525,600 Minutes

I don’t know how to start this post.

So why not just start by referencing the same song that I did in my post about my father’s death? It has now officially been a year since my father died. I say “officially” because it’s been 365 days, or 52 weeks and a day. By day of the week, it was yesterday (Friday), but by actual date it is today (January 17). I apologize to anyone who has a birthday today (sorry Tim), this might seem like a bit of a bummer. It has always bothered me that the year doesn’t divide exactly into weeks. Sure, it’s nice that your birthday and certain holidays are on different days each year, but it just seems inelegant on some level.

Personally, the most beautiful aspect of the past year has been hearing about and seeing how our family friends have come together for my mother. I had always just viewed them as people who lived in the same neighborhood and had children, not as actual adult friends. But seeing the way that they came together to support my mom and make sure that she wasn’t alone has been great to see. So to the Manzones, Mitchells, Cullinans, Urbans, Moores, Bette Sisti and others, thank you. I know Dad would be grateful to see how you’ve helped Mom out.

I still haven’t fully processed all of this. It was certainly difficult as the disease progressed, and we knew that one day this would happen, but I still can’t believe that I got the call on Thursday evening telling me to come home immediately. Lauren and I flew home the next day, and he was taken off of life support that afternoon. The last thing that I said to him was that if we had a son, his name would be James.

I wish that Dad could have met James. As much as he would have enjoyed UConn winning the NCAAs (again), and the Patriots winning the Superbowl this year (this will be deleted if we lose), I know he would have loved James. These past 3.5 months have been incredible, watching him turn from a crying/sleeping/crying/sleeping baby into a curious, giggling little boy, who smiles when you wipe drool off his chin, loves to look at pictures and paintings, and thinks that you’re amazing for being able to remove blankets that cover his eyes.

As my mom said yesterday, these past 365 days have been filled with incredible lows and breathtaking highs. I can safely say that I’ve never cried more in 365 days (ignoring infancy). For those who haven’t picked up on the title of this post, click here. I first heard Season of Love at a chorus concert in high school. Before that I had enjoyed Man of La Mancha and Phantom (both of which I saw with my parents), but Rent had eluded me. Since then it has become one of my favorite musicals, both for the social issues that are discussed and the elegance of the lyrics. Also, I got to see Cabaret on Broadway after a Columbia game, and Wicked in Charlotte, both of those were pretty sweet.

I’ve been on a musical kick for the past year, albeit different sorts of music. Some of my favorites have been this and this, some beautiful pieces about marriage and parenthood.

James will never know his Grandpa Vance, but we’ll be sure to tell him plenty of stories about Grandpa. One of my favorite parts about the Vance side of my family was always how there were so many members of the family (my grandparents had 6 kids, these kids had 9 kids, those 9 kids have yielded another 9 so far). Our gatherings were always well populated with kids of varying ages, and my grandparents always doted on their grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Dad was my basketball, baseball and golf coach. Golf was his primary passion. One of the most meaningful gifts I’ve ever received was a belt with the outline of the St. Andrews skyline from the Taylors this Christmas. Playing at St. Andrews with Dad, before he got sick, was simply amazing. If any of my children play golf, I would be honoured to take them to the Old Course and play. And we could sit at a pub and drink Guiness and I would reminisce about touring Scotland with their Grandpa.

on the 18th

on the 18th


We miss you Dad. I think about you every day, and hope you’re watching down on us.

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Better make it a Double

I’m not sure how to feel about this day. It’s technically my first Father’s Day (pending), and also my first Father’s Day without my father. And, as usual, it’s the final day of the U.S. Open.

While the Masters has Augusta National, and the Open Championship has that storied rotation including Carnoustie and the Old Course, there’s something I’ve always loved about the U.S. Open, thanks in no small part to my father.

He loved all sorts of history, including golf history. It was from him that I first learned about Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Harvey Penick and countless others. Jones, Hogan and Penick also put together instruction books or videos that I still have today. He had old golf mementos scattered around the house, wooden shafted clubs and countless training aids.

My first true memory of watching golf comes from 1999. Just like this year, it takes place at Pinehurst #2, with the classic storyline of Phil Mickelson debating if he could finish the U.S. Open before his wife had their first child. As fans of the game know, Phil lost by a stroke to Payne Stewart in a classic finish, and his wife gave birth to their daughter the next day.

My favorite part was after Payne made his putt, and his immortal celebration pose, when he hugged Phil and gave him the simple message of “you’re going to be a great father”. Tragically Payne died that October when his private plane lost cabin pressure and eventually crashed in South Dakota.

