Friday, June 21, 2019

Not Really a Runner

I so rarely post here now. I suppose it's the honest truth that I don't really live a "running life" anymore, so there aren't too many relevant notes to post. Sigh.

This year, at least so far, I'm barely doing any running at all. If trends continue, I won't even hit 500 miles for the entire 12 months. There was a time when I could do that much mileage in a month. Granted that was 30+ years ago. Another sigh.

I try to take solace in the fact that I'm on track to ride nearly 4000 miles on my road bike, so at least I'm getting my heart rate up and some sweat going nearly every day. But I sure do miss running consistently, not just for the fitness, but also for the peace of mind it always brought me. Cycling requires a kind of intense concentration (for safety's sake) that running simply does not. One needs to be mindful not only of traffic, but also road hazards, broken glass, other humans (including a small percentage who seem to hate every cyclist with a burning passion), and more. For example, here's an excerpt from my training log earlier this week (a morning road bike workout of just over 20 miles and a bit over an hour of effort):

"At nine miles I’m going about 19 mph when a raccoon runs out of the bushes and face-plants into my right foot. Boom. It bounces off - luckily I was on the downstroke or it might have gone under my rear wheel. I didn’t crash, just bounced over a foot or two. Whew. I looked over my shoulder and the thing was just continuing on it’s journey as if nothing had happened. Then one mile later an old lady pushing a toy stroller - the kind a child would use to push a doll, bright pink and empty- looks right at me and proceeds to walk directly in my path. I skid to a stop a few feet from her, she never even glances up. One of those days I guess."

File:Racoon crossing road.JPG
Image result for toy stroller

What's next?

Actually, I wish I had it all recorded on video, because it reads as absurd enough to be a figment of my imagination. I swear it happened.

Be safe out there, and never take running for granted. I confess that I truly miss the days when I could!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Baby, It's Cold Outside

I haven't posted anything here in over 13 months. Sigh. Just busy with the ordinary to be honest - and not really running all that much, unfortunately.

Is it a "running life" when I can manage only 50 miles per month, and even that minor mileage makes my legs hurt?

Of course, living in Minnesota makes running an interesting challenge, due to the full spectrum of seasons we experience here. People I talk to are often aware of the fact that it can be nearly 40 below zero Fahrenheit in the winter here, but suspicious of me for lying when I say it can also hit 100 F in the summer. One nickname for it is "shake and bake" -we shiver in January, and broil in July.
As you can see, the average low in January is in single digits, and the average high in July is in the 80s. of course, the record low and record high surpass those averages.
This time of year, it's shivering season! Speaking of shiver, here's a post-run photo of me a couple of weeks ago - January 13, 2018.
No, it wasn't snowing, that's just condensation from breathing when the ambient temperature is 11 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

Someone viewing this asked me what I wore on my feet in that kind of weather. My answer: shoes.

I wasn't trying to be funny, and maybe it's just me who can do this, but I wear exactly the same socks and shoes whether it's 100F or -30F. And in all temperatures in between. And my feet sweat, throughout that range!

If it's cold and windy, I will admit that my standard nylon mesh uppers on my running shoes allow that cold air to creep in during the first 3 or 4 minutes of my run, and my toes feel a little chilly. But once I'm trucking along, I don't notice it anymore. And when I finish the run, my shoes look a lot like the face mask in this picture: frosty.

Comparatively, I have a lot more trouble keeping my hands warm. What I've learned over the years is that the best approach for me is a base layer glove of moisture-wicking material (thin polypropylene), over which I pull a simple nylon shell mitten. With that combination, my hands will actually sweat during the run, and when I pull of the mitten, that same condensation-turned-to-frost will tumble out.

Some people think I'm crazy for running in such cold weather. But the thing is, I have friends who regularly run in even colder climates! As long as I'm layered properly, and visible, it's fine. By visible, the main point is that I generally run in the early morning hours, and here in Minnesota it's as dark as night. I wear a headlamp, which also has a blinking red light affixed to the back of the head strap, and I wear reflective gear including a lightweight reflective vest. At that early hour, car drivers are simply not thinking about a runner - they are just commuting to work (generally) and in a hurry. I need to be seen, so I need to light up in the dark.

One last tip: I slather petroleum jelly on that little bit of exposed skin near my eyes. It helps prevent frostbite, and also helps keep my eye lashes from freezing together when I blink. I kid you not. It's happened to me, and it's such a strange sensation - you can't open your eyes! I've had to stop, pull off my gloves, and rub my eyes back open. However, when my lashes are greased up, it never happens. Fore-warned is fore-armed, as they say.

Safe running my friends!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

So What is a Runner Anyway?

