Summer running will take some patience (and better conditioning)

Today’s run (street) 3.82 miles at 9:43

Shady activities

It’s been a fun weekend with our guests. The weather has been hot and sunny and the kids have owned the pool. I even accomplished a chore; assembling one of those new offset swing umbrellas that can tilt and move laterally. That created a perfect place for the grownups to sit poolside while we watched the kids in perpetual motion in the water. Yesterday was a hot and humid five miles and this morning it was even more humid. I got out before 7:00 AM but it was already uncomfortable. I was glad to be wearing my Adidas AdiStar running shirt that does an excellent job of managing moisture. Eventually the shirt reached 100% saturation but I was fairly comfortable throughout the run. I wore my Brooks because I wanted maximum comfort on what I knew would be a difficult run.

I did a mile loop near my house and then headed to neighborhood #3 for a change of scenery. By the time I reached my second mile I was hot and tired and focused only on finishing my planned route. Although my leg turnover felt fast my Garmin told me otherwise and I knew I would need to work to keep my overall pace within the 9:00 range. I returned to my neighborhood for the final mile and a half and, like yesterday, finished hot, panting and soaked. I’ve run every day since last Monday and I’ll rest tomorrow after covering about 20 for the week. We were discussing the runner’s high this weekend and one of our guests mentioned that he’s never finished a run and then felt a rush of euphoria. I usually feel good when I finish and, depending on the run, I can carry that feeling throughout the day. The last two days have only brought relief that the runs were over. I keep telling myself that it’s good practice for hot conditions and high elevations in Colorado Springs. That said, I’m still looking forward to Tuesday morning when I get out there again.

I may be weak but I’m slow!

Up until yesterday I was feeling very good about my state of conditioning. I was chatting with a work colleague who I hadn’t seen for a few weeks and he asked me if I’d lost weight. I didn’t know how to respond to that question. Yes, I did lose weight when I restarted running back in 2008. Forty pounds in fact, all due to lower calorie consumption and more activity. More recently, after battling severe pneumonia, I lost another five pounds. My recovery is now complete and my weight is back to mid-December levels so I was puzzled by his question. The next thing he said floored me, “You look kind of…weak.” Weak? I really didn’t know how to respond to that. Then I thought about it and realized that it’s probably true. While my running gives me stamina, I’m not doing all that much to build strength. A year ago I was mixing up my workouts and including core exercises and some upper body conditioning. In the time that I’ve returned to daily exercise I’ve been focused solely on running. Even my elliptical sessions have been more about speed than effort. I decided that it’s time to stop ignoring my core and upper body.

Although my wife and I have accumulated a closet full of hand weights I’m loathe to use them. I find weight lifting to be mind numbingly boring. I’ve been thinking about getting one of those stretch band systems that attach to a doornob and provide a variety of ways to exercise muscle groups. It’s low tech but it works, as do sit-ups and push ups. This morning I chose the elliptical but cranked up the resistance as high as I could handle. It felt good and it was good preparation for my trail race. The benefits that come from moving the unit’s upper poles is questionable but it’s better than doing nothing. I’m going to put some more attention to strength building and I’m hoping to gain about five pounds through upper body muscle development. I suspect that strengthening my core will also lead to better running performance.

Impatience and apprehension about my return to running

Another morning without a run. How long can I go without my daily workout? I’ve reached the point where my impatience to run is beginning to compete with my need to support a full recovery. Earlier in the week I had designs on running on the treadmill and working out on the elliptical while incorporating rest days in between. My return to work, with the early commute and a challenging schedule has been exhausting and I’ve done none of that so far. While I’ve been tempted to push through the fatigue and exercise I keep thinking that it may do more harm than good.