Dad wasn’t a flashy golfer. He was never a long hitter, and while he did spend some time working on his woods, I’ll always remember his countless hours spent on the short game. I’m fairly certain that one of the reasons that his office downstairs didn’t have the shag carpet that the rest of the downstairs shared was so that he could have a smooth putting surface. Although the shag certainly helped out when practicing chipping. He was always taking lessons, often after work at an indoor teaching facility, coming home with VHS tapes of the lesson so that he could review them later on. He taught me the 7-iron bump-and-run, and there’s never been a time I’ve hit that shot where I haven’t thought of him. He thought he was lifting his head during putts, so he began keeping his head down

There are so many questions I never got to ask my father, because I was too scared to admit that there wasn’t going to be more time. While he grew up as Hogan and Nelson were winding down, Palmer was going strong and Nicklaus was just emerging, I don’t know who his all-time favorite golfer is. We played throughout Scotland, including Carnoustie, Crail, Jubilee and the Old Course, but I don’t know what his favorite course was. He took my brother and me to the Greater Hartford Open, but I don’t know his favorite tournament or favorite major. He wore his heart on his sleeve for UConn, but I still have lingering doubts about whether he pulled from the Patriots or the Giants, and I’m unsure about Yankees or Red Sox. I know that beer was his preferred drink, he would usually drink one from a German beer mug on Saturday with our pizza, but I don’t know his brand. And while we had talked about children, he passed away before we found out that Lauren was pregnant, so I’ll never get a chance to hear his advice.

And while I’m not sure if he had a favorite scotch, for the remainder of the U.S. Open I’m declaring it Glenmorangie


Scotchy scotch

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I haven’t posted that much recently, but as I’m watching the Final Four, I’m invoking the “Dead Dad Pass” and writing a bit of nostalgia on this Saturday night.

I can’t speak for anyone else in Connecticut, but I didn’t really have a choice regarding who I rooted for growing up. We were UConn fans. My father did his undergrad there, and our town was right next door to the Storrs campus. The Huskies were our team. When I was younger, that really just meant watching Geno and the women’s team. Diana, Sue, Svetlana, Rebecca, Jennifer, Nykesha, Kara, Swin, Carla, Shea, the list goes on and on. Back when we had an antenna atop the house and we’d often struggle to get signal during winter storms. I think 1080 AM was the radio station that we’d turn to when we couldn’t watch the game.

Not that the men’s team was necessarily bad. Chris Smith, Ray Allen, Tate, Doron, Kevin, Donny and Donnell and then the magic years with the likes of Rip, Jake, Khalid, Rudy, Caron, Hasheem, Charlie, Kemba, Emeka and Shabazz. I can still recall the ’99 Championship Game against Duke when Khalid El-Amin snagged the ball with a few seconds remaining and ran around the court like a madman celebrating. It also stands out because I got to stay up late on a school night, which was a big deal for my high school freshman self.

And I’ll always remember my father’s love for UConn. I’m pretty sure a majority of his casualwear had a UConn logo on it. Even as a moody teen/20-something, when we had nothing else to talk about, we could still talk about the Huskies. Our high school band was able to raise money by selling programs at games, so we got to attend a lot of games between 1997 and 2002. And even some football games, before UConn had a D1-A program. This was my first exposure to a marching band, watching UConn’s band march to “Duel of the Fates” over and over again.

And even now, I feel like I’m watching UConn with Dad. I know he would have loved to watch UConn’s run as a 7-seed making it all the way to the Final Four, and leading the overall #1 seed with 17 minutes remaining. I wish I could call him up tonight and talk about the game. And I can’t wait to introduce my children to UConn, looks like we’ll start with the 2014-15 preseason 😉

Never Finished

His favorite UConn sweatshirt

We miss you Dad.

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Snow Day!

When I was a child, I’d venture through the woods behind our house after a snowfall, tracking the deer that lived back there. Eventually I’d return home after ranging across hill and dell, through swamps and over fallen trees, and my parents would make me hot chocolate, usually in a large Penn State mug.

I no longer have woods behind my house, but I still enjoy taking jaunts through the snow when possible.

Before Snow Run

And so it was that after we shut the store early today, I laced up my Kinvara TR’s and hit the sidewalk for a nice snowy run. The weather wasn’t the best, and running down Lawndale resulted in lots of wind and snow in my face (glad I bought a balaclava), but once I turned into Country Park the wind died down. The unseen road passed beneath my feet, blanketed by a thick layer of snow. I stuck to the middle to avoid slipping off the edges, thinking about nothing other than my next step.

