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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More Up Than Down

I haven't been on that many roller-coasters in my life, so to say that the last few weeks have felt like one rings a little less than true.

Also, I have a bit of a problem with the metaphor. People use it to describe their lives as full of high points and low points, but how they feel about those moments in their lives are the inverse of how they feel about them on the roller-coaster. The long, slow climb up is the boring part of the ride. I mean, sure, the anticipation is fun, but the moment at the top is not the reason you stood in line for 45 minutes listening to the 8-year-old in front of you cry while his 19-year-old uncle assures him that he'll love it.

The moment at the top is the brief second of air before the real fun starts, and that's the plummet to back to Earth. The rushing of the wind, the g-forces of the turns, the lurch in your stomach; these are the good things about amusement park rides. When talking about your life, it's very different. The high points can still feel like only a moment before you come crashing down, and you may still get that lurch in your stomach, but for a very different reason (though with perhaps the same result). 

As such, I don't feel this is an adequate description of my last few weeks, which is sad, because I really wanted to craft some complex allusion about running on roller-coaster tracks, which some amusement park owner/running enthusiast would have read and afterward designed the coolest race course in history, though I'm sure they would have run into some issues with the corkscrew turns.

Let's just say that these last few weeks have been emotional, but I feel better for having had them. I'm almost caught up on my sleep, and most of the other things going on have come at least to a stasis if not completion. The only lingering issue for me is my stupid right leg which continues to be a jerk.

Seriously, leg, we've been over this. I just want to make you stronger, and you keep acting up. Let's knock it off, shall we?

I'll do my part. We get to take tomorrow off, and I even got you (well, my mother technically got you) a new pair of shoes:


So, with a little more cushioning and shoes designed to do the work, I only had to run 3 miles today, thanks to the fact that I did not give up yesterday, for which I have been thankful since. As a result of catching up on sleep, I did not get up early, so it was to be an afternoon run, and someone decided she wanted to come with me. I told her that my leg was hurting and that it probably wasn't a good idea, and then she gave me this face:


P.S. Notice how incredibly awkward she is when she sits.

So, we suited up and headed outside. I figured that at the very least, taking the pup with me would keep me distracted from any leg issues. I mean, I only had 5K to get through. Much to my surprise, she did not distract me at all. In fact, she was a perfect little running buddy the whole way. Sure, she saw a couple birds that she tried to chase, and she made a pretty good play for a butterfly, but other than that, she was right in stride with me the whole way. I couldn't have been happier!

Until 2.5, when it all went wrong again. I slowed down, dropped my shoulders, and focused on pushing myself forward with my toes, all of which helped a great deal. I barely noticed the last hill, and despite the fact that once again I was almost hit by several cars, we made it home safely and in great time.

With how often I talk about dodging traffic, I'm sure you think I'm playing human Frogger down here. Well, I'm really not. If I were not as concerned as I am about getting hit by a car, I'm sure I would have by how. Today's best example was a woman backing out of a driveway staring out her passenger side window with roughly 20 feet of visibility before the road bent around a building. There was absolutely no way she could see if traffic was coming, and yet she never even glanced at her mirrors, but kept right on backing down. I stopped to let her go, and then she stopped. I gave it a few seconds, and when there was no further movement (and no reverse lights), I continued, and was halfway past the bumper of her car when she started again. If we hadn't been moving quickly...

Anyway, look both ways. That's all I'm asking.

I'm very excited for tomorrow's rest because I actually EARNED it again. I'll set my alarm for a little later, and I'll let myself enjoy the extra sleep before the weekend's 6 miles at pace and 9 mile long. Tomorrow, I'll just make sure to stretch and hope that all this nonsense in my right leg has finally worked itself out.

Otherwise, I might have a bigger problem.

Wednesday's Run:
59 Degrees / Cloudy
3.3 Miles
23 Minutes, 29 Seconds

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Unintentional Intervals

Alternating between speed and rest can make for a great workout.

If that's what you're trying to do.

If, on the other hand, you have a pain in your leg that is dormant sometimes and agonizing others, then the intervals aren't quite as effective as they might otherwise have been.

I had a great plan this morning, which was to sleep in and let my body recover, choosing to do my planned 5 mile run in the afternoon. This would give me a little extra time to recover from yesterday's 15 miles, and hopefully go a long way toward getting my entire body back on track. As usual, I did not consult the weather when I made my choice.

Maybe, just maybe, we'll be getting one of these famous Texas thunderstorms that I've been hearing so much about, but they keep delaying its expected approach. When I looked at around lunchtime, it was scheduled to arrive about 4, so I decided to use my lunch break to get in the miles. As of right now, they're not expecting it until 10. I guess that's what I get for checking the weather for once.

I decided to use my old shoes today, as I'm still breaking in the new ones. I don't know that I'll be doing that again.

Even as I headed down the hill, I could feel the muscles in my legs complaining about yesterday's workout. After almost getting hit by a car within the first quarter mile, I did not feel good about what this might portend for the rest of the workout.

Within the first half mile, my leg was flaring up pretty badly, so I settled into a slower pace. At about two miles, I was stopped by the devil light and took some time to stretch, which actually felt really good. And shortly afterward, things started to go badly. As I restarted, the pain in my leg spread quickly to the foot and the hip, and my stride was shortened significantly. At 2.5, I stopped for a minute and really took a stretch.

The joy of an out-and-back course is this: I know that I can motivate myself to the halfway point of any run, and once I've gone out that far, there's only one thing I can do, which is to come back. Despite any pain or exhaustion I might feel, I need to get home, and the faster I run, the sooner that happens. 

Today, it happened that I had to stop every half mile or so to stretch, as my muscles were cramping, which I think was causing all the pain. With a thunderstorm on the way, the humidity in the air was almost suffocating, and all my thought was focused on trying to ignore the pain in my leg. Like when someone says, "Don't think about monkeys." That's all that kept coming to mind.

As I neared the last mile, I reminded myself of my new mantra from yesterday; don't give yourself permission to be weak. It was a slower jog than normal for me, but I ran the whole way back up the hill, despite almost being hit by a car once again. 

Seriously, people, look both ways when you're turning right on red.

My time got much slower throughout the run, but it was still very strong, despite the pain. I thought several times about stopping, but refused to give myself permission. Anything I didn't run today would have to be made up tomorrow, making that day harder. Since I completed everything I needed to do today, tomorrow's 3 will be nice and easy, and then I get an intentional day off.

They're always better when they're planned.

Tuesday's Run:
67 Degrees / HUMID
5.05 Miles
36 Minutes, 5 Seconds

Monday, March 28, 2011

Part Two: I Love My Shoes

I worked my eight hours, and as the day wound down, my wife told me she was going for a run.

I mentioned that I was supposed to run three more miles today.

She asked if I was up for it, and I replied that I was not sure.

She mentioned that she would be wearing her new running hat, and that's when I remembered my new running shoes.

As part of my mother's visit this past weekend, she took me down to Hill Country on South Lamar, which I have determined to be my running store of choice. I've been in there several times, never with any money, to examine their merchandise, and every time I've been there, I have gotten a great deal of information about the various products. Thus, I want an Iron Man Watch, and I vowed that when I got new shoes, I would get them from Hill Country.

Having bought me my last pair and being my inspiration for running in general, my mom told me that she'd get me a new set of shoes.

The last time I got new shoes was in 2008 at a store in Missoula, Montana. Mom was visiting me on tour, and I was just considering getting back into running again. She bought me the Saucony shoes you see in the picture at the top right of the blog. My running shoes at the time were so completely destroyed that the store actually asked if they could keep them and put them under glass as a display for future customers.

