Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Out and about time

Granger's "safer" waterproofing spray

Today's workout (street run): 5.6 miles at 9:29 pace

The rain finally stopped this morning and I didn't waste any time getting out for a neighborhood run. For me, the experience of running on the treadmill versus running outdoors is very different. In that running outdoors actually provides enjoyment. There was still a fine mist in the air when I set out around 7:00 AM. I headed directly to neighborhood #3 because I haven't run there in a long time and I needed a change of scenery. My original plan was to run neighborhoods 2 and 3 and then cover a couple of miles in my own neighborhood. There was a lot of traffic on the service road that needed to be crossed to get to the other areas. Crossing over to #3 is safe because there's only one direction for traffic and it's easy to see cars long before they reach the crossing point.  The light rain was burning off by the time I hit the first mile but, despite 40 degree temperatures, there was some humidity fogging my sunglasses. With a slight breeze it was still pleasant and once the mist stopped it felt drier and cooler.

Once through neighborhood #3, I headed back to my main neighborhood, skipping 2, because the traffic I'd need to cross on the service road was too heavy for comfort. On weekend mornings it's much different to run along that section. I dressed exactly right and felt increasingly stronger throughout the run. This didn't translate into a fast pace but it felt great and I got some good mileage in on a weekday, always a bonus. It looks like the sun may actually make an appearance this afternoon and if it does I'm planning to experiment with Granger's G-Max Universal waterproofing spray on my Helly Hansen Trail Lizards. I bought this spray because it appears to be safer and more environmentally responsible (according to the label) than the solvent-based sprays that come with warnings that take up an entire side of the can. It will be great if the spray provides a moisture barrier on these shoes because I often have to step around large puddles on the trails at Stillwell. I know the shoes aren't engineered to be waterproof so they will likely let in some water. However, the spray may help keep things a little drier.

With all the rain we've had since Saturday, the trails will surely be soaked for the next few days. It would be great to have a little extra protection should I head to Stillwell or Muttontown this week. It's great to finally run outside.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pre-run dynamic stretching has its merits

Today's workout (treadmill): 2.5 miles at 9:05 (2% incline)

Ugh. That describes the wet weather outside and my experience on the treadmill this morning. Long Island is getting 4"-6" of rain over the next 24 hours on top of all the rain we've seen since Friday night. Yesterday was a nice break from exercise and I really needed some rest. I had been experiencing some slight pain in my right knee and intermittent pain in my left abductor muscle that may have been related to extra mileage on hills over that last two weeks. With any thoughts of an outside run washed away with the steady rain, I turned to the treadmill for my run.

I had just read in Running Times about dynamic stretching. This method differs from static stretching in that it activates muscles rather than relaxing them. As it happens, my pre-run stretching is already dynamic. Using a couple of of exercises that AG taught me I usually do a few leg swings and knee cradles before I start. I decided to add a few more to the mix today and I did feel very loose before I started my run. The treadmill belt is still unstable and we're waiting for a new motor that will theoretically resolve the slipping and jerking issue. I am able to avoid that for the most part by keeping to the left but the possibility of a slip is definitely an unwanted distraction during my run. I spent a couple of minutes warming up at a slower pace and then hit the start button on the Garmin after pushing the speed to 6.6 MPH. I'd also set the incline to 2% and the combination of a relatively brisk pace (9:05 on the treadmill feels like 8:40 on the street to me) and the slight elevation made my first mile difficult.

I settled into the run and managed to tough it out long enough to cover 2.5 miles at speed before I switched off the Garmin and cooled down for another ten minutes at a slower pace with no incline. It wasn't an enjoyable experience but it was a good workout. Additionally, I finished the run with no knee or muscle pain. The air was especially dry and I really appreciated the coconut water that I used for re-hydration. I'm really hoping that by tomorrow morning conditions will be favorable for an outdoor run. Much as I like the new treadmill, it doesn't provide the satisfaction of running outside.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Rain, rain (don't) go away

Today's workout: Rest day

We changed our plans for a short vacation in western Massachusetts when we saw that the current torrential rainstorm's duration would coincide exactly with our scheduled time away. Instead we stayed local and amused ourselves with distractions that included a Wii tournament. I was soundly whipped at tennis by my daughter and out boxed by my son. Well at least I got a little exercise. Very little.

Tomorrow's weather looks to be equally stormy but I'm hoping that there will be a window of time when the rain stops long enough for me to get in a neighborhood run. Barring that, I'll return to the new treadmill and work around the slipping belt by staying farther to the left side. I got a notification that the new parts have been shipped so it shouldn't be long before the treadmill becomes more of an asset than a liability.  Thursday, Friday and the weekend days look to be much more running-friendly than today, tomorrow and Wednesday so I'm sure I'll still get plenty of miles in on this vacation.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Once around the neighborhood

Today's run (street): 3.6 miles at 9:15/mile

Today's weather has turned dark and gloomy and I'm expecting to see the predicted cascades of rain starting at any time. The morning's skies were brighter but the temperatures were colder and I made the mistake of putting on too many layers for my run. I have been pushing myself more than usual over the last couple of weeks but I haven't focused as much on my speed as I have on hill training. I'm racing the Marcie Mazzola 5K in two weeks and I want to tune my conditioning for the killer hill at the start of the race. At least the race organizers were kind enough to design the course so that the hill is at the beginning rather than making it a dreaded obstacle near the finish.

Last night we got together with friends for dinner. Our hosts are fantastic cooks and this led to some untypical overindulgence at mealtime. Adding to that, I had my monthly beer (a Budweiser of all things!) and more calories came later when we all celebrated my wife's birthday with homemade desserts. Due somewhat to that, I wasn't exactly raring to get out and run this morning. We're traveling tomorrow and I probably won't have a chance to do a workout before we leave so I needed to get in a run today. I decided to start by running the three mile perimeter of our neighborhood. Along the northern road (Jericho Turnpike) there is a hill that goes on for a third of a mile. I thought that would provide a good challenge within a fairly low key run and I was pleased by how easily it went compared to the last time I tried. After reaching the apex of the hill I turned into the neighborhood proper and finished with a total distance of 3.6 miles. I was sweating quite a bit by the time I got home, having broken the cardinal rule about dressing for the second mile rather than the first.