There were footprints in the snow as I headed into the Military Park, reminding me that I wasn’t alone out there. The snow mutes all noise, especially when all I can hear is the pounding from my heart and ragged breathing from my lungs, struggling up a hill that normally doesn’t bother me. Faint animal tracks occasionally crossed the road, even the rabbits and squirrels were absent from this run. But it wasn’t until I passed another runner, heading into the park as I was nearing the end, that I truly appreciated the beauty of the run.

She was bundled up like me, and I don’t know where she came from or how far she had to go, but at that moment we were comrades. Brothers in shoes. Siblings from another ribling (I’m trying out a new phrase, bear with me). And it was at that moment that I thought about just how great my life was.

She reminded me of the fantastic community of runners that I am surrounded by. People like Andrew C., Adrienne A., Wendy N. and Rob D. (the first names that come to mind, mostly due to snow run posts from Tuesday), who don’t let snow stop them from enjoying their passion for running, and who truly revel in it. People who focus on the positive, rather than letting negativity get them down. People who rejoice when others do well, and encourage their friends and competitors, rather than thinking only of themselves.

It’s days like this that can be truly special (unless you’re stuck in traffic on 85, I pity those poor souls). We should never forget how much of a blessing it is to run, and how we should never forget that running is inherently fun. It isn’t a chore, although it can feel that way. It isn’t an obligation, we can quit any time we want. We get to run, we have the privilege of running, and we should never take it for granted.

Blood makes the snow red


And always take the time to go for a run in the snow.

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James Joseph Vance

How do you measure a year in the life?

As usual, in times of tragedy I revert to song lyrics.

My father was 65 years old when he died. Specifically, 65 years, 8 months and 17 days. Or 24,003 days. Or 34,563,625 minutes. Or 2,073,817,500 seconds (starting from midnight on the day he was born, as I don’t know the hour). Those are a lot of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. And most importantly, a lot of life, love, and memories.

Jim Vance was a great man. He was a fantastic father, husband, brother and son. He met Sara McQuay on August 20, 1977 and they married on June 1, 1979. My brother Chris was born in 1981, and I followed in 1984. Dad was great about always being involved in our activities.  He coached us through a bunch of seasons of basketball and baseball, always encouraging and motivating us to our best, even if our athletic abilities were lacking. He also passed down a love of golf, and many weekends featured walking the fairways of Skungamaug River Golf Course. In many ways, I suspect that I always wanted to be like my father and brother. This is why I chose to be born on my brother’s birthday, and why I golfed right-handed like the both of them (or maybe lefty golf clubs for children weren’t easy to find in the early 90’s).

My father took me on my first tour of colleges when I was a junior in high school, a tour which included Cornell University. From the first moment that I stood there, far above Cayuga’s waters, I felt like I was home. My time at Cornell left me with a lot of great friendships and memories, and led me to where I am today (I’ve got a flowchart if you’d like to see it).

While I lived in Myrtle Beach, my father’s golf group visited the area for their annual golf trip. That was probably the first time that I truly saw him as a human being, and not just a parent. It was interesting to see how everyone in the group interacted together, laughing and heckling and acting in a way that I’d never truly seen from them before. It was “boys being boys”, a relaxed, fun environment that I will forever remember, along with the trip that I joined them on to Charlotte while I lived in Georgia.

Our family traveled a lot together. One of my first vacation memories is to the Four Corners/Grand Canyon. Lotaburger/Rafting/Horseback Riding, there are some great pictures and even better memories. We visited Gettysburg, as Dad and I both had a passion for American History. Dad and I visited Russia when I was in the 8th grade as part of an exchange program, where we saw Red  Square, the Bolshoi, St. Petersburg and Khimki. Our entire family went to Europe in the late 90’s, seeing Paris, Chamonix, Switzerland, various cities in Italy including Venice, a beautiful countryside in Austria with a wonderful B&B, Germany, and then back to Paris.

Mind the gap

Driving to the clubhouse

My favorite trip was our 2008 journey to Scotland, just the two of us. My father and I were able to play at Carnoustie, Crail and the Old Course at St. Andrews. The weather was typical Scotland, fog lasted till mid-afternoon and we wore long sleeves in July. We both had our struggles during the rounds, but nothing will ever match reaching the final holes at the Old Course. Teeing off on the Road Hole and crossing the Swilcain Bridge will forever stick out in my mind for the emotional impact.

