From high in the mountains, a lesson on resiliency during the age of the coronavirus

I’ve learned a lot from the mountains. A deep love for conservation, for starters. An appreciation of their scale and power, too. And in climbing them, I’ve picked up lessons in endurance, situational awareness and tolerance for risk.

But success in the peaks can be summed up in one word: resilience.

The toughness implied in that word is all-encompassing. A successful summit attempt (and that sometimes means turning back short of the top) is based on the resilience of your body, mind and spirit. If you come up short in these areas, the chances of failure — and potentially harm — rise dramatically.

Resilience is a word that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Before the Great Recession, my household income was at its peak. But there were areas of weakness that would be exposed when times got tough, and I learned a lot from that. “Never again,” I told myself, hoping to avoid the pitfalls that befell me when I lost my job and had to find work in a new town. As best as I could, I tried to figure out how to become more resilient when storms appear on the horizon.

And just like that, here we are. The arrival of COVID-19 brought a pandemic to our country, and with it came an immediate recession. We’re being told to stay home, work remotely and go out only for essential business. Nearly 17 million people are out of work. And millions more, like me, are losing income from furloughs or loss of customers. That doesn’t take into account the hundreds of thousands who have become sick with this nasty virus.

It reminded me of that word, and how important resilience is. I’ve thought about it a lot over the past year, and it’s come into sharp focus over the past month. Here’s how I see that term playing out now:

You need to be physically resilient. Like any disease, this new coronavirus is particularly cruel to those whose health is already compromised. I’m reminded of a poster that graced the wall of a gym I used to go to that had one short line written at the bottom: The stronger you are, the harder you are to kill. Physical fitness, a healthy diet and proper sleep are your weapons to defend against not only the virus, but also the stress that comes with it, and the economic hardships that have befallen us as a result. Find ways to be active. Walk, run, ride your bike, lift weights. Eat healthy foods, not just comfort foods that taste good, but aren’t nutritionally valuable. Get your sleep. These habits are what make athletes great, and they work well for the rest of us, too. Not only can you make your body more fit, but a good exercise routine will help work off stress. And remember that poster: If you’re stronger and fitter, you’ll be a better survivor.

You need to be mentally resilient. Mental toughness is critical when hard times arrive. Create in yourself a mindset that accepts that things aren’t ideal, then launch your efforts from there. In other words, you know that things suck, so what can you do about it? Train yourself to work with the facts and circumstances as they are, not what they used to be. If you’re facing some time off from your job, see if there are things you can learn that will expand your marketable knowledge and skills. Keep your mind active, working and thinking toward solutions to the problems you’re currently facing. A proactive, engaged mind will propel you toward making decisions on your terms rather than repeatedly reacting to — or knuckling under — new challenges. Give yourself some grace when you feel overwhelmed. But in so doing, stay the course and don’t stay too long in those moments of anxiety and sadness. Use the tools at your disposal the manage your mind and your emotions.

Build resilience in your finances. This is a tough one, because most of us are a paycheck or two away from disaster. Part of that is the reality of where wages are for middle class and lower-income workers. But also, some of that is our fault. Personal finance gurus like Dave Ramsey suggest having an emergency fund that’s equal to 6-9 months of income, and personally, I think that’s unrealistic for most people. But he has a point. Having an emergency fund to make up for lost income is critical. Pay down your debts as much as possible. And given where we’re at now, it’s high time to cut expenses. Take a hard look at all those monthly box subscription services, online streaming services and other expenses you have. Sort them out by “wants” and “needs,” and be honest about it. Build up the ability to be able to weather this storm or, if needed, be able to quickly pick up and move to where new job opportunities are. And when this downturn passes, keep up these new habits. Chances are, you can get by maintaining your old car, not using credit cards and ordering fewer things on Amazon instead of falling into old free-spending habits that weaken your financial position. And if at all possible, avoid dipping into retirement savings. Sometimes it’s impossible, but resist that as long as you can as it’s incredibly difficult to make those losses down the road.

Work on your spiritual resilience. In this case, you can find comfort and inner strength by embracing your faith. Find time to dive into those sacred texts and pray. Look for wisdom there to help you deal with the stresses, questions and anger that confronts you. These are often quiet, solitary times that will allow you to slow down, see things more clearly and inform the decisions you make and actions you take.

And even if you’re not a religious person, you can still apply “spiritual” practices that will make you inwardly stronger. Find time to be alone in a quiet setting, be still, breathe deep. Go on a long walk, ride or run. Maybe do some gardening. Or yoga. These activities have rhythmic, meditative or peaceful attributes that parallel what many religious people find when they pray and meditate on scriptures. Meditative practices tend to unclutter your mind and create inner peace.

