Category Archives: Training

New Road Shoes!!

Cinderella's Road Shoe
Cinderella Road Shoe

Went to REI today. Returned my crummy Princeton Tec AMP 3.5 for… another Princeton Tec AMP 3.5. Hopefully the first one was defective and the new one will work like a charm. I really want it to work because it hit the sweet spot in terms of lumens (110) and burn time (112H on low and 50H on high). Nothing else REI had (In the store) even came close to matching both those specs. So I’ll suffer the poorly designed battery compartment for now.

And I also returned my Garmin FR 610. It was more expensive than I needed to begin with, the touch screen was annoying, and the battery life would eventually become an issue. (And actually during my run with Rachel, after only four and a half hours, the low battery warning came on. Unacceptable.) So I returned that and ordered another Garmin which should arrive in a week.

I’ll be watchless for a few days. Running with my phone seems almost archaic now. Or maybe I just say to heck with it and just run. But the best part about exchanging the FR 610 was the $100 price difference, as in the new Garmin I’m getting was $100 less. So I got a pair of Brooks Pure Connect. Score!

Last week, when I was shopping for the flashlight, I wanted to try on the older model Pure Connect’s they had on clearance, but they didn’t have my size. The woman brought out the newer model, which I tried on anyway, and I swear the shoes fit my foot beautifully. I’ve never had a pair of shoes that felt so perfect on my feet – not even my first pair of Frees. And now I own these Cinderella shoes.

I may run in them tonight depending on the surface of the workout location. If it’s trail, the shoes will have to wait another day. I hope it’s not trail!

First Time Pacer

Pacer

I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen or not, but it did; I got to be a pacer at Rocky Raccoon.

I had tried to set up a runner to pace prior to the race, but things didn’t work out. But everyone said just show up, and someone will take you as a pacer. So that’s what I did.

I rode up to Huntsville with Stefan. We got there about 3 or so and hung around the Start / Finish.  I got changed into my running gear and just sat around waiting. There were two races, a 50 mile and a 100 mile. It was hard for me to tell which race the runners were in. Usually, you can tell by color, but that wasn’t the case here. Like most races, it was a party type atmosphere. And unfortunately, since I wasn’t racing, I felt like I wasn’t part of that party. But that would change when Rachel showed up.

She was running the 100 miler and would be heading out for her fourth lap. Stefan told me to go with her. That way I could see the course during the daylight. I was nervous, who wants a green, untested, virgin rookie when they’ve just run 60 miles and still have 40 to go? Add to that the fact that we were virtually strangers. We’d both gone on a group run the previous weekend, and conversed for a few minutes in the parking lot after the run, but other than that… I’m not even sure if she knew my name. But off we went.

At first I tried to make small conversation, but that proved difficult. I couldn’t hear her because from the get go, I was following her. She was the pace setter. So whenever she said something, it was lost to the wind. I think she was smartly conserving her breath for more important things, like the remaining 40 miles. I wanted to figure out some way to help her,  but my idle chatter was probably not one. So I tried to converse only when necessary.

As keeping on her on pace was not an issue, then surely reminding her to drink and eat would be one of my responsibilities. Sort of. She didn’t eat anything. Not one morsel would cross her lips the entire night. Everything she consumed was in liquid form, occasionally with some Recoverite powder mixed in. She also had some Gatorade and of course water, and she may have had some soda/Mountain Dew, but absolutely no food. She mentioned that just the smell of food made her nauseous. Having spent a few minutes too long at an aid station, right after leaving it, she threw up. From the smell of the food. Meanwhile, I’m trying to scarf down as much as I can before I have to catch up to her.

And I was pretty sure she had a drinking problem – as in she wasn’t drinking enough. We filled up her bottle at one station, and it was practically full at the next station. She’d have a few Dixie cups of whatever, and then she’d take off. I asked if she’d peed at all. She told me twice for the day. I thought for sure she was going to be super dehydrated. But she kept chugging along. I timidly suggested she drink some of whatever was in her bottle. Often she declined and I wasn’t sure whether to press her or not. I figured she knew what she was doing. Later, she did start listening and would sip when I suggested. A few times, anyway.

