Monday, April 26, 2010

Kick Ass Running

Before I ruminate re running, I'll put in a plug for an actual funny American movie. While I am sooo not a fan of most things that come out of Hollywood, I absolutely loved the movie, Kick Ass. It was so fresh and surprising, funny and violent, that at first I didn't quite know what to make of it. It must've been pitched as a kind of Sin City meets Super Bad. And, while it easily could've gone off the tracks in several scenes, Kick Ass hangs in there and builds to an actual climax that is fully satisfying to the viewer. It ends with a pretty dopey set up for a sequel, but even that doesn't matter, because the movie up to that point has been so ...well... kick ass. Favorite character: tie between Big Daddy and Hit Girl. Ed note: Do not take your kids to this movie. The language is foul, and the violence at some points is very real (and at others just hugely over the top Sin City-ish).

Now let's matriculate on to my week in running. After the half marathon last Sunday, I took Monday off to give my calves a rest. Tuesday I was still a bit scared from the cramps I had experienced, so I did a bit of walking/running combo in order to test them out and get back on track. I had purchased a potassium supplement as well, and had begun to take it without any ill effects. Tuesday night I came down with the second worst bout of food poisoning I had ever had. I spent the night on my bathroom floor hugging my porcelain friend. When Wednesday rolled around, Marisa came by at 5:30 a.m., and drove me to the airport where we flew to New Jersey for a trade show. So with travel and sickness combined, I did no running that day either.

On Thursday morning, around 6 EST, I found a free treadmill (always a tough thing to do at the Sheraton Meadowlands), and knocked out a 5 k. It felt really good. I had no calf or soreness issues. We flew back on Friday morning, and by that afternoon, I had done a rather tiresome 4+ mi in a rather humid Kansas. I think the tiredness was due to several factors - flying, recovering from food poisoning, and this damned anti-biotic that I had been taking that, for once, I stopped taking before the prescription had run out because it made me feel so lousy. I had never stopped a course of treatment early, but in this case, I felt as though I had to.

Anyway, as usual I took Saturday off in order to smack some tennis balls and do yard work. Then yesterday I went for my normal long Sunday run. I opted for an 8.5 - 9 mi course that would take me directly through the hills that had triggered my calf problems in the race. When I got to the downhill, I did take it a bit easy, not wanting the pounding to initiate any cramps. But I had no ill effects; not even a twinge in that section, or for the duration of the run. I had taken a packet of salt with me in case of cramp onset, but it remained in my pocket.

I did get a chance to try out Accelerade's power shot type energy booster during the run. I had been given a bunch of packets by one of their sales guys at the trade show in NJ. I had the vanilla flavored packet. My initial reaction to it was that it was not the best tasting or texture of the four different brands I've tried - Cliff's, Power Bar, Hammer, Accelerade. But it did do the job. I have always liked Accelerade's drink mixes, and used them all the time when I biked. I have another flavor of their's to try out, and I'm hoping it's better. I'll write a bit more on it next week once I've sucked it down in a run. So far on the shot reviews, Cliff's gets the nod for flavor, Power Bar for texture, and Hammer and Accelerade get passing marks (as do all) for getting the job done.

This week's running plan is as follows: today 3-4 mi (on the levee if all goes well). Tuesday the same or tennis. Wed - Fri 5 - 8 mi. Sat, tennis. I'm also looking at signing up for a couple of runs in Northern Cal or Nevada - the SF Marathon (or half), and a trail race or two.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Kansas Half Marathon - Bittersweet

Last week I wrote that I'd have an update covering the Kansas Marathon and Half Marathon. Most of my friends and I were doing the half, so 'training' focused on that race. I put the word training in quotes, because I no longer really train for a specific race. I just like to put in middle distances 4-8 mi each day during the week, and then a 10+ mile run on Sundays (taking Saturdays and sometimes Mondays off). A half marathon distance never left me feeling any trepidation, because I typically can go knock one out whenever the spirit moves me. This attitude may have led to a slight lack of respect for the distance. That is always a mistake. Any distance to be run for a PR is not something that one should take lightly. But I'll get more into this shortly. What ultimately happened to me directly leading up to, and during the half marathon, seemed to be a perfect storm for how not to run a race.