The question on my mind is whether I’m being smart about resisting this temptation or whether I’m just apprehensive about facing the fact that I need to rebuild everything I’ve worked for over the last 16 months. I really want to run outdoors, ideally on a trail. Trail running inspires me and I miss the experience a lot. I also miss my neighborhood runs and as I drive the streets I think about how I used to own them at 4:00 AM – my streets, my playground. I know that the first time I go back out  it will be tough. Those early, 20-25 minute maintenance runs that I would do 3-4 times during the work week will present a very different challenge to me today.

I know I’ll get to where I need to be, and soon. I have a 5K scheduled for April and there’s another 5K in March that’s tempting me. It would be nice to have a short term goal like a race to help frame my expectations for getting back to peak conditioning. I’m conflicted about whether to run tomorrow on the treadmill or just wait for the weekend. I’ll see what my body says, I’m ready to listen.

Two-a-day training for my marathon relay

Back when I started running I would often go out two or three times a day. This activity was performed primarily on weekends as my daily run was often limited to 15 minutes on the treadmill. On weekends I’d go out early and do a mile. I’d often try to stretch that to two miles but it took some time before I got there. Later in the day I’d do another short run (or two) so that I’d cover a total of 3 miles on Saturday or Sunday. Stretching out the time between runs was essential to that because in my early running days I’d need a lot of rest between activities. More recently, as runs have become longer and my conditiong has improved, I’m less apt to do multiple runs in one day unless the second run is a modest two mile jog with my daughter on a Sunday afternoon.

Training for my marathon relay brings back the idea of two-a-days and in my case that means two runs within two hours. Last Sunday was an interesting experience because it revealed my limits very quickly. My first segment went fine, a 3.1 mile run that would normally serve as a typical weekend distance (at the shorter end). I stayed in my running clothes to simulate the conditions for the race. I’m not expecting that I’ll have access to a changing room during the actual event although I may change into a clean jersey in the team car. After toweling off I did swap shirts and then had a bowl of cereal with dried fruit as I waited to run my next segment. Exactly 120 minutes after I finished my first run I set out again for the second leg. The lesson I quickly learned was that two hours rest allowed me to recover well enough to go out with some energy but the wall comes up hard 30 minutes later. I struggled to continue at that point and came up short of my 9 mile total distance goal.

I have about four weekends left to train with these two-a-days. The biggest concern I have for the race relates to the unknown elevations of the course and the level of heat and sun that day. I’m going to assume it will be hot and hilly but I really hope I’m wrong. 9.05 miles, even broken up into two segments, would still be a record distance for a single day. I’m up to the challenge and hoping for the best.

A PDR for TER

I had read that performance is often tied to attitude and I wondered if there was any correlation between my mental state and some disappointing runs I’ve had over the past three days. Friday was a tough run, mostly due to my physical state. I’m not sure what was affecting me but I was tired and I struggled to cover the 3.9 miles I did in Central Park. The Central Park run should have been a great experience with my side trip through the Rambles but I didn’t really enjoy it and it felt a lot like work. Saturday’s neighborhood run was really just maintenance and I clocked 5K with little in reserve by the time I got back home. I tried to break the streak yesterday with a run at Stillwell Woods. Trail running has become a passion and I anticipated the experience but I lacked strength and feared the hills instead of embracing them. I ended up covering 3 miles but it felt unsatisfying. Later that day my daughter and I ran 1.25 miles and that felt great and I realized that much of the reason was that she was by my side. My head was in the right place for running for the first time all weekend.

This morning I woke up feeling great. Perhaps it was a good night’s sleep or the cool temperature and low humidity but I set out on my run this morning with the right attitude. I didn’t plan my route except for the beginning section that I call neighborhood #4, a departure from my usual course that would provide a good distraction. I’m a bit fed up with the GPS apps on my iPhone so instead I relied solely on my Garmin to track distance and used Pandora on the iPhone for music.