I like to think that I did in fact help by providing light. I had bought a flashlight just for the race, 100 lumens. Once it got dark, I busted it out and it worked great. It made up for the dim headlamp she had. When she swapped that headlamp out for another, even with fresh batteries, somehow that turned out dim too. And since I’d forgotten to change the batteries in my headlamp, my headlamp was equally dim. The flashlight provided the bulk of illumination for the both of us. I was really happy I’d bought it… until it had a seizure. It started blinking rapidly. I turned it to the lower setting. That fixe– Nope. Still blinking. I turned it off and tried again. Same result. Later when I turned it back on, it would work for a while, and then seize up. It was like this for the rest of the night. I was tempted to throw it in the lake we ran by, but then thought better of it and would have to have to suffer and return it to REI.

*  *  *  *  *

{If I may digress into a brief product review of the Princeton Tec AMP 3.5, 100 Lumens Flashlight

This is the second Princeton Tec lighting product I have purchased, (the other being an inexpensive headlamp) and it is the second product to fail me. Chances are I could exchange the light for a new one and it would work fine. But the other major flaw is the design of the battery compartment. Which might not seem like a big deal, but trying to change these batteries during the race turned into an ordeal. At one point, a battery got lodged in the handle and took some persuasion in the form of pounding it against a table to release the battery. Even when I was sitting on the couch at home trying to figure out how to insert the batteries, I was stumped.

Bottom line: great when it worked, but bad design and a malfunction= bad product.

The issue with the other headlamp may have been my fault, but due to this recent incident, I’m going to blame the manufacturer.}

*  *  *  *  *

When we got close to finishing her fourth lap, I asked her who was going to run with her on her last lap. “Stefan?” More of a question than an answer.

I wasn’t planning on running 40 miles. In fact, the furthest I’d ever run was the 31 miles at the Bandera 50K. But then I thought I’m going to have to do this eventually, why not now? I told her I would run with her for the last lap. She said that would be groovy. Or at least I think that’s what she said.

I’m glad I offered because when we got to the Start / Finish, Stefan was in his street clothes. He wasn’t feeling well and wasn’t going to run. And what would be the point of pacing someone for the next to last lap, and then letting them run the last lap alone? So off we went. Again.

I was somewhat worried. My feet were aching. My New Balance Minimus gave me no cushioning whatsoever. I developed an unfamiliar pain on the top of my left foot and the ankle of my right foot. My hips were sore. My shoulders were knots. I was so ready to be done. All I could see was the trail right below Rachel’s feet. That’s all I saw for several hours.

I started to realize this was a personal undertaking as much as it was to help out a fellow runner. So I ate and drank more at the aid stations, and consumed several gels in between stations. What good would I be to my runner if I fell apart?

That’s when I told Rachel, “You know how earlier I said I envied you? Well, I take that back. I haven’t run even half of what you have and I’m ready to quit. You must be in some serious hurt, which I do not envy. What I would like to say is that I admire you. For being able to do this, for pushing ahead, for gutting it out. So good work.” At my first comment she had expressed confusion and bewilderment, on my amendment, she said, “Thank you.”

She had mentioned that she wanted to beat her time from last year. She told me her time, and I may have gotten it wrong, but I kept saying “22:33!” to motivate her. Whenever she’d start back running, “22:33!” I don’t know if that did anything for her, but maybe, in some small way, it did.

Throughout the night, I saw that Rachel was one tough cookie. She caught a few roots in the darkness and took a few spills. She refused help and got up on her own, dusted herself off, and kept moving. She threw up a few times, wiped up, and kept moving. Always moving, except for 7 minutes when she lied on the ground and I thought she was done for. But she got up, and kept moving. I couldn’t keep up with her power walk, I had to do a slow run. She didn’t eat anything, and rarely drank anything. I think she survived on sheer will power. I was impressed to say the least.

It was about 3 or 4 in the morning. We’d been running for what seemed like forever. We passed a small sign that said something about finishing with a smile on your face. I had no idea where we were until we came around a turn and I saw a familiar pile of cups. And then the lights. The lights of what would no longer be the Start / Finish; now it was just the Finish. Hallelujah! Trailing behind her I asked her if she was wearing her smile. She said she would be.

