Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Off-Season & an Announcement

I was walking the dog yesterday morning and I was surrounded by flakes of snow gently falling around me. I was thinking, "well, this is probably it." I had made plans to run a 5K with my brother over the holiday weekend, but it didn't work out and with temperatures now routinely topping out in the low-40s or below, I don't see myself running any more races within the next couple of months. The off-season has officially begun.

It was a good inaugural season of running. Four 5Ks and a 10K to get things kicked off - I ran a faster time in each of the 5Ks I did and I set the bar a reasonable level with my first 10K. Best of all, I learned to be able to train efficiently and intelligently and laid down a nice miles base to use as a spring board for next year. As of today I passed 80 miles for the month of November marking the 6th consecutive 80+ mile month and 7th 80+ mile month this year. There could have been others, but I wasn't really consistent in my documentation of miles until about June. My high for miles in a month was 116 in October - though that was quickly followed by a back injury that put me on the sidelines for a week. In total I've run about 650 miles, biked about 50 miles and swam about 20 miles over the last 8 months and I'm pretty proud of that. For a guy who was used to doing pretty much whatever I wanted for workouts, I'm proud of the discipline, I'm proud of the focus and I'm proud of the perseverance it took to get to this this point...and I plan on carrying this over into next year.

For me the off-season will probably start in a few days. I plan on taking a good 2-3 weeks off of running, which will be hard, but necessary. During those weeks I will still be active in the gym, but I will be focusing on strengthening my core and legs. In addition to that, I will be planning out my running year for 2012...which will include...big announcement here, my first marathon. I got the itch while watching the 2011 Chicago Marathon and now I've decided I want to do one. My brother (Tony K.) sent me a nice note yesterday and said that if I wanted to do CM12, he would do it with me. My wife (Leslie K.) has been encouraging me to do it too and now I'm making it official -- barring something unforeseen, I will be running a marathon in 2012 (likely the Chicago Marathon). Anyway, my plan is to get really detailed with regard to my running schedule. I plan on using one (or a few) of Jack Daniels' training plans in putting together a day-by-day training schedule. In my ideal world, I'd like to run a handful of 5Ks, a couple of 10Ks, a couple of half-marathons and a marathon next year, topping out at about 10-12 races for the year.

So I'm excited, I'm excited about what next year holds, I'm excited to share it with other runners I know and I'm excited to set goals and achieve them. It's been a great year and I think next year will be even better.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Race Report & a 'Note to Self'

A few months ago, I saw a sign next to one of the paths I run on that was advertizing the upcoming Prodigy 5K. I decided to check it out and realized that this race was taking place only about a mile or so from our house...and there was prize money involved: $1000 for 1st place male and female, $500 for 2nd, $250 for 3rd. I thought to myself, "huh, it's close, it's likely to be a small race, maybe I have a shot? Who knows right?" Well, as it turns out I was right, it was a small race...but I had no shot.

I haven't run many races yet in my short recreational running career. We've done some charity 5Ks and I've done one club-sponsored 10K. In most local races you get a small handful of really fast runners and a bigger group of pretty fast runners. Typical 5K winners will run anything from 16:30 to 17:30 and there are usually 10-20 total runners under 20:00. This was not a typical 5K. Before the race starts I'm sizing up the competition (we all do it) and I'm seeing A LOT of club shirts...Dick Pond's Fast Track Team, Fleet Feet Chicago, etc which tells me this is going to be a fast race. In overhearing conversations, my suspicions were confirmed as I heard a couple of guys talking about running "sub-5" which I gathered was a discussion on pace.

The other surprising thing was how few people showed up for the race...it was a nearly perfect morning, mid-40s, sunny, a slight breeze but nothing major...and yet less than 100 people showed up. Even the course was something I figured would appeal to people, a nice and flat course run mostly on crushed-gravel...I mean, it doesn't get more ideal than that in my opinion. I had seen advertisements for months for this race, the weather was nice and I figured there would be the typical 500-700 people there. Knowing what I know now, I guess I'm less surprised that there wasn't a great turnout.

The gun went off and before I was 1/4 of a mile into my race, I felt like most of the pack was pulling away from me. I was doing my best to keep my pace reasonable but in feeling like I was falling back, I kept pushing.

It wasn't until mile marker 1 when I realized what kind of field this was. I passed mile 1 at 5:50, the fastest mile I've ever run in a 5K and the fastest mile I've run (period) since 9th grade. As far as I could tell, there were about 40 people ahead of me. As soon as I crossed mile marker 1, I started giving myself the pep talks. My goal coming into the race was to run it under 20:00 and I knew that if I could just hold a pace that was even 20 or 30 seconds slower than my 1st mile through the rest of the race, I would have it. Through the 2nd mile I managed to pass a few people who, like me, had gotten caught up in the fast start. I passed mile marker 2 at 12:10 and actually felt relieved that my second mile had been about 30 seconds slower than the first mile. To me, mile 2 to mile 3 is always the most brutal stretch of a 5K - you're tired and yet the finish line is just far enough away where it doesn't seem close. I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling this way.

