Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Would the Tarahumara run with a cold?

Despite what felt like a recovery yesterday I am still very much battling a cold. It's really a shallow dry cough that I am finding most annoying.  I ended up getting about four hours sleep last night so my morning has been a series of short naps that I'm hoping will get me through the rest of the day. In a strange way I blame my conditioning for the way this cold is playing out. It's like my immune system is refusing to give into illness and, consequently, I've remained in this stasis of mild symptoms over the past three days. I actually feel strong enough to run, as I did yesterday, but I'm going to hold off on that until later. If I'm noticing improvement later I may try a workout of some type. I'm a firm believer in powering though colds while respecting fevers.

I've finished McDougall's "Born to Run" and I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in physiology, anthropology,  native North American culture, adventure, nutrition and (of course) running technique. The book features many interesting people (US ultrarunners and native Tarahumarans) with fascinating stories. The main focus of the book is on how these amazing people gathered together in a dangerous and obscure part of Mexico's Copper Canyons for a unique and incredible 50 mile race. I cannot recall any book I've read in recent years that interested me like this one.

I'm anxious to get out and run if makes sense to do it later. The focus I've given to front/midfoot striking, upright form and higher cadence has been an interesting experiment that I hope will lead to a successful re-engineering of my running style. A point made often in the book is "If it feels like work, you're working too hard." I believe there's something to that.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Mystery solved in Muttontown

After purchasing the book "60 Hikes within 60 Miles: New York City Guide Book" I made another attempt to run at the Muttontown Mystery Trail. I headed out to the Muttontown Preserve this morning anticipating the experience. The trail is a 3.3 mile loop with (per trails.com) "A vast network of trails and old estate lanes [that weave] through swampy swales, miniature savannas, a rhododendron jungle (that transforms in July into a fairyland of pale pink blossoms), some glacial deposits, and even a few ghostly ruins." They had me at "vast network of trails." When I arrived at the location I was very pleased because, in my last attempt to find this preserve, I was unable to navigate to the entrance. I didn't see anything marked for parking so I drove past the entrance on a very muddy road that led to the adjacent Chelsea Mansion and parked in that lot. I ran back to the Muttontown entrance only to see that the entrance gates were locked. I decided to run back to the parking lot to see if I could get to the trails from the grounds of the Chelsea Mansion and I saw a trail that I followed as far as I could. As I approached the Muttontown woods I saw a tall chain link fence that prevented me from going any further. I ended up running about 3/4 miles on the Chelsea grounds before I found that I'd circled back to the parking lot. I saw later, when I went to the website that the preserve opens at 9:00 and I was there too early.

I decided to head over to my old friend, the Stillwell Woods Preserve, that never disappoints. With the weather hovering around 40 degrees I was concerned about mud so I stuck to the dirt trail that loops around the open field that abuts the wooded part of Stillwell. I was glad to have my Helly's because conditions were rough with some frozen grooved mud and patches of snow on the trail. The other weather condition that affected my progress was a stiff wind that came from the west that made it feel a lot colder. All the same it was very manageable and I was able to try the "Tarahumara" technique on both dirt and uneven surfaces for the first time. I worked hard to maintain my cadence and averaged 84 SPM, not too bad for the trail. Overall (If the Garmin is accurate) I averaged 9:23/mile which again is not a bad pace for me at Stillwell. After I finished my run I drank a can of Goya coconut water with a couple of electrolyte capsules I got at the Runner's World booth at the NY Marathon Expo in November. The water was interesting with small chunks of coconut in every sip. It was too sweet (22g of sugar per the label). I'm going to look at the performance brands of coconut water to see if they have less sugar.

It was great to get back on the trails after a day off. I'm still a little fatigued but I won't spend the rest of the day wishing I had run.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The voice of unreason

Although it's great running weather outside and most of the snow has melted away I have not yet gone out for a run today. I've been feeling tired, as though I am fighting off a cold, although I don't really have any cold symptoms. There's a voice in my head that is screaming "Go run the trail loop at Stillwell!" and I'm listening. I'm just not taking action. I'm waiting to to see if some strength returns. If so, I'll take a ride over there later. However, if I don't get to Stillwell today there's always the option of a quick run in the neighborhood or even on the treadmill. Perhaps my body is telling me to rest and I should listen to it instead of listening to the voice in my head that's encouraging me to do a trail run. What I really need is a voice of reason to convince me that resting today can prevent me from feeling even worse. I'll be disappointed if I push too hard today only to find myself too sick to run much in the coming week.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Progress made on Boxing Day

My wife suggested that I should rest today since I still have eight more days away from the office for doing long runs. Her point would be better made if she herself didn't work out every day for 45 minutes, especially today when she is battling a cold. I figured if she was going to maintain her routine under those conditions so would I. Maybe I'll take a break on Monday.

