Saturday, January 31, 2009

Yet another reason I run: Athletic fit in a suit

I've talked in the past about why I run, but sometimes it's nice to have a little reminder.

I recently purchased a couple of suits for upcoming job interviews and my current legal interning work. In the past, I had the worst time finding suits. The jacket would be too small but the pants would be too big. Or they'd need to take in the jacket big time because my waistline was so big that it didn't match my jacket size.

Needless to say, it was a very humbling and embarrassing experience. I also had a rather tough time finding clothes because they typically weren't made for people my size in the normal department stores. Lovely.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I was trying on suits. I heard maybe the two best words to come from a salesperson: athletic fit. Based on my jacket size, they had a tough time finding pants with a small enough waist. People with my jacket size are supposed to have bigger waists.

You know who doesn't? Me!

They're not always big moments, but they're important and ones to remember. I think about those moments when my alarm goes off in the middle of the night and I don't want to go out in the cold. The "athletic fit" gets me out of bed.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Marathons explained

Though I've been exercising (walking first, then running later) for about 3 years, I've only done one marathon - the Mardi Gras Marathon in New Orleans last year. Up to that point, it represented the single biggest surprise of my life--I could actually run 26.2 miles.

It all comes from the story of Pheidippides, the man who supposedly ran 26.2 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon. And, as the story goes, immediately after telling of victory, he promptly died.

So I think at least some of the lore of the marathon is that fact that the guy who it's named after died. I think that makes us seem dangerous--dare devils, really.

Why I ran a marathon

For me, the marathon represented the pinnacle of physical fitness. It was the top trophy, an indication that you had indeed made it as a runner. Many people run, but not everybody runs marathons.

I put the marathon on a pedestal and revered the distance. I remember telling my parents when I started running that I would never run a marathon--ever, ever, ever. I didn't ever think that I could do it. That distance is ridiculous and there's no need for me to do it.

And then, there was a need. It crept up in me after my shoulder injury, and while still right arm in a sling, I signed up for the New Orleans Marathon in February 2008.

What attracted me to it? It was there and I didn't know if I could do it. And I had to find out.

Mentally approaching the marathon

It's funny. When you first start training, especially for your first marathon, you have this time out there in your head and you're convinced that you won't be happy unless you make that time. Otherwise, you'd be a failure.

I thought that, too. I looked at my typical runs in the 8:00/8:15 per mile range and figured I could finish in 4 hours, maybe 4:15 if I had to slow down. So that was going to be my goal and I wasn't going to be happy if I didn't get it.

Days before the marathon, I started to get really nervous. I knew I could do it, as I had done the training (or at least, my form of training). But I don't think I knew how to calm myself down before the race. That is, until I attended a first time runners meeting when I was down in New Orleans.

The speaker, a doctor/runner from Florida who didn't look at all like a runner, talked about the pre-race jitters. Yeah, got it. And that you shouldn't try anything new on race day. Duh.

But then he said something that really, really resonated with me. The marathon is your celebration for the training that you've done. You've worked hard and now it's time to celebrate. So enjoy the run. Look at the scenery. Talk to people. But, most of all, enjoy it, because this is your day to celebrate.

That was my wake-up call.

Advice for first timers

I learned a lot about the marathon that weekend. Though I discussed it in my post-race report, there are a couple of points I want to mention because they would have made a huge difference.
  1. Don't forget to take gels, especially as it gets near the end of the race. I had an electrolyte imbalance after I finished and couldn't remember how to tie my shoes.
  2. While destination marathons are great, I really, really missed having family and friends there to cheer me on. I only got to see my dad twice during the race but I looked forward like crazing to seeing him each time. If I had friends and family there, that would be a big motivator.
  3. Eat a protein-heavy meal within an hour after finishing. I had almonds and a couple Clif Bars immediately at the finish line and I think that helped my recovery.
  4. While some races bar headphones (and technically the New Orleans Marathon did too), I should have worn them anyway. While it was nice to hear the sounds of the race, I really, really missed my music because I ran the entire race alone.
  5. Though there are a ton of training plans out there, I really didn't use one and I was fine. I just made sure to do a 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20 mile run in consecutive weekends that finished 2 weeks before the marathon. I'm just not that disciplined a runner to follow a plan, but a lot of people are.

