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The Return Run

Excitement, anxiety, impatience, hesitance… these are just a few of the thoughts and emotions I had going into yesterday’s run. The run, itself, would be an uneventful, slow five miles. The key word for me here was “uneventful.” That is just how I needed it to be.

For me, it was not an ordinary run. It was a run that would determine if and how my training would proceed for my marathon in May. It was my first run since being injured a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, it was not a long layover (11 days), but that length of time off can feel like an eternity to a runner. Combine being on the shelf with the fact that everyone on social media has been posting their January mileage, I’ve felt a slight sting to my running heart with each mileage total post. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy for those runners, but it was a constant reminder that I hadn’t run.

All of that changed yesterday with an actual run. The first run after coming off an injury is different. When things are going well for us as runners, we just run. We don’t focus as much on what is going on with our bodies. We take a lot for granted; however, during the first post-injury run, every stride involves so many repetitive thoughts and questions:

“How is my XYZ body part feeling?”

“Is that a normal twinge or a bad twinge?”

“Is the pain coming back or is that normally how I’d feel after losing some fitness?”

“Will the pain come back?”

and “Damn, how did my cardio go out the window so quickly?”

That first “Return Run” is exhausting, both physically, and, even more so, mentally. Those questions listed above run through the brain constantly.

Sometimes, it’s clear upon return that “The injury is still an issue” and it is wise to stop the run. Other times, the injury doesn’t re-emerge. This is always welcomed news, but that feeling of relief doesn’t fully arrive until the run is over. Sometimes, that feeling of relief doesn’t arrive until “The Run After the Return Run” or maybe not until a few pain-free runs have been completed.

For me, today is a rest day, so I won’t be completely at ease until my next run is finished. We’ll see. The good news is I feel sore in all the first places. There is hope. If things continue to progress, I know my fitness will return soon.

The return from an injury is a slow, cautious and frustrating process, but if we can be smart and somehow manage “patience,” we will generally find ourselves back out there running healthy again. It is just a matter of when.

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Perks & Challenges of Training for an Ultra

So, I am 915 miles into the training cycle for my first ultra (In24 Philadelphia) which has included five runs between the marathon and 50k distance over the last seven weeks.  The preparation for a 50+ mile urban ultra has taught me a few things about the world of ultra marathon training. Here are just a few of the pluses and minuses I have taken away from the last few months:

The Perks:

Slower Paced Runs

I have been doing my longer runs 90-120 seconds slower than the typical long run pace I would do for a marathon training cycle. This has helped with muscle recovery. My legs have never felt the way they often do after I race a marathon because, despite the longer distances, I have not pounded my body like I would during a race.

While it has taken me some time to adjust to this newer “long run” pace, the idea of focusing on miles vs. pace has freed up my mind and has been quite relaxing. Furthermore, this “quantity vs. “quality” philosophy further simplifies the training.

Eating Real Food During Runs

This might sound sad, but one of the highlights of my long runs has been eating real food. My favorite “go to” food has become peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It has become a morale boost. Energy gels and hydrating alone are not enough during the extended time our bodies are out there running, so real food is a necessity.

My race will have a food table, and I will bring my own as well. I have learned that the body will tell me what it wants. If I look at a particular food and cringe, then I’ll stay away from that food. If I look and want it, I will take it.

Stopping to Adjust is Fine

Running further is a war of attrition, and sometimes there needs to be a lull to regroup and check in with the body (and mind). This might involve a bathroom pit stop or the re-application of sunscreen. It might involve consuming the “real food” mentioned above. These little “pauses” go a long way in making the post-run after-effects less daunting on the body.

Also, I have been running with a hydration pack which has room for my phone, so I have snapped the occasional photograph during my runs. It has been nice to stop and smell the roses during some runs.

The Challenges

Slower Paced Runs

Yes, I already listed this as a perk, but for a runner with a “5K pace” competitive spirit, it has taken EVERY ounce of mental effort to discipline myself to run slower. It has not always been easy. While I do miss a good 8 x 800m repeat workout on the track; there is not much purpose for that when running for distance vs. a PR time.

