February 16, 2015

OK… I admit it.  I have become slightly addicted to stats.

There.  I said it… I feel better.

I used to be the guy that badmouthed (lovingly) all his runner buddies as he ran by them (with his trusty Timex Ironman watch) as they shuffled around and held their shiny, new Garmins to the up to the GPS gods so that they could be blessed with signal.  Without which, some of them seemed completely incapable of completing a workout.

But I, too, eventually drank the GPS Kool-aid.  I found the GPS world to be klunky, unreliable and more of an irritation than anything.  Dropped signal, poor battery life, hard to read and set up interfaces and mysteriously illusive satellites that could easily be spotted and locked on to in my basement but disappeared when I came out into the open skies.

I stuck with it though.  Part of my problem was a poor choice in GPS watches (the Timex GPS).  I also had to learn the lingo and get myself in the habit of planning ahead so that my device was 1.) Locked in and 2.) CHARGED.

I started to slowly learn how to milk useful information out of the data.  I could track times over the same course.  I could see improvement (or not…) over time.  I began to get my mind around things like cadence and power.  …and I liked it.

But over the last 6 months my watch has slowly started to fail.  The battery just won’t stay charged for more than an hour or so.  And since I am only going longer, this is the worst thing that could fail.  It also can no longer be submerged without fogging up completely and becoming unreadable.  So swim training is out.  Which means I can’t wear it for triathlons.

So with equal parts sadness and joy, I said good bye to my first GPS watch this weekend and… I upgraded.

I looked at a lot of different watches.  Garmin, Suunto, Timex… The whole lot.  I got overwhelmed and a bit nauseous and stepped back to look at what I wanted.  Then I made a list:

  • AT LEAST 15 hours of continuous battery life (gotta get me through that Ironman or hundo I’m never doing)
  • Easy to read (stupid 48 y/o eyes… nothing lasts anymore)
  • Easy to set up
  • Good software that DOES NOT cost extra (that was a stupid choice on the part of Timex) at least for the basics
  • Waterproof.  I need something I can swim with.  This eliminated some good watches.
  • Swim tracking.  Something that counts strokes and measures distance in the pool AND open water.
  • EASY to do multisports with.  Tracks different segments correctly (the Timex never did this right)
  • Altimeter accurate enough to figure out things like steep hills or stairs.  My old GPS tracked altitude but on a course that had steep hills, my distance was always different than everyone else.

rf-lgSo when I looked at what I wanted, the choice was easy.  The only watches that really do this are the Garmin 910 and 920.  Garmin LOVES the 920 ($500 for a watch?  Really? Does it come with a free entry to an IM?).  The 910 is last years model and except for a couple of new features I don’t really care about it does everything.  They are getting harder to find but a local shop had a couple of them left and they were on sale (bonus!).  As an extra bonus, all they had left were the models with the heart rate monitors.  I’ve never used a HRM before but have really wanted to try it.  And did I mention the “sale” made it about HALF the price of the 920?

All of this, plus the fact that I got a little extra jingle in my paycheck made for a pretty easy decision.  I went with the Garmin 910XT with HRM.  Granted… not the cool new toy all the big kids have, but I’m good with it.

My impressions so far…

Setup was easy.  Plug in the Ant+ USB stick, let it get set up, set the watch next to the computer and magic happens.  The watch was updated and added to Garmin Connect automatically.  The website is easy to understand and navigate (I had never seen  it before and was hopping around almost instantly).  I got all my info set up and customized the interface for my interests very quickly.  I put in some shoes, my bike and watched a few videos provided by the site to help with swim setup.  The basic things I want to see (total time, segment time, distance) on the watch are actually the defaults so there was no digging through confusingly named options.  The display is easy to read.  The vibrate alarm will take some getting used to.  Scared the crap out of me the first time it went off.  I knew it did it… I just wasn’t expecting it!

And… of course… it snowed about 6 inches last night and the temperature is a balmy 18 degrees, so the first run will have to wait.  Who knows… If I can get out of my driveway, maybe I’ll actually get back in the pool (for the first time in MONTHS) this afternoon.  Could be ugly…

My own nutrition

February 2, 2015

How is it that things get more complicated the more I try to simplify?

