Thursday, November 4, 2010

Completing Number Three

As I am now four days post the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon, the soreness in the lower half of my body has finally subsided. Though I feel I did not "hit the wall" in the purest sense, the last few miles of the race were quite painful. Running experts will tell you the soreness in the lower extremities sometimes lasts up to a week. My very limited experience is mixed.

My first marathon was completed in Huntsville, AL in December of 2007. To say I hit the wall in that race would be a major understatement. The following week was quite uncomfortable as my legs ached from the lactic acid as it slowly worked its way out. But the longer term injury was what affected me most profoundly. My feet were completely worn out. My podiatrist recommended I not run for two or three months to let them recover. I only slightly obliged him.

My second marathon was again completed in Huntsville, AL two years later with drastically different results. Owed to superior training, I knocked 50 minutes off of my time and crossed the finish line feeling like I could do more. There was no wall to hit in that race and I convinced myself of the merits of logging more miles and increasing speed work. Unfortunately, a painful lower back sent me to therapy where my therapist suggested I not run for 6-8 weeks. So, once again, I spent January and February in rehabilitation mode.

A year later, I find myself analyzing my performance in the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon and making decisions about what to do next. The reference to muscle soreness does belie the fact that the race was unkind to me. Though I felt my training was quite adequate, something happened to my legs along the streets of D.C. It could have been the early miles of the race that undulated through the hills of eastern Virginia. It could have been dehydration as I unintentionally eschewed water along the course. Or, it could have been my running style that put demands on my legs that are unnatural. Either way, the last few mile split times illustrated how slowly I finished. Good news is forthcoming, however, because this time I have managed to emerge from the racing aftermath with no real injuries. I feel like I am primed to get right back on the streets and plan for the next challenge.

My reason for attempting this marathon was really two-fold. As most runners will attest, the sense of accomplishment at finishing an event like this is all the reason one would need. This year I had the opportunity to participate with a group of runners who, by virtue of participating in MCM, collectively raised over $40,000 in the fight against Alzheimer's disease. Being part of a family that suffers from the effects of the disease has motivated me to become more activist. The opportunity to raise money to fight Alzheimer's presented me the avenue on which to actively do a small part in the fight.

So my larger motivation for doing Marine Corps Marathon has resulted in a personal achievement of $2,000 raised. The achievement was certainly a joint effort; my physical exertion and my supporters' financial backing. I want to thank each one of them again for believing I could conquer the challenge. Their faith in me and willingness to contribute have made this a successful venture. I proudly proclaim this marathon experience to be a huge success. I proudly record marathon number three as a race to be remembered.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Gaining Strength in the Face of Adversity

As another August in my life winds down to completion, I am given pause to reflect on events of the month. It has been mentioned in more runners' tweets and blog posts this summer than most any other topic, but I will mention it again. This summer has been HOT and August was no exception. Over one 26 day stretch the daily highs never tarried under 96 F.

To say this had no effect on runners' training efforts is to beg insanity. But the real question, though, as the air temperature cools and humidity drops, is "Has it had a positive effect or a negative one?" Is it possible that the extreme conditions could have had done more good than bad? It all depends on how the runner has responded to the negative conditions. Proper hydration and nutrition and a healthy respect for the elements will go a long way towards insuring that training efforts are productive and not destructive.

On a particularly rewarding interval workout this morning, this writer was reminded of the physiological reality of the human body's reaction to stress. On the cellular level, the body must find a way to get the right amount of nutrients to muscle cells as they are put under extreme stress. The hotter the ambient air temp, the harder the cells must work to provide nutrients AND cool the body. So, it must not come as a surprise that cooler, drier air taxes the body less. The beauty of the bio-physics was experienced this morning and greatly welcomed.

As the layers of the training envelope are peeled back, it is expected that a more conditioned body will emerge. Though it has been hard to detect much improvement this summer, a glimpse of that anticipated conditioning is emerging. This body is gaining strength. This writer is beginning to see some flickers of light at the end of the steamy tunnel. Join in a welcoming hand of applause to fall weather. Join in praising God for the beauty of this world and the miraculous, indomitable human spirit.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Finally Committed

Don't let the title fool you. Though, it would probably be reasonable to assume I could be committed to an institution, that is not what this post is about. Just the past week, I finally decided for sure that I would be running the Marine Corps marathon in Washington D.C. in October. For the past three months I have been quite ambivalent about it because of the logistics of finding time to make the trip and physically getting to Washington. I guess the biggest obstacle was monetary but I have decided that this is a race I am meant to do and I will some way find the money to get there. In addition to being a participant I have decided to join the racing team representing the national Alzheimer's Association . I have committed to raising money for the research foundation that is concerned with finding a cure for Alzheimer's and giving support to those who have the disease and the families of those who have it. Since I have a family member that is diagnosed with it, I feel a strong draw to doing something to help the cause.

