Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The elliptical is here, but the power is still to come

Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

Today has been an interesting day and I'll leave it at that for now. Over the next few days I'll have some extra time, and I'm planning to get in some long morning runs. I'm really looking forward to that. The treadmill has began to lose its appeal, so I've decided to get outside as much as I can over the next few weeks.

Our elliptical arrived yesterday. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the old X1 unit, but it's cheaper and not of the same quality. The console requires an AC adapter that we'll need to order separately. Otherwise we'll have to keep feeding it D batteries. I'll be glad to have the elliptical option on windy, cold or rainy mornings. In the meantime, I just want to get outside and run.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What's your running shoe's medical history?

Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

When you go to a medical office for the first time, they usually present you with a clipboard loaded with forms that you have to fill out before you can see the doctor. Among those forms is a checklist for your family medical history. It makes sense since the best way to predict future health problems is to know your areas of risk. I'm applying the same concept in assessing the useful life of my main pair of running shoes.

I've always been skeptical about the commonly-held view that trainers should be replaced between 300 and 500 miles. Just as people may carry greater risk for certain illnesses, some shoes and brands seem predisposed to wear out sooner than others. My first pair of running shoes were some Nike Foot Locker specials that only lasted about 400 miles. But I ran in a pair of Brooks Adrenalines for 700 miles before I retired them.

People tell me that they notice when their mid-soles have worn out after a few months. I think it's all in their head. Unless you are a large person, it's unlikely that you would significantly compress EVA enough to matter. I've come to believe that it's the out-sole that determines the life of a shoe. When I've needed to replace a pair, it's usually because the wear pattern on the bottom has caused a change in my foot strike.

Of all the running shoes I've owned, the pair I've liked the most were the original Saucony Kinvaras. Unfortunately I loved them past the point where their out-sole could provide me a stable platform and I ended up with a knee problem. After 466 miles, I took them out of the rotation. I'm currently running in the Kinvara 3's, a great shoe as well, but I've reached 436 miles with them. That's only 30 miles less than what I got out of the first Kinvaras.

Saucony's new Virrata looks interesting
So far, I've experienced no knee issues when running in the 3's, but the wear patterns are starting to show. Should I be proactive and replace the 3's in case they go from good to bad in the next 30 miles? Or should I put faith in the idea that Saucony may have engineered a more robust out-sole in the two generations since the first Kinvara? I'm on the fence about it, but it doesn't take much to get me back into shoe-buying mode.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

10 degree running is still better than the treadmill

Today's run (street): 4.6 miles

It was important to me to get outside for my run this morning. The weather had kept me indoors since last Sunday, including yesterday's treadmill session. I always feel a little cheated when I miss the opportunity to run outdoors on a weekend day. I switched on News 12 while I got my running gear organized and the temperature at the bottom of the screen showed 10°. I grabbed a few extra layers and got ready to go outside.

Despite the cold, the skies were sunny and that made it extra frustrating when it took over five minutes for my Garmin to acquire a signal. The roads were much clearer than yesterday and, once on the street, I settled into a comfortable pace. The first half mile is a gentle uphill slope and I was dealing with headwinds for most of that section. The chilly wind made my eyes water and it was uncomfortable where my glasses touched my face.

Once I made a change in direction, the sun (minus wind) made it more tolerable. I didn't push too hard because my layers were keeping me comfortable. I targeted four miles for my run and set a route that would get me to that distance. Around the forty minute mark I saw that my performance was tracking below target, so I stepped it up a little. 

After yesterday's hard effort I didn't care all that much about running fast today, but I was still a little disappointed with my time. Despite the high treadmill frequency this week, I managed to cover my distance goals, including nine miles this weekend. The weather is supposed to get warmer next week so I'm hoping to get out at least once in the morning. The elliptical should be arriving soon, so I'll finally have a cross-training option for my morning workouts.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Glittery roads lead to an indoor challenge

From sparkly to sludgy
Today's workout (treadmill speed and elevation run): 50 minutes

The snow began falling last night when I left the office and it had coated the streets and lawns of my neighborhood by the time I got home. The reflections from the streetlamp revealed ice in the mix, prompting my daughter to compare it to glitter poured all over the road. By morning, that beautiful scene had changed to a dangerous combination of dirt and ice and my only choice would be an indoor workout.

The freezing cold has made outdoor running hard over the past week and I've grown tired of the treadmill. I wished we'd already received our new elliptical because it would have been the perfect workout for this cold morning. With no other options, I headed to the treadmill with some new ideas about the run.

Since it was the weekend, I had more time for my workout. I decided to focus the first half of my run on elevation and the second half on speed. I started with 1% elevation and increased that every few minutes until I hit 4%. I maintained the same speed throughout these elevation increases and watched my heart rate climb toward zone 4. At the 15 minute mark I began stepping down the elevation. At 25 minutes I was down to 1% and soon leveled off while blipping up my speed.

It was tough to get through the first 25 minutes with both the elevation and the indoor heat. I began to feel a second wave of energy around the 30 minute mark and wondered if it was induced by ketosis. I took full advantage and increased my speed periodically until my heart rate reached my target. I maintained that pace through the remainder of the run.

It was a really tough workout, far more challenging than my usual treadmill session. I was pleased with today's effort and glad that the speed and elevation workout had distracted me from the tedium  of the treadmill. Tomorrow I hope to be back on the road or trail. I'd like to cover enough miles to reach my weekly goal.