She finished 21: and change.

Speedwork… On a Track!

Brandeis Track

I never realized I live so close to a track. It’s a mere mile and half away, so I run there. I get there early, so I keep warming up. I run laps and sprinkle in some sprints. It’s sunny, but also windy and a bit chilly. There are tons of kids on and around the field doing… track stuff. I look for other runners. I fumble with my Garmin, trying to remember if I need to stop or restart, or wait, this thing’s on auto resume… wait. Dammit, I hate this thing! The high school kids slowly filter off the field and 5:30 arrives.

The group materializes and is ready to roll. We begin with the 4 lap warmup. I trail at the back, antisocial. Being on a track again is strange. The last time I found myself on a track was several years ago in Portland. I was running alone and had no idea what I was “supposed to do”. For my first workout, I still have no idea what I am doing, but at least I’m not alone.

The 4 lap warm-up completed, the plan is this: once around the track at your goal pace, rest for a minute thirty, and then repeat for 8 laps total. I have no idea what my goal pace is. I figure I’ll just try and keep up with the group leader, Christian. We find the starting line. Looking at his watch, Christian counts us down. “On your marks….. get set…..GO!” And we all blast off.

Instantly, I feel like a kid again, and I love this. It’s competition at its simplest: who’s fastest? To be fair, I don’t know if the other guys were racing or not, but I sure was. I wanted to be the fastest guy out there. I mean, isn’t that the ultimate speed work, trying to outrun a bunch of other guys? What’s the point of hitting a goal pace if not to be faster than your competitor?

Each lap is fairly identical: Out of the gate, I am at or near the front. Legs churning, I feel strong. I am going to take this all the way. Rounding the first corner, I feel okay. Heading into the second straightaway, I feel like I’m holding my breath and my heart is going to explode; I am definitely not relaxed. My energy flags and my confidence plummets; I cannot sustain the pace. I try to try, but making the final turn into the finish is a real struggle. The finish line can’t come soon enough.

One by one, we all finish. We walk it off, hands on hips or clasped upon our heads, panting. My breathing resumes fairly quickly, but my heart rate continues to race. And before you know it, the minute thirty is up and we go again.

The best part of the workout for me is a competitive moment. I am in the lead (I guess everyone is tired by now) and easing up into the final turn. Out of the corner of my eye, I see/hear Christian pushing to steal the finish. As tired as I am, the split second I realize this, my brain reverts to reptile survival mode and jams on the gas. “Go faster! NOW!” I go Usain, and bolt to the finish.

We high-five afterwards, and I mentally thank him for the challenge.

With each lap, I constantly make adjustments and take mental notes. It was not a terrible first outing, but there is plenty to work on.

Some laps, I have no energy and it is hard keeping up with everyone, including myself. Doing more sprints to become familiar with the distance will help me gauge how much I can exert myself, and still have gas for the next lap. I need to develop a muscle memory of 400 meters. This is probably the main obstacle in speed work.

Occasionally my stride feels crazy long, so I try shortening it up to promote rapid turnover, but that seems even harder. So I go with whatever felt right, which seems to be crazy long strides. My mantra of rapid turnover may not apply to speed work, so I have to be mentally flexible and remember there is a time and place for everything.

During the sprints, I am consistently mouth breathing, though not too heavily. It shouldn’t surprise me; sprints require a ton of oxygen. What does surprise me is that I don’t hear anyone else mouth breathing. Maybe they are, but I can’t tell. I definitely need to work on breathing technique, part of which is feeling a more relaxed. Tension does not promote proper breathing, breath from the belly. That sounds right, right?

All told, we run 4 miles, 2 of them very hard miles. I am surprised how tiring sprints are. The tiredness builds with each lap. But when the last lap arrives, I joke “Aw, last one? Can’t we do another?”

Overall, it was a good outing because it was a new learning experience. It was difficult, but not the good-kind-of-difficult, not yet. After a couple more workouts, I should have a better feel for track speed work and it will become the good-kind-of-difficult. Now that I know how close the track is and how much “fun” sprints can be, I will definitely be adding this to my routine.

