Running quote of the week

"Once you have decided that winning isn’t everything, you become a winner." - George Sheehan

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Around the track without a buzz

Hey, you, get offa my track!
Today's run (track): 4.1 miles

I did my best to get out early today and I made it to the track by 6:30 AM. The sun was still low in the sky and the temperature (73°) and humidity (69%) made for decent running weather. As I made my way down the drive toward the track, I looked over and  saw there was a runner making his way around. I was disappointed because I really hoped to have the place to myself. I'm not a misanthrope, and I love to run with my friends, but I do enjoy the solitude of the empty track. Oh well.

I started out easy, but I didn't feel the energy I've come to expect since reducing my sugar intake. I worried that the lift I've been getting was a short term gain, and that my body has since adapted to the change. I did feel stronger as I ran, but still had some residual fatigue. I got through my intended laps without a problem, but stopped short of finishing the workout with a set of intervals.

Could this be less obvious?
When I got home, I grabbed a K cup from the same box I'd used for my morning coffee. I noticed that I'd mistakenly made decaf. So this morning's track run was done with neither carb loading nor caffeine. Knowing that made me feel better about my run. Especially at the end, when I poured it on for the last 200 meters and had plenty left in the tank.

I suppose I could also consider reducing my caffeine intake at some point, but I've read that caffeine is actually health positive in moderate doses. I'll stick with managing complex carbs and sugar for now.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

No longer running like a broken down car

Out and back on the north trail
Today's run (Bethpage bike trail): 4.4 miles
Yesterday's run (street): 3.2 miles

Going back into the office after two vacation days was a challenge. I didn't get back into workout mode until yesterday. I'm happy to report that I've maintained my nutritional discipline, cutting out the bulk of processed sugar in my diet and avoiding conditions that may spike blood glucose and insulin response. The results speak for themselves. I've lost some weight, gained more energy and I'm handling work stress far better than before.

As far as running, there has been impact, but no tangible performance gain. Using automobiles as a analogy, I would compare my running a month ago to one of those cars from the '80s or early '90s that I often see on my daily commute. These junkers sound like they need mufflers, transmissions and valve jobs and struggle just to keep up with traffic. It takes everything they have just to get where they're going. That was me in June. I struggled through every run at paces that were 2-3 minutes per mile slower than I used to go, just a couple of years ago.

Using the same analogy, my current running is more like me in my car. I can keep up with traffic without struggling. If I want to drive faster, I can. The only reason  haven't pushed the pedal any harder is that I'm enjoying running for the first time in a long time. I now look forward to getting outside instead of dreading the effort. The question is, when should I shift to focusing on pace?

Yesterday's run around the neighborhood was easy and I threw in some speed at times. I'd gone out around 6:30 AM before the sun was baking hot and the humidity reached 90%. That would have been a good idea this morning, but I didn't get to Bethpage until 8:00 AM when the temperature was already in the mid 80s and getting hotter.

I had the same energy at the start that I've experienced since my diet change, but I did have some trouble loosening up. It took about a half a mile before my stride felt fluid. The trail was fairly shady and it made a big difference when I was shielded from the sun. I didn't feel as strong as I did on Friday, but the difference in temperature probably had a lot to do with that. Despite weather conditions making it tough, I still felt like I could cover more ground today.

I considered running past Washington Ave which would have extended today's run to five miles. I had the energy, but I hadn't fueled properly and didn't want to overdo it. Better to run well and appreciate the effort than to go too far and regret it. The trail was full of cyclists today, many more than usual. Curiously, there three or four dead mice on the trail, something I rarely see. I also saw a fair number of bunnies who were happily hopping around.

If I can get my act together I may get out really early and run at the track. I'd like to do a few intervals to activate muscle memory and push myself out of my current pacing. I'm looking forward to running tomorrow, no matter where I go or what I do. That's a great change in a very short time.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Running the SOB route

At long last
Today's run (street): 4.25 miles

As the old proverb goes, nothing succeeds like success. In my case, this means good running experiences are changing my attitude about running. In a very short time, my view of running has greatly improved. Rather than dragging myself out the door because I know I should, I now look forward to every run.

