Mendon 20K

This weekend I ran the Mendon Trail Run, a looped course that gives runners the option of a 10K, 20K, 30K or 50K. I opted for the reasonable 20K: almost a half marathon, but not too crazy.

I ran the first loop hard, sprinting the downhills and pushing up every hill. My heart rate spiked like crazy but I felt strong through the first 10K. I focused on my breathing and not falling over.

As soon as I started the second loop I felt my legs get heavy and my breathing got ragged. I put in my headphones but my phone battery died within a few minutes, and I was too tired to be distracted by music anyway. By two miles in I was in full freak-out mode: “Why didn’t I start slower? I’m going to have a heart attack! Running is stupid. My hydration pack makes me look fat. Fuck this!”

So I did what all good trail runners do. I walked, and I had a snack.

After a while, I felt better, so I trotted again. I walked the hills and ran the flats. Nothing like the first loop but I felt good coming into the finish. I finished in 2:16. I had dreamed of 2 hours, and feared that it would take 2:30, so that was a good compromise.

In one way, I suppose I “blew up” a little on this race. But after some reflection (and a long hard nap) I was pretty happy with it. I ran this race, if that makes sense. A lot of my races recently have just been for fun, to enjoy the day and the company of my friends. But this one was just for me. I went out hard and figured it out for myself.

Lessons learned: food is important. I needed more energy, and sooner. I did go out too hard, but I am stronger than I thought. I maintained a 10:00 mile over some pretty hilly terrain (see below) for a solid 6 miles, and that’s pretty awesome (for me).

PS I did fall on the second loop, but only a little.

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Streaking

Running is fun, social, life-changing, inspiring…and sometimes, boring. One foot in front of the other, blah blah blah. This is why people are constantly thinking up new ways to switch running up, make it more than it is. I’m trying a running streak.

It turns out a streak can go on for a very long time, sometimes for decades. But to be included in the National Running Streak Association (yup, it exists) a running streak is running at least a mile every day for at least a year. My streak started on October 10…so I’ve got a ways to go.

This weekend and last weekend I was helped along by a local running shop that organized a Fall Foliage Run to admire the changing colors in Rochester’s Lower Gorge. This is a section of the city I rarely run in but it has some excellent views, including a lovely pedestrian bridge that I never have the strength to pause on due to acrophobia.

I’ve raced over bridges and along high gorges many times and I’m usually okay as long as I keep moving, but once I stop my knees get shaky and I need to start running away before I lose my nerve. Somehow running makes me feel in control.

Anyway, what’s a little bit of a panic attack for a nice view like this?

Running T-shirts

One way that running has affected my identity is that it has expanded my wardrobe. T shirts are part of most race packets, to the point that many runners openly race for the t-shirt. I know I have. Every year or so it gets to the point that race and running shirts literally overflow from my bottom drawer and my own tidiness overpowers my urge to collect and sends me to Goodwill with a bag of my least-favorite race shirts. Here’s a few that survived the latest culling.

This is a running shirt from Janji, a socially conscious running gear brand out of Boston that has some cool, funky designs. It’s a little hard to see in the picture but that’s a llama on the front. I’d like to think my running spirit animal is the deer or the wolf, but the llama is probably more accurate: grumpy, lots of spitting.

Runners World does some cools running themed t-shirts. This one calls back to the year of the first Olympics in ancient Greece. It’s a fun way to remind everyone that our simple sport is older than Jesus. So there.

Sometimes runners and racers complain about hills. Seriously. I know, I can’t believe it either. Now I understand that hills hurt the lungs and raise the heart rate, but in some ways they are beneficial for your body and the best part is, what goes up must go down. Nothing beats swooping down a hill after you’ve had to plug along to the top. Anyway, I got this shirt to remind myself that tough runners run hills.

Just don’t fall.

Rochester Half Marathon Report

RHM map

Let me start by talking about why I shouldn’t have done this race.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

RHM Pacing

The final kick: happy to be done.

The knee, again

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.

Running and other notes from Japan

 

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.

Hydration Vest 

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.

Rest Week

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.

 

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).