From the Archives: Mostly the Miles are Just Boring

As a reminder, I am on vacation this week and planning to be ‘mostly offline’ – so I scheduled a few post ‘reruns’ from the very early days of the blog (when I had very few readers)! This one was originally posted here.

Back when I started this blog I was conflicted – I was planning to talk about running and ‘healthy living’, but wasn’t planning a hardcore running or foodie blog. At the time the blogs I most enjoyed were ones written by runners with more to discuss than just running. That caused me to reflect a bit. Here we go!

Run Route 10-19-13

Check out the route I ran on Saturday – it was ~12.25 miles, making it the 2nd longest I have run in nearly a month due to tapering and recovering from the Wineglass Marathon. I was happy with the pace as well, especially since I took a hilly route, and the wind was already blowing and the rain started coming down heavy and I looked like a drowned rat by the time I was done. The wind was crazy – I ran facing every possible direction and yet felt the wind was constantly bashing me around!

I posted my post-run picture on Instagram and had some interest in terms of people ‘liking’ it and sharing some comments either there, Twitter or Facebook. That is really cool – I love sharing stuff and getting feedback, just like I enjoy seeing stuff other people post.

However, I try not to share EVERY run, and never post full running summaries and so on – I even know some people who de-friend others who post too many ‘daily workouts’, along with too many motivational pictures, political or religious rants, and so on. It gets overwhelming pretty quickly – and isn’t very interesting for non-runners.

Here is one of those dirty secrets about running blogs: nobody who reads them is very interested in dry daily run logs. Not even other runners … heck, probably not even the person writing the blog! Some folks feel the need to include them because they think ‘it is a running blog’; others include them with other material or as part of a ‘weekly summary’; some people started doing things that way and probably just do it without thinking.

When I read my favorite running blogs, it is seldom specifically for the running. I mean, I like hearing how they are doing with their running – but always in service of a specific goal. Are they training for their first marathon? I want to hear how they are feeling with increased mileage. A PR (personal record)? Tell me how the speed work is going. An injury? Definitely want to hear about coping skills and be there to drop in a supportive comment (especially with what Lisa is dealing with now).

It is also fun to read about the non-running side of things, how runners with non-running spouses and families deal with things – or more precisely, how other normal people deal with us runners! And just seeing the three-dimensional views of a wide variety of people. We all share a passion for a sport, so it is interesting to see what else we share. As of now I have yet to find fans of Anthony Braxton, John Zorn and Mary Halvorson in my running blog travels!

The reasons WHY nobody cares about that stuff are actually fairly simple: most of the joy and benefit of running is very personal and doesn’t translate well into a daily blog entry. Here is an example:

Last week the weather was pretty uniformly nice and a bit warm. The mornings were clear, and I was happy to get out in the darkness, put my feet one in front of the other, focus on my breathing and strides, see the occasional bunny or squirrel and even a skunk, clear my head and work my muscles, and get home to be greeted at the door by a sleek black cat ready for 2nd breakfast as I head in to wake the kids up to get ready for school.

And that is the week – I ended up with 52 miles, and by the end of the week I had none of the residual tighness in my calf from the marathon, and was starting to think about my upcoming half-marathon. That isn’t too bad to read in bulk, but doesn’t make for an exciting daily read!

So perhaps it isn’t completely true that the miles are boring – because for me they are a continuous source of joy, elation and satisfaction …

Motivation Monday – Six Things to Try to Shake the Late Spring Blahs

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First off, Happy Memorial Day – and while for most of us it is an excuse for a long weekend, and perhaps watching our kids march in a parade (or in my case, one kid march while the other is home with a broken foot) … it is worth remembering that the heroes who have put their lives on the line for us and our country are the true reason for this day. Take a moment this day to remember them and their service.

It is interesting – just a couple of months ago many of us were lamenting a long, grueling winter and wishing for the joys of real spring weather to get out and run. Yet these past couple of weeks, I have seen more people talking about being burned out or just not knowing what to do.

