Saturday, March 30, 2013

Five Things I Love About Running

When I first began running about six months ago, I had no idea how addictive it is.  Since my main objective was to run a marathon, I figured that I'd train as much as necessary and then go for it.  Little did I know.  Not a month into my training, I started looking forward to my next run, buying all sorts of accessories, and signing up for more events (including a few that are pretty far in the future, such as the Surf City Half Marathon coming up in a mere eleven months).  When the subject comes up among my non-runner friends, a comment I often hear is, "There's no way I could run a marathon.  Running just isn't fun for me."

Well I've got a surprise for you.  It's not really fun for me either.

Sounds strange, right?  Especially from a guy who's running 35 or so miles a week and just admitted to being addicted to it.  It's true, though.  Running is a lot of things, but "fun" isn't one of them.  It's challenging.  Rewarding.  Inspiring.  But "fun?"  Not really.  But that's okay.  People do a lot of things that aren't fun, and find all sorts of benefits from them.  But fun or not, there's a lot to love about running, and make no mistake, I do love it.

And here's why . . .

1. Maintain Fitness With Less "Sacrifice"

As many of you know, I've lost a lot of weight over the last year or so.  Once I reached my goal weight, I knew that I'd have to figure out a way to keep from ballooning up again, like I've done in the past.  From experience, a knew that I couldn't stick with the diet I was on for too long -- eventually I'd slip up and start hitting the In-N-Out Burgers again.  That's why I started running in the first place, it was a way for me to develop a new focus (running a marathon) that would build on my improved fitness level.  A major benefit of this is that now I can have the occasional Double-Double
Run 4.5 miles and you'll burn this right off.
or a few slices of pizza from the New York Pizza Department (Corona, Ca. -- best pizza in So Cal by a long shot) without stressing out about it.  If someone brings cupcakes or donuts to work, I'll have one (but not five, as I would have before).  After all, a 13-mile run burns over 2000 calories.  Pizza on Saturday, long run on Sunday, it works out quite nicely.  As long as I don't overdo it (the pizza part).  And that's another thing.  After the weight-loss and new running goals, I simply don't WANT to eat all the bad stuff anymore.  Weird.

2. Set a Variety of Goals

Running is really for everyone.  No matter your experience, fitness, or athleticism, you'll always be able to find an appropriately challenging goal.  If you're just getting off the couch in an effort to get fit, doing a 5K run-walk is a great place to start.  After a while, go that same distance without walking any of it.  From there, you can go a couple of ways.  You can keep doing 5K's with the focus on improving your time, or you can increase your distance.  Or you can balance both approaches.  For now, my main goal is continuing to build up mileage to prepare for the Orange County Marathon, but I'd be lying to you if I said I don't have a specific time goal in mind.  Sure, for a first marathon I just want to get to the finish line, but I can't say I'd be satisfied with a time of seven hours or so.  I will definitely be happy with anything under five hours, but I'd say that 4:30 is within reach.  If I'm running a shorter distance, though, then time does indeed matter.  When it comes to the 5K, 10K or half marathon, it's all about the personal records.  Which brings us to the next thing I love about running . . . 

3. Compete Mostly with Myself

Not too long ago, I was really into tennis.  I bought a titanium racket, got some fancy outfits (hmmm...I'm starting to notice a pattern about myself here), the whole deal.  But the thing with tennis, it's really tough to play if you don't have a couple tennis-playing friends or family members.  And even then, if they're way better or way worse than you are, it's not much fun at all.  I also dabbled in golf, but all my friends were pretty fanatical golfers and I wasn't, so whenever we'd play, they'd be up on the green ready to putt while I was still looking for my ball out amongst the pine trees.  Or trying to figure out how to get the cart out of a sand trap.  Since my friends are generally nice guys they never actually said, "Hey Chris, playing golf with you is really a drag because we're good and you suck," but I'm sure it crossed their minds from time to time.

On this particular day, Johnson would've settled for "just finishing."
Running is a different story entirely.  All I'm focused on is improving my distance and improving my time.  What other runners are doing is irrelevant.  If you want to see what I'm talking about, go to YouTube and look up videos of runners finishing marathons.  It doesn't matter if a guy is finishing 2,391st in a field of 7,000, when he crosses the line, chances are he's raising his arms in the air just like the guy who finished first did.  Because marathons aren't NASCAR.  In NASCAR, second place is the first loser.  In marathon running, finishing 2,391st makes you the 2,391st winner.  Especially if you've just set a new personal record.  Another example, my brother and I both ran the San Diego Half Marathon a few weeks ago, and it was the first official such race for both of us.  Therefore, we both set PR's, we both "won," and we were both excited for each other.

Trust me, if I played against him in a tennis match, it'd be a far different story.

