Sick and Tired

The training season is finally winding down. Started in mid-January, my goal races of the Sehgahunda trail marathon in May and Catamount 50k in June seemed so far away. As the runs grew longer and longer and my legs grew sorer and more tired, training starts to take over your life.

Last year was a perfect year for running. The weather was dry and warm, and events were welcome runs in the sunshine and greenery. This year is dramatically different, almost historically so. Although the winter wasn’t especially cold or snowy, late winter and spring have been cold and rainy. I count one Saturday run in warmth and sunshine and countless runs in cold and rain.

The worst of it may have been a practice run for the first segment of Sehgahunda in Letchworth State Park. It was about 35 degrees, and the rain of the last few weeks didn’t let up that day. Every step was calf-deep in icy-cold water. On the trail back, the conditions were nearly unrunnable. Each step meant slipping and sliding back or to the side. I had never felt more frustrated with running.

And during these miserable conditions, my legs felt worse. The calf injury that nearly derailed last year’s training showed up again, and though I treated it just enough to keep going, it probably will continue through these long races. As I’ve written about earlier, I’ve struggled with the mental aspects of running as well. Things are not new and fun anymore. They’re a struggle.

The one truly good run was the Muddy Sneaker 20k trail race a few weeks ago, when the sun shone on a mostly dry course, and my spirits were high. I felt like this was a turning point for the running season. From here on, the weather would improve, and I’d rediscover the fun of trail running. Instead, the weather got colder and wetter. And then I got sick.

The cold or flu that hit me last week left my head achy and fuzzy, my body weak, and my thoughts discouraged. I didn’t run for a week, the first full week of no running in as long as I can remember now. I missed the same race that injury kept me out of last year: Medved Madness. I missed my longest run before the marathon. I wondered if I could start running again at all.

The cold hasn’t gone completely, but yesterday I ran in the sunshine. It was chilly, a mid-May day that would have been more suitable for mid-March. But I ran a few easy path miles and four miles on the trails. The legs felt heavy after a week of lying on the couch in misery, and my calf flared up in pain. But I got running again.

And it could have been worse, I know. I could have dealt with this flu or cold going into the marathon instead of two-plus weeks before. Or I could have dealt with a really significant injury that would keep me from running altogether. In fact, a week of no running after nearly five months of training may end up meaning fresher legs.

These runs will not be fun for me until the weather improves consistently above 50 degrees and spring decides to show up for good. But there’s an end in sight now, as I taper the distances down and work on psyching myself up. A marathon followed a month later by a 50k in the hills of Vermont will not be easy, no matter how many training miles I put into it. At this point, I’m looking forward to finishing them and seeing a way to enjoy my summer instead of seeing each day as a running or resting day. But there’s an end in sight.

Seneca 7 2017 (Race Report)

They say the course around Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes of New York is precisely 77.7 miles. I think that’s awfully convenient, but it sure looks good on a sticker and makes for a good seven-person relay event!

I was a last-minute fill in for the captain of a team that has been running this relay all six previous years. Turns out, two other teammates had to drop as well due to family issues, so there were three newbies on the team this year. Our brilliant team name: Still Chafing After All These Years. Paul Simon was the cover model on our shirt. Pretty clever!

Geneva, NY, the starting point of the race, is about an hour from Rochester. And our wave began at 6 am, which means we had to leave about 4 am to get there in time and prepare for the start. It was going to be a long day from the very beginning. Still, I was the seventh of seven runners, which means I got to dress warm and doze in the van for a few while while other people ran in the cold pre-dawn hours.

And it was cold and damp. A few degrees over 40 and gray and dreary, we shivered every time we got out of the van. My leg was about 9:45, and it was 4.1 miles all up hill. I shivered in shorts and the team t-shirt, waiting for my relay predecessor to come in. And it took at least a mile to warm up enough to not be miserable.

Generally, this is a beautiful view from every leg. Seneca is a gorgeous lake, with mostly vineyards and farmlands between it and the road. But I just kept my head down and plowed ahead up the road. Some of my fellow runners were running fast due to the relatively short distances of each leg, and I wanted to prove my worth. 4.1 miles of uphill running ended in a fast sprint to the finish and…waiting for Runner 1 who was still in the bathroom. Oh well. Finished the first leg with a 7:20 average.

At one point during the second legs, we were at an exchange point in a park, making PB&J sandwiches at a picnic table. I was shivering so badly that it was hard to get the sandwich into my mouth. And yet an hour or so later, the clouds broke and the sun came out, and the weather rose into the 70s. Suddenly, it was a beautiful day, and the lake glistened. Spirits soared.