However, I felt like I'd broken them in and that they finally fit my feet, so I kept them for a little while longer. I finally got rid of them when we moved down South, which is sad, because I would have loved to include a picture. To quote my mother, there was so little fabric left that "they looked like sandals." I think that's taking it a little far, but you get the idea.

In an effort to not run my feet and legs into the ground, she felt that we'd be more proactive this time, and I've actually heard great things about running in different shoes, which gives the shoe time to dry out and bounce back, so we got another pair of Saucony shoes, essentially the same model (the Ride) for training. I did like the New Balance pair I tried on, but I think they'll be better for the race itself, so I might get them in a couple months.

Since my wife was about to take out her new equipment, it motivated me to take out mine, but given that my leg was still tweaked a bit, I decided to do Monday's required three miles (my actual scheduled run), on the treadmill, so that if my leg decided it was done, I didn't have too far to come back.

The first half mile was brutal, I'm not going to lie. I started out at about a 7:30 pace, and dropped back to 8:00 almost immediately, as my leg simply wouldn't move that fast. Then something strange happened. Everything loosened up. This is not to say that there wasn't still pain, but it was manageable, and it wasn't affecting my stride, as long as I kept my stride long, so I lengthened it, speeding up the treadmill.

And then I sped up some more, and some more, and some more.

The difference in cushioning was immediately noticeable, and I ended up running a stellar 3 mile time despite a slower-than-average first mile.

I felt so energized that I even did some upper body work before I left the gym. All of this because I wanted to try out my new pair of shoes. And because I refused to let my body quit.

More than likely, I'll have to check out a doctor at some point, assuming that the new shoes don't magically fix the entire problem, but at this point, I feel like I'm back on track, and that I'm more motivated to continue running than I have been in a while.

And in about seven hours, I'm scheduled to be running again.

Monday's (Afternoon) Run:
Indoors / Treadmill
3 Miles
22 Minutes, 14 Seconds

Part One: Remember Me

At 6:00am, the alarm went off, and for once it actually mattered.

I've gotten a little behind on my miles this week, and I could not let a long run go past. So far this training season, I have officially missed two runs, a 9er and a 6er, for a combined 15 miles that I've missed. On the bright side, I tend to run a little farther than my training actually requires day-to-day, so for example, most times I'm scheduled to run 3 miles, I'll actually do 3.3,  because that's the easy turnaround point near my house.

All told, taking into account these extra tenths that I've accumulated, I'm about 10 miles behind on my training. Letting a 12-mile run go past uncompleted would be an almost unrecoverable deficit. This morning, I absolutely needed to run.

So I did. I got up just a little bit late, put on the CamelPak and headed out.

It felt very cold when I left the apartment, and this is what the "Remember Me" in the title of this post refers to. At 52 degrees, it was hardly frigid outside, but I felt slightly uncomfortable as I worked my way down to my starting line. I want to remember this post come July.

If ever I complain about the heat, I'll remember the fact that I was whining about the cold at one point, and that sometimes you just have to suck it up and go, like I did this morning. Within one mile, I wasn't even remotely cold anymore. This was also the point at which my legs loosened up, and I began to fall into a pace that I could maintain. And where I made my decision to relax.

I have a lot of difficulty maintaining a relaxed pace. At some level, there's always some part of my brain that says, "If you can go faster, do." The whole idea of saving something for later has been lost on me for years, which is part of why I always run myself into the ground and end up getting injured.

Not today. I settled into a slightly slower-than-normal pace, and maintained that easily for my first six miles, most of which were a gradual uphill.

For the sake of thinking as little as possible, I did a simple out-and-back up past the UT campus and then back down the hill. I like this course because the first half is more challenging than the second half, which allows me to keep my pace throughout the entire run. That is, of course, unless my shin muscles flare up and almost prevent me from keeping my legs.

There was one moment at about 5.5 when I thought about giving it up, and then I remembered last week's 11 miles, and how much worse everything got when I stopped. I would spend the next 7 miles reminding myself of this fact over and over again as I kept myself running throughout the entire 12(.4). At times, it was agonizing. At times, it was exhilarating. I still had to stop a couple times (that light at Lamar is the devil!), but I spent that time stretching, and was able to start again without too much of an issue.

Single-mindedness has always helped my runs seem shorter than they are, unless of course the only thing that I can think of is the pain in my leg. Today, however, there was a slight change. The only thing I could think of was that I needed to keep running to keep the pain in my leg from getting worse. And you know what? It absolutely worked.

I hurt a lot when I got home, and even had to ice down my right shin. And in all my fighting, I came up with many, many reasons why it would be unreasonable for me to run a further three miles today. And then I came up with this: if I give myself permission to be weak, I will be weak.

And then comes part two.

Monday's (Morning) Run:
52 Degrees / Clear
12.4 Miles
1 Hour, 39 Minutes, 15 Seconds

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Out of Whack

My schedule has been off the charts for the last week.

Between opening a show, working, having my mother come into town, attending my brother-in-law's birthday party, and all the social events that go along with each of these items, I haven't had very much time to rest.

In fact, for the last five nights, I have been up until after midnight in varying states of activity.

So when I woke up this morning and looked at my clock, I made a very distinct decision not to run. While I'm not particularly proud of it, the unintentional 90-minute nap that I ended up taking this afternoon points toward the further necessity of more sleep.

Here's the plan: step one, write this post to remind myself (in the future) what it was like to live an insane lifestyle for a few days and still try (unsuccessfully) to find time to run.

Step two: GO TO BED.

Step three: Wake up tomorrow morning and do the 12-mile run that I was scheduled to complete today.

Step four: Work all day.

Step five: Run the three miles that I'm supposed to run tomorrow.

Step six: Return to blog and write triumphant post about getting back on track.

Step seven: GO TO BED.

The plan starts now.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Re-motivate

There's bad news, and there's good news.

The bad news is that my last couple days have not been very good for my running. After Tuesday's issue with not completing the scheduled run, I had decided to simply swap out Tuesday and Wednesday, leaving me with a six-miler scheduled for that morning. However, after a late night of rehearsal, that morning saw no running.

So, I decided to swap out again. This time, I would switch that six-miler to Thursday and take my rest a day early. I did not get home from rehearsal until after midnight on Wednesday. Thursday morning came, and still no running.

Here was a point where I had to accept the fact that I wasn't going to make up my hours for this week, and I simply had to be okay with this.

In truth, it came about mostly because I did not have enough motivation to actually get myself out of bed. In all cases, I was awake early enough to get up and complete my runs in plenty of time. However, I simply lacked the conviction that I needed, due to a lack of sleep and a number of other small issues that have been nagging at me. The rest was not even as useful as it could have been. If I had planned the night before to take a rest the next morning, then I could have set my alarm for later and actually rested, but since I never planned the rest, all I earned was an extra hour of light sleep.

But here's the good news: I got back out there today. I always hit these slumps any time I get back into a training program, and usually I'll spiral out of my routine quickly. Not this time. I got up before dawn this morning and was hitting the pavement for my scheduled six miles. I'll have to let my missed six go for this week, and hope that I don't have too many more weeks where I'm up past midnight three nights in a row.

One factor in getting re-motivated today was the fact that my mother is in town. She's here to see my show, which opened last night, and so she's sleeping in our living room.

When I heard my alarm this morning, some part of my brain told me that if Mom didn't hear me walk through the living room on my way to run, she would be disappointed in me. She wouldn't have said anything of the sort, of course. She would have told me to take rest when I need it, and she's probably right, but I still felt motivated to let her know that I could still get out there in the mornings.

See, my mother is really the person who got me started in running to begin with. When I ran my first 5K race back in 6th grade, the junior high cross country coach (also the family orthodontist) approached my mother and let her know that he saw some talent in me. Without this conversation, I probably would never have thought about running competitively, and would have never discovered that I had athletic talent at all. Every step I've taken in running shoes since then was because my mom said I could.

