Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A LESSON IN VULNERABILITY, TRUST AND CONNECTION: Running blindfolded for the first time

When we choose to trust another with our vulnerability,
we choose to connect
- Jason Romero


I have a degernative eye condition (retinitis pigmentosa - RP) which has caused me to become legally blind.  I have 20/200-400 acuity, I see through a tunnel of about 15 degrees and I have night blindness.  At some point, the medical professionals say that my retina will completely deteriorate and I will have no light perception.

I am fearful of losing light perception.  I'm scared of the dark now - I often wonder how I will feel when my eyes can no longer perceive light.  I know running is important to me, and I want to continue this activity if my eyes get to a point where I can no longer perceive light.  There will be another big change for my running when this happens....I will need to recruit a guide to help me run.  I have never relied 100% on a guide for eyesight.  A couple weeks ago, I decided to do an experiment and run a race blindfolded.  There are 3 parts to this blog - 1. my guide's experience, 2. my experience, and 3. what I learned about life as a result of this experience.

Me and Donald Beuke at the Mardi Crawl Half Marathon
Part 1: My Guide's Experience.
I needed a guide for the race so I went to social media and asked the universe for a volunteer to help me.  As it turns out, I ended up with a volunteer who is an exceptionally gifted athlete and human being Donald Beuke.  Donald is an accomplished ultra-runner having completed some very tough 100 milers including Hard Rock, HURT and Run Rabbit Run.  He's also a mountaineer having climbed the likes of Denali.  He's also an amazing human being, having been a teacher, and now a principal in Adams County.  I asked Donald if he could share his experience of guiding me.  Below are his thoughts.

I was browsing Facebook and a new friend Jason Romero posted he wanted to run a Half Marathon blind and tethered.   I wanted to meet Jason because he is coming to my school in a week or so to do a motivaitional speech with my 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students.  Jason and I run around the same running circles or ultra runners in the Denver area and I was really excited when he took me up on the offer of pacing (the night befor the race).    My first question was what pace and he responded back 8:30 -9:00 pace.  

Phew…I can probably hang with that.  I have not been running much so I knew 8:30 pace would be comfortable but good.  I have been just hiking and mostly downhill running in prepartation for Hardrock 100 in July.  

I met up with Jason at 8:15, 45 minutes before the Mardi Crawl at Bear Lake state park in Littleton.  We chatted a bit and he showed me the tether system he created which would mean running side by side for 13.1 miles.  My first thought is that it would be a challenge and I could tell Jason was nervous about being completely in the dark.  We set our watches and took off in the back of the pack.  

We were surrounded by people and I was trying to just keep from running into people.  The paved bike trail was very smooth so I was initially not worried about it.  It took us about a mile at 9:00 pace to get in a groove and pass people.  We got to the first hill and we moved up the 300 foot hill quickly and began our descent into the turn around at about mile 6.  We were cruising at 7:50 pace and I felt suprising comfortable just chatting and talking about our past races and people we know in our amazing community.  We got to mile ten and I was wondering if we would be able to go sub 1:50.  We ran the last three miles right at 8:00 pace in the middle of the road…it was too hard to stay by the cones (I thought we would trip).  We crossed the finish line without a big fall at 1:48 (8:19 pace).  It was good enough for 25th place out of 130 runners.  

Not too bad for a first time pacer and first time Jason went totally dark.  Next time I would call out more directions and start more at the front.  It was a little scary at first starting with all the people around.  I would also be in better shape because Jason really wanted to cruise at the end.    I was shocked how well we moved basically hand in hand.  I really enjoyed the experience and would love to do that for a full marathon after I get my butt in shape.  



Part 2: My Experience.
I am really scared to have no light perception.  I figured like with everything else in life, you must face your fears and deal with them head on.  That gave me the idea to run a race blindfolded.  I did a quick internet search for races in Denver the coming weekend.  The longest race I could find was a half-marathon - the Mardi Crawl.  I went to FaceBook to ask for a guide to help me.  I had a volunteer, then plans fell through.  I felt relieved and thought about ditching the attempt to run blindfolded.  Maybe this was a sign I wasn't supposed to do it.  My fear was crippling me and I was  giving into it.  I decided this was about facing fear, and not letting it stop me.  So the day before the race I went back to FaceBook and asked for help, and I got another volunteer - Donald Beuke.  I had met Donald virtually a few weeks before, as I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at his school - Coronado Hills Elementary in Commerce City.  Donald and I exchanged a few texts and planned to meet race morning.

I needed to figure out how to make a tether - a link that I would hold with my hand, and my guide would hold the other end.  So I turned to my friend Amelia Dickerson.  She is an amazing blind runner (and American record holder for the marathon, I might add).  Amelia gave me some quick instructions on how to make a tether.  I went to Home Depot, bought a 48" bungee cord, cut off the ends, tied some knots and soon I had my tether.  The bungee would allow the tether to have some give if we needed it.  After all was said and done, the tether would allow my hand and my guide's hand to be 12" apart when we both held it.



