Running quote of the week

“All men may not be brothers, but that’s the way it feels after a marathon. You feel—you can’t help but feel—that you all understand each other.”– Benjamin Cheever

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dog day run

When I Googled Dog Days, all I got was pages of this anime
Today's run 4.2 miles

Well, it looks like a dog to me
This morning's run looked more like a dog than a cheek-shooting bi-athlete. I think that's appropriate because today was definitely a dog day. Predictions of rain got me out the door earlier than yesterday. Overall, I had a slightly better experience than Saturday, because the humidity and pollen levels were a touch lower. Still, the difference in comfort between shaded and unshaded sections of the road was huge.

I first thought about running at Bethpage and taking a route that toggled between the paved trail and the dirt side paths that cut through the woods. It came down to convenience and timing and I decided to stay local to get out faster. I'd put on my aging Virratas that would be a good shoe on both pavement and dirt. After I made the decision to stay in the neighborhood I forgot to switch to either the Kayanos or Triumphs - my current trainers.

I mentally mapped a new route and took off, keeping an eye peeled for my teenage daughter who was out practicing her driving. I immediately noticed how much I preferred the Virratas over the newer pairs of running shoes. Although some people I know love their super-cush sneakers, I'm still a fan of minimal models.

Probably due to pre-hyperthermia delusions, I took a wrong turn around the 2.5 mile point and made an ad hoc change that took me outside the neighborhood. It was fine but it forced me to negotiate some really broken sections of concrete. I watched my steps carefully to avoid a face plant. I cut back into the neighborhood at my first opportunity and completed the run by focusing on the tall glass of water that I would drink the moment I got home.

I ended up running close to 13 miles this week. Low by historical standards, but I only ran three times. I have moved out out of my 3 mile rut and next weekend I want to cover at least 5.5 miles on at least one of my runs. How I do in terms of workout over the next four days will depend on my schedule. I'm determined to get at least one workout in before Friday, even if it's on the elliptical.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Running route or Rorschach test?

 
Today's run (street): 4.75 miles

My grand plan for returning to my old weekday running routine went off the rails this week because of changes at work that took up a lot of my time. Bottom line, we had a big re-org that unfortunately affected a lot of people. As a result, I will take on additional responsibilities within the organization. Great, I guess. But I've liked the fact that (up to now) my role has been primarily consultative. That has allowed me to have a very flexible schedule and I'm hoping that can continue.

My flexible schedule allows me to work from home on Fridays and that allowed me to fit in my annual checkup with my doctor. One year ago, I'd told my doctor about ending up in the medical tent after the Brooklyn Half. He proceeded to put me through a long tedious day of tests and never gave me results. He only acknowledged I was fine by having his assistant send me a signed release form that allowed me to use my company's fitness center.

I decided to switch doctors and I was happy with the change. Everything was fine but that caused me to miss one of my key running days. I considered running later in the day, but I was concerned about being depleted by the blood work. I think that was a good call because I felt lethargic on today's run and I'm wondering if a slightly lower plasma level had something to do with that.

This morning I knew I needed to get out for more than a 3 mile easy run. We had some things going on in the morning that prevented me from getting out as early as I planned. I didn't think that mattered but, looking back, I would have liked a little more time of the street before the humidity went off the charts. I sometimes experience a minute or two of discomfort at the beginning of a run that dissipates once I fully transition to aerobic breathing. Due to the humidity and pollen level, I never really got past that today.

My route started as a two mile loop through my neighborhood before I cut over to neighborhood #2. I'd targeted four miles but hoped to exceed that. The lower neighborhood is set up with multiple roads that provide different route options. I ended up doing an out-and-back along a road I like due to its length and shade. The humidity continued to build as the sun grew higher in the sky. I reached a point around 4 miles in when I considered a cool down stop. I decided to keep going, knowing I was less than a mile from home.

I was glad to get enough distance to support my goal of increasing my base closer to 6 miles. It wasn't particularly enjoyable today, but it was necessary. After mapping my run in Gmaps, I saw that turning the route map 90° made it look a little like a tractor as well as roughly describing the shape of my home state of Massachusetts. I enhanced the image further to make the point (see above). Mrs. ER thinks the original route map looks like a person snowboarding. What do you see?

Tomorrow may be a good day for a trail run. I'll need to watch my time because thunderstorms are supposed to come through at some point on Sunday. I'm hoping to get out earlier when it's cooler and less humid. I don't know how flexible my schedule will be next week, so I want to make the most of my weekend runs.

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.
 

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