Will I run another one?

Well, after the marathon, I had no inclination to run another one. Then, I decided that an ultramarathon was in the cards for me and I did that last October.

And there's a marathon in September in Allentown, PA, which is where I lived for the last 7 years before moving up to New Hampshire. That means that I'd have access to friends and family (only an hour away from Allentown). And Bart Yasso, one of my personal heroes, is the race director. How cool is that?

I'm still not sure but if I'd run another one, that marathon sounds like it'd be a good one.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Running on the right side of the road?

For my entire running life (which hasn't been all that long), I've made a point to run on the left side of the road, the side facing traffic. The rules tell us that that's the side that pedestrians use and the side with traffic is for vehicles including bicycles. They said that's because the drivers can see you and you can see them.

I've made a consistent effort to adhere to that rule even when the roads weren't as well paved on that side or the shoulder was smaller. In addition to following the rules, I tried to keep my body in sync by balancing the drop-off on the side of the road. If I were running on both sides (left side on the way out and left side on the way back), then one side of my body wouldn't be especially prone to injury.

However, I've discovered that the left side has become the more precarious side of late and I'm starting to think about switching sides permanently. Here's why:
  1. When you're on the left side of the road, cars that turn right are quite likely to hit you. They look left to ensure that no one's coming, but they NEVER look right. DC Spinster was hit by a car for this exact reason. I've lost count how many times I've almost been hit because drivers don't look both ways.
  2. However, when you're on the right side of the road, drivers are always looking your way. As they're turning right, they look left and that's where you're coming from. I always make a point to way to them to both tell them that I'm going in front of them and to thank them for watching out for me (which they wouldn't otherwise do, I'm sure).
  3. When I go up hills, cars also coming up the hills can see me on the right. They don't pop over the hill and have to dart into the middle of the road like they do when I run on the left.
  4. Just like it is in a car, right turns are easier to make while running. You don't have to re-cross traffic if you're running in a loop and you're not obstructing traffic while they wait for you to cross (if they, in fact, do wait for you).
My father's theory is probably the soundest: the objective is not the side of the road but not to be hit by a car. If the right side is the more visible side, then that might be the best side to use. If not, then take the left.

I don't like the idea of not seeing traffic as it comes toward me when running on the right, but it may be a small price to pay for more safety in the rest of my workout.

What are your thoughts? Do you always stay on the left? Do you switch? Do you go back and forth?

Note: this is a US-centric post, so just flip the right and left side for those of you across the pond.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Running the best half marathon

I agree with Tom's post that the half-marathon has been given short shrift in the running world in favor of its older cousin, the marathon. For many people (including me for a number of years), the half marathon represents the best combination of distance running and stamina. Though it's half the distance of the marathon, runners still experience the, um, joy of hitting the wall as they work their way through miles 8-11. They still have to GU-up as they run and they're still quite tired when the thing is over.

For many, 13.1 miles is the longest distance that they ever want to run. It's truly a monumental feat and is a distance that very few people can run. It's nothing like the 5Ks that I talked about last week where everyone who has a pair of sneakers shows up. You have to train for these runs and many people train and train hard.

For me, the critical tip is to respect the distance. It's not a leisurely stroll through the countryside. It's 13.1 miles. You run 10 miles and then you have to run a 5K--no easy feat. You need to be concerned with your nutrition so that you have enough fuel for race day.

Prior to my first half-marathon, I actually ran the full distance. Most people say that you should wait to do it for race day, but I wanted to know that I could do the distance. And I think that helped give me the confidence that I could finish it. I haven't done the full distance while training for a marathon, but I've gotten close at 20 miles.

I think the half marathon is achievable enough that you can do the full distance, or at least 11/12 miles of it continuously prior to the race. There's nothing like going into a race knowing that you can do the distance.

My other tip is to run one in the same race as the marathoners. When I ran the Manchester Half-Marathon, it really psyched me up to know that I only had to do half of what the marathoners were doing that day. I was done at their halfway point and that thought helped me through as I started to get tired.

