Saturday, February 25, 2012

Moving to the beat of a different runner

I went for a run this weekend.  In my past life I couldn't wait to get out the door early on a Saturday morning, sometimes starting my runs in the dark.  I've even been known to wake up earlier on a Saturday then I did during the week just for the run.  The run (or massive 100 mile bike ride) was the event.  Now the run is just something I work into my weekend.  This particular the run was how I did some errands and I finally found time for it late on Sunday afternoon.  I had to drop off my keys at my realtor's house (anybody want to buy an efficiency apartment with a fantastic view of Rock Creek Park, a few steps from the red line in North Bethesda?), stop at an ATM, and mail a few bills (my bills are paid via the internet, but the wife is old fashioned).  On the way home I had a solid 2.5 miles to think.  I thought about a lot of things, my stride, the weather this winter, should the Redskins draft or trade for a Quarterback, I thought about a problem at work, I thought about a yoga class I took recently and the teacher kept talking about the rhythm.  The rhythm of my breath should control the rhythm of my practice.  That got me to thinking, there is something different about my running now, something subtle but sustantially and fundamentally different.  The rhythem of my foot strikes.

That sound, that particular and unique rhythem, I've heard it so much in my life that it sort of blended into the background of my thoughts. I never really noticed it until it changed.  My stride has quickened a bit and the pitch is a little higher.  It used to be a sort slow steady beat, like...

slap   slap   slap   slap

...but now its more like a...

tap tap tap tap

....a little faster, a little higher in pitch, a little quicker tempo'd.  I'm not sure if I am making any sense but it was someting I noticed and thought was interesting.


So as I continue to flush out the next insights to my thoughts disguised as a blog, I find that it is a week after I first started typing this particular entry.  I had to put the old 'puter down for a little while as life got in the way.  But I went for another run tonight and it gave me some more time to think.  Tonight I started to try to work in my new Merrill barefoot trail glove shoe.  I'm not ready to run a full 4 miles in it yet, but I could do a little bit. So I did what any one of you would do.  I started in the new ones and then changed shoes back to Brooks the Green Hornets after about a mile or two.  I brought them in a little backpack.  As I swung by a park bench on the other side of town I sat down for a few minutes to change shoes.  It felt like I couldn't have run much further on the barefoot shoes without it really starting to do some damage.  The Hornets finished the run just fine.  I think this might be a reasonable plan.  As I start slowly getting my body used to the barefoot shoes I still want to just ease into it a mile or so at a time.  Maybe I'll just add one mile per week per month just like I did tonight.  Should I even bring a backpack to my first trail race next weekend?  That would really go against my nature.  But maybe my nature has changed, maybe it's no longer my nature to try to beat people and place as high as I can in a race.  I guess that question will be answered later (and then blogged about).

As I sit here sipping a decaf coffee, drinking a large tumbler of water and eating Otterbein's Sugar cookies I start to recall last weeks run.  I recall my lower legs really being on fire for the last 10 minutes or so.  I remember the maiden voyage in the barefoot shoes about two weeks ago and how I couldn't walk right for about three days afterwards, it felt about the same as my first few marathons, but in the lower legs only.  The rest of my body felt fine.  I know for sure that tonight and tomorrow I will feel a lot better then I did two weeks ago.  I also remember last week as my legs were just on fire that it also felt familiar.  It felt familiar because I was going deep.  Going deep inside myself , inside to find my resolve and inside to find my inner drive, my inner strong, my inner bad ass that is always with me but doesn't often show his face to the public.  But I need that inner bad ass to show his face once or twice every year or so.  I think it keeps me in balance.  There are only so many days I can do the ordinary before I start getting the urge, the need to do something extra-ordinary.  Maybe that's part of the reason I want to do the JFK50, the need to go deep.  It might not be here yet, I realize that I'll have a lot of life getting in the way for the next few years but I also know that I have to have a goal on the other side to help pull me thru.  But, I feel as if I'll be ready, physically and emotionally ready to go deep, real deep.  But not for about 21 months.  I also have started to think that a man (as in mankind, some chicks can be pretty bad ass too) can only go real deep only so many times in his life.  So I'm not going to waste one of my last trips to the depths on anything less then a real big hairy audacious MF goal.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Natural running is a virtue

I couldn't wait!!!  The anticipation was killing me.  Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind and do the thing you are not supposed to do, you know you are not supposed to do the thing but yet there it is...staring you in the face, daring you to not do the thing.  So I did the thing.  Ouch!  I shouldn't have done the thing.

