Sunday, July 31, 2011

Crossing the Finish Line: A (Beer) Running Quest Comes Full Circle

In July, 2010, I crossed the finish line of the Missoula half marathon with a giant smile and a new goal.  Right then I set my sights on running the full Missoula marathon one year later.  The race was that much fun. The sense of accomplishment was that fulfilling. The excitement of race day was that intoxicating.

By the time race day for the half marathon rolled around, the only thing I was left wondering was how it would feel to run a race with 2,400 other half-marathoners.  Sure, there were a few jitters and "what ifs" parsing through my brain, but I'd already run the distance three times.  I wasn't worried if I could do it. The only real question was how it would go. It wasn't easy, but running the race and crossing the finish line felt like a celebration of what I'd already accomplished. Throughout training I was determined to get to a point where there was little left to question.

Fast forward six months to January 1, 2011, only mid-way through the coldest, snowiest winter of my 18 years in Montana. My running in November and December had plummeted to next to nothing.  Thick permafrost covered the roadways.  A new treadmill to replace Cheryl's unresponsive hunk of a rickety machine sat ready for action.  I'd declared my goal to train for the marathon and complete it in under four hours. And that's when it hit me.

The biggest difference in running my first half marathon and my first full marathon is the unknown.

Nevermind that working up to a 22 mile training run seemed as foreign as sunshine on a midwinter Missoula day.  Race day meant going 4.2 miles farther than ever before while running all 26.2 miles at a pace never experienced. Yeah, THAT unknown. 

For the second year in a row, I signed up for Run Wild Missoula's Marathon Training group.  There's no way I was doing this alone and if there's a better training group out there anywhere, I'd be shocked.  After two months of five-days-a-week training on the treadmill, it no longer mattered that the temperature one week before the class was 5 degrees with snow flying.  I needed to get out on the roads and train with people who were similarly crazy enough to dive into the unknown.

And train we did.  We trained through snow storms and cold rain.  We trained up hills and across the valley.  We trained with laughter and pain, highs and lows, excitement and fear.  We experimented with pacing, nutrition and hydration while sharing tips along the way.  Training runs rose from 13 to 15 to 18 to 20 to 22 miles. We learned to respect the distance when our second 20 mile run landed on the first warm day of training and we crashed and burned.

It's funny how cavalier we became during the training.  Twenty miles? Ah, that's nothing. Been there, done that.  Then the training gods throw something new into the mix, like heat, and you're left standing at mile 17 with nothing left in the tank and looking for a ride.  How am I going to go 26.2?

There's the unknown again. It messes with you. It laughs. When you build up some confidence, it smirks.

Only two things can counteract it: do the training and trust the training.  The second one is surprisingly harder.

Race day arrived on July 10 with clear skies and an amazing temperature of 42 degrees for the 6:00 a.m. start.  There's a lot you can control in preparing for a marathon.  There are a few things you can't and they're doozies.  Weather is a huge one.  Forty two degrees inspired a lot of confidence.

As I stepped to the start line following the national anthem, I ran through a mental checklist to remind myself I was ready to go.  Training? Check. Race plan? Check. Nutrition and hydration? Check. Weather? Check plus. Fresh legs? Uhh . . . . . .

Something didn't feel quite right. Maybe it was nerves, or perhaps a touch of the allergens that had taken hold of everyone else at the house, but I didn't feel particularly strong or energetic that morning. In the first mile after the cannon went off, my legs felt heavy, particularly my quads.  I'd come to the start line with two plans. Plan A, assuming everything lined up, was to shoot for a sub-4 hour time. Plan B, in then event it didn't, was simply to finish. Despite the heavy legs, I decided to stick with Plan A for as long as it would take me.

