Training “On the Edge” @HospitalHillRun @skoraRunning @SkratchLabs

I love running movies. I guess you could say I’m collecting them. There’s something motivational about watching a good one when you’re training or just about to race. It’s hard to find a truly comprehensive list out there. Here’s my list of what I’ve seen:

I recently added “On the Edge” to my “seen it” list thanks to its mention in the recent Runner’s World article about Bruce Dern. A lifelong runner with some serious cred (e.g. 100,000 miles!), Dern brings authenticity to his starring role in this 1986 movie. The movie holds up well despite a goofy 80s synth soundtrack (it’s no Chariots of Fire, I guess Vangelis was busy). “On the Edge” is a runner’s running movie – and because of that authenticity, I’m going to use it to highlight a few training tips I noticed in it that we can all take to heart as we get ready for Hospital Hill!

1. Quit your job and move to some Spartan digs right next to the race course. Kidding! But it’s a good intro to what the movie is about. Dern plays Wes Holman, a 43-year-old (hey, that’s my age!) runner who lost his amateur status decades ago while trying to organize fellow athletes just prior to the U.S. Olympic trials. We meet him as he is scouting his comeback to run the “Cielo Sea Race” – a handicapped trail race which is not-so-loosely based on “The Dipsea Race” – a Northern California event billed as the oldest trail race in America. Not-so-coincidental fact: Dern finished 293rd in the race in 1974 and said he’d never do it again because it was “too dangerous.” The race features a staggered start intended to give runners of all ages and genders the chance to cross the finish line first. Anyhow, Wes moves into an abandoned barge on the docks that floods with the tide. He devotes himself entirely to his training.

2. Know your race course. The real tips begin. Wes returns to the site of this local race 1 year before he intends to race it. He scouts the course, taking notes as the race is going on. We meet him as he watches the lead runner come up “Cardiac Hill.” Wes trains on the course – I think this is really helpful, after all you don’t know if you can make it up the Broadway Hill until you’ve done it! If you train on the terrain you’ll be running on, you’ll be prepared.

3. Follow a training plan. Wes has a plan: he charts his every single run on a poster-board – type of workout, times, etc. That’s Dern – apparently he’s compulsive. You don’t know any runners like that, do you? The takeaway from this tip is that a training plan can help you put in the mileage you’ll need to prepare as well as building speed and endurance with different types of workouts.

4. Incorporate some variety. Wes does different things – he doesn’t just run. He runs up a hill holding a rock over his head (less common cross-training) and does a lot of push ups and sit-ups (more common). I’m not doing any rock-carrying just now, but I do some core strength training almost every day, and more of it on running “off” days.

5. Have the right shoes. Wes is particular about his shoes – he knows what he wants and he special orders it. I am particular too! I run in Skora performance running shoes – designed by runners for runners.

6. Diet. Wes eats. You should too. I can’t recall anything specific about Wes’ diet – he does share a family style meal at his father’s house. My advice is be discriminating about what you put into your body. When I was younger I felt like my body was a furnace that would burn whatever garbage I put into it. The last 5 years or so I’ve really started paying more attention to how my body reacts to different types of food. I like to experiment. And I don’t mean one run on Twinkies, the next on Ho-hos. I’ve been fueling and hydrating with Skratch Labs’ hot Apples & Cinnamon exercise hydration mix lately. I drink about 16 oz. pre-run – it’s nice to raise my core temp instead of lowering it before heading out into the cold. Hopefully I’ll be switching over to the traditional cold sports drink soon! C’mon spring, stick around.

7. Get a coach. Wes reunites with his old coach and – lesson time again – has a hard time submitting to his advice and methods, but ultimately leans on his wisdom. Wes takes to heart a mantra his coach gives him: “soar” the uphills, “burn” the downs. There are lots of ways to find a coach – and it doesn’t have to be one-on-one in person, although it can be. There are coaches in our area who will combine group workouts and individual advice. A coach can also motivate you and advise you remotely (e.g. my Skora friend Kyle Kranz: You can self-coach or join a running club, but to really do it right you’ve got to be willing to read a lot and engage in honest self-assessment.

