Saturday, December 25, 2010

Little Red Corvette.....

10 miles today at a brisk pace while listening to The Best of Prince

..... I'm feeling so funky.

Genius. Sheer musical genius!

Merry Christmas!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Feeling like crap...and let me introduce you to the 'Sarge'

I hate being sick - especially when it's that 'just crappy' type of sick.

One minute you feel like a million dollars, like late afternoon Saturday when I headed out for a run up in Boulder before a Christmas party at some friends up there. Then, halfway home from the party, it happened. You know what I'm talking about - that feeling out of the corner of your mind that something isn't right with your body.

Sure enough, I tossed and turned Saturday night and woke up feeling like garbage on Sunday morning. Not terrible enough to stay in bed mind you, but rather that general crappy feeling that tires you out quickly and robs you of your breath. A general ache throughout all of my joints. (and no - I didn't drink all that much or engage in too many h'ors d'oeuvres that I should have known better of to avoid. I was 'good' for the most part on Saturday!

I debated running Sunday (I was scheduled to do 15). I finally headed out and decided I would run an easy 10. It actually made me feel a little better (as running often does). Even did 8 or 9 wind sprints towards the end up a steep hill, which felt good. But the endorphins only lasted so long and by evening I was feeling lousy again. At least Monday was a day off.

Today (Tuesday) I was supposed to run 8 (it's a recovery week) - but I was having trouble rallying and finally made a call that it would be better for my body to have one more day of rest to really kick this thing.

Now that is a sound decision. Any coach would have probably told me the same thing (I worked a full day today too and was up late last night watching the lunar eclipse). I had no business further stressing my body and risking letting this thing take hold. But that doesn't matter to the 'Sarge'.

Let me now formally introduce you to the 'Sarge'. But first hide the children. Shed yourself of any self-doubt. He can smell guilt. When you are hunched over, dry heaving your innards out after a particularly tough hill repeat, he'll hover over you, growling in you ear that, "... perhaps on the next repeat there dumpling you might try skipping like a 5 year old girl. Because anything would be faster than that last little pathetic attempt was. My god, at one point I thought you were actually going backwards."

The 'Sarge' is my inner drill sergeant voice. He's a mean SOB, and happy to play that role. His tenor and demeanor are consistent and unforgiving. He would make the character Clint Eastwood played in Heartbreak Ridge cower and cry.

So true to his nature, after ransacking my self-worth for deciding to miss a workout, the 'Sarge' looks for other moments to deride me throughout the day. Like this evening when I was considering eating a Hershey kiss from the Christmas candy stash.  No sooner to I put my hand in the bag than The Sarge growls, "Absolutely not fat boy. You don't deserve it. Put it back immediately and leave it for you wife. Unlike your sorry excuse for an athlete, she made her swim workout this morning"

I took my hand out of the bag and slunk away.

Now of course I can psychologically work through it. My brain doesn't truly believe the inner antagonist (in the end). But it's effective. It ensures I'll get to sleep early tonight, and drink plenty of fluids so I can get out and do an easy run tomorrow and start getting my feet back under me.

He's an effective training tool - the 'Sarge'. A habit borne out of many years of cycling and running when the weather outside was less than ideal, or the day was wearing on me mentally. He'd listen patiently to the pleading voice, "It's too hot, too cold, too rainy, too dark. My body is too stressed. One day off won't hurt... blah, blah, blah" - then, after scrutinizing the validity of every argument he dutifully barks,

"OK, listen up Daisy. If you're quite through whining like a puppy trying to dislodge his squeaky toy out from under the couch - haul your sorry ass out of bed, throw on your gear, and get out there and put in a solid effort - you sissy little jack wagon!"

And that generally does it. 15 minutes into the workout and I'm glad for the 'Sarge'. He has saved me many times from slipping into a excuse ridden progression to being a squishy couch potato.

Yes, I know. All of Sarge's scathing synopsis of my manhood and worth as an athlete aside - I know that fitness isn't borne out of one workout. Rather, fitness is a wall of workout bricks, layered one tier on the other, the recovery 'mortar' binding them together.

And in the fairness of it all - one missed workout and the wall doesn't collapse. It persists. And that thought gets me over the shame of missing a workout and let's my body rest when that's what it needs.

Sarge however is sulking in the corner just shaking his head in disgust as I write this. I can't hear his mumbling over my rationalizations, but I am catching bits like 'maybe I should take up checkers' and 'tomorrow would be a good day to go out shopping for box of Ding-Dongs and some fat-pants'

It's OK, he's purposefully designed to be one dimensional like that. That's his bag.

Mine is to log off, get some sleep, and not disappoint the heartless curmudgeon tomorrow. Or there will be hell to pay, and yet another dainty girl's name bestowed upon me. Which would hurt less if I wasn't a guy.

Bastard.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Back 'in-country'

Sorry for the dearth of posts last week. I was actually in China (my job takes me there several times a year). Our office is in a beautiful city called Hangzhou. It is about 2.5 hours southwest drive from Shanghai. The city is someplace to see if you've never been. The centerpiece of this city is West Lake and surrounding tea gardens - an absolutely great place to spend a weekend day walking around. Lots of shops, attractions and wonderful things to see.

Sadly - I often find my schedule pretty jam packed while I'm there (working two time zones), but I usually get in on a Saturday night and get to go for a long run on Sunday as well as many morning runs throughout the week. And of course I get to spend a lot of time working with and having meals with my colleagues over there that I've come to know as great friends.

This past week the weather was absolutely the nicest I think I've ever experienced. Cool, sunny and clear. Very pleasant running weather all week - especially on Sunday!

