Sunday, June 29, 2014

Taking on hills and challengers at Bethpage

Halfway there on Sunnyside
Today's run (Bethpage bike path): 6.4 miles

It was back to Bethpage this morning, where I went for my longest run of the week. I arrived early and parked in my usual parking spot near Haypath Road. It was the beginning of another beautiful day and there were already plenty of people out on the trail. My Garmin acquired its signal very quickly so I was off and running seconds after locking my car.

The Bethpage bike path is isolated, but in a good way. With trees on both sides of the trail, it sometimes feels like a paved path through the woods. I felt good, but I wasn't sure how I'd hold up through my 6+ targeted miles. I have an aversion to hills and, as a result, I tend to avoid certain sections of this path. I originally planned to run to the route 495 underpass and turn around there. Instead I decided to take on the worst of it by following the trail all the way to the top of Sunnyside Boulevard.

Rise along the bikeway north of Washington Ave
What's tough about the section from Washington Ave to Sunnyside Boulevard is the roller coaster-like changes in elevation over a mile and a half span. I figured that if I wasn't going to burn up the trail with my speed today, I might as well challenge myself with some hills. I kept reminding myself to run the mile I was in instead of dreading the other hills that I would soon encounter.

I was about a mile away from finishing when a runner came off the road and fell in behind me on the trail. I felt a need to step up my pace so I wouldn't get overtaken. It was a good test of my fitness and I was determined to hold him off. After a while I stopped hearing his footsteps. I don't know if he fell back or went off trail (most likely) but he never passed me. No surprise, that was the fastest mile of my run.

We had guests coming midday, so I needed to wrap up quickly and head back home to take care of a couple of things. Today's experience went a long way towards restoring my running excitement. Too bad I probably won't get back on the road until late next week.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Running excitement waning, but not the commitment to run

Today's route
Yesterday's run (street): 4.25 miles
Today's run (street): 5.6 miles

I just passed 1,800 posts and it took me a lot longer to get to that milestone than I would have expected. That is due to a drop in my blogging frequency and it relates directly to my reduced number of runs per week. This year has brought changes to my running, both in terms of outlook and performance. It's not a matter of losing interest, but my level of excitement has definitely waned.

Yesterday's run in my neighborhood was the first I'd done since last Sunday's trail run. I went out only because I had to. My schedule allows just three days a week for running and I need to make those runs count. But instead of feeling the joy of the run, these days I'm only feeling the obligation. Still, I didn't hesitate to prepare and get outside. While I no longer question my commitment, I miss the excitement and anticipation of the experience.

This morning I targeted five miles and went a little longer than that. I couldn't face another run through my neighborhood. After a loop around some nearby roads, I headed over to a nearby business park. My level of engagement was higher today than yesterday. The weather at 7:00 AM was nearly perfect. I did a couple of loops around the park and noticed a wooded section that reminded me of the Central Park lower path.

I ended up running through an adjacent neighborhood before returning home. Tomorrow I hope to run a little longer, perhaps at Bethpage. I do like running there and with the long straight trail, I can detach from the run and think about things (or, better still, not think about anything). I usually gain back more interest in my running by the end of my Sunday workouts. Too bad I have these long gaps between Sunday and Friday.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Low flying planes at Stillwell Woods

Glider club at Stillwell
Today's run (Stillwell Woods): 4.1 miles

I naively thought I'd avoid the soccer crowd at Stillwell by going on Sunday instead of Saturday. Nope. When I arrived this morning, Stillwell's lots were overrun with cars and I could see people streaming in from the high school parking lot across the street. I considered turning around and finding another place to run, but I decided to try parking at the far end near the trail head. I was in luck and found a spot next to some people who were staging their bikes for a ride.

I was feeling a little run down so I stayed on my usual loop and took it easy. There were many mountain bikers on the single track but no close calls. I almost tripped on a high root exactly where I'd almost tripped the last time I ran there. I'll have to pay better attention next time I'm at that point on the path.

There were a bunch of cars gathered on the large field. As I got closer, I saw that they were flying large model gliders. One flew across the path that runs around the field and just barely cleared the tree line. It freaked me out to see a plane with a ten foot wingspan pass overhead without making a sound. I began to feel tired by then, so I capped my run after four miles.

