pizza in all of Collin County and beyond.  Besides making a great pizza he is one of those great all around guys.  He makes the young kids that work for him post their grades and my kids think he is one cool cat. 

Durkin is the reason I had the opportunity to get involved with Bill.  Durkin knows about my er, uh, running habit.  Many times I will come off a long session on the trails and go straight to Durkin’s to devour one of his tasty pies.  One day in January he told me about his friend Bill.  He emailed me the link to his fundraising page (you can still donate HERE) and gave me his contact info.  Durkin knows me pretty well and though I would help Bill in his final push to get ready for his run in April.  Anyone who knows me a little bit knows that I would jump at the chance to help someone in this type of epic venture.

A few days later Bill and I met over a cup of coffee.  Immediately I knew this guys heart and soul was in it and he would not be denied.  With time pretty short to go from 13 to 59 miles we get right to work.  I built him a running schedule emphasizing time on his feet.  Speed will matter not in this situation.  He will have all day to get this done.  Our first together is 16 miles on the trail.  Much different than all the pavement he has been pounding AND it is also a new longest run ever for him. 

Over the next month or so we stay in contact and made some adjustments to his long runs as he battled some knee issues.  The weeks roll by, he puts in the work, and the miles start to stack up.  A few weeks  before the big effort I have him peak with a 5 hour effort on Saturday followed by another 5 hours on his feet on Sunday.  He came through in pretty good shape. 

Despite all this preparation and commitment by him, I remind him that it will be painful, uncomfortable, and there will be adversity to overcome the day he does the 59 miles.  There is always discomfort, but it is always up to you if you are miserable when this occurs.  When this moment arrives I am confident Bill will answer the bell and press on.

We plan a nice 5-mile loop that is flat, has a fair amount of shade, and provides good access for his friends and family to join him throughout his effort.  The days leading up to the run I encourage him to stay off his feet as much as he can, hydrate, and keep his energy reserves topped-off with some good, clean healthy meals. 
One of the really cool aspects of this entire scenario is the way Bill’s friends, family, and co-worker’s have rallied around him and this cause.  Most of Bill’s family, including his Dad’s brothers and sisters, have not all been together since the funeral 10 years ago.  Bill has almost 20 family members coming in for this.  Bill has already accomplished something quite wonderful.  He has turned the memory of the man his Dad was into a celebration that brings their entire family together! 

Bill and I decided to start the run at midnight.  The plan was to get as many miles in before the sun comes up.    It was an energizing send-off that buoyed our spirits.  Personally, my sole mission that day was to help Bill regulate his effort, keep moving, and do everything right he can to maximize his chances of completing the entire 59 miles.  Seeing his family there in the middle of the night only hardened my determination to make the day a huge success for Bill and his family.

We aggressively walked the first 5-mile loop on purpose to really ease into the effort and get everything warmed up really well.  Our walking pace was about 14-min per mile.  This is no casual walk in the park I assure you.  As we complete the first of 12 loops there is another crowd at our impromptu aid station.  A group of 6 of Durkin’s young employees are there to run with us.  They are all around 20 years old and chomping at the bit to run.  I lead the group to temper the pace and keep the young stallions at bay.  They friendly chatter and banter back and forth is a welcome distraction that helps the nighttime miles slip by effortlessly.  We run loop 2 in 58 minutes and loop 3 in 63 minutes. 

The young guns leave after running 10 miles with us and we pick up a few friends from his office for loop 4.  The plan is to work some good aggressive walking back into this loop.  Halfway through the loop Bill begins running again and I hang back with one of his co-workers to make sure she can find her way around the course in the dark.  We arrive back at camp a short while later.  20 miles done!  1/3 of the way  there.
Each time around I encourage Bill to take in calories each hour and really stay on top of his hydration and electrolytes.  I have him drinking two 24 ounce bottles each loop plus a few salt tabs.  He is really steady at this point and I encourage him to keep a really simple, efficient effort with as much walking as he needs during this next 20 miles.  He is starting to visualize how this effort may unfold for him at this point.  Get to 40 miles without exerting too much effort and then regroup to knock out the last 4 loops.

