Monday, November 29, 2010

Running for Thanksgiving Sans Turkey, Pt. Deux

Tofurkey, stuffing, mashed 'taters, gravy, green bean casserole, corn, cranberry sauce, caesar salad, biscuits, pie and cake; and all vegan. This was the rockin' Thanksgiving dinner my bff Marisa and her husband, Chris, (also a bff) put together for the holiday. It really was an amazing day.

I had spent a good portion of the week feeling down. Winter is coming. There are some minor tensions on a property deal I'm working on (I've been trying to pick up yet another great little rental property). I'm concerned that I'll never have another meaningful relationship - I'll add here that it is completely my fault, because I suck at relationships - even writing this, I actually feel a bit relieved that I'm single. I have a mildly tense extended family trip coming up... The list goes on. It is no worse than anyone else's, but it is my list. And I tend to fixate on a few minor things that keep me up at night.

I was also a bit down because I have been lacking energy on runs. And, coupled with the kinda crappy diagnoses of the past two weeks, running was becoming a stressor rather than a stress reliever. So, on T-day, Chris and I went for a little run around the lake before we ate. The lake where he and Marisa live has a brutal 3.5 - 5 mile circumference (depending on the route one takes). The brutality comes in the form of the most intense hills I've ever run on (leaving altitude out of the mix). It was also cold as a deep space when we set out. But what a beautiful run. I sucked wind and struggled and gasped throughout. However, everything around us seemed crisp and crackly. There were some friendly dogs that popped out now and then, but only one car on the whole excursion.

When we finished, I felt great. And it lasted through a short 3 mile run the next day. So following that I cranked through a nice 5 miler on Sat, and then a 7 miler yesterday (I'm taking a rest day today). All of the runs felt great. The final one began badly, but I said to myself Self, I'm not racing. Just run a pace to get into this thing, and enjoy it.... And you know what? I did.

While I do like running faster and longer, my condition (read age) doesn't always allow for that. Chilling out, and just running for fun, with absolutely no goal, seems to be restorative to me. And everything is relative. I mentioned my runs in a conversation with a woman who is a very good distance runner at a party on Saturday. She commented that my chill out pace of 9 min/mile is much faster than her race pace. I'm thinking of joining her on a couple of training runs in the future just to enjoy being out and moving with more friends.

Enjoyment. That has always been a part of why I run, but it somehow took a back seat as I pushed and pushed over the past few years to become faster. Now it is again moving back to take its rightful place as the central reason I run.

During the run on Sunday I had a thought about putting together two distance runs for friends this Spring and summer. My plan is to lay out two courses - a marathon in the Spring and a 50K in the early Summer. I'll ask a few friends to hang out and make sure that there are 4-5 water and food drops along the courses. But otherwise, there is no organization other than a course map and a starting time and place. Time keeping will be up to the individual runner. The races/runs would end at my house with showers and a potluck. I'm thinking of inviting 10-15 runners.

Participants would be encouraged to run together in pairs or groups. There would be no first place awards. There might be an award for the runner who gives the best descriptive speech of the run at the end... I don't know.

I don't have any set dates, but I do plan to start looking at it a bit more seriously. I'm thinking of a mixture of road and trail running (both of which are plentiful near my house).

Anyway, that's all for now. Cyber Monday is upon us and I'm sure you'd rather shop than read any more of this... ;-)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Chas. Dickens Week

It wasn't like the first six words of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities last week. After dropping out of the half-marathon, where I ran one of the fastest 10Ks and 10 miles of my life before the wheels came off, the week went from bad to worse. I took Monday off, popped 4 (ish) miles on Tuesday - Thursday each a.m., and then just ran out of steam completely. I saw my sports doc and my rolfer to try to regain some semblance of my old self. After taking Friday and Saturday off, Eric and I went to do an easy 10k on the river trails on Sunday. About 2 and a half miles in, I requested that we turn around. Man, some days you're just not feeling it. I couldn't get my breathing right - something that never is an issue for me.

I spent the rest of the morning pondering weak and weary over my running. Then, a friend, well let's be honest... one of my greatest friends came into town to have an early Thanksgiving with a portion of his extended family who are also friends of mine. We partook of good food (vegetarian in my case) and wine, and splendid conversation. It took my mind off of my plethora of problems de pied.