9:15 isn't exactly burning up the road, but given that I completely ignored any thought of pace I was happy with where I ended up. It was a successful weekend of running and I'm glad to have done a good series of hill workouts over the last nine days. I look forward to my rest day tomorrow and I hope to get in at least one trail run as we visit the Berkshires for a few days next week.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

If I'm on vacation why am I working so hard?

Today's run (Stillwell Woods): 4.75 miles

Winter showed up again on Long Island this morning - 28 degrees with a steady breeze from the east. This is my first day of vacation and I decided to start things off with a trail run at Stillwell Woods Preserve. I have no issues running in weather like this because my body temperature usually regulates after a few minutes and that was the case today. After a week of workouts that focused on inclines, (both on the treadmill and elliptical) I thought that Stillwell would be a nice change of scenery.

The morning sun was very bright at 8:00 AM when I set out for my run and as I made my was past the trail head I noticed a number of frozen puddles on the main path. I maintained a moderate pace to conserve energy that I knew I would need once I encountered the many steep inclines along the trails. I took a different route than I normally take to get into the interior of the Preserve and was rewarded by about eight minutes running on relatively flat, narrow singletrack. Shortly after that I hit a cross point and I needed to decide which way to go next. Using the position of the sun to help navigate east worked well until the trail switched back and forth a few times. I ended up on a path that terminated south at a fence. I had a pretty good idea from previous runs that this path was going to end but I wanted to attack the steep hill that led up to the end of the trail. Once I got to the top I saw a path that led east. The trail was steeply banked and it twisted around a ledge. I imagined that only a serious mountain biker would dare take on that narrow ledge, one false move would result in a quick drop about 20 feet below. Once I made it down I immediately encountered another steep rise that went on for a while. I gave up any pretence that I could run the whole thing and hiked the last hundred feet until it leveled before rising again.

Once I got past this and a few other challenging hills I returned to the mostly flat trails and headed west, guided by the shadow from the sun. I was pleased that I was able to navigate today without really getting lost and I confidently found my way out to the open field. I did one lap around on that path and then headed out to the athletic fields and finished by running around three of the baseball fields before returning to my car. As usual, Stillwell provided a tough challenge and it forced me to consider my true level of fitness. Don't tell anyone, but I think I did more work today than I did all week in the office!

Friday, March 26, 2010

It's all uphill from here

Today's run (treadmill): 2.4 miles, 4-6% incline

The rain kept me inside this morning but I had anticipated bad weather and planned to run on the treadmill. I recently looked at a chart that compared equivalent paces based upon running speed and inclines. It gave me the idea that I could run at a slower pace (for safety given the treadmill's belt slips) and still get the benefits of a faster pace by increasing the elevation. My run started roughly when my Garmin refused to set correctly. I nearly lost balance when the belt slipped while I was messing with the controls on the watch. Once I got that settled I pushed both my pace and the incline to a point where I was working fairly hard. About six minutes into the run I noticed that the belt would slip most often when I ran closer to the right edge of the tread belt. Moving closer to the left, the belt becomes more stable. Given that the tread belt is barely two feet wide, the range of positions is limited. However, an inch or two makes a big difference in terms of stability.

Running uphill at speed becomes difficult after a while so I decreased the incline for a few minutes to recover and then moved through some different combinations of slower paces and higher inclines (and vice versa). I ended up covering about 2.3 miles at an average pace of 9:50. Considering the amount of effort I'd needed to get through this workout I was surprised to see that my pace was still in the nine minute range. I'm hearing about more rain this weekend but I'm hoping to get out both days to run on real hills that don't slip unexpectedly under your feet. In a way the new treadmill simulates running on technical trails - but not in a good way.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Back to 4:00 AM street runs

Today's run (street): 2.35 miles at 9:18/mile

After about three months of weekday morning runs on the treadmill I returned to the outdoors for my 4:00 AM workout. I'll admit I was a little nervous about going back to the dark streets as I laid out my gear last night. Before, when I was doing these runs daily, it became a familiar routine. This morning it was almost like doing it for the first time. I much prefer to run on ground that isn't moving and our new treadmill is exhibiting some erratic behavior (more on that below) so my best choice right now seems to be running outdoors.

My run went well. I recently read in an article in Running Times magazine that early morning runs like this will yield slower paces. I ran in the lower 9:00 range but, as I've said in the past about these runs, it felt faster than that. I tried to run on streets that have higher inclines because my upcoming race is all about a big hill and I want to be ready. Along the way I encountered a person walking their dog, a surprise to see at 4:15 AM. It really was nice to be back outside and, unless we get rain, I plan to do it again tomorrow.

After a disappointing conversation with a cranky customer service person at Sole yesterday I was concerned about how the company would handle our issue with the slipplng belt tread. After submitting an online form my wife was contacted by the Sole support person who told her that our machine was part of a group that had bad motors (lucky us) and it will be replaced. I can't wait for that to happen! My wife continues to use the machine without much problem and until the motor is replaced I will too. But only if it rains.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Polly Pocket, your running shoes are here!

Today's workout (elliptical/high resistance): 25 minutes

This past weekend I stopped into our local bike store, Bicycle Planet, which was displaying big signs in their windows that said "Clearance Sale." But I wasn't looking for bike gear. This store carries performance apparel from makers like Sugoui, Pearl Izumi and Craft along with other quality brands that specialize in cycling. I was hoping to find a bargain on long sleeved tech shirts that I could use on cold morning runs but even with the sale the clothes were pricey. There were some heavier jerseys with zip fronts that were well priced. Since cyclists ride 3-4X faster than I run they clearly need the wind protection. These jerseys were nice but they didn't meet any current needs so I ended up leaving empty handed. I'll be back soon with my Trek bike which needs a serious tuneup.

