I like to run. I've learned that it really isn't about where you're going, it's about the getting there - the how, the why, the who with. This blog is just a little repository for my thoughts along the way; the setbacks, the lessons learned, and the occasional triumph.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rough Patch

I had a slightly disastrous run on Saturday. Ok; I wanted to call it a complete disaster, but there are plenty of actual problems in the world and, right now, we’re just talking about my Saturday long run.

Nevertheless, I went out for an easy paced 18-miler on a very warm but not sweltering afternoon, and I was only able to complete 2 and a half miles before I had to throw in the towel. My legs were tight, my body was tired and it all seemed to be getting worse instead of better as i ran. It hurt my ego a whole lot to have to punch a “fail” on the run, but I’m trying to stick to my new idea this year, that it’s better to not fight through a day like Saturday when it just isn’t working.

What really troubles me is that the whole week I had the same problem. 16 miles the previous Sunday, 8 miles on Tuesday and 10 miles on Thursday each featured lots of rest breaks and plenty of extra-slow splits. Three weeks ago I took a shot at a 16-miler, but had to bail out on it after just 4 miles.

The heat has been a problem. Heat is never good to me. And it was especially hot and humid in Chicago last week. The heat index climbed into the high 90s for most of the week. So that surely has been a factor.

But I think the real problem maybe Softball.

It saddens me to say this, but I think softball may be abusing the heck out of my legs. I play 16” softball (yes, 16) every summer for 3.5 months starting in May, on Mondays and Wednesdays. It’s not an overly-serious league and I am definitely little better than average out there on the field, but I have a well-earned reputation as a speedy runner.

However, I increased my training mileage significantly the last few years, and I noticed the downside on the diamond. I was more sluggish and my legs felt heavier on the bases and in the field. Well, this year I think it’s working around in the other direction.

It’s funny, because, you know, I’m a runner. Running around a softball field should be no big deal, right? But, the fact is, the kind of running it requires is so completely different. I’ve trained my body into the habit of long, slow, steady distance running. 50 miles in 12 hours or less? No big deal. But the stuttering stops and starts, sudden changes of direction, blistering 90 degree left turns, and – maybe worst of all – the complex motions of swinging a bat right-handed and then trying to run out of the batter’s box, have all taken quite a toll on my body this summer. My hamstrings are tight, my glutes are sore, the fascia up and down the outsides of both legs are creaky.

I think the true solution to all this might be a better stretching routine, both on running days and on softball days. I guess starting a yoga habit would truly be ideal. Stretching has long been a weakness in my fitness, and I find I am paying for it dearly this summer.

I just turned 35 last week. 10 years ago, I might have been able to weather all the self-inflicted abuse. Now? Well, I just need a little more TLC.

The biggest casualty in all this may be my attempt at the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance run on the first weekend in August. I was already doubtful of my preparedness, but this problem is like a double-whammy, because I’m dealing with all the aches AND it’s keeping me from getting my training miles in.

Ah, the perils of age and an active lifestyle.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hey, Coach!

Do your non-running (or barely running) friends ask you for running advice? Mine do. Not all the time, but it does come up with somebody every 2 or 3 months. Lately, the gist of the questions have all gone something like this: “Can you take me out some time soon and show me how to run?”

If these people weren’t my friends, I’m afraid I’d laugh at that question. Laugh in their faces. Because it’s kind of silly. Everyone knows how to run. It’s something that humans just do, right? Now, racing, that requires a little teaching. Likewise, pacing is a thing to be learned. But just running?

These people are my friends, so I look a little deeper and realize what they’re looking for is a little more complex, they just don’t have the words. So I get simple questions like, “Can you show me how to run?”

Maybe it’s a regretful side effect of the large, capitalistic industry that surrounds our little hobby. Shoe companies that proclaim you need their shoe to run faster. Drink companies that each purport to be the missing link to your personal best. Magazines that attempt to position themselves as the best monthly source for all the knowledge you need to complete your daily run. All trying to sell something to us consumers by convincing us they have something we are otherwise missing. No wonder all my friends, lacking all of that “crucial” information, feel like they’re on the outside of a club. Like I must have some basic knowledge that they don’t. (Heck, I understand the feeling completely, because it’s the exact same one I have about Golf.)

So far, everyone who engages me with these questions is aiming at the same basic goal: they just want to get a little exercise and feel like they’re in better shape. So, I always tell them they just need to know three things.

1.) It is worth it to buy a decent pair of running shoes – but they don’t need to go to their running store and pay a lot of money. Going to DSW (or some other discount shoe store) and buying any pair of name brand athletic shoes intended for running will serve the goal of basic fitness.

2.) For all intents and purposes, you burn just as many calories running a mile as you do walking a mile. So, it doesn’t matter at all how fast you go.

3.) To improve your fitness, you only need to complete at least 20 minutes of sustained aerobic activity, three or four times a week. What is aerobic activity? Just about anything that makes you breathe harder while you’re doing it.

More than anything, though, I think they really just need to have the whole endeavour demystified a little bit. So, I listen, and I never laugh, and I patiently answer whatever question they’ve saved up to ask. I decided a long time ago that I would never try to convert anyone, but once they’ve found a little spark on their own, I’m more than happy to help fan the flames.

The real truth is, it’s not their questions that are silly, it’s the fact that they think I know so much. If only they understood how much I don’t know. So help me out. Tell me what kind of advice you get asked for, and – please – tell me how you answer them!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ramblings & Wisconsin

I've been a little quiet here for the past few weeks, yes. It's practically summer time, you know, and I've already taken 3 different trips this months , both short and long. It's jostled my blog output and my running schedule.

I have kept up with my training (or replaced it with some cross-training). It's just my long runs that have been a little short (yes, pun intended). But if my marvelous marathon in May taught me anything, it was that cutting back and staying fresh is more useful than pressing and over doing things.

I did have a marvelous time in northern Wisconsin last week. Laura and I were up there for 5 nights and 6 days. My actual running miles were low, but I did some great, tough trail runs on the local cross-country ski trails.

I made up the running miles with lots of hiking & nearly 30 miles of mountain biking during the week. Not a grand total by bike standards, but I (and especially Laura) are very new to that sport, so it took a little extra out of both of us. There is an incredible and extensive trail system up there, most of it maintained by the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA). They've cut and mapped trails for riders at every level of experience. And they're just as good for running as they are for mountain biking.

The only real trouble we had all week were the ticks. It was big time tick season. I've barely had a tick on me my whole life (and I was a camping, hiking boy scout for years), but we had 4 the very first day out. Luckily we found ourselves some serious Deep Woods Off that afternoon, and didn't pick up any more the rest of the week. (whew!)

I'm still on the fence about wether or not I'm going to go to Ohio at the beginning of August to run the Burning River 100. Well... I'm very much leaning toward going, but I haven't fallen off the fence yet. I'm worried about my mileage build up. There is absolutely no way I'm going to be in any kind of shape to race the event. I could only hope to make it through quick enough to stay ahead of the cutoff times. I'd be cool with that. Be very happy, in fact, just to be able to say I finished my first 100-miler. But even at a lazy pace, it's still 30 hours on my feet, all on the go. There's still more time before I have to fully commit. I'll see how the next couple of long runs go in the new summer heat.

Oh, and I got myself a brand new pair of trail running shoes! A pair of Inov-8 Roclite 295s. I'm already completely in love with them, so I'll have a first impressions review up in the next couple of days. I'm just drawn to Inov-8's product line for some reason.