Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Treading lightly

This morning I needed to run to reset my conditioning. I hadn't run since Saturday at the hotel and though my pace for that run was good it took a lot of effort to get through it. I'm still fighting a cold and that's contributed to fatigue. After two days away from running I figured I had rested my leg enough to get back on the treadmill. I felt good and was hopeful that I had made progress in terms of my injury but as I started to run my leg felt very tight and there was some sharp pain. I kept my pace around 10:00/mile for the first few minutes in the hope that I would warm up enough to loosen my muscles and ease the pain. Once I started to feel more flexibility I increased the speed and by the 8 minute mark there was neither pain nor stiffness so I kept increasing the speed in the hope of getting a decent overall pace.

I ran a total of two miles and really poured it on near the end of my run. My overall pace was 9:01 which pleased me because, according to my Garmin, the first mile was run in 9:40. That meant I ran below 8:30 for the second mile. I strongly feared that this extra exertion would do some damage but my leg is no worse today than it was the prior two days with no running.

Tomorrow morning I will do some light stretching before I run to try to head off the initial stiffness. If I could do two miles at the same pace as my second mile today I'll consider myself back on track in terms of race training.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Off in the distance

Last night I uploaded my prior week's runs to Garmin Connect and also updated my total workout history to MapMyRun. The Garmin Connect reports verified that my average pace has improved but, when I looked at overall monthly distance on MapMyRun, I noticed I was falling short of the previous month. This bothered me for two reasons. For one, I've never had a decline in total distance compared to the previous month. To date, I've gained about 3% each month over the last six months. The second reason was that March, a month with 31 days, will likely show a 7% decline against February, a month with 10% less days.

At this point, the only way I could end up even with February would be to run five miles tomorrow and that isn't going to happen. I guess I could blame my leg injury because I have been very careful not to strain it. I've also been focusing more on faster paces rather than longer, slower runs. Yesterday and today I chose the elliptical to further help my leg recovery and I'm pleased to note that I've had the least amount of pain today than I've had in the past three weeks.

If less mileage and more cross training leads to better injury recovery I think I can take the hit on distance. If things continue to feel this good tomorrow I'll try to run 2.5 miles and split the difference.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A vacation from running

As much as it pains me to admit it, I haven't been able to defeat my cold. It could be because all weekend we have been constantly running around, being social (not a strength of mine) and keeping different hours. Yesterday's hard run didn't help my leg problem and I seriously considered playing the sick, tired and injured card in favor of a rest day.

I got up early (I rarely sleep well in hotels) and my wife was already preparing to head to the fitness center. I decided to wait until she returned and see how I felt. I figured an easy run might be doable so I changed into workout clothes and headed down when she came back.

The gym was empty when I arrived so I took a minute to try one of the Life Fitness elliptical units. I was interested in seeing the difference between this high end machine and the one I have at home. The feel of the Life Fitness unit was different in terms of petal and arm positions, not necessarily better, but it was a nice change. The built in TV was nice too and the display provided not only speed but pace. Though my BH Fitness machine lacks a pace reading (only speed) it does show energy expenditure as watts. I was surprised to see that the LF machine didn't have that feature.

I ended up spending 28 minutes at medium high resistance on the elliptical. It was a good choice over the treadmill as my leg pain has been minimal today even with that exercise. As for my cold, it's there, but no worse than before. We'll be back to LI later today and if I'm up for it I may just try an outdoor run.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Exhausted Runner

We're staying at a hotel this weekend and it's raining outside so my Saturday run was accomplished indoors. The hotel has Life Fitness treadmills and I was impressed that the speed on the treadmill's display almost exactly matched the readout on my Garmin 50. To my left and right were a couple of women doing workouts and updating each other with facts like, "I just ran up a 70 foot hill!" I felt bad when I hit the speed button to get to my 7 MPH pace because the noise level interrupted their communication.

The treadmill's display had multiple ways to view progress and I chose the "trail" view that showed a 5K course with markers in 1K increments. It wasn't virtual reality but it was a good distraction. The fitness center was really hot so I was sweating very early in the run. I was tired at the one mile point and it got worse as I went on. I kept a moderately fast pace and ended up running 3 miles at 8:54/mile.

After the run I was very tired, much more than after yesterday's run. The heat had much to do with that. I'm a little concerned about running in the warmer weather as we move from spring to summer. At the very least I'll need ensure that I pre-hydrate before longer runs.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tie goes to the runner

I took advantage of a commute-less work day by sleeping a little later and running a little farther than I would on a week day. The cold is retreating and my leg, if somewhat stiff, is in good shape. I waited for the sun to come up and set out for my run a little after 7:00 AM. I'm used to neighborhood running on weekends where, for the most part, I have the roads to myself. This morning I was inundated with cars and school busses and spent more time running on the sidewalk than I ever had before.

I started a little slow because my right leg felt stiff but started to push it when I reached the mile mark. My intention was not to run a "weekend-length" distance because we're heading out for a long drive and I didn't want to be too tired. I ended up running just short of 3 miles at 9:00 minutes per mile. So I didn't get under 9:00 but I didn't go over it either. I have work to do this morning prior to my trip so I won't have time to Gmap my distance. I hold out hope that I actually ran farther than the Garmin said I'd run. If that's the case I would have made my goal of 8:59 or under.

