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Monday, June 17, 2013


I’m not an ideal distance runner.
Far from it, actually. Your typical elite marathon runner is going to be around 5’7” and 120 pounds, and yes, that’s the men. Even Ryan Hall, American marathoner extraordinaire, whose head can be seen peaking over the top of any race pack, is only 5’10” and 130. I’ve got two inches and 30 pounds on the best runner in the country.
Now, normally, I’m glad to be taller, and I don’t think for a moment that I need to drop 30 pounds. Still, you can’t escape one basic fact: less weight is easier to carry. There’s a reason you don’t see a lot of muscle-bound marathon runners. Our kind keeps slim to put less pressure on the legs and conserve energy for those later miles. The smaller you are, the faster you can go. In theory.
There is still hope for us giants, though. If we can’t be lighter, we must be stronger or smarter. Or both. I’m working on the second in the hopes of the first.
As I mentioned before, I’m trying to focus somewhat on my form of late, but I also want to take a look at my cadence. Elite male marathoners average approximately 180 steps per minute. Quite frankly, it’s strange to see how close they are to that number. In the 2011 Boston Marathon, someone did a study of the cadence of the top ten runners and all were within 8 steps of 180. It’s a magic number, so to speak, and a good target to aim for.
Here’s the potential problem: does being taller affect the optimal rate of my cadence? The elite women in the same marathon were an average of 7-10 steps more per minute, so should I be aiming for something a little under 180?
Well, I don’t know. To be honest, I haven’t done as much research in this department as I’d like. I do know that practicing a quicker turnover will help get me faster. That seems to be a given in the limited articles that I’ve read, so I started work on that today. I’m not going to spend a 15-mile run trying to take extra steps, but a speed work day seemed like a perfect time to give it a go. I did my first three half-mile repeats as normal, and then pulled out the iPhone.
I don’t run with music anymore, so it was strange to try and move with cords flying all over the place, but I had downloaded a metronome app (yes, they have one for everything), so I set it to 180 and started off. Almost immediately, I realized the difference.
Hills. Hills are the difference.
On flat ground, 180 is pretty close to standard for me, but going up or down hills, my stride instinctively lengthens, which it really should not be doing. Taking longer strides on hills will cause injury going up or down, and I’ve been doing it without realizing it. Thank you, metronome, for showing me the error of my ways.
Repeats four and five went well, but I bailed on the cadence halfway through my last repeat. I found it very tough to change the basic mechanics of my stride, so I had to finish the last lap in normal steps. However, the experiment got me through my first speed workout in months without much agony or exhaustion, and so I think I’ll try it again next week.
Because however hard it is, it’s got to be easier than changing my height.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Day Six: Form

There are many reasons I'm not a great runner.

At least, that's what I'm learning with every book, article or tweet I read. More of this, less of this, NONE of that, and sleep more. Some coaches or authors will say that the more important thing is the diet. Others swear that running form is the magical key. Still more think it starts with some sort of inner peace, which, if that's the case, I'm in trouble.

But there are a few things I've read in recent months that have hit home a little more solidly, and I'm going to start trying to work with them. After all, if I'm giving this drive for Boston my focus for the next 90 days, it only makes sense to try anything to run smarter, longer, and faster, and I'm going to work them in that order. Smarter first. Then longer. Then faster.

I recently read Born To Run by Christopher McDougall (yes, I'm a little late to the game). I loved just about everything I read in there, except that whole bit about not eating meat. Sorry, not gonna happen. But everything about the running itself really hit home, especially the four keys to running, brought to you by the Caballo Blanco:

"Think easy, light, smooth, and fast. You start with easy, because if that's all you get, that's not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don't give a sh*t how high the hill is or how far you've got to go. When you've practiced that so long that you forget you're practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won't have to worry about the last one - you get those three, and you'll be fast."

If you don't know who Caballo Blanco is, go read Born To Run. It's great. If you do know who he is, you know what he meant. You have to get things to move easily. If you force it, you'll burn out, or break something. You'll progress to a point and then hit the wall, get frustrated, and never return. Start with easy, because if that's all you get, it's not so bad.

Well, I've never been one to do things easy, but I'm trying. I ran fourteen miles today, and when I got my bad side cramps, I stopped and let them pass. Didn't push through and make it harder. Just waited for it to pass, and enjoyed the return to the ride. And I thought about two very important things that I have to work on physically to get to easy and light. Form and cadence.

