Sunday, June 28, 2009

Trails and More Trails

With Jared's tri coming up in less than 6 weeks, we've agreed its time to hunker down and start killing some trail runs. My beloved's figured out the ranges he needs to be in for each event of the tri to be competitive with the other participants. Here are the ranges for each:

Swim (0.6 mi): 19-32 minutes
Bike (12 mi): 1 hour to 1:50
Run (6 mi): 30-60 minutes

After a week of swimming, he's already going the distance in 22 minutes, so has no worries there. The mountain biking could be tough as his bike isn't really equipped for the kind of pounding it's taking on the trails. That leaves the run.

While we both enjoy trail running, the philosophy behind it has always been that we just run--ignore any attempts at speed, and travel the distance. Because trail terrain is so much more varied than streets, it's tough to map out what a comparable speed would be from one to the other. On top of that, trail running tends to require a lot more side-to-side, as rocks and roots necessitate occasional shifts and leaps--and frankly, a lot more effort per mile. In the past, I've tended to think anything around or below a 10:00/mile was a solid trail run. A 10:00/mile, however, would put Jared in the back of the pack at his tri.

Tuesday was our first attempt at increasing our speed on the trails. I met Jared at the Fells after work, and we were off like a shot, shooting for an 8:30/mile pace. Well, we ended up right around there for our approximately 2.25-mile loop, but we also stopped for three gasping breaks (all my doing, I admit it), where I (naturally) stopped the clock. Not bad for a first try (tri, har de har har).

Thursday was another planned running day, but a late offer to join a hoops game ultimately took precedence. Sorry, running, for the stand-up.

Saturday morning we headed back over to the Fells, this time planning to run strong, but not at a pace that would force breaks. Copley, recently cleared by the vet, and in dire need of some exercise, joined us on the 2.15-mile jaunt. We ran a crisp, cool pace through already muggy woods, with her gently herding us the first mile. I careened around her loping hindquarters at first, before figuring out how to watch her, and anticipate her capering turns along the path. At a mile, we paused for a minute for her to drink, and again at just past 2. The miles, at an 8:45/mile pace, were still a lot faster than what we typically run, but were comfortable. It felt like a pace we could hold for longer, and one we could improve on for that distance.

After arriving back at the car, Jared unloaded his bike and headed out for some more miles, while I loaded the dog and headed for the park. An hour later, a tired dog, a tired JRod, and a tired Abby headed home...full of plans for the next attempt.

Monday, June 22, 2009

It's Never Too Late to Start...

As many of you know, from time to time, I post a "Guest Blog"--a blog written by someone else on running, or on their thoughts on the same. So far my only guest bloggers have been my beloved, and Dr., though, I managed to convince my mom (that's her at right, trying to learn Guitar Hero), who walked her first half marathon last month, to do some guest blogging. With the half under her belt, she's decided her next goal is to run a 5K. Look for an update every two weeks--and enjoy today's, the first!


Hi, my name is Vicki and I’m Abby’s mother. After walking my first half-marathon in May in 3:28 and envying all those runners whizzing by me on the double-loop, out-and-back course, I ran across an “Walk-to-Run” plan in Prevention magazine a couple of weeks ago. Specifically designed to be safe for would-be runners over 40, the 8-week plan has one converting from a walker to running a 5K. Now, at 53, I estimate that it will take closer to 14-15 weeks to accomplish the 8-week plan; some of the increase increments seem a little steep to someone who hasn’t run regularly since 1973. I waited until today to start as I decided to take the ABATE motorcycle classes this last weekend. (Note to all those considering riding a motorcycle for the first time ever: they tip over really easily and you get LOTS of bruises and scrapes, even wearing heavy jeans, when you crash and fly over the handlebars. I was, of course, the only student rider who tipped the bike over not once, but three times during the two days. But I digress.)

