Sunday, February 6, 2011

How I Spent My (Non-existent) Christmas Vacation and Other Random Thoughts

Well, it's been a bit of a while since I threw anything up here.  I entertained some thoughts on motivation & other topics in late-December/early-January but....

Well, I'm here now.

Yesterday was the end of week 11 of the Higdon Novice Supreme training program I've been following.  The runs feel great.  For better or worse, the last couple weeks have even seen running the scheduled run twice in one tready visit, a throw-down 2 miler on a scheduled rest day (just because taking the day off from running just felt WRONG) and a couple two-a-days when I ran at the firehouse in the morning and felt like running again when I got out of work.

(For anyone reading who is inclined at this very moment to interject a well-intentioned message regarding the evils of over-training and how it could result in injury... I got it.  You're absolutely right and I'm working on that.  We're moving...we're moving...)

Motivation is a funny thing.  I mean, where does energy come from?  In my case, I seem to have found it in lots of places.  For example, my Dad was pretty sick over the holidays.  Lost almost 40 pounds in 3 1/2 weeks sick.  It was a trying time, and I found getting my run in every morning to be a great way to relieve the stress I was feeling as everyone in the family seemed to turn to me as the family Paramedic and say "fix it."  But after a few visits to the right Docs and removing some meds from the schedule and adding a few different ones, suddenly Dad was feeling better.  So the morning I called him on the way to the gym and he finally sounded like my Dad again, my energy was over the top.  I ran my scheduled run while waiting for my Great & Motivational Training Partner to arrive from her spinning class, and when she got there, I ran it again.  My energy bucket literally seemed to be overflowing and running all over the floor.

Or maybe it's the Friday morning a couple weeks ago when, after getting home from working nights, I suddenly found sitting on my couch enjoying my rest day to be a completely unacceptable way to spend my morning.  I had to run.  Just a two-miler to take the edge off, but it was thoroughly non-negotiable.  So the Rush tempo run and a few sets of core exercises were just the thing.  I still don't quite understand the why but I was glad that I did it.  The two-a-days... well, my Great & Motivational Training Partner was in deepest Southern California for the week and without her guiding wisdom and her command of the word "STOP", a case could be made that the disease that is running had gripped me and I lacked the power to resist.

The positive energy is amazing.  My Nike+ says I've now logged over 156 miles since beginning this endeavor.  I watched anxiously (and with a little jealousy) for my brother-in-law's results last month as he ran the Disney Half-Marathon, wishing I was there to run it with him.  What not to long ago was the daunting idea of a 5K has become "it's only a 5K."  I was nervous before my first 10K distance a couple weeks ago but finished it feeling strong and believing that all this training really might be working.  And there I was at 2 AM on February 1st, registering for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, the whole reason I started down this road in the first place.  They have my entry fee, so alea iacte est (that's Latin for "You've really done it this time, Dumbass!  You've gone and committed to running a marathon!)

Oh yeah... yesterday my Great & Motivational Training Partner, for the 1st time, put me in the charge of our run (a 5K) on a cold (29F), sunny, gloriously beautiful morning through a local cemetery, over hills, through snow & ice, past monuments, mausoleums & memorials (We'll see you again next week, Mr. Cutler!).

Coming soon to a St Patrick's Day weekend near you is my first 5-mile race.  I'll try to see y'all before then.

I LOVE this running thing.  Really glad I found it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Training Day (After Working Nights)

I had the Epiphany this morning that run training and my 3 days, 2 off, 3 nights, 4 off work schedule will be more of a juggling act than I'd perhaps originally anticipated.

We had a more or less decent night trick.  Not too slow, not too busy.  Yesterday (last night in) started with finishing up the off-going group"s structure fire (burnt the roof off the place, they did!) while Mother Nature decided western NY needed a lot more snow and a lot less warmth.  I've always kind of enjoyed firefighting this time of year because you come out of the building with your turnout gear soaking wet, only to resemble a Krispy Kreme Glazed Firefighter 10 minutes after greeting the wind chill.  Nothing else I've ever experienced has helped me develop such an appreciation for holding a hot cup of coffee in my hands (because after all, what's a glazed donut without a cup of coffee?).  Did a bunch of other stuff over the course of the evening and by 1 AM, the elves who inhabit my little economically depressed work district came to the realization that it really was a night not fit for man nor beast and decided to go to bed and let me be warm.

I love my elves sometimes.

