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Monday, January 31, 2011

Burn

After yesterday's issues, I wasn't really excited about getting my running shoes on this evening. It also didn't help that it came after two work days; eight hours at the computer, and another tutoring. I made it home about 5:30, and really did not feel like moving quickly at that point.

Once again, my wife saved me. Saved me, in that she made me leave the apartment and go to the gym.

The Monday 5Ks are as much about keeping my spirits up as they are about actually getting some speed work in. That might be part of why I didn't really want to do the run today. I wasn't confident about my ability to improve my time, and after a tough day yesterday, I didn't want another one.

I stretched out longer than usual before I started, trying to convince myself to go for the faster time. All day I've been having thoughts about tapering, and maybe dropping my weekly 5K. My inability to continue as far as I would like led me to believe that I needed to start dropping miles. 

But do I? No. I need to push through.

And so I hit the button on the treadmill. And I ran. And at a quarter mile, I bumped the speed. And again at the half mile. My legs were hurting, but it wasn't too bad. And I was able to go faster. I was at top speed by the end of the first mile.

I was counting down the minutes from that point, and the thing that surprised me most was that I was able to keep on. After the second mile was complete, I started to get winded. It was the first time in a while that I've actually had trouble with the cardiovascular side of things. And really, that was part of the greatness of today's run. I ran myself hard enough that I felt like I was working for each step. No suffering, but working hard.

Each step felt better, and each minute that passed brought a little more strength. It was hard, but I felt rewarded, and when I got to the end, I'd dropped 12 seconds off last week's 5K time. 

It completely reinvigorated me. All of the negative things that I've been thinking for the last 36 hours melted away with my ability to better myself. Not even just the last 36 hours, really. The last week. Even though I was able to have a better time last Monday, it didn't have the feeling of accomplishment that I had today. I'm not sure what it was, but something about today made me feel like I had turned a corner.

We'll really see how good it all is tomorrow. The temperatures are going to PLUMMET overnight, which will make my normally difficult Tuesday run very... well... unpleasant. But I feel motivated, and I've got high hopes.

The process of training for a marathon is a long one, and throughout the process, it can really start to feel like a chore. You spend a long time doing the same thing over and over again, and it seems like the date will never get here. But I'm hoping that the energy I've got right now will carry over and show through in tomorrow's run, and Thursday's, and Friday's, and - most importantly - Sunday's. It's my last long training run, and I am determined to make it over 20 miles. 

When you put that it writing, it looks terrifying.

Today's Run:
Indoors / Treadmill
3.1 Miles
18 Minutes, 44 Seconds

Crash

This has been somewhat of a trying weekend.

I knew that the weekends would be the hardest when it came to paleo, but for the first weekend, this was quite the challenge. On Saturday, my niece turned three, and we got to go to her birthday party. It was a great time, except of course for the fact that I could not eat any cake, cupcakes, cookies or ice cream, all of which looked like the most delicious food on the planet. And of course, I knew it would be like this going in. These are the things you have at a birthday party (particularly for a child that young), and it is my choice not to eat them. It was difficult, but the wife and I managed to make it. I even rediscovered my love for granny smith apples, which now reside in my fridge.

Then, Saturday afternoon/evening, I had a show, which meant we had to come home, cook some lunch, and get ready to go in a relatively short amount of time. The good news was that we had not used all the steak from our steak salad the other night, so I made a quick late lunch of steak with onions and broccoli. Delicious.

After the show, the family wanted to go out to eat, and a Mexican restaurant was chosen. I love Mexican food, mostly because the first ingredient in everything is cheese. I ate a steak and a lot of fajita meat, but I could smell the baking cheese all around me. My mouth is watering right now as I think about it.

Now, here's where it gets ugly. My brother-in-law is doing the Austin Half-Marathon, and was scheduled for a 12-mile run on Sunday, so he asked if I'd like to join him and his friend. I said sure, knowing that I had an extra 6-7 to do on top of that. I would have liked to do 19, but given last week's debacle, I didn't want to risk over-shooting. This sounded like a perfect option, so I agreed to meet them.

I got up early and did my extra miles first. For the first couple blocks, I tried running with a knee brace (as precaution), but I really hated the way that felt. I've always had an awkward running form, and apparently it does not take well to having my knee movement restricted. I took it off fairly quickly. Still, braceless, I felt great in those first five and a half. As I neared the meeting-point, I was feeling really good about today.

And for the first few miles with my running buddies, I still felt good. However, about mile 10, I really started to drag. The good news was, it wasn't my knees or my lungs. The bad news was, it was everything else. My hamstrings in particular were very angry with me, and every minor hill we encountered made my calves burn. It was as though there was nothing left in them, and I was getting very frustrated.

Around 12, my stomach started hurting. This was a very bad sign. I'd had a banana before I left, but not a full meal, and the fact that I was already hungry spelled doom. I tried to ignore it and continue on, but as the stomach pain faded, I got more and more thirsty. I have a CamelPak that I wear on any run over 10 miles, but I drained it pretty quickly. Fortunately, there are several water stops along the Town Lake Trail. Unfortunately, I couldn't slake my thirst.

My plan had been to run my 5 1/2, then run 12 with the boys, then jog the two miles home. As we got to mile 13, I knew this would not happen. The combination of too much water, not enough food, and too many extra miles were crashing down on me. My legs were rapidly giving up. I kept up until about my 15.5 mile mark, and then I had to walk most of the rest of the way. I tried to start up a few times, but each time I did this, I felt sick to my stomach, and I didn't really want to throw up on the trail, so I stopped again.

I caught a ride home (thanks again!), and got in the shower, where I just sat down and let the hot water do its thing. After the shower (as I usually do), I weighed myself. I had dropped 10 pounds in a week, which is just not healthy at my size. That's a 6% drop for me. My wife and I talked after this, and we decided that now is not the time for me to do the Paleo diet. It kills me that I can't stay with her on this journey, but I'm simply burning too many calories, and I can't afford to buy the amount of steak it would take to make up for what I'm not getting from pasta. I'm still staying away from unnecessary sugars, and I haven't had caffeine in over a week, but I need my carbs for the next three weeks.

Sometime down the road, I would like to try this again, preferably when I'm not in the middle of an intensive training program. When I do it again, I'll do it more gradually, rather than loading up on carbs one week, and having none the next. For the most part, I will still likely eat a lot of paleo meals. I'll just have them with a side of spaghetti.

The whole experience made me very nervous. I'm kind of worried that I could barely make it 17.5 miles today and yet, in three weeks, I'll be expected to run another 8.5 miles past that. However, I won't be deterred, because of the following points:

1) My diet was odd. I'm back on a normal meal schedule now.

2) There were several long breaks in between running moments for me on Sunday, and it's always hard for me to restart.

3) I've done this before with no training, so doing it with training will have to be easier.

4) Race-day adrenaline

and finally, 5) I already paid for it.

Today's run:
50ish / Overcast, then sunny
17.5 Miles
3 Hours 1 Minute, 51 Seconds

Friday, January 28, 2011

Celestial Navigation

Experimenting with diet is always something you want to watch carefully. I've got my eye on paleo.

The Minutes, Not Miles theory that I'm following actually ensued from an article that I read quoting Jeff Galloway, a well-respected running guru. He was talking about starting to run, a timely article for all of those who use New Year's as a time to get in shape. What he describes is a run/walk combination, and that becoming a runner is as easy as changing the ratio. Run for 15 seconds out of every minute, and gradually increase that distance.

He also talked about how men (in particular) can jump into training too enthusiastically and burn themselves out. I feared that I was nearing that point, so I need to slow down and just get in my miles. I've got to make sure that I can run the marathon. Then I'll worry about going faster.

Today, I was not going faster.

About 2.5 miles into the run, I really felt like I was hitting the proverbial wall. Granted, it was a little more uphill than I usually do that early, but I was dragging like I haven't in a while. My legs felt like lead, and I was having a good deal of trouble forcing them into action.

I've heard about this wall before, and I've never really come across it, at least not that I remember. I probably had some of these issues back in high school, but that was so long ago (he said sadly) that I don't quite remember it. Now it's been so long since I've been in full-fledged training that I haven't had the chance to approach the wall, much less hit it.

But hit it I did. Hard.

And yet there's good news. I kept going. Even when I got lost. Despite the fact that run-mapping websites don't take into account the fact that some of the roads are actually gated communities and are therefore of no use to a runner, I managed to find my way around. It was a fun system of continuing until I found another road and following my shadow. See, I knew I was generally southeast of where I wanted to be, and since it was early morning, my shadow pointed northwest. If I was following my shadow, I was going in the right direction. Celestial navigation.

It ended up being about .6 miles longer due to my detour, but I got back on track relatively easily. It's nice to finally be able to find my way through the city so that a wrong turn isn't the disaster that it once was. There's really no better way to get to know the city than some really long runs. 

I finished in an okay time. Not as fast as I'd like to be, but there was some walking in the last couple miles that really slowed down the average. Then I started to think about all the things that might have contributed to my wall issue.

