Thursday, May 31, 2012

Running is *ABSOLUTELY NOT* Bad for You


75 years old and FAST!

When someone; even a doctor tells you that running is bad for your knees, hips, etc. You can refer them to any one of a number of fact based studies that have been actually done on this subject.

For example, one is referenced here in an NPR article: 
http://www.npr.org/2011/03/28/134861448/put-those-shoes-on-running-wont-kill-your-knees

And another study by Standord University:
http://med.stanford.edu/news_releases/2008/august/running.html

And then there's this one: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2556152/

There have been other studies as well and more continue to come to light that show the benefits of running not only outweigh the downside of running, but that the downsides of running have been FAR overstated to a point of being folklore instead of rooted in any basis of facts or actual data.

Many people (including doctors) operate under a false set of myths, perpetuated in spite of these such data. Many doctors themselves, don't live healthy lifestyles - nor are they qualified in areas of sport's medicine or holistic preventive care. (For example: I recently told a doctor I knew that I was slightly sick because over the past couple of days, I felt a decreased aerobic function when running up a flight of stairs or pushing hard in my workouts. He told me I had life-long asthma and wanted to prescribe an inhaler. I'm currently looking for another doctor.

The FACT is that long time runners (that have done it 'right') have FAR lower rates of 'lifestyle' type health issues (heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, etc.), higher bone mass and muscle mass retention with aging, AND actually have been shown to have LESS degenerative issues with connective and cushioning tissue than sedentary people.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bolder Boulder PR :-)

I ran my second Bolder Boulder this past Memorial Day. I felt I ran a strong race. I did some race planning so I knew where the recovery downhills were and stayed 'present' in each mile, especially on the places where I could make time. Set up for the turns well (except for one) and stuck to my pace plan.

Ran an official 41:11 - which was 1:38 faster than my time last year and a 10K PR by 40 seconds!

That put me 6th in my division (vs 15th last year over about the same size field).

Boulder is one of those races that I had wanted to run for a long time, but something always came up.

It used to start in front of my apartment complex when I was going to grad school at CU back in 1987, but I wasn't a runner then. Then over the years, I always thought, "Wow, that would be such a cool race to run" - but I just never seemed to make it happen.

Finally last year I ran it - and I absolutely loved it. It's such a well run event and the course is lined with really energetic spectators. And I freakin' love the course. It's a hilly course with a net elevation gain. One of the most brutalizing hills is the final climb up Folsom to the stadium entrance. I know this sounds sick and wrong, but I love an uphill racing finish; cycling or running - it doesn't matter. I like it because it thins the herd. You find out who really wants to suffer for it.

I know I left it all on the course, because coming around that last 200m on the track in Folsom field, I was getting pretty worried about hurling. I passed the finish line and hung over the rail with about 4 other guys; dry heaving. I held it together - which is better than some of the other guys that were grabbing garbage cans and tossing cookies. I just kept my head high, breathing in fresh air, thinking of butterflies and grassy meadows - like yawning, yacking seems to be contagious. I suspect there is a lot of yacking going on in those early waves.

Thankfully, the other sights and sounds of the race are a little more pleasant (well, except for a couple of guys running in Speedos). There are folks dressed in costumes (both in the race and spectating). There's the slip and slide (which one guy from my wave deftly dove through and popped up running without missing a beat - we all cheered), and the spectator on the first real hill that tempts runners with the bowl of Doritos, insisting it's perfect racing fuel (I didn't see any takers).

The only downside is that my wave goes off pretty early. It's the second wave and goes off at 7:01 - so when we get to the stadium, it's not as packed as the later waves get to see - I think there are like 90+ waves). But it's nice to get done early in cool temps and no wind. Perfect racing weather.

That afternoon, Paige and I slipped out for a pool swim. Man did that feel great - but not as great as the celebratory margaritas that night! Nature's pain killer.

