An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Do you really need a coach?

There is wisdom in a multitude of counsellors. (Proverbs 11:14)

I've had a few running coaches, several of which impressed upon me some great lessons. All through jr high and high school. Since then, I've only ever had one coach, for any of my sports -- me. I know that when I was in high school, I had a very good cross country coach, who was also the distance track coach, and he was one of a few that really instilled a love of running. But after I graduated from high school, I immediately decided I wanted to run a marathon, and set about training for it right away. I digested every printed resource I could find (the internet was still several years away), and applied it to come up with a progression on mileage that I knew I could live with. And the funny thing is my running speed took off, along with my endurance.

Now here's the thing, though -- I've read a LOT about my chosen sports. Running, cycling, swimming, weight lifting, triathlon... I couldn't even begin to count the number of books I've read, articles I've poured over, and 1's-and-0's of internet bandwidth I've killed trying to soak up as much information as I could.

Maybe one could say that I have HUNDREDS of resources, but the only one that applies all that knowledge to my training and racing is me. Which makes me the coach. Coaches are supposed to keep learning, staying on the cutting edge of technology, physiology, squeezing out that last ounce of untapped potential performance in their athletes.

Even the best coach will only be as good as the feedback he or she receives from the athlete. A coach can know a lot by looking at how an athlete is performing at various tests, time trials, and races, but that coach can never climb into the athlete's head, feel exactly what the athlete feels. The best communicating athletes (and let's face it, endurance athletes who spend a lot of lonely hours training are usually not the best communicators, myself included) will still fall far short of conveying what's really going on inside them.

The point being that, in the end, you will always be your best coach, as long as you're honest with yourself, and keep yourself open to new things. I still learn new things on an almost continual basis, experiment with nuances, see what happens. My training is taking on a more philosophical and psychological mindset than physical lately. Which is okay. I find I'm enjoying it more than ever. That's a very important aspect of sport that sometimes gets lost in the pursuit of that little bit more speed.

Do you really need a coach? Only you can decide that for yourself. Some people find comfort in handing over the responsibility to some one with, presumably, more knowledge than themselves. Maybe some people do it because they find that they're just not honest enough with themselves. Maybe some people do it for the social aspect.

I've found, for myself, the best coach I've ever had is the guy staring back at me from the mirror.

And that's the good news AND the bad news -- it's all up to me.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ultimately, we run alone.

I've heard it said that, ultimately, we all die alone.

Not so sure I really believe that (which is a subject for another blog entirely). But there's a parallel to running. Ultimately, we run alone.

I was just thinking on the last time I ran completely alone. It's been well over a week. Either coworkers on my lunchtime runs, Jake (the dog) on runs from home, or my wife this past weekend on her final test prior to the Chicago half marathon, have accompanied me. Pace has been a mixture of my preferences and the preferences of those I've run with, as well as distance.

Regardless, though, running is something that we have to do on our own. I'm not saying that we have to run without any one at our side, canine or human (or silver-back gorilla, or whatever other beast type you prefer), I'm just saying that running, the putting of one foot in front of another, is an effort that you must do for yourself. No one else can run for you. It's kind of like going to the bathroom -- proxy is not an option.

You're the one who has to lift your legs and move them. No one can do that for you. And along with that, the final, essential motivation to do so has to come from within.

That's not to say that there can't be external motivators. For some people, it's running to something, like an event. For some, it's running away from something, like disease. These can be the stimulus for seeing yourself in a different place, which then makes the motivation internal. Some people get momentarily motivated by a song, or a sunny day.

And then there are some for whom the activity itself is its own motivation. These are the ones that most people call crazy. Fine. I'm crazy. Certifiable. Proudly so.

Yes, I do "train for events". These are the impetus for extending my mileage, for making sure I can run the distance comfortably (okay, not "comfortably", just with no doubt that I can make the distance), and with some luck, quickly. But even when there isn't an event looming on the horizon, I have a kind of minimum level of mileage that is a comfort zone for me, an easy pace at around 8 m/m. These are the things that I tend toward, if I were to be running in a vacuum of ouside influences -- no events, no running partners, just me and a pair of shoes (sorry Jason).

