Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Running Errands

So there I was on my way out of Starbucks today, wrapping up my lunch break with a co-worker, and clinging to my tall coffee in desperate hope that it would wake me up and get me through the afternoon.  We made a quick detour toward CVS when I remembered the running store just two doors down .

"I'm going to dip in here real quick," I said.  "I want to see if they have these electrolyte tablets I've been looking for and save myself a trip to REI tonight."

Up to this point, I'd been playing over my plan for the night, aiming to be as efficient as possible.  I had a pretty full plate on my hands: walking the dog, getting in a recovery 7 miler, whipping up some dinner, quick trip to REI for the tablets, settling in for the night to cheer on the Caps (who are currently putting on yet another scoring clinic tonight: C-A-P-S, CAPS CAPS CAPS!...I digress).  I've been putting off the trip to REI all week but with a hockey game of my own tomorrow night and then actually going to the Caps game on Friday night, time was running out to have them for my long run on Saturday.  Life is rough, what can I say?  And Wednesday nights, my wife has class so I'm pretty much on my own to get these things done.

As I said, I was mulling these plans over when my co-worker just looked at me, as if it'd been just hanging there to be plucked, she said, "Why don't you just run to REI, duck in, duck out, and be on your way." 

A smile broke across her face.  She must have seen the look of astonishment on my face as I worked this over.

"Hello!?  You couldn't come up with that on your own?" she nudged.

"I...well...that's just brilliant.  That's absolutely brilliant."

Running errands in the most literal sense of the expression.

To razor things down further, I took Mattie's bucking bronco immitation when I walked in the door to mean she could handle (and perhaps needed) a 7 miler of her own.  With dog leashed up and debit card in my pocket, we headed out at a slow trot down to REI. 

The beauty here too is that REI is only 2 miles away from the house, so I actually had to find a way to add mileage to the run.  Needing only 3 more miles, I ended up running the Goblin Gallop 5K course that begins in the same shopping center as REI.  Truly, all the pieces fell into place.

With 5 miles down, I clipped Mattie's leash to the bench outside, shut the tunes off, and popped into REI for my tablets.  In and out in four minutes and probably would have been faster had I not bumped into a friend from high school who works there.

"You run here?"
"Yep," sweat starting to run down my face.  "Trying to multi-task tonight."
"Guess you don't need a bag then, huh?"
(pointing to my zipper pocket)

Two miles later, Mattie and I returned home.  While she ate, I showered, then got the pot of water on the stove, boiled up some pasta, and padded downstairs nearly in time for the opening faceoff.   All tasks checked off the list, a bountiful feast (i.e. an entire box of pasta with the bunch of asparagus from the fridge cut in) before me, and an exhausted dog stretched out beside me.  Bliss!

Have you taken the chance to "run some errands"?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Double Dipping

The alarm went off this morning at 5:50 and I sprung out of bed and over to the running clothes I'd laid out what seemed like only a few hours before.  Still, with some of that excitement/anxiety that comes with a new routine, I was off and padding down the stairs.  For some reason, I'd hoped to actually catch a middle of the week run with some sunlight, but at 6:00 a.m., still no sun.  

I wrangled the dog who saw from the looks of things that this was more than just a morning walk.  She bucked and yowled as if she'd been penned up all day.  I kissed my wife good bye and Mattie and I started off in the dark around the golf cart path, both of us at an easy trot and on the lookout for deer.

I did my best tin man impression in the beginning, waiting for those stiff joints to finally get oiled and come to life.  Eventually they did and we were off.

Rounding the first mile, I started realizing that I actually felt much better than I had on the run I did less than 12 hours ago, and that only helped forge me on.  It's interesting to feel your body waking up on a morning run and the charge of cold air that wakes up the senses.

When we turned to the house, it was feeding time, and not just for the dog.   I filled both our bowls, mine with an apricot, banana, and some Kashi Warm cinnamon, and hers with, well dog food.  We scarfed it down and then the normal routine took over.