My second leg was only a 5k, and a lot of it was downhill. I averaged about 7:15 on that one and felt pretty good despite my allergies acting up and interfering with my breathing.

As everyone else ran their third leg and relaxed for the day, I had to keep waiting. There’s good and bad about being the last runner, I guess. The very last leg started along a busy highway, and there was no breeze away from the lake. By this point in the day, everyone had spread out enough that I passed just two or three people and had little to enjoy in the way of scenery until I turned into Seneca Lake State Park back in Geneva.

There was about a mile of pitted park road to go, and it was nearly right on the lake. Quiet and peaceful, with just one or two parkgoers in the area, I plodded away until finally the finish was in sight. You wind around the finish area and pick up your teammates – all looking clean and rested at this point – to run through the finish arch together. I averaged 7:30 the last leg, but by that point no one really cared. I blame the team run for the slowdown!

All in all, we couldn’t have asked for better weather. Rochester dealt with torrential rain and hail that morning, and we had no rain at all. The sun even came out and warmed us up. There was beer and chili at the end, and finally we headed home.

The original team put in expected paces and was expected to run an average of 9:05 minute miles. With three substitutes, we averaged 9:06. Safe to say there wasn’t a letdown! And even though I won’t be back on the team next year (barring another injury), I enjoyed my fill-in! It was a day of brief runs interspersed with a lot of riding in a smelly van, eating peanut butter-filled pretzels and potato chips, and laughing. We cheered on every runner and finished strong.

There’s a lot of comradery in a relay race like this. And unlike Ragnar, which challenges your ability to function on no sleep, Seneca 7 is over in a realistic timeframe and has pretty good bling to boot! I ran faster than expected (and my legs suffered for it the next day), but it was fun to feel challenged and have other people to run for. Here’s hoping I get to do this one again some year!

Muddy Sneaker 2017 (Race Report)

When you schedule a trail race in mid-April in Western New York, you have to be prepared for any sort of crazy weather. When you call it Muddy Sneaker, it seems like you’re begging for bad weather.

The 20k Muddy Sneaker is sort of the unofficial race season kick-off race. Taking place at Hi Tor Wildlife Management Area in Naples, this crazy race is all about hills. Naming it Muddy Sneaker is, I think, a sly way to overlook those hills. But look at that elevation profile. Look at it!

Last year was my first time running this 18-year race, and I went in to it with hurt legs and in the middle of marathon training. It was hot, and I suffered, finally lumbering over the finish line at about 2:20. This year, it was warm and sunny, with more mud but no bad patches. My legs felt better, but I’m again in the middle of marathon training, and it was my breathing and my mental status that had me most worried this year. I ran with some friendly folks and talked to people and enjoyed the weather and the views and felt far better. And I still lumbered over the finish line at about 2:20. So much for improvement.

You start and end this race up hill. Goose Adventure Racing drives a car ahead of the 200 or so (the race is capped at 200, only about 175 finished this year) racers up the hill at the start, and you power over the top and into single track trails. A trail runner I strongly respect was ahead of me for a while, and I subsequently passed and was passed by two or three of the same friendly people for the first few miles of trails. It was pleasurable, a little sloppy, but good trail running.

Then you hit the logging roads. These unpaved roads are the true challenge of Muddy Sneaker. First you go up and up and up, and I would run the gentle inclines and walk the steeper ones. Then you go down and down and down, too long to truly bomb through with abandon. I felt like I went quick down the hills, but I’d get passed on each one.

The hill at the end (again, look at that elevation profile!) is nicknamed The Demoralizer. Last year, I read race reports and knew it was coming. You come down into the valley and cross a fast-running (but shallow) stream, and then you head up and up through the woods. This section is brutal, a painful slog of roots and long reaches but beautiful gorge views. At last you turn out of the woods, leaving this lengthy demoralizing stretch behind, and… come out on the never-ending logging road.

The lines of people ahead of you look like a death march. Most are walking, a few trudging ahead at just over a walk. Unlike the inclines before, there are no gentle slopes to guilt you into walking. It’s steep and about a mile long, and my legs were dead.

Last year, I ran this stretch with another runner who would motivate me to pick up the pace here and there. This year, I felt no such motivation, and I was happy just to keep up a steady walking pace. The trail runner who was ahead of me early ran past me, and I was surprised to realize I passed him at some point. He finished a minute ahead of me. Another runner was complaining loudly behind me, but she found some energy to run ahead and finished 10 or 12 seconds ahead. I kept plodding, willing my heavy legs and pounding heart to keep going.

