Balance and the Bucket List

“People speak of finding balance. To me, that’s a misplaced ambition. If you have balance, you do everything okay. But to excel at your craft, you need obsessive, unbridled fanaticism.” — Dean Karnazes, The Road to Sparta

Approaching the 12th Avenue North bridge on an early morning run, in the waning days of July,  I stared down the long incline to the top deck of the half-mile span.

For most of the year, I’ve been searching for a racing purpose — an epic adventure to consume my focus and training. As marathons in Fargo and Duluth exposed, though, sometimes the body just can’t follow where the heart and mind want to go.

This week, I’ll meet with a specialist to discuss surgery and other options, seeking relief and rehab for a core muscle injury that proves to be troublesome most of the time: sitting for long periods of time and sleeping not excluded.

Within the past few days, I began reading the latest Dean Karnazes book, and I can’t help but be inspired to take a long view of my running. For the better part of the past 18 months, I’ve focused on 3-month blocks to hammer out the next race.

But later this week, hopefully with some answers to a recovery plan, my view will shift to therapy and a long buildup for 2018. That likely won’t involve a 70.3-mile triathlon — I’d still like to tackle a half Ironman someday if not for my pitiful swimming — but it will probably include a major push for a special accomplishment and there are no shortage of races on the bucket list: Utah Valley, a return for redemption at Grandma’s Marathon, that Ragnar ultra, a fast fall race (St. George, Chicago, Philadelphia and California International) and running the Grand Canyon from rim to rim to rim.

Under the Knife

After waking shortly after midnight, and failing for hours to fall back asleep, I did the only reasonable thing — I slipped on a pair of shoes and set out just after 3 a.m.

By then, any chance of salvaging both sleep and a morning run were shot — so I cut my losses and hit the pavement.

Admittedly, I go through fits of sleeplessness once or twice a year, and the freedom and exhilaration of a pre-dawn run beats mindless searching on the internet. A nice breeze cooled me through this morning’s 7-miler under the street lights and over the 12th Avenue North railyard bridge.

These days, though, there is a bit more reason for restlessness.

It wasn’t so much that my performance at Grandma’s Marathon fell below expectations. Rather, it was the knowledge that the pain meant something just isn’t quite right.

It took more than a week to get into the doctor’s office for my appointment. And another 10 days for the MRI to confirm what I had already suspected. It will take another 9 days to meet another doctor for a consultation, which could result in surgery to repair a torn muscle in the lower abdomen.

In addition to the current injury, the MRI also confirmed indication of an early similar injury. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that’s why the past 4 marathons, half marathon and 2 trail races (26K and 40K) hurt so much. Or why sitting for long stretches or sleeping in the wrong position leaves me writhing in pain.

Along the way, though, I’ve regained a decent amount of fitness after a winter break and slow return to running.

A few weeks ago, on a whim, I decided to experiment with a new shoe model.

Slipping those onto my feet reminded me that a new pair of shoes is freedom, a fresh start and a chance to experience another new beginning before the miles of pavement slowly batter them into a worn piece of rubber foam and mesh.

Despite the recent marathon disappoint, I knew at some point I’ll need to find a replacement for the Green Silence, a model long discarded from Brooks’ line of shoes. With the exception of my first marathon, I’ve run every marathon in the Green Silence.

A few years ago, in a frantic search for any remaining Green Silence, I scoured the internet and found 3 pair in my size. Now relegated to a marathon-only shoe, there are a limited number of races left in them.

And that left me looking for a replacement pair, along with something suitable for other race distances. The Brooks Asteria — a replacement for the company’s ST Racer model — is ready to fill the void.

But knowing shoe companies proclivity for making tweaks and changes, I’m looking at a small investment to stockpile enough for future races. The lightweight Asteria are a terrific shoe, designed for mild overpronation, and they’re closest I’ve come to finding the freedom and adrenaline of a new pair of Green Silence.

This past Saturday, with temperatures soaring into the 80s during a midday 10-miler, my steps felt quick and smooth in the Asteria, even if the red and black color scheme aren’t exactly my style.

Double the Heat

Not many runners, at least in northern climes, enjoy the heat.

Once the thermometer rises above 65 degrees, a daily workout can feel icky. Even worse, racing any distance longer than a 5K might seem like pure torture.

But how many runners do you know who love believe they run better in a fall race?

Certainly, consistent training is a lot easier when you’re not fighting layers of clothes and the tricky, often brutal, conditions of winter and early spring in the Upper Midwest. But there’s also science behind it:

Researchers have been looking at the effects of heat on athletic performance for decades, and their results have been consistently surprising. Studies have found that, in addition to an increased rate of perspiration, training in the heat can increase an athlete’s blood plasma volume (which leads to better cardiovascular fitness), reduce overall core temperature, reduce blood lactate, increase skeletal muscle force, and, counterintuitively, make a person train better in cold temperatures.