And every marathon from here on follows from that.

Friday's Run:
72 Degrees / Humid
6.01 Miles
42 Minutes, 34 Seconds

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Don't Drive Angry

This goes for running, too.

Actually, it's not entirely that simple. Running is actually a great stress reliever. The trick is that you let the running govern your emotions, not the other way around.

I've got a lot going on in my life right now that you might consider stressful. Without details, let's just say that there are many things that are out of my control that I wish were different than they are. Wouldn't we all, right?

It's just that the last couple of days have involved a great deal of ups and downs, all coupled with the fact that I'm not getting enough sleep at night. I get home from rehearsals late, and as I have no other time during the day, I am trying (unsuccessfully) to get up and run before work. If I were only physically exhausted, I would have more than enough time to get rested, but it's the emotional exhaustion that really takes the wind out of my sails.

As such, when I woke up yesterday, I just didn't feel like going for a run. I chose to sleep in for another hour or so and got up for work. The stress kept building throughout the day so that when I got to my lunch break, I had to do something. I headed to the gym and took out my frustration on the treadmill.

The first two miles felt great. I was running fast with hard rock music blasting in my ears. At the time, it felt like just the adrenaline rush I needed to burn some fuel.

Here's the problem, though. As every good director I've ever had has told me, anger itself is not interesting, because anger itself is usually not a simple emotion. When a character is onstage in angry, it's usually just the unhealthy expression of hurt or fear or confusion. Saying that your character is "angry" misses a lot of the point of why.

In the same way, using pure adrenaline to burn off "anger" isn't going to last very long. By 2.5 miles, I had to stop the treadmill and take a breath and a little walk around the gym, because the outward frustration had given way to the exhaustion behind it. I got back on after a couple minutes and ran another 1.3, at which point my right knee decided I was done. With a few choice words for the various malfunctioning parts of my body, I decided to give it up for the day.

Though I was scheduled to do six, I decided to mix up the schedule for this week a little bit. When your body says it's done, sometimes you have to listen.

My big issue, of course, was that I went to the gym to burn off some frustration and ended up just being more frustrated with the fact that I didn't finish my scheduled workout. It had the opposite effect, and it's because I let my emotion drive my legs.

What I needed to do was clear my brain, put on some more chill music and let my legs burn all that excess steam, finishing my run with less stress and a sense of accomplishment. Instead, I went for the instant gratification of pure speed and burning muscles, which would be okay if I were doing quarter-mile intervals or something like that. For a six-mile run, it's not a good choice.

This morning, when I woke up, both my knees hurt. The stress hadn't abated at all, and I still hadn't slept enough. In the dim light, I told myself one thing.

Take the day off.

I open a show tomorrow, and I've got a lot going on between now and then, and it'll actually help to get up early and run in the morning as motivation to keep myself moving. Most of everything else is out of my control right now, so I can't worry about it too much. There is only one thing I can control, and that's what I choose to do. If I choose to make myself get up tomorrow morning and run six miles, then I've taken control of something, and that's a step in the right direction.

And that's a start.

Tuesday's Run:
Indoors / Treadmill
3.8 Miles
25 Minutes, 39 Seconds

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cheaper Than Therapy

A tough Sunday means an easy Monday, right?

Here's hoping.

Yesterday was a long, tough day. I was up early to write my blog post, mostly because my ever-shifting puppy had pushed me to the edge of the bed, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I would have gone over. I watched a little TV, but then it was off to rehearsal, and I had six hours of that.

I love my theatre rehearsals. They are my other release. This does not change the fact that they can be grueling, especially when you combine emotional scenes with outside stressors. It's a combination that leads to quality theatre and emotionally spastic actors. The good side of this is that it also works as a great outlet for all the frustration and anger that can come with those stressors, turning them into something beautiful.

From there, we headed home where I tried to unwind. We went and got food to cook (these amazing steak and cheese pinwheel things that my wife found) and returned home where I spent the rest of the evening watching basketball and eating, and then yelling at the players on the TV screen asking them why they couldn't make a three-pointer to save their lives.

Reading over what I've just written, I realize that it doesn't sound like that long or hard of a day, but sometimes things just take over your brain and keep you from functioning on the level that you desire. I suppose it's hard to explain, but if you've been there, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. The point is, when I went to bed last night, I was extremely excited about this morning's run as a way to work out all my frustration in a purely physical way.

I was out the door on time and even though my shin muscle is still whining about Saturday, it didn't affect my stride at all. Forcing myself not to push too hard, I focused my attention on keeping my head up, my hips forward, and my arms pumping. I saw one or two other runners, but with a lot of things going through my head, I didn't really take much note of anything or anyone while I was out there. Except for the cab that almost hit me. He got some of my attention.

Suddenly, I realized that I was already heading back up the hill. I felt strong, despite the dull ache in the right leg. I hit green lights all the way and never even had to slow down, except for my sharp turns. All of this made me really excited to see my time, but of course that couldn't happen. My iPod that I use as a stopwatch was almost dead this morning, so I figured I'd use my phone and put it in my Spibelt. Unfortunately, I must have hit the stop button as I put it in the belt, because when I pulled it out at the end of my run, it gave me a time of 5 seconds. I'm pretty sure I wasn't quite that fast. I'll make an estimate for my spreadsheet, but for here, I'm afraid today's run is a mystery.

Which is fine. I don't care, because starting my Monday off with a strong run puts me in a better mindset for everything else I'm going to be doing that day. The alarm clock is no longer my enemy (he told himself over and over again), and I've actually been ready for it several times in the last few days. Today I was actually back from my run before 7:00am, which is a huge accomplishment for me. This meant that I've already had my shower and my breakfast, and that I'll have my post written before I start work for the day.

It's tech week for my show (also known as hell week), which means that I'll be burning through energy and emotion like crazy all week long, which will make it all the more important that I start my days correctly.

With a run.

Monday's Run:
67 Degrees / Cloudy
3.3 Miles
Time Unknown

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Overcome

When encountered with a massive challenge, I feel like most people fall into one of three groups.

Some are made to fight. Some are made to run away. And some are made to run head first at the challenge screaming and waving their arms and hoping that the challenger flinches first.

I'm beginning to think I'm in this last group.

When I was out running the trail the other day, I saw a group of people that were presumably military jogging across the road. I made this assumption based on their short hair, strong physique, tight formation and penchant for the color green. They were all pretty well built, but I noticed that many of them appeared to be breathing rather heavily despite the relatively slow pace. Granted, they'd probably run many miles by this time, but it still got me thinking back to my days as a high school runner.

I remembered a day when I was hanging out with a wrestler friend of mine who was making fun of me for swimming in the winter season instead of wrestling. The general tenor of his argument was that any kind of real man would rather fight than race when given the opportunity. Being the headstrong young man that I was, I accepted his subsequent challenge to have a wrestling match, and surprised everyone there when I flipped him within the first few seconds. This would be my only bright spot in the match.

The fact is, I'm simply not built as a fighter. In the last few months, I've been doing some strength training to try and build some upper body muscle, but there's no question what my body was designed to do. I was designed to be a runner. So much so that it makes me wonder what I could have done if I had been disciplined with it in high school. Maybe I could have been great. Maybe I could have been really okay. Maybe I would have run myself out midway through college and given it up forever. There's no benefit to living in the "what if" world, so I don't spend too much time there. The point of all this is that my general makeup lends itself to running, which is why I think I can do the 50 marathon challenge at all.