I know that some of us are going to get trucked over the next several months. The Great Recession jacked me up for years, and frankly, I never fully recovered from the losses of that downturn. But I learned from it. My hope is that we can weather this and come out OK on the other side. We can’t control a lot of the bigger forces at work, but we can put on our own personal armor and steel ourselves for the challenges ahead. Truth is, we don’t have another option because giving in is no option at all.

And that brings me back to what I’ve learned on the mountain. The peaks can be beautiful, peaceful and energizing. But they can be scary, dangerous and even violent places, too. Getting to the top — or getting off the mountain safely — is often a combination of enjoyment, effort, fear and wisdom. The constant is it’s never easy. But another constant for those who have had success in the mountains is that they are resilient. And resiliency is a character trait from which we can all benefit now.

Bob Doucette

At the trailhead or on the starting line, the coronavirus may wreck your plans

Climbing Mount Everest has been canceled for the year because of COVID-19 concerns.

The news cycle tends to dominated these days by one thing: the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.

It’s going to affect pretty much all areas of life for us here in the United States, and from what I can see, things are just starting to ramp up. And “all areas” include those things that we love to do the most: live adventurously.

As an example, China took the extraordinary step to close the north face of Mount Everest for the season. Not long after, Nepal announced plans to close the south side. Himalayan mountaineering there and on the other peaks is pretty much shut down now.

I can imagine that’s going to be a similar story in a lot of places outside the Himalayas. Given the severity of the outbreak in northern Italy, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine a near-dead climbing season this spring and summer in the Alps. Certainly that will be the case in the Italian Alps, and as the disease progresses in neighboring countries, it may be a quiet year in European mountain towns for some time.

I don’t know what that means for us here in the States. For now, there haven’t been any restrictions on travel inside the country, but should we experience the level of outbreak seen in Italy, it could happen.

Local races can draw hundreds of competitors and thousands of spectators. Will these events still happen this year?

There’s something else, too. The same community that heads to the hills for adventure also tends to find itself on starting lines. From 5Ks to ultramarathons, and any number of cycling races, the spring usually brings on a ton of events that draw outdoor athletes from all over the place.

Close to my neck of the woods, we’ve got a local half marathon and full marathon coming up next month. In late April, the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon – a big event by most standards – is on deck. In my city, Tulsa, we’ve got an IRONMAN triathlon set for late May, and the annual three-day Tulsa Tough cycling race series in early June. All of these events draw anywhere from several hundred to several thousand people, be they competitors or spectators.

Will they still happen? It’s difficult to say, but the NBA just suspended its season indefinitely after two of its players came down with COVID-19. College and pro leagues initially looked at playing games with no fans as a way to salvage television revenues and not endanger the public, then came back and canceled events and postponed seasons. Some of the same conditions that are giving these organizations pause exist in running and cycling events, especially the big ones. Will there be a Boston Marathon this year? A summer Olympics? Should there be?

And what about us? Should we be out doing the adventure thing? Should we be racing? Some of that is personal, for sure. Foremost on our minds ought to be one group of people: those most likely to suffer the worst effects of the disease. You never know who might give it to you. And then, who you might bring it to. At this point, I’m playing it by ear. I want some mountain time, but no summit is worth someone else’s health.

One last thing: Don’t underestimate the financial impact all this mess is going to have on the businesses you know and love. People whose shops depend on adventure tourism and sports are going to be hurting. I’ve got friends who are race directors, and know a bunch of people in different outdoor industry circles. Their experiences are going to be a lot like those who count on fans showing up to regular sporting events. If you think canceling a race is no big deal, think about how many businesses in Austin lost out when South by Southwest got canned. It’s no different for businesses (hotels, restaurants, bars and gear shops, to name a few) that are connected to big city races, as well as all those mountain town enterprises that make or break their year by how well the high summer season goes.

Looking for advice from me? I don’t have much. Take care of the things you can control for you and those around you. And when the time comes, be there to support those who are going to take a hit from this outbreak. Aside from that, buckle up. It could be a bumpy ride.

Bob Doucette

For runners, there are too many near-misses when it comes to cars

We’re looking out for you. Please look out for us.

About a week ago I was out on a run, hoping to kick it into high gear on the last mile of a 3-mile jaunt. The weather was great. I was feeling pretty good, if a bit gassed. And as I approached the exit of a corporate parking lot in downtown Tulsa, I saw it: a commuter pulling up to the street, looking to make a turn.

