Monday, August 30, 2010

Social Road Trip Follow-Up

I was so focused on keeping yesterday's post a reasonable length that I neglected to mention a few important things about this weekend.

A huge thank you to Andy Sparks for his hospitality. I expected to briefly meet him at the Midnight Express and then go our separate ways. Instead, we ran the race together and he met me a few hours later for a long run. I was further humbled when I learned he relies on weekends to catch up on sleep this time of year. The man should have been home in bed instead of running with me. I'm in your debt, Andy. If you make it down for the Montgomery Half I hope I can be half the host.

If you're ever in the Columbus, GA area be sure to run on the Riverwalk. I've found few places in the South to be recreation friendly, but this is one of them. The trail runs some 22 miles long, and is very well maintained. It's dimly lit most of the way, which is fine if you're running in the dark with someone else, but I'd recommend against solo efforts. Runners that enjoy flat to slightly-rolling terrain will really appreciate this route.

The Midnight Express was worth the drive. I was impressed at how well organized it was and the number of people that came out for it (2,300+ runners). The only glitch I saw was that they ran out of most t-shirt sizes. Above all, however, I was appreciative of the 3rd Brigade simulcast from Iraq. Leading up to our race the event organizers broadcast their event on a huge screen hanging over our start line. We got to watch their 5k awards ceremony and I ended up making a new Daily Mile friend, James C., because of it. A big thanks to all our men and women in uniform serving our country overseas.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Social Road Trip

Last weekend at a local race I heard about an upcoming run being held in Columbus, GA. I'd just recently been talking about wanting to run there on the Riverwalk, and when I heard the race was being held at midnight it sounded all the more attractive. In its thirtieth year, the Midnight Express was the only race I'd heard of in the area to truly begin at midnight. I wasn't sure if I'd actually go because of all the other traveling on my schedule, but my interest was piqued.

In case I decided to go I put out some feelers with people I knew to live in Columbus. There were two, and  each of them I'd only met in the virtual worlds of Twitter and Daily Mile. Mike Edwards I met on Twitter, and immediately grew to like him for his support and advice. He helped me quite a bit when I had questions about running with a hydration pack. The other person, Andy Sparks, I'd also met on Twitter and had developed a sort of camaraderie with. We'd chat back and forth about training and I grew to like his blog, Racing For The Cross.

After finally deciding to make the 2-hour trip I loaded up the car and hit the road. I checked into my hotel and let Andy know my plans for race night. I didn't expect to see Mike until the following day. I took about a 3-hour nap and then headed over to Country's BBQ, where the race was being held. When I got there I figured the odds of Andy finding me were slim to none, because there were literally thousands of people there. I texted Andy that I would be right underneath the start line, and hoped for the best. Lo and behold, about 15 minutes later I heard someone call my name. Technology had won!

Andy and I chatted for about 10-15 minutes until the race began. He was shooting for about 24 minutes. That sounded like the perfect pace to me, so I said I would stick with him. We ran the candlelit course in around 23:30 and had a really good time. I was really impressed with the crowd support, the likes of which I've never seen at a 5k before. There was a live band, a marching band and tons of people lining the street cheering runners on. Even the obnoxious frat boys were amusing in their own unique way.

After the race we walked back up the course and I got to meet Andy's wife, Kelly. Despite our soggy condition she graciously snapped a photo of us. It was getting late, so we said our goodbyes and I jokingly mentioned to Andy that I'd be starting my run at 6:00 am the next morning if he wanted to join me. I never expected him to take me up on it.

When I showed up at the Riverwalk this morning there was Andy walking up the street to greet me. How many people do you know that will meet someone for a long run after getting only a few hours of sleep? I now know one! Andy was looking to do around 12 miles and he set the perfect pace. I have a tendency to go out too fast, and his discipline was exactly what I needed for the 16 miles on my schedule. We chatted away and the miles were behind us quickly. Andy must have been feeling good, because he seemed to be adding on  some extra distance. It was at the 6.5-mile mark that we said our goodbyes, he turned back and I continued on my way.

