Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A four minute workout that beats an hour's worth of exercise

4 minutes a day - only $14,000!
Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

The skies were clear when I got up this morning but I decided to take the easier road with an indoor run. Part of it was due to time. I'd slept up to my alarm, giving me only 15 minutes to prep, get outside and run. I'm sure that 15 minutes sounds like a lot but, in the early morning, time goes by like a freight train. That is, until you are on the treadmill, where every minute feels like three.

As I ran through my workout this morning, I thought about an article I read on about Tabata training. This training method involves a short duration program (< 5 minutes) consisting of 20-second maximum-intensity sprints separated by 10-second recovery periods. According to the article, a study compared stationary cyclists doing hour-long, moderately intensive, workouts (control group) to another group that did the Tabata training.

Both groups did five workouts a week for six weeks. The control group's weekly duration was 5 hours while the Tabata's totaled just 20 minutes. The control group improved their VO2 max by 9.5% with no change to anaerobic capacity. The Tabata group improved their VO2 max by 14 percent and improved their anaerobic capacity by 28 percent!

It made me think of that $14,000 ROM machine they've been advertising in the back of Popular Science since my college days. The claim is that this machine gives you a complete workout in four minutes a day. If Tabata is for real, then perhaps that's really true. But according to the article, any maximum intensity workout will do the job. You certainly don't need to spend $14K to get the same benefit as pushups.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My perception was better than my reality

Today's run (street): 2.5 miles

Getting up and out the door before 4:00 AM this morning wasn't as hard as I expected it would be. I even got up before my alarm and made it outside five minutes earlier than normal. That's always a bonus because it means that I get an extra five minutes to relax and recover before moving on with my morning routine.

My unexpected energy carried through to the road and I felt as though everything was working great. With the exception of some strong breezes that hit sporadically, conditions were pleasant. My stride felt balanced and my cadence felt quick. I didn't look at my Garmin because I wanted to be surprised by my pace when I completed the run.

I was surprised at the end to see how I performed, but not in the way I hoped. This run felt fast, but it took me almost 90 seconds more to complete than normal. I didn't get it and I still don't really understand how a run that felt so good resulted in such a mediocre time. I can usually predict my pace fairly accurately but I was far off today. No matter though. I enjoyed the run and I'll take experience over speed any day (except race day!).

Monday, February 27, 2012

Why is running so media invisible?

I watched some of the Brooks PR Invitational last night. The entire event, consisting of top high school age runners, was streamed live on FloTrack. It was a fairly low tech, low fidelity presentation, but I appreciated having an opportunity to see this competition. The two events that I watched were the women's and men's 2-mile races and both ended with exciting finishes.

Watching this coverage made me realize how rare it is to see live running competition either on television or on the web. Flipping through my cable stations on the weekend provides multiple opportunities to watch (depending on season) basketball, football, baseball and hockey. In addition there are many programs dedicated to fishing, hunting, extreme sports, surfing, tennis and even hiking. But the only running I ever see is the YES Network program ("Running") that is updated monthly, at best.

With over 20 million people in the US who consider themselves runners, I'm surprised how hard it is to find coverage of the sport. Perhaps it's because running is an activity where people prefer to participate rather than watch. More likely, it's difficult to capture the feeling of a race on a TV screen. But I'd think that a sport that generates over $5 billion in industry revenue can probably support at least one cable channel.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Another windy day run

Today's run (street): 4.4 miles

Any hopes I had for calm conditions this morning were dashed when I looked outside to see the lid of a trash can go skittering by the house. The blowing air was chilly, but at least the sun was out. The winds weren't as strong as they were on Saturday, but they were still substantial. I headed off prepared to face another windy challenge.

When the wind wasn't blowing I actually felt comfortable. I wore a light jersey under a heavier quarter zip along with my favorite track pants that were insulated with my Zensah calf sleeves. I also wore my Grid Tangents that I like as much as the Mirages, if not more.

It was my last run of this vacation and I hoped to end it on a high note. I had great energy from the start, even when managing inclines with the wind at my face. Near the end I encountered a jolting crosswind that made me feel like it was 15 degrees outside, but happily realized that the wind would be to my back for the rest of my route.

I finished today's run feeling like I could have gone a few more miles without much trouble. I'd pushed my pace when I could to make up for the resistance from headwinds. I was pleased with my mid-9:00 overall pace and I'm happy to report that I hit a total of 25 miles for the week. It's back to work tomorrow and the challenge of covering that many miles will be greater next week. I really need to maintain my plan for distance runs on the weekends.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Running like a ninja (sort of)

Today's run (street): 3.3 miles

The local TV station was already reporting 30 MPH winds by the time I went outside for this morning's run. Knowing that, I wore a lightweight windbreaker over a long sleeved running shirt and a balaclava to protect my face and ears from the wind chill. I wasn't sure what I'd encounter once I reached the street, but I was prepared to be challenged when I hit these winds head-on.

