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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

720 Hours of Water

I'm twenty minutes from a drink of something other than water.

On January 1st at about 5:00pm, I finished a Coca-Cola. I'd planned on starting my 30 Days of Water when I awoke, but the necessities of the day required some caffeine. New Year's Eve does that to a person. But as the second half of the afternoon NFL games began, I went to the bathroom and poured myself a cup of water, and that's all I've been drinking since.

It has been an excellent 30 days, and I learned quite a lot. I had a lot of sweets throughout the month to compensate for the sugar that was no longer provided in aluminum cans, so many of the health benefits were probably less than they could have been. However, I've been sleeping much better, and at least in the last couple days, I've been waking up easier. I've found myself hungrier, but I think that's the result of fewer calories in beverage form.

There were difficult times, but the vast majority of those involved being out in social situations at bars. I'm fortunate to have friends who don't care one way or the other, but when you're at a place with a great beer selection, it's a little sad that you don't get to have one. Also, the servers give you weird looks when you order water.

The great news is, I've taken a few things away from the month that just might stay for a while. I'm going to return to my morning coffee, because I just enjoy the moment too much to let that go. However, it will happen after my run, my yoga, and my glass of supplement-taking water. Throughout the day, I'm still going to try and drink water. This will help save money, and when I get cravings for something with a taste, I'll have meals, which will help fuel my running. Also, I'm going to try, whenever possible, to match my fun beverage intake with my water intake. In other words, when I have a glass of anything, I also have a glass of water.

Intentionally, I did not purchase any soft drinks for this moment. For the sake of my body, my teeth, and my sleep, I think it's best if I drop my intake of sugary beverages, pop above all. Now that I'm on a roll, there's no reason to go back.

Tomorrow begins the next challenge, bright and early (hopefully). I've just done something that, to be honest, I wasn't sure I'd be able to do. It's an amazing way to start a year, and I hope to continue improving aspects of my life throughout the coming months.

But first, a drink.

Tuesday's Run:
7.93 Miles
10 Minutes Yoga Basics

Monday, January 30, 2012

Arm's Reach

Have I found the missing piece to solve my waking up issue?

Could it really be as simple as combining newly determined musical tendencies with old, established tricks of the trade? Time will tell, but this morning, I successfully rolled out of bed with time to run, stretch, and even do some of that yoga the kids are all talking about. And what was the change that made it all possible? I moved my alarm out of arm's reach.

By shifting my bedside table a few feet away to the left, I ensured that, when I heard Sublime begin their unintelligible conversations from my alarm app, I would have to leave the comfort of the bed to turn it off. Once on my feet, it's much easier to convince myself to move to the bathroom and start the day.

I realized, around mile two, exactly what I want my challenge to be for the month of February. Now that I know I can run consistently and hydrate adequately, the next step in ordering my life is making time for everything that I want to do, running included. Obviously, there are only so many hours in the day, but when you're sleeping for nearly half of them, you're just wasting time. My challenge to myself for the month of February will be to wake up between 6:00 and 6:30 every day.

And I don't just mean on weekdays. I've heard that it takes 21-28 consecutive days of doing something to build it into your body as a habit, and if I sleep in two out of every five days, I don't expect it will have the same effect. No, I'll get up early every day and get my run out of the way. Benefits are expected on several fronts:

1) When it comes time to actually race, I'll be used to getting up at absurd hours of the morning.

2) I'm always better when I've had a workout in the morning to jump-start my brain.

3) Sleeping too much causes lethargy, which, in turn, makes you want to sleep more. I'm breaking the cycle.

Finally, I'll just have more time. I'll be able to read or write or practice guitar. Any of those "if I were rich" activities that I wanted to pursue can be mine. Step one is getting to bed on time. Step two is waking up. I don't expect it to be very complicated.

However, I also don't expect it to be easy. I'm 27 hours from the end of my water month, so I know I've developed some discipline, but in my opinion, challenges are much easier when they involve not doing something. A personal goal that involves positive action is much more difficult, so I'll probably have to motivate myself with some sort of prize, like dropping $3 in a fun jar every time I succeed, and taking $5 out every time I fail. At the end of the month, I'll use the cash for something fun and irresponsible.

This is something I've tried in the past, but I never really defined the parameters of the challenge. Perhaps if I can go the month, I'll get up that early for the rest of my life. Or maybe, I'll be completely exhausted and sleep the entire day of March 1st. Either way, I know I can do this. Success is within my reach.

Just as long as my alarm isn't.

Monday's Run:
5.15 Miles
10 Minute Yoga Basics

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Stretched

Stretching is vital to the success of any runner.

Anyone want to teach me how to do that?

On my seventh 400 of speed work on Thursday, I took a bad turn. Since I usually run in the street, my course is often obstructed by vehicles. It's not really a problem unless they're moving, so it normally works. However, when a a moving car and a parked car show up in the same place, it means I've got to move to the sidewalk.

Again, this is not usually a problem, but on this particular occasion, it happened right before a turn. Now I had to move quickly back to the outside before making a sharp turn inward. In that moment, I felt a small tweak in the muscle. Not a pull or a strain, but a tweak.

It didn't prevent me from finishing my workout, nor has it kept me from running any day since. The main problem is getting out of the seated position. I can do it, but I need to slowly extend my hamstring muscle, which has gotten a little annoying.

So I've tried to really focus on post-workout stretching in the last couple days, and I'm terrible at it. I've never been flexible, but now I can't even get a good stretch on specific muscles. Enter yoga.

Yeah, remember when I was going to do that with my off days? Me neither. I enjoy doing yoga (despite how much I suck at it), and the only way I've had to practice is with the Wii Fit. The problem here is that you have to select each pose. They don't have a "routine" option. Enter Netflix.

My running partner has informed me that there are yoga programs on Netflix, which will finally give me the chance to follow someone's lead without risk of ridicule, which I would deservedly get from a real person. My stretching problem is solved.

Although my leg still hurts.

Sunday's Run:
4.4 Miles

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Virtuous

Patience is essential to the long run.

As I ran down the spiral ramp on the Lamar footbridge and considered how many miles I had left, I thought about how I got where I was, running 14 miles on a Saturday just because. It's been a long road, figuratively and literally, and the extended time involved is, I think, why it works.

To accomplish great things, you need to be patient, and this is not an area of my life where I excel. When I really want something, I tend to throw myself in headfirst. The trouble is, this can lead to injury in running and burnout in all other aspects of life. What I should do is ease myself in and gradually work up to the extreme level at which I want to participate. Normally, I'm terrible about this.

Saturdays test my patience more than any other day of the week. For 12 weeks out of every year, this is mostly due to the Notre Dame football team, but recently there have been other events that push my limits. First, there are my long runs, which require me to maintain a steady pace for an extended period of time. Then we have dog training classes, which are going very well, but you can't expect results too quickly, and, well, I do. Plus, with all our extra weekend activities, we spend a lot more time in the car, and driving in Austin is never a picnic. No, Saturdays are not good for my level of patience.

However, this month has been a big change for me. Even though I'm running every day, I'm not trying to make any specific pace goals (other than my speed work days). Since I don't have a race looming on the horizon, I have no reason to push myself above and beyond my current level of fitness. Predictably, doing a slow accumulation of miles has created a much higher level of fitness than running myself to exhaustion ever did.

I'm realizing now that this is the most essential bit of information that I could share with someone who wants to be a better runner: you must be patient. Not only do you have to take the time and make the effort, but you also need to accept that the improvement may not happen as quickly as you want. Trust in the wisdom of those who have done this longer than you (by which I mean coaches, authors and people with various degrees, not me). Find your limits and exceed them, but not by too much, too quickly.

Patience in life is a virtue. Patience in running is essential.

Saturday's Run:
14.30 Miles

Forty Hour Week

Like most people, I like to think about what I'd do if I won the lottery.

