Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Humid Humid Humid

Humidity has hit my neck of the woods (FL) and it is only mid April.  And there is no such thing as a cool morning run - it is humid even before the sun comes up. And then when it does rise over the trees, the solar heat just adds to the joy. It's amazing what shade does to make you feel cooler.

Interestingly enough, the humidity drops after the sun has been up for a bit. If I could delay my runs until the sun has been up for a couple of hours, I don't feel the affect of the humidity as much. But then I have to deal with the actual solar heat.  Aye, such a dilemma...  (truth be told, I'm just glad to be able to be running).

Over time I've learned a few things about humid running:
- run slower
- run shorter.

If running longer:
- take with or have access to plenty of water, Gatorade is nice but not mandatory,
- look for shade,
- it's ok to take walk breaks,
- lube up to prevent chaffing,
- keep an eye on HR, either by feel or with a monitor
- wear clothes that breathe and wick sweat away from my skin,
- if I start tasting salt on my lips, walk and take water liberally,
- if I start feeling hot, stop running. (this is a big judgement call that I'm not good at...)

Normally I like to run with a hat to protect my head and shield my eyes, but when it is humid it simply loads up with sweat so I wind up sticking it my waist band (where it does nothing other than to annoy me).  So I found a white skull cap that does a great job capturing the sweat on my bald noggin and gives my head a little bit of UV protection. More importantly, it feels much cooler than the cap. The only possible down side is that my wife thinks that I look ridiculous - but fortunately I don't care... :-)

As long as I follow my rules (above), I still get a great run, sweat out all the bad juju, and move on.  And a jump in a pool afterwards always feels good!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Today I run

Today I run so that tomorrow I will be strong. So that I will be strong and resilient to the things that might hurt me.

Today I run so that I can eat well today and tomorrow. So that I can eat and not grow in places that I shouldn't.

Today I run because it sharpens my mind. It sharpens my mind and tones my senses. I am so much more aware of things now.

Today I run because I am scared shitless of getting old. Very scared. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Devices and Electronics (really?)

Runners seem to fit into two very diametrically opposed groups: Those who are ok with running with some kind of electronics and those that run with nothing but their shoes, shorts, and a t-shirt.  The latter group is what I call the “purists”. The former group is, well, they just aren’t as radical as the purists…  they are still runners by every definition, but they like their electronics, be it in the form of music, heart monitors, or even pace and distance GPS devices.

I admit it, I run with an iPhone. I use it for music, to track my run, for a map when I get myself lost, occasionally as a camera, and sometimes I’ll even take or make a phone call…  I’ve also messed with a HR monitor, either as a separate wrist display or, with newer technology, integrated into my iPhone app. To take it a step further, I also wear a digital sports watch. Also worth mentioning is the fact that I also carry an emergency contact card in case something bad happens, a couple of $$, some Gu, and a doggy bag (the doggy bag serves to wrap my phone with in the event of rain or if I need to ice an ankle or something).

Ok – I agree that the value of all of this stuff is nebulous at best.  The most useful things on my above list are probably the digital watch and the doggy bag.

I wish that I could be a “purist” runner – just lace up my shoes and head out for an hour or more, with nothing but my thoughts and a small notion of how far I am going or how long it took me. And from time to time I do run with nothing other than my watch.  But typically these are short runs, like 2-4 miles, and my only goal is to clear my head, stretch my legs, log some miles, or all of the above. Interestingly enough, I do find it to be refreshing to be gadget-free and I am able to listen and pay attention to my footfalls, my cadence, and my breathing. But on a regular basis, if I am going solo, after 20 minutes or so of running I get bored, so the music helps to distract me and in effect, entertain me. The music also helps me with my cadence; I pick a genre or music style that fits the run I want to take and it helps me stay in a groove.

But there is more to it than just the music. I like to know my “metrics”: how far I’ve run, what my average pace was, what my splits were, how high were the hills, how many, and so on. The iPhone app that I use is RunKeeper (www.runkeeper.com).  I’ll review the data to see if I’m improving and look for areas that I should focus on. I keep a spreadsheet of my runs and I’ll add little notes about each run (good run, GREAT run, and occasionally, bad run, humid, cold, etc.). The spread sheet sort of works like a coach for me.

I use my digital sports watch to track my splits real-time. Even though RunKeeper will give me this data either through my ear-buds or on the display, I find it less intrusive to just have the RunKeeper ping me every mile at which time I’ll tap my watch to check my split. I used to have RunKeeper tell me the mile marker, average pace, split pace, overall time, and probably a few more metrics – but it was just way too much for me to absorb. Now I just have it tell me what mile marker I’m at, I can glance at my watch to check my pace and split, push the split/lap button, and carry on.