Between the jacket and the snug fit of the balaclava, I felt surprisingly cozy. This gear provided great protection from the loud winds that buffeted me on all sides. Getting up the first slight incline was tougher than usual due to the extra resistance from the wind. I settled into my pace once I switched direction from north to east.

I'd only planned to run about 30 minutes so I didn't bother to conserve much energy. The resistance I felt when I headed north, even with a fairly brisk stride, was making little impact on my pace. I didn't encounter too many people along the way, but the few who were out walking their dogs did a double take when they saw me run by in all black, wearing something resembling a ninja mask.

It wasn't until I came indoors that I saw how much sweat I'd collected. It was then that I realized that neither the running jacket, nor the balaclava, provided any capability to wick or evaporate moisture. All the same, I never felt overheated during my run.

I was happy to get in a workout today, despite the sub-optimal conditions. Tomorrow's weather is supposed to be milder and far less windy. That's good because I'm hoping to cap of this vacation week with one last quality run on Sunday.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Impromptu stop at Trailview

Today's run (treadmill): 30 minutes

The areas west and north of NYC got hit with snowy weather this morning, but Long Island only got rain. Still, that was enough to keep me indoors on the treadmill. I wasn't sure how strong I'd feel because, on top of yesterday morning's workout, I did an impromptu hike in the afternoon.

It turned out that all of yesterday's activities must have worked to my advantage. I managed a brisk progressive speed run and covered the last couple of minutes at an 8:00 pace. Or maybe it was just returning to caffeinated coffee.

My hike was at nearby Trailview State Park, where my son and I decided to stop on a whim. I'd run the Trailview paths a few weeks ago and followed the bike path. My son and I chose the hiking path yesterday just to see where it went. We encountered a few steep sections where roots served both as obstructions and as steps to the higher ground. We took on each challenge with hard charges up every hill.

We weren't familiar with the hiking path, but after 20 minutes we'd reached a high point where we could look down on a road that separated us from Stillwell Woods. There were a fair number of hikers and a few runners on the trail, and we watched a couple run down to street level so we could see where path actually ended.

Our hike back was a little easier because we'd done most of the climbing on the way out. There were still some sharp inclines and my son told me he preferred uphills to downhills. We decided to head to Stillwell at another time so he could experience the joys of the Snake Pit and the Uh-Oh trail.

I'm not counting yesterday's hike in my weekly mileage, but we probably covered more than two miles of changeable terrain on our hike. With today's treadmill run and whatever I can cover over the weekend, this will be my highest mileage week in 2012. The seven miles I ran on Wednesday helps that number. However, I'm not sure if I'll try another long run this weekend. Building my base is important, but I also want to avoid injuries.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Revealing an imperfect placebo

Nothing works like the real thing
Today's workout (elliptical): 40 minutes + 15 min light upper body work

It's amazing how easy a moderate elliptical session can feel the day after a long run. Though I've read that the elliptical machine provides a harder workout than perceived, it still seems easier than running the equivalent distance. It certainly did today, and I think I know why.

Following the elliptical, I ran through a series of arm and chest exercises using a device I'd bought at Brookstone a few months ago. The device is short pole that's weighted and sprung in a way that it can be shaken to provide unstable resistance. I think it has something to do with "muscle confusion" that supposedly yields fitness benefits through the technique of constant change. I used the device in the intended way and also used it in the more traditional way, by bending it to build up arm and chest strength.

After I worked out I decided to have a last cup of coffee. It was then that I realized I'd been drinking decaf coffee over the past week. My wife had bought a different brand of decaf (that I usually only drink later in the day when entertaining guests) and I thought it was the fully leaded stuff.

That may explain why I've struggled more than usual in my morning workouts. If that's the case then I probably should be a little concerned about my dependency on caffeine. On the plus side, I did manage to run more than seven miles yesterday with no caffeine. I did not take a single gel or even drink water throughout my 75 minute run. That proves I can deal with having no caffeine in the morning. I'm just happier not to.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Seven hard miles at Bethpage

Today's run (Bethpage State Park): 7.25 miles

It wasn't exactly night and day, but today's run went far better than yesterday's struggle on the trails. I really wanted to stay in and skip my run, but my wife pushed me out the door saying that I'd complain all day if I didn't get my run in.

I decided that a long run was in order, so I went out to Bethpage around 9:00 AM.Yesterday I'd confirmed that the park would be open this week. The last time I visited (admittedly many weeks ago), the gates were closed and locked with a sign saying "Park closed to winter sports."

There were only a few cars parked in the big lot so I found a spot near the entrance to the bike trail. I was a little nervous when I started off, concerned that I'd be once again plagued with low energy and sore legs. By the time I reached the top of the first hill, I knew I had enough fuel to get me halfway through my intended seven miles. The question was whether I'd have enough to get me back.