Even with this freezing weather, my friend KWL is planning to run his first half marathon tomorrow morning in Central Park. I'm wishing him the best, and I know that he'll do well. I'll be thinking of him and my friend FS (who will do this Half or a different run) while we all go out in the 18 degree temperatures. Why do we do it? That's probably a good subject for a future post.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The best $20 you'll spend on winter running gear

Train station salvation
Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

One of the greatest inventions of the 20th century happened in 1994: the creation of 180s™ ear warmers. Yes, I know some people would say that the Internet, the airplane and antibiotics have provided more social benefits, but I think those inventions have just had better marketing. The morning weather around New York has been hovering in the low teens most of this week. My 180s have helped me a heck of a lot more than anything coming out of Silicon Valley. These ear warmers make a huge difference when the chilling winds blow across the train platform.

With the temperature at 14° degrees this morning, I had no intention of running outdoors. Instead, I slogged my way through another treadmill run. Although I pushed a little less today, the workout seemed harder than yesterday's.  The guestroom, where we keep the treadmill, can get warm on days like this. Although it does a great job of cooling me off in summer, I haven't been running the big fan this winter. The air is very dry right now and having it forcefully blown into my face seems worse than dealing with sweat-producing heat.

The cold will continue this weekend and I'm going to have to deal with morning temperatures in the teens. I hope that I can choose the right amount of layers to keep me comfortable without making me sweat too much. I have some decent over-the-ears running hats, but on cold mornings (like today) I'll be adding my 180s to my gear list.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

With running, there is no free will

Repeat forever
Today's run (treadmill): 26 minutes

Despite the concept of free will, most people find themselves following a daily routine. You might think it's just you, but it's not. Back in the days when I lived in the city, I was always amused to see the same people, on the same streets, around the same time, every day. Whether or not you take comfort in maintaining habitual routines, or bristle at the thought that you are a pre-programmed genetic robot, there can be an upside to all these patterns.

A good example is a daily workout. I am constantly amazed to find myself dressed and running before 4:00 AM most weekdays. The routine takes precedence over most other forces. If I wake up feeling ill or fatigued, I'll switch to rest mode. But that doesn't happen very often.

I've been running on the treadmill most weekday mornings. Every time I do, I find it hard to believe that I can make it through my allotted run time. Time seems to go by very slowly and, when I'm only five minutes in, my targeted finish seems awfully far away. The thing that saves me is the routine of these workouts and knowing that eventually I'll come to the end. That was the case this morning. Just like yesterday, the day before, and hundreds of time before that, I completed my time. Hitting the stop button is a habit I'll never want to quit.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Running clothes can have other lives

Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

Once upon a time, I would run outdoors in the coldest of weather, every day of the week. If the temperature was below 20 degrees, I'd add extra layers and (perhaps) a balaclava to protect my face. These days, I'm more apt to choose the treadmill for weekday runs. Weekends are a different story. I can go out a little later and spend more time preparing for the cold. I'll still run outdoors even with temperature reaches the low 20's, but I'm not sure about anything colder than that.

The thermometer on my car's display showed 10 degrees as I made my way to the train station this morning. New York City is barely warmer than that. Knowing that I'd need to endure the near-zero temperatures as I stood on the platform, (wind-chills were in the single digits) I turned to my running clothes for help.

A nice thing about running gear is that can be both lightweight and warm (or cold) depending on circumstance. This morning I substituted my usual cotton tee shirt for a long sleeve compression jersey to use as a base layer. I wore a pair of Wrightsock Coolmesh socks that are snug fitting under regular dress socks. I also wore my ASICs Serpent running windbreaker, that is surprisingly warm, between my shirt and suit jacket.

I was perfectly comfortable as I waited the eight minutes for the train to arrive, helped along by my heavy wool coat, scarf and earmuffs. The socks, base layer and jacket really did make a difference and I appreciated the fact that they added no bulk whatsoever. As I ran on the treadmill this morning in shorts and a light shirt, I dreaded the cold I'd soon be facing. Thanks to my running clothes, it all worked out just fine.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Going cheap on an elliptical (here's why)

ProForm CE 6.0. User not included
Most people will agree with the expression, "You get what you pay for", based on their own personal experience. Most of the time, I'd agree. Expensive items tend to last longer than cheaply made versions. This is theoretically due to their higher level of quality. Our experience purchasing and using a higher end elliptical machine made us rethink the direct correlation between cost and satisfaction.

Four years ago, we purchased a BH Fitness X1 elliptical machine at Fitness Showrooms in Huntington, NY. The machine was compact, had heart rate sensors on the arm poles and seemed to built to last. I've written plenty about our troubles with both the machine and the company that sold it to us, so I won't repeat them here. After three years of moderate use and almost a year of non-use due to broken parts, we trashed the expensive "quality" unit and bought a cheaper replacement.

Sunday afternoon we went to Sports Authority and bought a ProForm CE 6.0 elliptical for about one third the price we paid for the X1 in 2009. The unit was on sale and we had a $50 coupon. Pro-Form is not a premium brand, but but we managed to get over ten years of daily use out of our LT treadmill. The elliptical unit we bought was the 2012 6.0. Even though the newer 7.0 unit was priced the same, we thought the older model seemed sturdier and more stable.

