Sunday, July 29, 2007

About Water Running

I really do understand the need for me to appreciate the opportunity to participate in the running community. It's a privilege to be able to have enough money to buy a good pair of running shoes, more running shirts than I will ever need and to have a job that provides me food, a safe place to sleep and enough money left over to waste on a collection of cool shades. As a matter of fact I'm currently obsessed with buying a new pair of Bono wraparound shades, not because they're designed for running but only because I think they might help me stir people up a bit. I think part of my responsibility as a distance runner is to provide as much entertainment as I can for anyone who might be extremely bored and decide to watch a bunch of damned fools try to run further than five miles.

It's important for my mental health to try to remain grateful that I have two legs that will still move forward, that I have found some people who like to do crazy crap like training for distance runs and that I have some lung capacity left after all these years.

Okay, I'm well aware of all of this good stuff and that it's important for me to be grateful and stay away from the unsettling feeling that the "I wants" lead me too. But my gratitude evaporated into a pool of water early Saturday morning.

The downward spiral started when the sun failed to rise over the east edge of Lake Michigan. Instead of sun I saw a cloud of water hanging over the Lake and as I began gearing up to meet my group at 6:30 in the morning for our 12 mile training run my thoughts ran from. 1. Get back in bed and pull the covers over your head. 2. Call your running buddy Bambi and tell her you're really sick. 3. Run your Trek into a tree somwhere on the 30 minute ride to Montrose Harbor so you'll have an excuse for missing this run. 4. Make a commitment once and for all to quit this running business, take up chess or checkers or head back into the bars...air conditioned bars with de-humidifiers, strobe lights, jammin tunes and dancing girls.

I knew I was screwed as soon as I left my little home and began the 30 minute bike trip to meet the troops. The air wasn't air, it was damned water! It wasn't hot, maybe 70 degrees, but it was not air I was breathing and I could tell that the morning would only be an experience of survival, another oxygen deprived character building or destroying slog.

I've been running for about 15 years and I've done enough runs in these conditions to know what was coming and I wasn't looking forward to it. I was spoiled during the previous Saturday's little 8 miler in near perfect running weather. The kind of run you want to share with anyone who will listen, the one where every stride was effortless, every breath was a gift and the finish was a burst of joy because you could have gone forever.

I met my group at 6:30 and lo and behold I wasn't the only grump ass in the crowd. Bambi was already pissed off about something, Sara a new runner was growling because I don't think she knows why she keeps showing up for this crazy business. And one of the zany running coaches offered the understatement of the year "the humidity is a little high." Why can't they just tell it like it is, something like. "This air sucks and anyone who wants to try this should have their head examined." Needless to say, I'll never be a running coach, a pace leader or even a good example. Runners can always use me as a measurement of their progress and an ego builder, like "well at least I'm a better runner than him."

The only reason I stayed with this run is because I know how much fun I have on marathon day. It has been said running is 90 percent mental so I turned on my mind to the need to do this run so I can get in shape to get through a 26.2 mile run on October 7 here in Chicago.

There were maybe a dozen or 14 who started in my pace group Saturday morning and a few were making idle chit chat the first two miles but I just wasn't in the groove yet. Bambi was fuming about something so I just shook her off and left her back to annoy someone else for awhile. I think her friend Jill had to listen to her those early miles. I had my own pot boiling so I just focused on keeping pace and trying to breath. The pace leaders, the terror twins Emily and Meagan were doing their job, metronomes that they are, and were really upbeat especially given the humid conditions. There must be a special place in running heaven for people like that. Too bad I won't be joining them.

The first four miles were basically awful, not only oppressive humidity but no breeze, it was like running through a darned steam room without the heat. A 10 degree bump in the temperture and I would have been toast for sure. As we crossed over the foot bridge near North Avenue a blast of cool air coming off the Lake hit us and there was a collective cheer from the group, so I knew I wasn't the only one struggling and I think everyone wanted to peel off our shirts and fully absorb the breeze. I suppose Tim and I could have done that but out of respect for the girls, who chose to retain their dignity, we kept our shirts on too. Believe it or not some of us guys just grew up with this equality thing ingrained in us by our fathers and our mothers.