The next day we paid a visit to the outlet stores and I did my usual rounds at Adidas (poor selection of running clothes, no bargains on running shoes) and Nike. Nike had little running apparel on display and, for what they had, the prices weren't compelling. I don't care for Nike shoes but I was curious to try a pair of Zoom Equalon 3's that were on special for $80.00. I didn't like the fit and I guess I'm a little biased since my last experience running with Nike shoes was fairly negative. I stopped in at Reebok because it was there (did you know Adidas owns Reebok?) and, again out of curiosity, tried on a pair of their top of the line stability shoes.

Every time I try on Reeboks I understand why no one I know runs in them. The shoes I tried on Sunday felt clumsy, with an awkward transition from heel to toe. As I was leaving I noticed a display for the new ZigTech shoes. They only had smaller sizes to try but I looked at the display models and wondered what the fuss was about. The shoe is bizarre to begin with - a weirdly shaped boot with a strange wavey-springy out sole that doesn't seem fully attached to the shoe. In pictures the shoe looks interesting. In real life it looks like something you'd find on a Polly Pocket doll. I left the outlet stores without a single purchase but with a renewed respect for the gear and for shoes from the real players like Brooks, ASICS and Mizuno.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jerked around by my treadmill

Today's run (treadmill): 2.3 miles at 9:12/mile

The hill work I did over the weekend caused great tightness in my leg muscles on Monday. This morning that tightness was even more pronounced so I decided that the "hair of the dog" approach with more hill climbs would be the best way to deal with it. I had played briefly with the inclines on the new treadmill on Saturday and thought about running one of the built-in programs that included variable elevations. I had not read the treadmill's instructions to learn how to start a speed or elevation program so after a few tries I gave up and used the manual method to set my inclines. A few minutes into my run I began noticing that the tread belt slipped every twenty seconds or so. These slips felt as though the belt was jerking and suddenly pulling forward for a second. It wasn't so pronounced that it threw me off balance but it was concerning. The worst part was waiting for the next slip - nothing like feeling stress while running!

I decided to finish my run despite this annoying problem. I found the incline feature useful and varied the incline between 2% and 4% but backed off on that when the belt slippage became pronounced. The slipping and jerking may be related to inclines because it had not happened before I had used that feature. Unfortunately the slipping happens without an incline so there's no safe condition although it seems to stabilize when the speed is lessened. I sent a note to Sole and I'll report on what happens. It's really too bad, prior to this problem I thought the F63 exceeded expectations.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Your mileage may vary

Today's workout: Rest day

Despite my meticulous efforts to capture my running metrics, I'm realizing that my perception of my overall performance differs from the hard facts. When people ask me about it I usually say I run 9:00 miles. I can run faster than that, but I don't. In truth, I only hit 8:00-something paces a few times a month and most of the time I average between 9:10-9:30/mile. Yesterday, after uploading my latest run into Garmin Connect, I noticed that my average monthly distance is 65 miles. This confused me because, when asked, I usually say I run 20 miles a week. I think part of that delusion comes from when I used MapMyRun to record my metrics and included the distance measurement from my elliptical sessions. In fact, I ran less monthly distance a year ago than today because I was limiting my morning weekday runs to no more than 20 minutes.

In order to really reach the 20 mile per week level I will need to average closer to 3 miles per day during the week (less one rest day and one cross training day) and 10 miles over the weekend. The gating factor is time, not conditioning. However, if I really could average 9:00 per mile I would definitely compile more distance in the same amount of time.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A day in the park (industrial version)

Today's run: 5.5 miles (road) at 9:19

After yesterday's tough trail run I decided to give myself a break and run on the road instead. I didn't let myself off easy though, my first destination was the industrial park that is located a half mile from my neighborhood. I'd been thinking about the Marcie Mazzolla race course knowing that I'll again encounter that hill that stretches for almost a mile. I clearly need to do more hill work and while yesterday was good start in that direction it was useful to duplicate the conditions of a road race. The streets in the industrial park form a 1.2 mile loop with a steady incline when running in the counterclockwise direction. I felt strong as I set out to run from my house to the industrial park. I'd dressed in a short-sleeved wicking shirt and compression shorts that turned out to be the perfect combination, but the first ten minutes of the run were a little chilly with the wind.

As I made my way around the park it occurred to me how similar this course felt to the lower loop at Central Park. Certainly not in terms of visual stimulation (although the density of Canada geese in the industrial park was far higher than in CP) but similar in the location of the elevations and downhills. I didn't know how I was tracking for pace and I didn't really care. It was about the hills and I felt I was holding my own. By the time I was on the third loop I noticed that I felt stronger than I did at the start. When I reached the flat part of the loop that leads to a downhill section I felt like I had done really well. Not only that, I felt like I could do more running, so I took a detour back to my neighborhood and stretched my distance to a total of 5.5 miles.

Next week I will use some of the treadmill's hill climbing programs in my weekday morning runs to help maintain the progress I made this weekend. My overall pace of 9:19 is acceptable to me considering that a good part of today's workout was done uphill. I'm very glad I'm resting tomorrow!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Stillwell printemps

Today's run (Stillwell Woods): 3.75 miles at 9:53/mile

Given the way I felt during most of today's run, I was pleased with the outcome. I had a rare eight hour's sleep the night before and I went out to run at 9:00 AM when I'm usually at my best. Despite having pre-hydrated with coconut water I started out feeling a bit sluggish. I didn't feel weak but I lacked my usual morning energy as I made my way toward the Black trail at Stillwell. My hope was to accurately follow this trail so that I would not get lost. That hope wasn't fully met. I did better than normal in terms of navigation and I even recognized some trails well enough to understand where I was from time to time.