At about mile 2.5, a girl stopped about 10 paces in front of me and lost her cookies. That was fun. It was actually kind of inspiring because it was about that time where I decided that no matter what it took out of me, I was going to push myself to the end. The final 1/3rd of a mile stretch was a straight shot to the finishing chute which, as I got closer, allowed me to see the clock. As soon as it came into focus, I saw a time in the 18s and I knew I had it.

19:14 was my official time - though it was a race that used the tags that they rip off your bib # and I'm pretty sure the clock read 19:12.

I think I let out some sort of blue-streak after I crossed the finish line and had walked away from the crowd a bit. It was kind of a blur, but I'm pretty sure I said some words that I wouldn't say around children. I was so pumped. After working for the last 6 months, I can finally say that I ran a 5K in under 20 minutes. It felt so good to achieve that time and it was a validation of all that work I had put in, the hard runs during the summer, the long runs, all the miles, it was all worth it in that moment.

I placed 39th out of 91 total runners. The overall results can be found here. The top 10 finishers all ran the race in under 16:00 - the entire top 20 was all under 17:00. 46 out of 91 (50.5%) ran the race in under 20:00. The winner, Kris Gauson, was a track star at Butler University and is attempting to qualify for the Olympics in London next summer. The 2nd place guy, Chad Ware, won the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 30th (2:19:16, 16 seconds short of qualifying for the Olympic trials). 4th place was Jeff Jonaitis who qualified for the Olympic Trials during the Chicago Marathon in 2009. The top 10 is littered with great runners and former All-Americans.

This is my note to self: if the prize is $1,000, or anywhere near it, for a 5K...the race is going to be very, very fast. Don't get me wrong here, it was fun to run with such great runners, but it was also sobering to realize that the winner finished almost 5 minutes before I did. Overall I'm grateful for the experience and I am excited to be at a point where I need to set a new 5K goal. Now I think the 2011 running season is pretty much over. I will continue to run for another couple of weeks and then take a 2-week break in December to re-charge. Next year's schedule will be more complete and there has even been whisperings of running in the New York Half-Marathon with Leslie, my friend Stephen and his wife Emily and a possible appearance at the Chicago Marathon next October. Stay tuned.

I would be remiss if I didn't also mention that my wife, Leslie, beat her previous PR in this race by almost 2 minutes - running it in 27:20. I'm so proud of her and how far she has come in such a short time. I see her running in the 24s before the end of next year.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Barefoot Running and Minimalist Shoes

I went for my first run in a week on Sunday and it went great. In talking with a few other runners last week, I realized that there was no sense in rushing myself back because I would likely only be setting myself up for re-injury...so I took it easy, which wasn't easy at all. I so badly wanted to get out there, especially since it was so nice outside. Anyway, I'm feeling good now, I've got a race coming up on Saturday that I'm looking forward to and it will be nice getting back into a normal training schedule.

Now to touch on a topic that is fairly new to me, the topic of 'barefoot' and 'minimalist' running. For those of you not familiar with this, it's a movement that is currently sweeping through the running community, promoting shoes that contain little to no padding in them. The over-arching theme isn't so much about shoes (or an absence of them as it were) but rather an emphasis on correct running form and preventing injury through the use of correct form. While it has been deemed a 'fad' by some, I doubt it's going to fade away anytime soon as evidenced by the fact that shoe companies have now gotten on-board. Saucony recently announced that it's decreasing the heel-to-toe drop of all of it's traditional shoes from 12mm to 8mm (or less) and a number of major shoe brands (Brooks, Saucony, Nike, Asics, etc) are now marketing "minimalist" or "barefoot" running shoes.

Last week, author and runner Christopher McDougall wrote a lengthy article for the New York Times in which he claimed to have found the "holy grail" of running - a training method called "100-upping" that can help train your body to run with correct form. Though the article has been met with some well-deserved harsh criticism, it got me thinking. In the piece, McDougall exposes a lie that the running-shoe industry has been selling us for the past 30 years: that your shoes aren't just a tool, they are an essential safety item for every runner. I suppose if I had stopped to think about this for any length of time I may have figured it out on my own, but as someone just getting back into running, I was more apt to look to others and well, every is always talking about shoes! In shoe stores we hear things like "pronation", "supination", "mid-foot strike", and on and on and we get the impression that we need special shoes and perhaps even special orthotics in order to prevent injury. Science has weighed in on the matter and basically found that your shoe and it's padding does not prevent injury. Plain and simple.

