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Days That End In “y”

May 1st, 2012 No comments

I’ve been feeling pretty encouraged lately by my activity level. Back in March I was out of shape and I knew it, now I feel like I’m getting back into a groove. For me that’s the hardest part about staying active. If I miss one day, then the next day follows, and pretty soon I’m not doing anything at all. But if I work to make sure I’m doing something every day, then missing a day just seems wrong. Lately I have been much better about getting out for a run or riding my bike to work every day, but there’s still the weekends where I am not consistent at all.

I can’t say that I’m not doing anything on the weekend, at least I am up and on my feet most of the day, but finding the time to get a workout in when I have family plans and chores to do is tough. After all, my kids only really get me to themselves those two days, for me to wave goodbye and then head out the door for a 4 hour bike ride seems irresponsible. Maybe when they are older and don’t really care if their dad is there I can get away with that, but at this age I can’t justify it.

I know I’m making excuses. There are some chores that don’t have to be done right away, I’m sure I could slip out for an hour to run. I could be getting out of bed at 5am to run long before everyone gets up. I could be making an effort to eat healthier meals on the weekend so that I don’t put such a big dent in my “fitness reserve.”

So I have some work to do, but I’m a lot further along than I was at the beginning of the year. And when the goal is maintaining daily activity for the rest of my life, slow progress is to be expected.

Over-training on no training

March 31st, 2012 1 comment

Is it possible to overtrain when you are not training at all? At what point does daily activity cross over into too much. This is something I think about due to the rigors of trying to stay in running shape while commuting by bike. On many days this means I am doing 3, hour long workouts, not including any physical tasks that I may need to perform as part of my job.

If I have to take my laptop with me, my commuter bag weighs about 20 lbs. Add to that a 14 mile ride to work, and I can end up feeling the burn just getting in in the morning. Fortunately, it’s all downhill from my house to the office. I generally try to take in a small snack when I arrive and keep hydrated all morning. By the time lunch rolls around I’m hungry, but can usually get through an hour run on the trails before I eat. If I’m still tired from the day before this run can be pretty painful. Now I’m faced with an uphill ride home with a 20 lb pack. I’m already beat down, and some days just riding the flat sections hurts. It’s at this point that I question the wisdom of this commute.

At first I was under the impression that through training the body can adapt to all stresses. But after a couple of seasons of riding/running almost every day I’m beginning to wonder if my body will not adapt to that volume of exercise. I find myself getting burnt out, dreading my evening ride. The only thing that keeps me going is knowing that’s the only way I’m getting home.

But, perhaps my body is adapting to the stress of commuting and running. Granted my speed specific running training is suffering, but potentially with the gain of overall fitness. And overall fitness is really my goal. My ride home may seem just as difficult as it was the first time I tried it, but I’m riding it a lot faster now. Perhaps there is a continual improvement with this training, but without a measure I can’t see it. I am not exhibiting any of the signs of overtraining, such as irritability or sleeplessness, I may just have forgotten what pushing myself really feels like.

I always assumed that if I worked hard enough I could reach a plateau where my activities would seem easier. I equated that with fitness. Now I think that fitness is a dynamic thing, what was easy one day may be difficult the next. In this way I may never achieve what I consider to be in shape, except by striving to improve every day. Instead of the means to an end, the end is the means.

Purely Pronating

November 16th, 2011 No comments

Brooks Pure CadenceMy feet suck. In 2010 I tried to transition into lighter shoes because I was trying to get into racing flats for my 5k and 10k races. I was successful! I ran a blisteringly fast (for me) 38:48 Bolder Boulder 10k in flats. Then I walked the 2 miles back to the car in the same shoes. By the time I arrived at the car my arch was aching and it has continued to hurt for a year and a half.

So, apparently racing flats are a no-go for me. I did everything the way you are supposed to too, gradually stepping down from a more supportive shoe, starting out on the treadmill with the flat. It all felt good, right up to the moment that it didn’t. So when Brooks started hyping their new “Pure Project” shoes I didn’t pay much attention. I know that any shoe that does not support my arch makes my foot hurt, so I’ve been avoiding “neutral” footwear. Just before the product launch date I watched a Brooks video on which Pure Project shoe would be right for me. I discovered that there was a model, the “Pure Cadence,” that was designed as a guidance shoe for mild pronators, with some arch support built in.

My first impressions of the shoe were all positive! The shoe fit extremely well and the soft material of the upper felt amazing right out of the box. Wearing these shoes feels a little like wearing slippers, with a slightly more supportive sole. I took the shoes out for a couple of test runs, but immediately I knew they felt good to run in. My third run in these shoes was actually the Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon, and they felt great from wire to wire!

