Running quote of the week

"I am a runner because I run. Not because I run fast. Not because I run far. I am a runner because I say I am. And no one can tell me I'm not." - John "The Penguin" Bingham

Monday, May 25, 2015

Running with the track team

Road and track
Yesterday's run (track): 3.5 miles
Today's run (street): 3.4 miles

We've had great weather over the weekend and I took advantage of it over the last two days. Yesterday morning I headed to the high school to run laps on the track. Today I stayed within my neighborhood. I'd considered doing a trail run, but I wanted to save time and get my workout done before the heat and humidity took over.

When I arrived at the track there were about five people walking and two high school-aged girls doing intervals. I do most of my running on local roads where I run exclusively on the left side. I wanted to even that up a bit and bucked convention by running the track clockwise. As I made my way around, I noticed young women drifting into the area and settling in at the southern end of the track. I realized that team practice was about to start and I would soon have a lot of fast company.

Track running can get monotonous but I was actually enjoying the experience. Going the opposite direction of everyone else was weird, because you are constantly encountering people face to face. I tend to get competitive with other runners so going in the other direction prevents me from pushing too hard. Still, I notice where we cross paths and subconsciously calculate whether I've gained or lost ground with them.

My concern of being overrun by high school track stars was unfounded. The coach dispatched them around the large field surrounding the schools and then put them through drills inside the track. I lost track of my lap count (my Garmin doesn't capture quarters, just miles) but I stopped after estimating that I'd gone around 14 times. I was correct, the Garmin map showed I covered 3.5 miles.

This morning I wanted to get out and add a few more miles to the string of runs I'd started on Friday. Despite a mindset to run easy, I pushed my speed because it felt right. I focused on my stride that's been compacted due to my injury. Prior to my disc problem, my average stride length had been close to a meter (per my Garmin foot pod). Just a few weeks ago it was averaging .83 meters but lately I've been getting closer to .9.

It occurred to me that today isn't Sunday, although it feels like it is. I'm glad it will be a four day work week. I'm hoping to fit in a few workouts during the week to bridge my fitness to next weekend.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pride goeth before the run

Our patriotic flag courtesy of a local Realtor
Today's run (street): 5.1 miles

The route
Happy Memorial Day weekend. I kicked off this morning's run with a couple of bruises to my ego. My plan was to expand my route beyond my neighborhood and run in a nearby business park. I was five minutes into the run when I heard a cheery "Good Morning!" from a runner who'd come up and passed me like I was standing still. He was no kid either. I wanted to yell, "Hey, I'm slow because I have a herniated disc!", but he was already out of sight. Plus the fact that my slowness has little to do with the disc issue at this point.

A couple of minutes later, I detected motion to my left and saw a teenage girl pass me by. She was really moving, smartly sticking to the sidewalks for safety. I've developed a fear of our neighborhood sidewalks, whose uneven surfaces have caused me to trip a few times. This young woman gracefully floated by with no apparent concerns about that happening.

After those experiences, I resigned myself to jogger status and settled into my run. I crossed the middle school field that leads to a path to the business park. I hadn't decided whether to run one or two laps around the main loop because I'm still avoiding hills whenever I can. I went around once and followed that with a half loop before heading over to an adjacent neighborhood. The temperature felt even cooler than yesterday and there was a noticeable wind coming from the west.

Yesterday's run felt much harder, but I had run a minute per mile faster on Friday. I didn't worry about my pace (not that yesterday's was anything to brag about) and that made the experience extremely enjoyable. In fact, I felt I could run all day until I was a quarter mile from home and began to fatigue. It's been a long time since I've covered five miles and my conditioning  reflected that. Still, it was my longest run this year, if only by a tenth of a mile.

Until I am fully free of my injury I'll continue to focus on distance rather than speed. I've always found that when my base is solid, the speed will come. As long as I keep doing these long, easy runs, I should get myself back to a 6+ mile base by mid-summer. At that point I can decide whether I'm ready to think about performance and a possible late summer 10K.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The highs and lows of running shoes

Kayano & ISO (L), Virrata & Kinvara (R)
Today's run (street): 3.5 miles

I've fallen down on my plan to continue my weekday workouts. Three weeks of testing alternative running machines made it easy to stay on schedule. I did those sessions at the end of my work days and left the office immediately afterwards. I did surprisingly well with those afternoon workouts and they really energized me for my long drive home.