As my father’s health declined, it became harder for him to do the things that he loved. We still got in a few rounds of golf, though his touch had deserted him. He never complained or blamed the CBD, he just kept on living his life. My mother was always a positive force, taking him for his appointments, watching over him and keeping us updated. Their winter trips to the South were fantastic, as I never managed to get back home as much as I should have.

And in some ways, our wedding was truly the race to the altar that our Save The Date advertised. We were facing an opponent with endless stamina and a lack of mercy. As Dad’s health continued to decline, we made plans for how he would be at the wedding, and it was truly a special occasion with his presence. Millie Holloman, a fantastic photographer that I would recommend to anyone looking for a wedding photographer, took my favorite picture of us after the ceremony, before the reception.

We danced, we laughed, we celebrated, what more could anyone want? Thanks to Skype, we had several more chances to talk face-to-face, including one conversation from our honeymoon in St. Lucia. And then, all too suddenly, he was gone.

As cliche as it is, I wish there had been more time. I wish I could have learned more about him and his life. I’m sure there are more stories that hear, more lessons to learn. Marriage has shown me a lot of what I’m sure my parents were like before we came along. And I’ve also seen lots of great pictures in the past 24 hours of my parents without Chris and me around. In matching Halloween costumes or with friends, happy, relaxed, enjoying life. Sometimes we can forget that our parents, the people that we idolize and influence our lives in so many ways, are people like everyone else. I intend to make sure that my children see us this way as well, as two people who love each other and love life. I can only hope to be a shadow of the role models that my parents and Lauren’s parents have been in our lives.

Thank you for all the memories and lessons, Jim, we’ll miss you.


If you’d like to make a donation in James Vance’s honor, we suggest The First Tee of Connecticut, 55 Golf Club Road, Cromwell, CT 06416, or online at TheFirstTeeConnecticut.org

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Looking Foward or Looking Back

I was in the midst of writing a “2013 Review” post, when I decided it might be better to look ahead than look behind. Not that I’m trying to ignore the past, and I certainly hope to learn from it, but I’d like to focus on what’s to come, and how I can improve, than on what has already happened, and how I failed.

My primary goal for 2014 is to continue finding joy and strength in running. I am looking to return to the trails and marathon scenes, and hope to learn and grow in the process. My current calendar looks quite ambitious (some would argue that “foolhardy” is a better term). I’m running Uwharrie once again, with less of a distance base than 2012, but hopefully a smarter strategy and better planning will make up for that issue. And there is still a month to prepare, though one week will be spent on my honeymoon, where I will try to push through the heat and run when I can.

After Uwharrie, I will return to the roads and attempt to lower my road marathon PR by 40 minutes, qualifying for Boston in the process. My last road attempt was also on the heels of Uwharrie, though there was less recovery time and a Black Mountain Marathon in the middle of those two.

2013 was a great experience in working with the local running community and I can’t wait to keep this going in 2014, aided by our new partnerships and resources.

Most of all, I look forward to continuing to work with my wonderful wife, enriching ourselves and learning more professionally and personally. We’ll be starting the year off with a bang, I can’t wait to see where we are in 370 days.

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Dr. Strangeglove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pain or: An Ode To Racing Shoes


Much like Macklemore’s story, mine also begins with a pair of Nikes.

They were my first “running” shoes. I was 20, living in Myrtle Beach, and the Nike Outlet was just down the road, so I picked up a pair one day during training for the Manchester Road Race. I don’t recall the actual model name, but they definitely weren’t running shoes. They were gray and had some sort of Air piece in the heel, the sort of shoes that cause Nike to get a bad rap in the running community, since most of their “run” line isn’t suitable for the activity. For my beginning self, they sufficed, although looking back, they could have caused the shin splints that I fought for a long time . . .

Luckily, my local running group convinced me to go down to Charleston (Myrtle Beach didn’t have a running store at the time) and get actually fitted for a pair of shoes. I wish I could tell you what that entailed, but I honestly don’t remember. They may have videotaped me running, or just watched me (my navicular drop is pretty noticeable). Either way, I left the store with moldable inserts and a stability shoe. These got me through the Manchester Road Race, Myrtle Beach Half Marathon, National Half Marathon and Cooper River Bridge Run.

