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.

 

 

 

 

Running Fads

I like running fads. I think because running is so boring/simple, we occasionally need to pretend it’s harder than it really is. 


5 toed socks have been around a while. They are popular in Japan and have caught on here a bit with folks like me for whom normal socks are just too easy. 

Some will say they improve circulation, or foot grip. Other that they activate the foot muscles, whatever that means. 

For me, it’s just a chance to indulge a silly whim. 

Shaking Off the Winter

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I ran in a very long circle to get this picture.

When the dark and cold gets to be a bit much, I know the winter running doldrums have set in. There’s the long winter lull between races and the fact that morning runs involve putting on more layers than an Antarctic expedition.

Getting motivated for a run after work is always a little dicey, in that I’m lazy and don’t want to run after work. So the trick is to switch things up and shake off the winter ennui. New routes, new races, new gear. Or new routes.

A friend hosted a long (14 mile) run around Irondequoit Bay, an offshoot of Lake Ontario. I barely even ran the week before but actually got through the run feeling pretty good. We took it slow and easy and the next day I was sore but satisfied. I made a running plan for the week, looked ahead on my race calendar and felt better. The weather was warming up, January won’t last forever and afternoon runs aren’t so bad.

Mononoke-hime

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And now for something completely different. A week ago was the 20th anniversary of Princess Mononoke, an animated Japanese movie made by Hayao Miyazaki. The movie was shown as a special release in a few local theaters to commemorate the occasion. Miyazaki’s movies are all fascinating but Mononoke holds a special place in my heart because it was the first movie of his that I saw and it introduced me to his amazing work.

It’s a somewhat familiar story: a young prince goes on a quest to fight an ancient evil, meets quirky characters and the titular princess. (Skywalker anyone?) But the story is steeped in Japanese folklore and cultural traditions, which gives the story unexpected turns for an American audience.

Princess Mononoke herself is a wolf-riding bullet-dodging Valkyrie who has as much in common with a Disney princess as a sabretooth tiger does with a housecat. For all that gender roles in Japan are (stereotypically) more set than in the US, this movie gives us very empowered women.

The story also makes the audience reconsider good and evil. As the adventure continues, we see how there aren’t many true villians in the story, just competing agendas. Characters act in their own best interests or for the protection of their people but few characters are truly evil. The moral ambiguity makes the story more engaging and again, is something rarely seen in American pop culture.

I should mention that, as a bit of a warning, the violence in the story is graphic and brutal. Animation in Japan is not just for kids, and this movie pulls no punches, or swords or arrows or fangs. That said, it isn’t gratuitous either. War and battle are part of the world of the movie but not glamorized.

The dubbed version is fine but if you’re interested I’d recommend watching with subtitles. Some of the Japanese doesn’t quite work in English and it’s actually less distracting (I think) than the dubbing. This is an amazing modern-day fairy tale adventure.

Tiny Track

Sometimes winter running gets to be too much of a chore. The cold, the dark, the layers…yuck. But not running just causes irritability and binge-watching. So, maybe the treadmill? What am I, a hamster? 

My neighborhood YMCA has an indoor track which is kind of the perfect solution. I say kind of because the track is 1/32 of a mile. 


That’s short. I get a little dizzy sometimes. But here’s why it’s still better than the treadmill: the view changes. Not much, but I still get the sense of pushing forward. I can alter my speed at will, slow for a few steps to catch my breath or surge ahead on the balls of my feet to beat my previous lap time. I am not enslaved to a robotic personal trainer.