I'd done no workouts since Sunday's Runsketeer run at Bethpage so I went out this morning for a loop around the neighborhood. The weather was surprisingly cool - not even 60° - so I put on a fluorescent orange long sleeve running shirt and shorts. I wore my Saucony Triumphs to compare my last experience with the Kayanos.

I like both pairs, but I'm still preferring the lower, more minimal design of the Kinvaras and Virratas. SIOR, who is switching to ultra cushioned Hokas, pointed out that my flat arches better match low drop running shoes while higher arched runners like her prefer a wider variance between forefoot and heel heights. I feel it's wasteful to invest in new Kinvaras while I have two pair of almost-new high end trainers, but I'm going to run in my well-used Virratas this weekend to see if I do better in them.

My disc issue is almost completely gone, although I still have a slight flexibility issue in my left hamstring. That's causing me to land off-center on that side, resulting in slight mashing of my foot near the front. I'll be curious to see if that condition appears with the low platform Virratas.

My run this morning went fine, although I did feel some aerobic challenge throughout the run. It's hard to believe it was just a year ago that I managed through the Brooklyn Half. I have a long way to go to get to my 10K base.

It's a three day weekend and that will provide time to string together three more runs. I really need to get out of the 3-4 mile rut and start edging closer to five or more. My orthopedist discouraged trail running while recovering from my disc injury, but I may be ready for a return to Stillwell at this point. I'll be happy if this cool weather continues on Saturday. I want to enjoy the spring as long as I can.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Runsketeers at Bethpage, the long and the short of it

Humid and happy
Today's run (Bethpage trail): 4 miles

In keeping with our plan to do at least one group run every month, the Runsketeers got together this morning on the Bethpage trail. SIOR and TPP were aiming for about eight miles and I wanted to do four. I met up with the speed twins halfway through their route which worked out perfectly.

The weather was very humid this morning, but not too hot at 8:00 AM. TPP and SIOR came through the Haypath Road trail head and we began running together at that point. Our plan was to go two miles north before our turnaround, which would get us to our targeted distance. We immediately found ourselves yelling to a runner that SIOR thought she knew.

Who she'd never met in person.
Who actually lives in Atlanta.
It wasn't her.

Once the woman disappeared from our sight (I'm guessing she went in search of a restraining order) we settled into our run. I'm still at the slow end of the spectrum, but my buddies stuck with me for a while before opening up the throttle. They stopped and waited a few times for me along the way, and we were all running together when a guy passed on the opposite side and yelled, "Hey, Emerging Runner group!" It was Jonathan and his wife, who I'd met along the same trail about a year ago. We saw them later after our turnarounds.

I'm still recovering from my disc rupture, so I've been keeping my speed moderate to prevent re-aggravating my injury. Today's 4 miler was an improvement over Friday's experience. My stride is getting back to normal and my foot is no longer being mashed to the front each time I run. It feels like progress.

As tradition dictates, we headed over to Starbucks for our post-run café. I was the last to arrive and I walked in regretting that I didn't bring a change of clothing. The humidity had soaked me like a sponge.

Apparently, the guy sitting next to TPP had been giving her a hard time before I got there. SIOR was explaining the situation to me as she helped me clean up coffee I'd spilled all over the counter because I still can't open a Starbucks milk container correctly. I wasn't sure what the full situation was, so I positioned myself between the guy and the Runsketeers when I sat down. Nothing happened, but I'm still curious to know the details.

We had our usual conversation that veered from subject to subject like a pool ball. All too soon, we needed to head out to meet our day's obligations. I really had a great run today and also loved our part two. I can't wait for our June outing!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The hybrid versus elliptical question

$9,300 and no cup holder!
Today's workout (elliptical): 45 minutes

This morning was a washout so I decided to do today's workout indoors. I could have used the treadmill, but I decided to elliptical. I was mostly curious about how a plain old elliptical trainer would feel compared to the three "alternative" cardio machines I've been testing.

"Been testing" is the operative phrase here. We've all finished our formal workout sessions and documented our experiences. That feedback, plus the data generated by the machines, will help the organization determine the value of these models. The test team, who have been asked not share their opinions up to this point, will be brought together to compare perspectives. I'm curious to hear which machines people liked and why they liked them.

The average cost of the machines I tested is about $5,000. Our Pro Form CE 6.0 elliptical cost less than a tenth of that. There's no debating that a $5K unit would be better constructed than a entry level elliptical machine. But do you really need something like that? After a few minutes on my elliptical, I started to appreciate both sides of the argument.

