Saturday, February 28, 2009

In the long run

I look forward my weekend runs because, weather permitting, I can run outdoors and enjoy some actual scenery. Weekends also provide an opportunity to run greater distances since I'm limited to about 20 minutes in the morning during the work week. Over the past few months I've made it a goal to increase my average distance during my weekend runs to help prepare for two races, the first coming in 49 days and the second two weeks later. I am careful to track my pace and I collect a lot of data about my runs. It's a bit belt-and-suspenders but I use and used the Garmin 50 and the Nike+ Sportband respectively to capture real time information. Since I don't trust (for good reason) the distance accuracy of these devices I usually map my actual run against Gmaps or Google Earth to determine actual pace.

In studying what is now 6 months of run data I see a clear pattern in terms of distance covered by day. Saturdays are by far my best distance days and all my personal distance records have been made on those days. Although my intentions are always to meet or exceed Saturdays on my Sunday runs I usually fall short and I'm sure this relates to the fact that while I'm dedicated to running I have not reached a level of conditioning that allows me to complete back to back runs over four miles.

This morning I ran 4.3 miles at a 9:26 pace. Good for me but not where I want to be in 49 days when I compete in a 4 miler. The good news is just a few months ago my pace was 30 sec/mi slower on average and my top distances were in the low 3 mile range. So progress is being made. I'll see how tomorrow goes. We're due for some snow on Sunday but hopefully it won't start coming down until later in the day.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Bad advice and some that's good

This morning, while on the elliptical, I watched one of those celebrity entertainment programs (I think it was Extra) before the news came on. There was a lot of discussion about nutrition and they had a guest trainer to the stars who talked about a healthy diet that included five small meals a day.
I think that's a reasonable approach, in fact I've heard the term "grazing" to describe that type of diet. What bothered me about this diet were the meal-snacks themselves: egg whites, cheese and meat. The portion sizes were small but the balance was completely off. There were no vegetables or fruit or whole grains. I'm sure that following this diet and training would help a person lose weight but unless the person was taking supplements I can't imagine it's a healthy approach. During other parts of the show they featured diet snacks, all of which included Philadelphia cream cheese. This was clearly sponsored and cream cheese is probably a better choice than butter or lard but I think it's disingenuous to represent the main ingredient in cheesecake as particularly healthy.

I eat small portions in my four daily "meals" - pre-post exercise, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Total calorie intake is low and I am careful to balance to the food pyramid. Knock on wood this diet works since I rarely get sick and when I do it's usually a mild cold that leaves after a day. Yesterday, due to scheduling issues, I missed lunch and barely noticed. I had something small on the fly to remind my metabolism that I’m not starving so it should keep working. I remember a time six months ago when missing lunch would be much more noticeable.

I hope people recognize that just because a famous trainer on television promotes a diet that is disproportionately balanced toward protein it doesn’t mean it's a good choice.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

One of these things is not like the other

Those who know me understand my viewpoint on smoking. I support personal freedoms and everyone has the right to do awful things to themselves (just don't do it near me) but I just can't understand why they would. This morning, on my way to the office, I walked by two people dressed for running who had taken a break to smoke. I passed them quickly and only caught a second of their conversation (which was in German) but I wondered how they could rationalize combining a healthy run through mid-town Manhattan with the indulgence of a cigarette break.
I didn't look to see if they continued their run after the smoke or if they turned into the adjacent Dunkin Donuts to continue their hedonism. It did make me wonder how many runners are also smokers. It seems like a weird combination of behaviors but I'm guessing the percentage is higher than most would think. Never having been a smoker it's easy for me to judge and I am admittedly naive about how difficult it is to quit. All the same I just don't get it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quirks of the Garmin

I'm back to the work week routine and despite the residual fatigue that comes from rising at 4:00 AM I've settled back in to my running program. Although I am pleased with the Garmin 50 I've experienced some frustration with its operation, mostly due to its complex interface and its too simple instruction manual.

There are four buttons on the watch that do different things based upon the mode: time, training, intervals, etc. It is not obvious to the user which sequence of buttons need to be pushed to start an action, check a performance metric or calibrate the unit. The manual doesn't cover much of what the watch can do so I'm left frustrated knowing I'm not getting everything I can from the watch. In some cases the frustration comes from inconsistancies with the interface. For example, when in training mode, the usual default screen displays 0000:00:00 meaning "hit start and run." It then records distance, speed, cadence and pulse rate and will display any of those metrics by toggling with one button. That's great except when that display doesn't show up when you switch to training mode.

This morning I got going on the treadmill, brought the speed to my normal starting pace, switched the Garmin to "Train" and was annoyed to see that it did not give me my expected start display. So as I'm running at about a 6.5 mi/hr pace I'm jabbing at the watch in hopes of correcting this so I can record my run. Eventually I noticed a different display that seemed to be capturing distance so I left it alone and in the end it allowed me to save the run. The aggrevating part was that I ran at least .3 miles while this all played out and consequently none of that data was captured.

