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Archive for February, 2010

The Anchor

Why do I run. Question or statement?

I’m not sure.

Why don’t I NOT run? I know. Awful grammar, but I think it might be the more appropriate question.

Why don’t I not run…

Because when I don’t run, I physically feel like crap.

Because when I don’t run, my mood turns dark.

Because when I don’t run, I feel gravity dragging me down.

Because when I don’t run, I feel less productive, less motivated, and less connected with myself.

It didn’t begin this way. For almost 39 years, I merely flirted with running. I ran a little track (110 high hurdles/330 IM hurdles) and cross-country (3 miles) in high school, but even then I didn’t really like it. I liked that I was competitive in my small pond in the 330’s but that was about it (I ran the 330’s because I didn’t have the endurance to run the quarter mile nor the speed to run the 220). When I got to college I hung up the cleats and rarely looked back. I would go out for an occasional run of 2 or 3 miles, suffer the leg pain for the next few days and then throw the running shoes into the closet until I had forgotten the aches. There was no consistency.  I was consistently inconsistent.

After college my running became even more sporadic. I ended up teaching at a small ski academy in Maine (actually had a few future Olympians as students), and began power lifting with some members of the alpine ski team. The weight piled on. I had gone from 160 lbs in high school to 190 in college to a whopping 220 as a young adult (the scary part is that the last 30 lbs were between my chest, arms and neck). After teaching for three years I took a job in a New York City law firm and began working 80 – 100 hour weeks. Running went from sporadic to almost non-existent. I would work out when I could, but rapidly all of the muscle I had put on power lifting with the skiers went soft.

***

Flash forward 15 years and I’m married with 2 kids.

Leading up to this time I preached exercise but seldom practiced it. My wife and I had been dealing for sometime with our younger daughter’s diagnosis of autism; each in different ways. Despite putting on a good front, I was adrift and lost. My wife on the other hand had found focus in her blog – a diary of a mom. It was (and still is) an outlet for her and, in many ways, helped her find some sense of peace and purpose. It turned out she was good at writing and connected with people not just in the Autism community, but beyond. She gained an audience. She not only was helping herself, but she was now helping others as well.

I continued to drift, lost in a sea of uncertainty and doubt. Yes, I was the at home parent, taking care of my children during the day. It was and is the most difficult “job” I have ever had. That said, I was disconnected from adults and foolishly worried about how I would be remembered. True, my purpose was my children, but that is the case with any good parent whether they work or not. My focus began to unravel. That was until my blogging wife wrote this: Eye of the Tiger.

Go ahead. Go read it. I’ll wait.

***

So, if you continued to the comments section of her post, you saw that I jumped right in there with her (if you didn’t read it, the short version is that she declared that she had signed up for the 2009 Hyannis Half-Marathon). Truth be told, it wasn’t just the distance that worried me.  After I read it, I called the wife and asked her if she realized that Hyannis in February was probably a little on the cold and windy side.  She didn’t budge.  She was determined.  I remember feeling that I couldn’t let her do it alone.  As independent as the wife is, I wasn’t going to let her fly this mission solo.

So I told her if she was going to do it, then dammit, I was going to support her all the way. The very next day I dusted off the treadmill in our basement and got to work.

3 miles. 30 minutes.

OH CRAP! THAT HURT!!!

That was Friday, October 24th, 2008. I gave myself the weekend to recover and promised myself 3 days of running the following week.

Monday, Wednesday, Friday. 3 miles. 30 minutes.

By Friday the lungs didn’t burn so much. The following week I did the same. I thought one more week of this and I should be able to bump it up a little.

But a funny thing happened that Wednesday, November 12th. The night before had been poker night. Occasionally one of the members of our poker group will bring a nice bottle of tequila. The night of the 11th happened to be one of those nights. Several shots, several beers and way too much junk food later, I woke up with an awful, AWFUL hangover. I managed to get the kids to school on time and went about my day.

I looked at treadmill after drop off and walked away. After a morning of errands I again looked at the treadmill, but my pounding head told me to walk away. Finally, after lunch I forced myself, my headache and my now sour stomach down to the basement for a run.

I wasn’t letting Jess do this alone!

When I hit 3 miles I wasn’t paying attention. I looked down to see that I was at about 3.25 miles.

Hmmm. I wonder if I can do 4?

I hit 4.

If I keep going I might be able to do 5.

I hit 5.

Maybe I should see if I can do 6…

I hit 6.