The travel time and time zone shift (+15 hours from MST) is less onerous to me than most people would think. Probably has to do with this being somewhere around my 10th trip there over the years. I arrived on Saturday at my hotel - right around 5:30pm or so. Got checked in and headed to the hotel gym. Ran 3 miles on the treadmill just to shake off the 24 hours of sitting around it took to get there. Tried doing km/hour conversions to minutes / mile pace in my head and gave up. Too much fog in my brain. Just enjoyed an easy run in an empty gym. Went back to the room, showered and ate some dinner. Then hit the hay at about 9pm or so.

I generally sleep really well the first night and in fact usually only have one day where I feel a little tired at around 2pm. Other than that, going eastward in generally pretty easy for me. All your points of reference (meals, light of day, running) I think help. The worst thing you can do actually is try to stick to your previous time zone schedule or get out of bed at 3am to check eMail. Time zone tip - if you wake up, just lay there and enjoy the quiet mediation time - soon you'll be as right as rain.

On Sunday I worked a little in the morning and then headed out for a 16 mile run at about 10am. There is this awesome cement boardwalk that follows the river about 8 miles in either direction. It actually goes further than that, but you'd have to brave some dicey road sections - and yeah, I don't. Traffic is very different in China. I once described it to someone as stepping into the business end of a particle accelerator. You know - the part where the hyper-charged particles all slam into each other and scatter in completely unpredictable directions and velocities). My peripheral vision has improved over the trips, and I am good at knowing when someone is going to stop vs plow me over. One steadfast rule - never step in front of a bus (they have the right of way over pedestrians) or a taxi cab (they will act as if they do).

But my route keeps me out of harm's way so I can mostly just focus on the run and the scenery it brings. During my whole Sunday run, it was so nice out that all the families were out on the boardwalk and in the couple of parks I run through. The little kids reminded me of my kids - smiling and waving and laughing. People are also very interested in watching me run by. Westerners aren't nearly as common in Hangzhou than in Shanghai or Beijing. While recreational running has become more popular in the last few years, I'm sure it's still pretty interesting enough to watch a 6'1" American run by at a good clip.

side-note: Unlike in the US, I've never been heckled running in China.

The one park near the 5 mile mark has these two very cool giant dragon boat sculptures. They stand a couple stories tall and are very imposing. I'm sure there is an interesting story about them, but I don't yet possess it. They are in the middle of a large cement park by the river with structures that for some reason remind me of the village architecture in the old computer game 'Riven'. Large 'clock' oriented looking structures and gazebos. I really love running through that park.

On the way out and back I pass several bridges that connect the downtown 'proper' area to the district we are in (which is more technology park oriented) across the mile wide Qiangtang river. I've wanted to make a route that crosses one of the bridges and do a loop around West Lake - but I never seem to have the time. Plus, I'm happy with my routes and the sights along the way.

I often listen to my iPod while I'm running out there. My playlist sometimes casts some funny contrasts with the sights I pass. Passing a few older fisherman on the warf while High Plains Drifter by the Beastie Boys is playing, or some folks practicing Tai Chi by the pond to the tune of Where is My Mind (Pixies) makes me smile a bit. Some collages such as Lose Yourself (Eminem) or Comfort Eagle (Cake) are perfectly matched to some of the more industrial sections I run though (the other way down the river). Or they can overcome a little self-consciousness that can sink in when I stop at an intersection, waiting for the particle accelerator to clear - and 5 or 6 Chinese folks are staring straight at me the whole time. They are just interested and I don't take it as impolite (culturally) there. But it's a little unnerving. Nothing a little Trent Reznor can't help with. And it's nice to have those visuals replay like a minds-eye slideshow the next time I'm listening to each of those songs. It passes the time on long runs on routes here in the US I've done a million times.

After my run, stretching (and shower) I took a 2 hour nap - no 3 year old to tend to. Then got up, and
headed to Starbucks. The one mile round trip actually makes for a nice recovery walk. The rest of the day was cranking through a bunch more work related stuff. Overall - a very productive day - personally and professionally. Got to bed a little late, but slept like a stone.

I really like running when I travel (both domestically and internationally). I've run I think in 7 countries (counting the US). I like the simplicity of it and the way it connects you with your surroundings. You get to see things that most tourists don't see and experience a city in a more personal way than from a car window or with a tour guide dragging you along. I like the solitude and the company all at the same time. I have really terrific memories that make me feel lucky for the opportunities I have to experience the world and the people in it. It also helps with jet lag, keeping in shape while traveling, and allows you to sample more of the local food in a guilt free way. And it beats plopping down in front of the TV just to burn through those hours between your arrival there and the trip home - especially when you are really missing your loved ones.

Travel is a gift I would wish on anyone that would value it's receipt. And running is the perfect way to accessorize your travel - no matter where it takes you.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey Trots

I don't have anything against 'official' Turkey Trots. But every year when I look into them they are pretty expensive for the amount of running that you get to do. Coupled with the time associated with getting there, parking, waiting around, etc... I guess I'm usually more pressed for time with cooking and all.

One year some friends organized an 'unofficial' Turkey Trot - and that was a lot of fun. It would be nice to get together a bigger one like that. Kind of a grass roots Trot.

But I love doing a run on holidays - especially Thanksgiving. It helps offset my conscience for that second slice of pumpkin pie. Today was a great run that started with a couple miles with Paige, running up the path to the middle school just west of our place. I don't get to run and cycle with my wife as often as I'd like, so when we have a babysitter available, we like to take advantage of it. We talked all the way up to the turn around point (her goal was 45 mins of easy running today).