The next morning, yesterday, he and I got up relatively early. I wanted to attempt another run. He asked if he could bike along and keep me company. What ensued was a terrific run into a cold wind. Running slowly enough to chat took my mind off of my problems. I felt fluid and, if not fresh, relatively rested. We finished the hilly and windy 4 miles in a nice time, with little or no problems to report. I felt pretty good about it the rest of the day.

This morning I decided to tempt fate again, and awoke at 4:30. By 5 a.m. I was out in the pretty seriously chilly morning air putting in a little three miler on the flatest course I run. Honestly, it felt wonderful. I made sure to stretch a bit more, and focus on the activity more than the time (22:12 in case you're wondering).

So, after a craptastic past 7 days or so, I think I'm back on track. I am going to chill out on running any races, and just focus on the zen of running (or at least try to do so). Friday and Saturday, for want of something athletic, I dusted off my awesome road bike and cranked it around town. I remember why I like doing that so much. The speed and handling of the two-wheeled Ferrari is kind of exciting every now and then. I usually use one of my mountain bikes for errands, and haven't had the roadster out for some time. I think on my 1 or 2 days off each week, it is going to get the nod as the regular go-to machine.

I've also been checking out swimming videos (since I live 100yds away from an Olympic size pool). I normally do more swimming in the Winter, and want to try to improve my form. I'll write about it more as soon as I get my head wet.

That's all for now. Props to my friend, Doug who had a nasty little bike accident in early morning frost yesterday. We've all been there, and hope you're feeling well enough to get back on the horse later this week.

Happy T-day.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hard Week For Running

The bad news started on Thursday when I visited my sports Doc so that he could hear an odd grinding sound my right knee was making whenever I went up hill or ascended staircases. After an x-ray and some discussion, the diagnosis was osteoarthritis. I don't really have my pain in the knee at all, but have begun to take corrective actions. I'm getting a vegan glucosamine chondroitin (hard to find, I might add). And today I'm going in for the first in a series of three shots of hyaluronic acid into the knee. I have a couple of friends who sell hyaluronic acid through natural products channels, so when my doctor brought it up, I didn't have too many questions about it.

Long-term, I'll be ok to run. The HA shots can be done every six months. Then there is always cortisone (which I would do extremely sparingly). And finally, if necessary some years down the road, they can do minor surgery to smooth over rough edges. So, while not great, it isn't as bad as it could've been.

With that news in the back of my mind, I went with my running buddy, Eric, to crank out the Pilgim Pacer half marathon on Saturday. The weather was cold and blustery. And while I had a lot of warm clothes with me, I figured I'd just warm into the run. So I wore a long sleeve shirt over shorts. The result was that I remained cold, even as I sweated, for the entire portion of the race that I completed (ahhh foreshadowing).

I normally train at 8:45-9 min/mile. Races I usually run about a minute faster. While this works well for me in 10K - 10 mile runs, I have a tendency to get insane calf cramps at race pace when I break the 10 mile barrier. It is an odd situation. I can run 15 miles in training with little water, maybe one gel pack to eat, no salt capsules... and never, ever have a problem. But if I kick out a a slightly faster pace, it doesn;t seem to matter how much electrolyte I put into my body, I get debilitating cramps after 10 miles like clockwork.

And that is what happened at Pilgrim. I had run a really nice race up to about the 9.5 mark. My knee hurt a bit. And to be honest, I slowed the pace a tad and ran as much on the grass next to the pavement as possible. But when I felt the cramps coming on, I knew that the race was over. I figured I'd gladly tear up my knee for a good time, but if that wasn't going to be in the cards (I wanted 1hr 44min or better), it was time to pop. I slowed and jogged for a bit, waiting for Eric (who was running a strong yet sensible race) to catch up. When he did, he graciously slowed and we chatted for a bit as he handed me his car keys so I could get my warm clothes, and I handed him a packet of three Cliff's Shot Blocks (which I had been saving for the last three miles because they are so stinking tasty). And then we took off in separate directions; me to the car to finally get warm, and he on to glory and acclaim.

On the ride home after the event, we discussed our future runs. We both love running and doing the long distances. Both of us feel that the bigger organized races seem to detract from the fun level, and put pressure on the experience. While many people use races as a goal for a distance (ie marathon), he and I don't We regularly knock out big miles on the weekends. What we decided in the car was to pull back and do more of the smaller trail races which have more cameraderie, less pressure, and are easier on the joints (read knees). If we want to do a marathon, or 50K, we can do it through the trails, or just lay out our own and roll through it.

