Thursday, September 27, 2012

Run with Strangers!

Monday is not usually one of my regular run days due to a varying schedule, but this Monday I found myself without any prior commitments and was faced with a truly difficult decision. Should I continue sitting on my butt and watch a little more TV or should I get up and take advantage of this rare opportunity with a run. Now I'm here to tell you I am a professional at sitting and soaking up some television waves.  Since I was not able to watch much of anything for 2-1/2 years, I find myself watching mindlessly just because I can these days. Ha!  That being said, I am also not one to pass up the chance to get outside when possible so I grabbed my running gear and headed out.

I had a meeting at 2:00pm that afternoon, so I thought a late afternoon run might be a good idea for a change.  Earlier that day I was cruising some of my usual websites and on one, a local running shop named Fleet Feet Sports Birmingham, saw a posting for one of their weekly runs called "Monday Runday". This is weekly event sponsored by Tin Roof, a local restaurant/bar, where runners of all levels gather and go out for a run of either 2, 4, or 6 miles.  I thought this might be a great opportunity to get a run in and meet some new people since I rarely get to run with anyone.

The run was to start at 6:00pm so after my meeting, I headed downtown to locate Tin Roof having not been there previously.  I was happy to find it was located in a part of town known as Lakeview which is littered with restaurants, bars, and parks.  It's an older part of town on the Southside with some really good atmosphere.  It's also relatively flat with sidewalks everywhere which makes it a really good running neighborhood. I parked the car, changed clothes and took off on a warm up jog down to the meeting point.

I was excited to see a wide variety of runners gathered for the run.  Everything from beginners doing a "Couch to 5K" to some of the local professionals where all outside Tin Roof ready to go.  After a quick introduction and welcome everyone in the group indicated what distance they planned to go and we took off.  I was hoping to get at least 6 miles in so I located a couple of guys who indicated that distance too and linked up with them.  The guys I met were Tom and Russell and we started out with a relatively relaxed pace of around 8:35 which is my normal training pace.  We talked a minute about what we wanted to run and decided this was a good pace for all.  Those that know me know I am not a speed demon by any means.  I am lucky to hold a decent pace in the mid 8's these days since I have not done any speed work in a long time so I was happy to settle in and just cruise for a bit.

Birmingham is not a flat city.  It's built in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains so no matter how flat the area is when you start, you know sooner or later the hills will get you.  This run was no different and at about mile 2 we started to climb some of the rolling hills in downtown.  Since I am a relatively small, light runner, I'm usually pretty good at going up and down hills.  I pushed a little on the climb but really let go on the down hill.  I didn't  feel like I had pushed the pace much but took a look over my shoulder and noticed the guys were about 25 yards behind me.  They caught up to me at the bottom of the hill and said look at your pace. I was shocked to see we were now running a 7:30 pace.  I could not believe it.  I was running faster than I had in a long time and I was not dying.  I could breath, my legs were not screaming, my heart was not pounding out of my chest.  What was going on and who had invaded my body? I had no clue but I was not about to question it so I just embraced the pace and held on for dear life.

The miles seemed to melt away.  We continued to keep the pace around 7:30 and to my surprise I was able to keep up.  The hills definitely helped but even on the flat sections I was holding my own.  Of course I know the weather had a great deal to do with my performance.  I am a cold weather runner and during the run, the temp was in the low 60's upper 50's and it was perfect.  The weather contributed to my ability to breath while pushing but I am still surprised my legs did not give out.  As we crossed mile 6 we decided to go on for another mile.  We continued on for another 1.25 miles to wrap up with a total of 7.25 and an average pace of 7:55.  It was a great feeling to finish after running hard and still not feeling totally spent.  I know we sped up and slowed down from time to time which explains the average pace.  But for me to hold a sub 8 average pace for 7 miles is an accomplishment in itself and one I thought was in the past.  I was thrilled and more importantly now knew I was capable of more than I thought.

After a post run beer I headed home.  On my way I thought about the run and all of the specifics.  I know we runners tend to over analyze ourselves and our runs and I am no different.  I went over every mile and came to a couple of conclusions:  One, the weather was a major player in this run;  Two, no matter what the weather had been, had it not been for the group, I would never have discovered what I could do.  Running with others is key to improving your running.  It pushes you, it allows you to gauge yourself, and it shows you what you can do.  I know it is not an option for everyone but I would recommend at least one group run per week or every other week.  Check out your local running club or running stores.  I guarantee there are plenty of opportunities to meet up with groups everyday almost anywhere you live.  Running is typically a "loner" sport but it can be a very social sport.  Get out and run with strangers because they won't be strangers long. I went to this run knowing no one and left with two new friends.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Is it Fall Yet?

Friday was my first off day since last Sunday.  I know most of you are thinking "Awe, poor thing, had to work a whole 4 days in a row" and yes I would normally agree with you. However,  12 hr shifts in the ER will take it out of you a little quicker than your typical desk job.  Changing careers later in life has taught this "old dog" a few things for sure.  Anyway, as I was saying, I was off yesterday and got up at my usual 6:00am.  Sat down with a cup of coffee, how I love a coffee machine with a timer, and turned on the news.  As fate would have it, the weather came on about the same time I sat down.  Living in the South you really don't expect the temps to improve until late October and I had not seen a full weather report for the past 4 days.  To my surprise, the current temp was listed as 60, even lower in a few areas, and my heart began to flutter.  Was it real, had Fall already arrived without my knowing?  Who cares, its cool, the humidity is low, get out of that chair and let's go!