One reason I really wanted to get out and run is that I'm driving myself (and everyone around me) crazy with my curiosity about the Tarahumara running technique and the best shoes for that style. I mentioned that I tried on some ASICS 2150s and Kayanos on Wednesday that felt really good. Exceptionally good in fact. Now I'm understanding the best way of strengthening the arch and the forefoot is to run with shoes that don't surround your foot with soft cushioning. Instead it's better to force yourself to adapt to shoes with less support. The impact of running on your legs can be up to twelve times your body weight. In the book "Born to Run" the author Christopher McDougall says""[it's] preposterous to believe a half inch of rubber is going to make a difference against, in my case, 2,760 pounds of earthbound beef. You can cover an egg with an over mitt  before rapping it with a hammer, but that egg ain't coming out alive." I get that completely.

So this morning I went out to run about 3 miles and I wore my lightest, least cushioned shoes (NB 460s) and continued to focus on cadence and landing front and mid foot. It was warmer than yesterday, around 39 degrees, with a slight rainy mist that left after a few minutes. I tried to stay conscious of the number of steps I was taking and I also worked to maintain my pace more evenly than yesterday. For the third time in as many days I returned home to see that I had run much faster than usual on recreational runs. Today I covered 3.17 miles in slightly longer than 27 minutes for an 8:36 pace. That's a 5K/4 mile race pace for me and I wasn't even working that hard. I'm having a really hard time justifying an investment in new shoes if I'm going to run like this. But you can't argue with the results, I'm not going back to my previous style. Of course that doesn't mean I won't try the Brooks GTS 10s out of curiosity. It just may mean that my next pair of Brooks is more likely to be the Green Silence.

Friday, December 25, 2009

What Christmas means to me

Today is Christmas day and for me that meant something very special: I could run in my neighborhood on a Friday morning without a single car on the road. While I love the energy of the holiday season where everywhere you go there are fun decorations, happy shoppers, and holiday music I also love the fact that for one day of the year (Christmas) most businesses shut down and the world becomes a very quiet place. I'm enjoying this quiet for the most part today, although I did have to sit through a two hour Alvin and the Chipmunks movie this morning.

I decided to continue my experimentation with a more upright form, shorter strides and striking with the front of my feet. I ended up running 5.6 miles at 8:59 per mile overall on this morning's run. Like yesterday, I was taking more steps per minute (averaged 85 today) but it seemed an easier effort than when I was running at 80 SPM. Although I was pleased to have broken 9:00 per mile on a 5+ mile run without working up much of a sweat I saw in my Garmin reports that I'd slowed down at around the 20 minute mark. It may be that I just need to build up my calf muscles to make it easier to increase my stride frequency. I finished my run with a final push, covering the last third of a mile at around 8:00 per mile. It felt good and again I was surprised to achieve a decent pace while feeling so relaxed.

Yesterday I spent an hour trying some shoes and I had a chance to try out the ASICS 2150s. I thought they felt much better than the 2140s that I'd considered prior to choosing the Brooks GTS 9s. I also tried both the ASICS Kayano 16s (new) and the 15s. They felt the same to me - fantastic. I'm going to give the new Brooks GTS 10s a try but unless they feel significantly better than the GTS 9s I might just pick up a pair of the Kayanos. The 15s were selling for $99, the same price as the new 2150s and GTS 10s. Of course, now that I'm running differently I may want to consider a different type of shoe. Perhaps it's time to give the Newtons a try!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Tarahumara have made me a faster runner

I've been enjoying the book "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall for a number of reasons. First, because it's about ultrarunning, a subject that fascinates me. Second, because the author takes amusing pot shots at Dean Karnazes, whose book I just finished. Mostly I like it because it centers on the Tarahumara - the indigenous people of Mexico's Copper Canyons. The Tarahumara society is represented very positively, almost utopic, with running as the core activity of their lives. The Tamahumara are incredible runners who can run a hundred miles or more without resting. There is a lot of discussion in the book debating the benefits of modern running shoes compared with the purer technique of these people who run with simple rubber bottomed sandals. I believe that the growing interest in minimalist running has been fueled by this book.  I'm not ready to give up my stability running shoes but I am interested in some of the techniques mentioned in the book.

I've been constrained to the treadmill over the last couple of days so I decided to run in the neighborhood this morning provided that conditions were safe. I'm home today so I waited until 7:30 AM to go out, thinking that the extra light would improve safety. The roads were almost completely free of ice and snow and I set off thinking about the Tarahumara method of running - smaller steps and upright form - and decided to try it out. I've read that increasing the number of strides per minute helps to increase speed. I usually run at around 80 steps/min but today I averaged 84 with the first half of my 3.63 mile run averaging slightly higher. The running felt easy, almost too easy, and I imagined that I would return home to discover I was pacing close to 10 min per mile. I had great energy on the run and I had planned to cover about 5K but took some extra roads near the end because it felt so good. When I completed my run I was surprised to see that I averaged 9:06 per mile. It was such an easy experience that I questioned the accuracy of the Garmin and immediately checked my route on Gmaps which verified the distance and pace.

