7,000 feet

It’s been quite a while since I updated the blog, mainly because winter’s arrival in Montana brought my training to a screeching halt.  While 5 straight days of running in sub-zero temps proved challenging, in the end it was the wind that was impossible to negotiate.  So, tail between my legs, I admitted defeat, and made a tough decision.  I finally came to the realization that if I was truly serious about running, I needed to leave Montana.  After disappointing several people and making a few arrangements, I loaded all my possessions into what at this point is a fairly-weathered 2000 Pontiac Grand Prix.  It was the third time in under a year that I’d moved.  At some point when you find yourself moving this frequently, you take a moment to question whether you really have a purpose in mind, or if you’re slowly becoming a modern-day gypsy.  A vagabond going wherever the wind takes you, doing your best to simply put off the not-so-enjoyable realities of being an adult.  If you’re lucky, moments of self-doubt such as these are typically short-lived, and the excitement of new experiences quickly drives unfavorable thoughts from the mind.  It was with those experiences in mind, that I set out late on a Sunday afternoon, bound for Arizona.

I like driving at night.  The roads are quiet and you never make bad time.  If you’re lucky the stars or even the moon are there to keep you company (along with some caffeine and what one hopes is a very long iPod playlist.)  Cities pass by as awe-inspiring seas of light, rather than overcrowded metallic jungles choked in an ever-increasing cloud of pollution.  Above all else, there’s something liberating about seeing the sun set in one state, and rise in another.  I almost wish I had a picture of the sunrise the next morning in Arizona.  I’ve never seen the sky turn such a perfect shade of gold.  Contrasted with the clear blue desert sky, and jagged red buttes old as time itself, it’s one of the few sunrises I’ve seen that I think I’ll still remember when I’m old.

After a half-day detour to the Grand Canyon, I eventually made it to my destination, the city of Flagstaff.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that in many ways it reminded me of Montana.  Rather than desert, Flagstaff is situated on the edge of the largest Ponderosa pine forest in the United States.  Snow-capped peaks linger just outside the city limits, and although there are no grizzly bears, wildlife is quite abundant.

Grand Canyon - 1/18/14

Grand Dan-yon?

In the past 12 days, the biggest shock to me has been how much tougher running at 7,000 feet is.  When I first visited Montana, and began training at 5,000 feet, I soon found that it was tougher than I had anticipated.  That summer found me gasping like a fish out of water more often than not.  Of course after some time at elevation the body adapts, and although training at altitude is still tougher than at sea level, you get used to it.  I was under the misguided impression that being used to running at 5,000 feet would make the transition to even higher elevations easier.  At 7,000 feet, the air is over 20% thinner than it is at sea level.  It’s great for stimulating the production of red blood cells, which makes if feel like you have an extra lung when you get back to sea level.  If you’re not used to the elevation though, it’s as if the thin air transforms the most benign of hills into a potential cardiac arrest.  Naturally, I learned this the hard way, and after stubbornly attempting to train hard the past week and a half, I’ve finally conceded that it’s best to just ease back into things, and wait for the body to get acclimated.

If you ever have the opportunity (or misfortune?) to be running at altitude, remember to ease into things.  Even if you are in great shape, your body needs several weeks to adjust before you can expect it to perform at a high level.  It’s a lesson I won’t soon forget, as I gradually ease back into training at a high level over the next month.


Boston Marathon Training: Weeks 3/4 of 24

If you’ve been following my training, you may have noticed I got a little lazy over the Thanksgiving holiday.  Well, lazy in terms of updating the blog.  Luckily training’s been going well so I’ve avoided packing on those holiday pounds…for now…

The past few weeks of training have gone well, but have been slightly more interesting.  Mother nature has thrown everything at me from 30+ mph winds, to sub-zero temps complete with blowing snow and ice, and the occasional farm dog that enjoys chasing me for exercise.  Despite the weather (or lack of dog leashes and invisible fences) I’ve been able to log some solid mileage, and this past week I started doing strides (short, fast runs at mile race pace) in preparation for speed workouts that will start in a few weeks’ time.

This is the first time I’ve built a solid aerobic base since Spring/Summer of 2012, the last time I had a big breakthrough in my running.  I know I won’t knock another 14 minutes off of my best marathon time come April, but hopefully a new PR is in the making.  There’s now less than 20 weeks until Boston.  It sounds like a long time, but it will go fast…


Marathon training: Week of 11/17-11/23

                                          AM                                      PM                                Mileage

Sun 11/17                        18 miles – 6:57 avg                                                    18

Mon 11/18                       8 miles – 7:05 avg                                                      8

Tue 11/19                         8 miles – 7:01 avg                                                      8

Wed 11/20                       8 miles – 6:57 avg           7 miles – 6:57 avg         15

Thu 11/21                         8 miles – 6:58 avg                                                     8

Fri 11/22                          8 miles – 7:01 avg            7 miles – 7:08 avg        15

Sat 11/23                          8 miles – 7:11 avg                                                       8

Total                                                                                                                       80

Marathon training: Week of 11/24-11/30

                                          AM                                      PM                                Mileage

Sun 11/24                       21 miles – 6:57 avg                                                   21

Mon 11/25                      8 miles – 6:58 avg                                                     8

Tue 11/26                       8 miles – 6:59 avg             7 miles – 7:01 avg        15

Wed 11/27                      8 miles – 7:11 avg              7 miles – 7:12 avg        15

Thu 11/28                       8 miles – 6:50 avg                                                      8

Fri 11/29                         8 miles – 6:51 avg             7 miles – 6:58 avg        15

Sat 11/30                         8 miles – 7:08 avg                                                      8

Total                                                                                                                      90

What do I think about while running?