This past week, I had done a long run on Sunday (10.5 mi). I then began to taper off, doing 4 mi runs on Mon - Wed, a 2 mi run on Thurs, and plans to do another 2 mi run on Friday before taking Sat off before the race. Thursday afternoon changed all that. I was standing barefoot on my back deck at 5 pm. I was supposed to play some tennis at 5:30. I turned to go back inside, and felt a sharp pain just in front of my left heel. The sharp pain was followed by a popping sound and an intense pain as I drove the first half to full inch of a 4 inch locust tree thorn straight into my foot. I felt a kind of shock as I looked down. My first thought was to get the thorn out of my foot (that required very careful, yet very forceful tugging so that it wouldn't break off beneath the skin). My immediate second thought was I'm f'ed for the race on Sunday. I bled out the puncture as well as I could (punctures don't seem to bleed much. I put some hydrogen peroxide on it, and wait for it.... went off to play two hours of tennis - the single stupidest thing I could've done.

That night when I got home, my foot was a mess. I could barely walk. That followed into the next day when I called my doctor and explained the situation. After an office visit followed by a visit to the pharmacy, my new routine for the next couple of days was to soak the foot in epsom salts and then ice it. I also was prescribed an antibiotic and told to take Aleve. But here's the kicker; I told my doctor that I planned to run the half marathon on Sunday regardless of time or pain. I inquired if there were any pain killers that could be taken once or twice that would completely kill the pain without causing drowsiness. That didn't seem likely, but the nurse-practitioner who was seeing me had an amazing suggestion. It was a lidocaine patch. Normally used for people who crack ribs, or have back issues, the lido patches cover an area and deaden it without causing any drowsiness. I thought it was a brilliant idea.

When I was picking the patch and the antibiotics at the pharmacy, my pharmacist, who was also doing the half marathon gave me some suggestions. He recommended that I not take the antibiotic the morning of the race because it has a tendency to make you lose more fluids through excessive perspiration than would normally be lost during a race (it seems also to be a bit of a diuretic). So pain pills, antibiotics, and patches in hand, I felt a bit better about my shot at the race. Saturday I tried out the patch, and it seemed to work OK in lessening the pain. I couldn't run very well, but I could shuffle quickly.

I'll take a moment for an aside here. Initially my plans for the race were based on four scenarios. I never know how I'm going to feel on a race day, so I set 3 or four goals. For this race, I had set three. All things being good, I wanted to run around 7:45 min/mi. I thought that wouldn't be too taxing, and my training runs were all in the 7:30-8 min/mi range. If there was bad weather, wind, or I just felt like crap (which happens to all runners every now and then), I wanted to beat 1hr 50min. That's still a speed where you're still moving, and would translate into a 3hr 40min marathon. In other words, respectable (see note at the end of this paragraph).* My third goal, was that if all systems were go, to try to break 1hr 40min by whatever margin I could muster. Every now and then on a run, I get so elated (see last week's posting), that running becomes effortless, speed meaningless, and I PR (usually not in a race). So those were my pre-injury goals. *If you are reading this and run a a slower pace, that is great. Keep it up. I only used the word, 'respectable (above),' in reference to my own running times. Many would consider my times to be slow. All that is important is that you keep loving the run...

Post injury, I revised them. My major goal was to finish in under 2 hours. 1hr 50 min would be fine. And 1hr 44min would rock. And so it began...

Pic above: Me, Phil, & Chris

The race morning was actually pretty chilly. It took a while to warm up. For the beginning of the run, I wore shorts, gloves, and a long sleeve shirt over a short sleeve. I planned to run into Marisa (who's husband is my running chum, Chris) around mile three and dump the gloves and long sleeve. My foot felt pretty good, thanks to the patch, so I lined up in the 1hr 40 min section with Chris and Phil (who's a cross country coach at Free State High). What was a bit odd about this lineup, is that there weren't a lot of people ahead of us, even though there were somewhere between 800 and 1,000 people in the race. No worries. After the national anthem, we were off. For those of you that know Lawrence, KS, we headed east on 21st street to Naismith. We turned and cranked it up the hill to the KU campus. The we headed west, over the bridge by the dorms at Iowa Street and through a back route into West Campus. I found Marisa, and flipped her my shirt and gloves at the 3.5 mi mark. I was only about 10 seconds behind Chris, so I knew the time was good (as I've said before, Chris Ford is a pretty awesome runner).

Next, we had a stretch that skirted along Clinton Parkway (23rd St). After a few turns and miles, we hit the SLT running trail that leads to the dam at Clinton Lake (a route I normally run in training, so I had been looking forward to this). By my watch, I crossed the 6 mi mark at 46 min. That was wholly unexpected. I felt great. No foot pain, muscles relaxed, a smile on my face, and loads of energy to burn. I knew the rest of the course like first-grade math, so at that moment, I made what would be a fateful decision. I actually thought; It's time to put the hammer down. So I took off. The path out to Clinton is slightly uphill for about 2 miles. I run it almost every Sunday, so I knew what to expect. I cruised through to mile 10 with almost no effort at about a 7 min/mi pace. I just had one major hill to go down, one to go up, and then there would be a slight downhill three miles to the finish.