Although my Pro Form machine feels about as stable as a seesaw, it does exactly what it's supposed to do. It has various levels of resistance and, after 45 minutes, I felt properly worked out. On the other hand, the hybrid running machines (2 out of the three especially) felt rock solid and the dynamically variable stride length provided another dimension to the experience.

It's not clear to me that it's worth spending an extra $1,600 to $8,900 (not a typo) to attain that dimension. If I did most of my workouts on fitness machines I would want to have a rock solid unit with the flexibility to change my stride. Since I use my elliptical as an occasional cross training tool, buying a big expensive machine would not be wise or practical. However, if these hybrid machines provided a true run-like experience, I'd view and value them in a much different way.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Brooklyn Half retrospective

Good luck to KWL and FS tomorrow!
Today's run (street): 3.4 miles

One year ago, it was the eve of the Brooklyn Half marathon, the biggest race that I've ever entered. I'd trained hard for this half and followed a modified version of the Hal Higdon plan. I did progressively longer base runs every weekend and managed to fit in speed workouts every week. Except for the fact that I'd taken on a consulting engagement that caused me to drop my weekly mileage from 24 to 16 for the last two weeks, I'd felt prepared.

I ended up having a tough race and wound up in the medical tent after I'd finished. There was nothing I could blame it on. I wasn't injured and the follow up I did with my doctor (including a stress test) revealed no health issues. So far, I've run one good half marathon and two disappointing ones. I may not be built for that distance. Perhaps I should stick to 5 and 10Ks.

Making our way to the corrals last year
I did have a great time with my friends and the experience of running a big NYRR race was not lost on me. When I think about my disappointing performance, I try to keep in mind that I held a competitive pace (for me) for the first 5K. My race went off the rails once we left Prospect Park, but the final minutes running to the finish line along the Coney Island boardwalk will remain an indelible memory.

One year later, the idea of running a half marathon is more of an abstract concept. The long winter and my ruptured disc kept me off the roads through much of the first three months of the year. The elliptical and treadmill sessions I did to maintain my fitness took a toll on my base conditioning. And as we runners know, when preparing for long distance racing, it's all about the base.

Even though I haven't done a run over five miles since New Year's day, I've seen great improvement with my injury recovery and I'm preparing to do at least one 4+ mile run this weekend. Today was a work from home day and I only intended to run about 3 miles before settling into business mode. I ended up going almost half a mile longer. While it wasn't a fast run, it felt a lot more natural than it did last week.

My running goals one year ago are much different than they are today. Racing is still on the table, but it will be a few months until I'll be able to maintain a competitive pace throughout an entire 10K. I saw an announcement that the Dirty Sock race will be run for the 10th time in August. I've had great experiences running that race, but it's a tough trail run. I may be better off targeting Cow Harbor in September for my return to the starting line. I just need to be careful that I don't push too hard and set back my recovery progress.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Goodbye pain, hello speed


Illustration by Mr. Emerging Runner Jr. 
Today's run (street): 3.9 miles
Yesterday's run (street): 3.6 miles

Happy Mother's Day. We did most of our celebrating yesterday because we had a lot of stuff to do today. That meant family time during the day, followed by an early dinner at our favorite place. This weekend also included a couple of sunny outdoor runs for me that felt close to normal. The gating (or gaiting : ) factor is my stride that feels constrained on my left side. It's causing my left foot to land differently, so that it jams up against the front of my shoe.

Both of my weekend runs were pretty much the same, although they were tougher than they should have been. The issue wasn't my disc problem. Part of it came from an extremely heavy pollen count and high humidity, especially today. I'll also blame the minimal road work I've done over the past couple of months. My street runs are generally longer than the treadmill and elliptical workouts that I've been doing. Plus, these outside runs produce a lot more impact than fitness machines.

The bright spot in today's run happened near the end when I came down a long stretch and saw a couple walking in the distance. I picked up the pace to pass them and held it long enough to determine that I wouldn't cause a relapse of my upper thigh pain. My overall pace for the run was still very slow, but that last quarter mile was in the mid-8:00 range. No pain during or after.

Tomorrow I'll finish up the formal testing of alternative running machines. I want to keep the momentum of weekday workouts after this program finishes. I don't like using the locker room at my company's fitness center, but if I schedule my workouts for the end of the day, I can towel off with gym wipes and then head straight home. That's what I've been doing during this testing period.