The weather was very nice -- mid 40's, clear and sunny. Being that it was the middle of the week, there weren't too many runners and cyclists, although there were some. I bounded down the big hill knowing that, when I returned later, it would not be so much fun. I always dread that last challenge, especially after many miles of hard running.

Bethpage's bike trail is rolling, with very few flat sections. There are a couple of steep hills to deal with between miles one and two. At least on the way back you get nice downhills when you need them. It's much easier for me to run long distances at Bethpage than almost anywhere else, because it's a linear course and therefore easier to gauge progress.

I felt fine through the first three and a half miles so, after the turnaround, I picked up the pace to get past a group of walkers who had suddenly appeared ahead of me. Taking on seven miles today was a calculated risk because I have not run that distance in months. My current base is closer to four miles and by mile five I was starting to feel fatigued.

There's a point about 1.5 miles from the trail head where the path rises steeply over a short distance. On the way out it's not a problem on fresh legs, but on the way back it can be a struggle. I used my usual technique of pretending I was running downhill which works okay on 2% grades, but not so good on this monster.

I did manage to get over that hill and enjoy a mostly downhill run over the next quarter mile. Still, that final long hill loomed large and I just kept thinking about how good I'd feel once I finished. The hill was as hard as I thought it would be, and only the view of the top and the level road that followed, kept me going.

I finished my run and semi-collapsed in my car's seat, guzzled 20 oz. of water and headed home. Tomorrow I'll take it down a notch and do an elliptical session at an easy pace. Today's run was my longest in months, and it felt very hard. Hopefully it will push my base a little further. The half marathon is in May and I have a long way to go before I'm ready.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rough time at Stillwell Woods

Today's run (Stillwell Woods): 3.1 miles

Some runs are easy and some are not. I can usually predict how I'll perform based upon how I feel before I start. I'm at my best between 7:00-11:00 AM and any time before or after that will rarely yield an extraordinary performance. The worst time for me to run is mid-afternoon, especially after a big lunch.

Knowing this, it won't be a surprise when I say that today's run at Stillwell was:
  • Not Fun
  • Very difficult
  • Disappointing
  • De-motivating
  • 50% short of my intended goal

I'm on vacation this week, which is great, but there are a lot of things to do while I'm off. I spent most of the morning with the electrician, resolving some long term problems with one of our circuits. This forced me to push my run later in the day. We had also planned a Mexican-themed lunch that may have been a contributing factor in today's poor experience.

I headed to the trails at Stillwell Woods thinking that the rough terrain would provide a great excuse to run only for time, independent of pace. My goal was to go out for an hour and cover whatever distance I could.

I parked near the street, as far from the trail head as I could get. I set off along the paved drive that runs almost a kilometer before reaching the trail. I felt an energy deficit right away but hoped that, once I got going, things would improve.

When I reached the trail I became concerned whether I'd have enough energy to run my intended route. The paths were muddy in parts and I feared that I'd slip on the unstable surface. There was only one other person on the trail when I was running, a mountain biker, who passed me a couple of times in both directions.

I slogged on and did fairly well with the two steep sections that come along halfway through my usual loop. But by the time I reached two miles I felt like I'd done enough. I decided to head back to my car, which meant that I needed to cover just one more mile.

I usually love the experience of running at Stillwell, but today it was tough and uncomfortable. I'm going to blame the time of day and the fact that I had a big lunch prior to my workout. Tomorrow is another day. I'm hoping it will be a better day for running.

Monday, February 20, 2012

C9 has me seeing (and saving) green

Are you green with envy over my quarter zip?
Today was a rest day and I was happy to skip my morning workout. I'm always the first person to support others when they take days off, but I sometimes feel guilty when I do it myself. That's why I like Mondays. About two years ago I decided that resting one day a week would yield a marginal conditioning benefit. So now I'm able to get through my weekly day of rest without feeling like I'm falling down on my training.

My one running related activity happened this morning during a visit to Target. As usual, I stopped by the menswear section where they sell C9, Champion's line of athletic clothing made exclusively for Target. I've bought a fair amount of C9 running clothes over the years because it's priced well and it performs about as well as the middle tier brands. I have had a few jerseys fall apart after heavy use and multiple washings but the ROI still remains high.

Last year I picked up a long sleeve white quarter zip at the end of the season clearance for $10. It has turned out to be a staple in my cold weather running. Today they had the same shirt on sale and I decided to get one in bright green to help provide some visibility when I run in my neighborhood. This year's version seems to be a little beefier than the previous shirt. Hopefully that means I'll get plenty of  use before it starts to show some wear.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Putting in the miles before putting in the rest

Today's run (street): 4.6 miles

My energy level still hasn't rebounded, and the only thing that got me out the door today was the promise of an easy run. Yesterday's workout was surprisingly challenging, telling me that I'm due for some rest. But the lure of the open road was too tempting this morning, so I decided to go out for a run, regardless of the time it would take to cover my distance.

