Monday, December 17, 2012

Question: Have you become a better runner?

I should probably explain the title of this post a little. I was running with a friend of mine the other day and he asked me two questions. The first one was, "how long have you been running on a serious level?" The answer to that is simple, it's been about 2 years and a couple of months since I really got serious about running again. The second question was, "ok, in that time, have you become a better runner?" In my haste to answer that question I blurted out something about not having gotten substantially faster in the past two years, but I have improved my stamina/endurance, yadda, yadda, yadda. The question stuck in mind though and I've been giving it more thought over the past few days and I think I have a slightly more nuanced answer.

With regard to the actual speed of my running - my answer is complicated by my expectations. Simply put, I would love to be running faster than I am right now. I think all runners want that, but I feel like my progress with regard to speed has been particularly slow. My first 5K after my return to running was in May of 2011 and I ran a 21:27. My latest 5K this past October was a PR at 19:06. So I've shaved about :46 per mile off my 5K time in 2+ years...I'm happy with that, but all things considered, I think I still have a lot more room to improve on that. As a side note, I know that I've spent much of the last year training for a marathon and that I haven't done much speed-work at all, much less running towards 5K goals. I think that if I really focused on improving my 5K times, I could make some pretty solid gains pretty quickly.

Without a doubt, this is the area in which I have improved my running the most. A couple of years ago, I thought running a marathon was a super-human feat. I would always say, "I have no interest in running a marathon." Then I ran my first half-marathon earlier this year and thought to myself, "hmm, maybe I should just try it? Maybe?" So I signed up for the Chicago Marathon, trained all summer for it and completed my first marathon in October. Now I want to run another one. Funny how that happens. Anyway, I went from running 20-30 miles/week before marathon training, to regularly completing 40-50+ mile weeks throughout the summer. In terms of things that I'm proud of in my life, completing the Chicago Marathon is up there near the top. A year ago, the longest single run I had ever done in my lifetime was 9 miles. Crazy.

Running Knowledge:
With anything, the more time you put into it, the more you learn about the nitty gritty details. Through books, blogs and talking to other runners, I've learned a TON about running over the past 2 1/2 years. I've read books by Jack Daniels, Danny Dreyer, the Hanson brothers, Lewis Maharam, Ryan Hall and others and spend hours talking about running with other runners. This has increased my awareness of the details of the sport itself. I've learned a lot about things like the importance of hydration, the physiological benefits of long-slow distance running, VO2Max, running form, cadence, injury prevention, footwear and on and on and on. I can't say I've been able to put everything I've learned into practice, but a lot of it I have and it has helped me.

I tend to be more on the pessimistic side of things. I have made a lot of improvements in my running since the Fall of 2010. I need to make some new goals for myself and start working towards those goals. When I'm running at my best, I'm following a plan and making every run count towards something.

Rough Draft Goals (for 2013 and 2014):
- Run another half-marathon in the Spring 2013 (~1:30:00)
- Spend some concentrated effort training for shorter races like 5Ks and 10Ks.
- Run a 5K with an average pace of 5:59 or lower
- Run another marathon sometime in the next 2 years

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Winter Blues

*Sigh.* I suppose it's finally here. Winter. When I was a kid I used to love the winter. I loved snow, I loved the excitement of that occasional day when school would be cancelled and we could play for hours in the snow building igloos, forts, I hate winter. Since I've gotten back into running I've really come to loathe winter - all the extra clothes you have to wear to go running, being forced onto a treadmill when the sidewalks are impassable, having super dry skin all the time because of multiple showers every day. Winter sucks.

Anyway - this post isn't to bitch about the weather. There's nothing I can do about the cold days/nights and the inevitable snow we'll get here in Chicago...eventually (hasn't snowed here yet). No, this post is about something else entirely - but it's related to winter. I think I have the 'winter blues' when it comes to running. My last race was Thanksgiving Day and for the foreseeable future, I have no races to look forward to. I had a great 2012 running season. Two half-marathons, a couple of 5Ks, my first 8K and the crowning achievement of my first marathon. The only problem is this: for almost the entirety of this year, I've had something to focus on - whether it was a half-marathon or marathon or some other race, there was constantly that thing coming up that served for motivation. Now it's not there, and I'm seriously struggling to get excited about working out.

I know what I need to do - I need to make a plan. Find some race in the Spring to start training for. I know this, but I lack even the motivation to put together a plan. I feel worn-out. I've contemplated taking a break from running for a couple of weeks just to recharge the batteries, but then I think about all the progress I made this year and what I stand to lose if I just stop running. I know it doesn't disappear instantly, but it's a mental thing. I just can't seem to bring myself to stop running completely. I have been scaling back the running over the past month and focusing more on weights but even my weight days are a chore now.

Maybe others of you out there have had this problem: when I have a plan, I stick to it religiously. When I don't have a plan, everything becomes hard. By 'hard' I mean, I push hard. Too hard. All the time. All my runs become steady-state or clock runs. My weights are hard. I know this about myself and yet I seem not to be able to hold back. If I sound like I'm bragging I'm not - in fact, I dislike this about myself. As disciplined as I can be with a plan, I'm equally undisciplined without one. This is yet another reason to find a race, make a plan, and start training smartly.

I still haven't decided what to do. Might take some time off AND find a race, make a plan, etc. I gotta change something though because the ways things are going now isn't likely to lead anywhere good. The main reason for this post was just to write it out. I feel better.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Shoe Review: Adidas Supernova Glide 4

I'm no shoe expert - I'll leave that to RunBlogger. That said - Ken W. on DailyMile suggested I do a show review of a pair I recently bought so I thought I would give it a shot. I've managed to collect quite a pile of shoes over the past couple of years and I know what I like and don't like. Anyway, here goes.

I'll start off by saying something that everyone should hear, whether you've already heard it or you're a new runner and you're hearing it for the first time: shoes cannot make you a faster runner and no matter what you hear, there is no magical shoes...HOWEVER, shoes can hurt you and if you don't have the right shoe for you, it can ruin running for you. If you want living proof, I'm living proof and you can read all about that here (and read the comments too to see how many other people have been through the same thing). With that out of the way, here is my review of the Adidas Supernova Glide 4s.

