Friday, November 25, 2011

Still Loving It!

Shortly after finishing the Turkey Run 5K yesterday I posted a status update on Facebook about the event. Of course I mentioned the fact that I enjoyed seeing dozens of friends among the 1500 people participating in the area's second largest race. Without a doubt, the holiday of thanks creates a festive mood that makes those encounters with friends a little more meaningful. That is why this 5K will always be among my favorite events to participate in.

I also stated that yesterday's race made this the 32nd year of running sub-17 minute 5Ks. It wasn't bragging about running ability. I am attentive enough to know that a sub-17 5K is a mark that many runners never reach, but I am also wise enough to know that a large number (1000s?) of runners, from high schoolers to collegiates to masters, run faster every year. The world road record for 5K is 13 minutes! A 17-minute runner would have more than a K to run at 13 minutes!!  Even my 15:18 personal record, set decades ago, would leave me a half-mile behind the world record runner.

No, that post was not an attempt to brag about running ability. A mantra I've long used to describe myself is that "I am a has-been that never was." I loathe bragging from myself more than I do from others. A sub-17 5K is a difficult enough challenge for my limited abilities that I consider it a notable achievement and desirable goal, especially at my age.

That status update was meant to be a statement about the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle. It was an acknowledgement of a decades long love affair with running. The post was a reminder to anyone reading it that middle age does not guarantee low quality of life. It was meant to be a challenge and an inspiration to the people reading this blog to eat wisely and live active lives.

I encourage people daily to exercise moderately while eating a variety of healthy foods. It really isn't that difficult, but it requires a deviation from the typical American lifestyle. There are many places to look and and a variety of people to talk to when seeking information about healthy living. For the last two years I have been telling people about the Blue Zones, a book by Dan Buettner that reveals how several groups of people around the world live to be active and productive centenarians. Check it out! It would make a great Christmas gift!

No one has a guarantee for a long and healthy life, but many people construct lives that almost guarantee a hasty depreciation of life's quality after the onset of adulthood. In fact, it is well-documented that our current cultural habits are creating extremely unhealthy children. Quality of life does not hinge on an ability to run a sub-17 5k, but living an active and healthy lifestyle will enhance the ability to maintain the ability to do all of the things that we enjoy for most of our lives. I love to run and bike and hike and climb and garden and rake leaves and . . .

Do you have your own sub-17 type of measuring stick?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Looking Toward Winter

Its been a little over two weeks since I ran the IMM. In that time I have logged thirty three miles of solid running. That means that my running life has returned to normal.

In fact, it has been normal since I took an exploratory three mile run on the Thursday following the race. That, of course, is wanted and unwanted. I was relieved to have relatively strong and fully functioning legs a few days after a road marathon. Yet, the healthy legs only confirmed my belief that the sciatica had kept me from pushing the pace in the closing miles. That Polar heart rate computer does not lie! I was on cruise control when I should have been in a steadfast pursuit of pain.

Since that day I have continued with the T-TH-S training pattern that I have followed since 1990. Whether I was on a short 3 miler or a "long" 8 miler the miles have come as easily as expected them to when running relaxed, low HR runs. After months of logging double digit long runs, I had to smile as I typed that 8.

Sadly, however, there is little doubt that each of those long runs would be truly long and epic if a more expansive trail system were close by. Throw in some mountainous terrain and I would be a full-fledged ultra runner with a severe Ricky Bobby complex on the bike. Sigh.

As of now, I have only one race planned in the foreseeable future. That would be a return to Lynchburg, TN for the Oak Barrel Half Marathon on April 7th. The 2010 trip was a lot of fun, despite the fact that I was suffering with the year's first round of sciatica at the time. I feel like I owe it to myself to challenge Whiskey Hill when I am 100%. Of course, provided that I convince Jeremy to return with me, I'll need to be at the top of my game to keep up with him. Maybe I can convince him to slip a little of that JD into his pre-race bottle.

The sciatica is not completely gone. Although the piriformis has finally relaxed, the tightness in the hamstring is constantly noticeable. For those of you who haven't experienced this issue, think of the coughing that goes on for days after the sinus infection has subsided. I'm on the mend.

Without racing trips planned I am eying the Appalachians once again for the "traditional" winter outing. That trip has ranged from warm and sunny day hikes, rides, and runs in and around the Great Smoky Mtn NP to long backpacking trips to camping with my boys. I would love to get in some winter camping, but the boys have not been interested in recent years. That might have something to do with the "no gaming" rule.

Honestly, I won't know what I am doing until a few days before it happens because I always let the weather contribute to my final decision. High on my list of desires are a couple of long runs over loops that many backpackers use for 3-4 day trips.  It will be interesting to see what Mother Nature has in store for me.