4. "Me" Time

I know it will sound counter-intuitive to say this, since running a long distance can cause blisters, chafing, missing toenails, and muscle pain, but there's something quite relaxing and peaceful about lacing up a pair of Saucony Kinvaras at seven in the morning and going ten miles around the lake.  Mix in some Pat Metheny playing on the iPod, and it's pretty exhilarating.  Plus, the solitude and fresh air provide a great opportunity to unwind from a day at work, figure out solutions to everyday problems, or come up with a catchy name for a running blog (I'm really wishing I'd gone with "Chafing the Dream" but it's too late now).  I know lots of runners who would say that what they enjoy most is that running can be a very social activity as well, and they prefer putting in their mileage with groups of friends.  Nothing wrong with that, of course, and I have found that running with a partner and chatting can make the time and distance go by faster.  But generally speaking, when it comes to my long runs, I'll quote Greta Garbo.  "I vant to be alone."

5. Events Are Fun

I'll stick to San Diego, thanks.
While I've already said that I don't necessarily call running "fun," that does not apply in any way, shape or form to participating in official, sanctioned events.  So far I've only been in a handful, but I'll tell you flat-out, they're just about the most fun I've ever had.  Putting together a week-long pre-race nutrition plan, packing my race bag, driving (or flying) to the event location, attending the expo, pinning the race bib on my shirt, mingling with other runners, getting a shirt and medal . . . it is all a complete blast.  And I can choose from any number of fantastic locations.  San Diego was sensational, and I can't wait for the OC Marathon that starts out right along the Pacific Ocean.  The Chicago Marathon is also in my future.

The Anchorage 10K, though?  You can keep that one.

If you're a runner, I'd love to hear what you like most about it.  And if you're not . . . well, why not?  Like I said up front, it doesn't matter where you are today.  Get off the couch and walk a mile.  Then run a mile.  Then two.  Who knows, your first 5K might be right around the next corner. 

Just don't let yourself use the excuse "running isn't fun for me."

It's not fun for me either.

It's way more than that.

Orange County Marathon
Newport Beach, CA
May 5, 2013

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Run4Kids 100-Mile Relay

There are a lot of runners where I work, and last weekend we participated in a 100-mile relay to benefit the 100-Mile Club, an organization that works with schools to encourage kids to put down their video game controller and get moving.  If your child's school doesn't have this going on, check out their website and then go bug your principal.

The Run4Kids Ultramarathon and Relay is open to extremely fit and/or extremely crazy individuals as well as teams, who must complete 100 miles in 24 hours or less (there is a 4-hour extension for any individual runner who has reached 80 miles by the 24-hour mark).  Our team consisted of twelve runners -- a combination of our school's staff and family members.  We set up "base camp" at about 7AM, preparing for the 8:00 start.  My brother Bobby took the first shift, covering twelve laps around the half-mile track.  We rotated throughout the morning, some of us running three miles, others going a bit longer.  By the early afternoon, we'd run about thirty miles -- well ahead of the pace needed to reach the century mark.

Theresa cruising along.
Through the miracles of modern technology (or in other words, a website), we were able to track live race results throughout the day.  We always knew how many miles we'd run as a team, how many we'd run as individuals, and also -- and this would prove to be very important later -- how many miles OTHER teams had run.  By 2:00, we saw that our team had about a four-mile lead over our nearest competitor.  Not that we're all that competitive (we are . . . or at least some of us are . . . okay, I am), but we had seen the "golden shoe" trophy that would be presented to the team that ran the most miles in 24-hours and we thought it would look really, really awesome in the school office.

The afternoon shifts were a bit of a grind due to the midday heat, especially on the back stretch of the track.  We took shorter turns, about two miles or so each, and made sure to keep hydrated.  It helped that three of our teammates arrived at two o'clock, relieving others who had signed on for the morning shift only.  The "fresher" runners definitely were a factor in extending our lead, which ended up being critical down the road.

Taking my turn on the night shift.
Once the sun went down, and we'd enjoyed a tasty dinner from The Grilled Cheese Truck (check them out . . . simple, but delicious), the miles became somewhat easier, although soreness and fatigue had also come into play.  Almost everyone had logged at least six miles by this point, and some had run as many as twelve or fifteen.  By 8PM we were at the 75-mile mark, so there wasn't much doubt that we were going to reach the 100-mile goal and get our medals, but there was still the Golden Shoe to contend for.  Checking the live results, we saw that our lead had grown to about eight miles over the second-place team.

As a side note, during the mid-afternoon I was preparing to take my turn so I shed my sweatpants.  Naturally, I had my running shorts on under them, but this didn't stop one of our hilarious teachers from making the comment, "Wow.  I bet there aren't too many principals who have taken their pants off in front of four teachers."

Yeah, they're a riot.

Me and Bobby taking a break.
The hours passed, and we just kept plugging away.  Mile after mile, runner after runner, and just before 2AM, we reached 100 miles.  As we'd discussed, when the runner on the track completed the lap that got us to 99.5 miles, we all joined her on the track so we ran the last lap as a team.  When we crossed the start/finish line, we took a short break to receive our medals and pose for pictures.  What an accomplishment . . . 100 miles in 18 hours.

Our primary goal accomplished, it was now time to focus on the Golden Shoe.  With a lead of about eleven miles, it seemed like all we'd have to do was keep a runner on the track and we'd pretty much walk to victory.

