Endurance sports are interesting things -- activities like running and cycling have such a strong isolationist component to them while, at the same time, strongly benefit from community. These past few weeks have been a huge lesson in that for me in a number of ways and Saturday's run was no exception.
I headed out the door in the morning and did an easy 8 that took me on about 3 miles of the Los Gatos Creek Trail. Because it's been raining here lately, the creek was flowing strongly and Vasona, a small resevoir along the trail, was completely full. And, with light winds and mild weather, the various bird species were out in force. Because I was running at a more relaxed pace, I was able to enjoy the scenery more, to take in more of the world around me and I loved it. It was one of those days when running was pure joy, when I was darn glad to be a runner. I didn't want anyone out there with me, I loved the solitude, just me, the birds and the creek....and all of the other joggers, cyclists, walkers and homeless people, but that's another post...or not.
Conversely, my Thursday morning outings of late with other runners, each of whom are in varying stages of trying to get faster, has brought me right back to the value of community and endurance sports. It's taken me right back to cycling and how riding with others drove me to become faster. I'm also reminded of my days of competitive swimming in my teens, when I had a team around me that pushed me and relied on my ability to swim at least a little faster than the guy in the next lane. There's an aspect of training that, when done with others, raises my drive and willingness to push just a little bit harder than I otherwise would have. It makes me want to be better and faster and that ain't a bad thing. Even if I wasn't trying to improve my pace I'd probably still be out there -- there's nothing like being around other runners to keep me motivated when I'm deciding whether or not to lace up and head out the door when it's 45 degrees and raining.
I know, I know, this stuff is about as revolutionary as the idea that the earth is round or that good coffee and "instant" don't belong in the same sentence (if any Starbucks employees or VIA fans are offended by this, I officially offer as sincere of an apology as I can muster up). It seemed so much more profound as I was running though. Then again, my mind tends to wander into some pretty obscure places and, for all I know, on tomorrow's run I'll be trying to reconcile how none of my favorite moves ever seem to win Oscars. I mean, seriously, it's like nobody who was on the nominating committee even saw "Red"!
School has kept me pretty darn busy over the last few weeks so I’ve had zero time to write anything here lately and I absolutely hate this semester. It seems like I have a million things that I want to write about but I simply haven’t had the time to jot my thoughts down, but I’ll come back to that in a minute. Fortunately though, and even as unpleasant and consuming as this semester has been so far, I’ve been able to keep my distance up and have even added a bit to my routine: intervals.
I buy my running shoes at a place called Running Revolution and one of their guys, Tim, hosts a Thursday morning workout on one of the local high school tracks…at 5:45AM. I’ve had invites to this workout from a few different people but, come on, 5:45 in the morning? Three weeks ago though, I found myself awake at 5:30 so, bleary eyed, I pulled on my running gear, jumped in my trusty Ridgeline and headed out to the track.
Like most people, I’m not comfortable showing up to situations where I’m not known — I hate being the new guy. And, when it comes to being the new guy in a group of runners, each one of whom look as if they’ve just stepped off of the cover of Runner’s World, the level of my discomfort was not insignificant. As I was driving there, I had fully expected to be one of the slower ones in the group and, upon looking at everyone else and watching them do their warm ups, my expectations were confirmed to an embarrassing degree.
Tim, the host and coach, splits the runners up into two groups: a fast group and a slow group. Guess which one I ran with? And, when I say ran, I mean followed. We did 4-1 mile repeats and, though I was never lapped, it wasn’t my proudest day — I came in dead last in all but the last mile. To make matters worse, I was the only guy in the slow group. Yep, I was soundly beaten by a bunch of girls. And, though intellectually I fully understand that there are women who run much faster than I could ever hope to run, my machismo was forced to go through a period of extreme calibration as it got used to running more slowly than every other female out there that morning.
With expectations lowered well below already subterranean levels, I headed out there again this morning. Last week was below 40 degrees and raining at 5:30am so, instead of a morning speed workout, I did my intervals later on in the day…when it was merely below 50 degrees and raining but again, I digress. To make a short story even shorter, I did much better than I had that first week, coming in first in the slow group in all official repeats. And, in running an additional 440 with the fast group, I finished in the middle of the pack. When I got home this morning, I felt great, like I had accomplished something and I immediately began looking forward to next Thursday. What made today more cool though is that, as I was running the intervals (880, 2mile, 880) I partnered with a woman who was pretty darn fast and, though she said that I pushed her this morning, she was really the one who was pushing me. There’s something about community — doing things with others – that brings our performance to a higher level, making us better athletes and better people. And, though I’m likely preaching to the choir, there never seems to be enough evidence to convince me to keep breaking out of my shell and exposing myself to the possibility of humiliation…or success. Which brings me right back to what I said I’d get back to in the first paragraph of this post.