I've been pretty strictly a Saucony man for the past year or so. After some experimentation I found that the Ride series, particularly the Ride 2s and 3s were the perfect shoe for me. Then Saucony had to go and mess everything up...they changed the heel-to-toe drop on all of their shoes from 12mm to 8mm (or less). I bought and ran in a pair of Ride 5s this past year and it ended up causing me some serious achilles pain. I switched back to my Ride 3s and wah-lah, no pain. You might be thinking "so what's the problem?" The problem is that Ride 3s are becoming increasingly difficult to find because they're discontinued. I've been buying rogue pairs of Ride 3s on eBay for the last 6 months knowing that eventually I was going to need to find an alternative for the future.

I have the greatest blessing a runner could ask for - my brother-in-law works for The Running Room - which is a running-shoe specialty store and not only that, he's a regional I get my shoes at a very nice discount which basically means that I can buy any shoe out there, even the expensive ones, and they don't end up costing me that much (THANK YOU SCOTT!). I was in one of Scott's stores over the Thanksgiving holiday and I presented him with my dilemma and he suggested that I try these Adidas Supernova Glide 4s. I tried them on, they felt good, they are a NEUTRAL shoe and so I bought them.

My first run in them was that night - the temps were chilly (mid-20s) and the surface was a paved road surface. I ran with my brother and we kept a pretty solid pace (around 7:25). We ended up going 6 miles and I was happy with how my legs felt after the run...especially considering this was my first run in these brand-new-off-the-shelf shoes. I didn't have any blisters or even any hot-spots which was also a major plus. Since then I've run on an indoor-track surface, on roads again and today I ran on a crushed-gravel surface. The only test I haven't put these shoes through is a long run. I've done fast running and slow running and so far I've put about 20 miles on these - maybe too few for a good review, but hey, I'm an impatient guy.

- I really like the distribution of the cushioning in the shoe. There is a lot of support towards the heel and progressively less towards the fore-foot. I'm not a heel-striker, but I like having that extra support in the heel area.
- The shoe feels like it has a nice wide base, which contribute to an overall sense of stability.
- Another thing I like about the shoes is that they are extremely comfortable. The tongue of the shoe is nice and thick and the shoes really feel like they're cradling your foot.

- The only con I can think of is that the shoes are a little clunky. Weighing in at 11.3 oz. these are by no means racing shoes. With all the comfort though, it's no surprise these shoes are a little on the clunky side.

So far so good with these shoes - I think they are a worthy replacement for my Ride 3s. I never expected to be running in Adidas, they aren't exactly known for their running shoes, but hey - I'm satisfied.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Meaningful Race

I just got back last night from a Thanksgiving break of sorts. It was five glorious work-free days spending time with all of my favorite people in the world: my family. In this midst of this break, I ran a race and it turned out to be perhaps one of the most memorable races I will ever run. My brother, sister-in-law and I decided, somewhat on a whim, to run a Thanksgiving Day race. We were looking for something longer than a 5K but shorter than a half-marathon and we ended up choosing a small race in Chisago City, MN called the "Dash 'n Dine Race"; a 5-mile race.

Temperatures on race-morning were PERFECT. Mid-to-upper-40s, mostly cloudy and only a slight breeze. My brother (Tony) and I decided to do a couple of warm-up miles and when we finished those, we realized that we had gone out too early because there was still 30 minutes until the start. After twiddling our thumbs for the next 1/2 hour with nervous stretching and pacing, it was finally time.

I didn't really know to expect as far as a goal-time. I had never run the 5-mile/8K distance and my training over the past month hasn't really been all that focused, I've been concentrating more on weights and injury-prevention than I have on speed or mileage. That said, I had it in my mind that I wanted to come in around 33-33:30 which would have been a 6:36-6:42 mile split. I felt confident that I could achieve that goal.

The race started as all races do: too fast. Through the first mile I was focusing on slowing down to a hold-able pace. There were only a handful a people in front of me through Mile 1 and my brother was way ahead of me by then with another guy running right next to him. About mid-way through Mile 2, I saw the 2nd place guy stop and put his hands on his knees. I thought to myself, "huh, maybe he just started to fast (?) and ran out of gas?" As I drew closer to where he was though, I realized that he was clutching his ankle area and as I approached him I yelled, "hey are you ok?" and he said that his Achilles had popped. I felt bad for him, but only for a second. At that point it was my brother in 1st place and only one person between he and I.

At that point I realized that I had a unique opportunity before me. Tony and I don't get to run too many races together - we've managed to run 3 races this year, but typically it's been about one race per year. We've never had the chance to go 1st and 2nd in any race before and I realized we had that chance in this race. "It might be the only chance we ever get" I thought to myself. Tony had a stranglehold on 1st place so it was up to me...

Around Mile 2 or shortly after the mile 2 mark, I overtook 2nd place. I felt good, but oddly enough it was at that point that I started to doubt whether I could hold the pace I had established. I'm sure this happens to everyone in races; you get to that point there it starts to hurt, but you're only about half-way. This was where it really helped to know that I had a chance to finish 2nd to my brother. I decided that I was going to be damned if I gave up 2nd place, no matter how much it hurt. I shortened up my stride and put my head down. As we hit the mile 4 mark there was a 90 degree turn and so I peeked to see how far ahead I was - my best guess was that I had about a 20-30 second lead on 3rd place. For the last 1/2 mile, the courses for the 5K and 5Mile races joined so I was having to yell to get people to move out of the way. I saw Tony a few hundred yards from the finish and he gave me a high-five and a "Go Adam!". I crossed the finish-line in 31:24 - 2nd place out of 72 finishers in the 5-Mile race.

I suppose there is one caveat to be made. My Garmin measured the course at 4.90 miles, which is within the potential error range for it to have been 5 miles, but more than likely it was closer to the 8K distance of 4.97 miles. Regardless - I consider it an 8K and/or 5M PR, close enough right? Either way, I'm very happy with the time, it absolutely crushed my expectations. Tony got a PR in the race, 29:00 to take home the turkey (literally). It was a pretty disorganized little race, but fun nonetheless. Tony's wife MJ also set a PR in the race and finished in 11th place (2nd overall female). It was a great day all around and a race I will always remember fondly.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Race Recap: 2012 Chicago Marathon

What: 2012 Bank of America Chicago Marathon
Where: Downtown Chicago, IL
When: October 7th, 2012
Weather: Low-to-mid 40s, mostly cloudy
Finish Time: 3:20:25

I can't believe it's over. After waiting for yesterday to come, it was over and done with in a flash. I have so many good memories in my head, I'm doing this now before I forget anything.