And that's when Thomas the Marathon Machine showed up.

I was on the track, cruising along at a comfortable pace, enjoying the soothing sounds of Jack Johnson playing on my iPod when out of nowhere this slim-but-incredibly-fit guy in a red shirt went flying past me like a Serengeti lion in pursuit of a barbecue sauce-slathered gazelle.  When I finished my shift, I asked my wife Theresa, "Who the hell is that guy?"

"Yeah, he's a ringer another team brought in.  We just found out.  He runs ultra-marathons all the time."

Thomas, closing in on us little by little, smiling the whole way.
Great.  Speed, fitness, and fresh legs vs. sore, tired teachers.  Time to find out exactly how safe an eleven-mile lead really is with six hours to protect it.

Keeping a close eye on the live results tracking, we saw that Thomas was closing in by about one mile every hour.  We figured that he had to pass us about twenty times in order to catch up.  From two o'clock to about four, our lead had been cut to eight miles.  But our team fought through the pain, the fatigue, the sleepiness, and kept on giving our all.  It was an impressive display of heart and determination, to say the least.  The focus remained on only one thing . . . "Don't Let Thomas Pass!"

It got to be pretty funny after a while.  To save our energy, we eventually adopted a "one mile per shift" strategy.  One teammate would go as hard as he or she could for two laps, and then the next runner up would take over.  There were only about six of us left at this point, as several members of the early crew had called it a day, including Bobby who departed at about 2:30 in the morning.  I was on the track, going as hard as I could, when Thomas cruised up alongside me.

"This kind of makes it fun, doesn't it?" he asked.

"Easy for you to say," I wheezed back.

"Well, I was hoping I'd be able to make up a few more miles before you guys realized what was going on."

"Oh no, we caught on to it right away.  Hey, since we're just chatting here, how about you let me pass you one time, just so I can say I did?"

"Sure."  He sped up a bit to get about ten yards in front of me, then he backed off.  And I passed him.

"Thanks," I said as I jogged by.

"No problem, talk to you later," said Thomas as he re-passed me and sped off into the night.

Getting our medals at the 100-mile mark.  It was 2:00 in the morning.
An hour or so later, Theresa was coming around the last turn on one of her shifts and she could hear Thomas's footsteps approaching from behind.  As she came down the stretch, she yelled out, "HE'S NOT GONNA PASS ME!"  And he didn't . . . Theresa beat him to the line.

I was up next so I figured I wouldn't even make it to the first turn before Speedy McSpeedster overtook me again, but when I got there, I heard no one coming up on me.  Turn two . . . nothing.  Surely he'd catch me on the back stretch.  But no,  I made it through my two laps with no sign of him.

"Where'd he go?" I asked when I got back to our base camp.

"Right after he crossed the line behind Theresa, he started walking."

"Seriously?  We're wearing him down!  He's human!"  It reminded me of that scene in Rocky IV where Rocky lands a punch to the Russian's head, opening a cut.  "HE'S BLEEDING!  HE'S CUT!  HE'S NOT A MACHINE!  HE'S JUST A MAN!"

The next time around, Thomas walked off the track to get a drink and take a break.  We added two miles back onto our lead during this time.  When he walked by me going back to the track, he fist-bumped me and said, "You guys are wearing me out.  Keep it up!"

He's way nicer than Ivan Drago.

Still not feeling completely safe with our lead (Thomas regained his energy and increased his pace to his Usain Boltish levels in no time), I texted my brother Bobby at about 5:00:


Tired, but victorious, we proudly accept the Golden Shoe.
I had no idea if he'd even get the text, but I had to try.  The rest of us were just about done for.

And sure enough, at 6:30, with an hour an a half left to hold the lead, we saw Bobby walking across the parking lot.  A loud cheer went up from the rest of our team.

Okay, a medium cheer.  We were tired.

Bobby took over from there, and ran six miles in the next hour or so.  More than good enough to seal the victory.  At the final gun, our team had covered 131 miles in 24 hours.  Thomas's team (and to be honest, Thomas was the only member we saw after midnight) finished about ten miles behind.

As tired as we all were, I think our whole team appreciated the dedication and effort we put forth as a team.  Some of us logged a lot of miles, others were fresher during important stretches, and others still gave it their all early in the day when we were able to build a lead.  Every single teammate was a key piece in the overall performance.  That's what teamwork is all about.

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the great work done by Kara and the rest of the 100-Mile Club crew in putting together an incredible event.  The facilities were outstanding, the food was great, even the t-shirts were top quality (and really cool!).  And of course, the medals and trophy were awesome!

We can't wait till next year . . . and of course, we WILL be implementing the 100-Mile Club at our school in the very near future!

Orange County Marathon
Newport Beach, CA
May 5, 2013

San Diego Half Marathon 2013

L to R: Me, my wife Theresa, and my brother Bobby
After months of training and preparation, the big event preceding the REALLY big event took place over the weekend.  In other words, I ran the San Diego Half Marathon on Sunday.