Now that I have had a few weeks in them, they have become my favorite shoe. The material is soft and comfortable, and the shoe feels very minimal when running. There is almost no “transition” between heel to toe as the heel drop is only 4mm, the sole moves with the surface you are running on. I had one run where I ran up a very icy path, that was heavily tracked out. I could feel every bump and valley, and I felt like I was leaping nimbly across the surface of the ice. It was the most fun I’ve had while running in a long time!

There are always downsides to new shoe designs, and I’d say the biggest thing I’ve noticed is the gap in the sole between the first two toes. This was put in the design to allow the big toe to engage the ground more, but it does allow water in more easily than a full sole. As a result, I have shied away from running in these in the snow, in favor of my trail shoes. At 9.5oz though, the Pure Cadence is a full two ounces lighter than my trail shoes, so it is a harsh transition.

I feel pretty spoiled running in the Pure Cadence. I am not a barefoot runner by any means, but these shoes do leave me feeling like I am more in touch with the surfaces I run on. I think this is a great addition to a runner’s “go to shoes.”

Disclaimer: I am a member of the Brooks Inspire Daily P.A.C.E. team, and I receive a discount on Brooks gear.

The Joy of Running

November 4th, 2011 1 comment

My motivation to exercise has been severely lacking lately. I haven’t been riding my bike to work, and I rarely put in more than a couple of runs a week. It’s like I’m hitting the off-season hard, without an on-season to speak of.

But the light at the end of the tunnel appeared yesterday. It had snowed on Wednesday, and Thursday was due to be sunny, so I knew that I wanted to get out and enjoy the crisp temperatures with the warm sun. I headed out with a couple of friends up towards Boulder Canyon. We reached the end of city maintenance and were greeted with deep crusty snow, with a thin icy trail tracked out up the canyon path. The runners ahead of us had all turned back at this point, but I saw it as a challenge. We forged ahead, slipping backwards almost as much as running forwards our progression was laughable at times. I could have walked faster, but for some reason the feeling of dancing over the chunks of ice felt so much better.

Our efforts were rewarded as we emerged from the shade of the canyon into a lone sunbeam shining down through the pines on Mt. Flagstaff. All of the trees were draped with heavy snow, and the result was a scene right out of a Christmas card. Breathing the cool air as I took in the amazing sight, I was filled with joy for the moment! This is not something you would experience sitting at a desk at work, or cramped in a car seat. This was a treat that the effort of running had brought.

Before we turned around to pick our way back down the icy path I realized the joy that had been missing for the past few months. It’s moments like these that make us runners, or more appropriately, that keep us runners. Without the moments of joy, the default is to plod through the miles day-in and day-out, or worse, to do nothing at all. It’s important to savor runs like these, and remember them when it’s tough to get out the door.

Categories: motivation, running Tags: , ,

2011 Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon

October 31st, 2011 No comments

I love the days when running feels effortless. If you run consistently for any length of time you will experience this at some point. The point at which you forget you are running, and working hard, and you lose yourself in the moment. Those days are my favorite days! I never thought in a million years that I would experience one of those days during a race, so my experience with the 2011 Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll half-marathon was completely unexpected!

I am still experiencing trouble with my plantar fascia. While I have been able to continue running and riding my bike, I have not been able to train with any direction for a year and a half now. My last race this year was the Bolder Boulder, and I struggled to meet the goal that I had set for myself. Since then I have not run more than 7-8 miles at a time, and never at any great pace. I had no plans whatsoever to run a half-marathon in October.

I was fortunate enough to win an entry to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Denver race through Brooks which made my entry a sure thing. I was not so sure of how I would be able to run. I had run a few training runs in September where I struggled to run even 6 miles, 13.1 suddenly seemed like a significant challenge! When the day before the race arrived, the weather turned for the worse and the warm temperatures we had been used to disappeared, replaced by a cool 30 degree forecast for race day. I seriously considered not running for a moment, but then I committed myself. The expression: a “did not start” is always worse than a “did not finish,” kept me focused on getting to the starting line.

The morning start arrived, and despite cold temperatures, the crowd of people at the start kept things warm. I started in a pretty big group, and the pace was kept comfortable. I latched onto a pace group that was running around the time that I hoped to finish in. At that point I had no idea of whether I would be able to or not. But as the miles ticked off, I realized that I was not feeling tired, and that I had plenty of gas in the tank. As the sun rose and warmed the road, my running kept feeling better and better, and by 10 miles I knew I had to dial it up. I ramped up, well into 10k pace as I finished out the final miles, and still I felt as if I could keep going. I crossed the finish line with a strong sprint (helped by the beautiful downhill finish of the course) elated by the feeling of racing again!

