Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Indoor 5k

Sometimes, a runner has to make the best of what he's given, even if he's not given much. This is perhaps most prevalent where time is concerned; one cannot seem to find enough hours in the day to run the way they would like. Still, loosing hope is not an option; we simply adapt, change, and adjust the best we can.

Yesterday, I wanted to run, but quickly found that time was not on my side. I had to meet my study group at 2, and had a class at 6; there would be time in between, but not enough to get in a quality outdoor run. In addition, the straps on my KSOs failed, and I had to take the time to re-sew them before I could run with them. While I was at it, I changed the design a bit, eliminating the foot-wrap that the old strap incorporated, instead simply cinching the strap over the top of the foot. Not one to give in too easily (especially after an extended rest period), I ran again on Drexel's indoor track.

A few laps into my workout, I decided I would go the distance of 5k, and I would run in such a way that my average pace would be my goal marathon pace. My plan worked well, and after 38 laps and 3.14 miles, my average pace was 7:01- right on target. At my target pace, my average HR was 160, and my average cadence was 88-90. Better still, though, was what I found when I analyzed the data from my Garmin afterward.

I had thrown in a few 'fast laps' to keep things interesting, and to try and train my body to prepare for changes in speed throughout the race. On one of these, I stepped up my game to run what I thought was a 5:20 pace for a lap; I wanted to see what it felt like to run that fast after running longer and slower for so many months. It felt good, and I believed I could have pushed to hold the pace for a mile if I wanted to. The Garmin, however, showed me something I have not seen in my training yet: that 21 second lap was run at a 4:43 pace. Now, it may not sound like much- anyone can sprint- but even in my treadmill training, when I regularly challenge myself with high speed, 20 second intervals, I have never pushed beyond a 4:50 pace, and only did that once.

All this long distance training is paying off after all, despite what the experts believe should be happening to me. I feel better and more in control of my capacities at high speeds than ever before, and I can run with the confidence that can only be found after miles and miles of footsteps. When this summer brings its shorter races, I think I'll be better prepared for them than ever before.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Marathon Training, Week 1

So far, so good. With one week down, I've logged in 27 miles of running, not to mention the rides and walks I have done to supplement this. I feel great, too!

My second run of the week was completed on Thursday night with a local group, the Fishtown Beer Runners. If you think this group sounds like a bunch of drinkers with a running problem, you might be on the right track! Seriously, though, they are a fun group to run with. I rode out to meet them, and we ran 8 and a half miles before stopping- you guessed it- at a local bar. David, the founder of the group, has a taste for local brews, and each week plans a different route to a different tavern in the hopes of replenishing lost carbs the way he knows best. Does it work? The ever-popular runners of this group think so! Here's a pic of David with Chris McDougal after one of their runs:

Check them out:

My next run was nice and short, but still effective for training. I had to take Kaleb to the vet to get his shots, and it's exactly 2 miles away; I wondered, "Why not run?" So we did! Nothing exciting, but it was a nice, sunny day, and the run was set at a relaxing pace. It was the perfect way to recover before my next day of training.

Saturday morning came earlier than usual. I was up at 6am, getting ready to ride out to Ed's house in East Falls with Doug. The ice was treacherous, and we watched more than one runner hit the ground while we struggled to keep the rubber side of our bikes on the road.

After meeting at Ed's house, we set out for our jaunt into the trails. At first, the plan was to meet up with the Wissahickin Wanderers at the Valley Green Inn, and run about 15 miles. As our run progressed, though, we began to rethink this. The snow was deep, the trails were icy, and the obstacles were many. We were dodging, jumping, and ducking downed trees, jumping muddy sections, and working hard up slick hills. Our heart rates were high, and our run was even more taxing due to the attention we needed to pay to every step. It was becoming one of the toughest training runs I had ever done!

The body can only take so much abuse before it begins to break down. I, running in my Vibram Flows, had a distinct advantage over my friends when it came to grip; I was slipping very little. I attribute this to the way the foot gets weighted in a barefoot-like situation: most of the force is placed under the ball of the foot, where it is most stable. Just like a skater tends to lose their balance if they lean back, landing on your heels, even slightly, adds to instability in icy situations. Doug, who started the run with a sore ankle, started experiencing pain from all the slipping and sliding after a few miles, so we eventually took to the roads to keep him in decent shape.

The roads weren't easy, but they sure seemed that way after what we were used to. We worked our way uphill for miles, slipping on black ice, but our pace was faster given the same heart rates as before. Eventually, we winded our way back toward the path, running a high speed mile on Lincoln Drive before ducking back to the trail and heading home. We ended the run tired, sore, and satisfied.