As I was almost at the bottom of the hill, something that I've never had happen on a run occurred suddenly. My right calf cramped and stopped me cold. I was in total shock. I took about 5 seconds and stretched it and set off again. About a hundred yards later, heading up the last hill, my left calf cramped. And I must say, while I have never experienced cramping, I knew that my fat was fried. What ensued was the realization that I simply needed to throw out any and all race plans, and just finish. I did everything I could think of to keep going: I drank every sports drink that was offered, I consumed my last Powerbar energy packet (vanilla flavor), I ran on my heels, trying to keep my achilles tendons stretched and prevent more spasms, I ran on grass whenever possible... But about every quarter mile, I was forced to stop for 5-10 seconds and stretch. It really sucked.

In the last three miles, I was passed by about 50-60 runners. I didn't feel too much of the desperation that comes with that type of occurrence, because I was intently concentrating on keeping the calf pain to a minimum level. But I was aware of being passed (when I normally would've been the passer), and that sucked as well. So, to shorten the story, the last three miles which should've taken me 22 minutes took 30. Shockingly, I crossed the finish line in 1hr 49min (below my initial secondary goal).

My initial feeling was one of utter defeat, however. I had so much left in the tank, that Chris commented that I didn't look tired when crossing the line. And I wasn't. I may have been the only runner to cross the line breathing through his nose! My energy levels had been great. Breathing and muscles were all great (with the calf exception). And it just killed me that I was brought low by something I had never experienced as a runner. Even on previous runs of that distance and at that speed... When I crossed, I was actually embarrassed about my time.

But now, 24 hours later, I'm actually quite pleased. Here's why (pardon the subject verb agreement issues to follow): 1) Only 2 days before, it looked as though I wouldn't even be able to run. 2) Though it was below initial goals, the time I ran was better than what I thought I would be able to accomplish with an injury. 3) I learned something - always a good thing.

Post race, I scurried home and did a lot of research about cramps. What I found out is that the Cramps are a really good band, but having the cramps is not a good thing. My antibiotics may have exacerbated the situation with a slight diuretic effect. I also found out that it is possibly a good idea to add potassium and some sodium to your diet prior to longer races. In fact, it isn't a bad idea to take a couple of salt packets with you on longer runs. Those can help prevent or chill out cramping during a race. I'll put a mention here that I am not a doctor. I read about this, and plan to try it before my next long race (maybe not in training - the jury's still out). If you want links to articles and discussions on the matter, I'll gladly provide them. There was also mention of not running faster than you train. I'm not certain about that being one of my proximate causes, because my running varies so much in terms of speed, that yesterday didn't seem to be too taxing at all when I increased my speed.

In final notes on the run: I thought the race organizers did a great job (at least for the half marathon distance). The chips worked great, the course was clearly marked, the aid stations well-manned and stocked, traffic kept at bay, and a nice finish chute (something I never cared about, but it was kind of cool). The race also had the single best t-shirt I've ever gotten at an event, and nifty medals. If I had a suggestion or two, I'd put the finish onto an adjacent field rather than on the hard surface lot. I'd also put the copious free food, drink, medical, and massage tents just slightly farther away from the finish, so that there isn't the cluster of people clogging the area.

Chris Ford, I should mention, finished second in his age division and 28th overall. I finished 18th in my age group and 185th overall.

The pic below is Chris Ford with his 2nd place victory jug. I'm sure it is not full of grain alcohol.

I love to run. I don't run for races, but for myself. In my reckoning, races add stress and take the purity out of the sport. Races are, however, good on occasion, because they remove me from my routine, and cause me to reflect on things like time, training, physiology, fitness level... Basically, things that I don't think about too much when I just run for myself. Races become the mileposts along my running highway: there to be noted, but not to be taken too seriously. They also bring runners into contact with each other, and add to a sense of community (as I write this, I'm including the hundreds of supportive volunteers who also make racing feel like a community sport).

And, since I always like to write about running happy, here's a pic of my friend, Joe (and his friend, Steve), who knocked out a half marathon in the LA region a week ago. Good job.