I got home from the firehouse to discover my lovely bride had decided to wait for me to get home to take care of the mess Mother Nature left in the driveway.  Yes, I thought to myself "GREAT!  Core work!" while pondering who was funnier: Mother Nature or my lovely bride.  Because I'm a husband who wants to be kept in the lifestyle to which I've become accustomed, I made sure my wife's car wouldn't get stuck so she could get to work.

But anyway, the juggling act.  Contrary to popular belief, not all sleep is created equal.  Firehouse sleep falls into this category.  Sure, it is technically sleep, but it's just not as restful as what I get at home.  So, since I like running in the morning, I found myself in the position today of thinking to myself "hmmmm.... today's only 2 miles but I'm tired."  Since I'm trying to save my training absences for really good reasons, off I went to my treadmill (if anyone has some motivational ideas for helping me develop an appreciation for running in a snow storm accompanied by below-zero wind chill, I'm officially asking you to share them!), roman chair, BOSU ball and Great & Motivational Training Partner who I think actually got a good night's sleep.  Upon arrival, I'm happy to report that the run felt pretty good even though I set the treadmill for "faster than usual" but I was a little sad that I felt like I puppied out on some of my BOSU stuff.

I guess I'll just need to find a balance between working nights and running.  Running feels great... running out of steam, not so much.  I disappointed myself a little but, as stated, learned a little something about the need to find balance.  I'll be keeping this idea of balance at the front of my mind this weekend when weighing my scheduled 4 mile training run Saturday morning with my Battalion Chief's invitation to join him Sunday on his first 3.1 mile trail run since rehabbing a stress fracture in his tibia he sustained running a half-marathon last summer.  He's the guy who has warned me about the evils of over-training but at the same time, I'd kinda like to be there as he does his 1st post-injury training 5K because, after all, running is about the stories, and I wouldn't mind being a part of this one.
Even if it is in the snow.

Ugh.  Running in the snow.  Send me those motivational ideas, please.  I'm really not feelin' it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Saturday Ramble

I'm back in the firehouse for the first night trick I've worked in over a month.  Not due to anything bad; the Gods of Time Off just happened to smile upon me on either side of Thanksgiving.  To quote Bob Dylan from Idiot Winds (on his "Blood on the Tracks" album), "can't help it if I'm lucky."

So far, it's not a bad night: two jobs in the 1st 90 minutes.  The first job originated from a well meaning citizen who thought he heard a smoke detector going off in a vacant house.  The only problem I found upon arrival was figuring out which of the 6 vacant & boarded up houses the caller was referring to.  No worries, though, we found it.  By the way, if you didn't when you set your clocks back, make sure you change your smoke detector batteries and check your smoke detector's operation at least once each month.  And while we're talking about smoke detectors, make sure everyone in the house knows what to do when it goes off (and the correct answer to this should be "head for the nearest exit" and not "head for the dining room because dinner is ready").  OK, enough on smoke detectors.

Our next job was someone who turned on her heat today and has had a headache all day.  In my City this week, we had a well publicized incident where a 20 y/o female succumbed to carbon monoxide because she & her boyfriend were running a gas-powered generator in the basement of their home after their utilities had been shut off.  Given the media coverage of this incident, it almost made sense that our complainant, who states she removed her batteries from the carbon monoxide detector two weeks ago because it kept chirping, was concerned that she might have a CO problem in her home.  She didn't, and perhaps she'll either contact her landlord or just pick some batteries up the next time she's at the grocery store.  Guess it will depend on how well-developed her sense of personal responsibility for self and family is.  Message here:  also make sure you have a functioning carbon monoxide detector in your home, especially if you're equipped with ANY appliance which creates carbon monoxide as a byproduct of combustion in it's operation.  Oh yeah: don't run a generator in your basement either.

Common sense isn't so common, apparently.

In other news, today was also a running day.  After the lessons I learned about preparing for an early morning run last week, my Friday evening this week consisted of sitting on the couch watching the Indiana Jones marathon, enjoying a small bag of popcorn and going to bed at a much more reasonable hour.  Much smarter.  Come this morning, enjoyed a quick bowl of cereal and headed up to the Y for a solo 3 miler.  The girl running a couple treadmills down had a pretty good pace going and before I knew it, my 5k (because, like I said, adding that extra mileage is just what I find myself doing) came in at it's best yet.  I stop short of identifying this as a PR because it was only a treadmill, but it was still gratifying.  And best of all, last week's fartlek walker was a no-show.  Yay me.

Hal Higdon has me doing a walk tomorrow, so as soon as I get off duty, I'll zip home for a quick 3.2 miler before grabbing a nap and heading back in to the firehouse.  I hope I'm not supposed to bring in dinner.

