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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.

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: ,

When Do You Make the Call?

February 19th, 2011 No comments

I struggle with motivation to workout. I love doing it once I start doing it, but getting started is a whole other issue! That goes doubly if the weather sucks. I’ve listed the most useful tools in my arsenal for getting out the door in these situations.

The first involves having some level of commitment before the workout is due to start. This could mean contacting a friend early to make sure you are on schedule for a workout. When I go for a run at lunchtime, I am much more likely to get out the door on time if I know I’m meeting someone out there (Thanks BFish!). Somedays that even means making the arrangements as soon as I get to work before I get swamped with the day’s activities.

When weather could be an issue, I always make sure I pack more than enough running gear so I can’t make excuses if the weather is worse than I think it will be. You can always leave gear behind that you don’t need, but not having something you do need is a deal-breaker. Occasionally I end up being overdressed for a run, just because being comfortable when I start is the only thing that gets me out the door. I can always shed layers mid-run if necessary.

If you can’t workout with someone else, accountability can be a good tool as well. Having a friend make sure you got your workout in, or encourage you, helps a lot. Sites like Dailymile.com can be great for having friends help with motivation, but anyone can keep you accountable, you just need to ask them!

A final tool that I use probably helps me most of all. I make an appointment with myself, either earlier in the day, or even the night before. I call this “making the call.” It is a point at which I tell myself, “it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are at this point in the day, I am going to workout!” The other day I made the call to ride my bike to work. I setup the coffee maker to brew an extra cup, which I don’t usually have time for if I’m taking the bus. I knew that whatever happened, I was committed to get on the bike to ride to work. When I woke up that morning the wind was howling outside, had I not made the call the night before I would have never chose to ride in those circumstances. It turned out I had a great ride, and even with leaving myself an out for the return trip, I still chose to ride home that night.

In the end what works to motivate you is personal. You need to find what works to get yourself out the door, whether it’s to the gym, or to a snowy cold ride. When do you make the call?

Categories: motivation Tags: , ,