As far as this blog goes, well, it is the external view of my active lifestyle, right? It is, I believe, a natural progression of my long time habit of writing about my adventures. That writing began in the early 1990s when I jotted thoughts into tiny notebooks as I walked on trails, sat on boulders in rivers, or stretched out on grassy balds, or hunkered down in tents. The notes later progressed into essays that I typed into computers. Some of those essays were lost, but many of them are tucked away in one form or another.

I intend to start posting some of those essays in the near future. I've had some awesome, scary, hilarious, painful, and lucky experiences over the years. It will be fun for me and, I hope, for my friends and family to rehash those old adventures. You should find them interesting and entertaining.

Also, the Polar Ambassador Package will be awaiting me when I get home. I am excited about this! More on that in the near future!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Birthday Reflections

While creating this blog I wrote down a set of rules for myself. One of those rules does not allow me to discuss my personal life. So, this post is worded carefully, but honestly.

I don't know about you, but I tend to review, weigh, measure, and refocus my life with the passing of each birthday. I've been at this for a long time. This, of course, implies that I am growing old.

Those who know me well understand that though I have collected four dozen years, I have steadfastly refused to age in the normal sense. There is, admittedly, a relatively high level of vanity required to maintain a youthful mind and body upon reaching "middle age," but I believe that there are also requirements of acknowledged, hard-earned self-preservation and relentless pursuit of a inner peace.

For a youthful body, I have chosen a pathway laced with healthy eating, moderate exercise, and a constantly engaged mind. Two decades of nutritional research have taught me to eat a variety of foods in moderation while avoiding only a few, so I have little stress when it comes to food decisions. My exercise habits are, of course, the focus of this blog. I train less than most people to limit wear and tear, while employing science and keen self-knowledge to gauge my efforts and satisfy my competitive tendencies.

I read and write constantly to stimulate my mind. I read textbooks, biographies, history books, research papers, nutrition books, blogs, news, and student works. I even assign a monthly assignment for all of my students that requires them to summarize a scientific article so that they can practice concise writing while allowing me to be "well read." I write exams (!), blog posts, short stories, essays, and I have have even completed a novel. It is worth noting that the story telling has crept into the classroom in many forms, including physics exams that are short stories about a pirate named Ohm.

And that brings me to my last thought on aging. I love to laugh. I create reasons to laugh. I laugh at jokes, at success, at failure, at pranks, at youthful naivety, and, most often, at myself. That last one is important. I am a perfectionist and a very intense person (or so I've been told . . .) which used to be a drag on me and everyone around me. Then I "grew up" enough to feel comfortable with my shortcomings. It is easy to develop a sense of one's limits when you are reminded of them every day through brutally honest interactions with teenagers. I've learned a lot from my students!

I learn from wise old men, too. Just last night I was hanging out with Gene, who is 99 years old. He is an incredibly inspiring person who will surprise you with his wit, cause you to self-reflect with his keen memory, bring you to tears with laughter, and humble you with his extensive knowledge. Then he will do a little jig and blow your mind! Last night he did all of that and then brought me to tears as he gently kissed his ailing wife, Bea, three times before leaving her assisted care room. I've only got fifty one years to seek his level of life work!

To close I would like to say that I actively seek inspiration to live a purposeful life, to be a contributing member of society. Born into poverty and with average mental and physical abilities, I have always battled to be anything but mediocre. I find my inspiration in family, friends, students, competitors, the news, and in nature. The way I see it, I've got a lot to live for, a lot to be thankful for, a lot of love to give, and good reasons to seek my potential in all aspects of my life.

And, in part, I created this blog to inspire its readers to do explore their themselves, their communities, and the natural world around them. ST

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Monumental Marathon Race Report

Followers of this blog know that I lined up for the IMM with hopes of finishing in about 2:50. At registration I typed 2:49:59 as my predicted finish time. After dinner the evening before the race I told my road trip mates, Jeremy and Nick, to go to lunch when the clock hit 2:50, stay and throw things at me, or berate me after lunch.

Well, it was close, but I reached the finish line in 2:49:33.  This is a result that I am really excited about because it came in the midst of my longest battle with sciatic pinch in years. Furthermore, the time was a lifetime PR achieved just days before my 48th birthday.

Jeremy, Nick, and I were lucky enough to stay in a hotel just a couple of blocks from the start line. The room was great, but the soft bed only worsened the pain in my back and right leg that had developed during the drive north. I don't believe that I ever fell asleep. It was a little after six in the morning when I began to stretch and rub my leg, back, and piriformis.

