Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Struggling but I'm winning

The summer humidity, the ongoing commitments of day to day life, and some nagging ankle issues are working hard to beat me down. I'm struggling, but I'm winning, and I can't wait to see the view from the top...

I make an effort to be committed to my running goals, but they always get re-prioritized by life's other priorities (family, work, social commitments, etc - you know how it is...). When I have a pressing ongoing project I am tempted to forgo my morning run so that I can get an even earlier start on the project, the rationale being that there are other people that are affected by the status of the project. On the other hand, I'm not being true to myself and my health by dropping my run.

I remember years ago rationalizing that there was no way that I could get to a gym or start a running routine because I had "urgent and pressing" responsibilities that just had to be addressed. Once they were taken care of, then and only then could I think of myself... but of course that never happens.

Of course, I've had people tell me that I needed to literally schedule my workout time as if it were a business meeting, i.e. make it mandatory. And predictably, I never did that. I always felt too committed to my work and family priorities. It was not until I sold my company that I suddenly had the time to run - which is how I started running...

Now I'm facing the same issues again, work projects and family commitments are demanding time and I've been tempted to forgo my runs to take care of those responsibilities. Just a few weeks prior to the Marine Corps Marathon last year I got enveloped in a huge project into which I felt so committed that I scaled back my marathon training - at obviously the wrong time - and I am sure that helped contribute to my tough marathon. It's not an excuse - it was my decision, but in hindsight a bad one.

But I've pushed back.

I am forcing myself to reschedule projects and meetings in order to accommodate my running and training routines so that I can meet my running and training goals.

The current levels of humidity are a different story, and there is not much that I can do about that. It has a way of just sucking the mojo out of me - it is so hard to run when it is so oppressively humid. Ugh.  I've been scheduling my runs early in the AM before the sun breaks the tree line - it's still humid, but at least the solar radiation is not knocking me down. Plus I'm working on the premise that by gutting it out and pushing through my runs that I'm actually getting stronger (yeah, right....).

I'm also fighting an Achilles strain, which requires careful running, resting the ankle, ice, and elevation. I've got a Ragnar Relay coming up in a month, and I'm determined to have a good run!

I'm struggling, but I'm going to win my battles!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

It's all about the shoes

Newtons, Saucony, and Cloudtec
I have fallen out of love for my Newton running shoes (Gravity)…  After running 560 miles in my first pair and 515 in my second, I just wasn’t feeling the love anymore for the Newton's. Perhaps my gait has changed, but something is different. At 500 miles it is obviously time to consider new running shoes, and as I readied myself to do so, I have to admit that the cost of the Newton’s was also a consideration in my choice of a new pair.

And so, after trying a myriad of different running shoes, I opted for Saucony Triumphs – and so far they feel good. They are a little bit heavier than the Newton Gravity’s (306g vs 252g) with an 8mm heel-toe offset. To be honest, I can’t really feel the difference between the weights of the shoes. The important part, of course, is that they just feel right when running. The odd thing that I've noticed while running with the Saucony's though, is that I’m not as focused as I was with the Newtons with regards to landing on my midfoot/forefoot, although I know that I am still doing it. I do notice that my steps are quieter. For some reason I was unable to land as softly as I would have liked with the Newtons and I tended to hear a “plop” sound with every step. Odd. It may have been my gait.

When I took up running with the Newton Gravity shoes I noticed that I was a tad faster, probably because I became more focused on my form and doing the midfoot/forefoot thing, and so I have been curious what the effect, if any, would be with the new Saucony’s. The answer is still TBD… It has been so hot and humid, that any real evaluation or analysis is going to have to wait until the weather gets a little more cooperative. I’m still running in this humidity, but not with a tremendous amount of gusto. My running mojo is sucking…

But then entered a wild card…  I fell into a pair of CloudTec Cloudracers (230g, 5mm heel/toe offset) (website: the night of a 5K. I immediately felt the lightness of these shoes. Wow, so this is what lightweight shoes feel like! But they are a little weird in that the soles of the shoe have these rubber “eyelets”, or bumps (see the picture...) that are kind of little bouncy, spongy things… My initial reaction when I saw the shoe was “yeah, right… forget about it”, but then I tried them on and ran the 5K race with them.  And I PR’ed it… on an incredibly hot and humid night (it was
a midnight 4th of July run…) I ran the fastest 5K I have ever run. It must have been the shoes...! (uh-huh...) But yes, they really, really felt good. I felt a little extra spring that was very dynamic. Maybe that is what those rubber eyelets thingy's do.