I don't mean what I would do with the money, though I do have some plans for that, too. What I really like to think about is how I would spend my time. I consider the things I'd learn and the places that I'd go, and just exactly how late in the morning I would sleep.

There are a few things I would put at the top of my list. I'd continue acting and running (though I probably wouldn't have to wait so long between marathons anymore), but this only takes care of my early morning and late evening, so I'd have to find ways to fill in the rest of my day. First and foremost, I'd find a great mechanic in the area and offer to work for them for free in exchange for learning how to work on cars. Knowledge of engine function is one of those topics that makes me feel constantly inadequate. So, let's say, Monday would be my garage day.

Tuesday, I'd do the same thing for a construction crew. I worked in construction for a summer in college, and it was great. I learned all sorts of amazing skills that I have long since forgotten, and would love to know again. We tend to watch a lot of home improvement shows, and there are many things I want to get done around our house, so I would spend Tuesdays relearning how to do them.

On Wednesday, I'd head over to my music teacher. We'd spend the morning on the piano, which I've never learned, but always tried. That would be followed by a short vocal lesson before lunch. Once we'd eaten, we'd grab the guitars for a couple hours before our "wild card" time at the end of each session, where my teacher would hand me some random instrument allowing me to say at parties, "Sure, I play saxophone."

Having learned all my skills for the week, I would set Thursday aside for city exploration. We'd visit museums and historical markers and local attractions. We would eat at restaurants whose names we couldn't pronounce and shop at stores that you can't find anywhere else.

Friday would become my "use your skills" day. I would work on restoring an old car, or start construction on the new master bath design. I'd play songs I love and write new ones and really consider buying that saxophone I saw on Craigslist.

Most important, of course, would be my weekends, because they wouldn't change much at all. I'd still go for my runs. I'd still spend time working with my dogs and watching television with my wife. I'd try to see my friends in their plays unless I was in one of my own, and I'd still clean up the yard every Sunday morning. I find that my free time is already filled with things I love to do, so why change that?

Not-so-hidden within this lovely list of luxury are all the skills and activities that I wish I had time and money to do. With a little better management of my time (and a little less snooze button), I could probably make time for most of this in my week already, but I'm not there yet. I've made it almost a whole month into this year exercising self-discipline in many areas of my life, but I've still got a long way to go. My January challenge is nearly complete, which means February can hold new and exciting possibilities.

I hope one of them is a lottery win.

Friday's Run:
6.75 Miles

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Coaching

Sometimes it helps to have someone yelling at you.

It's one of many coaching strategies that has been used on me throughout my history of sports. I've had coaches who yelled and screamed until the veins in their forehead popped and they'd made their own children cry. I've had gently encouraging coaches that jumped up and down to celebrate every second that I conquered. I've even had a few who would give us our instructions and pretty much ignore us from there.

The one that seemed to work best for me was my senior year of track. After years of mediocre improvement in my various events, we got a new coach my senior year (our third in four years). For the first time in my track career, I had a coach who didn't scream. I'd grown used to echoed yelling bouncing off the trees around the crappy cinder track behind our high school, and now our practices were much quieter. The act of running was more zen than it had ever been, and suddenly I could focus.

That is, I could focus most of the time. My problem came on speed work days.

See, my general plan when it came to racing was what I called "Tail and Burn." I'd get in right behind the first place runner and use him to pace me through most of the race. In the last 200 or so meters, I'd kick into a higher gear, hopefully out-sprinting my competition. It was great physically and psychologically, and it was actually a highly successful strategy, as long as I had someone to follow.

If I accidentally ended up in first too early in the race, or couldn't tuck in behind someone close enough, I had major issues keeping any kind of constant pace. And when we would have speed work practice, I had the same issue. There's a line between sprint and run that I've never been able to nail down, and I'd always burn myself out too early in the workout. It was on those days that I could have used a little volume from my coaches.

Of course, I didn't realize all of this at the time. It's only now, looking back, that I see what I really needed. I wasn't as driven as I should have been, and it allowed me to slack off. Today, I'm a far more dedicated runner than I ever was during my competitive years, and I wish I'd found this dedication earlier.

I also wish I could still have a coach. On my 7th quarter-mile repeat today, I felt myself burn out. I'd been flying thus far, but knew that I wouldn't have the strength to keep up the smoking pace I'd set. When I ran my 8th, it was a full 2 seconds slower than anything else I'd done. Part of this was the car I had to avoid, but most of it was a lack of motivation. I needed someone to keep me on pace and make me hit my mark. It's a level of mental toughness I have yet to achieve.

But I guess that's why we train.

Thursday's Workout:
2x(4x400, 1:30 Rest Between)
1:05     1:07
1:04     1:06
1:05     1:08
1:05     1:10

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Master of None

I'd like to be more interesting.

Specifically, I mean in my writing, but really, that's just the tip of the iceberg. I want people to walk away from a conversation with me saying things like, "Wow, that guy was fascinating." I want Dos Equis to offer me contracts wherein they follow me around with cameras and film me doing awesome things while making Chuck Norris-esque comparisons. Somehow, I don't think I'm at that level yet.

This all stems from the book I just finished, 99 Drams of Whiskey by Accidental Hedonist Kate Hopkins. It combined two of my favorite things; whiskey and little-known historical facts. For this book, she traveled to Ireland, Scotland, Canada and various whiskey-related locales in the US, detailing how the history of the region affected the development of the drink. She gave amusing and completely relatable descriptions of each brand that she tried, and I found myself on the website of the local liquor store checking prices more often than is probably good for my budget.

The book was terrific, and it made me realize something that I've always known but never really wanted to think about. I want to be good at everything, and this pretty much keeps me from excelling at anything. Proverbially, it makes me a "jack of all trades," but in reality, it makes me feel like a beginner in everything that I do.

I play guitar, but only to a point. I know some history and trivia, but that date with Jeopardy remains elusive. I've got passing knowledge of running and Shakespeare and music and sports, but the second I get into a conversation with someone who has really done the work, I shut down. Basically, there is absolutely no subject about which I feel I could write a book, and I kind of wish there was.

But would that make me more interesting? Possibly not. I might be great in a conversation with others interested in that one particular area, but that doesn't mean it will translate to the general populace. I'll just be that guy who always talks about that thing he knows.

My ability to focus has taken a severe hit of late, which has more to do with needing a vacation than anything else. Fortunately, I'm taking it back one step at a time, but I may have oversold myself a bit in the first few months of this year. So it goes. However, once I'm through the brunt of it, I'm hoping to get myself into classes and buy myself some books to get myself more firmly rooted in the things that most hold my attention, starting with knowing more about running and how to train properly.

And I'll keep my fingers crossed for that call from Jeopardy.

Wednesday's Run:
3.22 Miles

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Perspective

It rained today. And that's legitimately news.

In most climates, rain is decisively ordinary occurrence, but this year, in Texas, any rain is worthy of note, which I guess makes a storm front page news. When I lived in the midwest, rain was something that cancelled baseball games and not much else, but seeing it from inside a drought, it's suddenly the key to keeping my lawn green and the rivers high.

Perspective makes all the difference in the world. I remember hail being a curiosity and the concept of "golfball-sized" chunks being something I wanted to see for myself. Today, at the first sound of "thud" instead of "splat," I got a little picture in my head of shingles ripped away from my roof and tiny holes drilled into my attic. Yes, today I found out what a storm feels like to a homeowner, and it is not as pleasant as it used to be.

Of course, nothing really bad happened. The hail lasted only a few minutes, and the rain cleared up long enough for me to get out and put in my miles. But during those miles, I thought about how differently I look at things now when compared to just a few years ago.

For example, now that I have a couple dogs of my own, I find myself drawn to the plight of other dog owners. When I saw a "Lost Chihuahua" sign half a mile south of our place and a "Found Chihuahua" sign a mile north, I called the first and told them about the second. Don't know if it'll turn out, but it was too much of a coincidence to leave it alone. Before I had dogs of my own, I probably would not have noticed the signs at all. Or at least wouldn't have focused closely enough to make the connection.

