Rx for Recovery: Eat, Sleep, Stretch

THIS NOT RACING IS TIRING ME OUT.

After all my races this year I’m on a recovery break, and I was expecting to feel re-energized, even restless. Instead, I’ve had less energy and been more sore. I asked the head trainer at my gym, Body Specs, about it.

“All year long, running more races than ever, I felt great,” I told him. Now in my recovery time, I feel run down. What’s going on?”

“It’s very common,” he said. “Especially among competitive athletes. They’ve been going hard, working toward their goals, and then they’re done and they don’t know what to do next.” He coaches college athletes and former NFL players, so he sees this a lot.

Body Specs is good at making sure I don't slack off too much.

Body Specs is good at making sure I don’t slack off too much.

“One thing we encourage people to do is to try something new,” he continued. “You know, you train at your sport and never have time to try out other activities you might want to try. Now you have the time.”

As it happened, I was considering trying yoga, both for its body conditioning and for its mental aspect – calming and focusing the mind. The downside I’ve heard is that the extreme stretches can be detrimental to running. We rely upon a certain amount of “spring” in our muscles, and overstretching them – becoming too flexible – can cause a loss of that spring. One fellow runner told me that running strong is “all about how flexible you are not.”

Yoga pose - Drew_Osborne_3 - Wikimedia Commons

Right. Sure. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Well, Running Fit to the rescue! They’re offering a Yoga for Runners class in December and January. And with my Aikido class on break during that time, it fills that spot perfectly. The only drawback is that it’s in Northville, which means fighting rush hour traffic. But Skip’s advice nudged me into signing up. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’m making a change to my regular habits as well. I’ve always been a night owl to some degree, but as I get up fairly early for work, it means I get by on about 6.5 hours of sleep much of the time. I’ve started to make myself get at least seven hours. It’s already making a difference in my energy level.

And I’m trying to keep in mind that a rest and recovery period, where I feel less motivated to run and want more idle time, is natural and healthy. Many elite runners take off several weeks entirely and allow themselves to gain a few pounds. Scott Jurek, one of the world’s most successful ultrarunners, does no running at all during his break. I enjoy running too much to stop, but it feels good to just run for fun for a while.

Of course, your definition of "fun" may differ from mine.

Of course, your definition of “fun” may differ from mine.

MORE: Running Times says Give It A Rest: the lost art of recovery between training cycles.

Already bouncing ideas around for 2015. Looking forward to another year of adventures out there!

Cocoa Power: Kona Chocolate Run Recap

Just how powerful is chocolate? Witness the following.

Chocolate Run - 10K start

7:00 a.m. in downtown Plymouth, MI. 26 degrees and dull gray sky. Sensible people are still in bed or enjoying breakfast and coffee in a warm location. And yet over 5,200 people are standing outside, shivering in Spandex, gloves, and beanies, waiting to begin a 10K or 5K run.

Yes, today was the Chocolate Run, the final race in the series put on by the Kona Running Company every year. Along with some pretty snazzy gear, runners got a trip to the chocolate tent after their race, where they refueled with chocolate chip cookies, chocolate bread, and pretzels with dipping chocolate, and, of course, a nice cup of hot chocolate.

The half-zip is a nice upgrade over the standard race shirt. And it's cat-approved.

The half-zip is a nice upgrade over the standard race shirt. And it’s cat-approved.

As usual, I volunteered my services as a pacer, which got me the same snazzy gear and chocolate tent visit without feeling like I needed to run my butt off. I was joined by  fellow PR Fitness runners Ray and Melissa for the 10K 50:00 pace. Our group was well represented, including the 6th place overall finishers in both the 10K and 5K, and many of our runners achieving personal best times (a.k.a. PRs). That’s the spirit!

She's run six Ironman triathlons but claimed holding the sign for a couple of miles was "too hard". Hmm....

She’s run six Ironman triathlons but claimed holding the sign for a couple of miles was “too hard”. Hmm….

The course is mainly flat, which makes it good for first-time and casual runners and made sticking to pace easy. It took about a mile and a half to fully warm up, but we had a good time chatting about Melissa’s Ironman experiences.

After the 10K and some chocolate, I took the 8 minute/mile pace sign and went off to the 5K. Thanks to the cold and a half hour wait before the start, I was a bit stiff at the outset, but I was grateful to be running relatively fast. And it was fun yelling at people to pass me in the final few hundred yards.