It was quite the early morning on Sunday - I woke up at 4:00am and we (my brother Tony and sister-in-law MJ were also running) were out of the door by 4:50am. We went to the Lombard train station by my house and waited a good 40 minutes for the train. There were several people there waiting to go downtown for the race and we ended up talking to a guy who was going down to watch, he was a runner too and we had a good conversation...especially considering the hour. I'd only managed about 4 hours of sleep the night before but I had a lot of nervous energy. The train arrived downtown at about 6:20am and from there we took a taxi which got us as close to Millennium Park as possible. We stood in line for the bathroom for about 30 minutes and then had to rush to the gear check and get to the start corrals. As my brother and I were walking to the corrals I tried to turn on my Garmin and it wouldn't come on...I tried everything but it wasn't working -- my brother was super nice and loaned me his watch which was a complete life-saver for me (thank you again Tony!). We got into the corrals with just a couple of minutes to spare and within 5 minutes, we were off and running.

My plan was to start off nice and easy and treat the first 5 miles as a 'warm-up'. I took time to enjoy my surroundings, all of the people spectating, reading their signs, it was such a high...but I managed to keep my pace easy. Through 3 miles I was at 24:00 which was exactly where I wanted to be at. As the race progressed past 5 miles I inched the pace up little by little and I started to get really excited around mile 7 because I knew I would be seeing my family around mile 8. I saw them right at mile 8 and high-fived all of them, it was the best I felt during the entire race.

Shortly after I saw my family at mile 8, I started noticing a niggling pain my left achilles that was getting increasingly annoying (and painful) as I went through mile 9, 10 and 11. This pain wasn't new to me - ever since a treadmill run I'd done several days before it had been bothering me, but I was hoping it had gone away. I don't remember where it was, but I stopped by one of the medical tents at one point and asked them if they had a topical pain reliever and they handed me a couple of packets of BioFreeze. I slapped that on there and kept going and the pain subsided a bit. It never really went away the rest of the race, but I was determined to run through it and so I did.

I crossed the halfway point at 1:41:50 and was feeling good. I gotta take a moment and say how awesome the crowds were yesterday. I had my name on my singlet and all along the route people were shouting "Go Adam!" or offering some other encouraging word. At the water stops the volunteers handing out water were also really encouraging - it was just plain awesome to have that kind of support the whole way. I have no doubts that the constant encouragement contributed to countless PRs that were set yesterday. If you came out and supported us runners yesterday, thank you, thank you, 1000x thank you! On a side note, I don't think I've had my named yelled that many times in one day ever before in my life.

After the halfway point I started pressing the pace a bit more. I was happy with where I was at, but I also felt like I had quite a bit of energy left. Miles 14-20 were pretty uneventful, I was just enjoying the scenery, the energy from the crowds and the views of Chicago. When I passed mile 18 I thought to myself, "ok, I'm entering new territory, this is where the experiment begins." I was still feeling pretty good at that point.

I kept expecting to hit some kind of wall at Mile 20...but it didn't happen. I still felt lucid, I seemed to have an uncanny ability for math (was figuring splits in my head) and my body felt good. At Mile 21 I saw my family again which had me on the verge of tears. I was so happy not just to see them, but I also realized at that point that I was going to at least finish the race. Even if I had to walk, finishing was assured. At mile 24 is when I thought, "ok, I'm REALLY ready to be done running now". The mile markers seemed to be going by more slowly and my lower legs were really aching. Fortunately for me, I was almost done and the best was yet to come.

Through the entire last mile and a half, the streets were packed with people. I clearly remember seeing the "800m" sign and thinking to myself, "ok, about 4 more minutes and you're done". The last 400m were absolutely awesome, I don't have any specific memories except passing some medical people and some guy saying, "ok, this is where people normally go down". I thought, "I'm still good right? I'm not going down, right?" As soon as I could see the finish line it was all I could think about and when I got there, I pushed stop on my watch, then turned around and congratulated the guy behind me. The next few minutes were pretty much a haze of grabbing Gatorade and water, getting one of those plastic "blankets" and getting my finishers medal. About halfway down the chute, I heard someone yell "Adam" and I turned and saw my wife and my boss running alongside the fence. Leslie was so happy for me and I was sooo happy to see her. After a couple minutes of chitchat I finished meandering my way through the chute and went to meet up with everyone. I learned a lesson in that chute -- there were people handing out beer which sounded great at the time so I grabbed one. After two sips my stomach started hurting so I tossed it. Moral of the story: beer right after a marathon isn't the greatest.

Let's see...things I'm proud of: I didn't walk once. I stopped two times, once to rub my achilles a little bit (maybe 10 seconds max) and the second time to put that BioFreeze stuff on my leg...other than that I did not stop and I'm way proud of that. Another thing is that I negative split the marathon. My brother tells me that's a big deal, first half was 1:41:50, second half was 1:38:35. I'm also proud to now say that I'm a marathoner...yeah that sounds pretty cool.

Today I'm hurting pretty good. My achilles is SUPER sore, it will probably take at least a week for that pain to go away. Besides that I'm hobbling around like an old man - everything that's to be expected after a marathon. If I'm in a chair or laying down I'm content. I've already been asked, "so, are you gonna do another one?" The answer to that is: probably. It's such a feeling of accomplishment when you complete a marathon. There's really nothing I've experienced that's quite like it. I'm still basking in the glow.

I have one more note to make - I mentioned that my brother and sister-in-law also ran the race. My brother had his best time ever finishing in 2:57 - I'm so happy for him, he's been chasing the 3-hour mark for awhile now and finally broke through yesterday. My sister-in-law MJ also set a personal over 25 MINUTES, finishing in 3:36...this marathon was made more memorable for me because they ran it, I'm so happy for both of them.