Next up is my first triathlon this Sunday. I feel ready and am pretty excited!! I even already signed up for another one on 6/30 - and yes; it has lots of hills :-)))))

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hypothermia

Yesterday I commuted on my bike. The morning ride in was absolutely beautiful. The afternoon was supposed to be pretty nice too, so I didn't bother to bring a jacket.

When I left work it was raining. During my 20mi commute home, it rained harder and harder and the temperature dropped to around 50 degrees. All I was wearing was a short sleeved jersey and shorts. I had stopped and put on an extra running shirt I had, but that was it.

I haven't had hypothermia on a workout in a while, but within four miles from home, it had clearly set in. The world becomes surreal, you recognize that you are cold, but the 'feeling' of cold subsides a bit. You can actually ride a bit faster - I suspect because you don't feel your legs, or at least the neural impulses are traveling slower. At one point I imagined the winds as being warm, ocean breezes. I swear they felt that way. I visualized the sun being out - or the 90 degree heat from the previous night's track session.

By the time I got home, I had lost a bit of coordination and my words were slurred a bit. I got into a hot shower, threw on some warm clothes and crawled under the covers for about 1/2 hour.

So why didn't I sag out? That's a good question. It was one of those rides where I just kept thinking, "You know. I'm uncomfortable, but still ok" until I was so close to home I just wanted to be home instead of waiting for a ride. Moving felt better than standing still.

I think there is some value in being miserable once in a while on a run or ride. It toughens you mentally and you can draw on that in a race. Yesterday though was a bit too far and by no means do I advocate getting hypothermia or heat stroke to 'toughen' up. It just kind of ended up there. And I was dumb for not being prepared. With a good rain jacket, it would have just been 'fun' miserable instead of 'dangerous' miserable.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How I came to be a runner....

I've started reading "Iron Wars" - which is the epic story of the start of the sport of triathlon and one of the most significant rivalries in the sport between Dave Scott and Mark Allen, specifically around the 1989 World Championship.

But it's so much more than that. It's an inspiring book to any endurance athlete. For us, it creates a sense of normalcy. It makes us feel like were not freaks - like there are others - lots of others that understand. Others of our own kind that thrive in the community of suffering because it makes us feel alive and present. Reading it creates a 'happy place' for me. It's like being that 'Englishman in New York' that Sting talks about. Wandering around the corner and finding a proper pub. Feeling that there are others like you. Lots of others like you.

Reading it tonight at dinner (off traveling again in yet another city - feeling a little like a cast-away) - I remembered a bit I wrote a while back that talks about the transition I made from someone that ran occasionally to stay in shape in the off season from cycling to someone that truly loves running. It's from almost 3 years ago, and a lot has happened since then - but the path has remained the same, and my love (and understanding) of running has grown as well.

Maybe it's the book. Maybe it's being away from home. Or maybe just the wine from dinner, but I'm feeling nostalgic and teary eyed about how much I love being a runner - and for that matter an endurance athlete.

So here you go!

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So this is the reflective story of how I came to be a runner.

I never intended to be a runner. Running had always just been something I’d do in the off season from cycling or to fill the gaps in time when traveling. Back then, I didn’t feel like a runner. I felt like a cyclist that stumbled in a forward direction occasionally. Remember the episode on Friends where Phoebe ran? That’s how I felt; arms flailing, clomping along, heart pounding and pain everwhere. I felt like a clod, masquerading as a runner. No structure, and in fact; I don't think I even enjoyed it. It was just something to do when I got sick of riding the bike all summer and needed to get in shape for snowboarding season. I'd start up in the fall and ramp up to three runs of about 4 miles each during the fall and winter.  I never really thought out my pace or form. I just ran. The pain of that first mile never seemed to subside.

I didn't *get* running and I looked at serious runners in the way most people probably do. They were  freaks ;-)

That was the story in Chicago when I was traveling out there. Just something to pass the time and keep from getting fat – which is the natural outcome of weekly travel if you leave your body to it’s own devices.

Then one day, I decided to try to run 6 miles. I was amazed that I completed that and felt elated. It HURT for days.  But I kept at it. Pretty soon I was running 7 miles, then 8 - every other morning.