Having put in the necessary miles over many weeks, I knew that I was physically prepared to conquer the 13.1 mile course.  I've completed training runs up to and including the full marathon distance of 26.2 miles, so conditioning wasn't too much of a concern.  There were, however, two major fears weighing on my mind in the week leading up to the event.

The first fear was the result of a YouTube clip I'd come across in my marathon research entitled "Guy Craps on Himself During L.A. Marathon."  I watched this video and, trust me, you do NOT want to be this poor bastard.  When I do my training runs (no pun intended), I know exactly where the restrooms are, and plan accordingly.  The S.D. Half Marathon course map included the location of "pit stops," but you still don't want to ruin a potential P.R. with an untimely number two.  Fortunately, there are a lot of good articles about nutrition for runners that minimize the likelihood of needing to do business during the race.  Starting a week in advance, I increased my intake of good carbohydrates like wheat bread, pasta, brown rice, and oatmeal, eliminated carbonated beverages, and completely cut out sugar (not that I eat much of that anyway).  Two nights before the race, we went to Olive Garden for spaghetti and breadsticks.  The day before, it was pasta for lunch, chicken Caesar salad for dinner and LOTS of water and Gatorade.  Too much, in fact, because on the two-hour drive from my home to San Diego, we had to make about three pit stops.  Note to self: don't start taking on fluids until you arrive in the destination city.

My second fear was the Washington Street hill, located nine miles into the race.  For the most part, the San Diego Half Marathon course is flat or downhill.  However, Washington Street is one major exception.  It's about a 3/4 mile stretch at a moderately steep angle.  We drove the course the day before to get a look at it, and in a car it wasn't too imposing.  Come Sunday morning, my perspective changed entirely.  But we'll get to that.

During my training, the fastest I'd ever run the half marathon distance was 2:09:47.  From what others have told me, and from my own experience with the Ontario Mills 10K in January, it is not uncommon for runners to improve upon training times by up to a minute per mile when they run competitively and the adrenaline kicks in.  Based on this theory, I thought I had a reasonable shot at running the S.D. Half Marathon in under two hours.  A lofty goal, perhaps, but a distinct possibility.  That's a pace of about nine minutes per mile, so I did the math and calculated that if I got to the top of the Washington Street hill by the 1:30 mark, I could get it done.  The last three miles of the course was all downhill, and a thirty-minute 5K is something I do with relative comfort.  But getting up the hill in time would be the hard part.

Waiting for the race to begin.
Theresa and I woke up at about 4AM, because I wanted to eat a small breakfast and give it a chance to run its course, if you know what I mean.  I had two Special K cereal bars and half a bottle of Aquafina water.  At about 5:30, we met my brother Bobby (who was running the half marathon with me) in the lobby of our hotel, and walked Theresa to the shuttle bus that would take her to the starting line of the 5K she'd entered.  Bobby and I then went back to the hotel to stay warm, and so I could make an attempt at downloading unnecessary ballast.  None was forthcoming, so it was on to the starting corrals for our race.

There were almost 6,000 runners entered in the half marathon, and to keep it from being total chaos at the starting line, participants are split up into "waves" based on their self-estimated finishing times.  When I signed up in November, I projected my time at 2:30, which put me in Wave 11 out of fifteen.  I knew I was now faster than that, but I stayed put.  Right there in the wave with a guy dressed in a seven-foot banana costume.  That's nothing.  Wave 5 included two Marines in bunny suits.

The waves were released two minutes apart, so by the time my brother Bobby and I got to the starting line, Wave 1 with the elite runners were already 22 minutes into the course.  Given their speed, a few of them were probably at mile four or five.  But it doesn't affect your finishing time because a runner's "chip time" doesn't begin until you cross the starting line.

About five minutes before the start time, I ran over to a Porta-potty to give it one last try.  Nada.

Back to the starting corral.

The horn sounded for Wave 11 and we were off.  I started my Garmin runner's watch, and took off at a comfortable pace.  After about 200 yards, I'd left the rest of the wave in the dust (including Bobby as well as the banana) and had the course pretty much to myself for the next mile and a half when I caught up to the Wave 10 crowd.  I checked my watch at the two-mile mark and saw that about 17 minutes had elapsed.  This meant I was already a minute ahead of schedule for the 2:00 goal I had in mind.  I settled into that pace, enjoyed the music pumping through my earbuds, and took in the gorgeous San Diego scenery.  Mile two through mile four took us right along the harbor with the USS Midway and various cruise ships.  And the weather could not have been better -- 65 degrees, perfectly clear, and no wind to speak of.

Somewhere around mile 5.
I hit the 5K split at the 25:40 mark, less than a minute off my best 5K ever, and a minute and twenty seconds under the pace I'd need for a two-hour finish.  I was still navigating my way through a lot of runners, but the field was quite spread out at this point so there weren't any real log jams happening, certainly nothing that would have a big effect on my overall pace.  I took the first of my GU Energy Gels at the four-mile mark, and chased it with a cup of water handed to me at an aid station.