There is something extremely cathartic in a solo run, where you can really be completely alone. But even when running with some one, you have to monitor yourself, because no one else really can. No matter what else is going on, there's a part of you that has to run alone.

And when you're racing, it's especially important to find that inner space and run there.

Ultimately, it's where we run.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Embrace the pain -- it tells you you're alive!

I just felt, for whatever reason, that this was something worth writing about today.

I'd written a while back about one of my, for lack of a better term, life mottos in
Strain is effort burdened by emotion. This is another one, mostly related to racing. A mental trick for pre-race psych-up, and maybe a little competetive psych-out.

I remember reading a quote from Steve Prefontaine, talking about a race situation, "I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more." It's the seeking of that pain in a race, pushing yourself to it, embracing it, and then finding a little bit more. One other quote that I can't find now, said, in effect, "I know we're all out there suffering. I just know I can suffer a little more than the next guy."

And that's kind of my point. Not just finding that point of pain in the race, but seeking it, ENJOYING it because it's when you're most alive. We are most alive when we give our utmost, be that the pinnacle of our artistic ability, the farthest that our minds can stretch a technology, or pushing our bodies beyond what we ever thought they were capable.

I'd often tell my team mates, as we were warming up for a race "It's a good day to die." They'd give me a strange look, as if to say, "You're NUTSO!" At which point I'd say that line, "Embrace the pain -- it tells you you're alive."

I'd say it often times at a start line as well. Sometimes people get it. Most times not. The point of the race is to find out just how far, how fast you can go. And that hurts. Not injury pain, but performance pain. And the one that's going to win is the one that can push beyond the pain, suffer more than the next guy, and maybe even enjoy it.

No, it's not masochism. It's just what it takes.

Friday, May 13, 2011

I ran today!

I don't know why I picked today. My foot was feeling basically "normal" on Monday, and it continued to be so all week, so today seemed like a good day. Friday the 13th and all. Weather was great...

How did it go? Quite well, actually. I felt the foot, but there was no pain at all. I'd had a bout of calf cramps all Sunday night, and I'm still feeling some stiffness. That was the only issue throughout the run. I ran one of my most common lunchtime routes, 4.6 miles, in the Altra Instincts. I think I'll keep these as my primary shoe for a couple weeks or so -- the added midsole thickness will provide some support and protection to finalize the healing.

Pace-wise, it was pretty much right where I left off -- 7:54 that felt very easy. So it would appear I haven't lost much, if anything. We'll see how it goes when I try to go longer.

But I'm just ecstatic that I'm back to running.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

We evolved to run in shoes?

My purpose here is not to delve into the creation vs. evolution argument -- my personal view is that the two are not mutually exclusive. But I wanted to address something I keep seeing pop up in the Big Shoe Company literature. To wit, this was quoted in Pete's Runblogger post today -- from ASICS International Research Coordinator Simon Bartold to questions posed by Sneaker Freaker Magazine:

We have been wearing shoes for thousands of years and have actually evolved to
adapt to a ‘shod’ situation.

As I understand it, evolution boils down to "survival of the fittest", meaning the herd is culled by general living conditions. Like if you're too slow, the predators get you. And if you can't get food, you starve. Especially in western societies, when was the last time having a pair of shoes (or not) made the difference between survival and slaughter? When was the last time that one starved because of lack of shoes? Okay, I'd have to give the point that if one couldn't afford food, then likely one couldn't afford shoes either, but the cause isn't the shoes...

So I see this argument, that "we evolved to wear shoes", pop up occasionally, and my BS meter just pegs out.

Sure, we adapt to wearing shoes -- that's just a testament to how adaptable we are as humans. I'm NOT saying that shoes are forcing a genetic adaptation. That's just not happening, unless we can say that shoes are killing off those who can't adapt. [Oh, man, that thought is just too comical.] Pete did an experiment, and there was some official study (which I can't remember off the top of my head), both of which that showed that the subjects footfalls and running form changed immediately when they took their shoes off.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not trying to espouse barefoot running. I'm not a barefoot purist. I love going barefoot around the house, and kick off my shoes at work every chance I get. But I like wearing shoes when running. I just don't think that the shoes should alter one's stride from what we REALLY evolved to do.