Conversely, during my marathon, it was a pretty big drain to see the half-marathoners finishing while I still had 13.1 to go. But I guess what goes around comes around.

At this point, I'm using half-marathons as training runs for whatever races I happen to be training for. I still respect the distance and bring fuel and am a bit sore afterward, but I'm not racing to win them. I'm racing to do the distance in a reasonable time and to burn some calories.

There's almost nothing better than putting those calories back on with an after-half beer!

This was written as part of the Runner's Lounge Take It and Run Thursday. This week's topic was "how to run the best half-marathon".

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Capitol Steps Fitness Challenge

Virgin HealthMiles, a subsidiary of Virgin (owned by Richard Branson), created a Capitol Steps Challenge for the nation's governors and their executive staff. In this competition, the individual states compete for a $50,000 donation to their program for obesity awareness.

During the first two weeks of the year (which just ended), governors and their teams wear pedometers to count their steps. Fourteen states have participated and the results will be announced on February 20. Alabama is the current leader with Alaska (and their running governor, Sarah Palin) is second, followed by the Governator and California.

From the Capitol Steps web site on the effects of obesity:

According to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) analysis of obesity prevalence among adults based on Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data, 16.5 percent of the population was obese in 1997. By 2007, the number had jumped to 25.6 percent, an increase of 155 percent. Childhood obesity is particularly alarming, having tripled in the past two decades.

Obesity is also costly, both from a hard numbers and human impact perspective. In 2000, the U.S. Surgeon General estimated that obesity cost the country $117 billion in both direct and indirect costs; today, that estimate is closer to $123 billion. Additionally, the Surgeon General’s data shows obesity is responsible for 300,000 deaths each year. And obesity-related conditions, such as heart disease, hypertension and type-2 diabetes, put further burden on the country’s already-strained healthcare system.

These statistics are sobering and speak to the ever-growing sedentary lifestyles we lead. I applaud these states and Virgin HealthMiles for creating this program. My hope is this program will continue and will influence others.

After all, one of the best ways to start exercising is to do it with someone else!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Freezing rain, schmeezing rain

The northeast has been hit with some seriously cold weather and a bit of snow over the last couple of days. Some might even call it "winter weather", though I think that's a bit of a stretch.

I ran last week in freezing rain, which was, um, interesting. It's funny: I actually feel more oriented to going out when the weather is super crazy than when it's nicer out. There's a sense of adventure (and lunacy) there that makes the run just so much more interesting.

It also makes the run a bit more precarious because sidewalks aren't cleared which means I have to run on the roads (which are also not cleared all that well). But, with my trusty Yak Trax, I run without fear of slipping. Putting them on my feet doesn't eliminate the possibility of a car barreling into me, but it does mean I won't be slipping on the ice.

I've always been a fan on the ridiculous looks you get from people as you run in awful weather. Looks that would normally be quizzical are now downright looks of absurdity. Plus, running in this weather makes me feel hardcore, and well, that can't be a bad thing, right?

I've talked about not wanting to stay indoors before. I don't like gyms and I don't have a treadmill anymore (no room), so my choices are limited. Besides, I prefer the lunacy.

I'm starting to feel a bit Canadian after dealing with this weather. I certainly sympathize with Marlene, 2nd Chances and Runner Gal Leana who brave this crazy world more than most of us. I'm feeling so Canadian that I'm really starting to enjoy Mike Myers and I'm starting to make the French on all the signs in NH twice the size of English. I think it's only right.

The last couple of days have been nuts and they're only going to get nuttier as the winter progresses. Ah, the life of a crazy outdoor runner. They oughta commit me!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

5K and 10ks

As 5K and 10Ks go, I'm much more of a fan of the 10K. In fact, I believe the 10K to be the best kind of race because it requires some speed but also endurance. Oh, and the entire world doesn't believe that they can run a 10K. You tend to lose the amateurs when it comes to a 10K, which makes for a bit of a nicer race.

