Friday, October 30, 2009

On being 39 and a runner

Hail my running brothers and sisters! I'm staring at the clock on my computer and by my calculations, in 26 hours I will be 39 years old. 39. Years. Old. That's just 1 year away from 40! Am I upset by this? Damn right I am! Want to know why? Not because I will be middle-aged, but because turning 40 will kick me up into a new age bracket! But wait, 40-45...those guys are old, that should be cake, right? After all, I'm in the best shape of my life, right? Wrong, jacko! Those fleet footed, 1% body fat bastages are all in their running prime too, dammit!

I admitted that I crossed over to the dark side of running a long time ago. I study my training schedule, tweak my form and study my stats all to shave off those elusive seconds from my time. However I'm not content knowing that I'm getting faster, I must know also know how my competition has faired before me. Take for example, my upcoming 5k in December, the Rudolph Red Nose Run. Last year the winner of my age group finished it in 18:21 and the 2nd guy finished in 21:54. Now my newest PR for a 5k is 21:38, so that should put me in the hunt for 2nd this year, right? Wrong! Both those guys were 39 LAST year, so add a year and boom! Say hello to the 40 year old division Mr. Harwell and Mr. Dover. With a strong run, that leaves me quite possibly looking at a 1st place finish! Ha! Yes, I know I rock. May as well shine up that first place medal for me now.

But wait, that means those guys will be waiting for me in 2 years to kick me screaming back to end of the line where my punk ass belongs. Oh the ignominy! Oh the shame! To taste greatness so briefly, and then have it snatched away from my greedy, clutching fingers by a pair of middle aged hawks! This is injustice at its peak. Huh? What was that? Yes, I do realize that I haven't actually run that race yet, but what's your point? Of course, I understand that other people in my division may get faster like me also. But surely they didn't train like I have, right? Well, duh, I know that new runners who MIGHT be faster than me could always sign up also. But to all that I say that they lack any statistical weight as I refuse to acknowledge that they exist! This is about me after all, dammit!

The truth is if you run enough local races, you start to see a lot of familiar names on the leader board. And the corollary to that is, I would be lying if I said that I didn't notice who was at the top and how fast they did it. Yes, I get great satisfaction from doing well and even more from beating a previous personal record, but I also take pride in knowing that I can compete with the strongest in my division. When you're the fat kid running behind the pack at soccer practice, new found athleticism is something to be cherished. If anything, my success makes me feel younger and stronger, and I'm not quite ready to give that up at any age. So I will continue to train, to do the speed runs and the long runs, to study the previous year's results, and to seek out the races with small fields (ha!). So turning 39, not so bad. I might even do well in a couple races. At least until I turn 40. Ugh. I think that I better do some more crunches. Good luck and godspeed.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More training notes

Hail my running brothers and sisters! I'm about a week and a half back into my strength training, and I'm pretty pissed. Apparently while I was training for my marathon, someone replaced my arms with spaghetti. And though I want to blame anyone else for this predicament, I'm afraid that I can only blame me. The sacrifice for all my speed and distance work was a marked decline in my overall strength. Sure I can run a sub-7 mile, but ask me to open a jar of pickles and we may have a problem. On Monday, I decided to see how many pull-ups I could do, and I quickly learned that I couldn't even cheat my way through 2! Ugh. It is truly sad that as I type this, my arms are so sore that I have to keep them bent at 45 degree angles lest I wish to deal with the stabbing pain of my tight forearm muscles. Still I'm looking forward to getting back to the Y tomorrow.

And for those of you asking where's the running stuff, never let it be said that I did not provide. I was thinking about my running style and form. For awhile I was trying the Pose method/Chirunning. While I did like this running form, it did not feel totally comfortable. Taking bits and pieces of it, I've decided that I'm more of a running economist. I prefer my running to be efficient and economical, the least amount of motion to obtain the most amount of gain. Keep your arms in tight, not a lot of swing outward; short, quick strides; mid-foot striking; and some forward lean but generally a tall, straight back. That being said, I'm still working on pace control. My biggest issue is still going out too fast and burning myself up early. Usually I can limp to a finish, but I would much rather do negative splits (who wouldn't, right?). So for now, I'm doing more speed work, more fartleks (let the jokes begin), and hill sprints. I hate hill sprints, but it should toughen my legs up for the abuse that I'm putting them through next year.