I'm looking forward to (once again) having a cross-training option for my daily workouts. If we only get three years out of the CE 6.0 I'll be less annoyed than I was with the expensive BH Fitness X1. Ironically, the best reason for buying at Sports Authority over a specialty store like Fitness Showrooms is that I have more confidence that SA will stand behind what they've sold.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Machine made speed run

Today's run (treadmill speed run): 3.2 miles

The weather report this morning confirmed my decision to keep my workout indoors. The wind chill would bring temperatures down to the low 20's and the local track has plenty of wind. While I got ready to run I debated the level of intensity that I'd put to the task. I had looked up treadmill intervals online and considered doing that, but I settled on a more moderate speed session.

The online workout specified a brief warmup followed by five minutes at 7.1 MPH, the next five at 7.3 and then a .2 MPH step up every three minutes until you reached the 20 minute mark. Though short in duration, it was a bit more than I was willing to take on today. I decided to start at 6.1 and blip up my speed every few minutes until I was running in the low 7's. If the treadmill's display was accurate, I ended up averaging under a nine minute pace, despite starting out at 9:50.

I find treadmill running harder than street running, yet I tend to push myself harder on the treadmill. I suspect it has to do with the shorter stride that probably increases my cadence. A treadmill speed workout is a good start towards re-honing my performance edge, but I really do need to get back to the track. Still, with temperatures heading toward zero, you won't see me there this week.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ready to fight the slowdown

Command performance tomorrow?
Today's run (street). 5.3 miles

Today's workout was typical for a Sunday run, although I did follow an untypical route. In an effort to break out of the neighborhood, I crossed Rt. 25 and did my run along Jericho Turnpike. I turned north up Jackson Ave. and then headed east, past the train station. Once I reached a natural endpoint, I retraced my route with an additional segment going west on Jericho. This allowed me to reach my targeted distance.

It was a perfectly pleasant run and the weather seemed milder than yesterday. The route provided some hill challenges but the wind was less intense. Despite the nice weather and what felt like an efficient stride, I was shocked to see that I'd clocked a pace over ten minutes a mile. Usually I can blame the terrain, the weather, or simply fatigue for a slow run. Yes, there were some hills, but my net elevation gain was only 250 feet over five miles.

Sometimes I worry that I'm slowing down. Four years ago, I could count on at least a couple of runs in the 8:00 range every week. Nowadays, except for races, I rarely break 9:20. I know that some of this is due to a lapse in competition since October. I can't remember the last time I did speed work, although I often run the last five minutes of my treadmill runs in the eight-minute range.

I'm thinking about returning to the track to run some intervals. It will be a nice change from the local roads. While I don't love the work, I usually feel great after a hard workout. It's supposed to be extremely cold on Monday so I may rethink this decision in the morning. Our treadmill can go 12 MPH so I could always do my intervals in the comfort of my own home.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Late start, stiff winds and some different roads to run

Today's run (street): 5.25

It took a while, but I finally got myself out the door for a run this morning. All week long I'd looked forward to getting a couple of extra hours sleep. I slept well last night and still got up up relatively early. Somehow the time slipped by and I found myself standing outside at 9:30 AM, waiting for my Garmin to acquire its signal.

I wasn't thrilled to do another weekend run in the neighborhood, but my procrastination had limited my options. My plan was to run a nearby loop and then head over to neighborhood #2. I set off running north and quickly encountered stiff winds coming from that direction. The weather report said that these winds would make it feel like 27 degrees and they were right. A slight change in direction made a huge difference. Without the wind, the warming sun made it quite pleasant.

Before long, I was running through the southern neighborhood, battling headwinds in one direction and appreciating the tailwinds when going the other way. Halfway through, I checked my distance and saw that I hadn't made as much progress as I'd liked for the time I'd been running. I picked up my speed from there and finished within acceptable range for my overall pace.

It's supposed to be even colder tomorrow so I'll need to give some thought as to where I might run. It was nice to get out of the neighborhood today for a slight change of scenery. Perhaps I'll find a more interesting route tomorrow.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Paleo and juicing may actually be a good idea

Caveman no like grain!
Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

There's lots of talk these days about the Paleo or caveman diet. When I first heard about it, I dismissed it as a macho re-branding of Atkins or the South Beach diets. I've always felt that the best diet (in the sense of ongoing lifestyle, not a short term weight loss strategy) aligns with USDA guidelines. This means a balance of fruits, grains, vegetables and protein. Humans are omnivores and the idea of eliminating grains in favor of  much higher protein levels strikes me as a path toward unintended consequence.

I have a friend who adopted juicing (not steroids!) as a primary nutritional model. He and his wife would stock up on very healthy items like spinach, kale, beets and carrots that they'd put through a juicer and use in place of meals. My friend is smart and he recognized that juicing separates the fiber, so they'd spoon that back in to their smoothies. Soon after, they began to experiment with their solid diet and have also adopted the Paleo method.

As a runner, I'm interested in nutrition for both health and performance. At the same time, I have no patience for those who aggressively proselytize about Paleo, vegan-ism or any similarly restrictive lifestyle. I'll admit that I'm intrigued with Paleo and juicing because there is some rationale to their concepts.

