Running My Mouth Off

Long Time, No Post: Part Deux

Life has been pretty weird lately, with the death of my father, a hospital stay for my mom and a brother in law who’s decided to make a career change: senior corporate management for alcoholism. And, as I haven’t had the time or energy to be all that active here, I decided to post something that I intended to post back in April:

Back in October ’11, we went away to Cambria, a small town along the central California coast, for a long weekend as kind of an extended family vacation. It was a great time and all but one of the more memorable things for me was gaining the ability to run after having jaw surgery the previous week. This week, we again headed down to Cambria to celebrate my daughter’s birthday and, as was the case in October, my running has been hampered, this time by runner’s knee. And I was really hoping that, as was the case on my previous trip, I’d have a successful run and return home with the ability to continue running. Well, things didn’t quite work out the way that I hoped.

I took off on a 5 mile run with the sky partly cloudy but sunny, a beautiful day along the coast. But, within literally two minutes, it began to rain. Not just a light shower, but hard, cold rain. You’d think that I’d take that as a prophetic sign. As I continued my run, running on the Fiscalini Ranch Trail, the skies cleared and the sun came out, giving me spectacular views of the rocky cliffs meeting the Pacific – the birds were plentiful and, because of the rain, I had the trail all to myself. And, as I ran, the only thought that came to mind was: man, I’m darn lucky to live in California.

As I was on my last mile though, a familiar tightness started in my hamstrings and the pain returned to my knee. Crap. And, like the clueless moron that I am, I continued running, thinking that, with only a mile or so left, it wouldn’t get too much worse. Bad move. I’ve been reminded of my stupidity ever since when I attempt to do strenuous things like walking up stairs or bend down to pick something up.

So what’s next? Having absolutely zero experience with Runner’s Knee, I’m reaching out and getting some help from a running coach. This is huge for me as I’m the kind of guy who thinks that I can fix everything on my own – my home is littered with projects in various state of repair or construction to prove this fact. But, at some point, stubbornness needs to give way to common sense so bring on the coaching.


A One-Sized-Fits-All Cure for Runner’s Injuries?

Injuries: some say that they can be avoided while others say that they’re a part of running. Some in the minimalist and barefoot movement will say that running injury free is possible if we run how are bodies were designed to run while ChiRunners will say that, if we can just rediscover the stride of our youth, we’ll all be well on our way to making injuries a thing of the past. While I can’t say for certain if any of the above is true, I can say that injuries are frustrating, irritating and sometimes make me wonder why I do this thing called running.

As many years as I’ve run, I’ve come to realize that injuries are a part of running and, as many claim to have one size fits all solutions to any injuries, it’s been my experience that they simply don’t exist. Take the recent experiences with Lauren Fleshman for example: an Olympic hopeful who has been sidelined by an IT band gone bad. And, as many resources as she has at her disposal, the opinions of exactly why she’s injured seem to vary quite a bit, which doesn’t give me a whole lot of hope since I’ve recently begun a battle with ITBS.

My only other “major” injury was shin splints -- I call it major because it kept me off the roads for darn near sixteen years. Like many, I too hit the interwebs looking for that single thing that would cure what ailed me (adding a bit of hair on my head while it’s at it?) but, time after time, that sure-fire cure didn’t work. Instead, it took a lot of trial and effort on my part to bring myself to a point at which I was running regularly. And, for almost two years, I was a happy runner. Sigh.

So, as I stare down the face of ITBS, or more commonly referred to as runner’s knee, I’m left wondering what the cure will be and how long I’ll be off the roads this time. And, in the same sentence, I’m left wondering how to avoid this in the future. After all, I tried to be careful, listening to my body to the best of my ability as I built up my miles. I also followed the 10% per week max increase by increasing roughly 5% week over week. And, I had a few weeks of lower mileage mixed in. I did everything right, so why do I hurt?