I’m a little skeptical with regards to how many miles I can get out of the Cloudtec shoes, because I am sure that the rubber eyelets will either fatigue and collapse, or will rip out. We’ll see. I may just use them for events. But they do feel real good!

Next up: I'm hoping to run in one of the Ragnar series relays, the New Hampshire Reach the Bay (or is it Beach?) in September.  Never done one, hope to see what it's like!

After that its a Half Marathon on Honeymoon Island in November.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Cost of Running $$

I made the mistake the other day to consider how much that particular run was costing me, as in how much per mile (I sometimes like to do math while I’m running… I know, crazy…)

Ok, it’s not a ton of money, but it turns out that it is not insignificant either.   If I include the broad assortment of running related goodies, from shoes to gu, it costs me about $0.80 per mile…  More on how I’ve arrived at that in a sec.  

When I first started to run 5 years ago I literally went out with my day-to-day sneakers, a pair of shorts and a cotton tee shirt.  After all, running is commonly known as the most inexpensive form of exercise – no equipment needed and the roads, sidewalks, and trails are free.  The only thing required is one’s effort.

Well, I’m sure you know the story…   To start with my shoes sucked (they were my non-work shoes that I played with my kids with, mowed the lawn, walked around downtown with, etc..), so I got into more appropriate shoes dedicated to running. That was the first cha-ching.  And course, special socks became the next mandatory item since my cotton/polyester sox didn’t do my feet any favors. Another cha-ching.  And so it goes – you know the drill.

So let’s just start with the shoes and sox…  For example, I recently bought a new pair of Saucony Triumph’s for $140 and some new sox for $10.  I’m hoping to get 400 miles out of the shoes, so that comes to $0.35 per mile.  I’ll get maybe double the miles out of the sox, so let’s say that comes to $0.01 per mile. For my feet alone, every mile that I run every day is costing me $0.36. So for a 30 mile week, that totals out to $10.80 a week.  I’ve spent more for a gym membership that I never went to…. So I'm totally cool with that; a pretty cheap solution to better physical and mental health.

But guess what? It doesn’t end with just the investment in my footwear! Here is a list of the crap that I’ve wound up buying to support my running habit:
  •  More sox
  • Non-cotton t-shirts
  • Running shorts
  •  Winter running pants and shirts
  • A rain shell (for those drizzly or ice-spitting mornings)
  • Headgear, i.e. hats and skullcaps
  • Sunglasses (ok… I might have bought them regardless, but interestingly enough, I only wear them when I’m running…)
  • Nutrition (like gu, shotbocks, Gatorade,  etc.)
  • First-aid junk (band-aids, ace-bandages, wraps, creams, Epson salts, etc)
  • Running app for my phone (vs buying a GPS watch)
  • Ear buds for music (they break, get lost, etc.)
  • A waist-pack to carry all of my crap in
  • Camelback and a water belt

And now I’m pushing $0.80 per mile. This calculation is the result of putting all of the above items into a spreadsheet, establishing a cost and then dividing by how many miles I might get out of them.  And that $0.80 may even be low, but nevertheless it is still way better than paying for a gym membership that I never went to.

But wait ! There’s more !   How about running a race, or four, every year? And here is where the real money comes in. Event costs vary, and I’ve paid anywhere from $25 for a 5K to $140 for a marathon. My annual costs for event entry fee’s is around $300, and this does not take into account any costs associated with me getting to the event or lodging, etc.  I probably dropped between $700 & $1,000 to run the Chicago Marathon in 2011, between lodging, transportation to Chicago, cabs, food, etc.

So the net-net here is that running isn’t free… it has costs and they are not necessarily negligible.  Shoes are expensive. Sweat-wicking shirts and shorts are expensive. Events are expensive. No wonder that running is a multi-billion dollar industry!

