Pacing for others

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).

Faster, finally

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 25K: Mudshow

Finger Lakes National Forest

Runners in the mist.

Not even the muddiest section.

Recovery gyoza.


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. 

New Trails

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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.

Where We Run

The thing about running is, you have to do it somewhere. The place you are going to and coming from are part of the experience, even if you are only going around the block. This is why I fundamentally distrust the treadmill: it breaks this rule.

Like most runners, I have a routine route. I run along the Genessee River Trail near my house. Honestly the location of this trail is the main reason I like living where I do. In one direction I can run through quiet parks and see foxes, deer and opossums swimming across the river (only the ‘possum was swimming). In the other direction I can run into downtown, over footbridges and past office building,  libraries and folks waiting for the bus that always say, “Good morning.”

I have seen this place in all the seasons, seen it change and return to what it was. Of course sometimes it gets boring, or rather I get bored of it and go off and run in another part of the city, or in trails far from my neighborhood. But I always come back to the River Trail.

Back to the start line

This spring, what with a hectic work schedule I was able to drop about five pounds pretty easily, and keep it off without much extra effort.

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Damn.

It is pretty amazing how quickly those five pounds crept right back on as soon as teaching was no longer distracting me from food and beverages. Wait, amazing isn’t the right word. Depressingly predictable, that’s better.

Compounding the blow to my ego was this article from Runner’s World, which discussed the importance of weight loss in speed training. (Spoiler alert: you are faster when you are lighter!) I used the fitness calculator from the article and found my “ideal running weight” to be even lower than the target weight I had noted in my New Year’s resolutions.

Of course, I know that these are impersonal numbers that do not give an overall picture of health, but the fact remains that the numbers on the scale are headed in the wrong direction. So what was I doing right back when they were headed in the right direction?

Salads, healthy snacks, planning my meals, drinking less alcohol…blah blah blah.

Well, at least now I know that all works.

The relay and being low-key

This has a turned out to be a somewhat aimless year for me, running-wise. Going into the year I thought I’d like to train for speed, but I ended up routinely running at a more relaxed pace with some friends on the weekends and that was more fun than stressing about splits and minutes per mile.

But my other resolution was to run new races, and in that respect I’m doing better. One of my main events was the Sehgahunda Relay. I signed up with a few other folks to run Sehgahunda as a team. Last year I did the full and this race is a monster, so this year I wanted to take it easier. I race the first and third legs of the race, for a total of just over 12 miles.

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Pre-race dinner: tempura carrots and somen noodles.

My teammates and I leapfrogged along the course, driving from checkpoint to checkpoint to hand off the race bib our team shared. I got to see other friends complete the race, some for the first time, without absolutely exhausting myself.

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The Sehganhunda course dips in and out of the Finger Lakes Trail. It’s a lovely grind of gullies and streams.

Running the relay let me relax and enjoy the lovely day we had (cool and sunny, perfect for racing) without feeling completely wiped out.

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The race course offers amenities like collapsed footbridges and plenty of mud.

Of course, it wasn’t just a jaunt in the woods. There were hills, mud and muck to drag my legs down and push my heart rate up. But racing for my teammates gave the run an immediacy that the full solo race didn’t have. Bottom line, it was fun!

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The best part is, that’s not all mud. A lot of the course is downhill from horse and cow pastures…

And even though I didn’t cross the finish line myself, I laughed and applauded for my friends and teammate who did.

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Another benefit of doing the relay was, I was able to do a fun 5k with my better half the very next day. Running the relay let me enjoy the weekend with family and friends in a way that the solo would not have.

 

 

Running Data

For such a simple pastime, runners seems to love to over-complicate and super-analyze every facet of information about their runs, their friend’s runs and those amazing superhumans who attempted to break the 2-hour marathon record. This arises from the  proliferation of GPS watches and smartphones that allow runners to track their performance with NSA-like precision and then broadcast their accomplishments on social media. How obnoxious is that? Yeah, I love doing it to.

This year I did start running with a GPS watch that monitors my heart rate, to get a better sense of how hard I was pushing myself and gauge my recovery. The watch would give me entire tables of data that I swiped right past to get to speed and calories: in other words, how fast was that and how much pizza can I eat now?

