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.