Thursday, November 20, 2014

Have Races Reached The Saturation Point?

As I sit here waiting to watch a Kansas City Chiefs game on Thursday night, it's very apparent to me that the NFL is over-exposed and endangered.  No, not because of its 699 arrests since the year 2000 (source), which is a surprisingly lower rate than the National average of men in the same demographic, or because of it's current "Let's Pretend We Care About Women" campaign that was only started because they were backed into a corner after years and years and years and years of turning a blind black and blue eye to domestic violence ... no, it's over-exposed because there are just too many darn games on during the week.  I mean seriously ... THURSDAY???  Their embarrassingly low mid-week TV ratings prove that no one is watching the NFL except for Sunday afternoon.  And partly because of the NFL's greed, and an attempt to control viewership seemingly everyday of the week, I predict that we'll see a sharp decline in it's popularity in a few years.  I say "partly" because the impending decline will also be related to parents taking their children out of football at an increasing rate, and thus youth football enrollment plummeting.  But since I'm not a huge NFL fan, it won't bother me either way.

It seems that running has followed a similar meteoric climb in popularity over the past few years, at almost the exact same time-frame as the NFL. And as participation has grown, more and more races have cropped up.  In almost every city in America, there is some sort of foot race every single weekend throughout the year.  Heck, even in the relatively short 6-7 years I've been actively racing, it seems races have doubled.

While running is at an all-time height in popularity, it shouldn't be overlooked that the reason there are so many races is that charitable organizations view them as a great way to raise money.  That may or may not be true, and definitely NOT true according to a study by Indiana University (source) which suggests that races only raise about $3.20 for every $1 spent, compared to upwards of $20 to $1 ratios by other traditional means such as phone solicitations and capital campaigns.  But never the less, non-profit groups spend a lot of time planning, marketing, and executing races.

But with the ever increasing popularity of running, it seems to me that many races have morphed into something more than just, well ... running.  Most local 5K's now feature some sort of gimmick like being sprayed with color, wearing fake mustaches, avoiding being tagged by zombies, and costume galas for every season.  Additionally, I've noticed a growing number of races that highlight and advertise an "in race" challenge, such as fastest up the mountain, most miles ran at even splits, or veering off the race path for "the scenic route", which of course is accompanied by an additional medal.  And at the risk of sounding like an old-timer or traditionalist, which I certainly am not, I can't help but wonder why it's not enough just to run ... and only run, in a race anymore.

To answer my own question, I think there are two reasons in play.  First, I think races are trying to attract more and more "non-runners", in an attempt to generate more revenue.  Races are increasingly marketing to people who typically would not spend their money to run a race with no frills.  This is also why every race now has bigger and brighter medals, and more and more give-aways. I personally don't see anything wrong with this, but it's apparent that race directors are under the impression that if they don't make their race unique, or filled with free stuff, people might not show up, which ties into reason number two ...

... there are just so many races, everyone has to have a gimmick to stand out.  Even if race directors were to seek only seasoned runners, there's just so much competition for household recreational dollars, and thus a borderline saturation of races every weekend.  I know personally, as much as my wife and I like to run races, we often have to choose between runs that fall on the same day.  And honestly, if it's between a race I've done before, and a new race with something that interests me, like an "in race" challenge, I'll choose the latter.

Most marketing studies show that just before a product begins to decline in popularity or revenue, it often reaches a saturation point, and thus looses appeal to it's target audience.  With races seemingly "reaching" more and more out of the traditional running realm, I wonder if we're near the saturation point with these events.  I just can't imagine that we'll continue to see the same kind of increase in race registration over the next few years.  And accordingly, I think many of the upstart local 5K's will begin to fade a little as well.

There's an ebb and flow with almost everything in life.  High points and low points.  And accordingly, when a product or service reaches it's peak, there's obviously no where to go but down.  And while I think we're probably a few years away from this decline in running, I think we're probably headed that way.  But who knows, I'm not an expert ... it's just something to think about.
... be great today!  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How To Ruin Thanksgiving Day

Michael at the 2012 Ward Parkway Thanksgiving Day Run
Not sure is this is the JERK I'll be chasing next Thursday
A few years ago, Michael and I started a family tradition of running a 5K on Thanksgiving Day.  Our race of choice is the Ward Parkway Thanksgiving Day Run in Kansas City.  We have a blast and have even met Karli Ritter, our favorite morning TV meteorologist there a few times.  Plus this year, I think our niece, Ashley, is running it with us.