Pictured is the bungee cord tether, the blindfold and vest I used
I was very nervous getting out to the race.  I had a ride arranged to take me to the start of the race. When I called on race morning, my ride would not answer.  I kept going to voice mail.  Again, I thought....this is another chance to call the run off.  Again, I had to stop making excuses to follow-through on what I had committed to do.  I took an Uber to my Mom's house, then she took me the rest of the way to the race on short notice.  I arrived and found Donald.  When I saw him, all I saw was a big ole smile.  His smile put me at ease - as I felt like a bundle of nerves.  I was anxious about what was soon to happen - I would put on a blindfold and rely on another's eyes 100% so I could run.  

Soon, the start came and it was time for me to pull the mask over my eyes.  As I did, I grabbed the tether and waited.  I felt really scared.  After I put the mask on, the gun went off and I was just standing there.  I was waiting for Donald to grab the other end so we could start running.  I didn't want my nerves to show and more importantly I needed to trust Donald, so I just stood there waiting.  Within a few seconds, Donald grabbed the other end of the tether, and we clumsily began to run together.  I'd never been guided like this before so I didn't know what I needed.  I tried to explain to Donald what I needed called out as we ran.  It took about a mile for us to get into a rhythm.  Soon, we were running together and passing people.  I wanted to run faster, but knew that I needed to restrain myself.  This wasn't about racing - it was about being vulnerable and trusting.  Donald and I had a great conversation, and I learned what a wonderful and amazing man he is.  I really got a chance to meet an extraordinary human being.  I stumbled a little during the run, but overall it was pretty smooth.  We had some long climbs - over a quarter mile in length.  It was actually good to climb without knowing where the top was.  I was forced to run at a cadence that I could hold indefinitely uphill.  Because I couldn't tell where the top was, I was forced to be more aware of my body to be able to hold the pace.  When we descended, it was hard to let loose as I didn't know when a turn was coming, or if there was an obstacle that I might go down on.  I got to a point where I just had to really trust Donald, with everything.....and I did.  At one point, we stopped and Donald let go of the tether to drop a jacket at an aid station.  I remember just standing there feeling totally helpless.  Then, I thought to myself - I trust Donald.  Just because he left me to take care of something doesn't mean he has left me forever.  I had to choose to trust that Donald would come back in order to stave off my panic; and, Donald did come back.  On our last big descent around mile 10, I was finally able to let my legs go.  We were really running.  With about 2 miles to go, we got passed.  I heard somebody go by breathing hard.  As the runner passed, I told Donald, "I don't like to get passed".  I wanted to run down the runner.  At that point, I realized that I was comfortable being blind folded.  I was back wanting to race.


Donald and I pushed to the end, crossing the finish line under 1 hour 50 minutes.....a goal we had chatted about during our run.  When I lifted my blind fold from my eyes, I couldn't see anything.  It was like a flashlight was being shone directly into my eyes.  After about a minute, my eyes adjusted and I was able to make out people, and joined a group that was having a conversation.  I had a lot of emotions going through me at that point.  It was hard to concentrate on what people were saying, as I was processing what had happened,  I was also internally celebrating that I was going to be able to run, and race when I no longer had light perception.


Part 3: What I learned about life

To me, this was much more about life than running a race blind-folded.  The night after the race, I laid in my bed replaying the events that had taken place.  As I processed what had happened, I realized that there was an Adversity, I had to Adapt, and ultimately I Achieved my goal.  Along the way, Fear was a constant paralyzing factor that threatened to stop me dead in my tracks.  I had to choose not to let Fear overtake me.  Basically, I had experienced my "Success Cycle", as I've written about in a prior blog post.

More importantly, I learned about human connection.  I was in a very weak and fragile emotional state leading up to, and during the run.  That is the reason I asked Donald to write about his experience.  I guessed that he was unaware of the mental and emotional state I was in.  I also suspected that he was unaware of the gift he has given me.  I was re-reminded that being vulnerable, and trusting in another human being when we are in that state, is a direct path to connection.  It is scary.  At times, I didn't want to take the risk and trust when I was vulnerable.  One time I was left alone, and could choose to believe a)  I was abandoned, or  b) that this other person was going to come back to help me.  I chose to trust when I was vulnerable, and I am glad I did.  I made a good friend as a result, and now have the confidence that I'll continue running well into the darkness of RP.


ONWARD!




With my friend, Donald Beuke, at Coronado Hills Elementary after speaking with 3/4/5th graders
Jason Romero is a highly sought after inspirational speaker and the 1st and only blind person to run across America.  Jason is a member of the US Paralympic Team, holds 11 world records in ultra-running, a former attorney and business executive, and a single father of 3 children.  More information can be found on Jason at www.relentlessromero.com

Monday, January 30, 2017

THE SUCCESS CYCLE: The reason why All Things are Possible!