It makes sense when you think about it. 50 years ago there were less runners, sure, but there were still elite runners and there were still recreational runners and they didn't have the shoe technology that we have today yet they still managed to find a way to run at a high level and avoid injury. The shoe industry simply found a way to capitalize on people's fear of being injured and duped the public into thinking that they needed shoes to run safely. I wouldn't even go as far to say that running form is all there is. I think some people really do benefit from proper shoes due to a unique physical oddity or unique mechanical issue. Pete Larson, the evolutionary biologist that McDougall quotes often in his article weighed in on the matter and I think he would agree with me. He says,

"My general feeling is that there is no such thing as “perfect” running form, but rather that there is a “best” running form for each individual given the peculiarities of their own anatomy, physiology, and personal history (shoes, activity level, etc.)." [...] "Given my thoughts about form, I also don’t think there is a perfect shoe for all runners, nor do I think everyone should go barefoot. To be honest, I don’t even think science currently provides particularly good answers as to what any individual should wear or not wear on their feet. I think runner’s need not be afraid to experiment, and that they should take what they are told in most running stores with a grain of salt." (source)

Like my friend Stephen said, McDougall's aim in life seems to be to sell his own books (and who can blame him) and the simple fact of the matter is, saying that "everyone is different in terms of form and everyone has their own unique needs when it comes to shoes" isn't going to sell many books.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

If Only It Were the Legs

Sometime last week, I noticed that there was a point of discomfort in the middle of my back, but it wasn't bothering me much at all, it was just something I noticed. I was running normally, I was sleeping normally and aside from the occasional "grab" I probably would have forgotten about it. Then I went for a long run on Saturday, my longest run ever actually, a 10+ miler. I felt great, I ran great, but when I got back I noticed that that point of discomfort had become a little more pronounced. Later that night it was really starting to bother me and it bothered me during most of my off-day the next day. I woke up yesterday morning and it was not really that bad so I decided to go for a run at lunch yesterday and I only made it a mile before my back had completed seized up and I couldn't really breathe. I would describe the pain as a "spasm" of sorts, though it doesn't seem to be connected to any muscles, it's more in my actual spine, right in middle of my back.

I slept fine last night, though I feel it seemingly every time I move. I was thinking last night, as runners, most of us are usually concerned that we will injure our legs in some way, whether it's an IT band issue or knee problem or shin splints, our efforts in preventing injury are usually centered around protecting our legs. That makes sense given the pivotal role working legs play into the running thing, but as I'm experiencing now and have experienced in the past, a hurt back can sideline you just as quickly. I wish it were my legs that were hurt, because when you have achilles tendonitis or shin splints you have a pretty good idea of how long it will take to heal. Here I was thinking I was fine to run yesterday only to have the problem flare up again and now I don't know how long it will be.

I guess I'm not too disappointed to have this injury now. I do have a 5K coming up in about 12 days, but I think with some appropriate rest and stretching, I should be ready to go for that. I had planned to take a 1-2 week break after Thanksgiving as a means of letting my body rest for awhile. Jack Daniels' recommends taking an extended break from running at least once per year and it seems like well-reasoned advice. I really pushed it in October running 116 miles which is, by far, the most miles I've logged in any month this year. I didn't break the 10% rule anywhere along the way, but I can tell that my body needs a break. I would love to hear from those of you out there who have had back injuries in the past - particularly I'd love to hear about various stretches I can do to alleviate some of the discomfort.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pushing it to the Limit

I know I'm not the only one who has this problem...you know the one, the one where nearly every training run becomes some sort of race against the watch. Even on the days where you say to yourself, "ok, I'm gonna take it nice and slow today" you get about halfway through your run and you find yourself repeatedly looking down at your watch. I think this problem is especially prevalent amongst those of us who are just getting back into competitive running after a long break, or those of us who are new to running. That said, I've talked to some veteran runners (my brother for example) who say they struggle with this problem from time to time as well. I think the sport of running is prone to becoming a 'clock game' even though that is probably counter-productive.

The longer I go on with this blog, the more I'm probably going to talk about legendary running coach Jack Daniels. I'm currently reading his book and I've heard from more than one serious runner that it is "the book" to own and read when it comes to training. I've already learned a lot about how to train more intelligently and I'm only halfway through the book. One of the early sections in the book is about "E" pace training which refers to easy or "recovery" runs. According to Daniels, "When you do easy (E) runs to recover from strenuous periods of training or to carry out a second workout on a particular day, and when you do your long (L) runs, you should run at a pace which is very close to (E) (easy-run) velocity, which is about 70% of V02max. Long runs (L), improve cell adaptation, and lead to glycogen depletion and fluid loss (important considerations for distance runners), but should not be demanding in terms of the intensity (pace) being utilized." If you're confused about VO2Max, read my post on it, or if you're curious to know what your "E" pace would be given your personal VDOT number, please visit this website.