As we get to the end of May, the first ‘season’ of races is coming to a close, and folks who have been training all winter for their first marathon are suddenly faced with great weather but a lack of direction. Or like me, they might have spent all winter single-minded (for me, it was getting in the runs, but for others it was treadmill work or whatever).

Whatever the reason, I have seen lots of people who have seemed lost … and this week I have fully embraced spring by mixing things up myself, so here are just a few things to do to try to keep running fresh as we get used to this great weather:

1. Find Another Race

This weekend I didn’t run a race, choosing family time as I always do – but definitely felt a twinge over missing the Glassfest 8K on Saturday (which I for some reason thought was Sunday). But anyway, this weekend I had local friends run in no less than a half-dozen races within 30 minutes of my house!

Right now there are loads of races – so if you feel the let-down, get back out and do another race. If you have been training for a goal race, now just do some fun runs – grab friends, and just enjoy!

2. Try Doing ‘Fartleks’

These have always been one of my favorite things to do since I learned about them a couple of years ago. Basically they are ‘speed play’ – you are doing what all kids do “race you to the light post”, or whatever.

I have a few areas I tend to do these – just turn on the speed for a defined distance, really push it. It is an adrenaline rush, but because you are focusing on speed, it can help you push things if you are looking to get faster as well. Thing is – this shouldn’t be your only speed work, if you really want to work on pace, look into tempo runs and other things … and at that point you should be setting up training plans, which is far beyond my knowledge and the scope of this post.

3. Run With Weights

By which I also mean DO NOT run with weights … the problem is that adding artificial weights can really mess with posture and form and other things. So be very, very careful about doing this.

But if you sometimes carry a water bottle, you are basically running with weights – so here is the thought: run with a 1-2lb weight in each hand. As you go along, use them and stretch yourself and do exercises. You will probably see your pace drop, and you WILL feel it in your arms and chest.

And if you do it for a couple of days then run without weights … you will feel like you are flying! Another caution – this is really not something for long runs, and again, be very very careful.

4. Track Work

This week I did my first bit of track work – not on the full track, but on a smaller school trail/track. Just a couple of laps, but basically I took a few minutes from my normal run and absolutely punished myself.

The thought is that with dedicated running on a track of known distance, you can really focus on improving your speed work. It is intriguing to me, as I consider it a torture device that was a high school football team punishment … but like so many other things, being a runner now changes my perspective on this!

I have read a bunch of people doing track work for the first time – I would love to hear about things you have tried, what works and doesn’t, and so on!

5. Kill Those Hills

OK, so me doing hills isn’t news – I have 400ft incline in my daily runs and actively seek the hills on a regular basis. For me, they are fun – grueling, punishing fun. It is always amusing having people driving up or down the really big inclines I do looking at me like I am crazy … because I am, of course – and I love it!

Hills are painful, draining, and really force you to focus on HOW you run them. You will torture your quads and calves and if you do them wrong might end up with an unplanned rest day – but the burn you get and the sense of exhaustion is just exhilarating. And they also allow you to set new goals all the time – just getting up, running all the way, maintaining heart rate and/or pace, and so on. I always make sure to get in some hills every week.

6. ‘Destination’ Run

Last week I headed on a short drive to a packed gravel trail to take a run for a few miles, and it was just something different. Different sights, sounds, and path. If you are like me and run the same places – I have about 6 different main routes I do on a regular basis, but they all center around my house.

So it seems silly, but sometimes just doing something a little different provides a new challenge, or at least gives your brain something new to contemplate.

There are just a few ways I have found to keep things fresh and interesting for myself. Everyone has different things that motivate them – running with friends, groups, or other things. It is all about getting out there!

My Running Summary

As we get into full-on spring, this week we still had two mornings with frost! Not so fun, and one day as it was 30 with a breeze I even put on my heavier gloves to keep my hands warmer.