When confronted with Adversity we must Adapt, and sometimes fail, to Achieve success
- Jason Romero

The following is an excerpt from a Keynote Address that I recently gave to an organization.  After careful analyzation of my life, successes & failures, my blindness & my run across America, I have developed a theory of how we can succeed, in all things we set out to do.  This concept is incorporated into my talks, will be the subject of a chapter in a book I am authoring, and I believe is a universal truth.  Please share it freely, and I hope it can help you to succeed in life.  (click the image to view the video blog in YouTube). 

ONWARD!

Click the image to view the video blog in YouTube

Click HERE to read about Mental Toughness Principles.

Jason Romero is a highly sought after inspirational speaker and the 1st and only blind person to run across America.  Jason is a member of the US Paralympic Team, holds 11 world records in ultra-running, a former attorney and business executive, and a single father of 3 children.  More information can be found on Jason at www.relentlessromero.com

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

MENTAL TOUGHNESS: The Romero Way

The mind will quit before the body will quit.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger

I have read a lot on mental toughness.  I've heard of people who have studied it.  I've heard people talk about it.  Below is what I learned about mental toughness, during my run across America.

First, as with all things in life, we have been given "free will."  That means we have the ability to make choices.  When mental toughness is required or triggered, the environment has usually become extremely uncomfortable.  The "mental toughness" question them becomes simply stated as follows:

1. Continue on, and endure more suffering, discomfort and pain.
OR
2. Quit, and have the suffering stop, and the discomfort and pain will recede and fade away.

We then interpret mental toughness to be measured by whether we choose "1" (mentally tough) or "2" (not mentally tough).

For 60 days non-stop during 2016 I was confronted with this choice of "1 or 2".  After having had time to process what occurred, and synthesize my decisions, I have created a theory on how I was able to maintain my mental toughness to not quit, and ultimately succeed in what I had set out to do.  Interestingly enough, it also applies to all other struggles I have encountered in life.  So here's my discovery and what I learned by running 3,063 miles across America in 60 days.

GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR MENTAL TOUGHNESS

HOPE: The ability to believe in possibilities that are yet unproven, and may never be proven.  To have faith in the unseen and that which is without evidence.  A burning belief that all things are possible.

On countless occasions I was confronted with nay-sayers who espoused an opinion that what I was doing was impossible, fool-hardy and plain stupid.  This is the antithesis of HOPE.  These people had given up on me before I had ever even tried.  What is sadder, is that they have already given up on their own dreams.  The type of HOPE I discovered is best personified by the story of Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, who was stranded with his crew on Antarctica for 22 months from 1914-1917 when his ship became lodged and crushed in the icy seas.  He ultimately led his entire crew to safety by camping on sea ice until it disintegrated, then launching life boats and traveling 720 nautical miles to safety in South Georgia.  It is said in his writings, and by others, that he never lost HOPE.

On my journey, I was reduced to rubbles on many occasions - cars tried to run me down, people yelled at me to get off the highway, firecrackers were thrown at me, people told me I was cheating on social media, I ran out of shoes at 1,000 miles, I failed to get relief for my crew to take a week off, I got lost adding extra miles to the journey, I was chased by wild animals, I got caught in unexpected weather, etc.  I persevered by maintaining HOPE that things would get better, and my FAITH that I was doing this for something much bigger than me.

PATIENCE: The ability to remain calm as undesirable things happen, and wait for things to improve.....and they always do.

My Mom has always told me that things will be better in the morning.  On many occasions when I have been overwhelmed, I have relied on this advice.  I get a good nights sleep, and almost always, things have been better in the morning - and, after 2 nights of good sleep, things are always better : ). There were many times during my run that I would encounter bad weather - wind, rain, sand, etc.  Sometimes, it was an hour of adverse conditions; sometimes it was a day - sometimes longer.  Early in the run, I had no patience.  I tried to fight the adverse condition and run "through it".  What I discovered was that Mother Nature is much, much stronger than I am.  I would wear myself out and have to limp and gimp it in to finish my miles with a heroic effort.  I also exhausted myself for the next day's effort.  As I continued running, I learned to be the calm in the storm.  I started walking when there were strong head winds and torrential rain storms.  I wasn't going to make significant forward progress in these conditions, and I was using a ton of effort and risking injury to run "angry against the storm".  I opted to walk when these conditions presented themselves.  On one particular day, I was forced to walk the first 7 hours of the day and only logged 17 miles.  It was horrible - and I didn't think there was anyway I would be able to achieve 50 miles by my cut-off time (12 hours).  The storm cleared and I got my opening.  I ran, ran, and ran more.  In the subsequent 5 hours I covered 33 miles and finished the day with 50 miles as planned.

CONSISTENCY:  Making consistent effort toward a goal will yield consistent results; and the inverse is true - inconsistent effort yields inconsistent results.