The one time I got lost was when I ran out of trail at the north of the Preserve where it terminates at Stillwell Lane. Soon after heading in the other direction I encountered steep hills and fast drops that tested my conditioning. I felt stronger as I went on but by the 30 minute mark I was fairly exhausted. I reached a crossroad and recognized the direction that would lead me back to the main open trail. I followed that path and did a final lap around the big open section before returning to the trail head. I then ran a lap around the athletic field to finish my run.

It was beautiful weather for outdoor activities and, along the way, I encountered hikers, people running their dogs, mountain bikers and a couple of other runners. Everyone I passed seemed to be in a happy state of mind and politely waved or said hello. Spring is in the air and it felt great today on the trails.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sole F63 - A great first impression

Today's workout: 2.4 mile run at ??:??/mi.

The new treadmill arrived yesterday and the old treadmill is now sitting at the end of the driveway, awaiting Monday's trash pickup. My wife and kids were very excited to see my reaction  as I made my way upstairs to look at the new arrival. They had waited for me to get home so I'd be the first to use it, which was incredibly sweet of them. In truth, my wife should have had the privilege of doing the maiden run because she put far more mileage on the old unit. I expect this will also be the case with the new F63.

I ran a couple of minutes last night to get a feel for the treadmill. First impressions were that it was more elevated, sturdier, smoother and quieter than the ProForm it replaced. This morning I did a real workout, starting slow (just push one button to set a pace!) for a minute before locking in on 6.4 MPH. This translated to a 9:23 pace but it felt faster than that. My Garmin agreed with me, displaying 8:59/mi. The margin of error on the Garmin makes me believe my true pace was closer to 9:05. I'll recalibrate the Garmin tomorrow and compare that to the treadmill to get a better understanding of its accuracy. Aside from this discrepancy the running experience was very good. I appreciated the quiet ride, the fan, the metrics and the solid feel of the unit beneath my feet. After my shower I listened for the whine of the treadmill from my wife, who normally starts her run around 5:15 AM. Nothing. A walk down the hall confirmed she was running on it and I heard her steps louder than the treadmill's motor. My wife liked it as much as I did and she couldn't believe how quiet it was compared to the old treadmill. I think we made a great purchase and, with all the programs and elevations, there's still much more to experience. I really like the new treadmill but with the beautiful weather on the first day of spring, I'm still aiming to hit the roads or trails tomorrow.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Sole of a new machine

Today's workout: 25 Minutes on elliptical

Two points to those who get my headline pun. The picture is a clue. This may be the only time I'll ever say this but I'm excited by the prospect of running on the treadmill tonight. If all goes according to plan we'll take delivery of our new Sole F63 some time this afternoon. This also means that we'll bid farewell to our present unit that has served us well since 1997. I'm not particularly sentimental about inanimate objects (is a treadmill inanimate?) but I'll certainly give some respect to our Pro Form L18 that has provided countless hours of service to me and my wife.

I debated whether I would work out today or save my energy for a rare evening run with the new unit. I decided that an elliptical session was a better option than doing a final run on old L18. Yesterday's run was great and that's the way I choose to remember my experience with that long-serving machine. It will be sad to see it out by the curb when I get home tonight. It will be even sadder still to see it in the guest room because that would mean the Sole delivery people couldn't be enticed to carry the old treadmill down to the end of the driveway. I'm always up for a workout but I wouldn't be thrilled with the prospect of moving a 250 lb. treadmill down the stairs this weekend.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Over the hill

I looked up the course map for the Marcie Mazzola Foundation race and saw that it's basically the same route as last year's run. It looks as though the start has been moved to a different location and the course wraps around Heckscher Park instead of heading west and north of it as it did last year. This translates to a shorter run for 2010, 5K vs. 4 miles. What doesn't change is the big hill that runners encounter about a quarter mile into the race. Last year I was astonished by the length of that incline. I believe the road gains elevation for almost a mile before the street levels off. Last year I did know about the hill prior to the race but I didn't realize what a punch it would deliver. This year I hope to be better prepared for it.

Speaking of hills, I was surprised by the tightness I had in my legs this morning. Yesterday's run was by no means difficult and, although we did scale one big hill, overall, it was a fairly flat run. I definitely need to work on my conditioning if I want to be ready for the 4/11 race. This morning I ran an easy 2.6 miles that felt good and satisfying and loosened up my quads quite nicely. Our new treadmill is due to arrive tomorrow and I'm eagerly anticipating that delivery. Our treadmill is ready to go although its high decibel howling has stopped for the most part. It's a simple machine and our new one is more modern and technical. I'll be pleased to have a dashboard that displays my speed and progress and I'm hoping the new unit is quieter and the motor less rough. Most importantly, the new treadmill is capable of inclines up to 15%. This will be a useful capability as I work to get ready for the big hill on race day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The return of Adventure Girl

I worked from home today instead of commuting into the city but rather than doing my usual 4:00 AM run on the treadmill, I went out to Stillwell Woods accompanied by Adventure Girl. AG came out our way to deliver a guest lecture at my son's school and we took advantage of that circumstance to cover 2.5 miles on the trails. It was the first time that I'd run at Stillwell since the XTERRA race on the 7th and the trail conditions were very different this morning. Unlike on race day, Stillwell's trails were clear of ice and snow and the temperature was heading toward 40. AG and I had not run together since last August so it was great that we had the opportunity to do this run. After a brief warm up we headed into the Preserve with the intention of following the "Black" trail that represented last week's race course. It was difficult to remember the paths I had traveled during the race and as we came upon the many forks we began making guesses as to which direction to follow.