So when something goes wrong, it bugs me. When that something heals and something else goes wrong, it just makes me angry. After mile nine yesterday, I got stopped at my 1,000th red light of the run and took a bit of a stretch. Since the very start of the run, my right shin muscle, just below the knee, had been bugging me. This was the one I mentioned the other day that I needed to stretch a lot before the next run, and so I did. I had to stop twice during the run and stretch it more. And I stretched it at every red light.

The trouble is, there are only so many times in an 11-mile run that you can stop and start before your legs start getting really angry. I kept to my old running areas for today's run, but mixed it up a little in an effort to see some of the SXSW craziness. It was early, so there was only a small flurry of activity, but you could tell that there was a party there. And smell it. Anyone who has ever walked down Clark Street in Chicago on a Sunday morning knows the smell I'm talking about. Stale beer, trampled cigarettes, and various other smells that you know but don't want to admit recognizing abound. It smelled like home.

Yet amidst all of this interesting scenery, there were tons of red lights, and I didn't quite get out early enough to just run through them. On the way back, I was getting stopped every 3 minutes or so, and compounding this with the irritation in my shin, I was starting to get really frustrated. Thus, when I hit my nemesis stoplight right as it turned, I wasn't pleased. I stretched some and tried to keep moving around. When it changed, I started to run and immediately pulled up. There was a stabbing pain all through my leg and I actually hopped across the street and sat down. I briefly considered calling my wife, because I was worried that I wouldn't be able to walk home.

Then I felt it. The cramp in the muscle. It was a bad one, but that's all it was. I could tell that the pain wasn't in the ligaments or in the bones, which meant that it was a pain that had to be run out. I gave myself a minute or two to really stretch and massage it, and then I started again, slowly. As I gradually increased speed, the pain remained, but it did not flare up like it had. I made it another mile, but the hill I was facing coupled with my repeated stopping had taken the wind out of me, and I stopped again for another stretch. 

Again, I considered calling my wife, or simply going with a 10-mile run and a 1-mile walk. I even started to move on this second option, but I stopped myself, actually yelling out "No!" Last season, it was the long run I didn't finish that began several weeks of bad training. That pain was a little different, but the idea is the same. If I let myself off the hook now, I run the risk of being ill-prepared later. I picked my head up, dropped my shoulders down, and started jogging (at a much slower pace) up the hill. The challenge arose, and I ran at it. I didn't wave my arms, and I only yelled a little, but I met the challenge and I completed my run.

Thankfully, today is a rest day. I put some ice on the muscle yesterday and stretched it out a great deal. By the end of the night, it was barely an issue at all. There's definitely some stiffness this morning, but overall, I think I'll be ready for my short dash tomorrow. 

My real victory here is that my little color-coded spreadsheet remains intact. I'm still mad at myself for missing that nine-miler a couple weeks ago, which no doubt contributed to my lack of readiness for yesterday's run, so I am thrilled that I didn't do it again. I must maintain a strong mind throughout the training process if I'm going to have any shot at qualifying for Boston in less than 100 days. 

After all, running is just mind over muscle.

Saturday's Run:
67 Degrees / Sunny
11.0 Miles
1 Hour, 19 Minutes, 35 Seconds

Friday, March 18, 2011

Under The Influence

Over the last 24 hours, I have officially fallen in love with Austin, Texas.

First, let me say that Chicago remains my favorite city in the world. It would take some kind of incredible experience elsewhere for that to change.

Still, the city does have its drawbacks, and many of those were factors in our decision to head south. I've liked Austin for quite some time, and I like-liked it when we decided to move down here. Now, however, I think I'm in love with the city, and it was a very subtle process.

Yesterday, of course, was St. Patrick's Day, one of those great holidays that once had an important and reverent meaning but now is mostly an excuse for people to be drunk in the middle of the day. I'm a little past the point in my life where I can hit the bar at 11 in the morning, but I got into the spirit(s) at the end of the day, and we decided to go out to a walkable bar.

We really didn't want to be in all the craziness of downtown, what with the combination of St. Patty's, Spring Break, and SXSW. It seemed like the perfect storm of not having a good time, so we went to a place sufficiently south to have elbow room, but still close enough that we didn't feel like we were out of town. This was the first bar I have ever enjoyed on St. Patrick's Day. People were into the fun, but not out of their heads. Drinking, but not drunk (yet), or at least not sloppy drunk. The few random people I spoke to all had cheerful personalities, and not one member of the staff seemed stressed or irritated, but all were helpful, pleasant, and efficient. As such, I feel the need for a shout-out to Baker Street Pub on South Lamar.

And what made the experience even greater was that we left kind of early. I knew that I had to go for a run and work this morning, and after a certain point, there was just nothing left to do. I went to bed thinking about how much fun I'd had to still be in bed at a reasonable hour.

Then the alarm went off this morning, and I was out of bed like a shot. Before anything in my system could take a bad turn on me, I wanted to get outside and move around and sweat out any and all of the toxins that might still be in my system. I hit the road well before dawn and turned onto the Town Lake Trail. For about three minutes, I felt like a hardcore runner. The trail is incredibly dark at that hour, and I couldn't see anyone else. When I passed the first other runner, I made a note in my head to count them for this post.

To my surprise, as I neared the footbridge under Mopac, more and more runners and walkers showed up, and it was barely 6:30. I stopped counting at 20. It thoroughly impressed me how many people were up at that hour on that trail. People who are just as crazy as I am, and probably more so, because most of them are likely better at keeping to their routine. It made me so happy to see so many people dedicated to fitness in the same town where someone can have a great night of drinking on St. Patty's.

Thinking about all of this, I realized just how much I've come to love Austin in the last six months. We haven't even done all that much "Austin stuff," but what we have done has been unilaterally great. I think I'm beginning to settle in, and it feels great.

One of my only complaints about town is how incredibly long some of the streetlights take to change. I got stopped with about 1.8 to go and waited at the light. When I restarted, my right leg decided it wasn't getting enough attention and started acting up. I ran through it, but there's still some tenderness when I shift. I'll have to remember to stretch that out thoroughly before hitting the pavement tomorrow, when I've got an 11-miler. This could be a problem, what with the 9-er I skipped two weeks ago, but I think I'll be fine if I don't stop, keep my head up and make sure that I don't go out too fast at the start. Also, I'm going to try to come up with a new route than the one I used to do for long runs, because I want to see even more of this city.

I'm totally under its influence.

Friday's Run:
65 Degrees / Dark, Cloudy
6.01 Miles
41 Minutes, 32 Seconds

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Doggin' It

It may just be me, but I find much of the equipment offered for training purposes to be superfluous.

Which is not to say that it's useless or even that it's not worth the money you'll pay for it. I simply mean that there are many around-the-house objects and DIY techniques that can make all the fancy training gadgets in the world unnecessary.

One example that I remember from my days watching commercials (God bless you, DVR) was a little parachute that someone (usually an impossibly-sized football player) would wear while running sprints across a field. I admit that it looks pretty cool. It evokes images of drag racing and wind surfing. The logic behind it is simple: if you train with wind resistance, you'll be even faster without it. Trouble is, for this nylon square and fancy harness, it can cost a fair amount of money, which you need not spend. Not if you have a dog, that is.

Perhaps it requires a certain kind of dog. One who has enough energy to be able to run, but not enough attention-span to focus for more than half a mile. One who loves kids and kites and other dogs and will still be trying to get back to them half a mile down the road. And most importantly, one who thinks uphill running is for suckers.

Combine these traits with an already windy day and some residual muscle soreness from your weekend, and you've got yourself a pretty good workout.

For the first half mile, before the pup realized what we were doing, it was my own legs that were holding me back. I felt like I was running in a pool, pumping my legs as hard as they could go but getting nowhere. Eventually they loosened up, and we had a rather enjoyable half mile. Then came the park, where we passed a school's field day. The dog wanted to play, too, and when I informed her as nicely as I could that it would not be happening, she decided that the run would not be happening either.