The rest of the day was spent celebrating my daughter's 16th birthday. She's having a Sweet 16 next week, but today it was family-only. It was a great long day and a good weekend of running. I really want to add another day to my weekly running schedule, but so far it's been hard to make that work.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Spring into summer, all in one run

One run, two neighborhoods
Today's run (street): 6.4 miles

This morning's workout was either the last run of spring or the first of summer. Summer officially started at 6:51 AM EDT, so I crossed over seasons at some point. Either way, it was perfect running weather.

I wanted to cover at least six miles and considered doing a long trail run at Stillwell Woods. Even though I'd be getting there early, I was concerned about parking because of all the Saturday soccer games.  I wasn't in the mood to drive to Bethpage or to Babylon, where I've been wanting to return to run the Dirty Sock course. I settled on my neighborhood, even though I prefer to run 6+ mile distances outside of its tight boundaries.

Mindset is really important when starting a run. It is much harder to run six miles when your original intention was to run less. I like to think out my route ahead of time to set an expectation of progress as I move along. It's difficult to cover more than four miles in my neighborhood before I begin repeating roads. I pre-planned a side route into neighborhood #2 to extend the distance. It's all houses and cars, but by going into another neighborhood at least the houses and cars are different.

I enjoyed today's run because it was cool, dry, sunny and quiet. I saw a few other runners, some walkers and a couple of cyclists along the way, but it was still too early for most people to be out on a Saturday morning. Tomorrow's weather should be just as nice and I'm still thinking about a trail run for tomorrow. I just don't know where to run.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The sad demise of our Sole F63

Anyone want a crappy treadmill with a brand new console?
Today's run (street): 4.4 miles

A treadmill is a substantial thing, a sturdy platform built for running. Treadmills are expensive because they are engineered to hold up over time. A good example of this is our ProForm L15, a modestly priced treadmill that we bought in the mid-1990's. Although it was used daily, the ProForm was a workhorse that served us well until February 2010. A bad example of this is the Sole F63, that has reached the point where replacing its worn parts will cost 70% of a new unit. And not a moment too soon. From what we were told, these parts are in serious need of replacement.

That was the assessment made by our treadmill repair guy whose opinion we trust. Adding to that, we paid $200 a month ago for a new console (the fourth one since we got the unit) and we needed to pay the tech for his house call to get the bad news. What's frustrating about our experience with this treadmill is that we've done all the right things to ensure a good outcome.

I had such high hopes when we got the F63 four years ago. Our due diligence included much research and a personal recommendation of the brand. My wife made sure the unit was professionally serviced and she was meticulous about following owner maintenance. In the short time that we've had it, we've experienced a motor failure, serious issues with tread slippage and the aforementioned console problems.

The treadmill still works, but it makes a huge racket due to the degraded rollers and failing frame. It could go tomorrow or in six months. The question is whether we should invest in a better brand of treadmill. The cost could be substantial, but the value of doing that would be that pro grade treadmills often come with long or even lifetime warranties. Between my wife and I, we use our treadmill a lot.

I'm now at the point in my week where I jam all my running mileage into three days. This morning I went out for the first time since I ran 400's with the Runsketeers on Sunday. The long rest period helped, and I felt great from the start. I wouldn't call today's run effortless, but it was certainly a pleasent experience. The temperature hadn't broken 70° and the sun wasn't too intense at 7:15 AM. If not for business obligations that required me to cut my run short, I would have gone for six miles.

I'm not sure about this weekend's running. A trail run would be fun. I'll see how I feel in the morning. No rain is scheduled for Saturday, so at least I won't be forced to continue torturing our ailing treadmill.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day track workout with the 'skeeteers

After 14 laps of father's day fun
Today's run (track speed work): 14 x 400's = 3.5 miles

Happy Father's Day! I'm certainly a happy dad, and I've had a great day. The morning started with a track workout with my running buddies. I usually do these workouts on the local high school track so traveling to SIOR's town was a nice change. My local track runs around the football field and is very isolated, while this track is located within a neighborhood and it felt somewhat quaint.

