Monday, August 31, 2009

A Rock and a Hard Place

The last few days I have not felt like running. After my Friday run, I had a poor recovery. I guess I crossed the line. It was low grade, but still, I feel like a zombie. I skipped my long run on Sunday (that's two in a row I skipped!), and instead went for a small bike ride with M and L (the little guy was on the trail-a-bike). Even that knocked me out.

If I get my mojo back, maybe I will wake up early this week (earlier than usual) and get in a long run. For Labor Day, we are driving down the Tucson like we do every year. One of M's favorite runs is there (the Saguaro Eight Miler). As it stands now, she won't be able to run it. If I run it, and she doesn't, that would be a first: me running a race by myself. Why the hell would I want to do that? Typically, I am the one standing on the sidelines, watching the kid and cheering her on. Both M and I have discussed dropping out of the NYC marathon. But it's not so simple. We already bought our plane tickets and reserved a nice hotel near Central Park (no more staying on the floor of a friend's apartment). I haven't given up yet, but I'm really starting to dread the long runs.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Running with the Dead: Sugar Magnolia

Song: Sugar Magnolia
Result: Positive
Best Line: I take me out and I wander round

Back in college, when I first listened to a Grateful Dead album (American Beauty), this song was instantly my favorite. But that was before I heard it played a zillion times. I still like Sugar Magnolia, but mainly for nostalgia reasons. One thing that is cool about this song, is it's a Bob song. And it's a rocking Bob song. I enjoy a handful of his other songs, but my favorites are often too slow to run to (Black Throated Wind, Looks Like Rain, Let It Grow).

As for running, Sugar Magnolia has a nice hop in the beat, which always takes me a few strides to adjust to. That said, once I'm in sync, (like a Willy's in four-wheel drive), my speed increases. At the end of the song, it doesn't hurt to include a version of Sunshine Daydream. For me, this ending also provides a good laugh as I hear Bob and Donna (the Dead's regular back-up singer in the 70's) screech at each other.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Newtonian Physics

M went to the physical therapist and she came back with a list of exercises to strengthen her hamstring. Apparently the injury is pretty common. Last night she got out the giant rubber band and the yoga ball and the roller and various other implements. She seems very determined to fix her leg.

I ran nine miles, finishing Soldier's Loop at a steady 9.30 minute mile pace. Not bad, but my knee still felt like a balloon. When I passed the evil rock that tripped me up last time, I leaped over it and laughed. But then a quarter mile later, I nearly fell on my face. Trying not to get cocky.

My inbox had an ominous email in it yesterday with the subject, Final Call For Marathon Transportation. Apparently, I never signed up for transportation. It is not easy to get to the start of the NYC Marathon and most people have to board a special Staten Island Ferry at 5:30 AM. Somehow, while registering, M got signed up for the ferry, but I did not. I sent an email but got no response. I then called the marathon people yesterday, and they said they were sending me an email to login to their site, but I never received it. I will call them again Monday. Now I have a whole new reason to freak out. Here is the message they sent me:

You’ve selected “I do not need transportation” in your Runner Profile for the ING New York City Marathon 2009. If you need official transportation to the race start, you must email us immediately at to tell us whether you’re coming from New York or New Jersey on race day. We will then assign your method of transportation.

This is your final opportunity to change your transportation request before official assignments are made. If you don’t make this change by Monday, September 14, we will consider your choice of “no transportation from NYRR” final.

I have two weeks to sort this out... Blah. Sunday, I will try for a big run, seventeen miles, by myself (since M is taking a few weeks off). It feels weird trying to do big runs without her.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Terrible news. M went to a specialist to check out her nagging hamstring and he ordered her to stop running for three weeks! Three weeks is an eternity for M, especially when training for a marathon (we are only two months away). The doctor said she tore her hamstring and he does not want her to even stretch it. Maybe she can do the eliptical machine at the gym (which she hates). M came home with about fifty pages on the injury and told me how she has to learn how to fire her glut muscle and her hamstring in the proper order. How the hell is she going to do that?

Last night M pulled out her biggest and nastiest running book, The Lore of Running to look up various strategies to fight the injury. This book is about as big as a phone book and has about ten thousand pages. When she pulls out this book, I know there is trouble. Both of us are worried that she will not be able to run the marathon. If she is not running, I have no clue how I'm going keep training. Tomorrow, M will visit a physical therapist and come up with a plan.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hand-me-downs: M and her books

At night, when many people are watching TV, getting ready for bed or reading a novel, M likes nothing more than to curl up with a nice running book. She can spend hours pondering over a set of stretches or a nutritional guide. M's not completely crazy. Occasionally, she takes a break from this obsession and reads a magazine (Runner's World, of course).

