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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day

Oh, is it Leap Day? No one mentioned it.

Yes, it's the wonderful day when we make up for the fact that Earth's year is not a nice, round 365 days, but actually 365.25, and we must make up the difference. Personally, I say we all just give ourselves an extra six hours of sleep on New Year's Day and call it even, but no one asked me, so here we are.

I guess I've never realized just how big a deal this day seems to be for most people. Unless your birthday happens to fall on the 29th (Happy Birthday, Samantha!), it really doesn't affect most people. You don't get presents or candy. You're not required to attend church. There are no offensive cultural stereotypes to mimic in the name of alcoholic frivolity. Overall, it's just another day in the life. A fun bonus that helps me remember presidential election years and when the next summer Olympics are going to happen.

This year, it means something a little more to me, however. It means the end of February. Of course, it always meant the end of February, but it means the end of my personal challenge for the month of February. Each day, my alarm went off at some time before 6:30 a.m. and I did my level best to get out of bed. I only failed twice in 29 days, which for me is a pretty good success rate.

Looking back over the month, I noticed something else. I haven't been complaining as much as I used to. When the day starts on the road, it makes everything else a little easier to take. I've been (slightly) more focused on the rest of my life and, particularly in the last week or so, I've felt great.

What's more is that I've also blogged every single day of this month, a first for me. Sure, it's a short month, but that's still pretty good.

And here's the big one. By running each day and keeping myself on an increasing but reasonable run schedule, I broke my record for most miles run in a single month. By 20 miles. And I'm still feeling great.

I'd like to think that I'll continue getting up on time, but without fear of monetary penalty, it'll be a little more difficult, I'm sure. My more immediate concern is coming up with a challenge for the month of March. After January's water and February's wake up, I really want to have something that I challenge myself to do for the month of March. Something that will better my skills as a runner, but also contribute to overall physical and/or mental health. Something that won't require a dispensation for St. Patrick's Day.

In the meantime, I do want to plug the One Day Run that's going on for the rest of the day. It's simple. You follow them on Twitter or Facebook, and then tell them the miles that you've run for the day to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities. Hey, if you're going to run anyway, why not do it for a good cause.

And while you're at it, think me up a good challenge.

Wednesday's Run:
68 Degrees, and dark all day
3.22 Miles

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In The Clouds

"He's got his head in the clouds."

It's a saying that's often reserved for those who dislike excessive dreamers. When they encounter an idealist, they brush the person off as someone trying to live where humans were never meant to go. It's just another fool who dreams years away while the "real" world below passes by. The dreamer is told, "Get your head out of the clouds. You're missing the life you've been given."

But really, are they?

I went for a run in the clouds this morning. Overnight, a thick fog settled over the city. I've learned to scoff at reports of fog in Austin, having seen what passes for "dense" among the local forecasters, but today they weren't joking. At one point on my backstretch, I appeared to be running in some forsaken wasteland, devoid of hope (at least in the direction I was going). Surrounded by the clouds, I thought about flying. About rain. About what it must be like to have the world fall away from your feet and find yourself soaring. Really, about anything but running.

And I think that's okay. There are workouts, certainly, where I need to focus on what I'm doing on the road. Race day, naturally, but also speed work and those mornings when I force myself to run a certain pace. These are the times when I must focus on every moment and every movement. Sometimes, though, I'm just getting in the miles, and today was one of those mornings. As my mind jumped from one great height to another, my legs churned out 8 miles automatically. Did I need to return to the earth? Was I missing out on something by looking up?

I think you need the dream. I ran a marathon at age 18, and suddenly there was no longer a goal to accomplish, nothing to keep me on the road. I had no thoughts of anything bigger than fitting in among the other guys in my dorm. It took 8 years before I started running again with any sort of regularity, and the only way I did it was by creating another dream. Another goal.

So there I was, the end of my eighth straight week of running, cutting my way through thick fog and wondering what it'd be like to fly. Soaring, in my own way, though the clouds.

I wasn't missing anything.

Tuesday's Run:
62 Degrees, and, well, foggy
7.93 Miles

Monday, February 27, 2012


Is it strange to admire a total stranger?

I don't just mean someone you've never met. After all, I never got to shake Gandhi's hand, but I think we can all agree the man deserved some admiration. What I'm talking about, though, is simply seeing someone in one moment in his life and being impressed by that person, knowing nothing else.

If it's possible, then I admire a guy in my neighborhood. A few times now, I've passed him early in the morning as head down a hill through some dark trees. Part of me always wonders what terrors might be lurking beyond the eight inches I can see on either side of the path, but I never expect to see another person that early in the morning, so it surprised me a couple weeks ago to round the corner and find myself on a collision course with another pedestrian. Fortunately, I had enough time to move out of the way, which I did, narrowly avoiding his cane. While I worried about the dangers of twenty feet of trees, here was another man, blind, clearing his own way.

This was impressive, to be sure, but not what actually garnered my admiration. A few days after the first encounter, I was trudging up the hill at the end of my 15-miler, completely exhausted, when I saw another (or was it the same?) man moving along with his red-tipped cane. Only this man was running. Training, even. He was moving far better than I was, heading forward without fear or reservation.

All of this would be outstanding enough, even if I hadn't seen him running in the Austin Marathon last week. There's no way, I thought. No way that I've just happened to see the same guy time and again. So, I took a close look at his face and made a note to remember it, should I ever encounter him again, which is what happened this morning. I had far more notice this time around, and there was no near collision, but without a doubt, it was the same man. I'm impressed.

What can possibly stop someone if this man can forge ahead? I can only imagine the level to which he is in tune with his body, determining how long his stride is, when he might have to turn, and where other runners might lurk without visual cues. I can't even do all of that with my eyes open. I'm fairly certain I couldn't stay on a treadmill with a blindfold for more than a few seconds, and here's a guy who is doing marathons with a cane in his hand. The greatest of oppositions can breed the greatest of heroes.

So what could possibly stop me?

Monday's Run:
59 degrees, yet surprisingly cold
5.15 Miles

Sunday, February 26, 2012


First, I'd like to thank the Academy.

I want to tell them how much I appreciate their annual celebration of all things related to film. In particular, I'd like to thank them for choosing as their Best Picture the only one of the nominees that I actually saw. I feel cultured.

For me, though, the moment of the night came from, of all people, Chris Rock. His presentation of Best Animated Film was prefaced with a speech commenting on how creating an animated movie is considered to be difficult. This job is not hard, he says. Real jobs are hard. He asks for a line, says it, "and then they pay me a million dollars." Life is good.

I love being an actor. I enjoy the time spent as someone else, and the physical and emotional release of blasting out a range of emotions in a two-hour period. I thrive on intensity.

But the real moment that make or break an actor are not the intense moments. Anyone can get mad and yell dramatic words at the height of emotion. It's the moments in between, the reactions, the nothing of a character that creates the great ones. An odd little physical tendency of a character or perhaps the certain way a biopic star holds her lips will catch the attention of those who vote on golden statues and earn that actor their moment of immortality. The yelling gets the attention, but the silence holds it.

Yes, I'm bringing this back to running. Shocking, right?

The silence of running is the rest. I do not have off days, which is, I'm sure, blasphemous to a great many coaches and people who know much more about these things than I do. However, I find that the best way to get out the door and run is to have done so the day before. I've run for almost 8 weeks straight now, and I'm feeling great. Even though I don't take days off, I do have rest runs. These are 3-4 mile runs on Sunday and Wednesday that are run at substantially slower paces than the rest of my week.

While I spend Mondays working on speed over distance, and Tuesdays going far, and Thursdays at top speed, and Fridays preparing for Saturday's distance, I don't have any agenda on Sunday or Wednesday. These days, I tell myself to go as slow as possible, and really enjoy everything around me. I can shout five days a week, but for two days, I get my silence.

Or at least a whisper.

Sunday's Run:
45 Degrees / Clear
3.09 Miles

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Wee Hours

There's something magical between 5:00 and 6:00 in the morning.