I'll probably only do treadmill running this weekend in the hotel but if I have a chance to run outside I will certainly will.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Racing to run

As I've mentioned in past postings, my morning routine is planned with a similar precision to a space shuttle launch. The alarm goes off at 3:55 AM, I pour my coffee at 3:58, turn on the treadmill at 4:00, put on my shoes and running clothes by 4:05, set up the HRM by 4:06, consume half my Special K bar and 1/3 of my coffee by 4:08 and start my warm-up by 4:09. This gives me approximately 20 minutes to run two miles at target pace before ending with a couple of minutes to cool down and reduce my heart rate.

Some mornings the routine goes flawlessly and I sometimes gain a few minutes and run a little longer. Other times, like this morning, time went by in fast motion and before I had even started my run the clock read 4:12. This left me with only 15 minutes to run, forcing me to get up to speed faster than normal. I ended up running 15:00 at 9:05 (1.66 miles). I thought I'd actually run faster than that but the Garmin doesn't lie (unless I calibrate it wrong). Making things worse was my treadmill display that sputtered out after about 5 minutes. That left me no easy way of monitoring progress and performance short of toggling through my watch settings as I ran. That's fine once or twice during a run but repeating this process soon becomes tedious.

It seems like 9:05 is my new default pace, quicker by far than my average daily performance in 2008, but again, not under 9:00. I could blame my cold and my leg soreness for being off goal pace but I know that I could have pushed harder than I did today. I'm working from my home office tomorrow which will give me an opportunity to run a little later (possibly outside) and longer. If I keep it under 3 miles tomorrow I won't be happy with any pace above 8:59.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Signs of recovery

No, I'm not talking about the Dow or the housing market. I'm actually referring to my cold and my leg injury. I'm happy to say that both seem to be losing intensity. I ascribe the cold recovery to the theory that exercise helps the immune system. I refuse to let the cold win and, compared to the past, I seem to be coming through this fairly quickly. On the other hand my soreness around and across my upper thigh has reached a point of leveling off. It hurts but it hasn't got worse.
I took an Aleve last night and this morning the pain was less severe. I used the elliptical machine for about 25 minutes and stepped off feeling okay. My leg is still a little stiff but the sharp pains have lessened. I'm hoping that this continues. My fear is that Aleve, which is actually Naproxen, a powerful anti-inflammatory, is giving me a false sense of improvement. I really want to work on speed between now and April 19. Race day is coming in less than a month!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Powering through

My head cold continues and yesterday afternoon I paid a visit to my company's medical department. The doctor, who I've known for years, said "Sorry, but I don't have a cure for the common cold." I told him it wasn't the cold that was bothering me, I actually wanted his take on my running injury. He had me lie on the table and tried to isolate the problem but it was inconclusive. He didn't understand why the pain was intermittent and why the discomfort went away after I walked or ran on it. He then suggested that I see an orthopedist and though he warned me not to overdo it he didn't tell me to stop running.

This morning I was determined to run and, despite some sneezing and coughing I got on the treadmill for what I'd accepted to be a low impact run. Once I got moving my leg started feeling better so I turned up the speed. I ended up running 1.75 miles at a 9:05 pace although the last two thirds were probably faster since I'd run the first six minutes at about 9:50/mile. Since the run I feel pretty much okay. It wasn't a long run today but I needed to show my cold who's in charge.

Monday, March 23, 2009

This week's Sedentary Man

In this week's column Sedentary Man talks about his first golf outing of the season. This should prove once and for all that SM and I are not one in the same since I dislike golf as much as he seems to like it. Hey, whatever makes him happy. At least it seems like he's getting some exercise. Read this week's column...

Core for the common cold

As strange as it may sound I was happy to see that my sore throat was just the first sign of a cold. Having had a few bouts of strep in the past I take sore throats pretty seriously. Colds are annoying but relatively easy to ignore. I don't consider them an excuse not to exercise and, in fact, I believe that powering through a cold actually speeds recovery.

My biggest concern right now is an increasingly noticeable stiffness and pain in my upper right leg. As I have mentioned, this discomfort disappears while running but it always returns. I should be icing it more but it was a busy weekend. Yesterday we returned to the track and I ran a little more than 3 miles at a 9:07 pace. I purposely held back to protect my injury but I did push the speed a few times. There was another runner on the track who was pacing (I'll guess) around 7:30/mile and I didn't want him to lap me.

This morning I decided to skip both running and elliptical and instead did 15 minutes of core followed by 10 minutes of upper body work. That was a great combo. My leg felt a lot better and I got my heart rate up a little. I'm thinking of doing core again tomorrow before running. It seems to help but it will cut into my running time. I guess I'll just have to run faster!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hurtin for certain

Yesterday afternoon we all headed over to the high school to do some running. The kids had fun running on the track but they wore themselves out pretty quickly. Mrs. Emerging Runner, who's a dedicated walker, has been integrating running into her daily workouts on the treadmill. She wanted to see how track running compared to the treadmill and we ended up doing a couple of miles (in total). We kept it to a moderate pace but it was still 30% faster than she normally runs on the treadmill so she occasionally switched over to walking. In all, it was a impressive beginning run on terra firma and she set a goal to double the amount of distance during her next visit to the track.

