Monday, September 24, 2012

Running errands (literally)

I’ve gotten into the habit of literally running my local errands, like to the nearby grocery store to pick up a few items, or the bakery, or the bank…. I’m able to turn it into a 4 to 5 mile run with no problem, and doing errands actually gives the whole running event a purpose.  I run with a small day-pack – it’s not very big, for obvious reasons; I don’t want to wind up buying more that I can actually carry.  Worse, I don’t want to wind up with an awkward load to run home with.

The first time that I did it I had to make sure that I packed the non-compressible items on the bottom of the backpack, so that the stuff that might get squished, wouldn’t.  And it did work out (nothing got squished), but it took about half a mile for the load to wiggle its way into some form of equilibrium.  At first things were pretty much wiggling around - not very comfortable.  After that, the backpack was fairly stable and I had a good mile or two of comfortable running..

I have to admit that I get some weird looks from people – first of all, I’m walking into the grocery store in obvious running clothes, and clearly I had gotten there running (I’m still breathing a little hard – note to self: take a few minutes to catch my breath before entering the store…), and then secondly, I’m walking in with a backpack.  The first thing that store security looks for is people with backpacks (shoplifters)…  but fortunately, I’m somewhat recognizable since I’ve only been in that store several thousand times, so they tend not to bug me.  But still….

Then after checking out I have to go to a little side area so that I can ‘pack my pack’ for the run home.  But once I’m all set, and I step outside, I’m back in running mode:  sun glasses in place, hat on, music on, let’s go.  

Going to the bank is interesting: I run up to the bank with my sunglasses, hat, and backpack.  The staff know me there as well, but I’m sure it looks interesting to other people as I get my receipts or whatever from the transaction that I did, stuff it into a zippered pocket on my backpack, step outside, do the sunglasses and hat routine and start running away from the bank….  It did occur to me that I should not be surprised if someone might call the cops to report a guy with a backpack running away from the bank….

But the best part of it is the fact that I feel that I’m actually accomplishing more than just going for a run; I’m paring down the list of things on my to-do list that I might otherwise have used my truck for.  I’ll try to do more of this – the trick is to make sure that where ever it is that I’m going, that it is ok to arrive a little sweaty…

Monday, September 17, 2012

Train hard to run hard

I read last week that if you are going to train, train hard.  Don’t just train moderately. Train like you mean it.  The article mentioned that most of us will think that we are going out for a “hard” run, but when we start to get fatigued, we back off – I know that I’ve been there.  Ok, we’re still getting our exercise in, and yes, we are probably doing more than the majority of the population, but if you are training, make it count.  And when it’s “hard” is when its beginning to count.

So I did yesterday’s 4M run with the intent of running hard, but smart, and with the goal of doing the last mile as consistently fast as I could.  What would I experience, what line would I cross – if any…

it was an interesting experience for me – so much so that I’m going to try to articulate it here.

At a minimum, I was curious as to what would happen and how I would feel.  My goal was to start as I always do, slow and steady to get loosened up and in a groove, then move it up to a nice cruising pace, and then finish the last mile as hard as I could, with the emphasis on not giving up during that last mile.  I was thinking that I would do my first mile at a 10m/m pace, miles 2 & 3 at around a 9m/m pace, and then my last mile would be somewhere around 8-something.   I wound up doing 9:58, 9:12, 8:05, 7:11.

The temperature and weather were perfect for having a good run – mid 50’s, slight breeze, and sunny.  A beautiful morning.  For fuel prior to the run I had some peanut butter on toast with a coffee chaser.  I took the time to stretch and loosen up.   Music queued up.

The first mile was nice and easy.  The first half mile was at something like an 11m/m pace, pretty typical for me, and by the next half I was up to a 9m/m pace – averages out nicely to a 10m/m pace.  I know that my first half mile will always be slow – it just is; my body is just not ready to flow and it takes 5 minutes or so to get my juices going.