As 5Ks go, I have tended to avoid them, unless they meet one of three criteria:
  1. They're local. No reason not to get a t-shirt if I have to travel less than 30 minutes.
  2. They've got a very interesting concept. (more on that below)
  3. They're in a city where I'd like to go and it's an excuse to go.
I'm really not a fan of 5Ks, though. They tend to be mobbed, which means that my times are artificially slow. Weekend runners who aren't too serious about the sport tend to flock to these types of races. And while I wholeheartedly applaud people running (including weekend runners), it tends to be more chaos than it's worth. Plus, I end up getting pushed into a slower or faster pace based on how the crowd is moving or the course is laid out.

My favorites

That said, my favorite 5K was the Lincoln Tunnel 5K in NYC. They close a portion of the Lincoln Tunnel and you run from the New Jersey side to the New York side and then back. The pure ridiculousness of it is what appealed to me. In what other time will you be able to do that? Very cool concept and raised a good bit of money for charity.

My second favorite (of two) 5Ks was the Concord 5K that I did last August. The best part about it is that it was only 15 minutes from my house. Oh, and I won a "trophy" (read: beer glass) in my age category with a time of 23:44 which I'm pretty sure is a PR.

As 10Ks go, I haven't done very many because they're just not as prevalent. I always enjoy them because it requires stamina and at the end of the day, you're running 6 miles, which is an excellent distance.


As a somewhat frequent reader of this blog may suspect, I don't really train for the 5K or 10K races. My times have been consistent, 24 min for 5K and 54 min for 10K, and I'm generally fine with that. My weekly mileage more than puts me in good enough shape to run those races without a problem. I suppose I could train for them, but, eh, I don't care all that much about how I do.

Plans for racing in 2009

At this point, I have no plans for any 5K or 10K races in 2009. They're out there and they'll probably show up as it gets into the spring. I'll likely sign up for them on a whim and will run them some Saturday morning. I tend to treat them as training runs for whatever I happen to be training for (which at this point is nothing). Either way, they just naturally flow into my running week.

This was written as part of the Runner's Lounge Take It and Run Thursday. This week's topic was "5Ks and 10Ks".

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Movie Review: Running the Sahara

Showtime is currently showing a documentary called "Running the Sahara" where three guys attempt to run across the Sahara desert, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, over 80 days. If you have Showtime (and especially if you have HD), I'd highly recommend watching it before it's out of circulation and you have to watch for the DVD release.

The three guys, Charlie Engle (USA), Ray Zahab (Canada), and Kevin Lin (Taiwan), are professional runners who have run ultras before, but nothing this big or this insane. Kevin speaks basic conversational English which causes some problems but nothing too big.

In order to accomplish this task, they have to run 4,500 miles, or the equivalent of about 170 marathons without missing a day. That's almost two marathons a day through the Sahara desert.

Along the way, they discover the huge problems that Africa faces with its water supply. This interaction leads them to start a non-profit called H20 Africa, and has sent them back to Africa to try to fix this huge problem.

From a purely visual perspective, this movie was amazing. It's shot in HD and the pictures are simply unbelievable. The producers, one of them being Matt Damon who also narrates, clearly decided that they were going to do a gritty documentary with stunningly beautiful pictures to enhance the experience.

From a running perspective, this movie was incredibly inspirational. This is a feat that humans aren't supposed to be able to do, and until they did it, no human had run this course across the desert. It was emotional to watch but more than that, it inspired me to do something huge (though I have no idea what that is yet). It's a movie that you should absolutely watch if you have any ability to do so.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Training Do's and Don'ts

I'm probably not a great role model for trainings plans because I'm not a very organized trainer. I've talked about my lack of organization before. When I do training plans, they tend to be more broad sweeps and less specific day-by-day activities.

For instance, when I trained for my marathon, I knew that I had to do a 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20 mile run in consecutive weekends and then everything else pretty much fell into place as I had the time, energy or interest. I didn't have specific day-by-day activities or distances. I didn't do speed workouts one day and pace workouts another. Like Marlene, it just takes all of the fun out of it for me.