My first goal setting was to register for the Denver half marathon in 2007. I remember the first time I ran 12 miles. Oh my god - I was hanging on like grim death on that last 2 miles. I thought - ok, I can probably make 13 miles someday. It will get easier. And it did - a little.

Sadly though, my first half marathon never happened. I had my race bib and gear all ready to go for that morning but I woke up to a steady rain and sub 40 degree temps. AND it was dark. Now - I will run in ANY twosome combination of the three ‘crap-parameters’ (rain, cold and dark) - but all three in spades is as RIGHT OUT as counting to 5 or 6 with the holy hand grenade. So I skipped it. Gasp! In cycling, I never had even DNF’d (Did Not Finish). Not once. But here was the start to my serious running, “Uhhh… .yeah…… no… not going out there…”

But I repented and soon was signed up for the full marathon the following year (2008). I got more serious and downloaded training plans, tweaking them to suite my schedule and ability. The first time I saw that the plan called for running three days in a row I was skeptical. And the first few times I tried it - man that was not a great experience. But I kept at it, and pretty soon, I was looking forward to the feeling of starting off with a little stiffness, and feeling it evaporate as my muscles warmed.

I bought new running shoes and tracked my mileage against them, replacing them at 400-500 miles. (btw - I learned that shoes wear out WAYYYY before the soles do, and new shoes do wonders for your joints). I subscribed to Runner's World and read Gallaways book on running. I read blogs and kept diligently to my training plan. I bought a GPS training watch, which gave me the freedom to explore routes and still stick to my mileage for the day. It kept me honest on my pace and I didn’t need a track to do speed-work. And, on two occasions, it helped me find the hotel again in a strange city when I wandered off course and was frantically trying to get back for a morning meeting (Mode->Navigation->Find Waypoint (hotel))

And somewhere, in all that immersion, I started to feel like a runner. Not a jogger, not a poser - a real runner. I would get into a rhythm and feel my legs just passing under me, like a little engine on autopilot. I started to watch the Kenyans with awe and tried to visualize their fluid, gazelle like movements as I ran. And ok, I still ran more like a mountain goat that snarfed some bad mushrooms, but it was a vast improvement. I watched running on TV - and it was exciting!

In the Denver Marathon last year, I made the classic rookie mistake. I went out like a shot and paid for it halfway through. My theory of going out fast, accumulate a 'buffer' of time and then coast later in the race, fell flat in the face of physiology. I've since learned that the body just doesn't work that way.

In that race, I hit the 'wall' at mile 21. People used to tell me about the ‘wall’ and I’d scoff at them with a knowing smile. Hey, I've raced bikes and bonked really hard. I've dehydrated on long rides and in the back-country. I've hiked 17 miles up to over 14,000 feet and felt the effects of altitude (headache, dizziness and disorientation).  At the top of a Mt. Evans climb on my bike, my speech was slurring and a dropped glove looked to be down in a canyon below me instead of resting next to my foot.

I've even seen Elvis on the Colorado Trail. It was on one particularly nasty climb where I was trying to put the hurt on my buddy Chris. My vision tunneled, blacking out everything outside of a paper towel sized tube in front of me. As I crested the top, the King was there, sitting on a rock, eating some peach cobbler (he was the ‘fat’ Elvis version). He smiled as I passed and I waved. It seemed normal. Now *that* is bonking.

BUT - NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING compares to the WALL in running.

It took more determination than I've ever had to muster to break through it. And once I broke through, all was good. I limped through the last miles to a 3:58:21 - beating my goal of sub-four hours. I got teary eyed at the finish line. I had run my first marathon. I hadn't quit. The mantra that kept me going was one that I had read somewhere;

"There will come a day when you can no longer do this. Today is not that day"

That year leading up to the marathon and that day literally changed my life. Or more accurately, it created a fundamental change in me and how I looked at running. It was now my friend. I belonged wading in its’ waters. I wasn't a clod or a pretender. I was a runner and had every right to call myself one.  I even put a "Marathoner" bumper sticker on my car.