I locked my eyes on her because I know how this goes down. She’s looking for cars on the street to see if it’s clear to turn. She’s not looking for me. And sure enough, she pulled right up into the street and stopped when she saw traffic, then finally noticed my movement close to her passenger side fender. She sheepishly looked my way with an apologetic smile, then turned into the street.

I know the law gives me the right-of-way to keep going, but I’ve played this game long enough to know otherwise. I stopped just short of her car because otherwise she would have driven right into me. Even in a pedestrian-dense place like downtown, people’s habits are trained to see my streets – any streets, for that matter – like they were driving in the ‘burbs. They’re only looking for other cars. Runners are an afterthought.

That’s why I’m cautious at intersections. Maybe overly so. But I don’t want to end up on someone’s hood, or under an F-150. Might makes right in any auto-pedestrian collision, law be damned. It’s just the way it is.

***

I got to thinking about this latest near-miss (there have been a few) because of some news in my state. It hit me pretty hard.

On Feb. 3, a driver speeding along a thoroughfare in the city of Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb, slammed into a group of high school cross-country runners. One runner was killed outright. Another died soon after. And just this past week, a third victim succumbed to his injuries. All involved were where they were supposed to be, running on the sidewalk.

Three promising, young lives, all cut short. Three grieving families who must be ripped to pieces right now. Three more runners whose lives came to an end through no fault of their own.

The circumstances surrounding this tragedy are different than what I’ve experienced in that the driver was drunk. But at the same time, the incident underscores just how vulnerable runners – any pedestrians, really – are when they’re navigating our communities on foot and in proximity to automobile traffic.

If you live in a rural area or a suburb that’s light on regulations concerning sidewalks, it’s hit-or-miss when it comes to safe places to run. Even when sidewalks are present, you’re still not safe.

We’re told to run against the flow of traffic so we can see what’s coming. To wear bright, reflective clothing. Maybe even headlamps and flashing lights attached to safety vests, just so we can be more visible. To cross at intersections, and only when the walk/don’t walk light gives us the OK. But even then we’re all one distraction away from a driver leaving their lane or breezing through a stop light… and right into us.

I don’t want to break my leg or crack open my skull when I’m on a run. I’m a solid 190 pounds, but that’s nothing compared to the 5,000 pounds of steel and glass a lot of you choose as your ride. And that’s why I’ll stop cold if I feel a driver isn’t paying attention.

***

So here’s the rub: I don’t know what the solution is. There are park trails I could go to that are sufficiently separated from the streets as to be practically immune to auto-pedestrian collisions. But if sidewalks aren’t meant for people to, you know, walk on, then what’s the point?

I guess all I can do is lend a voice to it. Paying attention to the road also means paying attention to what’s near the road. When you’re at an intersection, it means looking for people who might be crossing. It means not being in a rush just because someone isn’t moving through as quickly as you’d like. It means looking both ways at traffic – street traffic as well as sidewalk traffic. And if you’re driving in an area with a lot of pedestrians, it means slowing down and paying even more attention to your surroundings.

The car culture in this country runs deep. It’s entrenched to the point where cities, despite their best efforts, are ruled by how to make auto traffic flow smoothly. Anything on foot is mostly an afterthought. But a change in mindset is needed. Cities are only growing and becoming more dense, and with the cost of driving only rising, you can bet more people are looking to live and work in places where they don’t have to drive if they so choose.

In other words, when you’re behind the wheel you need to put those of us on foot on your visual checklist before hitting the gas. We’ll try to be safe, but you must do your part, too. A dent in your front fender could be all she wrote for us.

Bob Doucette

Fitness Friday: A 3-day strength training plan for those pressed for time

Lift hard/run hard? Sure, to an extent. And the truth is, some people don’t have the time to be Superman or Wonder Woman.

Funny thing about fitness: Not everyone’s goals are the same.

It runs the gamut: Weight loss, getting that beach body, improving strength, boosting endurance. Some folks are training for a competition of some sort, be it in physique sports or some sort of race.

In January, I wrote a couple of posts about strength training. In those posts, there was one prediction (if you do this, you will get stronger) and one assumption, and it was a biggie: that you will be able to commit to lifting six days a week for 45-60 minutes.

I think it’s a doable proposition. But for some people, it’s not. Whether you’re time-crunched or you have other fitness goals that make such a schedule impossible to keep, some folks can’t hit the iron that often. But that doesn’t mean you should chuck the idea of strength training entirely. You just must change things up and properly scale your expectations.