I finished up my run and was slowly making my way back to my car. As I rounded the corner I was surprised to see Andy. Not only that, but he'd set out a cold bottle of water and a banana for me. Talk about southern hospitality! We talked for a few more minutes and then went our separate ways. Just as I had expected, Andy turned out to be one of the good guys. :)

So, the lesson here is to not underestimate the power of social networking. I never would have met Andy if not for Twitter or Daily Mile, nor would I be stopping by Mike's shop, Below The Knee, on my way out of town. What a great world we live in. Have you meet any of your online friends "in real life?" If so, share below.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Woodland Wallahatchie 10K Review

Today's race was part training pace run and part redemption. Last year I ran the Wallahatchie 10K in a disappointing 53:09, and there was no way that was happening again. On the schedule today was a 7-mile run at a marathon pace of 7:30/mi., so I knew it wouldn't be a repeat.

Photo courtesy of West Marcus
My goal was to stick to my marathon pace as much as possible. The first mile was too easy and I kept trying to slow myself down, knowing the heat and humidity would sap my energy sooner than later if I wasn't careful. I glanced at my watch every 30 seconds or so trying to figure out where I needed to be, and finally worked myself down from around 7:00/mi. to a manageable 7:18/mi.

At around the 2-mile mark a few of us had settled into a pace and stuck together pretty closely. I was still running a little fast, but didn't feel like I was overexerting myself and decided to ride it out. I noticed on my right that a woman - Lynn, I later learned - was matching my cadence almost exactly, so I asked if she was pacing me. She replied that she was aiming for a 7:25/mi pace, so I figured I would stick with her as long as I could.

It turned out that Lynn wasn't any better at sticking to a plan than I was. We recorded  a 7:21/mi. average pace the first half, but at the turnaround we increased the pace. Miles 4 and 5 were both a steady 7:11/mi each. It was around the 5-mile mark that I goaded her into catching a runner ahead of us. I could feel that I was falling off and didn't want to hold her up. I still managed a 7:17/mi pace, and finished somewhere around 44:40.

I was very happy with this race. I took 3rd in my age group, 40-49, and won a coveted squirrel trophy complete with a nut! Most importantly, I erased the memory of last year's disappointment. Also, I was only about 15-20 seconds off my 10K PR, which was set last March when conditions were much nicer. Today it was 80° and 88% humidity. I'm excited to see what I can do once the cooler weather returns.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Shoe Phobia

Like most runners I'm like a little kid on Christmas morning when I get new shoes. I see that box leaning up against my front door when I get home and do a little dance in my head. I've treated myself twice in the past couple of weeks. I ordered a pair of this year's Adidas AdiZero Manas to replace my current ones, and I took a flyer on some Saucony ProGrid Kinvaras I've read a lot about lately.

Perhaps I'll review each of these shoes at a later date, but for now I wanted to pose this question to other runners. Are you reluctant to use your new shoes? Because I am. My new Manas have been sitting in their box for over a week, and I'm in no hurry to pull out the Kinvaras. Why?

Adidas AdiZero Manas
First, the Manas. I've gone through two pairs now and I absolutely love them. The new pair I purchased are blue though, whereas my old ones are orange. No, I don't care about the color, but I wonder what else has changed. Have they tweaked the design, or am I getting the same shoe as before? I'm paranoid about this because once upon a time I loved the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 7s. Then they came out with the 8s. I wore those too, but they weren't quite the same. Then I tried the 9s, and they felt like even more of a departure from what I started out with. When they came out with the 10s I finally decided to look for something different. They didn't cause me injury that I'm aware of, but I grew tired of the small differences from generation to generation.

Saucony ProGrid Kinvaras
Speaking of injury, that's the second reason I'm reluctant to step into new shoes. Right now I'm healthy. Why should I take a chance on something completely new, like the Kinvaras? I did wear them around the house on carpet for a couple of hours and found them to be significantly different than the Manas. Even though they're both minimalist shoes, the arch support on the Kinvaras is much more pronounced. Is this something I just need to get used to, or is it a feature that could induce injury?

Finally, the dumbest reason for not wanting to run in my new shoes. They're pretty. It's not that I care if my shoes get dirty, because eventually they all do. But right now the brutally hot and humid Alabama summer makes me sweat an obscene amount. I can literally wring out my clothes at the end of a run and my shoes, well, they could be used to sink a mobster. They would end up looking like old dish rags after just a few miles. This reason is low on the list, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit it's a consideration.