I think about all sorts of things that I tried never to worry about as a kid. Taxes mostly. But other things, too. And I've realized that, while it seems like my life has a lot more worry, it's only because I have more to care about in my life.

I've felt a definite shift this past month that I can't really explain. Maybe it's the running. Maybe it's the water. Maybe I'm just growing up. Whatever it is, I'm really beginning to feel like an adult in a way that, for once, doesn't scare the living daylights out of me. I'm not changing my life, but I am refining it, one little adjustment at a time.

Next up, waking up on time.

Tuesday's Run:
7.93 Miles

Monday, January 23, 2012

What Winter?

Days like today make the summer worth facing.

I'm not sure when I became such a pansy when it comes to temperature. During the winter I spent in Montana a few years ago, I was constantly being reprimanded by my coworkers for not wearing (in their opinion) enough clothing, but I didn't need it. I had my jacket and fingerless gloves, and I was ready for whatever hayride through the snow that we had planned for the afternoon.

To an extent, I actually enjoyed the cold. When you can see your breath, but still feel your fingers. That level of cold where the only real word for it is "crisp." Those are nice days.

But every person has their limit, and Chicago showed mine to me. The day I spent trying to dig my car out of a snow bank in a -20 wind chill was the day I stopped loving the cold. However, this did not reveal some long-dormant love of heat. As I crawled through the hottest summer ever recorded by any state in this country, the only thing that got me through was the memory of the great weather we had last winter.

Last night, the weather said that it would be a little colder than it had been, so I set out a long-sleeve t-shirt for the run, but by the time I got out on the road, the sun was high in the sky, and long sleeves turned out to be a bad decision.

There are times when I miss the cold. I get confused when I see snow on television or my friends' Facebook statuses, until I remember that I'm simply in a different climate these days. Most likely, we've still got some cold weather heading our way. After all, the snow we had last year hit in February, so I'm not counting my chicken before it's thawed.

But I will invest in a few more pairs of shorts.

Monday's Run:
5.15 Miles

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sans Faux Pas

Pardon my French.

I had another workout with my new running partner this morning, and it reminded me of one of the great truths behind running partnership. There are no taboo topics of conversation.

Talking with someone while running is a great way to help add to the cardiovascular benefits of the workout. It builds lung capacity as you learn to use your air more efficiently. In fact, many running programs will describe your effort level by your ability to have a conversation while you run. You're running comfortably if you can talk, but if you can only get out a few words at a time, you've moved up into the 70-80% effort range. At top speed, you can't speak at all.

Naturally, the added benefits of good conversation are that the time passes more quickly and you get a chance to catch up with a friend. In high school, I'd spend huge amounts of time on the phone in order to make sure that I knew every detail of whatever situation I could. Now, Facebook takes care of most of that, and quite frankly, I hate spending time on the phone, and avoid it as much as I can.

So truly, how often do you get to spend time with someone and just talk for extended periods of time? It's not often for me, so now I get to spend 30 minutes to an hour once a week just talking with a friend. And because of the rules of running, you get to talk about anything.

I'm sure there's some medical, biological explanation for it, but running lowers the walls that separate a topic of discussion from a social faux pas. Whether it's the adrenaline, the exhaustion, or just the company you keep, running conversations can go from sickness to injuries to any and all bodily functions. When you're out on the road, nothing is off limits, which makes the whole action of going for a group run that much more personal.

Now, add to this social comfort and pleasure the fact that you're doing something that's good for your health, and there's no reason not to get a friend and hit the trail. This now makes two excellent strategies that I've learned for beginner runners:

1) Sign up for a race. You don't want to waste the money, and knowing that you're training FOR something specific makes every mile matter that much more.

2) Run with a friend. You'll get closer, you'll be healthier, and if someone is waiting for you, you're far less likely to blow off a run.

Plus, who else will talk to you about gas?

Sunday's Run:
4.4 Miles

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Gorillas

The gorillas are on the loose.


Today was the second annual Gorilla Run benefitting mountain gorillas. It's a little pricey for my taste (at $100 per entry for a 5K), but that cost includes the gorilla costume. Yes, every runner gets dressed up as a gorilla, and though most had lost their masks within the first mile or so.

As my running friend needed to switch our weekly run to Sunday this week, I got to do a long run by myself, so I decided to make it simple, and run to the lake and back. It gives me a round trip of just over 12.5 miles, which is only a little farther than I'd planned on running anyway. Despite the weather being a little colder than I had expected, I felt great heading down, making sure to keep my pace relaxed, since I knew that I'd have a tougher go of it heading back.

Once I reached the lake, I took a quick break to check my phone, as I remembered the run I had heard to be scheduled for the morning. Checking the time and route, I found out that they'd be heading my way shortly, so I headed across the bridge to watch the spectacle. And I wasn't disappointed.

Only a couple minutes after I arrived, a man rode by in a banana suit, warning the onlookers of the impending stampede. Then one, then three, then dozens of fur-clad runners followed up. But they weren't just runners. There were skateboards, bicycles (some built for two), unicycles (more than you'd think), and pets, also in costume. One was a tiny banana. Lots of bananas, for some reason.


They had purses, medical scrubs, crowns, capes, business suits, wigs and aprons. They yelled and beat their chests and (when you could see their faces) smiled broadly. My personal favorite (as an Arrested Development fan) was a "never nude," a gorilla wearing only jean shorts.

I'm quite sure I've never seen a 5K that was as much fun as the one I witnessed today. It was certainly not competitive (though how fast can you really run covered in fur?), and that was what made it joyful. Between the few actually running as gorillas, the exceptional variety in costume, and the woman behind me simply yelling "Woo! Gorillas!" repeatedly, the whole scene had an air of absurdity, which made leaving it behind quite difficult. Still, I had only done half a run, and I still had to head back up the hill.

The local runs are the ones that will make my life more fun. Training 18 weeks for one race is simply too long. However, if I run a race a month on the way, it should be a lot more fun. I'm looking at the Austin Half, then the Capital 10K, and perhaps the Austin 10/20, but I'll have to pick and choose, as all this racing gets expensive.

And they don't all come with gorilla suits.

Saturday's Run:
12.76 Miles

Friday, January 20, 2012

Trivial

Trivial Pursuit is the best board game.

I'm sorry if you're a fan of all the others out there, but there is really not question about this fact. Sure, Scene It is new and exciting, what with the technology and all, but then you have all those annoying animations to watch. The classics are always nice for nostalgia, but don't have the sheer enjoyment factor that the Pursuit provides. And if you say Monopoly, you're a liar. That game sounds fun, but three hours in, you're not friends anymore and everyone's wondering when this nonsense will end.

Also, if there's not actually a board, it's not a board game. Sorry, Apples To Apples, though you're pretty awesome, too.

The greatest thing about the game is the fact that there are dozens of editions. You can have a version for your own particular interest, decade of choice, or level of trivial intelligence. In our house alone, we've got three, Millenium, 90s, and 20th Anniversary. I've really enjoyed most versions I've played, with the exception of Beatles (because those who know will win without question) and the DVD version, because the DVD questions are absurdly easy.

It's one of the few games that is truly enjoyable while you are playing it. Most games, you spend all your time trying to roll the highest number possible to get to the end. The circular board in TP makes the rolling of the dice more, er, specialized. Every turn involves action, and even though only one person (or team) actually gets to answer, everyone is trying to come up with it on their own. It's interactive, action-packed, and visually satisfying. No question, best board game.

It's nice to be engaged and not entirely focused on the finish line. Sound familiar?

Tomorrow morning brings my longest run in some time. Since my last marathon, in fact. The weather should be nice, and even though I'll be going downhill first and uphill last, I've got high hopes for my success. And mostly, it's because I'm on a roll.

