Summer School for a Slow Learner

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – A. A. Milne

Wow! This week totally got away from me. And honestly, I’m on the fence about whether I should concern myself with how, or just be grateful it’s over. What I am totally sure about is that it was annoying. I’ve spent the whole week ranging between exhaustion and frustration. And both have a high potential of souring my attitude. Combine the two for any amount of time and I just start of feel overwhelmed. When I get overwhelmed, I go run. Thankfully, I did run this week. I really needed to.

But shit! What am I griping about a single week for? Where has this year gone? I swear I think I can already hear the Easter Bunny clucking out chocolate eggs for next year. Geezus!

Last weekend I realized that the Rock N Roll Half Marathon was only seven weeks away (six now obviously). I had kind of let it slip from my mind. And because I’m now registered for my first full marathon in November, the Rock N Roll has essentially become just another long run on my schedule and more of a “practice race” for me to get accustomed to crowds, navigating aid stations, fueling while running, and the overall atmosphere of a huge event. It’s a training run. I can’t afford to taper for it. And trying to go out and crush a PR would be stupid because I will have another long run the following week and can’t afford to risk injury on my path to Philly. I hope I don’t forget that.

I’ll have to run it smart, not hard. So I guess I had better do a better job of getting smarter.

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates

I originally registered for the Rock N Roll in the spring as a goal to keep me motivated through the heat of my first summer as a runner. This week has reminded me of just how important my therapy miles and sweat-itation sessions still are to me. And I’m not about to let a little hell-spike in temperatures get in the way of that.

Luckily, I’ve experienced no temptation to skip runs or even hesitation in getting out there. I have made a bunch of mistakes adjusting to the heat. But mistakes are probably the main ingredient of learning, and I’m slowly figuring out what I need to know to safely and effectively run during a delightfully humid Virginia summer.

First lesson so far: Drink more water. I “observed” this obvious-to-smart-people fact a few weeks ago when I conducted a sweat/weight test to estimate how much I sweat. I “learned” this lesson a week later when I made zero changes, ran out of water, and bonked for the second time in three weeks. Idiot!

Salt is salty

Salt is salty

Even during the winter months, a run of more than an hour would leave me with a crusty layer of salt on my skin. Because of that, as my summer miles started to ramp up I decided to measure just how much fluid I lose during my runs. A few weeks ago, I weighed myself without clothes before my run, and again afterwards (No pics. You’re welcome).

One pint of water weighs approximately one pound, so the number of pounds lost is roughly equal to the number of pints of sweat leaked during the run. I lost eight pounds during a nine mile run. I drank one pint of coconut water while out there. So calculating for the pound of liquid consumed, I sweat out about one pint per mile. That’s a lot. If I was smart I would’ve applied that observation during the 10 miler on the following weekend.

I am not smart, so instead I took the exact same insufficient amount of water with me, ran a completely new and less familiar route, and ended up running out of water seven miles in and still two miles away from my house. And my body completely tanked very soon after.

Sure, I could’ve planned to loop back by the house during the run to get more water. And I only passed three convenience stores and one grocery store out there, so I could’ve stopped and bought more water too. I even took a crinkled Lincoln with me (like I never ever do) just in case I needed it. But I don’t think straight when I’m dehydrated. And I barely think at all when I’m pissed. That day, I was both.

Last weekend I bought a hydration belt that holds two water bottles. I also picked up some electrolyte tablets to make sure I’m replenishing some of the salt that I leak so profusely. I test drove it Thursday. I’m sure I looked completely ridiculous. But I’m also pretty certain that I look better running with silly green bottles stuck to my hips than I would laying in the street mumbling profanities as I puke and die of heat stroke.

I wore that belt on my 11 miler this morning…and I even stopped to refill it. I’m still working on effectively fueling during my runs. I again had to battle sloppily through the last few hot ass miles. But I am learning. And learning is still progress.