For those of you have asked what I have planned next, I've got a general idea of my plans for the rest of the year and next. I'm doing the Clarksville 1/2 marathon on 11/7/09 and a 5k in December. I may pick up a couple more short races before the holidays, but those are the only 2 that I'm definitely doing. The plan for next year is the Knoxville 1/2 marathon in March as a lead into the Country Music Marathon in April. Then the Peachtree 10k in July and then I'm planning on doing the Nashville Ultramarathon in October. I haven't decided on whether I'm doing 50k and 60k yet, so we'll see. I'm hoping that I can get in another marathon before October, but doing one in the summer may be pretty dumb. Other than that, I'll probably pick up smaller 5k's and 10k's along the way. If you hear of one close by, let me know and I'll try to come out with you! Good luck and godspeed.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Back to basics

Alright, the marathon is over, and that means it's back to the gym for me. I have to admit that I was neglecting my weights workout while I was putting up mileage to train for the marathon. Right now I'm easing into it as I'm still recovering from the race. Thankfully my superior genetics have allowed me to recover fairly quickly, but pardon me while I down another 4 Motrin to type the rest of this entry. Hah!

Seriously though, I need to spend some time rebuilding my overall strength if I want to keep up this level of fitness. For now, I'm doing a relatively low weight, high intensity interval workout. I'm sticking to 6 exercises: push-ups/bench, squats, curls, deadlifts, press and clean, and woodchoppers. The number of intervals and reps will change, but I'm doing a pyramid reps, i.e. 1, 2, 3, 2, 1. I'll cycle through each exercise doing the same number of reps before moving onto the next interval. The key is to do it fast with good form and no rest breaks. Then after that some cross-training cardio like the bike or elliptical. I'll do this for 2-3 days out of the week and the rest of the week will be running.

A lot of people have asked me how they can get started running. My first suggestion is just get out there and make yourself do it. You won't get anywhere unless you make yourself do it. My second suggestion is to take it slow. I realize that I didn't do that but I've been blessed with a body that can turn pie and bacon into muscle quickly. Not an easy feat, I assure you. I started out building my overall strength and endurance with weights before I seriously started running. When I did start running, I ran mostly on the treadmill till I thought that I was ready to hit the streets. For beginners, I suggest running on the treadmill no more than 10 minutes a day till you're used to it. Even then, a run-walk (i.e. walk 2 mins, run 1 min, walk 2 mins, repeat as necessary) approach till your comfortable with your stride is probably smart. After the first week, if you're feeling good about your running, then you can bump up your running by a couple more minutes, and just keep doing that until you're running marathons!

As far as general strength program, you should do 1 that builds your upper body, core and lower body. The program I'm doing is probably good if you know your proper forms for lifting. Otherwise you may need something even more basic like push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups and squats. It doesn't matter whether you do weights first or cardio/running first. I usually do weights then cardio because I like to get warmed up that way. You'll probably be pretty sore the first couple of weeks if you haven't really done much working out, but it will be a good sore that will pay off if you stick with it.

So there you have it. Build your cardio and strength at the same time, and you'll see results. Do high intensity workouts to tire and tax your muscles but keep the number of reps low to avoid injury. One final note about treadmills. I don't like them and won't run on one now unless I'm desperate, however a treadmill will be much easier on the joints than the road until you've got a good baseline tolerance for your new fitness program. All righty then, I think I've done my share of fitness preaching tonight. Good luck and godspeed.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My first marathon

It's official, my first marathon is now behind me. I had a great time, but man, was it hard! My official finishing time was 3:52:31 with an average pace of 8:53 mins/mile. My splits tell the actual tale of my blissful optimism, my desperate search for strength, and my eventual fall to reality. According to my Garmin, my mile splits broke down like this: 1-8:36. 2-8:22, 3-8:06, 4-8:16, 5-7:46, 6-7:41, 7-8:16, 8-7:57, 9-7:54, 10-7:59. 11-7:56, 12-7:53, 13-7:59, 14-8:03, 15-8:04, 16-8:12, 17-8:38, 18-8:54, 19-9:52, 20-9:29, 21-9:09, 22-9:46, 23-9:40, 24-9:57, 25-10:13, 26-11:06.

I could describe to you, quite poetically, how feeling the adrenaline pump through my veins that I surged out of the starting gate and fought with my own sensibilities to maintain that too-quick pace. I could amuse you with my mantra of "Go Vols!" at every mile marker that turned from a shout to a whimper as the marathon progressed. I could recount how I felt the momentum slip from my grasp as I climbed up the straight-away between miles 11 and 14 and jealously cursed the half-marathoners turning to finish their race at mile 13. I could regale you with how my body turned against me at mile 18 and how my muscles started to fail, but through unknown strength and mindless perseverance, I soldiered on through mile 24. I could tell you that I must have looked like a mindless zombie as I climbed up the last incline on mile 26, and that I thanked the Lord as the last .2 miles went downhill, carrying me quickly into the finishing chute with what little strength I had left.