I have been shopping around for my next shoes almost as soon as I got the old ones home.  The Brooks Pure Flow are great and I love them but they have always been a transition shoe for me.  A rebound girl.  We've all had the rebound girl or guy.  You know the drill, you just got out of a long term relationship, you spend the appropriate amount of time wallowing in your misery, then your buddies drag your sorry ass out one night just to blow the stink off of you and you meet someone.  She's not the one.  She is not bad to look at but there are better.  She can hold a conversation but not about anything you really care about.  She's not a complete loser, I mean she has friends, she has a job, she's out at the same time and place as you and she is starting to get that look in her eye.  You have no intentions of bringing her home to meet your mom but if she laughs a little too long at your dumb jokes one more time you might just bring her home.  But if or when you bring her home you already have a plan and an exit strategy.  Do you sneak out when she's asleep or go get some coffee and tell her the truth in the morning or exchange fake phone numbers or date her for a few weeks then toss her the old, "it's not you it's me, you're great I'm just not ready"?  Whatever, you've got a plan. 

Sidenote: I feel like my old transitional girlfriends will read this one day and all they will see is, "blah, blah, blah....are great and I love them.....blah, blah, blah"  Let the drunk texting begin!!!

So I've been running a bit in the Brooks Pure Flow shoes but I just picked up the Merrill Trail Glove barefoot running shoes.  These may be the ones.  I got them home and put them on and immediately felt the pull, the call to go outside to the trail and be alone with nature and my thoughts.  It was once again a warm sunny day in mid February so I headed out in my short sleeves and my new trail shoes and it was magic.  There was plenty of foot flexibility, but unlike the Pure Flow, lots of trail traction.  If you reference a previous post you'll see that I didn't take that one last trail.  This time I did and it was the right one.  It took me all the way into Rock Creek Park, to a series of long and amazing trails that I know very well and I ran.  I don't really know how far I was but when I got to a turn around point I started the watch and it took me 29:13 to get home.  The way back was mostly uphill so I'd say the whole run was about 55 minutes and since I'm about a 9 minute miler currently maybe I went about 6 miles.  The shoes felt great and I felt even better.  That is how running was supposed to be.  The form was great, short almost choppy strides, quickish turnover, legs just trying to keep the momentum going.  My feet could really feel the trail without getting hurt by the occasional sharp rock or odd root.

But that wasn't the plan!  The plan was to run exclusively in the step down shoes until May and then slowly work into the barefoot shoes, to the tune of adding 2 miles per week on average every month.  I was just supposed to wear the barefoot shoes as my walking around shoes in order to get accustomed to them.  Now I'm walking around like my grandfather.  My calves are sooooo soar, I've been stretching them all day to no avail.  They haven't felt this stiff since the day after my first marathon.  What the hell are fifty miles going to feel like?  Did I make a mistake here in undertaking this massive shift in running form and fitness philosophy?  I still have a few miles left in my old Brooks Adrenaline's.  Maybe I'll just scrap the .......... 

Patience.  Patience.  Patience.  Back to the plan (but not until this weekend).  The Trail Gloves are the one, they will be going home to meet mom, we just need more time to get to know each other first.  I'll take my rebounder girls out for another spin on Saturday and will then come home to my future and I'll wear them to the mall and the hardware store and maybe Bed, Bath & Beyond.  I don't know if I'll have enough time but it's going to be a good little Saturday.

6 miles in 55 minutes

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Inertia and the natural runner

My body at rest tends to stay at rest, my body in motion tends to stay in motion.

It looked like a perfect day to do some couch surfing, it was sorta rainy and sorta snowy, grey but not too cold. I was feeling lazy and tired from a long work week with too little sleep and too little movement. I hadn't run since Wednesday and hadn't lifted since Monday and frankly I had to slack off the last 10 minutes of my Thursday spin class. I could feel myself start to slide back to lower levels of activity that marked the second half of last year and this is not good, or is it?

