Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Why I am Not a Runner: Poor Recovery

One of the reasons I suck as a runner, is that I do not recover well. Whenever I really push it during a big run, a day or two afterward, I feel like death. I get terrible flu symptoms. Headaches. Allergies. I can't breath. My blood pressure increases (or seems to.... although it never really does). I feel dizzy and can't eat. The illness can last for up to a week. I've gone to a few doctors and discussed my poor recoveries, but they were clueless. They suggested I had some sort of exercise intolerance, but none of them could locate the cause. I've had an entire cardio work-up, stress tests, chest x-rays, blood tests, psych evals. Everything looked good. Everything always looks good! M thinks it is all in my head.

After the Denver Marathon, I took three months off from running. When I started running again, my recoveries were particularly bad. I started calling my post-running weakness, the syndrome. During even small runs, I felt unbelievably bonked. If I tried to get near my old times (averaging eight minute miles), I would feel like hell for an entire week. So, I backed off. My body had simply refused to run. M tried to get me to sign up for various runs (including the Phoenix Rock and Roll Marathon), but I declined. Finally, this spring, I started running again, doing very very very very slow runs right outside our house. I refused to push it. I pictured an imaginary line that I would not allow my body to pass. If I felt like I was pushing too hard, I slowed down. No matter what, I let M run ahead. Go M. Go! After each run, I took a recovery drink and waited for the syndrome to kick in. If I started feeling ill, I took a week off. I managed to run the Bolder Boulder (a run that M and I used to do every year), but I completed it at nearly two minutes a mile slower than my best time.

Given the facts above, why consider the NYC Marathon? Obviously, I'm an idiot. So far, the syndrome has knocked me down only a few times since I started running again, but it is still there. Drinking recovery drinks has become a ritual, and now I spend a ton of money on these plastic barrels of powdered crystals. But whatever. I'm working hard to better define the line. If I manage to run 26.2 miles without dying, no matter how slow, then I guess it will be a victory. It all depends on what happens to my body when I start adding miles.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Running with the Dead: Fire on the Mountain

Song: Fire on the Mountain
Result: Positive
Best Line: Long distance runner what you standing there for?

The lyrics for this song are obviously perfect for a runner's mix (whether you like the Dead or not), but is it actually good to run to? For me, the beat actually isn't bad. The song doesn't make me go speedy, but it does help maintain a steady pace. As every Dead fan knows, this song should immediately follow Scarlet Begonias and have a long breezy transition in between.

Go to and listen to some of their free stash to get an idea of how this song should sound. The '77 and '78 shows are my favorite. From all my listening, I think the band sounded the best during this period. Some of the '71 and '72 shows are also pretty amazing, although a few of my favorite songs are missing and the long jams get a little ridiculous. I also like the '74 shows and the Wall of Sound. No, M, not that kind of wall.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Having a Hydrated Time

When I run more than six miles, I am always thirsty. Hence, when I run more than six miles, I take liquids. Lots of liquids. My methods of toting water are a constant source of amusement for M (she only grabs a small water bottle if it is extremely hot and she is doing over fifteen miles). I have tried everything. Camel packs, fuel belts, fanny packs. . . While training for the Denver Marathon I bought this thing called the terminator, which was a beefed-up fuel belt with six cartridges on it. M would start laughing every time I pulled it out. The terminator was great except for one thing, it was a struggle to get the cartridges out. Invariably I would stop running to get a drink, and this was bad. Also, the nylon straps got stretched out and I started dropping bottles all over the place.

Currently, on long runs, I use a red fanny pack with two holsters for squeeze bottles. M's dad found it at a thrift store and it works just as well as anything else. Sometimes I put G2 (a type of Gatorade) in the squeeze bottles. The NYC Marathon is using G2 as its official sports drink, meaning they will supply cups of it at their drinking stations. M thinks that if I am going to drink the Gatorade during the run (and not just water), I should get used to it.

How does one drink and run at the same time? This is skill that is typically reserved for charging marines or escaped convicts, but, alas, it also benefits a runner. Here is what I do: First, squeeze the liquid in my mouth. Second, after two or three strides, grit my teeth and swallow. The gritting the teeth is the key. It helps avoid choking.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Thirsty Thirteen

This morning, M and I ran in shifts. She ran early since she hates the heat. By the time I got going, it was well past nine and extremely hot. About halfway through, I felt the sun cooking my brain. We may be over 7000 feet, but we still have Arizona sun. The forest was a sauna. Still, I toted a lot of water and felt fine for most of the run.