Instead I'll finish the blog that I started last week before my marathon and tell you what I discovered. I found out that I can honor my mother by dedicating this marathon to her, but in the numbing chill of the morning as I pushed past mile 19, I didn't see her. I didn't hear God or discover Enlightenment at mile 24 when I saw the runner in front of me pull off the course and vomit her guts out as I slogged past her. I didn't feel any wave of spirituality or grace descend upon me and re-invigorate my aching, sore muscles as I crossed the finish line. In the end, what drove me on was the faith from my family and friends, who watched me run past the Horseshoe, and the bleeps and dings from my cellphone as the rest of my friends and family cheered me on through my Facebook page (I had my phone with me, but I didn't get to read any of the posts till after the race). As much as this was my victory in memory of my mother, this was a testament to the strength of everyone that supported me and cheered me on. I don't know how other runners did this before me, but I know that I couldn't have done it without all of your encouragement. So thank you to my family, the Richs, and everyone else who bombed my FB. You made this ridiculously difficult task worth every grueling, amazing mile.

On a final note (I know, I know...can this post be any longer?), I'm dead sore. It's painful to walk and worse to go up and down stairs, but I'm already planning my next marathon. My knees and ankles may be shot right now, but I'm going to heal and hit the road again as soon as I can. That's devotion. Or insanity. Either way, I hope I'm fast. Good luck and godspeed.

Friday, October 16, 2009

What made me start

Hail my running brothers and sisters! I will admit that I’m very lucky to have the success that I’ve had at running and weight loss, and I’m often asked, “What made you start?” With my first marathon looming over the weekend, this seems like the best time to talk about what has driven me so far.

As I’ve said before, it started with weight loss in August, 2008. I had had enough of being the happy, fat guy in the office, and the weight loss challenge in my office brought the perfect opportunity to embark on my quest. But admittedly it wasn’t just my own self-image that was driving my quest (although it was a large reason). At that time, my mom had stage 4 breast cancer, and she was having a hard fight. The cancer had spread throughout her body and left her very weak. My family and I had tried to take advantage of any free time that we had to spend it with my mom. My parents had always been an inspiration to me, and I was especially close to my mother. So when she told me not to take my health for granted, I listened. I started to work out in earnest. With the help of my secretary, I started running. With the patience of my wife and the rest of my family, I continued running.

Last October when my mom went to the hospital for the last time, I was still running. After spending all night with her in the hospital, I would run when my father or my brother came to sit with her. My mother passed away around 11:00 PM on October 25, 2008, and the next day I ran again. After her funeral, I ran a couple miles more. I’m not sure why I kept running, but I did. I didn’t know what else to do, other than to run. I know, I know. The loss of a loved one and the pursuit of health/exercise/running is such a cliché that it may as well be textbook. So sue me…that’s what I did too.

The run provided me so many things that I didn’t even know that I needed. It re-shaped me physically, giving me confidence even though my world had been turned upside down. It gave me time to re-focus on the things that mattered in my life, like my family and my work. It taught me how to keep moving, how to endure pain, and to overcome adversity, even when I thought I didn’t have any strength left. After running 6 miles all out and taxing yourself physically and mentally, you realize that you can handle most things that life throws at you.

Every mile since then has been a test of what I can do and who I am. Every mile is a testament to the man that I’ve become thanks to my parents. I miss my mom. I miss her a lot. As my marathon approaches, I wonder what will happen when I hit the “wall.” Will the pain and the endorphins help me achieve some type of enlightenment? Will my mother see what I’ve done and be proud of me? Will she think that I’m a colossal idiot for putting myself and my family through the rigors of all this training? I don’t know. I guess I’ll see. Maybe around mile 24, I'll have my answers. Like I said, my mother passed away on October 25, 2008, so I’ve decided that I will run some type of marathon, be it a half, a full or maybe even an ultra, every October in honor of my mother. At least as long as my body allows or till my guilt and loss find some peace.