Last year I was all in by February.  I had bought and paid for the Triple Challenge in Chicago, a race that wasn’t for 7 months.  I had also signed up for a half dozen other races and was hard core into a weight loss challenge.

So this year rolls around, I’m in much better shape and really doing well.  I decide to simplify back down to running only, with a sprinkling of duathlons and triathlons for flavor and just focus on feeling good and the love of the run.  I sign up for a trail marathon and optimistically look at also running a road marathon and even a 50K.

Then January hits.  All but one of my long run days are C.R.A.P. weather.  I get sick (for the first time in over a year).  I get sick again (for the first time in… a week).  I fight off (successfully… so far) a THIRD round of the plague.  I roll an ankle (first time in a year).

So at a point in my training where I should be base building and running 30-40 miles per week EASILY… I got 108 miles in, FOR THE MONTH!  I actually got in more SPIN class miles than I got running miles in.  Thank the GAWDZ my trail marathon isn’t until May.


I actually looked at the pool at my gym yesterday and WANTED to get in.

That’s just sick.

And today, as I gaze longingly out the doors, knowing I’m already 8 miles behind because yesterday was another C.R.A.P. weather day and all I could do was spin… I see beautiful sunshine, roads and trails glistening in new snow, temperatures at a balmy 17 degrees and our roads… ice covered and impassable.  C’mon county road crew!!!

I don’t mind snow, and cold, and rain, and wind… and injuries, and flu, and tummy bugs.  I would just politely request that they not all converge on me AT THE SAME DAMN TIME!!

Is that too much?  I mean… really?

OK.  Whiney pants off.  Moving on.

I did get in 11 on Saturday and felt pretty good.  I’m occasionally having a problem with dizziness and headaches AFTER my longer runs.  I’m pretty sure this is hydration/nutrition related.  It’s still no fun to stand up and get the spins, regardless of the reason.

I-regret-nothing-550x359I’ve been very impressed with Tailwind.  I didn’t take any with me on Saturday because I was only running 11.  This may have been a mistake.  Just like in real life, my biggest downfall with exercise is nutrition.  Hydration and fueling are a mystery to me.  If it ain’t pizza or bacon… I don’t get it.  However, Tailwind is the only stuff I’ve ever tried that actually feels like it works.  I carry a handheld Nathan bottle and that usually gets me through 14 or so.  The next big mystery to solve, especially if I want to go marathon or longer, is where to go from here.  I have a CamelBak hydration pack that is 70 ounces.  I don’t mind the bounce/slosh and it fits well (no chafing) but I’m not sure it’s enough.  I’ve looked at Orange Mud, Ultimate Direction and other hydration solutions, but I feel like they are almost overkill.  I don’t want to run with two handhelds either.

I’m not complaining, this is just new to me.  I need to experiment.  I don’t want to drop $$$ on a system that doesn’t work and you can’t rent them, so I’m going to have to test what I’ve got.

The bigger mystery to me is eating solids while running.  I’m losing interest rapidly in bars of any kind.  Most are too processed, sweet or loaded with chocolate.  Now, before you bring out the pitchforks and torches… I love me some chocolate.  Just not 3 hours into a run.  Other bars made of mostly nuts and seeds don’t help a lot either.  I have had people suggest everything from bananas to Big Macs and everything in between.  The classic PBJ is always popular, but I still don’t feel like it’s actually getting processed well enough to do much good.

I seem to favor savory over sweet.  I like Epic bars but they tend to be dry and the Power Bar Performance Energy Blends actually work really well (yes, I know… baby food) and even though they are fruit, they are not too sweet.

My biggest problem is the frickin’ internet.  I need to stop READING everybody elses’ nutrition ideas and just find what works for me.  But in trying to get ideas for things to try, I get wrapped up in Sid Soandso’s power maple, brussels sprout, quinoa, chia and dirt bars and by the time I’m done I actually think “…huh.  That doesn’t sound half bad…”  Ugh.

…maybe I just need to make my own Big Bob’s bacon, pizza, Dorito and bean dip bars.  And make my own hydration drink… I like to call it “Barley Juice”.  Only 4 ingredients: Water, yeast, natural assorted grains and hops.

