Friday, May 29, 2009

Occasional chinks in the quixotic armor


Motivation has always waxed and waned--this is nothing new. The veneer of relentless consistency is the product of a never-ending cycle of overcoming malaise through sheer acts of will and reigning in the urges to blaze a trail straight to hell, or at least the injury bench. But sometimes my own sanity starts to creep in and question the whole quest, and then it's really time to worry.
Running makes me happy. It makes me feel alive, strong and fit. Running heals wounds. It is a friend in good times and bad. We runners are so fortunate to know the feeling of running like a deer, of experiencing the natural world around us daily, of truly experiencing the spectrum of sights, sounds, smells and feelings of our environments by being in them, not just near them. I need to remind myself of these things especially when real life starts to spin out of control, like when my job and so-called career start to seem incredibly pointless and arbitrary and I'm torn between the itch to make irrational changes and the pragmatic guilt of being the sole breadwinner for a family of six and at having the gall to wallow when so many around me no longer have a job with which to feel dissatisfied.
So when this happens there's really only one option. As my friend, Jeff, once said,
"For us runners, the question of “why” is pretty moot. Not because it may not be interesting, or important, from a certain point of view, but because we’ve left the question of the meaning of running behind. After all the questions have been asked, and all the answers given, in spite of the disagreement on essences, physiology, rationales, training strategies, trail running, road racing, i-pod wearing, mid-foot striking, turnover cadences, arm carriages, Jack Daniels, Arthur Lydiard, 20 miles a week or 100, 5k or the 50k, whether it's really the Miles of Trials or the Trial of Miles, after all the words have been spoken and keyboards have been pounded, meanings given and ideologies subverted... After all this, we runners bend down and tighten the laces, open the door, brace for the cold and are renewed: another godawful, glorious, and meaningless 8 miler."

My wife said pretty much the same thing just now before she left for the grocery store: "Just go put your running stuff on and go running." And so I guess I will, before it dawns on me that Don Quixote eventually regained his senses...and then died, sane and broken. I didn't come this far to wind up sane, let alone broken.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Runners Alley/Redhook 5k


At the start, that's me in green behind Hudson (1517) and Jim Johnson (11)

On Sunday I hitched a ride up to Portsmouth with Mark Hudson for the Runners Alley/Redhook 5k. This is my 3rd time running this race since my sister Trish started working for Runners Alley. It's gotten pretty big (2000 runners) but it's a good course, well organized and it finishes at a brewery. Tough to beat.

My goal for the day was to get under 17:30 in order to feel like sub-17 will be possible later in the season. It was a pretty good day to race, warm but not uncomfortable. The start at this race is always very fast as it's slightly downhill and with a good crowd, and despite trying to hold back a bit I hit the mile in 5:25. There's a small rise in mile 2 and with the fast start, my pace fell off a bit and I hit 2 miles in 11:15. There was a pretty good group of guys around me to race with, so I never really slacked off. The third mile starts with a slight downhill, then is flat until the little rise right at the end.

In the final mile, that slight uphill is placed for maximum hurtiness

It was good to see my cheering section here, as I was hurting about as bad as I look above.


My four with their newest cousin

I'm pretty happy with the fact that I was able to run 5:36 pace for the last 1.1 but that sure wasn't holding anything back. I finished in 17:27 for 10th overall and I'm happy with how I competed but it's a little daunting to think about taking 30 seconds off that.

Digging for the finish. Ouch.

After jogging a cooldown lap of the course with Hudson (5th) and his Whirlaway teammates, Chris Mahoney (3rd) and Seth Williams (14th) it was time to find the beer tent. I bumped into my brother in law, Brian, on the way and we found our families and then some beverages. Post-race festivities continued on at Brian and Trish's house into the afternoon. A good day.