Every fall for the past eight years, I’ve trained for longer-distance goal races ranging from half marathon to full marathon length. As training plans for these races progressed, the mileage and time commitment grew. There was no way I could do a heavy deadlift day right before embarking on a 13-mile training run. Even shorter runs (in the 5- to 8-mile range) were incompatible with the rigors of an intensive weight training schedule. So I made a compromise: During race training, I jacked up the miles and eased back on the weights.

I still wanted to focus on the big lifts and compound movements, though. But during race training, running was first priority.

What I came up with was a plan to lift three times a week, using a total body format. So, that meant that each workout used the same movement patterns I described in the first week’s Friday Fitness post: Squat, press, pull and hip hinge. Furthermore, each day started with one of the bigger lifts being the emphasized exercise of that workout, with other lifts coming behind it in priority and difficulty. Here’s what that looked like:

Monday (squat emphasized)

Barbell back squat: Warmup, then sets of 10, 7 and 5, increasing weight

Incline dumbbell presses (3 sets of 8)

Lunges (3 sets of 8)

Pull-ups (3 sets of 6-12, depending on ability)

Wednesday (press emphasized)

Bench press: Warmup, then sets of 10, 7 and 5, increasing weight

Goblet squat (3 sets of 12)

Kettlebell swings (3 sets of 12)

Barbell rows (3 sets of 8)

Friday (hip hinge emphasized)

Deadlift (warmup, then sets of 8, 6 and 4, increasing weight)

Overhead press (3 sets of 8-10)

Chin-ups (3 sets of 8-12)

Leg press (3 sets of 12)

You’ll notice that each workout has some sort of pulling movement (pull-ups, chin-ups or rows), and that’s by design. And you can always adjust the exercises you do depending on your preferences or limitations (machine lat-pulls can sub in for pull-ups or chin-ups, for example). But the lift portion of your workout should be no more than 40 minutes long. That way you’ll have time to do your run, ride, swim or other endurance session without having to cut it short.

How did that look for me? The last three years, I’ve used this plan alongside half marathon training workouts. Days where I had longer runs, I didn’t lift. And I didn’t lift on planned rest days. My schedule looked something like this:

Half marathon training workout schedule

Sunday: Cross train (bike for 30-60 minutes)

Monday: Lift, 5-mile run

Tuesday: 8-mile run

Wednesday: Lift, speed workout run

Thursday: Rest

Friday: Lift, 5-mile run

Saturday: 12-mile run

Obviously, this will look different for each person. You may not want to run that much, or you need to run more. Tailor it to your own needs.

But if you’re an endurance athlete, you should do some form of strength training, and this is a good blueprint to get it in a way that dovetails nicely in your endurance training.

And what if you’re not an endurance athlete, you’re pressed for time, and three workouts a week is all you can get? The lifting schedule still holds. If you can give it 2 hours a week spread out over three days, you can work on your strength needs on this plan. Tack on 20 minutes of some sort of conditioning (check out the interval training ideas I had two weeks ago), and you’re spending 3 hours a week getting the strength and conditioning you need.

Last thing: While this sort of plan can be beneficial, you’ll want to manage your expectations. Three workouts a week is not going to get you looking like Mr. Universe or The World’s Fittest Woman. Your strength gains will be in proportion to the work you put in. And you’ll want to make sure your caloric intake matches the amount of work you’re doing (too little and you’ll break down; too much and you’ll gain fat). But if you can give yourself 3 hours a week spread out over three days; you’ll be far better off than skipping it altogether with the thought that you don’t have time to exercise.

Next week: We’ll look at the things that can undermine your fitness goals, and ways you can fix that.

Bob Doucette

Fitness Friday: Running intervals to build speed, torch fat

Good-ole running is a solid way to work on your conditioning goals.

The last couple of Fitness Fridays have been heavy on the weight training side of things, so I wanted to go in a different direction this week. Let’s talk conditioning, and then go over a couple of run-based plans that will definitely up your fitness game.

Fitness is basically two things: strength and conditioning. Strength is the ability to produce force. Conditioning is the ability to produce work capacity. If that sounds nebulous, let’s get down to brass tacks. A strong person can lift and move heavy things. A conditioned person can carry out rigorous physical activity for prolonged periods of time. A good athlete is a person who exhibits high performance in both areas.

And this even includes people in very specialized areas. Strongman champion Eddie Hall, who set a world record deadlift at 1,100 pounds, used swimming to make him better in competitions. Elite marathoner Jordan Hasay can deadlift twice her body weight. The two are nothing alike as athletes, but respective to their fields they are both strong and well-conditioned.

