Sunday, November 18, 2012

What's Working, and Why?

I just wrapped up my first 30-mile running week since late July of 2010. I also just reached day 65 of my current running streak. It still seems like I'm writing about some other runner as I type those words. I won't rehash my entire story of returning to running in 2009, building up to—and finishing—my first marathon in May of 2010, then succumbing to a serious heel injury that I've spent over two years trying to come back from. I've successfully beaten that horse to death in many previous blog entries (no wonder I can't make him drink when I drag him to water…)

One might argue, even though I've managed to return to running, that my "comeback" hasn't been all that successful, considering how long it has taken. My defense would be that there were several times during the process where I was pretty sure I'd never be a regular runner again. It would seem I was making marginal progress, then I'd have a setback that would affect me as much mentally and emotionally as it would physically. Most of us can only tolerate so many of those teases before throwing in the towel.

But I didn't. I don't say that in a noble, bragging manner, either. I was a wimp much of the time. I whined, if not out loud, at least inwardly. I pretended not to wallow in self-pity. While I wasn't constantly drowning in depression, I had plenty of periods where a serious attitude adjustment would have been justified.

The reason I didn't throw in said towel is simple: I LOVE running. It's a big part of who I am. I wouldn't go so far as to say it defines me, but I feel much more whole when I'm able to train and race as desired. Sure, I'm probably addicted to it, and I don't say that in shame. If only my ability as a runner matched my dedication and zeal...

So, aside from my addiction-driven dogged stubbornness, what else has made this tentatively-titled comeback possible? BTW, I say 'tentative' because, even though a lot of my running friends have suggested that I'm "back," I still feel like I have a long way to go, and the comeback is still on shaky ground. I hope I'm wrong, but I've learned to be VERY cautiously optimistic during this process.

In no particular order:

1. Patience. This should go without saying, but we runners are rarely patient. It was forced on me a few times, when I tried to rush the process and the pain returned and shut me down. Aside from the many months where I did zero running, I kept my runs, mileage and pace very low for a prolonged period.

2. Strength work. During my marathon training, I was putting in enough mileage that I felt too worn out to do any additional exercise. That was a mistake. This time around, I'm doing strength and core work on a regular basis, and it noticeably benefits my running.

3. Stretching and ice. Again, things that are easy to neglect when the training load is high, but very beneficial, in my opinion. I use ice packs when needed, and try to take one ice bath per week, after my long runs. I admittedly need to stretch and use the foam roller more consistently.

4. Good diet. Yes, I intentionally "bulked up" a few times when I wasn't running. I reverted to weight lifting and, in an effort to gain strength, also got sloppy with my diet. I've since cleaned it up quite a bit and I feel much better for doing so. I'm also keeping my weight down, which makes running less stressful on my joints. I don't plan on getting as light as I was leading up to my marathon, though, since I lost too much strength in the process.

5. Consistency in training. I spent many weeks doing no more than 3 runs per week, keeping the mileage very low. My heel didn't seem to be getting any worse, but it really didn't seem to be improving, either. At the time, it was obvious that longer runs definitely disagreed with my heel. But—as counterintuitive as it seems—I began wondering if more regular running would actually help to strengthen the muscles around the injured area. I didn't set out to start a running streak, but that's where that approach has led me, 65 days later. And, ironically enough, my heel and Achilles feel better than they have since before my injury. Not that I never feel pain—because I do—but the pain appears far less often and is far less intense. And it doesn't scare me like it used to. I now know from recent experience that, if it flares up, it'll subside in a day or two.

6. Shoe rotation. I have no scientific data to back this up (as if I do with any of my other points!) but I'm convinced that part of the reason my heel has accepted my recent buildup of mileage and speed is due to the fact that I'm currently rotating four different models of shoes. Not just four different pairs, but completely different models. Consequently, my foot never gets into a rut from the exact same motion or fit day after day. If you're curious, my current shoes of choice (all Brooks) are the Defyance 3's, Adrenaline 12's, Ghost 4's, and the Launch. I'm going to add the Cascadia 5's soon, assuming I can resume a small amount of hill training on a local dirt & gravel trail. I also have a couple of 'minimal' shoes waiting in the wings (Pure Flow and Pure Cadence) but I'm holding off on those just a bit longer.

7. Positive attitude. Don't give up! Even when it appears that there's zero hope, do whatever you need to do keep you on track for a return to running, one tiny step at a time. It might take weeks, months or years to get back to running. Our bodies…and minds…are incredible, amazing things. I believe—no, I know—that we can achieve far more than we think we can. So even when it would be so much easier to give up the fight after being beaten down countless times, stick with it. You may have to change directions and alter your process, but once you figure out what works, the payoff is more than worth the long, tedious battle.

8. Encouragement. A lot of you have supported and encouraged me during this process. I've come to realize how invaluable that is. I can't thank you enough.

My heel bump is still there. The resulting scar tissue in my Achilles tendon is still there. Even with all that I've written here, I'm still amazed that I'm able to run even like I currently am. Humbled and very thankful, but still dumbfounded and amazed. And that amazement and anticipation of what's next is part of what keeps me going.

I'm still a long way from being able to train for another marathon, or even a half. But for the first time in over two years, I have a glimmer of hope of doing both again.

