Wednesday, December 23, 2015

To My Old Friend: Running Times

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.-- John F. Kennedy

I have always been a huge fan of books and any sort of reading. As a child, my family would go to the mall and I wouldn't let anyone leave until we went to whatever bookstore was in the building. At the time it was Waldenbooks a lot and of course Barnes and Noble. As I got older I gravitated toward comic books. My grandmother would take me to the other side of town because the titles in our neighborhood were limited. Grandma is the best.

Once I started to play football I started to read magazines. I wanted to know everything about the world of football and the best way to get that info was Athlon's Pro Football. There was also a period in there where my mother worked for Times Mirror Magazine and she would get like 10 different titles for free. I was instantly hooked on reading snippets about myriad topics with very little time commitment.

When I started running casually I didn't really seek out too much information. Like most novice runners, I felt that all I needed to know about running was to get out there and do it and your performance was largely based on factors other than the things I know about running now. At some point, in one of my many trips to Barnes and Noble (Waldenbooks was scarce in the early 2000's) I stood in the magazine section. Likely it was around August or so because I probably had an arm full of football mags to prepare for the season.

I stumbled across Runners World magazine. Whatever was on the cover caught my attention. Odds are it said something like "train for your first marathon". I thought, hey, they're talking to me. What witchcraft could this be? In any event, I became a subscriber or frequent user/reader of the magazine. After about 5 years or so of only Runners World as well as its special editions, my eyes fell upon another, thinner magazine. It was never in front and there were never more than like 5 copies but the sort of stenciled "Running Times" called me like a donut calls Homer Simpson.

The articles were succinct and specific. You kind of needed to know a little something, otherwise you can get a tad misdirected while reading. The writing was heavy on competition and cross country. It spoke about High School Track and Field. Although both magazines are about running, the comparisons are akin to People Magazine vs. The Economist... maybe. People isn't as mind-numbing as Us Weekly and the economist isn't as dense "The American Economic Review" but the differences in type of reader and expectations of said reader are similar.

Alas, Running Times will go out of circulation soon. Apparently it is sort of merging with Runners World. I fear that the terrific articles from RT will be buried in the 30,000 foot view of running in RW. I now read Trail Runner as well as Ultra Running magazines in addition to Womens Running. Even if the two mags literally merged their content, it is likely that in my thumbing through process, after being inundated with stories about things and stories that have been read over the past years, I will miss the great stories that willed me to purchase 5 magazines every visit to the bookstore.

Urban Runner vs. Trail Runner, Sharks vs. Jets

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.--Marcus Aurelius

Everyone who loves running trails move to the right side of the room. All of my urban runners move to the left side of the room. Now look across the great divide. Do you all realize that you were standing in the same place, only moments ago, void of segregation? Now that we know some folks here run trails and others run the streets, we feel compelled to form an opinion and take a side.

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I started running in the parks of Manhattan and later in the streets of every borough. I never had any desire to run trails because frankly, I didn't really know that trails existed. And if they did, why would I run on them. Young Black boys in Brooklyn aren't known for running through the woods. For nearly 15 years, I ran almost exclusively in the streets and on sidewalks or in local parks. I ran a cross country race about 10 years ago and it was awesome but I didn't live near Van Cortlandt park, nor did I see the point of taking a train to the last stop in the Bronx in order to run through the woods.

Just this year, I moved to Atlanta and with that move came the desire to delve deeper into my running. My goal was not only to run more but to run better and learn more about the hobby, in which, I find such joy. I began to seek out trails. I loved them so much. Running trails will teach you about yourself in a way that running in the street cannot. It's almost like you become part of nature so you care more about it. You care more about your place in nature. I guess I should say one becomes a part of nature because it is assumptive to say that all runners have the same experiences.

Now, my point. I love taking pictures when I run. I've taken beautiful pictures of Times Square and street signs. I've taken great pictures of majestic trees and endless water views. I've tripped over roots on the trail and I've tripped over massive protruding screws where a street light used to be. Running is a beautiful sport that is beautiful in many different ways. Differences in viewpoint doesn't qualify necessarily as opposition. Just like people, running's beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Scrapping the Playbook

There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view.-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Over the past month or so I've had to do a bit of traveling. I've returned to a former career. When I initially designed my marathon training program I didn't account for travel, fatigue or the demands of a career. That was probably a bad coaching move on my part. I guess in hindsight I should have accounted for the unaccountables. All of the great coaches throughout history like Bill Bowerman and Joe Vigil, John Wooden and Geno Auriema, Nick Saban and Bill Belicek are known for their attention to detail and planning for the inevitable unpredictable which, in and of itself, cannot be planned for.