The one thing that I immediately got worried about was the paleo diet. I'm eating a lot less than I normally do. Well, maybe not less overall, but definitely less junk, and a LOT less sugar. These are all good things, of course, but I did wonder if I wasn't getting the calories I needed to complete the workouts I had planned. I've lost some weight already, and I didn't really think I had weight to lose. Apparently, I was wrong. 

I guess I'm just going to keep an eye on the whole thing. At several points in the last couple days, I've already felt like giving in on this. I love my pasta, and I've basically been constantly carbo-loading for most of my life. I miss that pretty much every meal, but I promised to give this an honest try, and it takes more than 4 days to be able to pass judgement on something like this.

And so I will continue, at least for a little while longer. We'll see how the weekend goes, and particularly Sunday's run. 

I am thrilled to have caffeine out of my system for the first time in over ten years, so that's one great thing to come out of this. 

Here's hoping for some more.

Today's Run:
49 Degrees / Sunny
8.61 Miles
1 Hour, 13 Minutes, 20 Seconds

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Resistance Training

Today, I would like to thank my dog for truly testing my Miles, Not Minutes commitment.

I really am terrible at getting up in the morning. I need some sort of suggestion on how to actually get myself out of bed on time. Part of it is that the temperature shifts so much from day to night that I always wake up cold, and the only thing that I want to do is get deeper under the covers. I know that if I snooze away those twilight hours, I'm going to have to run after work, something I really hate doing, not to mention the fact that I'll have less energy throughout the day.

I know all of this, and yet I snooze.

With all of the other changes in my diet and lifestyle, hopefully this is one more thing that I'll be able to work on. I'll look up some tricks to getting up, hopefully that don't involve waking my wife up, too.

As such, it was to be an afternoon/evening run for me. The wife suggested that I take the pup along with me on this one, as she seemed to be bouncing off the walls all day. Usually, she's my Friday run partner, but given the circumstances, I figured maybe it'd do her good to get out for a bit. Here's the problem - today was scheduled to be 8 miles. I'm quite sure the dog has never run that far before, at least not consecutively. However, with my new focus on distance, not speed, I thought we'd be okay.

As usual, I didn't check the weather.

We're having a pseudo-heat wave here in Texas, and temperatures were in the upper 50s by the time I got off on my run. For me, this was fantastic. For the pup, not so much. Within a mile and a half, she had already started to pant, and she had no interest in running beside me. I slowed down as much as I could (and still be running), but she still dragged behind me. She'd get spurts of energy along the way, like after we had to wait at a stoplight or when there was something she wanted to investigate, so I knew she had the strength. She just didn't want to run.

I did not want to do this for 8 miles, though, just in case.

So, I decided to simply continue to the turnaround for my 5-mile course, and then take her home. Why 5? Because that's tomorrow's run. I considered going for the 4-mile, dropping her off at home and then doing it again, but for one thing, that'd be boring, and for another, the whole point of doing an 8-mile run is to keep it continuous. Therefore, tomorrow will be 8, and today was very, very slow.

Which is really fine. Although I didn't feel like I got a particularly good workout in the running portion, it did motivate me to perform better in my ab and arm workouts, which went well. And I got my miles in. Tomorrow (hopefully in the morning), I'll do my eight uninterrupted on the new path a measured out last night, and I'll be prepared for Sunday's monster run when it will be, surprise surprise, raining.

The best thing about today's run was that in all my focusing on the dog's lack of speed, I never had time to focus on anything else, and I didn't have any leg pain, which is unusual for an outdoor run. Either I'm getting stronger, or I just need stronger distractions.

Or both.

Today's Run:
58 Degrees / Sunny
5.13 Miles
50 Minutes, 20 Seconds

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Paleo

For a while now, my wife has been touting the virtues of this thing called the Paleo Diet. She got the idea from her brother and sister-in-law, who in turn got it (so I understand) from working with Crossfit. So, let's take it back just a bit.

Crossfit is basically an insane gym where functional muscle building takes precedence over things like treadmills and ellipticals. There are many different forms of the same workout that are now making their rounds, including (from what I can tell) P90X. If you've seen the movie 300, the Spartans did this sort of workout in order to get in shape for the film. Impressive stuff.

I've tried some Crossfit things in the past, but I've never really been able to stick with it for more than a couple weeks, mostly because we did not have the equipment or the community required to maintain a steady regimine. It's a lot harder to break yourself down in your apartment alone than it is to do so with trainers standing by encouraging you. We'd just join the gym, but it is incredibly expensive. And anyway, I've always liked running more, so I'm glad to be doing that.

Now, one of the things that Crossfit encourages is a change in diet, and their recommended meal plan is called Paleo. Keep in mind, I'm getting most of this stuff second-hand, so some of my details might be off, but you'll get the general idea.

First, let me clarify what I mean by "diet." I do not mean that I am on a diet, as in I'm trying to lose weight. I use the word "diet" to mean "way of eating" in general. This isn't just a way to lose excess weight (though it helps do that, too), it's a change in lifestyle.

The basic premise, I've been told, is that paleolithic humas had incredibly good health, and many of the diseases that plague people today, especially sugar-based diseases like diabetes, simply did not exist. It was not until they started farming that these things began to develop. Essentially, the goal of Paleo living is to remove oneself as far as possible from processed foods.

This sounds pretty standard when you think about avoiding meat with hormones, excess sugar, and things like that. What knocked me over, though, is this: all wheat and dairy products are processed, simply by their nature. The Paleo Diet does not include these things.

As someone who routinely takes down a box of macaroni and cheese by myself, this would be enough to make me say no. I love pasta. I love cheese. I love pop and candy and beer and all of the things that you cannot have in this lifestyle. Truly, when it was first explained to me, it sounded like the last of all possible things I would ever want to do.

Still, it's difficult to argue with the results that I have seen in others. Don't get me wrong, I am very skeptical, but there is enough evidence to support the idea that I'm willing to give it a shot.

So, for the next 28 days, the wife and I will be living the Paleo lifestyle. Lots of meat, vegetables, and fruit, and not too much else.

The craziest thing about it all so far is that I have not had anything with caffeine in it for almost three days. Anyone who knows me knows how insane that is. In college, I used to drink it by the 2-Liter. I've had a pretty steady stream of caffeine in my system for I don't know how many years, and here I am, 68 hours without, and I'm feeling fine. If nothing else, I'm glad for that.

There should be implications for my running as well. I've heard good things about distance runners who do the program correctly. Then again, I've gotten a pretty one-sided argument thus far. I'll be reading the book The Paleo Solution over the next few days to get more educated on the issue, and throughout the next four weeks, I'm sure I'll look around at both positive and negative feedback to see what others are saying and to see how much I agree with.

For now, I'm just going to eat my hamburger and be happy.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Miles, Not Minutes

Ah, Tuesday morning. The bane of my running existance. Thank goodness I've got a wife who knows how to motivate me.

There are lots of changes going on in my life, most of which I'll talk about tomorrow, but the big thing is that for the next four weeks, we will be a Paleo Diet household. What does that mean? Well, there's more about it tomorrow, but for today, it means that my wife was going to cook me breakfast.

If, she said, I actually get up and run when I'm supposed to. Much like my dog, I'm highly food-motivated, so when the alarm went off this morning, I was ready to go. I snoozed a couple times, but still managed to get out the door by 6:30, for which I'm quite proud of myself.

Tuesday runs haven't gotten any easier since the beginning of my training. They still follow the super-long and then the super-fast runs. My legs are pretty tired, as is the rest of me. Monday takes a lot of wind out of my sails, particularly if I didn't get up for an early 5K. Fortunately, this Tuesday had the feeling of a new week, and of a new start to my training.

After the disappointment of Sunday's run and the surprise elation of yesterdays, I have middled out with regard to my training goals somewhat. Specifically, I'm going by my new theory of Miles, Not Minutes.

I know very well that I'm not going to qualify for Boston this time around. The Austin Marathon (for me) is about making sure that I can still even do this long of a race. Yes, I did one before without training, but I was an awful lot younger back then. While I'm still in pretty good shape, I have nowhere near the resiliency that I had when I started college, and I need to recognize that when doing my training. Last week, I ran a lot of miles very, very quickly, and as a result, I somewhat burned myself out, leading to the poor performance on Sunday.

Therefore, I'm going to change a few things up on my weekly schedule. For one thing, I'm changing my Thursday run from a treadmill speed workout to an outdoor pace run, and really focus on running the same time for each mile. Not only is this going to force me to keep my own pace more accurately, but it will also get me out on the roads for another day, as all the knee issues that I've been having seem to happen because I'm not acclimated to the cold and the terrain. An additional treadmill run won't prepare me for any of that.

I'm going to keep the mileage the same, and I'm still going to have my Monday 5K, mostly because I enjoy it, and I still want to have some strength training.