The other huge announcement of the weekend was that my wife and I are expecting our first child in April 2013. We were waiting to tell everyone until we'd told all of our family and close friends but now the news is out there for everyone to know. We both feel incredibly blessed - yesterday was such a perfect day in 100 different ways. I've really enjoyed reading other people's marathon stories, it sounds like it was one heck of a day for marathon running, a lot of PRs set and a lot of goods times had. Here's to many more!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Pre-Marathon Thoughts

It's almost here - only two sleeps away and the day I've been training all this time for will finally be here. I added up all of the mileage I've put in to training for this marathon...over 800 miles...117+ hours of running and 2 pairs of shoes (halfway through a 3rd pair). Every workout I've had during this time has had a specific purpose it's here.

I've been asked by several people what my goal time is. Honestly - I don't know what to expect. I feel unbelievably blessed that my first marathon is going to be run in almost ideal conditions (mid-40s, cloudy, very little wind). I'm going to do my best to run the first 5 miles or so at a very easy pace (7:45-8:00/mile) and then see what happens after that. In an ideal world, I would finish somewhere in the 3:10 to 3:20 range, but I haven't the foggiest clue if that's realistic. My longest training run was 18 miles which I did twice, so I don't know how my body and mind will respond once I get past the 20 mile mark. I would love to say that I'll be able to gut it out and finish strong, but I have no idea until I get there.

The best part of the race isn't even the race itself - it's the fact that my brother and sister-in-law are running in it and that I will have my wife (Leslie), my parents and my sister all cheering us on along the race. In addition to that, Leslie's parents, my boss and one of my friends from church will also be along the course - plus Andrea with her "Do Epic Shit" sign - it's going to be a madhouse downtown.

I'm really excited at this point, I'm excited to experience the marathon for the first time, I'm excited for my brother who is going to give a sub-3:00 marathon another try (I think he's gonna do it this time), I'm excited to run another race through the streets of a big city (there's nothing quite like it), I'm excited to see how everyone else does in their respective marathons, I'm excited to take a short break from running after it's all over, and I'm excited to see what I'm capable of.

This has been kind of a crazy year - it started off with a way-too-aggressive training plan that resulted in a 2-month bout of ITBS, then my first half-marathon in NYC, a hot summer of training and my 2nd half marathon in Chicago and now this. It's been a (mostly) fun journey. I'll provide a full race-recap here once it's all over. Thank you to everyone on DailyMile and otherwise who has encouraged me along the way - I really couldn't have done it without your support -- especially my wife Leslie who rode alongside me on her bike during countless long runs, suffering from a sore crotch because of all the long and slow biking. Thank you!! I hope to do you proud.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Race Recap: Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon - Chicago

What: Rock ' Roll Half Marathon - Chicago

Where: Downtown Chicago, IL

When: July 22nd, 2012

Weather: Mid-to-upper 70s at the start and humid, partly-cloudy

Finish Time: 1:35:55 (299 out of 14881)

As I've had time to reflect on this race, I've realized that it held a lot of 'firsts' for me. I was in Corral #1 to start a big race - never done that before. I was in a position to actually race a half marathon - never done that before. Leslie's parents came to cheer us on and there were people from DailyMile I knew cheering us on - haven't had spectators before. It was a great way to start a Sunday for sure and though I'm mildly disappointed with my time, I'm still thankful for the experience and feel that I am right on track in my training for the Chicago Marathon in 2011.

We arrived downtown at around 6:00am and by then I had already downed a pre-race breakfast of 2 bananas, a granola bar and a cup of coffee. Leslie and I met up briefly with a friend of ours and then I headed to my corral. First thing I noticed upon arriving at Corral #1 was that everybody in the corral was a serious runner. Everybody had the gear, the look, a very serious crowd. Anyway, after some pomp and circumstance and the singing of the national anthem we we off and I made a very conscious effort to hold back and not get caught up in the speed off the line. It was a wave start and I had been near the back line of Corral 1 so though I quickly fell behind the main pack, I was able to start how I wanted and quickly settled into a nice, managable groove.

Through the first couple of miles I noticed that they didn't have mile markers and because of a couple of tunnels early on, my Garmin had derailed completely and was mostly useless. I ran up alongside another guy who didn't have headphones in and asked him if he knew which mile we were, but he did not. We started talking, he sounded British but said that he was living in Chicago. We ran alongside one another for a couple of miles but after a couple of water stations I fell back and didn't feel like expending the effort to catch back up. A nice single-serving friendship to be sure, but short - and unfortunately we didn't catch up afterwards.

I was cruising through the first 6-7 miles. I passed the 10K mark at right around 45 minutes and was feeling really good. Looking back, my pace was probably a little faster than it should have been through the first half of the race, but I felt in control. At around mile 7 I saw Andrea K. from DailyMile with her "Do Epic Shit!" sign. I was starting to feel the heat and humidity at that point so seeing her and her sign was just the boost I needed. Throughout the race I had been pausing oh-so-briefly at the water stops to ensure that I got my fluids. I would grab a water, run to the end of the line and then stop and drink the cup. As the race went on, my pauses got progressively longer and I started taking both Gatorade and water. The heat and humidity were taking their toll...

Right around Mile 10 is where I really started to wear down. The final 3 miles of the race were right along the lake which was pretty, but that also meant that they were right under the beating sun. Right before the Mile 11 marker I stopped to walk for about 20 seconds - I needed a break and had picked up a water along the way that I pulled a few swigs off of. I knew that I only had a couple of miles to go, but it felt like a long way to go until I could stop...funny how your perspective on distance completely changes when you're running a race. Right around Mile 11.5 or 12 I saw another DailyMiler, Kevin G., and though he didn't recognize me, I recognized him and said something profound like, "hey Kevin!" I don't have many more clear memories of the end of the race save for a nasty little hill right before the final stretch. Once I could see the long-ish finishing chute, I had lazer focus on it and managed to kick up the pace a bit. I don't have any recollections of the people lining the final chute, I just remember wanting to get to that line so that I could stop running.