When I first paid attention to Running (with a capital R), it resonated with me because it felt like an attainable goal. You see, I was a scrawny, nerdy kid. Good student in school, but rarely picked in the first or even second wave of teammates during gym class. I *liked* sports, I was after all a rather avid watcher of the NBA and the NFL even before my age hit double digits, and the spectacle of the 1968 and 1972 Olympics impressed me deeply (I was six and ten years old respectively).
Frank Shorter won the 1972 Olympic Marathon (image source:
I also had a competitive streak - I'd accept most any challenge to a contest with other kids. Race you around the block? Let's see who can jump their bike the farthest off of that broken sidewalk? Race you across the pool! Dodgeball! But the truth is that I wasn't so great at most of the sports and games that everyone played. And no amount of passion nor practice time was going to transform me from a 95 pound Freshman weakling into a starting varsity linebacker.

In running, I happened upon an endeavor in which the amount of time and effort you put into it was nearly exactly matched by measurable improvements. With running - especially on the track - there is an actual, objective way to know if you've gotten better: elapsed time for a specific distance. Hmm.

I wasn't so good in the beginning. In my first race ever - I was a 7th grader - I finished dead last in an 880 yard race on a dry and dusty cinder track. I don't have any record of that event, but I think there were nearly 30 of us on that track that afternoon. I can still recall vividly several memories of that event - most involve seeing other boys just running away from me no matter how hard I pushed myself, and I can almost feel the dry-throated burn of breathing the dust they kicked up in front of me. I was pretty embarrassed, but somewhere down inside (and maybe this is just my innate character) I felt a kind of glowing ember of determination to get better. Each day that I strained a little harder, it paid off - slowly of course, these transitions don't take place overnight.

In fact, I think I can trace the actual transformation to Runner as happening during the spring of 1978, my sophomore year running track in High School. I had pushed myself long enough and hard enough to be able to be a factor in a race. I didn't win anything, mind you, but I was *in* the mix.

Over the next 10 years or so I would strive to reach higher and higher levels of running success. My race performances got faster, my race placing higher. I won my first race as a Senior in High School - what a feeling! I went on to run over 700 races, and spent better part of 3 decades as a self-identified Runner.

Regrettably, in my youthful arrogance I once proclaimed, "If I ever can't run a sub-6 minute mile, I'll quit the sport. I'll never be a JOGGER!"

Well, folks, I'm pretty certain that I'll never run a sub-6 minute mile again. In fact, I'll likely never run a sub-7 minute mile. These days, in my mid-50s with a variety of ailments and mechanical flaws, it's all I can do to get out a few times per week for a few miles each, usually around 8:15-8:30 per mile pace.

Am I still a runner?
Image Source:
I guess George Sheehan would have said no. I don't participate in races anymore. I rarely buy new running shoes. I rarely hang out with Runners.

But I still LOVE the feeling of trotting along on my own two feet, in every kind of weather. A friend recently posted something on social media, referring to people who responded to his running day-after-day with "What do you do when it rains?". His response, "I get wet". Perfect.

Being a runner, or being anything really, as defined ONLY by external sources is a risk to one's own sense of identity. Don't ever let others decide who you really are.

Here's my bottom line: I'm old, I'm slow, I don't race, I don't run every day, and sometimes even a little bit of jogging really hurts ... but I still FEEL like a Runner. We are allowed to decide for ourselves what category we inhabit. From a few decades of experience, and plenty of eating crow, I now confidently feel that I am a Runner, and I am also a Jogger and a Walker and a Cyclist and sometimes even a really clumsy Swimmer.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Five Phases of Cycling (at least for me)

A recent email exchange with a new connection got me to thinking about the place of cycling in my life. 

Of course, I am a runner, I see myself as a runner, it’s even tied up in my sense of identity. Running has been and most-likely will always be my favorite way to engage with myself and with the world around me. I prefer to run outdoors, if possible on narrow trails in the deep woods, floating along, fully alive. There was once a time when I would run every day, year-round. Now, as I get older and parts of the old machine are wearing out, I just can’t run all of the time. Heck, lately I’m not even running at all! Sigh. But I have been doing a bit of cycling, in fact lately it's nearly every day. Admittedly, cycling will never live up to running in my heart-of-hearts, but it’s still pretty good in my humble opinion. It gets me outside, gets my heart and lungs and muscles working, and lets me cover some ground in the process.

When I reflect back on the place that cycling has had in my life, I think there have been five distinct phases.