Would I have finished the marathon in a better time if I had been more disciplined when I was training? Maybe. But I'm not even sure I accept the premise (of my own question, no less). If I had stayed more disciplined, I may have never gotten to the starting line because I would have been too bored with it. I need fun and variety, and a training plan with day-by-day activities gives me neither.

So, since I feel like I should make a list, here goes:

  • Make your plan personal to you. You can use a Hal Higdon or someone else's plan to start, but this has to be your plan for it to work.
  • Be OK with an organized or disorganized training regimen. Not everyone has to be organized to be successful.
  • Give yourself a break if other things happen and you miss a day. It happens and it won't throw off your training.
  • Make it fun. If it's not fun, you won't stick with it.
  • Try to work in cross-training with weights, biking, swimming, etc.
  • Eat right. Get plenty of protein.
  • Share your training with your friends and RBF's. The more people you tell, the less likely you'll be to stop doing it.
  • Think that you have to train as much as other people who are running the same race.
  • Be afraid that one missed day will throw off your training.
  • Start out too fast. Work up to training, especially if it's distance training.

This was written as part of the Runner's Lounge Take It and Run Thursday.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

End of the year as I know it (and I feel fine)

2008 has been a banner running year for me--by far my best running year so far. While I don't log as many miles as people like cewtwo (1,600 miles so far this year--beyond impressive), I've really enjoyed the running I've done and am looking forward to continuing at a reasonable rate.

I'm now officially halfway through law school (1.5 years out of a 3-year program) and could not be happier with the choices I've made. I'm loving every minute of what I do and couldn't picture myself doing what I used to do in corporate America.

Without further ado, here is the 2008 year in review.

The three big days

The highlights are all encompassed into three big days which really define my running year.

I did my first (and only so far) marathon in February - the Mardi Gras Marathon. I trained outdoors through an unbelievably brutal New Hampshire winter to be ready for a balmy run down in the Big Easy. The run was tough and grueling, but there's really nothing like crossing the finish line at the end of 26.2 miles. I felt like I could conquer the world.

That is, until I got the idea of running 48 Miles in 48 Hours. While out during a particularly warm run, I decided that I would do a self-created ultramarathon. I wanted to give it a catchy name and I wanted to do it over 2 days, so I called it 48 Miles in 48 Hours. The goal was to take the tough part of the marathon out (the constant running) and break it into 6 8-mile segments over two days so that my body had time to rest.

Several months later, October 18 and 19, I embarked on the journey from Concord, NH to Tyngsboro, MA over a 2-day period. Friends met up with me along the way and I was never alone along the entire course. 48 miles tested my body, my mind and my soul. But, at the end of the day, my mind and soul won out over my aching body and I finished the run in 8 hours, 34 minutes and 5 seconds.

I simply can't describe the feeling I had when I finished the run in a condo parking lot at the end of my second day. There's nothing like knowing that you can accomplish whatever you want as long as you put your mind to it. That, and, well, I became an ultramarathoner--not a bad weekend. In addition, I raised over $800 for the American Cancer Society, an unbelievably worthy cause.

The races
  1. New Orleans Marathon - 4:53:57
  2. Lincoln Tunnel 5K - about 27 minutes
  3. XTERRA STOAKED 12.5K - 1:11
  4. Cigna 5K - 24:38
  5. Moose on the Loose 10M - 1:27:45
  6. AppleFest Half-Marathon - 1:54:58
  7. 48 Miles in 48 Hours - 8:34:05
  8. Seacoast Half Marathon - 1:53:11

Favorite Posts

I had 3 posts that I loved throughout the year because I can go back and read them and still feel the emotion I had when I was writing them.
  1. The New Orleans Marathon - talk about something that I never thought I could do. This post took me back to the nearly 5-hour run and to the finish line where I gave my Dad a huge hug. No matter how many times I read it, I still get choked up reading it.
  2. "I am an ultramarathoner" - after I finished 48 Miles in 48 Hours. Prior to running the race, I was a little unsure about whether or not I could call myself an ultramarathoner. After running 48 miles in 8:34:05, there was no doubt in my mind: I am an ultramarathoner.
  3. Pictures from 48 in 48 - though it was on the 48 Miles in 48 Hours site and was nothing more than pictures, I can't properly explain how much posting the picture of the Garmin means to me. The picture sits in a frame in my room and I use it to remind myself that it's never too cold to run and that I have a lot of fight left in me.