We ended crossing over to the main open trail where the Black trail terminates and followed that back into the woods for a while. Neither AG nor I were looking for this to be a fast run and it was great to look around and talk as we ran. We didn't encounter the rolling inclines that I'd experience during the race but near the end of our run we came upon a steep, carved passage that really woke up my quads. We weren't on that for long but I was grateful for the level ground when we reached the top. I realized later that this hill is one of the 'features' of Stillwell that I've always avoided (though I went down it during the race) on recreational runs. We soon came out to the open field and did a circle along that flat dirt path before we headed back to the parking lot. In all, we covered 2.5 miles and still had plenty of energy to get us through the day. My family reported that AG's lecture went great and we put her on a train back to the city this afternoon. It was a great day for everyone and a wonderful reminder of the great running adventures I had with Adventure Girl last summer.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Head starts for the youth-challenged

It never occurred to me before I started running that a person's age, height and weight were key factors in determining pace. I'd always assumed that fitness was the sole determinant and it didn't matter much if you were 19 or 62, tall or not. I regret that I didn't track my running metrics back in the early 90's when I was two decades younger. I know I ran relatively fast and a lot of that was due to my misunderstanding of the need to develop a good aerobic running method. I would literally run a mile or more at speed while dodging pedestrians and cars through the streets of NYC. With no baseline to use for monitoring progress and with less than ideal running conditions, it's no wonder that I became discouraged and finally stopped. I did participate in a Corporate Challenge race in 1992 but I can't recall my time or distance. I wish I could remember more about that because I likely have a PR that I'll never know about.

In the current issue of Runner's World there's a piece about a race in Colorado Springs called "The Tortoise and the Hare 5K" where runners are weighed and measured prior to the start and are given head starts based upon factors like gender, age, height and weight. The writer is 37, female and 6' 4" tall (not a typo) and she described, due to her head start, how she was almost leading the race for a good period of time before the faster, lower handicapped runners caught up an began to pass her. It made me laugh to read that because in every race I've run I have encountered people who'll jet past me in the middle or near the end of a race. I can hear always hear them coming but there isn't much that I can do to hold them off. In the end it's really about maintaining a pace that works me hard enough to build fitness but not so fast that I lose the joy of the experience. I may have been a miserable 7:00-something runner 20 years ago but I'm a happy as a 9:00-something runner today.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A gloomy day makes for great running

Gloomy but rain-free morning
Despite losing an hour due to daylight savings time this morning I was happy to wake up to an overcast but rain-free sky. Even though I maintained a better than average pace during yesterday's run on the treadmill I was largely unsatisfied with the distance. I felt like I'd worked too hard to cover 2.8 miles even considering that I'd done another 1.2 miles on the elliptical prior to my run. As I ran yesterday I thought about Dean Karnazes who supposedly ran 211 miles on a treadmill within 48 hours. Acknowledging that Karnazes' fitness is at a level that allows this, I still cannot imagine how he handled the tedium of running for two full days without going anywhere. Karnazes claims that he sleeps while he runs during ultramarathons but running on a trail or on straight empty roads is different than running on a treadmill where any stumble can result in hitting the ground (or the tread belt) at speeds of over 6 MPH. I've said it before, treadmills scare me.

The conditions at 7:30 AM this morning were near perfect for a run. The temperature was just shy of 40 degrees and the strong winds from last night had calmed to a steady breeze. The air was humid which caused an odd combination of chill and warmth when I ran directly into the wind. Many times during my run my glasses fogged but it was never so bad that I needed to clean them off to see. I did not give a thought to my pace though I knew I was running slow. When I reached the 34 minute mark I thought about the way I felt on Sunday when I reached the same point during the race. It was a very different feeling running on level and stable ground with no pressure to reach the finish line. By then I knew I could maintain my easy pace for a long time so I decided go for 50 minutes and ended up covering 5.3 miles at around 9:35 per mile. At that pace I felt I could have run another five miles without a problem but I had told my wife I was going out for 45-50 minutes and I didn't want her to worry.

On days like this I sometimes think about my readiness to run a half marathon and I'm sure I could complete one with some more focused training. In the meantime I'm considering running the 10K in this year's Long Island Festival of Races and doing the full 5 mile Stillwell XTERRA in June. All in good time, today I was happy the rain held off long enough for me to finish five+ miles feeling strong and fit.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The rain won't stop falling so the elliptical and treadmill are calling

The rain was coming down hard this morning, as expected, so any hopes for an outside run today were dashed. My wife was already on the treadmill so I hopped on the elliptical and joined her for the last 15 minutes of her run. It was a good warm-up for my 25 minute run that followed hers. Between the elliptical session and the start of my run I re-hydrated with a mixture of Zico coconut water and ground chia seed. Between the 15 minute warm-up, the five minute break and the energy mix I was able to start fast on the treadmill instead of working up to cruising speed like I usually do after starting cold. My goal was to run 30 minutes but after less than a mile I decided that was too ambitious. There's something about treadmill running that causes me to silently plead for it to end as soon as possible. As I've mentioned before, the lack of stimuli makes the minutes crawl by like hours.

I bargained with myself to reduce the intended length of the run as I reached the 15 minute mark. I'd already covered more than a mile on the elliptical and I was running at a good clip so I reduced my time goal by 5 minutes. I ended up covering 2.8 miles in about 25 minutes at 8:51/mile and finished feeling like a wet noodle. I've spoken to other runners who tell me treadmill running is far easier for them than street running but for me it's just the opposite. I can run 5 or more miles on the road or trail and come back feeling relatively fresh, but, perhaps due to the static air and the heat in the room, the treadmill is tougher going. With our new treadmill due for delivery next Thursday I'll see if it's the treadmill or just my treadmill that's so exhausting. The rain is predicted to continue through Sunday but perhaps it will be polite enough to stop for an hour so I can take my workout outside.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pace perception, pace reality

I think I may have a distorted idea about what constitutes my "normal" running pace. In my mind I consider myself a 9:00 miler but in truth I'm not. Garmin Connect provides reporting tools that allow you to analyze your history and this helps me compare where I am today against previous periods. Sifting through the data and applying the appropriate filters allows me to see what paces I was doing last year on the treadmill, the road, the track and the trails. My overall pace, current or historical, means very little because it's a blend of those running types. Comparing or just reviewing anecdotal data, I see that my normal road pace is about 9:15. There is a margin of error because this data comes from my Garmin which has an over/under tolerance of about 3%, depending on its state of calibration. I often move the footpod from pair to pair depending on the type of running that I'm doing. When calibrate accuracy to .01 mile on my Adrenalines and then move the footpod to my New Balance trail shoes I'll get a different result. It's an inexact method but it's good for measuring trends over time.