Book Review – Run Like a Girl by Mina Samuels

Run Like a Girl Book

By the sound of it, I’m probably not part of the target audience. However, my library doesn’t have many books on or about running on the shelves, so when I came across it…. I figured “Why not? Just because the book’s target audience is women doesn’t mean I can’t learn something from it.” So I checked it out.

It was… okay. Not great, but not terrible. A quick, easy read with some really good bits.

This is minor quibble, but I was instantly annoyed by the frequency of the block quotes featuring the runner girl silhouette. The block quotes appear on at least every other page, sometimes more. It felt like an attempt to pad the book and/or a poor substitute for pictures. (Most of the books I’ve read on running feature at least a handful of photos; the only photo in this book was of the author sporting an uneasy smile. What they should have done was put the runner girl on the top/bottom of every page, and turned her into a flip book action heroine. That would have been cool. Heck, that’s my idea. Hands off.)

The overall theme of women’s’ struggle and empowerment was lost on me, since I’m a dude. But the main thing was I didn’t care for Samuels’ writing style. It was a loosely structured, semi-conversational train of thought with examples randomly sprinkled throughout.  But there were a few nuggets of wisdom to be found that inspired me.

The first nugget was when Samuels talked about how one identifies oneself can become a problem:

“When we are attached to our identity, we begin to measure ourselves in the same way…. be careful, too, not to set that identity in stone or we risk becoming confined to a narrow prison instead  of feeling free to define ourselves with new richness of every day.”

This provided me much-needed validation for my transition of identifying as an artist to identifying as a runner. No longer am I an artist (who happens to run) struggling to produce work. Now I am an active runner (who happens to paint) training for an event. I don’t worry about producing new work or getting a show, I run and sign up for races. I don’t sit alone in the garage slaving away on my “masterpiece,” I join a bunch of other runners and grind out some miles. Since I’ve made this mental shift, I feel much happier.

The second nugget asked: “What could I be capable of, if I tried?”

We all should ask ourselves this question regularly, or at least every once in a while. It makes you reassess your abilities and rethink what is possible. Imagining new possibilities means leaving your comfort zone and confronting one of the greatest sources of fear – the unknown. Because trying or doing unfamiliar things can be scary, it’s too easy to get stuck in the familiar.

It’s like running trails. Running the same route makes you feel comfortable because you know exactly where you are. Which is not a bad thing, but it’s good to mix things up. Take a new path and see where that goes. You might get lost, but that’s okay. Next time, you’ll have that experience to help guide you so that you don’t get lost again.

The third nugget was a quote from the poet Rumi: “If all you can do is crawl, start crawling.”

It’s such a powerful, direct thought. I’ve never heard of the poet Rumi, but now feel somewhat obligated to do some research. I doubt the poet was talking about running, but the quote seems especially relevant to both beginning runners and ultra runners.

For the beginning runner, it’s intimidating to get started running. You have fears about  how difficult it’s going to be, you think that you can’t do it , you think people will judge you or make fun of you. The best thing to do is to try to put those fears aside and take the first step and start. If all you can do is walk down the street, well, start walking. The thing is to take action, however seemingly small and insignificant, and keep moving toward your goal.

The challenge for ultra runners is usually not starting, but finishing. Undoubtedly, there will be rough patches where your legs are so tired you feel they can no longer carry you, you want to stop and call it quits, and you question why you are doing this in the first place. That’s when you have to dig deep and tell yourself, over and over, “I will fucking crawl to the finish line if I have to.” The thing is to keep moving, keep your momentum, however slow it might be. Do whatever you have to do, but do not give up.

Who am I? What am I capable of? And (essentially) Never Give Up. Those are three awesomely inspiring ideas for both women and men. And definitely a good payoff for a guy reading a book written for girls.

Role Models and Revelations

Speedwork course
Speedwork course

I didn’t see the email until late in the afternoon, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go. There was going to be a speedwork run at 6. But I’d already run in the morning, and  I didn’t want to overdo it. I was on the fence, leaning toward not going…

But then I thought to myself, “Uh dude? You can run twice in one day. It won’t kill you.”

Yeah, I know it’s possible and people do that. Other people. But what the hell. Go. Run. Hurry up, it’s almost time. So I drove out to Valero.

