Running away from home

I love a good double entendre. I spent much of the last few weeks running (away from home), not running away (from home). Running (away from home) is the subject of this post, and it presents both challenges and opportunities for a runner on a marathon training schedule.

The first departure from my usual stomping grounds came in the form of a family trip out west. Over a week and a half, we tent-camped (mostly) our way through the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, to Seattle and back. While I would have loved to do some trail running while on this trip, there were two factors that kept me pounding the pavement: (1) elevation; (2) bears. Elevation was the primary issue – in two ways. First, I was above 5000 feet most of our trip, and I live at 1000 feet, so I was working harder even if I picked level routes. Second, finding a trail without much elevation gain on my trip would have been difficult although not impossible. For instance, one fantastic hike we did as a family (Beaver Pond trail at Mammoth, Yellowstone) involved about 1 mile up a mountainside to get to a 5 mile loop. I love hills, but footing was tricky even at a walking pace. Conversely, another hike (Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons) lakeside loop led to a hike up a rocky cliff. It was a “don’t look down” trail.

rocky trail

At the time of that trip, I was 7-8 weeks out from the Edmonton Marathon. My quads thanked me for staying on the level. Also, because bears.

I’m not really an over-cautious person when it comes to hiking or running (although I am when it comes to amusement parks, long story). I trail run and day hike solo. Sometimes in places without cell service! Sometimes without a cell phone! Standard advice for bear country is hike in groups of 3 or more, carry bear spray, and make lots of noise. We had bear spray with us, and I can make a lot of noise, but I didn’t have 2 friends of similar fitness level and training goals along with me. You don’t want to be gliding along the trail solo and find this guy taking his afternoon nap:

bear

So I stuck to the roads. Still with a bear bell. In the Tetons and Yellowstone, the roads still meant a pretty good degree of solitude. When you’re out there in the early morning, there’s not a lot of competition. Just me and a bald eagle one time. In fact, the only time I saw other runners was coming in and out of our campsite at the Tetons. At Yellowstone, I got some friendly honks and waves from folks in cars (at least I am pretty sure the gestures were friendly).

So that’s the where. Another challenge is the when: finding the time to run in the midst of all the other activities you’ve got planned for the day – and the energy to do all of it! My solution for this was the same as at home: get up so early that no one protests the fact that you’re going on a run. I’m only kidding – I am really fortunate to have a wife and family that support me in this! On one day, I got up and did a short 3 mile regen run at Mammoth – up the big hill from the campsite to the lodge. The morning activity was horseback riding:

horseback

(note the off-label use of my Skora Forms, which, as long as we’re talking about off-label use, make an excellent hiking shoe. No boots for me!)

Then, in the afternoon, it was down the Yellowstone:

rafting

(No Skoras here. Neoprene booties. Snowmelt = cold!)

I couldn’t have planned that better. I was glad I didn’t have a “hard” day on my training schedule, and for the most part my runs fit well into the day. I got lucky for a Saturday long run in Spokane – although my luck was at the expense of my wife and daughter, who had gotten a virus along the way and were sleeping it off while I ran a beautiful rail-to-trail route south of downtown.

After we got back from our trip west, I had a few days home, and then it was off again to back-to-back camps. Webelos with my son Cole – which was local. Fortunately the Cub Scouts don’t set too aggressive of a schedule and with lights out at 10, I was able to get up and get my miles in well before breakfast. Then it was straight to a summer camp my wife and I volunteered at as counselors. That was a little more grueling – but only because we were staying up late with as bunch of energetic and enthusiastic kids. I found a nice core of brave souls who also wanted to get up early and run at camp. As always, the accountability of group runs is one of the best ways to get out of bed when you might have hit the snooze.

I’m now less than 4 weeks out from Edmonton and starting to get excited. My training schedule is peaking with higher miles and more speed. I hit the track yesterday with an old friend – the Skora PHASE. I’ve been running in FIT so much I’d almost forgotten what the lighter and more responsive PHASE has to offer. Just a great track or race shoe, although some prefer it for general training. For me, that’s the FIT – click through the banner to the right of this post to learn more about the FIT and the rest of the lineup, or read my reviews on this blog!

 

Will you taper or peak? @HospitalHillRun

What’s in a name? When you’re training for a race, those last few weeks before a race on a training schedule often get the name “taper.” I’m tapering for my spring marathon right now (Ok, it’s Boston. There, I said it. Boston Boston BOSTON!!! Whew. Sorry, I’m extremely excited – it’s my first!).