There's nothing quite like being done. It's a relief and it's a feeling of having conquered something, all at the same time. Immediately after finishing I was handed an ice-cold white towel which felt amazing. I then grabbed a water, a Gatorade and then...A POPSICLE. It was into the 80s by the time I finished and I couldn't imagine anything better than a Popsicle, it was so good. I even managed to pick out a cherry one, which happens to be my favorite flavor. I knew I had awhile until Leslie came across the line because she had decided to run with one of my former co-workers who was running her first half-marathon. I walked around for awhile, allowing my body to cool down and normalize a little bit. I sat down, stretched, went to the bathroom and then headed to the finishing chute to watch.

I watched and cheered for a good 45 minutes, just watching people come by at the 13 mile mark. I saw all shapes and sizes, people who looked like they were dying and people who were hard-charging it to the finish line. I saw a couple of pregnant women (mad respect), some older folks, a couple of people in costumes, and a lot of people who were supporting some charity or another. I really enjoyed watching - especially as people realized they only had one-tenth of a mile to go.

I really enjoyed myself in this race. Though I was a little disappointed with my time (I was hoping for something closer to 1:30), I felt that I ran a pretty consistent race and I feel that I have some good things to build on. I thought that things were EXTREMELY well organized; mad-props to the Rock 'n Roll volunteers and organizers. The water stations were plentiful and they had other things like hoses and cold sponges to help keep everyone cool. I also appreciated the way they managed the start of the race too, delaying every corral by 30 seconds to a minute so that there wasn't so much crowding out of the gate. Well done on every front.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention my lovely bride. After her half-marathon debut last March in NYC, she got all excited and signed up for this race back in April. Life has gotten in the way a little bit since which has gotten in the way of her training so up until earlier this week, she had been undecided on whether to run. Two days before the race, she decided to do it and decided that she would run with a former co-worker of mine (Julie) in her first half-marathon. Despite a pace that was much slower than Leslie would have preferred, she stuck with Julie through 12 miles before pulling ahead to the finish line. I'm very proud of my woman for stepping out and doing the race despite not really training for it. She could easily have just sat out, but she did it anyway.

I know I've been pretty lax in posting to this blog. I've been training for the Chicago Marathon for the past 2 1/2 months and this was sort of a half-way checkpoint. Considering that in February and early March I couldn't complete a one-mile run, I'd say things are going pretty well. I will try to be more vocal here in the coming months but between the running schedule I'm keeping and my job, there isn't much time left in the day. Thank you to everyone for your encouragement along the way, from DailyMile notes to other words of encouragement, I appreciate them all. Everything is on-schedule for the Oct. 7th race and I'm really looking forward to it - it's going to be quite a challenge.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What I've Learned: Injury Edition

As much as it sucks to have to go through a running-related injury, it really is a good opportunity to learn a few things and my most recent injury was no exception. About 6 weeks ago I posted about the ins and outs of IT Band Syndrome and in the intervening time, I've learned several other things about that injury (in particular) and about preventing injury in general. 

#1) Strength Training is Vital.
I'm not suggesting anyone go out and start doing 'Cross-Fit' tomorrow, that would probably be counter-productive. The goal of strengthening work for a runner is not bigger muscles. The goal is stronger muscles  and muscle maintenance. The reason that strength training is so important is because the act of running itself makes certain muscle groups weaker. In particular, runners typically have weak hip muscles (hip abductors and adductors) because most of our running is done in a relatively straight-line and so the outside hip muscles never really get much work. If you think of the space between your hip and the bottom of your foot as a system, all the parts have to kept in good working condition in order for the system to work most efficiently. Any imbalance is going to cause other muscles to have to work harder and that compensation is what leads to injury. 

#2) If you feel pain, take a day or two off. Listen to your body.
As I've progressed in my experience as a runner, I've become better at this, but this IT Band Syndrome was a good example of me not listening to my body. I ran for at least three days from when I first started feeling pain in my knee instead of taking a day or two off right away to let it die down. Because I ran on it, I quickly progressed from a mild case of ITBS to a severe case and that meant 6 weeks on the DL. 

#3) Shoes are important.
I'm not about to re-join the Great Shoe Debate, but my thoughts have changed with regards to footwear. I still don't think that shoes can prevent injury. By that I mean, if you have bad form (heel-striker, over-pronator, etc) shoes will not fix the problem. However I now believe that if you good form, a shoe can injure you. I wish that I had gone to a shoe store that had the technology to take a good look at my gait. Most running specialty stores have this nowadays and if I had done that, I likely would not have ended up getting an arch-support shoe and would have instead opted for a neutral shoe, thus preventing this whole thing. Go get your gait checked if you haven't already. Most of these stores offer it for free and it's easy to do. 

#4) Have a mind-set that is long-term.
As I got closer and closer to the date of the New York Half, I seriously questioned whether it was a good idea for me to attempt to run the race. The simple fact was that I hadn't been able to train properly for it and risked re-aggravating everything by attempting to do it. In the back of my mind I knew that the real goal was to run the Chicago Marathon next fall and that compromising that to simply participate in a half marathon seemed foolish. If it hadn't been for a couple of 100% pain free training runs during the week leading up to the half, I likely would not have run it. I could have tried but it wouldn't have been worth it to me. As much as it would have sucked to sit out, my goal is a) to run pain free and b) to complete a marathon. 

#5) Find people you can talk to about it (other runners).
For me this was a life-saver. Between my wife, my buddy Stephen and my brother (among others) - I had people to talk to about the injury, to ask me how I was doing, to share the disappointment with and to ultimately share the triumph with when I was able to complete the race. I'll never forget when I had that first pain-free training run...I raced home and then immediately started calling people who'd stuck with me through the whole thing. It was really great to have support around to deal with the disappointment and setbacks. 

#6) Keep doing research.
From the time that the pain started to when it finally went away, I was scouring the internet for answers. I was telling Stephen that I now know more about ITBS than I ever cared to know. I've talked to people about it, I've had runners I know talk to other runners they know about it, I've spent hours combing websites for information and I've learned a lot. For example, you cannot stretch the IT Band. It is connected to the muscles of your hip (tensor fasciae latae) and to the top of the tibia. You can't stretch your IT Band any more than you can bend your femur. You can stretch the muscles around it, but that's as good as you're going to get. Also, despite the fact that ITBS sufferers often feel the pain in their knee, the real problem isn't in the knee, it's usually above or below in the hip or feet. 