Sunday: Family time
Monday: 9.5 miles
Tuesday: 8.5 miles, including some track time
Wednesday: 9.25 miles, 2 x 1 lb weights
Thursday: 9.25 miles, 2 x 2 lb weights
Friday: 9.75 miles
Saturday 14.5 miles, heavy on hills!

Very happy with the week – nearly 61 miles. Feeling like I am hitting my ‘summer stride’ in terms of pushing in the miles – eager to get out the door, reluctant to come home. As you can see, this week I did stuff that is on my list – the week before I felt like I was starting to get into a rut, so I wanted to nip THAT one in the bud!

So how do YOU shake out your running blahs?

Monday Motivation – Counting my ‘Blessings’

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There was an article last week about how the word ‘blessed’ has begun to lose much of its meaning in the Facebook generation, as we now will regularly see people who were ‘blessed’ as they chose the line at the market that moved faster, or that can of garbanzo beans they were getting anyway was $0.10 off!

At the same time there was an article about the connotations of Christianity in ‘blessed’, and also someone who was suing because the only ‘blessing’ given at an official state event recognizing first-responders was entirely Christian. For me these are two things – I am all about ‘separation of church and state’, and very much oppose any notion of our country adopting Christian norms (yes, I AM Catholic). But at the same time, I am all about personal freedom, so if you want to proclaim that Jesus himself guided you to the correct check-out line, well power to the people right on.

ANYWAY … can you tell this was one of those ‘thoughts on a run’ things? Yeah, Saturday on my long run (a glorious 12.5 miles) I was thinking about all of this, and really thinking more that blessed has just become a surrogate word for ‘fortunate’. The first article had the connotation that ‘blessed’ implied a lack of work involved, which I reject – I think that anything worth having in life is a combination of good fortune and hard work.

At the same time, one of the best things I read this week was Megan talking about being grateful for your worst day, meaning that you should live in the reality of the situation and your feelings, but never forget to appreciate the great things you DO have in your life.

So what are the ‘blessings’ I am thankful that I have in my life, and work hard every day to maintain?

1. My Wife

I have to just say upfront that I am saddened and dismayed by the number of kids in their 20s who have already married and divorced. I am not passing judgment of any sort, because I know often it for the best for any number of reasons. I was thinking about this as I was reading a post from Angie on Cowgirl Runs last week, talking about nearly 2 years of post-divorce learning.

Anyone who says marriage is easy is an idiot; I have a very happy marriage, still wake up every morning thrilled to be with Lisa; love spending time and connecting every day; and so on. We always have fun – yesterday we were bringing some outgrown clothes to the donation site and the handle on one of my bags broke, she gave me crap, I said ‘bite me’ … and she did! It was a load of laughs.

But I would be lying if I said there weren’t days, weeks and even a few months where things were less than awesome. Having plenty of bills, two kids, pets, houses, cars, jobs, and so on means dealing with conflict – people get cranky, tired, annoyed, disagree, and more. I’ve said it before – at some time in the last 25 years chances are Lisa and I have had something between a minor annoyance and full-out fight over pretty much any topic you can imagine.

But the one thing never in question was our love and desire to be together. Even at this point in our lives we have people make comments on us when we’re together, calling us ‘cute’ or whatever … and we soak it all up. Our marriage has been hard work – but one thing is clear, that whenever difficult times struck, we united and emerged stronger than before. Lisa makes me and my life better every day, and that is pretty awesome.

2. My Boys

Sometimes my kids REALLY tick me off. And unfortunately very often those times occur when they are doing something I have genetically passed down to them!

But more often than that I am so proud of them, or so enjoy just hanging out sharing things with them, and look forward to seeing them transition to adults.

Kids are ALWAYS a struggle, make no mistake. Especially when they get to the age of making independant choices – because you will occasionally run into a conflict between wanting them to be happy and wanting them to be the best version of themselves. Those moments are exhausting and stressful and emotionally draining.

But then there are the times when you are working together, painting or doing dishes or folding laundry, listening to and talking about music, discussing movies and TV and friends and school and technology and clothes and life in general. And suddenly you get to see the insightful, smart, funny individuals they have become.

