Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Indianapolis City Running

I'm posting this on Tuesday rather than the usual Monday because I was flying back to Kansas from Indianapolis yesterday. Indianapolis is a nice city...nice and flat that is. Coming from Kansas, I've seen flat (though Eastern Kansas where I reside is actually quite hilly). But Indy is seriously flat. And seriously flat means seriously fast running.

My friend and co-worker, Marisa and I have been going to Indianapolis for the past few years for a late Summer trade show. In our wanderings around the city, we've found that Indianapolis has a couple of places found where the running is great. The first is in a neighborhood called Broad Ripple (near Butler University). It is an interesting place where almost every house is actually a business. A creek runs through the neighborhood, and a nice trail crosses it as well. The only potential issue I saw with the place is that the trail is so popular with bicycles, runners, and walkers, that there really did seem to be a slight danger of collision.

Indianapolis bills itself as a bicycle friendly town. And it really is. I can't recall being in the center of a city and seeing so many places devoted to bicycling. And with cycling being highlighted, running benefits as well. I spent two mornings running with the lightning fast Chris Ford, who had driven in to meet us, and to hang out with a friend, Christine, while Marisa and I worked.

Chris and I ran in the early a.m. in the second great running area along the canals and river near Lucas Oil Field and the Convention Center. As I mentioned, the runs were flat and fast. We were able to cover a good amount of ground as we set off and circumnavigated the Indiana State Capitol Building. We then cruised through Purdue and U of I's Indianapolis campus to the river. The river is pretty with bridges crossing it every few blocks. Early in the morning there wasn't any traffic to speak of. Along and above the far shoreline, we ran by a wall built of huge slabs of cut stone. It was really kind of magnificent. We also ran by a pedestrian bridge that has a lot of nice sculptures on it, and then by the Indians (minor league) Victory Field. We ended the run on the last day with a run through the native botanical garden that flanks two museums across the street from the hotel complex where we stayed. All in all, Indianapolis really puts on a good show for cyclists and runners.

Before heading to Indy, I did a mid week training run with my other running buddy, Eric. We are planning to do an 8.5 mile race on trails next week, so we've been trying to get in 1-2 runs on the trails each week. The run was interesting. Since it was pretty dark when we started, we ran out on the levee, then back on the trails. I'm not a fan of spiders, so I made him run ahead (and I'm glad I did, because he ran face first into one or two really good webs). I feel pretty fit for the race this weekend. I'll have a report in my next post.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Correction, A Long Run, and Competition

Me trying to catch another runner - Feb 2010

First things first. I need to make a correction of an earlier posting. Yesterday, while coming back from a shorter run (which was a recovery run from a much longer run the day before), I chanced upon my friends and neighbors, Sandra and Renee. They and two others were on one of their last training walks for the Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure for Breast Cancer event in August, 2010 in Denver, CO. After catching up, Renee and Sandra mentioned that they have read this blog recently. It was pointed out that I mistakenly referred to Renee as a 'former' Pilates instructor. Well, as I know (and should have written) she is a current Pilates instructor as well as a physical therapist. If you live in or near Lawrence, KS, you can enroll in one of her classes through LMH South. As someone who has done some early morning workouts with her, I can promise you that your money will be well-spent, and you will get a seriously great workout.

So best of luck to Sandra, Renee and co. for next weekend's walk (it's 20 miles/day for three straight days).

Now on to running: My trail buddy, Eric, wanted to pop another decent run on Saturday. We had looked at doing the river trails again, but opted instead for the more challenging Clinton North Shore trails. We met up with five other hearty souls at 6:30 a.m. and set off. I had run a bunch of days in a row (6), and was hoping to do a pretty easy run. Well, 2 hours and 20 minutes later we finished. That was about an hour longer than I had wanted to run, but what can you do? I can't recall ever having sweated so much during a training run. And since I normally sweat like a 10 foot breach in a levee, that is saying something.

The run reopened a few blisters that I had gotten the week before. I've never had blister issues in any run until the last two jaunts at Clinton. I'm trying to figure out what exactly is going on down there (on my feet). The shoes (my beloved Brooks Cascadias) are the same ones I've worn for all the hikes and trail runs I've done over the past year, so I doubt they are the sole cause (honestly, no pun intended there). If any reader has a suggestion for some product or procedure to chill out blistering (just at the front inner side of my arches, behind the balls of my big toes), I'd greatly appreciate it.

After the run, Eric and I were standing around chatting with a seriously awesome running friend named Kurt. He's an ultra type who's also nice and fast. He mentioned that he does a shorter, slower (for him slower means 7-7:30 minute miles) run the day after a long run in order to more quickly get the lactic acid out of his legs. I have almost always just taken the day off after runs of 10+ miles, but I thought I'd try it out.