And they set a good example for you. It doesn’t matter if you want to be strong as a bull or able to run long distances at a good clip. If you have a good balance between strength and conditioning, you will be better at what you choose to do, and healthier overall. I went through some basics of strength last week. Now it’s time to talk conditioning.

Let me say at the outset that running is both the default exercise of choice for conditioning (or “cardio,” as you’ve probably come to know it) and a much-maligned activity in some fitness circles. It’s the default because it’s a natural human movement. You ran around as a kid. You ran laps in PE class or for whatever sports program you were in. Aside from running form techniques, running is about as intuitive as it gets.

It’s maligned because some folks see it as a way to get hurt (I think that’s overblown) or believe that other forms of conditioning are superior. Run too much, they say, and it will inhibit strength gains. There are grains of truth to all of this, but generally speaking, a good running program with moderate distances and different types of workouts offers a lot of bang for the buck, and without nearly as much downside as detractors would have you believe. Yes, it will be hard to build strength if you’re running 30, 40, or 60 miles a week. But we’re not going there, at least not in this post.

One last note before I get into the meat of it. The workout ideas I’m going to throw out there in this post will be for people who are already doing some running. If you’re a beginner, you’ll need to start slower and much more modestly and build up your running base before trying what I’m going to present here. A solid Couch to 5K program is going to be right up your alley. Tackle that and you’ll be ready to go to the next level.

Now for the rest of us. You can get fit running 15 to 20 miles a week. But your body will eventually adapt, and when it does, you’ll find your fitness levels stagnate or even regress. Adaptation is a bummer. So that’s why we must challenge ourselves by making things hard.

And that’s where intervals come in. What are intervals? For running, intervals are when you run at a challenging pace for a specific distance or time, then slow down to an easy recovery pace for a short time. Once that recovery period is over, you ramp up the intensity again.

A basic interval run might look like a “race pace” 400-meter interval, followed by a 200-meter slow jog or walk, and repeating this process for about eight rounds. That will give you about three miles of movement. A “race pace” speed should be a hard effort, akin to running but not being able to hold conversation during the effort. Your rewards: torching excess body fat, improving your cardiovascular capacity and gaining experience running at challenging paces that might have made you pause. Try it and see what you think.

400-meter warmup

400-meter race pace 200-meter recovery walk or slow jog, x8

400-meter cooldown (light jog)

As you get accustomed to this, try kicking up the speed on the race pace intervals.

Here’s a place where you can work on some speed.

Too easy? Let’s kick it up a notch. But I’ll just warn you right now:  It’s hard. It’s called a ladder, and it’s a whole lot of no-fun work with big rewards.

How it works: After a moderate warmup, you’ll run a certain distance at a challenging pace, or maybe a desired race pace. Then you’ll slow down to a light jog for 400 meters. When that recovery interval is over, you do a longer race-pace run, then slow down to the light jog. And the next interval has you go at an even longer race pace interval. When you reach a peak distance on the “fast” intervals, you’ll then shrink their distance until you reach the “fast” interval distance that you started with.

If you’ve never done this before, start with a “baby ladder.” It looks like this:

400-meter warmup

400-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

800-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

1200-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

800-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

400-meter race pace

400-meter cool-down

The first time I did this, it trashed me. And this isn’t even the full monty!

Here’s the full ladder:

400-meter warmup

400-meter, race pace 400-meter recovery jog

800-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

1200-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

1600-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

1200-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

800-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

400-meter race pace

400-meter cool-down

That’s a lot of work, a lot of intensity, and a decent amount of mileage, to boot. It’s important to remember that during this workout, you never stop for a water break, never stop to walk. You’re always running. As you adapt, increase the speed on your race pace intervals.

The best places to do this is either on a track (one lap is 400-meters, so it’s easy to keep track of distances) or on a treadmill (distances are going to be on the control panel). It will be a little harder to track your speed on the track, though most sports watches can help. On a treadmill, you can set precise speeds.

Do this speed workout once a week, mixed in with your regular runs or other conditioning routines.

Your weekly run schedule might look something like this:

Monday: 3-mile-run

Tuesday: 5-mile run

Wednesday: Speed work (ladders or other form of speed interval)

Thursday: Rest

Friday: 3-mile run

Saturday: Long run

Sunday: 30-minute cross train (bike, swim or some other form of conditioning)

Next week: I’ll get into some other ideas for conditioning, and not all of them will involve running.

Bob Doucette

The trails were busy on Christmas, and that’s a good thing

I wasn’t alone on the trails on Christmas Day. This cyclist, a hiker in the background, and scores of others were there, too.

This has been a strange holiday season for me, mostly because I worked through both Christmas and New Year’s. It’s hard to get the holiday spirit when it’s just another workday.