As a kid, I initially struggled with getting going on a two-wheeler. My father tried and tried, but I think the combination of too many instructions and the clear disappointment he seemed to have in my repeated failures just made matters worse. Then, one day in the middle of winter - I think I was six years old - right at sundown and with no one looking, I dragged my bike out of the garage on its half-inflated tires, jumped on, and road away! It felt like some kind of miracle, but I'm sure it was just a bit of physical development and probably those soft tires that helped make it happen. By spring, I was riding all over my small town of Baraboo, Wisconsin. So for me cycling started with failure, but built up to mastery - which led to freedom, the sensation of speed, and even daredevil jumps! We built a crude ramp out of plywood and "soared" over our lined-up Matchbox cars, like miniature Evel Knievels. In fact, I pushed it so hard that I ended up breaking the welds on the frame of my metallic orange Huffy single speed with the silver banana seat!
I wish I had a photo of my old Huffy - it was something like this, though mine only had coaster brakes.
During college, cycling was transportation, and I biked everywhere on my trusty yellow Schwinn Continental. But I was a runner, so I never considered it training and never logged any of it. But I'd wager I was at times doing close to 100 miles a week, it probably helped augment my running success. I never even considered bike racing, I didn't know much about it and I was already entirely focused on running.
Image Source:
On and off, from the late-1980s through the early 2000s, I rode and even sometimes raced on mountain bikes off-road. I wasn't all that successful, partly because (again) I didn't make it any kind of focus - it was just fun. Visiting my best friend in Sonoma County, California was always great fun, we'd ride on Mount Tam or in Annadel Park, the very places where off-road cycling was born. For me, mountain biking was a total blast but admittedly almost always involved crashing and bleeding - not such a good idea now for someone my age and with the blood thinners I take!
Image Source:
In the mid-1990s, I developed a pretty severe hamstring injury from running, a partial tear that was just not healing. I took up cycling again because pedaling just didn't seem to hit that muscle the same way, so I could ride and ride with very little pain. By putting in the miles and (for the first time) basically concentrating on cycling, I quickly got better at it despite being in my mid-30s already. Eventually, I caught the racing bug. My first Cat 5 race (What's a "Cat" in bike racing?) was an easy victory, I rode off the front of the pack in a CRCA race in Central Park and won by a couple of minutes. I then raced one year at Cat 4 and earned the points to move up to Cat 3. Unfortunately, I was taken out in a crash caused by a poor bike handler during a road race in the Tour of Texas in 1996. No broken bones but a very severe concussion that led to short term memory impairment and light sensitivity - not to mention road rash all over my body. Ow. Big ow. When I finally felt better - thank goodness - I went back to running - it just seemed safer!

Image result for bike race crash
Ow! Ow! Ow! Of course, this photo is not of my crash - those guys are pros.
I am definitely NOT a pro by any stretch of the imagination.
Now, in my 50s and post-heart attack, I'm using cycling mainly for fresh air and fitness, and because I just can't run much without getting injured or incredibly sore. I haven't raced a bike in many years, but I'm somewhat intrigued by the gravel race concept - I suppose it's much less technical than mountain biking, so for a klutz like me there should be fewer crashing and entirely less bleeding! I don't currently own the kind of bike to race in gravel, but I've been told that gravel racing is truly grass roots, welcoming, and low-key. Something to consider, if that old racing bug bites me again.
How I feel, most days.
Image Source:
When it comes to cycling, your experience may be similar to mine, or very different, but I think we can all agree that anything that gets us off the couch and out into the world is ultimately a good thing. Whether you are a hard-core cyclist, a recreational rider, or a total beginner, I hope that your rides are safe and fun and leave you happily fit.

If you're of that ilk, you can follow me on Strava (a cycling app that tracks rides and allows cyclists to compare themselves to others).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Recovery at One Year: A Part-time Runner

It's been one year since I found myself in an ambulance, speeding down the interstate, on the way to St. Cloud Hospital for emergency life-saving surgery due to a heart attack.

One year.
Image source:
That year has been spent well, I think. I've followed doctors' orders, I've made tweaks to my diet (really eliminating saturated fats and especially animal fats), stayed consistent with exercise, and tried hard to adapt to my cocktail of medications.

Overall, I'm just damn glad to be around to complain about all of the above!

One of the bigger changes in my life I suppose is that I'm really just a part-time runner now. I spent so many years - decades actually - running nearly every day. I was never quite able to be one of those so-called "streakers" (people who literally run every single day for years and years), usually due to some illness or injury or more-important life event. I did once have a streak of 1805 consecutive days running (that's 4 years, 11 months and 9 days - for those who are counting). That streak came to a stop because of a bad case of the flu that put me in bed for a few days. During that streak, I ran 15,372 miles for an average of 8.5 miles per day. Seems impossible to me now! Last thing about that streak: it was a rather long time ago, ending in 1986, the last year (I think, but correct me if I'm wrong) that gas prices in the US dipped below $1 per gallon. Ah, yes, 1986.

Fast forward to today: By part-time runner, I mean that I'm able to run a bit, but just not every day - and not by a long shot. I get too sore, I get too tired. Typically, I can get out 2 or 3 times in any given week. I am able to go 6-8 miles each time, so I'm not a non-runner by that measure. My other days are focused on cycling or sweating it out on the elliptical. I have been able to exercise almost every day so far in 2015, hopefully that will continue.