I was prepared for this hill this year, and I cursed it far less. But I wasn’t happy on this stretch. I think knowing it was coming only made me appreciate the rest of the 11+ miles before it all the more. Last year, my legs hurt badly, and I cast my eyes at the sides of the path for a helpful walking stick. This year, I mostly kept my head down and kept moving. You round a curve, and the finish is ahead, up a long grassy hill. It’s not close, but inevitably the sight of a finish line brings with it a burst of energy.

I had just been passed by another guy who looked like he used the last of his reserves and was ready to quit. I started to run again, and he looked back. I imagined he was wondering if he could run on again to stay ahead; he couldn’t. I passed him and kept going, running through the finish and greeting the race director with the traditional high five he gives to every single runner at this race every year.

I felt so much better this year than last year. My legs were sore, but an expected kind of sore. The only real problem was with my feet. I may have worn the wrong socks, as they bunched up under my foot and around my ankles when they got wet. Or it may be the new trail shoes. But when I slumped to my car (again – up hill) to change and get the camp chair and beer, I peeled off my socks and had terrible blisters on my heels. Running this week will be excruciating, I’m sure.

After the race, folks sit around in the barely mowed grass and talk and drink. I knew at least half of the runners by name or at least by face, and everyone hung out for a while to relax and enjoy the dwindling sunshine. The rain, which all week had been predicted to start just after race start time, held off until well after the finish, giving us time to drink and socialize before heading home.

Muddy Sneaker is, without a doubt, a hard 20k race. Even with good conditions, the hills take everything you have. Two days later, my legs still burn (and my heels are raw). But while last year was an exercise in suffering, this year was enjoyable. I appreciated the people I sporadically ran with, the gorgeous sun, the tremendous views, and – secretly – the pleasure I took in knowing that first timers had yet to face the Demoralizer. That, I think, is half the fun of Muddy Sneaker.

Good start to the race season! I think, even as my legs and feet recover, my mental situation is much better condition!

Marathon Training is Hard

I recognize that the headline to this story should be ridiculously obvious. If marathon training was easy, everyone would run a marathon. Instead, one Runners World estimate had one half of one percent of the population running a marathon. It’s not supposed to be easy.

My running partners and I follow a training plan one person compiled based on Hal Higdon’s plans, with a four-day-a-week running schedule over 16 weeks (building into a 50k four weeks later). Last week was a 35-mile week (although I actually did a few more than set out by the plan). And it’s still going up.

About this time last year, I realized how hard marathon training is and began to comment about it. I was always tired and always hurting. One or two rest days are not enough to recover from an 18- to 20-mile run on Saturday morning. Granted, I was dealing with a calf strain injury last year that was impacting my runs at this point and making them even more difficult.

This year, the runs are faster. We’re in better shape. But that doesn’t make the experience any easier. It was new and exciting last year, building to a bucket list experience. This year, I’ve been there and done that, so it’s less exciting. And though the snow and ice haven’t been bad this year, virtually every longer run day has been raining and cold, with temperatures barely above freezing.

I’m tired of having soaking wet and freezing feet for every run. I’m tired of wearing multiple layers of clothes that get even heavier when they’re bogged down with rain and mud. I’m tired of shivering when I stop running and not being warm until I’m home in the hot shower.

My mental game doesn’t seem to be as strong as last year, even if my physical game may be stronger. It just feels harder this year. This week, an 18-mile scheduled run turned into a 20-mile slog through mud and water, with the last five on an unending path back to the car and shivering badly all the way home. I’m tired mentally as well as physically.

My legs hurt. They’re supposed to at this point, I know. They’re tired, and I’m straining them with more miles each week to help build those muscles and get used to pushing past the comfort zone. But it’s hard to remember an easy mid-week run in which I didn’t hurt for at least the first few miles.

The goal of marathon training is to build your strength and endurance – mentally and physically – for the big race. The marathon itself is hard, but it shouldn’t be much harder than the training. Generally, I think the training – especially due to the weather and conditions we have in this part of the world – is harder than the final event. After all, if you can’t endure the long runs, you won’t be able to push through the main event.

It’s supposed to be hard. I have to suck it up and build that strength – again, both mental and physical strength. But that doesn’t mean I can’t complain a little on a Monday morning. The forecast for this Saturday is again cold and rainy. Sigh.

Running Rut

Man Sitting In ValleyI’m in a running rut, and I’m not sure how to break out.

Some of these issues, I wrote about earlier. But they’ve been at the forefront of my mind lately, and they’re impacting my runs. These issues are frustrating me, and since a good percentage of difficult runs is mental rather than physical, this means my runs are suffering.