Brian in blue, me in green...on a post-race beer hunt
17:27, 10th overall.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Yet another 10-miler, saw a gray fox

About 2 miles into a ho-hum 10-miler, I saw a gray fox perched on a rock next to a creek at the edge of some woods. This was right about where John Carver Road turns into Birch Meadow Drive, on the left. A bunch of crows were going berserk, but I'm not sure if it was because of the fox or just because crows tend to go apeshit right around sun up--always fun when you're sleeping with the windows open. It was pretty calm for a fox, I thought. I'm pretty sure all the foxes I've ever seen on my travels have been red foxes but they always seem a lot more skittish than this guy was. He (or she I suppose) was focused on something in the brush near the creek, looking ready to pounce. It had a black tip on its tail and a white chin and belly and seemed a little more stocky than a red fox which is what caused me to look it up to see if there even was a separate species of fox in this area called gray fox (there is!) But I also found out that gray foxes don't have "black stockings" which I kind of think this guy might have had. So maybe it was a red fox that was gray in color. Anyway. It was a fox of some sort.

Early morning wildlife sightings are always a treat.

Training is going well--73 miles last week, I'm feeling fully recovered from Boston and in need of a race. Good thing I'm going to Portsmouth on Sunday for the Runners Alley/Redhook 5k--a flat, fast 5k with beer at the finish! Until then...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fitter and happier for sure, but more productive? Hmm...

Irishman Keith Kelly ran for Providence College and was the 2000 NCAA Cross Country champion. He still trains and races at a very high level and his blog (ain't no hobbyjogger's blog) is called Fitter, Happier, More Productive. Keith actually sold me a couple of pairs of trainers when he was just out of college, training in Boston and working for Marathon Sports in Cambridge. And that's about as close as I'll ever get to running a sub-30 minute 10k.

I only stumbled upon Keith's blog because it's one of the many runners' blogs that Jim Johnson links to. I really like Jim's blog because he runs about a hundred races a year in New England and always gives excellent reviews.

So that's all a really round about way of saying that the phrase Fitter, Happier, More Productive has been bouncing around in my head for the last couple of weeks. I have no doubts about the fitter and happier parts. Fitter is easy. And I think my wife--despite the hassle of having me take off on a Sunday morning saying, "Going for a run!" and coming back 2 hours later--would agree I'm happier. But the more productive bit is more complicated. Over the long haul? Yes, I think so. But certainly there are pockets of time when I'm a whole lot less productive, at least when it comes to the basic necessities of life--little things like work, paying bills, renewing the car registration, yard work. Not a whole lot got done around here in the few weeks just before or the few days just after the Boston Marathon. Eh, what can you do? I'm not worried about that.

What troubles me is when it seems I need to run just to function as a normal human being. It's taken a decade or so but I have become 100% a morning runner and not because I prefer to run at the crack of dawn (or earlier.) It's just that is the only time I can make sure it gets done. And so over many years and tens of thousands of miles, its become part of who I am, to the point that that I can't do much else until I've got some miles in. The rare days when I decide to sleep in (until 6:30, woohoo!) and run later in the day or--good heavens--take a day off, I'm just not much good. I'm a mess, actually, tending to stare slackjawed at my computer screen unable to comprehend the email in my inbox, or stare at my phone hoping it calls somebody, anybody, because lord knows I can't make such decisions as whom to call next without having run that morning.

This would probably bother me more if I weren't so good at rationalizing my addiction. And besides the simple solution is to just go running every morning. Why, just look at me now--I ran nearly 13 miles with 6 x 1000 and 4 x 200 this morning and a few hours later I'm simultaneously blogging my ass off, listening/watching a web conference and doing email. Multitasking I say!!

And anyways how productive do I really need to be? I'm fitter and happier--that's pretty good.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Being "that runner guy"

I work virtual office, which has its benefits and drawbacks. I work in sales and when I'm travelling a lot and out in front of customers most days, it's fantastic to not also have a commute to deal with. But recently I have taken on a new role that, at least in the early stages of getting ramped up, has resulted in me being in the office a lot more than I'm used to. And I'm going a bit stir crazy. And my kids are driving me nuts.

Today the cleaning people were coming and so rather than try to talk on the phone or do web conferences with the vacuum roaring or a mop slamming against my office door I decided to flee to the "Starbucks Office."

So I'm standing at that little counter where they keep all the goodies--sugar, milk, those little wooden stir sticks, etc.--and a woman in sweats and a Red Sox hat says, "Do you run a lot?"

"Uh, yeah, kinda," I answer, taking a quick look down just to make sure I'm not wearing any running clothes or a race t-shirt. Hmm, nope--jeans, button-down shirt, normalish shoes. Crap was it the watch? Stupid timex ironman is a dead giveaway.