From there we parted and I ran one of my favorite routes. It's not for people that dislike hills - I've grown to really like hills, mostly because of how well my body responds to them from a strengthening perspective. I also like the downhill part of running hills :-)

My route takes me up the frontage road of 285, crossing under before a gnarly steep little section that dumps you out between two horse farms. From there you get a little downhill kick before the last climb up to Morrison Road (Hwy 8). Then it's left past The Fort and drop down the road that cuts under 285 again and climbs up to Red Rocks Country Club neighborhood. I realize it's technically called Willow Springs, but everyone that knows that area knows why I distinguish that particular section from what I would call 'Willow Springs Proper'.

Then the descent down Bellevue road where I stopped with a bunch of other people to observe a herd of 5 large bull elk, sunning themselves on the golf course fairway. I've never seen that many males together like that with no cows. Rutting season must be over and they are now hanging out, talking about their conquests.

The route is really terrific not just for the hills, but also for the views that come with them. This route is 10 miles total, but if I make a right turn through Willow Springs (proper) and climb up further, crossing into Ken Caryl Valley, then that adds another 7 miles. The views there are even more striking, but today's shortcut route was plenty for me today.

There's something grand about returning from a run in the brisk cool November air and walking into a house that's brimming with the smell of a roasting turkey. I was instantly famished.

Happy Thanksgiving and hope everyone's own version of a turkey trot (formal, informal or imaginary) was a good one!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Just his little b*tch....

Having lived in Colorado for about 18 years now, and being an outdoorsy kind of guy, I've had a lot of encounters with wildlife, both on the bike and while running. Putting aside the days of riding some rural dirt roads in Michigan and having some Deliverance-looking Billy-Bob shouting "get 'em boy", encouraging his shepherd already in full pursuit of us cyclists, I'm referring here to real wildlife.

The title of this blog is what occurred to me upon my latest encounter, up running the back trails behind the Ken Caryl hog back. I was quite a ways up there, west and up from the neighborhood. I had just climbed up Manor Trail and dropped onto a side single track that would me back down to Manor House. About 100m onto the trail, it struck me that someone had parked a large brown van on the trail. Now - this is actually the second time I've mistaken a large bull elk for a brown van. Both times I was less than 30m from them. My first thought was one of amusement that the 'large brown van' had come to mind twice. My second thought was a little more around how this animal was looking at me.

He had been meandering down the same trail in the same direction as me when I came upon him. I stopped and he stopped. I was staring into his hind quarters and his eyes in that big antlered head that was turned over his shoulder and staring back at me. I made a 'PSHHHHTTTT" sound to try to spook him off the trail so I could pass. He didn't even blink. And that's when the second thought (and the title of this post) occurred to me. In his eyes, I'm just his little, Lycra clad bitch. And the fact that he hadn't turned to gore me yet just showed how insignificant I was in his eyes. I knew rutting season was over, but didn't want to wait around to see if this particularly large bull knew how to read a calendar.

So, I slowly backed up. And seeing that I was not going to make any further claim to his trail, the bull turned around and started his lazy pace back down the trail. I found a different way back.

I've lived in Colorado long enough to know bull elk are not to be messed with. They stand about 5 feet at the shoulders (this one looked to be about my height - but my perception may have been altered). They weigh about 700 lbs and have built in goring tools on their heads. I had an empty water bottle and a GPS watch I could have thrown.


Other wildlife are a little less threatening. Coyotes are remarkably curious about runners and cyclists. They will follow you and know exactly how far to scat when you "PSHHHHTT" at them. Just out of reach, they know they can avoid you and still follow you. Sometimes I feel like they are waiting for me to stumble - and then they'll give that Coyote howl for, "Hey - we got a weak one in the herd here". I always try to look strong when in the presence of Coyotes.


I've been attacked by a Falcon - twice. I was riding my mountain bike and he swooped down, using a sharp talon to take a chunk out of my bike helmet. Turns out there was a little reflector on the back that caught his eye. I removed it after that and wrote Specialized an eMail.


I've only seen two mountain lions. Once I was riding up a road in the Conifer area, and I saw him slink across the road about 200m ahead of me. The other time I chased a cub out of my garbage (again - in Conifer). I thought it was a cat until I chased it off and realized it was pretty large. It had spots, so I didn't right away know what it was. But then I was at the Museum of Natural History and learned that mountain lions have spots when they are cubs. Glad I didn't go out wandering around after it and run into it's mom - who probably didn't have spots, but did have big teeth and claws.


Deer are almost so common they are not worth mentioning. In most of the neighborhoods where they feast on aspens shoots and flowers, they won't even look at you when you go past. You're no threat. They are protected there and they know it. On trails in the back-country they just stare at you or scoot away.


Big horn sheep are another group not to be messed with. I was once climbing up Mt. Evans on my road bike when I was slowed by a bunch of cars that had stopped to look at the Big Horns. One car with out of state plates had the windows down and the kids were reaching out towards the sheep with bread. I rolled up and knocked on the driver side window and told the dad when he rolled it down, "Uhhmmm... you know - it's not a petting zoo dude. Those sheep can turn and cover that 8 feet to your car in about 1/2 second" - He thanked me and yelled at his kids to get in the car. Yeah - like it was all their idea.


Of course then you have the smaller, almost inconsequential wildlife. Rabbits will stand and stare at you until they realize that they are not invisible. Prairie dogs are predictable enough on the trails to keep from running them over. Squirrels - not so much. They are freakin' suicidal. They will wait until the last minute and dart at your wheel.


Geese are mean and even meaner during mating season. I've had one attack me in flight as I passed on the bike trails downtown along the Platte. I hate Geese.


Those are the animal encounters I've had to date. How about all of you? Ever feel like you were at the bottom of the food chain?

Friday, November 19, 2010

"Ride the bike"

Before I became a serious runner, I was a cyclist. In fact, I was a pretty committed cyclist. Did you ever see the movie 'Breaking Away' - where the guy is riding his bike right up to his apartment, and then into his apartment - finally falling over as he tries to retrieve his mail? Yeah, I understood that scene.