Training is More Time Consuming

I did the math, and I spent approximately 13.5 hours training during the longer mileage weeks (one of which maxed out at just under 102 miles).  That is nearly two hours per day. This has been a challenge especially with a full time job (and a couple of part time jobs).

Weight Loss

Some might say this is a perk, but at one point, I had lost over 21 pounds. I was getting dangerously close to my high school weight. So, I had to make nutrition adjustments along the way to gain a few pounds back. Then, I had to figure out how to maintain my weight.  I added protein shakes to my diet, as well as trail mixes of all sorts.

Tiredness

While the slower-paced long runs have been easier on my muscles, I have been more tired from the mileage. I am not sure if this has been from the miles alone or the fact that I have had to wake up earlier to fit the mileage into my weekly schedule of government employee, coach, New Balance employee and writer.

I have found that a ten minute nap, when possible, goes a long way. Also, yes, coffee, and more coffee.

The hay is in the barn. The race is less than two weeks away. I’m still not sure if this will be a “one time deal” or not, but one thing running has taught me:

Never Say “Never”

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While the gray was a surprise, I’m labeling the “ultra beard” as a perk. I’m still figuring out how to trim it. 

0 comments on “WINTER TRAINING WARNING:”

WINTER TRAINING WARNING:

A NO WHINING ZONE is in effect for the rest of the winter.

I love Twitter.  It helps us connect with people we want to connect with.  It’s also valuable for information updates and resource sharing, as well as getting inspired by fellow athletes.  Sometimes, however, Twitter is reduced to a repetitious weather report from many (present company included).

You’ve seen it: A screen shot of the frigid temperatures, a photo of a snowy yard.  I’ve been guilty of this myself.  We are sharing what we already know: it’s cold and it snows in winter.  Can we get over it?

Here’s the thing: We are athletes.  We train twelve months of the year.  If a big spring race is coming up, we must train.  Yes, a foot of snow will force us to get creative and flexible with our training plans, but at the end of the day, we must get in the workout.  Whether it’s using a treadmill, Yaktrax, or running on a planned rest day (if that day turns out to be the better day weather-wise), our training plans must be “breathing training plans.” We mustn’t ruminate if we need to adjust.

The other thing I won’t do: I won’t complain about the weather. Yes, on the inside, I might be worn down or frustrated by it, but I can’t waste my energy worrying about it.  Whining doesn’t get the workout done.  The race date doesn’t get moved, so neither should our training.

To help cope with the bad weather, I’m sharing some of the things that help me deal with it:

Wind Chill Factor (the “Feels Like” temp):  Wind just reminds us we are alive. When it smacks you in the face, smile back at it.  What else can you do?  Sometimes I yell too…it’s cathartic.  Try it.  If that doesn’t work, cursing is acceptable.

Snow:  Remember when we were young?  The snow excited us.  We couldn’t get outside fast enough.  Throw on the Yaktrax and greet the snow head on.  Instead of sledding, hit a trail or right-of-way path to stay away from cars.  Otherwise throw on your Hi Viz gear or hit the treadmill.

Darkness: Personally, I have more trouble with the shorter days than the actual weather because of my poor vision.  This year, I bought a headlamp and I have my NB jacket, which glows in the dark. These things help, but it’s still hard to catch the potholes.  I’ve turned my ankles at least three times.  Perhaps, try a midday run when temperatures moderate and the darkness is gone.

Group: If I know I have to meet a friend to run, it gets me out of bed to do it.  Plain and simple.  If it’s just me running, there is more risk of hitting the snooze.  So, if you can find someone as crazy and willing as you to brave it, I’d try it.

I’m not saying to be stupid or be a hero out there, but it’s possible to make it through winter and come out in great shape for the spring.  Also, we can do it without whining about it.