Again, I have to thank my wife for all her support. She knew before me, why I was running. She understood why I was punishing myself before I had sorted it all out. She even had a special marathon shirt made for me. On the front it says “Team Vallejo.” On the right sleeve, it says “4 Lola.” On the back, it says “Wicked Fast.” I couldn’t have gotten this far without my family’s understanding and patience, and I hope that I don’t disappoint them either. The Run has carried me further than I thought that I could go, and I’m hoping that it will carry me further still. So with that all I can say now is wish me good luck and godspeed.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pimp My Run

Hail my running brothers and sisters! In my journey towards running Nirvana, I have tested and used a number of gadgets and doodads and accessories that would make the tightest of skinflints cringe and the techno-runner weep with joy. I have studied enough garments to make Tim Gunn proud. As such, here are a list of insights that I have garnered from my hoarding of running goods:

1. Everyone knows I love my Garmin Forerunner 305. I refuse to run without it.It gives me relevant information about speed, pace and elevation. With the included heart rate monitor, I can even correlate my effort to various points in the run. I thought this was gimmicky at first, but I have come to value this information. I can now see how much effort a certain pace requires. I also love the online utilities that allow me to sync my Garmin to my computer and upload my runs. and both have utilities that will import your recorded runs directly to their sites. Plus 3 also takes your mileage and makes donations to specific charities of your choice based on your daily distance or work out effort.

2. My second running must-have is my RoadID. This simple tool has your name and contact information in the event of an emergency. They have it in lots of colors and a few different styles. I wear mine all the time as a shout out to other runners that I'm a runner too. I realize this is obnoxious and goofy, but it's less obtrusive than my GPS for this job. Ha!

3. As far as tunes go, my fans know that I'm a staunch opponent to Itunes and Ipod. I can't stand Apple's DRM policy or the clunky way Itunes syncs. Other than the obvious factors to consider (size, sound, storage capacity, battery life, price), I prefer an MP3 player that has an FM radio, so I can listen to the news or a football game. It's also nice to have one that has a memory card slot for additional storage. My current player is a 4 GB Sansa Fuze. It was relatively cheap and with an 8 GB memory card, it can handle all my tunes. It will also play videos in a pinch but the converter is a pain. I used to have a Sansa Clip for working out, but it was not very durable and did not tolerate my ridiculous sweat rate. I'm considering replacing it with a comparable Sony or Creative Zen, but for now, I'm using my Fuze. For purchasing and organizing my tunes, I use Amazon's MP3 store and Windows Media Player respectively.

4. You name the brace/support device and I probably have one. I have so many that I keep them in a separate gym bag. I probably wouldn't need them if I didn't keep over-training and dinging myself up, but I don't see that happening in the near future. The only compression sleeves that I use on a consistent basis are my calf sleeves that help with blood flow, muscle recovery, and injury prevention. My McDavid sleeves appear to be more therapeutic in function and really seem to help my shins. I have a pair of 2XU calf sleeves that I use for races. They are lighter than the McDavid stockings, but they seem to only offer marginal assistance, if any, to my shins. My Zensa calf sleeves are the compromise between the 2XU and the McDavid that I use on my training runs. They are bit heavier and sturdier than the 2XU and seem to offer more in muscle recovery and injury prevention.

5. As far as hydration options, I have tried fuel belts, hydration backpacks and handheld bottles. By far, I prefer handhelds (with a handstrap, of course) for the majority of my runs. I like the form factor of the Amphipod line as they are easier to hold onto, but the valuables pouch is on the handstrap and can be unwieldy with all my keys. The Nathan line isn't bad, but the handstrap can feel loose at times. I'm not a huge fan of handhelds with a thermal sleeve as I can't see how much fluid I have left. The biggest problem however is that they do not hold enough liquid to sustain me over runs of 15+ miles. For those long runs, I will also use my Camelbak, hydration backpack. Still the sloshing of the pack can really through off my stride especially on a faster run. Fuel belts always seem to be sliding around on my frame and then jumping into my back as they slosh around loudly.

6. Socks should have significant cushion on the soles and toes, a breathable upper, and some type of moisture wicking. My everyday running socks are Addidas Performance Socks. My favorite socks for racing are Balega running socks.

7. Shoes are trickier as you will need a shoe to cater to your specific needs. I believe that I over-pronate but I have been working on improving my bio-mechanics. As such, I can also use a neutral shoe. Then you may need a shoe to address whether you have flat, high or normal arches. I have 2 pairs of training shoes (a pair of Asics 2130's and a pair of Brooks Adrenaline 9's), 2 pairs of trial shoes (Nike Structure III's and Asics Enduro's) and 1 pair of racing shoes (Nike Tri-D III's). I rotate my training shoes everyday to preserve them and to prevent repetitive stress injuries to my feet. I like my Nike Tri-D III's for racing as it is light neutral shoe. When buying a running shoe, consider going to running store to have your stride analyzed. They can usually help advise you as to which shoe would help any issues that you have. Also buy your shoe in a half to full size bigger as your feet will tend to swell, and the extra room will help avoid blisters and black toenails.