As of this morning, I've run more miles in the month of January than I did in October, November and December combined (and that included a marathon). So far, I'm not worn down physically, though I am a little creaky from the speed work yesterday. I even managed to get up on time this morning. Making it a part of my daily routine has bone a long way to ensuring that I get it done.

It's still early in the year, but I'm enjoying the game right now, and not just looking at the finish line, which is probably good, since 50 marathons puts the finish line awfully far away.

For now, I'm just happy to roll again.

Friday's Run:
6.75 Miles

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Focus Mode

I definitely have a "focus mode."

For as long as I can remember, I've thrived on procrastination. I'll put something off for hours, days, and weeks until I can't possible wait another minute and then I drop into an automatic mode of productivity. Everything else fades away, and I sit in front of my computer, or paper, or whatever it is I've been avoiding, and I knock it out of the park. Or at least hit it hard enough to get by.

I know this mode is somewhere inside me. I find it when I need it, but I can never seem to turn it on of my own accord, and that's becoming a bit of a problem. Now that I'm working several jobs and running every day, I need to schedule my life more efficiently, and when it's time to work, I need to get that work done, and so far that hasn't happened quite as effectively as I would hope. Basically, I always find myself up against deadlines working late into the night to make sure that everything is up to my standard.

Yes, I'm getting stuff done throughout the weeks, and sure, when it comes down to it, everything works out fine, but I end up with weeks like this one where I feel like I've fallen behind on everything, and it gets me unbelievably frustrated.

I've tried any number of focusing tips, and nothing (so far) seems to be foolproof. I've tried silence, music, and television noise. I've tried comfortable and not-so-comfortable. Upstairs, downstairs, fully dressed, still in pajamas, full stomach, empty stomach. Through all of it, only one thing actually gets me focused every time. The run.

It was a speed work morning, and I frankly did not want to do it. Outstanding, eh? My second time out and I'm already tired of it. Fortunately, I have a wife who is tired of me complaining about my lack of focus and who is more than willing to make me get out of bed. Thanks, hon.

So after making a neighbor nervous by standing, covered in sweat, outside his house with piece of paper and a pen, I did my workout, cleaned up, and have been working ever since. Yes, it's been a very long day, but I've gotten a lot done, and I'm prepared to do a lot more tomorrow.

After I run.

Thursday's Workout:
2x(4x400 Fast, 1:30 Rest Between)
1:11     1:08
1:08     1:07
1:07     1:07
1:07     1:07

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Waterworld

Two weeks to go.

It's been 17 days since I last drank anything other than water, and I'm definitely beginning to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. 

What has been most interesting for me is that I don't necessarily miss caffeine or alcohol, but I miss the activity of partaking in them. There's something very comforting in shuffling out of bed and pouring a nice, hot cup of coffee. As my friend pointed out, it's a complete sensory experience: taste, smell, and warmth. It even looks nice. By the same token, it's great to have a cold beer after a long day or hard work outside. I miss the action more than the substance.

Mostly, I'm just bored. I want to pair my chocolate with milk. I want to have juice first thing in the morning. I want some sort of flavor in what I'm drinking. Sure, it's great to be hydrated, but it's not exciting. 

Surprisingly, I find myself doing pretty well without my usual dose of Coca-Cola, and I don't have much of an urge to get back to it. We were at a party the other evening where someone suggested that, having given up cola for an extended period of time, I would be unlikely to return. This seems unlikely, but I am pleased to say that I won't run out to buy a case as soon as the month is out. 

In fact, I'm considering a new policy: for every glass of whatever I drink, I'll also have one glass of water. This should keep me from using sugary drinks to slake my thirst (since that won't work anyway), and will hopefully prevent any morning-after unpleasantness from anything else. And most importantly, it will keep my hydrated, which was part of the point of this whole thing.

Yes, it's been a great couple weeks, and I'm sure that the next few will be nice as well, but I'm looking forward to February 1st.

That's gonna be one good cup of coffee.

Wednesday's Run:
3.22 Miles

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Inspired

Inspiration is a difficult thing to fake.

Well before I started this little chronicle, I tried to start another blog based on finding inspiration in every day life. It lasted all of two posts.

It's not that I couldn't find inspiration. In fact, I find myself inspired many times a day. The problem, however, is that I don't always know how to put that inspiration to work. Whether it's listening to the Jim Croce station on Pandora and wishing I could write a heartbreaking song, or seeing a clever commercial on television and wishing I could work in advertising, I have fleeting moments of passion and desire to create something, but they're gone before I can get a pen in my hand (or open a new Word doc).

I often wish that I had more time to spend on things like songwriting, but when I do have the time, I rarely spend it that way. Usually, when the opportunity presents itself, the universe isn't telling me to write. The universe, as I understand it, is telling me to eat potato chips and catch up on Jeopardy episodes.

What I need to do is force myself to spend a certain amount of time on these things every day or week or month so that I actually sit down and do them, but this has its own set of problems. Inspiration doesn't work on a schedule. It happens when it happens, and if you're not ready for it, you'll miss the window.

Fortunately, I have felt one consistent drive recently: to run. I've run consistently for the last 14 days, and I'm amazed at how singularly focused I've become. By eliminating rest days (and substituting short, easy runs instead), I've forced myself into a regular plan of running. Every day, I have my run, switch out my shoes, take my vitamins, and hop in the shower. It's created a lovely ritual that I look forward to every day.

And during the run, I watch. Instead of just passing all the scenery, I look around in hopes of finding something about which I can write. Some days, like today, there's not much going on, and that in itself is a topic. A lame one, perhaps, but post-able just the same. I take those thoughts and ideas, and I get to spend a little time writing each day. And all I have to do is get myself out the door.

If I can do that, I can do anything.

Tuesday's Run:
7.93 Miles

Monday, January 16, 2012

Finish Line Donuts

Wind isn't always a bad thing.

In fact, for many people in specific industries or with specific hobbies, wind can be absolutely essential. Still, for every activity that is made better by wind (kite flying, sailing, spitting contests), there must be at least two things that are hindered by it (Jenga games, the wearing of skirts, lighting candles, tight rope walking, raking leaves, human pyramids). Running generally falls into this second category.

There is one notable exception to this rule: wind is awesome if it is at your back for the duration of your run. For most of us, however, this will not be the case. We need to get back to our homes or cars at some point, so the routes we run are circular. This means that half the time is spent running into the wind, and the other half is spent recovering from or psyching up for it. Nowhere is this more evident than on the track, where strides get longer and foreheads dip lower as competitors round that corner onto the windy backstretch. Sure, you get 200 meters to recover, but then you're back into the breeze, praying for the next turn.

Today was windy, which made the middle portion of my run a little more difficult than it needed to be. The physical challenge was enough, but then the weather just began taunting me. I ran past a donut shop, and the wind chased me with the smell of fresh-baked balls of dough for the next mile. I hadn't eaten before the run, and I cannot express just how good they smelled.

I actually got away from eating donuts for a while, and now that they're infrequent, they're all the more delicious when I have them. What always gets me, though, is the smell. A bakery has a certain scent filled with memories of Clem's and Mell-O Creme and all the places we would go on Sunday mornings when I was a kid. My mind wandered to filled sticks and jelly rolls, and those iced things that had the cherries dropped in the middle, and before I came back to myself, I realized I'd been running into the wind for quite some time.

That is when I had my latest brilliant idea. It seems to be an unavoidable fact that any race will end 1) on a great big hill and 2) running into the wind. Instead of this being the positivity-draining suck that it is, let's use the wind to our advantage. Finish line donuts. And I don't just mean in boxes. Set up the kitchen right there, and let the smell of freshly baking donuts get every last runner across that line.

Donuts not your thing? Pick anything you like. Cheesesteak sandwiches. Croissants. Anything with onions. Get a powerful, delicious scent, and give the wind a new tone. Instead of saying, "You shall not pass," the new words in the air will be, "Come get some," and like Fred Flintstone heading toward a pie, we'll let the smell lift us up that last hill faster than we could have imagined.