The above chart represents my daily mileage.  My goal was to run 50 miles a day, without taking a day off.  The one dip in mileage on day 5 occurred when our van flatted in the desert and we cut the tire while driving on it.  It took 30 days to make up that mileage to get back to an average of 50 miles per day.  The above chart does not reflect my physical injuries - plantar fasciitis, hamstring strains, twisted ankles, knee pain, IT pain, a feared broken pinky toe, shin pain, a compacted ankle, etc - nor did it reflect my roller-coasteering emotional state - sadness of being away from my kids, anger of having drivers recklessly take aim at me, fear of not seeing my kids again, fear of my Mom being injured or harmed, lonely isolation of not hearing from friends or family as they went on about their busy lives, etc.  The lesson was, despite whatever factors come your way - if you consistently make relentless forward progress toward your goal, you will achieve that goal.

FORGIVENESS:  Peace

When we carry negativity, anger, and past baggage with us, it weighs us down.  We are not at our best, and extremely inefficient.  During my run, this became extremely clear to me.  By about f,000 miles and 20 days of running, I had exposed and exhausted all of my coping skills.  I was literally bankrupt, raw and nothing.  I had no choice but to forgive myself for the wrongs I had done and the guilt that I had felt.  Once I had forgiven myself, I only then was able to forgive others and jettison the baggage that had been weighing down my heart and thoughts.  Had I not been able to do this, I could not have taken another step at that point.  I clearly remember when the day came - I could no longer drown out the negative thoughts with headphones.  In fact, the noise in my head was just too much.  For the next 5 days I would run with no headphones and work to forgive.  The process was not easy, and I needed to feel angry, sad, guilty, denial, depression and finally acceptance; which unlocked my ability to forgive myself and others for many things.

When we are not burdened by past transgressions, our hearts, minds and feet are much lighter.  We are more efficient in our efforts; and in the case of my run, I became much more effective.  This is probably the most important piece, and breakthrough for attaining stellar mental toughness.  I've heard people say they are fueled by anger.  They are not at their full potential.  They could push even farther, only if they can forgive and wash away that anger.

These mental toughness principles are part of my theory for success, something I call "The Success Cycle."



Jason Romero is a highly sought after inspirational speaker and the 1st and only blind person to run across America.  Jason is a member of the US Paralympic Team, holds 11 world records in ultra-running, a former attorney and business executive, and a single father of 3 children.  More information can be found on Jason at www.relentlessromero.com


Monday, August 29, 2016

VISIONRUNUSA Series (6): That nasty 4-letter word



When I first told people that I was going to run across America, I received an onslaught of people using the 4-letter word that I dislike the most . . . yes, you guessed it - - - they used the "C" word.

CAN'T

I absolutely abhor that word.  It should be eradicated from the English language . . . and' I'm not even sure it is a word.  I discussed the word in the movie Running Vision . . . there, I explained that when people say "can't", "they have given up before they have even tried."

Well, I believe I CAN, and YOU CAN too.

Regarding VISIONRUNUSA, I want to give an example of some of the "can't" statements I heard:

- You can't just stop life for 2 months
- You can't leave your kids, you'll lose your parenting time
- You can't afford the run
- You can't run 50 miles a day
- You can't run on highways
- You can't do it
- You can't do this without a major sponsor
- You can't do this without getting seriously injured
- You can't do it with only 1 crew person
- You can't do it without guides
- You'll die
- You'll get ran over
- You'll get lost
- You just can't!!

I am human, and hearing all the negativity, consternation and preoccupation was hard to cope with.  As I prepared and planned for the run for over 18 months, I began to cut negativity out of my life.  For the people who did not believe in me or in the run, I had no time or energy to try to convince them that VISIONRUNUSA was possible - they would just have to learn from watching it happen.  For those believers who supported me and wanted to believe VISIONRUNUSA was possible, I pulled them in like a magnet.  If a person was supportive and wanted to help the run succeed, they would be part of the CAN TEAM.  I had to surround myself with positive thoughts, and people who were willing to support me going way out on a limb with no safety net.

The choice to believe CAN'T or CAN is a conscious choice.  It starts with a person's upbringing and where a person is at emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically.  Our Attitude will steer our choice to one or the other.  Our attitude to believe that all things are possible will result in a CAN choice.  Our attitude to go head-first into the unknown and uncertainty and know that we will be OK whatever happens leads to a CAN choice.  Our attitude to understand that fear of the future and failure is just a feeling, and not a reason to stop trying, can lead to a CAN choice.  Our attitude to understand that pain is a present feeling of discomfort which will eventually fade away, can lead to a CAN choice.  

Our ATTITUDE will define for us whether the day is going to be grand or dismal.  Our ATTITUDE will define for us whether we are successful or a failure.  Our ATTITUDE is a choice.  Many times, we let others have control over our attitude.  We let others define whether we have a great day, or whether we feel like a success.  A person who is a success, has the attitude and gumption to step outside of their comfort zone, and take on a really HUGE CHALLENGE with overwhelming odds of failure.  Whether that person overcomes or succumbs to the challenge is irrelevant to their success. The fact that they even tried under the circumstances has de facto made them a success.  It is a choice to decide to go head first into uncertainty and have the ATTITUDE to BELIEVE that you CAN do it . . . or . . . you can have the Attitude to give up before you even try and use that nasty 4-letter "C" word.

