Showing the Way: Running into Fall

“God, it was hot! Forget about frying an egg on the sidewalk; this kind of heat would fry an egg inside the chicken.” – Rachel Caine

Just past the 11 mile mark of my 12 miler last Saturday, I turned a corner and saw a gentleman standing in his front yard hosing down a truck parked in the street ahead of me. As I got closer, he took a step back. And as I directly passed by, he stopped spraying the side of his truck and pointed the nozzle at the ground so not to inadvertently splash me as I ran by. I gave a quick wave as I said “thank you.”

He hollered out “I wasn’t sure if you wanted it or not.” I was already completely soaked with sweat.

“I’m not sure if I made the right call either.” I replied back over my shoulder. He laughed.

You won’t have to look very hard to find out that many of even the most avid runners hate running during the summer. What’s not to hate? It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s heavy. It’s exhausting. And worst of all, especially to less experienced runners like me, you have to take the ego-punch of slowing down just when you start to think you’re making some real spring-time progress. It kind of sucks, but I know it’s all coming back soon. Autumn is just around the corner.

“It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.” – Yogi Berra

Because of the weight of summer heat, a lot of runners are chased off the roads and onto treadmills. I’ve seen them crowding the gym all season long. I don’t know why I have no trouble peddling my ass off on an exercise bike for the better part of an hour and at the same time cannot run on a treadmill for more than 20 minutes without wanting to kill myself. But that is clearly not an ailment suffered by all runners.

Monday, I saw a woman who was running strong on the dreadmill as I was starting my stationary cross training “ride.” 45 minutes later, when I finished, she was still running just as strong and apparently just as contented. It was like a magic trick. How in the world is she not going crazy running in place like that for so long? I hope to someday figure out the treadmill. But so far, I’ve been unable to find the same release running indoors as I do outdoors, even in the heat, the cold, the rain, or the snow. Weather be damned. I like being outside.

I see a lot of travel in my future. I’ve got a lot to find. I’m ready to go. And I can’t imagine a better way to explore a new place than by running its streets, trails, or railroad tracks; seeing, hearing, and feeling all it has to offer. Running outside allows certain experiences that both driving outside and running inside cannot.

Tuesday afternoon, I was running my last 400 meter speed interval session before I start alternating Yassos and hill repeats in the coming weeks. The weather was a perfect glimpse into autumn’s hopefully speedy return: temperatures in the 70s, slightly overcast skies, and a light breeze. If I hadn’t been outside I might not have smelled those two freshly cut lawns, that one guy grilling some burgers, or that house venting the smell of fabric softener out onto the street as the clothes dryer did its thing. Had I been driving by at 35-40 miles per hour, I probably wouldn’t have heard that muttering sound ducks make as they waddle out of the street, or those kids laughing at each other during their basketball game. And I certainly wouldn’t have felt that cool breeze on my chest and legs if I’d been strapped into my four wheeled bubble or running on an endless band of vinyl.

But I guess if I could stomach the dreadmill better, I could probably keep better tabs on afternoon television. And we all know that’s pretty valuable stuff too.

I changed my mind. I don’t like being outside. I love being outside. Even during the summer.

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou

There’s little doubt that facebook is a time-suck website. I’m continually reducing the minutes I spend wading through its newsfeed. And if it didn’t prove so useful in sharing my blog, I might have deleted it months ago. But in fairness, as easy as it is to poo-poo the damn thing, it is not totally without its value too. Even in my more limited exposure of late, I have been able to witness many people taking awe-inspiring steps towards feeling better and being healthier; and during the sweatiest months of the year no less. Those things are a big part of what keeps me from completely losing faith in humanity as I sift through all of the other stupid shit on the internet. I need those reminders. Thank you.

Back in the spring, an old friend of mine that I haven’t seen in years shared that he’d been doing a “Couch to 5k” (C25K)program. He’d made a new year’s resolution to lose some weight and get healthier. He suffered some early set-backs and injuries, but persevered by riding a bike and cross training more. He cleaned up his diet significantly, shed more than 50 pounds and about a month ago finished his first 5K. More important than any of the numbers, is he feels better. That’s the point after all. It’s an awesome thing.

A coworker from several years ago, that I also haven’t seen in a long time has been blowing up the book-of-faces with her crazy-ass jalking updates. “Jalking” is her hybrid word for…you guessed it, jogging and walking. I’m not sure, but it would seem that she does it every day, sometimes twice a day. Judging by some of the comedic facebook posts, she appears to be enjoying her adventures out on the road and getting excited about fitting into whatever “cute” outfit she’s using as her target goal. She hasn’t been miserable stalking some running guy she’s discovered out there either. Hey, find your motivation wherever you can, right?

