Never Stop

It’s easy to get caught up in the cares of the day and completely lose focus on what is important to us and what we want to accomplish. And so I decided to address that problem by inserting an intentional reminder into my daily plan.

I purchased one of those wrist bands that I have seen people wearing from time to time. It didn’t really matter what text appeared on the band, because the idea was more about its less than perfectly comfortable presence serving as a daily reminder (or perhaps interrupter?) Have I given thought as to how important today is and what I want to accomplish in it? And by the way, the moment that wrist band gets comfortable (and therefore becomes ineffective) is the moment it gets moved to the other wrist for a fresh and new start to its job.

The text on my wrist band says, NEVER STOP. That seemed like an appropriate reminder for all of the following reasons:

NEVER STOP…

Listening to God’s daily whispers

Finding new ways to love and care for my beautiful soulmate

Giving my best to my job

Being thankful

Caring for, and about, others

Setting and pursuing important goals

Focusing on priorities

Taking care of the things with which I have been blessed

Pausing to reflect during a busy day

Remembering that each what in life usually has a more important who

Praying

Those are just a few of mine. What’s on your NEVER STOP list?

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Can Geeks Be Runners?

Can geeks be runners? Sure they can, but I don’t tend to see that as a natural pairing. In fact, I tend to wonder just how common that duo might really be?

My geek attributes kicked in naturally at a very young age and with literally no effort at all on my part. I was probably building API’s for Tinker Toys and my Erector Set before I learned how to read.

I also remember vividly, years later, when I got my first look at a microcomputer (far before they earned the name Personal Computer or PC) and it was love at first sight! Did I mention I often enjoy math puzzles and can still recite Pi to fifty decimal places? I suppose the ultimate proof my my geek DNA is that I’m even willing to share that last piece of information.

Some ten years or more later after buying that first microcomputer , taking up running was a very different story. There was nothing natural about it at all and there was a number of false starts before it finally grabbed hold of me. Even now, I still sign up for races to keep myself focused on training and, in turn, motivated toward good health. It’s just too easy to make excuses, get lazy, and fall off the wagon directly into the recliner.

I envy those runners who have a runner’s body type. This geek wasn’t born and blessed with that. My legs are disproportionately short to my overall body height and most of the good runners that I know have longer legs that seem to extend all the way up to their neck with no stomach in between! I can assure you it takes additional mental strength to make up for the physical limitation, but that also makes it all the sweeter when I pass one of those guys during a race.

On a side note, and a follow-up to a few of my recent posts, I managed to bring today’s two mile training run back up to my normal pace and with no ill effects on my calf muscle. Looks like things are getting back to normal and I’m even more excited now about next week’s 5k race at FSU.

Happy running my friends!

To Run Or Not To Run

This past Monday I ran a 3 miler and right near the end of the run I began to feel a mild pain on the lower part of the calf muscle on my left leg. I backed off to a slow jog for the last two tenths of a mile, just to get to the house, and wound up with a limp for the rest of the day.

However, the following day (Tuesday) I cautiously climbed out of bed to discover that there was no residual pain at all. I was quite surprised considering the recover time associated with a similar problem many years prior.

By the following day (Wednesday) I went out for a test run to see if things were back to normal. Fifteen seconds after I started into a slow run it was apparent that things were not yet where they needed to be. No sharp pain or anything like that, but a burning sensation that occurred a couple of times told me I wasn’t yet ready to get back at it.

I blogged recently that I thought the injury was caused by a combination of over training and a pair of running shoes that should have been retired long ago. At the time I wasn’t positive, but I was about to discover just how accurate the latter portion of that prediction had been!

Friday was coming up and I had already scheduled the day off. Perhaps I could pick up a new pair of running shoes and ease into a run to see where things stood. In fact, Patty and I had scheduled a doctor’s appointment with our new doctor early in the day, so perhaps I could take the opportunity to get an expert opinion on my plan.