I’ve just finished up my second week of training for the Boston Marathon.  Not overly exciting, but if you’re interested here’s a quick recap: http://wp.me/p45Dsj-l

Today I thought it’d be fun to address a question I often get from runners and non-runners alike.  It usually starts out as “Do you listen to music when you run?”  After I say no, the follow-up is a predictable “Don’t you get bored?” or “Well, what do you think about while you’re running?”  I never really understood the part about being bored, though I guess an hour or two is a long time to do nothing except put one foot in front of the other.

So how exactly do I keep mind occupied for so long every day?  Here a few things that I found myself thinking or doing recently while out running.

1.  Planning out my day/week

This one’s admittedly not very exciting.  I’m a planner, and I like to have a plan of action for my day, week, or when it comes to training, even several months at a time.

2.  Thinking to myself “Holy $@#!  I’m hungry!”

This revelation usually strikes me with a mile or two to go in my runs for whatever reason.  Maybe it’s because the end of the run (and a meal) are almost in sight.  Regardless of the reason, an empty stomach is good motivation to hurry up and finish those final miles.

3.  Watching wildlife

Abundant wildlife is one of the many perks of training in Paradise Valley.  Some of the wildlife I’ve spotted recently while running include deer, hawks, sandhill cranes, bald eagles, kingfishers (which I didn’t realize were in Montana until about a week ago) and a bison which I ran within about 30 feet of when I was in Yellowstone last month (not sure I would recommend that last part).

4.  Making noises at random animals

I moo at cows, neigh at horses, and occasionally yell “CACAW!!” at the top of my lungs at crows on the side of the road.  The other day, there was a flock of sheep alongside the road, so naturally I went “Baa” at them.  That was closely followed by me asking “How are EWE doing today?”  I’m pretty sure sheep don’t like puns, as they all scattered after that…

5.  Singing

This one’s a bit tricky to do in the thin mountain air, but occasionally if there’s a song stuck in my head it just happens.

6.  Thinking about how much I’ve improved in the past few years, and how much I’ll improve in another year or two.

As much as I enjoy running, I still have more than my fair share of days where I would rather be sleeping in, or eating a pint of ice cream instead.  On those days, I like to think about how far I’ve come since my high school/college days and remind myself of the goals I’ve set for next year.  Those thoughts often provide the extra motivation to get through a rough long run or workout.

7.  Watching my shadow/reflection and analyzing running form

I’m always fascinated by running form.  Each person’s form is akin to a fingerprint.  You may see patterns and similarities between different people, but everyone has their own unique style.  I tend to watch other people run, and I wonder how many girls and possibly guys have mistakenly thought I was checking them out when I’m really just watching their footstrike.

When the weather allows, I often find myself watching my own shadow.  Some days I think “Hey, that guy looks like a Kenyan.”  On others I can’t believe how awkward I look and I wonder if people passing by are thinking the same thing.

8.  Wondering if that nagging ache or pain is something to be concerned about.

Running 80 to 100 miles a week consistently on the roads means you have aches and pains from time to time.  There’s usually something on my body (calf/hamstring/foot) that is a bit sore.  These aches and pains usually just come and go.  Often something will ache one day and be completely fine the next.  Still, when I’m out running I tend to wonder, “Could this turn into an injury if I’m not careful?”

9.  Focusing on my breathing

I don’t meditate, but I think this can lead to an almost meditative state when things are flowing properly.  There’s a synergistic effect when the sound of your footfalls and breathing sync up.  The result on some days is a feeling of effortless effort.  You feel strong and powerful, yet relaxed and light-footed.  It certainly doesn’t happen on every run, but when it does it makes all the other miles worthwhile.  Focusing on your breathing is also a great trick if you ever find yourself with that most dreaded of running inconveniences:  The Side-stitch.

10.  Absolutely nothing

Sometimes I don’t think about anything at all.  Some people like to think of this as zoning out.  I prefer to call it zoning in.  It makes more sense.  You are so focused on what you are doing, that you are entirely in the moment and impervious to outside distractions.  A big reason why I love running is that it’s beautifully simple.  All you really need is a pair of running shoes and a place to run.  No smartphones or computers required.

Running without music is a bit easier when you have this to look at.

Running without music is a bit easier when you have this to look at every day.