I make it sound much worse than it is, but all that really happens is that she falls behind and slows down. It's not because she's tired (Lord knows, she's got plenty of energy), but rather that she's looking over her shoulder at all the fun she could be having and that slows her down tremendously. Once we're out of eyesight, she still drags a bit, like she knows that she was pouting about something, and maybe if she stays back here, she'll remember it.

This continues for the next mile and a half, until she suddenly realizes that we're on the way home. Home? That's where mom and water and treats and food are! Now suddenly she's got all the energy in the world, and I don't look like the meanest dog owner ever born, dragging a pathetic little pup behind me. Really, it's not that she's tired. She'd just rather play with someone else.

We finally get back into a pace when, with about half a mile to go, the hill gets steep, and she's done again. How could I possibly need a parachute at that point? She'll pull me back far more effectively than any silly old force of nature. Still, up we climb and home we come where she stretches out on the concrete floor for twenty minutes or so until she's fully recovered and ready for the next round.

If she came with GPS, I'd be set.

Wednesday's Run:
71 Degrees / Cloudy, Humid
3.3 Miles
25 Minutes, 10 Seconds

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Off Balance

It never fails - as soon as one part of my body heals, another part begins to fall apart.

It's kind of like the first half of the Bulls' season this year. They couldn't seem to get everyone healthy on the floor until around the All Star Weekend. Once they got everyone out there, they became a pretty impressive unit, but until then, they were kind of limping around.

Which is exactly what I have been doing for the last couple weeks. Well, not really limping. It's just that in many of my runs, I've had some nagging pain in my left knee, certainly caused by me going from not running at all to training for a marathon. Everything I read talked about overuse injuries, and the best medicine being rest. So I backed off my speed and took my resting days seriously.

Now, my left knee feels great. In fact, I was thinking just this morning about how great that whole leg feels. I was thinking this because my right knee decided to be a jerk.

It's important to rest when you're injured, because one injury can spark another. This is why, for most of my high school running career, I hurt on one side or the other. My right ankle would start to hurt, and I would run through it, but as a result, I'd put a disproportionate amount of stress on the left side, so my left knee would go. As that healed, my right hip would get into the action. In a 12-week season, there isn't much time to heal, so I always just ran through it, a bad habit that I've kept to this day.

When my right side started kicking up this morning, I simply couldn't believe it. The pain started around the knee and gradually pushed down into the shin, which leads me to believe that it's nothing more than some residual muscle pain from the weekend. I'm still a little bit creaky, and it took me about half a mile to really get going again today.

It probably also didn't help that I allowed my self to "push the pace a bit" because my training program said I could. Specifically, it said that I was allowed to push the last couple miles, but I went out a little faster than normal. It was nice and cool and still pretty dark when I made it outside, and that kind of atmosphere just lends itself to speed.

The pain flare in my leg slowed me up a little bit, but once I got past the last stoplight, I let myself stride out and push again. I had about a mile and 3/4 left, and I wanted to see what I could do.

However, the irritation in the leg slowed me back down. Not much, but enough that I knew pushing through this would be a stupid decision. Better to settle into a more relaxed pace and finish a bit slower than have to miss a run tomorrow morning because I went and pulled a muscle. Obviously.

The great thing was, it didn't slow me down too much. I focused on dropping my shoulders, keeping my hips beneath me, and pumping my arms, and I only slowed down about 10 seconds per mile on the last bit. I desperately need someone to coach me on running form, but these are a few of the tips that I have remembered from the many coaches I have had in the past, and today they were just what I needed. If I could keep myself from kicking the back of my own leg, I'd be set, I think. They might even make shoes for that.

I guess what I re-learned today is to keep myself as balanced as I possibly can. If I can't run with proper form, then I shouldn't be running. And if I'm not thinking about my form, then I'm probably not running with proper form. It's something for me to think about tomorrow when I take the dog with me.

I mean, how much can a hyperactive dog really mess with your stride?

Tuesday's Run:
48 Degrees / Clear
6.01 Miles
42 Minutes, 8 Seconds

Monday, March 14, 2011

Run Through

I've always believed that the best treatment for sore muscles is more usage.

Now, when you're sitting on the floor because it hurts too much to sit upright on the couch, I can see where this particular solution may not be your first choice. It certainly isn't mine in those cases. Still, on most occasions, it really is the best plan.

This is what I told myself over and over again at about 6:15 this morning. My inner thighs and butt muscles were still informing me of their opinions on my choices from Saturday, and the last thing they seemed interested in was more physical activity. What got me out of the house was my new determination not to miss any more training runs. Come hell or high water, I'll somehow get in my miles, and I knew I wouldn't want to go later, so off I went.

For the first half mile, everything was on fire. The faint cries of "why are you doing this to me" came from every muscle in my legs as I got up to speed and turned down the hill.

Then, it was gone. Halfway down the hill, all my muscles relaxed and everything started to flow. I could still faintly feel some stiffness, but only a fraction of what I had upon waking up this morning. And what was more, my legs felt stronger than they have in quite some time. Every step felt powerful without feeling like I was pushing it. Today was scheduled to be an "easy pace" which only means that I do not try to run quickly. And I didn't. It just happened.

I got home and did the rest of my muscle groups on a bit of a high from the whole thing. I was thrilled with myself for running strong and for getting up on time despite the fact that my body has not yet acclimated to the time change, like it ever really does.

After folding the laundry, getting a shower, eating breakfast, and doing several other little chores around the house, I sat down at my desk for work 15 minutes early, very proud of the string of accomplishments.

At around 10:00, I was starting to get a little hungry, so I decided to get a bagel. I stood up from my chair and actually yelped in pain.

Turns out the muscle pain wasn't entirely gone so much as pushed out of the legs temporarily, and despite the stretching that I did upon my return home, sitting still for two hours evidently wasn't the best choice I could have made. I've been stretching throughout the rest of the day, and even just took the dog for a little walk to work out some of kinks. My middle-distance runs get longer this week, and tomorrow should be a pretty easy day, assuming I can convince my legs to get moving, so my goal for the entire day is to use the muscles as normally as possible and be ready for tomorrow morning.

When I'll get to run through the pain again.

Monday's Run:
66 Degrees / Humid, Light Rain
3.3 Miles
23 Minutes, 29 Seconds

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cross-Fitted

A piece of advice to all: when your weekend calls for a run and cross-training, maybe don't do them in the same two hours.

After a really enjoyable evening on Friday night, Saturday morning came a little too quickly. And yet, to my surprise, it wasn't difficult to wake up. At seven o'clock, my eyes shot open, and I was out of bed. I'm still not entirely sure how that happened, but it was pleasant.

My wife and I had heard about a free Crossfit workout downtown, and we always jump on those whenever we can. If I had a larger budget for working out (see my post about free workouts), then I would probably spend it on Crossfit. It's a great gym atmosphere with impressive functional workouts. Unfortunately, it's also very expensive, and for the time being, it's not in the cards. 

So, when we hear that there is a free boot camp or workout, and there have been several, we try to get out there. The only issue with this one was that I also had a six-mile run scheduled for Saturday morning.

We put together a plan, my wife and I. Figuring out the expected completion times, we determined that I would leave, do my six miles, and then return to the apartment. At that point, my wife would be waiting for me, and we would jog down to the free bootcamp together. All of this went according to plan.

As usual, however, I had underestimated exactly how my body would feel WHILE doing the workout. I'm used to being sore after working a different group of muscles, but I was surprised at how difficult it was to simply get through the different exercises. The basics - pushups, sit-ups, wall sits - aren't the problem. It's things like crab walking and jump-squats, things that aren't that difficult but that certainly are unusual, that really hurt. I was using lots of muscles in ways that they just don't get used, and they were not amused by it.

