Tuesday, November 19, 2013

11 Things You May Not Know About Me, Running Edition

In honor (if that’s the right word) of that Facebook meme about “things you may not know about me,” I thought I’d have a bit of fun and mention 11 unusual facts about myself. My focus here is narrower. Of course it’s about running, but it’s specifically about things that others runners may commonly experience that I rarely (if ever) do.

In more than 18 years of running, I have never…

  • Lost a toenail. I get blood blisters, but I’ve never lost a toenail. Haven’t even come close.
  • Puked after a workout. I dry heaved once, but that was it. (My stomach’s pretty strong; aside from nights of bacchanalian excess, I haven’t been sick to my stomach in more than 20 years.)
  • Recorded a DNF. I’ve thought about it, of course, but I have too much pride.
  • Won. I placed third in a few high school races, and I’ve placed third in my age group in a handful of small suburban races, but nothing better than that.
  • Entered a race on a whim. I need to plan -- even if it’s for the two-mile Fourth of July race in my hometown that’s less road race and more impromptu reunion.

And I have only once…

  • Lost time due to an injury. I had runner’s knee in college and took about three weeks off. I wasn’t stretching enough. Now I stretch after every run, as well as on my off days when I know I need it, and as a result I stay mostly pain-free. (Point of order: I typically take about two weeks off after a marathon and did the same for my wedding and honeymoon.)
  • Finished a run with bloody nipples. Suffice to say this is a lesson you don’t soon forget.
  • Skipped a race I signed up for. It was a half marathon a few years ago, and I convinced myself I was in such bad shape that I’d bonk and embarrass myself. Frankly, skipping the race was more embarrassing. (Oddly, since my friend ran and picked up my packet for me, I have the race shirt. It’s quite comfortable.)
  • Done an entire run shirtless. It was a 10-mile race on a 100-degree day. (Why not more often? A doffed shirt makes an excellent seat rag. And I am pasty white.)
  • Run barefoot. For some reason, I did a cooldown after a particularly disappointing high school cross country race with my shoes in my hands. That was pretty stupid.My teammates, to their credit, let me suffer in silence.
  • Run outdoors while wearing headphones. (I was reminded of this during a social media conversation.) I remember it well, actually: Just after buying myself an iPod, I ran a loop around Lake Quannapowitt, plus the mile or so to get there and come home to my old apartment, and listened to Monster. (I skipped "Tongue." My least favorite R.E.M. song.) Music made me run too damn fast. I still listen to headphones on the rare occasion I run on a treadmill, but I don't run with headphones any more.  

Here’s hoping that I haven’t jinxed myself and end up failing to finish my next race (which I happen to be winning despite signing up that very morning) by snapping my IT band so badly that I tear a toenail off and gross myself out so much that I throw up. 

What do you do, or avoid doing, or have only done once, that makes you a unique runner?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Running in the Dark: Be Bright (See What I Did There?)

The onset of winter presents two challenges to runners: Running in the cold and running in the dark. I’d planned on addressing the cold first, but then the cold snap that hit New England departed with little fanfare, and I thought it might be odd to write about cold weather running when I’m hitting the road while wearing shorts. So darkness it is. 

As I’ve noted before, I’m not a morning runner, so my “darkness running” occurs in the evening. That said, these tips apply to morning or evening runs, both of which are likely going to be in the dark until March. (Running at night is significantly easier than gardening at night, that's for sure.)

Be bright. Wear a headlamp and a vest. Little blinking lights are optional. (Where I live, there are enough streetlights that it's not pitch black, so I don't need them.) The more ridiculous you look, the better. That way, drivers can actually see you.

Stick to a well-known route. The routes I run in the dark are routes I've done dozens of times -- so much so that I know where to find the cracks in the sidewalk. This serves a dual purpose: You're not gonna get lost in the dark, and you're not gonna get hurt. (The headlamp shouldn't necessarily light your way -- it's more for oncoming traffic.)

