The Real Life Runner — A Run Across Palestine

Erin Crowell -- The Real Life Runner

While running a marathon is an amazing accomplishment, a Bucket List item for many before they die, imagine running five marathons in five consecutive days across a country torn by religious conflict.

That’s what a group of runners did this past February when they ran 129 miles across Palestine’s West Bank.

The Run Across Palestine (RAP) was an effort between On the Ground—a non-profit based in Traverse City, Michigan—and the Palestinian Fair Trade Association to raise money and awareness for olive farmers in the West Bank region.

The event raised scholarship money for the children of olive farmers and helped to plant thousands of trees in hopes to reestablish sustainable olive growing practices in a place whose history, economy, culture, and identity are all rooted in the ancient olive tree.

Photo: Aubrey Ann Parker

Chris Treter, OTG vice president and co-founder, said he chose a long distance running event because it’s something that grabs the attention of the general public due to the shear challenge of accomplishing it.

“By tying (long distance running) to something that is of benefit for the world makes sense to me,” he explained. “In my eyes, too many of the long distance ultra runners do it for their own gratification rather than to use the uniqueness for the greater good. What better way to know what you’re supporting than experiencing that place firsthand?
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The Real Life Runner — A Quadriplegic Gives Me a Dose of Inspiration

Erin Crowell -- The Real Life Runner

Two new contributing writers are joining the staff of Today we debut a new weekly column called The Real Life Runner by author Erin Crowell. Erin is both a journalist and a runner. She will be focusing on how running contributes to our lives in ways greater than our health, lifestyles or competitive drives. She tackle topics such as how running can be used to make political statements, to raise awareness for causes, or to contribute to the rehabilitation of the body and soul. Erin lives in Traverse City, Michigan. Welcome Erin!

“Leave your worries, leave your fears
Leave the doubt you’re holding dear
Leave them there, love, by the door
They’re no good anymore”
– “Nothing for Granted” by Brendan James

Erin and Grant

“I’m so sore today,” I say, taking inventory of my body – from my tight quads to aching calves. “I don’t think I’ll be able to run tonight.”

“Wahhh!” Grant says mockingly, a crooked smile on his face.

I should have seen that coming.

Grant likes to poke fun, but more so he likes taking any doubts or complaints you may have and throw them back at face-value; because they are exactly that: nothing more than doubt and complaints.

We continue walking through the local mall – me, decked out in a fanny pack that holds a bottle of water, towel and timer; Grant, leaning on his gait trainer that allows him to put one foot in front of the other.

For my friend Grant Forrester, a 24-year-old quadriplegic living in Traverse City, Michigan, there is no such thing as can’t.
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Motivation — The Power of “I can, I will”

running-advice-bugLast week I wrote a post about the Power of Pacing. It started me pondering a related topic, which has to do with the power of the way we think about our workouts and races. I was struggling through a tough workout on Friday when I finally figured out a way to express the concept — I’m going to call it “The Power of I can, I will.”

What I’m going to talk about is how we can make workouts difficult by thinking about them as difficult or we can direct our thinking in a much more positive way, by simply telling ourselves “I can, I will” finish, try, keep going, through that workout.

I’ve heard many, many runners look at a workout and say, “I can’t do that.” What they are struggling with is that they think they workout is going to be painful, long, fatiguing or tiring and ultimately that they won’t make it through a workout. Usually people have these thoughts even before they start the workout.

This is a tough position to be in, because it means that they are almost guaranteeing that their perception of the workout will feel as difficult as it can possibly be. Feeling miserable about your workout before it starts, in other words, is a great way to make sure that it feels terrible.
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Motivation: So you had a bad run — get over it

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

OK folks, I’m getting on my soap-box, so stand back if you don’t want to hear this. I’m about to launch into what Dennis Miller might call a “rant”, but there will be a point to it, so please bear with me.

I went on a run today that, well, let’s just say ate me up, chewed me into little pieces, and spat me out in tiny little bits over the course of about 18 miles. It was absolutely brutal. From about mile 2, things started going downhill — figuratively speaking — and they just kept getting worse and worse from there. When all was said and done, it was so bad that I lost five pounds on the bathroom scale, which for those of you that know that means, says that I’m feelin’ it right now.

What happened, you ask? Let me start a list:
– I felt like hell.
– The run turned out to be eight miles up hill to get me started.
– I felt like c-r-a-p.
– The run turned out to be about eight miles down hill into a head-wind on the way back.
– I felt miserable.
– I got lost and ran about four extra miles.
– I felt like I was going to die for most of it.
– I was late for something, so the extra hour put me in a panic.
– Did I mention that I felt like hell?
– I ran out of water and gu.
– I felt like dirt.
– My stomach started a watery revolt about half-way through.
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Motivation: Earthworms beware, you are about to be crushed

It wasn’t a particularly good day for the earthworms in my neighborhood.