On the other hand I had a tough start. After running 5.2 miles in the morning, my muscle injury felt better but the pain returned by afternoon. My first few minutes on the track were uncomfortable but the pain reduced after I'd warmed up. On top of this pain, I've started to experience a sore throat. I'm hoping it's the start of a cold, rather than a throat problem like strep. When I woke up this morning my throat was even worse and my muscle pain was sharp. A little Ibuprofen seems to have helped but I skipped my usual morning run. If I'm feeling up to it later I may run a couple of miles but I'm not going to try again for the three miles under 9:00 goal this weekend.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

36 darn seconds

This morning, with the temperature in the high 20's, it didn't feel like much like spring. My right side soreness was better but I was concerned about aggravating it with a long run. As I prepared to start, my next door neighbor (a CPA) was preparing to head to his office to deal with corporate tax filings. He said he'd rather be running than doing that (who wouldn't?) and I said "Cheer up April 16 isn't too far away." For me it was time to run.

I decided that I would run a minimum of 5 miles today and planned my route on Gmaps to help me stay focused on the goal. My secondary goal was to stay under 9:00 per mile but I knew that running 5+ miles puts me at the edge of my distance capability. I set out on a road with an incline to help me get my heart rate up quickly. It was cold and I dressed with a minimum of layers anticipating that I would build heat as I ran. I was running an 8:55 pace as I reached my first mile and I started wondering how long I could maintain that rate. As planned, I cut over to neighborhood #2 and did the big loop. Not being fully familiar with that area I made a navigation error and I ended up running about half a mile away from my planned exit. I didn't mind, miles are miles no matter where you take them.

Around the 4.5 mile mark I started struggling and I had another episode of hyperventilating. What was different about this is that I was relatively far from home when it happened. Like last time, I simply held my breath and ran until I felt rebalanced. I took a couple of slow deep breaths and soon returned to my previous rhythm.

I'll admit that the last leg, about 1/3 of a mile, was a struggle and I tried to generate as much speed as I could but I knew I was near my limit. I Gmapped my actual run and compared it to the Garmin and was happy to see that they were within .01% of the distance of 5.22 miles. I calculated my overall pace at 9:07 which meant that if I'd run 36 seconds faster over 47 minutes I would have averaged 9:00 min/mile. Later I'll look at my split times to see if I'd held pace under 9:00 for the first 3 miles which was the original goal.

I'll decide tomorrow whether I'll try for another long run or shorten the distance and turn up the speed. My injury seems no worse for the long run and I'm hoping the pain doesn't return later.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring training

Today is the first day of spring, marking the end of my second season (fall and winter) as an emerging runner. I'm pleased with the progress I've made in the past six months and now, with 29 days to my first race, it's time to get serious about training.

It's interesting to think about the benchmarks I've passed since last September. Not long ago I struggled through my first mile and I'm proud to say I can now run more than five. My training approach has been anything but scientific but I like the way things have worked out. Back in December, when I signed up for the May 5K race, I was barely able to run three miles. Before I do that race I'm facing a 4 miler in April with no concerns about the distance. The goal now is pace and that's where the training comes in.

Two of my running advisors, CK and CMC, have given me great guidance on using speed work to increase fitness. I read blogs from other runners who are much more disciplined about these methods and this explains why they run 6 and 7 minute miles and I don't. I just like to run and by integrating some faster paces into my normal pacing I've been able to improve my overall pace. I'll start stepping that up this weekend and will try again to run over four miles at under 9:00 per mile.

This morning I achieved that pace at half the distance, running 2.01 miles at 8:46 per mile. I felt like I could have sustained or even exceeded that pace if I had time to run a couple more miles. Some of that comes from conditioning and some comes from the fact that I only did upper body exercise yesterday. I'm beginning to appreciate rest days as a training tool.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The fitness of my elliptical machine

This week we closed a chapter in the saga of my BH Fitness elliptical machine when the manufacturer sent their own service tech to replace a number of parts. The retailer, Fitness Showrooms, abdicated responsibility for the machine after a few failed attempts to fix its numerous ills. I've crossed Fitness Showrooms off the list of stores I'll ever patronize again.

BH Fitness replaced everything (some parts for the fourth time) and the net result remains disappointing. The HRM is still completely inaccurate and the display is difficult to read when operating the unit. I would have been better off sticking with the original unit with a bad HRM. I'm not sure it's the machine itself, design engineering flaws or tech incompetency (this last round my wife had to point out to him that he'd installed the arms backwards) but I'm not going to endorse this unit.

