Let me start by talking about why I shouldn’t have done this race.
- My IT band has been acting up. Two weeks ago it flared up during an 11-miler, right at the end, so I decided to risk it. I wore my IT band.
- I’m still a little jetlagged and undertrained. Almost two weeks in Japan and the start of the school year craziness have conspired to take whatever midsummer racing edge I had right off. And jet lag lingers.
- I got a nasty poison ivy rash, for which I’m taking prednisone. The rash is itchy as hell when I sweat (uh-oh) and the prednisone has made it hard to sleep, which doesn’t help with distance running. Sleep is key.
So, here’s how I decided to handle those problems. Obviously I still ran the race.
- My IT issues came from a mix of muscle weakness and running form. The weakness is a long-term problem but the form issue is one I can correct by running mindfully. I imagine my head floating over my shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over feet. I count my breaths and keep my head up. It worked: the knee was fine until the 11th mile. When it did act up, I tightened the band and finished fast.
- I tend to run harder than I should, pushing my heart rate above the ideal distance runner “fat burning zone” to build up speed, then bonking late in the race and feeling like crap the rest of the day. I didn’t want to feel like crap after this race. So I stayed between 11:00 and 10:00 minute miles, a conversational pace for me. My heart rate still climbed up on some of those hard hills, though.
- I used body glide and anti-itch cream all over my rash. Also, since one part of the rash is right in the bend of my left elbow, it was a good reminder to relax my arms.
So I ended up running this race about 20 minutes slower than I did last year, but when I finished I felt happy and tired. I saw friends and running buddies along the course, and enjoyed the early fall morning. Going into this year I had hoped to get faster, maybe even PR on this particular course. But, that didn’t happen. Still, I ran my own race and finished happy.
The final kick: happy to be done.
I like to run in my new shoes without socks. How about you?
Don’t worry, I’m wearing shorts just above this picture. This is an IT band strap. It works by putting pressure on the IT band to keep it loose. At least I think that’s what it does.
On the plane home from Tokyo, I stood up to stretch and felt the tug of a tightening IT band. This has been a recurring injury for me going back almost two years to Sehgahunda training. I don’t have too many niggling recurrent injuries, so this one rather annoying. When runners are hurt, the hardest thing for them to do is rest, but that’s what I blame for this.
The last time my IT band tightened up was last fall at the Marine Corps Marathon. I had slacked off of the yoga and my taper had been more “tapered” than is usually recommended (I was under-trained). Add in an unusually hot day and right around the halfway mark…well, you can use the link above to read all about that.
This time I was coming off over a week of not running or doing any consistent yoga class. Sure, I did a few sun salutes but not hour long classes like I do when I’m at home.
Luckily, with the help of my IT band strap (which works, so if you have IT band pain, get one asap) and some shorter runs on trails, I’ve been able to do some active recovery.
So what’s the lesson? Clearly, never stop running.
These are the steps to the entrance of Rinno-Ji. They are even more steep and slippery then they look.
No, I didn’t run up this. But while staggering up it, I thought Man this would suck to run up.
For the last ten days I’ve been visiting my wife’s family in Japan. Tokyo in summer is hot and humid, but luckily jet lag woke me up most days at 3 or 4am, so I was able to get out and run well before the run came up. Twice. That was enough for me.
This is a small Shinto shrine in my in-law’s neighborhood that made a convenient out-and-back turnaround point. I don’t even know it’s name. To pray there visitors use the thick rope hanging from the bell in the center of the picture to ring the bell, this gaining the kami’s (shrine god) attention.
What with the jet lag, I spent quite a few yen in Starbucks. Some folks may complain about the proliferation of Western capitalism but believe me, when your body thinks it’s 3am but your spouse wants to shop a caramel macchiato is a goddamned blessing. On the left is a standard tall latte, and on the right is the (never seen in the USA) short macchiato. Ever wonder why the Japanese are so fit and live forever? Portion control is one reason, folks.
Bike parking lot. 100 yen to park for the day (about $1)
Also, they cycle everywhere. I blogged about this after my last trip to Japan so this is a bit of a retread. Very few people where helmets either. Moms with kids and groceries, grandparents, kids going to baseball or soccer…all on bikes, in traffic, completely nonchalant. In my opinion, it comes down to several factors. The roads, especially side streets, are tiny and winding, meaning that cars are slower and have to slow down anyway. Bicycles are seen as transportation, not toys. And finally, most people just don’t drive like assholes the way so many Americans do.
Put your pack on a hangar. Easier to load, transport and get into.
I have a complex relationship with my hydration vest. On one hand, it’s a comfortable efficient way to carry water, food and supplies on long unsupported runs. On the other hand, I think it makes me look like a dork.
