Heroism by the book

A worthy sequel

Today’s run (street): 3.2 miles
Thursday’s workout (elliptical): 30 minutes

I’m reading an interesting book by Chris McDougall called Natural Born Heros (NBHs). McDougall wrote Born to Run, which launched the minimalist running movement. That craze has since given way to maximalist, pontoon-like trainers from Hoka and other shoe companies, but I still love my Kinvaras. Natural Born Heros is about athleticism and self defense that is developed through practical need rather than controlled competition.

The through-line story in NBHs is about how Churchill’s special agents worked with Cretan shepherds and farmers to significantly disrupt Hitler’s progress toward Russia during WWII. Like Born to Run, McDougall writes a lot of about physiology, especially the role the fascia plays in energy efficiency and power. I’m only halfway through the book but I understand running technique is discussed further in the story.

This was a particularly busy work week for me, so much so that I ended up going into the office every day. I count on my work-from-home Fridays for one of my weekly runs. Knowing that wasn’t going to happen, I did an elliptical workout the night before. This morning I needed to get back to the road, but that didn’t go too well. I can’t explain it, but I couldn’t really get going this morning. I tried to appreciate the pleasant weather and the fact that I wasn’t stuck on the treadmill. All the same, I was glad when the run was over.

If I’m up to it, I may head to Bethpage tomorrow and would like to cover at least five miles. My running buddy SIOR is up in Kennebunk for the 2016 Shipyard Maine Coast Marathon. She’s running it with a friend who’s doing his first marathon. I’m wishing them both lots of fun and I’m hoping she breaks 3:30!

Serf of the road

 

Today’s run (street): 3.7 miles

It was only 39 degrees outside, but it felt very much like winter this morning. I wore layers top and bottom and was comfortable throughout my entire run. Had I pushed harder, I probably would have overheated. I was in the city yesterday and covered 7 miles on foot. After that, and two moderately tough runs over the weekend, I kept my heart rate around 80% of max for today’s workout.

I’ve been reading a newly published book called, Kings of the Road, that’s about how Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar helped popularize competitive running in the ’70’s. As I ran today, I thought about my paces versus theirs. In one part, one of these runners described his 4:45 pace at the Falmouth Road Race as “easy.”

I know that elite runners train so that they are able to sustain high speed over long distances. But how do they mentally prepare themselves to run sub-5:00 paces over 26.2 miles? For that matter, how do 7:00 or even 8:00 milers do it? Is running a half marathon in an hour as hard for Galen Rupp as breaking 2 hours is for me at the same distance? If these elites put everything they have into their races, why do they look so fresh after they cross the finish line?

Most people who compete in races push way past their comfort zone. All things being equal, a 4:45 pace, while impressive, is relative to the runner. I have my race targets and it’s always great when I meet or exceed them. There are many factors that determine performance on a given run, but lack of trying is rarely one of them.

Why running is like dreaming

But what do you think about?

Today’s run (Stillwell Woods): 4.25 miles

One of my favorite quotes from Haruki Murakami’s book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is, “What exactly do I think about when I’m running? I don’t have a clue.” I identify with that because so many things go through my head while I run, but I’m hard pressed to recall most of them. It’s like waking from a vivid dream at midnight, thinking you’ll remember every detail. By morning, it’s all a blur.

I’m not saying running causes temporary amnesia. In fact, I’ve worked out many problems in my head during training runs. While I may not remember the process, I can always remember the resolution. Perhaps that’s the way it should be, both with dreams and running.

What I do remember from this morning’s run was how perfect Stillwell Woods can be on a day like today. The humidity was high and the skies looked like they could open up at any minute. I knew that the woods would shelter me from a light rain so I wasn’t concerned. The weather stayed dry and, despite the humidity, I was comfortable. This was mostly due to the lack of sun and fairly cool temperatures.

I didn’t try to be a hero and take on the bike trails that drop and rise like an organic roller coaster. I stayed on my usual loop and made two circuits before heading back. I kept an easily sustainable pace (still not at 100% since I got the flu shot) until I encountered another runner merging onto the trail that runs around the big field. I thought that runner might follow me on that narrow path as I went west, and I was determined not to let him overtake me. He never did, and I ran my last mile significantly faster than the prior three.

I probably need to return to Bethpage to do my usual long hill repeats that are part of my training for the Town of Oyster Bay 5K. That and some base mileage may be a good workout for tomorrow. At some point I need to return to the track to run intervals. A 5K may be an easy distance, but speed requires some special focus, especially since half this race is uphill and the other half is down.

Resistance is Useless – Hooray!

There’s another way

Today’s workout (elliptical): 40 minutes

You may recognize the phrase, “Resistance is useless!” as the battle cry of the Vogons in Douglas Adam’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” So what’s all this about resistance? I discovered this morning that by using the elliptical machine with zero resistance, I can still do a hard workout without hurting my injured hip.

I woke up this morning and tested my hip as I made my way downstairs. It still felt a little sore, but my mobility seemed fine. I wasn’t fooled into thinking that I could get away with an outdoor run today, but did consider other options. It seems that the intense pain that I’m experiencing while running manifests only when I run on the road. A recent trail run had gone well, and a handful of treadmill sessions have caused me little problem.

After some gentle dynamic stretching, I decided to test things out on the elliptical while my wife did her morning treadmill run. My theory that I would do okay with lower impact workouts quickly proved out. I started my session at neutral resistance and, instead of ratcheting that up to a mid-high level as I normally do, I just began moving. It felt a little too easy, so I increased my speed to get my heart rate going.