Ross, Alan and Mike
The first 9 miles of the course run down Mullan Road past hay bales and grazing horses and irrigation wheel lines bathed in early morning sunlight.  It's picturesque and calming at a point when you still feel fresh.  I took down a volunteer at the second aid station at mile 6 by inadvertently running between the volunteers and the water cups they were grabbing off the line of folding tables.  One sheepish apology later I continued on my way resolving to pay more attention. I talked with runners from Butte and North Carolina and points in between.  I checked in with training group friends, mostly running with friend Ross to pass the time with jokes and stories. I tried to keep my mind off my heavy quads.

The first turn, onto Kona Ranch Road, is a welcome one because it gives you a llittle something to do and changes up the scenery.  A bridge takes you across the Clark Fork River and a couple of turns later you're on Big Flat Road, wondering who came up with the name.  Big Flat Road has the only significant hill in the marathon and presents a bit of a challenge just after the half way point.

Right before the hill, I heard a loud, clear voice thanking the runners for taking part in the marathon and wishing all of us well.  As you can see from the photo, the voice was coming from the two on horseback looking every bit the part of a Montana tourism advertisement.  Turns out, they'd been out for a ride a couple of years ago when they'd happened upon the race. Now, they return each year to enjoy the sight and give out encouragement.  It was the perfect distraction before reaching the hill.

The hill comes shortly after the the half way point and shoots sharply up for a few tenths of a mile. I'd planned to walk it, thinking whatever I'd lose in time I'd gain back in saved energy.   I had run the whole thing during a training run and thought a good power walk would serve me better.  Just as I slowed to a walk, a voice I recognized said "I like your style"as he slowed to join me.  It was a good friend, Mike, and the company was more than welcome.

We resumed running after the steep stretch, but the hill is a bit deceiving. It continues to rise over the course of another mile and a half with several false summits, lending a bit of frustration. Fortunately, the drop down to the Bitterroot River finally arrived and allowed us to gain back a fair amount of the time we lost while walking. I checked in with my heavy legs.  They weren't any better, but they weren't getting worse.  I'd banked some time in the miles leading up to the hill.  I'd only lost one minute overall and was still on pace for sub-4. But it was still only mile 16.  The unknown was still six miles away. 

We made our way along the shady road down along the Bitterroot when a sight appeared that could have been part of the weird dream I'd had in the week prior.  A man in a full tuxedo sat playing a grand piano under a shade tent.  It was a perfectly ridiculous surprise that gave us a good laugh and provided a bit of a lift over the next couple miles. 

Maclay's Bridge over the Bitterroot is one of the many scenic spots along the course, but it also signals the start of a stretch of the course where it is easy to lose focus.  Fatigue is starting to make an appearance and the course is a series of straight stretches that do nothing to take your mind off things.  Fortunately, Mike and I spent the stretch talking about life and running while also taking advantage of the free high fives offered up by a volunteer in the middle of Clements Street.

Mike and I made the turn onto 3rd street where the shade returns and the course gets interesting again. It's also where mile 20 hits.  I did some quick mental math and realized we'd banked some more time.  It was the first point I let myself start believing I might hit my goal.  I told Mike we could both hit a sub-4 time, also his goal. Legs were staying the same, nutrition felt good and the temperature still held cool. With the time I'd banked I figured I could survive a minor setback or time fade. Was the infamous wall waiting up ahead? 

I came out of the tunnel under Reserve Street and realized Mike was starting to fade a bit. From here on out, I was on my own. Not really my choice, but I had a goal to reach. We'd run this stretch of the route many times in training, intentionally making it second nature for the tough going.  Mile 21 passed and I was holding pace while hitting as many sprinklers as I could, mostly just for entertainment.  Mile 22 came and went on 4th Street and I started smiling.  New territory. Farther than I'd ever run.  No wall in sight. Time in the bank. Here comes the unknown.