But I confess that I do miss running every day. It had a kind of consistent rhythm that grounded me in so many ways. Somehow alternative exercises just don't quite hit the same notes for me, psychologically.

But you know what? I'll take it!

At least I can still get out there and put in a few miles. And deep in my heart I'm not giving up just yet. Perhaps modern medicine will find ways to keep my cardiac issues at bay and allow me to slowly rebuild without all of the side effects holding me back. Time will tell. Hey, maybe arterial plaque-eating nanobots!
Image source:
Lesson: Never take for granted your days of running. Revel in the feeling, appreciate the opportunity you have to be completely alive and testing yourself physically in such a natural way. Every run is a kind of mini-miracle, try not to forget that.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Reality, Nostalgia, the Space Between, and the Wisdom of Sheehan

(not me) Image source:

  • old
  • slow
  • heart attack survivor
  • plodding along this morning
  • in the fluffy snow
  • at 12 degrees F
  • huffing and puffing to maintain 8:30 per mile pace
  • keeping heart rate under 130 bpm
  • BUT ... wearing probably the nicest high-performance, all-weather gear I've ever owned
  • and still loving the simple act of motion
George Sheehan: "Like most runners, I always want to do better. I am constantly after myself for eating too much and training too little. I know if I weighed a few pounds less and trained a few hours more, my times would improve. But I find the rewards not quite worth the effort...I am forced, therefore to do the best with what I've got."

  • reading through running logs from almost 30 years ago
  • young
  • fast
  • yearning, striving, working hard, concentrating
  • arrogant?
  • complaining - even though now I look back and see that it all came so much easier then
  • limits? what limits?
  • possibilities and long time lines
  • how could I have been so damn excited about a new pair of shoes ... so many times?
  • gear? what gear? I just need some socks and shorts and an old t-shirt
George Sheehan: "Sweat cleanses from the inside. It comes from places a shower will never reach."

The Space Between:
  • balance
  • acceptance
  • an honest self-deprecating sense of humor
  • embracing what is possible, not what once seemed possible
  • intrinsic
  • in the moment
  • alive
  • happy is as happy as you can be, and that's just right
  • doesn't hurt to have nice gear!
George Sheehan: "Success rests in having the courage and endurance, and above all, the will to become the person you are"

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Recovery - Month Four: Strides

It's an interesting irony to feel, at the same second, that time flies and yet every moment is savored. Perhaps that a common notion for anyone who's had some kind of very real brush with death? Then again, who am I to generalize from my personal experience to the wider world?

I suppose it's very lucky that I really don't have much to report! I've been plugging away. Hey, we're runners, that's what we do. We plug away, we log our miles, we improve little-by-little through effort and perseverance. I suppose all athletes who enjoy endurance sports fall under that formula. We're not home run hitters, but instead we are the faithful and the dedicated, always out there, always working hard, and hoping for the best.

I've been back to exercising nearly every day for many weeks now. It's not quite what it used to be, probably because of the medications I'm taking and the fact that my heart muscle is permanently damaged. In addition to those variables, I'd add the ingredient of fear - I'm hesitant, holding back, worried, a little tense. I typically alternate workouts, running one day, cycling the next, repeat. Here in Minnesota the cold weather has begun, so soon those cycling days will become elliptical days, but that's par for the course. Some factors that now put constraints around my workouts include:

  1. I'm short of breath: maybe due to the meds lowering my blood pressure, maybe due to lower heart rate, maybe due to reduced blood output of my heart, or some combination of the above. At any rate, I breathe more heavily than I used to, especially during the first 10-15 minutes.
  2. I keep my heart rate under 125 bpm. Compared to what I used to do in training, this seems rather pedestrian. But when I'm hitting 125 I feel (subjectively) like I'm working pretty hard.
  3. My fastest mile on any run since my heart attack took place this morning. On the third mile of my 8 mile run, I clocked a 7:33. Certainly nothing to brag about, but these days any mile at or a little under 8:00 is a raging success. I'll take it. On my bad days, I run about 8:45 pace, and on my good days (like today) I can average just under 8:00. Again, I'll take it.
  4. I bring drugs with me on every workout. It's just Nitro, but should I have another heart attack it could save my life. 
  5. I wear a couple of ID tags on every workout. Just in case.
  6. I appreciate the sunrise like never before, and yesterday I had the chance to see the "blood moon" on an early morning ride. Beautiful.
I hope to keep plugging away, following doctor's orders, and maybe someday be able to lace up for a (medium-length) trail race on a cool, clear morning, deep in a canopied wood. Please.

Good running everyone!