And so there I was. A “runner”. I’d run off-and-on for the next few years, switching between the Saucony Guide, the Brooks Adrenaline and the Mizuno Inspire, never really having injury problems, just motivation problems. I never actually wore any of these shoes out, though I did finally destroy those original Nikes during a hash, when the entire Air unit in the left heel fell off. (Hey look, it’s zero drop now!) I would run occasionally in Georgia, completing a few 5ks, and dreaming of one day trying the Labor Day 10k.

Fast forward several years, and I was now running in lighter shoes, along with changing jobs, postal codes and foot-strikes. Firmly in the New Balance camp, I’d rotate between the 790, 100 and 101, depending on the terrain. I even managed to run a few marathons in the 100 and 101’s. And I was definitely a “runner” at that point. I was more consistent in my running. I would try to stick to a schedule, and actually schedule my life around running, on occasion. Not everyone in my life understood this concept, or agreed with it, and so some circumstances were altered. And I kept on running.

And then it all changed.


Well, kinda changed.


Well, not really changed, in the short term, but down the line, it totally did.




Scout’s Honor.




If you’re still reading, I guess I should keep writing.

You see, Merrell was blowing up the niche-market with the Glove-line of running shoes. Being a shoenerd, I picked up a pair of the Trail Gloves. (I also had a pair of the New Balance Minimus Trail 10 shoes at the time, but I was never satisfied with them). This was my lightest pair of shoes to date, and I loved them. Not for trails, mind you. I think they’re horrible for that. No rock protection, no lugs to grip in muddles (aka mud puddles, I’m hoping “muddles” will catch on), I still don’t understand why they’re called the “Trail Glove”. But for roads and greenways, they were amazing! I would wear my NB Minimus Road 10 for training runs, but when I wanted to go fast, the Trail Glove was the shoe to wear.

And so it was that I started “racing”. And I touched the net! Mama, I touched the net!

. . .  so to speak

I started learning about myself, and just what my limits were. With these shoes, I was suddenly dropping paces that I’d never dreamed of before. My 5k PR had over 3 minutes shaved off it in less than 16 months! I was running faster and faster, and every new pair was guaranteed to get me closer to the Olympics! Watch out, Meb! On your left, Galen! Hold my bag, Ryan! I was the next big thing!

To The Fallen shirt

Reel Big Fish

I think the pain-management aspect of “racing” is what fascinates me most of all. How do these people, from elite professionals to local age-group winners, find the strength to push their bodies through so much? For a great analysis of what can motivate endurance athletes, and where it can take them, check out “Iron War”, Matt Fitzgerald’s gripping story of the 1989 Ironman World Championships, and the battle between Mark Allen and Dave Scott. If you’re more interested in a mediocre blog post that briefly touches on some of the same points, continue reading here.

I hated running as a child/teen. Or physical exertion in general, when I felt any pressure or unwanted effort. I had asthma growing up, usually induced by exercise, or allergies, and I can remember using that as a crutch when I just flat out didn’t want to try. I’d also use rolled ankles as an excuse, for while I did have some nasty injuries from coming down from a rebound onto someone’s foot, that wasn’t always real. Looking back, I’m incredibly embarrassed and ashamed of how I just did not want to try. My parents are absolutely amazing, and always stood by me, I hope to one day mirror their example when I have children of my own.

I now wonder what would have happened if I had actually taken to running in middle school and high school. Not necessarily in the “would I have been good enough to run in college” sense, but would I still be running today? Would I have burned out, or irreparably injured myself? Or would I be further along than I am today? Obviously, we’ll never know, and it doesn’t do any good to live in the past like that.

It took me a while to realize that what had changed wasn’t the shoes (they had, but not enough to truly make a difference), it was my mentality. I was learning to “race”, and not just run. Not like JLG, trying to compete at every group run, but when the gun when off, I was trying to find my red line and hold it. To learn what exactly I could maintain or pick up from at a set distance. I’m not implying that you have to run a certain pace or distance, it’s more a reflection on my finally, truly devoting time, energy, sweat and blood to running, and to having a purpose while doing it.

This didn’t always work out. My Rock’n’Roll Savannah collapse was one for the ages. In my quest to find my limits, I found my 2 mile limit during a half marathon. But I learned from that, and continued to try to test myself as a runner. I finally ran a road marathon, and once again collapsed. But learned more about training and pacing. And to find some strength and peace in the search for that elusive limit. During his best man’s toast at our welcome dinner, my brother referenced my searching for and pursuing my passions. I had never really thought about it that way before, that I was looking for what inspired me, and that drove me.