Chocolate Run - the goodiesA couple of logistical issues from last year were much improved this year. To cut down on crowding during the first mile, the runners were sent out in waves at ten-minute intervals. But the best improvement was the flow through the chocolate tent. Last year there was just a single line, and it got so long that many people gave up and went to the nearby coffee shops for their hot chocolate. This year there were two lines and the goodies were more pre-arranged so people spent less time getting their goodies.

Finally, a trip to Plymouth to pace a race isn’t complete without a good cup of coffee. Plymouth has many choices near Kellogg Park but my favorite is the Plymouth Coffee Bean, where in addition to a good latte they make sweet and savory crepes to order. Life isn’t just about chocolate, you know.

This is all that's left of my crepe when I remembered to take a photo. Yes, it was very good.

This is all that was left of my crepe when I remembered to take a photo. Yes, it was very good.

Star Spangled Thanks, and Running Thoughts

To all active and retired members of the U.S. armed forces and their families, I’d like to express my gratitude and respect for your sacrifices and service to our country. I hope you all had a safe and happy Veterans Day.

Seen at Whole Foods today. That's the spirit!

Seen at Whole Foods today. That’s the spirit!

On a somewhat related note, we’ve just returned from a trip to visit DD #1 in Richmond, Virginia. She moved there for college several years ago and refuses to come home (there’s gratitude for you). Mostly we just hung out and enjoyed being together, but we also headed to D.C. one day to visit the Smithsonian. Along with the Air & Space Museum (mandatory for DD #2) we checked out The Star Spangled Banner exhibit at the American History Museum.

Star Spangled Banner exhibit

Yes, this is the Star Spangled Banner – the flag that flew over Fort McHenry two hundred years ago as the British burned the White House and threatened Baltimore. If you get a chance to go to Washington sometime, I highly recommend seeing it. You get a good close-up view, and there are other artifacts on display, including the original handwritten text of the poem that became our national anthem.

The next day I ran 11.11 miles as a small tribute to Veterans Day and what it represents. Here’s just a few examples of how the running community and veterans come together:

Team RWB-Liberty Run- Team RWB (Red, White, and Blue) – a nationwide organization of runners who carry the American flag at races and support veterans awareness and community activities.

- The Marine Corps Marathon – one of the most famous running events in the country. I haven’t been to one (yet) but I hear it’s an intense and fun experience, with real Marines putting the medals on the finishers.

- The Bataan Death March – a run in New Mexico honoring the troops who were captured early in WWII and underwent the actual “Death March”. I heard about this event from a woman at Run Woodstock, who said it was her most memorable marathon. “Some vets ran it in crutches,” she said, “and there was one guy carrying another one up a hill.”

This kind of stuff provides me with a real perspective. Trail ultras are not easy, but I run them by choice, and with an intact, healthy body. And I can do them because others put their lives on the line to defend us and our way of life. To all of you who do this: thanks again.

thank-you-veterans

Joy and Subterfuge: Wicked Halloween Run Recap

I WAS SURROUNDED BY SUPERHEROES, monsters, and even a refrigerator, but what impressed me most was a nine-year-old girl.

Pacing assignments at 7:00 a.m.

Pacing assignments at 7:00 a.m.

Last Sunday I paced the Wicked Halloween 10K, one of the races put on by the Kona Running Company. I enjoy pacing their events for many reasons – the large turnout, the cool shirts, a great location (downtown Plymouth, MI) and the energy of all involved. They are also unusual in providing pacers for 5K and 10K distances, something normally reserved for the half marathon and longer. But I hear compliments for the pacers at every event, so they’re onto something.

They also make a special effort to recognize first-time racers. I normally run the 52-minute pace, but they needed someone for the “1st Time 10K” so I took the sign. The pace would be easy; the tough part was finding first-timers, despite over 1,600 runners lined up behind the starting gate. There are plenty of first-time 5K runners at Kona races, but most 10Kers have already run some before. (Which leads me to wonder: where do people run their first 10K?)

Never mind "first time" - how does anyone run *at all* in those things?

Never mind “first time” – how does anyone run *at all* in those things?

Eventually I found a few near the back, and after congratulations and photos, off we went. But I got distracted looking at the costumes and lost them at some point. After futile attempts to find more first-timers, I declared a few people to be “Honorary 1st Time 10K” and ran behind them holding the sign. They didn’t seem to mind. Heck, they got some extra kudos from the spectators.

Wicked Halloween Run - Bearded Couple

One of the many cheering sections along the way - another nice touch.

One of the many cheering sections along the way – another nice touch.