Of course my other running friends know that if my jalking buddy continues to run more and further reduce the walking from the equation, she’s going to have to do two other things: 1) Stop say “jogging.” 2) Start taking rest days. Runners don’t jog, they run. And runners need recovery days, or they end up injured. But she can cross that bridge when she jogs up to it. Until then, she’s making progress towards her goal and…you guessed it again. She’s having fun.

Another distant and dear friend recently started to quietly share her weekly progress as she is progressing through her own C25K program. She’ll be running her first 5K in a month. And like the others, the miles are irrelevant to me. I don’t even know how those programs work. It doesn’t matter. I got stoked when I saw her commenting about how she’s “actually enjoying” the running part. I know exactly what that unexpected discovery feels like, and it’s impossible not to be excited for her. If it’s not fun, why do it? I’m confident that she’s going to kill it. And I can’t wait to read about it…on fucking facebook of all places.

Hooray for the interwebs! Woot!

“People say, ‘I inherited my family’s genetics.’ No, you inherited their lifestyle.” “If you won’t do it for yourself, you are the living example for your house.” – Gabrielle Reese

These three unrelated people are not only examples of why some online wormhole site isn’t as worthless as I’d like to claim sometimes. But more importantly, each is a real life example within their home. They’re all central figures of the family. Between them, they have eight children. That’s eight people with a healthier, more active role model in their everyday lives. Their strides towards greater wellness will be directly communicable to those around them; the people they love most.

I hope that each of them is taking these steps for personal and selfish reasons. I hope they are setting goals that will continue to make them better and happier people. Much like the emergency breathing air masks on airplanes, you can’t help the person next to you until you first put your own mask on. You have to take care of yourself first. But I believe that their personal goals of self-improvement are also gifts to the people in their lives. It may sound grandiose, but it could be argued that it’s a gift to us all. If three people can make small changes that will directly and positively affect at least eight other people, and those eight people can carry even a fraction of that healthier lifestyle forward into their own lives affecting the people that they come in contact with and build relationships with, then where is the limit? When does it end? Does it have to end?

I’ve mentioned before how grateful I am that my mom didn’t keep a lot of crappy food around the house when I was growing up. That very little thing is a huge part of why I never developed a sweet tooth or any serious food issues. Sure I made a million stupid dietary and lifestyle decisions as I’ve clumsily stumbled through the world. But that hard-wiring from childhood was always in there, making it easier for me to adjust when I finally shut up and started listening to my body. I will always appreciate that.

Each of the friends I’ve mentioned, and a few more that I didn’t, is an example in their household. And in taking better care of themselves, and developing a healthier everyday environment, are setting an example for their families and in effect setting every single person in their lives up for a greater likelihood of a successful and healthy existence. There kids won’t think runners are “crazy” or that eating more vegetables and less meat is “weird.” Instead they will witness the benefits of exercise in the higher energy level and lighter heart of a parent. That’s a big deal. And that’s why I’m so stoked to see those posts. That’s why I’m grateful for them. The real world needs more positive role models.

And if they can find the motivation to make these changes, and discover a love of running or cycling or even jalking during the hottest season of the year, it’s hard not to feel some level of optimism for them as we look ahead into the wonderful fall season when being outside is so much more comfortable and therefore more enjoyable.

I’m still cutting down on the time I waste online, but when I do check in on the rest of the world, it makes me feel good to see people I know doing good things for themselves…and for everybody else too.

Happy Thursday. We’ll be running into fall soon. Can’t wait.

This is one of my favorite recording of all time. The guitar player is incredible. Enjoy.

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Memorial Day Miles

“I enjoyed growing up part of my life in Virginia Beach. We had the ocean and the beach and a beautiful landscape. We were outdoors all the time and we played outside.” – Mark Ruffalo

Wow. Time flies when you’re running around all weekend. This year’s Memorial Day weekend was a really great weekend to get outside, so that’s what I did. All. Weekend. Long. And after catching up on some of my favorite running blogs this morning, it appears that everyone with a pair of running shoes got out and enjoyed the sunny weather as well. A few logged some race miles, some kept up their training, and everybody seemed to make time for some fun-running. Which is the best kind of running, in case you didn’t know.

I spent almost the whole weekend outside somewhere and enjoying a relative break from the internet. I never miss it. There’s just not enough natural light online. I attended a small cookout with friends Saturday evening, enjoyed some quality time with my family on Sunday afternoon, squeezed five rounds of disc golf in there somewhere, and ran my first Yasso 800s on Monday morning. And of course over those three days, I ate way too much shit that I generally don’t eat; which I’m still feeling the effects of today. Ugh. But at least I started the weekend strong by running my first race since March. It felt good to pin a bib to my shirt again after such a long break. I did miss that.