From now on, I'll focus more on making the miles than on making certain times. If my legs start to ache, then I've got to slow down and keep going. I'll still keep track of my times, but I'm not going to judge success or failure of a run solely on how fast it was. Completion is the goal of my training, just like it will be the goal of the race itself.

This new theory came to me today about mile 4, when my legs started to bother me. When this happened on Sunday, I stopped and walked a bit, and then I started back up, only to find that restarting hurt more than just continuing. Today, I held my pace. I just kept moving forward, and you know what? It worked. Within half a mile, the pain in my knee had receded, and I was able to complete the run right at my desired race pace.

Six days a week now, my focus will be on finishing and finishing only. It takes a lot of the pressure off my shoulders - pressure that I, myself, invented - and hopefully will make this thing even more fun.

But Mondays are still built for speed. Gotta jump start the week somehow.

Today's Run:
45 Degrees / Clear
7.56 Miles
1 Hours, 0 Minutes, 29 Seconds

Intervals

I'm finding that it's harder for me to come up with writing topics than for me to get myself out to go for a run. And first thing in the morning, it's awfully hard for me to get out for a run.

This morning, it was not happening. The aforementioned craziness of the last 96 hours caught up with me, and I was seriously beat. I stayed in bed until the last possible moment.

I did my work for the day and then headed to the gym for my treadmill 5K.

There were two new aspects to today's workout that made it unusual. First, yesterday was the first day in a while that I had started a run and not been able to finish it. Second, my wife (who is restarting her own fitness program) was at the gym with me. I love having her there during workouts, because it's that much more incentive to do well. It's the like the adrenaline rush of the crowd at a race, but in a much smaller and more specific dose.

So, despite the fact that my leg had been seriously acting up on Sunday, I decided to push on with my drive to outrun the treadmill. Most treadmills will go up to 10.0 mph, which, for a 5K is a time of 18:36. Back in high school, this would have been a poor time for me, but now it would really go a long way toward increasing my confidence in my speed again. Today's goal was to complete in under 19 minutes.

This meant that I was starting out at around 9.5, and I quickly found a stride. My plan was to increase speed by .1 every quarter mile, which I did for the first 3/4 of mile one. As I neared the mile marker (6:16), I figured that I could probably afford to slow my acceleration just a little bit, and decided to go by half miles instead. My legs were still very tired from all the running around, and I didn't want to risk injury.

At 1.25 miles, I bumped up to 9.9 mph, and this is where it really started to get tough. I knew I wasn't quite halfway done yet, and that I was going almost as fast as the treadmill would allow. At the halfway point, I was just barely over pace (9:33), and the back end was supposed to be quicker than the front end. Shortly before 1.75, I debated briefly putting off the final increase another quarter mile, but then realized how mad I'd be at myself if I missed the goal by one second, and I pushed the button.

If I didn't have a choice in pace, I wonder how long I could actually run. People say things like "I couldn't run a mile if my life depended on it," but I wonder if that's true. I mean, if your life really depended on it, how fast could you go? Hopefully I'll never have to find out, but if the treadmill can force me to go so fast for so long, mortal peril's got to be up there too, right?

For the final 1.35 miles, I ran like my life depended on it, watching the clock for the pacing the whole way. The two mile split (12:20) told me I was right on speed, and I just stared into the wall as hard as I can. Apparently at one point my wife, riding the stationary bike right in front of me, tried to catch my eye. My eye was uncatchable. I went into tunnel vision focus mode and started counting minutes. As long as I didn't touch the speed button, I was going to make it.

The last tenth of a mile always seems eternal on the treadmill, as you're trying to count down the last few steps, particularly if you're shooting for a specific time and the music runs out on the iPod. Each step burns like hell, and all you can do is force yourself to keep going. You've come this far, you can't give up. And oh, what sweet release it is to hit that stop button knowing you've made your goal.

There is such power in setting goals at intervals. If your only goal is to run a marathon, you might get tired out as it goes along. When you make it to your 12 mile run, you may think there's no way you could do that again. Setting goals to hit throughout the training makes a huge difference in your perspective on how it's going. And if your goal is to, say, run 50 marathons, it helps to set middling goals, like qualifying for other races, as a momentum builder.

For individual runs or training overall, I find that I can't focus on the whole. I can't think about a race in its entirety, because that just makes me tired. I get excited for tomorrow. And each tomorrow gets me closer to the end.

Don't focus on the finish line. Focus on your next ten steps.

Today's Run:
Indoors / Treadmill
3.1 Miles
18 Minutes, 56 Seconds

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bad Run, Good Choice

I have decided that I will refer to each marathon as its own "season" (like a football season or baseball season), mostly so that I can say things like this:

It had to happen eventually. Today was my worst run of the season.

In my defense, there was a lot working against me. My cousin got married yesterday, and I, of course, wanted to go. The show I'm in right now is happening as part of a festival, so the dates and times of the shows are pretty random. As a result, I had a show Friday evening, and one this afternoon, which wouldn't be so bad, were it not for the fact that I spent yesterday in Chicago.

Good Lord, it's cold up there. It's not like I'd forgotten, but it's just that kind of cold that gets in your bones and stays there. At least I got to see falling snow this winter. Didn't think that was going to happen.

So, I didn't get much sleep on Friday night, because I was so paranoid about oversleeping on Saturday morning. I was pretty much moving the entire day Saturday, and then got to bed crazy late on Saturday night.

When I'd made my reservations, I gave myself a 5-hour buffer between my plane touching down and when I had to be at the theater. I was encouraged when my flight started boarding on time. Less so when it took over an hour to de-ice the thing. Really O'Hare? We haven't mastered that one yet?

I tried to sleep on the plane, and I feel this was my true undoing. While necessary (because I needed the energy for my show), it is remarkably impossible for me to get comfortable on a plane, so I had to bend and fold myself in all sorts of contortions, which inevitably resulted in some part of my body falling asleep, so that when I woke up, I couldn't use my right hand or my left leg for a while. Then I'd resituate, and repeat the whole process. The good news was, I did get an extra couple hours of sleep. The bad news was, my body was angry with me, and because of the delay, I didn't have time to eat anything.

Due to having awesome inlaws, I didn't have to pick up the puppy until after my show, so I used the 3 hours I had left to go for my run, which was scheduled to be 18 miles. It took me a while to put together an 18-mile course, so I lost some time, and I didn't take the proper amount of time to warm up and stretch. The first couple miles actually felt pretty good. About mile 3, though, I started to feel some tightness in my back.

The course I'd drawn up still features a good portion of the Austin Marathon course, which means that most of the back nine (as it were) is downhill. The other side of that coin, of course, is that the first nine miles are generally uphill.

I decided to push through. I've got a marathon in four weeks, and I need to get the miles in. Plus, if I slowed down, there was no way I was going to make it back to the house in time to get ready and head off to the show. So, on I went.

At about mile 6, however, the back pain had spread to my leg and was really messing with my stride. I took at look at how long I'd gone thus far and decided that there was probably no way I could finish 18 in my allotted time, so I turned around.

Now, all of these things are excuses more than they are reasons. Didn't get enough sleep, didn't eat enough, limited time, leg pain, etc. Still, it turned out to be a good decision when, about a mile back toward home, the pain flared up and got very sharp. I did a lot of walking on the way back as a result, and in doing so, barely made it home on time. I had to pick up a bit of food before the show (having still not eaten), but I managed to make it to the theater only two minutes late.

The thing about today was that life intervened. There were things I could have done to ensure my run was safe, but today they would have prevented me from enjoying the other parts of life. I mean, I could have gone to bed earlier, but I wanted to celebrate my cousin, so I did. I could have made sure I'd eaten, but I was too tired to focus. I definitely should have warmed up adequately, but I got myself paranoid about the time crunch, and the show was more important than me.

All in all, I still managed to run over 12 miles today. I've still got two super long runs before the marathon in which to make up my time. I got to spend a great 24 hours with family, and I had two great shows. It's a successful weekend.

Even if it's not a successful run.

Today's run:
51 Degrees / Cloudy
12.2 Miles
1 Hour, 47 Minutes, 35 Seconds

Friday, January 21, 2011

On Pace

This was just not the week for me to be getting up early.

Today, I got up at pretty much the last possible minute I could where I would still have time to go for a run, get a shower, and feed the dog before I had to start working. In most ways, this was bad, because I was rushed, and did not warm up properly, and didn't have any relaxation time between work out and work. In one respect, though, it did give me a bit of an advantage: I didn't have time to worry about the cold.

In fact, it was the pup who finally got me up. Young dogs have a way of making sure that you're up on time for the things that involve them. It's actually kind of funny, because she hasn't woken me up early all week, but today, for her run, she got me up about 90 minutes before her usual time. Oh, God. She's learning.

So I suited up for the run, and she knows that if I put the running shoes on before we go outside, then she's definitely about to go for a run. She started bouncing around the apartment. Whether that was excitement or just impatience at not being taken out the second I woke up, I'm not sure. I'll take it as the first.

