Still running (and staying healthy)

I had a really busy summer due to some personal commitments.  I skipped the fall marathon that I have run for a couple years now because I didn’t have the time required to train.

With things slowing down and the weather changing I am back to regular running. I came across an article today on the health benefits of running relative to colds. During my past marathon training I recognized that I did not get the usual colds that I was suspect to get when the weather goes from hot to cold or vice versa. I thought there was a correlation and told several people about my theory – my training seemed to keep colds away. I never got a cold during my marathon preparation. More than one person seemed somewhat skeptical.

Today, I found an article on a study whose findings supports  my experience. Regular exercise reduces the chance for getting colds. Ironically, after a couple months of only casual running, I have had a nagging chest cold that just won’t fully go away. It’s the kind of thing I got before I started my serious running. As the article suggests, this kind of information is good motivation as the temperature cools and we head into winter. Today, I picked up the pace on a relatively hilly course.

Lifehacker: Regular Exercise Halves Your Chance of Catching a Cold

Running in the snow

The storm of last weekend didn’t have a large impact here but still left 5 or 6 inches behind. In early December, I came upon an article on a method to get better traction in the snow with running shoes. The article is called The Screw Shoe and is a cheap option for better traction. I tried it and put about 12 screws in each of an old pair of running shoes.

Studded Running Shoe

When I wore them for the first time I tested them on a patch of ice and they were very grippy. The trail I usually run on was only somewhat snow covered that day so I did a test run. In less than a half of a mile I discovered a problem – the screws were slightly too long in the front of the shoe where the sole is thinner and when I stepped on a rock or other uneven part of the path, I could feel the point of a couple screws pushing back.

There never was an actual puncture through the inner bottom of my shoe but it felt like a sharp little rock and I had to bail and go back to my non-modified shoes and run on a paved road. Darn.

Today, was trial run #2. Last night I replaced the screws in the front half of each shoe with a shorter variety. This time, no poke-throughs. I did 3.5 miles in the packed snow and the uneven footing was a great workout. I ran part of the same course yesterday with non-modified shows and, maybe it was just psychological, but today with the modified shoes I felt more surefooted. I’d love to hear any suggestions on running in the snow.

Snowy Running Trail

Completed: my second marathon

Two days ago I ran my second marathon. I completed it in 4:15:33 which is a PR (personal record) as it was better than last years 4:21:12. I got out to a great start finishing the first 1/2 in 2:01 which was well on pace to finish in 4:05, my secondary goal for this race (my primary goal was to beat last years time).

That secondary goal may have been a bit aggressive. At about mile 18, while my pace had continued on track, I started to notice cramps in my foot which turned out to be a sign of things to come. As the mileage progressed so did the cramping. The cramping moved to my calves and my calves were next followed by my thighs. I ended up walking on several of the late hills of the race but usually only after starting the hill to get as far up as possible while running. I restarted to run before the crest as a sort of mental “win”. In the last mile I walked on a couple flat sections when the cramping became unbearable.

Through all that, I still crossed the finish line at a decent pace. It’s amazing how much you can overcome with the finish in sight and the crowd cheering.

As with last year, it was a great experience. The weather was pretty good. The fall colors were a nice distraction as the course took us through some rural areas. Unlike last year, I arrived earlier to the start and had plenty of time to stretch and position myself in the starting area with those aiming for a similar finish time.

Last year the end of the race seemed to drag on forever as the course looped back on itself first on the east side of the river and then on the west. Like many runners, the mental aspects of running are huge for me. I can be close to the end of a 3 mile run or a 13 mile run and either can be just as difficult to finish as I over-anticipate the finish making it seem like forever for it to come. This year I had experience with the course and dreaded the last 6 miles. But, they just didn’t seem as long as they did last year. That’s probably the most surprising thing I am taking away from this. I’m not sure why. I want to figure that out.

And, that’s probably why I sit here thinking about when I’ll do it again.

Running again

Last year at almost this exact time I posted about my efforts to train for a fall marathon. Well, I have been at it again this year. So far, so good. I’m in week 13 of an 18 week preparation program and feeling pretty good. I’ve had some small injuries along the way but nothing I couldn’t get past.