“You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” – Steve Prefontaine

100_6619Saturday morning was the Elizabeth River Run; a waterfront 10K in Portsmouth, VA where I live. It was nice to have a race that was so close to my house that I could’ve probably run to and from the thing if I had to. Of course the after party beers would’ve made the run back home a lot harder to enjoy, so I drove (that might be the dumbest “logic” ever expressed in a single sentence).

Goal expectations for the race were a bit unclear for me. I’d only run one 10K race prior to it, and because that race was so early in my running life, I have naturally gotten faster since then. In fact, I reread the blog I wrote about my first 10K and enjoyed remembering how happy I was to maintain a 9:24 pace and reliving the joy of discovering that I was going to be able to run all six miles without walking. They don’t call them baby steps for no reason. But calling them baby steps doesn’t make them any less important.

Running each race (or each and every run for that matter) singularly and in the moment is a lesson that I feel very fortunate to have stumbled onto early, even if I didn’t exactly know it at the time or if I still forget on occasion. Sometimes it’s nice to look back at how far I’ve come instead of always staring into the sun on the horizon and blinding myself with the uncertainty of the road ahead. Just keep running for fun and before I know it, I’ll be wherever I’m going.

I try not to take anything for granted, but knowing that my only other 10K was so long ago, I was fairly confident that if I could avoid falling into the river, I’d be able to PR on Saturday. But I’ve also been mixing up my training runs more in recent weeks while at the same time trying to solidify my form again after adopting a new rhythmic breathing technique. Both of those things have undoubtedly contributed to my better speed and comfort when I run. But the focus on my breathing did temporarily distract me from my basic form. And giving up one of my three weekly runs to speed intervals gives me one less opportunity to focus on my less than fantastic natural pacing ability. So I really didn’t have a solid goal for the E.R.R. or a terribly well informed expectation either. I was just going to run it…for the fun of it.

“Success rests in having the courage and endurance, and above all, the will to become the person you are.” – Dr. George Sheehan

Because it was close to my house, I actually managed to wake up, get ready, and make it to the race a whole thirty minutes before the scheduled start time. I was almost confused as to what to do with so much free time. Stretching seemed like a good idea, so I tried that. Then I went for a quick warm up jog around some nearby office buildings. It was windy as hell, but the sun was shining, and the temperature was mild. It was a great day for a run. About 10 minutes before race time, I wandered back into the general staging area and started to make my way towards the line.

On my way in, I gave quick hellos to my friends Beth and Sarah. Beth is a long-time runner who is starting to ramp up the miles again as she comes back from an injury. Sarah is also an experienced runner who signed up last minute because she wanted to motivate herself to “get back in the game” after taking a short break from running. And while waiting at the start, I chatted briefly with Justin, a man who works at the same place as me and Beth’s husband. Small world, right? It was good to see them out there. Races seem just as much social events as they do athletic ones. I think that’s why there’s always beer at the finish line.

“Running gives freedom. When you run you can determine your own tempo. You can choose your own course and think whatever you want. Nobody tells you what to do.” – Nina Kuscik

Once the horn sounded, I took off and managed to clear the early bottlenecks relatively quickly. I was half-assed aiming for an 8:00 minute/mile pace. And about ¾ of a mile into the run, I realized that I’d been approximately 25 ft behind the same women for pretty much the entire time. I’d checked my watch a few different times. If I started to catch up with her, I’d see that I was running faster than 8:00. If she started to pull further ahead, I’d check and find that I was lagging. Sweet. I found an 8:00 pacer already. This was going to be easy. I could just stay the same distance behind her, ignore my watch, and enjoy the run. Despite the wind in my face, it was a really nice day for a run. I might as well take it all in.

The sun was shining from a bright blue sky as we ran along the waterfront looking out at all of the local shipyards stocked with different sized grey boats in various states of disrepair and maintenance. There were a few ducks in some of the well treed and green park areas we passed, and even the occasional smattering of cheering supporters. The coarse wove through Historic OldeTowne Portsmouth for the first two-ish miles before heading out along the river and into the Portsmouth Naval Station, doing a big loop around their soft ball field, and back out across Olde Towne into the waiting Finish Line where we started.

About three miles in, I passed my pacer. I had been steadily gaining on her for a half mile and after checking several times had to accept that I wasn’t speeding up; she was slowing down. Dammit! Now I’m going to have to pace myself.