But I did have time on Christmas Day to get on the trails. The weather was sunny and mild, and I had time to kill before my shift started. I figured most people would be at home with relatives, soaking in the holiday largesse, and maybe watching “Elf” or something.

I’d have the trails to myself!

Uh, wrong. I showed up to a mostly full overflow parking lot. People on mountain bikes, couples walking dogs, parents herding children… you get the idea. I’d be sharing the trails that day in a big way.

I dig the solitude of trail running. It’s a stark contrast to my city routes, where I’m dodging people, looking out for cars and otherwise surrounded by all the sights and sounds of a busy urban center. Don’t get me wrong, I like my city runs. But trail runs have their place, too. So, I might have been somewhat put off that my trail miles would have to be shared.

But as I thought about it, I changed my mind. As it turns out, the trail system I visited was working exactly as planned. And that’s a good thing.

When I moved to Tulsa in 2011, I’d heard a little about Turkey Mountain, but didn’t know much about it. I spent the next couple of years exploring its trails, and in terms of health, fitness, friendships and quality of life, I can say that the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness changed my life for the better. I’ve been advocating on its behalf for more than five years now.

Why it’s so important to my city has a lot to do with where Tulsa is, the health problems the community has, and the opportunity these trails provide. It’s a sorely needed venue for folks to get active. Oklahoma is smack in the middle of America’s Stroke Alley, so you understand the importance of things that help combat the increasingly sedentary nature of the society we live in.

When you think about it, the folks that set aside this land as a wild space decades ago were visionary. They saw the possibilities of what such a landscape could provide the city, other than being a tract for commercial or residential development. There is plenty of that to go around, but not much in the way of a true natural woodlands that people in the city could enjoy.

What’s encouraging is that many communities across the country are seeing the wisdom in setting aside land for human-powered recreation. I’ve seen it in the Denver metro area, and in a big state park south of Nashville. And so many more places. We need it, and folks are recognizing that fact – and acting on it.

So, what the heck. I didn’t get that solitary trail experience, but I got my run, nonetheless. And a bunch of people were out there with me, enjoying the woods, and getting some fresh air outside. I’ll call it a win.

Bob Doucette

2019 Route 66 Marathon half: Not a victory, not a defeat, just a race that… went

Not my fastest, not my slowest. Somewhere in between.

I’m a firm believer when it comes to accountability. When you write about running, and particularly about how you’re training for a race, I think you owe it to folks to say how that race went. Even if it’s not filled with PRs and awesome, glorious race photos. So here goes.

In terms of training for half marathons, I’m not sure I’ve had a season go this well. A couple of years ago I was doing well but got sick two weeks before the race and didn’t fully recover by race day. As you might guess, the results left me wanting.

This year, I seemed to be on track to improve on last year’s performance. Everything was coming together. I dropped weight, nailed my workouts and really pushed the speed work. My times were coming down and I went into race day at the Route 66 Marathon half healthy and feeling dang good.

Maybe deceptively good.

The first three miles flew by. I was running ahead of my goal pace, but not feeling the strain. I had to stop at a Porta-John at that point but was in and out quickly and still under my goal pace. Six miles in, I’d run my third-fastest 10K, and considering the hilliness of that part of the course, I figured I was on my way to a good finish. All I had to do was relax in the flats, regain my breath and coast to the hardest part of the course, those hilly Miles 11 and 12.

There was only a slight southern breeze, in this case, a tailwind. The temps were cool, skies were blue. Miles 7-10 were mostly flat. No problem, right?

Wrong. I never recovered after those first six miles and found myself struggling with my cardio at Mile 10, something that didn’t let up until it was over. There would be no PR, and by the time I’d crossed, I’d broken a three-year streak of cutting my finish times. I clocked in at 2:15:11, not my slowest and not my fastest, just somewhere right in between.

Folks will tell me that it’s impressive enough to train for and finish that half marathon, a sentiment I’d echoed in the last blog post I wrote. But it didn’t feel that way to me. Instead, I was left wondering what went wrong, why the fitness I felt I’d gained abandoned me, and so forth. Well, I know why. Like a rookie runner, I came out too fast and it bit me.

But that’s OK. Live and learn. I know where I need to improve. In any case, I got to run on a ridiculously beautiful day, enjoy some seriously good finish line brews at the end and hang out with a fellow runner and friend who placed 50th overall in the half marathon. Yeah, he’s fast. And while the results on the clock didn’t move the meter for me, I did gain from what I did over the past three months. Now the goal is not to lose that hard-earned conditioning.