It was cooler this morning (75°) than yesterday, but the humidity was ferocious. I wondered how I'd do under those conditions. Things started out well, although I did feel a little taxed as I made it to the end of first rise. I quickly bounced back and had no further trouble, even on bigger hills. I was going to follow one of my usual routes, but then I remembered that the sidewalks along South Oyster Bay Road had just reopened. Or I thought they did.

I've complained for years that the sidewalks along SOB were a disgrace. The concrete was in such disrepair that it was even hazardous to walk over its broken slabs. Running on it was downright dangerous. I made my way over to SOB Road at my first opportunity and saw newly paved concrete and brick stretching as far as the eye could see. I also saw a sign showing the sidewalk was still closed to the public. I decided it didn't apply to me.

It was nice having another route option and I followed the sidewalk all the way to the library where it was again blocked off. I would have kept going but there was a police officer standing on the corner of the fire station driveway. Instead, I cut through the library lot to the service road and ducked back into the neighborhood from there. The thought of finishing never crossed my mind and I headed north to pick up another mile before heading home.

In terms of performance, today was a little better than I'd been averaging a month ago, but not especially fast. I know I can run faster, but right now I'm just enjoying, rather than dreading my workouts. I don't want to push too hard or heighten expectations too quickly. My goal now is to be able to do a Runsketeers run and stay with my buddies the entire time. SIOR injured her knee and KWL is in Asia, but when the recoveries and travel are over, I look forward to seeing them and TPP who is spending a LOT of time riding with her bike group.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A run in the woods and a few days in Boston

Welcome to Marriott. How was your stay?
Today's run (Stillwell Woods): 3.4 miles
Yesterday's run (treadmill): 3.2 miles

The last three days have been really jammed packed. I took Thursday and Friday off and the Emerging Runner family headed to Boston for some college tours and interviews. Boston is my home city and I love being back among the Red Sox nation. While I was there, I snagged a very nice Bruins jersey and had fun visiting friends and some familiar places.

Friday morning I got up early and headed to the hotel fitness center for a treadmill run. I had the place to myself at 5:30 AM and set the speed to my normal pace. I was curious to see if my improved running experience would continue, and it certainly did. I felt strong and somewhat unchallenged so I stepped it up a few tenths and waited for higher effort to follow but it just seemed the same. I continued to increase my speed every fifth of a mile until I was running 1.5 minutes per mile faster than my starting pace.

After I finished, I felt like I'd worked hard, but I also felt energized rather than exhausted. I'm pretty convinced that my change in nutrition habits has yielded a new level of performance. Following that run was a long day walking around a college campus under the hot 90° sun. Despite that, I continued to feel great.

That evening, we got together with some friends that I've known since my primary school days. We all had a great time and I did my best to maintain my nutritional standards. I rarely eat red meat but the smell of barbecue was too tempting and I gave in and had a burger. I balanced that with a tofu dog that was pretty darn tasty.

We all went to bed exhausted from the long day, hoping for a good night's sleep so we could get an early start home this morning. Around 12:30 AM I was awoken by the sound of an extremely loud alarm and flashing yellow lights in the hotel room. I was confused and thought it was the room alarm clock, but it was actually the hotel's fire alarm. The family woozily made their way outside the building where we watched three huge fire trucks roll up and dispatch some serious looking firefighters.

The whole thing turned out to be a false alarm, so we were let back into the hotel to finish our night's sleep. I decided to forgo a morning run so I could grab another hour of bedtime. I hoped I'd have the energy to work out later, but when we arrived home it was too hot and steamy for a neighborhood run. I decided that the shade of Stillwell Woods was the only way to go.

Stillwell was quiet when I got there and I got under the canopy as quickly as I could to escape from the mid-afternoon sun. The trails felt cool, but I was accompanied by a cloud of bugs most of the time. It wasn't as bad as you'd think, but a few made their way into my mouth. Fine. Better protein than refined sugar.

Today's Stillwell route
Stillwell usually beats me up, even under much cooler conditions, but today was different. Like Friday's treadmill run, I was strong from start to finish and I only stopped because of the heat. I'm hoping that this is the new normal.