With the exception of two years ago, I usually just "jog" the race nice and easy and enjoy the day.  It's a good little light workout before stuffing my gut full of turkey and dressing.  In 2012, Michael "made me" run fast enough to win her a Turkey Medal, but other than that, it's a pleasant morning.  But this year things will probably be different.

Michael told me yesterday that there's something called a "Turkey Throw Down".  Basically, a dude in a Turkey Suit is going to run a 5K in 20:00.  If you beat him, you win a special award ... undoubtedly a shirt or koozie or something I don't need.  When Michael told me about it, I was like, "Oh, that's nice" with no intention of running hard because I'm not really in great shape right now.  But even though I was just minding my own business, just living my life ... that's when the mocking, and badgering, and ridiculing, and insults were piled on me.  Basically the same barrage I get from my lovely wife any time she's trying to shame me into doing something I don't want to do.  She was like, "Oh, well if you're too fat and out of shape and are going to let someone in a costume 'outman' you ... that's fine, no biggie!"  Ya know, the sort.  So unfortunately this year, I'll have to try to run it faster than a dumb turkey, just so I don't have to listen to that for three months.

The problem is this ... I SERIOUSLY don't know if I can run a 5K under 20 minutes right now.  When I'm in top shape, it wouldn't be a huge issue, but I have serious doubts if my legs can turn over that fast for three miles.  I think a 20:00 5K is about a 6:27 pace or so.  I did a six mile run this morning, with two middle miles at 6:29 & 6:20 ... but I stopped between each ... and they about friggin' killed me!  Plus, there are a couple of long hills on Ward Parkway.

Challenges like this are becoming more and more common in races.  And I think they target somewhat egotistical and over-achieving idiots like me.  Not because they want to reward hard work ... but rather, I think it's because they want to sit back at the finish line and laugh at all the dumb-dumbs that kill themselves and stumble across the finish line just for a stupid shirt or extra medal.

Inevitably after going all in a 5K, I feel like I'm gonna die for about an hour afterwards.  And then the rest of the day, my legs feel weak and wobbly.  I hate 5K's.  So thank you Turkey Throw Down for ruining my Thanksgiving this year.  Because, win or lose, you know I have to go for it.
... be great today!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cheap & Easy

Most people would probably view me as outgoing, personable, obviously oozing with side-splitting hilarity, ya know - just down right gregarious.  But those who know me best know that I'm most comfortable being alone, a little standoffish, and definitely enjoy the challenge of doing almost everything myself.  It's not that I can't work with others, but I would prefer to NEVER ask for someone's help.

My basement (man cave) is the prime example.  I did it all by myself ... and I mean all of it.  I built the cabinets, casing, mantle ... built and finished all of the woodwork.  I designed and built the 100 autographed baseball case ... and the coffee table in the middle of the room.  I matted and framed all of the medals, signed jerseys, footballs, and photos.  I even shot almost all of the photos. I wired it for electricity ... and ran the sound system.  Pretty much everything.

And recently I'd been looking for a way to display my marathon medals.  I'd seen several ideas and had decided to go with the "hanging" method, but didn't want to pay $50-75 for a professionally made medal hanger.  So, of course, today I simply made one myself.  It was really easy and only cost about $18, but you could probably do it for a little less than that.

I just found a small 24" plain black wall shelf.  I got this one at Hobby Lobby.  I think it was Hobby Lobby anyways ... it was one of those predominantly female patronized craft stores that, as a dude, you feel a little creepy roaming around in ... even though I'm not there to do anything creepy ... but I digress.  I think the shelf was about $15.  I then went to a mostly male hardware store - just to keep it real - and bought 9 square bend hooks.  They're the kind that have a threaded screw type end on one side, and a 90 degree bend on the other.

I then took said masculinely purchased shelf and drilled two rows of evenly spaced pilot holes ... 5 on the top row, and four on the bottom.  Since my drill press is broken, drilling the pilot holes completely perpendicular to the base was a little challenging, but I managed.  Next I inserted the square bend hooks, hung it on the wall, and added the medals.  I saw earlier today that Char had done a similar thing with her medals, but with a dowel under the shelf.  I think I like that idea better, but this will do for now.  I think it turned out fairly decent!

