Saturday, January 31, 2009

Updated - What's up with Google search?

From NY Times: "Google’s Internet search service malfunctioned for nearly 55 minutes Saturday morning, upending users around the world with search results that carried false safety warnings and Web links that did not work."


All morning I've noticed that every search result from Google (but interestingly not the paid results) come up with a notice "This site may harm your computer." Clicking on a link brings up this page:

I hope it's something that Google fixes quickly. I had the same results using Firefox and Safari.

A new Nike+ Sportband problem

I had a particularly good bunch of runs this week and looked forward to downloading my Sportband after this morning's workout. Today is the last day of January and I was curious to see how I did in total mileage compared to December.

I started with 15 minutes of core exercise as a warm up and then ran 3.1 miles outside. It was 18 degrees and windy and I struggled through the whole run. Running is mostly fun but today it was work. There was no debate when I reached the crossroad where I could run another mile or just head for home. I had hoped the core work would have prepared me better but my legs felt heavy throughout the run. My running felt mechanical the whole way through and I was prepared for an abysmal pace. I was surprised to see that I ran 3.1 miles in about 29 minutes.

My frustration came when I attempted to upload the past week's runs to the Nike+ site only to see the dialog box read "No new runs to upload." I tried multiple times but the application just wouldn't recognize my runs. I ended up manually inputting the runs into MapMyRun where I aggregate all my workouts including training done on the elliptical machine. I looked on the Nike+ forums to see if there was a solution posted. There were no solutions but I saw that I wasn't the only one who was experiencing this issue.

I finished January having run almost exactly the same total distance as in December averaging about 15 miles a week. Since I was on vacation for two weeks in December and had more time to run I'm considering January's distance a net gain. With the Sportband failing to upload my runs I'm thinking about bringing it back for a refund and getting a Garmin 50 with foot pod and HRM. I just can't rationalize spending over $400 for a Forerunner 405, Polar or Suunto GPS watch with the additional foot pod and HRM.

Friday, January 30, 2009

I'm balking on sunshine

It occurred to me this morning as I stood freezing on the train platform that I have yet to run in the blisteringly hot summer heat. I (re)started running last year in late August and did most of my runs before 6:30 AM, before temperatures climbed well above the 70's. By now I've experienced running in temperate, cold and really cold weather and I'm trying to figure out how to handle the coming days of high humidity and heat. With the cold you can always dress warmer with more layers and thicker vests and jackets. Although you do need to fight dehydration when running in the cold I'm guessing the requirement for proper hydration in the hot weather is much different.

I'm running in two races between April 19 and May 2nd and according to some data I've seen (based upon the above chart) the apparent temperatures could be in the 90's. I've read that it's important to run in similar weather conditions two weeks prior to a race to acclimate yourself to the heat or cold. I'm thinking that I can use indoor running as a way of controlling my environment as I move closer to those dates. In terms of gear, I'll use any excuse to buy more technical shirts.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fitness Showrooms: Deal or bad deal?

The latest episode in the ongoing saga of our BH Fitness elliptical machine played out yesterday when the Fitness Showrooms tech replaced the X1 display and logic board for the third time since November.

Unfortunately this didn't solve the problem with the inaccurate heart rate monitor (HRM) nor did it fix the problem with the angle of the display. So the net result of all of this is that we're back to the starting point with a unit that doesn't provide a key capability. We are actually worse off than when we started because the original display was properly centered but the last two displays have sat off center.

What's frustrating is that the Fitness Showrooms tech told my wife that the HRMs don't work on these machines and that includes the one in their showroom. While Fitness Showrooms was happy to use the HRM as a selling feature they've refused to rebate the cost to buy an accurate, wearable HRM. Although I like the design and feel of the X1 I am tempted to send it back and buy another brand that has more features and that works as promised.

If I do decide to buy another elliptical I won't be getting it from Fitness Showrooms. Their position is that we should address our problems with the unit directly with the manufacturer, BH Fitness. Fitness Showrooms represented the HRM as a key feature in order to make the sale. But, to date, they have not stood behind what they sold.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Daily discoveries

Although it has been a number of months since I've returned to running I'm still finding about new things every day. I wrote yesterday about what I recently learned about trail shoes and I came across a couple of other things as well. My first discovery was that my normal pace on the road is about 25 seconds/mile faster than what seemed to be an equal effort on the treadmill. I know my street pace is correct because I can quantify it by dividing duration by distance using a stopwatch and Google Earth's path ruler. Both tools are close to 100% accurate so I consider that to be my pace of record. My Sportband, when calibrated, closely correlates to this distance and pace number.

The big question is whether the Sportband works as accurately with treadmill running as it does on the street. My guess is that it does because the only variable is whether the treadmill motor throws off enough EMI to interfere with the transmission between the Nike+ chip and the Sportband. If that were the case then the Sportband readings would be inconsistent as the level of EMI interference varies due to positioning changes between the Sportband and chip during a run. My conclusion is that the difference in pace has to do with stride length. My stride is probably shorter on the treadmill because I'm conscious of the possibility of over-running the speed of the tread,

My second discovery was that the Core workout, despite its low impact, seems to generate an impressive amount of energy. This makes it a great warm up for a run and a nightmare when you do it shortly before you go to bed. Forget sleeping for a while. I learned this Sunday night as I stared at the clock for two hours waiting to drop off.

