Category Archives: General Discussion

Time to Get Back to Work

Keeping up with a blog is a lot of work. There are lots of other people out there creating content, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a competitive need to keep up. The pressure of maintaining my blog became a bit much, so I put this aside for quite a while. I was shocked to see my last post was March 2014. Shame on me.

A lot has happened since then. I have a lot to write about in the coming months. And my goal is to do better at maintaining my own space here, and not worry about keeping up with anyone else.

Thanks to those who stuck with me. I know, you probably just forgot. Well, thanks for forgetting :-).

Since my last post, a ton has happened to my life as a runner.

  1. I crushed my Half Marathon goal of finishing under 2 hours coming across the finish line at 1:55.
  2. I finished my first full Marathon in October; 4:33
  3. I nearly broke myself (mentally and physically) training for said marathon.
  4. I took all of November and most of December off from running
  5. I feel rested, recovered (mentally and physically), and ready to get back to training

I’ll circle back and recap those milestones over the coming weeks in more detail. I’m going to strive to be more regular with updates. I even have a guest blogger waiting for me to get off my duff and give up some space.

Here on the final days of 2014, I’m looking forward to what will come in 2015 already. Bring it!

 

Book Review: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Ok, I admit it. I’m late to the show on this one. I’m sure nearly every runner out there has already read this book. If you have, awesome. If you haven’t, go snag a copy and read it. If you love to run, you’ll love this book.

Born to Run (2009) by Christopher McDougall, who used to be an editor for Men’s Health magazine, started the journey that began with this book by asking a question about his own running, “Why do I keep getting hurt?”

It’s a great question. With all of our modern gear and technology, why are runner’s rates of injury so high? I won’t put any spoilers in this post, just in case you haven’t read it yet.

I initially found the book hard to follow. McDougall, like so many authors these days, writes in a “stream-of-consciousness” style; which basically means he writes exactly like thoughts flow through his mind, meandering around and jumping from topic to topic with little or no warning. I got used to his style soon into the book, and found the story so captivating that I didn’t care. I tore this book up, and finished it in just a few weeks. That’s really fast for me. I read books very slowly, soaking in every little detail.

There are a few major parts of the book I found delightful. Without spoiling the content, here were the major themes he covered:

  • Modern running gear does not prevent running injury. In most cases it makes them worse
  • The native Tarahumara tribes in the Copper Canyons of Mexico are reclusive, but are some of the greatest distance runners on Earth. And they run in thin sandals only.
  • Ultra-marathoners are crazy
  • Humans (Homo Sapiens) evolved as runners. We are literally born to be distance running machines

McDougall covers these topics in great detail, and paints colorful pictures of his cast of characters. The best part is that they are all real. I found myself especially captivated by how he wrote about the different races throughout the book. Being a distance runner myself, I could sympathize.

If you are an amateur runner like me, and you’re struggling with getting to that next distance milestone, or even asking yourself if it is all worth it, read this book. I found it so affirming. I guess lots of other people did, too, which is why it was on the best seller list for so long.

Winter Blues

This has been a rough Winter so far for the North Eastern United States. We’ve had lots of snow and ice storms on a pretty regular tempo throughout the season (actually it started early this year) and we are not in sight of the finish line just yet.

Yuck!

Yuck!

So how does a runner keep up with training during weather like this? Short answer: I’m not really sure. I’m only in my second year of calling myself a runner, and last Winter we barely had any snow at all so I was able to run outside for nearly the entire season. So I am far from an expert, but I can share how I am trying to keep up with everything.

1. Just get out and do it. When there is not snow covering the roads and sidewalks, I force myself to go outside and run. I invested in a couple sets of good running thermals, which I talked about in detail last Winter, and put on another layer or two depending on the temperature and just go do it. I’m typically chilly for the first mile, but after that, it usually isn’t bad at all. In fact, I rather like running in the cold. It is easier for me than running in the hot, humid Summers we usually have around here. I don’t get overheated, the air is crisp and clean, and there is usually no one else crazy enough to be outside running, so I have the sidewalks and paths to myself.

2. Sign up for a race! This is one of my favorite tricks. If I put money down on a race entry fee, I’m going to get up and go to the race. The Winter races around where I live are always a lot of fun and have really good numbers of people show up. Go and get your run on with some fellow running nuts!

The Frosty Finish Line!