Finally, since those who know me know that my other main sport is tennis: Over the weekend Rafa did what no other person in tennis has ever done. He won a masters tournament (Monte Carlo) for the 6th consecutive time. Only a handful have won a tournament 5 times in a row. Rafa is now all alone in this category. He crushed an excellent Fernando Verdasco (who is ranked 9th in the world) to take the match. If you get a chance to catch a re run on the Tennis Channel, you won't regret it. Some of the points were jaw-dropping.

See you next week.

Monday, April 12, 2010

So Many Endorphins, So Little Time

On Friday, after a beautiful week of 3-5 mi runs, I took the early part of the afternoon (post lunch) off in order to do a longer run by the river (the Kaw). I figured I could run out on the levee in order to gauge mileage (there are good markers every .5 mi), and then cut over to the trails, which run directly alongside the river in a forested swath, for the return.

I left my car downtown, and ran past city hall and across the bridge. A quick aside: I love running across bridges. Ones with rivers underneath are great. But so are ones which pass over roads. I love ones that span superhighways, where you can see a crazy amount of traffic underfoot (shall we say), while you are free and unencumbered... So anyway, I crossed the bridge and cranked along the levee. In the first mile, I ran into my company's UPS driver who was taking a walk on his break. He's always been some sort of triathlete kinda guy, who has had to break from training for a while due to an injury.

The rest of the run out was uneventful. I have biked the length of the levee and the accompanying trails for decades. And I have run on them for years. But I had never been out to the end without the escort of a couple of wheels and a seat under my butt. As I sauntered along, it was kind of exciting. I had worn my older pair of trainers because I didn't want to prematurely wreck the soles of my newer Mizunos any more than I already have. The surface of the levee is gravel (and I wasn't sure about the state of the trails, so older shoes were in order.

I reached the turnaround point and did just that. At about mile marker three I cut over to the trails. That was an eye-opener. The running was cooler in the shade. The ground was even softer than the relatively spongy levee. While I had remembered the extremely short, but extremely steep little hills, I had forgotten how curvy the trails are. I turned off the timer on my watch because I knew that would be meaningless (and maybe even a bit depressing knowing the slower pace of my progression). I wasted a lot of effort popping back and forth from lower to higher trail. But it was fun.

When I made it back to my car after the run, I was really exhilarated. I spoke with Chris that night at dinner (he had run the trails the day before) and compared notes. He particularly liked the width and slope of the trails which made running them interesting because it forces the runner to focus on foot-strike and the angle the shoe, foot, and ankle make upon landing. I liked running the trails more for the novelty they offer when compared to road running. I will admit to liking running on the gravel surface of the levee more than on the trails. I enjoy wide open spaces more than a run underneath a canopy. It is a personal preference. Those who know me well know that I prefer deserts and plains to mountains. So it isn't much of a surprise that I prefer the levee, with the huge fields stretching out from its north side. Still, though, I plan to add the run to my repertoire at least once a week henceforth.

I took Saturday off and played a bit of tennis. Sunday morning came and I was ready to run again...well not exactly. I was a bit hung over from an impromptu sangria party I had with my next door neighbors in their driveway the night before. I awoke early and felt a bit toxic. I boiled some oatmeal and smashed a banana into it to soak up some of the booze. I had 3 cups of coffee, a CoQ10 capsule, and three or four glasses of water as well. I took some time to let it digest and then took off on the 10 ish mi run that I like to do.

The running felt easy (oddly, it often does after a night spent hanging with Dionysus). But around mile 2 I was hit with a side ache. It was probably from too much water in a short period prior to the run. I decided to continue and to simply try to run through it. The pain kept getting worse through mile three and four. At about that time, I was (mercifully) stopped by a traffic light. And when I started up again, the pain had vanished. I made a mental note of that in case I ever get hit with a stitch in the future. Take a couple of moments to chill, dummy.

The really interesting thing that occurred during the rest of the run was that I went into a runner's high which sustained and then increased between about miles 5 - 9. It was a crazy feeling. I was on total auto-pilot, expending no effort, and my mind a total blank for .... 20?!?...30?!? minutes - I'm just not sure - before I became aware of how deeply gone I was. I had begun to notice vibrant colors of the countryside around me. The trial's route stretched out before me in a way I had never really noticed before. I felt as if I was much shorter than I am... It was really an odd feeling. I actually thought that I might be too far gone into my own mind. The high felt too deep. So, for the first time ever, I concentrated on killing the high. I talked and ran faster to try to change my experience. I began to count steps between expansion cracks in the concrete surface of the trail (its a really OCD habit I have)... Anything to come down from where I was mentally.