Juicing, done right, seems to be a legitimate nutritional model. Fresh fruits and vegetables, free of process, have got to be good for you. That is, unless those ingredients are carrying salmonella or similar toxins that won't be eliminated by cooking. But most of us eat salad and that seems to be okay most of the time. The toughest part for me would be drinking a green frothy milkshake that tastes nothing like a milkshake.

The Paleo thing is interesting because of the primary concept. Unlike Atkins, that allows grains, artificial sweeteners and processed oils, Paleo sets the bar to how humans lived tens of thousands of years ago. In caveman days there was no way to create flour or to bake, so those products are excluded. In a similar way, all processed foods, meat or vegetable, are also left out. The diet is balanced between protein, fruit and vegetables, plus seeds or grasses like quinoa.

The science behind Paleo is that eliminating grains reduces the production of sugar in our body and that forces ketosis, a process that uses fat for energy, rather than glycogen. I am no expert on how this works, but it does make sense in theory. In terms of adopting the Paleo diet, I'll wait and see if my friend grows a unibrow and hair on his knuckles before I partake. But there's no harm in choosing less processed foods when possible. No one can argue that reducing sugar intake (via carbs or sweets) is a good idea.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

How pounding headaches lead to base building

There's something about daylong meetings spent in airless conference rooms that causes me to experience pounding headaches. Tuesday's meeting was intense. I lead an industry group that focuses on some fairly technical subject matter. After the sixth hour of intense debates and discussions, it became exhausting. A different meeting followed on Wednesday, and by 10:00 AM I knew I'd be in for a rough day.

I went to bed last night hoping I'd wake up feeling better. I set my running clothes up for a morning workout,  but the need for additional rest and the slight presence of a headache dissuaded me from getting on the treadmill. I think it was a good decision. This is the second or third week in a row where I took Thursday as an additional rest day, but in every case I felt the rest was justified.

The difference between running five days a week versus six isn't great, but it does put me a little behind against my weekly mileage target. So far, I've managed to make up for the loss of weekday miles on weekends. In a way, it has motivated me to extend my weekend long runs a little further than normal. I've been looking to build my base back up and that's a way to do it. I just wish the process to get there this week wasn't so painful.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I will admit that performance is a rush

Yesterday's run (treadmill): 25 minutes
Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

I'm currently in the middle of a group of multi-day industry meetings. These gatherings are energizing, but they can take up a lot of time. In the past, I've skipped one or more workouts during these periods because of the impact on my schedule. I'm pleased that this week I've been able fit in my runs and stay on schedule.

One of this year's goals is to get outside more often on my morning runs. That wasn't an option today with a mix of freezing rain and snow coming down at 4 AM. Like yesterday, I headed to the treadmill and did a progressive speed run, pushing hard enough to get my heart rate to target.

While I do believe that moderate workouts are my best strategy, I do like the rush that comes from doing multiple speed increases over the last quarter of these runs. Right now, a little speed goes a long way.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Would you read Slow Runner magazine?

Going to the Well
Running magazines provide great utility and can occasionally inspire. When I was a new runner, I found these magazines to be a useful source for information about terminology, practices and setting expectations. But just as there are no magazines to help you become a run-of-the-mill decorator or a mediocre cook, the focus of every running magazine seems to be about improving performance. Up until recently, I appreciated that focus. Now I'm a little conflicted.

The reason for this comes from recent studies published by the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health and the Lancet. Both of these studies concluded that mortality rates for those who exercised moderately were lower than the rates for sedentary people or high performing athletes. If running greater than 20 miles per week or pacing in the seven minute pace range causes a health concern, I'm certainly not going to do that. Not that I could run a sustained 7:00 pace anyway.

I'm curious to see whether running magazines will ignore these studies or dismiss them as inaccurate. If not, will they acknowledge the facts and modify their editorial focus? After all, the topic of minimalism started getting regular coverage after Christopher McDougall published "Born to Run". Covering running without a focus on performance may be a hard sell for Running Times, but many titles already devote pages to nutrition, human interest and lifestyle.

Given the choice, I'd always choose an article about running experience over a new approach to running intervals. Maybe that's a new market segment for Rodale to cover.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Foggy morning run at Bethpage

Beware the moors and stick to the bike path
Today's run (Bethpage State Park): 5.1 miles

If there's a downside to having 40° weather in January (besides the fact that it may be caused by global climate change) is that things can get foggy. There's nothing specifically wrong with fog, but I wasn't thrilled to drive through the cloudy Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway this morning. Most people were smart enough to keep their car lights on, so the trip wasn't as scary as I'd feared. When I got to my destination, Bethpage State Park, I was happy to see that the gates were open.

It's been a long time since I've run at Bethpage. They had closed access to the park after Hurricane Sandy and I had not made it back until today. It was great to be back for a run. As I drove toward the lot, a dark mist over the golf course made it look a little like the Scottish moors.

My plan was to run five miles, starting first by going south on the old trail and turning back at the one mile point. I appreciated the first, mostly downhill, half mile but I knew it wouldn't be fun coming back up that tough hill. Once past my nemesis, I was two miles in and I crossed over to the newer section of the bike path. I had to complete a three mile out-and-back to get my total to five.