A week ago while out of town on vacation I attempted the prescribed 17 miler. I did many things wrong (a meal too low on carbs the night before, too fast of a pace at the start, not enough water) and it all blew up at about 13 miles. I walked some and finished the 17 but it was not a good experience.

Yesterday, I did an 18 miler and the result was much different. This time, I did all my preparation the right way and took everything very seriously much like it was the big race. I finished with relative ease.

August is a tough month when preparing for an early October marathon. Mileage is near its highest while the weather is at its most hot and humid. Looking forward, September has two more really long runs over the next 4 weeks but I feel like I can handle those. And, at least one more Mustang show.

Running 26.2

My marathon was today. I finished! All 26.2 miles. Being my first marathon, finishing was my main goal. My secondary goal was to finish in under 4 hours 30 minutes. This was a softer goal but given the pace at which I had been running my longer runs that seemed attainable. I am proud to say that I finished in 4:21!

It was a pretty cool experience. The energy of the dense crowd at the beginning was intense. I started way at the back which might sound like a bad thing but I thought it would be a good thing since it gave me an opportunity to pass more people in the later stages.

I found myself running a little faster than the pace I wanted to be keeping. After about 3 miles, things thinned out. They thinned out further when the half marathon course split from the full marathon course. That’s when I really settled in.

I passed the 5:00, 4:45 and finally 4:30 pace teams before mile 12. I thought about keeping with the 4:30 team. They were a large team and had a lot of spirit. But, I felt good enough to put some distance between them and me. Miles 12-17 were great. I kept my pace and many others around me were at the same pace.

Not surprisingly, miles 20-25 were the toughest. At that point, the course went along the river and it was a lot of up and down hills through parks along side the river and over and under bridges. A lot of people choose to walk up the hills over these miles. But, I pushed ahead continuing to run even if my pace slowed a lot up those hills. I walked through the aid stations as I drank water and, in one case, a short distance afterward but I was afraid if I walked too long I would not be able to start back up. My legs were really feeling tired.

The enthusiasm of the crowd through the last 1/2 mile was incredible. Total strangers cheering me on. At the start of that last mile I was able to call my wife on my cell phone to let her know I was close. That provided more motivation knowing my family was waiting for me at the finish. Over the phone I could hear the cheering at the finish. Rounding the last corner with the finish in site I felt no fatigue, no pain. As I crossed the finish my name was announced for all to hear. And, then I spotted my family waiting for me.

Running green

So, by definition, running is green, right? Well, not when you always drive to the place where you run. Add to that the fact that the extra distance I drive effectively doubles my daily commute. Not green.

My problem has been that the usual routes from my house to the reservoir at which I do most of my running include some very heavily traveled streets. This coupled with that when I run I don’t like to stop (at intersections) and I dislike running on concrete (sidewalks) mean that running the route I drive was not an option. Therefore, I had been looking for a way to get from here to there without getting injured or even killed.

It took some time but I found a route from my house to the reservoir that doesn’t include those heavy traffic areas; just crossing two of the streets in question. For the most part, I can run without seeing many cars at all. My route involves residential neighborhoods and a road that is owned by the water company and mostly closed to vehicular traffic. The road alone was a great find. It covers two of the six miles of my route.

The route took me a couple of weeks to work out with some exploring while I was running, some by car and some with Google Maps. The tricky part was that in two areas I have to cross between streets using wooded areas with paths which weren’t obvious at first (or on maps). One is what appears to have been a through street connecting two neighborhoods which was closed to prevent through traffic. The result is that there are heavy trees on one side

Cut through from tree side

and a barrier on the other
Cut through from barrier side

Through this process I found that was valuable in researching routes and especially this one. On the site, routes are shared by runners and I knew that someone must be running this route that I was searching for. I found a route there that was close and it helped me navigate and locate the cut-throughs.

A little creativity can be a good thing. This exploring sure has helped pass the miles especially on the 10+ mile runs. is a good resource if you are into running. I have also used it when I was on vacation to plot out routes of specific distances in unfamiliar locations.

Today I did my last run before my first marathon on Saturday. I feel like I am as ready as I can be. Right now my goal is to stay healthy.

