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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Breaking Point

There are times when things come together. There are times when they do not.

Today is one of those other days.

As the mountain of responsibilities for my next couple weeks continues to grow, I have done my best to keep on top of it. In fact, I've done pretty much everything everyone has asked me to do in the last few weeks, and while there are still more things coming up, we felt we had a grip. Then we found out that other people weren't doing their jobs, and now I'm in a very angry place.

The healing power of a nice, hard run can only take you so far when you've got to deal with people who don't do their part. I slept in too late this morning, as usual, so I still had this run on tap when we got the frustrating news, and I decided to take out my frustrations on the treadmill. Since (hopefully) we'll be out of this apartment complex soon (and therefore lacking of a treadmill), I figured it might be nice to take one more shot at the machine. Also, it was over 90 degrees out and I'm pretty much done with this heat.

I started at a speed of 8.1 and increased a tenth every quarter mile. I drove my legs and wiped the sweat and thought about nothing but the next quarter mile. It was a serene half hour in a day of unmitigated frustration, and it was nice to have that escape. I see now why many people prefer to work out after work rather than before it, but in this climate, that's just unreasonable, at least when you like to run outside like I do. For today, however, in the semi-cool of the gym, it was the adrenaline boost and output of energy that I needed.

Now, though, I'm right back to my frustrated low. Half of me wants to go and run again, just to make a point, but I've got enough going on through the rest of the afternoon that I don't need to add anything else. I keep hoping that life is going to calm down after the next big thing ends, but if the big things keep dragging on, how do I know when they're done? Well, I don't. So all I can do is get up and start again tomorrow.

And a run is always a good place to start.

Tuesday's Run:
Indoors / Treadmill
5.0 Miles
33 Minutes, 36 Seconds

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Next Fifteen

Timing is everything.

There is really no greater proof of a loving and merciful God than a bathroom when you need it. Not only was this amazingly true on Sunday morning, but it turns out that it's a better-than-apparent metaphor for the entire weekend I've had.

See, I've been overextended of late, and when Saturday morning came around, I just did not have the energy or desire to actually get out and run. The idea of turning running into "Me Time" had not yet come across my consciousness, so I settled down with the pup on the couch and made the decision to be smart. 

Sunday had a 22-mile run scheduled (technically only 20, but I wanted at least one training run over 80% of marathon distance), and I knew that this would be extremely difficult. So, I decided to rest, in my determination to do the long run, since completely an exceptionally long run is pretty much the point of the entire training program. I could justify resting on Saturday if I succeeded on Sunday.

So Sunday came, and I felt confident. And roughly 20 minutes in, I had my first real issue. I needed to stop for... something. And since it was not yet 6 a.m., I was a little concerned as to how I could manage this. Besides the fact that everything was closed, any outdoor portable, um, stops, would not really be suitable for human use, or so has been my experience. And then I turned a corner and saw that the police were sectioning off a part of the road, and there was an unexpected number of people heading to Auditorium Shores. It took a second for me to register what I was seeing - there was a road race here today, and that meant porta-johns. Lines of clean, unused porta-johns.

If I needed a reason to believe that I was meant to complete this run (and I did), then I had found it. This was oddly inspirational, and I headed back onto the road. I had to take several breaks throughout the run, but I got through the whole thing at one time, and it was the exact victory I needed. 

I got through the workout because I had realized something. When I complete the 19-miler a few weeks ago, I thought that my success had been linked in with the 2-mile loops, but it was something slightly different. It was that I had run 15-minute intervals. Throughout the entire 22 miles, I ran 15 minutes at a time, taking water at the end of each interval, since the Marine Corps has water breaks about every two miles. 

Will this work for the race itself? I have no idea. But it worked on Sunday, and that was what I needed. In the midst of what may easily be the most over-scheduled and stressful week of my life (without exaggeration), I needed something on which I could hang my hat.

Hat hung.

Sunday's Run:
72-84 Degrees
22.83 Miles
3 Hours, 15 Miles, 48 Seconds

That One Run...

So, Thursday... yeah...

Completely unmemorable. I remember that it was a five miler, and the time wasn't particularly outstanding, but I was saving myself for the weekend ahead.

At one point, I was chasing a baby possum. Yes, they're gross when they're old, but when they're little, they're actually quite cute. He heard me coming and ran away, but for some reason, he refused to leave the path, so he actually just ran ahead of me for about 30 feet or so. I, it turns out, am actually a bit faster than a baby possum, so I started to catch up, when he finally decided to head into the grass. It was nice to have company for a moment or so.

Mostly, though, I remember being tired. I was straight up exhausted, trying to keep up with all my other commitments, and still getting time to run.