Miles five through seven ran through the Marine base, which was my favorite part of the course.  We were greeted by the Point Loma High School Marching Band, and lots of spectators.  One lady held up a sign that read "GO, RANDOM STRANGER, GO!"  I thought it was nice of her to cheer me on like that.  At the six-mile aid station, I grabbed a paper cup of sports drink (grape -- it was disgusting) to keep hydrated.

I hit the 10K split (6.2 miles) at 52:56.  Still a couple minutes under my goal pace, but Washington Street was still looming on the horizon.

At about the eight-mile mark, there was a very short, but very steep hill.  This sapped my energy a little bit, but there was an aid station right after it where I took some water and the second GU Energy Gel to give me a needed burst for Washington Street.

And there it was.

While not incredibly steep, this part of the course ascended gradually for just under a mile, and the incline became greater in the latter stages as we went up the on-ramp onto University Ave.  Because Washington is a very busy street (a highway, really), the city did not shut it down for the event.  Instead, a lane was established with orange pylons for the runners to proceed along the shoulder.  The lane was about ten to fifteen yards wide, and due to the fact that about half the people going up the hill had chosen to throw in the towel and walk it, I really had to work through a crowd to maintain my speed, which had slowed considerably.  To get my mind off the increasing fatigue, I simply picked out a runner about twenty yards ahead of me and focused on catching him (or her).  When I caught one, I focused on the next.  And then the next.  After what seemed like an hour, I made it to the top.  At the ten-mile split, I guzzled two cups of water and checked my watch.


Only a downhill 5K to go, and over thirty-one minutes to do it in.  Could this really be happening?

Mile eleven went through the Hillcrest district of San Diego, lots of shops and neighborhoods.  Spectators lined the streets, including a very attractive woman holding up a sign that read "YOU HAVE STAMINA!  HERE'S MY PHONE NUMBER!"  Outside a small, family-owned convenience store, I noticed a girl of about seven holding a big bowl of Gummy Bears for runners to take to boost the blood sugar.  I grabbed a couple, thanked her, and gave her a fist-bump.

I turned right onto 6th Street, and you'll never guess who I caught up to.  It was the Marine bunny rabbits from Wave 5, who had started about fifteen minutes ahead of me.  They looked exhausted.  It was now about 75 degrees, and those furry suits could not have been comfortable.  As I passed them, I couldn't resist shouting, "MAKE WAY FOR THE TORTOISE!"

Jeez, I crack myself up.

Yeah, you could say I'm proud of my little brother.
As I cruised through the last mile, I saw my parents and my niece in the crowd, shouting encouragement.  Having them there was simply the icing on the cake.  I had no idea where my brother was at this point, but I hoped he was doing well.  He'd trained for the race, but only for about a month, so I had no idea what his time would be.  Knowing his competitive and determined nature, I had a feeling he wasn't far behind.

And then the finish line was in sight.  I saw my Theresa on the left, proudly wearing the medal she'd earned in the 5K.  As it turned out, she finished with a time of 31:20, a personal best for her, and 20th in her age group.  She's amazing.

I hit the finish line, and looked at my watch for my time.

1:57:04.  Mission accomplished.

I received my finisher's medal from a Marine (not one of the bunnies), and got a bottle of water, a banana, and a bagel.  I posed for a couple official pictures, and then met up with Theresa in the finishing area.  A few minutes later, my phone buzzed.


"Dude, where are you?"  It was Bobby.

"In the finishing area eating a bagel, where are you?"

"Down at the finish line.  Come down and let's get a picture together."

Bobby's time was 2:05:20. Pretty damn impressive.

We took several photos, met up with the rest of our family, and went to enjoy a big breakfast.  We'd all earned it, for sure.

Runner's High and "The Wall": Fact or Fiction?

This would be the ultimate "bonk."
Today, we're going to discuss two somewhat mythical concepts that exist in the world of distance running, phenomena known as "Runner's High" and "The Wall."  There is some debate as to whether these two things actually exist, or if it's just a load of mumbo-jumbo.  I'm certainly no expert myself, but here's what the research and my own personal experience would suggest.  You can judge for yourself.

The Runner's High is said to occur after long periods of strenuous exercise, such as long-distance running.  Once a runner gets past a certain level of exertion and glycogen depletion, endorphins are released which allow him (or her) to continue in spite of exhaustion and/or physical pain.  In some cases, it also causes a feeling of euphoria or happiness.  Interestingly, the Runner's High is believed to be evolutionary in nature.  Apparently, way back in the Flintstone Era, we humans had to rely on running as our primary means of transportation and when we were hunting for our dinner, we'd come upon the occasional, I don't know, saber-toothed tiger or fleet-footed wildebeest.  Since succumbing to shin splints or the occasional pulled hamstring would result in our becoming dinner for said predators, nature kindly provided us with a mechanism for sucking it up until we got back to the cave where we could pack our injuries in ice.  This is how that period of history became known as the Ice Age.