"I thought so because I see you out running all the time," she says.

Ah, yes. Normally when I get this it's from someone I kind of know, or used to know and they see me running every day from their car as they whiz by in a blur--one hand on the wheel, one hand texting, one hand shoving a muffin down their gullet, one hand holding an extra large coffee from Dunks up to eye level--and they get to reconstruct how and why they know me over many daily sightings. And so when they finally corner me at the grocery store or at my kid's softball practice to them it's as if we've seen each other every morning for a year. Except I haven't seen them in 20 years because--and this may come as some surprise--I can't see let alone recognize anyone through the early morning glare off the windshield of an SUV going 45 mph the other direction while I'm hugging the shoulder just looking to keep a safe distance from their front quarter panel. It has resulted in countless awkward moments...but at least I wasn't expected to recognize this woman.

"Oh, yeah, are you a runner or do you normally see me from your car?" I ask knowing the answer.

"Uh, no, I'm usually driving," she says.

And then begins the obligatory 15 minutes of her telling me about her fits and starts with running, her knee troubles, how she ran a marathon in 2000 but has had 3 kids since then, and then of course, "Have you run a...you must run marathons, right?"

Ugh. Despite my initial instinct to scream that there's more to life than marathons, that marathons are stupid, that any overweight jogger can run a marathon, that I hate marathons, I simply say, "Yeah, I've run a few."

And on and on it goes. And she might run the Falmouth Road Race this year, and have I ever done that? And her knees, and her three kids, and she'll be 40 soon, and oh I'll be 40 this year? Wow. But how many kids do I have? FOUR? Wow, and shoes, and treadmills, and the gym, and okay nice to meet you, and thank God can I now just find a seat in the corner and drink my coffee and do some email? Please?

I'll never understand the phenomenon of non-runners feeling the need to tell runners every detail of their running/fitness/weight loss/health/diet history complete with a laundry list of excuses as to why they don't "work out" more. For starters, why assume I care? Don't get me wrong, I appreciate and enjoy running for its full spectrum of benefits including health, weight control, stress relief and everything else. But to be clear; even at my hobbyjogger level I long ago crossed over the threshold of the amount of running one would sanely do if it were really about that. I train to race. I race for sport. It's an athletic competition. You wouldn't start talking up some golf nut about your walking regimen would you? So start talking about calorie counting and weight loss and spinning class (what's that now?) and my eyes glaze over. But more importantly, would you offer all that info up to a non-running complete stranger? I dunno. Weird. But it happens all the time when you're "that runner guy."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Feet wet

I'm not really sure why I feel the need to have a blog just now. I mean obviously what the world needs most is another navel-gazing running blog by some guy who's not even regionally competitive in the soon-to-be masters ranks. But anyway. I want some place to put a lot of the crazy shite I come up with and write down on message boards only to lose it forever. You know, for the great American novel or whatever. I doubt this will turn into a daily training blog since the 5 or 6 people who are interested in my training know where to find my training log already, and even if they didn't RunningAhead displays my latest workouts automagically in the right-hand margin. I'm not sure what it will be just yet but, hey. I need somthing to kick it off with and today's crappy workout seems as good a place as any to start. Yes, there are other posts that appear to be older than this one but those are imported so they don't count. So here we go...

Distance: 11.6 miles
Duration: 1:25:52

In a cold, hard rain.

3 mi warm up with 3 x strides,
4 x 1000m / jog 200 (3:39, 3:39, 3:40, 3:43--yuck stopped here and switched to 600s),
2 x 600 / jog 200 (2:08, 2:10),
2 x 400 / jog 200 (83, 80),
4 mi jog home with stiff, cold legs and cramping feet.

Yes, those splits are right. And the plan was 6 x 1000 in 3:35. As in, yikes.

It's tempting as hell to call this a fail but if I'm being honest I have to give myself at least a "C" on the workout. For starters it was probably a bad idea to do this in a cold, hard rain. And even without that it's probably still too soon after Boston to be doing a workout with hard targets anyway--should have just done 6 x 3 minutes on the road during a 90-minute road run or something. And then there's the fact that even with out all that bad workouts just happen sometimes. Suck it up and deal. And shortly thereafter of course the rain stopped and the sun came out.

Moving on.