During the run, I noticed a lot of wildflowers that looked a lot like Giant Hogweed. According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, Giant Hogwood is a "Federally listed noxious weed. Its sap, in combination with moisture and sunlight, can cause severe skin and eye irritation, painful blistering, permanent scarring and blindness."

Please be Parsnip, Please be Parsnip...
There were a lot of these flowers, which raised concern because I am not a fan of irritation, blistering, scarring or blindness. Fortunately, the flowers were situated far enough from the trail that I didn't need to worry about making contact as I ran by them. I took this picture so I could look it up later. I was glad to see that the flowers at Stillwell are more likely Cow Parsnip.

So Stillwell Woods seems to be a safe place to escape from the sun on 85° days. I'm going to try to get out very early tomorrow and get in more miles. If conditions are better on Sunday, I may head to the track and test out my speed.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Bethpage's hills didn't scare me today

Where bike trail meets dirt trail
Today's run (Bethpage bike trail): 4.3 miles

I'm discovering that my new approach to eating has yielded some improvement. As I mentioned yesterday, a measurable reduction in processed sugar intake and longer breaks between meals has given me more clarity and energy. Although it has been less than two weeks, I'm noticing positive changes, physically and mentally. It's too early to know if these changes are producing real results or if the improvements are more of a placebo effect. It may be a little of both.

I got out to Bethpage this morning and parked at Runsketeer HQ off of Haypath. I usually run north to Washington Ave., but today I decided to go south toward Bethpage State Park. Like yesterday, I felt great from the start to the end of my run and I truly believe it has to do with reducing refined sugar and minimizing insulin response. While this change is exciting, my performance hasn't improved.

Great run despite 88% humidity
Today's pace was fairly typical compared to what I'd normally run for four miles. The difference is that maintaining that pace is now far easier. I normally grit my teeth to get through my runs and focus on the end result: finishing. There was none of that today, even though I took on some challenging hills between Haypath Road and my turnaround point on Picnic Polo Road.

So what about performance? If I continue to feel the way I did on my last two runs, I can start focusing on speed. That's something that I haven't done in a long time. Either way, I'm enjoying, rather than enduring the experience in way I haven't in quite a few years.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

How Dr. Phil (not that one) is helping my running

I'm sweet enough already
Today's run (street): 4.25 miles
Yesterday's workout (Treadmill and elliptical): 40 minutes
Tuesday's run (street): 3.5 miles

Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet and so bad for you. I recently read Christopher McDougal's newest book, "Natural Born Heros" that at one point focused on Dr. Phil Maffetone whose methods have helped many elite athletes increase performance. The key takeaway for me is that most assumptions about fueling athletes are incorrect.

Two examples of this both relate to hydration. One, that runners are at much higher risk of dying from water intoxication than from dehydration. The point being that humans are made to endure long periods without water and that's why we are successful hunters. The other example is that hydration drinks like Gatorade, that contain large amounts of sugar, provide little benefit compared to the damage they do. High sugar drinks will spike both glucose levels and insulin response and can contribute to disease, inflammation, depression and increased body fat.

A lot has been written about how processed foods, especially those with refined sugar, are quickly stored in the body and become very difficult to burn. I started thinking about my own diet, which is pretty good compared to many, but it's higher in sugar and simple carbs than it should be. I decided to address this in a logical way that doesn't require a big change. I believe this has already yielded benefits.

I currently eat a vegetable-rich diet and that won't change. I get protein from high quality sources (mostly chicken, turkey, nuts or tofu) and that won't change either. But I am reducing the amount of refined carbs I ingest (far fewer) and sugars of any type that have anything more than a low (value of 10 or less) glycemic load.  An important aspect of these changes is that I am increasing the amount of time I wait between any meal and any snack that follows it. This is to prevent insulin spikes that promote the conversion of glucose to stored fat.

It's been about 10 days since I made these changes and I believe there's something to it. I haven't sacrificed much except cutting a few hundred sugar-heavy calories from my daily intake. I've lost a couple of pounds and my energy level is noticeably higher, while my crankiness level is lower (Mrs. ER debates this but I know better). Work pressure is high right now, but I'm feeling far less stress than I usually would.