…And now you know why I look like I do.  :)

The Plan

January 28, 2015

norunningI realized today that I am, for the first time I can remember, looking at the “other side” of my training plan.

What the heck does that mean?

For the first time, when looking at a “training plan”, I feel like my base is above where the plan says I should be.  And I have NO FREAKIN’ IDEA what to do.

I find myself waking up every day, looking at my plan and (except for the long days) saying… “That’s IT?  That’s ALL?”

I don’t know… maybe I picked the wrong plan.  Maybe this is a good thing.  But SCHWEET BABY JEEZUS!  On a day in January in mid Missouri with highs in the 60s you are telling me I should only run 3 miles of hills or stairs?  GAH!

I know… I know…  Deep breath in…  and enjoy it now, before the crap weather comes back and you have to run 20+ miles in it.  Having experienced all 4 seasons on one run before, I get it.

But it does bring up a challenge… doesn’t it.  I’m not asking myself to stick with the training plan by desperately trying to actually MAKE the mileages.  I’m desperately trying to SLOW MY ROLL and not throw in tons of junk miles just because the weather is decent or I have an hour to kill because I actually CAN because I’m in decent shape for the first time… ever.

The bottom line is this proves NOTHING.  Other than I can’t follow directions.  It’s the same philosophy my dad tried to teach me back in the day… Just because you CAN… doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

Over training is a killer.  Especially at my… um.. ADVANCED… level of experience. *cough*

But I really don’t think age matters.  I have seen old farts and young guns alike totally derailed by “one more run” or “a few extra miles”.  People who are smart enough to make these plans (for the most part) carefully calculate the balance between “enough” and “too much”.  If you are actually going to FOLLOW a plan… frickin’ FOLLOW it.

Sounds easy.  Doesn’t it…

January can be done now… But still…

January 26, 2015

fit-just-go-runRough!  I got WAY spoiled last year!  I pitched a no hitter all year and didn’t miss one workout due to injury or illness.  But this year has started off… well… crappy (pun intended).  I have already missed more workouts due to injury/illness in the last 3 weeks than I did ALL LAST YEAR.  Tummy bug (pretty sure it was Ebola… just sayin’), Dizzy, insomnia, head cold and now a rolled ankle.  I should be somewhere between 30-40 miles a week and be at about 16 miles for a long run, but, unfortunately… not so much.  I’ve missed 2 long runs and the Ebola week was a whopping 7 miles.

Am I worried about it?

No… Not really.  But it’s my blog so I can bitch about it.

My big event of the spring is in May, so I have plenty of time.  And, honestly, I just want to finish it.  I don’t care about time.  I’m already looking at getting back on my bike a bit and maybe just doing duathlons this year, since there is an option for a duathlon at Club Nationals.  Who knows, maybe I’ll even get back in the pool… meh.

In the past, this kind of a start to the year would have completely derailed me and sent me into a panic.  I would have already canceled the marathon, given up completely and crawled back into a beer bottle to wait out the spring thaw.  But time and experience has really mellowed me.  Yes, I’m serious about my training, but shit happens (that’s 2… how many more can I get in…?).  Life, work, injuries… If you play the game, you are going to have to learn to deal with it.  I certainly don’t get paid for this.  I’m doing it for fun.  If what you do for stress relief just stresses you out…?  You got issues.

I think that’s kind of why I backed off of triathlons.  Too much crap (3) to deal with.  My car smelled like part bike shop and part fermented gym bag for 9 months.  I’m not organized enough for that.  I finally just made a schedule that just said where I was supposed to be at that time.  I kept all my stuff in the car and just pulled out what I needed when I got there.  I “looked” prepared for anything. I was “actually” just too tired, confused and lazy to clean out the car…

I think I’m more concerned with over training now.  That was actually my first thought when all the sickies and injuries started.  I had just come off of a couple of CRAZY weeks where I ran 80+ miles a week.  I thought maybe I just weakened my system a bit.  But listening to everybody talk about the bugs and flus going around, I think it was just my turn.  The rolled ankle… I was due for.  Haven’t had one in a while so I probably deserved it.  When I did it I didn’t even miss a step.  It only started hurting when I stopped.  That was 2 days ago and it’s fine now.  No swelling, a little stiff when I get up but fine after I walk on it a bit.  Injuries will come.  I know this.  And I know the harder I push and the more I’m “out there” participating in life, the more susceptible I am to them.  Challenge accepted.  I just have to make sure that it’s not because I’m doing too much, too fast.  Slowly build, enjoy the miles, embrace the suck that is Missouri in winter and celebrate the fact that old guys like me can still run 26 miles (or farther) without stopping… unless we want to.  All depends on what they are serving at the aid station…