I followed a route by the nearby middle school where I ran by a bunch of guys playing a serious game of flag football. They had parked their cars along the road and I was amused to see both a Maserati and a Maybach among the numerous Honda's and Jeeps. Sunday morning football is the great equalizer. I continued on with the intention of covering four or five miles.

Like last Sunday, I kept my pace easy and ran fairly well. There was an unexpectedly stiff wind coming from the east that made things uncomfortable when I faced it head-on. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's rest day where I can (hopefully) recover enough to take on seven miles mid-week. So much for getting a long run in this weekend. But with a full week of vacation ahead, I should have plenty of opportunity to put in the miles.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Grinding it out on Day One

Today's run (street): 3.8 miles

Day one of vacation is usually an invitation to go out for a long run without thinking about schedules or other restrictions. There's a certain energy that seems to come with a clear mind and deferred business pressure. Today is my first day of vacation, but that energy has thus far eluded me.

As I'd said in prior posts, last week was busy, with lots of meetings and presentations. I looked forward to getting a good night's sleep last night so I'd be fresh today, but I had some trouble getting going this morning. It wasn't until my wife had started her treadmill run and advised me that I needed to be back by a certain time that I put myself in gear and went outside to start today's workout.

Last Saturday I preloaded on carbs, first with a gel, and then some dark chocolate. Subsequently, I ran a pretty good race. I figured what worked then would work today, so I tried the same thing before I went out. But instead of feeling a boost, I just felt draggy.

My first half mile was a struggle, what I'd call a grind, where the purpose of the workout is simply to get through it. I wore a pair of Saucony's (Grid Tangents) that I'd shelved last year in favor of my Hattoris and Mirages, but last Saturday's freezing toes inspired me to make a change. The shoes were fine, but the laces were not. Twice during today's run they came untied.

I followed a route similar to my daily 4:00 AM run but added another mile because I had a little more time. After a while the run became less arduous, but it never felt fun. I was glad to finally finish, pleased that I did my run, but not particularly happy with the experience. My performance wasn't bad, a solid mid-9:00 pace. However, I wouldn't call it great.

Some runs surprise you. You go out expecting trouble and end up experiencing your best run of the week. Other times it's the opposite and you return feeling disappointed. Today was a grind but tomorrow it may be better. I'm hoping that's the case. After all, it is vacation, and the running should be fun.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Running slow has made me faster

Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

It was still raining this morning so I opted for another morning's run on the treadmill. I'll admit that my view of treadmill running has changed a lot, for the better, in the last couple of years. I still find it boring, but it does provide a lot of flexibility in the way I choose to run.

I almost always start slowly on my indoor runs. It's a way of easing into the workout, and it allows me to deal with the residual energy debt coming from my recently interrupted sleep. By the end of my run I'm usually clocking about an 8:30 pace, but to get there, I have to increase my speed every five minutes from my starting point.

When I used to practice karate, I understood how good form was more important than how fast I could block or strike my opponent when sparring. My instructor used to say "If you can do it slow, you can do it fast." That's the technique I've followed for the last six months and it's yielded good results. Slow and steady in training -- PR on race day.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The week that won't end

Today's workout (elliptical): 25 minutes

I've always thought that busy weeks go by quicker than slow ones but that isn't true for this week. Yesterday's schedule was too tight to fit in a workout because I needed to be on a 5:50 AM train. I'm facing similar pressures today but on a normal schedule, so at least I had time for my weekly elliptical session this morning.

I'm on vacation next week and I couldn't be more ready. I'm planning to get some distance runs in during that time and also continue to work on overall speed. I'm hoping that the storm that's predicted on Sunday won't involve snow. I'd be disappointed to have to do vacation runs on the treadmill.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The challenge of fitting in my training miles

Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

This is going to be a busy week. In fact, yesterday I didn't even have enough free time to post. This morning I eased back into my running routine with a treadmill workout that seemed to go by very quickly. Perhaps it was the distraction of all the things that I need to to get done that offset the usual tedium of treadmill running.

I've been thinking a lot about my approach to training for the half marathon. Last year I made the mistake of under-training in March and early April and then over-training in the weeks leading up to my race in May. The result was a woeful performance caused both by a knee problem and insufficient conditioning. I'm looking to correct that this year.

Right now I'm aiming to cover at least 90 miles for both March and April. That plan will have me averaging just over 20 miles per week. The key to this will be my weekend runs where I'll have time to cover distances greater than six miles on a single run. I really need to figure out whether the bike trail at Bethpage is open because it provides me the most practical way to stretch out a run of ten or more miles.