8. Don’t try to push through injuries. Wes uses active recovery – soaking in a tub for instance – to cope with the day-to-day wear and tear of training. He suffers a minor injury during his training and rests it for a few days rather than aggravating it. There’s no one-size-fits-all advice for injuries, but it if hurts – back off. If it still hurts, see a professional.

9. Be motivated by competition. Even in training, Wes has his eye on some competitors in the race – including a frenemy from his past. We can all take some inspiration from the cliché “when you’re not training, someone else is.” I’m not encouraging overtraining, but even if you’re just competing against yourself, a competitive mindset can get you out of bed for one of those pre-dawn sessions we all hate. Maybe it’s just taking inspiration from the elites we see maximizing their potential. There are some true elites in cameo roles in “On the Edge.”

10. Embrace your goal. This is the toughest one to relate to the movie. It seems clear Wes’ goal is to win the Cielo Sea Race – or is it? Perhaps it’s personal redemption. I don’t want to ruin the ending for you! You have to know what your goal is to achieve it. Set one. Finish? Run the whole race? Set a PR? Set a goal and work towards it as you train. There will be sacrifice. The reward or disappointment you reap on race day will directly relate to what you sow in training.

Get out there and “Soar!”

Dennis Longboat’s Secrets to Marathon Success

This is a combination post – one part film review, one part observations on a not-so-great long run this weekend.

Since the film review will explain the title, let’s start there. I recently watched another running movie: “Saint Ralph.” It is the fictional tale of a 14 year old boy who trains for and ultimately runs in the Boston Marathon. His motivation is non-traditional. With no prior interest in running, he joins his school’s cross country team after deciding that winning the Boston Marathon is the miracle necessary to bring his sick mother out of a coma.

I enjoyed this movie on several levels. As a former Catholic, there was a lot there to hold my interest with the parochial school, good priest/bad priest motif, and themes of adolescent angst/guilt and superstitiousness.

As a running movie – I will say it is ultimately unrealistic, but with just enough authenticity to hold the interest of a runner and provide amusement — if not credibility. Set chiefly in Hamilton, Ontario, in Canada some 50+ years ago, Ralph’s cross-country coach is a young priest who was formerly the best marathoner in Canada and an Olympic hopeful. He gives up running entirely upon entering the priesthood. Since the movie was made recently, it’s hard to say how many modern training methods are confounded with outdated thinking. The title of this post comes from a book Ralph checks out from the library. While some of the initial quotes (with an accented voiceover from the “author” of this apparently fictional work) seem wise enough – albeit primarily and ironically mental outlook on the distance, Ralph is informed by his mentor that Longboat was a crackpot who was later institutionalized. That makes sense as we see Ralph consuming a 6000 calorie lunch and looking forward to a full moon workout. On the unrealistic end of the spectrum, Ralph is unable to finish a 10 mile race with less than 4 months to go to the Boston Marathon. An unspecified period of time later, he WINS a local tune-up race. His training is sufficiently documented to keep it from being a 5 minute “Rocky” sequel montage, but it’s just crammed into such a short period of time that you can’t believe that Ralph goes from couch to Boston contender. In the “Rocky” spirit, there is one particularly grueling training session Ralph passes with flying colors – 20 one mile intervals in the dark, up and down over varied terrain including steps, in the rain. I seem to recall he’s running 4-5 minute splits.

I won’t spoil the ending. I rate the movie 4 out of 5 stars.