The second mile has a few small hills, nothing significant, but enough to throw me off a steady pace, but I tried to remain consistent.  Netting out a 9:12m/m pace was very satisfactory to me.  I had been thinking that I would do something more along the lines of 9:30.  Around mile 1.5 I noticed that I was feeling a sugar low, so I sucked down a goo, knowing that it would not hit until after mile 2-2.5.

Mile 3 is ever so slightly downhill.  There is probably, maybe, a 10 foot drop in the entire mile, but the net result is that it makes for easier running.  I even lucked out at a major crossroads and barely had to break my pace to get across the intersection.   I had a good pace going and I knew it.  My half mile split was indicating that I was running an 8-something pace.  By now the goo was kicking in and I was concentrating on my form and posture.  As soon as I crossed the street and was back on the trail I know that I subconsciously was turning on the juice – it’s that “we’ve turned the corner and I can see home from here” thing…  I was pretty amped when I saw that my mile 3 split was an 8:05 !

As soon as I got to the start of mile 4 I was in full stride.  I was trying not to over stride, hips forward, making my mid foot land below my hips, pushing forward with my quads, and breathing – always breathing.  I knew that I was moving faster than I usually did, but even so, I felt under control.  As I passed someone walking the other way I was able to say “good morning” easily and without wheezing and gasping the words out – I thought that was a good sign.

I also started thinking about where my mile 4 end point was going to be – clearly it was not going to end at my house; I would have to overshoot the house by maybe half a mile.  That’s not a problem in of itself -  it’s more the psychological aspect of “where is the finish line?”  I was not going to be able to “see” it.  I would be done when my GPS said that I got to Mile 4.  It is an interesting way to push oneself.  Very abstract.

I got lucky again in crossing the road, easily avoiding traffic and powered into my neighborhood.  As I pushed my way down the boulevard I started to dwell on “where is the finish line going to be???”  At the half mile split my watch noted 3:40, or the equivalent of a 7:20m/m pace.  Cool – and all I’m thinking at this point is if I could run at this pace for another 3 minutes and 40 seconds.

I tried counting in seconds but found that I was way off – I was counting too fast.  I concentrated on pushing my quads to power me forward, using my arms to help my momentum.  I was trying so hard to land mid foot and spring off.  And keep moving, keep moving.

But I was getting tired – particularly since  I had no idea where the finish line was.  I had stopped looking at my watch.  I was definitely in an anaerobic state and my calculations were not making sense to me, so I just tried to focus on running hard and NOT SLOWING DOWN for anything.

I got to a point where I know that I was reaching a breaking point – a point where I normally would have said “ok – that’s enough - time to throttle back”, but I kept thinking about the whole thing of “training hard to run hard”.  It’s not like I was seeing spots before my eyes, but I know that I was definitely crossing a new line.  I think I lost a little speed while all of this was going on, but the important part is that I kept going as hard as I could – again just wishing that I knew where the finish line was…. I kept saying “how far, how far….”

And then suddenly it was there in my ears:   “Distance - four point zero zero miles”.  Heaven.  I touched the split button on my watch and pulled off to the side of the road to walk and breathe. And then I looked at my split:  7:11.   I read it, but I didn’t comprehend it.  I don’t run a 7:11 mile.

I then checked my GPS thing on my phone – it confirmed 7:11.  Whoa, this is huge.

Even better, as I walked back to my house, my breathing was good, my heart rate was normal (fully recovered), and my legs felt great (nice to be walking).  “Wow” I thought.

According to my logs, it was my fastest 4th mile, but not my fastest 4 miles.  In February of this year I somehow managed to do a 4 mile run about a minute faster.  Notwithstanding, I met my goal of finishing hard and running the last mile consistently hard.  And yes, I was wearing my new Newton running shoes, now with a grand total of 34 miles on them.

I crossed a line, both mentally and physically.  I understand the concept better now. I’ve crossed lines during an event, particularly towards the end of the race.  But the fact is that I was always unprepared for it – I never knew what would happen.  I’ve heard the saying “training day stud, race day dud”, so I’ve almost always eased back when things got hard.  But the reality of the fact is that if I want to run fast, if I want to run hard, I have to train fast, and I have to train hard. Theoretically, the line keeps moving, meaning that I should have the opportunity to get better and better.