I'll see exactly what it did capture once the run is uploaded to Garmin Connect. I'm sure I'll eventually learn every aspect of the watch through trial and error but I'm puzzled by the lack of operational documentation. I wonder how many Garmin users give up on the features simply because the thing's so darn complicated.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Runners: emerging and re-emerging

This morning I did my first elliptical workout since discovering that a high resistance level can provide an equivalent effort to running. I had hoped to maintain a level of 10 (approximately 100 watts of energy) throughout the workout but I ended up averaging about 7 which kept my pulse rate about 10% lower than when I run. I wouldn't call it an intense workout but after 20 minutes I certainly felt like I worked harder than I did with previous elliptical workouts.

While I've been improving my routines for cross training and distance my wife has been changing hers as well. She has been serious about fitness for as long as I have known her and was doing some intense cross training and walking until she developed a debilitating calcium deposit in her shoulder late last year. She has worked hard to get past that and has returned to daily workouts, changing things up to minimize a reoccurrence of her injury. Over the last few weeks she started incorporating running into her treadmill routine, first in 5 minute intervals and now around 30 minutes at a time. I encouraged her to buy real running shoes and I think she appreciates the difference. I'm hoping we can all go to the track this weekend where she can experience some outdoor running.

My friend Adventure Girl has had a tough time over the last few months due to a bad soccer injury that required shoulder surgery in December. Consequently she has not been able to run, play soccer, rock climb or adventure race and I can't help wonder how frustrating her recovery has been. The good news is that she's been given the okay to begin running again and started last night. CK, another friend and experienced runner, has been suffering from a foot injury since late last year and he hasn't been running since completing a Turkey Trot in November. He's been skiing, playing hockey and doing other sports that don't cause the same stress on his foot as running. I'm seeing him today and hopefully he'll report that he's back to his running routine.

I'm glad to see everyone making so much progress!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The 20 minute challenge

The alarm went off at 3:55 AM this morning for the first time in over a week. I was surprised that I had some energy and I decided to run instead of elliptical (which I usually do on Mondays) because I hadn't yet recorded a treadmill run on the Garmin. Actually I had done that on Sunday but my lack of familiarity with the watch controls caused me to delete the run before it could be uploaded to Garmin Connect. That was annoying but it was only a mile so I didn't care. This morning I ran about 2 miles within my tight 20 minute window. Over the last nine days I became a little spoiled with the amount of time I had to run so I felt some stress to get my distance in today. I didn't get a chance to review my average pace or any other workout data because I had to move along but I'll do that tonight after I upload. I'm concerned that Garmin Connect will only accept the most recent run, unlike the Nike Sportband that would accumulate the runs and upload them in batch. That is until it stopped uploading at all.

Despite the short amount of time I had available this morning I'm happy with my run. Tomorrow I'll elliptical at resistance level of 10. So much for looking forward to easy workouts on elliptical days.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Training without straining

Graphic Copyright © 2008

After yesterday's long run I considered taking the day off from training. It's the last day of our vacation and it made sense to relax a little. I had a headache when I got up (due to a sinus condition) and my wife suggested that we take a walk around the neighborhood as a low impact activity. We set out with my daughter and walked for 40 minutes but, in the end, I still felt tired and my headache was still there. After lunch I decided to do a light workout on the elliptical using only the arms. I have discovered that by setting the resistance to 3 or 4 and standing in front of the unit (facing the back of the display) I can get a very good upper arm workout that's similar to the upper body effort of cross country skiing.

I did the upper arm workout for about ten minutes and then ran an easy mile on the treadmill, mostly to see how the Garmin distance tracking matched up to the treadmill's. After yesterday's long run I bumped up the Garmin's calibration slightly in hopes of reducing the 3% variance from actual distance covered. I was pleased to see that both the Garmin and treadmill were in synch with the Garmin running slightly ahead by a couple of 100ths of a mile. This is similar to what I experienced when comparing the Nike+ Sportband to the treadmill's distance tracking.

Today's walk, elliptical and run activities didn't add up to a highly taxing fitness day but after getting my pulse rate up on the treadmill, followed by a quick shower, I feel pretty good and ready to contend with the start of a new work week.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A PR for the ER

 This past vacation week has been great fun. We stayed close to home but did a lot of different things. I've also enjoyed the opportunity to run outdoors every day and I've covered a lot of distance: 25 miles since last Sunday. I'm 56 days away from my 4-mile race and I'm confident that I can cover that distance at a credible pace. I'm feeling ready and what was once a comfortable buffer measured in months is now looking like an unnecessarily long gap that's making me a little impatient. I'm tempted to look for a local race between now and April to just get one under my belt.

One reason I'm feeling this way is that I reached a new distance milestone this morning, covering 5.26 miles in about 52 minutes (9:53/mi avg pace). This broke my previous distance record by about .8 miles. Although I was off my normal pace I was very pleased with the run. I struggled a little at the beginning (I'd expected that since the first half mile was up an incline) but quickly settled into a good stride and knew that I was in for a long run. One of my biggest de-motivators has been the adjacency to my house. As I get closer to home, near the end of my run, I usually begin to feel the struggle to finish.  I decided today that I'd double back a few times far enough away from my house that I wouldn't have an expectation that I was nearing the end. It worked. I was at least 2.5 miles from home at the 2.5 mile mark so I knew that I had to cover 5 miles unless I stopped or walked. And I never do either.

