Musing About the Benefits of Running (again)

I just returned from the 50th annual Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) in Indianapolis where I was fortunate enough to do so many of the things I love – perform for and talk to an attentive audience about composing for percussion as a percussionist, chat with hundreds of new friends and old at the C. Alan Publications booth while I attempt to sell them music, visit with my awesomely supportive sponsors (Yamaha and Vic Firth) and RUN! 

Every year at PASIC I realize how much I talk about (er… annoy people with my posts about) running on Facebook (and here I go again). One of the first things out of people's mouths when I haven't seen them for a year is "Man, you've been running a lot, huh?" It has become something that defines me and I'm okay with that. Let me tell you why though. A couple of years ago, I mused about Why I Think All Classical Musicians Are Pre-Programmed to Be Runners, talking about how similar the disciplines are, whether you are preparing for a marathon or a recital. Potayto, Potahto.  

While in Indianapolis this past weekend, more of the career & networking benefits of running became apparent. Over the summer, I volunteered to organize the PASIC Fun Run, which in the past has occurred on Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. during the convention. Historically, the attendance has been rather poor and I was determined to improve on that, so I expanded from one morning to three and plastered the social networks (tweeted with hashtags, created FB events, harassed friends & "friends" on their FB walls) to get the word out. 

What we ended up with was a terrifically eclectic group of percussionists each morning that had this common thread of running (and drumming). Where else are you going to hop from conversations with percussion professors from New Mexico, Missouri, Connecticut, Texas & South Carolina to the President-Elect of PAS to husband/wife drummer/percussionist for actor/musician Gary Sinise's Lt. Dan Band? We didn't set any speed records. We didn't run terribly far. We did have a lot of fun, meet new people and talk about anything from marathons to the new Schwantner Percussion Concerto to the mess at Penn State to our upcoming concerts & recitals. Even people who didn't join us for the runs each morning used topic of the Fun Runs as a conversation ice-breaker since I had posted about it so much leading up to the conference.

In the clinic I co-presented with Josh Gottry at the convention, I encouraged the young percussionists & budding composers in the audience, in the spirit of networking, to approach performers and composers they might have put up on a pedestal. They're all people. I think any two people can have at least one common thread that can break the ice – be it percussion, sports, politics or even… 


Good for your health. Good for your career.

Why I think Classical Musicians are Pre-Programmed to Be Runners

In the middle of a recent 10-mile run while on vacation in the Outer Banks of NC, I found myself wondering what the hell I was doing. I mean this was a vacation. A break from reality over a long weekend. At the beach. With good company. And I consciously brought with me my running shoes, running clothes, & fuel belt – all so I wouldn’t fall off of my training too much in preparation for an upcoming half marathon trail race.

So, I found myself running past the Wright Brothers Memorial knowing why I was running – to get the mileage in for my training – but pondering why I enjoy it so much and why it feels so natural to me now. And this is when it hit me. Since I was 4 or 5 years old, I have been playing a musical instrument of some kind and, therefore, preparing for recitals and concerts. If I didn’t put in enough hours practicing the music for these performances, I would be completely unprepared and would likely fail. If I procrastinate (which I am very prone to do) and try to cram all the practicing into a short period of time just before the performance, pain will ensue because I have not trained my muscles properly and built up the requisite calluses & scar tissue necessary to play pain-free. The exact same thing can be said of training for a road race – especially the longer distances, such as a 10K, half marathon, and marathon. If you don’t get enough mileage in the weeks & months leading up to a race, it’s going to hurt and you run the risk of injuring yourself and possibly not even finishing the race.

Here’s my list of reasons why I think all classical musicians should be runners:

  1. Discipline. We already have it. We have spent hours and hours alone in a practice room playing those passages over and over again. Just need to have the patience to start out at a slow pace and build it up from there. Dial back that metronome.
  2. Stamina. Running non-stop for 2+ hours has greatly improved my stamina behind the marimba in practice and performance. Whether you are a percussionist, conductor, string player or whatever, your “instrument” is physically demanding. Nothing wrong with a bit of aerobic conditioning.
  3. Mental Practice. Being out on the road running for 30 minutes/an hour/2 hours is a fantastic opportunity to do some practicing away from the instrument. Some people I talk to think that all the time I spend running takes away from my practice time. No reason it should. Just spend that time “playing” through a piece in your mind or memorizing a certain passage.
  4. Inspiration. This is an extension of mental practice. I have come up with several seeds of ideas and themes for compositions while on a run. For instance, the main theme of the first movement of my Vibraphone Concerto came to me while on a long run in Oklahoma. I also wrote a middle school band piece called Downtown Dash that was inspired by a 5K race I ran.
  5. SWAG. I don't really have a musical correlation for this one, but who doesn't like getting free stuff?! Race shirts, running socks, gel, coupons, and for the longer races a medal. Good stuff!

I only started running about 3 years ago, but I quickly caught the “bug” and now I absolutely love it. Training for my first full marathon (the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.) will start in mid-July (ugh) and will continue for 17 weeks until race day on Halloween 2010. I have several performances in the middle of the training, including one in Wisconsin that’s two days before the main event. I have met so many great friends in the running community, but hardly any of them are musicians. My charge to you is to get out on the road or trails and run. You might find that it’s exactly what was missing from your life and that you’ll become a better musician as a result.