ORFB2

Here’s a photo of my friend John and I (I’m on the left, unable to resist making eye contact) running a leg of the cross-country fundraising relay “One Run for Boston 2.” Please consider donating to the One Fund for victims of last year’s bombing through this organization. John ran last year’s race and was in the Forum Restaurant with his family when the bombs went off. We’re both running it this year.

Anyhow, tapering conjures up all kinds of images of slacking off, backing down, fidgeting, etc. Yes, it’s literally true to the extent that you need to back off on the mileage. Any training schedule worth its salt will have a peak mileage week several weeks out from a race, followed by one to three weeks of lower mileage. This can be a source of anxiety for anyone who’s been pushing it, feeling good, and is looking forward to the challenge of a race. Multi-month training schedules have cutback weeks all through them to give you a chance to heal. The “taper” is your last chance to heal up before the big day – don’t waste it.

I’ve heard the term “peaking” substituted for the taper a few times. I like it. It conjures up an image of a roller coaster. You’ve been flying along, going up and down hills and you come to the last big up before a downhill push to the finish. You’re going fast but you’re slowing as you near the top of the final big hill. There’s plenty of momentum to take you over the peak. The coaster has already done all the hard work to get to that point. Push too hard and you just might fly off the rails!

Peaking is getting your body to that sweet spot of conditioning where you are ready, but not exhausted. Better undertrained than overtrained, so they say. You’re not going to improve your fitness with a 20 miler the week before your big race. I’ve read that it’s okay to hit your goal pace in your “peaking” weeks – cutting back on mileage doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give good effort.

It’s encouraging and it feels good to be hitting your pace at lower mileage in those last few weeks. I feel ready for Boston – like I’m peaking, not slacking. I’m looking forward to that great race and then transitioning into getting ready for another – Hospital Hill!

Training “On the Edge” @HospitalHillRun @skoraRunning @SkratchLabs

I love running movies. I guess you could say I’m collecting them. There’s something motivational about watching a good one when you’re training or just about to race. It’s hard to find a truly comprehensive list out there. Here’s my list of what I’ve seen:

http://minimallyshoddy.com/2013/05/07/what-to-watch-cinematic-inspiration-during-your-taper/

I recently added “On the Edge” to my “seen it” list thanks to its mention in the recent Runner’s World article about Bruce Dern. A lifelong runner with some serious cred (e.g. 100,000 miles!), Dern brings authenticity to his starring role in this 1986 movie. The movie holds up well despite a goofy 80s synth soundtrack (it’s no Chariots of Fire, I guess Vangelis was busy). “On the Edge” is a runner’s running movie – and because of that authenticity, I’m going to use it to highlight a few training tips I noticed in it that we can all take to heart as we get ready for Hospital Hill!

1. Quit your job and move to some Spartan digs right next to the race course. Kidding! But it’s a good intro to what the movie is about. Dern plays Wes Holman, a 43-year-old (hey, that’s my age!) runner who lost his amateur status decades ago while trying to organize fellow athletes just prior to the U.S. Olympic trials. We meet him as he is scouting his comeback to run the “Cielo Sea Race” – a handicapped trail race which is not-so-loosely based on “The Dipsea Race” – a Northern California event billed as the oldest trail race in America. Not-so-coincidental fact: Dern finished 293rd in the race in 1974 and said he’d never do it again because it was “too dangerous.” The race features a staggered start intended to give runners of all ages and genders the chance to cross the finish line first. Anyhow, Wes moves into an abandoned barge on the docks that floods with the tide. He devotes himself entirely to his training.

2. Know your race course. The real tips begin. Wes returns to the site of this local race 1 year before he intends to race it. He scouts the course, taking notes as the race is going on. We meet him as he watches the lead runner come up “Cardiac Hill.” Wes trains on the course – I think this is really helpful, after all you don’t know if you can make it up the Broadway Hill until you’ve done it! If you train on the terrain you’ll be running on, you’ll be prepared.

3. Follow a training plan. Wes has a plan: he charts his every single run on a poster-board – type of workout, times, etc. That’s Dern – apparently he’s compulsive. You don’t know any runners like that, do you? The takeaway from this tip is that a training plan can help you put in the mileage you’ll need to prepare as well as building speed and endurance with different types of workouts.

4. Incorporate some variety. Wes does different things – he doesn’t just run. He runs up a hill holding a rock over his head (less common cross-training) and does a lot of push ups and sit-ups (more common). I’m not doing any rock-carrying just now, but I do some core strength training almost every day, and more of it on running “off” days.