Smiling is one thing.  Continuing to run is quite another.  The last 4.2 miles were a total test of focus and determination. I prefer to walk through the aid stations, but starting back up was getting progressively harder. Losing time at the aid stations made it necessary to run faster to make up the time. Fatigue made just thinking difficult.  I heard my name called out several times over the last four miles, but could only manage a weak thumbs up in response. Bonner Park loomed up ahead. At Bonner Park, runners take a right, away from the finish line for a 3/4 mile detour of mental head kicking.  A left on South and another left on Hilda and you're headed back toward Bonner Park. Only a mile and a half left.  The home stretch. Start believing.

My last mile and a half were the fastest of my race. Months of practicing negative splits were paying dividends.  Adrenaline poured out of hidden reserves. I knew I was going to make it. I was going to get my goal. Excitement took over for fatigue.  Rounding the corner onto Higgins St. and the bridge to the finish line is a hell of a sight. Hundreds of spectators line the road. The finish line announcer is calling out runner's names.  I sprinted (it's all relative) down the bridge and across the finish line, completing a personal quest a year in the making and beating my time goal by almost five minutes. 

I clicked off the garmin, slapped some more high fives and collected my medal.  I celebrated some with Cheryl before turning to look for training group friends who finished ahead of me and those who were still to come.  Like everything at the Missoula Marathon, the post race food is top notch and the free Big Sky Brewing Co. beer never tastes better.  Hours later, while celebrating at home with maybe a couple too many great craft brews, I reflected back on how important the people I met during the training group had been.

There's Shannan, whose unfortunately timed visits from in-laws and a nasty sinus infection left her disappointed in her performance, but the rest of us amazed and proud at her perseverance.  There's Rod, running his first marathon in 27 years, who taught me the value of a good power walk.  Thurston, having shed 70 pounds in the months leading up to the training group, followed up his first marathon success by getting a full arm band tattoo bearing the numbers 26.2. There's Kara, a mom to two, rocking a 3:27 finish, whose ridiculous speed quietly became evident during the training group despite always slowing down to visit with the old guys.

There's Cody, who took a month off from training to bike across Montana, demonstrating what youth and natural talent can do for a guy with a sub-four hour performance though he'd never run more than 17 miles in a single run. Ross, whose youth and penchant for hills provided plenty to envy, was the picture of selflessness, often holding back to run with others purely for the community of it all.  And Scott, bandanna man, always upbeat and training for his first marathon at age 52, whose dream goal of a sub-4 hour time got dashed by nasty cramps around mile 20. He drew the short straw that day. Yet, no one more than Scott embodied what our training group had become.  After hobbling through the last six miles while watching the minutes tick away, he was more interested in how the rest of us did and more proud of our accomplishments than dwelling on his own turn of luck.

These are all people from different places, at different points in their busy lives, with different goals, but brought together in a common quest.  The training is tough. The physical challenges are daunting. The mental wrangling is exhausting. But we did it together, working on individual goals while surrounded by community support.

I think Cheryl is glad I've stopped incessantly talking about the training and the race, but her patience and support were never taken for granted.

I signed up for the marathon and got the t-shirt.

I trusted the training and stepped over the start line. 

I crossed the finish line and solved the unknown.

The pictures of the horse riders and piano player were taken by Ryan Snyder, a Marathon Maniac who snapped a ton of great photos while running the race.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Growler Fills Headed to 2nd Annual Beer Bloggers Conference

You probably weren't aware there was a beer bloggers conference, but there is and I'm super stoked to be attending.  Red Lodge, MT, based Zephyr Adventures has organized two such conferences, the inaugural one in Boulder, Co. last summer and one in London (as in the United Kingdom) earlier this year.

Zephyr Adventures creates active vacation tours, ensuring you're treated to the local culture while allowing participants to discover exciting new things on their own.  In addition to tours focused on hiking around Yellowstone and Mt. Kilimanjaro, biking in Tuscany, rollerblading in Alaska, and many others, they've produced wine and beer blogger conferences, fitness and health blogger conferences and the International Food Bloggers conference.