I was going to use the machine this morning but my muscle soreness on my right hip made me rethink doing a lower body workout. I ended up doing about 20 minutes of arms and upper body work. My HRM readings showed it wasn't much work at all so I can hardly count it as a conditioning day. If I feel less sore tomorrow I'll consider a run. Otherwise I'll try a round with the elliptical which will hopefully put less strain on my injured area.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

If the Emerging Runner developed products

It was great to do an outside run yesterday but it was back to the treadmill this morning. I'm still struggling a little with soreness around my right hip and it took a few minutes of warm-up for that to dissipate. Once I felt more comfortable I increased my speed and ended up running about 2 miles at 8:52/mile. I want to get these shorter runs closer to 8:30/mile but I'll take some pleasure in knowing that an 8:52 pace is a full minute faster than what I was doing four months ago.

While I ran today I thought about treadmill running vs. street, track and trail running. I am a fan of the treadmill but I'm not a fan of its limitations. If I created my own treadmill I'd do the following:

- Build the tread wide enough to move laterally. I don't know if there are limits to how wide the tread can be relative to factors such as power and weight capacity but most treadmills are narrow to the point of claustrophobia. I like when I get to run in hotel fitness centers because some high end units provide a wider track.

- Speed sensing. I know from tracking my performance with Garmin Connect that my running speed varies from minute to minute. On the road it's no problem as the speed of the runner is relative to a static surface. On a treadmill you are running variable paces and the treadmill is running at a steady pace. This translates into constant subconscious adjustment by the runner to regulate to the speed of the moving tread. Plus the constant concern that you'll either overrun the unit or fall back so far as to pull the safety cord. It would be great if the treadmill could detect subtle changes in cadence or pace and adjust the tread speed accordingly. If the runner wanted to sprint the treadmill would follow. Sure you can accomplish the same by constantly adjusting the speed control but that's tedious and imprecise.

- Use an electric eye or motion detector to control emergency shut off. Running with a cord attached to your shirt or shorts is another contributor to treadmill claustrophobia. Plus, based upon conversations I've had with people, many don't use the cord for this very reason. It's like seatbelts vs. airbags: active versus passive protection.

- It's not the first time I'm mentioning it but how about a virtual reality screen to simulate outdoor running? The video can interact with the treadmill so that it automatically goes to inclines on hills, etc. I don't know how to simulate different surfaces (muddy trails, dirt, macadam) but I'm confident the Emerging Runner Laboratories would figure that out.

It's possible that some of this technology already exists in the higher end units. To do what I'm suggesting above would likely add thousands of dollars to the cost. With advances in screen display and sensing technologies it's not unrealistic to think these features could be offered at a reasonable cost. Call now, operators are standing by!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

NYC running: all is forgiven

This morning's workday started with a St. Patrick's Day run in Central Park organized by Adventure Girl as a kickoff to her Ragnar relay race in May. We gathered at Lululemon Athletica on 64th Street in Columbus Circle and after a brief review of our route we headed out for a 4K run. The weather was perfect for running and Lululemon provided a running trainer who guided us through the route and answered questions about technique. The course took us through Central Park where we encountered many other runners, bikers and some walkers. The run pace was about 9:00/mile but I got a little impatient and ran ahead for about a third of the run. I enjoyed running with other people, their pacing helped me regulate my stride and cadence and I discovered I can run and talk!

This wasn't a competitive run and considering that I had no shower option I fared pretty well. The combination of not wearing a running jacket and having moderately cool temperatures helped minimize the sweat level. AG and I considered a run back to the office but in the interest of time we hopped on the 1 train and made it in before many of our co-workers had arrived. It was one of the best running experiences I've had since returning to the sport and I hope to do more of this. I'm concerned about high temperatures as we move closer to summer. 90 degrees and no shower is bad combination for business...

My '90's running experience was not so good and I always blamed the inhospitality of the city for that. If I was exposed to conditions like this I might have viewed it much differently. What a great way to do a weekday run.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Low impact, high diversity

I've been taking it fairly easy over the past few days. A real rest day on Friday, a normal long run on Saturday (5 miles) and a shorter run on Sunday (2.5 miles) made a little more challenging via trails and mud. I do think there's something to resting but I also think it's important to get my heart rate up every day to maintain a good level of conditioning. This weekend I found mixing up the workout to be a good way to isolate muscles and give them a rest while staying true to my daily routine.

I felt as though yesterday's trail run provided a greater than average effort-to-distance ratio, meaning that I worked harder than usual to reach my distance. All the same I felt like I should have gone longer so later in the day, when my wife went upstairs to do the elliptical, I joined her by doing about 20 minutes of core and 15 minutes working my arms with free weights.

Keeping in mind that I had already exercised in the morning I didn't push too hard but I finished feeling energized and satisfied that I made some gains. This morning I continued the low impact routine with 15 minutes of elliptical set to medium resistance. The rest of the week will be more intense but I wanted to give myself a break for a few days. Tomorrow I'll be running in a 4K training session and I'm sure I'll appreciate the rest I've taken.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A fun new world very close to home

I'm still experiencing some soreness off my right hip and, based upon reaction to pressure, I'm wondering if it's due to an aggravated sciatic nerve. This soreness makes walking and running uncomfortable for the first ten or so steps but it goes away after that. I almost decided to rest it but instead headed over to Stillwell Woods, a local preserve that sits across the street from the High School track. I figured that running trails would have a lesser impact on my injury and if the soreness continued I could just return knowing that I tried.