But at the end of the day, running is arguably still the cheapest form of cardio-vascular exercise available that has the added value of providing awesome mental refreshment.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hot run

What's better than a mid-day 6 mile run with the temperature at 90 degrees plus, and heavy, heavy humidity? And no wind, by the way.

Everything and anything... But I had that hankering to do a tough run.  It had been a big weekend of drinking and eating and I had a lot of bad ju-ju that I wanted to sweat out. So I had good cause…

I got myself prepped with the necessary goodies for a "you-must-be-crazy-to-run-in-this-heat" kind of a run: Vaseline, sunscreen, a camel-back loaded with ice, a sweat-wicking skull cap, and sunglasses. And off I went – and I had a great, but tough, run.

I kept myself at a very easy pace, 9:50-10:15 min/mile pace and never got to a point where I was predominately breathing through my mouth (For me, that’s a key indicator of my aerobic intensity. If I’m breathing through my mouth 100% of the time, I know that my heart rate is pushing 130bps, and so if I’m breathing mostly through my nose while running I know that my heart rate is likely around 120 or so.

But it was hot, so hot and muggy!  My route had a lot of shade trees, but I had stretches of a half-mile or more that had no shade whatsoever, and those parts were brutal.

I started out sipping water from my camel back every half mile, and then later in the run when I was feeling the most heat (and I was definitely hot from exertion) I started drinking much more often as well as soaking my skull cap with the cold water from my camel back. I got hot enough that I took a walk break in a shady area at mile 5 so that I could cool myself down after a long stretch in the sun.

But overall it was a great, focused, run. I felt that I ran with purpose and determination. It goes without saying that the plunge into the pool afterwards was awesome. And I definitely felt like had relieved myself of most of the bad ju-ju... I know I have a good sweat going when the sweat is flying off my fingers as I run.

I lost 3 pounds during my run, despite constantly taking in fluids.  According to an article that I read, that equates to 3 pints of water loss – which sounds pretty crazy.  A three pound loss also comes out to 1.8% body weight loss for me, which I think is within the safe zone of temporary weight loss due to sweating fluids out. But the 3 pints of water still sounds nuts to me. That would be on top of all the water that I drank while running (which turned out to be ~2 pints). Hmmm

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Stages of a Marathon

Believe it or not, there are 10 stages in a marathon... These are the result of a recent conversation with some friends at a local watering hole about what it was like to run a marathon – I summed it up as a series of stages and I thought that I should post them here…  But first, a disclaimer: I’m a mid-pack runner and so everything here pretty much relates to those of us that are trying hard to stay in the game.

Stage 1: Pre-start Anticipation
Standing (or sitting) in the Starting Corral. Sun is just peeking up over the horizon. Anticipation and excitement are high. It’s chilly, you are ready to go, and you are packed in with 1,000’s of fellow runners, all anxious to get this thing going. It’s a little boring. You’ve already been up for 3-4 hours. And you need to pee…

Stage 2: Miles 1-6, finally running
Slowly getting the kinks out, trying to warm up and not hurt anything. Lots of noise and cheering. Trying not to get too hyped up and blow energy. Gotta find a place to pee.

Stage 3: Miles 7-14, in the groove
Ok, this is what you’ve trained for. Cruising along, not too fast, trying to remember when and where to find some fuel or fluids. You are feeling pretty good. Everything is normal. Hey, this isn't so bad!

Stage 4: Miles 15-20, starting to feel kind of like work
More than half way done, less than half way to go. Keep her steady, remember fuel and fluids. You've trained for this. All good. But jeesh, this is beginning to feel like a haul.

Stage 5: Miles 20-24 – crossing the chasm
You are now running in the black hole. You’ve never run this far before (except for maybe your previous marathon…), and there is no telling what is going to happen. Training runs maxed out at 20 miles. Can you even run further than 20? Don’t think about it. Just run. You won’t get to the finish line if you don’t run. Just run. Gotta keep running. Do not stop.

Stage 6: Mile 24 – things hurt
Multiple body parts are complaining. Must keep running. Very tired. Feet say stop. Head says not yet. no way. Spectators yell “you are almost there!”, but you know that already, you just wish that it were true. Digging deep for the will to keep running. There is a vague mirage of a finish line somewhere ahead. Could it be? Gotta keep running.