I used to have bikes in the living room. I've ridden in weather that you wouldn't even venture into in your car. I've ridden thousands and thousands of miles and I absolutely loved every mile. 

I actually started running to keep in shape during the off season from racing my bike. One year I recall coming up with the brilliant plan to ride through the winter and come out even stronger in the spring. I rode the rollers for hours and watched movies. I rode in the snow and over ice. I commuted back and forth to work in the dark (both ways) and cold. And in the spring - I was rocket fast. Of course by July I didn't want to be anywhere near my bike. I had to hide it for fear of doing something dastardly to it if I saw it. From that experience I deduced that riding all winter wasn't such a great plan.

So I started running.

I often say that I've been running 'seriously' for the past 4 years - but actually, I've been running for the past 15 years or so. Nothing far, nothing fast - just to keep in shape. But looking back now - I enjoyed those runs even back then, even if I viewed them more as a means to an end than anything else. A means to stay on my game in the off months without taking an axe to my bike in July.

But when I started running 'seriously' - I kind of let the bike languish in the garage. I didn't have time for it, what with my running training plan dominating my day. I couldn't bother myself with tiring myself out by riding the bike.

But recently, in the last year or so, I started riding the bike again. And you know what? My bike wasn't bitter about the hiatus. In fact, it welcomed me back in an unconditional way. The minute I climbed aboard, I felt 'home' again. As the bike moved underneath me, it's such a familiar pattern of movement and sensations. Hang the bike in the back of the dusty garage for 3 years and see how it welcomes you back. The saying, "It's just like riding a bike" didn't just spring out of nothing.

When I was a cyclist, I was taught that there was no such thing as cross-training. I was taught that by crusty old guys that ran the pack. The guys that looked like they never got off the bike. The guys that still wore wool shirts and smeared chamois cream in their shorts (look it up). The guys that would put a hand on your shoulder as you rode and say, "Here sonny, let me tell you a story - all the time though just using the hand on your shoulder to hitch or slow you down because you were burning a little too fast of a pace in the pack and they didn't want to have to draft your sorry, spent ass back to the barn. One of those stories the crusty old guy, with the arm on my shoulder told me, still sticks in my brain. And I get to embellish it a little because, well... now I'm one of the crusty old guys and I've earned that right.

Before Lance, there was Fausto Coppi. An absolutely dominating cyclist of the 1900's, Fausto earned the nickname, 'Champion of Champions'. He was legendary. One day, a reporter asked him what his secret was. Fausto replied, 'If you want to be fast on the bike, there are only three things you must do.' Silence grew over the audience as they leaned closer, and the champion ticked all three items off; "Ride the bike, ride the bike, ride the bike"

A lot has changed since Fausto. For one, drugs are no longer allowed (he was a frequent user of amphetamines and is rumored to have died of cocaine overdose (both improved performance and neither was illegal in professional cycling). But also, modern coaching now says that cross-training is actually quite helpful in improving performance. Especially as you - ahem - age.

I can attest to that. In fact, running and cycling go perfectly together for me. I find that running has paid dividends in the aerobic capacity department when I get on the bike. Running has lightened me up and taught me to endure even more discomfort (which is key if you want to climb fast). Cycling helps my running legs recover. It focusses on different muscles and helps flood the legs, knees and hips with oxygenated blood, flushing and speeding rebuilding. And I can run and cycle on the same day and feel fresh doing both, regardless of the order. In fact, if I ride hard on Saturday, I actually feel like I can run faster on Sunday than had I taken Saturday completely off.

So Fausto had it partly right. If you want to be fast, you must "Ride the bike, Run, Ride the Bike, Run...." (lather, rinse and repeat). You get the idea.

Needless to say, I'm pretty happy about this revelation. And so is my bike. Yes I know that bikes don't actually experience emotion. Because.... well, it's just a bike. But I like to pretend they do. Because when you've spent as much time on your bike as I have in my life - you like to think that you weren't riding alone all those miles.

Sorry I was gone for so long my old friend :-)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Barefoot Running - PART II (Yes, there's something to it)

So in Barefoot Running - Part I We saw the flaws in some of the classical arguments for barefoot running; specifically that the modern running shoe was the bane of injury free running in the recreational runner and that shoe companies propagated the modern running shoe technology 'myth' just to make money at the expense of said runners.

But while barefoot running is 'hyped', it's not all 'hype'. There are some very good reasons to at least explore ways that barefoot running (or it's close cousin - minimalist running) can help you run more injury free.

First and foremost - barefoot running, or running in a very minimalist shoe, will help you reconnect with the feedback from your feet as they impact the ground. It will help raise awareness on how your foot strikes the ground and how it articulates throughout it's departure. It will make you more aware of your balance points and it will also help to gradually strengthen the various muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones (density) in your feet. And if you have any doubt that your foot is about as complex as a structure gets in your body, take a gander at this picture (and these are just the muscles):

That's a whole lot of moving parts! And each one is just sitting there, waiting to cause you problems if you don't pay attention to using it in the way it wants to be used.

Another safe way to try out minimalist running is simply to invest a pair of minimalist shoes. Certainly you can drop $100 bucks on some Vibram 5 Fingers models, or any number of racing flats or minimalist offerings from each of the major running companies - but you could also go out and get a pair of canvas boat shoes too. After all, you are not looking for support, cushioning and stabilization. You are just looking for something that protects the soles of your feet from the nasty stuff on the ground you may encounter while providing minimal interference between your foot and the ground.