As my long runs get longer, the days on which I run them, tragically, stay the same length. Since I do not want to spend my entire morning running, I get up earlier than usual to complete the workout. With a run of 17 miles today, I knew it could easily last over 2 and 1/2 hours, and I was hoping to have it completed around 8:00. This meant a 5:00 wake-up. I set two alarms, one for 5 and one for 6, just in case I decided that 5 was to early.

Fortunately, I was wide awake the moment my alarm went off (the first time), and I suited up. Setting everything out the night before not only ensures I'll have everything ready, but it expedites the process of getting out the door without adding to the stress of the morning. I ate a few crackers for some last minute glycogen, and hit the road.

It's hard to explain, but there is a sense, at that hour, that the night is ending and the day is beginning at the same time. I was amazed at the number of people who were out walking around before dawn. There were far more than last week, though this might have had more to do with last week's impending thunderstorm. I watched those I passed, and tried to imagine where they were going. Some appeared to be heading to work. Others were clearly just getting home. Still more looked like they had nowhere to be at all, and had chosen their particular spot for no other reason than the fact that it was where they stopped.

And even with the unexpected amount of humanity around, I found myself cutting through the darkness with an odd sense of solitude. Not loneliness, to be sure, but solitude. This strong feeling that I was in control of my surroundings, that this was my city. If you keep your head up and watch, you slowly see the world come to life. Surrounded by darkness, you feel alone in the relative quiet. Then, after a couple hours, you come out from under a clump of trees to see that the sky has lightened while you were in the shadows. The first sandwich board signs are set outside as the parking lots slowly start to fill.

You slowly become aware of the sounds of birds as they wake up, hours after you did. Take that, birds.

Gradually, your neighbors start to acknowledge your presence. You might even get a good morning or two, depending on the neighborhood you run. And, if you've been smart enough to start your run slowly and haven't pushed yourself too hard too early, you might just suddenly realize that you've only got four miles left and you still feel great. Maybe you'll even push the last mile a little harder, simply because you can.

In the space between good night and good morning, there is more than sleep. There is also possibility. There is time. There is at least one animal to scare the crap out of you.

And sometimes, there is magic.

Saturday's Run:
42 Degrees / Clear, light wind
17.5 Miles

Friday, February 24, 2012


I find it impossible not to think about the future.

Even as I try to focus on running slowing and NOT officially training for the marathon, all of my thoughts are currently centered around June 2nd. Every step I take on the road, my brain is wondering if I'll be able to move that quickly three months from now, and whether I'll have another pitfall like every other season I've had.

Trying to combat this, I've somewhat turned my attention to the Capital 10K in March, but even then, I know that I'm using the race as a tune up for the big show in June. Is it possible to live entirely in the moment of the run and not worry about what's next? Yes, absolutely. Is that possible for me? No, probably not.

So instead, I try to take moments to appreciate the little things along the way. Such as last night, when I was working after hours to try and get a few projects done. In the midst of an excruciating work day, I looked out the window and saw the sunset.

Absolutely gorgeous.

Looking toward the horizon is not always a bad thing. Thinking ahead is the only way to be prepared for what is coming your way. Especially in marathon training, you obviously have to start thinking months in advance to ensure that you have time to build your mileage and speed safely.

Does that mean it should be your one and only goal? No. Having intermittent goals is a great way to not only keep the training from getting stale, but also teach yourself about accomplishments. Whether it's learning what it's like to run a race or the positive reinforcement of a small victory, the better you feel on a day-to-day basis throughout your training, the more likely you are to continue and therefore succeed in the end.

So find what it is that makes training worthwhile to you, and push through it. For me, it involves finding lots of distractions and mini-goals, forcing me to watch the road in front of my feet sometimes instead of a mile away. Take the time to figure out what about running makes you happy, and reinforce that every chance you get.

And watch a sunset every chance you get.

Friday's Run:
48 Degrees / Clear
6.75 Miles

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Up and Down

Is there anyone who doesn't hate running hills?

Actually, yes. I know, because I used to be one of those people.

I think that, among distance runners, there are those that do well because of the hills, and there are those that do well in spite of them. I have moved solidly from the first group to the second, and it's probably the weakest part of my running.

In high school, we trained at Faurot Park in Lima, Ohio. That also happened to be where our home course was in cross country, and it was one of the most hated courses in the area. We had one hill (that you had to run up three separate times) that looked like a wall from a distance. The whole course was hilly and slick, and unless you really knew how to run it, you could be in a lot of trouble.

The added benefit for us, of course, was that we trained there, too. So, having the most hills in the area, we learned how to use the ups and downs of various courses to our advantage, and other courses always felt easier.

These hills gave us an advantage over every other team. It wasn't enough to win championships, but it certainly made us better than we would have been. 

But then came the years without running. In the time between, I lost all of that mental strength and will to conquer mountains that made me a fighter in high school. Now, I do my best to push the straightaways and downhills, and just hope that I don't lose too much time on the ups. This is not the way to guarantee success, and since the people over at the Sunburst Races decided their hill in mile 23 is mean enough to deserve a name, I've got to be ready.

Therefore, instead of speed work today, I decided to do strength work. Quarter-mile repeats just didn't sound like any fun, so instead, I decided to jog out to a hill about a mile and a half from home and do some up-and-downs. I would run hard up the hill, jog down the other side, and then do the same thing in the other direction. The whole thing from one side to the other was about .4 miles, and I did three back-and-forths without stopping. On the last up, I was exhausted, and my legs were absolutely burning. This was only six hills. I could be in trouble here.

But I realized, as I jogged home, that I was in no trouble whatsoever. Of course the hills were exhausting. I don't train on them anymore. This was my first time doing an actual hill workout since high school, and overall, I think it went pretty well. If I do one of these every few weeks, then 100 days from now, in South Bend, I can smile all the way up the A-Nile-Ator (which is what I think it should be called), knowing I'm only 5K from my BQ.

That's the plan, anyway.

Thursday's Workout:
64 Degrees / Clear
1.48 Mile W/U
6 x Hill (.43 miles)
1.48 Mile C/D

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Weighty Matters

The definition of a typical runner has certainly changed in the last 15 years.

Before the recent running boom, there were essentially two types of runners. There were those who were good at it and ran competitively, and there were those who ran primarily to stay in shape and/or lose weight. Sure, there were tens of thousands of "others" who just ran because they enjoyed it, but they were lost among those who ran to be faster and those who ran to be lighter.

In recent years, participation in races (and, consequently, every registration fee) has gone through the roof. I read an article that attributed this boon to the failing economy. Someone out of a job starts running as a way of taking charge of some part of his or her life. They become a "runner" because they need to do something without anyone else's help. I agree this is the most likely cause.

Regardless of how it started, the movement has caused a shift in what runners (and running publications) talk about. Instead of balancing articles evenly between running faster and losing weight, there is now a wider range of topics. The most important, it seems, is longevity. When someone finds and falls in love with running, they want to do it forever, so the most important thing becomes not gaining a second or losing a pound, but avoiding injury. If you can stay healthy, you can run as long as you want, and this is the most important thing to many of us.

That has been the focus of my latest round of workouts. Though I'm not officially in training for the next marathon yet, I keep an eye on my times, often to make sure I'm not running too fast. After several  months of working out as hard as I can only to end up injured or burned out, I am trying to be careful this time around not to let myself go too hard.

And one way I monitor that is (oddly enough) to watch my weight. I'm not trying to lose anything. Even though I'm nearly 20 pounds heavier than the average elite distance runner, I attribute this to the fact that I'm also about 5 inches taller. I'm quite happy with my size and shape. However, I still weigh myself every day, and it has nothing to do with desiring change. It has everything to do with maintenance. 

I know my goal weight, and most of the time, I'm within 5-10 pounds of it. The reason that I weigh myself daily has less to do with calories and much more to do with hydration. After a long, hard run, I might be down 6-7 pounds from my average weight because of lost water. This means that I'm not hydrating adequately throughout the run. This is not a surprise when it comes to runs shorter than ten miles, because I do not often take water with me unless it's an official "long run" day. Still, I need to learn exactly how much water to take in order to keep my body functioning, and keep my weight constant.