More often than not, it’s unnecessary. Most races have frequent water stops with snacks. In my opinion many runners, especially new ones, tend to overhydrate anyway. This is not to say don’t drink while you run, just You are tougher than you think.
That said, when you need one it’s best to know what you are doing. First and foremost, burp your bag. Fill the water bag with water, turn it over so the nozzle is at the top, and suck out the excess air through the hose. Nothing screams “I’ve never used one these before!” like a sloshing hydration vest. Also it will annoy the shit out of you within 20 seconds.
Make sure all the straps are comfortable and untwisted. Twisted straps are a one way ticket to destination chafed as hell, which in turn will make your post run shower a grim torture session.
Finally, be sure to get the brightest neon colored pack you can find. Nothing says “I’m a modern day Pheidippides!” like a day-glo color scheme.
Squirrels are more interesting than sunrises.
Running is energizing and exciting and fun…oh, and sometimes it’s fucking exhausting. Four 40-mile weeks in a row left me burned out, cranky and achy on a Monday morning. At first I thought, I will push through this. Two minutes later, I thought, nah, I’m gonna be lazy for a while. It was not a hard decision.
Rest weeks are part of marathon training so any guilt I may have felt was quite short lived. Still, a few mornings later a few lovely cool mornings rolled around, and I had to fight the urge not to start running immediately. Luckily Coco was there to talk me down.
A few weeks ago I starting pacing for a local running store’s group runs. Pacing involves running at a set pace for the benefit of other folks who are training for a particular race or pace.
I’ve flirted with the idea of pacing before but basically didn’t think I was experienced enough or a strong enough runner. But I also wanted to help out the community I had joined and frankly, as a teacher, I couldn’t resist the urge to tell other people what to do.
This pat weekend I paced a long run of 14 miles. We looped around three times and by the final loop it was just another runner and myself. After nearly three hours we chatted like old friends and urged each other on. It was oddly relaxing: we were both tired and focused on the same goal, and therefore a lot of the pretense of normal conversation was stripped away.
I’ve come to enjoy pacing not just because it lets me be bossy and feel important, but because it gives me the concrete goal of a race without the pressure or the cost. After all, what I mostly enjoy about running is the community. There are few better ways to get to know someone than sweating through a few miles (or fourteen).
I have been half heartedly pushing myself to get a bit faster recently, at least on my short runs. For me that’s under 9 minute miles for a 5 mile run.
But, it hasn’t quite happened, until this morning. Here’s what I think went right.
I rested the day before. Surprisingly it’s easier to run hard when you are not exhausted.
I slept well. I had a light healthy dinner after a yoga class and read before bed.
I ate well the whole day before. It wasn’t just dinner. I had a smoothie for breakfast, a light lunch of mostly vegetables, and a quinoa salad for dinner. I know, you can cut the self-congratulation with a knife from Williams Sonoma.
I skipped the booze. Not a drop. Hence, deep sleep uninterrupted by trips to the bathroom. This was the hardest part.
None of this is any great insight, of course. But the lesson for me was simple: peak performance begins well before the actual performance. As I age, I can’t cut those corners anymore. The simple basics can’t be overlooked.
I don’t plan to make a habit of the “no booze” thing, though.
Finger Lakes National Forest
Runners in the mist.
Not even the muddiest section.
The Finger Lakes 50 is a trail race extravaganza in the Finger Lakes Forest outside Ithaca, NY. Runners have the option of running 1 25k loop, 2 loops or 3 plus a “baby loop” for 50 miles. It was my first experience so I stuck with the single loop 25 K. Also I didn’t want to die.
It was stormy all weekend and the trail was a muddy slogfest. I had come in with vague notions of trying to run…fast, but very quickly I let that go. I was running/hiking/slogging with friends, so we relaxed, chatted and enjoyed the suckiness.
I’m a big believer in routine. Resolutions and grand pronouncements are great on January 1st, but it’s the humble grind of habits and routine that get us there. For me, routine can be a crutch through hard times. My running habit has been a welcome distraction from many a stressful morning, week, or year.
That said, the mind also craves variety. When a routine becomes a rut, my brain starts looking for a way to switch things up. This feels like boredom with morning runs, a general sense of…meh. Whatever.
That’s when I start to look for ways to switch things up. Like suddenly following a trail I have run past for years and wandering around, getting a little lost. Not too lost, just a cerebellum-tickling, “oh-man-I hope this-works-out” kind of lost.
I guess my point here is that small adventures can be right in front of us. New trails, restaurants, books, relationships, whatever…all we have to do is be willing to take that sudden turn. Routine is always there to return to.