Wow! If I keep going I could hit…I looked at my watch.Dammit! Gotta pick up the kids! I don’t know how far I could have gone, but I…felt…GREAT!!!

The next day I did another 6. The following day the same. I very quickly (and foolishly) started cranking out the miles to see just how far I could go on the treadmill. I started doing 8 and 10 miles runs on the treadmill like it was nothing, occasionally sprinkling in a 12 miler.  I went from almost no miles in October to 110 in November to 130 in December.

I was hooked.

I felt good.

I rapidly dropped 20 lbs and nearly 4 inches off my waist. I secretly began thinking about running a marathon – about qualifying for Boston.

Running helped bring the rest of my life back into focus. Whether it was the endorphins or just the almost daily breaking of a sweat, I felt like there was balance back in my life. I was able to take the nervous energy that was distracting and tiresome and harness it in a way that gave me more productive energy on a daily basis. I didn’t want to go back.

I finally found that I wasn’t drifting anymore.

That is why I don’t not run. And just like any other physical activities, if you don’t just do it, you lose the motivation to keep doing it. I refuse to let that happen.

Is it ironic that I stopped feeling like I was running in place by hopping on a treadmill and literally running in place? Ultimately there are many, many reasons why I run or don’t not run. Several of those reasons are intertwined with each other, but finding a touchstone, an anchor if you will, was a big one. Running has become one of my anchors.

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Why do you or don’t you run?

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I used to go to this woman in the city to get my haircut. She had been taking care of my wife’s hair for a while and I hadn’t had any luck with the local suburban stylists (yes, I know, I just said I go to a stylist.). She was (is!) really good. She even went on to open her own salon with both my wife and I following. However, even with the carry-over-customer pricing, she was still on the expensive side. It just didn’t make a whole lot of sense for me to drag myself into the city AND pay for parking if I could find someone local. Finally, after asking a local mom whose husband’s hair I thought looked pretty good, I found my guy. I’ve been going to The Barber ever since.

What the frak does The Barber have to do with running?

Well, it turns out that he used to run. Not only did he used to run, but he ran during what some might call the Golden Age of Running here in Boston and the US as a whole. The 1970’s and 80’s. He was fast. Not “Oh, your in the top 5%” fast, no, he was FAST!!! He has run Boston more times than I can count or hope to run, with his best finish being a blazing 2:28:00! Just to put that in perspective, that would have placed him 39th in last year’s Boston Marathon.

-Well shoot! I finished 39th a couple of weeks ago in a 10K.

-Yeah, I’m sorry Luau, he would have been 39th out of close to 29,000 runners.

39th in an age when runners have better training, better technology, better diets. He still would have finished 39th. That’s nearly in the top 1/1000th of runners. He ran and trained with the best, including the Legend, Bill Rogers.

Every time I get my haircut I get a new story, whether it’s how he loved to break competitors on the hills, how one day he beat Boston Billy in a marathon (kind of), just how much smaller running used to be (when he showed up at a marathon he pretty much knew where everybody was going to place) or how he had a friend who used “grass” as a PED before going out on 30 mile long runs.

It has made me realize that running is a sport that is rich with history…history that we can’t necessarily find in the history books. The Barber was a second tier runner, one of the best locally, but not one to make it into the best sellers or record books. Yet his stories are in some ways just as compelling and interesting as Beardsly’s and Salazar’s Duel in the Sun or Kara’s and Hall’s attempt last year to bring the Boston crown back to the US.

I am thankful that I found The Barber. Thankful that I get to hear the unwritten local stories. It makes me realize that I am not only part of a wonderful running community in the here and now, but I am also connected to all those great runners that came before you and me.

If you are under the age of 50 or just recently took up running (like in the last 10 years), I highly recommend finding your local old-time runner and listening to his or her stories from that different time. Running has changed dramatically in 40 years. The stories from that era are fascinating. I feel lucky to have heard just a few from the Barber.

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Exploring Captiva

The nice thing about running is that you can take it almost anywhere. All you need are some shorts, a shirt (sometimes) and some shoes (if you run with them). Okay, if you’re a woman you may need a sports bra too, but I digress. You can run in the sun, the rain or even through snow, and if the weather is simply unbearable you can hit the treadmill or do what the great Emil Zàtopek used to do. He would fill his tub with blankets and run in place for hours. The point is no matter where you are, if you have the time and are physically able, there is very little excuse for not running.