Finally, I read yesterday that replenishing glycogen within 15 minutes after exercise significantly helps recovery and benefits your next day's workout. There seems to be no end of new things to discover about a seemingly simple sport.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The trail shoe conspiracy

Of all the running gear that I own my least understood (and probably most important) items are my running shoes. I started my return to running with a pair of New Balance cross trainers and soon discovered that they were clearly the wrong tools for the job. I started researching running shoes and was quickly intimidated by the many options I had in choosing a shoe.

There were shoes for people who were (regrettably dubbed) pronators and supinators. There were also shoes for neutral runners, front foot strikers and for other types of runners who possessed other seemingly important afflictions. I had purchased the Nike+ Sportsband to track my performance so I decided to look for Nike+ shoes that would allow me to properly place the RF chip below the sole instead of atop my foot as I did in my New Balance shoe. My salesperson at the shoe store recommended Nike Turbulence 13's because they had good cushioning. As a new runner she thought I would want a more comfortable fit. It was a good recommendation and I've never had a problem with them.

I hadn't thought about running shoes for months until I started becoming interested in off road running. As much as I like the track it does get tedious running in circles. I'm beginning to outgrow my neighborhood in terms of the distances I can cover without doubling back on any streets so it would be nice to have another option. I looked at trail shoes online and in places like Sports Authority and figured on paying about $50-$60 for a pair. Given the mix of choices I had seen for this type of shoe I decided to pay a visit to a local running store to get the scoop on the best trail shoes for my type of running.

My salesperson was a young guy who was clearly a serious runner. I told him that I run on the road but I wanted to try running trails as well. He asked me what type of trails I planned to run on and I told him I wanted to start with actual running trails as opposed to paths in the woods. He surprised me by saying that I didn't need trail shoes unless I planned on running in fairly rough terrain. He showed me some shoes from various manufacturers and while the shoes were different the thing they had in common was the price. Every shoe he had was over $100 and I asked him why their shoes were so expensive compared to the ones I had seen at Sports Authority. He said they only carried top lines but he also said that trail shoes with Gore-Tex were priced higher than other shoes because of the additional Gore-Tex licensing costs. He said that in many cases the manufacturer’s own water protection and breathability systems were better than Gore-Tex but people wanted - and paid for - the higher priced brand.

I decided not to buy any shoes because I still wasn't sure what I really needed. I know now that I can use my Turbulence 13's on trails but I don't want them to get too dirty or beat up. I'll take a look at the more modestly priced shoes at the sporting goods stores to see what they offer - or don't - in terms of weather protection. So I'll add trail shoes to my list of other running gear, like a GPS watch, that I want but don't necessarily need. I'd rather pay more to get a good shoe but I don't want to buy more shoe than I need.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Tomorrow's Sedentary Man

In tomorrow's new column Sedentary Man talks about the various things that bother him. Yes, I could tell him that none of this relates to the subjects of diet, medicine or exercise but I don't want to make him any angrier. Here's the current column...

12 degrees of difficulty

On Sunday morning I was a little shocked to see the thermometer reading 12 degrees but decided that nothing was going to stop me from running outside. I took off feeling okay but soon regretted the cold as my face and hands (despite gloves) began to hurt. I considered turning back to get my running balaclava but instead decided to just press on. I figured that I'd warm up within five minutes so I put my head down and changed my direction to minimize the amount of wind I was facing.

Normally I'll begin sweating before reaching the 1 1/2 mile mile mark but I was still freezing at that point in the run. Those great Merino wool socks and my running leggings were keeping my lower half toasty but it was pretty cold above the waist despite my three long sleeve jerseys and a light running jacket. As I ran I came up with a wish list of cold running gear (e.g., running mittens) that I'd wished I had brought along.

My body temperature mercifully equalized a few minutes after mile two and I was quite comfortable for the remaining part of the run. The wicking properties of the base layer were keeping me dry and relatively warm. I thought about how I could have dressed differently to avoid the first 20 minutes of discomfort but I also wondered if the things that kept me warm the first half of the run would work against me once I had warmed up. I've read that you're supposed to dress in removable layers on really cold days but I'm puzzled as to what to do with this stuff when you no longer need it.

As the work week starts I'll be back to the treadmill for my morning workouts. I had two great runs this weekend and I'll miss the road until Saturday but I know I won't miss the cold.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Our common interest

One great thing about blogging about running is that there's always something new to say. There's definitely a symbiotic relationship between my daily workouts and my daily posts. One inspires the other. This journal started as way to capture my singular experience as I returned to running but I have discovered that many other people relate as well to the site. I recently checked my traffic and saw that the Emerging Runner has gained readers in 54 countries and it has seen thousands of visits and page views since I started in mid November. The parallel site on the Runner's World Loop is active as well but there is no way (that I know of) to check that traffic volume. It's not the volume that's important as much as the fact that a community can be created through a device like a blog. I have learned a lot from hearing from others in terms of workout programs, expectations, technologies and gear.

I have no goals for the Emerging Runner other than to keep the conversation going. I would like to represent other views as well. If you have a good story to share about running, dealing with injuries, favorite running gear, etc., send me an email or post a comment about it. It would also be great to hear more from the international readers. What's it like to run in London, Ottawa, Stockholm...?

In the meantime, keep running. That's really what this is all about.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Way off track

As I backed out of my garage this morning to head to the track I noticed that the temperature display in my car said 42 degrees. In the seven minutes it took to reach the track the reading had dropped ten degrees and with strong winds I figured the chill brought that down at least ten degrees more. I was prepared for the weather but not for what I saw when I arrived - the entire track was covered in icy snow. I got back in the car and headed straight back home.