I was surprised by how well I felt when I reached my house. My pulse rate was slightly lower than average and although my legs felt tired I knew I was good for another mile if I had to run it. For the first time I understood how people can get through 10Ks, half-marathons and even full marathons. I can't do any of those but I understand a little more how conditioning prepares you to run for hours at a time without needing to stop.

I may take Sunday as a recovery day, either an easy run or light cross training. 4:00 AM Monday morning will come soon enough and I'll need to be ready for a fast 2 miles to start my workday.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Heart of the matter

I ran a half mile calibration run this morning and was disappointed to see that my Garmin 50 is still off in recording actual distance. I set the unit back to neutral (no compensation) since that gave me a constant variance that I can correct when recording into MapMyRun. The Garmin Connect site doesn't allow the user to modify uploaded data so my distances (and therefore speed and pace times) will continue to be under reported by about 3%.

I wasn't too energized during this short run, probably because I knew it would be over quickly. I want to do an extended run in the next few days but it didn't seem like the right time to try that. Instead I decided to train on the elliptical machine. I find that to be a good workout but I never feel like it's an equivalent effort to running. As an experiment I used the Garmin to see how it tracked distance and to monitor my pulse rate since the elliptical's readings are practically random. I started out at low resistance and after a minute or so I discovered that the Garmin was not recording distance at all. I think that's because the foot pod relies on foot strikes and the elliptical does not mimic the impact of running. The HRM was working fine and I watched the numbers increase as I added levels of resistance.

The interesting thing was that when I reached my normal level of resistance (5) my pulse rate was almost 15% lower than my average pulse rate when I'm running. It wasn't until I increased to level 10 that I came within a few points of my running pulse rate. I stayed at that level for a while and was really sweating by the time I reached the 40-minute mark. According to the display I was producing 102 watts of energy on the elliptical compared to the 58-62 watts I'm used to seeing when I use the machine at level 5.

So, knowing this, I will double my usual resistance to maintain the level of conditioning that I follow during my weekday runs. I used to think of the elliptical was my easy workout and a break from my intense daily runs. Going forward it will be a different form of hard work. I welcome the challenge!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

You are what you run

I noticed that today's run was the 200th workout I've recorded on MapMyRun since last September. Overall I've run 360 miles since that time and I've burned 45,930 calories in the process. 84% of my recorded workouts are runs and the remainder is cross training, mostly on the elliptical. MapMyRun green calculations are Gas Saved:, 19.83 gallons, Money Saved: $69.00 and Carbon Offset: 383.9 lbs. of CO2. That's all well and good if I were running somewhere where I'd normally drive. With the exception of running a couple of books to the library I can't take credit for making a greener decision by running unless running has prevented me from driving to a different activity.

This morning I ran 3.46 miles around the neighborhood. It was 43 degrees but all reports said it would get increasingly colder and windier by mid day so I took off as soon as the rain stopped. It was very wet on the roads so I ran with my trail shoes although I saw few puddles and I could have got away with using my regular shoes. I started my run at 7:45 AM which is late for me and I was fascinated to see what my neighborhood looks like at that time. I was surprised to see a number of contractors working on houses and less surprised to see oil trucks filling up homes on almost every street. It's still pretty cold in February on LI. I was a little tired by the time I got home, my Garmin said I had run 3.3 miles but after mapping my route with Gmaps I saw that I had covered 3.46 miles. I think my attempt at calibrating the Garmin had backfired and put the tracking 5% off instead of the 3% variation it had without calibration. I've since adjusted the other way in hopes of getting it about right. I'll see how it works tomorrow if I decide to do a run instead of cross-training.

I know that most people are happy to estimate the distances they run but I need to know exactly what I've accomplished and how far I am from my goals. Now, when I have the luxury of time, I always run at least 5K outdoors. It was only months ago when that was a big wall to cross and I remind myself of that every time I step on the street, the track or the treadmill. I want to complete a 5 mile run before I return to the office next Monday. and I hope the weather cooperates over the weekend. 360 miles run, 45,930 calories burned and 200 workouts completed has done a lot for me but it's always the goal ahead that matters most.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nike Sportband - A farewell to armbands

This afternoon I decided to finally end my experiment with the Nike+ Sportband by returning it for a full refund. This was actually Sportband #3, the previous two had displays that failed and the current display just stopped exchanging data. As frustrated as I was with the Sportband I felt a certain loyalty to the device. After all it was with me throughout most of my return to running and it dutifully recorded over 180 runs with useful and accurate information. I had some initial problems with calibration and I called the Nike help line staffed by very engaged people who understood and solved every problem. In the end it came down to a device that didn't meet my needs. The woman who handled my return offered to do it as an exchange saying she knew nothing about the Nike recall and that they were still selling the units. I told her I couldn't continue the insanity and showed her my Garmin 50 saying I've moved on. She rolled her eyes and said "The credit will go to your Visa, have a nice day, next in line!"