With the sun now up, the second 20-miles go by rather uneventfully.  Bill has lots of friends and family joining him on each loop.  He is walking more than running at this point, but covering lots of ground by maintaining an aggressive walking posture and not dawdling too long at the aid stations.  The local news was there as we complete one of the next loops.  They get shots of us coming in and out of the aid station and do a brief interview with Bill.  Spirits are very high as we finish the 8th loop and complete 40 miles. 

This is way beyond anything Bill has done before.  At this point we have been on our feet for over 12 hours.  Our loop we are running is entirely pavement.  12 hours just standing on pavement can be painful.  Running and walking during that time will certainly take its toll.  I believe walking on the pavement is much more taxing on your feet that running properly on pavement.  When you walk more of your foot comes in contact with the ground for a longer amount of time generating much more friction than if one was running with a proper, natural running form.  Bill has some pretty good hot spots on the balls of his feet at this point.  Even my feet are barking at me pretty good from the pavement. 

 So far today the plan has gone off even better than we expected.  We still have a lot of to cover before we  get to 59 and as is true in any ultra-distance, anything can happen…..

The dramatic conclusion of Bill’s epic day will be posted in a day or so.  (More photos as well as some video) Follow my blog to get updates when new posts hit.  Peruse the archives while you are here for more goodness.

Monday, April 11, 2011


I believe my metamorphosis is finally complete.  I have finally adapted into a pretty significant tweak I was working on with my running form.  It was not always easy and at times was quite painful.  Like anything else ingrained in our lives’ daily habits, change can often be difficult.  I had to remind myself to be patient, I remembered to listen to my body along the way, and I remained flexible to altering my path as necessary.

Before finding my natural running form.

A few years ago I made a major change to my running form by moving from a heel striker to a proper natural running form utilizing a fore-foot strike.  I will not get on my soap box here right now about why running with a heel strike is so horribly, biomechanically incorrect for every upright walking bi-ped on the planet.  The photo above is the result of trying to run 100 miles on very rugged terrain with very improper form. 

I pounded these shoes all year and they gave me nothing but love back.

It took me about 2-3 months of thinking about where my foot was striking the ground with every step I took.  One day while enjoying a jaunt on the trail it just clicked.  Last year I ran almost 4,000 miles in the shoes above completely injury-free thanks to my corrected form.  At an average of 1,000 steps for mile this means that I logged 4,000,000 steps in these shoes.

No drop here people!
There is only one problem with this.  As good as these shoes were to me last year they have a major design flaw in my opinion:  They have an almost 12mm heel-to-toe drop in the sole/cushioning of the shoe.  Why does this matter?  Stand on the floor in your bare feet.  Your heel and your toes touch the ground at exactly the same level.  Your foot has no drop.  It stands to reason that your shoes should mimic this.  More goodness on this topic at my friend Patton’s website HERE.

Newton Neutral Racer!  2mm drop at only 8.6 oz!

4,000,000 steps last year in a shoe with an elevated heel resulted in my Achilles tendon shortening from its natural length.  So about a month ago 2 months ago I started running in Newton racers and a few weeks later in the Newton trail shoe.  4 years ago Newton came on the scene and turned established, conventional thinking about running on its’ head!  I was so excited about my new Newton’s that I went out and cruised a 16-mile run in them day one.  Big mistake!  They felt great during the run, but after my Achilles was barking mad at me.  My 80 to 125-mile a week regiment had just been brought to a grinding halt.

Ice! Ice! Baby too cold!

Once I figured out that some serious adaptation in my Achilles tendon had to take place I attacked this concept with zeal.  My runs became shortened to less than 5 miles each.  To compensate I would do multiple runs a day 6-8 hours apart when I could to try and keep some mileage up.  One day I had to shut it down after about three miles and limp home the last 2 miles.  That was a miserable feeling.  Anytime I was sitting somewhere I had it elevated with a bag of ice.  Foam rolling religiously.  Lots of walking in my new 2mm drop shoes to let me Achilles elongate.  All told it took 3-4 weeks. 

Use a metronome app on your smartphone to hit 180!