So yesterday I got up relatively early and threw down 3.5 miles at an 8:30 pace. Other than the blisters and some crazy chigger bites, I hadn't experienced even a stiff muscle from the previous day's run. Still, I thought I'd stay slow and steady for a couple of days in order to make certain that there would be no ill effects. And I'm happy to report that Kurt's suggestion was spot on. The shorter run did seem to make the run recovery easier. I went for another run this morning before sitting down to write this, and still feel fine and full of energy.

New Subject: Competitiveness

I have been thinking a lot about competition and what it means to compete lately. Over the years, I've been labeled as a pretty competitive person. And, while I think in some instances I am, I also can say that I can't think of anyone who fights the urge harder than I do (hmmm... if I fight the urge harder than anyone else, does that mean I'm more competitive about being non-competitive?). I'll give some 'for instances.'

I love raquet sports; ping-pong, tennis, raquetball to name the main ones I play. I don't like losing to people I don't think are as good as I am at those sports, but it doesn't destroy me if I don't walk away with a win. A lot of times when I'm playing someone who's falling behind, I ease up in order to get them back in the game. I seem to lack the killer instinct to really take someone down. I also have no issues in being beaten by someone better than I am. I feel as though it raises my level of play, and I have a real opportunity to learn whilst I'm being schooled.

I usually gravitate toward sports that involve just me, either going for personal improvement against myself (running and biking), or against one or two other people (raquet sports). When too many people get involved on a team, I get uncomfortable with the testosterone level, and the heightened, shared expectations and pressure. I stopped playing World Team Tennis for just that reason. People seem to care too passionately about something that really doesn't matter all that much.

I'm also not a fan of team sports that rely on a country or a specific location. In tennis for instance, I love the smaller tournaments and Grand Slam, but can't stand events like the Davis Cup. I like seeing the individual players perform well, but don't see why I need to root for one country over another. I like seeing Rafael Nadal, Stanislas Wawrinka, and Andy Roddick walk away with wins. I don't care what country they are from, and don't see why that should matter. I feel the same way about the Olympics. I am always thrilled by the individuals competing. But when the commentators begin to talk about country-specific 'medal counts,' I head to the kitchen for a snack.

It makes me a bit sad as well that pro sports have become mainly about who will pay the most $ for an athlete. I don't get why fans root for the 'home' teams anymore when their top players are just going to gravitate to the larger markets with the biggest paychecks. And I don't blame the athletes for doing this. If I were in their position, I'd do it as well. But at some point, these sports start to lack any real meaning for those pulling for small market teams. When your 'home' team is competing against a team comprised of superstars that your team developed early-on, what's the point? If you can 'purchase' a real shot at a pennant or championship, are you really being competitive? It seems to me that the pennants and championships are diminished when that happens.

And my main sport, running, isn't immune from that either, but there is a difference. Most runners entering a big race (let's just use the New York Marathon as an example) have no expectation of winning. The major stars of the sport will probably be back at their hotels napping by the time most of the field crosses the finishing line. The average runner won't ever see the Bill Rodgers, Alberto Salazars, Greta Waitzes, or Toshihiko Sekos (boy am I dating myself with these references), and it won't matter a bit. Most of the runners in the race are going for PRs. Runners mainly compete against themselves. And, while it is great that Joe and Jane Average can actually be entered in the same event as a superstar (unlike in almost any other sport), they have no expectation of victory against a pro. The clock is their true competition.

I try (and often fail) to keep that in mind as I run. I fall into the trap every now and then, where I focus more on the clock than on enjoying the run. I love to run, and got into running because 1) it keeps me in shape, and 2) because I love achieving a kind of zen-like state of euphoria where I'm really in a kind of zone that can't be described unless you've experienced it. The second I start to think about PRs, my fun-level drops, and I've lost what I'm really looking to get out of the sport. In races, I enjoy setting new PRs. But for me, PRs should never be the goal. The journey is the goal. And winning is just a pot of fool's gold at the end of a rainbow.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Coyote Ugly

Last week was a great week for running if you like getting up early. The weather was hot but manageable around 6 a.m. each day. It was the first week since I was injured that I was able to move my mileage back into the 30+ range. After the Psycho run on Friday, I took Saturday off, and then did a 7.5 miler on Sunday before it hit 100F. The rest of the week went smoothly with runs of 3-5 miles a day; with one exception.