Daniels' fundamental motto for runners is, "Always have a purpose for every training session." When you have a purpose for every training session, a training run rarely has a chance to become a clock game. As I've tried to adopt this motto in my own training, the stopwatch has still played an important role, but my perception of it's role has changed. Last night for example, I went on an "E" run - 6 miles at an easy pace, because my legs needed a break after back to back days of speed work. I remember from Daniels' book that he said that the "E" pace is almost a laughably easy pace...it's a pace you feel like you could keep up forever. My particular "E" pace is 8:24 and I'm happy to say that my average mile was close to that (8:16) and I felt great afterwards. I haven't gotten to the part of the book where Daniels talks about how often you should be training at an "E" pace, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that he recommends these type of runs more than other types of training. Here's a "running pyramid" from his book that has me thinking "E" runs will be more plentiful than others.

Anyway, there's plenty more to know about these training levels so if you're really interested, go get the book, it's not even that expensive (~$17 shipped from Amazon). All this is to say that it really takes some effort to prevent your training runs from becoming a race against the clock. So many times over the past few months I've started out with every intention of taking it easy, only to get to the end of my run trying to beat some time or achieve some overall pace level. I'm not there yet, but I starting to learn that this actually hindering me rather than helping me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Some Thoughts on VO2Max

If you've been running for any length of time and become curious about the 'science' of running, then you are probably familiar with the term "VO2Max" which was popularized by (though certainly not coined by) Jack Daniels in his seminal book, "Daniels' Running Formula". VO2Max, in a nutshell, is basically the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can consume during incremental exercise. Put another way, it's your body's aerobic "limit". This maximum is different for every human and, generally speaking, the higher your VO2Max, the higher your potential is in endurance sports. I have included two charts below; one that allows a runner that is familiar with their typical racing speed to plot their VO2Max (based on time) and another chart that displays normal VO2Max ranges for men and women of different ages.

To figure your VDOT number, match your race time (a recent race on a fairly level course will give you the most accurate reading) to the VDOT number associated with that time. I didn't include anything above 60 on here, but 67 and above is considered "elite", the highest VDOT score ever recorded was 94. Source

With all this information in mind, I came across an interesting article today that gave me pause. The article, on a website called "thresholdsport.com" talked about how VO2Max is mostly a result of genetics and that, much like body type, one can work to optimize their VO2Max, but that any given runner's 'limit' is essentially beyond their control. To quote the article:

"Where we start with our VO2max is genetically determined and consequently, how high we can get it is genetically determined as well. The injustice of this is that there are many hard working age group athletes out there who, with all the intensive training they can muster, can work their VO2max all the way up to 45, while some cigarette smoking, sedentary slug may have the genetics that starts him off at 45 and he could train up to 63." (source)

This was very frustrating for me to read. It is essentially saying that no matter how hard I train, I will probably get to a point where I can no longer improve. While it unlikely that I will ever reach this point, given the limited time I have to train everyday, I don't like thinking that there is a limit to my running abilities. I would like to think that if I continued to train in an efficient and intelligent manner, that someday I would be at a level far beyond where I am now...possibly even to the point where I am able to win some of the smaller races I enter. Winning is not a driver for me, but IMPROVING is and it is a hard pill to swallow knowing that eventually I will reach my limit. Another quote from the article:

"If you have been competing in any sort of endurance sport for greater than 6 months, it is likely you will be able to train up your VO2max only about 5-15%.  If you are a couch potato who has never exercised a day in your life, it is possible to raise you VO2max close to 40%.  The reason for this is that when we first undertake some endurance training (of almost any intensity) our bodies go through a rapid compensatory phase in response to this exercise.  Motor recruitment is increased quickly which is why the early phases of our first training endeavors saw our greatest and fastest improvements.  It is because of this initial improvement in motor recruitment that our VO2max rises." (source)

If I am to take this at face value, then I may have already *almost* reached my limit. When I started back into racing in May, I ran a 5K in 21:37. This was after a few months of training specifically for distance running and after a few years straight of working out on a regular basis. According to the VDOT table, this would have put me around a 46 or so. Just a couple of weeks ago, I ran a shortened 5K and my likely time (had it been the full distance) would have been around 19:30, which is a 51. An improvement of 5 points percentage-wise, given my starting value of 46, would be about a 10% improvement. If I were to achieve a 15% increase, that would calculate to a 7 point increase, landing me at 53. Is a 53 VDOT value my maximum potential given my genetics? I certainly hope not! Will I stop training if, when I reach a 19:00 5K, I plateau and never again improve? Certainly not! That said, the knowledge is still disconcerting because I'd like to think that I will always be able to get better. I know that eventually my improvement increments will be quite small, but I want to think that the sky is the limit...and maybe that's an unrealistic expectation.