This weekend will be the start to this training. Ready or not, here I come.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Reflections on the 2012 Long Beach Snowflake Run

Today's run (street): 3.3 miles

Ran the race, got the t-shirt
Yesterday's 4 mile PR was a nice surprise. I'm hoping it had more to do with my training than the fact that the race is run over a fairly flat course. As always, there are lessons learned after a race. Besides the obvious (don't wear threadbare Hattori's in freezing cold, wet weather) there may be deeper discoveries.

For one thing, I learned that my ideal pacing for a four mile race should be more similar to running a 5K than an 8K. Going all out on the first mile yesterday didn't hurt me and I was able to maintain a credible pace for the remaining three. On 8K's and 5 mile runs, a start like that would put me into bonk territory before the end (and it has).

Second, although I've run about 25 races since 2009, I had never taken advantage of following a "pacer." This is a fellow racer who runs a little faster than I would normally go. The pros use them and now I understand why. Locking in on a stronger runner, and blocking out everything else, helped me maintain a competitive pace through the last mile of the race.

On the same theme, I continue to exploit a lesson that Dave taught me a couple of years ago regarding start position. Even though I tend to finish in the 30-50% percentile, starting closer to the front (especially on races that don't provide a starting line sensor) is a great way to achieve a fast first mile. It's like the pacer concept, except everyone around you is helping. A high tide lifts all boats.

Despite everything I've read about essential rest after a race or a hard run, I continue to go out for easy recovery runs the next day. I did that today, in the 7 degree weather (with wind chill) because I was still a little wired from Saturday. I purposely maintained a pace that was minutes slower than yesterday's and it felt good for the first half hour. At that point the strain of the race (and poor rest overnight) caught up to me.

I toughed out the last half mile and was happy to have put in a couple of good efforts this weekend. Next weekend I will start my half marathon training where I'll need to complete at least one seven mile base run. The training never ends, and neither does the learning.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Race report: Long Beach Snowflake Run

Pouring it on for the finish (center, in black)
Today's race (Long Beach Snowflake 4 Mile Run): 33:50 (8:28 pace)

For the second year in row, the snow has forced Snowflake Run participants off of the boardwalk. Last year it was an issue of volume, there was so much snow and ice on the boardwalk that it became both dangerous and impassible. This year it was a steady but light snowfall that would have been too slippery for fast running. So, once again, we found ourselves lining up on Broadway for this four mile race.

Last weekend I ran intervals on the treadmill in the hope of being ready to go out hard this weekend. That must have helped because I achieved a new 4 mile PR this morning and beat my prior PR by over a minute. Team Emerging Runner accompanied me this year and, aside from some difficulties finding a parking spot, the event went very well.

We arrived about 30 minutes from start time and when I walked into the gym to pick up my race number, I was surprised to see so many people milling around. The room smelled strongly of perspiration and adrenaline and against one wall was a slide show accompanied by blaring music. I headed to the rest room after visiting registration and saw a long line of of women waiting patiently. The men's room line went quickly and soon I was back to my family in the gym.

My fuel of choice for the race was GU Roctane and as it got closer to race time, I had some Ghiradelli 72% cocoa dark chocolate to top me off. I'd just run into my friend Steve who was running with me and I gave him some chocolate for a pre-race boost. Steve had his wife and their two little ones at the race and everyone was in good spirits despite the cold, wet weather.

We lined up fairly close to the start line to get a good take-off position. Steve and I learned a lesson last year when we were forced into a narrow path between the snow and parked cars. That situation produced so much crowding that we could barely exceed a trot for the first couple of minutes.

A fast start as the snow came down
Before too long, we were off and running. My Garmin had gone into energy saver mode so I wasn't able to start my timing until I'd run a few hundred feet. Once that was resolved, I focused on staying with a fast crowd of front runners who I'd hoped would sweep me up and carry me along.

My friend Steve disappeared into the crowd almost immediately and I figured I'd see him at the turnaround or at the finish line. The group surrounding me was running at a faster pace than I could sustain, but I did my best and hoped to pass the first mile one under 8:20. When I saw the timing clock I was amazed to see that I'd actually clocked 7:54 for mile one.

I must have passed Steve just before that point because he told me later that he came through around 8:05. My goal was to preserve as much of that first mile pace as I could, and I settled into a rhythm that I thought I could maintain throughout the race. My splits were 7:54, 8:43, 8:34 and 8:39. I bounced around a little, but I didn't suffer from progressively positive splits as I've done in the past.

It's a nice crowd of runners who participate in these Long Beach races. None of that obnoxious posturing I've seen other places. That isn't to say this crowd is any less competitive. If anything, I think this race fields a deeper pool of speedy runners than I've seen elsewhere.