So why a beer blogger conference? There are now more than 1,000 beer blogs around the world with the bulk of them being "citizen bloggers," those who are not affiliated with a brewery, newspaper or other commercial enterprise.  Like the wine industry several years prior, the craft brewing industry has recognized how important those blogs are to advancing craft beer. The conferences bring together industry and citizen bloggers to learn about each other, drink great beer and pick up tips and techniques for better blogging.

This year's conference takes place in Portland, OR, an incredible beer mecca, from August 19-21. Events include panel discussions on connecting with local breweries, beer law advocacy, and info from the Brewers Association, a trip to the hop fields, a dinner and beer tasting hosted by the Oregon Brewer's Guild, and, of course, a Portland pub crawl.  Yeah, I'm a beer geek and proud of it. 

If nothing else, I'll have a lot of new content to post here on Growler Fills. And no, I'm not going to stop extolling the virtues of beer runners.  Are you headed to the Portland Beer Blogger's Conference?  Send me a note at growlerfills @ gmail . com and we'll be sure to connect and geek out.

11th Annual Ales for Trails Brewfest, Sept. 23, 2011

In 10 years, BikeNet's Ales for Trails brewfest has generated more than $200,000 to support trails in Billings Montana, contributing to the construction of 35 miles of multi-use trails.  Billed as the "Best Party in Billings," Ales for Trails annually brings together 2,000 to 3,000 craft beer fans for  food, beer, wine, music and a great cause.

This year's Ales for Trails Brewfest takes place Friday, September 23, 2011 from 5 pm to 10 pm at Dehler Park in Downtown Billings.  Tickets are $35 the day of the event or $30 in advance. A ticket gets you into the event and an unlimited number of samples from the 40 or so craft beers (please sample responsibly!). If you're a non-drinker, you can get in and enjoy the music and fun for $10. The advance sale tickets are available in Billings at The Base Camp, The Bike Shop, The Spoke Shop and Montana Cycling and Ski until noon on Friday, Sept. 23rd.

Attendees can vote for their favorite beer in the Pedal Awards.  Billings' Angry Hanks Brewery's has taken the top award two years in a row and will be back to see if they can do it again.  Based on my experience, they've got an excellent chance of a three-peat. 

According to BikeNet, they're a nonprofit, grass roots organization that advocates for trail education, acquisition and development of a Yellowstone County-wide trail system that encourages safety, an alternate transportation mode, and a healthy lifestyle.

For more information contact Robbie Carpenter, coordinator for Ales for Trails at, 406-672-8066, or check out the Ales for Trails’ Facebook page or the BikeNet website.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Madison River Adding to their Bottle Lineup

Among the various newly approved beer labels that arrived in my in-box this morning was this one from Madison River Brewing Co. of Belgrade.  Black Ghost Oatmeal Stout has frequently been available at Madison River's tap room and now it looks like you'll be able to pick up a 22 oz bomber to take with you.  Back in June, Madison River released its first seasonal in bombers, Yellow Humpy Hefe. I'd vote for Hop Juice to join that effort, too.

Currently available in six packs are Copper John Scotch Ale, Salmon Fly Honey Rye, Irresistible Amber Ale and Hopper Pale Ale.  An oatmeal stout sounds like a nice addition to this lineup.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Can Beer Improve Your Run Time?

That's the title of this article appearing recently on which purports to answer the question with a solid yes.  The article is flying around the beer running blogosphere and I'm as interested as the next guy in promoting craft beer alongside a healthy activity like running.  Unfortunately, the article raises more questions than it answers. 

The article is based on a study by a German University which followed 277 participants of the 2009 Munich Marathon for three weeks prior and two weeks after the marathon to study the effect of polyphenols found in wheat beer, "a type of beer popular with marathoners and tri-athletes."   The study noted that marathon runners experience a suppressed immune system after running a marathon, opening the door for viruses and illnesses.  According to the article, the study found that "Beer drinkers experience a greater support for the immune system; Beer drinkers experienced fewer colds; and Beer drinkers who experienced colds had shorter, more mild infections than the abstainers."  That would certainly be good news.