This past week my family and I spent our children’s school vacation on the island of Captiva, Florida. The weather did not exactly cooperate. The historical temperature for this past week has been in the mid-70’s. The past 7 days saw a high of 67° and averaged much closer 62°. Not exactly your “lounge by the pool/let’s jump in the ocean” type of weather. However, it was perfect for running.

Lucky for me, I am a runner! One of the things I love most about running is that you never have to take the same route twice if you don’t want to. From day one of our vacation, I looked forward to being able to explore the island of Captiva. I figured that over the course of a week, I would get to check out quite a bit of the island. The last time we were here (close to 3 years ago) I went out for a jog (I was not a runner then) and barely got out of the complex we were staying in. The resort is about 1.8 miles from end to end and that was about what I could run at the time. 3.6 and I was done. It was not the distance that made me a jogger, rather the frequency with which I ran (which was once in a while at best).

This time around I arrived as a runner. The idea of running 8, 10, 12 miles was not out of the question. Nor was running 4 or 5 of the 6 days we were there. I was going to explore every nook and cranny of Captiva. I was going to take every side street and loop and see everything there was to see. There was only one problem: after my first run of 8 miles, I had essentially seen the whole island outside of the resort. In fact, that particular run even took me to the neighboring island of Sanibel. The 10 miles the next day covered everything I had missed. Part of the issue is that the island is only a few hundred feet wide in some spots and not much wider in others. There is essentially one road that runs north and south with few side streets open to the public.

Despite that, it is a beautiful place to run and reminded me that running is not always about “per mile splits” and training. Sometimes running should just be about exploring and observing your world. Running up and down that 6 mile strip over the course of the week, I noticed different things with every run.

One day it was some of the over the top houses,

Is there enough room for your whole family dude? The owner's son built the same house 1/4 mile down the road

another day it was the beautiful surf

Notice nobody's in the ocean.  Was a cool 62ºF.

Notice nobody was in the ocean? It was a cool 62ºF.

and yet another I got to see some majestic ospreys putting together a nest.

I guess my point is that when training for a marathon, half, 10k or what have you, it is easy to get lost in the numbers. Yes, you want to strive to hit the marks in your training to achieve your goal, and don’t get me wrong, I derive great pleasure from those training runs and hitting those marks. But it has been a joy this past week just running for the sake of running.

Feeling the ground, slicing the wind, seeing the sights.

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Final stats:
Days Run – 4/6
Miles Run – 31.36

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Running with my Stomach

I was in the last few miles of a hard 8 mile run a couple of days ago when I felt my pace slipping and my form failing. I had just fought through a mile of heavy headwind, followed by a protected stretch, but I was now entering a spot where the wind was going to be the strongest. I had been clipping along at about a 6:50 pace and I was tired. As I came around the turn, the wind hit me like a right cross from a heavyweight boxer.

Oh, man! I thought, this is not good.

I tried leaning into the wind. I was not going to let this wind kill my run.

It wasn’t working.

I could feel myself slowing down. The harder I tried, the sloppier I got.

C’mon! I yelled out loud. No Fear, Dammit!!!

It was all coming apart when I remembered something I had read in Chi Running. I don’t have the book with me so I can’t give you the exact quote or even the context in which I read it, however, I can tell you that I remembered something about leading with your stomach. Let you abs lead your body and your legs will follow. Something like that, anyway.

So I changed my focus. I stopped thinking about my form, I stopped thinking about my legs, I stopped thinking about my burning lungs. Instead I began to focus on my abs. I don’t want to say that I tightened my abs, but by focusing on them I felt like I was engaging them. As soon as I did that, the movement of my legs became effortless – literally. I’m not exaggerating. For about a half a mile, by focusing on my abs, I was able to run without physical effort. What’s more, my pace picked back up. After running the first half of mile 7 in 3:50, I came back with a 3:30 second half. I was only able to do this for a little over a half mile. Physically I felt great, but mentally I just could not keep the focus going. That half mile break from physical effort however allowed me to find my reserves. I closed the run with a 6:38 final mile.

So the task over the next few months is to train myself mentally as well as physically. If I can learn to stay mentally focused for three hours, Boston should be easily achieved. Of course, I had a hard enough time doing it for 3 1/2 minutes, but hey! what’s another 176 1/2 minutes, right?