The temperature did drop, but it didn't feel nearly as bad as I had expected, mostly because there wasn't any wind (at least in the first half) or rain. Remembering her reluctance last week, I was worried that the cold would make my dog less enthusiastic about her time with me. Fortunately, it appears that it was more the rain and not just the cold that bothered her last week, because the first step I took, she was off like a rocket.

Given the severe drop in temperature, I settled into a pace a little earlier than usual, which worked out nicely for the dog, too, I think. We had a five mile run today, which is a mile longer than she'd been going, but by keeping the pace a little more reasonable, she was able to run with me the entire time without ever really dropping back or slowing down. We did get stopped by a couple streetlights, which was good and bad. It allowed her to catch her breath, but I think it slowed down the time significantly. I always take that time into account when I put up my final time, and today I think it's the reason we were slower than race pace, but I'm not too concerned about it. The pup runs are usually a little slower, and that's fine. This first race, at least, is about doing the distance. If the time is great, that's an added bonus.

Mostly I was impressed at how well-behaved the dog was the entire run. She didn't bark at anyone (something she surprises us with from time to time), and any time I stopped, she immediately sat next to me. When I started up again, I barely had to call her at all. She was just happy to be in step.

We've always been amazed at her level of energy, but it is particularly amazing after a hard run. She comes home and gets this last spurt of adrenaline that has her bouncing off the walls for ten minutes before she tires herself out.

Today, though, we walked in the door, and she immediately laid down. After her breakfast, she tried for the adrenaline run, but it only lasted about 30 seconds. Apparently, it takes 5 miles to tire the dog out. Good to know.

The next 48 hours are going to be rather hectic for me, including two flights, a wedding, a show, picking up a dog, picking up a wife and (somewhere in there) running 18 miles. I thought about doing it tomorrow, but I don't want to spend my few hours up north running along a frozen lake, so I'll have to find the time when I get back.

Once I'm done with this, though, life really gets back to normal for a while. To my knowledge, I don't have any traveling to do through the month of February, which is pretty much unheard of in my world. That means it's time to get myself on a rigid schedule (up at 6 every day), get into a rhythm with my runs and meals, and most importantly, keep myself healthy.

We're 30 days from the Austin Marathon, and I'm feeling good.

Today's Run:
36 Degrees / Clear
5.3 Miles
43 Minutes, 28 Seconds

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hard Freeze

I'm told that there's a hard freeze coming tonight. This disturbs me.

One of the many things that I'm enjoying about southern living - in fact, perhaps the thing I like most at the moment - is that the winters are nothing like the ones I've dealt with my entire life. I've lived in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Montana in the winter, so I've seen some doozies.

A few weeks ago, there was snow in 49 of the 50 states. Texas did get some, but only in a little tiny portion of the northernmost part of the state. Nothing anywhere near us. In fact, it was in the 50s that day. And it's a good thing, too. Watching the chaos that was Atlanta for that week, I'd hate to have to live in that kind of disaster.

No, here we don't get things like snow and hard freezes. Except tonight, when we will.

So, I was thinking about which run to do this afternoon. The temperature was steadily declining, so I had to make the call. Since Friday is my run-with-dog day, I had to take that into account. If it's going to be that cold tomorrow, then the pup might not be up for a 5-miler in the morning. I thought about taking her this afternoon, but since she's still got some attention (deficit disorder) issues, I didn't really want to take her out around rush hour.

In the end, I decided to just stick with the schedule that I already had. Eight miles today, and five tomorrow with the pup.

It also helps that Thursday is a treadmill day, which means that I get to run fast. I love the accomplishment of a fast run, so it was a little added incentive for me to get out there.

At this point in the training schedule, my weekday runs will not be getting longer anymore. Assuming I can finally get into the habit of getting up early, my days will start as follows from now on: Mon - 3.1, Tues - 6, Wed - Rest (yoga?), Thurs - 8, and Fri - 5.

Now, since I'm not running farther (except Sundays), I've got to run faster. And so I did.

While treadmill running is boring and lifeless, it forces the speed. If you can commit to going faster than you think you can, you just might surprise yourself. Pushing myself today, I hit negative splits and, what shocked me most, my 10K split was 24 seconds faster than the time I put in on Tuesday. I was completely exhausted at the end, but I also felt great.

I've got a crazy few days coming up, and finding the time to work out is going to be difficult, to the say the least. The fact that it's going to be freezing (and that I'll be visiting some place colder) is going to make it all the more challenging. That's why it's imperative that I actually get up and go running on time tomorrow morning, so I should probably get to bed pretty soon.

I'll just turn up the heat before I go.

Today's Run:
Indoors / Treadmill
8 Miles
53 Minutes, 22 Seconds

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Finding Time

Today was quite a busy day for me. Because I didn't start my week out correctly with a Monday morning run, I didn't have any momentum this morning, and I stayed in bed until it was time to get up and work. I did my eight hours, and then I had to take the wife to the airport. This evening, we had dog training, and by the time that's done, it's dark out. I had a grand total of 60 free minutes today, and I used them to run.

Since my wife is out of town this week for work, I get full-time dog duty, and I'm really looking forward to it. We had a great training session tonight, so we've got lots of fun new tricks to practice.

This also means that any time I go running, the pup has to be crated. She's still got some separation anxiety, which means that if she's left alone she'll find something to eat. It's unfortunate, but she's used to it at this point, so it's not such a problem.

Today, when I got back from the airport, I knew I had about an hour before I had to leave for puppy class, and I had a six-mile run on the schedule, which would take me about 45 minutes at least. I was planning on running outside, though, and I didn't want to be on the roads after the sun went down. I decided, on the drive back from the airport to change it up a little.

Since I didn't get my fast run yesterday, I decided (for several reasons) to do today's 10K on the treadmill. The several reasons are as follows:

1) Still wasn't sure that my knee was better, so this way, if I had any issues, I wouldn't be far from home.

2) The treadmill run would be faster than a run outdoors.

3) I really, really, really wanted a fast run this week.

So, I ran into the apartment, ignored the sad look from the dog who thought for a second she was going to be released from her crate, changed, and made it to the gym. And then I ran.

I was somewhat preoccupied with my concern about the knee for the first mile or so, but I started quickly, and just kept increasing the speed throughout the run. I felt some pain in the knee at first, but nothing like I had on Sunday, and most of it was probably in my head. After a while, I decided to ignore it and really push my speed.

While running, I am constantly finding new ways to pass the time and make the run feel better. Today's trick was a combination. I used the time countdown that I'd mentioned before, but I also counted steps. Turns out I was taking about 158 steps per minute. Who knew?

I really couldn't believe how quickly my legs were moving. Considering 48 hours earlier I could barely walk, I was flying today. I made the 5K split in under 22 minutes, and I was still picking up speed. With about 2 miles to go, I decided to kick. With a rest day tomorrow, there's no reason not to make the most of today.

I finished in plenty of time, got showered and got out the door to dog training. I found the time today. Not only did I find the time to make the run, but I also found about two minutes in a 10K, as well. I'm only two minutes off my personal best in the 10K, which means I'm getting back into my running shape.

Today felt great, and tomorrow is a rest day, preparing for an eight-mile treadmill on Thursday. Things are going well, and I'm right on schedule.

And I guess my knee's okay.

Today's Run:
Indoors / Treadmill
6.2 Miles
42 minutes, 0 seconds

Monday, January 17, 2011

Be Smart

Yesterday, during my long run, my left knee started acting up. For about an hour after the run, I had pain every time I bent it. Getting in and out of the car while we went furniture shopping was rather trying. Basically, I hurt.

Normally, I take muscle pain as it comes. As a runner, I'm used to getting sore, and my usual remedy is to keep going. Most often, when I have sore muscles, just using them is enough to make them feel better.

However, any time a joint is involved, I get a little more nervous. With joints, you have to worry about tendons and ligaments and other things that take a lot longer to heal, and, given my family history, the knee makes me particularly edgy.

I kept walking around and even made it through a tech rehearsal yesterday, which was promising. The more I moved, the less it hurt, which is a good sign, but I wanted to make sure there was nothing really to be concerned about.

So, I decided to see how I felt today before going for a run. I still had some pain, and I came to the conclusion, for several reasons (and quite reluctantly), that I should skip my 5K today.

It was actually a really tough decision, because the 5K is my favorite run of the week. I thought about moving today's run to tomorrow and replacing Tuesday's run with it, but at this point in my journey, it's more important to run the miles than to make the time, so I'll just keep today as a rest day and get back on schedule tomorrow. There were several factors in my ultimate decision.

First, I need to make sure that my legs are fine. They're hurting less, and I bought a knee brace, but it hasn't bothered me all evening, so I'm hoping to be okay in the morning. I'm five weeks from a marathon, and I need to be able to run the whole thing. I've just (re)started this mission, and I can't take time off yet.

Second, the training program on which I based mine doesn't even have a run scheduled for the days after my long runs. That was something I added myself.

Third, my shoes are still wet from yesterday.