It's been a couple of weeks since I'd run outdoors due to snowstorms that seem to happen every weekend. I was determined to get back on the track or street so I hit my neighborhood roads which were sandy and dirty but mostly clear of snow and ice. After a few weeks on treadmill duty it was disconcerting to encounter freezing cold winds but it really felt like running. I thought about some of the runners I've heard from recently in places like Michigan where it's been 5 degrees. If they're out there running I really can't complain. I ran 3.6 miles and felt strong throughout the run and finished better than I have in a long time. Maybe my conditioning has improved.

I was happy that my starting struggles did not follow my return to road running. I thought the wind resistance and hills would slow my speed but I was surprised to see I ran 20 sec./mile faster than I'd been averaging on the treadmill. I'll do another neighborhood run tomorrow to see if I can exceed 4 miles, a distance I'm hoping to achieve at least once a weekend until my April race.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The observer effect and starting struggles

The observer effect in quantum physics refers to changes made merely through the act of observation. In less scientific terms, it's the act of putting attention to a problem that contributes to its solution. Since I wrote the post "Stages of my daily run" where I lamented the difficulties of getting through the first mile, I've had virtually none of the problems related to the starting minutes of my run.

I can't really assign a good reason for this except that I acknowledged the problem. I haven't changed my level of fitness much over the last few weeks. My improvement may be related to the integration of core workouts but that routine is too new and is done too infrequently to have made much of a difference at this point. Adventure Girl mentioned that her starting struggles went away when she reached 6-8 mile training distances. That may actually be a key reason for my improvement. I'm nowhere close to 6-8 miles in my regular training runs but my distances are 30% longer on average compared to a month ago. I've heard from another blogger that her starting struggles relate to her pace, presumably starting too fast to sustain that rate of speed. There's something to that as well, as I focus more on distance I'm backing off on speed and that definitely contributes to starting comfort.

While it's great to feel better about the start I still struggle with the finish. Last weekend was good for total miles but still a disappointment in terms of reaching individual distance goals. I need to start regularly exceeding 4 miles on my weekend runs so that I am properly conditioned for the April race. It looks like the weather will be dry and warm (30's) enough for track running this weekend. I cannot wait because as much as I love the treadmill there's no substitute for the road.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cruel recollection

In the pantry in my kitchen there's a section I reserve for energy bars of all types. Some I use prior to my pre-dawn run as a device to jumpstart my metabolism. Others contain more calories and are higher in protein and work well after a run or a light meal. What's in common with all these bars is the predominant ingredient - peanut butter - that I prefer over other types. Peanut butter is a perfect food for runners with its high energy density, zero cholesterol and good fat providing many benefits. This all worked out pretty well until the FDA announced a sweeping recall of products manufactured with peanut paste supplied by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). Among those products are many of the energy bars that I buy such as my favorite type of Larabar from General Mills, Peanut Butter Cookie.
After a quick review of my inventory I realized that I probably have just enough non-peanut butter based bars in reserve to carry me through until the next visit to Trader Joe's. I'll stock up on safer choices until this all passes. It shouldn't cost me much to do that since, sadly, I'll be bringing back all of my recalled peanut butter Larabars. But maybe I'll keep one and take my chances...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Aging backwards

This past weekend my mother-in-law declared that I look ten years younger since I've returned to running. I appreciated the compliment although I think she was just being kind. Either way it was nice to hear, better than the more common statements of concern that I get from friends: "You're losing too much weight" and "You look like an underfed prisoner.” That is certainly not the image I'd like to project. Even my wife has pointed out that since I've hit my goal I should start eating again like a normal person. I told her she should listen to her mother.

I agree that I have reached my desired level for weight but I’m not going back to my old habits. I’m in far better shape than I've been in over a decade and I’d really like to stay that way. Besides, I’ve already had my suits tailored. Although I don’t do many upper body workouts I've noticed that muscle definition in my chest and arms is much more noticeable. Results like that add to the motivation to run and cross train. I'm not looking to reverse the aging process except to help ensure that I can ably run in the decades ahead. I’m in an unusual place compared to many runners my age who, despite dedicated training, will soon begin to see performance declines every year simply due to nature. Since my starting point is different (I’ve had lots of room for improvement since returning to running last August) I’m actually gaining in both performance and endurance. I don’t know how long it will be until I hit my peak and then start to lose ground but I’m not worrying about that now. It’s great to be told that you look years younger (especially if it were true) but I much more prefer the way it feels.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration run

Today is an historic day and regardless of your political viewpoint you have to admit it's nice to have this much positive energy around a national event. But the Emerging Runner doesn't cover politics so instead I'll mention something I heard on the news this morning about the venue. As the reporter described the scene of the swearing in ceremony she mentioned that people would be congregating in the space between the Capital Building and the Lincoln Memorial, a distance of 2 miles. Despite my interest in the event my reaction was "what a great run that would be!"

I've written before about the benefits of running outdoors and how the changing view (even on the track) is preferable to staring at the wall, out a window or even at a TV set. I mostly run outside in my neighborhood but on some occasions I've been fortunate enough to run in various cities while traveling on business or vacation. The next time I go to D.C. I would love to run the National Mall from end to end (and back). I'm sure there are hundreds that do that every day.