SIOR ran from her home and I saw her running on the road as I pulled up to the track. TPP was already there, and we started our workout a little after 8:00 AM. The weather was sunny and the temperature was still in the low 60's.

On SIOR's suggestion we alternated easy and hard quarters. Our original target was 12 laps (3 miles) but we all ended up running 14. We took off easy and I was able to hold a conversation as I ran. After one lap we dropped a gear and switched to race pace. I liked this method, using a jogging lap for recovery rather than stopping for a minute between hard laps. It kept my heart rate up and made it easier to transition to the faster paces.

SIOR and TPP burned up the track the first couple of times around and I envied their speed. I did fine, averaging somewhere within the 7:00 minute range on my fast laps. I can move along when I know that I only need to endure a hard effort for two minutes or less. TPP had a case of "Too much fun the night before-itis" and took it easier on her later laps. It was no surprise to anyone that SIOR flew through her laps. At one point I tried to catch up to her, but I didn't make much progress.

Me and SIOR finishing an easy lap
Per tradition, we followed our workout with a visit to Starbucks. SIOR and TPP caught up on Game of Thrones and we covered a lot of subjects. Interestingly enough, there was little mention of running. I needed to cut it short because I had some Father's Day activities. My wife and kids were going to take me to Lemonleaf Grill for lunch, but it didn't open until 1:00 PM and I'd worked up quite an appetite from all that speed work. We ended up at Quetzalcoatl in Huntington, so it was Mexican rather than Thai. But it was really good, as usual.

It's been a great Father's Day spent with friends and family. I am so glad that I got to see my Runska-buddies and do that workout with them in such beautiful weather. The day isn't finished and I'm looking forward to more family activities this evening.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Addressing my need for more speed

My experience today
Today's run (street): 5.1 miles

I'm back into a three day running cycle and I ran in the neighborhood yesterday and today. My morning schedule was tight, so I needed to get outside early. Fortunately, it was still relatively cool and (bonus) not as humid as Friday. I had no route or distance in mind, but I did want to cover at least five miles.

Like yesterday, I started with good energy and tried to establish a faster pace from the start. It seemed a lot faster than it was. I still find it curious that putting in the same effort compared to a year ago will typically yield a 30 sec/mile slower pace. I'm not planning on doing any races before Dirty Sock, so I'm not really upset about that. Still, I'd like to gain that time back if I can.

Tomorrow the Runsketeers will get together for our first group track workout. I look forward to seeing how fast these two speedsters can run when they don't need to reserve energy. I'm not going to be able to cover as much distance tomorrow as I would on a typical Sunday, so this week's mileage total will be extra low. But track miles are quality miles. If I can figure out a way to add one more workout a week to my running schedule, I can get back to pre-commuting weekly volumes.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Humid, hot and foggy, but still a great run

Today's run (street): 4.4

Today was crazy busy, but my saving grace was working from my home office. At least I saved a lot of commuting time. I got in my run (my first since last Sunday) and though I went out early, I was already behind schedule by the time I got back home. I should add at least one more run during the week to maintain my targeted level of fitness, but for now I need to keep the schedule I have.

The weather hasn't been good for running lately. This morning it was 67°, humid and foggy. Rain seemed imminent, so I decided to try my new running raincoat. The jacket isn't vented and I knew I might regret wearing it, since I knew it would trap heat. Still, I was curious to experience running with it.

Surprisingly enough, I stayed fairly cool for the first couple of miles. Better still, I felt strong from the start and maintained great form throughout the entire distance. I ran faster than I expected and probably would have improved on that had I left the jacket at home. The lack of ventilation had trapped sweat and my running shirt was completely soaked by the time I finished.

Perhaps it's the rest time I'm getting by not running Tuesday through Sunday each week that helped me today. I'm time-pressed again tomorrow, and I'm not sure how I'll be able to get in my miles. One way or another, I'll get out there. When I do, I hope to see a continuation of today's good performance.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Not a step back, but not what you'd call progress

Disappointing cadence
Today's run (street): 4.6 miles

I wasn't sure what to expect on today's run but I hoped I would find it easier to reach my targeted performance numbers after seeing some improvement yesterday. To my dismay, I felt less energy this morning and I hoped that I'd rebound during the run. Although I did quickly get into rhythm, I found even the first couple of miles difficult. I wasn't sure if I'd started too fast, or if I was simply too tired.