So I think I've decided upon my March focus. I can't come up with a good challenge that I'm not already doing, so I think instead that I'll simply pay attention to my pre- and post-workout weights, the temperature outside, the intensity of the workout, and how that's all affecting my body. Ideally, I'll learn exactly how much replenishment I'll need throughout the race to run at an optimized level. 

And if I learn nothing, at least I'll get to create another awesome spreadsheet.

Wednesday's Run:
82 Degrees / Sunny and no I'm not joking
3.22 Miles

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mardi Rapide

That's right. Fast Tuesday.

Mardi Gras has a following, to be sure, but I've never really been a part of it. It's one of those days, along with St. Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo, where an absurd number of people celebrate a culture they know little about by drinking their faces off. In short, it's awesome.

But for me, I've never gotten into it. Sure, I'll eat the cake, but I'm more than a little concerned about accidentally chomping down on a plastic baby Jesus. The beads are fun, but I'm not going to pay for them, and I'm quite sure wearing them would say some bad things about me that are, honestly, not representative of my personality. Most days, anyway.

Finally, I can't say that I agree with the general idea of Fat Tuesday. Being raised Catholic, I've had many an Ash Wednesday and given up many a treat in Lent. Still, the idea of gorging myself on something I won't have for the next forty-plus days doesn't sound appealing. If anything, I felt it was a better choice to slowly ween myself off of soft drinks or chocolate or whatever in order to curb desire for it during the forbidden time.

And really, I don't get the idea of partying on a Tuesday. Wednesday is still a work day, people.

So, I decided not to change anything in my routine. I overslept (and took $5 out of my reward jar), but I still got out for my nice, easy eight miles. Except that it wasn't easy at all. After yesterday's veritable sprint, any pace was going to feel slow by comparison. I kept an eye on my watch, making sure not to run too fast, but I inevitably would speed up a bit. As I made my last turn toward home and finally let my legs do what they wanted, I started flying. Today was my fastest Tuesday in five weeks, and combined with yesterday's speed, I'm off to an incredibly fast week.

Tomorrow, it is vital that I not push my speed. At all. SLOW. I need to recover, because I want to do some regular speed work on Thursday. Rest is the most important part of a workout routine, so tomorrow is all about that.

Still, it feels great to be moving quickly again. I've got much less pain than in the past, and I think it's due to the slower increase in my workout intensity this time around. These speed days give me a great deal of hope and excitement for the future, but now I've got to refocus myself on the goal, and the goal is hundreds of miles down the road. In a way, this training time is my Running Lent.

My Easter is in South Bend.

Tuesday's Run:
72 Degrees / Yep.
7.93 Miles

Monday, February 20, 2012

Back In

I've decided that I'm officially in training again.

Not for the marathon, though. Not yet. I'm officially in training for the Capitol 10K here in Austin that will happen in late March. I haven't signed up yet, but I've been considering it for a while, and I had a couple moments of revelation the last few weeks.

First, I missed running the Austin Half Marathon. If it wasn't so ridiculously expensive, I might have gone for it, but alas, I needed to spend that money on shoes this month. No harm, no foul. Still, I'm not one for the sidelines, and since I know that I'll be in town for the race (since I've got a show opening that weekend), I have no excuse. I want to race more often, and here's one in my own backyard.

Besides that, I've realized that I'm getting faster. On Friday, it was cold and rainy, so I let myself push the pace a bit in order to finish more quickly. Today, the opposite was true: it was beautiful out, so I let myself push the pace a bit because I felt so good. Also, I really wanted to test the new shoes.

I love them. I glanced at my watch once to see that my downhill pace was sub-6:00 which is, of course, way too fast for a training run. It was early on, though, so I settled a bit and focused on maintaining my heightened pace. Why? Because I could, and because my shoes were actually pushing me forward. Each time I left the ground, I felt the toe flip back, shoving me just a little bit harder. I did get winded on the back stretch, but my legs never felt tired, even heading up my last little hill.

With one last circle around the block, I finished a 5.15 mile training run a mere 21 seconds slower than my last 5 mile race. My pace was better by nearly 7 seconds per mile. And I didn't even have competition.

So I decided to officially begin training for the Capitol 10K. This doesn't change much in my routine other than my decision to push my 5-mile runs a little harder and adjust my pace in the 6 and 8 milers. The main adjustment will be my mindset. Instead of thinking about how much longer I've got to run, I'll focus, for once, on how much faster. That way, when I get back to "marathon" training in March, I'll have the speed.

Then all I'll need is the distance.

Monday's Run:
65 Degree / Perfect
5.15 Miles

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Standing on the sidelines has never been easy for me.

Whether it's attending a play for which I could have auditioned, a race I could have run, or a night of karaoke where I swear I have no desire to sing, at some point, I'm going to think about how I'd much rather be participating than watching. It doesn't mean I don't like being a spectator. I just would generally like to be more involved.

This morning, I decided to head down and watch the Livestrong Austin Marathon, since I wouldn't be running. I had thought about doing my Sunday four before I went over, but doing the math, I realized that I would have no chance of seeing the first runners if I had to finish four miles first. Instead, I loaded up a bag with dog supplies (food, water, treats, etc.), wrapped a couple leashes around my waist, and put the pups in the car. Against my better judgement, I was taking them with me.

We parked at a friend's house and walked the remaining mile to a point on the course shortly before the 6-mile mark. I found a spot away from the crowds, as the pups were incredibly excited by everything happening around them. From our perch, we cheered on runners, celebrating the start of the long downhill portion of the course.

I missed the first few runners, but was in position well before the 3-hour pace group ran by. I stayed around until after the 5-hour runners passed and the dogs made it clear they would no longer behave. During that time, one thing really jumped out at me: regardless of the pace they were running, most of the runners appeared, to me, to be going about the same speed. They weren't of course, but the one thing that determines how a runner looks is his or her level of effort. Almost everyone seemed to be floating and running with ease. It was actually quite beautiful to watch.

Now, I was watching very early in the race (relatively), so I can imagine that the look of ease dissipated somewhat down the road, but it was really quite wonderful to watch a race for once. I would have liked to see the finish, but such is the life of a man with dogs. Filled with all the race we could hold, we headed back to the car and home.

The dogs were very active the whole way home, so I decided we would try another 10-legged race, and the three of us would do the four miles I hadn't done earlier. They were less enthused this time. Eventually, I had one on either side a step or two behind me, our own little flying V, and the pups decided to help me with some resistance training. Overall, we were only a minute slower than our last run, and given the two miles we'd already walked that morning, I couldn't complain.

As our reverse sled dog team neared home, I thought back to the race we'd just watched. While I enjoyed cheering others on, the main effect the whole thing had was to refocus me on my own upcoming races. I realized, towing two reluctant pets, that at the moment, there was really nowhere else I would rather have been. For months, I've been seeking that joy of running that everyone talks about, and I've finally found it. I didn't have to race to enjoy today. I simply had to run.

Though I admit, it would have been nice to have someone cheering me on.

Sunday's Run:
47 Degrees / Sunny
3.98 Miles

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Wetter Choices

Turns out I was wrong.

I can, in fact, resist the offer to go running with two legends of the sport. All it took to convince me otherwise were 16 miles, two needy puppies and one ugly weather report.

In order to avoid a lot of traffic related to tomorrow's Livestrong Austin Marathon, my weekend running partner and I decided to move our run to Saturday. Unfortunately, he had a conflict come up, which meant that the runs this weekend were up to me. After many changes in my plan, I decided on the following: Saturday morning would be my long run (as usual) after which I would cool down with the run around the lake. Sunday will be a short run by myself before loading the pups in the car and heading to the marathon course for a bit of cheering.

My long run turned out to be a little more adventurous than I expected. I got up super early in order to get it completed early enough to do everything else I had planned, so at around 5:30, I was out the door. Forty minutes in, I saw the first flash of lightning on the horizon. Ten minutes later came the first roll of thunder.