It's a six mile run from Montrose Beach to Navy Pier, our turnaround point and we stopped for a quick breather under the shade trees and the pace leader Meagan offered everyone a gummy worm or something so I took an orange one, hell anything at this point to survive the return trip. Sweat had been running off of me by about a half mile out and by this point every thing was sopping wet, socks shoes, fanny packs, cash...everything.

Four of the group had either dropped or dropped back at this point, one with some serious knee problems which I never like to hear about and I'm concerned about her. A few others were just pooped, and I can understand that. The rest of us were just standing around sipping whatever fluid of choice we had brought and kind of staring at each other and yammering a bit, at least that's my perception of the gathering. Someone else may have taken away some deep enlightening thoughts from that informal little meeting but I was thinking "shit, six more miles of hell to go."

The return trip was better, a little breeze had come up across the Lake and at least it helped cool down the old body and gave me hope I had a chance to finish this run.

I had been running in the middle or back of the pack all morning, partly to meet people and partly to keep track of any serious problems that might come up, like freakin collapses or something of that nature. Keep in mind that many of these runners are doing this for the first time, their first 12 miler, their first attempt at running a marathon or half marathon, and their first long run through water. I don't claim to be an expert but I have been running long enough to know myself pretty well. I knew this was difficult for me but I wasn't dizzy, wasn't experiencing extreme fatigue so I was alert enough to keep an eye on my comrades for signs of such trouble, it's part of my responsibility as a friend and fellow runner.

A few more dropped on the return trip and everyone, including myself, checked on their well-being as we kept trudging ahead. I think the terror twins appreciated the reports and they often would check on those of us in the back of the pack, so despite the struggle, there was a good supportive and bonding experience that happened Saturday morning.

There were many positives for me that came out of Saturday's run:

1. I saw my son Jake doing his 5-6 mile run, hollered at him but he didn't hear me. The girl running next to me said "he's in a groove." I smiled. I know the feeling.

2. I saw my son's squeeze Jessica training with her TNT fund-raising group and stopped for a brief chat with her then had to sprint to catch my group and was reminded my fatigue was in my brain, not my body.

3. Seeing them out there training, getting in shape was a big lift for me. I wouldn't have blamed them or anyone for bagging a run through water.

4. Sara, a new runner, wanted to go fast the last three miles. I told her to have at it because I wasn't going to go with her. She held back until about a quarter mile to go then asked the pacers if she could go and she went ahead, really fast. I told Sara she needs to step up her pace a notch or two. She's really fast and I'm not. Dammit!

5. Several runners were beaming because they had just completed their longest run ever and I congratulated them and I meant it.

6. I met a new runner named Mary Kate, who's doing this for the first time, never ran before and she said it's easier than she thought it would be. One of her goals is to run a marathon. As usual, I was blown away because as I watched her run off and on Saturday I could see that easy natural stride, graceful movement throughout the body, seemingly without effort. The motion and she are beautiful.

I rode my little trek home after the run and the biggest problem I had was getting on and off the damned bike, the biking motion felt good and was good for my legs. Rested for about an hour and got to my little yoga class at noon and wanted to take a nap but went through the motions of stretching and twisting and felt better at the end.

So I'm happy to report I survived a run through water and also can say there were no negatives.

I'm just having a hard time growing up, but someday I'll get there.

Thirty miles for the week, no injuries...knock on wood...starting to taper for the Chicago Distance Classic on August 12 and then the mileage starts to build in preparation for the Chicago Marathon on October 7.

Please Jesus or somebody, give me an easy run soon!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Running Is Honest

I've tried for many years to be an honest person. The reason I want to be honest is not to ensure my spot in heaven or avoid hell but for a purely selfish reason. I want to sleep at night and be able to look everyone straight in the eye.