Bethpage's bike trails are rolling and, while I don't always notice the falling sections, I never miss a hill. The new, northern path has plenty of hills. Just like the southern part, it's tougher coming back than going out. I reached Haypath about a quarter mile short of my turnaround point so I crossed over and ran until my Garmin showed 3.5 miles.

I knew I'd soon encounter the three noticeable hills and I took them on. The hills are a bit steep, but the incline is fairly short and there's a enough separation between them for recovery. Once past those challenges I settled in for the remainder of the run. Before long I was back at the trail head having covered my planned distance.

Even though it was unseasonably warm, there weren't too many other runners out today. I worked hard and felt good throughout the run, but I was glad when I finished. I was also happy that I made it out of the neighborhood for a run this weekend. That was one of my stated goals for 2013. Having come into the weekend with less than ten miles logged, I'm pleased to have finished close to my weekly target of 20.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Afternoon runs are hard when you're a morning runner

I wish all races started at 10:00 AM
Today's run (street): 5.3 miles

All things being equal, I run much better in the morning than I do later in the day. The numbers don't lie and I have had enough bad afternoon runs to know it's true. I don't know if it relates to biorhythms, psychology, or nutrition (or some combination of the three). In any case, I usually avoid running during the second half of the day. The above chart is an unscientific but fair representation of my performance throughout the day.

I've felt a little off my game this week. Not exactly tired, but not as strong as usual. I skipped my run on Thursday to give myself a day to catch up. Yesterday's run on the treadmill was fine, although I didn't feel as energized after the run as I usually do.

This morning I woke up at 6:45 AM, a full hour later than usual for a Saturday. I clearly needed the sleep and was happy to lose a little time to gain the rest. Due to that, the morning schedule was compressed and I lost my window to run. Other things took priority and it wasn't until after lunch that I finally headed outside.

Today's plan was to go to Bethpage, but I didn't feel like taking the drive over there. I wasn't pleased about my late start and I really wanted to get my run done as quickly as possible. At around 2:00 PM, I finally had my act in gear and started off. My targeted distance was five miles. Normally that would be easy, but I was concerned that the later hour would make it tough.

The weather felt cool, even though the reported temperature was 45 degrees. A very light rain was falling and I considered wearing my running raincoat but I feared overheating. I ended up putting on my Zensah calf compression sleeves for warmth and that was a good call. Plus they have an energizing effect that I'd hoped would help.

In terms of performance, it wasn't the worst five miles I've run on a Saturday. My pace was acceptable but nothing to brag about. For some reason it was really hard to tie together five miles of roads today. The run seemed to take far longer than 52 minutes, but I didn't have any issues with stamina. I occasionally picked up the pace during the run. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to help my overall time.

Running at 2:00 PM wasn't the disaster I'd feared, but I suspect that I would have done better had I gone out earlier as planned. Tomorrow I hope to get to Bethpage and execute on my goal of doing one non-neighborhood run each weekend. Even if I can't for some reason, at least today's later run provided a different expereince. And for runners who train almost daily, a little difference can go a long way.

Friday, January 11, 2013

At long last: 2013 running goals

Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

I realized last night that I never posted last year's running goals. In prior years I had done that on the blog, but I guess I just forgot to do it for 2012. I'm not sure what goals I would have set last year, beyond hoping to improve my half marathon time and participating in a race I'd never run before. I did both of those things last year, so I guess I achieved something. This year I'm thinking about the following as my 2013 running goals:

1. More weekday running diversity.
For practical reasons, my running routine has become less and less adventurous. My weekday 4:00 AM runs were once daily adventures where I'd run on different streets each day and then scramble to get home in time to stay on schedule. This devolved into running the exact same route, every day, to stay within a rigid time frame. Worse, some time last year I stopped doing outdoor runs on weekdays in favor of the treadmill to minimize prep time and maximize recovery time

Goal: Run outdoors at least once a week before work. Establish at least one alternate route to take every other week.

2. More NYC running.
Way back when, I'd frequently run in Central Park, on the West Side bike path or even over bridges to New Jersey or Brooklyn. Regular running partners Adventure Girl and JQ have left the east coast and I've had trouble finding running buddies who are willing to commit to workday runs.

Goal: Monthly runs in Central Park, with or without a partner.

3. Break the neighborhood running habit on weekends.
Just like my slide to predictable routes and then to the treadmill on weekday mornings, my weekend runs have become fairly mundane workouts that take place mostly around my neighborhood. My excuse has been that local runs save time (which is in short supply on weekends) but boring running really undercuts the experience.

Goal: One run outside of my neighborhood every weekend (weather permitting).

4. Return to racing.
Event date changes and race cancellations due to Hurricane Sandy disrupted my running momentum. I am completely out of the racing habit and don't have a race on the schedule until Marcie Mazzola in April.

Goal: Run at least one race prior to April's event. Bonus: Run a different half marathon than the RXR LI.

5. Participate in a group run (club organized or otherwise).

Goal: find a an open meet-up, local club run or organize one myself. 

Unlike years past, I've decided not to put in any performance or distance goals this year. If I meet my race goals, performance will take care of itself. I have run enough distance at this point to know I can run more. Besides that, I'm not sure running more than 13 or 14 miles is really that beneficial to my health.