So now I'm using the Garmin and I think I've figured out how to calibrate the distance despite a less than clear manual and less engaged support from Garmin. The Sportband was slick and the Garmin is sort of bulky. The Nike+ site has lots of fun features, challenges and community boards. The Garmin site has little of that but the data it presents is much better. The Garmin tells me many things as I run while the Sportband only told me a few. I'll miss the Sportband's simplicity but I won't miss the inevitable failure of its display or functionality. I still like Nike but I'll stick to their non-electronic gear from now on. Hey, after all I just bought my wife a pair of Air Zoom Vomeros.

Vacation running progress

I took this week off because my kids are on vacation. It's great to have additional time for running and I'm running ahead of my daily average of about 2. 2 miles. So far this week I'm averaging about 3 miles per day, today I ran 3.42 at a 9:14 pace. Looking back at my late fall 2008 paces I'm doing pretty well, my average pace in November was over 10:00 min/mi and now it's less than 9:30/mi. This morning's run started fast (for me) and I very quickly realized I couldn't maintain the 8:30 pace I was running. After adjusting my speed I settled in aiming for about 2.25 miles that would put me a little ahead of my usual M-F run distance. Once I did my usual halfway loop I chose a few streets that ran away from my house to extend my total distance.

The heart rate monitor is great to have because it provides instant feedback in terms of how hard I'm working and how hard I should be running. I used it on the elliptical yesterday and it was interesting to compare those rates with rates when running. I know, based upon my pulse rate, that I need to push myself harder. I did accelerate a few times near the end but I still didn't get to 80% of max rate that is recommended for progress. I always think about the phrase "Train, not pain" and I live by it making good progress by pushing incrementally without making training a negative experience. That's probably why I look forward to my workouts instead of dreading the work.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

No field of dreams

Yesterday I decided to try an alternative route starting with a run around the local middle school's field. The ground was still semi frozen and very uncomfortable for running. After about half a mile I peeled off and hit the service road that leads back into the neighborhood. I continued my run on the streets until I came upon the park that connects to the elementary school's grounds. These fields were also very bumpy so I exited back to the street for the remainder of my run.

I had hoped that the additional stiffness of the Kutus would balance the uneven running surface of the athletic fields but it wasn't a comfortable experience and I was concerned about turning an ankle. I was pleased that the Kutus performed well on the street, different from the Turbulence 13s but still good. I ended up covering 2.5 miles at an average pace of 9:09. The Garmin 50 under reported the distance by about 2.8% but I still can't figure out how to correct for that using the calibration feature.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tomorrow's Sedentary Man

In tomorrow's column Sedentary Man writes about a serious attempt to watch his diet. His 136th attempt at a diet mind you but this time he means it. I'm hoping he succeeds but if he does we're going to need to rename his column. Read the current column here...

Happy trails

Yesterday afternoon we set out to find the Muttontown Mystery Trail which is located about five minutes from our house. I wanted to try out my new Kutu trail runners and my wife and kids felt like hiking. I found it very difficult to find information about public access to the MMT but, based upon Google Maps, I thought I found the proper way in. Turns out the Mystery Trail is a mystery. Aside from the equestrian entrance there was nothing marked as an entrance for the general public. While we looked for that entrance we came across the Planting Fields Arboretum that was also located nearby. We'd been there before for an outdoor concert but had never explored the grounds. This seemed like as good a time as ever to check them out.

Upon arriving we discovered that the Planting Fields has a very large span of trails. Some are paved, some have pea gravel and some are dirt. There are many buildings on the 409 acre grounds consisting of historical mansions (this, after all, is part of LI's Gold Coast). There were many smaller buildings, some containing flower collections. There was even a covered bridge and lots of places to sit and (based upon the signs) view birds.

My son is still recovering from his foot injury but my daughter was keen to run. She and I ran a number of times while my wife and son followed. The Kutus felt good and I really liked the feeling of running on ever changing surfaces and elevations. I didn't run any long distances and didn't track my run but I would like to try a long run on these trails at some point.

We loved our visit to the Planting Fields Arboretum but we're still hoping to solve the real Muttontown Mystery which is "how do we get to the trails?"

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Future trails and Garmin travails

Yesterday afternoon we hit the local outlet stores in search of a few needed items. My goal was to find some trail shoes and I tried on a bunch including the Adidas Kanadias, the Timberland Vaporate and the Nike Assail. Many runners I know eschew Nike and I'm not really sure why that is. I run with Nike Turbulence 13's and I find them to be very comfortable. I didn't really like the fit of the other maker's shoes and I ultimately chose a pair of Nike Tri-D Kutus which fit differently than the Turbs but feel very good. Later today we plan to do some running/hiking and I'll have a chance to test out the Kutus.