Last fall we spent a weekend in the Old Town section of Philadelphia and I ran through that historic area very early in the morning. It was a little scary actually because it was eerily quiet and the only people I saw during that run were homeless. I've run in other cities like Cambridge where you can run from Kendall Square over the Longfellow Bridge to the Esplanade and back in under 30 minutes, with most of the run alongside the Charles River. In my past running life I ran through the streets of Salt Lake City on a Sunday morning for an hour and didn't see a single person. Of course I also used to run in NYC but that wasn't an ideal experience.

Now that I've reached a point where I can cover some distance I will try to run in every city I visit on vacation or business. However, I am a sucker for hotel fitness centers and can be easily seduced by a Precor M9 if it's a little chilly outside.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Sedentary Man talks nutrition

In this week's column the Sedentary Man explains that the way he eats is likely due to the way his mother fed him growing up. Still, for a guy with an Ivy League degree you'd expect Sedentary Man to have more sense about nutrition. But I'm only saying that to get back at him for nodding off during our meetings. Read his column here...

The persistance of treadmill memory

My apologies for writing such a bad Dali pun as a headline but I have discovered something interesting about treadmill data. The cold weather and snow that we have experienced this past week has forced me to spend a lot of time running indoors. The treadmill is clearly a subject for discussion as most people view it either as an enabler or a necessary evil but you can't argue with its convenience. After using it as my third choice after street and track for months I realized that my basic assumption of its measurement accuracy is flawed. I've always assumed that maintaining a constant speed on the treadmill will accomplish the same for the runner. In other words, assuming the reading is accurate, when the treadmill says 7 MPH you're running 7 MPH.

The treadmill forces you to run (as long as the tread is moving you'd better be running) but there can be a measurable variance in treadmill speed and runner speed. I noticed this on Saturday when I had a strong start and after a mile my Sportband showed my distance about .05 miles ahead of the treadmill's. Throughout the run I saw that gap begin to close and at 2.7 miles the treadmill distance began to exceed the Sportband distance. This intrigued me and also annoyed me because I knew I'd need to run a little extra at the end to achieve my planned distance. After thinking about it I realized it makes sense. You don't have to run the same pace of the treadmill as you run on it as long as your feet are moving. There is a minimum speed you'll need to maintain lest you get swept off the tread but there's some latitude there. My experience showed me where I peak in terms of pace and where I begin to lose speed over time. Knowing this will help me better tune my performance by pushing my crossover time further and further into my run.

I was hoping to run on the track today but, like yesterday, we've received another few inches of snow. I ran about 3.5 miles yesterday on top of Saturday's 3.6. I may shoot for longer distance today or go the other way and cross train with the elliptical and the shovel.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Racing toward Spring

I have discovered that anticipating a race is a great way to focus on your training goals. Moving closer to pace and distance targets requires a re-thinking of training methods and priorities. The joy of running must give way, at least a little, to the rigors of training and conditioning. Everyone has a different method and I am fortunate to have heard from people who have shared theirs. The interesting thing about this blog is that those who read it are likely to be better and more accomplished runners than me. There are many articles on the web and in magazines about preparing for your first race, but when I hear about the experience directly from a fellow blogger or reader it seems more valuable to me.

Preparing for my 4 miler in April and then a 5K two weeks later is relatively easy right now since I have about 12 weeks to reach peak conditioning. I’ll need to figure out what methods I should maintain and what changes I should make to best prepare for these events. My new focus on core seems correct since it's about building running strength. I think my diet is pretty good but I wonder if I'll need to increase protein intake for strength as I approach my race dates. Established and accomplished runners do lots of interval training, uphills and tempo runs. I've done some but I have to admit it's tedious. Perhaps it's important to get past that perception if I want to hit my goal of running a 10K this year.

So what's the key advice to preparing for a race? How is it that most runners I know (online and off) are capable of running six to ten miles at any given time? How long does it take to get there? I've heard from someone who started running last September and is now preparing for a 10K in April. Even with a setback or two she has easily surpassed me in terms of distance progress despite my daily dedication. That tells me I should be doing something different but I don't know exactly what to change.

Today I will get out there and do my best against a 4 mile target. I'm hoping yesterday's 3.6 mile run won't be the best distance I can do this weekend. With the holiday on Monday I'll have an extra day to try. I'm hoping that the temperature will rise enough to allow me to hit the track. However, as we've all discussed, the treadmill is also a great resource for the dedicated runner.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Defending the treadmill - part 2

I've received a lot of comments and emails from my post on Thursday on both the Emerging Runner site and the Runner's World Emerging Runner blog. First of all, I am so happy to hear from people on this subject (and to hear from them in general). I hope people continue to share, it helps define the Emerging Runner experience and it reinforces that my experience is anything but unique. For those who read my posts on the Runner's World Emerging Runner blog, please note that I have additional content on, including my guest columnist, the Sedentary Man, who (just to be clear) is not me. I value both channels because they serve different purposes, I look forward to hearing more from you.

Core competencies

This month's Runner's World ran a story on core fitness that illustrated the various muscles that, when developed, enhance a runner's performance. The other side of this is the injuries that are likely to occur if a runner fails to condition properly. I decided to try the 15 minute workout to gauge the impact and to see if it isolated muscles that I've, ahem, neglected. I was pleased to see that not only was the workout (5 exercises) possible to do in 15 minutes it was more relaxing than arduous. The article had very clear illustrations and provided guidance on how to ensure you were doing it correctly. They even suggested ways to make it harder. Maybe next time for that.

