Monday, May 26, 2008

Recovery + Strength

It's now been three weeks since the Flying Pig. Whether it's experience, fitness or some combination, I've had a pretty easy recovery. I took five days off after the marathon. Some people believe in forcing blood through the muscles to aid repair, but I'd prefer to do that through walking lots. My body wasn't ready for pounding, particularly with a couple unfortunate blisters. This past week, I ran about 26 miles. I'll probably get back to 30 this week, assuming I don't go out after work unexpectedly and squeeze in at least one run at the beach.

I'm plotting out the next marathon. It looks like Philly again, in late November. This works for me because I need a few more weeks before training again. I'd like to get stronger, something I always say but rarely follow through on. At the amount I'm running now, I have energy enough to do lots of strength and flexibility exercises. I'm extending my active-isolated stretching, while adding in some Pfitzinger core workouts. Next up, if my work schedule cooperates: a strength-and flexibility training class. I'll be happy if I can maintain 30 miles a week through the end of June while also getting stronger.

4.5 miles, 32:56

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Where I run: Riverside Park

Despite being described by The New York Times as "the new Short Hills" because of the influx of families with small children, the Upper West Side has some advantages. The biggest, for me, is easy access to New York's two best parks, Central Park and the less famous Riverside Park. The latter is my favorite. I think it used to be a lot scruffier, and there is still the odd whiff of pot smoke during the evenings or lunatic vagabonds. For most part, it's great: lots of trees, dirt paths and even a bird sanctuary. I decided to try out the Nokia N95, which is hopelessly complicated for me, and finally join Flickr. All the photos are the stuff I see during my regular 5.75-mile run there.

5 miles, 36:49

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Running Social

Running is inherently a big solitary, but lately I've checked out stuff online to make it more social. I've played around a little with RunnerSpace, which is what you'd expect. Runners Lounge is pretty similar. I decided to try out a new feature at FriendFeed, a service for sharing blog posts, links, photos, etc. The feature, FriendFeed Rooms, lets you set up areas devoted to particular interests. So began the Going Long room at FriendFeed. Just three hours old, it now boasts three members. This is truly the Long Tail.

7.1 miles 1:01 (Nike SportBand stats, so who knows)

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Sense of Pace: Internal Odometer vs Technology

I've gone running twice with the Nike+ SportBand. Both times were on a route I normally run during long-run recoveries. I figured the route is 5 miles. That felt right to me. But Nike+ told me the run was 4.72 and 4.69, putting my pace at 7:37 and 7:45. Uh-uh. I just didn't buy it. Yes, I'm still just 10 days or so from the marathon, but those runs felt faster, closer to 7:20 pace.

Tonight, I put my internal feel for distance and, more important, pace against Nike+ technology. Nike could argue it's not completely fair because I don't run in Nike+ shoes. Instead, I put the sensor in a pouch that attaches to the top of my Asics. Yesterday, on Twitter, I estimated that Nike+ was off .25 mile. My body told me it was a five-mile run to the Bridle Path, not these 4.72 and 4.69 miles that Nike said. To test the accuracy, I ran to the park, then started Nike+. I did the four-mile loop (technically, a USATF-measured 4.04). Nike+ told me 3.71 miles. I was pretty much exactly right about the distance. My internal odometer kicked Nike+'s ass.

It got me thinking about technology, something I write about quite a bit. For the most part, technology is great, even awe-inspiring the things it enables. Yet at the same time, I feel it's alienating people. We overlook the very simple things about life. It's why I was hesitant to add Nike+ to my regimen. Running is so basic, so elementary, so free of what Noakes calls "society's false privileges." My best miles in the marathon tick off one after the other, completely alike although unique. The times in the miles never vary too much. When there's a misplaced mile marker, our pack knew it because we had a sense of pace, developed with the most amazing piece of technology: our bodies. Bill Bradley, the former senator, was the subject of a great book called A Sense of Where You Are. The title came from the way Bradley, a basketball star at Princeton, described to the author how he always knew where he was on the floor without looking at the basket. He'd spent so much time practicing and playing that he developed an innate sense. We all have that, I believe, but we often don't trust it.