I did my first solo run with the Garmin 50 this morning covering 3.26 miles at an average pace of 9:00. It seemed accurate as I ran by my measured benchmarks and I liked how easy it was to toggle between distance and other real time metrics with a push of a button. I'll check the accuracy against Google Earth and adjust accordingly if necessary. I did have another negative experience with the Garmin software when I uploaded the data and it didn't hit the Garmin Connect site or show up on the dashboard. I wasn't upset because the watch retained the data but it seemed odd that the ANT wireless linking app didn't acknowledge the watch at all though I meticulously repeated the the TxPairing process a couple of times. I finally discovered the problem which is that the ANT app uploads the run to your PC but only sends the data if you are already logged into Connect. The work around (which took me a lot longer than it should have to figure out) was to pull the uploaded data from my file system and send it to Connect using the "Manual Upload" feature. Okay, I get it now but Garmin could be a little more clear about what the user should expect.

The good news is once Connect has the data the presentation is excellent. It shows a length of run graph that details pace, heart rate and cadence and even has a play feature that shows this combination of metrics at every stage of the run. I'm going to try to upload this file to MapMyRun a little later.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Back on track, literally

I began this Valentines Day with an early run at the local track. It was the first time I'd run there in over a month and it was a nice change from my other venues. I tried an experiment using both the Nike+ Sportband and the Garmin 50 on my run. I wanted to compare their relative tracking accuracy against a known distance.

It was 28 degrees but it felt colder. There was the usual strong wind for half the loop but I got used to it pretty fast. There were four other runners on the track including a couple I often see running in the morning. I passed the husband, which made me feel great until I was passed by another runner who must have been running about a 7 minute mile. The Garmin and the Sportband remained within a few 100ths of a mile of each other and, ultimately, both under reported the total distance traveled compared to the known distance. I varied my speed throughout the run and ran a total of 4.16 miles at 9:24/mile.

The Garmin vs. Sportband experience had its good and bad components. On the plus side, the 50 was a dream to operate. The HRM appeared to be accurate (yes - finally - a HRM worth a damn!) and it was easy to toggle between pulse rate, speed, cadence, elapsed time and distance as I ran. Finishing the run I simply hit stop instead of fighting with the overly sensitive Sportband button. Saving the run was easy too. Now for the bad part. After a run is captured into history you cannot review the metrics on the watch. The data must first be uploaded to Garmin's Training Center. The badder news is that you can't do this with a Mac even though they're touting new Mac capability on the Garmin website. I fell for it and installed the app and "uploaded" my run. The only problem is that the Mac compatibility only extends to the ANT USB link that allows for data transfer. So the data can be transferred but IT CAN'T GO ANYWHERE. Furthermore, the factory default setting is to delete history from the watch once data is sent so my run went away forever. Happily I also had the whole run recorded by the Sportband.

I installed the Training Center on my XP PC in my guestroom and was able to upload a test "run" to the system. I also switched the transfer program to "DON'T DELETE after sending" so I should be okay for tomorrow, fingers crossed.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Speed bumping

Earlier this week I caught up with a friend over lunch and covered a number of subjects including running. This friend is an accomplished runner and one of my best sources of information about training. He's also an accomplished writer and poet and, as a top executive at Rodale, he helped bring Runner's World to that publisher.

We talked about my upcoming race and he reinforced the need the work on intensity running to help prepare for competition. He was gracious enough to send me a summary of his points. He reinforced the reason why speed training is important by closing with "What’s the good of this if you can’t show someone your heels?" That's the positive side of the argument for participating in races.

I ran two strong miles this morning and incorporated speed intervals into the run. I maintained a 9:20 pace for the first .75 mile then accelerated to an 8:06 pace for 90 seconds and then dialed down (I was on the treadmill) to 9:05. I folded in a couple more 90 second speed bumps before completing two miles. I haven't yet calculated the overall pace but I expect it was close to 8:55. Tomorrow I'll do more of this on the track. If I can beat a 9:30 pace for 4 miles I'll be pleased. If I can beat 9:00 I'll be proud.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Measure twice, cut one

Shortly before I left the office yesterday my wife sent me an email that said "Good News, I think your new watch thingy came today." I got home and was very excited to see that it had, in fact, arrived.

The watch thingy is a Garmin Forerunner 50 with data linking, heart rate monitor and foot pod. Theoretically, this watch has everything I need to capture the metrics from my runs and wirelessly transmit the data to my PC. Compared to my Nike+ Sportband it does quite a lot. That's partially due to the Sportband's tendency to self destruct, usually within two months of receipt. The Sportband's display has become increasingly difficult to read (apparently the design has big problems with corrosion) and it no longer shares well with others. By this I mean that when I try to upload my run data to the Nike+ site it refuses to acknowledge that there is any available data. For that last two weeks I've had to record all my run data manually.

Now that the 50 has arrived I'm anticipating the opportunity to capture my training information in all different ways. The 50 has a stopwatch so, at the very least I can accurately time outdoor running and compare distance from Gmaps for pace. The watch also calculates splits and times intervals. The HRM captures length of workout pulse rate and the foot pod captures speed, pace and distance.