This was a run that went well with certain things that I've been reading about. There was a surprisingly timely article in this month's Runner's World about forcing yourself to get out of bed and run in the morning. There were several ideas in there that could probably work for me, assuming that I actually manage to remember any of them at 6:00 in the morning.

But one of the things that always seems to come up in these stories is that people talk about how they use running as a way to escape from everything else in their day. It's the one time of day that belongs entirely  to them, and yet it almost feels like another chore that I have to do.

So now, how do I make the running an escape? By deciding that it will be.

And getting up on time.

Thursday's Run:
I dunno. 70-somethings?
5.05 Miles
37 Minutes, 55 Seconds

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rapid Fire

Yeah, I'm pretty behind here.

There will be a couple of these posts in rapid succession, just trying to catch up on everything. Let's get right to it.

So, back on Wednesday, I had this ten-miler to do, and... well, I guess I did it. I decided to take the tough route around my ten mile course, and actually took a moment to be nostalgic about it. As of next week, I'm going to be running new courses around a new neighborhood, and most likely will not be taking the same routes with which I am familiar.

Sure, I'll get back to the area from time to time, but mostly just on the really long runs. The 10-and-under club will be all new terrain, but hopefully will not be ending with an uphill every single time. It's the little things folks.

So, on this Wednesday run, I was up and running in the superdark of the predawn trail, and I let myself really enjoy my surroundings. I slowed down a bit, just enough to ensure that I wouldn't have any issues finishing. I held my pace on the uphills and relaxed my legs on the downs. As Hal predicted, the distance itself proved to be quite doable, but the time was the biggest issue. I didn't have much time to celebrate the completion, because after a moment's shower, it was off to work.

Still, it was great to get ten miles completed before sunrise. Tough, but done.

Life continues... in a moment.

Wednesday's Run:
High 60s (I think), Dark
10.24 Miles
1 Hour, 14 Minutes, 32 Seconds

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Smart Now, Strong Later

I still love cartoons.

And not just the kind of cartoons that are written for adults like Futurama and The Simpsons (both of which are awesome, too), but also the cartoon movies that are made for kids but often contain elements designed to keep the adults happy, too.

As it happened, I had a bit of a cartoon marathon yesterday. In our effort to clear out our DVR before moving day (when we move to a home that does not get AT&T U-Verse), we're doing our best to watch all the movies that are currently stored on the DVR drive. Yesterday, this meant we got to watch Tangled and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, both of which were thoroughly enjoyable. Having exhausted our recorded options, we turned on live television, and what did we find? Kung Fu Panda. Yes.

It's absurd how much I enjoy this movie. In fact, it is one of the few movies that I have ever seen more than once in the theater. And I didn't realize it until I woke up this morning, but I never needed to see the movie more than I did yesterday.

You see, I've been, well, down for a while now. The reason is that I've severely overcommitted myself, and I feel like everything is suffering as a result. In reality, I'm still getting everything done, but I spend so much time worried about whether or not I'm going to get it done that it always ends up coming down to the last second. If I could plan ahead more accurately, I could be far more efficient about everything, and it probably would not be such a big problem. The only real issue, naturally, is that I'm so far behind at this point that planning would take more time than I have.

All of this was going through my head as I went to bed to the soft rumblings of ACL bass on Saturday night. When my alarm went off at 6:00 on Sunday morning, I did manage to get out of bed, and even convinced myself to get dressed, but I just hurt. I was worried about time management and physical exertion and a million other things, and after 30 minutes of sitting around trying to convince myself to get out the door, I gave up and went back to bed. Something in my brain had just snapped, and I did not want to work anymore. I planned to do the miles Monday morning, and enjoyed what I could of the next few hours I spent asleep.

Then, I read an article in Runner's World about overtraining, and was surprised to find a description of my life in print:

"Early signs of overtraining include loss of energy and frequent fatigue. A runner's legs also might feel heavy and tired, even after a day off. Anxiety and irritability are other indicators. And at the extreme - but not uncommon - end, a runner who blasts through all the warning signals may wind up sick or even depressed." - October issue, page 35

So that was it. I've been overtraining. I can't say I'm surprised to find this out, with the huge number of miles that I've put in over the last few months, but I was shocked to find out how badly it was affecting my mental health. I decided, after much deliberation, that my best option was simply to scrap the 12 miles, give the run up as lost, and start fresh with the new week of training.

As it happens, I've actually run more than the prescribed miles most weeks, and I was planning to run an extra two miles this Sunday to make my long run 22 instead of 20. If I do this and manage to run a mere .54 miles extra over the course of the next few weeks, then the 12 miles that I missed on Sunday will be made up, and I've still run (eventually) every mile included in my training schedule. Yet even if that wasn't the case, I would still be happy with my decision.