5.2 miles, 35:30

Sunday, May 18, 2008

How to Avoid Running Injuries

An inevitable part of the running experience is injuries, fearing them and getting them. Treating injuries sucks, mostly because it's hard to figure out whether there's really an injury beyond normal aches and pains. After all, pain is part of the deal with running. A good rule of thumb is whether the discomfort is localized (ie, not a general soreness over an area) and affects the stride. If it does, time to treat it.

Prevention is obviously the best cure. I get asked how I avoid injuries. After all, I run a lot -- probably 1,500 miles a year -- frequently on hard surfaces. Plenty of people have predicted knee and hip replacements in my future. Up until now -- knock on wood -- I've fared alright. Here are my commonsense tips for avoiding running injuries.

1. Efficiency. Yes, we're all born to run. I was reminded of this again when in Cincinnati for the marathon. My friend Tom, who tried to poison me with jambalaya, has a daughter about 18 months old. She's just starting to walk. Elena's impulse, though, is to run. But just because running is natural doesn't mean it doesn't require thought. Running is hard on the body. Your body weight comes crashing down on joints and tendons with each stride. Even Lance has said how hard running is because of the pounding. The best way to mitigate the trauma: lower the force. You do this by paradoxically taking shorter strides. Look at the best runners and you'll find they're very economical. The goal is to have your feet off the ground for as little time as possible. Aim for short strides. Don't bounce. Repeat: never bounce. It also helps not to carry around a lot of weight.

2. Soft Surfaces. There are many great parts of living in New York City. One of the downsides is the dearth of running trails. I still try to do as many miles as possible on softer surfaces, dirt paths in Riverside or the Bridle Path in Central Park. The softer the surface, the less trauma. A modest proposal: We turn the golf courses into runner parks.

3. Stretching. Yeah, there's a school of thought that stretching is actually bad for you. Don't buy it. Stretching done incorrectly is bad for you. Lots of people treat is like a battle, grimacing while yanking their leg is a direction it clearly doesn't want to go. Since I came down with a tendon injury three years ago, I've done Active-Isolated Stretching. It's really helped me improve my flexibility, which was never great and became more constricted with all the miles. The principles of AIS are that the key to stretching is to isolate a muscle and apply quick (two seconds) pressure to slowly increase the range of motion. There's a rope involved. A father-son duo put on a class about it for the New York Road Runners.

4. Core Strength. My near-term goal for the summer is to get stronger. My upper-body strength is pretty pitiful, and it hurts me at the end of races. Injuries commonly happen when there's a set of muscles that's getting a lot more work than another set. (OK, this is a little outside my realm, but something like this is true, I'm sure.) There are lots of regimens for building strength. I do Pilates exercises in my apartment, a site the people across the way must love because it's typically shirtless after a run.

5. Patience. This is the hardest to follow. Lots of people fall in love with running. They're like your friend who meets a girl and all of a sudden is always over her place. That works out sometimes, but often ends up a mess. Lot of injuries happen when people try to do too much too soon. The marathonification of running has made this worse. Casual or non-runners decide they're running 26.2 because they had a four-mile run and it's a life goal. Running marathons is hard and the distance requires respect. I ran for two and a half years before training for a marathon. It wasn't the first race I'd run, but a gradual progression from four miles to five to 10K to a few halves. I realize there will always be "marathon tourists," the people who run for six or nine months to slog through 26.2 in five hours or so, like they're climbing the Eiffel Tower. That's pretty uninteresting to me, particularly if they don't stick with running. Doing marathons is just the byproduct of running as an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, not just physically but mentally.