I rested for the next three days to finish out week 1. I'm confident week 2 will go even better!

Fishtown run:
Wissihickin run:
Doug's Tale:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

4 Week Marathon Training Plan

This has been a busy month. I layed off my training quite a bit to focus on my studies, which have been going quite well. In fact, besides a few runs in the snow (which we've had plenty of), there really wasn't much happenning to blog about. That all changed yesterday, when I decided to join my friends on Team Raisinhope and run the Georgia marathon on March 21st.

Yup, if I was a little quicker with numbers, it might have dawned on me that I had 4 weeks to train before I clicked the "register now" button. But, it happened, and now I'm left wondering what to do. I have no doubts as to whether or not I can prepare to finish the race, but I do have to decide what time I'm going to shoot for.

I have time. 4 runs a week for 4 weeks should be enough to get me in shape, with biking mixed in to add some endurance without overdoing the stress that I'm about to put myself through. For comparison, last year, when training for Philly, I ran 5-6 times per week, without any cross training, for 8 weeks (7 actually, if we take away the week I was sick and didn't run). Still, at that time I was coming out of a hard season of racing, and my bones were ready to have the miles piled on. This winter, I've weaned myself down to 6-10 miles a week, and running pretty easy at that. I'm afraid I'd injure myself if I tried to run more than 4 times a week while simultaneously increasing my mileage by gargantuan proportions. I might even cut back to three (without cutting out the long runs, of course) if I feel the need.

Today I kicked off training with an easy run with Kaleb. These easy runs are going to be the key to my plan, and I'll be doing 2 each week; I take the dog to make sure they remain 'easy'. We did a nice 5.5 mile loop, with a little juant up the snow covered steps of the Art Museum to mark the halfway point with a photo (note my Flows- the only Vibrams I'll wear in the snow; the neoprene worked good today with the high 20 degree F temps). Then, we headed back down, choosing our steps carefully, and circled over to Lloyd Hall before heading back again. I actually felt great today, partly due to the 8 or 9 minute pace and frequent walks, but 6 is about as far as I dare take Kaleb. Like a champ, he continued trotting all the way home. He's slept good every since.

So, I'll keep everyone informed! A 4 week training plan is virtually unheard of, and this may not have a happy ending. I really won't consider it a success unless I run better than my last time, but if it comes down to race day and I don't feel I have it in me, I'll just lay low and enjoy the run- no need to get hurt; I'm in it for the fun.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Indoor Track

Drexel University is busy replacing their current gym, and the new facility is coming along nicely. With the upper floor already open, I was able to enjoy my first visit to an indoor track yesterday, a claimed 1/10th mile oval that hovers above the new basketball court.

Indoor tracks present us with a great alternative to treadmills. The one I tried was softer than any outdoor track I've ever run on, and the time seemed to fly by (when compared to time on a treadmill, which, for me, goes entirely to slow). The track was three lanes wide, which means it will no doubt be quite crowded at certain times.

Even though the suface would be perfect for a person to run on completely barefoot, this would not be accepted nor appropriate, so I went running in my Treks, which I had worn to school. They were not the best choice! My regular, thin soled KSOs would have handled the problems I faced much better. The short track requires that you lean excessively as your speed increases, and I found that some of my laps, which stayed between 23 and 34 seconds, put a lot of stress on my legs as well as the soles of my shoes. The Treks were just a bit too high and their tread a bit too rough for comfort.

This morning, my right calf was a bit sore; it was the outer leg in this case, so it was subjected to much higher stress levels than my left. It's amazing that a simple run indoors can still make me sore! Since the track travels in different directions on alternating days, I will have to make sure I use it with this in mind to keep both legs strong and healthy. I'm also not quite sure if the length is correct; even though I stayed in the outer lane nearly the entire time, my laps seemed a bit too quick to be true, so I'm not sure how I should work this into my milegae plans: according to the track, I ran 2.5 miles in 12 minutes, 10 seconds; while I can do this on my best day, I am nearly positive that this is not the distance I ran yesterday. Still, I am looking forward to getting my runs in on the track instead of the treadmill when the weather is bad.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Barefooting 101 (info is useful even when running in shoes)

So as a promoter of barefoot/minimalistic running, I guess my blog can't really be complete unless I have at least one post about how to run without your shoes. Without getting too in-depth (you can always search the topic for more info), here's some advice that will get you started.