Yes, it’s winter, thank you for the reminder

0 comments on “The Track Feels Like Home…”

The Track Feels Like Home…

The track feels like home, and sometimes you must break into your own house

Saturday morning.  Crunched for time. If I was going to be able to handle the rest of my responsibilities that day, my track workout needed to start by 7am.  As I approached the entrance to the track area, it was clear that it was locked.

“Now what?”

Option 1: Drive to the next township, and see if their track is open?  That would eat more precious time.  No.

Option 2: Climb the six feet high fence, and enter the track illegally?  Smiling…Yes.

As I started my climb, my inner monologue was: “What the bleep are you doing?” However, as one leg went over the top, I shifted to: “Breakin’ the Law, Breakin’ the Law” from Judas Priest with eyes wide open and grinning.  I know, a minor infraction, but when I landed on the other side of the fence, freedom was before me.

The track was mine, and nobody else’s.  It would stay that way for the entire workout. This. This place feels like home. Familiar: With a sense of place. Finite: yet so many possibilities…memories to be made, work to be done.

I’ll spare you the details of the actual workout because you’ve done your own such workouts; however, I’d like to share some of the sounds of the track from that snowy, windy morning with you…

On the turns: The relentless sloshing sounds of my feet from the wet, slippery track

Back Straight: The unforgiving, dissonant howl of the winter wind blaring in my ears and face. 

Front Straight: The transition to the quiet serenity of the tailwind, with silence broken by my labored breathing. 

Across the street: The metronomic clanging of the flagpole, mocking my temporary pain. 

That inner voice: “200m more – don’t leave it here.”

Breaking the law to do this was worth the effort.  As I climbed my way out of there, I cut myself just below my left knee.  This was a small price to pay for the opportunity to be there.  To be home.

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The End of the PR

I accept the fact that my PR days will be behind me soon, but it’s nice to know I can still grab one…”

Recently, I wrote that after getting a PR at the Half Marathon distance.  The truth is, I don’t know how many more years I have left in which a PR is a possibility.  Two years?  Five years?  Ten?

Part of me wants the possibility of a PR to always be there.  This possibility means a lot.  It means I’ve still got it, or I’m still competitive with myself.  To run a race distance faster than you ever have is a great feeling, but what happens when we plateau or slow down as we age?  It is inevitable.

On plateauing

I once overheard two runners discussing PRs on a shuttle bus before the Bolder Boulder 10k. One turned to the other and said:

If you’re able to run the same time every year, you’re actually getting faster.”

Initially, this didn’t make sense to me.  To me, his words meant stagnation; however, he was right.  Age is a factor, so when we reach the point of not getting faster, if we’re not getting slower either, this should be considered a victory for the aging, right?   If age wasn’t a factor, there would only be one qualifying time for men, and one qualifying time for women for the Boston Marathon.

Yes, we’re all aging.  The next race you run will be the youngest you’re going to be in your remaining races.   It smacks you in the face, doesn’t it?

On slowing down

So, what happens when we get slower?  What becomes our motivation in a race then?  Is it to keep moving?  To stay fit? To maintain a social life? These are admirable motivators.  For me, it would be to relieve stress, but personally, I might be more relaxed during a race if I knew I wasn’t PRing that day.  Who am I kidding? I’ll never be fully relaxed during a race. OK, so maybe it would be to relieve a different kind of stress.

Should we stop trying to PR if there is no possibility of a PR?    One of my friends on dailymile, in response to my initial quote, had an encouraging quote of his own:

Hey I’m 57 and still trying for PRs. Never stop trying.”  Thank you, Glenn.

Look, we are lulled into a false sense that running and many other things in life are permanent.  I wish they were, but, let’s face it, the Reaper is undefeated.

So, let’s run now, and let’s take Glenn’s advice: Never stop trying.

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Yes, it flies

0 comments on “Run Long and Prosper: Mister Spock Denconstructed”

Run Long and Prosper: Mister Spock Denconstructed

Smashing through the boundaries, lunacy has found me, cannot stop the battery.” – Battery by Metallica

This song makes me think of Mister Spock from Star Trek.   “Why?” you ask me as if I have two heads.   Because Spock did not appear to worry one way or the other about too much.  It was almost as if he was a machine, powered by a battery.   Cue Metallica.