I believe YOU CAN do anything!  I believe that all things are possible.  It does not mean that I will not fail.  I will fail, and fail often.  But, I will not give up because of failure.  And, one failure does not mean that something is impossible . . . it only means you must try again.  There is no need for anybody to use the 4-letter "C" word again.  If you have read this, I hope you commit to yourself to not use the "C" word again.  Teach your kids that it is a naughty word and has no place in our day to day lives.  Also, please know that the only way I was able to overcome all the "can't's" that were thrown at me was to CHOOSE to have an ATTITUDE that I CAN do all things.  I know this because of my Faith.  I also know that YOU CAN too.



ONWARD!!!

Jason Romero is a highly sought after inspirational speaker and the 1st and only blind person to run across America.  Jason is a member of the US Paralympic Team, holds 11 world records in ultra-running, a former attorney and business executive, and a single father of 3 children.  More information can be found on Jason at www.relentlessromero.com

Sunday, August 7, 2016

VISIONRUNUSA Series (5): Efficient Running Form

video


There has been so much written on running technique, stride and gait.  Some folks will tell you their way is the only way.  Some will suggest that there are different techniques for different body types.  I am not here to suggest a specific form is correct over another form.  In fact, I have seen many different types of running forms that are successful.  Take for example, the amazing Emil Zatopek ("The Czech Locomotive") who won 3 gold medals in the 1952 Olympics.  when he ran he looked like he was is severe pain, with arms and legs flailing wildly.  According to Chi running, Evolution running, or any other popular running form philosophy, Zatopek's form was atrocious; however, it obviously worked for this amazing runner earning him gold in the 5,000 meter, 10,000 meter and the marathon (his first ever marathon!).

EFFICIENCY
In order to run long distances, you want your movement to be efficient - meaning use as little energy as possible for each stride.  For example, you don't want to be "bouncing" as you run.  We've all seen those runners who look like they're hopping.  Their heads and bodies seem to be moving a lot in the vertical plane....more so than the horizontal plane.  You want your efforts to be used to propel you forward, not up into the air.  If you've a "bouncer", you're losing valuable energy that could be used more effectively to move you forward.  In short, if you have a finite amount of energy to use for a run (your internal glycogen supplies, fat and consumed fuel), you want to distribute that energy over your run as effectively as possible . . . that means you should be as efficient as possible with your energy consumption & not "waste" energy with unnecessary movement.

FOOT TURNOVER
This is probably the biggest opportunity for new ultra-runners and asset of accomplished ultra-runners.  You need to have quick feet and turnover.  I aim for 180-200 steps per minute.  In practice that looks like you're running on hot coals.  Real quick steps, and constant contraction of the hip flexors.  It takes awhile to develop this skill, especially if you've been a "lumbering runner" taking long strides.  If you're sprinting, you will stretch out your stride to get to the finish line quicker.  As the distance gets longer, your stride naturally shortens.  When you're going "real long" (ultra-land), you'll end of with small steps because that will prevent injury to your body.  Your body knows exactly what it can handle without getting injured.  Think real quick feet when you're running.  If you have the choice to take 1 or 2 steps, take 3 steps.

STRIDE LENGTH
I aim to be at just under a meter for stride length.  Throughout VISIONRUN, my stride length was usually 0.8-0.9 meters each day.  A good miler has a stride length of 2 meters.  My stride length was less than half of that.  I think if you made that miler run an extra 49 miles in the same day, his/her stride length would be similar to mine.  As you go into longer distances, it doesn't make sense to stretch out your stride.  That causes overstraining, heal striking and incorrect impact to the body's natural shock absorption system.  That brings us to Gait.

GAIT
You want to be a mid-foot striker for long distance running.  The ankle should be lined up directly under the knee when the foot hits the ground.  That ensures that your entire shock absorption system is used during the impact phase - your foot, ankle, knee and back all work together to absorb the impact and disperse it over your entire body.  This prevents injury.  We as a species are made to run.  Our bodies are mechanical marvels for the engineering we have to enable us to run without injury.  Perhaps if you're a sprinter, you might run on your toes.  However, the longer distances you run, the less you will be able to run on your toes.  The muscles that support this type of running simply are not large enough, nor do they have the endurance to support the human body for distances in the ultra world.  Regarding heal striking - it's bad news for your natural shock absorption system.  When you heel strike, you do not efficiently engage your shock absorption system, and injury "could" result.  NOTE I say "could result".  The human body is AMAZING and it can adapt to protect itself.  I've seen great runners who are heel strikers that run injury free.  Their bodies have adapted to heel striking, and somehow the impact of their running is dispersed over their body to prevent injury.