For a while I was also running with a Heart Monitor (HM), but I started to feel too-connected, too many gadgets, too much crap on me, so I ditched it. More realistically, I realized that I could subconsciously feel if I was running within my aerobic range or if I was trending anaerobic. Plus I was getting annoyed with the fact that there is so much bad advice out there about the use of HM’s and what one’s heart rate should be at any given moment. I was collecting interesting data, such as nominal HR at a given pace or distance, MaxHR during sprints or hills, and probably the most important I thought was how quickly my HR recovered from MaxHR. But ultimately, all of that data was not relevant to me on a day to day basis for my runs.

Another aspect of the available electronics is the location capabilities. From time to time I’ve run some very extended runs in areas that I am not familiar with, sometimes on trails that are not well travelled. Should something happen to me, at a minimum my wife would be able to track me down by locating my phone – and I know… given the current conversations about big brother watching this can be a touchy subject, but yet it’s a very real situation. I’ve only had to be rescued once, and I am glad that I had my cell phone with me because I was a loooong way from home.

So I’m wondering what type of device will come next? Something that will measure available oxygen in your system and calculate VO2Max? Or glycogen stores? Perhaps something to measure hydration levels? How plugged in do we feel that we should get to run or train optimally? Or to ask the question differently, will this type of data gathering help marginal athletes become great athletes?

I feel that as humans, we like to know things, and that’s why we have all the various type of devices and electronics available to us for running, conditioning, and training. For some runners, time is all they need, for others it’s the entire suite of performance data. It becomes a balance to meet whatever need feels like the priority at the moment… It all depends on what we are individually looking for.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Winter running - and Florida

Within my relatively short running history (most of it up north in the mitten state), winter was a period where I dialed down the miles but I would still get out there and run. After a year of training, struggling through injuries and scrambled recoveries, and running a few events, winter was almost a welcome relief. No pressure. Run for the sheer whim and fun of it.

I would run outside as long as there wasn't any ice. And if there was I'd find a treadmill or do the stairs in my house. I learned how to dress for various temperatures (thin layers), that a windbreaker is a godsend, and something for my bald head was essential. I've run in snow, while it's snowing (a very cool experience - no pun intended), sleet, and in temps as low as 8 degrees F (that was a coooold experience...).

I am now in FL, where it seems the "running season" is reversed: winter is the time to run, summer is the time to recover. And I've had an interesting time adapting. My body is saying "back off - we had a tough year last year" but the weather has, for the most part, been phenomenal. Perfect running weather. Some mornings it is as cool as 40 degrees, warming relatively quickly to 60, others it just starts out around mid 60's and tops out at maybe 75. Low humidity, sunny... In other words, perfect.

And yes, I do get out and run, knowing full well that in a few months the hot, sticky, humid weather will set in, making running a tad more difficult. If it is chilly out I'll wear a long sleeve something over my running shirt, knowing full well that as soon as the sun pops over the trees that I'll be shedding the long sleeves and tying it around my waist. This morning it was mid 40's at my start, and I had a long sleeve, a windbreaker, plus I wore gloves - within 30 minutes, as the sun got high enough over the tree tops, I was down to my running shirt with everything else tied around my waist.

What is also interesting about FL running is that unless I get to run over a bridge, most of my running territory is flat as a pancake. Absolutely zip for vertical climbs. No hills. And honestly, I kind of miss hills. Hills were (are) a challenge as they engaged different muscle groups which I think was (is) helpful overall in endurance conditioning. I can't even do the stairs in my house, simply because I don't have any.... (single story house).

So that is yet another challenge to handle... all good ;-)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Pre-run nutrition really matters (?)

I am so confused about pre-run nutrition... I had an odd experience today:

I had gotten into the habit of eating something before my runs, like a banana or a piece of toast with peanut butter or some yogurt, about an hour before I start. And that pretty much was ok - no issues.

But not too long ago I had a conversation with a fellow Marine Corps Marathoner, who happened to be a doctor, and his opinion was that pre-run fueling like mine was unnecessary. He stated that the food that I might eat an hour before running simply does not have time to run through the digestive process in order to really affect my body, with the sugar content being the only exception. The sugars in the carbohydrate content get processed very fast (in fact any sucrose, glucose, matodextrin or maltose) to produce glycogen, the fuel needed to make muscles work. But this is typically short term fuel, i.e. it won't last me long...

I argued that my "eat something an hour before" practice seemed to work, to which he replied that this was simply because my body's metabolism had become accustomed to sucking the sugars out, but then also suggested that I probably felt the need to refuel by mile 4 or 5... which is true.

So after the MCM I tried to get into the habit of not eating prior to a run.  Since I run first thing in the morning, I would just have a cup of coffee (ok, maybe two cups) and then out the door.  And that seemed to be ok. Granted, my recent runs have been less than 10 miles, lots of 3's and 4's, with 5's, 6's, and 8's scattered in there. For my longer runs, I would suck down a GU around mile 5 or 6 to get me home (he also had an opinion about that, but that's a separate topic).