Having run this course last year, I knew what to expect in terms of progress and effort. I ran hard but I probably could have pushed more into the middle miles. I wanted to make sure I had enough energy to finish strongly and I'm pleased with the way things turned out.

Once I passed two miles, I reminded myself that I had less than half the distance to go. The rate of people who passed me had slowed down to the point where I was running mostly with those who ran about my pace. I used the guy in front of me as a pacer through most of the last mile. Once I saw the finish chute, about three blocks in the distance, I dropped a gear and gave it my best of the day.

As I approached the finish line I could see my wife and kids cheering me on, but the clock atop the chute was reading 16:00, so I feared that the timing system wasn't working. My Garmin showed that I'd come in under 34 minutes, so I knew I'd done well. It turned out that the actual race clock was positioned low and to the left, so I'd missed it.

I assumed Steve had already finished, but discovered that he hadn't yet come through. He came crossed the line about a minute later - an impressive effort for someone who hadn't really run much over the prior few months. We went back to the gym to see our results posted and I saw that I'd crossed the line in 33:50, for a pace of 8:28 and a new PR.

Steve and I went back out and watched the runners streaming across the line while the snow continued to fall. I had been concerned that the wet surface would be too slippery for my Hattori's, but that wasn't an issue. However, the shoe's lack of insulation was a big issue and I couldn't feel my toes for most of the race. I'll have to remember that the next time I wear them in cold, wet conditions.

So, my first race of 2012 went very well and I'm enjoying the great feeling that comes from a sustained effort like a race. I'll probably go out for a very easy run tomorrow and start thinking about my strategy for my next two races, one short (5K) and the other long (13.1 miles). In the meantime, I'll enjoy all the moments from today's events.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Doubling my work day mileage

Last night my division did an office shuffle to better consolidate functional groups. Before this move I was situated, at best, a few offices away from some of my team. Most other staff were scattered in different locations around the floor. It wasn't a bad situation because I didn't mind walking around to see people. I had a great view of 6th Ave, and through a lucky break, my office was equipped with two sets of shelves and two closets. My new view is far less appealing than the old, but I can still see 6th from certain angles.

This new location does put me closer to staff, although I still have people sitting in other parts of the floor. I noticed this morning that it now takes me twice as long to walk to the pantry for coffee. Since I'm literally in the last office along the corridor, it will mean lots more walking in general. So the upside to all this is that I'll end up covering twice as much ground during the day as I did pre-move. That works for me!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Will there be snow at the Snowflake race?

They are now predicting that we'll see snowflakes at the Snowflake race in Long Beach this Saturday. I have no issues running with a little snow, my biggest concern is that they'll yank us off the boardwalk again because of slippery conditions.

I'm enjoying day one of my two-day rest period prior to Saturday's event. Not counting the New Year Hangover 5 mile (fun) run, this will be my first race of 2012. I'm hoping that I've trained correctly for this race.

Four mile races are similar to 5K's, except that they require a little more strategy in terms of parceling out speed. Where 5K's are basically fast runs that get faster at the end, a 4 mile race requires a little more pacing.. I'm looking to make my first mile my slowest, and pick up speed as I go. The condition of the course will factor in as well. I'm still hoping for the boardwalk, but you never know.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hate tapering, huh? Liar!

Today's workout (treadmill): 25 minutes

This morning's treadmill workout was my last run prior to Saturday's race. The end of my taper. There was a column in a recent TrailRunner magazine where the writer complained about his two week taper leading up to running the Hardrock 100. I've seen plenty of quotes, and even a Runner's World survey, where people expressed distaste for the period of reduced mileage leading to a pre-race rest period.

Here's what I think about it: they're lying. It's like what my wife and I call brag-plaining ("It's so hard for us with little Timmy because of all the homework from his AP honors classes, plus his travel soccer team, advanced violin classes and immersive Mandarin courses on the weekends."). I think many runners can't admit that they like the indulgence of rest, even though they do.

Sure, I like to run, but taking a few days off without suffering the usual feelings of guilt feels earned. I'm looking forward to getting up tomorrow and sipping coffee without giving a thought to running gear, my reflective vest or the weather.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

No parades for the Snowflake race

Today's run: (street): 2.5 miles

It was amusing to see the throngs of NY Giants fans, all dressed in blue, converging on Penn Station this morning. The big ticker tape parade starts downtown at 11:00 and I guess these fans wanted to get a head start on the festivities. The confusion in the faces of so many Giants fans made me think it was their first time ever taking the train into the city. Hats off to the Giants though, they earned it. But it's hard to be a New Englander in NYC this week.

I actually prefer sports, like running, where I can influence the outcome. I'll have the chance to do that this Saturday at the Long Beach Snowflake run. The weather on race day will probably be similar to this morning's, when I went out into 30 degree temperatures. My run went fine, I probably did the second half 10% faster than the first. It's difficult to go from just awake to a hard-charge at that hour, so I usually concede that my first mile will be on the slow side.