One moment, so it feels, we’re pounding out the miles and training for marathons, the next we’re chasing a new baby around the living-room floor, or just taking a break for the off-season. For whatever reason, there are times when we runners let it go and have to get it back again. And when it comes time to start working again, it feels so, so, hard at first.

In those first moments, we’re in this Horrible Time when we’re struggling to find our legs and everything comes into question. The physical is hard, which makes the mental feel hard, and it all just feels so, so, hard.

When it does comes back, and it does, it comes flooding back, as if our memories lost have been restored in the blink of an eye and we can become runners again.
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Motivation: Just take that first step

It seems like every day, I have someone that is asking me how to get started; how to keep going; how to keep after their goal? How should they start their training? How can they get motivated to run today? How should they do their track workout when they’re so tired after work?

The answer is to just take that first step.

Just take one and then more will follow. I promise.

For the new runner, buy yourself some new running shoes, put them on and go outside. Tell yourself that you’re going for a walk. And then, when you feel it, just run a little. Run for two minutes and then take a break. Then try it again. Don’t worry about the fact that you feel really tired. That’s normal if it’s new to you. Just go out and take those first steps. More will follow.

For those of you that are in a tough spot in your training, it goes the same for you. There will be days when you really don’t want to walk out that door. There will be days when you question why it is that you’re doing this – why you’re running. But just put your running clothes on, go outside and see what happens. Leave your watch at home. Don’t make a plan. Just take the first step and see where you go from there.

And for those that get out to the track and drop your shoulders when you read the workout, just start warming up. Start that first interval. Once you’ve started, you are three-quarters of the way there. The inertia of the workout will carry you through once you start it.

But if you don’t start, you don’t have that inertia to keep pulling you along.

As they say in the world of physics, “a body at rest, stays at rest. A body in motion, stays in motion.”

All you have to do is take the first step to start yourself in motion, then you’ll remember that you’re a runner and you’ll keep going from there.

Just go out there and take that first step. More will follow. I promise.

Coach Joe

Running Wild is a free column from runners and triathletes with new content posted every day. Come on back and visit us often.

Running Wild with Coach Joe – a blog focused on marathon, triathlon and ultra-endurance racing, training and motivation. Bookmark us at or use your favorite RSS feed reader to get the latest news and articles. Running Wild is also now available on Facebook and My Space.


Guest Writer: On being slow and loving it

A good friend of mine named Terry read my piece on “being slow and loving it.” In the article, one of the points that I was trying to make is that sometimes if we’re too obsessed with speed, we may miss some other important part of the experience. Terry wrote a comment on the posting that I’d like to re-publish here, because she makes that point clear in her own wonderful way.

I truly enjoyed reading your shift in perception about speed. I am already slow, so don’t need to work on “getting there.”

Last month, my husband Bob and I participated in the Pacific Crest Half Ironman with the Team in Training. Bob won his age group! This was a first for him and we were literally jumping up and down when we saw the results in the morning. He said that the only thing he ever won in his entire life was a pie eating contest when he was in sixth grade.

As for me, I was the last person across the finish line. I loved every moment of the race. It was one of my favorite events ever because of the Team, the coaches, the scenery and the people from Sunriver.

While out on the bike, I began to notice butterflies on the course. At first, there was one here, one there, every so often, but by the time I got to the aid station, there were dozens flying around. I said to the volunteer, who was standing in a swirl of butterflies, “Wow, this must be the butterfly stop!”

He replied, “They just appeared moments ago. I don’t know where they came from.”

As I continued on, I decided to begin counting them. I had an elaborate system for counting. They had to appear to me. I couldn’t go look for them. If I saw one peripherally and turned my head, but didn’t see it completely, it didn’t count. If I saw it’s shadow on the road, but could see the actual butterfly, it didn’t count. I couldn’t count the same one twice, of course, so I had to be positive it was different or it didn’t count.

I looked at my watch and began to count. 1…….2 (no)….2……3…….4..(no, doesn’t count)……4 After I got to 5, I became distracted, started to think that I was too far behind, wondered where I was and began to play with my little computer. I was checking my pace, how far I had gone, my average speed, etc. when suddenly a butterfly flew right at me and hit my left arm. I saw this one for sure, even felt it. “Okay! I’ll keep counting.” I said out loud, and continued. 6……7……..8 (no) 8…….9……10.