The Frosty Finish Line!

3. Either find a gym nearby or invest in a treadmill for your home. I bit the bullet this year and bought a treadmill. I plan on doing a Tech Review post on it soon, so I won’t belabor the details of which one and what it does just yet, but I have it in the basement and it has been a savior to my training plan (my wife’s, too!) This Winter has just been so bad that running outside has regularly been impossible. There are some really great treadmill training programs out there, and pointers on how to make sure your treadmill workout is as effective as going outside is.  Yes the treadmill can get monotonous. Yes the treadmill can get boring. The trick for me is finding something to occupy my mind other than staring at the progress statistics on the treadmill screen. My best trick is putting my iPad up on the treadmill console and streaming a Netflix movie or TV show to watch while I run. I find that I get absorbed into the story and forget (to an extent) about my progress.

So that’s it. No magic tricks, nothing exceptionally out of the ordinary here. I’m keeping my head down and getting in as much training as I can, still keeping my eye on that April Half-Marathon I’ve signed up for (see? money is a powerful motivator!) I’m just as sick of Winter as the next person, and am looking forward to Spring and more sunshine just like everyone else.

How are you making it through the Winter? Do you train? Or Hibernate? Do you have any tricks to share on staying motivated during the cold months? I’d love to hear from you.

Feeling Gravity’s Pull

I ran my first Half-marathon last year (The ODDyssey in Philadelphia) in 2:15. I ran my second Half-marathon last November (The Rock-n-Roll Half in Las Vegas) in 2:12. I had an unrealistic goal for that second race, of finishing Sub-2 hours. My last training run where I did the whole 13.1, I ran in 2:09, so I really thought I could shave those last 9 minutes off and slide in to the finish. Long story short, I was disappointed.

So what did I do? I came home, figured out my next Half-marathon, and got into training. My next race is in April, so my 16-week training plan actually started the week of Christmas. I’m using the free, Sub-2 hour Half-Marathon training program in RunKeeper.  At the time I signed up, I was really focused on the goal. I reviewed the training plan and said to myself, “Sure I can fit in runs 5 days a week.” I had been training 4 days a week, so the extra day didn’t seem like too much more.

I think I was wrong. Here I am 6 weeks in, and I find myself beginning to struggle. The runs are getting long, which in and of themselves is not unreasonable, but trying to fit a 9 or 10 mile run in on a weekday is getting harder and harder. The schedule has me running Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, then Saturday and Sunday. Tuesday is usually some sort of strides (sprints), Wednesday is a steady, medium paced longish run, Thursday is Intervals, Saturday is short and slow, Sunday is race-paced long runs. The weekend stuff is fine, it is the weekend. It’s the weekday stuff that is starting to crush my soul. Mornings are hard, because it takes so long. It is very cold and dark outside, and really risky to try and get in a run right now. Lunch time is better, but again, it takes over an hour to get the plan run in, then shower and get back to work. Evenings are tough, but not impossible.

So now that I’ve over-shared my frustrations, I guess my questions out to the world of runners are:

  • How do you fit your training into a busy workday?
  • How do you stay committed to a goal when the training starts getting tough?
  • How do you become an accomplished runner and still hold down a demanding career?

I’m sure all of this can be done, and part of me knows I can do this. It gets hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes.

I’m really interested to hear what others have to say. What do you think?

Inspiring Australian Couple runs 365 Marathons in a Year

A good friend of mine forwarded this on to me, and I couldn’t help but be inspired beyond belief.

A couple in their 60’s started on New Year’s Day 2013 from Melbourne, Australia, and ran a marathon distance every single day. They finished their coastal circuit of Australia earlier today, one year from when they left out.

And if that wasn’t enough to be impressed about, both have been diagnosed with cancer, and are fighting it off through lifestyle changes and exercise.

And if that wasn’t enough to be impressed about, they have done this on a raw, vegan diet.

Wow. Just wow.

Watch the interview and read the write up for yourself, and may your 2014 be inspired.

A Year In Motion – My 2013 Wrap-up

This has really been one heck of a year for me for running. Considering I only started running in the fall of 2012, I think I can take a few minutes and be proud of what I accomplished.