Now that I've posted these goals, I guess I need to start working on them. This weekend will present my first opportunity to do that. Bethpage, here I come.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Increasing fitness by not running

Building fitness can be relaxing
I believe it's okay to take an ad hoc rest day every once in a while. I did it today and I feel no guilt whatsoever. While I will probably never get up and say, "Hey, I feel great, I think I'll skip my run", I didn't rest this morning because I was feeling weak or ill. What I felt was under-rested and I concluded that I'd be better off taking it easy, rather pushing hard and inviting a problem.

When you think about it, a day of rest is often better for you than a single day's run, because recovery periods are when your body actually builds fitness. That's holds true for a day or even two, but then it starts to go the other way. I've been doing workouts six days a week for the past few years. That generally works for me. My average run  (accounting for shorter distances on weekdays and longer ones on weekends) is 3.3 miles. This seems like the right amount of exercise to keep me fit and (knock wood) to prevent me from sustaining injuries.

The reason I don't feel any guilt for skipping my today's run is that I know I'll be back at it tomorrow. However, my decision puts me three miles behind in terms of reaching my weekly target of 20, but I can probably make up some mileage on Saturday or Sunday. In the meantime, I'm happy knowing that taking a rest was the right thing to do this morning.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Trust your waiter at your own peril

Yeah, sure you are...
Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

There are certain things we know we shouldn't do, but we do them anyway. These things are often situational. For me, it's the decision to order coffee after a business lunch. There's nothing wrong with coffee, but I am extremely sensitive to the amount of caffeine I can keep in my system. A little goes a long way for me and I find it a legitimate performance supplement for running.  But having caffeine too late in the day generally disrupts my night's sleep.

While caffeinated coffee affects me, decaf doesn't. At home I can confidently brew a pot of decaf when entertaining friends at night and drop off to sleep without a problem. The problem happens when I order decaf in a restaurant and get regular coffee. I've had enough experience to know that, even after stressing the word decaf and then verifying that the cup placed in front of me contains it, there's a percentage chance that I've been given the fully caffeinated brew.

Caffeine version please
That's exactly what happened to me yesterday at lunch. I thought about the risk, but ordered it anyway. It wasn't until I was tossing and turning in bed last night that I realized what I'd done. If I was a chemist, I'd look for a way of sampling coffee to instantly determine the presence or percentage of caffeine in the cup. It could be like the color-changing chemical that police use to determine if a suspected substance contains cocaine.

I think I could make a lot of money marketing that to caffeine-sensitive people. It would also allow me to take waiters to task for botching my order. That would be much better than cursing them at midnight as I wait to fall asleep.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Garmin FR210 behaving badly

Get back to work!
Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

After two years of stellar service, my Garmin FR210 has started to exhibit some bad behavior. I bought this watch because it provided basic GPS metrics, elevation data and wireless syncing with my heart rate monitor. Like all GPS systems, the distance accuracy wasn't 100%, but after a while I understood the margin of error and mentally corrected for it. There are things I still don't like about the watch, such as the weird way it connects to a PC for data uploads, but overall it has been a great resource and a good value.

The bad behavior started on January 1st, with my first run of the year. I was a couple of miles into the Hangover Fun Run at Eisenhower Park, when I looked at the watch only to see that it wasn't recording time or distance. I decided to let it go and just use the event clock to record my time. I figured that I must have neglected to fully push the start button and was paying the price for that inattention.

Since then, I've run five more times. On three of those runs I've noticed that the timer stopped recording after I'd initially started it. It doesn't happen every time, but it forces me to pay careful attention to the watch on every run. I don't know why this would suddenly happen. I checked the FR210 forum on Garmin Connect but haven't seen anyone else with the same complaint.

It would be a shame to have to replace this watch because I've come to rely on it to capture all my metrics, including a map of where I'd run. I still have my FR60 that works fine, but it lacks GPS so I'd need to return to using the foot pad. If I did that, I'd lose the mapping but would gain cadence, something I miss since switching from the 60 to the 210. I could always use an app on my smartphone to do the mapping since I carry the phone on every run. It's worth thinking about. But I'd rather have the FR210 working as it should.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The problem of running too fast

I have two friends who tell me they simply cannot run slowly. When running alone, they claim to always push their pace to a level of discomfort. They have a difficult time easing up when their coaches tell them to slow down during training sessions. If these guys weren't two of the nicest, most secure people I know, I'd chock it up to macho posturing. After thinking about it, I'm beginning to understand their perspective.

Unlike my friends, I can run slow anytime that I'm asked. But ask me to walk slowly and you'll get a different response. I often find it maddening to walk the streets of NYC, especially in midtown where I work, where my path is constantly obstructed with dawdlers of every type. I've always been a fast and impatient walker. This trait that makes for efficient travel across the city, but it can really annoy others who aren't in a rush.

I envy my fast running friends because I really do enjoy the experience of moving swiftly on a run. I just have trouble sustaining an urgent pace unless I'm in a race. I'd always assumed that a person who can walk fast for miles would also be able to run fast for long periods. Sadly, that's not the case. I know I've become competitively complacent since October's Town Of Oyster Bay 5K. Perhaps now is the time for me to start picking up the pace.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The soul of weekend runs and the Sole of weekday workouts

Sole F63 - my frequent morning companion
Today's run (street): 4.2 miles

It's more than halfway through the weekend that followed my short week back to work. The real test comes next week with five straight days of waking up at 3:45 AM. Four of those mornings will involve a run that starts before 4:00. It's harder in the winter, especially on those days where the temperature falls below freezing.