Over the weekend, my son created a running graphic for me (above) that looks like some of the artwork I've created for this site. I like his running man (or woman!) and I think he nailed both the concept of running and a forward leaning stance in karate. I haven't had to combine those two things to date, but if I do, I'll have an icon to represent it!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The five dumbest things I've done running

This week's workouts (Hybrid running machines): 60 minutes total

I'm running smarter these days, carefully easing into runs on my local roads and doing a majority of my workouts using non-impact fitness machines. I haven't always exercised good judgment when running and that has led to some bad outcomes. Here are the five dumbest things I've ever done while running.

5. No warm-up full-on sprint at the track. I had only been running a few months and I decided to see how fast I could run 100 meters. I don't remember my speed, but I do remember waiting over a month to get over a groin pull.

4. Tripping on the edge of my driveway at 4:30 AM. I had finished my morning run and came off the road where my toe caught a slight rise and I hit the ground hard. Lots of cuts and scrapes, a possible hairline fracture of one finger and scars on my knee that didn't fade for three years. As bad as that was, I was running again the next day.

3. Getting completely lost on a trail run. I was running at Muttontown Preserve when I found myself caught behind a large fence that separated me from the trail leading to the exit. It was freezing and snowy and I had to bushwhack between thorny bushes to get to a barbed wired fence that I was able to climb over and then jump down six feet to the ground.

2. Running a half marathon with a knee injury. I'd hurt my knee the week before the LI Half and decided to run it anyway. My knee was sore at the start and getting sorer every mile. I considered dropping out at the four mile mark but chose to continue. I had a bad race and spent months running on that injured knee. If I'd DNS'd I would have avoided a long, frustrating recovery period.

1. Continually re-aggravating my current disc injury. I'm not sure if I caused my original problem by "racing" a neighbor who was also doing a neighborhood run. I have no other explanation but every time I was close to recovery, I managed to do something to make the injury worse. Usually that involved turning a good run into a bad one by pushing my speed too far. I'm hoping that cycle has finally been broken.

I've had two decent workouts this week. Today's session (on a hybrid machine) came the closest to running that I've ever done on a piece of gym equipment (not counting a treadmill). Tomorrow I plan to do another outside run. My hope is that my form will continue to improve and the residual discomfort will lessen.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Two runs and a Trailview hike

The view from Mt. Olympus
Yesterdays run (street): 3.25 miles
Today's run (street): 3.4 miles

The first story I saw on the local news this morning was a feature on the LI Marathon/Half Marathon. The race happened today and if it weren't for my current injury, I'd probably be participating in one of the races. One year ago, I was in my last two weeks of training for the Brooklyn Half Marathon. That turned out to be a disappointing performance, but it was a really fun experience. These days I feel like I'm a million miles from doing that. 13.1 anyway.

I'm trying to maintain some perspective in terms of my current running expectations. Three weeks ago I would have been thrilled to run a mile without experiencing acute and constant pain in my hamstring. Last weekend I made great progress with my recovery with a couple of slow but mostly pain-free workouts. I've made further gains this weekend, although they weren't as dramatic as last week's.

I also hoped to improve my speed over Saturday's and got off to a good start. There was residual discomfort and tightness in my leg but no real pain. I moved along well and tried to focus on opening up my stride and getting more power off my back leg. Like yesterday, it felt like a tough workout. After mapping today's run, I calculated my pace. My improvement over yesterday: one second per mile!

Another carved tree in Trailview
The weekend weather has been superb so my son and I decided to visit Trailview park for an early afternoon hike. We like Trailview for its simplicity and the fact that it has a few technical sections. A couple of minutes into the hike, we saw a large oak tree with the word PROM carved into it in six inch high letters. We were flabbergasted, disgusted and saddened to see that someone had carved a swastika inside the letter O. There was more vandalism in other trees. My son said we shouldn't let someone's hate and ignorance ruin our experience.

We continued our hike until we reached "Mount Olympus" and watched from that overlook before turning back. I did pretty well on the steep sections and I think the uneven terrain gave my quads and hamstrings some sorely needed work.

I may not be ready for a Half Marathon or even a 10K right now, but I am glad to be running outdoors again. Three more workouts on the test machines next week will further help my fitness without providing any aggravating impact. My motto these days is, "No pain, my gain."