And I think that happiness came through in my dreams last night. Much like Po dreams of being a Kung Fu master, I had a running dream last night, something that hasn't happened since high school. I was finishing a 5K on the course where I ran my personal best in high school, and I had completed it in a new fastest time ever. And even though I didn't win the race (someone out-sprinted me in the end), I remember feeling so happy and proud at the end that, upon waking, I knew I had to run this morning.

And so I did.

Tuesday's Run:
65 Degrees / Dark
5.05 Miles
35 Minutes, 9 Seconds

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Little Too Quiet

An eerie quiet settled over Austin this morning.

It's a feeling with which I am actually quite familiar. There's the same kind of silence on the Notre Dame campus the morning after a football game, or on Clark Street in Chicago after a Cubs game. Come to think of it, it's like that almost any morning on Clark Street. Lots of bars on Clark.

But it's a little different, too. Today's hush feels less like a good night's sleep and more like an afternoon nap. It's a momentary respite before the craziness begins anew today, and in this moment of calm, I took my chance to get out and do my run, which I think was an excellent choice. If the absurdity of this morning's workout is any indication, running later in the day would not have been an issue.

Example one: more fences. I got to spend a little more time in the street this morning as I found a few of my expected fence gaps had been closed in the last 24 hours. While I can't really see what purpose this particular fence is serving (since the concert is on the other side of the street), I'm guessing it has a lot to do with crowd control, and if their crowd is one guy going for a run first thing in the morning, then they've succeeded. I had to stop the clock and find my way around, as it wasn't particularly climbable. I might have tried to jump it if I hadn't rolled my ankle shortly beforehand.

Example two: darker. This is the one issue that would have been fixed by running later, and may honestly have been worth it, given the aforementioned ankle roll and how invisible I felt on the trail. The good news here was that there were many other invisible people on the trail with me, appearing around corners and from the very limit of my vision. With the ever earlier sunrise and ever later wake up time of my summer, I had forgotten what it was like to hit the trail in the dark, so it was good that I had headlamp-bedecked company to help lead the way.

Example three: more bodies. So, yeah, this was the really weird part. As I passed my 3-mile course turnaround point, I noticed something in the sidewalk, and it only took me a moment or two to realize that it was a person. After mistaking various bags and garbage for people for over a mile and a half, I was genuinely surprised to find that this one actually was human. It was a heavier woman lying on her side, and I had to stop. There was no one around, but I did know that there was a police officer just a bit down the road if I needed him. I yelled to the woman to ask if she was okay and a rather loud snore was the only answer I got. I stood rather stupidly for a moment, deciding what to do. Clearly, she was okay if she was snoring, but something had to be wrong for her to sleep on the sidewalk as she was. I didn't have a phone, so I was about to go and get the officer when I heard the sirens. A firetruck came around one corner and an ambulance came around another. The situation in hand, I got back to the road.

Needless to say, it's been a bit of a morning.

But now I've got a wonderful day ahead. I'll spend my morning attending to business, and the rest of the day attending to fun.

And staying as far away from the park as I can.

Saturday's Run:
75 Degrees / Dark, Humid
6.01 Miles
45 Miles, 6 Seconds

Friday, September 16, 2011

We've Been Kanye'd

All right, Kanye, that's enough.

The walls of our apartment are vibrating (with excitement?) from the three-day party that is the Austin City Limits Festival. As I do not have hundreds of dollars sitting around, I will not actually be attending the festival, but tonight, Kanye West says that it's no problem. He'll still play to my living room.

I'm really not upset or anything by the activity as much as I'm just observing it. To be honest, I expected the whole thing to be far more intrusive than it has actually proven to be. Every now and then, a particularly loud bass beat will make its way up the hill from the park, but it hasn't been overly distracting, and I've been able to go about my life with less interruption than I get from, say, the landscaping guys fighting their never-ending battle against the ever-falling leaves. It could definitely be worse.

Wait, it just got worse.

Not even joking, as I sit here writing, the thumping started once again, far more intensely than it has all day, which tells me that Kanye West has just taken the stage. I assume it is them and not Coldplay, since I'm fairly certain that Coldplay doesn't bump the bass. At least, not as much as Kanye.

And I really hate Kanye West. For a guy whose music really does nothing for me (not that I'm a rap afficionado by any means), he seems to show up on "news" programs being an idiot far more than most irrelevant pop stars. That's all well and good, and since I don't spend too much time worrying about pop culture, it didn't hurt me all that much, but now the man is making my walls vibrate, and his party is messing with my runs.

The good news is, if this morning was any indication, as long as I get up early, I'm not going to have to change my running routes by very much. There are a few fences in the way, but for the most part, the roads are open, if I get up on time.

So I just hope Kanye quiets down before too late.

