Sunday, May 31, 2009


Its been a busy week. Too busy for blogging and almost too busy for slogging. Its a good thing that the hay is in the barn for Mohican. Brother Donkey is as ready as he's going to be. I guess I haven't told you about Brother Donkey and so I will...very soon; I promise. But I'm just too busy to write about him now. He's eating oats and awaiting orders so in the meantime I have some incredibly happy news to report:

I was slogging along, tired and lonely late Thursday night and it happened. I saw my first firefly of the season. It was just one lonely little lightning bug. Flashing his little bug-light, avoiding kids with mayonnaise jars and trying to find a friend for a late night dance. I didn't see any other lightning bugs and so maybe he didn't either...sometimes that's how love goes. I predict, however, that if he hangs in there and continues to be patient, and keeps shining his light, that he will soon be surrounded by the love and energy of so many of his kind that he won't be able to absorb the vibe of his fleeting but expansive community.

Fireflies are creatures of the month of June. They exist all year long of course. Sometimes they are active and sometimes they are passive but June is when they come out to shine.

My Thursday run was lonely. I don't have many local friends that do what I do. My Mohican community consists of individuals who exist all year long but truly only come together fully for a brief time...each June. Soon we will seek and find each other. We will share the woods with the lightning bugs, their lights and ours illuminating the night. It won't last. Nothing so beautiful ever does. But Thursday I saw promise that our time has come again. The physical changes that took us a year to achieve are in place. All that is left is to seek that which we prepared for...and to enjoy it...and to enjoy each other.

And I couldn't be happier.

Rest well and believe friends. Our time to shine is almost here.

Peace. --Mark

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Today I ran for several hours.

I did! Honest.

Well, except for the times when I walked and there were plenty of those. Here’s the thing though: I ran for several hours today and if not for this posting it would pass without comment. All of the other people that I ran with ran for several hours today as well…except for the parts where they walked. After the run we stood around a parking lot and dripped and sipped bottles of tap water and talked about the Cavs and said goodbye and left. Then I went home and set up the sprinkler in the yard for the kids.

What on earth? When did running for several hours become something that passes without comment? Mohican must be near. The entire cultural flavor of my life skews toward the absurd as the big day beckons. If I run for several hours in December you will darn sure hear me commenting on it…..but when Mohican is in the air its just life.

In the last 8 weeks I have run the marathon distance twice (including today’s run) two 50K’s and a 60K. I hope that’s going to be enough. Some years it has been and other years it hasn’t but I can tell you this much: its not considered a large amount of work or an excessive amount of preparation among the crowd I hung out with today. I have met some amazing and lovely people through this sport. Some of the people I ran with today, including Michelle and Damian and Terri, ran 20 miles last night as a warm-up for today’s run and will run 17 more miles tomorrow. This is the annual Mohican training weekend; time to show up, run, lather, rinse, repeat…and not make a fuss about it. Rob and Don went to some other state that is hillier than Ohio so they could put in 50 miles all at once. They told everyone that that’s what they were going to do but only so we wouldn’t worry when they didn’t show up for today’s MARATHON.

I struggle with how I should use this cultural hardening as a tool as Mohican approaches. On one hand it is undoubtedly a good thing to desensitize myself to the numbers. The miles covered, the hours elapsed, the calories consumed, to temper my consciousness for the annual all-out reach for the finish line.

The truth of the matter is that I can’t “practice” running 100 miles. What I can do is condition each system: The muscles, the places that chafe, the stomach, the endocrine system, the mind. Then on one day they all get stretched to their limit and, given a good solid dose of God’s love, hopefully all goes well. But all of these systems also have to be HEALTHY on the day of the race or nothing good is going to happen. So really it is all one big inoculation. A trace of the poison put into the system so that when the real killer arrives my system has been expecting it. But not so much poison that they are naming a hill in my honor somewhere out on the course for next year’s race.

Since I cannot practice running 100 miles should I be trying to be confident about the fact that, because I have bent myself to the task, I will be able to do so? Is it good for me to be blasé about running a marathon? Is fear a tool or the enemy? Can I be overconfident? I thought of these things a lot today out on the trail.

When I finished Roy Heger was standing there waiting for me as though we had an appointment scheduled with each other. If you don’t know Roy I have two pieces of advice: First, get to know Roy; Second, listen to what he says. Roy has done it all. He has ten-time finisher’s buckles from BOTH the Mohican AND Massanutten 100 mile runs. He has finished Burning River and so many other ultra marathons that it would be impossibly cumbersome to list them all here. Yep, Roy has seen fire, and he’s seen rain. He has seen cold, heat, hail, lightning, ice, tears, and joy. He has seen hypothermia, hyperthermia, nausea, and borderline organ failure. He has placed very high in national championship races and has been beaten into submission in obscure events. He has the type of slow-spoken wisdom that can’t be ignored. And today, as we spoke in the parking lot after the race he told me that finishing this race is all about respect.