I got a thumbs up from the doctor this morning and went from the doctor’s office to pick up my new pair of Asics Gel-Venture 6’s. I’ve tested several different brands over the years, but I keep coming back to Asics and this pair felt particularly good and comfortable based on a short test jog in the store. After a quick lunch out with my wife, it was back to the house, lace up the shoes, and head out for another test run.

In the first tenth of a mile, my mind was playing tricks on me as I weaved my way over the gravel driveway to the road. The second tenth of a mile was just as confusing as I was unable to determine if my mind was playing tricks on me or if my calf muscle was indeed sending me a warning. The sensations felt odd but were not really associated with any pain. I carried on and wound up getting in a careful two mile run that resulted in about an extra twenty seconds per mile above my average training time.

I’ve got another 5k in nine days and think I will stay with my two mile training runs and use the 5k to once again graduate up to the three mile distance. Perhaps this time I’ll be ready to maintain that training distance. I’m sure my body will tell me and you can be sure I will be listening.

The Agony of Defeat

Does anyone remember the introduction to the old ABC Wide World of Sports television show where the narrator says, The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat?  Remember the ski jump dude who looses control on the way down the massive slope, falls off the side of the ramp, and is tossed about like a rag doll as he comes crashing into the snow?

I grew up with that show and can attest to the fact that the whole idea of The Agony of Defeat and the visual that went along with it has been burned into the minds of an entire generation of sports minded individuals. It has come to symbolize, for my generation, every defeat (perceived or otherwise and sports related or otherwise) that we’ve ever encountered.

Well, two days ago on my most recent training run I had one of those Agony of Defeat experiences when, only one minute from completing a 3 mile training run, I experienced a minor tear on the calf muscle of my left leg. It’s only the second injury I’ve experienced in 27 years of consistent running and happens to be the same injury to the same muscle. The first time it happened due to the impact caused from taking a deep downhill slope far too fast. More recently, and if I’m honest with myself, I’m quite confident this one came from a combination of over training and a pair of shoes that should have been retired long ago from anything related to my training runs. Not sure which was more at fault, but I suspect both made a contribution.

You see, I set a goal to get back to running and, in typical obsessive fashion, put in too many training miles to quickly. I succeeded in reaching my 5k distance and even ran my first 5k race without any problems, but then proceeded to run daily 5k training runs and that’s when it happened.

It’s always fun to blog about successes with training, fitness, and running, but a bit humbling to sit down and write when the topic relates to an injury which, for so many of us, often translates to defeat. It’s the point where aggressive day-to-day training goals must yield to that ultimate goal of fitness and good health! I take those yield signs seriously, but I don’t take them with much grace and style. It’s not in my DNA to set out a plan and then fail at executing it. Truth is the failure occurred in the planning phase and not with the execution. But, for either it’s a hard pill to swallow because I am responsible for both!

The good news is that I only limped on the day that the tear occurred so it can’t be too bad (unlike years ago when my first tear shut me down for two months.) The bad news is that a short test run today (on the second day after the tear) turned out to be far shorter than I ever imagined (about 20 seconds worth) as it was apparent that the tear has not healed completely. There’s more good news in that I feel no hint of pain from walking or even climbing stairs. There’s also more bad news in that it’s anyone’s guess as to when I will be up to running two or three miles again.

I’ve got another 5k in a week and a half. I’m okay on that distance from a training standpoint (especially since I’m only clocking in with an 8:30 per mile pace) but will have to make sure I’m completely healed before placing myself at risk for a more lengthy period of healing.

Don’t forget the ultimate goal, my friends! Here’s to your fitness and good health!

Running the Numbers

Yesterday I ran the 3rd annual encounter 316 5k race hosted by First Baptist Church of Thomasville, Georgia. I really like these small town races and especially the beautiful spirit of the members of the host church. From the moment I walked on the property I was greeted warmly by most everyone I met. Unfortunately, the morning had not started out quite as well for me.