I had planned to run sometime in the day, but originally thought it might be later since I did not get home until midnight from work.  Of course everything changed when I saw those temps and knew I had to take advantage of this gift before it was gone.  Running on tired legs is never much fun, but sometimes it takes pushing a bit to make advances and with my next race looming on October 6th, Marine Corp 1/2 Marathon in Jacksonville Florida, I need to make some advances.  So I swallowed the last few drops of coffee in my cup and got myself ready to head out the door.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I live in a neighborhood that is not really runner friendly.  Rolling hills, dogs, narrow roads, no sidewalks, etc. make it a difficult place to just step out and run so I usually go to one of the areas of town where I can hit the trails or run a road route with little traffic and sidewalks.  I jumped in the car and headed on my way, not really sure where I wanted to run.  I felt lead to the trails, which seems to happen more often than not, where I could enjoy the early morning sunshine and a little shade from the trees.  So I pointed my car in the direction of some of the closest trails and made my way to the starting point.  When I stepped out of the car, the cool air welcomed me and filled my lungs letting me know I had unquestionably made the right choice in time and location for my run.

I've been running long enough to know I should start out slow and increase my tempo as the miles build. Of course, when the weather is so perfect, I usually start out much to fast and then try to hang on.    This run was no different and I took off hard and checked my split at the end of the first mile and realized I was about 25 seconds faster than I should.  I thought about slowing down, but took a deep breath of that amazing coolness surrounding me and said what the heck and just kept pushing.  The miles just seemed to melt away.  When I crossed mile marker #2 I felt like I was just getting warmed up good.  By mile #3 my breathing had completely settled down and I was in a rhythm that hopefully could sustain me throughout the rest of the run.  With miles #4 and #5 came the revelation that all runners have about this time of year: This is why I run in those 90 plus degree days of Summer.  We all suffer in the oppressive heat and humidity just so we can reap the benefits during the Fall racing season.

With no set distance in mind when I started, I settled upon the number 7.  I had not run in about five days and my last run was about 5 miles so this would extend that just a bit.   Legs still feeling good and breathing easier than I could have hoped, I slid passed mile 6 and on into 7.  I hit the stop on my watch and checked my average pace and time.  I was surprised to see I had completed my 7 miles with an average pace of 8:37 per mile and total time of 58:59 and I could not have been happier.  Not only had I gotten my run in, I had improved on my pace and time from the last run.  All that was left was a little Powerade® Zero and about 15 minutes of stretching and I was ready for the day.  I know running is not for everyone and not everyone that runs enjoys the same type of weather.  That being said, I am and will always be a professed cool weather runner.  I hate running in the Summer heat and humidity.  Give me 45 degrees and cloudy any day over 95 and sunny.  So I say Hello Fall and thank you for coming.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Some days it just hurts

So today I decided to go for a run late in the afternoon.  Yes, it was still 85 degrees and the humidity was about 90%.  I know it was probably not the best decision, but I really just needed to get out and move for a bit.  This was the 2nd day in a row for me to run and with my schedule these days, it's a rare event.  Maybe it was because I was tired, maybe it was due to the heat and humidity, who knows what but todays run was vastly different than yesterday.

Yesterday, I decided to go for my usual trail run using the Adidas Vigor shoes I have discussed in previous posts.  I did run early in the day, around 7:30 am, and the weather was really nice.  Yes, it was warm because it is Alabama in August, but it was not unbearable.  I ran 7 miles with a decent average pace and felt really good at the end of the run.  Today, I spent the majority of the day studying for board exams and then around 6:30 pm decided I would go for a run.  I initially thought I would hit the trails, but instead decided to go run a road course just down from the hospital where I work.  A road run meant I would strap on the Brooks Ravenna that I bought probably 8 months ago and have only run in a couple of times.
Brooks Ravenna 3
I love the Ravenna, but for whatever reason, the shoes, the weather, etc. today's run was less that satisfying.  I ran 5 miles and it was honestly 5 of the hardest miles I have run in a long time.  My pace was terrible and I could not wait to get done.  I never felt like my breathing settled down and I felt like I was pushing the whole time even though my average pace shows the exact opposite.  All of that being said, I am still happy I was able to go out and run whether it was my best run or not. One thing I've learned, especially as an older athlete, is that no matter what, every run cannot be great, fantastic, your best run ever, or a PR.  There are going to be days, if you run long enough, where you start out feeling good, but for whatever reason, the run just does not go your way and you struggle through the entire time. 

Today was that day for me so I guess what I am trying to say is that it's ok to have a bad run, because even at it's worst, a bad run is better than no run.  It makes you appreciate those fantastic runs. However, being who I am, what I always seem to do when I have a bad run, is go back out the next day and see if its better.  May not be the best idea since the reason for the sub par run maybe that your body needs rest.  I think its probably just me trying to prove to myself that it was just a blip on the radar and all is right with the world! However,  good or bad we all have to remember that some days it just hurts to run.