I guess in theory one cannot train for something that they haven't really experienced or learned enough about. In USMC Boot Camp one of the first things I learned was to adapt, adjust, and overcome. Likely it is a best practice to make oneself or ones team as adaptable to adversity as possible. The old phrase coined by Dale Carnegie, "if you have lemons, make lemonade", is essentially the philosophy that has applications in each and every effective training program or coaching philosophy.

All of this psychobabble that I just spewed onto the intraweb is the long winded way of saying that I will have to move off script and still make the show entertaining. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Do You Wanna Build a "Program?"

Choose a job you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life.--Confucius

I've been waking up at 4:00am for years to get my runs in. I designed a 20 week program to prepare for the 12 marathons I'm  running in 2016. I've logged hundreds of miles over the past few months and the whole point of me telling this story is because I've done it with such enthusiasm.

I find joy in reading about running. I love to get out there and run. I enjoy long runs and although speed work may be my least favorite part of running, I know in the back of my head I'm getting better at my favorite hobby. I constantly check the weather to plan whether or not I need gloves and a hat or just a headband. I try not to do very long runs in the rain so Sunday I will likely take off or do something relatively short.

I find joy in spending time with my family. Just recently we went to Legoland and planning the trip alone was a blast. The place itself didn't disappoint either. Planning to do something with those you love most in this world can be filled with such excitement but the logistics of it all can be painstaking. Between finding rooms that can house parents as well as a 2 and 5 year old is difficult. Driving 15 hours to New Jersey from Atlanta is a task. You may ask yourself why am I telling this story. The reason is that it doesn't matter how much goes into the trip or how long the drive is, the time with the family cannot be duplicated or substituted.

I think back on all of the time I spent building my training program to prep for 2016. I don't ever recall getting pissed off at the Excel spreadsheet with 20 weeks of data. I love building the plan and researching different types of speed work like tempo run, interval, Fartlek and others. I've downloaded Journal articles my excitement in the design of he program and the increase of enthusiasm when I started the program is absolutely worth the effort.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

An Excuse is Like A...

The average person puts only 25% of his energy and ability into his work. The world takes off its hat to those who put in more than 50% of their capacity, and stands on its head for those few and far between souls who devote 100%.--Andrew Carnegie

I've said this before and I'll say it again. I will never win a race. I started running too late in life. By the time I decided to become a serious runner I was already in my 30's. I didn't have the time to train appropriately and even if I had the time, I didn't have the knowledge. These are not excuses; these are uncomfortable truths that competitive people must confront before advancement can occur.

Know thyself comes from the ancient Greeks and unfortunately, in far too many instances, knowing who you are is getting further acquainted with the omnipresent mediocrity. Once people realize that they won't win a Gold Medal at the Olympics, the excuse now becomes lying to oneself. One might say, I can take a day off, it won't have an effect or what different does it make?

No one is going to sit out there and make sure that you go for your run. The only person that you have to answer to is yourself. Marathon champions, Olympic champions, National Champions all have inherent motivation to win a championship. They are motivated because their country will be so proud of they win. Someone's school will make you a legend if you win a championship. So yes, with that motivation, everybody is doing that extra little bit. There are no practices skipped.

But what happens when you finish at number 25,000 out of 50,000. Perhaps you finish 7 hours after you start. What is there to motivate you to do more? Maybe  we need to redefine what a win is. Most runners will never win an event. The idea that a win won't happen, a championship won't happen seem to be a disqualifying occurrence. One of the hardest things to do is to get yourself out of the door and run for no particular reason but enjoyment 

The battle lies within oneself.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Rough Patch

Tough times never last. Tough people do.--Ralph

November has been my toughest month in at least 9 months. I feel broken down and my times have suffered. I've gained some weight and aside from that, the weight that I've gained doesn't feel good. I've only logged 2 long runs this month while last month I had 8 total.

I know it sounds like whining but running pervades so many aspects of my life that I feel incomplete without it. Running has become my therapy. It is 90% of the exercise that I do. Running is pretty much my only hobby. I don't have a gaming system to pass time. I generally don't go out for drinks and since I've moved to Atlanta I've watched less sports. I'd rather eat glass than watch the Falcons, Braves or Hawks. I'm either working, running, or hanging out with my wife and kids. 

I PR'd October 4th in the Half Marathon and a few weeks later I PR'd at 10 miles. Since then I've not raced so I may be having like a post PR let down. Theoretically I know that I can't have a record every run and likely the upcoming half on Thanksgiving will not be a PR because I don't feel as though I'm going for it. This is probably a breakdown/plateau and the additional days off may actually help me physically but psychologically I need more days on the road.