The trick now is to extend this concept into my training routine.  Woof

Friday, September 14, 2012

Running with Newton's - continued

I've done 3 successive 6 mile runs in my Newtons, and I think that I really like the shoes.  My legs feel good, I feel the development of different muscles, and in my last 6M run, I was comfortable enough to sprint the last mile.  And yeah, I think my times are a skoosh better.

But the shoes do take getting used to - my last 6 mile run was a little hilly - not a lot, but some - and I felt the effects of the run in my right achilles tendon area that afternoon and the next day.  I was walking pretty stiffly for a bit, but it worked itself out.

The other good news is that the plantar fasciitis in my left foot seems to be diminished.  I can't determine if it has been because of the Newtons or all the stretching and massaging that I've been doing, or both, but the bottom line is that it feels better (today anyway).

So with that in mind, I'm trying to get into a half marathon later this month (in two weeks), even though registration for the event is closed.  That will be a good test!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Running with Newtons

After running unhappily for 6 months in shoes that had bad karma, I decided to explore the world of Newton running shoes – and so far I’m glad that I did.  I wound up selecting what Newton calls a “Motion Performance Trainer” (the blue one’s with the yellow sole), for the princely sum of $175.  These are by far the most expensive shoes (of any kind) that I have ever bought (I’m not a big “shoe” kind of a guy).   Newton will allow you to return any shoe within 60 days for a full refund, no matter how many miles you’ve put on them… That little option is what finally convinced me to give them a try.   I’m also not sure why Newton designates all of their shoes as “Trainers”…  what’s up with that?

So far I have a grand total of 12 miles on them and I really like them.  Per the advice of a customer at the store that I bought them at (MyTriGuys on 5 Mile in Livonia, MI,, I have been “easing” into them starting with short runs and adding distance slowly, and I could immediately understand why that was important.  In my case, I could feel the shoes stretching and manipulating the muscles in my calves and hamstrings, along with the ligaments and tendons to my ankles.  The design of the shoes has a way of changing my running form just a tad, with two (hopefully positive) effects: 1) I believe that I’m making better use of my muscles, and 2) I think that I’m a little bit faster!  The latter point will be made more evident for fact or fantasy as I put on more miles.

During my first 1.5 mile run I could feel muscles in my hamstring (specifically the muscle area closer to my knee) working differently and after the run I felt the result of new stretching in the ligaments and tendons towards the back of my ankle (in the area of my Achilles tendon).  Subsequent runs, each one a bit further, have resulted in the same feeling in both areas.  It’s not a bad feeling, just different.

While running I can’t help but be conscious of the “knobs” on the bottom of the shoe – it’s not that I feel them so much as I know that they are there and I should be using them to my advantage.  Which forces me to focus on my form: keep my hips forward, lean into the run just a tad, land (lightly) on my midfoot, and release without pushing off with my toes.  When I concentrate on that form, I have been able to post better times per mile that I have in the last 6 months.  For three runs in a row, I have averaged a 7:20 min/mile pace in my last mile (I like to finish harder than I started…  it’s just my thing – I know that most coaches won’t approve, but I’m 55 and it’s what I do…).  That is compared to a mid to low 8 min/mile average with other shoes.  For all I know I’m subconsciously pushing myself, but like I said, fact and fantasy will be borne out as I put more miles on.

This of course is causing me to develop and exercise slightly new muscle groups, so I am now slowly building up mileage with the result of pretty much putting my attempt at the Grand Rapids Marathon out of the picture.  I'm still fighting and dealing with the Plantar Fasciitis thing and I have 5 weeks to go to the event. I can't see any realistic way that I’m going to be ready.  I am very bummed about it, but I don’t want to run it just to run it – I want to have a good time doing it.  I think that if I pushed myself I could actually finish the event, but I don’t want to just finish it – I want to do reasonably well, and I want to have a fun time doing it. (Which takes me to my next thought – someone asked me how could anyone possibly “have fun” running 26 miles?  I didn’t have an answer for the guy – there is just no way to explain it in a way that he would get it…)

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