But here's where my inquiring mind takes over.  The 277 participants were separated into two groups. One group was given up to 1.5 liters of non-alcoholic wheat beer each day and the other group was given something that closely mimicked a wheat beer, but lacked the polyphenols found in the non-alcoholic wheat beer.

So are we studying polyphenols or are we studying beer?  Has anyone studied the difference between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beer?  Is there evidence that beer with alcohol would delver the same benefits? What about non-wheat beers?  Who knew wheat beer was popular with marathoners and tri-athetes? 

The article draws the conclusion it's okay to throw back a few beers in the midst of training and runners should "look at your beer as a training tool."  I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade and am certainly all for mixing beer and running (usually not at the same time).  Yet, does the study really say this?  After all, the conclusions, as paraphrased by the article's author, pertain solely to an improved immune system response after the severe physical demands of a marathon. No doubt, we're all searching for the right combination of nutrition and hydration to help performance and recovery.  My preference is to get my recovery protein and carbs from some other source (especially since beer lacks protein) and grab a beer for the pure enjoyment of it. If the beer happens to helps my immune system, great.

Here's what I want to know:  Are polyphenols only found in wheat beer? Are they present in other types of beer? Do some beers have higher concentrations? Why did the researchers use non-alcoholic beer?  Is it possible an alcoholic version negates the benefits?  These are questions the article's author should be asking. That's the kind of info that would be useful. 

In tracing the info back to its source, it's clear the article took a few liberties with the information presented in the press release from the authors of the study. The press release makes it clear the study* answers only whether drinking Non-alcoholic Erdinger wheat beer, "chosen for its rich and varied polyphenol content" has a positive effect on the body's immune system.  Extrapolating the findings to other non-alcoholic beverages containing high polyphenols** might make sense. Extrapolating the findings to "beer" in general doesn't jive.

From my personal experience, I have no idea whether drinking beer has a positive effect on running or my immune system.  I know for certain that beer can totally wreck my running. I've managed to sabotage a couple of long runs thanks to having a couple too many the night before. Perhaps I should have tried a non-alcoholic*** wheat beer instead. But then again, that's not really craft beer, now is it?

* More information on the study can be found here.

** Admittedly, I have no idea what a polyphenol is.

*** Non-alcoholic beer actually isn't. It starts out as regular beer and then the alcohol is removed via either reverse osmosis or vacuum distillation.  A small (0.5% or less) amount of alcohol remains.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lone Peak Bottles and a Nordic Blonde

Lone Peak Brewery in Big Sky, MT, started bottling four of their beers back in May. Those bottles made their way onto Missoula shelves over the past week and we got our first look at the artwork, which looks pretty snazzy.  The four brews are Hellroaring ESP, IPA, Hippie Highway Oatmeal Stout and Nordic Blonde,  They're unfiltered, bottle conditioned and packaged in 22 oz bombers.  All are available at Worden's Market in downtown Missoula.  For starters, we picked up an IPA and a Nordic Blonde.

At 4.5% abv and a good dose of flavor, the Nordic Blonde suggests a possible session ale for warm summer days.  It pours a bright gold, hazy color with a thin white head. There are aromas of grain, floral and hints of a citrus, like grapefruit. Flavors are largely grain and grass with a background of muted bitterness. It has a dry finish to it's light body, but there's plenty of flavor. Sitting in the backyard on a hot day, it's a pleasant beer to drink.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

17th Annual Bitterroot Brewfest This Saturday

Looking for a variety of great northwest craft beers, live music and a friendly crowd?  Head to Hamilton this Saturday, July 23, for the 17th Annual Bitterroot Brewfest taking place at the American Legion Park from 3:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.  The brewfest features more than 40 beers and wines including a brand new release from Blacksmith Brewing Co. and a "little surprise beer" from Bayern Brewing Co.