Second Lesson: Slow down. This one should’ve taken no time. But I’m still a newbie, especially to summer running. After doing so much better than I expected in my first half marathon in March, my pace increased pretty dramatically for the next few weeks. And according to the consistent heart rate (HR) numbers in my run journal, it was not because I was exerting myself more. I was just getting more efficient and…gasp…faster. It felt pretty good.

But as the heat and humidity rose, the air got thicker, and breathing got more difficult I found myself running out of gas much sooner even on shorter weekday runs. This is totally normal. And I’d been told to expect it. But as I’ve emphasized before, if there is a hard way to learn a lesson, I will too often choose that way.

Following a few shitty performances at embarrassingly short distances, I started to pay attention. And after reading some more about HR specific training, I decided that I could slow down and still feel like I was directly benefitting my training.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” – Lou Holtz

Unfortunately I cannot even remember the last time I got to let myself sit down and read for more than a measly ten minutes. It’s driving me crazy because I’ve got books stacked all over the place that I really want to read. I can’t even describe how bad I’d love to just sit down and read for a couple of hours.

Eh, maybe tomorrow. But until I discover a 32 hour day or find a full time assistant that will work for free, podcasts have become my closest substitute.

Since discovering it a few weeks ago, I have been listening to Rich Roll’s podcasts during pretty much all of my gym workouts and most of my runs. I’m a fan for sure. Among being a huge advocate of a whole food plant based diet and an ultra endurance athlete, Mr. Roll also promotes the personal athletic benefits he experienced while conducting much of his training maintaining his physical effort in the relatively low intensity “zone 2” heart rate range.

I’m not going to try to fully explain zone 2 training right now because I’m not an expert, it would take too long, and most of you probably aren’t interested. But basically, zone 2 is the aerobic level of exertion between efforts so low that the physical benefit is nominal and higher intensities where the body starts burning glucose for energy instead of fat. This quote from Rich Roll’s web page is a mini nugget of the idea and if you’re more interested, you can click here.

“By staying in Zone 2, I facilitate the proper mitochondrial and blood pathway development, which teaches my body to work in a highly efficient manner to use oxygen to burn fat rather than glucogen, which is a much more efficient and longer lasting source of energy — the preferred “food” of the endurance and ultra-endurance athlete.”

As someone who continues to seek out better ways to fuel during runs and who already has a fairly low heart rate, it seems a no-brainer for me to focus on this level of fitness and to try to condition my body to run more efficiently on something as abundant as fat while I also seek out better carb/sugar food sources for my runs.

I’ll continue to do speed work on Tuesdays because the slower segments between speed intervals keep it very bearable even in the heat. But on many of my other training runs, I’m focusing on my HR instead of pace and that makes it much easier to slow down during a hot day without feeling like I’m not benefiting as much as I could. And the lower intensity should reduce the risks of injury as well. I’ve only messed with it twice and only once since counting my resting heart rate and getting a better measure of my zones. But I removed “pace” from my watch display and I like not having it as a distraction.

We’ll see what happens in the fall when temperatures fall, everyone’s pace can pick back up, and my FIRST MARATHON approaches. What?! That still sounds weird in my head.

Third lesson: Have fun. This one is key. And during this past week of tossed schedules, poor decision making, spotty sleep, and the resulting sense of frustration, I almost forgot about the importance of keeping a positive attitude and making life fun. If something isn’t fun, then why do it?

“I had a lady gallon of water yesterday. Today I have a man gallon. Looks real manly, eh? Day 3 fitness challenge.” – S.B.

“I had a lady gallon of water yesterday. Today I have a man gallon. Looks real manly, eh? Day 3 fitness challenge.” – S.B.

I was unexpectedly reminded of this fact by a friend’s facebook pictures of smiley faced water bottles. She has just started a 30 day fitness challenge. I haven’t talked to her and don’t know any of the details. But apparently, part of the “challenge” is to drink more water; judging from the pictures, a lot more.

Anyone that read part one of the “thatguywithabeard’s kitchen” posts knows that I don’t understand why so many people don’t like to drink water. But whether I understand it or not, the fact is it’s not the most popular daytime beverage for a lot of people. And though I’m assuming she did it just to be silly, she decided to draw funny happy faces on these gallon water bottles she was lugging to work and then post pics of them on facebook each day.