I myself have yet to experience Runner's High, in spite of the fact that I've run the marathon distance on two separate occasions.  On the contrary, after completing those runs, I experienced what might be better described as a Runner's Hangover.  This involves flopping down on your bed, guzzling as much Gatorade as your bladder can manage, and whimpering in pain due to your burning muscles and aching ankle and knee joints.  Once the pain subsides, there is a general sense of accomplishment and pride, but to call this a "high" would be an exaggeration.  Maybe a Runner's Buzz.

Runners also frequently discuss The Wall, a somewhat arbitrary barrier during a marathon where the body pretty much says, "Okay, I'm done.  Call a cab and let's get the hell out of here."  This pleasant experience, also known as "bonking," happens when a runner has used up all his glycogen stores, and the body begins burning fat, muscle, bone, eyeballs, anything it can get its metabolism on.  The good news is that with proper nutrition and training, it is possible to delay or completely eliminate the appearance of The Wall.

Since, according to most experts, The Wall doesn't really come into play until after mile twenty, I've only had two opportunities to experience it.  So far, I don't think I have.  Now, don't misunderstand, I'm certainly not saying that miles twenty through twenty-six point two are all fun and games.  They aren't.  But I haven't had my legs just up and quit, nor have I upchucked my gels and Gatorade all over the pavement.  All that's happened is the pain in my muscles has progressed, and my minutes-per-mile pace has slowed.

So far, so good, I guess.

But just for fun, I think I'm going to put some Pink Floyd on my running playlist.

Ontario Mills 10K

Me, with the Nigerian Nightmare Christian Okoye
Originally posted on 1/20/13

I'm definitely not a "morning person," so getting up at 4:15 to run a race isn't my idea of a great time.  But since the start time for the Ontario Mills 10K was 7:00, and the venue is 45 minutes from my house, and also since I wanted to have time for my breakfast (a banana and some Oikos Raspberry Yogurt) to run its course, I was up and out of bed well before sunrise.  This was a good thing, though, because according to all the advice and articles I've come across so far in my training, you want your body to be up to speed when the starting gun sounds.

Theresa and I arrived at Ontario Mills (a large outlet mall) at about 6:15, giving me time to warm up a little bit, down a mandarin orange GU Energy Gel, and even get my picture taken with the event host, former Kansas City Chiefs running back Christian Okoye.

Then it was race time.

I've heard from several experienced runners that race day excitement and adrenaline can potentially help trim as much as 30 seconds to a full minute per mile off of your normal training times.  This can actually be a problem in longer races like marathons because if you burn too much energy too soon, you're likely to "bonk" or "hit the wall" in the final stages.  That's something I'll have to keep an eye on down the road, but for a shorter event like a 10K (6.2 miles), I didn't think it would be a problem.  So my strategy was to run hard (not sprint, but go a little above my training pace) for the first half of the race, and then turn it on in the second half alternating full sprints with a slower pace when I needed to back off a little bit.

It worked.

Crossing the finish line.
Keeping track of my pace with my Garmin Forerunner watch, I saw that I was right around eight minutes per mile for the first two miles.  This was significantly faster than even my "pushing it" training pace, which is usually between 9:20 and 9:40.  Thing is, it didn't feel like I was working much harder than usual.  I think the adrenaline, along with the fact that when there are other runners around you the instinct is to keep up with the flow, helped me maintain a quicker speed for a longer time.

At the halfway point, my total time was right around 25 minutes, which was well under my previous best for a 5K.  It looked like a PR for the 10K was well within my reach.  During the second half of the race, I kept with my strategy and stepped up the pace periodically.  I passed several runners, and still felt fresh . . . no fatigue in my legs, I wasn't out of breath.  It looked good.

With about half a mile to go, I got passed by a 14-year old kid who didn't even look like he was trying.  I think he was texting someone as he flew by me.  I was tempted to crank it up an pass him in return, but then I thought better of it.  He'd probably catch me again anyway, so I decided to cut my losses.

Wearing the finisher's medal with pride.
I crossed the finish line, and the time clock read "51:10."  I'd set a new personal record by a margin of almost five minutes.  Looks like the "race day adrenaline" theory is alive and well.  That time was good for 58th place overall (in a field of over 200), and 7th place in my age group. 

I am also very grateful to my wife Theresa and to my mom for being there at the finish line.  Having the support of my family makes the training runs easier, and it's great to be able to share in the excitement with them.  Plus, Mom treated us to breakfast after the race and who am I to say no to a free meal.

So now it's back to the training runs to get ready for the next event on my schedule, the San Diego Half Marathon.  At 13.1 miles, this race will be more of an endurance test than a speed test.  I've gone well beyond this distance in my training, so I know I can do it, but strategy, nutrition, and hydration will play a much greater role this time.

Man, this is fun.

Bloody What?

 Originally Posted on 12/16/12 (on another site)

I only got out running three times this week as opposed to the usual four.  A busy schedule combined with a couple days of crummy weather forced me to shorten the schedule, although I did buy a pair of gloves and a beanie and managed to put in a 10K on Friday even though it was chilly and windy.  That is, it was the southern California version of chilly and windy, which means it was below fifty degrees and the wind was blowin'.  Still, the hat and gloves proved useful.