#7) Keep your head up.
By accident I stumbled upon a blog entry a few months ago (before all this started) that said something along the lines of, "no matter what running injury you have, eventually it will go away." I wish I could link you to the blog post, but I can't seem to find it. Anyway - it's easy to get really down and the longer an injury wears on, the more it seems like maybe you'll never run again. Try to be positive and try to find other things that you can do. For me it was pool running, biking, lifting, swimming, etc.

I'm sure what I've had to say is nothing new under the sun. Being injured sucks but it's also a good opportunity to learn and if you're a blogger it's a good chance to learn and share that knowledge with other people. I was surprised to come across a couple of people that were also suffering with ITBS and it was really cool to be able to share things with them regarding what was and wasn't working.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Race Report: New York Half Marathon

I feel like I got away with something. Or stole something.

If you follow me on DailyMile, you know I've been going through a bout of IT Band-itis for the past month-and-a-half or so and that up until a week before this past Sunday's race, my ability to run this race was in serious question. That all changed in a matter of 5 days and on Sunday I was able to not only start the race, but run almost the entire thing and finish in a time I would never have thought possible considering how little I had trained.

The morning of the race was literally PERFECT. 48 degrees, 80% humidity, cloudy and little to no wind. Cool but not too dry, and cloudy...I don't think you could arrange more perfect conditions. We dropped off our stuff at the bag drops just outside of Central Park and headed to our corrals. Because I hadn't been able to properly train for the race, I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep up with my originally scheduled corral so I decided to start with my wife Leslie who was also running her first half marathon. After hitting up the bathrooms, we stood around and waited for the start...and then the gun went off.

And we waited.

And we waited.

And then we started walking towards the start line. It took us a full 28+ minutes to get to the start line and then we were off. The cool part about waiting so long to start was that the race leaders were emerging from Central Park just as we were starting so we actually got the see the leaders run by. I've never seen an elite runner in real life...I guess I would describe them as "gazelles". Effortless running.

Anyway, the first few miles were easy and breezy. I ran the first one with Leslie and then took off on my own, constantly dodging other runners. I figured that eventually the crowd would thin and I would be able to run, more or less, in straight lines, but that never happened. Miles 1 through 4 were pretty uneventful aside from one thing that will be burned into the eyes of my mind for as long as I live.

In between miles 3 and 4 I was innocently running along when I started to hear people yelling around me. I looked up from the pavement to see what was going on and I saw a guy climb the hill, turn so that his backside was facing the runners, pull down his pants and take a shit. Everyone was yelling "that's sick" or "duuude". I'm not gonna lie, I saw poop coming out of his butt. I can't un-see it. I had to kind of chuckle because I doubt if I will ever see something like that again. Couldn't you at least face your butt away from the crowd?

"The pain" started in between miles 4 and 5. It was that familiar IT Band pain that I'd been having for the past 6 weeks. It wasn't really pain as much as it was discomfort, but I immediately started trying to think of ways to alleviate it. I started by walking the downhills in Central Park, but it really wasn't getting any better. It also wasn't really get any worse either so during mile 5 I made a decision. I thought to myself, "I haven't trained for 6 weeks and I have no idea how this thing is going to hold up. I also know that it's going to be a major bitch to run/walk the final 8 miles." So I went for it. I just started running at a faster pace and figured that I would just keep it up for as long as I could. Miles 6, 7, and 8 went by and before I knew it, I was through Times Square and onto the Westside Highway. I made it to mile 9 and was petering out a bit. I walked a short stretch and for some reason, I kept thinking, "come on, you've only got 3 miles left." That, of course, was wrong.

Mile 10 of my race was dedicated to Keith Faxel, the husband of my wife's boss, who is an avid runner and has been sidelined by sinus issues for the last several months. He's also had a run of bad luck in his personal life and so I told him before I left that I would run mile 10 for him. After mile 10, the rest of the race is kind of a blur. I remember thinking after mile 12 that "hey, this is the longest I've ever run in my life." I must have been really motivated at the very end of the race because I finished the last .1 miles at a 6:24 pace. After I crossed the finish line, I got really emotional because I was so thankful to have gotten to that point. A week before I had been telling my mom that I thought it would be a miracle if I was able to run the race.

My splits for the race are below. I think it's pretty obvious where I walked. I was telling my wife that the race result is bittersweet. I'm beyond thankful that I was able to run and complete the race. The part that gets me down is the question of what it could have been had I been able to train for it. 1:30? 1:25? I know there will be future half marathons, but this was my first and more than feeling like I accomplished anything, I feel like I got away with something. I'm really looking forward to getting back into training and my next big thing is the Chicago Marathon in October which I will begin training for soon.

Mile 1: 8:53     Mile 8: 6:56
Mile 2: 7:59     Mile 9: 7:36
Mile 3: 7:30     Mile 10: 8:07
Mile 4: 8:07     Mile 11: 7:34
Mile 5: 9:32     Mile 12: 7:32
Mile 6: 7:27     Mile 13: 9:18
Mile 7: 6:54     Total Time: 1:45:02

Monday, February 6, 2012

Aw Snap (VO2Max News)

"Whoa snap yo." That's what my friend Stephen said when I showed him this piece about a new-fangled way of measuring VO2Max that is making some scientists scratch their heads. Thank you to Sweat Science for leading me to this article. Very interesting stuff.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

IT Band-ter

Sorry for the title - I'm trying too hard to be clever. This post is about the IT Band and, more to the point, IT Band Syndrome which is my latest injury. My training for the New York Half Marathon had been going great up until last Tuesday when I started to notice some very slight pain on the outside of my left knee. I didn't think much of it -- I'm pretty clumsy sometimes and end up hitting my knee on things like the living room table, so I figured it might just be a bruise from such an incident. On Wednesday the pain got worse, but it still didn't rise to a level where I was all that concerned about it. On Thursday I had a speed workout planned and the farther I ran, the more it hurt...but then at a certain point the pain disappeared and I thought, "hey, maybe it's gone." Then I got off the treadmill...and I could barely walk - it was a very sharp pain that hurt even when I was gingerly walking along. It killed to walk down steps, it killed whenever I would get up out of a chair, it was tender to the touch. It was then that I thought I should probably do some investigation so I went to the trusty interwebs and learned more than I cared to know about IT Band Syndrome.