I looked at my watch and exactly 10 minutes had passed. So I started to do the math, which was not easy for me at that moment. All at once I realized that I saw 10 butterflies in 10 minutes, which means “60 Butterflies an Hour!”

“Whoa! I am going 60 butterflies an hour! How cool is that?”

So you can see that I take that whole, “…different drummer” quote by Thoreau to a whole new level.

I’m looking forward to training with you for another season, Joe. Just know that my pace may be measured in some unique way, like butterflies per hour, for example.

Terry Jordan
Portland, Oregon

Running Wild with Coach Joe – a blog focused on marathon, triathlon and ultra-endurance racing, training and motivation. Bookmark us at or use your favorite RSS feed reader to get the latest news and articles. Running Wild is also available on Yahoo! 360 and My Space.


Motivation: I’m gettin slow and I love it

I just came from a lunch meeting with my good friend and colleague Coach Dean Hebert. Dean and I have been collaborating for some time and you may have noticed the link to his new blog from my blog. Coach Dean is a very performance oriented coach and we got to talking today about my own training.

It was a funny conversation, because Dean works with a lot of 2:30:00 marathon runners and here I am talking about the fact that I’ve been slowing down and that I love it. He thought that was funny too. But we both agreed that it was a good thing.

See, when I started training for this ultramarathon (read the associated posts in the Ultrarunning category of my blog), I slowed down. Way down. I know that I can’t run 6:30 miles for 50 miles, especially on trails, so I’ve taken the pace down a little. . . OK, maybe it’s more like a lot. We go out and run 8:30s and 10:30s and even walk some 15:30s here and there, when they’re uphill anyway. They’re slow miles. Much slower than we COULD run them. But that’s the pace we NEED to run to make it through this insane stretch of trail.

The ephiany I had while talking to Coach Dean today is that its OK to take a break from the speed for awhile. I left the 6:00 minute miles behind to take on a new challenge, one in which I try to run further, over tougher terrain, than I ever have. And that’s a worthy challenge.

Will the 6:00s come back? Sure. Later. Right now, I’m OK setting the treadmill to some slower pace and just letting the miles pass me by. That’s what THIS goal requires. So that’s OK.

I won’t be the fastest runner out there at the White River. I just hope that I finish the course before the time limit. But that’s OK too.

Sure Uli Steidl, winner of the Seattle Marathon for some number of years now, will blast through the course and maybe run 50 tough trail miles in 6 hours and some minutes. That’s great. I’ll be in an aid station somewhere at mile 30 when he’s finishing. But if I make it through this race in one piece, then I’ll have a new experience to build something out of. Maybe the next one will be faster.

I know that many of you are first time marathoners, training for a first event. You may be reading this thinking, “that’s really not that slow Joe.” But the point of all of this is that we needn’t always be in a hurry. There are times when we may do a race that isn’t our fastest. It might not be anywhere near as fast as we can run. And that’s just fine.

One of my best memories in finishing a marathon came in the PF Chang’s Arizona Marathon a few years ago. I had been hell bent on setting a new PR at that race, but the wheels came off early that day and I spent some time walking. When I got to the finish-line, I spotted my two year-old nephew in the crowd. I picked him up out my sister’s arms and carried him with me across the finish. I was able to do this, because I wasn’t concerned about my time anymore. If I’d been racing to shave a second or two off my time, I would have missed that great memory, and he would have missed it too. Its something that he remembers, because we just talked about it the other day.

So I’m slow right now and I’m lovin’ it. Dean’s convinced that he’ll have me running a 2:37:00 marathon next year. OK Dean, we’ll get there. But right now, let’s just take this one step at a time.

Keep it all in perspective folks. Have goals for your races and your training. Don’t try to rush it. A few months or a year may seem like a long time, but it’s not in the grand scheme of things. Take it in steps and keep at it. Over time you’ll get there. Just don’t be in a hurry.

Coach Joe

Running Wild with Coach Joe – a blog focused on marathon, triathlon and ultra-endurance racing, training and motivation. Bookmark us at or use your favorite RSS feed reader to get the latest news and articles. Running Wild is also available on Yahoo! 360 and My Space.


Motivation: Without fanfare

Yesterday afternoon I received the most amazing text from my friend Karl Johnson. The message read:

“40 miles, 8 hours and 16 minutes. Time to taper and binge drink for a month . . . just not in that order. Work is going to be awesome in the morning.”

What is amazing about this message is not the distance or the time; it’s not the content itself. It’s the subtle message that he did this alone and that no one was there to see him finish.

He ran more than a marathon – almost double the distance of a marathon – but not one person was there to clap for him or give him a high-five.