And this was how I spent 2011/2012. Racing and reaching for the stars. In some ways, I reached too high and it all fell down. 2013 was spent mostly trying to learn to love running again. And to learn to run without the help of a community of rabbits, without constantly being able to find a partner for whatever distance at whatever pace and whatever time of day or night. And to work on developing my own running community, and all that it entails. And to remind myself that running can be fun at any pace. That 10 mile tempo runs are just as much fun as 3 mile recovery runs. And that a mile is a mile, regardless of pace.

And so here I sit, plotting out another year. Are my eyes once again bigger than my mouth? Are my feet bigger than my shoes? Is that an apt metaphor? Looking ahead, I’ve got a road 8k, trail 14 miler, trail 40 miler and road marathon between today and the end of April. I fully intend to “race” at least 3 of those, but more than that, I intend to enjoy all of them. Every step of the way. Even the painful steps. Especially the painful steps. To run without inhibition or preconception, to find my limits, to surpass them, and then go out for a cooldown 😉

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What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You . . . Smarter?

Saturday marked another running of the Run For Green triumvirate. While this was my third year running it, I still have never run the 5k (although the other courses cover it, so it’s basically like I’ve run it). The 10k in 2011 was my PR race (although I still maintain it was short, only way I could have come so close to breaking 40), and the half in 2012 was great, albeit a death march. I was hoping for a better result this year, including planning out my opening mile paces and packing Gu for the return trip energy.

But as they say, the best laid schemes of mice and men, gang aft agley. Look it up.

This year turned in to another death march, and I think I’ve finally figured out my troubles with this half. Too much downhill in the beginning! You essentially run downhill for 6.8 miles, then turn around and run uphill for 6.3 miles. Yes, there are ups and downs in both of those sections, but the lowest point on the course is at the turnaround, and you finish 160′ higher than that low point.

I’m not using that as an excuse, plenty of people run great times on this course each year, and Lamperski’s sub 1:19 is an obvious example of that. But the race course always lures me into a start that isn’t sustainable, and I’m not smart enough to slow down and save my legs for the second half.

Additionally, I think my side-stitch at 7 was due to not running my own race. I spent a while encouraging everyone that I passed on the out-and-back, and developed the stitch after a half mile of that. It could certainly be unrelated, but darnit, I’m blaming everyone else!

Bottom line, I went out too fast. The 6:25 mile is okay with me, it really is difficult to run that opening at a slower pace, and I made an effort to let Brian and Alyson pull away, otherwise it would have been 6:19 or so. But after that, I should have found a way to drop back to 7:20’s or so, instead of keeping in the sub-7 range. I spent a little while chatting with a runner from Wilmington, Drew, and I forced myself to run his pace. My fear of not having anyone to run with later in the race resulted in my not having any gas to run with anyone later in the race.

Eventually I’ll figure out how to run a half marathon properly. Savannah is 7 weeks away, which is actually plenty of time to train (if we ignore how training takes a back seat to wedding prep in 5 weeks) and maybe I’ll have a better outing. My only saving grace is that my position throughout the race was relatively constant, I was 20th at best, finished as 28, passed by 3 guys in the last two miles, and had no gas to catch them. Let’s get back to passing others at the end of a race, mmkay?

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Sometime Around Midnight

It all starts with Nashville. And Nashville starts with the day I underestimated Sue Falco. Michelle called my store looking for Dan, sounding distraught, and she told me that Sue had just been diagnosed with cancer, again. The details weren’t clear yet, but I remember thinking “it’s a bummer that she won’t be able to run Nashville.”


So that’s when I first decided to run the Country Music Marathon in Nashville twice, because Sue wouldn’t be able to take part in the race . . .




After she announced that she was still going to run, and her medical team was supporting her, we were all quite psyched. Dan and I talked about how it was too bad that I wouldn’t be able to see her finish, especially after she announced my run to the world. I was in good shape, and didn’t think the mileage would be a problem, but I’d glad sacrifice a marathon finish for a chance to watch Sue dominate her half marathon.

Shortly before the race, Sue asked me if I wanted to run with her crew of Dan, Dawn and Jenny. We rationalized that since I had originally planned to do 52.4 miles since Sue couldn’t do any, my doing 39.3 and her doing 13.1 was the same total, and much more meaningful. Plus, if I got tired, I could just hop on her back!

Hopalong Sue

“Wait, what did he just say?”