Footnote: Ran the ROC Challenge this weekend.  A 7K trail race (the scene of the ankle turning crime).  In looking at the finish stats I found some things interesting.  First, they switched up the divisions and went to a 10 year age group.  I finished 4th in my age group at 48.  The top 3 were 40, 41, and 43.  Had there been a 45-49 age group I would have won it.  Had I been competing in the 50-59 age group I would have taken 3rd!

This is the cool part…  I finished 10th overall.  Yes, that’s cool, but not that cool.  The REALLY cool part was that SIX of the top 10 places went to guys over 40 (40, 41, 43, 48, 51, 55!).  It just gives me hope that I can continue to do this at a pretty high level for a long time to come… :)

Stomach bug? …Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat!

January 15, 2015

aint-nobody-got-time-for-that_w_raw-bcc-navyI don’t get sick very often.  In fact, I don’t remember getting anything more than a slight case of the sniffles last year.  In my 9 years at my current job I have had to cancel ONE class due to illness… and that, unfortunately, was last week.  OH, I’ve been sick and stayed home, but since I teach and the schools I go to have scheduled us MONTHS in advance sometimes, you pretty much have to drag me out of the classroom.

But, alas, I’m not invincible.  I caught a stomach bug last week that both laid me low and scared the hell out of me at the same time.  Sparing the gory details, let’s just say I was on the throne every hour on the hour for 4 straight days and suffered some internal bleeding.  Fortunately, this cleared up just MINUTES before my self imposed window closed.  If I had gone about another hour with this problem I would have gone to the ER.  Something I haven’t done in a VERY long time.

Even 4 days later I am still weak and shaky, and fighting occasional tummy trouble, but I’m fairly certain I will at least live.  Something that was briefly in doubt for a while.

However, my 8 mile run this morning was surprisingly faster than anticipated, even if it felt slow.  I’m sore, like I just started back running again after a 6 month hiatus.  I would have thought that 5 days off, given my current state of fitness (pretty darn good) would not have made much difference, but it seems tenuous at best sometimes.  The last mile this morning did have me scanning in front and behind trying to judge if I had enough time to jump off into the woods and take care of business or if I should just squeeze it.  I made it to the bathroom… er… finish line.  Barely.  I’m jealous of everyone who claims to have had this bug and state that it only lasted a couple of days and was pretty mild.   ….bastards.

Regardless, I’m back at it.  Not much the worse for wear, but feeling a bit mentally older.  I hate it when my own mortality makes an appearance and “harshes my mellow”… dude.

I am supposed to run 16 on Saturday.  And then 10-12 on Sunday.  The weather is up for it.  Here is hoping I can be as well.  Time to put my behind in the past… as it were.  I’ve got some serious miles to pack on.

Hovering over the Submit button

January 3, 2015

With one simple click, everything changes.

Anybody ever do this?  Fill out the online entry form and then just sit there, finger nervously twitching as you hesitate to press that mouse button and commit to something big?  Maybe a distance you have never done before?  A Full IRONMAN?  An Ultra?  Your first “race” (no matter the distance)?

submit-button-png-hiBecause now I have skin in the game.  Granted, it’s not IRONMAN money (which, more than the training, is why I will probably NEVER do one).  But skin, nonetheless.  Now I have to “train”.  Not just run.  I have to stretch to distances that make me uncomfortable.  I have to push my limits.  I have to be hungry and tired and wet and hot and cold and grumpy and sleepy and all the other dwarves at the same time.