I knew the rain would be moving in and out of the area all day, so I decided to stay the course. At around 65 minutes, the skies opened. I haven't run through rain like that since early last year, and I chose to enjoy it, with one little moment of caution: I ducked into a 7-11 to get a plastic bag in which to wrap my phone. Just in case. Then it was right back out into the rain, dodging rapidly growing puddles and miniature mudslides every few feet.

My speed was intentionally slower than usual. The one thing I wanted more than anything else today was to run continuously for the whole 16 miles. The most vital part of marathon training is teaching the body to work continuously for hours at a time. As I turned back up the hill, the rain stopped, but my feet were sliding in my soaking wet shoes, which made the whole process a lot more of a challenge. At around mile 14, my legs felt tight and weak, but I knew I was going to finish. I made it the entire way with only a few stops for traffic lights (and plastic bags), and none lasting more than a few seconds. I feel like I am really on my way to a PR this June.

So I made it home, a little later than intended, and fed the dogs. The plan was to let them hang out for a few minutes and then head to run with these guys:

As the moments ticked off, however, I started feeling guilty about leaving the dogs at home once more:

I considered taking them with me, but the runners would be meeting up near the off-leash area of Auditorium Shores, and they weren't ready for that kind of excitement. In the last moments I had to make my decision, I heard the thunder again. Nope. No more running. I checked the weather, and, well:

I made my final decision and stood to put my computer back on the counter. A wave of shock ran from my hips to my heels and back again. No more miles for me today. The correct choice had been made.

There are few things in this world that can actually be described as "once in a lifetime" opportunities. I plan on running with legendary runners again. I've only been a serious runner (again) for a little over a year, so I've got time to train with the best. For today, I'll take my personal victory of a long run in the rain, and I'll save the novelty for another day.

After all, they'll have this race next year, too.

Saturday's Run:
52 Degrees / Cloudy, then pouring, then cloudy
16.28 Miles

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Presence of Greatness

It's marathon week here in Austin.

Even though I'm not running a race this weekend, I still want to be a part of the fun throughout the event. Every time I'm ever gone to a race expo, it's been with the specter of a marathon hanging over my head. Without any concern about my body's imminent demise, I was able to take in the information around me without worry.

Though I didn't need any new running gear, I wandered through some of the booths just to see what they had. I got my running stride analyzed for the first time, and found out that it was pretty much exactly what it was supposed to be, which is surprisingly comforting. I took in information about every race in the area, and was even given a couple local runner publications that listed out all races within a reasonable distance for the next few months. I'm pretty sure I know everything I want to run, but it's good to have options, I suppose.

Full of yogurt and protein shake samples, I headed over to the main stage for the actual reason I'd come to the expo. Bart Yasso of Runner's World and the legendary Dick Beardsley were speaking, and I wanted to make sure I saw them.

The presentation (such as it was), was thoroughly enjoyable. They didn't have a prepared program, but rather sat around telling stories. There were several tales of the absurdity of being a running personality (including a surprising amount of nudity) and they were hilarious. I highly recommend seeing them if you haven't. Both are speaking at the expo tomorrow, together and separately. They fielded questions for a while, mostly about the current state of running, and it was great to hear their point of view on the subject.

Above all, though, was one particular story. Beardsley told the story of the 1982 Boston Marathon, which he lost in a sprint-out to Alberto Salazar. I won't retell his story here, as you should really hear it from him if you get the chance. What made the story special was thinking about the perspective.

Here was one of the greatest American runners (5th-fastest American-born marathoner of all time), talking about feeling exhausted and scared in the heat of a race. He speaks of moments in the race like they happened yesterday, and I can absolutely relate. There are races and runs I can recall with absolute clarity, down to the humidity in the air and the blisters on my feet. While I don't have iconic races that the world remembers, I think of my runs the same way as this legend.


Tomorrow morning, they'll be doing a shake out run around the lake, which I'm planning on joining. I'll get my own run out of the way super early, give the dogs some time of freedom, and then head down. When two of the biggest names in running come to town, you can't really pass up a chance to run with them.

At least I can't.

Friday's Run:
52 Degrees / Rainy and All-Around Gross
6.75 Miles

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Double Dog Dare

So, this happened:

My bride is out of town for the next couple days, which means that I get to be in charge of the pups all by myself. Consequently, this puts me in charge of their morning routine and afternoon walk, which is usually no problem at all. However, this morning, my own routine was a little off.

I got home late last night, and I wanted to give the dogs a little time out of their beds, so I turned on the television. I found Batman Begins, and, well, that pretty much meant I was up until 1:00. When the alarm went off this morning, it was simply not happening. Challenge or not, I needed a little extra sleep in order to get through my day, so I took a couple extra hours. In doing so, I lost my window for a morning run.

The dogs and I spent most of the day working hard, but as 4:00 approached, I noticed they were slightly more rambunctious than usual. I had hoped, after my work day, to get out and do my run, but I knew that the pups needed some exercise and that I needed time to cook. There was no way to do it all. Or was there?

In a moment of pure inspiration, I decided that the dogs would simply have to come running with me. I've been feeling tired this week, so I decided to forego speed work this week and let my legs recover a bit, especially with a 16-miler on the horizon. Instead, I wanted to go for a smooth 4 miles, which made for a perfect group run distance. I tied both leather leashes around my waist, convinced myself that this was a good idea, and the three of us headed out the door.

The first quarter mile was an adventure, to say the least. They couldn't settle on which side they wanted to run, and on a few occasions, felt the best place to be was underneath my legs. Still, we forged ahead, and suddenly, they fell into step.

Running with one dog is usually difficult, but running with both of them turned out to be much, much easier. First, they wanted to race each other a bit, which meant that I didn't have to pull them along behind me (until we headed back up the hill). Then, they kept one another in line. There was a bit of side-to-side motion that made it a little challenging, but overall, I was quite simply amazed at how great they were.

I don't think I'll be doing this too often. After all, it's best not to tempt fate. Still, sometimes it's nice to look at two choices and suddenly think, "Hey, I can do both!"

Especially when it leaves you time to cook dinner.

Thursday's Run:
62 Degrees / Overcast
3.98 Miles

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Meteorological Mood Swings

Staying healthy is more than half the battle.

Whether it's avoiding injury or illness, the biggest potential opponent in a runner's way is his or her own body. I remember reacting cynically when trainers or race announcers said things like, "Just being here is a victory!" Really? Because I'm pretty sure I've still got 26 miles to go before anyone hands me a medal.

As I put more miles behind me, however, I realize the magnitude of what they mean. Not only is it a moral victory to have made the choice to run a marathon, it's a near miracle to physically make it to the starting line. The first, and I feel most obvious, reason is that high mileage training takes its toll on your body. You must be very careful to monitor your body and its various warning signs when it comes to physical distress. Especially if it is your first marathon (or even your first race), you want to approach with severe caution. It's much smarter to say, "I could have run faster," than to collapse, look behind yourself and say, "Oh, there were my limits."

The other health danger is much sneakier. When you do any physical activity, especially if you are out of practice, you risk immune suppression. Your body spends so much energy working out and rebuilding muscle that your immune system works at a lower capacity. Should you come into contact with the wrong microbial crowd in this state, you might be in trouble.

So, how do you deal with these issues? Caution. Avoid physical injury by taking your time. Don't try to add too many miles too soon in your training, and if you don't need it, avoid speed work. If you have to have your fast day(s), make sure that you give your body time to recover before another hard workout. In my case, I have a family (and personal) history of knee trouble, so I take echinacea and fish oil every day. Both promote cartilage growth and, therefore, joint health. And finally, nothing replaces stretching, though this too should be done with caution in mind.

For staying away from illness, I've also added a daily vitamin C supplement to my routine, and there are other considerations that will help as well. Dress for the temperature. If the weather is absurd (cold rain, high winds, February in Chicago Cold), find a treadmill or take the day off. When you've completed your workout, get a shower as soon as you can and regulate your body temperature as much as possible. Oh, and one last thing. If possible, stay out of Texas in February.