After the workout, we walked back home. It hadn't been the kind of Crossfit that we'd been exposed to in the past, but it was still a good use of muscle strength. In general, our only issue was that it seemed like more of an aerobic workout than muscle-intensive. Rather than being high-impact, it was high energy, which is great in certain circumstances, but not the best after a six mile run.

What impressed me most about the whole thing was my wife. She's trying to get into running, but her schedule for the last few weeks has not been conducive to starting a new training program. Still, at the first mention of a Crossfit opportunity, we were committed. We both pushed through most of what was asked, and both finished strong, despite the fact that we were kind of miserable by the end. It's a testament to what you can do with someone you love standing beside you.

After all this, the wife dropped me off at my first rehearsal of the day. It was scheduled to last 4 hours, but actually only went for about 90 minutes, so I called off my ride to rehearsal number two and just walked. It was a little too warm, but otherwise it was a lovely day, and the streets of Austin were crowded with laniard-wearing SXSW-ers. I got to the second rehearsal space with two hours to spare, and just sat outside enjoying all of it.

Once the second rehearsal was over, I figured I might as well keep up my streak of activity, and I walked the two miles home. So, my total from the day was six miles intensive, two miles jogging, one hour Crossfit, and 8.5 miles walking (2 + 4.5 + 2). I saw that today's schedule called for cross-training. I think I've got that covered.

I enjoy having my long runs on Saturdays now. The schedule change occurred because the Seattle marathon is on a Saturday, and for the sake of continuity, most training programs recommend getting into the routine of having your long runs on the day you'll eventually need to perform. What makes this plan great is that it gives me Sunday to sleep in, so that the end of my weekend is relaxing instead of the beginning. 

And what makes it even better is that the INCREDIBLE soreness in my muscles right now only took up a Sunday, and (hopefully) won't be an issue when I'm trying to work tomorrow.

Or when I'm trying to run three miles.

P.S. I hate daylight savings time. I want my hour back.

Saturday's Run:
55 Degrees / Clear
6.01 Miles
41 Minutes, 59 Seconds

Friday, March 11, 2011

Under

You see, what makes cold weather running great is that you don't need fingers to run.

Again, in my infinite (lack of) wisdom, I went for a run this morning without checking the weather before I left the house. I was, once again, a little late getting up, though still early enough to get done and showered before the work day started, so I wanted to get out the door as quickly as possible. I threw on a t-shirt and shorts and as soon as I was out the door, I knew I'd been bested by mother nature once again.

As I've mentioned before, I'd rather be underdressed than overdressed, so I figured I'd warm up pretty quickly and just rubbed my arms a lot before I got started.

Today was scheduled to be a run "at pace"  for the marathon, and this is something that's been a bit of an issue for me. On the one hand, I don't want to set a pace for myself that is unrealistic and could get me injured again. On the other, the qualifications for Boston are about to get tougher, and Seattle will be my last chance to qualify before that change happens, unless I find something in August or September. I'm still not sure how my marathon turn-around is going to be, and I was planning on testing that between October and November, but I'm not sure that I'm ready for it yet.

At this point, I'm leaning heavily toward going for the Boston qualification in June. Even then, there's no guarantee that I'll get to run it even if I do qualify, but for the extra ten seconds per mile I'll have to drop after September's rule change, I think it's worth it to take a shot.

Now, if there's one thing I learned from the Livestrong Marathon, it's that I must have a very specific race plan for myself, including mile times. The idea that I had for this one was, "I'll run with the pace group, and drop back if I lose steam." This is not a race plan. This is the idea that I'm going to run hard for half a race and die for the second half. No, if I'm going to go for it, I've got to plan ahead.

And so to the pace run. I've decided that, at least early on, my desired pace is going to be a little faster than I'll need on race day. I'll get the feeling of that pace in my body which will hopefully make it easier to maintain.

So, today, I started out with a little extra strength in my step, hoping to maintain my newly formed focus on speed. My first mile, though it is downhill, was WAY too fast, so I slowed some on the second one, but still found myself well ahead of pace. This is when I need an Iron Man or a Garmin or just something that tells me how fast I'm actually going while I'm running. Checking in once a mile doesn't actually keep me at the pace I need.

After my third mile marker, I was still quite a bit ahead of my pace, so for mile four, I really settled in and just focused on being strong, not on being fast. I picked my head up, moved my hips forward and pushed everything together at once. I've always found that, regardless of the distance, it's the space between 60% and 80% completed that is always the most difficult. You're past halfway, but it still seems like the finish is a long way off, and it's easy to let yourself drop out of good form and slow down, so this is where - this season - I'll be focusing on maintaining my strength.

And so I did. I was still slightly under pace for mile four, at which point I decided to forget all about what pace I wanted for the last mile. Since it's mostly uphill, I decided to really attack it and see what I could do. I was distracted for a bit by the homeless-looking young man who walked past me checking directions on an iphone, but other than that, my focus was on pumping my arms and flexing my fingers which, I realized at that point, I could no longer feel. Turns out it was slightly colder than I'd thought.

All told, I was well under my desired pace today, which isn't all good. The entire point of running at marathon pace is that your body gets used to it, because what you can run for five miles is necessarily going to be faster than what you can run for twenty-six. That being said, it felt good to have my fastest run of the season (so far) be outdoors over five miles in less-than-ideal weather. Right now, most of the runs are this distance or less, so it doesn't hurt too much to be a little faster than intended. I'm sure it will be far more important as the season wears on, but my focus on strength this time around should do a lot to help me out come June.

And it's almost impossible to underdress in June, right?

Friday's Run:
43 Degrees / Clear
5.05 Miles
33 Minutes, 5 Seconds

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Week Without Treadmills

One of the things that I love most about running is that it is simply the most accessible sport that exists.

Depending on your climate, you really don't need any equipment, training, or experience to be a runner. In fact, just about everyone has been a runner at some point in their lives. Once someone learns to walk, they soon follow it with running, much to the terror of their parents. When you were a kid, running was a pure joy, so much so that your mother had to continually remind you of the places you were not allowed to do it.

Then, at some point, like most other things, it starts to tip away from a joy to a chore. A large portion of the population will avoid running at all costs now that they are adults. But here's the wonderful secret about running - there are no costs. And as someone who doesn't make a whole lot of money, this is one of the things that I love best.

Think about it for a second. What other sport can you do that really requires absolutely no money for you to partake? Let's start with the most expensive and work our way down. You've got sports like gymnastics and ice skating that require expensive memberships and years (YEARS!) of traning just to get out of the beginner's groups. Then you've got equipment-heavy events like hockey and football whose up-front costs can go right through the roof. Also, people hit you in those sports. A lot.

Even simple games require at least a ball. Soccer, basketball, baseball - all of these require that you spend something to get started. And if something happens to that equipment, you're done until you find something else. Like if your dog steals your soccer ball and puts a hole in it or if you knock the baseball over the fence into James Earl Jones' backyard where it's claimed by a giant dog. Then you're just left standing around wishing that you had chosen an activity that didn't require a trip to Dick's.

And what's more, many of these require that you get other people involved. Ever tried throwing a Frisbee by yourself? It's very lonely. And even the solo sports need something. Want to go swimming? Okay. Got a pool?

No, the only free option for me is a simple run. You don't need a treadmill. You don't need the fancy gore-tex warm-ups. To be entirely honest, you don't even need shoes - though if you're going to spring for anything, that'd be a good place to start. All you need is a little time, and a little energy. Combine it with some sit-ups and core exercises, and you've got yourself a free fitness plan for life.