Now…let's go run.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Winter Running Article for Outdoors NW Magazine

Here's the article I recently wrote & illustrated for Outdoors NW Magazine, on winter running:

[click to enlarge]

Monday, November 12, 2012

2012 Fowl Fun Run 5k

For the fourth consecutive year, we made the 45-minute journey to Mount Vernon, WA, to run the Fowl Fun Run. In 2009, I ran the 10k. In 2010 and last year, I was injured and paced my daughter in the 2-mile fun run. This year, the two mile option was dropped in favor of a certified 5k course (to go with the usual 10k.) With my training and injury rehab coming along nicely the last few months, I decided to race the 5k. This left my daughter Natalie without her usual pacer she had become accustomed to in the few road races we've done together. She's coming off her 8th grade cross-country season, but wasn't sure she'd have the stamina to race a 5k well.

The weather was perfect. Sunny, 35 degrees. A bit brisk, but no wind. My wife and youngest daughter were also entered in the 5k, so it was a family affair. After my mile warmup, I shed my tights and jacket (but kept the gloves,) and was ready to go. My goal going in was to break 22 minutes, for the first time since 2010. I was hopeful, but not terribly confident. My plan was to run the first mile in 7:15, then increase the pace from there. I hit the first mile in 7:07 (and that was after consciously slowing myself down most of that mile,) but I felt fine. I slightly increased my pace the second mile, clocking a 7:04. There was a guy in front of me the entire race that I had hoped would start coming back to me. He never did, so I picked up the pace during the 3rd mile (6:48), intent on catching him. As we rounded the corner to run down a short segment of road before turning into the parking lot of the school where the finish was, I started my kick. It was not a quiet, stealth move on my part. I was breathing like a freight train. He heard me and initiated his kick as well. We turned into the parking lot and shot toward the finish in a full-out sprint. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to overtake him. Fortunately, he was 50 and no longer in my age group (he won the 50-59 group.) I wasn't sure until after the race that he wasn't in my age division, which was one reason I wanted to beat him. Yes, I'm that competitive.

Time - 21:53
Pace - 7:03
Splits - 7:07, 7:04, 6:48 (5:45 pace for last .1)
Overall - 13 of 139
Age Group - 2 of 6
Men - 9 of 45

Not long after I crossed the finish line and spoke briefly with the guy I couldn't quite out-sprint, I went back out on the course to look for Natalie. Much to my surprise, she was already flying down the final stretch, turning into the parking lot. She proved that she didn't need Dad to pace her (although she says that should could have gone even faster if I had.) She obliterated her 5k PR with a 26:00.7 (her previous PR was 26:58.) We were both excited, but she was a little frustrated that she got that close to sub-26 without going under. She also took 2nd in her age group (out of 5), 26th overall, and 15th out of 94 women. She'll be running a Jingle Bell 5k on December 9th with her friends from cross country.

Lindsey finished in 39:17 and my wife (she walked most of it) in 46:11.

For a relatively small race, the post-race food and beverage assortment is quite impressive. Pumpkin pie with whipped cream, various muffins, coffee, hot chocolate, bananas, cookies, etc. They also do random drawings to give away frozen turkeys, large pumpkin pies and packs of Costco muffins. The three previous years, we brought home a pumpkin pie. This year, with all four of us entered in the race, we knew we'd increase our odds of winning, but thought we might be due to go home sans goodies. Luck was with us, though. My number was drawn and we left with a 12 lb. frozen turkey (insert "turkey wins a turkey" joke here.)

All in all a good day.

Today will be day 59 of my running streak. Next up for me is the 30th anniversary Christmas Rush (5k, for me) in Kent, WA, where I'll be wearing my very thin race shirt from the inaugural 1983 race. That was both the first year of the race, and my first road race. The race director will be looking for me for a photo op, so I'll be a minor celebrity. I'll have to settle for that, since I'll never be a celebrity based on my running ability!

Friday, November 9, 2012


Today I had the privilege of meeting in person and running with none other than Chris Russell, creator of the Run, Run, Live podcast (and, if you listen to it, I'm the dude who sings & plays the opening jingle, the one at the end, and the parody songs heard on his show. Okay, enough shameless self promotion. But buy my songs. And Chris's e-book.)

He's in town vacationing with his wife while celebrating his...hopefully he won't mind me saying...50th birthday. After fighting horrendous road construction coming into downtown Seattle, I found a parking spot and ran to meet him at Myrtle Edwards Park, near Elliott Bay. After a few minutes of formalities, we began running north along the waterfront on the paved trail. As is often the case when running with others, the pace gradually (i.e. immediately) sped up to sub-8 minute miles. Once we got a handle on that and agreed to slow down, we worked our way down to sub 7:30's. Well. So much for an easy run. Still, the pace allowed for a steady flow of chatting, but for a guy battling plantar fasciitis problems, Chris can still handily hold his own during a run.

We finished with about 3.8 miles of quality running and walked to a Starbucks, just across from the Space Needle and continued to shoot the breeze for another 45 minutes or so, talking mostly about (are you sitting down?) running.

Chris Russell and yours truly getting caffeinated after our run.
It was great to finally meet him in person. He's a heck of a nice guy. I hope to make it out to the Boston area some day to run in the woods with him and his dog Buddy. Hopefully I can keep up and not get lost...