Why, you ask? Because these temperature mood swings are out of control. Three days ago, the temperature at sunrise was below freezing. Today, we're looking at a high of 75. The human body isn't designed to appreciate these swings, and it often responds by getting sick, so the above recommendations are even more important. The Austin Marathon is this week, and I'm not sure anyone has a clue what the weather is going to be like. Have fun, you guys!

Seriously, though, I'm not a doctor or anything. These are just common sense thoughts that I've acquired throughout my many years of running. There is, of course, the possibility that you will do everything right and something still will go wrong. When this happens, you have only one word to remember: rest. If you're sick, you shouldn't be out on the roads, at least not for long periods of time. It will delay recovery, not speed it. If you've injured yourself, then you definitely should be off your feet. A muscle pain here and there is normal, but if you've got something nagging enough to be an "injury," let it heal.

And maybe still stay out of Texas.

Wednesday's Run:
64 Degrees / Foggy, Light Rain
3.22 Miles

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

What is it that you really love?

The internet is abuzz today with Valentine's-themed posts and memes. It seems to be an almost even split between those celebrating the day and those cursing Hallmark and everything they stand for. If anything, I would guess the ratio has shifted toward the negative.

Where there are complaints to be had, most seem to fall along one of two lines. Either people do not wish to be told when (and how) to express their love, or they do not wish to be reminded of being single as though it was something to be ashamed of. However, there is another group of my friends, many of whom are very close to me, who dislike the holiday for another reason. They simply think it's odd to pick one day to celebrate love.

Why can't every day be Valentine's Day? Except for the fact that the chocolates would never go on clearance (I consider the 15th to be a national holiday as well), why do we not feel the need to celebrate those we love every day?

The simple answer is that it wouldn't feel as special. When I worked for a pizza chain, there was one menu item that was my clear favorite, but I only ate it once in a while for fear of getting bored with it. If you have champagne every night, the drink ceases to have mystique or importance. If you buy a dozen roses for your sweetheart every week, does it have the same effect? Probably not. Does that mean you shouldn't do it?

I actually like celebrating the day, but I just like celebrating. While it seems little odd to me that a martyr's feast day has evolved into pink candy and naked children with deadly weapons, I take no offense from the day, and enjoyed spoiling my wife last weekend (since we're not big fans of crowds on the actual day of the holiday).

But here's my challenge to you. We make time for all sorts of things in our lives each day. If you love to play video games, you find an hour to conquer that next level. If you're into cooking, you'll learn how to bake while reading if you need to. If you really love to run, you'll get up as early as it takes to get in your miles. If you can make time for all these loves, make time for the people you love as well. Your others, your family, your friends. Find a way to celebrate them as often as you can, not just when Kay Jewelers commercials tell you it's time.

I promise they'll thank you more than your miles will.

Tuesday's Run:
46 Degrees / Fading Fog
7.93 Miles

Monday, February 13, 2012

Three Little Words

There can be a great deal of power in three small words.

Sometimes, they can get your body to do things that you never thought possible. "One more mile" means an awful lot after you've run 25. "Get out! Fire!" can give you superhuman escape abilities. The right combination of words can remove pain, increase adrenaline and have any number of effects on your physiology.

Then there are the combinations of words that can change your life. "It's a boy." "You have cancer." "Don't eat that." And, let's not forget the granddaddy of all three-word phrases: "I love you." These are small sentences (and I can think of many more that are even shorter) that have huge effects on your life. Sometimes, the more simple the statement, the more profound the message.

Yesterday, I learned another three-word phrase that holds perhaps more power than any I've come across so far. "We've got time." (Yes, I know a contraction is really two words, but let's not split hairs here.) My morning run completed, my wife and I discussed running a couple errands before my rehearsal yesterday. On our way out the door, we thought of three more places to go, and when rehearsal was cancelled, we suddenly had the whole day at our disposal, and I'm happy to say we didn't waste a minute of it.

Too often, when I consider doing something, the first thing that comes to mind is a list of reasons why I shouldn't. To some extent, this is self-preservation, if the reason is that I need rest or to save my money, but sometimes, it's just searching for an excuse. Yesterday, we were able to say "we've got time" and spend that time doing things we wanted and/or needed to do. As a result, I went to bed last night exhausted but happy, and I woke up this morning sleepy, but ready for the day.

I was also ready to push my pace a little bit. For the last couple weeks (Thursdays excepted), I've been consciously trying to slow myself down. I'm running an awful lot of miles these days, and I don't want to risk injury this early in my mileage build. Still, there's something about seeing those green squares on my training sheet (as opposed to yellow) that boosts my confidence tremendously, so every now and then I have to let myself gain some speed, even if I'm not officially in training yet. I kicked it up a little this morning, letting the leg muscles stretch in the cold rain of what I can only assume is the only winter we'll get this year.

My time was great (especially by comparison with my Super Bowl Monday slog), and I'm hoping it informs the rest of my week. It's not that I want to run fast all week, but I want to move successfully through my workouts with strength and confidence. Speed will come later. For now, it's all about building my miles.

After all, I've got time.

Monday's Run:
39 Degrees, Wet / Rainy / Mini-Mudslides
5.15 Miles

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Brooks PureConnect: An Unexpectedly Strong Handshake

I'm sure you know the sensation.

You're meeting someone for the first time, and they look, well, frail. Either they're very old or very young, or they just have that look about them that says, "I really hope the wind doesn't pick up because I'm quite sure it'll take me off my feet." Some people are just built that way. You extend your hand in greeting and they take it, but something strange happens.

As you close your hand, you apply as little pressure as you can, knowing that a strong squeeze might shatter this person's dreams of a sketching career, when suddenly, your hand is caught in a vice. Too late to change your strategy, you glance down as your wet fish of a handshake is strangled by this kraken of the deep. It only lasts for a moment, and the conversation continues uninterrupted, but you are forever left with the impression of unexpected strength within this person.

It's a considered move on behalf of your new friend. Developing a strong handshake tells the world, "Yes, I'm lightweight and wispy. Do not assume for a moment that this means I am not powerful."

This morning, my new shoes gave me a very strong handshake.

The concept hit me in my first few steps. The lacing on the shoes is very well placed, giving constant support through the length of the shoe without any weird binding. I did not feel my feet shift within the shoe once, which is an absolute must for me. After four miles, I had no chafing, blisters other comfort-related issues.

As far as performance, the shoes do exactly what they're supposed to do. My body just isn't quite ready for it yet. These are the lightest shoes I've ever owned that didn't have spikes, and they're much lighter than any of my other current pairs (Ride: 12 oz, Launch: 9.4 oz, PureConnect: 7.7 oz). I wanted a little less shoe this time around, as I've heard good things about what low weight shoes can do for muscle strength. This strength, of course, is developed because new muscles are used, and I used all of them this morning.

Despite running a very easy pace, my run this morning took a little more effort than normal, and my legs hurt in places that haven't hurt before. Upon finishing, however, all the pain went away, and I never had any issues with my feet, which means one thing: the shoes are working. They weren't making the run more difficult, they were ensuring that I ran correctly. I honestly felt my stride straighten out several times. I really like my new shoes.

Now, I don't feel that you can give shoes a grade based on one training run. It takes weeks and months to evaluate exactly how you feel about a shoe, specifically for me, since durability is a major concern. However, I'll give the PureConnect a first impression grade of A.

I won't soon forget this handshake.

Sunday's Run:
29 Degrees, Partly Cloudy
3.98 Miles

Saturday, February 11, 2012


I'm really not much of a shopper.

I don't like going from one store to the next, searching for the right price. If there is something I need, I do a little research and, if I can't or don't want to buy it online, I'll head to one place, and take it home. No comparison. No extended inquisition. Get what you need, and get out the door.

This goes double when it comes to clothes. Many, if not most, of the clothes I own have been in my position for many years. I get new jeans every year or so, but other than that, anything new in my closet was most likely a gift from someone else. I take pride in how little I spend on my clothes, and at one time, how few pairs of shoes I owned. That last achievement has changed substantially in the last few years.