Tickets are $20 and include a commemorative glass and 6 beer tickets.  Additional tickets are $1 each, or 6 for $5.  Joan Zen plays from 4 to 6 p.m., followed by Keegan Smith from 7 to 10 p.m.  Sadly, Growler Fills won't be taking part. But don't shed a tear, a little R&R at Flathead Lake awaits.

I'm Hot, Tired, and Needing a Beer

Indeed, the posts on Growler Fills have dropped to a trickle recently, but that's only a temporary situation. The final weeks of training, along with actually running the Missoula Marathon, left little time to explore the beer world.  Add in summer activities and pleasantly busy work demands and the first thing to suffer is this labor of love we call Growler Fills.  Oh, and the temperature hit 100 yesterday afternoon.

Someone hand me a beer.  One beer I've been enjoying this summer is Eel River's IPA.  I'd shied away from trying more Eel River brews, having tried their porter several times and not finding it to my liking. In my quest for new IPAs I decided to give Eel River a try, having already made my way through most of the others on the local shelf.  What I discovered was not what I expected.

I'd call Eel River IPA a soft IPA.  By that I mean the hop bitterness is muted by a strong malt presence making me wonder if IPA is really the right category for it. Then you read the description and realize that's the whole intent.  Eel River IPA represents an English Style IPA which is characterized by far less hop bitterness than the American style IPAs.  It has a nice copper orange color, a bit hazy, with a white head and aromas of candy-sweet malt. Flavors of sweet caramel malt dominate over a light bitter background and candied citrus flavors.  It has a medium body and 7.2% abv.

I have no idea what an English style IPA should taste like, so I checked out what others had to say about this brew.  Reviews run the gamut from A to F with frequent complaints about it being underhopped for an IPA. That's certainly true if you were expecting an American IPA hop-fest.  All in all, I rather enjoy this beer and will reach for it again over the course of the summer.  It's a good beer to demonstrate the principle behind beer reviews on Growler Fills.  Like what you like. Don't be afraid to try something new. And don't get caught up in what someone else thinks of it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Highlander Bottles Ready for Release

As we announced back in April, The Missoula Brewing Co., makers of Highlander Scottish Red Ale under contract with Great Northern Brewing Co., reached an agreement with Great Northern to begin bottling Highlander in 22 oz. bombers.  Well, now they're ready to go and should be on the shelves in short order, likely in early August. Here's a look at the new label. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Blacksmith Brewing Scores With a Session Ale

What qualifies as a "session" beer is a topic of much debate in the beer world with no clear definition. Beer Advocate suggests it's a beer with no more than 5% alcohol, a good balance between hops and malt and a clean finish, creating a highly drinkable beer. The lower alcohol and typically lighter body makes it easier to consume multiple pints without (hopefully) getting gassed in all connotations of the word. A well made session beer may be lower alcohol with a lighter body, but nevertheless doesn't cut the flavor short.  In other words, session beers add real substance to the idea of tasting great while being less filling.

Finding a good session beer to enjoy at your favorite brewery or stash in the the fridge has been a difficult quest lately.  And by lately, I mean over the past couple of years since the beer world has exploded with high gravity brews.  Since the 2009 Montana legislature changed the legal percentage of alcohol in beer from a maximum of approx. 8.75% abv to 14% abv, breweries and retail outlets have taken advantage.  Beers in the 7-10 % abv range have become common and by my unscientific eye, the average abv of craft beer in our areas is creeping up over 6.5%.  These beers are typically big, full bodied and very flavorful.  But they're not sessionable.