Coming out of the bathroom, I found Mattie sprawled out on the floor in front of my closet.  When I moved to get into it, she picked herself up off the ground and meandered to her bed, let out a long sigh, and promptly fell back asleep.

I went about my day, business as usual but with that afternoon run always in the back of my mind.  My concern wasn't so much that I couldn't complete the second workout, but more so that the extra run would put strain on my ornery IT-band that had tensed up some over the weekend.

Meanwhile, today's eating habits took on savage, garbage disposal proportions.  I'd go from completely content to ravenous in a matter of moments.  As I mentioned yesterday, though, I packed a yogi bear style picnic for myself with food never more than an arm's length away.

I fought off a 10:00 dip in energy with a bowl of oatmeal and some yogurt and made a requisite stop at Starbucks at lunch for a coffee...just in case.

On my way home from work, I chatted with my dad who assured me that my IT-band would hold up.  "So you top out at 13 miles today," he said.  "Haven't you done 13 miles in a day before?"  A wise man, my father.  He told me about the days when he would set out for a double.  "It's just an easy way to add mileage," he said.  "Of course I remember those 'easy' morning runs.  Easy pace being, oh, 6:30ish, you know, it felt like nothing."

Uh huh.

Still, taking extra precaution, I put some heat on it whilst stretching this evening, then headed out the door (again).  The morning run seemed so long ago, that it almost felt like a completely different day.  Instead of the jerky, sluggish stride I somewhat expected, I found my legs turning over cleanly and efficiently.  I glided through my 2.5 mile warmup and when it came time to pick up the pace for my steady state run, there was a pop there that I haven't seen in a week or so.  I fell into a smooth rhythm and cruised easily at 6:20 pace for 4.5 miles and when it came time to take my cool down, I slowed the pace and my breathing and heart rate immediately settled down.

Back at the house again, and extremely pleased with myself, I plugged the iPod in and started bouncing around the kitchen to some Sly and the Family Stone while sipping on a recovery smoothie.

Now, I'm just kicking back watching the Caps destroy the Islanders, and melting into the couch (with a precautionary ice bag on my IT band).  Channeling my inner-George Costanza, I dipped the chip today...and then I dipped again.  And I loved it.  Is that bed calling?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Two for Tuesday - Getting Ready to Run Double

When I flipped the page over on my training program this morning, I found the customary "Easy run" waiting for me.  Nothing too crazy.  Starting week four, it's increased from 40-50 minutes to 45-60 minutes.  What I happened to notice, however, was the side note: This is a good week to begin adding one to two double runs to meet your mileage goals.

"Huh," I thought.  "A double run.  I'm going to be tired...and hungry!"  

This definitely creates a new element to the training.  I read in last month's Running Times about the benefit of adding double runs to the training program.  Mostly, it's a safe way to add mileage without risking injury since you're breaking up the accumulated mileage for the day.  And after listening to Ryan Hall and reading some fellow loopsters who've done it, the best day to double dip is on a speed day, using that morning run as a type of warm up to get the legs limber and the toxins flushed out.

So, it was with this in mind that I set out on my 8-mile easy run tonight.  The weather seemed to change by the minute today.  I woke up to an unseasonably warm January day this morning - a mild 60 degrees. The wind picked up as the day went on and you could watch the purple and gray clouds rushing over the sky.  I actually pulled some shorts out to run in, but as I took the dog out for a quick walk before my own run, I had to put the iPod away because a storm moved in and those clouds finally overflowed.  From the window, it looked like an April spring day, a customary thunderstorm blowing through in the late afternoon.  The only difference was that rain was COLD!  Mattie and I returned, soaked and shivering.  But after stretching and zipping up my windbreaker, the rain had stopped -- one side of the sky glowing orange, the other apocalyptic.  

It seemed like I was running toward the storm, this mass of angry clouds gathering.  But the farther I ran, the more the storm moved away, and those extra minutes of daylight disappeared into a clear night with a liquid moon shining down like a spotlight.

Well, it was on this run, between thoughts of where to go after each distant rumble of thunder, that I thought about how to tackle tomorrow's double.  I've tried unsuccessfully to run in the mornings (I'm usually worthless by 11:00 a.m. from exhaustion, and bed time starts at 9:00) in the past.  There's something about getting those muscles loosened up and functioning in wasn't working.