That's all well and good, but here's the best part. Today I had my best run of the year. It wasn't my fastest, and it certainly wasn't effortless, but not once did I wish for the run to end. I felt like I did back in 2011, when my running was at its peak. I took a few opportunities to throw in speed during the run and snapped back without feeling overtaxed when I resumed my natural pace. I felt great in both mind and body.

Will I feel the same tomorrow when I run? I hope so, but I know that every run is different and I've had bad runs follow good ones. I may not achieve today's level of energy and spirit, but I think these practical changes have yielded real results. It's hard to believe such a simple change could provide so much improvement. It will be interesting to see if I feel this way in a couple of weeks.

Monday, July 4, 2016

At the track with Frank and the usual suspects

Frank (in red), stair climber guy (background)
Today's run (track): 4 miles - 3.25 @ pace + 8 x 300m

Happy 4th of July. It's sunny and a little warm for my taste, but the mid-afternoon humidity was surprisingly low. That wasn't the case this morning when I went to the track. I'd hoped to avoid sun, heat and people by getting there before 7:00 AM (fail, fail, fail & fail), but I stalled so long I didn't start running until almost 8:30. Conditions seemed ideal at first but I soon noticed the moisture in the air. It didn't hold me back. In fact I ran my fastest during my fourth mile.

I wanted to run four miles in honor of Independence Day and did my first three the usual way, switching direction from counter-clockwise to clockwise after the second mile. There weren't too many others at the track this morning. It was the usual walkers and run-walkers, along with a guy who was running up and down the stands and another who was running 200's with long breaks in between sprints.

Periodic sprinter guy in yellow behind run walker
After I'd covered 13 laps, I decided to run intervals for the last 3/4 mile. I haven't downloaded the Garmin to see how I did performance-wise, but it wasn't a bad effort. I always notice some speed improvement during periods when I can string together four or more consecutive runs. I've also revisited the idea of reducing sugar and simple carbs due to a book I'm reading that clearly explains why it makes sense to do that (versus just counting calories or reducing fat). The author did warn that performance sometimes gets worse before it gets better. I'm not worried because my current performance couldn't get much worse.

When I finished my run, I noticed a guy in a walker going back and forth along the bottom row of the stands. I asked him if he was getting in his workout and he said he was, although he wished there wasn't so much sun. I told him that he should go over to Bethpage, because the bike trail is generally shaded until mid morning. He told me that his name was Frank and he was a former professional soccer player. His team was the German-Hungarian Soccer Club and he played in the Cosmopolitan Soccer League in the '60's.

Frank is 76 and he's had lots of knee surgeries due to all the stress he put on himself when he was playing. It was really nice to talk to him and I wished I had more time to chat. Frank mentioned that he had a great orthopedic surgeon who said he can get him off the walker. He's considering doing that, but concerned about the risk. Either way, he doesn't seem like the type of person who'd let this problem keep him from getting his workouts done.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Three runs and a little culture

Selfie in the Scharf black-light room
Today's run (Bethpage bike trail): 3.75 miles
Yesterday's run (street): 4.75 miles
Friday's run (street): 3.2 miles

I'm in the middle of a four day break from work -- five days if you count working from home on Friday.  Although I still have long gaps between my last run of the weekend and the first one of the week, I always try to run whenever I'm off.

On Friday, I got out in very pleasant conditions and covered my usual loop in time to start an early business day. With schools out for summer, the roads were fairly clear. At one point in the run, I passed a team of landscapers. One of  them was using a high powered weed whacker and, as I ran by, I felt the sting of a pebble that hit my elbow. It left a mark, but at least it didn't break the skin. That was the most memorable part of that run.

Yesterday I had a little more time to run, so I broke out of my neighborhood and headed over to the business park. On my way back, I did a loop in a connecting development and ran by a parked car whose occupant was puffing on a vile smelling cigarette. The acrid odor followed me up the road and didn't disappear until I rounded a corner that put me downwind of the source. As I made my way out of the neighborhood, I noticed that the car was gone, but the reek of tobacco remained

I went over to Bethpage  this morning to run the bike trail. Again, my time was limited and I kept it fairly short. I got out early and there were already plenty of walkers, cyclists and runners on the trail. There was even a skateboarder (or skateboarder wannabe) who stood unmoving on his board in the middle of the path, listening to music. On my way back, he was in exactly the same position, still not moving.