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Along the right side of this blog’s homepage is a list of my long-term running goals. They used to read as follows:

5K – 20:00 (PR – N/A)

10K – 43:00 (PR – 46:58)

1/2 Marathon – 1:35 (PR -1:40:47)

Full Marathon – 3:20 (PR – 3:54:04)

Within days of starting this blog I quickly knocked down the 1/2 marathon goal with a run of 1:33:14. It was somewhat of a breakthrough race for me. I had managed to take over 7 minutes of my previous best and it was the first time I had made it to the first page of a race’s results. Even with that race however, I figured that 43 was still a pretty good goal for a 10K. Last week I shattered that expectation with a run of 39:29 and in the process beat my long-term goal for the 5k with splits of 19:55 and 19:34.

So I need to redefine my long-term goals for the 5K and 10K. Fine. 19:00 and 38:00. Done. I think 19:00 is achievable, not sure about the 38:00, but what the heck, they’re long term goals, right?

But what about the half and full marathons? That’s a little trickier. When I ran the 1:33 half, I changed my long term goal to 1:30. It’s a leap, but not one that is too dramatic. It would still require me to take over 15 seconds off of my per mile pace. The full? Well, I crashed and burned in my first and only marathon, freezing up at mile 20 but still managing to finish. 3:20 still feels like a fantasy. When I got home from the Super Sunday 10k, I used to my time to find out what my vdot (performance based VO2 Max) was and how that translated into a 1/2 and a full.

1:27 and 3:02.

Really?

Are you frakkin’ nuts?

Yet there it was. Staring at me. Daring me. Taunting me.

1:27 and 3:02.

So, what do I do?

What. To. Do?

My goal all along has been to qualify for Boston. That remains in place and quite honestly, until I do that, I don’t think an even faster marathon has any place on my long term goals. If I finally qualify this year, then maybe I shoot for 3:00 marathon someday.

I will, however, put the 1:27 in for the half. It is somewhat out of reach I think, but I’m going to put it out there. Who knows? Maybe I’ve run as fast as I ever will, but I think it’s worth a shot.

By setting our goals slightly out of reach, we are forced to stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zone, beyond what we know we can do.  It is in that uncomfortable area that we discover more about ourselves and quite possibly arrive at a moment of redefinition.

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*I’d be curious how you go about setting your running goals.

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No Fear

It started on Wednesday. I was a little nervous about the upcoming race. Energy was starting to build up. I wasn’t sure what to do. I sat down at the computer and started to make a playlist. There are people who love the music when they run and those that love the silence. I like both, but for this particular race I wanted music. I had just seen a clip from one of the Prefontaine movies with Joe Walsh’s County Fair playing (see below). It was inspirational. So I built the list. I checked the time. 43 minutes.

That was my goal. Under 43 minutes. If I took any longer the music was going to stop. On Friday I started to listen to the playlist as I drove about town running my errands. As I would hit certain songs, I would visualize where I would be on the course. Years ago, when I was teaching at a small ski academy up north, we were privileged to have a visit from then big ski star Picabo Street. She talked to our kids about preparation before a ski run and part of that preparation was visualizing the run itself. I always thought that was a little hokey, but starting Friday and up until Sunday morning as I drove to the race, I kept visualizing where I would be and how my body would react at certain points. I kept saying to myself, “don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid”. Eventually that mantra morphed into “No Fear.” As I drove to the race site I kept saying it over and over again, “No Fear, No Fear…” I tried to channel my inner Prefontaine.

It was cold, but after going through the normal warm up routine I decided to strip off the pants and go with shorts and one layer on top, a long sleeved shirt. I slipped on the VFF Treks, pulled down the skull-cap and slipped my mp3 sunglasses on. As we waited for the starting gun I kept repeating my mantra, trying to ignore the cold. The starter started the countdown…

No Fear

ready…

No Fear – I pressed start on the Runkeeper App

set…

No Fear – I slipped my glove back on as the music started.

GO!!!

And we were off. The beginning of County Fair is very slow. The first two and a half minutes are not what you would typically call running music. However, it then kicks into a groove that, when combined with the memory of the clip of Prefontaine, gets you going. I started fast but when the groove hit, I heard myself say, “No Fear” and I stuck it in overdrive. I had tried to start as close to the front as I felt I could without being out of place. For the first 1/2 mile I weaved in and out of traffic. I took every hole I could find, occasionally slowing down to then zip past a dead end of bodies.

Making a move

When Runkeeper told me I had run a half mile, I took a quick glance at my watch.

3:20

6:40 pace. Okay! I did a self check. Everything functioning normal. The pace was a touch faster than I planned but I was feeling good.

No Fear

At the mile marker my watch read 6:36. I was speeding up! It was early, but I was picking off groups of people at a time. As I hit the first turnaround at about a mile and a half, I cut hard and turned it up a bit. Mile 2 read 6:16.