Self-doubt is a big one. Last year, I felt like I was in the best shape that I could be. I was running regularly and enjoying it. I was finding new challenges in marathons and a 50k, and I was signing up for new races. This year, there aren’t many new races. And in running the old ones again, I see my times are worse and the struggle greater. Shouldn’t I be in better shape at this point?

Seven weeks into marathon training, it isn’t supposed to be easy. The mileage is increasing every week, and the body is tired. So is the mind, I suppose. But knowing this does not alleviate my frustration. I’m sure last year at this point, I was equally tired and frustrated.

I think running in the winter is a major cause of my mental difficulty. I hate running in the cold. It’s uncomfortable, the conditions are treacherous, and the recovery is harder. Although getting out and running in the winter is a good remedy for gray old New York’s yearly bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s not fun and often nearly unbearable. I’m wearing multiple layers, so I’m already loaded down and uncomfortable. Sweating and warming up just means you never feel properly acclimated. And when you stop, you get out of there and warmed up as quickly as possible.

This past weekend, we ran 10 miles in 15-degree weather (with a -2 feel-like) and then warmed up inside before a traditional 5-mile St. Patrick’s Day race. I felt like I couldn’t get my breath, and I had to walk pieces of the last two miles of the race, which always gets me down. (Later, I always question if I HAD to walk or if I psyched myself out of running.) I come up with excuses: I’m still fighting this residual cold, and I’m worn down from a crazy week of work and dealing with weather issues. But excuses are unimportant, and I’m only making them to seem like I’m not weak.

Now, in mid-March, I’m looking forward to spring, but it never seemed further away. Over a foot of snow is expected this week, and temperatures aren’t predicted above 35 for the next two weeks at least. I can’t stop running to get over the cold or wait out the temperatures. I have to keep going.

Have you been in a running rut, and how do you break out of it? I’m hoping one 50-degree long run through a spring Saturday morning will do the trick. I hope it comes soon.

Hating the Treadmil

treadmill

I’ve only been running for a few short years. And when I started, it was entirely at the gym on a treadmill while watching television.

I distinctly remember a conversation with my sister in which I defended the treadmill. The time passed so quickly, I argued, while watching television and various other Spandex-clad gym-goers, while a long, slow slog on hard sidewalks in bad weather sounded miserable.

But as my running life changed, I began to run outside and for longer distances. I also learned to love the trail runs, which were never boring even on the worst trails. Slowly, the treadmill became a last resort, a bad weather alternative to the outside runs.

Unfortunately, for Western New York, there’s a lot of bad weather. Crazy storms are one thing, but the four or five months of winter can be brutal, and sometimes 45 minutes on the treadmill is the only sane option to two miserable hours of slogging through snow and ice on roads where every misstep could send you down painfully on ice or into the grille of a passing car that, itself, is barely maintaining traction.

So during the winter months, I was ok sticking to the treadmill. This meant that I was paying a monthly gym membership for three or four months of two to three times a week in which I mostly just ran. A typical winter morning would go like this:

  1. Wake up at 4:30.
  2. Throw on shorts and a t-shirt under thick, warm clothes.
  3. Shovel the driveway and brush off the car.
  4. Carefully and slowly drive on pre-plowed roads to the gym. This two-minute drive would sometimes take 15 minutes.
  5. Transition from freezing cold to brutally hot gym, where I would pull off the warm clothes, store them in a locker, and run for 45 minutes or so while watching ESPN.
  6. Load warm clothes over sweaty shorts and t-shirt and transition back into the freeze.
  7. Dig the car out from the still-falling snow and brave the tedious drive home.
  8. Shower
  9. Eat breakfast.
  10. Shovel the car out again so I can drive to work, now in the midst of rush hour despite waking up at 4:30.

The entire 45-minute exercise routine would take well over an hour and a half. And have I mentioned how much I hate the winter and the cold?

So before last winter – an admittedly mild one that saw little of the relentless snowfalls of the preceding two years – I splurged on a treadmill and set it up with a television in my office. It’s near the ironing board, and it’s an awfully convenient place to pile up clothes awaiting washing or ironing.

Now, in the winter, I can just get up, get dressed, and run. I can do it while catching up on Netflix programs, with a fan blowing at me and no one watching or caring. It’s incredibly convenient, nearly luxurious. I still hate it.

Everyone knows there are positives and negatives of treadmill running. On the pro side, it’s convenient, simple, and easy on the body. You can watch whatever television shows you want, wear whatever ratty clothes you want, get access to water or bathrooms, and you don’t have to brave the cold outdoors. In fact, logic would make the observer wonder why anyone would dislike the treadmill.

