Tag Archives: training

When a Run Ain’t So Fun

ANY RUNNER WILL TELL YOU that while every run is unique, a pattern will emerge over time. Most of them will be somewhere in the “okay” range – it was good, glad you did it, end of story. There will be a few glorious runs when you feel indestructible and never want to stop. And there will be a few times when the entire experience just plain sucks.

Today’s 18-miler was one of the last kind.

Yeah, sometimes it does.

Yeah, sometimes it does.

Perhaps it was due to my stupid cat who started crying for breakfast at 4:15 a.m. Or it was the cumulative effect of my increased mileage the past three weeks. Or, maybe it was just one of those days and it was going to happen regardless.

The Saturday PR group run begins at 8:00 a.m., but I’ve started doing a few miles before then so the main run isn’t quite as long. So I crawled out of bed at 6:15, fed Miss Obnoxious and her sisters, drove to the studio, and got in just under four miles before joining the group.

It's a good thing she's so damn cute.

It’s a good thing she’s so damn cute.

Those early miles were among my toughest this year so far. It was bitingly cold and I felt creaky and lethargic, with zero motivation. But as I returned to the studio, the sun came up and lifted my spirits. After some water and a bite to eat, I figured the remaining fourteen miles would be the normal, “okay” kind.

Not so much.

I did finally get warm, and starting out with a large, enthusiastic group is fun. But my body still felt leaden and I struggled to hold my standard long-run pace. For a few miles I chatted with other runners, which always helps the miles slip by. But all too soon I was by myself, far out of town, with a lot of miles to go.

Our club's not afraid of a little cold weather!

Our club’s not afraid of a little cold weather! (Photo courtesy Chuanwu Xi)

Usually at some point on a long run, I ease into a steady stride and can relax and be grateful for being out there doing something healthy and enjoyable. About halfway through I thought I was there. It was sunny and bright, I was on a comfortable dirt road, and feeling almost normal.

Then my kidneys went into overdrive. How does drinking a half-cup of water result in the need to pee out a gallon? Twice? And try as I might, I just couldn’t shake the heavy body feeling. So it was slog, slog, slog the rest of the way back.

But you know what? I did it. Not that I’d given myself much choice. The route was an out-and-back, so after pushing myself to the turnaround point, there was no shortcut. Cruel, but effective.

You know you're in trouble when you see each of these as a potential toilet.

You know you’re in trouble when you see these only as potential toilets.

And while these types of runs are miserable, they’re actually very valuable. It’s outstanding preparation for a race, when you’re giving it your all and are guaranteed to be uncomfortable. Getting through a bad run, no matter how awful it feels, toughens both body and mind for the events that really mean something to you.

It had been a while since my last bad run, so I was probably overdue. Now that it’s over, I can be properly grateful for it. And I gave my weary body some consolation, downing two pastries at Sweetwaters instead of my usual one. I think I can afford it.

Now what to do about my “recovery run” on Sunday? Part of me wants to blow it off, and the rest of me doesn’t want to think about it right now. So we’ll see. I get the feeling I’ll sneak it in, though. After all, it can hardly feel worse.

Milestones, Intentional or Not

I REACHED A MILESTONE IN RUNNING last month that I didn’t find out about until today – just after I achieved a second one.

I wasn’t trying for either; they just happened in the course of things. I guess it’s true – If you just keep going, eventually you will get somewhere. Even if you don’t know it.

Today I logged onto Athlinks, as I do about once per year, to make sure my races from 2016 were properly accounted for. There were a few I needed to claim, so I took care of those. And when I was done, my main page looked like this:

athlinks-100-races-cropped

How about that? When I tramped across the snow-covered finish line last month at Yankee Springs, I completed my hundredth running event. Beginning with the Holiday Hustle in 2008, I’ve crossed the finish line of an official race one hundred times, ranging from 5K to 100 miles and everything in between. And that first race seemed to take place just yesterday. Where the heck did those years in between go?

My first race result. Not bad, but plenty of room for improvement!

My first race result. Not bad, but plenty of room for improvement!

To fend off the hordes of reporters who I’m sure would pester me otherwise, I’ll respond to their expected question here:

“Jeff! How do you FEEL about completing ONE HUNDRED races?”

Actually, I don’t feel much at all. Which is likely due to being wiped out from my gym workout and run today. It was never a goal of mine to complete that number of races – it just happened.

In fact, had you asked me ten years ago if I thought I would accomplish something like this, I’ve had said, “A hundred? I haven’t even done one yet! And who says I want to run races, anyway?”