Back when the saber-toothed tiger took the slowest runner, and we had to chase down deer or starve.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My first, and only, marathon

I remember being very young and seeing a show on TV about the Olympic marathon. I think I was in 5th grade. It talked mostly about how grueling the event is... "Grueling" somehow sparked some interest in me. I spent several entire recess times running around the building, "training" for the day I'd run a marathon. On the field day at the end of the school year, I was really excited about the "endurance race" they had planned. And then it was only two laps around the field. I thought it was pretty wimpy.

I ran track in junior high, and gravitated towards the longest events -- the 440yd and the 880yd. My 8th grade year they added the mile, but the powers that be wouldn't let us run both the mile and the 880yd, so I decided to stay with the 440/880 combination. I set a school record in the 880 in a not-too-spectacular time of 2:12, which was broken maybe 2 years later. I think my record of 33 chin-ups held much longer.

My sophomore year of high school, I realized I had no skill in basketball. I was far too mechanical, and ran the plays like a robot, with no instinct for the game. I instead turned out for cross country, with mixed success. I still did the 800m in track, with occasional forays into the 3200m (the longest track event), and did okay, passing on the league meet in the 3200 to concentrate on the 800 my senior year. I made it to districts, but no further.

Once I graduated, I immersed myself in running literature. I devoured every book and magazine on running in the libraries of 3 towns, learning about how all the greats trained (or at least how every one THOUGHT they trained). I found some training plans, and decided I was going to run the Seattle Marathon that fall. June to November, my life revolved around going 26.2 miles two days after Thanksgiving, 1982.

I built up mileage all summer, using the progression I'd found in a book. My medium runs became 10 miles, short was 6, and I'd throw in a weekly long run that got to 22 miles. Yes, conventional wisdom has come a long way in 28 years... I started college, dealing with a whole new culture shock, continued on my training plan for the last two months pre-race, and everything was going great.

Until 3 weeks before the race. Runner's knee. Chondromalacia patella (now generally called patello-femoral syndrome). I started a course of indocine, rested, and hoped. Race morning, I showed up at the starting line, never having been in anything like it before. My first real road race. The day was giving us a light rain, though decently warm considering late November in Seattle.

It took me some 3 minutes to cross the start line. No such thing as chip timing, so I just had to remember. I settled into what I thought was a comfortable pace, and just trudged along.

I've failed to mention that I never took any water with me on these long runs... So my stomach wasn't used to taking in anything on the run. Which meant that I didn't feel comfortable taking in fluids on race day. Yeah, you can see it coming too -- 20/20 hind sight, eh?

I hit the half-way point at 1:35, still feeling pretty fresh, and thinking I was on pace for a 3:10 finish, just where I thought I'd be. Ah, the naivete of youth... At 15 miles, I started to feel kinda fatigued. What followed was a rapid descent into survival shuffling, punctuated with long bouts of pained walking.

I crossed the finish line running (or at least the best semblance of running I could muster at the moment) in 3:53 and some change, and was almost crying at the relief of finally being done with it. My mom got me some chicken soup, and I sat at the base of a tree trying to get some of it in my mouth.

But what stuck with me was how disappointed I was in my performance, feeling that the ends didn't justify all the time I'd put into that day. Almost 6 months of my life was pointed toward getting me to the finish line. And I guess I'd have to say that, while I did accomplish my ultimate goal of finishing a marathon, I feel that I somehow didn't really accomplish my goal of running a marathon. I feel like the distance bested me, instead of the other way around.

I've read all these blogs from ultra runners, and in fits of insanity I get the inkling that I could do that some day, if I could progress far enough. But really, speed is more my drug of choice. I became injured again training for another marathon, and I've run a few half marathons (my best of just under 1:06 was some 20 years ago). Maybe after getting healthy again and making it through a couple half marathons I'll get some itch to test my distance limits again. Or I may just have a lot of fun finding interesting places to run. I'm liking running on wooded trails, but there's just no draw for me in slogging through ankle-deep mud and calling it a race.

