Monday, September 28, 2009

Not Much Running

Since my Bruiser meltdown and subsequent epiphany, I haven't run very much. I've only logged a couple short jaunts here and there. Nothing to write home or blog about. But, that's OK with me. I've decided that I'm transitioning from a rest phase into an easy base-building phase. I think some easy running will be good for me. I think in about a month, I'll start ramping up the intensity.

The only thing that's still bugging me is my swearing off of ultra running. And, the part that's bugging me is my ego. In short, you don't see many people driving around with a "3.1" sticker on their car, but you do see lots of "26.2" stickers. The marathon and ultra-worlds have a built in sense of accomplishment. "I ran a 50k last week," just sounds so much cooler than "I PR'ed in a 5k." If a run a marathon people, say "Whoa." They're impressed regardless of my time. If I tell them I PRed in the 5k, they could care. But, for me, right now, the long races aren't clicking. So, I need to get over that.

Looking ahead, I have two ideas. The first is racing more often. I always say, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a 5k. So, instead of just twirling felines, I'm actually going to run. I'm not going to go all out every single time. I'll use some as workouts. Others, I'll race. Either way, I'll be getting out there just for fun. The other idea is that I'm seriously considering snowshoe racing this winter. I just need to purchase some snowshoes. Well, running snowshoes. I don't think my clunky backcountry shoes will work so well. Looking forward to it.

So, not much running, but feeling good looking ahead.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Not Anemic. Probably Just Dumb.

When we last left our hero, he was trying to solve the mystery of his lackluster performances this summer. (That was the last sentence in the third person.) I went to the lab on Monday for blood work. I'm still waiting to get the official paperwork in the mail so I can see the official numbers, etc., but I did speak with the doctor. It turns out I'm not anemic. My thyroid is also AOK. So, good news.

Of course, that makes the problem, and, therefore, the solution less obvious.

That being said, I'm glad I've ruled out any medical issues. And, in fact, I'd already started formulating what I'm calling the "non-medical theory." The basis of the theory is that I'm over-trained, and that over training is causing fatigue and a major decrease in performance. Again, it has no bearing on my day to day life, so I'm not worried about my health.

So, how did this happen? Well, here's what I've come up with:

The first, and most obvious, cause is the massive increase in training volume. Or, actual training for that matter. Last year, was the first year in over ten years that I've actually trained. Ran a bit. Dabbled in a race or two. But, not trained. The increased focus, intensity and frequency would have been enough to lead to the fatigue, but I took it a step further. I trained for and ran a marathon in October of 2008. This was also my first marathon. On the heels of that, I trained for and ran a 50k trail race in May, my first ultramarathon. A look deeper inside this training, and I find from August 2008 through May of 2005 runs of the following lengths: 18, 19, 21, 24, 20, 27, 18, 20. Add into that mix some long races (10 miles, 14 miles) and a couple long runs/hikes in the mountains. It all adds up to a lot of running. Most importantly, a lot more running than I had ever done.

The reason for this is simple: I run with a group of crazy people. "I think I'll do three hundred milers this year." "This is my fourth 50 miler this year." "I ran a trail marathon yesterday, so I'm going to run an easy dozen today to take it easy." All of this is perfectly normal. All said matter of factly. However, this is not normal. It's utterly insane. I got sucked into the insanity. Completely. That being said, I owe the fact that I'm not sitting on the couch all the time to this group. Had D and I not found them, I'd still just be a dabbling runner, looking back at races from my heyday and never ahead to new challenges. It's been great, but I got sucked in. That was dumb. Now, some people can run a marathon every weekend, and perhaps someday I will, but not right now. I need to pull it back a notch or six.

Another step I need to take is something I mentioned previously: my diet. I have a great ability to eat. I'm really good at it, and I love food. I just need to make sure I'm eating enough of the right things. I'm in the process of making some changes, and more to come. For those of you thinking I've gone over the edge, I'm not giving up pork or beer. That's crazy talk.

I am talking something good from this: I'm not injured. Most of the time, it seems like a runner who overtrains to this extent suffers an injury. I'm free of major injuries. (Knock on wood.) I'm extremely encouraged by this. If I can get to this point without a stress fracture or other major malady, I'm strong. I've turned a major corner from how my "running career" has gone in the past. I was oft injured in college and those injuries are essentially what made me a dabbler for ten years. Injury free is stunning. That being said, I'm treating this current situation like an injury. I've done a couple short, easy runs since the Bruiser, and I'm going to continue to take it easy. I don't have any races on the calendar, and I'm not training for anything. I'm training to get healthy.