A better way to drop $100 bucks would be to go seek out a few running clinics. There, the instructor will look at your running form and give you some advice on how to be a more efficient runner. Running efficiently means expending the least amount of energy possible to move forward at a particular pace (i.e. as much energy as possible directed to moving you forward instead of banging your feet on the ground in an improper way).

I won't get into all the different running form schools of thought. There was actually a great article in Running Times last month that said that there really is only one way to run efficiently, and that all of the various methods (Pose, Chi Running, etc.) were just different variations of the same theme. Pick a good clinic, and you'll get the essential elements of proper running form.

As for the folks that say that 'running comes naturally to us' - I say bullocks. Not the type of running we do. Not trail running, or marathons or track work, etc.. And cavemen didn't spend 8 hours a day sitting at a desk, hunched over a computer screen, trying to squeeze in a quick run at lunch. Neanderthals didn't wear Ecco shoes, or high heels and didn't carry around 20 lbs of extra weight. Take a clinic - I see people all the time out there that are just pounding the crap out of their bodies rather than directing that energy in a forward moving direction. Arms flailing, over-striding, shuffling, head hanging down, hunched over. Of course if their purpose is to burn as many calories as humanly possible over the shortest distance - then "that's a BINGO"!

And here's a way to experiment with some of the benefits of barefoot running without even running. Just try to walk around more in your bare or stocking feet. Go get a pair of canvas Sketchers for the office and mall. The problem with the ortho shoes and inserts is that they unnaturally support your feet. Of course, if you are on your feet all day, then this can help with fatigue, but don't forget that muscles unused are muscles that atrophy. And atrophied muscles are more prone to injury. Simply stated, if you spend a little time walking around in your stocking feet, and a little more each day - they your feet will slowly build up more strength and resilience to injury. I personally walk around in my stocking feet at home all the time and a lot of times at the office. At the end of the day my feet feel like a million dollars. Again - start slowly. It takes time to build strength in any part of your body. Weeks and months and years.

In summary, barefoot running has some great things to offer. But IMHO it's a bit over-hyped and insubstantially vilifies some practices, companies and approaches that aren't villains. Like any craze, there are the religious zealots that will take you right over the edge and into the ER. My advice it to slowly and safely experiment and slowly add some easy walking and eventually running barefoot into your weekly workouts. But when it comes to doing serious speed or distance work, slap on those high tech, cushioned stabilizing works of technology and art - the high performance running shoe. If you've done your clinic work and focus on constantly improving your efficient running form - then they aren't going to make you run wrong. But they will keep you safe when you accidentally do.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Barefoot Running - PART I (No, the running shoe companies aren't out to get you)

So lately when someone finds out I'm a serious runner, the first question is likely to be regarding my thoughts on barefoot running. My answer has become pretty standardized in the 8-10 times I've been asked about it, so I thought I'd write it down. Then I can just have business cards printed with the URL for this blog and tell them, "Here is what you seek" :-)

For those not familiar with the concept, barefoot running has most recently been made famous by the book, "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougal. The book chronicles a tribe in Mexico that runs alot. Like hundreds of miles at a time, wearing sandals made from old tire treads. Of course the book is much more than that - and in fact McDougal does a great job of using this tribe as an example of how we have gotten away from running 'naturally' and the role that the modern running shoe has played in the resulting injuries and poor running style of today's modern runner. The book in itself is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it, but before you get the 'religion' of the book and start tossing your Nike's to the side as you head out the door - let me offer that while the book is a great 'story', offering some great anecdotal evidence to evangelize that running barefoot will solve all your injury woes, remember (as always) that a balanced perspective is the way to go.

The basic argument for the barefoot running goes something like this:

Despite all of the advances in the modern running shoe, such as cushioning and motion control of pronation, the injury rate in recreational runners has stayed about the same. It is the modern running shoe itself that masks the natural feedback from our feet, that causes an unnatural stride such as heel striking and reaching the foot too far out in front (over-striding), thus resulting in unnatural running form and causing higher injury rates than would occur if we ran more with a mid-foot strike that landed underneath us as we ran. Further, running shoe companies propagate the 'myth' of the modern running shoe technology in order to sell lots of shoes and make money - all at the expense of the recreational athlete.

So first off, let's take the argument apart a bit. Another way to look at the lingering injury statistic would be simply to say that prior to the modern running shoe, only people well adapted to run actually ran. People who did not adapt to running quickly (weight issues, over-pronation, etc.) simply got injured quickly and gave up on running - thinning the herd via survival of the fittest, so to speak. The modern running shoe however, allowed a lot of these non-well-adapted runners to continue running and as a result, we've seen at least two running booms which resulted in a sustained injury rate precisely because the running population is now more diverse i.e. people who maybe shouldn't be running 'as much' without proper adaption are doing too much too soon, or running improperly. Ahhh... now the last part is valid. The modern running shoe does mask the natural feedback that 'teaches' us to run properly. However, this doesn't imply that you should chuck your shoes if you want to learn to run properly. That's because invariably, despite all of your attention to proper running form, you will come down improperly on your foot from time to time. Think of the modern running shoe as an air bag. It's nice to have it when a mistake happens, but it doesn't give you the license to drive like a maniac.

Finally, let's dispel the myth that running shoe companies propagate the modern running shoe technology simply to make money. The truth is, they can make money off whatever the public wants. In fact, right now most of the running shoe companies are making very good money off the barefoot running craze since it has naturally led to the 'minimalist' running craze - shoes that protect your feet from glass, stones, etc. but offer little to get in the way of the natural feedback provided by barefoot running. And guess what - these minimalist shoes cost about the same as the 'classical' running shoes. And guess what else? Minimalist shoes have always existed. They were called 'racing flats'. To say that there is some 'conspiracy' in the running shoe industry to produce shoes that are detrimental to recreational runners ability to run a lot (and thus buy more shoes), is just downright silly.