I don’t know where my kids will be in a few years, what they will study, where their careers will land them … but that is all part of the adventure. They are awesome boys and I am really enjoying this phase of their lives.

3. My Job/Career

I have said it before, but after getting laid off in late 2007, I was already interviewing for a job that I used as a ‘stop-over’ that allowed me to keep interviewing for one that met all of my needs. I was so lucky as the economy collapsed to end up with FOUR offers, in the Boston area, Charlotte NC, Seattle WA and Corning. Corning was the most stable company and seemed to offer the best long-term viability, but also is a one-company town – so if I wasn’t happy we’d be moving again!

Six years later, and two of the companies who gave me offers no longer exist, and the division I interviewed for in the other company was axed. Even Corning had a big layoff in 2009 in the recession, but I survived and now the company is stronger than ever.

I have been fortunate to work on a wide variety of projects in most of the divisions (I work in corporate engineering), had great technical challenged and made a real impact, and have made some great friends through the years. Corning really values its people, the focus on innovation and technology development, and as a result even after 6 years I am a relative ‘newbie’ as most people my age have been here 20+ years.

4. My Health

On the peoject that had me traveling to Kentucky regularly, I had one long shift of travel followed by immediately going into the plant to work without break for a long time. People were complaining and then someone mentioned how good I looked, and the project manager said ‘well, with how much he runs and how he eats, what do you expect?’

As someone who still looks at himself as a ‘reformed obese person’, this view of me as healthy always catches me off-guard.

I guess I assumed that since I did myself no favors during my first 23 years, that I would pay for it forever. But aside from some loose skin (TMI, sorry), I have no residual effects. My heart and lungs and joints and bones overall health remain excellent. If I can inspire in any way, THAT would be it – it is never too late to be in the best shape and health of your life.

5. 25 Years a Non-Injured Runner

I feel like I am tracking the injury status on a couple dozen blog-friends and real-life friends at any given time, either active or recovering. And I always sympathize, because I know that I never want to have something that takes my running away from me.

Last week Harold listed his injuries … and my jaw dropped. I don’t even know what I would do in that situation – because I have never had to deal with it.

My biggest thing? This past winter when someone edged me off the road and I ended up stepping into what looked like just a snowbank but was actually a culvert so my left shoe dropped down a couple of feet unexpectedly. I had already planned the next day as rest, but then took a second day off, and then got back to running.

For me, running is a pretty huge part of my life – and as a result I am very protective of my ability to go out every day. Running daily means more than speed or races or pretty much any sort of improvement. If I never BQ but am still running 5 miles a day 20 years from now I will be more than happy.

6. My Friends

I am really lucky to have a great set of friends from childhood, high school, college, my jobs in MA and NY, online writing sites and computer gaming forums, and now through blogging. I have met amazing people and I thoroughly enjoy hearing from them and communicating.

It is a great thing to get a message that says ‘though of you when I saw this’ … because I have always been a ‘thought is what counts’ person, so someone making a connection and passing it along really touches me.

Because we have teen boys and live in the ‘internet age’, having discussions about ‘online friends’ is only natural. It is something I have had since the late 80s, and something Lisa has really never had … so that makes for two very different perspectives. As adults we can still be misled, but we have a better context to frame these interactions, and hopefully we make good choices.

That is a long way of saying that I have been truly and immensely touched by the interactions I have had through blogging, even before I started my own blog last fall. You guys are just the best, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

My Running Summary

The weather was all over the place this past week – from cool to hot and windy and torrential rain (my clothes from Friday morning were still wet at mid-day on Saturday!). But I had a pretty solid week:

Sunday: Mother’s Day – no run, 3mi walk with Lisa
Monday: 9.5 miles
Tuesday: 8.25 miles, 2 mile walk with Lisa
Wednesday: 5.25 miles (at night)
Thursday: 9.25 miles, plus another 4mi walk with Lisa
Friday: 9.25 miles
Saturday 12.5 miles

Not a bad overall week – 53.75 miles! What I have started to notice is it is easier for me getting out the door, my pace is better, and I am pushing my home-time a bit later to squeeze in more miles.