We jogged into the a stiff, near freezing wind to reach that start line in the predawn darkness. In a scene that was completely against my "last minute" nature, I found myself hopping and shivering and swearing a ridiculous twenty minutes before the start of the race. This was a result of finding myself behind at least one thousand people last year when I could not shimmy my way through the crowd fast enough.

Jeremy and Nick, competing in the half marathon, quickly disappeared in the mobile mob soon after the start. It took only a couple of turns and less than a mile for me to find myself running smoothly in my own space. I fell into a large group that reached the first three mile markers in 6:18, 12:30, and 18:34.  It was during that 6:04 third mile that I felt my hamstring twinge for the first time. Though the pace came easily and though I wanted to stay with that group, I yielded to the pull of the hamstring.

The next eighteen miles were a rare roller coaster ride for me. The course was exceptionally flat, but my pace was not. One or two miles 6:0x miles were followed by one or two at 6:2x. I stayed within my fitness, even during the faster miles, but the pace was controlled by the bitchy hamstring. When it was fine I was fast, but when it whined I slowed.

Somewhere around the nine mile mark that I realized what was going on. Whenever the course dictated that I run on the right side of a crowned road the hamstring would strain and tighten. I slowed because I didn't want to injure it. My dealings with the issue in the past have taught me that I can run through the sciatica without worsening the back condition, but only if I didn't damage the resulting tight hamstring. So, I ran as fast as the muscle would allow me.

I sweated little while running in gloves, a cap, an Ultimate Fit race kit over an Under Armour t-shirt, and Scott T2's. Still, I snagged cups of water at 12 aid stations. I also consumed one GU Espresso Love a minute before the start and four others I had stored in my gloves at thirty minute intervals. The cool temperatures definitely aided a fast time for this heavy sweater.

The headwind in the closing miles was not as kind. Combine that wind with the fact that the hamstring remained tight throughout the last five miles and you have a recipe for slower running. I reached 21 miles in 2:13:40, but slowed to a training pace of almost 6:50 for the remaining five miles. Maintaining that 6:25 average pace would have brought me home in about 2:47.

My legs never reached that lethargic, heavy feeling that accompanies a bonk. Stiffness in my lower back and hamstring slowed me by shortening my stride length. In fact, I felt relatively fine. I actually smiled when I compared my condition to what I had experienced in CO during the summer 50-mile mountain races. A discouraging moment occurred, though, in the 20th mile when Superman was passed by Spiderman.

Throughout the closing miles I weaved back and forth between hundreds of walkers finishing the half marathon and six hobbling or stopped marathoners. Three of those marathoners had passed me during the fourteenth mile - which I covered in 6:08.

Jeremy and Nick were waiting four blocks from the rectangular finish where they could take a shortcut to the finish. I gave them a thumbs up after glancing at my watch. Nick had set a PR in the half marathon while Jeremy, though he had beaten Nick, had come up less than a minute shy of his mark set last month at the Evansville half. I would be lying if I tried to deny the fact that Nick and I created many opportunities to remind Jeremy of his "lackluster, embarrassing, and hairless performance" for the remainder of the day. "Walk behind us  . . . sit over there . . ." And there may have been references to the color and fortitude of testicles . . .

A long chat with good friend, Laura, in the hotel lobby gave us a chance to size up four Kenyan runners who had dominated the day. Those tiny racing machines lacked even an ounce of excess matter to slow them down. And they were humble and polite.

We picked up my pint glass trophy and gift certificate for an AG win before enjoying a leisurely lunch at the Ram Brewery. The drive home through the remaining fall colors while engaged in laughter inducing conversation served as a fitting end to the road trip. Even Jeremy's brother, living in northern IN, got in on the action by texting about the two-out-of-three PRs. I would travel with those two anytime! I could not find more wholesome people to experience life with.

After reviewing the data from my Polar RCX5, I know that my average heart rate of 162 was significantly lower than normal. In fact, it was lower than my average HR during the first half (four hours) of my Silver Rush 50 effort during July. So, despite the fact that I declared I would stop running road marathons if I ever broke 2:50, I now know that a sub-2:45 is within the grasp of my sub-30 miles per week training. And that seems like a suitable challenge. Besides that, a 2:49 is still well out of line with the rest of my PRs from shorter race distances (McMillan predicts 2:29), so I would like to see how much more I can lower the time using my low mileage training formula.

For now, though, I rest - and think of ways to convince Jeremy and Nick to run the Leadville Marathon and the full IMM with me next year.

LATE EDIT:  CONGRATS TO DAKOTA JONES FOR SETTING THE GRAND CANYON R2R2R RECORD ON 11/5 WITH AN INCREDIBLE TIME OF 6:53:38. DAKOTA IS AN INCREDIBLY NICE GUY AND SUPER ATHLETE.