Thankfully I had planned ahead enough to at least register and be accepted to the race and begin training. As a matter of fact I am presently in week 12 of a 22 week plan and staying right on course. This summer has been a rough one making training especially challenging and I am thankful to be on schedule with my mileage. The weekly totals continue to increase, however, and I have got to get tough and stay true to the schedule. I think the tougher part, now, is going to be the fund-raising I have to do for the ALZ Stars (Alzheimer's running group). I have never been one to participate in a cause, but I feel this is one to which I can lend my efforts. I am now fully committed to running the MCM and honorably representing those who have been affected in some way by Alzheimer's.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Training for Anither One

Just a day past my daughter's 22nd birthday and we are well into the month of June. Living in the South means summer has already started despite the fact that officially it's not here until the 21st of this month at 7:30 AM EDT. But the fact that the sun hasn't hit it's zenith, yet, doesn't change the reality of heat and humidity; even at 7:00 am. Hitting the streets this morning for my long weekly run quickly reminded me how tough it is to run when the temperature already is north of 70 and the air is thick as molasses. This happens every year; this cruel reminder of how much a body can sweat and the toll this physiological phenomenon takes on a runner's stamina.

Since I managed to register for the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon being held in Washington D.C. on October 31st, my sights have been set on the beginning of training season. I have been able to maintain a base level of fitness, while not the best, hopefully will give me a springboard into the regimen that will follow. 16 weeks of training preceding the late October date will mean training starts the last week of this sultry first month of summer. Though I have not decided which training plan I will use, I imagine it will be very similar to what I used last year in preparation for the 2009 Rocket City marathon. It takes a lot of hard work to get ready for a marathon if one desires to run fast. The question bouncing around my head right now, however, is whether my body can hold up to the training with becoming injured.

I knocked out a 10 mile run this morning in less than 90 minutes and felt fairly well, but I sure wanted to stop and walk more than once. I thought about the multitude of runners starting their training plans for fall marathons and decided to tough it out and keep running. This is where the ole bod gets in top shape; pounding out the miles when the weary legs and labored breathing say, "pack it in, big guy, and walk a while." This is the time when running through the pain is what creates a tough resiliency to quitting. Uncomfortable as it may be in the steamy mornings of summer, the payoff will come when one breezes through 26.2 miles and sets a PR. Now, if I can only keep that focus for four months.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Commitment to Run

I was up Saturday morning early but didn't get out until 7:00. The weather looked beautiful out the window but when I got out in it I realized our old friend humidity was back. You got to love running in weather like this. It takes a whole new level of commitment to get in and stay in shape in an environment like this. The past week has been tough running and I have been struggling trying to put my finger on the reason. I have been running continuously now since late February and consider myself in reasonable shape but lately it feels as if my legs are made of lead. My conclusion has got to be the weather. I have read somewhere that an increase in air temperature and humidity has a profound effect on the body's response to physical exertion and I am here agreeing wholeheartedly. That really goes without saying but the magnitude of the effect is startling.

I am to begin my fall marathon training in about a month. This is where it really gets fun. I remember how the training went last summer and how effective it was in getting me in shape for the December Rocket City marathon so I am looking forward to that same level of response and achievement. There is nothing like working hard through a training program and experiencing the results. But, if only I didn't have to sweat so much! Oh, I will sweat alright and it is going to happen at all hours of the day. If my at work schedule repeats itself from last year I will be up running at some ungodly hours and sweating all the while. Anything to get myself in shape.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Struggling Through It

Like rain falling from the edge of a gutter-less roof, the drops of sweat fell from the bill of the runner's cap. The regularity and constancy of the drips suggested the cap was completely saturated and could absorb no more. The stride of the runner caused the arms to cross in front of his body and under the bill of the cap. Each drip of sweat falling on the arms conjured up thoughts of Chinese water torture, as the level of annoyance rose. As long as the run continued and the level of activity remained high, the generation of body heat and the perspiration and the saturation of the cap and the dripping of the sweat continued.