He earned neither a medal nor a belt-buckle. He gets no “credit” for this enormous effort from those around him. The run becomes simply the subject of a text message and an entry into his training journal.

But just because no one saw it and his friends and co-workers won’t understand what it means, he does get credit from some: me and all the other runners out there that understand that training for marathons and ultras is about more than medals and crowds and rock bands and cheerleaders.

Someone I know didn’t get this recently. She didn’t understand that the training is THE experience. Race day is just the moment in time that puts finality to it. The training is the part that makes us grow as people. The race is simply the moment when the external world puts a check mark in its book and marks us off for having completed another event.

Without fanfare Karl checks off another marathon in his book: a quiet, solitary trek through the woods that only he can fully understand. No one will ever experience his journey in the same way that he did yesterday. No one will ever experience that day in just the way that he did. And that’s what makes it special.

The next time that you’re running 18 miles in the dark or running by yourself in rain so hard that you can’t see, I want you to remember that the training is what it is all about.

Your friends won’t understand these moments, and you may not either. But these are the times that make finishing races worthwhile. They are the moments that give the fanfare meaning.

So even though there was no fanfare for Karl yesterday when he finished his run, when he crosses the finish-line later this month in his next big race, he will know that he earned it. No matter what happens that day, he will have a rich, deep victory, knowing that he did what he needed to do to prepare. And he can enjoy the adulation that will come from checking that race off in the books.

But we will all know that the race was more than just one day. The race is the end of a series of chapters that led up to that day; chapters rich with stories and meaning of their own.

Way to go Karl. You’ve earned your taper (and your Bud Light) now.

Coach Joe

Running Wild with Coach Joe – a blog focused on marathon racing, training and motivation. Bookmark us at or use your favorite RSS feed reader to get the latest news and articles. Running Wild is also available on Yahoo! 360 and My Space.


Motivation: Pushing beyond your comfort zone

What does it feel like to run a marathon? I’ve often said that I can’t put it into words or describe it. That it’s just something that you have to experience to understand.

Anyone that has ever run a marathon understands this immediately. It’s something that you can’t put your finger on.

Running a marathon has an impact on you as a person. The impact is emotional and physical. It’s indescribable, because it operates on many levels. Running a marathon leaves a mark on you.

What makes the marathon unique is that it pushes you beyond your comfort zone. It takes you to a place that isn’t comfortable. It isn’t fun. It hurts. Yet, you still keep moving forward, because you have a tangible goal in your sights. The marathon is unique, because it takes us to a place that feels bad and ends up delivering us to a place that feels good.

Think about it for a minute. There are lots of things that you could do that might make you feel uncomfortable. You could try to eat 12 dozen Crispy Cream donuts in one sitting. That will certainly make you feel uncomfortable. But at some point you would just stop eating them. You’d say to yourself, “now why I am I doing this again?” And you’d probably stop. But that doesn’t happen in a marathon.

In a marathon you get to a point where things hurt. You want to stop. You want to lay down on the ground and take a nap. You think about how happy you’ll be to be done. You’re basically in misery. But those are the moments when your body keeps driving you. You turn on your auto-pilot and keep moving, because you know that you’ll get where you’re going eventually and when you cross that finish-line you’ll be done.

It’s that point when the body takes over and the mind just has to hang on for the ride that makes the experience so unique.

And there’s nothing magic about 26.2 miles. The distance itself is somewhat arbitrary. But it has been accepted through modern history as a benchmark for endurance. 26.2 miles is further than it takes for most everyone to feel the pain, and the burn, and the discomfort. If you make it that far, you have had the experience of running through the discomfort and persevering.

For some people that pain will start at mile 5 or mile 10 or mile 18. Everyone will push through their comfort zone in a different way. But they will all feel it. Even those few people that are blessed with bodies that cruise through the miles with ease feel it, because they push themselves harder and try to go faster. But they still feel it. We all feel it.

Anyone that has ever completed a marathon understands what I’m talking about. You’ve been pushed to the edge of discomfort, gone past it, and kept going. And that’s what’s so indescribable about the experience. We can’t individually describe the pains and discomfort we feel, but we all know that pushing through that wall to cross that finish line is what leaves the mark on us.

And once we’ve felt it, we want to go through it again. Maybe not tomorrow or next week, but we know that we need to do it again in our lives.

The marathon allows us to prove to ourselves that we can persevere.

Keep on pushing my friends.

Coach Joe

Running Wild with Coach Joe – a blog focused on marathon racing, training and motivation. Bookmark us at or use your favorite RSS feed reader to get the latest news and articles. Running Wild is also now available on Facebook and My Space.