ARMS & HANDS
Assuming you are on flat land or slight elevation, arms should be relaxed.  Your legs are doing the work.  I try to have my arms hang at a 45 degree angle - so the elbows are slightly bent. My hands and fingers are limp and could brush my thighs as they swing back and forth.  In my mind, this enables me to conserve energy and calories.  I use that energy and calories to fuel my legs and hip flexors - as those muscle groups are firing 180-200 times per minute.  If you're running up a hill, arms can be used to help you climb the hill; however, in most ultras I suggest walking any significant hill.

EYES
Your body will follow your gaze.  If you look forward, that is where you will go.  If you look down, that is where you will go.  I also notice that when my eyes wander, I am getting fatigued and my form is deteriorating.  Keep those eyes looking forward, and you will continue your relentless forward progress.

POSTURE
Look like a runway model!  Run erect, not bent at the waist.  I've heard some people say that you should lean slightly forward, and that running is "controlled falling".  I'm not sure I buy into that.  I do know that the more stabilized your core is, the more erect you can run.  I also know that core strength enables you to run longer without injury.  The discs in your spine are made to disperse shock.  If you are standing erect, you engage all your discs to disperse shock over the entire spine.  If you are not erect, that same shock is dispersed over a smaller number of discs and injury becomes more possible.  I always try to run as if there is a string attached to my hair, pulling me directly upward.  When we fatigue, we all start to bend and slouch our shoulders.  At this point, you are not efficient and you are getting diminishing returns from you running.  When it gets to this point, I try to walk until I can rest long enough to regain my good posture.  It is important to do core exercises to help your running, and anything athletic.  Some good exercises can be found in "Ab Ripper X", planks, Supermans, Clams, Firehydrants, Bicycles, etc.

SHOULDERS
I notice that the longer I run, the more my neck and traps hurt.  I usually do 3 shoulder shrugs every mile when I get to this point.  What causes this is a gradual contraction of those muscle groups over a long period of time.  Also, poor posture can let the head lean forward a bit, then the traps and shoulders become engaged to keep the head upright.  Good posture eliminates the need for these muscles to be engaged.  However, sometimes "stuff happens".  When you get to this point, try to run upright and do 3 shoulder shrugs every mile until you get to the finish line.  The shoulder shrugs will "remind" you to relax the shoulders and traps to let them "hang" in an un-contracted state.

BREATHING
This is the best measure to determine how you are doing.  If your breathing is rhythmic and shallow, you're in a good place and very efficient.  When your breathing becomes inconsistent and erratic, something is off in your running - at least when you're running ultra distances.  Focus on that breathing and get it back to a steady, rhythmic pattern.  Usually, this requires slowing down.  Be patient while you make adjustments to your Gait, Posture, Arms & Hands, Turnover, Stride Length, etc.  You will get back to equilibrium, as long as you focus and go through your checklist.  Knowing your body well is critical to being able to make micro-adjustments that increase efficiency.

TALKING
Some people are talkers when they run.  That's OK.

I am the type of runner that wants to conserve as much energy as possible if I'm racing.  That means, I don't talk when I run races.  If I'm out for a "fun run" - killing time and just dinking around, then I'll talk and banter.  These runs are not "training runs".  Generally speaking I'm chalking these runs up to "base mileage buildup" - - - I'm just trying to log as many miles as possible to help my body adapt biologically to the demands of many, many miles.  Bones, tendons, ligaments, respiratory, pulmonary, cellular energy conversion, fat consumption, etc. all adjust and improve when we run.  The more we run, the more our body learns that it must make these systems efficient.  The more we sit and are inactive, the more our bodies learn it can be less efficient.  I'll talk more about that in a later blog.

Hope this one helps, and just to reiterate . . . everybody has their own running form that works well for them.  I'm not preaching that one running form is correct for everybody.  What I have tried to describe here is what I have used and learned during my running life and VISIONRUNUSA.  I hope some of these thoughts can help you.

ONWARD!!!

Jason Romero is a highly sought after inspirational speaker and the 1st and only blind person to run across America.  Jason is a member of the US Paralympic Team, holds 11 world records in ultra-running, a former attorney and business executive, and a single father of 3 children.  More information can be found on Jason at www.relentlessromero.com

Friday, August 5, 2016

VISIONRUNUSA Series (4): Planning the Route

Google earth map of VISIONRUNUSA

Elevation profile for VISIONRUNUSA

Once I knew I was going to run across America, I had to figure out a route to take.  I had hoped that it would be as easy as typing in a Google search, and I would be able to pull up a route.  I was wrong.  This was one of the hardest parts of the planning process.  It was meticulous, and very detail oriented - a couple things I do not enjoy for long durations of time.

First, I had to determine my start and stop points.  I decided to do the run in the Spring time.  The rationale for that was, my kids went with their Mom for Spring Break in 2016 (I am divorced and we switch who gets the kids for Spring Break on an annual basis).  I knew I would be away from my kids for at least 10 days due to Spring Break, so I decided this would be "the best" way to deal with a separation from my kids for 2 months.  I would have been away from them for 10 days already, so we would only have to suffer through 50 more days of being apart.  The strategy made sense mathematically, but no sense emotionally.  1 day away from my kids may as well be the same as being apart for a full month.