It ended up being my slowest half-marathon, but with the lack of training and the uncertainty going in, it was just the boost I needed to start getting my running back on track! I was lucky enough to experience one of those days where it all comes together, and even better it happened on a race day! I don’t mind anymore that my foot still hurts, and that I can’t train to get faster. I’m happy enough to keep running and stay healthy, because the end goal is to still be running races like this one, no matter how fast, long into old age!

Categories: running Tags: , ,

Unique Approach to Training

May 17th, 2011 2 comments

My current training plan due to my ongoing issues with plantar faciitis is less a plan than it is a lack of any plan. To update the PF issue: I seem to be able to minimize the pain through most of the day by stretching and using shoes with some arch support, it still hurts in the morning though but I think that will eventually go away. I am back to running full time, however, with the limitations that I not do any speedwork and I don’t do any long runs. This satisfies my need to run and workout, but doesn’t help me get any faster.

Since I do still want to make a semi-reasonable showing at the Bolder Boulder this year I decided that more time on the bike was the solution. My bike rides are usually not training rides, but commute rides. I am fortunate (unfortunate), that I live 14 miles from my work, and 600 feet higher in altitude, so the usual bike commute involves a fairly long uphill ride home at night. With the winds we have been having in Colorado lately this has become even more of a challenge.

I have decided to refer to my training plan as the “War of Attrition” plan. Most days my training looks like this: easy 50 minute ride to work, 6-8 mile run at lunchtime, pushups, all followed up by a 50-60 minute ride home uphill into a headwind. Usually my rides to work are quite pleasant, with just enough effort to have me feeling kind of spent by the time the run rolls around. The run is then performed on dead legs, my speed limited purely by the fact that I can’t go any faster. Then the ride home is a pain/slog fest in which I try to extract every last bit of energy that I have left. Most days I make it home. On some days I can actually climb the stairs to bed without feeling like I’m going to pass out. Those are the good days.

My feeling is that anything I do to totally deplete my muscles (as long as I throw in some rest/recovery days) is going to benefit me somehow in the long run. I am also benefitting by learning the limitations of my own body. Frequently I find myself at what I perceive to be the end of my reserves, and then I find I can continue despite the fatigue! The challenge is that I am finding it difficult getting enough to eat during the day. I try to have some form of protein/carbs after every workout, eating several small meals throughout the day.

I never know what will happen with my training experiments, but it’s fun to see how my body adapts to the different things I throw at it. The unique experience with this scheme is that while my muscles are constantly tired, they are almost never sore. I feel like this means I am working on their endurance rather than adding mass. The one and only test will come at the Bolder Boulder. As I don’t run with a watch anymore I have no idea how fast my training paces actually are, only their effort level. If I can hold it together enough to go under 40 in Boulder I will be happy, beating last year’s 38:43 will have to wait until next year.

The Tempo Run

April 25th, 2011 4 comments

Today I convinced myself to do a tempo workout for my run. The term tempo comes from the latin root tempus meaning “time” and o meaning “Oh my God, what are you doing to yourself!?!?!” The tempo run was a widely accepted “interrogation” technique during the dark ages, but was impractical due to the requirement that the interrogator needed to keep up with the running subject. For some exceptionally fit individuals, turn-about became fair play. This issue was largely the basis for the development of the first treadmills, whose etymology literally means “crush and grind underfoot.” These evolved into the machines we all know today, except that instead of a man with a whip making you run it’s Britney Spears blaring over gym speakers.

Running a tempo means running at a pace that is difficult, but sustainable over the long term. This means you can’t go too fast, so as to blow up and have to stop to rest every few minutes (i.e. interval training). It also means you can’t really ever hope to catch your breath, and in fact, due to the second law of thermodynamics, you will find yourself increasingly out of breath until eventually you pass out. The natural equivalent of the workout is being chased by a very hungry and ferocious beast that can’t quite outrun you, but is persistent.

On the off chance that I encounter such a beast at some point, I thought it would be prudent to practice this strategy in advance. My plan was to run an easy half mile warmup, then ramp up the pace to my perceived effort threshold. The rule is at tempo pace you should not be able to recite the pledge of allegiance without gasping for breath. This doesn’t work for me as I was born in Canada, so I chose the Canadian equivalent: the “Log Driver’s Waltz.” By the time I was “birling down, a down the white water” it was evident the pace was good.