From my reading about running, I learned that most "serious" runners rotate the shoes in which they run, which adds to the shoe's life. As you run, the sweat gets into your shoe and soaks into the insole. Each step pounds it down until you've essentially squished your shoe's padding flat. If, then, you run in that shoe the next day, you only compound the problem. However, if the shoes have a couple days to dry out, the cushioning re-expands, softening your ride once more.

Taking this information to heart, I currently have a three-shoe rotation system, as you can see in the panel at the right. My oldest pair, however, is nearing the end of its lifespan. Purchased in 2008 in Missoula, Montana, those shoes accounted for all of the miles I ran (however sporadically) through the Austin Marathon last year. They've easily got 300-400 miles on them, just from what they had to do in 2011, and the seams are beginning to break. Knowing they would need replacement soon, I started researching new pairs.

Runner's World has an excellent shoe guide in this month's issue, which led me to four specific models that I wished to try. My favorite running store only had two of them, and I disliked them both. Granted, it probably wasn't a great idea to try on shoes after a 10 mile run, but they need to be comfortable late in the race, so I figured this was as good a try-out as any.

Fortunately, the staff at the store did not want to give up. They took the ideas that led me to the four models, compared those with the issues I had with what I tried, and directed me toward more of what I needed, which turned out to be the Brooks PureConnect. The lightest running shoe I've ever worn, they have a strong enough base to propel me forward on each step. I was looking for something light and durable, and these fit the bill nicely. I'd come in looking for one of four, and left with something completely different.

Shopping for running shoes isn't like shopping for anything else. At least, not for me. For me, it has nothing to do with fashion or statistics or cost or comparison. It exists in a moment of connection, where something simply feels right for the purpose at hand, er, foot. The feeling is important, which is why I could never buy a running shoe online. There is no way I'd spend money on a shoe without trying it out.

But I still don't want to shop around. That's why I go to one store every time. (Also, they have a loyalty card, which helps.) When you find a place that treats you well and employees who know what they're doing, you choose the store.

Then the shoes will find you.

Saturday's Run:
36 Degrees, Clear/Windy
10.29 Miles

Friday, February 10, 2012

Riding the Bus

I like to experience new things, which does not necessarily mean I like all new experiences.

Yesterday's adventure was exploring the Austin Capital Metro bus system. For now, we have one car in our family, so we have to schedule our outings around one another. Last night, however, we both had places to be, and there was no reasonable way to share the vehicle, so I decided to take the bus.

I actually love public transportation. It is probably what I most miss about living in Chicago. There is nowhere I could want to go in Chicago that I cannot reach via train and/or bus. When we lived there, I had a monthly pass, since I took the train to work every morning. As a result, I could go anywhere I wanted without additional cost. I had no gas to buy and no traffic to fight. I did more crossword puzzles than I can count. It was great.

These days, I don't have a commute, which is even nicer. Even if I did, the less-extensive infrastructure would likely leave me with no option but to hit the highways anyway. Still, it's good to have another option for getting where I need to go, and I've been meaning to try the bus for a while. Yesterday was my chance.

Let me first say that the system itself is pretty good. While my experience wasn't the best, this had less to do with Capital Metro and more to do with my fellow riders. The buses are pretty much the same ones that they use in Chicago, though much cleaner. Every stop has a sign with a scanable QR code that will tell you when the next bus is going to arrive. They're on time within a few minutes of the schedule posted online, and at $1 a ride, it's tough to beat for convenience.

The adventure came from those around me. Bus one included a preschool class taking a trip to the park. That's ten children under age 4 crammed into a few rows behind me. Cute, but very, very loud. Bus two was quieter, except for when one guy said he was going to shoot another guy. Let me be clear, I don't feel that anyone was in any actual danger at the time, but it's still a little disturbing to be four feet behind Man A who wanted Man B to pay him $20 that he supposedly owed when Man B says, "Why don't I just blow your head off?" I would be lying if I said I didn't walk a little faster from my stop to my final destination than I otherwise might have.

Heading home, I got a ride to my second route, choosing to skip the one with all the threats. I did not think about the fact that this route ran through campus and it was Thursday night. Good Lord, college students are loud. They were significantly more annoying than the 10 children of bus one, but I buried my nose in my book and tuned them out as best I could. Once we reached Sixth Street and they all poured out, I even had a nice conversation with the guy across the aisle about running.

Thinking about all the details, I can conclude that my bus experience was bad, but taking a step back, it is simply not the case. I needed to get to somewhere else on time, and I needed to get back home. I did both. The bus experience was good, because it was everything I needed it to be, and this is a great view to take with running.

A workout might be slow or mileage may be cut, but you don't really know how your training has gone until you cross your finish line. It's why you need to take it easy when your schedule tells you to do so and why the taper is important. You can't judge your progress by one run.

Just like you can't judge a bus by one death threat.

Friday's Run:
48 Degrees / Wet, Not Raining
6.75 Miles
10 Minutes Yoga for Flexibility

Thursday, February 9, 2012


"Consistency is the death of good acting."

This is an entire chapter in my favorite book about acting, Audition by Michael Shurtleff. A director during my sophomore year of college encouraged me to read this book, and it changed the way I looked at acting. It also happened to be shortly after the first real review I'd ever gotten. The review had called me "inconsistent," and I'd taken it somewhat hard. Then I found a book saying that being "consistent" was a bad thing. At least in stage acting.

What he means is that doing the same thing every time isn't true to the moment. The life of the character depends on the moment surrounding the action, and that will be different every time. You're supposed to strive for spontaneity, keeping yourself "in the moment"at all times. Unless you're on film, you don't want to do the exact same thing every time.

Depending on the day in running, this is either completely true, or completely false. From day to day, you don't want to do the same thing. You need to have fast days and slow days. Change up your distances and directions to keep from getting bored or idling on a performance plateau. Overall, you want to keep your running exciting, so you mix it up from one day to the next.

Within each workout, however, staying consistent might be the order of the day. Certainly during speed work, it's great to keep yourself at a certain level of exertion throughout the entire workout rather than starting fast and running to exhaustion. That was my goal this morning, and I succeeded. Nine of my twelve repeats were within one second of each other, and the all of them were within four seconds. 

On each lap, I focused on maintaining the same strategy. Block one, which is flat, was all about pushing forward from my upper legs and getting to speed. Block two, heading uphill, was about getting up on my toes. Block three, a more shallow uphill where I normally started to get winded, I drove my arms down, forcing me to move forward. And finally, block four headed downhill, where I released all the tension in my body and allowed gravity to do its work. Add in an avoidance maneuver to avoid cars every now and then, and you had my workout.

By focusing on consistency of form, I didn't have to consider my level of effort. Simply equalizing each lap mentally translated to constant times. I'm hoping to find a nearby track and vary the types of speed work that I do, but for now it's nice to have the same goals from one week to the next, as it helps me genuinely check my progress.

And I'm progressing consistently.

Thursday's Workout:
38 Degrees / Clear
3x(4x400, 1:30 Rest)
1:09     1:08     1:08
1:08     1:09     1:09
1:07     1:08     1:08
1:08     1:10     1:07
10 Minutes Yoga for Flexibility and Relaxation

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cumulative Effect

It's been a little harder pulling myself out of bed this week.

A big reason for this is that we've restarted our social life in the last few days. After a month of choosing water over fun, my wife and I have spent the last week catching up with friends who we haven't seen socially in a month. It's been a great deal of fun, but it has also meant that I haven't been getting to bed at my usual seriously-how-old-am-I time. This alone would make the alarm my enemy.

And yet there's another challenge. There's been a bit of a cumulative effect in my sleeping less over the last couple weeks. Until my body genuinely gets used to waking up at the same time every morning, I'm going to deal with being slightly more tired every day. At some point, it will suddenly get easier, and I'll know that my attempt to create a habit of early rising has been successful, but I don't expect that moment to be in week two. In fact, I expect week two to be the most difficult.