There were moments I thought it would never happen.  I jumped on the phone with Patton after the day I had limped home pretty dejected.  I took away two additional mini-adaptations relative to my running form that proved to be very important to my success.  The first was that I should be LIFTING my foot off the ground not pushing off the ground.  More details on the why behind this HERE.  The second was that I was flexing my foot as I struck the ground instead of landing with a very relaxed forefoot, allowing my foot pad and toes to spread out, and then quickly lifting off the ground.  All of this should be done at about 180 steps per minute.  That is fast foot turnover that is low impact and wildly efficient in many ways!

Guadajuko has perfect form.  Check out his foot spread.  Caballo Blanco's dog photo by the greatness of Luis Escobar.

All of these efforts to adapt and continue in my evolution as a runner culminated this morning on the trail.  Last night around midnight we had a very severe storm flash across the Metroplex, leaving the trail very slippery.  I was excited for two reasons:  I love to run in the mud.  There would be no one else out there but me slogging it out!  My plan was to run the 8-mile loop 3 times at a very steady pace similar to what I would use in a 100-mile race.  The trail was glorious to say the least.  75 degrees and the sky was an indescribable shade of blue that I can still see when I close my eyes.  For 5 hours the entire 200 acres was all mine.  If I had not run out of fluids I would have pressed on for another loop or two.

The greatness ended all too soon today!

My patience and perseverance was rewarded today as my Achilles performed perfectly all day.  There was not any swelling or tenderness later either!  Another aspect of the day that delivered just as expected was in the area of mental clarity.  5 hours with nothing but the wind in the trees, my feet on the trail, and my soul soaring!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Follow your heart...

Paulo Coehlo, author of ‘The Alchemist”, shared the following thought from his blog here 
In the middle of a storm, a pilgrim reaches an inn and the owner asks where he is going.
“I’m going to the mountains,” he answers.
“Forget it,” says the innkeeper, “it’s a risky climb, and the weather is awful.”
“But I’m going up,” answers the pilgrim.”It is my dream”.
“If my heart got there first, it will be easy to follow it with my body.”

The five simple lines of this antidote capture a very powerful truism.  If your heart is not fully in something, ultimately you are not likely to be successful.  At some point along your journey you will be dissuaded by some adversity or perceived obstacle.  This can be applied to any aspect of one’s life:  Career/work, family/relationships, athletic endeavors, etc.
Bill and his Dad, Sheldon Frye in 2001
Less than 2 weeks from now I will run with my friend, Bill Frye, as he runs 59 miles to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the passing of his father.  When I met Bill back in January the farthest he had ever run is 13.1 miles at White Rock.  It is a big leap to go from 13.1 to 59 miles.  The thing that struck me the first time we met to talk about this was that his heart was 100% committed to climbing this mountain.  I had no doubt at that moment that he will stand on the top of this mountain on April 19th.  Since January he has endured inclement weather, knee problems, and other discomforts along the path of this journey.  Because his heart is already there his body must follow.
Do you have the courage?
The question one must always ask yourself is:  What is truly in your heart?  What are you passionately committed to?  Too often we fail to follow our heart and our passions, only to wake up one day looking up at a mountain of regret instead of basking in the sunshine at the summit of one of our dreams.  The surrender happens slowly and the ground is given up without us even noticing most of the time.  What keeps us from following our heart and ultimately pursuing our dreams?  Fear.  Sometimes rational, but most of the time it is not.  I personally believe that most people give up on their dreams because they seek acceptance and approval from others first and foremost.  So what if your idea of success and happiness does not conform to some perceived social norm or standard!
Sometimes the journey is long with ample opportunity to quit.
Only you know what is true in your heart.  Which version of you will be the one your true friends and family want you to be?  The one who gave up on your dreams or the one who blazed forth on the trail that your heart told you was true?  You will always know the people in your life who are the ones who care the most about your happiness and fulfillment.  It is easy.  Just tell them your dreams and aspirations.  One group will scoff or look at you like you are crazy.  Odds are they have already fully surrendered.  Your true supporters will cheer you on as you pursue your audacious goals and pick you up when you fall along the way.  
So fear not.  The true joy in life is for those brave souls who have the courage to follow their heart and live their life on their terms.  A few Tuesdays from now I get to help a friend stand on a mountain top.  The view will be spectacular and hearts will soar!