In fact, heat acclimation may actually be more beneficial than altitude training in eliciting positive physiological adaptations, says Santiago Lorenzo, a professor of physiology at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and a former decathlete at the University of Oregon.

The above passage, outlined in OutsideOnline, reinforced something that seemed apparent in my training for fall marathons each of the past few summers. Now I’m a big believer as those training blocks the past 2 summers — when I logged most of my miles after work — helped me nail a marathon PR and a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Race times showed that most of my best or fastest races come in the fall. When I stumbled across the above article, it made sense to me.

An early morning run can be exhilarating and energizing, but I’m still going to find some time this summer to log some of my runs in late afternoon and evening.

Since I’m a big fan of performing a weekly double (running twice in one day), it should help log a good time this fall since it pulling it off requires running at least one workout in the heat. And by sleeping in once or twice a week would also mean running after work, that would yield 2 or 3 evening runs each week — an easy way to get the extra training benefit of running in the heat and acclimate just in case race morning proves to be warm.

Pushing for Angels

One of the great things about our sport is there are so many ways to pair running with other passions in our lives. It gives us a chance to enjoy running while supporting charities or causes, creating awareness and sharing stories about special people.

There are a lot of good causes and events out there but one worth particular mention is Ainsley’s Angels, which is hosting its Sunrise 5K this Saturday at Bethesda Lutheran Church in Moorhead.

Tom Donaldson has been working to get out the message about the race. Tom has been a major driving force in charity running for a number of years, especially with the Fargo and Chicago marathons. If there were a community running hall of fame in Fargo, Tom would be a charter member.

Tom was gracious enough to share a few thoughts about the Ainsley’s Angels race Saturday:

“Ainsley’s Angels is an organization that pairs runners with special needs people. The runners push the special needs people (Angels) in adaptive racing strollers in road races in the area. Ainsley’s Angels provides the chairs and the runners (pushers) and any person with special needs is invited to participate with no cost to the Angel.

“I got involved a couple of years ago when I finished my board term with a different charity. I met our local ambassador, Christine Hamre, at charity runner meetings and thought Ainsley’s Angels was a perfect fit for any runner who wishes to be involved in community service.

“We are a local organization that is part of a national Ainsley’s Angels organization. There are many (ambassadorships) throughout the U.S. This year, a runner (Shaun Evans) affiliated with the national organization will push his son from Moorhead to Lake Charles, Louisiana, during the month of July to raise awareness of Ainsley’s Angels.

“… Our 5k, called the Sunrise 5k, will be the send off race for him and his son. They will continue on to Detroit Lakes that day and eventually on down the Mississippi. At stops, they will be awarding people with special needs family members adaptive racing strollers like the ones we use. On July 29 in Lake Charles, there will be a concluding 5k called the Sunset 5k.

“Our race is a family friendly event and we invite any runner or walker to join us. Several of us will be pushing Angels that day. Everyone receives a medal and a shirt, we will have door prizes, and special donuts for all.”

Find out more at the event’s Facebook page or register here. Learn more about Ainsley’s Angels of America and help Shaun and his son on their journey.

Can’t make it to Moorhead for the race? There’s also a virtual registration option … so no matter where you are, you can help support a terrific cause.

The Path Forward

Sometimes the path forward isn’t always clear.

That’s true in life and running.

After running Grandma’s Marathon on Saturday, that’s certainly the case for me.

There was good reason to feel confident heading into the race; training had gone exceptionally well, especially since the Fargo Marathon, and most of the details leading up to the starting gun seemed perfect. Once again, race organizers and the Duluth community proved they know how to host a marathon, particularly one of the largest in the country.

However, something went awry on my way from Two Harbors to Canal Park. By the time I reached the 10K timing mat, my average mile splits were perfect. Even at the halfway point, everything appeared to be going well. It unraveled during the second half and despite responding a handful of times to rally with a surge, my finishing time came nowhere near my expectations.

When training goes well, and we accomplish our goals, running can bring a tremendous amount of satisfaction. It leaves us fulfilled but wanting to chase loftier goals. So what do we do when the stars appear to align and the outcome falls so far short of expectations? What happens when the outcome leaves us feeling empty and disappointed?


The goal last Saturday was to improve on my qualifying time in hopes of gaining entry into the 2018 Boston Marathon. Plan B doesn’t look promising, either.

Perhaps I’m just one long run away from finding the path forward.