Personal Running Goal of 700 miles

So first thing in January 2013, RunKeeper started bugging me to set a goal for the year. I figured it was worthwhile, because I am an extremely goal-oriented person. I need to have that target in mind or else I tend to just flounder. I knew I wanted to run my first Half Marathon in 2013, but wasn’t sure when, so I made a semi-educated guess that I could run 700 miles throughout the year. Sounds a little ambitious, right? Yeah, it probably was. So here is where I ended up for the year:

Running Goal 2013

As of today, December 24th, 2013, I have run 607 miles. Yeah I still have a few more days left in the year. I’ll get a little closer to the goal, but there is no way I can run 100 miles in the next 6 days. I’d die.

I’m going to keep the goal of 700 miles for 2014. I want to try harder to hit that this coming year. I’m pretty sure I can do it this time.

First 10K

So yes, I was setting goals for a Half-Marathon and 700 miles for the year before I even ran my first 10K. I was doing 5K’s pretty easily and knew I was ready for the next level. It didn’t take long. In early January, I decided to go around the chute at the Shiver by the River 5K and go back out for another lap and finish the 10K. I finished in 1:01:34. Not too shabby for the first time out.

First 10-mile

I decided to push my luck in March and go for a 10-miler. At this point I had signed up for my first Half Marathon in June, and I needed to start pushing the distance to see if my body was getting ready. It wasn’t. My first 10-miler was miserable. I went up to Quakertown for the run, it was very cold and even snowing a little, and I was still learning how to fuel my body. I hit the wall. Hard. I finished the 10-miler in 1:54:01, which was just abysmal, and dedicated myself to learning how to fuel myself or a run.

First 1/2 Marathon

I wasn’t quite ready to sign up for this, but a good buddy of mine wanted to run this together, so I caved. Unfortunately, he got injured before the race and was not able to compete with me. Boo. But I understood. I trained my backside off, learned how to fuel my body for the run, and trained some more. I went out and hit this one with all I had, and learned a ton. I ran the ODDyssey Half in Philadelphia, which wound the 13.1 miles through beautiful Fairmount Park in early June. It was simply gorgeous. I finished in 2:15:05, and I was quite happy with my time. Very decent showing for a 1st-timer.

This was ~Mile 9. I was feeling good and charging on towards the finish line.

This was ~Mile 9. I was feeling good and charging on towards the finish line.

Second 1/2 Marathon

This one was my little sister’s fault. She’s been running longer than me, but wasn’t going past 5K for the longest time. She decided she wanted to do the Rock-n-Roll Half in Las Vegas in November and asked for takers to go with her. I bit. I started training in July a little after a month of downtime after the ODDyssey. Again, trained my butt off. This one really bit me. First I think because of the time zone difference, and second because the race is run in the evening which felt even later to my body because of the jet lag. I had finished my 13.1 training run in 2:09:00 and in my head I wanted to finish Vegas in under 2hrs. Unrealistic goal I see in retrospect. I fueled as best I know, but the factors were against me and I hit the wall hard at about 11 miles in. I just couldn’t pick my legs up anymore. I was hot, sweaty, tired, and just beat. I had a blast though. That was a race for the bucket list. Amazing scenery and crowds. I finished in 2:12:02.

Probably hard to tell from the picture, but I seriously could barely stand up at this point. I gave it everything I had.

Probably hard to tell from the picture, but I seriously could barely stand up at this point. I gave it everything I had.

Started this blog

I blog professionally quite a bit. Ok well not so much this year as in past, but it is a part of what I do. I realized I had a lot to say about running and getting fit, and my journey towards all that, and started up this blog.

 2014 Goals

  • I’m going to carry over the 2013 goal of running 700 miles in the year. I’m going to hit it in 2014.
  • I am going to run the Garden Spot Village Half-Marathon on April 12th. I am going to have a realistic goal of finishing under 2 hours. I started a Sub-2hr Half training program today.
  • I am going to run my first full Marathon. I don’t know which one just yet, but after my spring half, I plan to choose a fall marathon and then get to training. The Philadelphia Marathon in November perhaps? I might not be able to wait that long.

What fitness goals to you have for 2014? The hardest part of the journey is the first step.

The New Multi-Vitamin Debate

 

It’s been all over the news lately. The latest research on multi-vitamins is saying that not only do multivitamins have no measurable benefit, but can also cause harm in the long-term and everyone should stop taking them.