I don't mean to dampen anyone's spirits with these thoughts and observations. I want to see every runner I know improve and get faster the longer they race. I know that ultimately, running is a personal challenge and that even if I never win a race in my life, I can still derive satisfaction from going out there and doing my best....racing against myself. I guess this is probably why people join running clubs and run with others at some point, because if you make it too much about yourself and your abilities, it gets a little depressing.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Long Runs

Saturday was such a beautiful day here in the Chicagoland area. Mid-60s, sunny, a little breeze - it was perfect for a long run. I had been toying with the idea of a 10+ miler, but since I was already at 20 miles for the week, I decided on a shorter 9 mile run so as not to increase my weekly mileage too much over the prior week. At any rate, this was definitely my longest run of the year and as far as I can remember, it was close to tying my all-time longest run - the memory is fuzzy though so this very well may have been my longest ever. I don't typically go for "long" runs. As I've written about here before, most of my running is done over my lunch break so I typically only have 45 minutes to an hour to get it in. On weekends I will go a little longer, but even then my limit tends to be 6-8 miles. That said, I've recently gotten the "itch" to start racing longer distances and so I figure longer runs are going to be par for the course in future training. With that in mind, I set out for my 9-mile run.

I intentionally set out at a slow pace knowing that my total time was going to be north of an hour and surprisingly enough, the first half of the run went by pretty quickly. Along the path I run on there are water fountains every mile or so and I was able to take advantage of that with a few quick water stops and by mile 4.5 I was still feeling fresh. I was grateful for all the scenery, the beautiful leaves, and all the people out on the trail (tons of runners, bikers, walkers). On the way back, I noticed that I was in a really nice rhythm; I didn't feel like I was working all that hard and my pace had a nice flow to it. Around mile 7, I finally caught up with my wife, which was something I had been eagerly anticipating. She had set out for her own run after I left and I caught up to her at about the halfway point of her run. It was a nice boost of energy to see her and we chatted for a few seconds before I set off to finish my run.

During the final half mile of my run I had to stop a couple of times at intersections and I noticed that the action of 'stopping' actually bothered my knees quite a bit. I didn't feel much pain, if any, while running, but decelerating caused some aching in my knees. I could definitely tell that I was getting tired but again, the rhythm to my pace felt great and I wasn't slogging to the end, which was encouraging. I completed 9 miles in 1:07:37, 33:51 out and 33:46 back in - 7:29 pace overall.

This run was very encouraging to me in a number of ways. 1) I was able to keep a steady pace the whole way, 2) I didn't feel as if 9 miles was by any means a limit, I could have kept going if I had to, 3) I didn't feel wrecked the next day, had I not already run 4 days in a row, I probably would have gone for a run yesterday, and 4) really feeling encouraged that a 7:29 pace felt 'moderate'. If the weather cooperates next weekend I may go for 10 which will definitely be the farthest I've run all at once.

Big congratulations to a couple of runners I know - first one goes out to Jeff P. who set a 28-second PR in the Frank Lloyd Wright 10K (34:19, #1 in the 25-29 AG) this past weekend in Chicago. Also, congratulations to my friend Stephen R. for his 10K this past weekend (39:54) at the NYC Rock 'n Roll 10K - he absolutely demolished his former 10K PR, beating it by over 2 minutes.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Hate the Treadmill

It didn't used to be this way. The Treadmill and I used to have an understanding, hell, we used to be best friends, but several months ago, things took a turn. Now I'm dreading the thought of winter because it means that I will be forced to make friends with The Treadmill again.

About a year ago, fall softball was in the final stretch and in the 2nd game of a Sunday double-header, I broke my wrist. Actually, I shattered my wrist, both the ulna and radius, in a freak accident sliding into third base. I was trying to stretch a double into a triple and in my haste to get down, my body landed on my left arm and, well, that was that. It hurt a lot, I'm not gonna lie, I freaked out just a little bit. I had someone call an ambulance only to realize a few minutes later that I really didn't need one. Just a couple weeks before, a girl on one of the teams we were playing had seriously broken her ankle and ended up requiring an IV on the field...so there was precedent for my concern. Anyway, they came, I told them I didn't need them and they left...crisis averted. The bottom-line was that I ended up having surgery and well, that was the beginning of my serious foray back into running.

About 3 or 4 weeks after surgery, I was getting really antsy. Since about 2006, I've been keeping a regular workout schedule, working out anywhere from 3-6 times/week. After 3 weeks of downtime I was downright stir-crazy so I had to do something. So I started doing pretty much the only thing I could do which was...running on the treadmill. As time progressed, I enjoyed it more and more but this Spring, when the weather started to turn, I started running outside. And that's when my relationship with the Treadmill began to deteriorate.

Running outside is wonderful - the fresh air, the beauty of nature, open spaces, hills, valleys, etc. When you run outside, there is no display in front of you, mocking you and tempting you to go faster. When you run outside, you're actually GOING SOMEWHERE, not just running in place like an animal on a wheel. I guess I don't really have any good reason to dislike the treadmill, it serves it's purpose when it's needed - it's just that the great outdoors are so much better. My main issue with the treadmill is that it's boring - like that dull cousin you see at the once-a-year family get-together. The outdoor are like the "cool" aunt, always helping you get away with something without mom and dad seeing.