When it’s time to take off, there are 5 of us: Liza, Stefan, Elizabeth, and the guy who’s name I can’t recall. The pack is off with Liza and Stefan leading the way. I lag behind because I forgot to “acquire satellites.”

Once I get the beep, I catch up and chat with Elizabeth. She’s very friendly, but our conversation quickly evaporates. We pull up to the other guy. Thankfully, he starts up some chatter, and I leave the two of them to their conversation. Elizabeth runs at “her own pace”, and the guy is just recovering from the flu. I didn’t come here for an easy run, I came here for a speed workout! I hustle to catch up with Liza and Stefan.

I have a slight set back in that I have to ditch to perform a gastrointestinal transaction. I pop back onto the path only to see Elizabeth and the guy rolling up. I yell, “Spicy food – no bueno!” I’m not sure if they heard me or not, but I’m sure they knew what was up.

I push harder to make up the increased gap, and then I catch up…. because they turned around. We stop and wait for the other two to arrive to begin the actual speed work. The plan is one minute hard, one minute jog. Repeat 10 times. Sounds easy enough. Liza counts us down, and then we took off.

Fast.

It felt awesome. I love running fast.

But I’m huffing and puffing to keep up with them. Meanwhile they are just chatting away, telling jokes! How can they still have a conversation at this intensity? They must not even be pushing! STOP!

Whew! Catch my breath. That was a really long minute. Which is weird because the following recovery minute is really shor- GO!

It’s rough going at first. My legs are trying to settle into the rhythm. It’s been awhile since I’ve run this hard. Last time I ran this hard was last week at the Alamo Ranch Meetup. I was sort of racing Christian. We pushed up the pace the last two or three miles. STOP!

He was pushing it well, but I outpaced him just slightly. I am overly competitive and want to be the fastest. Which really sucks because now- GO!

Because now I am not the fastest! But I am determined to keep up. I am determined to show that I am worthy to run with the group. I am determined to not get left behind. I try to relax. Feel my form. Remember, rapid turn over. STOP!

I relax. I feel good. I am having a great time, despite how hard this is. And after a few rounds, all I want to hear is “GO!

We finish the speed work and head back. The “jog” back is pretty intense. It’s an effort for me to keep up so I’m trailing, listening to their conversation about their upcoming races. It amazes the races they’re doing – the big races, the “real” ultras. And this is only two people out of the group!

I think to myself how great it feels to run with strong, fast runners. I want to be fast like them; I want a 7:00 min pace to be cake, I want to run the same big races.  I really admire these two runners and want to be like them. Then it occurs to me – they are role models!

Role models? Hmmm… Then it occurs to me: in my life as an artist, I’ve never had a role model. There was never someone, that I knew personally, that I looked up to. No one that I respected and admired. No one to teach me or to learn from.  And after I left school, I didn’t even have any peers. It was just me, community of one. Talk about isolation! Furthermore, creating art never did anything for my competitive spirit.

But now, entering the ultra running world and joining the Rockhopper group looks to hold much more promise than my artistic life did. The people I’ve met so far are awesome runners. They run ultras on a regular basis. And they seem pretty casual about it, talking about 50 milers and 100 milers like they were 5K’s or 10K’s.  And some of them are fast.

I started to think, as sad as it is, maybe I should give up trying to be an artist and just be a runner. This is a pretty radical thought for me since all my life I have identified myself as an “artist.” But, if I really wanted to be an artist, I would throw myself into it. But I haven’t. I’ve been struggling with it my whole life. I haven’t painted in… three months? I’ve been working on my art website for how long? I am however, throwing myself into this “running thing.” I run four times a week and I started this blog for crying out loud!

In the future, I will come back around to Art.  But for now, I am going to focus on running. I have some new role models that I want to learn from, and there’s a lot of ground to cover.

See You Tuesday

An actual "runrise". Phuket, Thailand.
An actual “runrise” in Phuket, Thailand

I just found the best way to get up early and bang out a few miles first thing in the morning: “See you Tuesday.”

On one of the local running groups’ message board, a guy was looking for a running buddy in my area. I messaged that I would be up for a run, even at the ungodly hour of 6 am. I could stand to get up early and run with a new person.