Once a pace is established, all that remains is to try to hang on for as long as possible, or in my case 6 miles. At 2 miles, things felt pretty good. At 3 miles I began questioning my motivation, “Really, only halfway? Seems like longer.” By the time 4 miles rolled around the situation was dire and I would have been hard pressed to get through “Hello, my name is…” Fortunately at this point I remembered my mantra: “You’re not dead yet.” I was a little too close for comfort, however. I think I ran through mile 5, at least that’s what the armadillo on the tricycle told me. Finally 6 miles arrived and my celebration at having finished ensued. In my mind it was a triumphant victory dance, to others it must have resembled the writhings of a sea lion stranded in the desert sun.

With what was left of my strength I started my cooldown as the tunnel vision receded. Passersby stared at me with what I assumed at the time was awe of the feat I had just achieved. Yes, I ran a tempo run people! I did not die, witness the miracle! It was only afterward that I realized the sweat had “pooled” rather unfortunately in the crotch of my shorts and it looked like I had wet myself. I say “looked like” but in reality my recollection of mile 5 is not that great…

Categories: running, Training Tags: , ,

Running in Purgatory

April 9th, 2011 No comments

I haven’t written much about running lately because I feel like I am in the runner’s equivalent of purgatory. I am still suffering from plantar faciitis, and while I feel like I am making progress, it is just taking forever to heal (no pun intended). I have at least brought back base milage to my training, and with the stretching and cross-training I’m doing I am at least able to maintain some level of fitness without making the problem worse. Also, I have been living in my Brooks Ravenna running shoes (Disclosure: I am a member of the 2011 Brooks I.D. P.A.C.E. team and do receive product discounts on Brooks apparel). They are the only shoes that I can wear that don’t make my foot hurt, and so they are my “go-to shoe” for absolutely everything. This has been essential as I walk a lot throughout the day and before, when I was wearing my work shoes, by the end of the day my plantar fascia was very sore.

With these recovery steps I can go through most of my day, including my run, pain free. It is mostly the pain in the morning that lets me know I am still injured. Unfortunately, without being able to incorporate speedwork into my running I feel like I am running in an endless loop of base miles. As the Bolder Boulder approaches I am even more reminded of the fact that I will not be running a PR this year, for the first year since I started running it. I am doing my best to mitigate the lack of speedwork, I feel that a high cadence when I ride my bike will help with leg turnover. I know that the key to a faster pace is a quick turnover, so I’m trying to train those muscles as best I can without doing further damage. Hill running is also a no-no, which usually is a huge component of my Bolder Boulder training. My solution to this problem also involves the bike, as I think that doing fast climbs where I am out of the saddle work the correct muscles to get up hills. I’ve also started the “100 Pushups” (Amazon Link) program using the iPhone App. I think the added core and upper-body work will help me power up that last hill on Folsom.

I keep telling myself it will heal in time, but right now it is incredibly frustrating to see yet another season slipping away from me, and not being able to train to improve. I know this is a long haul process, and that my best times are still ahead of me, but for now it is frustrating to be pushing miles and not feel like I am getting anywhere. Like Sisyphus I am rolling my boulder, with no progress to show for it.

A Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes

March 23rd, 2011 2 comments

A few years ago I was just a driver. I didn’t run. I didn’t ride a bike. Today I am many things: I am a pedestrian, I am a runner, I am a bike rider. Each time I have stepped into the shoes of one of these other activities it has required me to learn new things, and above all it has made me better at the other activities I do. Here are some of the things I have learned walking a mile in other people’s shoes.

One of the first things I learned when I started walking and taking the bus instead of driving is that drivers are jerks. I don’t mean that the people who drive cars are jerks, I mean that a nice person behind the wheel of a vehicle is a jerk. The problem arises from the very nature of a personal vehicle: the vehicle is designed to get “me” from point A to point B as quickly as possible, and anything that stands in “my” way is a nuisance. This means that speed limits are ignored, red lights and stop signs missed, crosswalks blown through. Above all, slow moving vehicles must be passed at all costs, regardless of whether they are keeping up with traffic or not. The solution is to get out and walk, ride a bike or take the bus. After you have been narrowly missed by a car speeding through a crosswalk, or found yourself repeatedly catching up to vehicles on the road even though you are “slow moving,” you’ll start realizing that impatience never really gets you ahead, it just makes you unsafe. That knowledge makes you a better driver.

As a runner I learned that cyclists are jerks. They don’t mean to be, but runners and cyclists are different “social groups” and the two do not mix. As the naive runner that I am, I wave at every bike that goes by. The looks I get are those of bewilderment and disgust, “How dare you wave at me, a cyclist!” At some point I realized that they are never going to wave back. “On your lefts” are few and far between, because really it is a “bike path” and other users just need to watch out. Passing within inches, two abreast on the path is acceptable because they don’t want to interrupt their conversation to drop back to single file. The solution is to get out and run! After you have been buzzed by a bike going 30mph with no warning you’ll remember to give that “on your left.” After you, as a cyclist, have been snubbed by all the other cyclists on the path just because you’re running, you may give a little wave to runners as you pass.