Summertime running is made of experiences like these. But when the summertime experiences come in late spring it really doesn't seem fair. Of course, to suggest that fairness has any relevance when dealing with the weather is to beg lunacy. There will most certainly be days like these in every runner's life; days when it feels as if the legs are filled with lead and breathing is labored and uncomfortable. Runners' commentaries are filled with references to the dog days when one "just doesn't feel right." Thankfully, days like these are few and the memory of the "good run" lingers more prominently in the mind. If this were not the case, running would not have the reputation it has.

Struggling through the bad run is the only way to deal with it. The tough days will come and they will present one with some temporary challenges but by struggling through it, the next one will be better and before it is realized, there will be so many good days that the bad ones will quickly fade into the distant past.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Will I Ever Learn?

Running journals are replete with references to proper nutrition. The science of nutrition has taken its place among popular topics of discussion for athletes desiring to achieve higher levels of conditioning. The human body reacts favorably to physical exercises if it is fed properly. So, it should not come as a surprise to anyone participating in a physical activity such as a ten mile run that doing so without the proper nourishment will yield unpleasant results. In addition to needing fuel for the process of creating energy, the body must be hydrated sufficiently. The body demands
a tremendous amount of caloric input in order to perform well under physical exertion.

Why is it, then, that a runner would go for a run on a beautiful spring weekend day without properly feeding his body? I consider myself of reasonable intelligence but that was not demonstrated on Saturday. The day started out differently than most of my long run days. I like to get my runs out of the way early in the morning before the heat of the day sets in and in some strange way the relative quiet of the morning solace helps me perform. A late night before kept me in the bed longer and by the time I got up, the morning window of opportunity had passed.

Busily starting my day, I failed to eat breakfast, which is never a good thing. For some reason, though, there have been times when I have rushed off to work without performing this important day starting activity. It is never good to get into a day without kick-starting the body's metabolism with a good breakfast. If one is going to skip a meal, don't let it be this one. OK, mistake number one. My next folly that morning was a failure to hydrate. This is not unusual for me. For some reason, I have always had a problem drinking enough water. This is a habit I certainly have not established and on this day, the effects were telling. Mistake number two.

I had to go into work to take care of a few things and before I knew it, the day was approaching its midpoint and I still had a ten mile run to complete. Not only was I getting stressed by the minute but my fuel gauge was nearing "E". Whenever I go to work, I tend to get absorbed in completing tasks and forget certain needs. With a period of bodily exertion looming on the horizon, I was setting myself up for a rough time by neglecting to eat and drink. When noon arrived, I had enough. Grabbing my gear I changed clothes, cranked up the Garmin and hit the uptown streets of Columbus. The plan was to run down to the river and along the riverwalk for five miles and then traverse that path to make my ten. I had thought this was a good plan, but ultimately it would prove to be ill-conceived considering I was now going on about 14 hours since I had eaten and having had not nearly enough water to drink.

The day was beautiful with skies so dark blue, they almost looked black, and I felt pretty good. The plan was to average an 8:30 pace and the first few miles rolled by obediently. The riverwalk was fairly crowded that day and I alarmed more than one pedestrian with my extremely heavy breathing. There is a reason a body needs proper nutrition before an activity like this. For me, this was a fast pace I was maintaining and that level of exertion comes at a price. By the time I made the midway turn my fuel tank was empty and hydration was at a low. My legs starting protesting the demands I was placing on them. Their requests for energy were refuted because of my failure to prepare for this run.

The run was completed in approximately the time I had planned; 10 miles in an hour and 24 minutes for an 8:24 average pace but what was telling was how I felt at the end. As I train for races later in the year, the goal is to get stronger for greater demands that marathons distances will place on me. The way I felt Saturday at the end of that run suggested I couldn't run 26.2 miles if my life depended on it. I console myself in the fact that I haven't really starting my training program, therefore I shouldn't be so hard on myself. But, I had committed a cardinal sin this day. No training activity should ever be attempted until the body is ready for it. I was not ready for this one. This is not the first time I have made a mistake like this. This is not the first time I have gone out and abused my body because I wouldn't take the time to get properly nourished. I certainly hope its the last. As I contemplate the races I have scheduled this year and as I ramp up the demands I will place on my body the need is only going to be greater.

Maybe there is a reason so much emphasis is placed on proper nutrition in the running ranks. It should not be such a revelation to me. If one is to reach a certain level of fitness, one must listen to what the body is trying to say. "Feed me, water me, give me nourishment for those demands you are placing on me." I need to learn a lesson from this. We all need to learn from my mistake. Good running preparation starts with what we put into the body. If we do it right, we will be able to get out of the body the performance we desire.