Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I'm not even supposed to be here today!

I started distance running when I was in seventh grade, when I was just 12 years old. At least I thought it was long distance running. I was running 3 mile cross country invitationals, which hardly count as long distance in todays world of ultras. I still have a few of the commemorative blue ribbons that I received for participation in the runs.

I was a pretty active child. I played soccer, loved riding my bike everywhere on and off road and was basically outside and in the woods every chance I got. I don't know what drove me to run a race but I know it was love at first run. Mostly I enjoyed the solitude of distance running. There was a level of camaraderie in running but what I really enjoyed was the time it gave me to clear my mind and to become more aware of my body. I loved the challenge of pushing myself to run a distance that most non runners would be shocked by.

I ran many invitationals and when I was in high school I ran cross country my freshman and sophmore year, getting my varsity letter when I was a freshman. Then my life as a runner came to an end with some soreness in my feet.

One day while out for a run I began to really feel my feet starting to hurt particularly in the front "ball" of my foot. In addition to competing in cross country I was also playing youth soccer, and I thought all the activity was catching up to me. I went home and iced my feet. the next morning my feet were so swollen and sore that I could not even walk. My feet hurt so bad, I thought that I must have broken bones in my feet.

I went to the doctor and after much testing he told me I had what is known as Metatarsalgia. By know means am I a doctor but I will try to explain what this is. It is a somewhat condition of sometimes chronic pain in the metatarsal region (ball) of the foot that involves inflammation and swelling of the metatarsals. It is caused basically by "overdoing it". In some cases rest and ice will resolve the problem. I was fitted with crutches and told to not put too much pressure on my feet for the next few weeks.

I spent the next four weeks on crutches until I finally started to feel better. By now it was winter so I was not looking to try to get back into running right away but as soon as it was remotely warm out I started running again. Within a short amount of time I began to feel the tingle in my foot and was afraid the metatarsals were acting up. I immediately stopped running and went home and iced my foot. The next day I had the extreme pain in my feet. After another trip to the doctor I was on crutches again for a few more weeks.

After three weeks I went to the doctor again and he told me something that nearly destroyed me. he told me I could not run again. I asked "For how long?" and he responded "Forever." Apparently my injury was not a case that ice alone would treat.

How could he do this? How could he take away one of the things I loved most? I realize it was not him that was taking it away, but I was really in shock.

I was determined that I would prove him wrong and run again. After several months of not running I began trying to run being very cautious but after working up to about 2.5 miles in a run my feet started to hurt so I stopped running. this was a vicious pattern that I went through for several years until I finally gave up running. I started mountain biking to fill the void, but it just was not the same.

Finally after years of not running I was talking with a guy who was a rolfer. He told me that rolfing may be able to help my body structure which may help with my feet problem.

Now I need to tell you that I am a HUGE sceptic for new age treatments, like rolfing, but I figured if it meant that I could run again I would give it a shot. I went through the ten sessions, and while at times I was very uncomfortable, it was never really painful.

Now was the real test, to start training. I started slow and after a few weeks I was up to a few miles. I was nervous to run 3 miles because that was when historically I started to have problems. I passed 3 miles without incident and began training for a 10K that I always wanted to run but never had, the Holyoke St. Patrick's day road race. I completed that race in my goal of under one hour (59:45) and by know I was starting to feel really good and started shedding a few pounds, so I kept running.

It has been about two years since I started running again and I have stretched myself out to almost 12 miles without major issues. My feet remind me sometimes that I have to focus on my form and to not over do it. I buy new running shoes more often then I probably need to, but it is totally worth it to me. I am currently training for my first half marathon.

I really enjoy every moment of when I am running, because as Dante says in the movie Clerks, "I'm not even supposed to be here today!"


Monday, January 17, 2011

I don't live near here!

If you happened to read my last blog post I mentioned that It was a personal training goal of mine to run to run from my house in the center of Westfield to all of the surrounding towns.

Westfield is the third largest land mass in the state of Massachusetts and since at the time I started I had never run more than about 9 miles in a run in my entire life, this would prove to be very challenging for me.

I am aspiring to run longer distances and I am starting with a half marathon in April, 2011.I thought this personal goal would be a great way to train for the 1/2.

I started last summer by running to Granville which is one of the more difficult runs. It is almost straight uphill and was not a lot of fun. It was also around 90 degrees that day. I finished with at about 8 miles. To complete my goal I plan on doing this leg again because I did not complete the round trip. I had my wife pick me up. The original plan was to run from the center of Westfield to the Center of Granville, 9.25 miles total, so I will try again when I am a little more prepared.