Does this seem strange to anyone else? I certainly accept that as we advance in science and medicine that new things will be discovered to challenge conventional wisdom. But this one really leaves me scratching my head. Every family doctor I’ve ever seen has encouraged me to take a daily multivitamin even as recently as this year.

How should we interpret as athletes? Here’s a few questions I have heavy on my mind before I take any action:

  • This research were based on “three big studies”. Ok. I want to see hundreds of big studies on all types of people.
  • I want to see a study specifically done on athletes (or even better, runners). I cannot believe that the vitamin requirements of an extremely active person are the same as someone who is sedentary.
  • I want my doctor to tell me to stop taking my vitamins based off of hard data in my own blood chemistry.

I’m pretty good at seeing my doctor every six months. It usually includes blood work, and so far there are no signs that I am anything but healthy. For me, I’m going to continue taking my multivitamins every day until I have more concrete evidence that I shouldn’t. For the record, I take GNC MegaMan Sport Vitapack. I still feel that this is an essential part of my health and wellness routines.

What do you think?

My Runner-versary

I read somewhere (probably in Runner’s World Magazine) that you are officially “a runner” after you run your first race.

I ran my very first competitive race on September 30th, 2012, exactly one year ago today. It was Zane’s Run in Sugartown, PA. It was chip timed, and not quite a true 5K, measuring out at 2.8 miles in the end, which was a little disappointing for my first time. I finished in 28 minutes. And yes, that is all from memory. I think it’s like your first date, or the day you purchased your first car, or even your wedding day. Which is why I’m calling today, and every September 30th from here on out my “Runner-versary.”

In the spirit of any anniversary, I think it is worthwhile to spend a little time and reflect on the events of the past year and speculate a little about the next year.

From a year ago today, I am 20lbs lighter. I have raced competitively in over 15 timed events. I have increased my race distance from 3.1 miles (5K) to completing my first half-marathon (13.1 miles). I have gotten my 5K PR down to 24 minutes, which is pretty fast for an old desk jockey like me.

For the next year, I’m already training hard for my next half-marathon, which I will run in mid-November. After that, I’m planning on setting my sights on a full marathon some time in the spring of 2014. Very loose plans on that front for now. I will spend the winter running again, as I did last year, competing in some of my favorite local races like the Shiver by the River series, and the Chris Cringle 5 miler just before Christmas.

My thought for the last year. Something I have noticed frequently when I talk to others about being a runner. Nearly every time, I hear at least two or three excuses why a person can’t run. Then I talk a little about the excuses I used to give for not running. I used to always say my “Golden Rule” was that I only run when I am chased. It would always elicit a chuckle or two, but it was an excuse nonetheless. I used to have trouble with my knees. It was my biggest excuse for not running. It turns out that my knees hurt so much because my legs were weak. Once my legs got stronger, my knee pain disappeared! I mean completely disappeared. I also used to not run because it made me feel terrible. Once I got stronger, lost some weight, and built up a little endurance that went away, too. In fact, I feel worse on days I don’t run now. I certainly understand that some people have legitimate reasons why they can’t run, such as past knee surgeries or the like. Those are legitimate reasons and not excuses. I’m really just speaking to the excuse-makers here.  My challenge to you, excuse-maker, is to create two or three excuses for why you CAN run.

My very first timed race, Zane's Run 5K in Sugartown, PA, September 30th, 2012

My very first timed race, Zane’s Run 5K in Sugartown, PA, September 30th, 2012

The Goodness of Us

The world watched a week ago aghast as two bombs erupted at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The madness of the ensuing week were difficult to grasp as reality. It almost seemed like a movie to me. The people of Boston endured and now a mere week later, one suspect is dead and the other is in custody. Race running has been changed forever.

It is easy to focus on the horror during events like these. We tend to focus on these terrible people and what could drive them to inflict such pain on innocent people. Especially against a running event. This event was very personal to me, and in many ways, I feel like I’m going through this for the first time when the rest of the nation was able to go through it after September 11th, 2001. That was a different event for me, since I was still on active duty in the U.S. Air Force. My mind was in a different place back then, and I don’t think I experienced the full weight of the tragedy like most everyone else did.