But those days came with 7 and 8 milers to try and beat the humidity.  Unfortunately it was still humid and my run was timed with what seemed an endless caravan of garbage trucks.  This time, I'm only after an easy 20-30 minutes, meaning the alarm doesn't have to go off quite as early.  

I'm a planner, though.  I've spent a good 20 minutes tonight laying out clothes and food for tomorrow to minimize extra running around in the morning.  From breakfast following my run, and a more fortified morning snack, to an extra sandwich to munch on at lunch and a double portion of brown rice.  Before it was all about preparing for the next run, except the next run was always 24 hours away.  Now I'm looking at an 11 hour turn around twice.  Eek!

A new challenge is always exciting, though.  I'm hoping that tackling this once a week for a couple weeks will prime me for a second double in the coming weeks, boost the mileage, and *fingers crossed* make me faster.  

Of one thing I'm certain, I will be sleeping very well tomorrow night.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Low-Carb, No-Carb Long Run

If you're reading the title of this post and cringing or narrowing your eyes at the screen in skeptical bewilderment, you are not alone.  In fact, doing this run took quite a bit of personal convincing, especially around mile 14.  Don't get me wrong, I love carbs.  I need carbs.  I crave carbs.  The overflowing pasta I ate two helpings worth of for dinner, on top of french toast (and other various breakfast staples) for breakfast this morning is exhibit A.

I scoffed at the no-carb diets and knew, in every fiber of my being, that I could never do something like that.  Of course, I wouldn't really call anything I do a diet.  My wife calls me "gaunt" and a co-worker calls me "man-orexic."  But then they watch me eat.  And eat.  And eat and eat and eat.  So my only "diet" is to essentially run enough to burn the massive amounts of calories my body tells me I need.  Sorry if I can scarf down the leftovers of others and not think twice about it, because I know the upcoming *insert workout here* will make whatever was left on that plate slide right off my bones.  But I digress.

In my current training program, there are essentially two types of long runs: 1.  the Long Slow Distance (LSD) and 2. Some sort of long run with a speed workout plugged into the middle or end of it.  Number one is all about time on your feet, pounding on the road for a 105 minutes and beyond, basically pushing your body to the point where it starts to run out of carbs to burn.  The second is to get you comfortable picking up the pace when you should be getting tired.  Neither one is easy.

Here's a quick article explaining more in-depth the purpose of each workout.  But essentially, when running the LSD, McMillan prescribes not carbo-loading the night before or the morning of this long run.  Doing so teaches your body to burn other resources (i.e. fat) more efficiently so when those vital resources begin depleting in the marathon, it can regulate itself by burning alternate energy sources. Your body essentially burns fuel more efficiently.  McMillan goes as far to say that you should just bring electrolytes with rather than say gatorade because of the sugar/carb jolt you get on the run.  This is apparently a pretty controversial method to do your long run, which he's received both praise and flack for.  I felt I had to give a try.

I drove out to Belle Haven park just outside of Old Town Alexandria, where I parked and hopped right on to the Mt. Vernon trail.  It was a sunny day, upper 30s/lower 40s.  Pretty ideal.  My plan was an eight mile out and back that would take me along the Potomac and up to Mt. Vernon.  I've always used this route as a test run because I find the rolling steep hills (both going up and coming back down) to be demanding on my legs and lungs.  Finishing it is always a good confidence boost that things are headed in the right direction.

The trail also provides a tranquil run, offering serene views of the river, the giant homes that line the parkway, and Mt. Vernon itself.  When the going gets tough, it's easy to distract yourself by the surroundings.  Outside of a few crowded spots, the trail can be desolate without a lot of extra foot and bike traffic.

I started out at a more brisk pace than I had planned, which I thought might spell trouble later.  As I climbed for the first three miles, I kept telling myself that I'd be thankful for taking on these hills now rather than at the end.  At around mile 5, the hunger started to creep in.  Granted, I had gone to bed hungry and woke up only to eat an english muffin.  I took a swig of diluted gatorade and focused on the placid and glass-like Potomac.  "What hungry?" I asked myself.