Access to the trails is fronted by a large complex of athletic fields and as I ran past I saw many other early birds gathering to play football and soccer while others were unloading trail bikes. Those people scared me because I figured we'd be competing for trail space and they didn't look particularly courteous. As it happened I didn't encounter a single biker on my run but I did see a couple of other runners. I entered the trail and instantly found myself in another world. I'd run a little at the Planting Fields but that is a not really set up for trail runners and mountain bikers. There was nothing but high brush on the sides and a flat trail in front with other trails connecting right and left. The elevations varied every hundred feet or so and, in the narrow parts, it felt a little like riding a roller coaster. The trees prevented a line of site to give any true perspective on where I was relative to anywhere else so I just let the trail take me where it would. It was really fun.

The temperature was in the low 40's and I wore less layers so I had no issues with the heat. The trails were muddy but the cold kept me from sinking in. Any colder and it probably would have hurt to run on it, any warmer and some sections would have been just too mucky. Perfect. I learned that trails are harder to run than pavement or track and I know this because I could barely maintain a high 9:00 pace but my heart rate was showing that I was putting in a strong effort. When I finally came out at the other side of the athletic fields I was at 2.5 miles and I decided that, with respect to my injury, it was enough for today.

I'm looking forward to returning to Stillwell to explore the many trails not taken this morning. It's literally five minutes from my front door but it feels like it's a million miles away. I'm betting that this change from road running can only help with my training as I approach race day.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Training to train

This morning I did a 5 mile neighborhood run, including about 1.25 miles running around neighborhood #2. Considering the length of the run I am happy with my 9:17 overall pace although my target was to average under 9:10/mile and my goal was to stay under 9:00. I guess you could call that a stretch goal. Maybe if I did more stretching I'd have made it.

The Garmin 50 pulled a new trick, about 3 minutes into my run I noticed that while it was happily reporting time, speed, cadence and heart rate the distance stopped incrementing after .08 miles. I couldn't figure that out so my only recourse was to stop the timing and restart. Somehow it took that action as starting a new split but at least the Garmin was recording distance again. I felt really good throughout the run (gee maybe there is something to taking rest days) but in the final minute I experienced a reaction where I suddenly had difficulty breathing. This was hyperventilating and not related to being out of breath from the run. I had a similar experience the last time I ran over 5 miles. I recovered by forcing slow breaths and holding my breath until it re-regulated. I'm sure it's psychological. I just hope it doesn't continue to happen.

The reason I'm training hard this weekend is that I'm participating in a group run next week that's been organized by Adventure Girl to start her team's training for the Ragnar relay race in May. This relay is a 175 mile race from Woodstock to the Bronx with 12 members who each run three legs. I'm not participating in that race but I'm excited about this training run because it will be the first time I've run with people in over a decade. I have to admit I'm a little concerned about carrying a conversation while running but I'll do my best. My other concern is that I'm going directly to the office afterward without a shower. The run, which takes place in Central Park, is only 4K so if I under dress I might be abe to minimize the amount that I sweat.

I'm going to try some trail running tomorrow to take advantage of the weather and to exercise some different muscles.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Under a rest

Last night I had a conversation with my wife and kids about alarm clocks. They were mentioning how annoying it is when my alarm goes off at 4:00 reverberating loudly through the house. Hey, with the split second timing of my morning routine I need that jolt to get the day started. So I guess you could call it irony that I forgot to set it last night and by the time I woke up this morning it was too late to run.

Right now I'm debating whether I'll accept my fate and just call it my first rest day of 2009. I actually considered bringing gear to work so I could run at lunch but, without ready access to a post-run shower, it's not a practical option. I also have the option of running when I get home but I prefer to spend evenings with my family. Taking a real rest day is probably a good thing to do. I've been dealing with a sore tendon on my right side that hasn't affected my running but it makes walking uncomfortable. A rest day can only help that and this is a good opportunity to see if my performance on Saturday will be improved because of this extra recovery time. This is important to know as I plan my strategy for the week of my April race.

I did take the time to weigh in this morning and was mystified to see that I am continuing to lose weight. I thought I'd stabilized but apparently I'm consuming less than I'm burning off. I should be happy about this, I'm certainly not emaciated, but I do need to build back some muscle. Perhaps some weight training needs to be added to the routine. That's a good goal for this weekend.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fooling myself into working hard

My workout routine has become fairly consistent at this point, mostly running with a couple of weekly cross training sessions. The amount of effort I put into running varies based upon circumstances. During the week my runs are fairly short owing to an extremely tight morning schedule. On the weekends I try for distance, usually doubling (or more) the average weekday distance that I had been running. This has worked for me and although it is one of my 2009 fitness goals, I haven't taken any full rest days this year. On the other two days I focus on cross training, mostly on the elliptical machine. I have had some trouble with this unit but overall I really like it. It's solidly built, easy to operate and has a small enough footprint to fit in my guestroom along with the treadmill.