You see, wind doesn't always have to be a bad thing. It's important for wind turbine electricity, romance novel cover models, and now, finishing the race.

Just keep the donuts upwind.

Monday's Run:
5.15 Miles

Sunday, January 15, 2012

US Olympic Trials

A marathon is not usually an exciting thing to watch.

Two hours is a long time to spend doing one thing, but it's even longer when you're sitting still watching someone else do something. Yesterday, NBC set aside two hours in the afternoon to show a taped delay of the US Olympic marathon trials, which, quite frankly, was awfully nice of them to do. While people love the Olympics, they're not often that interested in how we got there, and certainly not that concerned about one race that takes hours to complete.

I remember running track and thinking that the two mile was probably pretty boring for everyone in the stands, so I can't imagine how dull it must be to watch me trudge through 26 miles of road race. Fortunately, I've got extremely supportive and resourceful family and friends who want to be there to cheer me on, but can also find a coffee shop or some other entertainment to occupy them during the down time. 

Still, I found myself glued to the television for the duration of the broadcast, despite my partial knowledge of the outcome. You see, I didn't know the broadcast was on a taped delay, and I made the mistake of signing on to Twitter to follow along. Fortunately, Coach Higdon managed to warn me that others were plastering the walls of the internet with spoilers before I found out too much information. I wanted to watch the race and appreciate the strategy, and drama, and the surprise. If you're planning on watching later, be warned, here be spoilers.

Still with me? Cool.

The women's race didn't wasn't much of a surprise in their top three of Flanagan, Davila and Goucher. I was a little surprised that Desi didn't put up more of a fight for first, but she knew that she'd qualified, and I suppose there's no point in tiring yourself out just yet. I wondered if Deena Kastor was going to make a push, but as I say, I wasn't all that surprised.

The men, on the other hand, were not at all what I expected after about mile 20. Until then, it was pretty much what I expected, with Ryan Hall running like he could be doing anything else. He was surrounded by a progressively smaller pack, eventually consisting of Dathan Ritzenhein (who seemed to be waiting for someone else to make a mistake), Meb Keflezighi (who, to me, looked exhausted before mile 10), and Abdi Abdirahman (whose job, it seemed to be, to antagonize Hall). I wasn't surprised to see Ritz drop back, though he seemed to be hanging on, hoping for a mistake, and Abdi had been too active throughout the race, so I wasn't shocked to see him fade (and almost get caught by Ritz). What amazed me was Meb, who I thought was going to drop early, who instead ended up pulling away.

I watched the Ryan throughout the race, and the man simply never looked tired. Every move seemed to be effortless, and as he pushed the pace and jostled with Abdi, it was always like he'd just started running. He and Abdi really appeared to enjoy the race, but every step seemed to be a challenge for Meb. He was an afterthought in third place while the other two jockeyed for position, and yet it was his patience and restraint that won the race.

There's no question that Hall is the best marathoner in the country, but I'm going to enjoy the event this summer in London. We've got three women who can absolutely compete, and a few guys who will, at the very least, be fun to watch. I just hope that NBC gives me a chance to actually watch it.

And that I remember to stay off Twitter.

Sunday's Run:
3.98 Miles (with First Dog)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

New Age Resolution

January 1st is a terrible day on which to change your life.

Most of the traditional New Year's Resolutions are doomed by one simple fact: New Year's Day is in the dead of winter. When you wake up, it's 30 degrees outside, and especially if you're not used to it, the last thing you want to do is go outside and sweat. It's a much better idea to slip farther under your covers before having a nice hot cup of that caffeine you weren't going to drink anymore. And you'd eat healthier, but you've really got to get rid of those few remaining holiday leftovers (and cookies).

You could go outside and play football, but it's just as fun to sit in the bar and watch others do so, and then you don't have to thaw out your fingers later. Really, it's only the soon-to-be-former smokers that get any benefit from the weather, because who really wants to step outside in 5-degree winds? But they've got another problem: Season Affective Disorder. The lack of sunshine is depressing, and combined with withdrawal symptoms from anything, it doesn't make for an optimistic beginning to the year.

Given all of this, why are New Year's Resolutions so popular? Gyms are packed this time of year, and 90% of the available Groupons have something to do with fitness or healthy food. Everyone views the start of a brand new year as meaning a lot more than screwing up the date on the next few checks they'll write. A new year means hope, possibility, and the future.

I was discussing this with my new Saturday morning running buddy. At a Christmas party, a friend and I discussed running, and he mentioned that he'd like to get back into it. We decided to meet up at Town Lake on Saturday mornings, starting today. It was great to have someone with whom I could talk about the odd little things that go through my brain while out on the road, and we talked about what we were both trying to do differently this year. He agreed that it was strange to put so much stock in the arbitrary assignment of a calendar date by someone centuries ago, and I realized that this was my real issue. January 1st is nothing more than a number on a calendar. To succeed, you need to pick a date that means something personally. I suggest you pick your birthday.

I've decided that a better choice will be New Age Resolutions. For those of us with winter birthdays, this may not do away with all the problems I mentioned before, but it does take care of one issue: it makes the moment more personal. You're not one of the fifteen people waiting in line for your ten minutes on the treadmill at the 24-hour gym anymore. You celebrate your birthday in style, have some cake, and go to bed. By the rules I established as a child, you don't actually age until you've had cake and gone to bed, so when you wake up the next morning, you're officially one year older.

And maybe your age won't be the only thing that's changed.

Saturday's Run:
9.47 Miles (3.09 with partner, 6.38 alone)

Swashbuckling

Nothing quite like a day of sword-fighting to brighten your week.

Fairly high up on my list of hobbies and interests is stage combat, the art of making violence on stage look real while keeping it safe. In many ways, this aspect of my life is very much like running. Both involve high amounts of energy and, when done incorrectly, potentially high amounts of pain. Both require lots of training in order to excel. And in both, it matters greatly who you go to for information.

A big difference, for me anyway, is that no one has ever asked to record my running.

I spent my Friday at Villa Antonia just west of Austin, a huge mansion that really has no business being on a hillside in texas. Think "Three Amigos," but luxurious. I was hired as part of a group to create a silent film-era fight sequence. A local theatre will be performing "Singin' in the Rain" this spring, and the main character is a silent film swordsman, so they needed "clips" of his movies. This meant five fighters (and the star of the show) went out to a luxury villa, got dressed in Three Musketeers-esque costumes, and swung some iron at one another all day.

What made this particularly special for me was the group of which I was a part. To the best of our knowledge, there are only four actor combatants certified by SAFD (the Society of American Fight Directors) in the city of Austin. Those four people were the other four in our group. And then there was me. It felt great to be among an elite group, and though I'm nowhere near as qualified as the other four, the fact that I'm allowed to play with them was a huge boost to my confidence.

In order to improve, you've got to spend time with your betters. It's true onstage, and it's true on the road.  I'm definitely considering joining some sort of training group for just this reason. On my own, I simply don't have the drive to push myself (while keeping safety in mind). If I'm trying to run fast, I almost always overreach early and end up paying for it late. Perhaps spending time with runners who can identify a better pace will help me (eventually) reach my goals.

When it comes down to it, the time you spend chasing the Great Ones often isn't about surpassing them, but about improving yourself. Like a staged sword fight, you spend hours following them and learning from them, and though you won't actually defeat them, everyone looks really good in the end.

And if they get uppity, you can stab them.

Wait, that may not always be true...

Friday's Run:
5.15 Miles

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Miles You Love To Hate

There's a fine line between love and hate.

At least when it comes to running.

During my high school days, it was always a big deal to have an awesome team t-shirt. It was a way for everyone to warm up in unity without resorting to the five square inches of fabric allotted to our actual uniforms. More importantly, it was a way to show the individuality and wit of your school by displaying an awesome slogan. Or, in our case, to find a pre-made shirt that wasn't too overdone to still be a little bit funny.