The actual race began at 7 am, so I decided to budget 7 hours for completion of my first attempt, plus returning to the start and fueling. With that said, I’m not sure if anyone actually expected me to start my run at midnight. Obviously, I had my doubts, but after my donations passed $1000 and didn’t stop, I knew that I really had no other choice. Dan and Sue both attempted to dissuade me from my run, both earlier on Friday, and then when I woke Dan up at 11:30 pm to give me a ride to the start. Sadly, as my parents can attest, I rarely listen to good advice.


“We may never know why young Michael Vance set out on that road at midnight . . . “

So there I was, standing in the middle of downtown Nashville at 12:01 am on Saturday, April 28. I had my hydration pack, phone and camera, and I was ready to go. The run started easily enough, temperatures in the low-60’s, fresh legs, plenty of energy. I had a turn-by-turn in my pocket, so I didn’t think I would have any problem with directions. But this only works if you actually pay attention to distances and street signs. I got off-course on my second turn, when I was racing a drunk girl and didn’t realize I needed to go right, until over a half mile later. Turn around, back track, find turn, resume run, what better way to spend a Friday night?

I also had another inebriated young woman tell me that my headlamp was cool, and could she have it? while heading toward Music Row. This section was confusing due to streets changing direction without warning. This was when I was most thankful for my phone’s GPS, as I just stopped about scanned the directions/map until I knew which way was correct. It’s so much easier when they block off the streets for you!

You can't get there from here

This guy was no help, he wouldn’t even talk to me :-(

After this it was fairly easy. And interesting. Random sights and sounds across a darkened cityscape, filtered through the lens of two hours sleep. A kid skateboarding in a gas station parking lot at 1:30 am. A police car that tailed me for a quarter-mile. Running through a NoDa-style neighborhood at 2 am, passing closed restaurants and bars. Seeing the stages getting prepped 7 hours before the first runners would arrive. An actual pack (5-10) of seemingly wild dogs crossing the street ~100 yards in front of me, and calculating if I could make it to the Food Lion before they took me down. A poorly lit, winding, narrow road that made me assess how quickly I could jump away in the event of an oncoming car. Matchbox 20 jokes, at the requisite 3 am. Passing the finish line with a few hours left to go, and knowing that I couldn’t stop, wouldn’t stop.. My six police officer motorcycle escort, though they’d probably claim they were marking cars on the race route for towing. Getting lost again in the park, and questioning why exactly there was a hill at this point in the race. Seeing everyone start waking up on Facebook. Finally finishing around 5:30 am, dodging the lines of people waiting for the shuttles to the start, and then running back to the start.

Country and Western

One Night Only, The ‘Good Ole Boys’!
Am I The Winner?

Where Is Everybody?


To keep myself fueled, I picked up a bottle of chocolate milk and another of Mountain Dew, and found the Omega Nation crew. In the interest of my personal safety and avoiding police detainment, we had all agreed that I shouldn’t wear the tutu for my overnight run, instead donning it with the group, because that totally looks normal.


Not Normal

Next To Normal


The race was an amazing experience. Sue and Jenny did amazing in their first half marathon, especially on a warm day and a hilly course. We all had our low points, but the crowd support was absolutely incredible, and definitely helped. We ran, we laughed, we walked, we sang, we danced, we high-fived strangers and drank a few beers.

Sorry Dan!

Ironically, at Bobby’s Idle Hour

It's lite beer, does that count as water?

That ain’t water

And 13.1 miles later, we were done. There’s far too much awesomeness from this race to truly document it all, but I would not have traded this race for any experience in the world. To me, this was less about the distance, and more about the journey. Although watching Sue cross the finish line was pretty epic.

Freshly back from Mount Doom

Stand up!

There is no group that I would rather have shared that road with. Their spirit, courage and perseverance made the miles pass with bittersweet ease, because I desperately tried to cling to every second along the way. The race showed me a lot about what the body can endure, and how much of our limitations are merely mental blocks. Plus, it’s just a great way to check out a new city!

And there's beer!

And there’s bling

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The Art Of Racing Undertrained

First of all, I am fully aware of how strange this title is. And by no means am I advocating the habit of “racing” events that you aren’t fully ready for. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t enter races if you aren’t in peak form, just that if you have a racing-mentality, and expect your best effort at a race that you aren’t trained for, you’ll usually end up disappointed.

Also, I’ve never read “The Art Of Racing In The Rain”, though I think we have it somewhere on the bookshelf.

With that said, I’ve run 3 races in the past 3 weekends, and it’s been a great experience.