So theoretically I'm set. But what about reality? Experience has shown that running technologies often sound better than they perform. I've had a continuously bad experience with the Sportband but yet I continue to use it because it does one thing very well; capture run distance very accurately. This weekend I plan to perform a faceoff between the Nike+ Sportband and the Garmin 50. I'll wear them both and compare the distance data they report. I'll then compare that data to the benchmark of Google Earth measurement.

One will win and the other will be returned. I really hope the Garmin's capability is more than theoretical.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The tail and the dog

As I edge closer to my April race date I find myself tuning my runs for greater speed and distance. Knowing that these upcoming races are looming creates an urgency to my training. Four miles on April 19. No big deal for most runners but it's still a challenging distance for me. I have exceeded the four mile mark a few times and I could probably even run five now but I wouldn't be too happy by the finish.

I recently ran into a friend who I haven't seen in a while. Like everyone who knows me but hasn't seen me for six months he looked concerned and asked warily if I'd lost weight. I told him yes, that I'd been running. He told me that he runs and has been running for years. I asked him about distances and he said he runs six miles during the week and over ten miles on weekends. We compared paces, etc. and once again I was humbled in the presence of a real runner.

I told him that I was signed up for a couple of races in the spring and I asked him how often he competed. He surprised me by saying he didn't race. In fact he had never raced and didn't see the point of it. To him running, not competing, is the point. When you're competing you spend your time focusing your activity on a single event - not on the enjoyment of the sport. Running is the dog and the race is the tail. Most people chase the tail and miss the fun. He said he'd rather just run. I asked him then why he tracked distance and pace and he laughed and said it was a force of habit.

I'm not sure that I agree with my friend on this. Training for a race can be fun. Making goals and training to exceed them can be an enjoyable experience. I don't expect to win on April 19th but I'm going to try. There are worse things to do on your birthday.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Don't try this at home

Yesterday morning I attended the Amazon press event where they unveiled their newest Kindle reader. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, demonstrated the device and he talked about how people use the Kindle. He said that people can use it while on the treadmill and I tried unsuccessfully to think of a scenrio where that would not end badly. I don't know about anyone else but when I'm on the treadmill there is very little opportunity to focus on reading. Besides that, I'm guessing that the percussive force from running would likely vibrate a device right off the holder. Every time I run indoors the clock across the room turns, moves or falls off the bedside table.

The writer, Stephen King, followed Bezos on stage and he also talked about reading with the Kindle on the treadmill. Maybe it works for walkers. I'm going to try an experiment this weekend to try to read the NY Times or Fortune magazine on my Kindle while I run. If it works I'll gladly retract my skepticism.

Monday, February 9, 2009

In tomorrow's Sedentary Man

In tomorrow's column the Sedentary Man teaches us two different choices we can make regarding massage. Personally I don't think either choice is particularly appealing. Sedentary Man is teaching us so much I'm considering changing his website to a .edu. Read the current column here.

One good thing leads to another

There are a number of good things that I attribute directly to running. Besides the obvious (better health, strength and stamina) and the things that go with that (weight regulation, improved physique) there are a few other things that I'm enjoying:
  • Increased patience. There's something about distance running (even the distances that I run) that help set internal expectations for tedious events. I know that when I'm at the beginning third or quarter of a run I sometimes get annoyed by what I have left to go. This is especially true for treadmill running where the constants are usually time and blank wall space. More and more I am able to reach a zone where I can make use of the tedium by thinking about things with few distractions. This is a huge breakthrough for me and evidence that I've nudged up a bit from beginner to intermediate. Previously I was too distracted by the suffering to do much thinking but, as conditioning improves, I have more time to enjoy my runs. The concepts of bearing up through other tedious things in life (commuting, long meetings, checkout lines) apply here as well. My wife and kids may disagree but I think I am much more patient than I was 6 months ago.
  • Broadened interests. First there was running but that led to running technologies and a greater interest in nutrition. I'm also looking forward to trail running (I know, just do it and stop writing about how I plan to do it!). I'm also thinking a lot more about integrating karate into my workouts and I'll probably go back to roller blading once it warms up and the streets are clear of snow and dirt. There are many more things than that but, possibly most important of all, it gives me something to write about.
  • Energy. Let's just say I'm much more willing to do activities on the weekends than I used to...
Running and activity also enhances engagement with people in a way that I have not experienced in a long time. I work with many smart, dynamic people and I've discovered many of them run, cycle or do multiple sports. This website allows me to engage with people across the country and the world through an area of common interest. My wife has always been an active person and my activity now compliments hers. She even did some running this weekend although it's not her sport. Since the kids are getting into running it would be great if all four of us could run together. Running and general activity have enhanced every aspect of my life. What took me so long to come back to it?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Beating expectations

It was much warmer today than yesterday so I had no issues with the cold. The wind from the west was strong and the combination of wind plus hills plus 42 degree heat made for a rigorous run. Yesterday I Gmapped my run only to discover that my Sportband was off by 2% and I had actually run almost 4.5 miles, achieving a 9:13 average pace. I Gmapped today's run and saw that it was off by almost 3% of the actual distance. I'm pleased that I exceeded my weekend goal of 8 miles in two runs. I may go to the track later with my daughter who wants to run again. I have not been to the track since discovering it covered by ice and snow but the warmer weather should have cleared that by now.