The next run I did was to Southwick. This is by far the shortest round trip at 7 miles exactly. Then last week I extensively wrote about how I ran further than I had ever run when I ran to Russell, MA. Check out my last post if you want to read more about that run.

So yesterday I completed a 12.2 mile run to Southampton. Now this is the farthest I have ever run.

Here is the route that I ran. It was pretty straight forward. There is a long slow hill about one mile in and then it is mostly a slight uphill until I turn around and then it obviously is a slight downhill and a big hill near then end.

I felt pretty good for the first mile or so. There is still a lot of snow on the ground and too many people do a horrible job of snow removal so footing was really messy in some spots. I had to stop in one spot because someone didn't clear there sidewalk and part of this route is on a very busy road. So to be safe I waited for a break in traffic and then sprinted in the road to the next shoveled sidewalk.

About two miles in I felt pretty tired and I kept plugging along at a really slow pace. My feet started to bother me around three miles in. Now I was by the a small municipal airport/air force base so I distracted myself by watching the planes tacking off and landing. Unfortunately no F-15s were in the air.

As my feet began to throb I thought t myself that I could run through this. Maybe I would get lucky and my feet would be numb. I kept going and tried to flex my feet more which helped.

With all the focus going to my feet I barely noticed that I was almost at the turnaround point. I could see the town line sign and I picked up my pace and ran right by it I kept going until a side street came up and then turned around. When I stopped at the town line to take a picture, it really hit me that I was quite a distance from home. Southampton is a very small quite town with an abundance of farmland. I was standing right by an apple orchard and there was a horse farm with several horses playing in the snow.

I didn't stop very long because I wanted to get home to watch some playoff football. So I crossed the road and headed back. At about the 7 mile mark I stopped again to stretch my calf muscles and feet because they were really tight, but I was able to motivate myself by realizing that most of the run back was downhill. I really began to pick up the pace and even hit the unshoveled section of sidewalk in the busier section at the right time so I didn't have to stop. The rest of the run was pretty uneventful, except that some woman pulling out of a side street was not paying attention and almost ran me over. I was able to yell for her attention and she slammed on the brakes and I just kept going.

When I was within a 1/2 mile of finishing I really began to feel my legs getting tired. I dug down and finished strong. My pace was a little slow but I am proud that I finished. I know there are many more accomplished runner than myself who run this distance as a warm up, but I still feel good for getting out there and trying. I have always aspired to be a distance runner and feel good about what I have accomplished.

This was the forth town I have run to from the 8 towns that surround Westfield. I reached the half way point and I am not slowing down anytime soon!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Half Marathon. Here I Come

I just finished the longest run I think I have ever run. 10.6 miles in 1h31m17s. I felt really good.

When I left my home I had planned to run for about 1 hour. I was trying out some new Under Armour training pants and a new Reebok jacket I just got. Both were very good for a cold New England day. The wind resistant quality really helped keep me warm. What I did not like about the pants was that the waist band dug into my side a bit. I actually did not notice this until I got in the shower and felt the sting.

Let me back up. I have this training goal to run from my home in the Center of Westfield to all of the towns that surround Westfield. Westfield, Mass is the third largest land mass in the state. So far I have run to Southwick and Granville. All of these runs will be at least 7 miles, but most of which will be substantially longer. Today's run was to Russell, MA. Russell is a small town at the foot of the Berkshire mountains.

I felt so good about 3 miles into my run that I decided I was close enough to Russell to run there. I didn't know how far it would be to accomplish this, but I knew it was going to be at least 9 miles. Normally I would never attempt a long run without mapping it out first. Today I decided to be spontaneous and go for a goal.

I had a really good run. My breathing was under control and just leaned back and enjoyed myself. Before I knew it I was at the Welcome to Russell sign. I turned around and headed back home. About one mile from home I had one large hill to tackle and breezed right up it. When I finished me run I felt like I could have kept going. Now that I have been sitting here for a bit my legs are getting tight and I could probably use a stretch and some Biofreeze.

More importantly this run has made me fell a big step closer to obtaining another goal of mine, to complete a 1/2 marathon in April. I was not sure if I could handle a run of that distance but today was a huge mental boost.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My VERY Exciting New Year! (and race report)

I hope that I got your attention with the title of this blog entry, but unfortunately it is hard to convey sarcasm in text.