Somewhere out there, lost in the Draft Archives of RoadLabeledAmazing, is my write-up for Downhill @ Dawn. My main point, since I’m not sure if I’ll ever actually publish that piece, was that it was the first time that I truly felt like I was “racing”. Late in the race, for about the last 5 miles or so, I was running alone. I’d occasionally spot one or two guys in front of me, but they were over a minute ahead, and really not close enough to play rabbits for me. Instead, I just had to find motivation from within myself, something that I’ve lacked in the past. Somehow, I managed to keep my pace steady, without overdoing or slacking. I avoided the temptation to look back, afraid that I’d start running scared, and I sought to truly run my race, and get to the finish line as efficiently as I could.

I really felt like I found my “sweet spot/edge/groove/redline/cliche-of-choice” during D@D, where I ran to the best of my abilities that day, without either going out too fast or finishing with a ton left in my tank. But since then, I’ve slacked a lot, and I definitely don’t have that edge-specific-knowledge right now.  That doesn’t stop me from trying to get it back.

I entered the Run 4 Roo on a whim. I joined the Downtown Dashers for a run on a Thursday morning, 2 days before the race, the route we ran was the Run 4 Roo course, I didn’t find it particularly difficult, but it still seemed fun, and so I signed up. The end of the preview run crept up on me, with a steep climb dumping you out basically at the finish, so I filed that knowledge away for race day, and decided to see what I could do. My race started off cautious, since I had absolutely no idea what to expect from my body. A pair of 7:27 miles sandwiched by 6:5x miles, and my final sprint really was a sprint, to pick off two guys on the hill and take second in my age group. 12th overall, 7:01 pace, but I could have done better.

Next up was the Trail Run Challenge. I ran this back in 2009, and was hoping to blow my previous time away. For this race, I was joined by Andrew and Jeremy, two of our local High Point runners, who are both outstanding road runners, but relatively new to trails (sorry Corbin, I’m the old man here). As this race was on my home turf of the USNWC, I tried to give them tips on the trails and when to push, but I knew that ultimately they would just have to discover what their bodies could handle out on the trails. I once again started off too cautious, allowing myself to fall into a pace that in retrospect was too easy for a race, but at the time felt perfect, since I didn’t know how much deeper I could dig. Shortly before we hit the South trails, Andrew dropped back and I lost contact with Jeremy. From this point on, my race really began, as I drew Chris Smith back in, and passed him in the pines, before setting my sights on another target. Over the next 20 minutes, I would gradually gain on him, before passing him in the parking lot, 20 seconds from the finish. Jeremy would follow shortly thereafter, and Andrew was just a tad behind him. Two races in two Saturdays, and I once again found myself passing runners at the finish, with plenty left in my tank. This was a vastly more difficult race, and required some strategy, but ultimately I still just didn’t have that racing instinct.

And finally, we come to my new home course, the Kirkwood 5k. It literally runs past our house, and I’ve logged a good number of miles on these roads in the past few months. The race course markings are spray painted on the asphalt, and I often use them as guides for morning workouts. This was my first actual 5k race since the Resolution Run on January 1, 2013, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, other than a decent performance, based on my past two weekends. I took Wednesday and Thursday off to let my legs recover, and felt pretty good on Saturday morning. I knew that I wasn’t as fast as Jeremy and Andrew, so I held back at the start, doing my best to keep them in sight without actively pursuing them. But then my boss, John Dewey, passed me on an uphill, while pushing a stroller that contained his 3-and 5-year-old children. And so I started to run a bit harder, without hitting a red-line push. The race was an out-and-back, and I spent a lot of the second mile cheering people on as we passed them, rather than focusing on my speed. It wasn’t until Kristi blew past me with .75 left that I remember it was a race. Strava estimates that had I maintained my current speed at that point, I would have finished in another 5.5 minutes. Instead, it took me 4.5 minutes, so it’s safe to say that I dropped the hammer a bit. My local knowledge helped to pull me down the hill and past a few runners, before attacking the new section hard and passing Kristi on the outside as we hit the final straightaway. She beat me by just over 2 minutes at Run 4 Roo, and I knew that she was a strong runner, but somehow I managed to hold her off and break 20 for the second time ever, officially.

3 races, all with times that I would have killed for 2 years ago, and I find myself wondering how much more I could have done. And it’s that question of “what if” that keeps me coming back. What if I actually follow a full training schedule? What if I commit to more tempo and track runs? What if I finally recognize the value of long weekend runs? What if God was one of us?

Racing undertrained has reminded me of how far I’ve come, and how far I could go, now it’s time to actually go out there and just do it.



It’s all about the possibilities


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