Although the elliptical provides an excellent workout and can be adjusted to require a formidable amount of effort to use, I always view my cross training days to be a welcome break from the rigors of running. The elliptical exercises some different muscles than we use for running and I think this helps overall. The device also provides some upper body exercise but the impact of that is not really apparent until the resistance is ratcheted up to its higher limits. All the same I think it's contributing to my better upper body definition.

The great thing about elliptical days, for me, is that I feel like I'm getting away with less work while I know that most of the time (based upon HRM readings) I'm doing the same amount of work as I do when I run. Another key benefit to the elliptical is the lack of impact on your knees when you use it so it's a great alternative when you are dealing with a muscle pull or have knee twinges.

If I had to choose one I would pick running over the elliptical every time and I think the reasons are obvious. But on certain days, especially following a couple of days of hard long runs, that elliptical is a welcome alternative.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Just don't call me a @#$%! jogger

This morning I saw a news story where a reporter was interviewing two women who were out for an early morning run. Superimposed on the screen were their names and the word "Joggers." It made me laugh to see that. These women were serious looking runners but the word jogger evokes, in my mind, someone dressed in a designer sweatsuit and headband, holding a bottle of Vitamin Water, listening to an iPod and bouncing along at a fast walking pace. Someone recently asked me if I was "still jogging" and I was tempted to say "I don't jog, I run." Instead I just said yes because to most people it's the same thing.

So what is the real definition of running vs. jogging? Does it have more to do with speed or attitude? I read one view that the difference between the two is an entry form. Meaning a runner races and a jogger just jogs. I'll debate that since I know at least one serious runner who never races. Another view was that joggers run 9+ minute miles and runners run faster than that. That seems like a fairly arbitrary distinction. In that case, with an average pace of about 9:15 I'd be an aspiring - not emerging - runner. I'm not going to change the name of my blog so I'll have to reject that definition.

This morning I (ahem) jogged 1.76 miles in 16:02 for an overall pace of 9:06. Since I have already filled out a couple of entry forms I'll accept the first view and say I had a pretty good run.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Speeding along

I have 39 days to train for my 4 miler in April. For those who have run many races my countdown is probably a little dramatic but it's my first race since returning to running. I was looking at my run data this weekend and noticed how my average pace time has improved between September and today. I look at the improvements over the first five months as organic, that is, directly related to improved fitness and weight loss. Obviously, running with less weight and better Vo2max capability will yield better performance. My pace history describes a Pareto curve with earliest times in the low 13:00 range, following a steep decline until it plateaus at around 9:50. Last month, with the encouragement of some of my more experienced running friends, I started integrating faster segments into my regular runs. As I've become more comfortable with faster paces I've held them longer and the result has been to move down that curve even more. My average pace for February had improved to about 9:30 and over the past two weeks it's closer to 9:15. This weekend I did my two long runs below 9:10 so I really like the direction,

This morning I decided to push the pace to the edge of my comfort zone and after starting around 9:30 I quickly turned up the speed about 8% and ended up running 2.05 miles at 8:46. Needless to say I'm happy with that performance. What I don't know is how well I'd have done if I had time to run another 2 miles. This weekend I almost broke 9:00 for 4 miles but almost doesn't count. Well it counts a little I guess.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Across the divide

I live in a neighborhood that's really a series of contiguous developments framed on three sides by major roads with a service road that runs along the south side. My neighborhood is a quiet and peaceful place to run, especially during the early hours. While the scenery is mostly houses and cars there are other interesting distractions such as schools and parks. I prefer running through the streets of my neighborhood to running on the local high school track for a few reasons: less wind, variable terrain and more visual stimulation.

Until recently my neighborhood provided everything I needed as a runner but now that my distances have increased I'm beginning to feel boxed in. I'm finding that the streets are growing too familiar and, despite a number of curvy roads with feeder streets, there's no longer a sense of discovery. It's all in a map in my head and I now plan my routes mostly around changing elevations and ways to avoid running twice on the same road.

On Sunday I braved the service road (I'm not kidding when I say that, it's a one-way 30 MPH road that rarely sees cars traveling slower than 50) and then cut under a highway bridge. I then crossed yet another speedy one-way street and entered a new neighborhood. What I found there were more houses, cars and parks. But these were different houses, cars and parks located on different streets! I took some random rights and lefts and eventually found my way back into my neighborhood. When I hit the more familiar streets I noticed that I was well over a mile into my run and my route options for covering three more miles were better since I hadn't covered much of my home turf.

I'll add neighborhood #2 to my weekend runs until that becomes more of the same. There's another neighborhood across from the west side boundary that has lots of interesting hills that I can also explore. Hopefully these options will hold my interest for a while longer.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Garmin 50 - illogically lovable

A number of years ago, on vacation in Paris, my wife and I were completely puzzled by the challenge of crossing the street to visit the Arc d'Triomphe. If you're not familiar with its location, the building sits in the middle of a traffic circle off the western end of the Champs-Élysées. It was clear that crossing that traffic would lead to instant death by Renault and yet we saw a number of people milling around the Arc. After some searching we saw a small sign indicating an underground passage that led to the center. It certainly wasn't obvious to us but in retrospect it made perfect sense.