All of that crap said, I'm not the wait until tomorrow type of guy. I'm still in Novemebr and I'm going to approach every day as though it's another day for improvement. See you out there. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Goals? You Want Goals? I've Got Your Goals Right Here!!!

When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.--Confucius

I speak about goals all of the time. I talk about how to set them. I talk about actually setting goals. I speak about the execution behind goal setting. A person once said to me that I am always trying to teach. Initially I was annoyed and then I realized that this person was right. Albert Einstein once said that, "if you can't explain something simply then you don't understand it well enough." There is another old adage that goes one learns best by teaching. By constantly teaching what I know, and hearing myself speak about topics, I learn more about it. 

Ideally I want to become what the Japanese would call shokunin or what Germans call a meister. To do the same thing over and over again and trying little by little to get better every day. So yes, I constantly teach about goals and I've gotten better at setting my own. Because of it. Now that I know how to set and execute them; here they are.

I will run 12 marathons in 12 months in 2016 and the goal is to run them all under 4 hours.

Before 2016, I want to PR the 10k at 48:00. I know, that's not fast but it's faster than I've ever been.

I want to qualify for Boston on 2017 to run it in 2018. 3:15 is the time I need.

I will complete my first Ultra Marathon in 2017 to Qualify for Eastern States in 2018 to qualify for the lottery for Western States in 2019. Ideally I will get in by 2021... I'll be 45.

Here it is. Now you know it. I must accomplish it.

What are some of your goals?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Breaking Down Game Film

Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.--Sun Tzu

Over the years I've learned a lot from playing so many different types of sports. Many of the principles that I've learned in sports apply to other aspects of life. Business managers preach teamwork as religion and who would blame them with the results garnered from effective teamwork. Simply playing a sport tells recruiters for universities and jobs that you have learned things that make you a better candidate than others without a sports background.

The part of sports that I have used effectively in many aspects of life, I learned playing football for 13 years at 3 different levels. Every Monday after the weekend game we would go into a dark room and watch film of that game. After a while we would go into smaller groups and break down game film, which means looking at every detail and addressing what was done well and what needs work. There is no hiding from what the film says you did. In the middle of the game at full speed one can't always tell what is going on but in slow motion, reverse, fast forward and the like, there is no denying what transpired.

So the trick here is to try and figure out what breaking down film means for the runner. Although I'm not suggesting anyone does this, I look at as many metrics as possible in order to gauge my performance. I wish I could quantify feel but I haven't figured it out yet. I decided to take out time over approximately 8 week sessions, where I would focus on different aspects of my running so I could tweak and research as well as make discoveries about the sport and myself.
The breakdown was as follows: July-August I focused on recovery and injury prevention. I learned how to manage my body daily. I studied nutrition in order to eat the best food for the next run. You'd be surprised how your diet changes once you realize the effects of what you put into it. September-October I decided to do something about speed. I incorporated tempo runs, Fartleks, and intervals into my workout after researching the origins of said workouts. I set some speed goals to give myself a reason for the torture of running at lactic threshold. Finally in November and then December I will shift my resources to learning more about flexibility and strength. I imagine I've been doing lots of things incorrectly so this 8 weeks I will right the ship.

I've experienced some success with my focus shifts. I've been able to gradually increase mileage from 15-25% every month and I've not taken a day off due to injury. I PR'd in October after a 7 year stretch without one. Ideally this last 8 weeks will lengthen my muscles and strengthen my body.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

It's So Easy to Quit on a Treadmill

Learned helplessness is the giving-up reaction, the quitting response that follows from the belief that whatever you do doesn't matter.-- Arnold Schwartzeneggar

I hate treadmills. I actually hate them with a passion. I've been a runner for 15 years. In that time, I'm relatively certain, I do not have more than 10 treadmill runs. Nike+ said I have I've 530 runs. That's not including a period when I didn't really track my runs. It doesn't include runs from September 2000 to 2006. In short, I have done lots of runs. The overwhelming majority of said runs have been outside.

There are countless reasons that I hate the treadmill. When I finish, I feel like I had 7 shots of some awful spirit and I am also walking on the moon. I feel restricted. I honeymooned in Marrakech, Morocco and it was mostly desert. In order to get my runs in without dying in the Sahara was a treadmill. By week's end, my hips were sore from restrictive running. There is nothing to look at on treadmills. I don't want to spend 6 miles staring at my ugly mug, or the ugly mug of some dude next to me. The clock and distance on the treadmill haunts me like Freddy Krueger haunts dreams. I can actually hear a digital clock tick... It's creepy.