Again, this semester is really difficult for me — the classes aren’t fun and the workload seems pretty heavy and, as recently as last night, I considered forgetting the whole idea of going back to school. Understand that, as someone who’s much older than most on campus, going back is pretty humbling. But, after today’s run and the enthusiasm that I felt throughout the day, there’s no way that I can drop out now. This morning, I got a taste of a goal reached and, even though it was something as small and insignificant as increasing my speed while I’m running, it still mirrored, in an odd way, my choice to go back to school. Had I made the choice to stay in bed this morning, I would have completely missed the feeling of accomplishment that I’ve had throughout today. I can only imagine how much more it will feel to accomplish the goal that I set for myself when I made the decision to head back to college.
Last weekend, my wife and I were able to get away for a long weekend at our favorite bed and breakfast, the Elk Cove Inn, in Elk, CA, about 16 miles south of Mendocino. By the way, if you're looking for a place to stay up there, look no further and tell Elaine that Dave and Tracey sent you. Anyway, one of the things that I really love doing when we're up there, aside from drinking incredible wines, eating amazing dinners and gaining about 12 pounds from Elaine's biscuits and gravy, is getting up early and taking in a run or two on Hwy 1. The views are always incredible, the air is clean and there are very few cars to deal with. So, last Saturday, I headed out the door at around 8:00 for about a 7 mile run.
Leaving the hustle and bustle of downtown Elk:
Just a few of the coastal views:
This is about 160 feet down at a very steep angle. Oh, and it's also about a foot away from the paved road so spacing out too much while running up here isn't exactly ideal.
This is part of a 6 percent incline that lasts for around a third of a mile -- definitely my favorite hill to run.
Not exactly the traffic patterns that I'm used to in Silicon Valley but it'll do...
Check out the house on the right, not a bad view to wake up to, eh?
And now, sadly, we're back home. It was a nice break but it's time get back to real life.
I hate getting up in the mornings, I really do. It seems like I get up every single morning, stumble around, routinely stub my pinky toe on the same section of baseboard and hit my head on the same corner of the exhaust hood above our stove as I start the water for my morning cup of green tea. It usually takes me a rather unpleasant while after getting up to shake the cobwebs loose and gain the ability to do highly complex things such as walking or tying my shoes so, when I read about the benefits of pre-breakfast exercise, dismissed the idea pretty quickly. After a few months though, I finally gave in and decided to give it a try. Then, after a few more weeks of procrastination, I actually made it out the door first thing in the morning.
Saturday, February 5 was the day — (I know, I’m a bit behind on the posting), it was not too cold, in the low 60′s when I left and the sky was clear as a bell. I have a 7.5 mile course that I’ve been using for my long run for the past few weeks that features a series of uphill false flats of varying degrees that cover just over the first half of the run. And, once I’m finished with those, the rest of the run is pretty much 3 miles of gradual downhill — guess which part of the course I enjoy more? But I digress… So, bleary eyed, I half heartedly headed out the door at around 8:00 am.
As I was still trying to wake up during my first mile, I couldn’t help noticing that there were quite a few other runners on the road. Fortunately, they were going in the opposite direction. I hate even the threat of superior competition and, at this stage in my running career, I feel like pretty much everyone’s superior so, when I do see someone else pounding the pavement, I prefer them to be going in the opposite direction. But then, up ahead, going in my direction, I spotted him. At first, I thought it might be merely a case of un-expelled eye-boogers or floaters but I soon saw that the mirage was indeed real. Up ahead of me a hundred yards or so, I saw a runner. This was no ordinary runner though, it was one that looked slow — had he been a wildebeest or an antelope, he would no doubt have been the sickly straggler in the back of the heard, probably the one that was born with only one leg or with three out of four knees facing the opposite direction. It didn’t matter, he was someone who I could potentially pass and, as opportunist knows, even the weakest of victims was still a victim.
As we lumbered on, I continued to size him up — I looked at his stride, the stride that comes from inexperienced exhaustion and, as I drew closer, I began to notice his clothes: a black cotton Adidas warmup jacket with matching black shorts. Cool, not exactly the sort of attire that screams “I have some serious speed and experience so back off!” And, before I knew it, I had gained some pretty significant ground on him. As I drew nearer, I could see his shoes: old, white basketball shoes that had seen far more hours in the garden than on the courts shooting hoops. I watched his undefined calf muscles as they struggled to push him up a steepening false flat that would soon spell his doom. I saw his white earbuds that were piping in the music that masked the sounds of my gazelle-like stride as I swiftly closed in on my unsuspecting prey. I was now just a foot or two behind him, measuring him as a panther measures its next potential meal. I could hear his labored breathing and his feet as they clumsily slapped the ground step after step. I hung behind him for 50 yards or so when I decided to go for it.