There's a steep ascent to the turn around point that I kept in the back of my head. As it approached, I felt my legs begin to turnover faster and I conquered that hill as if it were a slight rise in the road.  My hopes buoyed at this point and confidence soared. 

My, how things can change.  From 10-14, I had to take each mile one at a time, live in the moment, and not think about anything beyond the next mile marker.  The tank had emptied.  I felt a touch lightheaded and the amount of sugar in my already diluted gatorade had no effect.  I made a brief stop at the water fountain around mile 13, refilled, and plugged along.  Once I hit 14, I had to stop.  I ransacked my body for energy.  Anything to burn, even a cranny of that english muffin.  Nothing.  Frustration started to set in.  I walked for a minute, feeling nearly back to normal the second I stopped, then continued on at a slow jaunt for about a half mile, then had to walk again.  The cycle repeated.  I made it back the final two miles, descending those hills I hoped would be easy at the end, somewhat dejected, totally depleted, and wholly starving.  I had some gatorade in the car waiting for me that I sucked down and felt life almost instantly restore. 

On my drive home, I had visions of black bean and salsa wraps, tortilla chips, peanut butter sandwiches, yogurt, pizza from Matchbox, and a (few) tall glass of beer...all of which I would have before the day was over.  Then the dreamless sleep of the exhausted runner.

So, a final assessment:  McMillan warns that this is a brutal brutal run the first couple times you do it until your body adjusts.  It was.  But, while it was tough, I don't think I helped matters by having not eaten enough period the night before, let alone too many carbs.  I purchased some Nuun to drop into my waterbottle for this week that is all electrolyte and no sugar added.  Yes, it was tough, but yes, I think I can do my plan is to head back out for the same route for my next 16-miler, just six days from now.  It's all about taking the good and bad from each run and applying it, right?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some fig newtons calling my name.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Hills of Providence

Finally, this past weekend my cold left for good, meaning time to return to the road (and the blog). After what I’ll call a “wishful thinking” tempo run last Wednesday, my symptoms (sore throat, stuffy nose) came back, essentially forcing me to miss the remainder of the training week. Alas, I hit two of my three key workouts – a hill workout would surely have pushed everything into my chest. Hopefully (knocking on all things wood), this will be the only health-related setback and at least it’s early.

So with that, I hit the pavement this weekend for a 90-minute progression run on the “Hills of Providence.” My wife and I took a trip up there to visit my father-in-law, which brought the always exciting chance to explore a new city on foot. I had a loose five mile route planned.

What I’ve come to enjoy about running by minute rather than by mile is that the run becomes flexible. And I needed that this time around. I had the major streets memorized that I needed to turn on but a couple of surprising forks and unmarked streets led me astray. Rather than stressing about how much mileage I tacked on, I simply knew that I was putting a few extra blocks on (or miles as it turned out) but it all counted toward the end goal of 90-minutes.

About that route now. One of the great things I discovered about Providence is that it’s a very runnable city, particularly if you’re training for Boston. You can take in a lot on one long run…but you have to work for it. I trotted out in the center of town and made my way toward the buildings of Brown University poking out above the house-lined streets. Crossing over the river that runs through the city (they light bonfires on it at night during the summer), I noticed that while the buildings got closer, the tips also got higher. So I braced myself for the impending climbs that could be coming…and there were two of them to start. It wasn’t so much my quads that I minded burning, it was the way my heart pounded by the time I got to the top…but get to the top I did where I slowed to catch what remained of my breath. Insert creepy ragged breathing sound effect here.

The route carried me alongside the Brown campus where I could peer into the rare expanse of grassy quad and the few students back early from winter break meandering across it. I came to a T and hung a left to run alongside the Narragansett river and watch the few brave souls shove their boston whalers into the chop and putter out onto the cold river.