So, turning to part two, that crackpot Dennis Longboat came to mind as I conducted an experiment of sorts on my Saturday long run. I ran the first 15 miles of the KC Marathon course. I dropped my bike in Waldo/Brookside, parked at the start, ran to my bike, then rode back to my car. I decided to do it as a depletion run – zero calories before (that morning) and during. Confession – I did have a double espresso with a tsp. of sugar before heading out the door, but that’s it. My target pace for this run was 7:32 to 8:13. I was fine through mile 6 – all sub 8’s. I stopped at QT and opted for water – things were going fine – so I stuck with the program. I started to fall off over the next few miles slowly – but still 3 more in the target range. It wasn’t until I was leaving the Plaza that I felt a bit funny. By the Sunset Hills my pace was dropping. I was 30s to 1m slow by the time I limped down Ward Parkway to 75th. I was practically shouting at myself to keep moving at that point. Unfortunately there were no aid stations (convenience stores) in sight, so I gutted it out through the last few and made it to my target distance of 15 miles, plus a little extra to get to 75th Street. From there it was a short walk to a convenience store for a sports drink and some Sweet Tarts. I hit the Sweet Tarts first since I was already well hydrated. First two ingredients: dextrose and maltodextrin. Dextrose is glucose – a naturally occurring sugar. Maltodextrin is a processed carbohydrate. Not exactly an all-natural foodstuff, especially considering the rest of the ingredient list, but it was the quickest way to get out of zombie mode. I felt 1000 times better after eating half the roll. The 10 mile bike ride back to the car was no big deal at that point.

So, the depletion run went from “teaching my body to burn fat” to feeling more like “teaching my body to hate itself.” The moral of the story was that I’ll take some fuel for an “emergency” the next time I try this. I regularly do 8-10 mile runs totally unfueled. I wonder if I had too few carbs the day before and ran through my glycogen stores quicker than usual. Ah well, that’s what training is for. I would never race depleted. I’m just trying to simulate and/or avoid the wall come 26.2 race day.

What to watch: Cinematic inspiration during your taper

Ending at the beginning – this is a long post! I’ve been working on it for a few weeks now.

When I’m in the taper period before a goal race, I like to combine my love of running with my love of cinema. Since I’m not supposed to run as much, I sublimate that into watching others run. I find it motivational, even if the particular movie doesn’t have a runner’s happy ending. So, I like to watch at least one running movie in the weeks or days before a goal race.

So, in no particular order, here are several movies that have running as their central focus. I’ve also tossed in a few that aren’t primarily about running, but feature it as a key plot element. Sorry, my quick takes on each may contain a spoiler or two, but these are mostly true stories anyway. I include my personal Netflix rating (I know, they are mostly positive, but hey, I like running movies!) If you have other favorites I haven’t seen or remembered to include here – please chime in with a comment!

Another tip: the “real thing” is often available on YouTube. A favorite is the “Look at Mills! Look at Mills!” call – every bit as thrilling as “Do you believe in miracles!”

Chariots of Fire – A mostly true story focusing on British and American runners at the 1924 Olympics. Fantastic acting. Great story. Epic theme from Vangelis. Don’t miss: the Trinity Great Court Run – circumnavigating the courtyard during the twelve strikes of the clock. Who needs stopwatches? 4/5 stars.

Spirit of the Marathon – This documentary is about the 2005 Chicago Marathon. Six runners are profiled – including both elites (Deena Castor, e.g.) and mortals chasing both BQs and the finish line. Tons of great input from a who’s who of marathoners: Beardsley, Radcliffe, Rodgers, Salazar, Shorter, Waitz. 4/5 stars.

Without Limits – The better “Pre” movie, in my opinion. Both are good, but on balance WL has the better cast with Donald Sutherland as Bowerman of Oregon/Nike fame. Another reason I prefer this version is its focus on Munich ’72 and the Frank Shorter character. 4/5 stars.

Prefontaine – The earlier of the two Pre movies. If you don’t know who “Pre” (Steve Prefontaine) is, check these two out. Is there anything more tragic than unrealized potential? Dream race: Pre was a front-runner. Billy Mills liked to come from behind. Wouldn’t you like to see that 10,000m? 3/5 stars.