So… After much self induced stressing and gnashing of teeth, I finally picked a race to start my longer distances journey with.  The Berryman Marathon on May 16.  Deep in the heart of the Ozarks.  It has a 50 miler as well but I’m not ready for that.  I looked at Land Between the Lakes in Tennessee, the Little Rock Marathon and a few others.  They were either (in my opinion) too soon or I had something going or… or…

In the end I just looked at what my goals are.  I just want to successfully complete a trail marathon, a road marathon and an ultra distance race this year.  So going slow and giving myself plenty of time to ramp up is not a bad thing.  There are a few shorter races in between to run and I’m also trying not to break the bank so the closer I can stick to home, the better.  Berryman may be the farthest away from home I get.  I might just do something crazy like run Heart of America for my road marathon (here in Columbia) and then run Rock Bridge Revenge for my 50K.  Anything else in, on and around those races is just gravy.  If I feel fantastic as the training progresses… maybe I’ll go farther…  A 50 miler, perhaps?  Or maybe I will hit the ceiling again and have to back off.  Either way, I’m more comfortable doing it closer to home than half way across the country.  If I have another great year…?  Maybe a mountain ultra… or a 100 miler.  Or… Dare I say… an Iron distance triathlon.

But I had to start someplace…

I ran 14 miles yesterday.  The significance of this run was simply that it felt REALLY good.  Dead on 9 minute pace.  Not breathing hard.  Nutrition feeling good (yay, Tailwind!).  I even ran with music… which I never do.  Just to see how it felt.  I felt like I could have easily gone 16-18 miles.  But why?  The good news is there is NO RUSH.  If I continue to slowly push up my mileages, I will still be at marathon distance by March 1.  This still gives me a month and a half before Berryman.  Since I am looking to go longer anyway, I may try to work up to 30 miles by the end of April if I feel good.

In the meantime, there is the ROC run in January, lots of little road races sprinkled all through the spring, the Sedalia half, a duathlon or two… Who knows?  It’s really fun to think of being able to do all of those races with no pressure.  Just going out to have a good time and do the best I can.  It’s a different world.

Two very different runs

December 30, 2014

trails_signI try to focus here on concepts and philosophy, rather than “what I did on my run today” kind of stuff.  The whole “I saw a cow, stepped in a puddle… my knee hurts” kind of blog is fine to read, but just not what I want to talk about.  And this is my blog… my sandbox, and my toys… so step off.

That being said.  I’m no purist.  I’m not a classically trained runner.  I don’t even play one on TV.  I just run.  And I have made most of the mistakes a wannabe runner can make, but I’m always up for more.  Some would say that to be really GOOD at something, you should specialize.  Trail running vs. road running, for example.  A lot of people I talk to say that especially road running is NOT good training for trail running.

OK… two things.

First, I have never been concerned about being GOOD.  Just getting better.

Second, I LIKE both.  I think each has something to offer the wannabe.  And in my somewhat unique situation here in Columbia, I have the opportunity to do both.

So here is an example of my last two runs.  My thoughts and actions applied to each.  It just kind of shows where I’m at right now with running and fitness in general:

12/29/14 Trail run- Rock Bridge State Park

This run actually starts the day before.  I had run 13 miles on a flat “rails to trails” section of the MKT.  A real gem of a trail here in Columbia that we are lucky to have.  I am trying a plan for marathon/ultra training that uses back to back long runs, so the trail run was to be 6-8 miles.  I like this plan because it is only 5 days per week.  This gives me two solid days off and also some flexibility with my work schedule.

Trail conditions were mediocre at best.  A light freeze on warm ground made for a crunchy outside with a soft, squishy layer underneath.  Rocks were slick and creeks were cold.  My mantra this year is “slow and easy”.  I decided to run with a small group who are training for an ultra in May (Berryman).  When I am just running on my own I usually run faster than they do, but MUCH shorter.  However, I’m really trying to ease up on the gas a bit and go longer so the pace was perfect.  They are all experienced ultra/trail runners so I tried to feel their pace.  I found that I am running wrong.  They cruise the downs, go easy on the ups and hammer the flats.  I would lose them on the flats if I wasn’t careful and run over them on the ups if I wasn’t paying attention.  Matching their pace I found that I felt better all the way around.  Especially at the end.