I've read numerous times that an ideal (non-competitive) pace will allow a runner to maintain a conversation while still providing some level of challenge. For most people, that's 75-85% of max heart rate. A check of the data from today's run showed that I stayed primarily between 76 and 79% of max for the first 3.75 miles. Even though I was primarily at the lower end of the HR scale, the going felt difficult.

My response was to pick up the pace and, for the last 3/4 of a mile, I kept heart rate between 80-86% of max. In terms of technique, I adopted an almost bouncing stride that I hoped would translate to greater speed. It did, but it still fell short of today's expectations. My cadence, even after using my new form, never got out of the middling range. The one upside is that getting my HR into the higher 80% range is good preparation for harder workouts.

I don't know if I can return to doing 8:00 minute range training paces, but even if I can't, I still have lots of room for improvement.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Flexr running bottle, I hardly knew ye

Have you seen me?
Today's run (Bethpage bike trail): 6.25 miles

This morning I met up with my running buddies to take on Bethpage's northern bike trail. We haven't run together since the Brooklyn Half (technically, only TPP and I ran together that day), so it was fun to regroup. Now that the weather is warming up, I've been thinking that I need to carry water on longer runs. I've had little luck with running bottles, but a company called Flexr Sports had sent me one that interested me, so I decided to try it today.

SIOR was waiting on the trail when I arrived at our rendezvous spot. I told her I was thinking of carrying the Flexr bottle today (she has one as well) but I was concerned about the weight (my bottle held 21 oz.) and its lack of a hand strap. I tossed it back in the car, but SIOR mentioned the rising heat, so I decided to take it along after all.

TPP arrived at that moment and we quickly decided to go north. I wanted to cover six miles today, TPP was thinking 6-8 miles and SIOR, who had already run a mile, was thinking about going beyond the Cold Spring Harbor Labs publishing building. We ran together long enough to hear the details of SIOR's missing kitten saga (everything turned out fine!), but we separated by pace soon after that.

In terms of pace, mine was the slowest. That didn't discourage me, but I wished I could get closer so I could participate in the conversation. Of course, if I did push myself to their pace, I wouldn't have been able to contribute anything but gasps and grunts. My friends waited for me to catch up at the road crossings and that proved valuable for planning the next stages of our run.

The last section of our route, between Washington Ave and Sunnyside Boulevard, is very hilly going north. It's so hilly that I tend to use the LIE underpass as my turnaround point instead of taking on that challenge. But the Runsketeers don't shy away from hills, so I dutifully followed them up and over. TPP has had some recent struggles with endurance and speed (as have I) but today she moved along very well.

TPP and I reached Sunnyside after SIOR, who had continued on further north. We turned around at that point (3 miles) and headed back to our starting point. We knew SIOR would catch up to us eventually. Soon after we crossed Old Country Road, we were all reunited when SIOR ran into us like a freight train from behind. She is very speedy.

Although both of my friends got out in front of me after that, I picked up my speed and ended up covering the last 1.2 miles in a pace range that I haven't seen in a long time. It felt great to run harder as I got to the end and I enjoyed being cheered in by my buddies who had already finished. We took our traditional selfies after that. My skill in that area seems to be getting worse.

Um, how do you use a camera?
I ended up liking the Flexr bottle for its squeezable (rather than rigid) construction and its cap that worked much better than my Ultimate Direction bottle. I did wish it had a hand strap, but the shape helped make up for that somewhat. The bottle retails for about $11 and has disposible liners. I think it's a bargain.
Flexr has removable liners - nice idea

Unfortunately, I had placed the bottle on the back bumper of SIOR's car during our photo shoot and then forgot about it. Too bad, I was really starting to like it. We kept our other tradition of post run coffee at Starbucks and it was great to catch up. Soccer mom SIOR needed to leave first, but TPP and I hung in for a while and talked about running shoes and proprioception, a word I bungled badly, although TPP could pronounce it perfectly.