Friday, May 1, 2015

So-so on the ISO

 
Today's run (street): 3.4 miles

I went out for a run this morning with the hope that I'd be back to pre-injury form. The temperature was in the high 40's when I first went out. It felt chilly, but once I got out of the shade I was glad I'd worn shorts. I decided to give my Saucony Triumph ISOs another try despite the difficulties I had last time with my feet getting crammed at the front. I did fine with the Virratas last weekend and I'd go back to them as my primary shoe if they weren't so badly worn.

While there was no real pain during the run, I did feel that now-familiar discomfort in my hamstring throughout the first mile. My gait felt restricted, but that dissipated over time. Even though I didn't burn up the road today, it ended up feeling like a pre-injury workout. I'm going to do some dynamic stretching before I go out tomorrow. That warm-up may help me get comfortable a lot sooner.

I paid attention to the Triumphs because I agreed to evaluate them for Saucony. They were the Spring 2015 Editor's Pick in Runners World based on their construction and cushioning. I realized, after spending time with both the Kayanos and these Triumphs, that I prefer a more minimal trainer. I know that I'm striding differently these days due to the disk issue and that could be influencing my experience.

As I continue to recover, I'll be curious to see if my opinion of the Triumphs will change as my stride starts feeling more natural. I had three great "running inspired" workouts this week, bookended by some good actual runs. I'm hoping the good running experience continues throughout the weekend.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A ruptured disc is an Annular event

Workouts this week (hybrid fitness machines): 3 sessions, 8 miles total

Well I'm back to weekday workouts and I feel better than I have in months. I suspect one reason for that is because I've added three more workouts to my weekly schedule. I've been testing fitness equipment and those sessions are providing me a lot of of additional energy. Committing to this testing forced a level of discipline that I really need right now.

Another reason I'm feeling good relates to the recovery progress I'm having with my disc problem. I finally had a conversation with my orthopedist who read my MRI and confirmed both a ruptured disc and torn annular ligament. The rupture may not completely heal, but the inflammation seems to have abated. The soreness is almost gone and I have no ill effects when or after using these alternative running machines.

I've done workouts (treadmill, elliptical, test units) almost every day for the past two weeks. Last weekend I had success running on pavement and on the track. Not quite where I want to be, but it was a big gain over the previous weekend. I'm planning to do a neighborhood run tomorrow morning and hoping to see even more improvement. I won't say much about the testing I'm doing except to note that the experience of running is very hard to duplicate on a machine.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Timely track run

 
Today's run (track): 3.25 miles

My son competes in Long Island science fairs because of an advanced research project he is doing in high school. Although most of these fairs are held during the school week, he had one happening today. That meant we needed to take him to the high school at 7:00 AM to meet the bus to the event. Usually my wife manages these logistics, but I volunteered to do it today.

It may seem like I was doing this to give Mrs. ER a well deserved break, but my motivation was more selfish than altruistic. Having to get my son to the bus forced me to get out early. I can be an awful procrastinator when it comes to getting ready for a run, but this worked out well since I was planning to run at the high school.

In the days when I'd run before work, I was on a split second time-table. I needed to allow time to get dressed and run my distance in time to get to my preferred train. Without that immovable deadline, I would have have taken twice as long. When I run with my friends, or have a race, I manage to get out on time. When it's a lazy Sunday morning, time usually slips by.

After I dropped off my son, I went to the track behind the school to start today's workout. When I arrived, I saw the usual suspects - 30-something women walking in a group, an older couple (also walking) and a middle aged man run-walking. It's always different people, but the mood and the rhythm is usually the same. Today I played the role of the middle aged man running slowly.

Yesterday's neighborhood run was a confidence booster. Although my running felt awkward, I ran relatively pain-free. I hoped for the same thing today. I did have some abstract soreness when I started, but no real pain, I tried to force a more natural stride but felt constrained throughout the first half of my run. I wore my Virratas and didn't experience the the shoe issues that I had with the Kayanos and Triumphs. I guess I'll be sticking with them for now.

I picked up speed with every mile and I think that was due to warming up enough to open my stride a little. The only negative was near the end, when I could feel some discomfort in my upper thigh as I ran. It was in the same place that I felt the stabbing pain last week. Today it wasn't painful, more like uncomfortable tightness. I reached my goal distance and stopped the run before that got any worse.

Well I definitely made progress this weekend, but I still have a long way to go. The important thing is that I can run without much discomfort or doing any further damage. I'll be spending a lot of time on non-impact fitness machines this week. I'm pretty sure they're helping me recover.
 

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