Running gear

Training for my first marathon continues. So far, so good. I did 21 miles last Saturday and am now in the final “taper” period where mileage decreases for the next three weeks before the big event. Now with a 20+ mile run under by belt I feel that I am ready. It’s been quite an accomplishment just to get to this point.

When I did my first 10 weeks of base training I just used the “equipment” I already had (cotton t-shirts, cotton shorts and cross-training sneakers) not wanting to make an investment in it until I was sure I would stick with it. The most cutting edge thing I used was my cell phone with a built-in pedometer and fitness application for tracking time and distance, though, it was not always 100% accurate.

It just so happened that my birthday was around the transition from my 10 week pre-training to my 18 week marathon training program. I used it as the opportunity for an upgrade in just about everything. It has really made a difference to have proper clothing and running shoes.

The most extravagant thing that I asked for and received was a Garmin Forerunner 405 GPS watch. This helps feed my inner geek. I was previously entering and tracking my progress in a spreadsheet. Now my data is wirelessly transferred from my watch to my laptop after each run. A fitness application calculates distance run, average pace, average heart rate and so on. It also plots my route on its built-in map as well as into Google Earth.

Run Superimposed of Google Earth

Run data on Google Earth

GPS may seem like overkill but, for me, it helps with motivation. Part of keeping motivated is varying the routes that I run in order to avoid monotony. Now I have the precise mileage I have run right on my wrist at all times and can run with confidence on routes I have never run before and can make adjustments so I won’t finish with too much or too little mileage for the day. It also helps later to look at the maps of where I have run in order to plan out more routes as extensions of those. This is especially true since I do most of my running off of public roads on trails where using a traditional map for planning is difficult.

Running long

I’m pretty passionate about the things I do. I don’t like to start something and not finish it. Or, more precisely, I don’t like to tell others about something I am doing and then not finish it. I’ve probably discussed a few of those here such as my quest to build a new door tag decoder. I promise I will get back to that as I still see a need for one.

Anyway, I have taken on a new “hobby” and that would be running. The goal I have in mind is to run and complete my first marathon this fall. I am now a little more than midway through an 18 week training program and still going strong.

I’ve always been interested in staying in shape. I was seriously into mountain biking up until the time we had our son. Having children changes everything. For several years after he was born, I was lucky to get my bike out twice a season. I started to run on a casual basis to keep in shape. It took less time and equipment than biking. Shorts, a t-shirt and some sneakers and I was out the door and around the neighborhood for a half hour or so. I tried to go once a week giving it up when it got really hot and really cold. A couple of years ago I had some heel pain that slowed me down and made me have concerns about keeping it up as a regular thing.

Or, so I thought. Sometime last fall I decided to start planning to take on the challenge of completing a marathon in 2008. I kicked off the plan the first week of April 2008. The basis for my training has been the 18 week novice program outlined by Hal Higdon in his book Marathon: the Ultimate Training Guide. There are many books and plans to get you there. This one looked good to me so I went with it.

Prior to starting the 18 week plan, I spent about 10 weeks building my “base” level of fitness. My goal for those 10 weeks was to be conditioned enough so that week 1 of the program would not lead to my downfall. Like all weeks of the program, week 1 involved running 4 days (Tue, Wed, Thur and Sat); more often than I had ever previously run in a single week.

I started with one 3 mile run in that first week and slowly added more days through the “base” training period. At first I was always resting with an off day in between runs but slowly added running back to back days. I also gradually increased my mileage buy only once did more than 6 miles in a single run.

And, here I am today in week 12 of the 18 week program. I am still enjoying it very much and look forward to my long runs on Saturdays. Last Saturday I ran 16 miles.

Overall, it has turned out to be a large time commitment that I could have easily predicted but failed to. I am now running over 4 hours per week. Obviously, that puts a dent in the time I have to do other things like write blog entries and respond to email. My wife seems to be understanding this new obsession of mine and has not had any problems picking up the slack around the house. I can’t express how much I appreciate that.

So now the cat is out of the bag and you know what else I’ve been up to. If things keep going well I hope to post more about this endeavor as I go along.