I am still amazed that I maintained such a decent pace without working very hard. There could be many reasons for this: the time of day, the amount of rest I'd had or the perfect 25 degree weather. I'm hoping it was due to the new technique and I will try again tomorrow, perhaps pushing my speed a little to see how that works. I only averaged 81 steps/min when I hit my 5K PR in November so I'm very curious to see how that equivalent amount of effort would work with a cadence of 84. I'm optimistic that I've found a way to improve my speed without a lot of extra work. I've learned that nothing good is easy but in this case I'll happily make an exception.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nearing the finish line

Today is the last day I'll be in the office until January. Like many businesses, my company effectively shuts down for the week between Christmas and New Years. We still have some staff in and we're producing content and closing the books but the feeling is different than other times of the year. I've always liked this end-of-the-year time. Until the economy tanked we always had office decorating contests and lots of holiday food from suppliers. I'm fine with the way it is now. Christmas treats, no matter how good, are one temptation I'm happy to avoid.

With the windchill adjusted temperature hovering around 10 degrees this morning I decided to do another treadmill workout. I smartened up bit and started slower than yesterday. That made a big difference in terms of experience. Instead of my run being a frantic and hard charging effort, today felt more like (dare I say it?) a jog. The minutes went by much quicker and around 2/3 through the run I stepped up the speed and really pushed it for the last three minutes. Still, I was almost a minute per mile slower than yesterday's overall pace. What really mattered is that I got my workout done and I had the sweat to show for it. I'm hoping to return to the street tomorrow if conditions turn favorable. Otherwise it's back to the elliptical or treadmill. They're not my first choice but it's nice, at least, to have a choice.

By the way, check out new stuff from Adventure Girl who is on a skiing tour of NY state, northern Vermont and eastern Quebec. Sedentary Man has a new column about Steampunk, a style genre that he explained to me at last weeks holiday party that I still don't quite get but there's some cool looking stuff!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Slowing down time the hard way

Time is elastic, at least when it comes to human perception. When engaged in an absorbing task, time seems to pass at an astonishingly fast rate. When we are anticipating something good, time seems to slow. A perfect example of this was this morning's workout on the treadmill. In this case anticipating something good was defined as doing anything but running on the treadmill.

I decided to be positive and look at the treadmill as a solution rather than a problem. The real problem was the icy streets with no sidewalks for escaping cars. I knew that if I wanted to run this morning I would have to do it indoors. Knowing it would be hot, I dressed in shorts with my new ATAYNE short sleeve running shirt. I began to nudge the slide control on the treadmill towards what I remembered to be a fairly fast pace. The control panel display no longer works (hey, the machine is older than my 6th grader) so I need to rely on perceived effort to gauge my speed. The first five minutes seemed to go fine and the second  five were less fine. As I stared at the numbers on the digital clock I was amazed by the time it took for a single minute to pass. At the 15 minute mark I just told myself that I can endure anything for 5 minutes and I finally finished up after 20 minutes covering about 2.4 miles.

I'm at a point where I can probably run ten miles under ideal conditions. I would not be doing that at 8:39 per mile as I ran today but I'd enjoy it a lot more. Whether I love or hate the treadmill, it looks as though it will be my primary work week running option. You never know, some day those passing minutes could feel like actual minutes rather than hours.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Planning for some indoor running

I supplemented my shoveling workout with 33 minutes on the elliptical yesterday. I like having the option of using that machine but, despite the resistance, I never feel like I work as hard as I do when I run. I had the television on and that did a nice job of distracting me for a period and the very dry air kept my level of sweating to a minimum. I tuned out the TV after a while and just zoned out as I worked. I recently finished Dean Karnezes' book Ultramarathon Man where he talked about how he fell asleep while running the Badwater Ultramarathon. I understood that a little better as I fell into the rhythm of the elliptical, although I suspect that if had I fallen asleep I would have quickly come to a stop.

Since it is Monday I took a scheduled rest day. As I drove to the train this morning I observed the plowed roads with their patina of ice and realized that tomorrow morning's workout will need to happen indoors. No escaping that unless the temperature rises by 20 degrees and stays that way. I'm okay with the notion of returning once again to the treadmill although I'll admit my reluctance to do it. If I felt that the elliptical provided the same benefit my decision would be simple. I may try my new Nike+ sensor that was a gift from my friend and colleague KWL while I run on the treadmill and compare my readings on the iPhone to the read readings on my Garmin 50. Almost any distraction is a good distraction. Better to be looking at running metrics than falling asleep on the treadmill. I don't think that I would have the same positive outcome as Dean.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Helly Hansen Trail Lizards are also good for snow shoveling

I fibbed a little in yesterday's post when I said I didn't like shoveling snow. I actually like it a lot. My technique is not unlike LSD running and when I get into the zone I often find the orderly progress relaxing. This morning my wife and I came out to a foot or so of snow that had accumulated after the 3" we'd shoveled last night. In about an hour we managed through it. The biggest challenge was finding places to put the snow that we lifted off the driveway and walk. There was a lot to displace.