One slogan that always amused me (though we never had it) was, "Our sport is your sport's punishment." The message, of course, was that even though sports like football and basketball got all the money and attention from the high school, we were the true athletes competing in the simplest form of conflict - first one to the finish wins.

Looking back now, I wonder at the wisdom of the slogan. The appropriate response from one of those other sports would have been something like, "Yeah. That's why I play football." Perhaps we should stick to motivating ourselves instead of calling out others. For example, from Runner's World:



Why is there honor in pain? I've sat with groups of runners, and when discussing their history in the sport, they always go to the most painful, insane things that they've done, bragging about their agony. I ran a marathon. I ran four. I once fell on a track and bloodied up my arm. I'm missing seven toe nails. There's something about the runner's mind that takes the abuse and pins it on your shirt as a badge of honor for all to see. Is it masochism? No. Well, yes, but it's deeper than that. It's not that I enjoy the pain. It's that I enjoy overcoming the pain.

Today was my first day of actual "speed work" in, well, years. I recently learned that the block in the middle of my neighborhood is exactly 1/4 mile around, essentially making it a track on a hill. This is great news, since the nearest actual track to me is almost 2 miles away, and it's at a high school, so I'm not sure how they'd feel about me being out there first thing in the morning. Instead, I have a track right outside my door, and I can really start to work on speed.

The problem is, I don't entirely remember how to do that. I'm fairly certain the last time I did track repeats was in high school, and even then I didn't care that much about them. Now, though, I recognize that I cannot simply beat my legs into the ground time and time again to develop speed. If I'm going to break my 10K record this year, I'm going to have to build muscle and increase velocity, and that means speed work.

For today's workout, I did 400s (or one lap around the track) at top speed. I'd run one, rest for 90 seconds, and then do the next. After I'd completed one mile (four repeats), I rested for 3 minutes, and did the whole thing again. I bookended this with a warm up and cool down of half a mile each. I was extremely happy with my times, if not a little suspicious of MapMyRun's accuracy in measurement.

The love/hate situation really kicked in after the first lap of the second set. My legs and lungs burned with the effort. It was surprisingly cold, so my hands were nearly numb as I tried to write down my splits. With each lap, the time got harder to hit, which made the rest interval feel shorter. And yet, I felt great at the same time. Burning, exhausted, frozen, yes, but I was flying, and for the first time in a while, really felt like I was building muscle and not just logging miles. I cursed every lap as it started, and praised it once I was done.

I can't tell if speed work and I are going to be friends yet. We might end up being those rivals who need each other's help and begrudgingly share a handshake at the end of the movie. Or, it might just beat me into submission. Time will tell. For today, though, I felt great. And tomorrow I'll run again.

I should put that on a shirt.

Thursday's Run:
2x(4x400, 1:30 rest between)
1:08     1:10
1:08     1:11
1:10     1:11
1:09     1:13

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Running On Wheels

The phrase "running errands" seems like a misnomer.

A few months ago, Runner's World (my main connection to the outside world of running) ran a story about a man in Los Angeles who essentially did all his daily tasks on foot. If he had to go anywhere within a certain radius of his house, he would run there, including grocery store trips. It seemed like a brilliant idea to me, and I almost did a little of that myself this morning. We needed milk, bread, and mini Twix bars, and I needed a 3-mile run. As it happens, there's a grocery store 1.5 miles from my house. The stars had aligned.

But then morning came, and Sublime didn't quite do the job I needed them to do. As the minutes ticked past, I felt myself sink lower into the bed. My mind wandered to the task at hand, and it suddenly seemed completely absurd.

Why would anyone want to run with milk in a backpack? True, I only needed a half gallon (for cooking and cereal, since I'm not drinking any this month), but that still must throw off your balance, which can't be good for your back. And even if the extra weight isn't a huge problem, is there any worse combination of things to put in a bag than milk and bread? The whole loaf would be flattened within twenty steps of the store. Why don't I go at a bag of potato chips with a sledgehammer while I'm at it? No, I thought, the car is the tool for this job. Errand complete.

Once I had everything in its place in the house, I headed right back out the door and ran the route I had just driven. I still believed I had made the right choice, but I did wonder about the overuse of our car. You see, in Chicago, the car was reserved for leaving town, and other than that, it just sat there collecting snow. Public transit in Chicago is fantastic, and I got used to walking/riding everywhere I went. We never drove unless we absolutely could not avoid it.

Now, we don't go a day without some errand on our own four wheels. Sure, there are buses down here, but it's nowhere near the extent of the Chicago system, and since it's unknown to us, we're a little reluctant to explore. Plus it's so much easier to drive.

But is it? Parking, gas prices, and others' inexplicable inability to use a signal are all contributing factors to the string of profanities I mutter to my steering wheel on any given drive. With that in mind, I think it's time to start exploring other options, starting with completing more short errands on foot. I still don't want to carry milk in my backpack, but if I've got to pick up something quick, light and easy, it's a viable option, right?

At the very least, I should get a bike and ride to events that require little-to-no heavy lifting. Then I could say, "I've got to ride some errands."

Doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

Wednesday's Run:
3.11 Miles

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Man Versus Food

"If you can eat all of that, I'll be impressed."

So said the bar manager when he delivered my dinner to the table last night. I just smiled at him. "Prepare to be impressed," I said.

I love food. Not in the way that uber-foodies love it, where they like to use multisyllabic adjectives to describe every childhood emotion that every flavor brings out, but just in general. I enjoy flavors, textures and, on occasion, a nice presentation. But I must admit, there is one aspect of food that always catches my eye: size.

Yes, in true American go-big-or-go-home style, I do love me some oversized entrees. When I watch Man Vs Food, it just makes me hungry. And when I go to a restaurant with giant burgers, I almost always pick one out. Heck, for my birthday last year, we went to a place called Big Daddy's where I got a 3/4-pound burger, with a fried egg on top, and instead of a bun, it had two grilled cheese sandwiches, one filled with bacon, the other filled with jalapenos. And it was glorious.

So last night, we headed out to Brick House to watch the National Championship game. This is a place that I will definitely try again when I'm drinking something other than water, but since I knew I wouldn't spend the money on beer, I could go add a little to my dinner. So, after a chicken appetizer, I got a 2-Brick Gun Show, which is two 1/2-pound patties and two fried eggs (which are rapidly becoming a favorite burger topping for me) along with lots of other stuff. It was delicious. And it was gone, garlic parmesan-crusted tots and all, in about 15 minutes. Probably could have gone faster, but I was watching the game. True to his word, the manager was impressed. He gave me his card. I didn't eat again until this afternoon.

I recognize, of course, that this sort of super-eating is not the best way to go about things, but it's not quite as crazy as it might sound. Today was my seventh straight day of running, and I'm feeling great, but I also need to fuel that work. Using a quick calorie calculator, in order to maintain my weight and function at a high level, I should be eating nearly 3000 calories every day.

Lately, interestingly enough, I'm recognizing just how many calories I was probably drinking throughout the day. Between milk, sugary drinks, soft drinks and beer, I must have been getting a fairly large intake, because now that I'm on water only, I find that I'm hungry all the time.

And that doesn't work for me financially. All the money that I'm saving on beverages is at risk of getting poured into snacks if I'm not careful. So I've decided that I need to more carefully regulate what I'm eating and when it happens. I need to make myself have three well-defined (and well-proportioned) meals, and limit snacking as much as possible. It'll save me money, and hopefully help my body regulate the fuel intake process.

Or I could just eat a 2-pound burger every night.

Tuesday's Run:
6.75 Miles

Monday, January 9, 2012

Crowd Noise

I've always had a fear of missing out on something amazing.