And it sort of worked. But I will say that I'm not a fan of really losing that much control mentally when I run. For a short time it is fun. For an extended period, it begins to feel like a trip that won't end. I have been thinking about it for the past 24 hours. I think that maybe since I put a couple of solid distance runs relatively back-to-back, that too many endorphins might have been released over too short a period. I'm not a physiologist (I don't even play one on TV), so I'm not exactly sure what caused the acute case of runner's high. Suffice it to say that this was one experience where too much of a good thing was not a good thing.

I did find that I really like the Cliff's Shot strawberry flavor. It tastes really raw, and less processed than some other shots I take when running.

Next week, the half marathon.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Anticipation v. Dread. Also My Mizunos. And Brooks' New Green Shoe

I'm writing this on a Sunday morning instead of my usual early Monday writing habit. It's Easter, and I'm waiting for my regular running buddy, Chris, to come over so that we can knock out an 11-12ish mile run in the Clinton Lake area. As I sat at my desk this morning, leafing through the newspaper (doesn't that sound better than what I was actually doing - clicking on newslinks on the local paper's website), a thought occurred to me. The thought covered the difference to runners between anticipation and dread.

As a kid (teenager), I used to run with a neighbor, Hal (see a much earlier post). Each week, Hal would plan out what distances and courses we would run. Hal was a great friend and neighbor, but he was a runner who felt every step of a run, and he liked to psych the neighbor kid (me) out before particularly long or difficult runs and races. So, if I knew Hal had scheduled a long run toward the end of a week, I'd actually build up a sense of dread. Even a middle-distance run could turn into an odyssey in my mind. So when I actually did the run, I was too concerned with the distances to really enjoy the experience. Running always seemed like a challenge to be overcome. I particularly remember a 15k where all the runners took buses to the starting line. The buses went the length of the course. The day was hot as... and humidity was near a thousand percent. Hal, who had done the run before, made sure that we sat in the back of the bus so that we could look backwards over the crazy (and I really do mean crazy) hills that we would have to traverse. So, by the time we reached the starting point, I was out of my mind with worry about being able to finish the run. And, as it turned out, I did finish, but with a time so poor, and by expending so much effort, that I didn't run again for several weeks. My sense of distance and running dread was merely reinforced by the experience.

Today, I have a lot of friends (both runners and non-runners) who fall into the above category. Running fills them with a sense of dread. They view a distance as an obstacle to be overcome, rather than as an experience to be embraced.

The anticipatory runner looks at runs as enjoyable pieces of his/her life. Since starting to run again several years ago, I mainly run alone. There is no one around on any given day to psych me out. Running provides me with the best quality time of the day to organize my thoughts, or to clear my mind and have no thoughts at all. I find now that I look forward to running. And the longer the run the better. I get to spend more time doing something I enjoy. And now, when a friend is coming over to run with me, I feel even better, because it breaks up my routine, and allows me to share the experience with someone who feels just about like I do when it comes to running.

Let's talk about gear now. Infrequently I get asked about what shoes I wear when I run. Prior to the minor Nike Free incident (see an earlier posting), I didn't think much about the shoes I wore. I went for style and comfort - although running shoes often lack the former in that pairing. I also balked (and still do a bit) at price. I now use an older pair of Asics Gels as my trainers, and I also train and run races in a pair of Mizuno Waves. I really like the Waves, but because I do a combo of paved and gravel surface running, the soles are having a little issue with wear. Still, the comfort and fit of the Mizunos are both so good, I'll probably continue to use the model as a regular rotation for the foreseeable future.

A shoe I am hoping to get my hands (er...feet) on/in, is the Brooks Green Silence, which you can see here (you'll have to cut and paste, because for some reason the link setting isn't working today). As you know, I love sustainability, organics, green issues...and (maybe you didn't know) vegan shoes. In running especially, my friend Marisa (Chris' spouse), has taught me to always look for vegan shoes. I am still trying to ascertain whether or not Green Silence are vegan (it is hard to tell from the Brooks website). I will let you know as soon as I do. But they come from a company that specializes in running and finds joy in the sport (Brooks' motto/credo is the trademarked, Run Happy). So I'm thinking that they'll have some pretty good shoes for all types of folks. I don't run into Brooks shoes too often in the Kansas City area because they don't seem to be carried at my favorite running store, Garry Gribble's. But they can be ordered online, and also found at various other running, sports, and shoe stores.

Next week I'll go over my eating and hydration techniques(or lack thereof) for longer runs.

Ciao for now.