I remember a conversation that I had years ago with a fairly successful motorcycle racer. At the time, I was pretty into going fast on bikes so I had a ton of questions for him about his mental approach to getting through corners quickly. One thing that he said stuck with me: “If you’re going to ride fast, you’re going to go down.” I think, to a certain extent, this applies to running as well: if you’re going to run, you’re going to go down to injury at some point. It’s a necessary evil, and one that can test our dedication to the sport. As much as I want to complain about pain and being off the roads, I still maintain that I’m darn glad that I’m a runner and, especially now that Spring’s right around the corner, I can’t wait to be running once again, uninjured and for the pure joy of it – until I’m injured again. ;)


Injured Again: Runner’s Knee

Well, dang, injured again. Looks like I’ve tried to do too much too soon – not the first time this has happened. I spent roughly 15 years dealing with shin splints during my repeated efforts to return to running and now, after almost two injury free years, here I am again. But this time, it’s with iliotibial band (IT Band) syndrome or, more commonly, runner’s knee.

In discussing runner’s knee with other runners, the question has come up a number of times as to what exactly the iliotibial band is. And, thanks to the magic of Google, I can confidently communicate that the IT band is basically a group of fibers that runs from the area of your hip and glutes – I really didn’t want to say “butt” – down to your knee. When it’s healthy and doing its job, it provides stability to the outside of your leg when performing activities like running and cycling. When it’s inflamed and not healthy, it provides much pain in the outside area of your knee whenever you try to do things like go up stairs or bend down to pick something up – nothing has made me feel my age like the pain that runner’s knee provides.

I think that my particular case of runner’s knee started a while back while I was doing a three-month post-gallbladder surgery base building phase. Since I was off the road for about a month, I started slowly and gradually built up to 40+ miles per week. During that time, I started to notice that my upper hamstrings and glutes were unusually tight – to the point of being able to sit for only 10 or 15 minutes at a time before having to get up and move around. To combat this, I did some light stretching before going to bed at night and that seemed to help. But, once the base building phase ended and I started a speed building phase, complete with fartleks, hills and tempo runs, the syndrome came into its full glory.

At this point, I’ve reduced my weekly mileage significantly to the point at which I’m going out every other day or so for 5 to 6 miles while doing some increased, targeted stretching. And, as no battle against runner’s knee would be complete with out a foam roller, I purchased a pretty light-blue one and have actually used it. It’s funny, they seem so cute and painless when you look at them -- whoodathunk that they’d have more in common with a medieval torture device?

A week or two into the stretches and waterboarding sessions with the foam roller, I am getting significant relief but then again, I’m only going 18-20 miles a week. I’m thinking about adding miles here soon so we’ll see how it goes. One lesson that I seem never to learn though is that slow and steady wins the race or, more realistically, allows you to actually run the race. The one positive to pull out of this though is that, as I’ve already dealt with shin splints and runner’s knee, I only need to get plantar fasciitis to complete the trifecta!


Are the Kids Really Alright?

I admit it: I’m a selfish jerk. My wife refuses to believe this fact but it’s completely true. Sure, there are the seemingly selfless acts that I do most of the time that make me appear to be good, others-focused individual and heck, sometimes I even start to believe it myself. But, every now and then, something comes along to bring me right back to the realization that I’m utterly and completely self- absorbed. What did it this time was David Willey’s Editor Letter “Kids Are Alright” in April’s issue of Runner’s World.

In the article, he talks about some of the struggles that he faces while trying to be an active runner, an editor and a father, mentioning his desire to qualify for Boston along the way. He then tells of one particular occasion when he had to fit his workout into a timeframe of only 45 minutes and as he was walking out the door, his kids ran up to him expressing their desire to spend some quality time with dad on the road. And, in a display of what I can only call lunacy (though some deranged individuals would say he’s simply exercising good parenting skills), he succumbs to the cuteness and brings them along with him on his run. And, to make matters worse, this seems to be a regular occurrence. It’s gotten to the point where he’s put on something like 11 pounds and lost a significant amount of speed

As I read the article, I couldn’t help but wince as he told of time after time that he was forced to stop for important reasons such as picking flowers. I thought about my own runs and how I don’t even stop for red lights or kindly elderly ladies. I then think about my desire to achieve and maintain a Ryan Hall’ish like physique and how having to slow down and stop time and time again would impact my efforts. Heck, the child ignoring, self-centered version of me that currently exists can’t even achieve that, how much worse off would I be if I actually succumbed to the desperate pleas of my two daughters? And, eleven pounds? Yikes!