This year I had two of my favorite past times competing against each other. I wanted to have a few beers to celebrate the New Year but I also wanted to run a 10k race that was practically in my back yard.

I spent this new year's eve hanging out on the couch with my lovely wife and daughter. My daughter is only two years old so she only made it to about 9:30PM. She is such a lightweight.

Since I was the only one drinking this year, I decided to treat myself to a Southern Tier Brewing Company Mix 12 pack and instead of champagne for the midnight toast I bought a 22oz bottle of one of my favorite beers, Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye Ale.

Southern Tier is a pretty decent brewery in Upstate New York near the Pennsylvania border. I like the mix 12 pack quite a bit because of the variety. The IPA is probably the best in the pack, but the Phin & Matt's ale is also pretty good. The pack is rounded out with a pale ale and a wheat beer both which were decent quality beers. Another reason I like Southern Tier is that even their beer that is just ok is much better than a lot of other beers of the same style that is out there.

Bear Republic is one of the best breweries in the US. I am a huge fan of their Racer 5 beer. I am such a sucker for beers made with rye malt. The rye blends so well with the bitterness of the hops and makes a full bodied well rounded beer.

I tried to take it easy since I was going to run a 10 k the following morning so I only had about 8 beers, one of which was 22 oz. Ok so that is not taking too easy. I don't usually drink that much the night before a race, but I had been doing work around the house and you need to drink beer when doing construction projects!

I had a slight hangover on new years morning but I dragged myself to the race anyway. It turns out that the race course was a route that I ran quite regularly. This was somewhat of a strange race because they started a 5k at the same time as the 10k. The races were both out and backs, they just had a turn round for the 5k closer than the turn around for the 10k.

Since the race was on new Years day in New England, most of the runners were serious runners. There were probably 100 people running. It was an unseasonably warm day around 40 degrees out.

I ran into an old high school cross country team mate of mine who now lives in North Carolina. He is in much better shape than I am and actually finished in about 42 minutes, good enough for 5th place overall!

The race is a long slow climb with only about 150 feet of elevation. I started out pretty strong but I had trouble pacing myself because of all the 5k runners I probably started a little too fast. I think my first mile was 7 minutes. It was quite a mental ride to see people coming back when I had barely past the 1 mile mark. but these were the 5k runners. I still felt pretty strong and was catching and passing people at this point. I felt like I had a good stride and was doing a great job controlling my breathing. I passed the 5k turn around and laughed at all the people turning around because i realized how I tricked myself into a faster start. My shins started to cramp a bit around 2 1/2 miles but I pushed through. I got another boost when I was within sight of the three mile mark when the leaders passed me on their way back and I saw my friend Jamie in about 7th place.

It was about this time that other runners were starting to pass me. i could feel myself slowing down and my shins were burning. I wanted to stop running but I new that if I did I would be done for. I somehow managed to keep going. Around 4.5 miles I was passed by an older guy who gave some words of encouragement. He kindly reminded me that after 5 miles it was mostly downhill. After he blew past me, he suddenly stopped and started to walk. I then quickly passed by him am the 5 mile mark. I got another burst of energy and increased my pace with the assistance of the downhill slope.

There was a big gap between me and the next person and by now the older guy I just passed had also started running again and I immediately thought about something I had read recently, that being in the lead was a very vulnerable position. I worried that with how much my legs hurt I wouldn't be able to hold of the older guy right who was now right behind me.

I needed a small victory so I told myself that there was about one mile left and I was not going to have a slow finish. So with the older man's footsteps in my ear I picked up my pace. My legs reminded me that they were still there. I leaned back a bit more to straighten my stride out and then came the biggest downhill of the course. I cruised down the hill and across the last intersection before the finish line. The finish line was about 3/4 of the way around an arch driveway in front of the school where the race started. As soon as I entered the driveway I broke into my sprint. I was waiting to be passed by the guy who was on my heels. I was running out of steam but kept me pace. I peaked over my shoulder and the guy who had been on my heels was not in my sight. When I looked back I saw the clock and I saw 53:15. I reminded myself how I wanted to finish strong and decided I needed to finish before 53;30, so I gave it all I had to achieve my new goal. I cruised across the finish line to a group of people who complemented my strong finish. It felt good that the organizers of the event thought I looked good in my finish. My official time was exactly 53:30.

Overall it was a pretty good race for me. close to a personal record for me and 2 1/2 minutes faster than my last 10K. I wonder if I could have done better if I was properly hydrated and nourished (i.e. no hangover) I guess we will never know.