Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Most Interesting Runner in the World

  • He once ran a marathon backwards, just to see what it looked like to finish in second place.*
  • Going forward, he is the only man allowed to pace Paula Radcliffe in world record attempts – mostly because the IAAF is afraid to tell him otherwise.
  • He doesn't care what P-Diddy’s marathon time was.
  • He doesn't wear a RoadID bracelet. Because he never runs into trouble and everyone knows who he is.
  • He doesn't wear a GPS, because wherever he is, is the perfect place to be.
  • Even his minimalist shoes provide a soft, cushioned feel on his long runs. Not that he needs it.
  • Out of respect, the wind always blows at his back. Unless *he* wants a head-wind. What, you thought that perfectly coiffed hair happens all by itself?
  • Actually – it does.
  • He has run with ultra-runners Dean Karnazes and Scott Jurek on their long runs;  on the same day; separately.
  • If you ran with him, you would not wear an iPod. Because his breathing and foot-falls sound like a chorus of angels. Angels that could sing you a lullaby and pace you into the dirt at the same time.
  • His post workout running clothes smell like a fine double malt scotch airing in a sandalwood forest breeze with just a hint of myrrh. You heard me.
  • He doesn't wear sunscreen. His skin is naturally SPF 10,000. He remains perfectly tanned year round.
  • His after run stretching routine consists of reaching into the upper cabinet to retrieve the martini glasses and downwards to get the cocktail shaker. He does not always drink beer.
  • Boston qualified for him.
  • He never brings a water bottle on a long run. When he becomes slightly parched, it rains – ever so gently.
  • On his off days, he does Yoga to stay limber. ‘Yoga’ being the beautiful Indonesian super-model that lives in his village. Yoga is in fact the only reason he takes ‘off’ days from running.
Stay Thirsty My Friends. And Run Fast.

*Credit where credit is due. This one was an official commercial and it got me thinking... the rest are originals.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Top 10 Ways Running in China is Different than in the US

My friend Katy ( suggested that I write something along the lines of this. To be honest, I hadn't really thought lately about the differences in experiences of running in China vs running in the US. I've been traveling out there for some time on a regular basis, so I guess I've just gotten used to the differences and don't really think too much about them.

In some regards, there really aren't any differences. I mean, you put on your shoes, head out the door, and plod down the sidewalk, path or street. The 'movement' of running is exactly the same, except that you're running 'upside down' when compared to the US... or is it us that runs upside down here? Hmmm....

But there are differences in preparation, during the run and even the experiences around you (people, terrain, etc.)

1. You have to think ahead about water. Water out of the tap is not really drinkable. We take that for granted in the US. I always have bottled water (like 5 liter jugs of it) in the hotel room. The four little complimentary bottles they give me in my room every day don't cut it when it comes to my water usage - especially for long runs. I do always wonder if the stores though just fill up those bottles from the tap anyway. Best not to think about it.

2. There really aren't restrooms available on the run. Unlike in the US, where you have porta-potties in parks and along trails - there aren't as many of these on the routes I run. There are a few in the parks I pass through, but it's hit and miss as to whether they are open when you need them. It's probably a little more acceptable to take a 'non-facility' potty break (I see people doing it from time to time in some of the fields and ditches on the sides of the roads) - but it's a last resort for me. I don't have the language skills to explain myself to a property owner if I picked the wrong spot.