Have to give props to my Great & motivational Training partner who, in addition to completing today's 3 miler also went spinning AND skiing.  You're my hero!  When I grow up (don't laugh... it could happen) I want to be just like you.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Just Because I Can

Just because I can.

That's become my training motto.  It's probably a little cliche but I suppose it's not as overused as some of the other cliches I toss around, like "pain is weakness leaving the body".  Maybe you have a similar motto.  This one works for me, though.  Whether it's turning my 3 miler into a 5K, adding one more rep to the number my Great & Motivational Training Partner assigns me for the next core exercise on the evil Bosu ball or even jumping on the treadmill after my run & core exercises to do a few more minutes a little faster than when I got off, I find myself pushing a little more each time just because I can.

And I like it.

This has been another fun training week, even though I'm very aware that I'm still very much a running neophyte with the rather lofty goal of running and finishing my first marathon in 2011.  And, once again, because I'm new, I continue to learn lots of stuff.  For example:

1) Running during the holiday season requires different kinds of discipline.  My 3.5 last Saturday went fairly well, even though I made the mistake the night before of attending my lovely wife's Christmas party, a reunion of former employees from the EMS agency where I worked as a Paramedic for 11 years and the last set of a friend from high school's band (The Clams... they're pretty good by the way), arriving home sometime after 2 AM.  I became cognizant of the wisdom of the previous evening's plan shortly after getting up at 6:30 AM to go run.  I'll be honest, the 1st mile wasn't all that fun.  Come to think of it, neither was the crescendo-decrescendo interval stuff I did for the remaining 2.5 miles, but it got done and I felt good that I did it.

2) I think there's a generation gap when it comes to run training terminology.  About halfway through my aforementioned run, a woman in her 70's started walking on the treadmill to my left.  I can't be certain, but I suspect she'd recently seen something about fartlek training that she didn't quite read through to the end because a couple minutes after starting her walk, a plume of noxious gas wafted downwind from her treadmill, enveloping me in all of it's toxic goodness.  Lucky for me, she did it again 5 minutes later.  I'm so blessed to be surrounded by folks who want to help me learn how to overcome the hardships involved in running.

3) I might have said in my opening paragraph something about the Bosu ball being evil.  Since it's possible my Great & Motivational Training Partner will read this, what I meant to say is I'm learning to embrace this valuable tool that will help strengthen my core and increase the chances that I will successfully achieve my goal of completing the Chicago Marathon.  Through determination and a positive outlook, I will come to embrace the wonderful Bosu ball and the positive results it will bring.  I can't wait for new and different core building exercises that, if they don't kill me, will make me strong.

That's right.  I said it.  Bring it.

Just because I can.

Friday, December 3, 2010

What a Gorgeous Day

The sky is cobalt blue and the sun is shining.  OK, it's also 26 degrees but isn't that why I have Under Armour, Cabella's Polar Fleece, a Labatt's Blue knit cap and Burt's Bees Wax (no, I don't have endorsement deals with any of these folks but in case someone's offering me one, just send me an email and I'll get right back to you)?  Unfortunately for me, according to my training schedule, it's not a running day.  And I'm seriously bummed about it.

How did this happen?

I've already sent a text message to my Great and Motivational Training Partner thanking her for her role in afflicting me with what some might call "the Bug" and what others might chuckle and call a "Constructive Mental Illness."

"Constructive" because already, only a few weeks into it, I already feel myself recovering faster from a run.  I find myself capable of running a little farther, pushing myself a little harder and enjoying it each time a little more.  I feel like this is good for me.  "Mental Illness" because I look at this situation and think I've gone around the bend.  Perhaps you've been there earlier in your running, which means you already have your diagnosis while I'm still struggling trying to find mine.  Or maybe you're a new enough runner to understand exactly how I feel.  Either way, I think I hear you laughing.

Tomorrow calls for a 3.5 mile run and I think I want to knock the snot out of it.  Just 'cuz I can.  Unlike last Saturday's run, I think I'm going to avoid a trail run in the ice and snow because I'm not sure what socks I'm supposed to wear while running in Jump Boots (besides, almost getting sideswiped by a rutting deer last week was a little unnerving) and just hit the treadmill for a fun filled couple hours of interval training and core work.

I've started enjoying this.  I don't know how, when or why but I have.

Thank you, O Great and Motivational Running Partner.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My First Marathon... Sort of.

Phew!  I did it!