But as I’ve gotten used to the functions of the watch and learned to balance the information I get, one overlooked tidbit has become more and more interesting. Steps per minute, or SPM, is an small total at the bottom of my run summary. But in reality, it’s a measure of how efficient, and therefore how healthy, a runner I was that day.

Most running injuries are from accumulated stress: pounding the joints and tendons and muscles against the pavement or trail for hours and hours. The better your form, the more efficiently you run, the less the chance of these stresses exploding into plantar fascitis or IT band pain. A quick google search will lead you this article about the importance of good cadence: 180 SPM or so, depending on the runner.

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This was from a fast run (for me) on pavement so I was happy to note that my SPM was between 180 and 200.

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This was on a trail run over much more uncertain terrain (rocks, roots, snakes) so there was a lot more variation.

I still prefer to think of myself as a “mindful” runner, someone who gets lost in the movement and uses running as a mental escape hatch. For a long time I thought technology would detract from the experience. Music is one thing, knowing my exact heart rate and calorie count is another. Who needs it, I thought. But the value in understanding this data is that we can avoid injury and therefore, eat more pizza. And what else is this about, if not that?

Trail Therapy

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This happened by accident.

Running affects the body in a lot of ways. Lower resting heart rate, weird chafing, pizza cravings…many of the changes are positive, but sometimes runners overdo it. A few weeks ago I decided to push my weekly mileage up to 40 miles because…well, because 40 miles a week is a lot, and pretty standard in marathon training. I felt good all week, but by Saturday of the 40-mile week I had bruises on my calves and shins.

Not a good sign.

After a week of rest and a quick trip to the doctors’ office (all good) I reflected on what went wrong. Last year during marathon training I didn’t have this problem. Why? Because I was running almost all trails. The bruises came from the road impact, which is not a problem on the trail.

Of course, trails have their own risks: snakes, mud, low branches, snakes, roots, snakes…but there isn’t the constant pavement pounding. Trail running requires focus and attention to the trail. Its more time-consuming than road running because it’s slower (see above bit about snakes, etc).

I ran 8 miles on Saturday and 15 on Sunday. After a nap and a snack I felt fine.

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Photo opportunity, and a chance to take a breath. 

Reflecting on a Rainy Run

This weekend I ran my first half marathon of the year, the Flower City Half. I love this particular course because it runs through the neighborhood I grew up in and I think the course does a fine job of showing off my old stomping grounds…actually, my current stomping grounds as well. I haven’t gone far, apparently.

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The extra mile is just me getting to the race start.

The start is only about an mile from my front door so I ran downtown, met up with some running friends, used the facilities and lined up. Going into this year I had been planning to run this one fast (maybe even aim for a 1:45) but I’ve been doing my long runs at a leisurely 11:00 pace and I wasn’t feeling it. I headed to the back of the pack and glanced around. I didn’t know anybody.

Half an hour into the race the first rainstorm swept through. I ran faster.

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The hills come in the second half.

Having done this course before, I knew there were big hills in the middle and purposefully held back, or tried to. But as the course pushed over the hills and into the relatively flat portions in Mt Hope Cemetery (it’s not weird, it’s a great place to run!) I realized I had more gas in my legs.

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So I went faster. I was under 8:00 for most of mile 9, and as I reached the final miles into the finish the rain came back. Hard.

My glasses fogged over, I was soaked through. I ran faster. I put in my headphones to drown out my misery and it worked! I felt tired but also oddly indestructible. I fell into a rhythm I knew well. I knew the course, I knew my pace. I passed a few friends and shouted out hellos but this rain was still coming and I wanted to be done. And I was enjoying the pace. I came into the chute, waved to my wife, and sprinted (not a fast sprint, but I did take it up a notch) into the finish. And was done.

The rest of the day was a bit of a fog of napping, hot showers and eating. Sitting here the morning after and looking back on the race, I realize it was a potent reminder to run your own race. I could have run faster earlier, I suppose, but I knew I didn’t have the speed yet. I finished strong and felt good afterwards. What else can I ask for?

I am gonna run that 1:45 though.