As I passed him, I turned and saw his face. He looked a 40-something guy like me who was just out get in better shape. He probably had a wife who enthusiastically supported his attempts to improve his health and a few kids who proudly followed him down the street as he took off for his morning run. My wife and kids were still in bed when I left — no send off for me, no mercy for him. I looked at him, he looked at me and, in his eyes, I saw a the look of defeat, the look of one who knew that he was about to be owned and who had simply given up. I guess it could have been the look of brotherly support but hey, I call ‘em like I want to see ‘em. Conversely, I glared at him confidently and defiantly, giving him “the look” as I kicked up my pace for the final pass. Ok, “the look” probably resembled something between dehydrated delirium and total confusion from exercise induced dementia, but hey, I don’t get to pass too many people. I glided past him, kept the up the increased pace, crossed the street and it was complete: the first official roadkill of my new-again running career.
I finished my run and, honestly, it felt great. Before heading out, I was concerned that I’d experience fatigue from a lack of fuel but that turned out to be no concern at all. And, because I had done a pretty good job of pre-run hydration, I felt great the whole way through. I’ve since done two more pre-breakfast runs, a speed workout with a local team that consisted of 4-1 mile repeats, and a 6 mile run along the Mendocino coast over the weekend, both of which I’ll be writing about this week, and so far, I’m loving the idea of heading out first thing in the morning. And, if I find the occasional runner who is slower than me, so much the better.
By the way, a huge shoutout to my niece in Iowa who today ran a 3.84 miles in 23 minutes today. Great job E!
School has started up again and my schedule seems to be a bit busier than it was last semester. It could be that this is just me trying to be diligent by getting off to a good start or that I merely feel that I'm in way over my head in Spanish class. My Spanish professor last semester mentioned to me, in the middle of one of my "I suck, I'll never get this!" panic attacks, that adult adoption of foreign languages is extremely difficult. And, as much as I hate to admit, it does seem that teaching an old (well, not that old) dog new tricks isn't without issue. Fortunately, I've been able to keep my mileage and days consistent though I've had to become a bit more creative when it comes to figuring out where to fit my runs. Today was another six miles sans watch or GPS device and it continues to feel really good -- not as good as if the Raiders had won the Superbowl yesterday...or even appeared in it, but I guess you can't have everything. By the way, congrats Cheeseheads, great game!
In spite of my schedule though, I'm going to try to post something here every other day or so. BTW, the title of my next post: Roadkill for Breakfast. Keep running and stay tuned.
The other night, at the suggestion of a friend of mine, I Netflix'd the movie "Running the Sahara", a documentary featuring three friends as they run more than 4,000 miles from the Atlantic shores of Senegal, across Africa, to the Red Sea in Eastern Egypt. Though I'd give the movie merely an "Ok" rating, there's no denying that what these three men did was nothing short of amazing. They completed the journey in just over 100 days, running the equivalent of two marathons each day every single day. At the end of the film, one of the runners said something that we've all heard all too many times: he said something to the effect of "the only limits that we have are the limits that we put on ourselves." And, as he continued, he explained that, never in his wildest dreams would he have ever believed that he'd be able to accomplish anything like that in his life.
As I was running yesterday, I thought quite a bit about his words, recalling the images of the three men hobbling the last few yards of their 4,000+ mile journey. I recalled the torture that they inflicted on their bodies as they pushed themselves over sand, asphalt and rocks in 120+ degree temperatures and thought to myself that there's no way in heck that I'd ever be able to complete something like that. After all, I'm still struggling to solidify a 4 day running week and, if I have trouble with that, how in the world could I ever expect to run 100+ consecutive days? And that's not even considering the mileage. I then thought of another friend of mine who ran her first half at the San Jose Rock and Roll Half Marathon last October. Well, she didn't actually run it, she walked most of it but she still covered the distance and she's not even a runner. I then began to wonder how I would have fared in the San Jose Half.
The more I thought about it, the more realized that I'd actually have no problem completing the half and that, were I to train, I'd likely be able to cover much longer distances than I've previously thought possible. After all, my friend covered the entire distance while doing a good bit of walking and these three obviously mentally deficient men were able to cross the entire continent of Africa by running at a very slow pace. I don't think that it's that I can't run any given distance rather, it's that I can't cover the distance at my desired pace. For example, I can head out the door and do a Marathon tomorrow. I likely wouldn't qualify for Boston, but I'd certainly be able to cover the distance.