It only took 11 days but I completed my 1st marathon.  I've only taken 1 three-day trick off from the firefighting job next October so I'm concerned that, at this rate, I'm going to need more time off to cross the finish line in Chicago before I'm required to report back to work.  Pheidippides would be proud if it weren't for the fact that he died right after delivering his message that it was now safe to start staging gyro carts closer to the front.

In all seriousness, as much as I hate to admit it, I'm starting to actually enjoy this running thing.  How did this happen?  I'm going to have to take back all the things I've said about running over the years.  I actually felt a little wimpy this morning when I looked at the thermometer and saw the number 29 because I looked out the window and saw a clear, blue sunny sky and decided "29 is cold.  I'm hitting the treadmill."  As I pulled into the Y (I've found the key card so apparently I'm welcome again), what did I see but a group of runners far heartier than I returning from an invigorating near-polar jaunt.  Every single one of them looked like they had fun and not one of them looked like a reindeer, penguin or polar bear.  A completely different day from yesterday, when all the nasty lake effect weather that later closed the Thruway in Buffalo was coming in.  Anyone who ran outside in that returned looking like something that would scare a Yeti.  Yesterday was a good day to be inside on the treadmill.

One of the things I think is neat is all the stuff I'm learning as a new runner.  I'll share some of the lessons in no particular order of importance.

1)  Runners are friendly people.  It's amazed me how many people want to run with you when they discover you're a fledgling runner.  Part of me thinks it's so they have someone to be miserable with too, but as I said earlier, the more I run, the less miserable I feel.  I wonder if runners undergo the same sort of mental re-wiring as women after childbirth, which allows them to somehow think going through it again is ok.

2) Runners are competitive people.  A runner friend had what she described as a "great 2.75 mile run" this morning but still left a "take that!" message for me on Facebook.  I'll have to sort this one out.  Aren't we all running for the same team?  Oh... wait.  Nevermind (for clarification, see previous entry "Adventures of a Novice Runner").

3) Runners consume lots of water.  This is great because it has endowed me with the magical power of being acutely attuned to the location of the nearest bathroom.  I became cognizant of this new found super power last evening as I drove through Buffalo on the Thruway in a zero-visibility snow squall single-file at 10 MPH for what I think was about 127 miles.  I'm glad I got through before the State Police shut it down, although I'm a little melancholy that I missed the chance to check "Urinated in the Middle of a Toll Road During Rush Hour" off my clipboard of life.

4) I might say silly things to my running partner when I'm feeling good during a run.  Take today, for example.  I was having a great time learning about interval training, which as near as I can tell involves running for a few minutes at one speed, running for a few more minutes at a faster speed, and running still more minutes back at the first speed and then lather, rinse, repeat until you've achieved the desired distance or your legs fall off (since my legs didn't fall off, I can only assume that there's a fair amount of duct tape connecting my femoral heads with their corresponding os innominatum.  Yay me!).  So my great & motivational training partner suggests I take my last interval at a certain speed and I, being granted the Wisdom of Novice Mileage, take it upon myself to say "I think I'll take it just this much faster just because I can" to which my truly wise great and motivational training partner smirks and says "Okay smartass.  Two extra minutes for you while I enjoy my well deserved cool down.  Get going!"  Perhaps as I grow out of this newfound faux wisdom, I'll learn a thing or two about when to speak and when to shut up.

5) There appears to be no such thing as a healthy energy bar.  Here's a fun fact:  The bars sold under the name of L.A. Weight Loss have exactly the same number of calories as the ones sold by Kellogg's.  I think the only way to get a healthy portion is to take one bite and put it back in my gym bag which will either result in a herd of stale, partially eaten energy bars meandering about my gym bag or a really neat science experiment that combines sugar, sweat, darkness and oral bacteria to create the world's first somewhat edible Chia pet.

6) I discovered yesterday that the best way to avoid hitting the wall while running is to run on a treadmill.  Two days in a row, I've noticed the treadmill gets no closer to the wall as I run.

Pretty soon, I'm going to have this running thing licked.  I just know it.

Yay me!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Adventures of a Novice Runner (This is Fun WHY Exactly?)

Up until a couple weeks ago, the most I knew about running was 1)it's not my thing and 2)runners are those nutty people on the side of the road who I'm not supposed to hit with my Honda CR-V that seems to have no problems hitting anything else that wanders into it's path.  Did I mention I have a good relationship with my collision shop?  But I digress.

I recently reconnected with a friend from high school who I hadn't seen in almost 30 years.  After hugs, niceties and a delicious lunch, she shared with me her experiences running a marathon.  Now let me explain: the idea of running a marathon is foreign... no, ALIEN to me.  In my small brain, the only reasons someone would want to run 26.2 miles are their army really needs reinforcements and all other forms of sending a message are down or they are being chased by a very hungry and tenacious woodland creature.  That's really all I could come up with.