Our topic this week is "Side Effects of Running."  When I started this project, I assumed that there would be an impact on my body.  I expected to pick up a few blisters (I have), sore muscles (definitely), and maybe even a twisted ankle or tweaked knee (minor, but it's happened).  What I did not expect, however, was to finish a run, remove my jacket, and discover two medium-sized blood stains on the nipple region of my shirt.  But lo and behold, after my long run last week, that's exactly what I found.

With about three miles left in that run, I noticed a dull soreness in my chest and thought that perhaps this was the beginning of a mild heart attack.  You're probably asking, as my wife did, "Now Chris.  If you were out running, and your chest started hurting, why did you not stop and call for a ride?"  Reasonable question.  I figured that a heart attack would be a sharp pain, not soreness.  So I continued on my run ignoring the potential warning sign which was the song "Hearts on Fire" playing on my iPod at the time.  Turns out it wasn't a heart attack at all.  It was nipple-chafing.

After seeing the bloody shirt evidence, I immediately went on-line and Googled "bloody nipples running" and here's what I found.  Be advised, this is somewhat graphic and very creepy.

Now, mine weren't nearly that bad.  But you get the idea.  As I soon discovered, chafed nipples are a fairly common occurrence in distance runners.  Fortunately, it's somewhat easy to prevent by using something called Body Glide, which comes in a stick that looks like deodorant and you just apply it to your chi-chis prior to your run.  I did that this morning, and it worked like a charm.

But wow, talk about a few minutes of the willies.  On the bright side, no blisters.

You Say "Saw-CONE-ey," I Say "SOCK-a-knee"

One thing that I quickly found out when I embarked on this running thing is that you can spend a lot of money on gear, gadgets, and garb.  I know, you're thinking, "It's just running.  What do you need besides a decent pair of shoes?"  And it's a legitimate question, because the truth is, you really don't need anything else.

But want is another question entirely.

For example, it turns out that I'm a bit of a clothes freak, and I have this thing about making sure my shorts and shirts aren't mismatched (at least not to a horrible degree).  So naturally, I've gone ahead and picked up Dri-Fit shirts in an array of colors and styles, several pairs of shorts, and a light pullover jacket for cooler mornings.  Also, it turns out that normal cotton socks tend to cause blisters, so I had to get a few pair specific to running.  They're quite comfortable, actually, although they don't come in argyle.

Moving on to technology, among the first things I did once I got a few runs under my drawstring was to download the Nike Plus app for my iPhone.  The app taps into my iTunes app, so I always have an energetic playlist going during my runs.  Also, Nike Plus tracks my time, pace, distance, calories burned, personal records, and the GPS stores the actual course that I ran on any given day.  The information then syncs up with the Nike Plus website, so I have (mostly) accurate data available at all times.  For a sports/statistics nut like me, this is a really cool thing to have.

But I've also noticed that the Nike Plus app is not entirely accurate.  For example, one afternoon it showed that I ran at a 4:30 mile pace.  While I'd like to believe that was true, it also showed (on the map) that I ran that pace across a lake.  Since I'm not exactly Speedy Jesus, there's clearly a glitch in the program somewhere.

So naturally I had to upgrade to a Garmin Forerunner sports watch.

This does basically the same thing as the Nike app, only without the music.  So now I use both the watch and the app when I run, and it turns out that the Garmin is far more accurate.  Fortunately, there's a "calibrate" feature on the Nike app so I can tweak the Nike distance to match the Garmin distance.

Okay, so now I've had to purchase clothes, an armband for my iPhone, and a watch.  But wait, there's more.

On my longer runs, I definitely need to have water, Gatorade, and energy gels available since there are no "pit stops" in my neighborhood like there are during official races.  To meet this need, I of course went to our local REI store and got what's called a Fuel Belt (kind of sounds like something Speed Racer would have, doesn't it?).  This is more or less a glorified fanny pack with a couple bottles that clip to it.  I fill one bottle with Gatorade (I like the green) and one with water and that usually gets me through 15 or so miles.  The pouch holds about four or five gels.

What are gels?  Glad you asked.

To provide carbs, calories, and energy during a run, and since carrying a plate of spaghetti and meatballs would be messy, runners use a variety of semi-solid supplements.  I've settled on GU Energy Gels, which are pretty much what you'd imagine.  A foil packet filled with flavored goop.  Most of the flavors are pretty good -- Jet Blackberry, Mandarin Orange, Vanilla Bean, etc.  The chocolate, however, leaves something to be desired.  I suck down one of these every four miles or so, for a quick jolt of energy and some quick nutrition.

So now we're at clothes, a watch, an armband for my iPhone, a fuel belt, and a continuous supply of GU.

And now let's talk shoes.