Even before the first mile all I want to do is get off of that thing. It feels like a torture device. You know when you're a kid your parents make you stay inside as punishment. This feels like punishment. In the 19th century, treadmills were actually used as punishment. As I run on this contraption I continuously ask myself, do I stop now, how about now, how about now?

After 2 times in 2 weeks of wanting to quit on the treadmill and telling myself how much I hate it, I now look at it as a challenge. I once hated running anything over 100 yards. Right now I don't have the stamina or endurance or conditioning to run without honking about tapping out. It is something I must now conquer.

Monday, November 2, 2015

This is the New Normal

I have no fear of failure, provided I use my heart and head, hands and feet - and work like hell.-- Charles Merrill

Life is hard. I could probably end the story right there and everyone would get it. Here's the kicker though. I don't think life is that hard. I believe in general, people are pretty soft. Because of this belief I have mastered the art of blaming myself for any setbacks or mishaps. Folks love to point the finger. So do I... At myself.

I am not saying that all things in life require toughness only. There are obviously places and situations in the world that I will not pretend to understand or relate to. I'm speaking simply on the reason people usually give for not accomplishing a goal... Life is hard. Goals are very important to the runner. Almost as important as shoes, a runner without a goal will find themselves on the way to a new hobby. 

Sometimes when runners hear the word goal they cringe. I run simply because I love to do it. Some folks run for different causes and reasons and the idea of having a goal sounds less like an escape and more like the job or life that you were trying to escape by running. On the surface no one wants to turn their leisure or recreation into this goal oriented, goal-setting lifestyle.

I love when running is simple and every runner has goals. Although the goals may be masked they are goals nonetheless. So for the people that purport to not set goals, here are some examples of runners' non-goal goals. 

  1. I just don't want to get injured.
  2. I wish I could stay out there a little longer.
  3. As long as I don't finish last.
  4. I need discipline for my diet.
  5. Let's see if I can get better.
This is all code for having a goal. I will translate now:
  1. I need to work on a few things in order to stop getting nagging injuries. The goal is to run when I want without unplanned days off due to injury.
  2. The goal is to condition your body to comfortably run longer every so often. People that start off with a mile want to run 3. 
  3. I have to work on my speed and endurance to ensure that I have a good showing in my upcoming race.
  4. Consistent runners tend to stay away from crappy food because when they run on crappy food... they have a crappy run. No pun intended.
  5. Let's face it, anyone who walks outside today and runs a 12 minute mile or a 6 minute mile certainly wants to run an 11 minute mile and a 5 minute mile respectively. The goal is to be better this year than last year and next year to be better than this year.
This is where the softness comes in. People would rather not openly set goals because they fear failure in front of an audience. That fear can oftentimes become the driver behind success. But if the audience doesn't exist... neither does the driver.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Most Interesting Runner in the World

Sometimes it's best to stay hidden in plain sight.--David Estes

Running, particularly recreational running, is one of the loneliest sports. It's almost religious the way runners religiously go for a run. In general, there is no congregation. People will run alone and whether they are back of the pack, mid-pack or elite, they have those lonely miles with only their thoughts.

The cool thing is whether you are talking about a mid-packer like me or a world champion like Mo Farah, oftentimes we end up on the same lonely roads as some of the sports brightest stars. It's funny that I mention greats like Mo Farah because he is a national hero in the UK. He has an unbelievable following on social media and he is basically a celebrity. But he is the exception and not the rule.

Despite being in the midst of a second running boom, roughly 55 million people that said they ran at least once last year, and 27 million runners that completed a race, running is a very niche sport. Many of our stars like Sallie McRae, Scott Jurek, Shalane Flanagan, or Ryan Hall may be able to walk into a Whole Foods, Starbucks, or Barnes and Noble and not get a second thought. One time I saw Mary Cain shopping in a store and no one had a clue who she was while I was like holy crap.

This is not a story about the lonely runner or looking for more publicity. I am simply making an observation that these amazing stars of our beautiful community are physically incredible but only lauded by us. Similar to my past vocation in finance, there were absolute rock stars of the hedge fund and money management world. These people are immensely talented and incredibly wealthy but they wouldn't garner a second glance feeding birds in Central Park.

Many of us have guilty pleasures and we fully understand cult followings. "Born to Run" and "Eat and Run" has created cult followings for Scott Jurek. No Farah probably has the most social media followers with about 1.2 million on Twitter but LeBron James has over 15 million. They are both equally important to their countries and their sports but running is not a spectator sport. You don't watch running, you run.