Friday's Run:
75 Degrees / Dark
5.05 Miles
36 Minutes, 11 Seconds

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Musicians Are Coming

So, apparently there's a concert or something happening in my neighborhood.

The indicators are subtle, but they're definitely out there. For one thing, the entire park is surrounded by a fence, which is less than convenient for those of us who run through it. In particular, this fence blocks off a portion of the sidewalk surrounding Zilker that is part of my first and last miles pretty much every day. I had to run in the bike lane for about a quarter mile today to get around it, which may have added a bit of distance to my usual six-mile course, but nothing worth re-measuring.

From there, the clues just kept coming. For one thing, there's a massive, light-up guitar at the entrance to the grounds. Then there are hundreds of barriers set up to create waiting lines for the tents labeled "Box Office" where there was once a field. As you get around to Town Lake Trail - if you can find the trail, that is - you see more and more fencing, on which there is fabric so that you can't see through. On the trail itself, there are almost no people, though whether that's the concert or the 90-degree temps is up for debate.

It was quiet for a while, but as I got back on the road and headed back toward the park on my way home, there was more activity. Signs were getting posted, road blocks were being pre-set, and everywhere there was a palpable mixture of excitement and terror. Those who will attend or make money at the Austin City Limits Festival could not be happier. Those of us who will simply have to live near it are terrified.

Even as I sit here in my dining room, half a day before the festival starts, I'm already beginning to go a little nuts at the shaking from the bass drum microphones they're evidently testing tonight. This should be an interesting weekend.

My goal then, is as follows: I want to drive as few places as humanly possible for the next three days, and do as few things of consequence as I can manage. I hope to get my runs in crazy early, and I hope (against hope) that I'll actually be able to complete them on the routes to which I have grown accustomed. Finally, I just want to enjoy myself as much as possible. With only two weeks left in this apartment, I hate to leave with a proverbial bad taste in my mouth.

Or a quite literal ringing in my ears.

Thursday's Run:
90 Degrees / Sunny
6.01 Miles
41 Minutes, 11 Seconds

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Last Blast

Summer refuses to leave this state.

After suffering the hottest summer of any state in the recorded history of this country, you'd think the weather would, at some point, give up the fight. Tell that to the 84th 100+ degree day of the year that we had this morning, setting a record temperature for the date. Yep. Still setting records, and likely to continue doing so tomorrow.

For a bit of comfort today, I checked the average temperatures in Arlington, Virginia for late October, and I got rather excited. The average high for October 30th in Arlington is a whopping 65 degrees, which made me far more excited than was reasonable.

I'm choosing to believe that this is the summer's last attack on my sanity. This, I hope, will be the last chance for this unreasonable heat to keep me indoors on my morning runs. The last few nights, I've had a little trouble getting myself to sleep, which means more than a little trouble getting out of bed in the morning. In many cases, this hasn't been too much of an issue, since I've got shorter runs or no work to do later in the evening. However, my plate has recently gotten much more full, which means that I've really got to get myself up and moving on time. We'll work on that tomorrow.

For today, I decided to respond to summer's last stand with a last stand of my own - my last truly crazy fast run. If I had to be on the treadmill, I was going to make it worth my time, which meant full speed. I didn't quite make it the whole way, but I went more than 4 miles before I had to slow down, at which point I only dropped pace a little bit.

My dearest hope now is that the rest of this week mellows out. The temperature is supposed to drop a bit, and we might even see some rain in the coming week, which would be truly wonderful. For the runs, I'll simply back off my pace and continue moving at a strong but uninspired pace.

Strong but uninspired. Kind of like this post.

Tuesday's Run:
Indoors / Treadmill
5 Miles
30 Minutes, 50 Seconds

Cut and Run Later

The 20-miler has become my nemesis.

Last season, I created a 20-mile course that involved lots of twists and turns in order to keep the run interesting. Unfortunately, it also involves lots of hills, somehow seemingly more up the "up" variety than of the "down." I recognize that this is not possible, given that my course starts and ends in the same place, but at the very least, the uphills are more exhausting than the downhills are relaxing.

I have attempted this particular course three times now, always going in the same direction around my loop, and I'm fairly certain that I will never go for it again, having now twice failed to complete the course, and once made it the whole way, though with plenty of walking.

What really gets to me here was that I actually felt pretty good going into the workout. The point at which I normally have a great deal of trouble came and went, and though I was getting tired, I was not anywhere near the point of exhaustion. My problem was that I couldn't stop thinking about the run while I was doing it. When my brain can wander and visit other topics, the run itself seems far less demanding, and time passes much more quickly, but on this day, I could not get my brain off of the topic, "Difficult Workouts and Why, Oh Why, Do You Do Them?"

