Thursday, January 28, 2010

US Run

A couple of days ago I was contacted through Facebook by a woman named Ruth Munson.  I'm not sure how she found me, but I suspect she was looking for anyone associated with our local running club.  She told me of a man named of Bruce Johnson, who was running across the United States to raise awareness and funds for an organization in Elgin, IL.  I've narrowly missed a couple of other cross-country runners in the past couple of years, so I decided to take a closer look.

I found that Bruce was not only running across the country, but that he did it in 2005 too!  That he was running for the Community Crisis Center - which offers domestic violence programs, sexual assault programs, and services for the homeless - made for an easy decision to join him.  I wanted to be a part of his journey, if even in a small way.

Over the next couple of days I kept in contact with Ruth, who did a great job of keeping me posted on Bruce's progress.  When she told me last night that he would be in Montgomery today I tried to think of how I could make it happen.  I decided to drive down immediately after this morning's run, and packed my gym bag.

After a seven-mile tempo run at a fast, yet comfortable pace with my training partner I jumped in my car and headed off to search for Bruce.  I knew he was going to be heading west on Hwy 82, but where exactly was challenge.  I drove south on Troy Hwy and after about eight miles spotted him heading towards me.  I parked my car at a nearby hotel and took off after him.  In hindsight I should have turned around and positioned myself in front of him.  Instead, I had to run about a half mile just to catch up.  When I approached him I tried to figure out how I was going to announce my presence without startling him.  There was a lot of traffic and noise, so I quickly decided to just run up next to him.  This, of course, scared the daylights out of him and almost got me some pepper spray in the face, I later learned.

Once the awkward introduction was out of the way I settled into Bruce's slow, steady pace and we began chatting.  "So, what's your story?" he asked.  I gave him the broad strokes and from there we talked about where he'd been and the route he would be taking to get to California by May.  I was treated to tales of near death, attacking dogs and the largest deer he'd ever seen.  I learned the only animals he has yet to see on his adventures are cougars and bears.  He told me about a book he hopes to have published by the fall (I can't wait to get a copy), and we discussed the merits of him running and raising awareness for a small organization, like the Community Crisis Center.

After about four miles in 55 minutes I reluctantly turned around and headed back to my car.  On my way back to work I was able to meet up with Bruce again, and he stopped long enough for us to take a quick photo.  We said our goodbyes and then he picked up where he left off.

It was a real treat to run with Bruce and experience just a bit of what he'll go through over 105 days.  Because he's "donating" his feet, and there are 12" in a foot, he's hoping to collect $12 for every step he takes.  It will be an honor
to contribute.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Treadmill Surrender

This morning I woke up a few minutes before my alarm went off to the crack of thunder outside my window.  So much for my tempo run, I thought.  I guess it will have to wait until after work when the storm has cleared out.  I set my alarm ahead another hour and tried to go back to sleep, but it just wasn't happening.  I lay there for a few minutes tossing and turning and then finally decided to get up.  I decided to succumb to my treadmill.

It had been almost a year since I last got on my treadmill.  It's a cheap Pro Form from Sears, and it's been collecting dust and cobwebs in my garage for a long time.  A lot of people call it the dreadmill for good reason, and I'm one of them.  When the temperatures were in the single digits a couple of weeks ago I never really considered staying inside.  To me it turns running into a chore instead of a pleasure.  It doesn't matter if I'm staring at a tiny TV or drywall - it's just the worst.  I'm the type that has to see and feel, and there's not a lot of that going on when you're running in place.

As I said, the training plan I'm on called for a tempo run.  Since it was only supposed to be for 30 minutes I figured I could tough it out.  I walked into the garage, snapped a photo of my old enemy, cleared everything out from around it and moved it away from the wall.  The first five minutes of the run called for a warm up, so I punched in 6 mph with a 1.5% incline and spent it trying to reacquaint myself with the device.  Seriously.  It had been so long since I used it that I almost forgot how.