Yes, I’m selfish. My runs are mine, my time to allow my brain to shut down and just, be. And, while I will go for occasional short runs with them, mainly with my youngest, I’ve considered the distance run as little more than added mileage and have done that only if my personal runs weren’t impacted. And sure, I’ll participate in the coaching of my oldest daughter’s volleyball team, spending a seemingly endless amount of time in our front yard catching serve after serve, and I’ll spend a ridiculous number of hours working on sets and props in theaters for my youngest but hey, it’s all about me. Were they ever to try and interfere with one of “my” runs, they’ll get every measure of what’s coming to them: a slightly pained “Ok, let’s go!” You mess with the bull, you get the horns -- I’m dad and I have spoken.


Running in Cambria

Ok, I know I said that, when it comes to running, the two things that excite me are nutrition and training. Well, I’m adding a third: exploring new places to run. And, as fate would have it, we spent last weekend in Cambria, CA, a small town along Central California’s coast.

Whenever we go on anything even remotely resembling a vacation, one of the things that I really look forward to is running. I feel like I spend so much time on the same old routes around my house that the opportunity to check out some new places really appeals to me, especially when a scenic coastline is somewhere in the equation. What made this trip especially fun was that, about a week and a half earlier, I had surgery to remove a cyst that was located in a pretty sensitive of my jaw. Throw in some post-op infection and I wasn’t exactly the happiest of campers. I had been told that I would likely be off the road for about a month post surgery, but that technically, I could run at any point, as long as I was willing to deal with the pain. Well, me being me, I headed out less than a week post surgery and, though I’m glad I did it, the doc wasn’t wrong — it hurt like heck. But, knowing that Cambria was right around the corner, there was simply no way that I was stop running, regardless of the pain. And, as it turns out, both of my runs there there were virtually pain free — I was a happy guy.

Cambria itself is a pretty small town, consisting of a main drag, appropriately named “Main Street”, which is about a mile inland, and another main’ish drag, called Moonstone Beach Drive, which runs right along the ocean. Moonstone is roughly a mile and a half long, which doesn’t provide for a very long run but it dead ends on the north into Hwy 1 and the south at the corner of Hwy 1 and Windsor Blvd. Follow Windsor and it dumps you out on the Leffingwell Landing Trail, which is a stunningly beautiful path through meadows on the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean. The trail itself is a a mix of dirt trails and boarded paths and, in places, you feel like you’re out in the middle of nowhere, you only companions being wildflowers, coastal grasses and animal trails.

Whichever way you go, you’re going to be treated to some pretty nice views and, for whatever reason, as I was running north on Moonstone, I chose to stay on Hwy 1 to grab a few extra miles. The runs were really nice, save the occasional head-down-texting driver, and, as I was out there, I honestly didn’t want to turn around and head for home. But, as it seldom does, wisdom got the better of me and I wound up staying out for 6 and 8 miles — I didn’t want to push it too hard given that I hadn’t done a lot of running in the last two weeks and I’ve been bit more than once by trying to do too much too fast. Again though, simply an amazing place to run (though I’m not entirely sure that Vicodin didn’t have something to do with my feelings at the time) and I’d go back in a heartbeat if, for no other reason than to take in some more runs.

We’ll be in Maui in February and I’ve already got my routes planned out. And, though last time we were in Hawaii I received a rather rude introduction to running in high humidity, I’m still really looking forward to it. Until then though, it’s the same old routes around my house in Los Gatos, which ain’t a bad thing at all.