In a flash, I saw just how much more I had to run and I lost all motivation. I stopped off at a little grocery and got a small bottle of Gatorade, which I was sure would do the trick, and to be honest, it did. For approximately another mile. Then the gas began to leak again, and even though I was about to start my downhill return, I could not convince my body that it was a good idea. At 13.64 miles into the run, I called it quits for the morning.

Refusing to get behind in my mileage, I would complete the remaining 6.36 on the treadmill that evening, but I'm still frustrated about the workout. Perhaps I did not give myself enough mini-goals in order to get through the hours of exhaustion. Maybe the heat, quickly rising 15 degrees in two hours, had something to do with it. Or maybe, just maybe, I've got too difficult of a course. Time will tell, but it doesn't change Sunday's run.

It was one more disappointing occurrence in a disappointing weekend. And what made the whole thing worse was that there were many good things that happened, but they were invariably followed by upsetting events that wiped the good from my immediate memory. Looking back now, it really wasn't so bad after all, but I think that's mostly because of the end of my Sunday.

After the killer run, I went to a very productive, fun, and rewarding rehearsal. Then, while finishing my treadmill miles, I watched my favorite professional team win in exciting fashion. After that, having in some small way overcome my failure from the morning, I got some delicious dinner, and settled in to a relaxing evening. What had been a very trying couple days was mellowed out by a couple hours of happiness.

And there's a lesson there for me. In the same way that I too often let one bad thing ruin the mood from a full day of great moments, I can also wipe away a crap day with one or two little joys.

And there will always be another 20-miler.

Sunday's Runs:
68-83 Degrees / Sunny
13.64 Miles
1 Hour, 44 Minutes, 56 Seconds

Indoors / Treadmill
6.36 Miles
46 Minutes, 43 Seconds

20 Miles
2 Hours, 31 Minutes, 39 Seconds

Saturday, September 10, 2011


There are many definitions for the word, "Pride."

And I saw pretty much all of them while running this morning.

Today's training schedule called for a 10-mile run, with no particular speed in mind. I've got to run 20 miles tomorrow, so Hal doesn't want me to push myself too heavily on this day. I decided to run my usual 10 course, but to take the easy way around the circle. We slept in a little bit this morning, but I was still out the door at a reasonable hour, and felt great as I started the run.

Then, I happened upon Austin's Pride Fest, or rather, I happened upon several people who were heading to said Fest. It was rather refreshing on a long run to look around at girls in wings and glitter, and men in shirts thanking their "fairy godmothers." At 2.5 miles into the run, I'd barely felt any stress whatsoever.

Heading up through the downtown area, I saw several people situated along what I believe to have been the Pride Parade route, as well as passing a homeless man who felt the need to preach his beliefs on the topic to anyone in earshot. Past this, I made it to the Texas Capitol building and headed up the hill to my right, followed by a slightly larger hill before to got the big downhill of my day. The joy that I passed was unsurpassed, and the word "pride" showed itself above and beyond any definition I know.

Until I hit campus, that is. You see, as I passed the Capitol and headed a bit farther north, I dropped myself directly into Longhorn country, and while they (apparently) don't start as early as the ND tailgates to which I am accustomed, they are far more professional in their presentation. There were television sets at pretty much every table. I know now to check a city's tailgating traditions before I try to run (as several events caused me to slightly alter my route), but there was a very different kind of joy up here, which was no less motivational than that I had already seen.

The rest of my run was downright uneventful, by the standards I'd set for myself. As I headed down the hill, I passed some more closed-off streets for Pride, but did not see any more participants. And then, as I rejoined the trail, I saw one more kind of pride.

This was the quiet pride. It was the strength of personality that comes from getting out and doing the work, whether anyone is watching or not. Every person on that trail this morning had a great deal of pride in what they were doing. And there may not have been 80,000 fans cheering or hundreds of spectators sitting along the route yelling, but there was still victory here. And there was still joy here.

I'm proud to live in Austin.

Saturday's Run:
80 Degrees / Clear
10.24 Miles
1 Hour, 9 Minutes, 55 Seconds

Return of the Dog

My dog is a bit out of practice.

With my recent (and unexpected) surge in speed, the idea of running with my dog has sort of fallen by the wayside. While I enjoy getting the pup out and having her get some exercise, I don't want to risk the integrity of my workouts by having a reluctant running partner drag back my speed. All of these feelings went out the window on Thursday.

See, my wife has begun running, and I couldn't be happier or prouder of this fact. She's signed up to do the Marine Corps 10K while I'm running the MCM, so she's currently in training to make sure that she's ready for that distance. I'm trying to be a good coach, but really, she is all she really needs. She gets herself up on time and on more than one occasion has been the reason I got out of bed as well. Last Tuesday, she took our dog with her on the run, so I felt that I needed to do the same in order to balance out our roles as dog parents.