As I was warming up a couple of things occurred to me.  First, I hoped my neglected treadmill actually would work.  Sitting in the corner of my garage unattended couldn't be good for it.  I'd already had it serviced a few years ago after I first got it.  And second, I was crossing my fingers that the lightning echoing around me outside wouldn't cause a power outage.  I don't think my Road ID bracelet would have come in too handy if that were to happen.  Fortunately, neither of these things transpired.

Per Hal Higdon's plan I spent the middle 20 minutes (5 minutes on each end for warm up and cool down) gradually increasing my speed.  Here are my pacing splits by time:

5-10, 8:34/mi (7.0 mph)
10-15, 8:13/mi (7.3 mph)
15-20, 7:53/mi (7.6 mph)
20-23, 7:35/mi (7.9 mph)
23-25, 7:19/mi (8.2 mph)

When it was all said and done I have to admit I didn't hate the workout as much as I'd expected.  Having a specific task to focus on made the time fly by, and knowing exactly what pace I was running was helpful.  Maybe in the future I'll be less resistant to using it.  It'll take another good storm though.

Oh, and the workout?  I felt damned good.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

4 Miles to Ice Cream

We were about a half mile into our 1 hour and 45-minute long run this morning when I looked down and noticed on the road was spray painted "4 Miles to Ice Cream."  Too bad it was for traffic going in the other direction.  Not that I guess I wanted any.  It was really cloudy and the temperature was reasonable at around 55 degrees, but sometimes it was both windy and rainy.  At one point I was so wet my shirt was stuck to me like a second skin.  And when we finished I was cold and drenched.

Overall though, the run was really good.  I was a little concerned about my right achilles flaring up, but it never did.  It was a little tender the first few miles - especially on the hills - but after a brief stop to stretch and eat a Gu pack it seemed to soften.  And hours later at the time of this post it really isn't bothering me.  Still, I will ice it down tonight and take some Advil to keep it at bay.

Our pace was a respectable 8:29 average per mile, and while I was tired at the end I still felt like I had more in the tank.  I found that to be surprising since it capped a 35-mile week.  Maybe the increased mileage and intensity is paying off after all.

Nothing out of the ordinary occurred during today's long run, which is unusual in and of itself.  No dogs charging at us, no frogs falling from the sky, and no equipment malfunctions.  Just an honest effort and some good conversation along the way. Who could ask for more?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Foot Strike

About a month ago I came across a blog post by Joe Friel called Running Faster that discussed cadence and foot contact.  I've known for a long time that one of the keys to improving running efficiency is to shorten one's stride.  It's something I'm constantly reminding myself to do, especially on hills.  What I hadn't given much thought to, though, was how changing the way my foot strikes the ground could make a difference.

To briefly sum up what the author wrote about foot contact, he said reducing the angle that your foot comes into contact with the road can minimize total contact time.  And the less time your foot spends on the ground, the faster you can become.

Now, I've seen enough pictures of me running (right) to know I'm guilty of locking my knee and, therefore, having a pronounced landing on my heel.  As he points out, this is akin to slamming on the breaks.

I haven't yet heeded Joe's suggestions of stride drills or occasionally running barefoot.  But I have made a conscious effort to move my center forward over my hips.  This seems to produce a more bended knee and a flatter landing, and it when I do it correctly I actually feel more efficient.

The side effects of this effort have been noticeable.  When I first started both of my achilles were tender.  That went away after a few days, but every once in a while something else seems to crop up.  Yesterday I had a problem with what I think is my peroneus brevis, but today it feels much better.  Hopefully, these growing pains will subside altogether and I'll be a better runner for the change.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Peroneus Brevis

Last night when I went to bed I felt just fine.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Around 3:00 am though I was awakened by a  pain in what I think is my peroneus brevis muscle.  It reminded me of the 'growing pains' I experienced as a teenager.  I tossed and turned for a while and then finally gave up trying to sleep.  When I got out of bed and stood on it the pain sharpened.  Still, I started to get ready for my tempo run.  It got a little better as I walked around the house, but I still felt it every time I took a step.  I never questioned if I should head out.

The first mile or so the pain nagged me, especially when I climbed a small hill.  It became even sharper at that moment.  After that it stopped bothering me though and I was able to comfortably pick up the pace.  When I finished and started walking back into the house I could feel it aching again.  Not near as bad as when I first woke up, but it was still there.