Today marked Day 1 of Week 1. After walking 5 minutes to a nearby bike path, the plan required me to run one minute, walk three minutes, and repeat the run/walk cycle 13 times total. Unfortunately the Timex 100-lap Ironman watch I ordered from Amazon just last night has yet to arrive and I can’t see the numbers or second hand on my wrist watch without my reading glasses, so I had to guess at the time. I jogged 170 paces (85 per foot – that’s how I count) then walked 180 paces per foot for the 3-minute part, and just kept repeating the cycle. At one point, a nice elderly couple crossed my path and I’m sure they wondered about the under-the-breath counting, but I was sweating too much to worry about what they thinking on this humid morning. For those of you who can’t imagine anyone counting steps like that, I should say that I’m an accountant, so it sort of happens whether I mean it to or not. Finally finishing the 13th cycle, I was just 5 blocks from home and walked in for my cool down. The plan has me doing this 3 days this week, with weights and low-impact cardio another 3 days, and one day off. I can handle the weights; I’ve been doing that part for years. Week 2 looks to be quite a bit more difficult, with eight run 3/walk 2 intervals. If it takes a couple of weeks to master it, that’s what it will take. The college where I teach has a Homecoming 5K Fun Run on October 3, and that just happens to be my birthday. So it’s a good goal date.

So why start all of this at my age? I envy those of you that run; you look so strong and healthy to those of us who don’t. In addition, my physical this spring indicated an elevated cholesterol level and an extra 20 pounds that have crept on during the 2 ½ years I’ve been in my doctoral program. Yes, education is broadening, although I always thought it was meant figuratively rather than literally. Turns out it was both! My goal is to get the weight off and reduce my cholesterol before Abby and Jared’s wedding in April. Maybe NEXT May I can RUN the Fargo Half-Marathon with the rest of the gazelles. I’ll send Abby periodic updates. If anyone has advice, I’d love to hear it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Saturday's Double Feature

This Saturday, I ran what seems to be becoming a weekend habit--a double feature.

The first run was with my buddy Aaron, one of the first friends I made in Boston after moving here in 2002. Not too long ago, Aaron, after some soul-searching, ditched cigarettes--and took up running and healthy living. Now, with his first half marathon under his belt, he appears to have caught the running bug.

Despite a hangover and the steamy, overcast sky, Aaron was game when I phoned him late Saturday morning to suggest a run. As we headed out from my place down to the Minuteman Trail, the sun decided to break free--and bring the heat. Sweating profusely and panting in the sultriness of the trail, we jogged along at a sedate pace. It was after two miles before I remembered that I hadn't actually confirmed whether Aaron was OK with the 5 side of the "3-5 miles" I'd suggested. When I let him know this was an out-and-back course, not exactly a loop, he quickly agreed to making it an even 5.

With the miles falling behind us, and the conversation quick and catching up in nature, the miles flew by. By the time we finished we were both drenched in sweat. A large glass of water and fruit smoothie later, I was able to treat Aaron to the real reward for his efforts--Copley puking in the backseat while I took him home. Sorry about that, buddy....

The next few hours were spent in miscellaneous errands and tasks. My beloved was off in Vermont, taking a spin on the trails he'd be biking for his upcoming trail triathlon. When he called from the road to suggest we hit Ponkapoag for another 4+ miles, I was happy to oblige. Far be it from me to say no to one of my favorite trails!

I met him there around 7:00 p.m., and the timing couldn't have been better. The forecasted rain held off long enough for us to run, but it's looming presence cooled the air to a soothing, speedy temperature. We chatted about our days and careened along the empty paths, stopping once--and then only to marvel at the total isolation we'd found ourselves in. The woods around us were thick with the noises of nature--birds, breeze, water lapping the shoreline. Gorgeous.

All in all, it was a beautiful day of running, with good company for both runs. Next up for me is a bit of speeding up--Jared's triathlon distance is about 6 miles, and since we can both do it, it seems the next thing to do is...well, do it faster.