5. Have the right shoes. Wes is particular about his shoes – he knows what he wants and he special orders it. I am particular too! I run in Skora performance running shoes – designed by runners for runners.

6. Diet. Wes eats. You should too. I can’t recall anything specific about Wes’ diet – he does share a family style meal at his father’s house. My advice is be discriminating about what you put into your body. When I was younger I felt like my body was a furnace that would burn whatever garbage I put into it. The last 5 years or so I’ve really started paying more attention to how my body reacts to different types of food. I like to experiment. And I don’t mean one run on Twinkies, the next on Ho-hos. I’ve been fueling and hydrating with Skratch Labs’ hot Apples & Cinnamon exercise hydration mix lately. I drink about 16 oz. pre-run – it’s nice to raise my core temp instead of lowering it before heading out into the cold. Hopefully I’ll be switching over to the traditional cold sports drink soon! C’mon spring, stick around.

7. Get a coach. Wes reunites with his old coach and – lesson time again – has a hard time submitting to his advice and methods, but ultimately leans on his wisdom. Wes takes to heart a mantra his coach gives him: “soar” the uphills, “burn” the downs. There are lots of ways to find a coach – and it doesn’t have to be one-on-one in person, although it can be. There are coaches in our area who will combine group workouts and individual advice. A coach can also motivate you and advise you remotely (e.g. my Skora friend Kyle Kranz: http://kylekranz.com/). You can self-coach or join a running club, but to really do it right you’ve got to be willing to read a lot and engage in honest self-assessment.

8. Don’t try to push through injuries. Wes uses active recovery – soaking in a tub for instance – to cope with the day-to-day wear and tear of training. He suffers a minor injury during his training and rests it for a few days rather than aggravating it. There’s no one-size-fits-all advice for injuries, but it if hurts – back off. If it still hurts, see a professional.

9. Be motivated by competition. Even in training, Wes has his eye on some competitors in the race – including a frenemy from his past. We can all take some inspiration from the cliché “when you’re not training, someone else is.” I’m not encouraging overtraining, but even if you’re just competing against yourself, a competitive mindset can get you out of bed for one of those pre-dawn sessions we all hate. Maybe it’s just taking inspiration from the elites we see maximizing their potential. There are some true elites in cameo roles in “On the Edge.”

10. Embrace your goal. This is the toughest one to relate to the movie. It seems clear Wes’ goal is to win the Cielo Sea Race – or is it? Perhaps it’s personal redemption. I don’t want to ruin the ending for you! You have to know what your goal is to achieve it. Set one. Finish? Run the whole race? Set a PR? Set a goal and work towards it as you train. There will be sacrifice. The reward or disappointment you reap on race day will directly relate to what you sow in training.

Get out there and “Soar!”

“Just” Running

I used to hate running. More precisely, I used to hate “just” running. Now I love “just” running – what changed? Me, the calendar, my perspective, how I run.

I’m really glad to have the opportunity to blog about running and training for the Hospital Hill Run, a great race with great tradition – 41 years worth! Road running giants have raced these same streets that you and I will tread in June, just under 3 months from now.

I used to dread running as a means to an end – it wasn’t the goal – playing soccer, losing weight, those were the goals. Even though I never really completely stopped running, it wasn’t until after I had my first real injury in my late 30s that I appreciated it. After a year without running and with the addition of many pounds, I faced my 40th birthday wondering if I was ever going to be able to run regularly again. I’ve now run multiple half marathons, marathons and even an ultra or two – all on the far side of 40. I’m really looking forward to running the Boston Marathon this April – my first!

I’m living proof that minimalism isn’t just a fad – even if shoe companies try to convince you that “maximalism” is in. I switched to barefoot/forefoot striking a couple of years ago. It’s not for everyone, but the switch put the joy back into my running. I have run in a variety of minimal shoes over the past few years and I’ve settled on a favorite: Skora – a Portland, Oregon based company that asked me to be an ambassador last year. Now I run because I enjoy “just” running – the joy is in the run now that just running is the goal! I finally appreciate it for itself.

This is one of the most inspiring times of the year to recommit to running. It’s been a bleak winter, but as spring explodes around us everywhere in warmth, green, and birdsong, focus on the joy of “just” running!

My top three tips for training:

1) Follow a training plan

2) Train on the course whenever you can – your weekend long run is best

3) Incorporate some exercises to strengthen your core

Happy running!

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