So what ‘blessing’ do YOU treasure?

Motivation Monday – Get With The Plan

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Happy Monday … I think? I am having a hard time typing because an arctic wind is bringing back the cold with a vengeance and my hands felt stiff after my run. Kind of brings me back – to a week ago! Boy it is easy to get used to high temperatures in the 40s like the last few days!

Yesterday was a family day – Lisa was off, the boys had their last day before back to school after February break, so we got to hang out, plan meals and do grocery shopping, and try to figure out what our summer looks like between college visits and hopefully getting a real vacation this year!

This past week I saw several blog posts related to ‘the plan’ – some of it was about how to keep yourself going even as so many people lose track of their ‘New Year Resolutions’, but for others … it was more like they were validating their own choices by declaring everyone else wrong – and few things tick me off more than that!

Anyone who has been reading knows the struggles we have been facing with Lisa’s food allergies and sensitivities and how after talking to her ENT we’re trying to adapt the Paleo diet around her allergies. Also, long-time readers will remember that last October 1st (day after her birthday) she shredded her ankle, which has been a long recovery and road back to being able to exercise. And finally, a big part of this blog is my running, continued racing at half- and full-marathon distance and plans for an Ultra this year. So there are loads of ‘plans’ floating around our house.

So let’s take a look at how to get with ‘The Plan’!

The ‘Diet Plan’

I have talked about how I naturally tend towards loads of fruits and vegetables, especially when running … but at the same time I discuss my ‘unhealthy relationship’ with food.

When Lisa went on Weight Watchers about 10 years ago that changed our lives. We had always been reasonably healthy in terms of exercise and eating well, yet both had occasional issues with weight ramping up. For me it was a matter of running and restricting and my weight came under control. For Lisa it had been hard ever since Chris was born, but eventually as she said it was time to admit that it wasn’t ‘baby weight’ anymore!

Weight Watchers was great because it rewarded healthy choices and pushed you in the direction of accountability. You track everything, and how you prepare foods matters. And since we are both science-minded, it pushed us to learn more and more about the various types of foods we liked and portion control and proper menu construction. It was eye-opening and educational – and it informs our eating to this day.

But Weight Watchers has many flaws – in that it still focuses on the ‘number’s game’, rewards filling yourself with ‘nothing’ foods, ignores ‘fueling’, and favors ‘chemical soup’ like fat-free yogurt and salad dressings over natural choices. It is a flawed plan – but one that works for many because it helps them learn how to eat properly.

Yet I have seen people bashing Weight Watchers and fat-shaming the people on those programs. Why?!? What good can that possibly accomplish?

For me, I applaud anyone who wants to take control of their intake and the foods they consume.

I have been around long enough to see myriad fad diets come and go, and while most of them have your health at their core (importantly NOT ALL DO), there is NOT ONE PLAN FOR EVERYONE. Here are two basic things I belong to be true:

Any diet with a ‘title’ is making money for someone… FROM YOU! That is important because when there is money involved – and the diet industry is a multi-billion dollar inductry – people’s motivations come into question.
When a diet will twist its core principals to get mind-share … not sure how to close that. But think about it this way – if some primary advocates of Paleo prohibit rice, yet allows fully processed bacon, beef jerky and sausage … you can sniff the money trail.

Also, let’s get back to what I consider the greatest piece of eating wisdom ever spoken, from Michael Pollan:

Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

That maxim contains in it the greatest wisdom – moderation. Not an ‘I am right’ mentality

Also, while I don’t like absolutes, here is what we have discovered as I tried to move out family to a ‘semi-Vegan’ lifestyle over the last year or so, and as we now try to help Lisa work within the boundaries of the Paleo diet:

– Neither Paleo nor Vegan are sustainable long-term solutions for someone with nut allergies and soy sensitivities.