At about the 20 minute mark I realized that I still felt very strong with more energy than I had at the beginning of my last three runs. After covering that initial neighborhood I did a loop around my own, covering the south, west and northern roads until I passed the five mile mark. It was at that point that I realized I could probably do 6 miles for the first time since the Dirty Sock 10K. Once I reached that point I decided to go for a personal distance record which, for me, was 6.62 miles. I re-routed my direction to get another mile between me and home and ended up covering 7.4 miles @ 9:31 (by Garmin) or 7.58 miles @ 9:18 (by Gmaps). Either way it was a personal distance record for the Emerging Runner. Better still, it was validation that my training was going in the right direction and that my conditioning was where I wanted it to be. I guess all it took was a good attitude.

Tapering on

A couple of weeks ago AG asked me about my “taper plan” for my upcoming race. Being a race newbie I didn’t understand the phrase. I actually thought it had to do with taping my foot for support. She explained that runners often reduce, or taper, their running routine during the weeks leading up to a race. The object is to build an optimal balance between rest and conditioning.

With my race less than two weeks away I’ve been thinking about the best way to prepare myself for competition. Last weekend (counting Friday) I did longer runs for three consecutive days for a total distance just short of 12 miles. In deference to a slight but persistent leg injury, I have folded in a few elliptical sessions this week which provide less strain on certain affected muscles. I’m out of the office on Thursday and I’m hoping to do a long run in the morning plus longer runs over the weekend.

Next week is when the tapering will start. I’m going to be traveling on business for most of next week so I’ll need to work my routine around that. Happily I’ll be up at MIT and if weather and schedules cooperate I’ll get to spend some quality time running near the Charles river. I’m traveling back on Saturday and I’m not planning to do any running that day. In fact I’m thinking of resting on Friday as well, perhaps only doing core stretching.

Will it make a great difference to rest a couple of days before the race? I’ll let you know on the 19th.

Easy like Friday morning

I woke up this morning and noticed that my big toe on my right foot was hurting. I’ve felt some discomfort with it throughout the week but this was a little worse. I had just read in Runner’s World about foot afflictions and this appears similar to their description of “Runner’s toe.” It didn’t help that I walked a lot on it yesterday after a 2+ mile morning run.

This has been a challenging week and while I love what I do I’m really looking forward to the weekend. Spring weather is predicted and, with sunrises coming earlier, I think I’ll be okay running outside at 6AM. Every weekend I set a running goal, usually related to distance. This weekend I’m hoping to continue my speed work and finish one or both of my long weekend runs under 9:00/mile. I may trade some distance to do that but I’ll cover at least 3.1 miles (5K) on Saturday and more than that on Sunday. I need to total at least 8 miles every weekend until my first race.

Since today is a TGIF day and I’m worried about my toe I decided to do an upper body only workout this morning. I used the technique where I face the front of the elliptical and work just the arms. I did this for 21 minutes and was glad I took some time to work on arm strength. It wasn’t as hard as I’d hoped and by the end I was only mildly sweating. I didn’t want to overdo it and strain a muscle but the next time I try this workout I’ll turn up the resistance a few levels.

It was an easy session, not quite a rest day, but close. I’ll see if today’s rest from running will pay off for me tomorrow.

The observer effect and starting struggles

The observer effect in quantum physics refers to changes made merely through the act of observation. In less scientific terms, it’s the act of putting attention to a problem that contributes to its solution. Since I wrote the post “Stages of my daily run” where I lamented the difficulties of getting through the first mile, I’ve had virtually none of the problems related to the starting minutes of my run.

I can’t really assign a good reason for this except that I acknowledged the problem. I haven’t changed my level of fitness much over the last few weeks. My improvement may be related to the integration of core workouts but that routine is too new and is done too infrequently to have made much of a difference at this point. Adventure Girl mentioned that her starting struggles went away when she reached 6-8 mile training distances. That may actually be a key reason for my improvement. I’m nowhere close to 6-8 miles in my regular training runs but my distances are 30% longer on average compared to a month ago. I’ve heard from another blogger that her starting struggles relate to her pace, presumably starting too fast to sustain that rate of speed. There’s something to that as well, as I focus more on distance I’m backing off on speed and that definitely contributes to starting comfort.