I've got some of my other marathon medals framed, but obviously I can't frame them all.  So this is a way to display the rest of them, sort of.  Hopefully seeing them on the regular will motivate me to get back in marathon mode.  This little project was quick, inexpensive, and really easy, but a little too crafty.  So if you need me, I'll be in the woods lumber-jacking a small clearing of trees or something.  Have a great week!
... be great today!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

2014 Longview Half-Marathon Review

2014 Longview Half-Marathon
Saturday, November 15, 2014
Longview Lake - Grandview, MO
Runners: 1,523  (564 men, 959 women)
Start Time: 8:00 am
Course: Two challenging hills, a few rolling hills, combined with flat stretches
Weather: 25 degrees, 8 mph wind, 60% humidity, spit a little snow late in the race but no accumulation
SWAG: Initially marketed as a "race jacket", runners received a dark blue long sleeve quarter zip shirt
Race Organization: KC Running Company event, so it was really well organized as always
Crowd Support: Good considering the weather
Volunteer Support: Unbelievably GREAT!!!
Water Stops: Frequent and Enthusiastic
Food: Gels during the race, chicken soup and bananas
Age: 45
Finishing Time: 1:36:30
Average Pace: 7:22
Place: 52/1,523 Overall, 4th/60 45-49 Age Group

Man-made Longview Lake in Jackson County Missouri ... one of the least scenic lakes in the Kansas City area

2014 Longview Half-Marathon Finisher Medal
On the right, long sleeve zip technical shirt originally
marketed as a "jacket" on the race's website

If you Google "Longview Half Marathon", you'll come up with several results for a Longview TEXAS race.  This was NOT that race.  This race was the inaugural run at Longview Lake which spans Kansas City, Lee's Summit, and Grandview, Missouri.  The location is considerably north of Texas, and accordingly, the temperature was considerably south ... about 25 degrees, with a "feels like" of about 17 degrees on race day.

KC's Finest organizing traffic before the race
I knew exactly what to expect in this race since I'd only ran about 45 miles in the last month, and gobble down every poor diet choice within arms length.  To say that I was "out of shape" would be kind ... fat, slow, and lazy would be more accurately descriptive.  I drove to the race with Michael understanding full well that it would be a grind.  And it was.

Kansas City Running Company organized the race to benefit St. Luke's Hospital Home Care & Hospice.  And as usual, every event that's managed by KC Running Company is very well organized and attended.  They simply do a great job with promotion and organization.

Typically KCRC's execution on race day is seamless as well, however on Saturday, they ran into a little hiccup.  The race sold out at 2,000 runners, and even with the frigid November temperatures, about 1,500 still showed up.  The problem was that there was only one point of entry for parking, which meant a line of traffic for about a mile as runners waited on Raytown Road.  Even with Grandview and KCMO Police, this bottleneck delayed the start of the race about 15 minutes. And even with the delay, dozens, if not hundreds of runners were still scurrying to the starting line well after the race began.  Obviously an oversight.  The delay wasn't a huge deal to me on Saturday since it wasn't an "A" race, but if I would have timed my warm up to begin at 8:00 am, I would've been a little ticked as I stood there and cooled down for 15 minutes in the starting chute.  It was kind of strange as we passed the quarter-mile point, watching runners hurry from their cars to the starting line after the race was already under way.

2014 Longview Half-Marathon Elevation ... 463 ft. of elevation gain
As the gun sounded and we began running, I really didn't notice the cold.  Plus, I didn't feel nearly as bad as I thought I would.  Sure ... I felt my over-sized gut jiggling against the waistband of my layered pants with every step, but my legs didn't seem as jello'ish as I thought they might.  The goal of Saturday was to finish without killing myself.  A few months ago, I could have ran this race backwards ... or on my hands ... and finished just fine.  But the layoff had really taken a chunk out of  my endurance and I wasn't even sure I could make it to the finish line.