I still plan to do one shorter distance (10K) run in Feb; the Groundhog Run in the caves in KC. It is fast, and I'm thinking my calves have never blown out, even at a much faster pace at that distance. It is a good race to go for a PR. But other than that, I'm going to run for fun, do some trail races and stop pressuring myself on the road race PRs. It is simply too frustrating to be feeling great, and cruising at a good speed, only to have one small part of your body let you down.

If anyone has thoughts on what to do to prevent the weird calf cramps, I'd love to hear it. I don;t think it would alter my plans, but it would be nice to know. Currently, when I have done those, I take an electrolyte drink bottle, 2-3 Cliff shots, a salt cap before and 1-2 more during the race. It strikes me that that should be enough to chill any cramps, but it never is when the pace gets too high.

That's all for now. I'll have more next week on the HA shot.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Running for Thanksgiving Sans Turkey

I know it is a few weeks before Thanksgiving, but it is never too early to think about all that we can be thankful for (apologies for finishing the first sentence of this posting with a preposition). I'll cover why Andy the Turkey is the first thing you see her a bit later on.

What a weird week of running. It was cold as he-double toothpicks. It was also dark as ... well, you get the idea. I hate running with hats and headlamps, but I did for much of the week. I tried running tights (with shorts over them for modesty reasons), sweatpants, loose-fitting layered long sleeve shirts, compression shirts with a jacket... It was hard to get comfortable. Somehow I struggled and muddled through a bunch of runs. Then came Saturday. Eric and I are planning to do the Pilgrim Pacer half -marathon next weekend, so we thought we'd get a solid run in. We were going to do the river trails (where the Sandrat run is held for those of you not from Lawrence) and add a mile to each end, but Eric had another suggestion. He knows that my favorite surface isn't pavement or trail, but packed gravel. So, in a magnanimous gesture, he suggested that we just run the eastern length of the river levee. After waiting for the temperature to climb above 40F, we set off.

It was gorgeous, with not a lot of wind, and a lot of sunshine that was beginning to warm the air. We slowed our pace to around 9min/mile so that we could get more running time in. I was trying out a couple of new things. The first was to carry my EmergenC-infused water in my hand rather than on a belt. The second new item in my arsenal was a few Cliff Shot Blocks that Cliffs had given to me at the last trade show I had attended (Cliff's people also had given me an unreleased new mocha flavored squeeze shot that was pretty great when I tried it on a run a couple of weeks ago). I'm happy to report that the tiny hand-fitting (no strap) water bottle was terrifically easy to run with, and the blocks of strawberry energy gunk tasted great.

One of the most interesting things to note on the jaunt was that I became really aware of how much better shape I'm in now than I was even a few years ago. I used to do the same levee distance or the river trails on my bike (that used to be my sport of choice). And, when I did these, they would be what I considered my serious workout for the day. To switch from biking a distance to running it was a great feeling. I've felt a bit of that on some of my other runs, but the levee really drove it home. Enough tooting my own horn (yeah, yeah, I'm awesome and all that rot...). Anyway, we should be ready for the Pacer next week.

I've had a weird sound in my knee for weeks. No pain, but an unrelenting grinding noise when I go up stairs or hills. Very odd. I'm seeing my sports doc this week to make sure there is no issue. Chris, my other running buddy heard it on Friday and thought it sounded a bit off as well. I'll make a report next week if it turns out to be anything significant.

So this morning, I cranked out a new 5 mi route that involved running about a mile down Kasold between 6th and Peterson. I had never noticed this, but that MAJOR roadway has 0 sidewalks between those streets. I was a bit flummoxed (god I love that word) by that fact. But, being very early in the a.m., I alternately cruised on the asphalt when no headlights were approaching and then ran on the grass when cars came by. Great run when there is little traffic, because it is a road that I have never walked before, and the novelty of it made it fun. It also has some tremendous hills (and I'm kind of a fan of hills).

OK, now back to the animals and Thanksgiving. Andy the Turkey and Matisse and Kahlo (see below) are all rescue animals from Cockadoodlemoo Farm Animal Sanctuary ( Turkeys are really very intelligent, majestic animals. So I'm just going to suggest that as a thank you to the fellow creatures with whom we share this planet, that anyone reading this consider going vegetarian or vegan this Thanksgiving. There are so many wonderful options available now, that even if you love eating meat, I could fix a dinner for you and you would never know that you weren't eating the real thing. If anyone does want suggestions, write to me or post a comment below, and I will get you suggestions and recipes. Matisse and Kahlo have an example of a meal's first course below.