1. Leg speed/turnover: Here's the key that makes everything work, and it is related to many of the following bits of advice. When running with overprotective shoes, it is easy to get lulled into taking long, slow strides; your heart rate may go down, you cover more ground with each step, and all that cushion under your heel feels so soft. The problem with this is that all the shock created by your landing has a direct pathway to travel through your joints and into your back; you might not notice it at first, but over time, this can create lots of pain and discomfort. Take away the shoes, though, and your insticts will quickly take over: without slowing down, you will take more short steps per minute, allowing a different landing that will prevent much of this shock from making it to your joints. You may see as many as 10 to 20 more steps per minute once you start running with less under foot.

2. Foot Strike: As your leg speed increases, you will want to make sure that the balls of your feet are the first part to touch down. This will most likely come naturally. Your instincts may be to stay in this position until take-off, like a sprinter, but this will place high stress on the calf muscles of untrained runners. For this reason, I would suggest only running short distances once or twice a week while getting used to this style of running, and keeping your average pace below tempo for the first few runs. By running slower, you can relax and learn to lightly touch your heel down after contact, giving your muscles a slight rest before takeoff. Soon, if you like, you can increase your speed, and eventually you may not want to touch your heels on all but the slowest jogs.
The mid-foot strike provides the cushion that even the softest shoes cannot replicate when a heel-strike is used. The arch compresses, dissipating shock, which would have to take a tight turn before traveling up your leg; when the heel hits first, the shock has a straight shot through your body. By using the arch, you can strengthen this important structure of human architecture; many people notice higher arches a few months after running barefoot, which are even more effient at abrobing impact. Even if you are running in regular shoes, this strike could save your knees, hips, and back from damage later in life.

3. Take it Easy: This, above all, can save you from yourself during the early days of your running. It is very tempting, after a good first run, to go out for another, longer run on the second day and maybe even the third. Please, do not be swayed! It is important to give your body enough time to realize it is sore and repair itself. At best, overuse this early in your program could leave your calf muscles too sore to run for a few days; at worst, you could cause fractures to the bones in your foot.
Fractures, even though this is a safer way to run? Yes. Just as you will soon find that your lower leg muscles, designed to support your weight while running, may be weak and in need of growth, you will also find that the bones in your foot are not as dense as they should be for natural running. Since bones increase their density on an as-needed basis, this problem will fix itself with stimulation, but it takes time. For the first few weeks, you will probably feel a bit of dull pain in the balls of your feet; pay attention to this and do not try to push the process. I ran twice with Vibrams in my first week, with three runs in between done in regular shoes. The next week, I began to increase my mileage, but kept the 2-out-of-5 run ratio going for the first month; I really believe this was the safest way to convert to barefooting.
Calf soreness is the other major warning for you to consider. A sore muscle is in need of time and nutrients to repair itself. Though some lingering soreness will go away after you begin a run, major soreness that gets worse when running is a sign of overuse. Take it easy, and remember that you will have the rest of your life to run once the process is complete. There was a time when I, after running minimally for a month and a half, over did it and ran five 1 k, all-out intervals; I was not able to run for 6 days afterward, limping around during that time. Had I tried to run anyway, I could have caused serious tears in my muscles; as it was, the tears were minor, and though I was sore for a while, I was able to make a full recovery marked by a personal best 2 weeks later in a short course duathlon.

I hope I didn't scare anyone off! It's not as bad as it sounds; if you're already a runner or athlete, you have the determination to become a barefooter. In the process, you will learn more about your body's capabilities than you thought existed. You'll become fitter, stronger, and feel more connected with your run than ever before, and hopefully remain injury free for years to come. As someone who no longer has sore hips, knees, arches, and toes, I stand by these 3 points as the key to my success. Have fun!

Training tools for 2010

I wanted to switch gears for a minute and talk about some gadgets...

The first great new tool I recieved for the New Year was a Garmin 310XT, courtesy of my supportive girlfriend, Jamie, as a holiday present. The thing is great, and perfect for someone who both runs and bikes (it's also fully waterproof, but loses GPS & HR signal under water). I can not only track my HR, speed, cadence (running and biking), pace, elevation, and position; I can play it all back in my house and see exactly where I was when I was doing everything I did. If I get a power meter for the bike, I will have access to nearly every pertinent piece of data from my training. Very cool!
The other major tool I now have, again thanks to Jamie for getting me a great birthday present, is an Ironman Body Composition Monitor. It takes the bathroom scale to the next level, and gives me an honest look into what's really going on inside my body. My first step on it was today (shipping took a while, so it was a few days late for the celebration), and it gave me some good news as well as some things to work on. The good news is, I said I was getting younger this year, and apparently, I was right: my metabolic age is 17! Here's the rest of my results:
Weight: 166.8
Body Fat: 13.5% (expected; I ate a little too good over the holidays and took a long break after the marathon, and my tummy is soft for the first time in my memory)
Water: 59.2% (I knew I'd be a bit dehydrated, but I really have to start drinking more! Just shows that thirst really is not a good sign if you don't know how to process it)
Physical rating: 5 (out of ten; this should change greatly, I hope, over the next few months)
Bone Weight: 7.2
Visceral Fat: 3 (out of 59); means I have almost no bad fat around my abdominal organs. Yippie!