This session provided a good aerobic workout and I generated enough of a sweat to be satisfied with the effort. My hip felt the same from start to finish, with none of the stabbing pain that caused me to cancel yesterday’s run after three minutes. I’m pleased that I have an alternative to running while my hip gets better.

I will miss the opportunity to run the trails of Vermont this weekend, when we visit my brother and his family. I’ll gladly settle for a hike though. With only three weeks to go until my next race, I don’t need to make my injury any worse than it is already.

My Life on the Run – a fun read for runners

Today’s workout (elliptical): 24 minutes

I’ve just finished Bart Yasso’s book “My Life in the Run” and I recommend it as a good light read. Yasso is Runner’s World’s “Chief Running Officer” and he writes about his adventures running in exotic races all over the world. He is also the originator of the Yasso 800’s training method that involves running a series of 800 meter intervals to help predict your marathon finishing time. For example, if you average 3:30 on this exercise you can reasonably expect to run a 3 hour, 30 minute marathon. I’ve often thought about trying this because I truly have no idea how I’d do in a marathon. That is, if I could even make it through one. Of course testing this theory would require me returning to the track and doing speed work. Maybe when it gets a little cooler…

At the end of the book Yasso lists a number of training programs for various races that would probably be valuable to people who are willing to follow disciplined training routines. I’m not good in that area. I prefer to train “organically” which probably explains my less than stellar times in my last few races. Yasso also talks about cross training and its importance within a runner’s training cycle. So inspired. I decided to get back on the elliptical this morning and put in more of a whole body workout than I’d been getting from simply running. The humidity is unrelenting and inside is worse than outside but I did my minutes accompanied by the early morning news on TV. We’re heading to Boston this weekend to see family so I’m not sure how that will impact my running schedule. My brother and I talked about doing a Memorial Drive run on Saturday which will be excellent as long as the weather cooperates. I’m bringing my son in to the office tomorrow so no Central Park run this week. I’ll probably aim for a late afternoon run at home instead.

I guess horribly wonderful describes it

There’s a great Adidas ad in the July issue of Runner’s World: a background of pavement with two running shoes, the back of one and the top of the other. The image evokes two runners in line. The tag line is “Because I’m loving every wonderful horrible minute of this.” So true. I’m probably the 50 millionth runner to conclude that running is fun because it’s hard but it’s also fun to see that sentiment recognized by others. Even if it’s in an ad.

Last week I came across a book in the library by a British author named Russell Taylor. The title of the book is “The Looniness of the Long Distance Runner.” This title is obviously homage to
“The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” by Ian Sillitoe but the book is actually a diary of writer as he prepares to run the New York Marathon. The format of the book reminds me of my own blog with its daily (or, in his case, not daily) accounting of workouts and progress. He’s a lot funnier than me and his one year plan to go from being an out of shape late 30’s aged guy to a marathon runner is more ambitious than my modest goals. Reading the book does remind me of the obligation one takes to remain fit and to keep progressing. But we do it because – to borrow from the Adidas copywriter –
we love every wonderful horrible minute.

This morning I rounded out my holiday weekend running with a 4.7 mile run that (not counting when I take a car) took me farther outside my neighborhood than ever before. I intended to explore neighborhood #4 and then make my way over to neighborhood #2 but I reached a point where I could run along the sidewalk of a relatively busy road that would lead to a new series of neighborhoods in Woodbury. The sidewalk on this main road was covered with dead leaves that had a cushioning effect not unlike cinders. I enjoyed the respite from the pavement when I could. I turned into one neighborhood and realized that we had looked at houses on the street before we bought the one that we’re in. I ran by the house and decided we’d made the right decision because the neighborhood we chose is much better for running.

Yesterday I took our bikes out of the shed for the first time this millennium and after pumping up the tires, fixing the chains and washing them off they were ride ready. I took my bike out a couple of times, the second time I followed one of my running routes. It was amazing to cover that distance in a fraction of the time with a fraction of the effort. Fun but not the horribly wonderful experience I get from running.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional

My wife got me Haruki Murakami’s book “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” and I started reading it yesterday. I am a fan of Murakami’s novels and short stories and I’ve read many of his books. Unlike his fiction, WITAWITAR is a memoir about his running life. It would be delusional (on my part) to compare this book to my daily posts but there is similarity in that he wrote the book in “real time”, recording his daily experience without the usual filter of book writing. Murakami is very quotable but I was amused by a sentence he attributed to another runner: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” What’s meant by that is when you start every run it’s a given that you will reach a point of discomfort or pain. But how you choose to proceed (or not) after that is your choice.

The decision to suffer played out in a low key way this morning when I went to the track to do a light run. I usually do a lighter workout on the elliptical on Mondays but I’m off from work this week so I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to run outside. The weather was perfect when I got to the track and after a good night’s sleep I was expecting a strong start. However, starting off, I felt tight and a little tired and I questioned whether I should have taken this as a rest day. I did my usual self bargining (“Okay, just two miles and I’ll see how I feel”) and I really wasn’t enjoying it. After about fifteen minutes I started feeling a little stronger and by then there was another runner who proceeded to follow me and then match me stride for stride until he pulled away slightly. I was happy to have him in front of me because I could follow his pace. He looked experienced and I thought I might learn something by watching the way he ran. I was able to stay with him but after a few laps he stopped. Maybe he was just warming up or maybe he wasn’t feeling it today. Perhaps he chose not to suffer. I chose to keep going and ended up running 4.4 miles finishing pretty strong. That made me happy because I’m training for a 4 mile race and I’ve been wanting to extend my weekend and vacation runs to at least 4 miles and/or 40 minutes.