Tuesday's Surly, Grumpy, Grumbling 3 with JRod

Thursday's commute from work came in at an earth-shattering 1 hour and 45 minutes--plus. By the time I got home (at 7:00 p.m.), I was less than thrilled with the state of the cruel and heartless universe, surely a fickle creature whose instincts were less than trustworthy.

Jared, sensing my grumpiness (and having received numerous texts along the lines of "Traffic. Boo." and "I can't even idle. I have to brake, I'm going so slow."), suggested a quick run. After some token whining, I agreed and we headed out the door.

A quick and easy 3 miles later, and I'd come around. The universe, while still fickle, is not against me. It does not hate me. It's actually been pretty good to me. Just not from 5:15 to 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

She Who Won't Be Running Anytime Soon...

This past Thursday morning, my beloved and I dropped our dainty flower (66 lbs. of love) off at the vet for a duathlon of surgeries. The first, a fairly standard spay job. The second, something called a "gastropexy," in which a part of her stomach would be attached to something stationary--usually the abdominal wall.*

Two surgeries in one sitting mean a couple of things. Here they are, by the numbers:
1: Giant cone for Copley.
2: weeks she'll be wearing the cone.
9: inches, the length of her incision.
18: hours a day she is currently sleeping (possibly more).
17: times she howls, barks, and/or whimpers when forced into her crate with the giant cone on.
6: times a day she falls asleep snuggled up to her people, whether it be with a paw or head on the lap, or foot, of those who keep her safe and comfort her.

And lastly:
2: weeks she won't be doing any running, jumping, playing, or otherwise cavorting with her canine buddies down the street.

A bummer for such a long-legged sprinter.

*Note: the -pexy is not an aesthetic surgery--it's designed to prevent bloat, an ailment common in bigger dogs with a shape like Copley's--a shape that's indicative of a "free-floating"stomach. Since the stomach isn't attached to anything, if the dog is too active after eating or drinking, it can get twisted, and flip. It's a painful, painful, thing--and often kills the dog in the end, even if the dog can make it to the vet for emergency surgery. See Marley & Me for further reference.

10.1-Mile Victory Lap

This weekend, I spent 5.1 miles with one of the best local charities around--FitGirls, and another 5 supporting a friend.

I've run one race, last October, with FitGirls. The program is geared toward young girls (10-13 year-olds, by my estimation), with an eye toward teaching them necessary goal-building, and life, skills. The program does this by combining reading about strong female heroines with training for, and running, a road race. The girls can thus discover their inner heroine.

Saturday I logged a 5K with Nicole, a 10-year-old from Chelsea, MA, running her first ever road race. She soldiered through the first part of the race pretty well, before turning to walking. A couple of water stops, and one giant Gatorade later, though, her spirits returned and she finished the race, amidst the clapping and cheering of her fellow FitGirls.

Sunday was the Battle of Bunker Hill Run--2 miles through historic Charlestown. Katora, running her first ever race, and I bounded off from the Charlestown Navy Yard. Our first blocks began with me having to stretch my legs to keep up with her beginning sprint through heavy rain. Katora ran very well, with only periodic stops to walk and rest--before she would take off again. Over the course of the 2 miles, we discussed our mutual like of running in the rain, and the importance of having police officers along the course to protect the runners (there were many today, which is always great). I saw in Katora a future sprinter--one of those girls who will someday put her "need for speed" to the test around a track, and one who will come out of it smiling from the effort and reward of running against herself.

With both these races under my belt, there was one left to do--the second race in Charlestown was an 8K. Jared's good friend Mike (aka, the Mixtape) was planning to run this race--and in fact had run it the two previous years. His telling of last year's race seemed to improve on every telling--and by this point, we'd heard about his stopping for a beer at a friend's place along the route, and the point at which a grandmother passed him. His finishing time last year? Around an hour and a half. He was the dead-last finisher--and the race crew had already put everything away, including the water.