Someone commented on Daily Mile today that the treadmill felt more difficult to them, than running outdoors. That got me thinking so I did a little research and found the following treadmill facts:

- Americans spend about $2B a year on treadmills (source)
- On the treadmill the body is stationary relative to the air around you and no air flows past your body [duh]. This is why you will feel hotter, and you will sweat more compared to outside running. So you need to hydrate more. (source)
- On the treadmill you should set incline from 1% to 3% so you simulate the body movement as it would be in overground running. [in other words, despite the treadmill sometimes "feeling" harder, its easier to run on a treadmill than it outside because a) it's perfectly flat and b) you have no air resistance (source)]
-  Cool infographic about treadmill running
- An interesting take from someone who believes the "1% to 3%" incline rule is a myth

In the midst of my research I found an article/study that might answer the question of why it FEELS harder to run on a treadmill despite the FACT that is is easier. What is comes down to is Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) - which is a touchy-feely term for "how hard people think they're working". Personally I think most people are just happier outside and that makes all the difference. That and there's the fact that you get hotter more quickly (and thus, more uncomfortable) when you're inside on a treadmill. I don't expect to provide the final say on a decades-long argument however, I just know that for me, I would pretty much rather run outside, in any kind of weather, than run inside on a treadmill.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A New Toy

After much thought and consideration, my wife and I decided to spend the money and buy a new Garmin Forerunner 305. It arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon and has already been on three runs in the past 24 hours (2 by Leslie, one by yours truly). In looking at which Garmin to buy, it became obvious that the sky is the limit in terms of cost. You have everything from the ultra-sleek Forerunner 310XT to the simple-yet-functional Forerunner 110. We decided to go for a mid-range model because we liked the feature-set that this particular watch includes. Overall, our cost shipped was about $150 and so far I couldn't be happier.

In my excitement to use it for today's run, I actually forgot to "start" my workout when I started running. It wasn't until I was about 1/2 a mile into my run that I realized this...ah modern technology. I was too busy marveling at the near-real-time pace display. Anyway. I don't really have many complaints about it so far, it is a little bulky, but despite it's size, it doesn't weight much more than a regular watch. And besides, I really like having the large display because instead of straining to see the numbers while you're running, it's an easy flick of the wrist to see where you're at. If I have one small complaint so far, it's that it doesn't seem to grab a satellite signal very quickly. Today I stood outside in the rain for a good 2-3 minutes waiting for it to grab a signal so I could start my workout (and then I forgot to actually press "start"). That's a minor thing, however, that could simply be dependent on where the satellites actually are.

This "toy" is really more of a tool, and a useful one at that. If you use all of it's features it will tell you your heart rate, you average pace for the run, you fastest pace, total distance (to the hundredth of a mile), it will give you a map of your run and it will tell you the overall terrain of your run (elevation change), you can save a "course" and then use previous runs of that course as a "workout buddy" - the watch will actually tell you where you were at on the run last time vs. this time at any given point - this thing is amazing. For those of you who do triathlon, you can set it to seamlessly detect and switch between running and biking. It has a feature where it automatically stops the stopwatch if you drop below a certain speed (handy for those running in urban or suburban areas). I could go on and on I suppose, needless to say, it's a great tool to have. I'm looking forward to using it and training with it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Race Report: The Run's For Jack 5K

When I think of an ideal race day I think of the following: mid-to-upper 40s, cloudy or sunny, doesn't really matter and no wind. When I woke up on Sunday morning, it was 46 degrees and raining. I wasn't thrilled about the rain, but I was hopeful it would stop by race-time, which it pretty much did. We had picked up our race packets on Saturday afternoon, so we didn't have any need to get there super early and since it was a short 10 minutes from our house, we didn't have to leave all that early.

It was a little difficult to warm up in the rain, I purposely had worn a different pair of shoes to the race in hopes of keeping my race shoes as dry as I could, but it was almost impossible because I didn't want to wait until the last second to check my gear. At any rate, my legs were feeling fantastic pre-race. I had taken Saturday off, I had pretty much only run slower, longer miles for the past week and my legs were feeling like race horses in the starting gate.

Mile 1:
Because we had run the course earlier in the week, I knew that immediately after mile marker 1, there was a long, somewhat steep hill. In trying to figure on how to best attack this race, I decided that a fast start was the best way to go and I was able to follow form, running a 6:00 mile through mile marker 1. My thinking was that if I ran the first mile a little fast, I would buy some extra time to take it a little slower on the hill which allowed me to conserve my energy a little bit for the 2nd half of the race. It worked. As soon as I hit the hill, I geared down a bit and then resumed pace at the top. The water station at mile 1.5 was a god-send because even despite the slower pace I was still breathing pretty hard.