I'm curious to see how they will route us on Saturday. It would be great to run the whole race on the boardwalk, but I don't think that's the way they've designed the course. At least not in the prior three races I've run there. One more run tomorrow and then I'll rest until race day. It's not the Superbowl, and there won't be a parade on Monday, but Long Beach is the place to be on Saturday morning..

Monday, February 6, 2012

The myth of the morning person

Although I struggled with a bad sinus headache most of the weekend, I did manage to get in a couple of good workouts. As planned, I ran a set of intervals on Saturday and then did a slow, easy run on Sunday morning. My headache caused some dizziness, and that was further exacerbated after viewing Madonna's Superbowl Halftime show. Despite the close game and my hopes for the Pats, I went to bed before 9:00. It was the right thing to do because I feel much better this morning.

Last week, my wife had breakfast with a friend that she hasn't seen in a while. Their discussion turned to exercise and my wife mentioned that she runs on the treadmill first thing every morning. Her friend said, "Oh, that's easy for you, you're a morning person." My wife responded, "True, but is anyone really a morning person at 5:00 AM?"

That's the thing about workouts. It's not the time of day that you do them. It's simply that you do them. A morning person will probably do better with a morning workout, and conversely, a night person will do better going for a run after dinner. But being a morning person doesn't make it any easier to roll out of bed in the early hours and hit the treadmill or the road. What it really takes is a commitment to staying healthy. That can work for people at any time of the day.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

My running buddy's race day nightmare

Today's run (street): 5.25 miles

Two years ago I was near the end of my recovery from a serious bout of pneumonia. It was so severe that I was forced to spend a week in the hospital. This was an awful experience, but it could have been far worse. I'm still thankful to my friends, family and work colleagues who supported me through that long ordeal. As sick as I was, I never felt it was a life and death situation. Now let me tell you about my friend Dave.

Through this blog, I have connected with a number of great people, some of whom I've been fortunate enough to meet for a run or two. Dave and I both live on Long Island and we've got together to run a number of times. Dave is a strong runner, with an enviable ability to increase his speed as he went along on longer runs. In races, Dave would usually cross the finish line a couple of minutes before I did. But on long runs at Bethpage, our conversation helped us settle into a mutually agreeable pace.

The last time I saw Dave was at the Dirty Sock 10K last August. We both did well on that challenging course through the woods. Afterward, we talked about doing a Cow Harbor practice run in a few weeks, but we didn't get around to doing that. In fact I hadn't heard from Dave until I got a note from him this weekend. He wrote to tell me that he'd suffered a heart attack during a ten mile race last weekend.

I was completely shocked by this news. This is a guy who runs and bikes and lives a very active life. But on this race day morning, Dave discovered that he had an undetected blockage that brought him down at mile six. In those situations, the severity of the problem may not be obvious. There's only a small window of time to recognize the difference between electrolyte depletion and a life-threatening event. Thankfully Dave had the presence of mind to flag down a race volunteer and request an EMT.

Even after the EMT's arrived, Dave's troubles continued. He endured quite a bit as they worked on him in the ambulance before arriving at the closest hospital, where the ER doctors struggled to stabilize his condition. They smartly sent him to a another hospital that was better equipped to handle the situation. It was there that they discovered the blockages and got his vitals back to normal. Amazingly, he was released after a couple of days.

I'm thrilled that Dave came through this so well and he's taking steps to correct his issues. He's a strong, fit guy and I know he'll get through this fine. I can only imagine how fast he's going to be when his heart is back to full working order. Even if that's the case, I'm sure Dave will graciously run at my pace when we return to Bethpage for another long run.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Where angels fear to treadmill

Today's run (treadmill intervals): 30 minutes

When two unpleasant things, like sodium and chloride, are combined, the resulting substance can be quite palatable (like salt). More often, combining two disagreeable things will just amplify their unpleasantness. One great example is running intervals on the treadmill.

My plan for this morning was to head out early to the local track to run 4 x 400's and 100 meter sprints. I ended up sleeping to 6:45 AM, which set my schedule back an hour, so I changed my plans to run 200 meter intervals at the adjacent middle school. Due to circumstances, my time got too tight to do even that, so I elected to do my speed work on the treadmill.

Honestly, I don't always find the treadmill disagreeable, but I far prefer to run outside. Intervals on the treadmill spook me because the faster the machine goes, the more concern I have for my safety.  When the Sole is cranking over 8 MPH, it provides a scary display of motion and power. A 7:30 pace on the road feels very mild by comparison. The whole time I'm running fast on the treadmill my primary concern is a misstep that will cause me to fly off the machine.