So, do you intentionally hold out on running in new shoes? If so, what quirky reasons do you come up with?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Run With Me

It's week 6 of my marathon training plan and it calls for a 3-mile run. I wake up to my alarm for a change, roll out of bed and immediately start drinking water. I don't like to carry anything on these shorter runs, so I must hydrate well. It's 74° out there, and the humidity is a fog-like 97%. I pull on some shorts and a predominantly white tech shirt, and grab my shoes and socks.

I sit at my desk and glance at email, Facebook and dailymile. I comment on a couple of things, but my attention quickly turns to my schedule. My coach, Hal Higdon, says I "might want to do this 3-miler at a pace slightly faster usual." It's like he's reading my mind. I started reading Once A Runner last night, and the urge to run the first few chapters gave me are still gnawing away. I slide my Road ID onto my right wrist and strap the Garmin on the left. I shut off my monitor, grab my house key and a towel and open the garage door. It's 5:15 and still dark.

I walk to the bottom of the hill that is my driveway and stopped to stretch. Just short, light tugs to wake up my legs. Longer, more thorough stretching will wait until bedtime. I start my watch and start jogging around the corner. I first encounter the cats. There are a few of them that congregate outside the house on the left, and they pay me no mind. Most cats would scatter, but these hold their ground. Some even appear to strut.

I leave my subdivision and head north on McQueen-Smith. It's a busy thoroughfare, but at this time of day the traffic is light.  It was recently resurfaced, so it's as smooth as glass. There are no sidewalks, so I run right up the middle in the turn lane. I listen carefully for cars coming up behind me. When they do I veer to the left side of the lane, a when there's oncoming traffic I move to the right side. Even though I'm wearing white I'm not taking any chances.

The first mile is sluggish. Yesterday's intervals are still with me, but I can feel my legs loosening up. As usual, I'm breathing too hard. It takes a while for my lungs to expand and get used to the demands I'm making. I can hear my breathing pattern, and it's the same as it was back in high school. It settles after a bit.

I turn into the Brookstone subdivision and cross paths with my first runner. She's just a silhouette, but I recognize her from the way she runs. We say good morning and I run down East Poplar, picking up the pace on the decline. By now things are falling into place. I don't know how fast I'm running, because I can't read my Garmin. I can't make out anything on the screen unless it's daylight. I smell laundry detergent.

As I start to settle into a groove I concentrate on my form. I make sure I'm centered, my feet are landing under me and my shoulders are relaxed. The road is flat and the pace becomes almost effortless. I pass a few more people out walking their dogs. Some wave back, some don't. I can actually hear the sound of wind as I open it up a little.

It's the 2-mile mark and I'm at the Graystone Gully - a short, but steep hill. As I get to the bottom I've already decided I'm going to attack the other side. As I begin I see a man jogging slowly up at the top of the hill. He doesn't know it, but he's my rabbit. I push hard up the hill and blow by him about 50m after I've crested the top. He's wearing white basketball shorts and a long-sleeve white shirt. At least he's visible, I thought.

I recover from the hill about the time I turn left onto East Main Street. There is no oncoming traffic this time of day. Everyone's heading out of town to work in the other direction at this hour. I pick up the pace again as I round back onto McQueen-Smith. It's a short stretch and then I'm back in my neighborhood, where I encounter the couple I see every morning out for their walk. They look to be about my age, and we exchange greetings. I glance at my watch and can see I've covered just over 3.5 miles. No need to round up today.

As I climb my driveway I peel off my shirt and then hang it on the drying rack in my garage. I pick up my water bottle and collapse on my front stoop. I sit there for 5-10 minutes trying to cool down, but it's no use. I'll be sweating for at least another 20-30 minutes. I listen to the crickets rubbing their legs together and can see it starting to get light out. It's time to head in and get ready for work. I close the garage door behind me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Marathon Training Update, Weeks 1 - 4

Rather than bore you with too many Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon training updates I've decided to post one every four weeks. Since I'm using Hal Higdon's 18-Week Advanced II Training Plan, this will provide nail-biting coverage through week 16. I figure this is enough, since the last two weeks are basically for tapering. And I shouldn't have any trouble writing about running withdrawals and extreme paranoia during that time, right?