Hours later at work it isn't bothering me too much.  More than anything it's a warm sensation now.  I'll take some ibuprofen and see what effect it has before I start freaking out.  It seems lately that I get these pains that go away quickly.  Hopefully this falls into that category.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

State of Affairs

This morning I turned in a 3-mile recovery run as part of the schedule I'm on, Hal Higdon's advanced half-marathon training plan.  Normally I run with my training partner, but both our schedules are out of whack this week, so for the third day in a row (!) I ran alone in my neighborhood.  Without a task to focus on, like intervals or specific pacing, I really felt the solitude.  My mind drifted from one thing to another, I gazed at the stars (clear skies are one of the nice things about this exceptionally cold winter), and - believe it or not - I actually talked to myself.  Out loud.  All of these things reminded me how running by myself is something I need on occasion.

Earlier this week when I realized I would be on my own so much I was disappointed.  I am a creature of habit, and running with my training partner the past few months had become a comfort.  The camaraderie and the knowledge I was expected to be somewhere gave me something to look forward to during times of personal strife.  The encouragement and motivation I received helped me push through barriers and reach goals.  As good as the arrangement was though, I probably came to rely upon it too much.

I'm glad now that circumstance intervened and sent me out on my own again.  Is it something I want to do every day?  Hell, no.  I really enjoy all the benefits of training with another.  But I can see now how important it is to run for one's self sometimes.  That we need to reach within ourselves for motivation and be left to our own thoughts.

Side note:  I woke up a little before 4:00 this morning.  I couldn't sleep, so I decided to get up and run.  I've never run so early in my neighborhood before.  It was the first time in three years I completed my run without seeing a single moving vehicle.  As I got closer to the end I got nervous I was going to run across someone, but I never did.  I can't tell you how many times one car ruined the silence.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stated Objectives

As a first post I thought it appropriate I spell out what my objectives are with regards to running.  Today a friend mentioned a book called Runner's World Run Less, Run Faster: Become a Faster, Stronger Runner with the Revolutionary FIRST Training Program.  My immediate reaction was "why would I want to run less?"  Sure, I want to be faster, but I wouldn't trade that for running less.  I love running and my number one priority is to do it a lot and keep it fun.  A close second is to stay injury free, but I digress.

A few months ago I started following Hal Higdon's intermediate, and now most recently, advanced half-marathon training programs.  I've seen dramatic results in how much faster I am, but I'd quit it if I was no longer having fun.  To me, running shouldn't be a chore or a task that I feel like I have to do.  If a structured program can compliment my running though, I'm on board.  So far that's been the case and I have to admit I like the routine that goes along with it.

As I mentioned previously, another object is to stay injury free.  I'm a little unconventional in my approach to avoiding injury.  I read an article somewhere a while back that suggested stretching doesn't really help or hurt athletes.  Since that time I've shied away from a stretching regimen and haven't really noticed a difference.  Not that I won't stretch, because let's face it, it feels really good sometimes.  I just don't make it a part of my routine.

Ok, maybe I'm not a huge rebel in my approach to staying healthy.  I also try to eat right and compliment my running with other activities, such as strength exercises.  I like routine and structure (just a tiny bit OCD), so it's pretty easy for me to identify things that adversely affect how I feel.  I know it will all catch up with me one day and I'll become that person I feel awful for because they're hurt, but until then I'll do what I can to prevent it.  If I have to take it easier or take a break altogether, than that's what I'll............yeah, right.

Another objective I have relates to having fun, and that's meeting and interacting with other runners.  Eventually I'll post links back to some of the people I know from running either in real life or online.  If it weren't for this community and the fellowship that comes with it, I don't know where I'd be today.  I've met some really fantastic people and hope to find more in the years to come.  I'm continually surprised by the quality of people you find in the running community.

Down on the bottom of my objectives list is getting faster.  It's on the list because I do want to; however, it won't ever take precedence over the other three.  This year alone I have gotten faster as a consequence of my other objectives and I'm thrilled.  I've achieved far more than I thought I was capable of, and hope to build upon that in the coming years.