Since I don't really trust the recorded distance on the Sole's display, I went by time for my fast running. I started off with three minutes of easy running and then hit the 8 MPH button, holding on for dear life. I'm sure there are many people, some who read this blog, that might look at 8 MPH as brisk, but not especially fast. I guess it's all relative, because that first 3 minute cycle was a heart racing experience.

I switched between 3 minute cycles of 8 MPH (truth be told, I dialed back to 7.5 MPH after completing the second interval) separated by two minute recovery cycles. The first three recovery periods were done at 4 MPH, and the rest were at 6 MPH. I ended up running a total of 30 minutes and I stepped off the treadmill thinking:

  • OMG I'm exhausted
  • I need electrolytes
  • I wish I was already in the shower
  • I need to be ready to leave the house in 30 minutes and all I want is a nap
When I came out of the shower I was still sweating, and I knew I accomplished my goal of getting an effective speed workout completed today. I'll go out for a very easy run tomorrow and start my taper for next Saturday's race. Now that enough time has passed, I'm already forgetting how hard today's workout felt. Like sodium and chloride, treadmill intervals do yield some benefits when they're combined, but it's hard to appreciate that at the time.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Except for the numbers, it felt like a race

Today's run (street): 2.5 miles

Maybe I spoke too soon regarding Punxsutawney Phil. He saw his shadow on Thursday and, this morning, I stepped out to unexpectedly chilly temperatures. While I stood waiting for a GPS signal, I was reminded of the minutes before the start of a winter race. I shivered and hopped, knowing that the discomforting cold would give way to warmth after a few minutes of hard running.

I'd under-dressed for my run because the local TV station displayed the temperature at 31 degrees. With steady winds, it felt much colder. My run stated in the direction of the wind (north) and the only thing that got me through the first section was the knowledge that the road would soon curve west. Even then it was still cold, so I pushed my pace a bit to generate some heat. I didn't start to feel comfortable until I'd passed my first mile.

Since I'd started the run at a brisk pace, I did my best to maintain it. I'd hoped to average close to 9:00/mile or even below. Incorporating plenty of arm swing, I thought my cadence might improve, but I wasn't able to generate the speed I was hoping for. I'm fairly certain that running at 4:00 AM, just minutes after waking up, limits my performance capabilities. But I have had a few early morning runs in the mid-8 minute range so faster times are possible.

I ran my route today 1:07 faster than on Wednesday, which gave me a half minute improvement on my pace. Although I didn't break 9:00 (or 9:10 for that matter), I was happy with my results. Still, for a run that felt at the start like a race, the numbers fell a little short.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Punxsutawney Phil and me, we're not so different

You're so predictable
Today's workout (elliptical): 25 minutes

Happy Groundhog Day. With the mild winter we're having, I don't really care if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow today. Thinking about Groundhog Day this morning, I realized that my daily workout routine is much like the theme of the Bill Murray movie. Each action I take, from taking my vitamins, selecting a cup, pouring coffee and grabbing an energy bar, plays out exactly the same as the day before. And at the same time of the day too. If I'm pouring coffee at 3:50, something's wrong. It should only be 3:49 by that point.

I could look at this routine, that continues as I head back upstairs to prepare for my run, as quotidian or banal. Instead, I find it comforting to move along from step to step, without having to think at that early hour. Somehow, I find myself standing in front of my house a few minutes before 4:00 AM, Garmin switched on, ready to run. If I thought about it much beforehand, I'd probably go back to bed.

Today, my routine was mostly the same, but since I chose the elliptical it was also a little bit different. I appreciated that difference because, while routine can drive consistency, a little change is also welcomed.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Embrace the hobgoblin

Today's run (street): 2.5 miles

Last Sunday I took a look at my running history on Garmin Connect. This dataset goes back to February '09, when I got my first Forerunner watch, the FR50. Although my modern running history starts a few months before that, the 750 recorded runs represent a statistically significant performance database. I ran a report of all my street runs and discovered that the pace and distances I ran in January 2012 are almost exactly the same as my all-time average.

I was happy to know this because it shows that my pace hasn't degraded in the three-plus years since I returned to running. A deeper look at the numbers confirmed that my paces in early 2009 were similar to today's, so this average isn't merely 1.5 early years of fast running, followed by 1.5 years of slowness.

This morning I had a slow start to my run, owing to my chronic pain above my right heel that may or may not be my Achilles tendon. The burning I feel when I start off tends to go away once I've warmed up a bit. The pain isn't bad. It's just that it's always there at the start.  Due to this, my first mile was slow -- over 10 minutes -- but I picked up the pace and finished with a time only 40 seconds longer than yesterday's.

Today's run and Sunday's performance review both reinforced the fact that, most of the time, I run about the same, regardless of what I think at the time. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "...consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." That may be true, but I think consistency, when it comes to running, is a great way to validate your efforts.

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