After the core exercises I was very energized and decided to do a medium long run. We're going to a family event tonight and I didn't want to be too tired to socialize (admittedly, I have trouble in that area under any circumstance) so I cut my run a little short of 4 miles. The good news was the core exercises provided a great lead in for the start of my run. No "stage 1" struggles and the first mile came so fast I had to check twice to make sure I wasn't misreading the display. The bad news was I grew very tired around mile 3. I kept on telling myself the glycogen boost was imminent I just needed to hold on but the boost didn't come. Being slightly insane I constantly calculate my pace by looking at the time and mileage on the treadmill and the mileage on the Sportband. That's a lot of math to do in real time but it gives me a good distraction. I can tell if I'm losing steam when the mileage numbers on my Sportband (which is tied to stride and foot speed) and the mileage on the treadmill (a constant) begin to diverge. That happened around 3.1 miles (at least I hit 5K at intended pace) and I barely managed to run another half mile before I slowed to cool down.

So I think I will integrate the core exercise workout into my fitness program but it's going to be difficult to find the time to do it consistently. Perhaps I can do it at night although my time after I get home from work is already short. Well 15 minutes isn't a very long time so I can't make excuses. The energy boost you get is worth the effort.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Rage against the machines

I got a note from a reader who asked me about my experience with the Brookstone Heart Rate Ring. She had a similar issue and wanted to understand my specific problems with the unit. My experience with this device was similar to my experience with the HRM on my elliptical machine: inaccurate and inconsistent readings. It makes me wonder if any HRMs on the market are capable of performing their simple but important task of accurately reporting a pulse rate in real time. I have been frustrated lately by an astonishing number of technology failures running the gamut of high and low tech. A few examples are shade pulls so over engineered that breaking the cord requires a home visit by a company service rep. Other technology frustrations include my long term search for a programmable switch for my outside house lights that doesn't fail within eight months of installation and flush mounted clothing hooks that require the use of specialized Allen wrenches when a simple screw would do.

Bringing this back to running, I've found that my frustration with the technologies that quantify performance comes as a result of a need to measure progress. I've had the experience where I failed to trigger the start of a run on my Sportband (it requires about 1,000 lbs. of pressure to activate the button) only to discover the problem ten minutes into my run. My irrational response to this is that I wasted my time. If that part of my run wasn't recorded then it didn't happen. So the key issue is I subconsciously value the metrics of running more than the workout itself. When the technology fails to capture the experience or records it incorrectly, irrational or not, it diminishes the way I value the effort.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

In defense of the treadmill

The temperature this morning was in the low teens with winds making it far colder. It was also snowing which surprised me a little since I've always thought it couldn't snow when the temperature dropped much below freezing. Adding to this was the 4:00 AM darkness creating the most inhospitable running environment that can be found in suburban NY. There was no question that I would run on the treadmill as the darkness alone is enough to keep me inside on weekday mornings. Also, I like the treadmill for reasons I'll address further into this post.

As a re-engaged runner I am interested in what more experienced runners think and what they do. I'm always curious to hear real runner's opinions about treadmills because I've found them to be a divisive subject. There are those who just hate them and won't use them unless every alternative is exhausted. I know a person who runs in every kind of weather and who won't even wear a hat or long pants unless the temperature drops below 10 degrees. A couple of friends that are well established runners avoid the treadmill because they think the motion of the tread throws off their technique. I respect them very much and I've learned greatly from them both but I don't agree with that perspective.

The treadmill makes great sense to me because it's a practical and enabling technology. It lets me run when nature doesn't cooperate. Perhaps more importantly, the treadmill gives me full control of my environment in terms of conditions, speed and effort. I often think about the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" where Keir Dullea runs within a space station as it revolves. This morning I realized that I would run out of time before hitting my minimum distance for my weekday run. I had about five minutes left and saw that I was about 3/10ths of a mile short of my goal. With reckless abandon I pushed the speed control to 7.8 mph which is close to a 7:30/mi pace. I ended up covering much more distance than originally planned. I know it's not the same as the street or track but that doesn't mean it's worse. One established runner I know tells me she finds the treadmill workout harder than the street. I know it's not ideal and will always prefer the view of the neighborhood, the athletic field or (I'm guessing) the trail to the static view of my backyard viewed through the guestroom window. But at 4:00 AM with snow and a freezing wind-chill I'm still running.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Racking up the miles

The subject of the first post I ever did on this site was "Yeah, I'm a runner." There was actually more to this statement than meets the eye because this was an expression I used sarcastically during my earlier running period to poke fun at my less than dedicated focus. Over the years I have been fortunate enough, through business, to participate in a number of activities such as rock climbing and 12 meter yacht racing. It's always been a joke between my wife and I that once I had these dilettante experiences I would refer to myself as such: "yeah, I'm a rock climber [...sailor, etc.]."

So what's the difference between being a runner and a wanabee runner? I think it's about choosing to do it. I know people who call themselves runners but when I ask them about their routine they tell me they used to run 6 miles four times a week but it's been months since they've done that. My wife isn't a runner and doesn't aspire to running but she is dedicated to fitness and has the potential to be a good runner. In fact, I am confident that if she took up the sport she would quickly surpass me in terms of speed and distance. So perhaps it's better to only have one of us doing that.