The book above, Brain Training for Runners, is her recent favorite. She is relying on it for our NYC training schedule. Like most of her books, I find some parts relevant, but most of it mundane and tedious. All the charts and descriptions of body processes and the numerous feel-good stories about some self-obsessed fitness freak who finally gets his sub-three; it makes me ill. In the end, all these books have the same giddy, pat-on-the-back, no-pain-no-gain tone. Last month, when we started our first 15-miler, I was making fun of M's book and she challenged me. She said if I didn't like it, I should come up with my own running philosophy. So, here we go. Before I run NYC, I'm going to come up with some truly pithy running advice. I'm not saying there needs to be a running book for slow people (I'm sure there are already enough of those), but I think the sport drastically needs a different tone and perspective, especially for non-competitive runners.

One of the silly things about the book above is the author's perspective on pain. The guy worships it. He has sections titled, Embrace Your Pain and Practice Suffering. I prefer to do the opposite. Avoid my pain (and death) and practice pleasure. Another thing that is sort of funny about this book is what the author calls, proprioceptive cues. These are things you should imagine when you are running. They are supposed to help you improve your speed and form. Some examples are, imagine you are running on water and pretend you are falling forward. M loves these. She calls them out to me before I go on a run. Don't forget to squeeze your butt! Sure, okay. Thanks, M.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Running with the Dead: Uncle John's Band

Song: Uncle John's Band
Result: Negative
Worst Line: When life looks like Easy Street there is danger at your door

Some people say that it is hard to like the Dead unless you've seen them live. I'm not sure, but I do prefer the live recordings over their studio work. This even includes those awful shows in the early to mid-nineties when Jerry is drug-addled and forgetting lines and Bob is wheezing through the lyrics. That said, if you want to get hooked by a studio album, your best bet is Workingman's Dead. This album is a sweet mix of bluegrass and rock-n-roll. It also has surprising vocal skill by a band that was infamous for their scratchy voices. The album reminds me of the Stone's Exile on Main Street, a hidden gem among a few hit-filled albums and a score of so-so's.

Uncle John's Band is one of my favorite Dead songs. It has a cool narrative and amazing guitar. But, (god damn, I declare), it is nearly impossible to run to. I think the major problem is the full stops throughout the song. Everybody in the band nearly ceases playing three or four times. These pauses are fine entertainment for my brain, but they completely confuse my feet. It just got nixed from my player.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sleep Running

Good news for me, I managed to get nine miles on my bum knee. It did not hurt too much and I iced it after the run. I quit early because I started over-compensating for the weak link and causing other things to break (my IT band, my left knee, various muscles in my nether regions). The body is an intricate system, and if you favor one bit, the whole thing gets thrown out of whack. Still, nine miles was not too shabby. My big concern now is that I missed a big run. There is not much room for error in our training schedule. I'm freaking out that if I undertrain I will die in NYC.

M was feeling pretty crappy. She was battling a hamstring pull and only got fifteen miles in. We attempted our 18-miler near Campbell Mesa, a collection of fairly flat loops on the east side of Flag. Neither one of us slept very well and M claimed to have hit the wall at about three in the morning. Afterwards we got some chocolate milk and bagels and watched Slumdog Millionaire.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lonely Nimbus

Day two and my shoes have not moved from the porch. M just left with her shiny pink Newtons. Which reminds me, I likely need a new pair soon. For the sport of running, shoes are an obsession. They are also a cause for deep philosophical debate. How much cushion you choose could effect your beliefs in evolution... (a current trend is to run free, like humans were meant to run). What brand you buy may reflect your political views (to Nike or not to Nike)... And then there is the ever-present difficulty in finding shoes not made in China.