I had planned on getting up around 5:45 AM but actually woke up around 5:00 AM with the kind of stomach cramps that often accompany food poisoning. Unfortunately, an extended restroom visit did nothing to alleviate the situation and I found myself going through all sorts of mental gymnastics trying to analyze my options. I just don’t give up on goals that easily, but this one was very tempting!

I convinced myself that I would have a number of McDonald’s restrooms between me and my race destination and that this would allow me to make a better decision upon my arrival. And so, in a massive step of faith (or my often spoken of obsession with running, races, and goals), I gave my sleeping wife a goodbye kiss and asked her to say a prayer for my stomach cramps, loaded my gear in the car, and was underway on a 60+ mile trip up to Thomasville.

I drove about 13 miles to the center of Crawfordville, Florida and almost turned around as the cramps were getting a bit worse. Another 10 miles and I was north of Crawfordville, still in the pitch-black of night, and feeling a bit nervous about the distance between me and the next McDonald’s. At that moment I remember saying, Lord I’m going to need your help on this one! Nothing fancy or super-spiritual – just a simple plea for help. North of Tallahassee, my cramps completely disappeared. I remember looking down at my odometer when the pain departed and was 40 miles into my trip and on the North side of Tallahassee. The pain never returned.

As I arrived at the church there in Thomasville, the next question that came to mind was what to wear for the race. I usually run in technical shirts but had brought a long sleeve cotton shirt with me since the temps were supposed to be in the 50’s and since I had no idea how much wind might be around. I put on my cotton t-shirt and walked around the block to pick up my race packet and technical shirt. There was a chill in the air but no wind and I knew I would be warm after the first mile and changed back into the technical shirt for the race.

The kids one mile fun run was scheduled for 8:00 AM and the 5k was slated to start twenty minutes later. I watched the kids come across the finish line and was quite impressed with some of the numbers. The young boy that won the race turned in a time somewhere around 6:30. I was impressed!

Not long after, we lined up and were underway. For the past couple of years, I had mostly been walking and doing very little running. In fact, in my transition back to running again, I had only put in 11 days of training in preparation for this race. I started with 4 runs of 1 mile each followed by 7 runs of 2 miles each – all on 11 consecutive days including the day before the race. The race was going to be my graduation to the 3 mile (or 5k) distance and with all things considered, I thought it went pretty well.

Even with several down hill and up hill locations on the course, I was able to maintain a pretty steady pace and had a little left over for a strong push on the uphill run to the finish line. I crossed the line at 26:50:55 and received a medal for first place in my age group. If they had been awarding medals for oldest runner, I probably would have won that too! 🙂

I turned in an 8:40 per mile pace which was very much in line with a few of my best training times on my two milers. Today, the day after the race, I ran a 3 miler and turned in an 8:45 per mile pace. The extra wear and tear of a second three miler (two days in a row) was somewhat compensated for by my much flatter (in fact, entirely flat) home course!

Looking forward to the Marching Chiefs 5k in Tallahassee in a couple of weeks!

Running Back to the Future

The title of this post is very appropriate for the place I find myself currently in training for, and running, races. I became a consistent runner in 1990 and by 1992 was running my first marathon. Considering all of the effort required to properly train for a marathon, I decided (as my son likes to say) the juice just wasn’t worth the squeeze and decided to focus on the half marathon distance.

In those early years I ran countless 5k and 10k races and one or two half marathons each year. Then, three years ago, I crossed the 60 yard line of life and thought it might be a good time to shift to fast walking with my wife. She had always been a treadmill gal while I was an outside only guy and the opportunity to exercise together seemed like a good trade-off for both of us.

However, I recently decided that I wasn’t getting what I wanted from walking and set out on a plan to continue walking with my wife and, at the same time, get back to running. I did a run-walk one day just to test the waters and realized that this truly would be a trip back in time if I was going to be running in the future. In fact, I was going to basically have to start over with training runs over (very) short distances just to work back up to running 5k races, and running them at what I would consider a reasonable pace (a run instead of a jog.)