We have guests coming over for brunch a little later this morning so I'm glad to have got some exercise in beforehand. I was happy to do some upper body work as well. I wore my Helly Hansen Trail Lizard running shoes while I shoveled and found them to be remarkably comfortable as well as very stable in the slippery conditions. The shoes don't have any water proofing but the snow is dry and fluffy so that wasn't an issue. I'm really tempted to go out later for a run in the neighborhood with the Trail Lizards. I'll hold off for now because there are still snow plows on the road and I don't want to have to dodge them, especially with no sidewalk escape route. If I don't make it outside I'll consider an elliptical session or perhaps a workout on the treadmill. I can always look out the window and enjoy the snowy scenery.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Racing the snow

My day started a little later than I'd planned when I woke up and realized that it was close to 7:00 AM. I can't recall the last time I slept later than 6:30 AM on a weekend day so that was very unusual. I was fairly exhausted this week and I obviously needed the rest. I had an early appointment so I missed my opportunity to get a run in before I left. I wouldn't have cared that much about missing the chance to run early but the weather report is calling for a blizzard and I really wanted to get out before that hit. Actually a run in a blizzard would probably be fun but I didn't want to invite injury from slipping.

I went out around 10:00 AM with a plan to cover 4 or 5 miles. I had hoped that my eight hours of sleep (I average six) would provide an enhanced level of energy. That was not the case. It was cold when I stepped out and the wind made it feel like a chilly 15 degrees. Soon after I took off I noticed that my HRM strap was working its way down from my chest. That has happened before for reasons I can't really understand. Perhaps it's due to a lack of humidity and no bottom compression layer. After removing the strap on the fly I headed back to my house and threw it on my lawn so it wouldn't distract me any further. Despite the dry cold air, and wind that was sapping my energy, I was determined to cover my distance. The effort on the hills seemed to be amplified from the cold air and this caused my breathing to become labored. The first two miles were a struggle but after that I adjusted to the elements and maintained a moderate pace. When I finally arrived on the road that connects to my street I felt like I'd accomplished far more than a recreational run.

I ended up covering 5 miles with a mid-9 minute pace. Not as fast as I wish I'd run but under the circumstances it met my needs. The snow is beginning to come down and in two hours the volume will be "severe." I love the snow but not the shoveling. I hope I saved enough energy for that fun activity later in the day.

Friday, December 18, 2009

ATAYNE(ing) running success and social responsibility

This week I received a couple of running shirts from a company called ATAYNE (pronounced attain) and I am very excited about it. The shirts are truly beautiful, well made and cleverly designed. What I like most about these shirts is that they are made from 100% recycled materials and function as high performance athletic gear. We'll be giving these products a thorough test and will report our findings on Runner's Tech Review when we do. In the meantime think about giving a socially responsible shirt to your favorite runner this holiday season.

I needed a little more than great gear to get me through my run this morning. I did an elliptical workout on Thursday and this morning I awoke to 18 degree weather and a headache courtesy of last night's work holiday party. Now don't get me wrong, it isn't like I had a lot to drink. I didn't. It's just that nowadays, if I drink anything I pay for it the next day. I love Chimay Blue but it will be a while until I have another. Even with the cold and the ache I hit the road at 4:00 and covered 2.25 miles at a comfortable pace. Today's run was necessary to reinforce that neither cold nor (self created) discomfort are excuses to skip a run. I'm hoping to put some longer miles on the road or trails this weekend. I also need to complete and post my 2010 goals. New Years is only 2 weeks away!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Will I run faster if I go back to Nike+?

I was talking with my colleague KWL yesterday and he mentioned that he'd been running with his iPhone using the Nike+ sensor. As frustrated as I was with my Nike Sportband experience I will concede that the core technology worked very well. The corrosion of the LCD display and the eventual refusal of the Sportband to upload run data prompted my switch to the Garmin 50. All the same, the sensor, when positioned properly and correctly calibrated, did a good job of capturing data from my runs. KWL loves his iPhone and this system works for him. He showed me some data from his runs that revealed that his paces are in the high-7 to low 8-minute mile range. I'll admit I was a bit jealous to see that, especially since he runs in training shoes, not running shoes. It made me think about why I typically run between the mid-to-high 8's and the mid-9's while other recreational runners are a minute or more per mile faster. Of course I know others who run in the 10-11 minute range. It doesn't really matter though. If you're running then you're doing something right.