First of all, running is hard enough to fit in as it is. If I don’t run on the treadmill in the morning, I’m far more likely to work late or call it off due to stress of other responsibilities. So I get up early and run, which is itself difficult even for a morning person. Your body is not awake, and forcing it into activity is painful. Just an hour or so and a good cup of coffee makes running so much easier, but my schedule doesn’t permit such luxuries, and I refuse to wake up at 3:30.

Then there’s the nature of convenience. As easy as it is to start and stop the treadmill and run as long as you choose, that is also its biggest drawback. Because when you go out and run, you’re away from your home or car. Say you’re three miles from home and feel tired or uncomfortable; the only option is to get back home, and it’s far faster and more productive to do it running than walking.

On a treadmill, it’s too easy to stop. Your brain will always tell you to stop. The device features a Stop button. It taunts you, calling to you. You justify it, telling yourself you’ll do the extra mile tomorrow. Or maybe you just slow down for a bit, but at that point you have already lost. The treadmill always wins, as it drifts to a stop.

Finally, there’s the illogical fact that running is harder on a treadmill. Sure, it’s soft and springy and low impact. But, then, why do I run so much slower on a flat treadmill than a rolling sidewalk? I can do 7:30/minute miles on a short road run but barely keep up under 9:00/minute miles on the treadmill. Don’t get me started on inclines and intervals when the device takes so long to ramp up speeds and slow down again.

I hate the treadmill, and odds are pretty good that anyone who reads this does too. So far, the positives narrowly outweigh the negatives, and so I get on the device a few times a week when I can force myself to move so early in the morning before my brain wakes up. But I long for warmer weather and putting the device back to its preferable role as a clothes rack. I hate the cold and running on the ice and slush, but as soon as that weather passes, I’m outside again. The sidewalk seldom wins, and the trails never do. The treadmill is unbeaten.

Running Realizations

2g

Since my 50k in early November, I have been in a running slump. It was easily justifiable:

  • I hit one of my ultimate running goals, so I deserve a break.
  • The holidays (my birthday, Christmas, and New Years within a week of each other) mean little opportunity to run, and why not enjoy the delicious food and excuses to indulge?
  • The weather is getting colder and harder to run in.

I never stopped running, but I ran less often and for less distance during the week. The holidays left me feeling bloated and tired. I suffered through only 10 of the 15 miles at the TrailsRoc WTF trail race. And then I had the Winter Warrior half marathon to look forward to in early January.

And it sucked. As I wrote about previously, I was suffering. It was cold and windy, and I felt out of shape. It was embarrassing, and that – in and of itself – is telling. But it served to make me think hard about running. And I have come to some realizations.

I am not in very good running shape right now.

2a

That’s to be expected, right? Unless you are a serious runner, you tend to trail off at times to the year and certainly after big goal races. December was a nothing month for running and racing, so what harm in dropping off?

Unfortunately, my mind doesn’t work this way. One of the reasons I’m writing this blog that no one is reading is because of my obsessive nature. I don’t have many serious hobbies or passions, but when I get one, I tend to obsess over it. It becomes extremely important to me, and the more I devote my life to it, the more prominent a role it plays in my life.

That is not particularly healthy, I understand, but I am willing to accept an unhealthy relationship with a healthy activity. But dammit, because it is so important to me, I want to be better at it! I’m not saying I have unrealistic expectations, but I feel my deficiencies more significantly than they should.

Running is a mental game, and I’m off my game.

2bEveryone admits running is nearly equal parts mental and physical. You can train your body to run faster and further, but you will always come up against that mental wall. It becomes boring or painful or hard or just tedious. And you have to push through those mental barriers to find success.

Blah blah blah. You can read a million running books and blogs about the mental struggles. I’ve always thought myself a mentally strong person. But as to the first issue above, when I don’t attain the level of success that I expect of myself, I tend to be my own harshest critic.

So while I’m not in as good of physical shape as I was, I’m also not in as good of mental shape. I’m finding it easier to see excuses for stopping or cutting short. I’m hurting, and so I slow down or walk more during races. I beat myself up, and that makes it harder to succeed the next time.

Running is not so new and exciting anymore.

2cThis is part of the mental problem mentioned above. The last two years, I was a wide-eyed babe when it comes to running.

“A trail run? Sure, why not?”

“Run in the pouring rain? What a crazy adventure!”

“Run through snow and ice and wind? Wow, this is nuts!”