A year ago I would bundle up and get outside every morning unless it was raining. These days I usually choose the treadmill because it saves me time. Instead of dealing with layers of clothes, headlamp, etc., I can be running in minutes. Is it the same experience? Far from it. It always feels like I work harder on the treadmill but the benefits are lower. The machine might be a Sole, but the workouts are somewhat soul-less.

The weekend provides far more opportunity for interesting running. Adding to that is the flexibility to start my run later and to run longer. Yesterday I enjoyed a trail run after a leisurely morning having coffee and spending time with my family. I wasn't that excited about doing another neighborhood run today, but it was better than staying inside.

I probably overdressed this morning in response to the 34°temperatures reported on the news. The skies were dark and gray when I stepped outside so I left my sunglasses behind. About a mile into my run the sun came out and I began to regret that decision. The sun also started to warm things up and I hoped I wouldn't end up completely saturated in sweat before I finished my workout.

Somehow I managed to stay comfortable throughout the run and I even picked up the pace a few times. I wanted to run at least four miles today to hit my weekly distance target and I ended up totaling 21 miles. It's been a while since I've run at Bethpage so I'm thinking of heading there next weekend. In the meantime, the next four runs will probably happen on the Sole F63.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Stillwell trail run, frozen paths and a near collision

Today's run (Stillwell Woods): 3.9 miles

I was hoping to get a trail run in over my last vacation but the timing never worked out. I did manage to cover a lot of miles during my time off, but the only time I traveled to run was the Hangover Fun Run on New Year's Day. I was determined to get back to Stillwell this morning, where I did my first trail run of 2013.

It has been cold all week and today was no different. I dressed for freezing temperatures, including a base layer under my running pants. I was glad to have layers top and bottom when I stepped out of the car at Stillwell Woods to start my run.

The trail head and the main trail leading from it were covered with ice. I needed to step carefully as I made my way to an interior trail. There were a number of mountain bikers getting ready in the parking lot and I wondered how they'd fare on the slick and frozen surface. I never did see a biker on the path today. Perhaps they rethought their workouts after seeing the condition of the trails.

I wore my Helly Hansen Trail Lizards that eat up rough terrain. Their only shortcoming is the lack of a rock plate, which is normally a non-issue. Today it would have been provided great benefits, as the interior trails consisted of mud that was grooved by bike tires and refrozen as hard as rock. I needed to watch the trail closely to avoid slipping on the uneven surface.

About half a mile into the woods, I detected movement behind me. Thinking it might be bikers I moved to my right and soon saw two runners passing me on my left. There was no courtesy "Thank you", which is fine, but I would have liked to know there was a third runner trailing behind them. I had just started to move back to the center when the third runner came along, and we almost collided. People generally say, "On your left!" in those situations but these guys were jerks.

I did my usual loop a couple of times and noticed that, in the short time I'd been running, the sun had started to melt the ice. What had been frozen earth became soft and slippery mud and I needed to adjust for that. I saw a few people out walking with their dogs but no other runners today. I completed my second loop feeling like I'd worked fairly hard, even for a run that didn't quite go four miles.

Overall, it was a decent trail run. My last trail run went poorly (at Caleb Smith) and I appreciated the difference. I'm not sure where I'll run tomorrow, but today I'm happy to have had another great experience in the woods.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Running shoes: your mileage may vary

Adrenaline and Kinvara are best in the long run
Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

I like running shoes for the same reason I like sports cars. They are the only layer between you and the road and they're engineered to enable performance. If you use your imagination, sports cars and running shoes even look similar, sharing the same aerodynamic profile. The biggest difference between the two is that while anyone can go fast in a Porsche, the best thing a running shoe can do is optimize a runner's potential.

In the 4+ years that I've been running, I've acquired a number of shoes. Some of them were great and some are best forgotten. I started logging my workouts on Daily Mile in April of 2010 and that service provides me with a tool to track the mileage of my running shoes. With the exception of the first few pairs I bought back in 2008, I have a complete history of my time spent with every shoe that I've owned since late 2009.

Saucony Kinvara (original)
Brooks GTS 10
I recently exported my shoe mileage data and graphed it to visualize the range (above). When people tell me that they notice their running shoes breaking down after five months, I'm usually skeptical because my Brooks Adrenaline GTS 9's held up for more than 700 miles. My all-time favorite running shoe, the original Saucony Kinvara, performed well for almost 500 miles before giving out. I ran a little too long in those and suffered a bad knee problem due to it. Despite that, I still can't bring myself to throw them out.

My current shoes of choice are the Kinvara 3's for the road and, for the treadmill, the Pure Drift prototypes that I tested for Brooks. Had I requested size 11's instead of 10.5's for the Pure Drifts, I'd probably be wearing them more often. The fit in the toe box is just a little too narrow for my foot, so I don't use them for long runs on pavement.

The good thing about running shoes (vs. sports cars) is that you buy new ones often without breaking the bank. I suspect, based on history, that the Kinvara 3's will need replacement in the next few months. I'm tempted to replace them with the production version of the Pure Drift, but there are a couple of New Balance models that interest me. Plus, a whole new crop of 2013 models will soon arrive from the other brands.