The reason I needed to do a quick run was because the Emerging Runner family was going to the Nassau County Museum in Roslyn Harbor where they had two amazing exhibits: Kenny Scharf and Glamorous Graffiti featuring works from Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Futura, Lee and Cash. The grounds of the museum are beautiful and filled with interesting sculptures. There were lots of animals running around, including this fox. If you live in western Long Island, I highly recommend a visit to this place.

Moments later it jumped over a lazy dog
The only Speed Racer I saw today
Artist: Lee QuiƱones
Keith Haring originals
I thought I saw TPP
Tomorrow is the Fourth, and we'll be doing all the usual Independence Day stuff. Before that, I'm hoping to get in a few miles. If I get to the track early enough, I may get it all to myself.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Bunnies, bikers, planes and hills at Stillwell

Low flying craft over the Field of Dreams
Today's run (Stillwell Woods): 3.75 miles

It was off to Stillwell Woods for me this morning. I had a great time there a few weeks ago with SIOR and wanted a shady route a this sunny day. I managed to get my gear in gear and hit the trail before 8:00 AM. Conditions were cool (70°) and felt even cooler in the canopied woods.

My one negative about Stillwell Woods is that some mountain bikers ride aggressively without regard to what may be around the bend. I've had my share of encounters, near misses and resentful riders who acted like the bikers owned the trail. Today was different. There were numerous bikers and everyone was careful and respectful for my safety.

Also in abundance today were cottontail bunnies. I stopped counting after ten. Some of them were as big as raccoons. There was a lot of stuff to look at besides the fauna, including a group of glider enthusiasts who had assembled in the center of the big field. These gliders have wingspans of 10' or more and they look huge as they float above you while you run.

I took a couple of detours off my normal loop, one of which put me in front of a very steep climb. I managed it well, and I'll give much credit to my Brooks Cascadias for getting me over that hill. My detours took me through some rough winding paths that had so many sharp edged rocks it felt like I was running over a herd of stegosauruses. That's one of the reasons I love Stillwell. If you want scenic, hard packed trails, there are plenty to choose from. If you want extremely technical terrain, be careful what you wish for.

Forty feet to the top
The Emerging Runner family Skyped with Adventure Girl later in the day. She and a friend had spent their afternoon running trails up a 6,000 foot mountain outside Missoula, Montana. Adventure Girl got bitten twice by a dog during that run.  As wild as that all sounds, it was just a typical Sunday for her. My run up a 40 foot rock covered hill at Stillwell can't compare with that, but in the moment it felt like a mountain.

I'm glad I got away from the neighborhood for today's run and it felt good to be challenged with some difficult terrain. If the summer is as hot as it's supposed to be, I think I'll be spending a lot of weekends in those woods.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Interrupting a run to do a good deed

Am I a hero? You decide.
Today's run (street): 4.1 miles
Yesterday's run (street): 2.7 miles
Thursday (elliptical): 30 minutes

My daughter graduated from high school on Wednesday and we followed the ceremony with a late night visit to a diner. I stayed up way past my bedtime, but I'd planned for that and worked from home on Thursday. Although I had more flexibility without the commute, my work day was starting early and I opted for an elliptical session. That saved me time on a morning where every minute counted.

Friday morning was equally tight, but I got my act together enough to go out for a short run. I consider three miles to be my minimum distance, but I had less than 30 minutes to run. I came up 10% short of target, but it was better than forgoing a workout. My workday schedule was jammed, starting with a 9:00 AM video meeting, so I was glad that I took the opportunity to get outside before things got crazy.

This morning provided me the first opportunity to pause since last weekend. I got out around 7:45 AM when the temperature was in the mid-60s. It felt very hot under direct sun, probably due to the high humidity. I kept to the neighborhood and added a few extra roads to my usual route and looked for shade wherever I could find it.