Against my better judgement, I leashed up the pup and headed down the hill on Thursday. The last time I took her out for a run, she made it abundantly clear that she was not interested in doing any more running. When I took her out on that morning, she did not seem to have changed her mind very much. At least, not at first.

Once we had headed down the hill, she opened up her stride a little bit, and she was suddenly into running again. Sure, we were much slower than I had been running, but honestly, I needed to slow down. I've got a 50+ mile week of running this week, and the last thing I need to concern myself with is running quickly. That was the best service that my dog could have provided on this run - slowing me down.

Honestly, she wasn't that bad. And for once, she actually behaved herself, despite the unusual number of runners who were on our path. She just can't quite run at my same pace, and that's totally okay in the middle of an impossibly long week. The important thing with this run was that I finished, and that all the miles were completed consecutively.

So bring on the weekend.

Thursday's Run:
70 Degrees / Clear
5.05 Miles
39 Minutes, 56 Seconds

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

You Have Chosen... Wisely

Some days you make a choice. Some days the choice makes you.

That sounded a lot cooler in my head.

This morning brought with it the inevitable moment that I knew had been coming. Today, I went back to pseudo-long distances and hills, which meant that I was unquestionably going to be slowing down. Really, it's the only reasonable thing to do when your course gets monumentally tougher.

In order to make this an acceptable development, I made a few choices before I even started the workout. First, I got up as soon as my alarm went off, and I gave myself a little time to get motivated for the run. With the increase in mileage this week, we're up to a whopping ten miles on Wednesday morning, which is no easy feat for those of us with full time jobs. Still, I walked the line between having time to wake and having time to run. By the time I was actually out on the road, I had convinced myself that this wouldn't be as hard as I had originally expected.

Surprisingly, this was not the biggest mental victory of the morning. That belonged to my choice of direction. By going clockwise on my course, I was choosing to run the more difficult path, with multiple sharp uphill climbs and downhills that gave very little relief. This was a conscious decision to really challenge my newfound strength among reasonable temperatures.

Still in the semi-dark of the morning, I headed down the hill, and after determining that the ACL setup wasn't going to obstruct my path (which took a little investigating), I made the turn onto the trail around Town Lake. Here, about two miles into the run, I made two more choices. Realizing that I was moving quickly, I had started to automatically slow down, but caught myself. If I were honestly running by effort and not pace, I could maintain what I was already doing and be okay. The upcoming hills would slow me down of their own accord. Also, even though there were several catchable people in front of me, I would not try and race anyone. If I passed them, it would feel great, but in the greater scheme of my training, it wouldn't matter at all, so I just had to maintain my level of effort.

This proved to be easier than expected, especially on the aforementioned sharp uphills. It didn't matter if I slowed down, because my effort level was constant. Oddly enough, this fact made the hills seem smaller, and increased my speed in scaling them. I tried hard not to pay attention to my time, and this paid off at the end as I figured out my speed, discovering it to be much faster than it felt.

Some say that you can choose to be happy. If the booming market of psychopharmacology has taught us anything, it's that this is not entirely accurate. However, you can make choices that help you along your way. Today, I made all the tough choices I could make (before 8:00 am), and at the end, I was practically glowing. Sure, that fire burned out by 2 in the afternoon, but I still had it for a while, and all because I chose to do the more difficult thing in the smartest way possible.

And if I choose to get up on time tomorrow, I've got a rest day on the horizon.

Wednesday's Run:
64 Degrees / Sunrise
10.24 Miles
1 Hour, 13 Minutes, 33 Seconds

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Six(ty-six) Degrees

Six Degrees of Separation is one of my favorite games.

For a while, I did a thing on Facebook that involved putting out a couple actors and having all my friends try to connect them. I would determine a system of bonus points that often made it more beneficial to add more movies. For example, you might get five extra points for using Christopher Walken, so it might be worth taking a little detour to Pulp Fiction in order to bring him in, and yes, he's in that movie with everyone else.

My slight obsession with this game leads me to watch movies a little differently than most people. There is a definite aspect of "Oh, he's in this. Got to remember that later," that is always involved for me. Just today, I happened upon Spy Hard, a Leslie Nielsen spoof from 1996, and I was quite amazed at the number of people who just showed up throughout the movie, and my inability to separate my game preparation from my enjoyment of a film. I always feel the need to be ready should a competition come up again.

In much the same way, I can't split the concept of training away from the idea of going fast.

I've read many articles recently about the requirement for rest. In many of these, there are quotes from the elite runners of the world who say that they need to force themselves to take days of rest. Among them is Ryan Hall, arguably THE marathoner of the United States, who says that he is only now learning the value of taking a day off.

Maybe, I'm crazy, but I love my days off. I look forward to them like little tiny Christmases.