No Fear

Finishing the loop I saw that I was way ahead of where I had planned to be at 3.1 miles. My plan had been to run about 21 – 22 minutes for the first loop. As I went back onto the course my watch read 19:55, mile 3 had been a 6:20. I hadn’t known I could run that fast, especially with another 3.1 to go. For a moment there doubt crept in. What am I doing? I can’t run this fast twice. I’ve never been here. I started doing some quick math in my head. If I could just run a 23 on the second loop I’d still come in around my goal.

I repeated my mantra.

No Fear

Mile 4 arrived quickly. 6:18. At this point I said to myself, “it’s only 2 miles”. At about 4 1/2 miles we hit the turn to head back to the start. About 50 yards ahead of me was some young kid, and 50 yards ahead of him was a young woman. I quickly reeled him in, looked over and said, “Come on. Let’s go catch that girl. Help me reel her in.” He looked at me like I was crazy, but he followed.

About 100 feet from the 5 mile marker we caught her. I eased just a little as the guy took off. After a moment, I looked at her and said, “Come on Let’s go catch that guy. Let’s reel him in.” We passed the 5 mile marker and she said, “I just PR’d for 8k!” I looked at my watch. Mile 5 – 6:23, 31:55 so far. “Me too,” I said, “Let’s get him!” We pushed on, caught him and passed him. Mile 6 arrived in 6:22. I was still flying, but now I was in the closing stretch. Less than a quarter mile to go and I knew I was within the realm of a sub 40. I went into an all out sprint.

No Fear

Roger Daltrey was screaming in my ears. I covered the last 0.2 miles in a 5:55 pace finishing the race in 39:29, 7 1/2 minutes better than last year and 3 1/2 minutes faster than my stated goal.

My final results were 6.2 miles in 39:29 with a 19:55 first half and a 19:34 second half. I finished 39th overall out of 791 finishers and 4th out of 60 for my age division. I missed placing in my age division by 2 seconds! Not bad for a guy who just started running a little over a year ago.

I like to think that I learn something from every race. This race taught me that visualization can be a real part of training. I plan on trying it in other parts of my life as well, whether it’s parenting or housekeeping (I think the wife would be down with that part!). I also learned that we are stronger when we run together. Johnny and the young lady helped me push myself harder than I would have had I been alone on that stretch. For that I am thankful. I think that is something that I can take into other aspects of my life as well. I actually found Johnny afterward in the chowder tent and thanked him for pushing me along. He turned it right around and did the same.

I am still processing the race. Trying to figure out how this affects my long term goal. According to some websites, a 39:29 10k translates into a 3:02 marathon. Um, yeah, I’m not so sure about that. That being said though, I may have to rethink the training paces over the next several months. I’ve stepped up a level in my running, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to step back.

Boston? I have you in my sights!

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Below is the Prefontaine movie clip that inspired the playlist and the mantra:

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Pre-race Jitters

I haven’t run a lot of races. Since hanging up the cleats in high school, I’ve run 4 races (a 10K, 2 half marathons and one full), and those 4 have been in the last 12 months. The funny thing is that I haven’t had too many jitters going into these races. I knew I wasn’t an elite runner and quite honestly, aside from the marathon, I didn’t really know what I wanted to accomplish in the races.

But this Sunday I will be running the Super Sunday 10K for the second time. It is my first repeat race.

And I am nervous.

Why? It is a race I am familiar with. It is a race I know I can finish. I ran the race last year in a respectable 46:58. It was my first race as an adult, but I am more nervous about it this year than last.

Shouldn’t it be the other way around?  In life, when we repeat things, aren’t they supposed to become easier?  For the past few years as our elementary school’s PTO President I had to speak to groups of parents both large and small regularly.  The first couple of times were nerve-wracking, although that might have something more to do with the fact that the chair I was sitting in before my first speech ripped a dollar size hole in the back of my pants – I had to back my way onto the stage, but that’s another story for another blog.  It very quickly became easy, almost second nature speaking to them, no matter how controversial the topic might be.

So why am I nervous? It’s not like I’m not competing for a medal or a prize.

I am nervous because I am competing against myself. I set a standard last year that I hope to improve upon and that scares me a little. What if I don’t beat my time? What if I pull a hamstring and can’t finish? What would that say about all of the running I have done over the past 12 months?

A year ago I was happy just to finish, in part because 6 months earlier I would have laughed at the idea at finishing a 10K in under an hour. A year later, things have changed. I am more competitive – with myself.

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