My focus right now is on distance and I want to exceed my mileage every month in 2009. Not by a lot but enough so that I will have a measureable improvement between December 2008 and 2009. Haruki Murakami talks a lot about distance in his book and he regularly exceeds 200 miles per month. I don't think I'd ever reach that level but as of now I'm tracking at about 70 miles per month. If I increase my distances 5% per month for the rest of the year I will be around 120 miles per month. The limiting factor is time so I have to build that in. But even if I can log 25 miles per week by the end of this year I will be very satisfied. At that point I can call myself a true runner.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stages of my daily run

By this point in my return to running my conditioning has prepared me to run far longer than I ever have before. Running a full mile, an imposing goal back in August, has become just another part of my run. While the first mile is no longer an imposing challenge I've discovered that getting through it can still be pretty tough. My typical run experience goes through these stages:

1. Starting struggles
During the first three minutes of a run I often carry on an internal debate about whether I am prepared to run my targeted distance. If I haven't stretched properly (true 98% of the time) I tell myself I'm unprepared to go on any further.

2. Acknowledgment that I will continue
Despite the internal dialog I never actually quit. About seven minutes into my run I usually check my Nike+ Sportband to see my progress and note that I'm almost at a mile. This motivates me further.

3. Comfort
Some time after mile 1 I am properly warmed up and I have established a comfortable pace and stride.

4. Sweat
Before my second mile I'll usually begin to feel the workout. That's really the point. It's at this stage that I assess my progress and gauge whether I'll run more or less distance than originally planned.

5. Equalibrium
Depending on the length of the run there can be a point when I begin to feel stronger. This is sometimes described as a second wind. I find that this frequently happens around mile 3.

6. Negotiating the finish
Once I get closer to my planned endpoint I'll decide whether to extend my run. Nearing completion sometimes results in fatigue as I anticipate the finish. If I can convince myself to go on I'll try to append an extra quarter or half mile to my run.

As I run longer distances and improve my conditioning I'll be curious to see if my stage 1 struggles end. Although I do have these beginning run challenges I know by now that it's just a stage that I will get through.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Daily fitness - what gets me out of bed?

Back in the early '90's, when I was running regularly, I used to dread mornings because it meant that I had to get up, gear up and head out into the streets of Manhattan for my daily run. It was only by force of willpower that I did this. Although I knew that running was great exercise I really didn't like it. I went into running with the wrong expectations and struggled through my experience. My willpower was not strong and when my running partner left for two weeks to visit friends in LA I found it a convenient time to take a short break. That break ended in August of last year.

Today I get up and look forward to my run. If the weather is too severe for running I'm unhappy but I'll still run on the treadmill or I'll use the elliptical machine. People sometimes tell me that I must have great willpower to train every day. I wish that were the case but I must admit that it's not. I have no more willpower today than I did in August 1992 but my enthusiasm for running is much different now. Unlike my earlier experience when I chose distances that were too challenging, I've built up distance incrementally proportionate to an increased level of fitness. I also track performance and distance carefully so that I can set expectations and quantify progress. Back then, when running alone, I'd hit the street and run until I was exhausted, often walking home miles from where I began. I had no sense of whether I did better or worse from day to day. Technologies that passively track distance and mapping resources like Google Earth were not available to me then so I had to play it by ear. I also failed to appreciate the difference between a hostile and an enabling environment. Running the streets of NYC (with the exception of the NYC Marathon) is a dangerous and frustrating experience. Had I run in Central Park instead I may have had more motivation.

I run now because I love the experience. Cross training is part of that as well because better conditioning equals better fitness which allows me to run further and faster. As for willpower, I could use that to help me keep my resolution of taking skip days.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Nutrition, running and weight

I've written before about my observations related to workout effort and weight. The key point is that maintaining an ideal weight should not be viewed as a complex series of actions related to diets that force unnatural behavior and/or over-training to burn off calories. Simply put, if your focus on fitness and weight maintenance isn't sustainable your results won't be sustainable. Last August I decided that my diet and level of activity were unacceptable and chose to change my behavior. I never considered any changes related to quick weight loss because that wasn't the point. The point was more about managing cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure by introducing more activity, reducing portion sizes and making better choices for foods. Everyone has their own unique body chemistry and what has worked for me won't necessarily yield the same results for others. But I have been successful in meeting all my goals to date.

This morning I weighed in (I only check weight once a week, always in the morning before my run) and noted that I have largely stabilized at a weight that is 13% lower than my benchmarked weight from August '09. My BMI has gone from 27.2 to 23.6, and my cholesterol, triglyceride and other vitals have all moved well into the normal range. My average running distance has increased almost 30% since August and this is also key to getting to full equilibrium. As weight has come off the effort required to run an equivalent distance has decreased. Increasing distance while maintaining the same safe and satisfying diet has allowed me to reach a level that is both sustainable and healthy.

Now that I have reached this point I need to think about where I go from here. I do plan to keep increasing distance and I'll need to build more muscle to increase my performance. I may need to eat more to do that because without the right level of protein a runner can do damage to muscles when pushing hard. I suspect that may be why I experienced a hamstring pull doing tempo runs a few weeks ago. It's all about balance. This is my typical diet. You can compare it to Sedentary Man's:

90 calorie Special K bar (high complex carbs, low sugar, low protein)
Half cup coffee, .5 oz. non-fat milk

200 calorie Larabar (nut varieties, high protein)
6 0z. coffee with fat free milk

Stir fry with tofu, vegetables, brown rice and low sodium soy sauce
Whole fruit

Boca burger, whole wheat bread
Sun Chips
Trader Joe's Omega nut mix (1.6 oz.)
Whole fruit

I've been introducing small portions of chicken into my dinners, typically mixed with vegetables, to increase protein levels. I also add edamame to increase protein. As I've said before, it's really about listening to your body. At this point I believe I have the balance right. Compared to August I have significantly more energy and I am far less stressed. Good results are motivating and the level of effort required to maintain my balance is reasonable enough so that I look forward to my daily workouts.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Nike+ Sportband, the definition of insanity

Albert Einstein supposedly said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If that's true then I am truly insane because I continue to use my Nike+ Sportband hoping that its display, like its two predecessors, won't corrode and fade away. I realize that I have been complaining a lot lately in my posts - runners with bad safety judgment, elliptical machine issues and again the Sportband - but I question why so many fitness technologies just don't work.