I explained the above-quote in an old post, but I felt that Mister Spock or “Spock Mode” needed to be further explained.

During a long run with my wife, I tried to describe to her what it is like to train for and run a marathon in an attempt to qualify for Boston.   I did this because, at the time, she was attempting to qualify for Boston herself.  I told her that you can’t get too high or too low emotionally during the training or the race.

You can’t worry about the weather or your belly.   You can’t retreat during the tough moments of nearly four months of training.  You especially can’t retreat during the tough moments of the 26.2 mile stretch, and yes, expect there will be a few of those moments.   I told her, you almost shouldn’t care one way or the other about a potential obstacle.  Obstacles will be always be there. The key is moving past them without expending much mental energy.

I am not suggesting to run without passion. After all, Spock’s mixed human-Vulcan  heritage allowed him to show yet control his emotions.  I am simply encouraging runners to attempt to be “emotionally detached” from roadblocks or obstacles.  This prevents or limits panic. It’s about energy conservation.

So, during that long run, I actually told my wife she needed to be like Mister Spock.  Highly Illogical?  I think not.  She qualified. She is now a disciple of Mister Spock.  Furthermore, if you read the quote on her Road ID, it will remind you that she is in “Mister Spock Mode.”

“Spock Mode” doesn’t have to be limited to a BQ goal.  Actually, the goal can be anything: Your first 5k, a Half PR, an Ultra, returning from an injury, etc.

John Gorka, a singer-songwriter from New Jersey, wrote a song about his home state and accurately described New Jerseyans; however, the following line from the song is more consistent with my point:

“…If the world ended today, I would adjust.”

This is related to the Spock mentality.  We have goals, and inevitably, something will challenge or get in the way of our goals.

The key is to adjust...to “move on” from the moment…

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Run long and prosper

0 comments on “This Is Why I Love The Steamtown Marathon…”

This Is Why I Love The Steamtown Marathon…

We receive messages like this from the Ass’t Race Director…

Greetings and happy Friday the 13th Steamtown entrants! Hope you didn’t trip over a black cat on your training run today.

Well, it’s only 81 days to the 17th annual Steamtown Marathon. By now your long runs should be getting pretty long so I thought I’d remind you in a very quiet, gentle, and meek way to MIX IN SOME DOWNHILLS ON YOUR RUNS!

Steamtown is a quad killer. The course features a 955’ net elevation drop from start to finish but the vast majority of the drop is in the first 8 miles. The course has so much downhill during the early stages that you will feel like you are “running through a cool rain forest without a tie on.”

Many of you are probably now saying to yourself, “Myself, since the early miles sound so easy and fun, I think I will run really fast early on and bank time. Then, I can take it easy during the later stages of the race and still meet my goal time.”

Wrong naiive runners! Banking time is a really bad idea and will result in agony and despondent thoughts when you hit the uphills (yes, uphills) in the later stages of the race. Your best strategy is to keep an even pace and try your best to run even splits for both halves of the course.

I strongly suggest you attend the race expo to listen to the presentation about our course from really smart running people. They will make you promise that you will try to run even splits and will hold you down and give you a pink belly if you refuse.

In the meantime, here are some links to pages on our Web site that I recommend you read:

http://www.steamtownmarathon.com/4.3.html

http://www.steamtownmarathon.com/4.html

http://www.steamtownmarathon.com/4.1.html

Also, if you are seeking yet another great half marathon in Northeast PA prior to running Steamtown, why not give the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Half Marathon in fabulous Wilkes-Barre, PA a try?

Here is a link: http://www.wilkesbarreracing.com/WWK_HalfMarathon/

Well, that’s my story and I am sticking to it. Will drop you another line in a couple of weeks. Get going on those downhills.

Sincerely,

Jim “Do you think he’s serious about the pink belly?” Cummings

Asst. Race Director