How do you deal with a race that didn’t go as planned? Gimme a shout and let me know. I’d love to hear your story.

The look of a guy who is just glad to be done. This was a race to learn from.

Bob Doucette

Looking back on a season of race training

Race day is coming.

Right around the time when people are set to run their goal race, there’s a lot of looking ahead. And I’m doing that, too. I have expectations that I hope I’ll meet Sunday morning.

But what I really want to do, at least in the moment, is look back.

This has been an interesting training season. I run year-around, but the miles go up significantly in the fall. That’s just how I roll. Spring and summer races aren’t for me. So here are some random thoughts of what the last 16 or so weeks have looked like.

I remember the heat – and the humidity – of August and September. Lots of slow running, the sun baking me dry, and the most disgusting piles of dirty laundry you can imagine. Heat training pays off, but it’s no meadow of rainbow-farting unicorns, let me tell ya.

I remember seeing progress on 5Ks. A slow one in September. As faster one in October that actually earned me a second-place finish in my age group. That doesn’t happen often with me. By the way, I’m still not fast.

I remember seeing progress and disappointment at the Tulsa Run 15K. Progress in that I ran it faster than the year before. But I expected better.

I remember seeing an eagle soaring above me on a midweek training run, riding the air currents looking for some fresh fish in the river below. That NEVER gets old.

I remember runs in which I heard the beat from African drums and the strains of Mexican folk music. That also NEVER gets old.

I remember getting confronted by a mama pit bull last week. She backed off when I looked at her, but my guess is she had puppies nearby. I don’t fault her one bit.

I remember betting a college cross country runner I could beat him to the top of a hill, saying I’d give him all the cash on me if he won. He asked, “How much ya got?” I confessed, “Not a dime.” Levity, people. It matters in the midst of the grind.

I remember a bunch of cross-training bike rides on Sundays, and how all of them seemed more like play than training. And I’m good with that.

I remember the grueling weekly speed workouts. Oh man, those sucked. But they work.

I remember when my running went from zombie shuffle to a respectable clip, that moment when the switch gets flipped and my conditioning says, “I’m back!” Always a good feeling.

I remember what dinners were like after my weekend long run. Dude. All the calories were mine.

I remember going out for a 5-mile run when the winds were blowing out of the north at 25 mph, and the wind chill was 14 degrees, and noting that it was the best training run I had all fall. Funny how that works.

Lastly, I remember one really important fact. I don’t have to do this. I GET to do this. Health and fitness is a privilege, and it’s a privilege that’s earned. But never to be taken for granted. There are times when I’ve been sore, wiped out, and just over it. But in the end, I’m grateful that another year has passed and I can still run.

I don’t know how Sunday’s race will turn out. I’ve put the work in, and I think it should go well. The weather forecast looks good. I’m hoping for a happy finish line crossing.

But looking back, I see a lot of good already earned. Most of the hundreds of miles I ran were time spent outside. I dropped some junk pounds. I ran with friends, and I ran alone. I laughed at myself a lot, for putting myself through this, for lumbering along at my midpack pace, and generally looking like anything but an athlete. But when you hit that sweet spot, those training runs where you feel like you’re gliding through the air, flying over the pavement, slicing through the wind – ain’t that just the best? A PR would be sweet, but really, the feeling of being a runner is what makes it worth it.

Bob Doucette

Mountain reads: ‘Running Home,’ by Katie Arnold

I’ll admit to being a sucker for New Mexico landscapes. So when I started turning the pages in Katie Arnold’s memoir “Running Home,” I got treated to big dose of it. And then there was this zinger about running:

“People think long-distance running is about speed, about getting from point A to point B as fast as possible, but really it’s about slowing down. In the quiet of prolonged effort, time stretches, elongates. I look around at the hot blue sky, summer settling down on northern New Mexico, and feel my legs moving automatically and do what comes naturally. I run.”

And that’s all it took. I was hooked.

Much of Arnold’s book is about running, and it skillfully loops her earliest running experience back to a more recent memory, tying together a lifetime of experiences involving family, running, and how people evolve.

Like any good memoir, Arnold allows for vulnerability, admitting doubts and fears. And she’s transparent about her family history, which is at once heartbreaking but also common to the experiences of many in her generation: growing up like most families, then seeing things change, balancing jolting new realities while not totally understanding why things turned out as they did.

In the midst of this is her account of a fascinating but complicated father who, during a battle with cancer, must go through the pains of reconciling his own decisions and how they affected his children.

And woven into this is the mechanism that serves as Arnold’s tool to work out her past – mostly questions about her family – and her present, becoming a writer, a wife, and a mother. For her, it’s running, and she’s accomplished more there than most could in a lifetime.