So, sadly, I did not complete a run this morning. Today was about being smart. When you hurt, stop doing the thing that hurts you. It only makes sense.

Tomorrow, I feel confident that I'll be able to make my six-mile run, and that's because I rested today. Hopefully I'll be able to make it a better run than it would have been otherwise.

I hate to skip a run, but I'd hate more to miss all of them.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Soaked

At this point, every Sunday is the second-longest run of my life, which is really intimidating when you think about it. Only once ever have I run farther than I did today, and it took me a full week to recover. If you think about it, it gets overwhelming.

That's why it helps me to stop thinking and just run. Particuarly when the weather is bad, the best thing I can do is get up as soon as the alarm goes off  (or, in today's case, when the dog pushes me out of the bed), get dressed and get running before I can really even wake up. If I would have thought about how far I had to go and just how bad the weather was, it would have been difficult for me to convince myself that this was a good idea. So this morning, I didn't think about that stuff. I got up, got dressed, and got on the road.

And it was not pleasant. It was raining much harder than last week, pouring at times. I was soaked within the first two miles. The only thing I did think about before leaving was protection of myself and my property, so I didn't bring the iPod for three reasons. First, I was running before sunrise in the rain, and I wanted to make sure I could hear any car that might be hydroplaning toward me. Second, I don't know how much water those things can withstand, and I'm not about to risk it. Third, I was reading some marathon rules this week, and noticed that marathons have only recently been given the option of allowing iPods, so I definitely need to do some training runs without one in case I come across a race I want to do that does not allow them. Not sure if Austin allows them. Better check on that.

The other preparation thing I did was actually taught to me by my friends as a tip for tailgating in the rain. Before putting them into my pack, I put my phone and cash into a plastic bag. I figured the pack would soak through, but that way the phone (which doubles as my stopwatch) would survive. On my long runs, I always bring a little cash, just in case I need a bus or water or something. Never had to use it, but it's comforting to know that it's there.

The trick to running in the rain is giving yourself over to it. The upside of today's run was that it was a little warmer than last week, and there was very little wind. That last one makes all the difference. It's easier to run in cool weather as long as there isn't an icy blast to stop your lungs short.

I used last week's first 6 miles or so, and then rotated a bit to actually include some of the Austin Marathon course. Ideally, I would do this with every race, but that's not exactly plausible. The important thing will be to double-check the elevation chart on the USA Track and Field Website and their route-mapping program. (It's great for planning training runs, but doesn't take into account updated roads and roads without sidewalks, so make sure you know the area in which you're running.) Checking this chart will help keep me from unexpected surprises, like the rather sharp hill at San Jacinto and 13th. That would not have been fun to discover at the 26-mile mark.

My new path included about the last 6 miles of the Austin Marathon course, through the finish line. Of course, I still had 4 miles to go after that, but it gave me an idea of the late-course terrain. I must say, I really like it, with the understanding that we'll be running in the road and not on the sidewalk, because the sidewalks on Duval are a little iffy. Might have been enhanced by the rain a bit, but still, I'm glad we'll be in the street.

The other nice thing about this part of the course is that it's predominantly downhill to the end. With the exception of the aforementioned surprise on San Jacinto, it's a great path on which to stride out and let the downhill take you away.

What surprised me most in this awful rainstorm was the fact that I actually felt pretty good for most of the run. After the finish line, where I pretended the crazy homeless woman was cheering for me, I actually felt the desire to pick up my pace a little, and did so. Maybe it was the warmer weather. Maybe I'm just in better shape. Maybe it was the fact that I was done with a 16 mile run before most brunch restaurants are open. Not sure, really, but I felt great the whole run, and it showed in my final time.

The only issue was that my left knee started acting up. Usually my right knee gets a bit mad at me, but the left one is new, and it's a different kind of pain. I'm sure it's just an effect of running in Austin's third straight day of rain, but it's something I'll be watching closely. Can't risk injury this close to a race.

All in all, it's great to run all kinds of weather, because you have to be prepared for all kinds of weather. If it's raining on February 20th, I can't ask them politely to hold the start until the sun comes out. So, if it is raining that day, I'll be really happy that I went on today's run.

And if it's sunny, I'll be even happier.

Today's Run:
49 Degrees / Rain
16.08 Miles
2 hours, 7 Minutes, 13 Seconds

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Accountable

Next to Monday morning, the Friday morning runs are the second most important runs of my week as far as maintaining focus and momentum. And I wouldn't ever make it if it weren't for my darling wife.

Friday has also become the day on which I run with the pup, and my wife won't let me forget it. When I want to sleep in a little later on Friday mornings, she reminds me that I have made a promise to our dog about going for a run, and I really don't have a choice. I get up, put her on the leash, and we're out the door.

This particular Friday, one little boxer had no interest in going for a run. For the most part, she's great when we run. She'll run right beside me, and if she needs to stop, she'll take a few steps into the grass, and that's my cue to stop so that she can take care of business. On this run, she didn't have any business to do. She'd stop, look at me, and then drop in the grass to roll around.

She did this a couple times, and I was getting a little frustrated, because (obviously) it was keeping me from having any sort of pace. I considered turning around at the 1-mile mark and returning her home in order to complete the second half by myself. About 3/4 of a mile in, though, she dropped into her pace just like she normally does. I think the issue was that it was cold, and she just needed to get warmed up. Once we'd made the mile marker, she was better for the rest of the run. Still not up to our normal pace, but better than mile one.

We had a slightly scary moment when her leash released for no apparent reason. She was a step behind me, so all of a sudden, the leash swung forward. I panicked a bit, and spun around, but she was happily jogging behind me, oblivious to the change. I hooked her back up, and off we went.

Sometimes I've really got to have someone there to push me. It's great that my wife is one of those people. Maintaining a training schedule is about accountability, and being accountable to someone else helps make that happen. Fridays will happen because I'm accountable to my dog, and my wife won't let me forget that.

Whatever it takes.

Today's Run:
43 Degrees / Rain
4.12 Miles
34 Minutes, 21 Seconds

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Relativity

As I walk/jogged to the gym at our complex today, I was shocked at how incredibly cold it felt. Not how cold it was, mind you, but how cold it felt. It's been hanging around 40 degrees all day, and the sun had no intention of showing its face. Fortunately, Thursday is a treadmill day, and I didn't have to endure it for too long.

It made me think about my last few years up north, where 40 degrees in January is pretty much a heat wave. While I don't quite have the "How Will I Survive This" mentality about the cold here, it strikes me how quickly my body has acclimated to the southern weather. And it's all about relativity. When you've spent three months living in single-digit wind chills, 40 degrees is (relatively) warm. When you're in a place where it almost never gets below freezing, that temperature is riding the bottom end of the spectrum. 

The same holds true with running distances. When I started officially training for my upcoming marathon, my long Sunday run was 7 miles. I ended up going about 7.5, and it took me over an hour. I still remember gasping for air with about a mile left to go and wondering how on earth I was going to do another 19 miles. in 11 weeks. 

Now, past the midpoint of my training schedule, my Thursday run was 7 miles, and next week it will be 8, where it will remain until the week before the race. I already feel like I've come so far in my training, and I'm really just at the beginning of this journey. That feeling has me quite excited.

This morning, I set the treadmill for Boston Pace, and for the first mile, I felt great, so I bumped it a little bit. At mile two, I bumped it a little more. I really let my legs stride out and did my best not to watch the distance accumulate. I listened to Carbonleaf and wouldn't let myself look at the controls until each song ended. I did, however, keep an eye out for certain milestones on the run.

My 5K time was 21:54, well ahead of my originally intended pace. At halfway through, I was at 24:38, only a few seconds off a 7-minute pace. At that point, I'd reached my third speed, and I considered bumping it a little more, but I could feel my legs beginning to push, so I decided that all I had to do was keep at my speed (8.8 on the treadmill), and I'd be happy with my time.

At 5 miles, I had overtaken the 7:00 mark, turning in at 34:58.

At this point, I began to change how I was looking at my remaining workout. One of the maddening things about treadmill running is that the distance counter does not move smoothly. It might be three seconds from .02-.03 and only 1 second from .03-.04, and it's tough to know when exactly you're going to get to any particular distance. 

What I've found to work for me is that at a certain point, I stop thinking about how far I have left to run, and switch to how much time is left. With two miles to go, I wanted to keep my 7-minute pace, so I had to run for only 14 more minutes, or, as I thought of it, 28 30-second spurts. (Who cares if they're back to back?) When you've run 40 minutes already, 9 doesn't seem like that much more. And it just keeps getting better. Counting down like this actually made the last two miles seem quick and painless. 

The great thing was, when I got to the end of the run, I felt like I could have gone farther. Not much, but at least another mile, which I'll get to try out next week.

Today was a great marker for me. What was an intimidating distance in week one was a speed workout this morning. I feel stronger every time I start to run, and I'm happier every time I finish. I'm excited about the marathon, and when I get out of bed, I'm excited to see how I can do on my run that day. 