Until next week, happy running and healthy eating.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Cold, the Cold, and a New Park to Run in

This should be a short post this week. Should be, but you never know... After the run a week ago, Sunday, I came down with a crappy little head cold. I ended up taking Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off from smacking the pavement. I returned to the road on Thursday for a whimpering 2 miler. It was the first chilly run I had done this year (other than Boston). Friday I dragged through my usual early 4 miler. It was faster than the day before, but not good if you're looking at your watch for improvement. I tried to set up a Saturday, a.m. run with my buddy, Eric, but he had spent the whole week sick with the same cold as well. So he took a pass.

Friday night, I did something I hadn't done in ages. I took out my blender and made sheets of paper on screens that I had constructed out of picture frames and coat hangers earlier in the week. I had wanted to get back into making paper for some time, but just hadn't (you know how it is). For the first run, I was just experimenting with thickness. The frames didn't hold up too well, but I did manage to get some nice, if uneven, sheets. As I progress on this endeavor, I'll make some periodic reports on how it goes with adding color and other textures.

Saturday arrived with a bit of a nippy wind. I waited until about 8:30 before heading out the door in a jacket, a shirt and shorts. I had picked a route that is anywhere from 8.5 to 11 miles. I choose it if I want the option to bail at any given point. I actually felt pretty good at the 3.5 mile mark, so I made the decision to continue on toward the dam at Clinton. There were no other runners once I hit the SLT path. I ran alone for two-ish miles up the gently sloping field toward the lake, and then where it turns north toward Lecompton. About halfway through the section that is bordered by Clinton Pkwy on one end and 6th St on the other, I started meeting cyclists. It was odd, because there was an abundance of them. Now an aside...

I used to bike a lot. I particularly liked to ride long distances on my road bike - a great Specialized Sequoia. Every now and then, I'd be way out on the SLT, the Farmer's Turnpike, or the Kaw River Levee (that last one on my Cannondale MB400) and I'd see a lone runner. While I liked what I was doing on the bike in terms of effort, I always thought that the runner out there in the middle of nowhere, with nothing save shorts and shoes was somehow...well, badass. These days, as much more of a runner than a cyclist, I am always internally pleased when I run into bikes in the countryside. Because in my mind, I'm now the badass that I used to admire. And its odd, because it doesn't seem like all that big a deal when I'm just out running. But there is always some kind of inner flicker of accomplishment that courses through me when I encounter the athletes of the two-wheeled variety.

OK, back to the story... So I cranked through the last 4-5 miles of the run, and felt great. I hadn't set any speed records. But I also didn't have any muscle or joint pain, no feeling of stiffness, no apparent lactic acid buildup, and no shortness of breath. Eric and I traded texts, and we agreed to meet on Sunday for a 5-6 mile run in the morning.

When Sunday rolled around, it was cold. I had a jacket, two shirts, and shorts over long pants. Eric had a couple of shirts and a pair of shorts. We discussed bringing gloves, but finessed them in favor of letting our hands warm up as we ran. I wanted to do an exploratory run down Wakarusa to 15th St, and then turn west and try to find the grass start of some trails and paths I had heard about. This turned out not to be too hard to do. After a quarter to half a mile on 15th, we came to two mown grassy areas that seemed to lead off into a wooded area bordering a neighborhood. We took the first one. And, after crossing the same stream twice, ended up on the trails that make up Fred DeVictor Park. Stupid me, I didn't realize that that was where Fred's Park was located. I have played tennis with Fred (Lawrence's esteemed former Director of Parks and Rec) on most Saturdays for the past fifteen years. I had been out of town when the park was dedicated a few years ago, and had never bothered to figure out exactly where it was. Well, I'm pleased to report that Fred has a nice park with an awesome path that stretches on for miles through some of Lawrence's western neighborhoods. Eric and I ran a couple of miles of the trails before heading back to my house for some coffee and conversation.

When the run was over, I felt pretty tired. I had put in over 16 miles in a couple of days while still a bit under the weather. It didn't help that Eric and I had finished the run with a sprint finish (because we apparently are that stupid). So I spent the rest of the day taking a bath, a nap, reading, and then watching a documentary about Fred Lebow - the NYC Marathon impresario. All in all, it was a nice weekend.