I went out fairly slowly to get a "feel" for running again.  I'm not joking.  You'd think with about 10,000 miles under my belt over the past few years, putting one foot in front of the other would be second nature, but the whole concept just seemed so foreign on Saturday.  I cruised through the first mile with a very comfortable 8:03 and picked up the pace a little in the second mile before I had to pull over behind an Pine Tree for a quick pit-stop.  That cost me about a minute and I ended up with an 8:28 for Mile 2.

Besides the typical top three Age Group Awards, the 2014 Longview Half-Marathon featured a mid-race event called "King Of The Mountain".  The top 15 men and women to ascend the 100 ft climb with the fastest time during Mile 3 would be awarded a special plaque as one of the Kings or Queens of the "Mountain".  I first learned of the challenge the night before the race, but knew that I was in absolutely no shape to run uphill quickly.

Long lines at the Port-o-Potties, and also on the main road into the event
As I passed the sign, and the timing mat, noting the "Staring Line" of the mid-race event, my legs felt pretty decent.  So I picked up my pace a little.  I looked down at my Garmin and I was running near a 7:00 pace and felt like I had a little more, so I sped up to about 6:30.  That felt fairly comfortable, but I didn't want to burn my legs up for the rest of the race so I settled there for most of the hill.  I mean, after all, I wasn't winning anything today!  As I made my way up the climb, I felt like I could have given quite a bit more, but started to throttle down toward the top.  I was actually feeling much better than I thought, but I knew there was much more race to come.  I soon crossed the "Finish Line" of the challenge, almost immediately made a U-turn, and then headed back down from the direction we just came for a much more relaxing descent.

After the race, out of curiosity, I checked the "King Of The Mountain" standings to find out how fast the leaders had climbed to the top.  As I scanned the list, there was obviously no sign of my name in the Top 15 award winners.  But shockingly, at number 19, it read ... JAMES WEATHERLY, LEES SUMMIT, 45 YEARS OLD.  I was really surprised, followed by kinda ticked off!  If I would have pushed it all the way up "The Mountain", I could have taken home an award.  I ran that portion of the race in 5:47, only 9 seconds off of 15th place.  And I murmured to myself for awhile after that, somewhat lamenting the missed opportunity, because I knew I could have easily matched that time if I'd tried a little harder.  But oh well, I hadn't planned on a top finish of any sort going into the race, so I got over it fairly quickly.

Me and the best looking girl I could find
after the 2014 Longview Half-Marathon
After the climb at Mile 3, we settled into a fairly flat stretch that took us on an out & back through the park along the Little Blue River.  I used to hate out & backs in races, but lately I kind of enjoy them.  The "outs" give you an exact idea of who's ahead of you, and the "backs" provide an opportunity to watch for friends and family who are also running the race.  On Saturday, I saw Michael, her friends Michelle and Kelly, and many other familiar faces from the running community.  And after the race, I got to say "Hi" to Allison of DailyRuns, a really cool hometown blogger, and also meet up with Chadd, Michelle's boyfriend.

Most of the race was ran along Raytown Road, which runs adjacent to Longview Lake.  The route was closed off for the race so there was  no issue with traffic.  Michael and I have both train at Longview occasionally on several nice maintained trails that make their way around the lake.  I was a little surprised that the course didn't incorporate some of them.

At the midpoint of the race, I was consistently in the mid to low 7's, which felt relatively comfortable.  I remember being surprised at the ease of the pace since I hadn't run much for the past 30 days.  But for most of the summer, trained at 6:15-6:30 for my fall marathon that didn't happen, so I guess some of the quick leg turnover was still there.  Looking back at Saturday, I have no doubt that I could have pushed the pace for most of the race to around 6:35-6:45.  But even though it was only a half-marathon, I was scared to death of walking the last 3 or 4 miles.  So for most of the day I would look down at my Garmin, noticing a quick pace, and slowing it way down to conserve energy.  Hindsight being 20/20, I could have pushed it for a 1:32 or so at Longview.

One of the MANY volunteers who braved the cold
weather just to assist a bunch of runners
At Mile 9, after we turned onto 109th Street, we made our way East across the Corps of Engineers Dam at the North end of the small municipal lake.  Longview Lake is a small, man-made, very nondescript body of water between two suburbs south of Kansas City.   The over & back on the dam was supposed to be the "scenic" portion of the run, but honestly, Longview just doesn't offer much to look at.  This two mile stretch was really the only time I remember the wind or cold being a factor.  There was only about a 10 mph breeze, but in the 25 degree air, it carried a damp chill from the lake that felt much colder.  Plus, there was a short steep climb immediately before the turn around.  More than any other point in the race, this stretch stole my energy.