Part of the beauty of this blog is that I can write down the thoughts that come in to my head, relevant or odd or obscure, and see if I can make some sense of them. You see there was a time in my life, and it wasn't that long ago, that if I was going to do a workout I was going to go big. I was always prepared to go deep. Deep in to the pain cave. I would lie in bed at night and get myself psyched up to run my standard 8 mile loop in under 56 minutes. I would feel a sense of pride or accomplishment when I would ride Millie (my race bike) over to the Morman Temple hill for 8 vicious hill repeats. When I was completely wrapped up in my Ironman days I would regularly get up at 5:30 in order to get to work but I would wake up at 4:30 on Sundays, my only day off, to ride 100+ miles. I would ride Millie from my little apartment in Bethesda to Fredrick or West Virginia. The fitness I would gain from these rides was awesome. But more then that I loved the reaction I would get from people. This one time (not in Band Camp) I finished one of these epic training rides around 12:30 on a hot late summers day. I parked Millie on the front porch and sat down only long enough to put on my running shoes and take off my shirt and head back out for a quick little 3 mile transition run. The run felt good, the body was dealing with the heat adequately, I was hydrated enough and had a few calories left in reserve to call upon. As I finished the run and walked thru Bethesda's restaurant row to get back to my place and begin the recovery process, I came across a couple of trainer buddies of mine. They had taken their girlfriends out to lunch and were enjoying a Sunday afternoon Margarita at a sidewalk cafe. Will and Joey were impressed but understood what I had done and why. Dominique gave me the standard, "you are CRAZY!!" response. Ellen's reaction was more shocked then impressed. She couldn't even speak, it was so far out of context for her that all she could do was look at me like I actually was insane, like I had some sort of OCD, but instead of washing my hands 7 times after peeing I had to be constantly moving forward under my own power for 8 hours and it was because of a sickness not free choice. Come to think of it I might have been a little nuts during that time. But, for reasons I still don't fully understand to this day, it was important to me to do that sort of thing.

Are mega-endurance events still important to me today? I'm not so sure. I've run 12 marathons in the last 8 years (not including the 2 at the end of the Ironmans also completed in that time). In that span there have been many cold, blustery, gray, windy, snowy (or worse 35 and rainy) days. Nasty days like that never even gave me a moments pause. I can't remember a time when I looked outside and said, "fuck it, let's find a good movie instead." I do remember many many days in which I would just bundle up, go outside and do the work. A 17 mile run in 17 degrees, riding home in a driving downpour, the day I completely bonked on a 80 mile ride in 95 degree heat...all of these stories were born on days when normal people would have said, "let's do something else today" But I had to keep going, I had momentum and I simply had to keep it going.

So that's what I did yesterday, I kept the momentum going. But the difference between "Iron Jeff" and the current version was that this time I just did the minimum to keep the momentum going. I have been pretty consistent with running 3 miles or so 2 or 3 times per week since Christmas day and I was happy with that. I don't need to get up early for a 20 mile run in the snow anymore. I am changing as an athlete, I have new goals and new outlooks. Don't get me wrong, I am still going to do the JFK 50 (or another 50 mile trail run), but I also have been able to wrap my head around the real long term goals. Goals like taking my grandson to his first baseball game and dancing with my granddaughter at her wedding, goals like hiking the length of the App trail or riding a bike across the country, both of which won't take place until after I'm well into my 70's. So I went for an easy 3 miler and I let faster runners pass and I never bothered to try and catch and pass people I would have easily passed before. At first had trouble being comfortable with what my 43 year old body could do vs. what my 33 year old body could do. Then I remembered what my 23 year old body could (and couldn't) do I was cool again. I just relaxed and ran at a comfortable pace.

That is also the best way to describe this natural running form, super relaxed. My legs weren't pushing me forward as much as keeping my momentum moving forward. I sort of feel like I am gently falling forward on a slight downhill and my legs are just keeping up with me. My face is relaxed, my arms swing gently and easy, even my legs are relaxed as they pendulum forward. The only hint of tension in my entire body is in the Glutes as they swing the legs back and forth and in the lower legs as they act as the primary and initial shock absorption system. I also was interested to note that being more relaxed allowed my feet to start working a little differently while running. I actually felt as if each foot had 6 points of contact. Each toe and the ball of each foot had it's own purchase on the slick and muddy trail. I had much better traction and control then I did when I let each heel strike the ground first, giving me only one point of contact. It was pretty cool actually.

