Randy Birnschein, “Mr. Ralph”
Meet Randy, aka Mr. Ralph. A veteran of the US Navy, Randy is currently training to qualify for Boston. His passion for running and commitment to helping others is quite evident. He is an outstanding runner to follow on Twitter. Randy was nice enough to take time out of his time at the beach to answer Runspirational’s 13.1 questions. His answers are fantastic and I personally enjoyed getting his insight. Check his answers out below. I’m positive you will enjoy them as I much I as did. Thank you so much Mr. Ralph and keep being so Runspirational!
Growing up, Randy was never all that interested in running unless there was a ball involved. As a young adult in the US Navy, he ran his required 1.5 miles every 6 months to prove that he met the “fitness requirements” to serve. Once he made up his mind to start training for a half marathon back in 2008, he realized that he’d been missing out. Since that time, “Mr. Ralph” has run too many local races to count, several half marathons, six marathons and one ultra-marathon. Running is a huge part of his life. He loves how the running community is full of kind, interesting and amazing people. He notes he is no coach, but he’s recently taken to working with experienced runners that have goals of getting faster. Randy feels great joy in helping them break the mental barriers that hold them back.
1 – You’re starting marathon training on July 23rd. What is the top area of your training that you want to improve upon this time around?
This time around, I really want to stay focused on what I do outside of running. I think it’s easy to stay excited about the running aspect of training. Once I have a plan, I generally stick to it. The other things like rest, nutrition, stretching, etc., not so much. My goal this time will be a constant thought, and that thought is, “How can I make myself a better runner when I’m not running?”
2 – What marathon are you training for and what are your race goals?
I’m actually training for 2 marathons. The first will be Richmond on Nov 11. My plan is to finally qualify for Boston. I need a 3:15 to officially qualify for 2019, but to make sure I get in I’ll likely need a 3:12 or better. I ran 3:15 (and some change) in Richmond back in 2015 and there was some slacking involved, so I’m pretty confident this time around. The 2nd marathon is at Rehoboth Beach on Dec 2. That’s my backup race to BQ if Richmond doesn’t go as planned, but I hope to already be qualified so that I can just have fun in Rehoboth with no particular goal at all.
3 – What is the most challenging part of training for you?
I’m using the “run less, run faster” plan that only involves running 3 days a week. The most challenging part of training will be holding myself to only running those days. I’ve grown accustomed to running with friends and social running has become so important to me. I’ll be dealing with some serious FOMO issues.
4 – What is your favorite running distance and why?
This was a tough question because each distance brings its own joys and challenges. If I had to choose one I’d go with a 10 miler, even though I don’t feel like I’ve fully mastered it. It’s a distance that to me is long enough to require endurance but short enough that it can really be raced. I hope that makes sense.
5 – What are three races on your running bucket list that you would like to complete?
Boston (duh, hehe), New York, and Chicago. Those are probably the big 3 to me. Great cities with great recovery food! I’d also like to compete in a Beer Mile, just to see what it’s like.
6 – What inspires you to run?
I draw inspiration from a beautiful day, or an unknown road or trail. Sometimes, I’ll be driving down the road and see other people running (joyfully or painfully) and feel an irresistible urge to join them. I’ve been known to ruin a rest day or two because of those things. I’m inspired to race because I love the competition, both with myself and other runners. I honestly think that there isn’t a purer form of competition in any sport than running.
7 – What has been your proudest running accomplishment?
I’m an 8 time finisher of the Krispy Kreme Challenge in Raleigh, NC at NC State. 12 donuts, 5 miles, 1 hour! I’m pretty proud of that, but on a serious note, I’m proudest of those races where I can say with certainty that I gave my all. I love that all runners can share in that accomplishment, no matter the pace or distance. It’s not anything you can see when you look at the splits or the standings, but when it happens you know it. It’s a great feeling.
8 – What has running taught you?
Running has taught me that way deep down we all have a little extra something when we really need it. That little extra something goes beyond running. Just when we think we can’t do any more or any better, it’s possible that we can. There have been times on race days where I honestly thought that if I kept going, I might pass out or die. Then suddenly, a pep talk from a fellow runner or a motivational sign from a spectator can drive us to keep going or even speed up.