From there, I chuffed up another steep hill and took my wrong turn but ended up discovering some of the large mansions that make this town so unique. Homes range from the dilapidated frat house-looking-kind to those that get passed on from family to family. I loved the way that no two houses looked alike, nothing like the cookie-cutter communities that go up a dime a dozen these days. Instead, each house had its own style, from the color, to the size, to the cutouts, to the sparkling chandeliers hanging from the ceilings (I couldn’t help but catch a glimpse in the open windows).

Back on track, I glided down Wickenden street that teemed with people sipping coffee, going in and out of shops that ranged from the Mister Sister Erotic Shop to the nick-knack trinket types of places, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and everything in between. All good fodder for your head while running.

And lastly, I climbed one last hill through a series of enormous mansions and churches of various denominations. I say lastly, but then I had to circle back around one more time and do the loop over in order to get the minutes (and mileage in). I was happy to have gone slower the first time through to capture the scenery because, since it was a progression run, I was hauling the majority of the second lap with homemade calzones on my mind.

Yesterday, I trotted out on my recovery run, doing pretty much the same loop but incorporating a quick lap around the state capitol whilst getting pelted in the face by sleet.

All-in-all, a grand weekend of running that left me with fresh legs, fresh lungs, and a fresh batch of confidence to continue along this long road to Boston.

Friday, January 8, 2010

It's Hip to do Yoga

Earlier this week (Wednesday to be exact), I embraced the cross-training option of the “rest/cross-train” workout in my training program with a little trip to the gym followed by some yoga.  I unfurled the mat onto our hardwood floor near the dining room table, pulled the laptop close, and got down to business (insert downward facing dog joke here).

Actually, a quick digression on downward dog: if your dog catches you doing this pose, it is the universal pose in dog language for, “It’s time to play!”  Mattie sees this and ruins any chance of yoga-time being a peaceful experience.  Many are the times that my face been licked, my stomach has been jumped upon, and stuffed toys hurled my way.  But as I said, I digress.

I started adding yoga in to my running/fitness routine about a year ago.  A friend came to visit and started talking about how he’d been doing it, how relaxing (yet intense) it could be, and how it’s helped his athletic performance.  I’ll admit, I gave him a few skeptical looks in the beginning.  “Yoga?...Really?”   The first time I did any yoga was in college.  Rachel got me to sign up for a class on campus…I was the only guy there.  And when you tell your friends that you’re doing yoga, they gave you the same narrow-eyed, head-cock, knowing smirk, which I probably gave my friend.  But until you do it, you just don’t know how great it can be for your body and how challenging (and humbling) it can be.

I think running adds an extra element of “in tune-ness” with our body, and yoga simply amplifies that.

So like I said, I returned to it about a year ago.  I wanted to add some flexibility to my tight running muscles.  I still reminisce about the hockey days when a full split was an afterthought and getting my head to touch my knee was a given.  I’ve been to a couple classes here and there, but what my friend turned me on to is the Yogamazing podcast.

Open iTunes, subscribe to it…it will change you.  Each week, Chaz Rough does a 20-27 minute podcast in his yoga studio.  Like the workouts on our training programs, each class has a purpose.

Naturally, my first inclination was to download the Yoga for Runners podcast; however, it goes all the way down to specific body parts that affect our running: Yoga for Tight Hamstrings, Yoga Hip Openers, Yoga for the Butt, Yoga for the Abs, etc.

In the past couple months, I’ve suffered from tight hips, which I’m fairly confident have contributed to my IT-band issues.  But since I’ve ramped up the yoga, things are finally starting to loosen up and feel normal again.  I work it in three-times a week, one session on each of my rest/cross-train days, and once more on an easy run day.  You can download them on your iPod and take them with you on the road, too.

After a long run, you’ll crave it.  Plus, I’ve incorporated some of the poses into my warm up and cool down stretches.

As I flowed into some twisted contortion Wednesday night, I let out a near deafening groan when my hips released.  Rachel poked her head around the corner from the kitchen, “Everything all right in there?”
“I guess it’s working?”
“Sooo good.”