The Garmin 50 reminds me very much of that. Before the Garmin I used the Nike+ Sportband which had less complexity but also less features. It was simple to set up and use, basically it had two buttons that controlled everything and good documentation to show you which ones to push. The Garmin has four buttons that seem to do different things based upon the mode of the watch that can be switched between time, training, interval timing and history. The simple idea of using it as a stopwatch took me almost three weeks to master. The process to do this is simple but the lack of instruction in the manual made it maddeningly difficult. As I use the watch I'm beginning to better understand how the sequence of buttons makes things work. It's still a little annoying when the display says "press OK" when it really means "press the View button" but now, after experimentation, I know to do this.

Of course now that I have gained some comfort with its operation I am thrilled with the data it collects and presents. The combination of pulse rate, speed, cadence, time and distance (accurate to about .03 miles now that I've figured out how to calibrate it) and the Garmin Connect website (that collects and reports the information) are really good. There are dozens of things I'd do differently in terms of functionality and user interface but in the end, it works. However I do wish it calculated pace on the watch, not just speed in MPH.

This morning I ran 4.06 miles at about 9:05/mile which didn't make my target of staying under 9 minutes per mile, but I fully accept it as great progress. It was about 43 degrees when I went out for my run. I only wore a base layer plus a long sleeve technical jersey under a lightweight windbreaker. I was comfortable throughout most of the run but I got very hot near the end. I didn't make either my speed or distance (8 total miles) goals for this weekend but I am very happy with what I've accomplished.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A miss is as good as 3.6 miles

I came within 1% of my goal of running over 3.1 miles at 9:00/mile this morning, completing a 3.57 mile run with an average pace of 9:03. The chart above from Garmin Connect illustrates the technique I used throughout the run where I alternated between my normal pace (~9:20) and a speedier pace. I was pleased to see that the slowest pace that I ran today was 9:28 and the fastest was 8:24. Overall I'm 99% satisfied with the run. The temperature was around 40 degrees when I started but it rose quickly and, coupled with direct sun, I became very hot. I made the mistake of wearing too many layers. This worked great for the first eight minutes but I found it to be a burden over the next 24. At around 2.75 miles I really started feeling taxed which surprised me since I didn't run on Friday and I'd had more than my usual overnight rest. I'll blame the hot weather and the faster pacing. After hitting a wall so soon into the run I am slightly concerned that my conditioning isn't where it should be. But I did recover pretty well and my new focus on speed should help that going forward.

I was also glad to see that my large toe, although still tender, did not cause me any problems during the run. I'm trying to decide on tomorrow's run strategy: 1. Try again to make the "3+ mile, sub 9:00" goal, 2. Aim for a shorter run but make the target pace even faster or 3. Accept today's 99% success and just go for distance on Sunday.

All suggestions welcomed.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Easy like Friday morning

I woke up this morning and noticed that my big toe on my right foot was hurting. I've felt some discomfort with it throughout the week but this was a little worse. I had just read in Runner's World about foot afflictions and this appears similar to their description of "Runner's toe." It didn't help that I walked a lot on it yesterday after a 2+ mile morning run.

This has been a challenging week and while I love what I do I'm really looking forward to the weekend. Spring weather is predicted and, with sunrises coming earlier, I think I'll be okay running outside at 6AM. Every weekend I set a running goal, usually related to distance. This weekend I'm hoping to continue my speed work and finish one or both of my long weekend runs under 9:00/mile. I may trade some distance to do that but I'll cover at least 3.1 miles (5K) on Saturday and more than that on Sunday. I need to total at least 8 miles every weekend until my first race.

Since today is a TGIF day and I'm worried about my toe I decided to do an upper body only workout this morning. I used the technique where I face the front of the elliptical and work just the arms. I did this for 21 minutes and was glad I took some time to work on arm strength. It wasn't as hard as I'd hoped and by the end I was only mildly sweating. I didn't want to overdo it and strain a muscle but the next time I try this workout I'll turn up the resistance a few levels.

It was an easy session, not quite a rest day, but close. I'll see if today's rest from running will pay off for me tomorrow.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Racing toward race day

I received a notification yesterday that I am officially confirmed for the 5K run that is part of the upcoming LI Marathon event. This event occurs over two days and includes a kid's fun run, a 1 mile run, a 5K, 10K, plus half and full marathons. This is actually the second race I'm running in early spring. Two weeks before the 5K I'm running a 4 mile race. I have about six weeks to refine my run strategies and work on my conditioning so that I can meet my goal of under 9 minute mile paces for both races.

This morning I tried to make up some time from yesterday's short run. I ran 20 minutes at about a 9:10 pace. Adventure Girl says that a treadmill pace equates differently to street pace so that 9:10 on the treadmill would translate to 8-something on the street. I think that's true, I've noticed that my weekend runs, though longer than my weekday runs, generally have faster pacing. It also may be that I can precisely measure outdoor running using tools like Gmaps while I have to rely on less precise tools (like the treadmill's speedometer or the Garmin foot pod) for indoor measurement. If I'm underestimating my normal pace and working on my speed it may help me make my timing goals for these upcoming races.