3. Traffic and streets are not runner friendly and almost deserve their own blog post because it is one of the most complex and different aspects of getting around in China - and especially running. I don't run in the street and traffic in China is akin to what would happen if you took a bunch of New Yorkers, had them smoke crack and then told them they had to get to the other side of town in 1/2 the time it should normally take. I compare crossing through China traffic as a pedestrian akin to stepping into the business end of a particle accelerator. Traffic moves in every direction, at speeds that are well above those posted. Lines on the road, signals, rights-of-way - these are all simply 'suggestions'. Buses have the right of way over pedestrians, and although pedestrians have the right of way over cars - I wouldn't push the issue. You'd end up getting clipped. Eye contact is non existent. In fact, the surest way to intimidate a driver that is encroaching on your crosswalk is to look right into his eyes. They won't return the gaze, but sometime they'll stop encroaching. Luckily I only have a few streets to cross on my morning runs to get to the long river path. On the way out, it's early enough that traffic is very light. On the way back, they at least now have traffic cops putting some order to the intersections and ensuring pedestrians don't just get plowed over. I make a point of always crossing in the middle of a throng of pedestrians. Part school of fish approach to looking bigger / part physics - the car will hit several pedestrians before me, shedding some of it's momentum. Yes, that's morbid, but I've thought about it. It's survival instinct. Finally, my peripheral vision has gotten exceptional walking and running around China streets all these years. And when I'm there it's super-charged. I notice it when I return to the US. I notice things out of the corners of my eyes that I usually don't notice. Ok, enough of that one.

4. You should be prepared to be stared at. Not just when running, but especially unnerving is when standing in a group of pedestrians waiting to cross. I've had 7 or 10 people just turn and stare right at me, looking me up or down. They don't mean anything by it, it's culturally more accepted to stare like that I think. I just smile or ignore it. I imagine it's what being a celebrity feels like - so I'll go with that.

5. You don't blend in. At 6'1" and dressed in running clothes, I'm one of those things that's 'not like the other' in China. It's impossible for me to blend in like I can traveling domestically or even in Europe. People know I'm not from there. Once I was running on a rainy morning and stumbled on a loose paver stone. I went out the front door, did a complete shoulder roll and came back up on my feet to keep running - almost in one complete move. I got stared at, but nobody said a word. I wouldn't have blamed them actually if they had laughed - I'm sure it looked pretty funny to see this giant go down in an uncoordinated mess - but that's not the way there. It was almost as if nothing happened - except for the staring.

6. When I first started running years ago, you didn't see other runners. There weren't many Westerner's in the locale I'm in and the Chinese didn't run. Since the Olympics, running has become more popular as a way to keep fit and healthy. I now see more runners that are Chinese running, both in running gear as well as street gear or jogging suits. I wave, sometimes they wave back and smile. There's a bond there I think between all runners. Of course the Chinese still haven't warmed up to running in crappy weather. I've gotten some strange looks from people that 'have' to be out in the cold rain (commuting or working). It's a look of, "Uhhmm... it's raining. What are you doing out here? Are you ok? Did you have a head injury?". I should say I used to get those looks in Michigan a lot and I'll get them in other areas of the country. Not in Colorado. We all understand here. The looks exchanged are more, "Awesome isn't it dude? It's so freakin' crappy!!!"

7. It can be very humid and hot. Look, I've run in Houston, Miami, Atlanta and throughout the South in the dead of summer. While it doesn't get as hot in Hangzhou as in say Tucson in the middle of the day (I once went running there in 115 degree weather and the only living thing I saw was a scorpion) - NONE of the places in the US have higher perceived humidity than south China. Sorry, it's not. Don't even try to argue with me until you've gone. You'll see. It's more than the fact that you can come back from a run, go fully clothed right into the shower and not get any wetter. You get super-saturated. But the fall and even the winter are fairly nice and can even get chilly. And I always run very early, so I avoid the heat of the day.

8. Air quality is something I get asked a lot about. You know, it's definitely worse than in the US, but in the mornings, running along the breezy river - the air is just fine. I'm pretty sensitive to poor air quality. Sometimes my throat will get sore or my eyes a little red, but overall I'd say I don't notice most days. Mid-day is probably worse - not just from the cars, coal plants and such, but also from the construction dust. They are always building EVERYWHERE there - so there is more of that. And some cities are much worse than others. I've been to Jinan, Shanghai and Beijing - and all can be worse - although parts of Shanghai seem to stay pretty clear due to the winds and proximity to the ocean. Anyway, it's rarely an issue because again - I run in the very early morning.