This morning my one goal was to go out and have a better run than Monday's. Within a few minutes I could tell that I had more strength today and, while it wasn't one of those effortless runs I've written about, it wasn't a struggle either. I had a little more time today so I stretched out my route and ended up covering 2.5 miles in about 23 minutes. Along the way a thought about my cadence and wondered how I could increase it to gain more speed. Eventually I stopped thinking and just looked at the scenery as I ran, happy to know that yesterday's difficulties were behind me.

Finally, I got a note yesterday from a fellow runner/blogger, Bjtsven , who shared some of his 2010 running goals with me. I found one of them to be very insightful: "I've never had a goal to run a full marathon only a half, however, friends knowing I run always ask if I've run a marathon. So I figure to do it once and be done." I'm not ready to take on 26.2 miles at this point but I think that's as good a reason as any!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pledge your own race miles in 2010

I'm feeling very good about the idea of combining running with giving and I am very pleased with the number of people who have said they would consider my suggestion of self-pledging based upon the number of miles they run next year. I'm going to put a tracker on The Emerging Runner that displays my progress. Anyone else who wishes to display their own progress is welcome to email their stats and I'll display them as well.

After a couple of really good runs this weekend on the trails at Stillwell Woods I returned to the street for a morning run. I felt fine when I woke up, got ready ahead of schedule and appreciated that running conditions were very good: mid-40's with just a little wind. I wore my ASICS for a change and they didn't feel tight enough as I set out. That was too bad, annoying but not worth a stop to re-tie them. I felt fatigued in the first few minutes and I hoped that would give way to more energy as I hit my stride. I never reached that point though, the entire run was a slog. I felt like I was carrying a pack or a sand filled vest. From beginning to end it felt like I was working too hard. I only covered about 2.2 miles and was happy to return home after that unsatisfactory run. All the same, I did my daily work and I really hope I'll feel more energetic tomorrow.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ho Ho Ho - Nothing says Christmas like a Speedo

On the news this morning was a clip of the Santa Speedo Run that takes place in Boston each year. The video showed numerous people running down Boylston Street wearing nothing but running shoes, red Speedo style bottoms (tops where appropriate) and Santa hats. Yesterday was cold on Long Island and it's usually colder still in Boston. The course runs 1.25 miles which doesn't seem long enough to build up any heat but most participants were smiling. The rules for entry are surprisingly strict, runners must have attained at least $250 in sponsorship commitments and the field is limited to 500. Also, no thongs! This was reinforced on the website in bold red lettering.

This charity race has made me think about what more I can do for others and as I develop my goals for next year. I'd like to do at least one race where I raise money for a deserving cause. I'm proud of my children because they have donated from their savings every holiday season since they were very young. My wife and I match their funds along with our own giving. This year perhaps we can supplement our gifts with a running related charitable donation. I will try to find one with a formalized pledge system but, short of that, I'll just plan to donate $5 for every mile I run in a race in 2010. I think running is a gift we give ourselves so sharing some of that pleasure will be a great thing to do.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lost and found - but mostly lost

I had such a nice experience at Stillwell Woods yesterday that I decided to return this morning for another run on the trails. My plan today was to do the majority of my run within the interior of the Preserve. I figured I'd be more protected from the wind than yesterday so dressed a little lighter. I also wore my Helly Hansen Trail Lizards because I knew that I'd encounter some technical terrain and I'd need all the help I could get. That turned out to be far truer than I'd anticipated so it was a good choice of footwear although at times I wished I'd brought something with a little more horsepower like a 250cc dirt bike. But since I have not been on a 2-wheel gasoline powered bike since Reagan was president I needed to get by with two legs.

My first thought every time I enter Stillwell is how long it will be before I get lost. It's a given that will happen but I don't worry about it since there's only so far you can go before you reach civilization. My second thought is how to avoid the spectacularly difficult inclines that are carved out within the woods. I am good for a 10-12% grade with the right shoes but some of hills are much greater than that. I made a mistake within the first few minutes when I misjudged a path off the field trail, thinking I was traveling east when I was actually heading south. I eventually figured out my error when I came upon a construction site near the railroad tracks and I reversed direction taking another path the brought me back to the field trail.

I eventually made my way north and then east, encountering trails that were increasingly difficult. At one point I came down a steep path that put me at the bottom of a valley where all exit routes were as steep as the trail that brought me there. I knew I had to go somewhere and I didn't really feel like tackling any of the available options. After a second look I saw a more level path (relatively speaking) that got me traveling east. On the way back I ran into a few more steep challenges. I was growing tired but my larger concern was that I may have been redirected away from my intended direction and that I would end up exhausted and far from the the trail head.