In fact, a company called Vibram Five Fingers (http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/) which makes a very minimalist shoe that kind of looks like a rubber overskin for your feet (and was predominately mentioned favorably by McDougal in his book) has had an absolute explosion in sales (i.e. made a TON of money off providing a product that aligns with the barefoot running craze).

Ok, so now that we see that Nike, Asics and their big shoe company brethren  aren't out to purposefully cripple our feet, we can put that aside and dive into whether there is something useful to get from the barefoot running craze...which I'll do in Part II :-)

Monday, November 8, 2010

BOO-YAAHH

There are some runs that just make you feel like a tough guy (or tough girl). This one I did on Sunday was one of those runs. You can find all the stats as an uploaded GarminConnect (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/56017419) - but I think the little picture on the left of this post hits the defining characteristic of the run; a little over 14 miles with a significant climb of about 1600 vertical feet over 6 miles.

But even with those statistics in front of me, I'd still be missing the bigger picture of what made this run 'epic'. Even throwing it into Google Earth, and knowing the topology of the run, still would somewhat 'dry' the experience out. Because statistics alone don't define a route (although they can help you plan it). Rather, it's the experience of how the run went that really makes it memorable. It's the inclusion of the 'runner' into the route that adds the perspective that doesn't jump off the page at you when you're just looking at data.

So first off, a little about that climb that dominates the elevation profile. That is our famous "Lookout Mt." climb in Golden, CO. Every town has a route by which local athletes measure themselves. 'Lookout' as it's known here among cyclists and runners is one such measure. Every serious cyclist here knows their PR up 'Lookout'. They know that the clock starts at the 'pillars' and ends at the 'Buffalo Bill Grave' sign. So much that if someone asks you, "What is your time up Lookout?" - that is the only query required to rattle off the measure of your ass-kicking worth on a bike. You can offer all sorts of clarifying terms; "it was snowing / hot / cold / raining. I was hung-over / recovering from a 100 miler the day before, etc.." - but nobody cares about those excuses. You are remembered for your time, and every other piece of information is ignored. That's between you and Lookout. Go do it faster if you want to gain more respect.

Now I've never seen many runners on Lookout - at least on the road. There are trails that snake their way up, but on the road, it's pretty much a cyclist domain (I saw two runners coming down on Sunday while I was going up, but probably about 25 cyclists). That was part of the draw for me to plan this route. I've ridden it a million times, but never run up it. I wanted to know what that felt like - and it would make 14 miles interesting.

My route started out perfectly with a nice rolling descent down from 'the cut' (another local landmark) arriving at the 'pillars' around the 4.5 mile mark. Now, to get to the pillars, you actually have to climb for about a 1/2 mile - which is part of what makes Lookout a little cruel. The official 'starting point' is after you've climbed for a bit already. In other words - you don't get credit for that 1/2 mile pre-pain fest. (strategy-wise; if you're trying for a PR, you want to recover before crossing the pillars. That is considered acceptable).

Once I crossed the pillars, I told myself I'd just run a steady pace just below LT to see how it felt. The route has a completely different feel than when on the bike. It required a different strategy and approach. On the bike I can tell you exactly where I get out of the saddle and stretch, where I attack and where I spin out the lactate for a bit. But running - it was like running a route I had never been on.

I had a lot of fun 'holding off' the cyclists. Road bikes are faster all things being equal, than a runner. You expel less energy and can recover easier on the flats. But when I saw a cyclist a ways back from me, my whole goal was to make them work hard to pass me. It really motivated me and added fun to the run. Some would pass and then fade a bit - telling me that they had pushed a little too hard to pass 'the runner' and were now paying for it. I knew what they were going through. Lookout is that way. It doesn't forgive mistakes easily when you go into a little O2 debt.

At the 3/4 mark, there is a brutal set of switch-backs. On the bike you always need to make sure and keep a little in reserve for them. It's easy to die there. I had planned for them running, but they still kicked my butt. They were a lot harder running than riding. My heart rate was now well into LT zone, but I knew I was getting close and I started to pick it up. Near the top, I held off a pack of cyclists until the flat final stretch to the sign. As they passed, one of them remarked - "Ok, now that is fairly impressive", I laughed and responded, "I'm trying" and picked up a little of a sprint to keep with them for 100m - after which I had to fight out of the O2 debt tree well for about 30 seconds.

Finally I rounded the final corner and crossed the sign. A large group of cyclists that had passed me on various parts of the climb were regrouping at the sign. A couple of them remarked, "Nice job." and "Truly impressive" comments. And it absolutely made my day because anyone that does the Lookout climb is a well respected athlete. I thanked them and slowed a little bit to recover, heading off the 'back-side' - 42:38 - my first 'running PR' up Lookout.

Now it's a little deceptive to call the back-side 'recovery'. There's actually quite a little bit more of climbing once you reach the 'sign' to get to the downhill frontage road back. But it just feels easier because the clock is off and you know you've deserved to slow the pace a bit.

I dropped off the back-side and started the 4 mile downhill to the parking lot where I had started. It had gotten a lot colder and was spitting rain, but it felt good to be turning my legs over quickly on the descent, knowing there were no more significant hills ahead of me. I rolled back to the parking lot 4 miles later at just about 2 hours for the whole run. I felt like a million dollars - having put a route behind me that I could proudly call a 'quality' run for the weekend - one that would make my 'day-off' on Monday guilt-free.

And I will be back to try and best that time and experience it all over again. But it won't be the same as that first 'run' up a mountain I grew to know so well on the bike.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

New Shoes!


I got 'new' running shoes this week. Well, new in the sense that they were a new pair of the exact same model I've been buying for the past two years. We runners tend to stay with the same model of shoe. It's not that we're superstitious or neurotic.... well, at least about shoes.... well, we are, but that's not the point.