There's a happy medium in there somewhere. Maybe I'll spend the rest of my life trying to find it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

When you can't run...

There's nothing quite like going through a time when you can't run. Sure, sometimes we take days off, but it's different when you CHOOSE to take a day off. And even when life intrudes and schedules fly out the window and the run just can't happen... But when you're sidelined, on the injured-reserve list, there's a certain emotionally painful jealousy seeing others running on a sunny day. Oh, sure, you don't wish them ill. At least I hope not. I think it's a lot like a wolf pack -- when the pack hunts, the deisre is to go on the hunt with the pack.

I went through a couple years of this after my foot surgery. And I had to get to the point that I could just let it go, convincing myself that I was done running. Otherwise I would have probably become a very bitter person.

The forelorn-ness of something lost, even if it's temporary. You know you're back-sliding in your fitness, losing speed, losing endurance, your training buddies moving forward and making it that much harder to catch up, let alone keep up.

There's good news, though. After a weekend of soreness, today my foot felt almost normal. Almost. Saturday morning, and well into the afternoon, I was on my feet, wearing my hiking boots (and I can see a whole new problematic search when these boots wear out), and though my foot was sore, there were very few "twinges" of sharp pain. Yesterday my wife and I went to the Star Wars exhibit at the Seattle Pacific Science Center, and the only issue I had was when I had to hurry uphill from the parking lot to the center. After that, it was actually mostly okay. I'm still going to give it the week off and see how it's going, but maybe, just maybe, there isn't a fracture. Doesn't give me a whole lot of comfort NOT knowing what really happened.

And yes, this is a bit of a switch from the pity party I let myself have on Friday...

So I'll give it the rest of the week before I even think about trying to run on it again. Hopefully I haven't lost too much.

Friday, May 6, 2011

An update

As promised, here is an update on my foot -- I don't know, and it still hurts.

I went to a doctor on Monday, who poked and prodded (and found a point of very significant pain), and took x-rays. I got the follow-up call the next morning saying that the x-rays didn't show any fracture, but that doesn't rule out a fracture. And if the pain doesn't get better in a week, to come back for another round of x-rays.

Today is Friday, and there's been no real improvement.

It all means that there is no diagnosis yet, I have no idea how long it'll take to heal, and it's not improving at all.

So I'm not doing well mentally, thinking that I've thrown race entry fee money down the drain (ironically enough, the injury happened the day after I signed up for a half on August 6th), let down my wife in that I won't be able to do the Chicago half with her, and just the general funk of not being able to run. I did a light trainer ride on Wednesday, another tonight, and it went fine as long as I was on the bike pedaling. Getting on and off the bike wasn't fun, though.

This is the first time I've had a problem with my right foot. Everything else has been on my left -- Plantar fasciitis, Frieberg's Infraction, Jones fracture... And if I end up in a boot, how am I gonna drive?

I know, it's not the end of the world, and I'll be able to, eventually, return to running and do the events I've been looking forward to (maybe not this year).

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Gonna reminisce a little today, since I can't run yet...

Bike racing is a pretty social sport. I'd say more so than any other I've participated in. Sure, in running and triathlon, you see the same group of people, plus or minus, at most of the events throughout the season. But bike racing throws in the team aspect as well.

I remember a particular season on my team, we had a pretty good group of guys with varied enough talents that we could go into just about any race and be able to podium some one. We had a pure climber, a couple good sprinters, a climber/TTer, and some people who could just motor all day. In most criteriums and flat road races, I was the first lead-out guy. What that meant is that I'd get two team mates behind me, and when we had about a mile to go, I'd thread my way to the front and just push as hard as I could for as long as I could until the real sprint started. At that point, the second lead-out man took over and took our sprinter up to speed, and then ho would do the drag race to the line. I'd usually end up finishing near the back of the pack as it streamed by, me totally spent and just happy to be able to roll across the line under my own power.

I did a LOT of events. Weekends were usually a small stage race, or road race and criterium, Tuesday was the "practice" races at the local car track, Wednesdays were at the velodrome, and Thursdays were the evening criterium series.