Half the distance does not equal half the accomplishment

Recently, I’ve been forced to face up to the realities and consequences of making tough decisions, whether my own or those of someone else. Before even moving out to Oklahoma, I had set this lofty (yet attainable) goal for myself of training for my first full marathon. That’s 26.2 miles. Yeah... I completed about 5 weeks of training with my awesome running group in Greensboro, NC (led by Marisa Pirih) before my move and have continued training on my own once I got to Norman, OK. The solo training has actually gone extremely well. I have run in three races (two 5K’s and a half marathon) in the past 6 weeks and with each one I beat my on personal record.

Somewhere along the way, life threw me a curveball and gave me new and unexpected (yet welcome) distractions that affected my sleep patterns. This in turn affected my training, of course. Getting up at 6:00 a.m. for hill repeats after getting only 4 hours of sleep is likely not the smartest move that I’ve made.

I can’t put all the blame on my lack of sleep, though. I have been doing quite a bit of traveling on the weekends when I should be putting in the miles for my long runs. Ironically, two of these weekends out of town were for races and I either didn’t have the energy or the time to squeeze in my long run.

Okay, so why am I giving a laundry list of excuses?

I have decided to scale back to doing the half marathon in Raleigh instead of the full 26.2. Yes, I’m disappointed, but I’m choosing to focus on all the positive aspects of my training, including my increased speed and distance, even if the longest run I’ve done is 17 miles. I’m going to have plenty of opportunities to accomplish this 26.2-mile feat. A runner friend of mine told me today that the peak running age is 46. There is absolutely no data (or truth) to such a claim, but it did emphasize that I’ve got several running years left in me.

Now for the revised goal:

Finish the Rex Healthcare Half Marathon in 2 hours or less.

I ran the Heels & Hills & Him half in 2:03 and that was in sunny 80° temps in TX (and with a half mile of walking). I’m thinking that even with the hills of Raleigh, I should be able to keep a better pace in the cool temperatures of NC at the beginning of November. If you find yourself in Raleigh at 7am on Sunday, November 1st, please come on out & cheer me on. 

Found some hills...and chickens and horses and wild turkeys

One of my concerns moving out to Oklahoma in the middle of my marathon training was how flat it is here. Flat in Central North Carolina? Not so much. The City of Oaks Marathon course? Definitely not! I had two wonderfully flat runs around the OU campus earlier this week, but I've been on the lookout for some hills to better prepare myself for November's race. A chance drive down an unknown road that's one block from my neighborhood made everything right in the world.


This 5-1/2 mile stretch of rural asphalt starts with some very subtle rolling hills as it winds away from civilization. These seemingly unending hills get larger and larger the further you go. As the path unfolds, you are alternately shadowed by trees (and the musky odor of skunk) and then surrounded acres and acres of farmland (and the sweet smell of horse manure).

For the entire duration of my 6-mile run, I was wishing I had brought my camera with me (or at least my phone) so I could capture some of the experience on "film." Instead, I decided to return to my new beloved road this morning for a leisurely walk. Maybe I was moving too fast yesterday to notice, but this morning I stumbled upon two chickens on the side of the road (no doubt pondering the ramifications of crossing). They were quite friendly and posed for the camera, as did the horse and wild turkeys. Well... the wild turkeys were off running in the distance, so I quickly caught them with my zoom, so they're a bit of a blur.

I'll be heading up to Oklahoma City bright & early tomorrow morning for a 13-mile run around Lake Hefner. Then classes start Monday!

The one where he moves to Oklahoma to train for a marathon with a marimba in tow...

Okay, there are nuggets of truth in this statement, but as a whole it’s not entirely accurate. Tomorrow, I am indeed moving “where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain” to be a Sooner for 4 months. I am also training for my first full marathon and the bulk of the training will take place in Oklahoma (but the race itself will be in Raleigh, NC). Margarita the marimba will be making the trek as well.

I’m taking a 4-month hiatus from my glamorous life in G’boro to accept a one-semester position as Visiting Assistant Professor of Percussion at the University of Oklahoma while Dr. Lance Drege is on sabbatical during the fall semester. My teaching responsibilities will include lessons for undergraduate and graduate students, directing the fantabulous OU Percussion Orchestra, and heading up Percussion Studio Class. Here are some upcoming highlights for the semester:

November 10 at 8:00 p.m. – OU Percussion Ensembles Concert
November 11-14 – Percussive Arts Society International Convention (Indianapolis, IN)
November 30 at 8:00 p.m. – Nathan Daughtrey, Visiting Faculty Recital
December 15-19 – Midwest Band & Orchestra Clinic (Chicago, IL)

There will no doubt be more events to add to this brief calendar (student recitals, holiday percussion ensemble concert, Sooner football games) once I arrive & get acclimated.

Apparently I didn’t think this would be enough to keep me busy his fall, so I’m training for my first full marathon – the City of Oaks Marathon in Raleigh, NC. I ran my first half marathon last October and it kind of owned me – a very hilly course here in G-town that ends with a nice uphill flourish. Ugh. Pain. Accomplishment. Joy? I don’t know, but I had definitely caught running fever. The plan was to run another half marathon this fall, but as soon as I learned I’d be moving to OK, I decided that being in a new place would be the perfect opportunity to increase my mileage and aim for the full 26.2 miles. Not sure where the logic is there. Whatever, here’s my fall race schedule:

September 5 – Brookhaven Run 5K (Norman, OK)
September 27 (2 days before my birthday, btw) – Heels & Hills & Him Half Marathon (Irving, TX)
October 3 – Komen Race for the Cure 5K (Houston, TX)
November 1 – City of Oaks Marathon (Raleigh, NC)


I have a great network of runner friends here in Greensboro, so I can only hope I’ll find the same in Norman.

I’ll be doing quite a bit of blogging as the semester unfolds (for me that probably means one entry a month, but it’s at least something...).