My 'practical' point is, when you log a couple thousand miles per year on your feet, you tend to stay with what works. It actually took me a few different models to settle into the one I run in now (Pearl Izumi Synchropace III - size 11). I won't get into the process / reasons for this model - that wasn't my motivation for writing this. Instead, I wanted to share how much 'thought' we runners put into our shoes.

According to experts, running shoes typically last between 350 - 500 miles. This depends on a lot of things such as weight (lighter is better), running form (better form saves wear and tear on your body too!), conditions you run in (pavement, gravel, trails), whether they got wet (unavoidable) and if you ever throw them in the dryer (hint: DON'T! Let them air dry). Some people recommend rotating two pair as consecutive days don't allow the shoe to thoroughly dry and 'reset' their foam. (I experimented and didn't observe a difference).

I personally get about 450 miles out of a pair of shoes.That's almost a magical number (I keep track of my miles on a pair and when I start to feel those little aches and pains in my lower extremities after a long or fast run, I add up the miles and sure enough - right in the 430-470 ballpark. Every time. To add some more perspective, I run a pretty consistent average of about 50 miles per week. So every 9 weeks, I'm basically getting a new pair of shoes. For those of you that haven't already done the math in your head, that's about 5 pair or so a year.

It's not psychological wanting for a 'new' pair. They only come in like three colors and you'd be hard pressed to see the difference between my old pair and new pair as shoes break down well before they begin to look worn to a casual inspection. If they truly lasted forever, I'd wear them until they fell off my feet. I like it when shoes 'look' broken in. There's a charm to that - not to mention it would lessen the cost of running since shoes are the most costly part of the sport.

But despite the dulling homogenization of my running shoe updates, I still thoroughly enjoy running in a new pair of shoes. I never really notice (too much) the slow degradation of my previous pair. But when I put on that new pair and head out the door - I instantly can tell that the old pair was probably a few miles past it's lifespan.

I just *feel* faster in a new pair. I recover faster too with less aches and pains after the run. In the middle of all of it, I inevitably admonish myself for pushing the previous pair beyond it's prime and not putting them out to pasture sooner. But overall - I'm just happy to be running in a new pair of shoes. They definitely contribute to me Feelin' Mo' Kenyan.

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PS - Two side-bar thoughts might come to your mind when you read the above (aside from, "You know - I'll never get back the last 5 minutes of my life it took me to read this posting.")

Thought: Running seems like an expensive sport.

Answer: Not really as sports go. Consider that even adding in clothing (amortized over it's lifespan), my total cost per hour of running is about $2 / hour. I can't think of too many sports (or other diversions) that yield a lower cost per hour. (driving your car costs about $8 / hour). And the slower you run, the lower your cost per hour (but the more time you'll have to negotiate with your spouse / boss to cover the same distance).

Thought: What do you do with 5 pair of 'used' shoes every year

Answer: There actually a lot of organizations that take used shoes and depending on their ability to be worn either ship and distribute them to people in need throughout the world (http://www.soles4souls.org/, http://www.shoe4africa.org/ and others) and other organizations that accept not so pristine shoes to separate and grind up to create running tracks, weight room floors and playgrounds (http://www.nikereuseashoe.com/)

I also keep an old pair around the house for wearing as kick around shoes, doing yard work, etc. When these rotate out of that 'secondary' use they usually go to the latter (ground up for playgrounds) since that extended use truly 'wears them out'.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Beep...Beep!



So today was one of those days where I just felt fast and strong and have idea why. Maybe it was the decreased workload in the past few weeks. Maybe it was getting around 12 hours sleep the night before (thanks Paige!). Nutrition? Weather? State of Mind? My own mind swims when I'm running well, trying to figure out what I did right. It's like on Thanksgiving, when we give our dog a big pile of turkey scraps in her bowl and I imagine her little brain is swimming with the question, "OK, WHAT WAS I DOING RIGHT BEFORE I GOT THIS? THINK DAMMIT - THINK!"

Maybe it's just a trick our bodies play on us from time to time. Just to keep us in the game. Or just to mess with us. Ultimately I don't care. I'm just grateful when those days happen.

Yesterday I got new road cycling shoes. I hadn't replaced my shoes in like 15 years. The old ones were so old school. Flexible and none of the whiz-bang stuff they put into today's shoes. My new shoes were designed by Andy Pruitt - and have things like FACT carbon fiber, body geometry design, a varus wedge and metatarsal buttons. I don't know what any of those are, but my old shoes just had a buckle. But despite all the marketing mumbo-jumbo, there is something to them. I put them on and went for a ride and zowie - they sure performed. I felt like my shin was connected directly to my crank arms. The bike just flowed under me like it was part of me. I took off like a bullet, sailed up hills and basically felt like there was an engine inserted deep into the frame somewhere. No pain and all gain.

Today I went for a 12 miler through Bear Creek with my favorite running partner - the dog of Thanksgiving Day fame from above. I was hauling. I felt strong, fast and fluid. Like a runner should feel. The dog was not just trotting along with her mouth closed in the insulting way she usually accompanies me. Nope. She was having to lope, and was panting most of the way. When we got home, she laid down on the floor and went to sleep. I had 'spent' her. Something not easy to do as we've often speculated that our dog is the result of some freakish genetic shelter experiment that blended a cheetah and a rocket sled in a swimming pool size petri dish and then crammed the resulting DNA strands into a sleek and compact 35 pound unit that is our dog, Indy. It's not often that I can tire her out, and I felt good about myself for having accomplished that today.

So why was I fast yesterday and today? Was it just some collision of hard work and hormonal timing that led to an 'abracadabra' moment? Who knows. I was just happy to string a couple of those days together.