I am a technologist and those who know me will agree that I am passionate about the ways technology can benefit society. I say this to demonstrate that I am neither a Luddite nor "purist" when it comes to workout science. However, between my Sportband troubles, continuing problems with our elliptical machine's HRM and an earlier disappointing experience with Brookstone's Heart Rate Ring I am zero for 3 in terms of consumer satisfaction. Why bring a product to market that just doesn't work?

I applaud Nike for having developed a very affordable system that accurately tracks running metrics using an RFID sensor along with a lightweight watch that captures the information in real time. What bothers me is that Nike, an $18 billion company founded on the development of an innovative running shoe, seems to have given up on this idea because their original design was poorly engineered. If the problem is that the water seal of the display is flawed why not fix that and reintroduce the product? While there is an iPod based solution it's an irrelevant choice for those who don't have or want an iPod.

Yet, through this, as my current Sportband continues to degrade and fade, I hold out hope that the next one I get when I swap it out at Dick's will work better. That is if they still have them. Otherwise I will ask for a refund and consider my next technology decision: Should I apply my refund to the purchase of a Garmin Forerunner 50 with Heart Rate Monitor and Foot Pod or go all out and get the Garmin Forerunner 405 Black GPS Enabled Sports Watch/ HRM for three times the price but with everything a running techno-geek would ever want?

It all comes down to my earlier point. What if I bought the 405 and it doesn't work? Then I'll have nothing to aspire to. Maybe that will be the time to buy a stopwatch.

Friday, January 9, 2009

99 days and counting

I noticed that it's 99 days to my four mile race. That gives me 13 more weekends to work on speed and distance. I'm confident that I can handle the distance, as I've run further, but now it's about pace. Earlier this week I started increasing the pace of my daily run and I've noticed that running a little faster than my usual pace (about 15 sec./mile) has been surprisingly easy. In fact, I believe that stepping up my pace has been more energizing and is helping me finish stronger. Right now I aim to complete the race with a 9:30 or better pace and I'm going to work on my splits this weekend to determine the best way to use my energy in the race. Since New Year's I've increased my weekday run distance by an average of 25% and I plan to step this up incrementally each week going forward. I'm hoping for a good result in April and plan to run a faster pace two weeks later for the 5K.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

When bad things happen to good elliptical machines

I've talked before about how the elliptical workout complements running and I have been very happy with my machine, the BH Fitness X1. The only issue I have with the unit is that its heart rate monitor has been completely inaccurate. The people at Fitness Showrooms have been responsive to my complaints and ordered a replacement unit that was installed yesterday. I was very excited to use the unit today but was ultimately disappointed to see that the service tech installed the HRM and display unit off center so that the display is very difficult to read while in use. Well, at least that would be fixable with some adjustments. I was further disappointed when I started using the machine only to see the starting pulse at 175 and the HRM reading out between 190 and 43 throughout my workout. The readings (which did not in any way tie to my level of exertion) jumped around so much it was almost like the monitor was generating random numbers.
I've asked the supplier for a modest refund so I can buy a watch with a built in heart monitor. I'll wait to hear how they respond. In the meantime I'm open to suggestions on who has the best HRM watch for under $100.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Rest days and best days

The early start of the work week caught up to me last night. After two weeks off from my 4:00 AM rise time I was exhausted. My wife (and chief Emerging Runner adviser) suggested that I take a rest day today since I've made it a goal to do that once a week. I decided to wait and see how I felt when I got up this morning after a (hopefully) good night's sleep. This morning, after some coffee, I still felt a little tired but I just couldn't put off my run. I've been at this long enough to know that sometimes the worst starts result in the best finishes. One thing I've learned over the past few months is that no matter how good I feel in the afternoon it rarely translates into a good running experience. Conversely I have experienced great runs when I felt like going back to bed and sleeping six more hours.

This morning was one of those times. I started at a moderate pace but felt energized so I stepped it up and ran a little over two miles in about 17 minutes. It was one of those rare runs where I finished much stronger than I started and I really wished I had another half hour so I could keep going. So today's lesson is that while you should listen to your body you should also follow your instincts and push it at times. Not to the point of injury, but certainly out of your comfort zone. Mornings work for me and that's good because my two upcoming races both start fairly early.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Spot the runner

I've written before about runners that disregard the basic rules of safety when they run. Sometimes I think it's hubris: "I'm on foot and have the right of way" but most often it's the misassumption that drivers can see you because you can see them. There's a statistic on the web that says over 122,000 runners, walkers, and cyclists are hit by cars each year.

This morning I encountered two potential hospital victims on my short drive out of my neighborhood. It was 6:10 AM and completely dark as I came up the street and saw the faint reflection from a runner's pants as I passed him by. He was wearing black from head to toe. Fortunately this person was running with traffic in my direction so he was over on the other side of the road when I saw him. A car coming from the other direction would have had more trouble seeing him. Ten seconds later I came around the corner where I encountered another runner, this one in gray sweats, running in the middle of the road about fifteen feet in front of me. I had to honk to get him to move. He may have been listening to music because he didn't seem to know I was there.