But today I had a really odd experience:
I'm up early, but got involved in various tasks and did not get out to my run until almost 3 hours after my intended time (bummer). Feeling that I might need some fuel since I had delayed my departure so much, I munched down a banana and a small piece of whole wheat bread with some peanut butter (I felt hungry...), and about 20 minutes later I was running with a 5 mile run planned.

At Mile 2 I felt the beginnings of what I call "fuel fatigue", that feeling that I'm lacking fuel and I'm running out of gas. By Mile 2.5 I felt like I was going to bonk (so weird!!), so I sucked down a GU and ran on.  A quarter of a mile later, I had to walk. I felt like I had nothing in the tank. Bonk.

As I walked my mind is scrambling to figure out what was wrong. By this time it had been an hour since I had the banana, and about 45 minutes since I had the bread (albeit small piece) and peanut butter. I realized that the GU would take a few minutes to take effect, but why the hell hadn't the banana and peanut butter kicked in??!!!

About 10 minutes after I sucked down the GU I felt recharged enough to run again. In fact, without even thinking about it, I posted a very nice 4th and 5th mile times.

I owe the last two miles to the GU - I am sure that stuff is the only reason that I was able to run well. But conversely, I don't like the fact that it worked - it is such a crutch. Perhaps it signals an issue with my body's inability to store and manage glycogen. Or a lack of preparation on my part for the run...? I finally realized that by the time I started my run it had been 16 hours since my last real meal, and the banana and peanut butter were tea-spoons of fuel too close to my run start.

I'm going to pin my mid-run bonking issue on the period of time since my last real meal (16 hours) and the fact that the banana and peanut butter had nothing to work on and were unable to be digested into usable energy.

Interesting stuff - time for a better plan...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Running felt bad until one day it felt good

“Running felt bad until one day it felt good” (read this line in an article by Marc Parent in Runners World, The Newbie Chronicles (www.runnersworld.com/newbie) – I think that is such a great statement.

I started running at 52 and had never taken up running as a thing that I did. Sure, as a kid I played a lot of soccer, and in PE the coach would have us run around the fields and so on, but I remember running (when not playing soccer) as being more of a punishment than being fun. I had some odd knee pain that bothered me whenever I tried to run and that was always an instant discouragement (or an excuse…).  Nevertheless, I took on running because I felt some urgency to improve my cardio vascular health.

But so here I was at age 52 struggling to figure out how to run, knowing in the back of my head that it was supposed to be good for me, but not really having a lot of fun at it. It was so hard and I was sooo bad at it. I couldn't even go a full mile without walking. It was embarrassing.

Regardless, I trudged on, struggling to run a mile without walking, and then 2 miles, and then 3. It took me forever to reach that 3 mile milestone. I even ran a half marathon without feeling great about running – I did the HM just to prove to myself that I could. And then not too long after that HM it suddenly did feel good to be running – it wasn't like an epiphany or a sudden revelation – I remember going out for a run and thinking how good it feels to be running. In fact, in my log I noticed that my notes started saying things like I had had a “great run”; not just a good run or an ok run, but I had a GREAT RUN. It’s like my physical and mental cogs finally got lined up and I was now in sync. I am sure that it was because my endurance levels were substantially better than when I started running, the weather was great, my music was on cue to my mood, I hadn't eaten too much the night before, I had gotten a good night’s sleep, and so on… But that was a big turning point for me.  It felt good. It was no longer this horrible struggle. I could run and I could feel the endorphin's kick in.

The point here is that I know now that whenever I’m running that I-will-feel-good.
(a quick disclaimer  before I get inundated with comments: not every run is a great run... sometimes there are bad runs - but for the most part, most of the time, running does feel good...:-)

Monday, January 27, 2014

If you are not challenged, you will not be changed

If you are not challenged, you will not be changed.

I don't remember if I've heard or read this somewhere, or if it just came to me, but it is true. If I am not challenged to get better at something, meet a goal, see something, etc., I never will. But this also goes along with that "will to persevere" thing... I have to (you have to) have the "will" to do it, to be challenged. And it can be a pain in the ass and often inconvenient, but the results and rewards are tremendous.

I have been struggling to maintain my physical activity (running) goals in the face of the various priorities and interruptions of "life" and it is difficult - it is a hard balance. And this is where the challenge part comes to play: I challenge myself to meet my goals and to accomplish certain things. And often by accepting these challenges, I am in effect, more than halfway there because in my head, I'm already doing it. It's kind of interesting from a mental viewpoint. And meeting and exceeding those goals is an incredible feeling.

For example, I've noted that when I'm gearing up to run 3 miles or 18, my head is already into the fact that I am going to run the target distance. Why? Because that is what my goal is, that is what I want to accomplish. I start running and I'm done when I'm done. And when I finish my run, I am fully satisfied because I did what I said I was going to do. Obviously this applies to all other areas of life...

I am challenged, and I will continue to change for the better.