Needless to say, I'm real excited about all the training tools I have for 2010. This monitor and my 310 will really help me keep an eye on my body and fitness as the season progresses, and starting out in a relative state of relaxation has given me lots to shoot for. I have 16 weeks to build some muscle, lose some fat, and get ready for spring! I'll post any new updates along with future blogs.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Fun Run

It's the middle of winter. Deep freeze has set in across two-thirds of the U.S. People don't want to get out of bed in the mornings, let along go outside. So why bother running?

We all have our own reasons. Today, I knew I needed to get a run in; school started on Monday, and I've put off running for the past two days to take care of business elsewhere. Still, I could have talked myself out of it, had I ignored all the signs that I instead chose to accept.

The dog, for one, has been bouncing off the walls. He doesn't care that I've been busy; all he knows is that he hasn't gotten to stretch his running legs in over half a week. Did I need another reason to get out there? Well, the temperature climbed today to 1 degree above freezing, and the wind was not nearly as bad as it has been. Finally, my new diet (I'm giving the Mediterranean Diet a try) has provided me with enough clean energy that, if I chose to go another day without a run, I'd be bouncing along with the dog throughout the house.

Things can change quicly, though, once you're outdoors. The dog had to stop almost instantly to do his business, and just when we started to move again, he had to go again. By this time, the cold began creeping in, and the wind, it seems, had not been told it was supposed to lay low. I nearly turned back then, but I didn't. I nearly decided to cut the run short, but I didn't do that, either. The farther I ran, the more fun I was having.

Having a boxer as your running partner isn't always the greatest. When it's hot out, they overheat. When you want to go long, they decide to lay down. But as stubborn as they can be, when they're having a good time, they're golden. They look up at you and wink right before they race you to the next corner. They smile when they pant, making everyone you pass smile back. And when they know you're having fun, they are on top of the world. That's one of the reasons I kept going today.

A partner that can keep things interesting makes things easier, but when we start thinking of running for fun, they aren't necessary to keep us motivated. I think that was one of the biggest reasons I started enjoying running after I started trying the minimalist approach. Suddenly, I wanted to try more things. I wanted to jump on the big rocks and logs lining the trail. I wanted to run through the grass, climb the trees, and go up and down the mountains. The funny thing is, I've always known this would happen; it just never clicked. I might walk up my stairs in my shoes, but I sprint up them when I'm barefoot. I might run through the grass when shod, but I bound and bounce around when I'm unshod. The feeling of gripping things, the security of balance, and the sensation of the ground are unparalelled when you take away the thick, heavy rubber that we have have been running with for so many years, and it ignites something in our minds, it wakens the child inside us. That's when running becomes fun again. Leaving the van behind for the sports car can change everything (and you don't get speeding tickets on foot).

Today, I didn't run barefoot; it's hard enough to get away with that in Philadelphia, and with the cold ground, I wouldn't last too long out there. I ran in the Vibram Treks, the kangaroo-leather off-road model feeling good and placing my foot a few extra milimeters from the cold ground. Even with the extra thickness, though, there's no denying the barefoot feeling these shoes can provide: there's no added thickness in the heel, keeping you mindfull of your balance and foot strike, the toes are still separated and extremely flexible, and the sole, designed to give protection from abrasion, still allows excellent feedback from the ground- you have to be aware of your foot placement, and you will feel the rocks.

Me and Kaleb (that's the name he had when he was rescued from the puppy mill) ran over 4 miles today. He keep changing the pace, just as I expected; though we averaged a comfy 8.3 minute mile, we often dipped into the 5's, and once he dug deep and had me sprinting in the 4's for nearly a block. We zig-zagged around, jumped up and down a few flights of stairs, and generally had a blast before returning home. Not only can he run like a champ, Kaleb also rests like one: he's out cold right now, recovering for his next adventure. Hopefully, I won't keep him waiting too long...