I've got a long way to go, but I feel like I've come from somewhere. I'm not where I want to be yet, but I'm a lot better than I was.

Relatively.

Today's Run:
Indoors / Treadmill
7 Miles
48 Minutes, 39 Seconds

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Useless

Today was one of those days that I'm supposed to use for resting and yoga. I did the first. I did not do the second.

I did stretch out this evening, but I didn't want to take the time to get everything set up for the actual yoga process. I chose to spend the day focusing on my work. I'm actually very happy with my decision in the end.

Tomorrow morning I've got a bit of a longer run, and it's scheduled to be on the treadmill, which I think should be good for me.

Sometimes, it becomes very difficult for me to fight a feeling of uselessness, particularly when I've been working out on a regular schedule and then I stop for any period of time, even a day. It's one of those things that permeates everything I do in a day, and if it's allowed to grow, it'll take over a week before I know it. That's part of the trouble that I've had with maintaining a training program for any length of time. One day leads to another, leads to another, leads to weeks and months of doing nothing.

Today, I got up just before work, did my stuff for nine hours, watched Jeopardy, headed to a rehearsal, and then came home. There was really nothing spectacular, and now, as I sit and think about the day, there didn't have to be.  Not every day has incredible high points. Some days are there to make other days happen. My work today will make my reporting next week look great. My rehearsal this evening will make next week's performances great. The Jeopardy... well... that was pretty much just for fun. But I felt smart, so that was great, too.

Still, I felt pretty useless thinking about writing this entry about how I did nothing. Then I did something that really helped my brain. I cleaned the kitchen when I came home. It's a simple thing, but cleaning really helps take control of a room, and that's the first step to taking control of a day.

There was a show on television tonight where people had to have professionals come in and clean their homes, and it sort of baffles me. I mean, I wanted a quick bite to eat, but there were some dirty dishes on the counter, and so I took care of them. And then I cleaned the counters, and sink, and in about ten minutes, the kitchen was perfect. It was exactly how I wanted it.

Even though everything else I did today was for some later purpose, cleaning the kitchen was just for that moment. The kitchen is now clean, and I have the instant gratification of seeing something to completion.

I'm realizing it's a lot like running. Most people run for some purpose other than the run itself. They're trying to lose weight, or training for a race, or just trying to stay fit. Many people hate running because they do it once, or for a week, or maybe a few weeks, and nothing changes. They don't make the progress that they've been promised, and they drop out.

I've learned that, by keeping track of my times and forcing myself to shoot for a pace, I make each run an attainable goal. When I finish my runs, not only have I laid groundwork for the future, I've got my instant gratification. A new number to put into my tracking spreadsheet. Yes, I have a spreadsheet.

It's color-coded.

And when I've put everything into it, I can look at it and be happy about the fact that, in spite of anything else I do that day, I've completed my run, and I'm one step closer to my marathon.

And my kitchen is clean.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Wind Chill Factor

I used to believe that I was a hot weather runner. I loved the feeling of a good sweat, and running in the hot weather just felt right. I know now that it was simply because I've never been good at warming up my muscles. When the temperature goes up, the muscles take care of themselves.

Today, it was not warm. In fact, when I woke up, I decided to hold off on my run until later. This was partly due to the fact that I dreamt about being hit by a car, and that doesn't exactly encourage a person to run before sunup. Also, it was under 30 degrees and kind of damp, so I figured I'd wait until the sun was high and the temperature went up.

My evening run was not too much warmer than a morning one would have been. To be honest, I don't even really mind the cold. You can always put on more clothes to fight it. The trouble comes when the wind starts. Today was one of those days when the wind seems to be coming from every direction at once, and no matter which way you turn, you're swallowing cold air.

Something about cold wind just sucks all the air right out of my lungs. My first half felt great with only a slight headwind. My legs felt strong and my head felt clear. Then I turned around into a blast of cold air.

It's like the feeling I used to get when I'd go down the hill on a roller coaster. There's so much wind coming at me that I can't breathe any of it in. But today I got lucky. Even though I was running city streets, I didn't get caught by many stop lights, which meant that I didn't have to interrupt my rhythm, and it's a lot easier to deal with bad weather when you don't have to start and stop.

I made it back to my uphill last mile, and actually felt like I had something left to give, and so I did. I pushed it as much as I could, and had my best time for a outdoor run yet.

The reason I enjoy writing a blog about running is that it gives me something to think about while I run. It's easier to hold a pace when something else holds your attention, and you don't have to stop and think about the pain in your legs. Now I try and think about what aspect of that day's run I could write about. No doubt, I'll run out of ideas at some point and I'll focus on some odd thing that happened during mile two. For today, however, thinking about a writing topic got me through miles 2 - 4, and sheer will finished me off.

It was the first time in my training so far that I've had back-to-back runs below Boston Pace, and tomorrow I get to rest and do yoga.

And sleep an extra hour.

Today's run:
45 Degrees / Sunny, Windy
5.3 Miles
37 minutes, 54 Seconds

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Mondays

Of all days in the week, it is most important that I get up and run on Monday morning, for a number of reasons.

For one thing, it's the start of a new week, and even though I was working all weekend (catching up on some hours from the holidays), there's still a feeling of a fresh (or not) start on Monday morning. It's important to set the right tone for the rest of the week.

For another, Mondays are my strength days. They're the days I work purely on speed. And they come after my long runs. Like I said, the best treatment (in my opinion) for stiff muscles is continued use, so the best way to combat the aching legs of a 14 mile run is to go out and push through a 5K.

The 5K is my favorite distance. It's what made me first enjoy running all the way back in 6th grade, thanks to my grade school. Every year, they spend a week focusing on positive addictions. Essentially, it's about choosing good hobbies and addictions over things like drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. The culmination of the week is a 5K race with three area grade schools, a high school, and people from the community. When you reach 6th grade, you get to compete in the race.

I did well enough in my first one that the junior high cross country coach approached my mother and suggested I try out. As she wasn't wild about the prospect of me trying out for football (with my 95-pound frame), she got me to try it, and I loved it.

Today, the 5K is the perfect distance for me. It's long enough that I don't feel like I have to be able to sprint to do well, but short enough that I can really push myself to the limits of my strength. I don't do them often, but I am finding that it's a good reference point for where I am at in my training. Basically, I'm always excited for a 5K.

That's probably how I managed to get up right at 6 this morning and head to the gym. Of course, someone was already on the treadmill, so I went back inside, did a few work things, and returned a little later. There was someone on the elliptical machine, but the treadmill was free.

When someone I do not know is working out near me, I find that I usually fold up into myself. I hide behind equipment, I stretch until they leave, and I hope that they don't see what I'm doing and think, "Wow. Weak." I've never been the strongest guy in the room, and I don't have any formal education on how to train myself, so I'm always nervous that the other person can tell that I'm clueless. Recently, though, it occurred to me that in all likelihood, no one else cares how my workout is going.

So today, I used all that nervous energy, and pushed myself even harder. There's still a little voice that says, "If you slow down, they'll know you overshot yourself." Now, though, it just pushes me to go faster. And in the end, my run isn't about impressing anyone else or showing someone what I can do. It's about being faster, stronger, and healthier. And those things are all for me.

I felt great when I finished today, and even managed to increase the weight on my arm workouts. I felt strong, energized, and accomplished, and all of this before 7:15am.

That's the way to start a week.

Today's run:
Indoors / Treadmill
3.1 Miles
19 minutes, 20 seconds

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Properly Equipped

I absolutely did not want to run this morning. I was all excited about the run yesterday, but when I woke up this morning, I had no desire to move. It was cold and rainy outside. My legs were tired from my walk. I knew I had to work and we wanted to catch a movie today, so spending two hours exhausting myself did not seem like the best of all possible plans.

But my wife reminded me that I had to. So I did.

The weather was quite unpleasant, though not as bad as it could have been (if I were still up North). It was low-to-mid forties and had that rain feeling in the air. It actually did rain for a few minutes at one point.

On days like this, the absolute best course of action for me is to run a good ol' fashioned Out and Back. I run down one street until I'm halfway to the distance that I have to run, and then I run back. It serves several purposes. For one thing, it's easy, and I don't have to worry about whether I'm making the correct turn. For another, it leaves me no choice but to finish. At mile 10, all I wanted to do was stop and take a nap, but I knew that the slower I went, the longer I would have to be out there. There were no shortcuts to take. No easy way out. I had to run the distance, and there was nothing else to do.

Fortunately, I had some new equipment that made the whole thing more enjoyable. I got a pair of workout gloves, which I'll use for lifting primarily. However, on the long, cold runs, they're great for keeping my knuckles warm, which is usually the issue that I have in cold weather. The special bonus for me, though, was in my new headphones. I bought some over-the-ear headphones because mine kept falling out. Apparently, they make rubber coverings that you can put over your existing headphones that direct the sound into your ear and have a better grip, but they're $10, and brand-new headphones were only $20. Plus, they came with a three-year replacement guarantee, which is great for me, with how often mine break.