There was an episode of How I Met Your Mother (wonderful show) featuring Jorge Garcia as "The Blitz." The name was given as a result of receiving a curse: the moment you left a party, something amazing would happen. Though I didn't watch the show until recent years, all my life, evidently, I've been afraid of being the blitz. I never want to leave the party before it ends, because I never want to hear the story secondhand.

It's part of why I tend to find white noise soothing. I'm comfortable in a party setting. As long as I can make out what my conversation partner is saying, I'm happy to be in a noisy place. I even used to fall asleep with the radio on, and more recently, with the television on. Just having something in the background helped me zone out and rest peacefully.

Or so I thought. The last week, my sleeping routine has been dramatically different, and, I feel, far more effective. See, a week ago, I stopped drinking anything that wasn't water for a personal 30-day challenge. No reason, really. I just wondered how different I would feel if I wasn't living on beer and Coca-Cola. I wouldn't say the results have been surprising, but I am impressed with how quickly the benefits took hold and how little I've had in the way of downsides.

I've had none of the dreaded caffeine withdrawal that I remember so well from the few times I tried to cut it out in college, but of course my problem then was that I wasn't drinking enough water. I've been out with friends a couple times and honestly felt better not having a drink. As a result, I've got more money, more energy, and better sleep. Going to bed without caffeine in my system has made falling asleep easier (even without the help of the television), and keeping away from alcohol has made all the sleep more effective.

I did not, however, feel any effects on my ability to wake up. If anything, the extra rest I was feeling just made me want to stay in bed longer. So, I've tried different songs on my alarm to wake me, and I may have found the solution. Crowd noise.

I decided to try Bad Fish by Sublime, figuring that it started quiet and got going a bit later, which would help me wake up slowly, instead of the panic that my former phone's vibration instilled. What I didn't know was that the noise of the crowd talking at the beginning would be enough to wake me up like a shot. The noise that I thought was helping me fall asleep all those nights may just have been keeping me awake. And it makes sense. When I'm in a crowd noise situation, I don't get sleepy. I come alive. All I needed to get me out of bed was the sound of a nearby party.

The result is a run completed before 7:00am, and (hopefully) an extremely productive day ahead. A day filled with work, entertainment and National Championship football.

And water. Lots of water.

Monday's Run:
3.98 Miles

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Through the Looking Glass

Everything looks strangely different in reverse.

For most people, when they think about "how they look," the image in their head is the one they see in the mirror. Everyone else, however, sees you in reverse, which is why you get convinced that every picture taken of you looks funny when no one else seems to agree. When you're absolutely used to something, any change, even a simple reversal, can be staggering.

I remember being at a bar one night with my back to the television. Fortunately, I was seated across from a framed picture with a wonderfully reflective glass surface on which I could watch the Cubs slowly give up yet another postseason. I was shocked, however, when the first batter got a hit, and then ran to third base! Of course, this was just the mirror working its magic, but the whole experience was oddly unsettling. I mean, I knew the Cubs were bad that year, but that's just wrong.

Taking a different point of view can be a shock, but it can also be revealing. Artists very often take a step back from their work and find unexpected depth. Sports networks are constantly trying to find new and exciting angles to show every intricacy of the game (though they still haven't figured out how to put a steady camera on the goal line). For me, the new angle I needed today, was simply to head in the other direction.

Most of my running routes are loops, giving me the option of direction, so that I have that much more variety in the run. Each direction has its own benefits and challenges. Sometimes it dictates when the hills will arrive (as in my 8 mile course). Sometimes, it's about the direction from which I approach parking lots, since most people turning right refuse to watch for pedestrians. This morning, I just wanted to try something different.

I've run this slightly-more-than-5K route a couple times, always going in the clockwise direction, so I decided to switch it around for today. I was absolutely shocked at how different the experience was.

Have those cows always been there? I mean, I've already discovered one cow pasture and one goat pasture on this three-mile loop around my house. It really makes you feel like a Texan to see cows three blocks from home. But not only have I never seen these cows before, I never smelled them before, and judging from the moment of recognition I had this morning, I'm not sure how I could have missed them.

Where are all the dogs? There's a little area I called Canine Alley on a street parallel to our own. In a 3/4 mile stretch, I must have passed (no exaggeration) 25 dogs, all rather high-strung. Of course, living near all those high-strung dogs is probably what made them all so high strung. It's a vicious cycle. This morning, I didn't hear a single one. It might have helped that I hadn't brought my own dog along, but maybe they just sleep in on Sundays.

Are those chickens? Yes. Yes they were.

How did I miss the ice cream truck? And I don't just mean how did I never see it parked outside of the guy's house. I mean, how did I make it through the hottest summer in Texas history without seeing an ice cream truck anywhere in this city, but upon moving into this house in November, I hear it every day about 2:00pm. It's January, you think, that can't possibly be right. But there he was. Loading up the ice. In January.

And finally, that's it? This may have been more an effect of relative mileage than of reversed direction, but it was still a nice treat. I suddenly found myself turning toward home with plenty of energy to spare. Energy that then went into cleaning my backyard. I was actually motivated to clean my yard.

To say the run was strange would be to diminish the unique quality that every run has, but it was certainly one of the more unique runs in my recent memory. It made me take notice, and was just quirky enough to be worth remembering.

Like watching baseball in a mirror.

Sunday's Run:
3.22 Miles

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Answer Is

I love Jeopardy.

As a kid, I remember watching Jeopardy in the afternoon with my father, and offering the occasional futile attempt at an answer. Dad was always nice enough to wait a moment or two before he answered to give me a chance. Sort of an intellectual head start.

Now, we actually record all the new episodes. For one thing, we're usually not able to sit down and watch at 4:30 in the afternoon. For another, there's about 20 minutes of commercials for 10 minutes of game show, and we'd rather not sit through that many drug side effects lists. I suppose they know their market, but really, if you don't know that you should contact your doctor when you lose your vision, exactly what are you doing watching Jeopardy?

We sit and watch the trivia, and every once in a while, I actually learn something. Not often, mind you. There are reruns on right before the new episodes, and though I remember the contestants, I still don't know half the answers. But I usually at least remember Final Jeopardy, and one of my favorites involved the phrase "turning point," which once referred to the spot where Roman chariots would change direction, and now, obviously, applies to any watershed moment. I love knowing little facts like that.

It's fun to think about that kind of nonsense when you're out on the road, and I was thinking about it this morning as I hit my own turning point in the run. Not like a Roman turning point (my out-and-back days are Monday and Wednesday), but in the modern colloquial sense of a great change. I was stiff and more-than-usually sore as I headed out the door this morning, on top of the fact that I had an abbreviated timeline, so I felt a little rushed. I'd chosen my direction around my 8-mile loop so that I'd hit the hills early, and after the first couple ups and downs, my mind wandered to useless knowledge and imaginary conversations.

When I made my turn south, I was surprised to feel the force of my turn pull me to the side. I stopped contemplating whatever infinite mystery I was pondering and felt my pace for a moment. I was flying. Somewhere between the agony of the start and that corner 2.5 miles in, my legs decided that they wanted to play. All I had to do was stop thinking about the run, and instead think about pretty much anything else.

In a couple weeks, I'll (once again) take the online Jeopardy qualification test. Obviously, I haven't done well enough on it (yet) to get a spot on the show, because I always get tripped up by British literature and American poets. And art from pretty much anywhere.

Maybe what I need to do is the opposite of the running strategy. When I want to be good at running, I have to think of anything else. So when I have to think of anything else...

Guess I'll be running during the test.

Saturday's Run:
7.93 Miles

Friday, January 6, 2012

It's About the Run

"My whole life has led up to this moment."

It's a cliche movie phrase that I've heard in any number of underdog films in my life. Movies and television lend credibility to the idea that life is full of start and finish lines. Every week, the family wraps up the issue. As the credits roll, the littlest engine that could holds up the trophy, having finally won the approval of the mean authority figure and the quirky romantic opposite.