Riding the track is a whole new schooling on race tactics. In road races and crtieriums, you ride a lot, make one huge sprint, and the day (or night) is done. On the track, you get to do 4-5 races a night, and some of those can involve multiple sprints within them. Tempo races, miss-n-outs, points races...

Okay, so I mentioned we had a couple good sprinters. Well, when the district criterium championships rolled around, it was on the same course that we used for our Thursday night series. A tear-drop shaped loop with a decent hill coming up to the finish. One of our sprinters, the guy who was the pure speed demon, couldn't make it that night, so our power sprinter (Brian) was our point man. For most of the hour of our race, I'd watched the pack bunch up on the inside of the last right hand curve leading up to the finish, setting up for the sharp left that followed. I could make up half the pack each lap just by going up the inside and slipping into the group as they leaned in for the turn. I can't even say how much energy I saved doing this each lap. It was at a point where the road transitioned from uphill to flat to uphill again, and the lull in speed and the bunching combined to let me motor on up.

With two laps to go, I was beside Brian at the back of the pack, and he was getting very nervous and thinking that the race was over for him. I told him to relax, and get on my wheel. When we approached the finish, I motored up the side of the pack again and we heard the one-to-go bell. I told him we'd do the same thing on the next lap and he'd have a clear path to the finish line.

Sure enough, when the pack go to that point again on the next lap, it bunched up to the inside, and we motored up to the front, me pulling with everything I had to get him there. Once we cleared the leader, he took off like a shot, and finished with a full bike length on second. He came up to me about a half-hour later and thanked me, and told me he was especially appreciative because his parents were there to see the race. It was definitely a team victory.

Also in this particular season, I was sitting close to the top of the season standings for the Wednesday night track races, just a few points behind first. I was pretty good at the miss-n-outs, and sometimes did well at the tempo races... Mostly I could take a flyer and stay out there for a while. Brian had come out a few times and dabbled on the track, but hadn't done a lot, so he was well down in the standings.

On the final night of track racing, Brian showed up and asked what he could do to help me take the series. Our plan became to have him lead me out on a few key sprints, him sweeping up the track in the last turn and forcing any one coming up to go well up track to get around him. As long as he didn't directly impede any one, it was perfectly legal. Brian did beautiful lead-outs, and just crept up the track at the right moment for me to put everything I had into getting to the line in first. I managed to take the series by 10 points due to those finishes. I couldn't have done it without him.

There's something about slogging through horrid winter weather with a bunch of team mates on a group ride. It builds a camaraderie that goes past just being good buds, well past the guys you work with, even on a daily basis. Sacrificing for each other, and helping your team mate make something happen. Reciprocating.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


I've hesitated to write this, as I don't want to sound alarmist, and I don't want any one to get the wrong message.

First, yesterday's 10-mile trail race for me turned out... not so well. For several reasons, not the least of which is that I DNF'd, the first time I've done that in a LONG time. I was lamenting the rain all week leading up to race day, and the trails turned out to be MUCH muddier than when I ran in that same park just a few weeks ago. Muddy to the point that it wasn't even enjoyable. And at about the 3 mile mark, I stepped on something wrong which wrenched my right forefoot completely (pushing the 5th metatarsal WAY up), and I felt something "pop" in my foot. From that point onm every time there was any slope upward to the right, or I had to make a right turn, it was excruciating. I knew I'd done some damage.

So I jogged on until I got to the 4 mile mark aid station, and told them I was hanging it up. I jogged part way to the start on the 5 mile course, and ended up walking the last half mile or so.

The reasons I hesitate to write this is that I don't really know what the extent of the damage is... My foot wasn't feeling any better this morning, and I spent a good part of the day on my feet. And I also don't want any one thinking that the shoes were in any way to blame. I wore the Trail Gloves, and they performed flawlessly. Sure, my feet got wet, but they also dried quickly. I didn't slip much in the mud -- there was no way ANY shoe wouldn't have slipped some. In fact, a friend of mine lost his shoe in the mud three times during the race... once right in front of me. But the Trail Gloves stuck on, gripped well, and felt great.

I'll update with more on this injury if it doesn't feel better tomorrow and I see a doctor...