Stage 7: Mile 25 – 1.2 miles to go
Oh me oh my – yes, there is a finish line up there somewhere, you can smell it, you can hear it. You are struggling, but can’t stop for nothing now. Anyone can run 1.2 miles. Anyone. C’mon baby, c’mon, dig deep.

Stage 8: Mile 26 – New Life
You can see the Finish Line… It is shimmering with all of the wonders of sweet relief and promises of untold wealth and happiness. New found strength floods your legs (where the heck was that back at mile 23?). Praise the gods, you are going to finish the marathon. Nothing short of a bolt of lightning is going to keep you from crossing that finish line. And yet those last 385 yards are like an impossible distance. Why is this not over yet? Why is there a hill here? Are you freaking kidding me? C’mon baby, c’mon!

Stage 9: Finish Line – Euphoria
Relief, disbelief, unbridled satisfaction, euphoria like you have never experienced before in your life, and so much more flood your body. It’s done. You did it. You did something that others won’t or couldn’t. You took yourself out to the edge and you brought yourself home. The feeling is indescribable. You will never be able to explain this feeling to anyone.

Stage 10: Later that day – Now what?
Ok cool – you did it. Your walking is a little stiff, but you feel good. Now what other seemingly insurmountable challenge can you conquer?

In the event of interest, here are links to my two marathons. They were hard, no stellar times, but they were great experiences:
Marine Corps Marathon 2013:  Marine Corps Marathon -2013
Chicago Marathon 2011:  Chicago Marathon - 2011

Friday, April 25, 2014

Preparing for an 8K

I’m gearing up run an 8K (5M) event in a couple of weeks and I’m finding the process to be so much different than the training I’ve gone through for a HM or a marathon. Strictly speaking, a 5M race is like a 10K, it’s all about speed and endurance, but mostly speed. The trick is to be able to sustain the speed for entire distance. Assuming that I had some speed, I would be very serious about my training, but since I don’t I’m focused on meeting or beating an arbitrary goal that I’ve set, which is to finish in 44 minutes or less (very possible), with a stretch goal of 40 minutes (not likely). Anything in between will be a home run for me.

I’m pretty comfortable running 5 miles, so the distance is not an issue. What will be my challenge will be to do so quicker than usual. My 5 miles runs have ranged from as much as 48 minutes to just under 43.  

One of my many challenges has been my first mile: it seems to always be my “shake out” mile and almost always is close to a 10 min/mile pace. That first mile is where my body works out all of its kinks and my joints loosen up and my muscles warm up and so on... That slow start strategy has worked fine for HM and marathon events, but obviously not applicable to short distance events. Totally different situation for me.

The times that I’ve run a 5 mile route better than 44 minutes have all been when I’ve been able to do that first mile in the low 9 min/mile range. After that first mile I’ve been pretty good at paring down the next 4 splits, but when that first mile is 10 min/mile, wow, that’s a lot of time to win back. And I have not been able to pin down why I was able to run that first mile faster on those days.

Typical splits for 5 mile run might be:
Mile 1: 10 min
Mile 2: 9:30
Mile 3: 8:50
Mile 4: 8:30
Mile 5: 8:00
Which approaches a reasonable ~44:45 total time…  which is just "ok" …. On good days I can do the 4th mile at closer to 8:00 and the last mile under 8:00.

Obviously, if I can get through each of those first two miles at closer to a 9 min/mile pace I could be reaching into a 43:xx time…”.  So I’m working on that by warming up more prior to my 5-6 mile runs, and we’ll see what happens. On the day of the race I will probably jog a mile or so before the start to make sure that I'm loose and ready to run those first miles a little faster. I'm not worried about the distance - I'm pretty confident about my endurance - I'm more worried about sustaining the speed.

In the meantime, I managed to do something weird to my foot while doing speed intervals. Felt good running, but afterwards the top of my left foot is very sore and it hurts to walk. I skipped a running day, but did a slow 3 miles today. It hurts now, but not as bad as yesterday. Hmmm. What a pain in the ass…

The event is on May 10. It should be interesting!

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!