Looking ahead, I'm ready to get back into running the way I should have. I'm going to train for shorter races. Perhaps, I'll work my way back up to the marathon but not immediately. In hindsight, this is what I should have done in 2008, but I'm looking forward to it for 2010. In fact, I'm thinking the shorter races might be where I belong. Let's do the math:

In 2008 & 2009, I finished in the top 31% of the races in which I competed. My top 5 placings were 4%, 13%, 15%, 16% and 20% (twice). My bottom 5 were 57%, 49%, 48%, 44% and 43%. It most interesting, when you look at how those races break down:

4% - Feaster Five, '08, 5 miles
13% - Bradbury Scuffle '08, 6 miles
15% - Mid Winter Classic '09, 10 miles
16% - Bradbury Scuffle '09, 6 miles
20% - Mid Winter Classic '08, 10 miles
20% - MDI Marathon, 08, 26.2 miles

57% - Bradbury Bruiser, '09, 12 miles
49% - Mt. Washington, '09, 7.6 miles
48% - Muddy Moose, '09, 14 miles
44% - Mt. Washington '08, 7.6 miles
43% - Pineland 50k, 09, 31 miles

You can make numbers say anything you like, but here's what I think these say: I'm better at shorter races. Granted, harder races draw better fields, Pineland 50k, for example. But, I feel like I've performed better at the shorter races. (Discount the distance for Mt. Washington since it's all uphill.) Maybe that's where my talent lies. Then again, those could also be considered the easier races. That would be discouraging, but I wasn't actually training for those races. They were speed work on the way towards longer races. Take the Feaster Five, for example, I ran really well and finished in the top 4% with no 5 mile training. It was a month after the MDI marathon. I'd done zero speed work. So, the short races are what I'm going to focus on. Sure, MDI stands out as long race, in which I performed well, so that gives me hope. I do want to run another/more marathons. But, I don't want to run them until I'm ready. Plus, like racing. The atmosphere is the best. If I run shorter races, I can run more of them...provided I'm smart and not always racing all out. That sounds fun.

Wow. Never thought you'd read anything so thoughtful in this blog, did you? Needs more 80's music:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

La Sportiva is OK

In March, I picked up a new pair of shoes: La Sportiva Lynx. At first, I wasn't so sure about them, but eventually, they really grew on me. They become my go to shoe for all my short trail runs. I even did some speed work in them, and was really liking the way they felt. Until they fell apart.

At around 150 miles, I started to get a tear in the outside of left shoe in the toe box. Soon thereafter, the same started in the right shoe. Eventually, I had big hole in the left shoe and tears in both. Additionally, the laces started to fray.

At only 150 miles, I was pretty disappointed. By the time I hit 190 miles, I decided to email La Sportiva. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I received a response a day or so later. Normally, they handle returns directly through the store, but it wasn't convenient for me to back there for a return. So, they sent me a return authorization number, and I sent them back directly to La Sportiva. About 3 days after they received the shoes, I received word that the warranty department had reviewed my shoes, and they determined that the damage was covered by warranty. They are sending me a new pair.

So, the good news is that La Spotiva has solid customer service. I appreciated the prompt emails and willingness to replace my shoes. However, I don't know how much running I'm planning to do in this new pair. I really don't want them to blow out again. Plus, now that I've found the Brooks Cascadias, why would I stray? So, in short, La Sportiva is OK.

As for specific running news, I did a short, easy run on Thursday and felt appropriately creaky. It was my first run since the Bruiser, so I wasn't expecting much. That's what I got.

On Friday, I had a doctor's appointment to begin solving the mystery. She thought that anemia was a possibility, but I'm not showing any otuward signs. I explained to her that I'd probably never notice if I was running 2 or 3 miles, 2 or 3 times a week, but I have loftier goals than that. With that statement, she agreed that it was worth exploring further. I'm headed to the lab on Monday to get some blood drawn. She also hooked me up to an EKG to check my heart. To non one's surprise, my heart is fine. That being said, the nurse did hook up a ton of sticky nodes to various parts of my anatomy. I was worried that it was going to end up like this:

I did drop the "man-o-lantern" line. Thankfully, the nurse got it. And, more thankfully, the nodes came off fairly painlessly.

I also got a flu shot while I was there. Highly recommended with the baby arriving during flu season. As a result, I've felt like absolute boo boo all day. **grumble**

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bradbury Bruiser - Race Report

Our story begins in the fall of 2007. I had just started running for real again, and D and I were thinking about trying a trail race. We saw the Bradbury Bruiser on a race calendar, but we both thought 12 miles was way too far. To that point, I had done one 8 mile run, and hadn't run 12 miles since 1996. But, a friend of ours said she was planning to run it and asked if she could stay with us. Well, looks like we're running, too. I ended up running 1:49:02. I was back.

Fast forward to Sunday. I stumbled across the finish line in 2:05:38. Something just isn't right.