I'm sitting here on a late Friday afternoon just hanging out after a busy week at work. My thoughts continue to veer to a 12 mile run I'm set to do in the morning, starting at 6:30 a.m. on the Lakefront. If I'm allowed to live through the night and the alarm goes off as expected, I will probably go through my early morning ritual of 1. Questioning my sanity as to why I'm getting up early on a Saturday morning, drinking water and gatorade endurance formula instead of coffee or a bloody mary. 2. Deciding whether to wear my new silver-framed Nike shades, my pricey Rudy Project racing glasses or my cool Bolle shades with the matador red frames. At this point I'm thinking Bolle. As you can tell...I have plenty of time to think and I also have a wonderful cushy life.

I've just finished reading RunnerGirls blog and see where a former running coach/friend of hers has just died from cancer. I don't think I have cancer but I don't know that for sure. I've lived long enough to realize more and more that this is the only day and the only moment I really have to enjoy, so I'm enjoying myself by writing my thoughts.

And if the running gods smile on me in the morning, I will meet my rag tag running group and hopefully finish a 12 mile training run, ride my little trek bike back home, shower off and head for a yoga class.

Reasons to run are many and personal to each runner. I have a number of reasons that I run but I've come to the conclusion that it is possibly the most honest thing that I do. I start at point A and finish at point B. When I'm through I can look anyone in the eye who's interested, and most people aren't interested but I don't blame them, and I can tell them "I ran from A to B, it was 12 miles. No roller skates, no bike, no one carried me, many supported me but I had to do the work and it was hard work. I didn't take a short cut and there were a few times I questioned my sanity but I didn't quit, and that's the truth."

I also will admit that there were a lot of runners who got from point A to point B a lot sooner than I, but no one did it like me. No one on the face of this earth had my experience, it was all mine but I will share it with anyone who wants to listen. It's one of my responsibilities and I'm trying to be a responsible person.

Occasionally I will hear a fellow runner say something like "I'm not a very good runner" or "I'm not very fast."

Well, all I'm going to say is "you're a great runner and so am I" and that's the truth...the honest truth.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Best

Finally a race photo that actually looks like I'm doing something that resembles running. This is from the Nike Bastille Day 5k that Jess, Jill and I ran a couple of weeks ago.
Below is a link to a chat with Alan Webb, the 24 year old American who recently broke the American record for the mile.

The interview with him after the race fired me up a bit so I thought you would enjoy it too.

Be the best you can be and I'll try to do the same.

I have a lot of work to do but plan to get it done day-by-day.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Good One

I haven't had a so-called "refreshing" run for a long time but today was a literal happening. Eight easy miles with my group on the lakefront, 70 degrees, sunny, 50 percent humidity instead of 80 something and a persistent cool breeze.

I was able to push along with the troops almost without effort. Everyone was in a great mood and I had a fantastic time shooting the breeze with first one then the other. Was like a pup turned loose in the woods for the first time.

My running has been a bit labored lately, partly because I'm pushing my pace about a minute per mile up from last year and partly because of the muggy weather. The runs have all been good ones because I was out there pushing and accomplishing my goals. But today was a treat, a gift and pure pleasure. I knew I had been in a bit of a dog fight at the end of the run but I wasn't wiped out. I almost feel guilty writing about it. Maybe this is the runner's high I hear about?

I met another Sam today. This one is a girl Sam and we had a good time yammering a bit about the coincidence of our names, which aren't really that common.

Sam ran her first marathon two years ago, didn't run one last year and she told me she cried when she watched the Chicago Marathon last year because she wanted to be running it. Soooo, the Sams are training for this year's thon in the Windy City.

I've had many interesting conversations on my runs and today's chat with my new friend was, for me, pretty profound and meaningful. She told me she ran some shorter races last year and her friends have encouraged her to stick with the 5ks and such but "it's just not the same." All I could think of saying is "it gets in your blood."

I don't think it's really possible or even necessary to explain why a person would train for and run a marathon or, god forbid, train for and run an ultra.

It's a mystery to me, and I've always enjoyed adventure and mystery.

Friday, July 20, 2007

I Was Thinking

When I run in high humidity, let's say 80 percent and 80 degrees does that run add more to my endurance basket than say the same run at 40 percent humidity and 80 degrees?