I realize that it's difficult (and in cases with buckled paving, dangerous) to run on the sidewalk but if you must run on the street at least do it facing oncoming traffic and by all means move when you see a car. And running in all black clothing at 6:00 AM is never a good idea.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Definition of running success

Runner's World recently ran an article about the various types of runners breaking it down to three groups, short distance (5K, 10K), middle distance (10 mile/half marathon) and long haulers (marathons+). There's a quiz that helps you identify where you slot into these categories and the tone is egalitarian in terms of respecting all three types. That said, it seems that most runners would be horrified to find themselves branded anything other than "marathon material" since completing a marathon appears to be the sport's ultimate achievement. No one openly disparages shorter length races but I've seen many references to half marathons as warm-up or training events. Runner's World itself would be hard pressed to publish a cover without prominently displaying the word "Marathon." I'm asked a lot about when I'll be ready for my first marathon and my answer to that is "probably never." To me that's not a goal. I would have to sacrifice too much time and subject myself to a level of training that goes beyond what's required for fitness and balance. If I could complete a half marathon some day I'd be proud but for 2009 a 10K is the goal.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Trail running - the Emerging Runner's next frontier?

I was looking at a magazine called Trail Runner which focuses on running in more rugged terrain. AG, one of the Emerging Runner advisers, had told me about a good running trail near where I live and I was looking for information about running trails in the area. There was another running trail, about three miles south of my town, listed in the magazine's directory of races as well. I'm going to try the Muttontown Mystery Trail because it's very convenient to my home. My wife and kids like hiking so perhaps I can mix a run with a hike. The only downside to trail running is that the shoe requirement is different and I don't have trail shoes. Yet.

Today is the last day off from holiday break. Although it hasn't even been two full weeks I feel like I've been away for a month. I had a great time with my family and many great opportunities to run under many different conditions. I'm very pleased with the progress that I've made. After yesterday's difficult run I was concerned that today's would be hard but I got an early start and ran 3.2 miles through the neighborhood. I felt great from the first step and although it was over ten degrees colder than last night there was little wind. I wasn't going for speed and my pace reflected that but I really enjoyed the experience. Tomorrow will be a return to 4:00 AM running and shorter distances until the weekend. I plan to map my distance progress to see what adjustments are necessary for proper conditioning for the 4 mile race.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Two miles the hard way

After a very full day I decided to do an early evening run at the track. It's near the end of our vacation so we've tried to pack a lot in over the last few days and I didn't get an opportunity to run in the morning. Today was cold and I dressed for the weather but the wind chill was tough. I was only planning to run a couple of miles today but at a faster pace than normal.

As I've mentioned before, the wind at the track really comes in hard at certain angles and it almost feels like running uphill. The wind picked up greatly after the first ten minutes and the effect was palpable. If not for passing a couple of people walking the outside lanes I would have thought I was standing still. My splits were pretty wide with the first mile at 8:39 and second at 9:52 for an overall pace around 9:25. I had to push hard to maintain a sub-10:00 pace for the second mile and when I finished the back of my throat was really burning. I was happy that I ran but today's run was much more work than fun.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Caution: icy roads ahead

I had a great run this morning despite the fact that the neighborhood roads still have patches of ice. There was snow and ice on less trafficked areas, like the Middle School, where I often begin my runs. I was careful to navigate around those hazards and I also encountered ice patches around the lower ends of some hilly streets.

Today's run was about 3.2 miles which I did at an average pace of 9:49. I thought that was good since I needed to slow down a lot when the roads were bad. I bought some running leggings last week that are very comfortable and perfect for temperatures in the 20's and 30's. The down side is that I have no place to put an ID or my phone (I usually keep them in the back pocket of my running sweats). The other thing about the leggings is that they are form fitting and you get the sensation that you aren't wearing pants. I actually checked the first time I used them last week to make sure I hadn't forgotten to fully dress.

I've definitely stepped up my average distance per run but it's mostly due to having more time on vacation. I really want to extend my morning runs between Monday and Friday that are constrained by my schedule. I can probably start slightly earlier by preparing more the night before. Even five minutes gained would make a difference.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A good running start to 2009

I planned to skip exercise yesterday in support of my resolution to do one rest day a week. I even thought about it as a good bookend to the beginning of 2008 when I wasn't running. However, I gave in and ran about 1.25 miles after dinner. Despite the short distance it was an extremely taxing run, I had a lot of cramping, probably due to running after eating a full meal. Earlier in the day I was talking to a friend who came by about the benefits and liabilities of training every day. This friend is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®) who teaches high school students about training, nutrition and physiology. He told me that there is no right strategy for training but that I should listen to my body. If I'm exhausted I should not train. If I have energy there's no reason to skip a run. The point is that a person can recover overnight provided that the day's effort was at a recoverable level. I'd expect that anything over 5 miles for me would require more than an overnight recovery at this point in my training. This morning I ran 3.7 miles at a 9:31 overall pace. I was happy with that and I felt very strong up until the end. I could have easily run another 15 minutes but I want to run tomorrow and didn't want to overdo it.

My poll to collect preferences for what the Emerging Runner should cover has closed. Motivation and running technologies came up most often (although with 5 responses it's not exactly statistically significant). But for those who chose to vote, thank you. I will concentrate more on those areas.

I hope everyone had a great New Years and are planning to do some great running in 2009!

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