Be safe. Run with a buddy. Avoid dodgy areas. Stick to well-lit roads. Cross the street when a) there are no cars coming and b) you are under a streetlight, in case a car manages to come out of nowhere.

Don't go crazy. Most of my nighttime runs aren't insane workouts. I save my long runs for daytime, for example, as well as my long tempo runs. But I'll do a short tempo run or fartlek workout in the dark, since there's much less chance of bonking.

Fuel appropriately. If you're running at a time when you usually eat dinner, you're obviously going to be hungry. Have a carb- and protein-rich snack an hour and a half or so before your run so you don't spend the duration of the workout listening to your stomach growl like an angry dog.

Tell folks where you're going. Let your spouse, roommates, parents or close friends know how long you're going to be gone and where, roughly, you plan to go. Granted, you should do this all the time, but your loved ones are going to worry about you more when you run in the dark, no matter how garishly bright your gear.

Running in the dark doesn't have to be difficult -- or, for that matter, different. A little bit of advanced preparation and scheduling will go a long ay.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Set Your New Year's Running Resolutions Now

I never understood the point of New Year’s resolutions. Sure, you’re turning the calendar, and sure, a stressful holiday season is ending, but Jan. 1 ranks among the worst days to start something anew. It’s often cold, there’s not much sunlight, it’s a holiday, most people are hung over, and there’s about 14 hours of college football to be watched. It’s very easy to put off until tomorrow what you just don’t feel like doing today. 

That’s why I’m formulating my running resolutions now. I’m more than a month removed from my marathon, and about two weeks out from a half. I’ve entered a Twilight Zone of sorts. Family obligations make a Turkey Trot impossible this year, and the next marathon I’m targeting isn’t until May, so for the next few weeks I have nothing for which to train. 

Most of you, I imagine, are in the same boat, having just finished a fall marathon or other milestone race and started to wonder what’s next. Now -- not Jan. 1 -- is the time to start setting firm goals. 

Here are mine, along with a bit of advice if you’re planning to do the same. 

Join a running club. I very well may wait until the new year to start, as that’s when marathon training will commence, but it’s finally gonna happen. Those of you who need a jolt of motivation, or at the very least a break from ennui, need not wait. 

Run a marathon PR. I was off by 19 seconds last time. 

Run another PR. Haven’t picked a distance yet. I fell short of a PR in both half marathons I ran in 2013, but I did run my fastest 10K. We’ll see what happens. (It won’t count, I’ve decided, if I race at a brand-new distance such as a 15K or, as I saw around Halloween, 6.66 miles.) 

Run 1,200 miles. In the days before dailymile, when I logged mileage in a yearly planner and notebook, I hit 1,000 miles a few times. (I think. Those notebooks are long gone.)  I’ll come close this year but miss the mark. Next year, I plan to run two marathons, so 1,000 should be easy. But 1,200 may be a stretch. 

Strengthen my hips. In my last marathon, my hips started to hurt about 16 miles in. (Who am I kidding? I have no idea when it was.) This happened during training, too, so I know it’s something to focus on. I’ve added hip stretches to my post-run routine and my off-day cross-training exercises. If any muscles or joints have been giving you similar trouble, now’s the time to start giving them some TLC and build their strength.  
Throw out a bunch of old, disgusting running shirts. You probably should, too. Admit it: You have a few in the back of your closet. If you can’t bear the thought of losing them, you can use them to wash your car, or clean up nasty spills, or line the beds your pets sleep on. Just don’t wear them in public anymore, OK? 

Yes, setting goals now is a bit unconventional, given societal norms and all. But I know I’m more likely to keep running through the holiday season, and on Jan. 1, 2014, if I have clear goals in mind for the year ahead. Without resolutions in mind, there’s less reason to head out for a run on a cold, possibly snowy day. 

Have any of you thought about your running goals for 2014 yet? If you haven’t, now’s a good time to start, before the holiday season begins and no one has time to think about anything. If you have, great. Start putting them into action.