The truth is, I had this right all along - we all do. Running is something we were born to do. Just watch children. They absolutely LOVE to run. They laugh and run until they fall over. They don't have GPS watches or run negative splits. They can't tell you what pace they run at and their morning ‘loop’ is around the kitchen table – like 50 times.  They just do it because it's fun. Why it took me 4 decades to rediscover that love, I'll never understand.

And people I work with are genuinely baffled when they see me running all the time. They can't understand how that could be fun. But it is. It's liberating and simple and primal. It lights up those neural pathways that used to illuminate daily when we were children. I run and feel free. I run and feel resolved. I get to leave all the tension and stress and angst on the pavement as it passes under my feet. I get back to the office and I feel like I’ve taken Percocet. I love everyone.

My absolute favorite runs are early on the weekend. I leave the house with the dog while everyone is sleeping. I get to see the sunrise. I hold the dog back from chasing the prairie dogs and the rabbits. And when I get back to the house a couple hours later, Paige and the kids are all awake and I get to walk into this home buzzing with life. We make pancakes and I feel like I could live in that moment for the rest of my life and be happy.

In May I ran the Colfax Marathon at 3:36:59. It was great to be faster, but really the time wasn't as important to me as how I felt during that race. I felt strong and I loved every mile. Don't get me wrong - it was uncomfortable at times. But the elation I felt at being able to 'manage' that discomfort, turned it from an indicator light of 'pain' to one of 'being alive'. The last few miles I put on some ‘fast’ music and was able to just open up, flying down the street with a graceful stride. People were cheering and I felt like I belonged there; in the last few miles of a marathon. In the last ½ mile, the Eddie Vedder song, Big Heart Sun came on and I was so jazzed up by it. I crossed the finish line and was greeted by Paige, all the kids. Paige’s dad had even come up to watch. How great is it to finish a marathon, leaving not one bit of angst or stress in your body, and stumble into the arms of the people that you love and adore?

And now I'm running towards Denver again this fall. Hopefully on my way to qualify for Boston. I need to run a 3:30 plus change to qualify in my age group. After than, maybe London (3:15 or better). Now I know what you’re thinking. Ah, see – you are running to an objective, to a goal. But here’s proof that it’s not about the end goal in running. I’m only running a couple marathons a year, and you only feel the elation of hitting your goal pace for maybe a day or two after the race. But the work to get there is 6 months. That’s 26 weeks of about 40-50 miles per week. That’s almost 1200 miles. 170 some hours of running. There’s got to be some joy in the process, not just the goal to keep me motivated right?

In the end, I don't think a goal diminishes the joy of running. I’m really just chasing something because it’s fun to chase things. I mentioned before that we were made to run. Well, we were also made to chase things too. Watch children again. Kids love to chase things. In fact Luke runs fastest when he’s chasing the dog around the kitchen table.

Chasing something makes it that much more fun to run.

Wish me luck!!

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Postscript: So I did qualify for and ran Boston in April of 2010. And I've continued to improve my marathon time to my most recent in December of 2012 at the California International where I ran a 3:10:51. I am now hoping to run a 3:05 or better in Chicago and someday a sub-3 hour marathon. I also continue to love running and am now starting to see triathlon as a way to get back to racing my bike as well. If I could just stop sinking to the bottom of the pool during my swim workouts :-D

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Best 'Natural' Pain Killer

I've said it before - I avoid NSAID's (i.e. Motrin, IB Profen, etc.) like other toxins. They have their place, but not if you're just feeling a little (or even a lot) sore. Sarge says, "Get over it you mamby pamby whine fest"

But my favorite post hard effort pain killer - tequila; preferably mixed in the perfect margarita. Yes, you heard me. Perfect. I've searched high and low. I've tried every 'magical' recipe and concoction. But here is the real deal. Don't even argue - I'll ignore you. I've ingested enough tequila in my lifetime to have the street cred on this one. Bugger off.