But that's where my love of rest stops. I don't like running slowly, even when it is necessary for, you know, survival. Yesterday, I ran an incredibly long distance at an incredibly fast speed, so the only reasonable thing for me to do was to take it nice and easy today. Did I? No.

In my defense, this was not intentional. The other thing I've been reading a lot about is running by effort and not by pace. This is often brought up in reference to performing in high heat, something I haven't had to do for the last couple days, so the same effort has produced better results. Now, the key to my success (as the forecast reaches back into the triple digits this weekend) is to maintain that level of effort and not worry that my pace might be a little slower. The only time the pace matters is on race day.

Much like the only time I will think about Spy Hard is when playing Six Degrees of Separation.

Special Bonus Six Degrees Competition, Running Movie Edition:
Jared Leto to Tom Hanks

Point Breakdown:
1 Movie (+5), 2 Movies (+4), etc.
Bonus 5 points for using Spy Hard

Tuesday's Run:
66 Degrees, Glorious
5.05 Miles
34 Minutes, 15 Seconds

Monday, September 5, 2011

All A Blur

If only marathons were run in flat 2.12-mile laps.

This weekend was an incredible adventure. When last I left this blog, I had just run, one day early, a rather exceptional 9 miles. From there, it was a drive down to South Bend, where we had dinner and drinks with an incredible number of friends before heading off to more drinks with more friends. Saturday morning came far too quickly, and it was out into the hottest day of South Bend's year (because why stop now?) to await a football game. In the meantime, I spent too many hours in the sun, and was only too happy to see some clouds rolling in.

If I only knew.

You see, the clouds that were providing such incredibly needed shade were more than they seemed. As the announcer had mentioned at the start of the game, the National Weather Service was tracking a storm on its way to "the area," and as the first half came to a close, they announced that the band would not be taking the field. In fact, everyone had to get out of the stadium. Seriously. They evacuated.

Now, this was likely an overreaction based on recent events. The death of Declan Sullivan, a Notre Dame student who was on a scissor lift that collapsed in high winds at a football practice last year, no doubt had some bearing the school's decision. And I am sure that the recent stage collapse in Indianapolis was on the mind of the decision-maker as well. Seeing that the sky didn't look quite as threatening as they were saying, we got some shelter under a tent and continued the party. After some time, we headed back into the stadium, only to be evacuated again with 4:30 left in the game.

As it happened, the Irish were losing this game in rather embarrassing fashion, so when they sent us out for the second time, we decided that six hours was enough time to spend awaiting the end of a football game. We headed to shelter and caught a ride from friends visiting other friends, where we ended our evening with a ride to the airport.

After that, Sunday brought a quick breakfast, a ride back to Chicago and two flights, followed by pizza and movies a mere three hours from home.

You'll notice that conspicuously missing from all of this craziness is any mention of a run, and I really did not expect one to happen. I intentionally moved my rest day to Saturday, and I knew I had the buffer of a "cross-training" day on Monday. Assuming (without much imagination) that I would be out with friends later than was reasonable, I didn't see much chance of getting a 19-mile trudge in while up in the Bend. Sadly, this meant that I would be returning to Texas weather to do my long run, which is disappointing, but still preferable to getting up early while among college friends.

And so the run came this morning. Without my water pack, I knew that I had to have a good plan in order to bring me near refreshment at reasonable intervals. Eventually, I decided on a tedious but safe plan. I knew of a 2.12-mile loop around my inlaws' neighborhood, at the start of which, I could leave water bottles. It happens that nine laps around this loop comes out to 19.08 miles, which was just too perfect to pass up. And so, feeling confident that I only had 9 laps to do, I started out on lap one, hoping that the lap would at least be less than 16 minutes long. And it was. Very much less.

Each time I came back past the beginning, I took note of the time and added 16 minutes, hoping to stay better than an 8-minute pace for as long as I could, and each time, I was easily better, even taking short breaks for water. By the time I got to my first energy gel, I was 3.5 laps in and feeling surprisingly good. For this, I credit the weather, which was in the high 70s with very low humidity. For once, I felt like an actual human being while standing outside in Texas, and it was very encouraging for the near future. Of course, it's hard to be encouraged with fires burning out of control half an hour away, but at least there is some hope on the horizon.

One side of today's loop ran into the wind, which made the end of each lap a little more difficult, but there was not much in the way of hills, and as soon as I turned out of the gusts, life got good again, helped by the water stop a tenth of a mile away. I took down my other energy gel as I finished lap seven, and realized something about my time - I was still going fast. Faster than I'd ever run anything over 15 miles. True, I still had four miles to go, but I refused to give up at that point. Even the wind seemed to know what was going on, gusting higher and higher as if to make my victory that much greater. I finished off my water before my last lap and buckled down. Stronger. Faster.