Cadence I'll leave for Monday's post, when I've had a chance to work on it, as a fourteen miler is probably not the time to increase your steps, but it's a perfect time to work on form. As long as you can stay focused. I realized three truths during today's run:

1) I will never be a pacer. I don't understand how they do it. One second I'm running 7:45, then 8:30, then 6:55. Thank goodness I'm only working on easy.

2) The body is dumb. When you have too much water, you get a cramp. When you don't have enough water, you get a cramp. Thanks for clearing that up, nature. Honestly, though, the symptoms of hyponatremia (too little sodium in the blood, often due to overhydration) and dehydration are startlingly similar. If you wait for your body to tell you how to fuel and hydrate, you're probably already in the danger zone.

3) When I start to get tired or my mind starts to wander, I drift backward. Popular opinion these days holds that the midfoot strike is the best running form, contrary to what I had always believed. As a taller-than-average seventh-grader, I thought it was my long legs that were propelling me to the front of the pack, but it must have been something else. The farther you reach that foot, the harder you'll be on the heel, knee, and lower back. So I try to focus on keeping my weight propelled forward, and it feels so much better, but it is clearly not yet my natural form. So I'll keep working.

Little changes in my form make a big difference on the muscles I'm using, and therefore the energy I have. I'll keep my shoulders pushing forward and my feet landing in the middle.

And if that's all I've got, it's not so bad.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

National Running Day 2013

Nothing like a meaningless holiday to bring you back to something you love.
Our beloved country seems to be overrun with “National Something Day” announcements. I have to wonder just who decides these things, and why on Earth National Margarita Day doesn’t show up as a holiday on my Google calendar.
The vast majority of these days of honor seem to mean very little. It doesn’t seem important until you get a whole month devoted to something. Still, one that jumps out at me every year is National Running Day. Whether it’s the slight 10% discount on the $500 merchandise I can’t afford, or the log-your-miles-for-charity Twitter feeds exploding, I never seem to miss that day. Yesterday was no exception.
But I got to do something a little special in honor of the day. Instead of taking my usual lonely run around the neighborhood and calling that a celebration, I headed to Luke’s Locker in downtown Austin to join their Wednesday night social run. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but just hadn’t gotten around to yet. What better day, right?
So I parked about half a mile away and jogged up to try and look tough, as though showing up for a run in 96 degree heat wasn’t proof enough. I found a small group, 15 or so runners, ready to take on a nice easy 5K. Many seemed to know one another, which leaves me feeling like the odd man out for a while, but all were happy to engage in conversation, and one topic always pops up quickly: what’s your next race?
Well, I’ve recently made that decision, assuming I can complete the challenge I have set out for myself. With money tight and the heat rising, I need to make the smartest decisions I possibly can, in order to do the things I want to do. And there is one thing I want to do above most others at the moment: I want to run the 2014 Boston Marathon.
I can only begin to imagine the feeling that will surround that race. The camaraderie. The joyful defiance. And let’s not forget, the incredible names that will be in attendance. The list is only beginning to grow, but it seems like every big name in running will be a part of next year’s race. It’s our chance to show that we won’t be afraid, that we’re stronger than anyone imagines. It’s our chance to honor those who have gone before and pave the way for those who will come after. There’s nowhere else I want to be on that day.
Which means I have to qualify.
And to qualify, I have to run my time before the second week in September. Well, being a runner in the south, pickings are slim on local races in the summer months due to that whole collapse-and-die-in-the-heat thing that can happen. So I have to set my sights far away, both in time and place. I plan to qualify at the 2013 Bozeman (Montana) Marathon on September 8th. However, I need to make sure I start training now, heat be damned. And I have to prove to myself that I can be responsible enough to spend the money.
Beginning last Monday, I have started myself on a 97 day challenge. No alcohol, moderate caffeine, and a whole lot more water. I’m eating better (and more often), and I’m running more. And if I can make it 50 days into this challenge (completing at least 300 miles in those 50 days), I’ll register for the race and buy my plane ticket on July 22nd. Day 97, I qualify.
Now, to be fair, I’m only on day 4 and mile 6, but I’ve got a good feeling about this. I believe I can do it. I believe it was meant to happen this way. I’m going to keep going to the social runs as much as I can, and push my Sunday morning friends to show more often. I’m going to run Yasso 800s around my neighborhood and get as many miles out of a morning as my work schedule allows. I’m going to live every day like it was National Running Day, and hope that National Margarita Day doesn’t hit before day 97. But when I cross that finish line, my first drink is already decided.
Samuel Adams, Boston Lager.