After discovering that the Sportband was not only refusing to upload any runs to the Nike+ site and was increasingly off calibration I decided to buy a Garmin 50 with HRM and foot pod. The Garmin 50 does not use GPS, the foot pod works in a similar way that the Nike+ system works using RFID. I've had readers tell me that the Garmin 50 works pretty well and I've read similar observations on websites. The reason I didn't get a GPS enabled watch is that the Garmin 305 is just too bulky and the 405 (which is a great running watch) costs $400 including the HRM and foot pod.

So until I get the 50 I'll use the Sportband to record elapsed time and distance and adjust for the Sportband’s inaccuracy. I hope to have the Garmin by next weekend. The only issue with the Garmin is that the software does not work on a Mac so I'll need to use my wife's laptop that runs Vista (ugh) or our upstairs XP machine. No matter, I'm excited about this decision and I will report on my experience soon enough.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Half of 200%

I had high hopes for Spring-like running this morning but the warmer temperatures won't reach us until later. I watched the thermometer widget on my iMac while I waited for the sun to rise. It was 17 degrees at 5:00 AM and, annoyingly, 16 degrees at 6:00. I left at 7:00 dressed for cold but, as always, I forgot to properly protect my face. No matter, I figured my body temperature would fix that soon. It all worked out and I felt great throughout the entire run. I only finished when I did because we're on a tight schedule today.

I had about ten minutes to go near the end of the run and reached a point where I would finish at almost exactly 4 miles by heading straight home or I could take a detour and add another half mile. Despite really feeling the effort at this point I took the harder path and ultimately finished 4.4 miles at a 9:25 pace. My goal for this weekend is 8 miles so I accomplished 50% of that and more than 100% for today. I'm not sure why the run went so well, perhaps it was getting some good rest overnight. I really hope I can repeat this tomorrow.

Friday, February 6, 2009

When doing less is doing more


My son has had a tough week. Last Saturday he injured his big toe and he has been slowly recovering since then. He's also been feeling under the weather and is staying home from school today. Many kids stay home from school when they're sick but my son always plows through. He's in 4th grade but, up until today, he hasn't missed a single day of school. He won a perfect attendance award at the end of 1st grade and never looked back. I respect him for his dedication but I admire him more for deciding that his well being is more important than an award.

I wasn't feeling great yesterday and left for home a little early in hopes of getting some rest. I went to bed fully prepared to take a real rest day today; no running, elliptical or any other kind of workout. I have not done that since mid September which was the last time I remember feeling ill. I rose at my regular time and felt a bit weak. I got some coffee and planned to go back upstairs and watch the news rather than run.

Of course I didn't do that. Instead I decided that I'd run an easy mile just to get my heart rate up. Once I started I didn't want to stop and ran my regular distance. I even tried a speed technique that was suggested by one of my more experienced runner friends..

It might seem like a noble thing to press on when you're feeling ill but there are situations when pushing can make things worse. I'm feeling okay but not great after that hard workout. Running instead of resting could have backfired and put me out for the entire day. I think I can learn a lesson from my 9 year old son who understands that taking care of yourself is more important than an award or a goal.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Driving to run

Yesterday afternoon I escaped from my mid-town office for a meeting that took place in a semi-rural New Jersey town about 50 minutes from Manhattan. As we got closer to our destination I noticed a few parks where people could run or bike. A colleague who came with me pointed out one place that is supposed to have great running trails. I really wanted to take a detour and explore that more. I then started wondering whether it ever makes sense to get in your car and drive an hour to run recreationally. It just doesn't seem very green.
Most of my runs start and end in front of my own house. MapMyRun tells users how much gas they save based upon the miles they run. I do occasionally drive two miles to the local high school track because the roads in between are too heavily trafficked for safe running. But that's as far as it goes in terms of my driving to run.

There are many beautiful parks within 20 minutes of my house and we also have beaches with boardwalks that would provide a great view and a forgiving running surface. Maybe an hour is out of scope but 15 minutes is not. I really need to get some trail shoes and start exploring, beginning with the most local options. After all it's supposed to hit 70 degrees by Sunday.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Is it too early to think about Thanksgiving?

As I'd expected, yesterday's snowstorm delayed my train commute home. There was a lot of snow on my car when I got to the station and I had to climb in through the passenger side because the driver's side door was frozen shut. You might think that all this would get me down but I was too excited by an email from my wife telling me that our town is planning to hold its first annual Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving day.

I haven't been able to confirm details but I did see it listed on the town's Chamber of Commerce website. The site didn't list the distance or whether they will offer multiple races but I'm hoping there will be a 10K because that distance would align with my 2009 running goals. If it's anything more than 6.2 miles I don't know if I could be ready in time. Right now I'm focusing on getting through my upcoming 4 mile race. I know I can handle that distance but anything over that is fairly intimidating at this point.