I was rounding the corner of a long street when I heard someone shouting, "Excuse me, excuse me, sir?" I looked back and saw a man standing in his driveway next to an SUV. I stopped and asked him what he needed. He said he had to return a power washer by 9:00 AM and asked if I could give him a hand loading it into his vehicle. I was glad to help.

Right before we lifted the machine, the man asked me if I had any back issues. I thought about the herniated disc I'd struggled with a year ago, but I figured that I could handle it. On a count of three, we lifted it up and my lower back didn't seem to notice. I realized later that his house was the exact place where my ego got the best of me trying to outrun another neighbor and igniting last year's disc problem.

My neighbor was very appreciative and said he'd be happy to return the favor, so I asked him if I could borrow his power washer. I didn't really ask him that. I told him it my pleasure to help a neighbor. With that, I was back on the road, feeling good about my good deed and grateful that I didn't re-injure my back.

This week's workouts have not been individually impressive, but I am pleased that I'm managing to get them done. And if that means solving problems everywhere I run, so be it.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Three encounters with mister speedy

Post-run non-stretching moment
Today's run (street): 4.25 miles

Happy Father's Day to all you running dads. Also to you non-running dads. I like running on holidays because they are usually days when people sleep late and I can run around the neighborhood with a lot less cars on the road. That was the case today. I got outside around 8:00 AM and picked a direction. I had no planned route and decided on the spot whether to go left or right as I reached the end of each street.

After almost eight years of running my local roads, I pretty much know the other runners around my neighborhood. There's one guy I encounter on almost every weekend run. He moves along and covers a lot of ground. I usually criss cross his route at least twice and we always wave the first time and laugh the second time.

Sure enough, mister speedy was out there today and we ran into each other twice. Happily, we were going in opposite directions both times, so I didn't experience the humiliation of being overtaken along the same road. I did what I could with the heat and humidity, but I didn't break any speed records today.

Near the end of my run, I saw my neighbor-runner in his driveway doing post-run stretching. Maybe that's why he's so fast. I'm pretty sure I've never ever stretched after a run. Maybe when I ran with Adventure Girl. She taught me many good running habits, most of which I've stopped following.

We had a very nice Father's Day after my run, capping off a nice weekend of celebrations. I may work from home a couple of days next week. If so, I'll have the opportunity to get in an extra run during the week. I do need to get my volume back to where it was a year or so ago and I know I should do some sort of a workout before my commute. I can do more. I just need to get back in the habit.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Unfrozen and back on track

You're pushing it Garmin
Today's run (track): 3.4 miles
Yesterday's run (street): 3.2 miles

It's almost the end of the school year and there's a lot going on. My daughter is graduating from high school on Wednesday and it also happens to be her birthday. With that conflict, we decided to celebrate her birthday today. Due to those plans, I had to get out early for my run. Even with that, I was pressed for time and decided to run laps at the high school.

Last night, after I'd downloaded Friday's run from my Garmin, the watch froze and it wouldn't respond, no matter which buttons I pushed. I tried to shock it back by hooking it up to the USB and then the wall charger. Neither attempt worked, so I left it for the morning. I figured I could run with a stop watch if the Garmin failed to respond.

When I got up, the Garmin was still frozen and I began to entertain the idea of replacing my six year old FR210 with a newer model. Things are starting to break on it and I noticed one side of the wrist band is beginning to separate. Before giving up on it, I looked online and found a video that showed how to unfreeze my watch. It worked.

The track was almost empty when I got there. Just me and a guy who spent a lot of time stretching while I circled the track. I was eventually joined by another runner who circled the track much faster than I did. I was prepared to count the number of times I got lapped but the guy quit after a couple of times around.

Lapping it up
The stretching guy eventually made his way onto the track. He was wearing one of those elevation training masks and started doing intervals. Or should I say, one interval. I ran four more laps before he did his next one. By then I was finished with my workout.

We had a great birthday celebration and I managed to get in a lot of Fitbit steps throughout the day. Tomorrow is Father's Day and I'm going to try to get out early again to maximize celebration time.
 

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