At Mile 11 I reached the point in the race where I was constantly looking at my Garmin, counting down, almost every tenth of a mile, and constantly repeating to myself, "Just make it Mile 10.  Just make it Mile 11.  Just make it ..." I was ready to be done, but have ran enough races to know that I was fairly close to the leaders in my age group.  I wanted to fall of the pace and just jog it in, but of course, I began to push it in hopes of an Age Group Award.

The last mile had one last short climb and I was just about spent.  My pace slowed back to almost  8:00 I ascended the brief quarter-mile hill.  After that, I picked it back up to about 6:30'ish, but my overall pace for Mile 13 was only 7:03.  I crossed the Finish Line with a respectable 1:36:30.  It was my third slowest Half-Marathon every, but all in all, not bad for almost no training of any sort for most of Fall.  And it was good enough for 4th Place in my Age Group.  And yes ... I was a little ticked off by that too, ha.

Runners worshiping the heat post-race
There were so many great volunteers at the race, and one very kind lady was ladling out steaming hot chicken soup!  So I enjoyed a cup full and tried to warm up a little.  As I waited for Michael to finish, I slipped into the VIP Tent (which I hadn't paid for) to warm up a little.  It was nice and toasty.  I laughed as almost all the runners had the same idea ... GET YOUR FROZEN FINGERS IN FRONT OF SOME HEAT.  Almost everyone stood around the 7-foot tall portable heaters and lifted their hands in the air as if to give thanks to the propane's flame. It was magical!

I soon thawed out and made it over to the finish line in time to watch my amazing wife come through the finish chute.  It was spitting a little snow by then.  Well, really little ice pellets more than anything.  And even though I HATE SNOW WITH EVERYTHING INSIDE ME, it was kind of cool to see it during a race.  Plus, hey ... I was already done running and didn't have to deal with it, ha.

Snow falling at the end of a very cold 2014 Longview Half-Marathon
So for an early Winter race, after not training during much of the Fall, I would have to give this one a passing grade.  I've worked really hard over the past few years, and now, if I don't run at or below 1:30, I'm pretty frustrated.  But all things considered, it could have been much worse.  I don't mean to sound "spoiled" or arrogant, because I know many people would LOVE to finish 4th in their Age Group.  But I've trained really hard to be a runner that can often finish near the top, and when I don't it's a little frustrating.  But besides some dumb award ... that would just go in a box anyway ... it was a really cold, but really good time!
... be great today!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

10 Miles Is Hard

If the question is, "Hey Jim, have you lost almost all the fitness you built up this summer?"  The simple answer  is, "Yes inquiring person ... yes, I think I have!"  This morning I ran 10 miles for the first time in almost a month, which probably isn't a good thing since I have a half marathon in 10 days.  It made my legs hurt.
Breathtaking sunrise this morning while running around Gray's Lake in Des Moines, IA ... just amazing!!!

At this point I "think" I can finish 13 miles, but it's going to be brutal.  The Longview Half-Marathon course is fairly hilly, so since I'm out of shape, that's something to look forward to.  Sarcasm.  I'll probably walk up the hills, and try to steal a bike for the downhills. Anyways ... hope your running's going well ... mine's definitely below average, ha.
... be great today!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

That's What Burger Do!

I know ... sexy, right?  You know you love it!
The Kansas City Royals have an outfielder, Jarrod Dyson, who is one of the fastest players in baseball.  In fact, he shaved the word "ZOOM!" into the side of his head for the Playoffs and World Series.  In July of 2013, after his fleetness of foot directly influenced a game, the oft grammatically challenged Dyson commented, "That's what speed do!"  It instantly became a rallying cry for the team.