My plan going into the race was simple: race the first 10 miles and hang on in the O Trail, the small intestine-like never ending single track that feels like it's 24 miles long, not 2.4. Additionally, I didn't start my watch. I didn't want to get encouraged or discouraged at any point. I was going to race by feel, and when it hurt I was going to push harder. Now, based on this race course, that's not a bad plan, if you're fit. But, there was nothing in my training that pointed to me having a good race. Of course, I'm a runner, so I have an ego. I wasn't going to let my recent training results dictate how I was going to race.

I'm not going to go into details of the actual race, but picture a wind up toy with its batteries running down: that was me. After about 4 miles, I consciously slowed down, hoping to just cruise into the finish. I knew a good race wasn't in the cards. But, even as I slowed, I felt steadily worse and worse. By the time I reached the O Trail, I was in trouble. By the time I exited the O Trail, I could barely run in a straight line and lifting my legs normally was difficult. It wasn't pretty. Later, D told me I had the "Finishing the 50K face." That can't be good.

I must have looked bad because...well...a number of people told me I looked bad. It's good to have friends. And, in truth, I felt terrible. My legs, especially my quads, were extremely heavy. I was slightly nauseous. And, the water and Gatorade I was drinking couldn't be cold enough. I wanted it icy. And both Emma and Valerie told me I looked pale...well, paler than usual. And, in fact, I spent all afternoon on the couch...eating.

So, it was a terrible day. But, it confirmed what I suspected. Something just ain't right. For the last couple weeks, I've suspected that my lack of success racing this summer and general fatigue while running was related to something medical, specifically, anemia. While chatting with Emma post-race, she asked me: "Are you anemic?" Hmmmm...maybe there's something to this. I've made a doctor's appointment, and I hope that a bad day will lead to a positive step forward.

As far as my running goes for now, I'm going to treat this like an injury. I have a good excuse to take a break from running for a little while. Well, at least a break from serious training. So, my next race will be...who knows? And, right now, I couldn't care. My plan is to get healthy and figure this out. And, you know what? I think that will be kinda fun. See you on the other side.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Roads are Different

(Insert Obligatory Willie.)

Today, I ran 8 miles on the roads. (7.75 to be exact.) Not sure why, but I decided it would be a good idea. As you can see from the chart on right -----> I've done very little road running this year. This was the longest road run I've done since...well, let me check...since Mt. Washington on June 22. But that doesn't really count...let me check again...holy crap! The last road run of this length was this exact run...on March 20! Holy Schnikies!!!

Needless to say, it showed. I felt...well, odd. I didn't feel bad, but I sure felt different. Total lack of smoothness. By the end, my hip flexors were unhappy. Going into the run, my right hamstring was already cranky. It started tight and never really got any better. I focused on keeping my gait uniform, but it was tough. My leg felt short, and I felt like I was chopping my stride. In the end, though, I think it turned out OK.

Oh, and on the roads, you could potentially get hit by a car. I didn't get hit, which is nice, but one vehicle sure got close. After it happened, I began thinking about the thousands of miles I've logged on the roads since I started running in high school. I've never been hit, and I don't plan on getting nicked anytime soon. Of course, that reminiscing got me to thinking about one summer, when I was in absolutely killer, ripped, totally jacked shaped: the summer of '95. (Seriously, I was awesome.) Unfortunately, summer of '95 sounds a lot like the "Summer of '69." So, the second half of the run was all Bryan Adams.

CRAP. Stupid Canadians.

Ended the run in 1:05:15, which averages out to 8:25 per mile. Not bad for feeling mediocre and taking it easy. So, I'll take it. Now, off to the foam roller.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cramming It In

Of late, most of my midweek runs have been of the "just squeezing it in" variety. Maybe I'm a bad planner. Maybe I'm lazy. Maybe I'm a procrastinator. Maybe my life is wacky. Maybe it's all of the above. Whatever the case, I've still been getting the miles in, which is key.

The negative aspect of these crammed into the day runs is the pacing. When I'm just squeezing the run in, I tend to feel rushed, and I start out way too fast. And, once I get going at a certain pace, I have a hard time backing off. I'm never immediately aware that I'm going too fast, and I never back off all that much. If the run is short, it's not a short term issue. Of course, it's rarely a longish run, I'm squeezing in. The real problem in the long term is the fatigue. By accidentally pushing it on my short runs, it limits my recovery. Could be an issue.

Then again, maybe it's not. The positive is that I'm getting used to running at a faster pace. From training on trails for marathons, I'm one giant slow twitch muscle right now. Racing a half marathon is easier than racing a mile. So, perhaps it might not be all bad. For instance, today, I squeezed in 3 miles at a very comfortable 8:12 pace.

The lesson here: I have no idea what I'm doing.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Speed Work...Sort of

Thursday marked the start of the Fall Trail Running Series at Great Glen Trails. More importantly, it meant that I no longer had any excusing for avoiding speed work. No that I was consciously avoiding it, but I wasn't consciously doing it.