That might not sound like a big deal. And I don’t know if she was thinking about it at much more than the comedy level of the pictures. But that comedy level is important. If drinking a gallon of water every day is not a normal thing, or maybe even a daunting idea, then making it more fun in any way possible helps. Maybe I’m reading into it too much, but I liked it.

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” – Dale Carnegie

I hear and have heard so many people say “I hate running,” “walking on the treadmill is boring,” “I don’t like water,” “salad is rabbit food,” or any number of other things concerning why they can’t stick to some diet or fitness challenge they’ve half-heartedly set for themselves. And I totally understand.

If walking on a treadmill seems torturous, listen to music or a podcast, bring a book, or go completely crazy and walk outside. If you hate running, ride a bike. If you think you don’t like salads, trick it into your system with a small piece of chicken or fish on top. The chicken will sneak the veggies into your stomach under its wing.

If you don’t like water…well, um…uh…You know your body absolutely needs it right? Whatever.

The trick is to find a physical activity that you genuinely enjoy doing; something that IS fun; something that makes you feel good. Then you will have no trouble motivating yourself to do it. You’ll actually look forward to it. And as you continue doing it and your desire to become better increases, I believe a healthier diet will follow. Your pallet will evolve. As you head out for that tennis match after a nutrient deficient fast food lunch and play like crap because you feel like crap, and after you try it following a healthy nutritious meal, you’ll find a new appreciation for all sorts of “rabbit foods” and good old fashioned water.

Whether anyone really wants to admit it or not, fried chicken and french fries might taste good, but it’s shitty fuel for physical activities. It’s shitty fuel for anything.

Anyway, I like running. It’s therapeutic. It’s meditative. It continues to catalyze so many healthy changes in my life. And it’s not because I’m fighting some battle of will against an activity that I hate. It’s because I genuinely enjoy it. I’m grateful to have found it. And because it is fun to me and I enjoy it so much, I keep doing it.

Go find your fun. And don’t be afraid to paint a smiley face on something new if that’s what it takes to give it an honest chance. Happy Saturday.

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5 responses to “Summer School for a Slow Learner

  1. I love this blog every time I visit, today is no different. You will be happy, or not whatever, to know I have made it my goal to do my first 5K just after my birthday! It’s small but feels so big right now. Thanks for your great insight, encouraging words and positive outlook.

  2. That’s awesome Luce! Of course I’m happy to know that. And it’s not small. It’s new, with a potential for change. And change always looks big. But you’ve got plenty of time to get there.

    Hopefully you will find some sort of genuine enjoyment in it so that it won’t seem like some cumbersome chore you have to battle to finish, so that you can wash your hands of it. Move at the speed of comfort (or just BARELY faster). Don’t overdo it. Listen to your body. And let me know if I can help. You’ll do great.

  3. I do always love your blog entires. So thoughtful and beautifully written… makes me feel like the US Weekly of running blogs to your NY Times. But I love it.

    I really admire your devotion to reading up on nutrition and hyrdration, etc… something I’ve never been able to commit to for myself. It will make you a far smarter and superior runner in the end!

    On the Rock n Roll half – yeah, definitely do not taper. It IS just another part of your training, BUT you do need to run it like a race and not just as training. Like you said – it’s the time to test drive some of the strategies that will get you through 26.2. If you bonk, then you will know what NOT to do in November.

    You are rockin’ it so far, friend. Keep it up!

    • That’s a very good point about racing the RnR, I’d be kidding myself to say that I’m going to be totally immune to speedier race-day atmosphere, so we’ll see. But I think you’re right. I probably can’t call it a true practice-race if I don’t actually race it. I just need to be careful and make sure I listen to my body. Thanks for that insight. You’re way more informative than Us weekly.

      And I’m way to scattered to be the Times. Thanks for the kind words though.

  4. Pingback: Half Way to Philly | thatguywiththebeard

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