Prior to last Sunday's race I had focused primarily on building up my running legs with less concern about pace. In the first two post-race runs this week I kept the speed dialed down in consideration of recovery. Today I decided to start faster and maintain a pace that was on the edge of discomfort. About halfway through I increased the speed a bit more and at the end I expected to see that I'd run the type of pace I do for road races (8:19-8:40). I was surprised to see the Garmin readout say I'd covered my distance at 9:00 per mile. It sure seemed faster than that. It's possible that the Garmin under-counted because of calibration variance and I was on the treadmill and not on the road. Next week we'll have our new treadmill that will provide a readout that I can compare to the Garmin's. It was nice to run my "normal" pace today, despite my delusions of grandeur.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Happily banished by my pulmonologist

Last night I saw my pulmonologist for my four week post recovery check in. The last time I saw him my testing had shown that my lung capacity was at 82 (normal range is 80-100) while my pressure score was just shy of normal. I had returned to running a couple of weeks prior to that test and I'd been disappointed that my progress wasn't complete. Last night's test confirmed my recovery, I scored 99% for capacity and high normal on the force/pressure scale. My doctor said I am completely free of pneumonia and joked that he didn't want to see me again except as a co-competitor at a road race. I was fairly certain that I was back to form after performing well at last Sunday's XTERRA trail run but, like running, the numbers tell the story best.

This morning I decided to forgo the elliptical in favor of core exercise and weights. I liked that I felt these workouts last week and I added more to the routine to make it more challenging. I'm still using light hand weights for my arm exercises and that seems the right amount of weight for the results I'm pursuing. The weekend's weather is predicted to be rainy, especially on Saturday. Running in light rain can be fun but running in a downpour can be difficult for those of us who wear glasses. I'll watch the skies and hope for a break in the weather. Otherwise it will likely be lots of treadmill and elliptical time for me this weekend.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Running: hubris and humility

Almost every morning I see one or two runners on the road as I make my way to the train. There is one person I often see running with traffic, all dressed in black. This man seems to shuffle along more than run but that's what works for him. I always wonder when I pass him by whether he thinks "Look at me, I'm out here doing my daily workout, I am better than you." Why wouldn't he think that? If he could read my mind he may have been surprised to know that I'd done my running two hours prior (2.5 miles today) and that I think he's a fool for wearing dark colors and running with his back to oncoming cars. I can't speak for long time experienced runners like my friends CK and CMc who are all zen-like in their running attitude, but for a second year serious runner I am first to admit to succumbing to the hubris of running.

Runners can be competitive and judgemental. We may be good sports but we are quick to compare ourselves to others.
"You walk? Well I run."

"You run? "How far, how often?"
I'll admit to thinking this way more than once. Of course, as in physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Not long ago I met with someone in my office who noticed the race numbers plastered on my wall and asked if I ran. When I told him I did he said he ran too, mostly for fun. I asked him if he raced and he said he did an occasional Corporate Challenge. I later looked him up and saw that he'd recently ran a 3.5 mile Challenge at 6:56/mile. Consider me humbled.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I've already forgotten this morning's treadmill experience

I had a decent run on the treadmill this morning, 2.6 miles at a moderate pace. After the hard trail run on Sunday I planned to take it easy today. I did the first half of my run at around 9:50 and the second half at 9:10. There was nothing particularly interesting about this workout and I realized when I finished that, besides checking my Garmin a couple of times for pace info, I had almost zero recollection of the experience. I came off the machine hot, sweaty and energized but I couldn't think of anything notable about the run.

Although it's an important aspect of my workout routine, the treadmill only provides me with a one dimensional experience. Compared to road running or trail running (that are multidimensional in terms of visual and sensory experience) the treadmill provides little in the way of intellectual stimulation. True, you can make up for that gap by putting a television in front of the machine or by listening to music, podcasts or audio books, but those things aren't really about the running experience. I'm not against treadmills by any means. I just got the good news that our new unit is in transit to the delivery company and I'm eagerly anticipating its arrival. Our new treadmill has built in programs and lots of metrics to help distract from the tedium of running in place.

While looking at speed, incline, time, distance traveled, calories, pulse and pace falls way short of looking at trees, birds and other interesting things along the trail, at least these displayed metrics have something to do with running. No matter what (like anything new and technical) the new treadmill will provide me a new dimension, at least for a while.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The path of enlightenment is cold, wet and muddy

I learned a few things on Sunday about my level of conditioning. They weren't happy lessons but they put my fitness into perspective. The XTERRA crowd was different than the typical mix I've observed at other races. This was a purpose-driven bunch, young, lean and intense. I would have been very intimidated had I participated in this event a year ago. After six races last year I understood what to expect and that my best strategy was to start at a moderate pace and just run my race. Yesterday was both an affirmation that I can run with this crowd (I really was worried about finishing far at the back of the pack) and a reality check that, perhaps, I'm not completely recovered from my pneumonia.

I was prepared to go out for 4.75 miles of tough trails and when they said they'd cut the length to 3.7 I said "easy." I would not have allowed myself a DNF but I also wouldn't have maintained 9:20 on those trails if I'd needed to cover another mile during the race. I truly understood the sensation of lactic acid buildup in my legs as we went from hill scrambles to abrupt descents to rising switchbacks. There were times when I told myself I just couldn't make another hill but I managed to talk my way into pressing on. Sometimes I used the crowd of runners behind me as motivation and other times I told myself  "One way or another you're getting out of the woods so you might as well do it running."