In my previous post, not even 24-hours after the Boston attack, I think I was feeling much like I did when I was in the military. Anger, vengeance, defiance. I still feel those feelings, but they have been sidelined by a sense of hope and community. On Sunday, April 21st, 2013, I participated in the annual Valley Forge Revolutionary 5-mile Run. Less than a week after the tragedy, many of us went out to run in a place sacred to the Freedom of this country to show solidarity. It was stated during the opening remarks of that race, that our fraternity of runners was attacked. This was against us all. And so we ran. While the weather was a little on the cold side for a Pennsylvania April day, it was beautiful. And you can’t ask for a better venue than Valley Forge National Park. I’m guessing it was 3-parts hard training and 1-part inspiration for the day, but I got another personal record for this 5-mile race. My RunKeeper stats:

Valley Forge Revolutionary Run 2013

And then just one day later, on Monday, April 22nd, 2013, I had the privilege to participate in a local fundraiser run where all of the proceeds were donated to the Boston One Fund. I wasn’t sure what to expect for an event like this in Reading, PA. I was very pleasantly surprised. Over 800 runners showed up to donate to the fund and show our community we are not afraid. Among those 800 were 12 who had run in the Boston Marathon. It was moving to me that they were present, as probably the 12 among us most affected by this event. And yet, here they were, proudly wearing their marathon gear and running with us. The local news media was out as well. Channel 69 News aired a small segment about the run (the last 3 minutes of the video on this page). Our local newspaper, The Reading Eagle was also there, and also published a short article and 10 photos of the event. Another inspiring event, and it shows in my times:

Run For Boston 2013

 

I started to run in June of 2012 because I needed a new way to achieve my personal fitness goals. I’d tried diets, gym memberships, all kinds or gear and tech, but nothing was getting me where I wanted to be. I remembered struggling with running while I was in the military, but never really gave it a second thought after I separated. I never anticipated the community aspect of running, and today I sit here in awe. I have said before that runners are some of the best people I know. They are competitive and tough, sure. But they are also encouraging, supportive, and welcoming. The outpouring of the goodness of us leaves me humbled. It reminds me of an excellent posting I saw on Facebook right after Boston. I can’t sum up how I feel any better than comedian Patton Oswalt did:

“Boston. Freaking horrible.

I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, “Well, I’ve had it with humanity.”

But I was wrong. I don’t know what’s going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.” – Patton Oswalt

My Thoughts on Boston

Like most of the world, I’m still reeling from what happened at the Boston Marathon yesterday afternoon. The various news networks are all on-site showing every detail of the sheer horror that this cowardly act has wrought. I sat watching the news last night, debating if I should write this yet, or wait a while to sort out my thoughts a bit more. I decided to sleep on it.

I woke up this morning to the news pouring in. Instead of sitting and staring at the news, I put on my gear and went for a run. It’s really when I do my best thinking. That act alone decided for me that I needed to get fingers to keyboard right away. There are a few things that need to be said that aren’t being said yet in the major media.

While I have no idea who did this, or what their motive was, I can tell you that if whoever did this was trying to scare runners, they were sorely mistaken. Distance runners are not just physically tough, but mentally tough. Really, really tough. Short distance running is all physical. Long-distance running is all mental. These marathoners know how to pace their bodies and keep on running when that little voice inside their head starts screaming for them to stop. Twenty-six miles is no joke. Think about it. Most people I know think driving in their car somewhere that is 26 miles away is “too far”. Marathoners RUN that. Without stopping.

Another thing not being discussed is how runners are a community. A strong community. Most people who don’t run distance races might not know this, but runners are extremely positive and encouraging to other runners. This was something I didn’t realize until one of my first “long” races, where complete strangers were giving me high-fives and words of encouragement as I completed my run. I found myself starting to do the same. The pattern perpetuates itself in a very affirming and positive way. You can’t shake community like that with anything.

To me, running is a celebration of life and health. I’m 40 years old, my hair is turning gray, but hey, I’m out there and I can still run. Nothing is going to turn me away from that. I’m pretty sure that most of the runners in Boston feel the same way. So whoever did this, you lost before you even started. Nothing you did is going to stop runners from running, or stop the Boston Marathon (or any other big run around the country) from happening in the future. We are runners, and we’re tougher than you. We are runners, and have faced down injury, fatigue, and long miles. You don’t frighten us. Not even a bit. Now that you decided to mess with our pinnacle event, this community is going to do everything it its tough power to bring the full weight of justice to bear on you. I hope you can run fast and long, because you’ll have to if you think you’re going to outrun us. We’re going to catch you.