If you've been a runner for any longer period of time, IT Band Syndrome is not a new term in your vocabulary. It is one of the most common running injuries and is caused by a wide variety of factors. The IT Band (iliotibial band) is actually a very long tendon that runs from your hip to your knee and IT Band Syndrome is essentially a "tendonitis" of sorts -- an inflammation of that tendon. It can be caused by an IT Band that is too wide or too narrow (genetic), it can be caused by overuse (most common) and it can be caused by faulty running mechanics (excessive over-pronation, etc). The most common cause, as I said, is overuse and by that I mean an increase in miles or intensity of training that is done too quickly. In my case I thought I was being somewhat conservative in my training, but as I look back at it - along with a marked increase in miles was an ambitious increase in intensity which I think it what did me in.

The number one treatment for IT Band Syndrome is a runner's least favorite word -- and that's rest. I hate that word. Rest is a euphemism for "don't run" and I feel like with every passing day that I don't run, I'm losing valuable training time. I have just over 6 weeks until the New York Half and I really want to be in tip-top shape. That being said, it is nearly impossible to run with this pain and I would really like to be rid of it before I continue with my training schedule. Fortunately for me, there are a number of things I can do to help speed my recovery.

#1) Ice. A runner's best friend. Almost every article I've read on IT Band issues suggests making icing a priority. 15-20 minutes, 3 times a day (at least).

#2) Use a foam-roller. I didn't have one prior to Friday, but my wife and I bought one and I've been using it ever since. There's a good video on how to use it specifically for the IT Band here on YouTube.

#3) Stretch it out. There are a couple of good stretches in that video as well, but if you do a quick Google search on IT Band stretches, there are many and stretching is key to loosening up your IT Band. IT Band Syndrome is a result of that Band being extremely tight.

#4) Strength Training. As I've read, it's probably not a good idea to start strength training if you're still having pain - but once the pain goes away, the key to preventing future IT Band issues is to strengthen a few key muscle groups. Many of us runners, myself included, can be tempted to completely neglect strength training. This can lead to a whole host of issues and one of them is IT Band Syndrome. Runners tend to be weak in predictable areas and one of those areas is the hips. For more information on specific strength training that can be done to prevent IT Band issues, read this article.

My pain has slowly decreased over the past few days to the point where I may try a get short run tomorrow. I've been icing when I can, foam-rolling a few times a day and stretching. I also was looking around online and found this handy little tool, called the Patt Strap, that I'm hoping will also help. I just bought it today so I'll let you know if it works (or even helps). I'm hopeful that this injury won't sideline me for long, though I am prepared to take the necessary time off in the event that the self-therapy I've been using proves ineffective. I know that this is the type of injury that can linger for a long time if not addressed and in my mind, that would be the worst-case scenario. I would love to hear from any of you out there who've also had experience with this injury to know what helped (or didn't help) you overcome it. Cheers.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Quiz -- Yay.

I have to credit my wife for finding quiz - and for finding the Run GingerFoxxx, Run blog and the super-cool Chicago Running Blogs page. Anyway - I have a post coming about IT Band Syndrome (damn running injuries), but for now:

1.      Why do you run?
The first thing that popped into my mind was, "because I'm good at it". I guess if I wasn't good at running, I probably wouldn't have stuck with it...that's become a secondary reason though. I would say that now I run because a) it helps me relieve stress, b) it helps me focus my energy and c) I love racing.

2.      What other athletic things do you enjoy?
I enjoy watching almost all sports (except NBA basketball). I love to play golf and I love to be outside in general (hiking, camping).

3.      Where did you grow up?
Brooklyn Park, MN - northwest suburb of Minneapolis, MN 

4.      Why do you currently live where you do?
Interesting question - I met my wife Leslie when we were in college and she was a couple of years behind me in school. I knew when I graduated that I wanted to marry her so I stuck around, got a job here and have been here ever since. We bought our first house last April so now we're stuck here in a way.

5.      Where is your favorite place in the world?
I love being wherever the people I love in this world are. I love being at home with my wife, I love spending time with her and my families and I love spending time with our friends.

6.      Do you know how to do something that not everyone can do?
I can play the cello? Does that count?

7.      What foods do you hate?
Papayas, they taste like garbage.

8.      What kind of car do you drive, and why did you buy it?
I drive a black 2009 Kia Optima. I bought it because it got good gas mileage, it looks decent and it was in our price range.

9.      Have you ever quit anything? Why?
I've quit things yes - the reason was that I wanted to make myself a better, more productive person.

10.  What was your major? If you could go back in time, would you pick something else? (If you didn't go to college, what would you major in if you did?)
My major was Psychology - I started out as a Cello Performance major but switched. If I could go back, I would go for Business, Finance or some other pursuit where your degree can actually be used for something. I loved studying psychology - but my degree is pretty worthless otherwise.

11.  Where did you go to college? Why? (And if you didn't go, why?)
Went to Wheaton College. At the time I was applying I thought I wanted to get into Music, and I liked the cello professor at Wheaton the best, he ended up leaving after my freshman year and I ended up leaving the Conservatory.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Restoring Faith in Humanity

This isn't really a running related post. This past Saturday I had the privilege of serving at a food pantry with a group from my church and I wanted to share some thoughts on it.

Several weeks ago someone in our small group at church had the good idea of serving at a local food pantry and it was just the kind of opportunity I'd been looking for. I don't know how many of you out there have looked on your own for volunteer opportunities before, but they can be awfully hard to find at an individual level. Volunteer organizations (Samaritan's Purse, Operation Christmas Child, Feed my Starving Children, etc) typically only accommodate groups of people so unless you're involved with a bigger group, it can be hard to find places to plug in. Anyway, I digress. We showed up at the People's Resource Center in Wheaton, IL on Saturday morning which, despite having gone to school mere blocks from this place for 4 years, I never even knew was there. PRC exists to help people in DuPage County by providing them with everything from food to computer and job training classes. Their food pantry is open almost everyday and anyone in the county can come and gather a load of groceries, no questions asked. PRC gets it's donations from individuals and business in the area and is also a member of the Northern Illinois Food Bank which gathers food from all areas of the state and distributes it to food pantries all over the state. The goal of the pantry is to provide people with food so that the money they might have otherwise spent on groceries can be freed up to be spent on other things like rent, medication, etc.