You see, week one, everything is still novel and exciting. My life is all early morning yoga and baking. Week four, I'm almost done and the finish is in sight. Even in week three, when I'm tired, I'll know that I've come further than I have left to go, and I'll be able to hang on. Week two, though, has been tough. I feel like I started this challenge a long time ago, but I know that the end is even further away than that.

The good news, though, is that I'm still hanging on. Today, despite my dream about a rather intricate plot to do something or other (which mostly involved trying to fix wallpaper), I was able to get out the door right on time. I did waver for a moment, standing by my alarm clock and considering one snooze, but figured this was the worst possible choice I could make. All I have in week two is momentum, and if I let that go, I'm done for.

Though I wouldn't say no to a nap.

Wednesday's Run:
42 Degrees / Clear
3.22 Miles

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Planning Ahead

Marathons sell out quickly these days.

Eight months from today, I will run the Chicago Marathon. Yesterday, the Chicago Marathon closed registration, having filled all of its non-charity spots in less than 6 days. Fortunately, I got my spot on day one, and I recently found out that two of my cousins will be there as well. I love that town, and I can't wait for October.

But I do have to wait. In fact, I've got another race to run before I even get there. It seems a little absurd to me that you have to purchase your spot eight months in advance. I think about last year, the Marine Corps marathon sold out in less than a day and I spent month after month thinking about the race that I had ahead of me. Through a long, exhausting series of events, I finally got to race day massively undertrained and overconfident. I had no idea when I signed up early in the year that I would be putting myself through the, uh, adventure that I experienced. How can you stay focused for that long?

I don't have an answer to that question, other than making sure you break up the time. If you do other marathons, find one that doesn't sell out so quickly and sign up a little closer to race day. For example, the Sunburst Marathon in South Bend, Indiana still has many spots available, and will be run the first weekend in June. Also, it's less than half the cost of Chicago, but that's another story.

If, however, this is your first marathon, my best advice to you would be to put off "training" for a while. I use that word specifically, because I don't mean you should wait to start running. I mean you should wait to start "training."

My not-so-personal coach is Hal Higdon. I've used his online programs for my last couple races (though I did not follow recommendations leading up to Marine Corps, which is why I had trouble), and I just recently bought his book, which I'm working my way through at the current time. He recommends an 18-week training program, which is a little long for me, but for a first-time marathoner, it's just about right. If you want to train for 18 weeks prior to Chicago, you would start on June 4th (two days after Sunburst).

So what do you do for the next four months? Just run. Not fast, mind you. And don't even run that far. Just run regularly. Get your body used to heading out the door and putting some miles behind you, building what is called your "base" mileage. Plan our your mileage and keep track for your own records, but if you can avoid the temptation, don't time yourself. It's important not to take your base too seriously if you want to avoid injury in the long run.

Also, find some local races. Maybe there are even some during your training period that can fit into your schedule. Get used to racing (or remember the feeling, if you're returning after a hiatus) and you'll go a long way toward avoiding a burn out on race day.

For me, I'm filling my time with challenges. Today was day 7 of the February wake-up challenge, and so far I haven't missed a day. In addition, it completed my 5th straight week of running, another personal best. I'll be more prepared and better conditioned for South Bend, which in turn will prep me for Chicago.

Assuming I can wait that long.

Tuesday's Run:
7.93 Miles

Monday, February 6, 2012

Less Than Super

As much as I enjoy it, there is one inescapable flaw with the Super Bowl: it's on a Sunday.

In fact, that's the only real issue I have with professional football on the whole. You can spend a whole day watching college ball and still have a nice, long Sunday to rest before you have to return to the real world. Not so with the NFL, and if your team plays in primetime (which is evidently going to happen even more), then you're really in trouble. Unless you're on pacific time. Then you might be okay.

On central time, we got home a little after 11:00 last night, once the game had ended and the party had begun winding down. We were on quite an endorphin high, having watched one of the better Super Bowl finishes since, well, since the last time these two teams played. Personally, I didn't care who won, though at least I can tell myself that my team (the 49ers) lost to the eventual champion. If I try really hard, I can almost convince myself that this fact matters.

When we returned home, we wanted to spend some time with the dogs who had been cooped up all evening, so we all hunkered down on the couch for some family time. And then my alarm was going off. 

I still did it. I still got myself out of bed and on the road, but I was not setting any records today. Super Bowl party food is hardly good exercise fuel. Combine that with an abbreviated night of sleep, and it made for one less-than-awesome Monday morning. My work got done, and I made my meetings, and I even managed to make a pretty darn good casserole for dinner, but today was not one of my big win kind of days. Today was recovery.

And you know what? It was totally worth it. Sometimes, when someone makes a lifestyle change, they feel like they have failed if they ever return to their old ways. In some cases, this is necessary, such as with substance abuse and addiction. For me, though, choosing to be healthier doesn't have to mean cutting out fun evenings with friends or not eating all three kinds of spinach dip that were brought to the party. What it means is that when I do these things, they are the exception rather than the rule, and because I've built up a base of fitness and healthy living, I can afford the occasional treat without punishing myself later.

Whether my body punishes me is another question altogether.

Monday's Run:
5.15 Miles

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Baked Goods

We bought our house for the kitchen.

While at a performance in late summer last year, I got a text from my wife informing me that she'd found our house. When I got home that night, she started by showing me the kitchen. Too many weeks later, we'd moved in.

The kitchen was the big upgrade that was made to the house before it was sold, and what absolutely won us over was the island in the middle. This thing has more surface area than our first apartment's kitchen had floor space, without exaggeration. My brilliant chef of a brother is even impressed, which intimidates me a little bit. If I've got an awesome kitchen, I feel an obligation to use it to the best of my ability, and thus far, I really have had no ability.

Every couple weeks, however, I get an urge to be better, and I'm going through such a phase right now. The first big project of the week was chicken kiev. I've always been fascinated by stuffed chicken, and whenever I see that in a recipe, I have to give it a shot. So the other night, I made dinner.

Not only is this wonderfully breaded chicken and fun side dishes, but on the inside of the chicken is an assortment of parsley, garlic, green onion and butter.

General opinion is that it was a success.

Dinner, however, has always been my only realm of cooking, so I decided to try something new. I decided to bake. I found a recipe for blueberry buckle, which is essentially a cobbler, with a little more of a bread texture. The picture looked too good not to try.

Given that I'm waking up at 6:00 every morning, I had a little time today. Usually, I meet my running partner at 8:30, but the weather was a little off this morning, so we decided to call off the workout. I still wanted to run, but I wanted to go at my usual time. With over two hours before I had anywhere to be, I figured it was as good a time as any to learn how to bake. Game on.

Sure, it took me longer than I anticipated, but I made it and it was delicious. Insanely so. While it was in the oven, I cleaned up my mess, actually washing the dishes by hand. After it finished baking, I went for my run. Then I cleaned up my back yard. That was followed with some upper body work and protein, a shower, and a load of laundry. My goal for this morning was to bake, and baking made me do everything else on my list. And it's only 11.

I could make some lame extended metaphor about how running is like baking. You know, take two cups of determination, a teaspoon of speed work, and slowly add 1/4 cup of distance at a time, cooking on low heat for 18 weeks, and let cool before serving. (Actually, I like that.) But that's not what this was about. I decided that I wanted to wake up at 6:00 every morning, and so far, I've done just that. Then I decided that wanted to bake, and I did that. Suddenly, setting small, attainable goals has led me to set more, and when I would normally still be in bed with a busy day ahead, I had already accomplished more than I normally do in an entire weekend.

Plus, I have baked goods.

Sunday's Run:
3.98 Miles

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Here Be Runners

I have a consistently misguided belief that being a 17th Century pirate would have been awesome.

Forgetting for a moment that I have spent no time on the open sea, prefer whiskey to rum, and have never once sacked or plundered, you have to admit, the lifestyle has its allure. The cinematic portrayal always shows a life of fun and adventure, even if you have to endure the occasional violent uprising or missing appendage.