Until 2014, the Kansas City Royals had not made the Playoffs for 29 years.  29 years!  Literally a lifetime for some young adults!  It was longest non-Postseason drought by any professional North American sports team.  We were really bad for a really long time.  So when the 2014 Royals earned the right to play in a Wild Card elimination game against the Oakland Athletics, everyone in KC was Royals crazy.  Kansas City trailed 7-3 in the 8th inning of the game, with only six outs remaining in their season.  But they tied the game in the 9th, and later won the game 9-8 in the 12 inning in one of the most dramatic Playoff finishes ever.  When it was over, I was ecstatic, mentally and emotionally exhausted ... and starving!  Even though the game concluded somewhere around midnight, I decided to go out get a cheeseburger.  Mind you, I'm a borderline health food nut, but a greasy cheeseburger just seemed like the perfect celebration.  A few nights later, when the Royals won their first Division Series game against the Angels, and I was hungry again ... so I ate a second consecutive late night burger.

The problem with the second burger was that I'm a little superstitious about my sports.  And when the Royals won yet another game against the Angels, the very next night, making it three straight Playoff victories ... well, I felt compelled to retrieve and consume another burger.  Was this cheeseburger streak directly responsible for the Royals three-game winning streak ... we may never know.  But one thing's for sure, I didn't want to be the person responsible for screwing it up, and there was only one clear choice ... it was my duty to eat a cheeseburger after every Royals Postseason victory.

Believe me, after 29 years of waiting for the team you've lived and died with your whole life to make the Playoffs, you're happy just to be there.  No one in KC, or anywhere in the world could have predicted what happened next ... the Royals winning ... game, after game, after game, after game, after game!  The 2014 Kansas City Royals won eight straight Playoff games on their way to the World Series.  They literally went 8-0!  And while that was a record breaking accomplishment ... you guessed it, it meant drive-thru cheeseburgers ... late night, after late night, after late night!  In all, the Royals won 11 games total in October on their way to Game 7 of the World Series.  And I ate a cheeseburger after every one of them.  Sadly, the burger I wanted the most was burger number 12, which would have been for the World Championship.  But as most of you know, we came up short 3-2 to the San Francisco Giants in that last game.

So that's the burger story.  Of course combined with frequent early morning donuts, reoccurring root beer for some inexplicable reason, and the complete negligence of any form of running ... I gained a few pounds.  I promise that about two months ago, there was actual visual evidence of abdominal muscle existence.  However now, there seems to be only burger-residue remaining.  But alas ... after 29 years ... IT WAS FREAKING WORTH IT!   At least that's what I'm going to tell myself with each painful crunch over the next couple of months.  Because after all, "That's what burger do!"  GO ROYALS!!!
... be great today!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Baseball's Over ... Might As Well Run

"We're #1!!!"  Well, actually #2 since we came up a little
short in the World Series ... but I couldn't be more proud
of my hometown team ... the Kansas City Royals
A long, long time ago, before the 2014 Kansas City Royals shocked the world with a record setting postseason magical run, only to fall 90 feet short in Game 7 of the World Series ... there was a 45 year old runner from Lee's Summit ... who actually, ummm ... RAN!

Man, it's been a while since I've posted on the ol' blog.  And almost nearly as long since I went for a run.  I was originally supposed to run the Indy Monumental Half-Marathon this morning, but "life got in the way" as the saying goes.  Most of you know we had a really tough September with the loss of both of Michael's parents.  They lived in New Mexico, so there's been a considerable amount of traveling back and forth to wrap up some estate issues.

As our family healed and slowly tried to get back to normal in October ... remarkably my KANSAS CITY ROYALS made a record setting playoff and World Series run.  Pretty much every non-resident of Oakland, Anaheim, Baltimore, and San Francisco jumped on the Royals Bandwagon. It was almost like we were America's team for a while.  The magic of the 2014 Postseason came just at right time in that somehow it comforted Michael a little, and allowed our family to smile and feel good again.  But as crazy as it sounds ... it was exhausting!  So many late nights.  So much stress, tension, and drama.  And so many post-game victory cheeseburgers! (you can find an explanation of the burgers on my Facebook)  And as a result, my running took a little hiatus.

So the goal now is just to run here and there to start getting back in shape.  I plan on doing quite a bit of cross-training this winter, and hopefully I can build toward a fast first of the year race.  But I don't have anything scheduled yet.  Michael and I are running the Longview Half-Marathon in a couple weeks.  And after the seven miles I struggled through this morning, it might be a challenge.  But it's close to our house, and we get a cool jacket, so hopefully I can power through.  Hope your running's going well!
... be great today!