At the water stop at the halfway mark, I tried again to locate some genuine first-timers. Finally, I found someone. Yes! My life had meaning again! Then I found a couple more – even a dog. And then I came across this young lady.

Wicked Halloween Run - Joyful Running

Kaney was running her first-ever 10K, but watching her I wouldn’t have guessed. Her pace was steady and her form was excellent. And she was obviously really enjoying herself . “This is what running is all about!” I wanted to say to the adults with her. “Having a good time!” And I did say it, actually.

Wicked Halloween Run - Finish.jpgI stayed with them the rest of the way, and got this photo at the finish. Another good event on another beautiful day. And downtown Plymouth is a fun place to wander around afterward, with small-town charm and at least two excellent non-chain coffee shops – the Coffee Bean and Espresso Elevado – easy walking distance from the park.

Looking forward to pacing The Chocolate Run in a few weeks!

Oh, yes, and here’s the refrigerator. This lady is known for her elaborate costumes!

Wicked Halloween Run - Refrigerator Costume

Spectators: Well-Intentioned Lies, and Positive Signs

DEAR RACE SPECTATORS: You’re wonderful. Really, you are. But please be careful what you say.

One of the things I enjoy about running races are the people who come out to watch us and cheer us on. I’ve written before about how encouraging runners are to each other, particularly with ultramarathons, but the folks who gather at the start and finish, and stand along the course clapping and urging us on, uplift and energize us. And the signs posted along the route can be very entertaining. (See below for some examples.)

But just a word of advice, please,  if you watch a race. There are some things people say with the best of intentions, but really don’t help much. One of the biggest offenders, at least according to runners, is the infamous YAT (“You’re Almost There!”). Infamous because veteran runners hear it at just about every race. Problem is, it’s almost never true.

Fellow blogger sarahdudek80 (“Running on Healthy“) posted this about the YAT recently. She points out that mile 20 of a marathon may seem like “almost there” to spectators and people who’ve never run one, but I can assure you that those last few miles can seem like forever.

I’ve also heard YAT at the 2-mile mark of 5K races. I really feel bad for occasional or first-time runners busting their butts who hear that. That final mile is one-third of the race, which can be another 10 to 15 minutes of pain and strain. You’re welcome to lie to me by yelling, “Looking strong!” when I look like crap, but if I can’t see the finish line, don’t tell me I’m almost there.

But it’s a little thing. We runners really appreciate spectators and their efforts at encouraging us. The positive effects we get from them far outweigh the negatives. In that spirit, here are some of my favorite spectator signs that I was able to capture. These are all from races I actually ran, but enjoyed what I saw enough to slow down or stop and snap a picture.

I’ll kick off with my all-time favorite, from the starting area of the 2011 Chicago Marathon, my first 26.2. I think of this slogan all the time when I’m doing a particularly challenging event, and it never fails to pump me up. (The first line reads, “There Will Be a Day When You Can No Longer Do This.”)

Good Sign

Here are a couple from the 2012 Ann Arbor Marathon:

Sign - Kicking Ass-2

Sign - Run Like You Stole Something-2

This is from the 2012 Martian Invasion of Races half marathon. And yes, I did set a PR!

Motivation at final turn-2

This is actually from my 600-mile bike trip, but I’m counting it:

(In someone's yard just a mile from my house.) An auspicious sign! (yes, pun intended)

(In someone’s yard just a mile from my house.) An auspicious sign! (yes, pun intended)

And finally, from the 2014 Dances with Dirt Green Swamp 50K:

Why Do You Run sign

See you out there! And bring signs!

All Dieters, Please Skip This Post

I HAVE BEEN AN ACCESSORY TO AN ABOMINABLE CRIME.

Or, perhaps more appropriately, an abdominal crime.

It began with a call from my daughter in Richmond, asking for advice with a bread pudding recipe. She’s an excellent and innovative cook and I know my way around bread pudding, so I was happy to help. Well, this one is made with Krispy Kreme donuts. I’d never heard of this variant before, but there are several recipes online. Here’s the one my daughter found.

DD bread pudding

The problem? 18 of those god-awful donuts, plus heavy cream (one quart), milk, condensed milk, and a dozen eggs. And whipped cream topping. Just reading it makes me feel like I’ve gained a pound. It’s a recipe with absolutely no redeeming qualities. There is espresso in the topping, though. I suppose you could use decaf.

A more responsible father would have given her advice designed to thoroughly screw DD bread pudding 3up the result, causing her to trash it and never attempt it again. Unfortunately she has me, who can’t help trying to solve a problem. So I advised her to cut back on the heavy cream and to pre-bake the donuts to get them dry like stale bread. The result was by her account a smashing success. So good, that her friend and baking companion expressed her satisfaction on Facebook in obscene terms.