It was a great day to run and to be with running friends. I wish I'd remembered to take my Flexr bottle, but it won't cost a lot to replace. In the meantime, I'm pleased with my progress. I didn't run fast, but I was faster than yesterday. As long as things keep going in that direction, I'm okay. Speed work soon. I think that's the only way to return to past performance levels.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Uncooperative Garmins can't spoil a good run

And taking its sweet time doing it
Today's run (street): 4.25 

Despite Wednesday being National Running Day and finally getting access to my company's fitness center, I haven't been running. Work is the culprit and I haven't figured out how to get in my weekday workouts without reverting back to 3:30 AM runs. Ironically, I can be extremely flexible in terms of my morning timing, but I prefer to be on the road very early to beat the heavy traffic.

I did attempt to use the fitness center yesterday but traffic was terrible and I got in a little late. The result was a fairly crowded locker room, along with the realization that I lacked both a combination lock and soap for my apr├Ęs-run shower. My wife has since packed both items in my gym bag, so I'll be better prepared next time. I still don't like sharing a locker room with co-workers, but I'll have to get over that.

I worked from home today and that provided an opportunity to do a run around the neighborhood. Once again, it took an annoyingly long time to get a signal on my GPS. I was concerned because I had some calls in the morning and every minute I waited (it actually took ten) was a minute less that I could run. The progress bar finally made it all the way across and I was on my way.

In the past, my first run after so many days away would almost guarantee a great experience. I wouldn't define today's run as great, but it met my need. It didn't hurt that the weather was perfect. I haven't looked at the Garmin data yet, so I don't know my splits. Overall, I did better than I expected.

Tomorrow is a Runsketeer group run and I'm looking forward to seeing my Runska-buddies for the first time since we ran the Brooklyn Half. I'm not happy to be cramming all my week's running into three weekend days, but it's the only option I have right now.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Cascadia 8's take on Stillwell Woods

A happy sight
Today's run (Stillwell Woods): 4.1 miles 

Although I bought my Brooks Cascadia 8's with the intention of using them as casual shoes, I couldn't resist taking them to Stillwell this morning. I have a perfectly nice pair of Helly Hansen Trail Lizards that have been my primary trail shoe over the past few years. Even so, I was curious to see how the Cascadias performed on Stillwell's tough trails.

The Cascadia 8
It's been over a month since I've done any type of trail running, so I was excited to hit the trail head leading into Stillwell Woods. The Cascadia's fit is generous for my shoe size, and I was concerned that it might create some lateral instability. Within a minute of my start, I could tell that would not be an issue.

The first thing I noticed about the shoes was the rock plate that provided less flexibility than the lighter weight Trail Lizards. On the positive side, I was able to plant my foot anywhere on the trail without concern for the jarring impact of roots and rocks. I normally need to step gingerly along certain areas at Stillwell, but the Cascadias absorbed everything in their path.

I didn't get adventurous enough to test vertical ascents out of the Viper Pit today, but I had no problems with the steep, scree covered sections that I encounter along my usual loop. Once I became confident that the Cascadias could handle any terrain, I shifted focus from watching the trail to enjoying the sights. That nearly cost me a face plant when my toe caught a high root and I almost went down. I was glad to have quickly restored my balance and suddenly grateful for the substantial toe guard.

The temperature was a few degrees higher than yesterday, but the tree cover kept me cool throughout the run. The Stillwell caretakers had recently trimmed the high grass adjacent to the single track that runs around the open field. That was great. When that grass gets high, it presents a real tick concern.

Overall, I ran easy and kept my heart rate between 81-84% of max. It was nice to be back in the woods and I appreciated the way the Cascadias performed. I'm thinking about adding more trail runs to my schedule while the weather remains cool. It's been a long time since I ran the Dirty Sock course in Babylon, so that might be a nice change of venue for my next outing.

I got my signed release form in the mail from my doctor yesterday and I'm now able to use my company's fitness center. Not that I love treadmills, but they have very nice equipment. Best of all, they have showers, so no more post-workout towel downs with Wet Ones, like I used to have to do at my old office.

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