On Friday I set out for a short 3 miler because Eric and I had planned an 8ish mile trail run for Saturday and I didn't want to overdo it. I was cruising back to my house through a fairly rural area when what I thought were two dogs came toward me out of a lawn. I quickly realized that the pair weren't dogs, but were in fact, coyotes. If you recall my coyote run-in from a couple of months ago, these critters in my neck of the woods really aren't scared of people. When the pair were about 20 feet away from me (to my left), I started yelling and clapping my hands to at least halt their advance. They paused and then retreated a few feet. One then took off on a circuitous course ahead and around me across the two lane road. So with one coyote on my left, and one on my right, I had no choice but to run between them. I continued looking at them, talking loudly, and clapping until I felt I was safely away. A couple of cars also passed me. Normally I hate running with cars on that road - it is a small two-lane with no curbs, just ditches, on each side. Friday, however, I was glad to see them.

I've never been afraid of coyotes, but the ones in my neighborhood really seem to be fearless. I spoke with a friend on Sunday, who knows about such things, who told me that there had only been one recorded instance in history of a coyote attacking and killing a runner. Interestingly, it happened this year. A woman was running while listening to an ipod and probably wasn't aware of their presence until they set upon her. I always run with an mp3 device, but am usually pretty aware of my surroundings due to run-ins with deer in my back yard (and the earlier coyote incident). Older coyotes are much more skittish around people. Younger ones that don't know better are much more likely not to look upon us as predators. I've said enough about this now, but if anyone is interested in why efforts to rid areas of coyotes don't work, I can go into it on a future blog (I learned a whole lot about these wonderful creatures yesterday).

Back to running... On Sunday, I got up at 5:30 a.m. Eric cruised by my place at 6, and we drove out to Clinton Lake to meet with Bad Ben and some other trail types for a run on the north shore. I had actually never done a trail run there (even though it is very close to my house). I usually take the SLT paved trails on my runs in the area. This past Sunday there were 9 people who showed up. It was a stunning day for a run. The trails were a bit more technical than the river trails Eric and I usually do which made it more interesting. We turned around after going out 4 miles. When we completed the run, we found that Clinton has some really nice facilities for washing off the mud and plant detritus. I plan to do the runs whenever I'm in town on Saturdays. They do them all year. And again, the trail running community overall seems to be made up of the nicest people I've ever met. To a person, they are fit, enthusiastic, and friendly.

Now for a movie plug: I ordered a French film called Welcome last week. It is a small movie about illegal immigrants in Calais, France who are trying to make it across the channel to England. The direction and acting are excellent, and the screenplay is very well-written (in three languages). I'm a big fan of French cinema, and this is one of the best I've seen recently. I'd highly recommend checking it out of you have a chance.

Until next week, bon chance.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Psycho Wyco

6 Feet of Rocky Mountain High

Actions that bring exhilaration are not that common (and no, I'm not even remotely speaking of S-E-X). I'm talking about doing some sort of physical activity that is both exhilarating during its undertaking, and holds some sort of special place in the psyche for a long time thereafter. I've been lucky as an adult to have a few such experiences.

The first came in 2001 when several friends and I did a self-contained bike tour around Southern France. I had been suffering from pretty debilitating depression - probably brought on by leaving law school, a small business failure, and the winding down of what I had hoped would be a career in music. I'll always have a special place in my heart for every inch of les Alpines that I pushed myself over. I also hold near in my heart each person on that trip as we got to know each other through a shared struggle and adventure. The struggle also served to spark a years-long recovery from poor lifestyle choices and depression.

The next came relatively recently with my friends Chris and Marisa. Marisa and I were in Colorado for a trade show at Keystone. But we did manage a few days of crazy hikes that Chris had found. There was something really wonderful about these hikes. They were at extreme altitudes for a flatlander like me. But what made them wonderful was that the efforts invested in the hike yielded true rewards - both physically and in the most spectacular views I've ever seen outside of the coasts. The sharing of the experience was also something that the three of us will always have.

Last weekend I had another. My friend Eric and I have been doing 6-8 mile trail runs every Saturday we're both in town. I haven't been a huge fan of the trail in the past, but have gained a grudging respect for them as well as those who choose to run them on a regular basis. Trail running takes longer. It it hard to judge distance. You seem to be running at a 7.5 or 8 minute/mile pace, yet it takes 9-10 minutes to complete a mile. That has a tendency to drive me a bit crazy. I have also fallen into a ravine, regularly gotten covered in plant and soil filth, have had to spend a half hour cleaning my shoes after each run, and then have to stand in the shower with very strong poison ivy lotions as I shower like a slaughterhouse worker trying to get clean. So trail running has never really been my 'thing.'