Arnold has been a podium finisher at several ultramarathon trail races, including the grueling Leadville 100 trail race in Colorado where, in 2018, she was the women’s champion. The outdoors has long been an integral part of her life, but it’s in trail running that she found the medium in which to work out her biggest challenges. In between the description of her non-running life are accounts of casual mountain runs, the labors of training, and all the joy, doubt, pain and elation that comes with races, many of which are set in the mountains in and around her New Mexico home.

Arnold paces the story well, not rushing through anything, but providing the right amount of punch to give you a sense of the magnitude of what she’s describing. It’s a common theme among trail runners – using the sport to stay at even keel. But it’s uncommon to see it told so naturally. Nothing is overstated or melodramatic: Life events are told as they are. Her prose ranges from essay to conversational, and that’s not an easy mix for most writers, but Arnold pulls it off.

There are plenty of running memoirs out there, and they all have their merits. As an athlete, Arnold is a person who has accomplished a great deal. But in reading her story, she feels like one of us.

Bob Doucette

Running the Tulsa Run, and learning to trust the process

Me and a coworker, Corey Jones, after the Tulsa Run 15K. He’s a lot faster than me.

I’m eight weeks into the fall training season, and the thing I need to keep telling myself is this: Trust the process.

I say this a little less than a week after running the annual Tulsa Run 15K. There’s a lot to like about this race — its long history, its penchant for attracting costumed runners, and the fact that some really fast runners come out every year (it’s the host race for the USATF Masters 15K championships).

The race goes through cool neighborhoods, into scenic parks and finishes on a long, uphill stretch that goes right into the heart of downtown. Tulsa firefighters park ladder trucks on either side of Boston Avenue, the race’s final stretch, and hang a huge American flag that you run under just a few blocks from the finish. The city embraces this run as it has for more than four decades, Tulsa’s first “long” distance endurance event, the race that all other local races are built on.

While the Tulsa Run doesn’t hold the place it once did in terms of distance (there are numerous half marathon, marathon and ultramarathon-length races in town now), thousands still come out for it. For those of us running the half and full races at the Route 66 Marathon, it’s the last tune-up before November’s big show.

I came into this one with high hopes. I’ve been training hard, not only with the distances, but also with speed work. I’m lighter and faster than I was at this time last year.

That doesn’t mean I’m fast, but I really thought I had a shot at breaking my 15K PR, a 1:28 showing in 2013 when I was training for a full marathon.

Long story short, that didn’t happen. Not even close, really. I clocked in at 1:34.33. Just two years ago, I was three minutes better than that.

When it comes to running — or anything, really — unmet goals are a good time to reassess. What went right? What went wrong? What could be different? As far as I can tell, I went out to fast and underestimated the course. It could also be true that on my training days I’m not pushing hard enough. My speed days are plenty hard — more strenuous than any speed workouts I’ve ever done. But those other runs? Maybe I need to pick it up a little.

But as is usually the case, there are silver linings. For starters, this year’s Tulsa Run finish was almost a minute-and-a-half faster than last year’s. That’s a great sign, seeing that last year I snagged my second-fastest half marathon ever. I’m way ahead of the game, by that standard.

And then there are the peripheral things that make it all worth it. There is satisfaction in doing hard things and seeing them through. Weekly bike rides — installed in the training program as cross-training — are a joy. Plus little things — running past parks as some dudes embark on a drum circle jam session, or a Mexican band throwing it down at a block party-style event, or spotting a bald eagle soaring above, searching the waters of the Arkansas River for a meal.

When you take up running, most people don’t quantify these as benefits, but they are.

And running has a way of making you laugh at its minor hardships. On Tuesday, I was set to pound out eight miles before work, but a cold front with scattered rain was in the mix. Fine mist fell on me most of the way, but for about a half hour on the back end of the run I got the indignity of running in the rain. A cold rain, mind you. By the time I got back to the house, I was soaked pretty good. I got a chuckle out of how much all my drenched clothes weighed once I stripped down. Part of the deal, I guess. A hot shower never felt so good.

Anyway, the end of Saturday’s race featured free beer and a massage, along with some conversation with a couple of coworkers who ran that day, too. Both faster than me, by the way.

But I guess we all run our own race, learn from it what we can, and move on to the next thing.

I’m in the heart of my training season, when the miles are piling up and the workouts are getting harder. The next thing, in three weeks, is that half marathon. Until then, it’s time to put in the work, enjoy the ride and see what happens on race day,

Bob Doucette