The great thing about meeting someone is that they are expecting you to be there. Thus, you obligate yourself to: go to bed at a reasonable hour, set your alarm, actually wake up when the alarm goes off and drag yourself out of bed, get dressed, and walk out the door.

It can be done!

I set my alarm for 5:10 and went to bed relatively early. I dreamt that I overslept and didn’t show up; I dreamt I was that guy. I awoke from my slumber, unsure of what was going on. I looked at the time. 4:42. Ugh. Just enough time to fall back asleep and then have to wake up. Well, at least I could stay warm for a little while longer.

But not much longer. It seemed like I’d just closed my eyes and the alarm went off. Getting out of bed was the first hurdle. I got ready quickly and was out the door.
Having cleared the two biggest hurdles, I was ready to pat myself on the back. Then I realized how cold and dark it was outside; I shivered and wished I’d worn a jacket. And gloves. And maybe a parka. I was slightly miserable thinking about the warm and cozy bed I’d left behind. Turning on my headlamp only reminded how cold it was – I could now see my breath. I thought to myself, “Why did I agree to this?” and then, “[The other guy] had better show up or I am going to be PISSED! ”

(Note to self: sending a confirmation text the night before would be an effective reminder.)

Once I got moving, and the blood started flowing, I warmed up a bit. See, it’s not that cold. And then hey! I’m awake! This isn’t so bad. Oh and look, a family of deer!

Since I was meeting this guy for the first time, I was neurotic about being on time. I arrived early. I paced around trying to keep moving so I wouldn’t get cold. Looking at my watch in slight annoyance, I wondered, “Where the hell is this guy?!”, despite the fact that it’s still eight till. Why can’t everyone be early?

Then my stomach let me know it was ready to do that thing that I tried unsuccessfully to do earlier. The upside to this notification was it just about guaranteed that the guy would show up, probably at the worst possible time.

My business completed without interruption, (Hallelujah!) a second wave of relief washed over me when a car pulled into the lot. I couldn’t be certain it was the guy I was meeting, but  I was sure.  How many people go to this park at 6 in the morning? (Actually, there was another runner  that ran by earlier.)

“Hey man are you_______? Nice to meet you, I’m_______.”

And then we ran.

* * * *

Depending on the time, you may reap the finest reward of running so doggone early: the “run-rise.” What is it about running and seeing the sunrise that makes you feel so good? Is there some sort of magical chemical reaction between the run and the sun that makes you certain that today is going to be a good day? Is it Vitamin D?

Seeing the sunrise, enjoying the cool morning air, and the satisfaction of knocking out a workout first thing of the day is a great start to any day. If only everyday could start like that… Oh right, it can. You need only four words, “See you next Tuesday. “

OMG WTF?!

angry brain

My brain is super pissed at me.

Yesterday, my usually cautious decision-making process was blind sided by over-excited enthusiasm. Now my brain is freaking out. And not in a good way.

For some reason, I thought the Nueces race was towards the end of March. Nope! I should have looked at the calendar. Then I would have seen that the race is a mere 5 weeks away. Now my brain won’t stop yelling at me, telling me what a dumb idea it was to register for a 50M without being able to properly train for it.

It might be disastrous attempting this run on such short notice: I could injure myself, or be unable to complete the run and DNF. The idea of a DNF is somewhat terrifying. I know there will come a time when I will have to face that, but so soon?

My brain knows at some point in time, I will be able to run a 50M. Possibly even in March. But it just wants to make sure that I am ready for it. My super logical brain really just wants what’s best for me.

At the same time, the (somewhat dampened) enthusiastic side of my brain is telling me, “Dude relax. Don’t be scared. It’s going to be okay. Just because you can’t train for it the same way you did for the last race, doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Just train the best you can. Lots of other people run 50M. You can too. That’s what this is about, to see what you are capable of. You won’t have a fast race, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about just finishing. And you will finish.”

I swear, that side of my brain is a really good salesman. And that last bit is the part that really intrigues me: Can I run my first 50M on 5 weeks of training?

Lesson learned: Always consult your calendar, aka Look before you leap.