Lew Bryson, a drinks writer for multiple publications, authors a blog called The Session Project with the intent to "popularize and support the brewing and enjoyment of session beers."  He defines a session beer as having "4.5% alcohol by volume or less, flavorful enough to be interesting, balanced enough for multiple pints, conducive to conversation, and reasonably priced."  As much as I enjoy a Flathead IPA2, a Blackfoot Double Black Diamond Extreme Stout, a Blacksmith Pulaski Porter, or Madison River Hop Juice, for example, they start knocking on the door quickly.  Check out Lew's blog for plenty of discussion of session beers, including reviews, pointers and commentary.

Creating more session beers is an effort I support and Stevensville's Blacksmith Brewing Company has taken up the challenge with its newest beer, Summer Session Ale.  It pours a clear, gold color with a fluffy white head that sticks around.  There are light aromas of grass and grain. Flavors of grain and light caramel malt sit on a background of pine hops with light bitterness.  The body is light, dry, crisp and stays clean through the finish. Even at 5% abv, it's got plenty of flavor to hold your interest.  It is exactly what I imagine when I think of a refreshing summer beer.

What's your session beer of choice?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Taper Madness: A (Beer) Running Update No. 4

Sunday is the Missoula Marathon which means the vast majority of runners are in some sort of taper as part of their training plan.  Webster's defines "taper" as the "gradual diminution of thickness, diameter, or width in an elongated object."  Um . . er . . . . . that raises all manner of interesting comments, but it's not quite what I was looking for.  Fortunately, wikipedia, that font of always accurate internet knowledge gives a sports related definition of tapering: the practice of reducing exercise in the days just before an important competition.

Madness, on the other hand, is a bit more universally understood. From Webster's: "the quality or state of being mad: as a : rage b : insanity c : extreme folly d : ecstasy, enthusiasm." My own taper with the Run Wild Missoula training group is a 2 week period, or three if you count down from the last big long run of 22 miles.  A 50 mile week was followed by a 36 mile week and now down to perhaps a 22 mile week. The theory holds that the taper allows time to build up your energy stores, get fresh legs under you, get hydrated and generally get refreshed before the big day.  The taper works. Though not without a bit of madness.

Last year, before the Missoula half-marathon, my first race, I gave up beer the week before in an effort to maximize hydration.  Yeah, that was a bit extreme, especially for a beer blogger. A few weeks before I'd come down with a case of walking pneumonia, knocking out several weeks of training and leaving me coughing up some kind of lung coating that would make 3M envious. Yet, on race day, I had energy to burn, was hydrated and soaked in the atmosphere the entire 13.1 miles

At this point, all the training for this year's marathon is in the books.  My 615 miles during the training group are logged and done.  No amount of additional running will make any difference for the race.  Sunday long runs dropped from 22 to 14 miles and finally down to a walk-in-the-park 8 miler.  Weekday runs are an easy 4 miles at a slow pace.  Race planning is done. Stay loose, take it easy and play it cool.

Which is exactly why I stepped wrong in a pothole during my Saturday easy run, rolling my foot and straining the muscles in my shin.  For the Fourth of July we escaped up to Flathead Lake for some camping near Rollins.  There's a great road running along the lake shore with virtually no traffic and stunning views of the lake.  Apparently those views were a little too enticing and I narrowly avoided taking a digger into the pavement while recovering from my misstep.  The pain didn't show up until more than 24 hours later. Sharp hits to my shin with every step. Uggh. 

The taper is complicated enough.  Complicated? Yes, that's where the madness comes in. The serious drop in running drives some runners nuts. Stir crazy, if you will.  Not me.  I welcome the rest.  Some obsess over eating habits.  The drop in running means a drop in calorie burning leading to worries about weight gain. Others obsess over race planning, repeatedly calculating splits, gel intake, water consumption and more.

Me? On Friday night up at Flathead Lake, I had a dream.  I was running the marathon and coming up on the first aid station. It was a wooden shack by the side of the road. Runners entered on one side, stepped up to a counter and ordered from the server.  Paper plates were lined up for quick production with hard-boiled eggs and toast.  All you needed to do was select what meat you wanted, sausage or bacon. Except the server - some snotty looking, hat wearing woman - was pretending I wasn't there. No soup for you!