There were already people lined up waiting for food at 8:30am and after a short-orientation on how the whole process works, we were quickly busy helping people fill their shopping carts with food. During orientation, the leader asked for volunteers for various jobs and when there was an opportunity to work outside, my hand shot up. Sure it was only 25 degrees out and sure there was a biting northwest wind, but hey, the sun was out and being outside is almost always better than being inside. Besides, I had gloves, a coat and a hat. A handful of others joined me and our job for the subsequent 4 hours was to help people bring their food to their cars, load it into the car and take the cart back so another person could go through the line. It was a pretty simple job - nothing flashy.

In observing the people coming through the line, it was fairly obvious that many of these people are quite poor. It's probably not a stretch to assume that many of these people work tough and thankless jobs just trying to get by. Several of the families looked to be immigrant families and perhaps do not have jobs. I thought the coolest part of my job was that for a few minutes on a Saturday morning, I got to serve these people who are often likely the ones tirelessly serving other people and their own families. I'm just guessing, but I would imagine it takes a certain swallowing of one's pride to go to the food pantry and I made it my mission to make those people feel loved and appreciated.

More to the point of my post, helping at PRC really restored some of my faith in humanity. For one thing, there were a TON of volunteers there. Everyone did their best to stay busy, but often there were more than enough hands to help out on a given task. Also, the pantry was absolutely FULL to the brim with donated food. There was canned food stacked in boxes along the wall waiting to be used, the bread bins were overflowing and there was even some food being kept outside (so as to keep it cold and out of the way) until it could be used. During the 4 hours that we were outside, I would estimate that about 8-10 cars pulled up with donations of clothing or food. One guy stopped by and said that a group at his kid's school had conducted a food drive the night before and he was there to drop off several bags of canned goods and other items. A pickup truck pulled up and had a flat-bed full of food, flowers and other frozen goods from the local Trader Joe's. Another van pulled up with bread from Panera....and that was just in one morning.

More than helping the people - it was nice to see all of the generosity around. Every day I talk to people who are all about themselves. To be honest, I'm all about myself a lot of the time. You see road-rage, rudeness, bickering on TV, the back-and-forth in modern-day politics, the "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality in the media...that all gets exhausting. It's life-sucking. But this, this was life-giving and left there with more energy than when I came. Other people is what life is about, helping other people, putting them first, giving the extra that you have to make up for the deficit that others face. I plan on going back to PRC - I found out that they don't just operate with groups, you can show up any day of the week and help. Sounds good to me.

"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" -- Matthew 6:26

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Back in the Saddle

It's been too long - this always seems to happen, I get all excited about blogging and for a few weeks I post and post and post...and then real-life gets in the way and I disappear for awhile. In my defense, I took about a 3 week break from running so there wasn't much running-related material to talk about. Over the break Leslie and I found out that we won spots into the New York City Half Marathon which was pretty exciting once I got over the sticker shock ($128pp...yikes). Anyway, the best part of this whole thing is that our friends Stephen and Emily from NJ also won spots in the race so all four of us are running the race together. Personally I'm probably more excited just to hang out with them for a weekend than I am to run in the actual race (though that is also exciting).

Once we found out, I immediately set about formulating a training plan to prepare for the race. If you've read this blog before, you know that I've been reading Jack Daniels' book (Daniels' Running Formula) and throughout the book he gives training templates for races of various distances. I was hoping to find a half-marathon training template, but alas, I had to settle for a marathon program - which I then modified to suit my needs. The basic premise of Daniels' training formula is that two days out of every week are devoted to what he calls "Quality" (Q) workouts. For longer distances one of the Q days is devoted to a long run, usually done on either a Saturday or a Sunday, and the other Q day is typically devoted to a speed workout. The rest of the days in the training schedule are devoted to easy-to-moderate running with an emphasis on getting miles in and letting your body recover from the Q days.

I decided to start the program pretty conservatively with a couple of weeks of fairly low mileage since I was coming off of a 3-week break. I didn't want to jump in and immediately start tallying 30-40 miles a week so as to avoid injury, while at the same time getting my body used to running on a regular basis again. So far I've really enjoyed the structure of it. I've noticed that I really anticipate the Q workouts because for the rest of the time, it feels like I'm really holding back...the quality workouts are really my only chance each week to "let it fly." I really like knowing exactly what I am going to be doing each day because it takes a lot of the guesswork out of training and really focuses me on what it is I'm trying to accomplish.

My goal for the NY Half is 1:30:00. Not to toot my own horn, but I feel like it's an ambitious goal because a) I've never raced (let along run) that distance before and b) to run sub-7:00/mile for 13.1 miles would be equal to the pace of my fastest 10K to date. That being said, I am confident that if I stick to this training program and keep my end goal in mind throughout - I will be able to do it.

Leslie chose a different training program which I also find interesting; she is using Hal Higdon's Intermediate Half Marathon training program which is very similar to the Daniels' formula. My brother is currently training for another marathon and he's using The Hansons' method which emphasizes the consistency of your training (i.e. maintaining high weekly mileage totals throughout the course of the program). I'm struck by how many different ideas are out there on how to train for longer distance races. I don't tend to think that any one program is better than another, but from person to person one may work better than another.

Long-term my goal is to run in the Chicago Marathon this coming fall. With that in mind I tailored my training program for slightly higher weekly-mileage totals than is probably normal for half marathon training. The idea behind the higher mileage is that I over the course of the next 10 weeks or so I will get my body used to running 35-40 miles per week which is pretty much the starting point for marathon training. I'm very pleased with how this year has started in terms of running and I'm excited to see how my body responds to this program.

I would love to hear about other people's programs and goals. If you're a veteran of longer races, how did you figure out which program was best for you? Did you seek out a program or develop one on your own based on experience?