So, I got to enjoy my 14 miles today with Mumford and Sons and Red Hot Chili Peppers (who, incidentally, have more state names in their songs than any rock band ever has), and for once, I didn't have to fight with my right earbud the entire time. Why only the right one? No idea.

Today's run was the closest I've had yet to the actual course conditions for the Austin Marathon. Miles 2-7 were pretty much uphill. I thought, at the time, that this would be fantastic. Every step uphill in the first half is a downhill step that I'd have on the back end. Unfortunately, I pushed a little too hard on that uphill, and wasn't able to make the downhill work quite like I wanted to.

The trick to running downhill is to let the hill do the work. Stride out the legs and your weight carry you forward. You're not running faster, but you move faster because of good old gravity. This is difficult to do, though, when you're stopped every block or two for traffic lights, and when you're so tired and strained from the cold that you can't stride out. I managed to pick it up some, but I wasn't quite on the level that I wanted to be. For a bit, it was very frustrating.

Then I realized something. When I was training for my first marathon, before my surgery, I never made it past 13 miles in training. Today, it turns out, was the second-longest run of my life. And I still managed to be under training pace. Training Pace is any pace within 30 seconds per mile of my desired race pace. Given how incredibly slow my last two miles were, I'm thrilled to have been as close to race pace as I was.

And I'm sure it didn't help that I walked six miles yesterday. Should probably plan better than that.

Awesome things from today's run: 1) Army convoy of armor-plated humvees. Twice. I think they were lost. 2) Poodle in the side-car of an old-timey motorcycle. I cannot confirm, but I think I saw goggles.

My legs are killing me right now. Any time I sit still for more than 30 minutes, they seize up. Tomorrow is a 5K day, which means I've got to go fast. I've never found a better cure for stiff muscles than continued use. Tomorrow will probably be the hardest run of my training so far.

Bring it.

Today's run:
43 Degrees, Rain/Overcast
14.69 miles
2 hours, 4 minutes, 23 seconds

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Yoga-ish

I am incredibly inflexible. Physically, that is. I have not been able to touch my toes without bending my knees at really any point in my life with the exception of college, when I was somewhat of a dancer. I want that to change.

People have told me time and time again that my best option for increasing flexibility is to do yoga. I have tried several times. It hurts, and I suck at it, two things that I do not particularly enjoy, so I've never stuck with it for more than a day or two. However, as part of this new direction of mine - getting healthy and in shape and all - I've decided to give it a go.

As it happens, this Wii Fit that has been collecting dust in the corner for several months (154 days, as it reminded me today) has yoga functions on it, so today I did about ten poses. Nine of them were okay. No great, but okay. Then I did the "Downward Facing Dog" and decided I was done shortly thereafter. My back and hamstrings are where all the trouble rests, as it seems. It's going to take a lot of work (and probably a surgery or two) for me to get where I want to be, but I think this is a good use of my days off. While I don't want to use my days off for anything too strenuous, I think starting them out with some yoga will be a great way to keep my muscles primed and ready for the stresses of the next day.

Hopefully soon I'll feel better about myself while doing it.

And maybe I'll actually take a rest day to rest. Besides having to work today, we also decided to take the pup for a walk to Flip Happy Crepes and get some breakfast. (Outstanding, by the way.) We wandered from there over to the farmer's market and then back to the house. It ended up being a six mile walk. So much for resting my legs.

Still, it's great to keep active on the off-days. If I keep moving, it's more likely that I'll want to move the next day as well. Which is good, because I have to run 14 miles tomorrow, and I want it to be under 2 hours. If I run 8-minute miles, the run should take me 1 hour and 52 minutes, so I don't have a lot of room for error.

Better rest up.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Running Buddy

I try to wake up every morning at 6:00 to do my run. Insane, I know, but I've got my reasons. First, there's no one else on the roads (or in the gym), which means a better chance of an uninterrupted workout. Second, the adrenaline that gets flowing when I run first thing in the morning makes my day a lot better in general. And third, when I sleep too long, I get groggy. If I spend more time in bed, then I have less time in my day and, consequently, a higher percentage of my life is spent working.

This last one may seem odd, but if I sleep for, say, 10 hours, then 8 of my remaining 14 hours that day are spent working. That's 57%. However, if I only sleep for 7 hours, then I've got 17 hours in my day, and working only makes up 47%. I like my job, but I'd rather it be less than half of what I do every day.

Unfortunately, this last week, I've had trouble waking up on time. I've been running in the afternoon, which is fine, but doesn't really deal with the above-mentioned issues. Today, for my 4-mile run, I resolved to get up on time and take the dog. I didn't get up on time. But I was close enough, so a morning run it was.

The other benefit of a morning run is that it's cooler outside and will be closer to the actual race conditions for any marathon I run. It's great to get the body acclimated to breathing the cold air. It adds a slight degree of difficulty to the run. But if you truly want to make runs more interesting, take a puppy.

We recently went to a dog trainer to work with our one-year-old bundle of energy, and the first thing that was suggested was that we work her out more. So, about once a week, I try to take the pup with me on one of my shorter runs. Thus far it's been a bit of a challenge, as she's not particularly interested in going past two miles or so. At that point she looks for anything that might be more interesting. It's not that she's tired. Oh no. I don't think we could tire her out on a treadmill going full speed. She just gets bored and is ready for the next game.

Now, whether it was the cold weather or she's just learning, today was a great run. She trots along beside me, staying on the side opposite the passing cars. There's a fine line for her between "not fast enough" and "too fast," so I've learned that when she goes from gallop to trot, I should speed up for a bit. Usually, she'll speed right back up, happy to be at a pace that gives her some exercise. If she doesn't quicken her step, it means she's getting tired and needs to walk.

She didn't need to walk today. In fact, around mile marker 3, she was pulling me along for once, which really helped. She was a great pacing tool. Plus, it's nice to have someone to talk to, even if they don't talk back.

One of my favorite things that I've seen here in Austin is done by Austin Pets Alive (http://www.austinpetsalive.org/) on the weekends down at the Lady Bird Lake running trail. I've seen this on my Sunday runs, and I think it happens on Saturday, too, but they basically rent out dog running buddies. It's a great way for them to ensure that their sheltered animals get exercise, and for anyone who can't have a dog for whatever reason to spend some time with one. We rescued our pup from animal control in Chicago, and if you ask me, rescue is really the only way to get a dog. In the meantime, if you're just looking to add some fun and cuteness to your run, they're by the Mopac bridge.

I certainly won't be able to take her on my long runs. That's just too much stress on her little body, but for my 4 and 5 mile runs, she's great to have along.

What's absolutely hilarious, though, is when we get home. For about 15 minutes following each run, she goes completely nuts, sprinting around the apartment at full speed, fueled by pure adrenaline. And then, when she's done with that, she's out for a while. Maybe an hour.

Then she's ready to run again.

Today's run:
46 Degrees / Partly Sunny
4.13 Miles
32 minutes, 36 seconds

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Negative Splits

There are a few things about my training that I should tell you in order to give today's post more meaning.

First, I have a second goal within my first goal, and that is to qualify for the Boston Marathon by the time I'm 30 and run it by the time I'm 31. It'll take care of Massachusetts, and it gives me a strong focal point for speed training. The time I need to qualify right now is 3 hours, 10 minutes. That's roughly 7 minutes and 15 seconds a mile. This pace, and anything faster, is what I refer to as Boston Pace.

Given that I've never actually trained for a marathon before, I do not expect to run this speed right away. It will probably wait until number 4 or 5, but I'm determined to do it. In the meantime, my goal for this upcoming marathon is 3 hours, 30 minutes, or roughly 8 minutes per mile. I call this Race Pace.

Now, my longer runs, of course, are more difficult to do at or better than race pace. On Sundays, I really just want to make sure I get the miles in. If I manage to do it within a certain amount of time, that's great, but really I'm just pushing for distance.

So, on Mondays and Thursdays, I push myself for speed, which means treadmill workouts. The general opinion on treadmills drastically changes from one person to the next. Some love them because, compared to road racing, they're fairly low-impact. Some hate them because they're really, really boring. Some people don't even consider them actual running.

I used to hate them, too. As a cross country runner in high school, the thought of running in one place for an extended period of time for any reason other than inclement weather just seemed like a waste of effort. Now, though, I find them useful for one thing - speed.

There are two reasons that I find it difficult to do speed workouts outside. First, I can mark on my maps where my mile markers are going to be, but only to a point, and in between mile markers, it's difficult to maintain a pace. Second, I live on top of a big damn hill, so any run I take ends with me running up that hill. Not only does it slow me down, but the knowledge that it's coming makes me feel like I need to conserve energy before I get there, slowing me down some more.

So, I use the treadmill to ensure that I am running at or above Boston Pace for my shorter runs. Today, I was scheduled for a 6 mile run, so I decided (midway through) to go 6.2 and make it a full 10K. My first 5K was 22:10, and I resolved at that point to go negative splits.