British novelist John Fowles wrote that "There are only two races on this planet-the intelligent and the stupid." And, based on the history of mental train wrecks that I've left in my wake, I'd place myself firmly in the later of Fowles' two categories -- I can screw up anything. And, as much as this trait can be considered a gift when it comes to being a husband and a father, it's less than ideal when it comes to running. There's something inside of me that won't let me do a Half or a Full if I can't run at a certain pace -- it's dumb, I know. When I did my first 5k, I wanted to make darn sure that I could do it in under a specific time and I absolutely refuse to do anything of length if I can't put in at least somewhat of a respectable time -- this is one of the limits that I place on myself, one of the things that keeps me from running longer distances. My thinking then goes beyond the limits that I place on myself as a runner and wonder what other limits I place on myself in life. I then think of the words of Thomas Gray "...where ignorance is bliss, 'Tis folly to be wise." So, in my ignorance, I'll be off and out the door on my "slow" long run tomorrow, likely trying to match the pace of my shorter run yesterday. And after the run, I'll be blissful, but certainly not filled with folly.
Still keeping up with 4 days a week but I may be detecting a bit of a set back in the near future. I did my normal 6 miles on Monday and 4 miles on Wednesday and, though my plans called for another 4 miles on Friday and a long run on Saturday, keeping my mileage exactly the same as the previous week, I decided to take my second 4 mile run today.
Yesterday (Wednesday) my shin began to tighten up around mile three. And, though it never became actual pain during the run, could definitely feel it post-run. Today, I felt fantastic throughout the entire run but, the second I stopped running and started my warm-down walk, both shin and calf on my right leg tightened up. Well, dang. As I went throughout the day, the pain subsided and, as I sit here writing, it feels pretty good. I typically won't call something an official injury unless it's been with me for at least three or four runs so, at this point, I'm not stressing too much. If it persists during and after Saturday's 7.4, it'll be time to start giving some serious thought about how to handle things. For now, I still consider myself injury free.
Exactly how far did I go and how fast did I cover the distance? No idea, I left the GPS and the watch at home again. I did notice though that some of the roads on which I run are actually quite beautiful!
And yes, an official shootout of two GPS apps is still coming. I know, I've said that before but, this time I really mean it!
I know, I know, I said that I was going to write an iPhone GPS app shootout on Friday. Unfortunately, I got unexpectedly busy so I couldn't get to it. So why am I not writing it now? Because doing compare/contrast things takes a lot of brain-work and time and I seem to be short on both lately. And, my brain got a bit tweaked by something I read the other day.
There's an online running coach, Jason Fitzgerald, (he goes by "Fitz") who writes a blog called Strength Running. Somehow, I found myself on his site and I ran across an article that he wrote, "Minimalist Running: Ditch the Technology and Run Free". Thinking that it was yet another writeup on barefoot running or touting the evils that are cushioned soles and motion control shoes, I proceeded to read with interest. Turns out the article had little to do with shoes. Rather, it was about losing the GPS watches, phones, iPods and all of the other high-tech gear that are designed to help us become better runners and make our sport more enjoyable.
In his article, he redefines "minimalist running" as running without the benefits of what the computer age has brought us. For example, instead of sticking a set of white ear phones in your ears and listening to the latest Bruno Mars or Katy Perry, Fitz urges us to listen to "the symphony of footsteps, breathing, birds, wind, and running water that you will experience on a forest trail."
I actually spent a bit of time thinking about the article, especially in the recent light of the some of the testing that I've been doing with GPS running apps. I thought about whether or not these apps have enhanced my enjoyment of the sport or if they've drawn my focus away from running and more towards my performance. I think about when I took my first few runs back in middle school, I'd routinely go out in a pair of gym shorts, a cotton tee-shirt, a pair of Nike waffle-soled shoes and that's about it. I remember running the trails of hills above San Jose sans-watch and how I never seemed to care about how fast I ran. I didn't worry about pace, splits, elevation profiles or any of that -- I was running worry and concern free and I was addicted to it.
So, as I've headed out on my last three runs, I've chosen to leave the watch at home and the GPS tracker off. And, on the first run, I admit that it felt a little strange. Keep in mind that, in my stomping grounds, the flattest terrain that is offered to me comes in the form of a false flat. So, my GPS experiments have shown me where on my courses I tend to slow down and where I have opportunities to make up some serious time. This time out though, instead of trying to make up time on one stretch or push hard through another, I just ran -- I ran at a pace that my body felt appropriate and it felt great. I've done three runs now without any sort of timing or tracking device and have had similar experiences. This is not to say that there's no value in the various available training tools, they definitely have their place during training but, for every day runs, I find that I'm able to focus more on experience of the run and less about my performance. Were I an elite runner who is trying to break the two-hour marathon mark then perhaps I'd feel differently but, for now, I find that I'm really enjoying getting back to basics.
BTW, yes, a shootout is still coming and I'll definitely evaluate a few more apps. IMO, technology is too cool to be avoided. And I don't care what Fitz says, I'm not ready to give up my Asics 2150's just yet.