I did make good decisions prior and during the race. I wore warm outer clothes as close to the race start as possible and handed them off to my wife when we assembled for the start. I wore running gloves and noticed many didn't. The gloves helped regulate my body temperature and gave me security that I had protection in the event of a fall. I refused to let the other runners intimidate me as they drafted closely behind on narrow trails and I left room on the left for those who wished to pass. I took the time to enjoy what was happening around me and took note of the course for future training. Next time I run at Stillwell I'll take on the black trail and not shy away from the tough stuff. There will be another Stillwell race in June, this one full length, so I'll need to be better prepared if I choose to participate.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

XTERRA report: mud, sweat and tears

Photo finish (for a mid-pack position)

The combination of mud, ice, snow, rocks, scree, hills, drops and gnarly roots steadily transformed my state of mind from happy to miserable over the course of today's 3.7 mile race. In the end it came down to a full tilt sprint to the finish line where I was beat out by half a step (for about 70th place), much to my chagrin.

The XTERRA event at Stillwell had its challenges both on the course and in the planning. None of this was the organizer's fault. First, due to significant budget cuts affecting Long Island's state parks, we were locked out of the public bathrooms. This left us with a single Porta-Potty for the 200+ participants, race staff and spectators. Although that caused delays they weren't measurable and we started only eight minutes later than planned. The other big challenge was the amount of slick ice that remained on the course. A decision was made yesterday to cut about a mile of trails from the route for safety purposes. That said, there were still a lot of treacherous conditions and I saw at least one person limping past the finish line in obvious pain from a tumble on the course.

After a detailed description of the route that helped the runners understand the need to stay on course, they blew the air horn and the 130 or so participants made their way swiftly across the field and into the woods. I was having a blast at that point. My Helly Hansen Trail Lizards were made for conditions like this but when I hit the first of many icy, muddy, twisty trails I thought about how easily a person could trip and fall. With dozens of tightly packed runners jockeying along the singletrack, one misstep could have caused a very large accident. After a while I got used to the course and realized that the black trail is like a roller coaster that goes up or drops every 30 seconds or so. I also realized that I've consciously avoided much of this part of the trail during recreational runs because it's so tough.

With half mile to go in the race, the guy in front of me yelled back and said "we're almost there!" I was very pleased to know that and also glad that they cut the length of the course because I was really feeling exhausted at that point. When we hit the main open trail I could see the finish line but the effect of running on a thick layer of icy snow was jarring and we all stepped gingerly as we leaned in for the final 440. Once we passed the trail head and hit the field I heard a few runners behind me. When we got closer to the finish I could hear the footsteps of another runner determined to beat me over the line. We finished our sprint with a photo finish but I think I lost by a nose. I was so glad it was over and my wife and kids told me that many of those who crossed the line ahead of me had said it was a really rough, slippery course and it was the toughest race they'd ever run. I'll agree with that.

Official results have not been posted yet but I did maintain a 9:20 pace according to my Garmin. Considering that Stillwell usually costs me 30-45 seconds a mile against my road running pace I was happy with that result. Well, another race run and a tough one at that. The Marcie Mazzola  5K in April is my next competition and compared to today it seems a piece of cake. But I don't assume anything in a race so training for that race will begin soon enough.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

16 hours to a cold, wet, muddy mess

Snow and ice covers the main open trail
It's less than a day until my first race of 2010, the XTERRA trail run at Stillwell Woods. This will be the seventh time I've raced competitively since returning to running in 2008. I'm looking at tomorrow's event from a few different perspectives. First, it's a race and that in itself creates excitement. Second, the action of participating in a rigorous 5 mile trail race less than two months after a week's stay in the hospital validates my recovery from severe pneumonia. Third, this race promises to be the single most challenging running experience I've ever faced due to the course and the conditions we'll be facing.

This morning my son and I stopped by the race site to see how the trails were looking. They hadn't marked the course but the website says we'll be running the "black trail." I'm not too familiar with Stillwell's trail markings (which explains why I always get lost when I run in the interior of the preserve) but I'll try to pay closer attention tomorrow. Once we arrived at Stillwell I realized that there's still quite a lot of snow on the ground. As we walked to the trail head we saw that the first 300 yards of the course are covered by a few inches of well-trod icy snow. We followed the main open trail until we came to path that broke to the right and led into the woods to the south. The path was less snow covered due to the trees but there was still enough to warrant careful footing, especially when the trails twisted and dropped.

Interior trail
Muddy singletrack

We continued our hike in the woods and as our trail rose we encountered lots of mud from the melted snow. I was imagining 100+ runners packed together, racing on a narrow trail and kicking up lots of muddy water. My friend KWL suggested that I wear goggles to protect my eyes from the spray but I'm going to have to tough it out with just a pair of glasses. Although we didn't travel too far on our hike I managed to get a little lost, but my 10 year old son navigated us successfully back to the main trail. I wish I could bring him tomorrow. The weather at 10 AM was still chilly and it's made me rethink my plan to wear only one or two light layers. I'll bring some extra clothes to the race which I can leave behind with my "crew" if I decide I don't need them. It's now exactly 16 hours to the start. I hope I can sleep tonight!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Tapering to the core

I was surprised to see snow falling this morning as I made my way to the train station. The news didn't mention it but when I reached the train I noticed a layer of white stuff on the cars that had sat overnight in the parking lot. I don't expect much accumulation but you never know. Tomorrow I'll take a drive over to Stillwell Woods to check out conditions for Sunday's race. I'm hoping that they will have the XTERRA course marked so I can get a better sense of the route. I'm still concerned that I could get lost!