“Run up a mountain? I can try!”

“Run a half-marathon/full marathon/50k? I can do it!”

Every race brought its own unique challenges and, thus, its own mental successes. The Ossian Trail Race, which takes you up and down a ski mountain, taught me I can run crazy hills and succeed in wild conditions. The Muddy Sneaker race taught me that pain and long hills will not beat me. The heat of Sehgahunda, the exhaustion of a 5-mile St. Patrick’s Day race after running 10 miles earlier, the post-holing through Webster Park on a sunny winter’s day – all of these things taught me something about running and about myself.

And I’ve done them. I have one or two new races on my goal list for this year, and I know that each run and race will be different from the last. But I no longer find these things new and exciting and instructional in the way I did. Long runs through the same old parks become tiring.

This is a mental game as well. How do you keep yourself in the game when the activity is not new and unique? There must be new ways to do this. Learning that will be my lesson for this year, I guess.

Running on a treadmill sucks.

Every runner knows that. I’ll write more about this later, but the less I do it, the harder it gets.

I hurt.

2d

I suppose if you learn to run in school and carry a love for the activity through your life, your body will be adjusted to the pounding and unique requirements. You also would learn – either from a professional or through experience – how to properly stretch before or after races and what and when to eat and how to recover.

You also would have dealt with injuries. Every runner gets hurt (as does anyone else who partakes regularly in a physical activity). Each one seems significant, even if it’s mild and manageable, and you get through it.

I’m still learning this the hard way, though. My calf strain last year caused a number of other injuries because I didn’t rest it enough and over compensated for the discomfort. This year, I have tendonitis in one knee and the other leg’s Achilles. These haven’t kept me from running yet, but they make some runs extraordinarily uncomfortable.

I know I’m lucky. None of these injuries has been serious. In the lead-up to the Rochester Marathon last year, my friend was going to run it with me, and he dealt with a number of knee issues. It became so severe, he hobbled through the half instead and has barely run since. Many injuries require surgery and months of therapy, and then you have to build your running base all over again.

But tell yourself you’re lucky all you want, and you’ll never buy it. You can only experience what is set before you. Mild injuries are difficult and sometimes debilitating. I wince every time I walk up or down stairs right now, but I am pushing through it. Because I want to keep this injury in perspective and prepare for the next one.

Another realization is how much I have to believe the articles about strength training and stretching being required for serious running. And then I have to start following that advice. It’s just so hard to find the time!

I do not have the right equipment for this exercise.

2eThe Winter Warrior taught me this particularly. But last winter was fairly mild and light on snow, and it was the first winter I ran through. This winter has already been colder and icier, and it’s barely a quarter over.

So far in my running endeavors, I have kept the activity as affordable as possible. I shop for off-brand clothing and make do with gifts. Shoes are my biggest expense, and even those are probably used longer than they should be.

The reality is that running, like any other activity, is expensive when you get serious about it. You can run in cotton shorts and shirt and socks and off-brand shoes. But to run regularly and long and stay comfortable and be successful, you really should have the right equipment. That means paying $70 for spikes and $100 for a jacket and $60 for a single shirt and $40 for three pairs of socks.

None of those things will make me a better runner, necessarily. But they’ll make me feel better and stay warmer and be able to run further with less discomfort. I’m investing in running this year. Perhaps the reality of the money I put into this will be what keeps me going in the harshest winter evenings.

A half marathon is a misnomer.

2fReally, 13.1 miles shouldn’t be a half of anything. In a society where most people are thrilled to be able to run (or run/walk) a 5k (3.1 miles), 13.1 miles is huge. Most people will never run a half marathon. Many people use this as their big goal race.

Companies make their money on half marathons. They cost more but are far easier to put on than full marathons. They take hours of commitment and usually bring the best swag. They are serious endeavors not to be taken lightly.

So then why, when a race includes full or half options, is there always the need to say “I’m just doing the half”?

If the marathon distance was established – anecdotally – based on the distance run by Philippides between Marathon and Athens, how about establishing half of that distance and making 13.1 miles an event all of its own? Better people than I should attempt rebranding this, but a simple Google Maps search of Greece shows a number of towns or named areas half way between these cities. I see Kifisio or Zirinio or Panorama.

I like the last one. Rebrand the half marathon. It’s outdated and limiting. Instead, challenge yourself to a full Panorama!

Winter Warrior Wrap-Up

ww3ww1The idea of a long winter race – in this case a half marathon you can run solo or as a relay – is a good one. People need motivation to get out and run in the harsh Western New York winters. This type of race motivates people to train while allows for a controlled environment that can be kept as snow- and ice-free as possible.