And yet here I am with three 2017 races already completed and many more on my calendar, including my first Boston Marathon and another 100-miler in June. You really can’t make this stuff up.

And thanks to the training necessary to run those races, today I reached another milestone. When I stepped off the treadmill at Body Specs after a cooldown 5K, it marked the first time ever I’ve run for ten consecutive days. That may sound funny coming from an ultrarunner, but it’s true! The closest I’ve come before was several years ago, when to reach a yearly mileage goal I ran 9 days out of 10 at the end of December.

I began this streak to step up my weekly distance. Last year I got through my spring marathons and ultras, but had some foot issues. As this year’s 100-miler will be on pavement, it’s especially important I toughen them up. And the best way to do that is to run more miles.

I’m being careful, making most runs easy and relatively short, and so far my legs are feeling fine. And I have no problem stopping if something doesn’t feel right. It’s a fun streak to mention, but it’s by no means a vanity thing.

In fact, any prideful thoughts I might have about a running streak was put to rest by this recent news. Ron Hill, at 78, recently ended his world record run streak at – wait for it – 52 years, 39 days. That’s right, he ran every day for over 19,000 consecutive days, competing in three Olympic Games and winning the 1970 Boston Marathon along the way. There’s a milestone worth bragging about. Not that he is. From the Runner’s World article:

“[The streak] doesn’t drive me that much,” he said. “I was more driven by competition when I was younger. I do it because I enjoy it. I try not to think about it.”

ronhill

Image from therunnereclectric.com.

 

So there you go. Ron wasn’t obsessed with setting the record. He just ran, and after a while he set it. Seems like a good example to follow. I will keep on training, and we’ll see where it takes me.

Do What? I Can’t Imagine. . .

If there’s one thing being a runner is good for (*) it’s getting a sense of perspective.

This morning I was meeting with our company president, an aficionado of the latest and greatest in technology (you can read my “Gadget Man” post here). A message from one of his daughters had appeared on his Apple Watch, and he demonstrated how to finger-scrawl a reply and have it turn into a text message.

Then he looked at me.

“She’s recovering from a slight concussion,” he said. “Her coach told her to go jog an easy mile to see how she feels. That just doesn’t make sense to me. How is a mile an easy jog?”

Before I became a runner I’d have shared his viewpoint. But to me now, I told him, it made perfect sense. An easy mile seemed just right for her purpose. I do exactly that myself as part of my pre-race warmup. But to the non-runner, “one mile” just doesn’t fit with “easy” at any speed.

Fast forward to this afternoon’s workout at Body Specs. Another runner trains at the same time I do, and he said he’d heard that 200-mile races were growing in popularity. He told me someone had interviewed a veteran 100-mile runner about this, whose comment was, “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to run that distance.”

This is where I am on the spectrum. A 100-mile race is the most I’ve ever seen myself doing. Double that distance? What for? (**)

crazy-aunty-acid

And yet for some runners, even 200 miles is just a stepping stone to greater distances. Ultrarunner Dean Karnazes once ran 50 marathons, one in each U.S. state, in 50 consecutive days. And Pete Kostelnick just completed a 42-day, 3,000-mile run across the U.S. from San Francisco to New York, an average of over 72 miles (nearly three marathons) per day. To them, a mile must be like stepping outside to get the mail.

Just going out for a run! Back in a couple months!

Just going out for a run, honey! Back in a couple months!

This kind of perspective comes in handy when I race. I see faster runners pull away, and look at the results of the top finishers, and wish I were more like them. And yet as I’m usually at or near the top of my age group, there must be many other runners wishing they were more like me. And I know people who wish they were able just to run at all. Being aware of this makes it hard to feel sorry for myself when I don’t perform as well as I wanted to.

slow-runners-make-fast-runners-look-good

I know there will always be people faster than I am, stronger, more naturally talented, mentally tougher, more of every quality that makes for a successful runner. No matter how hard I train, or how far I run, I will never match their performance. Well, so what? There are always things to learn and ways to improve, and one can enjoy the experience regardless of the result.

Last Saturday’s Run Vasa 25K was a great example. A cold but beautiful morning on a wide, well-groomed, leaf-strewn trail, with a small group of fellow dirt-loving runners. I was pushing my pace and had blisters on both heels, but there was nowhere else I wanted to be.

About ten miles in, I saw two runners approaching me from ahead. Oh, crap. Was I going the wrong way? “Oh, no,” they said. “We cut the course by accident.” They were basically DQ’d, but both were smiling. Several other people took a wrong turn and ran an extra four miles. No one complained. Stuff happened. They still had fun.