Tracking Runs via Nike+ SportBand

Despite my day job covering how digital technology is changing media and advertising, I'm a bit old school with my running. One of the great things about running is its simplicity. You only need sneakers, although shorts and a shirt are probably a good idea. Sure, I run with a $30 triathlon watch, but that's about it. I've been of two minds about Nike+, the system that lets runners record and share workouts through their iPods. On the one hand, I've admired it as a legitimately revolutionary step toward marketing as a service, something I've written about quite a bit. Yet as a runner, it never appealed to me. Why? First, I don't believe in listening to music while running. I used to say it was for "the mentally weak." But more seriously, I think it's dangerous, not because of muggers necessarily but the more dangerous runner foe: cars. Taking away one of your senses is dumb. And it's true that "real runners" typically don't listen to music while running. Music is often used as a crutch by people who say running is "boring." Since running is the one time of the day I'm truly alone with my thoughts, this leads me to conclude those people are the boring ones. It's also an artificial stimulant. I see people surge when some song comes through their ear buds. Fine and all, but not exactly an efficient way to train.

With all that in mind, I figured Nike+ was properly aimed at the mass-market lifestyle runner. Then the SportBand came out. This intrigued me because it did away with the iPod in favor of a watch-like band. The idea of easily tracking my workouts is very appealing. On Saturday, I dropped $60 for the system. I don't run in Nikes, so I got a little pouch that attaches the sensor to the top of my Asics, rather than the built-in opening in Nike shoes. I know Nike wants to sell shoes through this system, but I can't think of many people running for years who would suddenly switch shoes. It just doesn't happen, unless you've had injuries. So far, I'm underwhelmed. The chart above shows my run today. After nine years of running, I figure I have a pretty good sense of pace. There's no way it was that slow. I ran today more at 7:30 or a little below. The graph also has all these peaks and troughs that don't make sense. It would have me believe one mile was 7:02 and another 8:13. I'll keep trying it to see how accurate it is. Right now, I think my regular watch and knowledge of the distance works just fine.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ryan Shay

I came across this video from an ESPN segment about Ryan Shay, the marathoner who died during the Olympic Trials here in the fall. It focuses on Alicia, his wife, who is now trying to accomplish her own dream of running in the Olympics in the 10K. I'm not much for public memorials, but there's a nice understated one to Ryan in Central Park. On the way up Cat Hill, there's a rock with "Shay" written on it.

4.72 miles, 36:00

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Race Report: A Step Forward

Going into the Flying Pig, I had reservations. For one, I knew my training wasn't quite there to run a 2:59, one of the two running goals I still have. (The other: do Comrades.) I wish I'd trained more, harder and smarter. But you go to war with the army you have, not the army you'd like to have or plan to have, I guess. The week before the race was a whirlwind, with lots of travel and work -- and too little sleep.

Pre-Race: I stayed with my friend Tom and his wife Kremena before the race. One thing I learned, which I should have known, is it's not ideal for me to combine running marathons and visits. Sure, it's convenient, but I'm too distracted. I just wanted to sit down the day before the race rather than go anywhere. We went up to Cincinnati on Saturday, picking up my number and then eating at friends of Tom's in northern Kentucky. I was pretty nervous. I ran once in the week before the race, not out of strategy but a lack of time, and just five times over the previous two weeks. Maybe this was for the better. I felt like shit, that's all I know.

The Start: I got to the starting line at a little after 6am, following a fitful night sleep in a disreputable Travelodge in Newport, KY. The weather was great, probably in the high 40s or low 50s. I went right to the start area to get in the right frame of mind. I never know what to think about standing there, waiting to begin the long journey. One trick I try is to visualize what it'll be like running the course, even though I'd never stepped foot on any of it. Most of all, the battle is to relax. That's so important in running. The race director came on with some "bad news": the start would be delayed because of a fire along the course. What's more, it would be a quarter mile longer. It took a few seconds for everyone to realize he was serious. Inauspicious.