The good news is that this is fun speed work. The course is 3.5 miles and it's a mix of single track and carriage roads. Plus, one half mile is an entirely new single track section, so it's rough and rugged—in other words, fun. The smooth carriage roads are no fun. Plus, that's where you're supposed to run fast. I'm not good at fast.

As for the race itself, it went well. I didn't go all out. Just tried to remain steady. It's the first real speed work I've done since the Bradbury Scuffle, so I wasn't expecting much. I perhaps went out a touch too hard, but I was feeling good. There is a tough-ish single track section in the last mile, and I was really rigging up on the hills through it. Somewhere after 2 miles, I caught a guy who started a minute ahead of me. I'd been trailing him for a while, and then it was his turn. After we exchanged pleasantries, I blew right through a well-marked turn, and he was nice enough to call me back. I passed him back, and he stayed fairly close. He got very close and I faded through the single track. I did end up finishing just ahead of him, but I'm not sure if he was just being nice to me.

One thing I've really been paying attention to is my upper body. I realized that I've been running partially hunched over. During the race, I really focused on maintaining an upright position. Additionally, I realized that I haven't been using my arms on the uphills. Instead of pumping them, they've just sort of hung. All of this definitely helped during the race. I think working on and focusing on my upper body will be a real key moving ahead.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cascadias, Ankles, Bees & Tiffany.

That's how I feel about my new shoes. That's right, I found new shoes, and I even like them! So, what exactly are these magical moccasins? Brooks Cascadia. They're dreamy. And they fit! Woohoo!

A little back story: I had the opportunity to wander around the big city a week or so ago, and I dropped into a variety of footwear purveyors. After 7 or 8 stops without any success, I stopped where I should have initially: Maine Running Company. Unfortunately, they didn't have my size: 9, but I decided to try on the 9.5 anyway. Why? I have no idea. I've never ever gone up a size in a pair of shoes. My feet are too tiny to up-size. To my surprise, they actually fit. I took them outside for a quick test run, and they felt great. Again, I've never ever in the history of everything that's happened ever have I ever gone up a 1/2 size. But, they work.

Aside from the magical fit, here's what I like about them: First, they're a neutral shoe. Every other shoe I've ever run in has been a stability shoe. But, if you really think about it: a stability shoe doesn't make much sense in a trail shoe. Flexibility and responsiveness are key, and the extraordinarily stable Merrells I've been running in are neither. I like them, but they're moderately cinder blockish. Secondly, they're fairly light. Lighter shoes make everything better. Third, the traction is wicked tractiony. I used an extremely complex formula to calculate that.

So, yup, new shoes for me!

Uh oh, I think I over liked my new shoes...

The flip side to the story goes back to reason I love my shoes #1. Since these are the first neutral shoes I've had, my legs have taken note. Without the stability, I've been using more and different muscles. Then again, perhaps I shouldn't blame the shoes. I wore them for seven consecutive runs. Might have been a bit too much too soon. Nothing major, but definitely a few noticeable creaks.

Speaking of the actual runs, they've been going really well. A couple short to less short runs throughout the week, mostly shoe testers: trying different terrain, etc. Each run was successful, and I was feeling groovy. I ran with Danny, the tropical storm, on Saturday morning. An hour on the Cathance River trails, and I was beyond soggy. I was cold for the first 5 minutes, but was comfortable once I warmed up. My Moeben sleeves were a good choice. But, as soon as I stopped I was really chilled. About 5 minutes after I finished the run, I was already taking a warm shower. I have no idea how Ian and Emma ran 2 laps of the Bradbury Bruiser course that same morning.

Sunday afternoon, I was able to squeeze in another run on the Cathance trails, and even though it was much shorter, it was much more eventful. D was out on a walk with her parents, so I headed off on my own. Within about 5 minutes, I rolled my left ankle. Not a tendon tearing, bone crushing roll, but a roll nonetheless. I was in need of a bio break, so I was paying more attention to finding the perfect tree than the trail. About 15 minutes later, I was coming to end of the Rapids Trail which was overgrown with pricker bushes and goldenrod. Suddenly, one of the prickers jabbed painfully into my right shin. I couldn't really figure out why this one particular thorn was so painful. I looked down, and there was a bee clinging to my leg. Apparently, the bee had been enjoying his pollination duties, when I came tromping through. Luckily, I'm not allergic to bee stings, but it still hurt a fair amount. I could feel it for the rest of the run.

Monday morning I was barely feeling the effects of either of my mishaps, so I headed to "The Brad" for my planned long run. I ran the Bruiser course without the O Trail and about half the Scuffle course. I was out for almost 2.5 hours. It was a long time to run by myself. I had highs and lows, and it was good practice dealing with the lows. Not fun, but necessary. The lowest of the low...this in my head:

If I can get through that, I can get through anything.