As I entered the house, my wife asked how the run had gone, and I had to wait until I'd entered it into my schedule to give her an answer. When I made sure that I'd been accurate about my pace, I told her that I'd just had the best long run of my life.

With the craziness of the weekend, I could not have possibly expected today's run to go as well as it did. There was simply a combination of good weather, flat terrain, and an extremely positive attitude that all converged to run 19 miles at better-than-Boston pace. While I won't be trying to do anything like that again (the three-hour drive that followed was less than pleasant), today's workout put to rest a number of fears that I've had about my training, and have got me excited to get started again tomorrow, which is good.

Because tomorrow starts my first 50-mile week.

Monday's Run:
78 Degrees / Sunny, Wind
19.08 Miles
2 Hours, 14 Minutes, 10 Seconds

Friday, September 2, 2011

Licence To IL

I do love the things that never seem to change.

Yesterday's run was a straight shot to Lake Shore Drive, and then an easy out-and-back jog down the trail. Low difficulty, low traffic, and very little to think about other than the fact that I was back in town. Today, though, I wanted things to be a little more interesting, since I'd be on the road for over an hour. So for this morning's workout, I hit the streets.

This is a much more daunting prospect in Chicago than it is in Austin, since there are streetlights everywhere up here. Whereas I usually encounter 4-5 lights on a long run, this time I passed dozens of them, stopping where it was necessary to avoid getting Frogger-ed. Additionally, there are far more people walking on the sidewalks, since this is a city where getting around on foot and using public transit are actually reasonable methods of transportation. 

When I lived in Virginia, I would call this Urban Assault Running. The idea was to get through crowded, lively areas and avoid running into anything or anyone by swinging around posts, jumping benches and basically doing a lazy, unskilled man's version of Parkour. If you don't know what Parkour is, take four minutes and try not to think about how much this would hurt your knees:

While my little exercises look nothing like this, I always enjoyed the challenge of getting through the crowds. Today, however, there was something else to enjoy - I was loving how familiar everything felt. I ran through our old neighborhood, and even stopped by our old apartment building, just to see if anything had changed, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that almost nothing had. One building was torn down, a Quiznos went out of business, and they finally finished the Jewel Osco in our old neighborhood. Everything else was exactly how we left it, right down to the guy selling Streetwise outside of the CVS.

And while reminiscing about our three years in town and enjoying the various slogans and advertisements in the shop windows, I suddenly realized how close I was to the end of my run. Without trying to do so, I had managed to run right at my target pace for the day, which I attribute almost entirely to the flat terrain of the city. It was very encouraging to see how easy a run could be without trying too hard when my brain is elsewhere. All in all, Chicago's been pretty good to me this weekend.

Can't wait to be back here again.

Friday's Run:
87 Degrees / Sunny (but ran in shade)
9.24 Miles
1 Hour, 4 Minutes, 39 Seconds

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sweet Home Chicago

I apologize to the residents of every town we ever live in.

It turns out that my wife and I are an apparent curse on the weather of any region in which we find ourselves. Whatever the extremity of whether is in that locale, it will be far more extreme when we arrive. We had three winters in Chicago, the snowiest in ten years, followed by the coldest in fifteen, followed by the coldest and snowiest in thirty. So we moved to Texas, at which point Chicago finally had a mild winter again.

Intelligently, we decided to move to Texas shortly before the winter began so that, in the middle of what we knew would be an incredibly hot summer, we would have those glorious memories of a warm January to get us through. What we did not expect was a summer above and beyond any expectations of reasonable inhabitability. Leave it to the wife and I to move to Texas during the hottest summer on record, and while I still remember those lovely, mild December evenings, the memory is fading rapidly.

But this weekend was going to be different. I am visiting friends up north, and this meant one very important thing - cooler temperatures. I've been watching the ten day forecast religiously, and enjoying the numbers in the 60s overnight, and only into the 80s throughout the day. Then, a few days ago, everything went wrong.

Somehow, impossibly, and at the same time completely expectedly, it's the hottest weekend of the year in Chicago. Unbelievable. So, when I went out for my run this morning, it was just as warm, if not warmer than my usual Thursday morning jog.

Still, I didn't care very much. I love Chicago. I love being among the huge buildings and the innumerable cars. Even as a child, I always came alive when I got into a big city, and that hasn't changed about me. The hustle and bustle just suits my constantly restless personality (much in the same way distance running does), which is why (my now-wife and) I chose this town as the place to start out after college. We've left for various reasons of various levels of importance, but this will always be sweet home, Chicago.

Though I'd like it a lot better about 20 degrees cooler.

Thursday's Run:
86 Degrees / Sunny
4.16 Miles
28 Minutes, 29 Seconds