I wear Asics Gel Nimbus, which the shoe gurus refer to as a neutral shoe (made in China, unfortunately). Neutral means the shoes have a lot of cushion and zero support. I wear these because I am one of the oddballs who tend to under-pronate. My feet roll outwards which will give me a duck walk if I'm not careful. Most runners over pronate, or roll inwards and run pigeon-toed. M does this. Her shoes tend to have lots of arch, angle and plastic, all meant to keep her feet straight. For under-pronaters like me, the shoe companies have pretty much given up. They suggest wearing a neutral shoe with lots of cushion and hoping for the best. Actually the Nimbus has been pretty good to me until my recent knee bashing, which can't be blamed on the shoes.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Running with the Dead: China Cat Sunflower

Song: China Cat Sunflower
Result: Positive
Best Line: A leaf of all colors plays a golden string fiddle

If you know this song, you would think it would be an awful one to run to. It has lots of jumpy guitar by both Jerry and Bob. Still, for some reason, even when they are jamming, it keeps a steady beat. Find a version that goes right into I Know you Rider and you've got an awesome zone-out for a long run. Even during the jam, I am able to keep my pace. Here's an old 1972 version on YouTube.

It's funny, during the seventies, the Dead didn't appear like egotistic showmen or wasted hippies. They appeared more like serious musicians (maybe too serious), very into their guitars and the jams they were playing. It reminds me a little of watching a Yo La Tengo concert.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pain without gain

Getting injured is a big part of running. M is always fighting some pain in her hamstrings or ankles or knees. She also suffers from sciatic pain and has a list of doctors, p.t.'s and massage therapists with whom she regularly visits. It's funny, every time I hurt myself, M seems to double her complaints about her own injuries. Maybe it is my imagination? My pain is never as bad (or good) as her pain! She is very competitive about this. Actually, she was very nice this morning and put goop on my knee.

I ran a couple utterly slow miles and my knee throbbed the entire time. I guess I need to take a few days off. This weekend, M has us scheduled for 18 miles, our longest run yet. I'm worried. I can barely walk down the driveway with this bum knee. I took some ibuprofen, which typically I refuse. I had taken it during the Denver Marathon and now I have a fear that it is destroying my internal organs.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rock Paper Knee

I ran Soldiers Loop and maybe because I was half asleep, I tripped on the way back and landed on a rock. My knee had a nice abrasion and I limped the three miles back home. The knee was stiff and swollen all day and I'm worried I did some damage too it. M put some tingly homeopathic goop on it last night and it feels a bit better. I will try running on it tomorrow. Hoping for the best.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Running with the Dead: The Eleven

Song: The Eleven
Result: Positive
Best Line: Four men tracking down the great white sperm whale

Another reason I like to run to the Dead? Because I am so damn slow, their long jams don't seem so long. After a long run I can say to myself. "Hey, I only listened to four songs during that run, I must have been fast."

As for the song, The Eleven, it is my favorite long jam of the Dead. I'll take it over Playing in the Band and Dark Star. I always go faster when this song comes on. The base and guitars help me keep a nice pace. You need to find a 1969 version with Pigpen on the organ and that crazed sixties sound with frenzied guitars. It makes me wish I had a time machine to go back and see the early SF shows.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Up to sixteen miles

Yesterday, I ran sixteen miles. M ran ahead of me the entire time. I didn't see her after the first mile. We did a loop in north Flagstaff that went down Shultz Pass Road, cut down Lower Oldham Trail and around Buffalo Park. Today, except for my calves, I feel okay. This is good news. I am not about to die. The bad news though, is that I averaged eleven minute miles.

According to M, I was supposed to maintain my base pace, which is something like 9.38 minute miles? No idea. Anyway, whatever my base pace is, eleven minute miles is nowhere close. If I am going to run a sub-four marathon in New York, I need to be running a minute and a half faster per mile. That seems highly unrealistic. That also would push me past the line.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Why I am Not a Runner: Breathing

I've had asthma since I was five years old. Once I even had to go the emergency room. Allergies, stress, exercise, they all cause it. It has gotten better over the years, but it has never gone away. Living in Northern Arizona has actually helped.

When I was in high school, my asthma was particularly bad. I was always on inhalers and steroids. I spent many camping trips in a drugged-induced haze. During gym class, whenever we had to run a mile, I was always last. About a quarter mile in, I would start wheezing and gasping and then walking. I know. . . pathetic. It's not all sad, though. Eventually my attitude changed. First, I read Lord of the Flies and started regularly saying, sucks to my assmar. Second, I started cycling. I met some friends who tolerated my lagging. During our rides, I found ways to manage my breathing. I was never an all-star cyclist, but I completed some big rides. After college, I went through a no-drug phase and today, I try to stick to that. Occasionally, when I'm really wheezy, I'll take a puff on an inhaler (most of them are so outdated they don't do much) or I will down a bunch of allergy pills, but for the most part, I remain drug free.