All I hear about running in heat and humidity is to slow the pace down but let's say I run the same pace in the different conditions. Does a 5 mile run in the high humidity count as a 7 mile run? I hope so because I ran a 7 miler this past Tuesday and thought I would puke for sure so that bastard better have been worth at least 10 on a normal day.

This is the kind of crazy shit I think about at work and when I'm running.

I think I need to get a life and a friend to talk to or something.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Got Grit?

Jessicas' got grit! Look at that smile under the fashion shades and this after 10 miles of her first ever 14 mile distance run. We're on our return trip from Navy Pier to nearly the Museum of Science and Industry and back and our destination at this point was the Chicago skyline in the background and we both made it. This takes grit and determination for a new runner because you don't really know if you can survive that distance until you do it. And then the sky opens up and you realize that you can do it and more with practice, patience but most of all grit.

Speaking of grit, I've been obsessively reading Sensationally Red's blog about her adventure and challenge of becoming an ultra-runner and she not only finished her first 50k ultra trail run Saturday but came within 2 minutes of nailing her predict time. That accomplishment is truly amazing and in my mind the ability to know yourself and come so close to predicting what you can do is impressive.

I think exercise whether it's running, biking, swimming, yoga or whatever is more important for the mind and a person's self-esteem than the body. Perhaps it's true that if you take care of the body the mind follows. I know Jessica's move into training for the Chicago marathon has been fascinating to hear about because of the changes that she's going through. It's almost like listening to a scientist begin to unravel the cure for some horrible disease, truly a pleasure to be a part of. And this from a person who a couple of years ago told me "I can't run." Oh sure.

I'm still learning too and Red you'll be happy to hear that early Saturday morning I nearly nailed my predict time in the Nike Rock N Run 5k race at Sox stadium. Jess said we should gun for a 10 minute pace so I thought that was a brilliant idea and a challenge and I'll be damned if I didn't come in at 10:04. Yes I could have gone faster and I could have gone slower but I was more proud of being able to come so close to my predict time. It let me know that my conditioning is coming along pretty well and that I'm in pretty good control of my pacing right now. I have a lot more work to do but a day at a time and a run at a time and barring injury or doing something really stupid, which knowing me is always a possibility, I see I have a chance of getting through another one of my Chicago Marathons this October 7th.

Jake, Jess and I hooked up for this race and it was a really good one. Nike and the Sox can be proud of this one and I hope they bring it back next year. I'm still not sure what Jake's time was but I'll only say he was so far ahead of Jess and I it wasn't even funny. Jake is just one of those people who can't run slow, he claims it's harder on your feet and knees if you run slow, poor guy. Damn, he gets a lot out of his runs though and keeps getting faster but most important he's enjoying the challenge and his private time on the Lakefront.

And on the subject of fast or slow, what is fast? And, what is slow? Well I just don't know. I think 7-8 minute milers are fast but I suppose the elites training at some obscene 5-6 minute pace wouldn't see it that way. I see my 11 minute training pace as slow but I was getting back in the swing of it last summer running with the 12 minute group and they told me I was fast. One of the most fun, funniest and most personable runners in my training group runs something like 14-15 minute pace and quite often runs alone. So maybe that's the slow group. I've come to the conclusion that I'm the only one concerned about my speed or lack of. No one has kicked me out of my running group because I'm too slow. What's sad about me is I often ruin my running day or experience by beating up on myself for not being faster. Jeez Sam, get a life! There's no money involved and you sure as hell won't make the olympics anyway.

I've had a good week. I just didn't feel like running Tuesday, grumpy and pissed off, so I bagged my usual 7 miler, ran a little 45 minute speed/tempo run with my group Wednesday evening. We were working on negative splits and we ran our return trip 2 minutes faster than the initial 23 minutes out so that was another fun confidence builder. There are two young women who have been appointed co-pacers in my pace group and they are a trip. Always, laughing, smiling and cutting up but boy they are metronomes when it comes to pacing. I've nicknamed them the Terror Twins and I think they kind of like it or at least they're nice enough to humor the goofy old man who's always yammering back in the pack.

