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.

Rough Run

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The view from the trail: Letchworth Gorge

Yesterday I ran (and hiked, and finally trudged) the first preview run of Sehgahunda. I’ve posted before about rough runs leading up to this race, and yesterday was a humdinger. As with last time, it was muddy and cold, which makes for a miserable situation.

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The upside of puddles: your shoes get rinsed off.

The upside was, I had a buddy to run with this time. We were able to chat which was both a pleasant distraction and a good way to gauge our running efforts. I’ve been using a Garmin but I still think “running by breath” is the best way to judge effort, since it’s simple and intuitive. By “running by breath”, I mean being able to run and talk at the same time.

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Cue the spooky soundtrack…

The Letchworth Park woods were cold and misty and the trail was cold and muddy. The run was an “out and back”, meaning out to a stopping point, then turn around and go back the way you came. The trick to that is, the trail gets hillier and twistier the farther you go, so the way back is harder than the way out, in that you are more tired and the hills a harder at the beginning of your run.

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The elevation change (fancy runner talk for LOTS OF FUCKIN’ HILLS) are intense as well. And this isn’t even the hilly part of the course.

BY the time I completed the run (12 miles, 2 and a half hours) I was cold, tired and pissed. My fingers were so stiff and cold I couldn’t get my shoelaces untied and I was so frustrated I just threw a new hoodie on an drove to Dunkin’ Donuts in my muddy gear so the car could warm up.

Looking back, I can see I made several mistakes:

  1. I decided to run in the woods on a cold, rainy day. Hot chocolate and Netflix instead!
  2. I tried to stay too close to my road pace on trails, and then did not adjust for conditions (cold and muddy require more effort, hence less speed)
  3. These miscalculation led to burnout and frustration at the end of the run and (probably) a slower time overall. Plus, I left so quickly I didn’t eat, change or warm up properly which wiped me out for the rest of the day.

So lessons learned. Sadly these are lessons I should know, but I suppose it’s better to be reminded before the actual race. Now back to my hot chocolate and Netflix.

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coming off the trail…

Two-run Weekend

Back-to-back runs are a way for runners to simulate the exhaustion of the later stages of a marathon while still maintaining focus.

Also, it can be really fun to let running consume you for a weekend. There’s a certain freedom in running long distances and then collapsing on the couch for the rest of the day, knowing you have to do it all over again the next day. It justifies some epic bouts of laziness.

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Saturday run summary. Over 1000 calories = I can eat anything I want!

Saturday’s run was slow and chatty. Being able to talk is a good way to make sure you are going slow enough to build endurance. Many runners do their slow runs too fast and their fast runs too slow (here’s a good article about pace) and I’m certainly guilty of that. Somehow I think running faster will make time go quicker as well.

In running longer, slower runs the last few months, I’ve seen my endurance and recovery time improve dramatically. I used to run hard and then crash hard. Now, I can run over ten miles and then just go on with my day.

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Sunday run summary. Less than 1000 calories – eat healthy. Damn it.

Sunday was a somewhat different animal. The plan was to do 3o minutes slow, 30 minutes at “tempo”, a hard but comfortable pace that build speed over distance, and finally another 30 minutes slow. Here’s what that looked like:

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From Strava.

Obviously I’m still no speed demon, but this was also run on trails so I held back a bit more than I might on roads for fear of tripping on roots or surprising a bear.

So over two days I covered just about 19 miles and nearly doubled my weekly total. Now I need a nap.

 

 

On the trail to spring.

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This is what passes for “bright and early” in a WNY February.

Winter running means layers. Tights, wool socks, studded shoes, hats, gloves, headlamps…the gear piles up in my laundry nook and frustrates any attempt to stay ahead of it. There’s always another layer to wash or hang up.

My Buff facecmasks take the worst beating. If you’ve never used one, they are essentially stretchy cloth neck and face tubes. They’re more versatile than balaclavas and come in all kinds of cool patterns and colors. Basically another chance for runners to spend money.

As a glasses-wearer, I have two options: cover my nose and risk death as my eyewear quickly fogs over and renders me blind, or uncover my nose and transform my buff in a gigantic elastic handkerchief. I usually choose snotcatcher because that’s better than running into trees.

Still, there are signs of hope. Today as I finished my loop through the trails the sun was peeking over the horizon. The sky was grey and misty of course, typical for this time of year, but I turned off my headlamp as I finished my morning loop.

 

Bibimbap

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Bibimbap was the first Korean dish I ever had. I had an amazing travel version of it on a Korean Air flight to Seoul on my way to become an English teacher. Korean Air has this radical notion that airplane food need not be tasteless carbon bricks. In fact it is quite delicious. Bibimbap is essentially a rice bowl or salad: some meat but mostly vegetables piled over rice. It’s hearty balanced food made for eating on the go.

I made this from a recipe I found online, but many variations exist. It’s a great lunch meal because you can make a bunch of the ingredients, store them and then build lunches as needed.