Now for the big question - what do I wear on race day?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Less time? Run faster

I found myself running behind schedule this morning and was unhappy to see that I had far less than 20 minutes to do a run that included time to warm up and cool down. At the same time I was concerned that I would not meet my (self imposed) minimum distance of 1.5 miles for a weekday run. Since time can't be controlled the only lever I had to play with was speed. I cheated a bit and got to my normal run pace in less than a minute before further cranking up the speed.

Now speed is relative, a fast pace for me would be an easy or even slow pace for an experienced runner. Indoors, I generally run at a 6.4 MPH tread speed which works out to about 9:22/mile. Today I ran closer to 7.2 MPH completing 1.62 miles in a little under 14 minutes for an 8:30/mile pace. That's where I want to be. It was hard work to maintain that pace, my average pulse rate was almost 6% higher than at my normal pace. According to what I've read I can even push that higher rate 9% to be within 80% of max. Having the HRM has been handy in helping me understand the effort I'm expending relative to other workouts (e.g., elliptical) and now I'm seeing that it's a good indicator for understanding how much further I should push to attain desired speed and pace.

My challenge now is maintaining that faster pace for longer than 1.62 miles. Completing a 5K at 8:30 would be great but I have work to do.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Yes, I get it, it's cold

I know March comes in like a lion but I didn't expect it to be such a fierce one. It was brutally cold standing at the train platform and the LIRR, owing to their unofficial mandate to break down at the mention of zero degree weather, was late. Ten minutes after boarding my feet were still thawing. As I stood waiting for the train, lamenting the fact that this week's snow interrupted my highly anticipated outdoor run in Cambridge, I tried to think of something positive to offset this late season weather. The best I came up with was that at 6:20 AM the sun had already come up. That made me happy because I realized that the cold would soon pass and the days will grow longer, allowing me to run earlier in the morning. I never used to to pay attention to the weather or keep track of sunrise prior to my return to running. Now I check the forcast all the time. I can't recall how early the sun comes up in late spring and summer but I'm hoping I'll be able to get some outdoor runs in during the weekdays at some point.

Sendentary Man has a new column today. I don't know about you but he seems to be a bit more profound and less sendentary these days. Although he starts out describing an epic battle between his humidifier and de-humidifier (this reminds me of an old Stephen Wright joke) he does make his point. I think. You decide.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Happiness is a warm treadmill

This morning I awoke to a foot of snow in Cambridge. From my hotel window I watched the plows working to clear streets and paths in Kendall Square. I went down to the fitness center for a run and indulged myself by selecting a treadmill with a personal TV screen.

I started my run and watched through the window as the snow blew almost parallel to the ground. People were walking in shovel-width paths that appeared to be two feet high at the sides. I watched the school closures on TV, virtually every school in the area is cancelled but happily MIT is open so my travel wasn't wasted.

I ran about 25 minutes at about 9:20/mile. It felt like a good weekday workout. I think my wife had a better workout though - she went out to shovel our driveway at 5:30 AM where we got more than a foot on Long Island. I'm trying not to think about my travel back to NY later today.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Newsflash: eating less calories helps weight loss

I was amused to see the article that the NY Times published last Wednesday confirming that reducing calories, regardless of source (fat, carbs, sugars, etc.) is the only way to reduce weight. Although this should be a very obvious point it's often missed and most diets center on the types of calories, not their overall reduction. Of course we also know the evil side of this revelation when people reduce calories using very unhealthy methods - anorexia and bulimia as examples. Eating less will cause you to lose weight. Eating less, concentrating on nutrition and running will make you lose weight and keep you healthy. Hey, if the NY Times can be that obvious then I can too.

I'm traveling up to Cambridge MA later today to visit the MIT Media Lab. I've served as my company's affiliate to MIT for the last ten years and I'm always excited by what I see and hear when I'm there. Since I've got back into running I have a deeper appreciation for some of the people I see there, like Joe Paradiso, who heads up the Responsive Environments Group at the Media Lab. This group developed most of the motion sensor technologies that are being used by companies like Nike in products like the Nike+ iPod and Sportband tracking systems. While I'm up there I'm hoping to do some running but the weather report is not encouraging: 8 to 12 inches of snow and ice expected for the northeast by midday on Monday. So it looks like indoor running for me. It's a good thing I like hotel treadmills.

This morning I ran 3.3 miles at about the same pace as yesterdays. It snowed a little overnight so I wore my Kutu’s, which felt a little snug. I also suspect the Kutus are slightly heavier than the Turbulence 13's which makes me tire a little sooner. I noticed today that when I end my long runs I'm almost never winded. It's more fatigue than lung capacity that makes me stop. I'm making progress with conditioning and I'd rather meet the challenge of fatigue than deal with aerobic energy limitations. I was happy with my run today but I admit I struggled more than Saturday when I ran a mile further.

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