Boston Marathon Training: Week 2 of 24

Two weeks of base training are now in the books!  This week was somewhat better in terms of getting into a consistent routine (read as:  I got more than 5 hours of sleep a night this week).  My body is definitely readjusting to running 80 miles a week.  8 miles (about an hour of running for me) is starting to become a comfortable distance for easy runs each day.  I’ll put in one more week at 80 miles before stepping up to 90 miles for the final 3 weeks of base training.  So far, so good…I’ve had a few minor aches and pains here and there, but overall training has been pretty uneventful, as it should be right now.

Marathon Training: Week of 11/10-11/16

                                      AM                                       PM                                        Mileage

Sun 11/10                   15 miles – 7:00 avg                                                            15

Mon 11/11                   8 miles – 7:09 avg                                                             8

Tue 11/12                    8 miles – 7:01 avg             5 miles – 7:16 avg                13

Wed 11/13                   8 miles – 6:57 avg            6 miles – 7:03 avg                14

Thu 11/14                    8 miles – 7:09 avg                                                             8

Fri 11/15                      8 miles – 6:51 avg             6 miles – 7:01 avg                14

Sat 11/16                     8 miles – 7:14 avg                                                              8

Total                                                                                                                          80

Boston Marathon Training: Week 1 of 24

Being nearly half a year out from a race is an interesting position.  On the one hand, the race is so far off that it’s easy to justify slacking off a bit.  Or as is often my case, you can get carried away trying to see how much you can improve and overdo it.  So this time I’m going to count on you to call me out if I start getting overly ambitious to chill out a bit :p  The goal for the next 6 weeks (really more like 5 now) is just to log a lot of easy aerobic mileage, and get strong by consistently running over hilly terrain.  To be honest, when you look at my training between now and mid-December, it’s going to be very bland.  But then, training for a marathon (or any other long distance race) is all about consistency, not flashy workouts that look sexy on paper.

My goal for this week was to run 80 miles, which I successfully accomplished.  This was somewhat challenging, as I traveled home mid-week for my friend Brian’s wedding (which was amazing, congratulations again to Brian and Breanna!).  Despite not getting nearly enough sleep and crashing in a different place each night, I was able to get in several adventurous runs.  A few highlights were getting completely lost (and soaked) on a very hilly run in the apple orchards near Camp Nawakwa, enjoying a breezy autumn morning on the Gettysburg Battlefield amidst beautiful fall foliage, and running on 700 Rd in New Oxford.  The last two runs were personal favorites from high school and college, and they bring back some very fond memories whenever I’m fortunate enough to revisit them.

Over the next few weeks I’ll continue to hit 80 miles, and gradually build my long run back up to about 2 and a half hours.  If by chance you’re interested in the specifics, I’ll include a table detailing each day’s training.  Again, not much to look at for the time being, but I promise that’ll change in a month or two!

Marathon training: Week of 11/3-11/9

                                      AM                                                     PM                                            Mileage

Sun 11/3                      12 miles – 6:58 avg                                                                             12

Mon 11/4                     8 miles – 7:10 avg                           7 miles – 7:06 avg                   15

Tue 11/5                       8 miles – 6:59 avg                          7 miles – 7:03 avg                   15

Wed 11/6                     Off.  Traveling to PA.                                                                          0

Thu 11/7                      8 miles – 6:45 avg                           8 miles – 6:54 avg                  16

Fri 11/8                        8 miles – 6:51 avg                           6 miles – 6:46 avg                  14

Sat 11/9                        8 miles – 6:52 avg                                                                               8

Total                                                                                                                                            80

Boston Bound

Seven months ago, I was having dinner with my mother in Framingham, Massachusetts.  It was the kind of quiet, somber meal that takes place when something is very wrong, and both parties are doing their best not to broach the subject.  Finally, I looked up and said, “We have to come back next year.”  I was referring to running the Boston Marathon again in 2014.  Mom didn’t really react to the statement, but she seemed supportive of the decision.

In the wake of the bombings, I had gone through a very wide range of emotions as I’m sure everyone affected by the day’s events did.  I realize that in many respects I was very removed from the bombings.  Aside from my sense of security, I lost very little in comparison to others on April 15th.  Still, this was the second close call I’ve had (the other being the shooting at Virginia Tech).  When tragedies of this magnitude hit close to home, it can very hard to keep your faith in humanity.  Although I didn’t verbalize those thoughts at the time, I think that stating my intention to run Boston again helped me regain some sense of control over the situation, and sleep a little easier that night.

Since Boston, I’ve had some ups and downs with running including my first DNF in a marathon.  I’ve also started casually coaching several friends.  The experience is helping me increase my running knowledge too.  I’m fortunate enough to be interacting with runners at all levels.  Some are just starting out, hoping to get in shape and complete their first races, while others have competition and lofty goals in sight.  With that in mind, this seems like a good time to start up a running blog.  I’ll use this blog to chronicle my training leading up to the 2014 Boston Marathon, as well as discuss various topics associated with running in a manner that I hope is informative and insightful, but not overly scientific or mundane.  I’ll start tomorrow with a post detailing my first week of training for Boston.

Until then, may your miles be scenic and your footsteps light.