"Negative splits" occur when your later times are faster than your earlier times. It's counter-intuitive, because one would think that as time rolls on, the legs should get more tired, and the time slow down. However, I find that pushing myself harder later in my run increases stamina, strength, and confidence. If I can make myself go faster when I'm more tired, then I can do just about anything.

And this is where I love the treadmill. Every quarter mile past the halfway point, I thought to myself, "I can make it one more quarter mile at this speed, and then I'll slow down for a bit, but pick it back up at the end." I'd get to the next quarter and decide I could go one more. And one more. And the reason I could do this was because I didn't have to convince my legs to keep going and my lungs to keep breathing and my arms to keep swinging. I had to convince my finger not to change the speed on the treadmill.

That was it. If I didn't push the button, my legs had no choice but to continue their pace. I'd have to keep breathing and swinging my arms. I stared at the wall instead of the display, and I let Better Than Ezra push me through the pain. I even managed to speed myself up 0.3 mph on the last tenth of a mile. My time for my second 5K was 21:51.

Now, if I can only do that whole thing four times plus another mile and a half, I'll be ready for Boston.

Today's Run:
Indoors/Treadmill
6.2 Miles
44 minutes, 1 second

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Earning Rest

Wednesdays and Saturdays are my rest days, and God knows I need them. Since I didn't actually have a run to report on today, this seems like a great time for a disclaimer:

In preparing my marathon training, basically all I did was search online for a plan and then tailor it to what I wanted to do. There is no medical basis for what I'm doing, and I certainly do not have a licence in medicine or physical training or anything like that. If you are looking for a general training framework, that's what I've got, but please do not take my ramblings for anything more than the thoughts and actions of a person who used to be a runner and is trying to be once again. If you have any questions about creating a safe training plan and the health benefits, you should probably talk to someone with some sort of credentials.

There. That's out of the way now. Please don't sue me.

I've tried many times since I started college (and stopped being a runner) to get back into the habit of working out on a regular basis. It's taken many forms, but mostly it involves putting numbers and times on a calendar in the hopes that seeing it every day will force me to hold myself accountable. Since I've recently begun this process again, obviously, this method has failed thus far. I've never made it more than 2-3 weeks without letting it slide and drifting away from my schedule.

There are all sorts of things that I can blame for this occurrence. My work schedule changes and I need more sleep. My knee is starting to act up again, so I'll rest it a bit and then get back to it. It's freaking -20 degrees in Chicago in January. Any of these are legitimate excuses for missing a run.

My problem is, missing one run allows me to miss another. I need to force myself to earn my rest.

It used to be that any time I was given a training schedule, I skipped the rest days, preferring to add a strength workout or some sprints. I was warned, time and again, that this would cause me to burn myself out, but I didn't really mind. I loved the act of working out so much that I would rather push through the pain than take a day off. Time has mellowed me out somewhat.

That beauty of my new plan is that when I get to my rest days, I truly feel like I've earned them. Sundays are very long runs, Mondays are very fast runs, and Tuesdays are mid-distance runs that force me to push through the exhaustion. When I get to Wednesday, I don't mind getting the extra hour of sleep because I know that my body needs it and that on Thursday, I'm going to get to work it again. Thursday and Friday are mid-to-long distance runs, leading to my Saturday rest, which allows my body to recover before its long run (this week it will be 14 miles).

In addition to this, I'm doing some other small workout things, mostly abs and arms. But on those two days, I do nothing, and it feels great to just recover.

It feels even better, though, when I get up the next day and do what I need to do. I have found a way to make resting itself part of training. Everything pushes me to the next day, and each day pushes me to the marathon. For the first time in over 8 years, I spend my days of rest looking forward to tomorrow's run.

Want to force yourself to run? Pay for a race. Just do it. Find one a reasonable amount of time away and just sign up for it. If you don't want to waste that money and/or be in a lot of pain on that day, then you have to train.

And you'll get up tomorrow and run. I know I will.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Still Learning

As promised - and dictated by my training schedule - I went for my five-mile run today. It reminded me that I'm always learning more about myself, especially as I run. It also reminded me that there are many things I have already learned that I'm always forgetting.

Forgotten rule number one: check the forecast. Seems like a simple thing, but it is something I almost never remember to do. I was a little better about it when I lived up north, because I had to know just how many layers of clothing I had to put on in order to survive the run. Down south, that's not such a concern, so I really don't bother with the weather. But it still rains down here, and when your last mile is essentially all uphill, that makes it a bit more difficult.

New fact number one: iPod + sleeve + rain = troublemaker. I got a new iPod nano for Christmas, and I absolutely love this thing. You know the ad; the one where they keep rotating the screen. It's the size of a Shuffle, but the functionality of a Nano. Having only ever had the Shuffle, it's great that I can actually choose my music now and create playlists and things of that nature. The only issue that I've discovered is the touch screen. Normally, a touch screen responds not to pressure, but to the electrical charge in your skin, so a sleeve shouldn't have any effect on it. But when your sleeves get wet, they'll rub against your arms and create static electricity, which apparently causes the ipod songs to change at will. This would not so much be a problem if I was not also using the stopwatch function at that time. According to my iPod stopwatch, my 5.3 mile run took only 8 minutes and 30 seconds. Fortunately, I checked the time just before it went haywire. In fact, it was about 39:15, which I'll round up to 39:30 for record-keeping. Wish I had something more accurate, but what can you do? I'll plan accordingly next time.

Forgotten rule number two: Nine Inch Nails songs are great for running. Nine Inch Nails albums are not. While I love all the music, some of it is simply too slow to get the blood flowing. Girl Talk albums, on the other hand, are fantastic in their entirety. I really like anything with a driving beat that can keep my legs moving. Latest song discovery: Eminem - "Till I Collapse." Definitely open to suggestions on this one.

New fact number two: even pouring rain does not wash away armadillo carcasses.

Forgotten rule number three: allowing yourself to walk the first time opens up the floodgates. Sort of like "breaking the seal," the longer you can go without relief, the better off you're going to be. The first one makes the others happen. Once you begin to walk, it makes it harder for your body to accept that it must keep running. That being said, when your body needs it, walk. Don't break yourself. The way I think about it, my brain is in control of my legs. I will listen to their opinion on the matter, but if I can make my brain tell my legs to keep going, they'll listen.

Now they just have to listen faster.

Today's run:
56 Degrees, Raining
5.31 miles
39 minutes, 30 seconds

The Mission

The summer before I went off to college, my brother proposed an idea to me - let's run a marathon together.

I'd been a runner all through junior high and high school, but had not yet attempted the monster that is a marathon, so I said, "Sure. Let's do this." And began to train.

Training went well, and I was right on pace with my 12-week training plan when medicine stepped in.

As part of my requirements for entering college, I had to take a physical examination. As it turned out, I had two hernias (somehow I'd missed them), and would require surgery approximately two days before heading to school. As tough as this was going to be, I had a bigger problem: the recovery time meant that I would not be able to run for several weeks. Since this was about 8 weeks before the marathon, I knew that there was no way would I be able to train adequately in that amount of time. I had to pull out of the marathon.

My brother was very understanding. My mother, who had run a marathon already in her life, would run it with him, as would several of his other friends. No problem.

But then my mom fell on a walk in San Francisco and broke her knee, and one by one, the people who were supposed to run the race had to pull out for one reason or another. Two weeks before the race, having not run a step since my surgery, I told my brother that I'd run it with him. No problem.

The first weekend of my fall break freshman year, I ran the Columbus Marathon in a time of about 4 hours and 30 minutes. Sure, I couldn't walk for the next week and I almost threw up on the ride home. I'd run a marathon, and no one could take that from me.

To this day, I still love the jaw-dropping effect that running a marathon has on people. You tell them you've run one (particularly without training), and they are just in awe of such a feat. Most say they could never complete a marathon, though I suspect for most people that's not true. Of course, you should never do one without training, but watch Biggest Loser. They end every season with a marathon. If they can do it, so can you.

So, what could be more impressive than running a marathon? Running another marathon! But I would train for the next one and see what kind of time I could get. Again, my brother had a great idea: 50 marathons in 50 states. I love it!

Sadly, my brother's knees took a great deal of damage during his marathon outings, and his doctors have advised him to stop running them. And as for me, it's been over 8 years since that first marathon, and I haven't done another.

Until now. I will have my second marathon in my second state on February 20th when I run the Austin Marathon. And after that, another race in another state. I will run 50 marathons in 50 states by age 50. I've got the time, and I think I have the will. I have to keep myself at it, and no one can stop me but me.

This is something I want to do for myself. I'll get to see the country. I'll stay in great shape. No doubt, I'll make an awesome t-shirt. And, I'll have something to write about along the way. I like to write, but I really want to get better at it, and that'll only happen if I keep at it.

I'm in week five of my training, and I've run almost 80 miles in that time. I've got a five-miler later today, so I'll let you know how it goes.

50 in 50 by 50. Up next, #2 Austin, Texas.