Saturday, March 26, 2011

New stride effects

I've been working on/running with the new stride for a couple of months now, and while there are always things wrong that I want to fix, I'm generally happy with the injury prevention results.  Right now I'm running more than ever have by a good bit; over the last 30 days, I've run more than 150 miles.  This month has been my highest mileage month ever and I still have a few days to go.  Three of the last four weeks have been higher mileage weeks than anything I've done to now.  And it's not just distance - I'm doing plenty of speed work, running more days per week, and generally training more focused than any time during the last two years.

And no hint of injury.  Not even achy knees.

Part of that has to do with the fact that I've run a lot in the last two years of course, and the lighter weight (I'm hovering just south of 180 these days) is also helping.  But I haven't felt anywhere close to this good in the middle of training.

In other news, part of my run this morning was done with a group of friends.  I've never run with a bunch of people before (other than in races, which doesn't count) and it really made the rest of my run feel a lot shorter.  It also showed me that there's more than enough interested among my friends to at least attempt to start up a running club of sorts, which is something I've been thinking about lately.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My first half marathon

Despite the fact that I've run three marathons (and am now training for my fourth), I've never actually run a race at the half marathon distance.  My prior PR was actually my time at the halfway point of the WDW Marathon that I ran in January.

So I signed up for a small local half marathon that was held yesterday.  I had a number of factors going against me - wearing brand new shoes, warmer temperatures, first trail run, middle of training, etc.  Initially I was going to use this as a marathon simulation, but I started out a bit faster than I would during a normal marathon and decided to really race, holding back just a bit.

I had a great time - a half marathon is a great distance.  I probably ran this at about 90%, and finished with a 1:45:26, a respectable time that is also good news for my 3:40 goal for my next marathon.  A few thoughts:

- My average split was 8:03, but I ran the last mile in 7:30 after picking up the pace.  I had so much left that I did the last tenth at about 6:00.  And given how good I felt on today's run, I'm guessing that I have a 1:43:00 in me right now.

- It's surprising how many people start off too fast.  I was near the front this time.  At the end of the first mile, there were probably more than 100 people in front of me.  I finished in 48th place.  A lot of people faded at the end - another example of why it's so important to have your first mile be your slowest.

- The speedwork I've been doing is having an incredible effect on not just my overall speed but my general fitness.  To wit, this last week I ran a pretty wild tempo run on Monday, had my best ever interval workout on Wednesday, ran a great half marathon yesterday, and still felt pretty fresh and fast today.  (I cruised on Tuesday and took Thursday and Friday off).

- The new stride is also doing some amazing things.  I've never run this much in my life (34 miles in this "rest" week, 40 last week, 39 the week before) and so far only very, very minor aches.

- Small town races are awesome.  I love the big ones too, but showing up at a random city park in the early morning, watching the mist rise off the ground below the setting moon, flirting harmlessly with the older women asking me to take their picture - it makes these local races neat.

- At the end of the race, somebody asked me how it was.  I answered (truthfully) that it was short.  Felt like it was over before I even got started, which is to be expected, I guess, given what my normal race is.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A quick break from running

I want to take a quick break from running to talk about Japan.  I lived there for a cumulative several years (spanning at least four separate times) and the recent earthquake/tsunami/nuclear incident trifecta has me horrified.  I do speak and read Japanese (my undergrad degree is in it, actually), so I spend most mornings lately watching Japanese-language programming to get the latest news and stories.  I'm amazed at the resilience and willpower of the people.  It's not surprising, actually, given what I know about them collectively, but to watch it in action in such a terrible time inspires me quite a bit.  I pray for them and their recovery, or at least as much of a recovery as can be made after something so traumatic.  For those who wish to help, I'd suggest donations to the Red Cross as a likely place to start; they have had local offices in Japan for years and know the landscape.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rest week and half marathon time

This is my rest week coming up, so naturally I'm signed up for a local half marathon.  I've never raced this distance before (my PR on the left side came from my last full marathon).  Since it's a rest week, I think I'll take off an extra day and probably run the half marathon at no more than 90%.  Most likely I'll use it to simulate the first 13.1 miles of a real marathon.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fat Tuesday Indeed!