9 – What do you do to recover from long runs?
FULL DISCLOSURE: This is not advice for anyone and I’m not setting an example by any means. Once I’m finished, I usually try to get a chocolate milk in my belly as soon as possible. On really hot days, I’ll drink a V-8. I don’t think anything gets the salt back in me faster than a V-8 does. I stretch a little, but honestly not enough. If I had to recommend a specific stretch, it would be the “couch stretch”. From there, it’s pretty much eat, eat , eat with a beer thrown in somewhere. I try to eat things that are high protein, but usually it’s whatever I want. I sometimes will put on a pair of compression socks if I’m particularly worn out or sore. A nap also does wonders for recovery and I’ll take one whenever my children will allow it, so not very often.
10 – What have been some of your favorite races that you have run?
Again, I must bring up the Krispy Kreme Challenge. It’s an amazing time. Who wouldn’t want a reason to eat 12 donuts?! (The proceeds go to the children’s hospital.) I’ve never been to a race with so much enthusiasm. All participants are SO excited to be there. The spectators are in awe of what they are witnessing. The costumes are spectacular. I’ve dressed up a few times (see pictures). Also, there are donuts. Thousands of donuts.
I also love the Virginia 10 miler, in Lynchburg, VA. I recommend this race to anyone. The course is challenging but fun and the race directors know what they’re doing. The people are super-friendly. It seems like the whole city comes out to be a part of it. The only down side is that a pretty good amount of elites come to down to run the race, so I’m unlikely to be on the podium any time soon.
11 – What got you into running and what was your first race?
I’ve always liked running as part of other sports but had never considered running just to run. A friend of mine had recently started running distance races and told me about how she gradually built up to the marathon distance. It sounded like something I’d want to try, especially when we discussed the caloric deficits that I’d need to make up in training. I signed up for a local 5k back in 2008 and fell in love. I ran my first half marathon later that year and my first marathon the following spring. Now, I can’t imagine life without running.
12 – Do you have any racing superstitions, routines, or good luck charms?
I definitely don’t have any superstitions or good luck charms. As far as routines go, I only have one (or should I say “two”). I make sure that I have time to, how do I put this…lose as much weight as possible prior to the start of the race. The last thing I want in the middle of running to my limits is a potty problem.
13 – What are your favorite running clothes/gear/tech that you like to use?
Gotta have my Garmin watch (I use a VivoActive HR). I also like to wear Zensah Compression Sleeves. What they do is debatable and most of us aren’t 100% sure, but they feel good and give me additional confidence, so there’s nothing wrong with that. For shorts, I’m a big fan of the 2 in 1 shorts with built-in compression and for shirts I run in whatever I get for free.
Those items are all fine and dandy, but let’s be honest. It’s all about the shoes! I have a TON of running shoes. I fully believe that running and training with a shoe rotation is beneficial in multiple ways. It keeps things interesting and I think that it helps with injury prevention. My opinion is that every shoe is built differently and our form and our bodies are impacted by each in a different way. So by rotating shoes, you minimize the effects to a given area. That concludes the “running nerd” portion of my answers. As far as what’s in my current rotation, I use Altra The One 2.5, Hoka Clifton 3s, Under Armour SpeedForm Apollo 2s, and Saucony Iso Triumph 2s. My speediest race day shoes are Nike Flyknit Free 4.0.
Bonus Question – You’re a big St. Louis Cardinals fan, who is your favorite player of all time and why?
Toughest question, by far. Albert Pujols is the greatest Cardinal and maybe the greatest baseball player that I’ve ever watched. He did so many amazing things for St. Louis and is the main reason I’ve seen them win championships. The kid in me loves Ozzie Smith. He made defense cooler than offense and was special in a way that has never been duplicated. He made plays that defied physics. I named my oldest son, Charles “Albert” Birnschein (yeah, I’m that guy), but I named my first cat “Ozzie”. If you’re making me choose, I’ll go with Albert.