This year, Jared and I were committed to getting him through the race, happy and content with his pace, and definitely in time for some post-race refreshment. (I admit that I "bandit" ran this second race of the day...) We settled into a comfortable pace, with Mike setting the bar for speed and for any necessary drink or stretch breaks. And while we did see a bunch of Mike's friends, he took the Solo cup of beer for the road this year, and there were no grandmas in sight. The three of us turned the corner, with Mike holding strong, and slogging the last few blocks. I hopped out just before the finish (it seems shady to cross the finish line when running bandito-style), and was able to watch them finish in Mike's Bunker Hill PR--57 minutes. He was shocked and giddy with his time, and thanked us profusely, before heading back to let his wife know of his 30-minute improvement.

All in all, it was a great weekend of racing. I didn't go out to set any records for myself. What I did do, though, was help three people cross the finish line on the power of their own legs.

I'll call that my own 10.1-mile victory lap.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Covered Bridges Half (and the shorties leading up to it)

My better half and I spent the days leading up to the Covered Bridges 1/2 Marathon were spent much the same as any other weeks--a couple runs, but short ones, squeezed in where we could. A quick 2 or 3 before a hoops game Wednesday, and a 4-mile dash to the gym for Friday night pickup. Still, the short runs with basketball combined for a not too terribly inactive week, so it was with trepidatious hope that we headed to Vermont on Saturday afternoon. (Incidentally, this was the first time we'd left our dainty flower alone overnight--very taxing on new dog owners. We came home to find Copley happy to see us, but pooped--methinks she had a fabulous, playful 24 hours!)

Our digs? The charming Casa Bella Inn, a bed & breakfast near Killington. The owners, Susan and Franco, were as wonderful as ever--and dinner (by Franco) was absurdly delicious (we shared a chicken parmesan, and a sausage rigatoni with cream sauce, before moving on to chocolate mousse and vanilla gelato). 

The next morning, I dragged myself from bed at 6:00, after some gentle verbal nudging from my better half. We arrived at the drop point alarmingly early, and managed to squeak onto the back of the first shuttle--that's right, the FIRST shuttle. At the start of the race, we were met with glorious oldies blaring from a speaker set, no lines at the bib pickup, and even better--clean porta-potties. Ah, bliss. 

Later, B showed up, making our little party 3. (She unfortunately missed my wild, frenetic dancing to the golden oldies, but hey, you can't win 'em all.) The three of us seemed to have a similar race strategy, one necessitated by our mutually half-assed training for the race--go out strong, and stay strong as long as possible. When the steam ran out, Jared and I agreed not to sweat it--to slow down as needed, and enjoy the lush scenery surrounding Woodstock. 

We wished B luck at the start, and planned to meet up after. At the gun, my beloved and I settled into a fast, loping gate. We churned out mile after mile, recognizing by 7 that we were, despite our doubts, having a pretty good race! Though we knew if we could keep our current pace, we would PR, I had a sneaking suspicion that my "tank" wasn't quite full enough to do that. 

At mile 8, we met our beast--a sharp incline of 1/8-mile. The heat got to me less than halfway up, and I begged Jared for a quick breather, which he was happy to grant. We ran/trudged our way a few more miles, stopping here and there as needed. With a couple miles to go, we committed to digging in and at least finishing the damned thing in under 2 hours. 

At our last quick break, Jared was adamant that we finish the last mile+ with no stopping. I gritted my teeth, and despite my lagging strength and spirits, sucked it up and ran it out with my beloved, finishing in around 1:58. (We later agreed that both of us wanted to stop again during that last mile, but felt like we couldn't do that to the other.)

I think, given our relatively lackluster training and the heat, we actually ran this one pretty well. A PR would have been nice, as it always is, but overall, I'm still happy about the way the day turned out. (The free beer afterwards was a particularly nice touch.) 

Next year, though, we kill this one--those yawning uphills and careening downhills are a fast race just waiting to happen.

On a side note--Jared, despite being as pooped as I, had committed to a basketball game, and had to bolt out the door to his league within 15 minutes of arriving home. You'd think that most people (at least me!) would play terribly, dragging their sore and tired legs up and down the court. Jared, on the other hand, dropped 47 points.