Since I knew I was starting in the Spring, I decided to go West to East.  The rationale here was that I did not want to be crossing the deserts in California and Arizona at the end of the run in late-May.  I would rather cross them early, when the temperatures were manageable.  I had to figure out what cities I was starting and stopping in.  I received a call from Adrian Broca, one of my heroes who is a blind marathoner.  He said he wanted to run some miles with me.  Adrian lived in LA, so I decided to start in his hometown to make it easy for Adrian and I to run together.  We would start at Santa Monica Pier - where Forest Gump ran to on the West Coast.  For the finishing location, I chose Boston originally, because Team with a Vision (TWAV) is based there.  TWAV is an organization that pioneered and hosts the Visually Impaired Division race at the Boston Marathon every year.  I wanted to support them because they have had such a wonderful impact on long distance running for the blind and visually impaired.  During the run, my endpoint would change to New York City, as 2 of my children had continuation ceremonies and I needed time to be driven back to Colorado after the run.  New York was chosen as the stopping point due to it being the headquarters of Achilles International, an organization that provides guides for the visually impaired and other challenged athletes.

The next thing I had to do was figure out a route with turn-by-turn directions.  I sat down at my computer and pulled up MapQuest.  I entered Santa Monica Pier in the address field and I entered Fanuell Hall in the destination field.  I clicked on "Get Directions" and waaa-laaa ..... I had a map taking me from LA to Boston.  Piece of cake, right?  WRONG!  I soon found out that it was illegal to run on Interstates.  I thought about just ignoring that rule and taking the law into my own hands.  I was so ignorant at that point, I didn't even realize that I would likely be seriously injured and possibly killed if I ran on Interstates across country.  I tried clicking on the "biking" and "walking" directions buttons, however I didn't trust how drastically the maps changed.

From what I gathered in talking to people and researching the rules about what roads you can run on, I discovered the following - you are allowed to run on roads and sidewalks.  In different states and counties, you are also allowed to run on Highways.  You are never allowed to run on Interstates.  

I e-mailed Perry Newburn (KIWI who ran across the US a few years back) and asked for his route.  He went from NY to LA (opposite direction that I was planning).  Perry was helpful in telling me some cities he passed through and some highways he ran on; however, that only accounted for 1/3rd of his route.  I had e-mailed Charlie Engle and asked for the route he and Marshall took when he attempted his crossing.  Charlie didn't have the route, but was trying to get me in touch with the film crew.  I e-mailed Marshall, and he shared his route with me; however, the route went from San Francisco to NY, so it was useless for my crossing.  I tried to get in touch with Adam Kimble to get the route he was planning to use for his 2016 LA to NY attempt, although I was never able to get a route when I was doing my route planning.  I also reached out to Lisa Batchen-Smith to see what route she was planning to take for her 2016 LA to NY attempt; however, I was never able to get in contact with the person who was planning her route.

I was back at square one - no route.  I asked a friend (Melissa Mincic) to text and call me everyday to pester me into creating a route.  She did her job.  I didn't do mine.  Finally, I plotted out 60 individual maps on MapQuest.  Then, I realized they couldn't be "linked" into one full map.  I tried the same  thing on Google Maps, and somehow lost all my work.  I was beyond frustrated.

Finally, my Coach came to my rescue.  Coach Carly (the very first guide I had at Achilles) had been helping me train in the morning when it was dark.  She must have realized how totally lost and frustrated I was, because in a span of 1-2 days, she told me she had a route planned for me.  She got on the computer to show me, clicked a link and a transcontinental map popped up.  IT WAS AMAZING!  We spent the next couple weeks tweaking the route until we thought we had it all done.  Then, a friend who lived in Ohio told us that we were going through some serious rollers on the East Coast, and that if we went a tad North it would drastically decrease the elevation profile for that section.  We also discovered Highway 54, a diagonal highway that went from New Mexico, through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and into Illinois.  Coach Carly would do an entire re-route.....on her own.  We broke it down into separate days and ended up with around 55 maps.  We finally had a route.

I would guesstimate that between the two of us, the route took over 100 hours to create and refine.

As VISIONRUNUSA began, we realized that we had created a great route as we had minimized the number of highway changes, avoided large cities (which would cause us to slow down, cause navigation complexity, present tripping hazards with curb cuts/trees/poles/etc., and unknown detour hazards), minimized elevation gain and loss despite having to cross 3 mountain ranges, and we had identified small towns with lodging at least every 50 miles or so (this was important as my Mom and I were not taking an RV).  Basically, we took Highway 60 West out of LA, cut North to the 29 Palms/Joshua Tree Desert, then jumped back onto Highway 60 into Arizona and New Mexico.  In New Mexico, Highway 60 intersects with Highway 54 which we took North East through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois.  In Illinois somewhere, we started taking state roads and small highways due East through Indiana North of Indianapolis, across Ohio North of Columbus, and into Pennsylvania traveling North of Pittsburgh.  Once we got to NJ and NY, it was a real chore to navigate and run as we had so many twists and turns.  We also did some re-routing on the fly, but that is another blog post about why it is important to have a "live router" during a transcon run.  Below is a list of our daily start and stop points (nearest city).  If anybody needs the exact route, send me an e-mail and I can send the gpx file.