9. Treadmills use the metric system on the displays. I have a pace converter on my phone though. It's hard to do that math in your head (I can go from KM to miles, but doing miles per hour to KM / hour is tough for me to do in my head). The good news is that just like in the US, most hotel gyms are empty - or if someone is on the treadmill, they are unlikely to last more than 15 minutes (both there and here). It's universal.

10. While nutrition isn't really running per say, it's an important difference and a challenge in China. The food is good - but it's restaurant food - so you're challenged to ensure you're eating right. In the US there are more options that I use when traveling domestically, but in China - not as much. I generally bring some staple foods like Kind nutrition bars, a special oatmeal mix of oatmeal / raisins / almonds and brown sugar. Big bag of it. I also get a couple of the dehydrated meals from REI. They are surprisingly good and there is some welcome familiarity to them by the end of the first week.

Anyway - those are the main things I can think of. If you want to experience a video tour of one of my runs, I posted one a while back here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Inflation.... the good kind

On my most recent visit to my massage therapist, I got to try out the latest in sports recovery. You may have heard about this being used heavily during Le Tour de France.

It's basically a pair of boots that go from foot to hip - or in my case, upper thigh - that are hooked up to an air pump. The contraption then inflates the boots to compress the muscles in your legs. One of the programs starts at the ankles and moves up the leg. Other programs simply inflate the whole leg boot. The program I was on was the former.

The theory is the same as around compression socks and tights, only taken to a more significant level. Compression of the muscles after a difficult effort is purported to help with circulation, which in turn aids recovery. They keep blood from pooling in the lower extremities. It's been used for years to treat medical conditions related to problems around circulation and there is some medical evidence to suggest this works well for athlete's and recovery for the same reasons. There was a good blog post I found on this subject here.

Anecdotally, I've noticed that wearing compression sleeves on my calves after tough workouts, does seem to help them avoid some of the achy-ness a day or so later (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness - DOMS). In fact the three most significant rituals that have really helped speed my long run recoveries have been:

1. Substantive and balanced recovery drink within the 30 minute 'glycogen' window after a sustained, tough effort. During that window, your body absorbs carbohydrates at a rate that is 3x (300%) higher than normal. This is part of calorie timing.

2. Ice bath - you get used to it, and it really does work. Sitting in the tub with cold water and 5lb of ice cubes floating around you. Hint - wear a sweatshirt and read the paper to pass the time.

3. Compression sleeves on my calves until the next morning. I haven't yet tried the full tights - might be a little unwieldy.

There are some suggestions that compression can help with performance as well, but the evidence there is more spotty. I do notice a difference wearing compression tights on recovery runs, but they actually seem to inhibit me a little in trying to run fast.

Pneumatic compression pictured above is a much more active form of compression and certainly, you'd have a tough time running with those big boots on, carrying the vacuum pump along with you. These are purely for recovery and again, they have some pretty strong medical data and usage behind them prior to athletes strapping them on.

So how was the experience?

Well, it was right after a sport massage, so the compression on the muscles felt good. Like someone with VERY big hands pushing the muscle and tissue towards my upper body to kind of finish them off in a massage kind of way. In that regard they were kind of an amplified version of what a massage therapist does towards the end of a massage. There were a couple times when it felt like it was going to pass over the threshold of too much pressure and some pain, but it always backed off right before that. The setting I was using was 10/10 - so that's to be expected.

Right afterwards my legs felt better than they usually feel after a massage. And that lasted at least until the next morning. In short, they seemed to help 'recover' from the massage.

I had a tough pacing run the next day. On that I didn't really notice any difference from the previous days session. Granted, it's tough to pull apart all those different things (recovering from China travel, workout two days prior, massage, compression, weather conditions (it was cold out), etc).