Running Brave – In case you didn’t get that Billy Mills reference, 8 years before Pre, Billy Mills came out of nowhere to win the 10,000m at the Tokyo Olympics. Robby Benson plays the lead. The movie is more superficial than it might have been, but does touch on some of the prejudice and cultural conflict Mills rose above. Local flavor: Mills attended Haskell and graduated from KU where he starred. 4/5 stars.

Running on the Sun – Before there was Karnazes or Jurek or big-time corporate sponsorship, there was this documentary about the Badwater Ultramarathon. As if the setting (Death Valley) and elevation gain (partway up Mt. Whitney) wasn’t bad enough, it’s not a 50M or 100M Ultra. Try 135M. Fascinating. It’s almost terrifying to watch the participants attempt this. 4/5 stars.

Run for Your Life – This documentary chronicles the birth of the NYC Marathon primarily through the eyes of its “parent” – Fred Lebow. The NYC marathon is exactly as old as I am – I’d love to run it some day. The film pays homage to the early “stars” of this race, especially and deservedly Grete Waitz. A consummate marketer, Lebow was one of the first to see a race as a social event – even a party. Runners will especially enjoy the telling of Lebow squeezing in one last run on New Year’s Eve in order to hit a mileage goal while his date waits, and waits… 3/5 stars.

Ultramarathon Man – This list is getting into a documentary rut. Here, Dean Karnazes runs 50 marathons in 50 days. Whew. You come to the film expecting perhaps a “look at me!” extravaganza, and some of that is certainly unavoidable. However, the way in which Dean engages other runners, his enthusiasm for his sport, and the way in which the filmmakers focus on the unique individuals that Dean meets during his quest mitigates this somewhat. There are a couple of ways to watch the film. Stat junkies can pause after each state – but this seriously interrupts the flow of the film. P.S. – There is an excellent demonstration of why you should always look in the direction you are running! 3/5 stars.

Marathon Man – This feature thriller isn’t really about running, but Dustin Hoffman’s marathon training is a central plot element. Squirm alert: two words – “Nazi dentist.” It takes Laurence Olivier to pull that off. 3/5 stars.

Forrest Gump – Run Forrest, run! From the braces-shedding plantation sprint to the ‘Bama backfield to cross-country ultrarunner, running is woven through the plot of this modern classic. 4/5 stars.

Running the Sahara – This is what could have gone horribly wrong with Ultramarathon Man. It follows three men in a quest to run across the Sahara desert. I can imagine how frustrating it must be as a documentary filmmaker to have an opportunity to follow what promises to be a compelling feat of human endurance and cultural interaction, only to have your film dominated by an egomaniac. Sigh. 2/5 stars.

Marathon – This film is based on the true story of Bae Hyeong-jin, an autistic Korean young adult who wants to run a marathon – or does his mother want him to? Other interesting elements: his goal pace is sub-3 hours, and his coach is a former Boston marathon champion who hasn’t run in a decade and sits around eating junk food and smoking cigarettes during their early training sessions. Moreover, he’s only coaching him to fulfill court-ordered community service for a DUI conviction. The only Korean Boston champion in the last 50 years was Lee Bong-Ju (2001), but he doesn’t match up with the timing of the real life character since he was at his peak at the time the real life events of the film were occurring. Thus, it is probably just an interesting embellishment, but a curious one to make in a Korean film that came out just 4 years after Lee triumphed at Boston. I think I am fixated on Lee since he is exactly 2 months younger than me! That tangent aside, the film weaves family dynamics, athletic achievement, and the disability of autism together brilliantly. It manages to be touching without becoming overly syrupy or mocking. 5/5 stars.

Updated 7/16/13:

Saint Ralph – I reviewed this recently in its own post:

Updated 3/21/14:

On the Edge – This has its own post too: