(Two) Weekly Update(s) 3-22 and 3-30: Double the recap, double the fun!

(I got a bit overwhelmed, and neglected to post an update last week; so I will sum up two weeks and get back on track – sorry for slipping!)

These last two weeks have been a series of learning experiences, and I must say that I am grateful beyond description to discover that, not only CAN I be taught new things, but that it’s not terribly painful to learn new things! I received some excellent advice from my Facebook friend Shaun Johnson, via an offer he extended to review the running form of a few members who sent him video of themselves during a run; he gave me some invaluable advice on how to make the subtle improvements that make all the difference, and for my part I have tried hard to implement them…I must be doing something right because the results speak for themselves – let’s take a look at what’s happened recently and see what it has to say:

Sunday 3-16:  Easy run – 6.05 mi, 1:03:18 (10:28/mi)    I altered my normal route to run on sidewalks instead of the side of the road… Just had enough of the mud for one week :) I felt great, no pain…just what I wanted…even if I had a 20 mph head wind the whole way home to increase the workload!

As I am not training for a specific race, but trying to improve my overall level of conditioning, I have made a modification to the Hansons’ plan I have been following: I will do each week’s plan in sets of two; first week I will do 65-75% of the prescribed plan, second week I will do the plan as intended. I feel this will allow me to transition to the higher intensity while avoiding injuries and over training. I will also make allowances for the various races on my schedule, without compromising the overall spirit of the training.

Monday 3-17:  Easy run – 4.07 mi, 40:12 (9:53/mi)  First week of 6 days running, and I felt the difference! I took it easy, but by the end I knew that I had added something to the week.

Tuesday 3-18: Speed work: 1.5  mi warm up; 8×400@ goal pace (currently 8:30/mi), 400 recovery; 1. 5 mil cool down - 7.01  miles, 1:13:33   My first track workout of this cycle…I felt the burn, but I know that this will pay off later, both in faster short races and better overall paces in longer events.

Wednesday 3-19:  Rest/cross-training   A return to feeling better has become an invitation to further abuse – such is an athlete’s calling! I did a repeat of what has become the baseline cross training routine: 5 sets of 10 burpees/10 dips/10 squats/10 pushups/10 lunges, no rest between movements, 2 min recovery between sets…if nothing else, it sure builds up my aerobic capacity – at least, I hope getting myself that much out of breath will have a benefit!

Thursday 3-20:  Tempo run: 1 mi easy warm up; 3 mi @ goal pace (9:30/mi target); 1 mi easy cool down – 5 miles, 49:44 overall, 9:20/mi tempo  I could really feel the burn in my quads by the third mile; I have not been pushing myself hard enough, is what that tells me! I gutted it out, but with an 8K race coming up on Saturday, I’m glad I decided to ease up for this first week of higher intensity!

Friday 3-21:  Easy run- 3.1  miles, 34:16 (10:57/mi)   Just a smooth, easy shakeout run to loosen up after that tempo run the day before, and prep myself for the 8K in the morning!

Saturday 3-22:  Warm up run, 1.5 mi; Race: Law Week 8K – 5 miles, 41:34 (8:19/mi)   I was looking forward to this race all week, and I got exactly what I came for: a steady consistent effort, every mile split within 30 seconds of the last one, and a new PR for the distance that I can be proud of…I ran five miles at what used to be my 5K pace, and it felt grand!

Total for this week: 6 runs, 30.2 miles

Sunday 3-23:  Trail runs – 5.8 mi, 1:20:00 (12:30/mi avg)    My trail club, the HATR’s is really good about including runners of all ability levels, hoping to spread the word that trail running does exist in the Big City. We were joined this week by the ladies of the Lifetime Fitness Cinco Ranch Run Club at the invitation of one of our mutual members. We run with a “no one left behind” policy, so I ran “sweep” with one group, and it was a lot of fun to help encourage someone else for a change :)  Running on a trail is SO different from running on sidewalks and streets, it really makes you appreciate how multi-faceted this sport can be!

Monday 3-24:  Two part workout: 1 mi easy run warm up (10:30/mi), followed by “virtual” 5K: 3.1 mi, 27:52 (9:00/mi)   As  part of the Jill Conyers’ 14in2014 Challenge group, I am eligible to run a series of 4 virtual races and count them towards my year’s total…not that I need to, but I enjoy taking advantage of free stuff, don’t you? This was by no means a record-setting pace, but I had fun “racing” in my mind, and isn’t that a big part of why we do this?

Tuesday 3-25: Speed work: 1.25  mi warm up; 12×400@ goal pace (currently 8:30/mi), 400 recovery; 1. 25 mil cool down - 8.5  miles, 1:31:00 overall   This week I took it up to the max, and I can feel myself running stronger than I ever have before…I looked at the splits and I ran at goal or faster on every repeat – something I did not know or believe was possible! I am very excited for what is still to come in the future, if this is any sign of the trend.

Wednesday 3-26:  Rest (if you can call it that)   As with all things, the best of intentions in training plans often end up colliding with the hard facts of reality; I  met my wife after work at her oncologist’s office…she got news that, while not exactly bad, does mean that we are not dome with our battles against Big Bad C; more test, appointments, and probable surgery lie in the near future…and what is a cross-training day compared to that, do I even need to ask?

Thursday 3-27:  Tempo run: 1.3 mi easy warm up; 3 mi @ goal pace (9:30/mi target); 1.7 mi easy cool down – 5 miles, 49:44 overall, 9:18/mi tempo  I’m actually signed up for two different virtual race series; the Licorice and Olives Race Series runs every month, and so this week’s tempo run seemed like a good opportunity to get this one taken care of. I probably could have pushed the pace a lot harder, but with a real 5K coming up on Saturday, I wanted to leave something in the tank; I was still satisfied with the effort…I didn’t look at my phone, but still kept the splits to within a 30 second spread…still improving my mental timing clock, it appears! And as a bonus, this run got me to the 100-mile mark for the month…I met my #FFMarchMiles challenge goal, and my Living Water goal for the very first time this year – all in all, a great day!!

Friday 3-28:  Easy run- 3  miles, 33:96 (11:00/mi)   It feels good to get out a just watch the miles roll by, getting myself ready for a grand effort the next day – I really believe a new PR is in the future, and I KNOW a sincere effort is for certain!  As long as I have the second one, the first one can come or not – that is in the hand of Fate, not me.

Saturday 3-29:  Warm up run, 1.5 mi;  Race: Bellaire Trolley Run 5K – 3.1 miles, 23:37 (7:37/mi)   The morning dawned clear and cool, with a breeze to blow away the humidity, but not so much to cause a problem. The course is flat a a sheet of glass, with only 7 turns in all and most of it on one long straightaway…a course MADE for PR’s! I just felt it in my heart that today would be the day I finally broke the sub-25 threshold, and so I lines up at the front of the pack…no fighting through the pack for me! Of course, I knew that the really fast runners would leave me in the dust, but that was fine with me – they had their races to run and I had mine. I started out a little fast, close to 7:00/mi (!) but in the excitement I don’t think I could have done otherwise. Somewhere during the second mile I found that magical place where the breathing becomes effortless, and the ground floats past like I’m not even touching it; you all know that place! Once the finish line came into sight, I poured it on for all it was worth: then the clock came into focus, reading 22-something, headed for 23 – what?!? GO!!!  I took 2 and a half minutes off my PR time from just 6 months ago, can you believe that? And while I didn’t place (not that I expected to, there were some fast people out there with me) I stuck around for the awards ceremony to see how my friends in the Striders all did – and got this incredible news: one of our ladies set a new world record in her age group! I don’t know if that has been verified, but what a fantastic experience to be a witness to!

Now, there is more to life than just running…and so Saturday night I met up with a good portion of my friends from the HATR Nation for a little socializing: dinner, great conversation, a few drinks and a lot of laughs! I am very happy to have the opportunity to make new friends who share the same passions as I do, while still having such different perspectives and places we came from. Making friends is not easy for me (acquaintances, yes, but friends, not so much) but these folks are easy to be friendly with!

Total for this week: 6 runs, 31.3 miles

Total for March: 22 runs, 107 miles; #runthisyear goal 18.3% (370/2014 km)

Living Water fundraising to date: $224.00

These last two weeks have given me the boost in confidence I was really needing; I’ve been having some issues with my ankles and Achilles tendons being sore again; I’ve been tired a lot, from work and from life; I have my wife to take care of as we once again face the goblins we thought were behind us; and I have the goals I set in front of myself getting closer all the time: that 50K is 4 weeks away (and there will be a special post about that later this week, with a giveaway!) and the back-to-back Spartan races are 3 weeks later – where did all the time go? Well, it went the same place that all time goes – it went away. The good thing about that is that the past is out of our reach, and cannot hurt us anymore, so we can quit worrying about it – one less thing on the list, yay!

Which part of your past have you finally been able to put behind you?

What are you still struggling with?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Weekly Update 3-15-14: Shifting the seasons, shifting the plan…

Other than a few chilly nights, I believe spring has finally found it’s way to Southeast Texas – this week saw the first shirtless run of the season – I guess that’s like the runner’s Groundhog’s Day, right? So I’m excited by the change, yet nervous as well; I have been following the Hansons’ Marathon Method training plan, and this was the final week of base-building. Next week speed and tempo workouts get added to the mix, and I go from five days a week to six. I have been grateful to be free from the pain in my knees and ankles that plagued me leading up to and through the Chevron Marathon in January, but I would be lying if I said that I keep wondering when (not if, but when) it will return – and that fear has me debating if I want to accept this new level of training intensity. I have toyed with the idea of repeating Week 5 before moving on, and in all honesty I have not made up my mind…let’s take a look at how this week went, and see if I can make a decision by the time I get to the end of the recap, OK? Let’s go:

Sunday 3-9:  Spartan 300 Workout Tour – 2 miles plus a lot of other stuff    I took the plunge and put my money where my mouth has been, and registered for the Spartan Sprint in Austin this May; I also spoke to my “wrangler” at Inov-8 and firmed up the details of my registration as the Masked Mudder for the Spartan Super, on the same weekend as the Sprint (yeah, that sounds crazy, but that’s how it came together, so I’m going with it!) This has me following all things Spartan on Facebook and by email, so when I saw the Tour was coming to Houston, I jumped on the opportunity.

The workout itself was pretty intense – it was 46 degrees, wet and windy, but that did not deter nearly 200 people from showing up to get down and dirty! I lost count of how many sets and reps we did over the course of two hours, but they told us we did at least 200 burpees, so add an equivalent number of squats, jumping jacks, lunges, pushups, some bear crawls and planks, and about two miles of running sprints, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a workout! I won’t say I’m ready for the Spartan races, but at least I have a slightly better idea of the kind of training I need to focus on now…and burpees still suck!

Monday 3-10:  Rest   Took the day off to allow some of the soreness from Sunday to fade away; wasn’t a complete “rest day”, since the elevators were down most of the day at the job, and I have crews working on nearly every floor between 17 and 22…LOTS of climbing the stairs today! But I got my new phone today, so I’m finally back to being “connected” – isn’t it amazing how quickly we become accustomed to it, and how much we miss it when it’s gone?

Tuesday 3-11:  Easy run- 5.06  miles, 53:19 (10:33/mi)   I should have known that the best cure for the lingering soreness left over from Sunday was to get out for a run…it’s the magical remedy! I took it nice and slow, but I felt SO much better at the end :)

Wednesday 3-12:  Rest/cross-training   A return to feeling better has become an invitation to further abuse – such is an athlete’s calling! I did a repeat of what has become the baseline cross training routine: 5 sets of 10 burpees/10 dips/10 squats/10 pushups/10 lunges, no rest between movements, 2 min recovery between sets…if nothing else, it sure builds up my aerobic capacity – at least, I hope getting myself that much out of breath will have a benefit!

Thursday 3-13:  Easy run- 4  miles, 41:05 (10:11/mi)   Staying consistent is probably the most difficult part of training, isn’t it? It was late, I was tired and sore, but the day was gorgeous – and the miles won’t run themselves, will they? The best part of getting out there when you don’t want to is how good it feels after you do – the rewards are built in, but you have to earn them…as Heinlein says, “TAANSTAAAFL” (go ahead, Google it, I will wait :) )

Friday 3-14:  Easy run- 5  miles, 52:43 (10:27/mi)   My runs hqave been consistently slower this week than in previous weeks, but I attribute that mostly to fear – I have noticed a return of the soreness in my ankles, in the past a precursor to the debilitating pain that kept me from running at all for several weeks over the last months of 2013. I t goes away once I warm up, and has nowhere near the intensity of before…but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t scare me, bring up all those “What if…” scenarios that are the doom of progress. I have not given in to them – but I am holding myself back, nonetheless. I hope that conditioning will overcome cowardice in the end.

Saturday 3-15:  Easy run – 4 miles, 43:08 (10:31/mi)   It rained all day, that steady, sullen drizzle kind of rain that you know will be around until it just gets done raining. I spent the morning and early afternoon at work, taking advantage of the time to move a huge amount of material into the building – and I was soaked to the skin by the time I was done. All I wanted when I got home was a hot shower, a fresh cup of coffee, the book I am currently reading and my comfy chair to curl up in with it all – but none of that that will get the miles run, will it? So I changed into my running gear, added a hat (my new most favorite accessory, part of the swag from a recent race) and headed out into the falling rain. Four miles later, I got the rest of what I had wanted…but now it had the added spice of satisfaction – a rare and delicate flavor that adds so much!

Total for this week: 5 runs, 20.5 miles

Total for March: 10 runs, 45 miles; #runthisyear goal 13.5% (272/2014 km)

Living Water fundraising to date: $163.00

So, about that decision I need to make: to continue with the plan as scheduled, or to back up and repeat a week of base…I believe I will move forward! I have written much about discipline and dedication, even though I never used those words…the meaning comes through loud and clear. If it turns out that I need to fall back and regroup, the option remains open to me – making choices has the power to create as many opportunities and it closes off, we must always remember that!

Have you ever faced a choice about the direction of your training?

How did you make your decision, and how did it work out for you?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Weekly Update 3-8-14: Mo’ Better Miles, and Mo’ Racing!

It’s going to be a very busy month: I have 3 races scheduled in March, one of them this week, plus two more virtual races…this will have me more than halfway to my 14 in 2014 goal at the end of 90 days – sweet! I also got confirmation that inov-8 will be picking up my costs to run the Spartan Super in Austin this May, as well as registering myself for the Sprint on the same weekend – yes, both races are the same weekend – and I will be running as the Masked Mudder both days…so come and find me, get your picture and some awesome swag to boot :) Of course, that adds to the training burden, but so far everything seems to be going well on that account…let’s take a look at this week’s efforts:

Sunday 3-2:  Easy run - 5  miles, 51:39 (10:19/mi)  I was looking for a change of pace today; since birthday revelry led to sleeping in and missing a chance to go trail running with the HATR’s, I decided to get some solo off-road miles in the grassy median along the railroad tracks. I held towards the slow end my recommended pace, but it was consistent throughout the entire run, and that’s a good thing!

Monday 3-3:  Rest/cross-training   Same as last week: stretching warm up, followed by 5 sets of 10 pushups/10 squats/10 burpees/10 dips, with about 2 minutes recovery between sets. I had said I was going to add more reps, but I think I will hold where I am, until Hansons’ Week 6, when I drop to one rest day a week instead of two.

Tuesday 3-4:  Hill repeats- 5.25  miles, 56:29 (10:43/mi)   Another “oldie but goodie” workout I am bringing back…1.5 miles easy warm up, then 4 sets of over-and-back on my favorite overpass (4% grade, 200m up/200m down, 200m loop at each end), with 0.75 mi easy cool down. Even with the incline, this 5 miles sure felt a lot easier than Sunday’s five miles!

Wednesday 3-5:  Rest/cross-training   Nothing today, because I spent the entire work day running equipment over to the crane, rigging it for lifting, and going back for more; that’s a lot of bending and lifting, reaching and pulling…nothing left by the time I got home :( Oh, and I lost my phone somewhere during all that, so the rest of my runs this week are going to be “naked”…NTTAWWT.

Thursday 3-6:  Easy run- 3.1  miles, 31:00 (10:00/mi)   I am always amazed at how stiff I am at the beginning of a run after a day off, even with a thorough stretch and warm-up; sometimes it takes the whole first mile to get all the moving parts in agreement. But finally the body got in line with the mind and the rest of the distance flowed smoothly. I carried no watch, but had a pretty good estimate going on my elapsed time…getting more familiar with maintaining pace, yay for consistency!

Friday 3-7:  Easy run- 3.2  miles, 30:00 (9:23/mi)   So maybe I am contrary by nature, but it seems to work well for me…”conventional wisdom” would say that the day before a race, especially one which you intend to PR in, would best be spent in rest and recovery, to prevent possible injury and go into the race in top readiness; I, however have never been a big fan of conventions! I went out today, not trying to kill it, but not really holding back either – I wanted to bridge the gap between easy run and race pace, and I believe I did just that! Side note: one year ago this weekend I ran the Bayou City Classic 5K fun run, my first race ever, and while I did break the 30-minute mark, it was an all-out gut-busting who-stole-all-the-air effort to do it…today I did it without out even breathing hard, in fact I was on autopilot during this run, thinking about the rest of the weekend’s activities; it kinda surprised me to be finished already. What an ENORMOUS difference a year’s worth of training makes!

Saturday 3-8:  Pre-race warm-up – 2 miles, 20:00 (10:00/mi); Race (preliminary results) – 6.2 miles, 53:13 (8:35/mi) I will write more about the race itself when I publish the recap, but in a nutshell: Not a PR, not a qualifying time for early registration at Chevron…but very instructive nonetheless. I ran the second half 2-3 minutes per mile faster than the first half; while negative splits are always desirable, to me it says I am going out WAY too conservative at the start for a PR effort – if I can run sub-8′s at the end, why am I running plus-10′s at the beginning? I need to work on finding a better balance overall, and of course this mix will vary with overall distance…but I am learning!

Total for this week: 5 runs, 24.5 miles

Total for March: 5 runs, 24.5 miles; #runthisyear goal 11.8% (239/2014 km)

Living Water fundraising to date: $142.00

I have one more week of base-building in my training plan, and then the serious work begins; I am actually looking forward to this, simply because I know that the only way to grow is to stretch beyond what is comfortable – and I am all about the stretch!

How have you stretched yourself this year?

What areas of your lifestyle still need more focus?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Weekly Update 3-1-14: Happy running, and happy birthday!

Ahh, March…for me, this has always been the true beginning of Spring. I don’t really care what the groundhog says, or what the almanac or calendar declares the official date to be; in my mind once February is over, so is winter – and having my birthday land on the first day of March makes it even more significant! (I was very nearly a Leap Baby…1968 was a leap year, and I was born at about 12:30 in the morning; Mom told me once she was hanging on for all she was worth, watching the clock and hoping for the best :) ) Nowadays, March also signals the beginning of active racing season – there is a race or two…or three, or four..every weekend, and it is sooo tempting to sign up and run all of them; but that way lies madness, and probable injury, as well. I am trying very hard to maintain discipline with the Hansons’ Marathon Beginner regimen, running only as much as the schedule calls for during the base-building stage, hoping to lay a solid foundation for the hard work yet to come…let’s see how well I did last week!

Sunday 2-23:  Easy run- 3  miles, 29:27 (9:37/mi)  I was supposed to do 3 miles on Saturday and 4 miles on Sunday, but since I did more like 5 total, including the race, I swapped it out and ran the shorter distance today. It was a beautiful warm sunny day. and I felt really comfortable…a positive sign that my body has recovered well from all I have done to it, and I am ready to begin growing again!

Monday 2-24:  Rest/cross-training   Nothing too complicated: I did my usual pre-run stretching warm up, followed by 5 sets of 10 pushups/10 squats/10 burpees/10 dips, with about 2 minutes recovery between sets. I am sticking to body weight workouts for now, mainly because I don’t own any weights and a gym membership is out of reach at the moment…but any workout is better than no workout!

Tuesday 2-25:  Easy run- 4.1  miles, 41:54 (10:11/mi)   This week Hansons takes the daily run up to 4 miles, but the pace is still “easy”; I like that I can take the time to regain my confidence about running without pain.

Wednesday 2-26:  Rest/cross-training   repeat on Monday’s theme; I will add more reps to each set next week, and some core work as well – gotta get that upper body prepared for Spartan races!

Thursday 2-27:  Easy run- 4.1  miles, 40:07 (9:48/mi)   My run takes me past the high school, and I get a kick out of the way the kids who are waiting for their rides are beginning to recognize me and say hello…I feel like I am making new friends every time I run, and that is cool :)

Friday 2-28:  Easy run- 4  miles, 41:54 (10:19/mi)   My training plan gives me some leeway on what an “easy” run is, with a range of 1-2 min/mile slower than (desired) marathon pace, and I was feeling tired today so I opted for the slower end of the range…I still have my sights set on that 4:00 hour finish, and this run falls well within that overall goal. I think that every workout should have the end result in the back of my mind, to remember how it all fits into the big picture and stay motivated…don’t you agree?

Saturday 3-1:  Rest and recovery – no workout   I was supposed to put in one more 4-miler today, but in honor my birthday, I declared it a rest day and spent the time with family, relaxing and enjoying myself – because I deserve it!

Total for this week: 4 runs, 15.3 miles

Total for February: 15 runs, 51 miles; #runthisyear goal 9.9% (200/2014 km)

Living Water fundraising to date: $117.00

I am very much looking forward to the races this month, and the soon-to-begin speed and strength workouts…I have been pleased with the ease with which I have been adding miles to my weekly totals, and I believe that March will finally be my first 100-mile month this year, a goal I set for myself and will be thrilled to finally achieve.

What goals are you pursuing for yourself this year?

What helps you with maintaining the effort?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Weekly Update 2-22-14, or How Nicky got his groove back

I watch the weather reports from around the nation lately, and I can’t help myself from feeling just the slightest bit smug – Houston has been enjoying a spell of “normal” conditions, with highs in the 70′s and sunny skies – and I can certainly fell the difference in my mood. My running has also improved a great deal over the last couple of weeks, as I am back in the routine of a training plan: I started following the Hansons Marathon Method beginner plan, even though I do not have a marathon scheduled anytime this year. (My next goal race is a trail 50K at the end of April, which is far too soon for any serious focus; I am going into that race with a “whatever  happens, as long as I finish” approach and I am OK with that!) I am using this training to improve my overall running fitness, trying to reach a consistent 50 miles per week, while avoiding injury and getting faster and stronger at the same time. I am two weeks in, and so far, so good…let’s take a look at how it’s going:

Sunday 2-16:  Easy run- 4  miles, 40:33 (9:57/mi)  The plan calls for the weekly long run on Sunday, which I have found to be a good fit for my schedule; the first 6 weeks are all about building a solid base and getting accustomed to regular running, which is good for me as well, since I basically took a whole month off after (barely) finishing the marathon. I am still trying to zero in in my target finish time, which determines training paces, and so far it appears that a marathon finish of 4:00-4:15 is a good fit for me; this calls for long runs at 10:00 – 10:30 per mile…right in my zone! We shall see how well this fits as the weeks progress and the harder workouts get added in, but I am liking this plan so much right now :)

Monday 2-17:  Rest/cross-training   This base-building segment gives me two off days a week; I struggle to fill that time with core and strength workouts, because I don’t feel like I’m doing enough…I will get more consistent here, but it’s a learning process (sigh)

Tuesday 2-18:  Easy run- 3.1  miles, 31:45 (10:06/mi)   Nice easy run, nothing remarkable. I have a regular route for this distance which I know so well I can almost run  on autopilot…frees my mind to deal with the issues of the day, and let’s me return home in peace…thank you, running!

Wednesday 2-19:  Rest/cross-training   Burpees suck; so do dips and pushups – at least on days where I spend 8-10 hours at work loading and unloading a few thousand pounds of sheetmetal from the ground to my pickup to the freight elevator! But exercising when already fatigued is nothing new to me, so onward! I still need to set up a pull-up station and a rope climb, otherwise the Spartan race is gonna get me!

Thursday 2-20:  Easy run- 3  miles, 32:26 (10:36/mi)   I was feeling tired and stiff today, and didn’t even get out the door until nearly full dark…but I got out here nonetheless! My pace was a little slower because the monthly heavy trash pickup is coming soon, and the homeowners along my route have some pretty big piles of tree limbs, as everyone begins cleaning up their yards in preparation for early lawnmower season.

Friday 2-21:  Easy run- 3  miles, 29:31 (9:39/mi)   Feeling more energetic tonight, so I push for negative splits; by the last mile I was moving right along…I also wanted to get a taste of running faster as a preview of tomorrow’s race…and I liked what I saw!

Saturday 2-22:  Easy run- 1.5  miles, 25:27 (16:26/mi)  First run of two today; I was supposed to meet up with my trail running friends, but I was running late and missed them at the start, so I did a short solo loop as a warm-up. It was pretty muddy, and I did some exploring (read: got lost) which explains the pokey pace.

Saturday 2-22:  Race- 3.42  miles, 28:10 (8:15/mi)   Today was the first race of the HARRA Spring series, the Buffalo Wallow XC 6K. This course is all on grass, and winds up, down, and around Spotts Park, which sits at the bottom of a bowl, allowing for multiple hill climbs and descents. It makes me grateful for the overpass repeats I do as a regular part of my training runs, as well as the inov-8 Mudclaw trail shoes I wore – every person I passed, I picked them off going uphill! I really love hearing them gasp as I blow by; sprinting up short hills is not a strategy for everyone, but it works well for me :) The course was announced to be short of a true 6K, but even so my pace is within steps of the sub-25 5K target I have been pursuing for nearly a year; maybe I can get it this spring!

Total for this week: 6 runs, 18 miles

Total for February: 11 runs, 35.5 miles; #runthisyear goal 8.6% (175/2014 km)

Living Water fundraising to date: $102.00

More important than even my successful race was the fact that I am still running pain-free; mere words cannot describe how this makes me feel! The Brooks Ghost 5′s came in the mail late Saturday, so I will be adding them into the rotation this week…shoe review to follow once I get a little mileage on them! (My wife gets so much joy out of the fact that I now own three times as many pairs of shoes as she does :) ) I have 3 road races and 2 virtuals scheduled for March, with more to come I am sure – lots of opportunities to put the new training to the test…and I am so excited!

How many races are you currently signed up for?

Do you feel that short races help or hinder training for longer distances?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Off the running track, but on the right track…

This post was inspired by my friend Shaun Johnson, who is creator and admin of the Facebook group A Running Cause. He created this group as a way for runners to connect with others who share passionate reasons for why we run. Each week, Shaun invites group members to send in photos, comments, or links to blog posts on specific topics; previous themes include the view out the door when we start a run; our favorite “urban jungle” to run in; and even the classic “How many pairs of shoes do you own?” This week’s challenge posed the question, “When you aren’t running, what ARE you doing?”; my answer: sometimes I go to prison!

I have written before about my faith; simply put, I follow the calling to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and to do His work on earth as I await His return. There are many ways which this work manifests itself; the fundraising I do for Living Water International is one of them; bringing the hope represented by the Gospel into dark and dangerous places is another. For several years now, I have been involved with a wonderful group of men and women who serve with the Kairos Prison Ministry, specifically at the Eastham Unit in Lovelady, Texas…a maximum security facility in Central Texas which was once featured on the cover of Newsweek Magazine:

time cover

The link above gives much greater detail regarding the history of this prison and the work of Kairos in general, including ways to volunteer or provide financial support, and I encourage you to spend a few minutes browsing there; but in a nutshell, the mission of Kairos is to present an ecumenical “short course” in Christianity to a hand-picked group of inmates over a 3-1/2 day weekend. We do a series of informative talks, on topics such as the need for personal accountability with decision-making; the essential character of Jesus; the nature of God’s love; and the true function  of the invisible church. Our goal is to help plant the seeds which will lead these men to accept the grace and forgiveness that God provides, and to join with others within the institution in forming a community of faith to support them as they finish serving out their sentences and hopefully return to society as better people – the goal of “rehabilitation”, after all (which the prison system itself is sadly incapable of .)

One of the key elements of the ministry is the effort we make to inform these men that they are loved…both by God and by people on the outside. Many of the inmates have been written off by their families, and turn to gangs, drugs, or other distractions to fill the void in their lives…we offer them a better option: the knowledge that there are people who view them not as failures or enemies, but as fellow humans who have made some terrible choices about the direction of their lives. They can be forgiven, they can be restored, they can find peace…this is what we tell them; and we bring proof to demonstrate what we are saying: there are people on the outside who sincerely care about them, and who pray for them to realize that this forgiveness and unconditional love – agape love, as the Bible puts it – are both real and available. This proof takes many forms, but by far the most impactful is the one I want to invite you, dear readers, to participate in: the Prayer Chain.

For several weeks leading up to the Weekend (as it is known), team volunteers solicit people who will commit to be in prayer for at least some part of the time we are with our Participants. This commitment is represented by a small slip of paper, bearing the first name, last initial, and city of residence of the person who is praying for an anonymous “man in white”, that he will be receptive to the moving of the Holy Spirit, in the way he most needs to receive it. These slips of paper are joined into interlocking links of a chain, which is brought into the room during a talk titled “You Are Not Alone”; there are typically a couple of thousand links, and the men are shocked to know that there are that many people, folks who they will never meet, who care enough to devote a few minutes’ thought and prayer to them…tears flow freely during this time, and hearts are softened, if not broken outright.

We circulate sign-up sheets in our churches and small groups, among co-workers, friends and acquaintances…anywhere and everywhere that we connect to other people…and these days, that also includes on a blog or other social media! So I am asking: Will you step up and be a partner in this effort? Would you be willing to commit a few minutes, sometime between Thursday April 3 and Sunday April 6, to say a quiet prayer that the participants of Eastham Kairos #27 would be open to the grace of God…that He will touch their hearts,and they will know that they are loved? If you will, please respond to me – in any format you wish, whether by commenting  here or on my Facebook page, or by tweet or DM, or directly to my email (stridingtowardslife@gmail.com) – with your first name, last initial, and city and country of residence, and I will fill out a slip and place you into the chain…I will be posting a simple reminder the day I leave home to travel to the prison, that the weekend has come; and you will have a opportunity to share in the work of Jesus:

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.’

Weekly Update 2-15-14 : Better weather = better running

February is winding its way past the halfway mark – I hope you all had a Happy Valentine’s Day -  and with March peeking around the corner, warmer weather is sure to follow; with the rise in temperatures comes a corresponding rise in my spirits, and my motivation to get out and run more, run better, run happier…and that is by far the most important part of why we do what we do, isn’t it? Here is a look at this week’s journey to my happy place:

Sunday 2-9:  Easy run- 5  miles, 49:09   The day broke clear and sunny, and having had a successful, pain-free outing on Saturday, I decided to stretch it a little farther this time; so I laced up the trail shoes and went out to run my favorite grassy strip along the toll road. My intent was to do the full 10K distance, since I have the Bayou City Classic coming up in 3 weeks and I wanted to “check in” on my pace…you can’t help but think about PR’s, even if only to decide that it’s not doable this time around and set it aside…but I cut it short because I didn’t carry any water – D’oh! – and I was getting pretty thirsty. I have been Über-cautious about going too fast, because I’m just freaking tired of hurting when I run, but I also want to see some evidence that I am improving, so I reached a compromise with myself: I held a conservative 10:00/mi average for the first half, and then on the return I added in 4×20 second strides, at half-mile intervals; and then backed off for the last mile home. It went well, so I will start putting this in on my easy run days on a regular basis, with longer intervals and shorter recovery as I get back to consistent training. The overall time has me thinking that, while my PR is probably still safe for the moment, a sub-60 10K should be within reach – very heady stuff :)

Thursday 2-13:  Easy run- 3.1  miles, 29:20   For once this week I made it home at a decent time, without a ton of paperwork to do, so I jumped at the chance to get out. I am still learning the in’s and out’s of RunKeeper, specifically how to set the alerts; I set a goal pace of 9:30/mi, and tried to match the feedback to the feeling; it went very well, as I ran my fastest 5K since October last year, and without so much as a twinge in my knees or ankles – if you have ever had to suffer the long road back from an injury, and especially the loss of confidence in your body, you KNOW how great that felt!

Saturday 2-15:  Easy run- 3.2  miles, 32:42   Karen and I started off our day with a meeting of the Kairos Prison Ministry team we will be serving with this spring (there will be a special post about Kairos later this week, including a list of ways that you – yes, you – can take part, so be looking for that very soon!) We were home early in the afternoon, so I thought why not go for a record-breaking third run this week? I am more interest in getting back into the groove of regular runs than in setting speed records, so the pokey pace does not disappoint me…for now!

Total for this week: 3 runs, 11.3 miles

Total for February: 2 runs, 17.5 miles; #runthisyear goal 5.8% (118/2014 km)

Living Water fundraising to date: $84.00

My weekend also had two exciting highlights, two new purchases that will (I believe) bring continuing growth and improvements in my running. I bought my first running book, The Hansons Marathon Method, which I will begin training with starting Monday in preparation for my 50K in April – yes, it’s a little short on the schedule, but I am going into this race with low expectations and will be happy with a strong performance and a finish I can walk (not limp) away from. I also spent the $50 gift card I won from RoadRunner Sports in their weekly Facebook giveaway, and bought a new pair of running shoes – because new running shoes – I wanted the Brooks Ghost 6, but went with the Ghost 5 that were on clearance; after my gift card, they only cost twenty bucks…SCORE!

What training plan – if any – are you currently following?

Have you ever bought the “previous” model of a shoe instead of the current one, just to get the discount? Do you think that is a worthwhile tradeoff?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Weekly Update 2-8-14 : Not much to report

Yet another less-than-satisfying week has gone by, and while I am happy to note that I seem to be past the blues (thanks to God for that; He does respond to prayer, once you start praying for the right things…but that is a whole ‘nother subject) I still have several other things going on that are getting in the way of my workouts – the job is cranking up to a higher pitch, so my actual work week is closer to 50 hours than the 40 they pay me for; and the weather is still getting me down…after working outside all day in the cold, I am exhausted and have a really hard time finding the motivation to get back out in the dark to run. I did manage a couple of workouts, and I finally have a plan to get some cross-training done, so there has been some improvement; now I need to build on that momentum! Let’s take a quick look at how the week went:

Monday 2-3:  Easy run- 3.1  miles, 33:49   We had a rare pleasant weather day, and for a change I had gotten caught up on work early, so I leaped at the chance to get out and run my basic 5K out-and-back workout. Since it had been over a week, I purposely ran this easy and slow…and just like last week, I ran without knee or ankle braces with no pain. I still can’t draw any conclusions, but I am cautiously optimistic about things so far!

Saturday 2-8:  Easy run- 3.1  miles, 31:05   I spent the day watching other people run (see below) so there was no way I could let the sun go down without logging some miles of my own. I pushed the pace a little as I went, taking 30 seconds off each successive mile, and it totally felt like I had more to give…I am beginning to look forward to the races I have coming up in a few weeks!

Total for this week: 2 run, 6.2 miles

Total for February: 2 runs, 6.2 miles; #runthisyear goal 4.9% (100/2014 km)

Living Water fundraising to date: $73.00

The highlight of my week was getting the chance to be on the other side of the table today: I volunteered with other members of the HATR Nation (Houston Area Trail Runners, remember? We like our “secret” name :) ) to work the aid stations at the Piney Woods TrailFest  today at the Lake Houston Wilderness Park, New Caney, TX. Here’s some video I shot to share with you; I was too busy while runners were coming through to even think about getting any action shots.  Sorry about the break, but I got a phone call in the middle of filming, and this is my first attempt at vlogging (there has got to be a better word for that!)

I had a real blast doing this…even the waiting for one last runner to finish her final loop, more than an hour behind everyone else – I am glad the race director let her slide on the cutoff time; she was sooo close when she finished 20 miles, and we promised to escort her in, so she wouldn’t be all alone out there. We did, too – pacing her in relays all the way from the start to first aid station; into my station; through the turnaround loop (she was walking by then); back to me, and then running back to the finish…we had everything broken down and back to base by the time she got there, and we cheered her across the mat at just over 8 hours – and she was smiling and grateful to have us there, I think we made a huge difference for her. I was proud to be apart of that! (We might be the HATR Nation, but we got nothing but love for all runners!)

Have you ever volunteered at a race?

What is your favorite memory?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Weekly Training update (if you want to call it that)

So the post-marathon funk is in full effect now…I have allowed life to overwhelm me, and made every excuse imaginable for not getting out and running: everything from bringing work home (which is silly, because I have bringing stuff home for years, and I never look at it until I have had a few hours to unwind) to a second round of ice and sleet that blew back into the area on Tuesday and Wednesday (OK, maybe that was reasonable) to forgetting that it was my turn at cooking dinner and “sacrificing” my workout to keep us from eating too late (like a 30-minute delay would have really mattered); the results have been predictably disappointing. I got out ONCE this week, I have done exactly zero cross-training, and my body feels cramped and neglected…read on and you’ll see why!

Sunday 1-26:  Easy run- 3.1  miles, 30:53   The one pretty day we had all week, so I am glad I went. I tried an experiment: no knee braces, no ankle wraps, no taping; just a thorough stretching and warm-up and then run. To my surprise, I had no pain in my ankles, no pain in my knee, no pain in my quads – all the injuries that have been plaguing me for the last two months suddenly vanished! I am really wondering if I have simply been pushing too hard, over-training and overworking my body…maybe I need to do  better job of tracking and allowing for the mileage I put in during the day at work (on this job site I often will not sit down or stop moving for up to 10 hours at a stretch); I know I need to integrate more non-running workouts, especially some upper body strength training, to balance things out. I would love to get started with CrossFit, but I have not yet been able to make it to the required Intro class; they are only offered once or twice a month, and my weekend schedule has gotten very full with other commitments that are equally important to me, like the team prep meetings for the spring Kairos Prison Ministry weekend coming up in early April (I took a year off from this work, and it is time to get back – and I have finally convinced my wife to serve with the team this year, hurray!) I will not say there isn’t enough time for everything, because we all have the same 168 hours a week; it is up to us to decide how we will spend them – and the things we choose to do, those are the ones that matter the most, regardless of what we say.

Total for this week: 1 run, 3.1 miles

Total for January: 11 runs, 56.5 miles; #runthisyear goal 4.4% (90/2014 km)

Living Water fundraising to date: $67.00

I know I’m setting myself up for disaster – I have two short races, a 50K and two Spartan races (in the same weekend – eeek!) scheduled over the next 4 months – but I cannot seem to get myself out of the starting blocks. I have seen it said that the last week of January is one of the most depressing times of the year – winter blah has worn us down; the holidays are over, and the bills have arrived; add to that my personal runner’s curse of having completed my biggest goal race, is it any wonder I’m in the hole right now? I will rise above all this, I have no fear about that; it’s a matter of getting started, that’s all…and if I need a push in the right direction, I need go no further than my own blog archives – I can revisit where I was a year ago, when I was just starting out on the road to becoming a runner..if I could do it then, I can do it now. I have this consolation: it’s a whole new month, so I have a clean slate; let’s see what kind of mark I can make!

Are you having trouble staying motivated?

How can we help each other?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Chevron Houston Marathon weekend recap, Part 2: The Big Show

(This is a fairly long post, but it was a long race, so what do you want? Get comfy and enjoy the story!)

If you were to ask ten runners to tell you the most important thing on their minds going into their first marathon, I am certain you would get ten completely different answers; the experience is so intimate, so ultimate, that it would be difficult to imagine that any two people could have the same response. Me, I would have to say it was my utter lack of expectations, the knowledge that I knew nothing about what was about to happen…and the freedom that such a lack allowed me. As I have written before, I initially approached this race with a clear goal: run 26.2 miles in four hours or less. I foolishly based this on my performance in a bare handful of shorter races, half-marathons or less, where I had achieved respectable times; but I learned along the way that the marathon is unlike anything else, in terms of the demands it makes on your body, your mind, and your spirit. Fortunately, I received this education far enough in advance to be able to accept the truth and prepare myself accordingly, and therefore be present in what was actually happening, instead of missing something that wasn’t…not everyone is so blessed!

As I said in my last post, the weekend included two races, a 5K on Saturday and the full on Sunday. I came home Saturday after the pasta luncheon with my running club, feeling warm, full and very satisfied with myself, and decided that a nap was well-deserved, and an excellent way to begin preparing for the next day. I stretched out and fell asleep almost instantly (after all, I had been up since 4:30, run three miles, and then gorged on fusili with salmon, tomato, and cheese; a crash was inevitable). I had intended to rest only an hour or so, but instead I slept nearly four hours. When I woke up, I swung my legs off the bed and tried to stand up…tried being the operative word; it felt like someone had driven very large spikes into both legs, just above the knees. I took me three tries to get to my feet…I leave it to you to imagine the degree of panic I was in! I shuffled into the living room and spent the most agonizing hour of my life on the foam roller, trying to get the massive knots to unlock and act like muscles again; in the end I succeeded, but I was an exhausted emotional wreck…“How in the world am I supposed to run tomorrow, let alone run a marathon?” Thank God for my beautiful, supportive wife! she was there with me, helping me stretch and roll, and reminding me that I had been through an awful lot the last couple of weeks, but I had also spent an entire year getting ready, and the training was going to pay off; I was going to be able to finish; there was no pressure about time, I could take all the walk breaks I needed…in other words, quit losing the race before I even started running it! That is exactly what I needed to hear, and this from someone who swears she will run only if the zombies are right behind her :) I am blessed beyond all belief with this woman!

To keep from psyching myself out any further, I took the radical approach of stretching out on the bed with one of my favorite books (Wizard and Glass, the fourth volume of Stephen King’s Dark Tower saga) and pretty soon I was lost in the story, all else forgotten. Before I knew it, 11 pm had come and I laid the book aside and settled down to get a good night’s sleep; however, the combination of nerves and nap left me tossing and turning until sometime after 1 am…I knew I had a rough day coming!

The alarm went off at 4:30, I guess, but I never heard it; it wasn’t until the back-up alarm sounded at 5:00 that I drug myself out of bed. I flew through my usual pre-race morning ritual, multi-tasking as I went – have you ever tried to pin a bib on your shirt with one hand while eating oatmeal with the other? It can be done, but I would not recommend it! Gatorade and Gu are not friendly to my system, so I was wearing my Fuel Belt; I filled 3 bottles with Nuun cherry-limeade (caffeinated, thank you!) and 2 more with my own blend of chia gel and applesauce, and planned to drink water along the way to stretch my supplies. I also added a small container of mini-M&M’s and some Clif Shot Bloks – my long runs have taught me that variety is very important! I hurried to get dressed: long sleeve compression top, short sleeve tech tee over that; compression tights, shorts, knee braces; Smartwool socks (for the extra cushioning), ankle wraps (for my Achillies tendonitis) and Skechers GORun Ride 3 shoes. Add some sunglasses, throwaway gloves for the wait until start time, and my phone and armband; a light jacket, change of socks, slippers and wallet in the gear bag; and I was off!

I arrived downtown well after street closures had begun, so I ended up parking over a mile away and walking very quickly, as it was only 45 minutes until my corral closed and I still had to get into the GRB, make gear check, and get back to the corral…and already needing to pee again (that 3rd cup of coffee always gets to me :) ) I wasn’t the only one, there was a steady stream of folks headed in with me, but once again the Marathon Committee proved themselves capable: with 25,000 runners all going the same place, there were no lines at gear check, plenty of floor space inside to take a moment to stretch and compose myself (and chat with a dozen different friends I saw along the way, including fellow Ambassador Becca ) and still plenty of time to make my way to the start. I don’t know if all marathons are this well organized, but I am feeling spoiled by this one!

The start corrals were spacious, with dozens of porta-potties for that inevitable last minute stop. We spread ourselves out, cheered wildly when the soprano with the beautiful voice sang out the national anthem; cheered wildly again when the wheelchair athletes started their race; and cheered even more wildly when the gun went off! The elites and the fast runners in Corral A cleared much more quickly that I imagined, and I passed over the mat less than 8 minutes behind the gun. Although I have never run this course before, I have heard many others say the new layout this year provided the smoothest start they have ever seen. I can say the course never felt crowded, there was no dodging around other runners, and I spent the first three miles gawking at the beautiful sunrise and clear blue skies…and the enormous crowds of spectators lining both sides of the streets – talk about an emotional boost! After that, I settled into a nice steady pace…I wasn’t looking at my phone, choosing to run entirely by feel, but later I saw that I stayed consistently within 30 seconds either way of my 10:30/mi goal for the first 13 miles. My quads were a little sore (especially after the first real hill, a moderately long and somewhat steep overpass) but nothing like the day before, and I was feeling better and stronger than I had at this point on most of my longer training runs. I remember thinking as I passed Mile 14, “This is going pretty well; maybe 4:30 is doable after all!” …and that’s about the time the wheels began coming off :( – maybe that will teach me about thinking too far ahead.

I started feeling a lot of tightness in my legs, and I was running noticeably slower with the same perceived effort; at Mile 17 I decided to stop and do some stretching, to see if it would improve the situation. I was a little alarmed at how sore my upper back was when I bent over, and even more so at the considerable effort it took to get back on my feet; transitioning from walking back to running felt like pushing a car uphill! I also noticed my energy level was dropping off, and I couldn’t shake a gnawing, empty feeling in my stomach. The spectators along this portion of the course were handing out food and drinks of every description: oranges, bananas, fig newtons, cookies, chips; water, juice, coffee…you would have thought we were doing a 100-mile ultra! I took full advantage of the goodies at hand, and began doing walk/run intervals to conserve my strength and make sure I could finish – since I was afraid to look at my phone, I actually began counting strides: 300 running steps, 60 walking steps…300 running steps, 60 walking steps…and this carried me along fairly well for the next 5 miles. I noticed I kept passing the same runners during each run interval, and getting passed by them during the walk, so I felt like my plan was at least keeping me consistent, if nothing else!

At Mile 22 the pain got a lot worse, and I stopped to stretch again; this time I was down for so long that a race official came over and asked me if I was OK! I told him it was just some muscle cramping, but I was going to be fine (note: nobody believes you are “fine” when you are laying on the ground!) He stayed with me until I got up and got moving again, so I mentioned how much I appreciated the concern for runners’ well-being he demonstrated. He simply said, “That’s what we’re here for!” and moved on to help someone else. I finally got going again, but now the intervals got a little shorter…it was 200 running, 50 walking, and that got me to Mile 25, and back into downtown. I made turn off Allen Parkway and had the GRB in sight, but I was running out of gas badly by then; the intervals shrank again: run a block, walk a block, run a block, walk a block… and who in the world made city blocks so long, anyway?

I knew I was almost done, in every sense of the word, and I came very near to just giving up and walking that last .2, but pride is a fierce motivator: I realized I was wanted to run across that finish line, and nothing was going to stop me! I dug deeper than I ever have before, found that last cup of energy, and ran faster than I had at any point in the previous ten miles (but if you watch the video of me finishing, you can see me limping out of camera range as soon as I passed over the mat!) My only thought was, “Never again..never again…never again!” Then a volunteer stopped in front of me and placed that finisher medal around my neck, and suddenly my legs hurt just a little less :) I made it inside, claimed my shirt and beer mug, then my Double Race Challenge medal, and stumbled over to gear check to get my stuff and head to the changing area. As I sat down to change, I became afraid that might have been a terrible mistake, because I was not entirely sure I was going to ever get up again! I called my wife, who was waiting in the Reunion Arena section and told her I was inside. She said she knew, because she had seen me cross the finish line, and she was very proud of me. I wasn’t feeling terribly proud at the moment, but she helped me with my perspective…God, I love that woman!

My official finish time was 5:35:13, which is far short of what I had hoped for…but the experience was far more than I could have ever imagined! By the time we walked out and headed back to the truck, I was already thinking about next year, and what changes I needed to make in my preparations – and how that course PR is going DOWN come 2015! That makes it official:  I am a runner; running is a mental sport, and we are all insane!