My friends' accomplishments

I can't write a year in review about myself if I don't include some of the accomplishments of my friends/RBFs.
  1. Charlie running his first marathon in Las Vegas and running over 1,600 miles in one year
  2. Irish Blue in a Running Shoe running her first marathon in Chicago
  3. My friends Karl and Liz running their first half-marathon with me at the Seacoast Half Marathon (not to mention finishing before me)
  4. Marlene running her first marathon in Toronto
  5. FrayedLaces BQ-ing in Vegas
  6. ShirleyPerly finishing what I can only describe as another amazing year for her
  7. Running Gal Leana doing her first marathon in January as a Goofy marathon (1/2 marathon on Saturday, full on Sunday)
  8. Topher running his first marathon in Kansas City
Those are just the ones off the top of my head. Many of you have accomplished amazing things this year and it's been wonderful to read about all of them.

Plans for 2009

So far, no races planned for 2009. I've been running 4-5 miles about 4-5 days a week, which has been nice. I like that distance as it allows me to get miles in and still not be gone over an hour. So, for right now it's maintenance until I get the inkling to sign up for something.

I'm not sure if I'll do a marathon or an ultra this year, but something makes me think that I'll at least do a duathlon or maybe even a triathlon. I need to break up the monotony of running with some biking or swimming. Now I just need to force myself to sign up for a gym membership. I've been fighting it because I don't like being inside.

New Years Running Resolution

My New Years Running Resolution is somewhat personal, but it involves others as much as it involves me. I want to run a race with 5 people that I have never run with before. Some of these people probably will have never run before or maybe just at the gym. But I want to get 5 people interested in the sport, and interested enough to join me for a race of some kind--likely a 5K.

As I was training for 48 Miles in 48 Hours, I started to get other people interested in running. We talked about how far and how often they had run. We exchanged fitness tips and thoughts about nutrition. It was great to see people being so health conscious and I knew then that I needed to make it part of my running goals to get more people to join in.

So, to accomplish this, I need to start telling people about it. I can think of 2 people who will probably join me, but I'll need to find at least 3 more. There's nothing better than getting people involved in such a great sport.

Running totals

Miles: 732
Time: 113:26
Calories: 104,518

At this time last year, I was on the road to Indianapolis, IN. Now, I'm just about to go through Oklahoma City, OK and I'm nearly halfway done with my journey at 1,354 miles.

Happy New Year and here's to a happy and healthy 2009!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Favorite post of 2008

Looking back at 2008, I have a lot of posts that I look back fondly on, but I think my favorite post comes from October 20. It was the day after my 48 Miles in 48 Hours run and I was on a huge high. Though, truth be told, I'm still on a bit of a high from it.

It was the post where I recognized that I was in fact an ultramarathoner. It wasn't a long post and there were certainly other contenders (detailed in the year-end review), but I think this is the post that puts the biggest smile on my face. It's re-posted below.

Happy New Year!

Yes, I am an ultramarathoner!

About a week before the crazy weekend-long run, I asked the question: will I really be an ultramarathoner? I mean, I was doing this over 2 days, and you normally have to continuously run to have it all considered one race.

I decided that that was a dumb rule. I thought about the pain and the distance and the fatigue and the fighting of injuries, and you know what? I'm an ultramarathoner... for two reasons, actually.
  1. On the first day, I ran 27.18 miles, so by the technical definition, anything more than a marathon is an ultramarathon, I did it that on day 1.
  2. More importantly, I think ShirleyPerly said it best. If you feel in your heart that you're an ultramarathoner, then you are one. And you know what? I do!
48 miles was a staggeringly long and difficult distance and it required me to fight through physical pain and mental fatigue more than any marathon I've ever run or ever will run. This run changed me and reminded me that I can do whatever I want if I put my mind to it.

So, let me say it again: I AM AN ULTRAMARATHONER!

This was written as part of the Runner's Lounge Take It and Run Thursday.