Finishing a half marathon feels great but I'm clueless how to double it. Even though I've run a marathon before, my brain cannot figure out how it gets done. The multitude of adaptions that my body undertakes are a mystery to me. The tinker-toy processes are hidden from view. Even after I read through one of M's running books that describe the basic science of endurance, lowering one's heart rate and upping one's glycogen storage, it does not help. These are just words and numbers. The science doesn't push my body out the door, down the trail and up the hills. A month ago there was no way I could walk out the door and run thirteen miles. Yet today, that is just what I did.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Denver Marathon

Three years ago, my wife, M, signed me up for the Denver Marathon. I trained as best as I could, but afterward I felt like I was going to die. When I finished, I worried that my internal organs were about to explode. My kidneys, heart, lungs and liver. All of them were on the verge of rupturing all over the pavement. I even called the emergency room at about four in the morning the next day. Am I going to die? The doctor said he wasn't sure, but I should come in. I took a sleeping pill to relax and fell asleep while I was trying to decide. The next three weeks I felt like hell.

I think my biggest mistake in the Denver Marathon was running the first half at M's pace. She was aiming for a conservative 3:20. I was praying for 4:00. Why did I stick with her? No idea. It was stupid. I had a bunch of extra energy at the start and for the first seventeen miles I managed to stay in front of the 3:20 pace group, which consisted of a cluster of nylon-clad clowns running with balloons. I hated these people. When I started to die, I felt like clubbing them on their heads. After mile seventeen, my legs started to slow. My thighs throbbed. I dropped to ten and then twelve minute miles. And the clowns skipped by. The balloon crew had megaphones and they seemed to be laughing at me. Less than a mile later another balloon crew approached and I wanted to cry. The 3:30 clowns easily passed me. Then came the 3:40. And then the 3:50. I tried to keep up with the 4:00 clowns, but gave up after a quarter mile. I was doomed. I started worrying I would not finish. When the 4:10 clowns came, I was still three miles from the finish. And then came the 4:20's. And finally, right at the finish line, the 4:30. It was torture. My final time was 4:32.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Running with the Dead: Scarlet Begonias

Song: Scarlet Begonias
Result: Positive
Best Line: I had to learn the hard way to let her pass by

Since I've started doing longer runs (1-2 hours), I've began taking one of M's old battered MP3 Players with me (the battery is scotch-taped in) to make the time go faster (she now runs with a shiny silver Ipod or an Ishuffle or an Iwhatever). The old MP3 player had a bunch of random songs on it that I had copied over some years ago: a few Dandy Warhol albums, Liz Phair, some Manu Chao, some Krishna Das, and a bunch of DJ Shadow. Also in the mix was Scarlet Begonias by the Grateful Dead. While running to this song, the weirdest thing happened. My pace improved. My breathing slowed. I felt. . . comfortable. Initially, it bothered me. It was bizarre. I didn't run faster (that would've been a miracle), but for some inexplicable reason, I ran smoother. It was such on odd sensation that when I got home I nixed all the other songs, and filled the player with the Grateful Dead.

Scarlet Begonias has this ever-rising guitar pattern that circles and circles and seems to make me smile every time I hear it. I also like the lyrics and how it makes me contemplate my relationship with M. I imagine the song is about some female groupie chasing Jerry? during their Europe Tour, but then the song manages to sneak in some deep ideas about faithfulness and free will. I am the last person in the world who should be running the NYC Marathon, but for some reason, because of M and the relationship we have, it is what I intend to do. Everything is backwards. The sky is yellow and the sun is blue.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Alone Together

I started running in the mornings three days a week. M says our official training starts on July 19th when we have to do a half (thirteen miles). I'm feeling okay, but going very slow.

I am completely out of shape, and M is now running two-minutes-per-mile faster than me. She is speedy. She has always been speedy. In high school when she ran track, apparently she never lost. When M races, if she doesn't win or place, she gets very upset. She is convinced that if she had had the right coaches and avoided injuries, she would have been an Olympic-class runner. Maybe this is true.

Lately, M and I have not been running together. My speeds have drastically slowed in the past few years and now I'm way too slow for her. Occasionally she runs with a training group or a faster running partner. When we do longer runs, we do them in shifts. Or she goes ahead and stays ahead. According to M, it hurts to run slow. It takes longer and screws with her gait. Also, she hates to stop and wait for me. This messes with her endurance.

Running alone is okay with me. I'm cool. Whatever. I have already been beaten down. My ego is destroyed. My body (and mind) has never shown even the slightest talent for running. Which brings up the question, why do it? Well, initially I agreed to run the NYC Marathon to do something with M. But now, well, we aren't even running together. So, seriously, what the hell am I doing? I guess it helps her to see me struggle. Maybe it keeps her motivated? It's like we are running together. . . without running together.