2oz (good) tequila - I use Corazon Repisado or Patron - but there are others. And Blanco is fine too, but I like the oak-y taste and since I don't drink a lot of these, I splurge.
3/4 oz Cointreau. Put back the Triple-Sec... absolutely not.... step away...
3/4 oz fresh squeezed lime juice (put back the Mr. T's mix - it's made from bat urine. Really. It is)
1/4 oz (or to taste) Agave nectar

The Agave nectar is key.

I have one of these the evening after a long run. Maybe once a month. And all my aches and pains just melt away. God bless the agave plant.

And sorry - the lime juice doesn't count as a 'fruit serving'

Swim / Bike / Run

So I've been backing into being a triathlete for a while now. I mean; I already have a lot of years cycling and racing bikes behind me. I've developed a decent run over the years. So what else was there?.... Ah yes - the swim.

I swam a lot as a kid and teenager. By 'swim', I mean the kind that keeps you from sinking to the bottom. Or gets you back to the boat after falling out with your beer - or flipping a catamaran... with beer. Hmmm... there's a theme there.

I had a short stint on the High School Swim Team. We had a mean coach. The kind that used to push us under water with the pool skimmer when we weren't working hard enough. Then I got the list of all the stuff we couldn't do. Drinking beer, staying out late and eating fast food were all on the list. I quit the team the next day.

But watching my wife compete in triathlon made me really miss bike racing. I also like how triathletes look. Not in a vain way, but rather they are always pretty well balanced with regard to muscle tone and fitness. Last year, watching Paige at Nationals in Vermont - it got me jazzed up. I remember coming back from dinner one night and seeing all the bikes in the windows of the hotels. I missed being on my bike.

So I started riding more. Not that I was going to race my bike. I just wanted to use it as a recovery. For me, being on the bike feels like...... 'home'. I can't explain it. It's just such a natural feeling for me to drop into that cockpit and start riding. I also realized that I can still suffer on the bike way more than I have yet learned to do on the run - but I'm getting there.

Recently I started swimming. Well, I started going to the pool and thrashing around. After a couple failed starts at something more serious, I signed up for private lessons and started reading about how to swim 'properly' - 'Properly' defined as getting to the other side of the pool in the shortest time possible.

So now I'm on the path. I've signed up for a 'min-tri' - the swim is only 275yds; which I can do. 500yds still intimidates me. Not as far as being able to cover the distance, but honestly; I just don't want to 'complete' a triathlon. I want to race it. It's not an ego thing - I just really like racing. I can 'complete' things on my own - and they don't cost me money.

We'll see how it goes. I can't imagine not liking it. I mean, I love bike racing. I love running races. And I'm starting to really like figuring out the swim. One funny thing is that open water doesn't intimidate me. I grew up swimming in the nastiest chop on lakes. We'd go out in storms if it wasn't lightening and just swim through chop. It was fun. I'm actually having to get used to swimming in a pool - but I like the serenity and the placid nature of the water. It's like being in a little perfect world.

I've run off the bike a few times now. I've heard a lot of fuss from some people, and there is definitely a transition you have to go through to get the run to kick in - but so far, it seems like about 1/3 mile with nice quick strides and then stuff starts firing right for me. I've also heard that some people have a tough go of it and others, not so much. Hopefully that's me.

One challenge I'll have is swimming in a big pack. That's new for me - especially in open water.

The other challenge will be disengaging my road racing mindset. If someone passes me on the bike, my instinct is to jump on their wheel. Blocking, wheel sucking - it's all 'no-go' in triathlon. I see some penalty flags coming my way until I get the hang of it.

Anyway - I'm having fun learning something new. Paige has agreed to show me how to properly set up and execute my transitions. And the add-in workouts of more bike and swim have really felt great.

In 2013 I'll turn 50. I think it would be a cool milestone for me to do an Ironman at age 50. That's a 2.4mi swim, followed by 112mi bike ride and then a marathon. Now that is something epic enough that I'd be ok with just 'completing'. Hat's off to anyone that can truly race it.

I have some work to do first though.