Days like this on trails like this. What it's all about, baby.

Days like this on trails like this. What it’s all about, baby.

Final thought: apart from Pete and Dean, I’m sure every runner has an “I can’t imagine” limit. In 2014 I was part of a webcast featuring Meb Keflezighi, the Olympic marathoner and Boston Marathon winner. When he found out that some in the audience were ultrarunners, he expressed amazement. “I can’t imagine running that kind of distance,” he said, and told us he’d stick to running marathons. Just as well. I don’t need his kind of competition.

============================

(*) [One thing running is good for] – in addition to health, fitness, being outdoors, a great social activity, and others.

(**) [What would it prove?] On the other hand, I used to think a 50K would be the most I would ever run. Until I ran one, and the little voice in my head said, “You could do more…”

A Hundred Thousand Moments

This morning I went to the semi-annual Dan (black belt) test at my Aikido school’s main dojo. It was a long test, with three people each testing for shodan (1st degree), nidan (2nd degree) and sandan (3rd degree) rank. But it was also an exciting test to watch. At Dan level you see everything from very basic techniques to advanced series of throws and weapon strikes. Students are also tested in the teaching method and in their understanding of Aikido concepts.

Jo demonstration following the test.

Jo demonstration following the test.

One of the testers (*) had been in a kenshu (special advanced class) with me several years ago. After the test I went to say hello and congratulate him. He’s a reader of this blog, and he told me he’d noticed that when I write about running he sees an Aikido influence, and vice versa.

He’s right; for me, both physical and philosophical elements cross from one to the other. Sometimes it happens consciously, and sometimes it sneaks in when I’m not looking. Either way, I’m pretty sure it’s helped me improve at both.

I have not, however, attempted this during a marathon. Yet.

I have not, however, attempted this during a marathon. Yet.

The most recent instance was at yesterday morning’s run with PR Fitness. I made it a checkup for next week’s 25K Vasa Trail race, upping my usual pace and monitoring my body’s performance. Things began well; I got up the killer hill on the route without problems, and even sprinted a bit afterward. But as I passed through Argo Park with a couple miles to go, I was fatigued and struggling to maintain form. I just wanted the run to be over.

Then out of the blue the thought came: What are you doing? It’s a bright sunny morning, the fall colors are incredible, the temperature is perfect for running, and you’re not enjoying it. What, then, are you out here for?

2015 Richmond half, asking myself that very question.

2015 Richmond half, asking myself that very question.

Here was Aikido speaking. At this point I’d learned what I needed to know for next week’s race. It was time – past time – to just be in the moment. I slowed down, took a deep breath (or three) and relaxed, taking in what was around me and being okay with the discomfort. I reached the studio no less tired or sore, but almost reluctant to stop. All it took was that adjustment in perception.

Okay for a training run, you might say, but how about an ultramarathon? When running continuously for up to a hundred miles, is it really possible to live moment-to-moment? Yes; doing that at Kettle Moraine this year helped me get through some tough and tedious stretches. Now considering that based on my finish time I had 101,700 possible “moments” (assuming one second per moment), of which I managed maybe a few hundred, by no means am I good at it yet. But even that little bit made a difference.

The alternative (thinking about how many miles remain) is not, shall we say, exactly motivational. So much better to think: Here I am in this moment. Another moment is now here, and I’m still going. Perhaps ironically, I often feel most “moment aware” when I approach the finish line; the realization that I’m really going to finish this thing is enough to trigger it.

Yeah, but it's 77 miles and many hours to go before I can ZZZ . . .

Yeah, but it’s 77 miles before *I* can ZZZ . . .

Just to bring things full circle, at the Dan test this morning, Sensei asked one of the students the meaning of a particular Japanese phrase. “It means, ‘live in the moment,'” the student replied, and explained how it applies both to Aikido training and to the rest of our lives. He paused a moment to think of an example. I felt like jumping up and saying, “Ooh! Ooh! I got one!” but I’m not sure I’d have appreciated the moments that followed. I’ll save it for my own test someday.

Today was another perfect fall day, so after the test I went for a two-hour bike ride out there in the color and sunshine. Just to practice the principle, of course.

Great color in downtown Chelsea, MI.

Great color in downtown Chelsea, MI.

=============================

(*) Actually, two former kenshu classmates tested today, as did my current class instructor. I enjoyed their tests very much. Congratulations again! Osu!