Beep.... beep.... the coyote's got nothin' on me today!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Running and Playing



I love this time of year. With the fall marathon behind me, and the 20+ weeks of focus, training, schedule, 20 milers, nutrition, etc. all behind that, it's nice to get out and remember the most important reason why I run. It's fun!

That isn't to say that I'm now just sitting on the couch, drinking Pepsi out of the 2 liter bottle and eating M&M's out of that 'Hefty' trash bag size they sell at Costco (don't ask how I know of such things). I still watch my nutrition and am getting out there and exercising. But there's just less structure to it - especially the running part. It's more 'playing' with running. Enjoying the fitness I built up over the year and feeling like my 3 year old must feel when he runs full speed into the armchair, rolling over the soft padded leather arm, his body twisting in a way that would send me to the ER. Laughing the whole time.

On Saturday, having run out of time during the day, I decided to commute on my road bike to my friend's house for his poker night. It was dark half-way through my ride to his house, and completely dark at 10:30pm when I left for the 17 mile ride home. Light strapped the front, full moon in the crisp fall air. I was absolutely loving the freedom from the steel encasement that I travel in most of the week. Flying through the park, I disturbed a coyote's pursuit of a rabbit. I felt good about that, as did the rabbit. Sorry coyote.

On Sunday my buddy and I met for a trail run in Bear Creek. Leaves falling, cool air, no agenda. We just set out to run 5 or so miles at a pace we could have a conversation at. We talked the whole time, about running, about family, about nothing in general. We played around on some hills, running up and down them with different techniques. Playing to see what worked, what didn't. We meandered through the orange leaf covered trails, with only a general sense of which direction we wanted to head next. For someone that spends 99% of their time running alone, it's a real treat to run with friends.

It's also nice once in a while to 'rest on your laurels' of all the hard work we've put in through the year. It reminds us that the race itself is just a test. The real learning our bodies do is in the months leading up to the race. I read an article that said that most marathon training programs (purposefully)keep the athlete slightly fatigued all the time in a fine balancing act to maximize the training response (blah, blah, blah..). It's nice to back down the training stress to the point where we 'feel' fast and springy.

Of course there is the eventual guilt that sinks in. Yesterday work took over my entire day / evening and I didn't get out for a planned run. While I mentally gave myself the 'pass', emotionally, I felt that I was slacking off and being lazy. And this only 10 days since the marathon. Something tells me my 3 year old doesn't fret too much that he hasn't launched over the arm of the chair in a day or so.

We adults are a funny bunch. We need to remember to run and play.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

2010 Denver Marathon - Course Highlights



So this was the first year Denver was an 'official' Rock and Roll marathon. The change was for the better. Don't get me wrong, the 'old' Denver Marathon (which I've run three times) was really nice. But the addition of a larger production increased the crowd size as well as the amenities.

The start area was about the same, except this year they had more formal corrals based on an 'honor' system of submitting your predicted finish time before hand. Enforcement wasn't heavy handed - so I'm not sure if it changed much - although I suspect awareness probably does have an impact. I definitely didn't feel as bunched up as last year in the early part - but even the bunching of years past wasn't terrible and it opened up with plenty of the 26.2 to go!

The on course bands were 'ok' - it really was frustrating to a lot of us that many of them were either playing 'lame / slow / depressing' music (not 'Rock 'N Roll') - which isn't conducive to running, but also many were taking breaks or just putting in a half effort. To me - if you sign up to play the event, then put forward the effort. I'm sure there are lots of bands that would like to do it.

Big shout out to the band playing 'unofficially' on the lawn of a house on the West side of Wash. They were there last year too and they were better this year. But mostly, like last year they were 'fun' and 'enthusiastic'. Great job guys!!

The water / feed stations were excellent. I actually took my own bottle for the first 8 miles to avoid the melee that is the first few aid stations, but honestly probably could have hit mile 4 or 5 and not been in too much of a cluster-frag. I just liked having my own 'sauce' for a bit (Cytomax Fruit Punch if you care to know).

Luckily I didn't have to 'stop off' anywhere, but the porto's were 'there' on the course. As usual there could have been more porta potties at the start (in Paige's words - figure out how many you think you'll need, then double it). But it wasn't terrible.

The after event was nice. Good chute funneling you out. Good commentating at the end. Food / water handouts had a few choices - so that's nice. Very well organized.

Family meeting areas were a nice touch with letter placards of last names which made it easy for Paige and I to find each other after the race. She ran the 8 mile first leg of the relay with 'Mommy Mayhem'. btw - she found out later that pop culture seems to 'misuse' the word 'Mayhem' - it actually means specifically dismemberment.

The beer tent was nice - but they ran out of beer. Luckily we were there early enough to be quenched.

All in all, nice course, great organization!!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Denver Marathon 2010

So my goal was to run a sub-3:10 (which means I needed to run an average pace of 7:14 or better). I figured that was a stretch as in the weeks prior I seemed to be more likely able to turn a 3:15. But I figured I'd rather try and fade in this race, than run a solid 3:15 and wonder.

So out I went. At City Park and 8 miles in, things felt good and I was turning smooth 7:12's. I decided to check in with my body at 16 as that is usually a good indicator for me of where things are at.

As I rounded into Wash Park at mile 16 I could feel that I only had maybe had only another 5 miles in me at that pace. I decided if I went for broke, then bad things would probably happen around mile 21. I've never DNF'd a race so I decided to ratchet back and put in a solid race instead. Which I did. I finished strong, but had nothing left after the finish line.

Stats were good: 3:18:58 which placed me 12th / 181 in my division. 139th / 1581 men marathoners. Overall I was happy and had a great day of racing.

More on the course and event later. I'm hitting the hay.