New Beginnings

Ok, it's been a heck of a long time since I've posted anything here. Life is, well, life and the craziness that accompanies it can sometimes make the act of merely doing the minimum appear daunting. Now that both of our girls are in middle school it seems that the number of commitments in our lives have multiplied exponentially as the kids mature and start to make life their own. I liken our new challenges to a street juggler who performs in San Francisco, New York or just about any other major city. Often, they'll start up with just a few balls, pieces of fruit, knives, babies, etc... (ok, maybe not babies) and then, as the act continues, they'll add more objects into the routine. At times, I've seen performers juggle 8 or 10 items simultaneously, which absolutely blows me away. I mean, I'm sure that there's a lot of practice, experimentation and failure that goes into this stuff but how in the heck can anyone pay attention to so many things in the air at one time?

From time to time, I'll grab a few tennis balls and try my hand at the craft. And, every single time, I fail miserably. Sure, I'll be able to juggle one or two, if you can even call that juggling, but add in that third one and things fall apart quickly. Guess it's a good thing that I've always reached for tennis balls instead of knives or babies. The bottom line is though, I really stink at juggling, whether it's tennis balls or multiple simultaneous events in my life. So, one thing that's fallen off to the side over the last few months is writing in general and, by extension, this blog. The will has been there and the ideas have been coming but the ability to get some focused time when I could do anything even remotely creative has been about as plentiful as oranges on the barren orange tree in my back yard.

But, as time has passed, I have been able to remain remarkably consistent with my running, fitting in another 5k and completing my first Half in the San Jose Rock n' Roll Half Marathon. And, as I've been running, I've been putting quite a bit of thought into this blog -- the things that I want to write about and why in the heck I want a blog in the first place. And, in the end, I think that I simply really love the act of writing.

One thing that I've noticed though is that the things that I tend  to write here seem to be less intentional and more the random musings of a forty somethings guy who's trying to rediscover his youth. As I look at this site, I think about myself and how I'd view the info that I put up here and put it up against style of blogs that keep me coming back to them. So, with that in mind, I've been processing over what I want this site to be about and look like. And, as I've done this, I've been forced to think about the very things that excite me about the process of running -- the types of things that surround the lifestyle that most attract my attention. What I've boiled it down to is that I really dig learning about two aspects of the running: training and nutrition. So, with that in mind, I'm officially restarting my blog with a focus on those two things, as well as my unfocused random musings -- ADD: if you got it, flaunt it. Then again, there's always the possibility that, like so many of my tennis balls before, this will fall flat on the floor once again. For now though, I hope you enjoy what I write and, if you do, leave me a note and check back soon. If not, keep pounding the pavement or trails and I'll see you at the finish line -- I'll be the guy looking at the knives and babies with a "Hmmm...I wonder...." look on his face.

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Why barefoot running ain’t my thing…

If you’re a runner and have read anything even remotely running related, you’ve likely heard of the rage that is minimalist running and its partner in crime, barefoot running.  Before I go further, let me say that there’s something strangely fascinating for me about running barefoot. Perhaps it’s that it reminds me of a soul surfer type mentality — a state of mind that rejects the strict and conventional and embraces a mindset of the casual and the free. It brings about feelings of  being in the moment and living without boundaries and deadlines as opposed to being subjected to and living within the fences that politics, business and others attempt to constrain us with. Nice idea. But, the problem is: I think the “running naturally” premise sucks. And, to support my option I had an experience the other day that convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’m right.

Before I reveal the exact source of my new-found wisdom though, allow me to run my mouth off a for a bit longer.

My disagreements with the barefoot craze are many. Probably the quickest to mention however, is that there are a rather large number of experienced and capable running shoe sales persons who will give testimony after testimony of runners who, through the use cushioned and motion control shoes, have become runners. And, by the way, I count myself as one of those success stories. I had tried shoe after shoe for years until I was properly fitted with a set of over the counter orthotics by a local running only store sales guy. And, even as early as the first few miles using them, it became painfully obvious, or lack of painfully obvious, that these things were what I needed in order to realize my goal of becoming a runner again. And, while barefoot promoters would likely say that I need to learn how to run more naturally or that my shoe purchases are doing little but giving money to evil corporations that probably kick puppies at every chance, I say this: “Did you know that a human head weighs 8 pounds?”