As I've been reading this month's Runner's World article about Chariots of Fire (a movie, I'm ashamed to say, I have yet to see), I've thought a lot about how movies might have influenced the way I thought about things. I mean, look no further than the Chariots theme song. In and of itself, I wouldn't call it a motivating piece of music. It doesn't even have a drum beat. But splash that with memories of running along a beach at St. Andrews, and suddenly those notes have you believing you can do anything.

You can get your ragtag group of friends together, win that local sports championship, and get the love of your life. And then... well then they say it's happily ever after. So what does that mean?

Life doesn't work like movies and television shows. There are plot lines and dilemmas in every moment, constantly overlapping. You go to school, get a job, get an apartment, get a house, get a new job, get a dog, have kids, get a bigger house... eventually, you might find yourself wondering when you just get to stop and enjoy everything. You're waiting for the finish line, but if you spend all your time thinking about the tape at the end, you'll miss the run.

Today was a day where it just kept getting tougher. It was a new route for me, and the first part was all hills. As I turned to the first downhill section, the wind hit me. Then I ran out of pavement. After that it was sun and wind. When I turned for my last downhill, with the wind at my back, I smiled in sight of the finish, only to remember that it wasn't the finish. In order to get over five miles, I had to do a lap of the neighborhood.

As I did that last lap, I thought about the run. The guy in the pirate costume with his "We Buy Gold" sign. The kids at the bus stop. The elderly woman who held up traffic to let me cross the parking lot entrance. The sun. The sky. The feel of strength in my legs and air in my lungs. And I smiled.

See, for the few elite marathon runners out there, it's all about the moment. It's about winning the race, and standing on the podium. But for most of us, it's about the run. And that's something I want to remember. Something I plan to remember.

Happiness is not a place you get. It's the road beneath your feet.

Friday's Run:
71 Degrees
5.15 Miles

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Where The Sidewalk Ends

I have a suggestion for Map My Run.

Most of the time, I like to plan out a route before I head out the door on my morning runs. It helps ensure that I get in the miles I want and (hopefully) that I get some variety in the scenery. Unlike my last apartment, our house is situated such that I have a number of different directional options, and every run doesn't have to end on a one-mile uphill. It's nice to have a choice.

So, I use Map My Run, and most of the time, it's great. However, when planning out the newest routes, I've been having trouble, oddly enough, getting a good six-mile course. The roads are great. It's the sidewalks that are missing.

The first six-miler I attempted a couple weeks ago, was extremely ill-conceived. Not only did the sidewalk disappear, but it turned into a narrow two-lane road with lots of hills and (since it was right by a school) a whole lot of traffic. I'm sure more than one driver cursed me that morning, and it didn't help that it was extremely foggy. Not good. So I rerouted.

Today was my first shot at the new distance, and it was certainly better, but there was still a stretch, maybe a mile long, without sidewalk. And this is a major road that connects two other major roads here in Austin. Unlike the first course, however, there was plenty of room on the side of the road, and it appeared that I was far from the first person to trek down the absent path.

Which brings me to my suggestion: have some sort of user interaction where users can mark which streets have sidewalks and which don't. Which communities have gates and therefore are not useable as through streets. Which roads are closed or being constructed or are generally too awful to run. I'd fill it out for my runs, and I imagine others would, too. It would be great to plan a course and know, in advance, whether it was actually run-able. And you could help, MMR.

So that's my plan. Of course, I have absolutely no clue how one might implement such a program, and I know even less about the coding behind it, but I figure that's why you have website people. It's just an idea. Hope you like it.

When you make millions, I will accept a check.

Thursday's Run:
40 Degrees
6.75 Miles

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Begin Again

And like that, I'm back to running.

I completed my first miles of the new year this afternoon. In fact, it's interesting to me that, since the Marine Corps Marathon, four of my nine runs have been on Wednesdays. Something about that day gets me out the door. And something about Thursdays keeps me in. Only one run has happened on Thursday, and that was a race on Thanksgiving, where I didn't really have too much of a choice.

Wednesdays are my strong days. That's something I want to remember in upcoming weeks and months. Maybe those are good days for long runs, since I evidently am so able to get moving on that day of the week.

In future weeks, I intend to make Thursdays strength-training days, specifically doing a lot of speed work. Tomorrow, though, I just want to do some miles. I have plans and ideas, and all of them involve actually getting out the door to run. Right now, that's all I have to make happen, so I just hope I can do it tomorrow morning.

There are really no organized thoughts here. Nothing that's really worth recording. Still, I want to write about it, because I want to write about the times when I feel lost. I want to remember the times when I did not want to run and the way I felt during those times. I made the small-but-already-effective choice to change the home page on my web browser from Facebook (the time-suck to end all time-sucks) to the blog. It stares me in the face whenever I get online, and I feel like I've got to get on here and write. I have to put what I'm feeling into whatever poorly-conceived words that I can.

And in order to have anything to write about, I have to run.

Wednesday's Run:
70 Degrees and All-Around Awesome
3.98 Miles

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Day 365

One year ago tomorrow, I started a blog.

I wanted to write about running. More to the point, I wanted to write, and running gave me something to write about. It also put me back on the path toward accomplishing a big goal.

So, it's almost a year later, and what have I done? Well, quite a lot, I feel.

I ran nearly 1300 miles last year. I didn't quite cross that threshold, but the last few days of the year required all the energy I had just to get through them, without adding a degree of difficulty. Still, that's more than 49 marathons' worth of miles in my first full year back. Something to be proud of, right there.

I ran races in three new states, one of which I had never visited before. I got to experience Seattle, which was amazing by itself, put combined with my best time (yet), the trip was a complete success. It has left my PR a mere 7 minutes from Boston Qualification, and if I can get myself back on track this year, I am sure I can cross that barrier. Bring it on.

There's still a lot of work to do in my life, and I'm not just talking about for my running. However, many of the improvements I would like to make this year can (however loosely) be connected to my running life.

For one thing, I'm challenging myself to drink only water for thirty days this January. I started yesterday, and so far, I'm quite happy with it. Keep in mind, I'm still eating all my regular food. I'm just not having any of the beverages I normally have that are filled with caffeine, alcohol, high-sugar and other fun stuff. Excepting one night (which I planned in advance), I intend to go these thirty days with as few chemical-type substances in my system as possible. I'm hoping I'll sleep better, wake up earlier, and have more genuine energy throughout the day. Will that actually work? That's what experiments are all about.

I want to get more focused on my work, which means better scheduling, and sticking to that schedule once it's set. I want to be better about my money. I want to read more.

And through all of this, I want to be happier. And if I can do all of these things, I will be. The trick is not to make myself unhappy in an effort to achieve happiness.

Which is why I haven't run yet this year. I woke up on New Year's Day with a rather severe back ache, which only got worse yesterday. I wasn't sure what I did to myself, but I was sure that running would not make it better. This morning, the pain was almost entirely gone, but of course I didn't know that until I woke up.

So tomorrow, I'm back on the road. I've got a couple races in mind for the coming year, but a great deal of that will depend on what I can afford and when I've got the time to travel. Unfortunately, I'm not an international superstar who gets sponsored in every race (yet), and until that time comes, it's all out of pocket. This is when an huge goal becomes real. And it's a part of the challenge that I welcome. So, shall I list goals for the year? Yes, I think I shall:

1) 1500 Miles -> as long as I don't slack off in the last three months again, this shouldn't be a problem at all.

2) At least 3 marathons -> got to keep on pace.

3) Qualify for Boston -> my qualifying time doesn't drop for seven years, so I've got nothing to wait for.

4) Break one other PR -> I've got a list of personal records to the right side of this. I'd like to take down one of those old ones, preferably the 5k or 10k. Mostly, this is to make me do other road races, and keep the fun in the training.

Finally, I won't be in "official training" for any race for more than 8 weeks. By now, I've got a fairly strong base of mileage, and I don't need this four-month buildup. It's just wearing me out mentally. Eight weeks to a PR.

And until then, I cruise.