I love being part of this cult-like group of short-short wearing, technical tee sporting, Lycra warriors. It feels like the best kept secret.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sometimes Even When You Don't, You Still Do

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.--Albert Einstein

Yesterday was an awesome family day. I had planned on waking up early to do a nice run before the family day started but I overslept. Friday I hurt my shoulder/neck somehow and it hurt so much that I couldn't really get out of bed. I wasn't actually that upset like I am usually because I had this excitement abut the day ahead.

As soon as I walked into the visitor center I saw a bunch of signs that said Appalachian Trail Approach. Until yesterday I had never heard of Amicalola Falls but I felt like we would see some special things. 

I'm a city kid from Brooklyn so some people may thumb their noses at how I feel about the beauty of nature. That said, I felt like this place had beautiful trails and other sights. We hiked up the hills and it immediately turned into a little bit of a scouting trip. I wish that I packed running gear so I could have participated in the sweet nectar of this trail. I jogged a little bit carrying my 2 year old but I'll have to save the trail run for another day. 

Although I didn't run yesterday I did some work in the gym on Friday and I don't really do the gym too often. I also did legs along with calisthenics. Saturday I did all of this hiking with the kids. Despite all of this lack of rest, I still had to bang out my 18 miler today... And I did.

Last week I talked about how good I felt on my 18 mile run. Ironically, I felt pretty bad today and I found out that hospitals are equipped for non-medical emergencies. The ironic part is that despite how bad it felt I ran 10 minutes faster today than I did last week. Don't ask me how I do it, I justa do it (Old Italian Accent). I really have no clue and I intend to research it. The good thing about it is that I was back home before 10:30 and we ate breakfast as a family.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Say My Name, Say It... FARTLEK!!!

Dreams without goals remain dreams and ultimately, fuel disappointment…Goals cannot be achieved without discipline and consistency.--Denzel Washington

Some days just feel sort of good. I'm not saying that it's a good day. I am saying that it feels good. Although my kids rebelled against sleep for a few hours, I still managed to get some stuff done at night. I had a good dinner and although my wife got home late we spent quality time together. I woke up early and although I've been nervous about the speed work due for today, my legs felt great.

The past 4 weeks I did intervals. I've gotten great results. But just like any coach, I am concerned with the dreaded plateau. I've designed my program to adjust every 4 weeks to keep my body stimulated. Today was my first week doing Fartleks. Every time I say it I giggle like a school girl.

I thought 8 surges would crush me but before I knew it I was back to warm-up. This tells me that I am in pretty good shape but it also tells me that I probably need to work a bit harder. I planned my pace for both warm ups and for surges and layoffs. I was out of control and I went from incredibly fast to painfully slow. Clearly I have a lot to work on... which is good.

I've run this route more than any other since moving to Atlanta. I didn't think there was anything left to see on Moreland Ave. but low and behold, I came across a gem of street art. Although I thought finding this piece of art was awesome, the weirdest part of the run was the random dudes at 5am cheering me on as I surged in my workout. Why were they on the street at 5am? None of my business.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Running is...Loving Today, With An Eye On Tomorrow

The best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be.--Bret Hart

I'm like a goal setting machine. Unfortunately, not all machines work as desired. If all of my goals were accomplished, I would have been a millionaire 9 years ago and I would retire in 9 months. One goal in particular was accomplished today. The funny thing about this goal is that it's virtually impossible to document. There is no metric for it. I set 2 goals and one of them was to run 10 miles and have it feel like I ran 6 miles. That happened today.

As I ran today I felt the ease of my leg turnover. I started off really easy as I normally would on a double digit run. After the first mile I felt exceptionally good and the rest of my miles were negative splits because I searched for a pace that would make me work enough. In the past, after a 10 mile run, the rest of the day was pretty labored. I feel like I worked but I didn't have to adjust anything I did today. The test is also if I could run again in the same day. I could but I won't. The real test is the recovery tonight and the subsequent run tomorrow morning.

Aside from that, I really enjoyed taking pictures of Atlanta today. I recently started running on Peachtree Street and I've discovered some cool things. It's amazing that I find something new everyday to photograph.

Even better today was my breakfast. In general, I run with my next run in mind. This is not to say that I don't enjoy my run while I run it. I am saying that I will scale back or pick it up based on the run I plan to run the next day. I also eat with a mind to fuel and less to simply find pleasurable foods. We all know that some of the best tasting foods aren't necessarily good for you. Today I decided to eat what I wanted as opposed to what may have been best for me. I had two chocolate muffins because I accomplished a goal. I guess in moderation there is nothing wrong with that.