Former 2:24 marathoner, now in my late 40s and hoping to maximally flatten the curve of my slide into senescence and mediocrity • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on the sport of distance running since 1999 • Adviser and confidant of other perambulators • Paradoxical hater of exercise fanatics • Chihuahua whisperer Sentence-fragment impresario

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Banged up

In the past couple of days, I've gotten banged up.

On Sunday afternoon, the landlord was doing some minor landscaping work in the back yard, wanting to get this done before he leaves for Southeast Asia for a spell. Normally his son comes over and helps with that, but his son was unavailable, so I was recruited to assist. I had to move a few decent-sized slabs of rock, and thought I had escaped this without incident until a few hours later, when merely sitting up in bed was enough to case something sudden and  unpleasant to happen on the right side of my lower back.

It wasn't agonizing, and I slept fine, but getting out of bed the next morning was unexpectedly rough. I quickly learned that sitting for any length of time make walking quite difficult for the first 20 to 30 seconds. Yet I didn't notice the slightest thing wrong after I'd been walking walking around for a few minutes. Two full days later, I've concluded that it's some kind of minor muscle strain that seems to be abating for the most part. I ran about five easy miles last night with no issues...

Sunday, July 29, 2018

A pair of racy stories

(I was gonna put "racist stories," since I figure people who run races can fairly be termed racists. I mean, look the vernacular treats people who use parachutes and people who play the flute. But that's probably a bad idea. This title's dumber, but less offensive.)


I ran a 5K on Saturday morning. Despite getting to very sleep late on Friday might and being purposefully awakened by my newly acquired friend Rosie at 3:30 a.m. -- she never did make it clear what she wanted -- I made the hour-long drive to Fort Collins, with Lize joining the two of us. There, I recorded my second "real" race finish of the year and, by extension, my third since the latter part of the George W. Bush presidency. (Those quote marks leave me all the wiggle room I like to decide what counts and what doesn't.)  I also met someone with whom I've been exchanging information online, a man who was born in the former Soviet Union but has been in the U.S. for almost 30 years; I would call this meeting very fruitful, and our plans are clearly working.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Dodging eight common half-marathon mistakes

Now that we’re approaching midsummer, you’re probably training for at least the possibility of a half-marathon if you’re not training for a full marathon. If not, what follows is still likely to be useful to your race planning and execution.

The half-marathon isn’t just a stepping stone toward a marathon or a marathon companion event anymore; it’s arguably the new marathon. The number of 13.1-mile events in the U.S. rose 4 percent in 2017, making it the fastest growing distance domestically in that span, and close to two million people completed a half-marathon in 2016, making the event four times as popular as the marathon.

While it’s clearly true that part of the allure of the distance is being able to get away with a somewhat reduced overall commitment and confront a smaller likelihood of getting injured during training or the race itself, the half-marathon cannot be taken lightly. Any event that the average runner takes over two hours to complete requires special attention to pacing, fueling, hydration and footwear that shorter events do not, even if these concerns may be less pressing than in a 26.2-miler.

Most of the mistakes people make in training for racing a half are traceable to “It’s not a marathon, so…” syndromes. That is, thanks to how popular and long marathons are, it’s easy to dismiss just how far 13.1 miles is in its own right.

Some of the popular ways to sabotage a half-marathon:

Read the rest at Lowell Running.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

If unrestrained yammering met startling-line caution

The first piece of writing a magazine ever paid me for was a back-pager in Running Times in the spring of 1999. It was called "Good Cheer," and met the criteria for a humor column, not a high bar to clear in the running world then or now. I don't think it was ever posted online; Running Times didn't even have a website until a few months later (in part because of a cybersquatting issue, a tale for another day and other commentators).

The premise of the piece was that well-meaning fans and even coaches often give not only sketchy and sometimes bizarre advice, but contradictory advice. Over the years, as both a young runner and an observer, I'd come to appreciate how badly race-about-to-start nervousness could contaminate the minds of even seasoned running counsel-givers. My first cross-country coach would sometimes urge us to establish a front-running position early in the race while also "running within ourselves." This was no 22-year-old dingbat hauled from the teachers' lounge because he was lowest on the totem pole and no one else would coach the team; he has been a solid D-III runner himself and went on to coach for a long time. But even then I wondered how to reconcile conflicting mandates like these.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Toughness and context

Running means pushing and experiencing a degree of unrelenting physical and mental discomfort that few other athletes face. Even sports we acknowledge to be punishing, such as rugby, football, and hockey, allow for periods of respite during games to gather and re-focus critical resources.  In a race, you’re never resting; how hard you’re working is a mater of degree.

As a result of the need to force ourselves through discomfort, a lot of us wonder about our own mental toughness. Because bearing down and tolerating pain in both training and racing is critical to our success as distance runners, we wonder if what we’re experiencing when we’re at our perceived limit is much different from what other runners experience. How could we possibly know if we’re any more or less “tough” than the typical competitor when we don’t have a frame of reference outside our own to use as a reference point?

Read the rest at Lowell Running.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

4 on the 4th and other powers of two

I watched a Four (kilometers) on the Fourth this morning up the road in Gunbarrel. I was there not to run but to take pictures, cheer on friends, and provide a social opportunity for my newly adopted Doberman mix, Rosie. All three of my teammates who ran did well -- 2nd, 4th and 4th overall.

I ran an Independence Day race with an identical name thirty years ago -- the Four (miles) on the Fourth in York, Maine. This race is now in its 39th year. I had recently graduated from high school and was three weeks out from a 9:43 3200 for 12th place at the New Englands (times were slow because it was hot, but back then New England was still in Great Britain and thus not as track-oriented). I had spent the first two of those three weeks resting and the third one in my first week of training for what would prove to be a remarkably shitty and ultimately abbreviated college "career." I was in York because my then-girlfriend's then-parents had rented a then-cottage for the week and I was asked along.

I woke up the morning of the race reeking of Sun Country wine coolers, along with everyone else around. Then again, everyone stunk of that stuff then. I headed to the start with my then-girlfriend's then-dad. My then-girlfriend decided to sleep in (no surprise given how things then were).

I can recall my splits without looking at my Strava data or anything else: 5:08, 10:19, 15:45 and 21:40. That's right -- 5:08, 5:11, 5:26, 5:55. I nice quadratic function instead of a linear equation to describe the pattern. (Actually, this would have been great: 5:03, 5:11, 5:27, 5:59 for the same 21:40. See the subtle but mathematically powerful difference?)

I was pushing the whole time, too. It was hotter than Satan's anus with no shade in the second half along the then-Atlantic Ocean, but I also went through 2 miles almost on pace for a 5K PR when I was reeking of fruit and not at all sharp. I felt like a vault full of diamonds for about 4K and dumpster full of zirconium the rest if the way.

I think I was 10th overall and despite almost walking the last kilometer I think only one person passed me.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Inside the intrinsic rewards

As I've probably mentioned here, in my peak competitive years -- when I was never "good" but was probably decent enough to justify running 100-plus miles a week, at least when addressing a biased audience -- I often wondered how much running I would do in some hypothetical world in which racing was impossible (e.g., it was outlawed or I was being paid lots of money to abstain from it) but I still had full command of my physical capabilities. The idea in pondering such a question was to try to tease out how much of my willingness to train that much was rooted in trying to achieve competitive ends and how much was founded on a simple love for, or addiction to, the activity of running itself.

There is actually another layer to this question. If you knew that after, say, a date one month from  now, you wouldn't be able to run at all for an extended period -- maybe ever -- would you keep running anyway? If so, how much? And why bother?