I felt so guilty that I made myself run 12 miles on Saturday morning without any breakfast. (Well, not on purpose. I just didn’t feel like eating before the run.)

In related news, there’s quite a debate out there on whether running on an empty stomach has any benefits – other than the normal benefits of running, that is. I’ve done long training runs both ways and not usually felt any difference. For races, on the other hand, I always make myself eat something beforehand. For short races, I want the energy to be there for running hard; for trail ultras, I need to stay ahead of the energy curve. It took some time to get used to eating on the run, but it’s essential for the 50K and beyond.

By way of penance, here’s a recipe for a low-fat banana bread pudding. I used lowfat milk instead of the fat-free half and half, and added chopped dates as well. It was a hit. (And caramel sauce with a nip of brandy didn’t hurt, either.)

Bread Pudding - small

Fast Sharks and Loose Shoes: Run Scream Run Recap

Y’all can call me Shoelace.

Run Scream Run - Me with GladiatorLast Saturday was Run Scream Run at Wiard’s Orchards in Ypsilanti. RSR is one of those fall races that attract a lot of casual runners and even non-runners, like turkey trots and chocolate runs do. Despite the chill (about 36 degrees before race start) the turnout was large and even the ghouls and witches were in good spirits.

Here are some things about RSR that make it memorable, at least to those who participate.

It’s at a cider mill. Hard to pick a better place for a fall fun race, and you can bring the family, too. Now, Wiard’s is not what you’d call your typical small-town, homey cider mill. No mistake, they are a big time operation. Which is fine – they have a lot of products to offer, and they easily accommodated the 1,700 runners and the other visitors. I have to say, though, that the cider in their refrigerators was pasteurized and had a preservative in it. I can get that kind of cider at Meijer, so I passed on it. The cinnamon donut was excellent, however.

Costumes. While many runners don’t bother to dress up, there are many who do, and some folks really go all out.

Run Scream Run - costumes

Run Scream Run - costumes 3

The guy in the shark pajamas (to the right of Captain America) won the 10K. Dem land sharks move fast!

The guy in the shark pajamas (to the right of Captain America) won the 10K. Land sharks can run 5:30 miles. You have been warned!

Hmmm...some things may actually be too scary for this blog.

Hmmm…some things may actually be too scary for this blog.

The course. Wiard’s has a whole set of haunted attractions, and some of it gets incorporated into the race. The first was a run through the “Fear Barn” – new this year, and a few people were nervous about it. As it turned out, it was very early in the race, and as I was actually running, I was in and out before anything really happened. Biggghh deal!

RSR-Monster 2More interesting is the Haunted Forest, which is a quarter mile or so of dirt path in the woods flanked by decrepit (by design) wooden buildings and inhabited by various nefarious creatures with chain saws and the like. They typically don’t bother the faster runners, but if you’re jogging or walking – watch out!

And they post people in gruesome costumes at various points on the path – part paved, part grass, with many hiding places available. And just as I re-entered the main orchard, a zombie leaped up from the brush and yelled – and I jumped. He got me, all right! But with just a quarter mile to go, the shot of adrenaline was actually welcome.

Oh, and the “shoelace” part? As I got into the starting queue, I noticed that my left shoe seemed loose, and I carefully retied it. So, naturally, it was my right shoe that came untied at the 2-mile mark. At a longer race, I would have stopped and fixed it, but this was a 10K and I was running well and didn’t want to get out of my groove. So I ran the remaining 4.2 miles with shoelaces flapping. Fortunately, the shoe stayed on, and I finished 14th with another age group win.

Me with another famous "Shoelace", Denard Robinson. Except that he's bigger, probably better looking, has lots more hair and runs about seven times faster than I do, the resemblance is remarkable, don't you think?.

Me with UM’s famous “Shoelace”, Denard Robinson. Except that he’s better looking, has lots more hair and runs about seven times faster than I do, the resemblance is uncanny, don’t you think?.

Kind of hard to believe, but I have no more “official” races until the Holiday Hustle on December 13. Just pacing the Kona races and fun stuff until then. The five races in six weeks sure went fast. I’ll let you know if I go stir crazy and sign up for something else!

Also memorable. Seen here: 2014 medal, 2012 age group award, 2014 award.

Also memorable. Seen here: 2014 medal, 2012 age group award (yep, it’s what you think it is), 2014 award.