I ended up becoming waylaid north as I grew closer to the western side. The trail literally ended and I followed the path back the other way. The sound of men playing flag football gave me hope that I was relatively near my destination and after a while I saw the path open in a way that told me I was nearing the open field. I was very happy to reach the trail and I followed it back past the trail head to the parking lot. According to the Garmin I covered 4.26 miles in what was a much more rigorous workout than what I did yesterday. I was pleased to have completed two trail runs this weekend and I left Stillwell once again with the feeling that I could run those trails 100 more times  without ever really knowing just exactly where I was.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Today's tale of the trail

Today will be a busy day, we're hosting our annual family holiday party and before long the house will be filled. Knowing that my window of opportunity for running would close by mid-morning I headed to Stillwell Woods around 8:00 AM to get in a trail run. I'll admit that my definition of trail running is fairly broad. Recently my trail runs have consisted of running the hard-packed dirt track that circles the open field that sits to the west of the woods. Technically it is a trail but it's not very challenging. Still, I love the experience because I do run by the tree line on all sides and I appreciate the more forgiving surface of dirt versus the usual pavement that I run on most days.

Today was cold - 23 degrees without wind - and there was wind. I decided to run the field course four times and then head into the woods for a change of scenery. Half of the field trail was pleasant and the sun exposure made my first four minutes very comfortable. Once I headed north the wind hit me head-on and the sun was blocked by the taller trees. I wore three layers of long-sleeved tech shirts, a pair of compression shorts and my Champion tight running pants over that. I also wore my heavier running hat that covers my ears and my ASICS glove-mittens that came in handy when I needed access to my watch. I wished I had worn my balaclava when the wind was hitting with force but by the second time around my body had regulated enough to almost appreciate the cold.

After four loops around (about 3.4 miles) I peeled off onto a wooded trail that I had never followed before. Soon I came to a split with marker that said "more difficult" to the left. I took that route, not for the challenge but to hopefully connect with another trail that would put me back on the field trail so I could finish. I came upon some very technical terrain, loose rocks and dirt and straight-up hills. I managed to make it through that but I wished I had my Helly Hansen's at that point. I finally reached the connecting trail and I followed that back to the trail head. In total I covered about 4.4 miles in a little over 40 minutes. It was a great run and I again appreciated that one of the great trail preserves on Long Island sits less than five minutes from my home.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The hardest thing about running can be getting out of bed to do it

Every time I race I post my race number on a wall in my office. I like the way they look and it's a constant reminder of the need and benefit of balancing work and non-work activities. People often ask me about my running when they see this display. Recently, when I told a person that I run at 4:00 in the morning they said I'm fortunate that I find that an easy thing to do. I didn't correct them (how can you explain voluntary suffering to a non-runner?) but it made me think about what I do to maintain a consistent schedule of running and fitness.

Every morning, when I wake up, I know I'll need to talk myself into my daily activity. It starts with guilt. I know that if I give into the desire to rest I'll regret that decision for the rest of the day. My wife said a similar thing to me about it in terms of her motivation. It's a slippery slope and inconsistency only makes it harder. When I went out this morning for my run I knew that I'd be facing more than sleepiness once the first slap of chilly air hit my face. The starting point was 23 degrees and the wind probably pushed it down to the low teens. I knew I had a couple of miles ahead of me so I started thinking about things that would help me finish so I could return to my warm house and watch the news at 4:30 AM with a hot cup of coffee in hand. I was once told by a trainer that my walking stride is very efficient, it's almost as if I'm walking downhill when I'm not. As I ran this morning I imagined that I was running downhill the entire time. This worked for me and I felt as though I could push harder and that helped generate some heat which made me more comfortable.

By the time I finished I'd covered about 2.25 miles and while I'd warmed up some over that 20 minutes I was still very cold when I reached my house. I don't spring out of bed every day in anticipation of my running experience. There's a figurative wall to climb to get out the door. Sometimes that wall is so high it seems impossible to breach. Most of the time I figure it out even if I have to trick myself into doing it. But I know that the only way my collection of race numbers will grow is to do what I do every morning.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My problem is imprecision

Much about running is related to precision and consistency. The difference between a 2:03:57 marathon finish time and a 2:04+ time is huge. When I finished my 8K this summer in 44:30 I thought I'd nailed it under 9:00 per mile. Before I finished my post race banana I realized that 8K is actually 4.96 miles and my finish time actually reflected a 9 minute pace. I guess that's why people run intervals, do hill work and fartleks. It's all about squeezing that extra few seconds that makes the difference between a PR and a run. I believe that runners become better at maintaining consistency over time and one of the things that separates an emerging runner like myself from an established runner is that consistency. While I may run 3+ miles at 8:45 on one day, the next day I may find myself in the mid-9's for no reason that I can understand. Those runners who I look to for guidance on running can generally nail whatever pace they wish on each run.