Fleet Feet/Yellowjacket Racing add extra motivation through the Four Seasons Challenge, in which you sign up for a half marathon in each of the four seasons, starting with this one and ending with the Rochester Marathon (which can also be run as a full) in the fall. You pay less for each race if you sign up for all four at once, and you get an extra medal piece that combines to one cool piece of bling.

I completed the Four Seasons last year, but I will admit it was a good year for running. The two harshest weather races – this one in January and the Shoreline Half in July – both featured mild weather. In fact, last year’s Winter Warrior is still my personal record (PR) for the half at around 1:45.

If anything, my biggest complaint last year was that the race was boring. You start at 4 pm and run four 3-ish mile laps around an office park, weaving in and out of driving lanes and hitting the street for a short distance. It obviously has to be controlled to keep traffic out and maintain conditions should snow and ice be forecasted. The lap structure also allows for just one water stop and an easy relay transition. There’s one very slight hill you hit four times, and although the wind can be biting, it is only in your face for about a mile and a half (four times).

But this year was hard, and I didn’t do nearly as well. I had three immediate and obvious problems going for me:

1. It was so cold.

The sun was out before the race started, and that kept the temperature up to about 22 degrees F. But once the sun went down (dusk after the first lap and dark for the other two), the temperature dropped as well. It was cold, hitting about 12 degrees with a gentle but biting breeze.

As explained in my previous post, I am a wimp in the cold. I was dressed reasonably well – two layers of gloves and socks kept fingers and toes warm, and multiple layers kept my legs and torso comfortable enough. The problem was the wind, which made the damp base layer freeze as the temperature drop and conform to my skin uncomfortably, and the exposed skin of my face. I would pull a buff over my mouth and nose for a few moments to warm up, then lower it, only to have it freeze from the moisture of my breath.

I ran in colder temperatures last year, but last year’s winter was mild one, and only 5- to 7-mile runs were so extreme. I get the feeling this year is going to be a much colder and harsher one. I have already ordered a jacket to wear over layers to help keep warmth in and wind out.

2. I was hurting.

The Thursday before this race, I was running with my local group of brewery runners, and I slipped on a patch of ice. My knee hit the sidewalk hard, and I had to limp after the rest of my fellow runners for a bit. It swelled up and turned black and blue, but it really wasn’t hurting much at all other than to touch.

Then I started running. No problems at all for the first two or three miles, and then it just throbbed the rest of the time. I could ignore it for a while, and then I had to stop and just rub it and let it rest for a minute or two. This obviously killed my time.

Not much I could do about the knee, I guess. Injuries happen, and this one isn’t particularly severe. It was, however, frustrating to stop (and get questions about whether I was alright), and it hurt quite a bit to start again. It was also far too cold to stop for more than a minute or two.

3. Late-day races are tricky.

I know how early to get up for a typical race or run so that I can drink coffee, eat breakfast, wake up satisfactorily, and take care of that most-important pre-run activity: the bathroom break(s). With late-day races, it’s hard to know what to eat and when. One of my friends who ran it said he didn’t eat enough. Apparently I ate too much.

The entire first loop, I had that unfortunate and uncomfortable sensation of running shaking the digestion track. If you run, you probably know the feeling. It’s not easy to run and clench at the same time.

The port-o-johns were at the start, and I made a bee-line for them at the end of the first lap. It was another delay, going along with my sore knee, and it put me behind my friends. I was never able to catch up.

Those are the easy and true excuses for a painful run. The realistic and harder-to-admit reason is that I let those three things get to me mentally. I was struggling mentally because I was struggling physically, and that’s human nature. But it meant that the last lap, over 10 miles in when you’re cold and tired and bored out of your skull from running lap around an office building, I had a hard time motivating myself to keep running. The cold helped keep me from walking for more than a bitter minute or two, but I knew I was checking out.

And that’s what bothers me most about this run. I finished it (about 2:10, which wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared), and there’s something to be said for getting through adversity to just finish the damn thing. But that’s the glass-half-full, optimistic view, and I am not that person. I am the glass-entirely-frozen, pessimistic worrier, and I took a hard slog of a race in which I had to stop and walk here and there as a personal failure.

But that is running, I guess. You take the good runs and feel buoyed by them, and you take the bad runs and learn from them. I couldn’t change the weather, although I could acquire better cold-running gear. I couldn’t change the knee pain. I could have eaten better, I suppose, though I’m not sure how or when. All that being said, the one thing I would probably do different is wear headphones and listen to music.