As a cyclist I learned that runners are jerks. Half the time they are wearing earphones, so if you shout a warning they won’t hear you, and then jump out of their skin when you pass as if they are shocked that anyone would be riding their bike on the “running path.” The other half of the time they hear you shout, but do nothing to acknowledge it, so you are forced to assume they are wearing earphones, or just oblivious. In addition, the popular response to hearing “on your left” is to actually jump to the left directly into the path of the bike. Running in the middle of the path is acceptable, as is running two or three abreast taking up the whole path, after all no one can possibly be moving faster than they are. If they are running with a dog, the dog will be on the opposite side of the path on one of those 40′ long extend-o-leashes, invisible to the naked eye and razor thin. The solution to this is to get out and ride a bike! After frustratingly trying to pass 30 people who do absolutely nothing when you shout “on your left” you may give a little wave the next time you are running and a cyclist gives warning. You may also stick to the right, and opt to run without headphones, making the “multi-use path” just a little safer for everyone.

The bottom line is we are all jerks when we stay in our own little world and don’t acknowledge the safety or presence of others. We all use the same space every day, whether it be roads, paths, or sidewalks. We all learned to share when we were in kindergarten. But doing the same thing day in and day out makes us complacent, and overconfident in our personal rights. Getting out and trying a new activity makes us better and safer at all the activities we do, and more importantly it makes us better people. Better drivers, better walkers and runners, better cyclists, better at living with each other!

Categories: bike, opinion, running Tags: ,

The Naked Runner

February 23rd, 2011 2 comments

Running naked generally means that you run without a watch, allowing yourself to adapt to the ebb and flow of a workout without the stress of meeting time goals. For me it has come to mean more than that as I come to learn more about how my body trains.

I am a “Type-A” personality, yet I have learned that I need outlets from that to allow myself to let go. Running was once that outlet for me. I would run as far as I felt I could and then walk whatever I couldn’t, that was as complicated as it got. Then, after a few successful races, I suddenly had speed goals, and target times in workouts. A heart rate monitor came soon after, and I was obsessed with numbers.

Recently I came to the realization that running wasn’t as much fun anymore. When I wanted to have fun I found myself turning to my bike. What did my bike have that running didn’t? The answer is numbers! I wasn’t trying to hit certain times or paces, I just went out to ride and enjoyed whatever came my way. For me with running the thrill was gone.

My injury changed all that, and now every time I get to run I appreciate it for what it is: a chance to enjoy running for running’s sake. I have had training goals scaled back, yet still am able to run fast times while still having fun. I believe that there is an opportunity to learn here that I will embrace as I start building back up to training.

The first lesson is to leave the watch at home. As they say “looking at them doesn’t change them” and that is especially true of a running workout. Knowing exactly how long it took to run a certain distance doesn’t tell you as much as what the effort level was for that workout. Time goals of “run for an hour” can be accomplished by choosing a course that is the approximate distance that could be run in that timeframe.

Lesson 2: ditch the GPS/heart rate monitor. If you are struggling to keep up a certain pace, knowing that you are falling off your target doesn’t help you at all. Instead of worrying about falling off the pace you could be rewarding yourself for maintaining a hard effort even when it’s difficult. Circumstances don’t always allow for the fastest paces and you shouldn’t have to punish yourself for running through these situations. That’s not to say that you should just run easy all the time, some workouts require a lot of focus to maintain a hard effort, but you don’t need a heart rate monitor to know what that effort is.

The third lesson is not to worry about how conditions will affect your workout. If you need to do speedwork you shouldn’t have to find a track. Hills or rolling terrain can only serve to increase the effectiveness of a workout and simulate race conditions. How many of us really do any track racing, so why would we seek to train on one? If your route is hilly run your intervals up the hills and recover on the way down. If your route is flat, run to landmarks, or even run to exertion. I have a good idea of how my body feels at the end of a good mile repeat, and I can run to that point before I start my recovery.

There are so many things in life that I can be guilty of overthinking, running shouldn’t be one of them. Interrupting the flow of a workout because we aren’t hitting time goals is frustrating and ineffective. I believe if I am training properly each workout should serve to improve my being in tune with my body, and ultimately prepare me exactly for the race effort that is ahead. Above all, every single day should be fun!

Categories: running, Training Tags: ,