Unless it's a half marathon or more (highly doubtful since my town isn't that big!) I'm going to enter the Turkey Trot. After all, what fun would running be without a big challenge once in a while?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Running to distractions

Were you to ask any group of runners the main reason why they run I'll bet most would say they do it because they just love running. Fair enough, there is much to be said for the experience. Among other things, there is the changing landscape, fresh air and the feeling that you are doing something challenging that also benefits your health. So what's not to love?

As I padded downstairs at 4:01 AM this morning to get my pre-run coffee it occurred to me that there are things about running that are not so easy to love. Like waking up every day at 4:00 and running by 4:10. Like enduring freezing cold winds, muscle pulls or hot humid conditions in the name of reaching your distance goals. I think most runners are okay with the idea of suffering. Somehow it plays into the love thing but I'm not a psychologist so I can't defend that theory. I'm discovering that my main source of suffering, fatigue, has begun to give way to a more insidious issue: tedium.

Running on the treadmill this morning yielded two emotional responses. The first was "Wow, this feels great, I wish I could run for another half hour." The second response came near the end of my allotted run time "OMG, I can't run in place while I stare at the furniture in the room for another minute." It's not just the treadmill either. This weekend, as I ran through my neighborhood without any fatigue and conditioning issues to distract me, I began to wish for something new to look at besides cars and houses.

This may be a reason why I'm thinking so much lately about trail running. It would be great to look at a changing landscape that actually is a landscape. I wonder if anyone sells systems that simulate outdoor running by projecting trails on the wall that move at the pace that you run. That may be overkill. I also keep thinking about spring when I can do my early weekday runs outdoors, providing there's enough light to see and be seen. That would be better than staring at a cabinet.

Monday, February 2, 2009

In tomorrow's Sedentary Man

In tomorrow's column Sedentary Man shares the experience of his recent visit to a Big and Tall shop. Among other things, he discovers you can buy cologne for the exceptionally sized. In the meantime, check out this weeks column.

Running resolutions at the 8% mark

Today is Groundhog Day which means little except that January has come and gone. Given that it's February 2nd, we are already 8.7% through the year. I thought I would take a look at my progress against my 2009 running goals to see how I've done.

1. Participate in at least four local races.
Not achieved but that's okay. I'm training for two upcoming races in early spring and (barring injury) I'm expecting to beat this goal by year's end.

2. Run a complete 10K course (individually or in a race). This is achievable but probably not until the second half of the year. I'm averaging about 3.25 miles for my longer runs and my best distance so far this year has been 4.4 miles. I haven't been pushing too hard to regularly reach 4 miles but that needs to happen soon. Running 6.2 miles isn't crazy when I consider that I've already run 70% of that distance. But I just couldn't do it today.

3. Run three miles under 8:40/mile.
I think this one will be tough. I'm told by experienced runners that simply running in a race helps your pace. I guess it's the adrenalin rush or keeping up with the other runners. An 8:40 5K pace would be great but I'd be pleased with 8:59.

4. Incorporate one rest day into my weekly training schedule.
I have not taken any rest days but I am incorporating two non-running days into the week. On Mondays and Thursdays I do about 25 minutes on the elliptical machine in the morning. Not exactly rest but I don't consider elliptical work equal to running in terms of effort.

I'm also doing core a few days a week and will be integrating more upper body work into my routines. I'm also thinking about adding some of the forms from my old Uechi-ryu training. I haven't done much with that since I achieved shodan rank.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Those are the breaks

The freezing cold temperatures had given way to a much more bearable 32 degrees this morning and I had hoped to resume running with my 9 year old son today. The snow and bone chilling cold had forced him to take a hiatus for the last three weekends and he had mentioned that he really wanted to run. Unfortunately the poor guy had an accident while cleaning up the dishes yesterday when a plate fell on his big toe. This required a trip to the emergency pediatrician's office last night and no activity of any kind prescribed for the next five days. So much for us running together this weekend.

I headed out alone this morning and didn't check the temperature before I left. I quickly regretted all my layers when I realized that it was almost twice as warm as Saturday's 18 degrees. Instead of hating the wind I began wishing for more of it. Today's run was less taxing than Saturday's and I ran about 4 miles. I still felt a bit sluggish and my pace reflected it; 12/sec per mile slower than yesterday.

When I tried to sync my Sportband with the Nike+ site I got the same "No runs to upload" message that I got the day before. Fortunately the device still records events accurately so I can manually capture the data and input it into MapMyRun. There is a way to manually create an XML message with the run data that can be uploaded to the Nike+ site. I'm debating whether I want to take the trouble do something that won't reflect the real time performance of my workout. After all, that's whole the point of the Nike+ system.

I should be frustrated and angry that the Sportband has failed me in so many ways but I'm taking a glass-half-full perspective. Now I'll get to buy and play with a new technology that will give me even more features than my Sportband. Despite the fact that I've had the Sportband (make that three Sportbands) over the last five months and have recorded hundreds of runs, I will get my entire investment back and this will help fund my new purchase. I only wish I could make my son's toe problem go away so easily.

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