Since I've finished the running portion of my taper I'd planned to rest this morning. I decided instead to do the 15 minute core workout, as I did on Monday, and I'm pleased that the work on some of the exercises is beginning to feel easier. I'm assuming I'm making some progress and soon I'll adopt the "make it harder" suggestions that accompany the Lolo core exercise descriptions and illustrations in the magazine. I always feel energized and stronger after doing this simple workout. I'm not sure if I'll do anything fitness related on Saturday or if I'll be self indulgent and rest. I really wish the race was tomorrow but Sunday will come soon enough.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Guilt gets a bad rap

The idea of running was not very appealing when I awoke at 3:45 AM this morning. I was shocked when I saw the time as I'd expected it to be around midnight by the way I felt. As I made my way to the coffee machine I thought about everything I could do rather than getting on the damn treadmill: return to bed for 30 minutes, do 15 minutes of core exercises then rest before my shower or replace today's run with a lower impact elliptical session. I have learned that the hard effort of running is nothing compared with the guilt that comes from missing a workout. When I choose to rest I enjoy the brief respite from the obligation of exercise but soon after that comes the letdown of missing the endorphic payoff and, later, the nagging sense that I failed to accomplish a conditioning goal. On the other hand, when I do my early run, I feel that if nothing else good happens in the day at least I have that accomplishement under my belt.

Of course I ended up running this morning. In the 18 months since I've been a dedicated runner I've missed very few workouts (thanks to guilt). About a year ago I adopted Mondays as my rest day and that's really been the only time off I've taken, not counting illness. I feel very good about that and if it's all due to guilt then I have to say that guilt gets an unfair rap because, in fact, its really a helpful influence. Due to guilt I had my last run before Sunday's race as a tempo this morning, starting off easy and gradually working up to the edge of discomfort. At the moment all systems seem to be in order, no aches, pains, twinges or anything else to distract me from the challenges I'll be facing. I'm getting psyched for mud and I'll try to have fun with it but I also know it will mean some real work. It will be a long five miles but when I finish I won't have any guilt to deal with.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Wet + warm = muddy racing on Sunday

Last weekend they were predicting snow by mid-week and here we are on Wednesday with the snow coming down light and wet. This, combined with increasingly warmer temperatures that are predicted for the coming days, could make for some interesting conditions at Stillwell Woods on Sunday. Yesterday I was speaking to my friend FS who recently ran a 10 mile NYRR race in Prospect Park. She predicted that Sunday's course will be very muddy. I hadn't thought about that because I was focusing on conditions related to snow. But mud is much more likely. I'm not really sure how I should handle the run in that case since my experiences with mud are limited to navigating around large puddles on the paths. I've always run around, rather than through those areas, because I don't have waterproof trail shoes. I'm hoping that my HH Trail Lizards will hold up under extremely muddy conditions and I'm slightly worried that running in mud will make a tough course even tougher. Then again, if it was easy why would we do it?

I'm getting to the end of my race training and this morning I ran 2.4 miles and felt great throughout the run. However, I'm realizing that those Old Navy RECTECH shirts are cheap for a reason. While they are lighter and provide less friction than cotton they collect sweat like cotton. After today's session I've decided to relegate them to outer layer status and use them for their bright color rather than their wicking performance.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

16 days of Chia living

Christopher McDougall's book, "Born to Run", made a big impact on me when I read it last year. I'd tried adapting my running style based on what I'd read, focusing on landing on the front of my foot instead of striking off the heel. I also worked to increase the number of steps I would take per minute. Both of these actions relate to the running style of the Tarahumara natives who live in Mexico's Copper Canyon region. My transition to this running style got derailed by a bout of pneumonia that kept me from running for over three weeks. When I restarted I had strongly considered buying new shoes that would better enable that style of running. After my gait analysis I discovered that I naturally move off my heel quickly so, instead, I upgraded to the newest version of the shoe I was already using. The only thing that has stuck from the book is an interest in the seeds from the Chia plant. These seeds are mixed with ground corn and lime juice by the Tarahumara's to produce what they call Pinole. The natives claim Pinole provides enough energy to allow them to run distances of 50 miles or longer.

Ground Chia Seed

After reading about these seeds I decided to try them to see if Chia worked the same way on Long Island. Over each of the last sixteen days I have mixed 1.5 tsp. of Chia into drinks or food. In two cases my source of Chia came from energy bars that featured the ingredient, one from Greens Plus and the other from the raw aisle at Whole Foods. The Greens Plus bar was tasty: both chewy and crunchy (due to the whole seeds) as was the Whole Foods bar which was less tasty but much spicier. I looked at the ingredients and saw that it contained chili peppers. I normally like spicy, the hotter the better, but this didn't work as well as I'd hoped. I've discovered that mixing Chia with hot beverages such as sugar free hot chocolate or green tea leads to a disgusting collection of congealed lumpy matter at the bottom of the cup. Mixing with cold fruit juice or water is better and mixing with coconut water is the best because the taste combination is quite good.

With two-plus weeks of experience using Chia to draw on I really can't say that it's helped. My runs have been good throughout this period and I've successfully fought off a cold during this time. This morning I felt great throughout my 2.5 mile run. Was it the Chia? Probably not. I'm guessing it was good rest and two recent core workouts. Still, I plan to stay with the Chia routine for its other benefits like high levels of Omega 3-6-9. It couldn't hurt and it just might be helping.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Anticipating my less boring treadmill

This weekend seemed longer than most, probably because it started with an early homecoming on Friday due to the weather. I was pleased with my weekend running performance and I feel that I'm fully back to strength at this point. I do miss running in venues other than my neighborhood but neighborhood runs are still preferable to treadmill runs. Speaking of which, our new Sole F63 treadmill should be shipping soon. I'm curious to see if the running experience will be noticeably different from the unit we have now. If nothing else, the new treadmill will have some additional features and programs and will have a big display that shows speed, distance, time and other metrics. That should provide some good distractions while I'm using it. I'm also thinking about re-equipping my office with a set of running clothes so I can head out for a run in Central Park whenever the mood strikes.

This morning, owing to my trail race on Saturday, I skipped my rest day and spent 20 minutes on core exercises and another 15 minutes with hand weights. It felt like I accomplished something but I do have a way to go to attain a level of upper body conditioning that matches my lower body. I plan to run Tue-Thu and rest on Fri and Sat. I want to be at my best before I take on the Ewok forest and the Uh-Oh trail (among other challenges) at Stillwell Woods on Sunday.

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