Mile 2:
Mile 2 was a series of rolling hills. I couldn't really tell if this was detrimental to speed or not because for every small uphill, there was a small downhill so I figure it probably evened itself out. I knew something was wrong though then I passed the mile 2 marker at 10:45. In order for that to have been true I would have had to have just completed a 4:45 mile on a very hilly section of the course and well...that couldn't be right, I've never run a 4:45 mile in my life! A few of us started saying out loud that it must be wrong and we were all in agreement, but kept plugging along.

Mile 3:
The course evened out a bit over mile 3 which had me actually feeling good going into the final stretch. In a 5K, it always feels like the 1st half is so hard and then your body adapts and gets used to working really hard and then just when you start to feel good, it's over. In this race I happened to know where the finish line was and I kept looking at my watch thinking, "I'm gonna blow my PR out of the water!" I crossed the finish line at 18:03 fist pumping and the whole bit (would have been a PR by over 2 minutes). Then I started to think about it. I remember thinking that we had made a premature turn somewhere before mile marker 2. Then I heard a few people talking about a "2.9 mile PR". I noticed that the female winner of the race who had finished just behind me had been wearing a Garmin GPS watch so I asked her how far it was...2.88 miles. I found out later from the men's winner that the lead-bikers had made a wrong turn...slightly before mile 2...that ended up shaving about 0.20.

I don't think I've yet overcome the disappointment I feel that the race wasn't the full distance. It's not often that you get PERFECT racing conditions and my body has never felt that good leading up to a race...so it's disappointing to me that I didn't even had a chance to run my first-ever sub-20:00 5K. I take a little solace in knowing that I was on-pace for it and likely would have done it had the race been the full distance, but I can't say that "without a doubt" I would have done it. Having said that, I'm still very pleased with my time. My 6:16 pace through 2.9 miles was easily the fastest I've ever run in a race and my 6:00 Mile 1 was the fastest mile I've run since high school. This race removed any lingering doubts I have had about my ability to run a 5K under 20:00 so I am grateful for that.

My wife, Leslie (her race report here), also ran in the race and set a 2.9 mile PR and I was very proud of her. Only a few weeks removed from having her wisdom teeth taken out and other medical ordeals, she is almost back to where she was and is looking to make massive leaps forward in the next year or so. She thinks that she is going to have to get used to not PRing every race, but I think she will continue to improve race after race for awhile. We're both looking forward to our next race which will be Nov. 12th in Villa Park.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Running as Therapy

I alluded to this in my last post but I thought I would go a little more in-depth. I mentioned that during my lunch-time runs it's "me" time and a chance to re-charge my batteries mid-day, and most of the time is it that. Sometimes though, it's more than that. Way more than that. Sometimes, something ticks me off or really gets my blood boiling and it is during those times that running actually becomes therapeutic...and usually my times for those runs are really fast...fueled by rage and emotion. There will be other random times when I'm angry about something and I think to myself, "man, it would be really great to go for a run right now." Running allows me to act out my anger in a physical way that isn't destructive and for me, that is sometimes necessary. I'm not a violent person, but sometimes when I'm really mad I just want to hit something...I think everyone can probably relate to that.

Angry runs are probably not especially great for my joints, but they are great for my soul and for my peace-of-mind, particularly because by the time I'm done with an angry-run, I'm exhausted and I feel like I have a clear head. When I used to listen to music while running, I would crank up some Disturbed, Metallica or Korn during those angry runs and things would get especially black. But I always felt better afterwards and that was what I was after.

On the flip-side, running can also be an outlet for joy. For example, my brother qualified for the Boston Marathon two years ago and ran in it this past April. I had this tracking number pulled up all morning, furiously clicking 'refresh' to get the latest updates and cheering him along from my desk at work in Chicago. He got done about mid-morning (3 hours, 5 minutes and something) and by the time my lunchtime workout came along, I was feeling inspired. I set PBs that day for 4, 5 and 6 miles and managed to match his first 10K from the marathon earlier that morning. Running helped me live out my inspiration that day and when I talked to him on the phone later that evening, I was able to tell him about that - when I was running it kinda felt like we were running together.

Running can be therapeutic in a variety of different ways and I think that's why people who stick with it for awhile usually come to love it. It can be fun, it can be relaxing, it can clear your mind, it can challenge you, it can push you to the brink, and it can bring you peace-of-mind. How many activities can claim to be able to do all of those things? Anyway, as I wrap this up I'm realizing this is kind of a wishy-washy piece. I guess it was just one of those days...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The "Me" in Running - And Giving Back

I was lying in bed last night, my mind going in circles about the race this coming Sunday. My wife and I are participating in the "The Run's For Jack" 5K in Glen Ellyn on Sunday morning and last night, in preparation for the race, we ran the course just to see what we could expect terrain-wise. Needless to say, it is VERY hilly and I'm having doubts as to whether it's going to be the kind of course I can set a PR on. Anyway, I was sitting there thinking about the race, getting butterflies, doubting myself...and then it occurred to me that running, if you let it, can be an awfully "me" oriented activity. What kind of time am I going for? "Run your race." PR stands for "Personal Record". "How fast can you run ____?" Running can be a very social sport too, but I think unless you're involved in a running club or have a lot of nearby friends who run, most of your runs are done solo...that's how it is for me anyway.