The dream then switched to some small, clapboard sided house in the middle of a big flat field.  Think Kansas.  I was outside where a bunch of blankets were lined up like someone was having a picnic.  I was desperately running around trying to get the people in the house to hurry up and get back to running.  The wind was coming up and I gathered the blankets to carry them inside.  I looked up to see fierce storm clouds brewing. Why weren't we running??? It was already 8:30 a.m. and we weren't even half way to the Higgins Bridge.  As the clouds barreled towards me, a huge gust of wind blew an inflatable alligator far past the house and out into the field.  I was relieved to learn I did not need to go get it.

I could not make this up. Plus, it isn't too hard to figure out what was on my mind.  Apparently, anxiety is my madness of choice during the taper.  With the pain in my shin, I spent today filled with gloom and doom scenarios about the effect come Sunday.  Frankly, with a little care and rest, all should be fine.  Still, I wanted to spend the last few days leading up the the Marathon getting stoked, not worrying about pain. Last year, it was pneumonia and getting hit by a car.  This year was mild by comparison with a few shoe and tendon problems. Either way, when the taper hits there's nothing to do but get ready to run.

Know what is helping the pain in my shin? A fine craft beer. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Running, Beer and Kettlehouse Join in Support of Run Wild Missoula

Any lingering doubt about the intersection of craft beer and running was wiped away Wednesday night in Missoula as hundreds of runners, walkers and craft beer enthusiasts packed Kettlehouse Brewing Co.'s northside location for Community U-Nite in support of Run Wild Missoula.

Runners in the Run Wild Missoula marathon training group gathered under threatening skies at 5:00 for a 4 to 8 mile run as the taper down to the July 10 Missoula Marathon reaches its midpoint.  Another strong pack of runners hit the streets at 6:00 for the monthly Run Wild Missoula beer run. Afterward, pints of Cold Smoke, Eddy Out, Double Haul and Lake Missoula flowed freely with fifty cents of each pint donated to Run Wild Missoula.

Before the event, Kettlehouse threw out a challenge, offering to increase the donation by $100 if sales hit 400 pints.  First Security Bank also stepped up and offered to match the total donation made by Kettlehouse. We're still waiting to hear what the final tally was, but there's little doubt the 400 pint target was easily exceeded (even with Montana's 3 pint limit per person).  Next time you stop by Kettlehouse, let them know you appreciate their weekly Community U-Nite events.

[UPDATE: Patrons bought 450 pints, which, including the extra $100 from Kettlehouse and the match from First Security Bank, resulted in a donation of $650 for Run Wild Missoula.]

The Missoula Marathon - Montana's Tourism Event of the Year for 2011 and voted best Overall Marathon by the readers of Runner's World Magazine in 2010 - is almost a week away.  Here's a look at the schedule of events:

Friday July 8, 6:00 p.m. - Run Wild Missoula Marathon Edition Beer Run (meet at the Badlander).

Saturday July 9, 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. - Marathon Expo and Festival at Caras Park. Race packet pickup, retailers, food vendors, music, kid's activities and tons of fun. All of this takes place mere steps away from the Clark Fork River Market, a very cool farmer's market running from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Saturday July 9, 10:00 a.m.  - Missoula Kid's Marathon.  Come cheer on 500 kids running the last 1.2 miles of their cumulative marathon challenge!

Saturday July 9, 5:00 p.m. - Hellgate Village 5K. A great family friendly run taking place on the banks of the Clark Fork River and finishing at the Expo at Caras Park.

Sunday July 10, 6:00 a.m. - Missoula Marathon and Half Marathon.
Beer runners Cody, Ross, Growler Fills' Alan,
and Scott, members of Run Wild Missoula's Training Group.