Ed Ayers, on his blog Endurance and Sustainablilty, wrote an article about Chris McDougall and his book Born to Run. If you’ve never read Ed’s blog, he’s an incredibly talented writer and has a wealth of experience from which to draw when it comes to writing about running. In his most recent blog, he discusses some common sense problems with barefoot and minimalist running with a far greater degree of articulation that I could ever write so check it out! But enough about Ed, back to me and what convinced me that my views on barefoot running are, without a doubt, 100% correct.

They say (and who is this “they” anyway? If anyone knows, let “they” know that they’re wrong about the old dog-new trick thing) that I picture is worth a thousand words. See below:


It’s been a good year…

Ok, ok, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve written anything. What can I say but life is incredibly strange, very busy and I’ve been going through a really weird time lately, call it a mid-life crisis without the Corvette. During this time, I’ve been evaluating absolutely everything about my life, including this blog. And, for reasons that I can’t really explain let alone understand, lately I’ve been having trouble moving forward in any area of my life beyond the basics. After a lot of processing though, I have come up with a few things that I refuse to give up on. And, as much as I hate lists, the non-negotiables are my faith, my family and my running but anything beyond that is fair game. So, where I go from here is anyone’s guess but I’m sure that anyone who reads this will hear about it as things come to light.

One thing that is an incredibly big deal to me though is today, May 17, 2011. And, before you go there, no, I didn’t join the “50-something” crowd — I ain’t that old! The reason why it’s a big day is because exactly one year ago today, I started my most recent attempt at running. And, while this may not seem like such a big deal to most runners, understand that I’ve been trying to once again become a runner for the better part of 16 years but, with each and every attempt, injuries have sidelined me at fairly early stages. This time was different though. Instead of buying books, shoes and taking advice from unshaven, overweight and typically drunk ex-athletes, I came to the party prepared with the greatest weapon that mankind has ever known: the internet. After all, who needs a degree in PhysEd when wifi’s so readily available? So yes, I’m a really, really happy guy today.

As I’ve tweaking with my running schedule lately, my body was a bit sore and stiff this morning and anyone with even a hint of wisdom would probably opted to take a rest day. Last time I checked though, my hint of wisdom wasn’t anywhere to be seen. So, I headed out on a slightly hilly 6 mile run.

As I ran, my mind cycled through all of my running experiences over the last year. I thought about some of the injuries — shin splints being the big one. I’ve also run through Runner’s Knee and a weird pain that migrated from my shin to the back of my knee, down my calf and onto my heel, back up my calf and back to my shin before going away — possibly the weirdest injury (?) that I’ve ever experienced.

I also thought about the different places where I’ve been able to run and the lessons that I’ve learned from the varied geographies. I was reminded of what it’s like for we who live on sea-level to run in higher elevations such as the Sierras. I’ve also had the opportunity to run along the foggy coast of Mendocino and seen more vultures that I’ve ever seen in one gathering which, more than anything else, reminded me of my mortality big time. Kauai taught me exactly what runners in humid climates such as Florida and Georgia have to deal with for months at a time and brought forward an appreciation of the climate in my stomping grounds. Southern California and Disneyland was crazy — 5.5 miles of either incredibly crowded sidewalks or inner city concrete and asphalt, take your pick.

For me, it’s truly been a good year for running. And, though I’m frustrated that my speed hasn’t come back as quickly as I’d hoped and that I’m not yet below 160lbs, if someone would’ve told me a year ago that, one year later, I’d be averaging 30 miles per week while being 20lbs lighter, there’s no way that I would have believed it.

So, I’ve got some goals for the next year. And hopefully, you’ll hear about them over the next few days. Keep running and stay tuned….


The Fourth Time’s a Charm!