The first pair of actual running shoes I purchased was a pair of New Balances for about 90 bucks.  They were extremely light, kind of comfortable, and when I ran with them, they made the second toe on my left foot turn black and raised a couple of wonderful blisters on the tops of both feet.  Not wanting to end up footless, I did some online research and discovered that the general consensus on "best" brands of running shoes are, in no particular order: Asics, Brooks, and Saucony.

When making my decision, the first question that occurred to me was, "How the hell do you pronounce Saucony?"  The last thing I needed was to walk into Big Five Sporting Goods, ask for a nice pair of size eleven "suck-CONE-ee" running shoes, and have the shoe expert start laughing hysterically.  A bit of web-browsing took me to the correct pronunciation, which is, "SAWK-a-knee."

Glad I looked it up.

After trying on a few pairs of Asics and Brooks, I decided to go with a pair of Saucony Phantoms (which kind of sounds like an Australian soccer team, when you stop to think about it).  And, oh my freaking goodness, what a difference a decent pair of shoes makes.  Suddenly, my feet weren't threatening to go on strike after every run.  Blisters went away, my black toe returned to its normal pasty white color, and I can run long distances in relative comfort.

Next time: Bloody Nipples.  Not the name of a British punk band.

The Beginning is the Hard Part

When I first decided to run a marathon, lots of people asked, "What the hell do you want to do THAT for?"  It's a fair question.  I've never been into running before, in fact, I've never been all that much into exercise in any form.  I'll play tennis occasionally, but that's about it.  And when my weight was at its highest, well, forget about it.

But here's the thing.

As I've mentioned before, losing weight was a pretty daunting challenge, especially with the amount I had to get rid of.  And once I met my goal, it almost felt like something was missing (besides my enormous gut).  I needed a new focus, a new target, something that would build upon my newfound fitness level.  But what to choose?  As with most meaningful goals, I wanted to do something that seemed extremely difficult, but not ridiculously impossible.  For example, climbing Mt. Everest was completely out of the question.  I'm not a fan of bitter coldness, I don't particularly want to spend thousands of dollars on equipment and travel, and let's face it, I'd probably get killed. 

Crossing the line at the Hesperia Days 5K
So I thought about running.  I could start off with a mile, and gradually increase distance and/or speed.  It seemed like I could work at my own pace, set intermediate goals, and increase my fitness at the same time.  I talked to some people at work who were runners, and a couple of them said, "A half-marathon would be a pretty good goal.  A few months of training and you'd be ready."

Something about a half-marathon as a final goal just didn't sound right to me.  Almost like it was a half-assed commitment.  After all,  Nike's slogan isn't Just Do Some of It.  John F. Kennedy didn't challenge our astronauts to go half way to the moon.  No, if I was going to do this, it was going to be with one giant leap, not merely one small step (rest in peace, Mr. Armstrong).

Which is not to say that I was planning on running a marathon the very next weekend, however.

My mind made up, it was time to put together a course of action.  I did some research online, and the general consensus from the sites I visited ( is a good one) was that a beginner could properly train for a marathon in about four to six months.  Keep in mind that at no point did I have "winning a marathon" in mind, not even a particular finishing time.  All I knew was that most marathons have a time limit, and I had to beat that.  If I came in dead ass last, so be it, as long as I crossed the finish line before they shut the course down.  One website even had a suggested training schedule, including miles per week and how to break that down day by day.  So I adopted a plan that seemed to work with my lifestyle, and went for it.  The first week, it was three miles twice a week, five miles once a week, and then the long Sunday run (six miles).  The next week, the Sunday run increased to seven.  By the time February rolls around, the schedule will be five miles twice a week, eight miles once a week, and fifteen to twenty miles on Sunday.

Slogging through a 5K Mud Run
I started out by running 5K (3.1 miles).   The first few times, I couldn't even run the whole way, I ended up walking for stretches at a time.   By the third time out, though, I managed to eliminate the walking entirely.  From that point on, I determined that no matter how far I planned to run on a given day, I would run the entire distance.  No walking allowed (except to "refuel" with water, Gatorade, or delicious energy gels, which we'll talk more about some other time).

And a funny thing happened.  I'm a competitive guy, so eventually the whole "I can beat my last time" thing came up.  I figured out that I could probably run a 5K in under 30 minutes.  This isn't a particularly impressive mark, by the way.  The world record is fifteen minutes, and most experienced runners can clock in at around twenty.  But I'm trying to be realistic.  And so far, my personal record (or "PR" if you're a running geek) is 28:34.  My other targets are a 10K in under an hour (current PR is 58:20), and a half-marathon in about two hours and fifteen minutes.

As for the marathon, I seriously just want to finish it in one piece.  But I think between five and five and a half hours is realistic.

So far, I'm feeling pretty confident.  Last week I ran five miles on Tuesday, a 10K (6.2 miles) on Wednesday, eight miles on Friday, and fifteen on Sunday.  So now it's just a matter of building up leg strength, and stretching the limits so I can eventually get to the full 26.2 distance by May 5.

Next time, we'll talk about all sorts of really cool running gear, garb, and gadgets.