I run at lunchtime, out on the the streets by myself. For me it's recharging. I'm around people all day, on the phone, talking to people in the office, etc - lunchtime is my chance to be alone and RUN. That said, I actually prefer having someone to run with. Last night I got to run with my wife Leslie. We're at different places in our running ability, but I don't care, I love being able to run with her. Whenever my brother and I get together, we almost always find a way to get a run or two in and I love that too. Tony is a much more advanced runner than me and he pushes me in ways that I cannot push myself. Even if you don't talk to the person you're running with, it's still fun to run WITH someone.

More to the point of this post (sorry, went on a tangent there), one thing that has really been enjoyable for me over the past few months has been a website called Daily Mile. If you've been running for any length of time, you've likely heard of the site. It's basically a website for sharing workouts and races but the really cool aspect of it is that you can befriend other runners and encourage them on in their training. Think of it as a 'Facebook' tailored just for the running community. Aside from Leslie, I don't know any of the people I'm "friends" with on Daily Mile personally, but I get a lot of enjoyment out of encouraging others and I also get a lot out of the encouragement of others in my own training. I had a TON of fun reading race reports from all the people I follow who ran in the Chicago Marathon last weekend. For me, it's a great way to give back. I'm passionate about running and it's great to have an outlet where you can share that passion with others, even if you don't know them personally!

This is another tangent, but it's worth mentioning. I've been running on the public paths around my house for the past several months and one thing I've noticed that sticks out to me is that runners, for the most part, DO NOT wave to others runners when they pass. I always try to make eye contact and if I get even that far I'll give a wave, but most runners do not reciprocate. Not so for bicyclers. They ALWAYS wave. I think we runners should stick together and start waving to one another as we pass out there on the trails and streets! A wave it a simple way of saying, "we're in this together". I get that running is sometimes hard and sometimes it takes a lot of focus, but it is just a wave...

I think there's a cool duality to running. On the one hand it's an individual sport that is unlike many others. 99.9% of runners will never win a race that they enter. 99% will never even win their age group in a given race. Unlike a team sport, your performance rests entirely on your shoulders. But we still run...against ourselves...to get a better time than last time. On the other hand, running is a community sport. How much fun would a race be if there were only 5 other people there?...yeah, probably not. But it is fun when there are hundreds or thousands of other people racing with you. I think it is because of this duality that so many people become lifetime runners...because it's a personal challenge, but also so much fun to do with others.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It Starts Somewhere Doesn't It?

You know when you start something big and inevitably you either say to yourself or someone else says, "well, you gotta start somewhere." This blog is probably a long time overdue. I've been running off and on since I was about 12-13 years old when I joined cross-country for the first time. My dad had been a triathlete when was really young and I think he wanted some running buddies - so my brother, sister and I all became runners. After running competitively through the first couple years of high school, other interests of mine took over and so I stopped running for a good 6 year period of time between junior year of high school through college. It is now that I look back and wish that I would have stuck with it...it certainly would have been a whole lot easier to keep running instead of stopping and then getting back into it. Anyway, shortly after college ended, I got a job that afforded me an hour and a half lunch break. I decided to turn that time into something useful and so I started running again and have been running consistently now for about 5 years. About a year ago or so, I broke both bones in my left arm playing softball and that was the catalyst for me devoting all of my time to running and over the course of the last year, I've gotten serious about it.

I've been sitting on the sidelines of the running discussion for the past several months. I've joined Daily Mile which I have come to love as a community of runners, I've been a regular reader of a number of running blogs, I've gotten through about half of Jack Daniels' "Daniels' Running Formula" book, I've joined the racing circuit again (so far I've done two 5Ks and a 10Kwith another 5K this coming weekend) and I've just been trying to take everything in. I'm not starting this blog because I think I have some new-fangled knowledge to drop on everyone, I simply want to participate in the discussion and be a support to my fellow runners out there. Speaking of fellow runners, my wonderful wife just started running about a year ago and she has been an inspiration. She's like me in that she wants to see instant improvement all the time, but I think she's come a long way in the last two years and I couldn't be happier that she is a runner.

This blog will likely be a compilation of workout discussion, race reports and interesting stuff I find around the interwebs. If you like something, disagree with something, have a suggestion for something or just wanna say something, please comment away!