8. Running clothes are mostly a matter of preference. However there a huge number of brands that offer moisture wicking and breathability. I like most of the Nike brands as well as the C9 brand from Target. I also prefer to wear compression shorts under my running shorts as to letting my boys fly free in the built-in-webbing. Reebok makes a nice compression short that is actually much lighter and cheaper than my Underarmor shorts, but Underarmor has a wider variety of styles and lengths that I've found.

9. For night time/pre-dawn running, I've tried several different reflector and light options, but the easiest, if not the dorkiest, has to be the headlamp. It's nice to have the extra light without having to worry about carrying a flashlight over any long distance. I'm using a Ray-O-Vac headlamp with 5 different main lamp settings. The main lamp is also adjustable so that you can change the angle of the light. It has a red light on the rear battery pack for cars approaching from behind you. It has an adjustable main strap that goes around your head as well as a second strap that goes over the top of your head to keep the headlamp from sliding down your forehead. This second strap might not be necessary if the lamp were a bit lighter, but I think it is probably a good thing to have.

Well that covers most of the junk that I've bought lately, but is any of this stuff really necessary? With the exception of the RoadID (if you are a road runner), then the answer is probably no. The beauty of running is that it can be as low tech/basic as a pair of shoes and socks, some shorts and t-shirt. Beyond those basic necessities (there are some people who would argue that the basic list is still too long, but those minimalist guys are pretty hardcore, and possibly a little crazy), anything else is just icing on the cake. They aren't necessary, but some, like the GPS, can be really fun. My thought is, the more you dress like a runner, the more you will feel like one and will be more comfortable going out every day or every other day to conquer your mileage demons. So good luck and godspeed.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Things I don't understand

Yeah, I know; the things that I don't understand could take up several volumes...just ask my wife. But in this case, my musings are fairly specific. I was in court on Tuesday and the judge told me that she was impressed with my weight loss and she didn't think that she could ever do it. Then just the other day, one of my friends who has also taken up running stated rather matter-of-factly that she was not going to train like me, because she wasn't ever going to be as fast as me. But why is that? Of course, I have the benefit of superior genetics (;p), but can't we all break through our limitations?

Take the Biggest Loser. Those guys lose hundreds of pounds in such a short time that it seems implausible. So how is it possible? Is it just time and training? They have the benefit of nutritionists, physical trainers, and time dedicated to just losing weight. Much like athletes who dominate the playing fields, they focus their life in pursuit of their chosen sport...becoming stronger, faster and better than the other guy. Granted Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods, Ryan Hall and Kara Goucher are all also supremely gifted to the extent that few will ever reach their level of achievement or talent.

Does real life (i.e. paying bills, getting kids to school, etc.) make the difference? I couldn't have gotten as far as I have without the support and understanding of my family. Unlike those sports mega-stars, my life doesn't revolve solely around my chosen sport. Running doesn't pay the bills, so I do have to spend some time working according to that pesky IRS.

Then there is the genetics/talent factor as one of my friends pointed out to me. My level of fitness won't be the same as someone else's. I think that I can safely say that I will not ever achieve the 4 minute mile. But if given time and training, why can't I? Assuming that I could train like an Olympic level athlete would I ever be able to achieve Olympic-like greatness? I seriously doubt it. Like my wife says, if it was easy, everyone would do it.

Surely attitude is part of the equation. If I don't have the desire to pound my body against the road, I wouldn't do it. But attitude can only take you so far, I think. Is it the magical formula of attitude, ability, training and time? Attitude motivates you. Ability sets your genetic ceiling. Training teaches you how to reach your goal. Time shapes and mixes the 3 other factors towards reaching your goal.

I was looking over some of my old races. This time last year I was barely running 10 mins/mile over a 5k. Now, I've somehow managed to reach 6:59 mins/mile! That's not a world-shaking time, but I would never have guessed that I could have achieved that last year. I was just hoping to be able to run 8 mins/mile by this time. Part of it has to be my utter disregard for proper training regimens, and part of it has to be my family's willingness to endure my time away from home. But what is the other part? I never considered myself an athlete of any level, and I barely do now. As my wife says, "What is my deal?" I don't know. And now I've kinda forgotten my point. Maybe it is: we can all be great in our own ways, if we can get out there and try? Later kids.

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