Running, unfortunately, really messes with my breathing. My asthma automatically kicks in after a mile. It softens after the third mile, but mile two is always a killer. On long runs, I hardly notice my breathing. But here's the rub: the asthma is still there. My lung capacity is horrible. Somehow, though, my body has learned to adjust to shallow breathing. I'm often clueless about how bad my lungs are doing. Once when I visited a doctor to refill some allergy medicine, he measured my air intake and told me I was in the middle of a severe asthma attack. I hadn't noticed. This isn't particularly good.

Now, I'm not going to start blabbing about VO2 max and the ways athletes measure their oxygen use. But I do know that my lungs can burn for days after a hard run. I also think my poor oxygen intake contributes to my poor recoveries. M has suggested that I use an inhaler whenever I run (as have a few doctors), but I have mixed feelings about it. As I of now, I'm trying to go without.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Running with the Dead: Jack Straw

Song: Jack Straw
Result: Negative
Worst Line: You're moving much too slow

I enjoy all the Cosmic Cowboy tunes.... Me and My Uncle, Cassidy, The Deal, etc. But, Jack Straw causes havoc with my pace. The problem with this song is tempo. It starts out slow and then jumps speed and then slows back down and Jerry does some weird noodling. The damn thing must have nine or ten tempo changes. It completely throws me off. Somewhere in the middle of the song when they're "leaving Texas on the fourth day of July," I get the feeling I am running backwards. I'm deleting it from my MP3 player.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Buffalo Runner

According to M and the calendar, we were supposed to do a 5k race today. This is to prepare us for running at race pace. Unfortunately there were no 5k races scheduled today in Flagstaff. (Darn!) So instead, M and I drove to Buffalo Park and we pretended to run a 5k race. I made an honest effort and managed to run just under nine-minute miles. It was tough. Unbelievably tough. It amazes me how bad of a runner I am.

M kept under seven minute miles, but her leg is still nagging her.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

It's for real. . . dammit

Both M and I received our handbooks in the mail today. I guess this means we are going. We spent the evening looking through details on transportation and start times.

M has been trying to run the NYC marathon for four years now. Because of injury, pregnancy and bad timing, she has had to cancel NYC three times. The one time we did make it to New York (two years ago), she was suffering from a hamstring injury and had the flu. She had to drop out just over halfway. I, who was not running of course, met her at a medical tent at mile fifteen in Queens. She was pale and shivering, a complete mess. We took a cab back to a friend's apartment in Harlem and even though M was dying and ready to puke, she kept talking about how fast she ran the first half. I wasn't going out too fast. I was doing awesome, like averaging under seven minute miles. Even though M is injury prone and has had bad luck, she is always like this. Always finding the silver lining in her runs. It must be some strange adaptation had by real runners. I felt like the entire trip was a disaster. We lost our luggage, got zero sleep, she nearly died, and before we left, I almost burned down my friend's apartment.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Hand-me-downs: the Calendar

During the Denver Marathon, I was very casual about when and how much I ran. If I missed a big run, no big deal. M planned out the runs using one of her myriad of running books. I fought her every step of the way. I did manage to get in a few fifteen-milers, an eighteen miler, and a twenty-two miler. And I also nearly died. For the NYC marathon, even though I'm running far slower, I am determined to be better trained.

My first real contribution to our training effort was the dreaded calendar. On the calender, M wrote out when we had to do our runs, both small or long. She thumbed through about twenty of her treasured running books and started scribbling with red marker, adding comments all over the damn thing. As she was making our schedule, she also convinced me I needed to try for a respectable time, which meant running under four hours. Watching her, I had another revelation. I needed to start running four days a week. During the Denver Marathon, I only ran three days a week. My reasoning was that I required at least one recovery day between each run. Not so, said M. Your body needs to get used to being overstressed. This is something I hear often from M.

So, anyway. I agreed to the following weekly schedule:

  • M - Recovery

  • T - Stretching and Recovery

  • W - INTERVAL RUN (whatever the hell that is.. I call it a medium run)

  • T - JUNK RUN (low mileage, as fast as I feel like going)

  • F - TEMPO RUN (again, whatever that is... I guess I'll try to run faster on the second half)

  • S - Stretching or Yoga

  • S - LONG RUN