Miles 1-4: I promised myself I would go out slowly. The Flying Pig is pretty hilly, particularly the first eight miles, when it gains tk meters of evelation. My idea was to go out at 7:30, then see how I felt at mile 8, when the worst of the hills were crested. The start was a bit crowded but not too bad. Mile one flashed by at 7:29. Perfect. The next couple miles, the course wasn't marked correctly. That happens in smaller marathons. Mile 2: 6:39; Mile 3: 7:57. Add them together, about 7:15. This was where I caught on with the 3:10 pace group, which turned out to be a savior. Mile 4: 7:20.

Miles 5-8: These miles were decisive. The course went over to Kentucky, traversing the many bridges over the Ohio. We then headed east and started climbing. Dave, the pace leader for the 3:10 group, was awesome. It's unusual for a pace leader to factor in the hills. Usually, they're tyrannical about staying on pace, but Dave rightly knew that we could give up time in the ups to make up in the down. Mile 5 was 7:14; Mile 6: 7:09. Then it got tougher. Mile 7 came in at 7:30, followed by another tough 7:22 . At this point, I felt good, not overly fatigued, but my feet were a little sore. So far, no tightness or muscle soreness.

Miles 9-13.1: I think of these as middle miles. At this point, I'm into the groove but not yet at that point of comfort where I'm clicking off miles. The best feeling as a distance runner is to be a metronome, knocking back miles almost mechanically. It's an amazing feeling. Mile 8 was a slow recovery at 7:13 for Mile 9. At this point, we picked up the pace noticeably. At first, I struggled a bit and faded to the back of the 3:10 pack. Mile 10: 7:10; Mile 11: 7:00. At this point, I seem to remember Dave dropping off for a pee while another guy, much more annoyingly voluble, took over the pacing. He messed up the mile, and we came in at 7:26. This was reeled back to a 7:16 to come into the half at 1:35:43. I take assessment at the half. At this point, we were on pace for, with even splits, a 3:11: 30. Not bad.

Miles 14-20: My confidence was up at this point. Even though I felt great, I was totally determined not to overextend myself. The Delaware and Indy experiences hung heavy on me. Yet I was nearly equally determined to leave it out there. That's the paradox. I'm haunted by the fact that I didn't run 75 seconds faster in Philadelphia in 2005 to run sub 3. I finished with gas left in the tank. That sucks. These are typically my miles. I typically run my best between the half mark and about mile 18. I don't know why. Mile 14 was a slow 7:26, followed by a 7:08, 7:06, then down to a 7:01 at 17. I was running at the front of the back now, and ventured out beyond it with one guy. This was, in retrospect, a mistake. Mile 18 was 6:53, but I started to fatigue. Mile 19 hurt at 7:23, but I pulled that back to a 7:07 at 20.

Miles 21-23: In every marathon, the goal is to get to mile 20, then scratch and claw. I've done this so many times, but I've never figured out a way to plan for what happens beyond 20. It's a total crapshoot. We were heading down into the city, along the Ohio. It's mostly downhill. Mile 21: 7:07. Mile 22: 6:59. It was here that I started to lose touch with the 3:10 group. I wanted to keep up, yet I worried about blowing up. 3:15 is my Boston time, so I played it safe. Was that a mistake? I don't know. Mile 23: 7:25

Miles 24-end: Flush with pain. It's true that the discomfort at the end of marathons is difficult to describe. The best word is dispiriting. The experience helped lots, because I was ready to deal with how bad I felt. I saw people pulling up with cramps or walking uphills. I would shorten my strides, power away. Mile 24: 7:17. By now, I'm counting down to what the distance left is in city blocks. Mile 25: 7:31. The last mile, I completely played it safe. It comes up on my watch at 9:14, which can't be true. My guess is the extra quarter mile added came in here. According to the chip time, I did the final mile in an embarrassing 8:20. Yikes. The guy finishing before me was dragged across and put into a wheelchair.

Final result: 3:11:55; 7:15 pace; 132nd of 4728 overall; 19th in division.

Takeaway: Cincy was a great experience. The race went as well as I could have hoped. I ran, for the most part, very evenly and under control on a pretty hilly course. I still think it's possible to run a 2:59 in the fall.