While it’s great to feel better about the start I still struggle with the finish. Last weekend was good for total miles but still a disappointment in terms of reaching individual distance goals. I need to start regularly exceeding 4 miles on my weekend runs so that I am properly conditioned for the April race. It looks like the weather will be dry and warm (30’s) enough for track running this weekend. I cannot wait because as much as I love the treadmill there’s no substitute for the road.

Core competencies

This month’s Runner’s World ran a story on core fitness that illustrated the various muscles that, when developed, enhance a runner’s performance. The other side of this is the injuries that are likely to occur if a runner fails to condition properly. I decided to try the 15 minute workout to gauge the impact and to see if it isolated muscles that I’ve, ahem, neglected. I was pleased to see that not only was the workout (5 exercises) possible to do in 15 minutes it was more relaxing than arduous. The article had very clear illustrations and provided guidance on how to ensure you were doing it correctly. They even suggested ways to make it harder. Maybe next time for that.

After the core exercises I was very energized and decided to do a medium long run. We’re going to a family event tonight and I didn’t want to be too tired to socialize (admittedly, I have trouble in that area under any circumstance) so I cut my run a little short of 4 miles. The good news was the core exercises provided a great lead in for the start of my run. No “stage 1” struggles and the first mile came so fast I had to check twice to make sure I wasn’t misreading the display. The bad news was I grew very tired around mile 3. I kept on telling myself the glycogen boost was imminent I just needed to hold on but the boost didn’t come. Being slightly insane I constantly calculate my pace by looking at the time and mileage on the treadmill and the mileage on the Sportband. That’s a lot of math to do in real time but it gives me a good distraction. I can tell if I’m losing steam when the mileage numbers on my Sportband (which is tied to stride and foot speed) and the mileage on the treadmill (a constant) begin to diverge. That happened around 3.1 miles (at least I hit 5K at intended pace) and I barely managed to run another half mile before I slowed to cool down.

So I think I will integrate the core exercise workout into my fitness program but it’s going to be difficult to find the time to do it consistently. Perhaps I can do it at night although my time after I get home from work is already short. Well 15 minutes isn’t a very long time so I can’t make excuses. The energy boost you get is worth the effort.

Stages of my daily run

By this point in my return to running my conditioning has prepared me to run far longer than I ever have before. Running a full mile, an imposing goal back in August, has become just another part of my run. While the first mile is no longer an imposing challenge I’ve discovered that getting through it can still be pretty tough. My typical run experience goes through these stages:

1. Starting struggles
During the first three minutes of a run I often carry on an internal debate about whether I am prepared to run my targeted distance. If I haven’t stretched properly (true 98% of the time) I tell myself I’m unprepared to go on any further.

2. Acknowledgment that I will continue
Despite the internal dialog I never actually quit. About seven minutes into my run I usually check my Nike+ Sportband to see my progress and note that I’m almost at a mile. This motivates me further.

3. Comfort
Some time after mile 1 I am properly warmed up and I have established a comfortable pace and stride.

4. Sweat
Before my second mile I’ll usually begin to feel the workout. That’s really the point. It’s at this stage that I assess my progress and gauge whether I’ll run more or less distance than originally planned.

5. Equalibrium
Depending on the length of the run there can be a point when I begin to feel stronger. This is sometimes described as a second wind. I find that this frequently happens around mile 3.

6. Negotiating the finish
Once I get closer to my planned endpoint I’ll decide whether to extend my run. Nearing completion sometimes results in fatigue as I anticipate the finish. If I can convince myself to go on I’ll try to append an extra quarter or half mile to my run.

As I run longer distances and improve my conditioning I’ll be curious to see if my stage 1 struggles end. Although I do have these beginning run challenges I know by now that it’s just a stage that I will get through.