Because four laps around an office park’s parking lot in the cold and dark for over 13 miles is really, really boring. And even the thoughts of macaroni and cheese and a friend’s house for beer sharing after couldn’t motivate me enough to power through this year’s Winter Warrior.

I’m a Wimp in the Cold

syr1 I hate the cold.

Call me a wimp if you will. I sometimes feel like one when I see people running in shorts and t-shirts, perhaps with gloves or a buff around their ears, and I’m covered in layers and still complaining.

My friend says he runs hot, so maybe I run cold. It’s hard to say. I certainly warm up too, after a while. It’s that while, though, when the cold is so difficult to bear.

The experts say to dress for at least 10 degrees warmer than the temperature says when going out for a run. This is fine when you’re two miles in and feeling is finally returning to your fingers and toes. People who dress according to the experts believe it is better to be comfortable when their body warms up for the remaining miles than for those first one or two. I can’t help but disagree.

At the Syracuse half marathon last year, we stood around in the cold and worsening snow, shivering and eying the water-filled roads ahead of us. Muscles got tighter as blood receded to the core. And then we were off for a few miserable miles before the blood warmed up and the muscles loosened.

syr2(Granted, that race never got bearable. It snowed, sleeted, or freezing rained the entire time, and entire blocks were filled with two-inch puddles that were unavoidable. Feet were never dry, and icicles hung from exposed skin. My sister points out the one picture of me in which I was smiling. That’s because the poor cameraman sat for hours, taking shot after shot of crazy runners, while at least six inches of snow and slush accumulated on his head. It was amusing and ludicrous. The indoors area after the race looked like a war zone filled with shell-shocked survivors. Even the cool tech shirt was not worth it.)

Most runners I know hate being overly warm. Some refused to run in July and August at all due to the heat. I sweat too, and wet hair under a cap and wet hands in gloves are not particularly comfortable. But they are much more bearable to me than discomfort of the cold and wind buffeting exposed or improperly covered skin.

Besides, I learned the hard way that if you remove the cap or gloves when your head and hands warm up, it’s nearly impossible to put the sodden items back on. I did try to put gloves on again in one long training run last year, and my hands felt far colder than before. Now I leave the gloves on. Let my hands be warm and damp; that’s more comfortable than frozen.

After running in cold weather, I want nothing more than to get the damp clothes off and take a hot shower. After, my fingertips get numb. This is apparently common, although it worried me the first few times. Again, the more heat I preserve while outside in New York winters, the more confident I can be that I will recover when my core temperature rises again.

So you run hot and deal with the wind and cold and ice sticking to exposed skin. It’s hard enough to get me outside when the temperature dips to 20 or below as it is. I’d rather be comfortable as possible those first two miles and warm for the rest of it. The warmth won’t hurt me, but the cold sure does.

Then again, one of my resolutions is not to complain about the cold or other conditions when I run. So maybe I’m just trying to get it out of my system in advance. I’m pretty sure complaining keeps you warm. And there’s only three or four more months of upstate New York winters…

Resolution Run ‘Round the Bay

https://www.strava.com/activities/817835628/embed/e40a6c749aaebe0c7a708f2115d4b5c7b186618f

Running early in the morning on New Year’s Day seems like a great idea. Start the year off right, right? And it gives you incentive to take it easy the night before… well, in theory.

In reality, New Year’s Eve is for drinking and celebrating, and running the next morning is bound to be painful. After many beers – including a five-year vertical of 13+% bourbon county stouts with friends – and plenty of food, running even at 10 am seemed understandably crazy.

Last year, Rich, James and I pushed through and ran around Irondequoit Bay New Year’s morning. We took the easier way, shortening a normally 15-mile run to 13ish. It was our resolution run, and we planned to do it again this year.

No matter how bad I felt this morning, I was going to run. Rich and James…not so much. So I headed out on my own, knowing full well that the last few weeks of over indulging and barely running meant I would be walking pieces of the trek. And the ice made entire sections of sidewalk unrunable.

But I pushed through. The sun was shining, and the temperature edged over freezing. My legs were tired and my stomach felt heavy, but I was loving every minute of it. I recognized the entire way how lucky I am to be able to run (or run and sometimes walk) more than 13 miles in January.

Bay Road is always a tough run. There’s barely any shoulder, and cars drive far too fast. Running between the bay and the lake is at least 10 degrees colder and always windy. And the last two miles from Seabreeze to my house were completely unrunable due to ice. But I felt good, and at least I kept my resolution!

And so far, I’m averaging a half marathon every day in January! Not too shabby!