By the way, has anyone ever really defined the difference between jogging and running? I had thought about the idea that jogging means one foot or the other is pretty much always on the ground while running means that there are those tiny moments between steps where you are airborne. However, I was a bit concerned about how I might get categorized under those terms and decided to do an internet search to see what others had to say. It seems there’s a pretty strong consensus across the web that anything over 10 minute miles is classified as jogging and anything equal to or under a 10 minute per mile pace places one in the (clears throat) elite category or a runner. I’m not breaking any speed records, but considering those terms I fall safely in the runner category. However, I digress…

The first thing I did to begin my training regimen was to book myself for two upcoming 5k races. I like having a race to prepare for. I train better and I run better and, believe it or not, I tend to enjoy both more as a result. I ran four one mile runs over four consecutive days and then bumped it up to two miles. As of tomorrow (Friday) I will have run seven consecutive two milers in seven days and plan to have the race on Saturday be my graduation to the three mile distance. The psychological benefit, that comes from the encouragement of a race day crowd, will be a great help in getting me across the finish line on that first (in a long while) three mile run.

From then on, I’ll keep my regular training runs at three miles as I have always done in the past and will give careful consideration as to whether I want to plan on adding any 10k’s or just take the steady-Eddie route and stick to 5k’s. I’m leaning toward the latter with the thought in mind that I don’t want to start climbing that distance ladder again and work back up to half marathon distances. Well, let me offer a caveat on that one. When I retire in a few years, there’s no telling how obsessive I might become with the extra free time to train! 🙂

The Analytics of Running

One definition of analytics is:

The systematic computational analysis of data or statistics.

The analytics of running  can be as simple as observing that I ran faster today than I did yesterday, or it can be as complex as plotting a graph of daily run times and looking for verifiable trends brought about due to the impact of any number of environmental variables. In general, I opt for the former.

Well, that’s not completely true. I opt for keeping it simple but I do like to know what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong. Suggesting that I could be doing some things right and some things wrong also suggests that there are variables over which I have control and, in fact, there are. How often do I run? How far do I run? And, how fast do I run?  These are simple questions, but they represent variables over which we potentially have a great deal of control.

Variables over which we have less control might include the time of day that we run, the food that we take in preparing for a run, and the temperature and other weather related conditions. Even though we might have less control over some or all of these variables, they can still have just as great an impact on our running success as those over which we have more control. In fact, as I’ve gotten older a new and very important variable has introduced itself to the mix. How quickly do I recover from a training run?

Oh, and here’s another interesting variable for you! As a musician, I am completely unable to focus on anything if music (that I enjoy) is playing. That includes reading, studying, pondering something important, and even sleeping. But, interestingly enough, listening to music on a run (I’m talking about a playlist of favorite songs that really pull me in) does a great job of distracting me from the discomfort associated with faster speeds and also tends to drown out the heavy breathing that is constantly trying to remind me how hard I’m working and how tired I’m getting. I don’t know if that makes sense to some of you, but it sure works for me.

Earlier I mentioned the time of day that we run. Unfortunately, I’m an evening runner. I’m at my best in the later afternoon and running has never come easy for me in the morning – especially early mornings when most races tend to start. Fortunately, I’ve discovered that if you keep everything else the same between training runs and races, the time of day factor can be psychologically pushed aside pretty easily. Perhaps that’s because over the years I’ve become more of a morning person – even though that has yet to spill over to becoming a morning runner.

Oh, speaking of variables, I have a great love for outdoor running and a massive hatred for that hideous and evil dreadmill. I’d just about rather take my chances in a lightning storm than run on one of those nasty devices!

For me, the analytics of running is a three step process:

  1. Determine the variables that contribute to the success of your training runs and races.
  2. Determine the order of importance of those variables upon your results.
  3. Prioritize your focus toward the variables on the top of the list.