This man, who is so tough that he is revered by a community of individuals who pride themselves on grittiness that defies comment, told me that the answer lies not in toughness or mind-over-matter commitment, or in fitness, or in the ability to handle pain…but in respect.

Roy and I didn’t speak for too long but after we spoke I felt better. I believe that he meant that no matter how well trained a runner is, no matter how experienced, and no matter how tough, 100 miles can chew a person up and spit them out. No one really beats Mohican. The course always wins. But if I am gentle, and caring, and pay attention to the demands of the task, perhaps I can gain the finish line one more time. In the weeks leading up to the race I’ll spend very little time thinking of shoes or salt pills. No more very serious challenges to the endocrine system. Instead I’m going to try to have my mind in a place where I believe that nothing can stop me, and at the same time and with the same intensity honestly believe that there are things that can stop me. I don’t really know what you would call that, maybe Zen. But I’m not going to spend any time worrying about what its called either.

I don’t need to practice running 100 miles because I cannot run 100 miles no matter how much practice I get in. The mystery of how I sometimes finish Mohican can remain one. I’m at peace with not knowing. I will strive to be gentle. I will strive to be honest. And I will strive to find a way through the challenges. I believe that in our sport tough often needs a ride home after midnight.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Relative Speed

Relative Speed: You won’t generally find me using those two words in such close proximity. I have plenty of relatives but not plenty of speed. Most of my relatives aren’t particularly speedy either, though some of my relatives have done speedy things. My Uncle Brendan has a Black Belt in Karate. That takes speed. The fact that he only got around to taking the sport up when he was in his forties, however, does speak of slowness and patience. My kids have shown some speed. My daughter can swim like a fish, my sons can run quickly and with agility when they want to…though everyone credits my wife’s side of the family for that. Carroll’s, though skilled in many regards, are not known for their speed.

In my case I have always believed that I am not a fast fellow. On several occasions I have tried with all of my might to be speedy. I had a boxing career that lasted for three months. For two months, thirty days, twenty-three hours, fifty-nine minutes, and forty-five seconds of that time I trained like crazy. I even used this thing called a speed bag. The other fifteen seconds of my boxing career were spent having my sense of smell permanently adjusted by a kid from Brookpark in a box-off for a spot in the Cleveland Golden Gloves Championship. This lack of smell came in handy in my next sport, wrestling, since this activity involved me spending an entire winter lying on my back with one shoulder struggling mightily for any sign of vertical and my face stuffed into too many armpits to recall. “Well”, you might say, “maybe those kids were super speedy and you were merely fast”. Thank you for allowing me to imagine you saying that, but I don’t think this is true either, because the kid that beat me to get into the Golden Gloves was beaten unmercifully about the ring by a kid from Shaker Heights in the first round of that tournament…and then that kid went on to lose his next match. I will add for the record that none of the guys that beat me in wrestling ever went to the Olympics.

Running was a bit kinder to me but even in that regard I was limited. My college coach once told my girlfriend “If you threw Mark out of a window he would drop at five minutes-per-mile; its his maximum speed”. I never married that woman. There were reasons other than speed involved and I don’t want to talk about it. Its too painful… even for me, and generally I handle pain really well. If you have a bit more endurance, and are still reading, I will tell you why I handle pain well two paragraphs from now.

They say that certain things, such as speed and intellect and eye color, and the ability to block a left hook, are genetic and I don’t doubt it. I watch Kenyan runners and I am in awe. They train so hard and achieve such sustained speed that I can barely recognize what they are doing, and what I have done, as belonging to the same sport.

If Kenyans gained their genetic gift for hard training, or natural speed, or the ability to train hard enough (without breakdown) to become fast, by living on the plains of Africa, then what gifts did God give to the Carroll clan? We are Irish and we have been Irish for a long long time. No one knows how long for sure. We are looking into it but research such as this takes time, and we don’t generally rush things. One thing for certain is that we have been Irish at least since the times of the potato famine. Since I’m typing this, at least one Carroll must have survived that horrendous period of history. To do so my ancestor had, I imagine, the ability to store body fat and endure misery. I don’t mean to brag but these are two things that I do exceedingly well. I have used them to moderate effect in ultramarathons for several years now. This is why I don’t feel sorry for myself. The Lord has given me many gifts; but speed isn’t one of them…or is it?