So the jury is out on whether the pneumatic compression is worth it. My massage therapist hasn't decided how much he would charge for a session like that, or how he even wants to work it into his practice. I was just one of his data points / experiments.

I do think my current rituals around recovery seem to be working pretty well. And massage about every 4-6 weeks definitely helps to keep things loosened up during training season too. But I probably won't be dropping the $750 bucks or so for the home version of the big moon boots any time soon.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Long Time... Long Runs...

So I realize it's been weeks and weeks since I posted anything. Chalk it up to being out of the country in China, traveling to see my daughter up in college in Arcata, CA, Halloween - and then of course trying to catch up at work from all of that.

But I've been able to run quite a bit still and to the schedule for the upcoming CA International Marathon on 12/4.

This time of training has been peppered with the 'truly' long runs. Everyone has a different definition of a 'long run' - for me, it's any run over 14 miles. To properly race a marathon, you've gotta have several 20+ mile runs under your belt, just so the distance isn't really an issue and you can focus on going fast.

Today was I think my 5th 20+ mile run (22 miles). The last 22 mile run was a couple weeks ago while I was in Hangzhou, China. That run was one of those runs I just had a wonderful time on and really appreciated the whole thing. It was cool and rainy. I started while it was still dark out so I could get in the mileage. The rain was that light, misting rain. Running along the river, nobody is up yet. It really is a wonderful, contemplative time. The rain keeps you inside yourself quite a bit so to speak. Then on the way back, the city is coming to life. It's such a great feeling to be running those last couple miles back knowing that you've already accomplished about 3 hours of running. And it was the first 18+ mile run where I felt strong throughout the distance.

Same with today. The weather was absolutely beautiful and perfect running weather. Nice cool fall day, 48-52 degrees throughout, sunny. I ran from the Aspen Grove shopping center (which happens to be a light rail stop). Ran up the wandering, dirt path of the Highline Canal Trail, north about 10 miles to the Dry Creek cutoff. From there I made my way over to the Platte and then headed north to downtown Denver. Once I got downtown, I hopped on the light rail train for a 20 minute ride back to my car.

Timing wise, everything worked out perfectly. I just had missed a train, so I got to stretch out after my run for about 20 minutes until the next one arrived. I felt 'good' tired, but not exhausted. I would equate how I felt to how I felt running a 12 mile run earlier in the year. That's a great confidence booster, to know you've built up to the distance properly. Miles 15-20 were to be run at Marathon Pace (MP) - which for me was a target of 6:55. I got that no problem through mile 4, but mile 5 was more like 7:10 or so. Could be a lot of reasons for that. It was a little hilly, slight headwind, still recovering from my travel, too much wine last night :-) Still, I was so happy at how I felt after and how I feel right now. Tomorrow morning will be an easy 4mi shake-out jog, but mostly a day off.

Long runs are really enjoyable, but once you're in the home stretch before the marathon, and you've done a lot of them, I have to really rally mentally to get out there. For me, it's mostly the time away from my family. But today was a little easier knowing that at best I have one more really long run (maybe) next weekend..... well, I have another on 12/4 - but that's a little different :-)

Then it's on to relaxing and running easy probably through year end. Hopping on the snowboard, the holidays - really nice to be thinking about all that.

Oh - today was the NYC Marathon. I watched the live coverage. It's such a 'human' race - there are so many great stories out there and the coverage is usually really in depth. I'm leaning towards running it next year (2012). I actually qualify for a guaranteed entry based on my 1/2 marathon finishing times. For 2013 they are going to drop the qualifying time to way tougher than Boston - 1:26 for the 1/2 and 2:58 for the marathon (in my age group). I think I can probably hit those next year - but it would be nice to not have to worry about it and just run it in 2012. We'll see - it's a ways off.

It's funny, I've been doing a lot of thinking of my racing calendar for next year already! Sheesh! I think it's a good sign though; mentally I'm not burned out on racing. But I do need a break!!