It was in this spirit that I decided to stay off the treadmill this week. Now, I'm sure that in some climates, it is absolutely vital to have a treadmill if you want to be a serious runner. Chicago is one climate that comes to mind. Sometimes it is just unhealthy to run in certain weather. And there are many benefits of treadmill running, in my opinion. The best one is that it forces the body to maintain a certain pace, and that can train you on how your body should feel at certain speeds.

But all that aside, I want to train my body to force ITSELF to maintain a certain pace, since race day won't involve a rubber strip pulling itself away from under my feet. At least I hope it doesn't. That sounds really unpleasant.

So instead of heading into the gym for today's three miler, I headed outside after work, and I took the pup.

Pretty soon, it will be far too hot at 4 in the afternoon for even me to go for a run, much less the little dog, but since it was only 3 miles (two less than our usual distance), I knew she'd be fine. What surprised me was just how fine she was. I started my watch and began to run, and she took off! She didn't slow down until we started passing dogs about 1.25 miles. I think it was the first time in our history of running together that our first mile was actually our fastest. It took no time at all for her to warm up and we ran the whole way, though a little after the 2 mile mark, we slowed down, as I think she was starting to get too warm.

As we finished with our fastest pace together ever, I took a second to assess my body's condition. I'm still having some knee issues, but nothing like what sidelined me in my last training. My various stretching, conditioning and supplementing regimines seem like they're starting to work. I had some breathing issues, but I'm pretty sure that's going to happen as summer creeps up and my thin-air lungs learn what it means to be a Southerner. It's simply more incentive to get up in the morning and get this stuff completed. Other than that, I felt great, and the dog seemed pretty happy about everything, too. We're both runners now, and it really feels good to be able to say that again.

I'll end up spending a lot of money on this journey of mine. It isn't cheap to travel to all 50 states, that's for certain. Still, the point of all this isn't just the end. It's the day-to-day healthier living and the simple joys of running, such as running with a friend, or with a dog. A journey of 1,310 miles begins with a single step.

And if you can afford them, a really good pair of shoes.

Wednesday's Run:
74 Degrees / Sunny
3.3 Miles
24 Minutes, 33 Seconds

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

No Shaving

Starting a new routine is hard. And when that routine means starting a new lifestyle, it can be almost impossible.

My mother has always been a fan of the phrase, "If nothing changes, nothing changes." It basically means that if you're looking for something new to happen in your life, you actually have to do something to make that change come about. If you continue running around the same block, you can't expect the scenery to change.

There are any number of famous quotes that give us the same message, so you know it must be true. "We must be the change we wish to see in the world," says Gandhi. Einstein chips in, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results." These were serious men with serious mustaches, so we must believe that they knew what they were talking about.

For me, it's always been easy to plan the big shift than to take the small steps. It's why I have dozens of unfinished projects lying all around my apartment. I think of something that would be great to do, but without a level of accountability outside myself, I have great difficulty in holding myself to incremental steps toward those goals.

Without deadlines and specific requirements, it's very easy for me to lose focus. And what's more, before I'm done with what I was doing, I come up with another big idea, and my attention shifts to that.

So, before I go out and start getting my tattoo for each completed state (a great idea someone suggested), I want to make sure that I'm actually going to be able to make it through this journey. Otherwise, I'll just have reminders of yet another project that I never got around to finishing.

The problem, still, is that I have so much trouble holding myself to my own requirements. I NEED to wake up at 6 and go for my run. That way, I'm showered by 7 on weekdays. At that point, I can sit down and write my post (which serves as my running journal), check all my fun sites, and get some breakfast before I have to sit down and work. With two of my daily "to-dos" completed, my brain is a little bit more clear for all the work that I have to do throughout the rest of the day.

I know this so well. So why can't I get myself out of bed?

Maybe my mustache just isn't serious enough.

Tuesday's Run:
67 Degrees / Humid
5.05 Miles
37 Minutes, 7 Seconds

Monday, March 7, 2011

By Dawn

The snooze button is alternately a wonderful and an evil invention.

I'm sure there are many people for whom the snooze button is actually a lifesaver. Sometimes the alarm comes in the deepest part of your sleep cycle, and there is just no way that you can actually get moving when it goes off. Your arm shoots out from under the covers in the general direction of the offending noise, and blindly searches for any button to make it stop. Eventually, some combination of finger movements brings the blessed silence, and the world is wonderful again.

Were it not for the snooze button, this story might end with you waking up three hours later to find yourself two hours late for work. But no, Snooze has your back. Nine minutes later (or five, in the case of my cell phone alarm), the little guy tries again, and most likely you're a little more roused. It might take a couple tries, but eventually, it's going to wake you up.

My problem is that when my alarm goes off, I know I've got options. I can get up, or I can snooze. Or maybe, I can just turn the thing off altogether. Time flies when you're half asleep, and before I know it, I've snoozed away the 90 minutes I gave myself to get out of bed and go for a run. 

But not today. Today, I heard the alarm and shut it off right away. No snooze button. Why? Because I knew I was going to get out of bed on time. I knew I was starting this week off correctly. In about five minutes or so... make that ten... okay, SERIOUSLY! At which point I got out of bed, 30 minutes later than intended, but still very early by my standards. I suited up, threw on a jacket, given the chill in the air, and I was out the door.

There's another person who does morning runs in our apartment complex who became a sort of Monday morning nemesis of mine. Regardless of what time I actually made it out the door to head to our gym, he always seemed to be just starting his treadmill run when I got there. However, my new commitment to running outdoors as much as possible meant that I didn't need the equipment today. Still, I checked to see if he was there when I walked by. He was. On the elliptical. Of course.

It turns out my legs can build up a lot of rust in just a couple days. After about a mile, I started to loosen up, but I still had some kinks. It was then that I remembered the glucosamine supplements that I'd spent all that money on and hadn't been taking. I mentally put it on the list of things to do when I got home. 

It's tough for three miles to be an eventful run, especially that early in the morning. I guess the highlights were the fact that there were two different trucks parked on the sidewalk that forced me to run in the street, mostly dealing with the aftermath of yesterday's kite festival in Zilker Park. I always get a little sad running through a park where there has been a big event and looking at all the trash that people couldn't be bothered to take with them. Thinking this, I then passed the impossibly overflowing trash cans, and I felt a little better. At least people tried. Note to city, quadruple the trash cans next year. Also, don't park your cars on sidewalks. It's inconvenient.

My runs are going smoothly, save the occasional pains. I had hoped that Friday's painless five and an extra day off would work wonders, but I think instead that I might have reverted back a couple steps by leaving my muscles too inactive. I'm not going to worry too much over one missed run 16 weeks from the marathon, but I won't be missing another.

Discipline and motivation are the two keys to everything I'm doing now. The discipline to get up in the morning and get my run completed is step one. It means that I'm using my time more efficiently. It means that my body gets on a schedule and that I feel more rested day-to-day. Everything becomes more clear when I'm done with my run before the sun comes up.

And once summer gets here, that could be a matter of life and death. I got my first little tiny taste of Texas humidity last week and it was at about 10% of where it will be in a couple short months. If I start the habit now, I'll be in full swing by the time it's impossible to run after 8 am. This is my motivation. The earlier I'm up, the earlier I'm done. I won't have to deal with snooze buttons, summer heat, or traffic lights (mostly).

And probably not trucks on the sidewalk, either.

Today's Run:
48 Degrees / Cloudy
3.3 Miles
23 Minutes, 22 Seconds

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Lazy

Okay, I admit it. I was incredibly lazy this weekend.

I actually did okay on Friday, at least once I got myself on the road. I've got to find some sort of routine that actually gets me the heck out of bed in the morning and on with my day. As of now, something's just not registering when the alarm goes off. There has to be some sort of reward or punishment, but as of yet I haven't found anything out. Still searching.