While I'm thinking about it, it might be time to add a new trail shoe to my collection. Why not? It would certainly be cheaper than getting a Land Rover.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Friends don't let friends push the pace

Today's run (treadmill): 25 minutes

"Easy" is relative
Yesterday I ran into a colleague whom I hadn't seen in a while. She told me she was running again after taking a long break. About a year ago she'd gone from walker to runner and, by April, she was running about 15 miles a week. We last touched base in early summer when she planned to run in her first 5K. My friend said that, since that time, her discipline had really slipped. By September, she'd stopped running altogether. The New Year prompted her to restart her running routine, beginning with a three mile run on New Year's Day.

I asked her why she had stopped after making so much progress and she told me she had felt too much pressure to run fast. Part of her interest in running came from the social interaction with her friends who also ran. Their easy pace required her to run a lot harder. She struggled to keep up and couldn't really participate in their conversations. She ran her 5K and decided that running was no longer enjoyable, so she went back to walking for fitness.

This experience did not surprise me. My early-'90's attempt to become a runner was thwarted by similar conditions. My only running partner at the time had run track and cross country in school and I found it difficult to keep up with her when we ran. I figured that was what running was all about - you push yourself hard and eventually you'll like it. Or you'll quit.

After many years, I returned to running on my own terms and set realistic performance expectations. I was amazed to see that running can actually be fun if you find a pace that works for you. My friend says she learned her lesson and will not sacrifice her running experience for the sake of social inclusion. I told her that this doesn't mean she has to give up running with friends. If she suggests it, I'm sure they will be happy to run with her at a relaxed pace that works for everyone.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Vermont trails beckon, but Long Island has its charms

State Parks on LI
My brother works for a company based in northern Vermont and he is planning to move up there with his family very soon. They have a new place with plenty of room for guests and he reports that the town is "chock full of trails for biking and running." Having been born and raised in New England, I'm envious of his new surroundings. The opportunity to live quietly among the mountains and trees is appealing and I'm sure the culture change will be fun for them.

It's easy to look at a place like Vermont and imagine an idyllic life filled with long runs through mountain trails. The area seems to embody a lifestyle that is both bohemian and active. We've spent some time in Manitou Springs, Colorado and I imagine their new town will be similar. But what about us suburbanite Long Islanders? Are we excluded from this experience? Surprisingly, I don't think that's the case.

I've been running trails for a few years at this point and most of that has been done in the wooded parks of western Long Island. Stillwell Woods, five minutes from my house, may not have views of majestic 14ers or expansive rivers, but you can lose yourself for hours navigating features like the Ewok Forest, the Viper Pit and the "UH OH!" trail.

In fifteen minutes I can drive to parks like Belmont Lake, Bethpage, Sunken Meadow, Caumsett, Cold Spring Harbor, Trailview and Caleb Smith (to name but a few). Each place offers something both unique and special to runners. Long Island isn't New England, but over the years I've come to appreciate many great things about it. But as much as I love my local trails, I also look forward to exploring the running paths in upstate Vermont.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hangover Fun at LIRRC Run in Eisenhower Park

Finishers gathering at the end
Today's run (LIRRC Hangover Fun Fun): 5 miles

Happy 2013. Early this morning, as I made my way along Hempstead Turnpike, I enviously noted some restaurants promoting New Year's Day brunches. Soon enough, friends and families would be gathering at these places for a relaxing meal, while me and a few hundred others would be running five, 1-mile loops around Eisenhower Park in the name of fun.

The posted start time for the Hangover Run was 9:30 AM, so I planned to get there fifteen minutes before. The temperature, including wind chill, was close to freezing. With neither registration nor number pickup, I had the freedom to show up far later than I would for a race. The organizers pushed the start a few minutes, probably to accommodate some late-arriving participants. After a New Year's style countdown we were on our way.

The Hangover is a group run that feels a lot like a race. But it isn't a race and that's what makes it fun. I proceeded at a pace that kept me with the crowd but, after a few minutes, I noticed the 6:00 pace crowd had broken off ahead. I was passed by a fair number of people through the first mile but I didn't care about that. I was enjoying the experience and feeling great running in the cold.

I completed the first mile in 9:28 and that was probably the fastest loop that I did all morning. I was slightly disappointed that I wasn't generating much speed because the effort was there. My heart rate was keeping close to my racing zone, and I didn't want to push any harder. On a few occasions, slower runners blocked the narrow path or ran a little too close for comfort. After a while the field opened up and I could run without those distractions.

It wasn't the easiest five miles I've ever run, but I didn't feel like a race. Halfway through the run I noticed that my Garmin wasn't recording my run so I needed to rely on the clock for my time. When I came past the timer for the fourth time, I saw that I was tracking about a minute behind last year's run. I thought about picking up speed for the last mile, but I decided to maintain my current pace to the end.

I crossed the line feeling like I'd had a good workout, but it wasn't the same as competing. Not surprisingly, I was warm at the finish. Soon enough, the cold air and my sweaty clothes started giving me a chill. I headed back to my car and made my way out of the park before the road got too crowded.

Like last year, it was great to start this new year with a running start. My wife did her run this morning as well, so we both have perfect records for 2013! Tomorrow it's back to work for me and back to school for the kids. It has been a great holiday break and I'll be happy to take a rest day tomorrow.

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