For the first four weeks I've completed everything asked of me. And then some. When I first looked at the schedule I thought Hal was taking it a little easy on me the first few weeks. The mileage was pretty light and so was the speed work. Little did I know he conspired with Mother Nature and the two of them piped in extreme heat and humidity to make it more challenging. On days I thought I might add on an extra mile or interval I quickly changed my mind and did the bare minimum. Pangs of guilt? None whatsoever. I trust that Hal has tweaked his formulas and tested his plan on other suckers runners. Besides, he hasn't let me down the last two times I followed his instructions.

In addition to the running I've been hitting the gym. Borrowing from Greg Strosaker, I began strength training on Mondays and Fridays in week 2. Now, I'm no stranger to the weight room but it has been a few years. I've had to learn the nuances of new equipment and figure out how much I should be lifting. Three weeks on and I'm still making small adjustments each time I go. And it's fun. Just today I was getting ready to use the chest press when an elderly woman (70s) dressed in street clothes walked in and knocked out a couple of sets. I was glad to wait.

I've also been swimming once per week on Wednesdays. Before my training officially began I swam some in preparation for my first triathlon. I'd never done pool work before and was surprised at just how much I liked it. It's a good workout and once I'm done I feel like I've accomplished something. Unfortunately, I'm questioning whether I should keep it up. After last week I felt the after effects for a couple of days. I think I'll give it one more chance this week and see how it goes. If I'm excessively fatigued again I may have to step away from the water for a while.

So, how do I feel four weeks in? Both physically and mentally I've experienced highs and lows. Some days I feel like I've had my ass kicked, and others I feel like I'm the one handing them out. Some days I'm confident I can meet my BQ goal, and others I wonder if I've set my sights too high. Either way, I'm in it to win it. I'll continue to give it all I've got while maintaining the necessary discipline.

Stay tuned for the next update. Same bat time, same bat channel. And happy running!

If you'd like to see all my workouts they can be viewed here on the dailymile website.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Comfort Run

Like comfort food, this morning's run settled me a little. I lived in the Avalon Estates neighborhood for six years and ran in it just about every day the past three. Going back this morning brought back lots of memories and was a nice change of pace from where I've been running since. The way I write you'd think I'd been gone for years. It's  been all of three weeks.

I parked my car at the roller skating rink at the end of the street, pulled on my hydration pack and eased into my run. Almost immediately I was greeted with familiarity. Erin was out walking her dog. It wasn't yet twilight at 5:15am, so as I passed and said good morning I made sure to use her name so she'd know it was me. She returned the greeting just like any other morning. As I loosened up I turned right and ran past my old street, Auburn Rd. I didn't turn in. Left on Greencrest and then all the way down to MLK. I ran up past the Sunrise road and could see a hint of burnt orange glowing on the horizon. I hoped by the time I came back I'd be able to see the sun rise.

Left on Moses and then right on Upper Kingston. This portion of the run was relatively new to me before moving. Even though it was always right there I never explored it until just this spring on my bike. Once I got comfortable with it I started running on it more often though. It rolls a little and there's very little traffic. Speaking of which, I was treated today. I ran a stretch of about seven miles without seeing a single moving vehicle.

I ran all the way to the end of Upper Kingston where it intersects County Rd 85. I paused just long enough to eat a PowerBar Gel and began the return leg. On the way back I briefly stopped at a clearing that holds meaning, said a short prayer and then picked it back up again. I dreaded the thought of this run after yesterday's grueling pace run, but was pleased that at six miles into it I was feeling pretty good. It was mostly downhill and the miles faded away almost too quickly.

As I turned back onto MLK I was rewarded with the brilliant sunrise I'd hoped for. I made my way back down into my neighborhood and caught a glimpse of Vicky running ahead of me. She turned off before our paths crossed, but shortly after I saw the elderly woman on her single-speed bike. She used to have tassels dangling off the ends of her handlebars, but I didn't see them today. Finally, I saw the elderly gentleman that walks the neighborhood every morning. As usual, he was carrying his stick to fend off stray dogs.

Do you long for roads you once ran on? Do you go out of your way to visit them again? Do you do so to seek comfort? I've run on and off quite a bit the past 20+ years, but never stayed in one place or stuck with it long enough to develop an attachment. Until now.