Anyhow, when I actually got on the road, I set two rules for myself. The first was that I would not walk during my five mile run. The second was that I would pay no attention to the time. This included the fact that I wasn't going to stop my watch for traffic lights. I broke this last rule.

On the out-and-back five mile course that I run, there are four lights (two out, two back) that normally catch me. I sped up through three of them, and but I hit the last one right as it changed, and I had to stop the clock. I wasn't trying to make any particular time, but on a shorter run like this, the three minutes I would have had to wait would have had a dramatic effect on my average pace, and it would have no longer been representative of the workout that I'd done. Or so I told myself.

So, I stopped the watch for those few minutes, and then restarted when I got moving again. And I was absolutely shocked by just how fast I was actually going. I was almost a minute faster than my planned "relaxed" pace. And the best part of everything was that I had zero knee pain the whole time.

And from that moment until now, the laziness crept in. I got through my work day pretty well, and then I headed out to my rehearsal. I had a lot of fun, but got home really late.

Saturday morning, I could hear thunder and a little bit of rain, and that's the easiest way to convince yourself to go back to bed. Plus, I didn't have anywhere to be until the afternoon, so I decided to take a morning for me, enjoying the company of my wife and the pup. We had a lovely Saturday, topped off with another rehearsal with even more fun.

And this morning... nothing. I had thought I was going to move yesterday's run to this morning, but I just did not want to get out of the bed that early. Overall, I chose to relax this weekend. While I'm not particularly thrilled with the fact that I didn't do my 9 miles, I did enjoy the recovery. In fact, I had a really wonderful weekend, and I'll get back into training first thing in the morning.

If I get out of bed.

Wow. Even this post was lazy.

Friday's Run:
60 Degrees / Humid
5.05 Miles
33 Minutes, 46 Seconds

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Solid Plan

I'm enjoying my new training program very much.

For one thing, it almost feels like I've got a personal coach with me every step of the way, as each day's workout is accompanied by specific instructions. It gives tip about what pace to do, recommendations for additional work, and tips on how to stay strong and healthy throughout the training process.

The other great thing is, I can already feel it working. Yesterday's run was only scheduled for three little miles at a comfortable pace. Unlike season 1, when I did my short runs as hard as I could, I'm really focusing on sitting into easier paces this time around, and building a more consistent training pattern that will allow me to have more strength and confidence come race day.

So, instead of cranking the treadmill all the way up, I set it to a quick, but not deadly, pace and ran the whole way at that. Now, the question is, why use the treadmill at all?

I have been making myself run outdoors more regularly, but I haven't given up on the treadmill workout just yet. Wednesdays, it seems, will also entail some additional strength training, which I like. Most exercise professionals will emphasize the importance of varying your workout as much as possible, working different muscle groups in different ways. It not only saves your muscles from overwork, but it increases the potential for positive growth in many ways that I am not at all qualified to detail.

Bottom line, it's good to do strength training and various other cross training activities while in the midst of a training program, and yesterday was one such day. As such, I figured it only made sense to do my run where I would also do my strength training, which now mostly consists of curls, bench press, lat pull-downs, and an ab workout that I learned in college. One of these days, I'll have to document that one. It's a beast.

The gym at our complex recently got some free weight dumbbells, which I am very excited about, even though we have our own set at home. These, combined with the benches in the fitness center, will open up a number of different possibilities for more varied strength training workouts.

My general goal is simply to be stronger, and to be smarter. That combination will allow me to be successful, and this training program will help me to do both.

Today was a rest day, so I pretty much did nothing physical in preparation of the Fiver I've got tomorrow morning. Friday is always a tough day to get up early, so I'm hoping for the best on this one. It's not scheduled to be as fast as last week's Friday run, but I want to make sure that I'm happy with my time, while not pushing myself too hard. It's a "comfortable pace" run, whatever that means.

I intend to challenge myself by not looking at my watch throughout the run. This season, I've been stopping the watch at all crosswalks where I cannot get across the road due to the stoplights. It's given me far more accurate timing with regard to when I'm actually running, but those stops also mean that I'm getting rest in that is not being accounted for. Part of me hates this, but then I remember that the only time that matters is the one on race day.

For tomorrow, I'll let the clock run. This will be additional incentive to get up early and get it done, since there will be less of a chance of getting stopped by traffic before 7 am. It shouldn't even be that cold, if the hourly forecast is to be believed. As of this moment, I am totally amped to get up at 6.

I hope I remember this at 6.

Yesterday's Run:
Indoors / Treadmill
3 Miles
20 Minutes, 55 Seconds

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mood Swings

Don't like the weather here in (whatever location you are, because everyone says this)? Wait five minutes!

I'm still getting used to the ever-adjusting weather down here in the South, but there is one thing that I have learned fairly conclusively. I will never be dressed for my run correctly.

This includes wearing jackets on sunny days and short sleeves in rain. If there is any kind of extreme in the weather, I simply won't be ready for it. And I know what you're thinking: check the forecast beforehand. This is excellent advice, but it doesn't really help me out all that much. For one thing, the temperature changes absurdly quickly down here, so even if I dress correctly for the beginning of the run, I might be in a completely different climate by the time I'm done. My main problem, though, is that I haven't yet adjusted to relative temp.

Relative temp is the idea that a temperature only means something in the context of the surrounding weather. For example, a 50-degree day in Chicago in February is a heat wave, and people contemplate going for a swim. Alternately, a 50-degree day in Texas in June is downright Arctic, and a possible sign of the apocalypse.

My mind is still set on Chicago temps, where 50 degrees at this time of year is a short-sleeve kind of morning. My body, on the other hand, has quickly shifted to Texas living, and the second I step outside, I know I was wrong again.

In general, I'd rather be underdressed than overdressed, at least when it comes to running. The exercise itself will heat up the muscles, so if I'm just a little too cold, I can be confident that I'll be comfortable by the end of the first mile. It's just all that much more important that I actually take the time to stretch before I go outside. Knowing all of this, I just wore a thin, long-sleeve t-shirt today, though I felt a chill in the air when I woke up.

While 50 degrees is a relative temperature, 38 degrees is cold anywhere you go. I had no idea it was going to be that cold this morning, but there I was, breath steaming out in front of me, and the National Weather Service confirmed it later.


Yeah, that was me out there before 7 this morning. But look at that swing in temp! It was 57 by 10:00! It was probably already in the mid-forties by the time I finished my run. I recognize that I'll be absolutely praying for this kind of weather in a few months, but for now I just stand in amazement. Well, I'm sitting, but you get the idea.

With the exception of one stop for a stretch, I felt strong the entire way this morning. Hal told me that this was the "hard" workout of the week, so I should feel free to push myself a little bit. Even though I'm getting all of this information off the website, I actually feel somewhat like Hal is personally giving me advice, and that I'm letting him down if I don't take it.

In general, I'm finding it much easier to stay at a stronger pace this time around, which I'm sure is just the combination of the fact that I'm running fewer miles than I have in a while and that I've been running for several months. I may have to adjust my goal race pace to reflect the strength I'm finding. For now, I'm trying not to get too far ahead of myself. I still have a few creaks I'm trying to work out from last weekend, and I don't want to take the risk of hurting myself because of a quick 5 miles.

Still, I felt good this morning. I feel like the muscles in my legs are getting stronger. I can feel them working as I push up the hills, and they relax on their own when I head back down. The whole motion is feeling more automated, which probably has something to do with the fact that I'm focusing on maintaining pace now, so my form deals with itself.

And with a constant form and very consistent pacing, I feel like I'm becoming a solid runner again, and that I can actually count on and predict my performance from one day to the next.

The weather? Well that's another story.

Today's Run:
38 Degrees / Clear
5.05 Miles
35 Minutes, 45 Seconds