Jess and I ran the Nike Bastille Day 5k downtown Thursday evening. This new running buddy from my running group Jill joined us and we had a great time. Lots of people and lots of laughs and an interesting course with a bunch, I mean a BUNCH of tight corners but it was a short 5k for some reason so I guess even Nike can make a mistake. Oh well, the times were pretty impressive even if they weren't correct. Evidently not everyone wears a watch on these runs because there were a few people really tripping out about their fast times. I hate to inform them but Jake mapped it out and it was something like 2.97 miles instead of 3.1. We knew when we hit the second mile marker in just over 8 minutes that someone really goofed, was kind of funny...guess you had to be there.

I got in around 25 miles last week not counting the 3-4 extra miles I covered this morning meeting Jess at Navy Pier and returning home and I feel great. So far, everything is working fine, I'm moving well and trying to balance easy and hard so I don't tighten up a hamstring again and am staying alert for the chronic tendinitis that flares up in my right lower calf, soleus/achilles area. I've been more diligent in stretching that area going into training and I know the one or two yoga classes I get to each week really help.

Pretty basic week ahead with one 5k downtown on Thursday at Soldier Field and the rest pretty routine. Will try to get my head straight and get back to my traditional totem pole run 7 miler on Tuesday, speed work with the group on Wednesday and I see from the schedule it's cutback week so the Saturday morning long run is only 8 miles, so I just might jump up a notch and run with the 10 min pace group instead of the 11 minute. However, since I really am basically lazy I'll probably stick with the Terror Twins and just bullshit along at 11 min for the 8.

It's what I do best...just ask my kids:)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Warming Up Here In Chi Town

It's warming up here in Chi town with the heat index approaching 100 on Sunday. Makes running a bit more challenging and have to slow the pace a bit so I can tolerate the run and adapt to the heat, which usually takes around two weeks.

Got in a nice 9 miler this morning with Jess and enjoyed a lunch with Jake and Jess at BeBes. I hadn't been there and I'm glad I went because it was a real nifty place on lower Hubbard Street, outdoor seating and we had a nice table under a tree so we dined in shade and a cool breeze. The roast pork sandwich was really good and as usual the portion size of sandwich and fries was about twice what I eat these days so I boxed half of it and will finish it off tonight at dinner or maybe sometime Sunday.

I pushed a 7 miler a little on Tuesday. Wednesday July fourth I was off work so went for a long bike ride in the morning and knocked out a brisk 5 miler in the afternoon.

Big running week ahead for me with five miles early tomorrow (Sunday) then pilates, will do my usual 7 Tuesday, little speed work Wed eve with my group then the annual Bastille Day 5K and block party is Thursday evening downtown. Nike is now sponsoring this race and like Nike or not you have to admit they really know how to put on a race, always first class. Jess and I and a woman at work will run that thing together. Jake informed me today his personal disciplined training program involves no races during the week and no runs over 6 miles. I'm glad there is one somewhat sensible person in my group of friends and family. I've always agreed with him that several 3-5 mile runs during the week are good for health and anything beyond that is just craziness. And, there sure is a lot of craziness around here. The Lakefront looked like keystone cops early this morning with all the marathon training groups in motion.

Saturday morning Nike is sponsoring a new 5 mile race at Sox stadium so Jess, Jake and I will run that one together. Jess and I will miss our respective group long run Saturday morning so we agreed today to team up early Sunday and knock down a 12 miler together. I think I talked Jess into running the Lakefront south from Navy Pier Sunday morning instead of north. The Lakefront south shore isn't quite so loaded with people and there are more trees, lots more grass and open area so it will be a new trip for Jess and a run through nostalgia for me.

One of my all-time favorite runs for me occurred in the late 90s when I was in pretty good shape. I ran solo from Oak Street Beach south to South Shore Country Club and back which pencils out to 24 miles. It was my longest training run ever and I discovered a new level of mental toughness the last 5 miles of that thing. I'll never forget that run and how special it was for me. It was a big breakthrough for me as a runner and as a person.