I tried to simply run at the speed of comfort. I don’t generally pay any attention at all to whether I’m passing anyone or if someone is passing me unless it’s in some tight part of the course where I can’t help but notice the close proximity of another runner. But being less familiar with my natural pacing, I did start to notice those things and each one would elicit a speed check. I wasn’t racing anyone, but I definitely didn’t want to run so fast that I ended up falling apart at the end of a six mile race.

Not long after losing my pacer, I came upon a fellow Tidewater Striders member (who coincidently shares my first name). He was running with his teenage son, and during our quick exchange of pleasantries and hellos, he asked how I was doing. I said I was great except “I think I’m running too fast.” “That’s okay, it’s a race, you’re supposed to run fast” He replied. Shit! I couldn’t argue with logic like that, so for the remaining two miles and change, I just ran. I checked my pace way more than I thought, but for no good reason at all. I didn’t consciously change anything based on the information gained during those wrist checks. And with each vibrating mile reminder, the pace was getting quicker.

“Ask yourself: ‘Can I give more?’. The answer is usually: ‘Yes’.” – Paul Tergat

The beauty of starting a race with the wind in your face is that if there is any fairness in the world you’ll get to finish that race being pushed by that very same wind. As I was approaching the finish line, I could hear the race announcer yelling encouragement to anyone within earshot of the speakers. “Thirty seconds left to finish under 49 minutes.” I have no idea if that is some universally recognized 10K benchmark, but Kathryn of Run Eat Play RVA had recently PR’d her 10K while aiming to break 49 minutes. And if I was only 30 seconds away, I saw no reason not to at least try and get there. So I kicked it up. I lengthened my stride, picked up my pace, ignored my newly untied right shoe, and charged across the finish line where I overheard what I thought to be a familiar voice holler out “nice stride” as I passed. As I immediately circled back to see who had yelled, I saw Beth come across seconds behind me. Even bouncing back from injury, she’s fast. Bitch! (Yes I’m kidding.)

I never found a familiar face to go with that voice. I have no clue if that comment was even directed at me. But I know I finished in 48:56. And I know that I felt great.

I had beaten my previous 10K PR by more than nine minutes. I was confident that I would beat it. I had no clue that I would run at an average pace of 7:51 min/mile; over 90 seconds faster than I was 4.5 months ago. And I had no clue that I would feel so strong after doing so. I’ve been making a very conscious effort to refuel better after runs and workouts and I have noticed a very clear reduction in soreness, aches, and pains. And I have also been experiencing so much more energy that I’m not sure I’m going to be able to keep my weekly running limited to only three days for very much longer. It feels good to feel so good, in case you didn’t know.

“For every runner who tours the world running marathons, there are thousands who run to hear the leaves and listen to the rain, and look to the day when it is suddenly as easy as a bird in flight.” – Dr. George Sheehan

While catching up with a few people I had not seen since the Shamrock and discussing my sporadic pacing and how bummed I was to have lost my pacer so early, I said something like “It’s way too nice out here to spend so much time looking at my left arm.” I believe that to be true. But just a few minutes later, as I was checking in with Beth and seeing if her husband had come in yet, she informed me that she was behind me as we rounded the soft ball fields near the 4 mile mark and was amused with how often I was checking my watch.

Dammit!

I really need to pace better. I know I’ve gone out on training runs and ignored my watch. I’ve seen the erratic splits that result from it. But it sounds like once I lost my pacer on Saturday morning, I unknowingly built an intense and overly committed relationship with my left wrist for the next four miles. Is that a huge deal? Not really. But I really don’t want to be that guy that misses simple things like squirrels fighting, or ladies in pretty running clothes just because I’m distracted by my second-to-second pace adjustments. It’s nit-picky, but I’m a dick, and always have to find the grey cloud around my silver linings. I PR’d my 10K. But I’m almost certain that I might have seen a mermaid out there had I not be so pre-occupied with my watch. And is there really any good excuse for not seeing a mermaid? I didn’t think so.

“If I’m free, it’s because I’m always running.” – Jimi Hendrix

After the race, I spent the next couple of hours enjoying the morning sun and chatting with a bunch of people that I don’t see very often. I don’t usually consider running to be to be the best topic to build a lengthy conversation around, but I was nice to chat briefly with other runners about how they did, what races they’re planning to run, and getting some details about some fun runs I’m already planning to participate in later this summer. And any time you can drink beer at 9 a.m. and not be looked at like a freak is a good time to me. I had a blast.

Oh, and while I may have had two slices of pizza, one hamburger, a hot dog, and twenty-some-odd beers over the three day weekend; I also ran 11 miles and had zero cigarettes. I haven’t had a cigarette in 12 days, and more impressively…two Sundays. I will admit that I do miss them; but not as much as I did 11 days ago. We’ll see what happens.