So I kept my fitness momentum going yesterday, I went out for an easy 3 miler in the cold and it felt great. Physically at first and emotionally later on but just great none the less.

Peace y'all

Saturday, February 4, 2012

My soul and the three energy systems

As so often happens in life, my life at least, the weekends end up being a lot busier then the weekdays.  I'm at work 8-9 hours a day (which is really more like 11-12 hours) so when I get home I'm pretty much spent.  Too spent to do anything but watch a ballgame or some crappy reality show that my wife loves...or a ballgame.  So on the weekends we wake up thinking we have all the time in the world to do the laundry and do the dishes and go to the grocery store for the weeks food and go get a haircut and start getting your taxes together and dealing with the leaky kitchen sink all before daytime turns into night because at night you have to get ready for the evenings activity, dinner with friends, date night, etc.  So I found myself today trying to squeeze in a quick 3-4 miles between unloading the groceries and getting some bungee cords and a new trash can from the hardware store.  "All right babe, I'm going for a run." I anounced to the little missus, "I'll be back in 30-40 minutes."  "Can you make it more like 30?  We still have lots of stuff to do!"  My internal "hurry up" was officially activated.  I figure I can get my 3 miles in a little faster, if I push I can be home in 25 minutes.

For the first time in a long time I was running.  Really running.  Not jogging like I have been all last month but but running smooth and fast and it felt great.  Sometimes it takes a little unwitting encouragement from an outside force to run a faster tempo.  I ended up doing two miles at this fast pace and then I remembered something I learned a long time ago when I was first getting my PT cert.  There are three different energy systems in the body.  For the sake of dumbing it down for the general masses (I realize that neither of my followers need me to dumb it down since you are both very smart, I just don't remember the scientific names) let's call these three energy systems: long distance slow, middle distance fast, and full speed sprinting.  As the creatively simple names indicate, your body has these three "speeds" that you draw on everytime you run.  So as I got to the two mile point today I wondered what natural running feels like at full speed, with "run like you stole something" fury.  So I slowed to a walk, spent a minute getting my breath back then slowly eased back to a run.  I've done these "pick-ups" a thousand times.  I start off at a very gentle jog and I simultaneously start counting seconds in my head 1...2...3... I try to increase my speed gradually 5...6...7 until I get to 10 when I am at full speed (I actually strive to get to about 95% speed, tests on Olympic sprinters found that they tend to run faster when their perceived exertion is a 9.5 out of 10 as opposed to a 10 out of 10.  I think it has a lot to do with relaxing the muscles that are not actively involved in moving you forward, facial muscles, shoulders, arms, etc.  Interesting, right?). I then try to hold this fast but relaxed pace as I continue to count 16...17...18...then I just as gradually bring the speed back down until I am walking at 25...26...27.  I kept walking for 15-30 seconds and then repeated the whole thing.  I did about 4-5 of those "pick ups" and they just felt magical.  I felt like I was one of those jet powered racing boats you occasionally surf past on late night TV.  When you hit the gas, all but the props of these boats seem to rise up out of the water.  I felt something stirring deep in my soul.  I want to race again.  I want to test myself against others.  I want to run as hard as I can for as long as I can and see where it takes me.  It often times takes competition to bring out the best in people. Really hard physical work like that sometimes takes me to an almost spiritual place.  It can be so freakin' hard to run past that skinny dude with the chiseled calves as you go up the monster hill.  The effort takes everything you've got, but it also clears your mind of all the stress and drama and crap.  The budget just won't balance, My mother-in-law is being overbearing again how do I deal with that, how will I be able to afford a new bathroom floor, will they ever make triple stuff oreo's, etc.  None of these thoughts, or any of the millions like them that enter our heads, will be able to stick while you are running full bore.  It's impossible to think of anything else because your mind is using every available neuron to force your body to ignore all of its warning signs and JUST KEEP PUSHING!!!

But for now I am content just slowly building strength in the lower legs and grooving the new form.  Unless I'm told to hurry up because we have to go find a rug to match the new table.