After all, how does one define what it is to be speedy? Are you speedy if you beat other people? I am old enough to remember the very first Cleveland Marathon (at least the first year that they moved it downtown from the old Hudson-Cleveland course). I was 13 years old and my Dad was running it. He had started jogging six months earlier and it was his first marathon. I actually managed, with the sort of nothing-to-lose-ballsy-ness that only 13-year-old boys and death row inmates can muster, to walk right through a VIP luncheon being hosted by Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich on the upper floor of one of the buildings at Cleveland State University, and out onto an adjoining patio overlooking the finish line. To avoid further detection I climbed onto a ledge, crawled around the corner of the building and sat, several stories above street level, and watched Tom Fleming storm to the finish line ahead of the (then) unimaginably large field of 1200 runners in a time of 2:15. Surely this man was the embodiment of speed. I waited several minutes for my father and began to be concerned when an entire half-hour went by and he had not arrived. As the three hour mark came and went my Mom began to check the medical tents and registered her concern with race officials. I breathed a mighty sigh of relief to see my three-pack-per-day father roll in just over three hours and thirty minutes. Was Tom Fleming fast? He sure looked it. But the truth is that if he were racing Haile Gebrselassie during his world record run he would have finished nearly two and one-half miles behind him. So have runners gotten faster? It seems that they have but the winner of the 2009 Cleveland marathon defeated over 3000 runners in a time of 2:27. This would have been, in turn, over two miles behind Tom Fleming if they had raced each other on that spring day in 1978. My poor old slow father’s time seems to me now, many years and many pounds later, to be spectacularly fast. I look back on the fact that a newbie jogger who smoked like a chimney ran a time that would have nearly qualified him for the Boston Marathon if he ran it today. This is now a goal that I aspire to. And, yes, when I think about a 3:30 marathon it does indeed seem speedy.

So, as we have learned, those that appear fast might actually be slow and those that are slow might truly be fast. Even the bible says that the last shall be first. Next time I’m walking up a hill and you jog past me, slowly but inexorably inching ahead, just give me a quick little wave and move on past. Don’t mention the differences in our relative speed…because no matter how you assess the situation someone will think you are wrong.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Welcome to my Blog!

There have easily been 15 occasions during the past when I have stated that I am glad that the internet wasn't utilized for chat rooms and blogging so much when I started to run ultramarathons back in 1995. By 1995 I had already been a runner for 17 years. I had run cross country and track in high school and college and I had completed several marathons. I even ran pretty well in some of them. In fact I had a lot of 100 mile weeks behind me. But ultras seemed different...and they were.

I couldn't quite figure them out. By 1995 I was feeling past my PR's and I had put on a lot of weight during a few down years. But the problem wasn't fitness, it was juggling. When I ran long it took me so long to recover that my fitness suffered. Gradually, over time, I started to figure things out. Fourteen years later I still don't quite get it...still learning. But the salient point in all of this is that if I had read what is available on Blogs today back in 1995 I would have become intimidated and quit the sport. I would have looked at the training programs some people post and run (jogged) off screaming. I still read Blogs today where people speak of running 50 miles one day and a marathon the next....then speedwork on Tuesday and a 40 mile training run the next saturday morning. Good heavens! The only reason on earth that I think that I can run a 100 mile run on 50 miles per week and some carefully planned long runs is because I have done it. But I did it before reading of the horrors that some people put themselves through.

Sometimes I wonder if some of it isn't false. Sometimes I wonder if the "expert" advice offered on-line isn't more damaging than helpful. I actually believe that some of it is. Thats why I always swore I would never have a Blog.

But then....I started reading Rob Powell's Blog. Then Kim's, then Nick's. These writings helped me to get out the door on tough snowy nights. They inspired me. I read several other Blogs that were not helpful at all. Some were obnoxious... but I read still others, including Don's and Michelle's and Lucas' and found them to be inspiring as well. I started to feel kinda bad that I was getting a kick out of their sites but not adding my own thoughts or entertaining anyone myself.

The funny thing about the group I just mentioned is that some of them are very fast...others are quite slow. Some train very very hard, others are more moderate. But none of them are arrogant. None of them try to hold themselves out as experts. All of them convey a sense of continued development...and dag-gonnit they are just nice and encouraging people. Don't take my word for it. You can access their Blogs from this site. I won't ever place a link to a Blog on this site that will connect you to a self-described expert (or a peer-reviewed Know-it-all).

So here I am. I hope you check this space from time-to-time. I hope it gets you to run in the rain now and then instead of sitting indoors. I hope that you become an accomplished runner and loan me some sorta fancy salt-pill out on the trail some day when I really need one.

You will get no training advice here. I can't really tell you what kind of shoes to wear, and I firmly believe that no person on this earth should ever accept advice on their own gastrointestinal system from someone other than no dietary advice to be sure. Just some stories, some observations, some wonderings, and hopefully a burgeoning friendship or two.

Peace. --Mark