Period.

This actually ties back to what I said about ‘compromising principles’. Because as we looked up having snacks or desserts on Paleo, there were loads of options that are not really keeping with the priciples of Paleo – refined flours (not from grains, though) pastes, ‘milks’ and so on.

The same is true for nut allergies – once you remove everything that would send Lisa either to the hospital or running for Benadryl, there are huge holes in Paleo and Vegan plans. The solution for many are powdered supplements – which are extracts made in factories of ‘natural derivatives’. Sure you can justify it if you work REALLY hard. But let’s just not pretend that protein powders and other processed supplements are examples of or compatible with ‘eating clean’. They are not.

The Exercise Plan

Cross-Fit! Jane Fonda! P90X! ULTIMATE! All of these plans scream at you – and their adherants are adament that THEIR way is THE right way … and the only way. Or the most hardcore … or SOMETHING!

Go for a walk? Should be running.

Hike a crushed path through the woods? Should be doing off-roads.

Biking? Not a real biker unless you do a weekly ‘century ride’

And so on…

Some of this comes from a good place – as a runner I want everyone to experience the joy I derive from running. I mean – it is such a great thing that I willingly get up at 4AM every day and go outside for over an hour it temperatures exceeding -20F! How nuts is THAT?

But on my runs, there are a few people I see most days – there are two people walking dogs, one I see until ~20F and the other to nearly 0F. And there is the biker I see about 9 months out of the year – he pushes it as much as possible, but eventually has to head inside. What do we all share? A plan – our plan is to GET OUT THERE. And we work that plan every day.

The Race Plan

As a casual morning runner disconnected from races and the ‘running community’, it felt like runners emerged right around Patriots Day (it’s a Massachusetts thing) and disappeared a week or so later.

What I didn’t realize until much later was that these people held an aspiration that many of us do – to run in the Boston Marathon. But like so many others, while they had the desire, they didn’t have a plan, and quickly the motivation subsided and the habit never formed.

Running a road race requires planning if we want any reasonable expectation of doing our best. Of course, there are MANY plans you can follow:
– Run less, run faster
– Hanson Method – very long daily runs
– Hal Higdon Training Programs
– Galloway Run-Walk plans
– McMillan aerobic/anaerobic plans
– etc …

If you spend even a few minutes looking at these and many other programs, you will realize something: several of them completely contradict other plans. Meaning if you agree with one, you MUST disagree with the others, right?

Well, not really. What it means is that you need to realize that ‘agreeing’ only means you found what worked for you. And therefore other plans are NOT what works for you, but might very well be what works for someone else.

The RIGHT Plan!

One of the strongest common components of plans in all of these areas (as well as organization, relationships, parenting, etc) is … money. People worldwide spend BILLIONS buying books and DVDs and CDs that promise us THE ANSWER to all of our problems in all of those areas.

Often they have a celebrity out front talking it up and selling it, or an attractive spokesmodel or someone who has seen success. But again – it is money. Do you think Samuel L. Jackson is hawking Capital One credit cards for free because he liked the rewards program and volunteered? No – I’m sure he would have happily taken Morgan Freeman’s Visa job in a second … it is all about the paycheck.

So here are my feelings:

– The RIGHT diet plan is the one that has you feeling healthy and good about yourself and feeling physically healthy while and after eating.

– The RIGHT exercise plan is the one that will have you doing it every day.

– The RIGHT race plan is the one that gets you to the finish line uninjured and in a time you are satisfied with.

Are there plans that you can use to more closely match your goals and needs and personality? Absolutely – that gets back to my old saying “What works for me … works for ME.”

MOTIVATION: Find your plan, and OWN it. Remember the mantra – Plan Your Work + Work Your Plan + Organization = Success!

What is working for YOU on the Diet / Exercise / Race Plan front these days? Have you noticed a stronger push every now and then for one plan or another? What else drives you nuts?