What really sold every twelve-through-twenty-one-year-old boy I knew, though, was the treasure. At some point in your long, illustrious pirate career, you'd come across an old, yellowed sheet of parchment passed down from one father to the next, hidden inside the lining of a coat or peg leg. There would be an indistinguishable starting point near a crude drawing of some kind of squid. You'd laugh about that until it attacked you. Then, the adventure would truly begin, whittling down the numbers of your crew as you journeyed from one oddly-shaped rock to the next until you got to the island where your long lost twin held the final corner of the map and you had a pirate war to see who got the gold.

The treasure map always held a great deal of intrigue to me, and I realized this morning, that you need not be a pirate to draw one up. I've started working on one for Austin runners, or rather for my life as an Austin runner. It runs from 45th in the north to Slaughter in the south, as well as Mopac in the west to 183 in the east. Further south, you're in San Antonio. North, you're in Waco, and East you're in Houston. Don't go west. It's bad there.

The main trade routes run along the lake, an area filled with others going in circles, so the true adventure lies in the boundaries. In one place you've got no sidewalks, making for treacherous encounters with automobiles. Some places hold dangerously high seas, as the road rolls up and down dramatically.

And this morning, I discovered a new territory. Crossing Ben White and moving north on 1st, I saw them. Here be runners. First, I came across a group of three. Then another in front of them, then two more in front of him. I had happened into a mob of my fellow adventurers, no doubt training for the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon happening in a couple weeks. While I have decided not to run said race (and save the money for new shoes), I felt myself in the presence of kindred spirits as we barreled down the hill together. It was a pleasant surprise, and one that I hope to stumble upon in the future.

As I continue to explore the city, I hope to find more little spots of treasure. I'd love to locate some tracks where I can run for free, as well as out-of-the-way running and fitness shops that cater to the individual athletes. I'll add them to my mental map as I chart the unknown in my smelly, size 11 ships.

And (yo ho ho) a bottle of run.

Saturday's Run:
15.71 Miles

Friday, February 3, 2012

How It Feels

The great runners can feel when they're on the right pace.

You don't see Ryan Hall checking his watch every ten steps to make sure that he's running exactly the speed he's trained to do. If anything, he'll check it at the mile markers, but even then it's a quick glance. He doesn't have to do the math. Runners like Hall and Meb and Abdi (our Olympic marathoners for the men) train specifically to run the same pace mile in and mile out. When they succeed, they know exactly what that feels like.

I wish I had any clue how they did this, since my feeling of speed is always completely subjective. How I feel about the day's run has often has more to do with how I ran the day before. Monday of this week, I really felt like I was flying around my five mile course, and I was really surprised to finish in a time that was more than three minutes slower than what I'd run the week before. I wasn't disappointed or anything, as I refuse to let myself train for time right now (except for Thursdays), but I was a little confused as to how I could feel so fast and still slow down.

The answer came to me the next morning: I had been slower on this Sunday than I had the week before. Relative to the previous day's run, my Monday run was very fast. Contented with this explanation, I went about my week and yesterday enjoyed my speed work. However, I was careful, as I mentioned, not to overtax myself during the workout, fearing another muscle tweak or general exhaustion.

Today, as I hit the road, I felt quick, but controlled, and when I started to get a bit winded on the backstretch, I was surprised. Certainly, I thought, this has to do with getting up so early every morning, or the added workout that is yoga. I'm just tired. I must be, because I'm not running that fast. Yesterday was fast, but today is not.

Wrong again.

The good news is, I had a great run this morning. The bad news is, I still have no ability to actually gauge how I feel during the workout, which is something on which I'll have to focus my training once it actually gets officially underway.

Tempo runs, here I come.

Friday's Run:
6.75 Miles
10 Minutes Yoga Basics

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Target Practice

"As fast as you can" is not a workout speed.

Unless you're competing in a 100 meter dash, giving every ounce of energy is not a productive way to run a race, which makes the phrase "speed work" a bit misleading. The idea behind doing speed work should be running faster than usual over a consistent frame of time. It took a movie to remind me of that.

I can't possibly understand how Netflix chooses the movies that its algorithm believes I will enjoy, but I'll always take a few seconds to see what they're recommending. A while ago, the program decided that I enjoyed underdog movies (who doesn't?), so it gave me "Saint Ralph." It's about a 14-year-old Canadian boy who decides that winning the Boston Marathon will be the miracle his mother needs to get well. It's part Rudy, part Billy Elliot, and thoroughly enjoyable.

At one point, the kid is running mile repeats, and the point of his workout is to maintain his pace from one to the next. I had sudden flashbacks to coaches yelling "Too fast!" in the middle of 400 workouts. I remembered that the point of doing those workouts wasn't simply to run my muscles to exhaustion, but to develop a cadence in my step, a rhythm in my breath, and focus on my form. We didn't run each one as fast as we could. We tried to run a lot of them at the same (quick) time every time. This morning, I tried to do my speed work correctly.

Instead of pushing myself as hard as possible on my repeats, I gave myself a goal time, which was a couple seconds slower than my average the last couple weeks. My theory was that slowing down the first few quarter miles will make the later ones easier to run. Turns out I was right. For once. So much so, that I added a mile of work to my morning.

Four months from today, I'll be running the streets of South Bend, Indiana, shooting for my Boston Qualifier once again. Every time I work on speed, I'm taking huge strides to get there, but it's not all about speed. It's about being consistent. Doing the same thing over and over again as regularly as I can and keeping my ambition in check while I slowly, carefully build.

It'll be my own private little miracle.

Thursday's Workout:
3x(4x400, 1:30 Rest)
1:13     1:10     1:10
1:10     1:08     1:07
1:10     1:09     1:08
1:10     1:08     1:08
10 Minute Yoga Basics

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Down With Pants

"Nobody likes wearing pants kid, but, you know, it's the law." Lou, "The Simpsons Movie"

It's my own fault, really.

All day yesterday, I kept trying to remind myself to do the laundry later. I knew that I was out of running shorts, which is my new cue that it's time to clean my clothes. It used to be running out of socks, but now that I've got more pairs of running socks than I do of running shorts, the indication has changed. I'm running seven days a week on six pairs of shorts, which means laundry day comes more often.

Actually, I enjoy doing laundry. It was such a pain in college, because you had to pack everything up and haul it to the nearest bank of washers, and invariably, half of the dryers were filled with clothes that had sat there for hours on end. Personally, I just bought more socks.

Nowadays, the washer is 15 feet from where I'm currently sitting. It's easy. I keep my running clothes in the garage (for the olfactory sanity of all of us), which is a mere 5 steps from the whole cleaning operation. Unfortunately, unless I find myself in the garage for some other reason, this also prevents me from seeing the clothes lying around and remembering that they need to be clean. I didn't think about it until around 11:00 last night, and I was out with friends. Not a helpful time to remember a chore.

This meant that today I had to run in my old windbreaker pants, (Do people still call them that?) and it is not windbreaker weather out there today. The last few days in Texas have been wet and muggy, so much so that Austin has lifted its burn ban. When I get out the door in the mornings, it's in the low 60s with a thick fog and thicker air descending on the streets. It was actually a nearly perfect morning for a run. In shorts.

As a runner, clothes are your second-most important piece of equipment, after your shoes. Once you've got your feet taken care of, you have to choose carefully the types of clothing that you wear. You need something that holds tight, but doesn't chafe. Something that lets sweat out but doesn't let wind in. Running companies will take hundreds of dollars from you if you let them, but the good news is, you don't have spend like crazy to be comfortable. I get my shorts and shirts from Target. They've got a great line of Champion workout gear that breathes easily and fits very well. My socks (also extremely important) are from Costco. They're from Adidas, and they're light without being slippery in the shoe. That means my feet don't get shrouded in sweat, and I don't get blisters. Beautiful.

With pants, though, there's really no nice way to wear them. I'm sure there are some out there better suited to what I need, but what I wore this morning simply collected moisture from the air to the point that I had to re-tie the drawstring to keep them up. One plus, though, they do have pockets.

I guess everything has an upside.

Wednesday's Run:
3.22 Miles
10 Minute Yoga Basics