A while back I stopped checking my pace during my runs because I felt it put too much pressure on me and detracted from my enjoyment of the experience. I was thinking that this change had made me a slower runner, but upon reviewing my times from earlier in the year, I've discovered that not to be true. I'm generally faster now but my range of paces is wider. This morning I set out to run at whatever pace felt right. I wasn't energized, that's often the case at 4:00 AM, but I tried to step it up after a while. In the end I only managed 9:31 per mile while on an almost identical run earlier this week I was closer to 9:00. I may resume checking pace during runs for a while to see if I can maintain greater consistency while I work on bringing down my pace. That's precisely what I need right now.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The great indoors

Weather reports were calling for snow this morning so I planned ahead to stay inside. Working out indoors is a great time saver, especially the night before when I spend ten or so minutes preparing my gear for my morning runs. No need for headlamps, reflective vests, hats, gloves, etc., when you're on the treadmill or elliptical. I woke up and looked outdoors to see a winter wonderland. The neighborhood had a coating of about an inch of snow and I debated whether to go out and run just because it looked so nice.

I realized that I'd be way behind on prep and wouldn't even get 20 minutes in so I chose the elliptical instead. That was a good choice for two reasons. First, I got in 30 minutes and played around with resistance to help build up my quads. Second, in the time I was working out on the elliptical the winds had picked up and the rain had moved in and I would have been caught in it had I chosen to run. My elliptical workout was just perfect and I appreciated going 30 minutes during the work week. I'm hoping that whatever is coming through New York today will be finished by tomorrow. If it's cold but dry tomorrow morning I'll run outside. If it's cold and wet I'll be back on the treadmill. I'm still ambivalent about that but it sure beats the soggy alternative.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Give us this day her daily tread

Every weekday morning, as I step out of the shower, I hear the modulated whine of the treadmill from the guest room. As long as we've had our treadmill my wife has used it daily for her workouts. While I dutifully cover my miles each morning, my time-span pales in comparison to hers. She typically endures 45 minutes daily, walking at a rapid pace about half the time and running the balance. My wife isn't planning to switch to road running but I'll bet, with her excellent form, that she'd do very well as a runner. Her approach to fitness is simple and practical: get up and get it done before the kids wake up and start their day.

My day starts earlier than my wife's but not by much. I got out this morning at around 4:10 AM which is a few minutes later than I usually start. Putting on all those layers in defense of the 34 degree temperatures (plus wind) adds to my prep time. I ended up covering 2.3 miles in around 21 minutes. I had no problem with fatigue since I rested yesterday but I did not feel as though I was running efficiently. No matter though, I managed to warm up and was fairly comfortable by the second half of the run. While it was cold (the head on-wind caused my eyes to tear) we still haven't reached those days that require full face coverage. When the temperatures hit the teens I'll need to decide how much I really dislike the treadmill.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A shoe-in for holiday shopping

Sunday's weather was much better than Saturday's and I headed out around 7 AM with the intention of covering more distance than I'd done in any other run over the last week. It was colder than I expected and I regretted not bringing a hat that covered my ears. I knew that the heat I'd generate from running would eventually resolve that and it did after about ten minutes. I headed over to neighborhood #2 for a change of pace and did the widest loop I could navigate and ended up covering about 4.75 miles at 9:08. I then returned to my nice warm house where everyone was up and ready for breakfast. Before long my brother and his family headed into the city to see my dad and to take in the sites at Rockefeller Center and Central Park. We had a fun visit and it was great seeing them again after visiting them in Boston just a few weeks ago.

I heard from my friend at work who recently ran the Baltimore Half Marathon with an impressive time. She suffered some injuries post-race and was advised by her doctor not to run for some weeks. I was happy to hear she was back on the road and running pain-free. She recently bought Brooks Adrenalins after analysis at Jack Rabbits in Union Square. I'm very curious to hear her impression of the 10's since they are on my short list for when I replace my 9's that have about 400 miles on them at this point. I'm also interested in the new ASICS GEL-2150's and the Mizuno Wave Inspire 6's. It's great when you have to buy new running shoes. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Weekend update

Saturday was a busy day that started with an 8:00 AM appointment. A little later that morning my brother and his family came in for a weekend visit and my kids were thrilled to have yet another opportunity to play with their almost-3 year old cousins. Between the four of them, the energy was non-stop for nine straight hours. The rainy weather limited our options but we ended up having a very good day indoors.

Before our guests arrived I went out for a run in the neighborhood. The rain was picking up by the time I started around 9:00 AM and it was a little chilly, in the high 30's. I debated whether to stay in and run on the treadmill or brave the wet and cold. Unless the rain is torrential or the temperature is approaching zero the treadmill isn't likely to win that debate and it didn't yesterday. I set out after equipping with two layers of tech jerseys and compression pants. I wore my ASICS lightweight running jacket that, being waterproof, was perfect for the conditions. Even though I rested two days during the work week I got in some good runs on the other days. Yesterday I wanted to get out for more than the 23 minutes or so that I have available during my morning routine and I ended up running 32 minutes at a 9:01 pace. I was happy with that because I wore my Adidas trail shoes due to the rain and wet.