About half way through the loop, we took a turn I had not taken.  It was announced that this loop would take us 9 miles.  Given that I wanted less, I almost bailed.  But I didn’t.  And I’m not sure why.  It also took us backwards on a lot of the trail, which made it like running a new trail.  I think partly because of the company and partly because of the new (to me) trail, I was just distracted enough to take my mind off my legs and how sloppy my footwork was.  The trail was pretty crappy and there was a lot of hopping from side to side of ruts.  I also noticed that I was the only one doing this.  Everybody else just plowed right up the middle.  So I tried matching their line as well.  Sure, I got muddy, but the decreased effort to go the same distance was also noticeable…

As we came to the end of the run, one of the group challenged us to run some stairs.  My watch showed just short of 9 miles and, but for the peer pressure of the moment, I would have stopped.  Instead, I added another mile of stairs and finished at exactly 10 miles.

I’m not particularly proud of the fact that I went more miles.  In fact, that can be dangerous.  Over training leads to injury.  I will need to stick closer to my plan from now on.  I am training for a marathon.  They are training for a 50 mile race.  Of course they are going to run farther.  However, it was encouraging nonetheless.  A good run, longer than I had planned, successfully navigating crappy conditions, and learning a few things along the way.

12/30/14 Dreier’s Dirty Half Dozen (A route)

This fantastic running group that I have been privileged to be a part of for the past 7 years meets on Tue/Thur mornings at 5:30am.  We take attendance, honor the dedicated, and we name and announce our routes each day.  There are usually 3 distances from 5-10 miles.  In the summer, we can easily average 80+ runners.  But even this morning, there were at least 2 dozen hardy souls ready to roll on a breezy, 20 degree, DARK morning.  The motivation this group has given me is probably the only thing that has kept me going when things got bad.

Today’s route was one of the only ones (of the dozen or so we switch between) that I had not covered the entire “A” route on.  It’s long (9.3 miles) for us and there is a very real danger of getting hopelessly lost as it follows a twisty path through neighborhoods full of dead ends, cul-de-sacs and other perils for the directionally challenged.  Since only the fast runners usually run the full route, I can’t keep up.  And you really need a Sherpa the first time you do this run, so I was usually out.  But today I decided to tackle it anyway.  Hoping that perhaps I could hang with SOMEBODY long enough to get through the new stuff.

There is a reason they call this run the “Dirty Half Dozen”.  But I’m pretty sure they don’t know how to count.  I counted at least 50 hills on this route, all of which were steep enough to give me tunnel vision at the top.  OK… maybe not that bad… but still.  I wasn’t sure how my legs would behave after Rock Bridge (also kind of hilly) so I took it easy at the start.

So many runners whose blogs I follow or listen to on social media are scared of running in the dark.  Especially new ultra runners really fret about it.  But, for about 9 months of the year, we run in the dark every time.  This is significant in this case because on this route there are some spots where I would consider the darkness “advanced”.  Pitch Freakin’ Black… actually.  Which is weird for being in town.  At one point we went down a street and I completely lost 2 runners who were only about 40 feet ahead of me.  Street signs were hard to spot.  It was almost like I had just started running in the dark again.  Which sucks when it’s on a route you have never run.

To make a long story longer…  I fished a little for a group that was going the full distance.  My legs were good for about 8:20/mi pace so I knew the fast group was out of my league.  Two groups just laughed at me when I asked if they were going long, so I prepared myself for an adventure.  Luckily, there were a couple of runners just ahead of me who I guessed were going long and I could (barely) keep them in sight, so I stalked them.  They successfully navigated themselves (and, by association, me…) through the course and, though we shaved a little off because they were tired of hills and I had no idea where I was going… We still managed 8.5 miles and I didn’t get lost or die.  That’s a winner.

This run just reminded me that there are always new challenges.  My challenge was running long on tired legs on a new route.  I showed myself that I’m in good enough shape to do that.  Changing the new route from “stressful” to “adventure” made it more fun.  And, let’s face it… Columbia ain’t that big.  I would have eventually popped out onto a street I knew.  It wasn’t that big of a deal.

I guess the point of all this is that I’m still learning, just about every time I go out.  And I still like both trails and roads.  I see no reason to specialize.  I may do a few more trail runs since I am looking at a trail marathon, but I don’t think I’ve lost that much by doing mostly road training.  I can navigate in the dark, on uneven surfaces and poorly marked roads/trails, in most any weather.  Maybe these runs were not so different after all…?


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