Who knew cross-training could feel so good?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Saying Goodbye to my First String Shoes

As the New Year loomed last week, I decided the time had come to say good bye to an old friend – a pair of old friends, actually. For the past two Valentine’s Days, my wife and I have made it tradition to buy each other a new pair of running shoes. Let’s be honest, getting a new pair of shoes is the Cadillac of running gifts. They were the ASICS GT 2130s in orange and blue (Gator colors), and after an initial few runs, I knew there was something special about them.

I decided after my first 20-miler in them that in fact these would be the shoes I ran my BQ marathon in. Then I proceeded to beat the crap out of them. These became the Brian Sells of running shoes: hard-working, no frills, blue collar kicks. Together, we slogged through cold rain storms, over ice, ankle deep in mud, on back-road trails, and occasionally on asphalt.

Our first race together was the National Half Marathon in March. I had a difficult decision to make: go with the Gators or put my rookie GT 2140s to the test and give them a chance to impress me (a b-day gift from Mom and Dad). D-tag in hand, both shoes in front of me, something in those mud-hardened shoes said they’d go to the ends of the earth (or road) for me. And they sure as hell did.

Had the Gators not performed well, I would have second-guessed my decision like any good coach, but like all good players, they rose to the occasion and delivered a sweet PR and a much needed confidence boost for my Vermont training. That PR solidified them as the Varsity pair.

I’m pretty sure we’re still talking about shoes.

Anyhow, I grew very attached to them and even went back to them for some final magic in the Army Ten-Miler. Like the experienced veteran coming in for one last hoorah, they delivered a six minute PR. But I watched my odometer rise and the tread continue to wear away on the bottom. The miles of trials, trials of miles on them had been long. I knew a change would have to come.

With Christmas money burning a hole in my pocket, I found a great deal on some 2140s on the clearance rack (in a size 14 no less) at REI. I ran over to my wife, clutching them to my chest, and proclaimed them to be “the Next.” They glimmered in their shiny silver and midnight blue pristine brilliance – the Omega to my Alpha shoes. I can’t stop smelling them because, well, let’s face it, they’re never going to smell this clean and sterile again. As I fawned over the new shoes that I named “Bolt” in my training calendar, I could feel the Gators and their saddened look, knowing that the end indeed was near and they would be relegated to the smooth linoleum gym floors and rarely taken out for runs, except perhaps on the snowiest of days. But Bolt wasn’t “game-tested” yet, and truth be told, tonight will be my first run in the new shoes.

I thought the Gators deserved to usher out the successful running year we had enjoyed together. So it was with excitement and a touch of sadness that I laced them up one last time on Thursday night for the New Year’s Eve Fairfax Four Miler. Fittingly, the rain picked up at the starting line and soaked us through, a last rites sort of cleansing if you will.

I had meager hopes for this race, just wanting to go out and run sub-25 to shatter my 26:39 time from the year before. When I came through mile 1 in 6:00 with barely an elevation in heart rate, I felt that last little bit of magic.

We flowed down into a high school parking lot, dark and getting pelted by rain, then followed the bright lights glimmering around the track. A brisk 200 brought me to mile 2 and an 11:56. Visions of sub-24 starting dancing in my head. I knew two steep hills waited for me between 3 and 4 but we soldiered on.

Bolting down the highway, we ran mostly alone with a pack of runners off in the distance by the flickering lights of a police car. Out of nowhere, mile 3 popped up and the watch read 17:56. But, God, those hills rose out of the highway and climbed and climbed.

We fought, quads tightening, and overtook the group of runners ahead of us, then outkicked one more to the finish…in 24:02.

Sure, I missed by three seconds, but the effort was gutsy and I was proud of my boys as I peeled them from my soggy feet in our foyer later.

The New Year is here and I’m hoping that the Bolts have been good studies to their veteran counterparts. Plus, they have the aging 2140 Flames to compete with. Indeed, the starting spot is up for grabs.

So, I suppose this post is about “out with the old, in with the new,” “putting away the past to look toward the future,” but it’s also about reflection, appreciation, and finally moving on.

A moment of silence for the Gators….

You will be missed.

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