I'm planning to get a run in this morning before everyone wakes up. If I don't time it right I may need to a little later in the morning. According to the weather report the rain has moved on but the temperature right now is 34 degrees. Just the way I like it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

It's Friday, disguised as a Wednesday

Friday's at the office are usually low key days that provide an opportunity to catch up on things that couldn't be completed earlier in the week. There are fewer meetings and most people (like me) take a break from suit and tie formality and look ahead to the start of the weekend. This week has been busy, perhaps the busiest week I've had this year. Today is no different and with eight meetings on the calendar it felt more midweek than end of week as I left for the office this morning. In the spirit of business dress I left  behind my Garmin 50, my psychological bridge to the weekend that I normally wear on Fridays. I love what I do and I prefer to be busy so I'm not complaining. I do miss the summer when Fridays would often finish early, affording me and AG time to fit in a city run before starting our respective weekend exits. I am hoping to return to running in the city more frequently after the holidays if things slow down in January as they usually do.

This morning I did my run at 4:00 AM and I was happy to have good weather after yesterday's wind and rain that forced me to run indoors. I think it was the relief of being on the street and watching the world go by that made it an especially good run today. I didn't run especially fast but I felt strong. From beginning to end the run felt effortless. I got caught up in my thoughts a few times and found myself farther along the run than I'd realized. I've heard about people who can zone out while running but I'd never experienced it before. Perhaps I'm becoming a more efficient runner and that allows me to redirect my focus away from the physical effort. More likely I was half asleep. All the same it worked for me today and I expect that today's workout will help power me through a challenging workday, once again.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Taking path B (make that tread B)

I awoke from a pleasant night's sleep to the percussive sound of rain on the bathroom skylight. I needed to make a decision whether to brave the rain or to stay indoors and use the elliptical or (shudder) the treadmill. I didn't run yesterday and I skipped Monday because it's my rest day. Sunday's run was a slow, short run with my daughter so I'd really only had two cardio workouts since Saturday. I knew I needed a workout and I surprised myself by choosing the treadmill. My decision to run on the treadmill was related to a logic process that I use often during my weekend runs: if path A is similar but easier than path B, take path B. For example, If one road leading home extends the run an extra half mile or has a challenging hill while the other is shorter, flatter, etc., why not accept the tougher option? That's why I chose the treadmill.
It was the first time that I stepped on our treadmill since June. I've been running outdoors at 4:00 AM since then and using the elliptical when conditions forced me to stay inside. I ran on a treadmill while up in Boston a few weeks ago which helped prepare me psychologically for today's experience. The display on our decade-old treadmill is flaky so I set the pace according to my readiness to run. I wore my Garmin 50 to track my distance and pace but I didn't refer to it during my run except to check on time elapsed. Treadmill time is brutally slow. With no distractions the minutes can pass like hours. It really wasn't as bad as I'd remembered it but I missed the experience of changing scenery.
With no information about my pace I moved along fairly well. I ended up covering 2.5 miles at an 8:34 pace - much better than I usually do on the streets at that time. I have every hope that tomorrow morning's weather will be more hospitable. While the treadmill may be a tougher path than the outdoor option that is one case where I'll always choose path A.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Day off from running

I don't often catch colds although I do occasionally get symptoms that I fight with a combination of rest and exercise. This week I've suffered a sore throat that quickly gave way to a sinus headache and fatigue. I'm pleased that it hasn't gone further than that but I wish it would just go away. I laid out my running gear last night but when I got up this morning. I questioned whether exercise would do more harm than good and briefly considered an elliptical session but I ended up getting back in bed until 5:00.

I have a very busy schedule today with a presentation mid-morning so I decided to go the resting route instead. It was a morning made for running so I had slight pangs of regret as I headed out for the train today. All the same, I have learned that while sometimes the best response to an impending illness is to fight back with a rigorous workout, some days the best exercise is rest.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A good impression of compression

A few years ago I was walking with a colleague from work on a very cold winter's day. She was wearing a skirt and tights and seemed comfortable with the below ten degree temperatures while was freezing in my suit and long wool coat. I asked her how she seemed so comfortable and she told me that her tights kept her legs very warm. She said the tight fit seemed to insulate better than pants. I was skeptical at the time but after some experience with compression running pants I have to admit there's a big difference in the amount of heat you retain. I also feel much more energized when running in these pants (I have three pairs now) and I believe my 8:19 pace during Saturday's race was helped out, somewhat, by the compression technology and warmth.

This morning it was 34 degrees outside so I dressed in layers, a long sleeved compression top, long sleeved tech top and short sleeved tech top plus reflective vest and my Brooks hat. Below I wore my new Nike compression pants and a pair of crew length Timberland athletic socks and it was perfect for the morning conditions. I headed north from my house up a slightly inclined road and was hit head-on by what I'm guessing was a 5-10 MPH wind. I was happy with my choice of clothes and I stepped it up a bit to try to warm up faster. Overall I covered 2.5 miles at around 9:10 per mile. Not exactly PR numbers but at 4:00 AM on a chilly morning I'll call it a great run.

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