I started running again on May 17 of 2010. I had been trying on and off for the better part of the last 16 years to get back into running but injuries had sidelined me early on in the process time and time again — until this time. This time, I took things very, very slowly. I started with the Couch to 5k program, even though I wasn’t “on the couch” and I put in a freakish amount of effort into managing and working through the injuries that have popped up over the last year.

I started running on a 3-day per week schedule and I didn’t allow myself to add a 4th day until a few months ago and, even when I did, I had to bump myself back down to a 3-day schedule twice. As running 4 days each week demands two consecutive days of running at some point in the week, my body wasn’t quite ready for the additional punishment so it took two or three months for my body to adapt. It seems though that, once my body did finally make the adjustment, the result was better than I had hoped.

Two weeks ago, as I’d like to fit a half in before too long, I decided to move up to a 5-day schedule, which requires at least 3 consecutive running days. My body handled it with ease — no problems, no pain. This week, I decided to go 4 days in a row, the last one of the 4 being today. And, no problems, no pain!

There are quite a few other reasons why I wanted to move to a 5-day schedule but it’s past midnight right now and I have absolutely no idea how to position my reasoning without sounding like an obsessive compulsive hypochondriac. So, those reasons will have to wait for another entry when I’m a bit more awake. Until then, stay tuned and keep running.


Dang right, I’m a runner!

On Saturday night, I came home from 10 days in Kauai. Unfortunately, it seems that I forgot to bring my brain home with me — my mind has been replaying the tapes of my experiences on the Garden Island nonstop. One thing in particular was something that happened on one of my 5 mile runs.

I had headed out on my run around 9:00 AM, a bit later than I had wanted to as, after 9:00, the walkers, stroller pushers and cars, which ironically, seem to move at a slightly slower pace than the stroller pushers, come out in force. My run took me past an attraction called Spouting Horn — think Old Faithful but not really — and to the end of a road that provided some pretty spectacular views of the Pacific and of Kauai’s southern coastline. To get those views though, there is a bit of an uphill that needs to be tackled. In reality though, the uphill isn’t much of an uphill, it lets you know it’s there and little else.

So I’m running with my typical gazelle like stride, or anteater like plod, you be the judge, up the steepest portion when I saw three mid 50?ish people walking up the same hill. The road was a bit wider than a one car dirt road but these people had decided that they did in fact own the whole darn road. So, as I approached, I said “On your right…” to remind them of their obligation to share the road. The woman on the far right, roughly 18.73? away from the plant life (and Cane Spiders) that line the road, jumped in an abrupt, startled fashion and looked back at me like I was some deranged crazy man on the prowl for white legged tourists donning socks and sandals. Upon further inspection, they decided that I was most likely harmless and let me pass.

As I passed the woman on the left commented about me to the man in the middle and the woman on the right, who obviously had a really bad case of tourette’s, “I feel like I’m about to die just from walking, how is it that he’s running!”. In a moment of inspiration that could have only been inspired by the the wisdom of Solomon, the man replied, “He’s a runner. This stuff is easy for them!”. Never have I wanted to punch someone in the face so badly. And, before you judge me too harshly, keep in mind that I was running in the morning (translation: before morning caffeine) and, when the adrenaline kicks in, it’s anyone’s guess as to what words will come out of my mouth. But here I am, out of my element, running up a hill in 138% humidity and the thermostat spiking at 157 degrees F, and he’s saying that, just because I happen to run in a climate that is much more hospitable, running in conditions rarely experienced outside of a sauna is a piece of cake?

Honestly, I wasn’t in bad shape at all but the comment kind of irritated me. And, out of all of the comments that went through my head, the one I chose to voice was something like “Ya, this stuff’s a piece of cake!”. I refrained from adding, “Why don’t you join me and it can be easy for you too!”.

As I put some distance between myself and them, I obsessed on the comment for a bit — yes, I’m that weird — and I started to realize that the perception of us, we who chose to plod along mile after mile, though flawed, isn’t really that negative. So, to the guy in the middle of the two women, “Darn right, I’m a runner and running in those conditions was easy for me.” Ok, it wasn’t exactly easy, but I ain’t tellin’ him that!