Don't get me wrong.  I know a few runners who are more than happy to tell me about the adrenaline and endorphin release they get from running a bunch of miles.  Some of them even strike me as being relatively normal and productive members of society.  I listened with rapt attention as one runner friend described the NYC Marathon as the "closest experience he'll ever have to being a rock star."  As someone who has played drums in a band, this sounds a little intriguing.  But I also remember fondly my days as a competitive swimmer with a coach who had a penchant for cross training.  Laps in the pool, cool.  Negative reps in the weight room, ok.  Running laps in the basement of my high school?  Well, what I remember mostly about that was chanting in cadence to my footfalls "I love to swim.  I hate to run."

But I also kinda figured I have this little personality quirk that thinks it's cool to do things that other people say "there's no way I could ever do that" so I figured "what the heck?  I mean, how bad could it be, right?"

And so far, surprisingly, it hasn't been so bad.  I've learned a thing or two about shoes.  I've been reading some funny stuff from a writer named Robert Schwartz who somehow is able to tell you how bad what you're getting into is going to be but somehow makes you look forward to it (if you haven't already, you should check him out!) and I'm following the training plan of one Hal Higdon who, with my great & motivational training partner, almost has me believing that I might actually be able to do this if I follow these simple steps.

We'll see.

So, a funny story about my training partner.  She's a great coach and motivator who actually has me a little stoked about this running thing.  OK, that's not the funny part (well, maybe it is).  But she is.  Anyway, a week or so ago we were setting up the week's training schedule while sitting in a bar watching sunday football with a bunch of folks, one of whom happens to be a runner (a much faster runner than me, it turns out, because when we went out for my first trail run the other day, as much as I tried to keep a reasonable and comfortable pace, my first two miles went out at just over 9:50.  It only sucked a little) and a lesbian.  But this is supposed to be about my great running partner who, it turns out, is a little protective of her little novice running project.  Because there we are watching the Buffalo Bills actually winning a game and my friend mentions she needs someone to run.  Since one of the things I've already learned about running is that so far I prefer not to run alone, I say "Sure!  I'll go with you."  Next thing I know, I'm hearing from my great training partner from across the room "WHAT?!? You can't run with her!!  She runs for the OTHER TEAM!!!"

OK.  Maybe you had to be there.  It was funny at the time.  And before any running purists read this and say "Wait!  What are you doing in a bar consuming all those useless calories?", remember: I'm new.

So, the run with my other running friend went ok, except for the sub-10 minute miles, the hills and almost getting hit by a deer (Hell... I figured I was safe.  I wasn't driving the Honda.  Who knew?)  Nothing some naproxen, a couple liters of water and a long hot shower couldn't cure.

And then there was this morning.  It's late November in western NY.  I looked out the window and said "hmmmm. Cloudy.  And the road is wet."  The weather guy on the radio said it was 41F and it might rain.  And I still can't find my keycard that allows me entry into the YMCA where they keep the treadmills indoors.  So I figure, how bad could it be?  Grab a bite to eat, drink a bunch of water, pour a to-go cup of coffee, layer up, kiss my lovely wife goodbye (not the permanent kind of goodbye, but with this running thing, I suppose one can never be sure) and head to the reservoir that sits atop the big hill to put in my solo run.  Wool hat... check.  Gloves... check.  iPod... check.  Off I go.

I get to the site and think to myself, "well, at least it isn't raining (this, folks, is a literary device I once learned about in school called foreshadowing).  This won't be so bad."  Do my stretches like a good novice runner should, set my iPod to shuffle (some tasty Allman Brothers... nice!) and off I go.  As I start out, I see a couple gazelles in gore tex on the other side of the reservoir and think to myself "they should be overtaking me any second" but it's ok because I bet they were new runners once too.  A long time ago.  I won't worry about it.  As I come around the SE side of the reservoir, I say to myself "wow, that's a brisk wind.  But at least it's not raining."  My iPod transitions to some steel drum music from a dive trip to Tobago a couple years ago and I think to myself "not the easist music to run to but it'll work.  And then... guess what?  RAIN!  Forest Gump sideways rain!  For whatever reason, my iPod took it upon itself to stop shuffling and so there I was (quick recap): 41F, windy, rain, listening to a Tobago steel pan band playing their rendition of "La Vida Loca" and some others as I completed my run.  You know what?

I was almost convinced I was actually on a dive trip in the southern caribbean.