Eric, on the other hand, loves the trail runs. He and I have yet to do a road run together. Since I'm normally a solo runner, I always like the novelty of running with someone else. If I want to run with him, I run the trails. And last week, he had suggested that we do a nighttime trail run called the Psycho Wyco. The run is a 10k that takes place over some of the roughest, hilliest, and muddiest terrain to be found in these parts. Friday night, Eric, I and about 140 other lunatics, slathered ourselves in bug spray, turned on our headlamps and took off on the run.

As someone who is not particularly graceful on trails, as soon as I saw the crazy loose rocks on the inclines, I knew I was going to be in trouble. The race quickly broke apart, with runners moving in small groups. I fell in behind a couple of guys in one of the first few groups. It was helpful to follow, because the mud holes were terrible (one guy lost his shoe in one, and literally never found it - dropping out of the race and hobbling back to the start), and the rocks were large, jagged, and loose. After a mile or two, I was the lead runner of my group. This didn't occur by choice. It happened because one of the two in front of me fell and took a break, and the other got stuck in mud. So I became the defacto leader of my group of 1. The race, was amazingly challenging as a mental test. I could only look down where the light cast its beam about three feet in front of me. Every time I looked up or around, I tripped and skidded (but did not fall). I put the hammer down as much as possible during the run, but the treacherous course continually called for added mental and physical effort, as I even had to grab trees to kind of swing around some of the mud pits. On the way back a man and woman were following me. I asked over my shoulder if they wanted to pass. They declined because they wanted someone in front to light the way. I did think briefly, of stopping and forcing them to pass for the same reason, but my pace was good, and I seemed to be feeling the terrain better.

When I came to the end of the race, there was about a 150 yard run down a hill across a field with two little streams that needed to be fjorded. What got me, however, was that everyone who had finished ahead of me was standing at the finish line cheering me on. I joined the crowd of runners, and we all stood at the end cheering on each successive runner as he or she crossed the line. I had never experienced that in a road race. True camaraderie through shared adversity.

When everything was over, Eric and I drove back to Lawrence, talking about what an awesome experience the event had been. Even though it was late, I could not get to sleep. I was too keyed up with thoughts of running blindly through nature with a goal that would yield a much more inward reward than t-shirts and medals given out at other races. I couldn't stop thinking about what a great tight-knit community of runners made up the crazy crew of trail types.

Now, several days later, I still feel the same way. While I'll still mainly run on roads, my race schedule will likely be dominated by trail runs. The effort is much greater, the pace slower, but I see the allure in making the journey (both mental and physical) the actual reward.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Hot Runs and Hot Tub

It has been hot this past week. That's to be expected. After all, it is August, and it is Kansas. But the heat coupled with the (oft reviled) humidity made being outside a bit... how shall I put this... oh yes, unpleasant. For runners, or at least for those with brains, it made for some really early mornings.

On Saturday, I met my friend Eric at 7:30 for another trail run. 7:30 is about an hour later than I normally hit the road, but the trails we run are pretty well shaded. We set off at a good pace, Eric in the lead. I don't know why I haven't learned to leave some room between myself and a runner ahead of me on a trail. A few weeks ago I almost bit it on a root that I didn't see because I was following too closely. And on Saturday, I did bite it. I tripped over a little tree stump and went tumbling down a ravine. I was unhurt. Eric pulled me out, and we spent a few moments making sure that I hadn't rolled through a patch of poison ivy before setting out again. One good thing about taking a tumble is that it keeps you much more alert to the possibility in the future. Much like having a fender bender when you're in high school. One minor accident can teach you a lesson about avoiding future ones.

So Sunday came around, and I, back in road-running mode, thought why not try a new route. It was pretty hot at 6:45, so I sat down and planned a 5 miler through town, rather than out in the country. It also involved some serious hills. I don't have too much to say about the run other than it was hot and hard - not good characteristics in this context. I did find it interesting that in shifting the course of my run to a different direction, I did not pass a single other runner that I regularly see. In the other three directions that I run habitually, I always see pretty much the same people in most on the various routes. I think, though, because there is a major road I had to cross at the beginning, that the road creates a division in most people's runs. You either run to the North or the South of it, but rarely cross it.

Now a movie plug. My friend Mark Robison, who with his wife, Diane, runs the farm animal sanctuary Cockadoodlemoo.org, was in town over the weekend. On Friday afternoon, the two of us sat down to watch Hot Tub Time Machine. I know it doesn't sound much like something I'd watch, but I had heard a story about it on NPR which said it was a seriously funny movie. Honestly, there were parts that were hysterical. If you're looking for laughs, this is the flick for you. While it's not for little kiddies, it isn't a completely gross-out movie like so many that have come out recently. Highly recommended.