It's Fat Tuesday today.  On a whim, I had my body composition tested today.  Body composition tells you, with varying degrees of accuracy, how much body fat you have versus how much lean mass you have.  This is important for me because it tells me exactly how much weight I can lose safely.  For example, if I weigh 185 pounds and have 15 percent body fat, that means that my lean body mass - everything about me that isn't fat - is 157.25 pounds (185 x (1.00-.15).  Since I need some fat to survive - at least 4% for the human male - 164 is about as low as I should go with those numbers.  The real trick behind weight management is losing the fat while keeping the lean body mass the same.

And since body fat is nothing but dead weight when I am running, less is better as long as I am healthy.

There are several ways to measure body fat.  Skinfold calipers are the most common and are supposedly 98% accurate.  Devices that send small electric currents to measure density and stuff are less accurate but more convenient - I have one of these.  But the gold standard is hydrostatic testing, and that's what I had done today.

The process is simple and quick.  I walked into the doctor's office (a specialized sports medicine facility, likely not available in all cities) and changed into my swimsuit.  They weighed me dry and then I went into a pool and sat in a sling thing (while still in the water) that weighed me.  I blew out all of the air in my lungs, curled up into a little ball and completely submerged myself (and repeated twice).  They then compared my weight with the water displacement, ran some numbers, and gave me the results.



That did not make me happy on some levels (my electric current device had me as low as 14%) but on others it is good news.  It means that I can safely drop down to the mid 160s, which will make me that much faster.  I'm not overweight or obese at all - 19% isn't a bad number, per se - but for performance I want to drop some weight and this tells me I can.  It's going to take a couple of months though....

In other news....

I applied to be a wear tester with several of the major running shoe manufacturers last fall.  I finally got picked for a test.  I'm not allowed to reveal which company or which shoe, but Brand X is sending me Model Y shoe in the mail and I'm going to be wearing it for about the next month.  And then I send it back.  In the meantime, I submit my reviews on the shoe along the way.  I'm quite excited for this.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

America's Biggest Failing

The other day I uncharacteristically struck up a conversation with a random stranger at the deli counter in our local supermarket.  I'm generally antisocial, but this guy was a cheerful fellow.  Here in Houston we have more than our share of obese people and while obesity affects all classes, races, genders and ages.  However, the highest risk group here tends to be African-American middle-aged or older men who don't have any postsecondary education and who live in poorer neighborhoods.  The exact sort of demographic this gentlemen fell into, in other words.

But whatever one may say about his formal education, he was an intelligent and well spoken guy.  A couple of years ago his doctor told him (at 280 pounds) that he needed to lose some weight or face an early grave.  When we had our brief chat, he was at a healthy-looking 215.  He'd done little things to his diet - cut out fast food, otherwise not eat junk food, etc. - and was maintaining his weight by living the same principles.  What's more, his formerly obese son was now a track athlete with at least a shot at a college scholarship and his daughter was well on her way to dropping her weight as well.  A great feel-good story.

It got me a bit mad, though.  Why should a guy have to wait for a doctor's prompting at 45 to learn about how to run his own body?  Why, at 32, was I still completely unaware of how to properly determine what I eat?  Why are there scores of people in the country that don't understand how what they take in affects how they look and feel?

Nothing has made this more apparent than the questions of a coworker.  This guy is intelligent, has education equal to mine, and is concerned about his health.  Yet he doesn't know how diet works.  He stops by my office frequently to discuss, ask questions, and get a sense of what he should be eating to reach his goals.

People often think I can eat whatever I want - or even say that I am lucky to be so skinny (the latter didn't know me three years ago).  This is not true at all.  I'm very careful about what I eat and how much of it.  But it took me a lot of study before I figured it out.  Weight maintenance (which I like better than the term "weight loss") isn't all about knowledge, of course - willpower is needed as well - but it seems that very few people even have the knowledge, getting lost in a sea of advertising and buzzwords.  And that's just sad.