P.S.  What I learned from this routing exercise is that "if you want something extremely complex and important done your way, you're going to have to do it yourself (and enlist the help of some really smart people to help you)".



Jason Romero is a highly sought after inspirational speaker and the 1st and only blind person to run across America.  Jason is a member of the US Paralympic Team, holds 11 world records in ultra-running, a former attorney and business executive, and a single father of 3 children.  More information can be found on Jason at www.relentlessromero.com

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

VISIONRUNUSA Series (3): Why and how I started running

April 2008, Country Music Marathon - beginning the longer distances

I was never a natural runner or long distance runner.  When I was in my teens, I witnessed my step-uncle, Ted Epstein, running a self-supported 6-day run on a 1/8th mile indoor track.  That spurred me to want to run a marathon in my early 20s.  I just ran for training.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I just knew 26 miles was a long way, and I needed to run a lot if I was going to be able to run that distance.  In 1993, I completed my first marathon in 3:14 and change.  Then, I hung up my running shoes for 14 years.

In those 14 years, I had gotten married, had children, went to grad school and was busy trying to climb the corporate ladder.  In 2006, I found myself living in Puerto Rico on a corporate assignment while working with GE.  I was growing in my career, adding valuable skills to my resume, entertaining clients, eating tasty cuisine which was mostly fried, drinking rum & cokes and smoking cigars.  I was not working out, and my weekly exercise consisted of washing the car on a fairly regular basis.

I had heard that a couple of my neighbors had started walking at a 1/4th mile track in a local park.  I asked the guys if I could go walk with them.  The first time I went, I was shocked to find out that I was out of breath just walking!!!.  I was young, and I thought I was in average shape.  I was shocked to learn that I was not.  I was a walking heart attack waiting to happen - working long hours in a high pressure job and not taking care of my health.  I secretly began going to the track and trying to run.  I knew I should be able to run a mile at least.  I struggled bad at first to hold a slow shuffle for a mile.  I would keep at it, until I could run that mile continuously.  Later, I rejoined my neighbors and was able to run as they walked.

That was the beginning.

I slowly built up my endurance.  I had a good friend who ran 4-5 miles every weekend on the beach.  I would meet him on the weekends to run.  In the beginning, I couldn't make the distance.  But, after months of consistently meeting my friend for runs, I was able to run the distance, and I was getting faster.  I started competing in local 5k runs, then 10k runs.  Then, I tried half marathons.  Later, I chose to attempt the marathon again.   My son has autism, and we started a school for him in Puerto Rico.  In order to raise money for the school, I signed up for the Las Vegas marathon in 2007.  I completed the marathon, but in very ugly fashion.  At the end, my Mom met me and I fell to the ground.  I couldn't walk or stand.  I was totally decimated by the distance, and didn't think I would ever be able to go that distance again.  I dreamed of competing in the Boston Marathon, and I chose to train for another marathon in April of 2008.  I trained consistently with a plan for 4 months, and ran fast enough to qualify for Boston at that race.  I was still about 15 lbs overweight, but I was running regularly.  IT WAS VERY UNCOMFORTABLE WHEN I FIRST STARTED RUNNING.  As I built up my endurance, I noticed that my body was changing, and the discomfort lessened.  Consistent running made things easier.  When I took weeks off, I learned that it was difficult to build back up to where I was at before I took a break from training.

After the Boston Marathon, I went after triathlon and into the IronMan distance triathlon.  In 2009, I moved back to Denver from Puerto Rico and went through a divorce.  That was the point when my ultra-career began.  Long, solitary runs occupied my life as my family unravelled.  It was a type of therapy and solace.  The first 100 mile run I attempted was a DNF.  That hurt, A LOT.  However, I vowed to take on that race and make it mine.  In the next 3 years, I finished that race 3x.  From there, I went to multi-day racing, 100+ mile races, and ultimately VISIONRUNUSA.

Why the progression?  It is hard to say.  What I do know, is that if we are looking for limits - we are pursuing the wrong goal.  At this point in my life, my running is to celebrate the limitless possibilities that we all possess.  Whether a walk with a friend or gruel-a-thon, my life will always be about moving forward and making Relentless Forward Progress.

Starting is always slow and hard.  With patience and consistency, we can train our bodies and minds to do anything.  This is the lesson I have learned with running.  If I was able to learn to run long, I believe anybody can.

ONWARD!

Jason Romero is a highly sought after inspirational speaker and the 1st and only blind person to run across America.  Jason is a member of the US Paralympic Team, holds 11 world records in ultra-running, a former attorney and business executive, and a single father of 3 children.  More information can be found on Jason at www.relentlessromero.com